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

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                             THE ATHELINGS


                            THE THREE GIFTS

                         BY MARGARET OLIPHANT


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

                               COMPLETE


                      WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
                         EDINBURGH AND LONDON
                               MDCCCLVII


                             THE ATHELINGS

                           BOOK I.--BELLEVUE



                            THE ATHELINGS.



BOOK I.--CHAPTER I.

IN THE STREET.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER II.

HOME.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER III.

AGNES.


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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER IV.

MARIAN.


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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER V.

CHARLIE.


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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER VI.

PAPA AND MAMMA.


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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER VII.

THE FIRST WORK.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER VIII.

CHARLIE’S ENTERPRISE.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER IX.

A DECISION.


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

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

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

“And why, Charlie, why?”

Charlie was not much given to rendering a reason.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER X.

MR FOGGO.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XI.

THE BEST ROOM.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XII.

A SERIOUS QUESTION.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XIII.

KILLIECRANKIE LODGE.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XIV.

THE HOUSE OF FOGGO.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XV.

THE PROPOSAL.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XVI.

FAMILY EXCITEMENT.


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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XVII.

AN AMERICAN SKETCH.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But perhaps”--said Agnes.

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

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



CHAPTER XVIII.

COMPANY.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XIX.

CONVERSATION.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XX.

AUNT BRIDGET.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “FRED. R. LEWIS, _Attorney_.”



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXI.

A LAW STUDENT.


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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXII.

ANOTHER EVENT.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXIII.

A NEW FRIEND.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXIV.

GOING HOME.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXV.

PAPA’S OPINION.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXVI.

MRS EDGERLY’S THURSDAY.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE WORLD.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXVIII.

A FOE.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXIX.

FAMILY SENTIMENTS.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXX.

AGNES’S FORTUNE.


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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXXI.

EXTRAVAGANCE.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXXII.

A GREAT VISITOR.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXXIII.

GOING FROM HOME.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XXXIV.

EVERYBODY’S FANCIES.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                            END OF VOL. I.

           PRINTED BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS, EDINBURGH.


                   *       *       *       *       *



                             THE ATHELINGS



                             THE ATHELINGS
                                  OR
                            THE THREE GIFTS

                         BY MARGARET OLIPHANT

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

                           IN THREE VOLUMES

                               VOL. II.

                      WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
                         EDINBURGH AND LONDON
                               MDCCCLVII

             ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN BLACKWOOD’S MAGAZINE.



                             THE ATHELINGS

                     BOOK II.--THE OLD WOOD LODGE



                            THE ATHELINGS.



BOOK II--CHAPTER I.

THE WILLOWS.


The Willows was a large low house, with no architectural pretensions,
but bright as villa could be upon the sunniest side of the Thames. The
lawn sloped to the river, and ended in a deep fringe and border of
willows, sweeping into the water; while half-way across the stream lay a
little fairy island, half enveloped in the same silvery foliage, but
with bowers and depths of leaves within, through which some stray
sunbeam was always gleaming. The flower-beds on the lawn were in a flush
with roses; the crystal roof of a large conservatory glistened in the
sun. Flowers and sunshine, fragrance and stillness, the dew on the
grass, and the morning light upon the river--no marvel that to eyes so
young and inexperienced, this Richmond villa looked like a paradise on
earth.

It was early morning--very early, when nobody seemed awake but
themselves in the great house; and Agnes and Marian came down stairs
softly, and, half afraid of doing wrong, stole out upon the lawn. The
sun had just begun to gather those blobs of dew from the roses, but all
over the grass lay jewels, bedded deep in the close-shorn sod, and
shining in the early light. An occasional puff of wind came crisp across
the river, and turned to the sun the silvery side of all those drooping
willow-leaves, and the willows themselves swayed and sighed towards the
water, and the water came up upon them now and then with a playful
plunge and flow. The two girls said nothing to each other as they
wandered along the foot of the slope, looking over to the island, where
already the sun had penetrated to his nest of trees. All this simple
beauty, which was not remarkable to the fashionable guests of Mrs
Edgerley, went to the very heart of these simple children of Bellevue.
It moved them to involuntary delight--joy which could give no reason,
for they thought there had never been such a beautiful summer morning,
or such a scene.

And by-and-by they began to talk of last night--last night, their first
night at the Willows, their first entrance into the home life of “the
great.” They had no moral maxims at their finger-ends, touching the
vanity of riches, nor had the private opinion entertained by Papa and
Mamma, that “the country” paid for the folly of “the aristocracy,” and
that the science of Government was a mere piece of craft for the benefit
of “the privileged classes,” done any harm at all to the unpolitical
imaginations of Agnes and Marian. They were scarcely at their ease yet,
and were a great deal more timid than was comfortable; yet they took
very naturally to this fairy life, and found an unfailing fund of wonder
and admiration in it. They admired everything indeed, had a certain awe
and veneration for everybody, and could not sufficiently admire the
apparent accomplishments and real grace of their new associates.

“Agnes!--I wonder if there is anything I could learn?” said Marian,
rather timidly; “everybody here can do something; it is very different
from doing a little of everything, like Miss Tavistock at Bellevue--and
we used to think her accomplished!--but do you think there is anything I
could learn?”

“And me!” said Agnes, somewhat disconsolately.

“You? no, indeed, you do not need it,” said Marian, with a little pride.
“You can do what none of them can do;--but they can talk about
everything these people, and every one of them can do something. There
is that Sir Langham--you would think he was only a young gentleman--but
Mrs Edgerley says he makes beautiful sketches. We did not understand
people like these when we were at home.”

“What do you think of Sir Langham, May?” asked Agnes seriously.

“Think of him? oh, he is very pleasant,” said Marian, with a smile and a
slight blush: “but never mind Sir Langham; do you think there is
anything I could learn?”

“I do not know,” said Agnes; “perhaps you could sing. I think you might
sing, if you would only take courage and try.”

“Sing! oh no, no!”; said Marian; “no one could venture to sing after the
young lady--did you hear her name, Agnes?--who sang last night. She did
not speak to any one, she was more by herself than we were. I wonder who
she could be.”

“Mrs Edgerley called her Rachel,” said Agnes. “I did not hear any other
name. I think it must be the same that Mrs Edgerley told mamma about;
you remember she said----”

“I am here,” said a low voice suddenly, close beside them. The girls
started back, exceedingly confused and ashamed. They had not perceived a
sort of little bower, woven among the willows, from which now hastily
appeared the third person who spoke. She was a little older than Agnes,
very slight and girlish in her person--very dark of complexion, with a
magnificent mass of black hair, and large liquid dark eyes. Nothing else
about her was remarkable; her features were small and delicate, her
cheeks colourless, her very lips pale; but her eyes, which were not of a
slumbrous lustre, but full of light, rapid, earnest, and irregular,
lighted up her dark pallid face with singular power and attractiveness.
She turned upon them quickly as they stood distressed and irresolute
before her.

“I did not mean to interrupt you,” said this new-comer; “but you were
about to speak of me, and I thought it only honest to give you notice
that I was here.”

“Thank you,” said Agnes with humility. “We are strangers, and did not
know--we scarcely know any one here; and we thought you were nearly
about our own age, and perhaps would help us--” Here Agnes stopped
short; she was not skilled in making overtures of friendship.

“No, indeed no,” cried their new acquaintance, hurriedly. “I never make
friends. I could be of no use. I am only a dependent, scarcely so good
as that. I am nothing here.”

“And neither are we,” said Agnes, following shyly the step which this
strange girl took away from them. “We never were in a house like this
before. We do not belong to great people. Mrs Edgerley asked us to
come, because we met her at Mr Burlington’s, and she has been very kind,
but we know no one. Pray, do not go away.”

The thoughtful eyes brightened into a sudden gleam. “We are called
Atheling,” said Marian, interposing in her turn. “My sister is Agnes,
and I am Marian--and you Miss----”

“My name is Rachel,” said their new friend, with a sudden and violent
blush, making all her face crimson. “I have no other--call me so, and I
will like it. You think I am of your age; but I am not like you--you do
not know half so much as I know.”

“No--that is very likely,” said Agnes, somewhat puzzled; “but I think
you do not mean education,” said the young author immediately, seeing
Marian somewhat disposed to resent on her behalf this broad assertion.
“You mean distress and sorrow. But we have had a great deal of grief at
home. We have lost dear little children, one after another. We are not
ignorant of grief.”

Rachel looked at them with strange observation, wonder, and uncertainty.
“But you are ignorant of me--and I am ignorant of you,” she said slowly,
pausing between her words. “I suppose you mean just what you say, do
you? and I am not much used to that. Do you know what I am here
for?--only to sing and amuse the people--and you still want to make
friends with me!”

“Mrs Edgerley said you were to be a singer, but you did not like it,”
said Marian; “and I think you are very right.”

“Did she say so?--and what more?” said Rachel, smiling faintly. “I want
to hear now, though I did not when I heard your voices first.”

“She said you were a connection of the family,” said Agnes.

The blood rushed again to the young stranger’s brow. “Ah! I understand,”
she said; “she implied--yes. I know how she would do. And you will still
be friends with _me_?”

At that moment it suddenly flashed upon the recollection of both the
girls that Mamma had disapproved of this prospective acquaintance. They
both blushed with instant consciousness, and neither of them spoke. In
an instant Rachel became frozen into a haughtiness far exceeding
anything within the power of Mrs Edgerley. Little and slight as she was,
her girlish frame rose to the dignity of a young queen. Before Agnes
could say a word, she had left them with a slight and lofty bow. Without
haste, but with singular rapidity, she crossed the dewy lawn, and went
into the house, acknowledging, with a stately inclination of her head,
some one who passed her. The girls were so entirely absorbed, watching
her progress, that they did not perceive who this other person was.



CHAPTER II.

AN EMBARRASSING COMPANION.


“Strange creature!” said Sir Langham Portland, who had joined the girls
almost before they were aware; “Odd girl! If Lucifer had a sister, I
should know where to find her; but a perfect siren so far as music is
concerned. Did you hear her sing last night--that thing of
Beethoven’s--what is the name of it? Do you like Beethoven, though?
_She_, I suppose, worships him.”

“We know very little about music,” said Marian. She thought it proper to
make known the fact, but blushed in spite of herself, and was much
ashamed of her own ignorance. Marian was quite distressed and impatient
to find herself so much behind every one else.

“Oh!” said Sir Langham--which meant that the handsome guardsman was a
good deal flattered by the blush, and did not care at all for the want
of information--in fact, he was cogitating within himself, being no
great master of the art of conversation, what to speak of next.

“I am afraid Miss--Rachel was not pleased,” said Agnes; “we disturbed
her here. I am afraid she will think we were rude.”

“Eh!” said Sir Langham, with a look of astonishment. “Oh, don’t trouble
yourself--she’s accustomed to that. Pretty place this. Suppose a fellow
on the island over there, what a capital sketch he could make;--with two
figures instead of three, the effect would be perfect!”

“We were two figures before you came,” said Marian, turning half away,
and with a smile.

“Ah! quite a different suggestion,” said Sir Langham. “Your two figures
were all white and angelical--maiden meditation--mine would be--Elysium.
Happy sketcher! happier hero!--and you could not suppose a more
appropriate scene.”

But Agnes and Marian were much too shy and timid to answer this as they
might have answered Harry Oswald under the same circumstances. Agnes
half interrupted him, being somewhat in haste to change the
conversation. “You are an artist yourself?” said Agnes.

“No,” said Sir Langham; “not at all,--no more than everybody else is. I
have no doubt you know a hundred people better at it than I.”

“I do not think, counting every one,” said Marian, “that we know a
hundred, or the half of a hundred, people altogether; and none of them
make sketches. Mrs Edgerley said yours were quite remarkable.”

“A great many things are quite remarkable with Mrs Edgerley,” said Sir
Langham through his mustache. “But what an amazing circle yours must be!
One must do something with one’s spare time. That old fellow is the
hardest rascal to kill of any I know--don’t you find him so?”

“No--not when we are at home,” said Marian.

“Ah! in the country, I suppose; and you are Lady Bountifuls, and attend
to all the village,” said Sir Langham. He had quite made up his mind
that these young girls, who were not fashionable nor remarkable in any
way, save for the wonderful beauty of the youngest, were daughters of
some squire in Banburyshire, whom it was Lord Winterbourne’s interest to
do a service to.

“No, indeed, we have not any village--we are not Lady Bountifuls; but we
do a great many things at home,” said Marian. Something restrained them
both, however, from their heroic purpose of declaring at once their
“rank in life;” they shrank, with natural delicacy, from saying anything
about themselves to this interrogator, and were by no means clear that
it would be right to tell Sir Langham Portland that they lived in
Bellevue.

“May we go through the conservatory, I wonder?” said Agnes;--the elder
sister, remembering the parting charge of her mother, began to be
somewhat uneasy about their handsome companion--he might possibly fall
in love with Marian--that was not so very dreadful a hypothesis,--for
Agnes was human, and did not object to see the natural enemies of
womankind taken captive, subjugated, or even entirely slain. But Marian
might fall in love with _him_! That was an appalling thought; two
distinct lines of anxiety began to appear in Agnes’s forehead; and the
imagination of the young genius instantly called before her the most
touching and pathetic picture, of a secret love and a broken heart.

“Marian, we may go into the conservatory,” repeated Agnes; and she took
her sister’s hand and led her to where the Scotch gardener was opening
the windows of that fairy palace. Sir Langham still gave them his
attendance, following Marian as she passed through the ranks of flowers,
and echoing her delight. Sir Langham was rather relieved to find them at
last in enthusiasm about something. This familiar and well-known feature
of young ladyhood set him much more at his ease.

And the gardener, with benign generosity, gathered some flowers for his
young visitors. They thanked him with such thoroughly grateful thanks,
and were so respectful of his superior knowledge, that this worthy
functionary brightened under their influence. Sir Langham followed
surprised and amused. He thought Marian’s simple ignorance of all those
delicate splendid exotic flowers, as pretty as he would have thought her
acquaintance with them had she been better instructed; and when one of
her flowers fell from her hand, lifted it up with the air of a paladin,
and placed it in his breast. Marian, though she had turned aside, _saw_
him do it by some mysterious perception--not of the eye--and blushed
with a secret tremor, half of pleasure, half of amusement. Agnes
regarded it a great deal more seriously. Agnes immediately discovered
that it was time to go in. She was quite indifferent, we are grieved to
say, to the fate of Sir Langham, and thought nothing of disturbing the
peace of that susceptible young gentleman; but her protection and
guardianship of Marian was a much more serious affair. Their windows
were in the end of the house, and commanded no view--so Mrs Edgerley,
with a hundred regrets, was grieved to tell them--but these windows
looked over an orchard and a clump of chestnuts, where birds sang and
dew fell, and the girls were perfectly contented with the prospect; they
had three rooms--a dressing-room, and two pretty bedchambers--into all
of which the morning sun threw a sidelong glance as he passed; and they
had been extremely delighted with their pretty apartments last night.

“Well!” said Agnes, as they arranged their flowers and put them in
water, “everything is very pretty, May, but I almost wish we were at
home.”

“Why?” said Marian; but the beautiful sister had so much perception of
the case, that she did not look up, nor show any particular surprise.

“Why?--because--because people don’t understand what we are, nor who we
belong to, nor how different---- Marian, you know quite well what is the
cause!”

“But suppose people don’t want to know?” said Marian, who was
provokingly calm and at her ease; “we cannot go about telling
everybody--no one cares. Suppose we were to tell Sir Langham, Agnes? He
would think we meant that he has to come to Bellevue; and I am sure you
would not like to see him there!”

This was a very conclusive argument, but Agnes had made up her mind to
be annoyed.

“And there was Rachel,” said Agnes, “I wonder why just at that moment we
should have thought of mamma--and now I am sure she will not speak to us
again.”

“Mamma did not think it quite proper,” said Marian doubtfully;--“I am
sure I cannot tell why--but we were very near making up friendship
without thinking; perhaps it is better as it is.”

“It is never proper to hurt any one’s feelings--and she is lonely and
neglected and by herself,” said Agnes. “Mamma cannot be displeased when
I tell her; and I will try all I can to-day to meet with Rachel again. I
think Rachel would think better of our house than of the Willows. Though
it is a beautiful place, it is not kindly; it never could look like
home.”

“Oh, nonsense! if we had it to ourselves, and they were all here!” cried
Marian. That indeed was a paradisaical conception. Agnes’s uneasy mood
could not stand against such an idea, and she arranged her hair with
renewed spirits, having quite given up for the moment all desire for
going home.



CHAPTER III.

SOCIETY.


But Rachel did not join the party either in their drives, their walks,
or their conversations. She was not to be seen during the whole day,
either out of doors or in, and did not even make her appearance at the
dinner-table; and Agnes could not so much as hear any allusion made to
her except once, when Mrs Edgerley promised a new arrival, “some really
good music,” and launched forth in praise of an extraordinary little
genius, whom nothing could excuse for concealing her gift from the
world. But if Rachel did not appear, Sir Langham did, following Marian
with his eyes when he could not follow in person, and hovering about the
young beauty like a man bewitched. The homage of such a cavalier was not
to be despised; in spite of herself, the smile and the blush brightened
upon the sweet face of Marian--she was pleased--she was amused--she was
grateful to Sir Langham--and besides had a certain mischievous pleasure
in her power over him, and loved to exercise the sway of despotism.
Marian new little about coquetry, though she had read with attention Mrs
Edgerley’s novel on the subject; but, notwithstanding, had “a way” of
her own, and some little practice in tantalising poor Harry Oswald, who
was by no means so superb a plaything as the handsome guardsman. The
excitement and novelty of her position--the attentions paid to her--the
pretty things around her--even her own dress, which never before had
been so handsome, brightened, with a variable and sweet illumination,
the beauty which needed no aggravating circumstance. Poor Sir Langham
gave himself up helpless and unresisting, and already, in his honest but
somewhat slow imagination, made formal declarations to the
supposititious Banburyshire Squire.

Agnes meanwhile sat by Marian’s side, rather silent, eagerly watching
for the appearance of Rachel--for now it was evening, and the really
good music could not be long deferred, if it was to come to-night. Agnes
was not neglected, though she had no Sir Langham to watch her movements.
Mrs Edgerley herself came to the young genius now and then to introduce
some one who was “dying to know the author of _Hope Hazlewood_;” and
half disconcerted, half amused, Agnes began to feel herself entering
upon the enjoyment of her reputation. No one could possibly suppose
anything more different from the fanciful and delicate fame which
charms the young poetic mind with imaginary glories, than these
drawing-room compliments and protestations of interest and delight, to
which, at first with a deep blush and overpowering embarrassment, and
by-and-by with an uneasy consciousness of something ridiculous, the
young author sat still and listened. The two sisters kept always close
together, and had not courage enough to move from the corner in which
they had first established themselves. Agnes, for the moment, had become
the reigning whim in the brain of Mrs Edgerley. She came to her side now
and then to whisper a few words of caressing encouragement, or to point
out to her somebody of note; and when she left her young guest, Mrs
Edgerley flew at once to the aforesaid somebody to call his or her
attention to the pair of sisters, one of whom had _such_ genius, and the
other _such_ beauty. Marian, occupied with her own concerns, took all
this very quietly. Agnes grew annoyed, uneasy, displeased; she did not
remember that she had once been mortified at the neglect of her pretty
hostess, nor that Mrs Edgerley’s admiration was as evanescent as her
neglect. She began to think everybody was laughing at her claims to
distinction, and that she amused the people, sitting here uneasily
receiving compliments, immovable in her chair--and she was extremely
grateful to Mr Agar, her former acquaintance, when he came, looking
amused and paying no compliments, to talk to her, and to screen her from
observation. Mr Agar had been watching her uneasiness, her
embarrassment, her self-annoyance. He was quite pleased with the
“study;” it pleased him as much as a _Watteau_, or a cabinet of old
china; and what could connoisseur say more?

“You must confide your annoyance to me. I am your oldest acquaintance,”
said Mr Agar. “What has happened? Has your pretty sister been
naughty--eh? or are all the people _so_ much delighted with your book?”

“Yes,” said Agnes, holding down her head a little, with a momentary
shame that her two troubles should have been so easily found out.

“And why should they not be delighted?” said the ancient beau. “You
would have liked me a great deal better had I been the same, when I
first saw you; do you not like it now?”

“No,” said Agnes.

“Yes; no. Your eyes do not talk in monosyllables,” said the old
gentleman, “eh? What has poor Sir Langham done to merit that flash of
dissatisfaction? and I wonder what is the meaning of all these anxious
glances towards the door?”

“I was looking for--for the young lady they call Rachel,” said Agnes.
“Do you know who she is, sir?--can you tell me? I am afraid she thought
we were rude this morning, when we met her; and I wish very much to see
her to-night.”

“Ah! I know nothing of the young lady, but a good deal of the voice,”
said Mr Agar; “a fine soprano,--a good deal of expression, and plenty of
fire. Yes, she needs nothing but cultivation to make a great success.”

“I think, sir,” said Agnes, suddenly breaking in upon this speech, “if
you would speak to Mrs Edgerley for her, perhaps they would not teaze
her about being a singer. She hates it. I know she does; and it would be
very good of you to help her, for she has no friends.”

Mr Agar looked at the young pleader with a smile of surprised amusement.
“And why should I interfere on her behalf? and why should she not be a
singer? and how do you suppose I could persuade myself to do such an
injury to Art?”

“She dislikes it very much,” said Agnes. “She is a woman--a girl--a
delicate mind; it would be very cruel to bring her before the world; and
indeed I am sure if you would speak to Mrs Edgerley--”

“My dear young lady,” cried Mr Agar, with a momentary shrug of his
eyebrows, and look of comic distress, “you entirely mistake my _rôle_. I
am not a knight-errant for the rescue of distressed princesses. I am a
humble servant of the beautiful; and a young lady’s tremors are really
not cause enough to induce me to resign a fine soprano. No. I bow before
my fair enslavers,” said the ancient Corydon, with a reverential
obeisance, which belonged, like his words, to another century; “but my
true and only mistress is Art.”

Agnes was silenced in a moment; but whether by this declaration, or by
the entrance of Rachel, who suddenly appeared, gliding in at a
side-door, could not be determined. Rachel came in, so quickly, and with
such a gliding motion, that anybody less intently on the watch could not
have discovered the moment of her appearance. She was soon at the piano,
and heard immediately; but she came there in a miraculous manner to all
the other observers, as if she had dropped from heaven.

And while the connoisseur stood apart to listen undisturbed, and Mrs
Edgerley’s guests were suddenly stayed in their flutter of talk and
mutual criticism by the “really good music” which their hostess had
promised them, Agnes sat listening, moved and anxious,--not to the song,
but to the singer. She thought the music--pathetic, complaining, and
resentful--instead of being a renowned _chef-d’œuvre_ of a famous
composer, was the natural outcry of this lonely girl. She thought she
could hear the solitary heart, the neglected life, making its appeal
indignant and sorrowful to some higher ear than all these careless
listeners. She bent unconsciously towards the singer, forgetting all her
mother’s rules of manners, and, leaning forward, supported her rapt and
earnest face with her hand. Mrs Edgerley paused to point out to some one
the sweet enthusiasm, the delightful impressionable nature of her
charming young friend; but to tell the truth, Agnes was not thinking at
all of the music. It seemed to her a strange impassioned monologue,--a
thing of which she was the sole hearer,--an irrepressible burst of
confidence, addressed to the only one here present who cared to receive
the same.

When it was over she raised herself almost painfully from her listening
posture; _she_ did not join in any of the warm expressions of delight
which burst from her neighbours; and with extreme impatience Agnes
listened to the cool criticism of Mr Agar, who was delivering his
opinion very near her. Her heart ached as she saw the musician turn
haughtily aside, and heard her say, “I am here when you want me again;”
and Rachel withdrew to a sofa in a corner, and, shading her delicate
small face entirely with her hand, took up a book and read, or pretended
to read. Agnes looked on with eager interest, while several people, one
after another, approached the singer to offer her some of the usual
compliments, and retreated immediately, disconcerted by their reception.
Leaning back in her corner, with her book held obstinately before her,
and the small pale hand shading the delicate face, it was impossible to
intrude upon Rachel. Agnes sat watching her, quite absorbed and
sad--thinking in her own quick creative mind, many a proud thought for
Rachel--and fancying she could read in that unvarying and statue-like
attitude a world of tumultuous feelings. She was so much occupied that
she took no notice of Sir Langham; and even Marian, though she appealed
to her twenty times, did not get more than a single word in reply.

“Is she not the most wonderful little genius?” cried Mrs Edgerley,
making one of her sudden descents upon Agnes. “I tell everybody she is
next to you--quite next to you in talent. I expect she will make quite a
_furor_ next season when she makes her _début_.”

“But she dislikes it so much,” said Agnes.

“What, music? Oh, you mean coming out: poor child, she does not know
what is for her own advantage,” said Mrs Edgerley. “My love, in _her_
circumstances, people have no right to consult their feelings; and a
successful singer may live quite a fairy life. Music is so
entrancing--these sort of people make fortunes immediately, and then, of
course, she could retire, and be as private as she pleased. Oh, yes, I
am sure she will be delighted to gratify you, Mr Agar: she will sing
again.”

It scarcely required a word from Mrs Edgerley--scarcely a sign. Rachel
seemed to know by intuition when she was wanted, and, putting down her
book, went to the piano again;--perhaps Agnes was not so attentive this
time, for she felt herself suddenly roused a few minutes after by a
sudden tremor in the magnificent voice--a sudden shake and tremble,
having the same effect upon the singing which a start would have upon
the frame. Agnes looked round eagerly to see the cause--there was no
cause apparent--and no change whatever in the company, save for the pale
spasmodic face of Lord Winterbourne, newly arrived, and saluting his
daughter at the door.

Was it this? Agnes could not wait to inquire, for immediately the music
rose and swelled into such a magnificent burst and overflow that every
one held his breath. To the excited ear of Agnes, it sounded like a
glorious challenge and defiance, irrestrainable and involuntary; and ere
the listeners had ceased to wonder, the music was over, and the singer
gone.

“A sudden effect--our young performer is not without dramatic talent,”
said Mr Agar. Agnes said nothing; but she searched in the corner of the
sofa with her eyes, watched the side-door, and stole sidelong looks at
Lord Winterbourne. He never seemed at his ease, this uncomfortable
nobleman; he had a discomfited look to-night, like a man defeated, and
Agnes could not help thinking of Charlie, with his sudden enmity, and
the old acquaintance of her father, and all the chances connected with
Aunt Bridget’s bequest; for the time, in her momentary impulse of
dislike and repulsion, she thought her noble neighbour, ex-minister and
peer of the realm as he was, was not a match for the big boy.

“Agnes, somebody says Lord Winterbourne is her father--Rachel’s
father--and she cannot bear him. Was that what Mrs Edgerley meant?”
whispered Marian in her ear with a look of sorrow. “Did you hear her
voice tremble--did you see how she went away? They say she is his
daughter--oh, Agnes, can it be true?”

But Agnes did not know, and could not answer: if it was true, then it
was very certain that Rachel must be right; and that there were depths
and mysteries and miseries of life, of which, in spite of all their
innocent acquaintance with sorrow, these simple girls had scarcely
heard, and never knew.



CHAPTER IV.

MAKING FRIENDS.


The next morning, and the next again, Agnes and Marian vainly sought the
little bower of willows looking for Rachel. Once they saw her escape
hastily out of the shrubbery as they returned from their search, and
knew by that means that she wished to avoid them; but though they heard
her sing every night, they made no advance in their friendship, for that
was the only time in which Rachel was visible, and then she defied all
intrusion upon her haughty solitude. Mr Agar himself wisely kept aloof
from the young singer. The old gentleman did not choose to subject
himself to the chance of a repulse.

But if Rachel avoided them, Sir Langham certainly did not. This
enterprising youth, having discovered their first early walk, took care
to be in the way when they repeated it, and on the fourth morning,
without saying anything to each other, the sisters unanimously decided
to remain within the safe shelter of their own apartments. From a
corner of their window they could see Sir Langham in vexation and
impatience traversing the slope of the lawn, and pulling off the long
ashy willow-leaves to toss them into the river. Marian laughed to
herself without giving a reason, and Agnes was very glad they had
remained in the house; but the elder sister, reasoning with elaborate
wisdom, made up her mind to ask no further questions about Sir Langham,
how Marian liked him, or what she thought of his attentions. Agnes
thought too many inquiries might “put something into her head.”

Proceeding upon this astute line of policy, Agnes took no notice
whatever of all the assiduities of the handsome guardsman, not even his
good-natured and brotherly attentions to herself. They were only to
remain a fortnight at the Willows--very little harm, surely, could be
done in that time, and they had but a slender chance of meeting again.
So the elder sister, in spite of her charge of Marian, quieted her
conscience and her fears--and in the mean time the two girls, with
thorough and cordial simplicity, took pleasure in their holiday, finding
everybody kind to them, and excusing with natural humbleness any chance
symptom of neglect.

They had been a week at the Willows, and every day had used every means
in their power to see Rachel again, when one morning, suddenly, without
plot or premeditation, Agnes encountered her in a long passage which
ran from the hall to the morning-room of Mrs Edgerley. There was a long
window at the end of this passage, against which the small rapid figure,
clothed in a dark close-fitting dress, without the smallest relief of
ornament, stood out strangely, outlined and surrounded by the light.
Agnes had some flowers in her hand, the gift of her acquaintance the
gardener. She fancied that Rachel glanced at them wistfully, and she was
eager of the opportunity. “They are newly gathered--will you take some?”
said Agnes, holding out her hands to her. The young stranger paused, and
looked for an instant distrustfully at her and the flowers. Agnes hoped
nothing better than to be dismissed with a haughty word of thanks; but
while Rachel lingered, the door of the morning-room was opened, and an
approaching footstep struck upon the tiled floor. The young singer did
not look behind her, did not pause to see who it was, but recognising
the step, as it seemed, with a sudden start and tremor, suddenly laid
her hand on Agnes’s arm, and drew her hurriedly in within a door which
she flung open. As soon as they were in, Rachel closed the door with
haste and force, and stood close by it with evident agitation and
excitement. “I beg your pardon--but hush, do not speak till he is past,”
she said in a whisper. Agnes, much discomposed and troubled, went to
the window, as people generally do in embarrassment, and looked out
vacantly for a moment upon the kitchen-garden and the servants’
“offices,” the only prospect visible from it. She could not help sharing
a little the excitement of her companion, as she thought upon her own
singular position here, and listened with an involuntary thrill to the
slow step of the unknown person from whom they had fled, pacing along
the long cool corridor to pass this door.

But he did not pass the door; he made a moment’s pause at it, and then
entered, coming full upon Rachel as she stood, agitated and defiant,
close upon the threshold. Agnes scarcely looked round, yet she could see
it was Lord Winterbourne.

“Good morning, Rachel. I trust you get on well here,” said the new-comer
in a soft and stealthy tone: “is this your sitting-room? Ah, bare
enough, I see. Your are in splendid voice, I am glad to hear; some one
is coming to-night, I understand, whose good opinion is important. You
must take care to do yourself full justice. Are you well, child?”

He had approached close to her, and bestowed a cold kiss upon the brow
which burned under his touch. “Perfectly well,” said Rachel, drawing
back with a voice unusually harsh and clear. Her agitation and
excitement had for the moment driven all the music from her tones.

“And your brother is quite well, and all going on in the usual way at
Winterbourne,” continued the stranger. “I expect to have the house very
full in a few weeks, and you must arrange with the housekeeper where to
bestow yourselves. _You_, of course, I shall want frequently. As for
Louis, I suppose he does nothing but fish and mope as usual. I have no
desire to see more than I can help of _him_.”

“There is no fear; his desire is as strong as yours,” cried Rachel
suddenly, her face varying from the most violent flush to a sudden
passionate paleness. Lord Winterbourne answered by his cold smile of
ridicule.

“I know his amiable temper,” he said. “Now, remember what I have said
about to-night. Do yourself justice. It will be for your advantage.
Good-by. Remember me to Louis.”

The door opened again, and he was gone. Rachel closed it almost
violently, and threw herself upon a chair. “We owe him no duty--none. I
will not believe it,” cried Rachel. “No--no--no--I do not belong to him!
Louis is not his!”

All this time, in the greatest distress and embarrassment, Agnes stood
by the window, grieved to be an unwilling listener, and reluctant to
remind Rachel of her presence by going away. But Rachel had not
forgotten that she was there. With a sudden effort this strange solitary
girl composed herself and came up to Agnes. “Do you know Lord
Winterbourne?” she said quickly; “have you heard of him before you came
here?”

“I think---- but, indeed, I may be mistaken,” said Agnes timidly; “I
think papa once knew him long ago.”

“And did he think him a good man?” said Rachel.

This was a very embarrassing question. Agnes turned away, retreated
uneasily, blushed, and hesitated. “He never speaks of him; I cannot
tell,” said Agnes.

“Do you know,” said Rachel, eagerly, “they say he is my father--Louis’s
father; but we do not believe it, neither I nor he.”

To this singular statement Agnes made no answer, save by a look of
surprise and inquiry; the frightful uncertainty of such a position as
this was beyond the innocent comprehension of Agnes Atheling. She looked
with a blank and painful surprise into her young companion’s face.

“And I will not sing to-night; I will not, because he bade me!” said
Rachel. “Is it my fault that I can sing? but I am to be punished for it;
they make me come to amuse them; and they want me to be a public singer.
I should not care,” cried the poor girl suddenly, in a violent burst of
tears, passing from her passion and excitement to her natural
character--“I would not mind it for myself, if it were not for Louis. I
would do anything they bade me myself; I do not care, nothing matters to
me; but Louis--Louis! he thinks it is disgrace, and it would break his
heart!”

“Is that your brother?” said Agnes, bending over her, and endeavouring
to soothe her excitement. Rachel made no immediate answer.

“He has disgrace enough already, poor boy,” said Rachel. “We are
nobody’s children; or we are Lord Winterbourne’s; and he who might be a
king’s son--and he has not even a name! Yes, he is my brother, my poor
Louis: we are twins; and we have nobody but each other in the whole
world.”

“If he is as old as you,” said Agnes, who was only accustomed to the
usages of humble houses, and knew nothing of the traditions of a noble
race, “you should not stay at Winterbourne: a man can always work--you
ought not to stay.”

“Do you think so?” cried Rachel eagerly. “Louis says so always, and I
beg and plead with him. When he was only eighteen he ran away: he went
and enlisted for a soldier--a common man--and was away a year, and then
they bought him off, and promised to get him a commission; and I made
him promise to me--perhaps it was selfish, for I could not live when he
was gone--I made him promise not to go away again. And there he is at
Winterbourne. I know you never saw any one like him; and now all these
heartless people are going there, and Lord Winterbourne is afraid of
him, and never will have him seen, and the whole time I will be sick to
the very heart lest he should go away.”

“But I think he ought to go away,” said Agnes gravely.

Her new friend looked up in her face with an earnest and trembling
scrutiny. This poor girl had a great deal more passion and vehemence in
her character than had ever been called for in Agnes, but, an
uninstructed and ill-trained child, knew nothing of the primitive
independence, and had never been taught to think of right and wrong.

“We have a little house there,” said Agnes, with a sudden thought. “Do
you know the Old Wood Lodge? Papa’s old aunt left it to him, and they
say it is very near the Hall.”

At the name Rachel started suddenly, rose up at once with one of her
quick inconsiderate movements, and, throwing her arms round Agnes,
kissed her cheek. “I knew I ought to know you,” said Rachel, “and yet I
did not think of the name. Dear old Miss Bridget, she loved Louis. I am
sure she loved him; and we know every room in the house, and every leaf
on the trees. If you come there, we will see you every day.”

“We are coming there--and my mother,” said Agnes. “I know you will be
pleased to see mamma,” said the good girl, her face brightening, and her
eyes filling in spite of herself; “every one thinks she is like their
own mother--and when you come to us you will think you are at home.”

“We never had any mother,” said Rachel, sadly; “we never had any home;
we do not know what it is. Look, this is my home here.”

Agnes looked round the large bare apartment, in which the only article
of furniture worth notice was an old piano, and which looked only upon
the little square of kitchen-garden and the servants’ rooms. It was
somewhat larger than both the parlours in Bellevue, and for a best room
would have rejoiced Mrs Atheling’s ambitious heart; but Agnes was
already a little wiser than she had been in Islington, and it chilled
her heart to compare this lonely and dreary apartment with all the
surrounding luxuries, which Rachel saw and did not share.

“Come up with me and see Marian,” said Agnes, putting her arm through
her companion’s; “you are not to avoid us now any more; we are all to be
friends after to-day.”

And Rachel, who did not know what friendship was, yielded, thinking of
Louis. Had she been wrong throughout in keeping him, by her entreaties,
so long at Winterbourne? A vision of a home, all to themselves, burst
once in a great delight upon the mind of Rachel. If Louis would only
consent to it! With such a motive before her as that, the poor girl
fancied she “would not mind” being a singer after all.



CHAPTER V.

CONFIDENTIAL.


When the first ice was broken, Rachel became perfectly confidential with
her new friends--_perfectly_ confidential--far more so than they,
accustomed to the domestic privateness of humble English life, could
understand. This poor girl had no restraint upon her for family pride or
family honour; no compensation in family sympathy; and her listeners,
who had very little skill in the study of character, though one of them
had written a novel, were extremely puzzled with a kind of doubleness,
perfectly innocent and unconscious, which made Rachel’s thoughts and
words at different moments like the words and the thoughts of two
different people. At one time she was herself, humble, timid, and
content to do anything which any authority bade her do; but in a moment
she remembered Louis; and the change was instantaneous--she became
proud, stately, obdurate, even defiant. She was no longer herself, but
the shadow and representative of her brother; and in this view Rachel
resisted and defied every influence, anchoring her own wavering will
upon Louis, and refusing, with unreasonable and unreasoning obstinacy,
all injunctions and all persuasions coming from those to whom her
brother was opposed. She seemed, indeed, to have neither plan nor
thought for herself: Louis was her inspiration. _She_ seemed to have
been born for no other purpose but to follow, to love, and to serve this
brother, who to her was all the world. As she sat on the pretty chintz
sofa in that sunny little dressing-room where Agnes and Marian passed
the morning, running rapidly over the environs of the Old Wood Lodge,
and telling them about their future neighbours, they were amazed and
amused to find the total absence of personal opinion, and almost of
personal liking, in their new acquaintance. She had but one standard, to
which she referred everything, and that was Louis. They saw the very
landscape, not as it was, but as it appeared to this wonderful brother.
They became acquainted with the village and its inhabitants through the
medium of Louis’s favourites and Louis’s aversions. They were young
enough and simple enough themselves to be perfectly ready to invest any
unknown ideal person with all the gifts of fancy; and Louis immediately
leaped forth from the unknown world, a presence and an authority to them
both.

“The Rector lives in the Old Wood House,” said Rachel, for the first
time pausing, and looking somewhat confused in her rapid summary. “I am
sure I do not know what to think--but Louis does not like him. I suppose
you will not like him; and yet,”--here a little faint colour came upon
the young speaker’s pale face--“sometimes I have fancied he would have
been a friend if we had let him; and he is quite sure to like you.”

Saying this, she turned a somewhat wistful look upon Agnes--blushing
more perceptibly, but with no sunshine or brightness in her blush.
“Yes,” said Rachel slowly, “he will like you--he will do for you; and
you,” she added, turning with sudden eagerness to Marian, “you are for
Louis--remember! You are not to think of any one else till you see
Louis. You never saw any one like him; he is like a prince to look at,
and I know he is a great genius. Your sister shall have the Rector, and
Louis shall be for you.”

All this Rachel said hurriedly, but with the most perfect gravity, even
with a tinge of sadness--grieved, as they could perceive, that her
brother did not like the Rector, but making no resistance against a doom
so unquestionable as the dislike of Louis: but her timid heart was
somehow touched upon the subject; she became thoughtful, and lingered
over it with a kind of melancholy pleasure. “Perhaps Louis might come
to like him if he was connected with _you_,” said Rachel meditatively;
and the faint colour wavered and flickered on her face, and at last
passed away with a low but very audible sigh.

“But they are all Riverses,” she continued, in her usual rapid way. “The
Rector of Winterbourne is always a Rivers--it is the family living; and
if Lord Winterbourne’s son should die, I suppose Mr Lionel would be the
heir. His sister lives with him, quite an old lady: and then there is
another Miss Rivers, who lives far off, at Abingford all the way. Did
you ever hear of Miss Anastasia? But she does not call herself
Miss--only the Honourable Anastasia Rivers. Old Miss Bridget was once
her governess. Lord Winterbourne will never permit her to see us; but I
almost think Louis would like to be friends with her, only he will not
take the trouble. They are not at all friends with her at Winterbourne.”

“Is she a relation?” said Agnes. The girls by this time were so much
interested in the family story that they did not notice this admirable
reason for the inclination of Louis towards this old lady unknown.

“She is the old lord’s only child,” said Rachel. “The old lord was Lord
Winterbourne’s brother, and he died abroad, and no one knew anything
about him for a long time before he died. We want very much to hear
about him; indeed, I ought not to tell you--but Louis thinks perhaps he
knew something about us. Louis will not believe we are Lord
Winterbourne’s children; and though we are poor disgraced children any
way, and though he hates the very name of Rivers, I think he would
almost rather we belonged to the old lord; for he says,” added Rachel
with great seriousness, “that one cannot hate one’s father, if he is
dead.”

The girls drew back a little, half in horror; but though she spoke in
this rebellious fashion, there was no consciousness of wrong in Rachel’s
innocent and quiet face.

“And we have so many troubles,” burst forth the poor girl suddenly. “And
I sometimes sit and cry all day, and pray to God to be dead. And when
anybody is kind to me,” she continued, some sudden remembrance moving
her to an outburst of tears, and raising the colour once more upon her
colourless cheek, “I am so weak and so foolish, and would do anything
they tell me. _I_ do not care, I am sure, what I do--it does not matter
to me; but Louis--no, certainly, I will not sing to-night.”

“I wish very much,” said Agnes, with an earnestness and courage which
somewhat startled Marian--“I wish very much you could come home with us
to our little house in Bellevue.”

“Yes,” said Marian doubtfully; but the younger sister, though she
shared the generous impulse, could not help a secret glance at Agnes--an
emphatic reminder of Mamma.

“No, I must make no friends,” said Rachel, rising under the inspiration
of Louis’s will and injunctions. “It is very kind of you, but I must not
do it. Oh, but remember you are to come to Winterbourne, and I will try
to bring Louis to see you; and I am sure you know a great deal better,
and could talk to him different from me. Do you know,” she continued
solemnly, “they never have given me any education at all, except to
sing? I have never been taught anything, nor indeed Louis either, which
is much worse than me--only he is a great genius, and can teach himself.
The Rector wanted to help him; that is why I am always sure, if Louis
would let him, he would be a friend.”

And again a faint half-distinguishable blush came upon Rachel’s face.
No, it meant nothing, though Agnes and Marian canvassed and interpreted
after their own fashion this delicate suffusion; it only meant that the
timid gentle heart might have been touched had there been room for more
than Louis; but Louis was supreme, and filled up all.



CHAPTER VI.

THREE FRIENDS.


That night, faithful to her purpose, Rachel did not appear in the
drawing-room. How far her firmness would have supported her, had she
been left to herself, it is impossible to tell; but she was not left to
herself. “Mrs Edgerley came, saying just the same things as Lord
Winterbourne,” said Rachel, “and I knew I should be firm. Louis cannot
endure Mrs Edgerley.” She said this with the most entire unconsciousness
that she revealed the whole motive and strength of her resistance in the
words. Rachel, indeed, was perfectly unaware of the entire subjection in
which she kept even her thoughts and her affections to her brother; but
she could not help a little anxiety and a little nervousness as to
whether “Louis would like” her new acquaintances. She herself brightened
wonderfully under the influence of these companions--expanded out of her
dull and irritable solitude, and with girlish eagerness forecast their
fortunes, seizing at once, in idea, upon Marian as the destined bride
of Louis, and with a voluntary self-sacrifice making over, with a sigh
and a secret thrill of pride, the only person who had ever wakened any
interest in her own most sisterly bosom, to Agnes. She pleased herself
greatly with these visions, and built them on a foundation still more
brittle than that of Alnaschar--for it was possible that all her
pleasant dreams might be thrown into the dust in a moment, if--dreadful
possibility!--“Louis did not like” these first friends of poor Rachel’s
youth.

And when she brightened under this genial influence, and softened out of
the haughtiness and solitary state which, indeed, was quite foreign to
her character, Rachel became a very attractive little person. Even the
sudden change in her sentiments and bearing when she returned to her old
feeling of representing Louis, added a charm. Her large eyes troubled
and melting, her pale small features which were very fine and regular,
though so far from striking, her noble little head and small pretty
figure, attracted in the highest degree the admiration of her new
friends. Marian, who rather suspected that she herself was rather
pretty, could not sufficiently admire the grace and refinement of
Rachel; and Agnes, though candidly admitting that there was “scarcely
any one” so beautiful as Marian, notwithstanding bestowed a very equal
share of her regard upon the attractions of their companion. And the
trio fell immediately into all the warmth of girlish friendship. The
Athelings went to visit Rachel in her great bare study, and Rachel came
to visit them in their pretty little dressing-room; and whether in that
sun-bright gay enclosure, or within the sombre and undecorated walls of
the room which looked out on the kitchen-garden, a painter would have
been puzzled to choose which was the better scene. They were so pretty a
group anywhere--so animated--so full of eager life and intelligence--so
much disposed to communicate everything that occurred to them, that
Rachel’s room brightened under the charm of their presence as she
herself had done. And this new acquaintanceship made a somewhat singular
revolution in the drawing-room--where the young musician, after her
singing, was instantly joined by her two friends. She was extremely
reserved and shy of every one else, and even of them occasionally, under
the eyes of Mrs Edgerley; but she was no longer the little tragical
princess who buried herself in the book and the corner, and neither
heard nor saw anything going around her. And the fact that they had some
one whose position was even more doubtful and uneasy than their own, to
give heart and courage to, animated Agnes and Marian, as nothing else
could have done. They recovered their natural spirits, and were no
longer overawed by the great people surrounding them; they had so much
care for Rachel that they forgot to be self-conscious, or to trouble
themselves with inquiries touching their own manners and deportment, and
what other people thought of the same; and on the whole, though their
simplicity was not quite so amusing as at first, “other people” began to
have a kindness for the fresh young faces, always so honest, cloudless,
and sincere.

But Agnes’s “reputation” had died away, and left very little trace
behind it. Mrs Edgerley had found other lions, and at the present moment
held in delusion an unfortunate young poet, who was much more like to be
harmed by the momentary idolatry than Agnes. The people who had been
dying to know the author of _Hope Hazlewood_, had all found out that the
shy young genius did not talk in character--had no gift of conversation,
and, indeed, did nothing at all to keep up her fame; and if Agnes
chanced to feel a momentary mortification at the prompt desertion of all
her admirers, she wisely kept the pang to herself, and said nothing
about it. They were not neglected--for the accomplished authoress of
_Coquetry_ and the _Beau Monde_ had some kindness at her heart after
all, and had always a smile to spare for her young guests when they came
in her way; they were permitted to roam freely about the gardens and the
conservatory; they were by no means hindered in their acquaintance with
Rachel, whom Mrs Edgerley was really much disposed to bring out and
patronise; and one of them, the genius or the beauty, as best suited her
other companions, was not unfrequently honoured with a place in Mrs
Edgerley’s barouche--a pretty shy lay figure in that rustling, radiant,
perfumy _bouquet_ of fine ladies, who talked over her head about things
and people perfectly unknown to the silent auditor, and impressed her
with a vague idea that this elegant and easy gossip was brilliant
“conversation,” though it did not quite sound, after all, like that
grand unattainable conversation to be found in books. After this
fashion, liking their novel life wonderfully well, and already making a
home of that sunny little dressing-room, they drew gradually towards the
end of their fortnight. As yet nothing at all marvellous had happened to
them, and even Agnes seemed to have forgotten the absolute necessity of
letting everybody know that they “did not belong to great people,” but
instead of a rural Hall, or Grange of renown, lived only in Number Ten,
Bellevue.



CHAPTER VII.

A TERRIBLE EVENT.


For Agnes, we are grieved to confess, had fallen into all the sudden
fervour of a most warm and enthusiastic girlish friendship. She forgot
to watch over her sister, though Mrs Atheling’s letters did not fail to
remind her of her duty; she forgot to ward off the constant regards of
Sir Langham. She began to be perfectly indifferent and careless of the
superb sentinel who mounted guard upon Marian every night. For the time,
Agnes was entirely occupied with Rachel, and with the new world so full
of a charmed unknown life, which seemed to open upon them all in this
Old Wood Lodge; she spent hours dreaming of some discovery which might
change the position of the unfortunate brother and sister; she took up
with warmth and earnestness their dislike to Lord Winterbourne. If it
sometimes occurred to her what a frightful sentiment this was on the
part of children to their father, she corrected herself suddenly, and
declared in her own mind, with heart and energy, that he could not be
their father--that there was no resemblance between them. But this, it
must be confessed, was a puzzling subject, and offered continual ground
for speculation; for princes and princesses, stolen away in their
childhood, were extremely fictitious personages, even to an imagination
which had written a novel; and Agnes could not help a thrill of
apprehension when she thought of Louis and Marian, of the little romance
which Rachel had made up between them, and how her own honourable father
and mother would look upon this unhappy scion of a noble house--this
poor boy who had no name.

This future, so full of strange and exciting possibilities, attracted
with an irresistible power the imaginative mind of Agnes. She went
through it chapter by chapter--through earnest dialogues, overpowering
emotions, many a varying and exciting scene. The Old Wood Lodge, the Old
Wood House, the Hall, the Rector, the old Miss Rivers, the unknown hero,
Louis--these made a little private world of persons and places to the
vivid imagination of the young dreamer. They floated down even upon Mrs
Edgerley’s drawing-room, extinguishing its gay lights, its pretty faces,
and its hum of conversation; but with still more effect filled all her
mind and meditations, as she rested, half reclining, upon the pretty
chintz sofa in the pretty dressing-room, in the sweet summer noon with
which this sweet repose was so harmonious and suitable. The window was
open, and the soft wind blowing in fluttered all the leaves of that book
upon the little table, which the sunshine, entering too, brightened into
a dazzling whiteness with all its rims and threads of gold. A fragrant
breath came up from the garden, a hum of soft sound from all the drowsy
world out of doors. Agnes, in the corner of the sofa, laying back her
head among its pretty cushions, with the smile of fancy on her lips, and
the meditative inward light shining in her eyes, playing her foot idly
on the carpet, playing her fingers idly among a little knot of flowers
which lay at her side, and which, in this sweet indolence, she had not
yet taken the trouble to arrange in the little vase--was as complete a
picture of maiden meditation--of those charmed fancies, sweet and
fearless, which belong to her age and kind, as painter or poet could
desire to see.

When Marian suddenly broke in upon the retirement of her sister,
disturbed, fluttered, a little afraid, but with no appearance of
painfulness, though there was a certain distress in her excitement.
Marian’s eyes were downcast, abashed, and dewy, her colour unusually
bright, her lips apart, her heart beating high. She came into the
little quiet room with a sudden burst, as if she had fled from some one;
but when she came within the door, paused as suddenly, put up her hands
to her face, blushed an overpowering blush, and dropped at once with the
shyest, prettiest movement in the world, into a low chair which stood
behind the door. Agnes, waking slowly out of her own bright mist of
fancy, saw all this with a faint wonder--noticing scarcely anything more
than that Marian surely grew prettier every day, and indeed had never
looked so beautiful all her life.

“May! you look quite----” lovely, Agnes was about to say; but she paused
in consideration of her sister’s feelings, and said “frightened”
instead.

“Oh, no wonder! Agnes, something has happened,” said Marian. She began
to look even more frightened as she spoke; yet the pretty saucy lip
moved a little into something that resembled suppressed and silent
laughter. In spite, however, of this one evidence of a secret mixture of
amusement, Marian was extremely grave and visibly afraid.

“What has happened? Is it about Rachel?” asked Agnes, instantly
referring Marian’s agitation to the subject of her own thoughts.

“About Rachel! you are always thinking about Rachel,” said Marian, with
a momentary sparkle of indignation. “It is something a great deal more
important; it is--oh, Agnes! Sir Langham has been speaking to me----”

Agnes raised herself immediately with a start of eagerness and surprise,
accusing herself. She had forgotten all about this close and pressing
danger--she had neglected her guardianship--she looked with an appalled
and pitying look upon her beautiful sister. In Agnes’s eyes, it was
perfectly visible already that here was an end of Marian’s
happiness--that she had bestowed her heart upon Sir Langham, and that
accordingly this heart had nothing to do but to break.

“What did he say?” asked Agnes solemnly.

“He said---- oh, I am sure you know very well what he was sure to say,”
cried Marian, holding down her head, and tying knots in her little
handkerchief; “he said--he liked me--and wanted to know if I would
consent. But it does not matter what he said,” said Marian, sinking her
voice very low, and redoubling the knots upon the cambric; “it is not my
fault, indeed, Agnes. I did not think he would have done it; I thought
it was all like Harry Oswald; and you never said a word. What was I to
do?”

“What did _you_ say?” asked Agnes again, with breathless anxiety,
feeling the reproach, but making no answer to it.

“I said nothing: it was in Mrs Edgerley’s morning-room, and she came in
almost before he was done speaking; and I was so very glad, and ran
away. What could I do?” said again the beautiful culprit, becoming a
little more at her ease; but during all this time she never lifted her
eyes to her sister’s face.

“What _will_ you say, then? Marian, you make me very anxious; do not
trifle with me,” said Agnes.

“It is you who are trifling,” retorted the young offender; “for you know
if you had told the people at once, as you said you would--but I don’t
mean to be foolish either,” said Marian, rising suddenly, and throwing
herself half into her sister’s arms; “and now, Agnes, you must go and
tell him--indeed you must--and say that we never intended to deceive
anybody, and meant no harm.”

“_I_ must tell him!” said Agnes, with momentary dismay; and then the
elder sister put her arm round the beautiful head which leaned on her
shoulder, in a caressing and sympathetic tenderness. “Yes, May,” said
Agnes sadly, “I will do anything you wish--I will say whatever you wish.
We ought not to have come here, where you were sure to meet with all
these perils. Marian! for my mother’s sake you must try to keep up your
heart when we get home.”

The answer Marian made to this solemn appeal was to raise her eyes, full
of wondering and mischievous brightness, and to draw herself immediately
from Agnes’s embrace with a low laugh of excitement. “Keep up my heart!
What do you mean?” said Marian; but she immediately hastened to her own
particular sleeping-room, and, lost within its mazy muslin curtains,
waited for no explanation. Agnes, disturbed and grave, and much
overpowered by her own responsibility, did not know what to think.
Present appearances were not much in favour of the breaking of Marian’s
heart.



CHAPTER VIII.

AN EXPLANATION.


“But what am I to say?”

To this most difficult question Agnes could not find any satisfactory
answer. Marian, though so nearly concerned in it, gave her no assistance
whatever. Marian went wandering about the three little rooms, flitting
from one to another with unmistakable restlessness, humming inconsistent
snatches of song, sometimes a little disposed to cry, sometimes moved to
smiles, extremely variable, and full of a sweet and pleasant agitation.
Agnes followed her fairy movements with grave eyes, extremely watchful
and anxious--was she grieved?--was she pleased? was she really in love?

But Marian made no sign. She would not intrust her sister with any
message from herself. She was almost disposed to be out of temper when
Agnes questioned her. “You know very well what must be said,” said
Marian; “you have only to tell him who we are--and I suppose that will
be quite enough for Sir Langham. Do you not think so, Agnes?”

“I think it all depends upon how he feels--and how _you_ feel,” said the
anxious sister; but Marian turned away with a smile and made no reply.
To tell the truth, she could not at all have explained her own
sentiments. She was very considerably flattered by the homage of the
handsome guardsman, and fluttered no less by the magnificent and
marvellous idea of being a ladyship. There was nothing very much on her
part to prevent this beautiful Marian Atheling from becoming as pretty a
Lady Portland, and by-and-by, as affectionate a one, as even the
delighted imagination of Sir Langham could conceive. But Marian was
still entirely fancy free--not at all disinclined to be persuaded into
love with Sir Langham, but at present completely innocent of any serious
emotions--pleased, excited, in the sweetest flutter of girlish
expectation, amusement, and triumph--but nothing more.

And from that corner of the window from which they could gain a sidelong
glance at the lawn and partial view of the shrubbery, Sir Langham was
now to be descried wandering about as restlessly as Marian, pulling off
stray twigs and handfuls of leaves in the most ruthless fashion, and
scattering them on his path. Marian drew Agnes suddenly and silently to
the window, and pointed out the impatient figure loitering about among
the trees. Agnes looked at him with dismay. “Am I to go now--to go out
and seek him?--is it proper?” said Agnes, somewhat horrified at the
thought. Marian took up the open book from the table, and drew the low
chair into the sunshine. “In the evening everybody will be there,” said
Marian, as she began to read, or to pretend to read. Agnes paused for a
moment in the most painful doubt and perplexity. “I suppose, indeed, it
had better be done at once,” she said to herself, taking up her bonnet
with very unenviable feelings. Poor Agnes! her heart beat louder and
louder, as she tied the strings with trembling fingers, and prepared to
go. There was Marian bending down over the book on her knees, sitting in
the sunshine with the full summer light burning upon her hair, and one
cheek flushed with the pressure of her supporting hand. She glanced up
eagerly, but she said nothing; and Agnes, very pale and extremely
doubtful, went upon her strange errand. It was the most perplexing and
uncomfortable business in the world--and was it proper? But she
reassured herself a little as she went down stairs--if any one should
see her going out to seek Sir Langham! “I will tell Mrs Edgerley the
reason,” thought Agnes--she supposed at least no one could have any
difficulty in understanding _that_.

So she hastened along the garden paths, very shyly, looking quite pale,
and with a palpitating heart. Sir Langham knew nothing of her approach
till he turned round suddenly on hearing the shy hesitating rapid step
behind. He thought it was Marian for a moment, and made one eager step
forward; then he paused, half expecting, half indignant. Agnes,
breathless and hurried, gave him no time to address her--she burst into
her little speech with all the eager temerity of fear.

“If you please, Sir Langham, I have something to say to you,” said
Agnes. “You must have been deceived in us--you do not know who we are.
We do not belong to great people--we have never before been in a house
like Mrs Edgerley’s. I came to tell you at once, for we did not think it
honest that you should not know.”

“Know--know what?” cried Sir Langham. Never guardsman before was filled
with such illimitable amaze.

Agnes had recovered her self-possession to some extent. “I mean, sir,”
she said earnestly, her face flushing as she spoke, “that we wish you to
know who we belong to, and that we are not of your rank, nor like the
people here. My father is in the City, and we live at Islington, in
Bellevue. We are able to live as we desire to live,” said Agnes with a
little natural pride, standing very erect, and blushing more deeply
than ever, “but we are what people at the Willows would call _poor_.”

Her amazed companion stood gazing at her with a blank face of wonder.
“Eh?” said Sir Langham. He could not for his life make it out.

“I suppose you do not understand me,” said Agnes, who began now to be
more at her ease than Sir Langham was, “but what I have said is quite
true. My father is an honourable man, whom we have all a right to be
proud of, but he has only--only a very little income every year. I meant
to have told every one at first, for we did not want to deceive--but
there was no opportunity, and whenever Marian told me, we made up our
minds that you ought to know. I mean,” said Agnes proudly, with a
strange momentary impression that she was taller than Sir Langham, who
stood before her biting the head of his cane, with a look of the
blankest discomfiture--“I mean that we forget altogether what you said
to my sister, and understand that you have been deceived.”

She was somewhat premature, however, in her contempt. Sir Langham,
overpowered with the most complete amazement, had _yet_, at all events,
no desire whatever that Marian should forget what he had said to her.
“Stop,” said the guardsman, with his voice somewhat husky; “do you mean
that your father is not a friend of Lord Winterbourne’s? He is a squire
in Banburyshire--I know all about it--or how could you be here?”

“He is not a squire in Banburyshire; he is in an office in the City--and
they asked us here because I had written a book,” said Agnes, with a
little sadness and great humility. “My father is not a friend of Lord
Winterbourne’s; but yet I think he knew him long ago.”

At these last words Sir Langham brightened a little. “Miss Atheling, I
don’t want to believe you,” said the honest guardsman; “I’ll ask Lord
Winterbourne.”

“Lord Winterbourne knows nothing of us,” said Agnes, with an involuntary
shudder of dislike; “and now I have told you, Sir Langham, and there is
nothing more to say.”

As she turned to leave him, the dismayed lover awoke out of his blank
astonishment. “Nothing more--not a word--not a message; what did she
say?” cried Sir Langham, reddening to his hair, and casting a wistful
look at the house where Marian was. He followed her sister with an
appealing gesture, yet paused in the midst of it. The unfortunate
guardsman had never been in circumstances so utterly perplexing; he
could not, would not, give up his love--and yet!

“Marian said nothing--nothing more than I have been obliged to say,”
said Agnes. She turned away now, and left him with a proud and rapid
step, inspired with injured pride and involuntary resentment. Agnes did
not quite know what she had expected of Sir Langham, but it surely was
something different from this.



CHAPTER IX.

AN EXPERIMENT.


But there was a wonderful difference between this high-minded and
impetuous girl, as she crossed the lawn with a hasty foot, which almost
scorned to sink into its velvet softness, and the disturbed and
bewildered individual who remained behind her in the bowery path where
this interview had taken place. Sir Langham Portland had no very bigoted
regard for birth, and no avaricious love of money. He was a very good
fellow after his kind, as Sir Langhams go, and would not have done a
dishonourable thing, with full knowledge of it, for the three kingdoms;
but Sir Langham was a guardsman, a man of fashion, a man of the world;
he was not so blinded by passion as to be quite oblivious of what
befalls a man who marries a pretty face; he was not wealthy enough or
great enough to indulge such a whim with impunity, and the beauty which
was enough to elevate a Banburyshire Hall, was not sufficient to gild
over the unmentionable enormity of a house in Islington and a father in
the City. Fathers in the City who are made of gold may be sufficiently
tolerable, but a City papa who was _poor_, and had “only a very small
income every year,” as Agnes said, was an unimaginable monster, scarcely
realisable to the brilliant intellect of Sir Langham. This unfortunate
young gentleman wandered about Mrs Edgerley’s bit of shrubbery, tearing
off leaves and twigs on every side of him, musing much in his perturbed
and cloudy understanding, and totally unable to make it out. Let nobody
suppose he had given up Marian; that would have made a settlement of the
question. But Sir Langham was not disposed to give up his beauty, and
not disposed to make a _mésalliance_; and between the terror of losing
her and the terror of everybody’s sneer and compassion if he gained her,
the unhappy lover vibrated painfully, quite unable to come to any
decision, or make up his mighty mind one way or the other. He stripped
off the leaves of the helpless bushes, but it did him no service; he
twisted his mustache, but there was no enlightenment to be gained from
that interesting appendage; he collected all his dazzled wits to the
consideration of what sort of creature a man might be who was in an
office in the City. Finally, a very brilliant and original idea struck
upon the heavy intelligence of Sir Langham. He turned briskly out of the
byways of the shrubbery, and said to himself with animation, “I’ll go
and see!”

When Agnes entered again the little dressing-room where her beautiful
sister still bent over her book, Marian glanced up at her inquiringly,
and finding no information elicited by that, waited a little, then rose,
and came shyly to her side. “I only want to know,” said Marian, “not
because I care; but what did he say?”

“He was surprised,” said Agnes proudly, turning her head away; and Agnes
would say nothing more, though Marian lingered by her, and tried various
hints and measures of persuasion. Agnes was extremely stately, and, as
Marian said, “just a little cross,” all day. It was rather too bad to be
cross, if she was so, to the innocent mischief-maker, who might be the
principal sufferer. But Agnes had made up her mind to suffer no talk
about Sir Langham; she had quite given him up, and judged him with the
most uncompromising harshness. “Yes!” cried Agnes (to herself), with
lofty and poetic indignation, “this I suppose is what these fashionable
people call love!”

She was wrong, as might have been expected; for that poor honest Sir
Langham, galloping through the dusty roads in the blazing heat of an
August afternoon, was quite as genuine in this proof of his affection
as many a knight of romance. It was quite a serious matter to this poor
young man of fashion, before whose tantalised and tortured imagination
some small imp of an attendant Cupid perpetually held up the sweetest
fancy-portrait of that sweetest of fair faces. This visionary tormentor
tugged at his very heart-strings as the white summer dust rose up in a
cloud, marking his progress along the whole long line of the Richmond
road. He was not going to slay the dragon, the enemy of his
princess--that would have been easy work. He was, unfortunate Sir
Langham! bound on a despairing enterprise to find out the house which
was not a hall in Banburyshire, to make acquaintance, if possible, with
the papa who was in the City, and to see “if it would do.”

He knew as little, in reality, about the life which Agnes and Marian
lived at home, and about their father’s house and all its homely
economics and quiet happiness, as if he had been a New Zealand chief
instead of a guardsman--and galloped along as gravely as if he were
going to a funeral, with, all the way, that wicked little imp of a
Cupidon tugging at his heart.

Mrs Atheling was alone with her two babies, sighing a little, and full
of weariness for the return of the girls; but Susan, better instructed
this time, ushered the magnificent visitor into the best room. He stood
gazing upon it in blank amazement; upon the haircloth sofa, and the
folded leaf of the big old mahogany table in the corner; and the
coloured glass candlesticks and flower-vases on the mantel-shelf. Mrs
Atheling, who was a little fluttered, and the rosy boy, who clung to her
skirts, and, spite of her audible entreaties in the passage, would not
suffer her to enter without him, rather increased the consternation of
Sir Langham. She was comely; she had a soft voice; a manner quite
unpretending and simple, as good in its natural quietness as the highest
breeding; yet Sir Langham, at sight of her, heaved from the depths of
his capacious bosom a mighty sigh. It would not do; that little wretch
of a Cupid, what a wrench it gave him as he tried to cast it out! If it
had been a disorderly house or a slatternly mother, Sir Langham might
have taken some faint comfort from the thought of rescuing his beautiful
Marian from a family unworthy of her; but even to his hazy understanding
it became instantly perceptible that this was a home not to be parted
with, and a mother much beloved. Marian, a prince might have been glad
to marry; but Sir Langham could not screw his fortitude to the pitch of
marrying all that little, tidy, well-ordered house in Bellevue.

So he made a great bungle of his visit, and invented a story about being
in town on business, and calling to carry the Miss Athelings’ messages
for home; and made the best he could of so bad a business by a very
expeditious retreat. Anything that he did say was about Agnes; and the
mother, though a little puzzled and startled by the visit, was content
to set it down to the popularity of her young genius. “I suppose he
wanted to see what kind of people she belonged to,” said Mrs Atheling,
with a smile of satisfaction, as she looked round her best room, and
drew back with her into the other parlour the rosy little rogues who
held on by her gown. She was perfectly correct in her supposition; but,
alas! how far astray in the issue of the same.

Sir Langham went to his club--went to the opera--could not rest
anywhere, and floundered about like a man bewitched. It would not do--it
would not do; but the merciless little Cupid hung on by his
heart-strings, and would not be off for all the biddings of the
guardsman. He did not return to Richmond; he was heartily ashamed of
himself--heartily sick of all the so-called pleasures with which he
tried to cheat his disappointment. But Sir Langham had a certain kind of
good sense though he was in love, so he applied himself to forgetting
“the whole business,” and made up his mind finally that it would not do.

The sisters at the Willows, when they found that Sir Langham did not
appear that night, and that no one knew anything of him, made their own
conclusions on the subject, but did not say a word even to each other.
Agnes sat apart silently indignant, and full of a sublime disdain.
Marian, with, a deeper colour than usual on her cheek, was, on the
contrary, a great deal more animated than was her wont, and attracted
everybody’s admiration. Had anybody cared to think of the matter, it
would have been the elder sister, and not the younger, whom the common
imagination could have supposed to have lost a lover; but they went to
rest very early that night, and spent no pleasant hour in the pleasant
gossip which never failed between them. Sir Langham was not to be spoken
of; and Agnes lay awake, wondering what Marian’s feelings were, long
after Marian, forgetting all about her momentary pique and anger, was
fast and sweet asleep.



CHAPTER X.

GOING HOME.


And now it had come to an end--all the novelty, the splendour, and the
excitement of this first visit--and Agnes and Marian were about to go
home. They were very much pleased, and yet a little disappointed--glad
and eager to return to their mother, yet feeling it would have been
something of a compliment to be asked to remain.

Rachel, who was a great deal more vehement and demonstrative than either
of them, threw herself into their arms with violent tears. “I have been
so happy since ever I knew you,” said Rachel--“so happy, I scarcely
thought it right when I was not with Louis--and I think I could almost
like to be your servant, and go home with you. I could do anything for
you.”

“Hush!” said Agnes.

“No; it is quite true,” cried poor Rachel--“_quite_ true. I should like
to be your servant, and live with your mother. Oh! I ought to say,” she
continued, raising herself with a little start and thrill of terror,
“that if we were in a different position, and could meet people like
equals, I should be so glad--so very glad to be friends.”

“But how odd Rachel would think it to live in Bellevue,” said Marian,
coming to the rescue with a little happy ridicule, which did better than
gravity, “and to see no one, even in the street, but the milkman and the
greengrocer’s boy! for Rachel only thinks of the Willows and
Winterbourne; she does not know in the least how things look in
Bellevue.”

Rachel was beguiled into a laugh--a very unusual indulgence. “When you
say that, I think it is a very little cottage like one of the cottages
in the village; but you know that is all wrong. Oh, when do you think
you will go to Winterbourne?”

“We will write and tell you,” said Agnes, “all about it, and how many
are going; for I do not suppose Charlie will come, after all; and you
will write to us--how often? Every other day?”

Rachel turned very red, then very pale, and looked at them with
considerable dismay. “Write!” she said, with a falter in her voice;
“I--I never thought of that--I never wrote to any one; I daresay I
should do it very badly. Oh no; I shall be sure to find out whenever you
come to the Old Wood Lodge.”

“But we shall hear nothing of you,” said Agnes. “Why should you not
write to us? I am sure you do to your brother at home.”

“I do _not_,” said Rachel, once more drawing herself up, and with
flashing eyes. “No one can write letters to us, who have no name.”

She was not to be moved from this point; she repeated the same words
again and again, though with a very wistful and yielding look in her
face. All for Louis! Her companions were obliged to give up the
question, after all.

So there was another weeping, sobbing, vehement embrace, and
Rachel disappeared without a word into the big bare room down
stairs--disappeared to fall again, without a struggle, into her former
forlorn life--to yield on her own account, and to struggle with fierce
haughtiness for the credit of Louis--leaving the two sisters very
thoughtful and compassionate, and full of a sudden eager generous
impulse to run away with and take her home.

“Home--to mamma! It would be like heaven to Rachel,” said Agnes, in a
little enthusiasm, with tears in her eyes.

“Ay, but it would not be like the Willows,” said the most practical
Marian; and they both looked out with a smile and a sigh upon the
beautiful sunshiny lawn, the river in an ecstasy of light and
brightness, the little island with all its ruffled willow-leaves, and
bethought themselves, finding some amusement in the contrast, of Laurel
House, and Myrtle Cottage, and the close secluded walls of Bellevue.

Mrs Atheling had sent the Fly for her daughters--the old Islingtonian
fly, with the old white horse, and the coachman with his shiny hat. This
vehicle, which had once been a chariot of the gods, looked somewhat
shabby as it stood in the broad sunshine before the door of the Willows,
accustomed to the fairy coach of Mrs Edgerley. They laughed to
themselves very quietly when they caught their first glimpse of it, yet
in a momentary weakness were half ashamed; for even Agnes’s honest
determination to let everybody know their true “rank in life” was not
troubled by any fear lest this respectable vehicle should be taken for
their own carriage _now_.

“Going, my love?” cried Mrs Edgerley; “the fatal hour--has it really
come so soon?--You leave us all _desolée_, of course; how _shall_ we
exist to-day? And it was so good of you to come. Remember! we shall be
dying till we have a new tale from the author of _Hope Hazlewood_. I
long to see it. I know it will be charming, or it could not be
yours.--And, my love, you look quite lovely--such roses! I think you
quite the most exquisite little creature in the world. Remember me to
your excellent mamma. Is your carriage waiting? Ah, I am miserable to
part with you. Farewell--that dreadful word--farewell!”

Again that light perfumy touch waved over one blushing cheek and then
another. Mrs Edgerley continued to wave her hand and make them pretty
signals till they reached the door, whither they hastened as quickly and
as quietly as possible, not desiring any escort; but few were the
privileged people in Mrs Edgerley’s morning-room, and no one cared to do
the girls so much honour. Outside the house their friend the gardener
waited with two bouquets, so rare and beautiful that the timid
recipients of the same, making him their humble thanks, scarcely knew
how to express sufficient gratitude. Some one was arriving as they
departed--some one who, making the discovery of their presence, stalked
towards them, almost stumbling over Agnes, who happened to be nearest to
him. “Going away?” said a dismayed voice at a considerable altitude. Mr
Endicott’s thin head positively vibrated with mortification; he
stretched it towards Marian, who stood before him smiling over her
flowers, and fixed a look of solemn reproach upon her. “I am aware that
beauty and youth flee often from the presence of one who looks upon life
with a studious eye. This disappointment is not without its object. You
are going away?”

“Yes,” said Marian, laughing, but with a little charitable compassion
for her own particular victim, “and you are just arriving? It is very
odd--you should have come yesterday.”

“Permit me,” said Mr Endicott moodily;--“no; I am satisfied. This
experience is well--I am glad to know it. To us, Miss Atheling,” said
the solemn Yankee, as he gave his valuable assistance to Agnes--“to us
this play and sport of fortune is but the proper training. Our business
is not to enjoy; we bear these disappointments for the world.”

He put them into their humble carriage, and bowed at them solemnly. Poor
Mr Endicott! He did not blush, but grew green as he stood looking after
the slow equipage ere he turned to the disenchanted Willows. Though he
was about to visit people of distinction, the American young gentleman,
being in love, did not care to enter upon this new scene of observation
and note-making at this moment; so he turned into the road, and walked
on in the white cloud of dust raised by the wheels of the fly. The dust
itself had a sentiment in it, and belonged to Marian; and Mr Endicott
began the painful manufacture of a sonnet, expressing this “experience,”
on the very spot.

“But _you_ ought not to laugh at him, Marian, even though other people
do,” said Agnes, with superior virtue.

“Why not?” said the saucy beauty; “I laughed at Sir Langham--and I am
sure _he_ deserved it,” she added in an under-tone.

“Marian,” said Agnes, “I think--you have named him yourself, or I should
not have done it--we had better not say anything about Sir Langham to
mamma.”

“I do not care at all who names him,” said Marian, pouting; but she made
no answer to the serious proposition: so it became tacitly agreed
between them that nothing was to be said of the superb runaway lover
when they got home.



CHAPTER XI.

HOME.


And now they were at home--the Fly dismissed, the trunks unfastened, and
Agnes and Marian sitting with Mamma in the old parlour, as if they had
never been away. Yes, they had been away--both of them had come in with
a little start and exclamation to this familiar room, which somehow had
shrunk out of its proper proportions, and looked strangely dull,
dwarfed, and sombre. It was very strange; they had lived here for years,
and knew every corner of every chair and every table--and they had only
been gone a fortnight--yet what a difference in the well-known room!

“Somebody has been doing something to the house,” said Marian
involuntarily; and Agnes paused in echoing the sentiment, as she caught
a glimpse of a rising cloud on her mother’s comely brow.

“Indeed, children, I am grieved to see how soon you have learned to
despise your home,” said Mrs Atheling; and the good mother reddened, and
contracted her forehead. She had watched them with a little jealousy
from their first entrance, and they, to tell the truth, had been visibly
struck with the smallness and the dulness of the family rooms.

“Despise!” cried Marian, kneeling down, and leaning her beautiful head
and her clasped arms upon her mother’s knee. “Despise!” said Agnes,
putting her arm over Mrs Atheling’s shoulder from behind her chair; “oh,
mamma, you ought to know better!--we who have learned that there are
people in the world who have neither a mother nor a home!”

“Well, then, what is the matter?” said Mrs Atheling; and she began to
smooth the beautiful falling hair, which came straying over her old
black silk lap, like Danae’s shower of gold.

“Nothing at all--only the room is a little smaller, and the carpet a
little older than it used to be,” said Agnes; “but, mamma, because we
notice that, you do not think surely that we are less glad to be at
home.”

“Well, my dears,” said Mrs Atheling, still a little piqued; “your great
friend, when he called the other day, did not seem to think there was
anything amiss about the house.”

“Our great friend!” The girls looked at each other with dismay--who
could it be?

“His card is on the mantelpiece,” said Mrs Atheling. “He had not very
much to say, but he seemed a pleasant young man--Sir Something--Sir
Langham; but, indeed, my dear, though, of course, I was pleased to see
him, I am not at all sure how far such acquaintances are proper for
you.”

“He was scarcely _my_ acquaintance, mamma,” said Agnes, sorrowfully
looking down from behind her mother’s chair upon Marian, who had hid her
face in Mrs Atheling’s lap, and made no sign.

“For our rank in life is so different,” pursued the prudent mother; “and
even though I might have some natural ambition for you, I do not think,
Agnes, that it would really be wishing you well to wish that you should
form connections so far out of the sphere of your own family as _that_.”

“Mamma, it was not me,” said Agnes again, softly and under her breath.

“It was no one!” cried Marian, rising up hastily, and suddenly seizing
and clipping into an ornamental cross Sir Langham’s card, which was upon
the mantelpiece. “See, Agnes, it will do to wind silk upon; and nobody
cares the least in the world for Sir Langham. Mamma, he used to be like
Harry Oswald--that is all--and we were very glad when he went away from
the Willows, both Agnes and I.”

At this statement, made as it was with a blush and a little confusion,
Mrs Atheling herself reddened slightly, and instantly left the subject.
It was easy enough to warn her children of the evils of a possible
connection with people of superior condition; but when such a thing
fluttered really and visibly upon the verge of her horizon, Mrs Atheling
was struck dumb. To see her pretty Marian a lady--a baronet’s wife--the
bride of that superb Sir Langham--it was not in the nature of mortal
mother to hear without emotion of such an extraordinary possibility. The
ambitious imagination kindled at once in the heart of Mrs Atheling: she
held her peace.

And the girls, to tell the truth, were very considerably excited about
this visit of Sir Langham’s. What did it mean? After a little time they
strayed into the best room, and stood together looking at it with
feelings by no means satisfactory. The family parlour was the family
parlour, and, in spite of all that it lacked, possessed something of
home and kindness which was not to be found in all the luxurious
apartments of the Willows. But, alas! there was nothing but meagre
gentility, blank good order, and unloveliness, in this sacred and
reserved apartment, where Bell and Beau never threw the charm of their
childhood, nor Mrs Atheling dispersed the kindly clippings of her
work-basket. The girls consulted each other with dismayed looks--even
Rachel, if she came, could not stand against the chill of this grim
parlour. Marian pulled the poor haircloth sofa into another position,
and altered with impatience the stiff mahogany chairs. They scarcely
liked to say to each other how entirely changed was their ideal, or how
they shrank from the melancholy state of the best room. “Sir Langham was
here, Agnes,” said Marian; and within her own mind the young beauty
almost added, “No wonder he ran away!”

“It is home--it is our own house,” said Agnes, getting up for the
occasion a little pride.

Marian shrugged her pretty shoulders. “But Susan had better bring any
one who calls into the other room.”

Yes, the other room, when they returned to it, had brightened again
marvellously. Mrs Atheling had put on her new gown, and had a pink
ribbon in her cap. As she sat by the window with her work-basket, she
was pleasanter to look at than a dozen pictures; and the sweetest
Raphael in the world was not so sweet as these two little lovely fairies
playing upon the faded old rug at the feet of Mamma. Not all the
luxuries and all the prettinesses of Mrs Edgerley’s drawingrooms, not
even the river lying in the sunshine, and the ruffled silvery willows
drooping round their little island, were a fit balance to this dearest
little group, the mother and the children, who made beautiful beyond all
telling the sombre face of home.



CHAPTER XII.

A NEW ERA.


It came to be rather an exciting business to Agnes and Marian making
their report of what had happened at the Willows--for it was difficult
to distract Mamma’s attention from Sir Langham, and Papa was almost
angrily interested in everything which touched upon Lord Winterbourne.
Rachel, of course, was a very prominent figure in their picture; but Mrs
Atheling was still extremely doubtful, and questioned much whether it
was proper to permit such an acquaintance to her daughters. She was very
particular in her inquiries concerning this poor girl--much approved of
Rachel’s consciousness of her own equivocal position--thought it “a very
proper feeling,” and received evidence with some solemnity as to her
“manners” and “principles.” The girls described their friend according
to the best of their ability; but as neither of them had any great
insight into character, we will not pretend to say that their audience
were greatly enlightened,--and extremely doubtful was the mind of Mrs
Atheling. “My dear, I might be very sorry for her, but it would not be
proper for me to forget you in my sympathy for her,” said Mamma, gravely
and with dignity. Like so many tender-hearted mothers, Mrs Atheling took
great credit to herself for an imaginary severity, and made up her mind
that she was proof to the assaults of pity--she who at the bottom was
the most credulous of all, when she came to hear a story of distress.

And Papa, who had been moved at once to forbid their acquaintance with
children of Lord Winterbourne’s, changed his mind, and became very much
interested when he heard of Rachel’s horror of the supposed
relationship. When they came to this part of the story, Mrs Atheling was
scandalised, but Papa was full of pity. He said “Poor child!” softly,
and with emotion; while Charlie pricked his big ear to listen, though no
one was favoured with the sentiments on this subject of the big boy.

“And about the Rector and the old lady who lives at Abingford--papa, why
did you never tell us about these people?” said Marian; “for I am sure
you must know very well who Aunt Bridget’s neighbours were in the Old
Wood Lodge.”

“I know nothing about the Riverses,” said Papa hastily--and Mr Atheling
himself, sober-minded man though he was, grew red with an angry
glow--“there was a time when I hated the name,” he added in an impetuous
and rapid undertone, and then he looked up as though he was perfectly
aware of the restraining look of caution which his wife immediately
turned upon him.

“Such neighbours as are proper for us you will find out when we get
there,” said Mrs Atheling quietly. “Papa has not been at Winterbourne
for twenty years, and we have had too many things to think of since then
to remember people whom we scarcely knew.”

“Then, I suppose, since papa hated the name once, and Rachel hates it
now, they must be a very wicked family,” said Marian; “but I hope the
Rector is not very bad, for Agnes’s sake.”

This little piece of malice called for instant explanation, and Marian
was very peremptorily checked by father and mother. “A girl may say a
foolish thing to other girls,” said Mamma, “and I am afraid this Rachel,
poor thing, must have been very badly brought up; but you ought to know
better than to repeat a piece of nonsense like that.”

“When are we to go, mamma?” said Agnes, coming in to cover the blush,
half of shame and half of displeasure, with which Marian submitted to
this reproof; “it is August now, and soon it will be autumn instead of
summer: we shall be going out of town when all the fashionable people
go--but I would rather it was May.”

“It cannot be May this year,” said Mrs Atheling, involuntarily
brightening; “but papa is to take a holiday--three weeks; my dears, I do
not think I have been so pleased at anything since Bell and Beau.”

Since Bell and Beau! what an era that was! And this, too, was a new
beginning, perhaps more momentous, though not such a sweet and great
revulsion, out of the darkness into the light. Mamma’s manner of dating
her joys cast them all back into thought and quietness; and Agnes’s
heart beat high with a secret and mercenary pleasure, exulting like a
miser over her hundred and fifty pounds. At this moment, and at many
another moment when the young author had clean forgotten _Hope
Hazlewood_, the thought came upon her with positive delight of the
little hoard in Papa’s hands, safely laid up in the office, one whole
hundred pounds’ worth of family good and gladness still; for she had not
the same elevated regard for art as her sister’s American admirer--she
was not, by any means, in her own estimation, or in anybody else’s, a
representative woman; and Agnes, who began already to think rather
meanly of _Hope Hazlewood_, and press on with the impatience of genius
towards a higher excellence, had the greatest satisfaction possible in
the earnings of her gentle craft--was it an ignoble delight?

The next morning the two girls, with prudence and caution, began an
attack upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer touching the best room. At
first Mrs Atheling was entirely horrified at their extravagant ideas.
The best room!--what could be desired that was not already attained in
that most respectable apartment? but the young rebels held their ground.
Mamma put down her work upon her knee, and listened to them quietly. It
was not a good sign--she made no interruption as they spoke of mirrors
and curtains, carpets and ottomans, couches and easy-chairs: she heard
them all to the end with unexampled patience--she only said, “My dears,
when you are done I will tell you what I have to say.”

What she did say was conclusive upon the subject, though it was met by
many remonstrances. “We are going to the Old Wood Lodge,” said Mrs
Atheling, “and I promise you you shall go into Oxford when we are there,
and get some things to make old Aunt Bridget’s parlour look a little
more like yourselves: but even a hundred pounds, though it is quite a
little fortune, will not last for ever--and to furnish _two_ rooms! My
dears, you do not know any better; but, of course, it is quite
ridiculous, and cannot be done.”

Thus ended at present their plan for making a little drawing-room out
of the best room; for Mamma’s judgment, though it was decisive, was
reasonable, and they could make no stand against it. They did all they
could do under the circumstances; for the first time, and with
compunction, they secretly instructed Susan against the long-standing
general order of the head of the house. Strangers were no longer to be
ushered into the sacred stranger’s apartment; but before Susan had any
chance of obeying these schismatical orders, Agnes and Marian themselves
were falling into their old familiarity with the old walls and the
sombre furniture, and were no longer disposed to criticise, especially
as all their minds and all their endeavours were at present set upon the
family holiday--the conjoint household visit to the country--the
glorious prospect of taking possession of the Old Wood Lodge.

In Bellevue, Charlie alone was to be left behind--Charlie, who had not
been long enough in Mr Foggo’s office to ask for a holiday, and who did
not want one very much, if truth must be told; for neither early hours
nor late hours told upon the iron constitution of the big boy. When they
pitied him who must stay behind, the young gentleman said, “Stuff!
Susan, I suppose, can make my coffee as well as any of you,” said
Charlie; but nobody was offended that he limited the advantages of their
society to coffee-making; and even Mrs Atheling, in spite of her
motherly anxieties, left her house and her son with comfortable
confidence. Harm might happen to the house, Susan being in it, who was
by no means so careful as she ought to be of her fire and her candle;
but nobody feared any harm to the heir and hope of the house.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE OLD WOOD LODGE.


And it was late in August, a sultry day, oppressive and thundery, when
this little family of travellers made their first entry into the Old
Wood Lodge.

It stood upon the verge of a wood, and the side of a hill, looking down
into what was not so much a valley as a low amphitheatre, watered by a
maze of rivers, and centred in a famous and wonderful old town. The
trees behind the little house had burning spots of autumn colour here
and there among the masses of green--colour which scarcely bore its due
weight and distinction in the tremulous pale atmosphere which waited for
the storm; and the leaves cowered and shivered together, and one
terrified bird flew wildly in among them, seeking refuge. Under the
shadow of three trees stood the low house of two stories, half stone and
half timber, with one quaint projecting window in the roof, and a
luxuriant little garden round it. But it was impossible to pause, as
the new proprietors intended to have done, to note all the external
features of their little inheritance. They hurried in, eager to be under
shelter before the thunder; and as Mrs Atheling, somewhat timid of it,
hurried over the threshold, the first big drops fell heavily among the
late roses which covered the front of the house. They were all awed by
the coming storm; and they were not acquainted any of them with the
louder crash and fiercer blaze of a thunderstorm in the country. They
came hastily into Miss Bridget’s little parlour, scarcely seeing what
like it was, as the ominous still darkness gathered in the sky, and sat
down, very silently, in corners, all except Mr Atheling, whose duty it
was to be courageous, and who was neither so timid as his wife, nor so
sensitive as his daughters. Then came the storm in earnest--wild
lightning rending the black sky in sheets and streams of flames--fearful
cannonades of thunder, nature’s grand forces besieging some rebellious
city in the skies. Then gleams of light shone wild and ghastly in all
the pallid rivers, and lighted up with an eerie illumination the spires
and pinnacles of the picturesque old town; and the succeeding darkness
pressed down like a positive weight upon the Old Wood Lodge and its new
inmates, who scarcely perceived yet the old furniture of the old
sitting-room, or the trim old maid of Miss Bridget Atheling curtsying
at the door.

“A strange welcome!” said Papa, hastily retreating from the window,
where he had just been met and half blinded by a sudden flash; and Mamma
gathered her babies under her wings, and called to the girls to come
closer to her, in that one safe corner which was neither near the
window, the fireplace, nor the door.

Yes, it was a strange welcome--and the mind of Agnes, imaginative and
rapid, threw an eager glance into the future out of that corner of
safety and darkness. A thunderstorm, a convulsion of nature! was there
any fitness in this beginning? They were as innocent a household as ever
came into a countryside; but who could tell what should happen to them
there?

Some one else seemed to share the natural thought. “I wonder, mamma, if
this is all for us,” whispered Marian, half frightened, half jesting.
“Are we to make a great revolution in Winterbourne? It looks like it, to
see this storm.”

But Mrs Atheling, who thought it profane to show any levity during a
thunderstorm, checked her pretty daughter with a peremptory “Hush,
child!” and drew her babies closer into her arms. Mrs Atheling’s
thoughts had no leisure to stray to Winterbourne; save for Charlie--and
it was not to be supposed that this same thunder threatened
Bellevue--all her anxieties were here.

But as the din out of doors calmed down, and even as the girls became
accustomed to it, and were able to share in Papa’s calculations as to
the gradual retreat of the thunder as it rolled farther and farther
away, they began to find out and notice the room within which they had
crowded. It had only one window, and was somewhat dark, the small panes
being over-hung and half obscured by a wild forest of clematis, and
sundry stray branches, still bristling with buds, of that pale monthly
rose with evergreen leaves, which covered half the front of the house.
The fireplace had a rather fantastic grate of clear steel, with bright
brass ornaments, so clear and so resplendent as it only could be made by
the labour of years, and was filled, instead of a fire, with soft green
moss, daintily ornamented with the yellow everlasting flowers. Hannah
did not know that these were _immortelles_, and consecrated to the
memory of the dead. It was only her rural and old-maidenly fashion of
decoration, for the same little rustling posies, dry and unfading, were
in the little flower-glasses on the high mantel-shelf, before the little
old dark-complexioned mirror, with little black-and-white transparencies
set in the slender gilding of its frame, which reflected nothing but a
slope of the roof, and one dark portrait hanging as high up as itself
upon the opposite wall. It put the room oddly out of proportion, this
mirror, attracting the eye to its high strip of light, and deluding the
unwary to many a stumble; and Agnes already sat fixedly looking at it,
and at the dark and wrinkled portrait reflected from the other wall.

Before the fireplace, where there was no fire, stood a large
old-fashioned easy-chair, with no one in it. Are you very sure there is
no one in it?--for Papa himself has a certain awe of that
strangely-placed seat, which seems to have stood before that same
fireplace for many a year. In the twilight, Agnes, if you were
alone--you, who of all the family are most inclined to a little
visionary superstition, you would find it very hard to keep from
trembling, or to persuade yourself that Miss Bridget was not there,
where she had spent half a lifetime, sitting in that heavy old
easy-chair.

The carpet was a faded but rich and soft old Turkey carpet, the
furniture was slender and spider-legged, made of old bright mahogany, as
black and as polished as ebony. There was an old cabinet in one corner,
with brass rings and ornaments; and in another an old musical
instrument, of which the girls were not learned enough to know the
precise species, though it belonged to the genus piano. The one small
square table in the middle of the room was covered with a table-cover,
richly embroidered, but the silk was faded, and the bits of gold were
black and dull; and there were other little tables, round and square,
with spiral legs and a tripod of feet, one holding a china jar, one a
big book, and one a case of stuffed birds. On the whole, the room had
somewhat the look of a rather refined and very prim old lady. The things
in it were all of a delicate kind and antique fashion. It was not in the
slightest degree like these fair and fresh young girls, but on the whole
it was a place of which people like those, with a wholesome love of
ancestry, had very good occasion to be proud.

And at the door stood Hannah, in a black gown and great white apron,
smoothing down the same with her hands, and bobbing a kindly curtsy.
Hannah’s eyes were running over with delight and anxiety to get at Bell
and Beau. She passed over all the rest of the family to yearn over the
little ones. “Eh, bless us!” cried Hannah, as, the thunder over, Mrs
Atheling began to bestir herself--“children in the house!” It was
something almost too ecstatic for her elderly imagination. She
volunteered to carry them both up-stairs with the most eager attention.
“I ain’t so much used to childer,” said Hannah, “but, bless ye, ma’am, I
love ’um all the same;” and with an instinctive knowledge of this love,
Beau condescended to grasp Hannah’s spotless white apron, and Bell to
mount into her arms. Then the whole family procession went up-stairs to
look at the bedrooms--the voices of the girls and the sweet chorus of
the babies making the strangest echoes in the lonely house. Hannah
acknowledged afterwards, that, half with grief for Miss Bridget, and
half for joy of this new life beginning, it would have been a great
relief to her to sit down upon the attic stairs and have “a good cry.”



CHAPTER XIV.

WITHIN AND WITHOUT.


The upper floor of the Old Wood Lodge consisted of three rooms; one as
large as the parlour down stairs, one smaller, and one, looking to the
back, very small indeed. The little one was a lumber-room, and quite
unfurnished; the other two were in perfect accordance with the
sitting-room. The best bedroom contained a bed of state, with very
slender fluted pillars of the same black ebony-like wood, lifting on
high a solemn canopy of that ponderous substance called moreen, and
still to be found in country inns and seaside lodgings--the colour dark
green, with a binding of faded violet. Hangings of the same darkened the
low broad lattice window, and chairs of the same were ranged like ghosts
along the wall. It was rather a funereal apartment, and the eager
investigators were somewhat relieved to find an old-fashioned “tent,”
with hangings of old chintz, gay with gigantic flowers, in the next
room. But the windows!--the broad plain lying low down at their feet,
twinkling to the first faint sun-ray which ventured out after the
storm--the cluster of spires and towers over which the light brightened
and strengthened, striking bold upon the heavy dome which gave a
ponderous central point to the landscape, and splintering into a million
rays from the pinnacles of Magdalen and St Mary’s noble spire, all wet
and gleaming with the thunder rain. What a scene it was!--how the
passing light kindled all the wan waters, and singled out, for a
momentary illumination, one after another of the lesser landmarks of
that world unknown. These gazers were not skilled to distinguish between
Gothic sham and Gothic real, nor knew much of the distinguishing
differences of noble and ignoble architecture. After all, at this
distance, it did not much matter--for one by one, as the sunshine found
them out, they rose up from the gleaming mist, picturesque and various,
like the fairy towers and distant splendours of a morning dream.

“I told you it was pretty, Agnes,” said Mr Atheling, who felt himself
the exhibitor of the whole scene, and looked on with delight at the
success of his private view. Papa, who was to the manner born, felt
himself applauded in the admiration of his daughters, and carried Beau
upon his shoulder down the creaking narrow staircase, with a certain
pride and exultation, calling the reluctant girls to follow him. For
lo! upon Miss Bridget’s centre table was laid out “such a tea!” as
Hannah in all her remembrance had never produced before. Fresh home-made
cakes, fresh little pats of butter from the nearest farm--cream! and to
crown all, a great china dish full of the last of the strawberries,
blushing behind their fresh wet leaves. Hannah, when she had lingered as
long as her punctilious good-breeding would permit, and long enough to
be very wrathful with Mrs Atheling for intercepting a shower of
strawberries from the plates of Bell and Beau, retired to her kitchen
slowly, and drawing a chair before the fire, though the evening still
was sultry, threw her white apron over her head, and had her deferred
and relieving “cry.” “Bless you, I’ll love ’um all,” said Hannah, with a
succession of sobs, addressing either herself or some unseen familiar,
with whom she was in the habit of holding long conversations. “But it
ain’t Miss Bridget--that’s the truth!”

The ground was wet, the trees were damp, everything had been deluged
with the shower of the thunderstorm, and Mrs Atheling did not at all
think it prudent that her daughters should go out, though she yielded to
them. They went first through the fertile garden, where Marian thought
“everything” grew--but were obliged to pause in their researches and
somewhat ignorant guesses what everything was, by the unknown charm of
that sweet rural atmosphere “after the rain.” Though it was very near
sunset, the birds were all a-twitter in the neighbouring trees, and
everywhere around them rose such a breath of fragrance--open-air
fragrance, fresh and cool and sweet, as different from the incense of
Mrs Edgerley’s conservatory as it was from anything in Bellevue. Running
waters trickled somewhere out of sight--it was only the “running of the
paths after rain;” and yonder, like a queen, sitting low in a sweet
humility, was the silent town, with all its crowning towers. The
sunshine, which still lingered on Hannah’s projecting window in the
roof, had left Oxford half an hour ago--and down over the black dome,
the heaven-y-piercing spire and lofty cupola, came soft and grey the
shadow of the night.

But behind them, through a thick network of foliage, there were gleams
and sparkles of gold, touching tenderly some favourite leaves with a
green like the green of spring, and throwing the rest into a shadowy
blackness against the half-smothered light. Marian ran into the house to
call Hannah, begging her to guide them up into the wood. Agnes, less
curious, stood with her hand upon the gate, looking down over this
wonderful valley, and wondering if she had not seen it some time in a
dream.

“Bless you, miss, if it was to the world’s end!” cried Hannah; “but it
ain’t fit for walking, no more nor a desert; the roads is woeful by
Badgeley; look you here!--nought in this wide world but mud and clay.”

Marian looked in dismay at the muddy road. “It will not be dry for a
week,” said the disappointed beauty; “but, Hannah, come here, now that I
have got you out, and tell us what every place is--Agnes, here’s
Hannah--and, if you please, which is the village, and which is the Hall,
and where is the Old Wood House?”

“Do you see them white chimneys--and smokes?” said Hannah; “they’re
a-cooking their dinner just, though tea-time’s past--that’s the
Rector’s. But, bless your heart, you ain’t likely to see the Hall from
here. There’s all the park and all the trees atween us and my lord’s.”

“Do the people like him, Hannah?” asked Agnes abruptly, thinking of her
friend.

Hannah paused with a look of alarm. “The people--don’t mind nothink
about him,” said Hannah slowly. “Bless us, miss, you gave me such a
turn!”

Agnes looked curiously in the old woman’s face, to see what the occasion
of this “turn” might be. Marian, paying no such attention, leaned over
the low mossy gate, looking in the direction of the Old Wood House. They
were quite disposed to enjoy the freedom of the “country,” and were
neither shawled nor bonneted, though the fresh dewy air began to feel
the chill of night. Marian leaned out over the gate, with her little
hand thrust up under her hair, looking into the distance with her
beautiful smiling eyes. The road which passed this gate was a grassy and
almost terraced path, used by very few people, and disappearing abruptly
in an angle just after it had passed the Lodge. Suddenly emerging from
this angle, with a step which fell noiselessly on the wet grass, meeting
the startled gaze of Marian in an instantaneous and ghostlike
appearance, came forth what she could see only as, against the light,
the figure of a man hastening towards the high-road. He also seemed to
start as he perceived the young unknown figures in the garden, but his
course was too rapid to permit any interchange of curiosity. Marian did
not think he looked at her at all as she withdrew hastily from the gate,
and he certainly did not pause an instant in his rapid walk; but as he
passed he lifted his hat--a singular gesture of courtesy, addressed to
no one, like the salutation of a young king--and disappeared in another
moment as suddenly as he came. Agnes, attracted by her sister’s low
unconscious exclamation, saw him as well as Marian--and saw him as
little--for neither knew anything at all of his appearance, save so far
as a vague idea of height, rapidity--and the noble small head, for an
instant uncovered, impressed their imagination. Both paused with a
breathless impulse of respect, and a slight apprehensiveness, till they
were sure he must be out of hearing, and then both turned to Hannah,
standing in the shadow and the twilight, and growing gradually
indistinct all but her white apron, with one unanimous exclamation, “Who
is that?”

Hannah smoothed down her apron once more, and made another bob of a
curtsy, apparently intended for the stranger. “Miss,” said Hannah,
gravely, “that’s Mr Louis--bless his heart!”

Then the old woman turned and went in, leaving the girls by themselves
in the garden. They were a little timid of the great calm and silence;
they almost fancied they were “by themselves,”--not in the garden only,
but in this whole apparent noiseless world.



CHAPTER XV.

THE PARLOUR.


And with an excitement which they could not control, the two girls
hastened in to the Old Lodge, and to Miss Bridget’s dim parlour, where
the two candles shed their faint summer-evening light over Mr Atheling
reading an old newspaper, and Mamma reclining in the great old
easy-chair. The abstracted mirror, as loftily withdrawn from common life
as Mr Endicott, refused to give any reflection of these good people
sitting far below in their middle-aged and respectable quietness, but
owned a momentary vision of Agnes and Marian, as they came in with a
little haste and eagerness at the half-open door.

But, after all, to be very much excited, to hasten in to tell one’s
father and mother, with the heart beating faster than usual against
one’s breast, and to have one’s story calmly received with an “Indeed,
my dear!” is rather damping to youthful enthusiasm; and really, to tell
the truth, there was nothing at all extraordinary in the fact of Louis
passing by a door so near the great house which was his own distasteful
home. It was not at all a marvellous circumstance; and as for his
salutation, though that was remarkable, and caught their imagination,
Marian whispered that she had no doubt it was Louis’s “way.”

They began, accordingly, to look at the slender row of books in one
small open shelf above the little cabinet. The books were in old rich
bindings, and were of a kind of reading quite unknown to Agnes and
Marian. There were two (odd) volumes of the _Spectator_, _Rasselas_, the
Poems of Shenstone, the Sermons of Blair; besides these, a French copy
of Thomas-à-Kempis, the _Holy Living and Dying_ of Jeremy Taylor, and
one of the quaint little books of Sir Thomas Browne. Thrust in hastily
beside these ancient and well-attired volumes were two which looked
surreptitious, and which were consequently examined with the greatest
eagerness. One turned out, somewhat disappointingly, to be a volume of
Italian exercises, an old, old school-book, inscribed, in a small,
pretty, but somewhat faltering feminine handwriting--handwriting of the
last century--with the name of Anastasia Rivers, with a B. A. beneath,
which doubtless stood for Bridget Atheling, though it seemed to imply,
with a kindly sort of blundering comicality sad enough now, that
Anastasia Rivers, though she was no great hand at her exercises, had
taken a degree. The other volume was of more immediate interest. It was
one of those good and exemplary novels, ameliorated Pamelas, which
virtuous old ladies were wont to put into the hands of virtuous young
ones, and which was calculated to “instruct as well as to amuse” the
unfortunate mind of youth. Marian seized upon this _Fatherless Fanny_
with an instant appropriation, and in ten minutes was deep in its
endless perplexities. Agnes, who would have been very glad of the novel,
languidly took down the _Spectator_ instead. Yes, we are obliged to
confess--languidly; for, with an excited mind upon a lovely summer
night, with all the stars shining without, and only two pale candles
within, and Mamma visibly dropping to sleep in the easy-chair--who, we
demand, would not prefer, even to Steele and Addison, the mazy mysteries
of the Minerva Press?

And Agnes did not get on with her reading; she saw visibly before her
eyes Marian skimming with an eager interest the pages of her novel. She
heard Papa rustling his newspaper, watched the faint flicker of the
candles, and was aware of the very gentle nod by which Mamma gave
evidence of the condition of _her_ thoughts. Agnes’s imagination, never
averse to wandering, strayed off into speculations concerning the old
lady and her old pupil, and all the life, unknown and unrecorded, which
had happed within these quiet walls. Altogether it was somewhat hard to
understand the connection between the Athelings and the
Riverses--whether some secret of family history lay involved in it, or
if it was only the familiar bond formed a generation ago between teacher
and child. And this Louis!--his sudden appearance and disappearance--his
princely recognition as of new subjects. Agnes made nothing whatever of
her _Spectator_--her mind was possessed and restless--and by-and-by,
curious, impatient, and a little excited, she left the room with an idea
of hastening up-stairs to the chamber window, and looking out upon the
night. But the door of the kitchen stood invitingly open, and Hannah,
who had been waiting, slightly expectant of some visit, was to be seen
within, rising up hastily with old-fashioned respect and a little
wistfulness. Agnes, though she was a young lady of literary tastes, and
liked to look out upon moon and stars with the vague sentiment of youth,
had, notwithstanding, a wholesome relish for gossip, and was more
pleased with talk of other people than we are disposed to confess; so
she had small hesitation in changing her course and joining Hannah--that
homely Hannah bobbing her odd little curtsy, and smoothing down her
bright white apron, in the full glow of the kitchen-fire.

The kitchen was indeed the only really bright room in the Old Wood
Lodge, having one strip of carpet only on its white and sanded floor, a
large deal table, white and spotless, and wooden chairs hard and clear
as Hannah’s own toil-worn but most kindly hands. There was an
old-fashioned settle by the chimney corner, a small bit of looking-glass
hanging up by the window, and gleams of ruddy copper, and homely covers
of white metal, polished as bright as silver, ornamenting the walls.
Hannah wiped a chair which needed no wiping, and set it directly in
front of the fire for “Miss,” but would not on any account be so
“unmannerly” as to sit down herself in the young lady’s presence. Agnes
wisely contented herself with leaning on the chair, and smiled with a
little embarrassment at Hannah’s courtesy; it was not at all
disagreeable, but it was somewhat different from Susan at home.

“I’ve been looking at ’um, miss,” said Hannah, “sleeping like angels;
there ain’t no difference that I can see; they look, as nigh as can be,
both of an age.”

“They are twins,” said Agnes, finding out, with a smile, that Hannah’s
thoughts were taken up, not about Louis and Rachel, but Bell and Beau.

At this information Hannah brightened into positive delight. “Childer’s
ne’er been in this house,” said Hannah, “till this day; and twins is a
double blessing. There ain’t no more, miss? But bless us all, the time
between them darlins and you!”

“We have one brother, besides--and a great many little brothers and
sisters in heaven,” said Agnes, growing very grave, as they all did when
they spoke of the dead.

Hannah drew closer with a sympathetic curiosity. “If that ain’t a
heart-break, there’s none in this world,” said Hannah. “Bless their dear
hearts, it’s best for them. Was it a fever then, miss, or a catching
sickness? Dear, dear, it’s all one, when they’re gone, what it was.”

“Hannah, you must never speak of it to mamma,” said Agnes; “we used to
be so sad--so sad! till God sent Bell and Beau. Do you know Miss Rachel
at the Hall? her brother and she are twins too.”

“Yes, miss,” said Hannah, with a slight curtsy, and becoming at once
very laconic.

“And _we_ know her,” said Agnes, a little confused by the old woman’s
sudden quietness. “I suppose that was her brother who passed to-night.”

“Ay, poor lad!” Hannah’s heart seemed once more a little moved. “They
say miss is to be a play-actress, and I can’t abide her for giving in to
it; but Mr Louis, bless him! he ought to be a king.”

“You like him, then?” asked Agnes eagerly.

“Ay, poor boy!” Hannah went away hastily to the table, where, in a
china basin, in their cool crisp green, lay the homely salads of the
garden, about to be arranged for supper. A tray covered with a
snow-white cloth, and a small pile of eggs, waited in hospitable
preparation for the same meal. Hannah, who had been so long in
possession, felt like a humble mistress of the house, exercising the
utmost bounties of her hospitality towards her new guests. “Least said’s
best about them, dear,” said Hannah, growing more familiar as she grew a
little excited--“but, Lord bless us, it’s enough to craze a poor body to
see the likes of him, with such a spirit, kept out o’ his rights.”

“What are his rights, Hannah?” cried Agnes, with new and anxious
interest: this threw quite a new light upon the subject.

Hannah turned round a little perplexed. “Tell the truth, I dun know no
more nor a baby,” said Hannah; “but Miss Bridget, she was well acquaint
in all the ways of them, and she ever upheld, when his name was named,
that my lord kep’ him out of his rights.”

“And what did _he_ say?” asked Agnes.

“Nay, child,” said the old woman, “it ain’t no business of mine to tell
tales; and Miss Bridget had more sense nor all the men of larning I ever
heard tell of. She knew better than to put wickedness into his mind.
He’s a handsome lad and a kind, is Mr Louis; but I wouldn’t be my lord,
no, not for all Banburyshire, if I’d done that boy a wrong.”

“Then, do you think Lord Winterbourne has _not_ done him a wrong?” said
Agnes, thoroughly bewildered.

Hannah turned round upon her suddenly, with a handful of herbs and a
knife in her other hand. “Miss, he’s an unlawful child!” said Hannah,
with the most melodramatic effectiveness. Agnes involuntarily drew back
a step, and felt the blood rush to her face. When she had delivered
herself of this startling whisper, Hannah returned to her homely
occupation, talking in an under-tone all the while.

“Ay, poor lad, there’s none can mend that,” said Hannah; “he’s kep’ out
of his rights, and never a man can help him. If it ain’t enough to put
him wild, _I_ dun know.”

“And are you quite sure of that? Does everybody think him a son of Lord
Winterbourne’s?” said Agnes.

“Well, miss, my lord’s not like to own to it--to shame hisself,” said
Hannah; “but they’re none so full of charity at the Hall as to bother
with other folkses children. My lord’s kep’ him since they were babies,
and sent the lawyer hisself to fetch him when Mr Louis ran away. Bless
you, no; there ain’t no doubt about it. Whose son else could he be?”

“But if that was true, he would have no rights. And what did Miss
Bridget mean by rights?” asked Agnes, in a very low tone, blushing, and
half ashamed to speak of such a subject at all.

Hannah, however, who did not share in all the opinions of
respectability, but had a leaning rather, in the servant view of the
question, to the pariah of the great old house, took up somewhat sharply
this unguarded opinion. “Miss,” said Hannah, “you’ll not tell me that
there ain’t no rights belonging Mr Louis. The queen on the throne would
be glad of the likes of him for a prince and an heir; and Miss Bridget
was well acquaint in all the ways of the Riverses, and was as fine to
hear as a printed book: for the matter of that,” added Hannah, solemnly,
“Miss Taesie, though she would not go through the park-gates to save her
life, had a leaning to Mr Louis too.”

“And who is Miss Taesie?” said Agnes.

“Miss,” said Hannah, in a very grave and reproving tone, “you’re little
acquaint with our ways; it ain’t my business to go into stories--you ask
your papa.”

“So I will, Hannah; but who is Miss Taesie?” asked Agnes again, with a
smile.

Hannah answered only by placing her salad on the tray, and carrying it
solemnly to the parlour. Amused and interested, Agnes stood by the
kitchen fireside thinking over what she had heard, and smiling as she
mused; for Miss Taesie, no doubt, was the Honourable Anastasia Rivers,
beneath whose name, in the old exercise-book, stood that odd B. A.



CHAPTER XVI.

WINTERBOURNE.


The next day the family walked forth in a body, to make acquaintance
with the “new neighbourhood.” There was Papa and Mamma first of all, Mrs
Atheling extremely well dressed, and in all the cheerful excitement of
an unaccustomed holiday; and then came Agnes and Marian, pleased and
curious--and, wild with delight, little Bell and Beau. Hannah, who was
very near as much delighted as the children, stood at the door looking
after them as they turned the angle of the grassy path. When they were
quite out of sight, Hannah returned to her kitchen with a brisk step, to
compound the most delicious of possible puddings for their early dinner.
It was worth while now to exercise those half-forgotten gifts of cookery
which had been lost upon Miss Bridget; and when everything was ready,
Hannah, instead of her black ribbon, put new white bows in her cap. At
sight of the young people, and, above all, the children, and in the
strange delightful bustle of “a full house,” hard-featured Hannah, kind
and homely, renewed her youth.

The father and mother sent their children on before them, and made
progress slowly, recalling and remembering everything. As for Agnes and
Marian, they hastened forward with irregular and fluctuating
curiosity--loitering one moment, and running another, but, after their
different fashion, taking note of all they saw. And between the vanguard
and the rearguard a most unsteady main body, fluttering over the grass
like two butterflies, as they ran back and forward from Agnes and Marian
to Papa and Mamma “with flichterin’ noise and glee,” came Bell and Beau.
These small people, with handfuls of buttercups and clovertops always
running through their rosy little fingers, were to be traced along their
devious and uncertain path by the droppings of these humble posies, and
were in a state of perfect and unalloyed ecstasy. The little family
procession came past the Old Wood House, which was a large white square
building, a great deal loftier, larger, and more pretending than their
own; in fact, a great house in comparison with their cottage. Round two
sides of it appeared the prettiest of trim gardens--a little world of
velvet lawn, clipped yews, and glowing flower-beds. The windows were
entirely obscured with close Venetian blinds, partially excused by the
sunshine, but turning a most jealous and inscrutable blankness to the
eyes of the new inhabitants; and close behind the house clustered the
trees of the park. As they passed, looking earnestly at the house, some
one came out--a very young man, unmistakably clerical, with a stiff
white band under his monkish chin, a waistcoat which was very High
Church, and the blandest of habitual smiles. He looked at the strangers
urbanely, with a half intention of addressing them. The girls were not
learned in Church politics, yet they recognised the priestly appearance
of the smiling young clergyman; and Agnes, for her part, contemplated
him with a secret disappointment and dismay. Mr Rivers himself was said
to be High Church. Could this be Mr Rivers? He passed, however, and left
them to guess vainly; and Papa and Mamma, whose slow and steady pace
threatened every now and then to outstrip these irregular, rapid young
footsteps, came up and pressed them onward. “How strange!” Marian
exclaimed involuntarily: “if that is he, I am disappointed; but how
funny to meet them _both_!”

And then Marian blushed, and laughed aloud, half ashamed to be detected
in this evident allusion to Rachel’s castles in the air. Her laugh
attracted the attention of a countrywoman who just then came out to the
door of a little wayside cottage. She made them a little bob of a
curtsy, like Hannah’s, and asked if they wanted to see the church,
“’cause I don’t think the gentlemen would mind,” said the clerk’s wife,
the privileged bearer of the ecclesiastical keys; and Mr Atheling,
hearing the question, answered over the heads of his daughters, “Yes,
certainly they would go.” So they all went after her dutifully over the
stile, and along a field-path by a rustling growth of wheat, spotted
with red poppies, for which Bell and Beau sighed and cried in vain, and
came at last to a pretty small church, of the architectural style and
period of which this benighted family were most entirely ignorant. Mr
Atheling, indeed, had a vague idea that it was “Gothic,” but would not
have liked to commit himself even to that general principle--for the
days of religious architecture and church restorations were all since Mr
Atheling’s time.

They went in accordingly under a low round-arched doorway, solemn and
ponderous, entirely unconscious of the “tressured ornament” which
antiquaries came far to see; and, looking with a certain awe at the
heavy and solemn arches of the little old Saxon church, were rather more
personally attracted, we are pained to confess, by a group of gentlemen
within the sacred verge of the chancel, discussing something with
solemnity and earnestness, as if it were a question of life and death.
Foremost in this group, but occupying, as it seemed, rather an
explanatory and apologetic place, and listening with evident anxiety to
the deliverance of the others, was a young man of commanding appearance,
extremely tall, with a little of the look of ascetic abstraction which
belongs to the loftier members of the very high High Church. As the
Athelings approached rather timidly under the escort of their humble
guide, this gentleman eyed them, with a mixture of observation and
haughtiness, as they might have been eyed by the proprietor of the
domain. Then he recognised Mr Atheling with such a recognition as the
same reigning lord and master might bestow upon an intruder who was only
mistaken and not presumptuous. The father of the family rose to the
occasion, his colour increased; he drew himself up, and made a formal
but really dignified bow to the young clergyman. The little group of
advisers did not pause a minute in their discussion; and odd words,
which they were not in the habit of hearing, fell upon the ears of Agnes
and Marian. “Bad in an archaic point of view--extremely bad; and I never
can forgive errors of detail; the best examples are so accessible,” said
one gentleman. “I do not agree with you. I remember an instance at
Amiens,” interrupted another. “Amiens, my dear sir!--exactly what I mean
to say,” cried the first speaker; “behind the date of Winterbourne a
couple of hundred years--late work--a debased style. In a church of this
period everything ought to be severe.”

And accordingly there were severe Apostles in the painted windows--those
slender lancet “lights” which at this moment dazzled the eyes of Agnes
and Marian; and the new saints in the new little niches were, so far as
austerity went, a great deal more correct and true to their “period”
than even the old saints, without noses, and sorely worn with weather
and irreverence, who were as genuine early English as the stout old
walls. But Marian Atheling had no comprehension of this kind of
severity. She shrunk away from the altar in its religious gloom--the
altar with its tall candlesticks, and its cloth, which was stiff with
embroidery--marvelling in her innocent imagination over some vague
terror of punishments and penances in a church where “everything ought
to be severe.” Marian took care to be on the other side of her father
and mother, as they passed again the academic group discussing the newly
restored sedilia, which was not quite true in point of “detail,” and
drew a long breath of relief when she was safely outside these dangerous
walls. “The Rector! that was the Rector. Oh Agnes!” cried Marian, as
Papa announced the dreadful intelligence; and the younger sister,
horror-stricken, and with great pity, looked sympathetically in Agnes’s
face. Agnes herself was moved to look back at the tall central figure,
using for a dais the elevation of that chancel. She smiled, but she was
a little startled--and the girls went on to the village, and to glance
through the trees at the great park surrounding the Hall, with not
nearly so much conversation as at the beginning of their enterprise. But
it was with a sigh instead of a laugh that Marian repeated, when they
went home to dinner and Hannah’s magnificent pudding--“So, Agnes, we
have seen them both.”



CHAPTER XVII.

THE CLERGY.


Several weeks after this passed very quietly over the Old Wood Lodge and
its new inhabitants. They saw “Mr Louis,” always a rapid and sudden
apparition, pass now and then before their windows, and sometimes
received again that slight passing courtesy which nobody could return,
as it was addressed to nobody, and only disclosed a certain careless yet
courteous knowledge on the part of the young prince that they were
there; and they saw the Rector on the quiet country Sabbath-days in his
ancient little church, with its old heavy arches, and its new and dainty
restorations, “intoning” after the loftiest fashion, and preaching
strange little sermons of subdued yet often vehement and impatient
eloquence--addresses which came from a caged and fiery spirit, and had
no business there. The Winterbourne villagers gaped at his Reverence as
he flung his thunderbolts over their heads, and his Reverence came down
now and then from a wild uncertain voyage heavenward, down, down, with
a sudden dreary plunge, to look at all the blank rustical faces,
slumberous or wondering, and chafe himself with fiery attempts to come
down to their level, and do his duty to his rural flock. With a certain
vague understanding of some great strife and tumult in this dissatisfied
and troubled spirit, Agnes Atheling followed him in the sudden outbursts
of his natural oratory, and in the painful curb and drawing-up by which
he seemed to awake and come to himself. Though she was no student of
character, this young genius could not restrain a throb of sympathy for
the imprisoned and uncertain intellect beating its wings before her very
eyes. Intellect of the very highest order was, without question, errant
in that humble pulpit--errant, eager, disquieted--an eagle flying at the
sun. The simpler soul of genius vaguely comprehended it, and rose with
half-respectful, half-compassionating sympathy, to mark the conflict.
The family mother was not half satisfied with these preachings, and
greatly lamented that the only church within their reach should be so
painfully “high,” and so decidedly objectionable. Mrs Atheling’s soul
was grieved within her at the tall candlesticks, and even the “severe”
Apostles in the windows were somewhat appalling to this excellent
Protestant. She listened with a certain dignified disapproval to the
sermons, not much remarking their special features, but contenting
herself with a general censure. Marian too, who did not pretend to be
intellectual, wondered a little like the other people, and though she
could not resist the excitement of this unusual eloquence, gazed blankly
at the preacher after it was over, not at all sure if it was right, and
marvelling what he could mean. Agnes alone, who could by no means have
told you what he meant--who did not even understand, and certainly could
not have explained in words her own interest in the irregular
prelection--vaguely followed him nevertheless with an intuitive and
unexplainable comprehension. They had never exchanged words, and the
lofty and self-absorbed Rector knew nothing of the tenants of the Old
Wood Lodge; yet he began to look towards the corner whence that
intelligent and watching face flashed upon his maze of vehement and
uncertain thought. He began to look, as a relief, for the upward glance
of those awed yet pitying eyes, which followed him, yet somehow, in
their simplicity, were always before him, steadfastly shining in the
calm and deep assurance of a higher world than his. It was not by any
means, at this moment, a young man and a young woman looking at each
other with the mutual sympathy and mutual difference of nature; it was
Genius, sweet, human, and universal, tender in the dews of youth--and
Intellect, nervous, fiery, impatient, straining like a Hercules after
the Divine gift, which came to the other sleeping, as God gives it to
His beloved.

The Curate of Winterbourne was the most admirable foil to his reverend
principal. This young and fervent churchman would gladly have sat in the
lower seat of the restored sedilia, stone-cold and cushionless, at any
risk of rheumatism, had not his reverence the Rector put a decided
interdict upon so extreme an example of rigid Anglicanism. As it was,
his bland and satisfied youthful face in the reading-desk made the
strangest contrast in the world to that dark, impetuous, and troubled
countenance, lowering in handsome gloom from the pulpit. The common
people, who held the Rector in awe, took comfort in the presence of the
Curate, who knew all the names of all the children, and was rather
pleased than troubled when they made so bold as to speak to him about a
place for Sally, or a ’prenticeship for John. His own proper place in
the world had fallen happily to this urbane and satisfied young
gentleman. He was a parish priest born and intended, and accordingly
there was not a better parish priest in all Banburyshire than the
Reverend Eustace Mead. While the Rector only played and fretted over
these pretty toys of revived Anglicanism, with which he was not able to
occupy his rapid and impetuous intellect, they sufficed to make a
pleasant reserve of interest in the life of the Curate, who was by no
means an impersonation of intellect, though he had an acute and
practical little mind of his own, much more at his command than the mind
of Mr Rivers was at his. And the Curate preached devout little sermons,
which the rustical people did not gape at; while the Rector, out of all
question, and to the perception of everybody, was, in the most emphatic
sense of the words, the wrong man in the wrong place.

So far as time had yet gone, the only intercourse with their neighbours
held by the Athelings was at church, and their nearest neighbours were
those clerical people who occupied the Old Wood House. Mr Rivers was
said to have a sister living with him, but she was “a great invalid,”
and never visible; and on no occasion, since his new parishioners
arrived, had the close Venetian blinds been raised, or the house opened
its eyes. There it stood in the sunshine, in that most verdant of trim
old gardens, which no one ever walked in, nor, according to appearances,
ever saw, with its three rows of closed windows, blankly green, secluded
and forbidding, which no one within ever seemed tempted to open to the
sweetest of morning breezes, or the fragrant coolness of the night.
Agnes, taking the privilege of her craft, was much disposed to suspect
some wonderful secret or mystery in this monkish and ascetic
habitation; but it was not difficult to guess the secret of the Rector,
and there was not a morsel of mystery in the bland countenance of
smiling Mr Mead.

By this time Mrs Atheling and her children were alone. Papa had
exhausted his holiday, and with a mixture of pleasure and unwillingness
returned to his office duties; and Mamma, though she had so much
enjoyment of the country, which was “so good for the children,” began to
sigh a little for her other household, to marvel much how Susan used her
supremacy, and to be seized with great compunctions now and then as to
the cruelty “of leaving your father and Charlie by themselves so long.”
The only thing which really reconciled the good wife to this desertion,
was the fact that Charlie himself, without any solicitation, and in fact
rather against his will, was to have a week’s holiday at Michaelmas, and
of course looked forward in his turn to the Old Wood Lodge. Mrs Atheling
had made up her mind to return with her son, and was at present in a
state of considerable doubt and perplexity touching Agnes and Marian,
Bell and Beau. The roses on the cheeks of the little people had
blossomed so sweetly since they came to the country, Mrs Atheling almost
thought she could trust her darlings to Hannah, and that “another month
would do them no harm.”



CHAPTER XVIII.

A NEW FRIEND.


September had begun, but my lord and his expected guests had not yet
arrived at the Hall. Much talk and great preparations were reported in
the village, and came in little rivulets of intelligence, through Hannah
and the humble merchants at the place, to the Old Wood Lodge; but Agnes
and Marian, who had not contrived to write to her, knew nothing whatever
of Rachel, and vainly peeped in at the great gates of the park, early
and late, for the small rapid figure which had made so great an
impression upon their youthful fancy. Then came the question, should
they speak to Louis, who was to be seen sometimes with a gun and a
gamekeeper, deep in the gorse and ferns of Badgeley Wood. Hannah said
this act of rebellious freedom had been met by a threat on the part of
my lord to “have him up” for poaching, which threat only quickened the
haughty boy in his love of sport. “You may say what you like, children,
but it is very wrong and very sinful,” said Mrs Atheling, shaking her
head with serious disapproval, “and especially if he brings in some poor
gamekeeper, and risks his children’s bread;” and Mamma was scarcely to
be satisfied with Hannah’s voluble and eager disclaimer--Mr Louis would
put no man in peril. This excellent mother held her prejudices almost as
firmly as her principles, and compassionately added that it was no
wonder--poor boy, considering--for she could not understand how Louis
could be virtuous and illegitimate, and stood out with a repugnance,
scarcely to be overcome, against any friendship between her own children
and these unfortunate orphans at the Hall.

One of these bright afternoons, the girls were in the garden discussing
eagerly this difficult question; for it would be very sad to bring
Rachel to the house, full of kind and warm expectations, and find her
met by the averted looks of Mamma. Her two daughters, however, though
they were grieved, did not find it at all in their way to criticise the
opinions of their mother; they concerted little loving attacks against
them, but thought of nothing more.

And these two found great occupation in the garden, where Bell and Beau
played all the day long, and which Mrs Atheling commanded as she sat by
the parlour window with her work-basket. This afternoon the family group
was fated to interruption. One of the vehicles ascending the high-road,
which was not far from the house, drew up suddenly at sight of these
young figures in old Miss Bridget’s garden. Even at this distance a
rather rough and very peremptory voice was audible ordering the groom,
and then a singular-looking personage appeared on the grassy path. This
was a very tall woman, dressed in an old-fashioned brown cloth pelisse
and tippet, with an odd bonnet on her head which seemed an original
design, contrived for mere comfort, and owning no fashion at all. She
was not young certainly, but she was not so old either, as the
archæological “detail” of her costume might have warranted a stranger in
supposing. Fifty at the very utmost, perhaps only forty-five, with a
fresh cheek, a bright eye, and all the demeanour of a country gentleman,
this lady advanced upon the curious and timid girls. That her errand was
with them was sufficiently apparent from the moment they saw her, and
they stood together very conscious, under the steady gaze of their
approaching visitor, continuing to occupy themselves a little with the
children, yet scarcely able to turn from this unknown friend. She came
along steadily, without a pause, holding still in her hand the small
riding-whip which had been the sceptre of her sway over the two stout
grey ponies waiting in the high-road--came along steadily to the door,
pushed open the gate, entered upon them without either compliment or
salutation, and only, when she was close upon the girls, paused for an
instant to make the _brusque_ and sudden inquiry, “Well, young people,
who are you?”

They did not answer for the moment, being surprised in no small degree
by such a question; upon which the stranger repeated it rather more
peremptorily. “We are called Atheling,” said Agnes, with a mixture of
pride and amusement. The lady laid her hand heavily upon the girl’s
shoulder, and turned her half round to the light. “What relation?” said
this singular inquisitor; but while she spoke, there became evident a
little moistening and relaxation of her heavy grey eyelid, as if it was
with a certain emotion she recalled the old owner of the old lodge, whom
she did not name.

“My father was Miss Bridget’s nephew; she left the house to him,” said
Agnes; and Marian too drew near in wondering regard and sympathy, as two
big drops, like the thunder-rain, fell suddenly and quietly over this
old lady’s cheeks.

“So! you are Will Atheling’s daughters,” said their visitor, a little
more roughly than before, as if from some shame of her emotion; “and
that is your mother at the window. Where’s Hannah? for I suppose you
don’t know me.”

“No,” said Agnes, feeling rather guilty; it seemed very evident that
this lady was a person universally known.

“Will Atheling married--married--whom did he marry?” said the visitor,
making her way to the house, and followed by the girls. “Eh! don’t you
know, children, what was your mother’s name? Franklin? yes, to be sure,
I remember her a timid pretty sort of creature; ah! just like Will.”

By this time they were at the door of the parlour, which she opened with
an unhesitating hand. Mrs Atheling, who had seen her from the window,
was evidently prepared to receive the stranger, and stood up to greet
her with a little colour rising on her cheek, and, as the girls were
astonished to perceive, water in her eyes.

This abrupt and big intruder into the family room showed more courtesy
to the mother than she had done to the girls; she made a sudden curtsy,
which expression of respect seemed to fill up all the requirements of
politeness in her eyes, and addressed Mrs Atheling at once, without any
prelude. “Do you remember me?”

“I think so--Miss Rivers?” said Mrs Atheling with considerable
nervousness.

“Just so--Anastasia Rivers--once not any older than yourself.
So--so--and here are you and all your children in my old professor’s
room.”

“We have made no change in it; everything is left as it was,” said Mrs
Atheling.

“The more’s the pity,” answered the abrupt and unscrupulous caller.
“Why, it’s not like _them_--not a bit; as well dress them in her old
gowns, dear old soul! Ay well, it was a long life--no excuse for
grieving; but at the last, you see, at the last, it’s come to its end.”

“We did not see her,” said Mrs Atheling, with an implied apology for
“want of feeling,” “for more than twenty years. Some one, for some
reason, we cannot tell what, prejudiced her mind against William and
me.”

“Some one!” said Miss Rivers, with an emphatic toss of her head. “You
don’t know of course who it was. _I_ do: do you wish me to tell you?”

Mrs Atheling made no answer. She looked down with some confusion, and
began to trifle with the work which all this time had lain idly on her
knee.

“If there’s any ill turn he can do you now,” said Miss Rivers pointedly,
“he will not miss the chance, take my word for it; and in case he tries
it, let me know. Will Atheling and I are old friends, and I like the
look of the children. Good girls, are they? And is this all your
family?”

“All I have alive but one boy,” said Mrs Atheling.

“Ah!” said her visitor, looking up quickly. “Lost some?--never mind,
child, you’ll find them again; and here am I, in earth and heaven a dry
tree!”

After a moment’s pause she began to speak again, in an entirely
different tone. “These young ones must come to see me,” said their new
friend--“I like the look of them. You are very pretty, my dear, you are
quite as good as a picture; but I like your sister just as well as you.
Come here, child. Have you had a good education? Are you clever?
Nonsense! Why do you blush? People can’t have brains without knowing of
it. Are you clever, I say?”

“I don’t think so,” said Agnes, unable to restrain a smile; “but mamma
does, and so does Marian.” Here she came to an abrupt conclusion,
blushing at herself. Miss Rivers rose up from her seat, and stood before
her, looking down into the shy eyes of the young genius with all the
penetrating steadiness of her own.

“I like an honest girl,” said the Honourable Anastasia, patting Agnes’s
shoulder rather heavily with her strong hand. “Marian--is she called
Marian? That’s not an Atheling name. Why didn’t you call her Bride?”

“She is named for me,” said Mrs Atheling with some dignity. And then she
added, faltering, “We had a Bridget too; but----”

“Never mind,” said Miss Rivers, lifting her hand quickly--“never mind,
you’ll find them again. She’s very pretty--prettier than any one I know
about Banburyshire; but for heaven’s sake, child, mind what you’re
about, and don’t let any one put nonsense in your head. Your mother
could tell you what comes of such folly, and so could I. By the by,
children, you are much of an age. Do you know anything of those poor
children at the Hall?”

“We know Rachel,” said Agnes eagerly. “We met her at Richmond, and were
very fond of her; and I suppose she is coming here.”

“Rachel!” said Miss Rivers, with a little contempt. “I mean the boy. Has
Will Atheling seen the boy?”

“My husband met him once when he came here first,” said Mrs Atheling;
“and he fancied--fancied--imagined--he was like----”

“My father!” The words were uttered with an earnestness and energy which
brought a deep colour over those unyouthful cheeks. “Yes, to be
sure--every one says the same. I’d give half my fortune to know the true
story of that boy!”

“Rachel says,” interposed Agnes, eagerly taking advantage of anything
which could be of service to her friend, “that Louis will not believe
that they belong to Lord Winterbourne.”

The eyes of the Honourable Anastasia flashed positive lightning; then a
shadow came over her face. “That’s nothing,” she said abruptly. “No one
who could help it would be content to belong to _him_. Now, I’ll send
some day for the children: send them over to see me, will you? Ah,
where’s Hannah--does she suit you? She was very good to _her_, dear old
soul!”

“And she is very good to the children,” said Mrs Atheling, as she
followed her visitor punctiliously to the door. When they reached it,
Miss Rivers turned suddenly round upon her--

“You are not rich, are you? Don’t be offended; but, if you are able,
change all this. I’m glad to see you in the house; but this, you know,
_this_ is like her gowns and her turbans--make a change.”

Here Hannah appeared from her kitchen, curtsying deeply to Miss Taesie,
who held a conversation with her at the gate; and finally went away,
with her steady step and her riding-whip, having first plucked one of
the late pale roses from the wall. Mrs Atheling came in with a degree of
agitation not at all usual to the family mother. “The first time I ever
saw her,” said Mrs Atheling, “when I was a young girl newly married, and
she a proud young beauty just on the eve of the same. I remember her, in
her hat and her riding-habit, pulling a rose from Aunt Bridget’s
porch--and there it is again.”

“Ma’am,” said Hannah, coming in to spread the table, “Miss Taesie never
comes here, late or early, but she gathers a rose.”



CHAPTER XIX.

GOSSIP.


“But, mamma, if she was just on the eve of the same, why is she only
Miss Rivers now?” asked Marian, very curious on this subject of
betrothments and marriages.

“It is a very long story, my dear,” said Mrs Atheling. As a general
principle, Mamma was not understood to have any special aversion to long
stories, but she certainly showed no inclination whatever to enter into
this.

“So much the better if you will tell it, mamma,” said Agnes; and they
came close to her, with their pretty bits of needlework, and their looks
of interest; it was not in the heart of woman to refuse.

“Well, my dears,” said Mrs Atheling, with a little reluctance, “somehow
we seem to be brought into the very midst of it again, though we have
scarcely heard their names for twenty years. This lady, though she is
almost as old as he is, is niece to Lord Winterbourne. The old lord was
only his stepbrother, and a great deal older than he--and Miss Anastasia
was the only child of the old lord. You may suppose how disappointed he
was, with all his great estates entailed, and the title--and nothing but
a daughter; and everybody said, when the old lady died, that he would
marry again.”

“_Did_ he marry again?” said Marian, as Mamma came to a sudden and
unexpected pause.

“No, my dear; for then trouble came,” said Mrs Atheling. “Miss Anastasia
was a beautiful young lady, always very proud, and very wise and
sensible, but a great beauty for all that; and she was to be married to
a young gentleman, a baronet and a very great man, out of Warwickshire.
The present lord was then the Honourable Reginald Rivers, and dreadful
wild. Somehow, I cannot tell how it was, he and Sir Frederick
quarrelled, and then they fought; and after his wound that fine young
gentleman fell into a wasting and a consumption, and died at
twenty-five; and that is the reason why Miss Anastasia has never been
married, and I am afraid, though it is so very wrong to say so, _hates_
Lord Winterbourne.”

“Oh, mamma! I am sure I should, if I had been like her!” cried Marian,
almost moved to tears.

“No, my darling, not to hate him,” said Mrs Atheling, shaking her head,
“or you would forget all you have been taught since you were a child.”

“I do not understand him, mamma,” said Agnes: “does everybody hate
him--has he done wrong to every one?”

Mrs Atheling sighed. “My dears, if I tell you, you must forget it again,
and never mention it to any one. Papa had a pretty young sister, little
Bride, as they all called her, the sweetest girl I ever saw. Mr Reginald
come courting her a long time, but at last she found out--oh girls! oh,
children!--that what he meant was not true love, but something that it
would be a shame and a sin so much as to name; and it broke her dear
heart, and she died. Her grave is at Winterbourne; that was what papa
and I went to see the first day.”

“Mamma,” cried Agnes, starting up in great excitement and agitation,
“why did you suffer us to know any one belonging to such a man?”

“Well, my dear,” said Mrs Atheling, a little discomposed by this appeal.
“I thought it was for the best. Coming here, we were sure to be thrown
into their way--and perhaps he may have repented. And then Mrs Edgerley
was very kind to you, and I did not think it right, for the father’s
sake, to judge harshly of the child.”

Marian, who had covered her face with her hands, looked up now with
abashed and glistening eyes. “Is that why papa dislikes him so?” said
Marian, very low, and still sheltering with her raised hands her
dismayed and blushing face.

Mrs Atheling hesitated a moment. “Yes,” she said doubtfully, after a
pause of consideration--“yes; that and other things.”

But the inquiry of the girls could not elicit from Mamma what were the
other things which were sufficient to share with this as motives of Mr
Atheling’s dislike. They were inexpressibly shocked and troubled by the
story, as people are who, contemplating evil at a visionary distance,
and having only a visionary belief in it, suddenly find a visible gulf
yawning at their own feet; and Agnes could not help thinking, with
horror and disgust, of being in the same room with this man of guilt,
and of that polluting kiss of his, from which Rachel shrank as from the
touch of pestilence. “Such a man ought to be marked and singled out,”
cried Agnes, with unreasoning youthful eloquence: “no one should dare to
bring him into the same atmosphere with pure-minded people; everybody
ought to be warned of who and what he was.”

“Nay; God has not done so,” said Mrs Atheling with a sigh. “He has
offended God more than he ever could offend man, but God bears with him.
I often say so to your father when we speak of the past. Ought we, who
are so sinful ourselves, to have less patience than God?”

After this the girls were very silent, saying nothing, and much absorbed
with their own thoughts. Marian, who perhaps for the moment found a
certain analogy between her father’s pretty sister and herself, was
wrapt in breathless horror of the whole catastrophe. Her mind glanced
back upon Sir Langham--her fancy started forward into the future; but
though the young beauty for the moment was greatly appalled and
startled, she could not believe in the possibility of anything at all
like this “happening to me!” Agnes, for her part, took quite a different
view of the matter. The first suggestion of her eager fancy was, what
could be done for Louis and Rachel, to deliver them from the presence
and control of such a man? Innocently and instinctively her thoughts
turned upon her own gift, and the certain modest amount of power it gave
her. Louis might get a situation like Charlie, and be helped until he
was able for the full weight of his own life; and Rachel, another
sister, could come home to Bellevue. So Agnes, who at this present
moment was writing in little bits, much interrupted and broken in upon,
her second story, rose into a delightful anticipatory triumph, not of
its fame or success, though these things did glance laughingly across
her innocent imagination, but of its mere ignoble coined recompense,
and of all the great things for these two poor orphans which might be
done in Bellevue.

And while the mother and the daughters sat at work in the shady little
parlour, where the sunshine did not enter, but where a sidelong
reflection of one waving bough of clematis, dusty with blossom, waved
across the little sloping mirror, high on the wall, Hannah sat outside
the open door, watching with visible delight, and sometimes joining for
an instant with awkward kindliness, the sports of Bell and Beau. They
rolled about on the soft grass, ran about on the garden paths, tumbled
over each other and over everything in their way, but, with the happy
immunity of children in the country, “took no harm.” Hannah had some
work in her great white apron, but did not so much as look at it. She
had no eye for a rare passenger upon the grassy byway, and scarcely
heard the salutation of the Rector’s man. All Hannah’s soul and thoughts
were wrapt up in the “blessed babies,” who made her old life blossom and
rejoice; and it was without any intervention of their generally
punctilious attendant that a light and rapid step came gliding over the
threshold of the Lodge, and a quiet little knock sounded lightly on the
parlour door. “May I come in, please?” said a voice which seemed to
Agnes to be speaking out of her dream; and Mrs Atheling had not time to
buckle on her armour of objection when the door opened, and the same
little light rapid figure came bounding into the arms of her daughters.
Once there, it was not very difficult to reach to the good mother’s
kindly heart.



CHAPTER XX.

RACHEL.


“Yes, I only came to-day,” said Rachel, who kept her eyes wistfully upon
Mrs Atheling, though she spoke to Agnes. “They made me go to town after
you left, and then kept me _so_ long at the Willows. Next season they
say I am to come out, and somebody has offered me an engagement; but
indeed, indeed,” cried Rachel, suddenly firing with one of her outbursts
of unexpected energy, “I never will!”

The girls scarcely knew what answer to make in presence of their mother.
They had not been trained to have independent friendships, and now
waited anxiously, turning silent looks of appeal upon Mamma. Mamma all
at once had become exceedingly industrious, and neither looked up nor
spoke.

“But then you might live in London, perhaps, instead of here; and I
should be very glad if you were near us,” said Agnes, with a good deal
of timidity. Agnes, indeed, was not thinking what she said--her whole
attention wandered to her mother.

“I do not mind for myself,” said Rachel, with a deep sigh. “I do not
think I should care if there were a hundred people to hear me sing,
instead of a dozen, for I know very well not one of them would care
anything for _me_; but I have to remember Louis. I cannot disgrace
Louis. It is bad enough for him as it is, without adding any more.”

Again there was a pause. Rachel’s poor little palpitating heart beat
very loud and very high. “I thought I should be welcome when I came
here,” she said, freezing half into her unnatural haughtiness, and half
with an unconscious and pitiful tone of appeal; “but I never intruded
upon any one--never! and if you do not wish me to be here, I can go
away.”

She turned to go away as she spoke, her little figure rising and
swelling with great subdued emotion; but Mrs Atheling immediately rose
and stretched out her hand to detain her. “Do not go away, my dear; the
girls are very fond of you,” said Mrs Atheling; and it cost this good
mother, with her ideas of propriety, a very considerable struggle with
herself to say these simple words.

Rachel stood before her a moment irresolute and uncertain, not appearing
even to hear what Agnes and Marian, assured by this encouragement,
hastened to say. The contest was violent while it lasted between Louis’s
sister, who was his representative, and the natural little humble child
Rachel, who had no pride, and only wanted the kindly succour of love;
but at last nature won the day. She seized upon Mrs Atheling’s hand
hastily and kissed it, with a pretty appealing gesture. “They do
everything you tell them,” cried Rachel suddenly. “I never had any
mother--never even when we were babies. Oh, will you tell me sometimes
what I ought to do?”

It was said afterwards in the family that at this appeal Mamma, fairly
vanquished and overcome, “almost cried;” and certain it was that Rachel
immediately took possession of the stool beside her, and remained there
not only during this visit, but on every after occasion when she came.
She brightened immediately into all her old anxious communicativeness,
concealing nothing, but pouring out her whole heart.

“Louis told me he had seen you in the garden,” said Rachel, with a low
laugh of pleasure; “but when I asked which it was, he said he knew
nothing of Agnes and Marian, but only he had seen a vision looking over
the old gate. I never know what Louis means when he speaks nonsense,”
said Rachel, with an unusual brightness; “and I am so glad. I never
heard him speak so much nonsense since we came to the Hall.”

“And are you left in the Hall all by yourselves, two young creatures?”
asked Mrs Atheling, with curiosity. “It must be very melancholy for
you.”

“Not to be alone!” cried Rachel. “But very soon my lord is coming, with
a great household of people; and then--I almost faint when I think upon
it. What shall I do?”

“But, Rachel, Mrs Edgerley is very kind to you,” said Agnes.

Rachel answered after her usual fashion: “I do not care at all for
myself--it is nothing to me; but Louis--oh, Louis!--if he is ever seen,
the people stare at him as they would at a horse or a hound; and Lord
Winterbourne tries to have an opportunity to speak and order him away,
and when he shoots, he says he will put him in prison. And then Louis
knows when they send for me, and sometimes stands under the window and
hears me singing, and is white with rage to hear; and then he says he
cannot bear it, and must go away, and then I go down upon my knees to
him. I know how it will happen--everything, everything! It makes him mad
to have to bear it. Oh, I wish I knew anything that I could do!”

“Mamma,” said Agnes earnestly, “Rachel used to tell us all this at the
Willows. Do you not think he ought to go away?”

Mrs Atheling shook her head in perplexity; and instead of answering,
asked a question, “Does he not think it his duty, my dear, to obey
your--your father?” said Mamma doubtfully.

“But he is not our father--oh no, no, indeed he is not! I should know he
was not, even without Louis,” cried Rachel, unaware what a violent
affirmation this was. “Louis says we could not have any father who would
not be a disgrace to us, being as we are--and Louis must be right; but
even though he might be a bad man, he could not be like Lord
Winterbourne. He takes pleasure in humiliating us--he never cared for us
all our life.”

There was something very touching in this entire identification of these
two solitary existences which still were but one life; and Rachel was
not Rachel till she came to the very last words. Before that, with the
strange and constantly varying doubleness of her sisterly character, she
had been once again the representative of Louis. One thing struck them
all as they looked at her small features, fired with this sudden
inspiration of Louis’s pride and spirit. About as different as
possible--at the extreme antipodes of unresemblance--were their two
visitors of this day,--this small little fairy, nervous, timid, and
doubtful, fatherless, homeless, and without so much as a name, and that
assured and commanding old lady, owning no superior, and as secure of
her own position and authority as any reigning monarch. Yes, they were
about as dissimilar as two human creatures could be; yet the lookers-on
were startled to recognise that subtle link of likeness, seldom a
likeness of features, which people call family resemblance. Could it
have come through this man, who was so repugnant to them both?

“They are all coming down on Monday next week,” said Rachel, “so we have
just three days all to ourselves; and I thought, perhaps--perhaps, if
you please to let me, I might bring Louis to-night?”

“Surely, my dear,” said Mrs Atheling.

“Oh, thank you!--thank you very much!” cried Rachel, once more bestowing
an eager yet shy caress upon that motherly hand. “Louis is not like me
at all,” added the anxious sister, afraid lest he should suffer by any
preconceived notion of resemblance. “He is a man; and old Miss Bridget
used to call him a noble brave boy, like what you read of in books. I do
not know,” said Rachel, “I never read of any one, even in a book, like
Louis. I think he ought to be a king.”

“But, indeed, Rachel,” said Agnes, “I am quite sure you are wrong. Ask
mamma. You ought to let him go away.”

“Do _you_ think so?” said Rachel wistfully, looking up in Mrs Atheling’s
face.

But Mrs Atheling, though under any other circumstances she would of
course have insisted upon the absolute propriety of a young man “making
his own way,” paused, much perplexed, and answered nothing for the
moment. “My dears,” she said at last, very doubtfully, “I do not know at
all what to say. You should have some one who could advise you better;
and it depends on the young gentleman’s inclinations, and a great many
things beside that I am not able to judge of; for, indeed, though it may
only be my old-fashioned notions, I do not like to hear of young people
going against the advice of their friends.”



CHAPTER XXI.

THE YOUNG PRINCE.


It may be supposed that, after all they had heard of him, the Athelings
prepared themselves with a little excitement for the visit of Louis.
Even Mrs Atheling, who disapproved of him, could not prevent herself
from wandering astray in long speculations about the old lord--and it
seemed less improper to wonder and inquire concerning a boy, whom the
Honourable Anastasia herself inquired after and wondered at. As for the
girls, Louis had come to be an ideal hero to both of them. The adored
and wonderful brother of Rachel--though Rachel was only a girl, and
scarcely so wise as themselves--the admiration of Miss Bridget, and the
anxiety of Miss Anastasia, though these were only a couple of old
ladies, united in a half deification of the lordly young stranger, whose
own appearance and manner were enough to have awakened a certain
romantic interest in their simple young hearts. They were extremely
concerned to-night about their homely tea-table--that everything should
look its best and brightest; and even contrived, unknown to Hannah, to
filch and convert into a temporary cake-basket that small rich old
silver salver, which had been wont to stand upon one of Miss Bridget’s
little tables for cards. Then they robbed the garden for a sufficient
bouquet of flowers; and then Agnes, half against her sister’s will, wove
in one of those pale roses to Marian’s beautiful hair. Marian, though
she made a laughing protest against this, and pretended to be totally
indifferent to the important question, which dress she should wear?
clearly recognised herself as the heroine of the evening. _She_ knew
very well, if no one else did, what was the vision which Louis had seen
at the old gate, and came down to Miss Bridget’s prim old parlour in her
pretty light muslin dress with the rose in her hair, looking, in her
little flutter and palpitation, as sweet a “vision of delight” as ever
appeared to the eyes of man.

And Louis came--came--condescended to take tea--stayed some two hours or
so, and then took his departure, hurriedly promising to come back for
his sister. This much-anticipated hero--could it be possible that his
going away was the greatest relief to them all, and that no one of the
little party felt at all comfortable or at ease till he was gone? It was
most strange and deplorable, yet it was most true beyond the
possibility of question; for Louis, with all a young man’s sensitive
pride stung into bitterness by his position, haughtily repelled the
interest and kindness of all these women. He was angry at Rachel--poor
little anxious timid Rachel, who almost looked happy when they crossed
this kindly threshold--for supposing these friends of hers, who were all
women, could be companions for him; he was angry at himself for his
anger; he was in the haughtiest and darkest frame of his naturally
impetuous temper, rather disposed to receive as an insult any overture
of friendship, and fiercely to plume himself upon his separated and
orphaned state. They were all entirely discomfited and taken aback by
their stately visitor, whom they had been disposed to receive with the
warmest cordiality, and treat as one whom it was in their power to be
kind to. Though his sister did so much violence to her natural feelings
that she might hold her ground as his representative, Louis did not by
any means acknowledge her deputyship. In entire opposition to her
earnest and anxious frankness, Louis closed himself up with a jealous
and repellant reserve; said nothing he could help saying, and speaking,
when he did speak, with a cold and indifferent dignity; did not so much
as refer to the Hall or Lord Winterbourne, and checked Rachel, when she
was about to do so, with an almost imperceptible gesture, peremptory
and full of displeasure. Poor Rachel, constantly referring to him with
her eyes, and feeling the ground entirely taken from beneath her feet,
sat pale and anxious, full of apprehension and dismay. Marian, who was
not accustomed to see her own pretty self treated with such absolute
unconcern, took down _Fatherless Fanny_ from the bookshelf, and played
with it, half reading, half “pretending,” at one of the little tables.
Agnes, after many vain attempts to draw Rachel’s unmanageable brother
into conversation, gave it up at last, and sat still by Rachel’s side in
embarrassed silence. Mamma betook herself steadily to her work-basket.
The conversation fell away into mere questions addressed to Louis, and
answers in monosyllables, so that it was an extreme relief to every
member of the little party when this impracticable visitor rose at last,
bowed to them all, and hastened away.

Rachel sat perfectly silent till the sound of his steps had died upon
the road; then she burst out in a vehement apologetic outcry. “Oh, don’t
be angry with him--don’t, please,” said Rachel; “he thinks I have been
trying to persuade you to be kind to him, and he cannot bear _that_ even
from me; and indeed, indeed you may believe me, it is quite true! I
never saw him, except once or twice, in such a humour before.”

“My dear,” said Mrs Atheling, with that dignified tone which Mamma could
assume when it was necessary, to the utter discomfiture of her
opponent--“my dear, we are very glad to see your brother, but of course
it can be nothing whatever to us the kind of humour he is in; that is
quite his own concern.”

Poor Rachel now, having no other resource, cried. She was only herself
in this uncomfortable moment. She could no longer remember Louis’s pride
or Louis’s dignity; for a moment the poor little subject heart felt a
pang of resentment against the object of its idolatry, such as little
Rachel had sometimes felt when Louis was “naughty,” and she, his
unfortunate little shadow, innocently shared in his punishment; but now,
as at every former time, the personal trouble of the patient little
sister yielded to the dread that Louis “was not understood.” “You will
know him better some time,” she said, drying her sorrowful appealing
eyes. So far as appearances went at this moment, it did not seem quite
desirable to know him better, and nobody said a word in return.

After this the three girls went out together to the garden, still lying
sweet in the calm of the long summer twilight, under a young moon and
some early stars. They did not speak a great deal. They were all
considerably absorbed with thoughts of this same hero, who, after all,
had not taken an effective method of keeping their interest alive.

And Marian did not know how or whence it was that this doubtful and
uncertain paladin came to her side in the pleasant darkness, but was
startled by his voice in her ear as she leaned once more over the low
garden-gate. “It was here I saw you first,” said Louis, and Marian’s
heart leaped in her breast, half with the suddenness of the words, half
with--something else. Louis, who had been so haughty and ungracious all
the evening--Louis, Rachel’s idol, everybody’s superior--yet he spoke
low in the startled ear of Marian, as if that first seeing had been an
era in his life.

“Come with us,” said Louis, as Rachel at sight of him hastened to get
her bonnet--“come along this enchanted road a dozen steps into
fairyland, and back again. I forget everything, even myself, on such a
night.”

And they went, scarcely answering, yet more satisfied with this brief
reference to their knowledge of him, than if the king had forsaken his
nature, and become as confidential as Rachel. They went their dozen
steps on what was merely the terraced pathway, soft, dark, and grassy,
to Agnes and Rachel, who went first in anxious conversation, but which
the other two, coming silently behind, had probably a different idea
of. Marian at least could not help cogitating these same adjectives,
with a faint inquiry within herself, what it was which could make this
an enchanted road or fairyland.



CHAPTER XXII.

A BEGINNING.


The next morning, while the mother and daughters were still in the full
fervour of discussion about this same remarkable Louis, he himself was
seen for the first time in the early daylight passing the window, with
that singular rapidity of step which he possessed in common with his
sister. They ceased their argument after seeing him--why, no one could
have told; but quite unresolved as the question was, and though Mamma’s
first judgment, unsoftened by that twilight walk, was still decidedly
unfavourable to Louis, they all dropped the subject tacitly and at once.
Then Mamma went about various domestic occupations; then Agnes dropped
into the chair which stood before that writing-book upon the table, and,
with an attention much broken and distracted, gradually fell away into
her own ideal world; and then Marian, leading Bell and Beau with
meditative hands, glided forth softly to the garden, with downcast face
and drooping eyes, full of thought. The children ran away from her at
once when their little feet touched the grass, but Marian went straying
along the paths, absorbed in her meditation, her pretty arms hanging by
her side, her pretty head bent, her light fair figure gliding softly in
shadow over the low mossy paling and the close-clipped hedge within. She
was thinking only what it was most natural she should think, about the
stranger of last night; yet now and then into the stream of her musing
dropped, with the strangest disturbance and commotion, these few quiet
words spoken in her ear,--“It was here I saw you first.” How many times,
then, had Louis seen her? and why did he recollect so well that first
occasion? and what did he mean?

While she was busy with these fancies, all at once, Marian could not
tell how, as suddenly as he appeared last night, Louis was here
again--here, within the garden of the Old Wood Lodge, walking by
Marian’s side, a second long shadow upon the close-clipped hedge and the
mossy paling, rousing her to a guilty consciousness that she had been
thinking of him, which brought blush after blush in a flutter of “sweet
shamefacednesse” to her cheek, and weighed down still more heavily the
shy and dreamy lids of these beautiful eyes.

The most unaccountable thing in the world! but Marian, who had received
with perfect coolness the homage of Sir Langham, and whose conscience
smote her with no compunctions for the slaying of the gifted American,
had strangely lost her self-possession to-day. She only replied in the
sedatest and gravest manner possible to the questions of her
companion--looked anxiously at the parlour window for an opportunity of
calling Agnes, and with the greatest embarrassment longed for the
presence of some one to end this _tête-à-tête_. Louis, on the contrary,
exerted himself for her amusement, and was as different from the Louis
of last night as it was possible to conceive.

“Ay, there it is,” said Louis, who had just asked her what she knew of
Oxford--“there it is, the seat of learning, thrusting up all its
pinnacles to the sun; but I think, if the world were wise, this glitter
and shining might point to the dark, dark ignorance outside of it, even
more than to the little glow within.”

Now this was not much in Marian’s way--but her young squire, who would
have submitted himself willingly to her guidance had she given any, was
not yet acquainted at all with the ways of Marian.

She said, simply looking at the big dome sullenly throwing off the
sunbeams, and at the glancing arrowheads, of more impressible and
delicate kind, “I think it is very pretty, with all those different
spires and towers; but do you mean it is the poor people who are so
very ignorant? It seems as though people could scarcely help learning
who live there.”

“Yes, the poor people--I mean all of us,” said Louis slowly, and with a
certain painful emphasis. “A great many of the villagers, it is true,
have never been to school; but I do not count a man ignorant who knows
what he has to do, and how to do it, though he never reads a book, nor
has pen in hand all his life. I save my pity for a more unfortunate
ignorance than that.”

“But that is very bad,” said Marian decidedly, “because there is more to
do than just to work, and we ought to know about--about a great many
things. Agnes knows better than I.”

This was said very abruptly, and meant that Agnes knew better what
Marian meant to say than she herself did. The youth at her side,
however, showed no inclination for any interpreter. He seemed, indeed,
to be rather pleased than otherwise with this breaking off.

“When I was away, I was in strange enough quarters, and learnt something
about knowledge,” said Louis, “though not much knowledge itself--heaven
help me! I suppose I was not worthy of that.”

“And did you really run away?” asked Marian, growing bolder with this
quickening of personal interest.

“I really ran away,” said the young man, a hot flush passing for an
instant over his brow; and then he smiled--a kind of daring desperate
smile, which seemed to say “what I have done once I can do again.”

“And what did you do?” said Marian, continuing her inquiries: she forgot
her shyness in following up this story, which she knew and did not know.

“What all the village lads do who get into scrapes and break the hearts
of the old women,” said Louis, with a somewhat bitter jesting. “I listed
for a soldier--but there was not even an old woman to break her heart
for me.”

“Oh, there was Rachel!” cried Marian eagerly.

“Yes, indeed, there was Rachel, my good little sister,” answered the
young man; “but her kind heart would have mended again had they let me
alone. It would have been better for us both.”

He said this with a painful compression of his lip, which a certain
wistful sympathy in the mind of Marian taught her to recognise as the
sign of tumult and contention in this turbulent spirit. She hastened
with a womanly instinct to direct him to the external circumstances
again.

“And you were really a soldier--a--not an officer--only a common man.”
Marian shrunk visibly from this, which was an actual and possible
degradation, feared as the last downfall for the “wild sons” of the
respectable families in the neighbourhood of Bellevue.

“Yes, I belong to a class which has no privileges; there was not a
drummer in the regiment but was of better birth than I,” exclaimed
Louis. “Ah, that is folly--I did very well. In Napoleon’s army, had I
belonged to that day!--but in my time there was neither a general nor a
war.”

“Surely,” said Marian, who began to be anxious about this unfortunate
young man’s “principles,” “you would not wish for a war?”

“Should you think it very wrong?” said Louis with a smile.

“Yes,” answered the young Mentor with immediate decision; for this
conversation befell in those times, not so very long ago, when everybody
declared that such convulsions were over, and that it was impossible, in
the face of civilisation, steamboats, and the electric telegraph, to
entertain the faintest idea of a war.

They had reached this point in their talk, gradually growing more at
ease and familiar with each other, when it suddenly chanced that Mamma,
passing from her own sleeping-room to that of the girls, paused a moment
to look out at the small middle window in the passage between them, and
looking down, was amazed to see this haughty and misanthropic Louis
passing quietly along the trim pathway of the garden, keeping his place
steadily by Marian’s side. Mrs Atheling was not a mercenary mother,
neither was she one much given to alarm for her daughters, lest they
should make bad marriages or fall into unfortunate love; but Mrs
Atheling, who was scrupulously proper, did not like to see her pretty
Marian in such friendly companionship with “a young man in such an
equivocal position,” even though he was the brother of her friend. “We
may be kind to them,” said Mamma to herself, “but we are not to go any
further; and, indeed, it would be very sad if he should come to more
grief about Marian, poor young man;--how pretty she is!”

Yes, it was full time Mrs Atheling should hasten down stairs, and, in
the most accidental manner in the world, step out into the garden.
Marian, unfortunate child! with her young roses startled on her sweet
young cheeks by this faint presaging breath of a new existence, had
never been so pretty all her life.



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE YOUNG PEOPLE.


What Louis did or said, or how he made interest for himself in the
tender heart of Mamma, no one very well knows; yet a certain fact it
was, that from henceforward Mrs Atheling, like Miss Anastasia, became
somewhat contemptuous of Rachel in the interest of Louis, and pursued
eager and long investigations in her own mind--investigations most
fruitless, yet most persevering--touching the old lord and the unknown
conclusion of his life. All that was commonly known of the last years of
the last Lord Winterbourne was, that he had died abroad. Under the
pressure of family calamity he had gone to Italy, and there, people
said, had wandered about for several years, leading a desultory and
unsettled life, entirely out of the knowledge of any of his friends; and
when the present bearer of the title came home, bearing the intelligence
of his elder brother’s death, the most entire oblivion closed down upon
the foreign grave of the old lord. Back into this darkness Mrs
Atheling, who knew no more than common report, made vain efforts to
strain her kindly eyes, but always returned with a sigh of despair.
“No!” said Mamma, “he might be proud, but he was virtuous and
honourable. I never heard a word said against the old lord. Louis is
like him, but it must only be a chance resemblance. No! Mr Reginald was
always a wild bad man. Poor things! they _must_ be his children; for my
lord, I am sure, never betrayed or deceived any creature all his life.”

But still she mused and dreamed concerning Louis; he seemed to exercise
a positive fascination over all these elder people; and Mrs Atheling,
more than she had ever desired a friendly gossip with Miss Willsie,
longed to meet once more with the Honourable Anastasia, to talk over her
conjectures and guesses respecting “the boy.”

In the mean time, Louis himself, relieved from that chaperonship and
anxious introduction by his sister, which the haughty young man could
not endure, made daily increase of his acquaintance with the strangers.
He began to form part of their daily circle, expected and calculated
upon; and somehow the family life seemed to flow in a stronger and
fuller current with the addition of this vigorous element, the young
man, who oddly enough seemed to belong to them rather more than if he
had been their brother. He took the three girls, who were now so much
like three sisters, on long and wearying excursions through the wood and
over the hill. He did not mind tiring them out, nor was he extremely
fastidious about the roads by which he led them; for, generous at heart
as he was, the young man had the unconscious wilfulness of one who all
his life had known no better guidance than his own will. Sometimes, in
those long walks of theirs, the young Athelings were startled by some
singular characteristic of their squire, bringing to light in him, by a
sudden chance, things of which these gentle-hearted girls had never
dreamed. Once they discovered, lying deep among the great fern-leaves,
all brown and rusty with seed, the bright plumage of some dead game, for
the reception of which a village boy was making a bag of his pinafore.
“Carry it openly,” said Louis, at whose voice the lad started; “and if
any one asks you where it came from, send them to me.” This was his
custom, which all the village knew and profited by; he would not permit
himself to be restrained from the sport, but he scorned to lift the
slain bird, which might be supposed to be Lord Winterbourne’s, and left
it to be picked up by the chance foragers of the hamlet. At the first
perception of this, the girls, we are obliged to confess, were greatly
shocked--tears even came to Marian’s eyes. She said it was cruel, in a
little outbreak of terror, pity, and indignation. “Cruel--no!” said
Louis: “did my gun give a sharper wound than one of the score of
fashionable guns that will be waking all the echoes in a day or two?”
But Marian only glanced up at him hurriedly with her shy eyes, and said,
with a half smile, “Perhaps though the wound was no sharper, the poor
bird might have liked another week of life.”

And the young man looked up into the warm blue sky over-head, all
crossed and trellised with green leaves, and looked around into the deep
September foliage, flaming here and there in a yellow leaf, a point of
fire among the green. “I think it very doubtful,” he said, sinking his
voice, though every one heard him among the noonday hush of the trees,
“if I ever can be so happy again. Do you not suppose it would be
something worth living for, instead of a week or a year of sadder
chances, to be shot upon the wing _now_?”

Marian did not say a word, but shrank away among the bushes, clinging to
Rachel’s arm, with a shy instinctive motion. “Choose for yourself,” said
Agnes; “but do not decide so coolly upon the likings of the poor bird. I
am sure, had _he_ been consulted, he would rather have taken his chance
of the guns next week than lain so quiet under the fern-leaves now.”

Whereupon the blush of youth for his own super-elevated and unreal
sentiment came over Louis’s face. Agnes, by some amusing process common
to young girls who are elder sisters, and whom nobody is in love with,
had made herself out to be older than Louis, and was rather disposed now
and then to interfere for the regulation of this youth’s improper
sentiments, and to give him good advice.

And Lord Winterbourne arrived: they discovered the fact immediately by
the entire commotion and disturbance of everything about the village, by
the noise of wheels, and the flight of servants, to be descried
instantly in the startled neighbourhood. Then they began to see visions
of sportsmen, and flutters of fine ladies; and even without these
visible and evident signs, it would have been easy enough to read the
information of the arrivals in the clouded and lowering brow of Louis,
and in poor little Rachel’s distress, anxiety, and agitation. She, poor
child, could no longer join their little kindly party in the evening;
and when her brother came without her, he burst into violent outbreaks
of rage, indignation, and despair, dreadful to see. Neither mother nor
daughters knew how to soothe him; for it was even more terrible in their
fancy than in his experience to be the Pariah and child of degradation
in this great house. Moved by the intolerable burden of this his time of
trial, Louis at last threw himself upon the confidence of his new
friends, confided his uncertain and conflicting plans to them, relieved
himself of his passionate resentment, and accepted their sympathy.
Every day he came goaded half to madness, vowing his determination to
bear it no longer; but every day, as he sat in the old easy-chair, with
his handsome head half-buried in his hands, a solace, sweet and
indescribable, stole into Louis’s heart; he was inspired to go at the
very same moment that he was impelled to stay, by that same vision which
he had first seen in the summer twilight at the old garden-gate.



CHAPTER XXIV.

A MEETING.


This state of things continued for nearly a fortnight after the arrival
of Lord Winterbourne and his party at the Hall. They saw Mrs Edgerley
passing through the village, and in church; but she either did not see
them, or did not think it necessary to take any notice of the girls.
Knowing better now the early connection between their own family and
Lord Winterbourne’s, they were almost glad of this--almost; yet
certainly it would have been pleasanter to decline _her_ friendly
advances, than to find her, their former patroness, quietly dropping
acquaintance with _them_.

The grassy terraced road which led from Winterbourne village to the
highway, and which was fenced on one side by the low wall which
surrounded the stables and outhouses of the Rector, and by the hedge and
paling of the Old Wood Lodge, but on the other side was free and open to
the fields, which sloped down from it to the low willow-dropped banks of
one of those pale rivers, was not a road adapted either for vehicles or
horses. The Rivers family, however, holding themselves monarchs of all
they surveyed, stood upon no punctilio in respect to the pathway of the
villagers, and the family temper, alike in this one particular, brought
about a collision important enough to all parties concerned, and
especially to the Athelings; for one of those days, when a riding-party
from the Hall cantered along the path with a breezy waving and commotion
of veils and feathers and riding-habits, and a pleasant murmur of sound,
voices a little louder than usual under cover of the September gale
mixed only with the jingle of the harness--for the horses’ hoofs struck
no sound but that of a dull tread from the turf of the way--it pleased
Miss Anastasia, at the very hour and moment of their approach, to drive
her two grey ponies to the door of the Old Wood Lodge. Of course, it was
the simplest “accident” in the world, this unpremeditated “chance”
meeting. There was no intention nor foresight whatever in the matter.
When she saw them coming, Miss Anastasia “growled” under her breath, and
marvelled indignantly how they could dream of coming in such a body over
the grassed road of the villagers, cutting it to pieces with their
horses’ hoofs. She never paused to consider how the wheels of her own
substantial vehicle ploughed the road; and for her part, the leader of
the fair equestrians brightened with an instant hope of amusement. “Here
is cousin Anastasia, the most learned old lady in Banburyshire.
Delightful! Now, my love, you shall see the lion of the county,” cried
Mrs Edgerley to one of her young companions, not thinking nor caring
whether her voice reached her kinswoman or not. Lord Winterbourne, who
was with his daughter, drew back to the rear of the group instinctively.
Whatever was said of Lord Winterbourne, his worst enemy could not say
that he was brave to meet the comments of those whom he had harmed or
wronged.

Miss Anastasia stepped from her carriage in the most deliberate manner
possible, nodded to Marian and Agnes, who were in the garden--and to
whose defence, seeing so many strangers, hastily appeared their
mother--and stood patting and talking to her ponies, in her brown cloth
pelisse and tippet, and with that oddest of comfortable bonnets upon her
head.

“Cousin Anastasia, I vow! You dear creature, where have you been all
these ages? Would any one believe it? Ah, how delightful to live always
in the country; what a penalty we pay for town and its pleasures! Could
any one suppose that my charming cousin was actually older than me?”

And the fashionable beauty, though she did begin to be faded, threw up
her delicate hands with their prettiest gesture, as she pointed to the
stately old lady before her, in her antique dress, and with unconcealed
furrows in her face. Once, perhaps, not even that beautiful complexion
of Mrs Edgerley was sweeter than that of Anastasia Rivers; but her
beauty had gone from her long ago--a thing which she cared not to
retain. She looked up with her kind imperious face, upon which were
undeniable marks of years and age. She perceived with a most evident and
undisguised contempt the titter with which this comparison was greeted.
“Go on your way, Louisa,” said Miss Rivers; “you were pretty once,
whatever people say of you now. Don’t be a fool, child; and I advise you
not to meddle with me.”

“Delightful! is she not charming?” cried the fine lady, appealing to her
companion; “so fresh, and natural, and eccentric--such an acquisition in
the Hall! Anastasia, dear, do forget your old quarrel. It was not poor
papa’s fault that you were born a woman, though I cannot help confessing
it was a great mistake, _certainly_; but, only for once, you who are
such a dear, kind, benevolent creature, come to see _me_.”

“Go on, Louisa, I advise you,” said the Honourable Anastasia with
extreme self-control. “Poor child, I have no quarrel with you, at all
events. You did not choose your father--there, pass on. I leave the
Hall to those who choose it; the Old Wood Lodge has more attraction for
me.”

“And I protest,” cried Mrs Edgerley, “it is my sweet young friend, the
author of ----: my dearest child, what _is_ the name of your book? I have
_such_ a memory. Quite the sweetest story of the season; and I am dying
to hear of another. Are you writing again? Oh, pray say you are. I
should be heartbroken to think of waiting very long for it. You must
come to the Hall. There are some people coming who are dying to know
you, and I positively cannot be disappointed: no one ever disobeys _me_!
Come here and let me kiss, you pretty creature. Is she not the sweetest
little beauty in the world? and her sister has so much genius; it is
quite delightful! So you know my cousin Anastasia; isn’t she charming?
Now, good morning, coz.--good morning, dear--and be sure you come to the
Hall.”

Miss Anastasia stood aside, watching grimly this unexpected
demonstration of friendship, and keenly criticising Agnes, who coloured
high with youthful dignity and resentment, and Marian, who drew back
abashed, with a painful blush, and a grieved and anxious consciousness
that Louis, unseen but seeing, was a spectator of this salutation, and
somehow would be quite as like to resent Mrs Edgerley’s careless
compliment to herself, “as if I had been his sister.” With a steady
observation the old lady kept her eyes upon her young acquaintances till
the horsemen and horsewomen of Mrs Edgerley’s train had passed. Then she
drew herself up to the utmost pitch of her extreme height, and, without
raising her eyes, made a profound curtsy to the last of the train--he on
his part lifted his hat, and bent to his saddle-bow. This was how Lord
Winterbourne and his brother’s daughter recognised each other. Perhaps
the wandering eyes in his bloodless face glanced a moment, shifting and
uncertain as they were, upon the remarkable figure of Miss Rivers, but
they certainly paused to take in, with one fixed yet comprehensive
glance, the mother and the daughters, the children playing in the
garden--the open door of the house--even it was possible he saw Louis,
though Louis had been behind, at the end of the little green, out of
sight, trying to train a wild honeysuckle round an extempore bower. Lord
Winterbourne scarcely paused, and did not offer the slightest apology
for his stare, but they felt, all of them, that he had marked the house,
and laid them under the visionary curse of his evil eye. When he had
passed, Miss Rivers put them in before her, with an imperative gesture.
“Let me know what’s brewing,” said the Honourable Anastasia, as she
reposed herself on the little new sofa in the old parlour. “There’s
mischief in his eye.”



CHAPTER XXV.

THE BREWING OF THE STORM.


The visit of Miss Rivers was the most complimentary attention which she
could show to her new friends, for her visits were few, and paid only to
a very limited number of people, and these all of her own rank and
class. She was extremely curious as to their acquaintance with Mrs
Edgerley, and demanded to know every circumstance from its beginning
until now; and this peremptory old lady was roused to quite an eager and
animated interest in the poor little book of which, Agnes could not
forget, Mrs Edgerley did not remember so much as the name. The
Honourable Anastasia declared abruptly that she never read novels, yet
demanded to have _Hope Hazlewood_ placed without an instant’s delay in
her pony-carriage. “Do it at once, my dear: a thing which is done at the
moment cannot be forgotten,” said Miss Rivers. “You write books, eh?
Well, I asked you if you were clever; why did you not tell me at once?”

“I did not think you would care; it was not worth while,” said Agnes
with some confusion, and feeling considerably alarmed by the idea of
this formidable old lady’s criticism. Miss Rivers only answered by
hurrying her out with the book, lest it might possibly be forgotten.
When the girls were gone, she turned to Mrs Atheling. “What can he do to
you,” said Miss Anastasia, abruptly, “eh? What’s Will Atheling doing?
Can he harm Will?”

“No,” said Mamma, somewhat excited by the prospect of an enemy, yet
confident in the perfect credit and honour of the family father, whose
good name and humble degree of prosperity no enemy could overthrow.
“William has been where he is now for twenty years.”

“So, so,” said Miss Rivers--“and the boy? Take care of these girls; it
might be in his devilish way to harm them; and I tell you, when you come
to know of it, send me word. So she writes books, this girl of yours?
She is no better than a child. Do you mean to say you are not proud?”

Mrs Atheling answered as mothers answer when such questions are put to
them, half with a confession, half with a partly-conscious sophism,
about Agnes being “a good girl, and a great comfort to her papa and
me.”

The girls, when they had executed their commission, looked doubtingly
for Louis, but found him gone as they expected. While they were still
lingering where he had been, Miss Rivers came to the door again, going
away, and when she had said good-by to Mamma, the old lady turned back
again without a word, and very gravely gathered one of the roses. She
did it with a singular formality and solemness as if it was a religious
observance rather than a matter of private liking; and securing it
somewhere out of sight in the fastenings of her brown pelisse, waved her
hand to them, saying in her peremptory voice, quite loud enough to be
heard at a considerable distance, that she was to send for them in a day
or two. Then she took her seat in the little carriage, and turned her
grey ponies, no very easy matter, towards the high-road. Her easy and
complete mastery over them was an admiration to the girls. “Bless you,
miss, she’d follow the hounds as bold as any squire,” said Hannah; “but
there’s a deal o’ difference in Miss Taesie since the time she broke her
heart.”

Such an era was like to be rather memorable. The girls thought so,
somewhat solemnly, as they went to their work beside their mother. They
seemed to be coming to graver times themselves, gliding on in an
irresistible noiseless fashion upon their stream of fate.

Louis came again as usual in the evening. He _had_ heard Mrs Edgerley,
and did resent her careless freedom, as Marian secretly knew he would;
which fact she who was most concerned, ascertained by his entire and
pointed silence upon the subject, and his vehement and passionate
contempt, notwithstanding, for Mrs Edgerley.

“I suppose you are safe enough,” he said, speaking to the elder sister.
“You will not break your heart because she has forgotten the name of
your book--but, heaven help them, there are hearts which do! There are
unfortunate fools in this crazy world mad enough to be elated and to be
thrown into misery by a butterfly of a fine lady, who makes reputations.
You think them quite contemptible, do you? but there are such.”

“I suppose they must be people who have no friends and no home--or to
whom it is of more importance than it is to me,” said Agnes; “for I am
only a woman, and nothing could make me miserable out of this Old Lodge,
or Bellevue.”

“Ah--that is _now_,” said Louis quickly, and he glanced with an
instinctive reference at Marian, whose pallid roses and fluctuating mood
already began to testify to some anxiety out of the boundary of these
charmed walls. “The very sight of your security might possibly be hard
enough upon us who have no home--no home! nothing at all under heaven.”

“Except such trifles as strength and youth and a stout heart, a sister
very fond of you, and some--some _friends_--and heaven itself, after
all, at the end. Oh, Louis!” said Agnes, who on this, as on other
occasions, was much disposed to be this “boy’s” elder sister, and
advised him “for his good.”

He did not say anything. When he looked up at all from his bending
attitude leaning over the table, it was to glance with fiery devouring
eyes at Marian--poor little sweet Marian, already pale with anxiety for
him. Then he broke out suddenly--“That poor little sister who is very
fond of me--do you know what she is doing at this moment--singing to
them!--like the captives at Babylon, making mirth for the spoilers. And
my friends---- heaven! you heard what that woman ventured to say
to-day.”

“My dear,” said Mrs Atheling, who confessed to treating Louis as a “son
of her own,” “think of heaven all the day long, and so much the better
for you--but I cannot have you using in this way such a name.”

This simple little reproof did more for Louis than a hundred
philosophies. He laughed low, and with emotion took Mrs Atheling’s hand
for a moment between his own--said “thank you, mother,” with a momentary
smile of delight and good pleasure. Then his face suddenly flushed with
a dark and violent colour; he cast an apprehensive yet haughty glance at
Mrs Atheling, and drew his hand away. The stain in his blood was a
ghost by the side of Louis, and scarcely left him for an instant night
nor day.

When he left them, they went to the door with him as they had been wont
to do, the mother holding a shawl over her cap, the girls with their
fair heads uncovered to the moon. They stood all together at the gate
speaking cheerfully, and sending kind messages to Rachel as they bade
him good-night--and none of the little group noticed a figure suddenly
coming out of the darkness and gliding along past the paling of the
garden. “What, boy, you here?” cried a voice suddenly behind Louis,
which made him start aside, and they all shrank back a little to
recognise in the moonlight the marble-white face of Lord Winterbourne.

“What do you mean, sir, wandering about the country at this hour?” said
the stranger--“what conspiracy goes on here, eh?--what are _you_ doing
with a parcel of women? Home to your den, you skulking young
vagabond--what are you doing here?”

Marian, the least courageous of the three, moved by a sudden impulse,
which was not courage but terror, laid her hand quickly upon Louis’s
arm. The young man, who had turned his face defiant and furious towards
the intruder, turned in an instant, grasping at the little timid hand as
a man in danger might grasp at a shield invulnerable, “You perceive, my
lord, I am beyond the reach either of your insults or your patronage
here,” said the youth, whose blood was dancing in his veins, and who at
that moment cared less than the merest stranger, who had never heard his
name, for Lord Winterbourne.

“Come, my lad, if you are imposing upon these poor people--I must set
you right,” said the man who was called Louis’s father. “Do you know
what he is, my good woman, that you harbour this idle young rascal in
despite of my known wishes? Home, you young vagabond, home! This boy
is----”

“My lord, my lord,” interposed Mrs Atheling, in sudden agitation, “if
any disgrace belongs to him, it is yours and not his that you should
publish it. Go away, sir, from my door, where you once did harm enough,
and don’t try to injure the poor boy--perhaps we know who he is better
than you.”

What put this bold and rash speech into the temperate lips of Mamma, no
one could ever tell; the effect of it, however, was electric. Lord
Winterbourne fell back suddenly, stared at her with his strained eyes in
the moonlight, and swore a muttered and inaudible oath. “Home, you
hound!” he repeated in a mechanical tone, and then, waving his hand with
a threatening and unintelligible gesture, turned to go away. “So long as
the door is yours, my friend, I will take care to make no intrusion upon
it,” he said significantly before he disappeared; and then the shadow
departed out of the moonlight, the stealthy step died on the grass, and
they stood alone again with beating hearts. Mamma took Marian’s hand
from Louis, but not unkindly, and with an affectionate earnestness bade
him go away. He hesitated long, but at length consented, partly for her
entreaty, partly for the sake of Rachel. Under other circumstances this
provocation would have maddened Louis; but he wrung Agnes’s hand with an
excited gaiety as he lingered at the door watching a shadow on the
window whither Marian had gone with her mother. “I had best not meet him
on the road,” said Louis: “there is the Curate--for once, for your sake,
and the sake of what has happened, I will be gracious and take his
company; but to tell the truth, I do not care for anything which can
befall me to-night.”



CHAPTER XXVI.

A CRISIS.


Marian, whom her mother tenderly put to sleep that night, as if she had
been a child, yet who lay awake in the long cold hours before the dawn
in a vague and indescribable emotion, her heart stirring within her like
something which did not belong to her--a new and strange
existence--slept late the next morning, exhausted and worn out with all
this sudden and stormy influx of unknown feelings. Mamma, who, on the
contrary, was very early astir, came into the bed-chamber of her
daughters at quite an unusual hour, and, thankfully perceiving Marian’s
profound youthful slumber, stood gazing at the beautiful sleeper with
tears in her eyes. Paler than usual, with a shadow under her closed
eyelids, and still a little dew upon the long lashes--with one hand laid
in childish fashion under her cheek, and the other lying, with its
pearly rose-tipped fingers, upon the white coverlid, Marian, but for the
moved and human agitation which evidently had worn itself into repose,
might have looked like the enchanted beauty of the tale--but indeed she
was rather more like a child who had wept itself to sleep. Her sister,
stealing softly from her side, left her sleeping, and they put the door
ajar that they might hear when she stirred before they went, with hushed
steps and speaking in a whisper, down stairs.

Mrs Atheling was disturbed more than she would tell; what she did say,
as Agnes and she sat over their silent breakfast-table, was an expedient
which herself had visibly no faith in. “My dear, we must try to prevent
him saying anything,” said Mrs Atheling, with her anxious brow: it was
not necessary to name names, for neither of them could forget the scene
of last night.

Then by-and-by Mamma spoke again. “I almost fancy we should go home; she
might forget it if she were away. Agnes, my love, you must persuade him
not to say anything; he pays great attention to what you say.”

“But, mamma--Marian?” said Agnes.

“Oh, Agnes, Agnes, my dear beautiful child,” said Mrs Atheling, with a
sudden access of emotion, “it was only friendship, sympathy--her kind
heart; she will think no more of it, if nothing occurs to put it into
her head.”

Agnes did not say anything, though she was extremely doubtful on this
subject; but then it was quite evident that Mamma had no faith in her
own prognostications, and regarded this first inroad into the family
with a mixture of excitement, dread, and agitation which it was not
comfortable to see.

After their pretended breakfast, mother and daughter once more stole
up-stairs. They had not been in the room a moment, when Marian
woke--woke--started with fright and astonishment to see Agnes dressed,
and her mother standing beside her; and beginning to recollect, suddenly
blushed, and turning away her face, burning with that violent suffusion
of colour, exclaimed, “I could not help it--I could not help it; would
you stand by and see them drive him mad? Oh mamma, mamma!”

“My darling, no one thinks of blaming you,” said Mrs Atheling, who
trembled a good deal, and looked very anxious. “We were all very sorry
for him, poor fellow; and you only did what you should have done, like a
brave little friend--what I should have done myself, had I been next to
him,” said Mamma, with great gravity and earnestness, but decidedly
overdoing her part.

This did not seem quite a satisfactory speech to Marian. She turned away
again petulantly, dried her eyes, and with a sidelong glance at Agnes,
asked, “Why did you not wake me?--it looks quite late. I am not ill, am
I? I am sure I do not understand it--why did you let me sleep?”

“Hush, darling! because you were tired and late last night,” said Mamma.

Now this sympathy and tenderness seemed rather alarming than soothing to
Marian. Her colour varied rapidly, her breath came quick, tears gathered
to her eyes. “Has anything happened while I have been sleeping?” she
asked hastily, and in a very low tone.

“No, no, my love, nothing at all,” said Mamma tenderly, “only we thought
you must be tired.”

“Both you and Agnes were as late as me,--why were not you tired?” said
Marian, still with a little jealous fear. “Please, mamma, go away; I
want to get dressed and come down stairs.”

They left her to dress accordingly, but still with some anxiety and
apprehension, and Mamma waited for Marian in her own room, while Agnes
went down to the parlour--just in time, for as she took her seat, Louis,
flushed and impatient, burst in at the door.

Louis made a most hasty salutation, and was a great deal too eager and
hurried to be very well bred. He looked round the room with sudden
anxiety and disappointment. “Where is she?--I must see Marian,” cried
Louis. “What! you do not mean to say she is ill, after last night?”

“Not ill, but in her own room,” said Agnes, somewhat confused by the
question.

“I will wait as long as you please, if I must wait,” said Louis
impatiently; “but, Agnes! why should you be against me? Of course, I
forget myself; do you grudge that I should? I forget everything except
last night; let me see Marian. I promise you I will not distress her,
and if she bids me, I will go away.”

“No, it is not that,” said Agnes with hesitation; “but, Louis, nothing
happened last night--pray do not think of it. Well, then,” she said
earnestly, as his hasty gesture denied what she said, “mamma begs you,
Louis, not to say anything to-day.”

He turned round upon her with a blank but haughty look. “I
understand--my disgrace must not come here,” he said; “but _she_ did not
mind it; she, the purest lily upon earth! Ah! so that was a dream, was
it? And her mother--her mother says I am to go away?”

“No, indeed--no,” said Agnes, almost crying. “No, Louis, you know
better; do not misunderstand us. She is so young, so gentle, and tender.
Mamma only asked, for all our sakes, if you would consent not to say
anything _now_.”

To this softened form of entreaty the eager young man paid not the
slightest attention. He began to use the most unblushing cajolery to
win over poor Agnes. It did not seem to be Louis; so entirely changed
was his demeanour. It was only an extremely eager and persevering
specimen of the genus “lover,” without any personal individuality at
all.

“What! not say anything? Could anybody ask such a sacrifice?” cried this
wilful and impetuous youth. “It might, as you say, be nothing at all,
though it seems life--existence, to me. Not know whether that hand is
mine or another’s--that hand which saved me, perhaps from murder?--for
he is an old man, though he is a fiend incarnate, and I might have
killed him where he stood.”

“Louis! Louis!” cried Agnes, gazing at him in terror and excitement. He
grew suddenly calm as he caught her eye.

“It is quite true,” he said with a grave and solemn calmness. “This man,
who has cursed my life, and made it miserable--this man, who dared
insult me before _her_ and you--do you think I could have been a man,
and still have borne that intolerable crown of wrong?”

As he spoke, he began to pace the little parlour with impatient steps
and a clouded brow. Mrs Atheling, who had heard his voice, but had
restrained her anxious curiosity as long as possible, now came down
quietly, unable to keep back longer. Louis sprang to her side, took her
hand, led her about the room, pleading, reasoning, persuading. Mamma,
whose good heart from the first moment had been an entire and perfect
traitor, was no match at all for Louis. She gave in to him unresistingly
before half his entreaties were over; she did not make even half so good
a stand as Agnes, who secretly was in the young lover’s interest too.
But when they had just come to the conclusion that he should be
permitted to see Marian, Marian herself, whom no one expected, suddenly
entered the room. The young beauty’s pretty brow was lowering more than
any one before had ever seen it lower; a petulant contraction was about
her red lips, and a certain angry dignity, as of an offended child, in
her bearing. “Surely something very strange has happened this morning,”
said Marian, with a little heat; “even mamma looks as if she knew some
wonderful secret. I suppose every one is to hear of it but me.”

At this speech the dismayed conspirators against Marian’s peace fell
back and separated. The other impetuous principal in the matter hastened
at once to the angry Titania, who only bowed, and did not even look at
him. The truth was, that Marian, much abashed at thought of her own
sudden impulse, was never in a mood less propitious; she felt as if she
herself had not done quite right--as if somehow she had betrayed a
secret of her own, and, now found out and detected, was obliged to use
the readiest means to cover it up again; and, besides, the hasty little
spirit, which had both pride and temper of its own, could not at all
endure the idea of having been petted and excused this morning, as if
“something had happened” last night. Now that it was perfectly evident
nothing had happened--now that Louis stood before her safe, handsome,
and eager, Marian concluded that it was time for her to stand upon her
defence.



CHAPTER XXVII.

CLOUDS.


The end of it all was, of course--though Louis had an amount of trouble
in the matter which that impetuous young gentleman had not counted
upon--that Marian yielded to his protestations, and came forth full of
the sweetest agitation, tears, and blushes, to be taken to the kind
breast of the mother who was scarcely less agitated, and to be regarded
with a certain momentary awe, amusement, and sympathy by Agnes, whose
visionary youthful reverence for this unknown magician was just tempered
by the equally youthful imp of mischief which plays tricks upon the
same. But Mrs Atheling’s brow grew sadder and sadder with anxiety, as
she looked at the young man who now claimed to call her mother. What he
was to do--how Marian could bear all the chances and changes of the
necessarily long probation before them--what influence Lord Winterbourne
might have upon the fortunes of his supposed son--what Papa himself
would say to this sudden betrothal, and how he could reconcile himself
to receive a child, and a disgraced child of his old enemy, into his own
honourable house,--these considerations fluttered the heart and
disturbed the peace of the anxious mother, who already began to blame
herself heavily, yet did not see, after all, what else she could have
done. A son of shame, and of Lord Winterbourne!--a young man hitherto
dependent, with no training, no profession, no fortune, of no use in the
world. And her prettiest Marian!--the sweet face which won homage
everywhere, and which every other face involuntarily smiled to see.
Darker and darker grew the cloud upon the brow of Mrs Atheling; she went
in, out of sight of these two happy young dreamers, with a sick heart.
For the first time in her life she was dismayed at the thought of
writing to her husband, and sat idly in a chair drawn back from her
window, wearying herself out with most vain and unprofitable
speculations as to things which might have been done to avert this fate.

No very long time elapsed, however, before Mrs Atheling found something
else to occupy her thoughts. Hannah came in to the parlour, solemnly
announcing a man at the door who desired to see her. With a natural
presentiment, very naturally arising from the excited state of her own
mind, Mrs Atheling rose, and hastened to the door. The man was an
attorney’s clerk, threadbare and respectable, who gave into her hand an
open paper, and after it a letter. The paper, which she glanced over
with hasty alarm, was a formal notice to quit, on pain of ejection, from
the house called the Old Wood Lodge, the property of Reginald, Lord
Winterbourne. “The property of Lord Winterbourne!--it is our--it is my
husband’s property. What does this mean?” cried Mrs Atheling.

“I know nothing of the business, but Mr Lewis’s letter will explain it,”
said the messenger, who was civil but not respectful; and the anxious
mistress of the house hastened in with great apprehension and perplexity
to open the letter and see what this explanation was. It was not a very
satisfactory one. With a friendly spirit, yet with a most cautious and
lawyer-like regard to the interest of his immediate client, Mr Lewis,
the same person who had been intrusted with the will of old Miss
Bridget, and who was Lord Winterbourne’s solicitor, announced the
intention of his principal to “resume possession” of Miss Bridget’s
little house. “You will remember,” wrote the lawyer, “that I did not
fail to point out to you at the time the insecure nature of the tenure
by which this little property was held. Granted, as I believe it was, as
a gift simply for the lifetime of Miss Bridget Atheling, she had, in
fact, no right to bequeath it to any one, and so much of her will as
relates to this is null and void. I am informed that there are documents
in existence proving this fact beyond the possibility of dispute, and
that any resistance would be entirely vain. As a friend, I should advise
you not to attempt it; the property is actually of very small value, and
though I speak against the interest of my profession, I think it right
to warn you against entering upon an expensive lawsuit with a man like
Lord Winterbourne, to whom money is no consideration. For the sake of
your family, I appeal to you whether it would not be better, though at a
sacrifice of feeling, to give up without resistance the old house, which
is of very little value to any one, if it were not for my lord’s whim of
having no small proprietors in his neighbourhood. I should be sorry that
he was made acquainted with this communication. I write to you merely
from private feelings, as an old friend.”

Mrs Atheling rose from her seat hastily, holding the papers in her hand.
“Resist him!” she exclaimed--“yes, certainly, to the very last;” but at
that moment there came in at the half-open door a sound of childish
riot, exuberant and unrestrained, which arrested the mother’s words, and
subdued her like a spell. Bell and Beau, rather neglected and thrown
into the shade for the first time in their lives, were indemnifying
themselves in the kitchen, where they reigned over Hannah with the most
absolute and unhesitating mastery. Mamma fell back again into her seat,
silent, pale, and with pain and terror in her face. Was this the first
beginning of the blight of the Evil Eye?

And then she remained thinking over it sadly and in silence; sometimes,
disposed to blame herself for her rashness--sometimes with a natural
rising of indignation, disposed to repeat again her first outcry, and
resist this piece of oppression--sometimes starting with the sudden
fright of an anxious and timid mother, and almost persuaded at once,
without further parley, to flee to her own safe home, and give up,
without a word, the new inheritance. But she was not learned in the ways
of the world, in law, or necessary ceremonial. Resist was a mere vague
word to her, meaning she knew not what, and no step occurred to her in
the matter but the general necessity for “consulting a lawyer,” which
was of itself an uncomfortable peril. As she argued with herself,
indeed, Mrs Atheling grew quite hopeless, and gave up the whole matter.
She had known, through many changes, the success of this bad man, and in
her simple mind had no confidence in the abstract power of the law to
maintain the cause, however just, of William Atheling, who would have
hard ado to pay a lawyer’s fees, against Lord Winterbourne.

Then she called in her daughters, whom Louis then only, and with much
reluctance, consented to leave, and held a long and agitated counsel
with them. The girls were completely dismayed by the news, and mightily
impressed by that new and extraordinary “experience” of a real enemy,
which captivated Agnes’s wandering imagination almost as much as it
oppressed her heart. As for Marian, she sat looking at them blankly,
turning from Mamma to Agnes, and from Agnes to Mamma, with a vague
perception that this was somehow because of Louis, and a very heavy
heartbreaking depression in her agitated thoughts. Marian, though she
was not very imaginative, had caught a tinge of the universal romance at
this crisis of her young life, and, cast down with the instant omen of
misfortune, saw clouds and storms immediately rising through that golden
future, of which Louis’s prophecies had been so pleasant to hear.

And there could be no doubt that this suddenly formed engagement, hasty,
imprudent, and ill-advised as it was, added a painful complication to
the whole business. If it was known--and who could conceal from the
gossip of the village the constant visits of Louis, or his undisguised
devotion?--then it would set forth evidently in public opposition the
supposed father and son. “But Lord Winterbourne is not his father!”
cried Marian suddenly, with tears and vehemence. Mrs Atheling shook her
head, and said that people supposed so at least, and this would be a
visible sign of war.

But no one in the family counsel could advise anything in this troubled
moment. Charlie was coming--that was a great relief and comfort. “If
Charlie knows anything, it should be the law,” said Mrs Atheling, with a
sudden joy in the thought that Charlie had been full six months at it,
and ought to be very well informed indeed upon the subject. And then
Agnes brought her blotting-book, and the good mother sat down to write
the most uncomfortable letter she had ever written to her husband in all
these two-and-twenty years. There was Marian’s betrothal, first of all,
which was so very unlike to please him--he who did not even know Louis,
and could form no idea of his personal gifts and compensations--and then
there was the news of this summons, and of the active and powerful enemy
suddenly started up against them. Mrs Atheling took a very long time
composing the letter, but sighed heavily to think how soon Papa would
read it, to the destruction of all his pleasant fancies about his little
home in the country, and his happy children. Charlie was coming--they
had all a certain faith in Charlie, boy though he was; it was the only
comfort in the whole prospect to the anxious eyes of Mamma.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE REV. LIONEL RIVERS.


The next day, somewhat to the consternation of this disturbed and
troubled family, they were honoured by a most unlooked-for and solemn
visit from the Rector. The Rector, in stature, form, and features,
considerably resembled Miss Anastasia, and was, as she herself
confessed, an undeniable Rivers, bearing all the family features and not
a little of the family temper. He seemed rather puzzled himself to give
a satisfactory reason for his call--saying solemnly that he thought it
right for the priest of the parish to be acquainted with all his
parishioners--words which did not come with half so much unction or
natural propriety from his curved and disdainful lip, as they would have
done from the bland voice of Mr Mead. Then he asked some ordinary
questions how they liked the neighbourhood, addressing himself to Mamma,
though his very grave and somewhat haughty looks were principally
directed to Agnes. Mrs Atheling, in spite of her dislike of the supreme
altitude of his churchmanship, had a natural respect for the clergyman,
who seemed the natural referee and adviser of people in trouble; and
though he was a Rivers, and the next heir after Lord Winterbourne’s only
son, it by no means followed on that account that the Rector entertained
any affectionate leaning towards Lord Winterbourne.

“I knew your old relative very well,” said the Rector; “she was a woman
of resolute will and decided opinions, though her firmness, I am afraid,
was in the cause of error rather than of truth. I believe she always
entertained a certain regard for me, connected as she was with the
family, though I felt it my duty to warn her against her pernicious
principles before her death.”

“Her pernicious principles! Was poor Aunt Bridget an unbeliever?” cried
Agnes, with an involuntary interest, and yet an equally involuntary and
natural spirit of opposition to this stately young man.

“The word is a wide one. No--not an unbeliever, nor even a disbeliever,
so far as I am aware,” said the churchman, “but, even more dangerous
than a positive error of doctrine, holding these fatal delusions
concerning private opinion, which have been the bane of the Church.”

There was a little pause after this, the unaccustomed audience being
somewhat startled, yet quite unprepared for controversy, and standing
beside in a little natural awe of the Rector, who ought to know so much
better than they did. Agnes alone felt a stirring of unusual
pugnacity--for once in her life she almost forgot her natural
diffidence, and would have liked nothing better than to throw down her
woman’s glove to the rampant churchman, and make a rash and vehement
onslaught upon him, after the use and wont of feminine controversy.

“My own conviction is,” said the Rector with a little solemnity, yet
with a dissatisfied and fiery gleam in his eager dark eyes, “that there
is no medium between the infallible authority of the Church and the
wildest turmoil of heresy. This one rock a man may plant his foot
upon--all beyond is a boundless and infinite chaos. Therefore I count it
less perilous to be ill-informed or indifferent concerning some portions
of the creed, than to be shaken in the vital point of the Church’s
authority--the only flood-gate that can be closed against the boiling
tide of error, which, but for this safeguard, would overpower us all.”

Having made this statement, which somehow he enunciated as if it were a
solemn duty, Mr Rivers left the subject abruptly, and returned to common
things.

“You are acquainted, I understand,” he said, with haste and a little
emotion, “with my unfortunate young relatives at the Hall?”

The question was so abrupt and unlooked for, that all the three, even
Mamma, who was not very much given to blushing, coloured violently.
“Louis and Rachel? Yes; we know them very well,” said Mrs Atheling, with
as much composure as she could summon to meet the emergency--which
certainly was not enough to prevent the young clergyman from discovering
a rather unusual degree of interest in the good mother’s answer. He
looked surprised, and turned a hurried glance upon the girls, who were
equally confused under his scrutiny. It was impossible to say which was
the culprit, if culprit there was. Mr Rivers, who was tall enough at
first, visibly grew a little taller, and became still more stately in
his demeanour than before.

“I am not given to gossip,” he said, with a faint smile, “yet I had
heard that they were much here, and had given their confidence to your
family. I have not been so favoured myself,” he added, with a slight
curl of disdain upon his handsome lip. “The youth I know nothing of,
except that he has invariably repelled any friendship I could have shown
him; but I feel a great interest in the young lady. Had my sister been
in better health, we might have offered her an asylum, but that is
impossible in our present circumstances. You are doubtless better
acquainted with their prospects and intentions than I am. In case of the
event which people begin to talk about, what does Lord Winterbourne
intend they should do?”

“We have not heard of any event--what is it?” cried Mrs Atheling, very
anxiously.

“I have no better information than common report,” said the Rector; “yet
it is likely enough--and I see no reason to doubt; it is said that Lord
Winterbourne is likely to marry again.”

They all breathed more freely after this; and poor little Marian, who
had been gazing at Mr Rivers with a blanched face and wide-open eyes, in
terror of some calamity, drooped forward upon the table by which she was
sitting, and hid her face in her hands with sudden relief. Was that all?

“I was afraid you were about to tell us of some misfortune,” said Mrs
Atheling.

“It is no misfortune, of course; nor do I suppose they are like to be
very jealous of a new claimant upon Lord Winterbourne’s affections,”
said the Rector; “but it seems unlikely, under their peculiar and most
unhappy circumstances, that they can remain at the Hall.”

“Oh, mamma!” exclaimed Marian, in a half whisper, “he will be so very,
_very_ glad to go away!”

“What I mean,” resumed Mr Rivers, who by no means lost this, though he
took no immediate notice of it--“what I wish is, that you would kindly
undertake to let them know my very sincere wish to be of service to
them. I cannot at all approve of the demeanour of the young man--yet
there may be excuses for him. If I can assist them in any legitimate
way, I beg you to assure them my best endeavours are at their service.”

“Thank you, sir, thank you--thank you!” cried Mrs Atheling, faltering,
and much moved. “God knows they have need of friends!”

“I suppose so,” said the Rector; “it does not often happen--friends are
woeful delusions in most cases--and indeed I have little hope of any man
who does not stand alone.”

“Yet you offer service,” said Agnes, unable quite to control her
inclination to dispute his dogmatisms; “is not your opinion a
contradiction to your kindness?”

“I hold no opinions,” said the Rector haughtily, with, for the instant,
a superb absurdity almost equal to Mr Endicott: he perceived it himself,
however, immediately, reddened, flashed his fiery eyes with a half
defiance upon his young questioner, and made an incomprehensible
explanation.

“I am as little fortified against self-contradiction as my fellows,”
said Mr Rivers, “but I eschew vague opinions; they are dangerous for all
men, and doubly dangerous in a clergyman. I may be wrong in matters of
feeling; opinions I have nothing to do with--they are not in my way.”

Again there followed a pause, for no one present was at all acquainted
with sentiments like these.

“I am not sure whether we will continue long here,” said Mrs Atheling,
with a slight hesitation, half afraid of him, yet feeling, in spite of
herself, that she could consult no one so suitably as the Rector. “Lord
Winterbourne is trying to put us away; he says the house was only given
to old Miss Bridget for her life!”

“Ah! but that is false, is it not?” said the Rector without any
ceremony.

Mrs Atheling brightened at once. “We think so,” she said, encouraged by
the perfectly cool tone of this remark, which proved a false statement
on the part of my lord no wonder at all to his reverend relative; “but,
indeed, the lawyer advises us not to contest the matter, since Lord
Winterbourne does not care for expense, and we are not rich. I do not
know what my husband will say; but I am sure I will have a great grudge
at the law if we are forced, against justice, to leave the Old Wood
Lodge.”

“Papa says it was once the property of the family, long, long before
Aunt Bridget got it from Lord Winterbourne,” said Agnes, with a little
eagerness. This shadow of ancestry was rather agreeable to the
imagination of Agnes.

“And have you done anything--are you doing anything?” said the Hector.
“I should be glad to send my own man of business to you; certainly you
ought not to give up your property without at least a legal opinion upon
the matter.”

“We expect my son to-morrow,” said Mrs Atheling, with a little pride.
“My son, though he is very young, has a great deal of judgment; and then
he has been--brought up to the law.”

The Rector bowed gravely as he rose. “In that case, I can only offer my
good wishes,” said the churchman, “and trust that we may long continue
neighbours in spite of Lord Winterbourne. My sister would have been
delighted to call upon you, had she been able, but she is quite a
confirmed invalid. I am very glad to have made your acquaintance. Good
morning, madam; good morning, Miss Atheling. I am extremely glad to have
met with you.”

The smallest shade of emphasis in the world invested with a different
character than usual these clergymanly and parochial words: for the
double expression of satisfaction was addressed to Agnes; it was to her
pointedly that his stately but reverential bow bore reference. He had
come to see the family; but he was glad to know Agnes, the intelligent
listener who followed his sermons--the eager bright young eyes which
flashed warfare and defiance on his solemn deliverances--and, unawares
to herself, saw through the pretences of his disturbed and troubled
spirit. Lionel Rivers was not very sensitively alive to the beautiful:
he saw little to attract his eye, much less his heart, in that pretty
drooping Marian, who was to every other observer the sweetest little
downcast princess who ever gained the magic succours of a fairy tale.
The Rector scarcely turned a passing glance upon her, as she sat in her
tender beauty by the table, leaning her beautiful head upon her hands.
But with a different kind of observation from that of Mr Agar, he read
the bright and constant comment on what he said himself, and what others
said, that ran and sparkled in the face of Agnes. She who never had any
lovers, had attracted one at least to watch her looks and her movements
with a jealous eye. He was not “in love,”--not the smallest hairbreadth
in the world. In his present mood, he would gladly have seen her form an
order of sisters, benevolent votaresses of St Frideswide, or of some
unknown goddess of the medieval world, build an antique house in the
“pointed” style, and live a female bishop ruling over the inferior
parish, and being ruled over by the clergy. Such a colleague the Rector
fancied would be highly “useful,” and he had never seen any one whom he
could elect to the office with so much satisfaction as Agnes Atheling.
How far she would have felt herself complimented by this idea was
entirely a different question, and one of which the Rector never
thought.



CHAPTER XXIX.

CHARLIE.


The next day was the day of Charlie’s arrival. His mother and sisters
looked for him with anxiety, pleasure, and a little nervousness--much
concerned about Papa’s opinion, and not at all indifferent to Charlie’s
own. Rachel, who for two days past had been in a state of perfectly
flighty and overpowering happiness, joined the Athelings this evening,
at the risk of being “wanted” by Mrs Edgerley, and falling under her
displeasure, with a perfectly innocent and unconscious disregard of any
possible wish on the part of her friends to be alone with their new-come
brother. Rachel could form no idea whatever of that half-wished-for,
half-dreaded judgment of Papa, the anticipation of which so greatly
subdued Marian, and made Mrs Atheling herself so grave and pale. Louis,
with a clearer perception of the family crisis, kept away, though, as
his sister wisely judged, at no great distance, chewing the cud of
desperate and bitter fancy, almost half-repenting, for the moment, of
the rash attachment which had put himself and all his disadvantages upon
the judicial examination of a father and a brother. The idea of this
family committee sitting upon him, investigating and commenting upon his
miserable story, galled to the utmost the young man’s fiery spirit. He
had no real idea whatever of that good and affectionate father, who was
to Marian the first of men,--and had not the faintest conception of the
big boy. So it was only an abstract father and brother--the most
disagreeable of the species--at whom Louis chafed in his irritable
imagination. He too had come already out of the first hurried flush of
delight and triumph, to consider the step he had taken. Strangely into
the joy and pride of the young lover’s dream came bitter and heavy
spectres of self-reproach and foreboding--he, who had ventured to bind
to himself the heart of a sensitive and tender girl--he, who had already
thrown a shadow over her young life, filled her with premature
anxieties, and communicated to these young eyes, instead of their
fearless natural brightness, a wistful forecasting gaze into an adverse
world--he, who had not even a name to share with his bride! On this
memorable evening, Louis paced about by himself, crushing down the
rusted fern as he strode through the wood in painful self-communion. The
wind was high among the trees, and grew wild and fitful as the night
advanced, bringing down showers of leaves into all the hollows, and
raving with the most desolate sound in nature among the high tops of the
Scotch firs, which stood grouped by themselves, a reserved and austere
brotherhood, on one side of Badgeley Wood. Out of this leafy wilderness,
the evening lay quiet enough upon the open fields, the wan gleams of
water, and the deserted highway; but the clouds opened in a clear rift
of wistful, windy, colourless sky, just over Oxford, catching with its
pale half-light the mingled pinnacles and towers. Louis was too much
engrossed either to see or to hear the eerie sights and sounds of the
night, yet they had their influence upon him unawares.

In the mean time, and at the same moment, in the quiet country gloaming,
which was odd, but by no means melancholy to him, Charlie trudged
sturdily up the high-road, carrying his own little bag, and thinking his
own thoughts. And down the same road, one talking a good deal, one very
little, and one not at all, the three girls went to meet him, three
light and graceful figures, in dim autumnal dresses--for now the
evenings became somewhat cold--fit figures for this sweet half-light,
which looked pleasant here, though it was so pale and ghostly in the
wood. The first was Rachel, who, greatly exhilarated by her unusual
freedom, and by all that had happened during these few days past,
almost led the little party, protesting she was sure to know Charlie,
and very near giddy in her unthinking and girlish delight. The second
was Agnes, who was very thoughtful and somewhat grave, yet still could
answer her companion; the third, a step behind, coming along very slow
and downcast, with her veil over her drooping face, and a shadow upon
her palpitating little heart, was Marian, in whose gentle mind was
something very like a heavy and despondent shadow of the tumult which
distracted her betrothed. Yet not that either--for there was no tumult,
but only a pensive and oppressive sadness, under which the young
sufferer remained very still, not caring to say a word. “What would papa
say?” that was the only audible voice in Marian Atheling’s heart.

“There now, I am sure it is him--there he is,” cried Rachel; and it was
Charlie, beyond dispute, shouldering his carpet-bag. The greeting was
kindly enough, but it was not at all sentimental, which somewhat
disappointed Rachel, at whom Charlie gazed with visible curiosity. When
they turned with him, leading him home, Marian fell still farther back,
and drooped more than ever. Perhaps the big boy was moved with a
momentary sympathy--more likely it was simple mischief. “So,” said
Charlie in her ear, “the Yankee’s cut out.”

Marian started a little, looked at him eagerly, and put her hand with an
appealing gesture on his arm. “Oh, Charlie, what did papa say?” asked
Marian, with her heart in her eyes.

Charlie wavered for a moment between his boyish love of torture and a
certain dormant tenderness at the bottom of his full man’s heart, which
this great event happening to Marian had touched into life all at once.
The kinder sentiment prevailed after a moment’s pause of wicked
intention. “My father was not angry, May,” said the lad; and he drew his
shrinking sister’s pretty hand through his own arm roughly but kindly,
pleased to feel his own boyish strength a support to her. Marian was so
young too--very little beyond the rapid vicissitudes of a child. She
bounded forward on Charlie’s arm at the words, drooping no longer, but
triumphant and at ease in a moment, hurrying him up the ascending
high-road at a pace which did not at all suit Charlie, and outstripping
the entire party in her sudden flight to her mother with the good news.
That Papa should not be angry was all that Marian desired or hoped.

At the door, in the darkness, the hasty girl ran into Mamma’s arms. “My
father is not angry,” she exclaimed, out of breath, faithfully repeating
Charlie’s words; and then Marian, once more the most serviceable of
domestic managers, hastened to light the candles on the tea-table, to
draw the chairs around this kindly board, to warn Hannah of the approach
of the heir of the house. Hannah came out into the hall to stand behind
Mrs Atheling, and drop a respectful curtsy to the young gentleman. The
punctilious old family attendant would have been inconsolable had she
missed this opportunity of “showing her manners,” and was extremely
grateful to Miss Marian, who did not forget her, though she had so many
things to think of of her own.

The addition of Rachel slightly embarrassed the family party, and it had
the most marvellous effect upon Charlie, who had never before known any
female society except that of his sisters. Charlie was full three years
younger than the young stranger--distance enough to justify her in
treating him as a boy, and him in conceiving the greatest admiration for
her. Charlie, of all things in the world, grew actually _shy_ in the
company of his sisters’ friend. He became afraid of committing himself,
and at last began partly to believe his mother’s often-repeated
strictures on his “manners.” He did unquestionably look so big, so
_brusque_, so clumsy, beside this pretty little fairy Rachel, and his
own graceful sisters. Charlie hitched up his great shoulders, retreated
under the shadow of all those cloudy furrows on his brow, and had
actually nothing to say. And Mrs Atheling, occupied with her husband’s
long and anxious letter, forbore to question him; and the girls, anxious
as they still were, did not venture to say anything before Rachel. They
were not at all at their ease, and somewhat dull as they sat in the dim
parlour, inventing conversation, and trying not to show their visitor
that she was in the way. But she found it out at last, with a little
uneasy start and blush, and hastened to get her bonnet and say
good-night. No one seemed to fear that it would be difficult to find
Rachel’s escort, who was found accordingly the moment they appeared in
the garden, starting, as he did the first time of their meeting, from
the darkness of the angle at the end of the hedge. Marian ran forward to
him, giving Charlie’s message as it came all rosy and hopeful through
the alembic of her own comforted imagination. “Papa is quite pleased,”
said Marian, with her smiles and her blushes. She did not perceive the
suppressed vexation of Louis’s brow as he tried to brighten at her news.
For Marian could not have understood how this haughty and undisciplined
young spirit could scarcely manage to bow itself to the approbation and
judgment even of Papa.



CHAPTER XXX.

A CONSULTATION.


“And now, Charlie, my dear boy, I quite calculate on your knowing about
it, since you have been so long at the law,” said Mrs Atheling: “your
father is so much taken up about other matters, that he really says very
little about this. What are we to do?”

Charlie, whose mobile brow was shifting up and shifting down with all
the marks of violent cogitation, bit his thumb at this, and took time
before he answered it. “The first thing to be done,” said Charlie, with
a little dogmatism, “is to see what evidence can be had--that’s what we
have got to do. Has nobody found any papers of the old lady’s?--she was
sure to have a lot--all your old women have.”

“No one even thought of looking,” said Agnes, suddenly glancing up at
the old cabinet with all its brass rings--while Marian, restored to all
her gay spirits, promptly took her brother to task for his contempt of
old women. “You ought to see Miss Anastasia--she is a great deal bigger
than you,” cried Marian, pulling a shaggy lock of Charlie’s black hair.

“Stuff!--who’s Miss Anastasia?” was the reply.

“And that reminds me,” said Mrs Atheling, “that we ought to have let her
know. Do you remember what she said, Agnes?--she was quite sure my lord
was thinking of something--and we were to let her know.”

“What about, mother?--and who’s Miss Anastasia?” asked Charlie once
more: he had to repeat his question several times before any answer
came.

“Who is Miss Anastasia? My dear, I forgot you were a stranger. She
is--well, really I cannot pretend to describe Miss Rivers,” said Mrs
Atheling, with a little nervousness. “I have always had a great respect
for her, and so has your father. She is a very remarkable person,
Charlie. I never have known any one like her all my life.”

“But _who_ is she, mother? Is she any good?” repeated the impatient
youth.

Mrs Atheling looked at her son with a certain horror.

“She is one of the most remarkable persons in the county,” said Mrs
Atheling, with all the local spirit of a Banburyshire woman, born and
bred--“she is a great scholar, and a lady of fortune, and the only child
of the old lord. How strange the ways of Providence are, children!--what
a difference it might have made in everything had Miss Anastasia been
born a man instead of a woman.” “Indeed,” confessed Mamma, breaking off
in an under-tone, “I do really believe it would have been more suitable,
even for herself.”

“I suppose we’re to come at it at last,” said Charlie despairingly:
“she’s a daughter of the tother lord--now, I want to know what she’s got
to do with us.”

“My dear,” said Mrs Atheling eagerly, and with evident pleasure, “I
wrote to your father, I am sure, all about it. She has called upon us
twice in the most friendly way, and has quite taken a liking for the
girls.”

“And she was old Aunt Bridget’s pupil, and her great friend; and it was
on account of her that the old lord gave Aunt Bridget this house,” added
Agnes, finding out, though not very cleverly, what Charlie’s questions
meant.

“And she hates Lord Winterbourne,” said Marian in an expressive
appendix, with a distinct emphasis of sympathy and approval on the
words.

“Now I call that satisfaction,” said Charlie,--“that’s something like
the thing. So I suppose she must have had to do with the whole business,
and knows all about it--eh? Why didn’t you tell me so at once?--why,
she’s the first person to see, of course. I had better seek her out
to-morrow morning--first thing.”

“You!” Mamma looked with motherly anxiety, mixed with disapproval. It
was so impossible, even with the aid of all partialities, to make out
Charlie to be handsome. And Miss Anastasia came of a handsome race, and
had a prejudice in favour of good looks. Then, though his large loose
limbs began to be a little more firmly knitted and less unmanageable,
and though he was now drawing near eighteen, he was still only a boy.
“My dear,” said Mrs Atheling, “she is a very particular old lady, and
takes dislikes sometimes, and very proud besides, and might not desire
to be intruded on; and I think, after all, as you do not know her, and
they do, I think it would be much better if the girls were to go.”

“The girls!” exclaimed Charlie with a boy’s contempt--“a great deal they
know about the business! You listen to me, mother. I’ve been reading up
hard for six months, and I know something about the evidence that does
for a court of law--women don’t--it’s not in reason; for I’d like to see
the woman that could stand old Foggo’s office, pegging in at these old
fellows for precedent, and all that stuff. You don’t suppose I mind what
your old lady thinks of me--and I know what I want, which is the main
thing, after all. You tell me where she lives--that’s all I want to
know--and see if I don’t make something of it before another day.”

“Where she lives?--it is six miles off, Charlie: you don’t know the
way--and, indeed, you don’t know her either, my poor boy.”

“Don’t you trouble about that--that’s my business, mother,” said
Charlie; “and a man can’t lose his way in the country unless he tries--a
long road, and a fingerpost at every crossing. When a man wants to lose
himself, he had better go to the City--there’s no fear in your plain
country roads. You set me on the right way--you know all the places
hereabout--and just for this once, mother, trust me, and let me manage
it my own way.”

“I always did trust you, Charlie,” said Mrs Atheling evasively; but she
did not half like her son’s enterprise, and greatly objected to put Miss
Anastasia’s friendship in jeopardy by such an intrusion as this.

However, the young gentleman now declared himself tired, and was
conducted up-stairs in state, by his mother and sisters--first to Mrs
Atheling’s own room to inspect it, and kiss, half reluctantly, half with
genuine fondness, the little slumbering cherub faces of Bell and Beau.
Then he had a glimpse of the snowy decorations of that young-womanly and
pretty apartment of his sisters, and was finally ushered into the little
back-room, his own den, from which the lumber had been cleared on
purpose for his reception. They left him then to his repose, and dreams,
if the couch of this young gentleman was ever visited by such fairy
visitants, and retired again themselves to that dim parlour, to read
over in conclave Papa’s letter, and hold a final consultation as to what
everybody should do.

Papa’s letter was very long, very anxious, and very affectionate, and
had cost Papa all the leisure of two long evenings, and all his
unoccupied hours for two days at the office. He blamed his wife a
little, but it was very quietly,--he was grieved for the premature step
the young people had taken, but did not say a great deal about his
grief,--and he was extremely concerned, and evidently did not express
half of his concern, about his pretty Marian, for whom he permitted
himself to say he had expected a very different fate. There was not much
said of personal repugnance to Louis, and little comment upon his
parentage, but they could see well enough that Papa felt the matter very
deeply, and that it needed all his affection for themselves, and all his
charity for the stranger, to reconcile him to it. But they were both
very young, he said, _and must do nothing precipitate_--which sentence
Papa made very emphatic by a very black and double underscoring, and
which Mrs Atheling, but fortunately not Marian, understood to mean that
it was a possibility almost to be hoped for, that this might turn out
one of those boy-and-girl engagements made to be broken, and never come
to anything after all.

It was consolatory certainly, and set their minds at rest, but it was
not a very cheering letter, and by no means justified Marian’s joyful
announcement that “papa was quite pleased.” And so much was the good
father taken up with his child’s fortune, that it was only in a
postscript he took any notice of Lord Winterbourne’s summons and their
precarious holding of the Old Wood Lodge. “We will resist, of course,”
said Papa. He did not know a great deal more about how to resist than
they did, so he wisely left the question to Charlie, and to “another
day.”

And now came the question, what everybody was to do? which gradually
narrowed into much smaller limits, and became wholly concerned with what
Charlie was to do, and whether he should visit Miss Anastasia. He had
made up his mind to it with no lack of decision. What could his mother
and his sisters say, save make a virtue of necessity, and yield their
assent?



CHAPTER XXXI.

CHARLIE’S MISSION.


Early on the next morning, accordingly, Charlie set out for Abingford.
It was with difficulty he escaped a general superintendence of his
toilette, and prevailed upon his mother to content herself with brushing
his coat, and putting into something like arrangement the stray locks of
his hair; but at last, tolerably satisfied with his appearance, and
giving him many anxious instructions as to his demeanour towards Miss
Anastasia, Mrs Atheling suffered him to depart upon his important
errand. The road was the plainest of country roads, through the wood and
over the hill, with scarcely a turn to distract the regard of the
traveller. A late September morning, sunny and sweet, with yellow leaves
sometimes dropping down upon the wind, and all the autumn foliage in a
flush of many colours under the cool blue, and floating clouds of a
somewhat dullish yet kindly sky. The deep underground of ferns, where
they were not brown, were feathering away into a rich yellow, which
relieved and brought out all the more strongly the harsh dark green of
these vigorous fronds, rusted with seed; and piles of firewood stood
here and there, tied up in big fagots, provision for the approaching
winter. The birds sang gaily, still stirring among the trees; and now
and then into the still air, and far-off rural hum, came the sharp
report of a gun, or the ringing bark of a dog. Charlie pushed upon his
way, wasting little time in observation, yet observing for all that,
with the novel pleasure of a town-bred lad, and owning a certain
exhilaration in his face, and in his breast, as he sped along the
country road, with its hedges and strips of herbage; that straight,
clear, even road, with its milestones and fingerposts, and one
market-cart coming along in leisurely rural fashion, half a mile off
upon the far-seen way. The walk to Abingford was a long walk even for
Charlie, and it was nearly an hour and a half from the time of his
leaving home, when he began to perceive glimpses through the leaves of a
little maze of water, two or three streams, splitting into fantastic
islands the houses and roofs before him, and came in sight of an old
gateway, with two windows and a high peaked roof over it, which strode
across the way. Charlie, who was entirely unacquainted with such
peculiarities of architecture, made a pause of half-contemptuous boyish
observation, looking up at the windows, and supposing it must be rather
odd to live over an archway. Then he bethought him of asking a loitering
country lad to direct him to the Priory, which was done in the briefest
manner possible, by pointing round the side of the gate to a large door
which almost seemed to form part of it. “There it be,” said Charlie’s
informant, and Charlie immediately made his assault upon the big door.

Miss Rivers was at home. He was shown into a large dim room full of
books, with open windows, and green blinds let down to the floor,
through which the visitor could only catch an uncertain glimpse of
waving branches, and a lawn which sloped to the pale little river: the
room was hung with portraits, which there was not light enough to see,
and gave back a dull glimmer from the glass of its great bookcases.
There was a large writing-table before the fireplace, and a great
easy-chair placed by it. This was where Miss Anastasia transacted
business; but Charlie had not much time, if he had inclination, for a
particular survey of the apartment, for he could hear a quick and
decided step descending a stair, as it seemed, and crossing over the
hall. “Charles Atheling--who’s _Charles_ Atheling?” said a peremptory
voice outside. “I know no one of the name.”

With the words on her lips Miss Anastasia entered the room. She wore a
loose morning-dress, belted round her waist with a buckled girdle, and a
big tippet of the same; and her cap, which was not intended to be
pretty, but only to be comfortable, came down close over her ears, snow
white, and of the finest cambric, but looking very homely and familiar
indeed to the puzzled eyes of Charlie. Not her homely cap, however, nor
her odd dress, could make Miss Anastasia less imperative or formidable.
“Well sir,” she said, coming in upon him without very much ceremony,
“which of the Athelings do you belong to, and what do you want with me?”

“I belong to the Old Wood Lodge,” said Charlie, almost as briefly, “and
I want to ask what you know about it, and how it came into Aunt
Bridget’s hands.”

“What I know about it? Of course I know everything about it,” said Miss
Anastasia. “So you’re young Atheling, are you? You’re not at all like
your pretty sisters; not clever either, so far as I can see, eh? What
are you good for, boy?”

Charlie did not say “stuff!” aloud, but it was only by a strong effort
of self-control. He was not at all disposed to give any answer to the
question. “What has to be done in the mean time is to save my father’s
property,” said Charlie, with a boyish flush of offence.

“Save it, boy! who’s threatening your father’s property? What! do you
mean to tell me already that he’s fallen foul of Will Atheling?” said
the old lady, drawing her big easy-chair to her big writing-table, and
motioning Charlie to draw near. “Eh? why don’t you speak? tell me the
whole at once.”

“Lord Winterbourne has sent us notice to leave,” said Charlie; “he says
the Old Wood Lodge was only Aunt Bridget’s for life, and is his now. I
have set the girls to look up the old lady’s papers; we ourselves know
nothing about it, and I concluded the first thing to be done was to come
and ask you.”

“Good,” said Miss Anastasia; “you were perfectly right. Of course it is
a lie.”

This was said perfectly in a matter-of-course fashion, without the least
idea, apparently, on the part of the old lady, that there was anything
astonishing in the lie which came from Lord Winterbourne.

“I know everything about it,” she continued; “my father made over the
little house to my dear old professor, when we supposed she would have
occasion to leave me: _that_ turned out a vain separation, thanks to
_him_ again;” and here Miss Rivers grew white for an instant, and
pressed her lips together. “Please Heaven, my boy, he’ll not be
successful this time. No. I know everything about it; we’ll foil my lord
in this.”

“But there must have been a deed,” said Charlie; “do you know where the
papers are?”

“Papers! I tell you I am acquainted with every circumstance--I myself.
You can call me as a witness,” said the old lady. “No, I can’t tell you
where the papers are. What’s about them? eh? Do you mean to say they are
of more consequence than me?”

“There are sure to be documents on the other side,” said Charlie; “the
original deed would settle the question, without needing even a trial:
without it Lord Winterbourne has the better chance. Personal testimony
is not equal to documents in a case like this.”

“Young Atheling,” said Miss Rivers, drawing herself up to her full
height, “do you think a jury of this county would weigh _his_ word
against mine?”

Charlie was considerably embarrassed. “I suppose not,” he said, somewhat
abruptly; “but this is not a thing of words. Lord Winterbourne will
never appear at all; but if he has any papers to produce proving his
case, the matter will be settled at once; and unless we have
counterbalancing evidence of the same kind, we’d better give it up
before it comes that length.”

He said this half impatient, half despairing. Miss Rivers evidently took
up this view of the question with dissatisfaction; but as he persevered
in it, came gradually to turn her thoughts to other means of assisting
him. “But I know of no papers,” she said, with disappointment; “my
father’s solicitor, to be sure, he is the man to apply to. I shall make
a point of seeing him to-morrow; and what papers I have I will look
over. By the by, now I remember it, the Old Wood Lodge belonged to her
grandfather or great-grandfather, dear old soul, and came to us by some
mortgage or forfeit. It was given back--_restored_, not bestowed upon
her. For her life!--I should like to find out now what he means by such
a lie!”

Charlie, who could throw no light upon this subject, rose to go,
somewhat disappointed, though not at all discouraged. The old lady
stopped him on his way, carried him off to another room, and
administered, half against Charlie’s will, a glass of wine. “Now, young
Atheling, you can go,” said Miss Anastasia. “I’ll remember both you and
your business. What are they bringing you up to? eh?”

“I’m in a solicitor’s office,” said Charlie.

“Just so--quite right,” said Miss Anastasia. “Let me see you baffle
_him_, and I’ll be your first client. Now go away to your pretty
sisters, and tell your mother not to alarm herself. I’ll come to the
Lodge in a day or two; and if there’s documents to be had, you shall
have them. Under any circumstances,” continued the old lady, dismissing
him with a certain stateliness, “you can call _me_.”

But though she was a great lady, and the most remarkable person in the
county, Charlie did not appreciate this permission half so much as he
would have appreciated some bit of wordy parchment. He walked back
again, much less sure of his case than when he set out with the hope of
finding all he wanted at Abingford.



CHAPTER XXXII.

SEARCH.


When Charlie reached home again, very tired, and in a somewhat moody
frame of mind, he found the room littered with various old boxes
undergoing examination, and Agnes seated before the cabinet, with a
lapful of letters, and her face bright with interest and excitement,
looking them over. At the present moment, she held something of a very
perplexing nature in her hand, which the trained eye of Charlie caught
instantly, with a flash of triumph. Agnes herself was somewhat excited
about it, and Marian stood behind her, looking over her shoulder, and
vainly trying to decipher the ancient writing. “It’s something, mamma,”
cried Agnes. “I am sure, if Charlie saw it, he would think it something;
but I cannot make out what it is. Here is somebody’s seal and somebody’s
signature, and there, I am sure, that is Atheling; and a date, ‘xiij. of
May, M.D.LXXII.’ What does that mean, Marian? M. a thousand, D. five
hundred; there it is! I am sure it is an old deed--a real something
ancestral--1572!”

“Give it to me,” said Charlie, stretching his hand for it over her
shoulder. No one had heard him come in.

“Oh, Charlie, what did Miss Anastasia say?” cried Marian; and Agnes
immediately turned round away from the cabinet, and Mamma laid down her
work. Charlie, however, took full time to examine the yellow old
document they had found, though he did not acknowledge that it posed him
scarcely less than themselves, before he spoke.

“She said she’d look up her papers, and speak to the old gentleman’s
solicitor. I don’t see that _she’s_ much good to us,” said Charlie. “She
says I might call her as a witness, but what’s the good of a witness
against documents? This has nothing to do with Aunt Bridget, Agnes--have
you found nothing more than this? Why, you know there must have been a
deed of some kind. The old lady could not have been so foolish as to
throw away her title. Property without title-deeds is not worth a straw;
and the man that drew up her will is my lord’s solicitor! I say, he must
be what the Yankees call a smart man, this Lord Winterbourne.”

“I am afraid he has no principle, my dear,” said Mrs Atheling with a
sigh.

“And a very bad man--everybody hates him,” said Marian under her breath.

She spoke so low that she did not receive that reproving look of Mamma
which was wont to check such exclamations. Marian, though she had a will
of her own, and was never like to fall into a mere shadow and reflection
of her lover, as his poor little sister did, had unconsciously imbibed
Louis’s sentiments. She did not know what it was to _hate_, this
innocent girl. Had she seen Lord Winterbourne thrown from his horse, or
overturned out of his carriage, these ferocious sentiments would have
melted in an instant into help and pity; but in the abstract view of the
matter, Marian pronounced with emotion the great man’s sentence,
“Everybody hates Lord Winterbourne.”

“That is what the old lady said,” exclaimed Charlie; “she asked me who I
thought would believe him against her? But that’s not the question. I
don’t want to pit one man against another. My father’s worth twenty of
Lord Winterbourne! But that’s no matter. The law cares nothing at all
for his principles. What title has he got, and what title have
you?--that’s what the law’s got to say. Now, I’ll either have something
to put in against him or I’ll not plead. It’s no use taking a step in
the matter without proof.”

“And won’t that do, Charlie?” asked Mrs Atheling, looking wistfully at
the piece of parchment, signed and sealed, which was in Charlie’s hands.

“That! why, it’s two hundred and fifty years old!” said Charlie. “I
don’t see what it refers to yet, but it’s very clear it can’t be to Miss
Bridget. No, mother, that won’t do.”

“Then, my dear,” said Mrs Atheling, “I am very sorry to think of it;
but, after all, we have not been very long here, and we might have laid
out more money, and formed more attachments to the place, if we had gone
on much longer; and I think I shall be very glad to get back to
Bellevue. Marian, my love, don’t cry; this need not make any difference
with _anything_; but I think it is far better just to make up our minds
to it, and give up the Old Wood Lodge.”

“Mother! do you think I mean that?” cried Charlie; “we must find the
papers, that’s what we must do. My father’s as good an Englishman as the
first lord in the kingdom; I’d not give in to the king unless he was in
the right.”

“And not even then, unless you could not help it,” said Agnes, laughing;
“but I am not half done yet; there is still a great quantity of
letters--and I should not be at all surprised if this romantic old
cabinet, like an old bureau in a novel, had a secret drawer.”

Animated by this idea, Marian ran to the antique little piece of
furniture, pressing every projection with her pretty fingers, and
examining into every creak. But there was no secret drawer--a fact which
became all the more apparent when a drawer _was_ discovered, which once
had closed with a spring. The spring was broken, and the once-secret
place was open, desolate, and empty. Miss Bridget, good old lady, had no
secrets, or at least she had not made any provision for them here.

Agnes went on with her examination the whole afternoon, drawn aside and
deluded to pursue the history of old Aunt Bridget’s life through scores
of yellow old letters, under the pretence that something might be found
in some of them to throw light upon this matter; for a great many
letters of Miss Bridget’s own--careful “studies” for the production
itself--were tied up among the others; and it would have been amusing,
if it had not been sad, to sit on this little eminence of time, looking
over that strange faithful self-record of the little weaknesses, the
ladylike pretences, the grand Johnsonian diction of the old lady who was
dead. Poor old lady! Agnes became quite abashed and ashamed of herself
when she felt a smile stealing over her lip. It seemed something like
profanity to ransack the old cabinet, and smile at it. In its way, this,
as truly as the grass-mound, in Winterbourne churchyard, was Aunt
Bridget’s grave.

But still nothing could be found. Charlie occupied himself during the
remainder of the day in giving a necessary notice to Mr Lewis the
solicitor, that they had made up their minds to resist Lord
Winterbourne’s claim; and when the evening closed in, and the candles
were lighted, Louis made his first public appearance since the arrival
of the stranger, somewhat cloudy, and full of all his old haughtiness.
This cloud vanished in an instant at the first glance. Whatever
Charlie’s qualities were, criticism was not one of them; it was clear
that though his “No” might be formidable enough of itself, Charlie had
not been a member of any solemn committee, sitting upon the pretensions
of Louis. He gave no particular regard to Louis even now, but sat poring
over the old deed, deciphering it with the most patient laboriousness,
with his head very close over the paper, and a pair of spectacles
assisting his eyes. The spectacles were lent by Mamma, who kept them,
not secretly, but with a little reserve, in her work-basket, for special
occasions when she had some very fine stitching to do, or was busy with
delicate needlework by candle-light; and nothing could have been more
oddly inappropriate to the face of Charlie, with all the furrows of his
brow rolled down over his eyebrows, and his indomitable upper-lip
pressed hard upon its fellow, than these same spectacles. Then they made
him short-sighted, and were only of use when he leaned closely over the
paper--Charlie did not mind, though his shoulders ached and his eyes
filled with water. He was making it out!

And Agnes, for her part, sat absorbed with her lapful of old letters,
reading them all over with passing smiles and gravities, growing into
acquaintance with ever so many extinct affairs,--old stories long ago
come to the one conclusion which unites all men. Though she felt herself
virtuously reading for a purpose, she had forgotten all about the
purpose long ago, and was only wandering on and on by a strange
attraction, as if through a city of the dead. But it was quite
impossible to think of the dead among these yellow old papers--the
littlest trivial things of life were so quite living in them, in these
unconscious natural inferences and implications. And Louis and Marian,
sometimes speaking and often silent, were going through their own
present romance and story; and Mamma, in her sympathetic middle age,
with her work-basket, was tenderly overlooking all. In the little dim
country parlour, lighted with the two candles, what a strange epitome
there was of a whole world and a universal life.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

DOUBTS AND FEARS.


Louis had not been told till this day of the peril which threatened the
little inheritance of the Athelings. When he did hear of it, the young
man gnashed his teeth with that impotent rage which is agony, desperate
under the oppression which makes even wise men mad. He scorned to say a
word of any further indignities put upon himself; but Rachel told of
them with tears and outcries almost hysterical--how my lord had
challenged him with bitter taunts to put on his livery and earn the
bread he ate--how he had been expelled from his room which he had always
occupied, and had an apartment now among the rooms of the servants--and
how Lord Winterbourne threatened to advertise him publicly as a vagabond
and runaway if he ventured beyond the bounds of the village, or tried to
thrust himself into any society. Poor little Rachel, when she came in
the morning faint and heart-broken to tell her story, could scarcely
speak for tears, and was only with great difficulty soothed to a
moderate degree of calm. But still she shrank with the strangest
repugnance from going away. It scarcely could be attachment to the home
of her youth, for it had always been an unhappy shelter--nor could it be
love for any of the family; the little timid spirit feared she knew not
what terrors in the world with which she had so little acquaintance.
Lord Winterbourne to her was not a mere English peer, of influence only
in a certain place and sphere, but an omnipotent oppressor, from whose
power it would be impossible to escape, and whose vigilance could not be
eluded. If she tried to smile at the happy devices of Agnes and Marian,
how to establish herself in their own room at Bellevue, and lodge Louis
close at hand, it was a very wan and sickly smile. She confessed it was
dreadful to think that he should remain, exposed to all these insults;
but she shrank with fear and trembling from the idea of Louis going
away.

The next evening, just before the sun set, the whole youthful party--for
Rachel, by a rare chance, was not to be “wanted” to-night--strayed along
the grassy road in a body towards the church. Agnes and Marian were both
with Louis, who had been persuaded at last to speak of his own
persecutions, while Rachel came behind with Charlie, kindly pointing out
for him the far-off towers of Oxford, the two rivers wandering in a
maze, and all the features of the scene which Charlie did not know, and
amused, sad as she was, in her conscious seniority and womanhood, at the
shyness of the lad. Charlie actually began to be touched with a
wandering breath of sentiment, had been seen within the last two days
reading a poetry book, and was really in a very odd and suspicious
“way.”

“No,” said Louis, upon whom his betrothed and her sister were hanging
eagerly, comforting and persuading--“no; I am not in a worse position.
It stings me at the moment, I confess; but I am filled with contempt for
the man who insults me, and his words lose their power. I could almost
be seduced to stay when he begins to struggle with me after this
downright fashion; but you are perfectly right for all that, and within
a few days I must go away.”

“A few days? O Louis!” cried Marian, clinging to his arm.

“Yes; I have a good mind to say to-morrow, to enhance my own value,”
said Louis. “I am tempted--ay, both to go and stay--for sake of the
clinging of these little hands. Never mind, our mother will come home
all the sooner; and what do you suppose I will do?”

“I think indeed, Louis, you should speak to the Rector,” said Agnes,
with a little anxiety. “O no; it is very cruel of you, and you are
quite wrong; he did not mean to be very kind in that mocking way--he
meant what he said--he wanted to do you service; and so he would, and
vindicate you when you were gone, if you only would cease to be so very
grand for two minutes, and let him know.”

“Am I so very grand?” said Louis, with a momentary pique. “I have
nothing to do with your rectors--I know what he meant, whatever he might
say.”

“It is a great deal more than he does himself, I am sure of that,” said
Agnes with a puzzled air. “He means what he says, but he does not always
know what he means; and neither do I.”

Marian tried a trembling little laugh at her sister’s perplexity, but
they were rather too much moved for laughing, and it did not do.

“Now, I will tell you what my plan is,” said Louis. “I do not know what
he thinks of me, nor do I expect to find his opinion very favourable;
but as that is all I can look for anywhere, it will be the better
probation for me,” he added, with a rising colour and an air of
haughtiness. “I will not enlist, Marian. I have no longer any dreams of
the marshal’s _baton_ in the soldier’s knapsack. I give up rank and
renown to those who can strive for them. You must be content with such
honour as a man can have in his own person, Marian. When I leave you, I
will go at once to your father.”

“Oh, Louis, will you? I am so glad, so proud!” and again the little
hands pressed his arm, and Marian looked up to him with her radiant
face. He had not felt before how perfectly magnanimous and noble his
resolution was.

“I think it will be very right,” said Agnes, who was not so
enthusiastic; “and my father will be pleased to see you, Louis, though
you doubt him as you doubt all men. But look, who is this coming here?”

They were scarcely coming here, seeing they were standing still under
the porch of the church, a pair of very tall figures, very nearly equal
in altitude, though much unlike each other. One of them was the Rector,
who stood with a solemn bored look at the door of his church, which he
had just closed, listening, without any answer save now and then a grave
and ceremonious bow, to the other “individual,” who was talking very
fluently, and sufficiently loud to be heard by others than the Rector.
“Oh, Agnes!” cried Marian, and “Hush, May!” answered her sister; they
both recognised the stranger at a glance.

“Yes, this is the pride of the old country,” said the voice; “here, sir,
we can still perceive upon the sands of time the footprints of our Saxon
ancestors. I say ours, for my youthful and aspiring nation boasts as the
brightest star in her banner the Anglo-Saxon blood. _We_ preserve the
free institutions--the hatred of superstition, the freedom of private
judgment and public opinion, the great inheritance developed out of the
past; but Old England, sir, a land which I venerate, yet pity, keeps
safe in her own bosom the external traces full of instruction, the
silent poetry of Time--that only poetry which she can refuse to share
with us.”

To this suitable and appropriate speech, congenial as it must have been
to his feelings, the Rector made no answer, save that most deferential
and solemn bow, and was proceeding with a certain conscientious
haughtiness to show his visitor some other part of the building, when
his eye was attracted by the approaching group. He turned to them
immediately with an air of sudden relief.

So did Mr Endicott, to whom, to do him justice, not all the old churches
in Banburyshire, nor all the opportunities of speechmaking, nor even
half-a-dozen rectors who were within two steps of a peerage, could have
presented such powerful attractions as did that beautiful blushing face
of Marian Atheling, drooping and falling back under the shadow of Louis.
The Yankee hastened forward with his best greeting.

“When I remember our last meeting,” said Mr Endicott, bending his thin
head forward with the most unusual deference, that tantalising vision of
what might have been, “I think myself fortunate indeed to have found you
so near your home. I have been visiting your renowned city--one of
those twins of learning, whose antiquity is its charm. In my country our
antiquities stretch back into the eternities; but we know nothing of the
fourteenth or the fifteenth century in our young soil. My friend the
Rector has been showing me his church.”

Mr Endicott’s friend the Rector stared at him with a haughty amazement,
but came forward without saying anything to the new-comers; then he
seemed to pause a moment, doubtful how to address Louis--a doubt which
the young man solved for him instantly by taking off his hat with an
exaggerated and solemn politeness. They bowed to each other loftily,
these two haughty young men, as two duellists might have saluted each
other over their weapons. Then Louis turned his fair companion gently,
and, without saying anything, led her back again on the road they had
just traversed. Agnes followed silently, and feeling very awkward, with
the Rector and Mr Endicott on either hand. The Rector did not say a
word. Agnes only answered in shy monosyllables. The gifted American had
it all his own way.

“I understand Viscount Winterbourne and Mrs Edgerley are at Winterbourne
Hall,” said Mrs Endicott. “She is a charming person; the union of a
woman of fashion and a woman of literature is one so rarely seen in this
land.”

“Yes,” said Agnes, who knew nothing else to say.

“For myself,” said Mr Endicott solemnly, “I rejoice to find the poetic
gift alike in the palace of the peer and the cottage of the peasant,
bringing home to all hearts the experiences of life; in the sumptuous
apartments of the Hall with Mrs Edgerley, or in the humble parlour of
the worthy and respectable middle class--Miss Atheling, with you.”

“Oh!” cried Agnes, starting under this sudden blow, and parrying it with
all the skill she could find. “Do you like Oxford, Mr Endicott? Have you
seen much of the country about here?”

But it was too late. Mr Endicott caught a shy backward glance of Marian,
and, smothering a mortal jealousy of Louis, eagerly thrust himself
forward to answer it--and the Rector had caught his unfortunate words.
The Rector drew himself up to a still more lofty height, if that was
possible, and walked on by Agnes’s side in a solemn and stately
silence--poor Agnes, who would have revived a little in his presence but
for that arrow of Mr Endicott’s, not knowing whether to address him, or
whether her best policy was to be silent. She went on by his side,
holding down her head, looking very small, very slight, very young,
beside that dignified and stately personage. At last he himself
condescended to speak.

“Am I to understand, Miss Atheling,” said the Rector, very much in the
same tone as he might have asked poor little Billy Morrell at school,
“Are you the boy who robbed John Parker’s orchard?”--“Am I to
understand, as I should be disposed to conclude from what this person
says, that, like my fashionable cousin at the Hall, you have written
novels?--or is it only the hyperbole of that individual’s ordinary
speech?”

“No,” said Agnes, very guilty, a convicted culprit, yet making bold to
confess her guilt. “I am very sorry he said it, but it is true; only I
have written just one novel. Do you think it wrong?”

“I think a woman’s intellect ought to be receptive without endeavouring
to produce,” said the Rector, in a slightly acerbated tone.
“Intelligence is the noblest gift of a woman; originality is neither to
be wished nor looked for.”

“I do not suppose I am very guilty of that either,” said Agnes,
brightening again with that odd touch of pugnacity, as she listened once
more to this haughty tone of dogmatism from the man who held no
opinions. “If you object only to originality, I do not think you need be
angry with me.”

She was half inclined to play with the lion, but the lion was in a very
ill humour, and would see no sport in the matter. To tell the truth, the
Rector was very much fretted by this unlooked-for intelligence. He felt
as if it were done on purpose, and meant as a personal offence to him,
though really, after all, for a superior sister of St Frideswide, this
unfortunate gift of literature was rather a recommendation than
otherwise, as one might have thought.

So the Rev. Lionel Rivers stalked on beside Agnes past his own door,
following Louis, Marian, and Mr Endicott to the very gate of the Old
Wood Lodge. Then he took off his hat to them all, wished them a
ceremonious good-night, and went home extremely wrathful, and in a most
unpriestly state of mind. He could not endure to think that the common
outer world had gained such a hold upon that predestined Superior of the
sisters of St Frideswide.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

SOME PROGRESS.


After a long and most laborious investigation of the old parchment,
Charlie at last triumphantly made it out to be an old conveyance, to a
remote ancestor, of this very little house, and sundry property
adjoining, on which the Athelings had now no claim. More than two
hundred and fifty years ago!--the girls were as much pleased with it as
if it had been an estate, and even Charlie owned a thrill of
gratification. They felt themselves quite long-descended and patrician
people, in right of the ancestor who had held “the family property” in
1572.

But it was difficult to see what use this could be of in opposition to
the claim of Lord Winterbourne. Half the estates in the country at least
had changed hands during these two hundred and fifty years; and though
it certainly proved beyond dispute that the Old Wood Lodge had once been
the property of the Athelings, it threw no light whatever on the title
of Miss Bridget. Mrs Atheling looked round upon the old walls with much
increase of respect; she wondered if they really could be so old as
that; and was quite reverential of her little house, being totally
unacquainted with the periods of domestic architecture, and knowing
nothing whatever of archaic “detail.”

Miss Anastasia, however, remembered her promise. Only two or three days
after Charlie’s visit to her, the two grey ponies made their appearance
once more at the gate of the Old Wood Lodge. She was not exactly
triumphant, but had a look of satisfaction on her face, and evidently
felt she had gained something. She entered upon her business without a
moment’s delay.

“Young Atheling, I have brought you all that Mr Temple can furnish me
with,” said Miss Anastasia--“his memorandum taken from my father’s
instructions. He tells me there was a deed distinct and formal, and
offers to bear his witness of it, as I have offered mine.”

Charlie took eagerly out of her hand the paper she offered to him. “It
is a copy out of his book,” said Miss Anastasia. It was headed thus:
“_Mem._--To convey to Miss Bridget Atheling, her heirs and assigns, the
cottage called the Old Wood Lodge, with a certain piece of land
adjoining, to be described--partly as a proof of Lord Winterbourne’s
gratitude for services, partly as restoring property acquired by his
father--to be executed at once.”

The date was five-and-twenty years ago; and perhaps nothing but justice
to her dead friend and to her living ones could have fortified Miss
Anastasia to return upon that time. She sat still, looking at Charlie
while he read it, with her cheek a little blanched and her eye brighter
than usual. He laid it down with a look of impatience, yet satisfaction.
“Some one,” said Charlie, “either for one side or for the other side,
must have this deed.”

“Your boy is hard to please,” said Miss Rivers. “I have offered to
appear myself, and so does Mr Temple. What, boy, not content!”

“It is the next best,” said Charlie; “but still not so good as the deed;
and the deed must exist somewhere; nobody would destroy such a thing.
Where is it likely to be?”

“Young Atheling,” said Miss Anastasia, half amused, half with
displeasure, “when I want to collect evidence, you shall do it for me.
Has he had a good education?--eh?”

“To _you_ I am afraid he will seem a very poor scholar,” said Mrs
Atheling, with a little awe of Miss Anastasia’s learning; “but we did
what we could for him; and he has always been a very industrious boy,
and has studied a good deal himself.”

To this aside conversation Charlie paid not the smallest attention, but
ruminated over the lawyer’s memorandum, making faces at it, and bending
all the powers of his mind to the consideration--where to find this
deed! “If it’s not here, nor in her lawyer’s, nor with this old lady,
_he’s_ got it,” pronounced Charlie; but this was entirely a private
process, and he did not say a word aloud.

“I’ve read her book,” said Miss Rivers, with a glance aside at Agnes;
“it’s a very clever book: I approve of it, though I never read novels:
in my day, girls did no such things--all the better for them now. Yes,
my child, don’t be afraid. I’ll not call you unfeminine--in my opinion,
it’s about the prettiest kind of fancy-work a young woman can do.”

Under this applause Agnes smiled and brightened; it was a great deal
more agreeable than all the pretty sayings of all the people who were
dying to know the author of _Hope Hazlewood_, in the brief day of her
reputation at the Willows.

“And as for the pretty one,” said Miss Anastasia, “she, I suppose,
contents herself with lovers--eh? What is the meaning of this? I suppose
the child’s heart is in it. The worse for her--the worse for her!”

For Marian had blushed deeply, and then become very pale; her heart was
touched indeed, and she was very despondent. All the other events of the
time were swallowed up to Marian by one great shadow--Louis was going
away!

Whereupon Mrs Atheling, unconsciously eager to attract the interest of
Miss Anastasia, who very likely would be kind to the young people, sent
Marian up-stairs upon a hastily-invented errand, and took the old lady
aside to tell her what had happened. Miss Rivers was a good deal
surprised--a little affected. “So--so--so,” she said slowly, “these
reckless young creatures--how ready they are to plunge into all the
griefs of life! And what does Will Atheling say to this nameless boy?”

“I cannot say my husband is entirely pleased,” said Mrs Atheling, with a
little hesitation; “but he is a very fine young man; and to see our
children happy is the great thing we care for, both William and me.”

“How do you know it will make her happy?” asked Miss Anastasia somewhat
sharply. “The child flushes and pales again, pretty creature as she is,
like a woman come into her troubles. A great deal safer to write novels!
But what is done can’t be undone; and I am glad to hear of it on account
of the boy.”

Then Miss Anastasia made a pause, thinking over the matter. “I have
found some traces of my father’s wanderings,” she said again, with a
little emotion: “if the old man was tempted to sin in his old days,
though it would be a shame to hear of, I should still be glad to make
sure; and if by any chance,” continued the old lady, reddening with the
maidenly and delicate feeling of which her fifty years could not deprive
her--“if by any chance these unfortunate children should turn out to be
nearly related to me, I will of course think it my duty to provide for
them as if they were lawful children of my father’s house.”

It cost her a little effort to say this--and Mrs Atheling, not venturing
to make any comment, looked on with respectful sympathy. It was very
well for Miss Anastasia to say, but how far Louis would tolerate a
provision made for him was quite a different question. The silence was
broken again by the old lady herself.

“This bold boy of yours has set me to look over all my old papers,” said
Miss Anastasia, with a twinkle of satisfaction and amusement in her eye,
as she looked over at Charlie, still making faces at the lawyer’s note.
“Now that I have begun for _her_ sake, dear old soul, I continue for my
own, and for curiosity: I would give a great deal to find out the story
of these children. Young Atheling, if I some time want your services,
will you give them to me?”

Charlie looked up with a boyish flush of pleasure. “As soon as this
business is settled,” said Charlie. Miss Anastasia, whom his mother
feared to look at lest she should be offended, smiled approvingly;
patted the shoulder of Agnes as she passed her, left “her love for the
other poor child,” and went away. Mrs Atheling looked after her with a
not unnatural degree of complacency. “Now, I think it very likely indeed
that she will either leave them something, or try what she can do for
Louis,” said Mamma; she did not think how impossible it would be to do
anything for Louis, until Louis graciously accepted the service; nor
indeed, that the only thing the young man could do under his
circumstances was to trust to his own exertions solely, and seek service
from none.



CHAPTER XXXV.

A GREAT DISCOVERY.


The visit of Miss Rivers was an early one, some time before their
mid-day dinner; and the day went on quietly after its usual fashion, and
fell into the stillness of a sunny afternoon, which looked like a
reminiscence of midsummer among these early October days. Mrs Atheling
sat in her big chair, knitting, with a little drowsiness, a little
stocking--though this was a branch of art in which Hannah was found to
excel, and had begged her mistress to leave to her. Agnes sat at the
table with her blotting-book, busy with her special business; Charlie
was writing out a careful copy of the old deed. The door was open, and
Bell and Beau, under the happy charge of Rachel, ran back and forwards,
out and in, from the parlour to the garden, not omitting now and then a
visit to the kitchen, where Hannah, covered all over with her white bib
and apron, was making cakes for tea. Their merry childish voices and
prattling feet gave no disturbance to the busy people in the parlour;
neither did the light fairy step of Rachel, nor even the songs she sang
to them in her wonderful voice--they were all so well accustomed to its
music now. Marian and Louis, who did not like to lose sight of each
other in these last days, were out wandering about the fields, or in the
wood, thinking of little in the world except each other, and that great
uncertain future which Louis penetrated with his fiery glances, and of
which Marian wept and smiled to hear. Mamma sitting at the window,
between the pauses of her knitting and the breaks of her gentle
drowsiness, looked out for them with a little tender anxiety. Marian,
the only one of her children who was “in trouble,” was nearest of all at
that moment to her mother’s heart.

When suddenly a violent sound of wheels from the high-road broke in upon
the stillness, then a loud voice calling to horses, and then a dull
plunge and heavy roll. Mrs Atheling lifted her startled eyes, drowsy no
longer, to see what was the matter, just in time to behold, what shook
the little house like the shock of a small earthquake, Miss Anastasia’s
two grey horses, trembling with unusual exertion, draw up with a bound
and commotion at the little gate.

And before the good mother could rise to her feet, wondering what could
be the cause of this second visit, Miss Rivers herself sprang out of
the carriage, and came into the house like a wind, almost stumbling over
Rachel, and nearly upsetting Bell and Beau. She did not say a word to
either mother or daughter, she only came to the threshold of the
parlour, waved her hand imperiously, and cried, “Young Atheling, I want
_you_!”

Charlie was not given to rapid movements, but there was no
misunderstanding the extreme emotion of this old lady. The big boy got
up at once and followed her, for she went out again immediately. Then
Mrs Atheling, sitting at the window in amaze, saw her son and Miss
Anastasia stand together in the garden, conversing with great
earnestness. She showed him a book, which Charlie at first did not seem
to understand, to the great impatience of his companion. Mrs Atheling
drew back troubled, and in the most utter astonishment--what could it
mean?

“Young Atheling,” said Miss Anastasia abruptly, “I want you to give up
this business of your father’s immediately, and set off to Italy on
mine. I have made a discovery of the most terrible importance: though
you are only a boy I can trust you. Do you hear me?--it is to bring to
his inheritance my father’s son!”

Charlie looked up in her face astonished, and without comprehension. “My
father’s business is of importance to us,” he said, with a momentary
sullenness.

“So it is; my own man of business shall undertake it; but I want an
agent, secret and sure, who is not like to be suspected,” said Miss
Anastasia. “Young Atheling, look here!”

Charlie looked, but not with enthusiasm. The book she handed him was an
old diary of the most commonplace description, each page divided with
red lines into compartments for three days, with printed headings for
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on, and columns for money. The wind
fluttered the leaves, so that the only entry visible to Charlie was one
relating to some purchase, which he read aloud, bewildered and
wondering. Miss Anastasia, who was extremely moved and excited, looked
furious, and as if she was almost tempted to administer personal
chastisement to the blunderer. She turned over the fluttered leaves with
an impetuous gesture. “Look here,” she said, pointing to the words with
her imperative finger, and reading them aloud in a low, restrained, but
most emphatic voice. The entry was in the same hand, duly dated under
the red line--“Twins--one boy--and Giulietta safe. Thank God. My sweet
young wife.”

“Now go--fly!” cried Miss Anastasia, “find out their birthday, and then
come to me for money and directions. I will make your fortune, boy; you
shall be the richest pettifogger in Christendom. Do you hear me, young
Atheling--do you hear me! He is the true Lord Winterbourne--he is my
father’s lawful son!”

To say that Charlie was not stunned by this sudden suggestion, or that
there was no answer of young and generous enthusiasm, as well as of
professional eagerness in his mind, to the address of Miss Rivers, would
have been to do him less than justice. “Is it Italy?--I don’t know a
word of Italian,” cried Charlie. “Never mind, I’ll go to-morrow. I can
learn it on the way.”

The old lady grasped the boy’s rough hand, and stepped again into her
carriage. “Let it be to-morrow,” she said, speaking very low; “tell your
mother, but no one else, and do not, for any consideration, let it come
to the ears of Louis--Louis, my father’s boy!--But I will not see him,
Charlie; fly, boy, as if you had wings!--till you come home. I will meet
you to-morrow at Mr Temple’s office--you know where that is--at twelve
o’clock. Be ready to go immediately, and tell your mother to mention it
to no creature till I see her again.”

Saying which, Miss Rivers turned her ponies, Charlie hurried into the
house, and his mother sat gazing out of the window, with the most blank
and utter astonishment. Miss Anastasia had not a glance to spare for
the watcher, and took no time to pull her rose from the porch. She drove
home again at full speed, solacing her impatience with the haste of her
progress, and repeating, under her breath, again and again, the same
words. “One boy--and Giulietta safe. My sweet young wife!”


                            END OF VOL. II.


           PRINTED BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS, EDINBURGH.


                   *       *       *       *       *



                             THE ATHELINGS



                             THE ATHELINGS

                                  OR

                            THE THREE GIFTS

                         BY MARGARET OLIPHANT

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


                           IN THREE VOLUMES

                               VOL. III.

                      WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
                         EDINBURGH AND LONDON
                               MDCCCLVII

             ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN BLACKWOOD’S MAGAZINE.



                             THE ATHELINGS

                     BOOK III.--WINTERBOURNE HALL



                            THE ATHELINGS.



BOOK III.--CHAPTER I.

AN OLD STORY.


“Now, mother,” said Charlie, “I’m in real earnest. My father would tell
me himself if he were here. I want to understand the whole concern.”

Mrs Atheling and her son were in Charlie’s little room, with its one
small lattice-window, overshadowed and embowered in leaves--its plain
uncurtained bed, its small table, and solitary chair. Upon this chair,
with a palpitating heart, sat Mrs Atheling, and before her stood the
resolute boy.

And she began immediately, yet with visible faltering and hesitation, to
tell him the story she had told the girls of the early connection
between the present Lord Winterbourne and the Atheling family. But
Charlie’s mind was excited and preoccupied. He listened, almost with
impatience, to the sad little romance of his father’s young sister, of
whom he had never heard before. It did not move him at all as it had
moved Agnes and Marian. Broken hearts and disappointed loves were very
far out of Charlie’s way; something entirely different occupied his own
imagination. He broke forth with a little effusion of impatience when
the story came to an end. “And is this all? Do you mean to say this is
the whole, mother? And my father had never anything to do with him but
through a girl!”

“You are very unfeeling, Charlie,” said Mrs Atheling, who wiped her eyes
with real emotion, yet with a little policy too, and to gain time. “She
was a dear innocent girl, and your father was very fond of her--reason
enough to give him a dislike, if it were not sinful, to the very name of
Lord Winterbourne.”

“I had better go on with my packing, then,” said Charlie. “So, that was
all? I suppose any scamp in existence might do the same. Do you really
mean to tell me, mother, that there was nothing but this?”

Mrs Atheling faltered still more under the steady observation of her
son. “Charlie,” said his mother, with agitation, “your father never
would mention it to any one. I may be doing very wrong. If he only were
here himself to decide! But if I tell you, you must give me your word
never so much as to hint at it again.”

Charlie did not give the necessary pledge, but Mrs Atheling made no
pause. She did not even give him time to speak, however he might have
been inclined, but hastened on in her own disclosure with agitation and
excitement. “You have heard Papa tell of the young gentleman--he whom
you all used to be so curious about--whom your father did a great
benefit to,” said Mrs Atheling, in a breathless hurried whisper.
“Charlie, my dear, I never said it before to any creature--that was
_him_.”

She paused only a moment to take breath. “It was before we knew how he
had behaved to dear little Bride,” she continued, still in haste, and in
an undertone. “What he did was a forgery--a forgery! people were hanged
for it then. It was either a bill, or a cheque, or something, and Mr
Reginald had written to it another man’s name. It happened when Papa was
in the bank, and before old Mr Lombard died--old Mr Lombard had a great
kindness for your father, and we had great hopes then--and by good
fortune the thing was brought to Papa. Your father was always very
quick, Charlie--he found it out in a moment. So he told old Mr Lombard
of it in a quiet way, and Mr Lombard consented he should take it back to
Mr Reginald, and tell him it was found out, and hush all the business
up. If your papa had not been so quick, Charlie, but had paid the money
at once, as almost any one else would have done, it all must have been
found out, and he would have been hanged, as certain as anything--he, a
haughty young gentleman, and a lord’s son!”

“And a very good thing, too,” exclaimed Charlie; “saved him from doing
any more mischief. So, I suppose now, it’s all my father’s blame.”

“This Lord Winterbourne is a bad man,” said Mrs Atheling, taking no
notice of her son’s interruption: “first he was furious to William, and
then he cringed and fawned to him; and of course he had it on his
conscience then about poor little Bride, though we did not know--and
then he raved, and said he was desperate, and did not know what to do
for money. Your father came home to me, quite unhappy about him; for he
belonged to the same country, and everybody tried to make excuses for Mr
Reginald, being a young man, and the heir. So William made it up in his
own mind to go and tell the old lord, who was in London then. The old
lord was a just man, but very proud. He did not take it kind of William,
and he had no regard for Mr Reginald; but for the honour of the family
he sent him away. Then we lost sight of him long, and Aunt Bridget took
a dislike to us, and poor little Bride was dead, and we never heard
anything of the Lodge or the Hall for many a year; but the old lord died
abroad, and Mr Reginald came home Lord Winterbourne. That was all we
ever knew. I thought your father had quite forgiven him, Charlie--we had
other things to think of than keeping up old grudges--when all at once
it came to be in the newspapers that Lord Winterbourne was a political
man, that he was making speeches everywhere, and that he was to be one
of the ministry. When your father saw that, he blazed up into such an
anger! I said all I could, but William never minded me. He never was so
bitter before, not even when we heard of little Bride. He said, Such a
man to govern us and all the people!--a forger! a liar!--and sometimes,
I think, he thought he would expose the whole story, and let everybody
know.”

“Time enough for that,” said Charlie, who had listened to all this
without comment, but with the closest attention. “What he did once he’ll
do again, mother; but we’re close at his heels this time, and he won’t
get off now. I’m going to Oxford now to get some books. I say, mother,
you’ll be sure, upon your honour, not to tell the girls?”

“No, Charlie,” said Mrs Atheling, with a somewhat faint affirmation;
“but, my dear, I can’t believe in it. It can’t be true. Charlie, boy!
if this was coming true, our Marian--your sister, Charlie!--why, Marian
would be Lady Winterbourne!”

Charlie did not say a word in return; he only took down his little
travelling-bag, laid it at his mother’s feet to be packed, and left her
to that business and her own meditations; but after he had left the
room, the lad returned again and thrust in his shaggy head at the door.
“Take care of Marian, mother,” said Charlie, in a parting adjuration;
“remember my father’s little sister Bride.”

So he went away, leaving Mrs Atheling a good deal disquieted. She had
got over the first excitement of Miss Anastasia’s great intelligence and
the sudden preparations of Charlie. She had scarcely time enough,
indeed, to give a thought to these things, when her son demanded this
history from her, and sent her mind away into quite a different channel.
Now she sat still in Charlie’s room, pondering painfully, with the
travelling-bag lying quite unheeded at her feet. At one moment she
pronounced the whole matter perfectly impossible--at the next,
triumphantly inconsequent, she leaped to the full consummation of the
hope, and saw her own pretty Marian--dazzling vision!--the lady of
Winterbourne! and again the heart of the good mother fell, and she
remembered little Bride. Louis, as he was now, having no greater friends
than their own simple family, and no pretensions whatever either to
birth or fortune, was a very different person from that other Louis who
might be heir of lands and lordship and the family pride of the
Riverses. Much perplexed, in great uncertainty and pain, mused Mrs
Atheling, half-resentful of that grand discovery of Miss Anastasia,
which might plunge them all into renewed trouble; while Charlie trudged
into Oxford for his Italian grammar--and Louis and Marian wandered
through the enchanted wood, drawing homeward--and Rachel sang to the
children--and Agnes wondered by herself over the secret which was to be
confided only to Mamma.



CHAPTER II.

A CRISIS.


That night Charlie had need of all his diplomatic talents. Before he
returned from Oxford, his mother, by way of precaution lest Agnes should
betray the sudden and mysterious visit of Miss Anastasia to Marian,
contrived to let her elder daughter know mysteriously, something of the
scope and object of the sudden journey for which it was necessary to
prepare her brother, driving Agnes, as was to be supposed, into a very
fever of suppressed excitement, joy, triumph, and anxiety. Mrs Atheling,
conscious, hurried, and studying deeply not to betray herself--and
Agnes, watching every one, stopping questions, and guarding off
suspicions with prudence much too visible--were quite enough of
themselves to rouse every other member of the little company to lively
pursuit after the secret. Charlie was assailed by every shape and form
of question: Where was he going--what was he to do? He showed no
cleverness, we are bound to acknowledge, in evading these multitudinous
interrogations; he turned an impenetrable front upon them, and made the
most commonplace answers, making vast incursions all the time into
Hannah’s cakes and Mamma’s bread-and-butter.

“He had to go back immediately to the office; he believed he had got a
new client for old Foggo,” said Charlie, with the utmost coolness;
“making no secret of it at all,” according to Mamma’s indignant
commentary.

“To the office!--are you only going home, after all?” cried Marian.

“I’ll see when I get there,” answered Charlie; “there’s something to be
done abroad. I shouldn’t wonder if they sent _me_. I say, I wish you’d
all come home at once, and make things comfortable. There’s my poor
father fighting it out with Susan. I should not stand it if it was me.”

“Hold your peace, Charlie, and don’t be rude,” said Mrs Atheling. “But,
indeed, I wish we were at home, and out of everybody’s way.”

“Who is everybody?” said Louis. “I, who am going myself, can wish quite
sincerely that we were all at home; but the addition is mysterious--who
is in anybody’s way?”

“Mamma means to wish us all out of reach of the Evil Eye,” said Agnes, a
little romantically.

“No such thing, my dear. I daresay we could do _him_ a great deal more
harm than he can do us,” said Mrs Atheling, with sudden importance and
dignity; then she paused with a certain solemnity, so that everybody
could perceive the grave self-restraint of the excellent mother, and
that she could say a great deal more if she chose.

“But no one thinks what I am to do when you are all gone,” said Rachel;
and her tearful face happily diverted her companions from investigating
and from concealing the secret. There remained among them all, however,
a certain degree of excitement. Charlie was returning home
to-morrow--specially called home on business!--perhaps to go abroad upon
the same! The fact stirred all those young hearts with something not
unlike envy. This boy seemed to have suddenly leaped in one day into a
man.

And it was natural enough that, hearing of this, the mind of Louis
should burn and chafe with fierce impatience. Charlie, who was perfectly
undemonstrative of his thoughts and imaginations, was a very boy to
Louis--yet there was need and occasion for Charlie in the crowd of life,
when no one thought upon this fiery and eager young man. It was late
that night when Louis left this only home and haven which he had ever
known; and though he would fain have left Rachel there, his little
sister would not remain behind him, but clung to his arm with a strange
presentiment of something about to happen, which she could not explain.
Louis scarcely answered a word to the quiet talk of Rachel as they went
upon their way to the Hall. With difficulty, and even with impatience,
he curbed his rapid stride to her timid little footsteps, and hurried
her along without a glance at the surrounding scene, memorable and
striking as it was. The broad moonlight flooded over the noble park of
Winterbourne. The long white-columned front of the house--which was a
great Grecian house, pallid, vast, and imposing--shone in the white
light like a screen of marble; and on the great lawn immediately before
it were several groups of people, dwarfed into minute miraculous figures
by the great space and silence, and the intense illumination, which was
far more striking and particular than the broader light of day. The
chances were that Louis did not see them, as he plunged on, in the
blindness of preoccupation, keeping no path, through light and shadow,
through the trees and underwood, and across the broad unshaded
greensward, where no one could fail to perceive him. His little sister
clung to his arm in an agony of fear, grief, and confidence--trembling
for something about to happen with an overpowering tremor--yet holding a
vague faith in her brother, strange and absorbing. She said, “Louis,
Louis!” in her tone of appeal and entreaty. He did not hear her, but
struck across the broad visible park, in the full stream of the
moonlight, looking neither to the right hand nor to the left. As they
approached, Rachel could not even hear any conversation among the groups
on the lawn; and it was impossible to suppose that they had not been
seen. Louis’s abrupt direct course, over the turf and through the
brushwood, must have attracted the notice of bystanders even in the
daylight; it was still more remarkable now, when noiseless and rapid,
through the intense white radiance and the perfect stillness, the
stately figure of the young man, and his timid, graceful little sister,
came directly forward in face of the spectators. These spectators were
all silent, looking on with a certain fascination, and Rachel could not
tell whether Louis was even conscious that any one was there.

But before they could turn aside into the road which led to the Hall
door--a road to which Rachel most anxiously endeavoured to guide her
brother--they were suddenly arrested by the voice of Lord Winterbourne.
“I must put a stop to this,” said his lordship suddenly and loudly, with
so evident a reference to themselves, that even Rachel stopped without
knowing it. “Here, young fellow, stop and give an account of
yourself--what do you mean by wandering about my park at midnight, eh?
I know your poaching practices. Setting snares, I suppose, and dragging
about this girl as a protection. Get into your kennel, you mean dog; is
this how you repay the shelter I have given you all your life?”

“It would be a fit return,” said Louis. He did not speak so loud, but
with a tremble of scorn and bitterness and intense youthful feeling in
his voice, before which the echo of his persecutor’s went out and died,
like an ignoble thing. “If I were, as you say,” repeated the young man,
“setting snares for your game, or for your wealth, or for your life, you
know it would be a fit return.”

“Yes, I live a peaceful life with this villanous young incendiary under
my roof!” said Lord Winterbourne. “I’ll tell you what, you young
ruffian, if nothing better can restrain you, locks and bars shall. Oh,
no chance of appealing to _my_ pity, with that fool of a girl upon your
arm! You think you can defy me, year after year, because I have given
charity to your base blood. My lad, you shall learn to know me better
before another week is over our heads. Why, gentlemen, you perceive, by
his own confession, I stand in danger of my life.”

“Winterbourne,” said some one over his shoulder, in a reproving tone,
“_you_ should be the last man in the world to taunt this unfortunate lad
with his base blood.”

Lord Winterbourne turned upon his heel with a laugh of insult which sent
the wild blood dancing in an agony of shame, indignation, and rage even
into Rachel’s woman’s face. “Well,” said the voice of their tyrant, “I
have supported the hound--what more would you have? His mother was a
pretty fool, but she had her day. There’s more of her conditions in the
young villain than mine. I have no idea of playing the romantic father
to such a son--not I!”

Louis did not know that he threw his sister off his arm before he sprang
into the midst of these half-dozen gentlemen. She did not know herself,
as she stood behind clenching her small fingers together painfully, with
all the burning vehemence of a woman’s passion. The young man sprang
forward with the bound of a young tiger. His voice was hoarse with
passion, not to be restrained. “It is a lie--a wilful, abominable lie!”
cried Louis fiercely, confronting as close as a wrestler the ghastly
face of his tyrant, who shrank before him. “I am no son of yours--you
know I am no son of yours! I owe you the hateful bread I have been
compelled to eat--nothing more. I am without a name--I may be of base
blood--but I warn you for your life, if you dare repeat this last
insult. It is a lie! I tell every one who condescends to call you
friend; and I appeal to God, who knows that you know it is a lie! I may
be the son of any other wretch under heaven, but I am not yours. I
disown it with loathing and horror. Do you hear me?--you know the truth
in your heart, and so do I!”

Lord Winterbourne fell back, step by step, before the young man, who
pressed upon him close and rapid, with eyes which flamed and burned with
a light which he could not bear. The insulting smile upon his bloodless
face had not passed from it yet. His eyes, shifting, restless, and
uneasy, expressed nothing. He was not a coward, and he was sufficiently
quick-witted on ordinary occasions, but he had nothing whatever to
answer to this vehement and unexpected accusation. He made an
unintelligible appeal with his hand to his companions, and lifted up his
face to the moonlight like a spectre, but he did not answer by a single
word.

“Young man,” said the gentleman who had spoken before, “I acknowledge
your painful position, and that you have been addressed in a most
unseemly manner--but no provocation should make you forget your natural
duty. Lord Winterbourne must have had a motive for maintaining you as he
has done. I put it to you calmly, dispassionately--what motive could he
possibly have had, except one?”

“Ah!” said Louis, with a sudden and violent start, “he must have had a
motive--it is true; he would not waste his cruel powers, even for
cruelty’s sake. If any man can tell me what child it was his interest to
bastardise and defame, there may be hope and a name for me yet.”

At these words, Lord Winterbourne advanced suddenly with a singular
eagerness. “Let us have done with this foolery,” he said, in a voice
which was certainly less steady than usual; “I presume we can all be
better employed than listening to the vapourings of this foolish boy. Go
in, my lad, and learn a lesson by your folly to-night. I pass it over,
simply because you have shown yourself to be a fool.”

“I, however, do not pass it over, my lord,” said Louis, who had calmed
down after the most miraculous fashion, to the utter amazement of his
sister. “Thank you for the provision you have given us, such as it is.
Some time we may settle scores upon that subject. My sister and I must
find another shelter to-night.”

The bystanders were half disposed to smile at the young man’s heroical
withdrawal--but they were all somewhat amazed to find that Lord
Winterbourne was as far as possible from sharing their amusement. He
called out immediately in an access of passion to stop the young
ruffian, incendiary, mischief-maker;--called loudly upon the servants,
who began to appear at the open door--ordered Louis to his own
apartment with the most unreasonable vehemence, and finally turned upon
Rachel, calling her to give up the young villain’s arm, and for her life
to go home.

But Rachel was wound to the fever point as well as her brother. “No, no,
it is all true he has said,” cried Rachel. “I know it, like Louis; we
are not your children--you dare not call us so now. I never believed you
were our father--never all my life.”

She exclaimed these words hastily in her low eager voice, as Louis drew
her arm through his, and hurried her away. The young man struck again
across the broad park and through the moonlight, while behind, Lord
Winterbourne called to his servants to go after the fugitives--to bring
that fellow back. The men only stared at their master, looked helplessly
at each other, and went off on vain pretended searches, with no better
intention than to keep out of Louis’s way, until prudence came to the
aid of Lord Winterbourne. “I shall scarcely think my life in safety
while that young fool wanders wild about the country,” he said to his
friends, as he returned within doors; but his friends, one and all,
thought this a very odd scene.

Meanwhile Louis made his rapid way with his little sister on his arm out
over the glorious moonlit park of Winterbourne, away from the only home
he had ever known--out to the night and to the world. Rachel, leaning
closely upon him, scarcely so much as looked up, as her faltering
footstep toiled to keep up with her brother. He, holding his proud young
head high, neither turned nor glanced aside, but pressed on straight
forward, as if to some visionary certain end before his eye. Then they
came out at last to the white silent road, lying ghostlike under the
excess of light--the quiet road which led through the village where all
the houses slept and everything was still, not a curl of smoke in the
moonlight, nor a house-dog’s bark in the silence. It was midnight, vast
and still, a great desolate uninhabited world. There was not a door open
to them, nor a place where they could rest. But on pressed Louis, with
the rapid step and unhesitating course of one who hastened to some
definite conclusion. “Where are we going--where shall we go?” said poor
little Rachel, drooping on his shoulder. Her brother did not hear her.
He was not selfish, but he had not that superhuman consideration for
others which might have broken the fiery inspiration of his own
momentous thoughts, and made him think of the desolate midnight, and the
houseless and outcast condition which were alone present to the mind of
Rachel. He did not see a vast homeless solitude--a vagabond and
disgraceful wandering, in this midnight walk. He saw a new world before
him, such as had never glanced before across his fancy. “He must have
had a motive,” he muttered to himself. Rachel heard him sadly, and took
the words as a matter of course. “Where are we to go?”--that was a more
immediately important question to the simple mind of Rachel.

The Old Wood Lodge was as deep asleep as any house in the village. They
paused, reluctant, both of them, to awake their friends within, and went
back, pacing rapidly between the house of the Athelings and that of the
Rector. The September night was cold, and Rachel was timid of that
strange midnight world out of doors. They seemed to have nothing for it
but pacing up and down upon the grassy road, where they were at least
within sight of a friendly habitation, till morning came.

There was one light in one window of the Old Wood House; Rachel’s eye
went wandering to it wistfully, unawares: If the Rector knew--the
Rector, who once would have been kind if Louis would have let him. But,
as if in very response to her thoughts, the Rector, when they came back
to this point again, was standing, like themselves, in the moonlight,
looking over the low wall. He called to them rather authoritatively,
asking what they did there--but started, and changed his tone into one
of wondering interest and compassion when Rachel lifted her pale face to
him, with the tears in her eyes. He hastened to the gate at once, and
called them to enter. “Nay, nay, no hesitation--come in at once, that
she may have rest and shelter,” said the Rector in a peremptory tone,
which, for the first time in his life, Louis had no thought of
resenting. He went in without a word, leading his little sister. Perhaps
it was the first great thing that ever had been done in all her life for
Rachel’s sake--for the sake of the delicate girl, who was half a child
though a woman in years,--for sake of her tenderness, her delicate
frame, her privilege of weakness. The two haughty young men went in
silently together into this secluded house, which never opened its doors
to any guest. It was an invalid’s home, and some one was always at hand
for its ailing mistress. By-and-by Rachel, in the exhaustion of great
excitement, fell asleep in a little quiet room looking over that moonlit
park of Winterbourne. Louis, who was in no mood for sleep, watched
below, full of eager and unquiet thoughts. They had left Winterbourne
Hall suddenly; the Rector asked no further questions, expressed no
wonder, and left the young man who had repelled him once, with a lofty
and dignified hospitality, to his meditations or repose.



CHAPTER III.

CHARLIE’S PREPARATIONS.


Charlie Atheling was not at all of an imaginative or fanciful turn of
mind. His slumbers were not disturbed by castle-building--he wasted none
of his available time in making fancy sketches of the people, or the
circumstances, among which he was likely to be thrown. He was not
without the power of comprehending at a glance the various features of
his mission; but by much the most remarkable point of Charlie’s
character was his capacity for doing his immediate business, whatever
that might be, with undivided attention, and with his full powers. On
this early September morning he neither occupied himself with
anticipations of his interview with Miss Anastasia, nor his hurried
journey. He did not suffer his mind to stray to difficult questions of
evidence, nor wander off into speculations concerning what he might have
to do when he reached the real scene of his investigation. What he had
to do at the moment he did like a man, bending upon his serious
business all the faculties of his mind, and all the furrows of his brow.
He got up at six o’clock, not because he particularly liked it, but
because these early morning hours had become his habitual time for extra
work of every kind, and sat upon Hannah’s bench in the garden, close by
the kitchen door, with the early sun and the early wind playing
hide-and-seek among his elf-locks, learning his Italian grammar, as if
this was the real business for which he came into the world.

“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do”--that was Charlie’s secret of
success. He had only a grammar, a dictionary, and a little New Testament
in Italian--and he had not at this moment the slightest ambition to read
Dante in the original; but with steady energy he chased those unknown
verbs into the deep caverns of his memory--a memory which was
prodigious, and lost nothing committed to it. The three books
accompanied him when he went in to breakfast, and marched off in his
pocket to Oxford when it was time to keep his appointment with Miss
Anastasia. Meanwhile the much-delayed travelling-bag only now began to
get packed, and Mrs Atheling, silently toiling at this business, felt
convinced that Susan would mislay all the things most important for
Charlie’s comfort, and very much yearned in her heart to accompany her
son home. They were to meet him at the railway, whence he would depart
immediately, after his interview with Miss Rivers; and Charlie’s secret
commission made a considerable deal of excitement in the quiet little
house.

Miss Anastasia, who was much too eager and impetuous to be punctual, had
been waiting for some time, when her young agent made his appearance at
the office of her solicitor. After she had charged him with being too
late, and herself suffered conviction as being too early, the old lady
proceeded at once to business; they were in Mr Temple’s own room, but
they were alone.

“I have made copies of everything that seemed to throw light upon my
late father’s wanderings,” said Miss Anastasia--“not much to speak
of--see! These papers must have been carefully weeded before they came
to my hands. Here is an old guide-book marked with notes, and here a
letter dated from the place where he died. It is on the borders of
Italy--at the foot of the Alps--on the way to Milan, and not very far
from there. You will make all speed, young Atheling; I trust to your
prudence--betray nothing--do not say a word about these children until
you find some certain clue. It is more than twenty years--nearly
one-and-twenty years--since my father died; but a rich Englishman, who
married among them, was not like to be forgotten in such a village. Find
out who this Giulietta was--if you can discover the family, they might
know something. My father had an attendant, a sort of courier, who was
with us often--Jean Monte, half a Frenchman half an Italian. I have
never heard of him since that time; he might be heard of on the way, and
_he_ might know--but I cannot direct you, boy--I trust to your own
spirit, your own foresight, your own prudence. Make haste, as if it was
life and death; yet if time will avail you, take time. Now, young
Atheling, I trust you!--bring clear evidence--legal evidence--what will
stand in a court of law--and as sure as you live your fortune is made!”

Charlie did not make a single protestation in answer to this address. He
folded up carefully those fragments of paper copied out in Miss
Anastasia’s careful old-fashioned lady’s hand, and placed them in the
big old pocket-book which he carried for lack of a better.

“I don’t know much of the route,” said Charlie,--“over the Alps, I
suppose,” and for once his cheek flushed with the youthful excitement of
the travel. “I shall find out all about that immediately when I get to
town; and there is a passport to be seen after. When I am ready to
start--which will be just as soon as the thing can be done--I shall let
you know how I am to travel, and write immediately when I arrive
there;--I know what you mean me to do.”

Then Miss Anastasia gave him--(a very important part of the
business)--two ten-pound notes, which was a very large sum to Charlie,
and directed him to go to the banking-house with which she kept an
account in London, and get from them a letter of credit on a banker in
Milan, on whom he could draw, according to his occasions. “You are very
young, young Atheling,” said Miss Rivers; “many a father would hesitate
to trust his son as I trust you; but I’m a woman and an optimist, and
have my notions: you are only a boy, but I believe in you--forget how
young you are while you are about my business--plenty of time after this
for enjoying yourself--and I tell you again, if you do your duty, your
fortune is made.”

The old lady and the youth went out together, to where the little
carriage and the grey ponies stood at the solicitor’s door. Charlie, in
his present development, was not at all the man to hand a lady with a
grace to her carriage; nor was this stately gentlewoman, in her brown
pelisse, at all the person to be so escorted; but they were a remarkable
pair enough, as they stood upon the broad pavement of one of the noblest
streets of Christendom. Miss Anastasia held out her hand with a parting
command and warning, as she took her seat and the reins.--“Young
Atheling, remember! it is life and death!”

She was less cautious at that moment than she had been during all their
interview. The words full upon another ear than his to whom they were
addressed. Lord Winterbourne was making his way at the moment with some
newly-arrived guests of his, and under the conduct of a learned pundit
from one of the colleges, along this same picturesque High Street; and,
in the midst of exclamations of rapture and of interest, his suspicious
and alarmed eye caught the familiar equipage and well-known figure of
Miss Anastasia. Her face was turned in the opposite direction,--she did
not see him,--but a single step brought him near enough to hear her
words. “Young Atheling!” Lord Winterbourne had not forgotten his former
connection with the name, but the remembrance had long lain dormant in a
breast which was used to potent excitements. William Atheling, though he
once saved a reckless young criminal, could do no harm with his remote
unbelievable story to a peer of the realm,--a man who had sat in the
councils of the State. Lord Winterbourne had begun his suit for the Old
Wood Lodge with the most contemptuous indifference to all that could be
said of him by any one of this family; yet somehow it struck him
strangely to hear so sudden a naming of this name. “Young Atheling!” He
could not help looking at the youth,--meeting the stormy gleam in the
eyes of Charlie, whose sudden enmity sprung up anew in an instant. Lord
Winterbourne was sufficiently disturbed already by the departure of
Louis, and with the quick observation of alarm remarked everything. He
could understand no natural connection whatever between this lad and
Miss Anastasia. His startled imagination suggested instantly that it
bore some reference to Louis, and what interpretation was it possible to
give to so strange an adjuration--“It is life and death!”



CHAPTER IV.

GOING AWAY.


“Charlie, my dear boy,” said Mrs Atheling, with a slight tremble in her
voice, “I suppose it may be months before we see you again.”

“I can’t tell, mother; but it will not be a day longer than I can help,”
said Charlie, who had the grace to be serious at the moment of parting.
“There’s only one thing, you know,--I must do my business before I come
home.”

“And take care of yourself,” said Mrs Atheling; “take great care when
you are going over those mountains, and among those people where bandits
are--you know what stories we have read about such robbers,
Charlie,--and remember, though I should be very glad to hear good news
about Louis, Louis is not my own very boy, like you.”

“Hush, mother--no need for naming him,” said Charlie; “he is of more
moment than me, however, this time--for that’s my business. Never
fear--thieves may be fools there as well as at home, but they’re none
such fools as to meddle with me. Now, mother, promise me, the last
thing,--Agnes, do you hear?--don’t tell Marian a word, nor _him_. I’ll
tell old Foggo the whole story, and Foggo will do what he can for him
when he gets to London; but don’t you go and delude him, telling him of
this, for it would just be as good as ruin if I don’t succeed; and it
all may come to nothing, as like as not. I say, Agnes, do you hear?”

“Yes, I hear, very well; but I am not given to telling secrets,” said
Agnes, with a little dignity.

Charlie only laughed as he arranged himself in the corner of the
second-class carriage, and drew forth his grammar; there was no time for
anything more, save entreaties that he would write, and take care of
himself; and the train flashed away, leaving them somewhat dull and
blank in the reaction of past excitement, looking at each other, and
half reluctant to turn their faces homeward. Their minds hurried forth,
faster than either steam or electricity, to the end of Charlie’s
journey. They went back with very slow steps and very abstracted minds.
What a new world of change and sudden revolution might open upon them at
Charlie’s return!

Mrs Atheling had some business in the town, and the mother and daughter
pursued their way silently to that same noble High Street where Charlie
had seen Lord Winterbourne, and where Lord Winterbourne and his party
were still to be caught sight of, appearing and reappearing by glimpses
as they “did” the halls and colleges. While her mother managed some
needful business in a shop, Agnes stood rather dreamily looking down the
stately street; its strange old-world mixture of the present and the
past; its union of all kinds of buildings; the trim classic pillars and
toy cupolas of the eighteenth century--the grim crumbling front of elder
days--the gleams of green grass and waving trees through college
gateways--the black-gowned figures interrupting the sunshine--the
beautiful spire striking up into it as into its natural element,--a
noble hyacinthine stem of immortal flowers. Agnes did not know much
about artistic effect, nor anything about orders of architecture, but
the scene seized upon her imagination, as was its natural right. Her
thoughts were astray among hopes and chances far enough out of the
common way--but any dream of romance could make itself real in an
atmosphere like this.

She was pale,--she was somewhat of an abstracted and musing aspect. When
one took into consideration her misfortune of authorship, she was in
quite a sentimental _pose_ and attitude--so thought her American
acquaintance, who had managed to secure an invitation to the Hall, and
was one of Lord Winterbourne’s party. But Mr Endicott had “done” all the
colleges before, and he could afford to let his attention be distracted
by the appearance of the literary sister of the lady of his love.

“I am not surprised at your abstraction,” said Mr Endicott. “In this,
indeed, I do not hesitate to confess, my country is not equal to your
Island. What an effect of sunshine! what a breadth of shade! I cannot
profess to have any preference, in respect to Art, for the past,
picturesque though it be--a poet of these days, Miss Atheling, has not
to deal with facts, but feelings; but I have no doubt, before I
interrupted you, the whole panorama of History glided before your
meditative eye.”

“No, indeed; I was thinking more of the future than of the past,” said
Agnes hurriedly.

“The future of this nation is obscure and mysterious,” said Mr Endicott,
gathering his eyebrows solemnly. “Some man must arise to lead you--to
glory--or to perdition! I see nothing but chaos and darkness; but why
should I prophesy? A past generation had leisure to watch the signs of
the times; but for us ‘Art is long and time is fleeting,’ and happy is
the man who can snatch one burning experience from the brilliant mirage
of life.”

Agnes, a little puzzled by this mixture of images, did not attempt any
answer. Mr Endicott went on.

“I had begun to observe, with a great deal of interest, two remarkable
young minds placed in a singular position. They were not to be met, of
course, at the table of Lord Winterbourne,” said the American with
dignity; “but in my walks about the park I sometimes encountered them,
and always endeavoured to draw them into conversation. So remarkable, in
fact, did they seem to me, that they found a place in my Letters from
England; studies of character entirely new to my consciousness. I
believe, Miss Atheling, I had once the pleasure of seeing them in your
company. They stand--um--unfortunately in a--a--an equivocal
relationship to my noble host.”

“Ah! what of them?” cried Agnes quickly, and with a crimsoned cheek. She
felt already how difficult it was to hear them spoken of, and not
proclaim at once her superior knowledge.

“A singular event, I understand, happened last night,” continued Mr
Endicott. “Viscount Winterbourne, on his own lawn, was attacked and
insulted by the young man, who afterwards left the house under very
remarkable circumstances. My noble friend, who is an admirable example
of an old English nobleman, was at one time in actual danger, and I
believe has been advised to put this fiery youth--”

“Do you mean Louis?” cried Agnes, interrupting him anxiously.
“Louis!--do you mean that he has left the Hall?”

“I am greatly interested, I assure you, in tracing out this romance of
real life,” said Mr Endicott. “He left the Hall, I understand, last
evening--and my noble friend is advised to take measures for his
apprehension. I look upon the whole history with the utmost interest.
How interesting to trace the motives of this young mind, perhaps the
strife of passions--gratitude mixing with a sense of injury! If he is
secured, I shall certainly visit him: I know no nobler subject for a
drama of passion; and dramas of the passions are what we want to ennoble
this modern time.”

“Mother!” cried Agnes, “mother, come; we have no time to lose--Mr
Endicott has told me--Mamma, leave these things to another time. Marian
is alone; there is no one to support her. Oh, mother, mother! make
haste! We must go home!”

She scarcely gave a glance to Mr Endicott as he stood somewhat
surprised, making a study of the young author’s excitable temperament
for his next “letter from England”--but hastened her mother homeward,
explaining, as she went, though not very coherently, that Louis had
attacked Lord Winterbourne--that he had left the Hall--that he had done
something for which he might be apprehended. The terror of
disgrace--that most dread of all fears to people in their
class--overwhelmed both mother and daughter, as they hastened, at a very
unusual pace, along the road, terrified to meet himself in custody, or
some one coming to tell them of his crime. And Marian, their poor
beautiful flower, on whom this storm would fall so heavily--Marian was
alone!



CHAPTER V.

THE OLD WOOD HOUSE.


Louis passed the night in the Rector’s library. He had no inclination
for sleep; indeed, he was almost scornful of the idea that he _could_
sleep under his new and strange circumstances; and it was not until he
roused himself, with a start, to see that the pale sheen of the
moonlight had been succeeded by the rosy dawn of morning, that he knew
of the sudden, deep slumber, that had fallen upon him. It was morning,
but it was still a long time till day; except the birds among the trees
there was nothing astir, not even the earliest labourer, and he could
not hear a sound in the house. All the events of the previous night
returned upon Louis’s mind with all the revived freshness of a sudden
awaking. A great change had passed upon him in a few hours. He started
now at once out of the indefinite musings, the flush of vain ambition,
the bitter brooding over wrong which had been familiar to his mind. He
began to think with the earnest precision of a man who has attained to
a purpose. Formerly it had been hard enough for his proud undisciplined
spirit, prescient of something greater, to resolve upon a plan of
tedious labour for daily bread, or to be content with such a fortune as
had fallen to such a man as Mr Atheling. Even with love to bear him out,
and his beautiful Marian to inspire him, it was hard, out of all the
proud possibilities of youth, to plunge into such a lot as this. Now he
considered it warily, with the full awakened consciousness of a man. Up
to this time his bitter dislike and opposition to Lord Winterbourne had
been carried on by fits and starts, as youths do contend with older
people under whose sway they have been all their life. He took no reason
with him when he decided that he was not the son of the man who opposed
him. He never entered into the question how he came to the Hall, or what
was the motive of its master. He had contented himself with a mere
unreasoning conviction that Lord Winterbourne was not his father; but
only one word was wanted to awaken the slumbering mind of the youth, and
that word had been spoken last night. Now a clear and evident purpose
became visible before him. What was Lord Winterbourne’s reason for
keeping him all his life under so killing a bondage? What child was
there in the world whom it was Lord Winterbourne’s interest to call
illegitimate and keep in obscurity? His heart swelled--the colour rose
in his face. He did not see how hopeless was the search--how entirely
without grounds, without information, he was. He did not perceive how
vain, to every reasonable individual, would seem the fabric he had built
upon a mere conviction of his own. In his own eager perception
everything was possible to that courage, and perseverance indomitable,
which he felt to be in him; and, for the first time in his life, Louis
came down from the unreasonable and bitter pride which had shut his
heart against all overtures of friendship. Friendship--help--advice--the
aid of those who knew the world better than he did--these were things to
be sought for, and solicited now. He sat in the Rector’s chair, leaning
upon the Rector’s writing-table; it was not without a struggle that he
overcame his old repugnance, his former haughtiness. It was not without
a pang that he remembered the obligation under which this stranger had
laid him. It was his first effort in self-control, and it was not an
easy one; he resolved at last to ask counsel from the Rector, and lay
fully before him the strange circumstances in which he stood.

The Rector was a man of capricious hours, and uncertain likings. He was
sometimes abroad as early as the earliest ploughman; to-day it was late
in the forenoon before he made his appearance. Breakfast had been
brought to Louis, by himself, in the library; in this house they were
used to solitary meals at all hours--and he had already asked several
times for the Rector, when Mr Rivers at last entered the room, and
saluted him with stately courtesy. “My sister, I find, has detained your
sister,” said the Rector. “I hope you have not been anxious--they tell
me the young lady will join us presently.”

Then there was a pause; and then Mr Rivers began an extremely polite and
edifying conversation, which must have reminded any spectator of the
courtly amity of a couple of Don Quixotes preparing for the duello. The
Rector himself conducted it with the most solemn gravity imaginable.
This Lionel Rivers, dissatisfied and self-devouring, was not a true man.
Supposing himself to be under a melancholy necessity of disbelieving on
pain of conscience, he yet submitted to an innumerable amount of
practical shams, with which his conscience took no concern. In spite of
his great talents, and of a character full of natural nobleness, when
you came to its foundations, a false tone, an artificial strain of
conversation, an unreal and insincere expression, were unhappily
familiar enough to the dissatisfied clergyman, who vainly tried to
anchor himself upon the authority of the Church. Louis, on the contrary,
knew nothing of talk which was a mere veil and concealment of meaning;
he could not use vain words when his heart burned within him; he had no
patience for those conversations which were merely intended to occupy
time, and which meant and led to nothing. Yet it was very difficult for
him, young, proud, and inexperienced as he was, without any invitation
or assistance from his companion, to enter upon his explanation. He
changed colour, he became uneasy, he scarcely answered the indifferent
remarks addressed to him. At length, seeing nothing better for it, he
plunged suddenly and without comment into his own tale.

“We have left Winterbourne Hall,” said Louis, reddening to his temples
as he spoke. “I have long been aware how unsuitable a home it was for
me. I am going to London immediately. I cannot thank you enough for your
hospitality to my sister, and to myself, last night.”

“That is nothing,” said the Rector, with a motion of his hand. “Some
time since I had the pleasure of saying to your friends in the Lodge
that it would gratify me to be able to serve you. I do not desire to pry
into your plans; but if I can help you in town, let me know without
hesitation.”

“So far from prying,” said Louis, eagerly, interrupting him, “I desire
nothing more than to explain them. All my life,” and once again the red
blood rushed to the young man’s face,--“all my life I have occupied the
most humiliating of positions--you know it. I am not a meek man by
nature; what excuse I have had if a bitter pride has sometimes taken
possession of me, you know----”

The Rector bowed gravely, but did not speak. Louis continued in haste,
and with growing agitation, “I am not the son of Lord Winterbourne--I am
not a disgraced offshoot of your family--I can speak to you without
feeling shame and abasement in the very sound of your name. This has
been my conviction since ever I was capable of knowing anything--but
Heaven knows how subtly the snare was woven--it seemed impossible, until
now when we have done it, to disengage our feet.”

“Have you made any discovery, then? What has happened?” said the Rector,
roused into an eager curiosity. Here, at the very outset, lay Louis’s
difficulty--and he had never perceived it before.

“No; I have made no discovery,” he said, with a momentary
disconcertment. “I have only left the Hall--I have only told Lord
Winterbourne what he knows well, and I have known long, that I am not
his son.”

“Exactly--but how did you discover that?” said the Rector.

“I have discovered nothing--but I am as sure of it as that I breathe,”
answered Louis.

The Rector looked at him--looked at a portrait which hung directly above
Louis’s head upon the wall, smiled, and shook his head. “It is quite
natural,” he said; “I can sympathise with any effort you make to gain a
more honourable position, and to disown Lord Winterbourne--but it is
vain, where there are pictures of the Riverses, to deny your connection
with my family. George Rivers himself, my lord’s heir, the future head
of the family, has not a tithe as much of the looks and bearing of the
blood as you.”

Louis could not find a word to say in face of such an argument--he
looked eagerly yet blankly into the face of the Rector--felt all his
pulses throbbing with fiery impatience of the doubt thus cast upon
him--yet knew nothing to advance against so subtle and unexpected a
charge of kindred, and could only repeat, in a passionate undertone, “I
am not Lord Winterbourne’s son.”

“I do not know,” said the Rector, “I have no information which is not
common to all the neighbourhood--yet I beg you to guard against
delusion. Lord Winterbourne brought you here while you were an
infant--since then you have remained at the Hall--he has owned you, I
suppose, as much as a man ever owns an illegitimate child. Pardon me, I
am obliged to use the common words. Lord Winterbourne is not a man of
extended benevolence, neither is he one to take upon himself the
responsibility or blame of another. If you are not his son, why did he
bring you here?”

Louis raised his face from his hands which had covered it--he was very
pale, haggard, almost ghastly. “If you can tell me of any youth--of any
child--of any man’s son, whom it was his interest to disgrace and remove
out of the way,” said the young man with his parched lips, “I will tell
you why I am here.”

The Rector could not quite restrain a start of emotion--not for what the
youth said, for that was madness to the man of the world--but for the
extreme passion, almost despair, in his face. He thought it best to
soothe rather than to excite him.

“I know nothing more than all the world knows,” said Mr Rivers; “but,
though I warn you against delusions, I will not say you are wrong when
you are so firmly persuaded that you are right. What do you mean to do
in London--can I help you there?”

Louis felt with no small pang this giving up of the argument--as if it
were useless to discuss anything so visionary--but he roused himself to
answer the question: “The first thing I have to do,” he said quickly,
“is to maintain my sister and myself.”

The Rector bowed again, very solemnly and gravely--perhaps not without a
passing thought that the same duty imposed chains more galling than iron
upon himself.

“That done, I will pursue my inquiries as I can,” said Louis; “you think
them vain--but time will prove that. I thank you now, for my sister’s
sake, for receiving us--and now we must go on our way.”

“Not yet,” said the Rector. “You are without means, of course--what, do
you think it a disgrace, that you blush for it?--or would you have me
suppose that you had taken money from Lord Winterbourne, while you deny
that you are his son? For this once suppose me your friend; I will
supply you with what you are certain to need; and you can repay me--oh,
with double interest if you please!--only do not go to London
unprovided--for that is the maddest method of anticipating a heartbreak;
your sister is young, almost a child, tender and delicate--let it be,
for her sake.”

“Thank you; I will take it as you give it,” said Louis. “I am not so
ungenerous as you suppose.”

There was a certain likeness between them, different as they were--there
was a likeness in both to these family portraits on the walls. Before
such silent witnesses Louis’s passionate disclaimer, sincere though it
was, was unbelievable. For no one could believe that he was not an
offshoot of the house of Rivers, who looked from his face and the
Rector’s to those calm ancient faces on the walls.



CHAPTER VI.

AN ADVENTURER.


“They have left the Hall.”

That was all Marian said when she came to the door to meet her mother
and sister, who paused in the porch, overcome with fatigue, haste, and
anxiety. Mrs Atheling was obliged to pause and sit down, not caring
immediately to see the young culprit who was within.

“And what has happened, Marian,--what has happened? My poor child, did
he tell you?” asked Mrs Atheling.

“Nothing has happened, mamma,” said Marian, with a little petulant
haste; “only Louis has quarrelled with Lord Winterbourne; but, indeed, I
wish you would speak to him. Oh, Agnes, go and talk to Louis; he says he
will go to London to-day.”

“And so he should; there is not a moment to be lost,” said Agnes,--“I
will go and tell him; we can walk in with him to Oxford, and see him
safely away. Tell Hannah to make haste, Marian,--he must not waste an
hour.”

“What does she mean,--what is the matter? Oh, what have you heard,
mamma?” said Marian, growing very pale.

“Hush, dear; I daresay it was not him,--it was Mr Endicott, who is sure
to hate him, poor boy; he said Lord Winterbourne would put him in
prison, Marian. Oh,” said Mrs Atheling, getting up hurriedly, “he ought
to go at once to Papa.”

But they found Louis, whom they all surrounded immediately with terror,
sympathy, and encouragement, entirely unappalled by the threatened
vengeance of Lord Winterbourne.

“There is nothing to charge me with; he can bring no accusation against
me; if he did ever say it, it must have been a mere piece of bravado,”
said Louis; “but it is better I should go at once without losing an
hour, as Agnes says. Will you let Rachel stay? and you, who are the
kindest mother in the world, when will you have compassion on us and
come home?”

“Indeed, I wish we were going now,” said Mrs Atheling; and she said it
with genuine feeling, and a sigh of anxiety. “You must tell Papa we will
not stay very long; but I suppose we must see about this lawsuit first;
and I am sure I cannot tell who is to manage it now, since Charlie is
gone.”

“Shall you go to Papa at once, Louis?” asked Marian, who was very
anxious to conceal from every one the tears in her downcast eyes.

“Surely, at once,” said Louis. “We are in different circumstances now; I
have a great deal to ask any one who knows the family of Rivers. Do you
know it never before occurred to me that Lord Winterbourne must have had
some powerful inducement for keeping me here, knowing as well as I do
that I am not his son.”

Mrs Atheling and Agnes turned a sudden guilty look upon each other; but
neither had betrayed the secret;--what did he mean?

“Unless it was his interest in some way--unless it was for his evident
advantage to disgrace and disable me,” said Louis, groping in the dark,
when they knew one possible solution of the mystery so well, “I am
convinced he never would have kept me as he has done at the Hall.”

He spoke in a tone different to that which he had used to the Rector,
and very naturally different--for Louis here was triumphant in the faith
of his audience, and did not hesitate to say all he felt, nor fear too
close an investigation into the grounds of his belief. He spoke
fervently; and Marian and Rachel looked at him with the faith of
enthusiasm, and Mrs Atheling and Agnes with wonder, agitation, and
embarrassment. But, as he went on, it became too much for the
self-control of the good mother. She hurried out on pretence of
superintending Hannah, and was very soon followed by Agnes. “I durst not
stay, I should have told him,” said Mrs Atheling, in a hurried whisper.
“Who could put so much into his head, Agnes? who could lead him so near
the truth?--only God! My dear child, I believe in it all now.”

Agnes had believed in it all from the first moment of hearing it, but so
singular a strain was upon the minds of both mother and daughter,
knowing this extraordinary secret which the others did not know, that it
was not wonderful they should give a weight much beyond their desert to
the queries of Louis. Yet, indeed, Louis’s queries took a wonderfully
correct direction, and came very near the truth.

It was a day of extreme agitation to them all, and not until Louis, who
had no travelling-bag to pack, had been accompanied once more to the
railway, and seen safely away, with many a lingering farewell, was any
one able to listen to, or understand, Rachel’s version of the events of
last night. When he was quite gone--when it was no longer possible to
wave a hand to him in the distance, or even to see the flying white
plume of the miraculous horseman who bounded along with all that line of
carriages, the three girls came home together through the quiet evening
road--the disenchanted road, weary and unlovely, which Marian marvelled
much any one could prefer to Bellevue. They walked very close together,
with Marian in the midst, comforting her in an implied, sympathetic,
girlish fashion--for Rachel, though Louis had belonged to her so very
much longer, and was her sole authority, law-giver, and hero,
instinctively kept her own feelings out of sight, and took care of
Marian. These girls were very loyal to their own visionary ideas of the
mysterious magician who had not come to either of them yet, but whose
coming both anticipated some time, with awe and with smiles.

And then Rachel told them how it had fared with her on the previous
night. Rachel had very little to say about the Rector; she had given him
up conscientiously to Agnes, and with a distant and reverent admiration
of his loftiness, contemplated him afar off, too great a person for her
friendship. “But in the morning the maid came and took me to Miss
Rivers--did you ever see Miss Rivers?--she is very pale--and pretty,
though she is old, and a very, very great invalid,” said Rachel. “Some
one has to sit up with her every night, and she has so many
troubles--headaches, and pains in her side, and coughs, and every sort
of thing! She told me all about them as she lay on the sofa in her
pretty white dressing-gown, and in _such_ a soft voice as if she was
quite used to them, and did not mind. Do you think you could be a nurse
to any one who was ill, Agnes?”

“She _has_ been a nurse to all of us when we were ill,” said Marian,
rousing herself for the effort, and immediately subsiding into the
pensiveness which the sad little beauty would not suffer herself to
break, even though she began in secret to be considerably interested
about the interior of the mysterious Wood House, and the invisible Miss
Rivers. Marian thought Louis would not be pleased if he could imagine
her thinking of any one but him, so soon after he had gone away.

“But I don’t mean at home--I mean a stranger,” said Rachel, “one whom
you did not _love_. I think it must be rather hard sometimes; but do you
know I was very nearly offering to be nurse to Miss Rivers, she spoke so
kindly to me? And then Louis will have to work,” continued the faithful
little sister, with tears in her eyes; “you must tell me what I can do,
Agnes, not to be a burden upon Louis. Oh, do you think any one would
give me money for singing now?”



CHAPTER VII.

LORD WINTERBOURNE.


Lord Winterbourne, all his life, had been a man of guile; he was so long
experienced in it, that dissimulation became easy enough to him, when he
was not startled or thrown suddenly off his guard. Already every one
around him supposed he had quite forgiven and forgotten the wild
escapade of Louis. He had no confidant whatever, not even a valet or a
steward, and his most intimate associate knew nothing of his dark and
secret counsels. When any one mentioned the ungovernable youth who had
fled from the Hall, Lord Winterbourne said, “Pooh, pooh--he will soon
discover his mistake,” and smiled his pale and sinister smile. Such a
face as his could not well look benign; but people were accustomed to
his face, and thought it his misfortune--and everybody set him down as,
in this instance at least, of a very forgiving and indulgent spirit,
willing that the lad should find out his weakness by experiment, but
not at all disposed to inflict any punishment upon his unruly son.

The fact was, however, that Lord Winterbourne was considerably excited
and uneasy. He spent hours in a little private library among his
papers--carefully went over them, collating and arranging again and
again--destroyed some, and filled the private drawers of his cabinet
with others. He sent orders to his agent to prosecute with all the
energy possible his suit against the Athelings. He had his letters
brought to him in his own room, where he was alone, and looked over them
with eager haste and something like apprehension. Servants, always
sufficiently quick-witted under such circumstances, concluded that my
lord expected something, and the expectation descended accordingly
through all the grades of the great house; but this did not by any means
diminish the number of his guests, or the splendour of his hospitality.
New arrivals came constantly to the Hall--and very great people indeed,
on their way to Scotland and the moors, looked in upon the disappointed
statesman by way of solace. He had made an unspeakable failure in his
attempt at statesmanship; but still he had a certain amount of
influence, and merited a certain degree of consideration. The quiet
country brightened under the shower of noble sportsmen and fair ladies.
All Banburyshire crowded to pay its homage. Mrs Edgerley brought her
own private menagerie, the newest lion who could be heard of; and
herself fell into the wildest fever of architecturalism--fitted up an
oratory under the directions of a Fellow of Merton--set up an
Ecclesiological Society in the darkest of her drawing-rooms--made
drawings of “severe saints,” and purchased casts of the finest
“examples”--began to embroider an altar-cloth from the designs of one of
the most renowned connoisseurs in the ecclesiological city, and talked
of nothing but Early English, and Middle Pointed. Politics, literature,
and the fine arts, sport, flirtation, and festivity, kept in unusual
excitement the whole spectator county of Banbury, and the busy occupants
of Winterbourne Hall.

In the midst of all this, the Lord of Winterbourne spent solitary hours
in his library among his papers, took solitary rides towards Abingford,
moodily courted a meeting with Miss Anastasia, even addressed her when
they met, and did all that one unassisted man could do to gain
information of her proceedings. He was in a state of restless
expectation, not easy to account for. He knew that Louis was in London,
but not who had given him the means to go there; and he could find no
pretence for bringing back the youth, or asserting authority over him.
He waited in well-concealed but frightfully-felt excitement for
_something_, watching with a stealthy but perpetual observation the
humble house of the Athelings and the Priory at Abingford. He did not
say to himself what it was he apprehended, nor indeed that he
apprehended anything; but with that strange certainty which criminals
always seem to retain, that fate must come some time, waited in the
midst of his gay, busy, frivolous guests, sharing all the occupations
round him, like a man in a dream,--waited as the world waits in a pause
of deadly silence for the thunderclap. It would rouse him when it came.

It came, but not as he looked for it. Oh blind, vain, guilty soul, with
but one honest thought among all its crafts and falsehoods! It came not
like the rousing tumult of the thunder, but like an avalanche from the
hills; he fell under it with a groan of mortal agony; there was nothing
in heaven or earth to defend him from the misery of this sudden blow.
All his schemes, all his endeavours, what were they good for now?



CHAPTER VIII.

THE NEW HEIR.


They had heard from Charlie, who had already set out upon his journey;
they had heard from Louis, whom Mr Foggo desired to take into his office
in Charlie’s place in the mean time; they had heard again and again from
Miss Anastasia’s solicitor, touching their threatened property; and to
this whole family of women everything around seemed going on with a
singular speed and bustle, while they, unwillingly detained among the
waning September trees, were, by themselves, so lonely and so still. The
only one among them who was not eager to go home was Agnes. Bellevue and
Islington, though they were kindly enough in their way, were not meet
nurses for a poetic child;--this time of mountainous clouds, of wistful
winds, of falling leaves, was like a new life to Agnes. She came out to
stand in the edge of the wood alone, to do nothing but listen to the
sweep of the wild minstrel in those thinning trees, or look upon the big
masses of cloud breaking up into vast shapes of windy gloom over the
spires of the city and the mazes of the river. The great space before
and around--the great amphitheatre at her feet--the breeze that came in
her face fresh and chill, and touched with rain--the miracles of tiny
moss and herbage lying low beneath those fallen leaves--the pale autumn
sky, so dark and stormy--the autumn winds, which wailed o’ nights--the
picturesque and many-featured change which stole over
everything--carried a new and strange delight to the mind of Agnes. She
alone cared to wander by herself through the wood, with its crushed
ferns, its piled faggots of firewood, its yellow leaves, which every
breeze stripped down. She was busy with the new book, too, which was
very like to be wanted before it came; for all these expenses, and the
license which their supposed wealth had given them, had already very
much reduced the little store of five-pound notes, kept for safety in
Papa’s desk.

One afternoon during this time of suspense and uncertainty, the Rector
repeated his call at the Lodge. The Rector had never forgiven Agnes that
unfortunate revelation of her authorship; yet he had looked to her
notwithstanding through those strange sermons of his, with a
constantly-increasing appeal to her attention. She was almost disposed
to fancy sometimes that he made special fiery defences of himself and
his sentiments, which seemed addressed to her only; and Agnes fled from
the idea with distress and embarrassment, thinking it a vanity of her
own. On this day, however, the Rector was a different man--the cloud was
off his brow--the apparent restraint, uneasy and galling, under which he
had seemed to hold himself, was removed; a flash of aroused spirit was
in his eye--his very step was eager, and sounded with a bolder ring upon
the gravel of the garden path--there was no longer the parochial bow,
the clergymanly address, or the restless consciousness of something
unreal in both, which once characterised him; he entered among them
almost abruptly, and did not say a word of his parishioners, but
instead, asked for Louis--told Rachel his sister wished to see her--and,
glancing with unconcealed dislike at poor Agnes’s blotting-book, wished
to know if Miss Atheling was writing now.

“Mr Rivers does not think it right, mamma,” said Agnes. She blushed a
little under her consciousness of his look of displeasure, but smiled
also with a kind of challenge as she met his eye.

“No,” said the young clergyman abruptly; “I admire, above all things,
understanding and intelligence. I can suppose no appreciation so quick
and entire as a woman’s; but she fails of her natural standing to me,
when I come to hear of her productions, and am constituted a
critic--that is a false relationship between a woman and a man.”

And Mr Rivers looked at Agnes with an answering flash of pique and
offence, which was as much as to say, “I am very much annoyed; I had
thought of very different relationships; and it is all owing to you.”

“Many very good critics,” said Mrs Atheling, piqued in her turn--“a
great many people, I assure you, who know about such things, have been
very much pleased with Agnes’s book.”

The Rector made no answer--did not even make a pause--but as if all this
was merely irrelevant and an interruption to his real business, said
rapidly, yet with some solemnity, and without a word of preface, “Lord
Winterbourne’s son is dead.”

“Who?” said Agnes, whom, unconsciously, he was addressing--and they all
turned to him with a little anxiety. Rachel became very pale, and even
Marian, who was not thinking at all of what Mr Rivers said, drew a
little nearer the table, and looked up at him wistfully, with her
beautiful eyes.

“Lord Winterbourne’s son, George Rivers, the heir of the family--he who
has been abroad so long; a young man, I hear, whom every one esteemed,”
said the Rector, bending down his head, as if he exacted from himself a
certain sadness, and did indeed endeavour to see how sad it was--“he is
dead.”

Mrs Atheling rose, greatly moved. “Oh, Mr Rivers!--did you say his son?
his only son? a young man? Oh, I pray God have pity upon him! It will
kill him;--it will be more than he can bear!”

The Rector looked up at the grief in the good mother’s face, with a look
and gesture of surprise. “I never heard any one give Lord Winterbourne
credit for so much feeling,” he said, looking at her with some
suspicion; “and surely he has not shown much of it to you.”

“Oh, feeling! don’t speak of feeling!” cried Mrs Atheling. “It is not
that I am thinking of. You know a great many things, Mr Rivers, but you
never lost a child.”

“No,” he said; and then, after a pause, he added, in a lower tone, “in
the whole matter, certainly, I never before thought of Lord
Winterbourne.”

And there was nobody nigh to point out to him what a world beyond and
above his philosophy was this simple woman’s burst of nature. Yet in his
own mind he caught a moment’s glimpse of it; for the instant he was
abashed, and bent his lofty head with involuntary self-humiliation; but
looking up, saw his own thought still clearer in the eye of Agnes, and
turned defiant upon her, as if it had been a spoken reproof.

“Well!” he said, turning to her, “was I to blame for thinking little of
the possibility of grief in such a man?”

“I did not say so,” said Agnes, simply; but she looked awed and grave,
as the others did. They had no personal interest at all in the matter;
they thought in an instant of the vacant places in their own family, and
stood silent and sorrowful, looking at the great calamity which made
another house desolate. They never thought of Lord Winterbourne, who was
their enemy; they only thought of a father who had lost his son.

And Rachel, who remembered George Rivers, and thought in the tenderness
of the moment that he had been rather kind to her, wept a few tears
silently.

All these things disconcerted the Rector. He was impatient of excess of
sympathy--ebullitions of feeling; he was conscious of a restrained, yet
intense spring of new hope and vigour in his own life. He had
endeavoured conscientiously to regret his cousin; but it was impossible
to banish from his own mind the thought that he was free--that a new
world opened to his ambition--that he was the heir!

And he had come, unaware of his own motive, to share this overpowering
and triumphant thought with Agnes Atheling, a girl who was no mate for
him, as inferior in family fortune and breeding as it was possible to
imagine--and now stood abashed and reproved to see that all his simple
auditors thought at once, not of him and his altered position, but of
those grand and primitive realities--Death and Grief. He went away
hastily and with impatience, displeased with them and with himself--went
away on a rapid walk for miles out of his way, striding along the quiet
country roads as if for a race; and a race it was, with his own
thoughts, which still were fastest, and not to be overtaken. He knew the
truths of philosophy, the limited lines and parallels of human logic and
reason; but he had not been trained among the great original truths of
nature; he knew only what was true to the mind,--not what was true to
the heart.



CHAPTER IX.

A VISIT.


“Come down, Agnes, make haste; mamma wants you--and Miss Anastasia’s
carriage is just driving up to the door.”

So said Marian, coming languidly into their sleeping-room, and quite
indifferent to Miss Anastasia. She was rather glad indeed to hasten
Agnes away, to make an excuse for herself, and gain a half-hour of
solitude to read over again Louis’s letter. It was worth while to get
letters like those of Louis. Marian sat down on one of Miss Bridget’s
old-fashioned chairs, and leaned her beautiful head against its high
unyielding angular back. The cover on it was of an ancient blue-striped
tabinet, faded, yet still retaining some of its colour, which answered
very well to relieve those beautiful half-curled, half-braided locks of
Marian’s hair, which had such a tendency to escape from all kinds of
bondage. She lay there half reclining upon this stiff uneasy piece of
furniture, not at all disturbed by its angularity, her pretty cheek
flushing, her pretty lips trembling into half-conscious smiles, reading
over again Louis’s letter, which she held after an embracing fashion in
both her hands.

And Rachel, with great diffidence, yet by the Rector’s invitation, had
gone to visit Miss Rivers at the Old Wood House. When the other Miss
Rivers, chief of the name, entered the little parlour of the Lodge, she
found the mother and daughter, who were both acquainted with her secret,
awaiting her very anxiously. She came in with a grave face and
deliberate step. She had not changed her dress in any particular, except
the colour of her bonnet, which was black, and had some woeful
decorations of crape; but it was evident that she too had been greatly
moved and impressed by her young cousin’s death.

“He is dead,” she said, almost as abruptly as the Rector, when she had
taken her usual place. “Yes, poor young George Rivers, who was the heir
of the house--it was very well for him that he should die.”

“Oh, Miss Rivers!” said Mrs Atheling, “I am very, very sorry for poor
Lord Winterbourne.”

“Are you?” said Miss Anastasia;--“perhaps you are right,--he will feel
this, I dare say, as much as he can feel anything--but _I_ was sorry for
the boy. Young people think it hard to die--fools!--they don’t know the
blessing that lies in it. Living long enough to come to the crown of
youth, and dying in its blossom--that’s a lot fit for an angel. Agnes
Atheling, never look through your tears at me.”

But Agnes could not help looking at the old lady wistfully, with her
young inquiring eyes.

“What does the Rector do here?--they tell me he comes often,” said Miss
Rivers. “Do you know that now, so far as people understand, _he_ comes
to be heir of Winterbourne?”

“He came to tell us yesterday of the poor young gentleman’s death,” said
Mrs Atheling, “and I thought he seemed a little excited. Agnes, I am
sure you observed it as well as I.”

“No, mamma,” said Agnes, turning away hastily. She went to get some
work, that no one might observe her own looks, with a sudden nervous
tremor and impatience upon her. The Rector had been very kind to Louis,
had done a brother’s part to him--far more than any one else in the
world had ever done to this friendless youth--yet Louis’s friends were
labouring with all their might, working in darkness like evil-doers, to
undermine the supposed right of Lionel--that right which made his breast
expand and his brow clear, and freed him from an uncongenial fate. Agnes
sat down trembling, with a sudden nervous access of vexation,
disappointment, annoyance, which she could not explain. She had been
accustomed for a long time now to follow him with interest and sympathy,
and to read his thoughts in those wild public self-revelations of his,
which no one penetrated but herself; but she felt actually guilty, a
plotter, and concerned against him now.

“I am sorry for Lionel,” said Miss Rivers, who had not lost a single
fluctuation of colour on Agnes’s cheek, nor tremble of emotion in her
hurried hands--“but it would have been more grievous for poor George had
he lived. There will be only disappointment--not disgrace--for any other
heir.”

She paused awhile, still watching Agnes, who bent over her work, greatly
disposed to cry, and in a very agitated condition of mind. Then she said
as suddenly as before, “I forget my proper errand--I have come for the
girls. You are to go up with me to the Priory. Go, make haste--put on
your bonnet--I never wait, even for young ladies; call your sister, and
make ready to go.”

Agnes rose, startled and unwilling, and cast an inquiring look at Mamma.
Mrs Atheling was startled too, but she was not insensible to the pride
and glory of seeing her two daughters drive off to Abingford Priory in
the well-known carriage of Miss Anastasia. “Since Miss Rivers is so
good, make haste, my dear,” said Mrs Atheling; and Agnes had no
alternative but to obey.

When she was gone, Miss Rivers looked round the room inquisitively.
Rachel was no great needlewoman, nor much instructed in ordinary
feminine pursuits; there were no visible traces of the presence of a
third young lady in the little dim parlour. “Where is the girl?” said
Miss Anastasia, cautiously,--“I was told she was here.”

“The Rector asked her to go and see his sister--she is at the Old Wood
House,” said Mrs Atheling. “I am very sorry--but we never thought of you
coming to-day.”

“I might come any day,” said Miss Rivers, abruptly--“but that is not the
question--I prefer not to see her--she is a frightened little dove of a
girl--she is not in my way. Is she good for anything?--you ought to
know.”

“She is a very sweet, amiable girl,” said Mrs Atheling, warmly--“and she
sings as I never heard any one sing, all my life.”

“Ah!” said Miss Rivers, with a look of gratification, “it belongs to the
family--music is a tradition among us--yes, yes! You remember my
great-grandfather, the fourth lord--he was a great composer.” Miss
Anastasia was perfectly destitute of the faculty herself, and more than
half of the Riverses wanted that humblest of all musical qualifications,
“an ear”--yet it was amusing to mark the eagerness of the old lady to
find a family precedent for every quality known as belonging to Louis or
his sister. “I recollect,” added Miss Rivers, bending her brows darkly,
“they wanted to make a singer of her--the more disgrace the better--Oh,
I understand their tactics! You are sorry for him?--look at the devilish
plans he made.”

Mrs Atheling shook her head, but did not reply; she only knew that she
would have been sorry for the vilest criminal in the world, had he lost
his only son.

“I have heard from your boy,” said Miss Rivers. “He is gone now, I
suppose. What does Will Atheling think of his son? If he does but as I
expect he will, the boy’s fortune is made; he shall never repent that he
did this service for me.”

“But it is a great undertaking,” said Mrs Atheling. “I know Charlie will
do his best--he is a very good boy, Miss Rivers; but he may not succeed
after all.”

“He will succeed,” said the old lady; “but even if he does not--which I
cannot believe--so long as he does all he can, it will not alter me.”

The mother’s heart swelled high with gratification and pleasure; yet
there was a drawback. All this time--since the first day when she heard
of it, before she made her discovery--Miss Anastasia had never referred
to the engagement between Louis and Marian. Did she desire to discourage
it? Was she likely to perceive a difference in this respect between
Louis nameless and without friends, and Louis the heir of Winterbourne?

But Mrs Atheling’s utmost penetration could not tell. Miss Rivers began
to pull down the books, to look at them, to strike her riding-whip on
the floor, and call out good-humouredly in her loud voice, which every
one in the house could hear, that she was not to be kept waiting by a
parcel of girls. Finally the girls made their appearance in their best
dresses; their new patroness hurried them into her carriage, and drove
instantly away.



CHAPTER X.

MARIAN ON TRIAL.


Miss Anastasia “preferred not to see” Rachel--yet, with a wayward
inclination still, was moved to drive by a circuitous road in front of
the Old Wood House, where the girl was. The little vehicle went heavily
along the grassy road, cutting the turf, but making little sound as it
rolled past the windows of the invalid. There was the velvet lawn, the
trim flower-plots, the tall autumnal flowers, the straight and well-kept
garden-paths, lying vacant and shadowless beneath the sun--but there was
nothing to be discovered under the closed blinds of this shut-up and
secluded house.

“Why do they keep their blinds down?” said Miss Anastasia; “all the
house surely is not one invalid’s room? Lucy was a little fool always. I
do not believe there is anything the matter with her. She had what these
soft creatures call a disappointment in love--words have different
meanings, child. And why does this girl go to see Lucy Rivers? I
suppose because she is such a one herself.”

“It is because Miss Rivers was kind to her,” said Agnes; “and the Rector
asked her to go----”

“The Rector? Do you mean to tell me,” said Miss Anastasia, turning
quickly upon her companion, “that when Lionel Rivers comes to the Lodge
it is for _her_ he comes?”

“I do not know,” said Agnes. She was provoked to feel how her face
burned under the old lady’s gaze. She could not help showing something
of the anger and vexation she felt. She looked up hastily, with a glance
of resentment. “He has been very much interested in Louis--he has been
very kind to him,” said Agnes, not at all indisposed, for the sake of
the Rector, whom every one plotted against, to throw down her glove to
Miss Anastasia. “I believe, indeed, it has been to inquire about Louis,
that he ever came to the Lodge.”

Miss Anastasia touched her ponies with her whip, and said, “Humph!”
“Both of them! odd enough,” said the old lady. Agnes, who was
considerably offended, and not at all in an amicable state of mind, did
not choose to inquire who Miss Anastasia meant by “both of them,” nor
what it was that was “odd enough.”

Marian occupied the seat behind. She liked it very well, though she
would rather have written her letter to Louis. She did not quite hear
the conversation before her, and did not much care about it. Marian
recognised the old lady only as Agnes’s friend, and had never connected
her in any way with her own fortunes. She was shy of speaking in that
stately presence; she was even resentful sometimes of the remarks of
Miss Anastasia; and the lofty old gentlewoman had formed but an
indifferent idea yet of the little beauty. She was amused with the
pretty pout of Marian’s lip, the sparkle, sometimes of fun, sometimes of
petulance, in her eye; but Marian would have been extremely dismayed
to-day had she known that she, and not Agnes, was the principal object
of Miss Anastasia’s visit, and was, indeed, about to be put upon her
trial, to see if she was good for anything. At all events, she was quite
at ease and unalarmed now.

They drove along in silence for some time after this--passing through
the village and past the Park gates. Then Miss Anastasia took a road
quite unfamiliar to the girls--a grass-grown unfrequented path, lying
under the shadow of the trees of Winterbourne. She did not say a word
till they came to a sudden break in the trees, when she stopped her
ponies abruptly, and fixed a sorrowful gaze upon the Hall, which was
visible, and close at hand. The white, broad, majestic front of the
great house was not unlike a funeral pile at any time; now, with white
curtains drawn close over all its scarcely perceptible windows, still
veiled in the pomp of mourning, without a gleam of light or colour, in
its blind, grand aspect, turning its back upon the sun--there was
something very sadly imposing in the desolated house. No one was to be
seen about it--not even a servant: it looked like a vast mausoleum,
sacred to the dead. “It was very well for him,” said Miss Anastasia with
a sigh, “very well. If it were not so pitiful a thing to think of,
children, I could thank God.”

But as the old lady spoke, the tears stood heavy in her eyes.

This was very dreadful, very mysterious, altogether beyond comprehension
to Marian. She was glad to turn her eyes away from the house with
dislike and terror--it had been Louis’s prison and place of suffering,
and not a single hope connected with the Hall of Winterbourne was in
Marian’s mind. She drew back from Miss Rivers with a shudder--she
thought it was the most frightful thing in existence to thank God
because this young man had died.

The Priory opened its doors wide to its mistress and her young guests.
She led them herself to her favourite room, a very strange place,
indeed, to their inexperienced eyes. It was a long narrow room, built
over the archway which crossed the entrance to the town of Abingford.
This of itself was peculiarity enough; and the walls were of stone,
wainscoted to half their height with oak, and the roof was ribbed with
strong old oaken rafters, and of course unceiled. Windows on either
side, plain lattice-windows, with thick mullions of stone, admitted the
light in strips between heavy bars of shadow, and commanded a full sight
of every one who entered the town of Abingford. On the country side was
a long country road, some trees, and the pale convolutions of the river;
on the other, there was a glimpse of the market-place of the town, even
now astir with a leisurely amount of business, in the centre of which
rose an extraordinary building with a piazza, while round it were the
best shops of Abingford, and the farmers’ inns, which were full on
market days. A little old church, rich with the same rude Saxon ornament
which decorated the church of Winterbourne, stood modestly among the
houses at the corner of the market-place. A few leisurely figures, such
as belong to country towns, stood at the doors, or lounged about the
pavement; and market-carts came and went slowly under the arch. Marian
brightened into positive amusement; she thought it very funny indeed to
watch the people and the vehicles slowly disappearing beneath her, and
laughed to herself, and thought it a very odd fancy of Miss Anastasia,
to choose her favourite sitting-room here.

The old lady came and stood beside her, somewhat to the embarrassment of
Marian. She bade the girl take off her bonnet, which produced its
unfailing result, of throwing into a little picturesque confusion those
soft, silken, half-curled tresses of Marian’s hair. Marian looked out of
the window somewhat nervously, a little afraid of Miss Rivers. The old
lady looked at her with a keen scrutiny. She was stooping her pretty
shoulders in an attitude which might have been awkward in a form less
elastic, dimpling her cheek with the fingers which supported it,
conscious of Miss Anastasia’s gaze, somewhat alarmed, and very shy. In
spite of the shrinking, the alarm, and the embarrassment, Miss Rivers
looked steadily down upon her with a serious inspection. But even the
cloud which began to steal over Marian’s brow could not disenchant the
eyes that gazed upon her--Miss Anastasia began to smile as everybody
else; to feel herself moved to affection, tenderness, regard; to own the
fascination which no one resisted. “My dear, you are very pretty,” said
the old lady, entirely forgetting any prudent precautions on the score
of making Marian vain; “many people would tell you, that, with a face
like that, you need no other attraction. But I was once pretty myself,
and I know it does not last for ever; do you ever think about anything,
you lovely little child?”

Marian glanced up with an indignant blush and frown; but the look she
met was so kind, that it was not possible to answer as she intended. So
the pretty head sank down again upon the hand which supported it. She
took a little time to compose herself, and then, with some humility,
spoke the truth: “I am afraid, not a great deal.”

“What do you suppose I do here, all by myself?” said Miss Anastasia,
suddenly.

Marian turned her face towards her, looked round the room, and then
turned a wistful gaze to Miss Rivers. “Indeed, I do not know,” said
Marian, in a very low and troubled tone: it was youth, with awe and
gravity and pity, looking out of its bright world upon the loneliness
and poverty of age.

That answer and that look brought the examination to a very hasty and
sudden conclusion. The old lady looked at her for an instant with a
startled glance, stooped over her, kissed her forehead and hurried away.
Marian could not tell what she had done, nor why Miss Anastasia’s face
changed so strangely. She could not comprehend the full force of the
contrast, nor how her own simple wonder and pity struck like a sudden
arrow to the old lady’s heart.

Agnes was puzzled too, and could not help her sister to an explanation.
They remained by themselves for some time, rather timidly looking at
everything. There were a few portraits hanging high upon the walls,
portraits which they knew to be of the family, but could not recognise;
and there was one picture of a very strange kind, which all their
combined ingenuity could not interpret. It was like one of those old
Dyptichs used to preserve some rare and precious altarpiece. What was
within could not be seen, but on the closed leaves without were painted
two solemn angels, with a silvery surrounding of wings, and flowers in
their hands. If Miss Anastasia had been a Catholic--even if she had been
a dilettante or extreme High Churchwoman, it might have been a little
private shrine: perhaps it was so: there was a portrait within, which no
eyes but her own ever saw. Between the windows the walls were lined with
book-cases; that ancient joke of poor Aunt Bridget’s, her own initials
underneath her pupil’s name--the B. A., which conferred a degree upon
Anastasia Rivers--turned out to be an intentional thing after all. The
girls gazed in awe at Miss Anastasia’s book-shelves. She was a great
scholar, this old lady. She might have been one of the Heads of Houses
in the learned city, but for the unfortunate femininity which debarred
her. All by herself among these tomes of grey antiquity--all by herself
with her pictures, the sole remnant of another time--it was not
wonderful that the two girls paused, looking out from the sunshine of
their youth with reverence, yet with compassion. They honoured her with
natural humility, feeling their own ignorance, but notwithstanding, were
very sorry for Miss Anastasia, all by herself--more sorry than there was
occasion to be--for Miss Anastasia was used to be all by herself, and
found enjoyment in it now.

When Miss Anastasia came back she took them to see her garden, and the
state-apartments of her great stately house. When they were a little
familiar she let them stray on before her, and followed watching. Agnes,
perhaps, was still her own favourite of the two; but all her observation
was given to Marian. As her eyes followed this beautiful figure, her
look became more and more satisfied; and while Marian wandered with her
sister about the garden, altogether unconscious of the great
possibilities which awaited her, Miss Anastasia’s fancy clothed her in
robes of state, and covered her with jewels. “He might have married a
duke’s daughter,” she said to herself, turning away with a pleased
eye--“but he might never have found such a beautiful fairy as this: she
is a good little child too, with no harm in her; and a face for a fairy
queen!”



CHAPTER XI.

DISCONTENT.


No one knew the real effect of the blow which had just fallen upon Lord
Winterbourne. The guests, of whom his house was full, dispersed as if by
magic. Even Mrs Edgerley, in the most fashionable sables, with mourning
liveries, and the blinds of her carriage solemnly let down, went forth,
as soon as decency would permit, from the melancholy Hall. After all the
bustle and all the gaiety of recent days, the place fell into a pause of
deadly stillness. Lord Winterbourne sought comfort from no one--showed
grief to no one; he made a sudden pause, like a man stunned, and then,
with increased impetus, and with a force and resolution unusual to him,
resumed his ancient way once more, and rushed forward with exaggerated
activity. Instead of subduing him, this event seemed to have roused all
his faculties into a feverish and busy malevolence, as if the man had
said, “I have no one to come after me--I will do all the harm I can
while my time lasts.” All the other gentry of the midland counties, put
together, did not bring so many poachers to “justice” as were brought by
Lord Winterbourne. It was with difficulty his solicitor persuaded him to
pass over the pettiest trespass upon his property. He shut up pathways
privileged from time immemorial, ejected poor tenants, encroached upon
the village rights, and oppressed the village patriarchs; and animated
as he was by this spirit of ill-will to every one, it was not wonderful
that he endeavoured, with all his might, to press on the suit against
the Athelings for the recovery of the Old Wood Lodge.

Mrs Atheling and her daughters, unwilling, embarrassed, and totally
ignorant of their real means of defence, remained in their house at the
pleasure of the lawyer, and much against their own inclination. Mrs
Atheling herself, though with a spark of native spirit she had seconded
her husband’s resolution not to give up his little inheritance, was
entirely worried out with the task of defending it, now that Charlie was
gone, and winter was approaching, and her heart yearned to her husband
and her forsaken house in Bellevue. When she wrote to Mr Atheling, or
when she consulted with Agnes, the good mother expressed her opinion
very strongly. “If it turns out a mistake about Louis, none of us will
care for this place,” said Mrs Atheling; “we shall have the expense of
keeping it up, and unless we were living in it ourselves, I do not
suppose it is worth ten pounds a-year; and if it should turn out true
about Louis, of course he would restore it to us, and settle it so that
there could be no doubt upon the subject; and indeed, Agnes, my dear,
the only sensible plan that I can think of, would be to give it up at
once, and go home. I do think it is quite an unfortunate house for the
Athelings; there was your father’s poor little sister got her death in
it; and it is easy to see how much trouble and anxiety have come into
our family since we came here.”

“But trouble and anxiety might come anywhere, mamma,” said Agnes.

“Yes, my dear, that is very true; but we should have known exactly what
we had to look for, if Marian had been engaged to some one in Bellevue.”

Mamma’s counsels, accordingly, were of a very timid and compromising
character. She began to be extremely afraid that the Old Wood Lodge,
being so near the trees, would be damp after all the autumn rains, and
that something might possibly happen to Bell and Beau; and, with all her
heart, and without any dispute, she longed exceedingly to be at home.
Then there was the pretty pensive Marian, a little love-sick, and pining
much for the society of her betrothed. She was a quiet but potent
influence, doing what she could to aggravate the discontent of Mamma;
and Agnes had to keep up the family courage, and develop the family
patience, single-handed. Agnes, in her own private heart, though she did
not acknowledge, nor even know it, was not at all desirous to go away.

The conflict accordingly, about this small disputed possession, lay a
great deal more between Lord Winterbourne and Miss Anastasia than
between that unfriendly nobleman and the house of Atheling. Miss
Anastasia came frequently on errands of encouragement to fortify the
sinking heart of Mrs Atheling. “My great object is to defer the trial of
this matter for six months,” said the old lady significantly. “Let it
come on, and we will turn the tables then.”

She spoke in the presence of Marian, before whom nothing could be said
plainly--in the presence of Rachel even, whom it was impossible to avoid
seeing, but who always kept timidly in the background--and she spoke
with a certain exultation which somewhat puzzled her auditors. Charlie,
though he had done nothing yet, had arrived at the scene of his labours.
Assured of this fact, the courage of his patroness rose. She was a woman
and an optimist, as she confessed. She had the gift of leaping to a
conclusion, equal to any girl in the kingdom, and at the present moment
was not disturbed by any doubts of success.

“Six months!” cried Mrs Atheling, in dismay and horror; “and do you
mean that we must stay here all that time--all the winter, Miss Rivers?
It is quite impossible--indeed I could not do it. My husband is all by
himself, and I know how much I am wanted at home.”

“It is necessary some one should be in possession,” said Miss Rivers.
“Eh? What does Will Atheling say?--I daresay he thinks it hard enough to
be left alone.”

Mrs Atheling was very near “giving away.” Vexation and anxiety for the
moment almost overpowered her self-command. She knew all the buttons
must be off Papa’s shirts, and stood in grievous fear of a fabulous
amount of broken crockery; besides, she had never been so long parted
from her husband since their marriage, and very seriously longed for
home.

“Of course it is very dreary for him,” she said, with a sigh.

“Mr Temple is making application to defer the trial on the score of an
important witness who cannot reach this country in time,” said Miss
Rivers. “Of course my lord will oppose that with all his power; _he_ has
a natural terror of witnesses from abroad. When the question is decided,
I do not see, for my part, why you should remain. This little one pines
to go home, I see--but you, Agnes Atheling, you had better come and stay
at the Priory--you love the country, child!”

Both the sisters blushed under the scrutinising eye of Miss Anastasia;
but Agnes was not yet reconciled to the old lady. “We are all anxious to
go home,” she said with spirit, and with considerably more earnestness
than the case at all demanded. Miss Rivers smiled a little. She thought
she could read a whole romance in the fluctuating colour and troubled
glance of Agnes; but she was wrong, as far-seeing people are so often.
The girl was disturbed, uneasy, self-conscious, in a startled and
impatient condition of mind; but the romance, even if it were on the
way, had not yet definitely begun.



CHAPTER XII.

A CONVERSATION.


Agnes’s rambles out of doors had now almost always to be made alone.
Rachel was much engrossed with the invalid of the Old Wood House, who
had “taken a fancy” to the gentle little girl. The hypochondriac Miss
Rivers was glad of any one so tender and respectful; and half in natural
pity for the sufferings which Rachel could not believe to be fanciful,
half from a natural vocation for kindly help and tendance, the girl was
glad to respond to the partly selfish affection of her new friend, who
told Rachel countless stories of the family, and the whole chronicle in
every particular of her own early “disappointment in love.” In return,
Rachel, by snatches, conveyed to her invalid friend--in whom, after all,
she found some points of interest and congeniality--a very exalted ideal
picture of the Athelings, the genius of Agnes, and the love-story of
Marian. Marian and Agnes occupied a very prominent place indeed in the
talk of that shadowy dressing-room, with all its invalid
contrivances--its closed green blinds, its soft mossy carpets, on which
no footstep was ever audible, its easy little couches, which you could
move with a finger; the luxury, and the stillness, and the gossip, were
not at all unpleasant to Rachel; and she read _Hope Hazlewood_ to her
companion in little bits, with pauses of talk between. _Hope Hazlewood_
was not nearly romantic enough for the pretty faded invalid reposing
among her pillows in her white dressing-gown, whom Time seemed to have
forgotten there, and who had no recollection for her own part that she
was growing old; but she took all the delight of a girl in hearing of
Louis and Marian--how much attached to each other, and how handsome they
both were.

And Marian Atheling did not care half so much as she used to do for the
long rambles with her sister, which were once such a pleasure to both
the girls. Marian rather now preferred sitting by herself over her
needlework, or lingering alone at the window, in an entire sweet
idleness, full of all those charmed visions with which the very name of
Louis peopled all the fairy future. Not the wisest, or the wittiest, or
the most brilliant conversation in the world could have half equalled to
Marian the dreamy pleasure of her own meditations. So Agnes had to go
out alone.

Agnes did not suffer very much from this necessity. She wandered along
the skirts of the wood, with a vague sense of freedom and enjoyment not
easy to explain in words. No dreamy trance of magic influence had come
upon Agnes; her mind, and her heart, and her thoughts, were quickened by
a certain thrill of expectation, which was not to be referred to the
strange romance now going on in the family--to Charlie’s mission, nor
Louis’s prospects, nor anything else which was definite and ascertained.
She knew that her heart rose, that her mind brightened, that her
thoughts were restless and light, and not to be controlled; but she
could not tell the reason why. She went about exploring all the country
byways, and finding little tracks among the brushwood undiscoverable to
the common eye; and she was not cogitating anything, scarcely was
thinking, but somehow felt within her whole nature a silent growth and
increase not to be explained.

She was pondering along, with her eyes upon the wide panorama at her
feet, when it chanced to Agnes, suddenly and without preparation, to
encounter the Rector. These two young people, who were mutually
attracted to each other, had at the present moment a mutual occasion of
embarrassment and apparent offence. The Rector could not forget how very
much humbled in his own opinion he himself had been on his late visit to
the Lodge; he had not yet recovered the singular check given to his own
unconscious selfishness, by the natural sympathy of these simple people
with the grander primitive afflictions and sufferings of life: and he
was not without an idea that Agnes looked upon him now with a somewhat
disdainful eye. Agnes, on her part, was greatly oppressed by the secret
sense of being concerned against the Rector; in his presence she felt
like a culprit--a secret plotter against the hope which brightened his
eye, and expanded his mind. A look of trouble came at once into her
face; her brow clouded--she thought it was not quite honest to make a
show of friendship, while she retained her secret knowledge of the
inquiry which might change into all the bitterness of disappointment his
sudden and unlooked-for hope.

He had been going in the opposite direction, but, though he was not at
all reconciled to her, he was not willing either to part with Agnes. He
turned, only half consciously, only half willingly, yet by an
irresistible compulsion. He tried indifferent conversation, and so did
she; but, in spite of himself, Lionel Rivers was a truer man with Agnes
Atheling than he was with any other person in the world. He who had
never cared for sympathy from any one, somehow or other felt a necessity
for hers, and had a certain imperious disappointment and impatience when
it was withheld from him, which was entirely unreasonable, and not to
be accounted for. He broke off abruptly from the talk about nothing, to
speak of some intended movements of his own.

“I am going to town,” said Mr Rivers. “I am somewhat unsettled at
present in my intentions; after that, probably, I may spend some time
abroad.”

“All because he is the heir!” thought Agnes to herself; and again she
coloured with distress and vexation. It was impossible to keep something
of this from her tone; when she spoke, it was in a voice subdued a
little out of its usual tenor; but all that she asked was a casual
question, meaning nothing--“If Mr Mead would have the duty while the
Rector was away?”

“Yes,” said the Rector; “he is very much better fitted for it than I am.
Here I have been cramping my wings these three years. Fathers and
mothers are bitterly to blame; they bind a man to what his soul loathes,
because it is his best method of earning some paltry pittance--so much
a-year!”

After this exclamation the young clergyman made a pause, and so did his
diffident and uneasy auditor, who “did not like” either to ask his
meaning, or to make any comment upon it. After a few minutes he resumed
again--

“I suppose it must constantly be so where we dare to think for
ourselves,” he said, in a tone of self-conversation. “A man who thinks
_must_ come to conclusions different from those which are taught to
him--different, perhaps, from all that has been concluded truest in the
ages that are past. What shall we say? Woe be to me if I do not follow
out my reasoning, to whatever length it may lead!”

“When Paul says, Woe be to him, it is, if he does not preach the
Gospel,” said Agnes.

Mr Rivers smiled. “Be glad of your own happy exemption,” he said,
turning to her, with the air of a man who knows by heart all the old
arguments--all the feminine family arguments against scepticism and
dangerous speculations. “I will leave you in possession of your
beautiful Gospel--your pure faith. I shall not attempt to disturb your
mind--do not fear.”

“You could not!” said Agnes, in a sudden and rash defiance. She turned
to him in her turn, beginning to tremble a little with the excitement of
controversy. She was a young polemic, rather more graceful in its
manifestation, but quite as strong in the spirit of the conflict as any
Mause Headrigg--which is to say, that, after her eager girlish fashion,
she believed with her whole heart, and did not know what toleration
meant.

Mr Rivers smiled once more. “I will not try,” he said. “I remember what
Christ said, and endeavour to have charity even for those who condemn
me.”

“Oh, Mr Rivers!” cried Agnes suddenly, and with trembling, “do not speak
so coldly--do not say Christ; it sounds as if you did not care for
Him--as if you thought He was no friend to you.”

The Rector paused, somewhat startled: it was an objection which never
had occurred to him--one of those subtle touches concerning the spirit
and not the letter, which, being perfectly sudden, and quite simple, had
some chance of coming to the heart.

“What do _you_ say?” he asked with a little interest.

Agnes’s voice was low, and trembled with reverence and with emotion. She
was not thinking of him, in his maze of intellectual trifling--she was
thinking of that Other, whom she knew so much better, and whose name she
spoke. She answered with an involuntary bending of her head--“Our Lord.”

It was no conviction that struck the mind of the young man--conviction
was not like to come readily to him--and he was far too familiar with
all the formal arguments, to be moved by the reasonings of a polemic, or
the fervour of an enthusiast. But he who professed so much anxiety about
truth, and contemplated himself as a moral martyr, woefully following
his principles, though they led him to ever so dark a desolation, had
lived all his life among an infinite number of shams, and willingly
enough had yielded to many of them. Perhaps this was the first time in
his life in which he had been brought into immediate contact with people
who were simply true in their feelings and their actions--whose opinions
were without controversy--whose settled place in life, humble as it was,
shut them out from secondary emulations and ambitions--and who were
swayed by the primitive rule of human existence--the labour and the
rest, the affliction and the prosperity, which were real things, and not
creations of the brain. He paused a little over the words of Agnes
Atheling. He did not want her to think as he did: he was content to
believe that the old boundaries were suitable and seemly for a woman;
and he was rather pleased than otherwise, by the horror, interest, and
regret which such opinions as his generally met with. He paused upon her
words, with the air of a spectator, and said in a meditative fashion,
“It is a glorious faith.”

Now Agnes, who was not at all satisfied with this contemplative
approval, was entirely ready and eager for controversy; prepared to
plunge into it with the utmost rashness, utterly unaccoutred and
ignorant as she was. She trembled with suppressed fervour and excitement
over all her frame. She was as little a match for the Rector in the
argument which she would fain have entered into, as any child in the
village; but she was far too strong in the truth of her cause to feel
any fear.

“Do you ever meet with great trouble?” said Agnes.

It was quite an unexpected question. The Rector looked at her
inquiringly, without the least perception what she meant.

“And when you meet with it,” continued the eager young champion, “what
do you say?”

Now this was rather a difficult point with the Rector; it was not
naturally his vocation to administer comfort to “great trouble”--in
reality, when he was brought face to face with it, he had nothing to
say. He paused a little, really embarrassed--_that_ was the curate’s
share of the business. Mr Rivers was very sorry for the poor people, but
had, in fact, no consolation to give, and thought it much more important
to play with his own mind and faculties in this solemn and conscientious
trifling of his, than to attend to the griefs of others. He answered,
after some hesitation: “There are different minds, of course, and
different influences applicable to them. Every man consoles himself
after his own fashion; for some there are the sublime consolations of
Philosophy, for others the rites of the Church.”

“Some time,” said Agnes suddenly, turning upon him with earnest
eyes,--“some time, when you come upon great sorrow, will you try the
name of our Lord?”

The young man was startled again, and made no answer. He was struck by
the singular conviction that this girl, inferior to himself in every
point, had a certain real and sublime acquaintance with that wonderful
Person of whom she spoke; that this was by no means belief in a
doctrine, but knowledge of a glorious and extraordinary Individual,
whose history no unbeliever in the world has been able to divest of its
original majesty. The idea was altogether new to him; it found an
unaccustomed way to the heart of the speculatist--that dormant power
which scarcely any one all his life had tried to reach to. “I do not
quite understand you,” he said somewhat moodily; but he did not attend
to what she said afterwards. He pondered upon the problem by himself,
and could not make anything of it. Arguments about doctrines and beliefs
were patent enough to the young man. He was quite at home among dogmas
and opinions--but, somehow, this personal view of the question had a
strange advantage over him. He was not prepared for it; its entire and
obvious simplicity took away the ground from under his feet. It might be
easy enough to persuade a man out of conviction of a doctrine which he
believed, but it was a different matter to disturb the identity of a
person whom he knew.



CHAPTER XIII.

SUSPENSE.


In the mean time, immediate interest in their own occupations had pretty
nearly departed from the inhabitants of the Old Wood Lodge. Agnes went
on with her writing, Mamma with her work-basket, Marian with her dreams;
but desk, and needle, and meditations were all alike abandoned in
prospect of the postman, who was to be seen making his approach for a
very long way, and was watched every day with universal anxiety. What
Louis was doing, what Charlie was doing, the progress of the lawsuit,
and the plans of Miss Anastasia, continually drew the thoughts of the
household away from themselves. Even Rachel’s constant report of the
unseen invalid, Miss Lucy, added to the general withdrawal of interest
from the world within to the world without. They seemed to have nothing
to do themselves in their feminine quietness. Mamma sat pondering over
her work--about her husband, who was alone, and did not like his
solitude--about Charlie, who was intrusted with so great a
commission--about “all the children”--every one of whom seemed to be
getting afloat on a separate current of life. Agnes mused over her
business with impatient thoughts about the Rector, with visions of
Rachel and Miss Lucy in the invalid chamber, and vain attempts to look
into the future and see what was to come. As for Marian, the charmed
tenor of her fancies knew no alteration; she floated on, without
interruption, in a sweet vision, full of a thousand consistencies, and
wilder than any romance. Their conversation ran no longer in the ancient
household channel, and was no more about their own daily occupations;
they were spectators eagerly looking from the windows at nearly a dozen
different conflicts, earnestly concerned, and deeply sympathetic, but
not in the strife themselves.

Louis had entered Mr Foggo’s office; it seemed a strange destination for
the young man. He did not tell any one how small a remuneration he
received for his labours, nor how he contrived to live in the little
room, in the second floor of one of those Islington houses. He succeeded
in existing--that was enough; and Louis did not chafe at his restrained
and narrow life, by reason of having all his faculties engaged and
urgent in a somewhat fanciful mode, of securing the knowledge which he
longed for concerning his own birth and derivation. He had ascertained
from Mr Atheling every particular concerning the Rivers family which
_he_ knew. He had even managed to seek out some old servants once at the
Hall, and with a keen and intense patience had listened to every word of
a hundred aimless and inconclusive stories from these respectable
authorities. He was compiling, indeed, neither more nor less than a
_life_ of Lord Winterbourne--a history which he endeavoured to verify in
every particular as he went on, and which was written with the sternest
impartiality--a plain and clear record of events. Perhaps a more
remarkable manuscript than that of Louis never existed; and he pursued
his tale with all the zest, and much more than the excitement, of a
romancer. It was a true story, of which he laboured to find out every
episode; and there was a powerful unity and constructive force in the
one sole unvarying interest of the tale. Mr Atheling had been moved to
tell the eager youth _all_ the particulars of his early acquaintance
with Lord Winterbourne--and still the story grew--the object of the
whole being to discover, as Louis himself said, “what child there was
whom it was his interest to disgrace and defame.” The young man followed
hotly upon this clue. His thoughts had not been directed yet to anything
resembling the discovery of Miss Anastasia; it had never occurred to
him that his disinheritance might be absolutely the foundation of all
Lord Winterbourne’s greatness; but he hovered about the question with a
singular pertinacity, and gave his full attention to it. Inspired by
this, he did not consider his meagre meal, his means so narrow that it
was the hardest matter in the world to eat daily bread. He pursued his
story with a concentration of purpose which the greatest poet in
existence might have envied. He was a great deal too much in earnest to
think about the sentences in which he recorded what he learnt. The
consequence was, that this memoir of Lord Winterbourne was a model of
terse and pithy English--an unexampled piece of biography. Louis did not
say a word about it to any one, but pursued his labour and his inquiry
together, vainly endeavouring to find out a trace of some one whom he
could identify with himself.

Meanwhile, Papa began to complain grievously of his long abandonment,
and moved by Louis on one side, and by his own discomfort on the other,
became very decided in his conviction that there was no due occasion for
the absence of his family. There was great discontent in Number Ten,
Bellevue, and there was an equal discontent, rather more overpowering,
and quite as genuine, in the Old Wood Lodge, where Mamma and Marian vied
with each other in anxiety, and thought no cause sufficiently important
to keep them any longer from home. Agnes expressed no opinion either on
one side or the other; she was herself somewhat disturbed and unsettled,
thinking a great deal more about the Rector than was at all convenient,
or to her advantage. After that piece of controversy, the Rector began
to come rather often to the Lodge. He never said a word again touching
that one brief breath of warfare, yet they eyed each other
distrustfully, with a mutual consciousness of what had occurred, and
might occur again. It was not a very lover-like point of union, yet it
was a secret link of which no one else knew. Unconsciously it drew Agnes
into inferences and implications, which were spoken at the Rector; and
unconsciously it drew him to more sympathy with common trials, and a
singular inclination to experiment, as Agnes had bidden him, with her
sublime talisman--that sole Name given under heaven, which has power to
touch into universal brotherhood the whole universal heart of man.



CHAPTER XIV.

NEWS.


While the Lodge remained in this ferment of suspense and uncertainty,
Miss Anastasia had taken her measures for its defence and preservation.
It was wearing now towards the end of October, and winter was setting in
darkly. There was no more than a single rose at a time now upon the
porch, and these roses looked so pale, pathetic, and solitary, that it
was rather sad than pleasant to see the lonely flowers. On one of the
darkest days of the month, when they were all rather more listless than
usual, Miss Anastasia’s well-known equipage drew up at the gate. They
all hailed it with some pleasure. It was an event in the dull day and
discouraging atmosphere. She came in with her loud cheerful voice, her
firm step, her energetic bearing--and even the pretty _fiancée_ Marian
raised her pretty stooping shoulders, and woke up from her fascinated
musing. Rachel alone drew shyly towards the door; she had not overcome
a timidity very nearly approaching fear, which she always felt in
presence of Miss Anastasia. She was the only person who ever entered
this house who made Rachel remember again her life at the Hall.

“I came to show you a letter from your boy; read it while I talk to the
children,” said Miss Rivers. Mrs Atheling took the letter with some
nervousness; she was a little fluttered, and lost the sense of many of
the expressions; yet lingered over it, notwithstanding, with pride and
exultation. She longed very much to have an opportunity of showing it to
Agnes; but that was not possible; so Mrs Atheling made a virtuous
attempt to preserve in her memory every word that her son said. This was
Charlie’s letter to his patroness:--

     “MADAM,--I have not made very much progress yet. The courier, Jean
     Monte, is to be heard of as you suggested; but it is only known on
     the road that he lives in Switzerland, and keeps some sort of inn
     in one of the mountain villages. No more as yet; but I will find
     him out. I have to be very cautious at present, because I am not
     yet well up in the language. The town is a ruinous place, and I
     cannot get the parish registers examined as one might do in
     England. There are several families of decayed nobles in the
     immediate neighbourhood, and, so far as I can hear, Giulietta is a
     very common name. Travelling Englishmen, too, are so frequent that
     there is a good deal of difficulty. I am rather inclined to fix
     upon the villa Remori, where there are said to have been several
     English marriages. It has been an extensive place, but is now
     broken down, decayed, and neglected; the family have a title, and
     are said to be very handsome, but are evidently very poor. There is
     a mother and a number of daughters, only one or two grown up; I try
     to make acquaintance with the children. The father died early, and
     had no brothers. I think possibly this might be the house of
     Giulietta, as there is no one surviving to look after the rights of
     her children, did she really belong to this family. Of course, any
     relatives she had, with any discretion, would have inquired out her
     son in England; so I incline to think she may have belonged to the
     villa Remori, as there are only women there.

     “I have to be very slow on account of my Italian--this, however,
     remedies itself every day. I shall not think of looking for Monte
     till I have finished my business here, and am on my way home. The
     place is unprosperous and unhealthy, but it is pretty, and rather
     out of the way--few travellers came, they tell me, till within ten
     years ago; but I have not met with any one yet whose memory carried
     back at all clearly for twenty years. A good way out of the town,
     near the lake, there is a kind of mausoleum which interests me a
     little, not at all unlike the family tomb at Winterbourne; there is
     no name upon it; it lies quite out of the way, and I cannot
     ascertain that any one has ever been buried there; but something
     may be learned about it, perhaps, by-and-by.

     “When I ascertain anything of the least importance, I shall write
     again.

                       “Madam,

                        “Your Obedient Servant,

                          “Charles Atheling.”


Charlie had never written to a lady before; he was a little embarrassed
about it the first time, but this was his second epistle, and he had
become a little more at his ease. The odd thing about the correspondence
was, that Charlie did not express either hopes or opinions; he did not
say what he expected, or what were his chances of success--he only
reported what he was doing; any speculation upon the subject, more
especially at this crisis, would have been out of Charlie’s way.

“What do you call your brother when you write to him?” asked Miss
Anastasia abruptly, addressing Rachel.

Rachel coloured violently; she had so nearly forgotten her old
system--her old representative character--that she was scarcely prepared
to answer such a question. With a mixture of her natural manner and her
assumed one, she answered at last, in considerable confusion, “We call
him Louis; he has no other name.”

“Then he will not take the name of Rivers?” said Miss Anastasia, looking
earnestly at the shrinking girl.

“We have no right to the name of Rivers,” said Rachel, drawing herself
up with her old dignity, like a little queen. “My brother is inquiring
who we are. We never belonged to Lord Winterbourne.”

“Your brother is inquiring? So!” said Miss Anastasia; “and he is
perfectly right. Listen, child--tell him this from me--do you know what
Atheling means? It means noble, illustrious, royally born. In the old
Saxon days the princes were called Atheling. Tell your brother that
Anastasia Rivers bids him bear this name.”

This address entirely confused Rachel, who remained gazing at Miss
Rivers blankly, unable to say anything. Marian stirred upon her chair
with sudden eagerness, and put down her needlework, gazing also, but
after quite a different fashion, in Miss Anastasia’s face. The old lady
caught the look of both, but only replied to the last.

“You are startled, are you, little beauty? Did you never hear the story
of Margaret Atheling, who was an exile, and a saint, and a queen? My
child, I should be very glad to make sure that you were a true Atheling
too.”

Marian was not to be diverted from her curiosity by any such
observation. She cast a quick look from Miss Rivers to her mother, who
was pondering over Charlie’s letter, and from Mrs Atheling to Agnes, who
had not been startled by the strange words of Miss Anastasia; and
suspicion, vague and unexplainable, began to dawn in Marian’s mind.

“The autumn assizes begin to-day,” said Miss Anastasia with a little
triumph; “too soon, as Mr Temple managed it, for your case to have a
hearing; it must stand over till the spring now--six months--by that
time, please God; we shall be ready for them. Agnes Atheling, how long
is it since you began to be deaf and blind?”

Agnes started with a little confusion, and made a hurried inarticulate
answer. There was a little quiet quarrel all this time going on between
Agnes and Miss Rivers; neither the elder lady nor the younger was quite
satisfied--Agnes feeling herself something like a conspirator, and Miss
Anastasia a little suspicious of her, as a disaffected person in the
interest of the enemy. But Mamma by this time had come to an end of
Charlie’s letter, and, folding it up very slowly, gave it back to its
proprietor. The good mother did not feel it at all comfortable to keep
this information altogether to herself.

“It is not to be tried till spring!” said Mrs Atheling, who had caught
this observation. “Then, I think, indeed, Miss Rivers, we must go home.”

And, to Mamma’s great comfort, Miss Anastasia made no objection. She
said kindly that she should miss her pleasant neighbours. “But what may
be in the future, girls, no one knows,” said Miss Rivers, getting up
abruptly. “Now, however, before this storm comes on, I am going home.”



CHAPTER XV.

GOING HOME.


After this the family made immediate preparations for their return. Upon
this matter Rachel was extremely uncomfortable, and much divided in her
wishes. Miss Lucy, who had been greatly solaced by the gentle
ministrations of this mild little girl, insisted very much that Rachel
should remain with her until her friends returned in spring, or till her
brother had “established himself.” Rachel herself did not know what to
do; and her mind was in a very doubtful condition, full of
self-arguments. She did not think Louis would be pleased--that was the
dark side. The favourable view was, that she was of use to the invalid,
and remaining with her would be “no burden to any one.” Rachel pondered,
wept, and consulted over it with much sincerity. From the society of
these young companions, whom the simple girl loved, and who were so near
her own age; from Louis, her lifelong ruler and example; from the kindly
fireside, to which she had looked forward so long--it was hard enough
to turn to the invalid chambers, the old four-volume novels, and poor
pretty old Miss Lucy’s “disappointment in love.” “And if afterwards I
had to sing or give lessons, I should forget all my music there,” said
Rachel. Mrs Atheling kindly stepped in and decided for her. “It might be
a very good thing for you, my dear, if you had no friends,” said Mrs
Atheling. Rachel did not know whether to be most puzzled or grateful;
but to keep a certain conscious solemnity out of her tone--a certain
mysterious intimation of something great in the future--was out of the
power of Mamma.

Accordingly, they all began their preparations with zeal and energy, the
only indifferent member of the party being Agnes, who began to feel
herself a good deal alone, and to suspect that she was indeed in the
enemy’s interest, and not so anxious about the success of Louis as she
ought to have been. A few days after Miss Anastasia’s visit, the Rector
came to find them in all the bustle of preparation. He appeared among
them with a certain solemnity, looking haughty and offended, and
received Mrs Atheling’s intimation of their departure with a grave and
punctilious bow. He had evidently known it before, and he looked upon
it, quite as evidently, as something done to thwart him--a personal
offence to himself.

“Miss Atheling perhaps has literary occupation to call her to town,”
suggested Mr Rivers, returning to his original ground of displeasure,
and trying to get up a little quarrel with Agnes. She did not reply to
him, but her mother did, on her behalf.

“Indeed, Mr Rivers, it does not make any difference to Agnes; she can
write anywhere,” said Mrs Atheling. “I often wonder how she gets on
amongst us all; but my husband has been left so long by himself--and now
that the trial does not come on till spring, we are all so thankful to
get home.”

“The trial comes on in spring?--I shall endeavour to be at home,” said
the Rector, “if I can be of any service. I am myself going to town; I am
somewhat unsettled in my plans at present--but my friends whom I esteem
most are in London--people of scientific and philosophical pursuits, who
cannot afford to be fashionable. Shall I have your permission to call on
you when we are all there?”

“I am sure we shall all be very much pleased,” said Mrs Atheling,
flattered by his tone--“you know what simple people we are, and we do
not keep any company; but we shall be very pleased, and honoured too, to
see you as we have seen you here.”

Agnes was a little annoyed by her mother’s speech. She looked up with a
flash of indignation, and met, not the eyes of Mrs Atheling, but those
of Mr Rivers, who was looking at her. The eyes had a smile in them, but
there was perfect gravity upon the face. She was confused by the look,
though she did not know why. The words upon her lip were checked--she
looked down again, and began to arrange her papers with a rising colour.
The Rector’s look wandered from her face, because he perceived that he
embarrassed her, but went no further than her hands, which were pretty
hands enough, yet nothing half so exquisite as those rose-tipped fairy
fingers with which Marian folded up her embroidery. The Rector had no
eyes at all for Marian; but he watched the arrangement of Agnes’s papers
with a quite involuntary interest--detected in an instant when she
misplaced one, and was very much disposed to offer his own assistance,
relenting towards her. What he meant by it--he who was really the heir
of Lord Winterbourne, and by no means unaware of his own advantages--Mrs
Atheling, looking on with quick-witted maternal observation, could not
tell.

Then quite abruptly--after he had watched all Agnes’s papers into the
pockets of her writing-book--he rose to go away; then he lingered over
the ceremony of shaking hands with her, and held hers longer than there
was any occasion for. “Some time I hope to resume our argument,” said Mr
Rivers. He paused till she answered him: “I do not know about argument,”
said Agnes, looking up with a flash of spirit--“I should be foolish to
try it against you. I know only what I trust in--that is not argument--I
never meant it so.”

He made no reply save by a bow, and went away leaving her rather
excited, a little angry, a little moved. Then they began to plague her
with questions--What did Mr Rivers mean? There was nothing in the world
which Agnes knew less of than what Mr Rivers meant. She tried to
explain, in a general way, the conversation she had with him before, but
made an extremely lame explanation, which no one was satisfied with, and
escaped to her own room in a very nervous condition, quite disturbed out
of her self-command. Agnes did not at all know what to make of her
anomalous feelings. She was vexed to the heart to feel how much she was
interested, while she disapproved so much, and with petulant annoyance
exclaimed to herself, that she wanted no more argument if he would but
let her alone!

And then came the consideration of Lionel’s false hope--the hope which
some of these days would be taken from him in a moment. If she could
only let him know what she knew, her conscience would be easy. As she
thought of this, she remembered how people have been told in fables
secrets as important; the idea flashed into her mind with a certain
relief--then came the pleasure of creation, the gleam of life among her
maze of thoughts; the fancy brightened into shape and graceful
fashion--she began unconsciously to hang about it the shining garments
of genius--and so she rose and went about her homely business, putting
together the little frocks of Bell and Beau, ready to be packed, with
the vision growing and brightening before her eyes. Then the definite
and immediate purpose of it gave way to a pure native delight in the
beautiful thing which began to grow and expand in her thoughts. She went
down again, forgetting her vexation. If it did no other good in the
world, there was the brightest stream of practical relief and
consolation in Agnes Atheling’s gift.



CHAPTER XVI.

NEW INFLUENCES.


Once more the Old Wood Lodge stood solitary under the darkening wintry
skies, with no bright faces at its windows, nor gleam of household
firelight in the dim little parlour, where Miss Bridget’s shadow came
back to dwell among the silence, a visionary inhabitant. Once more
Hannah sat solitary in her kitchen, lamenting that it was “lonesomer nor
ever,” and pining for the voices of the children. Hannah would have
almost been content to leave her native place and her own people to
accompany the family to London; but that was out of the question; and,
spite of all Mamma’s alarms, Susan had really conducted herself in a
very creditable manner under her great responsibility as housekeeper at
Bellevue.

The journey home was not a very eventful one. They were met by Papa and
Louis on their arrival, and conducted in triumph to their own little
house, which did not look so attractive, by any means, as it used to do.
Then they settled down without more ado into the family use and wont.
With so great a change in all their prospects and intentions--so strange
an enlargement of their horizon and extension of their hopes--it was
remarkable how little change befell the outward life and customs of the
family. Marian, it was true, was “engaged;” but Marian might have been
engaged to poor Harry Oswald without any great variation of
circumstances; and that was always a possibility lying under everybody’s
eyes. It did not yet disturb the _habits_ of the family; but this new
life which they began to enter--this life of separated and individual
interest--took no small degree of heart and spirit out of those joint
family pleasures and occupations into which Marian constantly brought a
reference to Louis, which Agnes passed through with a preoccupied and
abstracted mind, and from which Charlie was far away. The stream
widened, the sky grew broader, yet every one had his or her separate and
peculiar firmament. A maturer, perhaps, and more complete existence was
opening upon them; but the first effect was by no means to increase the
happiness of the family. They loved each other as well as ever; but they
were not so entirely identical. It was a disturbing influence, foreign
and unusual; it was not the quiet, assured, undoubting family happiness
of the days which were gone.

Then there were other unaccordant elements. Rachel, whom Mrs Atheling
insisted upon retaining with them, and who was extremely eager on her
own part to find something to do, and terrified to think herself a
burden upon her friends; and Louis, who contented himself with his
pittance of income, but only did his mere duty at the office, and gave
all his thoughts and all his powers to the investigation which engrossed
him. Mrs Atheling was very much concerned about Louis. If all this came
to nothing, as was quite probable, she asked her husband eagerly what
was to become of these young people--what were they to do? For at
present, instead of trying to get on, Louis, who had no suspicion of the
truth, gave his whole attention to a visionary pursuit, and was content
to have the barest enough which he could exist upon. Mr Atheling shook
his head, and could not make any satisfactory reply. “There was no
disposition to idleness about the boy,” Papa said, with approval. “He
was working very hard, though he might make nothing by it; and when this
state of uncertainty was put an end to, then they should see.”

And Marian of late had become actively suspicious and observant. Marian
attacked her mother boldly, and without concealment. “Mamma, it is
something about Louis that Charlie has gone abroad for!” she said, in
an unexpected sally, which took the garrison by surprise.

“My dear, how could you think of such a thing?” cried the prudent Mrs
Atheling. “What could Miss Anastasia have to do with Louis? Why, she
never so much as saw him, you know. You must, by no means, take foolish
fancies into your head. I daresay, after all, he must belong to Lord
Winterbourne.”

Marian asked no more; but she did not fail to communicate her suspicions
to Louis at the earliest opportunity. “I am quite sure,” said Marian,
not scrupling even to express her convictions in presence of Agnes and
Rachel, “that Charlie has gone abroad for something about you.”

“Something about me!” Louis was considerably startled; he was even
indignant for a moment. He did not relish the idea of having secret
enterprises undertaken for him, or to know less about himself than
Marian’s young brother did. “You must be mistaken,” he said, with a
momentary haughtiness. “Charlie is a very acute fellow, but I do not see
that he is likely to trouble himself about me.”

“Oh, but it was Miss Anastasia,” said Marian, eagerly.

Then Louis coloured, and drew himself up. His first idea was that Miss
Anastasia looked for evidence to prove him the son of Lord Winterbourne;
and he resented, with natural vehemence, the interference of the old
lady. “We are come to a miserable pass, indeed,” he said, with
bitterness, “when people investigate privately to prove this wretched
lie against us.”

“But you do not understand,” cried Rachel. “Oh, Louis, I never told you
what Miss Anastasia said. She said you were to take the name of
Atheling, because it meant illustrious, and because the exiled princes
were named so. Both Marian and Agnes heard her. She is a friend, Louis.
Oh, I am sure, if she is inquiring anything, it is all for our good!”

The colour rose still higher upon Louis’s cheek. He did not quite
comprehend at the moment this strange, sudden side-light which glanced
down upon the question which was so important to him. He did not pause
to follow, nor see to what it might lead; but it struck him as a clue to
something, though he was unable to discover what that something was.
Atheling! the youth’s imagination flashed back in a moment upon those
disinherited descendants of Alfred, the Edgars and Margarets, who,
instead of princely titles, bore only that addition to their name. He
was as near the truth at that moment as people wandering in profound
darkness are often near the light. Another step would have brought him
to it; but Louis did not take that step, and was not enlightened. His
heart rose, however, with the burning impatience of one who comes within
sight of the goal. He started involuntarily with haste and eagerness. He
was jealous that even friendly investigations should be the first to
find out the mystery. He felt as if he would have a better right to
anything which might be awaiting him, if he discovered it himself.

Upon all this tumult of thought and feeling, Agnes looked on, saying
nothing--looked on, by no means enjoying her spectatorship and superior
knowledge. It was a “situation” which might have pleased Mr Endicott,
but it terribly embarrassed Agnes, who found it no pleasure at all to be
so much wiser than her neighbours. She dared not confide the secret to
Louis any more than she could to the Rector; and she would have been
extremely unhappy between them, but for the relief and comfort of that
fable, which was quickly growing into shape and form. It had passed out
of her controlling hands already, and began to exercise over her the
sway which a real created thing always exercises over the mind even of
its author: it had ceased to be the direct personal affair she had
intended to make it; it told its story, but after a more delicate
process, and Agnes expended all her graceful fancy upon its perfection.
She thought now that Louis might find it out as well as the Rector. It
was an eloquent appeal, heart-warm and touching to them both.



CHAPTER XVII.

RACHEL’S DOUBTS.


After Louis, the most urgent business in the house of the Athelings was
that of Rachel, who was so pertinaciously anxious to be employed, that
her friends found it very difficult to evade her constant entreaties.
Rachel’s education--or rather Rachel’s want of education--had been very
different from that of Marian and Agnes. She had no traditions of
respectability to deter her from anything she could do; and she had been
accustomed to sing to the guests at Winterbourne, and concluded that it
would make very little difference to her, whether her performance was in
a public concert-room or a private assembly. “No one would care at all
for me; no one would ever think of me or look at me,” said Rachel. “If I
sang well, that would be all that any one thought of; and we need not
tell Louis--and I would not mind myself--and no one would ever know.”

“But I have great objections to it, my dear,” said Mrs Atheling, with
some solemnity. “I should rather a hundred times take in work myself, or
do anything with my own hands, than let my girls do this. It is not
respectable for a young girl. A public appearance! I should be grieved
and ashamed beyond anything. I should indeed, my dear.”

“I am very sorry, Mrs Atheling,” said Rachel, wistfully; “but it is not
anything wrong.”

“Not wrong--but not at all respectable,” said Mrs Atheling, “and
unfeminine, and very dangerous indeed, and a discreditable position for
a young girl.”

Rachel blushed, and was very much disconcerted, but still did not give
up the point. “I thought it so when they tried to force me,” she said in
a low tone; “but now, no one need know; and people, perhaps, might have
me at their houses; ladies sing in company. You would not mind me doing
that, Mrs Atheling? Or I could give lessons. Perhaps you think it is all
vanity; but indeed they used to think me a very good singer, long ago.
Oh, Agnes, do you remember that old gentleman at the Willow? that very
old gentleman who used to talk to you? I think he could help me if you
would only speak to him.”

“Mr Agar? I think he could,” said Agnes; “but, Rachel, mamma says you
must not think of it. Marian does not do anything, and why should you?”

“I am no one’s daughter,” said Rachel, sadly. “You are all very kind;
but Louis has only a very little money; and I will not--indeed I will
not--be a burden upon you.”

“Rachel, my dear,” said Mrs Atheling, “do not speak so foolishly; but I
will tell you what we can do. Agnes shall write down all about it to
Miss Anastasia, and ask her advice, and whether she consents to it; and
if she consents, I will not object any more. I promise I shall not stand
in the way at all, if Miss Anastasia decides for you.”

Rachel looked up with a little wonder. “But Miss Anastasia has nothing
to do with us,” said the astonished girl. “I would rather obey you than
Miss Rivers, a great deal. Why should we consult _her_?”

“My dear,” said Mrs Atheling, with importance, “you must not ask any
questions at present. _I have my reasons._ Miss Anastasia takes a great
interest in you, and I have a very good reason for what I say.”

This made an end of the argument; but Rachel was extremely puzzled, and
could not understand it. She was not very quick-witted, this gentle
little girl; she began to have a certain awe of Miss Anastasia, and to
suppose that it must be her superior wisdom which made every one ask her
opinion. Rachel could not conclude upon any other reason, and
accordingly awaited with a little solemnity the decision of Miss Rivers.
They were in a singular harmony, all these young people; not one of
them but had some great question hanging in the balance, which they
themselves were not sufficient to conclude upon--something that might
change and colour the whole course of their lives.

Another event occurring just at this time, made Rachel for a time the
heroine of the family. Charlie wrote home with great regularity, like a
good son as he was. His letters were very short, and not at all
explanatory; but they satisfied his mother that he had not taken a
fever, nor fallen into the hands of robbers, and that was so far well.
In one of these epistles, however, the young gentleman extended his
brief report a little, to describe to them a family with which he had
formed acquaintance. There were a lot of girls, Charlie said; and one of
them, called Giulia Remori, was strangely like “Miss Rachel;” “not
exactly like,” wrote Charlie,--“not like Agnes and Marian” (who, by the
way, had only a very vague resemblance to each other). “You would not
suppose them to be sisters; but I always think of Miss Rachel when I see
this Signora Giulia. They say, too, she has a great genius for music,
and I heard her sing once myself, like----; well, I cannot say what it
was like. The most glorious music, I believe, under the skies.”

“Mamma, that cannot be Charlie!” said the girls simultaneously; but it
was Charlie, without any dispute, and Marian clapped her hands in
triumph, and exclaimed that he must be in love; and there stood Rachel,
very much interested, wistful, and smiling. The tender-hearted girl had
the greatest propensity to make friendships. She received the idea of
this foreign Giulia into her heart in a moment, and ran forth eagerly at
the time of Louis’s usual evening visit to meet him at the gate, and
tell him this little bit of romance. It moved Louis a great deal more
deeply than it moved Rachel. This time his eye flashed to the truth like
lightning. He began to give serious thought to what Marian had said of
Charlie’s object, and of Miss Anastasia. “Hush, Rachel,” he said, with
sudden gravity. “Hush, I see it; this is some one belonging to our
mother.”

“Our mother!” The two orphans stood together at the little gate,
silenced by the name. They had never speculated much upon this parent.
It was one of the miseries of their cruel position, that the very idea
of a dead mother, which is to most minds the most saintlike and holy
imagination under heaven, brought to them their bitterest pang of
disgrace and humiliation. Yet now Louis stood silent, pondering it with
the deepest eagerness. A burning impatience possessed the young man; a
violent colour rose over his face. He could not tolerate the idea of an
unconcerned inquirer into matters so instantly momentous to himself. He
was not at all amiable in his impulses; his immediate and wild fancy was
to rush away, on foot and penniless, as he was; to turn off Charlie
summarily from his mission, if he had one; and without a clue, or a
guide, or a morsel of information which pointed in that direction, by
sheer force of energy and desperation to find it out himself. It was
misery to go in quietly to the quiet house, even to the presence of
Marian, with such a fancy burning in his mind. He left Rachel abruptly,
without a word of explanation, and went off to make inquiries about
travelling. It was perfectly vain, but it was some satisfaction to the
fever of his mind. Louis’s defection made Marian very angry; when he
came next day they had their first quarrel, and parted in great
distraction and misery, mutually convinced of the treachery and
wretchedness of this world; but made it up again very shortly after, to
the satisfaction of every one concerned. With these things happening day
by day, with their impatient and fiery Orlando, always in some degree
inflaming the house, it is not necessary to say how wonderful a
revolution had been wrought upon the quiet habitudes of this little
house in Bellevue.



CHAPTER XVIII.

AGNES.


Yet the household felt, in spite of itself, a difference by no means
agreeable between the Old Wood Lodge and Bellevue. The dull brick wall
of Laurel House was not nearly so pleasant to look upon as that great
amphitheatre with its maze of wan waters and willow-trees, where the
sunshine flashed among the spires of Oxford; neither was Miss Willsie,
kind and amusing as she was, at all a good substitute for Miss
Anastasia. They had Louis, it was true, but Louis was in love, and
belonged to Marian; and no one within their range was at all to be
compared to the Rector. Accustomed to have their interest fixed, after
their own cottage, upon the Old Wood House and Winterbourne Hall, they
were a little dismayed, in spite of themselves, to see the meagreness
and small dimensions even of Killiecrankie Lodge. It was a different
world altogether--and they did not know at the first glance how to make
the two compatible. The little house in the country, now that they had
left it, grew more and more agreeable by comparison. Mrs Atheling forgot
that she had thought it damp, and all of them, Mamma herself among the
rest, began to think of their return in spring.

And as the winter went on, Agnes made progress with her fable. She did
not write it carefully, but she did write it with fervour, and the haste
of a mind concerned and in earnest. The story had altered considerably
since she first thought of it. There was in it a real heir whom nobody
knew, and a supposed heir, who was the true hero of the book. The real
heir had a love-story, and the prettiest _fiancée_ in the world; but
about her hero Agnes was timid, presenting a grand vague outline of him,
and describing him in sublime general terms; for she was not at all an
experienced young lady, though she was an author, but herself regarded
her hero with a certain awe and respect and imperfect understanding, as
young men and young women of poetic conditions are wont to regard each
other. From this cause it resulted that you were not very clear about
the Sir Charles Grandison of the young novelist. Her pretty heroine was
as clear as a sunbeam; and even the Louis of her story was definable,
and might be recognised; but the other lay half visible, sometimes
shining out in a sudden gleam of somewhat tremulous light, but for the
most part enveloped in shadow: everybody else in the tale spoke of him,
thought of him, and were marvellously influenced by him; but his real
appearances were by no means equal to the importance he had acquired.

The sole plot of the story was connected with the means by which the
unsuspected heir came to a knowledge of his rights, and gained his true
place; and there was something considerably exciting to Agnes in her
present exercise of the privilege of fiction, and the steps she took to
make the title of her imaginary Louis clear. She used to pause, and
wonder in the midst of it, whether such chances as these would befall
the true Louis, and how far the means of her invention would resemble
the real means. It was a very odd occupation, and interested her
strangely. It was not very much of a story, neither was it written with
that full perfection of style which comes by experience and the progress
of years; but it had something in its faulty grace, and earnestness, and
simplicity, which was perhaps more attractive than the matured
perfectness of a style which had been carefully formed, and “left
nothing to desire.” It was sparkling with youth, and it was warm from
the heart. It went into no greater bulk than one small volume, which Mr
Burlington put into glowing red cloth, embellished with two engravings,
and ornamented with plenty of gilding. It came out, a wintry Christmas
flower, making no such excitement in the house as _Hope Hazlewood_ had
done; and Agnes had the satisfaction of handing over to Papa, to lock up
in his desk in the office, a delightfully crisp, crackling, newly-issued
fifty-pound note.

And Christmas had just given way to the New Year when the Rector made
his appearance at Bellevue. He was still more eager, animated, and
hopeful than he had been when they saw him last. His extreme high-church
clerical costume was entirely abandoned; he still wore black, but it was
not very professional, and he appeared in these unknown parts with books
in his hands and smiles on his face. When he came into the little
parlour, he did not seem at all to notice its limited dimensions, but
greeted them all with an effusion of pleasure and kindness, which
greatly touched the heart of Agnes, and moved her mother, in her extreme
gratification and pride, to something very like tears. Mr Rivers
inquired at once for Louis, with great gravity and interest, but shook
his head when he heard what his present occupation was.

“This will not do; will he come and see me, or shall I wait upon him?”
said the Rector with a subdued smile, as he remembered the youthful
haughtiness of Louis. “I should be glad to speak to him about his
prospects--here is my card--will you kindly ask him to dine with me
to-night, alone? He is a young man of great powers; something better
may surely be found for him than this lawyer’s office.”

Mrs Atheling was a little piqued in spite of herself. “My son, when he
is at home, is there,” said the good mother; and her visitor did not
fail to see the significance of the tone.

“He is not at home now--where is he?” said the Rector.

There was a moment’s hesitation. Agnes turned to look at him, her colour
rising violently, and Mrs Atheling faltered in her reply.

“He has gone abroad to ---- to make some inquiries,” said Mrs Atheling;
“though he is so very young, people have great confidence in him;
and--and it may turn out very important indeed, what he has gone about.”

Once more Agnes cast a troubled glance upon the Rector--he heard of it
with such perfect unconcern--this inquiry which in a moment might strike
his ambition to the dust.

He ceased at once speaking on this subject, which did not interest him.
He said, turning to her, that he had brought some books about which he
wanted Miss Atheling’s opinion. Agnes shrank back immediately in natural
diffidence, but revived again, before she was aware, in all her old
impulse of opposition. “If it is wrong to write books, is it right to
form opinions upon them?” said Agnes. Mr Rivers imperceptibly grew a
little loftier and statelier as she spoke.

“I think I have explained my sentiments on that point,” said the Rector;
“there is no one whose appreciation I should set so high a value on as
that of an intelligent woman.”

It was Agnes’s turn to blush and say nothing, as she met his eye. When
Mr Rivers said “an intelligent woman,” he meant, though the expression
was not romantic, his own ideal; and there lay his books upon the table,
evidences of his choice of a critic. She began to busy herself with
them, looking quite vacantly at the title-pages; wondering if there was
anything besides books, and controversies, and opinions, to be found in
the Rector’s heart.

When Mrs Atheling, in her natural pride and satisfaction, bethought her
of that pretty little book with its two illustrations, and its cover in
crimson and gold, she brought a copy to the table immediately. “My dear,
perhaps Mr Rivers might like to look at this?” said Mrs Atheling. “It
has only been a week published, but people speak very well of it
already. It is a very pretty story. I think you would like it--Agnes, my
love, write Mr Rivers’ name.”

“No, no, mamma!” cried Agnes hurriedly; she put away the red book from
her, and went away from the table in haste and agitation. Very true, it
was written almost for him--but she was dismayed at the idea of being
called to write in it Lionel Rivers’ name.

He took up the book, however, and looked at it in the gravest silence.
_The Heir_;--he read the title aloud, and it seemed to strike him; then
without another word he put the little volume safely in his pocket,
repeated his message to Louis, and a few minutes afterwards, somewhat
grave and abstracted, took his leave of them, and hastened away.



CHAPTER XIX.

LIONEL.


The Rector became a very frequent visitor during the few following weeks
at Bellevue. Louis had gone to see him, as he desired, and Mr Rivers
anxiously endeavoured to persuade the youth to suffer himself to be
“assisted.” Louis as strenuously resisted every proposal of the kind; he
was toiling on in pursuit of himself, through his memoir of Lord
Winterbourne--still eager, and full of expectation--still proud, and
refusing to be indebted to any one. The Rector argued with him like an
elder brother. “Let us grant that you are successful,” said Mr Rivers;
“let us suppose that you make an unquestionable discovery, what position
are you in to pursue it? Your sister, even--recollect your sister--you
cannot provide for her.”

His sister was Louis’s grand difficulty; he bit his lip, and the fiery
glow of shame came to his face. “I cannot provide for her, it is true.
I am bitterly ashamed of it; but, at least, she is among friends.”

“You do me small credit,” said the Rector; “but I will not ask, on any
terms, for a friendship which is refused to me. You are not even in the
way of advancement; and to lose your time after this fashion is madness.
Let me see you articled to these people whom you are with now; that is,
at least, a chance, though not a great one. If I can accomplish it, will
you consent to this?”

Louis paused a little, grateful in his heart, though his tongue was slow
to utter his sentiments. “You are trying to do me a great service,” said
the young man; “you think me a churl, and ungrateful, but you endeavour
to benefit me against my will--is it not true? I am just in such a
position that no miracle in the world would seem wonderful to me; it is
possible, in the chances of the future, that we two may be set up
against each other. I cannot accept this service from you--from you, or
from any other. I must wait.”

The Rector turned away almost with impatience. “Do you suppose you can
spend your life in this fashion--your life?” he exclaimed, with some
heat.

“My life!” said Louis. He was a little startled with this conclusion. “I
thank you,” he added abruptly, “for your help, for your advice, for your
reproof--I thank you heartily, but I have no more to say.”

That was how the conversation ended. Lionel, grieved for the folly of
the boy, smiling to himself at Louis’s strange delusion that he, who was
the very beau-ideal of the race of Rivers, belonged to another house,
went to his rest, with a mind disturbed, full of difficulties, and of
ambition, working out one solemn problem, and touched with tender
dreams; yet always remembering, with a pleasure which he could not
restrain, the great change in his position, and that he was now, not
merely the Rector, but the heir of Winterbourne. Louis, on his part,
went home to his dark little lodging, with the swell and tumult of
excitement in his mind, and could not sleep. He seemed to be dizzied
with the rushing shadows of a crowd of coming events. He was not well;
his abstinence, his studiousness, his change of place and life, had
weakened his young frame; these rushing wings seemed to tingle in his
ears, and his temples throbbed as if they kept time. He rose in the
middle of the night, in the deep wintry silence and moonlight, to open
his window, and feel the cold air upon his brow. There he saw the
moonbeams falling softly, not on any imposing scene, but on the humble
roof underneath whose shelter sweet voices and young hearts, devout and
guileless, prayed for him every night; the thought calmed him into
sudden humility and quietness; and, in his poverty, and hope, and youth,
he returned to his humble bed, and slept. Lionel was waking too; but he
did not know of any one who prayed for _him_ in all this cold-hearted
world.

But the Rector became a very frequent visitor in Bellevue. He had read
the little book--read it with a kind of startled consciousness, the
first time, that it looked like a true story, and seemed somehow
familiar to himself. But by-and-by he began to keep it by him, and, not
for the sake of the story, to take it up idly when he was doing nothing
else, and refer to it as a kind of companion. It was not, in any degree
whatever, an intellectual display; he by no means felt himself pitted
against the author of it, or entering into any kind of rivalship with
her. The stream sparkled and flashed to the sunshine as it ran; but it
flowed with a sweet spontaneous readiness, and bore no trace of
artificial force and effort. It wanted a great many of the qualities
which critics praise. There was no great visible strain of power, no
forcible evidence of difficulties overcome. The reader knew very well
that _he_ could not have done this, nor anything like it, yet his
intellectual pride was not roused. It was genius solacing itself with
its own romaunt, singing by the way; it was not talent getting up an
exhibition for the astonishment, or the enlightenment, or the
instruction of others. Agnes defeated her own purpose by the very means
she had taken to procure it. The Rector forgot all about the story,
thinking of the writer of it; he became indifferent to what she had to
tell, but dwelt and lingered--not like a critic--like something very
different--upon the cadence of her voice.

To tell the truth, between his visits to Bellevue, and his musings
thereafter--his study of this little fable of Agnes’s, and his vague
mental excursions into the future, Lionel Rivers, had he yielded to the
fascination, would have found very near enough to do. But he was manful
enough to resist this trance of fairyland. He was beginning to be “in
love;” nobody could dispute it; it was visible enough to wake the most
entire sympathy in the breasts of Marian and Rachel, and to make for the
mother of the family wakeful nights, and a most uneasy pillow; but he
was far from being at ease or in peace. His friends in London were of a
class as different as possible from these humble people who were rapidly
growing nearer than friends. They were all men of great intelligence, of
great powers, scholars, philosophers, authorities--men who belonged, and
professed to belong, to the ruling class of intellect, prophets and
apostles of a new generation. They were not much given to believing
anything, though some among them had a weakness for mesmerism or
spiritual manifestations. They investigated all beliefs and faculties of
believing, and received all marvellous stories, from the Catholic
legends of the saints to the miracles of the New Testament, on one
general ground of indulgence, charitable and tender, as mythical stories
which meant something in their day. Most of them wrote an admirable
style--most of them occasionally said very profound things which nobody
could understand; all of them were scholars and gentlemen, as blameless
in their lives as they were superior in their powers; and all of them
lived upon a kind of intellectual platform, philosophical demigods,
sufficient for themselves, and looking down with a good deal of
curiosity, a little contempt, and a little pity, upon the crowds who
thronged below of common men.

These were the people to whom Lionel Rivers, in the first flush of his
emancipation, had hastened from his high-churchism, and his country
pulpit--some of them had been his companions at College--some had
inspired him by their books, or pleased him by their eloquence. They
were a brotherhood of men of great cultivation--his equals, and
sometimes his superiors. He had yearned for their society when he was
quite removed from it; but he was of a perverse and unconforming mind.
What did he do now?

He took the strange fancy suddenly, and telling no man, of wandering
through those frightful regions of crime and darkness, which we hide
behind our great London streets. He went about through the miserable
thoroughfares, looking at the miserable creatures there. What was the
benefit to them of these polluted lives of theirs? They had their
enjoyments, people said--their enjoyments! Their sorrows, like the
sorrows of all humanity, were worthy human tears, consolation, and
sympathy,--their hardships and endurances were things to move the
universal heart; but their enjoyments--Heaven save us!--the pleasures of
St Giles’s, the delights and amusements of those squalid groups at the
street corners! If they were to have nothing more than that, what a
frightful fate was theirs!

And there came upon the spectator, as he went among them in silence, a
sudden eagerness to try that talisman which Agnes Atheling had bidden
him use. It was vain to try philosophy there, where no one knew what it
meant--vain to offer the rites of the Church to those who were fatally
beyond its pale. Was it possible, after all, that the one word in the
world, which could stir something human--something of heaven--in these
degraded breasts, was that one sole unrivalled _Name_?

He could not withdraw himself from the wretched scene before him. He
went on from street to street with something of the consciousness of a
man who carries a hidden remedy through a plague-stricken city, but
hides his knowledge in his own mind, and does not apply it. A strange
sense of guilt--a strange oppression by reason of this grand secret--an
overpowering passionate impulse to try the solemn experiment, and
withal a fascinated watchfulness which kept him silent--possessed the
mind of the young man.

He walked about the streets like a man doing penance; then he began to
notice other passengers not so idle as himself. There were people here
who were trying to break into the mass of misery, and make a footing for
purity and light among it. They were not like his people;--sometimes
they were poor city missionaries, men of very bad taste, not perfect in
their grammar, and with no great amount of discretion. Even the people
of higher class were very limited people often to the perception of Mr
Rivers; but they were at work, while the demigods slept upon their
platform. It would be very hard to make philosophers of the wretched
population here. Philosophy did not break its heart over the
impossibility, but calmly left the untasteful city missionaries, the
clergymen, High Church and Low Church, who happened to be in earnest,
and some few dissenting ministers of the neighbourhood, labouring upon a
forlorn hope to make them _men_.

All this moved in the young man’s heart as he pursued his way among
these squalid streets. Every one of these little stirrings in this
frightful pool of stagnant life was made in the name of Him whom Lionel
Rivers once named with cold irreverence, and whom Agnes Atheling, with
a tender awe and appropriation, called “Our Lord.” This was the problem
he was busy with while he remained in London. It was not one much
discussed, either in libraries or drawing-rooms, among his friends; he
discussed it by himself as he wandered through St
Giles’s--silent--watching--with the great Name which he himself did not
know, but began to cling to as a talisman, burning at his heart.



CHAPTER XX.

AN ARRIVAL.


While the Athelings at home were going on quietly, but with anxiety and
disturbance of mind in this way, they were startled one afternoon by a
sudden din and tumult out of doors, nearly as great as that which, not
much short of a year ago, had announced the first call of Mrs Edgerley.
It was not, however, a magnificent equipage like that of the fashionable
patroness of literature which drew up at the door now. It was an antique
job carriage, not a very great deal better to look at than that
venerable fly of Islington, which was still regarded with respect by
Agnes and Marian. In this vehicle there were two horses, tall brown bony
old hacks, worthy the equipage they drew--an old coachman in a very
ancient livery, and an active youth, fresh, rural, and ruddy, who sprang
down from the creaking coach-box to assault, but in a moderate country
fashion, the door of the Athelings. Rachel, who was peeping from the
window, uttered an exclamation of surprise--“Oh, Agnes, look! it is Miss
Anastasia’s man.”

It was so beyond dispute, and Miss Anastasia herself immediately
descended from the creaking vehicle, swinging heavily upon its
antiquated springs; she had a large cloak over her brown pelisse, and a
great muff of rich sables, big enough to have covered from head to foot,
like a case, either little Bell or little Beau. She was so entirely like
herself in spite of those additions to her characteristic costume, and
withal so unlike other people, that they could have supposed she had
driven here direct from the Priory, had that been possible, without any
commonplace intervention of railway or locomotive by the way. As the
girls came to the door to meet her, she took the face--first of Agnes,
then of Marian, and lastly of Rachel, who was a good deal dismayed by
the honour--between her hands, thrusting the big muff, like a prodigious
bracelet, up upon her arm the while, and kissed them with a cordial
heartiness. Then she went into the little parlour to Mrs Atheling, who
in the mean time had been gathering together the scattered pieces of
work, and laying them, after an orderly fashion, in her basket. Then
Papa’s easy-chair was wheeled to the fire for the old lady, and Marian
stooped to find a footstool for her, and Agnes helped to loose the big
cloak from her shoulders. Miss Anastasia’s heart was touched by the
attentions of the young people. She laid her large hand caressingly on
Marian’s head, and patted the cheek of Agnes. “Good children--eh? I
missed them,” she said, turning to Mamma, and Mamma brightened with
pleasure and pride as she whispered something to Agnes about the fire in
the best room. Then, when she had held a little conversation with the
girls, Miss Rivers began to look uneasy. She glanced at Mrs Atheling
with a clear intention of making some telegraphic communication; she
glanced at the girls and at the door, and back again at Mamma, with a
look full of meaning. Mrs Atheling was not generally so dull of
comprehension, but she was so full of the idea that Miss Anastasia’s
real visit was to the girls, and so proud of the attraction which even
this dignified old lady could not resist, that she could not at all
consent to believe that Miss Rivers desired to be left alone with
herself.

“There’s a hamper from the Priory,” said Miss Anastasia at last,
abruptly; “among other country things there’s some flowers in it,
children--make haste all of you and get it unpacked, and tell me what
you think of my camellias! Make haste, girls!”

It was a most moving argument; but it distracted Mrs Atheling’s
attention almost as much as that of her daughters, for the hamper
doubtless contained something else than flowers. Mamma, however,
remained decorously with her guest, despite the risk of breakage to the
precious country eggs; and the girls, partly deceived, partly suspecting
their visitor’s motive, obeyed her injunction, and hastened away. Then
Miss Rivers caught Mrs Atheling by the sleeve, and drew her close
towards her. “Have you heard from your boy?” said Miss Anastasia.

“No,” said Mrs Atheling with a sudden momentary alarm, “not for a
week--has anything happened to Charlie?”

“Nonsense--what could happen to him?” cried the old lady, with a little
impatience, “here is a note I had this morning--read it--he is coming
home.”

Mrs Atheling took the letter with great eagerness. It was a very brief
one:--

     MADAM,--I have come to it at last--suddenly. I have only time to
     tell you so. I shall leave to-day with an important witness. I have
     not even had leisure to write to my mother; but will push on to the
     Priory whenever I have bestowed my witness safely in Bellevue. In
     great haste.--Your obedient servant,

                                    C. ATHELING.



Charlie’s mother trembled all over with agitation and joy. She had to
grasp by the mantel-shelf to keep herself quite steady. She exclaimed,
“My own boy!” half-crying and wholly exultant, and would have liked to
have hurried out forthwith upon the road and met him half-way, had that
been possible. She kept the letter in her hand looking at it, and quite
forgetting that it belonged to Miss Anastasia. He had justified the
trust put in him--he had crowned himself with honour--he was coming
home! Not much wonder that the good mother was weeping-ripe, and could
have sobbed aloud for very joy.

“Ay,” said Miss Anastasia, with something like a sigh, “you’re a rich
woman. I have not rested since this came to me, nor can I rest till I
hear all your boy has to say.”

At this moment Mrs Atheling started with a little alarm, catching from
the window a glimpse of the coach, with its two horses and its
antiquated coachman, slowly turning round and driving away. Miss
Anastasia followed her glance with a subdued smile.

“Do you mean then to--to stay in London, Miss Rivers?” asked Mrs
Atheling.

“Tut! the boy will be home directly--to-night,” said Miss Anastasia; “I
meant to wait here until he came.”

Mrs Atheling started again in great and evident perturbation. You could
perceive that she repeated “to wait _here_!” within herself with a
great many points of admiration; but she was too well-bred to express
her dismay. She cast, however, an embarrassed look round her, said she
should be very proud, and Miss Rivers would do them honour, but she was
afraid the accommodation was not equal--and here Mrs Atheling paused
much distressed.

“I have been calculating all the way up when he can be here,”
interrupted Miss Anastasia. “I should say about twelve o’clock to-night.
Agnes, when she comes back again, shall revise it for me. Never mind
accommodation. Give him an hour’s grace--say he comes at one
o’clock--then a couple of hours later--by that time it will be three in
the morning. Then I am sure one of the girls will not grudge me her bed
till six. We’ll get on very well; and when Will Atheling comes home, if
you have anything to say to him, I can easily step out of the way. Well,
am I an intruder? If I am not, don’t say anything more about it. I
cannot rest till I see the boy.”

When the news became diffused through the house that Charlie was coming
home to-night, and that Miss Anastasia was to wait for him, a very great
stir and bustle immediately ensued. The best room was hastily put in
order, and Mrs Atheling’s own bedchamber immediately revised and
beautified for the reception of Miss Anastasia. It was with a little
difficulty, however, that the old lady was persuaded to leave the
family parlour for the best room. She resisted energetically all unusual
attentions, and did not hesitate to declare, even in the presence of
Rachel, that her object was to see Charlie, and that for his arrival she
was content to wait all night. A great anxiety immediately took
possession of the household. They too were ready and eager to wait all
night; and even Susan became vaguely impressed with a solemn sense of
some great approaching event. Charlie was not to be alone either. The
excitement rose to a quite overpowering pitch--who was coming with him?
What news did he bring? These questions prolonged to the most
insufferable tediousness the long slow darksome hours of the March
night.



CHAPTER XXI.

CHARLIE’S RETURN.


The girls could not be persuaded to go to rest, let Mamma say what she
would. Rachel, the only one who had no pretence, nor could find any
excuse for sitting up, was the only one who showed the least sign of
obedience; _she_ went up-stairs with a meek unwillingness, lingered as
long as she could before lying down, and when she extinguished her light
at last, lay very broad awake looking into the midnight darkness, and
listening anxiously to every sound below. Marian, in the parlour on a
footstool, sat leaning both her arms on her mother’s knee, and her head
upon her arms, and in that position had various little sleeps, and
half-a-dozen times in half-a-dozen dreams welcomed Charlie home. Agnes
kept Miss Anastasia company in the best room, and Papa, who was not used
to late hours, went between the two rooms with very wide open eyes, very
anxious for his son’s return. Into the midnight darkness and solemnity
of Bellevue, the windows of Number Ten blazed with a cheerful light;
the fires were studiously kept up, the hearths swept, everything looking
its brightest for Charlie; and a pair of splendid capons, part produce
of Miss Anastasia’s hamper, were slowly cooking themselves into
perfection, under the sleepy superintendence of Susan, before the great
kitchen-fire--for even Susan would not go to bed.

Miss Anastasia sat very upright in an easy-chair, scorning so much as a
suspicion of drowsiness. She did not talk very much; she was thinking
over a hundred forgotten things, and tracing back step by step the story
of the past. The old lady almost felt as if her father himself was
coming from his foreign grave to bear witness to the truth. Her heart
was stirred as she sat gazing into the ruddy firelight, hearing not a
sound except now and then the ashes falling softly on the hearth, or the
softer breath of Agnes by her side. As she sat in this unfamiliar little
room, her mind flew back over half her life. She thought of her father
as she had seen him last; she thought of the dreary blank of her own
youthful desolation, a widowhood almost deeper than the widowhood of a
wife--how she did not heed even the solemn pathos of her father’s
farewell--could not rouse herself from her lethargy even to be moved by
the last parting from that last and closest friend, and desired nothing
but to be left in her dreary self-seclusion obstinately mourning her
dead--her murdered bridegroom! The old lady’s eyes glittered, tearless,
looking into the gleaming shadowy depths of the little mirror over the
mantelpiece. It was scarcely in human nature to look back upon that
dreadful tragedy, to anticipate the arrival to-night of the witnesses of
another deadly wrong, and not to be stirred with a solemn and
overwhelming indignation like that of an avenger of blood. Miss
Anastasia started suddenly from her reverie, as she caught a long-drawn
anxious sigh from her young companion; she drew her shawl close round
her with a shudder. “God forgive me!” cried the vehement old lady; “did
you ever have an enemy, child?”

In this house it was a very easy question. “No,” said Agnes, looking at
her wistfully.

“Nor I, perhaps, when I was your age.” Miss Anastasia made a long pause.
It was a long time ago, and she scarcely could recollect anything of her
youth now, except that agony with which it ended. Then in the silence
there seemed to be a noise in the street, which roused all the watchers.
Mr Atheling went to the door to look out. It was very cold, clear, and
calm, the air so sharp with frost, and so still with sleep, that it
carried every passing sound far more distinctly than usual. Into this
hushed and anxious house, through the open door came ringing the chorus
of a street ballad, strangely familiar and out of unison with the
excited feelings of the auditors, and the loud, noisy, echoing footsteps
of some late merry-makers. They were all singularly disturbed by these
uncongenial sounds; they raised a certain vague terror in the breasts of
the father and mother, and a doubtful uneasiness among the other
watchers. Under that veil of night, and silence, and distance, who could
tell what their dearest and most trusted was doing? The old people could
have told each other tales, like Jessica, of “such a night;” and the
breathless silence, and the jar and discord of those rude voices,
stirred memories and presentiments of pain even in the younger hearts.

It was now the middle of the night, two or three hours later than Miss
Anastasia had anticipated, and the old lady rose from her chair, shook
off her thoughtful mood, and began to walk about the room, and to
criticise it briskly to Agnes. Then by way of diversifying her vigil,
she made an incursion into the other parlour, where Papa was nursing the
fire, and Mamma sitting very still, not to disturb Marian, who slept
with her beautiful head upon her mother’s knee. The old lady was
suddenly overcome by the sight of that fair figure, with its folded arms
and bowed head, and long beautiful locks falling down on Mrs Atheling’s
dark gown, like a stream of sunshine. She laid her hand very tenderly
upon the sleeper’s head. “She does not know,” said Miss Anastasia--“she
would not believe what a fairy fortune is coming to her, the sleeping
beauty--God bless them all!”

The words had scarcely left her lips, the tears were still shining in
her eyes, when Marian started up, called out of her dream by a sound
which none of them besides had been quick enough to hear. “There! there!
I hear him,” cried Marian, shaking back her loose curls; and they all
heard the far-off rapid rumble of a vehicle, gradually invading all the
echoes of this quietness. It came along steadily--nearer--nearer--waking
every one to the most overpowering excitement. Miss Anastasia marched
through the little parlour, with an echoing step, throwing her tall
shadow on the blind, clasping her fingers tight. Mr Atheling rushed to
the door; Marian ran to the kitchen to wake up Susan, and see that the
tray was ready for Charlie’s refreshment; Mamma stirred the fire, and
made it blaze; Agnes drew the blind aside, and looked out into the
darkness from the window. Yes, there could be no mistake; on came the
rumbling wheels, closer and closer. Then the cab became absolutely
visible, opposite the door--some one leapt out--was it Charlie?--but he
had to wait, to help some one else, very slow and uncertain, out of the
vehicle. They all crowded to the door, the mother and sisters for the
moment half forgetting Miss Anastasia; and there stood a most
indisputable Charlie, very near six feet high, with a travelling-cap
and a rough overcoat, bringing home the most extraordinary guest
imaginable to his amazed parental home.

_It_ was a woman, enveloped from head to foot in a great cloak, but
unbonneted, and with an amazing head-dress; and after her stumbled forth
a boy, of precisely the same genus and appearance as the Italian boys
with hurdy-gurdies and with images, familiar enough in Bellevue. Charlie
hurried forward, paying the greatest possible attention to his charge,
who was somewhat peevish. He scarcely left her hand when he plunged
among all those anxious people at the door. “All safe--all well, mother;
how did you know I was coming?--how d’ye do, papa? Let her in, let her
in, girls!--she’s tired to death, and doesn’t know a word of English.
Let’s have her disposed of first of all--she’s worth her weight in
gold---- Miss Rivers!”

The young man fell back in extreme amazement. “Who is she, young
Atheling?” cried Miss Anastasia, towering high in the background over
everybody’s head.

Charlie took off his cap with a visible improvement of “manners.” “The
nurse that brought them home,” he answered, in the concisest and most
satisfactory fashion; and, grasping the hand of every one as he passed,
with real pleasure glowing on his bronzed face, Charlie steered his
charge in--seeing there was light in it--to the best room. Arrived
there, he fairly turned his back to the wall, and harangued his anxious
audience.

“It’s all right,” said Charlie; “she tells her story as clearly as
possible when she’s not out of humour, and the doctor’s on his way. I’ve
made sure of everything of importance; and now, mother, if you can
manage it, and Miss Rivers does not object, let us have something to
eat, and get her off to bed, and then you shall hear all the rest.”

Marian went off instantly to call Susan, and all the way Marian repeated
under her breath, “All the rest! all the rest of what? Oh, Louis! but
I’ll find out what they mean.”



CHAPTER XXII.

CHARLIE’S REPORT.


It was far from an easy achievement to get her safely conveyed up the
stairs. She turned round and delivered addresses to them in most lively
and oratorical Italian, eloquent on the subject of her sufferings by the
way; she was disposed to be out of temper when no one answered her but
Charlie, and fairly wound up, and stimulated with Miss Anastasia’s capon
and Mrs Atheling’s wine, was not half so much disposed to be sent off to
bed as her entertainers were to send her. These entertainers were in the
oddest state of amaze and excitement possible. It was beginning to draw
near the wintry morning of another day, and this strange figure in the
strange dress, which did not look half so pretty in its actual reality,
and upon this hard-featured peasant woman, as it did in pictures and
romance--the voluble foreign tongue of which they did not know a
word--the emphatic gestures; the change in the appearance of Charlie,
and the entire suddenness of the whole scene, confused the minds of the
lookers-on. Then a pale face in a white cap, a little shrinking
white-robed figure, trembling and anxious, was perceptible to Mrs
Atheling at the top of the stair, looking down upon it with terror. So
Mamma peremptorily sent Charlie back beside Miss Anastasia, and resumed
into her own hands the management of affairs. Under her guidance the
woman and the boy were comfortably disposed of, no one being able to
speak a word to them, in the room which had been Charlie’s. Rachel was
comforted and sent back to bed, and then Mrs Atheling turned suddenly
upon her own girls. “My dears,” said Mamma, “you are not wanted down
stairs. I don’t suppose Papa and I are wanted either; Miss Anastasia
must talk over her business with Charlie--it is not _our_ business you
know, Marian, my darling; go to sleep.”

“Go to sleep!--people cannot go to sleep just when they choose at five
o’clock in the morning, mamma!” cried the aggrieved and indignant
Marian; but Agnes, though quite as curious as her sister, was wise
enough to lend her assistance in the cause of subordination. Marian was
under very strong temptation. She thought she could _almost_ like to
steal down in the dark and listen; but honour, we are glad to say,
prevailed over curiosity, and sleep over both. When her pretty young
head touched the pillow, there was no eavesdropping possible to Marian;
and in the entirest privacy and silence, after all this tumult, in the
presence of Mamma and Mr Atheling, and addressing himself to Miss
Anastasia, Charlie told his tale. He took out his pocket-book from his
pocket--the same old-fashioned big pocket-book which he had carried away
with him, and gave his evidences one by one into Miss Anastasia’s hands
as he spoke.

But the old lady’s fingers trembled: she had restrained herself as well
as she could, feeling it only just that he should be welcomed by his
own, and even half diverted out of her anxiety by the excited Tyrolese;
but now her restrained feelings rushed back upon her heart. The papers
rustled in her hand; she did not hear him as he began, in order, and
deliberately, his report. “Information! I cannot receive information, I
am too far gone for that,” cried the old lady, with a hysterical break
in her voice. “Give me no facts, Charlie, Charlie!--I am not able to put
them together--tell me once in a word--is it true?”

“It is true,” said Charlie, eagerly--“not only true, but
proved--certain, so clear that nobody can deny it. Listen, Miss Rivers,
I could be content to go by myself with these evidences in my hand,
before any court in England, against the ablest pleader that ever held a
brief. Don’t mind the proofs to-night; trust my assurance, as you
trusted me. It is true to the letter, to the word, everything that you
supposed. Giulietta was his wife. Louis is his lawful son.”

Miss Anastasia did not say a word; she bowed down her face upon her
hands--that face over which an ashy paleness came slowly stealing like a
cloud. Mrs Atheling hastened forward, thinking she was about to faint,
but was put aside by a gesture. Then the colour came back, and Miss
Anastasia rose up, herself again, with all her old energy.

“You are perfectly right, young Atheling--quite right--as you have
always been,” said Miss Rivers; “and, of course, you have told me in
your letters the most part of what you could tell me now. But your boy
is born for the law, Will Atheling,” she said, turning suddenly to
Charlie’s pleased and admiring father. “He wrote to me as if I were a
lawyer instead of a woman: all facts and no opinion; that was scant
measure for me. Shake hands, boy. I’ll see everything in the morning,
and then we’ll think of beginning the campaign. I have it in my head
already--please Heaven! Charlie, we’ll chase them from the field.”

So saying, Miss Anastasia marched with an exultant and jubilant step,
following Mrs Atheling up the narrow stairs. She was considerably shaken
out of her usual composure--swells of great triumph, suddenly calmed by
the motion of a moved heart, passed over the spirit of this brave old
gentlewoman like sun and wind; and her self-appointed charge of the
rights of her father’s children, who might have been her own children so
far as age was concerned, had a very singular effect upon her. Mrs
Atheling did not linger a minute longer than she could help with her
distinguished guest. She was proud of Miss Anastasia, but far prouder of
Charlie,--Charlie, who had been a boy a little while ago, but who had
come back a man.

“Come here and sit down, mother,” said Charlie; “now we’re by ourselves,
if you will not tell the girls, I’ll tell you everything. First, there’s
the marriage. That she belonged to the family I wrote of--the family
Remori--I got at after a long time. She was an only daughter, and had no
one to look after her. I have a certificate of the marriage, and a
witness coming who was present--old Doctor Serrano--one of your patriots
who is always in mischief; besides that, what do you think is my
evidence for the marriage?”

“Indeed, Charlie, I could not guess,” cried Mrs Atheling.

“There’s a kind of tomb near the town, a thing as like the mausoleum at
Winterbourne as possible, and quite as ugly. There is this good in
ugliness,” said Charlie, “that one remarks it, especially in Italy. I
thought no one but an Englishman could have put up such an affair as
that, and I could not make out one way or another who it belonged to,
or what it was. The priests are very strong out there. They would not
let a heretic lie in consecrated ground, and no one cared to go near
this grave, if it was a grave. They wouldn’t allow even that. You know
what the Winterbourne tomb is--a great open canopied affair, with that
vast flat stone below. There was a flat stone in the other one too, not
half so big, and it looked to me as if it would lift easily enough. So
what do you think I did? I made friends with some wild fellows about,
and got hold of one young Englishman, and as soon as it was dark we got
picks and tools and went off to the grave.”

“Oh, Charlie!” Mrs Atheling turned very pale.

“After a lot of work we got it open,” said Charlie, going on with great
zest and animation. “Then the young fellow and I got down into the
vault--a regular vault, where there had been a lamp suspended. _It_, I
suppose, had gone out many a year ago; and there we found upon the two
coffin-lids--well, it’s very pitiful, mother, it is indeed--but we
wanted it for evidence--on one of the coffins was this
inscription:--‘Giulietta Rivers, Lady Winterbourne, _née_ Remori, died
January 1822, aged twenty years.’ If it had been a diamond mine it would
not have given so much pleasure to me.”

“Pleasure! oh Charlie!” cried Mrs Atheling faintly.

“But they might say _you_ put it there, Charlie, and that it was not
true,” said Mr Atheling, who rather piqued himself upon his caution.

“That was what I had the other young fellow for,” said Charlie quietly;
“and that was what made me quite sure she belonged to the Remoris; it
was easy enough after that--and I want only one link now, that is, to
make sure of their identity. Father, do you remember anything about the
children when they came to the Hall?”

Mr Atheling shook his head. “Your aunt Bridget, if she had been alive,
would have been sure to know,” said Mamma meditatively; “but Louis found
out some old servant lately that had been about Winterbourne long ago.”

“Louis! does he know?” cried Charlie.

“He is doing something on his own account, inquiring everything he can
about Lord Winterbourne. He does not know, but guesses every possible
kind of thing, except the truth,” said Mr Atheling; “how long he may be
of lighting upon that, it is impossible to say.”

“Now Charlie, my dear boy, you can ask all about Louis to-morrow,” said
Mrs Atheling. “Louis! Dear me, William, to think of us calling him
Louis, and treating him like any common young man, and he Lord
Winterbourne all the time! and all through Charlie!--and oh, my Marian!
when I think of it all, it bewilders me! But, Charlie, my dear, you must
not be fatigued too much. Do not ask him any more questions to-night,
papa; consider how important his health is; he must lie down directly.
I’ll make him all comfortable; and, William, do you go to the
parlour--bid him good-night.”

Papa obeyed, as dutiful papas are wont to obey, and Charlie laughed, but
submitted, as his mother, with her own kind unwearying hands, arranged
for him the sofa in the best room; for the Tyrolese and Miss Anastasia
occupied all the available bedrooms in the house. Then she bade him
good-night, drawing back his dark elf-locks, and kissing his forehead
tenderly, and with a certain respect for the big boy who was a boy no
longer; and then the good mother went away to arrange her husband
similarly on the other sofa, and to take possession, last of all, of the
easy-chair. “I can sleep in the day if I am disposed,” said Mrs
Atheling, who never was disposed for any such indulgence; and she leaned
back in the big chair, with a mind disturbed and glowing, agitated with
grand fancies. Marian! was it possible? But then, Agnes--after all, what
a maze of splendid uncertainty it was!



CHAPTER XXIII.

PROCRASTINATION.


“You may say what you like, young Atheling,” said Miss Rivers, “you’ve a
very good right to your own opinion; but I’m not a lawyer, nor bound by
rule and precedent, mind. This is the middle of March; _it_ comes on in
April; we must wait for that; and you’re not up with all your evidence,
you dilatory boy.”

“But I might happen to be up with it in a day,” said Charlie, “and at
all events an ejectment should be served, and the first step taken in
the case without delay.”

“That is all very well,” said the old lady, “but I don’t suppose it
would advance the business very much, besides rousing him at once to use
every means possible, and perhaps buy off that poor old Serrano, or get
hold of Monte. Why did you not look for Monte, young Atheling? The
chances are that he was present too?”

“One witness was as much as I could manage,” said Charlie, shrugging
his shoulders at the recollection; “but the most important question of
all--Louis--I mean--your brother--the heir--”

“My brother--the heir.” Miss Rivers coloured suddenly. It was a
different thing thinking of him in private, and hearing him spoken of
so. “I tell you he is not the heir, young Atheling; he is Lord
Winterbourne: but I will not see him yet, not till _the day_; it would
be a terrible time of suspense for the poor boy.”

“Then, if it is your pleasure, he must go away,” said Charlie,
firmly--“he cannot come here to this agitated house of ours without
discovering a good deal of the truth; and if he discovered it so, he
would have just grounds to complain. If he is not told at once, he ought
to have some commission such as I have had, and be sent away.”

Miss Rivers coloured still more, all her liking for Charlie and his
family scarcely sufficing to reconcile her to the “sending away” of the
young heir, on the same footing as she had sent young Atheling. She
hesitated and faltered visibly, seeing reason enough in it, but
extremely repugnant. “If you think so,” she said at last, with a
slightly averted face, “ah--another time we can speak of that.”

Then came further consultations, and Charlie had to tell his story over
bit by bit, and incident by incident, illustrating every point of it by
his documents. Miss Anastasia was particularly anxious about the young
Englishman whose name was signed with Charlie’s own, in certification of
the inscription on the coffin. Miss Anastasia marvelled much whether he
belonged to the Hillarys of Lincolnshire, or the Hillarys of Yorkshire,
and pursued his shadow through half-a-dozen counties. Charlie was not
particularly given to genealogy. He had the young man’s card, with his
address at the Albany, and the time of his possible return home. That
was quite enough for the matter in hand, and Charlie was very much more
concerned about the one link wanting in his evidence--the person who
received the children from the care of Leonore the Tyrolese.

As it chanced, in this strange maze of circumstance, the Rector chose
this day for one of his visits. He was very much amazed to encounter
Miss Anastasia; it struck him evidently as something which needed to be
accounted for, for she was known and noted as a dweller at home. She
received him at first with a certain triumphant satisfaction, but
by-and-by a little confusion appeared even in the looks of Miss
Anastasia. She began to glance from the stately young man to the pale
face and drooping eyelids of Agnes. She began to see the strange mixture
of trouble and hardship in this extraordinary revolution, and her heart
was touched for the heir deposed, as well as for the heir discovered.
Lionel was “in trouble” himself, after an odd enough fashion. Some one
had just instituted an action against him in the ecclesiastical courts
touching the furniture of his altar, and the form in which he conducted
the services. It was a strange poetic justice to bring this against him
now, when he himself had cast off his high-churchism, and was
luxuriating in his new freedom. But the Curate grew perfectly inspired
under the infliction, and rose to the highest altitude of satisfaction
and happiness, declaring this to be the testing-touch of persecution,
which constantly distinguishes the true faith. It was on Miss
Anastasia’s lips to speak of this, and to ask the young clergyman why he
was so long away from home at so critical a juncture, but her heart was
touched with compunction. From looking at Lionel, she turned suddenly to
Agnes, and asked, with a strange abruptness, a question which had no
connection with the previous conversation--“That little book of yours,
Agnes Atheling, that you sent to me, what do you mean by that story,
child?--eh?--what put _that_ into your idle little brain? It is not like
fiction; it is quite as strange and out of the way as if it had been
life.”

Involuntarily Agnes lifted her heavy eyelids, and cast a shy look of
distress and sympathy upon the unconscious Rector, who never missed any
look of hers, but could not tell what this meant. “I do not know,” said
Agnes; but the question did not wake the shadow of a smile upon her
face--it rather made her resentful. She thought it cruel of Miss
Anastasia, now that all doubt was over, and Lionel was certainly
disinherited. Disinherited!--he had never possessed anything actual, and
nothing was taken from him; whereas Louis had been defrauded of his
rights all his life; but Agnes instinctively took the part of the
present sufferer--the unwitting sufferer, who suspected no evil.

But the Rector was startled in his turn by the question of Miss
Anastasia. It revived in his own mind the momentary conviction of
reality with which he had read the little book. When Miss Anastasia
turned away for a moment, he addressed Agnes quietly aside, making a
kind of appeal. “Had you, then, a real foundation--is it a true tale?”
he said, looking at her with a little anxiety. She glanced up at him
again, with her eyes so full of distress, anxiety, warning--then looked
down with a visible paleness and trembling, faltered very much in her
answer, and at last only said, expressing herself with difficulty, “It
is not all real--only something like a story I have heard.”

But Agnes could not bear his inquiring look; she hastily withdrew to the
other side of the room, eager to be out of reach of the eyes which
followed her everywhere. For his part, Lionel’s first idea was of some
distress of hers, which he instinctively claimed the right to soothe;
but the thing remained in his mind, and gave him a certain vague
uneasiness; he read the book over again when he went home, to make it
out if he could, but fell so soon into thought of the writer, and
consideration of that sweet youthful voice of hers, that there was no
coming to any light in the matter. He not only gave it up, but forgot it
again, only marvelling what was the mystery which looked so sorrowful
and so bright out of Agnes Atheling’s eyes.

They all waited with some little apprehension that night for the visit
of Louis. He was very late; the evening wore away, and Miss Anastasia
had long ago departed, taking with her, to the satisfaction of every
one, the voluble Tyrolese; but Louis was not to be seen nor heard of.
Very late, as they were all preparing for rest, some one came to the
door. The knock raised a sudden colour on the cheeks of Marian, which
had grown very pale for an hour or two. But it was not Louis; it was,
however, a note from him, which Marian ran up-stairs to read. She came
down again a moment after, with a pale face, painfully keeping in two
big tears. “Oh, mamma, he has gone away,” said Marian. She did not want
to cry, and it was impossible to speak without crying; and yet she did
not like to confide to any one the lover’s letter. At last the tears
fell, and Marian found her voice. He had just heard suddenly something
very important, had seen Mr Foggo about it, and had hurried off to the
country; he would not be detained long, he was sure; he had not a moment
to explain anything, but would write whenever he got there. “He does not
even say where,” said Marian, sadly; and Rachel came close up to her,
and cried without any restraint, as Marian very much wished, but did not
quite like to do before her father and her brother. Mrs Atheling took
them both into a corner, and scolded them after a fashion she had. “My
dears, do you think you cannot trust Louis?” said Mamma--“nonsense!--we
shall hear to-morrow morning. Why, he has spoken to Mr Foggo, and you
may be quite sure everything is right, and that it was the most sensible
thing he could do.”

But it was very odd certainly, not at all explainable, and withal the
most seasonable thing in the world. “I should think it quite a
providence,” said Mrs Atheling, “if we only heard where he was.”



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE FOGGOS.


The first thing to be done in the morning, before it was time even for
the postman, was to hasten to Killiecrankie Lodge, and ascertain all
that could be ascertained concerning Louis from Mr Foggo. This mission
was confided to Agnes. It was a soft spring-like morning, and the first
of Miss Willsie’s wallflowers were beginning to blow. Miss Willsie
herself was walking in her little garden, scattering crumbs upon the
gravel-path for the poor dingy town-sparrows, and the stray robin whom
some unlucky wind had blown to Bellevue. But Miss Willsie was disturbed
out of her usual equanimity; she looked a little heated, as if she had
come here to recover herself, and rather frightened her little feathered
acquaintances by the vehemence with which she threw them her daily dole.
She smoothed her brow a little at sight of Agnes. “And what may _you_ be
wanting at such an hour as this?” said Miss Willsie; “if there is one
thing I cannot bide, it is to see young folk wandering about, without
any errand, at all the hours of the day!”

“But I have an errand,” said Agnes. “I want to ask Mr Foggo about--about
Mr Louis--if he knows where he has gone!”

Mr Louis--his surname, as everybody supposed--was the name by which
Louis was known in Bellevue.

Miss Willsie’s brow puckered with a momentary anger. “I would like to
know,” said Miss Willsie, “why that monkey could not content herself
with a kindly lad at home: but my brother’s in the parlour; you’ll find
him there, Agnes. Keep my patience!--Foggie’s there too--the lad from
America. If there’s one thing in this world I cannot endure, it’s just a
young man like yon!”

Miss Willsie, however, reluctantly followed her young visitor into the
breakfast parlour, from which the old lady had lately made an indignant
and unceremonious exit. It was a very comfortable breakfast-table, fully
deserving the paragraph it obtained in those “Letters from England,”
which are so interesting to all the readers of the _Mississippi
Gazette_. There was a Scottish prodigality of creature comforts, and the
fine ancient table-linen was white as snow, and there was a very unusual
abundance, for a house of this class, of heavy old plate. Mr Foggo was
getting through his breakfast methodically, with the _Times_ erected
before him, and forming a screen between himself and his worshipful
nephew; while Mr Foggo S. Endicott, seated with a due regard to his
profile, at such an angle with the light as to exhibit fitly that noble
outline, conveyed his teacup a very long way up from the table, at
dignified intervals, to his handsome and expressive mouth.

Agnes hastened to the elder gentleman at once, and drew him aside to
make her inquiries. Mr Foggo smiled, and took a pinch of snuff. “All
quite true,” said Mr Foggo; “he came to me yesterday with a paper in his
hand--a long story about next of kin wanted somewhere, and of two
children belonging to some poor widow woman, who had been lost sight of
a long time ago, one of whom was named Louis. That’s the story; it’s a
mare’s nest, Agnes, if you know what that is; but I thought it might
divert the boy; so instead of opposing, I furnished him for his journey,
and let him go without delay. No reason why the lad should not do his
endeavour for his own hand. It’s good for him, though it’s sure to be a
failure. He has told you perfectly true.”

“And where has he gone?” asked Agnes anxiously.

“It’s in one of the midland counties--somewhere beyond Birmingham--at
this moment I do not remember the place,” said Mr Foggo; “but I took a
note of it, and you’ll hear from him to-morrow. We’ve been hearing news
ourselves, Agnes. Did you tell her, Willsie, what fortune has come to
you and me?”

“No,” said Miss Willsie. She was turning her back upon her dutiful
nephew, and frowning darkly upon the teapot. The American had no chance
with his offended aunt.

“A far-away cousin of ours,” said Mr Foggo, who was very bland, and in a
gracious humour, “has taken it into his head to die; and a very bonny
place indeed, in the north country--a cosy little estate and a good
house--comes to me.”

“I am very glad,” said Agnes, brightening in sympathy; “that is good
news for everybody. Oh, Miss Willsie, how pleased Mr Foggo must be!”

Miss Willsie did not say a word--Mr Foggo smiled. “Then you think a cosy
estate a good thing, Agnes?” said the old gentleman. “I am rather
afraid, though you write books, you are not poetical; for that is not
the view of the subject taken by my nephew here.”

“I despise wealth,” said Mr Endicott. “An estate, sir, is so much dirty
soil. The mind is the true riches; a spark of genius is worth all the
inheritances in the world!”

“And that’s just so much the better for you, Foggie, my man,” cried Miss
Willsie suddenly; “seeing the inheritances of this world are very little
like to come to your share. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a lee!”

Mr Endicott took no notice of this abstract deliverance. “A very great
estate--the ancient feudal domain--the glens and the gorges of the
Highland chief, I respect, sir,” said the elevated Yankee; “but a man
who can influence a thousand minds--a man whose course is followed
eagerly by the eyes of half a nation--such a man is not likely to be
tempted to envy by a mile of indifferent territory. My book, by which I
can move a world, is my lever of Archimedes; this broadsheet”--and he
laid his hand upon the pages of the _Mississippi Gazette_--“is my
kingdom! Miss Atheling, I shall have the honour of paying my respects to
your family to-day. I shall soon take leave of Europe. I have learned
much--I have experienced much--I am rejoiced to think I have been able
to throw some light upon the manners and customs of your people; and
henceforward I intend to devote myself to the elucidation of my own.”

“We shall be very glad to see you, Mr Endicott,” said Agnes, who was
rather disposed to take his part, seeing he stood alone. “Now I must
hasten home and tell them. We were all very anxious; but every one will
be glad, Mr Foggo, to hear of you. We shall feel as if the good fortune
had come to ourselves.”

“Ay, Agnes, and so it might, if Marian, silly monkey, had kept a thought
for one that liked her well,” said Miss Willsie, as she went with her
young visitor. “Poor Harry! his uncle’s heart yearns to him; _our_ gear
will never go the airt of a fool like yon!” said Miss Willsie, growing
very Scotch and very emphatic, as she inclined her head in the direction
of Mr Endicott; “but Harry will be little heeding who gets the siller
_now_.”

Poor Harry! since he had heard of _it_--since he had known of Marian’s
engagement, he had never had the heart to make a single appearance in
Bellevue.

Mr Endicott remembered his promise; he went forth in state, as soon
after noon as he could go, with a due regard to the proper hour for a
morning call. Mr Endicott, though he had endured certain exquisite pangs
of jealousy, was not afraid of Louis; he could not suppose that any one
was so blind, having _his_ claims fairly placed before them, as to
continue to prefer another; such an extent of human perversity did not
enter into the calculations of Mr Endicott. And he was really “in love,”
like the rest of these young people. All the readers of the _Mississippi
Gazette_ knew of a certain lovely face, which brightened the
imagination of their “representative man,” and it was popularly expected
on the other side of the water, in those refined circles familiar with
Mr Endicott, that he was about to bring his bride home. He had an
additional stimulus from this expectation, and went forth to-day with
the determination of securing Marian Atheling. He was a little nervous,
because there was a good deal of real emotion lying at the bottom of his
heart; but, after all, was more doubtful of getting an opportunity than
of the answer which should follow when the opportunity was gained.

To his extreme amazement, he found Marian alone. He understood it in a
moment--they had left her on purpose--they comprehended his intentions!
She was pale, her beautiful eyes glistened, and were wet and dewy.
Perhaps she, too, had an intuition of what was coming. He thought her
subdued manner, the tremble in her voice, the eyes, which were cast down
so often, and did not care to meet his full gaze, were all signs of that
maiden consciousness about which he had written many a time. In the full
thought of this, the eloquent young American dispensed with all
preamble. He came to her side with the delightful benevolence of a lover
who could put this beautiful victim of his fascinations out of her
suspense at once. He addressed her by her name--he added the most
endearing words he could think of--he took her hand. The young beauty
started from him absolutely with violence. “What do you mean, sir?” said
Marian. Then she stood erect at a little distance, her eyes flashing,
her cheek burning, holding her hands tight together, with an air of
petulant and angry defiance. Mr Endicott was thunderstruck. “Did you not
expect me--do you not understand me?” said the lover, not yet daunted.
“Pardon me; I have shocked your delicate feelings. You cannot think I
mean to do it, Marian, sweet British rose? You know me too well for
that; you know my mind--you appreciate my feelings. You were born to be
a poet’s bride--I come to offer you a poet’s heart!”

Before he had concluded, Marian recovered herself; into the dewy eyes,
that had been musing upon Louis, the old light of girlish mischief came
arch and sweet. “I did not quite understand you, Mr Endicott,” said
Marian, demurely. “You alarmed me a little; but I am very much obliged,
and you are very good; only, I--I am sorry. I suppose you do not know
I--I am engaged!”

She said this with a bright blush, casting down her eyes. She thought,
after all, it was the honestest and the easiest fashion of dismissing
her new lover.

“Engaged! Marian, you did not know of me--you were not acquainted with
my sentiments,” cried the American. “Oh, for a miserable dream of
honour, will you blight my life and your own? You were not aware of my
love--you were ignorant of my devotion. Beautiful Mayflower! you are
free of what you did in ignorance--you are free for me!”

Marian snatched away her hand again with resentment. “I suppose you do
not mean to be very impertinent, Mr Endicott, but you are so,” cried the
indignant little beauty. “I do not like you--I never did like you. I am
very sorry, indeed, if you really cared for me. If I were free a hundred
times over--if I never had seen any one,” cried Marian vehemently,
blushing with sudden passion, and feeling disposed to cry, “I never
could have had anything to say to you. Mamma--oh, I am sure it is very
cruel!--Mamma, will you speak to Mr Endicott? He has been very rude to
me!”

Mamma, who came in at the moment out of the garden, started with
amazement to see the flushed cheeks of Marian, and Mr Endicott, who
stood in an appealing attitude, with the most crestfallen and astonished
face. Marian ran from the room in an instant, scarcely able to restrain
her tears of vexation and annoyance, till she was out of sight. Mrs
Atheling placed a chair for her daughter’s suitor very solemnly. “What
has happened?--what have you been saying, Mr Endicott?” said the
indignant mother.

“I have only been offering to your daughter’s acceptance all that a man
has to offer,” said the American, with a little real dignity. “It is
over; the young lady has made her own election--she rejects _me_! It is
well! it is but another depth of human suffering opening to _his_ feet
who must tread them all! But I have nothing to apologise for. Madam,
farewell!”

“Oh, stay a moment! I am very sorry--she is so young. I am sure she did
not mean to offend you,” said Mrs Atheling, with distress. “She is
engaged, Mr Endicott. Miss Willsie knew of it. I am sure I am grieved if
the foolish child has answered you unkindly; but she is engaged.”

“So I am aware, madam,” said Mr Endicott, gloomily; “may it be for her
happiness--may no poetic retribution attend her! As for me, my art is my
lifelong consolation. This, even, is for the benefit of the world; do
not concern yourself for me.”

But Mrs Atheling hastened up-stairs when he was gone, to reprove her
daughter. To her surprise, Marian defended herself with spirit. “He was
impertinent, mamma,” said Marian; “he said if I had known he cared for
me, I would not have been engaged. He! when everybody knows I never
would speak to him. It was he who insulted me!”

So Mr Endicott’s English romance ended, after all, in a paragraph which,
when the time comes, we shall feel a melancholy pleasure in transcribing
from the eloquent pages of the _Mississippi Gazette_.



CHAPTER XXV.

GOOD FORTUNE.


This evening was extremely quiet, and something dull, to the inhabitants
of Bellevue. Though everybody knew of the little adventure of Mr
Endicott, the young people were all too reverential of the romance of
youth themselves to laugh very freely at the disappointed lover. Charlie
sat by himself in the best room, sedulously making out his case. Charlie
had risen into a person of great importance at the office since his
return, and, youth as he was, was trusted so far, under Mr Foggo’s
superintendence, as to draw up the brief for the counsel who was to
conduct this great case; so they had not even his presence to enliven
the family circle, which was very dull without Louis. Then Agnes, for
her part, had grown daily more self-occupied; Mrs Atheling pondered over
this, half understood it, and did not ask a question on the subject. She
glanced very often at the side-table, where her elder daughter sat
writing. This was not a common evening occupation with Agnes; but she
found a solace in that making of fables, and was forth again, appealing
earnestly, with all the power and privilege of her art, not so much to
her universal audience as to one among them, who by-and-by might find
out the second meaning--the more fervent personal voice.

As for Marian and Rachel, they both sat at work somewhat melancholy,
whispering to each other now and then, speaking low when they spoke to
any one else. Papa was at his newspaper, reading little bits of news to
them; but even Papa was cloudy, and there was a certain shade of dulness
and melancholy over all the house.

Some one came to the door when the evening was far advanced, and held a
long parley with Susan; the issue of which was, that Susan made her
appearance in the parlour to ask information. “A man, ma’am, that Mr
Louis appointed to come to him to-night,” said Susan, “and he wants to
know, please, when Mr Louis is coming home.”

Mrs Atheling went to the door to answer the inquiry; then, having become
somewhat of a plotter herself by force of example, she bethought her of
calling Charlie. The man was brought into the best room; he was an
ordinary-looking elderly man, like a small shopkeeper. He stated what he
wanted slowly, without any of the town sharpness. He said the young
gentleman was making out some account--as he understood--about Lord
Winterbourne, and hearing that he had been once about the Hall in his
young days, had come to him to ask some questions. He was a likely young
gentleman, and summat in his own mind told the speaker he had seen his
face afore, whether it were about the Hall, or where it were, deponent
did not know; but thinking upon it, just bethought him at this moment
that he was mortal like the old lord. Now the young gentleman--as he
heard--had gone sudden away to the country, and the lady of the house
where he lived had sent the perplexed caller here.

“I know very well about that quarter myself,” said Mrs Atheling. “Do you
know the Old Wood Lodge? that belongs to us; and if you have friends in
the village, I daresay I shall know your name.”

The man put up his hand to his forehead respectfully. “I knowed the old
lady at the Lodge many a year ago,” said he. “My name’s John Morrall. I
was no more nor a helper at the stables in my day; and a sister of mine
had charge of some children about the Hall.”

“Some children--who were they?” said Charlie. “Perhaps Lord
Winterbourne’s children; but that would be very long ago.”

“Well, sir,” said the man with a little confusion, glancing aside at Mrs
Atheling, “saving the lady’s presence, I’d be bold to say that they was
my lord’s, but in a sort of an--unlawful way; two poor little morsels of
twins, that never had nothing like other children. He wasn’t any way
kind to them, wasn’t my lord.”

“I think I know the children you mean,” said Charlie, to the surprise
and admiration of his mother, who checked accordingly the exclamation on
her own lips. “Do you know where they came from?--were you there when
they were brought to the Hall?”

“Ay, sir, _I_ know--no man better,” said Morrall. “Sally was the
woman--all along of my lord’s man that she was keeping company with the
same time, little knowing, poor soul, what she was to come to--that
brought them unfortunate babbies out of London. I don’t know no more.
Sally’s opinion was, they came out o’ foreign parts afore that; for the
nurse they had with them, Sally said, was some outlandish kind of a
Portugee.”

“A Portuguese!” exclaimed both the listeners in dismay--but Charlie
added immediately, “What made your sister suppose she was a Portuguese?”

“Well, sir, she was one of them foreign kind of folks--but noways like
my lady’s French maid, Sally said--so taking thought what she was, a
cousin of ours that’s a sailor made no doubt but she was a Portugee--so
she gave up the little things to Sally, not one of them able to say a
word to each other; for the foreign woman, poor soul, knew no English,
and Sally brought down the babbies to the Hall.”

“Does your sister live at Winterbourne?” asked Charlie.

“What, Sally, sir? poor soul!” said John Morrall, “to her grief she
married my lord’s man, again all we could say, and he went pure to the
bad, as was to be seen of him, and listed--and now she’s off in Ireland
with the regiment, a poor creature as you could see--five children,
ma’am, alive, and she’s had ten; always striving to do her best, but
never able, poor soul, to keep a decent gown to her back.”

“Will you tell me where she is?” said Charlie, while his mother went
hospitably away to bring a glass of wine, a rare and unusual dainty, for
the refreshment of this most welcome visitor--“there is an inquiry going
on at present, and her evidence might be of great value: it will be good
for her, don’t fear. Let me know where she is.”

While Charlie took down the address, his mother, with her own hand,
served Mr John Morrall with a slice of cake and a comfortable glass of
port-wine. “But I am sure you are comfortable yourself--you look so, at
least.”

“I am in the green-grocery trade,” said their visitor, putting up his
hand again with “his respects,” “and got a good wife and three as
likely childer as a man could desire. It ain’t just as easy as it might
be keeping all things square, but we always get on; and lord! if folks
had no crosses, they’d ne’er know they were born. Look at Sally, there’s
a picture!--and after that, says I, it don’t become such like as us to
complain.”

Finally, having finished his refreshment, and left his own address with
a supplementary note, and touch of the forehead--“It ain’t very far off;
glad to serve you, ma’am”--Mr John Morrall withdrew. Then Charlie
returned to his papers, but not quite so composedly as usual. “Put up my
travelling-bag, mother,” said Charlie, after a few ineffectual attempts
to resume; “I’ll not write any more to-night; it’s just nine o’clock.
I’ll step over and see old Foggo, and be off to Ireland to-morrow,
without delay.”



CHAPTER XXVI.

THE OXFORD ASSIZES.


April, as cloudless and almost as warm as summer, a day when all the
spring was swelling sweet in all the young buds and primroses, and the
broad dewy country smiled and glistened under the rising of that sun,
which day by day shone warmer and fuller on the woods and on the fields.
But the point of interest was not the country; it was not a spring
festival which drew so many interested faces along the high-road. An
expectation not half so amiable was abroad among the gentry of
Banburyshire--a great many people, quite an unusual crowd, took their
way to the spring assizes to listen to a trial which was not at all
important on its own account. The defendants were not even known among
the county people, nor was there much curiosity about them. It was a
family quarrel which roused the kind and amiable expectations of all
these excellent people,--The Honourable Anastasia Rivers against Lord
Winterbourne. It was popularly anticipated that Miss Anastasia herself
was to appear in the witness-box, and everybody who knew the
belligerents, delighted at the prospect of mischief, hastened to be
present at the fight.

And there was a universal gathering, besides, of all the people more
immediately interested in this beginning of the war. Lord Winterbourne
himself, with a certain ghastly levity in his demeanour, which sat ill
upon his bloodless face, and accorded still worse with the mourner’s
dress which he wore, graced the bench. Charlie Atheling sat in his
proper place below, as agent for the defendant, within reach of the
counsel for the same. His mother and sisters were with Miss Anastasia,
in a very favourable place for seeing and hearing; the Rector was not
far from them, very much interested, but exceedingly surprised at the
unchanging paleness of Agnes, and the obstinacy with which she refused
to meet his eye; for that she avoided him, and seemed overwhelmed by
some secret and uncommunicated mystery, which no one else, even in her
own family, shared, was clear enough to a perception quickened by the
extreme “interest” which Lionel Rivers felt in Agnes Atheling. Even
Rachel had been brought thither in the train of Miss Anastasia; and
though rather disturbed by her position, and by the disagreeable and
somewhat terrifying consciousness of being observed by Lord
Winterbourne, in whose presence she had not been before, since the time
she left the Hall--Rachel, with her veil over her face, had a certain
timid enjoyment of the bustle and novelty of the scene. Louis, too, was
there, sent down on the previous night with a commission from Mr Foggo;
there was no one wanting. The two or three who knew the tactics of the
day, awaited their disclosure with great secret excitement, speculating
upon their effect; and those who did not, looked on eagerly with
interest and anxiety and hope.

Only Agnes sat drawing back from them, between her mother and sister,
letting her veil hang with a pitiful unconcern in thick double folds
half over her pale face. She did not care to lift her eyes; she looked
heavy, wretched, spiritless; she could not keep her thoughts upon the
smiling side of the picture; she thought only of the sudden blow about
to fall--of the bitter sense of deception and craftiness, of the
overwhelming disappointment which this day must bring forth.

The case commenced. Lord Winterbourne’s counsel stated the plea of his
noble client; it did not occupy a very long time, for no one supposed it
very important. The statement was, that Miss Bridget Atheling had been
presented by the late Lord Winterbourne with a life-interest in the
little property involved; that the Old Wood Lodge, the only property in
the immediate neighbourhood which was not in the peaceful possession of
Lord Winterbourne, had never been separated or alienated from the
estate; that, in fact, the gift to Miss Bridget was a mere tenant’s
claim upon the house during her lifetime, with no power of bequest
whatever; and the present Lord Winterbourne’s toleration of its brief
occupancy by the persons in possession, was merely a good-humoured
carelessness on the part of his lordship of a matter not sufficiently
important to occupy his thoughts. The only evidence offered was the
distinct enumeration of the Old Wood Lodge along with the Old Wood
House, and the cottages in the village of Winterbourne, as in possession
of the family at the accession of the late lord; and the learned
gentleman concluded his case by declaring that he confidently challenged
his opponent to produce any deed or document whatever which so much as
implied that the property had been bestowed upon Bridget Atheling. No
deed of gift--no conveyance--nothing whatever in the shape of
title-deeds, he was confident, existed to support the claim of the
defendant; a claim which, if it was not a direct attempt to profit by
the inadvertence of his noble client, was certainly a very ugly and
startling mistake.

So far everything was brief enough, and conclusive enough, as it
appeared. The audience was decidedly disappointed: if the answer was
after this style, there was no “fun” to be expected, and it had been an
entire hoax which seduced the Banburyshire notabilities to waste the
April afternoon in a crowded court-house. But Miss Anastasia, swelling
with anxiety and yet with triumph, was visible to every one; visible
also to one eye was something very different--Agnes, pale, shrinking,
closing her eyes, looking as if she would faint. The Rector made his way
behind, and spoke to her anxiously. He was afraid she was ill; could he
assist her through the crowd? Agnes turned her face to him for a moment,
and her eyes, which looked so dilated and pitiful, but only said “No,
no,” in a hurried whisper, and turned again. The counsel on the other
side had risen, and was about to begin the defence.

“My learned brother is correct, and doubtless knows himself to be so,”
said the advocate of the Athelings. “We have no deed to produce, though
we have something nearly as good; but, my lord, I am instructed suddenly
to change the entire ground of my plea. Certain information which has
come to the knowledge of my clients, but which it was not their wish to
make public at present, has been now communicated to me; and I beg to
object at once to the further progress of the suit, on a ground which
your lordship will at once acknowledge to be just and forcible. I
assert that the present bearer of the title is not the true Lord
Winterbourne.”

There rose immediately a hum and murmur of the strangest character--not
applause, not disapproval--simple consternation, so extreme that no one
could restrain its utterance. People rose up and stared at the speaker,
as if he had been seized with sudden madness in their presence; then
there ensued a scene of much tumult and agitation. The judges on the
bench interposed indignantly. The counsel for Lord Winterbourne sprang
to his feet, appealing with excitement to their lordships--was this to
be permitted? Even the audience, Lord Winterbourne’s neighbours, who had
no love for him, pressed forward as if to support him in this crisis,
and with resentment and disapproval looked upon Miss Anastasia, to whom
every one turned instinctively, as to a conspirator who had overshot the
mark. It was scarcely possible for the daring speaker to gain himself a
hearing. When he did so, at last, it was rather as a culprit than an
accuser. But even the frown of a chief-justice did not appal a man who
held Charlie Atheling’s papers in his hands; he was heard again,
declaring, with force and dignity, that he was incapable of making such
a statement without proofs in his possession which put it beyond
controversy. He begged but a moment’s patience, in justice to himself
and to his client, while he placed an abstract of the case and the
evidence in their lordships’ hands.

Then to the sudden hum and stir, which the officials of the court had
not been able to put down, succeeded that total, strange, almost
appalling stillness of a crowd, which is so very impressive at all
times. While the judges consulted together, looking keenly over these
mysterious papers, almost every eye among the spectators was riveted
upon them. No one noticed even Lord Winterbourne, who stood up in his
place unconsciously, overlooking them all, quite unaware of the
prominence and singularity of his position, gazing before him with a
motionless blank stare, like a man looking into the face of Fate. The
auditors waited almost breathless for the decision of the law. That
anything so wild and startling could ever be taken into consideration by
those grave authorities was of itself extraordinary; and as the
consultation was prolonged, the anxiety grew gradually greater. Could
there be reality in it? could it be true?

At last the elder judge broke the silence. “This is a very serious
statement,” he said: “of course, it involves issues much more important
than the present question. As further proceedings will doubtless be
grounded on these documents, it is our opinion that the hearing of this
case had better be adjourned.”

Lord Winterbourne seated himself when he heard the voice--it broke the
spell; but not so Louis, who stood beneath, alone, looking straight up
at the speaker in his judicial throne. The truth flashed to the mind of
Louis like a gleam of lightning. He did not ask a question, though
Charlie was close by him; he did not turn his head, though Miss
Anastasia was within reach of his eye; his whole brain seemed to burn
and glow; the veins swelled upon his forehead; he raised up his head for
air, for breath, like a man overwhelmed; he did not see how the gaze of
half the assembly began to be attracted to himself. In this sudden pause
he stood still, following out the conviction which burst upon him--this
conviction, which suddenly, like a sunbeam, made all things clear. Wrong
as he had been in the details, his imagination was true as the most
unerring judgment. For what child in the world was it so much this man’s
interest to disgrace and disable as the child whose rights he
usurped--his brother’s lawful heir? This silence was like a lifetime to
Louis, but it ended in a moment. Some confused talking
followed--objections on the part of Lord Winterbourne’s representative,
which were overruled; and then another case was called--a common little
contest touching mere lands and houses--and every one awoke, as at the
touch of a disenchanting rod, to the common pale daylight and common
controversy, as from a dream.

Then the people streamed out in agitated groups, some retaining their
first impulse of contradiction and resentment; others giving up at once,
and receiving the decision of the judges as final. Then Agnes looked
back, with a sick and trembling anxiety, for the Rector. The Rector was
gone; and they all followed one after another, silent in the great
tremor of their excitement. When they came to the open air, Marian began
to ask questions eagerly, and Rachel to cry behind her veil, and cast
woeful wistful looks at Miss Anastasia. What was it? what was the
matter? was it anything about Louis? who was Lord Winterbourne?



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE TRUE HEIR.


“I do not know how he takes it, mother,” said Charlie. “I do not know if
he takes it at all; he has not spoken a single word all the way home.”

He did not seem disposed to speak many now; he went into Miss Bridget’s
dusky little parlour, lingering a moment at the door, and bending
forward in reflection from the little sloping mirror on the wall. The
young man was greatly moved, silent with inexpressible emotion; he went
up to Marian first, and, in the presence of them all, kissed her little
trembling hand and her white cheek; then he drew her forward with him,
holding her up with his own arm, which trembled too, and came direct to
Miss Anastasia, who was seated, pale, and making gigantic efforts to
command herself, in old Miss Bridget’s chair. “This is my bride,” said
Louis firmly, yet with quivering lips. “What are we to call _you_?”

The old lady looked at him for a moment, vainly endeavouring to retain
her self-possession--then sprang up suddenly, grasped him in her arms,
and broke forth into such a cry of weeping as never had been heard
before under this peaceful roof. “What you will! what you will! my boy,
my heir, my father’s son!” cried Miss Anastasia, lifting up her voice.
No one moved, or spoke a word--it was like one of those old agonies of
thanksgiving in the old Scriptures, when a Joseph or a Jacob, parted for
half a patriarch’s lifetime, “fell upon his neck and wept.”

When this moment of extreme agitation was over, the principal actors in
the family drama came again into a moderate degree of calmness: Louis
was almost solemn in his extreme youthful gravity. The young man was
changed in a moment, as, perhaps, nothing but this overwhelming flood of
honour and prosperity could have changed him. He desired to see the
evidence and investigate his own claims thoroughly, as it was natural he
should; then he asked Charlie to go out with him, for there was not a
great deal of room in this little house, for private conference. The two
young men went forth together through those quiet well-known lanes, upon
which Louis gazed with a giddy eye. “This should have come to me in some
place where I was a stranger,” he said with excitement; “it might have
seemed more credible, more reasonable, in a less familiar place. Here,
where I have been an outcast and dishonoured all my life--here!”

“Your own property,” said Charlie. “I’m not a poetical man, you know--it
is no use trying--but I’d come to a little sentiment, I confess, if I
were you.”

“In the mean time there are other people concerned,” said Louis, taking
Charlie’s arm, and turning him somewhat hurriedly away from the edge of
the wood, which at this epoch of his fortunes, the scene of so many
despairing fancies, was rather more than he chose to experiment upon.
“You are not poetical, Charlie. I do not suppose it has come to your
turn yet--but we do not want poetry to-night; there are other people
concerned. So far as I can see, your case--I scarcely can call it mine,
who have had no hand in it--is clear as daylight--indisputable. Is it
so?--you know better than me.”

“Indisputable,” said Charlie, authoritatively.

“Then it should never come to a trial--for the honour of the house--for
pity,” said the heir. “A bad man taken in the toils is a very miserable
thing to look at, Charlie; let us spare him if we can. I should like you
to get some one who is to be trusted--say Mr Foggo, with some well-known
man along with him--to wait upon Lord Winterbourne. Let them go into the
case fully, and show him everything: say that I am quite willing that
the world should think he had done it in ignorance--and persuade
him--that is, if he is convinced, and they have perfect confidence in
the case. The story need not be publicly known. Is it practicable?--tell
me at once.”

“It’s practicable if he’ll do it,” said Charlie; “but he’ll not do it,
that’s all.”

“How do you know he’ll not do it?--it is to save himself,” said Louis.

“If he had not known it all along, he’d have given in,” said Charlie,
“and taken your offer, of course; but he _has_ known it all along--it’s
been his ghost for years. He has his plans all prepared and ready, you
may be perfectly sure. It is generous of you to suggest such a thing,
but _he_ would suppose it a sign of weakness. Never mind that--it’s not
of the least importance what he supposes; if you desire it, we can try.”

“I do desire it,” said Louis; “and then, Charlie, there is the Rector.”

Charlie shook his head regretfully. “I am sorry for him myself,” said
the young lawyer; “but what can you do?”

“He has been extremely kind to me,” said Louis, with a slight trembling
in his voice--“kinder than any one in the world, except your own family.
There is his house--I see what to do; let us go at once and explain
everything to him to-night.”

“To-night! that’s premature--showing your hand,” said Charlie, startled
in his professional caution: “never mind, you can stand it; he’s a fine
fellow, though he is the other line. If you like it, I don’t object; but
what shall you say?”

“He ought to have his share,” said Louis--“don’t interrupt me, Charlie;
it is more generous in our case to receive than to give. He ought, if I
represent the elder branch, to have the younger’s share: he ought to
permit me to do as much for him as he would have done for me. Ah, he
bade me look at the pictures to see that I was a Rivers. I did not
suppose any miracle on earth could make me proud of the name.”

They went on hastily together in the early gathering darkness. The Old
Wood House stood blank and dull as usual, with all its closed blinds;
but the gracious young Curate, meditating his sermon, and much elated by
his persecution, was straying about the well-kept paths. Mr Mead
hastened to tell them that Mr Rivers had left home--“hastened away
instantly to appear in our own case,” said the young clergyman. “The
powers of this world are in array against us--we suffer persecution, as
becomes the true church. The Rector left hurriedly to appear in person.
He is a devoted man, a noble Anglican. I smile myself at the reproaches
of our adversary; I have no fear.”

“We may see him in town,” said Louis, turning away with disappointment.
“If you write, will you mention that I have been here to-night, to beg
his counsel and friendship--I, Louis Rivers--” A sudden colour flushed
over the young man’s face; he pronounced the name with a nervous
firmness; it was the first time he had called himself by any save his
baptismal name all his life.

As they turned and walked home again, Louis relapsed into his first
agitated consciousness, and did not care to say a word. Louis Rivers!
lawful heir and only son of a noble English peer and an unsullied
mother. It was little wonder if the young man’s heart swelled within
him, too high for a word or a thought. He blotted out the past with a
generous haste, unwilling to remember a single wrong done to him in the
time of his humiliation, and looked out upon the future as upon a
glorious vision, almost too wonderful to be realised: it was best to
rest in this agitated moment of strange triumph, humility, and power, to
convince himself that this was real, and to project his anticipations
forward only with a generous anxiety for the concerns of others, with no
question, when all questions were so overwhelming and incredible, after
this extraordinary fortune of his own.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

AT HOME.


It would not be easy to describe the state of mind of the feminine
portion of this family which remained at home. Marian, in a strange and
overpowering tumult--Marian, who was the first and most intimately
concerned, her cheek burning still under the touch of her lover’s
trembling lip in that second and more solemn betrothal, sat on a stool,
half hidden by Miss Anastasia’s big chair and ample skirts, supporting
her flushed cheeks on those pretty rose-tipped hands, to which the flush
seemed to have extended, her beautiful hair drooping down among her
fingers, her eyes cast down, her heart leaping like a bird against her
breast. Her own vague suspicions, keen and eager as they were, had never
pointed half so far as this. If it did not “turn her head” altogether,
it was more because the little head was giddy with amaze and confusion,
than from any virtue on the part of Marian. She was quite beyond the
power of thinking; a strange brilliant extraordinary panorama glided
before her--Louis in Bellevue--Louis at the Old Wood Lodge--Louis, the
lord of all he looked upon, in Winterbourne Hall!

Rachel, for her part, was to be found, now in one corner, now in
another, crying very heartily, and with a general vague impulse of
kissing every one in the present little company with thanks and
gratitude, and being caressed and sympathised with in turn. The only one
here, indeed, who seemed in her full senses was Agnes, who kept them all
in a certain degree of self-possession. It was all over, at last, after
so long a time of suspense and mystery; Agnes was relieved of her secret
knowledge. She was grave, but she did not refuse to participate in the
confused joy and thankfulness of the house. Now that the secret was
revealed, her mind returned to its usual tone. Though she had so much
“interest” in Lionel--almost as much as he felt in her--she had too high
a mind herself to suppose him overwhelmed by the single fact that his
inheritance had passed away from him. When all was told, she breathed
freely. She had all the confidence in him which one high heart has in
another. After the first shock, she prophesied proudly, within her own
mind, how soon his noble spirit would recover itself. Perhaps she
anticipated other scenes in that undeveloped future, which might touch
her own heart with a stronger thrill than even the marvellous change
which was now working; perhaps the faint dawn of colour on her pale
cheek came from an imagination far more immediate and personal than any
dream which ever before had flushed the maiden firmament of Agnes
Atheling’s meditations. However that might be, she said not a single
word upon the subject: she assumed to herself quietly the post of
universal ministration, attended to the household wants as much as the
little party, all excited and sublimed out of any recollection of
ordinary necessities, would permit her; and lacking nothing in sympathy,
yet quieter than any one else, insensibly to herself, formed the link
between this little agitated world of private history and the larger
world, not at all moved from its everyday balance, which lay calm and
great without.

“I sign a universal amnesty,” said Miss Anastasia abruptly, after a long
silence--“himself, if he would consult his own interest, I could pass
over _his_ faults to-day.”

“Poor Mr Reginald!” said Mrs Atheling, wiping her eyes. “I beg your
pardon, Miss Rivers; he has done a great deal of wrong, but I am very
sorry for him: I was so when he lost his son; ah, no doubt he thinks
this is a very small matter after _that_.”

“Hush, child, the man is _guilty_,” said Miss Anastasia, with strong
emphasis. “Young George Rivers went to his grave in peace. Whom the gods
love die young; it was very well. I forgive his father if he withdraws;
he will, if he has a spark of honour. The only person whom I am grieved
for is Lionel--he, indeed, might have cause to complain. Agnes Atheling,
do you know where he has gone?”

“No.” Agnes affected no surprise that the question should be asked her,
and did not even show any emotion. Marian, with a sudden impulse of
generosity, got up instantly, and came to her sister. “Oh, Agnes, I am
very sorry,” said the little beauty, with her palpitating heart; and
Marian put her pretty arms round Agnes’s neck to console and comfort
her, as Agnes might have done to Marian had Louis been in distress
instead of joy.

Agnes drew herself instinctively out of her sister’s embrace. She had no
right to be looked upon as the representative of Lionel, yet she could
not help speaking, in her confidence and pride in him, with a kindling
cheek and rising heart. “I am not sorry for Mr Rivers _now_,” said
Agnes, firmly; “I was so while this secret was kept from him--while he
was deceived; but I think no one who does him due credit can venture to
pity him _now_.”

Miss Anastasia roused herself a little at sound of the voice. This
pride, which sounded a little like defiance, stirred the old lady’s
heart like the sound of a trumpet; she had more pleasure in it than she
had felt in anything, save her first welcome of Louis a few hours ago.
She looked steadily into the eyes of Agnes, who met her gaze without
shrinking, though with a rapid variation of colour. Whatever imputations
she herself might be subject to in consequence, Agnes could not sit by
silent, and hear _him_ either pitied or belied.

“I wonder, may I go and see Miss Rivers? would it be proper?” asked
Rachel timidly, making a sudden diversion, as she had rather a habit of
doing; “she wanted me to stay with her once; she was very kind to me.”

“I suppose we must not call you the Honourable Rachel Rivers just
yet--eh, little girl?” said Miss Anastasia, turning upon her; “and you,
Marian, you little beauty, how shall you like to be Lady Winterbourne?”

“Lady Winterbourne! I always said she was to be for Louis,” cried
Rachel--“always--the first time I saw her; you know I did, Agnes; and
often I wondered why she should be so pretty--she who did not want it,
who was happy enough to have been ugly, if she had liked; but I see it
now--I see the reason now!”

“Don’t hide your head, little one; it is quite true,” said Miss
Anastasia, once more a little touched at her heart to see the beautiful
little figure, fain to glide out of everybody’s sight, stealing away in
a moment into the natural refuge, the mother’s shadow; while the mother,
smiling and sobbing, had entirely given up all attempt at any show of
self-command. “Agnes has something else to do in this hard-fighting
world. You are the flower that must know neither winds nor storms. I
don’t speak to make you vain, you beautiful child. God gave you your
lovely looks, as well as your strange fortune; and Agnes, child, lift up
your head! the contest and the trial are for you; but not, God forbid
it! as they came to _me_.”



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE RIVAL HEIRS.


Louis and Rachel returned that night with Miss Anastasia to the Priory,
which, the old lady said proudly--the family jointure house for four or
five generations--should be their home till the young heir took
possession of his paternal house. The time which followed was too busy,
rapid, and exciting for a slow and detailed history. The first legal
steps were taken instantly in the case, and proper notices served upon
Lord Winterbourne. In Miss Anastasia’s animated and anxious house dwelt
the Tyrolese, painfully acquiring some scant morsels of English, very
well contented with her present quarters, and only anxious to secure
some extravagant preferment for her son. Mrs Atheling and her daughters
had returned home, and Louis came and went constantly to town, actively
engaged himself in all the arrangements, full of anxious plans and
undertakings for the ease and benefit of the other parties concerned.
Miss Anastasia, with a little reluctance, had given her consent to the
young man’s plan of a compromise, by which his uncle, unattacked and
undisgraced, might retire from his usurped possessions with a sufficient
and suitable income. The ideas of Louis were magnificent and princely.
He would have been content to mulct himself of half the revenues of his
inheritance, and scarcely would listen to the prudent cautions of his
advisers. He was even reluctant that the first formal steps should be
taken, before Mr Foggo and an eminent and well-known solicitor,
personally acquainted with his uncle, had waited upon Lord Winterbourne.
He was overruled; but this solemn deputation lost no time in proceeding
on its mission. Speedy as they were, however, they were too late for the
alarmed and startled peer. He had left home, they ascertained, very
shortly after the late trial--had gone abroad, as it was supposed,
leaving no information as to the time of his return. The only thing
which could be done in the circumstances was hastened by the eager
exertions of Louis. The two lawyers wrote a formal letter to Lord
Winterbourne, stating their case, and making their offer, and despatched
it to the Hall, to be forwarded to him. No answer came, though Louis
persuaded his agents to wait for it, and even to delay the legal
proceedings. The only notice taken of it was a paragraph in one of the
fashionable newspapers, to the effect that the late proceedings at
Oxford, impugning the title of a respected nobleman, proved now to be a
mere trick of some pettifogging lawyer, entirely unsupported, and likely
to call forth proceedings for libel, involving a good deal of romantic
family history, and extremely interesting to the public. After this,
Louis could no longer restrain the natural progress of the matter. He
gave it up, indeed, at once, and did not try; and Miss Anastasia
pronounced emphatically one of her antique proverbs, “Whom the gods
would destroy, they first make mad.”

This was not the only business on the hands of Louis. He had found it
impossible, on repeated trials, to see the Rector. At the Old Wood House
it was said that Mr Rivers was from home; at his London lodgings he had
not been heard of. The suit was given against him in the Ecclesiastical
Courts, and Mr Mead, alone in the discharge of his duty, mourned over a
stripped altar and desolated sanctuary, where the tall candles blazed no
longer in the religious gloom. When it became evident at last that the
Rector did not mean to give his young relative the interview he sought,
Louis, strangely transformed as he was, from the petulant youth always
ready to take offence, to the long-suffering man, addressed Lionel as
his solicitors had addressed his uncle. He wrote a long letter, generous
and full of hearty feeling; he reminded his kinsman of the favours he
had himself accepted at his hands. He drew a very vivid picture of his
own past and present position. He declared, with all a young man’s
fervour, that he could have no pleasure even in his own extraordinary
change of fortune, were it the means of inflicting a vast and
unmitigated loss upon his cousin. He threw himself upon Lionel’s
generosity--he appealed to his natural sense of justice--he used a
hundred arguments which were perfectly suitable and in character from
him, but which, certainly, no man as proud and as generous as himself
could be expected to listen to; and, finally, ended with protesting an
unquestionable claim upon Lionel--the claim of a man deeply indebted to,
and befriended by him. The letter overflowed with the earnestness and
sincerity of the writer; he assumed his case throughout with the most
entire honesty, having no doubt whatever upon the subject, and confided
his intentions and prospects to Lionel with a complete and anxious
confidence, which he had not bestowed upon any other living man.

This letter called forth an answer, written from a country town in a
remote part of England. The Rector wrote with an evident effort at
cordiality. He declined all Louis’s overtures in the most
uncompromising terms, but congratulated him upon his altered
circumstances. He said he had taken care to examine into the case before
leaving London, and was thoroughly convinced of the justice of the new
claim. “One thing I will ask of you,” said Mr Rivers; “I only wait to
resign my living until I can be sure of the next presentation falling
into your hands: give it to Mr Mead. The cause of my withdrawal is
entirely private and personal. I had resolved upon it months ago, and it
has no connection whatever with recent circumstances. I hope no one
thinks so meanly of me as to suppose I am dismayed by the substitution
of another heir in my room. One thing in this matter has really wounded
me, and that is the fact that no one concerned thought me worthy to know
a secret so important, and one which it was alike my duty and my right
to help to a satisfactory conclusion. I have lost nothing actual, so far
as rank or means is concerned; but, more intolerable than any vulgar
loss, I find a sudden cloud thrown upon the perfect sincerity and truth
of some whom I have been disposed to trust as men trust Heaven.”

The letter concluded with good wishes--that was all; there was no
response to the confidence, no answer to the effusion of heartfelt and
fervent feeling which had been in Louis’s letter. The young man was not
accustomed to be repulsed; perhaps, in all his life, it was the first
time he had asked a favour from any one, and had Louis been poor and
without friends, as he was or thought himself six months ago, such a
tone would have galled him beyond endurance. But there is a charm in a
gracious and relenting fortune. Louis, who had once been the very
armadillo of youthful haughtiness, suddenly distinguished himself by the
most magnanimous patience, would not take offence, and put away his
kinsman’s haughty letter, with regret, but without any resentment.
Nothing was before him now but the plain course of events, and to them
he committed himself frankly, resolved to do what could be done, but
addressing no more appeals to the losing side.

Part of the Rector’s letter Louis showed to Marian, and Marian repeated
it to Agnes. It was cruel--it was unjust of Lionel--and he knew himself
that it was. Agnes, it was possible, did not know--at all events, she
had no right to betray to him the secrets of another; more than that, he
knew the meaning now of the little book which he carried everywhere with
him, and felt in his heart that _he_ was the real person addressed. He
knew all that quite as well as she did, as she tried, with a quivering
lip and a proud wet eye, to fortify herself against the injustice of his
reproach, but that did not hinder him from saying it. He was in that
condition--known, perhaps, occasionally to most of us--when one feels a
certain perverse pleasure in wounding one’s dearest. He had no chance of
mentioning her, who occupied so much of his thoughts, in any other way,
and he would rather put a reproach upon Agnes than leave her alone
altogether; perhaps she herself even, after all, at the bottom of her
heart, was better satisfied to be referred to thus, than to be left out
of his thoughts. They had never spoken to each other a single word which
could be called wooing--now they were perhaps separated for ever--yet
how strange a link of union, concord, and opposition, was between these
two!



CHAPTER XXX.

AN ADVENTURE.


It was September--the time when all Englishmen of a certain “rank in
life” burn with unconquerable longings to get as far away from home as
possible--and there was nothing remarkable in the appearance of this
solitary traveller pacing along Calais pier--nothing remarkable, except
his own personal appearance, which was of a kind not easily overlooked.
There was nothing to be read in his embrowned but refined face, nor in
his high thoughtful forehead. It was a face of thought, of speculation,
of a great and vigorous intellectual activity; but the haughty eyes
looked at no one--the lips never moved even to address a child--there
was no response to any passing glance of interest or inquiry. His head
was turned towards England, over the long sinuous weltering waves of
that stormy Channel which to-day pretended to be calm; but if he saw
anything, it was something which appeared only in his own
imagination--it was neither the far-away gleam, like a floating mist,
of the white cliffs, nor the sunbeam coming down out of the heart of a
cloud into the dark mid-current of that treacherous sea.

He had no plan of travel--no settled intentions indeed of any kind--but
had been roaming about these three months in the restlessness of
suspense, waiting for definite intelligence before he decided on his
further course. An often-recurring fancy of returning home for a time
had brought him to-day to this common highway of all nations from a
secluded village among the Pyrenees; but he had not made up his mind to
go home--he only lingered within sight of it, chafing his own disturbed
spirit, and ready to be swayed by any momentary impulse. Though he had
been disturbed for a time out of his study of the deepest secrets of
human life, his mind was too eager not to have returned to it. He had
come to feel that it would be sacrilege to proclaim again his own
labouring and disordered thoughts in a place where he was set to speak
of One, the very imagination of whom, if it was an imagination, was so
immeasurably exalted above his highest elevation. A strange poetic
justice had come upon Lionel Rivers--prosecuted for his extreme views at
the time when he ceased to make any show of holding them--separating
himself from his profession, and from the very name of a believer, at
the moment when it began to dawn upon him that he believed--and thrust
asunder with a violent wrench and convulsion from the first and sole
human creature who had come into his heart, at the very hour in which he
discovered that his heart was no longer in his own power. He saw it all,
the strange story of contradictory and perverse chances, and knew
himself the greatest and strangest contradiction of the whole.

He gave no attention whatever to what passed round him, yet he heard the
foreign voices--the English voices--for there was no lack of his
countrymen. It was growing dark rapidly, and the shadowy evening lights
and mists were stealing far away to sea. He turned to go back to his
hotel, turning his face away from his own country, when at the moment a
voice fell upon his ear, speaking his own tongue: “You will abet an
impostor--you who know nothing of English law, and are already a marked
man.” These were the words spoken in a very low, clear, hissing tone,
which Lionel heard distinctly only because it was well known to him. The
speaker was wrapt in a great cloak, with a travelling-cap over his eyes;
and the person he addressed was a little vivacious Italian, with a long
olive face, smooth-shaven cheeks, and sparkling lively eyes, who seemed
much disconcerted and doubtful what to do. The expression of Lionel’s
face changed in an instant--he woke out of his moody dream to alert and
determined action; he drew back a step to let them pass, and then
followed. The discussion was animated and eager between them, sometimes
in English, sometimes in Italian, apparently as caprice guided the one
or the other. Lionel did not listen to what they said, but he followed
them home.

The old Italian parted with his companion at the door of the hotel where
Lionel himself was lodged; there the Englishman in the cloak and cap
lingered to make an appointment. “At eleven to-morrow,” said again that
sharp hissing voice. Lionel stepped aside into the shadow as the
stranger turned reluctantly away; he did not care for making further
investigations to ascertain _his_ identity--it was Lord Winterbourne.

He took the necessary steps immediately. It was easy to find out where
the Italian was, in a little room at the top of the house, the key of
which he paused to take down before he went up-stairs. Lionel waited
again till the old man had made his way to his lofty lodging. He was
very well acquainted with all the details of Louis’s case; he had, in
fact, seen Charlie Atheling a few days before he left London, and
satisfied himself of the nature of his young kinsman’s claim--it was too
important to himself to be forgotten. He remembered perfectly the
Italian doctor Serrano who had been present, and could testify to the
marriage of the late Lord Winterbourne. Lionel scaled the great
staircase half-a-dozen steps at a time, and reached the door immediately
after the old man had entered, and before he had struck his light. The
Rector knocked softly. With visible perturbation, and in a sharp tone of
self-defence, the Italian called out in a very good French to know who
was there. Dr Serrano was a patriot and a plotter, and used to
domiciliary visitations. Lionel answered him in English, asked if he
were Doctor Serrano, and announced himself as a friend of Charles
Atheling. Then the door opened slowly, and with some jealousy. Lionel
passed into the room without waiting for an invitation. “You are going
to England on a matter of the greatest importance,” said the Rector,
with excitement--“to restore the son of your friend to his inheritance;
yet I find you, with the serpent at your ear, listening to Lord
Winterbourne.”

The Italian started back in amaze. “Are you the devil?” said Doctor
Serrano, with a comical perturbation.

“No; instead of that, you have just left him,” said Lionel; “but I am a
friend, and know all. This man persuades you not to go on--by accident I
caught the sound of his voice saying so. He has the most direct personal
interest in the case; it is ruin and disgrace to him. Your testimony may
be of the greatest importance--why do you linger? why do you listen to
him?”

“Really, you are hot-headed; it is so with youth,” said Doctor Serrano,
“when we will move heaven and earth for one friend. He tells me the
child is dead--that this is another. I know not--it may be true.”

“It is not true,” said Lionel. “I will tell you who I am--the next heir
if Lord Winterbourne is the true holder of the title--there is my card.
I have the strongest interest in resisting this claim if I did not know
it to be true. It can be proved that this is the same boy who was
brought from Italy an infant. I can prove it myself; it is known to a
whole village. If you choose it, confront me with Lord Winterbourne.”

“No; I believe you--you are a gentleman,” said Doctor Serrano, turning
over the card in his hand--and the old man added with enthusiasm, “and a
hero for a friend!”

“You believe me?” said Lionel, who could not restrain the painful smile
which crossed his face at the idea of his heroism in the cause of Louis.
“Will you stay, then, another hour within reach of Lord Winterbourne?”

The Italian shrugged his shoulders. “I will break with him; he is ever
false,” said the old man. “What besides can I do?”

“I will tell you,” said Lionel. “The boat sails in an hour--come with me
at once, let me see you safe in England. I shall attend to your comfort
with all my power. There is time for a good English bed at Dover, and an
undisturbed rest. Doctor Serrano, for the sake of the oppressed, and
because you are a philosopher, and understand the weakness of human
nature, will you come with me?”

The Italian glanced lovingly at the couch which invited him--at the
slippers and the pipe which waited to make him comfortable--then he
glanced up at the dark and resolute countenance of Lionel, who, high in
his chivalric honour, was determined rather to sleep at Serrano’s door
all night than to let him out of his hands. “Excellent young man! you
are not a philosopher!” said the rueful Doctor; but he had a quick eye,
and was accustomed to judge men. “I will go with you,” he added
seriously, “and some time, for liberty and Italy, you will do as much
for me.”

It was a bargain, concluded on the spot. An hour after, almost within
sight of Lord Winterbourne, who was pacing the gloomy pier by night in
his own gloom of guilty thought, the old man and the young man embarked
for England. A few hours later the little Italian slept under an English
roof, and the young Englishman looked up at the dizzy cliff, and down at
the foaming sea, too much excited to think of rest. The next morning
Lionel carried off his prize to London, and left him in the hands of
Charlie Atheling. Then, seeing no one, speaking to no one, without
lingering an hour in his native country, he turned back and went away.
He had made up his mind now to remain at Calais till the matter was
entirely decided--then to resign his benefice--and then, with _things_
and not _thoughts_ around him in the actual press and contact of common
life, to read, if he could, the grand secret of a true existence, and
decide his fate.



CHAPTER XXXI.

THE TRIAL.


Lord Winterbourne had been in Italy, going over the ground which Charlie
Atheling had already examined so carefully. Miss Anastasia’s proverb was
coming true. He who all his life had been so wary, began to calculate
madly, with an insane disregard of all the damning facts against him, on
overturning, by one bold stroke, the careful fabric of the young lawyer.
He sought out and found the courier Monte, whom he himself had
established in his little mountain-inn. Monte was a faithful servant
enough to his employer of the time, but he was not scrupulous, and had
no great conscience. He undertook, without much objection, for the hire
which Lord Winterbourne gave him, to say anything Lord Winterbourne
pleased. He had been present at the marriage; and if the old Doctor
could have been delayed, or turned back, or even kidnapped--which was in
the foiled plotter’s scheme, if nothing better would serve--Monte, being
the sole witness of the ceremony present, might have made it out a mock
marriage, or at least delayed the case, and thrown discredit upon the
union. It was enough to show what mad shifts even a wise intriguer might
be driven to trust in. He believed it actually possible that judge and
jury would ignore all the other testimony, and trust to the unsupported
word of his lying witness. He did not pause to think, tampering with
truth as he had been all his life, and trusting no man, what an extreme
amount of credulity he expected for himself.

But even when Doctor Serrano escaped him--when the trial drew nearer day
by day--when Louis’s agents came in person, respectful and urgent, to
make their statement to him--and when he became aware that his case was
naught, and that he had no evidence whatever to depend on save that of
Monte, his wild confidence did not yield. He refused with disdain every
offer of a compromise; he commanded out of his presence the bearers of
that message of forbearance and forgiveness; he looked forward with a
blind defiance of his fate miserable to see. He gave orders that
preparations should be made at Winterbourne for the celebration of his
approaching triumph. That autumn he had invited to his house a larger
party than usual; and though few came, and those the least reputable,
there was no want of sportsmen in the covers, nor merry-makers at the
Hall: he himself was restless, and did not continue there, even for the
sake of his guests, but made incessant journeys to London, and kept in
constant personal attendance on himself the courier Monte. He was the
object of incessant observation, and the gossip of half the county: he
had many enemies; and many of those who were disposed to take his part,
had heard and been convinced by the story of Louis. Almost every one,
indeed, who did hear of it, and remembered the boy in his neglected but
noble youth, felt the strange probability and _vraisemblance_ of the
tale; and as the time drew nearer, the interest grew. It was known that
the new claimant of the title lived in Miss Anastasia’s house, and that
she was the warmest supporter of his claim. The people of Banburyshire
were proud of Miss Anastasia; but she was Lord Winterbourne’s enemy.
Why? That old tragedy began to be spoken of once more in whispers; other
tales crept into circulation; he was a bad man; everybody knew something
of him--enough ground to judge him on; and if he was capable of all
these, was he not capable of this?

As the public voice grew thus, like the voice of doom, the doomed man
went on in his reckless and unreasoning confidence; the warnings of his
opponents and of his friends seemed to be alike fruitless. No extent of
self-delusion could have justified him at any time in thinking himself
popular, yet he seemed to have a certain insane conviction now, that he
had but to show himself in the court to produce an immediate reaction in
his favour. He even said so, shaken out of all his old self-restrained
habits, boasting with a vain braggadocio to his guests at the Hall; and
people began, with a new impulse of pity, to wonder if his reason was
touched, and to hint vaguely to each other that the shock had unsettled
his mind.

The trial came on at the next assize; it was long, elaborate, and
painful. On the very eve of this momentous day, Louis himself had
addressed an appeal to his uncle, begging him, at the last moment when
he could withdraw with honour, to accept the compromise so often and so
anxiously proposed to him. Lord Winterbourne tore the letter in two, and
put it in his pocket-book. “I shall use it,” he said to the messenger,
“when this business is over, to light the bonfire on Badgeley Hill.”

The trial came on accordingly, without favour or private arrangement--a
fair struggle of force against force. The evidence on the side of the
prosecutor was laid down clearly, particular by particular; the marriage
of the late Lord Winterbourne to the young Italian--the entry in his
pocket-book, sworn to by Miss Anastasia--the birth of the
children--their journey from Italy to London, from London to
Winterbourne--and the identity of the boy Louis with the present
claimant of the title--clearly, calmly, deliberately, everything was
proved. It took two days to go over the evidence; then came the defence.
Without an overwhelming array of witnesses on the other side--without
proving perjury on the part of these--what could Lord Winterbourne
answer to such a charge as this?

He commenced, through his lawyer, by a vain attempt to brand Louis over
again with illegitimacy, to sully the name of his dead brother, and
represent him a villanous deceiver. It was allowed, without controversy,
that Louis was the son of the old lord; and then Monte was placed in the
witness-box to prove that the marriage was a mock marriage, so skilfully
performed as to cheat herself, her family, the old quick-witted Serrano,
whose testimony had pleased every one--all the people present, in short,
except his own acute and philosophical self.

The fellow was bold, clever, and scrupulous, but he was not prepared for
such an ordeal. His attention distracted by the furious contradictory
gestures of Doctor Serrano, whose cane could scarcely be kept out of
action--by the stern, steady glance of Miss Anastasia, whom he
recognised--he was no match for the skilful cross-examiners who had him
in hand. He hesitated, prevaricated, altered his testimony. He held,
with a grim obstinacy, to unimportant trifles, and made admissions at
the same moment which struck at the very root of his own credibility as
a witness. He was finally ordered to sit down by the voice of the judge
himself, which rung in the fellow’s ears like thunder. That was all the
case for the defence! Even Lord Winterbourne’s counsel coloured for
shame as he made the miserable admission. The jury scarcely left the
court; there was no doubt remaining on the mind of the audience. The
verdict was pronounced solemnly, like a passionless voice of justice, as
it was, for the plaintiff. There was no applause--no exultation--a
universal human horror and disgust at the strange depravity they had
just witnessed, put down every demonstration of feeling. People drew
away from the neighbourhood of Lord Winterbourne as from a man in a
pestilence. He left the court almost immediately, with his hat over his
eyes--his witness following as he best could; then came a sudden
revulsion of feeling. The best men in the county hurried towards Louis,
who sat, pale and excited, by the side of his elder and his younger
sister. Congratulatory good wishes poured upon him on every side. As
they left the court slowly, a guard of honour surrounded this heir and
hero of romance; and as he emerged into the street the air rang with a
cheer for the new Lord Winterbourne. They called him “My lord,” as he
stood on the step of Miss Anastasia’s carriage, which she herself
entered as if it had been a car of triumph. _She_ called him “My lord,”
making a proud obeisance to him, as a mother might have done to her son,
a new-made king; and they drove off slowly, with riders in their train,
amid the eager observation of all the passengers--the new Lord
Winterbourne!

The old one hastened home on foot, no one observing him--followed far
off, like a shadow, by his attendant villain--unobserved, and almost
unheeded, entered the Hall; thrust with his own hand some necessaries
into his travelling-bag, gathered his cloak around him, and was gone.
Winterbourne Hall that night was left in the custody of the strangers
who had been his guests, an uneasy and troubled company, all occupied
with projects of departure to-morrow. Once more the broad chill
moonlight fell on the noble park, as when Louis and his sister, desolate
and friendless, passed out from its lordly gates into midnight and the
vacant world. Scarcely a year! but what a change upon all the actors and
all the passions of that moonlight October night!



CHAPTER XXXII.

ESPOUSALS.


It was winter, but the heavens were bright--a halcyon day among the
December glooms. All the winds lay still among the withered ferns,
making a sighing chorus in the underground of Badgeley Wood; but the
white clouds, thinner than the clouds of summer, lay becalmed upon the
chill blue sky, and the sun shone warm under the hedgerows, and deluded
birds were perching out upon the hawthorn bows; the green grass
brightened under the morning light; the wan waters shone; the trees
which had no leaves clustered their branches together, with a certain
pathos in their nakedness, and made a trellised shadow here and there
over the wintry stream; and, noble as in the broadest summer, in the
sheen of the December sunshine lay Oxford, jewelled like a bride,
gleaming out upon the tower of Maudlin, flashing abroad into the
firmament from fair St Mary, twinkling with innumerable gem-points from
all the lesser cupolas and spires. In the midst of all, this sunshine
retreated in pure defeat and failure, from that sombre old heathen, with
his heavy dome--but only brightened all the more upon those responsive
and human inhabitants dwelling there from the olden ages, and native to
the soil. There was a fresh breath from the broad country, a hum of life
in the air, a twitter of hardy birds among the trees. It was one of
those days which belong to no season, but come, like single blessings,
one by one, throwing a gleam across the darker half of the year. Though
it was in December instead of May, it was as fair “a bridal of the earth
and sky” as poet could have wished to see; but the season yielded no
flowers to strew upon the grassy footpath between the Old Wood Lodge and
the little church of Winterbourne; they did not need them who trod that
road to-day.

Hush, they are coming home--seeing nothing but an indefinite splendour
in the earth and in the sky--sweet in the dews of their youth--touched
to the heart--to that very depth and centre where lie all ecstasies and
tears. Walking together arm in arm, in their young humility--scarcely
aware of the bridal train behind them--in an enchantment of their own;
now coming back to that old little room, with its pensive old memories
of hermit life and solitude--this quiet old place, which never before
was lighted up with such a gleam of splendid fortune and happy hope.

You would say it was Marian Atheling, “with the smile on her lip, and
the tear in her eye”--the very same lovely vision whom the lad Louis saw
some eighteen months ago at the garden gate. But you would be mistaken;
for it is not Marian--it is the young Lady Winterbourne. This one is
quite as beautiful for a consolation--almost more so in her bridal
blush, and sunshine, and tears--and for a whole hour by the village
clock has been a peeress of the realm.

This is what it has come to, after all--what they must all come to,
those innocent young people--even Rachel, who is as wild as a child, in
her first genuine and unalarmed outburst of youthful jubilation--even
Agnes, who through all this joy carries a certain thoughtful remembrance
in her dark eyes--possibly even Charlie, who fears no man, but is a
little shy of every womankind younger than Miss Anastasia. There are
only one or two strangers; but the party almost overflows Miss Bridget’s
parlour, where the old walls smile with flowers, and the old apartment,
like an ancient handmaid, receives them with a prim and antique grace--a
little doubtful, yet half hysterical with joy.

But it does not last very long, this crowning festival. By-and-by the
hero and the heroine go away; then the guests one by one; then the
family, a little languid, a little moved with the first inroad among
them, disperse to their own apartments, or to a meditative ramble out of
doors; and when the twilight falls, you could almost suppose Miss
Bridget, musing too over the story of another generation, sitting before
the fire in her great old chair, with no companion but the flowers.

This new event seemed somehow to consolidate and make certain that
wonderful fortune of Louis, which until then had looked almost too much
like a romance to be realised. His uncle had made various efforts to
question and set aside the verdict which transferred to the true heir
his name and inheritance--efforts in which even the lawyers whom he had
employed at the trial, and who were not over-scrupulous, had refused any
share. The attempt was entirely fruitless--an insane resistance to the
law, which was irresistible; and the Honourable Reginald Rivers, whom
some old sycophants who came in his way still flattered with his old
title, was now at Baden, a great man enough in his own circle, rich in
the allowance from his nephew, which he was no longer too proud to
accept. He alone of all men expressed any disapprobation of Louis’s
marriage--he whose high sense of family honour revolted from the idea of
a _mesalliance_--and one other individual, who had something of a more
reasonable argument. We hasten to extract, according to a former
promise, the following pathetic paragraph from the pages of the
_Mississippi Gazette_:--

“I have just heard of the marriage of the young Lord W---- with the
beautiful M---- A----. Well!--is that so wonderful? Oh, visionary dream!
That thou shouldst pause to comment upon a common British bargain--the
most ordinary arrangement of this conventional and rotten life? What is
a heart in comparison with a title?--true love in the balance of a
coronet? Oh, my country, _thou_ hast not come to this! But for these
mercenary and heartless parents--but for the young mind dazzled with the
splendid cheat of rank--oh heaven, what true felicity--what poetic
rapture--what a home thou mightst have seen! For she was beautiful as
the day when it breaks upon the rivers and the mountains of my native
land! It is enough--a poet’s fate would have been all incomplete without
this fiery trial. Farewell, M----! Farewell, lovely deluded victim of a
false society! Some time out of your hollow splendour you will think of
a true heart and weep!”



CHAPTER XXXIII.

AN OLD FRIEND.


“The Winterbournes” had been for some time at home--they were now in
London, and Marian had appeared at court in the full splendour of that
young beauty of hers; which never had dazzled any one at home as it
dazzled every one now. She and her handsome young husband were the lions
of the season, eagerly sought after in “the best society.” Their story
had got abroad, as stories which are at all remarkable have such a
wonderful faculty of getting; and strangers whom Marian had never seen
before, were delighted to make her acquaintance--charmed to know her
sister, who had so much genius, and wrote such delightful books, and,
most extraordinary of all, extremely curious and interested about
Charlie, the wonderful young brother who had found out the mystery. At
one of the fashionable assemblies, where Louis and Marian, Rachel and
Agnes, were pointed out eagerly on all sides, and commented upon as
“such fresh unsophisticated young creatures--such a group! so
picturesque, so interesting!” they became aware, all of them, with
different degrees of embarrassment and pain, that Mrs Edgerley was in
the company. Louis found her out last of all. She could not possibly
fail to notice them; and the young man, anxious to save her pain, made
up his mind at once to be the first to address her. He went forward
gravely, with more than usual deference in his manner. She recognised
him in a moment, started with a little surprise and a momentary shock,
but immediately rushed forward with her most charming air of enthusiasm,
caught his hand, and overwhelmed him with congratulations. “Oh, I should
be so shocked if you supposed that I entertained any prejudice because
of poor dear papa!” cried Mrs Edgerley. “Of course he meant no harm; of
course he did not know any better. I am so charmed to see you! I am sure
we shall make most capital cousins and firm allies. Positively you look
quite grave at me. Oh, I assure you, family feuds are entirely out of
fashion, and no one ever quarrels with _me_! I am dying to see those
sweet girls!”

And very much amazed, and filled with great perturbation, those sweet
girls were, when Mrs Edgerley came up to them, leaning upon Louis’s arm,
bestowed upon them all a shower of those light perfumy kisses which
Marian and Agnes remembered so well, and, declaring Lady Winterbourne
far too young for a chaperone, took her place among them. Amazed as they
were at this sudden renewal of old friendship, none of them desired to
resist it; and before they were well aware, they found themselves
engaged, the whole party, to Mrs Edgerley’s next “reception,” when
“every one would be so charmed to see them!” “Positively, my love, you
are looking quite lovely,” whispered the fine lady into the shrinking
ear of Marian. “I always said so. I constantly told every one you were
the most perfect little beauty in the world; and then that charming book
of Miss Atheling’s, which every one was wild about! and your
brother--now, do you know, I wish so very much to know your brother. Oh,
I am sure you could persuade him to come to my Thursday. Tell him every
one comes; no one ever refuses _me_! I shall send him a card to-morrow.
Now, may I leave my cause in your hands?”

“We will try,” said Marian, who, though she bore her new dignities with
extraordinary self-possession on the whole, was undeniably shy of
Agnes’s first fashionable patroness. The invitation was taken up as very
good fun indeed, by all the others. They resolved to make a general
assault upon Charlie, and went home in great glee with their
undertaking. Nor was Charlie, after all, so hard to be moved as they
expected. He twisted the pretty note in his big fingers with somewhat
grim amusement, and said he did not mind. With this result Mrs Atheling
showed the greatest delight, for the good mother began to speculate upon
a wife for Charlie, and to be rather afraid of some humble beauty
catching her boy’s eye before he had “seen the world.”

With almost the feeling of people in a dream, Agnes and Marian entered
once more those well-remembered rooms of Mrs Edgerley, in which they had
gained their first glimpse of the world; and Charlie, less demonstrative
of his feelings, but not without a remembrance of the past, entered
these same portals where he had exchanged that first glance of
instinctive enmity with the former Lord Winterbourne. The change was
almost too extraordinary to be realised even by the persons principally
concerned. Marian, who had been but Agnes Atheling’s pretty and shy
sister, came in now first of the party, the wife of the head of her
former patroness’s family. Agnes, a diffident young genius then, full of
visionary ideas of fame, had now her own known and acknowledged place,
but had gone far beyond it, in the heart which did not palpitate any
longer with the glorious young fancies of a visionary ambition; and
Charlie, last of all--Charlie, who had tumbled out of the Islington fly
to take charge of his sisters--a big boy, clumsy and manful, whom Lord
Winterbourne smiled at, as he passed, with his ungenial smile--Charlie,
almost single-handed, had thrust the usurper from his seat, and placed
the true heir in his room. No wonder that the Athelings were somewhat
dizzy with recollections when they came among all the fashionable people
who were charmed to see them, and found their way at last to the boudoir
where Agnes and Marian had looked at the faces and the diamonds, on that
old Thursday of Mrs Edgerley’s, which sparkled still in their
recollection, the beginning of their fate.

But though Louis and Marian, and Agnes and Rachel, were all extremely
attractive, had more or less share in the romance, and were all more or
less handsome, Charlie was without dispute the lion of the night. Mrs
Edgerley fluttered about with him, holding his great arm with her pretty
hand, and introducing him to every one; and with a smile, rueful,
comical, half embarrassed, half ludicrous, Charlie, who continued to be
very shy of ladies, suffered himself to be dragged about by the
fashionable enchantress. He had very little to say--he was such a big
fellow, so unmanageable in a delicate crowd of fine ladies, with
draperies like gossamer, and, to do him justice, very much afraid of the
dangerous steering; but Charlie’s “manners,” though they would have
overwhelmed with distress his anxious mother, rather added to his
“success.” “It was he who conducted the whole case.” “I do not wonder!
Look, what a noble head! What a self-absorbed expression! What a power
of concentration!” were the sweet and audible whispers which rang around
him; and the more sensible observers of the scene, who saw the secret
humour in Charlie’s upper-lip, slightly curved with amusement, acute,
but not unkindly, and caught now and then a gleam of his keen eye,
which, when it met with a response, always made a momentary brightening
of the smile--were disposed to give him full credit for all the power
imputed to him. Mrs Edgerley was in the highest delight--he was a
perfect success for a lion. Lions, as this patroness of the fine arts
knew by experience, were sadly apt to betray themselves, to be thrown
off their balance, to talk nonsense. But Charlie, who was not given to
talking, who was still so delightfully clumsy, and made such a wonderful
bow, was perfectly charming; Mrs Edgerley declared she was quite in love
with him. After all, natural feeling put out of the question, she had no
extraordinary occasion to identify herself with the resentments or
enmities of that ruined plotter at Baden; and he must have been a worthy
father, indeed, who had moved Mrs Edgerley to shut her heart or her
house to the handsome young couple, whom everybody delighted to honour,
or to the hero of a fashionable romance, which was spoken of
everywhere. She had no thought of any such sacrifice; she established
the most friendly relations instantly with her charming young cousins.
She extended the kindly title, with the most fascinating amiability, to
Agnes and Charlie. She overwhelmed the young lawyer with compliments and
invitations. He had a much stronger hold upon her fickle fancy than the
author of _Hope Hazlewood_. Mrs Edgerley was delighted to speak to all
her acquaintances of Mr Atheling, “who conducted all the case against
poor dear papa--did everything himself, I assure you--and such a
charming modesty of genius, such a wonderful force and character! Oh,
any one may be jealous who pleases; I cannot help it. I quite adore that
clever young man.”

Charlie took it all very quietly; he concerned himself as little about
the adoration of Mrs Edgerley, as he did about the secret scrutiny of
his mother concerning every young woman who chanced to cross the path of
her son. Young women were the only created things whom Charlie was
afraid of, and what his own secret thoughts might be upon this important
question, nobody could tell.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

SETTLING DOWN.


Many lesser changes had been involved in the great revolution which made
the nameless Louis head of the family, and conferred upon him the
estates and title of Lord Winterbourne: scarcely any one, indeed, in the
immediate circle of the two families of Rivers and Atheling, the great
people and the small, remained uninfluenced by the change of
sovereignty, except Miss Anastasia, whose heart and household charities
were manifestly widened, but to whom no other change except the last,
and grand one, was like to come. The Rector kept his word; as soon as he
heard of the definite settlement of that great question of Louis’s
claim, he himself resigned his benefice; and one of the first acts of
the new Lord Winterbourne was to answer the only request of Lionel, by
conferring it upon Mr Mead. After that, Lionel made a settlement upon
his sister of all the property which belonged to them, enough to make a
modest maidenly income for the gentle invalid, and keep her in
possession of all the little luxuries which seemed essential to her
life. For himself, he retained a legacy of a thousand pounds which had
been left to him several years before. This was the last that was known
of the Rector--he disappeared into entire gloom and obscurity after he
had made this final arrangement. It was sometimes possible to hear of
him, for English travellers, journeying through unfamiliar routes, did
not fail to note the wandering English gentleman who seemed to travel
for something else than pleasure, and whose motives and objects no one
knew; but where to look for him next, or what his occupations were,
neither Louis nor his friends, in spite of all their anxious inquiries,
could ever ascertain.

And Mr Mead was now the rector, and reigned in Lionel’s stead. A new
rectory, all gabled and pinnacled, more “correct” than the model it
followed, and truer to its period than the truest original in
Christendom, rose rapidly between the village and the Hall; and Mr Mead,
whose altar had been made bare by the iconoclastic hands of authority,
began to exhibit some little alteration in his opinions as he grew
older, held modified views as to the priesthood, and cast an eye of
visible kindness upon the Honourable Rachel Rivers. The sentiment,
however, was not at all reciprocal; no one believed that Rachel was
really as old as Louis--older than the pretty matron Marian, older even
than Agnes. She had never been a girl until now--and Rachel cared a
great deal more for the invalid Lucy in her noiseless shadowy chamber in
the Old Wood House, than for all the rectors and all the curates in the
world. _She_ was fancy free, and promised to remain so; and Marian had
already begun with a little horror to entertain the idea that Rachel
possibly might never marry at all.

The parent Athelings themselves were not unmoved by the changes of their
children. Charlie was to be received as a partner into the firm which Mr
Foggo, by dint of habit, still clung to, as soon as he had attained his
one-and-twentieth year. Agnes, as these quiet days went on, grew both in
reputation and in riches, girl though she still was; and the youngest of
them was Lady Winterbourne! All these great considerations somewhat
dazzled the eyes of the confidential clerk of Messrs Cash, Ledger, &
Co., as he turned over his books upon that desk where he had once placed
Agnes’s fifty-pound notes, the beginning of the family fortune. Bellevue
came to be mightily out of the way when Louis and Marian were in town
living in so different a quarter; and Mr Atheling wearied of the City,
and Mamma concluded that the country air would be a great deal better
for Bell and Beau. So Mr Atheling accepted a retiring allowance, the
half of his previous income, from the employers whom he had served so
long. The whole little household, even including Susan, removed to the
country, where Marian had been delighting herself in the superintendence
of the two or three additional rooms built to the Old Wood Lodge, which
were so great a surprise to Mamma when she found them, risen as at the
touch of a fairy’s wand. The family settled there at once in
unpretending comfort, taking farewell affectionately of Miss Willsie and
Mr Foggo, but not forgetting Bellevue.

And here Agnes pursued her vocation, making very little demonstration of
it, the main pillar for the mean time, and crowning glory of her
father’s house. Her own mind and imagination had been profoundly
impressed, almost in spite of herself, by that last known act of
Lionel’s--his hasty journey to London with Doctor Serrano. It was the
kind of act beyond all others to win upon a temperament so generous and
sensitive, which a more ostentatious generosity might have disgusted and
repelled; and perhaps the very uncertainty in which they remained
concerning him kept up the lurking “interest” in Agnes Atheling’s heart.
It was possible that he might appear any day at their very doors; it was
possible that he never might be seen again. It was not easy to avoid
speculating upon him--what he was thinking, where he was?--and when, in
that spontaneous delight of her young genius, which yet had suffered no
diminution, Agnes’s thoughts glided into impersonation, and fairy
figures gathered round her, and one by one her fables grew, in the midst
of the thread of story--in the midst of what people called, to the young
author’s amusement, “an elaborate development of character, the result
of great study and observation”--thoughts came to her mind, and words to
her lip, which she supposed no one could thoroughly understand save
_one_. Almost unconsciously she shadowed his circumstances and his story
in many a bright imagination of her own; and contrasted with the real
one half-a-dozen imaginary Lionels, yet always ending in finding him the
noblest type of action in that great crisis of his career. It blended
somehow strangely with all that was most serious in her work; for when
Agnes had to speak of faith, she spoke of it with the fervour with which
one addresses an individual, opening her heart to show the One great
Name enshrined in it to another, who, woe for him, in his wanderings so
sadly friendless, knew not that Lord.

So the voice of the woman who dwelt at home went out over the world; it
charmed multitudes who thought of nothing but the story it told,
delighted some more who recognised that sweet faulty grace of youth,
that generous young directness and simplicity which made the fable
truth. If it ever reached to one who felt himself addressed in it, who
knew the words, the allusions, that noble craft of genius, which,
addressing all, had still a private voice for one--if there was such a
man somewhere, in the desert or among the mountains far away, wandering
where he seldom heard the tongue of his country, and never saw a face he
recognised, Agnes never knew.

But after this fashion time went on with them all. Then there came a
second heir, another Louis to the Hall at Winterbourne--and it was very
hard to say whether this young gentleman’s old aunt or his young aunt,
the Honourable Rachel, or the Honourable Anastasia, was most completely
out of her wits at this glorious epoch in the history of the House.
Another event of the most startling and extraordinary description took
place very shortly after the christening of Marian’s miraculous baby.
Charlie was one-and-twenty; he was admitted into the firm, and the young
man, who was one of the most “rising young men” in his profession, took
to himself a holiday, and went abroad without any one knowing much about
it. No harm in that; but when Charlie returned, he brought with him a
certain Signora Giulia, a very amazing companion indeed for this
taciturn hero, who was afraid of young ladies. He took her down at once
to Winterbourne, to present her to his mother and sisters. He had the
grace to blush, but really was not half so much ashamed of himself as he
ought to have been. For the pretty young Italian turned out to be cousin
to Louis and Rachel--a delicate little beauty, extremely proud of the
big young lover, who had carried her off from her mother’s house six
weeks ago: and we are grieved to acknowledge that Charlie henceforth
showed no fear whatever, scarcely even the proper awe of a dutiful
husband, in the presence of Mrs Charles Atheling.



CHAPTER XXXV.

THE END.


Agnes Atheling was alone in old Miss Bridget’s parlour; it was a fervent
day of July, and all the country lay in a hush and stillness of
exceeding sunshine, which reduced all the common sounds of life, far and
near, to a drowsy and languid hum--the midsummer’s luxurious voice. The
little house was perfectly still. Mrs Atheling was at the Hall, Papa in
Oxford, and Hannah, whose sole beatific duty it was to take care of the
children, and who envied no one in the world save the new nurse to the
new baby, had taken out Bell and Beau. The door was open in the fearless
fashion and license of the country. Perhaps Susan was dozing in the
kitchen, or on the sunny outside bench by the kitchen door. There was
not a sound about the house save the deep dreamy hum of the bees among
the roses--those roses which clustered thick round the old porch and on
the wall. Agnes sat by the open window, in a very familiar old
occupation, making a frock for little Bell, who was six years old now,
and appreciated pretty things. Agnes was not quite so young as she used
to be--four years, with a great many events in them, had enlarged the
maiden mind, which still was as fresh as a child’s. She was changed
otherwise: the ease which those only have who are used to the company of
people of refinement, had added another charm to her natural grace. As
she sat with her work on her knee, in her feminine attitude and
occupation, making a meditative pause, bowing her head upon her hand,
thinking of something, with those quiet walls of home around her--the
open door, the open window, and no one else visible in the serene and
peaceful house, she made, in her fair and thoughtful young womanhood, as
sweet a type as one could desire of the serene and happy confidence of a
quiet English home.

She did not observe any one passing; she was not thinking, perhaps, of
any one hereabout who was like to pass--but she heard a step entering at
the door. She scarcely looked up, thinking it some member of the
family--scarcely moved even when the door of the parlour opened wider,
and the step came in. Then she looked up--started up--let her work drop
out of her hands, and, gazing with eagerness in the bronzed face of the
stranger, uttered a wondering exclamation. He hastened to her, holding
out his hand. “Mr Rivers?” cried Agnes, in extreme surprise and
agitation--“is it _you_?”

What he said was some hasty faltering expressions of delight in seeing
her, and they gazed at each other with their mutual “interest,” glad,
yet constrained. “We have tried often to find out where you were,” said
Agnes--“I mean Louis; he has been very anxious. Have you seen him? When
did you come home?”

“I have seen no one save you.”

“But Louis has been very anxious,” said Agnes, with a little confusion.
“We have all tried to discover where you were. Is it wrong to ask where
you have been?”

But Lionel did not at all attend to her questions. He was less
self-possessed than she was; he seemed to have only one idea at the
present moment, so far as was visible, and that he simply expressed over
again--“I am very glad--happy--to see you here and alone.”

“Oh!” said Agnes with a nervous tremor--“I--I was asking, Mr Rivers,
where you had been?”

This time he began to attend to her. “I have been everywhere,” he said,
“except where pleasure was. I have been on fields of battles--in places
of wretchedness. I have come to tell you something--you only. Do you
remember our conversation once by Badgeley Wood?”

“Yes.”

“You gave me a talisman, Agnes,” said the speaker, growing more excited;
“I have carried it all over the world.”

“Well,” said Agnes as he paused. She looked at him very earnestly,
without even a blush at the sound of her own name.

“Well--better than well!” cried Lionel; “wonderful--invincible--divine!
I went to try your spell--I who trusted nothing--at the moment when
everything had failed me--even you. I put yonder sublime Friend of yours
to the experiment--I dared to do it! I took his name to the sorrowful,
as you bade me. I cast out devils with his name, as the sorcerers tried
to do. I put all the hope I could have in life upon the trial. Now I
come to tell you the issue; it is fit that you should know.”

Agnes leaned forward towards him, listening eagerly; she could not quite
tell what she expected--a confession of faith.

“I am a man of ambition,” said Lionel, turning in a moment from the high
and solemn excitement of his former speech, with a sudden smile like a
gleam of sunshine. “You remember my projects when I was heir of
Winterbourne. You knew them, though I did not tell you; now I have found
a cave in a wild mining district among a race of giants. I am Vicar of
Botallach, among the Cornish men--have been for four-and-twenty
hours--that is the end.”

Agnes had put out her hand to him in the first impulse of joy and
congratulation; a second thought, more subtle, made her pause, and
blush, and draw back. Lionel was not so foolish as to wait the end of
this self-controversy. He left his seat, came to her side, took the hand
firmly into his own, which she half gave, and half withdrew--did not
blush, but grew pale, with the quiet concern of a man who was about
deciding the happiness of his life. “The end, but the beginning too,”
said Lionel, with a tremor in his voice. “Agnes hear me still--I have
something more to say.”

She did not answer a word; she lifted her eyes to his face with one
hurried, agitated momentary glance. Something more! but the whole tale
was in the look. _They_ did not know very well what words followed, and
neither do we.


                               THE END.

           PRINTED BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS, EDINBURGH.





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