By Reverend T.P. Wilson This a very well written and interesting story, well up to Wilson's best. It deals with the various moral issues that beset a rather well-off family. The old father makes his two sons an allowance, which one of them, Amos, manages well, while the other does not. Stability in the family is provided by an old maiden aunt, Kate, the sister of the old man. There was also a daughter, Julia, who had married a ne'er-do-well, and who had been shown the door on that account by the old father, but who was still of great concern to the two young men, particularly to Amos, as she had small children, who were so destitute that Amos was spending all his allowance in looking after his sister and her children, thus making it impossible for him to lend his brother any money.
Because there are not many people in the story, and because their characters are so well-described, the reader is drawn into the family, and follows their concerns with interest. It makes a good audiobook of about eleven hours duration. NH
BY REVEREND T.P. WILSON
"Help! help! holloa there! Master Walter—Mr Amos—Jim—Harry—quick— bring us a light!—lend a hand here!" Such were the words which suddenly broke the stillness of a dark October night, and roused up the household of Mr Walter Huntingdon, a country gentleman living on his own estate in Derbyshire. The voice was the coachman's, and came apparently from somewhere near the drive-gate, which was about a couple of hundred yards from the front door of the house. The evening had been dark and stormy; and it was in a lull of the tempest that the ominous sounds of distress reached the ears of the inmates of Flixworth Manor.
In a few moments all was bustle and excitement—lights flashing; feet hurrying; voices shouting; and then a rush for the scene of danger and trouble.
Outside the grounds in which the Manor-house stood were extensive grass lands on either side of the public road. In the field nearest to the drive-gate, and on the left as you entered it, was a deep and precipitous chalk-pit, now disused. This pit was some little distance from the road itself, and was not noticeable by persons unacquainted with the locality. It had been there no one knew how long, and was a favourite resort of adventurous children, a footpath to the village passing not far from its edge. Towards this chalk-pit the startled party of rescue from the house hurried with one consent, several of them carrying lanterns or extemporised torches.
Ten o'clock was striking in the distant church-tower as they gathered round the spot from which the cries for help had proceeded. A terrible sight was dimly revealed to them in the uncertain glare cast upon it by the lights which they carried. Hanging over the edge of the chalk-pit was the squire's carriage. One horse had broken away from the traces, but the other was struggling violently, and seemed likely, in its plungings, to force the carriage still further over the precipitous side of the pit. The coachman, who had managed to spring unharmed from the box, was doing his best to restrain the violence of the terrified animal, but with only partial success; while the situation of Mr Huntingdon himself and of his maiden sister, who were inside the carriage, was perilous and distressing in the extreme.
The accident had been caused by a strange and savage dog suddenly springing at the horses' heads as the carriage was nearing the outer gate. The night was very dark, and the horses, which were young and full of spirit, being startled by the unexpected attack of the dog, which belonged to some passing traveller, sprang violently out of the road, and, easily crashing through the wooden fence, which happened to be unusually weak just at that part, carried the carriage along with them to the very edge of the chalk-pit, spite of all the efforts of the coachman to hold them in; so that when the people of the Manor-house came to the rescue, they found the carriage and its occupants in a most critical position.
Not a moment was to be lost. Jim, the stable-boy, was quickly by the side of the coachman, who was almost exhausted with his efforts to curb the terrified horse, the animal becoming still more excited by the flare of the lights and the rush of the newcomers.
"Cut the traces, man! cut the traces!" cried Harry the butler, as he gained the spot.
"Do nothing of the sort," said a voice close by him. "Don't you see that there may be nothing to hold the carriage up, if you cut the traces? it may fall sheer over into the chalk-pit.—Steady, Beauty! steady, poor Beauty!" These last words came from a young man who evidently had authority over the servants, and spoke calmly but firmly, at the same time patting and soothing the terror-stricken animal, which, though still trembling in every limb, had ceased its frantic plungings.
"William," continued the same speaker, addressing the coachman, "keep her still, if you can, till we have got my father and aunt out."
Just at that moment a boy of about seventeen years of age sprang on to the front wheel, which was a little tilted on one side, and with a violent wrench opened the carriage-door. "Father, dear father," he cried, "are you there? are you hurt?"
For a moment no reply was made; then in a stifled voice came the words, "Save your aunt, my dear boy, save your aunt!"
Miss Huntingdon, who was nearest the door, and had contrived to cling to a stout strap at the side of it, was now dragged with difficulty, by the joint efforts of her nephew and the butler, out on to the firm ground. Walter, her young deliverer, then sprang back to extricate his father. "Give me your hand, father," he cried, as he stooped down into the carriage, which was now creaking and swaying rather ominously. "A light here, Harry—Jim!" he continued. It was plain that there was no time for delay, as the vehicle seemed to be settling down more and more in the direction of the chasm over which it hung. A light was quickly brought, and Mr Huntingdon was released at last from his trying and painful durance; but not without considerable difficulty, as he had been much bruised, and almost stunned, by being dashed against the undermost door, and by his poor sister having been thrown violently on him, when the carriage had turned suddenly on its side.
"Hip, hip, hurrah!" shouted Walter, springing on to the hind wheel; "'all's well that ends well.' No bones broken I hope, dear father, dear aunt."
"Have a care, Master Walter," cried the coachman, who had now managed, with the elder son's help, to release the frightened horse from the traces, and had given it in charge to the stable-boy,—"have a care, or you'll be over into the chalk-pit, carriage and all."
"All right, William," cried the boy; "you look after Beauty, and I'll look after myself." So saying, he jumped down, making the carriage rock as he sprang to the ground.
And now, while Miss Huntingdon, who had suffered nothing more serious than a severe shaking, was being led to the house by her elder nephew and the female servants who had joined the rescuing party, Mr Huntingdon, having made a careful inspection of the position of his carriage, found that it was in no danger of falling to the bottom of the chalk-pit, as a stout tree, which sprang from the side of the pit, close to the top, had become entangled in the undermost hind wheel, and would form a sufficient support till the proper means of drawing the vehicle fully on to the level ground could be used on the morrow. All parties then betook themselves slowly to the Manor-house.
In the kitchen, William the coachman was, of course, the great centre of attraction to a large gathering of domestics, and of neighbours also, who soon came flocking in, spite of the lateness of the hour, to get an authentic version of the accident, which, snowball-like, would, ere noon next day, get rolled up into gigantic proportions, as it made its way through many mouths to the farther end of the parish.
In the drawing-room of the Manor-house a sympathising group gathered round Mr Huntingdon and his sister, eager to know if either were seriously the worse for the alarming termination to their journey. Happily, both had escaped without damage of any consequence, so that before they retired to rest they were able, as they drew round the cheery fire, and heard the stormy wind raging without, to talk over the perilous adventure with mutual congratulations at its happy termination, and with thankfulness that the travellers were under the shelter of the Manor roof, instead of being exposed to the rough blasts of the storm, as they might still have been had the mishap occurred further from home. "Walter, my boy," exclaimed Mr Huntingdon, stretching out his hand to his younger son, "it was bravely done. If it had not been for you, we might have been hanging over the mouth of the chalk-pit yet—or, perhaps, been down at the bottom. You are a lad after your father's own heart,—good old-fashioned English pluck and courage; there's nothing I admire so much." As he said these words, his eye glanced for a moment at his eldest son Amos, who was standing at the outside of the group, as though he felt that the older brother had no claim on his regard on the score of courage. The young man coloured slightly, but made no remark. He might, had he so pleased, have put in his claim for loving notice, on the ground of presence of mind in stilling the plunging horse,—presence of mind, which commonly contributes more to success and deliverance in an emergency than impulsive and impetuous courage; but he was not one to assert himself, and the coachman and stable-boy, who knew the part he had taken, were not present to speak a word for him. So his younger brother Walter got the praise, and was looked upon as the hero of the adventure.
UNDER A CLOUD.
Mr Huntingdon was a country gentleman of good fortune and popular manners, warm in his temper, hasty in his speech, upright in his transactions, and liberal in his dealings. No man could make a better speech, when he had those to address who substantially agreed with him; while in ordinary conversation he generally succeeded in silencing an opponent, though, perhaps, more by the vehemence of his utterances than by the cogency of his reasonings. He had a considerable knowledge of field-sports and farming, rather less of literature, and less still of character. Naturally, he had a high opinion of his own judgment, in which opinion his dependants agreed with him before his face, but differed from it behind his back. However, every one allowed that he was a worthy man, a good landlord, a kind master, and a faithful friend. A cloud, however, rested on his home.
He had married early, and had made, in the estimation of his friends and of the county generally, an excellent choice of a wife in the person of the eldest daughter of a neighbouring squire. The marriage was apparently a very happy one; for the bride brought her husband a fair face, a loving heart, and a good fortune, and entertained his friends with due courtesy and cordiality. Moreover, she neither thwarted his tastes nor squandered his money; while he, on his part, pursued his hunting, shooting, and fishing, and his occasional magisterial duties, with due consideration for his wife's domestic and social engagements, so that their married life ran its course with as little friction or creaking as could reasonably be expected. Then there came, in due time, the children: first, a little girl, the object of her mother's passionate love, and as dear to her father as the mistake of her not having been a boy would allow her to be; then, after an interval of three years, came a son.
Now it so happened that at the time of this son's birth there was residing as a guest at the Manor-house a middle-aged gentleman reputed to be very rich. His name was Amos Sutterby. Mr Huntingdon had met him abroad in the second year after his marriage when taking a tour in Switzerland with his wife. Mr Sutterby was an old bachelor, rather bluff in his manners, but evidently in easy circumstances. The Huntingdons and himself had met on the Rigi, and the squire had taken to him at once—in a great measure, it may be, because Mr Amos was a good listener, and was very ready to ask Mr Huntingdon's opinion and advice. So the squire gave his new acquaintance a general invitation to Flixworth Manor, which the other cordially accepted: and in a little while this acquaintanceship ripened into a steady friendship, though by no means entirely to the satisfaction of Mrs Huntingdon. The result, however, was that Mr Sutterby spent several weeks of every year, at the close of the summer and beginning of the autumn, at the Manor, and was the constant companion of the squire in his field-sports. Mr Huntingdon had taken care to satisfy himself that his new friend, though somewhat of an oddity, was a man of substance. True, he was only living in bachelor style, and possessed no landed property; but then he was able at all times to command ready money, and was reputed by persons who had long known him to be the holder of a large amount in the funds, an impression which seemed to be justified by some elegant and costly presents of which Mr Sutterby begged his friend's acceptance, as a token of his esteem and a mark of his appreciation of that kind hospitality which, as he said, an eccentric old bachelor living in lodgings in London was unable to return in kind.
Now it was, as has been said, during a visit of Mr Sutterby to Flixworth Manor that a son and heir was given to the Huntingdons. Of course there were great rejoicings, and no one seemed more glad than Mr Sutterby; and when he was asked if he would stand godfather to the child, he declared that nothing could please him more. So the christening day was fixed, and now the question of a name for the child was discussed, as father, mother, and their guest were sitting round the fire after dinner on the first day of Mrs Huntingdon's appearing downstairs.
"Of course he must be 'Walter,' after yourself," said the lady.
"Unless you would like to call him 'Amos,' after his godfather," said the squire, laughing.
"Capital!" exclaimed Mr Sutterby, with a roar of merriment. "In that case, of course, I shall feel it nothing less than my duty to make him my heir."
Now these words of their guest, though spoken just on the spur of the moment, and probably only in jest, made an impression on the mind of Mr Huntingdon which he could not get rid of. Why should not his friend have really meant what he said? He was rich, and an old bachelor, and had no near relations, so far as the squire knew; and though Mr Huntingdon's estate and fortune were large, yet his open-house way of living left him little to spare at the year's end, so that Mr Sutterby's money would be very acceptable, should he see fit to leave it to his godson. He therefore represented this view of the matter to his wife in private; but she would not hear of such a name as Amos being given to her son.
"Better lose a thousand fortunes, and quarrel with every friend they had or might have, rather than bring such an odious combination as 'Amos Huntingdon' into the family genealogy." The squire's temper, however, was roused by this opposition, and he wound up the only sharp altercation which had occurred between himself and his wife since their marriage by a vehement asseveration that "Amos" and nothing but "Amos" should be the Christian name of his first-born son.
Sorely against her will, his wife was obliged to yield; for though Mr Huntingdon had his own secret regrets that he had gone so far, yet he was one of those who, wanting that true greatness of character which leads its possessor to change a hastily adopted decision for one resulting from a maturer judgment, abide by what they have said simply because they have said it, and thus mistake obstinacy for a right-minded firmness. "Amos," therefore, was the name given, considerably to the satisfaction of Mr Sutterby, who made his godson handsome presents from time to time, and often spoke of him playfully as "my godson and heir." His mother, however, never forgave his name, and it was clear to all that the poor child himself had but a cold place in that mother's heart.
What wonder, then, that the boy grew up shy and reserved, dreading the sound of his own name, and shrinking within himself; for seldom was he gladdened by a father's or mother's smile. Added to this, he was not naturally of a lively temperament, and so never exhibited those boisterous spirits which might have won for him in a measure his father's heart. So he was brought up with all due care, as was suitable for an eldest son, and was sent to a public school as soon as he could be safely trusted from home. Indeed, all his wants were supplied but one, and that one was what his heart craved with a painful intensity— love. They gave him no real love, at least none that came like sunshine to his spirit. Such love as they did measure out to him was rather like the feeble sunlight on a cloudy winter day, that seems to chill as it scarcely struggles through the mists that almost quench it.
Such was Amos Huntingdon in his early childhood. But the cloud grew darker over him when he had reached the age of ten. It was then that the news came one morning that Mr Sutterby had died, leaving no will, for indeed he had nothing to bequeath except a few small personal effects, which went to some distant cousin. The fact was that, having an eye to his own personal comfort and well-doing, he had sunk a nice little fortune, which he had inherited from a maiden aunt, in a handsome annuity. Thus he was able to travel and spend his money like a man of wealth, and was very glad of the opportunity of making Mr Huntingdon's acquaintance, which gave him access to a house where he could spend a portion of every year amidst bountiful hospitality and in good society. He had no deliberate intention of deceiving Mr Huntingdon about his son, but having once given him the impression that he would leave that son a fortune, he did not trouble himself to undeceive his friend on the subject; but being a man in whom self-interest spoke with a louder voice than conscience, he was not sorry to find the conviction strongly rooted in the squire's mind that Amos was to be his godfather's heir, as this conviction evidently added to the warmth of the welcome with which he was received at the Manor-house whenever he chose to take up his quarters there. And as he had always carefully avoided making any definite statement of his intentions, and had only thrown out hints from time to time, which might be either serious or playful, he was content that a state of things should continue which brought considerable satisfaction to himself, and could not deprive the squire or his son of anything to which either had a legal claim. The disgust, however, of Mr Huntingdon, when he found out how he had, as he considered it, been taken advantage of and imposed upon, was intense in the extreme. No one dared refer to Mr Sutterby in his presence, while the very name of the poor boy Amos was scarcely ever spoken by him except in a tone of bitterness; and even his mother looked forward to his holidays with more of apprehension than rejoicing.
There was one, however, who felt for that desolate-hearted child, and loved him with a mother's tenderness. This was his aunt, Miss Huntingdon, his father's unmarried and only sister. Half his holidays would be spent at her house; and oh, what happy days they were for him! Happy, too, at last in the brightest and fullest sense; for that loving friend was privileged to lead her nephew gently to Him who says to the shy schoolboy, as much as to the mature man, in his sorrows, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."
In the meanwhile, when Amos was five years old, another son was born at Flixworth Manor. The baby was christened Walter, and nearly all the love that was the share of the elder brother was poured by both father and mother on the younger son. Years rolled on, and when our story opens Amos was twenty-two years of age. He had passed creditably through the university course at Oxford, but had not settled down to any profession. Walter was seventeen; his father's delight and constant companion in his holidays; full of life, energy, and fun, with an unlimited good opinion of himself, and a very limited good opinion of his brother; while all around who knew him only a little were loud in his praises, which were not, however, echoed by those who knew him more thoroughly. At present he was remaining at home, after completing his school education, neither his father nor himself being able to make up their minds as to the sphere in which his abilities would shine the best.
And where was his sister, the eldest of the three, who was now twenty- five years of age? Alas! she had grievously disappointed the hopes of both father and mother, having clandestinely married, when not yet arrived at womanhood, a man altogether beneath her in position. From the day of that marriage Mr Huntingdon's heart and house were closed against her. Not so the heart of her mother; but that mother pleaded with her husband in vain for a reconciliation, for permission even to have a single meeting with her erring child. And so the poor mother's mind came under partial eclipse, and herself had been some years away from home under private superintendence, when the accident above recorded occurred to her husband and his sister.
A TALK AT THE BREAKFAST-TABLE.
The morning after the accident, Miss Huntingdon, who was now keeping her brother's house, and had been returning with him the night before after a visit to a friend, appeared as usual at the breakfast-table, rather to Mr Huntingdon's surprise.
"My dear Kate," he said, "I hardly expected to see you at breakfast, after your fright, and shaking, and bruising. Most ladies would have spent the morning in bed; but I am delighted to see you, and take it for granted that you are not seriously the worse for the mishap."
"Thank you, dear Walter," was her reply; "I cannot say that I feel very brilliant this morning, but I thought it would be kinder in me to show myself, and so relieve you from all anxiety, as I have been mercifully preserved from anything worse than a severe shaking, the effects of which will wear off in a day or two, I have no doubt."
"Well, Kate, I must say it's just like yourself, never thinking of your own feelings when you can save other people's. Why, you are almost as brave as our hero Walter, who risked his own neck to get us out of our trouble last night.—Ah! here he comes, and Amos after him. Well, that's perhaps as it should be—honour to whom honour is due."
A cloud rested on Miss Huntingdon's face as she heard these last words, and it was deepened as she observed a smile of evident exultation on the countenance of her younger nephew, as he glanced at the flushed face of his elder brother. But now all seated themselves at the table, and the previous evening's disaster was the all-absorbing topic of conversation.
"Well," said the squire, "things might have been worse, no doubt, though it may be some time before the horses will get over their fright, and the carriage must go to the coachmaker's at once.—By-the-by, Harry," speaking to the butler, who was waiting at table, "just tell James, when you have cleared away breakfast, to see to that fence at once. It must be made a good substantial job of, or we shall have broken bones, and broken necks too, perhaps, one of these days."
"I hope, Walter," said his sister, "the horses were not seriously injured."
"No, I think not," was his reply; "nothing very much to speak of. Charlie has cut one of his hind legs rather badly,—that must have been when he flung out and broke away; but Beauty hasn't got a scratch, I'm pleased to say, and seems all right."
"And yourself, Walter?"
"Oh, I'm all safe and sound, except a few bruises and a bit of a sprained wrist.—And now, my boy, Walter, I must thank you once more for your courage and spirit. But for you, your aunt and myself might have been lying at the bottom of the chalk-pit, instead of sitting here at the breakfast-table."
Walter laughed his thanks for the praise, declaring that he exceedingly enjoyed getting his father and aunt on to dry land, only he was sorry for the carriage and horses. But here the butler—who was an old and privileged servant in the family, and therefore considered himself at liberty to offer occasionally a remark when anything was discussed at table in which he was personally interested—interrupted.
"If you please, sir, I think Master Amos hasn't had his share of the praise. 'Twas him as wouldn't let us cut the traces, and then stood by Beauty and kept her still. I don't know where you'd have been, sir, nor Miss Huntingdon neither, if it hadn't been for Master Amos's presence of mind."
"Ah, well, perhaps so," said his master, not best pleased with the remark; while Amos turned red, and motioned to the butler to keep silent. "Presence of mind is a very useful thing in its way, no doubt; but give me good manly courage,—there's nothing like that, to my mind.—What do you say, Kate?"
"Well, Walter," replied his sister slowly and gravely, "I am afraid I can hardly quite agree with you there. Not that I wish to take away any of the credit which is undoubtedly due to Walter. I am sure we are all deeply indebted to him; and yet I cannot but feel that we are equally indebted to Amos's presence of mind."
"Oh, give him his due, by all means," said the squire, a little nettled at his sister's remark; "but, after all, good old English courage for me. But, of course, as a woman, you naturally don't value courage as we men do."
"Do you think not, Walter? Perhaps some of us do not admire courage quite in the same way, or the same sort of courage most; but I think there can be no one of right feeling, either man or woman, who does not admire real courage."
"I don't know what you mean, Kate, about 'the same sort of courage.' Courage is courage, I suppose, pretty much the same in everybody who has it."
"I was thinking of moral courage," replied the other quietly; "and that often goes with presence of mind."
"Moral courage! moral courage! I don't understand you," said her brother impatiently. "What do you mean by moral courage?"
"Well, dear brother, I don't want to vex you; I was only replying to your question. I admire natural courage, however it is shown, but I admire moral courage most."
"Well, but you have not told me what you mean by moral courage."
"I will try and explain myself then. Moral courage, as I understand it, is shown when a person has the bravery and strength of character to act from principle, when doing so may subject him, and he knows it, to misunderstanding, misrepresentation, opposition, ridicule, or persecution."
The squire was silent for a moment, and fidgeted on his chair. Amos coloured and cast down his eyes; while his brother looked up at his aunt with an expression on his face of mingled annoyance and defiance. Then Mr Huntingdon asked, "Well, but what's to hinder a person having both what I should call old-fashioned courage and your moral courage at the same time?"
"Nothing to hinder it, necessarily," replied Miss Huntingdon. "Very commonly, however, they do not go together; or perhaps I ought rather to say, that while persons who have moral courage often have natural courage too, a great many persons who have natural courage have no moral courage."
"You mean, aunt, I suppose," said her nephew Walter, rather sarcastically, "that the one's all 'dash' and the other all 'duty.'"
"Something of the kind, Walter," replied his aunt. "The one acts upon a sudden impulse, or on the spur of the moment, or from natural spirit; the other acts steadily, and from deliberate conviction."
"Can you give us an example, aunt?" asked the boy, but now with more of respect and less of irritation in his manner.
"Yes, I can," she replied; "and I will do so if you like, and my example shall be that of one who combined both natural and moral courage. My moral hero is Christopher Columbus."
"A regular brick of a man, I allow; but, dear aunt, pray go on."
"Well, then, I have always had a special admiration for Columbus because of his noble and unwavering moral courage. Just think of what he had to contend with. It was enough to daunt the stoutest heart and wear out the most enduring patience. Convinced that somewhere across the ocean to the west there must be a new and undiscovered world, and that it would be the most glorious of enterprises to find that new world and plant the standard of the Cross among its people, he never wavered in his one all-absorbing purpose of voyaging to those unknown shores and winning them for Christ. And yet, from the very first, he met with every possible discouragement, and had obstacle upon obstacle piled up in his path. He was laughed to scorn as a half-mad enthusiast; denounced as a blasphemer and gainsayer of Scripture truth; cried down as an ignoramus, unworthy of the slightest attention from men of science; tantalised by half promises; wearied by vexatious delays: and yet never did his courage fail nor his purpose waver. At last, after years of hope deferred and anxieties which made him grey while still in the prime of life, he was permitted to set sail on what was generally believed to be a desperate crusade, with no probable issue but death. And just picture him to yourself, Walter, as he set out on that voyage amidst the sullen murmurs and tears of the people. His ships were three 'caravels,' as they were called,—that is, something the same as our coasting colliers, or barges,—and there was no deck in two of them. Besides, they were crazy, leaky, and scarcely seaworthy; and the crews numbered only one hundred and twenty men, most of them pressed, and all hating the service. Nevertheless, he ventured with these into an ocean without any known shore; and on he went with one fixed, unalterable purpose, and that was to sail westward, westward, westward till he came to land. Days and weeks went by, but no land was seen. Provisions ran short, and every day's course made return home more hopeless. But still his mind never changed; still he plunged on across that trackless waste of waters. The men mutinied—and one can hardly blame them; but he subdued them by his force of character,—they saw in his eye that which told them that their leader was no common man, but one who would die rather than abandon his marvellous enterprise. And you remember the end? The very day after the mutiny, a branch of thorn with berries on it floats by them. They are all excitement. Then a small board appears; then a rudely-carved stick; then at night Columbus sees a light, and next day lands on the shores of his new world, after a voyage of more than two months over seas hitherto unexplored by man, and in vessels which nothing but a special providence could have kept from foundering in the mighty waters. The man who could carry out such a purpose in the teeth of such overwhelming opposition, discouragement, and difficulty, may well claim our admiration for courage of the highest and noblest order."
No one spoke for a moment, and then Mr Huntingdon said, "Well, Kate, Columbus was a brave man, no doubt, and deserves the best you can say of him; and I think I see what you mean, from his case, about the greatness and superiority of moral courage."
"I am glad, Walter, that I have satisfied you on that point," was her reply. "You see there was no sudden excitement to call out or sustain his courage. It was the bravery of principle, not of mere impulse. It was so grand because it stood the strain, a daily-increasing strain, of troubles, trials, and hindrances, which kept multiplying in front of him every day and hour as he pressed forward; and it never for a moment gave way under that strain."
"It was grand indeed, aunt," said Walter. "I am afraid my courage would have oozed out of every part of me before I had been a week on board one of those caravels. So all honour to Christopher Columbus and moral courage."
That same morning, when Miss Huntingdon was at work in her own private sitting-room, there came a knock at the door, followed by the head of Walter peeping round it.
"May I come in, auntie? I've a favour to ask of you."
"Come in, dear boy."
"Well, Aunt Kate, I've been thinking over what you said at breakfast about moral courage, and I begin to see that I am uncommonly short of it, and that Amos has got my share of it as well as his own."
"But that need not be, Walter," said his aunt; "at least it need not continue to be so."
"I don't know, auntie; perhaps not. But, at any rate, what father calls old-fashioned courage is more in my line; and yet I don't want to be quite without moral courage as well,—so will you promise me just two things?"
"What are they, Walter?"
"Why, the first is to give me a bit of a hint whenever you see me—what I suppose I ought to call acting like a moral coward."
"Well, dear boy, I can do that. But how am I to give the hint if others are by? for you would not like me to speak out before your father or the servants."
"I'll tell you, auntie, what you shall do—that is to say, of course, if you don't mind. Whenever you see me showing moral cowardice, or want of moral courage, and I suppose that comes much to the same thing, and you would like to give me a hint without speaking, would you put one of your hands quietly on the table, and then the other across it—just so—and leave them crossed till I notice them?"
"Yes, Walter, I can do that, and I will do it; though I daresay you will sometimes think me hard and severe."
"Never mind that, auntie; it will do me good."
"Well, dear boy, and what is the other thing I am to promise?"
"Why, this,—I want you, the first opportunity after the hint, when you and I are alone together, to tell me some story—it must be a true one, mind—of some good man or woman, or boy or girl, who has shown moral courage just where I didn't show it. 'Example is better than precept,' they say, and I am sure it is a great help to me; for I shan't forget Christopher Columbus and his steady moral courage in a hurry."
"I am very glad to hear what you say, Walter," replied his aunt; "and it will give me great pleasure to do what you wish. My dear, dear nephew, I do earnestly desire to see you grow up into a truly noble man, and I want to be, as far as God permits me, in the place of a mother to you."
As Miss Huntingdon uttered these words with deep emotion, Walter flung his arms passionately round her, and, sinking on his knees, buried his face in her lap, while tears and sobs, such as he was little accustomed to give vent to, burst from him.
"O auntie!" he said vehemently, when he had a little recovered himself, "I know I am not what I ought to be, with all my dash and courage, which pleases father so much. I'm quite sure that there's a deal of humbug in me after all. It's very nice to please him, and to hear him praise me and call me brave; but I should like to please you too. It would be worth more, in one way, to have your praise, though father is very kind."
"Well, my dear boy, I hope you will be able to please me too, and, better still, to please God." She spoke gently and almost sadly as she said these words, kissing at the same time Walter's fair brow.
"I'm afraid, auntie," was the boy's reply, "I don't think much about that. But Amos does, I know; and though I laugh at him sometimes, yet I respect him for all that, and I believe he will turn out the true hero after all."
THE CRIPPLED HORSE.
Nature and circumstances had produced widely differing characters in the two brothers. Walter, forward enough by natural temperament, and ready to assert himself on all occasions, was brought more forward still and encouraged in self-esteem and self-indulgence, by the injudicious fondness of both his parents. Handsome in person, with a merry smile and a ripple of joyousness rarely absent from his bright face, he was the favourite of all guests at his father's house, and a sharer in their field-sports and pastimes. That his father and mother loved him better than they loved Amos it was impossible for him not to see; and, as he grew to mature boyhood, a feeling of envy, when he heard both parents regret that himself was not their heir, drew his heart further and further from his elder brother, and led him to exhibit what he considered his superiority to him as ostentatiously as possible, that all men might see what a mistake Nature had made in the order of time in which she had introduced the two sons into the family. Not that Walter really hated his brother; he would have been shocked to admit to himself the faintest shadow of such a feeling, for he was naturally generous and of warm affections; but he clearly looked upon his elder brother as decidedly in his way and in the wrong place, and often made a butt of him, considering it quite fair to play off his sarcasms and jokes on one who had stolen a march upon him by coming into the world before him as heir of the family estate. And now that their mother—who had made no secret of her preference of Walter to her elder son—was removed from them, the cords of Mr Huntingdon's affections were wound tighter than ever round his younger son, in whom he could scarce see a fault, however glaringly visible it might be to others; while poor Amos's shortcomings received the severest censure, and his weaknesses were visited on him as sins. No wonder, then, that, spite of the difference in their ages and order of birth, Walter Huntingdon looked upon himself as a colossal figure in the household, and on his poor brother as a cipher.
On the other hand, Amos, if he had been of a similar temperament to his brother, would have been inevitably more or less cowed and driven into himself by the circumstances which surrounded him, and the treatment which he undeservedly received at the hands of his parents and younger brother. Being, however, naturally of a shy and nervous disposition, he would have been completely crushed under the burden of heartless neglect, and his heart frozen up by the withholding of a father's and mother's love, had it not been for the gentle and deep affection of his aunt, Miss Huntingdon, who was privileged to lead that poor, desolate, craving heart to Him whose special office it is to pour a heavenly balm into the wounded spirit. In herself, too, he found a source of comfort from her pitying love, which in a measure took the place of that which his nearest ought to have given him, but did not. And so, as boy and young man, Amos Huntingdon learned, under the severe discipline of his earthly home, lessons which were moulding his character to a nobility which few suspected, who, gazing on that timid, shrinking youth, went on their way with a glance or shrug of pity. But so it was.
Amos had formed a mighty purpose; it was to be the one object of his earthly life, to which everything was to bend till he had accomplished it. But who would have thought of such an iron resolution of will in a breast like that poor boy's? For to him an ordinary conversation was a trial, and to speak in company an effort, though it was but to answer a simple question. If a stranger asked his opinion, a nervous blush covered his face as he forced out a reply. The solitude which others found irksome had special charms for him. With one person only in his own home did he feel really at ease,—that person was his aunt, for he believed that she in a measure really understood and sympathised with him. And yet that shy, nervous, retiring young man, down-trodden and repulsed as he was, was possessed by one grand and all-absorbing purpose: it was this, to bring back his sister to her father's home forgiven, and his mother to that same home with the cloud removed from her mind and spirit.
That both these objects might be accomplished he was firmly persuaded. At the same time, he was fully aware that to every one else who knew his father and the circumstances which had led to the sad estrangement of the daughter and removal of the mother, such a restoration as he contemplated bringing about would appear absolutely hopeless. Yet he himself had no doubts on the subject. The conviction that his purpose might and would be accomplished was stamped into his soul as by an indelible brand. He was perfectly sure that every hindrance could be removed, though how he could not tell. But there stood up this conviction ever facing him, ever beckoning him on, as though a messenger from an unseen world. Not that he was ignorant of nor underrated the magnitude of the obstacles in his way. He knew and felt most oppressively that everything almost was against him. The very thought of speaking to his father on the subject made a chill shudder creep over him. To move a single step in the direction of the attainment of his object required an effort from which his retiring nature shrank as if stung by a spark of white heat. The opposition, direct or indirect, of those nearest to him was terrible even to contemplate, and was magnified while yet at a distance through the haze of his morbid sensitiveness. Yet his conviction and purpose remained unshaken. He was, moreover, fully aware that neither mother nor sister had any deep affection for him, and that, should he gain the end he had set before him, he might get no nearer to their hearts than the place he now occupied. It mattered not; he had devoted himself to his great object as to a work of holy self-denial and labour of love, and from the pursuit of that object nothing should move him, but onward he would struggle towards its attainment, with the steady determination which would crush through hindrances and obstacles by the weight of its tremendous earnestness.
This purpose had hovered before his thoughts in dim outline while he was yet a boy, and had at length assumed its full and clear proportions while he was at Oxford. There it was that he became acquainted with a Christian young man who, pitying his loneliness and appreciating his character, had sought and by degrees obtained his friendship, and, in a measure, his confidence, as far as he was able to give it. To his surprise Amos discovered that his new friend's father was the physician under whose charge and in whose house his own mother, Mrs Huntingdon, had been placed. Mr Huntingdon had kept the matter a profound secret from his own children, and no member of his household ever ventured to allude to the poor lady or to her place of retirement, and it was only by an inadvertence on his young friend's part that Amos became aware of his mother's present abode. But this knowledge, after the first excitement of surprise had passed away, only strengthened the purpose which had gradually taken its settled hold upon his heart. It was to him a new and important link in the chain of events which would lead, he knew, finally to the accomplishment of his one great resolve. And so he determined to communicate with his friend's father, the physician, and ascertain from him in confidence his opinion of his mother's mental condition, and whether there was any possibility of her restoration to sanity. The reply to his inquiries was that his mother's case was far from hopeless; and with this he was satisfied. Then he took the letter which conveyed the opinion of the physician to him, and, spreading it out before God in his chamber, solemnly and earnestly dedicated himself to the work of restoration, asking guidance and strength from on high.
From that day forward he was gradually maturing his plans, being ever on the watch to catch any ray of light which might show him where to place a footstep on the road which led up to the end he had in view. Earthly counsellors he had none; he dared not have any—at least not at present. Even Miss Huntingdon knew nothing of his purpose from himself, though she had some suspicions of his having devoted himself to some special work, gathered from her own study of his character and conduct; but these suspicions she kept entirely to herself, prepared to advise or assist should Amos give her his confidence in the matter, and seek her counsel or help. Such was the position of things when our story opens. Amos was waiting, hoping, watching; but no onward step had been taken since he had received the physician's letter.
A fortnight passed away after the accident, when Miss Huntingdon, who had now completely recovered from her fright and bruises, was coming out of a labouring man's cottage on a fine and cheery afternoon. As she stood on the doorstep exchanging a few parting words with the cottager's wife, she was startled by the sound of furious galloping not far off, and shrank back into the cottage, naturally dreading the sight of an excited horse so soon after her perilous upset in her brother's carriage. Nearer and nearer came the violent clatter, and, as she involuntarily turned her eyes towards the road with a nervous terror, she was both alarmed and surprised to see her nephew Walter and another young man dashing past on horseback at whirlwind speed, the animals on which they rode being covered with foam.
In a few moments all was still again, and Miss Huntingdon continued her rounds, but, as she turned the corner of a lane which led up to the back of the Manor-house, she was startled at seeing her nephew Walter in front of her on foot, covered with mud, and leading his horse, which was limping along with difficulty, being evidently in pain. His companion was walking by his side, also leading his horse, and both were so absorbed with their present trouble that they were quite unconscious of her approach. Something plainly was much amiss. Walter had had a fall, and his horse was injured; of this there could be no doubt. Could she be of any service? She was just going to press forward, when she observed Mr Huntingdon's groom coming from the direction of the house, and, as her nephew did not walk as if he had received any serious injury, she thought it better to leave him to put matters straight for himself, knowing that young men are very sensitive about being interfered with or helped when their pride has been wounded by any humiliating catastrophe. So she turned aside into a small copse through which was a short cut to the house, intending to go forward and be prepared to render any assistance should Walter desire it.
None of the party had seen her, but she passed near enough to them on the other side of a tall hedge to overhear the words, "Won't the governor just be mad!" and then, "Here's a sovereign, Dick, and I'll make it all straight for you with my father." What could have happened? She was not long left in suspense; for her brother's voice in high anger soon resounded through the house, and she learned from her maid, who rushed into her room full of excitement, that Forester, Mr Huntingdon's favourite hunter, had been lamed, and otherwise seriously injured, and that Dick the groom, who had been the author of the mischief, had been dismissed at a moment's notice.
Poor Miss Huntingdon's heart misgave her that all had not been quite straightforward in the matter, and that the blame had been laid on the wrong person. So she went down to dinner, at the summoning of the gong, with a heavy heart. As she entered the drawing-room she saw her brother, who usually advanced to give her his arm with all due courtesy, sitting still in his easy-chair, hiding his face with the newspaper, which a glance showed her to be turned the wrong way up. Amos also and Walter were seated as far apart from their father and from each other as was possible, and for a few moments not a word was spoken. Then, suddenly remembering himself, the squire dismissed the paper from his hand with an irritable jerk, and, with the words, "I suppose that means dinner," gave his arm to his sister, and conducted her in silence to the dining-room.
Nothing in the shape of conversation followed for a while, Mr Huntingdon having shut up his sister by a very curt reply to a question which she put on some commonplace subject, just for the sake of breaking through the oppressive stillness. At length, when the meal was half-way through, Mr Huntingdon exclaimed abruptly,—
"I can't understand for the life of me how that fool of a Dick ever managed to get poor Forester into such a scrape. I always thought the boy understood horses better than that."
"I hope, Walter," ventured his sister in a soothing tone, "that the poor animal is not seriously, or at any rate permanently, damaged."
"Nonsense, Kate," he exclaimed peevishly;—"but, pardon me, it's no fault of yours. Damaged! I should think so. I doubt if he will ever be fit to ride again. But I can't make it out quite yet, it's very vexing. I had rather have given a hundred pounds than it should have happened. And Dick, too; the fellow told the queerest tale about it. I should have thought he was telling a lie, only he was taking the blame to himself, and that didn't look like lying.—By-the-by, Amos, have you been out riding this afternoon?"
"What horse did you ride?"
"My own pony, Prince."
"Did you meet Dick exercising the horses?"
"No; I didn't see anything of him."
"That is strange. Where were you riding to?"
"I was off on a little business beyond the moor."
"Beyond the moor! what can you have been wanting beyond the moor?"
Amos turned red and did not reply.
"I don't know what has come to the boy," said the squire surlily. But now Walter, who had not uttered a word hitherto, broke in suddenly, "Father, you mustn't be hard upon Dick. It's a misfortune, after all. There isn't a better rider anywhere; only accidents will happen sometimes, as you know they did the other night. Forester bolted when the little girl's red cloak blew off and flapped right on to his eyes. Dick was not expecting it, and tried to keep the horses in; but Forester sprang right through a hedge and staked himself before Dick could pull him in. It's a mercy, I think, that Dick hadn't his neck broke."
He said these last words slowly and reluctantly, for his eye had rested on his aunt's hands, which were being laid quietly one across the other on the table in front of her.
"Red cloak!" exclaimed the squire; "why, Dick told me it was a boy's hat that blew off and flapped against Forester's eyes."
"Ah! well, father, it may have been a hat. I thought he said a cloak; but it comes pretty much to the same thing."
There was an unsteadiness about the boy's voice as he said these last words which every one noticed except his father. The subject, however, was now dropped, and was not again alluded to during the evening.
Next morning after breakfast Walter knocked at his aunt's door. When he had entered and taken the offered chair by her side, he sat for a minute or so with eyes cast down, and silent.
"Well, Walter," she said after a while.
"Ill, auntie," he replied, in a voice between a laugh and a sigh.
"What is it, dear Walter?"
"Only those two hands of yours, dear auntie."
"Was there not a cause, Walter?"
"Shall I tell you one of the stories you asked me to tell about moral courage?"
"Do, auntie dear," he said in a low tearful voice.
"My hero this morning, Walter, is George Washington, the great American general and statesman, the man who had so much to do in the founding of that great republic which is called the United States. A braver man never lived; but he was a brave boy too, brave with moral courage. Not that he wanted natural courage in his early years, for at school none could beat him in leaping, wrestling, swimming, and other athletic exercises. When he was about six years old, his father gave him a new hatchet one day. George was highly pleased, and went about cutting and hacking everything in his way. Unfortunately, amongst other things he used the hatchet with all the force of his little arm on a young English cherry tree, which happened to be a great favourite with his father. Without thinking of the mischief he was doing, George greatly injured the valuable tree. When his father saw what was done he was very angry, and asked the servants who had dared to injure the tree. They said they knew nothing of it; when little George entering the room and hearing the inquiry, though he saw that his father was very angry, went straight up to him, his cheeks colouring crimson as he spoke, and cried, 'I did it. I cannot tell a lie. I cut your cherry tree with my hatchet.' 'My noble boy,' said his father, as he clasped him in his arms, 'I would rather lose a hundred cherry-trees, were their blossoms of silver and their fruit of gold, than that a son of mine should dare to tell a lie.'—Dear Walter, that was true noble courage; and George Washington grew up with it. Those are beautiful lines of one of our old poets, George Herbert,—
"'Dare to be true, nothing can need a lie; The fault that needs it most grows two thereby.'"
She paused. Her nephew kept silent for a time, nervously twisting the fringe of her little work-table; and then he said very slowly and sadly,—
"So, auntie, you have found me out. Yes, I've been a beastly coward, and I'm heartily ashamed of myself."
"Well, dear boy," replied his aunt, "tell me all about it; happily, it is never too late to mend."
"Yes, dear Aunt Kate, I'll tell you all. Bob Saunders called yesterday just after luncheon, and asked me to go out for a ride with him, and if I could give him a mount, for his own horse was laid up with some outlandish complaint. I didn't like to say 'No;' but my own pony, Punch, was gone to be shod, and Bob had no time to wait. Well, Dick was just coming out of the yard as I got into it; he was riding Forester and leading Bessie, to exercise them. 'That'll do,' I said. 'Here, Dick; I'll take Forester out and give him a trot, and Mr Saunders can ride Bessie.' 'Please, Master Walter,' says Dick, 'your father's very particular. I don't know what he'll say to me if I let you exercise Forester.' 'Oh, nonsense!' I said. 'I'll make that all straight.' Dick didn't like it; but I wouldn't be denied, so he let us mount, and begged me to be very careful. 'Never fear,' I said; 'we'll bring them both back as cool as cucumbers.' And I meant it, auntie. But somehow or other our spirits got the better of us; it was such a fine afternoon, and the horses seemed wild for a gallop; so at last Bob Saunders said, 'What do you say, Walter, to a half-mile race just on to the top of the common? it'll do them no harm.' Well, I didn't say yes or no; but somehow or other, off we were in another minute, and, do what I would, I couldn't keep Forester back. Down the lane we went, and right over the common like lightning, and, when I was pulling hard to get Forester round, he went smack through a hedge, and left me on the wrong side of it. Bob laughed at first, but we soon saw that it was no laughing matter. He caught Forester directly, for the poor beast had hurt his foot, and limped along as he walked; and there was an ugly wound in his chest from a pointed stick in the hedge which had struck him. So we crawled home, all of us in a nice pickle, you may be sure. And then I began to think of what father would say, and I couldn't bear to think that he would have to blame me for it all; so I turned into a regular sneaking coward, and gave Dick a sovereign to tell a lie and take the blame on himself, promising him to make it all right with my father. There, auntie, that's just the whole of it; and I'm sure I never knew what a coward I was before. But only let me get well through this scrape, and my name's not Walter if I ever get into such another."
"And now, dear boy, what are you going to do about this matter?" asked his aunt after a pause.
"Do, auntie? I'm sure I don't know; I've done too much already. It's a bad business at the best, and I don't see that I can do anything about it without making it worse."
"Then, Walter, is the burden still to rest on the wrong shoulders? and is Dick to be punished for your fault?"
"Oh, as to that, auntie, Dick shan't be the worse for it in the end: he has had a sovereign remedy already; and I'll beg him off from being turned away when I see my father has quite cooled down."
Miss Huntingdon said nothing in reply, but laid one of her hands across the other on her little work-table. Walter saw the action, but turned his head away and fidgeted in his chair. At last he said, "That's rather hard, auntie, to make me a moral coward again so soon."
"Is it hard, Walter?" she replied gently. "The next best thing to not doing wrong is to be sorry for it when you have done it."
"Well, Aunt Kate, I am sorry—terribly sorry. I wish I'd never touched the horses. I wish that fellow Bob had been a hundred miles off yesterday afternoon."
"I daresay, Walter; but is that all? Are you not going to show that you are sorry? Won't you imitate, as far as it is now possible, little George Washington's moral courage?"
"What! go and tell my father the whole truth? Do you think I ought?"
"I am sure you ought, dear boy."
Walter reflected for a while, then he said, in a sorrowful tone, "Ah, but there's a difference. George Washington didn't and wouldn't tell a lie, but I would, and did; so it's too late now for me to show moral courage."
"Not at all, Walter; on the contrary, it will take a good deal of moral courage to confess your fault now. Of course it would have been far nobler had you gone straight to your father and told him just how things were; and then, too, you would not have been Dick's tempter, leading him to sin. Still, there is a right and noble course open to you now, dear boy, which is to go and undo the mischief and the wrong as far as you can."
"Well, I suppose you are right, auntie," he said slowly, and with a heavy sigh; "but I shan't find my father throwing his arms round me as George Washington's father did, and calling me his noble boy, and telling me he had rather I told the truth than have a thousand gold and silver cherry-trees."
"Perhaps not, Walter; but you will have, at any rate, the satisfaction of doing what will have the approval of God, and of your own conscience, and of the aunt who wants you to do the thing that is right."
"It shall be done," said her nephew, pressing his lips together and knitting his brows by way of strengthening his resolution; and he left the room with a reluctant step.
He found his father, who had just come from the stables, in the dining- room. "Well, Walter, my boy," he said cheerily, "it isn't so bad with Forester after all. He has got an ugly cut; but he doesn't walk but very slightly lame. A week's rest will set him all right; but I shall send that Dick about his business to-morrow, or as soon as his quarter's up. I'd a better opinion of the boy."
"Dick's not to blame," said Walter slowly.
"Not to blame! How do you make out that? I'm sure, if he had had Forester well in hand, the accident couldn't have happened."
Walter then gave his father the true version of the mishap, and confessed his own wrong-doing in the matter. For a few moments Mr Huntingdon looked utterly taken aback; then he walked up and down the room, at first with wide and excited strides, and then more calmly. At last he stopped, and, putting his hand on his son's shoulder, said, "That's right, my boy. We won't say anything more about it this time; but you mustn't do it again." The truth was, the squire was not sorry to find that Dick, after all, was not the culprit; for he had a great liking for the lad, who suited him excellently as groom, and had received many kindnesses from him. No doubt he had told him an untruth on the present occasion; but then, as he had done this to screen his master's favourite son, Mr Huntingdon did not feel disposed to take him to task severely for the deceit; and, as Walter had now made the only amends in his power, his father was glad to withdraw Dick's dismissal, and to pass over the trouble without further comment.
IS HE RIDICULOUS?
Few people besides the actual sufferers can at all conceive or appreciate the intense misery which shy and retiring characters experience when themselves or their conduct are made the subjects of open ridicule, especially in company. Amos was peculiarly sensitive on this point; and Walter knew it, and too often ungenerously availed himself of this knowledge to wound his brother when he owed him a grudge, or was displeased or out of temper with him. He would watch his opportunity to drag Amos forward, as it were, when he could present him to his father and his friends in a ridiculous light; and then he would clap his hands, point to his brother's flushed face, and make some taunting or sarcastic remark about his "rosy cheeks." Poor Amos, on these occasions, tingling in every nerve, and ready almost to weep tears of vexation, would shrink into himself and retreat into another room at the earliest opportunity, followed not unfrequently by an outspoken reproach from his brother, that "he must be a regular muff if he couldn't bear a joke." Sometimes Walter's unfeeling sallies would receive a feeble rebuke from his father; but more often Mr Huntingdon would join in the laugh, and remark to his friends that Amos had no spirit in him, and that all the wit of the family was centred in Walter. Not so Miss Huntingdon. She fully understood the feelings of both her nephews; and, while she profoundly pitied Amos, she equally grieved at the cruel want of love and forbearance in her younger nephew towards his elder brother.
Some weeks had passed away since the disastrous ride, and Forester being none the worse for his mishap, Mr Huntingdon allowed Walter to exercise him occasionally, accompanied by Dick, who had been fully restored to favour. It was on a lovely summer afternoon that the two had trotted briskly along to a greater distance from home than they had at all contemplated reaching when they started. They had now arrived at a part of the country quite unknown to Walter, and were just opposite a neat little cottage with a porch in front of it covered with honeysuckle, when Walter checked his horse, and said, "Dick, it's full time we turned back, or my father will wonder what has become of us." So they turned homewards. They had not, however, ridden more than a quarter of a mile, when Walter found that he had dropped one of his gloves; so, telling Dick to walk his horse, and he would join him in a few minutes, he returned to the little cottage, and, having recovered his glove just opposite the gate, was in the act of remounting, when he suddenly exclaimed, "Holloa! what's that? Well, I never! It can't be, surely! Yes, it is, and no mistake!"
The sight which called forth these words of surprise from Walter was one that might naturally astonish him. At the moment when he was about to spring into his saddle, the cottage door had opened, and out ran a little boy and girl about four or five years of age, followed by Amos Huntingdon, who chased them round the little garden, crying out, "I'll catch you, George; I'll catch you, Polly;" laughing loud as he said so, while the children rushed forward shouting at the fun. They had gone thus twice round the paths, when Amos became suddenly aware that he was being observed by some one on horseback. In an instant he made a rush for the house, and, as he was vanishing through the porch, a woman's head and a portion of her dress became visible in the entrance.
Walter paused in utter bewilderment; but the next minute Amos was at his side, and said, in a hoarse, troubled voice, "Not a word of this, Walter, not a word of this to any one at home." Walter's only reply to this at first was a hearty peal of laughter; then he cried out, "All right, Amos;" and, taking off his hat with affected ceremony, he added, "My best respects to Mrs Amos, and love to the dear children. Good- bye." Saying which, without stopping to hear another word from his brother, whose appealing look might well have touched his heart, he urged his horse to a canter, and was gone.
Amos did not appear among the family that evening. He had returned home just before dinner-time, and sent a message into the drawing-room asking to be excused as he did not feel very well. Miss Huntingdon went up to his room to see what was amiss, and returned with the report that there was nothing seriously wrong; that her nephew had a bad sick headache, and that bed was the best thing at present for him. Mr Huntingdon asked no further questions, for Amos was not unfrequently kept by similar attacks from joining the family circle. His father sometimes thought and called him fanciful, but for the most part left him to do as he liked, without question or remark. And so it was that Amos had grown up to manhood without settling down to any profession, and was left pretty much to follow the bent of his own inclinations. His father knew that there was no need to be anxious about him on the score of worldly provision. He had seen well to his education, having sent him to a good school, and in due time to the university, and, till he came of age, had made him a sufficient allowance, which was now no longer needed, since he had come into a small fortune at his majority, left him by his mother's father; and, as he was heir to the entailed property, there was no need for concern as to his future prospects, so no effort was made by Mr Huntingdon to draw him out of his natural timidity and reserve, and induce him to enter on any regular professional employment. Perhaps he would take to travelling abroad some day, and that would enlarge his mind and rouse him a bit. At present he really would make nothing of law, physic, or divinity. He was sufficiently provided for, and would turn out some day a useful and worthy man, no doubt; but he was never meant to shine; he must leave that to Walter, who had got it naturally in him. So thought and so sometimes said the squire; and poor Amos pretty much agreed with this view of his father's; and Walter did so, of course. The Manor-house therefore continued Amos's home till he should choose to make another for himself.
But was he making a new home for himself? This was Walter's bewildering thought as he cantered back, after his strange discovery of his brother at the cottage. Was it really so? Had this shy, silent brother of his actually taken to himself a wife unknown to any one, just as his poor sister had married clandestinely? It might be so—and why not? Strange people do strange things; and not only so, but Walter's conscience told him that his brother might well have been excused for seeking love out of his home, seeing that he got but little love in it. And what about the children? No doubt they were hers; he must have married a widow. But what a poky place they were living in. She must have been poor, and have inveigled Amos into marrying her, knowing that he was heir to Flixworth Manor. Eh, what a disgrace! Such were Walter's thoughts as he rode home from the scene of the strange encounter. But then, again, he felt that this was nothing but conjecture after all. Why might not Amos have just been doing a kind act to some poor cottager and her children, whom he had learned to take an interest in? And yet it was odd that he should be so terribly upset at being found out in doing a little act of kindness. Walter was sure that not a shadow of moral wrong could rest on his brother's conduct. He might have made a fool of himself, but it could not be anything worse.
One thing, however, Walter was resolved upon, he would have a bit of fun out of his discovery. So next day at luncheon, when they were seated at table, unattended by a servant, Amos being among them, but unusually nervous and ill at ease, Walter abruptly inquired of his brother across the table if he could lend him a copy of the "Nursery Rhymes." No reply being given, Walter continued, "Oh, do give us a song, Amos,—'Ride a Cock Horse,' or 'Baby Bunting,' or 'Hi, Diddle, Diddle.' I'm sure you must have been practising these lately to sing to those dear children."
As he said this, Amos turned his eyes on him with a gaze so imploring that Walter was for a moment silenced. Miss Huntingdon also noticed that look, and, though she could not tell the cause of it, she was deeply pained that her nephew should have called it forth from his brother. Walter, however, was not to be kept from his joke, though he had noticed that his aunt looked gravely and sorrowfully at him, and had crossed one hand upon the other. "Ah, well," he went on, "love in a cottage is a very romantic thing, no doubt; and I hope these darling little ones, Amos, enjoy the best of health."
"Whatever does the boy mean?" exclaimed the squire, whose attention was now fairly roused.
Amos looked at first, when his father put the question, as though he would have sunk into the earth. His colour came and went, and he half rose up, as though he would have left the table; but, after a moment's pause, he resumed his seat, and, turning quietly to Mr Huntingdon, said in a low, clear voice, "Walter saw me yesterday afternoon playing with some little children in a cottage-garden some miles from this house. This is all about it."
"And what brought you there, Amos?" asked Walter. "Little baby games aren't much in your line."
"I had my reasons for what I was doing," replied the other calmly. "I am not ashamed of it; I have done nothing to be ashamed of in the matter. I can give no other explanation at present. But I must regret that I have not more of the love and confidence of my only brother."
"Oh, nonsense! You make too much of Walter's foolish fun; it means no harm," said the squire pettishly.
"Perhaps not, dear father," replied Amos gently; "but some funny words have a very sharp edge to them."
No sooner had Miss Huntingdon retired to her room after luncheon than she was joined by Walter. He pretended not to look at her, but, laying hold of her two hands, and then putting them wide apart from one another, he said, still keeping his eyes fixed on them, "Unkind hands of a dear, kind aunt, you had no business to be crossed at luncheon to-day, for poor Walter had done no harm, he had not showed any want of moral courage."
Disengaging her hands from her nephew's grasp, Miss Huntingdon put one of them on his shoulder, and with the other drew him into a chair. "Is my dear Walter satisfied with his behaviour to his brother?" she asked.
"Ah! that was not the point, Aunt Kate," was his reply; "the hands were to be crossed when I had failed in moral courage; and I have not failed to-day."
"No, Walter, perhaps not; but you told me you should like to be taught moral courage by examples, and what happened to-day suggested to me a very striking example, so I crossed my hands."
"Well, dear auntie, please let me hear it."
"My moral hero to-day is Colonel Gardiner, Walter."
"Ah! he was a soldier then, auntie?"
"Yes, and a very brave one too; indeed, never a braver. When he was a young man, and had not been many years in the army, he was terribly wounded in a battle, and lay on the field unable to raise himself to his feet or move from his place. Thinking that some one might come round to plunder the dead and dying before his friends could find him—as, alas! there were some who were heartless enough to do in those days—and not wishing that his money should be taken from him, as he had several gold pieces about him, he managed to get these pieces out of his pocket, and then to glue them in his clenched hand with the clotted blood which had collected about one of his wounds. Then he became insensible, and friends at last recovered his body and brought him to consciousness again, and the money was found safe in his unrelaxed grasp. I mention this merely to show the cool and deliberate courage of the man; his wonderful pluck, as you would call it."
"Very plucky, auntie, very; but please go on."
"Well, many years after, he died in battle, and showed the same marvellous bravery then. It was in the disastrous engagement of Prestonpans, in the year 1745. The Highlanders surprised the English army, turned their position, and seized their cannon. Colonel Gardiner exerted himself to the utmost, but his men quickly fled, and other regiments did the same. He then joined a small body of English foot who remained firm, but they were soon after overpowered by the Highlanders. At the beginning of the onset, which in the whole lasted but a few minutes, Colonel Gardiner received a bullet-wound in his left breast; but he said it was only a flesh-wound, and fought on, though he presently after received a shot in the thigh. Then, seeing a party of the foot bravely fighting near him, who had no officer to head them, he rode up to them and cried aloud, 'Fire on, my lads, and fear nothing!' Just then he was cut down by a man with a scythe, and fell. He was dragged off his horse, and received a mortal blow on the back of his head; and yet he managed to wave his hat as a signal to a faithful servant to retreat, crying out at the same time, 'Take care of yourself.'"
"Bravo! auntie, that was true courage if you like; that's old-fashioned courage such as suits my father and me."
"I know it, Walter. But Colonel Gardiner showed a higher and nobler courage; higher and nobler because it required far more steady self- denial, and arose from true religious principle. I want you to notice the contrast, and that is why I have mentioned these instances of what I may call his animal bravery. I have no wish to rob him of the honour due to him for those acts of courage; but then, after all, he was brave in those constitutionally,—I might say, indeed, because he could not help it. It was very different with his moral courage. When he was living an utterly godless and indeed wicked life, it pleased God to arrest him in his evil career by a wonderful vision of our Saviour hanging on the cross for him. It was the turning-point of his life. He became a truly changed man, and as devoted a Christian as he had formerly been a slave to the world and his own sinful habits. And now he had to show on whose side he was and meant to be. It is always a difficult thing to be outspoken for religion in the army, but it was ten times as difficult then as it is now, seeing that in our day there are so many truly Christian officers and common soldiers in the service. Drunkenness and swearing were dreadfully prevalent; indeed, in those days it was quite a rare thing to find an officer who did not defile his speech continually with profane oaths. But Colonel Gardiner was not a man to do things by halves: he was now enlisted under Christ's banner as a soldier of the Cross, and he must stand up for his new Master and never be ashamed of him anywhere. But to do this would bring him persecution in a shape peculiarly trying to him,—I mean in the shape of ridicule. He would, he tells us, at first, when the change had only lately taken place in him, rather a thousandfold have marched up to the mouth of a cannon just ready to be fired than stand up to bear the scorn and jests of his ungodly companions; he winced under these, and instinctively shrank back from them. Nevertheless, he braved all, the scorn, the laughter, the jokes, and made it known everywhere that he was not ashamed of confessing his Saviour, cost what it might; and he even managed, by a mixture of firm remonstrance and good-tempered persuasion, to put down all profane swearing whenever he was present, by inducing his brother officers to consent to the payment of a fine by the guilty party for every oath uttered. And so by his consistency he won at length the respect of all who knew him, even of those who most widely differed from him in faith and practice. There, Walter, that is what I call true and grand moral courage and heroism."
"So it was, so it was, dear auntie; but why have you brought forward Colonel Gardiner's case for my special benefit on the present occasion?"
"I will tell you, dear boy. You think it fine fun to play off your jokes on Amos, and nothing seems to please you better than to raise the laugh against him and to bring the hot flush into his cheeks. Ah! but you little know the pain and the misery you are inflicting; you little know the moral courage it requires on your brother's part to stand up under that ridicule without resenting it, and to go on with any purpose he may have formed in spite of it. I want you to see a reflection of Colonel Gardiner's noblest courage, his high moral courage, in your own dear brother, and to value him for it, and not to despise him, as I see you now do. You say you want to be free from moral cowardice; then, copy moral courage wherever you can see it."
"Well, auntie," said her nephew after a minute's silence, "I daresay you are right. Poor Amos! I've been very hard upon him, I believe. It wasn't right, and I'll try and do better. But it's such a funny idea taking him as a copy. Why, everybody's always telling me to mark what Amos does, and just do the very opposite."
"Not everybody, Walter; not the aunt who wants to see you truly good and noble. There are a grandeur of character and true nobility in Amos which you little suspect, but which one day you also will admire, though you do not see nor understand them now."
Walter did not reply. He was not best pleased with his aunt's last remarks, and yet, at the same time, he was not satisfied with himself. So he rose to go, and as he did so he said, "Ah, Aunt Kate, I see you are in Amos's confidence, and that you know all about the little children and their cottage home."
"Nay, my boy," replied his aunt, "you are mistaken; Amos has not made me his confidante in the matter. But I have formed my opinion of him and his motives from little things which have presented themselves to my observation from time to time, and I have a firm conviction that my nephew Walter will agree with me in the end about his brother, whatever he may think now. At least I hope so."
"So do I, dear auntie. Good-bye, good-bye." And, having said these words half playfully and half seriously, Walter vanished from the room with a hop, skip, and jump.
Miss Huntingdon was not the only person in the family at Flixworth Manor who entertained a deep affection for Amos Huntingdon, and highly valued him. Harry the butler loved him as if he had been his own son. The old man had been inherited with the estate by its present owner, who remembered him almost as long as he could remember anything, and had a sincere regard for him, knowing him to be one of those old-fashioned domestics who look upon their employer's interests as their own. Harry's hair was now snowy-white, but he retained much of his vigour unimpaired, the winter of his old age being "frosty, but kindly." So he had never gone by any other name than "Harry," nor wished to do so, with his master and his master's friends. However, in the kitchen he expected to be called "Mr. Frazer," and would answer to no other name when addressed by boys and strangers of his own rank. When the first child was born Harry took to her with all his might. He knew that his master was disappointed because she was not a boy, but that made no difference to Harry. Nothing pleased him better than to act now and then as nurse to Miss Julia when she was still in long clothes; and many a peal of hearty and innocent mirth resounded from the kitchen premises as the servants gazed, with tears of amusement running down their faces, at Mr. Frazer, by the nurse's permission, pacing up and down a sunny walk in the kitchen garden, with steps slow and grotesquely dignified, holding the infant warily and tenderly, affirming, when he gave her back to the nurse, in a self-congratulatory tone, that "little miss" would be quiet with him when she would be so with no one else; which certainly might be cause for some wonder, seeing that he would usually accompany his nursings with such extraordinarily guttural attempts at singing as were far better calculated to scare any ordinary baby into temporary convulsions than to soothe it to rest when its slumbers had once been broken. And how the old man did rejoice when the little thing could toddle into his pantry! And no wonder that she was very ready to do so, for Harry had an inexhaustible store of plums, and bonbons, and such like enticements, which were always forthcoming when little miss gladdened his heart with a visit. So they were fast friends, and thoroughly understood each other.
When, however, a son and heir was born, and there was in consequence a perfect delirium of bell-ringing in the village church-tower, Harry by no means entered heart and soul into the rejoicings. "Well," he said with a sigh, "there's no help for it, I suppose. It's all right, no doubt; but Miss Julia's my pet, and so she shall be as long as my name's Harry." The new infant, therefore, received none of the attention at his hands which its predecessor had enjoyed. When pressed by the housekeeper, with an arch smile on her good-natured face, to take "baby" out for an airing, he shook his head very gravely and declined the employment, affirming that his nursing days were over. The name also of the new baby was a sore subject to Harry. "'Amos,' indeed! Well, what next? Who ever heard of an 'Amos' in the family? You might go as far back as Noah and you'd never find one. Mr Sutterby might be a very good gentleman, but his Christian name was none the better for that." And, for a while, the old man's heart got more and more firmly closed against the young heir; while Amos, on his part, in his boyish days, made no advances towards being on friendly terms with the old servant, who yet could not help being sometimes sorry for his young master, when he marked how the sunshine of love and favour, which was poured out abundantly on Miss Julia, came but in cold and scattered rays to her desolate-hearted brother.
This kindly feeling was deepened in Harry's heart, and began to show itself in many little attentions, after the death of Mr Sutterby. He could not avoid seeing how the father's and mother's affections were more and more drawn away from their little son, while he keenly felt that the poor child had done nothing to deserve it; so in a plain and homely way he tried to draw him out of himself, and made him as free of his pantry as his sister was. And when Walter came, a few years before Mr Sutterby's death, putting Amos into almost total eclipse, Harry would have none of this third baby. "He'd got notice enough and to spare," he said, "and didn't want none from him." And now a new cord was winding itself year by year round the old butler's heart—a cord woven by the character of the timid child he had learned to love. He could not but notice how Amos, while yet a boy, controlled himself when cruelly taunted or ridiculed by his younger brother; how he returned good for evil; and how, spite of sorrow and a wounded spirit, there was peace on the brow and in the heart of that despised and neglected one. For he had discovered that, in his visits to his aunt, Amos had found the pearl of great price, and the old man's heart leapt for joy, for he himself was a true though unpretending follower of his Saviour.
So Harry's attachment to his young master grew stronger and stronger, and all the more so as he came to see through the more attractive but shallower character of Walter, whose praises were being constantly sounded in his ears by Mr Huntingdon. And there was one thing above all others which tended to deepen his attachment to Amos, which was Amos's treatment of his sister, who was still the darling of Harry's heart. Walter loved his sister after a fashion. He could do a generous thing on the impulse of the moment, and would conform himself to her wishes when it was not too much trouble. But as for denying himself, or putting himself out of the way to please her, it never entered into his head. Nevertheless, any little attention on his part, spite of his being so much younger than herself, was specially pleasing to Julia, who was never so happy as when she and he could carry out by themselves some little scheme of private amusement. Harry noticed this, and was far from feeling satisfied, observing to the housekeeper that "Master Walter was a nasty, stuck-up little monkey; and he only wondered how Miss Julia could be so fond of him." On the other hand, Amos always treated his sister, even from his earliest boyhood, with a courtesy and consideration which showed that she was really precious to him. And, as she grew up towards womanhood and he towards mature boyhood, the beauty and depth of his respectful and unselfish love made themselves felt by all who could value and understand them, and among these was Harry. He could appreciate, though he could not explain, the contrast between a mere sentiment of affection, such as that which prompted Walter to occasional acts of kindness to his sister which cost him nothing, and the abiding, deep-seated principle of love in Amos which exhibited itself in a constant thoughtful care and watchfulness to promote the happiness of its object, his beloved sister.
So Harry's heart warmed towards his young master more and more, especially when he could not help noticing that, while Amos never relaxed his endeavours to make his sister happy, she on her part either resented his kindness, or at the best took it as a matter of course, preferring—and not caring to conceal her preference—a smile or word or two from Walter to the most patient and self-denying study of her tastes and wishes on the part of her elder brother. The old man grieved over this conduct in his darling Miss Julia, and gave her a hint on the subject in his own simple way, which to his surprise and mortification she resented most bitterly, and visited her displeasure also on Amos by carefully avoiding him as much as possible, and being specially demonstrative in her affection to Walter. Amos of course felt it deeply, but it made no alteration in his own watchful love to his sister. As for Harry, all he could do was to wait in hopes of brighter times, and to console himself for his young mistress's coldness by taking every opportunity of promoting the happiness and winning the fuller confidence of the brother whom she so cruelly despised.