THE CLUE OF LIFE.
CHARLOTTE M. YONGE.
THE AUTHOR OF 'THE HEIR OF REDCLYFFE'
I. CHARLOTTE. II. AN OLD SCHOOLMISTRESS. III. LOUIS LE DEBONNAIRE. IV. THISTLE-DOWN. V. THE TWO MINISTERS. VI. FAREWELLS. VII. GOSSAMER. VIII. A TRUANT DISPOSITION. IX. THE FAMILY COMPACT. X. THE BETTER PART OF VALOUR. XI. A HALTING PROPOSAL. XII. CHILDE ROLAND. XIII. FROSTY, BUT KINDLY. XIV. NEW INHABITANTS. XV. MOTLEY THE ONLY WEAR. XVI. THE FRUIT OF THE CHRISTMAS-TREE XVII. THE RIVALS. XVIII. REST FOR THE WEARY. XIX. MOONSHINE. XX. THE FANTASTIC VISCOUNT. XXI. THE HERO OF THE BARRICADES. XXII. BURGOMASTERS AND GREAT ONE-EYERS.
Who wisdom's sacred prize would win, Must with the fear of God begin; Immortal praise and heavenly skill Have they who know and do His will. New Version.
Farewell rewards and fairies, Good housewives now may say, For now foul sluts in dairies May fare as well as they. BP. CORBET.
An ancient leafless stump of a horse-chesnut stood in the middle of a dusty field, bordered on the south side by a row of houses of some pretension. Against this stump, a pretty delicate fair girl of seventeen, whose short lilac sleeves revealed slender white arms, and her tight, plain cap tresses of flaxen hair that many a beauty might have envied, was banging a cocoa-nut mat, chanting by way of accompaniment in a sort of cadence—
'I have found out a gift for my fur, I have found where the wood-pigeons breed; But let me the plunder forbear, She will say—'
'Hollo, I'll give you a shilling for 'em!' was the unlooked-for conclusion, causing her to start aside with a slight scream, as there stood beside her a stout, black-eyed, round-faced lad, his ruddy cheeks and loutish air showing more rusticity than agreed with his keen, saucy expression, and mechanic's dress.
'So that's what you call beating a mat,' said he, catching it from her hands, and mimicking the tender clasp of her little fingers. 'D'ye think it's alive, that you use it so gingerly? Look here! Give it him well!' as he made it resound against the tree, and emit a whirlwind of dust. 'Lay it into him with some jolly good song fit to fetch a stroke home with! Why, I heard my young Lord say, when Shakspeare was a butcher, he used to make speeches at the calves, as if they was for a sacrifice, or ever he could lift a knife to 'em.'
'Shakspeare! He as wrote Romeo and Juliet, and all that! He a butcher! Why, he was a poet!' cried the girl, indignantly.
'If you know better than Lord Fitzjocelyn, you may!' said the boy.
'I couldn't have thought it!' sighed the maiden.
'It's the best of it!' cried the lad, eagerly. 'Why, Charlotte, don't ye see, he rose hisself. Anybody may rise hisself as has a mind to it!'
'Yes, I've read that in books said Charlotte. 'You can, men can, Tom, if you would but educate yourself like Edmund! in the Old English Baron. But then, you know whose son you are. There can't be no catastrophe—'
'I don't want none,' said Tom. 'We are all equal by birth, so the orator proves without a doubt, and we'll show it one of these days. A rare lady I'll make of you yet, Charlotte Arnold.'
'O hush, Tom, I can never be a lady—and I can't stand dawdling here—nor you neither. 'Tisn't right to want to be out of our station, though I do wish I lived in an old castle, where the maidens worked tapestry, and heard minstrels, never had no stairs to scour. Come, give me my mats, and thank you kindly!'
'I'll take 'em in,' said Tom, shouldering them. ''Tis breakfast-hour, so I thought I'd just run up and ax you when my young Lord goes up to Oxford.
'He is gone,' said Charlotte; 'he was here yesterday to take leave of missus. Mr. James goes later—'
'Gone!' cried Tom. 'If he didn't say he'd come and see me at Mr. Smith's!'
'Did you want to speak to him?'
'I wanted to see him particular. There's a thing lays heavy on my mind. You see that place down in Ferny dell—there's a steep bank down to the water. Well, my young Lord was very keen about building a kind of steps there in the summer, and he and I settled the stones, and I was to cement 'em. By comes Mr. Frost, and finds faults, what I thought he'd no call to; so I flings down my trowel, and wouldn't go on for he! I was so mortal angry, I would not go back to the work; and I believe my Lord forgot it—and then he went back to college; and Frampton and Gervas, they put on me, and you know how 'twas I come away from Ormersfield. I was not going to say a word to one of that lot! but if I could see Lord Fitzjocelyn, I'd tell him they stones arn't fixed; and if the frost gets into 'em, there'll be a pretty go next time there's a tolerablish weight! But there—it is his own look-out! If he never thought it worth his while to keep his promise, and come and see me—'
'O Tom! that isn't right! He only forgot—I hear Mrs. Beckett telling him he'd forget his own head if it wasn't fixed on, and Mr. James is always at him.'
'Forget! Aye, there's nothing gentlefolks forget like poor folks. But I've done with he! Let him look out—I kept my promises to him long enough, but if he don't keep his'n—'
'For shame, for shame, Tom! You don't mean it!' cried Charlotte. 'But, oh!' with a different tone, 'give me the mat! There's the old Lord and Mr. Poynings riding down the terrace!'
'I ain't ashamed of nothing!' said the lad, proudly; and as Charlotte snatched away the mats, and vanished like a frightened hare, he stalked along like a village Hampden, muttering, 'The old tyrant shall see whether I'm to be trampled on!' and with both hands in his pockets, he gazed straight up into the face of the grave elderly gentleman, who never even perceived him. He could merely bandy glances with Poynings, the groom, and he was so far from indifferent that he significantly lifted up the end of his whip. Nothing could more have gratified Tom, who retorted with a grimace and murmur, 'Don't you wish you may catch me? You jealous syc—what is the word, sick of uncles or aunts, was it, that the orator called 'em? He'd say I'd a good miss of being one of that sort, and that my young Lord there opened my eyes in time. No better than the rest of 'em—'
And the clock striking eight, he quickened his pace to return to his work. He had for the two or three previous years been nominally under the gardener at Ormersfield, but really a sort of follower and favourite to the young heir, Lord Fitzjocelyn—a position which had brought on him dislike from the superior servants, who were not propitiated by his independent and insubordinate temper. Faults on every side had led to his dismissal; but Lord Fitzjocelyn had placed him at an ironmonger's shop in the town of Northwold, where he had been just long enough to become accessible to the various temptations of a lad in such a situation.
Charlotte sped hastily round the end of the block of buildings, hurried down the little back garden, and flew breathlessly into her own kitchen, as a haven of refuge, but she found a tall, stiff starched, elderly woman standing just within the door, and heard her last words.
'Well! as I said, 'tis no concern of mine; only I thought it the part of a friend to give you a warning, when I seen it with my own eyes!— Ah! here she is!' as Charlotte dropped into a chair. 'Yes, yes, Miss, you need not think to deceive me; I saw you from Miss Mercy's window—'
'Saw what?' faintly exclaimed Charlotte.
'You know well enough,' was the return. 'You may think to blind Mrs. Beckett here, but I know what over good-nature to young girls comes to. Pretty use to make of your fine scholarship, to be encouraging followers and sweethearts, at that time in the morning too!'
'Speak up, Charlotte,' said the other occupant of the room, a pleasant little brisk woman, with soft brown, eyes, a clear pale skin, and a face smooth, in spite of nearly sixty years; 'speak up, and tell Mrs. Martha the truth, that you never encouraged no one.'
The girl's face was all one flame, but she rose up, and clasping her hands together, exclaimed—'Me encourage! I never thought of what Mrs. Martha says! I don't know what it is all about!'
'Here, Jane Beckett,' cried Mrs. Martha; 'd'ye see what 'tis to vindicate her! Will you take her word against mine, that she's been gossiping this half hour with that young rogue as was turned off at Ormersfield?'
'Tom Madison! cried the girl, in utter amaze. 'Oh! Mrs. Martha!'
'Well! I can't stop!' said Martha. 'I must get Miss Faithfull's breakfast! but if you was under me, Miss Charlotte, I can tell you it would be better for you! You'll sup sorrow yet, and you'll both recollect my advice, both of you.'
Wherewith the Cassandra departed, and Charlotte, throwing her apron over her face, began to cry and sob piteously.
'My dear! what is it now? exclaimed her kind companion, pulling down her apron, and trying to draw down first one, then the other of the arms which persisted in veiling the crimson face. 'Surely you don't think missus or I would mistrust you, or think you'd take up with the likes of him!'
'How could she be so cruel—so spiteful,' sobbed Charlotte, 'when he only came to ask one question, and did a good turn for me with the mats. I never thought of such a thing. Sweetheart, indeed! So cruel of her!'
'Bless me!' said Jane, 'girls used to think it only civility to say they had a sweetheart!'
'Don't, Mrs. Beckett! I hate the word! I don't want no such thing! I won't never speak to Tom Madison again, if such constructions is to be put on it!'
'Well, after all, Charlotte dear, that will be the safest way. You are young yet, and best not to think of settling, special if you aren't sure of one that is steady and religious, and you'd better keep yourself up, and not get a name for gossiping—though there's no harm done yet, so don't make such a work. Bless me, if I don't hear his lordship's voice! He ain't never come so early!'
'Yes, he is,' said Charlotte, recovering from her sobs; 'he rode up as I came in.'
'Well, to be sure, he is come to breakfast! I hope nothin's amiss with my young Lord! I must run up with a cup and plate, and you, make the place tidy, in case Mr. Poynings comes in. You'd better run into the scullery and wash your face; 'tis all tears! You're a terrible one to cry, Charlotte!' with a kind, cheering smile and caress.
Mrs. Beckett bustled off, leaving Charlotte to restore herself to the little handy piece of household mechanism which kind, patient, motherly training had rendered her.
Charlotte Arnold had been fairly educated at a village school, and tenderly brought up at home till left an orphan, when she had been taken into her present place. She had much native refinement and imagination, which, half cultivated, produced a curious mixture of romance and simplicity. Her insatiable taste for reading was meritorious in the eyes of Mrs. Beckett, who, unlearned herself, thought any book better than 'gadding about,' and, after hearing her daily portion of the Bible, listened to the most adventurous romances, with a sense of pleasure and duty in keeping the girl to her book. She loved the little fragile orphan, taught her, and had patience with her, and trusted the true high sound principle which she recognised in Charlotte, amid much that she could not fathom, and set down alternately to the score of scholarship and youth.
Taste, modesty, and timidity were guards to Charlotte. A broad stare was terror to her, and she had many a fictitious horror, as well as better-founded ones. Truly she said, she hated the broad words Martha had used. One who craved a true knight to be twitted with a sweetheart! Martha and Tom Madison were almost equally distasteful, as connected with such a reproach; and the little maiden drew into herself, promenaded her fancy in castles and tournaments, kept under Jane's wing, and was upheld by her as a sensible, prudent girl.
AN OLD SCHOOLMISTRESS.
I praise thee, matron, and thy due Is praise, heroic praise and true; With admiration I behold Thy gladness unsubdued and bold. Thy looks and gestures all present The picture of a life well spent; Our human nature throws away Its second twilight and looks gay. WORDSWORTH.
Unconscious of Charlotte's flight and Tom's affront, the Earl of Ormersfield rode along Dynevor Terrace—a row of houses with handsome cemented fronts, tragic and comic masks alternating over the downstairs windows, and the centre of the block adorned with a pediment and colonnade; but there was an air as if something ailed the place: the gardens were weedy, the glass doors hazy, the cement stained and scarred, and many of the windows closed and dark, like eyes wanting speculation, or with merely the dreary words 'To be let' enlivening their blank gloom. At the house where Charlotte had vanished, he drew his rein, and opened the gate—not one of the rusty ones—he entered the garden, where all was trim and fresh, the shadow of the house lying across the sward, and preserving the hoar-frost, which, in the sunshine, was melting into diamond drops on the lingering China roses.
Without ring or knock, he passed into a narrow, carpetless vestibule, unadorned except by a beautiful blue Wedgewood vase, and laying down hat and whip, mounted the bare staircase, long since divested of all paint or polish. Avoiding the door of the principal room, he opened another at the side, and stood in a flood of sunshine, pouring in from the window, which looked over all the roofs of the town, to the coppices and moorlands of Ormersfield. On the bright fire sung a kettle, a white cat purred on the hearth, a canary twittered merrily in the window, and the light smiled on a languishing Dresden shepherdess and her lover on the mantelpiece, and danced on the ceiling, reflected from a beautifully chased silver cream-jug—an inconsistent companion for the homely black teapot and willow-patterned plates, though the two cups of rare Indian porcelain were not unworthy of it. The furniture was the same mixture of the ordinary and the choice, either worn and shabby, or such as would suit a virtuoso, but the whole arranged with taste and care that made the effect bright, pleasant, and comfortable. Lord Ormersfield stood on the hearth-rug waiting. His face was that of one who had learnt to wait, more considerate than acute, and bearing the stamp both of toil and suffering, as if grief had taken away all mobility of expression, and left a stern, thoughtful steadfastness.
Presently a lady entered the room. Her hair was white as snow, and she could not have seen less than seventy-seven years; but beauty was not gone from her features—smiles were still on her lips, brightness in her clear hazel eyes, buoyancy in her tread, and alertness and dignity in her tall, slender, unbent figure. There was nothing so remarkable about her as the elasticity as well as sweetness of her whole look and bearing, as if, while she had something to love, nothing could be capable of crushing her.
'You here!' she exclaimed, holding out her hand to her guest. 'You are come to breakfast.'
'Thank you; I wished to see you without interrupting your day's work. Have you many scholars at present?'
'Only seven, and three go into school at Easter. Jem and Clara, wish me to undertake no more, but I should sorely miss the little fellows. I wish they may do me as much credit as Sydney Calcott. He wrote himself to tell me of his success.'
'I am glad to hear it. He is a very promising young man.'
'I tell him I shall come to honour, as the old dame who taught him to spell. My scholars may make a Dr. Busby of me in history.'
'I am afraid your preferment will depend chiefly on James and young Calcott.'
'Nay, Louis tells me that he is going to read wonderfully hard; and if he chooses, he can do more than even Sydney Calcott.'
'If!' said the Earl.
Jane here entered with another cup and plate, and Lord Ormersfield sat down to the breakfast-table. After some minutes' pause he said, 'Have you heard from Peru?'
'Not by this mail. Have you?'
'Yes, I have. Mary is coming home.'
'Mary!' she cried, almost springing up—'Mary Ponsonby? This is good news—unless,' as she watched his grave face, 'it is her health that brings her.'
'It is. She has consulted the surgeon of the Libra, a very able man, who tells her that there is absolute need of good advice and a colder climate; and Ponsonby has consented to let her and her daughter come home in the Libra. I expect them in February.'
'My poor Mary! But she will get better away from him. I trust he is not coming!'
'Not he,' said Lord Ormersfield.
'Dear, dear Mary! I had scarcely dared to hope to see her again,' cried the old lady, with tears in her eyes. 'I hope she will be allowed to be with us, not kept in London with his sister. London does her no good.'
'The very purport of my visit,' said Lord Ormersfield, 'was to ask whether you could do me the favour to set aside your scholars, and enable me to receive Mrs. Ponsonby at home.'
'Thank you—oh, thank you. There is nothing I should like better, but I must consider—'
'Clara would find a companion in the younger Mary in the holidays, and if James would make Fitzjocelyn his charge, it would complete the obligation. It would be by far the best arrangement for Mary's comfort, and it would be the greatest satisfaction to me to see her with you at Ormersfield.'
'I believe it would indeed,' said the old lady, more touched than the outward manner of the Earl seemed to warrant. 'I would—you know I would do my very best that you and Mary should be comfortable together'—and her voice trembled—'but you see I cannot promise all at once. I must see about these little boys. I must talk to Jem. In short, you must not be disappointed'—and she put her hands before her face, trying to laugh, but almost overcome.
'Nay, I did not mean to press you,' said Lord Ormersfield, gently; 'but I thought, since James has had the fellowship and Clara has been at school, that you wished to give up your pupils.'
'So I do,' said the lady, but still not yielding absolutely.
'For the rest, I am very anxious that James should accept Fitzjocelyn as his pupil. I have always considered their friendship as the best hope, and other plans have had so little success, that—'
'I'm not going to hear Louis abused!' she exclaimed, gaily.
'Yes,' said Lord Ormersfield, with a look nearly approaching a smile, 'you are the last person I ought to invite, if I wish to keep your nephew unspoiled.'
'I wish there were any one else to spoil him!'
'For his sake, then, come and make Ormersfield cheerful. It will be far better for him.'
'And for you, to see more of Jem,' she added. 'If he were yours, what would you say to such hours?'
The last words were aimed at a young man who came briskly into the room, and as he kissed her, and shook hands with the Earl, answered in a quick, bright tone, 'Shocking, aye. All owing to sitting up till one!'
'Reading?' said the Earl.
'Reading,' he answered, with a sort of laughing satisfaction in dashing aside the approval expressed in the query, 'but not quite as you suppose. See here,' as he held up maliciously a railway novel.
'I am afraid I know where it came from,' said Lord Ormersfield.
'Exactly so,' said James. 'It was Fitzjocelyn's desertion of it that excited my curiosity.'
'Indeed. I should have thought his desertions far too common to excite any curiosity.'
'By no means. He always has a reason.'
'A plausible one.'
'More than plausible,' cried James, excitement sparkling in his vivid black eyes. 'It happens that this is the very book that you would most rejoice to see distasteful to him—low morality, false principles, morbid excitement, not a line that ought to please a healthy mind.'—
'Yet it has interest enough for you.'
'I am not Fitzjocelyn.'
'You know how to plead for him.'
'I speak simple truth,' bluntly answered James, running his hand through his black hair, to the ruin of the morning smoothness, so that it, as well as the whole of his quick, dark countenance seemed to have undergone a change from sunny south to stormy north in the few moments since his first appearance.
After a short silence, Lord Ormersfield turned to him, saying 'I have been begging a favour of my aunt, and I have another to ask of you,' and repeating his explanation, begged him to undertake the tutorship of his son.
'I shall not be at liberty at Easter,' said James, 'I have all but undertaken some men at Oxford.'
'Oh, my dear Jem!' exclaimed the old lady, 'is that settled beyond alteration?'
'I'm not going to throw them over.'
'Then I shall hope for you at Midsummer,' said the Earl.
'We shall see how things stand,' he returned, ungraciously.
'I shall write to you,' said Lord Ormersfield, still undaunted, and soon after taking his leave.
'Cool!' cried James, as soon as he was gone. 'To expect you to give up your school at his beck, to come and keep house for him as long as it may suit him!'
'Nay, Jem, he knew how few boys I have, and that I intended to give them up. You don't mean to refuse Louis?' she said, imploringly.
'I shall certainly not take him at Easter. It would be a mere farce intended to compensate to us for giving up the school, and I'll not lend myself to it while I can have real work.'
'At Midsummer, then. You know he will never let Louis spend a long vacation without a tutor.'
'I hate to be at Ormersfield,' proceeded James, vehemently, 'to see Fitzjocelyn browbeaten and contradicted every moment, and myself set up for a model. I may steal a horse, while he may not look over the wall! Did you observe the inconsistency?—angry with the poor fellow first for having the book, and then for not reading the whole, while it became amiable and praiseworthy in me to burn out a candle over it!'
'Ah! that was my concern. I tell him he would sing another note if you were his son.'
'I'd soon make him! I would not stand what Louis does. The more he is set down and sneered at, the more debonnaire he looks, till I could rave at him for taking it so easily.'
'I hoped you might have hindered them from fretting each other, as they do so often.'
'I should only be a fresh element of discord, while his lordship will persist in making me his pattern young man. It makes me hate myself, especially as Louis is such an unaccountable fellow that he won't.'
'I am sorry you dislike the plan so much.'
'Do you mean that you wish for it, grandmamma? cried he, turning full round on her with an air of extreme amazement. 'If you do, there's an end of it; but I thought you valued nothing more than an independent home.'
'Nor would I give it up on any account,' said she. 'I do not imagine this could possibly last for more than a few months, or a year at the utmost. But you know, dear Jem, I would do nothing you did not like.'
'That's nothing to the purpose,' replied James. 'Though it is to be considered whether Ormersfield is likely to be the best preparation for Clara's future life. However, I see you wish it—'
'I confess that I do, for a few months at least, which need interfere neither with Clara nor with you. I have not seen Lord Ormersfield so eager for many years, and I should be very sorry to prevent those two from being comfortably together in the old home—'
'And can't that be without a chaperon?' exclaimed James, laughing. 'Why, his lordship is fifty-five, and she can't be much less. That is a good joke.'
'It is not punctilio,' said his grandmother, looking distressed. 'It is needful to be on the safe side with such a man as Mr. Ponsonby. My fear is that he may send her home with orders not to come near us.'
'She used to be always at Ormersfield in the old times.'
'Yes, when my sister was alive. Ah! you were too young to know about those matters then. The fact was, that things had come to such a pass from Mr. Ponsonby's neglect and unkindness, that Lord Ormersfield, standing in the place of her brother, thought it right to interfere. His mother went to London with him, to bring poor Mary and her little girl back to Ormersfield, and there they were till my sister's death, when of course they could not remain. Mr. Ponsonby had just got his appointment as British envoy in Peru, and wished her to go with him. It was much against Lord Ormersfield's advice, but she thought it her duty, poor dear. I believe he positively hates Lord Ormersfield; and as if for a parting unkindness, he left his little girl at school with orders to spend her holidays with his sister, and never to be with us.'
'That accounts for it!' said James. 'I never knew all this! nor why we were so entirely cut off from Mary Ponsonby. I wonder what she is now! She was a droll sturdy child in those days! We used to call her Downright Dunstable! She was almost of the same age as Louis, and a great deal stouter, and used to fight for him and herself too. Has not she been out in Peru?'
'Yes, she went out at seventeen. I believe she is an infinite comfort to her mother.'
'Poor Mary! Well, we children lived in the middle of a tragedy, and little suspected it! By the bye, what relation are the Ponsonbys to us?'
'Mrs. Ponsonby is my niece. My dear sister, Mary—'
'Married Mr. Raymond—yes, I know! I'll make the whole lucid; I'll draw up a pedigree, and Louis shall learn it.' And with elaborate neatness he wrote as follows, filling in the dates from the first leaf of an old Bible, after his grandmother had left the room. The task, lightly undertaken, became a mournful one, and as he read over his performance, his countenance varied from the gentleness of regret to a look of sarcastic pride, as though he felt that the world had dealt hardly by him, and yet disdained to complain.
KING ARTHUR - Pendragons and Dynevors innumerable - Roland Dynevor, d. 1793 - 1. 2. 3. —————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-
- - -
Catharine, m. James Frost Dynevor, Esq. Elizabeth, m. Jocelyn, 3rd Earl of Ormersfield Mary, m. Ch. Raymond, Esq. b. 1770 b. 1765 b. 1772 b. 1760 b. 1774 d.1802 d. 1816 d. 1835 d. 1833 d. 1800
1. 2. ————————————————————————— Jocelyn, m. Louisa Villars, Mary, m. Robert Ponsonby Esq.,
Henry Roland m. Frances Preston Oliver J. Frost 4th Earl of b. 1805 b. 1796 British Envoy Frost Dynevor b. 1802 Dynevor Ormersfield d. 1826 in Peru. b. 1794 d. 1832 b. 1797 b. 1792 d. 1832
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. —————————————————————————————— James Roland Frances Catharine Oliver Clara Louis Fitzjocelyn Mary Ponsonby Frost Dynevor b. 1826 b. 1827 b. 1829 b. 1831 Viscount Fitzjocelyn b. 1826 b. 1824 d. 1832 d. 1832 d. 1832 b. 1826. Fellow of St. F. College, Oxford.
'Since 1816,' muttered James, as he finished. 'Thirty years of drudgery! When shall I be able to relieve her? Ha! O. J. F. Dynevor, Esquire, if it were you who were coming from Peru, you would find a score to settle!'
He ran down stairs to assist his grandmother in the Latin lessons of her little school, the usual employment of his vacations.
Catharine Dynevor had begun life with little prospect of spending nearly half of it as mistress of a school.
Her father was the last male of the Dynevors of Cheveleigh—a family mounting up to the days of the Pendragons—and she had been made to take the place of an eldest son, inheriting the extensive landed property on condition that her name and arms should be assumed in case of her marriage. Her choice was one of the instances in which her affections had the mastery over her next strongest characteristic, family pride. She married a highly-educated and wealthy gentleman, of good family, but of mercantile connexions, such as her father, if living, would have disdained. Her married life was, however, perfectly unclouded, her ample means gave her the power of dispensing joy, and her temperament was so blithe and unselfish that no pleasure ever palled upon her. Cheveleigh was a proverb for hospitality, affording unfailing fetes for all ages, full of a graceful ease and freedom that inspired enjoyment.
Mr. Frost Dynevor was a man of refined taste, open-handed even to extravagance, liberal in all his appointments, and gratifying to the utmost his love of art and decoration, while his charities and generous actions were hearty and lavish enough to satisfy even his warm-hearted wife.
Joined with all this was a strong turn for speculations. When the mind has once become absorbed in earthly visions of wealth and prosperity, the excitement exercises such a fascination over the senses that the judgment loses balance. Bold assumptions are taken as certainties, and made the foundation of fresh fabrics—the very power of discerning between fact and possibility departs, and, in mere good-will, men, honest and honourable at heart, risk their own and their neighbours' property, and ruin their character and good name, by the very actions most foreign to to their nature, ere it had fallen under the strong delusion.
Mr. Frost Dynevor had the misfortune to live in a country rich in mineral wealth, and to have a brother-in-law easily guided, and with more love of figures than power of investigating estimates on a large scale. Mines were set on foot, companies established, and buildings commenced, and the results were only to be paralleled by those of the chalybeate springs discovered by Mr. Dynevor at the little town of Northwold, which were pronounced by his favourite hanger-on to be destined 'literally to cut the throat of Bath and Cheltenham.'
Some towns are said to have required the life of a child ere their foundations could be laid. Many a speculation has swallowed a life and fortune before its time for thriving has come. Mr. Frost Dynevor and Lord Ormersfield were the foremost victims to the Cheveleigh iron foundries and the Northwold baths. The close of the war brought a commercial crisis that their companies could not stand; and Mr. Dynevor's death spared him from the sight of the crash, which his talent and sagacity might possibly have averted. He had shown no misgivings, but, no sooner was he removed from the helm, than the vessel was found on the brink of destruction. Enormous sums had been sunk without tangible return, and the liabilities of the companies far surpassed anything that they had realized.
Lord Ormersfield was stunned and helpless. Mrs. Dynevor had but one idea—namely, to sacrifice everything to clear her husband's name. Her sons were mere boys, and the only person who proved himself able to act or judge was the heir of Ormersfield, then about four-and-twenty, who came forward with sound judgment and upright dispassionate sense of justice to cope with the difficulties and clear away the involvements.
He joined his father in mortgaging land, sacrificing timber, and reducing the establishment, so as to set the estate in the way of finally becoming free, though at the expense of rigid economy and self-denial.
Cheveleigh could not have been saved, even had the heiress not been willing to yield everything to satisfy the just claims of the creditors. She was happy when she heard that it would suffice, and that no one would be able to accuse her husband of having wronged him. But for this, she would hardly have submitted to retain what her nephew succeeded in securing for her—namely, an income of about 150 pounds per annum, and the row of houses called Dynevor Terrace, one of the building ventures at Northwold. This was the sole dependence with which she and her sons quitted the home of their forefathers. 'Never mind, mother,' said Henry, kissing her, to prevent the tears from springing, 'home is wherever we are together!' 'Never fear, mother,' echoed Oliver, with knitted brow and clenched hands, 'I will win it back.'
Oliver was a quiet lad, of diligent, methodical habits, and willingly accepted a clerkship in a mercantile house, which owed some obligations to his father. At the end of a couple of years he was sent to reside in South America; and his parting words to his mother were—'When you see me again, Cheveleigh shall be yours.'
'Oh, my boy, take care. Remember, 'They that haste to be rich shall not be innocent.''
That was the last time she had seen Oliver.
Her great object was to maintain herself independently and to complete Henry's education as a gentleman. With this view she took up her abode in the least eligible of her houses at Northwold, and, dropping the aristocratic name which alone remained of her heiress-ship, opened a school for little boys, declaring that she was rejoiced to recall the days when Henry and Oliver wore frocks and learnt to spell. If any human being could sweeten the Latin Grammar, it was Mrs. Frost, with the motherliness of a dame, and the refinement of a lady, unfailing sympathy and buoyant spirits, she loved each urchin, and each urchin loved her, till she had become a sort of adopted grandmamma to all Northwold and the neighbourhood.
Henry went to Oxford. He gained no scholarship, took no honours, but he fell neither into debt nor disgrace; he led a goodnatured easy life, and made a vast number of friends; and when he was not staying with them, he and his mother were supremely happy together. He walked with her, read to her, sang to her, and played with her pupils. He had always been brought up as the heir—petted, humoured, and waited on—a post which he filled with goodhumoured easy grace, and which he continued to fill in the same manner, though he had no one to wait on him but his mother, and her faithful servant Jane Beckett. Years passed on, and they seemed perfectly satisfied with their division of labour,—Mrs. Frost kept school, and Henry played the flute, or shot over the Ormersfield property.
If any one remonstrated, Henry was always said to be waiting for a government appointment, which was to be procured by the Ormersfield interest. More for the sake of his mother than of himself, the Ormersfield interest was at length exerted, and the appointment was conferred on him. The immediate consequence was his marriage with the first pretty girl he met, poorer than himself, and all the Ormersfield interest failed to make his mother angry with him.
The cholera of 1832 put an end to poor Henry's desultory life. His house, in a crowded part of London, was especially doomed by the deadly sickness; and out of the whole family the sole survivors were a little girl of ten months old, and a boy of seven years, the latter of whom was with his grandmother at Northwold.
Mrs. Frost was one of the women of whom affection makes unconscious heroines. She could never sink, as long as there was aught to need her love and care; and though Henry had been her darling, the very knowledge that his orphans had no one but herself to depend on, seemed to brace her energies with fresh life. They were left entirely on her hands, her son Oliver made no offers of assistance. He had risen, so as to be a prosperous merchant at Lima, and he wrote with regularity and dutifulness, but he had never proposed coming to England, and did not proffer any aid in the charge of his brother's children. If she had expected anything from him, she did not say so; she seldom spoke of him, but never without tenderness, and usually as her 'poor Oliver,' and she abstained from teaching her grandchildren either to look to their rich uncle or to mourn over their lost inheritance. Cheveleigh was a winter evening's romance with no one but Jane Beckett; and the grandmother always answered the children's inquiries by bidding them prove their ancient blood by resolute independence, and by that true dignity which wealth could neither give nor take away.
Of that dignity, Mrs. Frost was a perfect model. A singular compound of the gentle and the lofty, of tenderness and independence, she had never ceased to be the Northwold standard of the 'real lady,' too mild and gracious to be regarded as proud and poor, and yet too dignified for any liberty to be attempted, her only fault, that touch of pride, so ladylike and refined that it was kept out of sight, and never offended, and everything else so sweet and winning that there was scarcely a being who did not love, as well as honour her, for the cheerfulness and resignation that had borne her through her many trials. Her trustful spirit and warm heart had been an elixir of youth, and had preserved her freshness and elasticity long after her sister and brother-in-law at Ormersfield had grown aged and sunk into the grave, and even her nephew was fast verging upon more than middle age.
LOUIS LE DEBONNAIRE.
I walked by his garden and saw the wild brier, The thorn and the thistle grow broader and higher. ISC WATTS.
Ormersfield Park was extensive, ranging into fine broken ground, rocky and overgrown with brushwood; but it bore the marks of retrenchment; there was hardly a large timber tree on the estate, enclosures had been begun and deserted, and the deer had been sold off to make room for farmers' cattle, which grazed up to the very front door.
The house was of the stately era of Anne, with a heavy portico and clumsy pediment on the garden side, all the windows of the suite of rooms opening on a broad stone terrace, whence steps descended to the lawn, neatly kept, but sombre, for want of openings in the surrounding evergreens.
It was early March, and a lady wrapped in a shawl was seated on the terrace, enjoying the mild gleam of spring, and the freshness of the sun-warmed air, which awoke a smile of welcome as it breathed on her faded cheek, and her eyes gazed on the scene, in fond recognition.
It had been the home of Mrs. Ponsonby's childhood; and the slopes of turf and belts of dark ilex were fraught with many a recollection of girlish musings, youthful visions, and later, intervals of tranquillity and repose. After fourteen years spent in South America, how many threads she had to take up again! She had been as a sister to her cousin, Lord Ormersfield, and had shared more of his confidence than any other person during their earlier years, but afterwards their intercourse had necessarily been confined to brief and guarded letters. She had found him unchanged in his kindness to herself, and she was the more led to ponder on the grave, stern impassiveness of his manner to others, and to try to understand the tone of mind that it indicated.
She recalled him as he had been in his first youth—reserved, sensible, thoughtful, but with the fire of ambition burning strongly within, and ever and anon flashing forth vividly, repressed at once as too demonstrative, but filling her with enthusiastic admiration. She remembered him calmly and manfully meeting the shock of the failure, that would, he knew, fetter and encumber him through life—how resolutely he had faced the difficulties, how unselfishly he had put himself out of the question, how uprightly he had dealt by the creditors, how considerately by his father and aunt, how wise and moderate his proceedings had been throughout. She recollected how she had shared his aspirations, and gloried in his consistent and prudent course, without perceiving what sorrow had since taught her-that ambition was to him what pleasure was to other young men. What had it not been to her when that ambition began to be gratified! when he had become a leading man in Parliament, and by-and-by held office.
There, a change came over the spirit of her dream; and though she sighed, she could not but smile at the fair picture that rose before her, of a young girl of radiant loveliness, her golden curls drooping over her neck, and her eyes blue as the starry veronica by the hedge side, smiling in the sunshine. She thought of the glances of proud delight that her cousin had stolen at her, to read in her face, that his Louisa was more than all he had told her. Little was needed to make her love the sweet, caressing young creature who had thrown her arms round her, and told her that she saw it was all nonsense to tell her she was such a good, grave, dreadful cousin Mary! Yet there had been some few misgivings! So short an acquaintance! Her cousin too busy for more than being bewitched by the lovely face! The Villiers family, so gay and fashionable! Might not all have been foreseen? And yet, of what use would foresight have been? The gentleman was deeply attached, and the lady's family courted the match, the distinction he had won, atoning for his encumbered fortune.
Other scenes arose on her memory—Louisa, a triumphant beauty, living on the homage she received, all brilliance, grace, and enjoyment. But there was a darkening background which grew more prominent. Poor Louisa had little wisdom by nature, and her education had been solely directed to enable her to shine in the world, not to render her fit for the companionship of a man of domestic tastes, accustomed to the society of superior women. There was nothing to fall back upon, nothing to make a home, she was listless and weary whenever gaiety failed her—and he, disappointed and baffled, too unbending to draw her out, too much occupied to watch over her, yielded to her tastes, and let her pursue her favourite enjoyments unchecked.
A time had come when childish vanity and frivolity were verging on levity and imprudence. Expostulations fell powerless on her shallowness. Painful was the remembrance of the deprecating roguish glance of the beautiful eyes, and the coaxing caresses with which she kissed away the lecture, and made promises, only to forget them. She was like the soulless Undine, with her reckless gaiety and sweetness, so loving and childish that there was no being displeased with her, so innocent and devoid of all art or guile in her wilfulness, that her faults could hardly bear a harsher name than follies.
Again, Mrs. Ponsonby thought of the days when she herself had been left to stay with her old uncle and aunt. In this very house while her husband was absent abroad, when she had assisted them to receive the poor young wife, sent home in failing health. She thought of the sad weeks, so melancholy in the impossibility of making an impression, or of leading poor Louisa from her frivolities, she recalled the sorrow of hearing her build on future schemes of pleasure, the dead blank when her prattle on them failed, the tedium of deeper subjects, and yet the bewitching sweetness overpowering all vexation at her exceeding silliness. Though full one-and-twenty years had passed, still the tears thrilled warm into Mrs. Ponsonby's eyes at the thought of Louisa's fond clinging to her, in spite of many an admonition and even exertion of authority, for she alone dared to control the spoilt child's self-will; and had far more power than the husband, who seemed to act as a check and restraint, and whose presence rendered her no longer easy and natural. One confidence had explained the whole.
'You know, Mary dear, I always was so much afraid of him! If I had had my own way, I know who it would have been; but there were mamma and Anna Maria always saying how fortunate I was, and that he would be Prime Minister, and all the rest. Oh! I was far too young and foolish for him. He should have married a sober body, such as you, Mary! Why did he not? She wished she had never teased him by going out so much, and letting people talk nonsense; he had been very kind, and she was not half good enough for him. That confession, made to him, would have been balm for ever; but she had not resolution for the effort, and the days slid away till the worst fears were fulfilled. Nay, were they the worst fears? Was there not an unavowed sense that it was safer that she should die, while innocent of all but wayward folly, than be left to perils which she was so little able to resist?
The iron expression of grief on her husband's face had forbidden all sympathy, all attempt at consolation. He had returned at once to his business in London, there to find that poor Louisa's extravagance had equalled her folly, and that he, whose pride it had been to redeem his paternal property, was thrown back by heavy debts on his own account. This had been known to Mrs. Ponsonby, but by no word from him; he had never permitted the most distant reference to his wife, and yet, with inconsistency betraying his passionate love, he had ordered one of the most beautiful and costly monuments that art could execute, for her grave at Ormersfield, and had sent brief but explicit orders that, contrary to all family precedent, his infant should bear no name but Louis.
On this boy Mrs. Ponsonby had founded all her hopes of a renewal of happiness for her cousin; but when she had left England there had been little amalgamation between the volatile animated boy, and his grave unbending father. She could not conjure up any more comfortable picture of them than the child uneasily perched on his papa's knee, looking wistfully for a way of escape, and his father with an air of having lifted him up as a duty, without knowing what to do with him or to say to him.
At her earnest advice, the little fellow had been placed as a boarder with his great aunt, Mrs. Frost, when his grandmother's death had deprived him of all that was homelike at Ormersfield, He had been with her till he was old enough for a public school, and she spoke of him as if he were no less dear to her than her own grandchildren; but she was one who saw no fault in those whom she loved, and Mrs. Ponsonby had been rendered a little anxious by a certain tone of dissatisfaction in Lord Ormersfield's curt mention of his son, and above all by his cold manner of announcing that this was the day when he would return from Oxford for the Easter vacation.
Could it be that the son was unworthy, or had the father's feelings been too much chilled ever to warm again, and all home affections lost in the strife of politics? These had ever since engaged him, whether in or out of office, leaving little time for society or for any domestic pursuit.
Her reflections were interrupted by a call of 'Mamma!' and her daughter came running up the steps. Mary Ponsonby had too wide a face for beauty, and not slightness enough for symmetry, but nothing could be more pleasing and trustworthy than the open countenance, the steady, clear, greenish-brown eyes, the kind, sensible mouth, the firm chin, broad though rather short forehead, and healthy though not highly-coloured cheek; and the voice—full, soft, and cheerful—well agreed with the expression, and always brought gladness and promise of sympathy.
'See, mamma, what we have found for you.'
'Violets! The very purple ones that used to grow on the orchard bank!'
'So they did. Mary knew exactly where to look for them,' said Mrs. Frost, who had followed her up the steps.
'And there is Gervas,' continued Mary; 'so charmed to hear of you, that we had almost brought him to see you.'
Mrs. Ponsonby declared herself so much invigorated by Ormersfield air, that she would go to see her old friend the gardener. Mary hurried to fetch her bonnet, and returned while a panegyric was going on upon her abilities as maid-of-all-work, in her mother's difficulties with male housemaids—black and brown—and washerwomen who rode on horseback in white satin shoes. She looked as if it were hardly natural that any one but herself should support her mother, when Mrs. Frost tenderly drew Mrs. Ponsonby's arm into her own; and it was indeed strange to see the younger lady so frail and broken, and the elder so strong, vigorous, and active; as they moved along in the sunshine, pausing to note each spring blossom that bordered the gravel, and entered the walled kitchen-garden, where espaliers ran parallel with the walks, dividing the vegetables from the narrow flower-beds, illuminated by crocuses opening the depths of their golden hearts to the sunbeams and the revelling bees. Old Gervas, in a patriarchal red waistcoat, welcomed Mrs. Ponsonby with more warmth than flattery. Bless me, ma'am, I'm right glad to see you; but how old you be!'
'I must come home to learn how to grow young, Gervas,' said she, smiling; 'I hear Betty is as youthful as my aunt here.'
'Ay, ma'am, Betty do fight it out tolerablish,' was the reply to this compliment.
'Why, Gervas, what's all that wilderness? Surely those used to be strawberry beds.'
'Yes, ma'am, the earliest hautboys; don't ye mind? My young Lord came and begged it of me, and, bless the lad, I can't refuse him nothing.'
'He seems to be no gardener!'
'He said he wanted to make a Botany Bay sort of garden,' said the old man; 'and sure enough 'tis a garden of weeds he's made of it, and mine into the bargain! He has a great big thistle here, and the down blows right over my beds, thick as snow, so that it is three women's work to be a match for the weeds; but speak to him of pulling it up, ye'd think 'twas the heart out of him.'
'Does he ever work here?'
'At first it was nought else; he and that young chap, Madison, always bringing docks and darnel out of the hedges, and plants from the nursery gardens, and bringing rockwork, and letting water in to make a swamp. There's no saying what's in the lad's head! But, of late, he's not done much but by times lying on the bank, reading or speaking verses out loud to himself, or getting young Madison off his work to listen to him. Once he got me to hear; but, ma'am, 'twas all about fairies and such like, putting an ass's head on an honest body as had lost his way. I told him 'twas no good for him or the boy to read such stuff, and I'd ha' none of it; but, if he chose to read me some good book, he'd be welcome—for the candles baint so good as they used, and I can't get no spectacles to suit me.'
'And did he read to you?'
'A bit or two, ma'am, if the humour took him. But he's young, you see, ma'am. I'm right glad he'll find you here. My old woman says he do want a lady about the place to make him comfortable like.'
'And who is this young Madison?' asked Mrs. Ponsonby, when they had turned from the old gardener.
'To hear Jem, you would believe that he is the most promising plant rearing for Botany Bay!' said Mrs. Frost. 'He is a boy from that wild place Marksedge, whom Louis took interest in, and made more familiar than Jem liked, or than, perhaps, was good for him. It did not answer; the servants did not like it, and it ended in his being sent to work with Smith, the ironmonger. Poor Louis! he took it sadly to heart, for he had taken great pains with the boy.'
'I like to hear the old name, Louis!'
'I can't help it,' said Mrs. Frost. 'He must be his old aunt Kitty's Louis le Debonnaire! Don't you, remember your calling him so when he was a baby?'
'Oh yes, it has exactly recalled to me the sort of gracious look that he used to have—half sly, half sweet-and so very pretty!'
'It suits him as well now. He is the kind of being who must have a pet name;' and Mrs. Frost, hoping he might be already arrived, could hardly slacken her eager step so as to keep pace with her niece's feeble movements. She was disappointed; the carriage had returned without Lord Fitzjocelyn. His hat and luggage were come, but he himself was missing. Mrs. Frost was very uneasy, but his father silenced conjectures by saying, that it was his usual way, and he would make his appearance before the evening. He would not send to meet another train, saying, that the penalty of irregularity must be borne, and the horses should not suffer for such freaks; and he would fain have been utterly indifferent, but he was evidently listening to every sound, and betrayed his anxiety by the decision with which he checked all expression of his aunt's fears.
There was no arrival all that evening, no explanation in the morning; and Betty Gervas, whom Mary went to visit in the course of the day, began to wonder whether the young Lord could be gone for a soldier—the usual fate of all missing village lads.
Mary was on her way home, through the park, along a path skirting the top of a wooded ravine, a dashing rivulet making a pleasant murmur among the rocks below, and glancing here and there through the brushwood that clothed the precipitous banks, when, with a sudden rustling and crackling, a man leaped upon the path with a stone in each hand.
Mary started, but she did not lose her presence of mind, and her next glance showed her that the apparition was not alarming, and was nearly as much amazed as herself. It was a tall slight young man, in a suit of shepherd's plaid, with a fair face and graceful agile form, recalling the word debonnaire as she had yesterday heard it applied. In instant conviction that this was the truant, she put out her hand by the same impulse that lighted his features with a smile of welcome, and the years of separation seemed annihilated as he exclaimed, 'My cousin Mary!' and grasped her hand, adding, 'I hope I did not frighten you—'
'Oh no; but where did you come from?'
'Up a hill perpendicular, like Hotspur,' he replied, in soft low quiet tones, which were a strange contrast to the words. 'No, see here,' and parting the bushes he showed some rude steps, half nature, half art, leading between the ferns and mountain-ash, and looking very inviting.
'How delightful!' cried Mary.
'I am glad you appreciate it,' he exclaimed; 'I will finish it off now, and put a rail. I did not care to go on when I had lost the poor fellow who helped me, but it saves a world of distance.'
'It must be very pretty amongst those beautiful ferns!'
'You can't conceive anything more charming,' he continued, with the same low distinct utterance, but an earnestness that almost took away her breath. 'There are nine ferns on this bank—that is, if we have the Scolopendrium Loevigatum, as I am persuaded. Do you know anything of ferns? Ah! you come from the land of tree ferns.'
'Oh! I am so glad to exchange them for our home flowers. Primroses look so friendly and natural.'
'These rocks are perfect nests for them, and they even overhang the river. This is the best bit of the stream, so rapid and foaming that I must throw a bridge across for Aunt Catharine. Which would be most appropriate? I was weighing it as I came up—a simple stone, or a rustic performance in wood?'
'I should like stone,' said Mary, amused by his eagerness.
'A rough Druidical stone! That's it! The idea of rude negligent strength accords with such places, and this is a stone country. I know the very stone! Do come down and see!'
'To-morrow, if you please,' said Mary. 'Mamma must want me, and—but I suppose they know of your return at home.'
'No, they don't. They have learnt by experience that the right time is the one never to expect me.'
Mary's eyes were all astonishment, as she said, between wonder and reproof, 'Is that on purpose?'
'Adventures are thrust on some people,' was the nonchalant reply, with shoulders depressed, and a twinkle of the eye, as if he purposed amazing his auditor.'
'I hope you have had an adventure, for nothing else could justify you,' said Mary, with some humour, but more gravity.
'Only a stray infant-errant, cast on my mercy at the junction station. Nurse, between eating and gossiping left behind—bell rings—engine squeaks—train starts—Fitzjocelyn and infant vis-a-vis.'
'You don't mean a baby?'
'A child of five years old, who soon ceased howling, and confided his history to me. He had been visiting grandmamma in London, and was going home to Illershall; so I found the best plan would be to leave the train at the next station, and take him home.'
'Oh, that was quite another thing!' exclaimed Mary, gratified at being able to like him. 'Could you find his home?'
'Yes; he knew his name and address too well to be lost or mislaid. I would have come home as soon as I had seen him in at the door; but the whole family rushed out on me, and conjured me first to dine and then to sleep. They are capital people. Dobbs is superintendent of the copper and tin works—a thoroughly right-minded man, with a nice, ladylike wife, the right sort of sound stuff that old England's heart is made of. It was worth anything to have seen it! They do incalculable good with their work-people. I saw the whole concern.'
He launched into an explanation of the process, producing from his pocket, papers of the ore, in every stage of manufacture, and twisting them up so carelessly, that they would have become a mass of confusion, had not Mary undertaken the repacking.
As they approached the house, the library window was thrown up, and Mrs. Frost came hurrying down with outstretched arms. She was met by her young nephew with an overflow of fond affection, before he looked up and beheld his father standing upright and motionless on the highest step. His excuses were made more lightly and easily than seemed to suit such rigid looks; but Lord Ormersfield bent his head as if resigning himself perforce to the explanation, and, with the softened voice in which he always spoke to Mrs. Ponsonby, said, 'Here he is—Louis, you remember your cousin.'
She was positively startled; for it was as if his mother's deep blue eyes were raised to hers, and there were the same regular delicate features, fair, transparent complexion, and glossy light-brown hair tinted with gold—the same careless yet deprecating glance, the same engaging smile that warmed her heart to him at once, in spite of an air which was not that of wisdom.
'How little altered you are!' she exclaimed. 'If you were not taller than your father, I should say you were the same Louis that I left fourteen years ago.'
'I fear that is the chief change,' said Lord Ormersfield.
'A boy that would be a boy all his life, like Sir Thomas More's son!' said Louis, coolly and simply, but with a twinkle in the corner of his eye, as if he said it on purpose to be provoking; and Mrs. Frost interposed by asking where the cousins had met, and whether they had known each other.
'I knew him by what you said yesterday,' said Mary.
'Louis le Debonnaire? asked Mrs. Frost, smiling.
'No, Mary; not that name!' he exclaimed. 'It is what Jem calls me, when he has nothing more cutting to say—'
'Aye, because it is exactly what you look when you know you deserve a scolding—with your shoulders pulled down, and your face made up!' said his aunt, patting him.
When Mrs. Ponsonby and Mary had left the room to dress, Louis exclaimed, 'And that is Mrs. Ponsonby! How ill she does look! Her very voice has broken down, though it still has the sweet sound that I could never forget! Has she had advice?'
'Dr. Hastings saw her in London,' said his father. 'He sent her into the country at once, and thinks that there is fair hope that complete rest of spirits may check the disease.'
'Will she stay here?' said Louis, eagerly. 'That would be like old times, and we could make her very comfortable. I would train those two ponies for her drives—'
'I wish she would remain here,' said his father; 'but she is bent on becoming my aunt's tenant.'
'Ha! That is next best! They could do nothing more commendable. Will they be a windfall for the House Beautiful?'
'No,' said Mrs. Frost. 'They wish to have a house of their own, in case Mr. Ponsonby should come home, or Miss Ponsonby to stay with them.'
'The respected aunt who brought Mary up! How long has she been at Lima?'
'Four years! She has not made use of her opportunities! Alas for the illusion dispelled! The Spanish walk and mantilla melt away; and behold! the primitive wide-mouthed body of fourteen years since!'
Mrs. Frost laughed, but it seemed to be a serious matter with Lord Ormersfield. 'If you could appreciate sterling worth,' he said, 'you would be ashamed to speak of your cousin with such conceited disrespect.'
All the effect was to make Louis walk quietly out of the room; but his shoulder and eyebrow made a secret telegraph of amazement to Mrs. Frost.
The new arrival seemed to have put the Earl into a state of constant restless anxiety, subdued and concealed with a high hand, but still visible to one who knew him so intimately as did Mrs. Ponsonby. She saw that he watched each word and gesture, and studied her looks to judge of the opinion they might create in her. Now the process was much like weighing and balancing the down of Fitzjocelyn's own favourite thistle; the profusion, the unsubstantiality, and the volatility being far too similar; and there was something positively sad in the solicitous heed taken of such utter heedlessness.
The reigning idea was the expedition to Illershall, and the excellent condition of the work-people under his new friend the superintendent. Forgetful that mines were a tender subject, the eager speaker became certain that copper must exist in the neighbourhood, and what an employment it would afford to all the country round. 'Marksedge must be the very place, the soil promises metallic veins, the discovery would be the utmost boon to the people. It would lead to industry and civilization, and counteract all the evils we have brought on them. Mary, do you remember Marksedge, the place of exile?'
'Not that I know of.'
'No; we were too young to understand the iniquity. In the last generation, it was not the plan to stone Naboth, but to remove him. Great people could not endure little people; so, by way of kindness, our whole population of Ormersfield, except a few necessary retainers, were transported bodily from betwixt the wind and our nobility, located on a moor beyond our confines, a generous gift to the poor-rates of Bletchynden, away from church, away from work, away from superintendence, away from all amenities of the poor man's life!'
This was one of the improvements to which Mr. Dynevor had prompted the last Earl; but Louis did not know whom he was cutting, as he uttered this tirade, with a glow on his cheek and eye, but with his usual soft, modulated intonation and polished language, the distinctness and deliberation taking off all air of rattle, and rendering his words more impressive.
'Indeed! is there much distress at Marksedge?' said Mrs. Ponsonby.
'They have gifts with our own poor at Christmas,' said Lord Ormersfield, 'but they are a defiant, ungrateful set, always in distress by their own fault.'
'What cause have they for gratitude?' exclaimed his son. 'For being turned out of house and home? for the three miles' walk to their daily work! Yes, it is the fact. The dozen families left here, with edicts against lodgers, cannot suffice for the farmer's work; and all Norris's and Beecher's men have to walk six miles every day of their lives, besides the hard day's work. They are still farther from their parish, they are no one's charge, they have neither church nor school, and whom should we blame for their being lawless?'
'It used to be thought a very good thing for the parish,' said Mrs. Frost, looking at her niece. 'I remember being sorry for the poor people, but we did not see things in the light in which Louis puts it.'
'Young men like to find fault with the doings of their elders,' said Lord Ormersfield.
'Nothing can make me regard it otherwise than as a wicked sin!' said Louis.
'Nay, my dear,' mildly said Aunt Catharine, 'if it were mistaken, I am sure it was not intentionally cruel.'
'What I call wicked is to sacrifice the welfare of dependents to our own selfish convenience! And you would call it cruel too, Aunt Catharine, if you could hear the poor creatures beg as a favour of Mr. Holdsworth to be buried among their kin, and know how it has preyed on the minds of the dying that they might not lie here among their own people.'
'Change the subject, Fitzjocelyn,' said his father: 'the thing is done, and cannot be undone.'
'The undoing is my daily thought,' said Louis. 'If I could have tried my plan of weaving cordage out of cotton-grass and thistle-down, I think I could have contrived for them.'
Mary looked up, and met his merry blue eye. Was he saying it so gravely to try whether he could take her in? 'If you could—' she said, and he went off into a hearty laugh, and finished by saying, so that no one could guess whether it was sport or earnest, 'Even taking into account the depredations of the goldfinches, it would be an admirable speculation, and would confer immeasurable benefits on the owners of waste lands. I mean to take out a patent when I have succeeded in the spinning.'
'A patent for a donkey,' whispered Aunt Catharine. He responded with a deferential bow, and the conversation was changed by the Earl; but copper was still the subject uppermost with Louis, and no sooner was dinner over than he followed the ladies to the library, and began searching every book on metals and minerals, till he had heaped up a pile of volumes, whence be rang the changes on oxide, pyrites, and carbonate, and octohedron crystals—names which poor Mrs. Frost had heard but too often. At last it came to certainty that he had seen the very masses containing ore; he would send one to-morrow to Illershall to be analysed, and bring his friend Dobbs down to view the spot.
'Not in my time,' interposed Lord Ormersfield. 'I would not wish for a greater misfortune than the discovery of a mine on my property.'
'No wonder,' thought Mrs. Ponsonby, as she recollected Wheal Salamanca and Wheal Catharine, and Wheal Dynevor, and all the other wheals that had wheeled away all Cheveleigh and half Ormersfield, till the last unfortunate wheal failed when the rope broke, and there were no funds to buy a new one. No wonder Lord Ormersfield trembled when he heard his son launch out into those easily-ascending conjectural calculations, freely working sums in his head, so exactly like the old Earl, his grandfather, that she could have laughed, but for sympathy with the father, and anxiety to see how the son would take the damp so vexatiously cast on his projects.
He made the gesture that Mrs. Frost called debonnaire—read on for five minutes in silence, insisted on teaching his aunt the cause of the colours in peacock ores, compared them to a pigeon's neck, and talked of old Betty Gervas's tame pigeons; whence he proceeded to memories of the days that he and Mary had spent together, and asked which of their old haunts she had revisited. Had she been into the nursery?
'Oh yes! but I wondered you had sent the old walnut press into that lumber-room.'
'Is that satire?' said Louis, starting and looking in her face.
'I don't know what you mean.'
'I have a better right to ask what you mean by stigmatizing my apartment as a lumber-room?'
'It was only what I saw from the door,' said Mary, a little confused, but rallying and answering with spirit; 'and I must maintain that, if you mean the room over the garden entrance, it is very like a lumber-room.'
'Ah, Mary! you have not outgrown the delusions of your sex. Is an Englishman's house his castle while housemaids maraud over it, ransacking his possessions, irritating poor peaceful dust that only wants to be let alone, sweeping away cherished cobwebs?'
'Oh, if you cherish cobwebs!' said Mary.
'Did not the fortunes of Scotland hang on a spider's thread? Did not a cobweb save the life of Mahomet, or Ali, or a mediaeval saint—no matter which? Was not a spider the solace of the Bastille? Have not I lain for hours on a summer morning watching the tremulous lines of the beautiful geometrical composition?'
'More shame for you!' said Mary, with a sort of dry humorous bluntness.
'The very answer you would have made in old times,' cried Louis, delighted. 'O Mary, you bring me back the days of my youth! You never would see the giant who used to live in that press!'
'I remember our great fall from the top of it.'
'Oh yes!' cried Louis; 'Jem Frost had set us up there bolt upright for sentries, and I saw the enemies too soon, when you would not allow that they were there. I was going to fire my musket at them; but you used violence to keep me steady to my duty—pulled my hair, did not you?'
'I know you scratched me, and we both rolled off together! I wonder we were not both killed!'
'That did not trouble Jem! He picked us up, and ordered us into arrest under the bed for breach of discipline.'
'I fear Jem was a martinet,' said Mrs. Frost.
'That he was! A general formed on the model of him who, not contented with assaulting a demi-lune, had taken une lune toute entiere. We had a siege of the Fort Bombadero, inaccessible, and with mortars firing double-hand grenades. They were dandelion clocks, and there were nettles to act the part of poisoned spikes on the breach.'
'I remember the nettles,' said Mary, 'and Jem's driving you to gather them; you standing with your bare legs in the nettle-bed, when he would make me dig, and I could not come to help you!'
'On duty in the trenches. Your sense of duty was exemplary. I remember your digging on, like a very Casablanca, all alone, in the midst of a thunder-storm, because Jem had forgotten to call you in, crying all the time with fear of the lightning!'
'You came to help me,' said Mary. 'You came rushing out from the nursery to my rescue!'
'I could not make you stir. We were taken prisoners by a sally from the nursery. For once in your life, you were in disgrace!'
'I quite thought I ought to mind Jem,' said Mary, 'and never knew whether it was play or earnest.'
'Only so could you transgress,' said Louis,—'you who never cried, except as my amateur Mungo Malagrowther. Poor Mary! what an amazement it was to me to find you breaking your heart over the utmost penalties of the nursery law, when to me they only afforded agreeable occasions of showing that I did not care! I must have been intolerable till you and Mrs. Ponsonby took me in hand!'
'I am glad you own your obligations,' said Lord Ormersfield.
'I own myself as much obliged to Mary for making me wise, as to Jem for making me foolish.'
'It is not the cause of gratitude I should have expected,' said his father.
'Alas! if he and Clara were but here!' sighed Louis. 'I entreated him in terms that might have moved a pyramid from its base, but the Frost was arctic. An iceberg will move, but he is past all melting!'
'I respect his steadiness of purpose,' said the Earl; 'I know no young man whom I honour more than James.'
His aunt and his son were looking towards each other with glistening eyes of triumph and congratulation, and Mrs. Frost cleared her voice to say that he was making far too much of her Jemmy; a very good boy, to be sure, but if he said so much of him, the Marys would be disappointed to see nothing but a little fiery Welshman.
Lightly soars the thistle-down, Lightly does it float—, Lightly seeds of care are sown, Little do we note. Watch life's thistles bud and blow, Oh, 'tis pleasant folly; But when all life's paths they strew, Then comes melancholy. Poetry Past and Present.
Mary Ponsonby had led a life of change and wandering that had given her few strong local attachments. The period she had spent at Ormersfield, when she was from five to seven years old, had been the most joyous part of her life, and had given her a strong feeling for the place where she had lived with her mother, and in an atmosphere of affection, free from the shadow of that skeleton in the house, which had darkened her childhood more than she understood.
The great weakness of Mrs. Ponsonby's life had been her over-hasty acceptance of a man, whom she did not thoroughly know, because her delicacy had taken alarm at foolish gossip about herself and her cousin. It was a folly that had been severely visited. Irreligious himself, Mr. Ponsonby disliked his wife's strictness; he resented her affection for her own family, gave way to dissipated habits, and made her miserable both by violence and neglect. Born late of this unhappy marriage, little Mary was his only substantial link to his wife, and he had never been wanting in tenderness to her: but many a storm had raged over the poor child's head; and, though she did not know why the kind old Countess had come to remove her and her mother, and 'papa' was still a loved and honoured title, she was fully sensible of the calm security at Ormersfield.
When Mr. Ponsonby had recalled his wife on his appointment at Lima, Mary had been left in England for education, under the charge of his sister in London. Miss Ponsonby was good and kind, but of narrow views, thinking all titled people fashionable, and all fashionable people reprobate, jealous of her sister-in-law's love for her own family, and, though unable to believe her brother blameless, holding it as an axiom that married people could not fall out without faults on both sides, and charging a large share of their unhappiness on the house of Fitzjocelyn. Principle had prevented her from endeavouring to weaken the little girl's affection to her mother; but it had been her great object to train her up in habits of sober judgment, and freedom from all the romance, poetry, and enthusiasm which she fancied had been injurious to Mrs. Ponsonby. The soil was of the very kind that she would have chosen. Mary was intelligent, but with more sense than fancy, more practical than intellectual, and preferring the homely to the tasteful. At school, study and accomplishments were mere tasks, her recreation was found in acts of kindness to her companions, and her hopes were all fixed on the going out to Peru, to be useful to her father and mother. At seventeen she went; full of active, housewifely habits, with a clear head, sound heart, and cramped mind, her spirits even and cheerful, but not high nor mirthful, after ten years of evenings spent in needlework beside a dry maiden aunt.
Nor was the home she found at Lima likely to foster the joyousness of early girlhood. Mr. Ponsonby was excessively fond of her; but his affection to her only marked, by contrast, the gulf between him and her mother. There was no longer any open misconduct on his part, and Mrs. Ponsonby was almost tremblingly attentive to his wishes; but he was chill and sarcastic in his manner towards her, and her nervous attacks often betrayed that she had been made to suffer in private for differences of opinion. Health and spirits were breaking down; and, though she never uttered a word of complaint, the sight of her sufferings was trying for a warm-hearted young girl.
Mary's refuge was hearty affection to both parents. She would not reason nor notice where filial tact taught her that it was best to be ignorant; she charged all tracasseries on the Peruvian republic, and set herself simply to ameliorate each vexation as it arose, and divert attention from it without generalizing, even to herself, on the state of the family. The English comfort which she brought into the Limenian household was one element of peace; and her brisk, energetic habits produced an air of ease and pleasantness that did much to make home agreeable to her father, and removed many cares which oppressed her mother. To her, Mary was all the world-daughter, comforter, friend, and nurse, unfailing in deeds of love or words of cheer, and removing all sense of dreariness and solitude. And Mary had found her mother all, and more than all she remembered, and admired and loved her with a deep, quiet glow of intense affection. There was so much call for Mary's actual exertion of various kinds, that there was little opportunity for cultivating or enlarging her mind by books, though the scenes and circumstances around her could not but take some effect. Still, at twenty-one she was so much what she had been at seventeen—so staid, sensible, and practical, that Miss Ponsonby gladly pronounced her not in the least spoilt.
Fain would her aunt have kept both her and her mother as her guests; but Mrs. Ponsonby had permission to choose whatever residence best suited her, and felt that Bryanston-square and Miss Ponsonby would be fatal to her harassed spirits. She yearned after the home and companions of her youth, and Miss Ponsonby could only look severe, talk of London doctors, and take Mary aside to warn her against temptations from fashionable people.
Mary had been looking for the fashionable people ever since, and the first sign of them she had seen, was the air and figure of her cousin Fitzjocelyn. Probably good Aunt Melicent would distrust him; and yet his odd startling talk, and the arch look of mischief in the corners of his mouth and eyes, had so much likeness to the little Louis of old times, that she could not look on him as a stranger nor as a formidable being; but was always recurring to the almost monitorial sense of protection, with which she formerly used to regard him, when she shared his nursery.
Her mother had cultivated her love for Ormersfield, and she was charmed by her visits to old haunts, well remembering everything. She gladly recognised the little low-browed church, the dumpy tower, and grave-yard rising so high that it seemed to intend to bury the church itself, and permitted many a view, through the lattices, of the seats, and the Fitzjocelyn hatchments and monuments.
She lingered after church on Sunday afternoon with Mrs. Frost to look at Lady Fitzjocelyn's monument. It was in the chancel, a recumbent figure in white marble, as if newly fallen asleep, and with the lovely features chiselled from a cast taken after death had fixed and ennobled their beauty.
'It is just like Louis's profile!' said Mrs. Frost, as they came out.
'Well,' said Louis, who was nearer than she was aware, 'I hope at least no one will make me the occasion of a lion when I am dead.'
'It is very beautiful,' said Mary.
'May be so; but the sentiment is destroyed by its having been six months in the Royal Academy, number 16,136, and by seeing it down among the excursions in the Northwold Guide.'
'Louis, my dear, you should not be satirical on this,' said Mrs. Frost.
'I never meant it,' said Louis, 'but I never could love that monument. It used to oppress me with a sense of having a white marble mother! And, seriously, it fills up the chancel as if it were its show-room, according to our family tradition that the church is dedicated to the Fitzjocelyns. Living or dead, we have taken it all to ourselves.'
'It was a very fair, respectable congregation,' said his aunt.
'Exactly so. That is my complaint. Everything belonging to his lordship is respectable—except his son.'
'Take care, Louis; here is Mary looking as if she would take you at your word.'
'Pray, Mary, do they let no one who is not respectable go to church in Peru?'
'I do not think you would change your congregation for the wretched crowds of brown beggars,' said Mary.
'Would I not?' cried Louis. 'Oh! if the analogous class here in England could but feel that the church was for them!—not driven out and thrust aside, by our respectability.'
'Marksedge to wit!' said a good-humoured voice, as Mr. Holdsworth, the young Vicar, appeared at his own wicket, with a hearty greeting. 'I never hear those words without knowing where you are, Fitzjocelyn.'
'I hope to be there literally some day this week,' said Louis. 'Will you walk with me? I want to ask old Madison how his grandson goes on. I missed going to see after the boy last time I was at home.'
'I fear he has not been going on well, and have been sorry for it ever since,' said the Vicar. 'His master told me that he found him very idle and saucy.'
'People of that sort never know how to speak to a lad,' said Louis. 'It is their own rating that they ought to blame.'
'Not Tom Madison, I know,' said Mr. Holdsworth, laughing. 'But I did not come out to combat that point, but to inquire after the commissions you kindly undertook.'
'I have brought you such a set of prizes! Red rubrics, red margins; and for the apparatus, I have brought a globe with all the mountains in high relief;—yes, and an admirable physical atlas, and a box of instruments and models for applying mathematics to mechanics. We might give evening lectures, and interest the young farmers.'
'Pray,' said the Vicar, with a sound of dismay, 'where may the bill be? I thought the limits were two pounds eighteen.'
'Oh! I take all that on myself.'
'We shall see,' said Mr. Holdsworth, not gratefully. 'Was Origen sent home in time for you to bring?'
'There!' cried Louis, starting, 'Origen is lying on the very chair where I put him last January. I will write to Jem Frost to-morrow to send him to the binder.'
'Is it of any use to ask for the music?'
'I assure you, Mr. Holdsworth, I am very sorry. I'll write at once to Frost.'
'Then I am afraid the parish will not be reformed as you promised last Christmas,' said the Vicar, turning, with a smile, to Mrs. Frost. 'We were to be civilized by weekly concerts in the school.'
'What were you to play, Louis?' said Mrs. Frost, laughing.
'I was to imitate all the birds in the air at once,' said Louis, beginning to chirp like a melee of sparrows, turning it into the croak of a raven, and breaking off suddenly with, 'I beg your pardon—I forgot it was Sunday! Indeed, Mr. Holdsworth, I can say no more than that I was a wretch not to remember. Next time I'll write it all down in the top of my hat, with a pathetic entreaty that if my hat be stolen, the thief shall fulfil the commissions, and punctually send in the bill to the Rev. W. B. Holdsworth!'
'I shall hardly run the risk,' said Mr. Holdsworth, smiling, as he parted with them, and disappeared within his clipped yew hedges.
'Poor, ill-used Mr. Holdsworth!' cried Aunt Catharine.
'Yes, it was base to forget the binding of that book,' said Louis, gravely. 'I wish I knew what amends to make.'
'You owe amends far more for making a present of a commission. I used to do the like, to save myself trouble, till I came down in the world, and then I found it had been a mere air de grand seigneur.'
'I should not dare to serve you or Jem so; but I thought the school was impersonal, and could receive a favour.'
'It is no favour, unless you clearly define where the commission ended and the gift began. Careless benefits oblige no one.'
Fitzjocelyn received his aunt's scoldings very prettily. His manner to her was a becoming mixture of the chivalrous, the filial, and the playful. Mary watched it as a new and pretty picture. All his confidence, too, seemed to be hers; but who could help pouring out his heart to the ever-indulgent, sympathizing Aunt Catharine? It was evidently the greatest treat to him to have her for his guest, and his attention to her extended even to the reading a sermon to her in the evening, to spare her eyes; a measure so entirely after Aunt Melicent's heart, that Mary decided that even she would not think her cousin so hopelessly fashionable.
Goodnatured he was, without doubt; for as the three ladies were sitting down to a sociable morning of work and reading aloud, he came in to say he was going to see after Tom Madison, and to ask if there were any commands for Northwold, with his checked shooting-jacket pockets so puffed out that his aunt began patting and inquiring. 'Provisions for the House Beautiful,' he said, as forth came on the one side a long rough brown yam. 'I saw it at a shop in London,' he said, 'and thought the Faithfull sisters would like to be reminded of their West Indian feasts.' And, 'to make the balance true,' he had in the other pocket a lambswool shawl of gorgeous dyes, with wools to make the like, and the receipt, in what he called 'female algebra,' the long knitting-pins under his arm like a riding-whip. He explained that he thought it would be a winter's work for Miss Salome to imitate it, and that she would succour half-a-dozen families with the proceeds; and Mrs. Ponsonby was pleased to hear him speak so affectionately of the two old maiden sisters. They were the nieces of an old gentleman to whom the central and handsomest house of Dynevor Terrace had been let. He had an annuity which had died with him, and they inherited very little but the furniture with which they had lived on in the same house, in hopes of lodgers, and paying rent to Mrs. Frost when they had any. There was a close friendship and perfect understanding between her and them, and, as she truly assured them, full and constant rent could hardly have done her as much good as their neighbourhood. Miss Mercy was the Sister of Charity of all Northwold; Miss Salome, who was confined to her chair by a complaint in her knee, knitted and made fancy-works, the sale of which furnished funds for her charities. She was highly educated, and had a great knowledge of natural history. Fitzjocelyn had given their abode the name of the House Beautiful, as being redolent of the essence of the Pilgrim's Progress; and the title was so fully accepted by their friends, that the very postman would soon know it. He lingered, discoursing on this topic, while Mary repacked his parcels, and his aunt gave him a message to Jane Beckett, to send the carpenter to No. 5 before Mary's visit of inspection; but she prophesied that he would forget; and, in fact, it was no good augury that he left the knitting-pins behind him on the table, and Mary was only just in time to catch him with them at the front door.
'Thank you, Mary—you are the universal memory,' he said. 'What rest you must give my father's methodical spirit! I saw you pile up all those Blackwoods of mine this morning, just as he was going to fall upon them.'
'If you saw it, I should have expected you to do it yourself,' said Mary, in her quaint downright manner.
'Never expect me to do what is expected,' answered he.
'Do you do that because it is not expected?' said Mary, feeling almost as if he were beyond the pale of reason, as she saw him adjusting a plant of groundsel in his cap.
'It is for the dicky-bird at my aunt's. There's no lack of it at the Terrace; but it is an old habit, and there always was an illusion that Ormersfield groundsel is a superior article.'
'I suppose that is why you grow go much.'
'Are you a gardener? Some day we will go to work, clear the place, and separate the botanical from the intrusive!'
'I should like it, of all things!'
'I'll send the horse round to the stable, and begin at once!' exclaimed Louis, all eagerness; but Mary demurred, as she had promised to read to her mother and aunt some of their old favourites, Madame de Sevigne's letters, and his attention flew off to his restless steed, which he wanted her to admire.
'My Yeomanry charger,' he said. 'We turn out five troopers. I hope you will be here when we go out, for going round to Northwold brought me into a direful scrape when I went to exhibit myself to the dear old Terrace world. My father said it was an unworthy ambition. What would he have thought, if he had seen Jane stroking me down with the brush on the plea of dust, but really on the principle of stroking a dog! Good old Jane! Have you seen her yet? Has she talked to you about Master Oliver?'
The horse became so impatient, that Mary had no time for more than a monosyllable, before Louis was obliged to mount and ride off; and he was seen no more till just before dinner, when, with a shade of French malice, Mrs. Frost inquired about Jane and the carpenter: she had seen the cap, still decorated with groundsel, lying in the hall, and had a shrewd suspicion, but the answer went beyond her expectations—'Ah!' he said, 'it is all the effect of the Norman mania!'
'What have you been doing? What is the matter?' she cried, alarmed.
'The matter is not with me, but with the magistrates.'
'My dear Louis, don't look so very wise and capable, or I shall think it a very bad scrape indeed! Pray tell me what you have been about.'
'You know Sir Gilbert Brewster and Mr. Shoreland are rabid about the little brook between their estates, of which each wishes to arrogate to himself the exclusive fishing. Their keepers watch like the Austrian guard on the Danube, in a life of perpetual assault and battery. Last Saturday, March 3rd, 1847, one Benjamin Hodgekin, aged fifteen, had the misfortune to wash his feet in the debateable water; the belligerent powers made common cause, and haled the wretch before the Petty Sessions. His mother met me. She lived in service here till she married a man at Marksedge, now dead. This poor boy is an admirable son, the main stay of the family, who must starve if he were imprisoned, and she declared, with tears in her eyes, that she could not bear for a child of hers to be sent to gaol, and begged me to speak to the gentlemen.' He started up with kindling eyes and vehement manner. 'I went to the Justice-room!'
'My dear! with the groundsel?'
'And the knitting-needles!'
On rushed the narration, unheeding trifles. 'There was the array: Mr. Calcott in the chair, and old Freeman, and Captain Shaw, and fat Sir Gilbert, and all the rest, met to condemn this wretched widow's son for washing his feet in a gutter!'
'Pray what said the indictment?' asked Mrs. Ponsonby.
'Oh, that he had killed an infant trout of the value of three farthings! Three giant keepers made oath to it, but I had his own mother's word that he was washing his feet!'
No one could help laughing, but Fitzjocelyn was far past perceiving any such thing. 'Urge what I would, they fined him. I talked to old Brewster! I appealed to his generosity, if there be room for generosity about a trout no bigger than a gudgeon! I talked to Mr. Calcott, who, I thought, had more sense, but Justice Shallow would have been more practicable! No one took a rational view but Ramsbotham of the factory, a very sensible man, with excellent feeling. When it is recorded in history, who will believe that seven moral, well-meaning men agreed in condemning a poor lad of fifteen to a fine of five shillings, costs three-and-sixpence—a sum he could no more pay than I the National Debt, and with the alternative of three months' imprisonment, branding and contaminating for life, and destroying all self-respect? I paid the fine, so there is one act of destruction the less on the heads of the English squirearchy.'