Herb of Grace
ROSA NOUCHETTE CAREY
Author of "Mollie's Prince," "No Friend Like a Sister," "Rue With a Difference," etc.
A. L. HURT COMPANY
PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
I INTRODUCES A LOVER OF THE PICTURESQUE II FALLEN AMONG THIEVES III A PAGE OF ANCIENT HISTORY IV ANNA V MRS. HERRICK OBJECTS TO BOHEMIA VI YEA-VERILY AND BABS VII MORE ANCIENT HISTORY WITH VERITY VIII THE RECORD OF AN IMPOTENT GENIUS IX THE WOOD HOUSE X WHAT THE FERN-OWL HEARD XI "A LITTLE EGOTISTICAL, PERHAPS" XII MR. CARLYON'S TEA-PARTY XIII THE CROW'S NEST XIV "YOU DO SAY SUCH ODD THINGS" XV "BETTY IS A TRUMP!" XVI "IT REALLY IS A GOOD IDEA, DIE" XVII "ADIEU—Au REVOIR" XVIII "YES, SHE GAVE HIM UP" XIX "A TOUCH OF THE TARTAR" XX A WHITE SUN-BONNET XXI "IF I WERE ONLY LIKE YOU" XXII "TWO MAIDEN LADIES OF UNCERTAIN AGE" XXIII SAINT ELIZABETH! XXIV DOWN BY THE POOL XXV "IT HAS GONE VERY DEEP" XXVI "I SEE LIGHT NOW" XXVII HUGH ROSSITER SPINS HIS YARN XXVIII "THE LADY CALLING HERSELF MISS JACOBI" XXIX "SHE IS A WICKED WOMAN" XXX IN KENSINGTON GARDENS XXXI PLOT AND COUNTERPLOT XXXII STORM AND STRESS XXXIII "HE WILL COME RIGHT" XXXIV TRAVELLING THROUGH SAHARA XXXV VIA DOLOROSA XXXVI "I HAVE BEEN A COWARD" XXXVII THE PARTING OF THE WAYS XXXVIII TANGLED THREADS XXXIX THE NEW CURATE-IN-CHARGE XL "HE IS MY RIVAL STILL" XLI "YOU CAN BE DINAH'S FRIEND" XLII THE WHIRLIGIG OF TIME XLIII A MAY AFTERNOON XLIV "MY DEAREST REST"
HERB OF GRACE
INTRODUCES A LOVER OF THE PICTURESQUE
Our adventures hover round us like bees round the hive when preparing to swarm.—MAETERLINCK.
From boyhood Malcolm Herrick had been a lover of the picturesque. In secret he prided himself on possessing the artistic faculty, and yet, except in the nursery, he had never drawn a line, or later on spoilt canvas and daubed himself in oils under the idea that he was an embryo Millais or Turner. But nevertheless he had the seeing eye, and could find beauty where more prosaic people could only see barrenness: a stubble field newly turned up by the plough moved him to admiration, while a Surrey lane, with a gate swinging back on its hinges, and a bowed old man carrying faggots, in the smoky light of an October evening, gave him a feeling akin to ecstasy. More than one of his school-fellows remembered how, even in the cricket field, he would stand as though transfixed, looking at the storm clouds, with their steely edges, coming up behind the copse, but the palms of his hands were outstretched and he never failed to catch the ball.
"Nature intended me for an artist or a poet," Malcolm would say, for he was given at times to a hard, merciless introspection, when he took himself and his motives to pieces, "but circumstances have called me to the bar. To be sure I have never held a brief, and my tastes are purely literary, but all the same I am a member of the legal profession."
Malcolm Herrick used his Englishman's right of grumbling to a large extent; with a sort of bitter and acrid humility, he would accuse himself of having missed his vocation and his rightful heritage, of being neither "fish, flesh, nor good red herring;" nevertheless his post for the last two years had pleased him well: he was connected with a certain large literary society which gave his legal wits plenty of scope. In his leisure hours he wrote moderately well-expressed papers on all sorts of social subjects with a pithy raciness and command of language that excited a good deal of comment.
Herrick was a clever fellow, people said; "he would make his mark when he was older, and had got rid of his cranks;" but all the same he was not understood by the youth of his generation. "The Fossil," as they called him at Lincoln, was hardly modern enough for their taste; he was a survival of the mediaeval age—he took life too gravely, and gave himself the airs of a patriarch.
In person he was a thin spare man, somewhat sallow, and with dark melancholy eyes that were full of intelligence. When he smiled, which he did more rarely than most people, he looked at least ten years younger.
In reality he was nearly thirty, but he never measured his age by years. "I have not had my innings yet," he would say; "I am going to renew my youth presently; I mean to have my harvest of good things like other fellows, and eat, drink, and be merry;" but from all appearance the time had not come yet.
Malcolm Herrick's chambers were in Lincoln's Inn. Thither he was turning his footsteps one sultry July afternoon, when as usual he paused at a certain point, while a smile of pleasure stole to his lips.
Familiarity had not yet dulled the edge of his enjoyment; now, as ever, it soothed and tranquillised him to turn from the noisy crowded streets into this quiet spot with its gray old buildings, its patch of grass, and the broad wide steps up and down which men, hurrying silently, passed and repassed intent on the day's work.
As usual at this hour, the flagged court was crowded by pigeons, strutting fearlessly between the feet of the passers-by, and filling the air with their soft cooing voices.
"Ah, my friend the cobbler," he said to himself, and he moved a little nearer to watch the pretty sight. A child's perambulator—a very shabby, rickety concern—had been pushed against the fence, and its occupant, a girl, evidently a cripple, was throwing corn to the eager winged creatures. Two or three, more fearless than the others, had flown on to the perambulator and were pecking out of the child's hands. Presently she caught one and hugged it to her thin little bosom. "Oh dad, look here—oh daddy, see, its dear little head is all green and purple. I want to kiss it—I do—I love it so."
"Better put it down, Kit—the poor thing is scared," returned the man, and the child reluctantly let it fly. It made straight for the distant roofs behind them, but the rest of the pigeons still strutted and pecked round the perambulator with tiny mincing steps, like court ladies practising the minuet. Malcolm looked on with unabated relish—the homely idyll always charmed him.
He had never spoken to the crippled child or her father, although they had often crossed his path at this hour; nevertheless he regarded them as old friends.
More than once he had made up his mind to accost them, but he was reserved by nature and it cost him an effort to take the initiative. In his case silence was always golden; in his own cynical language, he refused to tout for a cheap popularity by saying pleasant things to strangers.
They were not an attractive pair. The cobbler was a thin meagre little man, with a round back, bow-legs, a sharp pinched face, and pale blue eyes that seemed to look dejectedly at life.
The child was the image of her father, only in her case the defects were more accentuated: her face was still more pinched, and absolutely colourless, and the large blue-gray eyes were out of proportion to the other features. A fringe of red hair, curled very stiffly, and set round the small face like a large frill, gave her a curiously weird look. Some woman's hand must have curled it and tied the wide limp bows of her sunbonnet under the sharp little chin.
Neither of them seemed to notice Malcolm Herrick's scrutiny, they were so absorbed by the pigeons; but the scanty supply of corn had soon been scattered, and the guests were flying off by twos and threes.
"Oh see, dad!" exclaimed the child in her shrill little voice. "Oh, my! ain't it heavenly to cut capers like that in the air; it is like the merry-go-rounds at the fair," and then Kit clapped her hands as another pretty creature rose softly and fluttered away in the distance.
The air had been growing more sultry and oppressive every moment; a heavy storm was evidently gathering—already a few heat-drops had fallen. Malcolm was a man who noticed details; he perceived at once that the ragged cover of the perambulator offered a flimsy and insufficient protection. Then he glanced at the umbrella in his hand; it was a dandified article, with a handsomely carved handle.
The two voices that usually wrangled within his breast for the mastery made themselves heard.
"It is perfectly impossible for you to offer the umbrella that Anna gave you to that brat," murmured common-sense; "very likely her father would pawn it for gin."
"But the child looks ill," remonstrated impulse. "Anna would be sure to think of the poor mite first." But it was doubtful which voice would have prevailed but for a chance word.
"Oh, dad, there is a big drop—it quite splashed my face. Ma'am said the rain would drown us." Then the man, whose wits had been wool-gathering, looked up in alarm, and began fumbling with Kit's shawl.
"Dear sakes," he muttered, "who would have thought it! But it is just my luck. You will be drenched before I get you in, Kit, and Ma'am will scold us for the rest of the day."
"Will you take this umbrella for the child, my good man?" observed Malcolm pleasantly. "I am close to my chambers. You can let me have it back to-morrow morning." Then, as the man regarded him in dazed astonishment, he gave him his address. "Perhaps you may as well let me know your name," he continued.
"Caleb Martin, sir," replied the cobbler; "and we live in Todmorden's Lane, leading out of Beauchamp Street. It is Mr. Bennet's the bootmaker, and I works for him and lives in the basement, 'long of wife and Kit."
"Beauchamp Street—oh yes, I know. Then you had better get the child home." He nodded and smiled at Kit as he moved away.
Caleb gazed after him with open mouth and pale eyes full of speechless gratitude; but Kit had unfurled the umbrella proudly, and sat like a queen in a silken tent.
"Ain't he a gentleman!" she exclaimed with a joyous chuckle; "seems to me the angels must be his sort. Wasn't he just splendid, dad!" But Caleb, who was trundling the perambulator down a side street, only shook his head in silence.
Malcolm felt a warm glow of exhilaration, which secretly moved him to astonishment, as he ran lightly up the long bare flights of stairs to his chambers. "A mere trifle like that," he said to himself contemptuously, as he entered the outer room, where a small and exceedingly sharp office boy, rejoicing in the euphonious name of Malachi Murphy, beguiled the tedium of the waiting hours by cutting the initials of his family on the legs of the table.
When Malcolm wanted to amuse a friendly visitor, he would question Malachi blandly and innocently on his brothers' and sisters' names.
"You are all minor prophets," he would say carelessly. "I think Mr. So-and-So would be interested to hear how you came by these names." And thus encouraged, Malachi would twist his face knowingly, until it resembled a gargoyle rather than a human face, and start away as though he had been wound up afresh.
"Well, it was like this, sir. Father was just reading Hosea on Sunday evening, when mother took bad, and so they made up their minds that they would call my eldest brother Hosea; the next one was Joel, because father liked the name; and by-and-by mother put in her word for Amos. Obadiah only lived five weeks; and the next was a girl, and they called her Micah. Father wouldn't have none of us christened Jonah, because he said he was real mean; but we had Nahum, and Habakkuk Zephaniah and Haggai Zechariah; and when my time came there was nothing left but Malachi, and father said we had better finish the job: and so Malachi I was. It is a blessing," continued Malachi frankly, "that Habakkuk Zephaniah and Haggai Zechariah died when they were babies; for none of us would have known what to call them; as it is, I am mostly called Mealy Murphy down my way."
"There's a gentleman waiting to see you, sir," observed Malachi, dropping his clasp knife dexterously into the waste-paper basket. "Wouldn't give his name. Seems in a mighty hurry by the way he has been walking all over the shop," he continued, sotto voce, as he dipped his pen into the ink again. "I wonder what the governor would say if he had heard him whistling like a penny steamer and playing old Sallie with the pen-wipers and sealing-wax. A lively sort of bloke as ever I see."
Malcolm walked rapidly to the door and opened it; as he did so, a look of surprise and pleasure crossed his face at the sight of a handsome, fair-haired youth, lying back on his easy-chair, with his feet resting on a pile of ledgers.
"Hallo, Cedric!" he exclaimed in a cordial tone. "What on earth has brought you up to town on the hottest day of the year? No, stay where you are," as his visitor attempted to rise, and Malcolm put his hands lightly on the boy's shoulders, pressing him gently back against the cushions. "I never sit there myself unless I am lazy."
"All right, old chap," returned the other easily. "I didn't want to move; only manners maketh man—I always was the pink of courtesy and politeness, don't you know. Ask old Dinah, and she will tell you."
"Oh yes, we all know that," returned Malcolm drily. "Now, will you answer my question—what brings you up to Lincoln's Inn in this unexpected manner?"
"Keep cool, old fellow, and take a seat, and I will tell you," returned the lad in a patronising tone. "You see I am staying at Teddington. Fred Courtenay was spliced yesterday, and I had promised to be at the show."
"Oh, I forgot Courtenay was to be married yesterday," muttered Malcolm.
"It went off all right," continued Cedric. "No one forbade the banns, and the happy couple drove away with half-a-dozen satin slippers reposing on the roof of the carriage. But now the business is over, it is a trifle dull. Fred's sisters are all in the schoolroom, you know, so I told Mrs. Courtenay that I had a pressing engagement in town."
"Oh, I begin to see light."
"I did some shopping in the Strand, and then I thought I would look you up in your grimy old diggings. My word, we are going to have a storm, Herrick," as a flash of lightning lit up the dark room.
"Yes, but it will soon be over, and you are in no hurry to catch your train."
"No, you are right there. The house is all in a muddle from the wedding, and we are to have a sort of nondescript meal at eight. Herrick, old fellow, I want you to put me up for a couple of nights. You are coming down to Staplegrove on Tuesday, so I told Dinah that we might as well travel together."
"Does your sister really expect me?" asked Malcolm dubiously. "My dear boy," as Cedric grew rather red and pulled his budding moustache in an affronted manner, "I know you were good enough to invite me, but I understood from you that your sisters were the owners of the Wood House, and as I have not yet made their acquaintance—"
"Hang it all, Herrick, I suppose a fellow can see his friends sometimes, even if he is dependent on his sisters," and Cedric's tone was decidedly sulky. "Besides, Dinah sent you a message—she and Elizabeth will be delighted to see you, and all that sort of thing, and they hoped you would stay as long as possible."
"I am glad you told me that," returned Malcolm, with a relieved air. In reality he had been secretly much embarrassed by Cedric's invitation. "You know, my dear fellow, how pleased I am to be introduced to your people, and it is most kind of Miss Templeton to send me that message."
"Oh, Dinah is a good old sort," returned the lad carelessly. The cloud had vanished from his face. "Well, Herrick, what do you say about putting me up? There are two or three things I want to do in town, and it is a bore staying on at the Briars now old Fred has gone."
"When do you want to come to me?" asked Malcolm. "I am to sleep at Queen's Gate the next two nights, and I have promised to take Miss Sheldon out to-morrow. She is my mother's adopted daughter, you know—Anna Sheldon. I have often mentioned her to you."
Then Cedric nodded.
"I shall be back at Chelsea on Friday, if you like to come to me then; but the guest-chamber is remarkably small—at present it holds all my lumber and little else." But as Cedric professed himself indifferent on the subject of his own comfort—an assertion that drew a covert smile from his friend's lips—the matter was soon settled.
An animated conversation ensued, consisting mainly of a disjointed monologue on Cedric's part; for Malcolm Herrick only contributed a laconic remark or question at intervals, but there was a kindly gleam in his eyes as he listened, as though the fair, closely-cropped head lying back on the shabby cushion, with the eager bright young face, was a goodly spectacle.
At first sight the friendship between these two men seemed singularly ill-assorted; for what possible affinity could there be between a thoughtful, intellectual man like Malcolm Herrick, with his habitual reserve, his nature refined, critical, and yet imaginative, with its strong bias to pessimism, and its intolerance of all shams, and Cedric, with his facile, pleasure-loving temperament, at once indolent and mercurial—a creature of moods and tenses, as fiery as a Welshman, but full of lovable and generous impulses?
The disparity between their ages also seemed to forbid anything like equality of sympathy. Malcolm was at least eight or nine years older, and at times he seemed middle-aged in Cedric's eyes. "He is such a regular old fossil," he would say—"such a cut and dried specimen of humanity, that it is impossible to keep in touch with him; it stands to reason that we must clash a bit; but there, in spite of his cranks, Herrick is a good fellow." But, notwithstanding this faint praise, the inhabitants of the Wood House knew well that there was no one whom Cedric valued more than his friend Malcolm Herrick.
FALLEN AMONG THIEVES
Why insist on rash personal relations with your friend? Why go to his house, or know his mother and brother and sisters? Why be visited by him at your own? Are these things material to our covenant? Leave this touching and clawing. Let him be to me a spirit.—EMERSON.
Malcolm Herrick was a devout disciple of Emerson. He always spoke of him as one of the master minds that dominated humanity. "He is the chosen Gamaliel at whose feet I could sit for ever," he would say; "on every subject he speaks well and wisely;" and once, when he was strolling through Kensington Gardens with his sister-friend, Anna Sheldon, he had electrified her by quoting a favourite passage from his essay on friendship.
"Friendship requires that rare mean betwixt likeness and unlikeness that piques each with the presence of power and of consent in the other party. Let me be alone to the end of the world, rather than that my friend should overstep, by a word or look, his real sympathy. I am equally baulked by antagonism and by compliance. Let him not cease an instant to be himself.... Better be a nettle in the side of your friend than his echo."
Malcolm had uttered the last sentence in rather a tragic tone, but he was somewhat offended when the girl laughed. "What an odd idea!" she observed innocently. "I should strongly object to anything so stinging as a nettle; perhaps it is because I am a woman that I should prefer the echo;" but Malcolm, who had received a douche of cold water from this feminine criticism, declined to be drawn into a discussion on the subject.
"Women are so illogical," he muttered angrily, and Anna's heaven of content was suddenly clouded. Malcolm's approval was vitally necessary to her happiness—a chilling word from him had power to spoil the fairest landscape and blot out the sunshine; nevertheless she took her rebuff meekly and without retort.
A mere chance, an accident in the destinies of both men, had brought about this acquaintance between Malcolm Herrick and Cedric Templeton. The vice-president of Magdalene was an old friend of the Herrick family, and was indeed distantly related to Mrs. Herrick; and after Malcolm had taken his degree and left Lincoln, he often spent a week or two with Dr. Medcalf. He was an old bachelor, and one of the most sociable of men, and his rooms were the envy of his friends. Malcolm was a great favourite with him, and was always welcome when he could spare time to run down for a brief visit.
About two years before, he was spending a few days with his friend, when one evening as he was strolling down Addison's Walk in the gloaming, his attention was attracted by a young undergraduate. He was seated on a bench with his head in his hands; but at the sound of passing footsteps he moved slightly, and Malcolm caught sight of a white boyish face and haggard eyes that looked at him a little wildly; then he covered his face again. Malcolm walked on a few steps; his kind heart was shocked at the lad's evident misery, but to his reserved nature it was never easy to make the first advance; indeed, he often remarked that he had rather a fellow-feeling with the Levite who passed by on the other side.
"I daresay he was sorry for the poor traveller in his heart," he observed, "but it takes a deal of moral courage to be a Good Samaritan; it is not easy for a shy man, for example, to render first aid to a poor chap with a fractured limb in the middle of a crowd of sympathising bystanders—one's self-consciousness and British hatred of a scene seem to choke one off."
So, true to his diffident nature, Malcolm walked to the other end of Addison's Walk; then something seemed to drag at him, and he retraced his steps slowly and reluctantly; finally, as though constrained by some unseen power that overmastered his reserve, he sat down on the bench and touched the youth lightly on the arm.
"You are in trouble, I fear; is there anything I can do to help you?"
The words were simple almost to bluntness, but they were none the worse for that, for they rang true from a good heart.
Malcolm's voice was pleasant; when he chose, it could be both winning and persuasive; to the lad sitting there in the Egyptian darkness of a terrifying despair, it sounded honey-sweet. He put out a hot hand to his new friend, and then broke into a fit of tears and sobs. "Oh, can you help me?" he gasped out. "I wanted to drown or hang myself, sooner than disgrace them; only I thought of Dinah and I couldn't do it;" and then as he grew calmer a little judicious questioning and a few more kind words brought out the whole story.
He had fallen into bad hands; two or three men older and richer than himself had got hold of him for their own purposes, and had led him into mischief. The culminating misfortune had happened the previous evening, when they had induced him to play at cards; the stakes were high, though the boy was too much fuddled by champagne to guess that.
"They made me drunk, sir," groaned Cedric; "and there was a professional sharper there—Wright has just told me so—and he will not let me off. If they found out things at headquarters I should be rusticated, and I am only in my first term. The Proctor has vowed to make an example of the next fellow caught gambling, and they say he always keeps his word."
"How much do you owe?" asked Malcolm; and when Cedric in a low voice mentioned the sum, Malcolm gave a whistle of dismay. No wonder he was in despair.
"If I had not drunk too much, I should have stopped playing when I saw I was losing," went on Cedric in a contrite tone; "but they plied me with liquor, and I got reckless, and then I knew no more till I found myself in bed with my clothes on."
Cedric was not shirking the truth certainly. The young prodigal already realised the nature of the husks given to him; he was so low and abject in his abasement that a word of rebuke would have seemed cruel. One thing was certain, that matters were serious—gambling and drunkenness were no light offences.
Malcolm had already been put into possession of the youth's domestic history. His name was Cedric Templeton; his parents were dead, and he was dependent on his half-sisters; his father had had heavy losses, and Cedric's inheritance had been small. The first Mrs. Templeton had brought her husband great wealth, but the money had been settled on the daughters. Mr. Templeton's second wife was a penniless girl. She had died two or three years after Cedric's birth, and Dinah, the elder sister, had mothered him.
"You must put a good face on it and write to your sister," continued Malcolm. "If you take my advice, Templeton, you will keep nothing back—' the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth'—and hang the consequences." Malcolm finished his sentence with a touch of impatience, for the boy's scared face almost frightened him.
"No, no, no!" returned Cedric vehemently. "I would sooner drown myself a hundred times over. Look here," plucking at Malcolm's coat-sleeve with his feverish, restless hand, "you don't understand—you don't know Dinah; she would break her heart, and Elizabeth too. They are such good women, they don't allow for a fellow's temptation; and—and I have broken my word."
"How do you mean, my dear lad?"
"I gave them my sacred promise not to play for money. I don't know why Dinah was always so afraid of that. They never thought of the other thing," and Cedric hung his head in shame—"they would not believe it was possible; it was always debt and not paying one's bills that Dinah feared."
"Your sister was right, Templeton," returned Malcolm somewhat sternly. "Wait a moment, I must think over things and see what is to be done;" and then he rose from the bench and paced slowly up and down. "A hundred and twenty pounds lost in a single night to a professional card-sharper," he thought. "The rogues ought to be shown up, only this would involve the end of the lad's university career." Malcolm knew the Proctor well—not even a first offence would receive a merciful verdict.
If only the boy would throw himself upon his sisters' compassion—women were so soft-hearted and forgave so easily. But Cedric had refused this; he had even used strong language when his adviser pressed it.
"Obstinate young beggar," he growled; "it would serve him right to let him get out of the mess by himself;" and then he relented from his severity, and rapidly added up some sums in his head. The result of his calculation was satisfactory. He had just that amount lying idle at his banker's. His mother made him a liberal allowance, and he was beginning to turn an honest penny by literary work. At that time he was still an occupant of his mother's house, so his expenses were not great.
"Yes, I will risk it," he thought, with one of those sudden impulses that took other people as well as himself by surprise, and then he walked quickly up to Cedric.
"Look here, Templeton," he exclaimed, "I have made up my mind to go bail for the whole amount. It is too late now to do anything, but to-morrow I will see those fellows and give them a bit of my mind. Your friend the card-sharper will have to make tracks. Anyhow, I will pay up."
"Good heavens, Mr. Herrick, you don't mean—you don't mean;" but here Cedric could not utter a word more, for his voice was choked with sobs. Malcolm could just gather a few incoherent expressions—"benefactor"—"God bless him"—"eternal gratitude," or some such phrases.
"Tut, nonsense," returned Malcolm testily; but his eyes were not quite clear, and he laid a kindly hand on the boy's shoulder. "I want no thanks, only you must promise me, on your word as an English gentleman, never to play for money as long as you are here."
"I promise—I will vow if you like—there is nothing—nothing that I would not promise you. Mr. Herrick, you have saved me from disgrace, and Dinah from a broken heart."
"No, please let me say one thing more. It is a loan—of course I understand that; it may be years before I pay it back, but if I live it shall be paid back, every penny."
"Oh, we can talk about that in the future," returned Malcolm quickly. He had little hope that Cedric would ever be able to repay him.
"It shall be paid," replied the lad firmly. "My sisters are very good to me—and I have more than I need;" and Malcolm's good sense and knowledge of human nature made him hold his tongue.
It would be a pity to damp the lad's good resolution, and probably the small sacrifices and petty self-denials necessary to the settlement of the debt would be valuable training, and help to make a man of him; so he said nothing further on the subject, and a few minutes later they parted.
Malcolm kept his promise, and before the next day was over he had paid Cedric's debt of honour, with a stern word of caution to his tempters that turned them chill with dismay.
From this day Cedric attached himself to his benefactor with a dog-like fidelity and devotion that secretly touched Malcolm. During the latter's brief visits to Oxford they were seldom apart; and in spite of the disparity between their ages, and the marked difference in their tastes, a warm mutual attachment sprang up between the two. Malcolm was soon put in possession of Cedric's history and manner of life from his boyhood; he listened to copious anecdotes of his home and school-days.
He was soon made aware of Cedric's crowning ambition to take part in the Oxford and Cambridge race, and that this honour was the dream and purpose of his life.
His other purpose, to compete for the Civil Service Examination at the close of his university life, seemed relegated to the background and scarcely entered into his thoughts at all; and though Malcolm dropped a warning word from time to time, he dared not put too much pressure on the lad, for he recognised intuitively how body and mind were developing under an athlete's training. Cedric's fame as an oarsman soon reached the ears of authority, and at the time of his visit to Lincoln's Inn it was already a foregone conclusion that his name would be entered for the next race.
They talked of this for some time; and then, as the storm still raged, Malcolm handed his visitor his own copy of the Times, and sat down to answer one or two pressing letters. As soon as these were finished and Malachi had received his instructions for the next day, he tilted his chair back from the table and disposed himself comfortably for further talk.
But first there was a little dumb-show on Cedric's part; for he drew from his breast-pocket a Russian leather cigarette-case and held it out with a significant smile. But Malcolm waved it away.
"Avaunt, Satanus," he said with dignity. "Are you aware, my dear fellow, that you are in a place of business—a venerable institution sacred to the Muses—and that I have to live up to my reputation?"
"Oh, I thought you were boss of the whole concern," returned Cedric in a discomfited tone. "You are pretty safe from visitors on such an afternoon."
"Even if there are no clients, we have a minor prophet always on hand," replied Malcolm.
Then Cedric laughed.
"Mealy Murphy! Oh my prophetic soul, I forgot the youthful Malachi. I say, Herrick, I was just thinking, as you were writing just now, how odd it seems that I have known you just two years, and you have never been near the Wood House yet."
"It has not been for want of invitations," returned his friend with a smile. "Don't you remember that when you first kindly asked me I had arranged to take my mother abroad, and the next time I was going to Scotland with a friend?"
"Oh yes, and the third time you were moving into your new diggings in Cheyne Walk." Cedric spoke with a touch of impatience.
"But we have often met at Oxford," observed Malcolm smilingly. And then he coloured slightly and continued in an embarrassed voice, "I am afraid, my dear fellow, that you have rather wondered that you have not been invited to No. 27 Queen's Gate; but, as I once explained to you, the house belongs to my mother."
"Just as the Wood House belongs to Dinah and Elizabeth," returned Cedric.
"Ah, just so; but there is a difference. My mother is not quite like other ladies. Her life, and I may say the greater part of her fortune, are devoted to charitable objects. If I had invited you to stay with us you would have been simply bored to death. Amusement, social obligations, the duties we owe to society, do not belong to my mother's creed at all. If I might borrow a word from a renowned novelist, I would call her 'a charitable grinder,' for she grinds from morning till night at a never-ceasing wheel of committees, meetings, and Heaven knows what besides."
"She reminds me of the immortal Mrs. Jellyby," observed Cedric airily; but Malcolm shook his head.
"No, there is no resemblance. My mother is a clear-headed, practical woman. She manages her house herself, and the domestic machinery goes like clockwork. The servants know their duty and do their work well; and I have heard our old nurse say that one could eat off the floor; but in spite of all this the word 'comfort' does not enter my mother's vocabulary."
"Good gracious! Herrick."
"She has splendid health," continued Malcolm gravely, "and work is a perfect passion with her. She is energy incarnate, and among her fellow-workers she is much respected. Unfortunately she expects her belongings to live up to her standard." Here Malcolm paused.
"You mean Miss Sheldon has to work too?" observed Cedric.
"Yes, I mean that," returned Malcolm slowly. "She is very fond of my mother—they are much attached to each other—but there is no doubt that Anna works too hard. You can see now," he went on hurriedly, "why I thought it better to take rooms for myself. I was not in sympathy with my mother's pursuits; and when I left Oxford I soon began to realise that life was impossible under my mother's roof. The separation was painful to us both, and it nearly broke Anna's heart, but at the present moment I do not think that any of us repents of my action."
"You are all right now, Herrick?"
"Yes, I am all right, as you will see for yourself on Friday. My crib just suits me. I have excellent companionship when I want it, or solitude if I prefer it, and though life at Cheyne Walk is a trifle Bohemian after Queen's Gate, I would not exchange it for a palace."
"I am so glad to hear you say that. But, Herrick, I begin to be afraid, don't you know, that you will find the Wood House slow. Of course I think no end of my sisters; but you see they are not young."
"So I imagine," returned Malcolm, who was secretly disposed to agree with Cedric. Two maiden ladies of uncertain age might be endeared to their brother; but Malcolm, who was rather fastidious on the subject of female beauty, was not over-anxious to cultivate their acquaintance.
"Dinah is much older than Elizabeth," continued Cedric confidentially. "There were two or three brothers and sisters between them, only they died. She is over forty, you know, and Elizabeth is nearly thirty. There is a good bit of difference—only she never makes herself out young. You will be sure to like them," went on the lad eagerly; "they are good women, and just your sort."
"Oh, I daresay we shall get on first-rate," returned Malcolm mendaciously, for he was anything but certain of it. "Hallo, old fellow," interrupting himself, "the storm is over and we can make tracks now." And then they went out together.
As they parted at the Temple station, Cedric pushed a little sealed packet into his friend's hand.
"It is the first instalment," he whispered, growing very red; "don't open it till you get back." But Malcolm's curiosity would not allow him to wait; and when Cedric had disappeared into the station he broke the seal. To his surprise there were fifty pounds in notes and gold, the saving and scrapings of two years.
"Good lad," he murmured approvingly, as he stowed it carefully away in a breast-pocket, and a thrill of pride and pleasure shot through him. Yes, he must keep it, he thought; he could not affront his young manliness and independence by returning it. "It is what I should have done in his case," he said to himself. And then he thought that he would lay out part in buying a keepsake for Anna. There was a little brooch she had much admired, a mere toy of a thing, a tiny quiver full of arrows, studded with small diamonds and tipped with a pearl. The shop where they had noticed it was close by, and he would buy it at once. But as Malcolm hurried off on this kindly errand he little realised what the joy of that possession would be to Anna Sheldon.
A PAGE OF ANCIENT HISTORY
Before we can bring happiness to others, we must first be happy ourselves; nor will happiness abide within us unless we confer it on others.—MAETERLINCK.
During the preceding hour or two Malcolm's face had worn its brightest and most youthful aspect—the society of Cedric had roused him and taken him out of himself; but as he approached the handsome and imposing-looking house where his mother lived, his countenance resumed its normal gravity.
To him it had been a house of bondage, and he had never regarded it as a home; his environment from boyhood had not suited him, and though he loved his mother, and gave her, at least outwardly, the obedience and honour that were due to her, there had not been that sympathy between them that one would have expected from an only son to a widowed mother.
Malcolm's father had died when he was about six years old, but his infant recollections of him were wonderfully vivid. He remembered waking up one night from some childish dream that had frightened him, to see a kind face bending over him, and to feel warm, strong arms lifting him up.
"Never mind, Sonny, father's with you," he heard a cheery voice say.
"Daddy's wid baby," he repeated drowsily, as he nestled down in his father's arms. "Nice, nice daddy," and two hot little hands patted his face.
Then a voice in the distance said, "You are spoiling him, Rupert. Malcolm ought to be a brave boy and not cry on account of a silly dream." Of course it was his mother who spoke; even from his infancy her method of education had been bracing. "Baby isn't a boy, movver," he had once said in extenuation of some childish fault; "movver must not punish Baby."
The memories of early childhood are always vague and hazy; but in the distance, among shifting forms and changing prospects, there was always a big, big figure, with kind eyes and strong arms, looming largely in his recollection.
"If my father had lived, I know we should have been such friends," Malcolm would sigh to himself in his growing youth; and though his mother never suspected it, he often looked at his father's portrait that hung in her dressing-room, until his eyes were full of tears. "If father had lived, I shouldn't have been so lonely and out of it all," he would say as he turned away with a quivering lip.
Mrs. Herrick tried to do her duty by the boy; but she was a busy woman, and had no leisure to devote to his amusement. The long holidays were more pleasant in anticipation to both mother and son than they proved in reality.
In the working hive at 27 Queen's Gate there seemed no place for the restless, growing lad. His mother was always shut up in the library, where she wrote her endless letters and reports and added up her accounts, and Anna was with her governess.
Malcolm would be put in Anderson's charge, the steady, reliable butler and factotum, and introduced to all the sights of London—Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's, the Tower, and the British Museum, the Zoological Gardens, and Madame Tussaud's. Sometimes they went to Kew, or Richmond Park, or took the steamer to Hampton Court. The nearest approach to dissipation was an afternoon spent with the Christy Minstrels. Mrs. Herrick would not hear of the theatre; but once, sad to relate, when Anderson was indisposed, and the footman, a rather feeble-minded young man, had been sent with Malcolm to see a panorama that was considered interesting and instructing, Malcolm, by sundry bribes and many blandishments, had seduced his guardian into accompanying him to Drury Lane, where they sat in the pit, side by side, and watched with breathless interest the never-to-be-forgotten pantomime of "Jack and the Bean Stalk."
"They'll run you in for this, Master Malcolm," Charles had observed ruefully, as they hurried through the dark streets. "If I lose my place it will be all along of you, and it is a good place too, though Mr. Anderson is a bit down on one." But, strange to say, they escaped scot-free. Mrs. Herrick had not returned from a monster meeting at St. James's Hall, and Anderson had retired to bed to nurse his cold. Malcolm confided the whole story of his escapade to Anna, and she had wept with grief and dismay. "Oh, Mally, how wicked of Charles to take you!" she sobbed. "I never did think he looked quite good. Mother would be so angry and unhappy if she knew; she says theatres are not good for young people."
"It is just a crank on mother's part," returned Malcolm loudly; his eyes were bright with excitement. "It was the loveliest thing you ever saw, Anna. The princess was a beauty, and no mistake; even Charles thought so, and he has seen princesses by the score. I am glad I went; the boys won't think me such a duffer when I tell them. Don't shake your head, Anna; you are a girl, and you don't understand how much one has to put up with from the fellows. They call me the Puritan, and ask if I wear pinafores at home. But I stopped that," and here Malcolm doubled up his fists in a singularly suggestive manner.
Malcolm's only sister, a pretty, fair-haired girl, had died of fever when she was eight years old, and for years Mrs. Herrick had felt her loss too deeply to mention her name. "If Florence had lived," she once said rather bitterly to her son, "she would have been my close companion, and we should have thought alike on all points;" but it may be doubted if this maternal dream would ever have been realised.
A mere accident had led to the adoption of Anna Sheldon shortly after Florence's death. She was the orphan child of a young artist in whom Mrs. Herrick had interested herself, and when the broken-hearted wife had followed her husband, Mrs. Herrick had taken the lonely child home.
The kind action had brought its own reward. Anna's gentleness and sweetness of disposition soon won the affection of her adopted mother. She was submissive by nature, and yielded readily to the opinions and wishes of those she loved. Mrs. Herrick's ideas on the subject of education might be bracing and invigorating, but there was nothing oppressive in her rule. Perhaps she understood girls better than boys, for Anna thrived under her system. The old nurse Mrs. Dawson, who still officiated as Mrs. Herrick's personal attendant, taught her needle-work: an excellent governess, who was both judicious and reasonable, presided over the schoolroom and accompanied her in her walks; nor was she entirely without companions, for she attended dancing and deportment classes with the young daughters of their vicar, a much-esteemed guide, philosopher, and friend to the Herrick family.
Until the governess, Miss Greenwood, left them to be married, and Anna grew up to woman's estate, her life was as happy as most girls'. The chief events in it were Malcolm's holidays. Anna looked forward to them for months beforehand, and she always cried herself to sleep the day he left.
She and her adopted mother were the best of friends. Anna regarded Mrs. Herrick as one of the noblest of women, and her dutiful submission and anxiety to please her benefactress secretly surprised Malcolm.
Mrs. Herrick was not a demonstrative woman, but in her own way she was very good to Anna; she encouraged her to call her mother, bought her pretty dresses and ornaments such as girls loved, but there Anna's list of privileges was at an end. It never struck Mrs. Herrick that she had simply no life of her own—that at seventeen or eighteen a girl craves for congenial companionship, pleasant occupation, and a fair amount of amusement.
When Anna was liberated from the schoolroom, she would have liked to go to picture-galleries, attend concerts, and mix with interesting people; in spite of her shyness and gentleness, she had plenty of mind and character, and Malcolm had already cultivated her artistic tastes. One summer, indeed, they had gone abroad, and Malcolm had been with them, and for two months Anna felt they had been in the anteroom of Paradise.
"The summer we spent in Switzerland and in the Austrian Tyrol," were words perpetually on Anna's lips. Poor child, she little guessed, as she built up wonderful castles in the air, that it would be long before she had such a holiday again.
It was an evil moment for Anna when she volunteered to learn typewriting, that she might help her adopted mother; from that day she became the willing slave bound at the chariot wheels of a good-natured despot. No amount of work tired Mrs. Herrick; she had the strength and vitality of ten women. It never entered her head that a growing girl in her teens was liable to flag and grow weary, and so the pretty pink roses that had bloomed among Alpine snows faded out of Anna's cheeks, and the soft brown eyes grew heavy.
Anna never complained; if her back ached and her head was hot and throbbing, Mrs. Herrick never knew it, and she was quite indignant when Malcolm spoke to her of Anna's changed looks.
"She is not strong, and she is doing far too much. Dawson and I both think so." Perhaps he spoke with some degree of bluntness, for Mrs. Herrick responded with unusual irritability.
"I am very much obliged to you and Dawson," she returned rather sarcastically, "for your solicitude on Anna's account, but I believe I am still quite equal to the charge of looking after her."
"Oh, if you take it in that way," retorted Malcolm in an offended voice; and then Mrs. Herrick resumed her smooth manner. She was a good-tempered woman, and seldom indulged in sarcasm; but things had gone wrong that morning, and her young secretary had made several mistakes. Anna had at last been obliged in her own self-defence to own that she had a severe headache.
Mrs. Herrick had just sent her to her own room to lie down, and had rung for Dawson to attend her. She was sadly inconvenienced by this untoward accident, and it was at this inauspicious moment that Malcolm lodged his complaint.
"If these headaches continue I shall ask Dr. Armstrong to look in," she continued tranquilly. "Anna's services are most valuable to me. I almost feel lost without her. It was a good day for me when she threw herself into the work; it makes me regret my dear child less, to feel that Anna sympathises with me so entirely;" and, in spite of himself, Malcolm felt a little touched by these words.
A few weeks later he spoke to Anna; the girl had not recovered her looks, and Nurse Dawson told him privately that she was losing her appetite and getting thin; but Anna's eyes filled with tears at the first words.
"Oh hush, dear Malcolm, please," she said, encircling his wrist with her soft hand; it was a favourite caress with her, and Malcolm used playfully to term it "Anna's handcuff," or the "Sheldon shackles." In spite of their close intimacy as brother and sister, he had never kissed her, but there was entire confidence between them.
"Please, please, Malcolm, do not say any more; it was very wrong of nurse to put these ideas in your head. You know mother spoke to Dr. Armstrong, and he is giving me a tonic; he says I must go out more, so mother is trying to spare me all she can."
"And the headaches are better?" Malcolm looked at her quite sternly as he put the question.
"Yes, I think so—I hope so," rather hesitatingly, for Anna was absolutely truthful. "I still feel rather stupid of an evening; but mother is so good, she lets me go to bed early."
She sighed rather heavily. "I wish I were stronger, Malcolm. Nurse says I have never been robust. I do so love to help mother. I always feel as though I can never do enough to show my gratitude to her. What would have become of me when my parents died if she had not brought me here. We were so dreadfully poor, and had so few friends. Oh Malcolm, think of it," and then she whispered in his ear, "they would have taken me to the workhouse—there was nothing else."
"Nonsense—rubbish," began Malcolm wrathfully; but Anna put her hand upon his lips.
"No, dear, not nonsense. I am telling you the sober truth—mother would endorse it. Do you think I do not owe her a life's service and love for all her dear care of me!"
"If I am tired, I glory in my fatigue, for it is for my adopted mother and her poor that I am working;" and Anna's eyes were very soft and bright. "Malcolm, you have no idea how much happier she is now I share her work. I know she never complained of her loneliness—it is not her way to complain—but she has missed Florence so terribly. We talk of her sometimes, mother and I," continued the girl thoughtfully, "and she tells me what a sweet daughter she would have been, and how we should have been sisters. It is so dear of her never to exclude me, even when she is thinking and talking of Florence. 'If my little girl had lived,' she said once, 'I should have had two daughters.'"
Malcolm had to hold his tongue at last, but he grumbled freely to Nurse Dawson. In her he had a staunch ally; the old woman was devoted to Anna, and by no means sided with her mistress.
"You see it is just this way, Mr. Malcolm, my dear," she said to him once; "the mistress, bless her heart, thinks of nothing but them charitable societies, from morning till night; they are more to her than meat or drink or rest. She is as strong as a horse, and so she is never tired like other folks. Why, my dear, I have known her spend a whole day going from one meeting to another, speechifying and reading reports, and yet when I have gone up to dress her in the evening she has been as fresh as paint. She is made of cast-iron, that's my belief," continued Dawson, who secretly adored her mistress; "but cast-iron is one thing and a fragile blossom like Miss Anna is another, as I made bold to tell my mistress the other day; 'for it stands to reason, ma'am,' I said to her, 'that a young creature like Miss Anna is not seasoned and toughened like a lady of your age, and I never did think much of her constitution.'"
"And what did my mother say to that, Dawson?"
"Well, dearie, she had a deal to say, for I am free to confess that my mistress is never at a loss for words. She argued with me for pretty nigh half an hour—until she made things look so different that I did not know whether I was on my head or my heels."
"She would have it that every one ought to work, old or young, rich or poor; that she loved Miss Anna all the better for so readily offering herself for the work. 'I should have left her free,' she said that, Mr. Malcolm—'no one in my house should be compelled or urged to put their hand to the plough; but when she came to me of her own accord I could have wept with joy.'"
"Did my mother really say that, Dawson?"
"Ay, Mr. Malcolm, she did; and begging your pardon, dearie, you do not half understand my mistress. She is quiet-spoken, and does not show her feelings; but she has a warm heart. I know as well as you do that our poor child is put upon and overworked, but she is the sunshine of my mistress's life; that's what makes things so difficult, for Miss Anna is bent on helping her, and will not listen to a word."
Malcolm soon found he must hold his peace, and very soon his mind was too much absorbed by his own concerns. After a time he got used to Anna's pale cheeks; she had refused to listen to his advice, and must dree her weird.
He had his own battles to fight, and victory was not easily achieved; nevertheless his masculine will prevailed.
It was no hastily considered resolution that determined Malcolm to leave his mother's roof and set up in chambers of his own, neither did he effect his purpose without a good deal of pain; but, as he told Cedric, life at 27 Queen's Gate was becoming impossible to him.
But it was one of the worst moments of his life when he announced his intention to his mother. She listened to his embarrassed explanation silently, and without offering any interruption; but her pleasant, strong-featured face grew set and stern, and when he had finished she looked at him almost solemnly.
"He was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow," she said slowly and sadly, and no word of reproach could have stung him more deeply. It made him angry.
"Mother, you have no right to say that, and to speak as though I were failing in my duty towards you," he returned indignantly; "it is not fair—all my life I have tried to please you, and to carry out your wishes."
"I am not complaining of you, Malcolm," she replied quietly; "your own conscience is accusing you, not your mother. Would you have me suppress the truth or tell you a lie? Do you think any mother could listen unmoved to what you have told me just now—that you intend to leave my roof, that my only son finds his home so uncongenial, and his life here so irksome, that he is forced to quit it?"
"Mother, you are making things worse and worse," returned Malcolm passionately; "you are putting matters in a wrong light. Will you listen to me a moment?"
"Have I ever refused to listen to you, my son?" and a softer and more motherly expression came into the gray eyes.
"No, you have always been kind," he replied; but there was a slight quiver in his voice. "Mother, it is not my fault—at least I hope not—that we think so differently on most subjects. I am nearly eight-and-twenty, and at that age a man is bound to do the best for himself."
"I hoped you would have married before this, Malcolm."
"There is no question of marrying at present," he returned in a constrained voice. "I have not yet seen the woman whom I wish to make my wife."
Then a singular expression crossed Mrs. Herrick's face.
"I am sorry to hear that, Malcolm; I would have willingly given you up to a wife, but life in chambers seems to me so Bohemian."
"It is only an idea," he returned impatiently. "Mother dear, try to believe that I am doing it for the best—for both our sakes. I am not leaving you alone—you have Anna; and in spite of all your kindness to me, I am well aware that I have never been any real help or comfort; if I thought you needed me—that you relied on me for assistance or protection—I would never have carved out this independent life."
"It is the spirit of the age," she returned a little bitterly; "it is the children who make terms, and the parents who have to yield and submit."
"That is an old argument, mother," replied Malcolm wearily; "how often we have gone over that ground, you and I. When our wills have clashed it seems to me the concessions have all been on my side. How many men of my age do you suppose would have yielded to you in the matter of a latch-key? Poor old Anderson has been the chief sufferer, and the victim of your strictness; do you think it has not troubled me to keep him up night after night?"
"Anderson is my servant, and has to do his duty," replied Mrs. Herrick rather stiffly.
"And he has done it," was Malcolm's answer; "he has been perfectly conscientious; if he grumbled a bit now and then, no one could wonder, at his age. Mother, it is no good talking—it is not only the question of the latch-key, I want to have a place where I can be free to lead my own life and see my own friends; there is no room for them here—your busy life is too much crowded up with work to have leisure for society."
"I have never refused to entertain your friends, Malcolm;" and a dull red flush crossed the mother's face, as though this reproach had gone home.
"Possibly not," rather coldly, "I do not think I have ever asked you; but, mother, let us make an end of this. The first break will be painful to all of us, but we shall soon shake down, and then you and Anna will own that it was for the best. When you want me I shall always be at your service. I shall see you every few days—Cheyne Walk and Queen's Gate are not very far apart. As soon as I am settled, you and Anna must come and have tea with me, and I must introduce you to the Kestons. Now, mother dear, say something comforting to a fellow;" and then Mrs. Herrick smiled faintly. She loved her son far too well to hurt him by her reproaches; in her secret heart she strongly disapproved of the step he was taking, but she was a sensible woman, and knew that it was no good crying over spilt milk.
At eight-and-twenty a man may refuse with some show of reason to be attached to his mother's leading-strings, and may also be permitted to strike out new paths for himself. Nevertheless, for many a long day Mrs. Herrick carried a heavy heart, and only her adopted daughter guessed how sorely Malcolm was missed by his mother.
Better to feel a love within Than be lovely to the sight! Better a homely tenderness Than beauty's wild delight! —MACDONALD.
Malcolm often spent a night at Queen's Gate; he made a point of never refusing his mother's invitations, and would even put off an engagement if she needed him. On this occasion he had promised to remain two nights.
A meeting on behalf of a college in Japan, for training; native candidates for holy orders, was to be held at 27 Queen's Gate that evening, and some excellent speakers—women as well as men—had been announced for that occasion. Mrs. Herrick thought the whole subject would appeal to Malcolm, and in this she was not wrong. Hitherto he had fought shy of zenana meetings, barmaid associations, working girls' clubs, open-air spaces, and people's parks, and even cabmen's shelters and drinking fountains.
"They were all good and worthy objects," he had observed to Anna, and he could have tackled them singly, but not when they were piled on ad nauseum. But the Japanese college had been largely discussed in his special circle, and also in the paper of which he was the editor—the Times had even devoted one of its columns to the subject; and Mrs. Herrick had been secretly much gratified by Malcolm's readiness to be present.
"The Bishop will be with us," she said, with an inflexion of pride in her tone; "he is over here just now on account of his wife's health, and has promised to take the chair." Then Malcolm signified his perfect willingness to make his Lordship's acquaintance, and to listen to any amount of speeches; and Mrs. Herrick had gone to her bed that night a happy woman.
Why could not Malcolm be always like that? she thought, and then she sighed gently as she took her Bible in her hand.
It opened of its own accord at Samuel's childhood and Hannah's solemn dedication of her first-born; no passages in the well-read book had been more frequently perused.
Of all the characters of holy writ, this Jewish mother appealed most forcibly to her imagination: the little coat brought year by year to the Temple child, the precious sacrifice and oblation made in gratitude for an answered prayer, the pride and joy of the mother's heart, as she stood in the court of the women and saw her boy ministering in his fair linen ephod, seemed to touch her irresistibly, and in her secret soul she had envied Hannah.
The evening was to be devoted to this important meeting, but the next day Malcolm had promised to take Anna for an outing—it would be her birthday—and already they had made and rejected many plans. Kew, Richmond, Hampton Court, and Henley had all been proposed; but Anna had been indifferent to each. She had been to the Royal Academy more than once, and all the best concerts were over; the weather was too hot for sight-seeing, and in her present state of languor she dreaded fatigue and crowds. "What did the place matter after all," she said to herself, "as long as Malcolm was with her? Her rest and enjoyment were in his society—to sit beside him and listen to his dear voice, and tell him all her little joys and troubles."
The programme was still a blank when Malcolm knocked at his mother's door. Anderson received him with a beaming face. The old man had grown a trifle stiff and rheumatic of late years, but he still kept a sharp eye on his coadjutor—the weak-minded and erring Charles.
"They are not expecting you just yet, Mr. Malcolm," observed Anderson respectfully; "the mistress has a committee in the library, and Miss Anna is in the drawing-room along with Charles and the carpenter, arranging the seats."
"What time do they dine, Anderson?" Malcolm put the question with some indifference—he knew quite well what the answer would be.
"Why, you see, Mr. Malcolm, it is past six now," returned Anderson apologetically, "and the meeting's for eight, and the mistress said there would be no time for dinner as the committee would not break up until seven, so she will have a cup of tea and a sandwich."
"Oh, indeed," returned Malcolm drily. "I suppose Miss Anna and I are to be regaled on the same fare."
"No, sir, I think not. I believe Miss Anna and Dawson have contrived some sort of meal for you in the schoolroom. They have done their best, Mr. Malcolm; but what with committees and deputations and Heaven knows what, my mistress has been driven almost out of her senses. The maids are in the dining-room now, for there's to be tea and light refreshment; and they've been behindhand too with the plants from Covent Garden, drat them," muttered the old man irritably. He was a faithful servant, and true to his mistress's interests; but he was growing old, and there were times when he longed to sit quietly under his own fig tree, in the Surrey village where he was born, where meetings and committees were unknown.
"Never mind, Anderson," returned Malcolm pleasantly, "we cannot entertain a Bishop without some degree of fuss and discomfort. I will go up and find Miss Anna; I daresay she has nearly finished." But as he ascended the handsome staircase, he was not so certain in his own mind that this was a foregone conclusion; and again he blessed the day when he had pitched his tent in the quiet pasturage of Chelsea, where bishops and committees and drawing-room meetings never interrupted his lawful meals, or impaired his digestion; for Malcolm, like many other men, abhorred that nondescript meal so dear to the feminine mind, a meat tea. The wide, softly-carpeted staircase led to a spacious landing-place, fitted up with couches and easy-chairs, and ending in a small but pretty conservatory.
The drawing-room was a large, well-proportioned room, with a curtained archway opening into a smaller one, which went by the name of the music room. Here there was a grand piano and a fine harmonium; the latter was Mrs. Herrick's special instrument. The drawing-room wore its usual aspect on these occasions; rows of chairs and cushioned benches occupied the entire floor space, and overflowed into the inner apartment.
A crimson covered dais or platform, decorated with plants in full bloom, and tall spreading palms, with a semicircle of comfortable easy-chairs, was the chief feature in the arrangements; and here, with the evening sunshine streaming on her, stood a tall slim girl in a white dress, with a loose cluster of Shirley poppies in her hand.
It made such a pretty picture that Malcolm stood quite spell-bound: the crimson dais was such a rich background to the soft creamy white of the girl's dress, while the poppies held so carelessly added to the effect; even the sunshine filtering through the partially drawn curtains gilded the fair hair until it shone like gold. Malcolm was almost sorry when Anna caught sight of him, and ran down the steps towards him with a bright smile of welcome, and two hands outstretched.
"Oh, Malcolm, I never thought you would be here yet," she said, and her voice was very soft and clear; "but I am so glad to see you, and I have quite finished."
Anna Sheldon was not a pretty girl, but people always said she was so interesting. Her figure was well formed and graceful, and her expression and smile were remarkably sweet; but her features were by no means faultless, and her want of colour was certainly a defect. She had beautiful hair, which was fine and fluffy as a baby's; its tint was rather too colourless, but she wore it in a style that exactly suited her. At this moment, when her eyes were bright with pleasure and there was a flush on her face, Anna certainly looked pretty, but such moments were transient with her.
Malcolm pressed her hands affectionately; then he looked her over with brotherly freedom.
"You look very nice, dear. I see you are dressed for the evening; are those poppies part of the toilette?"
Then Anna laughed and fingered her pearl necklace as though she were embarrassed by his scrutiny. "No, of course not—what an absurd question. Fancy flowers at a drawing-room meeting. I am going to put them in a vase directly. Now, as mother is engaged just now, I am going to take you to the schoolroom, and nurse will give us something to eat."
"Feminine nectar and ambrosia, I imagine," muttered Malcolm to himself, for he had partaken frequently of these schoolroom feasts. But he was determined to make the best of things during his short visit, so he linked his arm in Anna's and said cheerfully, "Lead on, Hebe, and don't scatter poppies as you go," which was exactly what she was doing. The schoolroom was still Anna's special room, although it had changed its character of late years. It was a large, cheerful front room, two floors above the drawing-room, and Anna had made it very pretty and comfortable. Here she kept her books and all her treasures, and here her canaries twittered and sang in the sunshine. Malcolm, who loaded her with presents, had himself selected the handsomely framed prints that adorned the walls; his favourite "Huguenot," and "The Black Brunswicker," and Luke Fildes's "Doctor," and some of Leader's landscapes, had their places there. In this room Anna spent her leisure hours, few and far between as they were; here she read and thought and wrote her letters to Malcolm—sweet, maidenly letters, which he read lightly and tossed aside with a smile, not unkindly, but with the preoccupied carelessness of a busy man.
The sound of their voices brought Dawson to the door. She was a little pincushiony woman, with bunched-up gray curls, which she wore in defiance of all prevailing fashions, and of which she was secretly very proud;. her complexion was still as clear and pink as a girl's; and her somewhat wide mouth was garnished by the whitest of teeth. It was Dawson's boast that she had never sat in a dentist's chair in her life.
"I am sixty-five if I am a day," she would say, with a quick little birdlike nod that always emphasised her statements; "but there, mother was eighty-three when the palsy took her, and she hadn't a gap in her mouth, dear soul."
Malcolm always kissed his old nurse, for there was a warm attachment between them; and indeed he never forgot that he had owed all his childish comfort to her.
"Blessed is he who expecteth nothing," observes the wise man, and Malcolm, who had indulged in moderate expectations in which the teapot loomed largely, was somewhat surprised by the agreeable sight of quite a tasteful little dinner-table laid for two, with a half-filled vase in the centre for which the poppies were evidently intended. Anna smiled delightedly when she saw his face, and at once proceeded to arrange her flowers, while Dawson bustled about and rang the bell, and chattered like an amiable magpie. In a very short time the weak-minded Charles, now a reformed and steady character and engaged to the head housemaid, brought in the tray, and a modest and appetising little meal was served. Cutlets with sauce piquant and pigeon pie, salad such as Malcolm loved, and a delicate pudding which seemed nothing but froth and sweets, while an excellent bottle of hock, sent up by Anderson, completed the repast.
"I wish mother could have joined us," observed Anna regretfully; "I did my best to persuade her, but she said there was no time. The people have not gone yet, and she has to dress, you see, so she said she would have some tea in her dressing-room and talk to you later."
"I must just see about getting the mistress's things ready," interrupted Dawson, but she spoke in a grumbling tone. "Don't you fash yourself, Mr. Malcolm,—I told Charles to unpack your Gladstone and put out your clothes ready for the evening. My mistress won't be dressed, you may take my word for it, for a good three-quarters of an hour. There is nothing like a committee for dawdling along, and keeping one standing on one leg as it were, like a pelican in the wilderness, or a stuffed goose, or anything you like to call it. Don't you let Mr. Malcolm hurry his dinner, Miss Anna, for there is nothing so bad for the digestion; a good digestion comes next to a good conscience in my opinion," and Dawson hurried away, all ready primed with a scolding for her mistress—sandwiches being like the proverbial red rag to a bull to this excellent woman.
"Such a pack of nonsense," she ejaculated, as she took down the black satin dress from its place in the wardrobe and shook out its lustrous folds, "a lady of her age, just passed fifty, and acting as though she were in her teens;" for Dawson, who was a privileged person, always spoke her mind to her mistress; indeed, it was rumoured in the household that Mrs. Herrick stood somewhat in awe of her faithful retainer, and it was certainly the fact that if any of the servants had incurred their mistress's displeasure, Dawson was always the mediator, and brought the apology or conciliatory message. Mrs. Herrick had a great respect for the straightforward, honest little woman, who was never afraid to speak the truth on any occasion, and she was sufficiently magnanimous to forgive her sharp speeches.
"Dawson is worth her weight in gold," she would say sometimes. "When the children were young I was never afraid to leave them in her charge, I knew I could trust her;" and once she said with a sigh, "I cannot forget her devotion to my dear Florence. She watched beside her night and day, and yet there were other nurses. I shall never forget her saying to me, 'Dear Miss Flo mustn't wake up and find herself amongst strangers, or she will be scared, poor lamb. She will like to see her old nurse's face, bless her,' and it seemed to us all as though she lived without sleep. She was right too," went on Mrs. Herrick softly, "for when Florence caught sight of her she put out her arms with such a smile. 'It is my own dear nurse,' they heard her say—those were my darling's last words."
When Dawson had left the room Malcolm looked at Anna with a smile.
"Well," he said tentatively, "have you made up your mind about to-morrow; is it to be Kew, or Cookham and Henley?" But to his surprise the question seemed to embarrass the girl.
"We have been so often to Kew," she returned in a hesitating voice; "and though the Quarry woods are delightful, it will be so hot on the river. There is something I should like so much better, but I am afraid you will laugh at me." But as Malcolm continued to look at her with an indulgent smile, she went on with renewed courage—
"I hope you will not think me absurd, but I should so love to see your chambers in Lincoln's Inn, and Malachi, and the pigeons, and little Kit with the curly red fringe, and the old cobbler; and afterwards," and here Anna caught her breath with excitement, "we could go to Cheyne Walk and have tea and look at the river and talk."
"My dear child," in quite a startled voice, "what a programme for a birthday!"
"It will be just lovely," returned Anna with sparkling eyes. "I do so long to see Goliath and Yea-Verily and Babs. You know, Malcolm, I have only been twice to your rooms in Cheyne Walk—once with mother, and once when we had been to the Albert Hall—and each time the Kestons were away."
"And you want to see little Verity. I am not sure that she is quite up to your mark, Anna; she and Goliath are rather Bohemian."
"Oh, but you like her, and she makes you so happy and comfortable. I want to know your friends, Malcolm; it seems to bring you nearer," and Anna's eyes grew wistful.
"Are you sure my mother will approve of your programme?"
Then Anna smiled and nodded assent.
"She will call me a silly, fanciful child," she replied laughing. "Mother does not understand sentimentality; but I am a privileged person on my birthday. Now, Malcolm, please do not throw cold water on my little scheme."
"Certainly not; we will go to the Seven Dials if you like. Only I wish I had known beforehand. Verity is occasionally like the renowned Mother Hubbard, her cupboard is bare. You will have to put up with plain bread and butter, I expect."
"What does that matter!" returned Anna scornfully. "Thank you, Malcolm dear. Then we will have a real good time."
"I think we shall be able to carry out your modest programme," replied Malcolm. "Wait a moment, I have an idea. Suppose 'we beard the lion in his den;' in other words, look up Caleb Martin and my umbrella in Todmorden's Lane?" And then he gave Anna a graphic account of the little adventure, and, as he expected, received her warm approval.
"Oh yes, you shall take me there too," she observed. "I must see that poor little Kit; it was so like you to think of her comfort;" and here Anna laid a soft little hand on his coat-sleeve. "Malcolm, I am afraid I ought not to let you talk any longer. I heard mother go into her dressing-room ten minutes ago, and she is never long over her toilet."
"That means I must get into my war paint too, or Dawson will be coming in search of me;" and then he went off to his old room, leaving Anna looking thoughtfully out of the window.
"To-morrow I shall be one-and-twenty," she said to herself; "it seems a great age, but Malcolm is nearly nine years older." And then she added to herself in a whisper, "And from morning to night we shall be together, just he and I, our own two selves," and there was a soft look of contentment on Anna's face.
MRS. HERRICK OBJECTS TO BOHEMIA
We fear originality as a coat which is too new, and do our utmost to be like the rest of the world.—CARMEN SYLVA.
Life is work.... Life without work is unworthy of being lived.—BISHOP EDWARD BICKERSTETH.
Twenty minutes later Malcolm knocked at the door of his mother's dressing-room. A deep, sonorous voice bade him enter. As he did so Mrs. Herrick laid down the book she was reading on the toilet-table, and turned to greet him. "My dearest boy, how glad I am to see you!" she exclaimed with a warm, motherly kiss. Then she put her hands on his shoulders and regarded him with an affectionate smile that quite lighted up her homely face. Even in her youth Mrs. Herrick had never been handsome. Indeed, her old friends maintained that she was far better-looking in her middle age, in spite of all her hard work and that burning of the candle at both ends which is so abhorrent to the well-regulated mind. Her features were strongly marked, and somewhat weather-beaten, and the lower part of the face was too heavily moulded, but the clear, thoughtful gray eyes had a pleasant light in them. Malcolm was secretly very proud of his mother. He liked to watch her moving among her guests in the dignified, gracious way that was habitual to her.
"She is the very personification of an old-fashioned English gentlewoman," he said once to Cedric; "but she is hardly modern enough in her ideas. She takes things too seriously, and that bores people."
It must be confessed that to her young acquaintances Mrs. Herrick was rather awe-inspiring. Mere pleasure-seekers—drones in the human hive and all such ne'er-do-weels—were careful to give her a wide berth. Her quiet little speeches sometimes had a sting in them. "She takes the starch out of a fellow, don't you know," observed one of these fashionable loafers, a young officer in the Hussars—"makes him think he's a worm and no man, and that sort of thing; but she doesn't understand us Johnnies." Perhaps Mrs. Herrick would willingly have recalled her crushing speech when, years after, she read the account of Charlie Gordon's death. "He would have had the Victoria Cross if he had lived," exclaimed his weeping mother to Mrs. Herrick. "They say he was the bravest and the finest officer that they had ever known. You can read the account for yourself. All those lives saved by his gallantry." But here the poor woman could say no more. How could any woman bear to think of her boy standing at bay in that dreadful defile, to gain a few precious moments until help came?
"I wish I had not been so hard on him," thought Mrs. Herrick with a remorseful recollection of the young officer's hurt look. "What right had I to climb up into the judgment seat and rebuke one of these little ones?" and for a long time after that she was more gentle in her speeches.
"You look well, Malcolm," continued his mother with a satisfied air, "in spite of the heat and thunder. Anna has been complaining of a headache all day; but it was impossible for her to rest. However, Dawson tells me she is better."
"Oh yes, I thought she looked much as usual. She is always rather pale, you know. I need not ask how you are, mother—you look as fit as ever."
"Yes, I am very well, thank God! I sometimes think I have more than my fair share of good health. Malcolm, as you are here, I want to show you what I have chosen for Anna to-morrow," and she handed him a small case. It contained one of those minute toy watches, set very prettily with brilliants.
Malcolm lifted his eyelids in some surprise. "It is a perfect beauty," he observed; "but you must have paid a goodish bit for it."
"It was certainly rather extravagant of me," returned Mrs. Herrick apologetically; "but you know how girls love pretty things. Anna did so long for one of these little watches, and you know it is her one-and-twentieth birthday. By the bye, Malcolm, what have you two arranged for to-morrow?" But when her son briefly sketched out Anna's modest programme, Mrs. Herrick's pleasant face clouded a little.
"What a singular choice the child has made!" she observed. "Malcolm, I am not particularly anxious for her to be introduced to your Bohemian friends. Oh, I don't mean to say anything against the Kestons," warned by a certain stiffness of manner on Malcolm's part—"I have never even seen them; but Anna and Mrs. Keston move in such different worlds."
"Yes, of course," he returned rather impatiently; "but a mere introduction need not lead to intimacy. Verity is a good little creature, and her Bohemianism will not hurt Anna for one afternoon."
Mrs. Herrick's firm lips were pressed together rather closely as Malcolm spoke, and her manner became still graver.
"Will you forgive my speaking plainly, Malcolm?" she said quietly, "but I do think it such a grievous mistake for you to call Mrs. Keston by her Christian name. You know I have mentioned this before." Then Malcolm reddened; but though he laughed, he was inwardly annoyed.
"I spoke without thinking," he returned, trying to control his impatience, "but I suppose habit was too strong for me. There is really no harm in it, mother. You know Keston is my most intimate friend—he is one of the best fellows in the world—and it stands to reason that his wife should be my good friend too."
"Yes, but there are limits, Malcolm."
"Of course there are limits," rather irritably; "but if I were to talk for ever I should never make you understand, mother. In the first place, you have never seen Verity—I mean Mrs. Keston. She is the product of a modern age. From babyhood she has lived among artists. She has imbibed their Bohemianism and learnt to talk their jargon. A studio has been her nursery, playroom, and schoolroom, and as soon as she grew up she married an artist."
"But all this does not prove that she is not to be treated with the respect due to a married woman, Malcolm."
"My dear mother, there is no question of respect. There is not a man who knows Mrs. Keston who does not esteem, and hold her in honour. She is an original little person certainly, but a more loyal wife and devoted mother never lived. He would be a bold man who ventured to take a liberty with her, or to overstep the limits laid down by her. He would soon feel the measure of Goliath's foot—in plain words, he would find himself kicked downstairs by Amias Keston."
Mrs. Herrick shrugged her shoulders. The conversation bored her, and as usual she found Malcolm a little impossible; he seemed so determined to maintain his point.
"From the first Mrs. Keston wished me to call her by her Christian name," he went on, "and Amias wished it too. We were on such brotherly terms," he said, "that Verity—you see habit is too much for me, mother—wished me to regard her as a younger sister."
"I thought you looked upon Anna as your sister, Malcolm;" but Mrs. Herrick's keen gray eyes had a curious look in them—an acute observer might almost have thought that she was hoping that her son would contradict this statement.
"Oh, Anna," and then he laughed. "My dear mother, one cannot draw comparisons between them—they are utterly dissimilar."
"So I imagine," was the dry response; and then Mrs. Herrick made an effort to recover her wonted placidity. "Malcolm," she said, putting her hand through his arm, "we must go downstairs now or the Bishop will be arriving. I expect Anna is wondering what has become of us." Which proved to be the case.
Malcolm soon regained his good-humour. His mother had rubbed him up the wrong way, as usual, but his good sense told him that it was no use resenting her plain-spoken remarks.
She had her own fixed opinions on every subject, and nothing could move her out of her groove. She was a good woman and a kind-hearted one, but the sense of humour was lacking in her. She disliked all that she did not understand, and under the comprehensive term Bohemianism, she embodied all that was irregular and contrary to her creed.
"Herrick mere is a Philistine of the purest type," Amias Keston once said to his wife. "No, I have never seen her, but I can draw my own conclusions. Yea-Verily, my child, far be the day when that British matron crosses our humble threshold."
Malcolm had determined not to disappoint his mother that evening, so he banished all thoughts of his friends from his mind, and a few minutes later he was showing people to their seats and chatting pleasantly with his acquaintances.
Now and then, in the midst of her duties as a hostess, Mrs. Herrick's eyes rested on her son's dark face with motherly pride and tenderness.
He was doing his part so well—in his quiet, unobtrusive manner he was making himself so agreeable. Oh, if he would only have stayed with her, and been indeed the son of her right hand, and given himself to the work; and then for a moment there was a filmy look in the mother's eyes, and she listened a little absently to her favourite speaker.
Malcolm did his part like a man. He applauded the speakers at exactly the right moment, and when the meeting was over he actually made a neat, telling little speech, conveying the vote of thanks to the chairman; and both the manner and matter were so good that more than one of Mrs. Herrick's friends observed to her that her son would make his mark in the House.
Malcolm felt rewarded for his exertions when his mother wished him good-night.
"You have been my right hand this evening, Malcolm," she said, looking at him with unusual tenderness. "Thank you so much, my son;" and these few words gave Malcolm quite a thrill of pleasure.
The heavy storm had tempered the extreme heat and the night had been comparatively cool, and the little group gathered round the breakfast table the next morning looked as bright as the day itself.
Anna had been charmed with her watch; but when she opened Malcolm's case and saw the tiny diamond-studded quiver, she was almost speechless with surprise and delight. "Oh, Malcolm, how could you—how could you be so kind to me!" was all she could say. But Malcolm only laughed and fastened the brooch in her white dress. Then he took some half-open pink rosebuds from a vase on the table and bade her wear them. "You are too pale, and these will give you colour," he said in a cool, critical tone.
Anna took them from his hand rather shyly. She had put on her daintiest white frock in his honour, but the rosebuds savoured of vanity to her. She never disputed Malcolm's opinion on any subject, but as she adjusted the flowers she gave Mrs. Herrick a deprecating glance, which the latter met with an indulgent smile.
"No, dear, you look very nice," she observed, as though in reply to this mute question; "you are not at all too smart. Now I must go and read my letters. Have a good time, children; and, Malcolm, remember Anna must not be overtired," and then Mrs. Herrick nodded cheerfully and withdrew to the library. Anna ran off to put on her hat, while Malcolm read his paper.
They went first to Lincoln's Inn, and Anna stood on the wide steps looking at the pigeons fluttering over the old buildings, quite unaware, in her innocent excitement—though Malcolm was not—that many an admiring glance rested on her.
In spite of her lack of beauty, Anna's pretty girlish figure and youthful grace often attracted people—her expression was so guileless and sweet, and the fair fluffy hair so softly tinted; and as she stood there in the morning sunshine, in her white gown and shady hat, Malcolm felt secretly proud of his young companion, and his manner became still more affectionate.
They interviewed Malachi, and to Anna's delight Malcolm put him through his paces. Then they went into the inner room, and Anna sat down on the chair Cedric had occupied, and looked round her with undisguised amazement: the shabbiness and ugliness of the surroundings almost shocked her.
"Oh, Malcolm, it is not a bit nice and comfortable," she said with an anxious frown: "fancy your spending your days in this dreary room."
Then Malcolm gave an amused laugh.
"Poor little girl, so you are disappointed in my literary den. I suppose you thought I should have carved oak and Russia leather bindings; but we don't go in for aesthetic furniture in Lincoln's Inn."
"But it is so ugly and so dingy, Malcolm."
"Is it?" he returned, quite surprised at this severe criticism. "I think it quite snug myself. I have done some good work here, Anna, so I suppose the ugliness and dinginess are somewhat inspiring." And Malcolm glanced at his littered writing-table rather proudly.
As Anna felt no temptation to linger, they started off briskly in search of Todmorden's Lane.
They found it with little difficulty. It was a small side street, of somewhat unprepossessing appearance, leading out of Beauchamp Street. Bennet, boot-maker and umbrella-maker, had a dark, dingy little shop just at the corner. It had evidently been an ordinary dwelling-house in old times, but a bow window had been added to transform it into a shop. A flight of broken steps led to the basement, where the cobbler and his household lived; but as they carefully descended, Malcolm suddenly paused.