LEFT AT HOME;
Or, The Heart's Resting-place.
MARY L. CODE,
Author of "Wandering May;" "Clarie's Little Charge;" "Lonely Lily;" Etc.
Kilmarnock: John Ritchie, Publisher of Christian Literature.
And Through All Booksellers.
CHAPTER I. Page LITTLE MILDRED 7
CHAPTER II. GOING TO INDIA 16
CHAPTER III. ARTHUR'S MOTHER 26
CHAPTER IV. LAST DAYS AT ASHTON GRANGE 30
CHAPTER V. THE PARTING 44
CHAPTER VI. MYRTLE HILL 47
CHAPTER VII. LEFT ALONE 60
CHAPTER VIII. EDGAR NORTH 79
CHAPTER IX. MIDSUMMER HOLIDAYS AMONG THE MOUNTAINS 108
CHAPTER X. AT REST NOW 114
CHAPTER XI. CONCLUSION 140
LEFT AT HOME.
LITTLE MILDRED, OR THE GATHERED LAMB.
"Stop, Mr. Arthur, if you please. You are not to go upstairs. Mistress left orders for you to stay in the library until she came down."
So spoke the younger servant at Ashton Grange, as Arthur rushed upstairs three steps at a time.
"Why, what's the matter? Why shouldn't I go upstairs? Is anything the matter?"
"I don't know, Mr. Arthur, whether there is much the matter; but I am afraid Miss Mildred is ill. The doctor is upstairs, and mistress said there is not to be a sound of noise."
These words quite sobered Arthur, as he turned from the stairs and went into the library. It was a pleasant room at all times, but especially so on a winter's evening, when the frosty night was shining clear and cold without. A bright fire was blazing, lighting up the crimson carpet and curtains, and sparkling on the snowy table-cover, where preparations for such a tea were made as Arthur was usually at this time prepared to appreciate. But as he sat down on the rug, and, holding his face in his two hands, gazed earnestly into the fire, he was not thinking of his hunger. A very grave expression was on his boyish face. He was thinking of what the housemaid had told him, and wishing very much to know more.
"Why, what can be the matter with baby?" he thought. "She was all right when I went out. She can't be so very bad, I should think, all in a minute. No; I don't believe she is. I'm hungry."
And Arthur started up, and came nearer the table, intending to help himself to something. But then he stopped, and thought again—
"I suppose she is though, or else the doctor wouldn't be here, and every one wouldn't have to be so quiet. Oh, dear, I wish mother would come. I wish she would come. I do wish very much she would come."
Then he thought of creeping quietly upstairs, and listening outside the nursery door; and the temptation to do so was very strong; but he remembered his mother's injunction, and sat down again on the rug. But it was very hard to wait. It would have been a great deal easier to Arthur to do almost anything else just then. One half hour and then another passed, and no sound came to break the stillness which was in the house, till Arthur's head dropped on his hand for weariness, and in a few minutes he was fast asleep. How long he remained so he hardly knew; but he did not wake until a gentle step came on the stairs. The door was softly opened, and Arthur's mother entered the room. She was very pale, and had a sad, sad look on her face, and just sank wearily down in an easy-chair, on the opposite side of the fireplace to her little boy, who was wide awake now.
"Oh, mother, is it true what Anna says about Mildred, that she is so very ill?" asked Arthur breathlessly. He had come nearer to his mother, and, leaning his chin on her knee, he looked eagerly up in her face.
"Yes, Arthur;" and the hand that was pressed on his forehead to stroke back his brown hair was hot and trembling.
"Very ill?" asked Arthur again. "Why, she was a right just after dinner. She will get better, won't she, mamma?"
"Mildred is very, very ill, dear Arthur," his mother said gently. "I came to tell you myself, darling, because I knew you would be wanting to know. She has been attacked with croup very violently indeed, and the doctor does not give me any hope that she will live. I cannot stay with you, my darling boy."
She did not say any more, and before Arthur had scarcely understood what he had heard, his mother was gone. There was only one thought in his mind now. Mildred dying! his darling baby sister, who a little while ago had laughed, and crowed, and kicked her pretty feet as he played with her. How could it all have happened? And how soon a dark cloud had fallen over everything that had seemed so bright! And then a little picture of her fresh baby face came before him, and he could see the little rosy mouth, and bright blue eyes, and the soft cheek that he had so often kissed. Would her sweet face never laugh again? And would he never hear her clear, soft voice calling "Artie, Artie"? Arthur did not know he had loved his baby sister so deeply until now that the dark, sad news had come that perhaps she was going to be taken away from them all for ever. So he sat in the pleasant firelight on the hearth-rug; but there was no brightness on his face now. A very grave cloud had fallen on it, as the words were in his heart that his mother had told him. And then, as he thought about what they really meant, his lip quivered, and the tears fell on the floor, till at length his head bowed down on the armchair where his mother had been sitting, and Arthur sobbed bitterly all alone. It was a very hopeless, heart-sick feeling, as he wept with the vehemence of his strong, loving nature; and he had never felt in this way before; for all his life hitherto he had known what it was to be loved and to love, and had never had cause to mourn over the loss of what his heart had wound itself around.
"I wish some one would come and tell me how Mildred is," said Arthur presently to himself, after half an hour had passed when he had been crying on the rug. "I wonder is the doctor going to stay there all night?"
Poor little Arthur! it was very hard work waiting there all alone with no one to speak to, not even Hector the house-dog, his friend and confidant; for a servant had gone into the town and taken him with him. Presently the door opened, and he started up eagerly. It was the housemaid, and the candle that she held in her hand showed a grave, tear-stained face.
"Mr. Arthur, will you come upstairs?" she said. "Mistress sent me to tell you. Will you come up to the nursery?"
"Why—what—may I really? What, is she better then?" asked Arthur joyfully, and yet with a certain trembling at his heart, as he saw the expression on Anna's face.
"Oh, no, Mr. Arthur," she said, bursting into tears. "Poor, dear little darling, she can't scarce breathe; its dreadful to hear her, and she such a sweet little pet. Oh, dear, dear, dear, and whatever will mistress do, and master?"
But Arthur was not crying now as he went slowly up the stairs, feeling as if it was all a dream, and not at all as if these were the same stairs that he generally mounted, or that this was the nursery door where he had generally bounded in with a laughing shout to the bright little sister who now lay very near the shore of the other land. She was a very little girl; not two years ago she had first come; and Arthur, who had been half-afraid of the tiny baby that lay in the nurse's arms so still and quiet, had by degrees learnt to love her with all his heart. He knew just the best ways to please her, and to make her voice ring out the merry crow he so liked to hear; and always, when she saw her brother coming up the avenue that led to the house, she would stretch out her tiny arms, and try to jump from her nurse's arms to meet him.
It was only a few hours ago that Arthur had waved his hand to her, and made Hector jump and roll along the ground, that she might see him. She had looked so bright and rosy then, and now it was all so different!
The room felt warm as he entered, and there seemed to be a great many people around the little white bed where Mildred lay. Arthur never, never forgot that scene; it lay on his heart like a strange, sad picture all his life. He could not see his little sister's face, only a stray golden curl was peeping from the white sheet, and lay on the pillow; he could hear her breathing, and it made his heart quiver to listen to the sounds. The nurse was standing a little aside; for there was nothing more for her to do. She had been placing hot flannels, and trying favourite remedies; but these were all of no avail. The doctor was standing at the post of the bed; for he knew that Mildred's little life was ebbing fast. And then Arthur looked at his father and mother. His mother was sitting by the pillow, and she almost lay upon the bed as she leant over her little dying child. His father was standing close by, and Arthur looked again at the expression that was on his face. He was in general a little afraid of his father; in fact, for the last two or three years he had not seen him at all, and it was only by the kind letters and messages from India, that he had known him of late, and he had thought him rather grave and stern, he was so different from his sweet, gentle mother; and though Arthur loved him at a distance, he had quite different feelings for her.
But now, as he looked again, he saw that a softness was on his father's face, and that the hand that was laid on his wife's shoulder was trembling; and the thought that was in Arthur's mind just then was, "Father really looks as if he was going to cry."
Presently his mother went a little closer to her baby, and Arthur just heard her whisper, "Let her die in my arms." His father looked as if he thought it would be better not. But she looked up again: "Give her, I must." So very gently she took the covering from the child, and drew her to her arms.
Little Mildred did not lie there very long. It was terrible to see her, and Arthur could hardly bear to look; but he did look as the convulsions made her struggle and gasp for breath.
At length he heard his father's voice in a low whisper say, "She's gone; thank God." And then he saw him take a little helpless form from his mother's arms and lay it back on the white bed, and Arthur saw that his tiny sister was dead. She was lying still, her breath was gone for ever; her eyes were closed, and her curls lay soft and golden on the pillow. She would never open her blue eyes again, and her voice would never more call "Artie, Artie."
He just saw that his mother sunk down on the floor by the bedside. He could not see her face, but he heard a deep, deep groan, and then she said, "My baby, my darling." She did not cry, she only knelt there still and silent; and then suddenly a great rush of feeling came over Arthur's heart as the thought of sweet little Mildred lying dead came over his mind, and he threw himself by his mother's side, burying his face on her shoulder, and burst into a passion of crying. "Oh, mamma, mamma!" was all he said. "Don't, Arthur; you had better go down stairs, my boy," said his father gently. But his mother whispered, "Let him stay;" and she threw her arms round him, and clasped him so tightly that he could hardly breathe.
Perhaps it was good for her to hear her child's sobs; they seemed to enter into her heart and melt it, for it was icy in its mourning before.
"God has taken our little Mildred," said Arthur's father presently, in a very choked, quivering voice. "He has taken her to be very happy with Himself. He will take care of her for ever."
"I know it," said Arthur's mother; "better than we could."
Presently Arthur got up, and before he went away from the room he threw his arms once more around his little dead sister, and the tears fell over her golden curls and her round fair cheeks, which were still round and red.
He cried himself to sleep that night, and when he awoke in the morning it was with a dreary feeling that a great deal was gone. He was the only child now, and as he stood by the little open grave where Mildred's tiny coffin had been lowered, and as he felt the soft, tight clasp of his mother's hand in his, Arthur felt he would be a loving boy to her.
GOING TO INDIA.
The home seemed very sad and silent indeed without the little child who had been laid in the low green-covered grave, and a sadness seemed to have fallen upon it. At first Arthur went about the house silently and slowly, and it was some time before his boyish spirits came back to him; but he was only a boy after all, and a very young boy, and by and by, when the green leaves came budding on the trees and the spring voice was waking in the valleys and the fields, when the young lambs answered with their bleating and the young birds sung a chorus of bursting joy, Arthur's face brightened, and his step was bounding again. And his mother was glad to see him with the weary cloud gone, only her heart ached with a deep throb as she thought of the new care that was hanging over him, and of which he knew nothing as yet.
One day, when Arthur was passing the door of his mother's morning-room, he heard his father's voice within, saying, "I think you had better tell him, Louisa." The door was partly open, and if he listened he would easily be able to hear what they were saying. The temptation was very strong, and Arthur yielded to it. It was very wrong, and he knew it.
"Oh, no!" he heard his mother say, "I could not tell him; I don't think I could. It almost breaks my heart to think of it myself."
"Louisa," said his father—and Arthur thought his voice sounded rather sad—"you know it is your own choice, and even now you can change if you like."
"Oh, no, no, dear Ronald!" said his mother—and he could hear that her voice was quivering and trembling—"you know very well I could not. Forgive me, I ought to be very thankful I have you still; and so I am. But tell him yourself, Ronald; you know I am so foolish."
"Very well," said Mr. Vivyan, rising and stirring the fire with great energy, as if he were then acting what he had made up his mind to do.
And then Arthur stole away, feeling very strange with various mingled feelings. Something seemed to say that the conversation concerned him, but what it was all about he could not imagine. Something terrible seemed to be going to happen; something that his mother could not make up her mind to tell. And then he remembered how very wrong it had been for him to listen to this conversation. He had always been taught never to do such a thing, and the consciousness of his fault weighed heavily on his mind. He wished very much that he had not waited at the door, when he had seen it stand so temptingly open. Indeed, so much did he think about what he had done, that the strange things he had heard hardly troubled him.
But by and by, when he was walking through the lanes, where the primroses were dotting the hedgerows with green and yellow tufts, he began to think again of what he had heard, and his step was slow and steady as he thought. He was not the same Arthur who generally bounded along, startling the little lambs who were feeding on the other side of the hedge; and Hector seemed puzzled by the unusual quiet as he ran on first, inviting his master to follow. Altogether it was a very grave and thoughtful walk, and when Arthur came in, the quiet look was on his face still, and a very troubled expression could be seen there.
"Arthur dear, is anything the matter?" asked his mother in the evening, as he sat on his low stool before the fire doing nothing, and thinking again of what he had heard and what he had done.
Arthur started, and blushed a very deep red.
"Why should you think there was anything the matter, mother?"
"Because I see there is," she said quietly.
He did not answer, and Mr. Vivyan looked out keenly at him, from behind the book he was reading. But still Arthur had nothing to say, and the troubled look came deeper on his face. He came nearer to his mother's chair, and presently when he found himself there he laid his head on her lap.
"What is it, my darling?" she asked, laying her hand on his brown hair. Then the tears came into his eyes, and it was not directly that he was able to say, "Mother, I know it was very wrong of me; but I heard what you and papa were saying this morning when you were in the boudoir."
"It was very wrong indeed," said Mr. Vivyan; "I did not think you would have done such a thing, Arthur."
"Oh, Arthur, Arthur!" said his mother very gently and sadly, "why did you, why did you not remember?"
He was crying now, and he did not need to be told that he had done very wrong.
"Well, then, you know all about it, I suppose?" said Arthur's father.
"No, I don't, papa. I only heard that something dreadful was going to happen; and you told mother to tell some one, and she said she couldn't; and then you said you would, and I don't remember the rest."
Mr. Vivyan smiled rather sadly, and Arthur felt his mother's arm more closely clasped around him.
"Was it about me?" asked Arthur presently.
Mr. Vivyan looked up at his wife, and then he said, "Arthur, my boy, when I was in India before, why did your mother stay in England?"
"I don't know," said Arthur, somewhat surprised at the question. "To take care of me, I suppose. Oh no, it wasn't, though; it was because she was ill, and she couldn't live in India, the doctor said."
"Yes; and now, is she as ill as she was then?"
"Oh no, I should think not!" said Arthur brightly. "She is ever so much better, aren't you, mother?"
"Yes, dear," she said gently.
"Well," said Mr. Vivyan, speaking very slowly, and laying his hand kindly on Arthur's curls, "did you know, Arthur, that my time for being in England is very nearly over? there are only six weeks more left."
"Yes, father," said Arthur, and feeling his father's hand laid so tenderly on his head, he felt more sorry at the thought that he was going than he had ever done before. "I'm very sorry."
"But then, don't you see, my boy," Mr. Vivyan said, looking anxious and as if he had great difficulty in expressing himself, "your mother need not stay at home this time?"
"No," said Arthur, after a pause, "I suppose not. And am I going to India too?"
"Why no, my dear child. You know how glad we should be to take you with us; and very likely you do not know, Arthur, what it costs us to leave you at home. But you know you could not go; children of your age would very likely not live."
Arthur turned quickly round, and gazed with an incredulous, questioning look at his father and mother. He could not see his mother's face, for it was hidden by her hand; but if he had looked closely he might have seen that her whole form was trembling, though she did not speak a word.
"Papa," said Arthur presently, "what can you mean? Do you really mean that you and mother are going out to India, and that you are going to leave me in England by myself?"
"Dear Arthur, you know we must."
Arthur turned away, and for a little while he said nothing. Presently he spoke—it seemed as if half to himself—"No, I don't believe that," he said. "I don't believe that could be true."
"Arthur, my darling, darling boy, come here," said his mother, after some time when nobody had spoken.
Arthur came nearer to his mother, and laid his head upon her knee. He was feeling almost stunned, and as if he had not understood yet what he had heard. Then a sudden thought came over him, that it meant he would soon not be able to do this any more.
"Mamma," he said in a low voice, which was very touchingly sad in its hopelessness, "need you go? Wouldn't you rather stay at home with me?"
"Oh, Arthur," said Mrs. Vivyan, "you must not say those things, dear."
"Won't you take me with you, then? I don't believe I could stay at home without you. Won't you take me? Oh, do! please, do!"
All this was said in a very low, mournful voice; for Arthur felt almost as if he had not strength to cry about it.
"Arthur," said Mr. Vivyan, speaking gravely but kindly, "I tell you we would if we could; but you must be contented to believe that it cannot be."
"But I am sure it would do me no harm, father; you don't know how much heat I can bear. I believe I am better sometimes in hot weather. And oh! I don't believe I could live in England by myself."
He gave a very weary sigh, and leant his head heavily on his mother. Presently he felt a tear on his forehead, and he knew that she must be crying.
"My own darling little mamma," said Arthur, "I love you with my whole heart. Oh, you don't know how very much I love you!" and he gave a deep, weary sigh.
She put her arm round him, and pressed him very closely to her heart; and he felt as if he were a tired little baby, and that it was very nice to have his mother's arm around him. By and by he began crying; not with a hard, passionate feeling, but in a weak, weary way, the tears flowing down one after another over his mother's hands.
"My dear child," said Mr. Vivyan, as the time came nearer for Arthur to go to bed, "you don't know what it is to your mother and to me to leave you; but we hope you will be happy by and by, for your aunt will be very kind to you, and will love you very much. She lives in a very nice part of the country. You may be sure, Arthur, we should be quite certain that every one would be kind to you."
"Do you mean that I am to live with some other person?" asked Arthur listlessly.
"Yes, with my sister; that is, your aunt."
It did not seem to matter very much to Arthur just then where he was going, or what was to become of him. He knew his father and mother were going away, and that he was to be left all alone, quite alone it seemed to him, and a very desolate, forlorn feeling fell over his heart, and seemed to make him feel numbed and heavy.
"Good night, my own dear mother," said Arthur, as he took his candle. He was not crying, and there was almost a little wan smile on his face as he said it, making him look very different from the bright, joyous boy who generally threw his arms around her neck with an embrace, which was most emphatic as well as affectionate. He did not know how her heart was aching for him, and he knew still less of the pain his father felt, but could not show.
As Arthur sunk on his knees that night by the side of his little bed where the firelight was brightening and glowing, a deep sob came up from the very depths of his heart; and when he tried to pray, all he could say was, "O God, take care of me; for there is nobody else."
Arthur knew what it was to have put his trust in the Saviour of the world, but hitherto everything had been so bright, and things had come and gone so smoothly, that he had not thought much about Him. He stayed awake a very long time, waiting to see if his mother would come and talk to him, as she very often did when there was anything to say. He did not know what had passed when he had left the library, that his mother's head had sunk low, and her heart had shed the tears that he had not seen, and that now came flowing from her eyes. And he did not know that she was utterly unfit to speak to any one, so that when she stopped at his door, and seemed to be going in, his father had said—
"No, Louisa, you must not; I will go and tell him that you would come, but that you can't."
So that was how it was when Arthur heard his bedroom door open, and looked round with an eager longing in his eye. He sunk back again on his pillow when he saw that it was his father that was coming towards him, and he lay there quite quietly without moving, so that Mr. Vivyan almost thought he was asleep.
"Arthur," he said, "your mother wished me to tell you that she would have come to see you herself, only she was not able. You know, my dear little boy, she is quite ill with the thought of your trouble; and won't you try and be cheerful, for I am sure you would not like to make her ill, would you, Arthur?"
"No, father," said Arthur, in a very quiet voice, without lifting his head or looking up.
"Good night, my child," said his father, stooping down and kissing him; and then as he took his candle and went away from the room he said to himself, "He is a very strange boy—very strange indeed. After all, I don't think he takes it so very much to heart as Louisa imagines."
But he did not know. When Arthur heard his door shut, and when he knew that no one would come in again, the storm began, and it was a storm of passion when sorrow, and anger, and affection all raged together.
Arthur had always been a passionate child, and now the wild tempest that nobody saw showed plainly his uncontrolled feelings. "Oh, dear! oh, dear! what shall I do?" moaned the poor child to himself, tossing on his bed. "And am I making mamma ill too? But how can I help it? How can I help it? I can't help being most frightfully miserable; yes, and angry too. I am angry. Why did he come back from India to take mother away? I don't believe she wants to go. Yes, I suppose she does though. Oh, I wish, I wish he had never come back from India! Everything has gone wrong since. I don't love him one bit. I wish, oh, I wish it was as it used to be once!"
Poor Arthur, he sobbed and moaned until he was tired, and the knowledge that he was very wicked did not certainly make him happier.
He sobbed himself to sleep that night, and when the morning sunbeams stole into the room and lighted on the white curtains of his bed, he awoke with a dull, desolate feeling of a great pain in his heart.
ARTHUR'S MOTHER; OR, "SAFE IN THE ARMS OF JESUS."
Mrs. Vivyan's morning-room was on the pleasant sunny side of the house, and was a very favourite retreat of her little boy. Indeed there was one corner of it which he considered as especially his own. It was a little sofa near the window, rather hidden in a recess, so that any one might be lying there and not be seen. Perhaps this idea of privacy was one thing which made Arthur like it; and then it was near the window, from which he could see the garden and the birds; and he liked to watch the sun sparkling on the pond, and making diamond showers of the fountain, which sometimes he would persuade the gardener to do for him.
And now, with his new deep trouble weighing on his heart, he sought his usual refuge. Nobody was in the room as Arthur and his companion, Hector, came in, Arthur throwing himself wearily on the sofa, and Hector making himself comfortable on the rug.
"Oh, dear!" groaned Arthur, after a while; "I don't think mother cares very much. Come here, sir; do you care?"
Hector came, and obediently lay down near the sofa.
"Father doesn't care much, that I'm pretty sure of," continued Arthur; "but I don't mind that so much. I wonder will mother miss me in India. I wonder will you miss me, Hector, old boy. You ought, and you will too, I expect. Do you think you will, Hector? Speak to me, do!"
But Hector only gravely wagged his tail.
"Oh, dear! I wish a great deal," said Arthur.
Just then there was a rustling noise at the door, and Arthur lay very still and quiet as he saw that it was his mother who was coming in. He was hidden on his sofa, so she did not see that he was there.
Presently she took her work from the table, and sat down in a low chair by the fire; and Arthur watched her as she sat there, and gazed at her sweet, gentle face.
He could not understand all that was there; but he could see enough to make him very sorry that he had said "Mother doesn't care much."
There was such a look of patient sweetness there, and the eyes that she now and then lifted up were deep with an expression of pain, only over it all peace was shedding a softness and beauty that he could feel. He watched her for a long time in silence, until at last a look of intense pain seemed to furrow her brow, and suddenly she buried her face in her hands, and he could just hear her say, "My darling, my darling!"
Arthur started up, and as she heard the sound she looked over to where he was.
"My dear little Arthur, I did not know any one was in the room."
"Mamma, I did not mean to hide—to look—I mean, to listen. I forgot I ought to have said I was here. Mother, may I say what I was thinking before you came in?"
"Yes, darling. I always like to hear your thoughts."
"I was just thinking that you didn't seem to care so very much."
"What about?" asked his mother.
"Oh, about all those dreadful things—about dear little Mildred having died, and about my being left all by myself."
It was not just directly that Mrs. Vivyan was able to answer, and then she said:
"When you are older, darling, you will find out that it is not always the people who talk and cry most, who feel things most; and that there is such a thing as saying 'Thy will be done,' and of not giving way to all our feelings for the sake of others."
"Ah, yes; that is what I ought to do," said Arthur with a deep sigh.
"Arthur, dear," said Mrs. Vivyan presently, looking straight into the fire, and closing her hands very tightly, "don't ever think I do not care or feel. Oh, you never can know how much I have felt! You know nothing about the hungry feeling in my heart when I think of my darling, darling little baby, whom God is taking care of now; and how, when I see the little bed she used to lie on, and her little frocks and shoes, I feel something biting in my heart, and as if I must have her in my arms again. And about you, my own precious boy, God knows how I feel, as I never could express to you; but I can tell Him, and I do."
And Arthur's mother buried her face again in her hands, and burst into an agony of weeping. He had never seen her cry like that before, and it was something quite new to him to see his sweet, gentle mother so moved. He hardly knew what to say to her; so he rose from his sofa, and coming close up to her chair, he threw his arms with a fervent embrace around her, and said softly:
"Never mind, my own dear mother; I will try and bear it."
And then Arthur cried too; for the bitterness of what it would be to bear it came over him.
"God will bless us both in it, my darling," said his mother; "and He will take care of us while we are separated, and bring us back to each other again some day, I trust. But Arthur, my own, am I leaving you in a loving Saviour's arms? Are you there, folded in His everlasting arms?"
"Mother," said Arthur in a faltering voice, "I do really believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. I am nearly sure I do. But I don't feel happy. I don't think much about Him, and it makes me feel frightened when I think about dying."
"But He says, 'Trust, and not be afraid,' and He says, 'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.' Oh, Arthur, I do leave you in His arms! for I am sure you are there if you trust in Him; and perhaps He is taking me away so that you may feel His arms, and that it is a very sweet thing to be there, and to be loved and taken care of for ever. As I do," she added, "in the midst of all my sorrows."
LAST DAYS AT ASHTON GRANGE.
Mrs. Estcourt, Mr. Vivyan's only sister, was a widow lady living by herself. Her home was in the neighbourhood of a large town, and here, in a comfortable, moderately-sized house, she had lived for many years. She had no children of her own, and when her husband had died she had seemed to wish to avoid much intercourse with any one, so that Arthur knew very little of his aunt. Once or twice he had seen her when she had paid very short visits at Ashton Grange. He remembered a very sad-looking lady, with a sweet face, who had held his hand as he stood by her chair, and that he had half liked it, and felt half awkward as she spoke to him. He remembered that as he had stood there, he had felt afraid to move or fidget in the least bit, and that every now and then, as he had stolen a glance at her, he had seen that her large dark eyes had been fixed upon him. He had been very glad when the nursery dinner-bell rang and he was obliged to go, without seeming to wish to run away.
"Nurse," said Arthur that day at dinner, "there's a black lady down stairs."
"A black lady!" said nurse; "there's a way to speak of your aunt, Master Arthur. Mrs. Estcourt is your papa's own sister."
"Well, she looked all black, I know," said Arthur. "I think I won't go down stairs much while she is there."
Nurse remarked that if he were going to stay she hoped he would be quiet and well-behaved; but as he had to keep all his quiet behaviour for the drawing-room, it is to be feared nurse's temper was tried a little during the few days that Mrs. Estcourt passed at Ashton Grange. Consequently Arthur's memories of his aunt were not such as to make him very happy at the prospect of living with her always.
"Mother," said Arthur, on the evening of the day after he had heard about these strange things that were going to happen, "is the aunt that I am going to live with, that one that came here once?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Vivyan; "She is very kind, Arthur, and I know she will love you very much, if——"
"Yes, if I am good, I know," said Arthur; "and that's just the difference. You know, mamma, you always love me, whatever I am."
"Of course," said his mother, smiling; "but you could not expect any one to love you in the way your mother does. You would not like her to be your mother, would you?"
"No, of course not. Now, mother, tell me something about what her place is like, and where it is, and what sort of things I shall do when I am there. I have loads of questions to ask, only I forget them now."
"Well, begin then," said his mother; "perhaps one will remind you of another."
"First of all, then, what is the name of her place?"
"Myrtle Hill, near Stanton."
"Myrtle Hill! what a funny name. Is it at all like this, mother?"
"No, dear, not much. I am afraid it is a much more orderly kind of place. But I will try to describe it to you. It is a good many years since I was there, and I did not notice things so very much. It is a white house with myrtle trained over the lower parts, and a great many myrtle trees growing in the avenue; that is why it is called Myrtle Hill. I know there is a large garden with a good many shady places under the trees, that I remember thinking would be delightful in the summer. There is a front garden too."
"That's nice," said Arthur.
"Oh, but I don't expect your aunt will like little boys to have the run of her garden!"
"I daresay she will," said Arthur. "She is going to be very fond of me, you know."
"Well, that is question number one. Now, what is the second?"
"Yes; where does she live?"
"It is a good way from this; about six hours by the train, and five miles from Stanton."
"Oh, yes! and that reminds me of another question. How am I to learn? Will she teach me? I hope not."
"No," said Mrs. Vivyan; "we have thought you are old enough to go to school now. There is a very good school between your aunt's house and the town. It is about two miles from Myrtle Hill, and you would go there every morning and come back early in the evening."
"Ah, I like that very much," said Arthur joyfully; "that really is jolly, mother. Who keeps the school?"
"A very nice gentleman. Your father has known him for a long time."
"He is tremendously strict, I suppose?"
"Well, I daresay he likes to be obeyed," said Mrs. Vivyan; "but that is quite right, isn't it?"
"Yes, of course," Arthur answered. "What is his name, mother?"
"Well, I don't like that name," said Arthur emphatically; "but I suppose he can't help that. Does he wear spectacles?"
"No, I should think not," said Mrs. Vivyan, smiling; "he is not old enough. I think he is not quite so old as your father."
"I suppose he is rather young then. I am glad of that. I should never be so much afraid of youngish people as of old ones."
"Any more questions?" asked Mrs. Vivyan presently. "There is one question you have not asked, Arthur, darling, that I was expecting, and it is the one question that my heart is paining to have to answer."
"What can it be, mother?" said Arthur wonderingly. "I think I have asked a great many. What can it be?"
And then he thought for a little while very earnestly. At length a troubled look came into his eyes, and he looked at his mother, and said softly—
"I know, mother, I know, and I am rather afraid to ask; but I must, for I want to know. When am I going?" The question came out very slowly.
"Arthur, my own darling little boy," said his mother, pressing her arm very closely around him, and he could hear the quiver in her voice as she spoke, "it is very soon. We did not tell you until just at the end, when we were obliged to do it; because what was the use of making you unhappy before we need?"
"Well, when is it?" said Arthur.
"It is the day after to-morrow."
"Oh, mother, mother!" was all Arthur said; and he became very still indeed.
By and by he said, in a very troubled voice, "I wish I had known it before."
"Because then—oh, mother!" said Arthur, bursting into tears, "I would have stayed with you all the day, and I would not have done anything you don't like."
And then the tears came into his mother's eyes, and she said tenderly—
"But I knew it, Arthur dear, and I kept you with me as much as I could. And, my darling, you do not often do things I don't like."
"Oh, yes I do, mother, very often!" said Arthur, sobbing still.
"Well, dear, if you do, I know that with it all you really do love me."
Arthur gave her hand a passionate squeeze, and said, "Indeed, indeed I do, mother."
And then Arthur said no more, but fell into a grave fit of musing. Presently he roused himself, and said, "But, mamma, how can I go in two days? Are there not things to be done? Mustn't I have a lot of new clothes, and ever so many things?"
"But, don't you see," said Mrs. Vivyan with a smile, half amused and half sad, "I have known it for a long time, and I have been making arrangements that my little boy knew nothing about."
"Oh, well," said Arthur with a deep sigh.
"Would you like to see some of the things that you are going to take away with you?" asked his mother.
"Yes, I think I should," said Arthur; but he spoke so hesitatingly; for dearly as he liked preparations for a journey, he remembered with a bitter pang what the preparations were for, and what the cause of the journey was.
Mrs. Vivyan opened the door of a small room adjoining her own, which was generally kept locked, and where, Arthur knew, he was not expected to go without being allowed. There was a large table near the window; it was covered with various things; there was a leather writing-case, a new paint-box, and a Polyglot Bible; there were several new books too, and a very large pile of new clothes, but they did not take up much of Arthur's attention. His quick eyes soon detected a fishing rod and cricket bat, that stood in the corner of the room near by; indeed there seemed to be nothing that his kind father and mother had not provided. He noticed something else that was there, and that was a Russia-leather purse; and when he took it to examine the inside he found that it was not empty—the first thing he saw was a five pound note!
"Oh, mamma!" said Arthur breathlessly; "who is all that money for?"
"Who do you think?" she asked, smiling.
"Well, I suppose for me," said Arthur; "but, mother, is all that really for me? It will last until you come back."
"Do you think so?" said Mrs. Vivyan. "Well, I hope you will use it well, and show that you can be trusted with so much."
"Is it to buy new clothes with, when I want any?" asked Arthur.
"No; I don't think you could quite manage that," said his mother, laughing; "besides, look at all the new clothes you have; don't you think they will last until I come back?"
"I don't know; I do use a great many clothes, certainly," said Arthur thoughtfully, as he remembered various rents in more than one of his little coats; "and boots, oh, yes, my boots must cost a great deal."
The next day Arthur devoted to taking a farewell ramble through the grounds; and in roaming through all the places in the country around, that he knew so well. He visited every little hiding-place, to which he and his companion had given names of their own, and then he sat down on the top of a high mound near the house, where on one of his birthdays a flagstaff had been planted. The gay-coloured flag was floating in the breeze now, and Arthur wondered whether if any one else came to live at Ashton Grange they would take down the flagstaff; "at any rate," he thought, "I will take down the flag. I think it is nicer that it should be folded up while we are all away. Oh, yes, and then it will be all ready to put up again, when we all come back, if we ever do come back again to this place. Let me see, I shall be almost a man then. Fancy me a man. I wonder what kind of a man I shall be. Like papa, I daresay; and yet they say I am like mother. I should think a man like mother would be very queer."
And Arthur began painting fancy pictures of the time when his father's term in India should be over; and though it was very pleasant to do it, and the things that he intended to happen then, were very much to his fancy, yet it was with a little sigh of regret that he said to himself, "But any way, I shall never be mother's little boy any more."
Then Arthur took out his new pocket knife and carved his name upon the flagstaff. "How odd if anybody sees it while we are away," he thought; "they will wonder whose name it is. Shall I put Arthur T. Vivyan? No, I think not, that might be Thomas. I should not like any one to think my name was Thomas."
So, after an hour's diligent labour, the name appeared, "Arthur Trevor Vivyan."
And then he sat down to take a last long look at everything. It was late in the afternoon, and the sun was shining with its soft spring gilding, sparkling through the ivy, and making the shadows of the woods look deeper. It was shining with a ruddy glow on the windows of the house, every window that he knew so well. There was his mother's room. Arthur always thought hers was the nicest window, and he used to be very glad that the roses climbed up there, and clustered lovingly around it. There was the little window on the landing over the hall door; where he remembered, on more than one occasion, he had made nurse very angry, by wishing to try if he could not climb out there, and plant himself on the top of the porch, so as to look like a statue. Then there was the drawing-room window, with the green Venetian blinds half drawn up, and the bright colours appearing from inside. Lastly, he looked to the nursery, where, oh, so often! he had watched for little Mildred's white-robed figure to appear. How pleased she used to be, when he stood where he was now! It was a sad, sad sever to Arthur's heart; only everything seemed so dark and sad just now, that he had not thought much about Mildred lately; but his eyes followed the sunlight on, far away, until they rested on one fair green spot amongst the trees, where he knew that a little green mound was covering his baby sister's form; and as all the sad things that had happened so lately came into Arthur's mind, and he thought of how different it had been a little while ago, he covered his face with his hands, and the sobs came thick and fast.
So that when after a little while he came indoors, and wandered into the room where he expected to find his mother, she saw that his eyes were red with crying, and she knew that his heart was as sad as her own. But she said brightly, "Arthur, I want you to help me. See, here are piles of your things, and I want you to help me to count them over, and to put down how many there are of each; that is what we call an inventory, and you must have an inventory, of course." Arthur was quite pleased with this idea, and presently he was very busy helping his mother. When it was all done, when the last little garment was laid neatly in the box, and the nice presents that had been given to him were stored away underneath, and Arthur's mother was resting in her armchair in the firelight, he drew his stool to her feet, and laid his head lovingly on her lap; and his mother felt the hot tears fall on her hands, and she saw that the brown curls were trembling with his crying, and she knew that the same thought was in his mind that had just been aching in hers—"For the last time!"
But Arthur did not cry long, for he was trying hard not to make her more unhappy than she was, and presently he stopped, and became very still, and after a little while he said softly—
"Talk to me, mamma."
"What shall I say, dear?"
"Oh, you know, mother! you always know the right things to say."
"And yet, Arthur," said his mother, after a very long pause, and speaking in a soft, low voice, as if she was afraid to speak louder, "I do not know what to say now, dear; for I never could say all that is in my heart. I can only say it to God about you, my own child."
"Do you often pray for me, mother? I don't think I ever miss praying for you any day."
"You are always in my heart, Arthur; and so when my heart rises to God, it bears you with it."
"How nice it is to have a mother," said Arthur in a restful voice, "even although—" and then he stopped; for he thought it was better to say no more.
"After all, it is not so very, very far to India," said Arthur. "How long would a telegram take getting there?"
"About two or three hours."
"Oh, dear, I wish I could be turned into a telegram!" sighed Arthur.
"Oh, but," said Mrs. Vivyan, laughing, "that would be only doing one little bit of good, and I want my Arthur to be of some use all the day long."
"How can I," asked Arthur, "without you?"
"Do you know who you belong to before me?" said his mother. "You know, Arthur, you have told me, and I believe it is true, that you have put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that His blood has washed all your sins away. Then, if that is true of you, you are your own no longer. You belong to Him; for He has bought you with a price. Is it not sweet, my darling, to feel that He says to you now, while you are being left at home, 'Thou art mine'? You know I love to take care of you, because you are mine; and don't you think He does much more? You know the Bible says that a mother may forget, but God never."
"Oh, mother, it is so nice to hear you talk," said Arthur. "Go on, please."
"Well, I was going to say, the Lord Jesus is always the best Friend; and now that you are going to leave me, perhaps you will think of Him, and look to Him, more than you have ever done before. Oh, Arthur, my child, get to know Him better; talk to Him as you have talked to me; tell Him about your little troubles, and joys, and sorrows; tell Him when you feel lonely and weary, and sit at His feet, just as you are now sitting at mine. Do you think He would turn you away? Just pour out your heart before Him, whatever is in it, because He loves you as only He can love."
"But, mamma, I can't see Him as I see you."
"No, my child; but that is where faith comes in. You must believe when you do not see; and remember that He said, 'Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.'"
"Mother, I think you were going to say something else," said Arthur, after a little while.
"Yes; I was talking about the first half of the text I had in my mind, and that I give you to keep from me—'Whose I am, and whom I serve,' I want you to know the sweetness of the first, my darling, and then I think you will want the last to be true of you, and He will show you the way."
"Yes, I know," said Arthur meditatively, "I ought to be patient, and gentle, and thoughtful; and, you know, mamma, it is just my nature to be the opposite, and I don't know how on earth I can be all that to that aunt."
"Oh, hush, dear! Of course you could not be expected to love her much at first; but that ought not to make any difference; for it is to please the Lord Jesus that you are to be all this, and the harder it is for you the more He will know that you really do try to please Him. Then, are there not other ways? I mean things that you could do to bring honour to Him. Think of your being the means of bringing God's salvation to anybody, or of making the heart of any of His people glad."
"Yes," Arthur said, "and I think I could try. I could give away tracts, or I could visit sick old women."
"Yes, and you might speak for Him."
"If He will help me," said Arthur reverently; "but that is a great deal more difficult, mother."
They did not talk much more that night, for it was getting late, and Arthur sat looking at the lights and shadows in the burning coals. Out of doors the fair spring evening had darkened into a gusty night; and the wind was sighing in the trees, and blowing the rose-bushes against the windows. It was very comfortable sitting there on the hearth-rug with his head on his mother's lap. Arthur felt so very safe, and it seemed to him that he could not be very unhappy, whatever happened to him, so long as he could be there. And he did not dare think of what it would be, when miles and miles of land and sea would stretch between him and this sweet, well-known resting-place. He would enjoy it for this last time without thinking of the dark, dreary to-morrow that was coming.
It had to come at length. Arthur awoke that morning with a great, dreary burden pressing on his heart, and a feeling of half horror, and half unbelieving, that it could really be true.
He hardly knew how he dressed, and he did not notice that the daylight had not changed the dreariness of last night's weather; for a chill mist was falling outside, and if he had looked for the fields and hills near he would have found them all hidden in the damp fog.
Mrs. Vivyan was waiting for him in the breakfast-room, and presently, as she stood there, the door opened, and a very solemn-looking face appeared. Arthur had been nerving himself for this time; he had been trying very hard not to cry; and he had succeeded pretty well until now, although on the way down stairs he had to bite his lips very hard as he felt the tears in his eyes. But now, as he came into the warm, comfortable room, and noticed everything there, it was no use trying to keep it in any longer. His mother had provided that morning everything he liked best, he could see that.
"Come, dear," she said, "you must make a good breakfast to please me, you know, Arthur." Her own face was very, very pale, and Arthur little knew the intense effort it was to her to speak at all. So he sat down in his own little chair, and was very still and silent for some moments; but presently Mrs. Vivyan saw him moving his cup of coffee away, and when there was a clear space before him he threw his arms on the table and buried his head there. It was only just in time; for a very bitter cry broke from his heart and his lips: "Oh, mamma, mamma, I can't go! Oh, do stay with me! Don't you think you ought to stay?"
What could she say? What could she do, but lift up her heart to her refuge and strength?
While she was doing this, Arthur's sobs gradually ceased, and presently he said, in a little broken voice, "I did not mean to do it, mother; I did try not."
But he could not eat much breakfast, and after a little while he came nearer to her side, and said, "Just let me stay until papa comes for me. I don't want you to talk. I only want to stay here." For Mr. Vivyan had gone into the town, not intending to come back until just before the time, when he would come to fetch Arthur away to the new home, where his heart certainly was not.
So they did not speak at all during that hour; only Arthur sat with his head pressed very closely on his mother's shoulder, and holding her hands in both his, as if he would never loosen his hold.
By and by there was a brisk step in the hall, and out of doors carriage wheels could be heard on the road; and then Mrs. Vivyan lifted the curly head, that was leaning on her shoulder. Arthur knew what it meant—the bitterest moment that had ever come to him was now at hand—and it was only a few minutes, before the good-bye would begin the five long years of separation.
Everything was ready, and he had only to put on his coat and comforter. He was in a kind of maze, as he felt the warm coat put on him, and as his mother's white hands tied the scarf round his neck. Then her arms were pressed very closely around him, and as he lay there like a helpless little baby, he could just hear her whispered farewell, "Good-bye, my own child; may God take care of you." Then Arthur felt that his father's hand was holding his, and that he was leading him away. Suddenly he remembered something that he had forgotten. "Oh, father!" he said, "please stop a moment; I must do something I forgot." This was a tiny white paper parcel, which he had been keeping for this last moment, in a hidden corner upstairs. Arthur ran up to the place, and bringing it down he put it in his mother's hands, and said, "That's what I made for you, mother."
She did not open it until he was gone; and perhaps it was well that Arthur did not see the passion of tears that were shed over that little parcel. It was only a piece of ivory carved in the shape of a horseshoe, or rather there was an attempt at carving it in that shape; and on a slip of paper was written, in Arthur's round hand, "For my own dear mother to wear while I am away. This is to be made into a brooch."
MYRTLE HILL; OR, THE NEW HOME.
When Arthur Vivyan was looking forward, with such feelings of dread, he did not know that his aunt was hardly less anxiously expecting his arrival; and that, much as he feared what living with her would be, her thoughts had been very troubled ones on the same subject. She had lived alone for so many years now, and as she said, she was so little accustomed to children, she was afraid that her young nephew would find her home deary and sad; that she might not understand him herself, or that she might be foolishly indulgent and blind to the faults, which might make him grow useless and miserable. She had spent many anxious hours thinking of all this, and laying plans about the care she would take of him, and all the ways in which she would try to make him happy and contented.
Arthur and his father had left Ashton by an afternoon train, which did not bring them into the town, near Mrs. Estcourt's house, until it was quite dark. It was a very cheerless journey to Arthur. Generally he liked travelling by the railway, and when he took his seat by his father's side, his spirits rose very high as they passed quickly along, and the new scenes and sights, that he watched from the carriage window, occupied his attention pretty fully.
But this time it was quite different. His mother's sweet, sad farewell was still sounding in his ears; and as the train rushed along on its way, he knew that it was bearing him farther and farther away from her, and from the home where he had lived so long. He could hardly have explained his own feelings; only a very dreary aching was in his heart; and as he thought of the strange new place, where he was going, and then of the miles and miles of land and sea, that would soon lie between himself and his father and mother, he felt very strange and desolate, and you would hardly have recognized the grave, serious-looking face as Arthur Vivyan's.
Perhaps it was that expression that drew the attention of an old gentleman, who was sitting opposite to him. At any other time, Arthur would have been inclined to be amused at this old gentleman; for he came into the carriage, bringing so many parcels and wraps, that for some little time he was stowing them away, talking all the while to nobody in particular, and finishing every sentence with "Eh?"
"Going to school, my boy—eh?" he asked at length, after he had looked at Arthur's mournful face for some little time.
Arthur did not feel much inclined to talk just then, so he only said "No;" and then remembering that, in fact, he was to go to school while he was living at his aunt's, he was obliged to say, "At least, yes."
"'No' and 'yes' both; not quite sure—eh?" asked the old gentleman.
Then Mr. Vivyan turned round, and explained that his son was going to live with his aunt, and that he would go to school from her house.
"Oh, that's it—eh? Fine times for you then, young man. When I was a boy things were different with me, I can tell you. Hundred boys where I was; and I was one of the little fellows, who had to make it easy for the big ones. Up at six in the morning—coldest winter mornings. Never had a chance of getting near the fire; never went home for the winter holidays. How would you like that—eh?"
"I don't suppose I should like it at all," said Arthur. But he thought in his own mind, that his case was not much better.
After a few more remarks from his old friend opposite, when he saw him pull his cap over his face and settle himself to sleep, he was more pleased than otherwise.
Poor little Arthur! He thought he was feeling desolate enough; and as he sat by his father's side, and thought that even he would soon be far away, it made him feel inclined to cling more closely to him than he had ever done before; so that, when the jolting of the train made his head knock against his father's shoulder, he let it stay there, and presently he found his father's strong arm was around him, and Arthur felt that he loved him more than he had ever done before.
"Cheer up, Arthur, my boy," he heard him say presently, and his voice had a softer sound, than it sometimes had, he thought. "We may all be very happy yet some day together, and not very long, you know. Five years soon pass, you know, Arthur."
But five years had a very long, dreary sound to him just then. In fact, he could not bear to think of it at all; and he was afraid that if he thought or spoke on the subject, that he should cry, which he did not wish to do just then; so he gave a very deep, long sigh.
By and by he went to sleep. Perhaps it was because he had spent several waking hours the night before, and that this day had been a dinnerless one for him; but so it was, and when he awoke it was to a scene of confusion and bustle, for they had arrived at their journey's end, and the guard was calling aloud, "Oldbridge."
Arthur rubbed his sleepy eyes, as the station lights flashed brightly, and the train came to a sudden stop. "Come, Arthur, my boy, here we are. Make haste and open your eyes. We have a drive before us, so you will have time to wake up on the way to your aunt's," said Mr. Vivyan, as they threaded their way along the crowded platform.
It was a very dark night; there was no moon, and thick clouds shut out the starlight. Oldbridge station stood at the extreme end of the town, and in order to reach Myrtle Hill, they must drive along a country road of two or three miles. In summer time this was a very pleasant way, for the trees sheltered it on one side, while the other was bordered with a hedgerow and wide-spreading fields; but now on this dark night, nothing of all this was seen, and Arthur wondered what kind of a place they were passing through. When he had made little pictures in his mind of their arrival at Oldbridge, they had not been at all what the reality was. He had imagined a drive through a busy town, where they would pass through street after street, and that the bright gas would light the way, and show him the place and the things that they passed.
"What kind of a place are we in, father?" asked Arthur. "There seem to be no houses—I hope the man knows the way—and they have no light at all."
"Well, I think certainly a little light would be desirable; but the people here don't seem to think so. Well, never mind, we shall have light enough by and by. It will be pleasant to see aunt's snug, warm house, won't it, Arthur?"
"Yes," said Arthur; but his answer was a very faint one; for he thought of another warm, bright home that he knew very well; and that there was some one there, sitting in the old chair, and that the rug at her feet was empty, and he had to smother a bitter sob that arose, and hold himself very still, as a shivering feeling passed over him.
But presently Arthur's quick eye caught a bright gleam, shining through the darkness, and soon he found that it was a lamp over a gateway, and that they were nearing their destination. The lamp showed just enough for him to see, that inside the gateway a broad gravel walk led up to the house between thick laurel bushes; and soon the sound of the wheels grating over the gravel, told him that they were driving up the avenue, and would soon be there. His father began to collect their rugs and packages, and seemed to be very contented that they had arrived. As for Arthur himself he hardly knew what he felt; not particularly glad, certainly; for there was far too dreary and heavy a feeling at his heart just then, to leave room for much gladness; still, he was very tired and cold, and perhaps even hungry, so that it was with some feeling of satisfaction that he felt the carriage stop, and looking out he saw the warm firelight from within, dancing on the curtained windows, and shining through the windows in the hall.
It was not very long before they were standing inside the hall door; and Arthur had just one minute to look about him while his father was taking off his great coat. Any one who took notice of things could see that no children belonged to Myrtle Hill. Everything was in the most perfect order. The hair mats were white and unruffled, the chairs were placed in an orderly manner against the wall, and no dust lay upon them. Just as Arthur was looking round with an admiring eye, one of the doors opened; and a lady appeared, that he knew was his aunt. It was almost like a new introduction to him, for he had not seen her for a very long time, and then only for a day or two. She greeted her brother very warmly, and then she turned to him. "And so this is Arthur," she said; and it was almost timidly that she spoke, for she was almost as much afraid of her little nephew, as he was of her. "Ronald, he is a great deal more like Louisa than you. His eyes are like hers."
"Yes, I believe he is generally considered to be so," said Mr. Vivyan, smiling. "A great compliment; don't you think so yourself, Arthur?"
Arthur always had a very peculiar feeling when people looked at him, and said who he was like. He did not very much approve of it on the whole; and once he had confidentially asked his mother why the ladies and gentlemen who came to Ashton Grange did not make remarks about her face, and say who they thought she was like. At present he was making use of his blue eyes in taking an accurate account of his aunt.
Well, she was nice. Yes, he thought he should love her. She had a sweet sound in her voice, and a gentle expression about her mouth, that made him think she could not be unkind. She was not like his own mother in the least; she was not nearly so pretty, Arthur thought. His mother had pink on her cheeks, and a smile on her lips; but her face was very pale and colourless, her eyes were very deep and sad ones, and when she looked at him they seemed so large and dark, and as if they were saying what she did not speak with her lips. He felt he would love his aunt; but he was not quite sure that he would not be a little afraid of her, at first at any rate.
"You must be quite ready for something to eat," said Mrs. Estcourt, as she led the way to the drawing-room. "You dined before you came away, Ronald, of course."
"Yes, I did; but Arthur did not. I don't think he has had much to eat all day, poor boy."
Mrs. Estcourt looked very much surprised as she said, "Why, how could that be, Arthur? I thought boys were always hungry."
"Well, I think I am generally," said Arthur, "only I was not to-day."
"Why not?" said his aunt.
"Don't ask me why, please," said Arthur in a low voice, "or else perhaps I might cry, and I don't want to do that."
She seemed to understand him, for she asked no more questions; only she took his hand as they went into the drawing-room, and as Arthur looked in her face, he thought there was something in her deep eyes, that reminded him of his mother.
If the hall at Myrtle Hill was neat and orderly, the drawing-room surely was equally so. There seemed to be everything in the room, that one could possibly want; and a great many that seemed to Arthur to be of no particular use. He could not help thinking of the difference there would be in that room, if he and Hector were to have a round in it. But it was very bright and comfortable, he thought; and this opinion seemed to be shared by a large white dog that lay in front of the fire. "Great, sleepy thing," thought Arthur; "I would not give old Hector for ten cats like that."
The tea-table itself was a very attractive object to his eyes just then; and he turned his attention to it now. Arthur thought it looked rather in keeping with the rest of the room. The silver teapot and cream-jug were bright and shining, but they were rather small; and he could not help thinking that it would take a great many of those daintily-cut slices of bread and butter, to satisfy his appetite; so he was glad to see a good-sized loaf on a table near, and other more substantial things which had been added for the travellers. Indeed he need not have been afraid of not having enough to eat, for his aunt, in her ignorance of boyish appetites, would not have been surprised, if he had consumed all that was before him. So that Arthur had to be quite distressed, that he could not please her by eating everything.
"I wonder what she lives on herself," he thought, as he noticed the one tiny slice lying almost undiminished on her plate; "and I wonder how I should feel if I did not eat more than that."
By and by they drew their chairs to the fire, and Mrs. Estcourt gave Arthur a beautifully-ornamented hand-screen to shade the heat from his face; as he sat with his feet on the fender, listening to his father's and aunt's conversation.
"Well, you have a snug little place here," said Mr. Vivyan.
"Yes, I suppose so," Mrs. Estcourt said; but she sighed as she spoke.
"It seems like old times, eh, Daisy?"
A light shone on her face for a minute and then was gone, as she said, "'Tis very odd to hear any one call me that, Ronald. I have not heard it since——," and then that deep look of pain came again. But as she looked at Arthur almost a merry smile curled the corners of her mouth, and she said, "Arthur thinks so too, I know."
This was true; for he had just been thinking that if his aunt was like a flower at all, she was more like a lily or a snowdrop, or a very white violet. But he only said, "Is that what I shall have to call you, then? Aunt Daisy! that sounds rather funny, I think."
Mrs. Estcourt laughed and said, "Well, I think perhaps it does; so if you like you can say Aunt Margaret."
"Oh, I don't like that at all!" said Arthur in a very decided tone. "No, please; I would rather say the other; and I think perhaps you are like a daisy when you can't see the red."
"Well, you are a funny little boy," Mrs. Estcourt said; and she laughed quite merrily.
"Arthur," said his father, "you are forgetting your good manners, I am afraid;" but he seemed rather amused himself.
"Do you often say those funny things, Arthur?" asked his aunt.
"I believe he is rather given to speaking his mind freely," said Mr. Vivyan.
"Did I say anything rude?" asked Arthur, looking up earnestly into his aunt's face.
"No, dear, nothing at all; only, you know, I am not accustomed to little boys; and so perhaps that is why the things they say sound odd to me."
"Well, aunt," said Arthur, "mind, if I seem to say rude things I don't mean them; I don't really; and I should be very sorry to say rude things to you, because I think I like you."
"You don't say so," said Mr. Vivyan, laughing.
But Mrs. Estcourt did not laugh; she stooped down and kissed Arthur; and then she held his hand in hers for a little while, so that it almost felt to him as if it was some one else's hand, and, though it was very pleasant to have such a kind aunt, that he felt he would love, it brought a strange, choking feeling into his throat, and his eyes felt as if they would like to cry; so he suddenly jumped up, and said—
"I think I should like to go to bed."
Mrs. Estcourt took him up herself into the room that was to be his own. It was a pretty, pleasant room, and a bright fire was burning in the grate. There seemed to have been a great deal of thought, spent on the comfort of the person who was to sleep there; and Arthur almost smiled, if he could have smiled at anything then, as his aunt hoped he would not want anything, and said she would send him a night-light presently.
"No, thank you," he said; "I always sleep in the dark."
"You are a brave boy, I suppose," said Mrs. Estcourt.
"I don't know," Arthur said; "but mother always says it is wrong to be afraid."
"Wrong?" asked his aunt.
"Yes; because don't you know, aunt, we ought to trust in God, mother says."
"Then are you never afraid, dear Arthur?" his aunt was just going to say; but as she looked at him she saw that his lips were trembling, and that the tears were filling his eyes; for the mention of his mother's name was bringing memories to Arthur, and he was thinking of the times in the old nursery at Ashton Grange, when he used to be frightened sometimes in the dark; and she had sat with him then, and told him about the angels of the Lord encamping round about them that fear Him, and about the kind, tender Lord Jesus, who takes care of all who put their trust in Him.
So she only put her arms around him, and kissed him very tenderly; and then she went away. It was only just in time; for as Arthur heard the door shut behind her, and knew that nobody would see or hear him, the tears that had been burning under his eyes all the evening came at last, and Arthur threw himself sobbing upon his bed. But his grief did not last long that night, for he was very tired and sleepy. He was excited too with the strange scenes and places, through which he had passed, and on which he was just entering; so it was not very long before he was sleeping as soundly in the white curtained bed, that his aunt had taken such pains to prepare for him, as he had ever done in the old room at Ashton Grange. That room was empty now. The little bed was there with the coverlet undisturbed, but no curly head lay on the pillow; and as Arthur's mother stood there thinking of her little boy, and of the miles that lay between them, and that soon the broad ocean sweep would separate her from her child, her heart sank very low, and she thought that she was like Rachael, weeping for her children. But she was comforted, for she knew the comfort of having a Friend, who had borne her griefs and carried her sorrows; and when her heart was overwhelmed within her she said, "Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I;" and He said to her, "None of them that trust in Him shall be desolate." She listened to His word that says, "Trust in Him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before Him. God is a refuge for us."
Is it not a happy thing, when a heart is full and bursting—so full that it cannot contain—to know that there is One, whose name is Love, before whom that heart can be poured out? Is it not the place where the Master would have His disciples, sitting at His feet, hearing His word? And is not that the cure for being careful and troubled about many things? And if our hearts have chosen that good part, we know that He has promised that it shall not be taken away. And as Arthur's mother thought of this, she said, "Hide me under the shadow of thy wings."
Arthur had been very tired the night before; so that the spring sun was shining quite brightly, when he found himself lying awake in his new room. Indeed, he did not know whether he would have awaked even then, if he had not heard a knocking at his door, and then a voice saying—
"If you please shall I light your fire?"
"No, thank you," said Arthur; and then to himself he added, "I'm not quite such a muff as that!" Then he began to examine his room. "I wonder is this going to be my room always!" thought Arthur. "'Tis much nicer than my room at home, only I don't like it half so well; indeed, I don't."
It was a very pretty room certainly. The paper on the wall was bright and soft-looking, with a pattern of bunches of spring flowers, tied with silver ribbon. The carpet was something of the same sort, and it reminded him of primroses hidden in the grass. The window-curtains were spotlessly white, with green cords, and the chair-coverings were a soft green.
"Yes; it certainly is a very nice room," said Arthur to himself, after looking round and examining everything; "but I think it is a great deal more like a girl's room than a boy's. What can she think I want with such a lot of looking-glasses? And I suppose she thinks I like reading and writing very much;" for he saw that the book-shelves were well filled, and that in the corner of the room there was a small table, where a writing-case and inkstand stood. "Well, she may think so. I expect she will soon find out her mistake."
Arthur was more cheerful this morning, than he had been the evening before. It was natural to him to feel hopeful in the morning. He liked the feeling of awaking in a strange place. At least he had always liked it hitherto; though with the pleasant feeling of excitement and interest it brought, there came a dreamy heart-sinking too; for he could not forget, that this was to be no visit, but that he was to live on here for years and years without his mother.
But the sun was shining very brightly into his room, and as he stood waiting for some call downstairs; he thought he would like to see what kind of surroundings belonged to his new home.
Very different was the view he now saw from the country that lay around Ashton Grange. From the highest window there, the view extended over only a few miles, and the green wooded hills that arose, not so very far off, marked the horizon to the pretty country scene that Arthur knew so well; but here a wide stretch of country lay beneath him, undulating here and there, but spreading far on, covered with fields and trees, and dotted with hamlets, until it faded away into grey distance. The sun had risen not long before, and the rosy beams were falling on the country, lighting with a ruddy radiance the windows of the cottages, and sparkling on the little river that was winding peacefully through the pasture land. It was a very sweet scene, and Arthur felt its beauty. He could not see the town, where they arrived the night before; for a stretch of woodland near by shut it out from his sight.
Having looked at the distant hills, he now turned his attention to the objects nearer home. How very neatly the gravel walks were rolled. The grass was smooth and evenly cut; not even the little daisies were allowed to peep their modest heads from the lawn. "Well, I wonder aunt cuts off all the heads of her namesakes," said Arthur to himself. His window was at the side of the house, and he could see that the garden surrounded it on all sides, and that the low trees that led down to the arbour gave their name to Myrtle Hill. It was early spring-time yet, and not very many flowers were blooming; only here and there bright-coloured tufts of crocuses and primroses were shining on the brown earth, and the snowdrops were shaking their bended heads, in the morning breeze. Arthur looked at it all, and wondered whether he should ever be as familiar with this place, as he was with the home far away. This thought led him into a reverie, and he began to wonder what every one was doing at this time there—who was feeding Hector; and would the gardener's boy remember to water the seeds; though he remembered with a deep sigh that it did not matter very much, as long before they would be in bloom, Ashton Grange would be empty and deserted; and this thought was a very dreary one. Arthur was beginning to feel very dismal again. The changing spring sky, too, had become overclouded; the morning sun was hidden, and it seemed as if a shower was going to fall. There was a prospect of a shower indoors, too; for Arthur dashed the tear-drops from his eyes, and said, "I won't cry; no, I won't; I'm always crying now. I wonder how mother can keep from it so well. Well, perhaps when I am as old as she is I shall be able; or, perhaps I shall be like papa, and not want to cry. I wonder if he does ever; it would be queer to see father cry. Perhaps he did when he was in India by himself."
And Arthur almost laughed to himself at the idea. Presently a bell sounded through the house. "I suppose," thought Arthur, "that is the breakfast-bell; it ought to be by this time. But then, suppose it should not be; suppose it should be some bell that I have nothing to do with; it would not be at all pleasant to go down. I think I will wait for a little, and see; but then, if it should be the breakfast-bell, aunt will think I am a lazy thing. So what shall I do? I will go."
And so saying, Arthur opened his door in a determined manner, walking along the corridor; where some canaries were hung in a cage, making his ears quite aware of their presence. Notwithstanding the courage with which he had left his room, it was with a cautious step he came near the dining-room, and opening the door very gently he was quite relieved to see that his father and his aunt were both there.
As he came into the room Mrs. Estcourt was talking to his father, and she seemed in rather an anxious state of mind, as he listened to her with an amused expression on his face. "You know, Ronald, you—you really must begin breakfast, the carriage will be coming round in no time. And you are not nearly ready, dear Arthur," she said, giving him a hurried kiss. "Where are the railway rugs and the shawls? Your father will want them; for it is a cold morning."
"Now, my dear sister," said Arthur's father, putting his hand on her shoulder, "don't be putting yourself into a fuss about nothing; I always take my time, and I think I generally manage to come in all right in the end. I want some breakfast, please, when you are ready, Daisy. Good morning, my darling little boy," and Mr. Vivyan put his arm very tightly round Arthur's neck, and gave him such a kiss, as he had never remembered having had from him before. "Now, don't cry, Arthur," he said; for this loving embrace from his father was bringing the tears into his eyes again. "Do you know what I was thinking about, when I was looking out of my window this morning? I was thinking of you; and I came to the conclusion that you ought to think yourself very well off. Here you are with an aunt who is going to make ever so much of you, I can see; going to live in a most beautiful country, with a school near, where, of course, the boys will be pleasant companions if you are pleasant to them; a half-holiday every Saturday; a father and mother gone away for a little while, thinking of you all the day; and a letter from India—I won't say how often. Ah, it was very different when you and I were young! Eh, Daisy?"
"No. I think I was very happy then," said Mrs. Estcourt. "I am sure our grandfather and grandmother were just as good as any one could be."
"Yes; for you, my dear, I daresay they were; but I was not you, you know. Well, I'm very glad some times have not to come over again. I suppose Arthur is feeling that just now."
Mr. Vivyan himself seemed very well contented with his present position, and Arthur thought so.
"Father," he said presently, "as I have to stay in England, of course I would rather be with Aunt Daisy than with any one else, and I think this is a very pretty place indeed. But you don't know how frightfully I wish I was going to India with you. Don't you wish you could take me, father?" asked Arthur a little wistfully.
"My dear little boy, I wish it so much, that it is one of the things it is better not to think about. And then, you know, you must always look on the bright side of things, and there are plenty of bright sides for you. Just think of all the bright sides I have been showing you. Now, let us have some breakfast, or really, auntie, I shall be late."
But before Mrs. Estcourt moved, she said in a very low voice, and as if she did not think any one else heard her—
"There is not always a bright side to look at." For she was thinking that all the brightness had been taken away from her life's story. Would not Arthur's mother have said, "If there is none anywhere else, look to where the Lord Jesus waits to bless you, saying, 'Your heart shall rejoice;' and then the light of His love would make the shadiest life shine with a summer gleaming?"
Arthur's appetite seemed really gone this morning, and his aunt's attention was too much occupied with anxiety about his father's comfort for the journey, to notice that he was eating hardly anything; and in the midst of his trouble the thought came across Arthur's mind that it was a very good thing he was not hungry, as he felt a great deal too shy to help himself.
Presently there was the sound of carriage wheels on the gravel outside. "Now," said Mrs. Estcourt, starting up, "there is the carriage, Ronald; I knew it would be here before you were ready."
"Well," said Mr. Vivyan quietly, "you know one of us would have to be ready first, and I would rather the carriage waited for me than I for it. Besides, I am quite ready. Now, my dear sister, expend your energies in seeing if my luggage is all right."
Then Arthur and his father were left alone.
"Now, my darling boy," Mr. Vivyan said, "come here. I want to speak to you, and to say good-bye."
So Arthur came closer to his chair, and his father put his arms around him, and took his hand in his.
"Arthur," he said, "perhaps you don't know how much I love you, and how deeply anxious I am about you, that you should grow up to be a man that your mother need not be ashamed of. You know, Arthur, I cannot talk to you as she does; but I pray for you every day, and now especially that I am leaving you. But we shall have another home on earth some day, I trust; and, better than that, you know about the home where the Lord Jesus is waiting for those who are washed in His blood. You are going to that home, my precious boy?"
"Yes, father," said Arthur in a low voice.
"Well, then, you know you always have that to think about; and now I will give you this text to keep from me while I am away, 'Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.' And won't it be nice to get a letter from India!"
"Yes, oh yes, father," said Arthur, bursting into a flood of tears; "but it would be so much nicer to be going."
"Hush, hush," said Mr. Vivyan kindly; "you know there are some things that God has forbidden, and it is wrong to think of how nice they would be. I suppose you cannot think of how pleasant a great many things you have are just now, but by and by you will find it out."
This was just what Arthur was thinking. It was very strange to him to hear his father talking in this way to him; he had never done so before; and it made him love him as he did not know he ever could. It was quite true that everything was looking black and gloomy, and that to try and see brightness in his life at Myrtle Hill seemed to make the dreary feeling more intense at his heart. But still he could lie down at the feet of the Master who is so kind, and rest there while earthly things were so dark, and trust Him, waiting while the violence of the storm was passing. Arthur had answered the Shepherd's call—"Follow thou me," and the one who has said that "He gathers the lambs in His arms, and carries them in His bosom."
"And now, my boy," said Mr. Vivyan, "God bless you and keep you; good-bye, my own dear little boy." Then he put his arm around Arthur's neck, and kissed him. A minute after, Arthur was standing by himself before the drawing-room fire; and when presently he heard the carriage roll away, and the sounds became gradually fainter and fainter in the distance, he felt that he was all alone.
Indeed, he hardy knew what he felt. There seemed to be a sudden quiet hush within him, and as he looked outside the window where the carriage had just stood, and the bustle of going away had just ceased, the quiet of every thing seemed very still and deep. Only the little birds were just the same, singing gaily as if nothing had happened, and the morning breeze was brushing the myrtle trees as they did every spring morning when the sun was making the country look glad.
Presently he heard steps outside the door, and as they came nearer and nearer, Arthur felt as if he would like to run away; for he was afraid his aunt might talk about his father and mother, and he felt as if he could not talk of anything just then. But he need not have been afraid, Mrs. Estcourt was wiser than that, and she only said kindly—
"Would you like to go out and look about you a little, Arthur dear? It will not rain just yet, I think; and you may go where you like; at least, that is, if you are accustomed to go by yourself."
"I should think I am, indeed," said Arthur; "why I have done that ever since I was eight."
"You won't lose your way?" asked his aunt anxiously.
"If I do, I shall have to find it again, you know, aunt," said Arthur.
"You are a funny little fellow," said Mrs. Estcourt. "Well, if you get hungry before luncheon-time, you must come and tell me."
Arthur thought of Hector, and how pleasant it would be if his old friend would come bounding in answer to his whistle; then he looked at the sleepy white-haired creature lying on the hearth-rug.
"Aunt Daisy," he said, "would you like me to take out that white fellow?"
"What, dear?" said Mrs. Estcourt. "Oh, I don't know, Arthur; I think, perhaps, not just yet; not until you are more accustomed to it."
"Very well," said Arthur, as he went away; and he said to himself, "I would quite as soon not."
Arthur felt, as he stood outside the hall door, as if all the world was before him, to choose where he would go. He thought he would first examine the garden, which encircled the house on all sides. A gap in the myrtle bushes led him down a narrow path into a large space, which the fruit trees and vegetables showed was the kitchen garden. He walked round, and noticed how neatly the beds were kept, and that the walks even here were stripped of weeds. Two boys who were working there, rather older than himself, eyed him curiously. Arthur wondered whether they knew who he was; but he felt inclined to be where there was no one else just then. So he left the garden, and passing out through the iron gate, he found himself on the high road, turning to walk down in the direction which they had come the night before. Presently a sign-post stood before him, one hand pointing to Stratton, and the other to Harford. Arthur followed the last name along a green, flowery lane, where the wild roses were mantling their green, and here and there an early bud was making its appearance. He walked on for some distance, until the high road was hidden by a bend in the lane, and the green trees began to arch overhead; and on each side, the road was bordered with grass and green, velvety moss; the birds were warbling soft songs in the branches, and from the wood hard by the sweet cooing of the pigeons could be heard. It was a very pleasant spot, so much so, that when Arthur threw himself down on the grass to rest, he said with a deep sigh, "Well, it might be worse; and Aunt Daisy is certainly very kind."