Roger Ingleton, Minor
By Talbot Baines Reed You would expect this book with its schoolish title, and by one of the most distinguished authors of books about school-life, to be another such book. But it isn't, and in fact it is much more of an adult's book than a child's.
Old squire Roger Ingleton dies in the first few pages of the book, and we are left with two more Roger Ingletons. The first of these had had a row with his family twenty years before, had stormed out, had then led a dissipated life, and finally had been reported dead somewhere in India.
The third one is the eponymous hero of the book. He is handed a sealed envelope left by his deceased father, and in it the father says that he is not at all sure that the older son is really dead. So young Roger goes looking for his older brother, who will of course then inherit all the property. Honest and generous, we must say!
The book takes us through all sorts of twists, and is really very good value. We recommend that you read it or listen to it, as it is well worth the trouble. NH. ROGER INGLETON, MINOR
BY TALBOT BAINES REED
The snow lay thick round Maxfield Manor. Though it had been falling scarcely an hour, it had already transfigured the dull old place from a gloomy pile of black and grey into a gleaming vision of white. It lodged in deep piles in the angles of the rugged gables, and swirled up in heavy drifts against the hall-door. It sat heavily on the broad ivy- leaves over the porch, and blotted out lawn, path, and flowerbed in a universal pall of white velvet. The wind-flattened oaks in the park were become tables of snow; and away over the down, to the edge of the cliff itself, the dazzling canopy stretched, making the gulls as they skimmed its surface in troubled flight appear dingy, and the uneasy ocean beyond more than ever grey and leaden.
And the snow was falling still, and promised to make a night of it. At least so thought one of the inmates of the manor-house as he got up from his music-stool and casually looked out of the fast-darkening window, thanking his stars that it mattered little to him, in his cosy bachelor- den, whether it went on a night or a fortnight. This complacent individual was a man at whom one would be disposed to look twice before coming to any definite conclusion respecting him. At the first glance you might put him down for twenty-five; at the second, you would wonder whether you had possibly made a slight miscalculation of twenty years. His keen eyes, his smooth face, his athletic figure, his somewhat dandified dress were all in favour of the young man. The double line across his brow, the enigmas about his lips, the imperturbable gravity of his features bespoke the elder. Handsome he was not—he was hardly good-looking, and the nervous twitch of his eyebrow as it came down over his single eye-glass constantly disfigured him. What was his temper, his character, his soul, you might sit for a month before him and never discover. But from his deep massive chest, his long arms, his lithe step, and the poise of his head upon his broad shoulders, you would probably conclude that his enemy, if he had one, would do well not to frequent the same dark lane as Mr Frank Armstrong.
This afternoon, as he draws his curtain and lights his lamp, he is passably content with himself and the world; for he has just discovered a new volume of Schumann that takes his fancy. He has no quarrel, therefore, with the snow, except that by its sudden arrival it will probably hold his promising pupil, Master Roger, prisoner for the night at Castleridge, where he and his mother have driven for dinner. The tutor has sufficient interest in his work to make him regret this interruption of his duties, but for the present he will console himself with Schumann. So he returns to his music-stool—the one spot in creation where he allows that he can be really happy—and loses himself in a maze of sweet sound.
So engrossed is he in his congenial occupation, that he is quite unaware of the door behind him opening and a voice saying—
"Beg pardon, sir, but the master wants you."
Raffles, the page-boy, who happened to be the messenger, was obliged to deliver his summons three times—the last time with the accompaniment of a tap on the tutor's shoulder—before that virtuoso swung round on his stool and demanded—
"What is it, Raffles?"
"Please, sir, the master wants you hinstanter."
Mr Armstrong was inclined to compliment Raffles on his Latin, but on second thoughts (the tutor's second thoughts murdered a great number of his good sayings) he considered that neither the page nor himself would be much better for the jest, and spared himself.
He nodded to the messenger to go, and closing the piano, screwed his eye-glass in his eye, ready to depart.
"Please, sir," said Raffles at the door, "the governor he's dicky to- day. You'd best have your heye on 'im."
"Thank you, Raffles; I will," said the tutor, going out.
He paced the long passage which led from his quarters to the oak hall, whistling sotto voce a bar or two of the Schumann as he went; then his manner became sombre as he crossed the polished boards and entered the passage beyond which led to his employer's library.
Old Roger Ingleton was sitting in the almost dark room, staring fixedly into the fire. There was little light except that of the flickering embers in his dim, worn face. Though not yet seventy, his spare form was bent into the body of an old, old man, and the hands, which feebly tapped the arms of the chair on which they rested, were the worn-out members of a man long past his work. He saw little and heard less; nor was he ever to be met outside the confines of his library, or, in summer weather, the sunny balcony on to which it opened. Only when he talked were you able to realise that this worn-out body did not belong to a Tithonus, but to a man whose inward faculties were still alert and vigorous, whatever might be said of his outward failure. Could he but have been accommodated with the physical frame of a man of fifty, he had spirit enough to fill it, and become once more what he was twenty years ago, a complete man.
"Sit down, Armstrong," said he, when presently his dim eyes and ears became aware of the tutor's presence. "There's no need to light the lamp, and you need not trouble to talk, for I should not be able to hear you."
The tutor shook the eye-glass out of his eye, and seated himself at a corner of the hearth in silence.
Mr Ingleton, having thus prepared his audience, looked silently into the fire for another half-hour, until the room was dark, and all the tutor could see was a wan hand fidgeting uneasily on the arm of the chair.
Then with a weary effort the Squire turned his head and began, as if continuing a conversation.
"I have not been unobservant, Armstrong. You came at a time when Roger needed a friend. So far you have done well by him, and I am content with my choice of a tutor. What contents me more is to think you are not yet tired of your charge. I rather envy you, Armstrong. I came to grief where you succeeded. I once flattered myself I could bring up a boy—he happened to be my son, too—but—"
Here the old man resumed his gaze into the fire, and the room was as silent as the grave for a quarter of an hour. The tutor began to be uneasy. Perhaps he had yearnings for his piano and Schumann. For all that, he sat like a statue and waited. At last the Squire moved again.
"I dreaded a repetition of that, Armstrong. Had he lived—" Here he stopped again abruptly.
The tutor waited patiently for five minutes and then screwed his eye- glass into his eye.
As he did so, the old man uttered a sound very like a snore. Mr Armstrong gave an imperceptible shrug of his shoulders and inwardly meditated a retreat, when the sound came through the darkness again. There was something in it which brought the tutor suddenly to his feet. He struck a match and hastily lit a candle.
Squire Ingleton sat there just as he had sat an hour ago when the tutor found him, except that the hand on the chair-arm was quiet, and his chin sunk a little deeper in his chest. The tutor passed the candle before the old man's face, and then, scarcely less pallid than his master, rang the bell.
"Raffles," said he, as the page entered, "come here, quick. The Squire is ill."
"I said he was dicky," gasped the boy. "I knowed it whenever—"
"Hold your tongue, sir, and help me lift him to the sofa."
Between them they moved the stricken man to the couch, where he lay open-eyed, speechless, appealing.
"We must get Dr Brandram, Raffles."
"That'll puzzle you," said the boy, "a night like this, and the two 'orses at Castleridge."
"Is there any chance of your mistress returning to-night?"
"Not if Tom Robbins knows it. He's mighty tender of his 'orses, and a night like this—"
"Go and fetch the housekeeper at once," said the tutor.
Mr Armstrong was not the man to lose his head on an emergency, but now, as he bent over the helpless paralytic, and tried to read his wants in the eyes that looked up into his, he found it needed a mighty effort to pull himself together and resolve how to act.
He must go for the doctor, five miles away. There was no one else about the place who could cover the ground as quickly. But if he went, he must leave the sufferer to the tender mercies of Raffles and the housekeeper—a prospect at which Mr Armstrong shuddered; especially when the latter self-important functionary entered, talking at large, and proposing half a dozen contradictory specifics in the short passage from the door to the sick-couch.
Mr Armstrong only delayed to suggest meekly that his impression was that a warm bath would, under the circumstances, be of benefit, and then, not waiting for the contemptuous "Much you know about it" which the suggestion evoked, he set off.
It was no light task on a night like this to plough through the snow for five miles in search of help, and the lanes to Yeld were, even in open weather, none of the easiest. But the tutor was not the kind of man to trouble himself about difficulties of that sort, provided only he could find the doctor in, and transport him in a reasonable time to Maxfield.
As he passed the stables, he glanced within, on the off-chance of finding a horse available. But the place was empty, and not even a stable-boy could be made to hear his summons.
So he tramped out into the road, where the snow lay a foot deep, and with long strides carved his way through it towards Yeld. Half a mile on he overtook a country cart, heavily laden and stuck fast in the snow.
"Ah! Hodder," said he to the nonplussed old man in charge, "you may as well give it up."
"So I are without your telling," growled the countryman.
"Very well; I want your horse for a couple of hours. The Squire's ill, and I have to fetch the doctor."
And without another word, and heedless of the ejaculations of the bewildered Hodder, he began to loose the animal's girths.
"I'm blamed if you have a hair of him," said the yokel.
"I don't want one. Here!" and he pitched him a half-crown. The man gaped stupidly at the unharnessing of his beast, and began to pump up for another protest.
But before the words were ready, Mr Armstrong had led the horse out of the shafts and had vaulted on his bare back.
"Eh," sputtered Hodder, "may I—"
"Good-bye and thanks," said the tutor, clapping his heels to the animal's flanks; "you shall have him back safe."
And he plunged away, leaving the gaping son of the soil, with his half- crown in his hand, to the laborious task of hoisting his lower jaw back into its normal position.
Dr Brandram, in whose medical preserves Maxfield Manor lay, was solacing himself with an after-dinner pipe in his little cottage at Yeld, when the tutor, crusted in snow from head to foot, broke unceremoniously on his privacy. An intuition told the doctor what was the matter before even his visitor could say—
"The Squire has had a stroke. Come at once."
The doctor put down his pipe, and, with a sigh, kicked off his cosy slippers.
"He has chosen a bad night, Armstrong. How are the roads?"
"A foot deep. Shall you drive or ride?"
"I never ride."
"You'll need both horses to get through, and I can lend you a spent third."
"Thank you. How did he look?"
"He knew what had happened, I think, but could not speak or move."
"Of course. Suppose you and I do the latter, and postpone the former till we are under weigh."
In less than ten minutes, the doctor's gig was trundling through the snow, with three horses to drag it, and Mr Armstrong in charge of the reins.
"Yes," said the doctor, "he's been leading up to this for a long time, as you have probably observed."
"I can't say I have," said Mr Armstrong.
"Ah! well, you've only known him a year. I knew him twenty years ago."
"Ah!" replied the tutor, chirruping encouragement to the horses.
"Roger Ingleton's life twenty years ago was a life to make an insurance company cheerful," said the doctor.
"What changed it?"
"He had a scape-grace son. They fell out—there was a furious quarrel— and one day the father and son—ugh!—fought, with clenched fists, sir, like two—two costermongers!—and the boy did not get the best of it. He left home, and no wonder, and was never heard of since. Faugh! it was a sickening business."
"That explains what he was saying this afternoon about a son he had once. He was telling me about it when he was struck."
"Ay! that blow has been owing him for twenty years. It is the last round of the fight, Armstrong. But," continued he, "this is all a secret. No one knows it at Maxfield. I doubt if your pupil so much as imagines he ever had a brother."
"He has never mentioned it to me," said the tutor.
"No need that he should know," said the doctor. "Let the dead bury his dead."
"Is he dead, then?"
"Before the Squire married again," said the doctor, "the poor boy went straight to the dogs, and they made an end of him. There! let's talk of something else. I don't know why I tell you what has never passed my lips for twenty years."
"I wish you hadn't," said Mr Armstrong shortly, whipping up his horses.
The two men remained silent during most of that cold, laborious journey. The doctor's few attempts at conversation fell flat, and he took refuge finally in his pipe. As for the tutor, he had his hands full, steering his team between the lane-side ditches, and thinking of the wrecked life that lay waiting at the journey's end.
It was nearly ten o'clock before the dim lights of Maxfield Manor showed ahead. The snow on the home-drive was undisturbed by the wheels of any other vehicle. The mother and son had not returned, at any rate, yet.
As the two men entered, the hall was full of scared domestics, talking in undertones, and feeding on the occasional bulletin which the privileged Raffles was permitted to carry from the sick-room to the outer world.
At the sight of the doctor and Mr Armstrong, they sneaked off grudgingly to their own territories, leaving Raffles to escort the gentlemen to the scene of the tragedy.
Old Roger Ingleton lay on the sofa, with eyes half-closed, upturned to the ceiling; alive still, but no more. Cups and wine-glasses on the table near told of the housekeeper's fruitless experiments at restoration, and the inflamed countenance of that ministering angel herself spoke ominously of the four hours during which the sufferer's comfort had been under her charge.
The tutor, after satisfying himself that his mission had not been too late, retired to the fireplace, where he leaned dismally, and watched through his eye-glass the doctor's examination.
After a few minutes, the latter walked across to him.
"Did you say Mrs Ingleton and the boy will not be back till the morning?"
"If so, they will be too late; he will not last the night."
"I will fetch them," said Mr Armstrong quietly.
"Good fellow! you are having a night of it. I shall remain here; so you can take whichever of my horses you like. The mare will go best."
"Thanks!" said the tutor, pulling himself together for this new task.
Before he quitted the room, he stepped up to the couch and bent for a moment over the helpless form of his employer. There was no recognition in the glazed eyes, and the hand, which he just touched with his own, was nerveless and dead already.
With a silent nod to the doctor Mr Armstrong left the room, and was presently once more ploughing on horseback through the deep snow.
It was well this man was a man of iron and master of himself, or he might have flagged under this new effort, with the distressing prospect awaiting him at his journey's end.
As it was, he urged doggedly forward, forgetful of the existence of such an individual as Frank Armstrong, and dwelling only on the dying man behind and the mourners ahead.
The clock was chiming one in Castleridge Church when at length he reined up his spent horse at the stable entrance to the Grange. Here for a weary quarter of an hour he rang, called, and whistled before the glimmer of a lantern gave promise of an answer.
To the stable-boy's not altogether polite inquiry, Mr Armstrong replied, "Mr Ingleton of Maxfield is ill. Call Robbins, and tell him to put the horses in immediately, to take his mistress and Mr Roger home; and get some one in the house to call them. Don't delay an instant."
This peremptory speech fairly aroused the sleepy stable-boy, and in a few minutes Mr Armstrong was standing in the hall of the Grange talking to a footman.
"Take me up to his room," said he, pushing the bewildered servant before him up the staircase.
The man, not at all sure that he was not in the grip of an armed burglar, ascended the stair in a maze, not daring to look behind him.
At the end of a corridor he stopped.
"Is that the room? Give me the lamp! Go and tell your master to get up. Say a messenger has come with bad news from Maxfield; and look here—put some wraps in the carriage, and have some coffee or wine ready in the hall in ten minutes."
The fellow, greatly reassured by this short parley, went off to fulfil his instructions, while the tutor, with what was very like a sigh, opened the door and entered his pupil's bedroom.
Roger Ingleton, minor, lay sound asleep, with his arms behind his head and a smile on his resolute lips. As the light of the lamp fell on his face, it looked very pale, with its frame of black curly hair and the deep fringe of its long eyelashes; but the finely-chiselled nostrils and firm mouth redeemed it from all suspicion of weakness. Even as he slept you might judge this lad of nineteen had a will of his own hidden up in the delicate framework of his body, and resembled his father at least in this, that his outer man was too narrow a tenement for what it contained. Almost at the first flash of the light his big black eyes opened, and he started to a sitting posture, bewildered, scared.
"Oh! why, hullo, Armstrong! what's the matter?"
"I'm sorry to disturb you, Roger, but—"
The boy bounded out of bed and stood facing his tutor in his night- dress.
"But I want you to dress as sharp as you can. Your father is unwell."
"Unwell?" repeated the boy, shivering. "You do not mean he is dead?"
"No—no; but ill. He has had a stroke. Dr Brandram is with him. I thought it better not to wait till the morning before fetching you."
"Mother—does she know?"
"By this time."
"Why ever did we not go back?" groaned the boy. "Is there any hope, Armstrong?"
"Some—yes. Go to your mother and tell her so. The carriage will be ready in five minutes."
In five minutes the boy and his mother descended to the hall, where already their host and hostess were down to bid them farewell. It was difficult to imagine that the slender dark-eyed handsome woman, who stood there and looked round for a moment so white and trembling and bewildered, was really the mother of the young man on whose arm she leant. Even under a blow such as this Mrs Ingleton belied her age by a decade. She was still on the sunny side of forty. You and I might have doubted if she was yet thirty.
Captain Curtice and his wife had the true kindness to attempt no words as they sympathisingly bade their visitors farewell. When the hall-door opened and let in the cold blast, the poor lady staggered a moment and clung closer to her son's side. Then abandoning composure to the wintry winds, she found her best refuge in tears, and let herself be led to the carriage.
The tutor helped to put her in, and looked inquiringly at his pupil.
"Come in too, please," said the latter; "there is room inside."
Mr Armstrong would fain have taken his seat beside Robbins on the box. He hated scenes, and tears, and tragedies of all sorts. But there was something in his pupil's voice which touched him. He took his place within, and prayed that the moments might fly till they reached Maxfield.
Scarcely a word was spoken. Once Roger hazarded a question, but it was the signal for a new outburst on his mother's part; and he wisely desisted, and leant back in his corner, silent and motionless. As for the tutor, with the front seat to himself, he nursed his knee, and gazed fixedly out of the window the whole way.
What weeks those two hours seemed! How the horses laboured, and panted, and halted! And how interminably dismal was the dull muffled crunching of the wheels through the snow!
At length a blurred light passed the window, and the tutor released his knee and put up his eye-glass.
"Here we are," said he; "that was the lodge."
Roger slowly and reluctantly sat forward, and wrapped his mother's shawl closer round her.
Raffles stood on the door-step, and in the hall beyond Mr Armstrong could see the doctor standing.
As he stepped out, the page touched him on the arm.
"No 'urry," whispered he; "all over!"
Whereupon the tutor quietly crept away to the seclusion of his own room.
THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD.
The household of Maxfield, worn-out by the excitement of the night, slept, or rather lay in bed, till hard on midday.
The tutor, as he slowly turned on his side and caught sight of the winter sun through the frost-bespangled window, felt profoundly disinclined to rise. He shrank from the tasks that awaited him—the task of witnessing the grief of the widow and the pale looks of the orphan heir, the dismal negotiations with undertakers and clergymen and lawyers, the stupid questions of the domestics, the sickly fragrance of stephanotis in the house. Then, too, there was the awkward uncertainty as to his own future. What effect would the tragedy of last night have on that? Was it a notice to quit, or what? He should be sorry to go. He liked the place, he liked his pupil, and further, he had nowhere else to go. Altogether Mr Armstrong felt very reluctant to exchange his easy bed for the chances and changes of the waking world. Besides, lastly, the water in his bath, he could see, was frozen; and it was hopeless on a day like this to expect that Raffles would bring him sufficient hot, even to shave with.
However, the tutor had had some little practice before now in doing what he did not like. With a sigh and a shiver, therefore, he flung aside his blankets and proceeded to break the ice literally, and take his bath. After that he felt decidedly better, and with the help of a steady ten minutes grind at the dumb-bells, he succeeded in pulling himself together.
He had reached this stage in his toilet when a knock came at the door.
"Come in, Raffles," said Mr Armstrong, beginning to see some prospect of a shave after all.
It was not Raffles, but Dr Brandram, equipped for the road.
"I'm off, Armstrong," said he. "I'd ask you to come and drive me, only I think you are wanted here. See the boy eats enough and doesn't mope. You must amuse him if you can. You understand what I told you last night was not for him. By the way,"—here the doctor held out a sealed packet—"this was lying on the old man's table last night. It was probably to give it to you that he sent for you in the afternoon, and then forgot it. Well, good-bye. I shall come to-morrow if the roads are passable. I only hope, for my sake, all this will not make any difference to your remaining at Maxfield."
Mr Armstrong finished his toilet leisurely, and then proceeded to examine the packet.
It was a large envelope, addressed, "Frank Armstrong, Esquire," in the old man's quavering hand.
Within was another envelope, firmly sealed, on which the same hand had written these words—
"To be given unopened into the hands of Roger Ingleton, junior, on his twentieth birthday."
The effort of writing those few words had evidently been almost more than the writer could accomplish, for towards the end the letters became almost illegible, and the words were huddled in a heap at the corner of the paper. The sealing, too, to judge from the straggling blots of wax all over and the ineffective marks of the seal, must have been the labour of a painful morning to the feeble, half-blind old man.
To the tutor, however, as he held the missive in his hand, and looked at it with the reverence one feels for a token from the dead, it seemed to make one or two things tolerably clear.
First, that the contents, whatever they were, were secret and important, else the old man would never have taken upon himself a labour he could so easily have devolved upon another. Secondly, that this old man, rightly or wrongly, regarded Frank Armstrong as a man to be trusted, and contemplated that a year hence he would occupy the same position with regard to the heir of Maxfield as he did now.
Having arrived at which conclusions, the tutor returned the packet to its outer envelope and locked the whole up in his desk. Which done, he descended to the breakfast-room.
As he had expected, no one was there. What was worse, there was no sign either of fire or breakfast. To a man who has not tasted food for about twenty hours, such a discovery could not fail to be depressing, and Mr Armstrong meekly decided to summon Raffles to his assistance. As he passed down the passage, he could not forbear halting for a moment at the door of a certain room, behind which he knew the mortal remains of his dead employer lay. As he paused, not liking to enter, liking still less to pass on, the sound of footsteps within startled him. It was not difficult, after a moment's reflection, to guess to whom they belonged, and the tutor softly tapped on the door.
The only answer was the abrupt halting of the footsteps. Mr Armstrong entered and found his pupil.
Roger was standing in the ulster he had worn last night. His eyes were black and heavy with weariness, his face was almost as white as the face of him who lay on the couch, and as he turned to the open door his teeth chattered with cold.
"I couldn't leave him alone," whispered he apologetically, as the tutor laid a gentle hand on his arm.
"Of course—of course," replied Mr Armstrong. "I guessed it was you. Would you rather be left alone?"
"No," said the lad wearily. "I thought by staying here I should get some help—some—I don't know what, Armstrong. But instead, I'm half asleep. I've been yawning and shivering, and forgotten who was here— and—" Here his eyes filled with tears.
"Dear old fellow," said the tutor, "you are fagged out. Come and get a little rest."
Roger sighed, partly to feel himself beaten, partly at the prospect of rest.
"All right!" said he. "I'm ashamed you should see me so weak when I wanted to be strong. Yes, I'll come—in one minute."
He walked over to the couch and knelt beside it. His worn-out body had succumbed at last to the misery against which it had battled so long, and for a moment he yielded himself to his sorrow. The tutor waited a moment, and then walked quietly from the room.
For a quarter of an hour he paced restlessly in the cold passage outside; then, as his pupil did not appear, he returned to the chamber of death. Roger Ingleton, as he expected, had fallen asleep where he knelt.
The wretched days between the death and the funeral dragged on in the usual dismal fashion. Mrs Ingleton kept her room; the domestics took the occasion to neglect their work, and Roger Ingleton, minor, passed through all the stages from inconsolable misery to subdued cheerfulness. Mr Armstrong alone went through no stages, but remained the same unimpassioned individual he had been ever since he became a member of the Maxfield household.
"Armstrong," said the boy, the day before the funeral, "do you know, I'm the only male Ingleton left?"
"I didn't know it. Have you no uncles or cousins?"
"None on our side. Some distant cousins on, mother's side, but they're abroad. We were going over the lot yesterday, mother and I; but we couldn't scrape up a single relation to come to-morrow. We shall have to get you and Brandram and fathers solicitor to come to the funeral, if you don't mind."
"Of course I shall come," said Mr Armstrong.
"And, by the way, it seems rather queer, doesn't it, that I shall have charge of all this big property, and, I suppose, be master of all the people about the place."
"Naturally. Amongst your humble and obedient servants the present tutor of Maxfield will need to be included."
"Oh, you!" said Roger, smiling; "yes, you'll need to look out how you behave, you know, or I shall have to terminate our engagement. Isn't it queer?"
Queer as it was, the tutor winced at the jest, and screwed his eye-glass a little deeper into his eye.
"Seriously, though," said Roger, "I'm awfully glad I've got you here to advise me. I want to do things well about the place, and keep square with the tenants, and improve a great many things. I noticed a whole lot of cottages to-day that want rebuilding. And I think I ought to build a club-room for the young fellows in the village, and give a new lifeboat to replace the 'Vega,' What do you think?"
"I'll tell you this time to-morrow. Meanwhile what do you say to a ride before dark? It would do you good."
They had a long trot through the lanes and along the shore, ending with a canter over the downs, which landed the heir of Maxfield at home with a glow in his cheeks and an appetite such as he had not known for a week.
Next day the funeral took place in the family vault at the little churchyard of Yeld. The villagers, as in duty bound, flocked to pay their last respects to the old Squire, whose face for the last twenty years they had scarcely seen, and of whose existence, save on rent-day, many of them had been well-nigh ignorant.
Many an eye turned curiously to the slim, pale boy, as he stood alone, the last of his house, at the open tomb; and many a speculation as to his temper and prospects occupied minds which were supposed to be intent on the solemn words of the Burial Service.
Roger himself, with that waywardness of the attention which afflicts us even in the gravest acts of our life, found himself listening to the words in a sort of dream, while his mind was occupied in reading over to himself the names of his ancestors inscribed on the panels of the vault.
"John Ingleton of Maxfield Manor, who died ye ninth day of June, 1760, aetat 74.
"Peter Ingleton of Maxfield Manor, his son, obiit March 6, 1794.
"Paul Ingleton, only son of above Peter; born January 1, 1790, died September 20, 1844.
"Ruth, beloved wife of Roger Ingleton, Esquire, of Maxfield Manor, who died on February 14, 1865, aged 37."
Now a new inscription would be added.
"Roger Ingleton, son of the above-named Paul Ingleton, who died January 10, 1885."
And when that was added, there would yet be space for another name below.
Roger shuddered a little, and brought his mind back with an effort to the solemn act which was taking place.
The clergyman's voice ceased, and the fatherless lad stooped to get a last view of the flower-covered coffin. Then, with a heart lonelier than he had ever known it before, he turned away.
The people fell back and made a silent lane for him to pass.
"Poor lad," said a country wife, as she looked after him, "pity knows, he'll be this way again before long."
"Hold thy tongue," said another; "thee'd look white and shaky if thee was the only man of thy name left on earth—eh, Uncle Hodder?"
"Let un go," said the venerable proprietor of the tutor's borrowed horse last week, "let 'un go. The Ingletons was all weaklings, but they held out to nigh on threescore and ten years. All bar the best of them— there was naught weak about him, yet he dropped off in blossom-time."
"Ay, ay, poor lad," said the elder of the women in a whisper, "pity of the boy. He'd have taken the load on his shoulders to-day better than yonder white child."
"Hold thy tongue and come and take thy look at the old Squire's last lying-place."
Roger overheard none of their talk, but wandered on, lonely, but angry with himself for feeling as unemotional as he did. He told the coachman he would walk home, and started along the half-thawed lanes, hoping that the five miles solitary walk would help to bring him into a frame of mind more appropriate to the occasion.
But try as he would, his mind wandered; first to his mother; then to Maxfield and the villagers; then to his pet schemes for a model village; then to Armstrong and his studies; then to a certain pair of foils that hung in his room; then to the possibility of a yacht next summer; then to the county festivities next winter, with perhaps a ball at Maxfield; then to his approaching majority, and all the delights of unfettered manhood; then—
He had got so far at the end of a mile, when he heard steps tramping through the mud behind him.
It was Mr Armstrong.
The boy's first impulse was to put on an air of dejection he was far from feeling; but his honesty came to his rescue in time.
"Hullo, Armstrong! I'm so glad it's you. You'll never guess what I was thinking about when I heard you?"
"About being elected M.P. for the county?" asked the tutor gravely.
"How did you guess that? I tried to think about other things, you know, but—"
"Luckily you chose to be natural instead. Well, I hope you'll be elected, when the time comes."
The two beguiled their walk in talk which, if not exactly what might have been expected of mourners, at least served to restore the boy's highly-strung mind to its proper tone, and to make the aspect of things in general brighter for him than it had been when he started so dismally from the graveyard.
"Now," said he, with a sigh, as they entered the house, "now comes the awful business of reading the will. Pottinger is sure to make an occasion of it. It would be worth your while to be present to hear him perform."
"Thanks!" said the tutor; "I'll look to you for a full account of the ceremony by and by. I'll accompany it to slow music upstairs."
But as it happened, Mr Armstrong was not permitted to escape, as he had fondly hoped, to his piano. Raffles followed him presently to his room and said—
"Please, sir, Mr Pottinger sends his compliments, and will be glad if you will step down to the library, sir."
Mr Armstrong scowled.
"What does he want?" he muttered.
"He wants a gentleman or two to say 'ear, 'ear, I fancy," said the page, with a grin.
Mr Armstrong gave a melancholy glance at his piano, and screwed his glass in his eye aggressively.
"All right, Raffles; you can go."
"What does the old idiot want with me, I wonder," said he to himself, "unless it's to give me a month's notice, and tell me I may clear out? Heigho! I hope not."
With which pleasant misgivings, he strolled down-stairs.
In the library was assembled a small but select audience to do Mr Pottinger, the Yeld attorney, honour. The widow was there, looking pale but charming in her deep mourning and tasteful cap. Roger was there, restless, impatient, and a little angry at all the fuss. Dr Brandram and the Rector were there, resigned, as men who had been through ceremonies of the kind before. And a deputation of dead-servants sat on chairs near the door, gratified to be included in the party, and mentally going over their services to the testator, and appraising them in anticipation.
"We were waiting for you, Mr Armstrong," said the attorney severely, as the tutor entered.
Mr Armstrong looked not at all well pleased to be thus accosted, and walked to a seat in the bay-window behind Mr Pottinger.
The man of the law put on his glasses, took a sip of water from a tumbler he had had brought in, blew his nose, and glancing round on his audience with all the enjoyment of a man who feels himself master of the situation, began to make a little speech.
There was first a little condescending preamble concerning the virtues of the deceased, which every one but Roger listened to respectfully. The son felt it as much as he could put up with to sit still and hear it, and began to fidget ominously, and greatly to the disturbance of the speaker. When Mr Pottinger, after a few reproachful pauses, left this topic and began to discourse on his own relations with the late Squire, it was the turn of Dr Brandram to become restless.
"This is not the occasion for dwelling on the gratification I received from—"
Here the doctor deliberately rose and walked across the room for a footstool, which, as deliberately, he walked back with and laid at the feet of Mrs Ingleton. "Beg pardon—go on," said he, meeting the astonished eye of the attorney.
"The gratification I received from the kind expressions—"
Here a large coal inconsiderately fell out of the fire with a loud clamour. Raffles, with considerable commotion, came from his seat and proceeded to restore it to its lost estate.
Mr Pottinger took his glasses from his nose and regarded the performance with such abject distress, that Roger, catching sight of his face, involuntarily smiled. "Really," exclaimed the now thoroughly offended friend of the family, "really, my boy, on an occasion such as this—"
Here the Rector, to every one's relief, came gallantly to the rescue. "This is very tedious, Mr Pottinger," said he. "The friends here, I am sure, will prefer that you should omit all these useless preliminaries, and come to the business at once. Let me read the document for you; my eyes are younger than yours."
At this terrific act of insubordination, and the almost blasphemous suggestion which capped it, the lawyer fell back in his chair and broke out into a profuse perspiration, gazing at the Rector as he would at some suddenly intruding wild animal. Then, with a gasp, taking in the peril of the whole situation, he hastily took up the will and plunged into it.
It was a long, tedious document, hard to understand; and when it was ended, no one exactly grasped its purport.
Then came the moment of Mr Pottinger's revenge. The party was at his mercy after all.
"What does it all amount to?" said the doctor, interpreting the perplexed looks of the company.
"I had better perhaps explain it in simple words," said the attorney condescendingly, "if you will give me your attention."
You might have heard a pin drop now.
"Briefly, the provisions of our dear friend's will are these. Proper provision is made for the support in comfort of the widow during her life. Legacies are also left, as you have heard, to certain friends, servants, and charities. The whole of the remaining property, which it is my impression will be found to be very considerable, is left in trust for the testator's only son, Roger, our young friend here, who is to receive it absolutely on reaching the age of twenty-one. The conditions of the trust are a trifle peculiar. There are three trustees, who are also guardians of the heir. The first is Mrs Ingleton, the widow; the second is Edward Oliphant, Esquire, of Her Majesty's Indian Army, second cousin, I understand, of Mrs Ingleton, and, in the event (which I trust is not likely) of the death of our young friend here, heir-presumptive to the property. His trusteeship is dependent on his coming to this country and assuming the duties of guardian to the heir, and provision is made accordingly. The third trustee and guardian is Mr Frank Armstrong, who is entitled to act so long as he holds his present post of tutor to the heir, which post he will retain only during Mrs Ingleton's pleasure. It is also provided that, in the event of any difference of opinion among the trustees, Mrs Ingleton (as is most proper) shall be permitted to decide; and lastly—a curious eccentricity on our dear friend's part, which was perhaps hardly necessary to insert—in the event of Roger Ingleton, previous to his attaining his majority, becoming a felon, a lunatic, or marrying, he is to be regarded as dead, and the property thereby passes to the next heir, Captain Oliphant. I think we may congratulate ourselves on what is really a very simple will, and which, provided the trustees named consent to act, presents very little difficulty. I have telegraphed already to Captain Oliphant. Mr Armstrong, will you do me the favour, at your convenience, of intimating to me your consent or otherwise?"
Mr Armstrong made no response. It was indeed doubtful whether he had heard the question. For at that precise moment, gazing about him in bewilderment at the unexpected responsibility thus thrown upon him, his eyes became suddenly riveted by a picture. It was a portrait, partly concealed behind the curtain of the window in which he sat, but unveiled sufficiently to disclose the face of a fair-haired boy, younger by some years than Roger, with clear blue eyes and strong compressed mouth, somewhat sullen in temper, but with an air of recklessness and determination which, even in the portrait, fascinated the beholder. Mr Armstrong, although he had frequently been in his late employer's study, had never noticed this picture before. Now, as he caught sight of it and suddenly met the flash of those wild bright eyes, he experienced something like a shock. He could not help recalling Dr Brandram's sad story the other day. Something seemed mysteriously to connect this portrait and the story together in his mind. Strange that at such a moment, when the fate of the younger son was being decided, his guardian should thus come suddenly face to face with the elder!
Mr Armstrong was not a superstitious man, but he felt decidedly glad when a general break up of the party allowed him to get out of range of these not altogether friendly eyes, and escape to the seclusion of his own room.
A MISSING INSCRIPTION.
A week later, Mr Pottinger, as he trotted into his office, found a letter and a telegram lying side by side on his desk.
He opened the telegram first and read—
"Bombay, January 17. Consent. Am starting, Oliphant."
"That's all right," said the lawyer to himself. "We shall have one competent executor, at any rate."
He endorsed the telegram and proceeded to open the letter. It too was a very brief communication.
"Sir, I beg to say I accept the duties of trustee and guardian conferred on me by the will of the late Roger Ingleton, Esquire.
"Humph!" growled the attorney. "I was afraid so. Well, well, it's not my affair. The Squire knew my opinion, so my conscience is clear. An adventurer, nothing less—a dangerous man. Don't like him! Well, well!"
To do Mr Pottinger justice, this opinion of his was of no recent date. Indeed, it was of as long standing as the tutor's first arrival at Maxfield, eighteen months ago. It was one of the few matters on which he and his late client had differed.
Calmly indifferent as to the effect of his communication on the lawyer, Mr Armstrong was at that moment having an audience with his co-trustee and mistress, Mrs Ingleton.
"Mr Armstrong," said she, "I hope for all our sakes you see your way to accept the duties my dear husband requested of you."
"I have written to Mr Pottinger to notify my consent."
"I am so glad. I shall have to depend on you for so much. It will be so good for Roger to have you with him. His father was always anxious about him—most anxious. You know, Mr Armstrong," added she, "if there is any—any question as to salary, or anything I can do to make your position here comfortable, you must tell me. For Roger's sake I am anxious you should be happy here."
"Thank you, madam. I am most comfortable," said Mr Armstrong, looking anything but what he described himself. He had a detestation of business interviews, and wished profoundly he was out of this.
"I am sure you will like Captain Oliphant," said the widow. "I have not seen him for many years—indeed, since shortly after Roger was born; but we have heard from him constantly, and Mr Ingleton had a high opinion of him. He is a very distant cousin of mine, you know."
"So I understand."
"Poor fellow! his wife died quite young. His three children will be quite grown up now, poor things. Well, thank you very much, Mr Armstrong. I hope we shall always be good friends for dear Roger's sake. Good-bye."
Roger, as may be imagined, had not waited a whole week before ascertaining his tutor's intentions.
He had been a good deal staggered at first by his father's will, with its curious provisions; but, amongst a great deal that was perplexing and disappointing in it, he derived no little comfort from the fact that Mr Armstrong was to be one of his legal protectors.
"I don't see, you know," said he, as he lounged against his tutor's mantelpiece one evening. "I don't see why a fellow of nineteen can't be trusted to behave himself without being tied up in this way. It's my impression I know as well how to behave now as I am likely to do when I am twenty-one."
"That is a reflection in advance on my dealings with you during the next two years," said the tutor with a grin, as he swung himself half round on the piano-stool so as to get his hand within reach of the keys.
"I don't mind you," said the boy, "but I hope this Cousin Edward, or whoever he is, won't try to 'deal' with me too."
"I am informed he is virtue and amiability itself," said the tutor.
"If he is, all serene. I'll take my walks abroad with one little hand in yours, and the other in his, like a good boy. If he's not, there'll be a row, Armstrong. In anticipation of which I feel in the humour for a turn at the foils."
So they adjourned into the big empty room dedicated to the manly sports of the man and his boy, and there for half an hour a mortal combat raged, at the end of which Roger pulled off his mask and said, panting—
"Where did you learn foils, Armstrong? For a year I've been trying to run you through the body, and I've never even yet scratched your arm."
"I fenced a good deal at Oxford."
"Ah! I wonder if I shall ever go to Oxford? This will cuts me out of that nicely."
"Not at all. How?"
"Well, you can't be my tutor here while I'm an undergraduate there, can you? I'd sooner give up Oxford than you, Armstrong."
"Kind of you—wrong of you too, perhaps. But at twenty-one you'll be your own master."
"I may not be in the humour then. Besides, I shall have my hands full of work here then. It's hard lines to have to kick my heels in idleness for two years, while I've so many plans in my head for improving the place, and to have to ask your leave to spend so much as a halfpenny."
"It is rather tragic. It strikes me, however, that Cousin Edward will be the financial partner of our firm. I shall attend to the literary part of the business."
"And poor mother has to umpire in all your squabbles. Upon my word, why couldn't I have been treated like a man straight off, instead of being washed and dressed and fed with a spoon and wheeled in a perambulator by three respectable middle-aged persons, who all vote me a nuisance."
"In the first place, Roger Ingleton, I am not yet middle-aged. In the second place, I do not vote you a nuisance. In the third place, if you stand there much longer like that, with your coat off, you will catch your death of cold, which would annoy me exceedingly."
This was one of many conversations which took place. It was difficult to say whether Mr Armstrong took his new duties seriously or not. He generally contrived to say something flippant about them when his pupil tackled him on the subject, but at the same time he rarely failed to give the boy a hint or two that somewhere hidden away behind the cool, odd exterior of the man, there lurked a very warm corner for the fatherless heir of Maxfield.
For the next week or two the days passed uneventfully. The manor-house settled down to its old routine, minus the old man who had once been its master. The villagers, having satisfied themselves that things were likely to be pretty much the same for them under the new regime as the old, resumed their usual ways, and touched their caps regularly to the young Squire. The trampled grass in Yeld churchyard lifted its head again, and a new inscription was added to the family roll on the door of the vault.
"Armstrong," said the heir one day, as he stood inspecting this last memorial, "I have a good mind to have my brother's name put on here too."
This was the first time the tutor had ever heard the boy mention his brother. Indeed, he had, like Dr Brandram, doubted whether Roger so much as knew that he had had a brother.
"What brother?" he inquired vaguely.
"Oh, he died long ago, before I was born. He was the son of father's first wife, you know," pointing to the inscription of Ruth Ingleton's name. "He is not buried here—he died abroad, I believe—but I think his death should be recorded with the others. Don't you?"
"Certainly," said the tutor.
"I must try to find the exact date," said Roger as they walked away. "My father would hardly ever talk about him; his death must have been a knock-down blow to him, and I believe it broke his mother's heart. Sometimes I wish he had lived. He was called Roger too. I dare say Brandram or the Vicar can tell me about it."
Mr Armstrong was a good deal concerned at this unexpected curiosity on the boy's part. He doubted whether it would not be better to tell him the sad story at once, as he had heard it from the doctor. He disliked secrets extremely, especially when he happened to be the custodian of them; and painful as the discovery of this one might be to his ward, it might be best that he should know it now, instead of hovering indefinitely in profitless mystery.
It was, therefore, with some sense of relief that, half-way home, he perceived Dr Brandram in the road ahead. The doctor was, in fact, bound for Maxfield.
"By the way, doctor," said the tutor, determined to take the bull by the horns, and glaring at his friend rather fiercely through his eye-glass, "we were talking about you just now. Roger has been telling me about an elder brother of his who died long ago and thinks some record of the death should be made on the vault. I think so too."
"I was saying," said Roger, "my father never cared to talk about it; so, except that he died abroad, and that his name was the same as mine, I really don't know much about him. Did you know him?"
The doctor looked uncomfortable, and not altogether grateful to Mr Armstrong for landing him in this dilemma.
"Don't you think," said he, ignoring the last question, "as the Squire did not put up an inscription, it would be better to leave the tomb as it is?"
"I don't see that," said the boy. "Of course I should say where he really did die. Where was that, by the way?"
"I really did not hear. Abroad, I understood your father to say."
"Was he delicate, then, that he had to go away? How old was he, doctor?"
"Upon my word, he was so seldom at home, and, when he was, I saw so little of him, that my memory is very hazy about him altogether. He can't have been more than a boy of fifteen or sixteen, I should say. By the way, Roger, how does the new cob do?"
"Middling. He's rather lumpy to ride. I shall get mother to swop him for a horse, if she can. I say, doctor, what was he like?"
"Who?—The cob? Oh, your brother! I fancy he was a fine young fellow, but not particularly good-looking."
"At all like me?"
"Not at all, I should say. But really, as I say, I can recall very little about him."
The doctor uttered this in a tone which conveyed so broad a hint that he did not relish the subject, that Roger, decidedly mystified, desisted from further inquiries.
"What on earth," said the former to Mr Armstrong, when at last they had reached Maxfield and the boy had left them, "what on earth has put all this into his head?"
"I cannot tell you. I rather hoped you would tell him all you knew; it would come better from you. If I know anything of Roger, he will find it out for himself, whether you like it or not."
"Nice thing to be a family doctor," growled Dr Brandram, "and have charge of the family skeletons. Between you and me, Armstrong, I was never quite satisfied about the story of the boy's death abroad. The old man said he had had news of it, and that was all anybody, even the poor mother, ever got out of him."
"Really, Brandram," said the tutor, "you are a most uncomfortable person. I wish you would not make me a party to these mysteries. I don't like them, they are upsetting."
"Well, well, old fellow," replied the doctor, "whatever it was once, it's no mystery now; for the poor fellow has long ago made good his right to an inscription on the tombstone. You need have no doubt of that."
A letter with an Indian post-mark, which arrived that same evening, served for the present, at least, to divert the thoughts of Roger as well as of his tutor to other channels.
The letter was from Captain Oliphant addressed to Mrs Ingleton.
"My very dear cousin," it read, "need I say with what deep sympathy I received the news of our dear Roger's sudden call? At this great distance, blows of this kind fall with cruel heaviness, and I assure you I felt crushed as I realised that I should no more grasp the hand of one of the noblest men it has been my privilege to call by the name of friend. If my loss is so great, what must yours be? I dare not think of it! I was truly touched by our dear one's thought of me in desiring that I should join you in the care of his orphaned boy. I regard this dying wish as a sacred trust put upon me, which gratitude and love alike require that I should accept. Ere this letter reaches you, I shall myself be nearing England. The provision our dear Roger has made has emboldened me to resign my commission, so that I may devote my whole time without distraction to my new charge. You know, dear cousin, the special bond of sympathy that unites us; your boy has been robbed of a parent; my children long since have had to mourn a mother. I cannot leave them here. They accompany me to England, where perhaps for all of us there awaits a community of comfort. I bespeak your motherly heart for them, as I promise you a father's affection for your boy. I will write no more at present. The 'Oriana' is due in London, I believe, about February 20, and we shall, I need hardly assure you, not linger long before bringing in our own persons to Maxfield whatever sympathy four loving hearts can carry amongst them.
"With love to the dear boy, believe me, dear cousin, your loving and sympathising fellow-mourner,—
Mrs Ingleton, highly gratified, handed the beautiful letter first to her son, then to Mr Armstrong.
Roger was hardly as taken with it as his mother.
"Civil enough," said he, "and I dare say he means all he says; but I don't warm to the prospect of being cherished by him. Besides, there is something a trifle too neat in the way he invites his whole family to Maxfield. What do you think, Armstrong?"
Mr Armstrong was perusing the letter with knitted brows and a curl of his lips. He vouchsafed no reply until he had come to the end. Then he shook the glass ominously out of his eye and said—
"I'll tell you that when I see him."
Roger knew his tutor well enough to see that he did not like the letter at all, and he felt somewhat fortified in his own misgivings accordingly.
"I wonder what mother will do with them all?" said the boy. "Surely we aren't to have the place turned into a nursery for two years."
"I understand the young people are more than children," said the tutor.
"So much the worse," growled Roger.
On the morning before the "Oriana" was due, Mrs Ingleton suggested to her son that it would be a polite thing if he were to go to town and meet the travellers on their arrival. Roger, not particularly charmed with the prospect, stipulated that Mr Arm strong should come with him, and somewhat shocked his fond parent by expressing the hope that the vessel might be a few days late, and so allow time for a little jaunt in London before the arrival of his new guardian.
Mr Armstrong meekly acquiesced in the proposal, and scarcely less exhilarated than his pupil, retired to pack for the journey.
Roger meanwhile occupied the interval before starting by writing a letter in the study. Since his father's death he had taken quiet possession of this room, one of the pleasantest in the house. A feeling of reverence for the dead had prompted him to disturb its contents and furniture as little as possible, and hitherto his occupation had scarcely extended beyond the arm-chair at the fire, and the writing- table. To-day, however, as he sat biting his pen and looking for an inspiration out of the window, his eye chanced to rest for a moment on a frame corner peeping from behind a curtain. He thought nothing of it for a while, and having found his idea, went on writing. But presently his eyes strayed again, and once more lit upon the misplaced piece of gilding.
He went over mechanically to adjust it, pondering his letter all the while.
"Why ever can't they hang things where they can be seen?" said he as he drew back the curtain.
The last words dropped half-spoken from his lips, as he disclosed the portrait of a certain boy, flashing at him with his reckless eyes, and half-defying him out of the canvas.
Like Mr Armstrong, when he had encountered the picture a month ago, Roger Ingleton instinctively guessed in whose presence he stood.
The discovery had something in it both of a shock and a disappointment. If this was really his elder brother, he was strangely different from what he had in fancy pictured him. He had imagined him his own age, whereas this was a boy considerably his junior. He had imagined him dark and grave, whereas this was fair and mocking; and he had imagined him amiable and sympathetic, whereas this was hostile and defiant.
Yet, for all that, Roger stood fascinated. A chord deep in his nature thrilled as he said to himself, "My brother." He, the young man, felt himself captive to this imperious boy. He wished he knew the mind of the picture, or could hear its voice. What were the eyes flashing at? At whom or what were the lips thus curled? Was it wickedness, or anger, or insolence, or all together, that made the face so unlike any other face he knew?
How long he spent over these speculations, half afraid, half enamoured of the picture, he could not say. He forgot all about his letter; nor did he finally descend from the clouds till a voice behind him said—
"What have you got there, old fellow?"
"Oh, Armstrong," said the boy, turning round hurriedly, like one detected in mischief, "look here at this picture."
The tutor was looking.
"Who is it?" he asked.
"My elder brother, I'm sure. I didn't know we had it."
"There's not much family likeness in it," said Mr Armstrong. "Are you sure it is he?"
"I feel positive of it. Stay, perhaps there's something written on the back," and he lifted the picture from the nail.
The paper at the back was almost black with dust and age. They wiped it carefully with a duster, and took it to the window.
"No," said Roger, "nothing there."
"Yes," said the tutor, "what's this?"
And he pointed out a few faint marks in very faded ink, which, after considerable trouble, they deciphered.
"R.I., born 3 September 1849, died 186—," (the last figure was illegible).
"That settles it," said Roger, "all except the exact date when he died. Upon my word, I'm quite glad it is my brother after all. I shouldn't have liked if he'd turned out any one else."
"Do you know," added he, as he was about to replace the picture, "I think I shall take it up to my room. I've taken rather a fancy to him."
That afternoon the two friends took the train to London, where, considerably to the relief of both, they heard that the "Oriana" was not expected in dock for three days.
ACQUAINTANCES NEW AND OLD.
Roger's projected jaunt in London did not turn out as satisfactorily as he had anticipated, as he caught a heavy cold on the first day, which kept him a prisoner in his hotel. Mr Armstrong needed all his authority to restrain the invalid within bounds; and it was only by threatening to convey him bodily home that the boy consented to nurse himself. Even so, it was as much as he could do to shake off his cold sufficiently on the morning of the arrival of the "Oriana" to accompany his tutor to the Dock to greet his unknown kinsfolk.
As he shouldered his way on board over the crowded gangway, he found himself speculating somewhat nervously as to which of the numerous passengers standing about the deck was his new guardian. Was it the ferocious man with the great black beard who was swearing at his Indian servant in a voice loud enough to be heard all over the ship? Or was it the dissipated-looking fellow who walked unsteadily across the motionless ship, and finally clung for support to the deck railings? Or was it the discontented-looking little person who scowled at the company at large from the bridge? Or was it the complacent man with the expansive presence and leonine head, who smoked a big cigar and was exchanging a few effusive farewells with a small group of fellow- voyagers?
Roger accosted one of the stewards—
"Will you please tell Captain Oliphant that Mr Roger Ingleton is on board, with Mr Armstrong, and would like to see him?"
The man gave a look up and down and went straight to the expansive person before mentioned.
The visitors could see the gentleman start a little as the steward delivered his message, and pitch his cigar away as, with a serious face, he walked in their direction.
"My poor dear boy," said he, taking Roger's hand, "this is good of you—very good. How glad I am to see you! How is your dear mamma?"
"Mother is very well. Have you had a good voyage? Oh, this is Mr Armstrong."
Mr Armstrong all this while had been staring through his eye-glass at his co-trustee in no very amiable way, and now replied to that gentleman's greeting with a somewhat stiff "How do you do?" "Where on earth did I see you before, my gentleman?" said he to himself, and having put the riddle, he promptly gave it up.
Mr Oliphant displayed very little interest in his fellow-guardian, but said to Roger—
"The children will be so delighted to see you. We have talked so much of you. They will be here directly; they are just putting together their things in the cabin. But now tell me all about yourself, my boy."
Roger did not feel equal to this comprehensive task, and said, "I suppose you'll like to go straight on to Maxfield, wouldn't you?"
"Oh, yes! It may be a day before we get our luggage clear, so we will come to your hotel to-night and go on to-morrow. Why, my boy, what a cough you have! Ah! here comes Rosalind."
The figure which approached the group was that of a young lady about seventeen years of age, tall and slim, clad in a loose cloak which floated about her like a cloud, and considerably encumbered with sundry shawls and bags on one arm, a restive dog in another, and a hat which refused to remain on her head in the wind.
Mr Armstrong was perhaps no great connoisseur of female charms, but he thought, as he slowly tried to make up his mind whether he should venture to assist her, that he had rarely seen a more interesting picture.
Her face was flushed with the glow of youth and health. An artist might have found fault with it here and there, but to the tutor it seemed completely beautiful. The fine poise of her head upon the dainty neck, the classic cut of mouth and nostril, the large dark liquid eyes, the snowy forehead, the short clustering wind-tossed hair, the frank countenance, the refinement in every gesture—all combined to astonish the good man into admiration. Yet, with all his admiration, he felt a little afraid of this radiant apparition. Consequently, by the time he had half decided to advance to her succour, his ward had stepped forward and forestalled him.
"Let me help you, Cousin Rosalind," said Roger.
She turned on him a look half surprise, half pleasure, and then allowing him to take cloaks, bags, dog, and all, said—
"Really, papa, you must go and help down in the cabin. It's an awful chaos, and Tom and Jill are making it ten times worse. Do go." And she sat down with a gesture of despair on one of the benches, and proceeded to adjust her unruly hat. While doing this she looked up at Roger, who stood meekly before her with her belongings.
"Thanks! Don't mind holding them; put them down anywhere, Roger, and do, there's a dear boy, go and help father and the others in that horrid, horrid cabin."
Roger, more flurried and docile than he had felt himself for a long while, dropped the baggage, and thrusting the dog into Armstrong's hands, flew off to obey the behests of his new cousin.
The young lady now looked up in charming bewilderment at the tutor, who could not fail to read the question in her eyes, and felt called upon to answer it.
"May I introduce myself?" said he. "I am Frank Armstrong, Roger's tutor."
"I'm so glad," said she with a little laugh. "I'd imagined you a horrid elderly person with a white cravat and tortoise-shell spectacles. It is such a relief!"
And she sighed at the mere recollection of her forebodings.
"There's no saying what we may become in time," said Mr Armstrong.
"I suppose," said she, eyeing him curiously once more, "you're the other trustee, or whatever it's called? I hope you and father will get on well. I can't see what use either of you can be. Roger looks as if he could take care of himself. Are you awfully fond of him?"
"I am rather," said the tutor in a voice which quite satisfied his hearer.
"Heigho!" said she presently, picking up the dog and stroking its ears. "I'm glad this dreadful voyage is over. Mr Armstrong, what do they all think about all of us coming to Maxfield? If I lived there, I should hate it."
"Mrs Ingleton, I know, is very pleased."
"Yes, but you men aren't. There'll be fearful rows, I know. I wish we'd stayed behind in India. It's hateful to be stuck down where you aren't wanted, for every one to vote you a nuisance!"
"I can hardly imagine any one voting you a nuisance," said Mr Armstrong, half-frightened at his own temerity.
She glanced up with a little threatening of a blaze in her eyes. "Don't!" said she. "That's the sort of thing the silly young gentlemen say on board ship. I don't like it."
The poor tutor winced as much under this rebuff as if he had been just detected in a plot to run away with his fair companion; and having nothing to say in extenuation of his crime, he relapsed into silence.
Miss Oliphant, apparently unaware of the effect of her little protest, stroked her dog again and said—
"Are you an artist?"
"No; are you?"
"I want to be. I'd give anything to get out of going to Maxfield, and have a room here in town near the galleries. It will be awful waste of time in that dull place."
"Perhaps your father—" began the tutor; but she took him up half angrily.
"My father intends us to stay at Maxfield. In fact, you may as well know it at once, and let Roger know it too. We're as poor as church- mice, and can't afford to do anything else. Oh, how I wish we had stopped where we were!" And her voice actually trembled as she said the words.
It was an uncomfortable position for Mr Armstrong. Once again his mother-wit failed him, and he watched the little hand as it moved up and down the dog's back in silence.
"I tell you this," continued the young lady, "because tutors are generally poor, and you'll understand it. I wish papa understood it half as well. I do believe he really enjoys the prospect of going and landing himself and all of us at that place."
"You forget that it is by the desire and invitation of the old Squire," said the tutor.
"Father might easily have declined. He ought to have. He wasn't like you, fond of Roger. He doesn't care—at least I fancy he doesn't—much about Roger at all. Oh, I wish I could earn enough to pay for every bite every one of us eats!"
To the tutor's immense relief, at this point Captain Oliphant reappeared, followed by Roger with a boy and little girl.
The boy was some years the junior of the heir of Maxfield, a rotund, matter-of-fact, jovial-looking lad, sturdy in body, easy in temper, and perhaps by no means brilliant in intellect. The turmoil of debarkation failed to ruffle him, and the information given him in sundry quarters that he was the fons et origo of all the confusion in the cabin failed to impress him. Everything that befell Tom Oliphant came in the day's work, and would probably vanish with the night's sleep. Meanwhile it was the duty of every one, himself included, to be jolly. So he accepted his father's chidings and Roger's greetings in equally good part; agreed with every word the former said, and gave in his allegiance to the latter with one and the same smile, and thought to himself how jolly to be in England at last, and perhaps some day to see the Oxford and Cambridge boat-race.
The little maid who tripped at his side was perhaps ten or eleven—an odd blending of the sister's beauty and alertness with the brother's vigorous contentment. A prophet, versed in such matters, would have predicted that ten years hence Miss "Jill" Oliphant might seriously interfere with the shape of her elder sister's nose. But as no prophets were present, only a fogey like Mr Armstrong and an inexperienced boy like Roger, no one concerned themselves about the future, but voted the little lady of ten a winsome child.
"Well, thanks for all your help," said Tom to his elder sister. "I don't know what we should have done without her. Eh, Roger?"
"Upon my word, with you in charge down there," retorted the young lady, "I wouldn't have been safe in that awful place a minute longer. I wonder you haven't packed up Jill in one of the trunks."
"Oh, Cousin Roger took care of me," said Miss Jill demurely.
"I hope Armstrong did the same to you, Rosalind," said Roger. "Here, Tom; this is my tutor, Frank Armstrong—a brick. Here, Jill; say how do you do to Mr Armstrong."
Jill horrified Mr Armstrong by putting up her face to be kissed. Indeed the poor gentleman as he shook the glass out of his eye and gazed down at this forward young person in consternation, presented so pitiable a spectacle, that Rosalind, Roger, and Tom all began to laugh.
"She won't bite," said Tom reassuringly.
Mr Armstrong, thus encouraged, took off his hat, and stooping down, kissed the child on the brow, much to that little lady's satisfaction. This important operation performed, Captain Oliphant expressed concern for Roger's cough, and proposed that his ward should take the girls and himself to the hotel, while no doubt Mr Armstrong would not mind remaining to help Tom with the luggage. By which excellent arrangement the party succeeded at last in getting clear of the "Oriana."
The tutor had his hands full most of that morning Tom Oliphant's idea of looking after the luggage was to put his hands in his pockets and whistle pleasantly up and down the upper deck; nor was it till Mr Armstrong took him bodily below, and made him point out one by one the family properties (among which, by the way, he included several articles belonging to other owners), that he could be reduced to business at all.
Then for half an hour he worked hard; at the end of which time he turned to his companion with a friendly grin.
"Thanks awfully, Mr Armstrong. I say, I wonder if you'll be my tutor as well as Frank's? I heard father say something about it! Wouldn't it be stunning?"
Mr Armstrong gave a qualified assent.
"I'm not a bit clever, you know, like Rosalind, but I'd like to have a tutor awfully. I say, haven't we done enough with these blessed boxes? They'll be all right now. Should we have time to see Christy's Minstrels on our way to the hotel, do you think? I'd like it frightfully."
"My dear boy," said Mr Armstrong, "if we are to get all the things properly cleared and labelled and sent off to Maxfield, we shall have no time for anything else. If the way you stick to your lessons is anything like the way you stick to this task, I don't envy your tutor."
This covert threat at once reduced Tom to a sense of discipline, and he made a gallant effort to secure Mr Armstrong's good opinion.
The tutor was right. It was well on in the afternoon when they had the baggage finally disposed of, and were free to follow to the hotel.
Here they found, instead of the party they expected, a hurriedly scrawled line from Roger.
"Oliphant has taken it into his head to go down to Maxfield at once by the two train. So we are starting. I'm sorry he can't wait, so as all to go together. If you are back in time to come by the evening train, do come. If not, first train in the morning.
It was too late to get a train that day; so Mr Armstrong, much disgusted, had to make up his mind to remain. Tom, on the contrary, was delighted, and proposed twenty different plans for spending the evening, which finally resolved themselves into the coveted visit to Christy's Minstrels.
The tutor, in no very festive humour, allowed himself to be overborne by the eagerness of his young companion, and found himself in due time jammed into a seat in a very hot hall, listening to the very miscellaneous performance of the coloured gentlemen who "never perform out of London."
The tutor, who had some ideas of his own on the subject of music, listened very patiently, sometimes pleased, sometimes distressed, and always conscious of the enthusiastic delight of his companion, whose unaffected comments formed to him the most amusing part of the entertainment.
"Isn't that, stunning?"
"Thanks awfully, Mr Armstrong, for bringing me."
"Hooray! Bones again!"
"I say, I'm looking forward to the break-down; ain't you?" and so on.
Whatever Mr Armstrong's anticipations may have been as to the rapture of the coming "break-down," he contained himself admirably, and with his glass inquiringly stuck in his eye, listened attentively to all that went on, and occasionally speculated as to how Miss Rosalind Oliphant was enjoying her visit to Maxfield.
The programme was half over, and Tom was repairing the ravages of nature with a bun, when Mr Armstrong became suddenly aware of a person in the row but one in front looking round fixedly in his direction.
To judge by the close-cropped, erect hair and stubbly chin of this somewhat disreputable-looking individual, he was a foreigner; and when presently, catching the tutor's eye, he began to indulge in pantomimic gestures of recognition, it was safe to guess he was a Frenchman.
"Who's that chap nodding to you?" said Tom with his mouth full. "Is he tipsy?"
"He lays himself open to the suspicion," said Mr Armstrong slowly. "At any rate, as I vote we go put and get some fresh air, he will have to find some one else to make faces at. Come along."
Tom did not at all like risking his seat, and particularly charged the lady next to him to preserve it from invasion at the risk of her life.
Then wondering a little at Mr Armstrong's impatience to reach the fresh air, he followed him out.
The Frenchman witnessed the proceeding with some little disappointment, and sat craning his neck in the direction in which they had gone for some minutes. Then, as if moved by a similar yearning for fresh air, he too left his seat and went out.
The band was beginning to play as he did so, and most of the loiterers were crowding back for the second part.
"You go in; I'll come directly," said Mr Armstrong to the boy.
Tom needed no second invitation, and a moment later had forgotten everything in the delightful prelude to the "break-down." He did not even observe that Mr Armstrong had not returned to his seat.
"Well, Gustav," said that gentleman in French as the foreigner approached him, where he waited in the outer lobby.
"Eh bien, man cher," replied the other, "'ow 'appy I am to see you. I can speak ze Englise foine, n'est ce pas?"
"What are you doing in London?"
"I am vaiter, garcon at ze private hotel. 'Zey give me foods and drinks and one black coat, but not no vage. Oh, mon ami, it is ver' ver' 'ard."
"And the old man?"
"Ah, helas! he is ver' ver' ill. He vill die next week. Moi, I can not to him go; and Marie, she write me she must leave Paris this day to her duties. It is sad for the poor old pere to die with not von friend to 'old 'is 'and. Ah! if ze petite Francoise yet lived, ma pauvre enfant, she would stay and—"
"Stop!" said the tutor imperatively. "Is he still in the old place?"
"Helas, non! you make ze joke, you. Ve are ver' ver' poor, and 'ave no homes. Mon pere, he is to the hopital. Thank 'eaven, they 'ave zere give 'im ze bed to die."
"Which hospital is he at?" said the tutor.
"De Saint Luc."
"I will see him."
The Frenchman gave a little hysterical laugh; then, with tears in his eyes, he seized the hand of the Englishman and wrung it rapturously.
"Oh, mon ami, mon cher ami!" cried he, "'eaven will bless you. I am 'appy that you say that. You vill see 'im? Yes? You vill 'old 'is 'and ven he do die? He sall have one friend to kiss his poor front? Oh, I am content; I am gay."
How long he would have gone on thus it is hard to say. Mr Armstrong cut short the scene rather abruptly.
"There, there!" said he. "Good-bye, Gustav. I shall go very soon, and will come and see you when I return." And he went back to the performance.
"You've missed it!" said Tom, as he dropped into his seat. "It was the finest 'break-down' you ever saw! That one next but one to Bones kept it up best. We couldn't get an encore out of them. Never mind; perhaps they'll have another to finish up. There's lot's more in the programme."
Mr Armstrong watched it all with the same critical interest as before, but his mind was far away. It wandered to the foreign city, to the gaunt pauper hospital there, to a little low bed where lay an old dying friendless man, tossing and moaning for the laggard death to give him rest. He saw nothing of what went on before him; he felt none of the merry boy's nudges at his side; he even forgot Roger and Maxfield.
The performance was over at last.
"Well, that was a jolly spree! I wish it was coming all over again," chirped the boy. "Oh, thank you awfully, Mr Armstrong, for bringing me. Did you like it too? That last break-down wasn't up to the other, but I'm glad you've seen one of them, at any rate."
As they crowded out, Mr Armstrong was surprised and a little vexed to see Gustav still hanging about the lobby waiting for him. He dropped behind the boy for a moment and beckoned him.
"Well, Gustav?" said he impatiently.
"Ah, mon ami," said the Frenchman, putting a little bunch of early violets into the tutor's hands, "vill you give 'im zese from me? 'Tis all I can send. But he will love zem for the sake of me and ze little Francoise. Adieu, adieu, mon cher ami."
It took not a minute; but in that time Tom had wandered serenely on, never dreaming that his protector was not close at his heels. Nor did he discover his mistake till he found himself half-way up Piccadilly, enlarging to a stranger at his side on the excellence of the evening's performance. Then he looked round and missed his companion. The pavement was crowded with wayfarers of all sorts, some pressing one way, some another. Among them all the boy could not discover the stalwart form of Mr Armstrong. He pushed back to the hall, but he was not there. He followed one or two figures that looked like his; but they were strangers all. Then he returned up the street at a run, hoping to overtake him; but in vain.
He knew nothing of London; he did not even know the name of the hotel; he had no money in his pocket.
He was, in short, lost.
As for Mr Armstrong, not seeing his charge at the door, he had started to run in the direction of the hotel, which was the opposite direction to that taken by Tom. Seeing no sign of the prodigal, he too returned to the hall, just after Tom had started a second time on the contrary tack; and so for an hour these two played hide and seek; sometimes almost within reach of one another; at others, with the whole length of the street between them.
At last the crowd on the pavement thinned, and the tutor, sorely chagrined, started off to the hotel, on the chance of the boy having turned up there. No Tom was there. Tom, in fact, was at that moment debating somewhere about a mile and a half away whether he should not try to make his way to the "Oriana" at the Docks, and remain quietly there till claimed. What a joke it would all be when he was found! What an adventure for his first night in London!
It was not very easy even for Tom Oliphant to derive much amusement from these philosophical reflections, and he looked about him rather dismally for some one of whom to inquire his way.
A seedy-looking person was standing under a lamppost hard by, trying to light a cigarette in the wind. Tom decided to tackle him.
"Please can you tell me the way to the Docks where the P and O steamers come in?" said he.
The man let drop his match and stared at the boy.
"Vy," said he with an odd shrug, "that is some long walks from here. Mais, comment. Vas you not at ze Christy Minstrel to-night viz a nice gentleman?"
"Rather!" said the boy. "Were you there? I say, wasn't it a clipping turn out? I did like it, especially the break-down. I say, I'm lost. The fellow who was looking after me has lost me."
"Oh, you 'ave lost 'im. I am 'appy you to find. You sall not valk to ze Dock, no. I sall give you sleeps at ze hotel, and to-morrow you sall find zat dear gentleman. Come wiz me."
"Oh, but you know, he'll be looking for me; besides, I've got no tin. Father forgot to leave me any. I'd better go to the Docks, I say."
"You sall not. Zey will be all shut fast zere. No, my dear friend, you sall come sleep at my hotel, and you sall have nothings to pay. It will be all right. I would die for to help ze friend of my friend."
"Is Mr Armstrong a friend of yours?" asked the boy. "I thought you were only cheeking him that time in the Hall. Oh, all right, if you know him. Thanks awfully."
Gustav, as delighted as a cat who has found her kitten, led the boy off jubilantly to his third-rate hotel off the Strand, taking the precaution, as he passed, to leave word at the Hall that if a gentleman called who had lost a boy, he should be told where he would find him.
He smuggled Tom up to his own garret, and made him royally welcome with three-quarters of his scanty supper and the whole of his narrow bed, sleeping himself on the floor cheerfully for the sake of the cher ami who had that night promised to go to Paris to hold the hand of his dying father.
About three in the morning there was a loud ringing of the bell and a sound of steps and voices on the stairs, and presently Mr Armstrong entered the room.
Gustav sprang up with his finger on his lips, pointing to the sleeping boy.
"Oh, mon ami," whispered he, "'ow 'appy I am you 'ave found 'im. But I keep him ver' safe. I love to do it, for you are ver' good to me and the pauvre pere. He sall rest here till to-day, vile you (helas! that I have no two beds to offer you), you sall take one in ze hotel, and at morning we sall all be 'appy together."
Mr Armstrong grimly accepted this proposal, and took a room for the night at Gustav's hotel.
The next morning, scarcely waiting to take breakfast or bid another adieu to his grateful friend, he hurried the genial Tom, who had enjoyed himself extremely, to the station, and carried him down by express train to Maxfield.
A CHURCHYARD COUGH.
When Mr Armstrong with his jovial charge arrived about midday at Maxfield, he was struck with the transformation scene which had taken place since he quitted it gloomily a day or two before.
The house was the same, the furniture was untouched, the ordinary domestic routine appeared to be unaltered, but a sense of something new pervaded the place which he could interpret only by the one word— Oliphant.
The captain had made a touching entry—full of sympathy, full of affection, full of a desire to spare his dear cousin all business worry, full of the responsibility that was on him to take charge of the dear fatherless boy, full of that calm sense of duty which enables a man to assert himself on all occasions for the good of those committed to his care. As for his charming daughters, they had floated majestically into their quarters—Miss Rosalind a trifle defiantly, making no secret of her dislike of the whole business; Miss Jill merrily, delighted with the novelty and beauty of this new home, so much more to her mind than the barrack home in India. And Roger, despite all his sinister anticipations, found himself tolerant already of the new guardian, and more than tolerant of his suite.