MRS. HENRY WOOD
AUthor of "East Lynne," "Johnny Ludlow," etc.
TWO HUNDRED AND TENTH THOUSAND
I. THE INKED SURPLICE II. BAD NEWS III. CONSTANCE CHANNING IV. NO HOLIDAY TO-DAY V. ROLAND YORKE VI. LADY AUGUSTA YORKE AT HOME VII. MR. KETCH VIII. THE ASSISTANT-ORGANIST IX. HAMISH'S CANDLES X. A FALSE ALARM XI. THE CLOISTER KEYS XII. A MISHAP TO THE BISHOP XIII. MAD NANCE XIV. KEEPING OFFICE XV. A SPLASH IN THE RIVER XVI. MUCH TO ALTER XVII. SUNDAY MORNING AT MR. CHANNING'S, AND AT LADY AUGUSTA'S XVIII. MR. JENKINS ALIVE AGAIN XIX. THE LOSS XX. THE LOOMING OF AN AWFUL FEAR XXI. MR. BUTTERBY XXII. AN INTERRUPTED DINNER XXIII. AN ESCORT TO THE GUILDHALL XXIV. THE EXAMINATION XXV. A MORNING CALL XXVI. CHECKMATED XXVII. A PIECE OF PREFERMENT XXVIII. AN APPEAL TO THE DEAN XXIX. A TASTE OF "TAN" XXX. THE DEPARTURE XXXI. ABROAD XXXII. AN OMINOUS COUGH XXXIII. NO SENIORSHIP FOR TOM CHANNING XXXIV. GERALD YORKE MADE INTO A "BLOCK" XXXV. THE EARL OF CARRICK XXXVI. ELLEN HUNTLEY XXXVII. THE CONSPIRATORS XXXVIII. THE DECISION XXXIX. THE GHOST XL. MR. KETCH'S EVENING VISIT XLI. THE SEARCH XLII. AN OFFICIAL CEREMONY INTERRUPTED XLIII. DRAGGING THE RIVER XLIV. MR. JENKINS IN A DILEMMA XLV. A NEW SUSPICION XLVI. A LETTER FOR MR. GALLOWAY XLVII. DARK CLOUDS XLVIII. MUFFINS FOR TEA XLIX. A CHATEAU EN ESPAGNE L. REALLY GONE! LI. AN ARRIVAL IN A FLY LII. A RELIC FROM THE BURIAL-GROUND LIII. THE RETURN HOME LIV. "THE SHIP'S DROWNED" LV. NEWS FROM ROLAND LVI. THE BROKEN PHIAL LVII. A GHOST AGAIN LVIII. BYWATER'S DANCE LIX. READY LX. IN WHAT DOES IT LIE?
I remember the gleams and glooms that dart Across the schoolboy's brain; The song and the silence in the heart, That in part are prophecies, and in part Are longings wild and vain. And the voice of that fitful song Sings on and is never still: "A boy's will is the wind's will, And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."
Strange to me now are the forms I meet When I visit the dear old town; But the native air is pure and sweet, And the trees that o'ershadow each well-known street, As they balance up and down, Are singing the beautiful song, Are sighing and whispering still: "A boy's will is the wind's will, And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."
THE INKED SURPLICE.
The sweet bells of Helstonleigh Cathedral were ringing out in the summer's afternoon. Groups of people lined the streets, in greater number than the ordinary business of the day would have brought forth; some pacing with idle steps, some halting to talk with one another, some looking in silence towards a certain point, as far as the eye could reach; all waiting in expectation.
It was the first day of Helstonleigh Assizes; that is, the day on which the courts of law began their sittings. Generally speaking, the commission was opened at Helstonleigh on a Saturday; but for some convenience in the arrangements of the circuit, it was fixed this time for Wednesday; and when those cathedral bells burst forth, they gave signal that the judges had arrived and were entering the sheriff's carriage, which had gone out to meet them.
A fine sight, carrying in it much of majesty, was the procession, as it passed through the streets with its slow and stately steps; and although Helstonleigh saw it twice a year, it looked at it with gratified eyes still, and made the day into a sort of holiday. The trumpeters rode first, blowing the proud note of advance, and the long line of well-mounted javelin men came next, two abreast; their attire that of the livery of the high sheriff's family, and their javelins held in rest. Sundry officials followed, and the governor of the county gaol sat in an open carriage, his long white wand raised in the air. Then appeared the handsome, closed equipage of the sheriff, its four horses, caparisoned with silver, pawing the ground, for they chafed at the slow pace to which they were restrained. In it, in their scarlet robes and flowing wigs, carrying awe to many a young spectator, sat the judges. The high sheriff sat opposite to them, his chaplain by his side, in his gown and bands. A crowd of gentlemen, friends of the sheriff, followed on horseback; and a mob of ragamuffins brought up the rear.
To the assize courts the procession took its way, and there the short business of opening the commission was gone through, when the judges re-entered the carriage to proceed to the cathedral, having been joined by the mayor and corporation. The sweet bells of Helstonleigh were still ringing out, not to welcome the judges to the city now, but as an invitation to them to come and worship God. Within the grand entrance of the cathedral, waiting to receive the judges, stood the Dean of Helstonleigh, two or three of the chapter, two of the minor canons, and the king's scholars and choristers, all in their white robes. The bells ceased; the fine organ pealed out—and there are few finer organs in England than that of Helstonleigh—the vergers with their silver maces, and the decrepit old bedesmen in their black gowns, led the way to the choir, the long scarlet trains of the judges held up behind: and places were found for all.
The Rev. John Pye began the service; it was his week for chanting. He was one of the senior minor canons, and head-master of the college school. At the desk opposite to him sat the Rev. William Yorke, a young man who had only just gained his minor canonry.
The service went on smoothly until the commencement of the anthem. In one sense it went on smoothly to the end, for no person present, not even the judges themselves, could see that anything was wrong. Mr. Pye was what was called "chanter" to the cathedral, which meant that it was he who had the privilege of selecting the music for the chants and other portions of the service, when the dean did not do so himself. The anthem he had put up for this occasion was a very good one, taken from the Psalms of David. It commenced with a treble solo; it was, moreover, an especial favourite of Mr. Pye's; and he complacently disposed himself to listen.
But no sooner was the symphony over, no sooner had the first notes of the chorister sounded on Mr. Pye's ear, than his face slightly flushed, and he lifted his head with a sharp, quick gesture. That was not the voice which ought to have sung this fine anthem; that was a cracked, passee voice, belonging to the senior chorister, a young gentleman of seventeen, who was going out of the choir at Michaelmas. He had done good service for the choir in his day, but his voice was breaking now; and the last time he had attempted a solo, the bishop (who interfered most rarely with the executive of the cathedral; and, indeed, it was not his province to do so) had spoken himself to Mr. Pye on the conclusion of the service, and said the boy ought not to be allowed to sing alone again.
Mr. Pye bent his head forward to catch a glimpse of the choristers, five of whom sat on his side of the choir, the decani; five on the opposite, or cantori side. So far as he could see, the boy, Stephen Bywater, who ought to have taken the anthem, was not in his place. There appeared to be only four of them; but the senior boy with his clean, starched surplice, partially hid those below him. Mr. Pye wondered where his eyes could have been, not to have noticed the boy's absence when they had all been gathered round the entrance, waiting for the judges.
Had Mr. Pye's attention not been fully engrossed with his book, As the service had gone on, he might have seen the boy opposite to him; for there sat Bywater, before the bench of king's scholars, and right in front of Mr. Pye. Mr. Pye's glance fell upon him now, and he could scarcely believe it. He rubbed his eyes, and looked, and rubbed again. Bywater there! and without his surplice! braving, as it were, the head-master! What could he possibly mean by this act of insubordination? Why was he not in his place in the school? Why was he mixing with the congregation? But Mr. Pye could as yet obtain no solution to the mystery.
The anthem came to an end; the dean had bent his brow at the solo, but it did no good; and, the prayers over, the sheriff's chaplain ascended to the pulpit to preach the sermon. He selected his text from St. John's Gospel: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." In the course of his sermon he pointed out that the unhappy prisoners in the gaol, awaiting the summons to answer before an earthly tribunal for the evil deeds they had committed, had been led into their present miserable condition by the seductions of the flesh. They had fallen into sin, he went on, by the indulgence of their passions; they had placed no restraint upon their animal appetites and guilty pleasures; they had sunk gradually into crime, and had now to meet the penalty of the law. But did no blame, he asked, attach to those who had remained indifferent to their downward course; who had never stretched forth a friendly hand to rescue them from destruction; who had made no effort to teach and guide in the ways of truth and righteousness these outcasts of society? Were we, he demanded, at liberty to ignore our responsibility by asking in the words of earth's first criminal, "Am I my brother's keeper?" No; it was at once our duty and our privilege to engage in the noble work of man's reformation—to raise the fallen—to seek out the lost, and to restore the outcast; and this, he argued, could only be accomplished by a widely-disseminated knowledge of God's truth, by patient, self-denying labour in God's work, and by a devout dependence on God's Holy Spirit.
At the conclusion of the service the head-master proceeded to the vestry, where the minor canons, choristers, and lay-clerks kept their surplices. Not the dean and chapter; they robed in the chapter-house: and the king's scholars put on their surplices in the schoolroom. The choristers followed Mr. Pye to the vestry, Bywater entering with them. The boys grouped themselves together: they were expecting—to use their own expression—a row.
"Bywater, what is the meaning of this conduct?" was the master's stern demand.
"I had no surplice, sir," was Bywater's answer—a saucy-looking boy with a red face, who had a propensity for getting into "rows," and, consequently, into punishment.
"No surplice!" repeated Mr. Pye—for the like excuse had never been offered by a college boy before. "What do you mean?"
"We were ordered to wear clean surplices this afternoon. I brought mine to college this morning; I left it here in the vestry, and took the dirty one home. Well, sir, when I came to put it on this afternoon, it was gone."
"How could it have gone? Nonsense, sir! Who would touch your surplice?"
"But I could not find it, sir," repeated Bywater. "The choristers know I couldn't; and they left me hunting for it when they went into the hall to receive the judges. I could not go into my stall, sir, and sing the anthem without my surplice."
"Hurst had no business to sing it," was the vexed rejoinder of the master. "You know your voice is gone, Hurst. You should have gone up to the organist, stated the case, and had another anthem put up."
"But, sir, I was expecting Bywater in every minute. I thought he'd be sure to find his surplice somewhere," was Hurst's defence. "And when he did not come, and it grew too late to do anything, I thought it better to take the anthem myself than to give it to a junior, who would be safe to have made a mess of it. Better for the judges and other strangers to hear a faded voice in Helstonleigh Cathedral, than to hear bad singing."
The master did not speak. So far, Hurst's argument had reason in it.
"And—I beg your pardon for what I am about to say, sir," Hurst went on: "but I hope you will allow me to assure you beforehand, that neither I, nor my juniors under me, have had a hand in this affair. Bywater has just told me that the surplice is found, and how; and blame is sure to be cast upon us; but I declare that not one of us has been in the mischief."
Mr. Pye opened his eyes. "What now?" he asked. "What is the mischief?"
"I found the surplice afterwards, sir," Bywater said. "This is it."
He spoke meaningly, as if preparing them for a surprise, and pointed to a corner of the vestry. There lay a clean, but tumbled surplice, half soaked in ink. The head-master and Mr. Yorke, lay-clerks and choristers, all gathered round, and stared in amazement.
"They shall pay me the worth of the surplice," spoke Bywater, an angry shade crossing his usually good-tempered face.
"And have a double flogging into the bargain," exclaimed the master. "Who has done this?"
"It looks as though it had been rabbled up for the purpose," cried Hurst, in schoolboy phraseology, bending down and touching it gingerly with his finger. "The ink has been poured on to it."
"Where did you find it?" sharply demanded the master—not that he was angry with the boys before him, but he felt angry that the thing should have taken place.
"I found it behind the screen, sir," replied Bywater. "I thought I'd look there, as a last resource, and there it was. I should think nobody has been behind that screen for a twelvemonth past, for it's over ankles in dust there."
"And you know nothing of it, Hurst?"
"Nothing whatever, sir," was the reply of the senior chorister, spoken earnestly. "When Bywater whispered to me what had occurred, I set it down as the work of one of the choristers, and I taxed them with it. But they all denied it strenuously, and I believe they spoke the truth. I put them on their honour."
The head-master peered at the choristers. Innocence was in every face—not guilt; and he, with Hurst, believed he must look elsewhere for the culprit. That it had been done by a college boy there could be no doubt whatever; either out of spite to Bywater, or from pure love of mischief. The king's scholars had no business in the vestry; but just at this period the cathedral was undergoing repair, and they could enter, if so minded, at any time of the day, the doors being left open for the convenience of the workmen.
The master turned out of the vestry. The cathedral was emptied of its crowd, leaving nothing but the dust to tell of what had been, and the bells once more went pealing forth over the city. Mr. Pye crossed the nave, and quitted the cathedral by the cloister door, followed by the choristers. The schoolroom, once the large refectory of the monks in monkish days, was on the opposite side of the cloisters; a large room, which you gained by steps, and whose high windows were many feet from the ground. Could you have climbed to those windows, and looked from them, you would have beheld a fair scene. A clear river wound under the cathedral walls; beyond its green banks were greener meadows, stretching out in the distance; far-famed, beautiful hills bounded the horizon. Close by, were the prebendal houses; some built of red stone, some covered with ivy, all venerable with age. Pleasant gardens surrounded most of them, and dark old elms towered aloft, sheltering the rooks, which seemed as old as the trees.
The king's scholars were in the schoolroom, cramming their surplices into bags, or preparing to walk home with them thrown upon their arms, and making enough hubbub to alarm the rooks. It dropped to a dead calm at sight of the master. On holidays—and this was one—it was not usual for the masters to enter the school after service. The school was founded by royal charter—its number limited to forty boys, who were called king's scholars, ten of whom, those whose voices were the best, were chosen choristers. The master marched to his desk, and made a sign for the boys to approach, addressing himself to the senior boy.
"Gaunt, some mischief has been done in the vestry, touching Bywater's surplice. Do you know anything of it?"
"No, sir," was the prompt answer. And Gaunt was one who scorned to tell a lie.
The master ranged his eyes round the circle. "Who does?"
There was no reply. The boys looked at one another, a sort of stolid surprise for the most part predominating. Mr. Pye resumed:
"Bywater tells me that he left his clean surplice in the vestry this morning. This afternoon it was found thrown behind the screen, tumbled together, beyond all doubt purposely, and partially covered with ink. I ask, who has done this?"
"I have not, sir," burst forth from most of the boys simultaneously. The seniors, of whom there were three besides Gaunt, remained silent. But this was nothing unusual; for the seniors, unless expressly questioned or taxed with a fault, did not accustom themselves to a voluntary denial.
"I can only think this has been the result of accident," continued the head-master. "It is incredible to suppose any one of you would wantonly destroy a surplice. If so, let that boy, whoever he may have been, speak up honourably, and I will forgive him. I conclude that the ink must have been spilt upon it, I say accidentally, and that he then, in his consternation, tumbled the surplice together, and threw it out of sight behind the screen. It had been more straightforward, more in accordance with what I wish you all to be—boys of thorough truth and honour—had he candidly confessed it. But the fear of the moment may have frightened his better judgment away. Let him acknowledge it now, and I will forgive him; though of course he must pay Bywater for another surplice."
A dead silence.
"Do you hear, boys?" the master sternly asked.
No answer from any one; nothing but continued silence. The master rose, and his countenance assumed its most severe expression.
"Hear further, boys. That it is one of you, I am convinced; and your refusing to speak compels me to fear that it was not an accident, but a premeditated, wicked act. I now warn you, whoever did it, that if I can discover the author or authors, he or they shall be punished with the utmost severity, short of expulsion, that is allowed by the rules of the school. Seniors, I call for your aid in this. Look to it."
The master left the schoolroom, and Babel broke loose—questioning, denying, protesting, one of another. Bywater was surrounded.
"Won't there be a stunning flogging? Bywater, who did it? Do you know?"
Bywater sat himself astride over the end of a bench, and nodded. The senior boy turned to him, some slight surprise in his look and tone.
"Do you know, Bywater?"
"Pretty well, Gaunt. There are two fellows in this school, one's at your desk, one's at the second desk, and I believe they'd either of them do me a nasty turn if they could. It was one of them."
"Who do you mean?" asked Gaunt eagerly.
Bywater laughed. "Thank you. If I tell now, it may defeat the ends of justice, as the newspapers say. I'll wait till I am sure—and then, let him look to himself. I won't spare him, and I don't fancy Pye will."
"You'll never find out, if you don't find out at once, Bywater," cried Hurst.
"Shan't I? You'll see," was the significant answer. "It's some distance from here to the vestry of the cathedral, and a fellow could scarcely steal there and steal back without being seen by somebody. It was done stealthily, mark you; and when folks go on stealthy errands they are safe to be met."
Before he had finished speaking, a gentlemanly-looking boy of about twelve, with delicate features, a damask flush on his face, and wavy auburn hair, sprang up with a start. "Why!" he exclaimed, "I saw—" And there he came to a sudden halt, and the flush on his cheek grew deeper, and then faded again. It was a face of exceeding beauty, refined almost as a girl's, and it had gained for him in the school the sobriquet of "Miss."
"What's the matter with you, Miss Charley?"
"Oh, nothing, Bywater."
"Charley Channing," exclaimed Gaunt, "do you know who did it?"
"If I did, Gaunt, I should not tell," was the fearless answer.
"Do you know, Charley?" cried Tom Channing, who was one of the seniors of the school.
"Where's the good of asking that wretched little muff?" burst forth Gerald Yorke. "He's only a girl. How do you know it was not one of the lay-clerks, Bywater? They carry ink in their pockets, I'll lay. Or any of the masons might have gone into the vestry, for the matter of that."
"It wasn't a lay-clerk, and it wasn't a mason," stoically nodded Bywater. "It was a college boy. And I shall lay my finger upon him as soon as I am a little bit surer than I am. I am three parts sure now."
"If Charley Channing does not suspect somebody, I'm not here," exclaimed Hurst, who had closely watched the movement alluded to; and he brought his hand down fiercely on the desk as he spoke. "Come, Miss Channing, just shell out what you know; it's a shame the choristers should lie under such a ban: and of course we shall do so, with Pye."
"You be quiet, Hurst, and let Miss Charley alone," drawled Bywater. "I don't want him, or anybody else to get pummelled to powder; I'll find it out for myself, I say. Won't my old aunt be in a way though, when she sees the surplice, and finds she has another to make! I say, Hurst, didn't you croak out that solo! Their lordships in the wigs will be soliciting your photograph as a keepsake."
"I hope they'll set it in diamonds," retorted Hurst.
The boys began to file out, putting on their trenchers, as they clattered down the steps. Charley Channing sat himself down in the cloisters on a pile of books, as if willing that the rest should pass out before him. His brother saw him sitting there, and came up to him, speaking in an undertone.
"Charley, you know the rules of the school: one boy must not tell of another. As Bywater says, you'd get pummelled to powder."
"Look here, Tom. I tell you—"
"Hold your tongue, boy!" sharply cried Tom Channing. "Do you forget that I am a senior? You heard the master's words. We know no brothers in school life, you must remember."
Charley laughed. "Tom, you think I am a child, I believe. I didn't enter the school yesterday. All I was going to tell you was this: I don't know any more than you who inked the surplice; and suspicion goes for nothing."
"All right," said Tom Channing, as he flew after the rest; and Charley sat on, and fell into a reverie.
The senior boy of the school, you have heard, was Gaunt. The other three seniors, Tom Channing, Harry Huntley, and Gerald Yorke, possessed a considerable amount of power; but nothing equal to that vested in Gaunt. They had all three entered the school on the same day, and had kept pace with each other as they worked their way up in it, consequently not one could be said to hold priority; and when Gaunt should quit the school at the following Michaelmas, one of the three would become senior. Which, you may wish to ask? Ah, we don't know that, yet.
Charley Channing—a truthful, good boy, full of integrity, kind and loving by nature, and a universal favourite—sat tilted on the books. He was wishing with all his heart that he had not seen something which he had seen that day. He had been going through the cloisters in the afternoon, about the time that all Helstonleigh, college boys included, were in the streets watching for the sheriff's procession, when he saw one of the seniors steal (Bywater had been happy in the epithet) out of the cathedral into the quiet cloisters, peer about him, and then throw a broken ink-bottle into the graveyard which the cloisters enclosed. The boy stole away without perceiving Charley; and there sat Charley now, trying to persuade himself by some ingenious sophistry—which, however, he knew was sophistry—that the senior might not have been the one in the mischief; that the ink-bottle might have been on legitimate duty, and that he threw it from him because it was broken. Charles Channing did not like these unpleasant secrets. There was in the school a code of honour—the boys called it so—that one should not tell of another; and if the head-master ever went the length of calling the seniors to his aid, those seniors deemed themselves compelled to declare it, if the fault became known to them. Hence Tom Channing's hasty arrest of his brother's words.
"I wonder if I could see the ink-bottle there?" quoth Charles to himself. Rising from the books he ran through the cloisters to a certain part, and there, by a dexterous spring, perched himself on to the frame of the open mullioned windows. The gravestones lay pretty thick in the square, enclosed yard, the long, dank grass growing around them; but there appeared to be no trace of an ink-bottle.
"What on earth are you mounted up there for? Come down instantly. You know the row there has been about the walls getting defaced."
The speaker was Gerald Yorke, who had come up silently. Openly disobey him, young Channing dared not, for the seniors exacted obedience in school and out of it. "I'll get down directly, sir. I am not hurting the wall."
"What are you looking at? What is there to see?" demanded Yorke.
"Nothing particular. I was looking for what I can't see," pointedly returned Charley.
"Look here, Miss Channing; I don't quite understand you to-day. You were excessively mysterious in school, just now, over that surplice affair. Who's to know you were not in the mess yourself?"
"I think you might know it," returned Charley, as he jumped down. "It was more likely to have been you than I."
Yorke laid hold of him, clutching his jacket with a firm grasp. "You insolent young jackanapes! Now! what do you mean? You don't stir from here till you tell me."
"I'll tell you, Mr. Yorke; I'd rather tell," cried the boy, sinking his voice to a whisper. "I was here when you came peeping out of the college doors this afternoon, and I saw you come up to this niche, and fling away an ink-bottle."
Yorke's face flushed scarlet. He was a tall, strong fellow, with a pale complexion, thick, projecting lips, and black hair, promising fair to make a Hercules—but all the Yorkes were finely framed. He gave young Channing a taste of his strength; the boy, when shaken, was in his hands as a very reed. "You miserable imp! Do you know who is said to be the father of lies?"
"Let me alone, sir. It's no lie, and you know it's not. But I promise you on my honour that I won't split. I'll keep it in close; always, if I can. The worst of me is, I bring things out sometimes without thought," he added ingenuously. "I know I do; but I'll try and keep in this. You needn't be in a passion, Yorke; I couldn't help seeing what I did. It wasn't my fault."
Yorke's face had grown purple with anger. "Charles Channing, if you don't: unsay what you have said, I'll beat you to within an inch of your life."
"I can't unsay it," was the answer.
"You can't!" reiterated Yorke, grasping him as a hawk would a pigeon. "How dare you brave me to my presence? Unsay the lie you have told."
"I am in God's presence, Yorke, as well as in yours," cried the boy, reverently; "and I will not tell a lie."
"Then take your whacking! I'll teach you what it is to invent fabrications! I'll put you up for—"
Yorke's tongue and hands stopped. Turning out of the private cloister-entrance of the deanery, right upon them, had come Dr. Gardner, one of the prebendaries. He cast a displeased glance at Yorke, not speaking; and little Channing, touching his trencher to the doctor, flew to the place where he had left his books, caught them up, and ran out of the cloisters towards home.
The ground near the cathedral, occupied by the deanery and the prebendal residences, was called the Boundaries. There were a few other houses in it, chiefly of a moderate size, inhabited by private families. Across the open gravel walk, in front of the south cloister entrance, was the house appropriated to the headmaster; and the Channings lived in a smaller one, nearly on the confines of the Boundaries. A portico led into it, and there was a sitting-room on either side the hall. Charley entered; and was going, full dash, across the hall to a small room where the boys studied, singing at the top of his voice, when the old servant of the family, Judith, an antiquated body, in a snow-white mob-cap and check apron, met him, and seized his arm.
"Hush, child! There's ill news in the house."
Charley dropped his voice to an awe-struck whisper. "What is it, Judith? Is papa worse?"
"Child! there's illness of mind as well as of body. I didn't say sickness; I said ill news. I don't rightly understand it; the mistress said a word to me, and I guessed the rest. And it was me that took in the letter! Me! I wish I had put it in my kitchen fire first!"
"Is it—Judith, is it news of the—the cause? Is it over?"
"It's over, as I gathered. 'Twas a London letter, and it came by the afternoon post. All the poor master's hopes and dependencies for years have been wrested from him. And if they'd give me my way, I'd prosecute them postmen for bringing such ill luck to a body's door."
Charles stood something like a statue, the bright, sensitive colour deserting his cheek. One of those causes, Might versus Right, of which there are so many in the world, had been pending in the Channing family for years and years. It included a considerable amount of money, which ought, long ago, to have devolved peaceably to Mr. Channing; but Might was against him, and Might threw it into Chancery. The decision of the Vice-Chancellor had been given for Mr. Channing, upon which Might, in his overbearing power, carried it to a higher tribunal. Possibly the final decision, from which there could be no appeal, had now come.
"Judith," Charles asked, after a pause, "did you hear whether—whether the letter—I mean the news—had anything to do with the Lord Chancellor?"
"Oh, bother the Lord Chancellor!" was Judith's response. "It had to do with somebody that's an enemy to your poor papa. I know that much. Who's this?"
The hall door had opened, and Judith and Charles turned towards it. A gay, bright-featured young man of three and twenty entered, tall and handsome, as it was in the nature of the Channings to be. He was the eldest son of the family, James; or, as he was invariably styled, Hamish. He rose six foot two in his stockings, was well made, and upright. In grace and strength of frame the Yorkes and the Channings stood A1 in Helstonleigh.
"Now, then! What are you two concocting? Is he coming over you again to let him make more toffy, Judy, and burn out the bottom of another saucepan?"
"Hamish, Judy says there's bad news come in by the London post. I am afraid the Lord Chancellor has given judgment—given it against us."
The careless smile, the half-mocking, expression left the lips of Hamish. He glanced from Judith to Charles, from Charles to Judith. "Is it sure?" he breathed.
"It's sure that it's awful news of some sort," returned Judith; "and the mistress said to me that all was over now. They be all in there, but you two," pointing with her finger to the parlour on the left of the hall; "and you had better go in to them. Master Hamish—"
"Well?" returned Hamish, in a tone of abstraction.
"You must every one of you just make the best of it, and comfort the poor master. You are young and strong; while he—you know what he is. You, in special, Master Hamish, for you're the eldest born, and were the first of 'em that I ever nursed upon my knee."
"Of course—of course," he hastily replied. "But, oh, Judith! you don't know half the ill this must bring upon us! Come along, Charley; let us hear the worst."
Laying his arm with an affectionate gesture round the boy's neck, Hamish drew him towards the parlour. It was a square, light, cheerful room. Not the best room: that was on the other side the hall. On a sofa, underneath the window, reclined Mr. Channing, his head and shoulders partly raised by cushions. His illness had continued long, and now, it was feared, had become chronic. A remarkably fine specimen of manhood he must have been in his day, his countenance one of thoughtful goodness, pleasant to look upon. Arthur, the second son, had inherited its thoughtfulness, its expression of goodness; James, its beauty; but there was a great likeness between all the four sons. Arthur, only nineteen, was nearly as tall as his brother. He stood bending over the arm of his father's sofa. Tom, looking very blank and cross, sat at the table, his elbows leaning on it. Mrs. Channing's pale, sweet face was bent towards her daughter's, Constance, a graceful girl of one and twenty; and Annabel, a troublesome young lady of nearly fourteen, was surreptitiously giving twitches to Tom's hair.
Arthur moved from the place next his father when Hamish entered, as if yielding him the right to stand there. A more united family it would be impossible to find. The brothers and sisters loved each other dearly, and Hamish they almost reverenced—excepting Annabel. Plenty of love the child possessed; but of reverence, little. With his gay good humour, and his indulgent, merry-hearted spirit, Hamish Channing was one to earn love as his right, somewhat thoughtless though he was. Thoroughly well, in the highest sense of the term, had the Channings been reared. Not of their own wisdom had Mr. and Mrs. Channing trained their children.
"What's the matter, sir?" asked Hamish, smoothing his brow, and suffering the hopeful smile to return to his lips. "Judith says some outrageous luck has arrived; come express, by post."
"Joke while you may, Hamish," interposed Mrs. Channing, in a low voice; "I shrink from telling it you. Can you not guess the news?"
Hamish looked round at each, individually, with his sunny smile, and then let it rest upon his mother. "The very worst I can guess is not so bad. We are all here in our accustomed health. Had we sent Annabel up in that new balloon they are advertising, I might fancy it had capsized with her—as it will some day. Annabel, never you be persuaded to mount the air in that fashion."
"Hamish! Hamish!" gently reproved Mrs. Channing. But perhaps she discerned the motive which actuated him. Annabel clapped her hands. She would have thought it great fun to go up in a balloon.
"Well, mother, the worst tidings that the whole world could bring upon us cannot, I say, be very dreadful, while we can discuss them as we are doing now," said Hamish. "I suppose the Lord Chancellor has pronounced against us?"
"Irrevocably. The suit is for ever at an end, and we have lost it."
"Hamish is right," interrupted Mr. Channing. "When the letter arrived, I was for a short time overwhelmed. But I begin to see it already in a less desponding light; and by to-morrow I dare say I shall be cheerful over it. One blessed thing—children, I say advisedly, a 'blessed' thing—the worry will be over."
Charley lifted his head. "The worry, papa?"
"Ay, my boy. The agitation—the perpetual excitement—the sickening suspense—the yearning for the end. You cannot understand this, Charley; you can none of you picture it, as it has been, for me. Could I have gone abroad, as other men, it would have shaken itself off amidst the bustle of the world, and have pressed upon me only at odd times and seasons. But here have I lain; suspense my constant companion. It was not right, to allow the anxiety so to work upon me: but I could not help it; I really could not."
"We shall manage to do without it, papa," said Arthur.
"Yes; after a bit, we shall manage very well. The worst is, we are behindhand in our payments; for you know how surely I counted upon this. It ought to have been mine; it was mine by full right of justice, though it now seems that the law was against me. It is a great affliction; but it is one of those which may be borne with an open brow."
"What do you mean, papa?"
"Afflictions are of two kinds. The one we bring upon ourselves, through our own misconduct; the other is laid upon us by God for our own advantage. Yes, my boys, we receive many blessings in disguise. Trouble of this sort will only serve to draw out your manly energies, to make you engage vigorously in the business of life, to strengthen your self-dependence and your trust in God. This calamity of the lost lawsuit we must all meet bravely. One mercy, at any rate, the news has brought with it."
"What is that?" asked Mrs. Channing, lifting her sad face.
"When I have glanced to the possibility of the decision being against me, I have wondered how I should pay its long and heavy costs; whether our home must not be broken up to do it, and ourselves turned out upon the world. But the costs are not to fall upon me; all are to be paid out of the estate."
"That's good news!" ejaculated Hamish, his face radiant, as he nodded around.
"My darling boys," resumed Mr. Channing, "you must all work and do your best. I had thought this money would have made things easier for you; but it is not to be. Not that I would have a boy of mine cherish for a moment the sad and vain dream which some do—that of living in idleness. God has sent us all into the world to work; some with their hands, some with their heads; all according to their abilities and their station. You will not be the worse off," Mr. Charming added with a smile, "for working a little harder than you once thought would be necessary."
"Perhaps the money may come to us, after all, by some miracle," suggested Charley.
"No," replied Mr. Channing. "It has wholly gone from us. It is as much lost to us as though we had never possessed a claim to it."
It was even so. This decision of the Lord Chancellor had taken it from the Channing family for ever.
"Never mind!" cried Tom, throwing up his trencher, which he had carelessly carried into the room with him. "As papa says, we have our hands and brains: and they often win the race against money in the long run."
Yes. The boys had active hands and healthy brains—no despicable inheritance, when added to a firm faith in God, and an ardent wish to use, and not misuse, the talents given to them.
How true is the old proverb—"Man proposes but God disposes!" God's ways are not as our ways. His dealings with us are often mysterious. Happy those, who can detect His hand in all the varied chances and changes of the world.
I am not sure that we can quite picture to ourselves the life that had been Mr. Channing's. Of gentle birth, and reared to no profession, the inheritance which ought to have come to him was looked upon as a sufficient independence. That it would come to him, had never been doubted by himself or by others; and it was only at the very moment when he thought he was going to take possession of it, that some enemy set up a claim and threw it into Chancery. You may object to the word "enemy," but it could certainly not be looked upon as the act of a friend. By every right, in all justice, it belonged to James Channing; but he who put in his claim, taking advantage of a quibble of law, was a rich man and a mighty one. I should not like to take possession of another's money in such a manner. The good, old-fashioned, wholesome fear would be upon me, that it would bring no good either to me or mine.
James Channing never supposed but that the money would be his some time. Meanwhile he sought and obtained employment to occupy his days; to bring "grist to the mill," until the patrimony should come. Hoping, hoping, hoping on; hope and disappointment, hope and disappointment—there was nothing else for years and years; and you know who has said, that "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick." There have been many such cases in the world, but I question, I say, if we can quite realize them. However, the end had come—the certainty of disappointment; and Mr. Channing was already beginning to be thankful that suspense, at any rate, was over.
He was the head of an office—or it may be more correct to say the head of the Helstonleigh branch of it, for the establishment was a London one—a large, important concern, including various departments of Insurance. Hamish was in the same office; and since Mr. Channing's rheumatism had become chronic, it was Hamish who chiefly transacted the business of the office, generally bringing home the books when he left, and going over them in the evening with his father. Thus the work was effectually transacted, and Mr. Channing retained his salary. The directors were contented that it should be so, for Mr. Channing possessed their thorough respect and esteem.
After the ill news was communicated to them, the boys left the parlour, and assembled in a group in the study, at the back of the house, to talk it over. Constance was with them, but they would not admit Annabel. A shady, pleasant, untidy room was that study, opening to a cool, shady garden. It had oil-cloth on the floor instead of carpeting, and books and playthings were strewed about it.
"What an awful shame that there should be so much injustice in the world!" spoke passionate Tom, flinging his Euripides on the table.
"But for one thing, I should be rather glad the worry's over," cried Hamish. "We know the worst now—that we have only ourselves to trust to."
"Our hands and brains, as Tom said," remarked Charley. "What is the 'one thing' that you mean, Hamish?"
Hamish seized Charley by the waist, lifted him up, and let him drop again. "It is what does not concern little boys to know: and I don't see why you should be in here with us, young sir, any more than Annabel."
"A presentiment that this would be the ending has been upon me for some time," broke in the gentle voice of Constance. "In my own mind I have kept laying out plans for us all. You see, it is not as though we should enjoy the full income that we have hitherto had."
"What's that, Constance?" asked Tom hotly. "The decision does not touch papa's salary; and you heard him say that the costs were to be paid out of the estate. A pretty thing it would be if any big-wigged Lord Chancellor could take away the money that a man works hard for!"
"Hasty, as usual, Tom," she said with a smile. "You know—we all know—that, counting fully upon this money, papa is behindhand in his payments. They must be paid off now in the best way that may be found: and it will take so much from his income. It will make no difference to you, Tom; all you can do, is to try on heartily for the seniorship and the exhibition."
"Oh, won't it make a difference to me, though!" retorted Tom. "And suppose I don't gain it, Constance?"
"Then you will have to work all the harder, Tom, in some other walk of life. Failing the exhibition, of course there will be no chance of your going up to the university; and you must give up the hope of entering the Church. The worst off—the one upon whom this disappointment must fall the hardest—will be Arthur."
Arthur Channing—astride on the arm of the old-fashioned sofa—lifted his large deep blue eyes to Constance with a flash of intelligence: it seemed to say, that she only spoke of what he already knew. He had been silent hitherto; he was of a silent nature: a quiet, loving, tender nature: while the rest spoke, he was content to think.
"Ay, that it will!" exclaimed Hamish. "What will become of your articles now, Arthur?"
It should be explained that Arthur had entered the office of Mr. Galloway, who was a proctor, and also was steward to the Dean and Chapter. Arthur was only a subordinate in it, a clerk receiving pay—and very short pay, too; but it was intended that he should enter upon his articles as soon as this money that should be theirs enabled Mr. Channing to pay for them. Hamish might well ask what would become of his articles now!
"I can't see a single step before me," cried Arthur. "Except that I must stay on as I am, a paid clerk."
"What rubbish, Arthur!" flashed Tom, who possessed a considerable share of temper when it was roused. "As if you, Arthur Channing, could remain a paid clerk at Galloway's! Why, you'd be on a level with Jenkins—old Jenkins's son. Roland Yorke would look down on you then; more than he does now. And that need not be!"
The sensitive crimson dyed Arthur's fair open brow. Of all the failings that he found it most difficult to subdue in his own heart, pride bore the greatest share. From the moment the ill news had come to his father, the boy felt that he should have to do fierce battle with his pride; that there was ever-recurring mortification laid up in store for it. "But I can battle with it," he bravely whispered to himself: "and I will do it, God helping me."
"I may whistle for my new cricket-bat and stumps now," grumbled Tom.
"And I wonder when I shall have my new clothes?" added Charley.
"How selfish we all are!" broke forth Arthur.
"Selfish?" chafed Tom.
"Yes, selfish. Here we are, croaking over our petty disappointments, and forgetting the worst share that falls upon papa. Failing this money, how will he go to the German baths?"
A pause of consternation. In their own grievances the boys had lost sight of the hope which had recently been shared by them all. An eminent physician, passing through Helstonleigh, had seen Mr. Channing, and given his opinion that if he would visit certain medicinal spas in Germany, health might be restored to him. When the cause should be terminated in their favour, Mr. Channing had intended to set out. But now it was given against him; and hope of setting out had gone with it.
"I wish I could carry him on my back to Germany, and work to keep him while he stayed there!" impulsively spoke Tom. "Wretchedly selfish we have been, to dwell on our disappointments, by the side of papa's. I wish I was older."
Constance was standing against the window. She was of middle height, thoroughly ladylike and graceful; her features fair and beautiful, and her dark-blue eyes and smooth white brow wonderfully like Arthur's. She wore a muslin dress with a delicate pink sprig upon it, the lace of its open sleeves falling on her pretty white hands, which were playing unconsciously with a spray of jessamine, while she listened to her brothers as each spoke.
"Tom," she interposed, in answer to the last remark, "it is of no use wishing for impossibilities. We must look steadfastly at things as they exist, and see what is the best that can be made of them. All that you and Charles can do is to work well on at your studies—Annabel the same; and it is to be hoped this blow will take some of her thoughtlessness out of her. Hamish, and Arthur, and I, must try and be more active than we have been."
"You!" echoed Arthur. "Why, what can you do, Constance?"
A soft blush rose to her cheeks. "I tell you that I have seemed to anticipate this," she said, "and my mind has busied itself with plans and projects. I shall look out for a situation as daily governess."
A groan of anger burst from Tom. His quick temper, and Arthur's pride, alike rose up and resented the words. "A daily governess! It is only another name for a servant. Fine, that would be, for Miss Channing!"
Constance laughed. "Oh, Tom! there are worse misfortunes at sea. I would go out wholly, but that papa would not like to spare me, and I must take Annabel for music and other things of an evening. Don't look cross. It is an excellent thought; and I shall not mind it."
"What will mamma say?" asked Tom, ironically. "You just ask her!"
"Mamma knows," replied Constance. "Mamma has had her fears about the termination of the lawsuit, just as I have. Ah! while you boys were laughing and joking, and pursuing your sports or your studies of a night, I and mamma would be talking over the shadowed future. I told mamma that if the time and the necessity came for turning my education and talents to account, I should do it with a willing heart; and mamma, being rather more sensible than her impetuous son Tom, cordially approved."
Tom made a paper bullet and flung it at Constance, his honest eyes half laughing.
"So should I approve," said Hamish. "It is a case, taking into consideration my father's state, in which all of us should help who are able. Of course, were you boys grown up and getting money, Constance should be exempt from aiding and abetting; but as it is, it is different. There will be no disgrace in her becoming a governess; and Helstonleigh will never think it so. She is a lady always, and so she would be if she were to turn to and wash up dishes. The only doubt is—"
He stopped, and looked hesitatingly at Constance. As if penetrating his meaning, her eyes fell before his.
"—Whether Yorke will like it," went on Hamish, as though he had not halted in his sentence. And the pretty blush in Constance Channing's face deepened to a glowing crimson. Tom made a whole heap of bullets at once, and showered them on to her.
"So Hamish—be quiet, Tom!—you may inquire all over Helstonleigh to-morrow, whether any one wants a governess; a well-trained young lady of twenty-one, who can play, sing, and paint, speak really good English, and decent French, and has a smattering of German," rattled on Constance, as if to cover her blushes. "I shall ask forty guineas a year. Do you think I shall get it?"
"I think you ought to ask eighty," said Arthur.
"So I would, if I were thirty-one instead of twenty-one," said Constance. "Oh dear! here am I, laughing and joking over it, but it is a serious thing to undertake—the instruction of the young. I hope I shall be enabled to do my duty in it. What's that?"
It was a merry, mocking laugh, which came from the outside of the window, and then a head of auburn hair, wild and entangled, was pushed up, and in burst Annabel, her saucy dark eyes dancing with delight.
"You locked me out, but I have been outside the window and heard it all," cried she, dancing before them in the most provoking manner. "Arthur can only be a paid clerk, and Constance is going to be a governess and get forty guineas a year, and if Tom doesn't gain his exhibition he must turn bell-ringer to the college, for papa can't pay for him at the university now!"
"What do you deserve, you wicked little picture of deceit?" demanded Hamish. "Do you forget the old story of the listener who lost his ears?"
"I always do listen whenever I can, and I always will," avowed Annabel. "I have warned you so a hundred times over, and now I warn you again. I wish Tom would turn bell-ringer! I'd make him ring a peal that should astonish Helstonleigh, the day Constance goes out as governess. Shan't I have a fine time of it! It's lessons for me now, morning, noon, and night,—she's always worrying me; but, once let us get her back turned, and I shall have whole holiday! She may think I'll do my lessons with her at night; but I won't!"
The boys began to chase her round the table. She was almost a match for all four—a troublesome, indulged, sunny-hearted child, who delighted in committing faults, that she might have the pleasure of avowing them. She flew out into the garden, first knocking over Constance's paint-box, and some of them went after her.
At that moment Mr. Yorke came in. You have seen him once before, in his place in Helstonleigh Cathedral: a tall, slender man, with pale, well-formed features, and an attractive smile. His dark eyes rested on Constance as he entered, and once more the brilliant colour lighted up her face. When prospects should be a little better—that is, when Mr. Yorke should have a sufficient living bestowed upon him—Constance was to become his wife. His stipend from the minor canonry was at present trifling.
"Judith met me in the hall as I was going into the parlour, and told me I had better come here," he observed. "She said bad news had arrived for Mr. Channing."
"Yes," answered Hamish. "The lawsuit is lost."
"Lost!" echoed Mr. Yorke.
"Irrevocably. We were discussing ways and means amongst ourselves," said Hamish, "for of course this changes our prospects materially."
"And Constance is going out as a governess, if she can find any one to take her, and Arthur is to plod on with Joe Jenkins, and Tom means to apply for the post of bell-ringer to the cathedral," interposed the incorrigible Annabel, who had once more darted in, and heard the last words. "Can you recommend Constance to a situation, Mr. Yorke?"
He treated the information lightly; laughed at and with Annabel; but Constance noticed that a flush crossed his brow, and that he quitted the subject.
"Has the inked surplice been found out, Tom,—I mean the culprit?"
"Not yet, Mr. Yorke."
"Charles, you can tell me who it was, I hear?"
There was a startled glance for a moment in Charles's eye, as he looked up at Mr. Yorke, and an unconscious meaning in his tone.
"Why, do you know who it was, sir?"
"Not I," said Mr. Yorke. "I know that, whoever it may have been deserves a sound flogging, if he did it willfully."
"Then, sir, why do you suppose I know?"
"I met Hurst just now, and he stopped me with the news that he was sure Charley Channing could put his hand upon the offender, if he chose to do it. It was not yourself, was it Charley?"
Mr. Yorke laughed as he asked the question. Charley laughed also, but in a constrained manner. Meanwhile the others, to whom the topic had been as Sanscrit, demanded an explanation, which Mr. Yorke gave, so far as he was cognizant of the facts.
"What a shame to spoil a surplice! Have you cause to suspect any particular boy, Charley?" demanded Hamish.
"Don't ask him in my presence," interrupted Tom in the same hurried manner that he had used in the cloisters. "I should be compelled in honour to inform the master, and Charley would have his life thrashed out of him by the school."
"Don't you ask me, either, Mr. Yorke," said Charles; and the tone of his voice, still unconsciously to himself, bore a strange serious earnestness.
"Why not?" returned Mr. Yorke. "I am not a senior of the college school, and under obedience to its head-master."
"If you are all to stop in this room, I and Tom shall never get our lessons done," was all the reply made by Charles, as he drew a chair to the table and opened his exercise books.
"And I never could afford that," cried Tom, following his example, and looking out the books he required. "It won't do to let Huntley and Yorke get ahead of me."
"Trying for the seniorship as strenuously as ever, Tom?" asked Mr. Yorke.
"Of course I am," replied Tom Channing, lifting his eyes in slight surprise. "And I hope to get it."
"Which of the three stands the best chance?"
"Well," said Tom, "it will be about a neck-and-neck race between us. My name stands first on the rolls of the school; therefore, were our merits equal, in strict justice it ought to be given to me. But the master could pass me over if he pleased, and decide upon either of the other two."
"Which of those two stands first on the rolls?"
"Harry Huntley. Yorke is the last. But that does not count for much, you know, Mr. Yorke, as we all entered together. They enrolled us as our initial letters stood in the alphabet."
"It will turn wholly upon your scholastic merits, then? I hear—but Helstonleigh is famous for its gossip—that in past times it has frequently gone by favour."
"So it has," said Tom Channing, throwing back his head with a whole world of indignation in the action. "Eligible boys have been passed over, and the most incapable dolt set up above them; all because his friends were in a good position, and hand-in-glove with the head-master. I don't mean Pye, you know; before he came. It's said the last case was so flagrant that it came to the ears of the dean, and he interfered and forbade favour for the future. At any rate, there's an impression running through the school that merit and conduct, taken together, will be allowed fair play."
"Conduct?" echoed Arthur Channing.
Tom nodded:—"Conduct is to be brought in, this time. One day, when the first desk fell into a row with the head-master, through some mischief we had gone into out of school, he asked us if we were aware that our conduct, as it might be good or ill, might gain or lose us the seniorship. Yorke, who is bold enough, you know, for ten, remarked that that was a new dodge, and the master overheard the words, and said, Yes, he was happy to say there were many new 'dodges' he had seen fit to introduce, which he trusted might tend to make the school different from what it had been. Of course we had the laugh at Yorke; but the master took no more notice of it. Since then, I assure you, Mr. Yorke, our behaviour has been a pattern for young ladies—mine, and Huntley's, and Yorke's. We don't care to lose a chance."
Tom Channing nodded sagaciously as he concluded, and they left the room to him and Charles.
NO HOLIDAY TO-DAY.
"Now, Constance, that we have a moment alone, what is this about you?" began Mr. Yorke, as they stood together in the garden.
"Annabel said the truth—that I do think of going out as daily governess," she replied, bending over a carnation to hide the blush which rose to her cheeks, a very rival to the blushing flower. "It is a great misfortune that has fallen upon us—at least we can only look at it in that light at present, and will, beyond doubt, be productive of some embarrassment. Do you not see, William, that it is incumbent upon us all to endeavour to lighten this embarrassment, those of us who can do so? I must assume my share of the burden."
Mr. Yorke was silent. Constance took it for granted that he was displeased. He was of an excellent family, and she supposed he disliked the step she was about to take—deemed it would be derogatory to his future wife.
"Have you fully made up your mind?" he at length asked.
"Yes. I have talked it over with mamma—for indeed she and I both seem to have anticipated this—and she thinks with me, that it is what I ought to do. William, how could I reconcile it to my conscience not to help?" she continued. "Think of papa! think of his strait! It appears to be a plain duty thrown in my path."
"By yourself, Constance?" "Not by myself," she whispered, lifting for a moment her large blue eyes. "Oh, William, William, do not be displeased with me! do not forbid it! It is honourable to work—it is right to do what we can. Strive to see it in the right light."
"Let that carnation alone, Constance; give your attention to me. What if I do forbid it?"
She walked a little forward, leaving the carnation bed, and halted under the shade of the dark cedar tree, her heart and colour alike fading. Mr. Yorke followed and stood before her.
"William, I must do my duty. There is no other way open to me, by which I can earn something to help in this time of need, except that of becoming a governess. Many a lady, better born than I, has done it before me."
"A daily governess, I think you said?"
"Papa could not spare me to go out altogether; Annabel could not spare me either; and—"
"I would not spare you," he struck in, filling up her pause. "Was that what you were about to say, Constance?"
The rosy hue stole over her face again, and a sweet smile to her lips: "Oh, William, if you will only sanction it! I shall go about it then with the lightest heart!"
He looked at her with an expression she did not understand, and shook his head. Constance thought it a negative shake, and her hopes fell again. "You did not answer my question," said Mr. Yorke. "What if I forbid it?"
"But it seems to be my duty," she urged from between her pale and parted lips.
"Constance, that is no answer."
"Oh, do not, do not! William, do not you throw this temptation in my way—that of choosing between yourself and a plain duty that lies before me."
"The temptation, as you call it, must be for a later consideration. Why will you not answer me? What would be your course if I forbade it?"
"I do not know. But, Oh, William, if you gave me up—"
She could not continue. She turned away to hide her face from Mr. Yorke. He followed and obtained forcible view of it. It was wet with tears.
"Nay, but I did not mean to carry it so far as to cause you real grief, my dearest," he said, in a changed tone. "Though you brought it on yourself," he added, laughing, as he bent his face down.
"How did I bring it on myself?"
"By doubting me. I saw you doubted me at the first, when Annabel spoke of it in the study. Constance, if you, possessed as you are of great acquirements, refused from any notion of false pride, to exert them for your family in a time of need, I should say you were little fitted for the wife of one whose whole duty it must be to do his Master's work."
"You will sanction the measure then?" she rejoined, her countenance lighting up.
"How could you doubt me? I wish I could make a home at once to take you to; but as you must remain in this a little longer, it is only fair that you should contribute to its maintenance. We all have to bend to circumstances. I shall not love my wife the less, because she has had the courage to turn her talents to account. What could you be thinking of, child?"
"Forgive me, William," she softly pleaded. "But you looked so grave and were so silent."
Mr. Yorke smiled. "The truth is, Constance, I was turning in my mind whether I could not help to place you, and pondering the advantages and disadvantages of a situation I know of. Lady Augusta is looking out for a daily governess."
"Is she?" exclaimed Constance. "I wonder whether—I—should suit her?"
Constance spoke hesitatingly. The thought which had flashed over her own mind was, whether Lady Augusta Yorke could afford to pay her sufficient remuneration. Probably the same doubt had made one of the "disadvantages" hinted at by Mr. Yorke.
"I called there yesterday, and interrupted a 'scene' between Lady Augusta and Miss Caroline," he said. "Unseemly anger on my lady's part, and rebellion on Carry's, forming, as usual, its chief features."
"But Lady Augusta is so indulgent to her children!" interrupted Constance.
"Perniciously indulgent, generally; and when the effects break out in insolence and disobedience, then there ensues a scene. If you go there you will witness them occasionally, and I assure you they are not edifying. You must endeavour to train the girls to something better than they have been trained to yet, Constance."
"If I do go."
"I knew how long it would last, Lady Augusta's instructing them herself," resumed Mr. Yorke. "It is not a month since the governess left."
"Why does she wish to take a daily governess instead of one in the house?"
"Why Lady Augusta does a thing, is scarcely ever to be accounted for, by herself or by any one else!" replied Mr. Yorke. "Some convenience, or inconvenience, she mentioned to me, about sleeping arrangements. Shall I ascertain particulars for you, Constance; touching salary and other matters?"
"If you please. Papa is somewhat fastidious; but he could not object to my going there; and its being so very near our own house would be a great point of—"
"Constance!" interrupted a voice at this juncture. "Is Mr. Yorke there?"
"He is here, mamma," replied Constance, walking forward to Mrs. Channing, Mr. Yorke attending her.
"I thought I heard you enter," she said, as Mr. Yorke took her hand. "Mr. Channing will be pleased to see you, if you will come in and chat with him. The children have told you the tidings. It is a great blow to their prospects."
"But they seem determined to bear it bravely," he answered, in a hearty tone. "You may be proud to have such children, Mrs. Channing."
"Not proud," she softly said. "Thankful!"
"True. I am obliged to you for correcting me," was the clergyman's ingenuous answer, as he walked, with Mrs. Channing, across the hall. Constance halted, for Judith came out of the kitchen, and spoke in a whisper.
"And what's the right and the wrong of it, Miss Constance? Is the money gone?"
"Gone entirely, Judith. Gone for good."
"For good!" groaned Judith; "I should say for ill. Why does the Queen let there be a Lord Chancellor?"
"It is not the Lord Chancellor's fault, Judith. He only administers the law."
"Why couldn't he just as well have given it for your papa, as against him?"
"I suppose he considers that the law is on the other side," sighed Constance.
Judith, with a pettish movement, returned to her kitchen; and at that moment Hamish came downstairs. He had changed his dress, and had a pair of new white gloves in his hand.
"Are you going out to-night, Hamish?"
There was a stress on the word "to-night," and Hamish marked it. "I promised, you know, Constance. And my staying away would do no good; it could not improve things. Fare you well, my pretty sister. Tell mamma I shall be home by eleven."
"It'll be a sad cut-down for 'em all," muttered Judith, gazing at Hamish round the kitchen door-post. "Where he'll find money for his white gloves and things now, is beyond my telling, the darling boy! If I could but get to that Lord Chancellor!"
Had you possessed the privilege of living in Helstonleigh at the time of which this story treats—and I can assure you you might live in a less privileged city—it is possible that, on the morning following the above events, your peaceful slumbers might have been rudely broken by a noise, loud enough to waken the seven sleepers of Ephesus.
Before seven o'clock, the whole school, choristers and king's scholars, assembled in the cloisters. But, instead of entering the schoolroom for early school, they formed themselves into a dense mass (if you ever saw schoolboys march otherwise, I have not), and, treading on each other's heels, proceeded through the town to the lodgings of the judges, in pursuance of a time-honoured custom. There the head-boy sent in his name to the very chamber of the Lord Chief Justice, who happened this time to have come to the Helstonleigh circuit. "Mr. Gaunt, senior of the college school"—craving holiday for himself, and the whole fry who had attended him.
"College boys!" cried his lordship, winking and blinking, as other less majestic mortals do when awakened suddenly out of their morning sleep.
"Yes, my lord," replied the servant. "All the school's come up; such a lot of 'em! It's the holiday they are asking for."
"Oh, ah, I recollect," cried his lordship—for it was not the first time he had been to Helstonleigh. "Give one of my cards to the senior boy, Roberts. My compliments to the head-master, and I beg he will grant the boys a holiday."
Roberts did as he was bid—he also had been to Helstonleigh before with his master—and delivered the card and message to Gaunt. The consequence of which was, the school tore through the streets in triumph, shouting "Holiday!" in tones to be heard a mile off, and bringing people in white garments, from their beds to the windows. The least they feared was, that the town had taken fire.
Back to the house of the head-master for the pantomime to be played through. This usually was (for the master, as wise on the subject as they were, would lie that morning in bed) to send the master's servant into his room with the card and the message; upon which permission for the holiday would come out, and the boys would disperse, exercising their legs and lungs. No such luck, however, on this morning. The servant met them at the door, and grinned dreadfully at the crowd.
"Won't you catch it, gentlemen! The head-master's gone into school, and is waiting for you; marking you all late, of course."
"Gone into school!" repeated Gaunt, haughtily, resenting the familiarity, as well as the information. "What do you mean?"
"Why, I just mean that, sir," was the reply, upon which Gaunt felt uncommonly inclined to knock him down. But the man had a propensity for grinning, and was sure to exercise it on all possible occasions. "There's some row up, and you are not to have holiday," continued the servant; "the master said last night I was to call him this morning as usual."
At this unexpected reply, the boys slunk away to the college schoolroom, their buoyant spirits sunk down to dust and ashes—figuratively speaking. They could not understand it; they had not the most distant idea what their offence could have been. Gaunt entered, and the rest trooped in after him. The head-master sat at his desk in stern state: the other masters were in their places. "What is the meaning of this insubordination?" the master sharply demanded, addressing Gaunt. "You are three-quarters of an hour behind your time."
"We have been up to the judges, as usual, for holiday, sir," replied Gaunt, in a tone of deprecation. "His lordship sends his card and compliments to you, and—"
"Holiday!" interrupted the master. "Holiday!" he repeated, with emphasis, as if disbelieving his own ears. "Do you consider that the school deserves it? A pretty senior you must be, if you do."
"What has the school done, sir?" respectfully asked Gaunt.
"Your memory must be conveniently short," chafed the master. "Have you forgotten the inked surplice?"
Gaunt paused. "But that was not the act of the whole school, sir. It was probably the act of only one."
"But, so long as that one does not confess, the whole school must bear it," returned the master, looking round on the assembly. "Boys, understand me. It is not for the fault itself—that may have been, as I said yesterday, the result of accident; but it is the concealment of the fault that makes me angry. Will you confess now?—he who did it?"
No; the appeal brought forth no further result than the other had done. The master continued:
"You may think—I speak now to the guilty boy, and let him take these words to himself—that you were quite alone when you did it; that no eye was watching. But let me remind you that the eye of God was upon you. What you refuse to tell, He can bring to light, if it shall so please Him, in His own wonderful way, His own good time. There will be no holiday to-day. Prayers."
The boys fell into their places, and stood with hanging heads, something like rebellion working in every breast. At breakfast-time they were dismissed, and gathered in the cloisters to give vent to their sentiments.
"Isn't it a stunning shame?" cried hot Tom Channing. "The school ought not to suffer for the fault of one boy. The master has no right—"
"The fault lies in the boy, not in the master," interrupted Gaunt. "A sneak! a coward! If he has a spark of manly honour in him, he'll speak up now."
"As it has come to this, I say Charley Channing should be made to declare what he knows," said one. "He saw it done!"
"Who says he did?" quickly asked Tom Channing.
"Some one said so; and that he was afraid to tell."
Gaunt lifted his finger, and made a sign to Charles to approach. "Now, boy"—as the latter obeyed—"you will answer me, remember. The master has called the seniors to his aid, and I order you to speak. Did you see this mischief done?"
"No, I did not!" fearlessly replied little Channing.
"If he doesn't know, he suspects," persisted Hurst. "Come, Miss Channing."
"We don't declare things upon suspicion, do we, Mr. Gaunt?" appealed Charles. "I may suspect one; Hurst may suspect another; Bywater said he suspected two; the whole school may be suspicious, one of another. Where's the use of that?"
"It is of no use," decided Gaunt. "You say you did not see the surplice damaged?"
"I did not; upon my word of honour."
"That's enough," said Gaunt. "Depend upon it, the fellow, while he was at it, took precious good precautions against being seen. When he gets found out, he had better not come within reach of the seniors; I warn him of that: they might not leave him a head on his shoulders, or a tooth in his mouth."
"Suppose it should turn out to have been a senior, Mr. Gaunt?" spoke Bywater.
"Suppose you should turn out to be an everlasting big donkey?" retorted the senior boy.
Just without the Boundaries, in a wide, quiet street, called Close Street, was the office of Richard Galloway, Esquire, Proctor, and Steward to the Dean and Chapter. Excepting for this solitary office, the street consisted of private houses, and it was one of the approaches to the cathedral, though not the chief one. Mr. Galloway was a bachelor; a short, stout man, shaped like a cask, with a fat, round face, round, open, grey eyes—that always looked as if their owner was in a state of wonder—and a little round mouth. But he was a shrewd man and a capable; he was also, in his way, a dandy; dressed scrupulously in the fashion, with delicate shirt fronts and snow-white wristbands; and for the last twenty-five years, at least, had been a mark for all the single ladies of Helstonleigh to set their caps at.
Of beauty, Mr. Galloway could boast little; but of his hair he was moderately vain: a very good head of hair it was, and curled naturally. But hair, let it be luxuriant enough to excite the admiration of a whole army of coiffeurs, is, like other things in this sublunary world of ours, subject to change; it will not last for ever; and Mr. Galloway's, from a fine and glossy brown, turned, as years went on, to sober grey—nay, almost to white. He did not particularly admire the change, but he had to submit to it. Nature is stronger than we are. A friend hinted that it might be "dyed." Mr. Galloway resented the suggestion: anything false was abhorrent to him. When, however, after an illness, his hair began to fall off alarmingly, he thought it no harm to use a certain specific, emanating from one of her Majesty's physicians; extensively set forth and patronized as an undoubted remedy for hair that was falling off. Mr. Galloway used it extensively in his fear, for he had an equal dread both of baldness and wigs. The lotion not only had the desired effect, but it had more: the hair grew on again luxuriantly, and its whiteness turned into the finest flaxen you ever saw; a light delicate flaxen, exactly like the curls you see upon the heads of blue-eyed wax dolls. This is a fact: and whether Mr. Galloway liked it, or not, he had to put up with it. Many would not be persuaded but that he had used some delicate dye, hitherto unknown to science; and the suspicion vexed Mr. Galloway. Behold him, therefore, with a perfect shower of smooth, fair curls upon his head, equal to any young beau.
It was in this gentleman's office that Arthur Channing had been placed, with a view to his becoming ultimately a proctor. To article him to Mr. Galloway would take a good round sum of money; and this had been put off until the termination of the suit, when Mr. Channing had looked forward to being at his ease, in a pecuniary point of view. There were two others in the same office. The one was Roland Yorke, who was articled; the other was Joseph Jenkins, a thin, spare, humble man of nine and thirty, who had served Mr. Galloway for nearly twenty years, earning twenty-five shillings a week. He was a son of old Jenkins, the bedesman, and his wife kept a small hosiery shop in High Street. Roland Yorke was, of course, not paid; on the contrary, he had paid pretty smartly to Mr. Galloway for the privilege of being initiated into the mysteries belonging to a proctor. Arthur Channing may be said to have occupied a position in the office midway between the two. He was to become on the footing of Roland Yorke; but meanwhile, he received a small weekly sum in remuneration of his services, as Joe Jenkins did. Roland Yorke, in his proud moods, looked down upon him as a paid clerk; Mr. Jenkins looked up to him as a gentleman. It was a somewhat anomalous position; but Arthur had held his own bravely up in it until this blow came, looking forward to a brighter time.
In the years gone by, one of the stalls in Helstonleigh Cathedral was held by the Reverend Dr. Yorke: he had also some time filled the office of sub-dean. He had married, imprudently, the daughter of an Irish peer, a pretty, good-tempered girl, who was as fond of extravagance as she was devoid of means to support it. She had not a shilling in the world; it was even said that the bills for her trousseau came in afterwards to Dr. Yorke: but people, you know, are given to scandal. Want of fortune had been nothing, had Lady Augusta only possessed ordinary prudence; but she spent the doctor's money faster than he received it.
In the course of years Dr. Yorke died, leaving eight children, and slender means for them. There were six boys and two girls. Lady Augusta went to reside in a cheap and roomy house (somewhat dilapidated) in the Boundaries, close to her old prebendal residence, and scrambled on in her careless, spending fashion, never out of debt. She retained their old barouche, and would retain it, and was a great deal too fond of ordering horses from the livery stables and driving out in state. Gifted with excellent qualities had her children been born; but of training, in the highest sense of the word, she had given them none. George, the eldest, had a commission, and was away with his regiment. Roland, the second, had been designed for the Church, but no persuasion could induce him to be sufficiently attentive to his studies to qualify himself for it; he was therefore placed with Mr. Galloway, and the Church honours were now intended for Gerald. The fourth son, Theodore, was also in the college school, a junior. Next came two girls, Caroline and Fanny, and there were two little boys still younger.
Haughty, self-willed, but of sufficiently honourable nature, were the Yorkes. If Lady Augusta had only toiled to foster the good, and eradicate the evil, they would have grown up to bless her. Good soil was there to work upon, as there was in the Channings; but, in the case of the Yorkes, it was allowed to run to waste, or to generate weeds. In short, to do as it pleased.
A noisy, scrambling, uncomfortable sort of home was that of the Yorkes; the boys sometimes contending one with another, Lady Augusta often quarrelling with all. The home of the Channings was ever full of love, calm, and peace. Can you guess where the difference lay?
On the morning when the college boys had gone up to crave holiday of the judges, and had not obtained it—at least not from the head-master—Arthur Channing proceeded, as usual, to Mr. Galloway's, after breakfast. Seated at a desk, in his place, writing—he seemed to be ever seated there—was Mr. Jenkins. He lifted his head when Arthur entered, with a "Good morning, sir," and then dropped it again over his copying.
"Good morning," replied Arthur. And at that moment Mr. Galloway—his flaxen curls in full flow upon his head, something like rings—came forth from his private room. "Good morning, sir," Arthur added, to his master.
Mr. Galloway nodded a reply to the salutation. "Have you seen anything of Yorke?" he asked. "I want that deed that he's about finished as soon as possible."
"He will not be an instant," said Arthur. "I saw him coming up the street."
Roland Yorke bustled in; a dark young man of twenty-one, with large but fine features, and a countenance expressive of indecision.
"Come, Mr. Yorke, you promised to be here early to-day. You know that deed is being waited for."
"So I am early, sir," returned Roland.
"Early! for you perhaps," grunted Mr. Galloway. "Get to it at once."
Roland Yorke unlocked a drawer, collected sundry parchments together, and sat down to his desk. He and Arthur had their places side by side. Mr. Galloway stood at a table, and began sorting some papers that were upon it.
"How is Mr. Channing this morning, Arthur?"
"Much as usual, thank you, sir. Certain news, which arrived last night, has not tended to cheer him."
"It is true, then?" remarked Mr. Galloway. "I heard a rumour of it."
"Oh, it's true enough," said Arthur. "It is in all the morning papers."
"Well, there never was a more unjust decision!" emphatically spoke Mr. Galloway. "Mark you, I am not reflecting on the Lord Chancellor's judgment. I have always said that there were one or two nasty points in that suit, which the law might get hold of; but I know the whole cause by heart, from beginning to end; and that money was as much your father's, as this coat, that I have on, is mine. Tell him I'll come in one of these fine evenings, and abuse the injustice of our laws with him,—will you?"
"Yes, sir," replied Arthur.
"What's this row in the college school about a destroyed surplice, and the boys not getting their holiday through it?" resumed Mr. Galloway.
"Oh, are they not savage!" struck in Roland Yorke. "The first thing Tod did, when he came home to breakfast, was to fling over his bowl of coffee, he was in such a passion. Lady Augusta—she came down to breakfast this morning, for a wonder—boxed his ears, and ordered him to drink water; but he went into the kitchen, and made a lot of chocolate for himself."
"What are the particulars? How was it done? I cannot understand it at all," said Mr. Galloway.
"Bywater left his clean surplice yesterday in the vestry, and some one threw ink over it—half soaked it in ink, so the choristers told Tom," answered Arthur Channing. "In the afternoon—they had service late, you know, sir, waiting for the judges—Bywater was not in his place to sing the anthem, and Hurst sang it, and it put the master out very much."
"Put him out all the more that he has no one to punish for it," laughed Roland Yorke. "Of course Bywater couldn't appear in his stall, and sing the anthem, if he had no surplice to put on; and the master couldn't tan him for not doing it. I know this, if it had happened while I was in the college school, I'd just have skinned some of the fellows alive, but what I'd have made them confess."
"Suppose you had skinned the wrong party?" cynically observed Mr. Galloway. "You are too hasty with your tongue, Roland Yorke. My nephew, Mark, ran in just now to tell me of the holiday being denied, and that was the first I had heard of the affair. Mark thinks one of the seniors was in it; not Gaunt."
Arthur Channing and Roland Yorke both looked up with a sharp, quick gesture. Gaunt excepted, the only senior, besides their respective brothers, was Harry Huntley.
"It is not likely, sir," said Arthur.
"A senior do it!" scoffed Roland Yorke. "What a young idiot Mark Galloway must be, to think that!"
"Mark does not seem to think much about it on his own account," said Mr. Galloway. "He said Bywater thought so, from some cause or other; and has offered to bet the whole school that it will turn out to be a senior."
"Does he, though!" cried Yorke, looking puzzled. "Bywater's a cautious fellow with his money; he never bets at random. I say, sir, what else did Galloway tell you?"
"That was all," replied Mr. Galloway. And if you wonder at a staid old proctor chattering about this desultory news with his clerks in business hours, it may be explained to you that Mr. Galloway took the greatest possible interest, almost a boyish interest, in the college school. It was where he had been educated himself, where his nephews were being educated; he was on intimate terms with its masters; knew every boy in it to speak to; saw them troop past his house daily in their progress to and fro; watched them in their surplices in a Sunday, during morning and afternoon service; was cognizant of their advancement, their shortcomings, their merits, and their scrapes: in fact, the head-master could not take a greater interest in the doings of the collegiate school, than did Mr. Galloway. Whether of work, or whether of gossip, his ears were ever open to listen to its records. Besides, they were not so overburdened with work in that office, but that there was ample time for discussing any news that might be agreeable to its master. His work was light; his returns were heavy; his stewardship alone brought him in several hundreds a year.
"The Reverend Mr. Pye seems uncommonly annoyed about it, sir," Mr. Jenkins ventured to put in. To interrupt, or take part in any conversation, was not usual with him, unless he could communicate little tit-bits of information touching the passing topic. "You are aware that Mr. Harper, the lay-clerk, lodges at our house, sir. Well, Mr. Pye came round last night, especially to question him about it."
"What could Harper tell?" asked Mr. Galloway.
"He could not tell anything; except that he would answer for the lay-clerks knowing nothing of the transaction. The master said he never supposed the lay-clerks did know anything of it, but he had his reasons for putting the question. He had been to the masons, too, who are repairing the cathedral; and they declared to the master, one and all, that they had not been into the vestry yesterday, or even round to that side of the college where the vestry is situated."
"Why should the master take it up so pertinaciously?" wondered Roland Yorke.
"I'm sure I don't know, sir. He was like one in a fever, so excited over it, Harper said."
"Did he talk to you about it, Jenkins?" asked Mr. Galloway.
"I did not see him, sir; it was Harper told me afterwards," was the reply of Jenkins, as he subsided to his writing again.
Just at this juncture, who should come in view of the window but the head-master himself. He was passing it with a quick step, when out flew Mr. Galloway, and caught him by the button. Roland Yorke, who was ever glad of a pretext for idleness, rose from his stool, and pushed his nose close up to the nearest pane, to listen to any colloquy that might ensue; but, the window being open, he might have heard without leaving his seat.
"I hear the boys have not a holiday to-day, Pye," began Mr. Galloway.
"No, that they have not," emphatically pronounced the master; "and, if they go on as they seem to be going on now, I'll keep them without it for a twelvemonth. I believe the inking of that surplice was a concocted plan, look you, Galloway, to—"
"To what?" asked Mr. Galloway, for the master stopped short.
"Never mind, just yet. I have my strong suspicions as to the guilty boy, and I am doing what I can to convert them into proofs. If it be as I suspect now, I shall expel him."
"But what could it have been done for?" debated Mr. Galloway. "There's no point in the thing, that I can see, to ink and damage a surplice. If the boy to whom it belonged had been inked, one might not have wondered so much."
"I'll 'point him,'" cried the master, "if I catch the right one."
"Could it have been one of the seniors?" returned the proctor, all his strong interest awakened.
"It was one who ought to have known better," evasively returned the master. "I can't stop to talk now, Galloway. I have an errand to do, and must be back to duty at ten."