THERE & BACK
I. FATHER, CHILD, AND NURSE II. STEPMOTHER AND NURSE III. THE FLIGHT IV. THE BOOKBINDER AND HIS PUPIL V. THE MANSONS VI. SIMON ARMOUR VII. COMPARISONS VIII. A LOST SHOE IX. A HOLIDAY X. THE LIBRARY XI. ALICE XII. MORTGRANGE XIII. THE BEECH-TREE XIV. AGAIN THE LIBRARY XV. BARBARA WYLDER XVI. BARBARA AND RICHARD XVII. BARBARA AND OTHERS XVIII. MRS. WYLDER XIX. MRS. WYLDER AND BARBARA XX. BARBARA AND HER CRITICS XXI. THE PARSON'S PARABLE XXII. THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER XXIII. A HUMAN GADFLY XXIV. RICHARD AND WINGFOLD XXV. WINGFOLD AND HIS WIFE XXVI. RICHARD AND ALICE XXVII. A SISTER XXVIII. BARBARA AND LADY ANN XXIX. ALICE AND BARBARA XXX. BARBARA THINKS XXXI. WINGFOLD AND BARBARA XXXII. THE SHOEING OF MISS BROWN XXXIII. RICHARD AND VIXEN XXXIV. BARBARA'S DUTY XXXV. THE PARSON'S COUNSEL XXXVI. LADY ANN MEDITATES XXXVII. LADY ANN AND RICHARD XXXVIII. RICHARD AND ARTHUR XXXIX. MR., MRS., AND MISS WYLDER XL. IN LONDON XLI. NATURE AND SUPERNATURE XLII. YET A LOWER DEEP XLIII. TO BE REDEEMED, ONE MUST REDEEM XLIV. A DOOR OPENED IN HEAVEN XLV. THE CARRIAGE XLVI. RICHARD'S DILEMMA XLVII. THE DOORS OF HARMONY AND DEATH XLVIII. DEATH THE DELIVERER XLIX. THE CAVE IN THE FIRE L. DUCK-FISTS LI. BARONET AND BLACKSMITH LII. UNCLE-FATHER AND AUNT-MOTHER LIII. MORNING LIV. BARBARA AT HOME LV. MISS BROWN LVI. WINGFOLD AND BARBARA LVII. THE BARONET'S WILL LVIII. THE HEIR LIX. WINGFOLD AND ARTHUR MANSON LX. RICHARD AND HIS FAMILY LXI. HEART TO HEART LXII. THE QUARREL LXIII. BARONET AND BLACKSMITH LXIV. THE BARONET'S FUNERAL LXV. THE PACKET LXVI. BARBARA'S DREAM
Some of the readers of this tale will be glad to know that the passage with which it ends is a real dream; and that, with but three or four changes almost too slight to require acknowledging, I have given it word for word as the friend to whom it came set it down for me._
FATHER, CHILD, AND NURSE.
It would be but stirring a muddy pool to inquire—not what motives induced, but what forces compelled sir Wilton Lestrange to marry a woman nobody knew. It is enough to say that these forces were mainly ignoble, as manifested by their intermittent character and final cessation. The mesalliance occasioned not a little surprise, and quite as much annoyance, among the county families,—failing, however, to remind any that certain of their own grandmothers had been no better known to the small world than lady Lestrange. It caused yet more surprise, though less annoyance, in the clubs to which sir Wilton had hitherto been indebted for help to forget his duties: they set him down as a greater idiot than his friends had hitherto imagined him. For had he not been dragged to the altar by a woman whose manners and breeding were hardly on the level of a villa in St. John's Wood? Did any one know whence she sprang, or even the name which sir Wilton had displaced with his own? But sir Wilton himself was not proud of his lady; and if the thing had been any business of theirs, it would have made no difference to him; he would none the less have let them pine in their ignorance. Did not his mother, a lady less dignified than eccentric, out of pure curiosity beg enlightenment concerning her origin, and receive for answer from the high-minded baronet, "Madam, the woman is my wife!"—after which the prudent dowager asked no more questions, but treated her daughter-in-law with neither better nor worse than civility. Sir Wilton, in fact, soon came to owe his wife a grudge that he had married her, and none the less that at the time he felt himself of a generosity more than human in bestowing upon her his name. Creation itself, had he ever thought of it, would have seemed to him a small thing beside such a gift!
That Robina Armour, after experience of his first advances, should have at last consented to marry sir Wilton Lestrange, was in no sense in her favour, although after a fashion she was in love with him—in love, that is, with the gentleman of her own imagining whom she saw in the baronet; while the baronet, on his part, was what he called in love with what he called the woman. As he was overcome by her beauty, so was she by his rank—an idol at whose clay feet is cast many a spiritual birthright—and as mean a deity as any of man's device. But the blacksmith's daughter was in many respects, notwithstanding, a woman of good sense, with much real refinement, and a genuine regard for rectitude. Although sir Wilton had never loved her with what was best in him, it was not in spite of what was best in him that he fell in love with her. Had his better nature been awake, it would have justified the bond, and been strengthened by it.
Lady Lestrange's father was a good blacksmith, occasionally drunk in his youth, but persistently sober now in his middle age; a long-headed fellow, with reach and quality in the prudence which had long ceased to appear to him the highest of virtues. At one period he had accounted it the prime duty of existence to take care of oneself; and so much of this belief had he communicated to his younger daughter, that she deported herself so that sir Wilton married her—with the result that, when Death knocked at her door, she welcomed him to her heart. The first cry of her child, it is true, made her recall the welcome, but she had to go with him, notwithstanding, when the child was but an hour old.
Not one of her husband's family was in the house when she died. Sir Wilton himself was in town, and had been for the last six months, preferring London and his club to Mortgrange and his wife. When a telegram informed him that she was in danger, he did go home, but when he arrived, she had been an hour gone, and he congratulated himself that he had taken the second train.
There had been betwixt them no approach to union. When what sir Wilton called love had evaporated, he returned to his mire, with a resentful feeling that the handsome woman—his superior in everything that belongs to humanity—had bewitched him to his undoing. The truth was, she had ceased to charm him. The fault was not in her; it lay in the dulled eye of the swiftly deteriorating man, which grew less and less capable of seeing things as they were, and transmitted falser and falser impressions of them. The light that was in him was darkness. The woman that might have made a man of him, had there been the stuff, passed from him an unprized gift, a thing to which he made Hades welcome.
It was decent, however, not to parade his relief. He retired to the library, lit a cigar, and sat down to wish the unpleasant fuss of the funeral over, and the house rid of a disagreeable presence. Had the woman died of a disease to which he might himself one day have to succumb, her death might, as he sat there, have chanced to raise for an instant the watery ghost of an emotion; but, coming as it did, he had no sympathetic interest in her death any more than in herself. Lolling in the easiest of chairs, he revolved the turns of last night's play, until it occurred to him that he might soon by a second marriage take amends of his neighbours for their disapprobation of his first. So pleasant was the thought that, brooding upon it, he fell asleep.
He woke, looked, rubbed his eyes, stared, rubbed them again, and stared. A woman stood in front of him—one he had surely seen!—no, he had never seen her anywhere! What an odd, inquiring, searching expression in her two hideous black eyes! And what was that in her arms—something wrapt in a blanket?
The message in the telegram recurred to him: there must have been a child! The bundle must be the child! Confound the creature! What did it want?
"Go away," he said; "this is not the nursery!"
"I thought you might like to look at the baby, sir!" the woman replied.
Sir Wilton stared at the blanket.
"It might comfort you, I thought!" she went on, with a look he felt to be strange. Her eyes were hard and dry, red with recent tears, and glowing with suppressed fire.
Sir Wilton was courteous to most women, especially such as had no claim upon him, but cherished respect for none. It was odd therefore that he should now feel embarrassed. From some cause the machinery of his self-content had possibly got out of gear; anyhow no answer came ready. He had not the smallest wish to see the child, but was yet, perhaps, unwilling to appear brutal. In the meantime, the woman, with gentle, moth-like touch, was parting and turning back the folds of the blanket, until from behind it dawned a tiny human face, whose angel was suppliant, it may be, for the baptism of a father's first gaze.
The woman held out the child to sir Wilton, as if expecting him to take it. He started to his feet, driving the chair a yard behind him, stuck his hands in his pockets, and, with a face of disgust, cried—
"Great God! take the creature away."
But he could not lift his eyes from the face nested in the blanket. It seemed to fascinate him. The woman's eyes flared, but she did not speak.
"Uglier than sin!" he half hissed, half growled. "—I suppose the animal is mine, but you needn't bring it so close to me! Take it away—and keep it away. I will send for it when I want it—which won't be in a hurry! My God! How hideous a thing may be, and yet human!"
"He is as God made him!" remarked the nurse, quietly for very wrath.
"Or the devil!" suggested his father.
Then the woman looked like a tigress. She opened her mouth, but closed it again with a snap.
"I may say what I like of my own!" said the father. "Tell me the goblin is none of mine, and I will be as respectful to him as you please. Prove it, and I will give you fifty pounds. He's hideous! He's damnably ugly! Deny it if you can."
The woman held her peace. She could not, even to herself, call him a child pleasant to look at. She gazed on him for a moment with pitiful, protective eyes, then covered his face as if he were dead, but she did not move.
"Why don't you go?" said the baronet.
Instead of replying, she began, as by a suddenly confirmed resolve, to remove the coverings at the other end of the bundle, and presently disclosed the baby's feet. The baronet gazed wondering. To what might not assurance be about to subject him? She took one of the little feet in a hard but gentle hand, and spreading out "the pink, five-beaded baby-toes," displayed what even the inexperience of the baronet could not but recognize as remarkable: between every pair of toes was stretched a thin delicate membrane. She laid the foot down, took up the other, and showed the same peculiarity. The child was web-footed, as distinctly as any properly constituted duckling! Then she lifted, one after the other, the tiny hands, beautiful to any eye that understood, and showed between the middle and third finger of each, the same sort of membrane rising half-way to the points of them.
"I see!" said the baronet, with a laugh that was not nice, having in it no merriment, "the creature is a monster!—Well, if you think I am to blame, I can only protest you are mistaken. I am not web-footed! The duckness must come from the other side."
"I hope you will remember, sir Wilton!"
"Remember? What do you mean? Take the monster away."
The woman rearranged the coverings of the little crooked legs.
"Won't you look at your lady before they put her in her coffin?" she said when she had done.
"What good would that do her? She's past caring!—No, I won't: why should I? Such sights are not pleasant."
"The coffin's a lonely chamber, sir Wilton; lonely to lie all day and all night in!"
"No lonelier for one than for another!" he replied, with an involuntary recoil from his own words. For the one thing a man must believe—yet hardly believes—is, that he shall one day die. "She'll be better without me, anyhow!"
"You are heartless, sir Wilton!"
"Mind your own business. If I choose to be heartless, I may have my reasons. Take the child away."
Still she did not move. The baby, young as he was, had thrown the blanket from his face, and the father's eyes were fixed on it: while he gazed the nurse would not stir. He seemed fascinated by its ugliness. Without absolute deformity, the child was indeed as unsightly as infant well could be.
"My God!" he said again—for he had a trick of crying out as if he had a God—"the little brute hates me! Take it away, woman. Take it away before I strangle it! I can't answer for myself if it keeps on looking at me!"
With a glance whose mingled anger and scorn the father did not see, the nurse turned and went.
He kept staring after her till the door shut, then fell back into his chair, exclaiming once more, "My God!"—What or whom he meant by the word, it were hard to say.
"Is it possible," he said to himself, "that the fine woman I married—for she was a fine woman, a deuced fine woman!—should have died to present the world with such a travesty! It's like nothing human! It's an affront to the family! Ah! the strain will show! They say your sins will find you out! It was a sin to marry the woman! Damned fool I was! But she bewitched me! I was bewitched!—Curse the little monster! I shan't breathe again till I'm out of the house! Where was the doctor? He ought to have seen to it! Hang it all, I'll go abroad!"
Ugly as the child was, however, to many an eye the first thing evident in him would have been his strong likeness to his father—whose features were perfect, though at the moment, and at many a moment, their expression was other than attractive. Sir Wilton disliked children, and the dislike was mutual. Never did child run to him; never was child unwilling to leave him. Escaping from his grasp, he would turn and look back, like Christian emerging from the Valley of the Shadow, as if to weigh the peril he had been in.
As tenderly as if he had been the loveliest of God's children, the woman bore her charge up staircases, and through corridors and passages, to the remote nursery, where, in a cradle whose gay furniture contrasted sadly with the countenance of the child and the fierceness of her own eyes, she gently laid him down. But long after he was asleep, she continued to bend over him, as if with difficulty restraining herself from clasping him again to her bosom.
Jane Tuke had been married four or five years, but had no children, and the lack seemed to have intensified her maternity. Elder sister to lady Lestrange, she had gone gladly to receive her child in her arms, and had watched and waited for it with an expectation far stronger than that of the mother; for so thorough was lady Lestrange's disappointment in her husband, that she regarded the advent of his child almost with indifference. Jane had an absolute passion for children. She had married a quarter for faith, a quarter for love, and a whole half for hope. This divinely inexplicable child-passion is as unintelligible to those devoid of it, as its absence is marvellous to those possessed by it. Its presence is its justification, its being its sole explanation, itself its highest reason. Surely on those who cherish it, the shadow of the love-creative God must rest more than on some other women! Unpleasing as was the infant, to know him her own would have made the world a paradise to Jane. Her heart burned with divine indignation at the wrongs already heaped upon him. Hardly born, he was persecuted! Ugly! he was not ugly! Was he not come straight from the fountain of life, from the Father of children? That such a father as she had left in the library should repudiate him was well! She loved to think of his rejection. She brooded with delight, in the midst of her wrath, on every word of disgust that had fallen from his unfatherly lips. The more her baby was rejected, the more he was hers! He belonged to her, and her only, for she only loved him! She could say with France in King Lear, "Be it lawful I take up what's cast away!" To her the despised one was the essence of all riches. The joy of a miser is less than the joy of a mother, as gold is less than a live soul, as greed is less than love. No vision of jewels ever gave such a longing as this woman longed with after the child of her dead sister.
The body that bore was laid in the earth, the thing born was left upon it. The mother had but come, exposed her infant on the rough shore of time, and forsaken him in his nakedness. There he lay, not knowing whence he came, or whither he was going, urged to live by a hunger and thirst he had not invented, and did not understand. His mother had helplessly forsaken him, but the God in another woman had taken him up: there was a soul to love him, two arms to carry him, and a strong heart to shelter him.
Sir Wilton returned to London, and there enjoyed himself—not much, but a little the more that no woman sat at Mortgrange with a right to complain that he took his pleasure without her. He lived the life of the human animals frequenting the society of their kind from a gregarious instinct, and for common yet opposing self-ends. He had begun to assume the staidness, if not dullness, of the animal whose first youth has departed, but he was only less frolicsome, not more human. He was settling down to what he had made himself; no virtue could claim a share in the diminished rampancy of his vices. What a society is that which will regard as reformed the man whom assuaging fires have left an exhausted slag—a thing for which as yet no use is known, who suggests no promise of change or growth, gives no poorest hint of hope concerning his fate!
With the first unrecognized sense of approaching age, a certain habit of his race began to affect him, and the idea of a quieter life, with a woman whose possession would make him envied, grew mildly attractive. A brilliant marriage in another county would, besides, avenge him on the narrow-minded of his own, who had despised his first choice! With judicial family-eye he surveyed the eligible women of his acquaintance. It was, no doubt, to his disadvantage that already an heir lay "mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;" for a woman who might willingly be mother to the inheritor of such a property as his, might not find attractive the notion of her first being her husband's second son. But slips between cups and lips were not always on the wrong side! Such a moon-calf as Robina's son could not with justice represent the handsomest man and one of the handsomest women of their time. The heir that fate had palmed upon him might very well be doomed to go the way so many infants went!
He spread the report that the boy was sickly. A notion that he was not likely to live prevailed about Mortgrange, which, however originated, was nourished doubtless by the fact that he was so seldom seen. In reality, however, there was not a healthier child in all England than Richard Lestrange.
Sir Wilton's relations took as little interest in the heir as himself, and there was no inducement for any of them to visit Mortgrange; the aunt-mother, therefore, had her own way with him. She was not liked in the house. The servants said she cared only for the little toad of a baronet, and would do nothing for her comfort. They had, however, just a shadow of respect for her: if she encouraged no familiarity, she did not meddle, and was independent of their aid. Even the milking of the cow which had been, through her persistence, set apart for the child, she did herself. She sought no influence in the house, and was nothing loved and little heeded.
Sir Wilton had not again seen his heir, who was now almost a year old, when the rumour reached Mortgrange that the baronet was about to be married.
Naturally, the news was disquieting to Jane. The hope, however, was left her, that the stepmother might care as little for the child as did the father, and that so, for some years at least, he might be left to her. It was a terrible thought to the loving woman that they might be parted; a more terrible thought that her baby might become a man like his father. Of all horrors to a decent woman, a bad man must be the worst! If by her death she could have left the child her hatred of evil, Jane would have willingly died: she loved her husband, but her sister's boy was in danger!
STEPMOTHER AND NURSE.
The rumour of sir Wilton's marriage was, as rumour seldom is, correct. Before the year was out, lady Ann Hardy, sister to the earl of Torpavy, representing an old family with a drop or two of very bad blood in it, became lady Ann Lestrange How much love there may have been in the affair, it is unnecessary to inquire, seeing the baronet was what he was, and the lady understood the what pretty well. She might have preferred a husband not so much what sir Wilton was, but she was nine-and-twenty, and her brother was poor. She said to herself, I suppose, that she might as well as another undertake his reform: some one must! and married him. She had not much of a trousseau, but was gorgeously attired for the wedding. It is true she had to return to the earl three-fourths of the jewels she wore; but they were family jewels, and why should she not have some good of them? She started with fifty pounds of her own in her pocket, and a demeanour in her person equal to fifty millions. When they arrived at Mortgrange, the moon was indeed still in the sky, but the honey-pot, to judge by the appearance of the twain, was empty: twain they were, and twain would be. The man wore a look of careless all-rightness, tinged with an expression of indifferent triumph: he had what he wanted; what his lady might think of her side of the bargain, he neither thought nor cared. As to the woman, let her reflections be what they might, not a soul would come to the knowledge of them. Whatever it was to others, her pale, handsome face was never false to herself, never betrayed what she was thinking, never broke the shallow surface of its frozen dignity. Will any man ever know how a woman of ordinary decency feels after selling herself? I find the thing hardly safe to ponder. No trace, no shadow of disappointment clouded the countenance of lady Ann that sultry summer afternoon as she drove up the treeless avenue. The education she had received—and education in the worst sense it was! for it had brought out the worst in her—had rendered her less than human. The form of her earthly presence had been trained to a fashionable perfection; her nature had not been left unaided in its reversion toward the vague animal type from which it was developed: in the curve of her thin lips as they prepared to smile, one could discern the veiled snarl and bite. Her eyes were grey, her eyebrows dark; her complexion was a clear fair, her nose perfect, except for a sharp pinch at the end of the bone; her nostrils were thin but motionless; her chin was defective, and her throat as slender as her horrible waist; her hands and feet were large even for "her tall personage."
After his lady had had a cup of tea, sir Wilton, for something to do, proposed taking her over the house, which was old, and worthy of inspection. In their progress they came to a door at the end of a long and rather tortuous passage. Sir Wilton did not know how the room was occupied, or he would doubtless have passed it by; but as its windows gave a fine view of the park, he opened the door, and lady Ann entered. Sudden displeasure shortened her first step; pride or something worse lengthened the next, as she bore down on a woman too much occupied with a child on her knee to look up at the sound of her entrance. When, a moment after, she did look up, the dreaded stepmother was looking straight down on her baby. Their eyes encountered. Jane met an icy stare, and lady Ann a gaze of defiance—an expression by this time almost fixed on the face of the nurse, for in her spirit she heard every unspoken remark on her child. Not a word did the lady utter, but to Jane, her eyes, her very breath seemed to say with scorn, "Is that the heir?" Sir Wilton did not venture a single look: he was ashamed of his son, and already a little afraid of his wife, whom he had once seen close her rather large teeth in a notable way. As she turned toward the window, however, he stole a glance at his offspring: the creature was not quite so ugly as before—not quite so repulsive as he had pictured him! But, good heavens! he was on the lap of the same woman whose fierceness had upset him almost as much as his child's ugliness! He walked to the window after his wife. She gazed for a moment, turned with indifference, and left the room. Her husband followed her. A glance of fear, dislike, and defiance, went after them from Jane.
Stronger contrast than those two women it would be hard to find. Jane's countenance was almost coarse, but its rugged outline was almost grand. Her hair grew low down on her forehead, and she had deep-set eyes. Her complexion was rough, her nose large and thick. Her mouth was large also, but, when unaffected by her now almost habitual antagonism, the curve of her lip was sweet, and occasionally humorous. Her chin was strong, and the total of her face what we call masculine; but when she silently regarded her child, it grew beautiful with the radiant tenderness of protection.
Her visitors left the door open behind them; Jane rose and shut it, sat down again, and gazed motionless at the infant. Perhaps he vaguely understood the sorrow and dread of her countenance, for he pulled a long face of his own, and was about to cry. Jane clasped him to her bosom in an agony: she felt certain she would not long be permitted to hold him there. In the silent speech of my lady's mouth, her jealous love saw the doom of her darling. What precise doom she dared not ask herself; it was more than enough that she, indubitably his guardian as if sent from heaven to shield him, must abandon him to his natural enemy, one who looked upon him as the adversary of her own children. It was a thought not to be thought, an idea for which there should be no place in her bosom! Unfathomable as the love between man and woman is the love of woman to child.
She spent a wakeful night. From the decree of banishment sure to go forth against her, there was no appeal! Go she must! Yet her heart cried out that he was her own. In the same lap his mother had lain before him! She had carried her by day, and at night folded her in the same arms, herself but six years old—old enough to remember yet the richness unspeakable of her new possession. Never had come difference betwixt them until Robina began to give ear to sir Wilton, whom Jane could not endure. When she responded, as she did at once, to her sister's cry for her help, she made her promise that no one should understand who she was, but that she should in the house be taken for and treated as a hired nurse. Why Jane stipulated thus, it were hard to say, but so careful were they both, that no one at Mortgrange suspected the nurse as personally interested in the ugly heir left in her charge! No one dreamed that the child's aunt had forsaken her husband to nurse him, and was living for him day and night. She, in her turn, had promised her sister never to leave him, and this pledge strengthened the bond of her passion. The only question was how she was to be faithful to her pledge, how to carry matters when she was turned away. With those thin, close-pressed lips in her mind's eye, she could not count on remaining where she was beyond a few days.
She was not only a woman capable of making up her mind, but a woman of resource, with the advantage of having foreseen and often pondered the possibility of that which was now imminent. The same night, silent above the sleep of her darling, she sat at work with needle and scissors far into the morning, remodelling an old print dress. For nights after, she was similarly occupied, though not a scrap or sign of the labour was visible in the morning.
The crisis anticipated came within a fortnight. Lady Ann did not show herself a second time in the nursery, but sending for Jane, informed her that an experienced nurse was on her way from London to take charge of the child, and her services would not be required after the next morning.
"For, of course," concluded her ladyship, "I could not expect a woman of your years to take an under-nurse's place!"
"Please your ladyship, I will gladly," said Jane, eager to avoid or at least postpone the necessity forcing itself upon her.
"I intend you to go—and at once," replied her ladyship; "—that is, the moment Mrs. Thornycroft arrives. The housekeeper will take care that you have your month's wages in lieu of warning."
"Very well, my lady!—Please, your ladyship, when may I come and see the child?"
"Not at all. There is no necessity."
"Never, my lady?"
"Then at least I may ask why you send me away so suddenly!"
"I told you that I want a properly qualified nurse to take your place. My wish is to have the child more immediately under my own eye than would be agreeable if you kept your place. I hope I speak plainly!"
"Quite, my lady."
"And let me, for your own sake, recommend you to behave more respectfully when you find another place."
What she was doing lady Ann was incapable of knowing. A woman love-brooding over a child is at the gate of heaven; to take her child from her is to turn her away from more than paradise.
Jane went in silence, seeming to accept the inevitable, too proud to wipe away the tear whose rising she could not help—a tear not for herself, nor yet for the child, but for the dead mother in whose place she left such a woman. She walked slowly back to the nursery, where her charge was asleep, closed the door, sat down by the cot, and sat for a while without moving. Then her countenance began to change, and slowly went on changing, until at last, as through a mist of troubled emotion, out upon the strong, rugged face broke, with strange suggestion of a sunset, the glow of resolve and justified desire. A maid more friendly than the rest brought her some tea, but Jane said nothing of what had occurred. When the child awoke, she fed him, and played with him a long time—till he was thoroughly tired, when she undressed him, and laying him down, set about preparing his evening meal. No one could have perceived in her any difference, except indeed it were a subdued excitement in her glowing eyes. When it was ready, she went to her box, took from it a small bottle, and poured a few dark-coloured drops into the food.
"God forgive me! it's but this once!" she murmured.
The child seemed not quite to relish his supper, but did not refuse it, and was presently asleep in her arms. She laid him down, took a book, and began to read.
She read until every sound had died in the house, every sound from garret to cellar, except the ticking of clock, and the tinkling cracks of sinking fires and cooling grates. In the regnant silence she rose, laid aside her book, softly opened the door, and stepped as softly into the narrow passage. A moment or two she listened, then stole on tiptoe to the main corridor, and again listened. She went next to the head of the great stair, and once more stood and listened. Then she crept down to the drawing-room, saw that there was no light in the library, billiard-room, or smoking-room, and with stealthy feet returned to the nursery. There she closed the door she had left open, and took the child. He lay in her arms like one dead. She removed everything he wore, and dressed him in the garments which for the last fortnight she had been making for him from clothes of her own. When she had done, he looked like any cottager's child; there was nothing in his face to contradict his attire. She regarded the result for a moment with a triumph of satisfaction, laid him down, and proceeded to put away the clothes he had worn.
Over the top of the door was a small cupboard in the wall, into which she had never looked until the day before, when she opened it and found it empty. She placed a table under it, and a chair on the table, climbed up, laid in it everything she had taken off the child, locked the door of it, put the key in her pocket, and got down. Then she took the cloak and hood he had hitherto worn out of doors, laid them down beside the wardrobe, and lifting the end of it with a strength worthy of the blacksmith's daughter, pushed them with her foot into the hollow between the bottom of the wardrobe and the floor of the room. This done, she looked at the timepiece on the mantelshelf, saw it was one o'clock, and sat down to recover her breath. But the next moment she was on her knees, sobbing. By and by she rose, wiped the hot tears from her eyes, and went carefully about the room, gathering up this and that, and putting it into her box. Then having locked it, she stuffed a number of small pieces of paper into the lock, using a crochet-needle to get them well among the wards. Lastly, she put on a dress she had never worn at Mortgrange, took up the child, who was still in a dead sleep, wrapped him in an old shawl, and stole with him from the room.
Like those of a thief—or murderess rather, her scared eyes looked on this side and that, as she crept to a narrow stair that led to the kitchen. She knew every turn and every opening in this part of the house: for weeks she had been occupied, both intellect and imagination, with the daring idea she was now carrying into effect.
She reached the one door that might yield a safe exit, unlocked it noiselessly, and stood in a little paved yard with a pump, whence another door in an ivy-covered wall opened into the kitchen-garden. The moon shone large and clear, but the shadow of the house protected her. It was the month of August, warm and still. If only it had been dark! Outside the door she was still in the shadow. For the first time in her life she loved the darkness. Along the wall she stole as if clinging to it. Yet another door led into a shrubbery surrounding the cottage of the head-gardener, whence a back-road led to a gate, over which she could climb, so to reach the highway, along whose honest, unshadowed spaces she must walk miles and miles before she could even hope herself safe.
She stood at length in the broad moonlight, on the white, far-reaching road. Her heart beat so fast as almost to stifle her. She dared not look down at the child, lest some one should see her and look also! The moon herself had an aspect of suspicion! Why did she keep staring so? For an instant she wished herself back in the nursery. But she knew it would only be to do it all over again: it had to be done! Leave the child of her sister where he was counted in the way! with those who hated him! where his helpless life was in danger! She could not!
But, while she thought, she did not stand. Softly, with great strides she went stalking along the road. She knew the country: she was not many miles from her father's forge, whence at moments she seemed to hear the ring of his hammer through the still night.
She kept to the road for three or four miles, then turned aside on a great moor stretching far to the south: daybreak was coming fast; she must find some cottage or natural shelter, lest the light should betray her. When the sun had made his round, and yielded his place to the friendly night, she would start afresh! In her bundle she had enough for the baby; for herself, she could hold out many hours unfed. A few more miles from Mortgrange, and no one would know her, neither from any possible description could they be suspected in the garments they wore! Her object in hiding their usual attire had been, that it might be taken for granted they had gone away in it.
She did not slacken her pace till she had walked five miles more. Then she stood a moment, and gazed about her. The great heath was all around, solitary as the heaven out of which the solitary moon, with no child to comfort her, was enviously watching them. But she would not stop to rest, save for the briefest breathing space! On and on she went until moorland miles five more, as near as she could judge, were behind her. Then at length she sat down upon a stone, and a timid flutter of safety stirred in her bosom, followed by a gush of love victorious. Her treasure! her treasure! Not once on the long way had she looked at him. Now she folded back the shawl, and gazed as not even a lover could have gazed on the sleeping countenance of his rescued bride. The passion of no other possession could have equalled the intensity of her conscious having. Not one created being had a right to the child but herself!—yet any moment he might be taken from her by a cold-hearted, cruel stepmother, and given to a hired woman! She started to her feet, and hurried on. The boy was no light weight, and she had things to carry besides, which her love said he could not do without; yet before seven o'clock she had cleared some sixteen miles, in a line from Mortgrange as straight as she could keep.
She thought she must now be near a village whose name she knew; but she dared not show herself lest some advertisement might reach it after she was gone, and lead to the discovery of the route she had taken. She turned aside therefore into an old quarry, there to spend the day, unvisited of human soul. The child was now awake, but still drowsy. She gave him a little food, and ate the crust she had saved from her tea the night before. During the long hours she slept a good deal by fits, and when the evening came, was quite fit to resume her tramp. To her joy it came cloudy, giving her courage to enter a little shop she saw on the outskirts of the village, and buy some milk and some bread. From this point she kept the road: she might now avail herself of help from cart or wagon. She was not without money, but feared the railway.
It is needless to follow her wanderings, always toward London, where was her husband, and her home. A weary, but happy, and almost no longer an anxious woman, she reached at length a certain populous suburb, and was soon in the arms of her husband.
THE BOOKBINDER AND HIS PUPIL.
It was the middle of the day before they were missed. Their absence caused for a time no commotion; the servants said nurse must have taken the child for his usual walk. But when the nurse from London came, and, after renewed search and inquiry, nothing was heard of them, their disappearance could no longer be kept from lady Ann. She sent to inform her husband.
Sir Wilton asked a question or two of her messenger, said the thing must be seen to, finished his cigar, threw the stump in the fire, and went to his wife; when at once they began to discuss, not the steps to be taken for the recovery of the child, but the woman's motive for stealing him. The lady insisted it was revenge for having been turned away, and that she would, as soon as she reached a suitable place, put an end to his life: she had seen murder in her eyes! The father opined there was no such danger: he remembered, though he did not mention it, the peculiarity of the woman's behaviour when first he saw her. There was no limit, he said, to the unnatural fancies of women; some were disgustingly fond of children, even other women's children. Plain as the infant was, he did not doubt she had taken a fancy to him, and therefore declined to part with him. The element of revenge might, he allowed, have a share in the deed; but that would be satisfied with leaving them in doubt of his fate. For his part, he made her welcome to him! To this lady Ann gave no answer: she was not easily shocked, and could, without consternation, have regarded his disappearance as final. But something must at least appear to be done! Unpleasant things might be said, and uncertainty was full of annoyance!
"You must be careful, sir Wilton," she remarked. "Nobody thinks you believe the child your own."
Sir Wilton laughed.
"I never had a doubt on the subject. I wish I had: he's not to my credit. If we never hear of him again, the better for the next!"
"That is true!" rejoined lady Ann. "But what if, after we had forgotten all about him, he were to turn up again?"
"That would be unpleasant—and is indeed a reason why we should look for him. Better find him than live in doubt! Besides, the world would be uncharitable enough to hint that you had made away with him: it's what ought to have been done when first he appeared. I give you my word, Ann, he was a positive monster! The object was actually web-footed!—web-footed like any frog!"
"You must let the police know," said the lady.
"That the child is web-footed? No, I think not!" yawned sir Wilton.
He got up, went out, and ordered a groom to ride hard to the village—as hard as he could go—and let the police understand what had occurred. Within the hour a constable appeared, come to inquire when last the fugitives were seen, and what they wore—the answer to which latter question set the police looking for persons very different in appearance from Jane and her nursling. Nothing was heard of them, and the inquiry, never prosecuted with any vigour, was by degrees dropped entirely.
John Tuke had grumbled greatly at his wife's desertion of him for grandees who would never thank her; but he gave in to the prolongation of her absence with a better grace, when he learned how the motherless baby was regarded by his own people. The humanity of the man rose in defence of the injured. He felt also that, in espousing the cause of his wife's nephew, scorned by his baronet father, he was taking the part of his own down-trodden class. He was greatly perplexed, however, as to what end the thing was to have. Must he live without his wife till the boy was sent to school?
He was in bed and fast asleep, when suddenly opening his eyes, he saw beside him the wife he had not seen for twelve months, with the stolen child in her arms. When he heard how the stepmother had treated her, and how the babe was likely to fare among its gentle kin, he was filled with fresh indignation; but, while thoroughly appreciating and approving his wife's decision and energy, he saw to what the deed exposed them, and augured frightful consequences to the discovery that seemed almost certain. But when he understood the precautions she had taken, and bethought himself how often the police fail, he had better hopes of escape. One thing he never dreamed of—and that was, restoring the child. Often at night he would lie wondering how far, in case of their being tried for kidnapping, the defence would reach, that his wife was the child's aunt; and whether the fact that she was none the less a poor woman standing up against the rich, would not render that or any plea unavailing. Jane was, and long remained, serenely hopeful.
When she left for Mortgrange, they had agreed that her husband should say she was gone to her father's; and as nobody where they lived knew who or where her father was, nobody had the end of any clue. For some time after her return she did not show herself, leaving it to her husband to say she had come back with her baby. Then she began to appear with the child, and so managed her references to her absence, that no one dreamed of his not being her own, or imagined that she had left her husband for other reason than to be tended at her old home in her confinement. After a few years, even the fact of his not having been born in that house was forgotten; and Richard Lestrange grew up as the son of John Tuke, the bookbinder. Not in any mind was there a doubt as to his parentage.
They lived on the very bank of the Thames, in a poor part of a populous, busy, thriving suburb, far from fashionable, yet not without inhabitants of refinement. Had not art and literature sent out a few suckers into it, there would have been no place in it for John Tuke. For, more than liking his trade, being indeed fond of it, he would not work for the booksellers, but used his talent to the satisfaction of known customers, of whom he had now not a few, for his reputation had spread beyond the near neighbourhood. But while he worked cheaper, quality considered, than many binders, even carefully superintending that most important yet most neglected part of the handicraft, the sewing, he never undertook cheap work. Never, indeed, without persuasion on the part of his employer and expostulation on his own, did he consent to half-bind a book. Hence it comes to be confessed, that, when carte blanche was given him, he would not infrequently expend upon a book an amount of labour and a value of material quite out of proportion to the importance of the book. Still, being a thoroughly conscientious workman, who never hurried the forwarding, never cut from a margin a hair's breadth more than was necessary, and hated finger-marks on the whiteness of a page, he was well known as such, and had plenty of work—had often, indeed, to refuse what was offered him, hence was able to decline all such jobs as would give him no pleasure, and grew more fastidious as he grew older in regard to the quality of the work he would undertake. He had never employed a journeyman, and would never take more than two apprentices at a time.
As Richard Lestrange grew, his chief pleasure was to be in the shop with his uncle, and watch him at his varying work. I think his knowledge of books as things led him the sooner to desire them as realities, for to read he learned with avidity. When he was old enough to go to school, his adopted father spared nothing he could spend to make him fit for his future; wisely resolved, however, that he should know nothing of his rights until he was of an age to understand them—except, indeed, sir Wilton should die before that age arrived, when his cause would be too much prejudiced by farther postponement of claim. Heartily they hoped that their secret might remain a secret until their nephew should be capable of protecting them from any untoward consequence of their well intended crime.
Happily there was in the place, and near enough for the boy to attend it easily, a good day-school upon an old foundation, whose fees were within his father's means. Richard proved a fair student and became a great reader. But he took such an intelligent and practical interest in the work he saw going on at home, that he began, while yet a mere child, to use paste and paper of his own accord. First he made manuscript-books for his work at school, and for the copying of such verses as he took a fancy to in his reading. Then inside the covers of some of these he would make pockets for papers; and so advanced to small portfolios and pocket-books, of which he would make presents to his companions, and sometimes, when more ambitiously successful, to a master. In their construction he used bits of coloured paper and scraps of leather, chiefly morocco, which his father willingly made over to him, watching his progress with an interest quite paternal, and showing a workman's wisdom in this, that only when he saw him in a real difficulty would he come to his aid—as, for instance, when first he struggled with a piece of leather too thick for the bonds of paste, and must be taught how to pare it to the necessary flexibility and compliance.
To become able to make something is, I think, necessary to thorough development. I would rather have son of mine a carpenter, a watchmaker, a wood-carver, a shoemaker, a jeweller, a blacksmith, a bookbinder, than I would have him earn his bread as a clerk in a counting-house. Not merely is the cultivation of operant faculty a better education in faculty, but it brings the man nearer to every thing operant; humanity unfolds itself to him the readier; its ways and thoughts and modes of being grow the clearer to both intellect and heart. The poetry of life, the inner side of that nature which comes from him who, on the Sabbath-days even, "worketh hitherto," rises nearer the surface to meet the eyes of the man who makes. What advantage the carpenter of Nazareth gathered from his bench, is the inheritance of every workman, in proportion as he does divine, that is, honest work.
Perceiving the faculty of the boy, his father—so let us call John Tuke for the present—naturally thought it well to make him a gift of his trade: it would always be a possession! "Whatever turn things may take," he would remark to his wife, "the boy will have his bread in his hands. And say what they will, the man who can gather his food off his own bench, or screw it out of his own press, must be a freer man than he who but for his inheritance would have to beg, steal, or die of hunger. And who knows how long the world may permit idlers to fare of its best!"
For, after a fashion of his own, Tuke was a philosopher and a politician. But his politics were those of the philosopher, not of the politician.
Richard, with his great love of reading, and therefore of books, was delighted to learn the craft which is their attendant and servitor. When too young yet to wield the hammer without danger both to himself and the book under it, he began to sew, and in a few weeks was able to bring the sheets together entirely to the satisfaction of his father. From the first he set him to do that essential part of the work in the best way, that is, to sew every sheet round every cord: it is only when one can perfectly work after the perfect rule, that he may be trusted with variations and exceptions.
He went on teaching him until the boy could, he confessed, do almost everything better than himself—went on until he had taught him every delicacy, every secret of the craft. Richard developed a positive genius for the work, seeming almost to learn it by intuition. A pocket-book, with which he presented his father on his fiftieth birthday, brought out his unqualified praise.
In the process he gradually revealed a predilection for a rarer use of his faculty—a use more nice, while less distinguished, and not much favoured by his father. It had its prime source deeper than the art of book-binding—in the love of books themselves, not as leaves to be bound, but as utterances to be heard. Certain dealers in old books have loved some of them so as to refuse to part with them on any terms; Richard, unable to possess more than a very few, manifested his veneration for them in another and nearer fashion, running, as was natural and healthy, in the lines of his calling.
For many months in diligent attendance at certain of the evening-classes at King's College, he had developed a true insight into and sympathy with what is best in our literature—chiefly in that of the sixteenth century: from this grew an almost peculiar regard for old books. With three or four shillings weekly at his disposal, he laid himself out to discover and buy such volumes as, in themselves of value, were in so bad a condition as to be of little worth from the mere bookseller's point of view: with these for his first patients he opened a hospital, or angel-asylum, for the lodging, restorative treatment, and systematic invigoration of decayed volumes. Love and power combined made him look on the dilapidated, slow-wasting abodes of human thought and delight with a healing compassion—almost with a passion of healing. The worse gnawed of the tooth of insect-time, the farther down any choice book in the steep decline of years, the more intent was Richard on having it. More and more skillful he grew, not only in rebinding such whose clothing was past repair, but in restoring the tone of their very constitution; and in so mending the ancient and beggarly garments of others that they reassumed a venerable respectability. Through love, he passed from an artisan to an artist. His reverence for the inner reality, the book itself, in itself beyond time and decay, had roused in him a child-like regard for its body, for its broken inclosure and default of manifestation. He would espy the beauty of an old binding through any amount of abrasion and laceration. To his eyes almost any old binding was better for its book than any new one.
His father came to regard with wonder and admiration the redeeming faculty of his son, whereby he would reinstate in strength and ripe dignity a volume which he would have taken to pieces, and redressed like an age-worn woman in a fashionable gown. So far did his son's superior taste work upon his, that at length, if he opened a new binding, however sombre, and saw a time-browned paper and old type within, the sight would give him the shock of a discord.
But Tuke was in many things no other than a man of this world, and sorely he doubted if such labour would ever have its counterpoise in money. It paid better, because it was much easier, to reclothe than to restore! to destroy and replace than to renew! When he had watched many times for minutes together his son's delicate manipulation—in which he patched without pauperizing, and subaided without humiliating—and at last contemplating the finished result, he concluded him possessed of a quite original faculty for book-healing.—"But alas," he thought, "genius seldom gets beyond board-wages!" It did not occur to him that genius least requires more than board-wages. He encouraged him, nevertheless, though mildly, in the pursuit of this neglected branch of the binding-art.
As the days went on, and their love for their nephew grew with his deserts, the uncle and aunt shrank more and more from the thought, which every year compelled them to think the oftener, that the day was drawing nigh when they must volunteer the confession that he was not their child.
When he was about seventeen, Richard settled down to work with his father, occasionally assisting him, but in general occupied with his own special branch, in which Tuke, through his long connection with book-lovers possessing small cherished libraries, was able to bring him almost as many jobs as he could undertake. The fact that a volume could be so repaired, stimulated the purchase of shabby books; and part of what was saved on the price of a good copy was laid out on the amendment of the poor one. But however much the youth delighted in it, he could not but find the work fidgety and tiring; whence ensued the advantage that he left it the oftener for a ramble, or a solitary hour on the river. He had but few companions, his guardians, wisely or not, being more fastidious about his associates than if he had been their very son. His uncle, of strong socialistic opinions, and wont to dilate on human equality—as if the thing that ought to be, and must one day come, could be furthered by the assertion of its present existence—was, like the holders of even higher theories, not a little apt to forget the practice necessarily involved: this son of a baronet, seeing that he was the son also of his wife's sister, was not to be brought up like one of the many!
Ugliness in infancy is a promise, though perhaps a doubtful one, of beauty in manhood; and in Richard's case the promise was fulfilled: hardly a hint was left of the baby-face which had repelled his father. He was now a handsome well-grown youth, with dark-brown hair, dark-green eyes, broad shoulders, and a little stoop which made his aunt uneasy: she would have had him join a volunteer corps, but he declared he had not the time. He accepted her encouragement, however, to forsake his work as often as he felt inclined. He had good health; what was better, a good temper; and what was better still, a willing heart toward his neighbour. A certain over-hanging of his brows was—especially when he contracted them, as, in perplexity or endeavour, he not infrequently did—called a scowl by such as did not love him; but it was of shallow insignificance, and probably the trick of some ancestor.
Before long, his thinking began to take form in verse-making. It matters little to my narrative whether he produced anything of original value or not; utterance aids growth, which is the prime necessity of human as of all other life. Not seldom, bent over his work, he would be evolving some musical fashion of words—with no relaxation, however, of the sharp attention and delicate handling required by the nature of that work. It is the privilege of some kinds of labour, that they are compatible with thoughts of higher things. At the book-keeper's desk, the clerk must think of nothing but his work; he is chained to it as the galley-slave to his oar; the shoemaker may be poet or mystic, or both; the ploughman may turn a good furrow and a good verse together; Richard could at once use hands and thoughts. It troubled his protectors that they could not send him to college, but they comforted themselves that it would not be too late when he returned to his natural position in society. They had no plan in their minds, no date settled at which to initiate his restoration. All they had determined was, that he must at least be a grown man, capable of looking after his own affairs, when the first step for it was taken.
John Tuke was one of those who acknowledge in some measure the claims of their neighbour, but assert ignorance of any one who must be worshipped. And in truth, the God presented to him by his teachers was one with little claim on human devotion. The religious system brought to bear on his youth had operated but feebly on his conscience, and not at all on his affections. It had, however, so wrought upon his apprehensions, that, when afterward persuaded there was no ground for agonizing anticipation, he welcomed the conviction as in itself a redemption for all men; "for, surely," he argued, "fear is the worst of evils!" The very approach of such a relief predisposed him to receive whatever teaching might follow from the same source; and soon he believed himself satisfied that the notion of religion—of duty toward an unseen maker—was but an old-wives'-fable; and that, as to the hereafter, a mere cessation of consciousness was the only reasonable expectation. The testimony of his senses, although negative, he accepted as stronger on that side than any amount of what could, he said, be but the purest assertion on the other. Why should he heed an old book? why one more than another? The world was around him: some things he must believe; other things no man could! One thing was clear: every man was bound to give his neighbour fair-play! He would press nothing upon Richard as to God or no God! he would not be dogmatic! he only wanted to make a man of him! And was he not so far successful? argued John. Was not Richard growing up a diligent, honest fellow, loving books, and leading a good life; whereas, had he been left to his father, he could not have escaped being arrogant and unjust, despising the poor of his own flesh, and caring only to please himself! In the midst of such superior causes of satisfaction, it also pleased Tuke to reflect that the trade he had taught his nephew was a clean one, which, while it rendered him superior to any shrewd trick fortune might play him, would not make his hands unlike those of a gentleman.
His aunt, however, kept wishing that Richard were better "set up," and looked more like his grandfather the blacksmith, whose trade she could not help regarding as manlier than that of her husband. Hence she had long cherished the desire that he should spend some time with her father. But John would not hear of it. He would get working at the forge, he said, and ruin his hands for the delicate art in which he was now unapproachable.
For in certain less socialistic moods, John would insist on regarding bookbinding, in all and any of its branches, not as a trade, but an art.
At school, Richard had been friendly with a boy of gentle nature, not many years older than himself. The boy had stood his friend in more than one difficulty, and Richard heartily loved him. But he had suddenly disappeared from the school, and so from Richard's ken: for years he had not seen him. One evening, as he was carrying home a book, he met this Arthur Manson, looking worn and sad. He would have avoided Richard, but he stopped him, and presently the old friendship was dominant. Arthur told him his story. He had had to leave school because of the sudden cessation, from what cause he did not know, of a certain annuity his mother had till then enjoyed—rendering it imperative that he should earn his own living, and contribute to her support, for although she still had a little money, it was not nearly enough. His sister was at work with a dressmaker, but as yet earning next to nothing. His mother was a lady, he said, and had never done any work. He was himself in a counting-house in the City, with a salary of forty pounds. He told him where they lived, and Richard promised to go and see him, which he did the next Sunday.
His friend's mother lived in a little house of two floors, one of a long row lately built. The furniture was much too large, and it was difficult to move in the tiny drawing-room. It showed a feeble attempt at decoration, which made it look the poorer. Accustomed to his mother's care of her things, Richard perceived a difference: these were much finer but neglected, and looked as if they felt it. At their evening meal, however, the tea was good, and the bread and butter were of the best.
The mother was a handsome middle-aged woman—not so old, Richard somehow imagined, as she looked. She was stout and florid, with plenty of black, rather coarse hair, and seemed to Richard to have the carriage of a lady, but not speech equal to her manners. She was polite to him, but not apparently interested in her son's friend. Yet several times he found her gazing at him with an expression that puzzled him. He had, however, too clear a conscience to be troubled by any scrutiny. All the evening Arthur's face wore the same look of depression, and Richard wondered what could be amiss. He learned afterward that the mother was so self-indulgent, and took so little care to make the money go as far as it could, that he had not merely to toil from morning to night at uncongenial labour, but could never have the least recreation, and was always too tired when he came home to understand any book he attempted to read. Richard learned also that he had no greatcoat, and went to the City in the winter with only a shabby comforter in addition to the clothes he had worn all the summer. But it was not Arthur who told him this.
The girl was a graceful little creature, with the same sad look her brother had, but not the same depression. She seemed more delicate, and less capable of labour; yet her hours were longer than his, and her confinement greater. Alice had to sit the whole day plying her needle, while Arthur was occasionally sent out to collect money. But her mistress was a kind-hearted woman, and not having a fashionable clientele, had not yet become indifferent to the well-being of her work-women. She even paid a crippled girl a trifle for reading to them, stipulating only that she should read fast, for she found the rate of their working greatly influenced by the rate of the reading. Life, if harder, was therefore not quite so uninteresting to Alice as to Arthur, and that might be why she seemed to have more vitality. Like her mother she had a quantity of hair, as dark as hers, but finer; dark eyes, not without meaning; irregular but very pleasing and delicate features; and an unusually white rather than pale complexion, with a sort of sallow glow under the diaphanous skin. There was not a little piquancy in the expression of her countenance, and Richard felt it strangely attractive.
The youths found they had still tastes in common, although Arthur had neither time nor strength to follow them. Richard spoke of some book he had been reading. Arthur was interested, but Alice so much that Richard offered to lend it her: it was the first time she had heard a book spoken of in such a tone—one of suppressed feeling, almost veneration.
The mother did not join in their talk, and left them soon—her daughter said to go to church.
"She always goes by herself," Alice added. "She sees we are too tired to go."
They sat a long time with no light but that of the fire. Arthur seemed to gather courage, and confessed the hopeless monotony of his life. He complained of no privation, only of want of interest in his work.
"Do you like your work?" he asked Richard.
"Indeed I do!" Richard answered. "I would sooner handle an old book than a bunch of bank-notes!"
"I don't doubt it," returned Arthur. "To me your workshop seems a paradise."
"Why don't you take up the trade, then? Come to us and I will teach you. I do not think my father would object."
"I learn nothing where I am!" continued Arthur.
"Our boat is not over-manned," resumed Richard. "Say you will come, and I will speak to my father."
"I wish I could! But how are we to live while I am learning?—No; I must grind away till—"
He stopped short, and gave a sigh.
"Till when, Arty?" asked his sister.
"Till death set me free," he answered.
"You wouldn't leave me behind, Arty!" said Alice; and rising, she put her arm round his neck.
"I wouldn't if I could help it," he replied.
"It's a cowardly thing to want to die," said Richard.
"I think so sometimes."
"There's your mother!"
"Yes," responded Arthur, but without emotion.
"And how should I get on without you, Arty?" said his sister.
"Not very well, Ally. But it wouldn't be for long. We should soon meet."
"Who told you that?" said Richard almost rudely.
"Don't you think we shall know each other afterwards?" asked Arthur, with an expression of weary rather than sad surprise.
"I would be a little surer of it before I talked so coolly of leaving a sister like that! I only wish I had one to care for!"
A faint flush rose on the pale face of the girl, and as swiftly faded.
"Do you think, then, that this life is only a dream?" she said, looking up at Richard with something in her great eyes that he did not understand.
"Anyhow," he answered, "I would bear a good deal rather than run the risk of going so fast asleep as to stop dreaming it. A man can die any time," he continued, "but he can't dream when he pleases! I would wait! One can't tell when things may take a turn! There are many chances on the cards!"
"That's true," replied Arthur; but plainly the very chances were a weariness to him.
"If Arthur had enough to eat, and time to read, and a little amusement, he would be as brave as you are, Mr. Tuke!" said Alice. "—But you can't mean to say there will be no more of anything for us after this world! To think I should never see Arty again, would make me die before my time! I should be so miserable I would hardly care to keep him as long as I might. We must die some day, and what odds whether it be a few days sooner, or a few days later, if we're never going to meet again?"
"The best way is not to think about it," returned Richard. "Why should you? Look at the butterflies! They take what comes, and don't grumble at their sunshine because there's only one day of it."
"But when there's no sunshine that day?" suggested Alice.
"Well, when they lie crumpled in the rain, they're none the worse that they didn't think about it beforehand! We must make the best of what we have!"
"It's not worth making the best of," cried Alice indignantly, "if that's all!"
My reader may well wonder at Richard: how could he be a lover of our best literature and talk as he did? or rather, talking as he did, how could he love it? But he had come to love it while yet under the influence of what his aunt taught him, poor as was her teaching. Then his heart and imagination were more in the ascendency. Now he had begun to admire the intellectual qualities of that literature more, and its imaginative less; for he had begun to think truth attainable through the forces of the brain, sole and supreme.
In matters of conduct, John Tuke and his wife were well agreed; in matters of opinion, they differed greatly. Jane went to church regularly, listened without interest, and accepted without question; had her husband gone, he would have listened with the interest of utter dissent. When Jane learned that her husband no longer "believed in the Bible," she was seized with terror lest he should die without repentance and be lost. Thereupon followed fear for herself: was not an atheist a horribly wicked man?—and she could not feel that John was horribly wicked! She tried her hardest, but could not; and concluded therefore that his unbelief must be affecting her. She prayed him to say nothing against the Bible to Richard—at least before he arrived at years of discretion. This John promised; but subtle effluences are subtle influences.
John Tuke did right so far as he knew—at least he thought he did—and refused to believe in any kind of God; Jane did right, she thought, as far as she knew—and never imagined God cared about her: let him who has a mind to it, show the value of the difference!
Tuke was a thinking man;—that is, set a going in any direction that interested him, he could take a few steps forward without assistance. But he could start in no direction of himself. At a small club to which he belonged, he had been brought in contact with certain ideas new to him, and finding himself able to grasp them, felt at once as if they must be true. Certain other ideas, new to him, coming self-suggested in their train, he began immediately to imagine himself a thinker, able to generate notions to which the people around him were unequal. He began to grow self-confident, and so to despise. Taking courage then to deny things he had never believed, had only not thought about, and finding he thereby gave offence, he chose to imagine himself a martyr for the truth. He did not see that a denial involving no assertion, cannot witness to any truth; nor did he perceive that denial in his case meant nothing more than non-acceptance of things asserted. Had he put his position logically, it would have been this: I never knew such things; I do not like the notion of them; therefore I deny them: they do not exist. But no man really denies a thing which he knows only by the words that stand for it. When John Tuke denied the God in his notion, he denied only a God that could have no existence.
A man will be judged, however, by his truth toward what he professes to believe; and John was far truer to his perception of the duty of man to man than are ninety-nine out of the hundred of so-called Christians to the things they profess to believe. How many men would be immeasurably better, if they would but truly believe, that is, act upon, the smallest part of what they untruly profess to believe, even if they cast aside all the rest. John cast aside an allegiance to God which had never been more than a mockery, and set about delivering his race from the fear of a person who did not exist. For, true enough, there was no God of the kind John denied; only, what if, in delivering his kind from the tyranny of a false God, he aided in hiding from them the love of a true God—of a God that did and ought to exist? There are other passions besides fear, and precious as fear is hateful. If there be a God and one has never sought him, it will be small consolation to remember that he could not get proof of his existence. Is a child not to seek his father, because he cannot prove he is alive?
The aunt continued to take the boy to church, and expose him, for it was little more she did, to a teaching she could not herself either supply or supplement. It was the business of the church to teach Christianity! her part was to accept it, and bring the child where he also might listen and accept! But what she accepted as Christianity, is another question; and whether the acceptance of anything makes a Christian, is another still.
How much of Christianity a child may or may not learn by going to church, it is impossible to say; but certainly Richard did not learn anything that drew his heart to Jesus of Nazareth, or caught him in any heavenly breeze, or even the smallest of celestial whirlwinds! He learned nothing even that made unwelcome such remarks as his father would now and then let fall concerning the clergy and the way they followed their trade; while the grin, full of conscious superiority, with which he unconsciously accompanied them, found its reflection in the honourable but not yet humble mind, beginning to be aware of its own faculty, and not aware that the religion presented in his aunt's church, a religion neither honourable nor elevating, was but the dullest travesty of the religion of St. Paul. Richard had, besides, read several books which, had his uncle been careful of the promise he had given his wife, he would have intentionally removed instead of unintentionally leaving about.
In the position Richard had just taken toward his new friends, he was not a little influenced by the desire to show himself untrammelled by prevailing notions, and capable of thinking for himself; but this was far from all that made him speak as he did. Many young fellows are as ready to deny as Richard, but not many feel as strongly that life rests upon what we know, that knowledge must pass into action. The denial of every falsehood under the sun would not generate one throb of life.
Richard told his adoptive parents where he had been, and asked if he might invite his new friends for the next Sunday. They made no objection, and when Arthur and Alice came, received them kindly. Richard took Arthur to the shop, and showed him the job he was engaged upon at the time, lauding his department as affording more satisfaction than mere binding.
"For," he said, "the thing that is not, may continue not to be; but the thing that is, should be as it was meant to be. Where it is not such, there is an evil that wants remedy. It may be that the sole remedy is binding, but that involves destruction, therefore is a poor thing beside renovation."
The argument came from a well of human pity in himself, deeper than Richard knew. But both the pity he felt and the truth in what he said came from a source eternal of which he yet knew nothing.
"It would be much easier," continued Richard, "to make that volume look new, but how much more delightful to send it out with a revived assertion of its ancient self!"
Some natures have a better chance of disclosing the original in them, that they have not been to college, and set to think in other people's grooves, instead of those grooves that were scored in themselves long before the glacial era.
"For my part," said Arthur, "I feel like a book that needs to be fresh printed, not to say fresh bound! I don't feel why I am what I am. I would part with it all, except just being the same man!"
While the youths were having their talk, Alice was in Jane's bedroom, undergoing an examination, the end and object of which it was impossible she should suspect. Caught by a certain look in her sweet face, reminding her of a look that was anything but sweet, Jane had set herself to learn from her what she might as to her people and history.
"Is your father alive, my dear?" she asked, with her keen black eyes on Alice's face.
That grew red, and for a moment the girl did not answer. Jane pursued her catechizing.
"What was his trade or profession?" she inquired.
The girl said nothing, and the merciless questioner went on.
"Tell me something about him, dear. Do you remember him? Or did he die when you were quite a child?"
"I do not remember him," answered Alice. "I do not know if I ever saw him."
"Did your mother never tell you what he was like?"
"She told me once he was very handsome—the handsomest man she ever saw—but cruel—so cruel! she said.—I don't want to talk about him, please, ma'am!" concluded Alice, the tears running down her cheeks.
"I'm sorry, my dear, to hurt you, but I'm not doing it from curiosity. You have a look so like a man I once knew,—and your brother has something of the same!—that in fact I am bound to learn what I can about you."
"What sort was the man we put you in mind of?" asked Alice, with a feeble attempt at a smile. "Not a very bad man, I hope!"
"Well, not very good—as you ask me.—He was what people call a gentleman!"
"Was that all?"
"What do you mean?"
"I thought he was a nobleman!"
"Oh!—well, he wasn't that; he was a baronet."
Alice gave a little cry.
"Do tell me something about him," she said. "What do you know about him?"
"More than I choose to tell. We will forget him now, if you please!"
There was in her voice a tone of displeasure, which Alice took to be with herself. She was in consequence both troubled and perplexed. Neither made any more inquiries. Jane took her guest back to the sitting-room.
The moment her brother came from the workshop, Alice said to him—
"Are you ready, Arthur? We had better be moving!"
Arthur was a gentle creature, and seldom opposed her; he seemed only surprised a little, and asked if she was ill. But Richard, who had all the week been looking forward to a talk with Alice, and wanted to show her his little library, was much disappointed, and begged her to change her mind. She insisted, however, and he put on his hat to walk with them.
But his aunt called him, and whispered that she would be particularly obliged to him if he would go to church with her that evening. He expostulated, saying he did not care to go to church; but as she insisted, he yielded, though not with the best grace.
Before another Sunday, there came, doubtless by his aunt's management, an invitation to spend a few weeks with his grandfather, the blacksmith.
Richard was not altogether pleased, for he did not like leaving his work; but his aunt again prevailed with him, and he agreed to go. In this, as in most things, he showed her a deference such as few young men show their mothers. Her influence came, I presume, through the strong impression of purpose she had made on him.
His uncle objected to his going, and grumbled a good deal. As the brewer looks down on the baker, so the bookbinder looked down on the blacksmith.
He said the people Richard would see about his grandfather, were not fit company for the heir of Mortgrange! But he knew the necessity of his going somewhere for a while, and gave in.
Simon Armour was past only the agility, not the strength of his youth, and in his feats of might and skill he cherished pride. Without being offensively conceited, he regarded himself—and well might—as the superior of any baronet such as his daughter's husband, and desired of him no recognition of the relationship. All he looked for from any man, whether he stood above or beneath his own plane, was proper pay for good work, and natural human respect. Some of the surrounding gentry, possibly not uninfluenced, in sentiment at least, by the growing radicalism of the age, enjoyed the free, jolly, but unpresuming carriage of the stalwart old man, to whom, if indeed on his head the almond-tree was already in blossom, the grasshopper was certainly not yet a burden: he could still ply a sledge-hammer in each hand. "My lord," came from his lips in a clear, ringing tone of good-fellowship, which the nobleman who occasionally stopped at his forge to give him some direction about the shoeing of this or that horse, liked well to hear, and felt the friendlier for—though I doubt if he would have welcomed it from a younger man.
Besides his daughter Jane and her husband, he alone was aware of the real parentage of the lad who passed as their son; and he knew that, if he lived long enough, an hour would call him to stand up for the rights of his grandson. Perhaps it was partly in view of this, that he had for years been an abstainer from strong drink; but I am inclined to attribute the fact chiefly to his having found the love of it gaining upon him. "Damn the drink!" he had been more than once overheard to say, "it shall know which of us is master!" And when Simon had made up his mind to a thing, the thing was—not indeed as good, but almost as sure as done. The smallest of small beer was now his strongest drink.
He was a hard-featured, good-looking, white-haired man of sixty, with piercing eyes of quite cerulean blue, and a rough voice with an undertone of music in it. There was music, indeed, all through him. In the roughest part of his history it was his habit to go to church—mainly, I may say entirely, for the organ, but his behaviour was never other than reverent. How much he understood, may be left a question somewhat dependent on how much there may have been to understand; but he had a few ideas in religion which were very much his own, and which, especially some with regard to certain of the lessons from the Old Testament, would have considerably astonished some parsons, and considerably pleased others. He was a big, broad-shouldered man, with the brawniest arms, and eyes so bright and scintillant that one might fancy they caught and kept for their own use the sparks that flew from his hammer. His face was red, with a great but short white beard, suggesting the sun in a clean morning-fog.
A rickety omnibus carried Richard from the railway-station some five miles to the smithy. When the old man heard it stop, he threw down his hammer, strode hastily to the door, met his grandson with a gripe that left a black mark and an ache, and catching up his portmanteau, set it down inside.
"I'll go with you in a moment, lad!" he said, and seizing with a long pair of pincers the horse-shoe that lay in process on the anvil, he thrust it into the fire, blew a great roaring blast from the bellows, plucked out the shoe glowing white, and fell upon it as if it were a devil. Having thus cowed it a bit, he grew calm, and more deliberately shaped it to an invisible idea. His grandson was delighted with the mingling of determination, intent, and power, with certainty of result, manifest in every blow. In two minutes he had the shoe on the end of a long hooked rod, and was hanging it beside others on a row of nails in a beam. Then he turned and said—
"There, lad! that's off the anvil—and off my mind! Now I'm for you!"
"Grandfather," said Richard, "I shouldn't like to have you for an enemy!"
"Why not, you rascal! Do you think I would take unfair advantage of you?"
"No, that I don't! But you've got awful arms and hands!"
"They've done a job or two in their day, lad!" he answered; "but I'm getting old now! I can't do what I thought nothing of once. Well, no man was made to last for ever—no more than a horse-shoe! There'd be no work for the Maker if he did!"
"I'm glad to see we're of one mind, grandfather!" said Richard.
"Well, why shouldn't we—if so be we're in the right mind!—Yes; we must be o' one mind if we're o' the right mind! The year or two I may be ahead o' you in gettin' at it, goes for nothing: I started sooner!—But what may be the mind you speak of, sonny?"
The look of keen question the old man threw on him, woke a doubt in Richard whether he might not have misunderstood his grandfather.
"I think," he answered, "if a man was made to last for ever, the world would get tired of him. When a horse or a dog has done his work, he's content—and so is his master."
"Nay, but I bean't! I bean't content to lose the old horse as I've shod mayhap for twenty years—no, not if I bean't his master!"
"There's no help for it, though!"
"None as I knows on. I'd be main glad to hear any news on the subjec' as you can supply!—No, I ain't content; I'm sorry!"
"Why don't the parsons say the old horse'll rise again?"
"'Cause the parsons knows nought about it. How should they?"
"They say we're going to rise again."
"Why shouldn't they? I guess I'll be up as soon as I may! I don't want no night to lie longer than rest my bones!"
"I mistook what you meant, grandfather. I thought, when you said you weren't made to last for ever, that you meant there was an end of you!"
"Well, so you might, and small blame to you! It's a wrong way of speaking we all have. But you've set me thinking—whether by mistake or not, where's the matter! I never thought what come o' the old horse, a'ter all his four shoes takes to shinin' at oncet! For the old smith when he drops his hammer—I have thought about him. Lord!—to think o' that anvil never ringin' no more to this here fist o' mine!"
While they talked, the blacksmith had put off his thick apron of hide; and now, catching up Richard's portmanteau as if it had been a hand-basket, he led the way to a cottage not far from the forge, in a lane that here turned out of the high road. It was a humble place enough—one story and a wide attic. The front was almost covered with jasmine, rising from a little garden filled with cottage flowers. Behind was a larger garden, full of cabbages and gooseberry-bushes.
A girl came to the door, with a kind, blushing face, and hands as red as her cheeks—a great-niece of the old smith. He passed her and led the way into a room half kitchen, half parlour.
"Here you are, lad—at home, I hope! Sech as it is, an' as much as it's mine, it's yours, an' I hope you'll make it so."
He deposited the portmanteau, glanced quickly round, saw that Jessie had not followed them, and said—
"You'll keep your good news till I've turned it over!"
"What good news, grandfather?"
"The good news that them as is close pared, has no call to look out for the hoof to grow. I'm not saying you're wrong, lad—not yet; but everybody mightn't think your news so good as to be worth a special messenger! So till you're quite sure of it—"
"I am quite sure of it, grandfather!"
"I'm not; and having charge of the girl there, I'll ha' no dish served i' my house as I don't think wholesome!"
"You're right there, grandfather! You may trust me!" answered Richard respectfully.
The blacksmith had spoken with a decision that was imperative. His red face shone out of his white beard, and his eyes sparkled out of his red face; his head gave a nod, and his jaws a snap.
They had tea, with bread and butter and marmalade, and much talk about John and Jane Tuke, in which the old man said oftener, "your aunt," and "your uncle," than "your father" or "your mother;" but Richard put it down to the confusion that often accompanies age. When the bookbinding came up, Richard was surprised to discover that the blacksmith was far from looking upon their trade as superior to his own. It was plain indeed that he regarded bookbinding as a quite inferior and scarce manly employment. To the blacksmith, bookbinding and tailoring were much the same—fit only for women. Richard did not relish this. He endeavoured to make his grandfather see the dignity of the work, insisting that its difficulty was the greater because of the less strength required in it: the strength itself had, he said, in certain of its operations, to be pared to the requisite fineness, to be modified with extreme accuracy; while in others, all the strength a man had was necessary, and especially in a shop like theirs, where everything was done by hand. But the fine work, he said, tired one much the most.