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CHAPTER I.—JOE BROWNLOW'S FANCY.
CHAPTER II. — THE CHICKENS.
CHAPTER III. — THE WHITE SLATE.
CHAPTER IV. — THE STRAY CHICKENS.
CHAPTER V. — BRAINS AND NO BRAINS.
CHAPTER VI. — ENCHANTED GROUND.
CHAPTER VII. — THE COLONEL'S CHICKENS.
CHAPTER VIII. — THE FOLLY.
CHAPTER IX. — FLIGHTS.
CHAPTER X. — ELLEN'S MAGNUM BONUMS.
CHAPTER XI. — UNDINE.
CHAPTER XII. — KING MIDAS.
CHAPTER XIII. — THE RIVAL HEIRESSES.
CHAPTER XIV. — PUMPING AWAY.
CHAPTER XV. — THE BELFOREST MAGNUM BONUM.
CHAPTER XVI. — POSSESSION.
CHAPTER XVII. — POPINJAY PARLOUR.
CHAPTER XVIII. — AN OFFER FOR MAGNUM BONUM.
CHAPTER XIX. — THE SNOWY WINDING-SHEET.
CHAPTER XX. — A RACE.
CHAPTER XXI. — AN ACT OF INDEPENDENCE.
CHAPTER XXII. — SHUTTING THE STABLE DOOR.
CHAPTER XXIII. — THE LOST TREASURE.
CHAPTER XXIV. — THE ANGEL MOUNTAIN.
CHAPTER XXV. — THE LAND OF AFTERNOON.
CHAPTER XXVI. — MOONSHINE.
CHAPTER XXVII. — BLUEBEARD'S CLOSET.
CHAPTER XXVIII. — THE TURN OF THE WHEEL.
CHAPTER XXIX. — FRIENDS AND UNFRIENDS.
CHAPTER XXX. — AS WEEL OFF AS AYE WAGGING
CHAPTER XXXI. — SLACK TIDE.
CHAPTER XXXII. — THE COST.
CHAPTER XXXIII. — BITTER FAREWELLS.
CHAPTER XXXIV. — BLIGHTED BEINGS.
CHAPTER XXXV. — THE PHANTOM BLACKCOCK OF KILNAUGHT.
CHAPTER XXXVI. — OF NO CONSEQUENCE.
CHAPTER XXXVII. — THE TRAVELLER'S JOY.
CHAPTER XXXVIII. — THE TRUST FULFILLED.
CHAPTER XXXIX. — THE TRUANT.
CHAPTER XL. — EVIL OUT OF GOOD.
CHAPTER XLI. — GOOD OUT OF EVIL.
CHAPTER XLII. — DISENCHANTED.
The lady said, "An orphan's fate Is sad and hard to bear."—Scott. "Mother, you could do a great kindness."
"If you would have the little teacher at the Miss Heath's here for the holidays. After all the rest, she has had the measles last and worst, and they don't know what to do with her, for she came from the asylum for officers' daughters, and has no home at all, and they must go away to have the house purified. They can't take her with them, for their sister has children, and she will have to roam from room to room before the whitewashers, which is not what I should wish in the critical state of chest left by measles."
"What is her name?"
"Allen. The cry was always for Miss Allen when the sick girls wanted to be amused."
"Allen! I wonder if it can be the same child as the one Robert was interested about. You don't remember, my dear. It was the year you were at Vienna, when one of Robert's brother-officers died on the voyage out to China, and he sent home urgent letters for me to canvass right and left for the orphan's election. You know Robert writes much better than he speaks, and I copied over and over again his account of the poor young man to go with the cards. 'Caroline Otway Allen, aged seven years, whole orphan, daughter of Captain Allen, l07th Regiment;' yes, that's the way it ran."
"The year I was at Vienna, and Robert went out to China. That was eleven years ago. She must be the very child, for she is only eighteen. They sent her to Miss Heath's to grow a little older, for though she was at the head of everything at the asylum, she looks so childish that they can't send her out as a governess. Did you see her, mother?"
"Oh, no! I never had anything to do with her; but if she is daughter to a friend of Robert's—"
Mother and son looked at each other in congratulation. Robert was the stepson, older by several years, and was viewed as the representative of sober common sense in the family. Joe and his mother did like to feel a plan quite free from Robert's condemnation for enthusiasm or impracticability, and it was not the worse for his influence, that he had been generally with his regiment, and when visiting them was a good deal at the United Service Club. He had lately married an heiress in a small way, retired from the army, and settled in a house of hers in a country town, and thus he could give his dicta with added weight.
Only a parent or elder brother would, however, have looked on "Joe" as a youth, for he was some years over thirty, with a mingled air of keenness, refinement, and alacrity about his slight but active form, altogether with the air of some implement, not meant for ornament but for use, and yet absolutely beautiful, through perfection of polish, finish, applicability, and a sharpness never meant to wound, but deserving to be cherished in a velvet case.
This case might be the pretty drawing-room, full of the choice artistic curiosities of a man of cultivation, and presided over by his mother, a woman of much the same bright, keen, alert sweetness of air and countenance: still under sixty, and in perfect health and spirits—as well she might be, having preserved, as well as deserved, the exclusive devotion of her only child during all the years in which her early widowhood had made them all in all to each other. Ten years ago, on his election to a lectureship at one of the London hospitals, the son had set up his name on the brass plate of the door of a comfortable house in a once fashionable quarter of London; she had joined him there, and they had been as happy as affection and fair success could make them. He became lecturer at a hospital, did much for the poor, both within and without its walls, and had besides a fair practice, both among the tradespeople, and also among the literary, scientific, and artistic world, where their society was valued as much as his skill. Mrs. Brownlow was well used to being called on to do the many services suggested by a kind heart in the course of a medical man's practice, and there was very little within, or beyond, reason that she would not have done at her Joe's bidding. So she made the arrangement, exciting much gratitude in the heads of the Pomfret House Establishment for Young Ladies; though without seeing little Miss Allen, till, from the Doctor's own brougham, but escorted only by an elderly maid-servant, there came climbing up the stairs a little heap of shawls and cloaks, surmounted by a big brown mushroom hat.
"Very proper of Joe. He can't be too particular,—but such a child!" thought Mrs. Brownlow as the mufflings disclosed a tiny creature, angular in girlish sort, with an odd little narrow wedge of a face, sallow and wan, rather too much of teeth and mouth, large greenish-hazel eyes, and a forehead with a look of expansion, partly due to the crisp waves of dark hair being as short as a boy's. The nose was well cut, and each delicate nostril was quivering involuntarily with emotion—or fright, or both.
Mrs. Brownlow kissed her, made her rest on the sofa, and talked to her, the shy monosyllabic replies lengthening every time as the motherliness drew forth a response, until, when conducted to the cheerful little room which Mrs. Brownlow had carefully decked with little comforts for the convalescent, and with the ornaments likely to please a girl's eye, she suddenly broke into a little irrepressible cry of joy and delight. "Oh! oh! how lovely! Am I to sleep here? Oh! it is just like the girls' rooms I always did long to see! Now I shall always be able to think about it."
"My poor child, did you never even see such a room?"
"No; I slept in the attic with the maid at old Aunt Mary's, and always in a cubicle after I went to the asylum. Some of the girls who went home in the holidays used to describe such rooms to us, but they could never have been so nice as this! Oh! oh! Mrs. Brownlow, real lilies of the valley! Put there for me! Oh! you dear, delicious, pearly things! I never saw one so close before!"
"Never before." That was the burthen of the song of the little bird with wounded wing who had been received into this nest. She had the dimmest remembrance of home or mother, something a little clearer of her sojourn at her aunt's, though there the aunt had been an invalid who kept her in restraint in her presence, and her pleasures had been in the kitchen and in a few books, probably 'Don Quixote' and 'Evelina,' so far as could be gathered from her recollection of them. The week her father had spent with her, before his last voyage, had been the one vivid memory of her life, and had taught her at least how to love. Poor child, that happy week had had to serve her ever since, through eleven years of unbroken school! Not that she pitied herself. Everybody had been kind to her—governesses, masters, girls, and all. She had been happy and successful, and had made numerous friends, about whom, as she grew more at home, she freely chatted to Mrs. Brownlow, who was always ready to hear of Mary Ogilvie and Clara Cartwright, and liked to draw out the stories of the girl-world, in which it was plain that Caroline Allen had been a bright, good, clever girl, getting on well, trusted and liked. She had been half sorry to leave her dear old school, half glad to go on to something new. She was evidently not so comfortable, while Miss Heath's lowest teacher, as she had been while she was the asylum's senior pupil. Yet when on Sunday evening the Doctor was summoned and the ladies were left tete-a-tete, she laughed rather than complained. But still she owned, with her black head on Mrs. Brownlow's lap, that she had always craved for something—something, and she had found it now!
Everything was a fresh joy to her, every print on the walls, every ornament on the brackets, seemed to speak to her eye and to her soul both at once, and the sense of comfort and beauty and home, after the bareness of school, seemed to charm her above all. "I always did want to know what was inside people's windows," she said.
And in the same way it was a feast to her to get hold of "a real book," as she called it, not only the beginnings of everything, and selections that always broke off just as she began to care about them. She had been thoroughly well grounded, and had a thirst for knowledge too real to have been stifled by the routine she had gone through—though, said she, "I do want time to get on further, and to learn what won't be of any use!"
"Of no use!" said Mr. Brownlow laughing—having just found her trying to make out the Old English of King Alfred's 'Boethius'—"such as this?"
"Just so! They always are turning me off with 'This won't be of any use to you.' I hate use—"
"Like Ridley, who says he reads a book with double pleasure if he is not going to review it."
"That Mr. Ridley who came in last evening?"
"Even so. Why that opening of eyes?"
"I thought a critic was a most formidable person."
"You expected to see a mess of salt and vinegar prepared for his diet?"
"I should prepare something quite different—milk and sweetbreads, I think."
"To soften him? Do you hear, mother? Take advice."
Caroline—or Carey, as she had begged to be called—blushed, and drew back half-alarmed, as she always was when the Doctor caught up any of the little bits of fun that fell so shyly and demurely from her, as they were evoked by the more congenial atmosphere.
It was a great pleasure to him and to his mother to show her some of the many things she had never seen, watch her enjoyment, and elicit whether the reality agreed with her previous imaginations. Mr. Brownlow used to make time to take the two ladies out, or to drop in on them at some exhibition, checking the flow of half-droll, half-intelligent remarks for a moment, and then encouraging it again, while both enjoyed that most amusing thing, the fresh simplicity of a grown-up, clever child.
"How will you ever bear to go back again?" said Carey's school-friend, Clara Cartwright, now a governess, whom Mrs. Brownlow had, with some suppressed growls from her son, invited to share their one day's country-outing under the horse-chestnut trees of Richmond.
"Oh! I shall have it all to take back with me," was the answer, as Carey toyed with the burnished celandine stars in her lap.
"I should never dare to think of it! I should dread the contrast!"
"Oh no!" said Carey. "It is like a blind person who has once seen, you know. It will be always warm about my heart to know there are such people."
Mrs. Brownlow happened to overhear this little colloquy while her son was gone to look for the carriage, and there was something in the bright unrepining tone that filled her eyes with tears, more especially as the little creature still looked very fragile—even at the end of a month. She was so tired out with her day of almost rapturous enjoyment that Mrs. Brownlow would not let her come down stairs again, but made her go at once to bed, in spite of a feeble protest against losing one evening.
"And I am afraid that is a recall," said Mrs. Brownlow, seeing a letter directed to Miss Allen on the side-table. "I will not give it to her to-night, poor little dear; I really don't know how to send her back."
"Exactly what I was thinking," said the Doctor, leaning over the fire, which he was vigorously stirring.
"You don't think her strong enough? If so, I am very glad," said the mother, in a delighted voice. "Eh, Joe?" as there was a pause; and as he replaced the poker, he looked up to her with a colour scarcely to be accounted for by the fire, and she ended in an odd, startled, yet not displeased tone, "It is that—is it?"
"Yes, mother, it is that," said Joe, laughing a little, in his relief that the plunge was made. "I don't see that we could do better for your happiness or mine."
"Don't put mine first" (half-crying).
"I didn't know I did. It all comes to the same thing."
"My dear Joe, I only wish you could do it to-morrow, and have no fuss about it! What will Robert do?"
"Accept the provision for his friend's daughter," said Joe, gravely; and then they both burst out laughing. In the midst came the announcement of dinner, during which meal they refrained themselves, and tried to discuss other things, though not so successfully but that it was reported in the kitchen that something was up.
Joseph was just old enough for his mother, who had always dreaded his marriage, to have begun to wish for it, though she had never yet seen her ideal daughter-in-law, and the enforced silence during the meal only made her more eager, so that she began at once as soon as they were alone.
"When did you begin to think of this, Joe?"
"Not when I asked you to invite her—that would have been treacherous. No, but when I began to realise what it would be to send her back to her treadmill; though the beauty of it is that she never seems to realise that it is a treadmill."
"She might now, though I tried so hard not to spoil her. It is that content with such a life which makes me think that in her you may have something more worth than the portion, which—which I suppose I ought to regret and say you will miss."
"I shall get all that plentifully from Robert, mother."
"I am afraid it does entail harder work on you, and later on in life, than if you had chosen a person with something of her own."
"Something of her own? Her own, indeed! Mother, she has that of her own which is the very thing to help and inspire me to make a name, and work out an idea, worth far more than any pounds, shillings, and pence, or even houses or lands I might get with a serene and solemn dame, even with clear notions as to those same L. s. d.!"
"For shame, Joe! You may be as much in love as you please, but don't be wicked."
For this description was applicable to the bride whom Robert had presented to them about a year ago, on retiring with a Colonel's rank.
"So I may be as much in love as I please? Thank you. I always knew you were the very best mother in the world:" and he came and kissed her.
"I wonder what she will say, the dear child!"
"May be that she has no taste for such an old fellow. Hush, mother. Seriously, my chief scruple is whether it be fair to ask a girl to marry a man twice her age, when she has absolutely seen nothing of his kind but the German master!"
"Trust her," said Mrs. Brownlow. "Nay, she never could have a freer choice than now, when she is too young and simple to be weighted with a sense of being looked down on. It is possible that she may be startled at first, but I think it will be only at life opening on her; so don't be daunted, and imagine it is your old age and infirmity," said the mother, smoothing back the locks which certainly were not the clustering curls of youth.
How the mother watched all the next morning, while the unconscious Carey first marvelled at her nervousness and silence, and then grew almost infected by it. It was very strange, she thought, that Mrs. Brownlow, always so kind, should say nothing but "humph" on being told that Miss Heath's workmen had finished, and that she must return next Monday morning. It was the Doctor's day to be early at the hospital, and he had had a summons to see some one on the way, so that he was gone before breakfast, when Carey's attempts to discuss her happy day in the country met with such odd, fitful answers; for, in fact, Mrs. Brownlow could not trust herself to talk, and had no sooner done breakfast than she went off to her housekeeping affairs and others, which she managed unusually to prolong.
Carey was trying to draw some flowers in a glass before her—a little purple, green-winged orchis, a cowslip, and a quivering dark-brown tuft of quaking grass. He came and stood behind her, saying—
"You've got the character of those."
"They are very difficult," sighed Carey; "I never tried flowers before, but I wanted to take them with me."
"To take them with you?" he repeated, rather dreamily.
"Yes, back to another sort of Heath," she said, with a little laugh; "don't you know I go next Monday?"
"If you go, I hope it will only be to come back."
"Oh! if Mrs. Brownlow is so good as to let me come again in the holidays!" and she was all one flush of joy, looking round, and up in his face, to see whether it could be true.
"Not only for holidays—for work days," he said, and his voice shook.
"But Mrs. Brownlow can't want a companion?"
"But I do. Caroline, will you come back to us to make home doubly sweet to a busy man, who will do his best to make you happy?"
The little creature looked up in his face bewildered, and then said shyly, the colour surging into her face—
"Please, what did you say?"
"I asked if you would stay with us, and make this place bright for us, as my wife," he said, taking both the little brown hands into his own, and looking into the widely-opened wondering eyes; while she answered, "if I may,"—the very words, almost the very tone, in which she had replied to his invitation to come to recover at his house.
"Ah, my poor child, you have no one's leave to ask!" he said; "you belong to us, only to us,"—and he drew her into his arms, and kissed her.
Then he felt and heard a great sob, and there were two tears on her cheek when he could see her face, but she smiled with happy, quivering lip, and said—
"It was like when papa kissed me before he went away; he would be so glad."
In the midst of the caress that answered this, a bell sounded, and in the certainty that the announcement of luncheon would instantly follow, they started apart.
Two seconds later they met Mrs. Brownlow on the landing—
"There, mother," said the Doctor.
"My child!" and Carey was in her arms.
"Oh, may I?—Is it real?" said the girl in a stifled voice.
After that, they took it very quietly. Carey was so young and ignorant of the world that she was not nearly so much overpowered as if she had had the slightest external knowledge either of married life, or of the exceptional thing the doctor was doing. Her mother had died when she was three years old, and she had never since that time lived with wedded folk, while even her companions at school being all fatherless, she had gathered nothing of even second-hand experience from them. All she knew was from books, which had given glimpses into happy homes; and though she had feasted on a few novels during this happy month, they had been very select, and chiefly historical romance. She was at the age when nothing is impossible to youthful dreams, and if Tancredi had come out of the Gerusalemme and thrown himself at her feet, she would hardly have felt it more strangely dream-like than the transformation of her kind doctor into her own Joe: and on the other hand, she had from the first moment nestled so entirely into the home that it would have seemed more unnatural to be torn away from it than to become a part of it. As to her being an extraordinary and very disadvantageous choice for him, she simply knew nothing of the matter; she was used to passiveness as to her own destiny, and now that she did indeed "belong to somebody" she let those somebodies think and decide for her with the one certainty that what Mr. Brownlow and his mother liked was sure to be the truly right and happy thing.
So, instead of being alarmed and scrupulous, she was sweetly, shyly, and yet confidingly gay and affectionate, enchanting both her companions, but revealing by her naive questions and remarks such utter ignorance of all matters of common life that Mrs. Brownlow had no scruples in not stirring the question, that had never occurred to her son or his little betrothed, namely, her own retirement. Caroline needed a mother far too much for her to be spared.
What was to be done about Miss Heath? It was due to her for Miss Allen to offer to return till her place could be supplied, Mrs. Brownlow said—but that was only to tease the lovers—for a quarter, at which Joe made a snarling howl, whereat Carey ventured to laugh at him, and say she should come home for every Sunday, as Miss Pinniwinks, the senior governess, did.
"Come home,—it is enough to say that," she added.
Mrs. Brownlow undertook to negotiate the matter, her son saying privately—
"Get her off, if you have to advance a quarter. I'd rather do anything than send her back for even a week, to have all manner of nonsense put into her head. I'd sooner go and teach there myself."
"Or send me?" asked his mother.
"Anything short of that," he said.
Miss Heath, as Mrs. Brownlow had guessed, thought an engaged girl as bad as a barrel of gunpowder, and was quite as much afraid of Miss Allen putting nonsense into her pupils' heads as the doctor could be of the reverse process: so, young teachers not being scarce, Carey's brief connection with Miss Heath was brought to an end in a morning call, whence she returned endowed with thirteen book-markers, five mats, and a sachet.
Carey had of her own, as it appeared, twenty-five pounds a year, which had hitherto clothed her, and of which she only knew that it was paid to her quarterly by a lawyer at Bath, whose address she gave. Mr. Brownlow followed up the clue, but could not learn much about her belongings. The twenty-five pounds was the interest of the small sum, which had remained to poor Captain Allen, when he wound up his affairs, after paying the debts in which his early and imprudent marriage had involved him. He did not seem to have had any relations, and of his wife nothing was known but that she was a Miss Otway, and that he had met her in some colonial quarters. The old lady, with whom the little girl had been left, was her mother's maternal aunt, and had lived on an annuity so small that on her death there had not been funds sufficient to pay expenses without a sale of all her effects, so that nothing had been saved for the child, except a few books with her parents' names in them—John Allen and Caroline Otway—which she still kept as her chief treasures. The lawyer, who had acted as her guardian, would hand over to her five hundred pounds on her coming of age.
That was all that could be discovered, nor was Colonel Robert Brownlow as much flattered as had been hoped by the provision for his friend's daughter. Nay, he was inclined to disavow the friendship. He was sorry for poor Allen, he said, but as to making a friend of such a fellow, pah! No! there was no harm in him, he was a good officer enough, but he never had a grain of common sense; and whereas he never could keep out of debt, he must needs go and marry a young girl, just because he thought her uncle was not kind to her. It was the worst thing he could have done, for it made her uncle cast her off on the spot, and then she was killed with harass and poverty. He never held up his head again after losing her, and just died of fever because he was too broken down to have energy to live. There was enough in this to weave out a tender little romance, probably really another aspect of the truth, which made Caroline's bright eyes overflow with tears, when she heard it couched in tenderer language from Joseph, and the few books and treasures that had been rescued agreed with it—a Bible with her father's name, a few devotional books of her mother's, and Mrs. Hemans's poems with "To Lina, from her devoted J. A."
Caroline would fain have been called Lina, but the name did not fit her, and would not take.
Colonel Brownlow was altogether very friendly, if rather grave and dry towards her, as soon as he was convinced that "it was only Joe," and that pity, not artfulness, was to blame for the undesirable match. He was too honourable a man not to see that it could not be given up, and he held that the best must now be made of it, and that it would be more proper, since it was to be, for him to assume the part of father, and let the marriage take place from his house at Kenminster. This was a proposal for which it was hard to be as grateful as it deserved; since it had been planned to walk quietly into the parish church, be married "without any fuss," and then to take the fortnight's holiday, which was all that the doctor allowed himself.
But as Robert was allowed to be judge of the proprieties, and as the kindness on his part was great, it was accepted; and Caroline was carried off for three weeks to keep her residence, and make the house feel what a blank her little figure had left.
Certainly, when the pair met again on the eve of the wedding, there never was a more willing bride.
She said she had been very happy. The Colonel and Ellen, as she had been told to call her future sister, had been very kind indeed; they had taken her for long drives, shown her everything, introduced her to quantities of people; but, oh dear! was it absolutely only three weeks since she had been away? It seemed just like three years, and she understood now why the girls who had homes made calendars, and checked off the days. No school term had ever seemed so long; but at Kenminster she had had nothing to do, and besides, now she knew what home was!
So it was the most cheerful and joyous of weddings, though the bride was a far less brilliant spectacle than the bride of last year, Mrs. Robert Brownlow, who with her handsome oval face, fine figure, and her tasteful dress, perfectly befitting a young matron, could not help infinitely outshining the little girlish angular creature, looking the browner for her bridal white, so that even a deep glow, and a strange misty beaminess of expression could not make her passable in Kenminster eyes.
How would Joe Brownlow's fancy turn out?
John Gilpin's spouse said to her dear, "Though wedded we have been These twice ten tedious years, yet we No holiday have seen."—Cowper. No one could have much doubt how it had turned out, who looked, after fifteen years, into that room where Joe Brownlow and his mother had once sat tete-a-tete.
They occupied the two ends of the table still, neither looking much older, in expression at least, for the fifteen years that had passed over their heads, though the mother had—after the wont of active old ladies—grown smaller and lighter, and the son somewhat more bald and grey, but not a whit more careworn, and, if possible, even brighter.
On one side of him sat a little figure, not quite so thin, some angles smoothed away, the black hair coiled, but still in resolute little mutinous tendrils on the brow, not ill set off by a tuft of carnation ribbon on one side, agreeing with the colour that touched up her gauzy black dress; the face, not beautiful indeed—but developed, softened, brightened with more of sweetness and tenderness—as well as more of thought—added to the fresh responsive intelligence it had always possessed.
On the opposite side of the dinner-table were a girl of fourteen and a boy of twelve; the former, of a much larger frame than her mother, and in its most awkward and uncouth stage, hardly redeemed by the keen ardour and inquiry that glowed in the dark eyes, set like two hot coals beneath the black overhanging brows of the massive forehead, on which the dark smooth hair was parted. The features were large, the complexion dark but not clear, and the look of resolution in the square-cut chin and closely shutting mouth was more boy-like than girl-like. Janet Brownlow was assuredly a very plain girl, but the family habit was to regard their want of beauty as rather a mark of distinction, capable of being joked about, if not triumphed in.
Nor was Allen, the boy, wanting in good looks. He was fairer, clearer, better framed in every way than his sister, and had a pleasant, lively countenance, prepossessing to all. He had a well-grown, upright figure, his father's ready suppleness of movement, and his mother's hazel eyes and flashing smile, and there was a look of success about him, as well there might be, since he had come out triumphantly from the examination for Eton College, and had been informed that morning that there were vacancies enough for his immediate admission.
There was a pensiveness mixed with the satisfaction in his mother's eyes as she looked at him, for it was the first break into the home. She had been the only teacher of her children till two years ago, when Allen had begun to attend a day school a few streets off, and the first boy's first flight from under her wing, for ever so short a space, is generally a sharp wound to the mother's heart.
Not that Allen would leave an empty house behind him. Lying at full length on the carpet, absorbed in a book, was Robert, a boy on whom the same capacious brow as Janet's sat better than on the feminine creature. He was reading on, undisturbed by the pranks of three younger children, John Lucas, a lithe, wiry, restless elf of nine, with a brown face and black curly head, and Armine and Barbara, young persons of seven and six, on whom nature had been more beneficent in the matter of looks, for though brown was their prevailing complexion, both had well-moulded, childish features, and really fine eyes. The hubbub of voices, as they tumbled and rushed about the window and balcony, was the regular accompaniment of dinner, though on the first plaintive tone from the little girl, the mother interrupted a "Well, but papa," from Janet, with "Babie, Babie."
"It's Jock, Mother Carey! He will come into Fairyland too soon."
"What's the last news from Fairyland, Babie?" asked the father as the little one ran up to him.
"I want to be Queen Mab, papa, but Armine wants to be Perseus with the Gorgon's head, and Jock is the dragon; but the dragon will come before we've put Polly upon the rock."
"What! is Polly Andromeda—?" as a grey parrot's stand was being transferred from the balcony.
"Yes, papa," called out Armine. "You see she's chained, and Bobus won't play, and Babie will be Queen Mab—"
"I suppose," said the mother, "that it is not harder to bring Queen Mab in with Perseus than Oberon with Theseus and Hippolyta—"
"You would have us infer," said the Doctor with grave humour, "that your children are at their present growth in the Elizabethan age of culture—"
But again began a "Well, but papa!" but, he exclaimed, "Do look at that boy—Well walloped, dragon!" as Jock with preternatural contortions, rolled, kicked and tumbled himself with extended jaws to the rock, alias stand, to which Polly was chained, she remarking in a hoarse, low whisper, "Naughty boy—"
"Well moaned, Andromeda!"
"But papa," persisted Janet, "when Oliver Cromwell—"
"Oh! look at the Gorgon!" cried the mother, as the battered head of an ancient doll was displayed over his shoulder by Perseus, decorated with two enormous snakes, one made of stamps, and the other a spiral of whalebone shavings out of a box.
The monster immediately tumbled over, twisted, kicked, and wriggled so that the scandalised Perseus exclaimed: "But Jock—monster, I mean—you're turned into stone—"
"It's convulsions," replied the monster, gasping frightfully, while redoubling his contortions, though Queen Mab observed in the most admonitory tone, touching him at the same time with her wand, "Don't you know, Skipjack, that's the reason you don't grow—"
"Eh! What's the new theory! Who says so, Babie?" came from the bottom of the table.
"Nurse says so, papa," answered Allen; "I heard her telling Jock yesterday that he would never be any taller till he stood still and gave himself time."
"Get out, will you!" was then heard from the prostrate Robert, the monster having taken care to become petrified right across his legs.
"But papa," Janet's voice was heard, "if Oliver Cromwell had not helped the Waldenses—"
It was lost, for Bobus and Jock were rolling over together with too much noise to be bearable; Grandmamma turned round with an expostulatory "My dears," Mamma with "Boys, please don't when papa is tired—"
"Jock is such a little ape," said Bobus, picking himself up. "Father, can you tell me why the moon draws up the tides on the wrong side?"
"You may study the subject," said the Doctor; "I shall pack you all off to the seaside in a day or two."
There was one outcry from mother, wife, and boys, "Not without you?"
"I can't go till Drew comes back from his outing—"
"But why should we? It would be so much nicer all together."
"It will be horribly dull without; indeed I never can see the sense of going at all," said Janet.
There was a confused outcry of indignation, in which waves—crabs—boats and shrimps, were all mingled together.
"I'm sure that's not half so entertaining as hearing people talk in the evening," said Janet.
"You precocious little piece of dissipation," said her mother, laughing.
"I didn't mean fine lady nonsense," said Janet, rather hotly; "I meant talk like—"
"Like big guns. Oh, yes, we know," interrupted Allen; "Janet does not think anyone worth listening to that hasn't got a whole alphabet tacked behind his name."
"Janet had better take care, and Bobus too," said the Doctor, "or we shall have to send them to vegetate on some farm, and see the cows milked and the pigs fed."
"I'm afraid Bobus would apply himself to finding how much caseine matter was in the cow's milk," said Janet in her womanly tone.
"Or by what rule the pigs curled their tails," said her father, with a mischievous pull at the black plaited tail that hung down behind her.
And then they all rose from the table, little Barbara starting up as soon as grace was said. "Father, please, you are the Giant Queen Mab always rides!"
"Queen Mab, or Queen Bab, always rides me, which comes to the same thing. Though as to the size of the Giant—"
There was a pause to let grandmamma go up in peace, upon Mother Carey's arm, and then a general romp and scurry all the way up the stairs, ending by Jock's standing on one leg on the top post of the baluster, like an acrobat, an achievement which made even his father so giddy that he peremptorily desired it never to be attempted again, to the great relief of both the ladies. Then, coming into the drawing-room, Babie perched herself on his knee, and began, without the slightest preparation, the recitation of Cowper's "Colubriad":—
"Fast by the threshold of a door nailed fast Three kittens sat, each kitten looked aghast." And just as she had with great excitement—
"Taught him never to come there no more," Armine broke in with "Nine times one are nine."
It was an institution dating from the days when Janet made her first acquaintance with the "Little Busy Bee," that there should be something, of some sort, said or shown to papa, whenever he was at home or free between dinner and bed-time, and it was considered something between a disgrace and a misfortune to produce nothing.
So when the two little ones had been kissed and sent off to bed, with mamma going with them to hear their prayers, Jock, on being called for, repeated a Greek declension with two mistakes in it, Bobus showed a long sum in decimals, Janet, brought a neat parallelism of the present tense of the verb "to be" in five languages—Greek, Latin, French, German, and English.
"And Allen—reposing on your honours? Eh, my boy?"
Allen looked rather foolish, and said, "I spoilt it, papa, and hadn't time to begin another."
"It—I suppose I am not to hear what till it has come to perfection. Is it the same that was in hand last time?"
"No, papa, much better," said Janet, emphatically.
"What I want to see," said Dr. Brownlow, "is something finished. I'd rather have that than ever so many magnificent beginnings."
Here he was seized upon by Robert, with his knitted brow and a book in his hands, demanding aid in making out why, as he said, the tide swelled out on the wrong side of the earth.
His father did his best to disentangle the question, but Bobus was not satisfied till the clock chimed his doom, when he went off with Jock, who was walking on his hands.
"That's too tough a subject for such a little fellow," said the grandmother; "so late in the day too!"
"He would have worried his brain with it all night if he had not worked it out," said his father.
"I'm afraid he will, any way," said the mother. "Fancy being troubled with dreams of surging oceans rising up the wrong way!"
"Yes, he ought to be running after the tides instead of theorising about them. Carry him off, Mother Carey, and the whole brood, without loss of time."
"But Joe, why should we not wait for you? You never did send us away all forlorn before!" she said, pleadingly. "We are all quite well, and I can't bear going without you."
"I had much rather all the chickens were safe away, Carey," he said, sitting down by her. "There's a tendency to epidemic fever in two or three streets, which I don't like in this hot weather, and I had rather have my mind easy about the young ones."
"And what do you think of my mind, leaving you in the midst of it?"
"Your mind, being that of a mother bird and a doctor's wife, ought to have no objection."
"How soon does Dr. Drew come home?"
"In a fortnight, I believe. He wanted rest terribly, poor old fellow. Don't grudge him every day."
"A fortnight!" (as if it was a century). "You can't come for a fortnight. Well, perhaps it will take a week to fix on a place."
"Hardly, for see here, I found a letter from Acton when I came in. They have found an unsophisticated elysium at Kyve Clements, and are in raptures which they want us to share—rocks and waves and all."
"Yes, very good rooms, enough for us all," was the answer, flinging into her lap a letter from his friend, a somewhat noted artist in water-colours, whom, after long patience, Carey's school friend, Miss Cartwright, had married two years ago.
There was nothing to say against it, only grandmamma observed, "I am too old to catch things; Joe will let me stay and keep house for him."
"Please, please let me stay with granny," insisted Janet; "then I shall finish my German classes."
Janet was granny's child. She had slept in her room ever since Allen was born, and trotted after her in her "housewifeskep," and the sense of being protected was passing into the sense of protection. Before she could be answered, however, there was an announcement. Friends were apt to drop in to coffee and talk in the evening, on the understanding that certain days alone were free—people chiefly belonging to a literary, scientific, and artist set, not Bohemian, but with a good deal of quiet ease and absence of formality.
This friend had just returned from Asia Minor, and had brought an exquisite bit of a Greek frieze, of which he had become the happy possessor, knowing that Mrs. Joseph Brownlow would delight to see it, and mayhap to copy it.
For Carey's powers had been allowed to develop themselves; Mrs. Brownlow having been always housekeeper, she had been fain to go on with the studies that even her preparation for governess-ship had not rendered wearisome, and thus had become a very graceful modeller in clay—her favourite pursuit—when her children's lessons and other occupations left her free to indulge in it. The history of the travels, and the account of the discovery, were given and heard with all zest, and in the midst others came in—a barrister and his wife to say good-bye before the circuit, a professor with a ticket for the gallery at a scientific dinner, two medical students, who had been made free of the house because they were nice lads with no available friends in town.
It was all over by half-past ten, and the trio were alone together. "How amusing Mr. Leslie is!" said the young Mrs. Brownlow. "He knows how describe as few people do."
"Did you see Janet listening to him," said her grandmother, "with her brows pulled down and her eyes sparkling out under them, wanting to devour every word?"
"Yes," returned the Doctor, "I saw it, and I longed to souse that black head of hers with salt water. I don't like brains to grow to the contempt of healthful play."
"People never know when they are well off! I wonder what you would have said if you had had a lot of stupid dolts, boys always being plucked, &c."
"Don't plume yourself too soon, Mother Carey; only one chick has gone through the first ordeal."
"And if Allen did, Bobus will."
"Allen is quite as clever as Bobus, granny, if—" eagerly said the mother.
"If—" said the father; "there's the point. If Allen has the stimulus, he will do well. I own I am particularly pleased with his success, because perseverance is his weak point."
"Carey kept him up to it," said granny. "I believe his success is quite as much her work as his own."
"And the question is, how will he get on without his mother to coach him?"
"Now you know you are not one bit uneasy, papa!" cried his wife, indignantly. "But don't you think we might let Janet have her will for just these ten days? There can't be any real danger for her with grandmamma, and I should be happier about granny."
"You don't trust Joe to take care of me?"
"Not if Joe is to be out all day. There will be nobody to trot up and down stairs for you. Come, it is only what she begs for herself, and she really is perfectly well."
"As if I could have a child victimised to me," said granny.
"The little Cockney thinks the victimising would be in going to the deserts with only the boys and me," laughed Carey; "But I think a week later will be quite time enough to sweep the cobwebs out of her brain."
"And you can do without her?" inquired Mrs. Brownlow. "You don't want her to help to keep the boys in order?"
"Thank you, I can do that better without her," said Carey. "She exasperates them sometimes."
"I believe granny is thinking whether she is not wanted to keep Mother Carey in order as well as her chickens. Hasn't mother been taken for your governess, Carey?"
"No, no, Joe, that's too bad. They asked Janet at the dancing-school whether her sister was not going to join."
"Her younger sister?"
"No, I tell you, her half-sister. But Clara Acton will do discretion for us, granny; and I promise you we won't do anything her husband says is very desperate! Don't be afraid."
"No," said grandmamma, smiling as she kissed her daughter-in-law, and rose to take her candle; "I am never afraid of anything a mother can share with her boys."
"Even if she is nearly a tomboy herself," laughed the husband, with rather a teasing air, towards his little wife. "Good night, mother. Shall not we be snug with nobody left but Janet, who might be great-grandmother to us both?"
"I really am glad that Janet should stay with granny," said Carey, when he had shut the door behind the old lady; "she would be left alone so many hours while you are out, and she does need more waiting on than she used to do."
"You think so? I never see her grow older."
"Not in the least older in mind or spirits; but she is not so strong, nor so willing to exert herself, and she falls asleep more in the afternoon. One reason for which I am less sorry to go on before, is that I shall be able to judge whether the rooms are comfortable enough for her, and I suppose we may change if they are not."
"To another place, if you think best."
"Only you will not let her stay at home altogether. That's what I'm afraid of."
"She will only do so on the penalty of keeping me, and you may trust her not to do that," said Joe, laughing with the confidence of an only son.
"I shall come back and fetch you if you don't appear under a fortnight. Did you do any more this morning to the great experiment, Magnum Bonum?"
She spoke the words in a proud, shy, exulting semi-whisper, somewhat as Gutenberg's wife might have asked after his printing-press.
"No. I haven't had half an hour to myself to-day; at least when I could have attended to it. Don't be afraid, Carey, I'm not daunted by the doubts of our good friends. I see your eyes reproaching me with that."
"Oh no, as you said, Sir Matthew Fleet mistrusts anything entirely new, and the professor is never sanguine. I am almost glad they are so stupid, it will make our pleasure all the sweeter."
"You silly little bird, if you sit on that egg it will be sure to be addled. If it should come to any good, probably it will take longer than our life-time to work into people's brains."
"No," said Carey, "I know the real object is the relieving pain and saving life, and that is what you care for more than the honour and glory. But do you remember the fly on the coach wheel?"
"Well, the coach wheel means to stand still for a little while. I don't mean to try another experiment till my brains have been turned out to grass, and I can come to it fresh."
"Ah! 'tis you that really need the holiday," said Carey, wistfully; "much more than any of us. Look at this great crow's foot," tracing it with her finger.
"Laughing, my dear. That's the outline of the risible muscle. A Mother Carey and her six ridiculous chickens can't but wear out furrows with laughing at them."
"I only know I wish it were you that were going, and I that were staying at home."
"'You shall do my work to-day, And I'll go follow the plough,'" said her husband, laughing. "There are the notes of my lecture, if you'll go and give it."
"Ah! we should not be like that celebrated couple. You would manage the boys much better than I could doctor your patients."
"I don't know that. The boys are never so comfortable, when I've got them alone. But, considering the hour, I should think the best preliminary would be to put out the lamp and go to bed."
"I suppose it is time; but I always think this last talk before going upstairs, the best thing in the whole day!" said the happy wife as she took the candle.
Dark house, by which once more I stand Here in the long unlovely street. Doors, where my heart was wont to beat So quickly, waiting for a hand— A hand that can be clasped no more. Behold me, for I cannot sleep.—Tennyson. "Mother Carey," to call her by the family name that her husband had given the first day she held a baby in her arms, had a capacity of enjoyment that what she called her exile could not destroy. Even Bobus left theory behind him and became a holiday boy, and the whole six climbed rocks, paddled, boated, hunted sea weeds and sea animals, lived on the beach from morning to night; and were exceedingly amused by the people, who insisted on addressing the senior of the party as "Miss," and thought them a young girl and her brothers under the charge of Mrs. Acton. She, though really not a year older than her friend, looked like a worn and staid matron by her side, and was by no means disposed to scramble barefoot over slippery seaweed, or to take impromptu a part in the grand defence of the sand and shingle edition of Raglan Castle.
Even to Mrs. Acton it was a continual wonder to see how entirely under control of that little merry mother were those great, lively, spirited boys, who never seemed to think of disobeying her first word, and, while all made fun together, and she was hardly less active and enterprising than they, always considered her comfort and likings.
So went things for a fortnight, during which the coming of the others had been put off by Dr. Drew's absence. One morning Mr. Acton sought Mrs. Brownlow on the beach, where she was sitting with her brood round her, partly reading from a translation, partly telling them the story of Ulysses.
He called her aside, and told her that her husband had telegraphed to him to bid him to carry her the tidings that good old Mrs. Brownlow had been taken from them suddenly in the night, evidently in her sleep.
Carey turned very white, but said only "Oh! why did I go without them?"
It was such an overwhelming shock as left no room for tears. Her first thought, the only one she seemed to have room for, was to get back to her husband by the next train. She would have taken all the children, but that Mrs. Acton insisted, almost commanded, that they should be left under her charge, and reminded her that their father wished them to be out of London; nor did Allen and Robert show any wish to return to a house of mourning, being just of the age to be so much scared at sorrow as to ignore it. And indeed their mother was equally new to any real grief; her parents had been little more than a name to her, and the only loss she had actually felt was that of a favourite schoolfellow.
She had no time to think or feel till she had reached the train and taken her seat, and even then the first thing she was conscious of was a sense of numbness within, and frivolous observation without, as she found herself trying to read upside down the direction of her opposite neighbour's parcels, counting the flounces on her dress, and speculating on the meetings and partings at the stations; yet with a terrible weight and soreness on her all the time, though she could not think of the dear grannie, of whom it was no figure of speech to say that she had been indeed a mother. The idea of her absence from home for ever was too strange, too heartrending to be at once embraced, and as she neared the end of her journey on that long day, Carey's mind was chiefly fixed on the yearning to be with her husband and Janet, who had suffered such a shock without her. She seemed more able to feel through her husband—who was so devoted to his mother, than for herself, and she was every moment more uneasy about her little daughter, who must have been in the room with her grandmother. Comfort them? How, she did not know! The others had always petted and comforted her, and now—No one to go to when the children were ailing or naughty—no one to share little anxieties when Joe was out late—no one to be the backbone she leant on—no dear welcome from the easy chair. That thought nearly set her crying; the tears burnt in her strained eyes, but the sight of the people opposite braced her, and she tried to fix her thoughts on the unseen world, but they only wandered wide as if beyond her own control, and her head was aching enough to confuse her.
At last, late on the long summer day, she was at the terminus, and with a heart beating so fast that she could hardly breathe, found herself in a cab, driving up to her own door, just as the twilight was darkening.
How dark it looked within, with all the blinds down! The servant who opened the door thought Miss Janet was in the drawing-room, but the master was out. It sounded desolate, and Carey ran up stairs, craving and eager for the kiss of her child—the child who must have borne the brunt of the shock.
The room was silent, all dusky and shadowed; the window-frames were traced on the blinds by the gas freshly lighted outside, and moving in the breeze with a monotonous dreariness. Carey stood a moment, and then her eyes getting accustomed to the darkness, she discerned a little heap lying curled up before the ottoman, her head on a great open book, asleep—poor child! quite worn out. Carey moved quietly across and sat down by her, longing but not daring to touch her. The lamp was brought up in a minute or two, and that roused Janet, who sprang up with a sudden start and dazzled eyes, exclaiming "Father! Oh, it's Mother Carey! Oh, mother, mother, please don't let him go!"
"And you have been all alone in the house, my poor child," said Carey, as she felt the girl shuddering in her close embrace.
"Mrs. Lucas came to stay with me, but I didn't want her," said Janet, "so I told her she might go home to dinner. It's father—"
"Where is father?"
"Those horrid people in Tottenham Court Road sent for him just as he had come home," said Janet.
"He went out as usual?"
"Yes, though he had such a bad cold. He said he could not be spared; and he was out all yesterday till bedtime, or I should have told him grandmamma was not well."
"You thought so!"
"Yes, she panted and breathed so oddly; but she would not let me say a word to him. She made me promise not, but being anxious about him helped to do it. Dr. Lucas said so."
There was a strange hardness and yet a trembling in Janet's voice; nor did she look as if she had shed tears, though her face was pale and her eyes black-ringed, and when old nurse, now very old indeed, tottered in sobbing, she flung herself to the other end of the room. It was more from nurse than from Janet that Carey learnt the particulars, such as they were, namely, that the girl had been half-dressed when she had taken alarm from her grandmother's unresponsive stillness, and had rushed down to her father's room. He had found that all had long been over. His friend, old Dr. Lucas, had come immediately, and had pronounced the cause to have been heart complaint.
Nurse said her master had been "very still," and had merely given the needful orders and written a few letters before going to his patients, for the illness was at its height, and there were cases for which he was very anxious.
The good old woman, who had lived nearly all her life with her mistress, was broken-hearted; but she did not forget to persuade Caroline to take food, telling her she must be ready to cheer up the master when he should come in, and assuring her that the throbbing headache which disgusted her with all thoughts of eating, would be better for the effort. Perhaps it was, but it would not allow her to bring her thoughts into any connection, or to fix them on what she deemed befitting, and when she saw that the book over which Janet had been asleep in the twilight was "The Last of the Mohicans," she was more scandalised than surprised.