It was not long—thanks to freedom from luggage—before there came into full light a well-known form, with a little half-awake boy holding his hand.
Then Adela quietly let herself out of the brougham, and in another moment her clasping hand and swimming eyes had marked her greeting. She pointed to the open door and the white face in it, and in one moment more a pair of arms had closed upon Michael, and with a dreamy murmur, 'Mam-mam, mam-ma,' the curly head was on her bosom, the precious weight on her lap, her husband by her side, the door had closed on them, they were driving away.
'Oh! is it real? Is he well?'
'Perfectly well! Only sleepy. Strong, grown, well cared for.'
'My boy, my boy,' and she felt him all over, gazed at the rosy face whenever a tantalising flash of lamplight permitted, then kissed and kissed, till the boy awoke more fully, with another 'Mamma! Mamma,' putting his hand to feel for her chain, as if to identify her. Then with a coo of content, 'Mite has papa and mamma,' and he seemed under the necessity of feeling them both.
Only at their own door did those happy people even recollect Lady Adela, with shame and dismay, which did not last long, for she came on them, laughing with pleasure, and saying it was just what she had intended, while Mite was recognising his Amy and his Conny, and being nearly devoured by them.
He still was rather confused by the strange house. 'It's not home,' he said, staring round, and blinking at the lights; 'and where's my big horse?'
'You shall soon go home to the big horse—and Nurse Eden, poor nurse shall come to you, my own.'
To which Michael responded, holding out a plump leg and foot for admiration. 'I can do mine own socks and bootses now, and wash mine own hands and face.'
Nevertheless, he was quite sleepy enough to be very happy and content to be carried off to his mother's bedroom, where he sat enthroned on her lap, Constance feeding him with bread and milk, while Amice held the bowl, and the maid, almost equally blissful, hovered round, and there again he sat with the two admiring girls one at each foot, disrobing him, as best they might.
Nearly asleep at last, he knelt at his mother's knee with the murmured prayer, but woke just enough to say, 'Mite needn't say "make papa better," nor "bring Mite home."'
'No, indeed, my boy. Say Thank God for all His mercy.'
He repeated it and added of himself, 'Bless nursey, and let Tommy and Fan have papas and mammas again. Amen.'
He was nodding again by that time, but he held his mother's hand fast with 'Don't go, Mam!' Nor did she. She had asked no questions. To be alone with her boy and Him, whom she thanked with her whole soul, was enough for her at present.
CHAPTER XLI THE CANADIAN NORTHMOOR
It was not till Lord Northmoor began to answer in detail the questions that were showered on him as he ate his late dinner, that he fully realised the history of his recovered son even to himself. 'Liverpool Workhouse,' and 'all owing to Herbert,' were his first replies, and he had eaten his soup before Adela and Constance had discovered the connection between the two; nay, they were still more bewildered when Constance asked, 'Then Herbert found him there?'
'Herbert? Oh no, good fellow. He is in Canada, he went after him there.'
'Yes; that woman, the nursery girl Hall, kidnapped the child, Herbert followed her there, and found he had been dropped at Liverpool.'
Then on further inquiries, Frank became sensible that he must guard the secret of Ida's part in the transaction. He hoped to conceal it from all, except his wife, for it was hardly injustice to the Jones pair in another hemisphere to let their revenge bear the whole blame. Indeed, he did not himself know that it was Ida's passion or Rose's mention of having seen Michael's face that had roused Herbert's suspicion.
He had heard Herbert's account of his adventures in the letter to Rose with mere impatience to come to what related to his son, and it had made no impression on his mind; but when he took out his own much briefer letter, the address at Northmoor, and the sentences that followed, the brief explanation where to seek for Michael suggested much.
'I doubt whether I could ever have got the rascal to speak out if it had not been for Captain Alder, with whose brother-in-law, Mr. Forman, I had the luck to meet on the way. They were some of the first settlers here, and have a splendid farm, export no end of wheat and ice, and have a share in the steam company. I am working out my board here for them till you are good enough to send me my quarter's allowance, deducting the 25 pounds that Miss Rollstone helped me to, as there was no one else to whom I could apply. I should like to stay here for good and all, and they would take me for a farming-pupil for less than you have been giving to my crammers, all in vain, I am afraid. The life would suit me much better; they let me live with the family, and they are thorough right sort of people, religious, and all that—and Alder seemed to take an interest in me from the time he made out who I was, and, indeed, the place is named after our Northmoor, where he says he spent his happiest days. If you can pacify my mother, and if you would consent, I am sure I could do much better here than at home, and soon be quite off your hands.'
For the present, Lord Northmoor, who could only feel that he owed more than he could express to his nephew, sent the youth a bill such as to cover his expenses, with permission, so far as he himself was concerned, to remain with these new friends, at least until there was another letter and time to consider this proposal.
At the same time, he wrote to Rose Rollstone, not only the particulars of Michael's history, but a request for those details about Herbert's friends to which he had scarcely listened when she read them. He sent likewise a paragraph to several newspapers, explaining that the Honourable M. K. Morton, whose 'watery grave' had been duly recorded, had in fact been only abducted by a former maid-servant, and bestowed in Liverpool Workhouse, where he had been discovered by the generous exertions of his cousin, Herbert Morton, Esquire. It was hoped that this would obviate all suspicion of Ida, who was reported as still so unwell that her mother was anxious to carry her abroad at once to try the effect of change of scene. Upon which Frank consulted Mr. Hailes, as to whether the prosperity that had begun to flow in upon Northmoor would justify him in at once taking the house at Westhaven off her hands, and making it a thank-offering as a parsonage for the district of St. James. This break-up seemed considerably to lessen her reluctance to the idea of Herbert's remaining in Canada, as in effect, neither she nor Ida felt inclined as yet to encounter his indignation, or to let him hear what Westhaven said. There would be no strong opposition on her part, except the tears which he would not see; and she was too anxious to carry Ida away to think of much besides.
Frank had, however, made up his mind that he could not let the son of his only brother, the youth whom he had regarded almost as a son, and who had lost so much by the discovery of the child, drift away into expatriation, without being personally satisfied as to these new companions. This was ostensible reason enough for a resolution to go out himself to the transatlantic Northmoor to make arrangements for his nephew. Moreover, he was bent on doing so before the return of Mrs. Bury and Bertha, from whom the names of Alder and Northmoor were withheld in the joyful letters.
From Mr. Hailes he obtained full confirmation of what he had heard from Lady Adela—a story which the old gentleman's loyalty had withheld as mere gossip—about the young people who had been very dear to him.
He confessed that poor Arthur Morton had a bad set about him—indeed, his father's tastes had involved him in the kind of thing, and Lady Adela had been almost a child when married to him by relations who were much to blame. Captain Alder had belonged to the set, but had always seemed too good for them, and as if thrown among them from association. There was no doubt that he and Bertha were much in love, but there was sure to be strong opposition from her father, and even her brother had shown symptoms of thinking his friend had no business to aspire to his sister's hand. Moreover, it appeared afterwards that the Captain was heavily in debt to Arthur Morton. It was under these circumstances that the accident occurred. Bertha had mistrusted the horse's eye and ear, and implored her brother not to venture on driving it, and had been bantered good-humouredly on her unusual fears. At the first shock, the untamed girl had spoken bitter words, making Captain Alder accountable for the accident. What they were, neither Mr. Hailes nor any one else exactly knew, but they had cut deep.
When, on poor Arthur's recovery of consciousness, there was an endeavour to find Captain Alder, he had left the army; and though somewhat later the full amount of the debt was paid, it was conveyed in a manner that made the sender not easily traceable, and as it came just when Arthur was again past communication, and sinking fast, no great effort was made to seek one who was better forgotten.
It had not then been known how Bertha's life would be wrecked by that sense of injustice and cruelty—nor what a hold the love of that man had taken on her; but like Lady Adela, Mr. Hailes averred that she had never been the same since that minute of stormy grief and accusation; and that he believed that, whatever might come of it, the being able to confess her wrongs, and to know the fate of her lover, was the only thing that could restore the balance of her spirits or heal the sore.
From his own former employer, Mr. Burford, Frank procured that other link which floated in his memory when Lady Adela spoke. The name had come into Mr. Burford's office because he had been engaged on the part of one of his clients in purchasing an estate of the Alder family, at a time which corresponded with Arthur Morton's death, and the payment of the debt. There was a second instalment of the price which had to be paid to a Quebec bank.
This was all that could be learnt; but it confirmed Lord Northmoor's impression that it would be right to see him, and as far as explanation could go, to repair the injustice which had stung him so deeply. A letter could not do what an interview could, and Herbert's plans were quite sufficient cause for a journey to Winnipeg.
Of course it was a wrench to leave his wife and newly-recovered son; but he had made up his mind that it was right, both as an act of justice to an injured man, incumbent upon him as head of the family, and likewise as needful in his capacity of guardian to Herbert, while the possibility of bringing healing to Bertha also urged him.
However, Frank said little of all this, only quite simply, as if he were going to ride to the petty sessions at Colbeam, mentioned that he thought it right to go out to Canada to see about his nephew.
And as soon as he had brought the party home, and seen his boy once more in his own nursery, he set forth, leaving Mary to talk and wonder with Lady Adela over the possible consequences.
CHAPTER XLII HUMBLE PIE
Bertha had just arrived from her tour, having rushed home on the tidings of a quarrel between the doctors and the lady nurses of her pet hospital; and she had immediately dashed down to Northmoor to secure her cousin as one of the supporters. She sat by Lady Adela's fire, very much disconcerted at hearing that he was not come home yet, though expected every day.
'What should he have gone off to Canada for? He might have been contented to stay at home, after having lost all this time by his illness. Oh, yes, I know that sounds ungrateful, when it was all in the cause of my little Cea. I shall be thankful to him all my life, but all the same, he ought to be at home when he is wanted, and I wonder he liked to fly off just when he had got his dear little boy back again.'
'He did not like it, but thought it his duty.'
'Duty—what, to Herbert? Certainly the boy has come out very well in this matter, considering that the finding Mite was to his own detriment; but probably he has found his vocation as a colonist. Still Northmoor might have let him find that for himself.'
'Do you know where the home he found is, Bertha?'
'Somewhere about Lake Winnipeg, isn't it?'
'Yes; and the name is Northmoor.'
'Named by Herbert, eh? Or didn't John Tulse go out? Did he name the place in loyalty to us?'
'Not John Tulse, but one who told Herbert that his happiest days were spent here.'
'Adela, you mean something. Don't tantalise me. Is it Fred Alder? And was he kind to the boy for old sake's sake, because he bore the old name? Did he think he was your Mike?'
Bertha was leaning forward now, devouring Adela with her eyes.
'He was much puzzled to understand who Herbert was, but he gave him great help. The man could hardly have been made to speak if he had not brought him to his bearings. Herbert has been living with him and his brother-in-law ever since, and is going to remain as a farming-pupil.'
'Married of course to a nasal Yankee?'
There was a pause. Bertha drew herself back in her chair, Adela busied herself with the tea-cups. Presently came the question—
'Did Northmoor know?'
'Yes, he did.'
'And was that the reason of his going out?'
'Herbert was one motive, but I do not think he would have gone if there had not been another reason.'
'You did not ask him?' she said hotly.
'I don't want any one to interfere,' said Bertha, in a suddenly changed mood, 'especially not such a stick as that. He might have let it alone.'
'And if you heard that Captain Alder was—'
'A repentant prodigal, eh? A sober-minded, sponsible, easy-going, steady money-making Canadian,' interrupted Bertha vehemently, 'such as approved himself to his Lordship's jog-trot mind. Well, what then?'
'Oh, Birdie, perverse child as ever.'
'And so you actually despatched my Lord to eat humble pie in my name. You might have waited to see what I thought of the process.'
Bertha jumped up, as if to go and take off her hat, but just at that moment some figures crossed the twilight window, and in another second Adela had sprung into the hall, meeting Mary and Frank, whom she beckoned into the dining-room.
Bertha had followed as far as the room door, when, in the porch, she beheld a tall large form, and bearded countenance. One moment more and those two were shut into the drawing-room.
Mary, Frank, and Adela stood together over the dining-room fire, all smiles and welcome.
'Doesn't he look well?' was Mary's cry, as she displayed her husband.
'Better than ever. Nothing like bracing air. Oh! I am glad you brought him' indicating the other room, 'down at once; she might have had a naughty fit, and tormented herself and everybody.'
'You think it will be all right?' said Frank anxiously. 'It was a venture, but when he heard that she was at the Dower House, there was no holding him. He thinks she has as much to forgive as he has.'
'You wrote something of that—though the actual misery and accident were no fault of his, poor fellow, and yet—yet all that self-acted and re-acted on one another, and did each other harm,' said Adela.
'Yes,' said Frank; 'harm that he only fully understood gradually, after he had burst away from it all in the shock, and was living a very different life with his little sister, and afterwards with her husband, a thoroughly good man.'
'To whom you have trusted your nephew?'
'Entirely. Herbert is very happy there, much more so than ever before, useful and able to follow his natural bent.'
'I am very glad he will do well there.'
A sudden interruption here came on them in the shape of Amice, who had not been guarded against. She flew into the room in a fright, exclaiming—
'Mamma, mamma, there's a strange man like a black bear in the drawing-room, and he has got his arm round Aunt Bertha's waist.'
'Oh!' as she perceived Lord Northmoor.
'A Canadian bear I have just brought home, eh, Amy?' said he, exhilarated into fun for once, while Lady Adela indulged in a quiet smile at the manner of partaking of humble pie.
Amice had, however, broken up the tete-a-tete, and all were soon together again, Lady Adela greeting Captain Alder as an old friend, and he, in the restraint of good breeding, betraying none of his feeling at the contrast between the girlish wife and the faded widow, although perhaps in very truth Adela Morton was a happier, certainly a more peaceful woman now than in those days.
All must spend the evening together. Where? The Northmoors carried the day, Adela and Bertha must come up to dinner, yes, and Amice too. It was fine moonlight and the Captain would stay and escort them.
Meantime Lord and Lady Northmoor revelled in a moonlight walk together exactly as they had done seven years before as a bride and bridegroom, but with that further ingredient in joy before them—that nightly romp with their Mite, to which Frank had been looking forward all through his voyage. Their Mite all the happier because his Tom and Fanny were at the keeper's lodge, and allowed to play with him in the garden, and on the heath.
Six weeks later, Lord Northmoor acted as father at Bertha's wedding, a quiet one, with Constance and Amice as bridesmaids, with, as supernumerary, little Boadicea, who was to share the new Canadian home.
Michael was there in the glory of his first knickerbockers, and Mrs. Bury was there, and her last words ere the bride came down dressed for the journey were, 'How about "that stick," my dear?'
'Ah! sticks are sometimes made of good material.'
'There is a tree that groweth by the Water Side,' said Adela.
CHAPTER XLIII THE STAFF
Five years later almost all the members of the Morton family were met once more at Westhaven.
Ida was slowly dying. She had always been more or less delicate, and she had never entirely recovered the effect of the distress she had brought upon herself by that foolish crime towards her little cousin. Her mother had joined Miss Gattoni, and they had roamed about the Continent in the various resorts of seekers of health and of pleasure, hoping to distract her mind and restore her strength and spirits. For a time this sometimes seemed to succeed, and she certainly became prettier; but disappointment always ensued; a little over-exertion or excitement was sure to bring on illness, and there were even more painful causes for her collapses. Her uncle's care had not been entirely able to prevent the publication of such a sensational story, known, as it was, to most people at Westhaven; in fact, he was only able to reach the more respectable papers; and the society to which Miss Gattoni introduced them was just that which revelled in the society papers. So every now and then whispers would go about that Miss Morton was the heroine—or rather the villain—of the piece, and these were sure ultimately to reach Miss Gattoni. And at Genoa they had actually been at the same table-d'hote with Tom Brady's sister—nay, they had seen the Morna in the harbour.
Gradually each summer brought less renovation; each winter, wherever spent, brought Ida lower, till at length she was ill enough for her mother thankfully to reply to Constance's entreaty to come out to them at Biarritz.
Constance had grown to be in her vacation more and more the child of the house at Northmoor, and since her college career had ended with credit externally, and benefit inwardly, she had become her aunt's right hand, besides teaching Amice music and beginning Michael's Latin; but it was plain that her duty lay in helping to nurse her sister, and her uncle escorted her. They were greatly shocked at the change in the once brilliant girl, and her broken, dejected manner, apparently incapable of taking interest in anything. She would scarcely admit her uncle at first, but when she discovered that even Constance was in perfect ignorance of her part in the loss of Michael, she was overcome with the humiliation of intense gratitude, and the sense of a wonderful forgiveness and forbearance.
He never exactly knew what he had said to her; but for the two days that he was able to remain, she wished for him to sit with her as much as possible, though often in silence; and she let him bring her the English chaplain.
No one expected her to live through the spring, but with it came another partial revival, and therewith a vehement desire to see Westhaven again. It was as if her uncle had extracted the venom of the sting of remorse, and when that had become repentance, the old affection for the home of her childhood was free to revive. Good Mr. Rollstone was dead, but his wife and daughter kept on the lodging-house, and were affectionately glad to welcome their old friends. Herbert, who had been happily farming for two years on his own account, on an estate that his uncle had purchased for him, came for the first time on a visit from the Dominion—tall, broad, bearded, handsome, and manly, above all, in his courtesy and gentleness to the sick sister who valued his strong and tender help more than any other care. Mary came with her husband and boy from Northmoor for the farewell. When Ida tearfully asked her forgiveness, the injury was so entirely past that it was not hard to say, in the spirit of Joseph—
'Oh, my poor child, do not think of that! No one has suffered from it so much as you have. It really did Michael no harm at all, only making a little man of him; and as to Herbert, his going out was the best thing in the world for him, dear, noble, generous fellow. And after all, Ida,' she added, presently, 'I do believe you had rather be as you are now than the girl you were then?'
'Oh, Aunt Mary, it is what Uncle Frank and you are—that—makes one feel—'
Ida could say no more. She once saw Michael's bright boyish face awed into pity, and had the kiss that sealed her earthly pardon, unconscious as he was of the evil she had attempted. There was the pledge of higher pardon, before her uncle and aunt left her to those nearer who could minister to her as she went down to the River ever flowing.
Before that time, however, Herbert had made known to Rose one of his great reasons for settling in Canada, namely, that he meant to take her back with him. He had told his uncle long ago, and Mrs. Alder was quite ready and eager to welcome her as a cousin. Even Mr. Rollstone could hardly have objected under these circumstances, and Rose only doubted about leaving her mother. It presently appeared, however, that Mrs. Morton wished to remain with Mrs. Rollstone. Westhaven was more to her than any other place, and her vanity had so entirely departed that she could best take comfort in her good old friend's congenial society. Constance offered to remain and obtain some daily governess or high school employment there; but it was to her relief that she found that the two old ladies did not wish it. There was a sense that her tastes and habits were so unlike theirs that they would always feel her to be like company and be on their best behaviour, and decidedly her mother would not 'stand in her light,' and would be best contented with visits from her and to Northmoor.
So, after the quietest of weddings in the beautiful St. James's Church, Herbert and Rose went out to be welcomed at Winnipeg, and Constance returned with her uncle to be a daughter to Aunt Mary—till such time as she was sought by the young Vicar of Northmoor.