"Oh! you don't really mean it."
"Not that sort," said Dolores. "Only the coming of the coquecigrues."
"They are in 'The Water Babies'," said Primrose, mystified.
Each of those two liked to talk to the other as a sort of fellow- captive, solacing themselves with discussions over the 'Censor' and its fellows. Love is not often the first thought, even where it lurks in modern intellectual intercourse between man and maid; and though Kitty Varley might giggle, the others thought the idea only worthy of her. Aunt Jane, however, smelt out the notion, and could not but communicate it to her sister, though adding-
"I don't believe in it: Dolores is in love with Physiology, and the boy with what Jasper calls Socialist maggots, but not with each other, unless they work round in some queer fashion."
However, Lady Merrifield, feeling herself accountable for Dolores, was anxious to gather ideas about Gerald from his aunt, with whom she was becoming more and more intimate. She was more than twenty years the senior, and the thread of connection was very slender, but they suited one another so well that they had become Lilias and Geraldine to one another. Lady Merrifield had preserved her youthfulness chiefly from having had a happy home, unbroken by family sorrows or carking cares, and with a husband who had always taken his full share of responsibility.
"Your nephew's production has made a stir," said she, when they found themselves alone together.
"Yes, poor boy." Then answering the tone rather than the words, "I suppose it is the lot of one generation to be startled by the next. There is a good deal of change in the outlook."
"Yes," said Lady Merrifield. "The young ones, especially the youngest, seem to have a set of notions of their own that I cannot always follow."
"Exactly," said Geraldine eagerly.
"You feel the same? To begin with, the laws of young ladyhood- maidenliness-are a good deal relaxed-"
"There I am not much of a judge. I never had any young ladyhood, but I own that the few times I went out with Anna I have been surprised, and more surprised at what I heard from her sister Emily."
"What we should have thought simply shocking being tolerated now."
"Just so; and we are viewed as old duennas for not liking it. I should say, however, that it is not, or has not, been a personal trouble with me. Anna's passion is for her Uncle Clement, and she has given up the season on his account, though Lady Travis Underwood was most anxious to have her; and as to Emily, though she is obliged to go out sometimes, she hates it, and has a soul set on slums and nursing."
"You mean that the style of gaieties revolts a nice-minded girl?"
"Partly. Perhaps such as the Travis Underwoods used to take part in, rather against their own likings, poor things, are much less restrained for the young people than what would come in your daughters' way."
"Perhaps; though Lady Rotherwood has once or twice in country-houses had to protect her daughter, to the great disgust of the other young people. That is one development that it is hard to meet, for it is difficult to know where old-fashioned distaste is the motive, and where the real principle of modesty. Though to me the question is made easy, for Sir Jasper would never hear of cricket for his daughters, scarcely of hunting, and we have taken away Valetta and Primrose from the dancing-classes since skirt-dancing has come in; but I fear Val thinks it hard."
"Such things puzzle my sisters at Vale Leston. They are part of the same spirit of independence that sends girls to hospitals or medical schools."
"Or colleges, or lecturing. Dolores is wild to lecture, and I see no harm in her trying her wings at the High School on some safe subject, if her father in New Zealand does not object, though I am glad it has not occurred to any of my own girls."
"Sir Jasper would not like it?"
"Certainly not; but if my brother consents he will not mind it for Dolores. She is a good girl in the main, but even mine have very different ideals from what we had."
"Please tell me. I see it a little, and I have been thinking about it."
"Well, perhaps you will laugh, but my ideal work was Sunday-schools."
"Are not they Miss Mohun's ideal still?"
"Oh yes, infinitely developed, and so they are my cousin Florence's- Lady Florence Devereux; but the young ones think them behind the times. I remember when every girl believed her children the prettiest and cleverest in nature, showed off her Sunday-school as her pride and treasure, and composed small pink books about them, where the catastrophe was either being killed by accident, or going to live in the clergyman's nursery. Now, those that teach do so simply as a duty and not a romance."
"And the difficulty is to find those who will teach," said Geraldine. "One thing is, that the children really require better teaching."
"That is quite true. My girls show me their preparation work, and I see much that I should not have thought of teaching the Beechcroft children. But all the excitement of the matter has gone off."
"I know. The Vale Leston girls do it as their needful work, not with their hearts and enthusiasm. I expect an enthusiasm cannot be expected to last above a generation and perhaps a half."
"Very likely. A more indifferent thing; you will laugh, but my enthusiasm was for chivalry, Christian chivalry, half symbolic. History was delightful to me for the search for true knights. I had lists of them, drawings if possible, but I never could indoctrinate anybody with my affection. Either history is only a lesson, or they know a great deal too much, and will prove to you that the Cid was a ruffian, and the Black Prince not much better."
"And are you allowed the 'Idylls of the King'?"
"Under protest, now that the Mouse-trap has adopted Browning for weekly reading and discussion. Tennyson is almost put on the same shelf with Scott, whom I love better than ever. Is it progress?"
"Well, I suppose it is, in a way."
"But is it the right way?"
"That's what I want to see."
"Now listen. When our young men, my brothers-especially my very dear brother Claude and his contemporaries, Rotherwood is the only one left-were at Oxford, they got raised into a higher atmosphere, and came home with beautiful plans and hopes for the Church, and drew us up with them; but now the University seems just an ordeal for faith to go through."
"I should think there was less of outward temptation, but more of subtle trial. And then the whole system has altered since the times you are speaking of, when the old rules prevailed, and the great giants of Church renewal were there!" said Geraldine.
"You belong to the generation whom they trained, and who are now passing away. My father was one who grew up then."
"We live on their spirit still."
"I hope so. I never knew much about Cambridge till Clement went there, but it had the same influence on him. Indeed, all our home had that one thought ever since I can remember. Clement and Lance grew up in it."
"But you will forgive me. These younger men either go very, very much further than we older ones dreamt of, or they have flaws in their faith, and sometimes-which is the strangest difficulty-the vehement observance and ritual with flaws beneath in their faith perhaps, or their loyalty-Socialist fancies."
"There is impatience," said Geraldine. "The Church progress has not conquered all the guilt and misery in the world."
"Who said it would?"
"None of us; but these younger ones fancy it is the Church's fault, instead of that of her members' failures, and so they try to walk in the light of the sparks that they have kindled."
"Altruism as they call it-love of the neighbour without love of God."
"It may lead that way."
"Perhaps we are the impatient ones now," said Geraldine, "in disliking the young ones' experiments, and wanting to bind them to our own views."
"Then you look on with toleration but with distrust."
"Distrust of myself as well as of the young ones, and trying not to forget that 'one good custom may corrupt the world,' so it may be as well that the pendulum should swing."
"The pendulum, but not its axis-faith!"
"No; and of my boy's mainspring of faith I do feel sure, and of his real upright steadiness."
Lady Merrifield asked no more, but could wait.
But is not each generation a terra incognita to the last? A question which those feel most decidedly who stand on the border-land of both, with love and sympathy divided between the old and the new, clinging to the one, and fearing to alienate the other.
CHAPTER XIV. BUTTERFLY'S NECTAR
If you heed my warning It will save you much.-A. A. PROCTOR.
Clement Underwood was so much better as to be arrived at taking solitary rides and walks, these suiting him better than having companions, as he liked to go his own pace, and preferred silence. His sister had become much engrossed with her painting, and saw likewise that in this matter of exercise it was better to let him go his own way, and he declared that this time of thought and reading was an immense help to him, restoring that balance of life which he seemed to himself to have lost in the whirl of duties at St. Matthew's after Felix's death.
The shore, with the fresh, monotonous plash of the waves, when the tide served, was his favourite resort. He could stand still and look out over the expanse of ripples, or wander on, as he pleased, watching the sea-gulls float along-
"As though life's only call and care Were graceful motion."
There had been a somewhat noisy luncheon, for Edward Harewood, a midshipman in the Channel Fleet, which was hovering in the offing, had come over on a day's leave with Horner, a messmate whose parents lived in the town. He was a big lad, a year older than Gerald, and as soon as a little awe of Uncle Clement and Aunt Cherry had worn off, he showed himself of the original Harewood type, directing himself chiefly to what he meant to be teasing Gerald about Vale Leston and Penbeacon.
"All the grouse there were on the bit of moor are snapped up."
"Very likely," said Gerald coolly.
"Those precious surveyors and engineers that Walsh brings down can give an account of them! As soon as you come of age, you'll have to double your staff of keepers, I can tell you."
"Guardians of ferae naturae," said Gerald.
"I thought your father did all that was required in that line," said Clement.
"Not since duffers and land-lubbers have been marauding over Penbeacon-aye, and elsewhere. What would you say to an engineer poaching away one of the august house of Vanderkist?"
"The awful cad! I'd soon show him what I thought of his cheek," cried Adrian, with a flourish of his knife.
"Ha, ha! I bet that he will be shooting over Ironbeam Park long before you are of age."
"I shall shoot him, then," cried Adrian.
"Not improbably there will be nothing else to shoot by that time," quietly said Gerald.
"I shall have a keeper in every lodge, and bring up four or five hundred pheasants every year," boasted the little baronet, quite alive to the pride of possession, though he had never seen Ironbeam in his life.
Edward laughed a "Don't you wish you may get it," and the others, who knew very well the futility of the poor boy's expectations, even if Gerald's augury were not fulfilled, hastened to turn away the conversation to plans for the afternoon. Anna asked the visitor if he would ride out with her and Gerald to Clipstone or to the moor, and was relieved when he declined, saying he had promised to meet Horner.
"You will come in to tea at five?" said his aunt, "and bring him if you like."
"Thanks awfully, but we hardly can. We have to start from the quay at six sharp."
All had gone their several ways, and Clement, after the heat of the day, was pacing towards a secluded cove out of an inner bay which lay nearer than Anscombe Cove, but was not much frequented. However, he smelt tobacco, and heard sounds of boyish glee, and presently saw Adrian and Fergus Merrifield, bare-legged, digging in the mud.
"Ha! youngsters! Do you know the tide has turned? I thought you had had enough of that."
"I thought I might find my aralia!" sighed Fergus. "The tide was almost as low."
Just then there resounded from behind a projecting rock a peal of undesirable singing, a shout of laughter, and an oath, with-
"Holloa, those little beasts of teetotallers have hooked it."
There were confused cries-"Haul 'em back! Drench 'em. Give 'em a roll in the mud!" and Adrian shrank behind his uncle, taking hold of his coat, as there burst from behind the rock a party of boys, headed by the two cadets, all shouting loudly, till brought to a sudden standstill by the sight of "Parson! By Jove!" as the Horner mid muttered, taking out his pipe, while Edward Harewood mumbled something about "Horner's brother's tuck-out." One or two other boys were picking up the remains of the feast, which had been on lobsters, jam tarts, clotted cream, and the like delicacies dear to the juvenile mind. The two biggest school-boys came forward, one voluble and thick of speech about Horner's tuck-out, and "I assure you, sir, it is nothing-not a taste. Never thought of such-" Just then the other lad, staggering about, had almost lurched over into the deepening channel; but Clement caught him by the collar and held him fast, demanding in a low voice, very terrible to his hearers-
"Where does this poor boy live?"
It was Adrian who answered.
"You two, Adrian and Fergus, run to the quay and fetch a cab as near this place as it can come," said Clement. "You little fellows, you had better run home at once. I hope you will take warning by the shame and disgrace of this spectacle."
The boys were glad enough to disperse, being terrified by the condition of the prisoner, as well as by the detection; but the two who were encumbered with the baskets containing the bottles, jam- pots, and tin of cream remained, and so did the two young sailors, Horner saying civilly-
"You'll not be hard on the kids, sir, for just a spree carried a little too far."
"I certainly shall not be hard on the children, whom you seem to have tempted," was the answer as they moved along; and as the younger Horner turned towards a little shop near the end of the steps to restore the goods, he asked-"Were you supplied from hence?"
"Yes," said Horner, who was perhaps hardly sober enough for caution. "Mother Butterfly is a jolly old soul."
Looking up. Clement saw no licence to sell spirituous liquors under the name of Sarah Schnetterling, tobacconist. The window had the placard 'Ici on parle Francais', and was adorned in a tasteful manner with ornamental pipes, fishing-rods and flies, jars of sweets, sheets of foreign stamps, pictorial advertisements of innocuous beverages. A woman with black grizzling hair, fashionably dressed, flashing dark eyes, long gold ear-rings, gold beads and gaudy attire, came out to reclaim her property. A word or two passed about payment, during which Clement had a strange thrill of puzzled recollection. The bottles bore the labels of raspberry vinegar and lemonade, but he had seen too much not to say-
"You drive a dangerous trade."
"Ah, sir, young people will be gourmands," she said, with a foreign accent. "Ah, that poor young gentleman is very ill. Will he not come in and lie down to recover?"
"No, thank you," said Clement. "A carriage is coming to take him home."
Something about the fat in the fire was passing between the cadets, and the younger of them began to repeat that he had come for his brother's birthday, and that he feared they had brought the youngsters into a scrape by carrying the joke too far.
"I have nothing to say to you, sir," said the Vicar of St. Matthew's, looking very majestic, "except that it is time you were returning to your ship. As to you," turning to Edward Harewood, "I can only say that if you are aware of the peculiar circumstances of Adrian Vanderkist, your conduct can only be called fiendish."
Fergus and Adrian came running up with tidings that the cab was waiting. Edward Harewood stood sullen, but the other lad said-
"Unlucky. We are sorry to have got the little fellows into trouble."
He held out his hand, and Clement did not refuse it, as he did that of his own nephew. Still, there was a certain satisfaction at his heart as he beheld the clear, honest young faces of the other two boys, and he bade Adrian run home and wait for him, saying to Fergus -
"You seem to have been a good friend to my little nephew. Thank you."
Fergus coloured up, speechless between pleasure at the warm tone of commendation and the obligations of school-boy honour, nor, with young Campbell on their hands, was there space for questions. That youth subsided into a heavy doze in the cab, and so continued till the arrival at No. 7, Devereux Buildings, where a capable-looking maid-servant opened the door, and he was deposited into her hands, the Vicar leaving his card with his present address, but feeling equal to nothing more, and hardly able to speak.
He drove home, finding his nephew in the doorway. Signing to the maid to pay the driver, and to the boy to follow him, he reached his study, and sank into his easy-chair, Adrian opening frightened eyes and saying-
"I'll call Sibby."
"No-that bottle-drop to there," signing to the mark on the glass with his nail.
After a pause, while he held fast the boy, so to speak, with his eyes, he said-
"Thank you, dear lad."
"Uncle Clement," said Adrian then, "we weren't doing anything. Merrifield thought his old bit of auralia, or whatever he calls it, was there."
"I saw-I saw, my boy. To find you-as you were, made me most thankful. You must have resisted. Tell me, were you of this party, or did you come on them by accident?"
"Horner asked me," said Adrian, twisting from one leg to another.
Clement saw the crisis was come which he had long expected, and rejoiced at the form it had taken, though he knew he should suffer from pursuing the subject.
"Adrian," he said, "I am much pleased with you. I don't want to get you into a row, but I should be much obliged if you would tell me how all this happened."
"It wouldn't," returned Adrian, "but for that Ted and the other chap."
"Do you mean that there would have been none of this-drinking-but for them? Don't be afraid to tell me all. Was the stuff all got from that Mrs. Schnetter-?"
"Mother Butterfly's? Oh yes. She keeps bottles of grog with those labels, and it is such a lark for her to be even with the gangers that our fellows generally get some after cricket, or for a tuck- out."
"Not Fergus Merrifield?"
"Oh no; he's captain, you know, but he is two years younger than Campbell and Horner, and they can't bear him, and when he made a jaw about it-he can jaw awfully, you know-and he is stuck up, and Horner major swore he would make him know his bearings-"
"I wonder he was there at all."
"Well, Horner asked him, and he can't get those fossils that were lost out of his head, and he thought they might be washed up. He said too, he knew they would be up to something if he wasn't there."
"Oh!" said Clement, with an odd recollection, "but I suppose he did not know about these cadets?"
"No, the big Horner sent up to Mother Butterfly's for some more stuff, not so mild, and then Ted set upon me, and said it was all because of me that Vale Leston had to live like a boiling of teetotal frogs and toads, just to please the little baronet's lady mamma, but I was a Dutchman all the same, and should sell them yet-I sucked it in so well, and they talked of seeing how much I could stand. Something about my governor, and here-that word in the Catechism."
"Ah!" gasped Clement, fairly clutching his arm, "and what spared you?"
"Horner came down, and Sweetie Bob, that's the errand-boy, and there was a bother about the money, for Bob wasn't to leave anything without being paid, and while they were jawing about that, Merry laid hold of me and said, 'Come and look for the aralia.' They got to shouting and singing, and I don't think they saw what was doing. They were nasty songs, and Merry touched me and said, 'Let us go after the aralia.' We got away without their missing us at first, but they ran after us when they found it out, and if you had not been there, Uncle Clem-"
"Thank God I was! Now, Adrian, first tell me, did you taste this stuff? You said you sucked it in."
"Well, I did, a little. You know, uncle, one cannot always be made a baby. Women don't understand, you know, and don't know what a fool it makes a man to have them always after him, and have everything put out of his way like a precious infant, and people drinking it on the sly like Gerald, or-"
"Or me, eh, Adrian? I can tell you that I never tasted it for thirty years, and now only as a medicine. Lance, never."
"But they did not treat you like a baby, and never let you see so much as a glass of beer."
"Well, I am going to treat you like a man, but it is a sorrowful history that I have to tell you. You know that your mother and Aunt Wilmet are twin sisters ?"
"Oh yes, though Aunt Wilmet is stout and jolly, and mother ever so much prettier and more delicate and nice."
"Yes, from ill-health. She is never free from suffering."
"I know. Old Dr. May said there was no help for it."
"Do you know what caused that ill-health? My boy, they spoke of your father to-day-brutes that they were," he could not help muttering.
"Yes, he died when I was a week old."
"He had ruined himself when quite a young man, body, soul, and estate-and you too, beforehand, in estate, and broken your mother's heart and health by being given up to that miserable habit from which we want to save you."
"I thought it was only poor men that got drunk and beat their wives" (more knowledge, by the bye, than he was supposed to possess). "He did not beat her?"
"Oh no, no," said Clement, "but he as surely destroyed all her happiness, and made you and your sisters very poor for your station in life, so that it is really hard to educate you, and you will have to work for yourself and them. And at only thirty-six years old his life was cut off."
"Was that what D. T. meant? I heard Ted whisper something about that."
"It was well," thought Clement, "that he had grace enough to whisper. Yes, my poor boy, it is only too true. I was sent for to find your father dying of delirium tremens-you just born, your mother nearly dead, the desolation of your sisters unspeakable. He was only thirty-six, and that vice, together with racing, had devoured him and all the property that should have come to his children. I think he tried to repent at the very last, but there was little time, little power, only he put you and your sisters in my charge, and begged me to save you from being like him."
"Did they mean that I was sure to be like that? Like a pointer puppy, pointing."
"They meant it. And, Adrian, it is so far true that there is an inheritance-with some more, with some less-of our forefathers' nature. Some have tendencies harder to repress than others. But, my dear boy, you know that we all have had a force given us wherewith to repress and conquer those tendencies, and that we can."
"When we were baptized, God the Holy Spirit," said Adrian, under his breath.
"You know it, you can believe now. Your uncle Lance and I prayed that the old nature might be put down, the new raised up. We pray, your mother and sisters have prayed ever since, that so it may be, that you may conquer any evil tendencies that may be in you; but, Adrian, no one can save you from the outside if you do not strive yourself. Now you see why your poor mother has been so anxious to keep all temptation out of your reach."
"But I'm growing a man now. I can't always go on so."
"No, you can't. You shall be treated as a man while you are with me. But I do very seriously advise you-nay, I entreat of you, not to begin taking any kind of liquor, for it would incite the taste to grow upon you, till it might become uncontrollable, and be your tyrant. If you have reason to think the pledge would be a protection to you, come to me, or to Uncle Bill."
He was interrupted by Sibby coming in with his cup of tea, and-
"Now, Mr. Clement, whatever have you been after now? Up to your antics the minute Miss Cherry is out of the way. Aye, ye needn't go to palavering me. I hear it in your breath," and she darted at the stimulant.
"I've had some, Sibby, since I came in."
"More reason you should have it now. Get off with you, Sir Adrian, don't be worriting him. Now, drink that, sir, and don't speak another word."
He was glad to obey. He wanted to think, in much thankfulness for the present, and in faith and love which brought hope for the future.
CHAPTER XV. A POOR FOREIGN WIDOW
Art thou a magistrate? Then be severe.-GEORGE HERBERT.
Early in the day General Mohun received a note from Clement Underwood, begging him to look in at St. Andrew's Rock as soon as might be convenient.
"Ah," said his sister, "I strongly suspect something wrong about the boys. Fergus was very odd and silent last night when I asked him about Jem Horner's picnic, and he said something about that Harewood cousin being an unmitigated brute."
"I hope Fergus was not in a scrape."
"Oh no, it is not his way. His geology is a great safeguard. If it had been Wilfred I might have been afraid."
"His head is full-at least as much room as the lost aralia leaves- of the examination for the Winchester College election."
"Yes, you know Jasper has actually promised Gillian that if either of her brothers gets a scholarship, she may be allowed a year at Lady Margaret Hall."
"Yes, it incited her to worry Wilfred beyond sufferance in his holidays. I know if you or Lily had been always at me I should have kicked as hard as he does."
"Lily herself can hardly cram him with his holiday task; but Fergus is a good little fellow."
"You have kept him at it in a more judgmatical way. But won't Armytage come in between the damsel and her college?"
"Poor Mr. Armytage-Captain, I believe, for he has got his commandership. Gill snubs him desperately. I believe she is afraid of herself and her heart."
"I hope she won't be a goose. Jasper told me that he is an excellent fellow, and it will be an absolute misfortune if the girl is besotted enough to refuse him."
"Girls have set up a foolish prejudice against matrimony."
"Well, I am off. Clement Underwood is a reasonable man, and would not send for me without cause."
General Mohun came to that opinion when he heard of the scene on the beach, and of the absolute certainty that the contraband goods had been procured at Mrs. Schnetterling's. Before his visit was over, a note came down on gold-edged, cyphered pink paper, informing the Reverend E. C. Underwood that Mrs. Campbell was much obliged to him for his attention to her son, who was very unwell, entirely from the effects of clotted cream. And while they were still laughing over the scored words, Anna knocked at the door with a message from her aunt, to ask whether they could come and speak to poor Mrs. Edgar, who was in a dreadful state.
"It is not about Adrian, I hope?" said she.
"Oh no, no, my dear; Adrian is all right, thanks to Fergus again," said her uncle. "He is the boy's great protector; I only wish they could be always together."
Poor Mrs. Edgar! Rumours had not been slow in reaching her of the condition in which her scholars had been found, very odd rumours too. One that James Campbell had been brought home insensible, and the two sailors carried on board in the like state; and an opposite report, that the poor dear boys had only made themselves sick with dainties out of Mrs. Schnetterling's, and it was all a cruel notion of that teetotal ritualist clergyman. Some boys would not speak, others were vague and contradictory, and many knew nothing, Horner and Campbell were absent. Clement much relieved her by giving an account of the matter, and declaring that he feared his own elder nephew was the cause of all the scandal, though he believed that some of her bigger pupils were guilty of obtaining a smaller quantity, knowingly, of the Schnetterling's illicit wares, chiefly so far for the fun of doing something forbidden-"Stolen waters are sweet."
"A wicked woman! Surely she should not be allowed to go on."
"I am going, on the spot, to see what can be done," said General Mohun; "but indeed I should have thought young Campbell rather too old for your precincts."
"Ah! yes. He is troublesome, but he is so backward, and is so delicate, that his mother has implored me to keep him on, that he may have sea-bathing. But this shall be the final stroke!"
"It will be the ruin of your school otherwise," said the General.
"Ah! it might. And yet Mrs. Campbell will never be persuaded of the fact! And she is a person of much influence! However, I cannot have my poor dear little fellows led astray."
Then, with some decided praises of dear little Sir Adrian, and regrets at losing Fergus Merrifield, whom she declared, on the authority of her gentleman assistant, to be certain of success, she departed; and Clement resumed his task of writing letters, which he believed to be useless, but which he felt to be right—one a grave warning to Edward Harewood, and one to his father, whose indulgence he could not but hold accountable.
Reginald Mohun meanwhile went his way to the officer of Inland Revenue, who already had his suspicions as to Mrs. Schnetterling, and was glad of positive evidence. He returned with the General to hear from Mr. Underwood the condition in which he had found the boys, and the cause he had for attributing it to the supplies from Mother Butterfly, and this was thought sufficient evidence to authorize the sending a constable with a search-warrant to the shop. The two gentlemen were glad that the detection should be possible without either sending a spy, or forcing evidence from the boys, who had much better be kept out of the matter altogether. No lack of illicit stores was found when the policemen made their descent, and a summons was accordingly served on its mistress to appear at the next Petty Sessions.
Reginald Mohun, used to the justice of county magistrates, and the unflinching dealings of courts-martial, was determined to see the affair through, so he went to the magistrates' meeting, and returned with the tidings that the possession of smuggled tobacco ready for sale had been proved against Mrs. Schnetterling, and she had been fined twenty-five pounds, to be paid at the next Petty Sessions. Otherwise goods would be seized to that value, or she would have a short term of imprisonment. There was no doubt that contraband spirits were also found, but it was not thought expedient to press this charge.
He said the poor woman had been in a great passion of despair, wringing her hands and weeping demonstratively.
"Quite theatrical," he said. "I am sure she has been an actress."
"It did not prejudice your hard-headed town-councillors in her favour," said Gerald.
"Far from it! In fact old Simmonds observed that she was a painted foreign Jezebel."
"Not to her face!" said Gerald.
"We are not quite brutes, whatever you may think us, my boy," said the General good-humouredly.
"Well," said Gerald, in the same tone, "how could I tell how it might be when the Philistines conspired to hunt down a poor foreign widow trying to pick up a scanty livelihood ?"
"If the poor foreign widow had been content without corrupting the boys," said Clement, "she would have been let alone."
"It was not for corrupting the boys. That was done-or not done-by my amiable cousin Ted. What harm did her 'baccy do to living soul?"
"It is a risky thing, to say the least of it, for a living soul to defraud the revenue," said Clement.
"Of which probably she never heard."
"She must have seen the terms of her licence," said the General.
"Aye, a way of increasing the revenue by burthens on the chief solace of poverty," said Gerald hotly.
"You'll come to your senses by and by, young man," imperturbably answered the General.
"Is she likely to be able to pay?" asked Gerald in return.
"Oh yes, the policeman said she drove a very thriving trade, both with the boys and with the sailors, and that there was no doubt that she could pay."
Clement was very glad to hear it, for it not only obviated any sense of harshness in his mind, but he thought Gerald, in his present mood of compassion—or opposition, whichever it was-capable of offering to undertake to pay the fine for her.
Poor little Ludmilla was found the next day by Mrs. Henderson, crying softly over her work at the mosaic department-work which was only the mechanical arrangement from patterns provided, for she had no originality, and would never attain to any promotion in the profession.
Mrs. Henderson took the poor girl to her own little office, to try to comfort her, and bring her into condition for the rehearsal of the scene with Ferdinand, which she was to go through in Mr. Flight's parlour chaperoned by his mother. She was so choked with sobs that it did not seem probable that she would have any voice; for she had been struggling with her tears all day, and now, in the presence of her friend, she gave them a free course. She thought it so cruel-so very cruel of the gentlemen; how could they do such a thing to a poor helpless stranger? And that tall one-to be a clergyman-how could he?
Mrs. Henderson tried to represent that, having accepted the licence on certain terms, it was wrong to break them; and that the gentlemen must be right to hinder harm to their nephews.
It seemed all past the poor girl's understanding, since the nephews had taken no harm; and indeed the other boys had only touched the spirits by way of joke and doing something forbidden: it had all come of those horrid young midshipmen, who had come down and worried and bothered her mother into giving them the bottles of spirits which had not been mixed. It was very hard.
"Ah, Lydia, one sin leads no one knows where! Those little boys, think of their first learning the taste for alcohol in secret!"
Lydia did see this, but after all, she said, it was not the spirits, but the tobacco, which the Dutch and American sailors were glad enough to exchange for her mother's commodities. She had never perceived any harm in the arrangement, and hardly comprehended when the saying, "Custom to whom custom," was pointed out to her.
Kalliope asked whether the fine would fall heavily on her mother.
"Oh, that is worst of all. Mother is gone to Avoncester to raise the money. She won't tell me how. And I do believe O'Leary's circus is there."
Then came another sobbing fit.
"But how-what do you mean, my dear?"
"O'Leary was our clown when my father-my dear father-was alive. He was a coarse horrid man, as cruel to the poor dear horses as he dared. And now he has set up for himself, and has been going about all over the county. Mother has been quite different ever since she met him one day in Avoncester, and I fear-oh, I fear he will advance her this money, and make her give me up to him; and my dear father made her promise that I would never be on the boards."
This was in an agony of crying, and it appeared that Schnetterling had really been a very decent, amiable person, who had been passionately fond of his little daughter. Her recollection dated from the time when the family had come from America, and he had become partner in a circus, intending to collect means enough to retire to a home in Germany, but he had died five years ago, at Avoncester, of fever, and his wife had used his savings to set up this little shop at Rockquay, choosing that place because it was the resort of foreign trading-vessels, with whom her knowledge of languages would be available. She had suffered from the same illness, and her voice had been affected at the time, and she was altogether subdued and altered, and had allowed her daughter to receive a good National school training; but with the recovery of health, activity, and voice, a new temper, or rather the old one renewed, had seized her, and since she had met her former companion, Ludmilla foreboded that the impulse of wandering had come upon her, and that if the interference of the authorities pressed upon her and endangered her traffic, she would throw it up altogether, and drag her daughter into the profession so dreadful to all the poor child's feelings.
No wonder that the girl cried till she had no voice, and took but partial comfort from repeated assurances that her friends would do their utmost on her behalf. Mrs. Henderson tried to compose and cheer her, walking with her herself to St. Kenelm's Parsonage, and trying to keep up her earnest desire to please Mr. Flight, the special object of her veneration. But wishes were ineffectual to prevent her from breaking down in the first line of her first song, and when Mr. Flight blamed, and Lady Flight turned round on the music-stool to say severely-"Command yourself, Lydia," she became almost hysterical.
"Wait a minute," said Gerald. "Give her a glass of wine, and she will be better."
"Oh no, no; please, I'm temp-" and a sob.
The five o'clock tea was still standing on a little table, and Gerald poured out a cup and took it to her, then set her down in an arm- chair, and said-
"I'll go through Angus' part, and she will be better," and as she tried to say "Thank you," and "So kind," he held up his hand, and told her to be silent. In fact, his encouragement, and the little delay he had made, enabled her to recover herself enough to get through her part, though nothing like as well as would have been expected of her.
"Never mind," said Gerald, "she will be all right when my uncle comes. Won't you, Mona?"
"I should have expected-" began Lady Flight.
Gerald held up his hand in entreaty.
"People's voices can't be always the same," he said cheerily. "I know our Mona will do us credit yet! Won't you, Mona? You know how to pity me with my logs!"
"You had better go and have some tea in the kitchen, Lydia," said Lady Flight repressively; and Ludmilla curtsied herself off, with a look of gratitude out of her swollen eyelids at Gerald.
"Poor little mortal," he said, as she went. "I am afraid that in her case summum jus was summa injuria."
"It was quite right to prosecute that mischievous woman," said Mr. Flight.
"Maybe," said Gerald; "but wheat will grow alongside of tares."
"I hope the girl is wheat," half ironically and severely said the lady.
Gerald shrugged his shoulders and took his leave.
CHAPTER XVI. "SEE, THE CONQUERING HERO COMES"
And with trumpets and with banners As becomes gintale good manners.-THACKERAY.
A telegram from Sir Jasper brought the good news that Fergus's name was high on the Winchester roll, and that he was sure of entering college after the holidays. Gillian alone was allowed to go up to the station with her uncle Reginald to meet the travellers, lest the whole family should be too demonstrative in their welcome. And at the same time there emerged from the train not only Captain Armytage, but also Lancelot Underwood and his little boy. All the rest of his family were gone to Stoneborough to delight the hearts of Dr. May and his daughter Ethel.
Gillian was in such training that she durst not embrace her brother when he tumbled out of the carriage, though she could hardly keep her feet from dancing, but she only demurely said-
"Mamma and all of them are at Aunt Jane's."
"Come then," said Sir Jasper to Captain Armytage, for which Gillian was not grateful, or thought herself not, for she made a wry face.
There was a good deal of luggage-theatrical appliances to be sent to the pavilion.
"This may as well go too," said Captain Armytage.
"Oh! oh! It is the buccaneer's sword!" cried little Felix. "How lovely! Last time we only had Uncle Jack's, and this is ever so much longer!"
"Do let me draw it!" cried Fergus.
"Not here, my boy, or they would think a conspiracy was breaking out. Ha!" as a sudden blare of trumpets broke out as they reached the station gate.
"Oh, is it for him?" cried Felix, who had been instructed in Fergus's triumph.
"See, the conquering hero comes, Sound the trumpets, beat the drums!"
said the General.
Fergus actually coloured crimson, but the colour was deepened as he muttered "Bosh!" while two piebald ponies, drawing the drummers and trumpeters in fantastic raiment, preceded an elephant shrouded in scarlet and gold trappings, with two or three figures making contortions on his back, and followed by a crowned and sceptred dame in blue, white, and gold, perched aloft on a car drawn by four steeds in glittering caparisons.
"Will you mount it, Fergus?" asked his uncle. "You did not expect such a demonstration."
Fergus bit his lip. It was hard to be teased instead of exalted; but Fely and he were absorbed in the pink broadsides that the lady in the car was scattering.
CIRCUS-THIS NIGHT-ROTHERWOOD PARK.
The Sepoy's Revenge! Thrilling Incidents! Sagacious Elephant! Dance of Arab Coursers!! Acrobatic Feats!! &c., &c.
"Oh, daddy! daddy! do take me to see it!"
"Father, I should like to see it very much indeed," were the exclamations of the two little boys. "You know I have never seen any acrobatic feats."
"A long word enough to please you," said Uncle Reginald. "He deserves something. I'll take you, master."
"I should think this was not of the first quality," said Sir Jasper.
"Never mind. Novelty is the charm that one can have only once in one's life," said the General.
"Some of those van fellows are very decent folk," said Lancelot. "I have seen a great deal of them at Bexley Fair times. You would be astonished to know how grateful they are for a little treatment as if they were not out of humanity's reach."
Gillian was trying to make Fergus tell her what his questions had been, and how he had answered them.
"I declare, Gill, you are as bad as some of the boys' horrid governors. There was one whose father walked him up and down and wouldn't let him play cricket, and went over all the old questions with him. I should never have got in, if papa hadn't had more sense than to badger me out of my life."
At the gate between the copper beeches the Underwoods and Merrifields parted, with an engagement to meet at the circus on the part of the boys and their conductors.
Fergus was greeted with open-mouthed, open-armed delight by all the assembled multitude, very little checked by the presence of Captain Armytage. Only Lady Merrifield did not say much, but there was a dew in her eyes as she held fast the little active fingers, and whispered-
"My good industrious boy."
Sir Jasper, in his grand and gracious manner, turned to his sister- in-law, saying-
"We could not but come first to you, Jane, for it is to you that he is indebted, as we all are, primarily for his success."
"That is the greatest compliment I ever had, Jasper," she answered, smiling but almost tearful, and laughing it off. "I feel ready to mount yonder elephant lady's triumphal car."
The General refrained from any more teasing of Fergus on his first impression; and at seven that evening the younger Merrifield boys with their uncle, and the two from St. Andrew's Rock with Lance, set off in high spirits.
They re-appeared much sooner than they were expected at Beechcroft Cottage, where the Underwoods were spending the long twilight evening.
"A low concern!" was the General's verdict.
"We fled simultaneously from the concluding ballet," said Lance. "There had been quite as much as we could bear for ingenuous youth."
"We stood the Sepoy's Death Song,' said the General, "but the poster of the Bleeding Bride was enough for us."
"They had only one elephant!" cried Adrian.
"A regular swindle," said Wilfred.
"No lions!" added Fely, "nothing to see but that poor old elephant! I wish he would have turned round and spouted water at them, as that one did to the tailor."
"Water would be uncommonly good for them," said the General, laughing, "they are not much acquainted therewith."
"And such an atmosphere!" said Lance.
"I see it on your forehead, poor boy," said Geraldine.
"I should like to set on the Society against cruelty to animals," said the General; "I saw galls on the horses' necks, and they were all half starved."
"Then to see the poor old elephant pretend to be drunk!" added Fergus, "stagger about, and led off by the policeman, drunk and disorderly!"
"Was that being drunk?" asked Adrian, with wide-open eyes. "It was like Campbell that day." Everybody laughed.
Wilfred did so now.
"You green kid, you."
"Happy verdure," said the General, "to be unaware that some people can laugh when they ought to weep."
"Weep!" exclaimed Wilfred, "every time one sees a fellow screwy in the street."
"Perhaps the angels do," murmured Clement.
"Come, Master Wilfred, you have expressed your opinions sufficiently to-night," said the General. "Suppose you and Fergus walk home together. A nasty low place as ever I saw. I have a mind to tell the Mayor about it."
"Is not that making yourself very unpopular?"
"That is no great matter," said the General, rather surprised.
"I should have thought it better to refine the people's tastes than to thwart their present ones."
"The improper must be stopped before the taste for the proper can be promoted," said Clement.
"With all the opposition and ill-blood that you cause?" said Gerald. "Why, if I were an errand-boy, the suppression would send me direct to the circus. Would it not do the same by you, Uncle Lance?"
"Discouragement might, prohibition would prevent wholly, and I should be thankful," said Lance.
"Ah! you are of the old loyal nature," said Gerald. "You of the old school can never see things by modern lights."
"I am thankful to say-not," responded Reginald Mohun, in a tone that made some laugh, and Gerald sigh in Anna's ear-
"Happy those who see only one side of a question."
There was another great day for the boys, namely, the speech or closing day at the school, when Fergus was the undoubted hero, and was so exalted that his parents thought it would be very bad for him, and were chiefly consoled by his strong and genuine dislike to having to declaim with Clement Varley the quarrel of Brutus and Cassius. He insisted on always calling the former "Old Brute," and all the efforts of mother and aunt never got him beyond the dogged repetition of a lesson learnt by heart, whereas little Varley threw himself into the part with spirit that gained all the applause. Fergus carried off a pile of prizes too, but despised them. "Stupid old poetry!" said he, "what should I do with that? Do let me change it, father, for the Handbook of Paleontology, or something worth having."
Adrian had three prizes too, filling Anna with infinite delight. He was not to go home immediately on the break-up of the school, but was to wait for his sisters, who were coming in a few days more with Lady Travis Underwood to the bazaar and masque, so that he would go home with them.
Neither the prospect nor the company of little Fely greatly reconciled him to the delay, but his mother could not believe that her darling could travel alone, and his only satisfaction was in helping Fergus to arrange his spare specimens for sale.
CHAPTER XVII. EXCLUDED
But I needn't tell you what to do, only do it out of hand, And charge whatever you like to charge, my lady won't make a stand. -T. HOOD.
The ladies' committee could not but meet over and over again, wandering about the gardens, which were now trimmed into order, to place the stalls and decide on what should and should not be.
There was to be an art stall, over which Mrs. Henderson was to preside. Here were to be the very graceful and beautiful articles of sculpture and Italian bijouterie that the Whites had sent home, and that were spared from the marble works; also Mrs. Grinstead's drawings, Captain Henderson's, those of others, screens and scrap- books and photographs. Jasper and a coadjutor or two undertook to photograph any one who wished it; and there too were displayed the Mouse-traps. Mrs. Henderson, sure to look beautiful, quite Madonna- like in her costume, would have the charge of the stall, with Gillian and two other girls, in Italian peasant-dresses, sent home by Aunt Ada.
Gillian was resolved on standing by her. "Kalliope wants some one to give her courage," she said. "Besides, I am the mother of the Mouse- trap, and I must see how it goes off."
Lady Flight and a bevy of young ladies of her selection were to preside over the flowers; Mrs. Yarley undertook the refreshments; Lady Merrifield the more ordinary bazaar stall. Her name was prized, and Anna was glad to shelter herself under her wing. The care of Valetta and Primrose, to say nothing of Dolores, was enough inducement to overcome any reluctance, and she was glad to be on the committee when vexed questions came on, such as Miss Pettifer's offer of a skirt-dance, which could not be so summarily dismissed as it had been at Beechcroft, for Lady Flight and Mrs. Varley wished for it, and even Mrs. Harper was ready to endure anything to raise the much- needed money, and almost thought Lady Merrifield too particular when she discontinued the dancing-class for Valetta and Primrose.
"That speaks for itself," said Mrs. Grinstead.
"I can fancy seeing no harm in it for little girls," said Lady Merrifield, "but I don't like giving them a talent the use of which seems to be to enable them to show off."
"And I know that Lady Rotherwood would not approve," said Miss Mohun, aware that this settled the matter. "And here's another outsider, Miss Penfeather, who offers to interpret handwriting at two-and- sixpence a head."
"By all means," was the cry. "We will build her a bower somewhere near the photography."
"I am only afraid," added Jane, "of her offering to do palmistry. Do you know, I dabbled a little in that once, and I came to the conclusion that it was not a safe study for oneself or any one else."
"Quite right," said Geraldine.
"Do you believe in it then?"
"Not so as to practise it, or accept it so far as the future is concerned, and to play at it as a parody of fortune-telling seems to me utterly inadmissible."
"And to be squashed with Lord Rotherwood's mighty name," said her sister, laughing.
Lady Rotherwood would do so effectively. Wherewith came on the question of raffles, an inexhaustible one, since some maintained that they were contrary to English law, and were absolutely immoral, while others held that it was the only way of disposing of really expensive articles. These were two statues sent by Mrs. White, and an exquisite little picture by Mrs. Grinstead, worth more than any one could be expected to give. It was one that she had nearly finished at the time of Mr. Grinstead's illness-John Inglesant arriving in his armour of light on his wedding morning-and the associations were so painful that she said she never wished to see it again.
There were likewise a good many charming sketches of figures and scenery, over which Gerald and Anna grieved, though she had let them keep all they could show cause for; but drawing had become as much her resource as in the good old days. She was always throwing off little outlines, and she had even begun a grand study, which she called "Safe Home," a vessel showing signs of storm and struggle just at the verge of a harbour lost in golden light.
And the helmsman's face?
Clement and Lance neither of them said in words whose it was, as they both stood looking at it, and owned to themselves the steadfast face of their eldest brother, but Clement said, with a sigh-
"Ah! we are a long way as yet from that."
"I'm very glad to hear you say so," exclaimed Lance; then laughing at himself, "You are ever so much better."
"Oh yes, I suppose I am to start again, going softly all my days, perhaps, and it is well, for I don't think the young generation can spare me yet."
"How thankful I am to have Cherry restored to me I cannot say, and I do not feel convinced that there may not be care at hand with Gerald. The boy is in a reserved mood, very civil and amiable, but clearly holding back from confidence."
"Does she see it?"
"Yes; but she fancies he bestows his confidence on Dolores Mohun, the girl from New Zealand, and resigns herself to be set aside. It is pretty well time that we went to meet her."
For there was to be a dress rehearsal in the pavilion, to which certain spectators were to be admitted, chiefly as critics.
"Do you walk up the hill, Clem?"
"Yes, as long as I don't go too fast. Go on if you are wanted, and I will follow. Cherry has sent the carriage for an invalid who cannot venture to be there all the day."
"Let them wait. A walk with you is not to be wasted. Run on, Fely, tell them we are coming," he added to his little Ariel, who had got lost in Jungle Beasts.
As they went up the hill together, Clement not sorry to lean on his brother's arm, a dark woman of striking figure and countenance, though far from young, came up with them, accompanied by a stout, over-dressed man.
"That's the cigar-shop woman," said Lance, "the mother of our pretty little Miranda."
"I wonder she chooses to show herself after her conviction," said Clement.
"And if I am not much mistaken, that is the villain of The Sepoy's Revenge," said Lance. "Poor little Butterfly, it is a bad omen for her future fate."
As they reached the doors of the great hotel, they found the pair in altercation with the porter before the iron gate that gave admittance to the gardens. "Mother Butterfly" was pleading that she was the mother of Miss Schnetterling, who was singing, and the porter replying that his orders were strict.
"No, not on any consideration," he repeated, as the man was evidently showing him the glance of silver, and a policeman, who was marching about, showed signs of meaning to interfere.
At the same moment Gerald's quick steps came up from the inside.
"That's right, Lance; every one is crying out for you. Vicar, Cherie is keeping a capital place for you."
The gate opened to admit them, and therewith Mrs. Schnetterling, trying to push in, made a vehement appeal-
"Mr. Underwood, sir, surely the prima donna's own mother should not be excluded."
"Her mother!" said Gerald. "Well, perhaps so, but hardly this- person," as his native fastidiousness rose at the sight.
"No, sir," said the porter. "Captain Henderson and Mr. Simmonds, they have specially cautioned me who I lets in."
The man grumbled something about swells and insolence, and Lance, with his usual instinct of courtesy, lingered to say-
"This is quite a private rehearsal-only the persons concerned!"
"And if I'm come on business," said the man confidentially. "You are something in our line."
"Scarcely," said Lance, rather amused. "At any rate, I don't make the regulations."
He sped away at the summons of his impatient son and Gerald.
They met Captain Henderson on the way, and after a hasty greeting, he said-
"So you have let in the Schnetterling woman?"
"One could not well keep out the mother," returned Lance.
"Well, no, but did she bring a man with her? My wife says the poor little Mona is in mortal terror lest he is come to inspect her for a circus company."
"Quite according to his looks," said Lance. "Poor child, it may be her fate, but she ought to be in safe hands, but I suppose the woman wants to sacrifice her to present gain."
They went on their way, and Lance and Gerald were soon absorbed in their cares of arrangement, while Clement was conducted to the seat reserved for him between his sister and Lady Merrifield. The pavilion had been fitted with stages of seats on the inner side, but the back-behind the stage-was so contrived that in case of favourable weather the real sea-view could be let in upon occasion, though the curtain and adjuncts, which had been painted by some of the deft fingers at Vale Leston, represented the cavern; also there was a first scene, with a real sail and mast.
It was a kind of semi-dress rehearsal, beginning with pirate songs by the school-master and choir, who had little difficulty in arranging themselves as buccaneers. The sail was agitated, then reefed, stormy songs were heard, where Captain Armytage did his part fairly well; the boatswain was gratified by roaring out his part character- istically, and the curtain fell on "We split, we split, we split."
Then came a song of Prospero, not much disguised by a plaid and Highland bonnet, interrupted by the pretty, graceful Miranda, very shy and ill-assured at first, but gathering strength from his gentle encouraging ways, while he told what was needful in the recitative that he alone could undertake. Then the elves and fairies, led by little Felix, in a charming cap like Puck, danced on and sang, making the prettiest of tableaux, lulling Miranda to sleep, and then Ariel conversing in a most dainty manner with Prospero.
Next Ferdinand and Miranda had their scene, almost all songs and duets. Both sang very sweetly, and she had evidently gained in courage, and threw herself into her part.
The shipwrecked party then came on the scene, performed their songs, and were led about Puck-fashion by the fairies, and put to sleep by the lament over Ferdinand. The buccaneers in like manner were deluded by more mischievous songs and antics, till bogged and crying out behind the scenes.
Their intended victims were then awakened, to find themselves in the presence of Prospero; sing themselves into the reconciliation, then mourn for Ferdinand, until the disclosure of the two lovers, and the final release of Ariel and the sprites, all singing Jacobite songs.
To those who were not au fait with the 'Tempest' and felt no indignation or jealousy at the travesty, it was charming; and though the audience at the rehearsal numbered few of these, the refined sweetness and power of the performers made it delightful and memorable. Every one was in raptures with the fairies, who had been beautifully drilled, and above all with their graceful little leader, with his twinkling feet and arch lively manner, especially in the parts with his father.
Ferdinand and Miranda-or rather Angus and Mona-were quite ideal in looks, voices, and gestures.
"Almost dangerously so," said Jane Mohun; "and the odd thing is that they are just alike enough for first cousins, as they are here, though Shakespeare was not guilty of making them such."
"The odd thing is," said Geraldine, as she drove home with Clement, "that this brought me back so strangely to that wonderful concert at home, with all of you standing up in a row, and the choir from Minsterham, and poor Edgar's star."
"An evil star!" sighed Clement.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE EVIL STAR
Lancelot said, That were against me, what I can I will; And there that day remained.-TENNYSON.
It was on the night before the final bustle and fury, so to speak, of preparation were to set in, when arrivals were expected, and the sellers were in commotion, and he had been all day putting the singers one by one through their parts, that as he went to his room at night, there was a knock at Lancelot's door, and Gerald came in, looking deadly white. He had been silent and effaced all the evening, and his aunt had thought him tired, but he had rather petulantly eluded inquiry, and now he came in with-
"Lance, I must have it out with some one."
"An Oxford scrape?" said Lance.
"Oh no, I wish it was only that." Then a silence, while Lance looked at him, thinking, "What trouble could it be?" He had been very kind and gentle with the little Miranda, but the manner had not struck Lance as lover-like.
There was a gasp again-
"That person, that woman at the gate, do you remember?"
Therewith a flash came over Lance.
"My poor boy! You don't mean to say—"
Neither could bring himself to say the word so sacred to Lancelot, and which might have been so sacred to his nephew.
"How did you guess?" said Gerald, lifting up the face that he had hidden on the table.
"I saw the likeness between you and the girl. She reminded me of some one I had once seen."
"Had you seen her?"
"Once, at a concert, twenty odd years ago. Your aunt, too, was strangely carried back to that scene, by the girl's voice, I suppose."
"Poor child!" said Gerald, still laying down his head and seeming terribly oppressed, as Lance felt he well might be.
"It is a sad business for you," said the uncle, with a kind hand on his shoulder. "How was it she did not claim you before?-not that she has any real claim."
"She did not know my real name. My father called himself Wood. I never knew the rest of it till after I came home. That fellow bribed the gardener, got in over the wall, or somehow, and when she saw you, and heard you and me and all three of us, it gave her the clue."
"Well, Gerald, I do not think she can dare to—"
"Oh!" interrupted Gerald, "there's worse to come."
"What?" said Lance, aghast.
"She says," and a sort of dry sob cut him short, "she says she had a husband when she married my father," and down went his head again.
"Impossible," was Lance's first cry; "your father's first care was to tell Travis all was right with you. Travis has the certificates."
"Oh yes, it was no fault of my father-my father, my dear father-no, but she deceived him, and I am an impostor-nobody."
"Gently, gently, Gerald. We have no certainty that this is true. Your father had known her for years. Tell me, how did it come out- what evidence did she adduce?"
Gerald nerved himself to sit up and speak collectedly.
"I believe it is half that circus fellow's doing. I think she is going to marry him, if she hasn't already. She followed me, and just at the turn down this road, as I was bidding the Mona girl goodnight, she came up with me, and said I little thought that the child was my sister, and how delightful it was to see us acting together. Well then, I can't say but a horror came over me. I couldn't for the life of me do anything but draw back, there was something so intolerable in the look of her eyes, and her caressing manner," and he shuddered, glad of his uncle's kind hand on his shoulder. "Somehow, I let her get me out upon the high ground, and there she said, 'So you are too great a swell to have word or look for your mother. No wonder, you always were un vilain petit miserable; but I won't trouble you-I wouldn't be bound to live your dull ennuyant ladies' life for millions. I'll bargain to keep out of your way; but O'Leary and I want a couple of hundred pounds, and you'll not grudge it to us.' I had no notion of being blackmailed, besides I haven't got it, and I told her she might know that I am not of age, and had no such sum ready to hand. She was urgent, and I began to think whether I could do anything to save that poor little sister, when she evidently got some fresh impulse from the man, and began to ask me how I should like to have it all disclosed to my nobs of friends. Well, I wasn't going to be bullied, and I answered that my friends knew already, and she might do her worst. 'Oh, may I?' she said; 'you wouldn't like, my fine young squire, to have it come out that I never was your father's wife at all, and that you are no more than that gutter- child.' I could not understand her at first, and said I would not be threatened, but that made her worse, and that rascal O'Leary came to her help. They raised their demands somehow to five hundred, and declared if they had not it paid down, they should tell the whole story and turn me out. Of course I said they were welcome. Either I am my father's lawful son, or I am not, and if not, the sooner it is all up with me the better, for whatever I am, I am no thief and robber. So I set off and came down the hill; but the brute kept pace with me to this very door, trying to wheedle me, I believe. And now what's to be done? I would go off at once, and let Uncle Clem come into his rights, only I don't want to be the death of him and Cherie."
"No," said Lance, "my dear fellow! You have stood it wisely and bravely so far, go on to do so. I don't feel the least certain that this is not mere bullying. She did not tell you any particulars?"
"No, certainly not."
"Not the name of this supposed predecessor of Edgar's? Where she may have been married, or how? How she parted from him, or how she knows he was alive? It sounds to me a bogus notion, got up to put the screw on you, by surprise. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll go down to the shop tomorrow morning, see the woman, and extract the truth if possible, and I fully expect that the story will shrink up to nothing."
"'Tis not the estate I care for," said Gerald, looking somewhat cheered. "It is my father's honour and name. If that can be cleared-"
"Do not I care?" said Lance. "My dear brother Edgar, my model of all that was noble and brilliant-whom Felix loved above all! Nay, and you, Gerald, our hope! I would give anything and everything to free you from this stain, though I trust it will prove only mud that will not stick. Anyway you have shown your true, faithful Underwood blood. Now go to bed and sleep if you can. Don't say a word, nor look more like a ghost than you can help-or we shall have to rouge ourselves for our parts. My boy, my boy! You are Edgar's boy, anyway."
And Lancelot kissed the young pale cheek as he had done when the little wounded orphan clung to him fourteen years ago, or as he kissed his own Felix.
Whatever the night was to Gerald, long was the night, and long the light hours of the morning to the ever sleepless Lance before he could rise and make his way to the shop with any hope of gaining admission, and many were the sighs and prayers that this tale might be confuted, and that the matter might be to the blessing of the youth to whom he felt more warmly now than since those winning baby days had given place to more ordinary boyhood. He had a long time to pace up and down watching the sparkling water, and feeling the fresh wind on the brow, which was as capable as ever of aching over trouble and perplexity, and dreading above all the effect on the sister, whose consolation and darling Gerald had always been. How little he had thought, when he had stood staunch against his brother Edgar's persuasions, that Zoraya was to be the bane of that life which had begun so gaily!
When at last the door was unfastened, and, as before, by Ludmilla, he greeted her kindly, and as she evidently expected some fresh idea about the masque, he gave her his card, and asked her to beg her mother to come and speak to him. She started at the name and said-
"Oh, sir, you will do nothing to hurt him-Mr. Underwood?"
"It is the last thing I wish," he said earnestly, and Ludmilla showed him into a little parlour, full of the fumes of tobacco, and sped away, but he had a long time to wait, for probably Mother Butterfly's entire toilette had to be taken in hand.
Before she appeared Lancelot heard a man's voice, somewhere in the entry, saying-
"Oh! the young ass has been fool enough to let it out, has he? I suppose this is the chap that will profit? You'll have your wits about you."
Lance was still his old self enough to receive the lady with-
"I beg to observe that I am not the 'chap who will profit' if this miserable allegation holds water. I am come to understand the truth."
The woman looked frightened, and the man came to her rescue, having evidently heard, and this Lance preferred, for he always liked to deal with mankind rather than womankind. Having gone so far there was not room for reticence, and the man took up the word.
"Madame cannot be expected to disclose anything to the prejudice of her son and herself, unless it was made worth her while."
"Perhaps not," said Lance, as he looked her over in irony, and drew the conclusion that the marriage was a fact accomplished; "but she has demanded two hundred pounds from her son, on peril of exposure, and if the facts are not substantiated, there is such a thing as an action for conspiracy, and obtaining money on false pretences."
"Nothing has been obtained!" said the woman, beginning to cry. "He was very hard on his poor mother."
"Who forsook him as an infant, cast off his father, and only claims him in order to keep a disgraceful, ruinous secret hanging over his life for ever, in order to extort money."
"Come now, this is tall talk, sir," said O'Leary; "the long and short of it is, what will the cove, yourself, or whoever it is that you speak for, come down for one way or another?"
"Nothing," responded Lance.
Neither of the estimable couple spoke or moved under an announcement so incredible to them, and he went on-
"Gerald Underwood would rather lose everything than give hush-money to enable him to be a robber, and my elder brother would certainly give no reward for what would be the greatest grief in his life."
O'Leary grinned as if he wanted to say, "Have you asked him?"
"The priest," she muttered.
"Ay, the meddling parson who has done for you! He would have to come down pretty handsomely."
Lancelot went on as if he had not heard these asides.
"I am a magistrate; I can give you in charge at once to the police, and have you brought before the Mayor for conspiracy, when you will have to prove your words, or confess them to be a lie."
He was not in the least certain that where there was no threatening letter, this could succeed, but he knew that the preliminaries would be alarming enough to elicit something, and accordingly Mrs. O'Leary began to sob out-
"It was when I was a mere child, a bambina, and he used me so cruelly."
There was the first thread, and on the whole, the couple were angry enough with Gerald, his refined appearance and air of careless prosperity, to be willing that he should have a fall, and Lance thus extracted that the "he" who had been cruel was a Neapolitan impresario in a small way, who had detected that Zoraya, when a very little child, had a charming voice, of which indeed she still spoke with pride, saying Lida would never equal it. Her parents were semi- gipsies, Hungarian, and had wandered all over the Austrian empire, acting, singing, and bringing up their children to the like. They had actually sold her to the impresario, who had sealed the compact, and hoped to secure the valuable commodity by making her his wife. In his security he had trained her in the severest mode, and visited the smallest want of success with violence and harshness, so that her life was utterly miserable, and on meeting her brother, who had become a member of a German band, she had contrived to make her escape with him, and having really considerable proficiency, the brother and sister had prospered, and through sundry vicissitudes had arrived at being "stars" in Allen's troupe, where Edgar Underwood, or, as he was there known, Tom Wood, had unfortunately joined them; and the sequel was known to Lancelot, but he could not but listen and gather up the details, disgusted as he was-how the prima donna had accepted his attention as her right, till her jealousy was excited by his evident attraction to "the little English doll, for whom he killed his man"; how she resolved to win him, and how scandalous reports at last had brought him to offer marriage, unknowing, it was plain, of her past. It was not possible to guess how much she was still keeping back, speaking under terror and compulsion as she did. But she declared that he had never loved her, and was always wanting her to be like ces Anglaises fades, and as to her child, he so tormented her about it, and the ways of his absurd mother and sisters, and so expected her to sacrifice her art and her prospects to the little wretch, that she was ready to strangle it! "Maternal love, bah! she was not going to be like a bird or a beast," she said, with a strange wild glance in her eyes that made Lance shudder, and think how much more he respected the bird or beast. Then at Chicago, when Wood's own folly and imprudence had brought on an illness that destroyed his voice, and she knew there would be only starvation, or she should have to toil for the whole of them, Schnetterling, manager of a circus, fell in love with her, and made her good offers to sing in Canada, and Chicago was a place where few questions were asked, so she freed herself.
She had made her rounds with Schnetterling, a prudent German, and in process of time had come to England, where, at Avoncester, both had been attacked by influenza; he died, and she only recovered with a total loss of voice; but he had been prudent and frugal enough to save a sufficient sum to set her up at Rockquay with the tobacco- shop. She had chosen that place on account of American trading- vessels putting in there, as well as those of various foreign nations, with whom her knowledge of languages was available, and no doubt there were some opportunities of dealing in smuggled goods. Just, however, as the smuggling was beginning to be suspected, the circus of O'Leary came in her way, and the old instincts were renewed. Then came the detection and prosecution, and the need of raising the fine. She had recourse to O'Leary, who had before been Schnetterling's underling, and now was a partner in Jellicoe's circus, who knew her capabilities as a manager and actress, and perceived the probabilities of poor little Lida's powers. The discovery that the deserted baby that she had left at Chicago was a young handsome squire, well connected, and, in her eyes, of unlimited means, had of course incited both to make the utmost profit of him. That he should not wish to hush the suspicion up, but should go straight to his uncles, was to them a quite unexpected contingency.
All this was not exactly told to Lancelot, but he extracted it, or gathered it before he was able to arrive at what was really important, the name of Zoraya's first husband, where she was married, and by whom, and where she had parted from him. She was so unwilling to give particulars that he began almost to hope to make her confess that the whole was a myth, but at last she owned that the man's name was Giovanni Benista, and that the marriage had taken place at Messina; she knew not in what church, nor in what year, only it was before the end of the old regime, for she recollected the uniforms of the Bomba soldiers, though she could not remember the name of the priest. Benista was old, very old-the tyrant and assassin that he was, no doubt he was dead. She often thought he would have killed her-and the history of his ill-treatment had to be gone through before it appeared that she had fled from him at Trieste with her brother, in an English trading-vessel, where their dexterity and brilliancy gained them concealment and a passage. This was certainly in the summer of 1865. Of Benista she knew nothing since, but she believed him to have come from Piedmont.
Lance found Gerald walking up and down anxiously watching for him, and receiving him with a "Well!" that had in it volumes of suspense.
"Well, Gerald, I do not think there can be any blame attached to your father, whatever comes of it. He was deceived as much as any one else, and his attachment to you seems to have been his great offence."
"Thank Heaven! Then he was deceived?"
"I am afraid there was some previous ceremony. But stay, Gerald! There is no certainty that it was valid in the first place, and in the next, nothing is known of Benista since 1865, when he was an old man, so that there is a full chance that he was dead before-"
"Before April 1868. I say, Uncle Lance, they want to make no end of a bear-fight for my coming of age. I must be out of the way first."
"Don't cry out too soon. Even if the worst came to the worst, as the property was left to you by will individually, I doubt whether this discovery, if real, would make any difference in law. I do not know."
"But would I take it on those terms? It would be simply defrauding Clement, and all of you-"
"Perhaps, long before, we may be satisfied," said Lance. "For the present, I think nothing can be done but endeavour to ascertain the facts."
"One comfort is," said Gerald, "I have gained a sister. I have walked with her to the corner of her place-the marble works, you know-and she really is a jolly little thing, quite innocent of all her mother's tricks, thinking Mrs. Henderson the first of human beings, except perhaps Flight, the aesthetic parson. I should not have selected him, you know, but between them they have kept her quite a white sheet-a Miranda any Ferdinand might be glad to find, and dreading nothing so much as falling into the hands of that awful brute. Caliban himself couldn't have been worse! I have promised her to do what I can to save her-buy her off-anything."
"Poor child," said Lance. "But, Gerald, nothing of this must be said these next few days. We can't put ourselves out of condition for this same raree-show."
"I'm sure it's a mere abomination to me," said Gerald disconsolately. "I can't think why we should be dragged into all this nuisance for what is not even our own concern."
"I'm sure I thought you the rope that dragged me! At any rate much higher up on it."
"Well, I never thought you would respond-you, who have enough on your hands at Bexley."
"One stroke even on the outskirts is a stroke for all the cause."
"The cause! I don't believe in the cause, whatever it is. What a concatenation now, that you and I should make fools of ourselves in order to stave off the establishment of national education, as if we could, or as if it was worth doing."
"Then why did you undertake it?"
"Oh, ah! Why, one wants something to do down here, and the Merrifield lot are gone upon it; and I did want to go through the thing again, but now it seems all rot."
"Nevertheless, having pledged ourselves to the performance, we cannot cry off, and the present duty is to pack dull care away, put all this out of our heads, and regard it as a mere mare's nest as long as possible, and above all not upset Cherry. Remember, let this turn out as it will, you are yourself still, and her own boy, beloved for your father's sake, the joy of our dear brother, and her great comforter. A wretched mistake can never change that."
Lance's voice was quivering, and Gerald's face worked. Lance gave his hand a squeeze, and found voice to say-
"'Hold thee still in the Lord, and abide patiently upon Him.' And meantime be a man over it. It can be done. I have often had to forget."
CHAPTER XIX. SHOP-DRESSING
But I can't conceive, in this very hot weather, How I'm ever to bring all these people together. T. HOOD.
It was not a day when any one could afford to be upset. It was chiefly spent in welcoming arrivals or in rushing about: on the part of Lance and Gerald in freshly rehearsing each performer, in superintending their stage arrangements, reviewing the dresses, and preparing for one grand final rehearsal; and in the multifarious occupations and anxieties, and above all in the music, Gerald did really forget, or only now and then recollect, that a nightmare was hanging on him, and that his little Mona need not shrink from him in maidenly shyness, but that he might well return her pretty appealing look of confidence.
The only quiet place in the town apparently was Clement Underwood's room, for even Cherry had been whirled off, at first to arrange her own pictures and drawings; and then her wonderful touch made such a difference in the whole appearance of the stall, and her dainty devices were so graceful and effective, that Gillian and Mysie implored her to come and tell them what to do with theirs, where they were struggling with cushions, shawls, and bags, with the somewhat futile assistance of Mr. Armine Brownlow and Captain Armytage, whenever the latter could be spared from the theatrical arrangements, where, as he said, it was a case of parmi les borgnes-for his small experience with the Wills-of-the-Wisp made him valuable.
The stalls were each in what was supposed to represent by turns a Highland bothie or a cave. The art stall was a cave, that the back (really a tool-house) might serve the photographers, and the front was decorated with handsome bits of rock and spar, even ammonites. Poor Fergus could not recover his horror and contempt when his collection of specimens, named and arranged, was very nearly seized upon to fill up interstices, and he was infinitely indebted to Mrs. Grinstead for finding a place where their scientific merits could be appreciated without letting his dirty stones, as Valetta called them, disturb the general effect.
"And my fern-gardens! Oh, Mrs. Grinstead," cried Mysie, "please don't send them away to the flower place which Miss Simmonds and the gardeners are making like a nursery garden! They'll snub my poor dear pterises."
"Certainly we'll make the most of your pterises. Look here. There's an elegant doll, let her lead the family party to survey them. That's right. Oh no, not that giantess! There's a dainty little Dutch lady."
"Charming. Oh! and here's her boy in a sailor's dress."
"He is big enough to be her husband, my dear. You had better observe proportions, and put that family nearer the eye."
"Those dolls!" cried Valetta, "they were our despair."
"Make them tell a story, don't you see. Where's that fat red cushion?"
"Oh, that cushion! I put it out of sight because it is such a monster."
"Yes; it is just like brick-dust enlivened by half-boiled cauliflowers! Never mind, it will be all the better background. Now, I saw a majestic lady reposing somewhere. There, let her sit against it. Oh, she mustn't flop over. Here, that match-box, is it? I pity the person deluded enough to use it! Prop her up with it. Now then, let us have a presentation of ladies-she's a governor's wife in the colonies, you see. Never mind costumes, they may be queer. All that will stand or kneel-that's right. Those that can only sit must hide behind, like poor Marie Antoinette's ladies on the giggling occasion."
So she went on, full of fun, which made the work doubly delightful to the girls, who darted about while she put the finishing touches, transforming the draperies from the aspect of a rag-and-bone shop, as Jasper had called it, to a wonderful quaint and pretty fairy bower, backed by the Indian scenes sent by Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Underwood, and that other lovely one of Primrose's pasture. There the merry musical laugh of her youth was to be heard, as General Mohun came out with Lancelot to make a raid, order the whole party to come and eat luncheon at Beechcroft Cottage, and not let Mrs. Grinstead come out again.
"Oh, but I must finish up Bernard's clay costume figures. Look at the expression of that delightful dollie! I'm sure he is watching the khitmutgars.
'Above on tallest trees remote Green Ayahs perched alone; And all night long the Mussah moaned In melancholy tone.'
Oh, don't you know Lear's poem? Can't we illustrate it?"
"Cherry, Cherry, you'll be half dead to-morrow."
"Well, if I am, this is the real fun. I shan't see the destruction."
Lance had her arm in his grip to take her over the bridge over the wall, when up rushed Kitty Varley.
"Oh, if Mrs. Grinstead would come and look at our stall and set it right! Miss Vanderkist gave us hopes."
"Now, Cherry, don't you know that you are not to be knocked up! There are the Travises going to bring unlimited Vanderkists."
"Oh yes, I know; but there's renovation in breaths from Vale Leston, and I really am of some use here." Her voice really had a gay ring in it. "It is such fun too! Where's Gerald?"
"Having a smoke with the buccaneer captain. Oh, Miss Mohun, here's my sister, so enamoured of the bazaar I could hardly get her in."
"And oh! she is so clever and delightful. She has made our stall the most enchanting place," cried Primrose, dancing round. "Mamma, you must come and have it all explained to you."
"The very sight is supposed to be worth a shilling extra," said General Mohun, while Lady Merrifield and Miss Mohun, taking possession of her, hoped she was not tired; and Gillian, who had been wont to consider her as her private property, began to reprove her sisters for having engrossed her while she herself was occupied in helping the Hendersons with their art stall.
"The truth is," said Lance, "that this is my sister's first bazaar, and so dear is the work to the female mind, that she can't help being sucked into the vortex."
"Is it really?" demanded Mysie, in a voice that made Mrs. Grinstead laugh and say-
"Such is my woeful lack of experience."
"We have fallen on a bazaar wherever we went," said Lady Merrifield.
"But this is our first grown-up one, mamma," said Valetta. "There was only a sale of work before."
They all laughed, and Lance said-
"To Stoneborough they seem like revenues-at least sales of work, for I can't say I understand the distinction."
"Recurring brigandages," said General Mohun.
"Ah! Uncle Reggie has never forgotten his getting a Noah's ark in a raffle," said Mysie.
So went the merry talk, while one and another came in at Miss Mohun's verandah windows to be sustained with food and rest, and then darted forth again to renew their labours until the evening, Miss Mohun flying about everywhere on all sorts of needs, and her brother the General waiting by the dining-room to do the duties of hospitality to the strays of the families who dropped in, chattering and laughing, and exhausted.
Lady Merrifield was authorized to detain Mrs. Grinstead to the last moment possible to either, and they fell into a talk on the morality of bazaars, which, as Lady Merrifield said, had been a worry to her everywhere, while Geraldine had been out of their reach; since the Underwoods had done everything without begging, and Clement disapproved of them without the most urgent need; but, as Lance had said, his wife had grown up to them, and had gone through all the stages from delighting, acquiescing, and being bored, and they had so advanced since their early days, from being simply sales to the grand period of ornaments, costumes, and anything to attract.
"Clement consents," said Geraldine; "as, first, it is not a church, and then, though it does seem absurd to think that singing through the murdered Tempest should be aiding the cause of the Church, yet anything to keep our children to learning faith and truth is worthy work."
"Alas, it is working against the stream! How things are changed when school was our romance and our domain."
"Yes, you should hear Lance tell the story of his sister-in-law Ethel, how she began at Cocksmoor, with seven children and fifteen shillings, and thought her fortune made when she got ten pounds a year for the school-mistress; and now it is all Mrs. Rivers can do to keep out the School-board, because they had not a separate room for the hat-pegs!"