Charlotte Mary Yonge.

Magnum bonum; or, Mother Carey's brood (Volume 1) online

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" Mother Carey," to call her by the family name
that her husband had given the first day she held a
baby in her arms, had a capacity of enjoyment that
what she called her exile could not destroy. Even
Bobus left theory behind him and became a holiday
boy, and the whole six climbed rocks, paddled, boated,
hunted sea weeds and sea animals, lived on the beach
from morning to night ; and were exceedingly amused
by the people, who insisted on addressing the senior
of the party as "Miss," and thought them a young
girl and her brothers under the charge of Mrs. Acton.
She, though really not a year older than her friend,
looked like a worn and staid matron by her side, and
was by no means disposed to scramble barefoot over
slippery seaweed, or to take impromptu a part in
the grand defence of the sand and shingle edition of
Raglan Castle.


Even to Mrs. Acton it was a continual wonder to
see how entirely under control of that little merry-
mother were those great, lively, spirited boys, who
never seemed to think of disobeying her first word,
and, while all made fun together, and she was hardly
less active and enterprising than they, always con-
sidered her comfort and likings.

So went things for a fortnight, during which the
coming of the others had been put off by Dr. Drew's
absence. One morning Mr. Acton sought Mrs.
Brownlow on the beach, where she was sitting with
her brood round her, partly reading from a translation,
partly telling them the story of Ulysses.

He called her aside, and told her that her husband
had telegraphed to him to bid him to carry her the
tidings that good old Mrs. Brownlow had been taken
from them suddenly in the night, evidently in her sleep.

Carey turned very white, but said only " Oh ! why
did I go without them } "

It was such an overwhelming shock as left no room
for tears. Her first thought, the only one she seemed
to have room for, was to get back to her husband by
the next train. She would have taken all the children,
but that Mrs. Acton Insisted, almost commanded, that
they should be left under her charge, and reminded
her that their father wished them to be out of London ;
nor did Allen and Robert show any wish to return to
a house of mourning, being just of the age to be so
much scared at sorrow as to ignore it. And indeed


their mother was equally new to any real grief ; her
parents had been little more than a name to her, and
the only loss she had actually felt was that of a
favourite schoolfellow.

She had no time to think or feel till she had reached
the train and taken her seat, and even then the first
thing she was conscious of was a sense of numbness
within, and frivolous observation without, as she found
herself trying to read upside down the direction of
her opposite neighbour's parcels, counting the flounces
on her dress, and speculating on the meetings and
partings at the stations ; yet with a terrible weight
and soreness on her all the time, though she could not
think of the dear grannie, of whom it was no figure of
speech to say that she had been indeed a mother.
The idea of her absence from home for ever was too
strange, too heartrending to be at once embraced, and
as she neared the end of her journey on that long
day, Carey's mind was chiefly fixed on the yearning
to be with her husband and Janet, who had suffered
such a shock without her. She seemed more able to
feel through her husband — who was so devoted to his
mother, than for herself, and she was every moment
more uneasy about her little daughter, who must have
been in the room with her grandmother. Comfort
them ? How, she did not know ! The others had

always petted and comforted her, and now No

one to go to when the children were ailing or naughty
— no one to share little anxieties when Joe was out


late — no one to be the backbone she leant on — no
dear welcome from the easy chair. That thought
nearly set her crying ; the tears burnt in her strained
eyes, but the sight of the people opposite braced her,
and she tried to fix her thoughts on the unseen world,
but they only wandered wide as if beyond her own
control,. and her head was aching enough to confuse

At last, late on the long summer day, she was at
the terminus, and with a heart beating so fast that
she could hardly breathe, found herself in a cab,
driving up to her own door, just as the twilight was

How dark it looked within, with all the blinds
down ! The servant who opened the door thought
Miss Janet was in the drawing-room, but the master
was out. It sounded desolate, and Carey ran up
stairs, craving and eager for the kiss of her child — the
child who must have borne the brunt of the shock.

The room was silent, all dusky and shadowed ; the
window-frames were traced on the blinds by the gas
freshly lighted outside, and moving in the breeze with
a monotonous dreariness. Carey stood a moment, and
then her eyes getting accustomed to the darkness,
she discerned a little heap lying curled up before the
ottoman, her head on a great open book, asleep —
poor child ! quite worn out. Carey moved quietly
across and sat down by her, longing but not daring to
touch her. The lamp was brought up in a minute or


two, and that roused Janet, who sprang up with a
sudden start and dazzled eyes, exclaiming " Father !
Oh, it's Mother Carey ! Oh, mother, mother, please
don't let him go ! "

" And you have been all alone in the house, my
poor child," said Carey, as she felt the girl shuddering
in her close embrace.

" Mrs. Lucas came to stay with me, but I didn't
want her," said Janet, " so I told her she might go

home to dinner. It's father "

" Where is father .? "

" Those horrid people in Tottenham Court Road
sent for him just as he had come home," said Janet.
" He went out as usual ? "

" Yes, though he had such a bad cold. He said he
could not be spared ; and he was out all yesterday till
bedtime, or I should have told him grandmamma was
not well."

" You thought so ! "

" Yes, she panted and breathed so oddly ; but she
would not let me say a word to him. She made me
promise not, but being anxious about him helped to
do it. Dr. Lucas said so."

There was a strange hardness and yet a trembling
in Janet's voice ; nor did she look as if she had shed
tears, though her face was pale and her eyes black-
ringed, and when old nurse, now very old indeed,
tottered in sobbing, she flung herself to the other end
of the room. It was more from nurse than from Janet


that Carey learnt the particulars, such as they were,
namely, that the girl had been half-dressed when she
had taken alarm from her grandmother's unresponsive
stillness, and had rushed down to her father's room.
He had found that all had long been over. His
friend, old Dr. Lucas, had come immediately, and had
pronounced the cause to have been heart complaint.

Nurse said her master had been "very still," and
had merely given the needful orders and written a
few letters before going to his patients, for the illness
was at its height, and there were cases for which he
was very anxious.

The good old woman, who had lived nearly all her
life with her mistress, was broken-hearted ; but she
did not forget to persuade Caroline to take food,
telling her she must be ready to cheer up the master
when he should come in, and assuring her that the
throbbing headache which disgusted her with all
thoughts of eating, would be better for the effort.
Perhaps it was, but it would not allow her to bring
her thoughts into any connection, or to fix them on
what she deemed befittincr, and when she saw that
the book over which Janet had been asleep in the
twilight was " The Last of the Mohicans," she was more
scandalised than surprised.

It was past Janet's bedtime, but though too proud
to say so, she manifestly shrank from her first night
of loneliness, and her mother, herself unwilling to be
alone, came with her to her room, undressed her, and


sat with her In the darkness, hoping for some break in
the dull reticence, but disappointed, for Janet hid her
head in the clothes, and slept, or seemed to sleep.

Perhaps Carey herself had been half dozing, when
she heard the well-known sounds of arrival, and darted
down stairs, meeting indeed the welcoming eye and
smile ; but " Ah, here she is ! " was said so hoarsely
and feebly, that she exclaimed " Oh Joe, you have
knocked yourself up ! "

" Yes," said Dr. Lucas, whom she only then per-
ceived. "He must go to bed directly, and then we
will see to him. Not another word, Brownlow, till
you are there, nor then if you are wise."

He strove to disobey, but cough and choking for-
bade ; and as he began to ascend the stairs, Caroline
turned in dismay to the kind, fatherly old man, who
had always been one of the chief intimates of the
house, and was now retired from practice, except for
very old friends.

He told her that her husband was suffering from a
kind of sore throat that sometimes attacked those
attending on this fever, though generally not unless
there was some predisposition, or unless the system
had been unduly lowered. Joe had indeed been over-
worked in the absence of several of the regular practi-
tioners and of all those who could give extra help ; but
this would probably have done little harm, but for a
cold caught in a draughty room, and the sudden stroke
with which the day had begun. Dr. Lucas had urged


him to remain at home, and had undertaken his
regular work for the day, but summonses from his
patients had been irresistible ; he had attended to
everyone except himself, and finally, after hours spent
over the critical case of the wife of a small trades-
man, he had found himself so ill that he had gone to
his friend for treatment, and Dr. Lucas had brought
him home, intending to stay all night with him.

Since the wife had arrived, the good old man,
knowing how much rather they would be alone,
consented to sleep in another room, after having done
all that was possible for the night, and cautioned
against talking.

Indeed, Joe, heavy, stupefied, and struggling for
breath, knew too well what it all meant not to give
himself all possible chance by silent endurance, lying
with his wife's hand in his, or sometimes smoothing
her cheek, but not speaking without necessity. Once
he told her that her head was aching, and made her
lie down on the bed, but he was too ill for this rest to
last long, and the fits of struggling with suffocation
prevented all respite save for a few minutes.

With the early light of the long summer morning
Dr. Lucas looked in, and would have sent her to bed,
but she begged off, and a sign from her husband
seemed to settle the matter, for the old physician
went away again, perhaps because his eyes were full
of tears.

The first words Joe said when they were again


alone was " My tablets." She went In search of them
to his dressing-room, and not finding them there, was
about to run down to the consulting-room, when Janet
came out already dressed, and fetched them for her,
as well as a white slate, on which he was accustomed
to write memorandums of engagements.

Her father thanked her by a sign, but there was
possibility enough of infection to make him wave her
back from kissing him, and she took refuge at the
foot of the bed, on a sofa shut off by the curtains
which had been drawn to exclude the light.

Joe meantime wrote on the slate the words,
" Magnum honumr

" Mag7mm boniim ? " read his wife, in amazement.

" Papers in bureau," he wrote ; " lock all in my
desk. Mention to no one."

" Am I to put them in your desk ? " asked Caroline,
bewildered as to his intentions, and finding it hard to
read the writing, as he went on —

" No word to anyone',' scoring it under, " not till one
of the boys is ready."

" One of the boys ! " in utter amazement.

" Not as a chance for himself!' he wrote, " but as a
great trust."

" I know," she said, " it is a great trust to make
a discovery which will save life. It is my pride to
know you are doing it, my own dear Joe."

" It seems I am not worthy to do it," was traced
by his fingers. " It is not developed enough to be


listened to by anyone. Keep it for the fit one of the
boys. ReHgion, morals, brains, balance."

She read each word aloud, bending her head in
assent ; and, after a pause, he wrote " Not till his
degree. He could not work it out sooner. There
is peril to self and others in experimenting — tempta-
tion to rashness. It were better unknown than trifled
with. Be an honest judge — promise. Say what I

Spellbound, almost mesmerised by his will, Caroline
pronounced — " I promise to keep the magujim bonum
a secret till the boys are grown up, and then only to
confide it to the one that seems fittest, when he has
taken his degree, and is a good, religious, wise, able
man, with brains and balance, fit to be trusted to
work out and apply such an invention, and not make
it serve his own advancement, but be a real good and
blessing to all."

He gave her one of his bright, sweet smiles, and,
as she sealed her promise by a kiss, he took up the
slate again and wrote, " My dear comfort, you have
always understood. You are to be trusted. It must
be done worthily or not at all."

That was the burthen of everything ; and his
approval and affection gave a certain sustaining glow
to the wife, who was besides so absorbed in attending
to him, as not to look beyond the moment. He wrote
presently, after a little more, " You know all my mind
for the children. With God's help you can fill both


places to them. I should like you to live at Ken-
minster, under Robert's wing."

After that he only used the tablets for temporary
needs, and to show what he wanted Dr. Lucas to
undertake for his patients. The husband and wife
had little more time for intimate communings, for
the strangulation grew worse, more remedies were
tried, and one of the greatest physicians of the
day was called in, but only to make unavailing

Colonel Brownlow arrived in the middle of the day,
and was thunderstruck at the new and terrible disaster.
He was a large, tall man, with a good-humoured,
weather-beaten face, and an unwieldy, gouty figure ;
and he stood, with his eyes brimming over with tears,
looking at his brother, and at first unable to read the
one word Joe traced for him — for writing had become
a great effort — " Carey."

" We will do our best for her, Ellen and I, my dear
fellow. But you'll soon be better. Horrid things,
these quinsies ; but they pass off."

Poor Joe half-smiled at this confident opinion, but
he merely wrung his brothers hand, and only twice
more took up the pencil — once to write the name
of the clergyman he wished to see, and lastly to
put down the initials of all his children : " Love to
you all. Let God and your mother be first with
you. — J. B."

The daylight of the second morning had come in


before that deadly suffocation had finished its work,
and the strong man's struggles were ended.

When Colonel Brownlow tried to raise his sister-in-
law, he found her fainting, and, with Dr. Lucas's help,
carried her to another room, where she lay, utterly
exhausted, in a kind of faint stupor, apparently un-
conscious of anything but violent headache, which
made her moan from time to time, if anything stirred
her. Dr. Lucas thought this the effect of exhaustion,
for she had not slept, and hardly taken any food since
her breakfast at Kyve three days ago ; and finding
poor old nurse too entirely broken down to be of
any use, he put his own kind wife in charge of her,
and w^as unwilling to admit anyone else — even Mrs.
Robert Brownlow^, who arrived in the course of the
day. She was a tall, fine-looking person, with an
oval face — soft, pleasant brown skin, mild brown eyes,
and much tenderness of heart and manner, but not
very w^ell known to Caroline ; for her periodical visits
had been wholly devoted to shopping and sight-seeing.
She was exceedingly shocked at the tidings that met
her, and gathered Janet into her arms with many
tears over the poor orphan girl ! It was an effusive-
ness that overwhelmed Janet, who had a miserable,
hard, dried-up feeling of wretchedness, and injury too ;
for the more other people cried, the less she could cry,
and she heard them saying to one another that she
was unfeeling.

Still Aunt Ellen's presence was a sort of relief, for


it made the house less empty and dreary, and she
took upon her the cares that were greatly needed in
the bereaved household, where old nurse had lost her
head, and could do nothing, and the most effective
maid was away with the children. So Janet wandered
about after her aunt, with an adverse feeling at having
her home meddled with, but answering questions and
giving opinions, called or uncalled for. Her longing
was for her brothers, and it was a great blow to find
that her uncle had written to both Allen and Mr.
Acton that they had better not come home at present.
She thought it cruel and unjust both towards them
and herself; and in her sickening sense of solitude
and injury she had a vague expectation that they
were all going to be left wholly orphans, like the
children of fiction, dependent on their uncle and
aunt, who would be unjust, and prefer their own
children ; and she had a prevision of the battles she
was to fight, and the defensive influence she was to

That brought to her mind the white slate on which
her father had been writing, and she hurried to secure
it, though she hardly knew where to go or to look ;
but straying into her father's dressing-room, she found
both it and the tablets among a heap of other small
matters that had been cleared away when the other
chamber had been arranged into the solemnity of the
death-room. Hastily securing them, she carried them
to her own desk in the deserted school-room, feeling


a'S if they were her charge, and thus having no scruple
in reading them.

She had heard what passed aloud ; and, as the
eldest girl, had been so constantly among the seniors,
and so often supposed to be intent on her own occupa-
tions when they were conversing, that she had already
the knowledge that inagnmn boiium was the pet home
term for some great discovery in medical science that
her father had been pursuing, with many disappoint-
ments and much incredulity from the few friends to
whom it had been mentioned, but with absolute confi-
dence on his own part. What it was she did not know,
but she had fully taken in the injunction of secresy and
the charge to hand on the task to one of her brothers ;
only, while her father had spoken of it as a grave trust,
she viewed it as an inheritance of glory ; and felt a
strange longing and repining that it could not be
given to her to win and wear the crown of success.

Janet, did not, however, keep the treasure long, for
that very evening Mrs. Lucas sought her out to tell her
that her mother had been saying something about a
slate, and Dr. Lucas thought it was one on which her
father had been writing. If she could find it, they
hoped her mother would rest better.

Janet produced it, and being evidently most un-
willing to let it go out of her hands, was allowed to
carry it in, and to tell her mother that she had it.
There was no need for injunctions to do so softly and
cautiously, for she was frightened by her mother's dull,



half-closed eye, and pale, leaden look ; but there was a
little air of relief as she faltered, " Here's the slate,
dear mother : " and the answer, so faint that she could
hardly hear it, was, " Lock it up, my dear, till I can

Mrs. Lucas told Janet she might kiss her, and then
sent the girl away. There was need of anxious watch
lest fever should set in, and therefore all that was
exciting was kept at a distance as the poor young
widow verged towards recovery.

Once, when she heard voices on the stairs, she
started nervously, and asked ]\Irs. Lucas, " Is Ellen

" Yes, my dear ; she shall not come to you unless
you wish it," seeing her alarm ; and she laid her head
down again.

The double funeral was accomplished while she was
still too ill to hear anything about it, though Mrs.
Lucas had no doubt that she knew ; and when he
came home. Colonel Brownlow called for Janet, and
asked her whether she could find her grandmother's
keys and her father's for him.

" Mother would not like anyone to rummage their
things," said Janet, like a Avatch-dog.

" My dear," said her uncle, in a surprised but kind
tone, as one who respected yet resented her feeling ;
*'you may trust me not to rummage, as you call it,
unnecessarily ; but I know that I am executor, if you
understand what that mean?, mv dear."


" Of course," said Janet, affronted as she always was
by being treated as a child.

" To both wills," continued her uncle ; " and it will
save your mother much trouble and distress if I can
take steps towards acting on them at once ; and if
you cannot tell where the keys are, I shall have to look
for them."

"Janet ought to obey at once," said her aunt, net
adding to the serenity of Janet's mind ; but she turned
on her heel, ungraciously saying, " I'll get them ; " and
presently returned with her grandmother's key-box,
full of the housekeeping keys, and a little key, which
she gave to her uncle with great dignity, adding, "The
key of her desk is the Bramah one ; I'll see for the

" A strange girl, that ! " said her uncle, as she
marched out of the room.

" I am glad our Jessie has not her temper ! " re-
sponded his wife ; and then they both repaired to old
Mrs. Brownlow's special apartment, the back drawing-
room, while Janet quietly dropped downstairs with the
key she had taken from her father's table on her way
to the consulting-room. She intended to prevent any
search, by herself producing the will from among his
papers, for she was in an agony lest her uncle should
discover the clue to the magmim bonujn, of which she
regarded herself the guardian.

Till she had actually unlocked the sloping lid of the
old-fashioned bureau, it did not occur to her that she

E 2


did not know either what the will was like, nor yet the
magfium bommt, which was scarcely likely to be so
ticketed. She only saw piles of letters and papers,
marked ; some with people's names, some with a
Greek or Latin word, or one of the curious old
Arabic signs, for which her father had always a turn,
having, as his mother used to tell him, something of
the alchemist in his composition. One of these parcels,
fastened with elastic rings, must be magnum boniim,
and Janet, though without much chance of distinguish-
ing it, was reading the labels with a strange, sad
fascination, when, long before she had expected him,
her uncle stood before her, with greatly astonished and
displeased looks, and the word " Janet."

She coloured scarlet, but answered boldly, " There
was something that I know father did not want any-
one but mother to see."

" Of course there is much," said her uncle, gravely —
'* much that I am fitter to judge of than any little

Words cannot express the offence thus given to
Janet. Something swelled in her throat as if to suffo-
cate her, but there could be no reply, and to burst out
crying would only make him think her younger still ;
so as he turned to his mournful task, she ensconced
herself in a high-backed chair, and watched him from
under her dark brows.

She might comfort herself by the perception that
he was less likely than even herself to recognise the


magnum bonum. He would scarcely have thought it
honourable to cast a glance upon the medical papers,
and pushing them aside from where she had pulled
them forward, searched till he had found a long
cartridge-paper envelope, which he laid on the table
behind him while he shut up the bureau, and Janet,
by cautiously craning up her neck, managed to read
that on it was written " Will of Joseph Brownlow,
Executors : Mrs. Caroline Otway Brownlow, Lieu-
tenant-Colonel Robert Brownlow."

Her uncle then put both that and the keys in
his pocket, either not seeing her, or not choosing to
notice her.


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Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeMagnum bonum; or, Mother Carey's brood (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 18)