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do you know there ?"

" Mrs. Wilson," I answered.

" H'm ! Ah ! You know Mrs. Wilson, do you ?
Kice woman, Mrs. Wilson !"

He said this as if he meant the opposite.

" Here," he went on — " come with me. I'll
show you the way."

I obeyed, and followed him along the bank of
the stream.

" What a curious bridge !" I exclaimed, as we
came in sight of an ancient structure lifted high
in the middle on the poiut of a Gothic arch.

" Yes, ain't it V he said. " Curious ? I should
think so ! And well it may be ! It's as old as the



142 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

oak there at least. There's a bridge now for a
man like Sir Giles to call his own I"

" He can't keep it though," I said, moralizing;
for, in carrying on the threads of my stories, I
had come to see that no climax could last for
ever.

" Can't keep it ! He could carry off every
stone of it if he liked."

"Then it wouldn't be the bridge any longer."

" You're a sharp one," he said.

" I don't know," I answered, truly enough.
I seemed to myself to be talking sense, that
was all.

" Well I do. What do you mean by saying
he couldn't keep it V 9

" It's been a good many people's already,
and it'll be somebody else's some day," I re-
plied.

He did not seem to relish the suggestion, for
he gave a kind of grunt, which gradually broke
into a laugh as he answered,

" Likely enough ! likely enough !"

We had now come round to the end of the
bridge, and I saw that it was far more curious
than I had perceived before.



I BUILD CASTLES. 143

" Why is it so narrow V I asked, wondering-
]y, for it was not three feet wide, and had a
parapet of stone about three feet high on each
side of it.

" Ah !" he replied, " that's it, you see. As old
as the hills. It was built, this bridge was, be-
fore ever a carriage was made — yes, before ever
a carrier's cart went along a road. They car-
ried everything then upon horses' backs. They
call this the pack-horse bridge. You see there's
room for the horses' legs, and their loads could
stick out over the parapets. That's the way
they carried everything to the Hall then. That
was a few years before you were born, young
gentleman."

" But they couldn't get their legs — the hor-
ses, I mean — couldn't get their legs through
this narrow opening," I objected; for a flat
stone almost blocked up each end.

" No ; that's true enough. But those stones
have been up only a hundred years or so.
They didn't want it for pack-horses any more
then, and the stones were put up to keep the
cattle, with which at some time or other I sup-
pose some thrifty owner had stocked the park,



144 WILFRID OUMBERMEDE.

from crossing to this meadow. That would
be before those trees were planted up there."

When we had crossed the stream, he stopped
at the other end of the bridge and said,

" Now, you go that way — up the hill. There's
a kind of path, if you can find it, but it doesn't
much matter. Good morning."

He walked away down the bank of the
stream, while I struck into the wood.

When I reached the top, and emerged from
the trees that skirted the ridge, there stood the
lordly Hall before me, shining in autumnal sun-
light, with gilded vanes and diamond-pan ed
windows, as if it were a rock against which the
gentle waves of the sea of light rippled and
broke in flashes. When you looked at its foun-
dation, which seemed to have torn its way up
through the clinging sward, you could not tell
where the building began and the rock ended.
In some parts indeed the rock was wrought
into the walls of the house ; while in others it
was faced up with stone and mortar. My heart
beat high with vague rejoicing. Grand as the
aged oak had looked, here was a grander
growth — a growth older too than the oak,



I BUILD CASTLES. 145

and inclosing within it a thousand histories.

I approached the gate by which Mrs. Wilson
had dismissed me. A flight of rude steps cut
in the rock led to the portcullis which still
hung, now fixed in its place in front of the gate;
for though the Hall had no external defences, it
had been well fitted for the half-sieges of
troublous times. A modern mansion stands,
with its broad sweep up to the wide door, like
its hospitable owner in full dress and broad-
bosomed shirt on his own hearth-rug : this
ancient house stood with its back to the world,
like one of its ancient owners, ready to ride, in
morion, breast-plate, and jack-boots — yet not
armed cap-a-pie, not like a walled castle, that
is.

I ascended the steps, and stood before the
arch — filled with a great iron-studded oaken
gate — which led through a square tower into
the court. I stood gazing for some minutes be-
fore I rang the bell. Two things in particular
I noticed. The first was — over the arch of the
doorway, amongst others — one device very like
the animal's head upon the watch and the seal
which my great-grandmother had given me.

VOL. I. L



146 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

I could not be sure it was the same, for the
shape — both in the stone and in my memory —
was considerably worn. The other interested
me far more. In the great gate was a small
wicket, so small that there was hardly room for
me to pass without stooping. A thick stone
threshold lay before it. The spot where the
right foot must fall in stepping out of the wick-
et was worn into the shape of a shoe, to the
depth of between three and four inches I should
judge, vertically into the stone. The deep
foot-mould conveyed to me a sense of the com-
ing and going of generations, such as 1 could
not gather from the age-worn walls of the
building.

A great bell-handle at the end of a jointed
iron-rod hung down by the side of the wicket.
I rang. An old woman opened the wicket, and
allowed me to enter. 1 thought I remembered
the way to Mrs. Wilson's door well enough,
but when I ascended the few broad steps, curved
to the shape of the corner in which the entrance
stood, and found myself in the flagged court, I
was bewildered, and had to follow the retreating-
portress for directions. A word set me right,



I BUILD CASTLES. 147

and I was soon in Mrs. Wilson's presence.
She received me kindly, and expressed her satis-
faction that I had kept what she was pleased to
consider my engagement.

After some refreshment and a little talk, Mrs.
Wilson said,

" Now, Master Cumbermede, would you like
to go and see the gardens, or take a walk in
the park and look at the deer ?"

" Please, Mrs. Wilson," I returned, " you pro-
mised to show me the house."

" You would like that, would you ?"

" Yes," I answered, — " better than any-
thing."

" Come, then," she said, and took a bunch of
keys from the wall. " Some of the rooms I
lock up when the family's away."

It was a vast place. Roughly it may be de-
scribed as a large oblong which the great hall,
with the kitchen and its offices, divided into two
square courts— the one flagged, the other gra-
velled. A passage dividing the hall from the
kitchen led through from the one court to the
other. We entered this central portion through
a small tower ; and, after a peep at the hall,

L2



148 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

ascended to a room above the entrance, access-
ible from an open gallery which ran along two
sides of the hall. The room was square, occu-
pying the area-space of the little entrance
tower. To my joyous amazement, its walls
were crowded with swords, daggers — weapons
in endless variety, mingled with guns and pis-
tols, for which I cared less. Some which had
hilts curiously carved and even jewelled, seemed
of foreign make. Their character was different
from that of the rest ; but most were evidently
of the same family with the one sword I knew.
Mrs. Wilson could tell me nothing about them.
All she knew was that this was the armoury,
and that Sir Giles had a book with something
written in it about every one of the weapons.
They were no chance collection : each had a
history. I gazed in wonder and delight.
Above the weapons hung many pieces of ar-
mour — no entire suits, however ; of those there
were several in the hall below. Finding that
Mrs. Wilson did not object to my handling the
weapons within my reach, I was soon so much
absorbed in the examination of them that I
started when she spoke.



I BUILD CASTLES. 149

" You shall come again, Master Cumbermede,"
she said. " We must go now."

I replaced a Highland broadsword, and turn-
ed to follow her. She was evidently pleased
with the alacrity of my obedience, and for the
first time bestowed on me a smile as she led
the way from the armoury by another door.
To my enhanced delight this door led into the
library. Gladly would I have lingered, but Mrs.
Wilson walked on, and I followed through
rooms and rooms, low-pitched, and hung with
tapestry, some carpeted, some floored with
black polished oak, others with some kind of
cement or concrete, all filled with ancient furni-
ture whose very aspect was a speechless marvel.
Out of one into another, along endless passages,
up and down winding stairs, now looking from
the summit of a lofty tower upon terraces and
gardens below — now lost in gloomy arches,
again out upon acres of leads, and now bathed
in the sweet gloom of the ancient chapel with
its stained windows of that old glass which
seems nothing at first, it is so modest and har-
monious, but which for that very reason grows
into a poem in the brain : you see it last and



150 WILFRID OUMBERMEDE.

love it best — I followed with unabating de-
light.

When at length Mrs. Wilson said I had seen
the whole, I begged her to let me go again into
the library, for she had not given me a moment
to look at it. She consented.

It was a part of the house not best suited
for the purpose, connected with the armoury by
a desceut of a few steps. It lay over some of
the housekeeping department, was too near the
great hall, and looked into the flagged court.
A library should be on the ground-floor in a
quiet wing, with an outlook on grass, and the
possibility of gaining it at once without going
through long passages. Nor was the library it-
self, architecturally considered, at all superior
to its position. The books had greatly out-
grown the space allotted to them, and several of
the neighbouring rooms had been annexed as
occasion required ; hence it consisted of half a
dozen rooms, some of them merely closets in-
tended for dressing-rooms, and all very ill light-
ed. I entered it however in no critical spirit,
but with a feeling of reverential delight. My
uncle's books had taught me to love books. I



I BUILD CASTLES. 151

had been accustomed to consider his five hun-
dred volumes a wonderful library ; but here
were thousands — as old, as musty, as neglected,
as dilapidated, therefore as certainly full of won-
der and discovery, as man or boy could wish. —
Oh the treasures of a house that has been grow-
ing for ages ! I leave a whole roomful of lethal
weapons, to descend three steps into six room-
fuls of books — each " the precious life-blood of
a master-spirit" — for as yet in my eyes all books
were worthy ! Which did I love best ? Old
swords or old books ? I could not tell ! I
had only the grace to know which I ought to love
best.

As we passed from the first room into the
second, up rose a white thing from the corner of
the window-seat, and came towards us. I start-
ed. Mrs. Wilson exclaimed :

" La ! Miss Clara ! how ever f '

The rest was lost in the abyss of possibility.

" They told me you were somewhere about,
Mrs. Wilson, and I thought I had better wait
here. How do you do I"

" La, child, you've given me such a turn !"
said Mrs. Wilson. "You might have been a



152 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

ghost if it had been in the middle of the night."

" I'm very sorry, Mrs. Wilson," said the girl
merrily. " Only yon see if it had been a ghost
it couldn't have been me."

" How's your papa, Miss Clara V '

" Oh ! he's always quite well."

" When did you see him ?"

" To-day. He's at home with grandpapa
now."

"And you ran away and left him?"

"Not quite that. He and grandpapa went
out about some business — to the copse at Dead-
man's Hollow, I think. They didn't want my
advice — they never do ; so I came to see you,
Mrs. Wilson."

By this time 1 had been able to look at the
girl. She was a year or two older than myself,
I thought, and the loveliest creature I had ever
seen. She had large blue eyes of the rare shade
called violet, a little round perhaps, but the long
lashes did something to rectify that fault ; and
a delicate nose — turned up a little of course,
else at her age she could not have been so
pretty. Her mouth was well curved, express-
ing a full share of Paley's happiness ; her chin



I BUTLP CASTLES. 153

was something large and projecting, but the
lines were fine. Her hair was a light brown, but
dark for her eyes, and her complexion would have
been enchanting to any one fond of the " sweet
mixture, red and white." Her figure was that
of a girl of thirteen, undetermined — but therein
I was not critical.' "An exceeding fair fore-
head," to quote Sir Philip Sidney, and plump,
white, dimple-knuckled hands complete the
picture sufficiently for the present. Indeed it
would have been better to say only that I was
taken with her, and then the reader might fancy
her such as he would have been taken with
himself. But I was not fascinated. It was
only that I was a boy and she was a girl, and
there being no element of decided repulsion, I
felt kindly disposed towards her.

Mrs. Wilson turned to me.

" Well, Master Cumbermede, you see I am
able to give you more than I promised."

M Yes," I returned ; " you promised to show
me the old house "

" And here," she interposed, " I show you a
young lady as well."

" Yes, thank you," 1 said simply. But I had



154 WILFRID CMMBERMEDE.

a feeling that Mrs. Wilson was not absolutely
well-pleased.

I was rather shy of Miss Clara — not that I
was afraid of her, but that I did not exactly
know what was expected of me, and Mrs. Wil-
son gave us no tether introduction to each
other. I was not so shy, however, as not to
wish Mrs. Wilson would leave us together, for
then, I thought, we should get on well enough ;
but such was not her intent. Desirous of being
agreeable, however — as far as I knew how, and
remembering that Mrs. Wilson had given me the
choice before, I said to her —

" Mightn't we go and look at the deer, Mrs.
Wilson T

" You had better not," she answered. " They
are rather ill-tempered just now. They might
run at you. I heard them fighting last night,
and knocking their horns together dreadfully."

" Then we'd better not," said Clara. " They
frightened me very much yesterday."

We were following Mrs. Wilson from the room.
As we passed the hall-door, we peeped in.

" Do you like such great high places V asked
Clara.



I BUILD CASTLES. 155

" Yes, I do," I answered. " I like great high
places. It makes you gasp somehow."

" Are you fond of gasping ? Does it do you
good?" she asked, with a mock-simplicity
which might be humour or something not so
pleasant.

"Yes. I think it does," I answered. "It
pleases me."

" I don't like it. I like a quiet snug place
like the library — not a great wide place like
this, that looks as if it had swallowed you and
didn't know it."

" What a clever creature she is !" I thought.
We turned away and followed Mrs. Wilson
again.

I had expected to spend the rest of the day
with her, but the moment we reached her apart-
ment, she got out a bottle of her home-made
wine and some cake, saying it was time for me
to go home. I was much disappointed — the
more that the pretty Clara remained behind ;
but what could I do ! I strolled back to Ald-
wick with my head fuller than ever of fancies
new and old. But Mrs. Wilson had said nothing
of going to see her again, and without an invi-



156 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

tation I could not venture to revisit the Hall.
In pondering over the events of the day, I
gave the man I had met in the wood a full share
in my meditations.



157



CHAPTER XT.



A TALK WITH MY UNCLE.



TIJH-EN I returned home for the Christmas
" " holidays, I told my uncle, amongst other
things, all that I have just recorded; for al-
though the affair seemed far away from me
now, I felt that he ought to know it. He was
greatly pleased with my behaviour in regard to
the apple. He did not identify the place, how-
ever, until he heard the name of the house-
keeper : then I saw a cloud pass over his face.
It grew deeper when I told him of my second
visit, especially while I described the man I had
met in the wood.

" I have a strange fancy about him, uncle," I
said. " I think he must be the same man that
came here one very stormy night — lung ago —
and wanted to take me away."



158 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

" Who told you of that ?" asked my uncle
startled.

I explained that I had been a listener.

" You ought not to have listened."

" I know that now ; but I did not know then.
I woke frightened, and heard the voices."

" What makes you think he was the same
man ?"

" I can't be sure, you know. But as often as
I think of the man I met in the wood, the recol-
lection of that night comes back to me."

" I daresay. What was he like V 9

I described him as well as I could.

" Yes," said my uncle, " I daresay. He is a
dangerous man."

" What did he want with me f

" He wanted to have something to do with
your education. He is an old friend — acquaint-
ance I ought to say — of your father's. I should
be sorry you had any intercourse with him.
He is a very worldly kind of man. He believes
in money and rank and getting on. He be-
lieves in nothing else that I know."

"Then I am sure I shouldn't like him," I
said.



A TALK WITH MY UNCLE. 159

" I am pretty sure you wouldn't," returned
my uncle.

I had never before heard him speak so severe-
ly of any one. But from this time he began to
talk to me more as if I had been a grown man.
There was a simplicity in his way of looking at
things, however, which made him quite intel-
ligible to a boy as yet uncorrupted by false aims
or judgments. He took me about with him
constantly, and I began to see him as he was,
and to honour and love him more than ever.

Christmas-day this year fell on a Sunday. It
was a model Christmas-day. My uncle and I
walked to church in the morning. When w r e
started, the grass was shining with frost, and
the air was cold ; a fog hung about the horizon,
and the sun shone through it with red rayless
countenance. But before we reached the church,
which was some three miles from home, the fog
was gone, and the frost had taken shelter with
the shadows ; the sun was dazzling without
being clear, and the golden cock on the spire
was glittering keen in the moveless air.

" What do they put a cock on the spire for,
uncle !" I asked.



160 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.



w To end off with an ornament, perhaps," he
answered.

" I thought it had been to show how the wind
blew."

" Well, it wouldn't be the first time great
things — I mean the spire, not the cock — had
been put to little uses."

" But why should it be a cock," I asked,
" more than any other bird ?"

" Some people — those to whom the church is
chiefly historical — would tell you it is the cock
that rebuked St. Peter. Whether it be so or
not, I think a better reason for putting it there
would be that the cock is the first creature to
welcome the light, and tell people that it is
coming. Hence it is a symbol of the clergy-
man."

" But our clergyman doesn't wake the peo-
ple, uncle. I've seen him send you to sleep
sometimes."

My uncle laughed.

" I daresay there are some dull cocks too," he
answered.

" There's one at the farm," I said, " which
goes on crowing every now and then all night



A TALK WITH MY UNCLE.



h\r



— in his sleep — Janet says. But it never wakes
till all the rest are out in the yard."

My uncle laughed again. We had reached
the churchyard, and by the time we had visited
grannie's grave — that was the only one I thought
of in the group of family mounds — the bells had
ceased, and we entered.

I at least did not sleep this morning; not
however because of the anti-somnolence of the
clergyman — but that, in a pew not far off from
me, sat Clara. I could see her as often as I
pleased to turn my head half-way round.
Church is a very favourable place for falling in
love. It is all very well for the older people to
shake their heads and say you ought to be
minding the service — that does not affect the
fact stated — especially when the clergyman is
of the half-awake order who take to the church
as a gentleman-like profession. Having to sit
so still, with the pretty face so near, with no
obligation to pay it attention, but with perfect
liberty to look at it, a boy in the habit of invent-
ing stories could hardly help fancying himself
in love with it. Whether she saw me or not, I
cannot tell. Although she passed me close as

VOL. I. M



162 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

we came out, she did not look my way, and I
had not the hardihood to address her.

As we were walking home, my uncle broke
the silence.

" You would like to be an honourable man,
wouldn't you, Willie ?" he said.

" Yes, that I should, uncle."

" Could you keep a secret now ?"

"Yes, uncle."

" But there are two ways of keeping a secret."

" I don't know more than one."

"What's that?"

" Not to tell it."

" Never to show that you knew it, would be
better still."

" Yes, it would "

" But, suppose a thing : — suppose you knew
that there was a secret ; suppose you wanted
very much to find it out, and yet would not try
to find it out : wouldn't that be another way of
keeping it?"

" Yes, it would. If I knew there was a secret,
I should like to find it out."

" Well, I am going to try you. There is a
secret. I know it; you do not. You have a



A TALK WITH MY UNCLE. lt>3

right to know it some day, but not yet. I mean
to tell it you, but I want you to learn a great
deal first. I want to keep the secret from hurt-
ing you. Just as you would keep things from
a baby which would hurt him, I have kept some
things from you."

" Is the sword one of them, uncle?" I asked.

" You could not do anything with the secret if
you did know it," my uncle went on, without heed-
ing my question ; " but there may be designing
people who would make a tool of you for their
own ends. It is far better you should be ignor-
ant. Now will you keep my secret? — or in
other words, will you trust me ?"

I felt a little frightened, My imagination
was at work on the formless thing. But I was
chiefly afraid of the promise — lest I should any-
way break it.

" I will try to keep the secret — keep it from
myself, that is — ain't it, uncle '?"

" Yes. That is just what I mean."

" But how long will it be for, uncle ?"

u I am not quite sure. It will depend on how
wise and sensible you grow. Some boys are

M 2



164 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

men at eighteen — some not at forty. The more
reasonable and well-behaved you are, the sooner
shall I feel at liberty to tell it you."

He ceased, and I remained silent. I was not
astonished. The vague news fell in with all
my fancies. The possibility of something plea-
sant, nay even wonderful and romantic, of
course suggested itself, and the hope which
thence gilded the delay tended to reconcile me
to my ignorance.

" I think it better you should not go back to
Mr. Elder's, Willie," said my uncle.

I was stunned at the words. Where could a
place be found to compare for blessedness with
Mr. Elder's school ? Not even the great Hall,
with its acres of rooms and its age-long history,
could rival it.

" Some moments passed before I could utter
a faltering " Why V '

" That is part of my secret, Willie," answered
my uncle. " I know it will be a disappointment
to you, for you have been very happy with Mr.
Elder."

"Yes, indeed," I answered. It was all I
could say, for the tears were rolling down my



A TALK WITH MY UNCLE. 165

cheeks, and there was a great lump in my throat.

" I am very sorry indeed to give you pain,
Willie," he said kindly.

" It's not my blame, is it, uncle V I sobbed.

" Not in the least, my boy."

" Oh ! then, I don't mind it so much."

" There's a brave boy ! Now the question is,
what to do with you."

" Can't I stop at home, then I"

"No, that won't do either, 'Willie. I must
have you taught, and I haven't time to teach
you myself. Neither am I scholar enough for
it now ; my learning has got rusty. I know
your father would have wished to send you to


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