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college, and although I do not very well see
how I can manage it, I must do the best I can.
I'm not a rich man, you see, Willie, though I
have a little laid by. I never could do much at
making money, and I must not leave your aunt
unprovided for."

" No, uncle. Besides, I shall soon be able to
work for myself and you too."

" Not for a long time if you go to college,
Willie. But we need not talk about that yet."

In the evening I went to my uncle's room.



166 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

He was sitting by his fire •reading the New
Testament.

" Please, uncle," I said, " will yon tell ine some-
thing about my father and mother?"

" With pleasure, my boy," he answered, and
after a moment's thought began to give me a
sketch of my father's life, with as many touches
of the man himself as he could at the moment
recall. I will not detain my reader with the
narrative. It is sufficient to say that my father
was a simple honourable man, without much
education, but a great lover of plain books.
His health had always been delicate ; and be-
fore he died he had been so long an invalid that
my mother's health had given way in nursing
him, so that she very soon followed him. As
his narrative closed my uncle said : " Now,
Willie, you see, with a good man like that for
your father, you are bound to be good and
honourable. Never mind whether people praise
you or not ; you do what you ought to do.
And don't be always thinking of your rights.
There are people who consider themselves very
grand because they can't bear to be interfered
with. They think themselves lovers of justice,



A TALK WITH MY UNCLE. 167

when it is only justice to themselves they care
about. The true lover of justice is one who
would rather die a slave than interfere with the
rights of others. To wrong anyone is the most
terrible thing in the world. Injustice to you is
not an awful thing like injustice in you. I should
like to see you a great man, Willie. Do you
know what I mean by a great man ?"

"Something else than I know, I'm afraid,
uncle," I answered.

" A great man is one who will try to do right
against the devil himself ; one who will not do
wrong to please anybody or to save his life."

I listened, but I thought with myself a man
might do all that, and be no great man. I would
do something better — some fine deed or other — ■
I did not know what now, but I should find out
by-and-by. My uncle was too easily pleased ;
I should demand more of a great man. Not so
did the knights of old gain their renown. I was
silent.

"I don't want you to take my opinions as
yours, you know, Willie," my uncle resumed.
" But I want you to remember what my opinion
is."



1 68 WILFRID OUMBERMEDE.

As he spoke, he went to a drawer in the room,
and brought out something which he put in
my hands. I could hardly believe my eyes. It
was the watch grannie had given me.

" There," he said, " is your father's watch.
Let it keep you in mind that to be good is to be
great."

" Oh, thank you, uncle !" I said, heeding only
my recovered treasure. " But didn't it belong
to somebody before my father ? Grannie gave
it me as if it had been hers."

"Your grandfather gave it to your father;
but when he died, your great-grandmother took
it. Did she tell you anything about it ?"

" Nothing particular. She said it was her
husband's."

" So it was, I believe."

" She used to call him my father."

" Ah, you remember that !"

" I've had so much time to think about things,
uncle!"

" Yes. Well — I hope you will think more
about things yet."

"Yes, uncle. But there's something else I
should like to ask you about."



A TALK WITH MY UXCLE. 169

"What's that?"

" The old sword."

My uncle smiled, and rose again, saying,

u Ah ! I thought as much. Is that anything
like it?" he added, bringing it from the bottom
of a cupboard.

I took it from his hands with awe. It was
the same. If I could have mistaken the hilt, I
could not mistake the split sheath.

"Oh, uncle?" I exclaimed, breathless with
delight.

"That's it — isn't it?" he said, enjoying my
enjoyment.

" Yes, that it is ! Now tell me all about it,
please."

" Indeed I can tell you very little. Some an-
cestor of ours fought with it somewhere. There
was a story about it, but I have forgot it. You
may have it if you like."

" No, uncle ! May I ? To take away with
me?"

" Yes. I think you are old enough now not
to do any mischief with it."

I do not believe there was a happier boy in
England that night. I did not mind where I



170 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

went now. I thought I could even bear to bid
Mrs. Elder farewell. Whether therefore posses-
sion had done me good, I leave my reader to
judge. But happily for our blessedness, the joy
of possession soon palls, and not many days had
gone by before I found I had a heart yet.
Strange to say, it was my aunt who touched it.

I do not yet know all the reasons which
brought my uncle to the resolution of sending
me abroad : it was certainly an unusual mode
of preparing one for the university ; but the
next day he disclosed the plan to me. I was
pleased with the notion. But my aunt's apron
went up to her eyes. It was a very hard apron,
and I pitied those eyes although they were
fierce.

" Oh, auntie !" I said, " what are you crying
for ? Don't you like me to go ?"

" It's too far off, child. How am I to get to
you if you should be taken ill?"

Moved both by my own pleasure and her
grief, I got up and threw my arms round her
neck. I had never done so before. She re-
turned my embrace and wept freely.

As it was not a fit season for travelling, and



A TALK WITH MY UNCLE. 171

as ray uncle had not yet learned whither it
would be well to send me, it was after all re-
solved that I should return to Mr. Elder's for
another half-year. This gave me unspeakable
pleasure ; and I set out for school again in such
a blissful mood as must be rare in the experience
of any life.



172



CHAPTER XII.



THE HOUSE-STEWARD.



"1JY uncle had had the watch cleaned and re-
-"-*- paired for me, so that, notwithstanding its
great age, it was yet capable of a doubtful sort
of service. Its caprices were almost human,
but they never impaired the credit of its pos-
session in the eyes of my school-fellows ; rather
they added to the interest of the little machine,
inasmuch as no one could foretell its behaviour
under any circumstances. We were far oftener
late now, when we went out for a ramble.
Heretofore we had used our faculties and con-
sulted the sky — now we trusted to the watch,
and indeed acted as if it could regulate the
time to our convenience, and carry us home
afterwards. We regarded it, in respect of time,
very much as some people regard the Bible in



THE HOUSE-STEWARD. 173

respect of eternity. And the consequences
were similar. We made an idol of it, and the
idol played us the usual idol-pranks.

But I think the possession of the sword, in my
own eyes too a far grander thing than the watch,
raised me yet higher in the regard of my com-
panions. We could not be on such intimate terms
with the sword, for one thing, as with the watch.
It was in more senses than one beyond our
sphere — a thing to be regarded with awe and
reverence. Mr. Elder had most wisely made
no objection to my having it in our bed-room ;
but he drove two nails into the wall and hung
it high above my reach, saying the time
had not come for my handling it. I be-
lieve the good man respected the ancient
weapon, and wished to preserve it from
such usage as it might have met with from
boys. It was the more a constant stimulus to
my imagination, and I believe insensibly to my
moral nature as well, connecting me in a kind
of dim consciousness with foregone ancestors
who had, I took it for granted, done well on
the battle-field. I had the sense of an inherited
character to sustain in the new order of things.



174 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

But there was more in its influence which I can
hardly define — the inheritance of it even gave
birth to a certain sense of personal dignity.

Although I never thought of visiting Mold-
warp Hall again without an invitation, I took
my companions more than once into the woods
which lay about it : thus far I used the right of
my acquaintance with the housekeeper. One day
in Spring, I had gone with them to the old nar-
row bridge. I was particularly fond of visiting
it. We lingered a long time about Queen Eli-
zabeth's oak ; and by climbing up on each
other's shoulders, and so gaining some stumps
of vanished boughs, had succeeded in clamber-
ing, one after another, into the wilderness of
its branches, where the young buds were now
pushing away the withered leaves before them,
as the young generations of men push the older
into the grave. When my turn came, I climbed
and climbed until I had reached a great height
in its top.

Then I sat down, holding by the branch
over my head, and began to look about me.
Below was an entangled net, as it seemed — a
labyrinth of boughs, branches, twigs, and shoots.



THE HOUSE-STEWARD. 175

If I had fallen I could hardly have reached the
earth. Through this environing mass of lines,
I caught glimpses of the country around —
green fields, swelling into hills, where the fresh
foliage was bursting from the trees ; and below,
the little stream was pursuing its busy way by
a devious but certain path to its unknown fu-
ture. Then my eyes turned to the tree-clad
ascent on the opposite side : through the top-
most of its trees, shone a golden spark, a glim-
mer of yellow fire. It was the vane on the
highest tower of the Hall. A great desire
seized me to look on the lordly pile once more.
I descended in haste, and proposed to my com-
panions that we should climb through the woods,
and have a peep at the house. The eldest, who
was in a measure in charge of us — his name
was Bardsley, for Fox was gone — proposed to
consult my w^atch first. Had we known that the
faithless thing had stopped for an hour and a half,
and then . resumed its onward course as if no-
thing had happened, we should not have delay-
ed our return. As it was, off we scampered
for the pack-horse bridge, which we left behind
us only after many frog-leaps over the obstruct-



176 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

ing stones at the ends. Then up through the
wood we went like wild creatures, abstaining
however from all shouting and mischief, aware
that we were on sufferance only. At length
we stood on the verge of the descent, when
to our surprise we saw the sun getting low
in the horizon. Clouds were gathering over-
head, and a wailful wind made one moaning
sweep through the trees behind us in the
hollow. The sun had hidden his shape, but
not his splendour, in the skirts of the white
clouds which were closing in around him.
Spring as it was, I thought I smelled snow in
the air. But the vane which had drawn me shone
brilliant against a darkening cloud, like a golden
bird in the sky. We looked at each other, not
in dismay exactly, but with a common feeling
that the elements were gathering against us.
The wise way would of course have been to turn
at once and make for home ; but the watch had
to be considered. Was the watch right, or was
the watch wrong! Its health and conduct
were of the greatest interest to the common-
weal. That question must be answered. We
looked from the watch to the sun, and back



THE HOUSE-STEWARD. 177

from the sun to the watch. Steady to all ap-
pearance as the descending sun itself, the hands
were trotting and crawling along their appoint-
ed way, with a look of unconscious innocence,
in the midst of their diamond coronet. I volun-
teered to settle the question : I would run to
the Hall, ring the bell, and ask leave to go as
far into the court as to see the clock on the
central tower. The proposition was applauded.
I ran, rang, and being recognized by the por-
tress, was at once admitted. In a moment I
had satisfied myself of the treachery of my
bosom-friend, and was turning to leave the
court, when a lattice opened, and I heard a
voice calling my name. It was Mrs. Wilson's.
She beckoned me. I went up under the
window.

" Why don't you come and see me, Master
Cumbermede f" she said.

" You didn't ask me, Mrs. Wilson. I should
have liked to come very much."

"Come in, then, and have tea with me
now."

" No, thank you," I answered. " My school-
fellows are waiting for me, and we are too

VOL. 1. N



178 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

late already. I only came to see the clock."
" Well, you must come soon, then."
" I will, Mrs. Wilson. Good night," I an-
swered, and away I ran, opened the wicket for
myself, set my foot in the deep shoe-mould, then
rushed down the rough steps and across the
grass to my companions.

When they heard what time it was, they
turned without a word, and in less than a
minute we were at the bottom of the hill and
over the bridge. The wood followed us with a
moan which was gathering to a roar. Down in the
meadow it was growing dark. Before we reach-
ed the lodge, it had begun to rain, and the wind,
when we got out upon the road, was blowing a
gale. We were seven miles from home. Hap-
pily the wind was in our back, and, wet to the
skin, but not so weary because of the aid of the
wind, we at length reached Aldwick. The sole
punishment we had for being so late — and that
was more a precaution than a punishment —
was that we had to go to bed immediately after
a hurried tea. To face and fight the elements
is, however, an invaluable lesson in childhood,
and I do not think those parents do well who



THE HOUSE-STEWARD. 179

are over-careful to preserve all their children
from all inclemencies of weather or season.

When the next holiday drew near, I once
more requested and obtained permission to visit
MoldwarpHall. I am now puzzled to understand
why my uncle had not interdicted it, but cer-
tainly he had laid no injunctions upon me in
regard thereto. Possibly he had communicated
with Mrs. Wilson : I do not know. If he had
requested Mr. Elder to prevent me, I could not
have gone. So far, however, must this have
been from being the case that, on the eve of the
holiday, Mr. Elder said to me :

"If Mrs. Wilson should ask you to stay all
night, you may."

I suspect he knew more about some things
than I did. The notion of staying all night
seemed to me, however, out of the question.
Mrs. Wilson could not be expected to entertain
me to that extent. I fancy, though, that she
had written to make the request. My school-
fellows accompanied me as far as the bridge,
and there left me. Mrs. Wilson received me
with notable warmth, and did propose that I
should stay all night, to which I gladly agreed,

N 2



180 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

more, it must be confessed, from the attraction
of the old house than the love I bore to Mrs.
Wilson.

"But what is that you are carrying?" she
asked.

It was my sword. This requires a little ex-
planation.

It was natural enough that on the eve of a
second visit, as I hoped, to the armoury, I
should, on going up to bed, lift my eyes with
longing look to my own sword. The thought
followed — what a pleasure it would be to com-
pare it with the other swords in the armoury.
If I could only get it down and smuggle it
away with me ! It was my own. I believed
Mr. Elder would not approve of this, but at the
same time he had never told me not to take it
down : he had only hung it too high for any of
us to reach it — almost close to the ceiling in
fact. But a want of enterprise was not then a
fault of mine, and the temptation was great.
So, when my chum was asleep, I rose, and by
the remnant of a fading moon got together the
furniture — no easy undertaking when the least
noise would have betrayed me. Fortunately



THE HOUSE-STEWARD. 181

there was a chest of drawers not far from under
the object of nay ambition, and I managed by
half inches to move it the few feet necessary.
On the top of this I hoisted the small dressing-
table, which, being only of deal, was very light.
The chest of drawers was large enough to hold
my small box beside the table. I got on the
drawers by means of a chair, then by means of
the box I got on the table, and so succeeded in
getting down the sword. Having replaced the
furniture, I laid the weapon under my bolster,
and was soon fast asleep. The moment I woke,
I got up, and before the house was stirring had
deposited the sword in an outbuilding whence I
could get easily get it off the premises. Of
course my companions knew, and I told them
all my design. Moberly hinted that I ought to
have asked Mr. Elder, but his was the sole re-
mark in that direction.

" It is my sword, Mrs. Wilson," I answered.

" How do you come to have a sword ?" she
asked. " It is hardly a fit plaything for

you."

I told her how it had been in the house since
long before I was born, and that I had brought



182 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

it to compare with some of the swords in the
armoury.

" Very well," she answered. "I daresay we
can manage it ; but when Mr. Close is at home,
it is not very easy to get into the armoury.
He's so jealous of any one touching his swords
and guns !"

"Who is Mr. Close, then?"
" Mr. Close is the house-steward."
" But they're not his, then, are they f
"It's quite enough that he thinks so. He
has a fancy for that sort of thing. I'm sure I
don't see anything so precious in the rusty old
rubbish."

I suspected that, as the saying is, there was
no love lost between Mrs. Wilson and Mr. Close.
I learned afterwards that he had been chaplain
to a regiment of foot, which, according to ru-
mour, he had had to leave for some misconduct.
This was in the time of the previous owner of
Moldwarp Hall, and nobody now knew the cir-
cumstances under which he had become house-
steward — a position in which Sir Giles, when
he came to the property, had retained his
services.



THE HOUSE-STEWARD. 183

" We are going to have company, and a
dance, this evening," continued Mrs. Wilson.
" I hardly know what to do with you, my hands
are so full."

This was not very consistent with her invit-
ing me to stay all night, and confirms my sus-
picion that she had made a request to that pur-
port of Mr. Elder, for otherwise, surely, she
would have sent me home.

" Oh ! never mind me, Mrs. Wilson," I said.
" If you will let me wander about the place, I
shall be perfectly comfortable."

" Yes ; but you might get in the way of the
family, or the visitors," she said.

"I'll take good care of that," I returned.
" Surely there is room in this huge place with-
out running against any one."

" There ought to be," she answered.

After a few minutes' silence, she resumed.

" We shall have a good many of them staying
all night, but there will be room for you, I dare-
say. What would you like to do with yourself
till they begin to come 1"

" I should like to go to the library," I an-
swered, thinking, I confess, of the adjacent



184 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

armoury as well. " Should I be in the way
there ?"

" No ; I don't think you would," she replied,
thoughtfully. "It's not often any one goes
there."

" Who takes charge of the books?" I asked.

" Oh ! books don't want much taking care of,"
she replied. " I have thought of having them
down and dusting the place out, but it would
be such a job! and the dust don't signify upon
old books. They ain't of much count in this
house. Nobody heeds them."

" I wish Sir Giles would let me come and put
them in order in the holidays," I said, little
knowing how altogether unfit I yet was for
such an undertaking.

" Ah well ! we'll see. Who knows ?"

" You don't think he would !" I exclaimed.

" I don't know. Perhaps he might. But I
thought yOu were going abroad soon."

I had not said anything to her on the subject.
I had never had an opportunity.

" Who told you that, Mrs. Wilson ?"

" Never you mind. A little bird. Now you
had better go to the library. I daresay you



THE HOUSE-STEWARD. 185

won't hart anything, for Sir Giles, although he
never looks at the books, would be dreadfully
angry if he thought anything were happening
to them."

M I'll take as good care of them as if they were
my uncle's. He used to let me handle his as much
as I liked. I used to mend them up for him.
I'm quite accustomed to books, I assure you,
Mrs. Wilson."

" Come, then ; I will show you the way," she
said.

" I think I know the way," I answered. For
I had pondered so much over the place, and
had, I presume, tilled so many gaps of recollec-
tion with creations of fancy, that I quite be-
lieved I knew my way all about the house.

u We shall see," she returned with a smile.
" 1 will take you the nearest way, and you shall
tell me on your honour if you remember it."

She led the way, and I followed. Passing
down the stone stair and through several rooms,
mostly plain bedrooms, we arrived at a wooden
staircase, of which there were few in the place.
We ascended a little way, crossed one or two
rooms more, came out on a small gallery open



186 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

to the air, a sort of covered bridge across a
gulf in the building, re-entered, and after cross-
ing other rooms, tapestried, and to my eyes
richly furnished, arrived at the first of those oc-
cupied by the library.

" Now did you know the way, Wilfrid ?"

" Not in the least," I answered. " I cannot
think how I could have forgotten it so entirely.
I am ashamed of myself."

" You have no occasion," she returned. " You
never went that way at all."

" Oh, dear me !" I said ; " what a place it is !
I might lose myself in it for a week."

" Y"ou would come out somewhere, if you
went on long enough, I daresay. But you
must not leave the library till I come and
fetch you. You will w T ant some dinner before
long."

" What time do you dine V ' I asked, putting
my hand to my watchpocket.

" Ah ! you've got a watch — have you ? But
indeed, on a day like this, I dine when 1 can.
You needn't fear. I will take care of you."

" Mayn't I go into the armoury f

"If you don't mind the risk of meeting Mr.



THE HOUSE-STEWARD. 187

Close. But he's not likely to be there to-
day."

She left me with fresh injunctions not to stir
till she came for me. But I now felt the place
to be so like a rabbit-warren, that I dared not
leave the library, if not for the fear of being
lost, then for the fear of intruding upon some of
the family. I soon nestled in a corner, with
books behind, books before, and books all around
me. After trying several spots, like a miner
searching for live lodes, and finding nothing
auriferous to my limited capacities and tastes, I
at length struck upon a rich vein, instantly
dropped on the floor, and, with my back
against the shelves, was now immersed in " The
Seven Champions of Christendom." As I read,
a ray of light, which had been creeping along
the shelves behind me, leaped upon my page.
I looked up. 1 had not yet seen the room so
light. Nor had I perceived before in what con-
fusion and with what disrespect the books
were heaped upon the shelves. A dim feeling
awoke in me that to restore such a world to
order would be like a work of creation ; but I
sank again forthwith in the delights of a feast



188 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

provided for an imagination which had in gene-
ral to feed itself. I had here all the delight of
invention without any of its effort.

At length I became aware of some weariness.
The sunbeam had vanished, not only from the
page, but from the room. I began to stretch my
arms. As the tension of their muscles relaxed,
my hand fell upon the sword which I had carried
with me and laid on the floor by my side. It
awoke another mental nerve. I would go and
see the armoury.

I rose, and wandered slowly through room
after room of the library, dragging my sword
after me. When I reached the last, there, in
the corner next the outer wall of the house,
rose the three stone steps leading to the little
door that communicated with the treasury of
ancient strife. I stood at the foot of the steps
irresolute for a moment, fearful lest my black
man, Mr. Close, should be within, polishing his
weapons perhaps, and fearful in his wrath. I
ascended the steps, listened at the door, heard
nothing, lifted the old, quaintly- formed latch,
peeped in, and entered. There was the whole
collection, abandoned to my eager gaze and



THE HOUSE-STEWARD. 189

eager hands ! How long I stood, taking down
weapon after weapon, examining each like an
old book, speculating upon modes of use, and
intention of varieties in form, poring over adorn-
ment and mounting, I cannot tell. Historically


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