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glass in your stead. Even if it had broken my heart, I stand alone; no
other lives depend on me for well-being, and perhaps for well-doing.
Cannot you think of this, dear John, and try to bear it and overlive it
for their sakes? Look, day begins to dawn, and the morning star
flickers. Come in; cannot you rise?"

"I suppose not; I have tried. You will not go?"

"Yes; I may be wanted."

"You have no resentments, Emily?"

"Oh no," she answered, understanding him.

"Then give me one kiss."

"Yes." She stooped again toward him and gave it. "You are going to live,
John, and serve and love God, and even thank Him in the end, whatever
happens."

"You are helping me to live," he answered.

It seemed impossible to him to say a single word more, and she went back
towards the house again, moving more quickly as she drew near, because
the sound of wheels was audible. As for him, he watched in the solemn
dawn her retiring figure with unutterable regret. His other despair, who
had talked to him of hope and consoled him with a simple directness of
tender humanity, given him a kiss because he asked it. He had often
wanted a woman's caressing affection before, and gone without it. It
promised nothing, he thought; he perceived that it was the extremity she
saw in the situation that had prompted it. When she next met him she
would not, he knew, be ashamed of her kiss. If she thought about it, she
would be aware that he understood her, and would not presume on it.

The spots of milky whiteness resolved themselves again into blush roses;
hundreds and hundreds of them scented the air. Overhead hung long
wreaths of honeysuckle; colours began to show themselves; purple iris
and tree peony started out in detached patches from the shade; birds
began to be restless; here and there one fluttered forth with a few
sudden, imperfect notes; and the cold curd-like creases in the sky took
on faint lines of gold. And there was Emily - Emily coming down the
garden again, and Giles Brandon with her. Something in both their faces
gave him courage to speak.

"St. George, you are not come merely to help me in. I heard wheels."

Emily had moved a step forward; it was light enough now to show her face
distinctly. The doctors had both paid a visit; they came together, she
told him.

"It was very good of them; they are more than considerate," he answered,
sure that the news could not be bad.

"They both saw Anastasia, and they agreed that there was a decided
improvement."

"I thank God."

With the aid of hope and a strong arm he managed to get up and stagger
towards the house; but having once reached his room, it was several days
before he could leave it or rise, though every message told of slow
improvement.

A strange week followed the return of hope. The weeds in the garden
began to take courage after long persecution, while Mr. Swan might
frequently be seen reading aloud by Johnnie's bedside, sometimes the
Bible, sometimes the newspaper, Master A.J. Mortimer deriving in his
intervals of ease a grave satisfaction from the old man's peculiar style
and his quaint remarks.

"I'm allers a comfort to them boys," Swan was heard to remark in the
middle of the night, when Valentine, who was refreshing himself with a
short walk in the dark, chanced to be near him as he came on with his
wife.

"And how do you get on, Maria?"

"Why, things seem going wrong, somehow. There's that new nurse feels
herself unwell, and the jelly's melted, and Miss Christie was cross."

"That's awkward; but they're trifles. When the mud's up to your neck,
you needn't trouble yourself because you've lost your pattens. You want
a night's rest, my dear."

"Ay, I do; and don't you worrit, Swan, over Matthew being so _ugly_ with
you."

"Certainly not," said Swan. "He's turned more civil too. Said he to me
this morning, 'Misfortunes in this life is what we all hev to expect.
They ought not to surprise us,' said he; 'they never surprise me, nor
nothing does.' It's true too. And he's allers for making a sensible
observation, as he thinks (that shows what a fool he is). No, if he was
to meet a man with three heads, he wouldn't own as he was surprised;
he'd merely say, 'You must find this here dispensation very expensive in
hats.'"



CHAPTER XXXII.

MR. BRANDON IS MADE THE SUBJECT OF AN
HONOURABLE COMPARISON.


John Mortimer, thanks to a strong frame and an excellent constitution,
was soon able to rise. He stood by his little Janie when she was laid in
the grave, and felt, when he could think about it, how completely he and
his had been spared the natural sorrow they would have suffered by the
overshadowing gloom of greater misfortunes.

There was no mother to make lamentation. It was above all things needful
to keep up Johnnie's spirits, and not discourage him. He had gone
through a harder struggle for his life than his father knew of; but the
sight of his pinched features and bright, anxious eyes began only now to
produce their natural effect. John always came into his room with a
serene countenance, and if he could not command his voice so as to speak
steadily and cheerfully, he sat near him, and was silent.

There was little sign of mourning about the place. Never did a beautiful
little promising life slip away so unobserved. Anastasia did not even
know that her companion was gone. She was still not out of danger, and
she wanted a world of watching and comforting and amusing.

They all wanted that. John, as he passed from room to room, strangely
grateful for the care and kindness that had come into his house almost
unbidden, was sometimes relieved himself in listening to the talk that
went on.

Only two of his children were quite unhurt; these were Barbara (and she
found quite enough occupation in waiting on her twin sister) and little
Hugh, who sometimes wandered about after his father almost as
disconsolate as himself, and sometimes helped to amuse Bertram, showing
him pictures, while Miss Christie told him tales. Master Bertram
Mortimer, having reached the ripe age of nine years, had come to the
conclusion that it was _muffish_ - like a _cad_, like a girl - to cry. So
when his broken arm and other grievances got beyond his power of
endurance, he used to call out instead, while his tender-hearted little
brother did the crying for him, stuffing his bright head into the
pillows and sobbing as if his heart would break.

On one of these occasions John drew the child away and took him
downstairs. "I'm crying about Janie too," he said, creeping into his
father's arms to be consoled, and not knowing the comfort this touch of
natural sorrow had imparted to an over-strained heart.

The weather was unusually hot for the time of year, the doors and
windows stood open, so that John could pass about as he pleased; he
judged by the tone of voice in which each one spoke whether things were
going well or not. After he had sent little Hugh to bed that evening he
went upstairs and sat in a staircase window, in full view of Johnnie's
room. Swan was talking by the boy's bedside, while Johnnie seemed well
content to listen. Little notice was taken when he appeared, and the
discourse went on with quiet gravity, and that air of conviction which
Swan always imparted to his words.

"Ay, sir, Mr. Fergus will have it that the cottagers are obstinate
because they wont try for the easy things as he wants them to. The
common garden stuff they show has allers been disgraceful, and yet,
sometimes they interfere with him and take a prize for flowers. 'That
shows they know their own business,' says I; 'it don't follow that
because my parrot can talk, my dog's obstinate because he won't learn
his letters.' 'Mr. Swan,' says he, 'you're so smothered in
illustrations, there's no argufying with you.' Master Johnnie, you was
to drink your beef tea by this time."

"Not just yet. I hate it. Tell me the rest about Fergus."

"'Well,' he said, 'I mean no disrespect to you, Mr. Swan.' 'No?' says I.
'No,' said he, 'but you and I air that high among the competitors that
if we didn't try against one another we could allers hev it our own way.
Now, if you'll not show your piccatees this time, I'll promise you not
to bring forrard so much as one pelagonium.'"

"The cheat!" exclaimed Johnnie. "Why we have none worth mentioning, and
the piccatees are splendid, Swanny."

"That's it, sir. He'd like me to keep out of his way, and then, however
hard it might be on the other gardeners, he'd have all the county prizes
thrown open to the cottagers, that's to say, those he doesn't want
himself. He's allers for being generous with what's not his. He said as
much to me as that he wished this could be managed. He thought it would
be handy for us, and good for the poor likewise. 'That,' I says, 'would
be much the same as if a one-legged man should steal a pair of boots,
and think to make it a righteous action by giving away the one he didn't
want in charity.' As he was so fond of illustrations, I thought I'd give
him enough of them. 'Mr. Swan,' says he, rather hot, 'this here is very
plain speaking.' 'I paid for my pipe myself,' says I, 'and I shall smoke
it which side my mouth I please.' So now you know why we quarrelled,
sir. It's the talk of all the country round, and well it may be, for
there's nobody fit to hold a candle to us two, and all the other
gardeners know it."

"I'll drink the stuff now," said Johnnie. "Father, is that you?"

"Yes, my dearest boy."

"You can't think how well I feel tonight, father. Swanny, go down and
have some supper, and mind you come again."

"Ay, to be sure, Mr. Johnnie."

"You're not going to sit up tonight, my good old friend," said John,
passing into the room.

"Well, no, sir, Mr. Johnnie hev cheated the doctor to that extent that
he's not to hev anybody by him this night, the nurse is to come in and
give him a look pretty frequent, and that's all."

John came and sat by his boy, took his thin hand, and kissed him.

"It's a lark, having old Swanny," said the young invalid, "he's been
reading me a review of Mr. Brandon's book. He told Val that Smiles at
the post office had read it, and didn't think much of it, but that it
showed Mr. Brandon had a kind heart. 'And so he has,' said Swan, 'and he
couldn't hide that if he wished to. Why, he's as good as a knife that
has pared onions, sir, - everything it touches relishes of 'em.'"

"You had better not repeat that to Mr. Brandon," said John, "he is
rather touchy about his book. It has been very unfavourably reviewed."

"But Swan intended a compliment," answered Johnnie, "and he loves
onions. I often see him at his tea, eating slices of them with the bread
and butter. You are better now, dear father, are you not?"

"Yes, my boy. What made you think there was anything specially the
matter with me?"

"Oh, I knew you must be dreadfully miserable, for you could hardly take
any notice even of me."

A small shrill voice, thin and silvery, was heard across the passage.

"Nancy often talks now," said Johnnie; "she spoke several times this
morning."

John rose softly and moved towards it. "And what did the robin say
then," it asked. Emily's clear voice answered, "The robin said, 'No, my
wings are too short, I cannot fly over the sea, but I can stop here and
be very happy all the winter, for I've got a warm little scarlet
waistcoat.' Then the nightingale said, 'What does winter mean? I never
heard of such a thing. Is it nice to eat?"

"That was very silly of the nightingale," answered the little voice. The
father thought it the sweetest and most consoling sound he had ever
heard in his life. "But tell the story," it went on peremptorily in
spite of its weakness, "and then did the robin tell him about the snow?"

"Oh yes; he said, 'Sometimes such a number of little cold white feathers
fall down from the place where the sun and moon live, that they cover up
all the nice seeds and berries, so that we can find hardly anything to
eat. But,' the robin went on, 'we don't care very much about that. Do
you see that large nest, a very great nest indeed, with a red top to
it?' 'Yes,' the nightingale said he did. 'A nice little girl lives
there,' said the robin. 'Her name is Nancy. Whenever the cold feathers
come, she gives us such a number of crumbs.'"

"Father, look at me," said the little creature, catching sight of her
father. "Come and look at me, I'm so grand." She turned her small white
face on the pillow as he entered, and was all unconscious both how long
it was since she had set her eyes on him, and the cause. Emily had been
dressing a number of tiny dolls for her, with gauzy wings, and gay
robes; they were pinned about the white curtains of her bed. "My little
fairies," she said faintly; "tell it, Mrs. Nemily."

"The fairies are come to see if Nancy wants anything," said Emily.
"Nancy is the little Queen. She is very much better this evening, dear
John." John knelt by the child to bring her small face close to his,
and blessed her; he had borne the strain of many miserable hours without
a tear, but the sound of this tender little voice completely overpowered
him.

Emily was the only person about him who was naturally and ardently
hopeful, but she scarcely ever left the child. He was devoured by
anxiety himself, but he learned during the next two days to bless the
elastic spirits of youth, and could move about among his other children
pleased to see them smile and sometimes to hear them laugh. They were
all getting better; Valentine took care they should not want for
amusement, and Crayshaw, who, to do him justice, had not yet heard of
little Janie's death or of Nancy's extremely precarious state, did not
fail to write often, and bestow upon them all the nonsense he could
think of. After his short sojourn in Germany, he had been sent back to
Harrow, and there finding letters from the Mortimers awaiting him, had
answered one of them as follows: -

LINES COMPOSED ON RECEIVING A PORTRAIT OF
GLADYS WITH BLOB IN HER ARMS.

I gazed, and O with what a burst
Of pride, this heart was striving!
His tongue was out! that touched me first.
My pup! and art thou thriving?

I sniffed one sniff, I wept one weep
(But checked myself, however),
And then I spake, my words went deep,
Those words were, "Well, I never."

Tyrants avaunt! henceforth to me
Whose Harrow'd heart beats faster,
The coach shall as the coachman be,
And Butler count as master.

That maiden's nose, that puppy's eyes,
Which I this happy day saw,
They've touched the manliest chords that rise
I' the breast of Gifford Crayshaw.

John Mortimer was pleased when he saw his girls laughing over this
effusion, but anxiety still weighed heavily on his soul - he did not
live on any hope of his own, rather on Emily's hope and on a kiss.

He perceived how completely but for his father's companionship he had
all his life been alone. It would have been out of all nature that such
a man falling in love thus unaware should have loved moderately. All the
fresh fancies of impassioned tenderness and doubt and fear, all the
devotion and fealty that youth wastes often and almost forgets, woke up
in his heart to full life at once, unworn and unsoiled. The strongest
natures go down deepest among the hidden roots of feeling, and into the
silent wells of thought.

It had not seemed unnatural heretofore to stand alone, but now he longed
for something to lean upon, for a look from Emily's eyes, a touch from
her hand.

But she vouchsafed him nothing. She was not so unconscious of the kiss
she had bestowed as he had believed she would be; perhaps this was
because he had mistaken its meaning and motive. It stood in his eyes as
the expression of forgiveness and pity, - he never knew that it was full
of regretful renunciation, and the hopelessness of a heart
misunderstood.

But now the duties of life began to press upon him, old grey-headed
clerks came about the place with messages, young ones brought letters to
be signed. It was a relief to be able to turn, if only for a moment, to
these matters, for the strain was great: little Nancy sometimes better,
sometimes worse, was still spoken of as in a precarious state.

Every one in the house was delighted, when one morning he found it
absolutely necessary to go into the town. Valentine drove him in, and
all his children rejoiced, it seemed like an acknowledgment that they
were really better.

Johnnie ate a large breakfast and called to Swan soon after to bring him
up the first ripe bunch of grapes - he had himself propped up to eat them
and to look out of the window at the garden.

"What a jolly bunch!" he exclaimed when Swan appeared with it.

"Ay, sir, I only wish Fergus could see it! The Marchioness sent
yesterday to inquire, - sent the little young ladies. I haven't seen such
a turn-out in our lane since last election time. Mr. Smithers said they
were a sight to be seen, dressed up so handsome. 'Now then,' says he,
'you see the great need and use of our noble aristocracy. Markis is a
credit to it, laying out as he does in the town he is connected with.
Yes, they were a sight,' Mr. Smithers was the 'pink' Wigfield draper.
'Ay, ay,' says I, 'who should go fine if not the peahen's daughters?'"

"Everybody seems to have sent to inquire," said Johnnie ungraciously. "I
hate to hear their wheels. I always think it is the doctor's carriage."

"Old Lady Fairbairn came too," proceeded Swan, "and Miss Justina. The
old lady has only that one daughter left single, as I hear; she has got
all the others married."

Johnnie made a grimace, and pleased himself with remembering how
Valentine, in telling him of that call, had irreverently said, "Old
Mother Fairbairn ought to be called the Judicious Hooker."

Johnnie was sincerely sorry these acquaintances had returned; so was
Emily. Had she not given John a positive denial to his suit? Who could
be surprised now if he turned to her rival?

It was afternoon when John Mortimer came in. The house was very quiet,
and a little flag hung out of Nancy's window, showing that the child was
asleep. He therefore approached quietly, entered the library, and
feeling very tired and disquieted, sat down among his books. He took one
down, and did not know how long he might have been trying to occupy
himself with it, when he heard the rustle of a silk dress, and Dorothea
stood in the open window. She looked just a little hurried and shy.
"Oh, Mr. Mortimer," she began, "Emily sent her love to you, and - - "

"Emily sent her love to me?" he exclaimed almost involuntarily, "sent
her love? are you sure?"

Dorothea, thus checked in her message, drew back and blushed - had she
made herself very ridiculous? would Emily be displeased? His eyes seemed
to entreat her for an answer. She faltered, not without exceeding
surprise, at the state of things thus betrayed, and at his indifference
to her observation. "I suppose she did. I thought all this family sent
love to one another." Thus while she hesitated, and he seemed still to
wait for her further recollection, she noticed the strange elation of
hope and joy that illumined his face.

"I don't think I could have invented it," she said.

"Ah, well," he answered, "I see you cannot be sure; but let me hear it
again, since it possibly might have been said. 'Emily sent her love,'
you began - - "

"And she is sitting with Nancy, but she wanted you to know as soon as
you came in that the doctors have paid another visit together, and they
both agreed that Nancy might now be considered quite out of danger."

"Oh, I thank God!" he exclaimed.

Emily had sent her love to him to tell him this. He felt that she might
have done, it was not impossible, it reminded him of her kiss. He had
been weighed down so heavily, with a burden that he was never
unconscious of for a moment, a load of agonized pity for his little
darling's pain, and of endless self-reproach; that the first thing he
was aware of when it was suddenly lifted off and flung away was, that
his thoughts were all abroad. It was much too soon yet to be glad. He
was like a ship floated off the rock it had struck on, a rock like to
have been its ruin, but yet which had kept it steady. It was drifting
now, and not answering to the helm.

He could not speak or stir, he hardly seemed to breathe.

A slight sound, the rustling of Dorothea's gown as she quietly withdrew,
recalled him a little to himself, he locked himself in and went back to
his place.

He was not in the least able to think, yet tears were raining down on
his hands before he knew that they were his tears, and that, as they
fell, his heart long daunted and crushed with pain, beat more freely,
and tasted once more the rapture of peace and thankfulness. Presently he
was on his knees. Saved this once, the almost despairing soul which had
faintly spoken to God, "I do not rebel," was passionate now in the
fervour of thankful devotion. The rapture of this respite, this return
to common blessings, was almost too ecstatic to be borne.

It was nearly dusk before he could show himself to his children; when he
stole upstairs to look at his little Nancy she was again asleep. "Mrs.
Walker had gone back to her own house for the night," the nurse said,
"but she had promised to come back after breakfast."

That night Emily slept exquisitely. The luxury of a long peaceful
interval, free from anxiety and responsibility, was delightful to her.
She came down very late, and after her breakfast sauntered into the
drawing-room, looking fresh as a white blush rose, lovely and content;
next to the joy of possession stands, to such as she was, the good of
doing good, and being necessary to the objects of their love.

A little tired still, she was sitting idly on a sofa, more wistfully
sweet and gravely glad than usual, when suddenly John Mortimer appeared,
walking quickly through her garden.

"He was sure to come and thank me," she said simply, and half aloud. "I
knew he would sooner or later," and she said and thought no more.

But as he advanced, and she saw his face, she remembered her kiss, hoped
that he did not, and blushing beautifully, rose and came a step or two
forward to meet him. "None but good news, I hope," she said.

"No, they are all better, thank God; and my little Nancy also. Emily,
how can I ever thank you? My obligation is too deep for words."

"Who could help wishing to be of use under such circumstances? Am I not
enough thanked by seeing you all better?"

"I hardly know how I could have presumed to intrude here and disturb you
and - and trouble you with such things as I can say - when you are come
home for an interval of rest and quiet. Emily, if I had lost her, poor
little girl, I never could have lifted up my head again. It was hard on
that blameless little life, to be placed in such peril; but I suffered
more than she did. Did you sometimes think so? Did you sometimes feel
for me when you were watching her day and night, night and day?"

"Yes, John, I did."

"I hoped so."

"But now that the greatest part of the sorrow is over, fold it up and
put it away, lay it at the feet of the Saviour; it is his, for He has
felt it too." When she saw his hands, that they had become white and
thin, and that he was hollow-eyed, she felt a sharp pang of pity. "It is
time now for you to think of yourself," she said.

"No," he answered, with a gesture of distaste. "The less of that the
better. I am utterly and for ever out of my own good graces. I will not
forgive myself, and I cannot forget - have I only one mistake to deplore?
I have covered myself with disgrace," he continued, with infinite
self-scorn; "even you with your half divine pity cannot excuse me
there."

"Cannot I?" she answered with a sweet wistfulness, that was almost
tender.

He set his teeth as if in a passion against himself, a flash came from
the blue eyes, and his Saxon complexion showed the blood through almost
to the roots of the hair. "I have covered myself with disgrace - I am the
most unmanly fool that ever breathed - I hate myself!" He started up and
paced the room, as if he felt choked, whilst she looked on amazed for
the moment, and not yet aware what this meant.

"John!" she exclaimed.

"I suppose you thought I had forgotten to despise myself," he went on in
a tone rather less defiant. "When that night I asked you for a kiss - I
had not, nothing of the kind - I thought my mind would go, or my breath
would leave me before the morning. Surely that would have been so but
for you. But if I have lived through this for good ends, one at least



Online LibraryJean IngelowFated to Be Free → online text (page 30 of 36)