M.E. Braddon.

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ground, but in the upper regions the winter snows still lingered, giving
an Alpine character to the landscape.

John Hammond was too experienced a mountaineer to be deterred by a
little snow. He went up Silver Howe, and from the rugged breast of the
mountain saw the sun leap up from amidst a chaos of hill and crag, in
all his majesty, while the grey mists of night slowly floated up from
the valley that had lain hidden below them, and Grasmere Lake sparkled
and flashed in the light of the newly-risen sun.

The church clock was striking eight as Hammond came at a brisk pace down
to the valley. There was still an hour before breakfast, so he took a
circuitous path to Fellside, and descended upon the house from the Fell,
as he had done that summer morning when he saw James Steadman sauntering
about in his garden.

Within about a quarter of a mile of Lady Maulevrier's shrubberies Mr.
Hammond encountered a pedestrian, who, like himself, was evidently
taking a constitutional ramble in the morning air, but on a much less
extended scale, for this person did not look capable of going far
afield.

He was an old man, something under middle height, but looking as if he
had once been taller; for his shoulders were much bent, and his head was
sunk on his chest. His whole form looked wasted and shrunken, and John
Hammond thought he had never seen so old a man - or at any rate any man
who was so deeply marked with all the signs of extreme age; and yet in
the backwoods of America he had met ancient settlers who remembered
Franklin, and who had been boys when the battle of Bunker's Hill was
fresh in the memory of their fathers and mothers.

The little old man was clad in a thick grey overcoat of some shaggy kind
of cloth which looked like homespun. He wore a felt hat, and carried a
thick oak stick, and there was nothing in his appearance to indicate
that he belonged to any higher grade than that of the shepherds and
guides with whom Hammond had made himself familiar during his previous
visit. And yet there was something distinctive about the man, Hammond
thought, something wild and uncanny, which made him unlike any of those
hale and hearty-looking dalesmen on whom old age sate so lightly. No,
John Hammond could not fancy this man, with his pallid countenance and
pale crafty eyes, to be of the same race as those rugged and
honest-looking descendants of the Norsemen.

Perhaps it was the man's exceeding age, for John Hammond made up his
mind that he must be a centenarian, which gave him so strange and unholy
an air. He had the aspect of a man who had been buried and brought back
to life again.

So might look one of those Indian Fakirs who have the power to suspend life
by some mysterious process, and to lie in the darkness of the grave for a
given period, and then at their own will to resume the functions of the
living. His long white hair fell upon the collar of his grey coat, and
would have given him a patriarchal appearance had the face possessed the
dignity of age: but it was a countenance without dignity, a face deeply
scored with the lines of evil passions and guilty memories - the face of
the vulture, with a touch of the ferret - altogether a most unpleasant
face, Mr. Hammond thought.

And yet there was a kind of fascination about that bent and shrunken
figure, those feeble movements, and shuffling gait. John Hammond turned
to look after the old man when he had passed him, and stood to watch him
as he went slowly up the Fell, plant his crutch stick upon the ground
before every footstep, as if it were a third leg, and more serviceable
than either of the other two.

Mr. Hammond watched him for two or three minutes, but, as the old man's
movements had an automatic regularity, the occupation soon palled, and
he turned and walked toward Fellside. A few yards nearer the grounds he
met James Steadman, walking briskly, and smoking his morning pipe.

'You are out early this morning,' said Hammond, by way of civility.

'I am always pretty early, sir. I like a mouthful of morning air.'

'So do I. By-the-bye, can you tell me anything about a queer-looking old
man I passed just now a little higher up the Fell? Such an old, old man,
with long white hair.'

'Yes, sir. I believe I know him.'

'Who is he? Does he live in Grasmere?'

Steadman looked puzzled.

'Well, you see, sir, your description might apply to a good many; but if
it's the man I think you mean he lives in one of the cottages behind the
church. Old Barlow, they call him.'

'There can't be two such men - he must be at least a century old. If any
one told me he were a hundred and twenty I shouldn't be inclined to
doubt the fact. I never saw such a shrivelled, wrinkled visage,
bloodless, too, as if the poor old wretch never felt your fresh mountain
air upon his hollow cheeks. A dreadful face. It will haunt me for a
month.'

'It must be old Barlow,' replied Steadman. 'Good day, sir.'

He walked on with his swinging step, and at such a pace that he was up
the side of the Fell and close upon old Barlow's heels when Hammond
turned to look after him five minutes later.

'There's a man who shows few traces of age, at any rate,' thought
Hammond. 'Yet her ladyship told me that he is over seventy.'




CHAPTER XIX.

THE OLD MAN ON THE FELL.


Having made up his mind to stay at Fellside until after Easter,
Maulevrier settled down very quietly - for him. He rode a good deal,
fished a little, looked after his dogs, played billiards, made a devout
appearance in the big square pew at St. Oswald's on Sunday mornings, and
behaved altogether as a reformed character. Even his grandmother was
fain to admit that Maulevrier was improved, and that Mr. Hammond's
influence upon him must be exercised for good and not for evil.

'I plunged awfully last year, and the year before that,' said
Maulevrier, sitting at tea in her ladyship's morning room one afternoon
about a week after his return, when she had expressed her gracious
desire that the two young men should take tea with her.

Mary was in charge of the tea-pot and brass kettle, and looked as
radiant and as fresh as a summer morning. A regular Gainsborough girl,
Hammond called her, when he praised her to her brother; a true English
beauty, unsophisticated, a little rustic, but full of youthful
sweetness.

'You see, I didn't know what a racing stable meant,' continued
Maulevrier, mildly apologetic - 'in fact, I thought it was an easy way
for a nobleman to make as good a living as your City swells, with their
soft goods or their Brummagem ware, a respectable trade for a gentleman
to engage in. And it was only when I was half ruined that I began to
understand the business; and as soon as I did understand it I made up my
mind to get out of it; and I am happy to say that I sold the very last
of my stud in February, and Tony Lumpkin is his own man again. So you
may welcome the prodigal grandson, and order the fatted calf to be
slain, grandmother!'

Lady Maulevrier stretched out her left hand to him, and the young man
bent over it and kissed it affectionately. He felt really touched by her
misfortunes, and was fonder of her than he had ever been before. She had
been somewhat hard with him in his boyhood, but she had always cared for
his dignity and protected his interests: and, after all, she was a noble
old woman, a grandmother of whom a man might be justly proud. He thought
of the painted harridans, the bare-shouldered skeletons, whom some of
his young friends were obliged to own in the same capacity, and he was
thankful that he could reverence his father's mother.

'That is the best news I have heard for a long time, Maulevrier,' said
her ladyship graciously; 'better medicine for my nerves than any of Mr.
Horton's preparations. If Mr. Hammond's advice has influenced you to get
rid of your stable I am deeply grateful to Mr. Hammond.'

Hammond smiled as he sipped his tea, sitting close to Mary's tray, ready
to fly to her assistance on the instant should the brazen kettle become
troublesome. It had a threatening way of hissing and bubbling over its
spirit lamp.

'Oh, you have no idea what a fellow Hammond is to lecture,' answered
Maulevrier. 'He is a tremendous Radical, and he thinks that every young
man in my position ought to be a reformer, and devote the greater part
of his time and trouble to turning out the dirty corners of the world,
upsetting those poor dear families who like to pig together in one room,
ordering all the children off to school, marrying the fathers and
mothers, thrusting himself between free labour and free beer, and
interfering with the liberty of the subject in every direction.'

'All that may sound like Radicalism, but I think it is the true
Conservatism, and that every young man ought to do as much, if he wants
this timeworn old country to maintain its power and prosperity,'
answered Lady Maulevrier, with an approving glance at John Hammond's
thoughtful face.

'Right you are, grandmother,' returned Maulevrier, 'and I believe
Hammond calls himself a Conservative, and means to vote with the
Conservatives.'

Means to vote! An idle phrase, surely, thought her ladyship, where the
young man's chance of getting into Parliament was so remote.

That afternoon tea in Lady Maulevrier's room was almost as cheerful as
the tea-drinkings in the drawing-room, unrestrained by her ladyship's
presence. She was pleased with her grandson's conduct, and was therefore
inclined to be friendly to his friend. She could see an improvement in
Mary, too. The girl was more feminine, more subdued, graver, sweeter;
more like that ideal woman of Wordsworth's, whose image embodies all
that is purest and fairest in womanhood.

Mary had not forgotten that unlucky story about the fox-hunt, and ever
since Hammond's return she had been as it were on her best behaviour,
refraining from her races with the terriers, and holding herself aloof
from Maulevrier's masculine pursuits. She sheltered herself a good deal
under the Fräulein's substantial wing, and took care never to intrude
herself upon the amusements of her brother and his friend. She was not
one of those young women who think a brother's presence an excuse for a
perpetual _tête-à-tête_ with a young man. Yet when Maulevrier came in
quest of her, and entreated her to join them in a ramble, she was not
too prudish to refuse the pleasure she so thoroughly enjoyed. But
afternoon tea was her privileged hour - the time at which she wore her
prettiest frock, and forgot to regret her inferiority to Lesbia in all
the graces of womanhood.

One afternoon, when they had all three walked to Easedale Tarn, and were
coming back by the side of the force, picking their way among the grey
stones and the narrow threads of silvery water, it suddenly occurred to
Hammond to ask Mary about that queer old man he had seen on the Fell
nearly a fortnight before. He had often thought of making the inquiry
when he was away from Mary, but had always forgotten the thing when he
was with her. Indeed, Mary had a wonderful knack of making him forget
everything but herself.

'You seem to know every creature in Grasmere, down to the two-year-old
babies,' said Hammond, Mary having just stopped to converse with an
infantine group, straggling and struggling over the boulders. 'Pray, do
you happen to know a man called Barlow, a very old man?'

'Old Sam Barlow,' exclaimed Mary; 'why, of course I know him.'

She said it as if he were a near relative, and the question palpably
absurd.

'He is an old man, a hundred, at least, I should think,' said Hammond.

'Poor old Sam, not much on the wrong side of eighty. I go to see him
every week, and take him his week's tobacco, poor old dear. It is his
only comfort.'

'Is it?' asked Hammond. 'I should have doubted his having so humanising
a taste as tobacco. He looks too evil a creature ever to have yielded to
the softening influence of a pipe.'

'An evil creature! What, old Sam? Why he is the most genial old thing,
and as cheery - loves to hear the newspaper read to him - the murders and
railway accidents. He doesn't care for politics. Everybody likes old Sam
Barlow.'

'I fancy the Grasmere idea of reverend and amiable age must be strictly
local. I can only say that I never saw a more unholy countenance.'

'You must have been dreaming when you saw him,' said Mary. 'Where did
you meet him?'

'On the Fell, about a quarter of a mile from the shrubbery gate.'

'_Did_ you? I shouldn't have thought he could have got so far. I've a
good mind to take you to see him, this very afternoon, before we go
home.'

'Do,' exclaimed Hammond, 'I should like it immensely. I thought him a
hateful-looking old person; but there was something so thoroughly
uncanny about him that he exercised an absolute fascination upon me: he
magnetised me, I think, as the green-eyed cat magnetises the bird. I
have been positively longing to see him again. He is a kind of human
monster, and I hope some one will have a big bottle made ready for him
and preserve him in spirits when he dies.'

'What a horrid idea! No, sir, dear old Barlow shall lie beside the
Rotha, under the trees Wordsworth planted. He is such a man as
Wordsworth would have loved.'

Mr. Hammond shrugged his shoulders, and said no more. Mary's little
vehement ways, her enthusiasm, her love of that valley, which might be
called her native place, albeit her eyes had opened upon heaven's light
far away, her humility, were all very delightful in their way. She was
not a perfect beauty, like Lesbia; but she was a fresh, pure-minded
English girl, frank as the day, and if he had had a brother he would
have recommended that brother to choose just such a girl for his wife.

Mr. Samuel Barlow occupied a little old cottage, which seemed to consist
chiefly of a gable end and a chimney stack, in that cluster of dwellings
behind St. Oswald's church, which was once known as the Kirk Town.
Visitors went downstairs to get to Mr. Barlow's ground-floor, for the
influence of time and advancing civilisation had raised the pathway in
front of Mr. Barlow's cottage until his parlour had become of a
cellar-like aspect. Yet it was a very nice little parlour when one got
down to it, and it enjoyed winter and summer a perpetual twilight, since
the light that crept through the leaded casement was tempered by a
screen of flowerpots, which were old Barlow's particular care. There
were no finer geraniums in all Grasmere than Barlow's, no bigger
carnations or picotees, asters or arums.

It was about five o'clock in the March afternoon, when Mary ushered John
Hammond into Mr. Barlow's dwelling, and, in the dim glow of a cheery
little fire and the faint light that filtered through the screen of
geranium leaves, the visitor looked for a moment or so doubtfully at the
owner of the cottage. But only for a moment. Those bright blue eyes and
apple cheeks, that benevolent expression, bore no likeness to the
strange old man he had seen on the Fell. Mr. Barlow was toothless and
nut-cracker like of outline; he was thin and shrunken, and bent with the
burden of long years, but his healthy visage had none of those deep
lines, those cross markings and hollows which made the pallid
countenance of that other old man as ghastly as would be the abstract
idea of life's last stage embodied by the bitter pencil of a Hogarth.

'I have brought a gentleman from London to see you, Sam,' said Mary. 'He
fancied he met you on the Fell the other morning.'

Barlow rose and quavered a cheery welcome, but protested against the
idea of his having got so far as the Fell.

'With my blessed rheumatics, you know it isn't in me, Lady Mary. I shall
never get no further than the churchyard; but I likes to sit on the wall
hard by Wordsworth's tomb in a warm afternoon, and to see the folks pass
over the bridge; and I can potter about looking after my flowers, I can.
But it would be a dull life, now the poor old missus is gone and the
bairns all out at service, if it wasn't for some one dropping in to have
a chat, or read me a bit of the news sometimes. And there isn't anybody
in Grasmere, gentle or simple, that's kinder to me than you, Lady Mary.
Lord bless you, I do look forward to my newspaper. Any more of them
dreadful smashes?'

'No, Sam, thank Heaven, there have been no railway accidents.'

'Ah, we shall have 'em in August and September,' said the old man,
cheerily. 'They're bound to come then. There's a time for all things,
as Solomon says. When the season comes t'smashes all coom. And no more
of these mysterious murders, I suppose, which baffle t'police and keep
me awake o' nights thinking of 'em.'

'Surely you do not take delight in murder, Mr. Barlow?' said Hammond.

'No, sir, I do not wish my fellow-creatures to mak' awa' wi' each other;
but if there is a murder going in the papers I like to get the benefit
of it. I like to sit in front of my fire of an evening and wonder about
it while I smoke my pipe, and fancy I can see the murderer hiding in a
garret in an out-of-the-way alley, or as a stowaway on board a gert
ship, or as a miner deep down in a coalpit, and never thinking that even
there t'police can track him. Did you ever hear tell o' Mr. de Quincey,
sir?'

'I believe I have read every line he ever wrote.'

'Ah, you should have heard him talk about murders. It would have made
you dream queer dreams, just as he did. He lived for years in the white
cottage that Wordsworth once lived in, just behind the street yonder - a
nice, neat, lile gentleman, in a houseful of books. I've had many a talk
with him when I was a young man.'

'And how old may you be now, Mr. Barlow?'

'Getting on for eighty four, sir.'

'But you are not the oldest man in Grasmere, I should say, by twenty
years?'

'I don't think there's many much older than me, sir.'

'The man I saw on the Fell looked at least a hundred. I wish you could
tell me who he is; I feel a morbid curiosity about him.'

He went on to describe the old man in the grey coat, as minutely as he
could, dwelling on every characteristic of that singular-looking old
person; but Samuel Barlow could not identify the description with any
one in Grasmere. Yet a man of that age, seen walking on the hill-side at
eight in the morning, could hardly have come from far afield.




CHAPTER XX.

LADY MAULEVRIER'S LETTER-BAG.


Although Maulevrier had assured his grandmother that John Hammond would
take flight at the first warning of Lesbia's return, Lady Maulevrier's
dread of any meeting between her granddaughter and that ineligible lover
determined her in making such arrangements as should banish Lesbia from
Fellside, so long as there seemed the slightest danger of such a
meeting. She knew that Lesbia had loved her fortuneless suitor; and she
did not know that the wound was cured, even by a season in the
little-great world of Cannes. Now that she, the ruler of that
household, was a helpless captive in her own apartments, she felt that
Lesbia at Fellside would be her own mistress, and hemmed round with the
dangers that beset richly-dowered beauty and inexperienced youth.

John Hammond might be playing a very deep game, perhaps assisted by
Maulevrier. He might ostensibly leave Fellside before Lesbia's return,
yet lurk in the neighbourhood, and contrive to meet her every day. If
Maulevrier encouraged this folly, they might be married and over the
border, before her ladyship - fettered, impotent as she was - could
interfere.

Lady Maulevrier felt that Georgie Kirkbank was her strong rock. So long
as Lesbia was under that astute veteran's wing there could be no danger.
In that embodied essence of worldliness and diplomacy, there was an
ever-present defence from all temptations that spring from romance and
youthful impulses. It was a bitter thing, perhaps, to steep a young and
pure soul in such an atmosphere, to harden a fresh young nature in the
fiery crucible of fashionable life; but Lady Maulevrier believed that
the end would sanctify the means. Lesbia, once married to a worthy man,
such a man as Lord Hartfield, for instance, would soon rise to a higher
level than that Belgravian swamp over which the malarian vapours of
falsehood, and slander, and self-seeking, and prurient imaginings hang
dense and thick. She would rise to the loftier table-land of that really
great world which governs and admonishes the ruck of mankind by examples
of noble deeds and noble thoughts; the world of statesmen, and soldiers,
and thinkers, and reformers; the salt wherewithal society is salted.

But while Lesbia was treading the tortuous mazes of fashion, it was well
for her to be guided and guarded by such an old campaigner as Lady
Kirkbank, a woman who, in the language of her friends, 'knew the ropes.'

Lesbia's last letter had been to the effect that she was to go back to
London with the Kirkbanks directly after Easter, and that directly they
arrived she would set off with her maid for Fellside, to spend a week or
a fortnight with her dearest grandmother, before going back to Arlington
Street for the May campaign.

'And then, dearest, I hope you will make up your mind to spend the
season in London,' wrote Lesbia. 'I shall expect to hear that you have
secured Lord Porlock's house. How dreadfully slow your poor dear hand is
to recover! I am afraid Horton is not treating the case cleverly. Why do
you not send for Mr. Erichsen? It is a shock to my nerves every time I
receive a letter in Mary's masculine hand, instead of in your lovely
Italian penmanship. Strange - isn't it? - how much better the women of
your time write than the girls of the present day! Lady Kirkbank
receives letters from stylish girls in a hand that would disgrace a
housemaid.'

Lady Maulevrier allowed a post to go by before she answered this letter,
while she deliberated upon the best and wisest manner of arranging her
granddaughter's future. It was an agony to her not to be able to write
with her own hand, to be obliged to so shape every sentence that Mary
might learn nothing which she ought not to know. It was impossible with
such an amanuensis to write confidentially to Lady Kirkbank. The letters
to Lesbia were of less consequence; for Lesbia, albeit so intensely
beloved, was not in her grandmother's confidence, least of all about
those schemes and dreams which concerned her own fate.

However, the letters had to be written, so Mary was told to open her
desk and begin.

The letter to Lesbia ran thus: -

'My dearest Child,

'This is a world in which our brightest day-dreams generally end in
mere dreaming. For years past I have cherished the hope of
presenting you to your sovereign, to whom I was presented six and
forty years ago, when she was so fair and girlish a creature that
she seemed to me more like a queen in a fairy tale than the actual
ruler of a great country. I have beguiled my monotonous days with
thoughts of the time when I should return to the great world, full
of pride and delight in showing old friends what a sweet flower I
had reared in my mountain home; but, alas, Lesbia, it may not be.

'Fate has willed otherwise. The maimed hand does not recover,
although Horton is very clever, and thoroughly understands my case.
I am not ill, I am not in danger; so you need feel no anxiety about
me; but I am a cripple; and I am likely to remain a cripple for
months; so the idea of a London season this year is hopeless.

'Now, as you have in a manner made your _début_ at Cannes, it would
never do to bury you here for another year. You complained of the
dullness last summer; but you would find Fellside much duller now
that you have tasted the elixir of life. No, my dear love, it will
be well for you to be presented, as Lady Kirkbank proposes, at the
first drawing-room after Easter; and Lady Kirkbank will have to
present you. She will be pleased to do this, I know, for her letters
are full of enthusiasm about you. And, after all, I do not think you
will lose by the exchange. Clever as I think myself, I fear I should
find myself sorely at fault in the society of to-day. All things are
changed: opinions, manners, creeds, morals even. Acts that were
crimes in my day are now venial errors - opinions that were
scandalous are now the mark of "advanced thought." I should be too
formal for this easy-going age, should be ridiculed as old-fashioned
and narrow-minded, should put you to the blush a dozen times a day
by my prejudices and opinions.

'It is very good of you to think of travelling so long a distance to
see me; and I should love to look at your sweet face, and hear you



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