« السابقةمتابعة »
for forty years, before all this miserable misconception arose; try to be as you were in the old, old time, when your mother was alive, and that silly babbling princess-sister of yours was but a prattling innocent child-and oh, Silcote, help me, I am sorely bestead !”
She laid her delicate though brown right hand in Silcote's right, as she said this, and he laid his left hand over hers as she spoke, and said, “I'll help you.” And so the past five-and-twenty years were for the moment gone, and there rose a ghost of a Silcote who had been, which was gone an instant, leaving an echo which sounded like “Too late ! Too late !" He held still the hand of this peasant-woman in his, and the echo of his last speech, “I will help you,” had scarcely died out among the overarching cedars. "I know you will. I knew you would. Listen, then.
. We have had a long and happy rest here, in the little cottage in the beech forest. You have known nothing of us, but you have been a good landlord, and we thank you. I fear the time has come when we must move forward again, and the world is a wide and weary place, Squire, and I am not so young as I was, and we are very, very poor; but we must be off on the long desolate road once more.”
“Stay near me, and I will protect you."
“Nay, that cannot be. It is my boy I wish to plead for. I cannot condemn him to follow our fate. I must tear my heart out and part with him. Oh, my God, what shall I do? What shall I do ?”
The outbreak of her grief was wild and violent for a time, and the Squire respected it in silence. The child now rambling far away among the flowers for a moment, wondered what her grandfather had said to make the strange woman cry.
“I will not allow him to be a domestic servant; but see, you are a governor of St. Mary's Hospital. Give him, or get him a presentation there, and he is made for life. It is a poor innocent little thing, Squire, but I have educated him well for his age, and he is clever and good. Let me plead for him. What a noble work to rescue one life from such a future as will be his fate if he remains in our rank
of life! And a mother's thanks are worth something. Come, rouse yourself, and do this.”
“I will do it, certainly,” replied the Squire. “But think twice before
refuse all offers of assistance from me.” “I cannot think twice; it is impossible."
“ Your boy will be utterly separated from you. Have you thought of that?”
“Yes. I have resolutely inflicted that agony on myself, until use has deadened the pain." “Have
your reflected that it will be a severe disadvantage to your son for his companions to know that his parents are of such a humble rank in life, and that therefore you should not go and see him there?”
“I have suffered everything except the parting. If I can bear that, I shall live.”
“Your son's path and yours separate from this moment. As years go on the divergence will be greater, so that death itself will scarcely make a parting between you. Are you resolute ?”
“I am quite resolute. Spare me.”
“I will. God help you on your weary road, since you will take no help from man. Good-bye.'
Silcote had given his last presentation to St. Mary's to his butler's boy, and he had no presentation to give. His time would not have come for years. But he said nothing about this, and never asked himself whether Mrs. Sugden was aware of the fact or no. Fifty pounds will do a great deal—even buy a couple or four votes ; and the next boy presented to the board of governors of St. Mary's was little James Sugden. The iron gates shut on him and the old world was dead ; only a dream of freedom and hardship. Instead, was a present reality of a gravelled yard, bounded by pointed windows; of boys who danced round him the first few days, and jeered at him, but among whom he found his place svon; of plenty to eat and of regulated hours. A good, not unkindly place, where one, after a time, learnt to be happy and popular. A great place, with the dim dull roar of the greatest city in the world always around it; bounded by the tall iron gates, outside which one had once seen a tall grey figure standing and watching. There was a new world of emulation and ambition inside those gates, but there was an old world outside which would not let itself be forgotten for months. So that at times James awakened in his bed in the dark midnight, and cried for his mother; but time goes fast with children, and the other boys pelted boots and hard things at him, and laughed at him, which was worse. In six months the mother was only a dim old dream, dear enough still, but very old, getting nearly forgotten. Would you have it otherwise? I would, but the wise ones say No.
And at home! How fared the poor patient mother in this case? Oh, you children, you children, have you any idea of your own unutterable selfishness? And, to make you more utterly selfish, they give you cakes and bright half-crowns, which you eat and spend while the poor mother at home lies sleepless. One of the most beautiful touches in that most beautiful book, "Tom Brown" (a book which only yesterday was as fresh and as good as ever), is the infinite grief of Tom when he finds that his letter has not been sent, and that his mother must have thought him faithless to his last solemn promise for three days. Little bitter griefs like this, or Maggie Tulliver starving her brother's rabbits, or Mr. Van Brunt falling down the ladder and breaking his leg, seem, it is pleasant to reflect, to affect the public quite as much as the fiercest tragedies. But Tom Brown was no ordinary boy, any more than Maggie Tulliver was an ordinary girl. Children, for the most part, are selfish. James Sugden was no ordinary boy, either; but in the new hurly-burly into which he found himself thrust, where every boy's hand was good-naturedly against him, his mother's image was gone from his mind but very few months after her body had passed away from the gate. Only in the watches of the night this dearly loved one came back to him, and proved that, though she might be forgotten in the day-time, with all its riot and ambition, yet she was as dearly loved in his inmost heart as ever.
James Sugden the elder sat, in the evening, at the door of his cottage, sadly, with his face buried in his hands. It was a solemn September evening; the days were drawing in, and the chilly air, and the few first golden boughs
told of the long winter which was coming. The Oxfordshire wolds were getting dim, and the western reaches in the river were getting crimson, when along the valley below a little column of steam fled swiftly, and a little train slid across a bridge, and into a wood, and was gone. Then he arose, and, having made some preparations, went out and watched again.
Not for long. Far across the broad darkening fields his keen sight made out a figure advancing steadily towards him. The footpath crossed the broad fields at different angles, and sometimes the figure was lost behind hedges or outstanding pieces of woodland; but he was sure of its identity, and sure that it was solitary. It was lost to his sight when it entered the denser forest which fringed the base of the hill; but he knew which way it would come, and advanced across the open glade to meet it. He was at the stile when Mrs. Sugden came out from the wood, tired, pale, and dusty, with her walk from Twyford, and she put her arm round his neck, and kissed his cheek.
They fenced a little at first. James said, “I thought you
would come by that train. I saw it go by, and watched for you."
“It is a nice train. It's express, you know; but the country gentlemen have made them drop a carriage at Twyford; but there is no third class, and that makes eighteenpence difference, and the money is running so very short. And so you saw the branch train run along, did you? I wouldn't come to Shiplake; the walk is nearly as great, and there's the getting across the river.”
And so they fenced, as they were walking together towards their cottage. On this occasion James showed the greater valour, by introducing first the subject nearest to both their hearts. He said, “You must tell me about it.”
And she said, “It is all over."
I went off. Come. Only one more tooth out, sister. Let me know how the boy went off. Now or never, while the wound is raw and fresh ; and then leave the matter alone for ever.”
“If you will have it, Jim, he went off very well. Cried
a deal ; quite as much as you'd expect any boy to cry who believed that he was going to see his mother again in a fortnight. I told him so, God help me! Sent his love to you; is that any odds ? Now it's all over, and I wish to have done with it. You've been a kind and loving brother to me, James, as God knows, and I have been but a poor sister to you. I have worried you from pillar to post, from one home to another, until I thought we had found one here. And now I have to say to my dear, stupid old brother, We must walk once more.' Oh, James, my
“ dear brother! if I could only see you settled with a good wife, now; you have been so faithful and so true, you have given up so much for me.”
A very few days afterwards, the steward was standing at his door, in the early dawn, when the Sugdens came towards him, and left the key of their cottage, paying up some trifle of rent. They were expedited for travelling, he noticed, and had large bundles. Their furniture, they told him, had been fetched away by the village broker, and the fixtures would be found all right. In answer to a wondering inquiry as to where they were going, James merely pointed eastward, and very soon after they entered the morning fog, bending under their bundles, and were lost w sight.
ARTHUR SILCOTE MAKES THE VERY DREADFUL AND
ONLY FIASCO OF HIS LIFE.
FOR two years there was no change worthy of mention, save that the muddle and untidiness in Lancaster Square grew worse instead of better, and Algernon's health suffered under the hopeless worry, which ever grew more hopeless as time went on.
Dora had grown into a fine creature, pretty at present with the universal prettiness of youth, but threatening to