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النشر الإلكتروني

SILCOTE OF SILCOTES,

CHAPTER I.

MOONLIGHT.

How wonderfully similar are all children to one another when asleep! The same rounded half-formed features, the same gently closed eyelids, the same slightly parted mouth, are common alike to high and low, to good and bad, before passion or education has begun to draw those harder and more decided lines which sleep cannot obliterate, and which only pass away when once the first calm look of death is gone, and dust returns to dust. No such lines mar or alter the face of a sleeping child, or give a clue to the daily history of the soul within. Look from young Seymour the lord, to young Dickson the shepherd-boy. Look at the

. mendacious and fierce-tempered Johnny, destined to break your heart and ruin you, lying with his arm round the neck of his gentle, high-souled brother Georgy. They are all very nearly alike.

But awake them; see how the soul, still off its guard, betrays the truth in eye, in mouth, nay, even in gesture. Well was the wise Mrs. Chisholm accustomed to say, that the time to judge of a girl's character was when she was first awake. Cannot we conceive of these four ideal children, that they would betray something to a close observer, as their consciousness of the real world returned

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to them? Would not the little nobleman have a calm look upon his face-a look careless, because he had never known care? would not some signs of weariness and dissatisfaction show themselves on the face of the shepherd boy, when he first found that his pleasant dreams of the cake and of the fine new clothes were unreal, but that the bleak, wild morning, the hard cold boot to be thrust on stockingless feet, and the poor dry bread, were most unmistakably real? while Johnny will wake with a scowl, and Georgy with a smile.

There lay a boy once in a very poor little bed, close under the thatch of a very poor little cottage, fast asleep and dreaming. At a certain time he moved slightly; in perhaps less than a second more he had raised himself in his bed, and sat there perfectly still, perfectly silent, looking and listening with the intenseness of a beautiful bright-eyed fox.

That is to say, that intense keen vivid curiosity was the first instantaneous expression which fixed itself on his face at the very moment of his waking. In a very few moments more, those very facile features were expressive of intelligence and satisfaction in the highest degree. A minute had not gone by when, with all the subtle dexterity, the silence, and the rapid snake-like motion of that most beautiful animal to which we have before compared him, he had slid from his bed and stood before the door of his room, with half-opened hands, bent head, and slightly parted lips, listening with the whole strength of his brave little heart and his keen brain.

There was no need for him to open his crazy old door; the great hole, into which you had to thrust your finger when you raised the latch, was quite big enough for him, not only to hear, but also to see everything which went on below.

His mother stood below at the front door of the cottage, in the moonlight, talking with a man he knew well, — Somes, the head keeper. It could not be very late, for she had not been upstairs; nor very early, for he could hear his father hurriedly dressing in the room where he slept, a room opposite his mother's; and almost immediately he

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