THE pony walked on, sometimes a little quicker, sometimes a little slower, while Geoff dreamed. No doubt Pony too had his own thoughts. His opinion was that summer had come again. He was rather a pampered little pony, who had never been put to any common use, who had never felt harness on his back, or a weight behind him, or the touch of a whip beyond that of Geoff’s little switch; and he had come so far and had trotted so long that he was hot, and did not like it. He had come so far that he no longer knew which was the direction of home and the comfortable cool stable, for which he began to puff and sigh. When he came to a cross-road he sniffed at it, but never could be sure. The scent seemed to lie one time in one way, another time in another. Not being able to make sure of the way home, the pony made it up to himself in a different direction. He sauntered along, and cooled down. He took a pull at the grass, nearly snatching the loose reins out of Geoff’s small hands. Then, after having thus secured the proper length, he had a tolerable meal, a sort of picnic refreshment, not unpleasant; and the grass was very crisp and fresh. He began to think that it was for this purpose, to give him a little beneficial change of diet, that he had been brought out. It was very considerate. Corn is good, and so even is nice, dry, sweetsmelling hay. But of all things in the world, there is nothing so delightful as the fresh salad with all its juices, the sweet grass with the dew upon it, especially when it is past the season for grass, and you have been ridden in the sun.
Geoff’s mind was pleasurably moved in a different way. The freedom, the silence, the fresh air, entered into his little being like wine. He had not known much of the delights of solitude. A sickly child, who has to be watched continually, and who is alone in the sense of having no playmates, no one of his own age near him, has less experience than the robust of true aloneness. He had been always with his mother, or, in his mother’s brief absences, — so brief that they scarcely told in the story of his life, — under the charge of the nurse, who was entirely devoted to him. He knew by heart all the stories she had to tell, and yet would have them repeated, with a certain pleasure in the sound of the words. But his mother, — he never could be sure what she was going to say. To question her was the chief occupation of his life, and she never was weary of replying. His days were full of this perpetual intercourse. So it happened that to get out alone into the absolute stillness, broken only by the rustle of the leaves, the sound of the wind as it brought them down, the twitter of the birds, the tinkle of the little stream, was a new delight to Geoff, unlike anything that had gone before. And to see miles and miles before him, to see all round him roads stretching into the unknown, houses and churches and woods, all nameless and new, — was he riding out to seek his fortune, was he going to conquer the world, was he the prince riding to the castle where the Sleeping Beauty lay ? Was he Jack, going on unawares to the ogre’s castle, where he was to kill the giant and deliver the prisoners ? The little boy did not, perhaps, put these questions into form, but they were all in his mind, filling him with a vague, delicious exhilaration. He was all of these heroes put together, and little Geoff Markland beside. He was afraid of nothing: partly, perhaps, because of his breeding, which had made it apparent to him that the world chiefly existed for the purpose of taking care of Geoff ; and partly from an innate confidence and friendliness with all the world. He had no serious doubt that ogres, giants, and other unpleasant people did exist to be overcome; but so far as men and women were considered, Geoff had no fear of them : and he was aware that even in the castle of the ogre these natural aids and auxiliaries were to be found. He wandered on, accordingly, quite satisfied with his fancies, until the pony gave that first jerk to the reins and began his meal. Geoff pulled him up at first — but then began to reflect that ponies have their breakfast earlier than boys, and that even he himself was beginning to feel that the time for eating had come. “ We can’t both have luncheon,” said the little man, “ and I think you might wait, pony; ” but he reflected again that, if he could put out his hand and reach some bread and butter, he would not himself, at that moment, be restrained by the thought that pony’s hunger was unsatisfied. This thought induced him to drop his wrists and leave the pony free. They formed an odd little vignette on the side of the road: the pony, with its head down, selecting the juicy spots ; the little boy amicably consenting, with his hands upon its neck. Geoff, however, to those who did not know that he was consenting, and had philosophically made up his mind to sanction, in default of luncheon for himself, his pony’s meal, looked a somewhat helpless little figure, swayed about by the movements of his little steed. And this was how he appeared to the occupants of a phaeton which swept past, with two fine bay horses, and all their harness glittering and jingling in the sun. There was a lady in it, by the driver’s side, and both greeted the little boy with a burst of laughter. “ Shall I touch him up for you ? ” the gentleman cried, brandishing his whip over the pony’s head. This insult went to Geoff’s soul. He drew himself up out of his dreaming, and darted such a glance at the passers-by as produced another loud laugh, as they swept past. And he plucked the pony’s head from the turf with the same startled movement, and surprised the little animal into a canter of a dozen paces or so, enough, at least, he hoped, to show those insolent people that he could go, when he liked. But after that the pony took matters into his own hand.
It was beginning to be afternoon, which to Geoff meant the decline of the day, after his two-o’clock dinner. He had had no dinner, poor child, and that afternoon languor which the strongest feel, the sense of falling off and running low, was deepened in him by unusual emptiness, and that consciousness of wrong which a child has who has missed a meal. Pony, after his dinner, had a more lively feeling than ever that the stable at home would he cool and comfortable, and, emboldened by so much salad, wanted to turn back and risk finding the way. He bolted twice, so that all Geoff’s horsemanship and all his strength were necessary to bring the little beast round. The little man did it, setting his teeth with childish rage and determination, digging his heels into the fat refractory sides, and holding the reins twisted in his little fists with savage tenacity. But a conflict of this sort is very exhausting, and to force an unreasonable four-footed creature in the way it does not want to go requires a strain of all the faculties which it is not easy to keep up, especially at the age (not all told) of nine. Geoff felt the tears coming to his eyes ; he felt that he would die of shame if any one saw him, thus almost mastered by a pony : yet that he would give anything in the world to see a known face, some one who would help him home. Not the phaeton, though, or that man who had offered to “ touch him up.” When he heard the wheels behind him again Geoff grew frantic. He laid his whip about the pony’s neck, with a maddening determination not to be laughed at any more. But circumstances were too strong for him. The pony made a spring forward, stopped suddenly,and Geoff, with a giddy sense of flying through the air, a horrible consciousness of great hoofs coming down, lost all knowledge of what was going to happen to him, and ended in insensibility this wild little flight into the unknown.
It was well for Geoff that some one
who had been crossing a field close by, at this climax of his little history, saw the impending accident, and sprang over the stile into the road at the decisive moment; for the driver of the phaeton, with the best will in the world, could scarcely have otherwise avoided mischief, though he pulled his horses back on their hind quarters in the sudden alarm. Theo Warrender flung himself under the very hoofs of the dashing bays. He seized the child and flung him out on the edge of the road, but was himself knocked down, and lay for a moment not knowing how much he was himself hurt, and paralyzed by terror for the boy, whom he had recognized in the flash of the catastrophe. There was a whirl of noise, for a moment, loud shrieks from the lady, the grinding of the suddenly stopped wheels, the prancing and champing of the horses, the loud exclamations of the man who was driving to the groom, who sprang out from behind, and to his shrieking companion. The groom raised Geoff’s head, and laid him on the grass at the roadside, while Warrender crept out from the dangerous position he occupied, his heart sick with alarm. “ He’s coming to,” said the groom. “ There is no harm done. The gentleman’s more hurt than the boy.” “ There is nothing the matter with me,” cried Warrender, though the blood was pouring from his forehead, making bubbles in the dust. When Geoff opened his eyes he had a vision first of that anxious, blood-stained countenance ; then of a bearded face in an atmosphere of cigar smoke, which reminded him strangely, in the dizziness of returning consciousness, of his father : while the carriage, the impatient bays, the lady looking down from her high seat, were like a picture behind. He could not remember at first what it was all about. The bearded man knelt beside him, feeling him all over. “ Does anything hurt you, little chap ? Come, that’s brave. I think there’s nothing wrong.”
“But look at Theo ! Theo’s all bleeding,” said Geoff, trying to raise himself up.
“It’s nothing, — a trifle,” said Warrender, feeling, though faint, angry that the attention of the stranger should be directed to his ghastly countenance. He added, “ Don’t wait on account of him. If you will let your man catch the pony, I ’ll take him home.”
Then the lady screamed from the phaeton that the little darling must be given to her, that he was not fit to get on that pony again, that he must be driven to the village. She called her companion to her, who swore by Jove, and plucked at his mustache, and consulted with the groom, who by some chance knew who the child was. The end of the discussion was that Geoff, to his own great surprise, and not without a struggle, was lifted to the phaeton and placed close to the lady, who drew him to her, and kept him safe within her arm. Geoff looked up at the face that bent so closely over him with a great deal of curiosity, and mingled attraction and repulsion. In his giddy state, it seemed to him another phase of the dream. The sudden elevation, the rush of rapid motion, so different from his slow and easy progress, the two bays dashing through the air, the lady’s perfumery and her caresses, all bewildered the boy. Where were they taking him ? After all, was there really some ogre’s castle, some enchanted palace, to which he was being swept along without any will of his ? The little boy was disturbed by the kisses and caresses of his new friend. He was not a shy child; but he felt himself too old to be kissed, and a little indignant, and slightly alarmed, in the confusion of his shaken frame, as to where he was being taken and what was going to happen to him. The bays were grand and the lady was beautiful; but as Geoff looked at her, holding himself as far away as was possible within the tight enclosure of her arm, he thought her more like the enchantress than the good, lovely fairy queen, which had been his first idea. She was not like the ogre’s wife he knew so well, — that pathetic, human little person, who did what she could to save the poor strayed boys; but rather of ogre-kind herself, kissing him as if she would like to put a tooth in him, with loud laughter at his shrinking and indisposition to be caressed. Geoff also felt keenly the meanness of forsaking Theo, and even the pony, who by this time, no doubt, must be very sorry for having thrown him, and very much puzzled how to get home. Would the groom (left behind for the purpose) be able to catch him ? All these things much disturbed Geoff’s thoughts. He paid little attention to the promises that were made to him of tea and nice things to eat, although he was faint and hungry ; feeling not altogether certain, in his little confused brain, that he might not, instead of eating, be eaten, though he was quite aware at the same time that this was nonsense, and could not be.
But when the phaeton turned in at the gate of the Elms, and Geoff saw the high red brick house, surrounded with its walls, like a prison, or like the ogre’s castle itself, his perturbation grew to a climax. The vague alarm which takes complete possession of a child when once aroused in him rose higher and higher in his mind. When the lady sprang lightly down, and held out her arms to receive him as he alighted, the little fellow made a nervous leap clear of her, and stood shaking and quivering with the effort, on his guard, and distrustful of any advance. “ Nobody is going to harm you, my little fellow,” said the man, kindly enough ; while the lady asked why he was frightened, with laughter which confused and alarmed him more and more ; for Geoff was accustomed to be taken seriously, and did not understand being laughed at. He wanted to be civil, notwithstanding, and was about to follow in-doors, plucking up his courage : when a glance round — which showed him how high the walls were, and that the gates had been closed, and that in the somewhat narrow space inside there was no apparent outlet by which he could communicate with the world in which his mother and Theo and everybody he knew were left behind— carried a thrill of panic, which he could not overcome, through all his being. As he paused, scared and frightened, on the threshold, he saw at the further end of the inclosure a door standing a little ajar, by which some one had entered on foot. Geoff did not pause to think again, but made for the opening with a sudden start, and, when outside, ran like a hunted hare. He ran straight on, seeing houses before him where he knew there must be safety,— houses with no high walls, cottages such as a small heart trusts in, be it beggar or prince. He ran, winged with fear, till he got as far as Mrs. Bagley’s shop. It was not a great distance, but he was unused to violent exertion, and his little body and brain were both quivering with excitement and with the shock of his fall. The dread of some one coming after him, of the house that looked like a prison, of the strangeness of the circumstances altogether, subsided at the sight of the village street, the church in the distance, the open door of the little shop. All these things were utterly antagonistic to ogres, incompatible with enchantresses. Geoff became himself again when he reached the familiar and recognizable ; and when he saw the cakes in Mrs. Bagley’s window, his want of a dinner grew into an overpowering consciousness. He stopped himself, took breath, wiped his little hot forehead, and went in, in a very gentlemanly way, taking off his hat, which was dusty and crushed with his fall, to the astonished old lady behind the counter. “ Would you mind giving me a cake or a biscuit?” he said. “I don’t think I have any money, but I am going to Mrs. Warrender’s, if you will show me where that is, and she will pay for me. But don’t do it,” said Geoff, suddenly perceiving that he might be taken for an impostor, “ if you have any doubt that you will be paid.”
“ Oh, my little gentleman,” cried Mrs. Bagley, “ take whatever you please, sir ! I ‘m not a bit afraid ; and if you was never to pay me, you ’re but a child, if I may make bold to say so ; and as for a cake or a — But if you ’ll take my advice, sir, a good bit of bread and butter would be far more wholesome, and you shall have that in a moment ” —
“Thank you very much,” said Geoff, though he cast longing eyes at the cakes, which had the advantage of being ready ; “ and please might I have a chair or a stool to sit down upon, for I am very tired ? May I go into that nice room there, while you cut the bread and butter ? My mother,” said the boy, with a sigh of pleasure, throwing himself down in Mrs. Bagley’s big chair, which she dragged out of its corner for him, “ will be very much obliged to you when she knows. Yes, I am only a child,” he continued, after a moment; “ but I never thought I was so little till I got far away from home. Will you tell me, please, where I am now ? ”
Mrs. Bagley was greatly impressed by this little personage, who looked so small and talked with such imposing self-possession. She set down before him a glass of milk with the cream on it, which she had intended for her own tea, and a great slice of bread and butter, which Geoff devoured without further comment. “ This is Underwood,” she said, “ and Mrs. Warrender’s is close by, and there’s nobody but will be pleased to show you the way ; but I do hope, sir, as you have n’t run away from home?”
“ Oh, no,” said Geoff, with his mouth full of bread and butter, “ not at all. I only came to see Theo, — that is Mr. Warrender’s name, you know. To be sure,” he added, “ mamma will not know where I am, and probably she is very much frightened ; that is something like running away, isn’t it? I hope they have caught my pony, and then when I have rested a little I can ride home. Is that a nice house, that tall red house with the wall round it, or do they shut up people there ? ”
“ Ah, that’s the Elms,” said the old lady, and she gave a glance which Geoff did not understand to the young woman who was sitting at work behind. “ I don’t know as folks is ever shut up in it,” she said, significantly; “but don’t you never go there, my little gentleman, for it ain’t a nice house.”
“ The like of him could n’t get no harm, Granny, even if it was as bad as you think.”
“ There is nobody as would n’t get harm, man or woman, or even children,” cried Granny, dogmatically. “ It was the last place as poor Lord Markland was ever in afore his accident, and who knows”—
Geoff put down his bread and butter. “ That’s my father,” he said. “ Did he know those people? Perhaps his horses got wild escaping from them.”
Mrs. Bagley lifted up her hands in awe and wonder. “ My stars ! ” she said, “ I thought I had seen him before. Lizzie, it’s the little lord.”
“ That is what the lady called me,” said Geoff, “ as if it was my fault. Do they set traps there for people who are lords ? ”
It may be imagined what the sight of Theo all bound up and bleeding was to the family in the Warren. He had not at all the look of a benevolent deliverer, suffering sweetly from a wound received in the service of mankind. He had a very pale and angry countenance, and snorted indignant breath from his dilated nostrils. “It’s nothing; a little water will make it all right,” he answered to the eager questions of his mother and sisters. “ Has the brat got here? ”
“The brat? What brat? Oh, Theo! You’ve been knocked down ; your coat is covered with dust. Run for a basin, Chatty, and some lint. You look as if you had been fighting, or something.” These cries rose from the different voices round him, while old Joseph, who had seen from a window the plight in which his master was, stood gazing, somewhat cynical and very curious, in the background. The scene was the hall, which has been already described, and into which all the rooms opened.
“ Well,” rejoined Theo angrily, “ I never said I had n’t. Where’s the boy ? Little fool! and his mother will be distracted. Oh, don’t bother me with your bathing. I must go and see after the boy.”
“ Let me see what is wrong,” pleaded Mrs. Warrender. “ The boy ? Who is it ? Little Markland ? Has he run away ? Oh, Theo, have patience a moment. Joseph will run and inquire — Minnie will put on her hat ” —
“ Running don’t suit these legs o’ mine,” grumbled Joseph, looking at his thin shanks.
“ And what am I to put on my hat for?” cried Minnie. “Let Theo explain. How can we tell what he wants if he won’t explain ? ”
“I’ll run,” said Chatty, who had already brought a basin and water, and who flew forth in most illogical readiness, to satisfy her brother, although she did not know what he wanted. Good-will, however, is often its own reward, and in this instance it was emphatically so, for Chatty almost ran into a little group advancing through the shrubbery, —Mrs. Bagley, with her best bonnet hastily put on, holding little Geoff Markland by the hand. The boy was in advance, dragging his guardian forward, and Mrs. Bagley panted with the effort. “ Oh, Miss Chatty,” she cried, “ I ’m so thankful to see you! The little gentleman, he ’s in such a hurry. The little gentleman ” —
Geoff let go in a moment the old lady’s hand, nearly throwing her off her balance; but he was full of his own affairs, as was natural. “It is me,” he said to Chatty. “ I came to see Theo ; but I had an accident: and he had an accident. And they wanted to take me to that tall house, but I would n’t. Has Theo come back ? and where is pony ? This old lady has to be paid for the bread and butter. She was very kind, and took care of me when I ran away.”
“ Oh,” cried Chatty, “ did you run away ? And Lady Markland will be so unhappy.”
No one paid any attention to Mrs. Bagley’s declaring that she wanted no payment for her bread and butter ; and Geoff, very full of the importance of the position, hurried Chatty back to the house. “ Can I go in ? ” he said, breathless; “and will you send me home, and find pony for me? Oh, here is Theo ! Was it the horse that tipped you on the head?” He came forward with great gravity, and watched the bathing of Warrender’s brow, which was going on partly against his will. Geoff approached without further ceremony, and stood by the side of the table, and looked on. “ Did he catch you with his forefoot?” said the boy. “I thought it was only the hind feet that were dangerous. What a lot of blood! and oh, are they going to cut off your hair ? When I got a knock on the head, mamma sent for the doctor for me.”
“ Dear Theo, be still, and let me do it. How could you get such a blow ? ”
“I will tell you, Mrs. Warrender,” said the little boy, drawing closer and closer, and watching everything with his little grave face. “ Pony threw me, and the big bays were coming down to crush my head. I saw them waving in the air, like that, over me: and Theo laid hold of me here and tore me, and they kicked him instead.”
“ What is all this about a pony and the bays ? Theo, tell me.”
“ He tore me all here, look, in the back of my knickerbockers,” said Geoff putting his hand to the place; “but I ’d rather have that than a knock on my head. Theo, does it hurt ? Theo, what a lot you have bled ! Were you obliged to tear my knickerbockers ? I say, Theo, the lady was pretty, but I did n’t much like her, after all.”
Theo, though his head was over the basin, put out his hand and seized the child by the shoulder. “ What did you run away for, you little— Do you know your mother will be wretched about you ? — your mother, who is worth a hundred of you.” This was said through his teeth, with a twist of Geoff’s shoulder which was almost savage.
“ I say! ” cried the child ; then he added, indignantly. “ I never ran away : I came to see you, because you are going to be my tutor. I did n’t think it was such a long way. And pony got hungry. And so was I.”
“ Going to be his tutor ! ” It was Minnie’s voice that said this, so sharply that the air tingled with the words, and Mrs. Warrender started a little ; but it was not a moment at which any more could be said. The bathing was done, and Theo’s wound had now to be brought together by plaster and bound up. It was not very serious. A hoof had touched him, but that was all, and fortunately not on a dangerous place.
“ Take him away aud give him something to eat,” said the patient, but not in a hospitable voice.
“ I want to see it all done,” said Geoff, pressing closer. “ Is that how you do it ? Don’t you want another piece of plaster ? Will you have to take it off again, or will it stay till it is all well ? Oh, look, that corner is n’t fast. Press it there, a little closer. Oh, Theo, she has done it so nicely. You can’t see a bit of the bad place. It is all covered with plaster, like that, and then like this. I wish now it had been me, just to know how it feels.”
“ Take him away, mother, for heaven’s sake ! ” cried Warrender under his breath.
“ My dear, you must not worry Theo. He is going to lie down now, and be quiet for a little. Go with Minnie, and have something to eat.”
“ I am not so hungry now,” said the boy, “ but very much interested. When you are interested you don’t feel hungry : and the old woman gave me something to eat. Would you pay her, please? Won’t you tie something on, Mrs. Warrender, to hide the plaster? It does n’t look very nice like that.”
“ Come,” said Chatty, taking him by the hand. The elder sister had thrown herself into a chair at the mention of the tutor, and seemed unable for further exertion.
“ Oh, yes, I am coming; but I am most interested about Theo. Theo, you have got a stain upon your cheek ; and your coat is torn, too, as bad as my — Well, but he did tear my knickerbockers. Look ! I felt the cold wind, though I did not say anything; not upon the open road, but when we got among your trees. It is so dark among your trees. Theo ! ”
“ Come, come; I want you to come with me,” Chatty said, hurrying Geoff away: and perhaps the sight of the table in the dining-room, and the tray which Joseph, not without a grumble, was placing upon it, became about this time as interesting as Theo’s wound.
“ We ought to send and tell his mother that the child is here.”
“ Or send him back,” said Minnie sharply, “and get rid of him. A little story-teller! Theo his tutor ! If I were his mother, I should whip him, till he learned what lies mean ! ”
Mrs. Warrender looked with some anxiety at her son. “ Children,” she said, “make such strange misrepresentations of what they hear. But we should send ” —
“I have sent already,” said Theo. “ She will probably come and fetch him — and, mother ” —
“ My dear, keep still, and don’t disturb yourself. There might be a little fever.”
“ Oh, rubbish ! Fever ! I shall not disturb myself, if you don’t disturb me. Look here. It is quite true ; I’ve offered myself to be his tutor.”
“ His tutor! ” cried Minnie once more, in a voice which was like the report of a pistol. Mrs. Warrender said nothing, but looked at him with a boundless pity in her eyes, slightly shaking her head.
“ Well ! and what have you to say against it?” cried Theo, facing his sister, with a glow of anger mounting to the face which had been almost ghastly with loss of blood.
“ This is not a moment for discussion. Go and see to the child. Theo, my dear boy, if you care so much for Geoff as that — at another time you must tell us all about it.”
“ There is nothing to tell you, save that I have made up my mind to it,” he said, looking at her with that prompt defiance which forestalls remark. “ Geoff ! Do you think it is for Geoff? But neither at this time nor at any other time is there more to say.”
He looked at her so severely that Mrs. Warrender’s eyes fell. He felt no shame, but pride, in his self-sacrifice, and determination to stand by it and uphold his right to make it in the face of all the world. But this very determination, and a consciousness of all that would be said on the subject, gave Warrender a double intolerance in respect to Geoff himself. To imagine that it was for the boy’s sake was, he already felt, an imputation he could scarce endure. For the boy’s sake! The boy would have been swept away before now if thought could have done it. From the first hour he had been impatient of the boy. The way in which he clung to his mother had been a personal offense. And his mother ! — ah, no, she could do no wrong. Not even in this matter, which sometimes tortured him, could he blame Lady Markland. But that she or any one should imagine for a moment that he was ready to sacrifice his time, his independence, so much of his life, for the sake of Geoff! That was a misconception which Warrender could not bear. “ Don’t let that little —— come near me,” he said to his mother, as he finally went off, somewhat feebly, to the old library, where he could be sure of quiet. “ Make the girls take care of him and amuse him. She will probably come and fetch him, and I will rest — till then ” — That little —— ! Warrender did not add any epithet; the adjective was enough.
“ Till then — till she comes ! Is that all your thought ? ” said his mother. “ Oh, my poor boy ! ”
He met her eyes with a pride which scorned concealment. Yes, he could own it here, where it would be in vain to deny it. He would not disavow the secret of his heart. Mothers have keen eyes: but hers were not keen, — they were pitying, — more sad than tears. She looked at him, and once more softly shook her head. The blood had rushed again to his face, dyeing it crimson for a moment, and he held his head high as he made his confession. “ Yes, mother, that is all my thought.” And then he walked away, tingling with the first avowal that had he made to mortal ears. As for Mrs. Warrender, she stood looking after him with so mingled an expression that only a delicate casuist could have divined the meaning in her. She was so sorry for him, so proud of him. He was so young, not more than a boy, yet man enough to give all his heart and his life — to sacrifice everything, even his pride — for the sake of the woman he loved. His mother, who had never before come within speaking distance of a passion like this, felt her heart glow and swell with pride in him, with tender admiration beyond words. She had neither loved nor been loved after this sort ; and yet it was no romance of the poets, but had a real existence, and was here, here by her side, in this monotonous little world which had never been touched by such a presence before. She said to herself that it would never come to anything but misery and pain ; yet even misery was better than nothingness, and he who had loved had lived. To think that a quiet, middle-aged Englishwoman, a pattern of domestic duty, should think thus, and exult in her son’s inconceivable and, as she believed, unhappy passion, is almost too much to be credible. Yet so it was.
Geoff’s absence was not discovered until two o’clock, when Lady Markland, at the end of a long and troublesome consultation over matters only partially understood, suggested luncheon to her man of business. “ Geoff will be waiting and very impatient,” she said, with a smile. Mr. Longstaffe was not anxious to see Geoff, nor disturbed that the little boy’s midday meal should have been postponed to business, though this disturbed Geoff’s mother, who had been in the habit of thinking his comfort the rule of her life. She was much startled not to find him in the dining-room, and to hear that he had not come back. “ Not come back ! and it is two o’clock ! But Black will take good care of him,” she said, with a forced smile, to Mr. Longstaffe, “ and I must not keep you waiting.” “ If you please, my lady,” said the butler, “ Black’s not gone with him.” At this Lady Markland stared at the man, the color dying out of her face. “ You have let him go out alone ! ” “I had nothing to do with it, my lady. The colt’s lame, and Black ” — “ Oh,” she cried, with impatience, “ don’t talk to me of excuses, but go, go, and look for my child ! ” Then she was told that Black had gone some time since, and was scouring all the roads about; that he had come back once, having seen nothing ; and that now the coachman and gardener were gone, too. From this time until the hasty messenger arrived with Theo’s hurried note, Lady Markland spent the time in such distraction as only mothers know, representing to herself a hundred dangers, which reason told her were unlikely, but which imagination, more strong than reason, placed again and again before her eyes, till she felt a certainty that they were true. All these stories of kidnapping, which people in their senses laugh at, Lady Markland as much as any, being when in her right mind a very sensible woman, came before her now as possible, likely, almost certain. And she saw Geoff, with his little foot caught in the stirrup, dragged at the pony’s frightened heels, the stones on the road tearing him, his head knocking against every obstacle ; and she saw him lying by the roadside, white and lifeless. She saw everything that could and could not happen, and accused herself for not having sent him to school, out of danger, — for not having kept him by her side night and day.
Mr. Longstaffe naturally looked on at this anguish with a mixture of contempt and pity. He was not at all alarmed for Geoff. “ The young gentleman will have gone to visit one of his friends ; he will have gone further than he intended. He may, if he does n’t know the country very well, have missed his way : but we don’t live in a land of brigands and bandits, my dear lady ; somebody will be sure to direct him safely back.” He managed to eat his luncheon by himself, after she had begged him not to mind her absence, and had left him undisturbed to confide to the butler his regret that Lady Markland should be so much upset, and his conviction that the little boy was quite safe. “ He ’ll be all right, sir,” the butler said. “ He is as sharp as a needle, is Mr. Geoff. I did ought to say his little lordship, but it’s hard to get into new ways.” They said this, each with an indulgent smile at her weakness, in Lady Markland’s absence. The lawyer had a great respect for her, and the butler venerated his mistress, who was very capable in her own house but they smiled at her womanish exaggeration, all the same.
Warrender had been quite right in thinking she would come at once for Geoff. She had almost harnessed the horses herself, so eager was she, and they flew along the country roads at a pace very unlike their ordinary calm. Evening had fallen when she rushed into the hall at the Warren, in her garden hat, with a shawl wrapped about her shoulders, the first she had found. Terrible recollections of the former occasion when she had been summoned to this house were in her mind, and it was with a fantastic terror which she could scarcely overcome that she found herself once more, by the same waning light, in the place where she had been sent for to see her husband die. If she had been deceived! If the child should be gone, like his father! She had not, however, a second moment in which to indulge this fancy, for Geoff ’s voice, somewhat raised, met her ears at once. Geoff was in very great feather, seated among the ladies, expounding to them his views on things in general. “ Our trees at Markland are not like your trees,” he was saying. “ They are just as young as me, mamma says. When I am as old as you are, or as Theo, perhaps they will be grown. But I shall not like them so big as yours. When Theo is my tutor I shall tell him what I think ; it will be a fine opportunity. Why, mamma ! ” She had him in her arms, kissing and sobbing over him for a moment, till she could overcome that hysterical impulse. Theo had come from his room at the sound of the wheels, and the party were all collected in the drawing-room, the door of which stood open. There was little light, so that they could scarcely see each other, but Minnie had full time to remark with horror that Lady Markland did not even wear a widow’s bonnet, or a crape veil, for decency, but had on a mere hat, — a straw hat, with a black ribbon. She put her hand on her heart, in the pang of this discovery, but nobody else took any notice. And, indeed, in the outburst of the poor lady’s thanks and questions, there was no room for any one else to speak.
“ Oh, it was all right,” said Geoff, who was in high excitement, the chief spokesman, and extremely eager to tell his own story before any one could interfere. “ I knew the way quite well. I wanted to see Theo, you know, to ask him if he really meant it. I wanted to speak to him all by himself; for Theo is never the same, mamma, when you are there. I knew which turn to take as well as any one. I wasn’t in a hurry; it was such a nice day. But pony was not interested about Theo, like me, and he remembered that it was dinner-time. That was all about it. And then those people in the phaeton gave him a start. It was nothing. I just popped over his head. There was no danger except that the bays might have given me a kick; but horses never kick with their forefeet.”
Here Lady Markland gave a shriek, and clutched her boy again. “ You fell, Geoff, among the horses’ feet! ”
“ Oh, it did n’t matter, mamma; it did n’t matter a bit. Theo caught me, and tore my knickerbockers (but they ’re mended now). He bled a great deal, and I helped Mrs. Warrender to plaster up the cut ; but I was n’t hurt, — not a bit; and my knickerbockers ” —
It was Geoff’s turn now to pause in surprise, for his mother left him, and flew to Theo, and, taking his hands, tried to kiss them, and, between laughing and crying, said, “ God bless you ! God bless you ! You have saved my boy’s life ! ”
Geoff was confounded by this desertion, by the interruption, by the sudden cry. He put his hand up to the place where Warrender’s cut was, dimly realizing that it might have been in his own head but for Theo. “ Was that what it was ? ” he said, wondering and unobserved in the midst of the new commotion, which for the moment left Geoff altogether, and rose around Warrender, as if he had been the hero of the day.
They all sat round the table and took their evening meal together before Lady Markland went back. It was not a ceremonious, grand dinner, as if there had been a party. Old Joseph pottered about, and put the dishes on the table, and handed the potatoes now and then when they were not wanted, and sometimes leaned across between the young ladies to regulate the lamp, explaining why as he did so. “Excuse me, Miss Chatty, but it’s a-going to smoke,” he said ; and in the mean time the family helped each other. But Lady Markland was not conscious of the defects in the service. She sat by Theo’s side, talking to him, looking at him in a kind of soft ecstasy. They had been friends before, but it seemed that she had now for the first time discovered what he was, and could not conceal her pleasure, her gratitude, her admiration. She made him tell her how it all happened, a dozen times over, while the others talked of other things, and poured out her thanks, her happiness, her ascription of praise, as if he had been more than mortal, devoting herself to him alone. Lady Markland had never been the kind of woman who allows herself in society to be engrossed by a man. It was entirely unlike her, unlike her character, a new thing. She was quite unconscious of Minnie’s sharp eyes upon her, of the remarks which were being made. All she was aware of, in that rapture of safety after danger and relief from pain, was Geoff, blinking with eyes half sleepy, half excited, by the side of Mrs. Warrender, nothing hurt in him but his knickerbockers; and the young man by her side, with the wound upon his head, who had saved her child’s life. Theo, for his part, was wrapped in a mist of delight for which there was no name. He saw only her, thought only of her; and for the first time began to imagine what life might be if it should ever come to mean a state in which this rapture should be permanent,— when she would always look at him so, always devote herself, eyes and lips and all her being, to make him happy.
The room lay in darkness beyond the steady light of the white lamp, shining on the circle of faces. There was not much conversation. Minnie was sternly silent, on the watch ; Chatty sympathetically on the alert, too, though she scarcely knew why, because her sister was; Mrs. Warrender listening with a faint smile to Geoff’s little chatter, occasionally casting a glance at the other end of the table, which she could see but imperfectly. Lady Markland spoke low, addressing Theo only, so that Geoff, as before, held the chief place. He was never weary of going over the adventures of the day.
“ It is that tall house before you come to the village, — a tall, tall house, with a wall all round, as if to keep prisoners in. I know there are no prisoners now. Of course not! There are people all about in the fields and everywhere, who would soon tell the policeman and set you free. I was not afraid. Still, if the gates had been shut, and they refused to open, I don’t know what one would do. The lady was like a picture in the Pilgrim’s Progress, — that one, you know. I thought her pretty at first. But then she held me in her arm as if I had been a baby.”
“ Oh, it would be Those People ! ” said Minnie, moved to a passing exclamation of horror.
“ Never mind that now. You must not venture out again without the groom, for it makes your mother unhappy. Theo,” said Mrs. Warrender, with a smile and a sigh, “ when he was a little fellow like you, never did anything to make me unhappy.”
“ Did n’t he ? ” said Geoff seriously. “ But I did n’t know. How could I tell pony would so soon get hungry ? He has n’t a regular dinner-time, as we have; only munches and munches all day. But I was telling you about the tall house ” —
“ You must tell me another time, Geoff. Theo must bring you back with him sometimes for a holiday.”
“Yes,” said Geoff, “that would do better. Pony would go splendid by the side of Theo’s big black. I shall come often. When I do my lessons well — I have never done any lessons except with mamma. Does Theo like teaching boys ? ”
“ I don’t know, my dear. I don’t think he has ever tried.”
“ Then why is he coming to teach me ? That, at the very bottom of it, you know, is what I wanted him to tell me; for he would not tell straight out, the real truth, before mamma.”
“ I hope he always tells the real truth,” said Mrs. Warrender gently. “I suppose, my little Geoff, it is because he is fond of you.”
Upon this Geoff shook his little head for a long time, twisting his face and blinking his keen little eyes. “ He is not fond of me — oh no, it is not that. I can do with Theo very well — as well as with any one ; but he is not fond of me.”
“ I am glad to hear that you can do with Theo,” said the mother, amused.
“ Yes. I don’t mind him at all: but he is not fond of me ; and he is sure not to teach mamma’s way, and that is the only way I know. If he were to want to punish me, Mrs. Warrender ” — “ I hope, my dear, there will be no question of that.”
“ I should n’t mind,” said the boy, “ but mamma would n’t like it. It might be very awkward for Theo. You are flogged when you go to school, are n’t you ? At least, all the books say so. Mamma,” he went on, raising his voice, “ here is a difficulty, — a great difficulty. If Theo should want to flog me, what should you do ? ”
Lady Markland did not hear him for the moment. She was absorbed ! — this was the remark made by Minnie, who watched with the intensest observation. Then Geoff, in defiance of good manners, drummed on the table to attract his mother’s attention, and elevated his voice : “ Can’t you hear what I ’m saying, mamma? If I were to be stupid with my lessons, and Theo were to flog me — (It is only putting a case, for I am not stupid,” he added, for Mrs. Warrender’s instruction, in an undertone.)
“You must not suggest anything so dreadful,” said Lady Markland from the other end of the table. “ But now you must thank Mrs. Warrender, Geoff, and Mr. Theo, and every one; for the carriage has come round, and it is growing late, and we must go away.”
Then Mrs. Warrender rose, as in duty bound, and the whole party with her. “ I will not ask you to stay ; it is late for him, and he has had too much excitement,” said the mistress of the house.
“ And to think I might never have taken him home at all, never heard his voice again, but for your dear son, your good son ! ” cried Lady Markland, taking both Mrs. Warrender’s hands, putting forward her head, with its smooth silken locks in which the light shone, and the soft round of her uplifted face to the elder woman, with an emotion and tenderness which went to Mrs. Warrender’s heart. She gave the necessary kiss, but though she was touched there was no enthusiasm in her reply.
“You must not think too much of that, Lady Markland. I hope he would have done it for any child in danger.”
This, of course, is always perfectly true; but it chills the effusion of individual gratitude. Lady Markland raised her head, but she still held Mrs. Warrender’s hands. “ I wish,” she said, “ oh, I wish you would tell me frankly! Does it vex you that he should be so good to me ? This kind, kind offer about Geoff, — is it too much? Yes, yes, I know it is too much; but how can I refuse what he is so good, so charitable, as to offer, when it is such a boon to us ? Oh, if you would tell me ! Is it displeasing, is it distasteful to you ? ”
“ I don’t know how to answer you,” Mrs. Warrender said.
“ Ah! but that is an answer. Dear Mrs. Warrender, help me to refuse it without wounding his feelings. I have always felt it was too much.”
“ Lady Markland, I cannot interfere. He is old enough to judge for himself. He will not accept guidance from me, — ah, nor from you either, except in one way.” She returned the pressure of her visitor’s hand, which had relaxed, with one that was as significant. “ It is not so easy to lay spirits when they are once raised,” she said.
Lady Markland gave her a sudden, alarmed, inquiring look; but Theo came forward at that moment with her cloak, and nothing could be said more.
When the visitors were gone he came back into the dining-room, expectant, defiant, fire in all his veins, and in his heart a sea of agitated bliss that had to get an outlet somewhere; not in a litany to her, for which there was no place, but at least in defense of her and of himself. It was Minnie, as usual, who stood ready to throw down the glove ; Chatty being no more than a deeply interested spectator, and the mother drawing aside from the fray with that sense of sympathy which silences remonstrance. Besides, Mrs. Warrender did not know, in the responsive excitement in herself which Theo’s passion called forth, whether she wished to remonstrate or to put any hindrance in his way.
“Well, upon my word ! ” said Minnie, “ Mrs. Wilberforce may well say the world is coming to a pretty pass. Only six months a widow, and not a bit of crape upon her! I knew she wore no cap. Cap! why, she has n’t even a bonnet, nor a veil, nor anything ! A little bit of a hat, with a black ribbon, — too light for me to wear ; even Chatty would be ashamed to be seen ” —
“ Oh, no, Minnie; in the garden, you know, we have never worn anything deeper.”
“ Do you call this the garden ? ” cried Minnie, her voice so deep with alarm and presentiment that it sounded bass, in the silence of the night. “ Six miles off, and an open carriage, and coming among people who are themselves in mourning ! It ought to have given her a lesson to see my mother in her cap.”
“ If you have nothing better to do than to find fault with Lady Markland ” — said Theo, pale with passion.
“Oh,” cried Minnie, “don’t suppose I am going to speak about Lady Markland to you. How can you be so infatuated, Theo ? You a tutor, — you, that have always been made such a fuss with, as if there was not such another in the world ! What was it all he was to be ? A first class, and a Fellow, and I don’t know what. But tutor to a small boy, tutor to a little lord, — a sort of a valet, or a sort of a nurse ” —
“ Minnie ! your brother is at an age when he must choose for himself.”
“ How much are you to have for it ? ” she cried, — “ how much a year ? Or are you to be paid with presents, or only with the credit of the connection ? Oh, I am glad poor papa is dead, not to hear of it. He would have known what to think of it all. He would have given you his opinion of a woman — of a woman ” —
“ Lady Markland is a very nice woman,” said Chatty. “ Oh, Theo, don’t look as if you were going to strike her! She does n’t know what she is saying. She has lost her temper. It is just Minnie’s way.”
“ Of a woman who wears no crape for her husband ! ” cried Minnie, with an effort, in her bass voice.
Theo, who had looked, indeed, as if he might have knocked his sister down, here burst into an angry peal of laughter, which rang through the house ; and his mother, seizing the opportunity, took him by the arm and drew him away. “ Don’t take any notice,” she said. “ You must not forget she is your sister, whatever she says. And, my dear boy, though Minnie exaggerates, she has reason on her side, from her point of view. No, I don’t think as she does, altogether ; but, Theo, can’t you understand that it is a disappointment to us? We always made so sure you were going to do some great thing.”
“ And to be of a little real use, once in a way, is such a small thing! ”
“ Oh, Theo, you must be reasonable, and think a little. It does not want a scholar like you to teach little Geoff.”
“ A scholar — like me. How do you know I am a scholar at all ? ”
Mrs. Warrender knew that no answer to this was necessary, and did not attempt it. She went on : “ And you are not in a position to want such employment. Don’t you see that everybody will begin to inquire what your inducement is? For a young man who has nothing, it is all quite natural; but you — Theo, have you ever asked yourself how you are to be repaid ? ”
“ You are as bad as Minnie, mother,” he said, with scorn ; “you think I want to be repaid.”
She clasped her hands upon his arm, looking up at him with a sort of pitying pride. “ She must think of it, Theo, — everybody must think of it; ah yes, and even yourself, at the last.
Every mortal, everybody that is human, — oh, Theo, the most generous ! — looks for something, something in return.”
The young man tried to speak, but his voice died away after he had said “ Mother ! ” To this he had no reply.
But though he could not answer the objection, he could put it aside; and as a matter of course he had his way. At the beginning of a thing, however apparent it may be that embarrassment is involved, few people are clear-sighted enough to perceive how great the embarrassment may come to be. Lady Markland was not wiser than her kind. She spoke of Theo’s kindness in a rapture of gratitude, and ended always by saying that after all this was nothing in comparison with the fact that he had begun by saving the boy’s life. “ I owe my child to him,” she said, — “I owe him Geoff’s life ; and now it almost seems natural, when he has done so much, that he should do anything that his kind heart prompts.” She would say this with tears in her eyes, with such an enthusiasm of gratitude that everybody was touched who heard her. But then, everybody did not hear Lady Markland’s account of the matter; and the common mass, the spectators who observe such domestic dramas with always a lively desire to get as much amusement as possible out of them, made remarks of a very different kind. The men thought that Warrender was a fool, but that the widow was consoling herself ; the ladies said that it was sad to see a young man so infatuated, but that Lady Markland could not live without an adviser; and there were some, even, who began to lament “ poor dear young Markland,” as if he had been an injured saint. The people who heard least of these universal comments were, however, the persons most concerned: Lady Markland, because she saw few people, and disarmed, as has been said, those whom she did see ; and Warrender, because he was not the sort of man, young though he was, whom other men cared to approach with uncalled-for advice. There was but one person, indeed, after his sister, who lifted up a faithful testimony to Theo. Mrs. Wilberforce, as his parish clergyman’s wife, felt that, if the rector would not do it, it was her duty to speak. She took advantage of the opportunity one evening after Christmas, when Warrender was dining at the rectory. “ Are you still going to Markland every day ?” she said. “ Is n’t it a great tie? I should think by the time you have ridden there and back you can’t have much time for any business of your own.”
“ It is a good thing, then,” said Theo, “ that I have so little business of my own.”
“You say so,” said the rector’s wife, “but most gentlemen make fuss enough about it, I am sure. There seems always something to be doing when you have an estate in your hands. And now that you are a magistrate — though I know you did not go to Quarter Sessions,” she said severely.
“ There are always enough of men who like to play at law, without me.”
“ Oh, Theo, how can you speak so ? when it is one of a gentleman’s highest functions, as everybody knows! And then there are the improvements. So much was to be done. The girls could talk of nothing else. They were in a panic about their trees. There is no stauncher conservative than I am,” said Mrs. Wilberforce, “but I do think Minnie went too far. She would have everything remain exactly as it is. Now I can’t help seeing that those trees — But you have no time to think of trees or anything else,” she added briskly, fixing upon him her keen eyes.
“ I confess,” said Theo, “ I never thought of the trees from a political point of view.”
“ There, that is just like a man ! ” cried Mrs. Wilberforce. “ You seize upon something one says that can be turned into ridicule ; but you never will meet the real question. Oh, is that you, Herbert? Have you got rid of your churchwarden so soon ? ” — for this was the pretext upon which the rector had been got out of the way.
“ He did not want much, — a mere question. Indeed,” said the rector — remembering that fibs are not permitted to clergy any more than to the mere laic, and perceiving that he must expect his punishment all the same, with that courage which springs from the conviction that it is as well to be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb — “it was not the churchwarden at all; it was only a mistake of John.”
“ Well,” said his wife significantly, “ it was a mistake that was quickly rectified, one can see, as you have come back so soon. And here is Theo talking already of going home. Of course he has his lessons to prepare for to-morrow ; he is not a mere idle gentleman now.”
Little gibes and allusions like these rained upon the young man from all quarters during the first six months, but no one ventured to speak to him with the faithfulness used by Mrs. Wilberforce ; and after a time even these irritating if not very harmful weapons dropped, and the whole matter sank into the region of the ordinary. He rode, or, if the weather was bad, drove, five days in the week to his little pupil, who in himself was not to Theo’s mind an attractive pupil, and who kept the temper of the tutor on a constant strain. It ought, according to all moral rules, to have been very good for Warrender to be thus forced to self-control, and to exercise a continual restraint over his extremely impatient temper and fastidious, almost capricious temperament. But there are circumstances in which such self-restraint is rather an aggravating than a softening process. During this period, however, Theo was scarcely to be accounted for by the usual rules of human nature. His mind was altogether absorbed by one of the most powerful influences of human life. He was carried away by a tide of passion which was stronger than life itself.
M. O. W. Oliphant.