“ I HEARD,” said Mr. Mitford, when the servants had left the room, “ that Elizabeth Travers was over here to-day. Who saw her when she came ? — or was it true ” —

A look was exchanged very quickly, almost imperceptibly, by the others round the table, and Nina, who had not yet had time to go away, answered in her little voice, which had still something in it of the shrillness of childhood, “ She was not here, papa.”

“ But I heard that she was here,” said Mr. Mitford, in his peremptory tones. He was one of the men who are always ready to suppose that they are being deceived, and that every contradiction must be a lie, — possibly intentional, perhaps only uttered on the spur of the moment, but at all events untrue.

Roger, who knew what was coming, stirred in his chair with a consciousness that could not quite be concealed; but it was Edmund who replied : —

“ She was at the Rectory, sir. We saw her mare in front of the gates, as we were going to the railway with Steve.”

“ Which of you went in to make her welcome ? ” the Squire asked.

“ I don’t think any of us thought of it. Steve had only just time to catch his train.”

“ I was not thinking of Steve. What has Steve to do with it ? But you two, I suppose, had no train to catch. It was most fraternal, truly beautiful, to walk down with your brother, but it did not, I imagine, occupy all your souls.”

“ I don’t pretend it occupied much of my soul,” said Roger. He had turned half round on his chair, perhaps out of mere caprice, perhaps that the light might not fall so distinctly on his face.

“ And when you saw her there, — a fine creature, handsome enough to turn any young fellow’s head, and as nice as she’s handsome, — you forgot all about Stephen, and did your best to make yourself agreeable ? Much as I value family affection,” said the Squire, in the voice of satire which his children dreaded, “ I could forgive that.”

Nina was not clever enough to see what it was about, but she perceived that the situation was strained, and she made a little diversion for the brothers by leaving the table. Mr. Mitford never entered the drawing-room after dinner, so that Nina’s departure was accompanied by a little ceremonial which sometimes had the effect of changing a disagreeable subject. She went up to her father, and put her soft little lips to the weather-beaten cheek which he turned carelessly towards her. “ Good-night, papa,” she said.

Copyright, 1887, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co.

“ Good-night, good-night,” he replied, almost with impatience. This time the diversion was without effect. That Roger should get up to open the door for her seemed to Mr. Mitford a quite unnecessary ceremony; and it must be owned that Roger himself but seldom remembered this homage to womanhood in the person of as familiar and unimportant an object as his little sister. He had to come back from the door, by which he was so much tempted to escape, and take his chair again, which he did most unwillingly, foreseeing trouble to come.

“ Well! ” said the Squire. “ How far did you go with her? Or rather, how long did she stay ? ”

“ I told you, sir,” said Edmund, “ that we went with Steve to the railway.”

“ Again! what has Steve to do with it ? ” the father cried.

“ So that we saw nothing but the groom with the mare. Her visit was at the Rectory, not here.”

“ At the Rectory, and not here ! ” repeated the Squire, with a contemptuous (and very unsuccessful) mimicry of his son’s tone. “ Did I ever say it was here ? How could she come here, to a house where there’s no woman, to throw herself at your heads ? That’s what you expect a girl to do, you young fellows nowadays. She went as far as she could in coming to the Rectory. By Jove, when I was your age I should soon have let her see I knew what she meant.”

“ You forget, sir,” said Roger, evidently restraining himself with an effort, “ that there is not the slightest reason to suppose — indeed, that we have not the least right to imagine —Miss Travers’s visit to her friend at the Rectory to have anything to do with us.”

“ I don’t forget, sir,” cried the angry father, “ that you ’re a puppy and a coxcomb, and that Lizzy Travers is twenty thousand times too good for you.”

This perfectly irrelevant sentiment was delivered with so much heat that Edmund gave his brother an anxious, deprecatory look, to which Roger replied with an indignant frown before he spoke. “ I am convinced of that,” he said.

“ Convinced that you mean to let her be carried off before your very eyes! There’s that long-shanked simpleton Ray Tudgold: though he’s a boy and a fool, he has more sense than you. I saw him at her bridle, assiduous enough, I can tell you, and Tudgold himself settling her stirrup for her. Why were n’t you there ? What the deuce do you mean by always being out of the way when there’s a really good chance for you ? And she must have seen you pass under her very nose, taking no notice. A pretty way to treat a lady, and the handsomest woman in the country, and all the Biglow estate at her apron strings! ”

“ I’m very sorry, sir, if you thought us negligent,” said Edmund. “ For my part, I think it would have been very bad taste to interrupt her at that moment. She had just arrived, she was with her particular friend.”

“ What,” said Mr. Mitford, with a laugh, “ are you still so soft in that quarter, Ned ? To think any woman in the world would prefer Pax Lemesurier to an admirer of the other sex! We all know your sentiments in that quarter, my boy, but women are not such fools as to care for each other’s company except when there’s nothing better to be got.”

To this neither of the young men made any reply. It is possible that they were themselves of the same opinion, regarding it with blind faith as a sort of mathematical axiom, recognized by everybody and beyond the necessity of proof. But to a man who is angry, and who is relieving his mind on a legitimate subject, there is nothing so exasperating as silence. It is worse than contradiction, for it implies disrespect. It implies that he is not worth arguing with, that there is nothing for it but to bear with him, and let the tempest die away.

“ You seem to have nothing to say for yourself,” he said, turning to Roger, “ and I don’t wonder. But at least you know my opinion. You are acting like a fool, in the first place, and how far it is strictly honorable ” —

“Honorable ! ” exclaimed Roger, turning round suddenly from where he had placed himself with his face in shadow.

“ I’m not afraid of you,” said his father, with a laugh. “ Honorable, — that’s what I said. According to my old-fashioned code, it’s distinctly not honorable to persecute a girl with your attentions at one time, and at another to carelessly fling her off.”

“ I have done neither one thing nor the other,” cried Roger, roused to an outburst of indignation, “nor has any one a right to say so. I have the greatest respect for Miss Travers, and always have had. And if any one but you, sir, ventured to speak so of a lady whom — of a — of a girl who ” —

“ Do you want me to finish your sentence for you ? —— of a lady whom you once admired very much, and who is the best match in the country ; of a girl who would make a capital mistress to Melcombe, and complete the estate in the most satisfactory way, so that the family would be the better of it for generations. I tell you what, Roger,” said Mr. Mitford, relaxing. — “ for a quarrel between you and me can lead to nothing agreeable, — the thing for you to do is to get the Black Knight out to-morrow, and ride over to see her. She will be quite willing to believe that you prefer getting her all by herself, for the aunt, of course, does n’t count; you can easily elude the aunt. Do this, like a good fellow, and I ’ll be content.”

Edmund’s eyes conveyed a dozen messages while this was being said, but how could his brother receive them, having turned again his shoulder to the light? No answer came for some time out of the shadow. Perhaps the young man was struggling with himself; perhaps it was only reluctance to reply, to meet the softened tone with another contradiction. At last he said abruptly, “ I am sorry — I can’t go to-morrow. I am — otherwise engaged.”

“ Engaged ! I should like to know what that means,” said the father sharply.

“ I’ve got something else to do,” said Roger. “I’ve — various things to do. I’ve — a number of letters to write. I can’t possibly spare to-morrow. It would throw everything into arrears.”

“ Well,” said the father, persistently amiable, “ if not to-morrow, let us say next day, or Thursday, — at all events, a day this week.”

“ I shall be busy all this week,” Roger said, in a sullen tone recognizable by both father and brother. They knew his under lip had set firm, and the somewhat too long upper one had closed down upon it like a vise. Edmund, looking at him fixedly, in the hope that he might glance up and take counsel from his warning eyes, afforded a means to the Squire of giving vent to his renewed wrath.

“ What is all that telegraphing about ? ” he said. “Ned, you had better mind your own business. You want to advise your brother to be prudent, not to try my patience too far. Let him alone ; he had better be honest and let me know exactly what he means, since we ’re on the question. If he means to defeat me in my first wish, let him say so, and then we can fight fair.”

“ Roger means nothing of the kind, sir,” said Edmund, “ though he may be driven to say so. if you press hhn so hard. Good heavens, what is the use of talking of what a man means ! You know very well that in most cases we mean nothing but just what happens to hit our fancy for the moment. To defeat you, no! I ’ll be bound for him that is not what he means.”

“ Hold your tongue, Ned,” said Mr. Mitford. “ That’s all very well for boys and women. I expect I’m talking to a man when I talk to my eldest son. How old is he ? Three and thirty, if he’s a day. Do you mean to tell me that’s an age at which a fellow can go on philandering as if he were still a boy ? ”

“ I d rather, if it is the same to you,” said Roger, again suddenly shifting his position, and revealing a face very white and obstinate, with a fiery glow under the lowered eyelids, “ that we discussed this matter, father, you and I, instead of having it talked over like this. Ned means very well, and would be kind if he could, but he does n’t always understand.” After receiving this ridding stroke, which is inevitably the recompense of the third party, Edmund drew back a little, involuntarily, from the table, pushing his chair out of the circle of the lamplight. The two faces which were within that round of light stood out like those of actors upon the intimate stage of private life, which is so much more exciting than any play.

“ Very well,” said the Squire, “that’s what I say. Let us have it all honest and aboveboard. You know well enough what I want. I want the Biglow estate added on to Melcombe, which is all for your own advantage, not mine. It would not do me any good if it were done to-morrow. And I want a woman that will be a credit to us, that can take the head of the table, as your mother did, and make a fit mistress of a family like ours. The first pretty girl that turns up is not what I want, Roger. You ’re old enough to know what’s what, and not to be run away with by any childish fancy. All these things I find in Lizzy Travers. She’s a fine, handsome creature, she’s a woman of sense, and she has got plenty of money and just the land that is wanted to round off our own. You looked as if you thought so, too, a little while ago. Why, in the name of all that’s idiotic, do you call off now, and disappoint her (as I ’ve no doubt you ’re doing), and defy me ? ”

Mr. Mitford warmed as he went on; the enumeration of all Elizabeth’s advantages fired his blood, and the thought that for some whim, some caprice unworthy of a man, some change of liking, all these advantages might be thrown away, was intolerable to him. He could not but feel that his son must be actuated by something more than mere perversity, — by an undutiful impulse to go against himself and thwart his designs, which were so clearly for the benefit of the family. That sons did so out of mere rebellion, and injured themselves to spite their father, without any other motive, Mr. Mitford thought he knew well. It was one of their leading impulses, he was convinced.

The contrast between this superficial wrath and flow of opposition on one side and the passion in Roger’s face was wonderful. He was quite pale ; his eyelids half drawn over his eyes, his nostrils drawn in, his lips set tight. No petulance of contradiction such as his father believed in, but a force of emotion which was full of tragic elements, was in his face. He cleared his throat two or three times before he could get possession of his voice. “ In the first place,” he said, “ Miss Travers’s name must be put out of the discussion once for all. We were never more than good friends, she and I. Stop a little ” (for Mr. Mitford had given vent to a snort of contempt and the scornful exclamation “Friends!”). “ You have no right, and I have no right, to speculate upon what she thinks. A woman’s mind is her own, I hope, as well as a man’s. That’s only a small part of the question, sir, I allow; the question is between you and me. If I proposed to a lady and she rejected me, I suppose you would not say that was my fault.”

“ But I should, sir,” retorted his father; “certainly I should, in this case. I should say it was your shameful shillyshally, your would and your would n’t. your reluctance to come to the point, that had disgusted the girl, and with good reason ; only somehow I Ve faith in her, and I don’t think it has.”

Roger glared at his father with what he thought was indignation on Elizabeth’s account. “ I refuse to bring in her name. She has nothing to do with the question,” he cried. The question is between you and me, sir, and nobody else has anything to do with it. I never had any such intention as you give me credit for; but even if I once had, as you think, I have n’t now. I don’t want to bind myself. I’ve — no desire to marry,” Roger said. He made a slight pause before he said these words, and plunged a sudden glance into the shade where Edmund sat, as if challenging him to interfere ; and a sudden flush of color rose on his own face. He added, hastily, “ I hope you don’t think I’m capable of changing my mind to annoy you. I cannot deny such an accusation, because it’s incredible. You can’t think so badly of me, even if in the heat of the moment you say it. But if my mind ever inclined towards that, which it did n’t, at least it does not now.”

“ And you think that’s a reason,” cried Mr. Mitford. “ By Jove! You ought to think a little, Roger, what’s your raison d’être. You ’ve no profession, you never do anything, you ’re the eldest son. Just because it is unnecessary for you to work for your living, being the eldest son, it’s your business to attend to this. You may call me brutal, if you like ; perhaps it’s brutal, but it’s true. This is your share of the duty. If you don’t do it ” — Mr. Mitford got up from his chair almost violently, pushing it away from the table. Then he paused, and looked at his son from the vantage ground of his height and attitude. “ Whether it’s from mere caprice, whether it’s for other reasons,” — and here, to Roger’s troubled ear. his voice sounded full of meaning, — “ whatever is the cause, you had better look to it, my boy. Though you ’re the eldest son,” said the Squire, turning away, “ please to remember that in our family there’s no eldest son, so to speak, further than a parent may please.”

He went away as he spoke, bursting through the door which opened into the drawing-room. Though he had avoided that way of reaching his own special retirement since little Nina had taken up her abode in it, his excitement was so great that he forgot his usual habit tonight, and a scream from Nina, faintly heard in the noisy shutting of the door, testified to her wonder rather than pleasure at the sight of this unexpected figure pushing through her usually silent rooms. His two sons sat immovable in their astonishment, watching this stormy exit. It was seldom that Mr. Mitford permitted himself to lose his temper, and they stared at each other with looks which were far from comfortable. The Squire was generally very decorous ; if he had never sought the confidence and friendship of his boys, at least he had seldom repulsed them, and never threatened. But on this occasion excitement (or was it policy ?) had carried him quite out of himself. They heard Nina’s frightened little outcry, then a quick and rather angry dialogue, and then the shutting of the distant library door, which indicated that he had entered his own zoom for the evening. Roger had become very calm, very silent, in the midst of this sensation. “ What do you suppose that means ? ” he said at last, when the echoes of the alarmed house had died away. “ I did not think my father would have adopted such vulgar methods,” he said.

“ He meant nothing,” said Edmund, in his usual rôle of peace-maker. “ And you might have temporized a little. You could not have been forced into matrimony at a moment’s notice. Why not yield a little, and keep the peace ? ”

“ There has been too much sacrificed to keeping the peace.” Roger got up and began to walk about the room, his figure moving up and down like a shadow outside the circle of the light. “ I can’t keep it up,” he cried. “ I cannot go on like this. The best thing for me, if I could but do it, would be to go away.”

“ And why not ? Why not go to town for a month or two ? There’s nothing tragical about that, no grand decision involved. Go up for the season, and cut this knot, whatever it is.”

“You speak at your ease,” said the elder brother, looking out of the shadow at Edmund’s thoughtful face, in which there was no struggle, only a shade of sympathy and anxiety. Roger was torn by sensations very different, — by passion contending with all the restraints of life, and thought, and better judgment. “ It is an easy matter for you,” he repeated, with a certain bitterness; “to settle other people’s affairs is always the simplest thing in the world.”

“ I don’t even know what your affairs are,” said the other. “ I suggest no settling; take a moment’s pause, as you may so well do. No one can have a word to say, if you start off for town now. It is the moment when everybody is going. And whatever there may be to decide, get it at arm’s length, get it in perspective,” Edmund said.

Roger stared at him almost fiercely for an instant, then came back and flung himself down again in his chair. “ Don’t insult a man with your artist’s jargon,” he said ; then changing his tone in a moment, “ That’s just what I do, Ned, —that’s just what I do too much. I can’t get any natural action out of myself for that. My father thinks I mean to cross him. I don’t. I see the sense of all he or you can say, though you drove me mad with your talk about what was suitable. I know it well enough. He’s right, and you are right, and nobody knows so well as I do all the trouble that’s in it, or how good it would be to take the other way. “ But ” — said Roger, staring into the white heat of the lamp, with eyes that were full of glowing fire — “ but ” —

Edmund stretched across the table, and laid his hand on his brother’s arm. There are moments when the most sympathetic can do nothing, can say nothing, that may not turn to exasperation instead of solace. The touch was all he could venture on. Already both had forgotten the father’s threat, if threat it were.



The drawing-room at Melcombe had a succession of window recesses, or rather projections built out from the level of the room, like little porticoes inclosed with walls, where all the brightness of the sunshine concentrated, and where a silent little reader or thinker might rest unseen, whoever went or came. It was in one of these that Edmund found his sister the next morning. She had appropriated the little nook, which was oblong, with an opening opposite the great window like a doorway into the drawing-room. On the cushioned seat which ran all round Nina had accumulated her treasures. She had a work-basket full of bright-colored wools and silks, always in disorder, and pieces of work at which she sometimes labored for half an hour at a time. She had a few books scattered upon the seat: a novel always in course of reading; a book of poetry, about which she was not very particular so long as it was verse; and a volume of that vague morality and philosophy beaten down into a sugared pulp, which has at all times been thought the right thing for young ladies. It need scarcely be said that the little girl never opened it, but it represented the higher literature to her unsophisticated soul. She had what she called her “ drawing things ” upon the table beside her, so that in case an inspiration moved she might fly to her pencil, like a heroine in an old-fashioned novel, without loss of time. She never did so, but what did that matter ? An old guitar, which Nina had found in a lumber-room, hung by a faded ribbon from the wall, so that she might equally soothe her mind with that, if any sudden pressure of affairs suggested music as the natural relief to an overburdened soul. To be sure, Nina did not know how to play, but that made no difference. Had the necessity existed, no doubt the knowledge would have come. On the whole, the little thing pleased herself much with these simple preparations for every emergency, and as no emergency occurred read her novel in peace, or when there was any bazaar in prospect, for which her married sisters claimed her aid, would seize her crewels and work for a whole twenty minutes. She led a very useless life, much unlike the present habits of high-minded girls. She had nothing to do, and did nothing. She learned nothing. She did not improve her mind. She had no part in the operations of the household. In short, she existed only like one of the flowers in the garden. She loved the guitar, which she called a lute, and the drawing things, and the poetry book, and the crewels, which she called embroidery. These were all accessories to the little part she had to play, but her novels were old-fashioned, and so was her ideal, and she did not know that any more was intended in the constitution of a little girl belonging to a country family. Laura and the rest had married, that was true, and entered upon another kind of existence, which Nina supposed, some time or other, she too would have to do. But she did not speculate on that change, it was not within the range of any near possibilities, and the little mind did not require the stimulus of any such subject for dreams. Lily Ford, in her room which opened on the garden, dreamed all day long, — dreamed with passion, inventing for her future endless pleasures, splendors, and delights ; but Nina, in her window-seat, was quite quiescent, pleased with the days as they came. To be sure, Lily was the elder by three years, and her position was not the assured and simple one held by the little lady at the Hall.

“ Oh, you are here, Nina,” said Edmund, coming in. He placed himself in the basket-chair, which, though it was well cushioned, always creaked, and disturbed Nina’s quiet. “ I thought you might be out, as it is such a fine morning. You don’t go out half enough.”

“ I have no one to go with, Edmund. It is rather dull always going out alone.”

“ So it is. If you would only be a little bolder, Nina, and get upon a horse, you could ride with Roger or me. One of us would always be glad to go.”

This was one of the little habitual things which Nina knew were said without much meaning. Oh, yes, no doubt Edmund meant them when he said them. But his sister was too shy to keep him to his word. She was not so timid as was supposed, and had got, if not upon a horse, yet upon a pony, many times with impunity, and ridden soberly about the park. But the idea that Nina was not bold enough to ride had always been kept up. Though she was so simple, she quite understood this little fiction, and that it was not at all in her rôle to call upon her brothers to go out with her; for little persons like Nina, with all their innocence, often know things which they are not supposed to know.

“ Thank you very much, Edmund,” she said. “ I am quite happy here. I am at a very interesting bit in my book. I am not quite sure, but I almost think that Ethelbert is going to turn out Lord Wilfrid’s son, which would quite explain the sympathy that Emily felt for him the first time she saw him. It is the most interesting book ” —

“ Perhaps you would rather I went away, and let you unravel the mystery,” Edmund said.

“ Oh, no; oh, dear, no! ” exclaimed Nina, putting down the volume upon its face. ” I would a thousand times rather talk to you. And there’s something I want to ask you, Edmund. What was papa so angry about last night ? ”

“ Last night ? Oh, it was nothing, my dear. One of us displeased him. Either Roger or I said something that brought on a discussion ; nothing you need trouble your little head about.”

“ But I do trouble my head. How can I help it ? I know it was Roger, and not you. I heard loud voices, sounding quite angry, and then I went and sat close to the door.”

“ Do you think that was quite right, Nina ? It is not the thing for a lady to do.”

“ Oh, I was not listening! ” cried Nina. “ I did not look through the keyhole, or anything like that. I only sat near the door. And then I heard papa scolding, — oh, scolding ! worse than he ever did, even at Laura. I could n’t help hearing. Then he bounced in when I was sitting there, never expecting it. What made him come through the drawing-room last night ? I started up as if I had been shot, and then he — said something disagreeable to me.”

I am afraid you deserved it this time,” said Edmund, shaking his head. “You should not sit near the door; you might hear something that you were not intended to hear.”

“ Oh, that is exactly why ” — Then she stopped short, in confusion. “ I mean,” she said, looking as if about to cry, while Edmund continued to shake his head, “ that I never know anything — about anything! And why should n’t I find out, if I can? It is so dull at night, sitting all by one’s self here.”

“ I ought to have thought of that,” said Edmund; “of course it is dull. I ’ll make a point of coming in and sitting with you in future, Nina, if you will promise not to sit near the door.”

“ Oh, thank you very much, Edmund,” said Nina. She was aware that this promise was about as much to be depended upon as that of riding with her, if she could not ride; but repression had taught this little creature wisdom, and she accepted the offer as a benevolent form. “ It was about Roger getting married,” she said, nodding her head in her turn.

“ What do you know about that ? You must not say a word of anything of the kind. Roger is not going to be married.”

“ I know,” asserted Nina. “ I think I know more than you do, or papa either, but I am sure I would never tell.”

“ You — know about Roger ? Nonsense, my dear little girl, you must not even think on such a subject. There is nothing for you to know.”

“Oh, but there is,” said Nina, once more nodding her head. “ I knew first from what Simmons said. And then I rode round by the West Lodge, and there I saw.”

“ I thought that you said a minute ago you would never tell.”

“ Not to any one else,” replied the girl, “ but you and I are just the same as himself, Edmund. I would not tell papa for the world. Did you ever see Lily Ford? I think she is beautiful. There are not very many beautiful people like women in books. Perhaps she is not quite up to that, but she is the beautifulest I ever saw.”

“ Oh. nonsense,” said Edmund, endeavoring to laugh the revelations off. “ Prettier than Laura ? You could n’t mean that, and ‘ beautifulest ’ is not a word.”

“ It is what I mean,” said Nina. “ Laura ? Oh, Laura ! — she was just Laura, nicer than anybody. It did not matter in the least whether she was beautiful or not. But Lily Ford is like somebody in a book. I once read a poem about a beautiful maiden in a garden, don’t you know ? She is like that. She walks out among the flowers, and she never goes anywhere else except to church, and Mrs. Simmons says she does n’t know what her parents are thinking of; and then they always say something about Roger, but they don’t let me hear what they say.”

“ You hear a great deal too much, I think,” cried Edmund. “ Nina, you ought to know it is not fit for a young lady to listen to what the servants say.”

“ Who am I to speak to, then ? ” asked Nina, the tears rising to her eyes. “ Am I never to hear anything that anybody says ? ”

“ My dear child,” said Edmund, “ I see how wrong we have all been. It is a shame that you should be driven to that, you poor little girl among all us men. But there is always the Rectory, Nina, when you ’re dull,” he hastily said.

“ Oh, I m not at all dull. I like home the best, but I can’t help thinking about what is going on. I like to ride past the West Lodge, the garden is always so pretty. And when it is warm you can look in at the window and see Lily sitting at work. I believe she’s making some things for me,” the girl added, with a certain sense of pride and proprietorship in Lily. “ Roger is there almost every day.”

“ Nina ! for Heaven’s sake, don’t go on with these revelations. All this information is quite out of your way. If Roger knew, he would be very angry; he would think you were watching him.”

“ So I was,” admitted Nina quietly, “ more or less ; for I wanted to know. When you hear all sorts of things said of your brother, and especially when you see that they don’t want you to hear what they say ” —

“You must be removed out of the hands of those servants,” said Edmund. “ It is not at all good for you. Don’t you know the difference between educated and uneducated people, Nina ? You have no right to listen to them. You don’t hear people of our own class ” —

“ Oh, Edmund ! why, everybody does it; not about Roger before us, but about others. The Tudgolds, and even Pax. Pax was saying the other day that Amy Tudgold went out a great deal too much when she was in London, and that our Stephen ” —

“ Don’t say any more, please. I dare say we all talk about our neighbors more than is necessary. But the servants, — you must not listen to the servants. As for Roger, he would be very angry. You must know, if you heard anything at the door, — oh, Nina ! — that this was not what my father was speaking to Roger about.”

“ No,” said Nina, after a pause, fixing her eyes upon her brother as if there might be a great deal more to say ; but though her eyes were eloquent she spoke no further word. For the next half hour or more Edmund kept his place, and made conversation for his little sister. He did his duty manfully, using every endeavor to make her forget the subject on which she had herself been the speaker. He told her about the books he had been reading, giving her at considerable length the plot of a new novel, with a description of the leadingcharacters and their actions. He told her about some discoveries in which the fairy tales of science, the beautiful part of research, came in as they do not always come in, even in its most beneficent spheres. He told her about the last great traveler who had made a track across the black continent. To all of which Nina responded with a little swift interrogative Yes? with a No! of wonder, with the milder Indeeds, and Oh, Edmunds, of attention. She gave him her ear devoutly for one thing as much as the other, and laughed, and clasped her hands, and looked astonished and dismayed, just when it was right for her to show these sentiments. But when at last he got up and left her, Edmund was by no means sure that Nina had not seen through him all the time, that she had not been quite aware of his purpose, and laughing in her little sleeve at his attempts to beguile her. He thought to himself, as he went away, considerably exhausted with his exertions and with the uncertainty of having at all succeeded in them, that he would never undervalue little Nina’s intelligence again. What she had told him was not new to him. He had known very well where Roger was going when he turned along the west road from the station. He had understood what his brother meant when he betrayed the uneasiness of his troublous passion in talk which pretended to be abstract. But Nina’s little matterof-fact story, her glimpses into the quiet conclusions of the servants, added a pang of reality to the visionary picture which Edmund had made to himself. As it was in Edmund’s fancy, it might have gone on for months or years before coming to any crisis ; but in a moment, by the illumination of all these sharp little commonplace lights, he saw how immediate and how urgent the danger was. There had been in Edmund’s mind a lingering incredulity, the conviction of a man in his sound senses that love, in the gravest sense of the word, for the keeper’s daughter was after all an impossibility ; that it was a freak of fancy rather than a serious passion which had occupied his brother. How in Ford’s cottage, within the ken of the father and mother, amid all the homely circumstances of their life, Roger should have been so fatally enthralled it seemed impossible to conceive ; and by Lily Ford, the little half-educated, conventional enchantress, with all the sentimentalities of her boarding-school about her, her artificial superiority, her little romantic graces! If she had been an unconscious, dutiful, rustic maiden, helpful and sweet, Edmund thought he could have understood it better. But for a man who had known and liked, if not loved, Elizabeth Travers, who had owed something of his development to Pax, — that he should throw his life away for Lily Ford ! The wonder of it took away Edmund’s breath ; yet he had no resource but to believe it now. And what was worst of all was that he could think of no way of helping Roger. His father’s threats, his inquiry in respect to that other matter so plainly impossible, the mere suggestion of which was an insult and injury to the lady, — so much too good, Edmund said to himself indignantly, for any one of them at their best, — would of course throw Roger more and more into his fatal entanglement, and make all deliverance hopeless. And there seemed nothing that any one could do. Remonstrance was futile ; the time for it was past; and what advantage could there be in pointing out the frightful drawbacks, the miseries, involved in such a connection to the unfortunate who saw them all, and yet could not resist the infatuation which was stronger than reason ? It was not thus, perhaps, that Edmund would have regarded a love which was superior to all obstacles, had it not approached himself so nearly. He realized in the present case with a heavy force of fact, more telling than imagination, what it would be to have Lily Ford the mistress of his father’s house.

In the perplexity of his mind he found himself following instinctively a path which he had perhaps trod oftener than any other during the whole course of his life, the path that led to the Rectory. He knew that Pax at her window would see him coming, and would divine that he was in trouble, and that his errand to her was the selfish one of unburdening his soul. How often had he unburdened his soul to Pax, in every kind of embarrassment and distress ! — even when the disturbing element was herself, when he had so loved her in her full maturity, so hotly wanted to marry her, so insisted that the obstacles were of no importance in comparison. He still loved Pax devotedly in a way, but the thought of his boyish projects in respect to her sometimes brought the hot color to his face, sometimes overwhelmed him with a desire to laugh. It had become ludicrous, impossible, as no doubt it had been always, had he had eyes to see. The recollection of it came strongly back to him as he ran up the familiar stairs, and went in unannounced, with a little tap at the door. Perhaps she thought of it, too, as she turned half round to greet him, holding out her hand with a “ Well, Edmund ! ” looking at him in the tall, narrow mirror which stood between the two side windows, and which was always the medium through which she contemplated her intimate visitors. Pax was of opinion that she understood people better when she first saw their faces and unconscious expression in this old-fashioned greenish glass.

“Well!” he said, throwing himself down upon a chair opposite to her. “ I ’m out of heart and out of humor, and as usual I’ve come to you to be consoled.”

“ That’s quite natural,” said Pax. “ What is it about ? ”

“ I can’t tell you — everything,” cried the young man. And then he took up a piece of work which lay on the table, and began to examine it gravely, as if he knew all about it. And so, indeed, he did; for Pax kept a piece of work by her, for state occasions, for the afternoon when people called, which made slow progress, and had no connection with the big work-basket, always overflowing, which stood on the other side of her chair. “ You were at this leaf, or thereabouts, last time I was on the verge of suicide,” he said, with a laugh.

“ And I shall be at another leaf next time,” Pax answered calmly. “ There is just enough of the pattern to keep me going till I deliver you over into the hands of your wife.”

“ My wife ! I shall never have one, Pax.”

“ Not till you are married,” said Miss Lemesurier. “ But I don’t suppose that is what troubles you now.”

He made no answer for some time, and then he burst forth suddenly, “ I don’t think it’s good for Nina to be all alone as she is. That little thing is far sharper than any of us think.”

“I am glad,” said Pax, “that you have found that out.”

“ She ought not to be left to the servants, to pick up the gossip of the house.”

“ I am very glad,” said Pax, “ that you have found that out. I hope your father sees it, too.”

“ Oh, my father ! ” Edmund said impatiently, conscious all at once that not Roger, but the Squire, was the cause of all his anxieties, for surely he ought to have known better, if anybody should.

“ And I don’t see how it is to be remedied unless one of you were to marry.”

“To marry!” Edmund exclaimed again, and then suddenly gleamed upon him another vision of Lily Ford in the chief place at home, training, restraining, his little sister. A flush of angry color came over his face. “ You are very keen upon marriages,” he cried, with an instinctive endeavor to give a prick in return. “ You used not to be so, if I remember right.”

Pax looked into the mirror, and saw herself seated there, mature and motherly, while the young man, flung into his chair in languor and discontent, sat gloomy before her. She uttered an involuntary thanksgiving within herself. If I had been such a fool ! she thought, and thanked Heaven, then spoke sedately. “ For right marriages always, —for wrong never,” she said, with emphasis. “ Come, I know that’s what you are upset about.”

“ I have no right to be upset,” he said. “ I suppose I’ve nothing to do with it. Am I my brother’s keeper ? Probably he is better able to judge than I am, and I’m a meddling fool to think I could interfere.”

Pax raised her eyes and looked at him seriously, but she did not help him out, and he sat pulling her work about, snipping at stray threads as if that had been the most important occupation in the world ; then he suddenly tossed it from him, nearly overturning the light table.

“ I should have thought,” he cried angrily, ‘‘that you would have known all about it. Here is one of the storms that are periodical in our house, — my father raging, and Roger going to the devil.”

“ No, no,” said Pax, “not so bad as that.”

“ What do you call not so bad ? He might be bad and do less harm. Imagine Lily Ford at Melcombe, the lady of the house! ”

“ Has it gone so far ? ” said Pax, in a tone of alarm. “ You ought not to speak so to me, Edmund, about less harm, but still I know what you mean. I can’t think it’s so bad as that.”

“ Can you think of my brother, then, as a scoundrel ? ” cried the young man, changing his view in a moment, as the caprice of his troubled mind suggested. Then he came to his senses in the relief of having thus disburdened himself. “ I fear,” he said, “ it has gone as far as that. I don’t see what else can come. Roger is not a fellow to — he is not a man that could — You know what I mean, Pax. He is too good, and too tender-hearted, and too honorable. He could neither deceive a woman nor desert her, even if he wanted to.”

“ Does he want to ? ” Pax paused a moment, not expecting any answer to her question ; then she said slowly, “ There is still one way out of it: there is the girl herself.”

“ The girl herself! ” Edmund cried, with unmeasured astonishment and almost contempt.

“ She is in a very artificial position ; but she is a natural, silly little thing, with a will of her own ; when that is the case there is never any telling,” Pax in her wisdom said.



On the same morning a consultation of a very different kind was going on at the West Lodge. The scene was the little parlor which to poor Roger had been a place of fatal enchantment. It bore, perhaps, a different aspect in the morning, but it is doubtful if any circumstances, even the chill daylight with all its revelations, even Mrs. Ford in the midst of her morning’s work, with all the common accessories of household labor about her, could now have affected the mind of the lover. Perhaps if at the first he had seen the mother on her knees “doing ” the grate, while Lily in her pretty dress, not fit even to be touched by those grimy fingers, stood by and looked on, the contrast might have affected his imagination; but who could tell ? He might have found it only an accentuation of the wonder how out of so homely a soil such a flower could have grown. To the chief actors themselves there was nothing in the least remarkable in the situation. Mrs. Ford on her knees before the hearth, with a brush in her hands and the glow of exertion on her face, had paused, looking up from her work to speak, while Lily stood by in the brown velveteen which had been her winter dress, and which, to do her justice, she had made herself, with pretty white frills round the hands which were free from any trace of labor, a few early primroses pinned upon her breast, and her silky hair shining in the sun. The glass door was open, the sunshine streaming in, the garden ablaze with those crocuses of which the keeper’s wife had boasted, the little room all glorified by the light, which, however, at the same time remorselessly showed all those poverties of over-decoration and vulgarity of ornament of which its inmates were unconscious. Mrs. Ford was making an appeal which was almost impassionate, and which suited very well with her attitude, if not with her occupation, while Lily listened somewhat impatient, very decided in her adverse opinion, pulling the threads unconsciously out of a scrap of linen which she held in her hands.

“ My pet,” said Mrs. Ford, “it’s time to think serious, if ever you thought serious in your life. I’m dead frightened, and that’s the truth. I’ve always looked, I don’t deny it, for a ’usband for you as could give you a different ’ouse from this. We’ve done our best, your father and me, to make it a nice ’ouse. We’ve done a deal for you, Lily, though may be you don’t see it. It’s not a place now for the likes of you, brought up a lady, and naturally looking for things as was never wanted by him or me. But still we’ve done a deal more than most folks approved of our doing; we’ve done the most we could.”

“Yes, yes,” said Lily impatiently, “ what is the use of going over all this again, mother ? I never said you had n’t been awfully good.”

“Well. I don’t mean to say that” resumed Mrs. Ford, drying her eyes with her apron. She was apt to be tearful when she insisted on Lily’s excellences, or humbly put forth her own attempts to do justice to them. “ But we’ve done what we could, and I’ve always hoped for a ’usband as could do more, and that I won’t deny.”

“ Well, mother! ” said Lily again.

“ But, dear,” cried the keeper’s wife, “ you must n’t look too high ! Oh, Lily, you must n’t look too high ! When Mr. Roger first came here I was a bit flattered ; that I don’t deny. I felt as if it was a great compliment. Him to come in quite friendly like, and take a chair, and talk to you and me. It was not as if it had been talking to your father about them things as men can go on about for hours. Senseless things, I think, but then that’s their way. And that he should be taken up with you was natural, and asking questions, for you were his mother’s pet, there’s not a doubt of that. I was flattered like. I won’t deny it. But since Christmas I’ve took fright, Lily. I’ve got more and more frightened every day. I’ve tried my best to say as you were busy, as you were out, — any excuse I could think of.”

“ Thank you, mother.”

“ You would thank me, if you thought a bit. Lily, you don’t know the world ; if you were as old as me, you would know that nothing good ever comes of a gentleman visiting in a poor ’ouse. He may mean no harm, and she may mean no harm, but it comes to harm in spite of ’em both.”

“ Mother! ” exclaimed Lily, with great indignation, “how dare you speak like that to me ! Harm ! Do you think I’m one of the poor creatures that forget themselves, that get into danger and trouble, — me ! If you think that of me, I wonder you don’t turn me out of your house.”

“ Oh, Lily ! ” cried the anxious mother. She gazed at the girl for a moment with hands uplifted, then turned round hastily and addressed herself to the grate with great fervor of exertion, making her brush ring into all the corners. After a minute or two of this active work Mrs. Ford turned round again. “You put me to silence and you put me to shame,” she said, rising from her knees. “You’ve got learning enough and sense enough to get the better of a dozen like me, but you did n’t ought to, Lily, however things are, for I ’m your mother, and that’s more than learning, or foreign languages, or playing the pianny, — ay, or even taking views.”

“ Mother, of course it is.” assented the girl. “ I never would have been nasty to you if you had n’t been nasty to me, supposing for a moment that I was like one of the victims in a story-book, and that harm of that description could ever happen to me ! ”

Mrs. Ford accepted Lily’s kiss with a tearful smile. “ Hold off the brush,” she said, “ or it ’ll make a mark on you. Oh, Lily, my pet, you ’re never nasty to me, — only I’m silly about you, and I take everything to heart. And as for Mr. Roger — no, I ain’t easy in my mind about Mr. Roger. I can’t say I am, for it wouldn’t be true.”

“ Why, what could Roger do ? ” said the girl, with a triumphant smile. “ Nothing but what I like, you may be sure.”

“ That may be, or that may n’t be,” replied Mrs. Ford, shaking her head; “ but what I’m thinking of is his father, Lily. His father, he can do just what he pleases. He can turn us out of this house, which is the nicest I ever was in for its size, and where I’d like to end my days. He could turn your father out of his place. He can hunt us all out of the parish, away from everybody we know. Oh, you think nobody could do that ? But you ’re mistaken, Lily. The Squire can do whatever he wants to do. It’s awful power for one man, but he can. I have heard say he can leave all his money away from his sons, if they don’t please him, and that’s what frightens me. Oh, Lily, Mr. Roger, he ’s too grand; he’s not the ’usband I ’d choose for you.”

“ Too grand, —nobody’s too grand,” said the girl; and then she laughed. “For that matter, your favorite Mr. Witherspoon thinks a deal more of the difference between himself and the keeper than Mr. Roger does. A fine scientific gardener, — oh, that’s a great deal more grand than the young Squire.”

“ Lily, Lily! there you are, always laughing at the steady young man that could give you a nice home, and furnish it nicely, and keep a servant, and everything. That ’s what would please me. Better than us, but not so much better that he would throw your father and mother in your face, with a good trade that he could carry anywhere. Oh, that is the kind of man for me. All the masters in the world could n’t frighten that one, they could n’t do him no harm. He’s sure of a place somewhere else, if he has to leave here. Squire mayfret as he likes, he can’t do no harm to him. Oh, Lily, if it was me ” —

“ And how are ye the day, Miss Lily ? and did ye like the sparrygrass ? ” cried the girl, with an imitation of the gardener’s Scotch. “ Oh, mother, how you can like that man ! He may be nice enough, and respectable enough, and all that, but he is not a gentleman,” Lily said, with great dignity, drawing herself up.

“ And that’s what I like him for,” replied her mother.

Lily gave Mrs. Ford a look of mingled indignation and superiority. “ I shall never have anything to say to a man who is not a gentleman.” she said.

“ Oh, goodness gracious me ! ” the mother cried.

Neither to Mrs. Ford’s exclamation nor to her attitude of despair did Lily pay any attention. She seated herself at the table, opened a little fancy box in which were her thimble and scissors, and drew towards her the needlework she was doing for Nina at Melcombe. It was a work which went on slowly, subject to many interruptions, but still it was the occupation to which she sat down morning after morning, when the grate was done and the fire lit. The fire was now blazing up brightly, and everything was cheerful within and out: the crocuses all expanding under the sunshine, the same brightness flooding in at the open door, the brisk little fire modifying what sharpness there still might linger in the March air. The only shadow in this brilliant little spot was Mrs. Ford, standing on the other side of the table, with her black brush in one hand and her broom in the other, disconsolately leaning upon that latter implement, and looking at her daughter with troubled eyes. Lily had taken her seat opposite the window. She had laid out a pretty mass of white muslin and lace upon the table; her graceful person, her shining head, the flowers on her bosom, all harmonious and delightful, made the picture perfect. If her features wanted regularity, who could pause upon that point, in the general radiance of beauty and health and satisfaction that shone about her? In short, who could take that beauty to pieces, or question which part of it was more or less near perfection, who had ever fallen under the spell of her presence ? Six months ago Lily had been conscious of that spell. She had been very willing to exercise it if it existed, and fully and fervently believed that the something which would certainly come would be something to her advancement and glory. But still it had all been vague. She had not known what kind of fly would stumble into her shining web. When Mr. Witherspoon, the gardener, appeared her heart had fluttered; she had for a little while supposed that he might be, if not the hero, at least the master, of her fate. But Lily’s ideas had much enlarged since those days. She had learned what triumph was. Visions very different from that of the gardener’s two-storied, blue-slated house had passed before her eyes. That man of science who condescended to love her, and wished to improve her mind, was very different from the young Squire, who found all her little ignorances half divine. Roger, with his straight, well-dressed figure, standing up as she had seen him first, asking, was this Lily ? stroking his mustache as he looked at her. had been, in comparison with the solid gardener, romance and beauty embodied to the ambitious girl, who, suddenly enlightened by this revelation, held to the certainty that no man who was not a gentleman could ever satisfy her. And since then — well, since then — As she mused a conscious smile lighted up her face; since then perhaps other and still more splendid revelations had come.

“ What are you laughing to yourself at? ” said Mrs. Ford, who sometimes felt a prick of exasperation even with her darling. “ You ’re thinking of Mr. Roger, and that he ’ll make a lady of you; but suppose his father leaves everything away from him ? Oh, Lily, you don’t know what it is, trying to be a lady, and nothing to do it with. It’s worse, a deal worse, than living poor and thinking nothing different, like we do.”

“ Mr. Roger ! ” cried Lily, with a toss of her head. “ One would think there was n’t a gentleman in the world but Mr. Roger, to hear you speak.”

“ There’s none as comes here, at least,” Mrs. Ford said.

The conscious smile grew upon Lily’s face. It seemed on the eve of bursting into a laugh of happy derision. But she made no reply in words ; indeed, she bent down her face to hide the smile which she could not conceal, and did not intend to explain.

“ Leastways, not as I know,” her mother continued, with a vague suspicion passing like a cloud over her mind. She gave a moment to a hurried, frightened reflection on this subject, and then said to herself that it was impossible. Why, Lily was never out of her sight, never away from her, never wished to be away, or take her freedom, like other girls. Lily was quite satisfied to be always within her mother’s shadow. Mrs. Ford felt a glow of happy pride as she remembered this, and it drove all her doubts and painful anticipations out of her mind. “ My pet.” she said, “ there’s a many things to be thought of afore you marry, and in particular if you marry out of your own kind. I don’t call Mr. Witherspoon that, or even young Mr. Barnes, or Harry Gill, though he’s as well off as can be.”

“ A gardener, a farmer, and a horsedealer ! ” exclaimed Lily, letting out her suppressed laugh, but with an éclat of derision in it. “ What fine gentlemen, to be sure ! ”

“ Oh, Lily! ” cried the troubled mother. “ There’s not one of them but would be a grand match for Ford the keeper’s daughter. Now listen a bit to me. As far as that you can go, and none of them would say you nay when you had your father and your mother up of an evening, or to sit with you when you were lonely, or have a bit of dinner at Christmas, or that. They might n’t be fond to see us too often, but they ‘d never say a word so far as that goes.”

“ I should hope not,” said Lily, growing red. “My father and mother! If they were not proud to see you, I should know the reason why.”

“ Oh, my sweet! I always knew as you’d be like that. But, Lily,” continued Mrs. Ford, with bated breath, “ what if it was the Hall ? I ’ve been through the rooms once with Mrs. Simmons, when she was in a good humor because of the game. “ Oh, Lily ! I felt as if I should take off my shoes. I’d no more have sat down in one of those golden chairs, or touched the sofas, except, may be, with a soft clean duster, than I’d have flown. I could n’t have done it. Velvet beneath your feet, and velvet on the very footstools, and you could n’t turn round but you ’d see yourself on every side. I declare, I was nigh saying to Mrs. Simmons, ‘ Who’s that vulgar, common person as you ’re showing round, and what’s the likes of her got to do there ? ’ and it was just me.”

“ Well, mother,” said Lily, coldly. She held her head very high, and there was a crimson flush on her face. The view was, no doubt, new to her, and wounded her pride, perhaps also her heart, deeply. She spoke with a little difficulty, her throat dry with sudden passion.

“ Oh. my darling child, supposing as you was to lead Mr. Roger on, and let him come and come, till he had n’t no control of himself no more; and that’s what it’s coming to. And supposing as it come to that as you was married. And supposing the Squire did n’t make no objection, but gave in to him because you was so pretty, — as has happened before now. Lily, what would you do with your father and your mother then ? ” asked the good woman, solemnly. “ Would you have us up to one o’ your grand dinners, and set us down at your grand table, with Mr. Larkins, as has always been such a friend to your father, to wait ? It makes me hot and cold all over just to think of it. Your father always says Mr. Larkins, he’s such a good friend; and suppose he was standing up behind my chair to help me to the potatoes, or pour Ford out a glass of beer. Lord, I ’d sink through the floor with shame, and so would your father.”

Poor Lily had been foolish in many of her little ways, but she was miserable enough while she listened to this speech to make up for much. She saw the scene in her quick imagination, and she too shivered: the terrible Squire at the end of the table, and delicate little Miss Nina, and all the ladies and gentlemen ; and in the midst of them her father and mother, and Larkins grinning over their shoulders! Lily’s own heart sank at the thought of how she would herself come through if exposed to that ordeal; but father and mother! She sat bolt upright in the keen pang of her wounded pride, for it was all true ; it was true, and more. She felt as her mother said, as if she too, in shame and mortification, would sink through the floor.

“ If it should ever come to that,” she said, with a gasp, “ I should like to see — any one that would dare to look down upon father and you.”

“ Oh, my pet. I knew you would feel like that; but how could you stop it, Lily? You could n’t stop it, my dear. You would have to get all new servants, for one thing, and they would turn out just as bad as the old ones. There’s no way as you could work it, my pretty, — no way! ”

“ If it was like that. I should give up all company altogether, and you should come and see me in my own room, where nobody could interfere,” declared Lily. But then the strain of her tone relaxed, the hot color faded, and she laughed with a tremulous mirth in which there was an evident sense of escape. “ It might have come to that once, mother,” she said, “ but not now. No, not now, — I know better now. If it was Windsor Castle he had to offer, instead of Melcombe Hall, I would n’t have him. Don’t you worry yourself about that.”

Mrs. Ford gave a gasp of amazement. She had meant to make the drawback very clear, but she had not intended to be thus taken at her word. That Lily would weep and protest that no such indignities should ever be possible in her house, be it ever so splendid, was what she meant, but no more.

“ Lily,” she said, “ Lord bless you, I did n’t mean you were to give up what was for your happiness on account of me.”

“ Do you think I ’d let people look down upon and slight my mother ? ” asked Lily. “ Besides,” she added quickly, “ he’s dull; he is not the least entertaining ; he is no fun, mother. There are some that are far better fun, and just as good gentlemen, and never would behave like that.”

Mrs. Ford was deeply disappointed, in spite of her evil prognostications. “ Well, Lily,” she said. “ I’m glad you ’re so reasonable. I can’t help feeling for Mr. Roger, poor dear, but if it ’s to be Witherspoon, after all ” —

“ Witherspoon ! ” ejaculated Lily, with an accent of scorn : but who it was, or where she had seen any gentleman who was not Roger, not all her mother’s importunities could make her say.



The atmosphere of a house in which there is a family quarrel is always affected, however limited may be the extent of the quarrel. In the present case there were but two of the family involved : but they were the principal persons in the house. Not a word was said about it at the breakfast table, from which, indeed, the Squire had disappeared before Roger was visible, to the relief of everybody concerned, nor at lunch, where they met with more civility than usual, saying “ Good-morning ” to each other with averted eyes. But at both these meals the situation was very obvious, the air stifling the other members of the party, embarrassed to a degree which was absurd. Why could not they talk in their usual tone, or keep at least an appearance of ease ? Why was it that a subject could not be kept up, but was dropped instantaneously as soon as, with two feeble remarks, it had been brought into spasmodic being ? How was it that all the ordinary events which furnish table-talk seemed for this moment to have ceased to be ? Edmund did his best, laboring against the passive resistance of the two silent figures who sat at the head and foot of the table, and made no contribution to the conversation. Every subject, however, that he could think of appeared to have some connection with forbidden matters. As Nina’s support was of a very ineffectual kind, and she was too much in awe of her father to hazard many observations of her own, the result was very unsuccessful. It was so feeble, indeed, that the servants gave each other looks of intelligence, and Larkins stationed himself in a pose of defense behind his master’s chair. If there were to be any split in the house, which was a thing the servants half had foreboded for some time past, Mr. Larkins felt very sure on which side policy and safety lay. The air was thus affected throughout the house. It diffused a kind of general irritation for which nobody could account. Even little Nina spoke very sharply to her maid, and Edmund kicked away the unoffending dog who got between his feet as he left the dining-room. They were angry, they did not know why. And Mrs. Simmons had all the maids in the kitchen in tears before she had done with them that day. The belligerents themselves were the only persons unaffected by this general tendency. They were cool to an exasperating degree, polite, making remarks full of solemnity and high composure. These remarks were addressed to Edmund, who figured as the general public. “ What do you think of the weather, Edmund ? It was sharp frost last night. Larkins tells me. but I hope you ’ll be able to get a good run to-morrow.” “Did you notice if the wind was veering to the west, Ned ? I rather think we are going to have a deluge.” These were the sorts of observations they made. Had the mind of Edmund been free to remark what was going on, he would no doubt have been struck by the comic aspect of the situation ; but unfortunately in such circumstances, though there is always a great deal that is very funny, the persons about are too deeply concerned to get the good of the ludicrous side. “ I suppose it’s quite legitimate as an argument,” Edmund said reflectively.

Edmund was much startled to find himself called into the library after that uncomfortable meal. His father made a sign to him to close the door, and pointed to a chair near his writing-table. “ I don’t often make such demands on your time,” he said. “ I suppose you can give me ten minutes, Ned ? ”

“As long as you like, sir,” he said promptly, but with some surprise.

“ Oh, as long as I like ! It’s not exactly for pleasure. Edmund, perhaps I was a little peremptory with your brother last night.”

“ I think so,” said Edmund, “ if you will let me say so. You’ve always been so good to us. That makes us feel it the more when you are a little ” —

“ Ill-tempered, unjust. I know that’s what you meant to say.”

“ I meant only what you yourself said, father, — peremptory. Roger is not in a happy state of mind, to begin with.”

“ He has no great reason to be in a happy state of mind. I know he’s after some villainy. I’ve heard it from several people.”

“ No villainy,” said Edmund quickly. “ Whoever says so does n’t know Roger.”

“ That’s the most lenient interpretation,” his father remarked ; “ otherwise folly, madness, something too wild to name.” The Squire paused, and looked his second son almost imploringly in the face. “ Can’t you do anything, Ned ? You two are very good friends, and you ’ve a great deal of sense. There are times when I’ve thought you rather a milksop, not much like the rest of us, but I never denied you had a great deal of sense.”

“Thank you, sir. I’m afraid I am rather —— a milksop, as you say. My kind of sense does n’t seem to make much impression.”

“ It would, upon your brother, if you would speak plainly to him. A young fellow can do that better than an old one. They think we ’re preaching, they think we don’t understand. That’s a good joke,” said Mr. Mitford, with a short laugh, turning his eyes as it were inwardly upon his own experience. “ But the fact is you all of you think so. Persuade him that he’s a fool, and get him to understand.” continued the father, looking into Edmund’s eyes with a steady stare, “ that what I said was no vain threat. I mean it, every word.”

“ You mean it, sir ? ” said Edmund, with a look of surprised inquiry. So little impression had the threats of last night made upon him that he did not even remember what they were.

Mr. Mitford’s face flushed into an angry redness. “ I mean it, and I hope you don’t intend to be insolent, too. I mean, sir, that there’s no eldest son in our family. I can make whomever I please the eldest son: and by Jove, if Roger makes an infernal fool of himself, as he seems to intend to do ” —

“ Legitimate! What do you mean by

legitimate ? It is no argument; it’s a plain statement of what I mean to do.”

“ If there was any hope that it would be effectual,” Edmund went on, “but my opinion is it would have exactly the contrary effect; and to threaten what one does n’t mean to carry out ” —

“ Do you want to drive me out of my senses ? ” cried the Squire. “ I never threaten what I don’t mean to perform. Take care you don’t spoil your own prospects, too. As certainly as I sit here, if Roger takes his own way in this, I shall take mine, and wipe him out of the succession as I wipe off this fly, without hesitation or — compunction,” he continued, drawing a long breath.

“ No,” said Edmund, with a deprecatory smile. His heart quaked, but he would not even appear to believe. “ No, no,—you are angry, you take perhaps too grave a view ; but wipe him out — Roger ? No, father, no, no.”

“None of your no, no’s to me, sir,” cried the Squire. He had a way of imitating his antagonist’s tone mockingly when he was angry, but he had not the talent of a mimic. “ I say what I mean, and not a word more than I mean. If you cannot do any more for your brother, make him understand that I am in earnest, and you may do some good.”

“ I should only do a great deal of harm. I should put him beside himself.”

“ Then there will be two of us,” said the Squire, with a grim smile. “ If that’s all you ’re good for, I’m sorry I asked you, and you may as well go. But take care, my boy,” he added, rising as Edmund rose. “ Take care that you don’t spoil your own prospects, too.”

Edmund left his father’s room with something of the feeling of a man who has been listening to some statement of important possibilities delivered in an imperfectly understood language. He made a great many efforts to elucidate these unfamiliar words, and make out what they meant. They were as strange to him as if they had been in Hungarian or Russian. “ Wipe Roger out of the succession; ” “No eldest sons in our family; ” “ Take care you don’t spoil your own prospects, too,” — the most recondite of Slav dialects could not have been more difficult to understand. The constitution of the family was a matter entirely beyond argument to this young Englishman. In the abstract, he was ready enough to argue out any question. The law, as interpreted in different countries under different theories, bore no especial sacredness for him, that it might not be fully criticised, questioned, or condemned. He was quite willing to discuss the hereditary principle in general, both its drawbacks and its advantages. But to think of Roger disinherited, of himself, perhaps, preferred, gave him an intolerable sensation which it was impossible to endure. Roger wiped out of the succession ! — his brother, whom nothing could keep from being the head of the house, no change in respect to the estates, no arbitrary settlement; his elder brother, Roger ! There was an incredibility about it which brought an angry laugh to Edmund’s lips, yet struck him like a sharp blow, like a sudden warning stroke, awakening him to dangers unthought of, to the unreality of everything about him. It was as if, walking along a solid, well-known road, he had suddenly come to an unexpected yawning precipice, as if he had all at once seen some volcanic crater open at his feet. Nothing less than such metaphors could explain the sudden shock, the tremendous danger. Roger wiped out of the succession, his own prospects — his prospects, good heavens ! — of disinheriting his brother, of being preferred in Roger’s place ! This made the blood rush to his brain, singing and ringing in his ears. He to disinherit Roger ! Just in that way the warmest champion of equal inheritances would probably pause. Abstract justice is one thing ; it may be that children have a right to an equal division of their father’s possessions ; it may be that they have no right at all to another man’s property, even though he may be their father; but for one to displace the other, to take advantage of the father’s weakness and grasp his inheritance, — this, to a generous spirit, looks like the worst kind of robbery. Edmund felt himself degraded, injured, by the very thought. He recalled his father’s words. They could not mean this or that; there must be a different signification to them. If there were only a dictionary of human perversities by which he could find it out! He took a long walk upon it, which is so good a way of clearing the head, but light did not come to him. His father was an honorable man. He was a good father; he had never done anything unkind or cruel. What did he mean now by this insane suggestion, by speaking in a new language which the unassisted intelligence could not understand ?

The sun had set by the time Edmund returned home. The little paraphernalia of the tea-table, which it had pleased Nina to set up in the hall, was there in its corner, deserted, and nobody was visible but Roger, who stood with his back to the entrance as Edmund came in, apparently examining the whips upon the rack, displacing and rearranging them. He turned half round when his brother entered, but for a minute or two took no notice, carrying on his half-occupation, one of the expedients of idleness to get through a little time. Edmund, for his part, took no notice, either, for his heart was still sick with bewilderment, and he was reluctant to say anything, afraid to begin a conversation, though he had so much to say. He went up to the wood fire, which blazed in the great open chimney, and stood leaning upon the carved stone mantelpiece, which bore the Mitford arms, and was one of the curiosities of the place. The hall was the only part of the house which had any pretensions to antiquity. It was full of dark corners, with two deep-recessed windows throwing two broad lines of light from one side to the other. One of these was partially filled with painted glass, coatsof-arms blazoned in the brilliancy of that radiance ; the other was white and pale, full of a silvery spring-coming sky.

“ How is the wind ? ” said Roger, at last. “ I hope that old croaker is not going to be justified in his forebodings. The sky looks uncomfortably clear.”

“ There is frost in the air,” said Edmund. Then he turned round, with his back to the fire, in the favorite attitude of an Englishman. “ But I thought,” he said, “ it could n’t matter much to you. Are you not going away ? ”

“ Going away ! Not that I know of,” Roger replied, curtly.

“ I thought you said — it’s just the time for town ; a number of people there, but none of the whirl of the season. Why don’t you go ? The hunting is not worth staying for at the fag end of the year.”

“ Why don’t you go yourself, if you like it so much ? ” Roger asked.

“ I will, if you ’ll come with me, like a shot. To-night, if you please, by the last train.”

“ Why should I go with you ? I am not a man for town,” said Roger, with a gloomy face, as he approached the fire. “ And just at this time of the year, when the country gets sweeter day by day ! Hang the hunting ! Is that all I care for, do you suppose ? ”

“ A man should not shut himself up from the company of his kind,” remarked Edmund, sententiously.

“ His kind ! And who are they, I wonder ? Fellows at the club, who don’t care a brass farthing if they ever see you again — or — or ” —

“ That’s the question,” said the younger brother. “ Our friends like us well enough here, but they would not break their hearts if we absented ourselves for three months, or even for six. Come. Roger, let’s go.”

“ You are perfectly welcome to go, whenever you please. You don’t want your elder brother to take care of you, I hope ? ”

“ My elder ” — Edmund murmured under his breath. The word gave him new energy. “ Roger, I wish you ’d listen to me,” he said. “ Look here ! Here is this sort of a quarrel got up in the house. It’s nothing, — a fit of temper, a fit of obstinacy; for you are a bit obstinate, you know. It’s nothing, but it puts everybody out of sorts ; even Nina, poor little thing, who has nothing to do with it. The best way by far to cut it short would be to run off for a little. Don’t you see, that clears you from all embarrassment. After all, perhaps you ought to have gone in and said a word to Elizabeth, now that she is just beginning to show again. No harm done, old fellow, but she might have taken it kind.”

“ What’s Elizabeth to me,” cried Roger, “ or I to her ? She is just as indifferent — If you had gone, it might have been more to the purpose; or Steve.” he said, with a harsh little laugh, — “the all-conquering Steve. Ned, if we are not to quarrel, leave that alone, for on that subject I will not hear a word.”

“ On what subject, then, will you hear ? ” said Edmund, “ for one way or another there is a good deal to say.”

Roger began to pace up and down the hall, from one end to another. He had his hands thrust into his pockets, his shoulders up to his ears. The least sympathetic spectator might have observed the conflict which was going on within him. At last he burst forth, “ Don’t say anything at all, Ned. For goodness’ sake, hold your tongue, and let me think for myself.” He had another long march up and down, then resumed : “ If I could think for myself ! I can’t think at all, I believe. I just bob up and down as the current catches me. I think I shall go to town, after all. You ’re right, Ned ; you are a cool, clear-headed fellow, with plenty of sense. I dare say I could n’t do better than take your advice.”

Edmund could not but smile within himself at this double ascription of sense to him as his special quality. He did not feel as though sense had much to do with it. “ Do,” he urged. “ I don’t think you ’ll ever regret it, Roger. I ’ll tell Wright to put your things together, for a month, say. Shall I say for a month ? ”

“ I wonder, now,” said Roger, fixing his gaze upon his brother, “ why you should be so anxious about it. It might be pleasant or it might be convenient, but why the deuce you should make such a point of it I don’t see.”

“I —don’t make any point,” replied Edmund. “ It seems to me that it would be a nice thing to do. I should be glad of your company. We might do a few things together. We have not been out together like this since we were boys, Roger.”

“ On the spree,” said the elder brother, with a laugh ; “ that’s the word. I wonder how Mr. Gravity will look when he ’s on the — what do you call it ? ” He paused a moment, and then he said, “ That’s not your reason, Ned.”

“ Not altogether, Roger. A family quarrel is a hideous thing; it upsets me more than I can tell you. The Squire and you are too like each other ; you will not give in, one or the other; and a little absence would set it all right.”

“Oh, a little absence would set it all right! But still, that’s not what you mean, Ned,” Roger said. He walked across the hall, across the gleams of prismatic heraldic tints from the nearest window, to where the other revealed far away, to the distant horizon, a whole pale hemisphere of sky. There he stood, his dark figure outlined against that almost shrill clearness, while Edmund stood anxious behind. What the conflict was which was going on within Edmund painfully guessed, but could not know as he watched him, in that wonderful isolation of humanity that prevents the closest sympathizer, the most zealous helper, from understanding all. Dared he interfere more distinctly ? Must he keep silence ? Was he losing a precious opportunity ? Edmund could not tell. He stood helpless, clearing his throat to speak, but in the terrible doubt saying not a word.

“ A little absence would set it all right,” Roger repeated, muttering between his teeth. ‘‘ Would it so ? Is one’s will of no more consequence than that ? A little absence — a little — Ned,” he said, turning round, “ you need n’t speak to Wright. Perhaps I ‘ll go, perhaps I sha’n’t ; no man can tell at six o’clock what he ’ll do at ten. We ’ll see how the chance goes,” he added, with a laugh, “ if there’s time after dinner — or if there’s not.” He paused as he passed, and laid his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “ This I will say, whatever happens, — you mean well, Ned.”

“ That’s poor praise,” said Edmund, “ my sense and my good intentions. If you’d do it, Roger, for my sake — we’ve always been good friends, old fellow. Never mind the good meaning; do it for love.”

“ For love ! ” the other said. He went away, with a hasty wave of his hand. Was it possible that his brother, “ that dearest heart and next his own,” in the very melting of his fraternal anxiety, had touched the wrong chord at the last ?

M. O. W. Oliphant.

T. B. Aldrich.