pleasant smile

“And who is this young widow of yours whom I hear so much about? I
understand Lucy’s rapture over any stranger; but you, too, mother–”

“I too–well, there is no particular witchcraft about it; a nice young
woman has as much chance with me as with any one, Ralph–”

“Oh, if it’s only a nice young woman–”

“It’s a great deal more,” said Lucy. “Why, Miss Jones at the school is a
nice young woman–don’t you be taken in by mother’s old-fashioned
stilts. She is a darling–she is as nice as nice can be. She’s pretty,
and she’s good, and she’s clever. She has read a lot, and seen a lot,
and been everywhere, and knows heaps and heaps of people, and yet just
as simple and as nice as if she had never been married, never had a
baby, and was just a girl like the rest of us–Mother! there is nothing
wrong in what I said?” Lucy suddenly cried, stopping short and blushing
all over with the innocent alarm of a youthfulness which had not been
trained to modern modes of speech.

“Nothing wrong, certainly,” said the mother, with a half smile;
“but–there is no need for entering into all these details.”

“They would have found out immediately, though,” said Lucy, with a
lowered voice, “that there was–Tiny, you know.”

The scene was a drawing-room in a country house looking out upon what
was at this time of year the rather damp and depressing prospect of a
park, with some fine trees and a great breadth of very green, very
mossy, very wet grass. It was only October, though the end of the month;
and in the middle of the day, in the sunshine, the trees, in all their
varied colors, were a fine sight, cheerful and almost exhilarating,
beguiling the eye; but now the sun was gone, the leaves were falling in
little showers whenever the faintest breath of air arose, and where the
green turf was not veiled by their many colored remnants, it was green
with that emerald hue which means only wet; one knew as one gazed across
it that one’s foot would sink in the spongy surface, and wet, wet would
be the boot, the skirt which touched it; the men in their
knickerbockers, or those carefully turned up trousers–which we hear are
the fashion in the dryest streets of Paris and New York–suffered
comparatively little. The brushwood was all wet, with blobs of moisture
on the long brambles and drooping leaves. The park was considered a
beautiful park, though not a very large one, but it was melancholy
itself to look out for hours together upon that green expanse in such an
evening. It was not a bad evening either. There was no rain; the clouds
hung low, but as yet had given forth no shower. The air was damp but yet
brisk. There was a faint yellow glimmer of what might have been sunset
in the sky.

The windows in the Wradisley drawing-rooms were large; one of them, a
vast, shallow bow, which seemed to admit the outside into the interior,
rather than to enlighten the interior with the view of what was outside.
Mrs. Wradisley sat within reach of, but not too near, a large, very red
fire–a fire which was like the turf outside, the growth of generations,
or at least had not at all the air of having been lighted to-day or any
recent day. It did not flame, but glowed steadily, adding something to
the color of the room, but not much to the light. Later in the season,
when larger parties assembled, there was tea in the hall for the
sportsmen and the ladies who waited for them; but Mrs. Wradisley thought
the hall draughty, and much preferred the drawing-room, which was
over-furnished after the present mode of drawing-rooms, but at least
warm, and free from draughts. She was working–knitting with white pins,
or else making mysterious chains and bridges in white wool with a
crochet-hook, her eyes being supposed to be not very strong, and this
kind of industry the best adapted for them. As to what Lucy was doing,
that defies description. She was doing everything and nothing. She had
something of a modern young lady’s contempt for every kind of
needlework, and, then, along with that, a great admiration for it as
something still more superior than the superiority of idleness. A needle
is one of the things that has this double effect. It is the scorn of a
great number of highly advanced, very cultured and superior feminine
people; but yet here and there will arise one, still more advanced and
cultured, who loves the old-fashioned weapon, and speaks of it as a
sacred implement of life. Lucy followed first one opinion and then
another. She had half a dozen pieces of work about, begun under the
influence of one class of her friends, abandoned under that of another.
She had a little studio, too, where she painted and carved, and executed
various of the humbler decorative arts, which, perhaps, to tell the
truth, she enjoyed more than art proper; but these details of the young
lady’s life may be left to show themselves where there is no need of
such vanities. Lucy was, at all events, whatever her other qualities
might be, a most enthusiastic friend.

“Well, I suppose we shall see her, and find out, as Lucy says, for
ourselves–not that it is of much importance,” the brother said, who had
begun this conversation.

“Oh! but it is of a great deal of importance,” cried Lucy. “Mrs. Nugent
is my chief friend. She is mother’s prime favorite. She is the nicest
person in the neighborhood. She is here constantly, or I am there. If
you mean not to like her, you might as well, without making any fuss
about it, go away.”

“Lucy!” cried Mrs. Wradisley, moved to indignation, and dropping all the
white fabric of wool on her knees, “your brother–and just come home
after all these years!”

“What nonsense! Of course I don’t mean that in the least,” Lucy cried.
“Ralph knows–_of course_, I would rather have him than–all the friends
in the world.”

There was a faltering note, however, in this profession. Why should she
like Ralph better than all the friends in the world? He was her brother,
that was true; but he knew very little of Lucy, and Lucy knew next to
nothing of him; he had been gone since she was almost a child–he came
back now with a big beard and a loud voice and a step which rang through
the house. It was evident he thought her, if not a child, yet the most
unimportant feminine person who did not count; and why should she prefer
him to her own nice friends, who were soft of voice and soft of step,
and made much of her, and thought as she did? It is acknowledged
universally that in certain circumstances, when the man is her lover, a
girl prefers that man to all the rest of the creation; but why, when it
is only your brother Raaf, and it may really be said that you don’t know
him–why should you prefer him to your own beloved friends? Lucy did not
ask herself this question–she said what she knew it was the right thing
to say, though with a faltering in her voice. And Ralph, who fortunately
did not care in the least, took no notice of what Lucy said. He liked
the little girl, his little sister, well enough; but it did not upset
the equilibrium of the world in the very least whether she preferred him
or not–if he had thought on the subject he would probably have said,
“More shame to her, the little insensible thing!” but he did not take
the trouble to give it a passing thought.

“I’ve got to show Bertram the neighborhood,” he said; “let him see we’re
not all muffs or clowns in the country. He has a kind of notion that is
about what the English aborigines are–and I daresay it’s true, more or
less.”

“Oh, Raaf!” cried Lucy, raising her little smooth head.

“Well, it’s natural enough. One doesn’t meet the cream of the cream in
foreign parts; unless you’re nothing but a sportsman, or a great swell
doing it as the right thing, the most of the fellows you meet out there
are loafers or blackguards, more or less.”

“It is a pity to form an estimate from blackguards,” said Mrs.
Wradisley, with a smile; “but that, I suppose, I may take as an
exaggeration too. We don’t see much of that kind here. Mr. Bertram is
much mistaken if he thinks–”

“Oh, don’t be too hasty, mother,” said Ralph. “We know the breed; our
respectable family has paid toll to the devil like other folks since it
began life, which is rather a long time ago. After a few hundred years
you get rather proud of your black sheep. I’m something of the kind
myself,” he added, in his big voice.

Mrs. Wradisley once more let the knitting drop in her lap. “You do
yourself very poor justice, Raaf–no justice at all, in fact. You are
not spotless, perhaps, but I hope that black–”

“Whitey-brown,” said her son. “I don’t care for the distinction; but one
white flower is perhaps enough in a family that never went in for
exaggerated virtue–eh? Ah, yes–I know.”

These somewhat incoherent syllables attended the visible direction of
Mrs. Wradisley’s eyes toward the door, with the faintest lifting of her
eyelids. The door had opened and some one had come in. And yet it is
quite inadequate to express the entrance of the master of the house by
such an expression. His foot made very little sound, but this was from
some quality of delicacy and refinement in his tread, not from any want
of dignity or even impressiveness in the man. He was dressed just like
the other men so far as appeared–in a grey morning suit, about which
there was nothing remarkable. Indeed, it would have been against the
perfection of the man had there been anything remarkable in his
dress–but it was a faultless costume, whereas theirs were but common
coats and waistcoats from the tailor’s, lined and creased by wear and
with marks in them of personal habit, such, for instance, as that minute
burnt spot on Raaf’s coat-pocket, which subtly announced, though it was
a mere speck, the thrusting in of a pipe not entirely extinguished, to
that receptacle. Mr. Wradisley, I need not say, did not smoke; he did
not do anything to disturb the perfect outline of an accomplished
gentleman, refined and fastidious, which was his natural aspect. To
smell of tobacco, or indeed of anything, would have put all the fine
machinery of his nature out of gear. He hated emotion as he hated–what
shall I say?–musk or any such villainous smell; he was always _point
devise_, body and soul. It is scarcely necessary to say that he was Mr.
Wradisley and the head of the house. He had indeed a Christian name, by
which he was called by his mother, brother, and sister, but not
conceivably by any one else. Mr. Wradisley was as if you had said Lord,
when used to him–nay, it was a little more, for lord is _tant soit peu_
vulgar and common as a symbol of rank employed by many other people,
whereas Mr., when thus elevated, is unique; the commonest of addresses,
when thus sublimated and etherealized, is always the grandest of all. He
was followed into the room by a very different person, a person of whom
the Wradisley household did not quite know what to make–a friend of
Ralph’s who had come home with him from the deserts and forests whence
that big sportsman and virtuous prodigal had come. This stranger’s name
was Bertram. He had not the air of the wilds about him as Ralph
Wradisley had. He was said to be a bigger sportsman even than Ralph, and
a more prodigious traveler; but this was only Ralph’s report, who was
always favorable to his friends; and Mr. Bertram looked more like a man
about town than an African traveler, except that he was burnt very brown
by exposure, which made his complexion, once fair, produce a sort of
false effect in contrast with his light hair, which the sun had rather
diminished than increased in color. Almost any man would have looked
noisy and rough who had the disadvantage to come into a room after Mr.
Wradisley; but Bertram bore the comparison better than most. Ralph
Wradisley had something of the aspect of a gamekeeper beside both of
them, though I think the honest fellow would have been the first to whom
a child or injured person would have turned. The ladies made involuntary
mental comments upon them as the three stood together.

“Oh, if Raaf were only a little less rough!” his mother breathed in her
heart. Lucy, I think, was most critical of Bertram, finding in him, on
the whole, something which neither of her brothers possessed, though he
must have been forty at the very least, and therefore capable of
exciting but little interest in a girl’s heart.

“I have been showing your friend my treasures,” said Mr. Wradisley, with
a slight turn of his head toward his brother, “and I am delighted to
find we have a great many tastes in common. There is a charm in
sympathy, especially when it is so rare, on these subjects.”

“You could not expect Raaf to know about your casts and things,
Reginald,” said Mrs. Wradisley, precipitately. “He has been living among
such very different scenes.”

“Raaf!” said Mr. Wradisley, slightly elevating his eyebrows. “My dear
mother, could you imagine I was referring in any way to Raaf?”

“Never mind, Reg, I don’t take it amiss,” said the big sportsman, with a
laugh out of his beard.

There was, however, a faint color on his browned cheeks. It is well that
a woman’s perceptions should be quick, no doubt, but if Mrs. Wradisley
had not been jealous for her younger son this very small household jar
need not have occurred. Mr. Wradisley put it right with his natural
blandness.

“We all have our pet subjects,” he said; “you too, mother, as much as
the worst of us. Is the time of tea over, or may I have some?”

“Mr. Wradisley’s casts are magnificent,” cried the stranger. “I should
have known nothing about them but for a wild year or two I spent in
Greece and the islands. A traveler gets a sniff of everything. Don’t you
recollect, Wradisley, the Arabs and their images at–”

The name was not to be spelt by mere British faculties, and I refrain.

“Funny lot of notions,” said Raaf, “I remember; pretty little thing or
two, however, I should like to have brought for Lucy–just the things a
girl would like–but Bertram there snapped them all up before I had a
chance–confounded knowing fellow, always got before me. You come down
on him, Lucy; it’s his fault if I have so few pretty things for you.”

“I am very well contented, Raaf,” said Lucy, prettily. As a matter of
fact the curiosities Ralph had brought home had been chiefly hideous
ivory carvings of truly African type, which Lucy, shuddering, had put
away in a drawer, thanking him effusively, but with averted eyes.

“There were two or three very pretty little Tanagra figurine among the
notions,” said Bertram. “I am sorry Miss Wradisley had not her share of
them–they’re buried in my collections in some warehouse or other, and
probably will never see the light.”

“Ah, Tanagra!” said Mr. Wradisley, with a momentary gleam of interest.
He laid his hand not unkindly on his little sister’s shoulder, as she
handed him, exactly as he liked it, his cup of tea. “It is the less
matter, for Lucy would not have appreciated them,” he said.

“When,” said Mrs. Wradisley, with a little gasp, “do you expect your
friends, Reginald? October is getting on, and the ladies that belong to
them will lie heavy on our hands if we have bad weather.”

“Oh, the guns,” said Mr. Wradisley. “Don’t call them my friends,
mother–friends of the house, friends of the covers, if you like. Not so
great a nuisance as usual this year, since Raaf is here, but no
intimates of mine.”

“We needn’t stand upon words, Reginald. They are coming, anyhow, and I
never remember dates.”

“Useless to attempt it. You should make a memorandum of everything,
which is much more sure. I can tell you at once.”

He took a note-book from his pocket, unerringly, without the usual
scuffle to discover in which pocket it was, and, drawing a chair near
his mother, began to read out the names of the guests. Then there ensued
a little discussion as to where they were to be placed; to Mrs.
Wradisley proposing the yellow room for one couple who had already, in
Mr. Wradisley’s mind, been settled in the green. It was not a very great
difference, but the master of the house had his way. A similar little
argument, growing fainter and fainter on the mother’s side, was carried
on over the other names. In every case Mr. Wradisley had his way.

“I am going to run down to the park gates–that is, to the village,–I
mean I am going to see Mrs. Nugent,” said Lucy, “while mother and
Reginald settle all these people. Raaf, will you come?”

“And I, too?” said Bertram, with a pleasant smile. He had a pleasant
smile, and he was such a gentleman, neither rough like Raaf, nor
over-dainty like Reginald. Lucy was very well content he should come
too.

It was a lingering and pleasant walk with many little pauses in it and
much conversation. Lucy was herself the cause of some of them, for it
was quite necessary that here and there Mr. Bertram should be made to
stop, turn round, and look at the view. I will not pretend that those
views were any very great things. Bertram, who had seen all the most
famous scenes of earth, was not much impressed by that point so dear to
the souls of the Wradisbury people, where the church tower came in, or
that other where the glimmer of the pond under the trees, reflecting all
their red and gold, moved the natives to enthusiasm. It was a pretty,
soft, kindly English landscape, like a good and gentle life, very
reposeful and pleasant to see, but not dramatic or exciting. It was
Ralph, though he was to the manner born, who was, or pretended to be,
the most impatient of these tame but agreeable vistas. “It don’t say
much, your landscape, Lucy,” he said. “Bertram’s seen everything there
is to see. A stagnant pool and a church tower are not so grand to him as
to–” Probably he intended to say us, with a little, after all, of the
native’s proud depreciation of a scene which, though homely, appeals to
himself so much; but he stopped, and wound up with “a little ignoramus
like you.”

“I am not so fastidious, I suppose. I think it’s delightful,” said
Bertram. “After all the dissipations of fine scenery, there’s nothing
like a home landscape. I’ve seen the day when we would have given all we
possessed for a glimmer of a church tower, or, still better, a bit of
water. In the desert only to think of that would be a good thing.”

“Oh, in the desert,” said Ralph, with a sort of indulgent acknowledgment
that in some points home did commend itself to the most impartial mind.
But he too stopped and called upon his friend to observe where the
copse spread dark into the sunset sky–the best covert within twenty
miles–about which also Bertram was very civil, and received the
information with great interest. “Plenty of wild duck round the corner
of that hill in the marshy part,” said Ralph. “By Jove! we should have a
heavy bag when we have it all to ourselves.”

“Capital ground, and great luck to be the first,” said Mr. Bertram. He
was certainly a nice man. He seemed to like to linger, to talk of the
sunset, to enjoy himself in the fresh but slightly chill air of the
October evening. Lucy’s observation of him was minute. A little wonder
whether he might be the man–not necessarily _her_ man, but the ideal
man–blew like a quiet little breeze through her youthful spirit. It was
a breeze which, like the actual breeze of the evening, carried dead
leaves with it, the rags of past reputation and visions, for already
Lucy had asked herself this question in respect to one or two other men
who had not turned out exactly as at first they seemed. To be sure,
this one was old–probably forty or so–and therefore was both better
and worse than her previous studies; for at such an age he must of
course have learnt everything that experience could teach, and on the
other hand did not matter much, having attained to antiquity. Still, it
certainly gave a greater interest to the walk that he was here.

“After all,” said Ralph, “you gave us no light, Lucy, as to who this
widow was.”

“You speak as if she were like old Widow Thrapton in the village,” cried
Lucy. “A widow!–she says it’s a term of reproach, as if a woman had
tormented her husband to death.”

“But she is a widow, for you said so–and who is she?” said the
persistent Ralph.

“He is like the little boy in ‘Helen’s Babies,’” said Lucy, turning to
her other companion. “He always wants to see the wheels go round,
whatever one may say.”

“I feel an interest in this mysterious widow, too,” said Bertram, with a
laugh.

It was all from civility to keep Ralph in countenance, she felt sure.

“Who is she?” said that obstinate person.

“I can tell you what she is,” cried Lucy, with indignant warmth. “She
must be older than I am, I suppose, for there’s Tiny, but she doesn’t
look it. She has the most lovely complexion, and eyes like stars, and
brown hair–none of your golden stuff, which always looks artificial
now. Hers might be almost golden if she liked, but she is not one to
show off. And she is the nicest neighbor that ever was–comes up to the
house just when one is dull and wants stirring up, or sends a note or a
book, or to ask for something. She likes to do all sorts of things for
you, and she’s so generous and nice and natural that she likes you to do
things for her, which is so much, much more uncommon! She says, thank
heaven, she is not unselfish; and, though it sounds strange,” said Lucy,
with vehemence, “I know exactly what she means.”

“Not unselfish?” said Ralph. “By George! that’s a new quality. I thought
it was always the right thing to say of a woman that she was unselfish;
but all that doesn’t throw any light upon the lady. Isn’t she
somebody’s sister or cousin or aunt? Had she a father, had she a
mother?–that sort of thing, you know. A woman doesn’t come and settle
herself in a neighborhood without some credentials–nor a man either, so
far as I know.”

“I don’t know what you mean by credentials. She was not introduced to us
by any stupid people, if that is what you mean. We just found her out
for ourselves.”

Ralph gave a little whistle at this, which made Lucy very angry. “When
you go out to Africa or–anywhere,” she cried, “do you take credentials?
And who is to know whether you are what you call yourself? I suppose you
say you’re a Wradisley of Wradisbury. Much the black kings must know
about a little place in Hants!”

“The black kings don’t stand on that sort of thing,” said Ralph, “but
the mother does, or so I supposed.”

“I ought to take the unknown lady’s part,” said Mr. Bertram. “You’ve all
been very kind to me, and I’m not a Bertram of–anywhere in particular.
I have not got a pedigree in my pocket. Perhaps I might have some
difficulty in making out my family tree.”

“Oh, Mr. Bertram!” cried Lucy, in deprecation, as if that were an
impossible thing.

“I might always call myself of the Ellangowan family, to be sure,” he
said, with a laugh.

Now Lucy did not at all know what he meant by the Ellangowan family. She
was not so deeply learned in her Scott as I hope every other girl who
reads this page is, and she was not very quick, and perhaps would not
have caught the meaning if she had been ever so familiar with “Guy
Mannering.” She thought Ellangowan a very pretty name, and laid it up in
her memory, and was pleased to think that Mr. Bertram had thus, as it
were, produced his credentials and named his race. I don’t know whether
Ralph also was of the same opinion. At all events they went on without
further remark on this subject. The village lay just outside the park
gates on the right side of a pretty, triangular bit of common, which
was almost like a bit of the park, with little hollows in it filled with
a wild growth of furze and hawthorn and blackberry, the long brambles
arching over and touching the level grass. There was a pretty bit of
greensward good for cricket and football, and of much consequence in the
village history. The stars had come out in the sky, though it was still
twilight when they emerged from the shadow of the trees to this more
open spot; and there were lights in the cottage windows and in the
larger shadow of the rectory, which showed behind the tall, slim spire
of the church. It was a cheerful little knot of human life and interest
under the trees, Nature, kindly but damp, mantling everything with
greenness up to the very steps of the cottage doors, some of which were
on the road itself without any interval of garden; and little irregular
gleams of light indicating the scarcely visible houses. Lucy, however,
did not lead the way toward the village. She went along the other side
of the common toward a house more important than the cottages, which
stood upon a little elevation, with a grassy bank and a few
moderate-sized trees.

“Oh, she’s in Greenbank, this lady,” said Ralph. “I thought the old
doctor was still there.”

“He died last year, after Charlie died at sea–didn’t you know? He never
held up his head, Raaf, after Charlie died.”

“The more fool he; Charlie drained him of every penny, and was no credit
to him in any way. He should have been sent about his business years
ago. So far as concerned him, I always thought the doctor very weak.”

“Oh, Raaf, he was his only son!”

“What then? You think it’s only that sort of relationship that counts.
The doctor knew as well as any one what a worthless fellow he was.”

“But he never held up his head again,” said Lucy, “after Charlie died.”

“That’s how nature confutes all your philosophy, Wradisley,” said the
other man. “That is the true tragedy of it. Worthy or unworthy, what
does it matter? Affection holds its own.”

“Oh, I’ve no philosophy,” said Ralph, “only common sense. So they sold
the house! and I suppose the poor old doctor’s library and his
curiosities, and everything he cared for? I never liked Carry. She would
have no feeling for what he liked, poor old fellow. Not worth much, that
museum of his–good things and bad things, all pell-mell. Of course she
sold them all?”

“The most of them,” Lucy confessed. “What could she do otherwise, Raaf?
They were of no use to her. She could not keep up the house, and she had
no room for them in her own. Poor Carry, he left her very little; and
her husband has a great struggle, and what could she do?”

“I don’t suppose she wanted to do anything else,” said Ralph, in a surly
tone. “Look here, I sha’n’t go in with you since it’s the doctor’s
house. I had a liking for the old fellow–and Bertram and I are both
smoking. We’ll easy on a bit till the end of the common, and wait for
you coming back.”

“If you prefer it, Raaf,” Lucy said, with a small tone of resignation.
She stood for a moment in the faint twilight and starlight, holding her
head a little on one side with a wistful, coaxing look. “I did wish you
to see her,” she said.

“Oh, I’ll see her some time, I suppose. Come, Bertram; see you’re ready,
Lucy, by the time we get back.”

Lucy still paused a moment as they swung on with the scent of their
cigars sending a little warmth into the damp air. She thought Mr.
Bertram swayed a little before he joined the other, as if he would have
liked to stay. Undeniably he was more genial than Raaf, more ready to
yield to what she wanted. And usually she was alone in her walks, just a
small woman about the road by herself, so that the feeling of leading
two men about with her was pleasant. She regretted they did not come in
to show Mrs. Nugent how she had been accompanied. She went slowly up the
grassy bank alone, thinking of this. She had wanted so much to show Raaf
to Mrs. Nugent, not, she fancied, that it was at all likely they would
take to each other. Nelly Nugent was so quick, she would see through
him in a moment. She would perceive that there was not, perhaps, a great
deal in him. He was not a reader, nor an artist, nor any of the things
Nelly cared for–only a rough fellow, a sportsman, and rather
commonplace in his mind. He was only Raaf, say what you would. Oh! he
was not the one to talk like that of poor Charlie. If Charlie was only
Charlie, Raaf was nothing but Raaf–only a man who belonged to you, not
one to admire independent of that. But whatever Raaf might do it would
never have made any difference, certainly not to his mother, she did not
suppose to any one, any more than it mattered to the poor old doctor
what Charlie did, seeing he was his father’s Charlie; and that nothing
could change. She went along very slowly, thinking this to herself–not
a very profound thought, but yet it filled her mind. The windows were
already shining with firelight and lamplight, looking very bright. The
drawing-room was not at all a large room. It was under the shade of a
veranda and opened to the ground, which made it a better room for summer
than for winter. Lucy woke up from her thoughts and wondered whether in
the winter that was coming Mrs. Nugent would find it cold.

The two men went on round the common in the soft, damp evening air.

“That’s one of the things one meets with, when one is long away,” said
Raaf, with a voice half confused in his beard and his cigar. “The old
doctor was a landmark; fine old fellow, and knew a lot; never knew one
like him for all the wild creatures–observing their ways, don’t you
know. He’d bring home as much from a walk as you or I would from a
voyage–more, I daresay. I buy a few hideous things, and poor little
Lucy shudders at them” (he was not so slow to notice as they supposed),
“but I haven’t got the head for much, while he–And all spoiled because
of a fool of a boy not worth a thought.”

“But his own, I suppose,” said the other.

“Just that–his own–though why that should make such a difference. Now,
Carry was worth a dozen of Charlie. Oh, I didn’t speak very well of
Carry just now!–true. She married a fellow not worth his salt, when,
perhaps–But there’s no answering for these things. Poor old doctor!
There’s scarcely anybody here except my mother that I couldn’t have
better spared.”

“Let’s hope it’s a good thing for him,” said Bertram, not knowing what
to say.

“I can’t think dying’s better than living,” said Raaf. “Oh, you
mean–that? Well, perhaps; though it’s hard to think of him,” he said,
with a sudden laugh, “in his old shiny coat with his brown gaiters
in–what one calls–a better world. No kind of place suited him as well
as here–he was so used to it. Somehow, though, on a quiet night like
this, there’s a kind of a feeling, oh! I can’t describe it in the least,
as if–I say, you’ve been in many queer places, Bertram, and seen a
lot?”

“That is true.”

“Did you ever see anything that made you–feel any sort of certainty,
don’t you know? There’s these stars, they say they’re all worlds,
globes, like this, and so forth. Who lives in them? That’s what I’ve
always wanted to know.”

“Well, men like us can’t live in them, for one thing, according to what
the astronomers say.”

“Men like us, ah! but then! We’ll not be fellows like us when we’re–the
other thing, don’t you know. There!” said Ralph; “I could have sworn
that was the old man coming along to meet us; cut of his coat, gaiters
and everything.”

“You can’t be well, old fellow, there is nobody.”

“I know that as well as you,” said Ralph, with a nervous laugh. “Do you
think I meant I saw anything? Not such a fool; no, dear old man, I
didn’t see him; I wish I could, just to tell him one or two things about
the beasts which he was keen about. I don’t think that old fellow would
be happy, Bertram, in a fluid, a sort of a place like a star, for
instance, where there were no beasts.”

“There’s no reason to suppose they’re fluid. And for that matter there
may be beasts, as some people think; only I don’t see, if you take in
that, where you are to stop,” said Bertram. “We are drawing it too fine,
Wradisley, don’t you think?”

“Perhaps we are, it’s not my line of country. I wish you had known that
old man. You’re a fellow that makes out things, Bertram. He was quite
comfortable–lots of books, and that museum which wasn’t much of a
museum, but he knew no better. Besides, there were a few good things in
it. And enough of money to keep him all right. And then to think, Lord,
that because of a fool of a fellow who was never out of hot water,
always getting his father into hot water, never at peace, that good old
man should go and break his heart, as they call it, and die.”

“It may be very unreasonable, but it happens from time to time,” Bertram
said.

“By Jove, it is unreasonable! An old man that was really worth coming
back to–and now he’s clean swept away, and some baggage of a woman,
probably no good, in his place, to turn Lucy’s head, and perhaps bring
us all to sixes and sevens, for anything I know.”

“Why should you suppose so? There seems nothing but good in the lady,
except that she is a stranger. So am I a stranger. You might as well
believe that I should bring you to sixes and sevens. You’re not well
to-night, old fellow. You have got too much nonsense in your head.”

“I suppose that’s it–a touch of fever,” said the other. “I’ll take some
quinine when I go home to-night.” And with that wise resolution he drew
up, having come back to the point from which they started, to wait for
his sister at Mrs. Nugent’s door.

The door of the little house was standing open when they drew up at the
gate. It was a door at the side round the corner from the veranda, but
with a porch which seemed to continue it. It was full of light from
within, against which Lucy’s figure stood dark. She was so much afraid
to keep the gentlemen waiting that she had come out there to be ready,
and was speaking her last words with her friend in the porch. Their
voices sounded soft, almost musical, through the dusk and the fresh air;
though, indeed, it was chiefly Lucy who was speaking. The men did not
hear what she said, they even smiled a little, at least Bertram did, at
the habit of the women who had always so much to say to each other about
nothing; and who, though they had perhaps met before more than once
that day, had still matter to murmur about down to the very last moment
by the opening of the door. It went on indeed for two or three minutes
while they stood there, notwithstanding that Lucy had cried, “Oh, there
they are! I must go,” at the first appearance of the tall shadows on the
road. She was pleading with her friend to come up to the hall next day,
which was the reason of the delay.

“Oh, Nelly, do come–to-morrow is an off day–they are not going to
shoot. And I so want you to see Raaf; oh, I know he is not much to
see–that’s him, the tallest one. He has a huge beard. You’ll perhaps
think he’s not very intellectual or that sort of thing; but he’s our
Raaf–he’s mother’s Raaf–and you’re so fond of mother. And if I brought
him to see you he would be shy and gauche. Do come, do come, to-morrow,
Nelly; mother is so anxious you should come in good time.”

Then the gentlemen, though they did not hear this, were aware of a new
voice breaking in–a small, sweet treble, a child’s voice–crying, “Me
too, me too!”

“Yes, you too, Tiny; we always want you. Won’t you come when Tiny wishes
it, Nelly? You always give in to Tiny.”

“Me come now,” shouted Tiny, “see gemplemans; me come now.”

Then there was a little scuffle and laughing commotion at the open door;
the little voice loud, then others hushing it, and suddenly there came
flying down the bank something white, a little fluttering line of
whiteness upon the dark. The child flew with childish delight making its
escape, while there was first a startled cry from the doorway, and then
Lucy followed in pursuit. But the little thing, shouting and laughing,
with the rush of infantile velocity, short-lived but swift, got to the
bottom of the bank in a rush, and would have tripped herself up in her
speed upon the fastening of the gate had not Bertram, coming a step
forward, quickly caught her in his arms. There was not much light to see
the child by–the little face like a flower; the waving hair and shining
eyes. The little thing was full of laughter and delight in her small
escapade. “Me see gemplemans, me see gemplemans,” she said. Bertram
lifted her up, holding her small waist firm in his two hands.

And then there came a change over Tiny. She became silent all at once,
though without shrinking from the dark face up to which she was lifted.
She did not twist in his grasp as children do, or struggle to be put
down. She became quite still, drew a long breath, and fixed her eyes
upon him, her little lips apart, her face intent. It was only the effect
of a shyness which from time to time crept over Tiny, who was not
usually shy; but it impressed the man very much who held her, himself
quite silent for a moment, which seemed long to both, though it was
scarcely appreciable in time, until Lucy reached the group, and with a
cry of “Oh, Tiny, you naughty little girl!” restored man and child to
the commonplace. Then the little girl wriggled down out of the
stranger’s grasp, and stole her hand into the more familiar one of
Lucy. She kept her eyes, however, fixed upon her first captor.

“Oh, Tiny,” cried Lucy, “what will the gentleman think of you–such a
bold little girl–to run away from mamma, and get your death of cold,
and give that kind gentleman the trouble of catching you. Oh, Tiny,
Tiny!”

“Me go back to mummie now,” Tiny said, turning her back upon them. It
was unusual for this little thing, whom everybody petted, to be so
subdued.

“You have both beards,” cried Lucy, calling over her shoulder to her
brother and his friend, as she led the child back. “She is frightened of
you; but they are not bad gemplemans, Tiny, they are nice gemplemans.
Oh, nurse, here she is, safe and sound.”

“Me not frightened,” Tiny said, and she turned round in the grip of the
nurse, who had now seized upon her, and kissed her little hand.
“Dood-night, gemplemans,” Tiny cried. The little voice came shrill and
clear through the night air, tinkling in the smallness of the sound,
yet gracious as a princess; and the small incident was over. It was
nothing at all; the simplest little incident in the world. And then Lucy
took up her little strain, breathless with her rush, laughing and
explaining.

“Tiny dearly loves a little escapade; she is the liveliest little thing!
She has no other children to play with, and she is not afraid of
anybody. She is always with her mother, you know, and hears us talk of
everything.”

“Very bad training for a child,” said Ralph, “to hear all your scandal
and gossip over your tea.”

“Oh, Ralph, how common, how old fashioned you are!” cried Lucy,
indignantly. “Do you think Mrs. Nugent talks scandal over her tea? or
I–? I have been trying to make her promise to come up to lunch
to-morrow, and then you shall see–that is, if she comes; for she was
not at all sure whether she would come. She is not fond of strangers.
She never will come to us when we have people–that is, not chance
people–unless she knows them beforehand. Oh, you, of course, my
brother, that’s a different thing. I am sure I beg your pardon, Mr.
Bertram, for making you wait, and for seeming to imply–and then Tiny
rushing at you in that way.”

“Tiny made a very sweet little episode in our walk,” said Bertram.
“Please don’t apologize. I am fond of children, and the little thing
gave me a look; children are strange creatures, they’re only half of
this world, I think. She looked–as if somehow she and I had met
before.”

“Have you, Mr. Bertram? did you perhaps know–her mother?” cried Lucy,
in great surprise.

“It is very unlikely; I knew some Nugents once, but they were old people
without any children, at least–No, I’ve been too long in the waste
places of the earth ever to have rubbed shoulders with this baby;
besides,” he said, with a laugh, “if there was any recognition, it was
she who recognized me.”

“You are talking greater nonsense than I was doing, Bertram,” said
Ralph. “We’re both out of sorts, I should think. These damp English
nights take all the starch out of one. Come, let’s get home. You shan’t
bring us out again after sunset, Lucy, I promise you that.”

“Oh, sunset is not a bad time here,” cried Lucy; “it’s a beautiful time;
it is only in your warm countries that it is bad. Besides, it’s long
after sunset; it’s almost night and no moon for an hour yet. That’s the
chief thing I like going to town for, that it is never dark like this at
night. I love the lamps–don’t you, Mr. Bertram?–there is such company
in them; even the cottage windows are nice, and _that_ ‘Red Lion’–one
wishes that a public-house was not such a very bad thing, for it looks
so ruddy and so warm. I don’t wonder the men like it; I should myself,
if–Oh, take care! there is a very wet corner there, just before you
come to our gates. Why, there is some one coming out. Why–it’s
Reginald, Raaf!”

They were met, in the act of opening the gate, by Mr. Wradisley’s slim,
unmistakable figure. He had an equally slim umbrella, beautifully
rolled up, in his hand, and walked as if the damp country road were
covered with velvet.

“Oh, you are coming back,” he said; “it’s a fine night for a walk, don’t
you think so?–well, not after Africa, perhaps; but we are used in
England to like these soft, grey skies and the feeling of–well, of dew
and coolness in the air.”

“I call it damp and mud,” said Ralph, with an explosion of a laugh which
seemed somehow to be an explosion _manqué_, as if the damp had got into
that too.

“Ah,” said his brother, reflectively. “Well it is rather a brutal way of
judging, but perhaps you are right. I am going to take a _giro_ round
the common. We shall meet at dinner.” And then he took off his hat to
Lucy, and with a nod to Bertram went on. There was an involuntary pause
among the three to watch him walking along the damp road–in which they
had themselves encountered occasional puddles–as if a carpet had been
spread underneath his dainty feet.

“Is this Rege’s way?” said Ralph. “It’s an odd thing for him
surely–going out to walk now. He never would wet his feet any more than
a cat. What is he doing out at night in the dark, a damp night, bad for
his throat. Does my mother know?”

“Oh,” said Lucy, with a curious confusion; “why shouldn’t he go now, if
he likes! It isn’t cold, it’s not so very damp, and Reginald’s an
Englishman, and isn’t afraid of a bit of damp or a wet road. You are so
hard to please. You are finding fault with everybody, Raaf.”

“Am I?” he said. “Perhaps I am. I’ve grown a brute, being so much away.”

“Oh, Raaf, I didn’t mean that. Reginald has–his own ways. Don’t you
know, we never ask what he means, mother and I. He always means just
what’s the right thing, don’t you know. It is a very nice time to–to
take a _giro_; look how the sky’s beginning to break there out of the
clouds. I always like an evening walk; so did mother when she was strong
enough. And then Reginald has such a feeling for art. He always says
the village is so pretty with the lights in the windows, and the sweep
of the fresh air on the common–and–and all that.”

“Just so, Lucy,” said Ralph.

She gave him a little anxious look, but she could not see the expression
of his face in the darkness, any more than he could see what a wistful
and wondering look was in her eyes. Bertram, looking on, formed his own
conclusions, which were as little right as a stranger’s conclusions upon
a drama of family life suddenly brought before his eyes generally are.
He thought that this correct and immaculate Mr. Wradisley had tastes
known to his family, or at least to the ladies of his family, which were
not so spotless as he appeared to be; or that there was something going
on at this particular moment which contradicted the law of propriety and
good order which was his nature. Was it a village amour? Was it some
secret hanging over the house? There was a little agitation, he thought,
in Lucy, and surprise in the brother, who was a stranger to all the ways
of his own family, and evidently had a half-hostile feeling toward his
elder. But the conversation became more easy as they went along,
emerging from under the shadow of the trees and crossing the openings of
the park. The great house came in sight as they went on, a solid mass
amid all its surrounding of shrubbery and flower gardens, with the
distance stretching clear on one side, and lights in many windows. It
looked a centre of life and substantial, steadfast security, as if it
might last out all the changes of fortune, and could never be affected
by those vicissitudes which pull down one and set up another. Bertram
could fancy that it had stood like a rock while many tempests swept the
country. The individual might come and go, but this habitation was that
of the race. And it was absurd to think that the little surprise of
meeting its master on his way into the village late on an October
evening, could have anything to do with the happiness of the family or
its security. Bertram said to himself that his nerves were a little
shaken to-night, he could not tell how. It was perhaps because of
something visionary in this way of walking about an unknown place in
the dark, and hearing of so many people like shadows moving in a world
undiscovered. The old doctor, for example, whose image was so clear
before his companion, that he could almost think he saw him, so clear
that even to himself, a stranger, that old man had almost appeared; but
more than anything else because of the child who, caught in her most
sportive mood, had suddenly grown quiet in his arms, and given him that
look, with eyes unknown, which he too could have sworn he knew. There
were strange things in his own life that gave him cause to think. Was it
not this that made him conscious of mystery and some disturbing
influence in the family which he did not know, but which had received
him as if he had been an absent brother too?

To see Mrs. Wradisley was, however, to send any thought of mystery or
family trouble out of any one’s mind. The lamps were lit in the
drawing-room when they all went in, a little dazzled by the
illumination, from the soft dark of the night. She was sitting where
they had left her, in the warmth of the home atmosphere, so softly
lighted, so quietly bright. Her white knitting lay on her knee. She had
the evening paper in her hand, which had just come in; for it was one of
the advantages of Wradisbury that, though so completely in the country,
they were near enough to town to have an evening post. Mrs. Wradisley
liked her evening paper. It was, it is true, not a late edition, perhaps
in point of fact not much later than the _Times_ of the morning–but she
preferred it. It was her little private pleasure in the evening, when
Lucy was perhaps out, or occupied with her friends, and Mr. Wradisley in
his library. She nodded at them over her paper, with a smile, as they
came in.

“I hope it is a fine night, and that you have had a pleasant walk, Mr.
Bertram,” she said.

“And is she coming, Lucy?”

“I could not get her to promise, mother,” Lucy said.

“Oh, well, we must not press her. If she were not a little willful
perhaps we should not like her so much,” said Mrs. Wradisley, returning
to her journal. And how warm it was! but not too warm. How light it
was! but not too bright.

“Come and sit here, Raaf. I like to see you and make sure that you are
there; but you need not talk to me unless you wish to,” the mother said.
She was not exacting. There was nothing wrong in the house, no anxiety
nor alarm; nothing but family tranquility and peace.