Uncle Tone by
Mother darling! Is Uncle Tone really coming to see us at last? I
heard you tell father something about it, I said to my mother as she
sat by my couch, to which I had been tied for some weeks in consequence
of a cycling accident.
I had broken my leg, but had now so far recovered as to be able to
move cautiously with a stick. It was the first illness that I could
remember, and I was an only child, much loved, and I suppose much
spoiled by the most indulgent of fathers and mothers. I therefore made
the most of my opportunities and called freely on their resources for
Yes, love, I am happy to say he is. He has not been here now since
you were quite a little girl, eight years ago. You were just eight.
Mother, I continued coaxingly, for I loved a story, why are you
so fond of him, he is only your step-brother?
Step-brother! she exclaimed. He has been more than a brother to
me. He has been a father, far far more, she added sadly, than my own
father was. He is, you know, nearly twenty years older than I.
Will you tell me something about it? I asked softly.
It was twilight in July, and I lay at the open French window which
led from the drawing-room to the lawn, and from which we had a view
across the park, far out over the country, bounded by the twinkling
lights of Southampton in the distance, for our house was situated on an
elevation in one of the loveliest spots in the New Forest. Dinner was
over and father was in the library clearing off some pressing work, as
he had to leave home for a day or two. It seemed to me the very time
I think I will, said my mother slowly and thoughtfully.
She was a small, graceful woman, of about forty then, whose soft,
dark hair was just beginning to be touched with grey, but her face was
as fresh and dainty-looking as a girl's; a strong, sweet face that I
loved to look at, and that now, that she is no longer with me, I love
You ought to know what he did for your mother, and how much you owe
him indirectly. I should like him, too, to feel that he has his reward
My curiosity was excited, for I had never heard my mother speak like
that before, and so I settled myself to listen, and to enjoy what she
had to say.
My childhood was a very wretched one, Cora, she began. For that
reason I have spoken little of it to you, but endeavoured, assisted by
your father, to make yours the very opposite to it as far as lay in my
power, and that I could do so is due, I may say wholly, to your Uncle
Tone, who taught me to be happy myself, and to endeavour to make others
I slipped my hand into my dear mother's; she was the best, most
loving, and wisest mother that ever lived.
My mother died when I was born, she continued, and my father took
his loss so to heart that he shut himself off from all society, grew
silent and morose, and, she added after some hesitation, became in
time a drunkard.
She brought these words out with such an effort, such difficulty,
that the tears came to my eyes, and I whispered, Don't go on, mother
darling, if it hurts you. She continued, however, without appearing to
notice my interruption.
I ran wild till I was twelve or thirteen years of age, I had no
society but my father's and the servants', and I got no regular
education. He would not send me to school, but the vicar's daughter
came over for an hour or two every day to teach me what I could be
induced to learn, which was little enough. I was hot-tempered,
headstrong, self-willed, accustomed to fight for what I wanted, getting
nothing by any other means, and doing without what I could not get in
that way. No softening, no refining influence came into my life. My one
pleasure even then was music. I had a passion for it. Miss Vincent, the
vicar's daughter, taught me to play the piano, and I used to spend
hours in the deserted drawing-room, playing what I knew, and picking
out tunes by myself, while my father was shut up in his study. We had
no near relation, no one who cared enough to take pity on an unruly,
troublesome, little girl, with a drunken father. When I was between
twelve and thirteen he died, and a godmother who lived in Scotland took
charge of me, and sent me to a boarding-school, at which I spent the
next four years. Schools were not then what they are now, particularly
in Scotland, and between the time spent there and the holidays with
Miss Clark, who was a stern, old maid and a confirmed invalid, my life
was very dreary; I was becoming harder, and harder. I did not know in
fact that I had any feelings; they were not cultivated amongst the
people who had to do with me. She, also, died before I was seventeen,
and then something happened which was to change my whole life. My
step-brother, whom I had never seen, wrote to Miss McDougall, with whom
I was at school, saying that my home would, henceforth, be with him.
Your Uncle Tone was my father's son by his first marriage, and when his
father married my mother, Tone went to live with his maternal
grandfather, who, on his death, left him the beautiful place in
Derbyshire to which I was to go. He lived there with an old aunt. This
news affected me very little; I had never had a happy home, a real
home; I did not know what that was, but I presumed I should go
somewhere on leaving school.
My love of music had, in the meantime, increased. I had had a very
good master, a real musician, and I had worked hard for him. To me it
was a delight, but I never thought nor cared that it could give
pleasure to any one else. I used to shut myself up for hours in the
holidays, out of hearing of my godmother, who seldom left her room, and
play, and play, till my arms ached.
I remember well the day he came for me. I was ready, waiting, when
the maid brought me the message that Sir Tone Wolsten was in the
drawing-room. He was standing on the hearth-rug talking to Miss
McDougall, and looked so tall to me. He is over six feet. I can see him
now as he stood there, erect, broad-shouldered, with bright chestnut
hair, clear, keen, dark blue eyes, and bronzed skin, a strong, kind,
fearless face. He looked a thorough man, one to be trusted. He greeted
me very kindly as his little sister, and took me home with him.
Goldmead Park was the loveliest place I had ever seen. His Aunt
Evangeline, whom I also called 'aunt,' was a frail, querulous old lady,
whom he treated as his mother. He did not marry till after her death,
five years later. I was planted in entirely new surroundings, with
everything pleasant about me, everything that I could desire, or ought
to have desired. Your uncle was kindness itself. He taught me to ride
and to drive, supplied me with books, took the greatest interest in me;
but the restrictions of every well-ordered home which would have been
nothing to a properly trained girl were unendurable to me. I resisted
from sheer perverseness and dislike of control. I do not mean to say
that I was always ill-tempered; I was lively and merry enough, and your
uncle used to tease me, and jest with me, which I enjoyed very much,
and responded to willingly.
Some weeks had passed like this, my step-brother being most kind
and indulgent. Frequently Aunt Evangeline had asked me to play to them
in the evening after dinner, but I had refused obstinately. I liked to
play to myself, but I had never been accustomed to do so before any
one, and it never entered my head that it could give them pleasure, or
that I was bound to do it out of politeness. At last she became more
irritable and frequently made sarcastic remarks about the young people
of the present day. This happened again one evening, and I answered
sharply, not to say rudely.
The next morning I wandered through the woods belonging to the
park, gathering violets, and had sat down, hot and tired, under a
lovely chestnut, with my lap full of flowers which I was arranging and
tying up in bunches in order to carry them home more easily. I heard
footsteps, which I recognised by their briskness and firmness, and
looking up I saw my brother approach, walking, as usual, erect, with
his head well thrown back but with stern lines in his face which I had
not seen there before. I looked up smiling, expecting his usual kind
greeting, but instead of that he strode straight up and stopped in
front of me.
'I was just thinking of you, Elfie,' he said, looking down at me,
'I have something to say to you which I can as well say here as any
place else. I don't know why you should be so unamiable and
discourteous to my aunt, as you are, and I cannot allow it to continue.
I will say nothing of your manner to me. You receive here nothing but
kindness. My great desire is to make you happy, but it does not seem as
if I succeeded very well. At any rate, Aunt Evangeline must not be made
uncomfortable, and I should be doing you a wrong if I allowed you to
behave so rudely.'
'Why can't she leave me alone?' I exclaimed angrily, 'I don't want
to play to her.'
'One does not leave little girls alone,' he answered calmly and
sternly, 'and such behaviour from a young girl to an old lady is most
unbecoming. It must come to an end, and the sooner the better!
To-night,' he continued in a tone that made me look up at him, 'you
will apologise to my aunt and offer to play.'
'I shall do nothing of the sort!' I exclaimed, turning crimson.
'Oh yes, you will,' he answered quietly, 'I am accustomed to be
obeyed, and I don't think my little sister will defy me.'
And with that he strode away, leaving me in a perfect turmoil of
angry feelings. I jumped up, scattering my lapful of violets, and
started to walk in the opposite direction. At lunch we met, he ignored
me completely, but I did not care, I felt hard and defiant.
After dinner, he conducted Aunt Evangeline to the drawing-room as
usual, and as soon as she was seated he turned and looked at me, and
waited. I made no move, though I felt my courage, which had never
before forsaken me, ebb very low. He waited a few moments, and then
said in a tone, which in spite of all my efforts I could not resist:
I rose slowly, with his eyes fixed on me all the time, crossed the
room to Aunt Evangeline, and stopped in front of her. 'I am sorry, Aunt
Evangeline, that I have been so rude to you,' I said in a low,
trembling voice. 'If you wish, I will play to you now.'
I felt as if it were not I myself, but some one outside me that was
moving and speaking for me. I wished not to do it, but I was compelled
by my brother's force of will, as much as if I had been hypnotised.
'Do, dear, do!' the old lady exclaimed kindly and eagerly. 'I am so
fond of music, we both are, and we rarely have any one here who can
I chose a piece in which I could give vent to the stormy feelings
raging within me. When I had finished I rose from the piano.
'Thank you, dear,' she exclaimed. 'That was a treat!'
'Such a treat,' remarked my brother, 'that it is hard to understand
the discourtesy and want of amiability that have deprived us of it so
long. Play something else, Elfie!' This was said quietly, but I was as
powerless to resist as if it were the sternest command.
So I played three or four more pieces at his request, and then
getting up, took my work and sat down in silence at some distance from
them, while they 'talked music' In about half an hour he turned to me
again and asked me to play a particular piece which they had been
discussing. 'Perhaps she is tired,' suggested Aunt Evangeline kindly.
'It does not tire her to play for hours by herself,' was the quiet
I went to the piano in a mutinous, half desperate mood, thinking I
would go on till they were sick of it, so I played on and on. Presently
I forgot them, got lost in my music, and as usual my angry feelings
died away. I had no idea how long I had been playing when I became
conscious of a feeling of emotion I had never experienced before. I
felt my heart swell and my face flush, and with a sudden sob I burst
into tears. I was more startled than they were, for I had never, as far
as I could remember, shed a tear except with anger, and this was
certainly not anger. I started up and was about to leave the room
hastily, when Tone said in the same calm tone:
Stay here, Elfie, you have no need to be ashamed of those tears.'
At home I should have rushed from the room, banging the door after
me: I could give myself no account of my reason for going and sitting
down quietly instead; I did so, nevertheless, though I could not
suppress my sobs for some time. At last I became, outwardly at least,
Aunt Evangeline always retired to her room about nine o'clock, and
at first I did the same, but then my brother detained me for a game of
chess which he taught me to play, and to talk about some books that he
had given me to read, so that we usually sat together till ten o'clock.
That night, however, I had no mind to sit alone with him for an hour,
so I turned to say good-night as aunt was leaving the room. He held the
door open for her, bade her 'good-night,' and then closed it as
deliberately as if he had not seen my outstretched hand. He then turned
to me, and took it, cold and trembling as it was, in his own firm, warm
grasp, but with no intention of letting me go. Holding it, he looked
searchingly, but with a kind smile, into my face.
'Is this revenge or punishment, Elfie?' he asked.
'I don't know what you mean,' I exclaimed in confusion.
'My game of chess?'
'You won't want to play with me to-night, and I can't play either,'
I said, pressing my disengaged hand to my hot forehead. 'My stupidity
would try your patience more than ever.'
'You must not say that,' he replied quietly, 'you are not stupid,
and as I have never felt the slightest shade of impatience, I cannot
have shown any. You play quite well enough to give me a very good game,
but I daresay you cannot to-night. One wants a cool, clear head for
chess. Let us talk instead.' So saying he led me to the chair aunt had
just left, put me in it, and drew his own chair nearer.
'I don't want you to go to your room feeling lonely and upset,' he
said, 'I should like to see your peace of mind restored first. I should
like you to feel some satisfaction from the victory you have won over
your self-will to-night.'
'The victory, such as it is, is yours!' I blurted out, looking
'You say that,' he replied very gently, 'as if you thought it a
poor thing for a man to bully a young girl. Don't forget, Elfie, that I
am nearly old enough to be your father, that, in fact, I stand in that
position to youI am your only relative and protectorthat I
am right and you are wrong, and above all that it is for your
own sake that I do it. Poor child! you have had far too little home
life and home influence. I want you to be happy here, but the greatest
source of happiness lies in ourselves. What Milton says is very true,
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a hell of heaven, a
heaven of hell. You cannot be happy and make those around you happy,
as long as you are the slave of your will. A strong will is one of the
most valuable gifts we can have, but it must be our servant, not our
master, or it will prove a curse instead of a blessing. It must be
under our control, or it will force us to do things of which our good
sense, good feeling, and our consciences all disapprove. We must be
able to use it against ourselves if need be. You are nearly
grown up, Elfie, and still such an undisciplined child! What you will
not learn with me and let me teach you in the next two or three years,
the world will teach you very harshly later. We none of us can go
through life, least of all a woman, doing what we like, knocking
against every one as we go along. We get very hard knocks back, and
they hurt. We miss, too, the best happiness that life can give. It
contains none to equal that of making other people happy. As we treat
them, they treat us.
'It is not in the least your fault, little one,' he added very
kindly, 'you have had no chance of being different. You have, I am
afraid, received very little kindness, but help me to change all this.
Don't think for a moment that I want to subdue your will to mine, that
I want forced obedience to my wishesthat is the last thing I desire.
I want to place your will under your control. I forced
you to do to-night what I wanted, to make a beginning, to show you it
was possible, to let you feel the pleasure of being agreeable, to stir
some gentler, softer feelings in you. They came, much to your surprise,
though not to mine. We all have them, and it is not good to crush
While he was talking, a strange, subdued feeling came over me, such
as I had never known before. He spoke gently and impressively, in a
deep, soft tone peculiar to him when very much in earnest. I felt I
wanted to be what he wished me to be, to do what he wanted, and this
sensation was so new to me, that I could not at all understand it. I
felt impelled to tell him, but I was ashamed. I had never in my life
been sorry for anything I had done, still less acknowledged a fault. It
was a new and strange experience, I felt like a dumb animal as I raised
my eyes piteously to his.
'What is it, little one? You want to say something, surely you are
not afraid?' he asked gently.
'Forgive me, Tone,' I gasped, as two big tears rolled down my
cheeks, 'I am sorry.'
'I am glad to hear you say you are sorry,' he said, taking my hand,
'but between us there is no question of forgiveness. I have nothing to
pardon, I am not angry, I want to help you.'
'I never felt like this before,' I muttered, 'I don't understand
it, but I will try to do what you want.'
'You feel like this, Elfie, because you know that I am right, and
that I only want what is good for you. I want you to be happy, to open
your heart to the kindness we wish to show you, and to encourage
feelings of kindness in yourself towards other people. When you feel
hard, and cross, and disobliging, try to remember what I have been
saying, and let me help. Even if I have to appear stern sometimes,
don't misunderstand it.'
He then talked about my mother, my home, told me something of my
father as he had known him, until he actually succeeded in
making me feel peaceful and happy.
From that day he never for a moment lost sight of the object he had
in view. He had me with him as much as possible, for long walks, rides
and drives. With infinite patience but unvarying firmness, he helped me
along, recognising every effort I made, appreciating my difficulties,
never putting an unnecessary restriction on me. So he moulded and
formed my character, lavishing kindness and affection on me in which, I
must say, Aunt Evangeline was not far behind, awakening all that was
best and noblest in my nature, never allowing simple submission of my
will to his.
On my wedding-day, as we were bidding each other 'Good-bye!' he
'You will be happy now, little sister, I know it. You have striven
nobly and will have your reward.'
'The reward should be yours, Tone, not mine,' I answered, as I put
my arms round his neck and kissed him.
Do you wonder now, Cora, that I love him so dearly, though he is my
step-brother? my mother asked as she concluded, and that I should
like him to see that I have endeavoured to do for you what he did for