The Mighty Atom
by Marie Corelli
A HEAVY storm had raged all day on the north coast of Devon.
Summer had worn the garb of winter in a freakish fit of mockery and
masquerade; and even among the sheltered orchards of the
deeply-embowered valley of Combmartin, many a tough and gnarled branch
of many a sturdy apple-tree laden with reddening fruit, had been
beaten to the ground by the fury of the blast and the sweeping gusts
of rain. Only now, towards late afternoon, were the sullen skies
beginning to clear. The sea still lashed the rocks with angry thuds of
passion, but the strength of the wind was gradually sinking into a
mere breeze, and a warm saffron light in the west showed where the
sun, obscured for so many hours, was about to hide his glowing face
altogether for the night, behind the black vizor of our upward-moving
earth. The hush of the gloaming began to permeate nature; flowers,
draggled with rain, essayed to lift their delicate stems from the
mould where they had been bowed prone and almost broken,—and a little
brown bird fluttering joyously out of a bush where it had taken
shelter from the tempest, alighted on a window-sill of one of the
nearest human habitations it could perceive, and there piped a gentle
roundelay for the cheering and encouragement of those within before so
much as preening a feather. The window was open, and in the room beyond
it a small boy sat at a school-desk reading, and every now and then
making pencil notes on a large folio sheet of paper beside him. He was
intent upon his work,—yet he turned quickly at the sound of the
bird's song and listened, his deep thoughtful eyes darkening and
softening with a liquid look as of unshed tears. It was only for a
moment that he thus interrupted his studies,—anon, he again bent over
the book before him with an air of methodical patience and resignation
strange to see in one so young. He might have been a bank clerk, or an
experienced accountant in a London merchant's office, from his serious
old-fashioned manner, instead of a child barely eleven years of age;
indeed, as a matter of fact, there was an almost appalling expression
of premature wisdom on his pale wistful features;—the 'thinking
furrow' already marked his forehead,—and what should still have been
the babyish upper curve of his sensitive little mouth, was almost
though not quite obliterated by a severe line of constantly practised
self-restraint. Stooping his fair curly head over the printed page
more closely as the day darkened, he continued reading, pondering, and
writing; and the bird, which had come to assure him as well as it
could, that fine bright weather,—such weather as boys love,—might be
expected to-morrow, seemed disappointed that its gay carol was not
more appreciated. At any rate it ceased singing, and began to plume
itself with fastidious grace and prettiness, peering round at the
youthful student from time to time inquisitively, as much as to
say,—"What wonder is this? The rain is over,—the air is fresh,—the
flowers are fragrant,—there is light in the sky,—all the world of
nature is glad, and rejoices,—yet here is a living creature shut up
with a book which surely God never had the making of!—and his face is
wan, and his eyes are sad, and he seems not to know the meaning of
The burning bars of saffron widened in the western heavens,—shafts
of turquoise-blue, pale rose, and chrysoprase flashed down towards the
sea like reflections from the glory of some unbarred gate of
Paradise,—and the sun, flaming with August fires, suddenly burst
forth in all his splendour. Full on Combmartin, with its grey old
church, stone cottages, and thatched roofs overgrown with flowers, the
cheerful radiance fell, bathing it from end to end in a shower of
gold,—the waves running into the quiet harbour caught the lustrous
glamour and shone with deep translucent glitterings of amber melting
into green,—and through the shadows of the room where the solitary
little student sat at work, a bright ray came dancing, and glistened
on his bent head like the touch of some passing angel's benediction.
Just then the door opened, and a young man entered, clad in white
"Still at it, Lionel!" he said kindly. "Look here, drop it all for
to-day! The storm is quite over;—come with me, and I'll take you for
a pull on the water."
Lionel looked up, half surprised, half afraid.
"Does he say I may go, Mr. Montrose?"
"I haven't asked him," replied Montrose curtly, "I say you
may,—and not only that you may, but that you must! I'm your
tutor,—at least for the present,—and you know you've got to obey me,
Here he squared himself, and made playfully threatening gestures
after the most approved methods of boxing.
The boy smiled, and rose from his chair.
"I don't think I get on very fast," he said apologetically, with a
doubtful glance at the volume over which he had been poring—"It's all
my stupidity I suppose, but sometimes it seems a muddle to me, and
more often still it seems useless. How, for instance, can I feel any
real interest in the amount of the tithes that were paid to certain
bishops in England in the year 1054? I don't care what was paid, and
I'm sure I never shall care. It has nothing to do with the way people
live nowadays, has it?"
"No,—but it goes under the head of general information,"—answered
Montrose laughing,—"Anyhow, you can leave the tithes alone for the
present,—forget them,—and forget all the bishops and kings too if
you like! You looked fagged out,—what do you say to a first-class
Devonshire tea at Miss Payne's?"
"Jolly!" and a flash of something like merriment lit up Lionel's
small pale face—"But we'll go on the water first, please! It will
soon be sunset, and I love to watch a sunset from the sea."
Montrose was silent. Standing at the open door he waited,
attentively observing meanwhile the quiet and precise movements of his
young pupil who was now busy putting away his books and writing
materials. He did this with an almost painful care: wiping his pen,
re-sharpening his pencil to be ready for use when he came back to work
again, folding a scattered sheet or two of paper neatly, dusting the
desk, setting up the volume concerning 'tithes' and what not, on a
particular shelf, and looking about him in evident anxiety lest he
should have forgotten some trifle. His tutor, though a man of neat
taste and exemplary tidiness himself, would have preferred to see this
mere child leaving everything in a disorderly heap, and rushing out
into the fresh air with a wild whoop and bellow. But he gave his
thoughts no speech, and studied the methodical goings to and fro of
the patient little lad from under his half-drooped eyelids with an
expression of mingled kindness and concern, till at last, the room
being set in as prim an order as that of some fastidious old spinster,
Lionel took down his red jersey-cap from its own particular peg in the
wall, put it on, and smiled up confidingly at his stalwart companion.
"Now, Mr. Montrose!" he said.
Montrose started as from a reverie.
"Ah! That's it! Now's the word!"
Flinging on his own straw hat, and softly whistling a lively tune as
he went, he led the way downstairs and out of the house, the little
Lionel following in his footsteps closely and somewhat timidly. Their
two figures could soon be discerned among the flowers and shrubs of
the garden as they passed across it towards the carriage gate, which
opened directly on to the high road,—and a woman watching them from
an upper window pushed her fair face through a tangle of fuchsias and
"Playing truant, Mr. Montrose? That's right! Always do what you're
told not to do! Good-bye, Lylie!"
Lionel looked up and waved his cap.
The beautiful face framed in red fuchsia flowers softened at the
sound of the child's clear voice,—anon, it drew back into the shadow
The woods and hills around Combmartin were now all aglow with the
warm luminance of the descending sun, and presently, out on the sea
which was still rough and sparkling with a million diamond-like points
of spray, a small boat was seen, tossing lightly over the crested
billows. William Montrose, B.A., 'oor Willie' as some of his
affectionate Highland relatives called him, pulled at the oars with
dash and spirit, and Lionel Valliscourt, only son and heir of John
Valliscourt of Valliscourt in the county of Somerset, sat curled up,
not in the stern, but almost at the end of the prow, his dreamy eyes
watching with keen delight every wave that advanced to meet the little
skiff and break against it in an opaline shower.
"I say, Mr. Montrose!" he shouted—"This is glorious!"
"Aye, aye!" responded Montrose, B.A. with a deep breath and an
extra pull—"Life's a fine thing when you get it in big doses!"
Lionel did not hear this observation,—he was absorbed in catching
a string of seaweed, slimy and unprofitable to most people, but very
beautiful in his eyes. There were hundreds of delicate little shells
knitted into it, as fragile and fine as pearls, and every such tiny
casket held a life as frail. Ample material for meditation was there
in this tangle of mysterious organisms marvellously perfect, and while
he minutely studied the dainty net-work of ocean's weaving, across the
young boy's mind there flitted the dark shadow of the inscrutable and
unseen. He asked within himself, just as the oldest and wisest
scholars have asked to their dying day, the 'why' of things,—the
cause for the prolific creation of so many apparently unnecessary
objects, such as a separate universe of shells for example,—what was
the ultimate intention of it all? He thought earnestly,—and thinking,
grew sorrowful, child though he was, with the hopeless sorrow of
Ecclesiastes the Preacher and his incessant cry of 'Vanitas
vanitatem!' Meantime the heavens were ablaze with glory,—the two
rims of the friendly planets, earth and the sun, seemed to touch one
another on the edge of the sea,—then, the bright circle was covered
by the dark, and the soft haze of a purple twilight began to creep
over the 'Hangman's Hills' as they are curiously styled,—the Great
and the Little Hangman. There is nothing about these grassy slopes at
all suggestive of capital punishment, and they appear to have derived
their names from a legend of the country which tells how a thief,
running away with a stolen sheep tied across his back, was summarily
and unexpectedly punished for his misdeed by the sheep itself, who
struggled so violently, as to pull the cord which fastened it close
round its captor's throat in a thoroughly 'hangman' like manner, thus
killing him on the spot. The two promontories form a bold and
picturesque headland as seen from the sea, and Willie Montrose,
resting for a moment on his oars, looked up at them admiringly, and
almost with love in his eyes, just because they reminded him of a
favourite little bit of coast scenery in his own more romantic and
beautiful Scottish land. Then he brought his gaze down to the
curled-up small figure of his pupil, who was still absorbed in the
contemplation of his treasure-trove of sea-weed and shells.
"What have you got there, Lionel?" he asked.
The boy turned round and faced him.
"Thousands of little people!" he answered, with a smile,—"All in
pretty little houses of their own too,—look!"and he held up his
dripping trophy,—"It's quite a city, isn't it?—and I shouldn't
wonder if the inhabitants thought almost as much of themselves as we
do." His eyes darkened, and the smile on his young face vanished.
"What do you think about it, Mr. Montrose? I don't see
that we are a bit more valuable in the universe than these little
Montrose made no immediate reply. He pulled out a big silver watch
and glanced at it.
"Tea-time!" he announced abruptly—"Put the shell-people back in
their own native element, my boy, and don't ask me any conundrums just
now, please! Take an oar!"
With a flush of pleasure, Lionel obeyed,—first dropping the
seaweed carefully into a frothy billow that just then shouldered
itself up caressingly against the boat, and watching it float away.
Then he pulled at the oar manfully enough with his weak little
arms,—while Montrose, controlling his own strength that it might not
overbalance that of the child, noted his exertions with a grave and
somewhat pitying air. The tide was flowing in, and the boat went
swiftly with it,—the healthful exercise sent colour into Lionel's
pale cheeks and lustre into his deep-set eyes, so that when they
finally ran their little craft ashore and sprang out of it, the boy
looked as nature meant all boys to look, bright and happy-hearted, and
the sad little furrow on his forehead, so indicative of painful
thought and study, was scarcely perceptible. Glancing first up at the
darkening skies, then at his own clothes sprinkled with salt spray, he
laughed joyously as he said,
"I'm afraid we shall catch it when we get home, Mr. Montrose!"
"I shall,—you won't;" returned Montrose imperturbably,
"But,—as it's my last evening,—it doesn't matter."
All the mirth faded from Lionel's face, and he uttered a faint cry
of wonder and distress.
"Your last evening?—oh no!—surely not! You don't,—you can't mean
it!" he faltered nervously.
Willie Montrose's honest blue eyes softened with a great tenderness
"Come along, laddie, and have your tea!" he said kindly, his tongue
lapsing somewhat into his own soft Highland accentuation; "Come along
and I'll tell you all about it. Life is like being out on the sea
yonder,—a body must take the rough with the smooth, and just make the
best of it. One mustn't mind a few troubles now and
then,—and—and—partings and the like; you've often heard that the
best of friends must part, haven't you? There now, don't look so
downcast!—come along to Miss Payne's cottage, where we can get the
best cream in all Devonshire, and we'll have a jolly spread and a talk
out, shall we?"
But Lionel stood mute,—the colour left his cheeks, and his little
mouth once more became set and stern.
"I know!" he said at last slowly, "I know exactly what you have to
tell me, Mr. Montrose! My father is sending you away. I am not
surprised; oh no! I thought it would happen soon. You see you have
been too kind,—too easy with me,—that's what it is. No,—I'm not
going to cry"—here he choked back a little rising sob bravely,—"you
mustn't think that,—I am glad you are going away for your own sake,
but I'm sorry for myself,—very sorry! I'm always feeling sorry for
myself,—isn't it cowardly? Marcus Aurelius says the worst form of
cowardice is self-pity."
"Oh, hang Marcus Aurelius!" burst out Montrose.
Lionel smiled,—a dreary little cynical smile.
"Shall we go and have our tea?" he suggested quietly—"I'm ready."
And they walked slowly up from the shore together,—the young man
with a light yet leisurely tread, the child with wearily dragging feet
that seemed scarcely able to support his body. Painful thoughts and
forebodings kept them silent, and they exchanged not a word even when
a sudden red and golden after-glow flashed across the sea as the very
last salutation of the vanished sun,—indeed they scarcely saw the
fiery splendour that would, at a happier moment, have been a perfect
feast of beauty to their eyes. Turning away from the principal street
of the village they bent their steps towards a small thatched cottage,
overgrown from porch to roof with climbing roses, fuchsias and
jessamine, where an unobtrusive signboard might be just discerned
framed in a wreath of brilliant nasturtiums, and bearing the following
device,CLARINDA CLEVERLY PAYNE.
NEW LAID EGGS. DEVONSHIRE CREAM. JUNKETS.
Within this rustic habitation, tutor and pupil disappeared, and the
pebbly shore of Combmartin was left in the possession of two ancient
mariners, who, seated side by side on the overhanging wall, smoked
their pipes together in solemn silence, and watched the gradual
smoothing of the sea as it spread itself out in wider, longer, and
more placid undulations, as though submissively preparing for the
coming of its magnetic mistress, the moon.
THAT same evening, John Valliscourt, Esquire, of Valliscourt,
sat late over his after-dinner wine, conversing with a languid,
handsome-featured person known as Sir Charles Lascelles, Baronet. Sir
Charles was a notable figure in 'swagger' society, and he had been
acquainted with the Valliscourts for some time; in fact he was almost
an 'old friend' of theirs, as social 'old friends' go, that phrase
nowadays merely meaning about a year's mutual visiting, without any
unpleasant strain on the feelings or the pockets of either party.
Whenever the Valliscourts were in town for the season at their
handsome residence in Grosvenor Place, Sir Charles was always
'dropping in,' and dropping out again, a constant and welcome guest,
a purveyor of fashionable scandals, and a thoroughly reliable
informant concerning the ins and outs of the newest approaching
divorce. But his appearance at Combmartin was quite unlooked-for, he
having been supposed to have gone to his 'little place' (an estate of
several thousand acres) in Inverness-shire. And it was concerning his
present change of plan and humour that Mr. Valliscourt was just now
rallying him in ponderously playful fashion.
"Ya-as!" drawled Sir Charles in answer,—"I have doosid habits of
caprice. Never know what I'm going to do from one day to another!
Fact, I assure you! You see a chum of mine has got Watermouth Castle
for a few weeks, and he asked me to join his house-party. That's how
it is I happen to be here."
Mrs. Valliscourt, who had left the dinner-table and was seated in a
lounge chair near the open window, looked round and smiled. Her smile
was a very beautiful one,—her large flashing eyes and brilliantly
white teeth gave it a sun-like dazzle that amazed and half bewitched
any man who was not quite prepared to meet it.
"I suppose you are all very select at Watermouth,"—observed Mr.
Valliscourt, cracking a walnut and beginning to peel the kernel with a
deliberate and fastidious nicety which showed off his long, white,
well-kept fingers to admirable advantage,—"Nothing lower than a
And he laughed softly.
Sir Charles gave him a quick glance from under his lazily drooping
eyelids that might have startled him had he perceived it. Malice,
derision, and intense hatred were expressed in it, and for a second it
illumined the face on which it gleamed with a wicked flash as of
hell-fire. It vanished almost as quickly as it had shone, and a reply
was given in such quiet, listless tones as betrayed nothing of the
"Well, I really don't know! There's a painter fellow staying with
us,—one of those humbugs called 'rising artists,'—gives himself
doosid airs too. He's got a commission to do the castle. Of course he
isn't thought much of,—we keep him in his place as much as we
can,—still he's there, and he doesn't dine with the servants either.
The rest are the usual lot,—dowagers with marriageable but penniless
daughters,—two or three ugly 'advanced' young women who have brought
their bicycles and go tearing about the country all day, and a few
stupid old peers. It's rather slow. I was bored to exhaustion at the
general tea-meeting this afternoon, so knowing you were here I thought
I'd ride over and see you."
"Delighted!" said Mr. Valliscourt politely— "But may I ask
you knew we were here?"
Sir Charles bit his lip to hide a little smile, as he answered
"Oh, everybody knows everything in these little out-of-the-way
villages. Besides, when you take the only available large house in
Combmartin you can't expect to hide your light under a bushel. It's
really a charming old place too."
"It's a barrack," said Mrs. Valliscourt, speaking now for the first
time, and looking straight at her husband as she did so,—"It's
excessively damp, and very badly furnished. Of course it could be made
delightful if anybody were silly enough to spend a couple of thousand
pounds upon it,—but as it is, I cannot possibly imagine why John took
such a horrid little hole for a summer holiday residence."
"You know very well why I took it," returned Mr. Valliscourt
stiffly—"It was not for my personal enjoyment, nor for yours. I am
old enough, I presume, to do without what certain foolish people call
'a necessary change,' and so are you for that matter. I was advised
to give Lionel the benefit of sea-air,—and as I was anxious to avoid
the noise and racket of ordinary sea-side places, as well as the
undesirable companionship of other people's children who might
endeavour to associate with my son, I chose a house at Combmartin
because I considered, and still consider, Combmartin perfectly suited
for my purpose. Combmartin being off the line of railway and somewhat
difficult of access, is completely retired and thoroughly
unfashionable,—and Lionel will be able to continue his holiday tasks
under an efficient tutor without undue distraction or interruption."
He said all this in a dry methodical way, cracking walnuts between
whiles, with a curious air, as of coldly civil protest against the
vulgarity of eating them.
Mrs. Valliscourt turned her head away, and looked out into the
tangled garden, where the foliage, glistening with the day's long
rain, sparkled in the silver gleam of the rising moon. Sir Charles
Lascelles said nothing for a few moments,—then he suddenly broke
silence with a question. "You are giving Montrose the sack aren't
"I am dismissing Mr. Montrose,—yes, certainly;" replied
Valliscourt, his hard mouth compressing itself into harder
lines,—"Mr. Mon- trose is too young for his place, and too
self-opinionated. It is the fault of all Scotchmen to think too much
of themselves. He is clever; I do not deny that; but he does not work
Lionel sufficiently. He is fonder of athletics than classics. Now in
my opinion, athletics are altogether overdone in England,—and I do
not want my son to grow up with all his brains in his muscles. His
intellectual faculties must be developed,—"
"At the expense of the physical?" interposed Sir Charles,—"Why not
do both together?"
"That is my aim and intention,"—said Valliscourt somewhat
pompously—"but Mr. Montrose is not fitted either by education or
temperament to carry out my scheme. In fact he has refused point-blank
to go through the schedule of tuition I have formulated for the
holiday tasks of my son, and has taken it upon himself to say to
me,—to me!—that Lionel is not capable of such a course of
study, and that complete rest is what the boy requires. Of course this
is an excuse to obtain a good time for himself in the way of boating
and other out-of-door amusements. Moreover, I have discovered to my
extreme concern, that Mr. Montrose has not yet thrown off the
shackles of superstitious legend and observance, and that in spite of
the advance of science, he is really not much better than a savage in
his ideas of the universe. He actually believes in Mumbo-Jumbo,—that
is, God,—still!—and also in the immortality of the soul!" Here Mr.
Valliscourt laughed outright. "Of course, if it were not so
ridiculous, I should be angry,—all the same, one cannot be too
particular in the matter of a child's training and education, and I am
considerably annoyed that I was not made aware of these barbarous
predilections and prejudices of his before he took up a responsible
position in my house."
"Of course you would not have engaged him if you had known?"
queried Sir Charles.
"Certainly not." Here Mr. Valliscourt looked at his watch. "Will
you excuse me? It is nine o'clock, and I told Montrose to attend me at
that hour in my study to receive the remaining portion of his salary.
He leaves by the early coach to-morrow morning."
Mrs. Valliscourt rose, and moved with an elegant languor towards the
"You had better come into the drawing-room, Sir Charles, and have a
chat with me," she said, favouring the baronet with one of her
dazzling smiles as she glanced back at him over her shoulder,—"I
suppose you are in no very special hurry to return to Watermouth?"
"No,—not just immediately!" he replied with an answering smile, as
he followed her out across the square oak-panelled hall and into the
apartment she had named, which had the merit of being more comfortably
furnished than any other part of the house, and moreover boasted four
deep bay-windows, each one commanding different and equally beautiful
views of the surrounding country. Mr. Valliscourt meantime went in an
opposite direction, and entered a small parlour, formerly a
store-room, but now transformed into a kind of study, where he found
William Montrose, B.A., awaiting him.
'Oor Willie' looked pale, and his lips were hard set. His employer
nodded to him carelessly in passing, and then sitting down at his
office-desk, unlocked a drawer, took from thence his cheque-book, and
wrote out a sum that was more than 'oor Willie's' due. As he handed
it over, the young man glanced at it, and coloured hotly.
"No thank you, Mr. Valliscourt,"—he said,—"The exact sum, please,
and not a farthing over."
"What!" exclaimed Valliscourt in a satirical tone—"A Scotchman
refuse an extra fee! Is this the age of miracles?"
Montrose grew paler, but kept himself quiet.
"Think what you like of Scotchmen, Mr. Valliscourt," he returned
composedly—"They can get on without your good opinion I daresay, and
certainly they need none of my defending. I merely refuse to accept
anything I have not honestly earned,—there is no miracle in that, I
fancy. It is not as if I took my dismissal badly,—on the contrary, I
should have dismissed myself if you had not forestalled me. I will
have no share in child-murder."
If a bomb had exploded in the little room, Mr. Valliscourt could not
have looked more thoroughly astounded. He sprang from his chair and
confronted the audacious speaker in such indignation as almost choked
"Ch—ch—child-murder!" he spluttered, trembling all over in the
excess of his sudden rage—"D—d—did I hear you rightly, sir?
"I repeat it, Mr. Valliscourt,"—said Montrose, his blue eyes now
flashing dangerously and his lips quivering—"Child-murder! Take the
phrase and think it over! You have only one child,—a boy of a most
lovable and intelligent disposition,—quick-brained,—too
quick-brained by half!—and you are killing him with your hard and
fast rules, and your pernicious 'system' of intellectual training. You
deprive him of such pastimes and exercises as are necessary to his
health and growth,—you surround him with petty tyrannies which make
his young life a martyrdom,—you give him no companions of his own
age, and you are, as I say, murdering him,—slowly perhaps, but none
the less surely. Any physician with the merest superficial knowledge
of his business, would tell you what I tell you,—that is, any
physician who preferred truth to fees."
White with passion, Mr. Valliscourt snatched up the cheque he had
just written and tore it into fragments,—then opening another drawer
in his desk, he took out a handful of notes and gold, and counting
them rapidly, flung them upon the table.
"Hold your insolent tongue, sir!" he said in hoarse accents of
ill-suppressed fury,—"There is your money,—exact to a farthing; take
it and go! And before you presume to apply for another situation as
tutor to the son of a gentleman, you had better learn to know your
place and put a check on your Scotch conceit and impertinence! Not
With a sudden proud lifting of his head, Montrose eyed his late
employer from heel to brow and from brow to heel again, in the
disdainful "measuring" manner known to fighting men,—his eyes
sparkled with anger,—and his hands involuntarily clenched. Then, all
at once, evidently moved by some thought which restrained, if it did
not entirely overcome his wrath, he swept up his wage lightly in one
hand, turned and left the room without either a 'thank you' or
'good-evening.' When he had gone, John Valliscourt burst into an
"Insolent young cub!" he muttered—"How such fellows get University
honours and recommendations is more than I can imagine! Favouritism
and jobbery I suppose,—like everything else. An inefficient,
boastful, lazy Scotchman if ever there was one,—and the worst
companion in the world for Lionel. The boy has done nothing but idle
away his time ever since he came. I'm very glad Professor Cadman-Gore
is able to accept a few weeks of holiday tuition,—he is expensive
certainly,—but he will remedy all the mischief Montrose has done,
and get Lionel on;—he is a thoroughly reliable man too, on the
Soothed by the prospect of the coming of Professor Cadman-Gore, Mr.
Valliscourt cooled down, and presently went to join his wife and Sir
Charles Lascelles in the drawing-room. He found that apartment empty
however, and on inquiry of one of the servants, learnt that Sir
Charles had been gone some minutes, and that Mrs. Valliscourt was
walking by herself in the garden. Mr. Valliscourt thereupon went to
one of the deep bay-windows which stood open, and sniffed the scented
summer air. The day's rain had certainly left the ground wet, and he
was not fond of strolling about under damp trees. The moon was high,
and very beautiful in her clear fullness, but Mr. Valliscourt did not
admire moonlight effects,—he thought all that kind of thing 'stagey.'
The grave and devotional silence of the night hallowed the
landscape,—Mr. Valliscourt disliked silence, and he therefore coughed
loudly and with much unpleasant throat-scraping, to disturb it.
Throat-scraping gave just the necessary suggestion of prose to a
picture which would otherwise have been purely romantic,—a picture of
shadowed woodland and hill and silver cloud and purple sky, in all of
which beauteous presentments, mere humanity seemed blotted out and
forgotten. Mr. Valliscourt coughed his ugly cough in order to get
humanity into it,—and as he finished the last little hawking note of
irritating noise, he wondered where his wife was. The garden was a
large and rambling one, and had been long and greatly neglected,
though the owners of the place had shrewdly arranged with Mr.
Valliscourt, when he had taken the house for three months, that he
should pay a gardener weekly wages to attend to it. A decent but dull
native of Combmartin had been elected to this post, and his exertions
had certainly effected something in the way of clearing the paths and
keeping them clean,—but he was apparently incapable of dealing with
the wild growth of sweet-briar, myrtle, fuchsia and bog-oak that had
sprung up everywhere in the erratic yet always artistic fashion of
mother Nature, when she is left to design her own woodland ways,—so
that the entire pleasaunce was more a wilderness than anything else.
Yet it had its attractions, or seemed to have, at least for Mrs.
Valliscourt, for she passed nearly all her time in it. Now, however,
owing to the long shadows, her husband could not perceive her
anywhere, though presently, as he stood at the window, he heard her
voice carolling an absurd ditty, of which he caught a distinct
fragment concerning "Gay Bo-hem-i-ah!
We're not particular what we do
In gay Bo-hem-i-ah,"— whereat, his face, cold and
heavy-featured as it was, grew downright ugly in its expression of
"She ought to have been a music-hall singer!" he said to himself
with a kind of inward snarl—"She has all the taste and talent
required for it. And to think she is actually well born and well
educated! What an atrocious anomaly!"
He banged the window to violently, and went within. There was a
smoking-room at the back of the house, and thither he retired with his
cigar-case, and one of the dullest of all the various dull evening
EARLY the next morning between six and seven o'clock, little
Lionel Valliscourt was up and dressed and sitting by his bedroom
window, cap in hand, waiting eagerly for Montrose to appear. He was
going to see his friendly tutor off by the coach, and the idea was not
without a certain charm and excitement. It was a perfect day, bright
with unclouded sunshine, and all the birds were singing ecstatically.
The boy's sensitive soul was divided between sadness and
pleasure,—sadness at losing the companionship of the blithe, kindly,
good-natured young fellow who alone, out of all his various teachers,
had seemed to understand and sympathise with him,—pleasure at the
novelty of getting up 'on the sly' and slipping out and away without
his father's knowledge, and seeing the coach, with its prancing four
horses, its jolly driver, and its still jollier red-faced guard, all
at a halt outside the funny old inn, called by various wags the 'Pack
o' Cards' on account of its peculiar structure,—and watching Mr.
Montrose climb up thereon to the too-tootle-tooing of the horn, and
then finally, beholding the whole glorious equipage dash away at
break-neck speed to Barnstaple! This was something for a boy, as mere
boy, to look forward to with a thrill of expectation;—but deep down
in his heart of hearts he was thinking of another delight as well,—a
plan he had formed in secret, and of which he had not breathed a word,
even to Willie Montrose. The scheme was a bold and dreadful one; and
it was this,—to run away for the day. He did not wish to shirk his
studies,—but he knew there were to be no lessons till his new tutor,
Professor Cadman-Gore arrived, and Professor Cadman-Gore was not due
till that evening at ten o'clock. The whole day therefore was before
him,—the long, beautiful, sunshiny day,—and he, in his own mind,
resolved that he would for once make the best of it. He had no wish to
deceive his father,—his desire for an 'escapade' arose out of an
instinctive longing which he himself had not the skill to analyse,—a
longing not only for freedom, but for rest. Turning it over and over
in his thoughts now, as he had turned it over and over all night,
poor child, he could not see that there was any particular harm or
mischief in his intention. Neither his father nor mother ever wanted
him or sent for him except at luncheon, which was his dinner,—all the
rest of the time he was supposed to be with his tutor, always engaged
in learning something useful. But now, it so happened that he was to
be left for several hours without any tutor, and why should he not
take the chance of liberty while it was offered him? He was still
mentally debating this question, when Montrose entered softly,
portmanteau in hand.
"Come along, laddie!" he said with a kind smile—"Step gently!
Nobody's astir,—and I'll aid and abet you in this morning's outing.
We're going to breakfast together at Miss Payne's,—the coach won't be
here for a long time yet."
Lionel gave a noiseless jump of delight on the floor, and then did
as he was told, creeping after his tutor down the stairs like a
velvet-footed kitten, and reddening with excess of timidity and
pleasure when the big hall-door was opened cautiously and closed again
with equal care behind them, and they stood together among the
honey-suckle and wild rose-tangles of the sweetly-scented garden.
"Let me help you carry your portmanteau, Mr. Montrose"—he said
sturdily—"I'm sure I can!"
"I'm sure you can't!" returned Montrose with a laugh, "Leave it
alone, my boy,—it's too heavy for you. Here, you can carry my Homer
Lionel took the well-worn leather-bound volume, and bore it along in
both hands reverently as though it were a sacred relic.
"Where are you going, Mr. Montrose?" he asked presently,—"Have you
got another boy like me to teach?"
"No,—not yet. I wonder if I shall manage to find another boy like
you, eh? Do you think I shall?"
Lionel considered seriously for a moment before replying.
"Well, I don't know," he said at last,—"I suppose there must be
some. You see when you're an only boy, you get different to other
boys. You've got to try and be more clever, you know. If I had two or
three brothers now, my father would want to make every one of them
clever, and he wouldn't have to get it all out of me. That's how I
look at it."
"Oh, that's how you look at it," echoed Montrose, studying with
some compassion the delicate little figure trotting at his side,—"You
think your father wants to get the brain-produce of a whole family out
of you? Well,—I believe he does!"
"Of course he does!" averred Lionel solemnly, "And it is very
natural if you think of it. If you've only got one boy, you expect a
good deal from him!"
"Too much by half!" growled Montrose, sotto-voce,—then aloud he
added—"Well, laddie, you needn't fret yourself,—you are learning
quite fast enough, and you know a good deal more now than ever I did
at your age. I was at school at Inverness when I was a little chap,
and passed nearly all my time fighting,—that's how I learned my
He laughed,—a joyous ringing laugh which was quite infectious, and
Lionel laughed too. It seemed so droll for a boy to pass his time in
fighting!—so very exceptional and extraordinary!
"Why, Mr. Montrose,"—he exclaimed—"what did you fight so much
"Oh, any excuse was good enough for me!" returned Montrose
gleefully, "If I thought a boy had too long a nose, I pulled it for
him, and then we fought the question out together. They were just
"I have never fought a boy,"—murmured Lionel regretfully, "I never
had any boy to fight with!"
Montrose looked down at him, and a sudden gravity clouded his
"Listen to me, laddie," he said earnestly—"When you have a chance,
ask your father to send you to school. You've a tongue in your
head,—ask him,—say it's the thing you're longing for,—beg for it as
though it were your life. You're quite ready for it; you'll take a
high place at once with what you know, and you'll be as happy as the
day is long. You'll find plenty of boys to fight with,—and to
conquer!—fighting is the rule of this world, my boy, and to those who
fight well, so is conquering. And it's a good thing to begin
practising the business early,—practice makes perfect. Tell your
father,—and tell this professor who is coming to take my place, that
it is your own wish to go to a public school,—Eton, Harrow,
Winchester,—any of them can turn out men."
Lionel looked pained and puzzled.
"Yes,—I will ask,"—he said—"But I'm sure I shall be refused.
Father will never hear of it. The boys in public schools all go to
church on Sundays, don't they? Well, you know I should never be
allowed to do that!"
Montrose made no reply, and they walked on in unbroken silence till
they reached the abode of Miss Clarinda Cleverly Payne, where on the
threshold stood a bright-eyed, pleasant-faced active personage in a
lilac cotton gown and snow-white mob-cap of the fashion of half a
"Good-morning sir! Nice morning! Good-morning Master Lionel! Well
now, toe be sure, I dew believe the eggs is just laid for you! I heerd
the hens a-clucking the very minute you came in sight! Ah dearie me!
if we all did our duty when it was expected of us, like my hens, the
world would get on a deal better than it dew! Walk in, sir!—walk in
Master Lionel!—the table's spread and everything's ready; the
window's open too, for there's a sight o' honeysuckle outside and it
dew smell sweet, I can assure you! Nothing like Devonshire honeysuckle
except Devonshire cream! Ah, and you'll find plenty o' that for
breakfast! And I'm sure this little gentleman's sorry his kind
master's going away, eh?"
"Yes, I am very sorry, ma'am," said Lionel earnestly, taking off
his little cap politely as he looked up at the worthy Clarinda's
sunbrowned, honest countenance—"But it isn't much use being sorry, is
it? He must go, and I must stay,—and if I were to fret for a whole
year about it, it wouldn't make any difference, would it?"
"No, that it wouldn't,"—returned Miss Payne, staring hard into the
pathetic young eyes that so wistfully regarded her,—"But you see some
of us can't take things so sensibly as you do, my dear!—we're not all
"Clever!" echoed Lionel, with an accent of such bitterness as might
have befitted a cynic of many years' worldly experience—"I am not
clever. I am only crammed."
"Lord bless us!" exclaimed Clarinda, gazing helplessly about
her,—"What does the child mean?"
"He means just what he says"—answered Montrose with a slight,
rather sad smile,—"If you had to learn all the things Lionel is
supposed to know—"
"Larn?" interrupted Miss Clarinda with a sharp sniff—"Thank the
Lord I ain't had no larnin'! I know how to do my work and live
honestly without runnin' into debt,—and that's enough for me. To see
the young gels nowadays with their books an' their penny papers, all
a-gabblin' of a parcel o' rubbish as doesn't consarn 'em,—it dew
drive me wild, I can tell you! My niece Susie got one o' them there
cheap novels one day, and down she sat, a-readin' an' a-readin', an'
she let the cream boil and spoilt it, an' later on in the day, she
slipt and fell on the doorstep with a dozen new-laid eggs in her apron
and broke eight o' them,—then in a week or two she took to doin' her
hair in all sorts o' queer towzley ways, and pinched her waist in,
till she couldn't fancy her dinner and her nose got as red as a
carrot. I said nothing,—for the more you say to they young things the
worse they get,—but at last I got hold o' the book that had done the
mischief and took to readin' it myself. Lor!—I laughed till I nearly
split!—a parcel o' nonsense all about a fool of a country wench as
couldn't do nothing but make butter, and yet she married a lord an'
was took to Court with di'monds an' fal-lals!—such a muck o' lies was
printed in that there book as was enough to bring the judgment of the
Almighty on the jackass as wrote it! I went to my niece and I sez to
her, sez I—'Susie my gel, you're a decent, strong, well-favoured
sort o' lass, taken just as God made ye, and if you behave yourself,
you may likely marry an honest farmer lad in time,—but if ye get such
notions o' lords and ladies as are in this silly lyin' book, an' go
doin' o' your hair like crazy Jane, there's not a man in Combmartin as
won't despise ye. An' ye'll go to the bad, my gel, as sure as a die!'
She was a decent lass, Susie, an' she knew I meant well by her, so she
just dropped the book down our old dry well in the back yard, seventy
feet deep, and took to the cream agin. She's married well now, and
lives over at Woolacombe, very comfortably off. She's got a good
husband, a poultry-farm and three babies, an' she's no time for
novel-readin' now, thanks to the Lord!"
This narrative, delivered volubly with much oratorical gesture and
scarcely any pauses, left Miss Clarinda well-nigh out of breath, and
as she and her visitors were now in the one 'best parlour' of the
cottage, she ceased talking, and bustled about to get them their
breakfast. Montrose leaned out of the open lattice-window where the
'sight o' honeysuckle' hung in fragrant garlands, and inhaled the
delicious perfume with a deep breath of delight.
"It's a bonnie place, this Devonshire,"—he said, half to himself
and half to Lionel—"But it's not so bonnie as Scotland."
Lionel had sat down in the window-nook with rather a weary air, the
Homer volume still clasped in his hands.
"Are you going to Scotland soon?" he asked.
"Yes. I shall go straight home there for a few days and see my
mother." Here the young man turned and surveyed his small pupil with
involuntary tenderness. "I wish I could take you with me," he added
softly—"My mother would love you, I know."
Lionel was mute. He was thinking to himself how strange it would
seem to be loved by Mr. Montrose's mother, as he was not loved by his
own. At that moment, Clarinda Cleverly Payne brought in the breakfast
in her usual smart, bustling way;—excellent tea, new milk, eggs,
honey, cream, jam, home-made bread, and scones smoking hot, were all
set forth in tempting profusion, and to crown the feast, an antique
china basket filled with the rosiest apples and juiciest pears, was
placed in the centre of the table. William Montrose, B.A. and his
little friend sat down to their good cheer, each with very different
feelings,—'oor Willie' with a hearty and appreciative appetite,—the
boy with only a faint sense of hunger, which was over-weighted by
mental fatigue and consequent physical indifference. However he tried
to eat well to please the kindly companion from whom he was so soon to
be parted,—and it was not till he had quite finished, that Montrose,
pushing aside his cup and plate, addressed the following remarks to
his late pupil,—
"Look here, Lionel," he said, "I don't want you to forget me. If
ever you should take it into your head to run away,"—here a deep
blush crimsoned Lionel's face, for was he not going to run away that
very day?—"or—or anything of that sort, just write and tell me all
about it first. A letter will always find me at my mother's house, The
Nest, Kilmun. I don't, of course, wish to persuade you to run
away"—(he looked as if he did though!) "because that would be a very
desperate thing to do,—still, if you feel you can't hold up under
your lessons, or that Professor Cadman-Gore is too much for you, why,
rather than break down altogether, you'd better show a clean pair of
heels. I expect I'm giving you advice which a good many people would
think very wrong on my part,—all the same, boys do run away at
times,—it has been done!" Here his merry blue eyes twinkled.
"And if you have any more of that giddiness you complained of the
other day,—or if you go off in a dead faint as you did last
week,—you really mustn't conceal these sensations any longer,—you
must tell your father, and let him take you to see a doctor."
Lionel listened with an air of rather wearied patience.
"What's the good of it!" he sighed—"I'm not ill, you know. Besides
I've had the doctor before, and he said there was nothing the matter
with me. Doctors don't seem to be very clever,—my mother was ill two
years ago, and they couldn't cure her. When they gave her up and left
her alone, she got well. Things always appear to go that way,—the
more you do, the worse you get."
Montrose was quite accustomed to such a hopeless tone of reasoning
from the boy,—yet somehow, on this bright summer morning when he, in
the full enjoyment of health and liberty, was going home to those who
loved him, the absolute loneliness of this child's life and his
pathetic resignation to it, smote him with a keener sense of pain
"And as for running away"—continued Lionel, flushing as he
spoke—"I might do that perhaps for a few hours,... but if I tried to
run away for good and go for a sailor, which is what I should like, I
should only be brought back,—you know I should. And if I wrote to you
about it, I should get you into dreadful trouble. You don't seem to
think of all that, Mr. Montrose, but I think of it."
"You think too much altogether,"—said Montrose, almost
crossly,—it vexed him to realise that this boy of barely eleven years
was actually older and more reflective in mind than himself, a man of
seven-and-twenty!—"You are always thinking!"
"Yes,"—agreed Lionel gravely, "But then there's so much to think
about in this world, isn't there!"
To this Montrose volunteered no answer. He sat, gazing at the dish
of rosy apples in front of him with a brooding frown,—and presently,
Lionel laid one little cold trembling hand on his arm.
"But I shall never forget you,—Willie!" he said, pausing before
the name—"You know you said I might call you Willie sometimes. You
have been very good to me,—you are the youngest tutor I have ever
had—and the kindest;—and though I can't keep all the lessons in my
head, I can keep the kindness. I can indeed!"
He looked so small and fragile as he spoke, his sensitive little
face a-quiver with emotion, and his soft eyes full of wistful
affection and appeal, that Montrose was much inclined to give him a
hearty kiss, just as he would have kissed a pretty baby. But he
remembered in time all the dry morsels of so-called wisdom that had
been packed into that little curly head,—all the profound meditations
of dead-and-gone philosophers that were stored in the recesses of that
young mind,—and he reflected, with an odd sense of humorous pity,
that it would never do to kiss such a learned little man. So he gave
him a couple of pleasant pats on the shoulder instead, and
answered—"All right laddie! I know! Only just think now and again of
what I've said to you, and when you're getting puzzled and dazed-like
over your books, go into the fresh air and never mind the
lessons,—and if you get a thrashing for it, well,—all I can say is,
a thrashing is better than a sickness. Health's the grandest thing
going,—a far sight better than wealth." At that moment the
'too-too-tootle' of the coach-horn came ringing towards them in a gay
sonorous echo, and he started up. "By Jove! I must be off! Miss Payne!
"Now, if it isn't like your impudence, Mr. Montrose,"—said Miss
Payne, appearing at the doorway with her strong bare arms dusty with
the flour of the scones she had just been making, "to be calling me
Clarinda! Upon my word I don't know what the gentlemen are coming
to,"—here she giggled and simpered in spite of her fifty-two years,
as Montrose, nothing daunted, dropped more than the money due for the
breakfast into her hand, and audaciously kissed her on the cheek,—(he
had no scruples about kissing her, oh no! not at all!—though
he had about kissing Lionel,—) "Really they seem to be quite reckless
nowadays,—it was very different, I dew assure you, when I was a
"Oh no, it wasn't, Clarinda, I
dew assure you!" laughed
Montrose, with a playful mimicking of her voice and manner—"It was
just the same, and always will be the same to the crack of doom! Men
will always be devils,—and women—angels! Good-bye, Clarinda!"
"Good-bye, sir! A pleasant journey to you!" and Miss Payne bobbed
up and down under her rose-covered porch, after precisely the same
fashion in which the greatest ladies of the land make their 'dip'
salutation to Royalty—"Hope to see you here again some day, sir!"
"I hope so too!" he answered cheerily, waving one hand, while he
grasped his portmanteau with the other, and walked with a swinging
stride down the village street, followed by Lionel, to the 'Pack o'
Cards' inn, where the coach had just arrived. It was a picturesque
'turn-out,' with its four strong, sleek horses, its passengers, all
rendered more or less bright-faced by the freshness of the morning
air, its white-hatted coachman, and its jolly guard, who blew the horn
more for the pleasure of blowing it than anything else,—and Lionel
surveyed it in a kind of sober rapture.
"You are glad to go, Mr. Montrose,"—he said—"You
glad to go!"
"Yes, I am glad in one way"—replied Montrose, "But I'm sorry in
another. I'm sorry to leave you, laddie,—I should like to be living
here for awhile just to keep you out of harm's way."
"Would you?" Lionel looked at him surprisedly. "But I am never in
the way of harm,—nothing ever happens to me of any particular sort,
you know. One day is just like another."
"Well, good-bye!" and Montrose, having given over his portmanteau
to the coach-guard, laid both his hands on the boy's fragile
shoulders, "When you get home, tell your father it was I who took you
out with me this morning to see me off, and that if he wants to
question me about it, he knows where a letter will find me. I
take all the blame, remember! Good-bye, my dear wee
laddie!—and—and—God bless you!"
Lionel's lip quivered, and the smile he managed to force was very
suggestive of tears.
"Good-bye!" he said faintly.
"Too-too-too-tootle-too!" carolled the guard on his shining
horn,—and Montrose climbed nimbly up to his place on the top of the
coach. The red-faced driver bent a severe eye on certain village
children that were standing about, agape with admiration at himself
and his equipage. "Now then! Out of the way, youngsters!" There
followed a general scrimmage, and the horses started.
"Too-too-tootle-too!" Up the village street they galloped merrily in
the cheerful sunlight, their manes blown back by the dancing breeze.
"Good-bye! Good-bye!" shouted Montrose once more, waving his straw
hat energetically to the solitary small figure left standing in the
But Lionel's voice could not now 'carry' far enough to echo the
farewell, so he only lifted his little red cap once in response, the
parting smile soon fading from his young face, and the worn pucker on
his brow deepening in intensity. He stood motionless,—watching till
the last glimpse of the coach had vanished,—then he started, as it
were from a waking dream, and found that he still held the Homer
volume,—Montrose had forgotten it. Some of the village children were
standing apart, staring at him, and he heard them saying something
about the 'little gemmun livin' up at the big 'ouse.' He looked at
them in his turn;—there were two nice red-cheeked boys with
red-cheeked apples in their hands,—their faces were almost the
counterpart of the apples in roundness and shininess. He would have
liked to talk to them, but he felt instinctively that if he made any
advances in this direction, they would probably be either timid or
resentful,—so he dismissed the idea from his mind, and went on his
own solitary way. He was not going home,—no, —he was quite resolved
to have a real holiday all to himself, before his new teacher arrived.
And as he knew the ancient church of Combmartin was considered one of
the chief objects of interest in the neighbourhood, and as, owing to
his father's 'system' of education and ideas concerning religion or
rather non-religion, he had been forbidden to visit it, he very
naturally decided to go thither. And the tears he had resolutely kept
back as long as Willie Montrose had been with him, now filled his eyes
and dropped slowly, one by one, as he thought sorrowfully that now
there would be no more pleasant tossings in an open boat on the
sea,—no more excursions into the woods for 'botany lessons' which
had served as an excuse for many do-nothing but health-giving rambles,
and the reading or reciting of stirring ballads such as 'The Battle of
the Baltic,' and 'Henry of Navarre,' under the refreshing shade of the
beautiful green trees,—nothing of all this in future,—nothing to
look forward to but the dreaded society of Professor Cadman-Gore.
Professor Cadman-Gore had a terrible reputation for learning,—all the
world was as one mighty jackass, viewed in the light of his prodigious
and portentous intellect,—and the young boy's heart ached under the
oppression of his thoughts as he walked, with the lagging step and
bent head of an old man, towards the wooden churchyard gate, lifted
the latch softly, and went in, Homer in hand, to stroll about and
meditate, Hamlet-wise, among the graves of the forgotten dead.
HUSHING his little footsteps instinctively as he went up the
moss-grown path between the grassy graves that rose in suggestive
hillocks on either side of him, he paused presently in front of an
ancient tombstone standing aslant, on the top of which sat a robin
redbreast contentedly twittering, and now and then calling 'Sweet!' to
its unseen mate. It was a fearless bird, and made no movement to fly
away as Lionel approached. Just beneath its brown wings and scarlet
bosom, the grey headstone had blossomed into green,—tiny ferns and
tufts of moss had managed to find root-hold there, and spread
themselves out in pretty sprays of delicate foliage over the worn and
blackened epitaph below—
YE EARTHLIE BODIE OF SIMON YEDDIE
Saddler in Combmartin
FULLE OF JOYE AND HOPE TO SEE
HIS DEARE MASTER
ON THE 17TH DAYE OF JUNE 1671. AGED 102.
'And He lodged in ye House of one Simon, a Tanner.'
With much difficulty Lionel made out this quaint inscription,
standing, as he did, at some little distance off, in order not to
frighten away the robin. He had to spell each word over carefully
before he could understand it, and even when he had finally got it
clear, it was still somewhat incomprehensible to his mind. And while
he stood thinking about it, and wondering at the oddly chosen text
which completed it, the robin redbreast suddenly flew away with an
alarmed chirp, and a man's head, covered with a luxuriant crop of
roughly curling white hair, rose, as it seemed, out of the very
ground, goblin-wise, and looked at him inquisitively. Startled, yet by
no means afraid, Lionel stepped back a few paces.
"Hulloa!" said the head. "Doan't be skeer'd, little zur! I be only
a-diggin' fur Mother Twiley."
The accent in which these words were spoken was extremely gentle,
even musical, despite its provincial intonation,—and Lionel's
momentary misgiving was instantly dispelled. Full of curiosity, he
advanced and discovered the speaker to be a big, broad-shouldered, and
exceedingly handsome man, the bulk of whose figure was partially
hidden in a dark, squarely-cut pit of earth, which the boy's instinct
told him was a grave.
"I'm not scared at all, thank you"—he said, lifting his little
red cap with the politeness which was habitual to him—"It was only
because your head came up so suddenly that I started; I did not know
anybody was here at all except the robin that flew away just now. What
a big hole you are making!"
"Aye!" And the man smiled, his clear blue eyes sparkling with a
cheery light as he turned over and broke a black clod of earth with
his spade,—"Mother Twiley allus liked plenty o' room! Lor' bless
'er! When she was at her best, she 'minded me of a haystack,—a
comfortable, soft sort o' haystack for the chillern to play an' jump
about on,—an' there was allus chillern round her for the matter o'
that. Well! Now she's gone there's not a body as has got a word agin
her, an' that's more than can be said for either kings or queens."
"Is she dead?" asked Lionel softly.
"Why, yes, s'fur as this world's consarned, she's dead," was the
reply—"But, Lord! what's this world! Nuthin'! Just a breath, an'
we're done wi't. It's the next world we've got to look to, little
zur,—the next world is what we should all he a-workin' fur day an'
"'There's a glory o' the moon
An' a glory o' the stars
But the glory o' the angels shines
Beyond our prison bars!'"
He sang this verse melodiously in a rich sweet baritone, digging the
while and patting the sides of the grave smooth as he worked.
Lionel sat down on one of the grassy mounds and stared at him
"How can you believe all that nonsense?" he asked with reproachful
solemnity—"Such a big man as you are too!"
The grave-digger stopped abruptly in his toil, and turning round,
surveyed the little lad with undisguised astonishment.
"How can I believe all that nonsense!" he repeated at last
slowly,—"Nonsense? Is a wee mousie like you a-talkin' o' the blessed
sure an' certain hope o' heaven as nonsense? God ha' mercy on
ye, ye poor little thing! Who has had the bringin' of ye up, anyway?"
Lionel flushed deeply and his eyes smarted with repressed tears. He
was very lonely; and he wanted to talk to this cheery-looking man who
had such a soft musical voice and such a kindly smile, but now he
feared he had offended him.
"My name is Lionel,—Lionel Valliscourt," he said in low, rather
tremulous tones,—"I am the only son of Mr. Valliscourt who has taken
the big house over there for the summer,—that one,—you can just see
the chimneys through the trees"—and he indicated the direction by a
little wave of his hand—"And I have always had very clever men for
tutors ever since I was six years old,—I shall be eleven next
birthday,—and they have taught me lots of things. And why I said the
next world was nonsense, was because I have always been told so. One
would be very glad, of course, if it were true, but then, it isn't
true. It is only an idea,—a sort of legend. My father says nobody
with any sense nowadays believes it. Scientific books prove to you,
you know, that when you go into a grave like that," and he pointed to
the hole in which the white-haired sexton stood, listening and
inwardly marvelling—"you are quite dead for ever,—you never see the
sun any more, or hear the birds sing, and you never find out why you
were made at all, which I think is very curious, and very cruel;—and
you are eaten up by the worms. Now it surely is nonsense,
isn't it, to think you can come to life again after you are eaten by
the worms?—and that is what I meant, when I asked how you could
believe such a thing. I hope you will excuse me,—I didn't wish to
The grave-digger still stood silent. His fine resolute features
expressed various emotions,—wonder, pain, pity and something of
indignation,—then, all at once these flitting shadows of thought
melted into a sunny smile of tenderness.
"Offend me? No indeed!—ye couldn't do that, my little zur, if ye
tried,—ye're too much of a babby. An' so ye're Mr. Valliscourt's son,
eh?—well, I'm Reuben Dale, the verger o' th' church here, an' sexton,
an' road-mender, an' carpenter, an' anything else wotsoever my hand
finds to do, I does it with my might, purvided it harrums nobody an'
gits me a livin'. Now ye see these arms o' mine"—and he raised one
of the brown muscular limbs alluded to—"They ha' served me
well,—they ha' earned bread an' clothing, an' kep' wife an' child,
an' please God they'll serve me yet many a long day, an' I'm grateful
to have 'em for use an' hard labour,—but I know the time'll come
when they'll be laid down in a grave like this 'ere, stark an' stiff
an' decayin' away to the bone, a-makin' soil fur vi'lets an' daisies
to grow over me. But what o' that? I'll not be a-wantin' of 'em
then,—no more than I'm a-wantin' now the long clothes I wore when our
passon baptised me at t' old font yonder. I, who am, at present, owner
o' these arms, will be zumwheres else,—livin' an' thinkin', an'
please the Lord, workin' too, for work's divine an' wholesome,—I'll
'ave better limbs mebbe, an' stronger,—but whatsever body I get into,
ye may depend on't, little zur, it'll be as right an' fittin' for the
ways o' the next world, as the body I've got now is right an' fittin'
fur this one. An' my soul will be the same as keeps me up at this
moment, bad or good,—onny I pray it may get a bit wiser an' better,
an' not go down like." He raised his clear blue eyes to the bright
expanse above him, and murmured half inaudibly,—
"Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall,"—and
seemed for a moment lost in meditation.
"Please, Mr.—Mr. Dale, what do you mean by your soul?" asked
Reuben Dale brought his rapt gaze down from the shining sky to the
quaint and solemn little figure before him.
"What do I mean, my dear?" he echoed, with a note of compassion
vibrating in his rich voice— "I mean the onny livin' part o' me,—the
'vital spark o' heavenly flame' in all of us, that our dear Lord died
to save. That's what I mean,—an' that's what you'll mean too, ye
poor pale little chap, when ye'se growed up and begins to unnerstand
all the marvels o' God's goodness to us ungrateful sinners. Onny to
think o' the blessed sunshine should be enough fur the givin' o'
thanks,—but Lord pity us!—we're sore forgetful of all our daily
"And—your friend,—Mother Twiley,"—hinted Lionel almost
deferentially,—"Had she what you call a soul?"
"Aye, that she had!—an' a great one, an' a true one, an' an angel
one,—fur all that she wor old, an' not so well-looking in her body as
she must ha' been in her mind,"—replied the sexton, "But ye may be
sure God found her right beautiful in His sight when He tuk her to
Himself t'other evening just as the stars were risin.'"
"But how do you know,"—persisted Lionel, who was getting deeply,
almost painfully interested in the conversation—"Do tell me
please!—how do you know she had a soul?"
"My dear, when you see a very poor old woman, with nothing of
world's comfort or world's goods about her, bearing a humble an' hard
lot in peace an' contentment, wi' a cheerful face an' bright eye, a
smile fur every one, a heart fur the childer, forgiveness fur the
wrongdoers, an' charity fur all, who can look back on eighty years o'
life with a 'Praise God' for every breath of it, you may be sure that
somethin' better an' higher than the mere poor, worn, tired body o'
her, keeps 'er firm to 'er work an' true to her friends,—an' so 'twos
with Mother Twiley. So fur as her body went 'twos just a trouble to
her,—twitched wi' rheumatiz, an' difficult to manage in the matter o'
mere breathing,—but her soul was straight enough, an' strong enough.
Lord!—'ere in Combmartin we knew her soul so well that we forgot all
about the poor old case it lived in,—I hardly think we saw it! Our
bodies are weak bothersome things, my dear,—an' without a soul to
help 'em along we should never keep 'em going."
"I believe that,"—said Lionel, heaving a little sigh,—"I can't
help believing it, though it's not what I've been taught. My body is
weak; it aches all over often. Still, I think, Mr. Dale, that souls,
such as you talk about, must be exceptions, you know, Like blue eyes,
for instance,— everybody hasn't got blue eyes; well, perhaps
everybody hasn't got a soul. You see that might be how it is. My
father would be very angry if you told him he had a soul. And I know
he will never let me have one, not even if I could grow it
Reuben Dale was speechless. He gazed at the boy's small sad face in
wonder too great for words. Himself a simple-hearted God-fearing man
who had lived all his life at Combmartin, working hard for his daily
bread, and entirely contented with his humble lot, he had never heard
of the feverish and foolish discussions held in over-populated cities,
where deluded men and women shut out God from their consciences, as
they shut out the blue sky by the toppling height and close crowding
together of their hideous houses,—where the very press teaches
blasphemy and atheism, and permits to pass into the hands of the
public, with praise and recommendation, such lewd books as might move
even a Rabelais to sick abhorrence. And he certainly had never deemed
it possible that any form of government could exist in the world,
which favoured the bringing-up and education of children without
religion. He had heard of France,—but he was not aware that it had
eschewed religion from its public schools, and was rapidly becoming a
mere forcing-bed for the production of child-thieves, child-murderers,
and child-parricides. He believed in England as he believed in God,
with that complete and glorious faith in mother-country which makes
the nation great,—and it would have been a shock to his steadfast,
deeply religious nature, had he been told that even this beloved
England of ours, misled by those who should have been her best
guardians, was accepting lessons from France in open atheism,
'Simianism,' and general 'free' morality. Thus, the child that sat
before him was a kind of unnatural prodigy to his sight,—the little
pale face, framed in an aureole of fair curling hair, might have aptly
fitted an angel,—but the elderly manner, the methodical, precise
fashion in which this young thing spoke, seemed to honest Reuben
'uncanny,' and he ruffled his beard with one hand in dire perplexity,
quite taken aback, and at a loss how to continue the conversation. For
how could he give any instruction in the art of 'growing' a soul?
Happily however, a diversion here occurred in the sudden, almost
noiseless approach of a tiny girl, with the prettiest little face
imaginable, that peered out like a pink rose from under a white 'poke'
sun-bonnet and a tangle of nut-brown curls,—a little girl who
appeared to Lionel's eyes like a vision of Helen of Troy in miniature,
so lovely and dainty was her aspect. He had never been allowed to read
any fairy-tales, so he could not liken her to a fairy, which would
have been more natural,—but he had done a lot of heavy
translation-work in Homer, and he knew that all the heroes in the
"Iliad" quarrelled about this Helen, and that she was very beautiful.
Therefore he immediately decided that Helen of Troy when she was a
little girl (she must have been a little girl once!) was exactly like
the charming small person who now came towards him, carrying a wicker
basket on her arm, and tripping across graves as delicately as though
she were nothing but a blossom blown over them by the summer breeze.
"Halloa!" exclaimed Reuben Dale, throwing down his spade, "Here's
my little 'un! Well, my Jas'min flower! Bringin' a snack for th' old
At this query the little girl smiled, creating a luminous effect
beneath her poke-bonnet as though a sunbeam were caught within
it,—then she made a small round O of her tiny red mouth, with the
evident intention to thereby convey a hint of something delicious. And
finally she opened her basket, and took out a brown jug, full of hot
fragrant coffee, lavishly frothed at the top with cream, and two big
slices of home-made bread and butter.
"Is that right, feyther?" she inquired, as she carefully set these
delicacies on the edge of the grave within her father's reach.
"That's right, my bird!"—responded Reuben, lifting her in his arms
high above his head, and giving her a sounding kiss on both her rosy
cheeks as he put her down again—"An' look 'ere Jessamine, there's a
little gemmun for ye to talk to. Go an' say how-d'y-do to 'im."
Thus commanded, Jessamine obeyed, strictly to the letter. She went
to where Lionel sat admiringly watching her, and put out her dumpy
mite of a hand.
"How-d'y-do!" said she. And before Lionel could utter a word in
reply she had shaken her curls defiantly, and run away! The boy sprang
up, pained and perplexed;—Reuben Dale laughed.
"After her, my lad! Run!—the run'll do ye good! She's just like
that at first,—fur all the world like a kitten, fond o' fun! Ye'll
find 'er a-hidin' round the corner!"
Thus encouraged, Lionel ran,—actually ran,—a thing he very seldom
did. He became almost a hero, like the big men of the 'Iliad'! His
'Helen' was 'a-hidin' round the corner,'—he was valiantly
determined to find her,—and after dodging the little white sun-bonnet
round trees and over tombs till he was well-nigh breathless, she, like
all feminine things, condescended to be caught at last, and to look
shyly in the face of her youthful captor.
"What boy be you?" she asked, biting the string of her sun-bonnet
with an air of demure coquetry—"You be prutty,—all th' boys roond
'ere be oogly."
Oh, what an accent for a baby 'Helen of Troy'!—and yet how
charming it was to hear her say 'oogly,' because she made another of
those little round O's of her mouth that suggested
deliciousness;—even the deliciousness of kissing. Lionel thought he
would like to kiss her, and coloured hotly at the very idea. Meanwhile
his 'Helen of Troy' continued her observation of him.
"Would 'ee like an aaple?" she demanded, producing a small, very
rosy one from the depths of a miniature pocket,—"I'll gi' ye this, if
s'be ye'se let me bite th' red bit oot."
If ever a young lady looked 'fetching,' as the slang phrase
expresses it, Miss Jessamine Dale did so at that moment. What with the
mischievous light in her dark blue eyes, and the smile on her little
mouth as she suggested that she should 'bite the red bit,' and the
altogether winsome, provocative, innocent allurement of her manner,
Lionel quite lost his head for the moment, and forgot everything but
the natural facts that he was a little boy, and she was a little girl.
He laughed merrily,—such a laugh as he had not enjoyed for many a
weary day,—and taking the apple from her hand, held it to her lips
while she carefully closed her tiny teeth on the 'red bit' and
secured it, the juice dropping all over her dimpled chin.
"I'm to have the rest, am I?" said Lionel then, venturing to hold
her by the arm and assist her over a very large and very ancient
grave, wherein reposed, as the half-broken tombstone said, "Ye Bodie
of Martha Dumphy, Aged Ninety-seven Yeeres." Long, long ago lived
Martha Dumphy,—long, long ago she died,—but could anything of her
have still been conscious, she would have felt no offence or sacrilege
in the tread of those innocent young feet that sprang so lightly over
her last resting-place.
"Yes, you're to 'ave the rest,"—replied Jessamine
benevolently,—then with an infinite slyness and humour she
added—"I've got 'nuther i' my poacket!"
How they laughed, to be sure! Forgetful of 'Ye Bodie of Martha
Dumphy,' they sat down on the grass that covered her old bones, and
enjoyed their apples to the full, Miss Jessamine generously bestowing
the 'red bit' of the second apple on Lionel, who, though he was not
really hungry, found something curiously appetising in these stray
morsels of juicy fruit lately plucked from the tree.
"Coom into th' church,"—then said Jessamine, "Feyther's left the
door open. Coom an' see th' big lilies on th' Lord's table."
Lionel looked into her lovely little face, feeling singularly
embarrassed by this invitation. He knew what she meant of course,—he
had been duly instructed in the form of the Christian 'myth,' as a
myth only, in company with all the other creeds known to history. They
had been bracketed together for his study and consideration in a
group of twelve, thus:—
- 1. Of Phta, and the Egyptian mythology.
- 2. Of Brahma, Vishnu and the Hindoo Cults.
- 3. Of the Chaldean and Phoenician creeds.
- 4. Of the Greek and Roman gods.
- 5. Of Buddha and Buddhism.
- 6. Of Confucius and the Chinese sects.
- 7. Of the Mexican mythology.
- 8. Of Odin and the Norse beliefs.
- 9. Of Mohammedanism and the Koran.
- 10. Of the Talmud, and Jewish tradition.
- 11. Of Christ, and the gradual founding of the Christian myth on
the relics of Greek and Roman Paganism.
- 12. Of the Advance of Positivism and Pure Reason, in which all
these creeds are proved to be without foundation, and merely serving
as obstacles to the Intellectual Progress of Man.
The above 'schedule' had formed a very special and particular part of
Lionel's education, and he had been carefully taught that only
semi-barbarians believed nowadays in anything divine or super-natural.
The intellectual classes fully understood, so he was told, that there
was no God, and that the First Cause of the universe was merely an
Atom, productive of other atoms which moved in circles of fortuitous
regularity, shaping worlds indifferently, and without any Mind-force
whatever behind the visible Matter. Thus had the intellectual classes
fathomed the Eternal, entirely to their own satisfaction,—and of
course he, poor little Lionel, was being brought up to take his place
among the intellectual classes, where his father was already a shining
light of dogmatic pedantry. He was assured that only the poor, the
ignorant, and the feeble-minded still appealed to God as "Our Father,"
and believed in the socialist workman, Jesus of Nazareth, as a Divine
Personage whose way of life and death had shown all men the road to
Heaven. One of the chief faults found with Willie Montrose as a tutor,
had been his implicit faith in these supernatural things, and his
point-blank refusal to teach his young pupil otherwise. Hence the
subject, Religion, had been removed altogether from Lionel's 'course
of study,' and the unswerving firmness Montrose had shown on the
matter had led, among other more trifling drawbacks, to his dismissal.
All this was fresh in the boy's mind,—and now Jessamine said "Coom
an' see th' big lilies on th' Lord's table!" She, then, was one of
the 'semi- barbarians,' this pretty little girl,—and yet how happy
she seemed!—what an innocent, dove-like expression of tenderness and
trust shone in her eyes as she spoke! How very young she was!—and
alas, how very old he felt as he looked at her! She knew so
little,—he had learned so much, and though he was but four years her
senior, he seemed in his own pained consciousness to be an elderly man
studying the merry pranks of a child.
"Coom!" repeated Jessamine,—her 'coom' sounding very like the soft
note of a ring-dove, as she got up from the grassy bed of 'Martha
Dumphy's' everlasting sleep—"It be cool i' th' church,—we'll sit i'
th' poopit an' y' shall tell me a story 'bout Heaven. Y' know all
'bout angels don't 'ee? How they cooms down all in white an kisses us
when we'se in bed asleep? Did ever any of 'em kiss 'ee?"
Lionel's lonely little heart beat strangely. An angel kiss
him!—what a sweet fancy,—but how foolish! Yet with Jessamine's face
so near his own he could not tell her that he did not believe in
angels, she looked so like a little one herself. So he answered her
quaint question with a simple
"I woul' ha' thowt they did,"—continued Jessamine
encouragingly—"Ye bain't a bad boy, be ye?"
Lionel smiled rather plaintively.
"Perhaps I am"—he said,—"and perhaps that's why the angels don't
"My mother's an angel," went on Jessamine, "She couldn't abear
bein' away from God no longer, an' so she flew to Heaven one night
quite suddint, with big white wings an' a star on her head. Feyther
says she often flies doon jes' for a minute like, an' kisses 'im, an'
me too, when we'se asleep. Auntie Kate takes care of us since she
"Then she is dead?" queried Lionel.
"Nowt o' that,"—replied Jessamine peacefully, "Hasn't I told 'ee
she's an angel?"
"But have you ever seen her since she went away?" persisted the
"No. I bain't good enough,"—and a small sigh of pathetic
self-reproach heaved the baby breast—"I'se very little yet, an' bad
offen. But I'll see her some day for sure."
Lionel could find nothing to say to this, and in another minute they
had entered the church together. The subtle sweet fragrance of the
'big lilies on th' Lord's table' came floating towards them on a cool
breath of air as the heavy old oaken door swung open and closed again,
and they paused in the aisle, hand in hand, looking gravely up and
down,—first at the tall white flowers that filled the gilt vases on
either side of the altar, mystically suggesting in their snowy
stateliness, the words 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall
see God';—then, at the patterns of blue, red and amber cast on the
stone pavement by the reflections of the sun through the stained-glass
windows. The ancient roof, with its crookedly planned oak mouldings of
the very earliest English style of architecture, had a grave and
darkening effect on the sunshine, and the solemn hush of the place,
expressive of past prayer, impressed Lionel with a sweet yet
unfamiliar sense of rest. Jessamine grasped his hand closer.
"Coom into th' poopit,"—she whispered—"There be soft cushions
there an' a big big Bible,—I'll show 'ee a pictur,"—here she opened
her eyes very wide—"my pictur!—my own very best pictur!"
Somewhat curious to see this treasure, Lionel climbed with her up
the pulpit-stairs, feeling that he was really having what might be
called an adventure on this his stolen holiday. Jessamine was
evidently quite familiar with the pulpit as a coign of vantage, for
she hauled the big Bible she had spoken of out of its recess with much
care and much breathless labour, and placed it on a velvet cushion on
the floor. Then she curled herself down beside it and, turning over a
few pages, beckoned Lionel to kneel and look also.
"Here 'tis!" she said with a soft chuckle of rapture—"See! See
this prutty boy!—you's somethin' a bit like, aint'y? An' see all
these oogly ole men! They'se wise people, so they thinks. An' th'
prutty boy's tellin' 'em how silly they be, an' aw' in a muddle wi'
their books an' larnin,'—an' how good God is, an' all 'bout
Heaven,—see! An' they'se very angry wi'm an' 'stonished, 'cos He's
onny a boy, an' they'se all ole men as cross as sticks. An' there He
is y'see, an' He knows all about what they oogly men doan't know, 'cos
He's the little Jesus."
The subject of the picture was Christ expounding the Law to the
doctors of the Temple, and Lionel studied it with an almost passionate
interest. Only a boy!—and yet in His boyhood He was able to teach the
would-be wise men of His day! "Though," thought Lionel, with his
usual melancholy cynicism, "perhaps they were not really wise, and
that is why He found it easy."
Meanwhile Jessamine having gloated over her 'own best pictur'
sufficiently, shut the book, put it religiously back in its place, and
sat herself down beside her companion on the top step of the
"Wot's y' name?" she demanded.
"Lionel," he answered.
"Li'nel? How funny! Wot's Li'nel? 'Tain't a flower?"
"No. Your name is a flower."
"'Iss! Our jess'mine tree was all over bloom the mornin' I was
born, an' that's why I'm called Jessamine. I likes my name better'n
"So do I," said Lionel smiling—"Mine is not nearly such a pretty
name. My mother calls me Lylie."
"I likes that,—that's prutty,—I'se call'y Lylie too," declared
Miss Jessamine promptly, and as she spoke she slipped an arm
confidingly round his neck—"You be a nice boy Lylie! Now tell me a
LIONEL gazed at her in deeper perplexity than ever. What story
could he tell her? He knew none that were likely to charm or interest
a creature so extremely young. It was very delightful to feel her warm
chubby arm round his neck, and to see her dear little face so close to
his own, and he thought, as he looked, that he had never seen such
beautiful blue eyes before, not even his mother's, which he had, till
now, considered beautiful enough. But Jessamine's eyes had such
heavenly sweetness in their liquid depths, and something moreover
beyond mere sweetness,—the untroubled light of a spotless innocence
such as sometimes makes the softly-tinted cup of a woodland flower
remind one involuntarily of a child's eyes. Only a very few flowers
convey this impression,—the delicate azure circle of the
hepatica,—the dark purple centre of the pansy,—the pensive blue of
the harebell,—the frank smiling sky-tint of the forget-me-not, or
the iris-veined heart of the Egyptian lotus. But the child-look is in
such blossoms, and we often recognise it when we come suddenly upon
them peering heavenwards out of the green tangles of grass and fern.
Jessamine's eyes were a mixture of grave pansy-hues and laughing
forget-me-nots, and when she smiled both these flowers appeared to
meet with a pretty rivalry in her shining glances. And once again
Lionel thought of Helen of Troy.
"Ain't 'ee got no story?" quoth she presently, after waiting a
patient two minutes—"What book be that there?"
And she put a dumpy little red finger on the copy of Homer left
behind by Willie Montrose and still carried under Lionel's arm.
"It's Homer," replied the boy promptly—"My tutor went away by the
first coach this morning and he forgot to take it with him. It's his
book, and a favourite copy,—I must send it to him by post."
"'Iss,—'ee must send it to him," echoed Jessamine
approvingly—"What be 'Omer?"
"He was a great poet,—the first great poet that ever lived, so far
as history knows, and he was an ancient Greek,"—explained Lionel—"He
lived —oh, ages ago. He tells all about the Trojan wars in this book;
it's an epic."
"What's epik?" inquired Jessamine—"An' what's Drojunwors?"
Lionel laughed softly. The gravity of the old church roof hung over
him, otherwise his laughter would have been less restrained.
"You wouldn't understand it, if I told you, dear," he said,
becoming suddenly protective and manful as he realised her delightful
ignorance and weakness—"Homer was a poet,—do you know what poetry
"'Iss,—'deed I do!" declared Jessamine, allowing her head to droop
caressingly on his shoulder, "I've 'eerd a lot o't. I'll tell you
some,—it be like this—
"Gentle Jesus meek an' mild,
Look upon a little child,
Pity my simplicitie
An' suffer me to come to Thee!"
She looked up as she finished the familiar stanza with one of her
radiant baby smiles.
"Didn't I say that nice?" she demanded.
"Very nice!" murmured Lionel, while thoughts were flying round and
round in his brain concerning the 'semi-barbarians who still believed
in the Christian myth,' which was one of his father's constantly
repeated and favourite phrases.
"Now tell me some more 'Omer an' Drojunwors,"—she said, nestling
against him like a soft kitten—"Is it 'bout angels?"
"No," replied Lionel,—"It is all about great big men,—very
"Too big to get into this church?" queried Jessamine in awe-struck
"Yes—I believe they would have been too big to get into this
church"—said Lionel, smiling involuntarily—"And they all fought
about a lady called Helen, who was the most beautiful woman in the
"Why did she let 'em fight?" asked Jessamine gravely—"She was not
a good lady to let the poor big men fight an' 'urt theirselves for
'er. She should 'ave made 'em all friends."
"She couldn't,"—said Lionel—"You see they
"They must ha' been funny big men!" murmured Jessamine—"Where be
they all now?"
"Oh, dead ever so long ago!" laughed the boy—"Some people say they
never lived at all!"
"Oh then it's all fairy-tale like Puss-in-Boots," said
Jessamine—"Your Drojunwors is a fairy- book like mine. Only I like
Puss-in-Boots better. Do 'ee know my fairy-book?"
Lionel had never had what is called a 'fairy-book' in his life,
fairy-books having been considered by his father in the same light as
that with which Mr. H. Holman, one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of
Schools recently regarded them, publicly denouncing them as
"dangerous to morality and mischievous as to knowledge, contradicting
the most obvious and elementary facts of experience." (Alas, good
Dry-as-Dust Holman! How much thou art to be pitied for never having
been in the least young! And dost thou not realise that Religion
itself in all its forms of creed, 'contradicts the most obvious and
elementary facts of experience'?) The little Lionel was unacquainted
with Mr. Holman, but he knew his own father's stern contempt for
fairy-tales, even for those which have, in many cases, strangely
foretold some of the most brilliant recent discoveries in science, so
he replied to Jessamine's question by a negative shake of his head,
the while he gazed admiringly at the nut-brown curls that rippled in
charming disarray on his shoulder.
"I'll tell 'ee somethin' in it,"—she continued, with the thinking
dreamy air of a child-angel rapt in some sublime reverie—"There wos
once a little girl an' a little boy,—'bout s' big as we be,—they wos
good an' prutty, an' they'd got a bad, bad ole uncle. He couldn't
abide 'em 'cos they wos s' good an' 'e wos s' bad; so one day 'e took
'em out in a great big dark wood where no sun couldn't shine, an'
there 'e lost 'em both. An' when they wos lost, they walked 'bout, up
an' down, an' couldn't get out nohow, an' they got tired an' 'ungry,
an' so they laid down an' said their prayers, an' put their arms round
each other's necks,—so—"and here Jessamine cuddled closer—"an'
died jest right off, an' God took 'em straight to Heaven. An' then all
the robin redbreasts i' th' wood were sorry 'bout it, an' they came
an' covered 'em all over wi' beautiful red an' green leaves, 'cos God
told the robins to bury 'em jest so, 'cos they wos good an' their ole
uncle wos bad, an' the robins did jest what God told 'em." Her voice
died away in a soft croodling whisper, and her eyelids drooped. "Was
that a nice story?" she asked.
"Very!" responded Lionel almost paternally, feeling quite old and
wise, as he ventured now to put his own arm round her.
"I fink," murmured Jessamine then—"that 'oor bad ole Drojunwors
'as made me sleepy."
And as a matter of fact, in a couple of minutes, the little maiden
was fast asleep, her pretty mouth half open like a tiny rosebud, and
the light rise and fall of her breathing suggesting the delicate
palpitations of a dove's breast. Lionel sat very quiet, still
encircling her with his arm, and looked dreamily about him. He studied
the altar-screen immediately in front of him, regarding with somewhat
of a gravely inquiring air the ancient, roughly carved oaken figures
of the twelve apostles that partly formed it. He knew all about them
of course,—that they were originally common fishermen picked up on
the shores of Galilee by Jesus the son of Joseph the carpenter, and
that they went about with Him everywhere, while He preached the new
strange Gospel of Love which seemed like madness to a world of
contention, envy and malice. They were just poor ordinary men;—not
kings,—not warriors,—not nobly born,—not distinguished for either
learning or courage,—and yet they had become far greater in history
than any monarch that ever lived,—they were evangelists, saints, nay
almost secondary gods in the opinion of a section of "semi-barbaric"
mankind. It was very strange!—very strange indeed, thought Lionel as
he gazed earnestly at their quaint wooden faces,—and stranger still
that a mere man who was a carpenter's son, should have made the larger
and more civilised portion of humanity believe in Him as God, for more
than eighteen hundred years! What had He done? Why nothing,—but good.
What had He taught? Nothing—but purity and unselfishness. What was
He? A determined reformer, who strove to upset the hard and fast laws
of Jewish tradition, and unite all classes in one broad and holy creed
of love to God and Brotherhood,—a union of the Divine and Human which
should ultimately lead to perfection. Even the various tutors who had
taken their several turns at setting poor Lionel's little mind like a
knife to the grindstone of learning, had been unable to say otherwise
than that this Nazarene carpenter's son was good and wise and brave.
In goodness none ever surpassed Him,—that was certain. Socrates was
wise and brave,—but he was not actually good;—many sins could be
laid to his charge, and the same could be asserted of all the other
famous moralists and philosophers who had essayed to teach the various
successive generations of men. But against Christ, nothing could be
said. True, He denounced the Jewish priesthood on the score that they
were hypocrites; "and surely,"—thought Lionel with a prescience
beyond his years, "He would have to denounce the Christian priesthood
too, if it is true, as my father says, that they all preach what they
don't believe, simply to gain a living." He sighed,—and his eyes
wandered to the 'big lilies on th' Lord's table' with a wistful
yearning. Those great white cups of fragrance!—with what sweet pride
they stood up, each on its green stem, and silently breathed out
praise to the Creator of their loveliness! "Behold the lilies of the
field!—they toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you
that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." How
true that was! Put 'Solomon in all his glory' or any monarch that
ever existed beside 'one of these' tall fair flowers, and he in his
coronation-robes and crown, would seem but a mere doll-puppet decked
out in tawdry tinsel. Lionel drew the little Jessamine closer to him
as she slept, and sighed again,—the unconscious sigh of a tired young
thing overweighted with thought, and longing for rest and tenderness.
The summer sunlight streamed down upon the two children with a broad
beneficence, as though the love of Christ for the weak and helpless
were mixed with the golden rays,—as though the very silence and
purity of the light expressed the Divine meaning,—"These 'little
ones' are Mine as the lilies are Mine! Suffer them to come to Me and
forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven." And as Lionel
mused and dreamed, becoming gradually drowsy himself, the church-door
swung softly open, and Reuben Dale the verger entered, with another
and younger man, who carried a roll of music under his arm, and who
immediately ascended alone to the organ-loft. Dale meanwhile paused,
lifting his cap reverently, and looking about him in evident search
for his little girl. Lionel beckoned to him from the pulpit-stairs, at
the same time laying a finger on his lips to intimate that Jessamine
was asleep. Honest Reuben advanced on tip-toe, and surveyed the two
small creatures encircled in one another's arms, with undisguised and
"Now that's jest prutty!" he murmured inaudibly to himself—"An' as
nat'ral as two young burrds! An' yon poor pale little lad looks a'most
as if he was 'appy for once in's life!"
At that moment a solemn chord of sound stirred the air,—the
organist had commenced his daily practice, and was deftly unweaving
the melodious intricacies of a stately fugue of Bach's, made doubly
rich in tone by the grave pedal-bass with which it was sustained and
accompanied. Lionel started,—and Jessamine awoke. Rubbing her chubby
little fists into her eyes, she sat up, yawned and stared,—then
smiled bewitchingly as she saw her father.
"We wos babes i' th' wood"—she explained sweetly—"An' we wos
waitin' fur the robins to come an' cover us up. Onny I 'specs they
couldn't git froo th' windows to bring th' leaves."
"I 'specs not indeed!" said Dale, the kind smile broadening on his
mouth and lighting up his fine eyes—"Now ye jest coom out o' that
there poopit, ye little pixie—it's dinner-time, an' we'se goin'
Jessamine rose promptly and skipped down the pulpit-stairs, Lionel
"Coom along wi' us,"—she said taking him affectionately by the
arm—"Ain't 'e a'-coomin' feyther?—'e be a rare nice boy!"
"If s' be as 'e likes to coom, why sartinly an' welcome!" responded
Reuben,—"But he's a little gemmun as 'as got a feyther an' mother o's
own, an' mebbe they wants 'im."
Lionel stood silent and inert. They were going away 'home,'—this
cheery verger and his pretty child,—and the old creeping sense of
oppression and loneliness stole over the boy's mind and chilled his
heart. The music surging out from the organ-loft moved him strangely
to thoughts hitherto unfamiliar,—and he thought he would stay alone
in the church and listen, and try to understand the subtle meaning of
such glorious, yet wordless eloquence. It seemed like angels
singing,—only there were no angels!—it made one fancy the gates of
Heaven were open,—only there was no Heaven!—it suggested God's great
voice speaking tenderly,—only there was no God! A deep sigh broke
from him,—and all unconsciously two big tears rose in his eyes, and
splashed down wet and glistening on his little blue woollen vest. In a
second the impulsive Jessamine had thrown her arms about him.
"O don't 'ee ky!" she crooned fondly in his ear—"We'se both goin'
'ome wi' feyther, an' 'e'll be kind t' ye! An' when we've 'ad our
dinner I'll show 'ee my dee ole 'oss!—such a nice ole 'oss 'e
Despite himself Lionel laughed, though his lips still trembled. Poor
boy, he could hardly himself understand the cause of his own
emotion,—why his heart had given that sudden heave of pain,—why the
tears had come,—or why he had felt so desolately, sorrowfully alone
in a huge, cold, pitiless world,—but he was grateful to Jessamine all
the same for her sympathy. Reuben Dale meanwhile had been studying him
gravely and curiously.
"Would 'ee reely like to coom an' take a snack wi' us, little zur?"
he asked gently and with a certain deference—"Ours is onny a poor
cottage, ye know, an' sadly out o' repair,—we'se 'ad no lord o' th'
manor coom nigh us for many a year to look arter us an' see how we be
a-farin',—none o' them fine folks cares for either our souls or
bodies, purvidin' they gits their money out o' our labour an' worrit.
All we 'as by way o' remembrance from 'em is a 'love-letter' twice a
year a-claimin' o' their rent,—they never fails to send us that
'ffectionate message"—and his eyes twinkled humorously—"but as fur
puttin' a new fence or a new roof or makin' of us comfortabler like
for our money, Lor' bless 'ee, they never thinks o't. But if ye'll
take us as ye find us, ye'll be right welcome to coom on an' play wi'
Jessamine a bit longer."
"Thank you very much,—I should dearly like to come,"—said Lionel
wistfully—"You see I am all alone just now,—my tutor went away this
morning, and another tutor is coming to-night to take his place,—but
in the meantime there is nothing for me to do, as the plan of my
studies is going to be changed,—it is always being changed,—and so I
may as well be here as at home. I am giving myself a holiday
to-day"—here he raised his eyes and looked Reuben Dale straight in
the face—"and I wish to tell you Mr. Dale, that I am doing it
without my father's knowledge or permission. I am so tired of
books!—and I love to be out in the fresh air. Of course now you know
this, you mayn't wish to have me, but then if you will please say so,
I will go into the woods for the rest of the day, or stay by myself in
the church. I should like to see more of the church,—it interests
Dale regarded the little fellow steadfastly, first in doubt and
perplexity—then with a broadening smile
"Tired o' books, be 'ee?" he queried—"Well!—ye're young enough,
sure-ly! An' books can wait awhile for ye. Reyther than go
wanderin' i' th' woods by y'self, ye'd better coom along wi' me an'
Jessamine,—onny mind, ye must tell yer feyther where ye ha'
been,—ye must be sartin zure o' that!"
"Of course I'll tell him,"—responded Lionel manfully—"I always
tell him everything, no matter how angry he is. You see he is very
often angry, whatever I do or say,—though he means it all for my
good. He is a very good man,—he has never done anything wrong in all
"Ay, ay! Then he's jest a miracle!" said Reuben drily,—"Well now,
little zur, 'fore we goes, I'll take ye round th' church,—there ain't
much to see, but what there is I know more about than any one else in
Combmartin. Coom!—look at these 'ere altar-gates."
He spoke in soft tones, and trod softly as befitted the sanctity of
the place,—and the two children followed him, hand in hand, as he
approached the oaken screen and pointed out the twelve apostles carved
"Now do 'ee know, little zur," said he, "why this 'ere carvin' is
at least two hunner' years old—an' likely more'n that?"
"No," answered Lionel, squeezing Jessamine's little warm hand in
his own, out of sheer comfort at feeling that he was not to be
separated from her yet.
"Jest watch these 'ere gates as I pull 'em to an' fro,"
*—continued Reuben,—"Do what ye will wi' 'em, they won't
shut,—see!" and he proved the fact beyond dispute,—"That shows they
wos made 'fore the days o' Cromwell. For in they times all the gates
o' th' altars was copied arter the pattern o' Scripture which
sez—'An' the gates o' Heaven shall never be shut, either by day or by
night.' Then when Cromwell came an' broke up the statues, an' tore
down the picters or whited them out wheresever they wos on th' walls,
the altars was made different, wi' gates that shut an' locked,—I
s'pose 'e was that sing'ler afraid of idolatry that 'e thought the
folks might go an' worship th' Communion cup on th' Lord's table. So
now ye'll be able to tell when ye sees the inside of a church, whether
the altar-gates is old or new, by this one thing,—if they can't shut,
they're 'fore Cromwell's day,—if they can, they're wot's called
modern gimcrackery. Now, see the roof!"
Lionel looked up, much impressed by the verger's learning.
* The description of Combmartin Church in these pages is given as
nearly as possible in the words of the verger, one James Norman, (may
he long enjoy his cheerful, manly and contented life!) who, all
unconsciously, "sat" to the author last summer for the portrait of
"Folks 'as bin 'ere an' said quite wise-like—'O that roof's quite
modern,'—but 'tain't nuthin' o' th' sort. See them oak
mouldings?—not one o' them's straight,—not a line! They couldn't
get 'em exact in them days,—they wosn't clever enough. So they're all
crooked an' 'bout as old as th' altar-screen,—mebbe older, for if ye
stand 'ere jest where I be, ye'll see they all bend more one way than
t'other, makin' the whole roof look lop-sided like, an' why's that
d'ye think? Ye can't tell? Well, they'd a reason for what they did in
them there old times, an' a sentiment too,—an' they made the churches
lean a bit to the side on which our Lord's head bent on the Cross when
He said 'It is finished!' Ye'll find nearly all th' old churches lean
a bit that way,—it's a sign of age, as well as a sign o' faith. Now
look at these 'ere figures on the pews,—ain't they all got their 'eds
Lionel admitted that they had, with a grave little nod,—Jessamine,
who copied his every gesture for the moment, nodded too.
"That wos Cromwell's doin',"—went on Reuben,—"'E an' 'is men wos
consumed-like wi' what they called the fury o' holiness, an' they
thought all these figures wos false gods and sym- bols of idolatry,
an' they jest cut their 'eds off,—executed 'em as 'twere, like King
Charles hisself. Now look up there,"—and he pointed to a narrow
window on the left-hand side of the chancel—"There's a prutty colour
comin' through that bit o' glass! It's the only mossel o' real old
stained glass i' th' church,—an' it's a rare sight older than the
church itself. D'ye know how to tell old stained glass from new? No?
Well, I'll tell ye. When it's old it's very thick,—an' if ye put your
hand on its wrong side it's rough,—very rough, jest as if 'twere
covered wi' baked cinders,—that's allus a sure an' sartin proof o'
great age. Modern stained glass ye'll find a'most as smooth an'
polished on its wrong side as on its right. Now, if ye coom into th'
vestry I'll show ye the real old chest what wos used for Peter's pence
when we wos under Papist rule."
He led the way across the central aisle,—Lionel followed,
interested and curious, thinking meanwhile that this handsome
white-haired verger could not exactly be called a stupid man, or even
a 'semi-barbarian,'—he was decidedly intelligent, and seemed to know
something about the facts of history.
"There's an old door fur ye!" he said with almost an air of triumph
as he paused on the vestry threshold and rapped his fingers lightly on
the thick oak panels of the ancient portal—"That's older than
anything in the church—I shouldn't a bit wonder if it came out o'
some sacred place o' Norman worship,—it looks like it. An' here's
th' old key"—and he held up a quaint and heavy iron implement that
looked more like a screw-driver with a cross handle than anything
else,—"An' here's Peter's little money-box,"—showing a ponderous oak
chest some five feet long and three feet high—"That 'ud 'old a rare
sight o' pennies, wouldn't it! Now don't you two chillern go a-tryin'
to lift the lid, for it's mortal 'eavy, an' it 'ud crush your little
'an's to pulp in a minnit. I'll let ye see the inside o't,—there
And with a powerful effort of his sinewy arms he threw it open,
disclosing its black worm-eaten interior, with a few old bits of
tarnished silver lying at the bottom, the fragments of a long disused
Communion-service. Lionel and Jessamine peered down at these with
"Lor' bless me!" said Reuben then, laughing a little,—"There's a
deal o' wot I calls silly faith left in some o' they good Papist folk
still. There wos a nice ole leddy cam' 'ere last summer, an' she
believed that Peter hisself cam' down from Heaven o' nights, an' tuk
all the money offered 'im, specially pennies, fur they'se the coins
chiefly mentioned i' th' Testament, an' she axed me to let 'er put a
penny in,—I s'pose she thought the saint might be in want o't. 'For,
my good man,' sez she to me, ''ave you never 'eerd that St. Peter
still visits th' world, an' when he cooms down 'ere, it may be he
might need this penny o' mine to buy bread.' 'Do as ye like marm,'
sez I,—'it don't make no difference to me I'm sure!' Well, she put
the penny in, bless 'er 'art!—an' this Christmas past I wos
a-cleanin' an' rubbin' up everything i' th' church, an' in dustin'
out this 'ere box, there I saw that penny,—St. Peter 'adn't come
arter it! So I just tuk it!" and he chuckled softly—"I tuk it
an' giv' it to a poor old beggar-man outside the church-gate, so I
played Peter fur once i' my life, an' not s' badly I 'ope, but wot I
shall be furgiven!"
The smile deepened at the corners of his mouth and sparkled in his
fine eyes as he shut the great coffer, and stood up in all his manly
height and breadth, surveying the two small creatures beside him.
"Well, do 'ee like th' old church, little zur? he asked of Lionel,
whose face expressed an intense and melancholy gravity.
"Indeed I do!" answered the boy—"But I think I like the music even
better,—listen! What is that?" And he held up one hand with a gesture
of rapt attention.
"That's the hymn we allus sings on Harvest Thanksgiving
Sunday,—'Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, Early in the morning
our song shall rise to Thee,'"—replied Reuben—"It's a rare fine
tune, an' fills th' heart as well as th' voice. Now little 'uns, coom
'ome to dinner!"
They passed out of the church into the warm sunlit air, fragrant
with the scent of roses, sweet-briar and wild thyme, and drowsy with
the hum of honey-seeking bees, Reuben Dale calling Lionel's attention
as he went, to a great iron ring which was attached to the ancient
door of entrance.
"Could 'ee tell me wot that ring's there for?" he demanded.
Lionel shook his head.
"Well, ye must ha' read in yer hist'ry books 'bout sanctuary
privilege,"—said Reuben—"When any poor wretched thief or mis'rable
sinner wos bein' a-hunted through the country by all the townspeople
an' officers o' justice 'e 'ad but to make straight for th'
church-door an' ketch 'old of a ring like this an' 'e wos safe. It
wos 'sanctuary'—an' no one dussn't lay a finger on 'im. 'Twos a rare
Christian custom,—it wos a'most as if 'e 'ad laid 'old of our dear
Saviour's garment, an' found the mercy as wos never denied by Him to
the weakest and wretchedest among us,"—concluded Reuben piously,
raising his cap as he spoke and looking up at the bright sky with a
rapt expression, as though he saw an angel of protection there—"An'
that's the meaning o' th' iron ring."
Lionel said nothing, but his thoughts were very busy. He was only a
small boy, but his store of purely scientific information was great,
and yet he knew not whether to pity or envy this 'semi-barbarian' for
his simple beliefs. "I should not like to tell him that all the clever
men nowadays say that Christ is a myth"—he considered seriously, "I
am sure it would vex him."
So he walked on soberly silent, holding the hand of the little
Jessamine who was equally mute, and Reuben led the way out of the
churchyard, across the high road, and up a narrow street full of
old-fashioned, gable-windowed, crookedly-built houses, which at first
sight appeared to lean over one another in a curiously lop-sided
helpless way, as though lacking proper foundation and support. At one
of these, standing by itself in a little patch of neatly trimmed
garden, and covered with clusters of full-flowering jessamine and
wistaria, Dale stopped, and rapped on the door with his knuckles. It
was opened at once by a clean, mild-featured elderly dame in a
particularly large white apron, who opened her lack-lustre yet kindly
eyes in great astonishment at the sight of Lionel.
"Auntie Kate! Auntie Kate!" exclaimed Jessamine eagerly—"This be a
little gemmun boy,—nice an' prutty 'e be!—we'se been playin' babes
i' th' wood an' Drojunwors all th' mornin', an' we'se goin' to 'ave
our dinner an' see my ole 'oss arterwards!"
Auntie Kate did her best to understand this brilliant explanation on
the part of her small niece, but failing to entirely grasp its
meaning, looked to Reuben for further enlightenment.
"This is Master Valliscourt,"—said the verger then,—"The little
son o' the gemmun wot 'as took the big 'ouse yonder for summer. He's
bin fagged-like wi's lessons, an' 'e's just out on the truant as boys
will be at times when they've got any boyhood in 'em;—giv' 'im a bit
an' a sup wi' us Kitty, an' 'e'll play a while longer wi' Jessamine
'fore 'e goes 'ome."
Auntie Kate nodded and smiled,—then in deference to 'Master
"Coom in, sir!—coom in, an' right welcome!" said she—"Sit 'ee
down, an' make 'eeself comfortable. Dinner's ready, an' there's naught
to wait for but jest to let Reuben wash 'is 'ands an' ask a blessin.'
Now my Jessamine girl, take off your bonnit an' sit down prutty!"
Jessamine obeyed, dragging off the becoming white sun-bonnet in such
haste that she nearly tore one of her own brown curls away with it.
Lionel uttered an exclamation of pain at the sight, and went to detach
the rebellious tress from the string with which it had become knotted.
He succeeded in his effort, and when the bonnet was fairly taken off,
he thought the little maid looked prettier than ever, with her rough
tumbled locks falling about her and her rosy face like a blossom in
the midst of the chestnut tangle. Throwing off his own cap he sat down
beside her at the table, which was covered with a coarse but clean
cloth, and garnished with black-handled steel forks and spoons, and so
waited patiently till Reuben came in from the washing of his hands,
which he did very speedily. Auntie Kate then lifted off the fire a
black pot, steaming with savoury odours, and poured out into a
capacious blue dish a mixture of meat and vegetables,—(more
vegetables than meat) and set round plates to match the dish. Reuben
stood up and bowed his head reverently; "For what we are going to
receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful!" said he, and
Jessamine's sweet little cooing voice answered "Amen!" Whereupon they
began the meal, which though so poor and plain, was good and
wholesome. Auntie Kate was no mean cook, and she was famous in the
village for a certain make of 'pear cordial,' a glass of which she
poured out for Lionel, curtseying as she did so, and requesting him to
taste it. He found it delicious; and he likewise discovered, to his
own surprise, that he had an appetite. It was very remarkable, he
thought, that Reuben Dale's frugal fare should have a better flavour
than anything he had ever had at his own father's luxuriously
appointed table. He did not realise that the respite from study, the
temporary liberty he was enjoying, and the romp with Jessamine, had
all given room for his physical nature to breathe and expand; and a
sense of the actual pleasure of life when lived healthily, had roused
his exhausted faculties to new and delightful vigour. With this
momentary development of natural youthful energy had come the appetite
he wondered at, when the simplest food seemed exquisite, and Auntie
Kate's 'pear cordial' suggested the ambrosial nectar quaffed by the
gods of Olympus. The dinner over, Reuben Dale again stood up, and said
"For what we have received, may the Lord make us truly thankful!" and
once more his little girl responded demurely "Amen!" Then he proceeded
to fill and smoke a pipe, before returning to the churchyard to
complete the digging of 'Mother Twiley's' last resting-place, and
Jessamine, still wearing the 'pinny' her aunt had tied round her while
she ate her dinner, seized Lionel by the hand and dragged him off to
the 'back yard' which was half garden, half shed, where Reuben kept
his tools, and where a couple of smart bantams with their clucking
little harem of prettily-feathered wives and favourites, strutted
about behind a wire netting and imagined themselves the rulers of the
"Coom an' see my ole 'oss!" said Jessamine excitedly—"Such a good
ole 'oss 'e be! 'Ere 'e is!—a-hidin' behin' th' wall! See 'im? O my
bee—oo—ful ole 'oss!"
And she threw her arms round the neck of the quadruped in question,
which was nothing else but a battered wooden toy that had evidently
once been a gallant steed on 'rockers,' but which now, without either
mane, tail, or eyes, and with only three shaky legs and a stump of
wood to support it, presented a very sorry spectacle indeed. But to
Jessamine this 'ole 'oss' was apparently the flower of all creation,
for she hugged it and kissed its pale nose, from which the paint had
long since been washed off by wind and weather, with quite a passionate
dee 'ole 'oss!" she murmured tenderly, patting its
hairless neck,—"Do 'ee know why I loves 'ee? 'Cos 'ee's poor an' ole,
an' no one wants to ride 'ee now but Jessamine! Jessamine can git on
'ee's poor ole back wizout 'urtin' of 'ee, good ole 'oss! Kiss
'im, won't 'ee?" she added, turning to Lionel, "Do 'ee kiss
'im!—it makes 'im feel comfortabler now 'e's poor an' ole!"
Who could resist such an appeal! Who would refuse to embrace a
superannuated wooden rocking-horse, described with so much sweetly
pitiful fervour as 'poor an' ole,' and therefore in need of
affectionate consolement! Not Lionel,—despite the many learned books
he had studied, he fully entered into the spirit of all this childish
nonsense, and bending over the dilapidated toy, he kissed its wan nose
with ardour in his turn.
"That's right!" cried Jessamine, clapping her hands
delightedly—"Now 'e feels 'appy! Now 'e'll give us a ride!
And forthwith she clambered up on the gaunt, worn back of her
beloved steed, showing a pair of little innocent looking white legs as
she did so, and jerked herself up and down to imitate a gallop.
"Ain't 'e goin' well!" she exclaimed breathlessly,—her hair
blowing in a golden-brown tangle behind her, and her cheeks becoming
rosier than the rosiest apples with her exertions, while the laughter
in her pretty eyes rivalled the brightness of the sunlight playing
round her—"Oh 'e be a rare nice ole 'oss! Now, Lylie, 'ee must git up
an' 'ave a ride!"
Lionel started at the sound of his mother's pet name for him,—then
he remembered he had told it to Jessamine, and smiled as he thought
how sweet it sounded from her lips. And he answered gently,
"I'm afraid I'm too big, dear! Your horse couldn't carry me,—I
might hurt him."
"O no, 'ee won't 'urt 'im!" declared Jessamine, springing lightly
to the ground—"Try an' git on 'im!—I'se sure 'ee'll be good t'ye!"
Thus adjured, Lionel threw a leg across the passive toy, and
pretended to ride at full gallop as Jessamine had done, much to the
little maiden's delight. She danced about and shrieked with ecstasy,
till the bantams behind the wire netting evidently thought the end of
the world had come, for they ran to and fro, clucking in the wildest
excitement, no doubt imploring their special deities to protect them
from the terrible human thing that showed its white legs and danced in
the sun almost as if it had as good a right to live as a well-bred
fowl. Reuben Dale, hearing the uproar and having finished his pipe,
came out to see what was going on, and laughed almost as much as the
children did, now and then playfully urging the wooden steed to a
wilder exhibition of its 'mettle' by a stentorian "Gee-up Dobbin!"
which rather added to the general hilarity of the scene. When the
game was quite over, and Lionel, flushed and full of merriment,
resigned the 'ole 'oss' to Jessamine, who at once offered it a handful
of hay and whispered tender nothings in its broken ear, the verger
"Now, my little zur, I'm a-goin' back to my work i' th' churchyard,
for I must finish Mother Twiley's bed 'fore nightfall. Ye'll find me
there if ye'se want me. If s'be ye care to stay on wi' Jessamine a
bit, ye can,—she's a lonesome little un' since 'er mother went to
God,—and mebbe you're lonesome too,—a little play'll do neither o'
ye 'arm, an' Auntie Kate's i' th' 'ouse all day, an' she'll look
arter ye. But ye mustn't be away too long from yer feyther an'
mother,—ye must git 'ome 'fore the sun sets, my lad,—promise me
"Yes, Mr. Dale, I promise:—and thank you!" responded Lionel
eagerly—"I've had such a happy time!—you don't know how happy! I may
come again some day and see you and Jessamine, mayn't I?"
"Why sartin zure ye may!" said Reuben heartily, "Purvidin' they
makes no objections at your own 'ome, little zur,—ye must make that
clear an' straight fust."
"Oh yes!—Of course!" murmured the boy,—but a shadow clouded his
hitherto bright face. He knew well enough that if his father were
asked about it, not only the acquaintance, but also the very sight of
the kindly verger and his pretty child would be altogether forbidden
him. However he said nothing of this, and Reuben after a few more
cheery words, strode off to the resumption of his labours. With his
departure a silence fell on the two little creatures left alone
together; the excitement engendered by the 'ole 'oss' had its
reaction, and Jessamine grew serious, even sad.
"I fink I wants my sun-bonnet,"—she remarked in an injured
tone—"My facey burns."
Lionel ran into the house at once, and obtained the desired
head-gear from Auntie Kate, whereupon Miss Jessamine adjusted it
sideways, and peered at him in a sudden fit of shyness.
"'Specs 'eed better go 'ome now,"—she said severely—"You'se tired
of me an' my ole 'oss,—I sees you'se tired!"
"Tired, Jessamine! Indeed I'm not tired,—I'll play with you ever
so long!—as long as you like. What shall we do now?"
"Nuffink!" replied the little lady, putting the string of her
bonnet in her mouth, which was a favourite habit of hers, and still
regarding him with an odd mixture of coyness and affection;—then,
with sudden and almost defiant energy she added—"I knows
you'se tired of me, Lylie!"
dear!" expostulated Lionel, with quite a
lover-like ardour, as he saw that the tiny maiden was inclined to be
petulant—"Come and sit under that beautiful big apple-tree!"
"My big apple-tree!" put in Jessamine, with an air of grave
correction—"That's my tree, Lylie!"
"That's why it's such a nice one,"—declared Lionel gallantly,
taking her little hand in his own,—"Come along and let us sit there,
and you'll tell me another story, or I'll tell you one. You know I'm
going away very soon, and perhaps I shall never see you again."
He sighed quite unconsciously as he said this, and Jessamine looked
up at him with eyes that were angelically lovely in their momentary
"Will 'ee be sorry?" she asked.
"Very sorry!" he answered—"Dreadfully sorry!"
Jessamine's doubtful humour passed at this assurance, and she
allowed him to lead her unresistingly to the big apple-tree which was
the chief ornament of Reuben Dale's back garden,—her tree,
against whose gnarled trunk a rough wooden seat was set for shelter
"I'll be sorry too!" she confessed—"'Specs I'll ky when you'se
There was something touching in this remark, or they found it
so,—and a deep silence followed. They sat down side by side, under
the spreading apple-boughs laden with ruddy fruit that shone with a
bright polish in the hot glow of the afternoon sun, and holding each
other's hands, were very quiet, while round and round them flew
butterflies and bees, all intent on business or love-making; and a
linnet who had just cooled his throat at the bantams' water-trough,
alighted on an opposite twig and essayed a soft cadenza. There
were a thousand sweet suggestions in the warm air,—too subtle for the
young things who sat so demurely together hand in hand, to perceive or
comprehend;—the beautiful things of God and Nature, which wordlessly
teach the eternal though unheeded lesson, that happiness and good are
the chief designs and ultimate ends of all creation,—and that only
Man's perverted will, working for solely selfish purposes, makes havoc
of all that should be pure and fair. Yet even children have certain
meditative moments, when they are vaguely conscious of some great
Beneficence ruling their destinies,—and some of them have been known
at a very early age to express the wonder as to why God should be so
good, and their own parents so bad!
"What will 'ee do when 'ee gits 'ome?" inquired Jessamine
presently,—"Will 'ee ky?"
Lionel smiled rather bitterly. "No Jessamine, it would never do for
me to cry,"—he said—"I'm too big."
"Too big!" she echoed—"You'se onny a
weeny bit bigger 'n
me! An' I'se little."
"Yes, but you're a girl,"—said Lionel,—"Girls can cry if they
like,—but boys mustn't. I do cry sometimes though, when I'm all by
"I seed 'ee ky to-day;" observed Jessamine gravely—"I' th'
church,—jest 'fore we came 'ome to dinner. What did 'ee ky then for?"
"It was the music I think,"—answered Lionel with a far-away look
in his deep-set eyes—"I'm very fond of music, but it always seems sad
to me. My mother sings beautifully, but somehow I can never bear to
hear her sing,—it makes me feel so lonely."
Jessamine gazed at him sympathetically. He was surely a very strange
and funny boy to feel 'lonely' because his mother sang. Presently she
essayed another topic.
"I knows th' big 'ouse where 'ee lives,"—she announced—"There's a
'ole in th' 'edge, an' I can creep froo,—into th' big garden! I'll
coom an' see 'oor muzzer!"
This statement of her intentions rather startled Lionel. He looked
earnestly into her sweet blue eyes.
"You mustn't do that, Jessamine dear!" he said sadly—"You would
get scolded I'm afraid. My mother would not scold you,—but I expect
my father would."
Jessamine put a finger into her mouth and sucked it solemnly for a
minute,—then spoke with slightly offended dignity.
"'Oor feyther's a bad ole man!" she said calmly—"Onny a bad ole
man would scold me, 'cos I allus tries to be good. My feyther
never scolds me, nor my ole 'oss neither."
Lionel was silent. She cuddled closer to him.
"I muss see 'ee 'gain, Lylie!" she crooned
plaintively—"Doesn't 'ee want to see me no more?"
Her baby voice was inexpressibly sweet as she pathetically asked
this question, and Lionel, unaccustomed as he was to any kind of
affectionate demonstration, felt a strange beating of his young heart
as he looked down at the small child-face that was turned so wistfully
"Yes, dear dear little Jessamine, I do want to see you again, and I
will see you,—I'll come as often as ever I can!" and daring
thoughts of shirking his tasks and eluding Professor Cadman-Gore's
eye, flitted through his brain, in the same way as the scaling of
walls and the ascending of fortified towers have suggested themselves
to more mature adventurers as worthy deeds to be accomplished in the
pursuit of the fair. "I'll come and play with you whenever I can get
away from my lessons,—I promise!"
"'Iss,—do!" said Jessamine coaxingly—"'Cos I likes 'ee, Lylie,—I
doesn't like any other boys ere,—they'se all oogly. You'se
prutty,—an'—an' I fink I'se prutty too!—sometimes!"
Oh small witch! That 'sometimes' was the very essence of delicate
coquetry, and accompanied, as it was, by a little smile and arch
upward twinkle of the blue eyes, was irresistibly fascinating. Lionel
felt, though he knew not why, that this little damsel must be
kissed,—kissing seemed imperative,—yet how was it to be done?
"You are very pretty, Jessamine dear," he said, with a winsome
mingling of boldness and timidity, "You are just as pretty as a
flower!" Jessamine nodded in serene self-complacency, while her
youthful admirer peered at her close-curved red lips much as a bird
might look at a ripe cherry, and was silent so long that at last she
gazed straight up into his eyes, the heavenly blue of her own shining
with a beautiful wonder.
"What's 'ee thinkin' 'bout, Lylie?" she asked.
"You, Jessamine!" the boy answered tenderly, "I was thinking about
you,—and the flowers."
And bending down his curly head he kissed her,—and the little
maiden, nestling closer, kissed him innocently back again. Overhead
the fragrant apple-branches swung their sweet burden of ruddy fruit
and green leaf to and fro with a soft rustle in the summer breeze, and
the linnet who lived in the topmost bough carolled his unpretentious
little song, and the fairness of the world as God made it, seemed to
surround with an enchanted atmosphere the two children who, drawn thus
together by the bond of a summer-day's comradeship and affection, were
happy as they never would be again. For the world as God made it, is
one thing,—but the world as Man mars it, is another,—and life for
all the little feet that are to trudge wearily after us in the hard
paths which we in our arrogant egoist-generation, have strewn for them
so thick with stones and thorns, offers such a bitter and cruel
prospect, that it is almost a matter of thanksgiving when the great
Angel of Death, moved perchance by a vast pity, gently releases some
of the fairest and tenderest of our children from our merciless
clutches, and restores them to that Divine Master and Lover of pure
souls, who said—"Take heed that ye despise not one of these little
ones, for I say unto you that in heaven their angels do always behold
the face of My Father."
THE sun was well-nigh upon sinking, when Lionel, walking slowly
and with reluctant steps, returned to his home. As he approached the
house he saw his mother at the entrance gate, apparently waiting for
him. Looking at her from a little distance he thought how very
beautiful she was,—more beautiful than ever he had quite realised her
to be. Her rich hair shone in the brilliant sun-glow with wonderful
golden glints and ripples, and her eyes were lustrous with a dreamy
tenderness, which softened and grew deeper as he came up to where she
stood. She stretched out her hand to him,—a delicate little hand,
white as a white rose-petal, and sparkling with the rare diamond rings
that adorned the taper fingers.
"Why Lylie, where have you been all day?" she asked gently—"Your
father's very angry; he has been searching for you everywhere and
making all sorts of inquiries in the village. Some one has told him
that you were at the inn this morning, seeing Mr. Montrose off by the
early coach, and that afterwards you ran away with some common boys to
play hide-and-seek; is that true?"
"No, mother, it isn't true,"—the boy answered quietly—"Not
altogether. I did go to see Mr. Montrose off by coach,—that's correct
enough; but I never ran away to play hide-and-seek with any common
boys,—if I had wanted to, they wouldn't have had me, I daresay. I
don't play games; you know that; there's no one to play them with me.
I fancied I would like to stroll about all by myself,—I was tired of
books,—so I went into the old churchyard and found the sexton there
at work digging a grave, and he is such a nice old man that I stayed
there and talked to him. Then his little girl came to bring him his
coffee, and I went with her inside the church, and Mr. Dale,—that's
the sexton,—showed me all over it and explained all the old
historical bits,—and then he asked me to his house to dinner. I
thought it very kind of him, and I was pleased to go. I've just come
from there, and that's the truth, mother, exactly as it happened."
Mrs. Valliscourt slipped her arm round his neck. She was smiling to
herself rather oddly.
"Poor Lylie!" she said caressingly—"So you were really tired, were
you, and determined to have a real good time for once in your own way?
Well, I don't blame you! I should do the same if I were in your place.
But your father's in a great rage,—he wanted you to be here to
receive Professor Cadman-Gore—"
"But mother, he's not expected till ten o'clock to-night!"
"I know,—that's the time we thought he was coming. But he's got
rheumatism or lumbago or something of that sort, and decided at the
last minute that it would be best for him to arrive in daytime, and
avoid the night air. So he took an earlier train from London and
caught the afternoon coach from Ilfracombe, and he's here,—in fact he
has been here nearly two hours shut up with your father in his room."
Lionel was silent for a minute or two,—then he asked,
"What's he like, mother? Have you seen him?"
Mrs. Valliscourt laughed a little.
"Oh yes, I've seen him. He was formally introduced to me on
arrival. What's he like?—well, I really don't know what he's
like,—he's a cross between a very old baboon and a camel,—rather a
difficult animal to define!"
Her flashing smile irradiated her whole countenance with a gleam of
scorn as well as amusement,—Lionel however looked pained and puzzled.
She gave him a little side-glance of infinite compassion, and suddenly
drawing his head against her breast, kissed him. Any caress or sign of
affection from her was so rare a thing that the sensitive little lad
actually trembled and grew pale with the emotion it excited in him—it
left him almost breathless, and too astonished to speak.
"I mean, dear," she continued, still keeping her arm about
him,—"that he is just like all those wonderfully learned old men who
have ceased to care about anything but themselves and books,—they are
never by any chance handsome, you know. He's very clever though,—your
father thinks him a prodigy, and so, I believe, do all the Oxford and
Cambridge dons,—and now he's here you'll have to make the best of
"Yes, mother." The answer came faintly, and with a smothered sigh.
Then,—after a brief pause,—Lionel took the white hand that rested
against his neck, kissed it, and gently put it aside.
"I think I'd better go straight in to father at once and tell him
where I've been,"—he said bravely—"Then it's over and done with. No
matter how angry he is, he can't kill me,—and if he could, it would
be worse for him than for me!"
With this unanswerable piece of cynical logic and a wistful parting
smile, he quickened his steps almost to a run, and went into the
house. Mrs. Valliscourt stood still on the garden-path, idly ruffling
the petals of a rose in her waistband, and watching the thin, delicate
figure of her little son till he disappeared;—then she turned away
across the lawn, moving vaguely, and unseeing where she went, for her
eyes were heavy and blind with a sudden rush of tears.
Meanwhile Lionel reached his father's room and boldly knocked at
"Come in!" cried the harsh voice he knew so well, whereupon he
Mr. Valliscourt rose in his chair, a stiff bristling-haired spectre
"So, sir!" he said. "You have come home at last! Where have you
been since the early hours of the morning? And what business had you
to leave this house at all without my permission?"
Lionel looked at him full in the eyes with a curious coldness. He
was conscious of a strange feeling of contempt for this red-faced man,
spluttering with excitement, whose age, experience, education and
muscular strength could help him to no better thing than the bullying
of a small boy. It might be a wicked feeling,—considering that the
red-faced man was his own father,—but wicked or no, it existed. And
so without any soft or weak emotion of regret or penitence, he replied
"I was tired. I wanted to be in the open air and rest."
"Rest!" Mr. Valliscourt's eyes protruded, and he put his hand to
his shirt-collar in evident doubt as to whether his throatful of
bubbling rage might not burst that carefully-starched halter—"Rest!
Good heavens, what should a lazy young animal like you want with rest!
You talk as if you were an over-worked bank clerk, begging for all
out-of-time holiday! You are always resting;—while Mr. Montrose was
here you never did anything,—your idleness was a positive disgrace.
Do you think I am going to waste my money on giving you the best
tuition that can possibly be procured, to be rewarded in this
ungrateful manner,—this shameful, abominable manner—"
"Is he the best tuition?" demanded Lionel suddenly, pointing
to a second personage in the room whom he had noted at once on
entering, and whom he recognised to be the 'cross between a baboon and
camel' his mother had described,—a forbidding-looking old man with a
singularly long pallid face and sharply angular shoulders, who sat
stiffly upright in a chair, regarding him through a pair of very round
spectacles. Mr. Valliscourt stared, rendered almost speechless by the
levity of the question.
"How dare you sir!—How dare you make such an unbecoming
observation!" he gasped, "What—what do you mean, sir?"
"I only asked;" returned Lionel composedly; "You said you were
throwing your money away on the best tuition, and I asked if he
was the best tuition"—again pointing to the round spectacles
opposite—"I didn't say he wasn't,— I suppose he is. But I'm afraid
he'll find me rather a trouble."
"I'm afraid he will indeed!" said Mr. Valliscourt with cutting
severity;—then,—turning to the gaunt individual in the chair beside
him, he continued—"I much regret, Professor, that you should have
such an unpromising introduction to your pupil. My son,—this is
my son,—has been sadly demoralised by the influence of the young man
Montrose, but I trust not so completely as to be beyond your remedy."
Professor Cadman-Gore, the dark-lantern of learning and obscure
glory of University poseurs, slowly raised his bony shoulders
up to his long ears, and as slowly settled them in their place again,
this being his own peculiar adaptation of the easy foreign
shrug,—then, smiling a wide and joyless smile, he replied in measured
"I trust not,—I trust not." And he readjusted his spectacles. "But
I will not disguise from you,—or from myself,—that this is a bad
"Why?" asked Lionel quickly,—"Why is it a bad beginning to rest
when you are very tired and want it? Some people believe that even God
rested on the seventh day of creation, and that's why we keep Sunday
still, in spite of its being only an idea and a fable. I've taken a
holiday to-day, and I'm sure I shall do my lessons all the better for
it. I've been talking to the sexton of Combmartin Church, and I've had
dinner with him,—he's a very nice old man, and very clever too."
"Clever! The sexton of Combmartin!" echoed Mr. Valliscourt with a
loud fierce laugh—"Dear me! What next shall we be told, I wonder!
Nice associates you pick up for yourself, sir, after all the labour
and expense of your training! I might as well have kept my money!"
"Why not begin to keep it now, father?" suggested Lionel rather
wistfully, the pallor deepening on his delicate small face—"It's no
use spending it on me,—I know it isn't. I'm tired out,—perhaps I'm
ill too,—I don't know quite what's the matter with me, but I'm sure
I'm not like other boys. I can see that for myself, and it worries me.
If you'd let me rest a little, I might get better."
"Desire for rest," remarked Professor Cadman-Gore with a sardonic
grin, "appears to be the leading characteristic of this young
"Incorrigible idleness, you mean!" snapped out Mr. Valliscourt,
"United, as I now discover, to my amazement and regret, with an
insolence of temper which is new to me. I must apologise to you
Professor, for my son's extraordinary conduct on this occasion.
Starvation and solitude will probably bring him to his senses in time
for the morning's studies. I may as well explain to you that I never
use corporal punishment in the training of my son,—I employ the
mortification of appetite as the more natural means of discipline.
That, and solitary confinement seem to me the best modes of procedure
for the coercion of a refractory and obstinate nature." The Professor
bowed, and linking his leathery hands together caused the knuckles to
emit a sharp sound like the cracking of bad walnuts. "Lionel,"
continued Mr. Valliscourt—"Come with me!"
Lionel paused a moment, looking at his new tutor with an odd
"Good-night, Professor!" he said at last—"To-morrow I shall ask
you a great many questions."
"Indeed!" returned the Professor grimly— "I have no doubt I shall
be able to answer them!"
"Will you come, sir!" roared Mr. Valliscourt.
Lionel obeyed, and followed his father passively upstairs to his own
little bedroom, where Mr. Valliscourt took the matches carefully away,
and shut down and fastened the window. This done, he turned to the boy
"Now here you stay till to-morrow morning,—you understand? You
will have time to think over your wicked disobedience of to-day,—the
anxiety you have caused me, and the trouble,—the disgraceful
exhibition you have made of yourself to the Professor—and I hope you
will have the grace to feel sorry. And if you cry or make a row up
"Why do you talk like that, father?" queried Lionel simply—"You
know well enough that I never make a row."
Mr. Valliscourt stopped, looking at him. For a moment he was
embarrassed by the direct truth of the remark,—for he did
know,—Lionel never showed any sign of petulance or fury. The boy
meanwhile put a chair at the window facing the sunset, and sat down.
"What made you run away to-day?" asked his father, after a brief
"I have told you already"—responded Lionel, somewhat wearily—"I
"Tired of what?"
"Of books and everything in them. They are very puzzling, you
know,—no two writers agree on any one point—no two histories are
alike—it is all quarrel, quarrel, muddle, muddle. And what's the good
of it all? You die, and you forget everything you ever knew. So your
trouble's wasted and your knowledge useless."
"Little fool! You have to live first before you die, and knowledge
of books is necessary to life,"—said Valliscourt, harshly.
"You think so? Ah!—well, I haven't quite made up my mind about
that,"—answered the boy with a quaintly reflective air—"I must
consider it carefully before I decide. Good-night father."
Mr. Valliscourt gave no reply. Striding out of the room he banged
the door angrily, and locked it behind him. Lionel remained by the
window, looking straight into the golden glare of the west. He was not
at all unhappy,—he had had one day of joyous and ever-memorable
freedom,—and that this lonely room should be the end of it did not
seem to him much of a hardship. He was not afraid of either solitude
or darkness,—it was better to be alone thus, than to have to endure
the presence of the gaunt and unwholesome looking object downstairs,
who was reputed by a certain 'set' to be one of the wisest men in the
world. A pity that wisdom made a person so ugly!—thought Lionel, as
he recalled one by one the Professor's unattractive lineaments. What
lantern-jaws he had!—what cold, cruel little ferret eyes!—what an
unkind slit for a mouth!—and how very different was his crafty,
artificially-composed demeanour to the open and sincere bearing of
"Reuben Dale could teach me a lot, I know;"—mused the boy—"He
doesn't read Greek or Latin I suppose,—but I'm sure he could help me
to find out something about life, and that's what I want. I want to
understand what it means,—life,—and death."
He lifted his eyes to the radiant sky, and saw two long shafts of
luminous amber spring outward and upward from the sinking sun like
great golden leaves, between which the orb of light blossomed red like
a fiery rose in heaven.
"I wish there were angels,
really,"—he said half
aloud—"One would almost think there must be, and that all that
splendid colour was put into the sky just to show us what their
beautiful wings are like. Little Jessamine Dale believes in angels,—I
should like to believe in them too,—if I could."
His gaze wandered slowly down from the sunset, to the shrubs and
trees of the garden below him, and presently he saw among the
darkening shadows two figures moving leisurely up and down. One was
his mother,—he recognised her by the white serge dress she wore,—the
other was a man whose personality he was not at first quite sure of,
but whom he afterwards made out to be Sir Charles Lascelles.
"I suppose he's come to dinner;"—thought Lionel—"I remember
now,—Mr. Montrose mentioned that he was staying quite near here at
Watermouth Castle. I wonder why I don't like him?"
He considered this for some time without clearing up the point
satisfactorily,—then, before it grew quite dark, he took out
Montrose's copy of Homer from under his blue jersey vest where he had
secreted it, out of his father's sight, and put it carefully by in
readiness to post to its rightful owner next day, smiling a little to
himself as he thought of Jessamine's odd pronunciation of the
'Drojunwors.' This done, he resumed his seat by the window, and
watched the skies and the landscape till both grew dark, and the stars
began to twinkle out dimly in the hazy purple distance. His little
mind was always restless, and actively evolving ideas,—and though his
immediate reflections dwelt for the most part on the pretty face and
winsome ways of Jessamine Dale, they now and then took a more serious
turn and strove to make something out of what appeared to him an
ever-deepening problem and puzzle,—namely,—why should some people
believe in a God, and others not? And why should so many of those who
professed belief, live their lives in direct opposition to the very
creed they assumed to follow? There must be adequate cause for all
these phases of human nature. Did the world make itself?—or did it
owe its origin to a reasoning and reasonable Creator?—and not only
the world, but all the vast universe,—the thousands of millions of
glorious and perfect star-systems which like flowers in a garden,
bloomed in the pure ether,—what was the object of their existence, if
any, and why was it decided that they should exist, and WHO so
decided it? Deep in the child's brain the eternal question
burned,—the eternal defiance which always asserts itself when there
is neither faith nor hope,—the suicidal scorn which disdains and
upbraids a Force that can give no reason for its actions, and which
refuses to act in blind obedience to the cross-currents of a fate that
leads to Nothingness. "If you can offer me no worthy explanation of my
existence, and I can supply none for myself,"—says the tortured and
suffering soul,—"then not all the elements shall hinder me from
putting an end to that existence if I please. This much I can do,—if
you give me no satisfactory motive for my hold on life I can cease to
live, and thus are your arguments confuted and your surface-knowledge
The seed of this spiritual rebellion was in Lionel's mind though he
knew it not,—it had been sown there by others, and was not of his own
planting, nor the natural out-put of his being. His unceasing query as
to the 'why' of things, had never been answered by the majestic
reason known to those whose faith is raised upon high pinnacles of
thought and aspiration,—and who hold it as a truth that their lives
are lived by God's will and ordinance in the school of temporal
beginnings as a preparation for eternal fulfilment. This supreme
support and hope had not been given to the boy's frail life to raise
it like a drooping flower from the dust of material forms and
facts,—he had been carefully instructed in all the necessary sciences
for becoming a man of hard calculation and cool
business-aptitude,—but his imagination had been promptly
checked,—he had never even been taught a prayer, although he had been
told that there were people who prayed,—in churches and
elsewhere. When he propounded the usual 'why?' he was informed that
the fashion of praying was the remains of old superstition, followed
now out of mere ordinary usage, because the 'masses' of the people
were not yet sufficiently educated to do entirely without the
observances to which they had for so many centuries been
accustomed,—but that it was only a matter of foolish habit. And then
his teachers pointed out to him that the laws of the universe being
inflexible, it was ridiculous to suppose that prayer could alter them,
or that the deaf, blind, dumb forces of nature could possibly note a
human being's trouble, or listen to a human being's complaint, much
less accede to a human being's request,—for human beings, compared
with the extent of Creation generally, were no more than motes in a
sunbeam, or ants on an ant-hill. Hearing this, and quickly grasping
the idea of man's infinite littleness, Lionel at once set about asking
the cause of man's evident arrogance. If he was indeed so minute a
portion of the creative plan, and so valueless to its progress, why
was he so concerned about himself? If he were but a mote or an ant,
what did it matter whether he were learned or ignorant?—and did it
not seem somewhat of a cruel jest to fill him with such pride,
aspiration and endeavour, when according to scientific fact, he was
but a grain of worthless and perishable dust? To all these serious
questions, the small searcher after truth never got any satisfactory
replies. Montrose indeed had told him with much emphasis, that man
possessed an immortal Soul,—a conscious, individual, progressive Self
which could not die,—which took part in all the designs of God, and
which, filled with the divine breath of inspiration and desire of
holiness, was borne on through infinite phases of wisdom, love and
glory for ever and ever, always in- creasing in beauty, strength,
love, and purity. Such a destiny, thought Lionel, would have made
one's present life worth living, if true. But then, according to
modern scientists, it wasn't true, and Montrose was a poor
'semi-barbarian' who still believed in God, and who had got his
dismissal from his post as tutor, chiefly on that account.
"I wonder," mused Lionel, "what it is that makes him believe? It
can't be stupidity, for he is very clever and kind and good. I wish I
knew exactly why he thinks there is a God,—and Reuben Dale too,—he
has just the same idea,—only when I ask, no one seems able to give me
any clear explanation of what they feel."
Darker and darker grew the evening shadows,—but still he sat at
the window, solemnly considering the deep problems of life and time,
and never thought of going to bed. Soon a misty white glory arose out
of the gathering blackness,—the moon, pallid yet brilliant, lifted
her strangely sorrowful face over the plumy tree-tops and cast a
silvery reflection on the grass below. It was a mournful, almost
spectral night,—a faint bluish haze of heat hung in the stirless
air,—dew sparkled thickly in patches upon the distant fields with a
smooth sheen as of shining swamps, or suddenly risen pools,—and in
the furthest thickets of the garden, a belated nightingale who ought
by laws ornithological, to have hushed his voice more than a month
since, sang drowsily and as if in a dream, without passion, yet with
something of pain. Lionel heard the faint, throbbing fluty notes afar
off, and would have liked to open the window to listen more
attentively, but as his father had shut and fastened it, he decided to
leave it so;—and presently, what with watching the moon and the
lengthening ghostly shadows, and thinking and wondering, he fell fast
asleep in his chair, his head leaning against the wall. For a long
time he remained thus, dreaming odd disjointed dreams, in which the
various facts he had learned of history got mixed up with little
Jessamine Dale and the 'ole 'oss,' the latter object becoming in his
visions suddenly endowed with life, and worthy to bear a Coeur de Lion
to the field of battle. All at once he was startled into broad
wakefulness by a voice calling softly, yet clearly,—
He jumped up, and to his amazement saw the stalwart figure of Sir
Charles Lascelles comfortably perched on a branch of the big elm-tree
that grew just outside his window. The baronet had a package in his
hand, and with it made signs of peremptory yet mysterious meaning. Not
knowing what to think of this strange proceeding, the boy noiselessly
unfastened and raised the window.
"Oh, there you are, little chappie!" said Sir Charles, showing his
white teeth in a pleasant smile, and swinging himself further along
the branch in order to approach the window more nearly—"Look
here,—your mother sends you this—catch!" and he dexterously threw
the packet he held straight into the room, where it fell on the
floor,—"Sandwiches, cake and pears, my boy!—eat 'em all and go to
bed. The old man's been boasting of his cleverness in starving
you,—he's shut himself up now with that blessed ass of a Professor,
so he won't know anything about it,—and your mother says you're to
eat every morsel, to please her. Ta-ta!"
Lionel thrust his little pale eager face out of the window.
"Oh, please, Sir Charles!" he called faintly after the retreating
baronet. Lascelles looked back.
"Give mother my love,—my dear love!—and thank her for me."
Sir Charles turned his face upward in the silver shimmer of the
moon. There was a curious expression upon it, of shame, mingled with
tenderness and remorse.
"All right, my boy,—I will! Good-night!"
"Good-night!" responded Lionel. And he stood at the open window for
a minute or two, inhaling the night air, fragrant with the odour of
flowers and the breath of the sea,—and marvelling at the athletic
adroitness with which Sir Charles, who generally 'posed' as a languid
and lazy man of fashion, slipped along the elm-branch, swung himself
downward by both hands, dropped stealthily to the ground, and
disappeared. No burglar could have been more secret or swift in his
actions, or more sudden in his coming and going. Alone once more, the
boy shut and fastened the window again with soft precaution,—then he
felt along the floor for his mother's package. He soon found and
opened it,—there were plenty of good things inside,—and, spreading
his repast on the window-sill with the moonbeams for light, he was
surprised to find himself really hungry. He very seldom felt any
decided relish for food,—and he did not realise that his one day's
free 'outing' in the Devonshire air, was the cause of his healthy
appetite. To-morrow, and the next day, and the next, when he should
resume his poring over books, and his patient if weary researches into
'works of reference,' he would find the old indifference, lassitude
and nausea upon him again,—the lack of energy which deprived him not
only of appetite, but even of joy in exercise,—which made a walk
fatiguing, and a run impossible. But now his little moonlit feast
seemed delightful,—and he was quite happy when, having finished the
surreptitious meal, he undressed and slipped into bed. He was soon
asleep, and the white moonrays streaming in at the uncurtained window
fell slant-wise on his small classic face and ruffled curly hair. Some
pleasing vision sweetened his rest, for he smiled,—that divine
half-wondering, half-solemn smile which is never seen save on the lips
of sleeping children, and the newly dead.
THE next morning Professor Cadman-Gore sat awaiting his pupil
in what was called the 'school-room,'—the bare, uncurtained
apartment in which Lionel had been puzzling over his books, when
Willie Montrose had called him out from study to the fresh air and the
salty scent of the sea. It was an old-fashioned room, with a very low
ceiling which was crossed and recrossed by stout oak rafters, after
the style common to Henry the Eighth's period, and had evidently been
formerly used as a storeroom both for linen and provisions, for all
round the walls there were large oaken cupboards holding many broad
shelves, and here and there among the rafters were yet to be seen
great iron hooks, strong enough to support a pendant dried haunch of
venison, or possibly a whole stag, antlers included. The Professor,
being tall, found some of these hooks considerably in his way,—he had
already knocked his bald pate rather smartly against one of them,
which he had instantly turned upon, as though it were a sentient
enemy, and endeavoured to wrench out of position. But the tough rusted
iron resisted all his efforts, and he had only scratched his hands and
wasted his time without gaining his object. Somewhat irritated at this
trifling annoyance,—trifles always irritated him,—he seated himself
in the most comfortable chair available, and looked out of the window
which was a quaint and pretty lattice-work casement opening on two
sides, in the French fashion. The lovely scent of sweet-briar assailed
his nose and offended it,—the gardener was cutting the grass, and the
dewy smell suggested hay-fever at once to his mind.
"What a fool I was to consent to come to this out-of-the-way
place!" he muttered ill-temperedly; "Considering the distance from
town, and the discomfort of the surroundings, I ought to ask double
fees. The man Valliscourt is a prig—thinks he knows something, and
doesn't know anything,—his wife is good-looking and has all the
impudent self-assurance common to women of her type,—and the boy
seems to be a little puny-faced ass. Talk of the quiet of the
country!—ugh!—I was wakened up this morning by the incessant
crowing of a cock,—what people buy such brutes of birds for, I don't
know,—then a wretched cow began lowing,—and as for the twittering of
the birds, why it's a positive pandemonium,—worse than a dozen
knife-grinders at work. I'll have all those creepers cut away that are
climbing round my bedroom window,—they harbour insects as well as
birds, and the sooner I get rid of both nuisances the better."
He blew his long nose violently, with a startlingly-tinted silk
handkerchief of mingled red and yellow hues,—and the idea of
hay-fever again recurring to him, he shut the window with a bang. Then
he unfolded a large sheet of paper which Mr. Valliscourt had given him
the previous night, and on which was written out in neatest
copper-plate the "schedule" or plan of study Lionel had been following
for the past six months. Over this document he knitted his yellow
forehead, grinned and frowned,—as he read on, he blinked, sucked his
tongue, and smacked his lips, and twisted himself about in so many
fidgety ways that he became a perfectly appalling spectacle of
ugliness, and in his absorbed condition of mind was not aware that the
door of the room had quietly opened, and as quietly closed again, and
that Lionel stood confronting him, with a calmly speculative and
critical stare. Two or three minutes passed silently in this
way,—then Lionel spoke.
The Professor started, and rapidly disentangled his long legs from
the uncouth knot in which he had gathered them over the rung of the
chair he occupied,—put down the 'plan,'—adjusted his round
spectacles, and surveyed his pupil.
"Good-morning, sir!" he responded drily—"I trust you have slept
off your temper, and are prepared for work?"
"I haven't slept off my temper,"—said Lionel quietly, "because I
had no temper to sleep off. Father knew that as well as I did. It's
always silly, I think, to accuse somebody else of being in a temper
when you're in one yourself. But that's all over now,—that was
yesterday,—this is to-day, and I am quite prepared for work."
"Glad to hear it!" and Professor Cadman-Gore smiled his usual
pallid smile—"Have you had your breakfast?"
"And have you 'rested' sufficiently?" demanded the Professor with
"I don't know,—I don't think so,"—the boy answered slowly—"I
often feel I should like to go to sleep for days and days."
"Really!" and a prolonged sniff indicated the learned tutor's deep
disdain—"Possibly you are of the hybernating species?"
"Possibly!" responded Lionel, with cynical calm—"A hybernating
animal is a creature that goes to sleep all the winter. I shouldn't
mind that at all,—it would take off a lot of trouble from one's life.
Don't you ever feel tired?"
"Physically speaking I am occasionally fatigued;"—said the
Professor, eyeing him severely—"Particularly when I have to train and
instruct foolish and refractory natures. Mentally, I am never weary.
And now, if you have no further observations of immediate importance
to make, perhaps you will condescend to commence the morning's work."
Lionel smiled, and tossed back his curly hair with a pretty,
half-proud half-careless gesture.
"Oh I see what you are like now!" he said—"You are what they call
of a satirical turn of mind,—and it is part of your particular kind
of fun to ask me if I will 'condescend' to work, when you know a boy
like me can't have his own way in anything, and has to do what he's
told. I know what is meant by satire,—Juvenal was a satirist. I made
an essay on him once,—he began as a poet, but he got tired of writing
beautiful things for people who wouldn't or couldn't understand
them,—so he turned round and ridiculed everybody. He got exiled to
Egypt for making fun of one of the Emperor Hadrian's favourites,—and
they say he died out there of vexation and weariness, but I think it
was more from old age than anything else, because he lived till he was
eighty, and that made him older, I daresay, than even you are now."
The Professor's nose reddened visibly with irritation.
"Older?—I should think so indeed!—very much older!" he snapped
out—"It will be a very long time before I am eighty."
"Will it?" queried Lionel simply—"Well, one can only go by looks,
you know, and you look old, and I'm not at all clever at guessing
people's ages. Will you ask me some questions now, or will you teach
me something I am very anxious to know, first?"
The Professor glanced him over from head to foot with grim
"I think," he said, "it is my turn to examine you, if you have
quite done examining me. It is necessary for me to know how far you
have actually progressed in your studies, before I set you fresh tasks.
Referring to the plan so admirably drawn up by your father, it seems
you should know something of Greek and Latin,—you should also be
considerably advanced in mathematics, and you should be fairly strong
in history. Stand where you are, please,—put your hands behind your
back, in case you should be inclined to twiddle your fingers,—I hate
all nervous movements,—"the learned gentleman was apparently unaware
of his own capacity for the 'fidgets,'—"and when you give an answer,
look me straight in the face. I have my own special method of
examination, which you will have to accustom yourself to."
"Oh yes!" replied Lionel cheerfully—"Every tutor has his own
special method, and no two methods are alike. It is difficult at first
to understand them all,—but I always try to do my best."
The Professor made no response, but set to his work of catechising
in terrible earnest, and before an hour had passed, was fairly
astonished at the precocity, intelligence, and acute perception of his
pupil. The child of ten had learnt more facts of science and history,
than he, in his time, had known when he was twenty. He concealed his
surprise however, under the cover of inflexible austerity, and the
more apt of comprehension Lionel proved himself to be, the more the
eminent pedagogue's professional interest became excited, and the more
he determined to work such promising material hard. This is often the
fate of brilliant and intelligent children,—the more quickly they
learn, the more cruelly they are 'crammed,' till both heart and brain
give way under the unnatural effort and forced impetus, and disaster
follows disaster, ending in the wreck of the whole intellectual and
physical organisation. Happy, in these days of vaunted progress, is
the dull heavy boy who cannot learn,—who tumbles asleep over his
books, and gets a caning, which is far better than a 'cramming;'—who
is 'plucked' in his exams, and dubbed 'dunce' for his pains;—the
chances are ten to one, that though he be put to scorn by the showy
college pupil loaded with honours, he will, in the long run, prove the
better, aye, and the cleverer man of the two. The young truant whom
Mother Nature coaxes out into the woods and fields when he should be
at his books,—who laughs with a naughty recklessness at the gods of
Greece, and has an innate comic sense of the uselessness of learning
dead languages which he is never to speak, is probably the very
destined man who, in time of battle, will prove himself a hero of the
first rank, or who, planted solitary in an unexplored country, will
become one of the leading pioneers of modern progress and discovery.
Over-study is fatal to originality of character; and both clearness of
brain and strength of physique are denied to the victims of 'cram.'
Professor Cadman-Gore was an advocate of 'cramming;'—he was esteemed
in many quarters as the best 'coach' of the day, and he apparently
considered a young human brain as a sort of expanding bag or hold-all,
to be filled with various bulky articles of knowledge, useful or
otherwise, till it showed signs of bursting,—then it was to be
promptly strapped together, locked and labelled—'Registered Through
Passenger for Life.' If the lock broke and the whole bag gave way, why
then so much the worse for the bag,—it was proved to be of bad
material, and its bursting was not the Professor's fault. His filmy
eyes began to sparkle with a dull glitter, and his yellow cheeks
reddened at their jaw-bone summits, as he took note of the methodical
precision and swiftness with which the young Lionel assorted his
'facts' in sequence and order,—of the instantaneous, hawk-like
fashion in which the boy's bright brain pounced, as it were, on a
difficult proposition in Euclid and solved it without difficulty,—and
a lurking sense of the unnaturalness of such over-rapid
perception and analysis in a child of ten, intruded itself now and
then on his consciousness,—for among other matters, the Professor had
studied medicine. Yet his knowledge of the science was so slight that
he was not without fears of instant death whenever he had a mild
attack of dyspepsia, and he considered himself seriously wounded if he
managed to run a pin into his finger. Nevertheless, a few trite
medical statements did occur to his memory as he put Lionel through
his paces,—recognised axioms concerning over-precocity of brain, and
acute cerebral excitement of nerve-centres,—but he did not permit
himself to dwell upon them. On the contrary, he worked the boy as he
would have worked a muscular young fellow of eighteen or twenty, and
Lionel himself showed no signs of weariness, owing to the complete
rest and release from tension he had enjoyed the previous day. Things
that often presented themselves to him as a useless 'muddle,' now
suddenly seemed quite simple and clear; and he was sensible of a
curious, almost feverish desire to astonish his new tutor by his
quickness. An inward precipitate volition hurried him on, causing him
to spring at difficulties and overcome them,—and he gave all his
answers with a fluency and rapidity that was bewildering, even to
himself. At the conclusion of the morning's work, Professor
Cadman-Gore reluctantly stated that he was 'fairly well satisfied'
with the results of his preliminary interrogations.
"You will, however," he continued—"need to apply yourself more
closely to study than you have hitherto done, if you are to be at all
a credit to me. I must tell you I very seldom undertake the
tuition of a boy of your age,—it is too much trouble, and too little
honour,—but as you have gone on so far, and your father seems anxious
about you, I shall do my best to put you well ahead. I am now going to
write down the course of reading you will undertake this afternoon,
and the dozen 'subjects' you will prepare for tomorrow,—I shall
expect you not only to be word- perfect, but sense-perfect. I want
absolute and distinct comprehension,—not parrot-like repetition
"I am only having
holiday tasks;"—put in Lionel with a
wistful air—"Do you know that?"
"Of course I know it. Such work as you are given now is
comparatively light, to what you will be able to perform when the
regular term begins. You are preparing for a public
"No,—I don't think so,—I should like to,—but—"
"H'm—h'm!—Now let me think!" And twitching his forehead and mouth
in his usual nervous fashion, the Professor began to scribble his list
of 'themes,' while Lionel stood quietly beside him, watching the great
bony fingers that guided the pen.
"When you have done that, may I ask you the thing I want so much to
know?" he inquired.
The Professor looked up with some curiosity. He was inclined to
negative the proposition, but the boy's aptitude and intelligence,
combined with his obedience and gentleness, had, to a very great
degree, mollified the chronic state of irritation in which he, as a
sort of modern Diogenes, was wont to exist,—so after a pause, during
which he went on writing, he replied,—
"You may, certainly. Is it a matter of importance?"
"I think so!" and the boy's eyes darkened and grew dreamy—"It
seems so to me, at any rate. I am very anxious about it."
Professor Cadman-Gore laid down his pen, and leaning back in his
chair, widened his thin lips into what he meant to be an encouraging
"Well, speak out!" he said,—"What is it?"
Lionel came closer to him, and looked earnestly in his face.
"You see you are very clever;"—he observed with deferential
gentleness,—"Cleverer than anybody in all England, some people say.
Well, then, you must have found out all about it, and you can explain
what has been puzzling me for a long long time. What I want to know is
this,—Where is the Atom?"
The Professor gave a violent start,—almost a jump,—and stared.
"Where is the Atom?" he repeated—"What nonsense are you talking?
What do you mean?"
"It's not nonsense,"—declared Lionel with patient firmness,—"It
can't be nonsense,—because it is the cause of everything we know. We
are alive, aren't we?—you and I and millions of people, and we're all
in this world together. But books tell you that this world is only a
very little planet, one of the smallest in the sky,—and there are
thousands and thousands, and millions and millions of other planets
ever so much larger, some of which we cannot see, even with the
longest and strongest telescope. Then, look at our sun!—we should not
be able to live without it,—but there are millions of other suns and
systems,—all separate universes. Now if all these things are atoms,
and are designed by an Atom,—where is it?—that wonderful little
First Atom which, without knowing in the least what it was about, and
with nobody to guide it, and having no reason, judgment, sight or
sense of its own, produced such beautiful creations? And then, if you
are able to tell me where it is, will you also tell me where it came
The Professor's eyes rolled wildly in his head, and he glared at
the composed little figure and wistful earnest face of his pupil with
something of dismay as well as annoyance.
"You see," continued the boy anxiously—"I should not have
mentioned it to you, unless I had heard that you were so wise. I've
been waiting for a very wise man to talk to about it, because it's
been on my mind a long time. The tutor I had who is just gone, Mr.
Montrose, had quite different ideas to those of all the
scientists,—he believed in a God, like all the uneducated, ignorant
people. But before Mr. Montrose came I had a very clever tutor, a Mr.
Skeet,—he was a Positivist, he said, and a great friend of a person
named Frederic Harrison, and he told me all about the Atom. He even
showed me the enlarged drawing of an Atom, as seen through the
microscope,—a curious twisty thing with a sort of spinal cord running
through it,—something like the picture of a man's ribs in my anatomy
book,—and he explained to me that it was a fortuitous combination of
such things that made universes. And it puzzled me very much, because
I thought there must be a beginning even to these atoms, and I could
not imagine how such a twisty little object as a First Atom could
think out a plan by itself, and create worlds with people bigger than
itself on them. But he was a very funny man,—Mr. Skeet I mean,—he
used to say that nothing was everything, and everything was nothing.
He said this so often, and laughed so much over it, that I was afraid
he was going quite mad, so I used to avoid the subject altogether. Now
you have come, I am sure you can make it clear to me so that I shall
understand properly, because it is very interesting don't you
think, to know exactly where the Atom is, and what it's doing?"
Slowly, and with an uncomfortable sense of bafflement, Professor
Cadman-Gore rallied his scattered forces.
"You ask to know what no one knows;"—he said harshly—"That there
is a First Cause of things is evident,—but where it is, and where it
came from, is an unfathomable mystery. It is, in all probability, now
absorbed in its own extended forces,—all we know is, that it works,
or has worked; and that we see its results in the universe
Lionel's face darkened with disappointment.
"You call it a First Cause;"—he said—"And are you really quite
sure the First Cause is an Atom?"
"No one can be sure of anything in such matters;"—answered the
Professor, wrinkling his brows—"We can only form a guess, from what
we are enabled to discover in natural science."
A strange smile, half disdainful, half sorrowful flashed in the
"Oh then, you only 'guess' at the Atom, as other people 'guess' at
a God!" he said—"No one is sure about anything! Well, I think it is
very silly to settle upon an Atom as the cause of anything. It seems
to me much more natural and likely that it should be a Person. A
Person with brain and thought, and feeling and memory. You see, an
Atom under the microscope has no head, or any place where it could
grow a brain,—it is just a thing like two cords knotted together, and
in the works of nature there is nothing of that description which
thinks out a universe for itself,—if there were, it would rule us
But here the Professor rose up in all his strength, and swung a
heavy battering-ram of explicit fact against the child's argument.
"And as a matter of positive truth and certainty, atoms
rule us!"—he interrupted with some excitement—,"The atoms of
disease which breed death,—the atmospheric atoms which work storm and
earthquake,—the atoms which penetrate the brain-cells, and produce
thought,—the atoms moving in a state of transition which cause
change, both in the development of worlds and the progress of
man,—good heavens!—I could go on quoting hundreds of instances which
prove beyond a doubt that we are entirely governed by the movement and
conglomeration of atoms,—but you are too young to understand,—you
could never grasp the advanced scientific doctrines of the day,—it is
ridiculous to discuss them with a boy like you!"
"I don't think it is ridiculous,"—said Lionel placidly,—"because
you see, I am rather an unhappy sort of boy. I think a good deal. If I
were happy, I might not think; Mr. Montrose says there are lots of
boys who never think at all, and that they get on much better than I
do. But when one can't help thinking, what is one to do? Oh dear!" and
he heaved a profound sigh—"I did hope you would be able to clear up
all my difficulties for me!"
The Professor rubbed his great hands together, cracked his knuckles
and coughed awkwardly, but was otherwise silent.
"You know," went on Lionel pathetically—"it doesn't make you care
very much about living, if you feel there's no good in it, and that
you are only the smallest possible fraction of the results of an Atom,
which didn't care and didn't know what it was about, when it started
making things. I should be ever so much happier if I thought it was a
Person who knew what He was doing. We are supposed to know
what we are doing, even in very small trifles, and if we don't
know, we are considered quite silly and useless. So it does seem
rather funny to me, that we should decide that all the beautiful work
of the universe is done by a twisty thing that hasn't any notion what
it is about. It would be much easier to understand, I think, if the
scientific people could agree that the First Cause was a Person, who
Still the Professor was silent.
"A Person who knew," continued the boy thoughtfully—"would have
ideas; and if He were a good Person, they would all be grand and
beautiful ideas. And if He were an eternal Person, He would be
eternally designing new and still more wonderful things, so we should
not be surprised at knowing He had made millions and millions of stars
and universes. And if He were good Himself, He would never quite
destroy anything that had good in it,—He would be kind too, and He
would always be improving and helping on every- thing He had made.
Because as a Person, He would have feeling;—and when people got into
trouble, or sickness or poverty, He would comfort them somehow. We
might not see how He did it, but He would be sure to manage it. He
could not help being sorry for sorrow, if He were a good Person.
Yes,—the more I think of it the more likely it seems to
me;—beautiful flowers and beautiful colours in the sky, and
music,—these things make the idea of a Person much pleasanter and
more natural to me than an Atom."
"An Atom may be a Person, or a Person an Atom,"—said the
Professor, beguiled involuntarily into argument, by the weird
sagaciousness and old-mannish air of the little lad who still stood
confidently close to his knee, looking frankly up into his hard
furrowed face, and who at this observation, laughed softly.
"That sounds like Mr. Skeet, who said everything was nothing and
nothing was everything!" he remarked;—"But I don't think it could be
so, you know. You can't make anything of an Atom but the twisty object
the microscope shows you,—you couldn't say it thinks, or sees. It
would have to think and see, to arrange colours perfectly, and it
would have to hear, in order to make harmonies. I've gone over all
this ever so many times in my own mind, and this is how it seems to
me. I believe,—I do really believe, with all the wonderful
discoveries we are making we shall find out the Atom to be a Person
after all! And that He knows exactly what He's doing, and what we're
doing! What a good thing that will be, won't it? Because then we can
some day ask Him to explain all that we don't understand. Of course we
might ask the Atom, but I don't see how it could be expected to
answer, as it is only supposed to be just twisting about with no
object in particular."
The Professor felt an odd chill as of cold water running down his
back at the strange arguments of this child, whom he began to consider
'uncanny.' The suggestion that it would be 'a good thing' if the
scientific Atom were discovered to be a Person, had something in it of
positive terror; and the learned Cadman-Gore was disagreeably
conscious that for him and his particular 'set,' such a discovery
would be anything but pleasant. Uncomfortable thoughts occurred to
him,—he knew not why,—of the time when he, dry-souled man of
dogmatic theory though he now was, had been a small inquisitive boy
himself,—and when he had recognised the very Person Lionel dimly
imagined,—the pure, fearless, grand image of God in Christ, to whom
at his mother's knee he had daily and nightly prayed,—but against
whose divine faith and noble teaching, he, led away by plausible
modern sophistries, now turned with a mockery and sarcasm exceeding
the bitterness of any old-world Pharisee. For he was one of that new
and 'select' band of men and women, who, enjoying the singular
liberties and privileges of the Christian creed, are nevertheless
unwearying in their attempts to destroy it; and who scruple not to
stone the God-Founder, and crucify Him afresh, with an ingratitude as
monstrous as it is suicidal. Women especially, who, but for
Christianity, would still be in the low place of bondage and
humiliation formerly assigned to them in the barbaric periods, are
most of all to be reproached for their wicked and wanton attacks upon
their great Emancipator, who pitied and pardoned their weaknesses as
they had never been pitied or pardoned before. And was not the
Professor himself thinking seriously of espousing one such
Christ-scorning female, with short hair and spectacles, who had taken
high honours at Girton, and who was eminently fitted to become the
mother of a brood of atheists, who, like human cormorants, would be
prepared to swallow benefits and deny the Benefactor? Such disjointed
reflections as these chased one another through the eminent pundit's
mind and ruffled his scholarly equanimity,—he almost felt as if he
would like to shake the boy who stood there, calmly propounding
puzzles which could never be solved.
"You have talked quite enough on this subject,"—he said
roughly—"and if you were to ask me questions for a year, I could tell
you no more than science teaches. All religions are fables and
impostures,—the universe is not, and could never be, the work of a
Person or persons. The ignorant may build themselves up a God if they
choose,—we know better. All creation, as you have already
been told, is the result of a fortuitous concurrence of atoms,—but
where the first atom is, or where any of the atoms came from, is
beyond human ingenuity to discover. We know nothing of the reasons why
Lionel's face grew very pale.
"Then life is a very cruel thing, and not worth having;"—he
said,—"It is wicked indeed that people should be born at all, if no
good is to come of it. If there's no reason for anything, and no
future object for anybody, I don't see why we should take the trouble
to live. It's all a mistake and a muddle; and a very stupid business,
The Professor rose from his chair, and stretching his long legs at
ease, smiled a capacious smile.
"What you think is of no import;"—he observed
grandiloquently—"We are here,—and being here, we must make the best
of our time."
you think is of no import either;"—returned
Lionel simply—"The Atom doesn't care any more about you than it does
about me. It's all the same, you see. You are clever and I am
stupid,—and you are clever I suppose, because you like to please
people by your cleverness,—now I should never care about pleasing
people,—I would rather please the Atom if it could be pleased,
because it is Everything, people included. But it can't be pleased,
because it is blind and deaf and senseless,—it just goes on twirling,
twirling, and doesn't know anything even about itself. And whatever
best we make of our time, it's no use, because we die, and there's an
end. Will you like to die?"
The Professor felt himself becoming impatient and irascible.
"Certainly not! No sane man likes to die. I intend to live as long
"Do you, really? Just fancy!" and Lionel's eyes grew larger with
genuine astonishment—"Now how different that is to me!—I would much
rather die than live to be as old and wise as you are!
"Do you mean to be insolent, sir?" demanded the Professor, growing
suddenly livid with anger.
"Insolent? Oh dear no!—indeed no!" exclaimed the boy quickly—"Did
I say anything rude? If I did, I am sorry! Please excuse me,—I meant
no harm. Only I do think it seems dreadful to look forward to so many
long, long years of work and trouble and worry, all for nothing,—and
that is why I would not like myself to live to be very old. Are you
going out in the garden?—here is your hat,—and your stick;" and he
handed these articles with a pretty grace to the irritated pundit, who
glowered down upon him, uncertain what to do or say—"There are lots
of beautiful roses growing wild,—you will find them near the hedge
that makes the boundary of the grounds,—any quantity of them. Do you
know I'm very glad the Atom managed to make roses as well as human
Professor Cadman-Gore clapped his hat well down on his bald head,
and fixed his severe eye on the small philosopher.
"Read that chapter I have marked for you in Cæsar's
Commentaries,"—he said gruffly—"It will steady your ideas. You are
inclined to be flighty and fantastic,—now let me tell you once for
all, I don't like fads or fancies of any kind. Stick to facts,—master them thoroughly,—and it is possible I may make something of you.
But let me hear no more nonsense about atoms and universes,—this
world is your business,—and beyond this world you have no
With that, he strode out,—and Lionel, left alone, sank wearily
into his vacated chair.
"It's very funny,—but I've always noticed people get angry over
what they can't understand!" he mused,—"And they won't listen to any
suggestions, or try to learn, either. The Professor knows as well as I
do, that there is a Cause for everything,—only he won't take the
trouble to reason it out as to whether it's an Atom or a Person. He's
got a theory, and nothing will alter it. Now Reuben Dale believes in a
Person,—I wish I could see Reuben again, and ask him one or two
He sighed profoundly,—and feeling the air of the room oppressive,
he opened the lattice-window and looked out. It was high
noon-tide;—the sun was hot on the flower-beds,—the geraniums flared
scarlet fire,—the petunias drooped fainting on their slim velvety
stalks,—only the great sunflowers lifted themselves proudly aloft to
give their bright deity golden stare for stare,—the birds, overcome
by the heat, were mute, and in hiding under cool bunches of green
leaves. On a side-path shaded by elm-trees, Lionel presently caught
sight of the Professor walking up and down with his father, in earnest
conversation, and as he watched them he smiled, a weird little smile.
"They are talking about me, I daresay!" he reflected—"The
Professor is very likely telling my father what a curious boy I am to
ask him questions about the Atom, or anything that has to do with the
reasons of our being alive,—and perhaps they will get into an
argument on the subject themselves. Well!—it may be curious, and no
doubt it's very troublesome of me to want to know why we live, and
what's the good of it,—but I can't help it. I do want to know,—I
don't see how any one can help wanting to know,—and I think it would
be much more interesting and useful to study and find out these
things, than to learn Greek and Latin."
Then, being a very docile little creature, and wishful to please
even the grim old tutor now placed in authority over him, he moved
away from the window, seated himself at the big table-desk, and opened
Cæsar's Commentaries at the marked chapter, which he read and
meditated upon with grave patience till called to dinner.
THE days now went on monotonously in a dull and regular routine
of study. To learn, was made the chief object of Lionel's
existence,—and the only relaxation and exercise he had was a solemn
walk with the Professor along the dusty high-road every afternoon.
That distinguished pedagogue did not care for woods and fields,—he
detested the sea,—and the mere suggestion of a scramble on the
shingly beach of Combmartin would have filled him with horror. Nothing
could ever have induced him to enter a row-boat, or climb a hill,—and
his sole idea of a walk was a silent tramping 'constitutional' along
a straight road in the glare of the sun. He took large strides, and
sometimes Lionel's little legs had difficulty in keeping up with
him,—while as to conversation, there was none. The Professor's
knowledge of things in general was derived from books,—Lionel's
ideas were the instinctive efforts of natural aspiration,—and the two
did not commingle. Moreover, if his young pupil showed the slightest
tendency to discuss any more difficult and vexatious problems
concerning life, death or eternity, the learned Cadman-Gore invariably
became abstracted and lost, in the profoundest of profound reveries,
and twitched his brows and sucked his tongue, and made himself look
altogether so alarmingly ugly, that he successfully warned off and
kept at a distance all undue familiarity and confidence. Lionel
however had by this time discovered the wisdom of holding his
peace,—he shut up his thoughts within himself, though at times they
seemed to be getting too much for him, and often kept him awake at
night, giving him an odd burning pain and heaviness in his head. And
the old lassitude and languor from which he was wont to suffer had
returned upon him with redoubled intensity, while the vivacity and
brightness with which he had astonished his tutor on the first morning
of his examination by that eminent 'coach,' had completely vanished.
His progress now was slow,—and the Professor declared him to be a
'disappointment.' As a matter of fact, the poor little lad found his
tasks growing heavier and heavier each day,—each day he felt less
inclined to work,—and the mass of information he was expected to
master grew daily more and more of a confusion and muddle. At times
too, he was conscious of a very dreadful sensation which frightened
him,—a kind of wild desire to scream aloud, jump from the open
window, or do something that would be wholly unlike himself, and
inexplicable to reason. At such moments, he would clench his small hot
hands hard, bite his lips, and apply himself more assiduously to his
lessons than ever, though the nervous terror of his own feelings often
became so strong as to make him tremble and turn cold from head to
foot. But he never complained;—and save that to a close observer his
eyes appeared heavier, and his mouth more set in the pained line of
hard self-control, his looks never betrayed him.
One fine day fortune favoured him with a brief respite from toil,
and an equally brief glimpse of happiness. His father and Professor
Cadman-Gore suddenly decided to go on an excursion together to
Lynmouth and Lynton, called by some enthusiasts 'the Switzerland of
England,' though this term is sadly misapplied. The snowy peaks and
glittering glaciers of the Alps cannot be brought into a moment's
comparison with the up-hill and down-dale prettinesses of Lynton,
which is surpassed even in its own neighbourhood by the romantic
loveliness of the ideal village known as Clovelly, while its
over-abundance of foliage makes it somewhat gloomy and depressing to
the spirits, though it offers a beautiful picture to the eyes. The
Professor however was anxious to test its claim to be a 'Switzerland'
personally,—and Mr. Valliscourt who prided himself on having 'read
up' the local centres of interest, resolved to accompany him as
'guide, philosopher and friend.' They arranged therefore to go by
coach, remain the night at the 'Castle Hotel,' which commands the
finest view of the whole valley of Lynmouth, and return to Combmartin
the following morning. Lionel was left well supplied with work, and
was likewise severely warned not to go further astray than the garden
surrounding the house,—Mrs. Valliscourt had driven early into
Ilfracombe to spend the day with some of her London friends, who were
staying there, and she was not expected back till late in the evening.
"You will have the house to yourself,—and this will be an
excellent test of your obedience;" said Mr. Valliscourt, as when he
was prepared to start on his pleasure trip, he stood for a moment
frowning heavily down on his small pale son,— "I suppose you know
what is meant by a word of honour?"
"I suppose so,"—answered the boy, with a slight weary smile.
"Then you will give me your word of honour not to leave these
grounds"—went on his father, "This is a large garden,—quite
sufficient for you to take exercise in,—and if you conscientiously
study the subjects selected for you, you will not have much time to
waste in rambling. No more running about Combmartin like one of the
common village boys, and scraping acquaintance with sextons,—do you
"I hear!" said Lionel.
"And you promise not to leave the grounds?"
"On my word of honour!" and Lionel again smiled, this time almost
"He has a fairly good idea of the obligations of duty;"—put in
Professor Cadman-Gore, gathering together his shaggy brows,—"I
consider that to be his strongest point."
Lionel said nothing. He had nothing to say; if he had uttered what
was in his mind, it would neither have been understood, nor attended
to. Grown men have little patience with the troubles of a child,
though such troubles may be as deep and acute as any that are endured
by the world-worn veteran. Nay, possibly more so,—for sorrow is a
strange and cruel thing to the very young, but to the old it has
become a familiar comrade, whose visitations being of almost daily
occurrence, are met with comparative equanimity.
When at last his father and the Professor had fairly gone, and he
had actually seen them pass the house on the top of the coach, being
driven away from Combmartin, the boy was sensible of a sudden great
relief, as though a burden had been lifted from his heart and brain.
He leaned out of the school-room window inhaling the fresh air, and
his weirdly thoughtful little visage looked for a few moments almost
as young as Nature meant it to be. He was sorry his mother was not at
home,—he would have liked to run down-stairs and find her, and kiss
that beautiful face which had softened into such unusual tenderness
for him when he had returned home from his stolen holiday. Perhaps she
might come back early from Ilfracombe,—he hoped she would! If her
friends did not detain her as long as she expected, it was possible he
might see her and talk to her before he went to bed. A vaguely
comforting idea stole into his mind that she,—his own dear,
beautiful mother,—loved him after all, though it was difficult to
believe it! Very difficult,—because she hardly ever spoke to him,
never expressed a wish to have him with her, and truly appeared to
take little or no interest in his existence. And yet, ... Lionel could
not forget the sweet look of her eyes, or the sudden kiss she had
given him on that memorable afternoon of his truant wanderings, now
nearly a fortnight ago. He sighed;—a whole fortnight had
passed!—and he had had no cessation from work, no respite from the
crushing society of Professor Cadman-Gore, till to-day! To-day was a
real godsend, and must be made the best of, he said to himself, as he
gazed wistfully at the lovely undulations of wood and hill and meadow,
all bathed in the amber haze of summer warmth which softened every
feature of the landscape, and made it look more dream-like than real.
The sun was so bright and the grass so green, that he presently
decided to go and study his lessons in the garden,—and selecting a
couple of books from the pile which the Professor had left in order on
the school-room table, he put them under his arm and went out. He drew
a long breath of pleasure when he found himself in the side-path
running parallel to the boundary hedge where the roses grew,—their
exquisite fresh faces, pink, white and red, seemed to smile at him as
he approached, and the odour exhaled from their dewy centres suggested
happy fancies to his mind. Strolling up and down in delightful
solitude, he forgot all about his books, or rather thought of them
just sufficiently to relieve himself from the burden of them, by
putting the two he carried aside on a garden-seat, there to await his
pleasure. And presently he threw himself down full length on a sloping
bank of mossy turf warmed by the sun, and folding his arms behind him,
let his head rest upon them while he gazed straight up into the
infinite reaches of the glorious blue sky. There sailed a stray bit of
fleecy cloud,—here flew a swift-winged swallow,—and immediately
above him, quivering aloft among the sunbeams like a jewel suspended
in mid-heaven, carolled a lark, with all that tender joyousness which
has inspired one of the sweetest of our English poets to write of it
"From out the roseate cloud, athwart the blue,
I hear thee sound anew
That song of thine a-shimmering down the sky,
And daisies, touched thereby,
Look up to thee in tears which men mistake for dew.
I see thee clip the air, and rush and reel,
As if excess of zeal
Had giddied thee in thy chromatic joys;—
And overhead dost poise
With outstretched wings of love, that bless while they appeal.
Thou hast within thy throat a peal of bells,
Dear dainty fare-thee-wells!—
And like a flame dost leap from cloud to cloud:—
Is't this that makes thee proud?
Or is't that nest of thine, deep-hidden in the dells?
Whate'er thy meaning be, or vaunt or prayer,
I know thy home is there;
And when I hear thee trill, as now thou dost,
I take the world on trust,
And with the world thyself, thou foeman of despair!"
The leafy branches of the trees were delicately outlined in air as
with an artist's careful pencil,—no breeze stirred them,—and the
exceeding loveliness of nature, without man's cruelty to mar it, gave
the boy's heart a strange pang. If the jarring voice of his father had
suddenly startled the silence, something dark, yet undefinable, would,
he knew, have blotted out all the beauty of the scene. A thrush
alighted near him, and ruffling out its speckled breast, looked at him
inquisitively with its bright round black eyes,—there was no
* From 'A Song of the Sea and Other Poems.' By Eric Mackay.
in the bird's intrusion, but there would have been in his father's
presence. He tried in his own odd way to analyse this feeling, and
started on his usual themes of troubled thought;—did his father
really love him?—did his mother?—was there any good in his loving
them?—and what was to come of it all? All at once as he lay musing,
some one called him by his pet-name,—
He jumped to his feet, and looked about everywhere, but could see
This time the prolonged sound seemed to come from the boundary hedge
against which the roses grew, and where there was a mixture of many
other blossoms, such as are found growing in wild and varied beauty
all along the lanes in Devonshire. He went close up to it, and
glancing eagerly hither and thither, suddenly perceived a little rosy
face in an aureole of gold-brown curls, cautiously peeping through a
tangle of white jessamine and green briony, and smiling at him with a
half-bold, half-frightened glee.
"'Ullo, Lylie! I sees 'ee!" and the face pushed itself further
through the veiling screen of foliage and flowers—"'Ullo, Lylie!"
"Why, Jessamine dear!" exclaimed Lionel, flushing with pleasure at
the sight of the winsome little maid he had hardly ever expected to
meet again—"How did you manage to come? How did you find your way?"
Little Miss Dale did not reply immediately. Looking round in every
direction, she demanded—
"Can't I git right froo?—an' see 'oor muzzer?"
Lionel thought rapidly of the chances of detection,—of the
gardener who might be acting as a spy on him by his father's
orders,—of the other servants who might also be on the watch,—and
though not at all afraid for himself, he had no desire to get Reuben
Dale and his little girl into trouble. So he went down on his knees in
front of the jessamine flowers and Jessamine herself, and drawing her
little baby face to his own, kissed it with a simple boyish tenderness
that was very sweet and commendable.
"My mother isn't here to-day—"he said, softly for fear of being
overheard,—"She's gone to Ilfracombe to see some friends, and won't
be back till evening. My father and my tutor are away too, and I'm all
alone. I've promised not to leave this garden, or I should have come
to see you, Jessamine. How's Mr. Dale?"
"My feyther's quite well,"—responded Jessamine, with some
solemnity; "He's diggin' another grave,—a weeny weeny grave,—for a
little tiny baby. Oh, such a prutty grave it be!"
She sighed,—put her finger in her mouth, and raised her blue eyes
pensively, like a dreaming angel.
"How's 'ee feelin', Lylie?" she asked presently with sudden
concern—"'Ee looks white,—very white, Lylie, 'ee looks,—like my
muzzer when she went to Heaven."
"I've been doing a lot of lessons, Jessamine," he replied—"That's
how it is, I suppose. Books make you get pale, I think. You
never read books, do you?"
Jessamine shook her head.
"I can't read"—she confessed—"I can spell,—an' I know my
fairy-book. Auntie Kate tells me my fairy-book, an' God's Book. That's
Fairy-book and God's Book! Here began and ended Jessamine's
literary knowledge. Lionel smiled, as the grim picture of Professor
Cadman-Gore involuntarily presented itself, and he thought of the
disdain in which that erudite individual held both fairy-books, God's
Book, and the very idea of God, that wished-for 'Person' whom Lionel
would have preferred to recognise rather than the scientific Atom. And
kneeling on the warm grass that was filled with the small unassuming
blossoms of pimpernel and eye-bright, he playfully drew a handful of
Jessamine's brown curls through the green hedge, and tied them with a
knot of her own namesake-flowers.
"Now you can't go away!" he said merrily—"I have fastened you up,
and you are my little prisoner!"
She peered sideways over her shoulder at what he had done, and
chuckled,—then laughed till her pretty cheeks were dented all over
with dancing dimples,—and, perfectly satisfied with the arrangement,
she settled herself down more comfortably among the leaves with a
dove-like croon of pleasure.
"I told 'ee there wos a 'ole in the 'edge where I could creep
froo!" she said triumphantly—"This is the 'ole! It's allus
bin 'ere. I've often coom'd when nobody's by, an' got roses for my own
self. There be lots o' roses, bain't there?"
This with an inquiring glance, and suggestive pout.
Lionel took the hint, and springing up, ran to gather for her a
posy of the prettiest half-open buds he could find,—then, tying them
up with a bit of string he had in his pocket, he knelt down again, and
gave them gently into her hands. She buried her tiny nose deep among
the scented petals.
"O how bee-oo-ful!" she sighed—"'Ee'se a rare nice boy, Lylie!—I
likes 'ee! Where's your Drojunwors now?"
He laughed joyously—
"Just where they always were, dear, I expect!" he answered,—"I
don't suppose anything will ever move them out of Homer's epic! It's
always the same old story, you know!"
Jessamine nodded demurely.
"Always the same ole story!" she echoed with a comical
plaintiveness—"I 'member!—'bout a bad lady, an' big men. Oh Lylie!
there's a bee!"
She huddled herself and her roses up into a heap, her pretty little
face expressive of the direst dismay as a big, boozy bumble-bee
circled round and round her in apparent doubt as to whether she might
not be some new specimen of floral growth, full of delicious
honey,—and Lionel, arming himself with a long fern-leaf, did manful
battle with the winged epicurean till it became thoroughly convinced
that these small pretty creatures were human beings, not flowers, and
boomed lazily off on another quest for dainty novelties.
"He wor a bad bee!" said Jessamine, looking after the
offending insect, and slowly relaxing her close-cuddled
attitude—"He's got all the flowers i' th' garden,—an' they oughter
be 'nuff for him wizout mine, oughtn't they?"
"Of course they ought!" agreed Lionel, feeling quite happy in the
companionship of his little village friend, as he parted the dividing
screen of flowers and leaves, and drew closer to her—"Tell me
Jessamine, did you come all by yourself across that big field over
"'Iss!" she replied proudly—"The field's just 'tween th' church
an' this big 'ouse where 'ee lives,—Auntie Kate calls it 'short cut.'
Sometimes it's full o' cows, an' I'se 'fraid of 'em,—an' I can't
coom,—but to-day there's no cows, so I runned all th' way to see 'ee,
Lylie!" and she looked at him affectionately—"When's 'ee coomin' to
Lionel's bright face clouded. "I don't know, Jessamine!" he said
sadly—"I wish I could come,—you don't think I wouldn't come if I
could!—fast enough! But I have such a lot of lessons to do just
now—they take up all my time,—besides I'm not allowed to go
anywhere except with the Professor."
"The 'fessor? Wot's 'ee?" inquired Jessamine.
"He's my tutor,—a very clever man, who teaches me."
Jessamine looked puzzled.
"Well, can't the 'fessor coom with 'ee?—an' see me an' my
"I'm afraid he wouldn't care to,—he's a very old man—"
"I know!" interrupted Jessamine with a nod of her
head—"He's a bad ole man,—he doesn't want to see me. He's
like the bad man i' th' fairy-book wot lost the babes i' th'
wood,—an' he's like 'oor feyther, Lylie! didn't 'ee say 'oor feyther
would scold me if I came froo this 'edge, eh?"
"Yes,—and I expect he would!" said Lionel.
"Then he's bad!" declared the small lady with emphasis. "Nobody
oughtn't to scold me, 'cos I'se allus tryin' to be good." Then, with a
sudden change of tone, she added "Poor Lylie! I'se so sorry for 'ee!"
There was something strangely moving in her voice, and Lionel,
always sensitive, felt the tears rising very near his eyes.
"Why, dear?" he asked rather tremulously,—while, to hide his
feelings he busied himself in untying the twist he had made of her
hair and the jessamine blossoms.
"'Cos I fink you'se lonely,—an' I'se 'fraid you won't see me never
And again she raised her blue eyes to the blue heavens, and looked
as if she saw some dawning splendour there.
Lionel took both her little hands in his own and fondled them. There
was a sadness at his heart, but not the kind of sadness she seemed to
"You mustn't say that, Jessamine,"—he murmured gently—"I'll be
sure to see you again often. Even when we go away from Combmartin, I
sha'n't forget you. I shall come back and see you when I'm a big man."
She peeped wistfully up at him.
"You'se be a long long time 'fore you'se a big man, Lylie!" she
He was silent. What she suggested was very true. It would indeed be
a 'long long time' before the 'big man' stage of existence came to
him, if it ever came to him at all. He was perfectly conscious within
himself that he did not want to be a 'big man,'—and that it was quite
enough sadness for him to be a small boy. He could not realise the
possibility of his living through years and years of work and worry,
to attain this end of mere manhood,—and then to go on through more
years of worse work and worry, just to become old, wrinkled and
toothless, and drop into the grave, forgetful of all that he had ever
known, and senseless to the fact that he had ever existed. He was
entirely aware that most people went through this kind of thing and
didn't seem to mind it,—but somehow it did not commend itself to him
as his own particular destiny. If there were another life to be taken
up after death, then he could understand the necessity there might be
for living this one nobly,—but the scientists had done away with that
hope, and had declared death to be the only end of every soul's
career. Thoughts such as these flitted vaguely through his brain while
he knelt in front of Jessamine, holding her wee warm hands in
his,—she in her turn regarding him seriously with her large, soft,
angelic eyes. Over the two children a silence and a shadow hung,
inexplicable to themselves. Or was it not so much a shadow as a
brightness?—made impressive by the very stillness of its approach and
the mystic glory of its presence? It seemed incredible that the thorny
and cruel ways of the world should be waiting to pierce and torture
these innocent young lives,—it was monstrous to imagine the
dreamy-eyed, tender-hearted boy growing up into the usual type of
modern man,—the orthodox pattern demanded by the customs and
conventionalities of his kind,—and still more repellent was the idea
that the sweet baby-girl with her pure look and heavenly smile, should
be destined for the rough lot of a mere peasant drudge, so to pass her
days and end them, without a touch of the finer essences which should
nourish and expand all the delicate susceptibilities of her nature.
Was there nothing better in store for these children than what we call
life? Who could tell! If the deep charm which held them both mute,
could have dissolved itself in music some answer might have been
given; but God's meanings cannot be construed into the language of
mortals; hence the reason of many expressive silences often
encompassing us,—silences more eloquent than speech. Presently
Jessamine stirred uneasily in her nest of leaves.
"I'se goin' now, Lylie," she announced.
"Oh, must you go so soon?" exclaimed Lionel—"Can't you stay a
Jessamine pursed up her rosy lips with a gravely important air.
"I'se 'fraid not!" she said—"I'se promised to fetch my feyther
'ome to dinner, an' ee'l be waitin' for me."
"Well, will you come back again, this afternoon?" urged the
boy—"Come back about four o'clock, and I'll be here to see you."
The little maid looked coquettishly doubtful.
"I doesn't know 'bout that!" she murmured coyly—"My ole 'oss
'spects me this arternoon."
might leave the old horse for once to come to me!"
pleaded Lionel—"You know I may have to go away altogether from
"'Iss!" sighed Jessamine, her eyes drooping demurely,—then with a
quick brightening of her face she added—"Well, I'll try, Lylie.
P'r'aps I'll come an' p'r'aps I won't be able to come. But I'm sure
I'll see 'ee soon again; I won't 'ave to wait till you'se a big man.
I'll see 'ee long 'fore then. 'Ee mustn't forgit me, Lylie!"
"Forget you! Certainly not!" responded the boy almost ardently, as
he set the little white sun-bonnet straight on her head, and tied the
strings of it under her pretty chin—"I shall never, never forget you,
dear little Jessamine!"
She pushed herself further through the hedge on her hands and knees,
and smiled up at him.
"Wouldn't 'ee like to kiss me 'gain, Lylie?" she demanded with
For answer he put his arms round her neck, all among the blossoms,
and tenderly pressed the little cherry of a mouth so frankly uplifted
to his own.
"Good-bye, Lylie!" she said then, beginning to scramble out from
among the leaves.
"Good-bye, Jessamine! But not for long!" he answered.
"Not for long!" she echoed—"You'se
sure not to forgit me,
"Sure!" declared the boy, smiling at her somewhat sadly, as she now
stood upright behind the hedge, and her little figure could only be
dimly seen through the close network of leaves. She turned to
go,—then on a sudden impulse ran back, and with her two hands made a
round peep-hole through the trailing sprays of jessamine, so that her
winsome baby face looked literally framed in her own blossoms.
"Good-bye, Lylie! Not for long!" she said.
And with that she disappeared.
Left alone once more, Lionel did not feel quite so happy as he had
done before his little visitor came. Somehow the pretty child's quick
departure grieved him,—he longed to break through the boundary hedge
and run after her, and have another long and happy day of rest and
freedom,—but he had given 'his word of honour' to his father not to
leave the grounds, and he manfully resisted the sore temptation that
beset him. Yet certain it was that with Jessamine the light of the
landscape seemed to have fled;—a sense of desolation oppressed him;
and to distract his thoughts he took up the two books he had left on
the garden-seat, and set himself to study them. But in vain,—his mind
wandered,—he could not fix his attention,—and he began watching the
graceful movements of two butterflies that flew in and out among the
roses,—pale-blue pretty creatures, like cornflowers on wings. And all
at once the terrible callousness of nature forced itself upon his
attention as it had never done before, and filled him with gloom.
"Nothing cares!" he thought—"If the best and wisest person that
ever lived were in trouble, or were to die, everything would go on
just the same;—the birds would sing and the butterflies dance, and
the flowers grow, and the sun shine. I suppose that is really why they
have fixed upon an Atom as the first cause of it all,—you can't
expect an Atom to care!"
He moved slowly down the path, and went towards the carriage-drive,
where plenty of deep shade was cast by a double row of broad and
full-foliaged elms. Outside the closed carriage-gate he saw, through
the bars, a man standing, holding a basket in one hand, and making
uncouth signs to him with the other. He advanced quickly,—then as
quickly stopped, as he more plainly perceived the hideous aspect of
the unhappy creature who confronted him,—a miserable human deformity,
with twisted tottering limbs, protruding lack-lustre eyes and a
deathly grin upon the wide mouth, which through illness, idiotcy, or
both, slobbered and mumbled continuously and incoherently. The head of
the wretched man jerked to and fro with an incessant convulsive
motion,—in the basket he carried were a number of exquisite white
roses, together with several large, beautifully polished rosy apples,
the fresh loveliness of these natural products forming a strange and
cruel contrast to the appearance of their ragged and miserable vendor,
who continued to beckon Lionel with his twitching hand, smiling that
fixed and ghastly smile of his which, no doubt, he meant, poor fellow,
as an expression of deference and good-will. But the boy, chilled to
the marrow by the sight of such an unexpected image of horror in human
shape, stood stock still for a minute, staring,—then turning, he ran
with all his might into the house, and up to the school-room, every
pulse in his body throbbing with nervous shock and repulsion.
"Oh, it is quite right,—it must be right!" he gasped, as he flung
himself down in a chair and tried to forget the gruesome figure he had
just seen—"It is an Atom that created everything!—it couldn't
be a Person! No Person with pity or kindness, could allow such a poor
dreadful man as that to live on, and suffer! A good God would have
He shuddered, hiding his face in his hands. His forehead throbbed
and burned,—the burden of the horror of merely human things suddenly
came down upon him, and seemed greater than he could bear. Human toil,
human torture, human weakness, human helplessness, all endured for
nothing!—and only to end in death! Life then was a mere rack, in
which poor humanity was bound, tormented and slain—uselessly!—for
so indeed must Life appear to all who leave God out of it, or set Him
aside as an unknown quantity. He got up, and walked to and fro
"How wicked it is!" he mused, his young soul fired with strange and
feverish indignation—"How vile!—to make us live against our wills!
We didn't ask to come into the world,—it is shameful we should be
sent here. Unless there were some reason for it,—but there's none; if
there were one, it would surely be explained. A reasonable Person
would explain it. Reuben Dale believes there's a reason and thinks
it's all right,—but then's he's quite ignorant—he doesn't know any
better. I wonder what he would say about that beggar-man?—could he
tell why his God made such a dreadful creature?"
He stopped in his uneasy rambling, and struck by a sudden thought,
went downstairs in search of a particular book. He looked in the
drawing-room, and in his father's study, and everywhere where books
were kept, but vainly,—then, still possessed by the one idea he went
along the stone passage that led to the back of the house and the
servants' offices, and called one of the housemaids who had always
been rather kind to him.
"Lucy! are you there?"
"Yes, Master Lionel! What is it?"
"Have you got a Testament you can lend me? I want to look at it
just for a few minutes."
"Why certainly!" And Lucy, a bright wholesome-faced girl of about
twenty came out of the kitchen, smiling—"I'll lend you my
school-prize one, Master Lionel,—I know you'll take great care of
"That I will!" the boy assured her, whereupon she tripped away, and
soon returned with a book carefully wrapped up in white tissue-paper.
She unfolded this, and showed a handsome morocco-bound square volume,
bearing its title in letters of gold—"New Testament."
"Don't you ink it, there's a dear!" she said—"And give it to me
back when you've done with it."
Lionel nodded, and returning to the school-room, shut the door.
Then, with a fluttering heart, he opened the book. What he looked for
he soon found,—the story of Christ healing the lepers. Leprosy, he
had been taught, was the most frightful disease known,—both
hereditary and infectious, it was a deadly scourge that tortured the
limbs, distorted the countenance and made of the human frame a thing inhuman and ghastly,—yet Christ never turned away in loathing
from any miserable creature so afflicted. On the contrary He healed
all who came to Him, and sent them on their way rejoicing,—yet on one
such occasion, when ten lepers were cleansed, only one returned to
give thanks to his great Benefactor. Lionel felt that there was
something more in this narrative than was quite apparent in the mere
reading of it,—something subtle and significant, which he could not
quite grasp, though he began to reason with himself—"Is it because we
are ungrateful that life is made cruel for us,—or what is it?"
His head ached and his eyes smarted,—he closed the Testament
sorrowfully, and with a deep sigh. "It's no use to me"—he
said—"Because though it's all very beautiful, my father says it isn't
true. And in one of the books I have, the writer who is a very clever
man, says it isn't at all certain that Christ ever existed, and that
it was Peter and Paul who invented Him. Oh dear me! I wish I knew what to believe,—because even in the scientific arguments no one
man agrees with the other. It's all a muddle, whichever way you turn!"
He went downstairs again, and returned the Testament to its owner
with a gentle,
"Thank you, Lucy."
"Did you find what you wanted, Master Lionel?" asked the
"Not exactly!" he answered—"But it's all right, Lucy—"here he
hesitated—"Lucy, did you see a beggar-man selling roses and apples
just now outside the carriage-gate?—he was all twisted on one side,
and had such a dreadful face!"
"Poor fellow!" said Lucy pityingly—"Yes, Master Lionel,—I often
see him. He's the 'silly man' of the village,—the children call him
'Hoddy-Doddy.' But he's not a beggar, though he's more than
half-witted,—he's a rare good heart of his own, and an idea of
what's right and honest, for he manages to make his own living and is
a burden to nobody. It's wonderful how he manages it,—I suppose God
looks after him, for no one else does."
"God looks after him!" This gave Lionel new subject-matter for
reflection, and he returned to the school-room, slowly and
thoughtfully. His dinner was brought up to him there, and afterwards
he set himself to work at his lessons assiduously. Hot head and
trembling hands did not deter him from application,—and he worked on
so steadily that he never knew how time went, till a sudden sick
giddiness seized him, and he was obliged to get up and go out in the
garden for fresh air lest he should faint. He found then that it was
four o'clock, and remembering that he had asked Jessamine to come back
to the ''ole in th' 'edge' at that hour, he went to the appointed
spot, and waited there patiently till nearly five. But the little
maiden did not appear,—and he was quite down-hearted and weary with
disappointment, as well as with overwork, when at last he went in to
his tea. Lucy had prepared that meal for him, and she stood looking at
him somewhat compassionately as he listlessly threw off his cap and
approached the table.
"I should get to bed early if I were you, Master Lionel;"—she said
kindly—"You look quite tired and wore out, that you do."
"I want to wait up till mother comes home;"—he answered.
Lucy fidgeted about, and seemed uneasy in her mind at this.
"Oh, I think you'd better not," she observed; "Your pa'd be very
angry if you did. You know you're always to be in bed by nine, and
your ma said she couldn't possibly get back before eleven. You go to
bed like a good boy, or you'll get us all into trouble."
"Very well!" he said, with an indifferent air—"I don't mind! after
all, it isn't as if she cared, you know. If she cared—"here
quite suddenly his lip began to tremble, and to his own amazement and
indignation, he burst out crying.
The warm-hearted Lucy had her arms round him in a minute.
"Why, what's the matter, dear?" she asked caressingly, drawing the
sobbing boy to her good womanly breast—"Lor' sakes!—how you're
trembling! There, there! don't cry, don't cry! you're tired;—that's
what it is. Poor little fellow!—you've got too many lessons to learn,
and too little play. I'm real sorry, that I am, that Mr. Montrose has
"So am I;"—murmured Lionel, very much ashamed of his own emotion,
though he was chld enough to feel a certain pleasure and comfort in
having Lucy's kind arm round him—"I liked Mr. Montrose." Here he
choked back his tears, and fingered Lucy's brooch, which was a
brilliant masterpiece of the village silversmith's skill, being a
heart with a long dagger run through it, the said dagger having the
name 'Lucy' engraved on its harmless point. "Who gave you that, Lucy?"
"My young man,"—replied Lucy with a giggle; "I'm the dagger, and
I'm supposed to have run right through his heart,—don't you see?
Isn't it funny?"
"Very funny!" agreed Lionel, beginning to smile faintly.
Lucy giggled afresh.
"That's what I said when he gave it to me,—but he was very cross
and told me it wasn't funny at all,—it was poetry. You're feeling
better now, aren't you, dear?"
"Oh yes!" and Lionel dried his eyes on her apron—"Don't you mind
me, Lucy. I'm only a little tired, as you say. I'll have my tea now."
He sat down to table and made such a brave show of being hungry,
that Lucy soon withdrew, quite satisfied. But when she had gone he
ceased eating, and went to his old seat in the window, there to dream
and muse. He tried conscientiously, before the evening closed in, to
study some more of the 'subjects' Professor Cadman-Gore had left for
his consideration, but he could not,—his head swam directly he bent
over a printed page, so he gave up the attempt in despair. He watched
the sun sink, and the stars come out, and then went willingly enough
to bed. Before he shut his little bedroom-window he heard an owl hoot
among the neighbouring woods, and thought what a pitiful cry it
"Perhaps it is like me, wondering why it was ever made!" he said to
himself—"And perhaps it thinks the Atom as cruel as I do!"
TIRED out as he was, sleep came reluctantly to Lionel's eyes
that night. There was an odd quick palpitation behind his brows, which
teased him for a long time and would not let him rest,—it seemed to
him like a little mill for ever turning and grinding out portions of
facts which he had recently committed to memory,—bits of history,
bits of grammar, bits of Euclid, bits of Latin, bits of Greek,—till
he began to wonder how all the bits would piece themselves together
and make a comprehensive ground-work for further instruction.
By-and-by he found himself considering how very stupid it was of
Richard Coeur de Lion to make so much fuss over the Holy Sepulchre,
when now there were so many clever men alive who were all agreed that
Christ was a myth, and that there never was any Holy Sepulchre at all!
What a very dense king was Richard!—what a brave dunce!—with his
perpetual oath "Par le Splendeur de Dieu!" While all the time, if he
had only known it, the Atom was just a mechanical twisty thing with no
'Splendeur de Dieu' about it! And oh, what a wicked waste of life
there had been!—what terrific martyrdoms for the 'Faith'!—merely to
end in an age which was scientifically prepared to deny and utterly
condemn all spiritual and supernatural beliefs whatsoever! Gradually
and by gentle degrees, Coeur de Lion and the 'Splendeur de Dieu,' and
the Atom, and Jessamine Dale, with bits of facts, and bits of
Professor Cadman-Gore's unhandsome features curiously joined on to the
dreadful physiognomy of the 'silly man' of the village, got jumbled
all together in inextricable confusion, and the little tiresome mill
in his head turned slower and slower, and presently ceased to
grind,—and he fell into a profound slumber,—the deep, stirless
trance of utter exhaustion. So dead asleep was he that a voice calling
"Lylie! Lylie!" only reached his consciousness at last as though it
were a faint far-off sound in a dream,—and not till the call had been
repeated many times did he start up, rubbing his heavy eyelids, and
gazing in speechless alarm at a mysterious cloaked figure bending over
his bed. The room was dark save for the moonlight that struck one wide
slanting beam across the floor, and he could not for a moment imagine
what strange and spectral visitant thus roused him from his rest. But
before he had time to think, the figure's arms were round him, and its
voice murmured tenderly,
"Lylie? Have I frightened you? Poor boy!—poor baby! Don't you know
"Mother!" And in his sudden surprise and joy he sprang up half out
of bed to return her embrace. "How good of you to come and see
me!—and you haven't even taken your hat and cloak off! Did Lucy tell
you I wanted to wait up for you?"
"No,—Lucy didn't tell me," answered Mrs. Valliscourt, drawing him
more closely to her breast; "Poor child, how thin you are! Such a
little bag o' bones! You mustn't catch cold,—curl yourself under my
cloak, so! There! Now Lylie, I want you to be very quiet, and listen
to me attentively, will you?"
Cuddled under the warm cloak, with her arms round him, Lionel was in
a state of perfect happiness,—this unexpected nocturnal visit seemed
too good to be true. He was secretly astonished, but entirely
glad,—he had never dreamed of the possibility of so much consolation
"You feel so small!" said his mother then with a tremulous
laugh—"In your little nightgown you seem just a mere bundle of a
baby,—the very same sort of bundle I used to carry about and be so
proud of. You were a baby once, you know!"
Lionel nestled closer and kissed her soft hand.
"Yes mother, I suppose I was!"
"Well, now Lylie," she went on, speaking rapidly and in low
tones,—"You must try and understand all I say to you. I am going
away dear,—for a time ... on a visit .... with a friend who wishes to
make me happy. I'm not very happy just at present, .. neither are you
I daresay, .. you see your father is exceptionally clever and
good"—and her voice here rang with a delicate inflection of
mockery—"and—very naturally,—he does not care much for people who
are not equally clever and good,—so it makes it difficult to get on
with him sometimes. He does not like me to sing and dance and amuse
myself any more than he likes you to play games with other boys. You
are too young to go about by yourself and have a good time, yet,—but
by-and-by you will grow up, and you will know what a good time means.
You will find out that when people get very very dull, and are almost
ready to kill themselves for dulness, their doctors advise them to
have a change of scenery, and a change of society. That's what I want.
Good people like your father, never want a change,—I'm not good, and
Lionel began to feel pained and perplexed.
"You are good, mother!" he said with emphasis.
"No, darling I'm not;"—she answered quickly—"And that is just
what I want to impress upon you. I'm not good;—I'm a bad, selfish,
cold-hearted woman. I don't love anybody—not even you!"
"Oh, mother!" The little cry was piteous, like that of a wounded
She stooped and gathered him up suddenly in her arms, lifting him
completely out of bed,—and holding him thus with an almost passionate
tenderness, rocked him to and fro as if he were the merest infant.
"No!" she said, a mingled scorn and sweetness thrilling in her
voice—"No,—I don't love my baby at all,—I never did! I never had
any heart, Lylie,—never! I never rocked you in my arms like this all
day, and kissed your dear little rosy feet and hands, and sang you to
sleep with all the funny little nonsense songs I knew! No, my pet! I
never loved you,—I never did,—I never shall!"
And bending down, she kissed him again and again with a burning
force and fervour that frightened him. He dared not move, she clasped
him so convulsively,—and he dared not speak, for as the moonbeams
glittered on her face he saw that she was deadly pale, and that her
eyes looked wild;—he feared she was ill,—an instinctive feeling that
something terrible was about to happen made his heart beat fast, and
he trembled violently.
"Are you cold, dear?" she murmured, sitting down in a chair by the
bed, and still holding him jealously in her embrace,—"There!" and she
drew the ample folds of her fur-lined cloak more snugly around him
with all the cosseting fondness of an adoring mother—"That's cosier,
isn't it, little one? Now, let me finish my talk. You know, Lylie
dear, when you were a baby, I used to have you all to myself, and that
made a great difference to me—I was quite happy then. I used to plan
such pretty things for you,—I had so many hopes too—oh, so many! I
was only a girl when you came to me, and girls often have pretty
fancies. And you were such a darling baby,—so plump, and round, and
rosy—and merry!—oh, so merry! And I was very proud of you, and very
jealous too,—I used to nurse you and dress you all myself, because I
could not bear the idea of any common paid woman taking care of you.
And when you began to speak, I did not want you to be taught
lessons,—I wanted you to play all day and grow big and strong,—just
as I often wanted to dance and sing myself. But your father made up
his mind that you were to be a very clever man, and he had you taught
all sorts of things as soon as you could spell. And so gradually I
lost my baby. And I never cared—afterwards. I cared a good deal at
first, because I saw you were getting thin and pale and
tired-looking;—but it was no use—so I gave up caring. I don't care
now,—because you see you are growing quite a man, Lylie, though you
are not eleven yet,—poor little man!—and you won't want me at all. I
am only in your way, and I am always vexing your father and making
trouble by giving my opinions about you and your studies. That is one
of the reasons why I am going on this—this visit,—just to enjoy
myself a little. If it hadn't been for you, I shouldn't have come back
here to-night,—but I couldn't go without bidding my boy good-bye,—I
She said this wildly,—great tears filled her eyes and dropped
heavily one by one among Lionel's curls. He sat up in her arms, his
little bare feet dangling down from her knee, and put one hand
coaxingly against her cheek.
"Are you really going to-night, mother? So late?" he asked
plaintively—"Must you go?"
She looked straight at him and smiled through her tears.
"Yes, I must! I want a good time for once in my life, Lylie,—and
I'm going to have it! I'm like you,—I want a long holiday—no
lessons, and no tutors!"
A sense of impending desolation filled his soul.
"Oh mother, I wish you'd take me with you!" he said—"I do love you
What strange expression was that which darkened her beautiful face?
Was it guilt, shame or despair?—or all three in one foreboding
"You love me so much? Poor boy, do you? It is strange,—for I've
given you little cause to love me. You mustn't do it, Lylie!—it's a
mistake!—and—to-morrow your father will tell you why."
She was silent a minute,—then, glancing at the little feet that
gleamed in the moonbeams, frail and white against her dark draperies,
she took them both in her hand and kissed them.
"Poor, cold little tootsies!" she said laughing nervously, though
the tears still glistened on her cheeks—"I mustn't keep you too long
out of bed. See here, Lylie,"—and she drew a small soft parcel from
her pocket—"I want you to keep this in some safe place for
me—till—till I come back—it is the only remembrance I have of my
baby—when you were a baby. I was a very proud little mamma, as
I have told you,—and no sash in any of the London shops seemed good
enough, or pretty enough for my boy. So I had this one specially woven
on one of the French looms after my own design, for you to wear with
your little white frocks. It is blue silk, and the pattern on it is a
daisy chain. Don't let your father see it, but keep it for me till I
return and ask you for it. I don't feel like taking it with me—where
I am going. See,—I'll put it under your pillow, and you must hide it
somewhere in the morning—will you?"
"Yes, mother. But—but will you be long away?"
He asked this timidly, bewildered and frightened by he knew not
"I don't know, darling;"—she answered evasively—"It all depends!
Your father will give you all the news of me! And he will be sure to
tell you that you mustn't love me, Lylie!—do you hear that? You
mustn't love me!"
"But I shall,"—he said gently—"Nobody can prevent it. I shall
always love you."
She sat very still a moment,—the brooding shadow heavy on her
"You think so now,"—she murmured more to herself than to
him,—"Poor boy—you think so now—but when you know—"
Then she caught him close to her breast, and kissed him.
"Now for the downy nest!" she said, lifting him up, and laying him
tenderly back into bed again, her eyes resting upon him with a
miserable yearning, though she forced a strange distraught
smile—"All the moonlight shines on your pale face, Lylie, and you
look—oh, you look like a little dead child, my darling!—like a
little dead child!"
And suddenly falling on her knees, she threw her arms across the bed
and dropping her head upon them, sobbed as though her heart were
Poor Lionel shivered in every limb with alarm and distress,—his
sensitive soul was racked by his mother's anguish, though it was
incomprehensible to him,—and he felt as if indeed it would be better
to die than to see her thus.
"Don't cry, mother!" he faltered at last faintly; "Oh don't cry!"
She raised herself, and dried her eyes with a handkerchief from
which the delicate odour of violets came floating, sweet as the breath
of the living flowers.
"No,—I won't cry, darling!" she answered, beginning to laugh
hysterically, "I don't know really why I should, because I am quite
happy—quite!" And rising to her feet, she fastened her cloak about
her with hands that trembled greatly—Lionel saw the diamonds on her
white fingers shake like drops of dew about to fall,—"I'm going to
have a splendid time and enjoy myself, thoroughly!"—this she said
with a curiously defiant air—"and whatever happens afterwards may
happen as it likes,—I don't care!" She repeated the words with hard
emphasis. "I don't care! Years ago I should have
cared—dreadfully,—but I've been taught not to care, and now I don't.
'Don't Care' was hung they say,—but as far as I'm concerned, it
really doesn't matter whether one's hung, or drowned, or dies of a
fever or a surfeit,—it's all the same a hundred years hence!" She
lifted her hands to her head, and with a coquettish touch settled the
small velvet hat she wore, more becomingly on her clustering
hair,—while Lionel looking up at her from his pillow, saw all her
wonderful beauty transfigured, as it were, in the ethereal radiance of
the moon, and as he looked he felt, by some strange instinct, that he
must try to hold her back from some unknown yet menacing peril.
"Mother, don't go!" he pleaded—"Stay to-night, at any rate! Wait
till to-morrow,—oh, do, mother! Don't leave me!"
He stretched out his emaciated little arms,—and his eyes, full of
child-yearning and student thought commingled, appealed to her with a
speechless eloquence. She bent over him again, and taking his hands,
pressed them close to her bosom.
"Dear, if I had any heart I shouldn't leave you;"—she said—"I
know that. But I have none,—not a scrap. I want you to remember this,
and then you will not feel at all sad about me. People without hearts
always get on best in this world. Your mother used to have a
heart,—full of romance, and nonsense, and sentiment, and faith,
Lylie!—yes, dear, even faith. Your mother was a very ignorant woman
once, so ignorant as to actually believe in a God! You know how angry
your father is with silly folks who believe in a God? Well, he soon
got me out of all those foolish ways, and taught me that the only
necessary rule of life was Respectability. Oh, you don't know how dull
Respectability can be!—how insufferably hopelessly dull! You
don't know,—you can't understand, that when the only object in life
is to be respectable and nothing more,—no other ambition, no other
future, no other end,—it becomes deadly!—even desperate! You can't
understand—you are too young,—poor Lylie!—you are only a
child,—and I'm talking to you as if you were a man. Good-bye, dear!
Love me for to-night—you may love me a little, just till
morning comes,—I like to think you are loving me;—Good-bye!"
He clung round her neck.
"Don't go, mother!" he whispered.
She kissed him passionately.
"I must, Lylie! I should die or go mad if I didn't. I am tired to
death,—I want a change!"
"But you won't be long away?" he murmured, still holding her fast.
"Not long,"—she replied mechanically; "Not long! See, I'll make
you a promise, Lylie!—I'll come back directly your father sends for
me!"—and she laughed,—a little cold, mirthless laugh which somehow
chilled Lionel's blood,—"My little boy,—my pet,—you must not cling
to me so!—you hurt me!—I cannot bear it—oh, I cannot bear it!"
A faint cry that was half a sob, escaped her, and she almost roughly
unloosened his arms from about her neck, and put him back on his
pillow. He was pained and bewildered.
"Did I really hurt you, mother? he asked wistfully.
"Yes,—you really hurt me. You—you pulled my hair;"—and she
smiled, her beautiful eyes shining down upon him like stars in the
semi-dark- ness—"And I felt as though your little fingers were
pulling at my heart too! Only I have no heart!—I forgot that,—but
you mustn't forget it." She paused,—for at that moment the
crunching noise of wheels was heard outside on the gravel of the
carriage-drive,—and she listened, with a strange wild look of
expectation on her face.
"You've read all about the French Revolution, Lylie, haven't you?
Oh yes, poor little mannikin, I know you have!—I daresay you've got
all the troubles of Louis Seize by heart. You remember when the
tumbrils or death-carts used to come rattling along the streets, to
fetch the people for execution? Well, I heard the wheels of my
death-cart just now,—it has come for me,—and I'm
going to execution, by choice, not by compulsion!"
Roused to sudden energy, Lionel sprang up in his bed.
"Mother, mother, you sha'n't go!" he exclaimed, quite
desperately—"I'll come with you if you do!—you mustn't leave me
Her fair features hardened, as with a determined grasp she caught
hold of him and laid him down again.
"Naughty boy!" she said sharply—"You'll make me very angry and I
shall be sorry I came to see you and say good-night. Lie still, and go
to sleep. If you love me, you must obey me!"
Shivering a little, he turned from her, and hid his face in the
pillow, shrinking from the imperious regard of those wonderful eyes of
hers, which could flash with wrath as well as deepen with
tenderness,—and the old dull sense that he was nothing to her, and
less than nothing, stole upon him almost unawares. Presently, moved by
quick penitence, she stooped towards him, and ran her fingers
caressingly through his curls.
"There! I did not mean to be cross, Lylie! Forgive me! And kiss me
Silently he put his arms round her,—the moonlight fell pallidly
across the bed, spectrally illumining the faces of both child and
mother,—on the one was written with touching pathos, the last
hopeless, helpless appeal of innocence and grief,—on the other a
reckless resolve, and a callous, despairing self-contempt. Life gone
to waste and ruin through lovelessness and neglect;—such was the
history declared in every line of Helen Valliscourt's countenance, as
she clasped her boy once more to her breast, kissing him on lips,
cheeks and brow, and ruffling the thick soft clusters of his hair with
loving lingering fingers.
"Good-bye!—good-bye!" she whispered—"I have no heart—or it
would break, Lylie! Good-bye, my pet,—my baby! Love me till
With this last 'good-bye'—she tore herself resolutely away from
him,—and before he could quite realise it, she had gone. He lay still
for a moment trembling,—then on a sudden impulse left his bed, and
ran bare-footed out on the landing, where he paused at the top of the
stairs, frightened and irresolute. All was dark and silent.
"Mother!" he called faintly. A door swung to with a creaking groan
and rattle,—a rising wind sighed through the crevices.
The plaintive cry was swallowed up and lost in the darkness,—but
as he listened, with every nerve strained and every sense on the
alert, he heard the noise of trotting horses' hoofs and
carriage-wheels, apparently retreating at a rapid rate up the
Combmartin road. He rushed back to his room, and hastily opening the
window, looked out. It was full moonlight,—every object in the
landscape was as clearly defined as in broad day,—but not a trace of
any human creature was visible. The night air was chilly, and his
teeth chattered with cold,—but he was hardly aware of this, so great
was the burden of sorrow and desolation that had fallen on his heart.
He raised his eyes to the clear sky,—one splendid star, whose glowing
lustre was scarcely lessened by the rays of the moon, shone
immediately opposite to him like a silver sanctuary-lamp in heaven.
Owls hooted, answering each other with dismal persistence, and scared
bats fluttered in and out among the trees, which were now beginning to
sway languidly to and fro in a light breeze coming up from the sea.
And the impression of disaster and gloom deepened in the boy's
soul,—and once again from his trembling lips came the piteous wailing
"Mother! Oh, mother!"
Then a great rush of tears blinded his sight,—and feeling his way
back to bed through the salt haze of that bitter falling rain, he
shiveringly huddled himself into a forlorn little heap of misery, and
sobbed himself to sleep.
NEXT morning he showed few signs of the grief he had suffered
during the night. True, he was much paler than usual, and very
silent,—but being well accustomed to hide his emotions and keep his
troubles to himself, he complained of nothing, not even to Lucy when,
as she brought him his breakfast she said, in rather a flurried
"Your ma came home last night, Master Lionel, and went away
again,—what do you think of that?"
"I don't think anything"—he replied wearily; "Why should I? It's
not my business."
Lucy hesitated. Should she tell him what all the servants in the
house too truly suspected?—what the very villagers in Combmartin were
already gossiping about at their cottage doors and in the common room
of the inn?
"No, I can't do it!" she mentally decided—"He looks as white as a
little ghost, he do, and I won't bother him. He wouldn't understand
maybe, and he's got all his lessons to learn, poor little chap, and
it'll only unsettle him. Anyhow he'll hear it fast enough!" Aloud she
said, "I suppose your pa and the Professor will be home by the first
coach from Lynton this morning?"
"I suppose so," assented Lionel indifferently.
"I don't like Lynton myself," went on Lucy—"People talk about it a
lot, but it's just a nasty, damp, up-and-down place without any real
comfort in it. They've got a queer tram-car now that slides up the
hill from Lynmouth to Lynton, and that doesn't make it any
prettier I can tell you!" She paused; then added by way of a totally
irrelevant after-thought, "There's a letter addressed to your pa in
your ma's writing, waiting for him on his study-table."
Lionel remained silent, pretending to be entirely absorbed in the
enjoyment of his breakfast. Lucy, finding he was not inclined to talk,
soon left him to himself, much to his relief, for when quite alone he
was free to push away the food that nauseated him to even look at, and
to think his own thoughts without interruption. His mother's strange
visit to his bedside during the night,—her stranger words, her tears,
her kisses, seemed this morning more like the vague impressions of a
dream than a reality,—and unless he had found the sash,—his own
baby-sash,—she had left with him, under his pillow, he would have
been inclined to doubt the whole incident. As it was, he was afraid to
dwell too much upon it, for he had a horrible presentiment that it
meant something more than he dared formulate,—something
dreadful,—something hopeless,—something that for him, would bring
great misery. He had carefully hidden away the "baby-sash,"—a
four-yards' length of broad soft ribbon, with the delicate design of a
daisy-chain straying over its pale blue silken ground,—he had looked
at it first with critical interest, wondering what he had been like
when as an infant he had worn such a pretty thing, and noting that it
was scented with the same delicious odour of violets that had been
wafted from his mother's handkerchief, when she had dried her eyes
after her sudden fit of weeping. Having put it by in a safe place he
knew of, he went to his books and set himself desperately to work, in
order to try and forget his own disquietude. Beginning by translating
a passage of Virgil into English blank verse, he went on to 'Cæsar's
Com- mentaries,'—then he did several difficult and puzzling sums,
and was stretching every small fibre of his young brain well on the
rack of learning, when a coach-horn sounded, and he saw the Lynton
coach itself come rattling down-hill into Combmartin. His father and
Professor Cadman-Gore were on top,—that he saw at a glance,—and in
another few minutes he, taking cautious peeps from the school-room
window, perceived their two familiar figures walking up the drive and
entering the house. And now—something seemed to stop the boy from the
resumption of his tasks,—a curious sensation came over him as though
he were imperiously bidden to wait and hear the worst. What worst? He
could not analyse any 'worst' satisfactorily to himself—yet....
A violent ringing of bells in the outside corridor startled him and
set his heart beating rapidly,—he got up from his chair and stood,
anxiously listening and wondering what was the matter. All at once his
father's voice pitched in a high hoarse key of utmost wrath, called
"Lionel! Lionel! Where is the boy? Has he turned tramp, as his
mother has turned—"
The sentence was left unfinished, for at that moment Lionel ran
down the stairs quickly and faced him.
"I am here, father!"
He trembled as he spoke, for he thought his father had suddenly gone
mad. Crimson with fury, his eyes rolling wildly in his head, his
wolfish teeth clenched on his under-lip, he was a terrible sight to
see,—and his fiendish aspect overwhelmed poor Lionel with such alarm
that he scarcely perceived the Professor, who stood in the background,
cracking his great knuckles together and widening his mouth into a
strangely sardonic grin. Directly his little son appeared, Mr.
Valliscourt pulled himself up as it were by a violent effort, and
bringing his eyebrows together so that they met in a hard black line
on the bridge of his nose, he said in choked fierce accents—
are here! Did you—"he paused, took breath, and
resumed—"Did you see your mother yesterday?"
"Yes"—answered the boy faintly—"I saw her last night. I was in
bed, and she came and woke me up, and said good-bye to me."
Mr. Valliscourt glared at the fragile trembling little figure in
"Said good-bye to you? Was that all?—or was there anything else?
Lionel's teeth began to chatter with fear.
"She said,—she said she was going on a visit with—with a friend
who would make her happy,"—here a deep and awful oath sprang from Mr.
Valliscourt's lips, causing the Professor to cough loudly by way of
remonstrance,—"and—and—she said she was not very happy just now,
and that she wanted a change. She said she would not be gone long, and
she cried very much, and kissed me. And she promised she would come
back as soon as you sent for her. Oh dear!—whatever is the
matter? Oh father, do tell me, please!"
He staggered a little,—his head swam,—and he lost breath.
will tell you!" cried his father furiously—"I will
tell you truths, as she has told you lies! Your mother is a vile
woman!—a wretch,—a drab!—a disgrace to me and to you! Do you know
what it is when a wife leaves her husband, and runs away like a thief
in the night with another man? If you do not know, you must
learn,—for this is what your mother has done! The 'friend' who is to
'make her happy,'"—and Mr. Valliscourt's angry visage darkened with
a hideous sneer—"is Sir Charles Lascelles, the fashionable pet
blackguard of society,—she has gone with him,—she will never come
back! She has dishonoured my name, and glories in her dishonour! Never
think of her again,—never speak of her! From this day, remember you
have no mother!"
Lionel put up his trembling little hands to his head as though he
sought to shield himself from a storm of blows. His heart beat
wildly,—he tried to speak but could not. He stared helplessly at
Professor Cadman-Gore, and half fancied he saw a gleam of something
like pity flicker across the wrinkled and sour physiognomy of that
learned man,—but all was blurred and dim before his sight,—and the
only distinct things he realised were the horror of his father's face
and the still greater horror of his father's words.
"You know the meaning of a shamed life;"—went on Mr. Valliscourt
ruthlessly—"Young as you are, you have read in history how there have
been men,—and women too,—who have chosen to die, rather than live
disgraced. Not so your mother! She delights in her wickedness,—she
elects to live in open immorality rather than in honour. In her wanton
selfishness she has thought nothing either of me or of you. She is
thoroughly bad,—in olden times she would have been set in the
pillory, or whipped at the cart's tail! And richly would she have
deserved such punishment!" and as he spoke his right hand clenched
suddenly, as though in imagination he held the scourge he would fain
have used to bruise and scarify the flesh of his erring wife—"When
you are a man, you will blush to think she ever was your mother. She
has made herself a scandal to society,—she is a debased and degraded
example of impudence, dishonesty and infamy!—she—"
But here Lionel stumbled forward giddily, and laid his weak little
hand appealingly on his father's arm.
"Oh no, father, no! I can't bear it,—I can't bear it!" he
cried—"I love her!—I love her!—I do indeed!—I can't help it. She
kissed me—only last night, father!—yes, and she took me in her
arms,—oh, I can't forget it,—I can't really! I love her—I do!—Oh
Stammering thus incoherently, he saw his father's eyes flame upon
him like balls of fire,—his father's form seemed to dilate all at
once to twice its natural dimensions,—indistinctly he heard the
growling voice of the Professor interpose with the words—"The boy has
had enough,—let him be!" ... then, on a blind impulse he ran, ran,
ran headlong out of the house, not knowing in the least where he was
going, but only bent on getting away—somewhere—anywhere—only away!
Down the Combmartin road he rushed panting, like a little escaped mad
thing, the noonday sun beating hot on his uncovered head,—as in a
wild vision he heard voices calling him, and saw strange faces looking
at him,—till suddenly he became aware of a familiar figure
approaching him,—a figure he dimly recognised as that of his old
acquaintance, Clarinda Cleverly Payne, whom he had never seen since
his tutor Montrose had left Combmartin. Running straight towards her,
he cried aloud—
"Oh Miss Payne!—it isn't true, is it? Oh do tell me!—it can't be
true! My mother hasn't gone away for ever, has she?—oh no, surely
not! Oh no, no, no! She loves me,—I know she does! She would not
leave me,—she wouldn't I'm sure! 0 do tell me, dear Miss Payne!—
you do not think she is wicked, do you?"
Over the weather-beaten face of the kindly Clarinda came an
expression of the deepest, aye, almost divine compassion. In one
moment her womanly soul comprehended the child's torture,—his
bewilderment, his grief, his exceeding loneliness,—and without a word
in answer, she opened her arms. But Lionel, gazing at her in
passionate suspense, met the solemn and pitying look of her eyes,—a
look that confirmed all his worst fears,—and sick to the very heart,
seeing the sky, the earth, and the distant sea all gather together in
one great avalanche of blackness that came rolling down upon him, he
staggered another step forward, and fell senseless at her feet.
"BETTER take him away for a few days," said Dr. Hartley, a
brisk bright-looking type of the country physician, as he held his
watch in one hand, and felt Lionel's feeble pulse with the
other,—"Give him a little change,—move him about a bit. He's had a
sort of nervous shock,—yes—yes—very sad!—I heard the news in the
village, ... shocking—unhappily these domestic troubles are becoming
very common, ... most distressing for you, I'm sure!
These disjointed remarks were addressed to Mr. Valliscourt, who,
alternately flushing and paling, under the influence of his mingled
sensations of indignation at the dishonour wrought upon him by his
wife, and vexation at the sudden illness of his son, presented a
somewhat singular spectacle. Lionel had been brought into the house in
a dead faint in the arms of a—a person,—a common person, who sold
eggs and butter and milk in the village and called herself Clarinda
Cleverly Payne,—what ridiculous names these Devonshire people gave
themselves, to be sure!—and the—the person had presumed to express
sympathy for him,—for him, John Valliscourt of
Valliscourt!—in his 'great misfortune,'—and had also dared to
compassionate his son—yes,—had actually, before certain of the
servants, said "May God help the poor dear little motherless lamb!" It
was most offensive and intrusive on the part of the person who called
herself Clarinda,—and Mr. Valliscourt as soon as she departed, had
given strict injunctions that she was never again to be admitted
inside the premises on any pretext whatever. This done, he had sent
for the principal doctor in Combmartin, who had attended the summons
promptly, trotting rapidly to the house on a stout cob, which, when he
alighted from its broad back, was handed over to the care of an
equally stout boy, who turned up mysteriously from somewhere in the
village, and appearing simultaneously with the doctor, seemed to have
been groom-in-ordinary to the cob all his life. The stout boy had, by
some unknown process, transferred the roundness and ruddiness of two
prize Devonshire apples into his cheeks, and he had another Devonshire
apple in his pocket which he presently took out, cut with a
clasp-knife, and divided into equal proportions between the cob and
himself, to occupy the time spent by them both, in waiting for the
doctor outside Mr. Valliscourt's hall-door. The doctor meanwhile had
successfully roused Lionel from the death-like swoon that had lasted
till he came,—and Lionel himself, breathing faintly and irregularly,
had half opened his eyes, and was vaguely trying to think where he
was, and what had happened to him.
"Yes,"—continued Dr. Hartley musingly, now lifting with delicate
finger one of the boy's eyelids, and peering at the ball of the soft
eye beneath it—"I should certainly take him away as quickly as
convenient to yourself—"
"It's not convenient to me at all,"—said Mr. Valliscourt
irritably—"I can't go anywhere with him,—my time is fully
occupied,—and his lessons will be materially interfered with—"
"Humph!" and the doctor glanced him over from head to foot with
considerable disfavour—"Well—you must decide for yourself of
course,—but it is my duty as a medical man to inform you that if the
boy is not moved at once, and given some change from his present
surroundings, there is a danger of meningitis setting in. And his
constitution does not appear to me sufficiently robust to withstand
it. Lessons, just now, are entirely out of the question."
Mr. Valliscourt frowned. He took a sudden and violent aversion to
Dr. Hartley. He disliked and resented the expression of the shrewd
blue eye that gave him such a straight look of criticism and
censure,—and he felt that here was another 'semi-barbaric fool' like
Willie Montrose, who had beliefs and sentiments. He coughed in a
stately manner, and said stiffly—
"Perhaps I can persuade Professor Cadman-Gore—"
"Who is he?" asked the doctor abruptly, laying his big gentle hand
on Lionel's brow, and smoothing back the curls that clustered there
with the suave soft touch of a woman. Mr. Valliscourt stared,—then
smiled a superior smile at the ignorance of this village Galen.
"Professor Cadman-Gore," he announced with laboured politeness—"is
one of our greatest thinkers and logicians. His fame is almost
universal,—I should have thought it had penetrated even to this part
of the country,—that is, among the more cultured inhabitants"—and he
laid a slight emphasis on the word 'cultured'—"He is the author of
many valuable scientific works, and is an admirable trainer and
cultivator of youth. As a rule he never undertakes the instruction of
a boy so young as my son,—but out of consideration for me, hearing
that I had been compelled to dismiss, rather suddenly, an incompetent
tutor, he very kindly accepted the task of my son's holiday tuition.
It is possible he might be willing to accompany the boy for the change
you advise,—if indeed you consider such a change absolutely
"I do, most decidedly;"—said Dr. Hartley, filling a teaspoon with
some reviving cordial, and gently placing it to Lionel's lips, while
Lionel in his turn, feeling all the time as if he were in a dream,
swallowed the mixture obediently—"I don't say take him far,—for he
must on no account be over-fatigued. Clovelly would be a good place.
Let him go there with his tutor, and scramble about as he likes. The
sooner the better. Here he will only think and fret about his mother.
In fact you'd better order a carriage and have him taken on as far as
Ilfracombe this very afternoon—then, the rest of the way can be done
by easy stages. The coach would be too jolty for him. You can't go
with him yourself, you say?"
"Impossible!" and Mr. Valliscourt's mouth hardened into a thin
tight line, indicative of inward and closely repressed rage—"I must
go to town at once for a few days—I have to consult my—my lawyers."
"Oh—ah! Yes—I see—I understand!" and the doctor gave a little
nod of comprehension—"Well, can I have a talk to the boy's tutor? I
should like to explain a few points to him."
"Certainly. He is in the schoolroom,—permit me to show you the way
"One moment!" and Dr. Hartley gave a keen glance round the small
apartment in which they were. It was Lionel's bedroom, whither he had
been carried in his swoon by the warm-hearted Clarinda Cleverly Payne.
The window was shut,—but the doctor threw it wide open. "Plenty of
fresh air, nourishing food, and rest;"—he said—"That's what the boy
wants. And he must be amused,—he mustn't be left alone. Send one of
the servants up here to sit with him, till he's ready to start this
"Send Lucy!" murmured Lionel's faint voice from the bed.
"What's that, my little man?" inquired the doctor, bending over
"Lucy,"—and Lionel looked up fearlessly in his physician's round,
shiny face—"She is a housemaid, and a very nice girl. I like her."
Dr. Hartley smiled. "Very good! You shall have Lucy. The desirable
young woman shall come up to you at once. Now, how do you feel?"
"Much better, thank you!" and the boy's eyes softened
gratefully—"But—you know ... I can't,—I can't forget things, ...
not very easily!"
The doctor made no answer to this remark, but merely settled the
pillows more comfortably under his small patient's head. Then he went
away with Mr. Valliscourt to make the acquaintance of Professor
Cadman-Gore. And when Lucy came creeping softly up, as commanded, to
watch by Lionel's bedside, she found the little fellow sleeping, with
traces of tears glistening on his pale cheeks; and his aspect was so
touching and solemn in its innocence and sorrow and helplessness, that
being nothing but a woman, and a warm-hearted woman too, she took out
her handkerchief and had a good quiet cry all to herself. "How could
she—how could she leave the little dear!" she wondered
dolefully, as she thought of the reckless and shameful flight of her
recent mistress—"To leave him"—meaning Mr.
Valliscourt,—"isn't so surprising, howsumever it's wicked, for he's
a handful to live with and no mistake!—but to leave her own
boy,—that's real downright bad of her!—that it is!"
Poor Lucy! She had never read the works of Ibsen, and was entirely
ignorant of the 'New Morality,' as inculcated by Mr. Grant Allen. Had
she been taught these modern ethics, she would have recognised in Mrs.
Valliscourt's conduct merely a 'noble' outbreak of 'white purity' and
virtue. But she had 'barbaric' notions of motherhood,—she believed in
its sacredness in quite an obstinate, prejudiced and old-fashioned
way. She was nothing but a 'child of nature,' poor, simple Ibsen-less
housemaid Lucy!—and throughout all creation, nature makes mother-love
a law, and mother's duty paramount.
Meanwhile Dr. Hartley had the stupendous honour of shaking hands
with Professor Cadman-Gore,—and not only did he seem totally
unimpressed by the occurrence, but he had actually the sublime
impudence to ask for a private interview with the great man,—that is,
an interview without the presence of Mr. Valliscourt. The latter
personage, surprised and somewhat offended, reluctantly left the two
gentlemen together for the space of about fifteen minutes,—at the end
of which time the Professor looked more ponderously thoughtful than
usual, and Dr. Hartley took his leave, trotting off on his stout cob
amid many respectful salutations from the stout boy, who straightway
disappeared also, to those unknown regions of Combmartin whence he had
emerged, as if by magic, directly his services were required.
And Lionel slept on and on, till, at a little after three o'clock
in the afternoon, Lucy roused him and gave him a cup of soup, which
seemed to him particularly strong and well-flavoured.
"There's wine in it, isn't there?" he asked, with a surprised
glance, whereat Lucy nodded smiling—"Fancy giving me wine in my soup!
Oh, I say! It's too good for me!"
Lucy gave a slight sniff, and stated she had a cold.
"It's my belief that this old house is damp;"—she said—"And the
whole village is crazy-built and green-mouldy in my opinion! And what
do you think, Master Lionel? If that blessed old 'Hoddy-Doddy,' the
silly man you saw the other morning, ain't been here shaking his
wobbly head over the gate and giving all his roses in for you, for
nothing! And here they are!" and she raised a beautiful cluster of
deep red, pale pink, and white half-open buds, fragrant and dewy—"We
couldn't make out what he wanted at first, he was so wobbly and
couldn't speak plain,—but at last we got at it—it was 'For the
little boy—the little boy,'—over and over again. So we took the
flowers just to please the poor creature,—he wouldn't have any money
for them. He saw you being carried home in your faint by Miss Payne,
and he thought you were dead."
"Did he?" murmured Lionel wistfully—"And that is why he brought
the flowers I suppose,—thinking me dead! Poor man! He's very dreadful
to look at,—but he's very kind I daresay—and he can't help his
looks, can he?"
"No, that he can't,"—agreed Lucy simply—"And after all, it's what
we are that God cares about, not what we seem to be."
At these words a deep sadness clouded the boy's eyes, and he
thought of his mother. Was there a God to care what became of her?
Or was there only the Atom, to whom nothing mattered, neither sin,
nor sorrow, nor death? Oh, if he could only be sure that it was really
a God who was the Supreme Cause and Mover of all things,—a wise,
loving, pitiful, forgiving, Eternal and Divine Being, how he would
pray to Him for his lost, unhappy, beautiful mother, and ask Him to
bring her back! But he had no time to ponder on such questions, for
Lucy was now busy putting on his overcoat and finding his hat, and
packing his little valise, and doing all sorts of things,—and while
he was yet wondering at these arrangements, and trying to stand firmly
on his legs, which were curiously weak and shaky, who should come
striding largely across the threshold of his bedroom, but Professor
Cadman-Gore! Professor Cadman-Gore, with broad soft wide-awake on, and
extensive flapping over-all,—his habitual costume when travelling,
even in the hottest weather,—and more wonderful than the wide-awake
or the over-all, was the smile that wrinkled the Professor's grim
features in several new places, making little unaccustomed lines of
agreeable suggestiveness among the deeper furrows of thought, and even
turning up the stiff corners of his mouth in quite a strange manner,
inasmuch as his usual sort of smile always turned those corners down.
"Hullo!" said the learned man, with a sprightly air—"How are you
"Better, thank you!" answered Lionel gently—"My head is a little
swimmy, that's all."
"Oh, that's all, is it? Well, that isn't much!" and the Professor
stood alternately glowering and grinning, with a distinctly evident
desire to make himself agreeable—"Can you ride pick-a-back?"
Lionel stared wonderingly,—then smiled.
"Why, yes! I haven't often done it,—but I know how!"
"Come along then!" and the Professor squatted down and bent his
bony shoulders to the necessary level—"I'll take you to the carriage
that way. Hold on tight!"
Lionel was stricken quite speechless with sheer amazement.
What!—Professor Cadman-Gore, the great scholar, the
not-to-be-contradicted logician, condescending to carry a boy
pick-a-back! Such a thing was astounding,—unheard-of! Surely it ought
to be chronicled in the newspapers under a bold head-line thus,—
GRACIOUS CONDUCT OF AN OXFORD PROFESSOR.
"Do you mean it? Really?" he asked timidly, flushing with
"Certainly I do! Only don't keep me waiting long in this—this
absurd attitude!" And ferocity and kindness together played at such
cross-purposes on his lantern-jawed visage, that Lionel lost no time
in getting his little legs astride round the sinewy neck of the
distinguished man, trembling as he did so at the very idea of taking
such a liberty with a walking encyclopædia of wisdom. And downstairs
they went, master and pupil, in this wondrous fashion, to the
hall-door, outside which there was a big landau and pair of sleek
brown horses waiting, and where Lionel was slipped easily off the
Professor's back into a pile of soft cushions and covered up with warm
rugs. Then Lucy bustled about, packing all manner of odds and ends
into the carriage, and openly flirting with the coachman in the very
presence of the great Cadman-Gore,—one or two of the other servants
came out to look and wave their hands,—then the horses started,—Lucy
called, "Good-bye, Master Lionel! Come back quite well!" and away they
drove through the beautiful sunshiny air, down the one principal
street of Combmartin, past the quiet little harbour, and up the
picturesque road leading to Ilfracombe. Mr. Valliscourt had not
appeared to bid his little son good-bye,—and Lionel, though he
noticed the fact, did not regret it. Resting comfortably among his
pillows he was very silent, though now and then he stole a furtive
glance at the Professor, who sat bolt upright, surveying the landscape
through his spectacles with the severely critical air of a man who
knows just how scenery is made, and won't stand any nonsense about
it,—and it was not till they had left Combmartin some distance behind
them that he ventured to ask gently—
"Where are we going?"
"To Clovelly," replied the Professor, bringing his owl-like glasses
to bear on the little wistful face upturned to him—"But not to-night.
We only get as far as Ilfracombe this afternoon."
"Is my father coming?"
"No. He's going to London on business. He'll be away a week or ten
days, and so shall we. Then we shall return to Combmartin, and stay
there till your father's summer tenancy of the house expires."
"I see!" murmured Lionel—"I understand!" And two great tears
filled his eyes. He was thinking of his mother. But her name never
passed his lips. He turned his face a little away, and thought he had
hidden his emotion from his tutor,—but he thought wrongly, for the
Professor had seen the gleam of those unfailing tears, and, strange to
say, was moved thereby to what was for him a most unusual sentiment of
pity. He, who had frequently witnessed the ruthless vivisection of
innocent animals,—he, who had tranquilly watched a poor butterfly
writhe itself to death on his scientific pin, was at last touched in
the innermost recesses of his heart by the troubles of a child. And so
perchance, he established a claim for himself in the heaven he so
strenuously denied,—a claim that might possibly be of more avail to
him in the Great Hereafter than all his book-lore and world-logic.
Meanwhile, John Valliscourt of Valliscourt, shut up in his own room
in the now lonely house at Combmartin, wrote to his lawyers preparing
them for his visit to their office next day, and instructed them at
once to sue for his divorce from Helen Valliscourt, the co-respondent
in the case being Charles Lascelles, Baronet. There would be no
defence, he added,—and then, turning from his own methodical
statement of the facts, he took up and re-read the letter his recreant
wife had written him by way of farewell. It ran thus—
"I leave you without shame, and without remorse. While I was
faithful to you, you made my life a misery. Your pride and egotism
need humbling,—I am glad to be at least the means of dragging you
down in the dust of dishonour. You have killed every womanly sentiment
in me,—you have even separated me from my child. You have robbed me
of God, of hope, of every sense of duty. I have gone with Charles
Lascelles whose chief merit in my eyes is, that he hates you as much
as I do! In other respects you know his character, and so do I. When
you divorce me, he will not marry me,—I would not have him if he
offered. I have consented to be his mistress in exchange for a year's
amusement, attention and liberty—and for the rest of my life what
shall I do? I neither know, nor care! Perhaps I shall repent—perhaps
I shall die. To me nothing matters,—your creed,—the creed of
Self,—suffices. Your Self is content with dull respectability,—my
Self craves indulgence. If anything could have kept me straight, and
given me patience to bear with your arrogance and pedantry, it would
have been my boy's love, but that you are deliberately bent on
depriving me of. Every day you set up new barriers between him and me.
And yet I loved you once—you!—I laugh now to think of my
folly! You did everything you could to crush that love out of me,—you
have succeeded! What remnant of a heart I have, is left with
Lionel,—my spirit is in the boy's blood, and already he rebels
against your petty tyranny. Sooner or later he will escape you,—may
it be soon for the poor child's own sake!—and then,—whether there be
a God or no God, you will reap the curses you have so lavishly sown!
May they amply reward you for your 'generosity' to
"Your wife no longer
Over and over again Mr. Valliscourt read these words, till they
seemed burned into his brain,—far into the night he mused upon their
purport,—and the phrases "My spirit is in the boy's blood," "already
he rebels,"—"sooner or later he will escape you," sounded loudly in
his ears, like threats from some unseen enemy.
"No!" he muttered, rising from his chair at last, and thrusting the
letter into a secret drawer of his desk—"Let her go, the jade!—the
way of all such trash!—let her mix herself with the mud of the street
and be forgotten,—but the boy is mine!—he shall obey me,—and I
will crush her spirit out of him, and make of him what I choose!"
POOR Clovelly,—beautiful Clovelly! Once an ideal village for
poets to sing of, and artists to dream of, to what 'base uses' hast
thou come! Now no longer a secluded bower for the 'melancholy
mild-eyed lotus-eaters' of thought,—no longer a blessed haven of rest
for weary souls seeking cessation from care and toll, thou art branded
as a 'place of interest' for cheap trippers, who with loud noise of
scrambling feet, and goose-like gigglings, crowd thy one lovely
upward-winding street,—which is like nothing so much as a careless
garland of flowers left by chance on the side of a hill,—and thrust
their unromantic figures and vulgarly inquisitive faces through thy
picturesque doorways and quaint fuchsia-wreathed lattice-windows. It
is as though a herd of swine should suddenly infest a fairy's garden,
nosing the fine elfin air, and rooting up the magic blossoms.
Demoralised Clovelly! Even thy inhabitants, originally simple-hearted,
gentle, and hospitable with all the unaffected primitive sweetness of
oldest English hospitality, are tainted by the metropolitan disease of
money-grubbing,—love of 'the chinks' is fast superseding the love of
nature, and this to such an extent that even a damsel in waiting at
the New Inn, a native of the place, hath had no scruple in dyeing her
hair an outrageous straw-tint with some 'sunbeam' or 'aurora' mixture.
Dyed hair in the village of Clovelly!—it is a curious anomaly, and
gives one a kind of shock. Dyed hair, painted cheeks, and blackened
eyebrows are the ordinary tawdry defacements wherewith the women of
our large and over-crowded cities foolishly strive to make themselves
look as much like their 'fallen' sisters as possible, and as it were,
voluntarily label themselves prominently as 'under surveillance,'—but
in a tiny village tenderly nestling between two flowery hills, itself
in a flowery chine, and crowned at the summit by a flowery knoll,—a
village apparently born of nature, cherished by nature, and meant for
nature, what stranger sight can there be than an 'artless' native
maiden with dyed hair! As strange as though one should find a clown in
full theatrical paint and costume, seated among the primroses and
bluebells of the 'Hobby Drive!' Yet the girl's dyed hair serves
somewhat as a sign and symbol of the gradual spoiling of
Clovelly,—though Dame Nature with many fond tears of appealing love,
still twines the jessamine and pushes the may-blossom over the roofs
and against the walls of the cherished spot, and pleads in all her
tenderest ways for its preservation. "Leave Clovelly to me!" she
cries—"Let the tramping herd wander over the face of foreign lands
if they must and will,—let them break their soda-water bottles
against the ruins of the Coliseum in Rome,—let them write their
worthless names on the topmost statue adorning Milan Cathedral,—let
them paint their glaring advertisements across the rocks and glaciers
of Switzerland,—let them chip at the features of the Sphinx, and
scrawl vile phrases on the Pyramids,—but spare me Clovelly! Let me
still keep the guardianship of my own sea-paradise,—let me twist the
crimson fuchsia round the doors, and bunch the purple blossoms of
wistaria above the windows,—let me grow my daisies and bright
pimpernels in the crannies of the climbing street,—let me trail the
golden 'creeping-Jenny' down the stone steps of side- dwellings and
in quaint hole-and-corner alleys,—let me wreathe the honeysuckle in
fragrant tufts about the balconies and chimneys, and let me put all
the sweetness of my flowers, my sea-foam, my bright air, and my fresh
foliage into the hearts of the people! I would fain keep them a race
apart,—the women simple, noble, maternal,—the men strong, brave,
God-fearing and manly, with eyes grown blue in the fronting of the
sea, and hearts kept young by the companionship of flowers and
children,—so that even when storm rushes in from the Atlantic, and
makes of my Clovelly nothing but a shining gleam of light in a haze of
rain, and the thunder of the billows on the shore is as God's voice
arguing with His creation, these village-folk may be unafraid and
calm, with faith in their souls and love in their hearts, a contrast
to the dwellers in cities, who, pampered and spoilt in their fancied
security of wealth and ease, cower and scurry away from the slightest
touch of misfortune as rats fly from a falling house! Release me from
the scourge of savages and pilferers who have thrust themselves in
upon this my deeply-hidden nook and favourite bower!—let me keep
Clovelly 'unspotted from the world'!"
Thus Dame Nature;—but her appeal is vain. She could not save
Foyers,—she will not save Clovelly. The spoiler's hand has
fallen,—the work of destruction has already begun, not outwardly, but
inwardly. What though the present owners of the land have vowed to
keep Clovelly as it is,—what though they rightly and justly refuse to
have hotels built, and lodging-houses set up, to deface one of the
most unique and exquisite spots in all creation? The taint is in the
hearts of the people,—the love of gain,—the greed of cash;
discontent and ambition, like two evil genii, have crept into
Fairyland, and their promptings and suggestions will in time prevail
more strongly than all the earnest voices of good angels!
Lionel led a curious sort of life at Clovelly. He and the Professor
occupied the quaintest and funniest little rooms that ever were
designed,—rooms with floors that sloped and ceilings that slanted,
and that altogether suggested the remains of some earthquake, by
reason of numerous wide cracks in the walls and gaps in the
chimney-nooks, and that yet were pretty with an odd, old-world
prettiness not found everywhere. The landlady of these 'desirable
apartments' was a bakeress by profession, though she did many other
useful things besides baking bread and letting lodgings. She was a
clean, buxom-looking woman, and had excellent notions concerning the
wholesomeness of fresh air and sweet linen,—so that all her beds were
lavender-scented, and her entire abode neatly ordered, and redolent of
the honeysuckle and the rose that clambered round her windows. She was
unceasing in her care for her lodgers,—her anxious deference towards
the grim-featured long-legged Professor knew no bounds, while her warm
heart was quite taken captive by the plaintive gentleness and pretty
ways of Lionel, whom she always called "the dear little boy,"—a term
which set Lionel himself thinking. Was he so very little? He was
nearly eleven,—surely that was almost a man! True, his mother had
called him her 'baby'—and his inwardly-grieving soul suffered an
additional pang at this recollection of her tenderness. He dared not
dwell upon the image of her face as it had looked in the white
moonlight, when she kissed him for the last time,—was it indeed the
last time, he wondered sadly?—should he ever see her again? He had
full leisure now for thought,—the Professor let him wander about just
as he liked, and was altogether extraordinarily kind to him. He could
not quite make it out,—but he was grateful. And he used to show his
gratitude in odd little ways of his own, which had a curious and
softening effect on the mind of the learned Cadman-Gore. He would
carefully brush the ugly hat of the great man and bring it to him,—he
would pull out and smooth the large sticky fingers of his loose
leather gloves, and lay them side by side on a table ready for him to
wear,—he would energetically polish the top of his big silver-knobbed
stick,—and he would invariably make a 'button-hole' of the prettiest
flowers he could find, for him to put in his coat at dinner. The
astonishment with which the distinguished disciplinarian first
received these attentions, and afterwards grew to expect them every
day as a matter of course, was somewhat remarkable. And it is to be
noted that the worthy Cadman-Gore was so far moved from his usual self
during these sunshiny days at Clovelly, as to go rummaging down, down,
into the far recesses of his own past youth, and search there for
fragments of fairy-tales, which fragments, laid hold of after much
difficulty, he would piece together laboriously for Lionel's benefit
and amusement. One day it occurred to him that he would relate in
'fairy' style, the beautiful old classic legend of Cupid and Psyche,
and see what the boy made of it. They had gone for a walk that
afternoon along the 'Hobby Drive,' and had paused to sit down and rest
on a grassy knoll from which the sea gleamed distantly, like a
turquoise set in diamonds, between the tremulous foliage of the bending
trees. And in his harsh hoarse voice which he vainly strove to soften,
the Professor told the tender and poetic story,—of the happiness of
Psyche with her divine lover, till that fatal night, when she held her
little lamp aloft that she might satisfy her curiosity, and see for
herself the actual shape and lineaments of the god,—then came the
thunder and the darkness,—the breaking and extinguishing of the
lamp,—the rush of great wings through the midnight—and lo, Love had
fled,—and poor Psyche was left alone weeping. And ever since, has she
not been solitary?—searching for the vanished Glory which she knows
of, yet cannot find? Lionel listened in rapt silence, his earnest eyes
every now and then raised to his tutor's furrowed visage, which under
the influence of the beauty of Clovelly, and the wistful presence of
the child, had taken upon itself a certain expression of benevolence
that struggled to overcome aind banish the old long lines of practised
"I like that story;"—he said when it was finished—"And I see a
lot of meaning in it,—quite serious meaning you know! May I tell you
what I think about it?"
Professor Cadman-Gore nodded. Lionel, taking up the large wide-awake
hat that lay on the grass, proceeded delicately to remove without
injury, a tiny grasshopper that had boldly presumed to settle on that
misshapen covering of one of the wisest heads in Christendom.
"You see Psyche didn't know, and she wanted to find out;"—he went
on musingly—"That's just like me, and you, and everybody, isn't it?
And then we light our little lamps, and begin to try and discover
things,—and perhaps we think we have found the Atom,—when all at
once the thunder comes and the darkness,—and we die!—our lamps go
out! But we don't hear the rush of wings, do we? If we only heard
that,—just the rush of wings—we should feel that Someone had
gone—Somewhere!—and we should try to follow—I'm sure we should try.
Perhaps we shall hear it when we die—that rush of wings,—and we
shall know what we can't know now, because our lamps go out so
The Professor was silent. He could find nothing to say, inasmuch as
there was no contradiction to offer to the boy's logic. Lionel
meanwhile doubled one leg loosely under him on the grass, and throwing
off his cap, let the light flower-scented wind play with his fair
"Now for people who believe in Christ,"—he continued—"There it
is—that rush of wings!—because they say 'He rose from the dead and
ascended into Heaven.' And they have just that feeling I suppose—that
Someone has gone Somewhere, and they try to follow as best they can.
That's how it is I am sure, and it must be a great help to them. I
should dearly like to believe some of the beautiful things in the
Bible. In old Genesis for instance, you know if there were a God, it
would be quite natural that when He made a place like Clovelly, He
should be pleased. And then those words would be exactly right—'And
God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good!'"
Professor Cadman-Gore's love of argument stirred rebelliously in
him, but he gave it no speech. He would have liked to say that there
were a great many learned persons who, thinking that they saw all
that God had made, said "behold, it was very bad!" Humane persons too,
who, unable to look behind the veil, could not understand the reason
of the stress and worry, and torture of life;—but to this little,
frail, sorrow-stricken lad, but lately tottering on the verge of a
dangerous illness, he could not propound any problems, so he was
mercifully silent. Once a thought leaped across his brain like a
blinding flash of light, startling him with its acute shock,—and it
was this;—"What a monstrous crime it is to bring up this child
without a faith!" Amazed at his own involuntary and unusual
feeling, he resolutely crushed it back into the innermost depths of
his consciousness,—yet every now and then it would persistently recur
to him, accompanied by other thoughts of a like nature which worried
him, and which he had never dwelt upon with so much pertinacity
before. A teasing inward voice asked him questions, such as—"Was it
right to attack, and endeavour to pull down Faith, when nothing could
be offered in place of it?" For Faith, substitute Reason, argued the
Professor. "But," went on the voice, "Reason is apt to totter on its
throne. Grief will subdue it,—Passion overcome it. The ecstasy of
love will hurl its votaries beyond all the bounds of sense or
argument,—into folly, sin, desperation, death! The madness and
abandonment of grief will make of the miserable human thing a mere
despairing clamour,—a figure of frenzy with wild hair and piteous
eyes,—what can Reason do with such? Only Faith can save,—faith in a
God of Love; and the words—'Whoso shall offend one of these little
ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were
hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the
sea'; must rest for ever as a curse upon every man or woman who by
word, deed or example, strives to tear down the one divine support of
struggling souls,—the one great prop of a world contending with
ceaseless storm." So murmured the inward voice; and hearing it
discourse thus plainly, the Professor thought his intellectual
faculties must be decaying. Something strange was at work within
him,—something to which he could not give a name,—something which
perchance would make of him in time a wiser man than he had yet
assumed himself to be.
During this peaceful and absolutely idle holiday at Clovelly, Lionel
used often to go down the winding way from the village to the rough
cobbly beach, and sit and talk to the boatmen gathered there. They
liked the little lad, and would frequently take him out in their
fishing-smacks for a toss on the sea, though from these excursions he
did not return much the brighter, but rather the sadder. The Clovelly
men have many a harrowing tale to tell of shipwreck, and of poor
drowned creatures washed ashore with eyes staring open to the pitiless
sky, and hands clinging convulsively to a bit of rope or spar,—and
such narratives as these they would relate to the boy in their own
roughly eloquent, realistic way, till his heart grew cold within him,
and he almost learned to hate the sea. The old weary wonder came back
to his brain and tortured him,—what was the good of it all? What was
the use of living or loving, hoping or working? None, that he could
On one rather stormy afternoon towards sunset, he was strolling as
usual down to the beach, when he was attracted by a little crowd of
men that stood closely grouped round the door of an open boat-house.
They were all peering in with an expression of mingled horror and
morbid fascination in their faces, and as he came near, one of them
motioned him to stand back.
"What's the matter?" he asked anxiously—"Is some one drowned?"
"No, no little measter,"—answered a tough old seaman standing by.
"The sea's not to blame this time. But it's no sight for you,—it's a
stranger to us, a sort o' queer tourist-like chap—he's bin an' hanged
hisself in Davey Loame's boat-house."
"Hanged himself!" cried Lionel, horrified—"Why, how could he do
"Easy enough,—nothin' easier if ye've got a neckercher an' a nail.
An' he had both. He made a loop wi' 's neckercher an' swung on to an
iron hook in the roof. They've cut him down, but he's stone
dead,—'tain't no use tryin' to revive him. We don't know who he is,
anyway. But you go right home, little measter,—'tain't the thing for
you to be here,—now run along just like the good boy y' are. It's too
rough to take y' out sailin' to-day."
Lionel felt a strange sickness at his heart, as he turned away
obediently, and began to climb the ascent towards the village. His
vivid imagination pictured the dreadful, strange dead body found in
the boat-house,—and involuntarily he paused and looked back over his
shoulder out to sea. Great billows rolling in from the Atlantic were
racing shorewards, crested with foam,—the long lines of snaky-white
intermingled and wove themselves together, like a glittering net
spread out to catch and drown poor helpless men. The impression of the
universal Cruelty of things, weighed on the boy's mind with renewed
force, and at his evening meal he looked so pale and weary, that
Professor Cadman-Gore, glowering anxiously at him through his round
spectacles, asked him what was the matter? Lionel could not very well
explain,—but at last, after some hesitation, said he thought it was
the hanged man that made him feel miserable.
"What hanged man?" inquired the startled Professor.
Whereupon Lionel related all that he knew concerning the
disagreeable incident, and the worthy Cadman-Gore was somewhat
relieved. He had thought that perhaps his young pupil had been allowed
to see the body, and was glad to learn that this was not the case.
"Oh well, hanging is a very easy death;"—he said placidly—"Quite
painless and merciful. I daresay the man was some tramp who had no
money, and didn't know where to get any."
"But isn't that very very dreadful?" asked Lionel—"Isn't it cruel
that a poor man should not be able to find one friend in the whole
world to save him from hanging himself?"
"It seems cruel;"—admitted the Professor gently,—he was always
gentle with Lionel now—"But, after all, who knows! Death is not the
worst evil,—we must all die,—and there are some people who wish to
die before their time, and who would be very sorry if they were
hindered in making the 'happy dispatch.' The Chinese and Japanese, as
you have read in some of your books, attach no importance to the act
of dying, and with them, suicide is often considered honourable. This
particular man had the means of death at hand,—a neckerchief and a
strong nail,—and that's all he wanted I suppose. It was rather
selfish of him though to use another man's boat-house for the purpose,
when he could have done it just as well by throwing himself into the
Lionel said no more on the subject,—nor did he make inquiries in
the village respecting the 'Unknown case of suicide,' which was
presently chronicled in all the Devon newspapers. But the incident had
a considerable effect upon him, and remained a fixture in his memory,
all the more pertinaciously that he was silent concerning it.
They returned at last to Combmartin, after having stayed at Clovelly
nearly a fortnight. Lionel was looking, on the whole, much better for
the rest and change, though his face was still thin and colourless.
The sad expression of his eyes had not altered, nor had the inward
sorrow of his heart for his mother's loss abated,—but a kind of
passive resignation, mingled with hope, now possessed and
tranquillised him, and he had secretly determined to try and get on
extra fast with his studies, and grow up quickly, so that as soon as
he became a man, he might seek his mother out wherever she was, and
persuade her to come back to him. Of her faults or her shame he never
thought,—she was his mother,—and that was enough for him. He said
something about his intention of studying hard to the Professor, as
they drove along the lovely Devonshire lanes on their homeward
way,—but that gentleman did not seem to take up the matter very
"Certainly," he said, "you can continue a few of your studies if
you like,—but you must not resume the whole course at once. To-morrow
morning for instance, you can go for a ramble just as you have been
doing at Clovelly, and if you feel inclined to take a book with you,
why do so by all means. But as you have been ill, we must not commence
work in too much of a hurry, or we shall have the doctor coming round
He produced his new smile,—the smile he had been cultivating with
such success during the past twelve days,—and Lionel smiled
gratefully in response. A happy thought flashed across the boy's
mind,—as he was to enjoy the freedom of a 'ramble' all to himself
the next morning, he would go and see Jessamine Dale! How pleased she
would be!—how surprised!—how her beautiful little face would dimple
all over with mischievous and winsome smiles!—how her sweet blue eyes
would shine and sparkle! A quiver of delight and expectancy ran
through him and sent colour to his cheeks, and as the carriage rattled
up the Combmartin street and turned into the familiar avenue leading
up to the house he at present called home, he felt almost happy. His
father had returned from London, and received him with chilly dignity.
"I am glad to see you looking so robust, Lionel,"—he said, as he
touched his son's tremblingly-offered little hand,—then turning to
Professor Cadman-Gore, he added—"I trust, Professor, your patience
has not been too severely tried?"
The Professor looked at him with quite a whimsical air.
"Well, to tell you the truth, Valliscourt, it hasn't been tried at
all!" he answered—"I've enjoyed myself very much, and that's a fact.
Clovelly's a charming place, and the people are interesting, as being
just in the transition-stage between primitive simplicity and modern
cupidity. There are rather too many tourists and amateur
photographers,—but one can't have everything one's own way in this
world,—even you must have found that out occasionally."
Mr. Valliscourt' s smooth brow reddened slightly. He had indeed
'found that out' to his cost; but he had yet to discover that even so
far as the Theory of Atoms went, the human atom was bound to follow
the course of the Divine one, or else get into a strangely contrary
path of its own, ending in darkness and disaster. For the universe is
composed as a perfect harmony,— and if one note sounds a discord, it
is sooner or later invariably silenced. Every instrument must be in
tune to play the great Symphony well,—otherwise there is a clashing
of elements, a casting out of unworthy performers, and a new beginning.
NEXT day the weather was warm and sunny,—and when Lionel
formally applied to his tutor for permission to go and enjoy the
already promised 'ramble,' it was at once granted. Being a
conscientious little fellow, he voluntarily suggested taking his Latin
grammar with him, but the Professor did not encourage him in this
"No," he said—"As I told you yesterday, you can amuse yourself as
you like this morning,—to-morrow, perhaps we will resume the
With a bright smile and flashing eye, Lionel thanked him, and
quickly putting on his cap, he hastened out of the schoolroom, down
the stairs, and into the garden. He was quite light-hearted,—indeed
he felt almost ashamed to be so glad. Life had not changed for him
just because the sun was shining and the birds were singing, and he
was going to see little Jessamine Dale! Things remained exactly as
they were,—he was nothing but a lonely boy whose mother had wilfully
deserted him,—had he forgotten that misery and her disgrace so soon?
No,—he had not forgotten; his was a nature that could never forget;
but youth is youth, and will, in its own season, have its way despite
all sorrow and restraint,—and somehow on this beautiful bright
morning he could not feel sad. There was something radiant and hopeful
in the aspect of the very landscape, green with leafage and golden
with ripe corn,—and as he swung open his father's carriage-gate and
went out along the high road towards the grey and ancient church of
Combmartin, where he thought it was most likely he should find Reuben
Dale, and Jessamine also, he was quietly happy. All sorts of plans
were forming in his little head,—he was beginning to like Professor
Cadman-Gore, and he meant to ask him if he might not go on studying
under him, at his (the Professor's) own house for a time, before
entering a public school,—that is, if he were indeed intended to
enter a public school,—of which he was always doubtful. True, his
father had once said 'Winchester,'—but whether he meant
Winchester, was quite another matter. Mr. Montrose had urged sending
him to a public school, and Mr. Valliscourt had curtly negatived the
proposal entirely. Lionel's own opinion was that his education would
always be carried on under a series of selected tutors, in order to
avoid the conventional 'church-going' on Sundays common to all
schools, and to which his father had such a rooted and obstinate
objection. And as, according to all accounts, no wiser man than
Professor Cadman-Gore existed, why should he not remain with that head
and front of all available knowledge? He thought his father could not
possibly raise any obstacle to such a scheme;—"and then," he
reflected,—"though even the Professor can't tell me what I want to
know about the Atom, he might put me gradually in the way of finding
that out for myself. I believe he really likes me a little now,—I
suppose we got to know each other better at Clovelly. At any rate, for
all his queer looks, he understands me more than my father does. It is
very difficult for a boy to be understood by old people, I think. I'm
sure a great many boys never get understood at all, and yet they have
their ideas about things quite as much as grown-up persons do. How
pretty the church looks with all that sunshine streaming on the old
tower!—and there's Mr. Dale!—digging a grave as usual!"
With a smile he quickened his pace to a run, and, opening the
churchyard gate, went in quickly but noiselessly, meaning to take
Jessamine by surprise if she were anywhere near. Treading lightly and
almost on tiptoe, he came to within about an arm's length of Reuben
Dale without the latter perceiving him, and then stopped
short,—struck by a sudden alarm. For Reuben's silvery head was bent
low and heavily over his work,—and from Reuben's broad breast came
great choking sobs, terrible to hear, as one by one the spadefuls of
red-brown earth were thrown up on the green turf, and the significant
hollow in the ground was shaped slowly in a small dark square, to the
length of a little child. A mist rose before Lionel's eyes,—a strange
contraction caught his throat with a sense of suffocation,—he
advanced tremblingly, his hands outstretched.
"Mr. Dale!"—he faltered, "Oh—Mr. Dale..."
Reuben looked up,—great tears were rolling down his face,—and for
a moment he said nothing. The dreadful, inarticulate despair expressed
in his features and attitude was harrowing to behold;—and Lionel felt
as though an icy hand had suddenly clutched his heart and stilled its
beating. Fear held him speechless,—he could only wait in breathless
terror for something to be told,—something he could not guess at, but
which instinctively he dreaded to hear. And all at once Reuben spoke,
in hoarse tremulous accents—
"She sent her love t'ye my dear,—she sent her love,—'twos the
last thing,—'my love to Lylie,'—I wosn't to forgit it,—the blessed
little angel-smile she had too in sayin' it, my Jess'mine
flower!—'my love to Lylie' they wos her last words, a minit 'fore
"Died!" gasped Lionel, a horrible tremor shaking his
limbs—"Died!—Jessamine?... Jessamine dead? No, no, no!
It's not possible,—it can't be!—you know it can't,—you're dreaming
... it can't be true!..."
A loud noise was in his ears like the rushing of waters,—the haze
that hung before his eyes turned a dull red,—and with a sudden wild
scream he sprang to Reuben like some poor little hunted, frantic
animal, clinging to him, hiding his head against him, and gripping his
"No—no!—not dead! Don't say it!—not little Jessamine! Oh, you're
not—you're not going to put her down there in the cold earth!—not
little Jessamine! Oh, hold me!—I'm fright- ened—I am indeed! I
can't bear it,—I can't, I can't!—oh Jessamine! ... she isn't
dead,—not really!—oh, do say she isn't,—it would be too
Reuben Dale, startled out of his own grief by the boy's terrible
frenzy, let his spade fall, and held the little fellow tenderly in his
arms, close to his breast, and with a strong effort, strove himself to
be calm, in order to soothe the younger sufferer.
"Didn't ye hear of it, my dear?" he murmured in low, broken
tones—"But no,—I forgot—ye wouldn't hear,—ye've bin away a goodish
bit;—I heerd as how ye'd bin ill an' taken to Clovelly,—an'
'twosn't likely any folks would tell ye of just a poor man's trouble.
I went down yon to your feyther's house to tell ye,—for Jess'mine wos
iver talkin' of ye, whensoever the fever in her little throat would
let her speak,—an' that's how I heerd ye were gone. 'Twos the
diphtheria the darlin' caught,—it's bin bad about the village,—an'
'twos onny a matter o' fower days that she suffered. An' we did all
we could for the lamb,—an' Dr. Hartley, God bless 'im, wos wi' her
day an' night, an' scarcely breakin' fast, the good man that he
is,—an' I do b'lieve he'd 'a' laid down his own life to save 'er, as
I'd 'a' laid down mine. But 'twos all no use,—she was just too sweet
a blossom to be spared to the likes of us, my lad,—an'—an' so God
took 'er, as it's right an' just He should do what He wills wi' 's
own,—but oh, my lad, it's powerful 'ard on me, who am a weak an' a
selfish sinner at best,—it's powerful 'ard! First the mother,—then
the child!—Lord, give me strength to say 'Thy will be done,' for my
own force as a man is gone out o' me, an' I'm but a broken reed in a
His head drooped forlornly over the boy he held clasped in his arms,
and who still clung nervously to him, shaking like an aspen leaf and
moaning querulously, as though in physical pain. The blue sky above
them was clear of all clouds, and the sun shone royally, pouring down
its golden beams into the little unfinished grave, like a ray of light
from some left-open gate of Paradise. Suddenly, and with a pale horror
imprinted on his countenance that made it look older by a dozen years,
Lionel lifted himself and turned slowly round,—his eyes were dry and
feverishly bright,—his forehead puckered like that of some aged man.
"You are going to put her down there?" he whispered fearfully,
pointing to the grave,—"Little Jessamine? You are going to cover up
her beautiful curls and blue eyes in all that red-brown earth? How can
you have the heart to do it!—oh, how can you! She used to laugh and
play,—she will never laugh or play any more—you will hide her down
there for ever—for ever!" and his voice rose to a wail of agony—"We
shall never see her again,—never!—oh, Jessamine!—Jessamine!"
The stricken Reuben, pierced to the very soul by this wild grief in
which he had the greatest share, knew of no other consolation save
that which he derived from his simple and steadfast faith in God; but
this supported him when otherwise he would have altogether broken
down. Gently stroking the boy's curls with one big, work-worn hand, he
"Poor lad, poor lad! She wos fond of ye,—she sent ye her love at
the last,—ye must think o' that, my dear. An' once when the pain was
better, an' she could speak clear, she said 'Tell Lylie I'll see 'im
soon,—long 'fore he grows up to be a big man.' Them wos her very
words, the darlin', but she wos a-ramblin' like, an' didn't know wot
she wos a-talkin' of. She died easy,—bless the Lord for all His
mercies!—night afore last she put her arms out to me an' said
'Dada!' quite bright like, —that wos how she called me when she wos
a babby,—then, smilin',—'My love to Lylie,' an' just went off
quiet. An' there she lies in her little coffin, wi' a wreath o'
jess'mine round her hair, an' a posy o' jess'mine in her wee
hands,—ay, we ha' pulled all the jess'mine flowers off the tree at
our door to put wi' her;—we want none o' them for our sad
A rising sob choked his brave utterance,—but Lionel was still
dry-eyed, and now moving restlessly, withdrew from the kind embrace
which had supported him. Stumbling giddily forward a step or two, he
fell on his knees beside the dark little square in the ground.
"Down there!" he whispered hoarsely, peering into the very depths
of the grave—"Down there!—Jessamine!"
He gave a convulsive gesture with his hands, clasping and unclasping
them nervously, and prying still with an intense, passionate searching
horror into the dank mould. Reuben's touch, light and caressing as a
woman's, fell gently on his shoulder.
"Nay, my little lad!" he said, the tears in his voice shaking its
deep tone to tenderest pathos—"Not down there!—don't ye think it! Up
there, my dear, up there!" and he raised his steadfast eyes to the
perfect blue of the radiant heaven,—"Up there, beyond all that
summer light an' shinin' glory,—in the lands o' God an' His holy
angels,—that's where Jess'mine is now! 'With Christ, which is far
better!' Ay, my dear, far better! For it's onny my selfish heart which
grudges her to God,—it's just me, a weak, ignorant man, wot
can't see the Lord's meanin' in takin' her from me; but surely He
knows best,—He must know best. An' mebbe He has seen the
darlin' wosn't fitted for the hard an' thorny ways o' life,—an' so in
very kindness has took her to Himself, an' made of her an angel 'fore
her time. For angel she is now ye may be sure,—as innocent as ever
stood afore the Great White Throne,—an' it's not Jess'mine I'm
layin' down here among the daisies, my lad, but just the little
earthly shape of her, wot wos s' pretty an' light an' gamesome
like,—we couldn't choose but love it, all of us,—but Jess'mine
herself is livin' yet,—yes, my dear, livin' an' lovin' o' me as much
an' more than ever she did,—an' there's naught shall come atween us
now. Mother an' child are wi' the Lord,—an' in a matter o' short
years I'll meet them both again an' know as how 'twos for the best;
though now it seems a mystery, an' partin's hard!"
Lionel looked up,—his face was ashen pale,—his lips were set in a
thin vindictive line.
"You believe all that!" he said, wildly—"But you are wrong,—quite
wrong! It isn't true,—it's all silly superstition! There is no
God,—no heaven!—there are no such creatures as angels! Oh, you poor
poor man!—you do not know—you have never learnt! There is nothing
more for us after death—nothing!—you will never see little Jessamine
again,—never—never!" He rose slowly from his kneeling position on
the turf, looking so old, and weird, and desperate, that Reuben
recoiled from him as from something unnatural and monstrous. "You
will put her down there,"—he went on,—"in her coffin, with all the
jessamine flowers about her, and you will shovel the earth over her,
and very soon the worms will crawl over her poor little face, and in
and out her curls, and make of her what you would not look at,—what
you would not touch!"—and he trembled violently as with an
ague fit—"And yet you loved her! And you can talk of a God! Why, a
God who would wilfully take Jessamine away from you, would be the
cruellest, wickedest monster imaginable! What reason could He
give—what object could there be, in first giving her to you, and then
killing her and making you miserable? No, no!—there is no God; you
have not read,—you have not studied things, and you do not know,—but
you are all wrong! There is no God,—there is only the Atom which does
Reuben, filled with alarm as well as grief, thought the boy raved,
and endeavoured to take him again into his arms, but Lionel shrank
back, and shudderingly repulsed him.
"Poor little fellow, he's just crazed wi' the shock, an' doesn't
for the moment know wot he's sayin'," thought the simple-hearted man,
as he compassionately watched the childish figure of despair, frozen,
as it seemed, into a statuesque immobility on the edge of Jessamine's
grave—"If he could onny cry a bit, 'twould do him good, surely." And
struck by a sudden idea, he said aloud—"Will ye come wi' me, my dear,
an' see Jessamine now, as she lies asleep among her
flowers?—'twouldn't frighten ye,—she's just a little smilin' angel,
wi' God's love written on her face. Will ye come?"
"No!" answered Lionel loudly, and almost fiercely—"I cannot! You
forget—I came out this morning to see her alive,—with all her curls
dancing about, and her eyes shining,—oh, I was so happy! And all the
time she was dead! No, I couldn't look at her,—I couldn't—I should
be thinking of this grave, ... and the worms, ... there is one down
there just now, ... crawling—crawling,—see!" and he suddenly began
to laugh deliriously, dry sobs intermingling with his
laughter—"Oh!—and you—you can actually believe it is a good God
that has killed Jessamine!"
Flinging his hands up above his head, he suddenly turned away and
ran,—ran furiously, out of the churchyard, and away up the road, not
in the direction of his home, but up towards the deep green woods that
hang like a glorious pavilion over the nestling village, giving it
shade even in the most scorching heats of the summer sun. Reuben
looked after him, wondering and half afraid.
"God help the child!" he murmured—"He seems gone clean mad like,
in 's grief! An' it's something more than my Jess'mine's death that's
working in 's mind, poor lad,—it's a trouble out o' reach somewhere.
An' now I mind me he's lost his mother by a far worse partin' than
death,—disgrace! Ah, well!" and taking up his spade he went
resolutely to the resumption of his sad task, carefully smoothing and
patting the earth round the interior of his little child's grave with
his own tender hands, and removing the poor worm Lionel had perceived,
gently and without loathing, in the manner of one for whom all God's
creation, even the lowest portion of it, had a certain sacredness,
because of the Divine Spirit moving in all, and through all. "It's
hard for a grown man like me to bear a sorrow,—an' it's double hard
for a little lad like him. He sees nowt o' God in 'is trouble,—onny
the trouble itself. Lord help us all for the poor sinful creatures
that we be! Ah Jess'mine, Jess'mine!—my little lass,—my little
flower!—who'd ha' thought God would ha' wanted ye s' soon!" Tears
rushed to his eyes and blotted out the landscape, falling one by one
into the small grave, as he dug it deeper—"But He's a God o' Love,
an' He winnut mind my grievin' a bit,—He knows it's just human-like,
an' comes from the poor broken heart o' me that's weak an'
ignorant,—an' by-an'-by, when my mind clears, He'll gi' me grace to
see 'twas for the best,—aye, for the best! Mother an' child in
heaven, an' I alone on earth,—all the joy for them, an' all the
sorrow for me!—well, that's right enough,—an' surely God'll send
down both my angels to fetch me when my time comes to go. An' that's
onny a little while to wait, my Jess'mine flower!—onny a little
He dashed away his tears with one hand, and continued digging
patiently, till his melancholy work was done,—then, untying a bundle
of sweet myrtle he had beside him, he completely lined the little
grave with the fragrant sprays, making it look like a nest of tender
green,—and placing two boards above it to protect it from the
night-dews and the chance of rain, he shouldered his spade and went
slowly homeward, pondering sadly on the heavy trial awaiting him next
day, when all that was mortal of his darling child would be committed,
with prayer and holy blessing, to the dust.
Meanwhile, Lionel had passed a strange time of torture alone in the
woods. When he ran away from the churchyard, he was hardly conscious
of what he was doing,—and it was not till he found himself in a bosky
grove, among thickly planted oaks and pine-trees, that he became aware
of his own sentient existence once more. There was a heavy burning
pain in his head, and his eyes were aching and dim. He flung himself
down on the mossy turf and tried to think. Jessamine was dead! The
little laughing thing with the divine blue eyes and the sweet baby
smile, was lying cold and stiff in her coffin. It seemed incredible!
He remembered her as he had last seen her, peeping through the tangle
of her own namesake flowers, and saying in her pretty, soft plaintive
voice, "Poor Lylie! I'se 'fraid you won't see me never no more!" And
then that final farewell,—"Good-bye, Lylie! Not for long!"
Not for long!—and now—it was good-bye for ever! A faint cry broke
from the boy's lips—"Oh, little Jessamine! Poor little Jessamine!"
But no tears fell,—the fountain of those drops of healing seemed
dried up beneath the scorching weight that pressed upon his brain.
Jessamine!—could it be possible that there was nothing left of
her,—nothing but senseless clay? All that trustful tenderness, that
lovely innocence, that quaint and solemn faith of hers in Christ, and
in the angels,—what was it all for? Why should such a sweet and
delicate little spirit be created, only to perish?
"It is cruel!" he said aloud, turning his pale, small, agonised
face up to the network of leafy branches crossing the blue of the
sky—"It is cruel to have made her,—it is cruel to have made
me,— if death is the only end. It is senseless,—even wicked! If
death were not all, then I could understand." He paused, and his eyes
rested on a tuft of meadow-sweet growing close beside him—"Where do
you go to when you die?" he asked, addressing the flower—"Have you
what some people call a soul,—a soul that takes wings and flies away,
to bloom again in a more beautiful shape elsewhere? You might do
this,—of course you might—and we should never know!"
He rose to his feet and stood, musing darkly, with small hands
clenched and lips set hard. "Perhaps the learned men are not so wise
as they think,—it is possible they may be mistaken. The Atom they
argue about, may be a God after all,—and even Christ, whom some say
is a myth, and others describe as merely a good man who wished to
reform the Jews, may be the Divine Being the Testament tells us of.
And there may be another life after this one, and another world, where
Jessamine is now. The question is, how to be quite, quite sure of it?"
He walked one or two paces,—then a sudden thought flashed across
him,—a thought which lit his eyes with strange brilliancy and flushed
his cheeks to a feverish red. "I know!" he whispered,—"I know the
best way to discover the real secret,—I must find it out! and
And all at once invested with a curious tranquillity of movement and
demeanour, he went slowly out of the woods, and down the hill up which
he had scrambled in such frenzied haste,—and looking at the ground
steadfastly as he walked, he passed the church and churchyard gate,
without once raising his eyes. In a few minutes he had entered his
father's domain, where he met Professor Cadman-Gore marching briskly
up and down the carriage-drive.
"Hullo!" said that gentleman—"Had a good scramble?"
Lionel made no answer.
The Professor eyed him narrowly.
"Feeling ill again?" he demanded.
Lionel forced a pale smile.
"Not exactly ill,"—he answered—"I've been to the
churchyard,—and—and the sexton there is digging a grave for his
little girl,—his only child, who died suddenly of diphtheria while we
were away at Clovelly. She was quite a baby—only six,—and—and I
knew her—her name was Jessamine."
Professor Cadman-Gore was a little bewildered. The dull precise
manner in which the boy spoke,—the way he kept his eyes fixed on the
ground, and the odd frowning contraction of his brows, struck the
worthy preceptor as somewhat singular. But being quite in the dark as
to the Jessamine Dale episode, he took refuge in generalities.
"You shouldn't wander about in church-yards,"—he said
testily,—"Nasty damp places ..."
"Yes,—where we must all go at last,"—said Lionel, still smiling
his stiff difficult little smile—"Down among the worms—all of
us—and nothing more!"
"Dear, dear me!" growled the Professor, beginning to feel almost
angry—"I wish you wouldn't talk such nonsense, Lionel,—I've told you
of it before—it's absolutely provoking!"
"Why?" asked the boy—"We do die,—all of us,—don't we?"
"Of course we do,—but we needn't talk about it or think about
it,"—snapped out the Professor—"While we live, let us live,—that
was a favourite maxim with the ancient Greeks, who enjoyed both life
and learning,—and it's a very sensible one too."
"Do you really think so?—really?" and Lionel looked at him with
such an aged and worn puckering of his features that his tutor was
quite startled—"But they were only fools after all,—they died—and
their cities and wonderful colleges perished,—and what was the good
of all their learning?"
"It has come down to us!" replied the Professor, drawing himself
up, and expanding his meagre chest in a sudden glow of intellectual
pride—"It has formed the foundation of all literature. Isn't that
Lionel sighed. "I suppose it is,—it all depends on how you look at
it,"—he said—"But you see one would like to know where even such a
thing as Literature leads to,—and where it is to end. I don't think
we can trace its actual beginning, because there have been so many
civilisations which are all forgotten and buried now. For instance,
the ancient Mexicans believed that the existence of the world was made
up of five successive ages, and five successive suns,—there have been
four suns lit and burnt out, according to them, and ours now shining
is the fifth,—and last! Of course that was only their myth and
idea,—but I do think everything ever discovered is in time forgotten,
and has to begin all over again. It seems very stupid and useless to
me,— —the constant repetition of everything for nothing!"
The Professor glowered severely at him.
"I think you're tired,"—he said with affected gruffness—"You'd
better go and sit quietly in the schoolroom, or lie down. It's no use
over-fatiguing yourself. And what you wanted to go to the churchyard
and see a grave dug for, I can't imagine. It's rather a morbid taste!"
"I didn't go to see a grave dug,"—answered Lionel steadily,—"I
went to see the little girl—who is dead. I thought she was alive,—I
didn't know—I didn't expect ..." there was a painful throbbing in his
throat,—he bit his lips hard,—anon he resumed slowly—"You know—for
I've often told you—that I can't see any sensible reason why there
should be life, or death. Everything seems explainable but that. I am
very interested in it,—but even you can't tell me what I want to
know,—and so I must try to find it out as well as I can,—by myself."
He lifted his cap with the usual gentle salute he always gave his
tutor, and went indoors. The Professor looked after him with an
uncomfortable sense of foreboding.
"An odd boy!" he mused—"A very odd boy, —yet a thinking boy, and
clever and docile. If his strength will only hold out he will be a
brilliant man and a magnificent scholar,—but his health is
capricious." He walked with long strides a few paces, and suddenly
stopped, a grim smile playing across his features. "It's a singular
thing,—a very singular thing,—I should never have thought it
possible,—but I certainly find him a lovable boy. Positively lovable!
It is ridiculous, quite ridiculous of course, that I should find him
so,—but I do! Yes,—positively lovable!"
And he laughed;—his laugh never by any means added to the beauty
of his appearance, but on this occasion there was an affectionate
twinkle in his filmy eye which might almost be called handsome.
NIGHT came, calm and dewy. There was no moon,—and in the
depths of the purple ether the great stars ruled supreme. Jupiter rose
in all his full effulgence, a golden-helmeted leader among the
planet-gods of the sky, and over the unruffled breast of the dark sea
Venus hung low like a pendant jewel. Afar off, the outline of the
landscape was blurred and indistinct, softening into a fine haze that
presented the delicate suggestion of some possible fairyland hidden
behind the last dim range of the wood-crowned hills. Through the still
air floated a wandering scent of newly-stacked hay and crushed
sweet-briar; an almost imperceptible touch of autumn sobered the heavy
green foliage of the trees to a deeper sombreness of hue,—while over
all things reigned a curious and impressive silence, as though the
million whispering tongues of Nature had suddenly been checked by the
command of that greater Voice which in olden time had hushed the storm
with its calm 'Peace! Be still!' In the 'big house,'—for so the
residence temporarily occupied by Mr. Valliscourt was styled by the
villagers of Combmartin,—there was an equally solemn silence. Every
one was asleep,—save Lionel. He, broad awake, sat on the edge of his
little bed, with bright eyes a-stare, and brain busily at work, and
every pulse and nerve in his body thrilling with excitement. Never had
he looked so young as now,—a flush of colour was in his cheeks and
lips, and the little smile that played across his features from time
to time was, if somewhat vague, still singularly sweet, and expressive
of pleasure. He had gone to bed at the usual hour, he had said
'Good-night' to his father, who had been reading the evening paper,
and who had merely looked over the edge of it and nodded by way of
response,—he had then gone to Professor Cadman-Gore who was poring
over an enormous quarto volume printed in black-letter, and who
answered absently—"Good-night? Yes—er—ah! Of course!
Certainly,—very good indeed! You are going to bed,—exactly!—that's
right!" and so murmuring, had pressed his little hand kindly, and then
had resumed his book-worm burrowings. And he had called downstairs to
housemaid Lucy "Good-night!" a thing he rarely ever did; and she had
replied from the kitchen depths, "Good-night, Master Lionel!" in a
bright tone of surprise and pleasure agreeable to hear. And then he
had reached his bedroom,—but he had not undressed, or prepared for
bed at all, or laid his head down on the pillow for a moment. Clad in
the navy-blue jersey suit he had worn all day, he only slipped off his
shoes in order not to make any noise, and then he paced softly up and
down his room thinking, thinking all the while. Such a whirl of
thoughts too! Thick as snowflakes, and as dizzying to the brain,
thoughts seemed to rain upon him, fire-red and flame-white,—for they
took strange burning colours, and ran in strange grooves. He had put
out his candle,—he liked the sensation of moving to and fro in the
darkness, as then he could imagine things. For instance he could
imagine his mother was with him, sitting just in the very chair where
she had sat when she rocked him in her arms and called him her
'baby,'—and so strong was the delusion he excited in himself that he
actually went and knelt down beside her visionary figure, and said
"Mother! Mother darling, I love you! I shall always love you!" and
then had laughed a little and shuddered, as he realised that after all
it was only his fancy,—that she was gone,—gone for ever!—and that
he was quite alone.
And presently, retreating to the window, and looking out into the
starlit night, he thought he could see Jessamine standing in the
garden below, with a wreath of her own flowers round her hair, and her
blue eyes upturned to him where he watched her,—yes! he could even
hear her calling,
"Lylie! Lylie! Come an' play!" And he almost felt inclined to open
the window and jump down to that little shadow-figure on the dark
turf,—till he suddenly bethought him that it was a
mistake,—Jessamine was dead,—her grave was ready,—she was going to
be put down into the earth and hidden away from the sunshine,—she
would never call him any more,—never! Hurrying away from the corner
whence he could see her so plainly, and where it frightened him to
look out at her lonely little ghost in the garden, he climbed up on
his bed and sat there, swaying his feet to and fro and
thinking,—still thinking. He heard his father come up the stairs with
a firm and heavy tread, enter his bedroom, and shut and lock the
door,—then the Professor followed, coughing loudly and shuffling his
slippered feet along the landing to the apartment he occupied at the
very end of the corridor,—and presently the old 'grandfather's clock'
in the hall below, chimed eleven. After this the great silence
fell,—the silence that was so mystically suggestive of undiscoverable
And Lionel listened, as it were, to that silence, till he grew
restless under its spell. Springing off his bed, he lit his candle in
haste, and looked nervously round him as though he half expected to
see some one in the room,—then, rallying his forces, he softly opened
a large cupboard that was made to appear like a part of the wall, and
setting a chair within it, stood thereon, and reached his hand up to
the corner of a particular shelf, where, snugly secreted in the pocket
of one of his little overcoats, he kept the 'baby sash' his mother had
given him as a parting souvenir. Taking possession of this, he got
down from the chair, put it back in its place, and shut the cupboard
carefully again,—then he stood still for a moment, thinking. After a
little while, he unfolded and shook out the sash to its full length,
and dreamily admired its pretty blue colour and the graceful design of
the daisy-chain so deftly woven upon it. Re-folding it once more, he
slipped it inside his vest,—then putting on his shoes by mere force
of habit, he took his candlestick,—the candle in it burning
steadily,—and opening his bedroom door listened breathlessly. There
was not a sound in the house,—not so much as a crack of wood in the
old Chippendale press that stood up, gaunt and shadowy, on the outer
landing. Swiftly and noiselessly, holding the light well above his
head that he might see clearly and not stumble, he sped downstairs to
the school-room. The door was wide open, and as he went in and pushed
it to after him, he gave a sigh of relief and satisfaction, as though
he had attained at last some long-desired goal of ambition.
There was more light in this apartment than in his bedroom;—there
were no trees to shadow the window, and through its crossed
lattice-panes the stars twinkled with a white brilliance not unworthy
of the moon herself. Setting his candle on the table-desk at which he
had worked so many weary hours and days, pondering on things that
never would, and never could be of any use to any one's practical
after-life, Lionel took out paper, pen and ink, and seating himself,
proceeded to write certain words with careful slowness and most
business-like precision. Shaping his letters roundly and neatly, he
took a great deal of pains to make his meaning unmistakably clear, and
having covered one sheet of paper, he folded it in four with
mathematical exactitude, addressed it, and commenced another. When
this was also done, he folded it in the same way as the first, and
addressed it likewise,—then he put the two missives together on the
table, one beside the other, and looked at them with a kind of naïve
interest and admiration. Their superscriptions were turned uppermost,
and one read thus:
'To my Father.
John Valliscourt Esq. Of Valliscourt.'
The other was more simply inscribed,—
'To Professor Cadman-Gore.'
For some minutes he studied these addresses minutely, and with
something of a smile on his face.
"It is just as if I were going to run away!" he said half aloud,
"And so I am! That is exactly what I am going to do. I am going to run
away!" And the smile deepened. "I remember what Willie Montrose told
me—'rather than break down altogether you'd better show a clean pair
of heels.' And that's just what I'm going to do. By the bye, I never
sent poor Willie his Homer."
He rose, and turning towards the book-shelves, two of which were
ranged along the opposite wall, soon found the volume and packed it
neatly up in readiness for posting, addressing it in a large clear
hand to 'W. Montrose Esq. B.A. The Nest. Kilmun. Scotland.' Then after
considering awhile, he sat down again and wrote another letter, which
ran as follows—
You left your favourite copy of Homer behind when you said
good-bye to me. I meant to have sent it to you before, but somehow it
slipped my memory. Now, as I am going away, it might get mislaid among
my father's books, so I have left it with Professor Cadman-Gore (who
is a very nice old man) all ready for him to post to you. Thank you
for all your kindness to me,—I have never forgotten it, and I'm
almost sure I shall never forget. You needn't be anxious about me any
more,—I'm all right.
Your affectionate and grateful
He put this letter in an envelope which he addressed, but left open,
and wrote a slip of paper which he laid above it and the Homer volume
together, giving the following in- struction,—
DEAR PROFESSOR—Will you please post this letter and also the book,
to Mr. Montrose for me. It is his copy of Homer which he left with me
by mistake, and he is sure to want it.
"That's done!" he said, as he wiped his pen and put by the ink and
paper in their respective places with his usual methodical
neatness,—"It's no use writing to mother,—if I did, she would never
get the letter."
He went to the window, and opened it. It was a glorious night,—and
as he threw back the lattice, the sweet air flowed in, laden with a
thousand delicious odours from the forest and ocean. So deep was the
stillness that he could barely hear the vague murmur of small waves
lapping the shore now and again, though the sea was not half a mile
distant. It was such a night as when the trustful and believing heart
is filled like a holy chalice with the rich wine of joy and
gratitude,—when the soul rises to an angel's stature within its
fleshly tenement, and sings 'Magnificat!'—when nature wears her most
serene and noble aspect,—when it seems good to live, good to work,
good to hope, good to love,—good to be even the smallest portion of
the divine and splendid order of the Universe. But to the young boy
who stood gazing out on the infinite majesty of the moving earth and
heavens, there was no order, but mere chaos,—a black conflicting
contradiction of forces,—a non-reasoning production of things that
neither sought nor desired existence, and that have no sooner learned
to love life than they are plunged into death and eternal nothingness.
In the 'Free-Thinker's Catechism' (Catechisme du Libre-Penseur), by
one Edgar Monteil,—a code of ethics which has been circulated
assiduously among children's schools in France for the past ten
years,—the unhappy little beings whose ideas of morality are
engrafted upon this atheistical doctrine, are taught that "the
passions of man are his surest and most faithful guides," and that
"God is a spectre invented by priests to frighten timid minds;"—this
too, in utter and wicked oblivion of the grand truth proclaimed with
such a grand simplicity—"God is Love!" "As the soul," writes the
self-deluded compiler of the 'Free-Thinker's Catechism,' "no longer
constitutes for us an independent and imperishable individuality,
there is no future life." And what are the results of this 'new'
confession of faith? Too terrible and devastating to be easily gauged,
though something of their danger may be gathered from the discussions
of the Conseil d'Arrondissement de Nantes, the members of
which declare that—"Considering that the suicides of young children
and persons of tender age, (formerly almost unknown among us) have
multiplied recently to such a degree as to reach the alarming extent
of 443 cases in one year,"—and furthermore—"considering the
deplorable increase of vice and crime among children and youths,—we
take the vow,"—says the Council with almost passionate
solemnity—"that in the schools of this Arronidissement,
morality shall not be separated from religion, and that the teaching
of duty towards GOD shall be the fundamental and necessary
base of all duties which are incumbent upon man."
Such is the wise decision of Nantes,—but unhappily the good
example is not followed throughout France in general. In almost every
educational department the principles of the 'Libre-Penseur' are
sowing the seeds of ruin to the nation, and making of the average human
being a creature worse than the lowest and most untamable of ferocious
beasts. And these principles, largely adopted by the Free-Thinking
societies in England, are being gradually disseminated among the
children of our own secular schools,—for the agents or 'missionaries'
of Free-Thought are to the full as active in distributing their tracts
and pamphlets as the most fervid Salvationist that ever tossed the
'War-Cry' in the faces of the public;—more stealthy in their
movements, they are none the less cunning; and in our once God-fearing
country, many can now be found who passively accept as truth the
deadening and blasphemous lie uttered in the words—"As the soul no
longer constitutes an independent and imperishable individuality,
there is no future life!"
And yet, in sober earnest this 'independent and imperishable
individuality' is more self-assertive than ever it was,—it
passionately claims to be heard and acknowledged,—it clamours with
all its immortal strength at the barriers of the Unknown, crying
"Open!—Open! Unveil the hidden Glory which I know and feel,
yet cannot speak of! Open!—that Doubt may see, and seeing, die!" For
the Soul in each one of us is instinctively aware that the hidden
Glory exists,—though it cannot explain in mortal speech why, whence,
or how. Nevertheless the Psyche feels her lover; and through the
darkness of earth's perplexities stretches out yearning hands to grasp
the actual Divine which Is, and which reveals itself to mortals in a
thousand subtle tender ways of promise, warning, knowledge or sweet
comfort. But our lamps of learning, ill-trimmed and dull, cannot shed
light on such Eternal Splendour,—they needs must be extinguished in
the greater radiance, even as sparks in a blaze of sunshine.
Little Lionel, dimly conscious of 'the imperishable and independent
individuality' in his own slight frame, though he could not analyse
what he felt, gazed straight out on the shining planets, which, like
great golden eyes, regarded him as straightly, and thought what a
strange thing it was that there should be millions and millions of
worlds in the sky, all created by an Atom, for Nothing! If he had been
a man, grown callous and cold-hearted through the sameness of life as
generally lived, he might possibly have found with Edgar Monteil, some
satisfaction in the terrific satire—'The passions of man are his
surest and most faithful guides,'—but being only a child, he had no
passions save an endless desire to know,—a desire that nothing ever
written by all the atheists in the world will satisfy or restrain. A
child's first inquiries concerning spiritual and transcendent things,
need noble answers evolved from purest thought,—for, as the Italian
proverb has it—"The 'why' of a child is the key of philosophy." Woe
betide those who crush the high aspirations of innocent and hopeful
youth by the deadening blow of Materialism! Worse than murderers are
they, and as a greater crime than murder shall they answer for it! For
truly has it been said—"Fear not them which kill the body, but fear
them which kill the soul." Killing the soul is the favourite
occupation of the so-called 'wise men' of to-day;—spreading their
pernicious influence through the press, and through current
literature, they congratulate themselves when they have dragged their
readers down into a slough of pessimism and atheism, and caused them
to think of God as the supreme Evil, instead of the supreme Good. Yet
every anti-Christian author nowadays has his or her commendatory
clique, and salvo of applause from the press, and the more
blasphemous, vulgar and obscene the work, the louder the huzzas. In
this way, things are tending fast towards the attitude of the
'Libre-Penseur,' so that soon when the children ask us "Who made
heaven and earth?" we shall answer flippantly according to that
Catechism—"Neither the heaven, nor infinity, nor the earth has been
Question. "There is no First Cause then?"
Answer. "No,—for all that we cannot prove scientifically
has no existence."
And here was the boy Lionel's difficulty. He was actively conscious
of something he could not "prove scientifically," and it was
impossible for him to believe that that something 'had no existence.'
For IT,—that undefinable vague Something,—to him meant
Everything. As he stood at the open window looking at the stars, the
impression of a sudden vastness, an all-sufficing Goodness and
Perfection, swept over his mind, like a wave rolling in upon him from
the Infinite, giving him a vague yet soothing sense of peace.
"It is beautiful!" he murmured—"Beautiful to think that in a very
little while I shall know all,—why, I may even meet Jessamine the
very first thing!—who can tell! It is wrong I daresay, to want to
find out so quickly,—but I couldn't bear to go on and on every day,
learning a lot of useless things, and always missing the one thing."
He turned suddenly and looked about him. The wan star-beams
illumined one side of the room more than the other, and as he glanced
up at the rough oak rafters that crossed the ceiling, he easily
perceived by the mingled rays of star-light and flickering candle, one
of the large iron hooks, so many of which were embedded in the old
wood, and apparently struck by its position, he went and looked at it
curiously. Then he got up on a chair and felt it,—it was as firm as
the beam itself. He smiled dreamily,—and his thoughts flew back to
beautiful Clovelly, and to the strange tourist who had been found
hanged in the boat-house there. He remembered the words of the old
boatman who had explained the deed as, "nothin' easier when ye've got
a neckercher an' a nail." And then,—slowly and with extreme
tenderness,—he drew from under his vest his mother's gift, the soft
glistening 'baby sash' of daisy-sprinkled ribbon, and shaking it out,
slipped one end dexterously and firmly over the nail, and arranged the
other in a 'running noose,'—the art of making which, together with
other knots of a like kind, had been taught him by Montrose in many a
boating and sailing expedition. When it was fixed to his satisfaction
he got off the chair, which, however, he left just where it was,
immediately under the nail and dangling ribbon, and looking round once
more, blew out the candle. Alone in the semi-darkness he now stood,
his wistful gaze turned towards the window, through which the soft air
shed fragrance and the stars flashed their luminant splendours,—and
with a faint sensation of giddiness and fear upon him, he advanced a
few steps towards that open square of sky, and suddenly fell on his
knees. Clasping his hands he raised his pale, eager, wondering little
face to the great planets that rolled in their mystic orbits far above
him,—their silver rays gleamed fitfully on his fair curls and
glittered in his eyes, as from an over-burdened brain and breaking
heart he prayed aloud,—
"Almighty Atom! I am going to pray to you, though I have never said
any prayers, and don't know how to pray rightly. Perhaps you can't
hear me, and wouldn't listen if you could,—yet I can't help thinking
there is Something or Somebody somewhere, to whom I must tell just
what I feel. Oh, dear Atom!—if you really know or care anything about
all the worlds you have made, and the poor people living on them, you
must be much more than I have been taught to believe you are, and
perhaps you will be able to understand what I mean. I am coming to try
and find you;—and if you should be after all not an Atom, but a
God,—a good, loving God,—you will understand me still better, and
I'm sure you will be sorry for me! Yes; because you will see it is not
all my fault that I am so puzzled and unhappy, and that I can't help
wishing to know truly if there is not something better than this
world, where we can never keep anything we love, and where everybody
dies and is forgotten. Oh, if you are a God, you will pity me,—and I
shall not be afraid of you! I have always wanted to believe in you as
God, and if they would have let me I would have loved you! But if you
are an Atom only, I cannot see why you exist at all, and I think
Someone must have made even you. I must find out that
Someone,—and if I have a soul, as I feel I have, and as Reuben Dale
says we all have, then I shall soon discover everything I want to
know. And if you are a God,—an eternal, beautiful, thinking, feeling,
Spirit-Person, whose ways are all wise and loving, how glad I shall
be! For then you will not let me lose myself,—you could not possibly
be cruel to me,—and you will take me, like little Jessamine, straight
to the world you live in, and show me where the angels are! I shall
see things quite clearly, and understand what they all mean,—and if I
have done any wrong in my life, I think you will forgive me,—I hope
you will,—because you will know I was always taught not to believe in
His voice trembled,—he paused a moment,—then went on again
"Just now,—though I can't tell why,—I feel that you must be a
God, really and truly,—and that the men who write books to try and
prove you have no existence, except as a figure of speech, are all
wrong. Poor men!—I wonder how they will feel when they come to die!
Will you forgive them for all the misery they make? Because of course
there must be many others who are quite as unhappy as I am, and who
when they are in trouble about anybody as I am about my mother, or
when they lose their little children as poor Reuben has lost
Jessamine, must think it very hard to have to suffer so much, without
any reason for it, or any hope of comfort. But if they felt you were
God, they would not be so miserable,—they would be like Reuben, who
though he is very sad, believes you know what is best, and that you
will give Jessamine back to him in a better world. So I shall pray to
you now for the last time as God,—and not as Atom,—and I do ask you,
dear God, to be kind to my darling mother. Perhaps when I come to
you, you will show me some way of taking care of her. If I deserved,
like Jessamine, to be an angel, I could always be near her and watch
over her. Will you think of this, if you are a loving God, as many
people say you are, and try to arrange it for me? I could never do it
by myself. I don't think one can do anything by one's self, except
die. Out there in the heavens I am looking at, there are a number of
worlds ever so much larger than ours, with people on them most
likely,—perhaps they are all asking you about themselves, just as I
am doing. But if you are God, you can read every one's thoughts, and
you will know that it isn't so much of myself that I'm thinking, as
of everything ever made. There is such a great deal of pain and
suffering everywhere,—and I couldn't bear to see it going on
always,—always,—without feeling sure of some good cause for it, and
some good end of it. And these things are never explained clearly to me
by my father or my tutors,—perhaps nobody can explain them;
and so I think, before I make any more serious mistakes myself, it's
better to come straight to you, and ask you to clear up all the
trouble for me. I am only a boy,—but I should never like to grow up a
man if I could give no reason for being one. If I thought, in truest
truth, that You were God, I could easily understand it all,—but I
have studied so much and am so puzzled, that though I feel you
are, I am not sure! So I must find out,—and there's no other
way. Oh, You, whoever You are that made all the stars and suns, and
all the mountains and seas, and all the forests and birds and flowers,
I am coming to You! If nothing You have created is ever lost, then You
will not lose me, nor shall I lose You! I shall find You, whereever
You are! This world frightens me,—but of You I am not afraid!"
His half-whispered words thrilled the silence with strange
passion;—then they seemed to be carried away, as it were, out and up
into the lofty vastness of the heavens,—and when he ceased, the great
hush of the night deepened. Still on his knees, with hands upraised
and clasped, and eyes fixed on the glittering stars, he thought and
smiled, and smiled and thought, another minute's space.
"Shall I say anything else?" he mused—"Yes!—I will say just what
little Jessamine would say, if she were here."
And the dawning angel-smile rested on his lips and transfigured his
small, pale features, as he repeated clearly, steadily and sweetly,—
"Gentle Jesus, meek and mild
Look upon a little child,
Pity my simplicitie
And suffer me to come to Thee."
Then,—with one more look at the starlit sky and the solemn beauty
of the sleeping world,—he rose quickly from his kneeling attitude,
and crept stealthily across the room to the spot where the 'baby
sash' hung from the firm iron hook in the oak rafter, dangling its
smooth silky length over the chair in position below. Pausing here, he
stared fixedly upward, and hesitated a moment,—then went to the door
which was slightly ajar, and with careful noiselessness, shut it fast,
locked and bolted it. Safe now from any chance of interruption, and
all alone except for the unseen 'cloud of witnesses' encompassing us
all, this mere child, nerved to sternest resolution, calmly confronted
the vast Infinite, and went forth on his voyage of discovery to find
the God denied him by the cruelty and arrogance of man! And not
another sound disturbed the quietude of the house, save the quick,
dull 'thud' of a chair overturned and thrown down. After that came a
heavy stillness, ... and a sudden sense of cold in the air, as of the
swift passing of the Shadow of Death.
A GOLDEN morning dawned,—one of those mornings peculiar to
late August and early September, when something of the colour of ripe
harvest seems transfused into the light, imparting a deeper warmth and
mellowness to the atmosphere and a richer bloom to the landscape. The
sweep of the gardener's scythe mowing the dewy grass, hissed through
the air, every stroke sending aloft whiffs of delicate fragrance,—the
hum of bees and the twittering of birds mingled with faint echoes of
laughter from the men and women who, in the neighbouring fields, were
busy tossing the hay,—and a sweet light wind blew in from the sea
bringing health and freshness on its wings. And when Mr. Valliscourt
went down to breakfast, he was so far sensible of the invigorating
influences of such a morning, that he set the hall-door wide open in
order that the house should obtain the full advantage of the tonic
contained in the revivifying breeze, which he himself inhaled
approvingly as though he were for once tolerably satisfied with the
general arrangements of nature. Refreshed, he turned towards the
breakfast-room, where, on the threshold, he was confronted by
housemaid Lucy, who, trembling, and with tears in her eyes, nervously
faltered out that "Master Lionel's bedroom was empty,—that his bed
had not been slept in,"—and "that the school-room door was locked."
And—"Oh sir!" she continued, beginning to sob outright,—"I'm afraid
something has happened to the dear,—I am really sir!—you see he
hasn't been well—"
"Who hasn't been well? What's the matter?" demanded Professor
Cadman-Gore, suddenly appearing on the scene.
Mr. Valliscourt turned to him.
"It appears that Lionel is not in his bedroom,"—he said, his hard
features growing livid, and his mouth contracting at the
corners,—"and the housemaid here, says he has not slept in his bed
at all. I suppose,"—and his eyes narrowed like those of a snake, and
flashed with a furtive gleam of rage—"I suppose he has followed his
mother's example and run away."
And the words of his wife's parting letter,— "My spirit is in the
boy's blood,—already he rebels,—sooner or later he will escape
you!"—recurred to him as he spoke, working within his mind a paroxysm
of silent fury that for the moment gave him the expression of a fiend.
"Nonsense!" retorted the Professor sharply. "He's not the kind of
boy to run away,—he's too sensible and tractable. Perhaps he was
restless and couldn't sleep,—perhaps he's gone out,—it's a fine day,
and there's nothing astonishing in his taking a ramble before
"The school-room door is locked, this girl tells me,"—continued
Mr. Valliscourt, knitting his dark brows into a frown,—then abruptly
addressing the frightened Lucy, he asked,—"On the inside or outside?
Is the key gone?"
"No sir, the key's in the lock, and the door's fastened on the
inside. That's what's so strange, sir! I've knocked and called, but
it's no use,—and suppose Master Lionel should have had a bad faint in
there all by himself!—oh dear, it would be dreadful!" and her tears
"Here, get out of the way!" growled the Professor with sudden
irritation—"Let me go and see what's the meaning of all this. I know
that door,—the lock is ricketty and the bolt is loose,—give me a
hammer or anything weighty,—I'll soon force it open."
He strode along the corridor, Mr. Valliscourt following him. Lucy
ran for the garden hammer, and soon returned with it, accompanied by
the gardener bringing other useful forcing tools.
"Lionel!" called the Professor.
There was no answer,—only a bird's sweet song that came floating
upwards from the garden through the open hall-door. Smitten with a
sudden vague sense of horror which he could not define, Professor
Cadman-Gore looked round at Mr. Valliscourt.
"Hadn't you better go away, Valliscourt?" he said in a low
tone,—"In case anything has happened to the boy—"
Mr. Valliscourt stood immovable. His face was pale, but he forced a
"There's no occasion for any alarm,"—he answered—"It's a mere
trick,—a runaway plot. He is the son of his mother, and I daresay is
not deficient in cunning. He has no doubt locked the door on the
inside to mislead us, and has escaped through the window. Nothing more
The Professor made no reply, but with the aid of the gardener, set
to work forcing the lock. It was, as he had said, an old lock, and was
soon pushed back, while with the strong impetus applied, the bolt
likewise gave way, and the door burst open. Then ... a loud scream
from Lucy ... and ...
"My God! My God!" cried the Professor, wildly invoking the Deity
whose existence he denied—"Valliscourt—go—go! Don't look,—don't
look! The boy has killed himself!"
But Mr. Valliscourt pushed past him into the room, and there stood,
... rigid and dumb, ... staring, ... staring upward, at a strange and
awful thing,—a piteous sight to make God's angels weep, ... a
child-suicide! A child's dead body swinging heavily from the oaken
rafters,—a child, hung by a length of soft blue sash-ribbon, which
though shining with tender hues in the morning sunlight, and daintily
patterned with an innocent daisy-chain, yet held the little throat
fast in an inexorable death-grip! Was that child his son? His
son?—for whose future he had planned many a proud scheme of worldly
ambition?—and on whose behalf he had resolved to exert all the
tyrannical and petty despotism of which an arrogant father is
capable, in order to force his intellect on in advance of his age, and
make of him a prodigy, not for the boy's sake, but for his own
self-glorification? His son? That small dead thing hanging there! ...
And his wife's voice seemed to whisper in his ears—"My spirit is in
the boy's blood,—sooner or later he will escape you!" ... It was
true,—he had escaped!
As in a dull dream he heard Lucy's hysterical sobbing,—unmoved
himself, he watched the Professor and the gardener between them
unloose the silken sash of self-execution, take tender hold of the
little corpse, and lay it gently down on the ground,—then, with great
blinding tears in his old eyes, the Professor felt the young heart
that had long ceased to beat, and held a small mirror to the cold,
closed lips to see if the faintest breath clouded its surface. In
vain,—in vain! Lionel's 'happy dispatch' had been made with a
sureness and a resolution worthy of the most antique Roman,—he had
plunged into the Great Mystery, and for him there was no recall!
"My God!" groaned the Professor again in utter despair,—"That it
should have come to this! Poor little fellow! Poor little fellow!"
Then Mr. Valliscourt spoke,—stiffly, and enunciating his words
"Quite! It's horrible!—it's sickening! Lucy, don't cry so much,
there's a good young woman,—you unnerve me,—just help me to lay him
here,—yes—on this sofa,—there, that will do. God! what an appalling
tragedy! A mere child!—to think of it! It is hideous—monstrous! ...
Valliscourt, I am grieved to the heart for you,—he was a noble little
Here the Professor was fain to turn away and hide his face,—while
Lucy, weeping bitterly, bent over the little corpse, smoothed the fair
curls, and folded the small hands cross-wise on the breast, sobbing
more than ever as she noticed the grave peace of the closed eyelids,
the sweet smile on the lips, and the solemn air of infinite knowledge
that hallowed and tranquillised the fine, waxen-white features of the
"Temporary insanity, of course,"—said Mr. Valliscourt presently,
speaking in a strange dull monotone,—"It occasionally breaks
out,—even in children."
He paused. All this time he had not moved a step nearer to the
corpse,—he had an instinctive horror of it. He found himself wishing
that it could be carried out of the house at once and covered up, so
that he might never see it again, for then he thought it would be
easier to summon up the principles of his materialistic philosophy and
discuss this—this unfortunate incident—calmly. But with that small,
frozen, patient image of death confronting him, he felt cold, and at
the same time wrathful,—why was it, how was it, that his will was
always thwarted, and his plans interfered with? His will! God's
will concerned him not at all!
"There are two letters here,"—he said suddenly, calling Professor
Cadman-Gore's attention to the carefully folded and neatly addressed
papers on the desk,—"One for you,—and—and one for me."
He hesitated,—and stole a furtive glance at his dead son, as he
opened the missive addressed to himself. Would the boy accuse him of
having driven him to suicide by overwork and worry? ... There were no
reproaches of the kind contained in the letter,—it was very simple,
and ran thus—
MY DEAR FATHER,
I have often heard you say that when one is dead and done
for, it doesn't matter what becomes of one's body, whether it is
buried, or burnt, or thrown into the sea,—so now that I am dead, I
hope you will please have my body buried in Combmartin churchyard. The
sexton there, Mr. Reuben Dale, digs graves very well, and I want him
to dig mine by the side of the one he has made for his little girl,
Jessamine. I played with Jessamine one day, and liked her very much.
Now she is dead, and so am I,—and it can't make any difference to you
that I am buried beside her, because dead people are of no account
anyway. They are soon forgotten, and you'll soon forget me. I couldn't
go on living,—I was so tired. I should like the ribbon you will find
round my neck buried with me, please,—and if you could ever possibly
do it, I should be glad if you would give my mother my love.
Meanwhile the Professor, with much coughing and wiping of his
spectacles, perused his own letter, which was a good deal longer than
the above, and which was written by the little dead lad in such a
strain of gentle and appealing confidence as touched the book-worn
scholar to the quick, and made havoc of all his learned and logical
I am very much obliged to you for getting to be so kind to
me, because I know you didn't like me at first,—and I hope you won't
think very badly of me because I have given up the idea of trying to
live. You see I should have to study very hard for years and years,
before I could be at all as clever as you would want me to be,—and I
feel it wouldn't be any use to go on learning and learning, unless I
knew what it was all for. It would seem to me only a waste of time.
Because of course the principal thing one wants to know is about the
Atom,—or God,—and even you can't explain this. If it were explained,
then there would be some reason for trying to be wise and good, but
without an explanation, I don't see that anything matters really,—one
may just as well be stupid as clever. All this has been very much on
my mind,—and when I found my mother had gone away, and then that
little Jessamine Dale whom I left quite well, had died while we were
at Clovelly, everything seemed so strange and cruel, that I made up my
mind to find out for myself what reason God,—or the Atom,—has to
give for makirig people so miserable. I believe, you know, that it's
not an Atom really, but God,—and I shall ask Him all about things as
soon as I find Him. I shouldn't be surprised if I found Him
to-night,—He seems quite near to me even now. You will always
remember our pleasant days at Clovelly, won't you?—and how you told
me about Psyche and Eros. I think that was a very beautiful story.
I've been trying, as Psyche did, to see with my little light,—but
I've got it into my head that if I put out my lamp altogether I shall
see much better. God must be far too splendid to need any lamps to
look at Him. You know, dear Professor, in all the learned books I have
been studying with you, how each person contradicts the other, and how
difficult it is to make out what they all mean. One says one
thing,—and then another man declares the first man to be all wrong.
So it is just like what you once said about the waste of time it was
to read the newspapers, because on one morning you get a piece of news
by telegram and you think it is true, and the next day it is
contradicted and proved to be a false report. One might go on for ever
bothering one's self, and getting puzzled in this silly way, and
never be any nearer to the real Cause of it all,—the God I am going
to. I do indeed think it is God,—and I hope you will consider
everything carefully over again before you quite make up your mind it
is an Atom. You see, you are not quite sure;—and you know, if it is
God, and He lives in a great and splendid world of His own, and we
have souls which all fly to Him like angels when we die, I might meet
you again, and I should be very glad of that. I didn't like you at
first, any more than you liked me, but I grew quite fond of you at
Clovelly, and I was going to ask my father to let me go and live with
you while I went on studying,—but when I found poor little Jessamine
dead, somehow everything changed. I told you she was quite a
baby-girl, and I only saw her twice,—but I liked her very much, and I
couldn't understand why such a dear little thing should have to die.
And so I determined I would find out,—and I shall find it out,
I'm sure. Good-bye, now. I think it would be better for boys like me
if you could teach them that the First Cause was God, and that He
loved everybody, and meant to explain the universe to us some
day,—things would be so much easier for us, and life would be so much
happier. Of course you will have to think it out again, before you
decide, you being so clever,—but please, for my sake, do consider it
whenever you have another boy to teach.
Thanking you for all your kindness, I am,
Your grateful pupil
This,—and the slip which confided Montrose's copy of Homer and the
letter accompanying it to his care, was the Professor's 'legacy,'—and
to his honour be it said, that he was not ashamed of the tears that
fell down his furrowed cheeks, as he read the quaint confession of a
thinking child's mind—bewilderment so plaintively expressed. Wiping
his eyes undisguisedly with his large yellow silk handkerchief, he
turned and looked at Mr. Valliscourt, who during the past few minutes
had stood stiffly erect with folded arms, staring hard at his dead
son. Becoming conscious now of the Professor's compassionate gaze, he
moved restlessly,—then spoke in slowly measured tones—
"It is very curious, is it not, how resemblances come out in
death!" he said—"This boy has nothing of me in his looks,—he is the
image of his mother. She was always erratic,—he, by natural
sequence, has proved himself insane. She revelled in common
things,—music-hall songs and dances and the like,—he, in his last
words can find nothing better to ask of me than to be buried by a
common village child, with whom it appears he associated during one
day's truancy from home,—the daughter of the sexton here. Of course
I shall pay no attention to such a foolish request; he must be buried
at Valliscourt, as is customary with all the members of my family."
Whereupon Professor Cadman-Gore suddenly gave way to an unexpected
outburst of passionate indignation.
"By Heaven, Valliscourt, you have no more heart than a stone!" he
cried—"Can you, in the very presence of your dead child, self-slain,
refuse, or think of refusing his poor little last wish? What matter is
it to you where or how he is buried? In life he has never asked a
single favour at your hands,—he has obeyed you in your most trifling
caprices,—he has worked himself to death to please you, and even
I,—I who have promoted, more than any one in England, the severe
training and discipline of boys, have hesitated to carry out all your
injunctions with regard to his education, considering them too
despotic for a lad so sensitively organised. The doctor here,—Dr.
Hartley,—privately assured me before we went to Clovelly, that the
boy was being killed by over-work, and warned me to be careful of him.
I was careful of him,—and he was better for complete change
and rest,—but he was still in a doubtful condition of health, and the
sudden shock of hearing of the death of a little child whom he had
left alive and well, was evidently too much for the delicate balance
of his brain. His end,—his horrible and unnatural end,—is due to
over-pressure,—of that I am convinced. But his last wishes shall
be fulfilled, or else,"—here the Professor advanced a step or two,
looking singularly ugly and impressive at the same moment, while he
managed to impart to his voice a very disagreeable hissing
quality,—"or else,—well, you know me!—and you know I can write
with some eloquence, when I choose! Moreover people are in the habit
of listening to what I say. And I will tell the whole story of this
distinctly murdered boy,—murdered by over-cramming,—to the
newspapers; for it is a case of over-cramming in which you have had by
far the greatest and the cruellest share. There's not a tutor alive
who would not have pitied such a child as he was!— left to his own
thoughts, without sympathy from either father or mother, and deprived
of youthful companionship,—I pitied him from my soul, and
meant to give him all the relaxation possible. Mind!—when I say I
will make the whole story public, I mean it!—I will cloud your name
with reproach and opprobrium, and furnish an excellent reason to
society for your wife's desertion of you!"
Mr. Valliscourt grew white to the lips,—he breathed quickly as
though he had been running a race, and for the moment he seemed to
shrink and cower beneath the angry glance and fierce attitude of the
irate Professor;—then, with a slight shrug of his shoulders, he said
"I am surprised,—really surprised,—to hear such violent language
from you, Professor! Pray do not excite yourself! You have been very
kind and patient with ... with my son,—and if it is at all a matter
of importance and obligation to you that his last wishes should be
complied with, I really have no very serious objection to carrying
them out,—the more especially as they help to prove his utterly
unsound state of mind. No well-born boy in such a station of life as
that occupied by my son, would wish to be buried beside a common
peasant, if he were not insane. Your accusation of 'over-cramming' is
quite ridiculous,—excuse me for saying so!—it is impossible to
over-cram a really strong brain,—and the younger the brain, the more
vivid and lasting the impressions of knowledge. I naturally supposed
my son's brain was of a healthy and vigorous quality, and it is a
decided shock to me to find I was mistaken. This affair will cause a
great deal of talk and trouble,—I think I had better call on Dr.
Hartley, and place matters in his hands for speedy arrangement. There
will have to be an inquest, of course,—and these things are
The Professor gazed at him reproachfully.
"Valliscourt," he said, "you never loved your son! You could not
have loved him, or you would not speak as you do now, in his dead
And he pointed to the couch where lay the passive little form,
lulled into that perfect rest which no clash of tongues in wordy
argument should ever again disturb.
Mr. Valliscourt's glance followed his gesture, but not a quiver of
emotion moved the composed coldness of his features.
"Love is a mere figure of speech,"—he said—"And it only applies
to the temporary attraction we feel for a woman, or women. No
reasonable father 'loves' his children,—his sole business is to look
upon them as the results of the natural law of the reproduction of
species, and as future citizens of the world, whom he is bound to
train befittingly for their calling. Sentiment should have no share in
their education,—that I believe, is your principle, or used to
be,—it is certainly mine. I expected great things of my son,—but I
see now how much I should have been disappointed in him. His brain was
weak, possibly diseased,—and as a consequence of weakness or disease
he has killed himself. It is very distressing of course,—but no
doubt, as time wears on, I shall realise that it was the very best
thing he could have done. I think I had better go at once to Dr.
He left the room with a firm, easy step and unruffled
demeanour,—the materialistic 'Positivist' asserting itself in every
line of his stiff figure as he went. And Professor Cadman-Gore, the
'oracle' of Universities, left alone with the dead Lionel, reverently
approached the piteous little corpse, and there lost sight of himself
and his various 'theories' in sorrowful contemplation. Studying the
quiet, fair child-face intently, he murmured,
"The best thing you could have done! Well!—perhaps it is, poor
boy!—perhaps it is! With such a father,—and such a mother,—aye, and
such a teacher too!—for who knows whether I may not have done him
harm? Who can tell whether I am right or wrong in my ideas of Deity?
Can there be nothing higher than humanity?—the Valliscourt humanity,
for instance? Heaven help us if that is all!"
And then,—considering that he was a learned pundit, supposed to be
altogether devoid of sentiment,—he did a strange thing. Raising the
dead boy in his arms, he kissed the cold brow just beneath the
clustering curls, and said,
"Yes!—I will consider it, Lionel! I promise, for your sake, that
when I have another boy to teach, I will consider whether it is not
best and wisest to lead him up as far as a God of Love,—and leave him
ALL the little world of Combmartin turned out to attend
Lionel's funeral. His brief but tragic life-history,—his sorrow for
his mother,—his despair at the death of his one day's playmate,
little Jessamine Dale,—and his determined suicide, were quickly
rumoured through the village; and the sympathetic 'touch of nature
which makes the whole world kin,' communicated itself from house to
house, and from heart to heart, till every man, woman, and child in
the place was moved by genuine pity and grief for the little fellow's
untimely end. The verdict on his death was the usual one, 'Suicide
during temporary insanity,'—this judgment being always passed out of
purest Christian charity, in order to allow the so desperately
departed the rites of Christian burial. Dr. Hartley, who was present
at the inquest, had no hesitation in asserting that he considered the
boy had been driven to his rash act by over-study, which had caused
extreme pressure on the brain,—and Professor Cadman-Gore manfully
supported the statement, thus voluntarily taking a certain share of
the blame on his own shoulders. Though, had the old scholar spoken all
his mind, he would have added, that in his opinion, it was the nature
of the education insisted upon,—namely, scientific positivism, and
lack of all religious training,—which was the real cause of the
wreckage of the boy's young life. But he said nothing of this, though
it may be he thought the more. And the morning came at last, when
Reuben Dale, looking older by ten years, leaned on his spade by the
little grave he had newly dug, next to that of his own beloved child,
and watched the reverent crowd of his fellow-villagers as they
gathered with hushed footsteps in the quiet old churchyard, and
listened with tearful attention to the aged, white-haired parson who
had known most of them all their lives, and whose clear voice, now and
then faltering with emotion, pronounced the beautiful, triumphant
"So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption;
it is raised in incorruption,—it is sown in dishonour, it is raised
in glory,—it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power,—It is sown
a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body..... So when this
corruptible shall have put on incorruption and this mortal shall have
put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is
written,—O Death, where is thy sting? 0 Grave, where is thy
With bent head and softened features, Professor Cadman-Gore
listened, looking down into the square of earth wherein Lionel's
little coffin had been lowered, covered with flowers, the free-will
offerings of the tender-hearted village women. A large wreath of
honeysuckle from good Miss Payne was one of the most conspicuous and
beautiful of the various garlands, she having stripped her entire
cottage-porch of blossom for this purpose,—but even the poor
afflicted 'Hoddy-Doddy' had brought a funeral token in the shape of a
long branch of rare white roses fit for the adornment of a queen's
bower,—and Reuben Dale had dropped into the grave a single knot of
jessamine, the smallest tribute of all, yet perhaps the sweetest and
most significant. And the Professor was troubled by a rising lump in
his throat, and a great mist before his eyes, as he heard, amid
suppressed sobs from the little crowd, the parson's tremulous accents,
"Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God to take unto Himself
the soul of our dear young brother departed,"—and the compassionate
speaker hesitated as he put in with soft emphasis the word
'young,'—"we therefore commit his body to the ground,—earth to
earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,—in sure and certain hope of the
resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall
change our vile body that it may be like unto His glorious body,
according to the mighty working, whereby He is able to subdue all
things to Himself."
Mr. Valliscourt listened with a frown of contempt on his features
and anger in his heart. 'The mighty working, whereby He is able to
subdue all things to Himself!' He resented this phrase,—it affronted
him singularly. And he hated the situation in which he found himself,
namely that of being compelled to give over the dead body of his son
at last, to the rites of the Creed he abhorred. When at the 'Our
Father' every one knelt down on the warm, daisy-sprinkled turf, he
stood proudly erect, glancing disdainfully at the Professor, who
though too stiff in the joints to kneel, nevertheless bowed his head
out of respect for the sacredness of the ceremony. The service ended,
the venerable clergyman dismissed all present with the usual blessing,
pronounced with more than the usual fervency, and went his gentle
tottering way with his assistants, leaving Reuben Dale to his
appointed work of filling in the newly-made grave. The villagers moved
away noiselessly, some crying, in company with Clarinda Payne, others
endeavouring to comfort the girl Lucy, who wept as though her heart
would break, and others again whispering strangely about Mr.
Valliscourt's cold and cruel looks,—while, huddled up in a corner at
the churchyard gate sat the forlorn 'Hoddy-Doddy,' blubbering to
himself and refusing to be comforted. "No—no!" he muttered vacantly
in answer to one of the women who endeavoured to persuade him to
accompany them,—"I'll stay 'ere. Wi' the children an' the roses. All
the roses, ... all the children, ... dead!—dead! I'll stay
Mr. Valliscourt remained in the churchyard till the little crowd had
quite dispersed. Standing by his son's grave he gazed fixedly down
into it, saying nothing. Reuben Dale watched him in deep compassion
for a moment, then he murmured gently,
"God comfort ye sir, on this sad day! He alone can help ye to bear
sich a sore an' bitter trouble!"
Mr. Valliscourt started irritably,—and turned to Professor
"Does this fellow want an extra fee, beyond the ordinary charges?"
"Good God, no!" answered the Professor hastily, for he had taken
the measure of Reuben's proud and independent character, and hoped the
tactless question had not been overheard.
Reuben, however, had caught its purport,—and he now looked
steadily at Mr. Valliscourt, with a slight flush 'on his brown
"Ye mistake me, sir, altogether, I'm thinkin'," he said, with a
simple dignity which well became him,—"'Tis a matter o' barely five
days since I buried my own little 'un here, wi' my own hands, an' my
fool tears a-flowin' on her coffin; an' though you're a gentleman
born, an' I'm onny a poor workin' man, there's summat of a tie atween
us in the sorrow o' our broken 'arts. For our two childer played
together just one summer's day, an' the last words that iver my
Jess'mine said, wos 'Give my love to Lylie.' An' the poor boy's
askin' to be buried beside of her here in Combmartin, showed plain
enough that he thought of her too, when he took to his death so
willing like. The ways o' God are not as our ways, sir, an' there wos
a heavenly link 'tween they two little angel lives as we're not able
to see. That they be gone, an' we be here, is better for them though
worse fur us,—an' knowin' all the ache an' trouble o' the time, I
made bold to say God comfort ye, without meanin' no liberty nor
offence, nor aught save just a word o' sympathy from man to man."
'Sympathy from man to man!' Mr. Valliscourt stared, in haughty
wonder at the amazing impudence of this coarsely clad peasant,—this
verger, sexton, road-mender and what not,—who dared to claim a
brotherhood with him in sorrow!
"Thank you!" he said stiffly,—"You mean well, no doubt.
Personally, I look upon the day that my unfortunate son played truant
from his home, as the most ill-fated of his life. It is probable that
had he not met your child, and afterwards taken her loss to heart, he
might not have met with such an unnatural death. And I cannot admit of
there being any 'ways of God,' in the matter,—I have no belief in a
God at all."
A shadow darkened Reuben's fine face, but he answered quietly,
"Ay sir! is that so? Then I'm sorrier fur ye than iver! There's no
poor soul I pity more than a man as feels no God near 'im. Fur a grief
strikes ye to the very core o' the heart then, an' there's naught can
heal the wound. God or no God, ye can't do away wi' trouble,—ye've
lost a child!"
Mr. Valliscourt looked once more into the little open grave,—then
at the sexton,—and a very slight ironical smile lifted the corners of
his mouth and gleamed in his hard eyes.
"Losses can always be remedied," he said coldly,—"And I shall
With that he turned away, and walked steadily down the path leading
to the churchyard gate, never once looking back.
But Professor Cadman-Gore lingered,—and after a little pause,
impulsively lifted his old wide-awake hat from his bald pate with one
hand, and silently held out the other to Reuben. Reuben, astonished at
the action, hesitated a moment out of deference,—but looking at the
Professor's face and seeing tears in his old eyes, he
understood,—and warmly grasped the scholar's thin fingers in his own
"I loved the little lad,"—said the Professor then,
tremulously,—"I, who love nobody, learned to love him! You are a good
man, and you have a heart,—I need not ask you to keep his grave
as,—as it should be. His father will dismiss all memory of him from
his mind,—it is his nature to forget the dead. But I should not like
the poor child's last resting-place to be neglected,—and if there is
any cost I will gladly defray it—"
But here Reuben interrupted him.
"Cost, sir? Nay, there'll be no cost but a few tears o' mine, as
mebbe will help the flowers grow! For he lies next to my Jess'mine ye
see, sir,—there's barely a two-inch distance 'tween their little
coffins; an' as long as I live, an' have hands to work wi', so long
will they two little graves be the sweetest an' prettiest i' the
churchyard. All covered wi' the blessed green turf, sir, an' planted
thick wi' vi'lets an' daisies,—an' the cost o' they things is onny
just a little love an' thoughtfulness."
The Professor looked up,—then down;—finally he again offered his
hand, and again Reuben shook it.
"Good-bye! God bless you!" he said.
"God bless you, sir!" responded Reuben.
And with another lingering glance of farewell down into Lionel's
grave where nothing could be seen but a pile of flowers, the learned
Professor once more raised his hat to the untutored villager, and,
reluctantly departing, went his lonely and reflective way.
Long before the shadows darkened, the church-yard was deserted and
solitary, though in the church itself the organist was practising for
the coming Sunday, and the sweet appealing notes of the beautiful hymn
'Nearer, my God, to Thee,' floated out through the ancient doorway,
and soared, high up, into the calm air. Lionel's grave was closed in,
and a full-flowering stem of the white lilies of St. John lay upon it,
like an angel's sceptre. Another similar stem adorned the grave of
Jessamine; and between the two little mounds of earth, beneath which
two little innocent hearts were at rest for ever, a robin-redbreast
sang its plaintive evening carol, while the sun flamed down into the
west and the night fell.