« ForrigeFortsett »
unction to his soul, compounded of self-justification and self-flattery. But he could not keep an outward appearance of coolness correspondent to the real coldness of his selfish heart; and the confusion which was only a dim reflection of her own was sufficient to make poor Mary suppose that feelings similar to her own were at work in the mind of the handsome youth. Why he did not say anything to her had not yet begun to trouble her, and her love was as yet satisfied with the ethereal luxuries of dreaming and castlebuilding
It had been arranged between Amy Worboise and the Boxall girls, that if Christmas-Day were fine, they would persuade their fathers to go with them to Hampstead Heath in the morning. How much of this arrangement was owing to sly suggestion on the part of Mary in the hope of seeing Tom, I do not know. I believe, however, Jane contrived that Charles Wither should have a hint of the possibility. It is enough that the plan was accepted by the parents, and that the two families, with the exception of Mrs. Boxall, who could not commit the care of the Christmas dinner to the servants, and the invalid Mrs. Worboise, who, indeed, would always have preferred the chance of a visit from Mr. Simon to the certainty of sunshine and extended prospect, found themselves, after morning service, on the platform of the Highbury railway-station, whence they soon reached Hampstead.
The walk from the station up the hill to the top of the heath was delightful. It was a clear day, the sun shining overhead, and the ground sparkling with frost under their feet. The keen, healthy air brought colour to the cheeks and light to the eyes of all the party, possibly with the sole exception of Mr. Worboise, who, able to walk uncovered in the keenest weather, was impervious to all the gentler influences of Nature, He could not be said to be a disbeliever in Nature, for he had not the smallest idea that she had any existence beyond an allegorical one. What he did believe in was the law, meaning by that neither the Mosaic nor the Christian, neither the law of love nor the law of right, but the law of England, as practised in her courts of justice. Therefore he was not a very interesting person to spend a Christmas morning with, and he and Mr. Boxall, who was equally a believer in commerce, were left to entertain each other.
Mary Boxall was especially merry; Amy Worboise roguish as usual ; Jane Boxall rather silent, but still bright-eyed, for who could tell whom she might meet upon the heath? And with three such girls Tom could be no other than gay, if not brilliant. True, Lucy was alone with her old grandmother in dingy Guild Court; but if she loved him, was not that enough to make her or any other woman happy? And he could not help it besides. And why should he not improve the shining hour because Lucy had no flowers to gather honey from? Besides, was he not going to meet her the very next
day, after much contrivance for concealment? So he was resolved to be merry and " freuen sich des Lebens."
They reached the flagstaff. The sun was getting low, and clouds were gathering behind him. Harrow-on-the-Hill was invisible, but the reservoir gleamed coldly far across the heath. A wind was blowing from the north-west ; all London lay south and east in clearness wonderful, for two or three minutes. Then a vapour slowly melted away the dome of St. Paul's; and like a spirit of sorrow, gathered and gathered till that which was full of life to those who were in it, was but a grey cloud to those that looked on from the distant height. Already the young people felt their spirits affected, and as if by a common impulse, they set off to walk briskly to the pines above the “Spaniards." They had not gone far before they met Charles Wither sauntering carelessly along--at least he seemed much surprised to see them. He turned and walked between Jane and Amy, and Mary and Tom were compelled to drop behind, so as not to extend their line unreasonably and occupy the whole path. Quite unintentionally on Tom's part, the distance between the two divisions increased, and when he and Mary reached the pines, the rest of the party had vanished. They had in fact gone down into the Vale of Health, to be out of the wind, and return by the hollow, at the suggestion of Charles Wither, who wished thus to avoid the chance of being seen by Mr. Boxall. When he had taken his leave of them, just as they came in sight of the flagstaff, where Mr. Worboise and Mr. Boxall had appointed to meet them on their return from the pines, Jane begged Amy to say nothing about having met him.
Oh!” said Amy, with sudden and painful illumination," I am so sorry to have been in the way.”
On the contrary, dear Amy, I should not have known what to say to papa, except you had been with me. I am so much obliged to you."
Thus there was clearly trouble in store for Mr. Boxall, who had never yet known what it was not to have his own way~in matters which he would consider of importance at least.
The two gentlemen had gone into “ Jack Straw's to have a glass of wine together, in honour of Christmas-Day; and while they were seated together before a good fire, it seemed to Mr. Boxall a suitable opportunity for entering on a matter of business.
“What will you say to me, Worboise, when I tell you that I have never yet made will ?"
“I needn't tell you what I think, Boxall. You know well enough. Very foolish of you. Very imprudent, indeed. And I confess I should not have expected it of you, although I had a shrewd suspicion that such was the case.”
How came you to suspect it ?” “To tell the truth, I could not help thinking that as our friende
ship was not of yesterday, you would hardly have asked any one else to draw up your will but your old friend. So you see it was by no mysterious exercise of intelligence that I came to the conclusion that, not being an unkind or suspicious man, you must be a dilatory, and, excuse me, in this sole point, a foolish man.”
Í grant the worst you can say. But you shall say it only till to-morrow-that is, if you will draw up the will, and have it ready for me to sign at any hour you may be at leisure for a call from me.”
“I can't undertake it by to-morrow ; but it shall be ready by the next day at twelve o'clock.”
“That will do perfectly. I must remain 'a foolish man' for twenty-four hours longer--that is all.”
“You won't be much the worse for that, except you have an attack of apoplexy to fix you there. But, joking apart, give me my instructions. May I ask how much you have to leave ?”
“Oh! somewhere, off and on, about thirty thousand. It isn't much, but I hope to double it in the course of a few years, if things go on as they are doing.”
Mr. Worboise had not known so much about his friend's affairs as he had pretended to his son. When he heard the amount, he uttered a slight “Whew !” But whether it meant that the sum fell below or exceeded his expectations, he gave Mr. Boxall no time to inquire.
“And how do you want the sum divided ?” he asked.
“ I don't want it divided at all. There's no occasion whatever to mention the sum. The books will show my property. I want my wife, in the case of her surviving me, to have the whole of it."
And failing her ?” “My daughters, of course-equally divided. If my wife lives, there is no occasion to mention them. I want them to be dependent upon her as long as she lives, and so hold the family together as long as possible. She knows my wishes about them in everything. I have no secrets from her.”
“ I have only to carry out instructions. I have no right to offer any suggestions."
“ That means that you would suggest something. Speak out, man."
“Suppose your daughters wished to marry ? "
“I leave all that to their mother, as I said. They must be their own mistresses some day.”
“Well, call on me the day after to-morrow, and I shall have the draught at least ready."
When the two girls reached the flagstaff, their parents were not there. Jane was glad of this, for it precluded questioning as to the point whence they had arrived. As they stood waiting, large snowfakes began to fall, and the wind was rising. But they had not
to wait long before the gentlemen made their appearance, busily conversing, so busily indeed that, when they had joined the girls, they walked away towards the railway-station without concerning themselves to ask what had become of Mary and Thomas.
When they reached the railway-station, Mr. Boxall became suddenly aware that two of their party were missing.
“Whý, Jane, where's Mary? And where's Tom? Where did you leave them?”
Somewhere about the pines. I thought they would have been back long ago."
The two fathers looked at each other, and each seeing that the other looked knowing, then first consented, as he thought, to look knowing himself.
“Well,” said Mr. Worboise, “they're old enough to take care of themselves, I suppose. I vote we don't wait for them.” “ Serve them right," said Mr. Boxall.
Oh, don't, papa," interposed Jane. “Well, Jane, will you stop for them?” said her father.
But a sudden light that flashed into Jane's eyes made him change his tone. He did not know why, but the idea of Charles Wither rose in his mind, and he made haste to prevent Jane from taking advantage of the proposal.
“Come along," he said. “Let them take care of themselves. Come along."
The suspicion had crossed him more than once, that Mr. Wither and Jane possibly contrived to meet without his knowledge, and the thought made him writhe with jealousy ; for it lay in his nature to be jealous of every man of whom his wife or his daughters spoke well—that is, until he began to like him himself, when the jealousy, or what was akin to it, vanished. But it was not jealousy alone that distressed him, but the anxiety of real love as well.
By the time they reached Carnden Road station, the ground was covered with snow.
When Tom and Mary arrived at the pines, I have said they found that the rest of their party had gone.
“Oh, never mind,” said Mary, merrily ; “let us run down into the hollow, and wait till they come back. We can keep the pines in sight, you know. I daresay they are not far off. They will never go without us."
Partly from false gallantry, partly from inclination, Thomas agreed. They descended the bank of sand in a quite opposite direction from that taken by Jane and her companions, and wandered along down the heath. By this time, the sky was all grey and white. Long masses of vapour were driving overhead with jagged upper edges. They looked like lines of fierce warriors, stooping in their eager rush to the battle.
But down in the hollows of the heath all was still, and they wan
dered on for some time without paying any heed to the signs of the coming storm. Does my reader ask what they talked about ? Nothing worthy of record, I answer ; although every word that Thornas uttered, seemed to Mary worth looking into for some occult application of the sort she would gladly have heard more openly expressed. At length, something cold fell upon her face, and Thomas glancing that moment at her countenance, saw it lying there, and took it for a tear. She looked up : the sky was one mass of heavy vapour, and a multitude of great downy snow-fiakes was settling slowly on the earth. In a moment they were clasped hand in hand. The pleasure of the snow, the excitement of being shut out from the visible, or rather the seeing world, wrapped in the skirts of a storm with a pretty girl for his sole companion, so wrought upon Thomas, who loved to be moved and hated to will, that he forgot Lucy, and stood in delight, gazing certainly at the falling snow, and not at Mary Boxall, but holding her hand tight in his own. She crept closer to him, for a little gentle fear added to her pleasure, and in a moment more his arm was about her—to protect her, I daresay he said to himself.
Now be it understood that Thomas was too much in love with himself to be capable of loving any woman under the sun after a noble and true fashion. He did not love Lucy a great deal better than he loved Mary. Only Mary was an ordinary pretty blonde, and Lucy was dark, with great black eyes, and far more distinguished in appearance than Mary. Besides she was poor, and that added greatly to the romance of the thing ; for it made it quite noble in him to love her, and must make her look up to him with such deserved admiration, that-without reckoning the fact that the one was offered him, and the other only not forbidden because there was as yet no suspicion of his visits in Guild Court-there was positively no room to hesitate in choice between them.' Still the preference was not strong enough to keep his heart from beating fast when he found the snow-storm had closed him in with Mary. He had sense enough, however, to turn at once in order to lead her back towards the roau. But this was already a matter of difficulty, for there was no path where the storm found them, and with the gathering darkness the snow already nid the high road across the heath; so that the first question was in what direction to go to find it. They kept moving, however, Mary leaning a good deal on Tom's arm, and getting more and more frightened as no path came in view. Even Tom began to be anxious about what was to come of it, and although he did his best to comfort Mary, he soon found that before the least suspicion of actual danger the whole romance of the situation had vanished. And now the snow not only fell rapidly, but the wind blew it sharply in their faces, and blinded them yet more than merely with its darkness-not that this mattered much as to the finding the way, for that was all hap-hazard long ago.