THE FLUTTER OF HIS WINGS.
Then is Love's hour to stray! Oh, how he flies away!--T. MOORE.
Meanwhile Aurelia, mounted on a pair of pattens brought by the negro to keep her above the dew, was crossing the park by the light of a fine hunter's moon, Jumbo marching at a respectful distance in the rear. He kept on chuckling to himself with glee, and when she looked round at him, he informed her with great exultation that "Mas'r had not been alone. His honour had been to see him. Mas'r so glad."
"Sir Amyas!" exclaimed Aurelia: "Is he there still?"
"No, missie. He went away before supper."
"Did he see the young ladies?"
"Oh, yes, missie. He came before mas'r up, quite promiskius," said Jumbo, who loved a long word. "I tell him, wait till mas'r be dress, and took him to summer parlour. He see little missies out in garden; ask what chil'ren it was. His Hounour's sisters, Miss Fay, Missie Letty, Missie Amy, I say! His Honour wonder. 'My sisters,' he say, 'my sisters here,' and out he goes like a flash of lightning and was in among them."
Aurelia's first thought was "Oh, I hope they were clean and neat, and that they behaved themselves. I wish I had been at home." Wherewith followed the recollection that Sir Amyas had been called her beau, and her cheeks burnt; but the recent disagreeable lecture on etiquette showed her that it would only have led to embarrassment and vexation to have had any question of an interview with a young gentleman by so little her elder. Nor would she have known what to say to him. Old Mr. Belamour in the dark was a very different matter, and she had probably had an escape from much awkwardness.
Molly received her with her favourite exclamation: "Lawk, miss, and who do you think have been here?"
"Jumbo told me, Molly."
"Ain't he a perfect pictur of a man? And such a gentleman! He gave me a whole goolden guinea for my good care of his little sisters, and says he: 'Their father shall hear of them, and what little ladies they be.'"
"I am glad they behaved themselves prettily."
"Yes, that they did, ma'am. It was good luck that they had not been grubbing in their gardens as you lets 'em do, ma'am, but they was all as clean as a whistle, a picking up horse-chestnuts under the big tree at the corner of the bowling green, when out on the steps we sees him, looking more like an angel than a man, in his red coat, and the goold things on his shoulders, and out he comes! Miss Amy, she was afeard at first: 'Be the soldiers a coming?' says she, and runs to me; but Miss Letty, she holds out her arms, and says "It's my papa,' and Miss Fay, she stood looking without a word. Then when his Honour was in among them: "My little sisters, my dear little sisters,' says he, 'don't you know me?' and down he goes on one knee in the grass, never heeding his beautiful white small-clothes, if you'll believe me, miss, and holds out his arms, and gets Miss Fay into one arm, and Miss Letty into t'other, and then Miss Amy runs up, and he kisses them all. Then miss Letty says again 'Are you my papa from foreign parts?' and he laughs and says: 'No, little one, I'm your brother. Did you never hear of your brother Amyas?' and Miss Fay stood off a little and clapped her little hands, and says: 'O brother Amyas, how beautiful you are!'"
Aurelia could not help longing to know whether she had been mentioned, but she did not like to inquire, and she was obliged to rest satisfied with the assurance that her little girls had comported themselves like jewels, like lambs, like darling lumps of sugar, or whatever metaphors were suggested by the imagination of Molly, who had, apparently, usurped the entire credit of their good manners. It was impossible to help feeling a little aggrieved, or, maugre [in spite of--D.L.] all inconvenient properties to avoid wishing to have been under the horse- chestnut tree, even though she might have shown herself just such a bashful little speechless fool as she had been when Sir Amyas had danced with her at Carminster.
She was destined to hear a good deal more of the visitor the next day. The children met her with the cry of "Cousin Aura, our brother"--"our big beautiful brother--Brother Amyas."--They were with difficulty calmed into saying their prayers, and Amoret startled the little congregation by adding to "bless by father, my mother, my brothers and sisters," "and pray bless big brother Amyas best of all, for I love him very much indeed!"
All day little facts about "brother Amyas" kept breaking out. Brother Amyas had beautiful gold lace, brother Amyas had a red and white feather; brother Amyas had given Fay and Letty each a ride on his shoulder, but Amy was afraid; brother Amyas said their papa would love them very much. He had given them each a new silver shilling, and Amoret had in return presented him with her doll's beautiful pink back-string that Cousin Aura had made for her. This wonderful brother had asked who had taught them to be such pretty little gentlewomen, and at this Aurelia's heart beat a little, but provoking Fidelia replied: "I told him my Mammy Rolfe taught me to be genteel," and Letty added: "And he said Fay was a conceited little pussy cat."
A strange indefinable feeling between self-respect and shyness made Aurelia shrink from the point-blank question whether the ungrateful little things had acknowledged their obligations to her. She was always hoping they would say something of their own accord, and always disappointed.
Evening came, and she eagerly repaired to the dark room, wondering, yet half dreading to enter on the subject, and beginning by an apology for having by no means perfected herself in Priam's visit to Achilles.
"If you have been making visits," said Mr. Belamour: "I too have had a visitor."
"The children told me so," she answered.
"He was greatly delighted with them," said Mr. Belamour.
"While they, poor little things, never were more happy in their lives. He must have been very kind to them, yet he did not know that they were here."
"His mother is not communicative respecting them. Ladies who love power seek to preserve it by making little mysteries."
"It was to see you, sir, that he came."
"Yes. He ingenuously avowed that he had always been urged to do so by his stepfather, but his mother has always put obstacles in the way, and assured him that he would not gain admission. I have certainly refused to see her, but this is a very different matter-- my brother's only child, my godson, and my ward!"
"I am very glad he has come to see you, sir, and I am sure it has given you pleasure."
"Pleasure in seeing that he is a lad of parts, and of an ingenuous, affectionate, honest nature, but regret in perceiving how I failed in the confidence that his father reposed in me."
"But, sir, you could not help it!"
"Once I could not. It was, I know not how long, before I knew that my brother was no more; and thinking myself dead to the world and the world to me, I took no heed to what, it now seems to me, I was told of guardianship to the boy. I was incapable of fulfilling any such charge, and I shunned the pain of hearing of it," he continued, rather as if talking to himself than to his auditor. "When I could, I gave them my name and they asked no more. Yet what did they tell me of a sealed letter from my brother, addressed to me? True, I heard of it more than once, but I could ask no one to read it to me, and I closed my ears. In Wayland's hands I knew the youth was well cared for, and only now do I feel that I have ill requited my brother's confidence."
"Indeed, sir, I cannot see how you could have done otherwise," said Aurelia, who could not bear to hear his tone of self-reproach.
"My amiable visitor!" he exclaimed, as though recalled to a sense of her presence. "Excuse the absence of mind which has inflicted on you the selfish murmurs of the old recluse. Tell me how you prospered with my cousins, whom I remember as sprightly maidens. Phoebe had somewhat of the prude, Delia of the coquette."
"I could imagine what you say of Mistress Phoebe, sir, better than of Mistress Delia."
"Had they any guests to meet you?"
"A Mrs. Hunter, sir, from Brentford, a doctor's wife I suppose."
"You are right. She was a cousin of theirs on the other side of the house, a loud-voiced buxom lass, who was thought to have married beneath here when she took Dr. Hunter; but apparently they have forgiven her."
Mr. Belamour was evidently much interested and amused by Aurelia's small experiences and observations, such as they were. In spite of the sense of past omission which had been aroused by his nephew's visit, it had evidently raised his spirits, for he laughed when Aurelia spiced her descriptions with a little playful archness, and his voice became more cheery.
So, too, it was on the ensuing evening when Aurelia, to compensate for the last day's neglect, came primed with three or four pages of the conversation between Priam and Achilles, which she rehearsed with great feeling, thinking, like Pelides himself, of her own father and home. It was requited with a murmured "Bravo," and Mr. Belamour then begged of her, if she were not weary, to favour him with the Nightingale Song, Jumbo as usual accompanying her with his violin. At the close there was again a "Bravo! Truly exquisite!" in a tone as if the hermit were really finding youth and life again. Once more at his request, she sang, and was applauded with even more fervour, with a certain tremulous eagerness in the voice. Yet there was probably a dread of the excitement being too much, for this was followed by "Thank you, kind songstress, I could listen for ever, but it is becoming late, and I must not detain you longer."
She found herself handed out of the room, with somewhat curtailed good nights, although nine o'clock, her usual signal, had not yet struck. When she came into the lamplit hall, Jumbo was grinning and nodding like a maniac, and when she asked what was the matter, he only rolled his eyes, and said, "Missie good! Mas'r like music!"
The repressed excitability she had detected made her vaguely nervous (not that she would have so called herself), and as the next day was the blank Sunday, she appeased and worked off her restlessness by walking with the children to Sedhurst church. It was the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, and the preacher, who had caught somewhat of the fire of Wesley and Whitfield, preached a sermon which arrested her attention, and filled her with new thoughts. Taking the Epistle and Gospel in connection, he showed the death-in-life of indifference, and the quickening touch of the Divine Love, awakening the dead spirit into true life. On that life, with its glow of love, hope, and joy, the preacher dwelt with enthusiasm such as Aurelia had never heard, and which carried her quite out of herself. Tears of emotion trembled in her eyes, and she felt a longing desire to walk on in that path of love to her Maker, whom she seemed to have never known before.
She talked with a new fervour to the children of the birds and flowers, and all the fair things they loved, as the gifts of their Father in Heaven; and when she gathered them round the large pictured Bible, it was to the Gospel that she turned as she strove to draw their souls to the appreciation of the Redeeming Love there shown. She saw in Fay's deep eyes and thoughtful brow that the child was taking it in, though differently from Amy, who wanted to kiss the picture, while Letty asked those babyish material questions about Heaven that puzzle wiser heads than Aurelia's to answer.
So full was she of the thought, that she forgot her sense of something strange and unaccountable in Mr. Belamour's manner before the evening, nor was there anything to remind her of it afresh, for he was as calmly grave and kindly courteous as ever; and he soon led her to pour forth all her impressions of the day. Indeed she repeated to him great part of the sermon, with a voice quivering with earnestness and emotion. He was not stirred in the same way as she had been, saying in his pensive meditative way, "The preacher is right. Love is life. The misfortune is when we stake our all on one love alone, and that melts from us. Then indeed there is death--living death!"
"But there is never-failing love, and new life that never dies!" cried Aurelia, almost transported out of herself.
"May you ever keep hold of both unobscured, my sweet child," he returned, with a sadness that repressed and drove her back into herself again, feeling far too childish and unworthy to help him to that new life and love; though her young heart yearned over him in his desolation, and her soul was full of supplication for him.
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