Chapter 22




ANGEL AND BEAR


"Enough of science and of art!
Close up those barren leaves,
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives."
- WORDSWORTH.


A telegram had been handed to Mr. Mayor, which he kept to himself, smiling over it, and he--at least--was not taken utterly by surprise at the sight of a tall handsome man, who stepped forward with something like a shout.

"Angel! Lance! Why, is it Robin, too?"

"Bear, Bear, old Bear, how did you come?"

"I couldn't stop when I heard at Clipstone that Angel was here, so I left Phyllis and the kid with her mother. Oh, Angel, Angel, to meet at Bexley after all!"

They clung together almost as they had done when they were the riotous elements of the household, while Lance opened the front door, and Robina, mindful of appearances, impelled them into the hall, Bernard exclaiming, "Pratt's room! Whose teeth is it?"

"Don't you want Wilmet to hold your hands and make you open your mouth?" said Lance, laughing.

Gertrude, who had already received the Indian arrival, met Angela, who was bounding up to see to her charge, with, "Not come in yet! She is gone out with the children quite happily, with Awdrey's doll in her arms. Come and enjoy each other in peace."

"In the office, please," said Angela. "That is home. We shall be our four old selves."

Lance opened the office door, and gave a hint to Mr. Lamb, while they looked at each other by the fire.

Bernard was by far the most altered. The others were slightly changed, but still their "old selves," while he was a grave responsible man, looking older than Lancelot, partly from the effects of climate; but Angela saw enough to make her exclaim, "Here we are! Don't you feel as if we were had down to Felix to be blown up?"

"Not a bit altered," said Bernard, looking at the desks and shelves of ledgers, with the photographs over the mantelpiece--Felix, Mr. Froggatt, the old foreman, and a print of Garofalo's Vision of St. Augustine, hung up long ago by Felix, as Lance explained, as a token of the faith to which all human science and learning should be subordinated.

"A declaration of the Pursuivant," said Angela. "How Fulbert did look out for Pur! I believe it was his only literature."

"Phyllis declares," said Bernard, "that nothing so upsets me as a failure in Pur's arrival."

"And this is Pur's heart and centre!" said Robina.

"Only," added Angela, "I miss the smell of burnt clay that used to pervade the place, and that Alda so hated."

"Happily the clay is used up," said Lance. "I could not have brought Gertrude and the children here if the ceramic art, as they call it, had not departed. Cherry was so delighted at our coming to live here. She loved the old struggling days."

"Fulbert said he never felt as if he had been at home till he came here. He never TOOK to Vale Leston."

"Clement and Cherry have settled in very happily," said Robina, "with convalescent clergy in the Vicarage."

"I say, Angel, let us have a run over there," cried Bernard, "you and I together, for a bit of mischief."

"Do, DO let us! Though this is real home, our first waking to perception and naughtiness, it is more than Vale Leston. We seem to have been up in a balloon all those five happy years."

"A balloon?" said Bernard. "Nay, it seems to me that till they were over, I never thought at all except how to get the most rollicking and the finest rowing out of life. It seems to me that I had about as much sense as a green monkey."

"Something sank in, though," said Lance; "you did not drift off like poor Edgar."

"Some one must have done so," said Angela. "I wanted to ask you, Lancey, about advertising for my little Lena's people; the Bishop said I ought."

"I say," exclaimed Bernard, "was it her father that was Fulbert's mate? I thought he was afraid of your taking up with him. You didn't?"

"No, no. Let me tell you, I want you to know. Field and a little wife came over from Melbourne prospecting for a place to sit down in. They had capital, but the poor wife was worn out and ill, and after taking them in for a night, Fulbert liked them. Field was an educated man and a gentleman, and Ful offered them to stay there in partnership. So they stayed, and by and by this child was born, and the poor mother died. The two great bearded men came galloping over to Albertstown from Carrigaboola, with this new born baby, smaller than even Theodore was, and I had the care of her from the very first, and Field used to ride over and see the little thing."

"And--?" said Bernard, in a rather teasing voice, as his eyes actually looked at Angela's left hand.

"I'll own it DID tempt me. I had had some great disappointments with my native women, running wild again, and I could not bear my child having a horrid stepmother; and there was the glorious free bush life, and the horses and the sheep! But then I thought of you all saying Angel had broken out again; and by and by Fulbert came and told me that he was sure there was some ugly mystery, and spoke to Mother Constance, and they made me promise not to take him unless it was cleared up. Then, as you know, dear Ful's horse fell with him; Field came and fetched me to their hut, and I was there to the last. Ful told each of us again that all must be plain and explained before we thought of anything in the future. He, Henry Field, said he had great hopes that he should be able to set it right. Then, as you know, there was no saving dear Fulbert, and after that Mother Constance's illness began. Oh! Bear, do you recollect her coming in and mothering us in the little sitting-room? I could not stir from her, of course, while she was with us. And after that, Harry Field came and said he had written a letter to England, and when the answer came, he would tell me all, and I should judge! But I don't think the answer ever did come, and he went to Brisbane to see if it was at the bank; and there he caught a delirious fever, and there was an end of it

At that moment something between a whine or a call of "sister" was heard. Up leapt Angela and hurried away, while Lance observed, "Well! That's averted, but I am sorry for her."

"It was not love," said Robina.

"Or only for the child," said Bernard; "and that would have been a dangerous speculation."

"The child or something else has been very good for her," said Lance; "I never saw her so gentle and quiet."

"And with the same charm about her as ever," said Bernard. "I don't wonder that all the fellows fall in love with her. I hope she won't make havoc among Clement's sick clergy."

"I suppose we ought to go up and fulfil the duties of society," said Robina, rising. "But first, Bear, tell me how is Phyllis?"

"Pretty fair," he answered. "Resting with her mother, but she has never been quite the thing of late. I almost hope Sir Ferdinand will see his way to keeping us at home, or we shall have to leave our little Lily."

Interruption occurred as a necessary summons to "Mr. Mayor," and the paternal conclave was broken up, and had to adjourn to Gertrude's tea in the old sitting-room.

"I see!" exclaimed Agatha, as she looked at the party of children at their supplementary table. "I see what the likeness is in that child. Don't you, Dolores? Is it not to Wilfred Merrifield?"

"There is very apt to be a likeness between sandy people, begging your pardon, Angel," said Gertrude.

"Yes, the carroty strain is apt to crop up in families," said Lance, "like golden tabbies, as you ladies call your stable cats."

"All the Mohuns are dark," said Dolores, "and all Aunt Lily's children, except Wilfred; and is not your Phyllis of that colour?"

"Phyllis's hair is not red, but dark auburn," said Bernard, in a tone like offence.

"I never saw Phyllis," said dark-browed Dolores, "but I have heard the aunts talk over the source of the--the fair variety, and trace it to the Merrifields. Uncle Jasper is brown, and so is Bessie; but Susan is, to put it politely, just a golden tabby, and David's baby promises to be, to her great delight, as she says he will be a real Merrifield. So much for family feeling!"

"Sister, Sister!" came in a bright tone, "may I go with Pearl and get a stick for Ben? He wants something to play with! He is eating his perch."

Ben, it appeared, was the pink cockatoo, who was biting his perch with his hooked beak. The children had finished their meal, and consent was given. "Only, Lena, come here," said Angela, fastening a silk handkerchief round her neck, and adding, "Don't let Lena go on the dew, Pearl; she is not used to early English autumn, I must get her a pair of thicker boots."

"What is her name?" asked Agatha, catching the sound.

"Magdalen Susanna. Her father made a point of it, instead of his wife's name, which, I think, was Caroline."

"I don't think I ever knew a Magdalen except my own elder sister," said Agatha, "and Susanna! Did you say Miss Merrifield had a sister Susan?"

"An excellent, sober-sided, dear old Susan! Yes, Susanna was their mother's name," said Dolores "and now that you have put it into my head, little Lena, when she is animated, puts me more in mind of Bessie than even of Wilfred, though the colouring is different. Why?"

"Did you never hear," said Agatha, "that there was one of the brothers who was a bad lot, and ran away. My sister says Wilfred is like him. I believe," she added, "that he was her romance!"

"Ha!" exclaimed Bernard, "that's queer! We had a clerk in the bank who gave his name as Meriton, and who cut and ran the very day he heard that Sir Jasper Merrifield was coming out as Commandant. Yes, he was carroty. I rarely saw Wilfred at Clipstone, but this might very well have been the fellow, afraid to face his uncle."

Angela did not look delighted. "She is not destitute, you know," she said, "I am her guardian, and she will have about two hundred a year."

"Is there a will?" asked Lance.

"Oh, yes, I have it upstairs! It is all right. It was at the bank at Brisbane, and they kept a copy. I brought her because the Bishop said it was my duty to find out whether there were any relations."

"Certainly," said Bernard. "In our own case, remember what joy Travis's letter was!"

Angela was silent, and presently said, "You shall see the will when I have unpacked it, but there is no doubt about my being guardian."

"Probably not," said Bernard, rather drily.

"If it be a valid will, signed by his proper name," said Lance.

Whereupon the two brothers fell into a discussion on points of law, not unlike the editor of the Pursuivant, as he had become known to his family, but most unlike the Bernard they had known before his departure for the East. At any rate it dissipated the emotional tone of the party; and by and by, when Bernard and Angela had agreed to make a bicycle rush to Minsterham the next day, "that is," said Angela "if Lena is happy enough to spare me," the Harewoods took leave.

When the children had gone to bed, and Angela had stayed upstairs so long that Gertrude augured that she was waiting till her charge had gone to sleep, and that they should have no more of her henceforth but "Lena's baulked stepmother," she came down, bringing a document with her, which she displayed before her brothers.

There was no question but that it was a will drawn up in due form, and very short, bequeathing his property at Carrigaboola, Queensland, to his daughter, Magdalen Susanna, and appointing Fulbert Underwood and Angela Margaret Underwood and "my brother Samuel" her guardian. It was dated the year after his daughter's birth, and was signed Henry Field, with a word interposed, which, as Lance said, might be anything, but was certainly the right length for the first syllables of Merrifield. Bernard looked at it, and declared it was, to the best of his belief, the same signature as his former clerk used to write.

"And this," he said, looking at the seal, "is the crest of the Merrifield's--the demi lion. I know it well on Sir Jasper's seal ring."

"Have you nothing else, Angel?" asked Lance.

"Here is the certificate of her baptism, but that will tell you nothing."

No more it did, it only called the child the daughter of Henry and Caroline Field, and the surname was omitted in the bequest.

"Who was the mother?" asked Lance.

"I never exactly knew. Fulbert thought she had been a person whom Field had met in America or somewhere, and married in a hurry. Fulbert said she was rather pretty, but she was a poor helpless, bewildered thing, and very poorly. He wanted to bring her to Albertstown for fit help and nursing; but she cried so much at the idea of either horse or wagon over the-no-roads, that it was put off and off and she had only his shepherd's housekeeper, so it was no wonder she did not live! Field was dreadfully cut up, and blamed himself extremely for having given way to her; but it is as likely as not the journey would have been just as fatal."

"Poor thing!"

"You never heard her surname?"

"No, it did not signify."

"He did not name his child after her?"

"No. I remember Fulbert saying he supposed she should be called Caroline; and he exclaimed, 'No, no, I always said it should be Magdalen and Susanna.'"

"My sister's name," repeated Agatha.

"And Susan Merrifield," added Dolores.

"But she is mine, mine!" cried Angela, with a tone like herself, of a sort of triumphant jealousy. "They can't take her away from me!"

"Gently, Angela, my dear," said Lance, in a tone so like Felix of old, that it almost startled her. "Tell me what arrangement is this about the property. Your share of Fulbert's has never been taken out, I think?"

"No, Macpherson, the purchaser, you know, of Fulbert's share, pays me my amount out of it, and agreed to do the same by Lena. I don't think the value is quite what it used to be. It rather went down under Field; but Macpherson is all there, and it has been a better season. I could sell it all to him, hers and mine both; but I have thought how it would be, as it is her native country, and I have not parted with my own to go out again to Carrigaboola, and bring her up there. I assure you I am up to it," she added, meeting an amused look. "I know a good deal more about sheep farming than either of you gentlemen. I can ride anything but a buckjumper, and boss the shepherds, and I do love the life, no stifling in fields and copses! I only wish you would come too, Bear; it would do you ever so much good to get a little red paint on those white banker's hands of yours."

"Well done, sister Angel!" And the brothers both burst out laughing.

"But really," proceeded Angela, "it is by far the best hope of keeping up Christianity among those hands. Fulbert had a sort of little hut for a chapel, and once a month one of the clergy from Albertstown came over there; I used to ride with him when I could, and if I were there, I could keep a good deal going till the place is more peopled, and we can get a cleric. It is a great opportunity, not to be thrown away. I can catch those cockatoos better than a parson. And there are the blacks."

The brothers had not the least doubt of it. Angela was Angela still, for better or for worse. Or was it for worse? Yet she went up to bed chanting -

"His sister she went beyond the seas,
And died an old maid among black savagees."




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