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PERCY AND HIS MOTHER.
At luncheon, the colonel said--
"Well, Adela, you will be glad to know that our hero of last night returned quite safe this morning."
"I am glad to know it, papa."
"He is one of the right sort, that young fellow. Duty is the first thing with him."
"Perhaps duty may not have been his only motive," said Mrs. Cathcart, coldly. "It was too good an opportunity to be lost."
Adela seemed to understand her, for she blushed--but not with embarrassment alone, for the fire that made her cheek glow red, flashed in flames from her eyes.
"Some people, aunt," she said, trying to follow the cold tone in which Mrs. Cathcart had spoken, "have not the faculty for the perception of the noble and self-denying. Their own lives are so habitually elevated, that they see nothing remarkable in the devotion of others."
"Well, I do see nothing remarkable in it," returned the aunt, in a tone that indicated she hardly knew what to make of Adela's sarcasm. "Mr. Armstrong would have been liable to an action at law if he had refused to go. And then to come into the drawing-room in his boots and spurs, and change his coat before ladies!--It was all just of a piece with the coarse speech he made to you when you were simple enough to ask him not to go. I can't think what you admire about the man, I am sure."
Adela rose and left the room.
"You are too hard on Mr. Armstrong," said the colonel
"Perhaps I am, Colonel; but I have my reasons. If you will be blind to your daughter's interests, that is only the more reason why I should keep my eyes open to them."
So saying, Mrs. Cathcart rose, and followed her niece--out of the room, but no farther, I will venture to say. Fierce as the aunt was, there had been that in the niece's eyes, as she went, which I do not believe the vulgar courage of the aunt could have faced.
I concluded that Mrs. Cathcart had discovered Adela's restlessness the night before; had very possibly peeped into her room; and, as her windows looked in the same direction, might have seen Harry riding home from his selfish task in the cold grey morning; for scheming can destroy the rest of some women as perfectly as loving can destroy the rest of others. She might have made the observation, too, that Adela had lain as still as a bird unhatched, after that apparition of weariness had passed.
The colonel again sank into an uncomfortable mood. He had loved his dead brother very dearly, and had set his heart on marrying Adela to Percy. Besides there was quite enough of worldliness left in the heart of the honourable old soldier, to make him feel that a country practitioner, of very moderate means, was not to be justified in aspiring to the hand of his daughter. Moreover, he could hardly endure the thought of his daughter's marriage at all, for he had not a little of the old man's jealousy in him; and the notion of Percy being her husband was the only form in which the thought could present itself, that was in the least degree endurable to him. Yet he could not help admiring Harry; and until his thoughts had been turned into their present channel by Mrs. Cathcart's remarks, he had felt that that lady was unjust to the doctor. But to think that his line, for he had no son, should merge into that of the Armstrongs, who were of somewhat dubious descent in his eyes, and Scotch, too--though, by the way, his own line was Scotch, a few hundred years back--was sufficient to cause him very considerable uneasiness--pain would be the more correct word.
I have, for many pages, said very little about Percy; simply because there has been very little to say about him. He was always present at our readings, but did not appear to take any interest in them. He would generally lie on a couch, and stare either at Adela or the fire till he fell asleep. If he did not succeed in getting to sleep, he would show manifest signs of being bored. No doubt he considered the whole affair a piece of sentimental humbug. And during the day I saw very little of him. He had hunted once or twice, on one of his uncle's horses: they had scarcely seen the hounds this season. But that was a bore, no doubt. He went skating occasionally, and had once tried to get Adela to accompany him; but she would not. These amusements, with a few scattered hours of snipe-shooting, composed his Christmas enjoyments; the intervals being filled up with yawning, teasing the dogs, growling at his mother and the cold, and sleeping "the innocent sleep."
Whether he had any real regard for Adela, I could not quite satisfy myself--I mean real by the standard and on the scale of his own being; for of course, as compared with the love of men like the Armstrongs, the attachment of a lad like Percy could hardly be considered real at all. But even that, as I say, I could not clearly find out. His jealousy seemed rather the jealousy of what was his, or ought to be his, than any more profound or tragical feeling. But he evidently disliked the doctor--and the curate, too, whether for his own sake or for the doctor's, is of little consequence.
In the course of this forenoon, I came upon Master Percy in the kitchen garden. He had set an old shutter against one of the walls for a target, and was peppering away at it with a revolver; apparently quite satisfied if he succeeded in hitting the same panel twice running, at twelve paces. Guessing at the nonsense that was in his head, I sauntered up to him and watched his practice for a while. He pulled the trigger with a jerk that threw the muzzle up half an inch every time he fired, else I don't believe he would have hit the board at all. But he held his breath before-hand, till he was red in the face, because he had heard that, in firing at a mark, pistol-shooters did not even breathe, to avoid the influence of the motion of the chest upon the aim.
"Ah!" I said, "pretty well. But you should see Mr. Henry Armstrong shoot."
Whereupon Mr. Percy Cathcart deliberately damned Mr. Henry Armstrong, expressly and by name. I pretended not to have heard him, and, continuing to regard the said condemned as still alive and comfortable, went on:
"Just ask him, the next time you find him at home, to let you see him drive a nail with three pistol-bullets."
He threw the pistol from him, exploded himself, like a shell, in twenty different fragments of oaths, and left me the kitchen garden and the pistol, which latter I took a little practice with myself, for the sake of emptying two of the chambers still charged. Whether Henry Armstrong even knew how to fire a pistol, I did not know; but I dare say he was a first-rate shot, if I only had known it. I sent the pistol up to Mr. Percy's room by the hand of Mr. Beeves; but I never heard him practising any more.
The next night the curate was to read us another story. The time arrived, and with it all our company, except Harry. Indeed it was a marvel that he had been able to attend so often as he had attended. I presume the severe weather had by this time added to his sick-list.
Although I fear the chief end of our readings was not so fully attained as hitherto, or, in other words, that Adela did not enjoy the evening so much as usual, I will yet record all with my usual faithfulness.
The curate and his wife were a little late, and when they arrived, they found us waiting for them in music. As soon as they entered, Adela rose from the piano.
"Do go on, Miss Cathcart," said the curate.
"I had just finished," she replied.
"Then, if you will allow me, I will sing a song first, which I think will act as an antidote to those sentimental ones which we had at my house, and of which Mrs. Cathcart did not approve."
"Thank you," said everybody, Mrs. Cathcart included.
Whereupon the curate sang:
"I am content. In trumpet-tones, My song, let people know. And many a mighty man, with throne And sceptre, is not so. And if he is, I joyful cry, Why then, he's just the same as I.
The Mogul's gold, the Sultan's show-- His bliss, supreme too soon, Who, lord of all the world below, Looked up unto the moon-- I would not pick it up--all that Is only fit for laughing at.
My motto is--Content with this. Gold-place--I prize not such. That which I have, my measure is; Wise men desire not much. Men wish and wish, and have their will, And wish again, as hungry still.
And gold and honour are besides A very brittle glass; And Time, in his unresting tides, Makes all things change and pass; Turns riches to a beggar's dole; Sets glory's race an infant's goal.
Be noble--that is more than wealth; Do right--that's more than place; Then in the spirit there is health, And gladness in the face; Then thou art with thyself at one, And, no man hating, fearest none.
I am content. In trumpet-tones, My song, let people know. And many a mighty man, with throne And sceptre, is not so. And if he is, I joyful cry, Why then, he's just the same as I."
"Is that one of your own, Mr. Armstrong?" asked the colonel.
"It is, like most of those you have heard from me and my brother, only a translation."
"I am no judge of poetry, but it seems to me that if he was content, he need not say so much about it."
"There is something in what you say. But there was no show-off in Claudius, I think. He was a most simple-hearted, amiable man, to all appearance. A man of business, too--manager of a bank at Altona, in the beginning of the present century. But as I have not given a favourable impression of him, allow me to repeat a little bit of innocent humour of his--a cradle song--which I like fully better than the other."
"Most certainly; it is only fair," answered the colonel.
"Sleep, baby boy, sleep sweet, secure; Thou art thy father's miniature; That art thou, though thy father goes And swears that thou hast not his nose.
A moment gone, he looked at thee, My little budding rose, And said--No doubt there's much of me, But he has not my nose.
I think myself, it is too small, But it is his nose after all; For if thy nose his nose be not, Whence came the nose that thou hast got?
Sleep, baby, sleep; don't half-way doze: To tease me--that's his part. No matter if you've not his nose, So be you've got his heart!"
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