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It was a lovely morning when Richard, his heart beating with a hope whose intensity of bliss he had never imagined, stopped at the station nearest to Mortgrange, and set out to walk there in the afternoon sun. June folded him in her loveliness of warmth and colour. The grass was washed with transparent gold: he saw both the gold and the green together, but unmingled. Often had he walked the same road, a contented tradesman; a gentleman now, with a baronet to his father, he loved, and knew he must always love the tradesman-uncle more than the baronet-father. He was much more than grateful to his father for his ready reception of him, and his care of his education; but he could not be proud of him as of his mother and his aunt and uncle and his grandfather. He held it one of God's greatest gifts to come of decent people; and if in his case the decency was on one side only, it was the more his part to stop the current of transmitted evil, and in his own person do what he might to annihilate it!
His only anxiety was lest his father should again lay upon him the command to cease communication with his brother and sister. He lifted up his heart to God, and vowed that not for anything the earth could give would he obey. The socialism he had learned from his uncle had undergone a baptism to something infinitely higher. He prayed God to keep him clean of heart, and able to hold by his duty. He promised God--it was a way he had when he would bind himself to do right--that he would not forsake his own, would not break the ties of blood for any law, custom, prejudice, or pride of man. The vow made his heart strong and light. But he felt there was little merit in the act, seeing he could live without his father's favour. He saw how much harder it would be for a poor tradeless man like Arthur Lestrange to make such a resolve. In the face of such a threat from his father what could he do?--where find courage to resist? Resist he must, or be a slave, but hard indeed it would be! Every father, thought Richard, who loved his children, ought to make them independent of himself, that neither clog, nor net, nor hindrance of any kind might hamper the true working of their consciences: then would the service they rendered their parents be precious indeed! then indeed would love be lord, and neither self, nor the fear of man, nor the fear of fate be a law in their life!
He had not sent word to his grandfather that he was coming, and had told his father that he would walk from the station--which suited sir Wilton, for he felt nervous, and was anxious there should be no stir. So Richard came to Mortgrange as quietly as a star to its place.
When he reached the gate and walked in as of old, he was challenged by the woman who kept it: of all the servants she and lady Ann's maid had alone treated him with rudeness, and now she was not polite although she did not know him. Neither was he recognized by the man who opened the door.
Sir Wilton sat in the library expecting him. A gentleman was with him, but he kept in the background, seemingly absorbed in the titles of a row of books.
"There you are, you rascal!" his father was on the point of saying as Richard came into the light of the one big bow-window, but, instead, he gazed at him for an instant in silence. Before him was one of the handsomest fellows his eyes had ever rested upon--broad-shouldered and tall and straight, with a thoughtful yet keen face, of which every feature was both fine and solid, and dark brown hair with night and firelight in it, and a touch of the sun here and there at moments. The situation might have been embarrassing to a more experienced man than Richard as he waited for his father to speak; but he stood quite at his ease, slightly bent, and motionless, neither hands nor feet giving him any of the trouble so often caused by those outlying provinces. The slight colour that rose in his rather thin cheeks, only softened the beauty of a face whose outline was severe. He stood like a soldier waiting the word of his officer.
"By Jove!" said his father; and there was another pause.
The baronet was momently growing prouder of his son. He had never had a feeling like it before. He saw his mother in him.
"She's looking at me straight out of his eyes!" he said to himself.
"Ain't you going to sit down?" he said to him at last, forgetting that he had neither shaken hands with him, nor spoken a word of welcome.
Richard moved a chair a little nearer and sat down, wondering what would come next.
"Well, what are you going to do?" asked his father.
"I must first know your wish, sir," he answered.
"Church won't do?"
"Glad to hear it! You're much too good for the church!--No offence, Mr. Wingfold! The same applies to yourself."
"So my uncle on the stock-exchange used to say!" answered Wingfold, laughing, as he turned to the baronet. "He thought me good enough, I suppose, for a priest of Mammon!"
"I'm glad you're not offended. What do you think of that son of mine?"
"I have long thought well of him."
At the first sound of his voice, Richard had risen, and now approached him, his hand outstretched.
"Mr. Wingfold!" he said joyfully.
"I remember now!" returned sir Wilton; "it was from him I heard of you; and that was what made me seek your acquaintance.--He promises fairly, don't you think?--Shoulders good; head well set on!"
"He looks a powerful man!" said Wingfold. "--We shall be happy to see you, Mr. Lestrange, as soon as you care to come to us."
"That will be to-morrow, I hope, sir," answered Richard.
"Stop, stop!" cried sir Wilton. "We know nothing for certain yet!--By the bye, if your stepmother don't make you particularly welcome, you needn't be surprised, my boy!"
"Certainly not. I could hardly expect her to be pleased, sir!"
"Not pleased? Not pleased at what? Now, now, don't you presume! Don't you take things for granted! How do you know she will have reason to be displeased? I never promised you anything! I never told you what I intended!--Did I ever now?"
"No, sir. You have already done far more than ever you promised. You have given me all any man has a right to from his father. I am ready to go to London at once, and make my own living."
"I don't know yet; I should have to choose--thanks to you and my uncle!"
"In the meantime, you must be introduced to your stepmother."
"Then--excuse me, sir Wilton--" interposed the parson, "do you wish me to regard my old friend Richard as your son and heir?"
"As my son, yes; as my heir--that will depend--"
"On his behaviour, I presume!" Wingfold ventured.
"I say nothing of the sort!" replied the baronet testily. "Would you have me doubt whether he will carry himself like a gentleman? The thing depends on my pleasure. There are others besides him."
He rose to ring the bell. Richard started up to forestall his intent.
"Now, Richard," said his father, turning sharp upon him, "don't be officious. Nothing shows want of breeding more than to do a thing for a man in his own house. It is a cursed liberty!"
"I will try to remember, sir," answered Richard.
"Do; we shall get on the better."
He was seized, as by the claw of a crab, with a sharp twinge of the gout. He caught at the back of a chair, hobbled with its help to the table, and so to his seat. Richard restrained himself and stood rigid. The baronet turned a half humorous, half reproachful look on him.
"That's right!" he said. "Never be officious. I wish my father had taught me as I am teaching you!--Ever had the gout, Mr. Wingfold?"
"Never, sir Wilton."
"Then you ought every Sunday to say, 'Thank God that I have no gout!'"
"But if we thanked God for all the ills we don't have, there would be no time to thank him for any of the blessings we do have!"
"So many, I don't know where to begin to answer you."
"Ah, yes! you're a clergyman! I forgot. It's your business to thank God. For my part, being a layman, I don't know anything in particular I've got to thank him for."
"If I thought a layman had less to thank God for than a clergyman, I should begin to doubt whether either had anything to thank him for. Why, sir Wilton, I find everything a blessing! I thank God I am a poor man. I thank him for every good book I fall in with. I thank him when a child smiles to me. I thank him when the sun rises or the wind blows on me. Every day I am so happy, or at least so peaceful, or at the worst so hopeful, that my very consciousness is a thanksgiving."
"Do you thank him for your wife, Mr. Wingfold?"
"Every day of my existence."
The baronet stared at him a moment, then turned to his son.
"Richard," he said, "you had better make up your mind to go into the church! You hear Mr. Wingfold! I shouldn't like it myself; I should have to be at my prayers all day!"
"Ah, sir Wilton, it doesn't take time to thank God! It only takes eternity."
Sir Wilton stared. He did not understand.
"Ring the bell, will you!" he said. "The fellow seems to have gone to sleep."
Richard obeyed, and not a word was spoken until the man appeared.
"Wilkins," said his master, "go to my lady, and say I beg the favour of her presence in the library for a moment."
The man went.
"No antipathy to cats, I hope!" he added, turning to Richard.
"None, sir," answered Richard gravely.
"That's good! Then you won't lie taken aback!"
In a few minutes--she seldom made her husband wait--lady Ann sailed into the room, the servant closing the door so deftly behind her, that it seemed without moving to have given passage to an angelic presence.
The two younger men rose.
"Mr. Wingfold you know, my lady!" said her husband.
"I have not the pleasure," answered lady Ann, with a slight motion of the hard bud at the top of her long stalk.
"Ah, I thought you did!--The Reverend Mr. Wingfold, lady Ann!--My wife, Mr. Wingfold!--The other gentleman, lady Ann.--"
He paused. Lady Ann turned her eyes slowly on Richard. Wingfold saw a slight, just perceptible start, and a settling of the jaws.
"The other gentleman," resumed the baronet, "you do not know, but you will soon be the best of friends."
"I beg your pardon, sir Wilton, I do know him!--I hope," she went on, turning to Richard, "you will keep steadily to your work. The sooner the books are finished, the better!"
Richard smiled, but what he was on the point of saying, his father prevented.
"You mistake, my lady! I thought you did not know him!" said the baronet. "That gentleman is my son, and will one day be sir Richard."
"Oh!" returned her ladyship--without a shadow of change in her impassivity, except Wingfold was right in fancying the slightest movement of squint in the eye next him. She held out her hand.
"This is an unexpected--"
For once in her life her lips were truer than her heart: they did not say pleasure.
Richard took her hand respectfully, sad for the woman whose winter had no fuel, and who looked as if she would be cold to all eternity. Lady Ann stared him in the eyes and said,--
"My favourite prayer-book has come to pieces at last: perhaps you would bind it for me?"
"I shall be delighted," answered Richard.
"Thank you," she said, bowed to Wingfold, and left the room.
Sir Wilton sat like an offended turkey-cock, staring after her. "By Jove!" he seemed to say to himself.
"There! that's over!" he cried, coming to himself. "Ring the bell, Richard, and let us have lunch.--Richard, no gentleman could have behaved better! I am proud of you!--It's blood that does it!" he murmured to himself.
As if he had himself compounded both his own blood and his boy's in the still-room of creation, he took all the credit of Richard's savoir faire, as he counted it. He did not know that the same thing made Wingfold happy and Richard a gentleman! Richard had had a higher breeding than was known to sir Wilton. At the court of courts, whence the manners of some other courts would be swept as dust from the floors, the baronet would hardly gain admittance!
Lady Ann went up the stair slowly and perpendicularly, a dull pain at her heart. The cause was not so much that her son was the second son, as that the son of the blacksmith's daughter was--she took care to say at first sight--a finer gentleman than her Arthur. Rank and position, she vaguely reflected, must not look for justice from the jealous heavens! They always sided with the poor! Just see the party-spirit of the Psalms! The rich and noble were hardly dealt with! Nowadays even the church was with the radicals!
The baronet was merry over his luncheon. The servants wondered at first, but before the soup was removed, they wondered no more: the young man at the table, in whom not one of them had recognized the bookbinder, was the lost heir to Mortgrange! He was worth finding, they agreed--one who would hold his own! The house would be merrier now--thank heaven! They liked Mr. Arthur well enough, but here was his master!
The meal was over, and the baronet always slept after lunch.
"You'll stay to dinner, won't you, Mr. Wingfold?" he said, rising. "--Richard, ring the bell. Better send for Mrs. Locke at once, and arrange with her where you will sleep."
"Then I may choose my own room, sir?" rejoined Richard.
"Of course--but better not too near my lady's," answered his father with a grim smile as he hobbled from the room.
When the housekeeper came--
"Mrs. Locke," said Richard, "I want to see the room that used to be the nursery--in the older time, I mean."
"Yes, sir," answered Mrs. Locke pleasantly, and led them up two flights of stairs and along corridor and passage to the room Richard had before occupied. He glanced round it, and said,
"This shall be my room. Will you kindly get it ready for me."
She hesitated. It had certainly not been repapered, as sir Wilton thought, and had said to Mrs. Tuke! To Mrs. Locke it seemed uninhabitable by a gentleman.
"I will send for the painter and paper-hanger at once," she replied, "but it will take more than a week to get ready."
"Pray leave it as it is," he answered. "--You can have the floor swept of course," he added with a smile, seeing her look of dismay. "I will sleep here to-night, and we can settle afterward what is to be done to it.-- There used to be a portrait," he went on, "--over the chimney-piece, the portrait of a lady--not well painted, I fancy, but I liked it: what has become of it?"
Then first it began to dawn on Mrs. Locke that the young man who mended the books and the heir to Mortgrange were the same person.
"It fell down one day, and has not been put up agin," she answered.
"Do you know where it is?"
"I will find it, sir."
"Do, if you please. Whose portrait is it?"
"The last lady Lestrange's, sir.--But bless my stupid old head! it's his own mother's picture he's asking for! You'll pardon me, sir! The thing's more bewildering than you'd think!--I'll go and get it at once."
"Thank you. Mr. Wingfold and I will wait till you bring it."
"There ain't anywhere for you to sit, sir!" lamented the old lady. "If I'd only known! I'm sure, sir, I wish you joy!"
"Thank you, Mrs. Locke. We'll sit here on the mattress."
Richard had not forgotten how the eyes of the picture used to draw his, and he had often since wondered whether it could be the portrait of his mother.
In a few minutes Mrs. Locke reappeared, carrying the portrait, which had never been put in a frame, and knotting the cord, Richard hung it again on the old nail. It showed a well-formed face, but was very flat and wooden. The eyes, however, were comparatively well painted; and it seemed to Richard that he could read both sorrow and disappointment in them, with a yearning after something she could not have.
They went out for a ramble in the park, and there Richard told his friend as much as he knew of his story, describing as well as he understood them the changes that had passed upon him in the matter of religion, and making no secret of what he owed to the expostulations and spiritual resistances of Barbara. Wingfold, after listening with profound attention, told him he had passed through an experience in many points like, and at the root the same as his own; adding that, long before he was sure of anything, it had become more than possible for him to keep going on; and that still he was but looking and hoping and waiting for a fuller dawn of what had made his being already blessed.
They consulted whether Wingfold should act on the baronet's careless invitation, and concluded it better he should not stay to dinner. Then, as there was yet time, and it was partly on Wingfold's way, they set out for the smithy.
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