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RICHARD AND HIS FAMILY.
As the dinner-hour drew nigh, Richard went to the drawing-room, scrupulously dressed. Lady Ann gave him the coldest of polite recognitions; Theodora was full of a gladness hard to keep within the bounds which fear of her mother counselled; Victoria was scornful, and as impudent as she dared be in the presence of her father; Miss Malliver was utterly wooden, and behaved as if she had never seen him before; Arthur was polite and superior. Things went pretty well, however. Percy, happily, was at Woolwich, pretending to study engineering: of him Richard had learned too much at Oxford.
Theodora and Richard were at once drawn to each other--he prejudiced in her favour by Barbara, she proud of her new, handsome brother. She was a plain, good-natured, good-tempered girl--with red hair, which only her father and mother disliked, and a modest, freckled face, whose smile was genuine and faith-inspiring. Her mother counted her stupid, accepting the judgment of the varnished governess, who saw wonder or beauty or value in nothing her eyes or hands could not reach. Theodora was indeed one of those who, for lack of true teaching, or from the deliberateness of nature, continue children longer than most, but she was not therefore stupid. The aloe takes seven years to blossom, but when it does, its flower may be thirty feet long. Where there is love, there is intellect: at what period it may show itself, matters little. Richard felt he had in her another sister--one for whom he might do something. He talked freely, as became him at his father's table, and the conversation did not quite flag. If lady Ann said next to nothing, she said nearly as much as usual, and was perfectly civil; Arthur was sullen but not rude; Theodora's joy made her talk as she had never talked before. A morn of romance had dawned upon her commonplace life. Vixen gave herself to her dinner, and but the shadow of a grimace now and then reminded Richard of the old monkey-phiz.
Having the heart of a poet, the brain of a scientist, and the hands of a workman--hands, that is, made for making, Richard talked so vitally that in most families not one but all would have been interested; and indeed Arthur too would have enjoyed listening, but that he was otherwise occupied. That he had to look unconcerned at his own deposition, while regarding as an intruder the man whose place he had so long in a sense usurped, was not his sorest trial: regarding as a prig the man who talked about things worth talking about, he could not help feeling himself a poor creature, an empty sack, beside the son of the low-born woman. But indeed Richard, brought face to face with life, and taught to meet necessity with labour, had had immeasurable advantages over Arthur.
The younger insisted to himself that his brother could not have the feelings of a gentleman; that he must have poverty-stricken ways of looking at things. He could, it was true, find nothing in his manners, carriage, or speech, unlike a gentleman, but the vulgarity must be there, and he watched to find it. For he was not himself a gentleman yet.
When they went to the drawing-room, and Richard had sung a ballad so as almost to make lady Ann drop a scale or two from her fish-eyes, Arthur went out of the room stung with envy, and not ashamed of it. The thing most alien to the true idea of humanity, is the notion that our well-being lies in surpassing our fellows. We have to rise above ourselves, not above our neighbours; to take all the good of them, not from them, and give them all our good in return. That which cannot be freely shared, can never be possessed. Arthur went to his room with a gnawing at his heart. Not merely must he knock under to the foundling, but confess that the foundling could do most things better than he--was out of sight his superior in accomplishment as well as education.--"But let us see how he rides and shoots!" he thought.
Even Vixen, who had been saying to herself all the time of dinner, "Mean fellow! to come like a fox and steal poor Arthur's property!"--even she was cowed a little by his singing, and felt for the moment in the presence of her superior.
Sir Wilton was delighted. Here was a son to represent him!--the son of the woman the county had declined to acknowledge! What was lady Ann's plebeian litter beside this high-bred, modest, self-possessed fellow! He was worthy of his father, by Jove!
He went early to bed, and Richard was not sorry. He too retired early, leaving the rest to talk him over.
How they did it, I do not care to put on record. Theodora said little, for her heart had come awake with a new and lovely sense of gladness and hope.
"If he would but fall in love with Barbara Wylder!" she thought; "--or rather if Barbara would but fall in love with him, for nobody can help falling in love with her, how happy I should be! they are the two I love best in the world!--next to papa and mamma, of course!" she added, being a loyal girl.
The next morning, Richard came upon Arthur shooting at a mark, and both with pistols and rifle beat him thoroughly. But when Arthur began to talk about shooting pheasants, he found in Richard a rooted dislike to killing. This moved Arthur's contempt.
"Keep it dark," he said; "you'll be laughed at if you don't. My father won't like it."
"Why must a man enjoy himself at the expense of joy?" answered Richard. "I pass no judgment upon your sport. I merely say I don't choose to kill birds. What men may think of me for it, is a matter of indifference to me. I think of them much as they think of a Frenchman or an Italian, who shoots larks and blackbirds and thrushes and nightingales: I don't see the great difference!"
They strolled into the stable. There stood Miss Brown, looking over the door of her box. She received Richard with glad recognition.
"How comes Miss Brown here?" he asked. "Where can her mistress be?"
"The mare's at home," answered Arthur. "I bought her." "Oh!" said Richard, and going into the box, lifted her foot and looked at the shoe. Alas, Miss Brown had worn out many shoes since Barbara drove a nail in her hoof! Had there been one of hers there, he would have known it--by a pretty peculiarity in the turn of the point back into the hoof which she called her mark. The mare sniffed about his head in friendly fashion.
"She smells the smithy!" said Arthur to himself.--"Yes; your grandfather's work." he remarked. "I should be sorry to see any other man shoe horse of mine!"
"So should I!" answered Richard. "--I wonder why Miss Wylder sold Miss Brown!" he said, after a pause.
"I am not so curious!" rejoined Arthur. "She sold her, and I bought her."
Neither divined that the animal stood there a sacrifice to Barbara's love of Richard.
Arthur had given up hope of winning Barbara, but the thought that the bookbinder-fellow might now, as he vulgarly phrased it to himself, go in and win, swelled his heart with a yet fiercer jealousy. "I hate him," he said in his heart. Yet Arthur was not a bad fellow as fellows go. He was only a man for himself, believing every man must be for himself, and count the man in his way his enemy. He was just a man who had not begun to stop being a devil.
At breakfast lady Ann was almost attentive to her stepson. As it happened they were left alone at the table. Suddenly she addressed him.
"Richard, I have one request to make of you," she said; "I hope you will grant it me!"
"I will if I can," he answered; "but I must not promise without knowing what it is."
"You do not feel bound to please me, I know! I have the misfortune not to be your mother!"
"I feel bound to please you where I can, and shall be more than glad to do so."
"It is a small thing I am going to ask. I should not have thought of mentioning it, but for the terms you seem upon with Mr. Wingfold."
"I hope to see him within an hour or so."
"I thought as much!--Do you happen to remember a small person who came a good deal about the house when you were at work here?"
"If your ladyship means Miss Wylder, I remember her perfectly."
"It is necessary to let you know, and then I shall leave the matter to your good sense, that Mrs. Wylder, and indeed the girl herself at various times, has behaved to me with such rudeness, that you cannot in ordinary decency have acquaintance with them. I mention it in case Mr. Wingfold should want to take you to see them. They are parishioners of his."
"I am sorry I must disappoint you," said Richard. Lady Ann rose with a grey glitter in her eyes.
"Am I to understand you intend calling on the Wylders?" she said.
"I have imperative reasons for calling upon them this very morning," answered Richard.
"I am sorry you should so immediately show your antagonism!" said lady Ann.
"My obligations to Miss Wylder are such that I must see her the first possible moment."
"Have you asked your father's permission?"
"I have not," answered Richard, and left the room hurriedly.
The next moment he was out of the house: lady Ann might go to his father, and he would gladly avoid the necessity of disobeying him the first morning after his return! He did not know how small was her influence with her husband.
He took the path across the fields, and ran until he was out of sight of Mortgrange.
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