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future, a kind of Mosaic economy of later days, a sort of John the Baptist call to repentance, to prepare the way of the Lord, to make straight in the desert a highway for our God, because in India “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
CHAPTER XXIII.-ASSUMED RELATIONSHIPS. I wrote to Martin to say that I might be expected at Dovercourt on a certain day, very near at hand; meanwhile I remained under Mr. Merriton's roof; that is to say, I dined, slept, and breakfasted in Bedford-square; the greater part of my time being spent in erploring the metropolis. Miss Merriton did not improve on acquaintance; her mamma could not be interested on any other subject than finery and entertainments, and of Mr. Merriton himself I saw very little, as he was deeply absorbed in a difficult law-case, in which he was concerned. I almost fancied he avoided private conversation with me; certainly we had very little to say to each other on any subject.
I was to go down into the country on the Thursday morning, and I was not sorry for it, for I found London dull enough after Paris; the streets were muddy, the days short and gloomy; I knew no one save the Merritons, and their society was not precisely that which a lively young man would care to cultivate. All things considered, I was not displeased to say, as I dressed on Tuesday morning by gas-light—there was a fog outside the colour of peasoup_" The day after to-morrow I shall get away from this dreary place.” I was to "get away" a little earlier than I anticipated. came down to breakfast shivering, and wondering whether there would be any daylight at all, to find lying by my plate a letter addressed to me, and bearing the Dovercourt post-mark. I did not open it immediately, for I was trying to warm my benumbed fingerends, and Mrs. Merriton was hospitably bent on helping me from a dish of smoking-hot grilled kidneys, which the maid had just brought up from the kitchen; and she was afraid I should have preferred a well-buttered haddock, only the fishmonger was so stupid, &c., and all the while she talked in her curious discursive fashion, I did not attempt to read my letter. Miss Merriton, with
a very red nose, sat watching me, as if she were afraid I might appropriate to unlawful uses the spoons and forks, while with awful deliberation she drank her tea, and ate strips of cold buttered toast. There are some women who eat so slowly that they appear to ruminate, and Miss Merriton was of such ; I always thought she ought to have been a cow, when I saw her slowly and stolidly feeding, never ceasing the calm action of her jaws, and yet making little progress
with the viands she discussed. At last Mrs. Merriton said : "
: “Pray read your letter, Mr. Travis; do not stand on ceremony with us ;” and then I glanced carelessly down the pages, and Phæbe Milner” at the end. Then there was a postscript, horribly scrawled, and evidently added at the last moment; it said, "Come directly you get this, if you please ; don't lose a minute ; he asks for you twenty times in an hour.”
Who was asking for me so constantly? I began to read now with attention, for Phæbe's fine pointed characters were not very easy to decipher. As I read and understood, a pain settled at my heart, and there was a strange choking sensation in my throat; if I had been alone I should have laid down my letter and cried like a child. As it was, it was quite a strain to keep up the deportment of manhood which I believed to belong to my more than seventeen years; and I could scarcely reply steadily when Mrs. Merriton said, kindly, “I am afraid you have some bad news there, Mr. Travis.”
“Yes,” I said, as quietly as I could, “my dear old friend and guardian, Martin Wray, is dying ; I must go to him at once!”
In an hour from that time I had taken leave of the Merritons, and was on my way to Dovercourt. There was rail now all the way, and fortunately I caught a fast train. Just as the short, dull, winter's day was fading into premature twilight, with a low, grey sky, grey mists upon the downs, and still heavier grey mists rising coldly from the sea, I stood knocking at the familiar Gate-house portal. It was eighteen months since I had turned from it last, on a glorious summer morning, and Rebecca had thrown an old shoe after me for luck. She answered my knock so quickly that I had not time to wonder why the door was not as usual on the latch, and for one moment she did not know me; for I was much grown, and carried a knapsack, and I stood in the deep shade of the porch. She was beginning to inquire my business, when I spoke, and then she seized my hand, and seemed intent on dragging me into the house. “Oh, it's you, Master Hugh, you that we've been wearying for ever since this time yesterday! Thank the Lord, you've come ; we did not look for you till well-nigh the last train. Come you into the parlour.”
The old room looked much as usual, but the two arm-chairs by the hearth were vacant, and Margery's knitting was neatly rolled up, and put away on a side table.
“How is he?” I asked impatiently.
“He's that bad that lie can't be much worse,” said Rebecca, dolefully shaking her head ; " he's going fast, Master Hugh, and he knows it. But ever since he was taken be has been crying out for
“When was he taken ? how was it?"
“Well, he has been failing for months, and so has the mistress too. I am sure, up to the end of the summer, I thought she would go first, she was so feeble like, and didn't even care to scold a body. And all of a sudden, about three weeks ago, master was taken very badly; but he would not send for the doctor, for he said it was only old age, and he must expect infirmities at his time of life ; and he couldn't tell what ailed him, perhaps it was the change of season; weak folks and old folks always felt the turn of spring and fall. I didn't feel easy in my mind though, and I told the missis I didn't like the master's looks; but she only what she called threeped me, and bade me hold my silly tongue. And so it went on till Sunday night, when I up and spoke to Mr. Duckett, who came to pay his regular visit. And Mr. Duckett listened; and then says he, Rebecca, my girl, it is right you are; the old man is as bad as he looks, ay, and badder. Take my word, he'll never get over it; he's got his call !--that's what he's got, Rebecca! And I'll see Mr. Dumbleton to-morrow morning-no, on second thoughts, I'll go round to-night, and ask him just to step in first thing to-morrow as he goes bis rounds, and see Mr. Wray. If it's only influenzy, as he will have it, influenzy kills old folks more often than not; but it's no influenzy, I say—it's death!' Well, Master Hugh, Mr. Duckett hadn't been gone out of the house a quarter of an hour, and I'd only just settled down to my ‘Pilgrim's Progress in the kitchen, when I heard the missis give a screek that might have waked the dead, and then another and another, before I could get to her; and when I came in, there was the master all of a heap, as it seemed, in his chair ; bis face was like ashes, and drawn all on one side, and his eyes were shut like a person in a faint. Oh he's deid! he's deid!' screeked the missis. But I saw he wasn't really gone ; so I says, “No, he's not dead, but he's got a stroke. I'll fetch Mr. Dumbleton right away.' So I tore on my bonnet and an old shawl that was handy, and I flew down the road. It was pitch-dark and pouring with rain, but I didn't care; and I was in the village in no time, and I found the doctor in, and brought him straight away; and we met Mr. Duckett coming out of the Dovercourt Arms, and he went back with us; and that was how he was taken, Master Hugh.”
" Where is Phoebe?"
“Miss Phæbe is just gone up to say a word to Mrs. Miller ; I thought it was she when you knocked. Hark! there's the mistress herself coming down."
“Who's theer? who's theer, lassie ? ” cried Margery in subdued but yet shrill tones from the staircase. “Ony news o' Maister Hugh ?”
“It is I, myself, granny,” I said, running to meet her.
“Bless t'gude Lord, an' bless you, too, laddie!” and then I was in the old woman's arms, and she was crying over me as only women can cry on certain occasions. I tried to soothe her, for her crying was none of the quietest, and at last she remembered that she must not make a noise, and then she addressed me as if I had been the offender: "Whisht, my bairn, whisht ! ye maunna' mek yer clavers here; come ben, come ben! Oh, laddie! it's a sair hantle of grief that's come till me; my ain mon that wed me i' t' kirk, feefty years agane-feefty years for better an' for worser; an' noo t* Lord ca's him hame. Oh! it's sair partin'; I thocht I'd gang furst, Hugh laddie, for I'm fowerscore an' past, and he's na' but eight an' siventy.”
“You wouldn't like him to be left alone, granny, and fourscore is a great age. Think how he would miss you if you went first.”
“And will na' I miss him, that hev been at my side day an' neet for feefty year? He was a braw laddie when he cam' wooin' me lang syne; an' hevn't we sat at t same hearthstane; an' didna I bear him gradely bairns, that are a' gane into ť' kingdom afore. us; and didna we toil and moil together yander amang our ain mountains; and didna we gang to t'kirk arm-in-arm togither Sabbath by Sabbath ; and didna we kneel side by side at t' Holy Sacrament; an' hevn't we had the same joys and griefs, and tholed ť same thrubbles ? And noo we maun pairt. Eh, laddie, but it's a sair dispensation !”
All this while Rebecca was putting food before me. “You must just eat and drink before you see him," said the damsel, autho. ritatively; "it's not gond to face trouble on an empty stomach, and you are come off a journey. Now, just eat this egg and toast, and the rasher, and drink this cup of good strong coffee, and then you shall go to your room with a can of hot water, and after that you shall do your share of nursing, if you like.”
There was so much good sense in what she said, that I at once agreed to all her propositions. And at seventeen it takes a great deal to take away one's appetite, especially if one has made an insufficient breakfast, and travelled sixty miles on no better luncheon than a very dry captain's biscuit. The aroma of Rebecca's excellent coffee was delightful, and the very smell of the rasher disposed:
me to fall to. I could not help feeling furiously hungry, and at the same time desperately ashamed of myself. I had not yet learned to discern between true and false sentiment, and I thought it would only have been in the fitness of things, if I had been unable to touch bit or drop. I sat down, however, and did ample justice to Rebecca's good cookery, for it occurred to me that since I could eat at all I might as well make a hearty meal of it.
While I was disposing of the second egg and the second rasher, there was a genteel little tap at the door, and Margery said, ." That's our Phæbe,” and went to let her in. Phæbe had been at a boarding school for the last twelve months, and she had only returned home for the holidays a few days before. I was greatly startled when Phæbe entered. I had left a pretty, blue-eyed hoyden, half afraid of her grandmother, and half defiant of the rigid rule exercised over her, and I found a fashionably-dressed, well-assured young lady. She was still little-petite, she said her figure was ; she hated to be called small. But if she had not increased much in stature, she had somehow grown up in mar. vellously quick time. I saw at a glance that she was no longer a child, albeit one could scarcely call her a woman in her fifteenth year. She was very pretty—what Charlie Craven called “dollpretty." She had a fair, satiny skin, pink cheeks, blue eyes, regular but diminutive features, and an abundance of curling hair that was neither flaxen nor golden, but something between the two. She looked genteel and ladylike, but I saw at a glance that she was not, and never would be, a lady. Instinctively I missed the high bred air and tone to which I had so long been accustomed. I sprang forward to greet her, and was proceeding to kiss her, I had kissed her morning and night, and at all our meetings and partings ever since I could remember,—but she drew back coquettishly, bridled, and extended her gloved hand.
I felt quite taken aback and excessively annoyed. She had the style of a maidservant, while she looked like a young lady. “Weel, I niver !” said Margery; "there's nae
“ there's nae end o' her whims an' perverseness. Oh, ye bad hizzy, to flout our ain laddie i' that
“I did not think my little sister would be so unkind," I said, reproachfully.
“I am no sister of Mr. Travis, not even his cousin; of course I know that now," replied Phoebe, speaking to Margery. “And really, grandmamma, you must be aware that it is not at all correct for young ladies and gentlemen who are not related to kiss each other. What would Miss Primrose say-oh, fie!"
“Miss Primrose be hanged !” muttered Rebecca, with an unfriendly glance at Phæbe.