« AnteriorContinuar »
as gently as possible how matters stand. I only hope," he added to himself, as he seized his hat and gloves, "I shall be in time."
But he was not in time; for when, after a rapid walk, he reached the cottage, gently lifted the latch, and went in, a melancholy picture met his eye.
James Gordon was sitting alone,~his aunt having returned to her own home the night before, with his elbows resting on the table, his face partially hidden in his hands, and his whole attitude bespeaking solitariness and dejection.
He lifted his head on hearing Herbert's footstep, and immediately rose from his chair, and endeavoured, while murmuring a few inarticulate words of welcome, to assume an appearance of composure.
"I see how it is," said Herbert, after gazing at him with sorrowful interest; and, without another word, he went straight up to him, and fervently wrung his hand.
James Gordon understood and appreciated his delicate sympathy; and, coming as it did so soon after the insult he had received, it caused a sudden and complete revulsion in his mind; releasing him from the tumultuous incoherent thoughts and conflicting reflections and emotions, in which he had been immersed, and enabling him to take a more hopeful view of his unenviable position.
"I regret extremely having exposed you to this annoyance, James; but, when I advised you to apply to my father's agent, I did not anticipate anything of the kind," observed Herbert, at length.
"It is over, sir," answered the man, calmly. "I confess I was grievously disappointed at first, as for many reasons I wished to remain in this neighbourhood. But, of course," he added, humbly, "I must expect to meet with difficulties, as people are naturally inclined to look with suspicion upon those who, after leading a godless life, suddenly profess to become changed characters."
"I am afraid what you say is only too true," said Herbert, gravely; "often, where man accuses, God acquits. Now," he continued, in a tone of friendly interest, after a pause, "let us consider some other plan. If I understand you rightly, it is your wish to remain in this neighbourhood?"
"It was, sir," he replied, smiling faintly; "but
"I am quite sure Sir George Hastings will, at my request, gladly employ you. It would have been better if I had, in the first instance, referred you to him, instead of my father."
"but I could not on
"Excuse me, sir," returned the man, firmly; any consideration, be induced to apply to him."
"You need not see him at all," said Herbert, pleasantly. "I will arrange everything for you."
"Indeed, sir, you mistake me," cried James Gordon, eagerly. "Nothing on earth shall tempt me to take advantage of your kindness."
Herbert regarded him attentively for a minute or two, being quite at a loss to understand the cause of his emotion.
"Is it pride that makes you speak thus, James?" he asked, in a voice of gentle reproach. "And to me!"
"No-a thousand times no!" was the emphatic answer. dear Mr. Herbert, do not urge me to take this step. At present I am the only sufferer; but if Mr. Seymour were to find out that you had persuaded any of his acquaintances to befriend me, the cons quences might be most ruinous to yourself."
He stopped in some embarrassment, and Herbert, for the first time comprehending the motive which prompted him to refuse so advantageous a proposal, was struck with admiration at his unselfishness.
"I hope I shall see you again before I leave," proceeded the man, presently.
Herbert looked at him in surprise, and he added in an explanatory tone," I was afraid you might not find it convenient to call again, sir. A week passes away so quickly."
"A week?" interrogated Herbert, quickly.
"Did you not know, sir, that I have received notice to quit this house in a week?"
"Monstrous!" exclaimed the young man, in stifled tones; "I cannot believe it. Are you sure," he demanded, turning to the ill-used man, "that you are not labouring under some misconception ?"
Oh, yes," said James Gordon, a shadow as of a great cloud sweeping over his face for a moment, and then disappearing as swiftly; "Mr. Gibson told me but I need not repeat his taunting words. I shall be quite ready when the time comes."
A deep, indignant flush sprang to Herbert's brow, and his very lip quivered with suppressed agitation. He made no comment, however, indeed how could he? Mr. Seymour's conduct was, he felt, inexcusably harsh and ungenerous; but he likewise felt that it was not for him to censure it, or speak of his father in any other terms save those of filial respect.
After walking several times, absorbed in anxious thought, up and down the room, he was suddenly inspired by one of those luminous ideas which sometimes flash, we know not how, into the mind, simplifying everything that has hitherto seemed involved in difficulty, and causing us to wonder how we could ever have despaired of accomplishing our purpose.
"James," he said, turning hastily round, so as to get a better view of his face, "after the unkind treatment you have received from my family, can you still look upon me as a friend?"
"You have indeed been a friend to me, replied the man, much moved, "and deeply do I feel the privilege
Then," interrupted Herbert, "perhaps you will not object to give me a proof of your kind feeling."
"I would die for you, sir," he exclaimed, with irrepressible earnestness. And I believe it was no mere figure of speech; he really meant what he said.
Herbert could scarcely speak for a minute or two, so totally unprepared was he for such an answer; but at length he proceeded to explain his wishes.
What those wishes were, however, another chapter must inform the reader.
HERBERT COTTAGE, AND ITS NEW TENANT.
"FIRST of all, James," said Herbert, smiling a little, "I must tell you that when I was quite an infant a distant relation of mine, who is long since dead, presented me on the day of my baptism with a small house which he had just built near the populous town of Lanchester, and humorously named after myself Herbert Cottage.' Now, this cottage I have never yet seen, but it has been generally occupied by a respectable tenant until about a year ago, when the last person who rented it left the neighbourhood, and it has since remained empty."
Much James Gordon wondered how this could in any way affect him; but he listened attentively to find out what would come next, and Herbert continued,-"Last week I received a letter from the lawyer who has been in the habit of remitting me the rent, saying that in consequence of its having been so little attended to, the furniture for I forgot to mention it was fully furnished when presented to me-has become greatly injured, and every part of the cottage is in a sad state of repair. He strongly advises me to get rid of the property altogether, as a large factory is, it appears, about to be erected sufficiently near it to prove a permanent source of annoyance to any one who may happen to reside in it. My own inclination, however, does not lead me to follow his suggestion, and this is why I have resolved to ask your help."
"In what way can I assist you?" inquired his companion, eagerly. "If you will agree to proceed as soon as you can to Lanchester, and take up your abode in Herbert Cottage until I shall have decided what is best to be done with it, you will do me a real service, for——”
"But sir" interposed James Gordon.
"In the first place," pursued the young man, quickly, taking no notice of the interruption, "I shall learn from you the exact state of things, which is what I could scarcely expect from a mere stranger. Then, instead of employing an agent to see that the house is put into thorough repair, I should have the satisfaction of knowing that you were on the spot, ready to carry out my instructions, and further my plans by superintending the work, and having everything properly attended to. It must be obvious, even to yourself, that you would in this way be able to render me much and valuable assistance."
While he spoke thus, James Gordon assumed a half-meditative air; and for a brief space he remained quite silent, with his eyes abstractedly fixed upon the ground; but, suddenly raising them to Herbert's face, he remarked, with some shrewdness,-"It appears to me, sir, that your chief object in making this arrangement is to provide me with a temporary home. But to show you," he added in a voice of
touching earnestness, "that I appreciate your kindness, I will accept it as freely as it is offered."
"Many thanks, my good friend," said Herbert, warmly; "you will never, I hope, repent of having acceded to my wishes."
"If I could really in any way be of use to you," returned the other, wistfully, "I should esteem it a great favour."
"You will have a hundred opportunities of serving me, James," rejoined Herbert, cheerfully. "But what troubles you now?" he inquired, observing-after he had entered into a fuller description of his intentions regarding him, and settled with him as to the time and means of his departure that an uneasy, perplexed look had returned to his face; "what troubles you now, James?"
"Pardon me for putting the question, sir," replied the man,-a shade of embarrassment crossing his swarthy countenance, "but is Mr. Seymour at all connected with this property?"
Decidedly not," said Herbert, smiling at his evident dread of being brought in contact with that gentleman.
suppose he never interferes with you in the management
"Never. It is too insignificant an estate for him to bestow a single thought upon."
This assurance seemed to afford James Gordon considerable relief; and he began at once to evince the liveliest interest in the business with which Herbert was about to entrust him.
"Is it true," said the latter abruptly, as he rose at length to go, "that you have insisted on making over all your mother's little property to her sister?"
"It was the least I could do, sir," answered the man, colouring, "after the kindness and attention she bestowed on my dear mother during her last illness. Besides, if I had not returned just when I did, she would, of course, have been entitled to everything, and I could not endure the thought of depriving
Here he paused and hesitated.
"I can well enter into your motives," said Herbert, feelingly; "they do you honour, James."
Pleasure, humility, and gratitude beamed in the man's face, as he listened to these few words of commendation from the lips of the one whose approval he most desired to gain.
After bidding him good-morning, Herbert turned hastily round, when in the act of quitting the house, and remarked lightly," Perhaps I may pay you a short visit as soon as you are comfortably established at Lanchester, and have had the house put into tolerable repair; then I shall be better able to decide as to the expediency of retaining it in my possession."
James Gordon's eyes lighted up with real pleasure, and in a few emphatic sentences he expressed his satisfaction at the prospect thus presented to him of again having the privilege of holding communion with his much-valued friend.
Herbert had several other visits to pay that morning; in consequence of which he was unable to return to Mertonsville in time for luncheon. This, however, did not trouble him, as it was always a very irregular meal, and one at which Mr. Seymour seldom appeared, unless, as sometimes happened, the party-usually consisting of the friends with whom his wife had been driving or spending the morning
-was augmented by guests who were, in his own estimation, worthy of being distinguished by more than ordinary marks of politeness and attention. It was therefore with feelings of astonishment that Herbert learnt from a servant, who met him as he was crossing the hall on his way to his mother's private sittting-room, where he expected to find her, that she was not there, Mr. Seymour having joined her at luncheon, and afterwards accompanied her to the drawing-room.
Accordingly the young man bent his steps thither.
As he opened the door, he perceived that his father and mother were alone. The former-standing on the hearth-rug, with his back to the fire, his fine figure drawn up to its fullest extent, and his face stern and determined-was speaking in a voice both authoritative and inflexible; while Mrs. Seymour, sitting on a sofa very near him, remained silent and motionless, listening to his words with downcast eyes and a heightened colour; although a casual observer might have supposed her to be wholly absorbed in watching the movements of Roselle her favourite little Blenheim spaniel, who occupied a pink satin cushion at her feet.
For the space of half a second, Herbert felt strongly disposedseeing his presence was not suspected by either of them-softly to reclose the door and withdraw; but then he remembered that by doing this he would be exposing his mother to additional discomfort; and he considered himself bound, alike by duty and inclination, to consult her pleasure before his own, and protect her as much as he possibly could from the slightest shadow of vexation or annoyance.
Consequently, without waiting for further deliberation, he entered the room, and, after closing the door somewhat noisily behind him, advanced to the upper end of it, and seated himself near Mrs. Seymour's sofa, where he stooped to caress the beautiful dog, who sprang from its comfortable cushion at his approach, and manifested such unequivocal marks of delight at seeing him, as were compatible with its canine disposition.
This unpremeditated act saved him the embarassment of encountering the keen searching gaze with which he instinctively felt Mr. Seymour was regarding him, and also gave him an opportunity of deciding what course he ought to pursue, should his father make any inquiries relative to his morning's occupation. The latter, however, had no intention of addressing him at all; for, after steadily watching him for a minute or two, he moved a step nearer his wife, and said slowly and distinctly,
"I am now going to ascertain whether the orders I have given are being carried out; in the meantime you will, perhaps, have the goodness to inform your son of our arrangements, so that we may not be delayed at the last moment."
Mrs. Seymour bent her head in acquiescence, but made no other reply; and firmly and deliberately the gentleman left the apartment.
"Your son," repeated Mrs. Seymour, raising her head, and speaking in a tone of more bitterness than Herbert had ever before heard her employ. My poor Herbert! your father is at last ashamed to own you." And she laughed hysterically.
My darling mother," said the young man, soothingly-for he was beginning to feel quite alarmed at this sudden change in her usually placid demeanour " you surely will not allow such a trifle to distress you."