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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFated To Be Free: A Novel - Chapter 32. Mr. Brandon Is Made The Subject Of An Honourable Comparison
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Fated To Be Free: A Novel - Chapter 32. Mr. Brandon Is Made The Subject Of An Honourable Comparison Post by :hotlinkz Category :Long Stories Author :Jean Ingelow Date :May 2012 Read :2428

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Fated To Be Free: A Novel - Chapter 32. Mr. Brandon Is Made The Subject Of An Honourable Comparison


John Mortimer, thanks to a strong frame and an excellent constitution, was soon able to rise. He stood by his little Janie when she was laid in the grave, and felt, when he could think about it, how completely he and his had been spared the natural sorrow they would have suffered by the overshadowing gloom of greater misfortunes.

There was no mother to make lamentation. It was above all things needful to keep up Johnnie's spirits, and not discourage him. He had gone through a harder struggle for his life than his father knew of; but the sight of his pinched features and bright, anxious eyes began only now to produce their natural effect. John always came into his room with a serene countenance, and if he could not command his voice so as to speak steadily and cheerfully, he sat near him, and was silent.

There was little sign of mourning about the place. Never did a beautiful little promising life slip away so unobserved. Anastasia did not even know that her companion was gone. She was still not out of danger, and she wanted a world of watching and comforting and amusing.

They all wanted that. John, as he passed from room to room, strangely grateful for the care and kindness that had come into his house almost unbidden, was sometimes relieved himself in listening to the talk that went on.

Only two of his children were quite unhurt; these were Barbara (and she found quite enough occupation in waiting on her twin sister) and little Hugh, who sometimes wandered about after his father almost as disconsolate as himself, and sometimes helped to amuse Bertram, showing him pictures, while Miss Christie told him tales. Master Bertram Mortimer, having reached the ripe age of nine years, had come to the conclusion that it was _muffish_--like a _cad_, like a girl--to cry. So when his broken arm and other grievances got beyond his power of endurance, he used to call out instead, while his tender-hearted little brother did the crying for him, stuffing his bright head into the pillows and sobbing as if his heart would break.

On one of these occasions John drew the child away and took him downstairs. "I'm crying about Janie too," he said, creeping into his father's arms to be consoled, and not knowing the comfort this touch of natural sorrow had imparted to an over-strained heart.

The weather was unusually hot for the time of year, the doors and windows stood open, so that John could pass about as he pleased; he judged by the tone of voice in which each one spoke whether things were going well or not. After he had sent little Hugh to bed that evening he went upstairs and sat in a staircase window, in full view of Johnnie's room. Swan was talking by the boy's bedside, while Johnnie seemed well content to listen. Little notice was taken when he appeared, and the discourse went on with quiet gravity, and that air of conviction which Swan always imparted to his words.

"Ay, sir, Mr. Fergus will have it that the cottagers are obstinate because they wont try for the easy things as he wants them to. The common garden stuff they show has allers been disgraceful, and yet, sometimes they interfere with him and take a prize for flowers. 'That shows they know their own business,' says I; 'it don't follow that because my parrot can talk, my dog's obstinate because he won't learn his letters.' 'Mr. Swan,' says he, 'you're so smothered in illustrations, there's no argufying with you.' Master Johnnie, you was to drink your beef tea by this time."

"Not just yet. I hate it. Tell me the rest about Fergus."

"'Well,' he said, 'I mean no disrespect to you, Mr. Swan.' 'No?' says I. 'No,' said he, 'but you and I air that high among the competitors that if we didn't try against one another we could allers hev it our own way. Now, if you'll not show your piccatees this time, I'll promise you not to bring forrard so much as one pelagonium.'"

"The cheat!" exclaimed Johnnie. "Why we have none worth mentioning, and the piccatees are splendid, Swanny."

"That's it, sir. He'd like me to keep out of his way, and then, however hard it might be on the other gardeners, he'd have all the county prizes thrown open to the cottagers, that's to say, those he doesn't want himself. He's allers for being generous with what's not his. He said as much to me as that he wished this could be managed. He thought it would be handy for us, and good for the poor likewise. 'That,' I says, 'would be much the same as if a one-legged man should steal a pair of boots, and think to make it a righteous action by giving away the one he didn't want in charity.' As he was so fond of illustrations, I thought I'd give him enough of them. 'Mr. Swan,' says he, rather hot, 'this here is very plain speaking.' 'I paid for my pipe myself,' says I, 'and I shall smoke it which side my mouth I please.' So now you know why we quarrelled, sir. It's the talk of all the country round, and well it may be, for there's nobody fit to hold a candle to us two, and all the other gardeners know it."

"I'll drink the stuff now," said Johnnie. "Father, is that you?"

"Yes, my dearest boy."

"You can't think how well I feel tonight, father. Swanny, go down and have some supper, and mind you come again."

"Ay, to be sure, Mr. Johnnie."

"You're not going to sit up tonight, my good old friend," said John, passing into the room.

"Well, no, sir, Mr. Johnnie hev cheated the doctor to that extent that he's not to hev anybody by him this night, the nurse is to come in and give him a look pretty frequent, and that's all."

John came and sat by his boy, took his thin hand, and kissed him.

"It's a lark, having old Swanny," said the young invalid, "he's been reading me a review of Mr. Brandon's book. He told Val that Smiles at the post office had read it, and didn't think much of it, but that it showed Mr. Brandon had a kind heart. 'And so he has,' said Swan, 'and he couldn't hide that if he wished to. Why, he's as good as a knife that has pared onions, sir,--everything it touches relishes of 'em.'"

"You had better not repeat that to Mr. Brandon," said John, "he is rather touchy about his book. It has been very unfavourably reviewed."

"But Swan intended a compliment," answered Johnnie, "and he loves onions. I often see him at his tea, eating slices of them with the bread and butter. You are better now, dear father, are you not?"

"Yes, my boy. What made you think there was anything specially the matter with me?"

"Oh, I knew you must be dreadfully miserable, for you could hardly take any notice even of me."

A small shrill voice, thin and silvery, was heard across the passage.

"Nancy often talks now," said Johnnie; "she spoke several times this morning."

John rose softly and moved towards it. "And what did the robin say then," it asked. Emily's clear voice answered, "The robin said, 'No, my wings are too short, I cannot fly over the sea, but I can stop here and be very happy all the winter, for I've got a warm little scarlet waistcoat.' Then the nightingale said, 'What does winter mean? I never heard of such a thing. Is it nice to eat?"

"That was very silly of the nightingale," answered the little voice. The father thought it the sweetest and most consoling sound he had ever heard in his life. "But tell the story," it went on peremptorily in spite of its weakness, "and then did the robin tell him about the snow?"

"Oh yes; he said, 'Sometimes such a number of little cold white feathers fall down from the place where the sun and moon live, that they cover up all the nice seeds and berries, so that we can find hardly anything to eat. But,' the robin went on, 'we don't care very much about that. Do you see that large nest, a very great nest indeed, with a red top to it?' 'Yes,' the nightingale said he did. 'A nice little girl lives there,' said the robin. 'Her name is Nancy. Whenever the cold feathers come, she gives us such a number of crumbs.'"

"Father, look at me," said the little creature, catching sight of her father. "Come and look at me, I'm so grand." She turned her small white face on the pillow as he entered, and was all unconscious both how long it was since she had set her eyes on him, and the cause. Emily had been dressing a number of tiny dolls for her, with gauzy wings, and gay robes; they were pinned about the white curtains of her bed. "My little fairies," she said faintly; "tell it, Mrs. Nemily."

"The fairies are come to see if Nancy wants anything," said Emily. "Nancy is the little Queen. She is very much better this evening, dear John." John knelt by the child to bring her small face close to his, and blessed her; he had borne the strain of many miserable hours without a tear, but the sound of this tender little voice completely overpowered him.

Emily was the only person about him who was naturally and ardently hopeful, but she scarcely ever left the child. He was devoured by anxiety himself, but he learned during the next two days to bless the elastic spirits of youth, and could move about among his other children pleased to see them smile and sometimes to hear them laugh. They were all getting better; Valentine took care they should not want for amusement, and Crayshaw, who, to do him justice, had not yet heard of little Janie's death or of Nancy's extremely precarious state, did not fail to write often, and bestow upon them all the nonsense he could think of. After his short sojourn in Germany, he had been sent back to Harrow, and there finding letters from the Mortimers awaiting him, had answered one of them as follows:--


I gazed, and O with what a burst
Of pride, this heart was striving!
His tongue was out! that touched me first.
My pup! and art thou thriving?

I sniffed one sniff, I wept one weep
(But checked myself, however),
And then I spake, my words went deep,
Those words were, "Well, I never."

Tyrants avaunt! henceforth to me
Whose Harrow'd heart beats faster,
The coach shall as the coachman be,
And Butler count as master.

That maiden's nose, that puppy's eyes,
Which I this happy day saw,
They've touched the manliest chords that rise
I' the breast of Gifford Crayshaw.

John Mortimer was pleased when he saw his girls laughing over this effusion, but anxiety still weighed heavily on his soul--he did not live on any hope of his own, rather on Emily's hope and on a kiss.

He perceived how completely but for his father's companionship he had all his life been alone. It would have been out of all nature that such a man falling in love thus unaware should have loved moderately. All the fresh fancies of impassioned tenderness and doubt and fear, all the devotion and fealty that youth wastes often and almost forgets, woke up in his heart to full life at once, unworn and unsoiled. The strongest natures go down deepest among the hidden roots of feeling, and into the silent wells of thought.

It had not seemed unnatural heretofore to stand alone, but now he longed for something to lean upon, for a look from Emily's eyes, a touch from her hand.

But she vouchsafed him nothing. She was not so unconscious of the kiss she had bestowed as he had believed she would be; perhaps this was because he had mistaken its meaning and motive. It stood in his eyes as the expression of forgiveness and pity,--he never knew that it was full of regretful renunciation, and the hopelessness of a heart misunderstood.

But now the duties of life began to press upon him, old grey-headed clerks came about the place with messages, young ones brought letters to be signed. It was a relief to be able to turn, if only for a moment, to these matters, for the strain was great: little Nancy sometimes better, sometimes worse, was still spoken of as in a precarious state.

Every one in the house was delighted, when one morning he found it absolutely necessary to go into the town. Valentine drove him in, and all his children rejoiced, it seemed like an acknowledgment that they were really better.

Johnnie ate a large breakfast and called to Swan soon after to bring him up the first ripe bunch of grapes--he had himself propped up to eat them and to look out of the window at the garden.

"What a jolly bunch!" he exclaimed when Swan appeared with it.

"Ay, sir, I only wish Fergus could see it! The Marchioness sent yesterday to inquire,--sent the little young ladies. I haven't seen such a turn-out in our lane since last election time. Mr. Smithers said they were a sight to be seen, dressed up so handsome. 'Now then,' says he, 'you see the great need and use of our noble aristocracy. Markis is a credit to it, laying out as he does in the town he is connected with. Yes, they were a sight,' Mr. Smithers was the 'pink' Wigfield draper. 'Ay, ay,' says I, 'who should go fine if not the peahen's daughters?'"

"Everybody seems to have sent to inquire," said Johnnie ungraciously. "I hate to hear their wheels. I always think it is the doctor's carriage."

"Old Lady Fairbairn came too," proceeded Swan, "and Miss Justina. The old lady has only that one daughter left single, as I hear; she has got all the others married."

Johnnie made a grimace, and pleased himself with remembering how Valentine, in telling him of that call, had irreverently said, "Old Mother Fairbairn ought to be called the Judicious Hooker."

Johnnie was sincerely sorry these acquaintances had returned; so was Emily. Had she not given John a positive denial to his suit? Who could be surprised now if he turned to her rival?

It was afternoon when John Mortimer came in. The house was very quiet, and a little flag hung out of Nancy's window, showing that the child was asleep. He therefore approached quietly, entered the library, and feeling very tired and disquieted, sat down among his books. He took one down, and did not know how long he might have been trying to occupy himself with it, when he heard the rustle of a silk dress, and Dorothea stood in the open window. She looked just a little hurried and shy. "Oh, Mr. Mortimer," she began, "Emily sent her love to you, and----"

"Emily sent her love to me?" he exclaimed almost involuntarily, "sent her love? are you sure?"

Dorothea, thus checked in her message, drew back and blushed--had she made herself very ridiculous? would Emily be displeased? His eyes seemed to entreat her for an answer. She faltered, not without exceeding surprise, at the state of things thus betrayed, and at his indifference to her observation. "I suppose she did. I thought all this family sent love to one another." Thus while she hesitated, and he seemed still to wait for her further recollection, she noticed the strange elation of hope and joy that illumined his face.

"I don't think I could have invented it," she said.

"Ah, well," he answered, "I see you cannot be sure; but let me hear it again, since it possibly might have been said. 'Emily sent her love,' you began----"

"And she is sitting with Nancy, but she wanted you to know as soon as you came in that the doctors have paid another visit together, and they both agreed that Nancy might now be considered quite out of danger."

"Oh, I thank God!" he exclaimed.

Emily had sent her love to him to tell him this. He felt that she might have done, it was not impossible, it reminded him of her kiss. He had been weighed down so heavily, with a burden that he was never unconscious of for a moment, a load of agonized pity for his little darling's pain, and of endless self-reproach; that the first thing he was aware of when it was suddenly lifted off and flung away was, that his thoughts were all abroad. It was much too soon yet to be glad. He was like a ship floated off the rock it had struck on, a rock like to have been its ruin, but yet which had kept it steady. It was drifting now, and not answering to the helm.

He could not speak or stir, he hardly seemed to breathe.

A slight sound, the rustling of Dorothea's gown as she quietly withdrew, recalled him a little to himself, he locked himself in and went back to his place.

He was not in the least able to think, yet tears were raining down on his hands before he knew that they were his tears, and that, as they fell, his heart long daunted and crushed with pain, beat more freely, and tasted once more the rapture of peace and thankfulness. Presently he was on his knees. Saved this once, the almost despairing soul which had faintly spoken to God, "I do not rebel," was passionate now in the fervour of thankful devotion. The rapture of this respite, this return to common blessings, was almost too ecstatic to be borne.

It was nearly dusk before he could show himself to his children; when he stole upstairs to look at his little Nancy she was again asleep. "Mrs. Walker had gone back to her own house for the night," the nurse said, "but she had promised to come back after breakfast."

That night Emily slept exquisitely. The luxury of a long peaceful interval, free from anxiety and responsibility, was delightful to her. She came down very late, and after her breakfast sauntered into the drawing-room, looking fresh as a white blush rose, lovely and content; next to the joy of possession stands, to such as she was, the good of doing good, and being necessary to the objects of their love.

A little tired still, she was sitting idly on a sofa, more wistfully sweet and gravely glad than usual, when suddenly John Mortimer appeared, walking quickly through her garden.

"He was sure to come and thank me," she said simply, and half aloud. "I knew he would sooner or later," and she said and thought no more.

But as he advanced, and she saw his face, she remembered her kiss, hoped that he did not, and blushing beautifully, rose and came a step or two forward to meet him. "None but good news, I hope," she said.

"No, they are all better, thank God; and my little Nancy also. Emily, how can I ever thank you? My obligation is too deep for words."

"Who could help wishing to be of use under such circumstances? Am I not enough thanked by seeing you all better?"

"I hardly know how I could have presumed to intrude here and disturb you and--and trouble you with such things as I can say--when you are come home for an interval of rest and quiet. Emily, if I had lost her, poor little girl, I never could have lifted up my head again. It was hard on that blameless little life, to be placed in such peril; but I suffered more than she did. Did you sometimes think so? Did you sometimes feel for me when you were watching her day and night, night and day?"

"Yes, John, I did."

"I hoped so."

"But now that the greatest part of the sorrow is over, fold it up and put it away, lay it at the feet of the Saviour; it is his, for He has felt it too." When she saw his hands, that they had become white and thin, and that he was hollow-eyed, she felt a sharp pang of pity. "It is time now for you to think of yourself," she said.

"No," he answered, with a gesture of distaste. "The less of that the better. I am utterly and for ever out of my own good graces. I will not forgive myself, and I cannot forget--have I only one mistake to deplore? I have covered myself with disgrace," he continued, with infinite self-scorn; "even you with your half divine pity cannot excuse me there."

"Cannot I?" she answered with a sweet wistfulness, that was almost tender.

He set his teeth as if in a passion against himself, a flash came from the blue eyes, and his Saxon complexion showed the blood through almost to the roots of the hair. "I have covered myself with disgrace--I am the most unmanly fool that ever breathed--I hate myself!" He started up and paced the room, as if he felt choked, whilst she looked on amazed for the moment, and not yet aware what this meant.

"John!" she exclaimed.

"I suppose you thought I had forgotten to despise myself," he went on in a tone rather less defiant. "When that night I asked you for a kiss--I had not, nothing of the kind--I thought my mind would go, or my breath would leave me before the morning. Surely that would have been so but for you. But if I have lived through this for good ends, one at least has been that I have learned my place in creation--and yours. I have seen more than once since that you have felt vexed with yourself for the form your compassion took then. I deserve that you should think I misunderstood, but I did not. I came to tell you so. It should have been above all things my care not to offend the good angel so necessary in my house during those hours of my misfortune. But I am destined never to be right--never. I let you divine all too easily the secret I should have kept--my love, my passion. It was my own fault, to betray it was to dismiss you. Well, I have done that also."

Emily drew a long breath, put her hand to her delicate throat, and turning away hastily moved into the window, and gazed out with wide-opened eyes; Her face suffused with a pale tint of carnation was too full of unbelieving joy to be shown to him yet. He had made a mistake, though not precisely the mistake he supposed. He was destined, so long as he lived, never to have it explained. It was a mistake which made all things right again, made the past recede, and appear a dream, and supplied a sweet reason for all the wifely duty, all the long fealty and impassioned love she was to bestow on him ever after.

It was strange, even to her, who was so well accustomed to the unreasoning, exaggerated rhapsody of a lover, to hear him; his rage against himself, his entire hopelessness; and as for her, she knew not how to stop him, or how to help him; she could but listen and wonder.

Nature helped him, however; for a waft of summer wind coming in at that moment, swung the rose-branches that clustered round the window, and flung some of their white petals on her head. Something else stirred, she felt a slight movement behind her, and a little startled, turned involuntarily to look, and to see her cap--the widow's delicate cap--wafted along the carpet by the air, and settling at John Mortimer's feet.

He lifted it up, and she stood mute while she saw him fold it together with a man's awkwardness, but with something of reverence too; then, as if he did not know what else to do with it, he laid it on the table before an opened miniature of Fred Walker.

After a moment's consideration she saw him close this miniature, folding its little doors together.

"That, because I want to ask a favour of you," he said.

"What is it?" she asked, and blushed beautifully.

"You gave me a kiss, let me also bestow one--one parting kiss--and I will go."

He was about to go then, he meant to consider himself dismissed. She could not speak, and he came up to her, she gave him her hand, and he stooped and kissed her.

Something in her eyes, or perhaps the blush on her face, encouraged him to take her for a moment into his arms. He was extremely pale, but when she lifted her face from his breast a strange gleam of hope and wonder flashed out of his eyes.

She had never looked so lovely in her life, her face suffused with a soft carnation, her lucid grey-blue eyes full of sweet entreaty. Nevertheless, she spoke in a tone of the quietest indifference--a sort of pensive wistfulness habitual with her.

"You can go if you please," she said, "but you had much better not."

"No!" he exclaimed.

"No," she repeated. "Because, John--because I love you."

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