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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFated To Be Free: A Novel - Chapter 9. Signed "Daniel Mortimer"--Canada
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Fated To Be Free: A Novel - Chapter 9. Signed 'Daniel Mortimer'--Canada Post by :ShawnaMeguess Category :Long Stories Author :Jean Ingelow Date :May 2012 Read :2082

Click below to download : Fated To Be Free: A Novel - Chapter 9. Signed "Daniel Mortimer"--Canada (Format : PDF)

Fated To Be Free: A Novel - Chapter 9. Signed "Daniel Mortimer"--Canada


"The log's burn red; she lifts her head
For sledge-bells tinkle and tinkle, O lightly swung.
'Youth was a pleasant morning, but ah! to think 'tis fled,
Sae lang, lang syne,' quo' her mother, 'I, too, was young.'

"No guides there are but the North star,
And the moaning forest tossing wild arms before,
The maiden murmurs, 'O sweet were yon bells afar,
And hark! hark! hark! for he cometh, he nears the door.'

"Swift north-lights show, and scatter and go.
How can I meet him, and smile not, on this cold shore?
Nay, I will call him, 'Come in from the night and the snow,
And love, love, love in the wild wood, wander no more.'"

An hour after the conversation between Brandon and old Daniel Mortimer, they parted, and nothing could be more unlike than his travels were and those of the Melcombes. First, there was Newfoundland to be seen. It looked at a distance like a lump of perfectly black hill embedded in thick layers of cotton wool; then as the vessel approached, there was its harbour, which though the year was nearly half over, was crackling all over with brittle ice. Then there was Halifax Bay, blue as a great sapphire, full of light, and swarming with the spawn of fish. And there was the Bras d'Or, boats all along this yellow spit of sand, stranded, with their sails set and scarcely flapping in the warm still air; and then there was the port where he was to meet his emigrants, for they had not crossed in the same ship with him; and after that there were wild forests and unquiet waters far inland, where all night the noise of the "lumber" was heard as it leaped over the falls; while at dawn was added the screaming of white-breasted fowl jostling one another in their flight as they still thronged up towards the north.

We almost always think of Canada as a cold country. Its summer counts for little; nor meadow-grass waist deep, over which swarms of mosquitoes hover, tormenting man and horse; nor sunshine that blisters the face, nor natural strawberry-grounds as wide as Yorkshire, nor a sky clearer, purer, and more intensely blue than any that spans Italian plains. No; Canada means winter, snow, quivering northern lights, log-fires, and sledge-bells!

Brandon found Canada hot, but when he had finished his work there, he left it, and betook himself to the south, while it became the Canada of our thought.

He went through the very heart of the States, and pleased himself with wild rough living in lands where the rich earth is always moist and warm, and primeval forest still shelters large tracts of it.

Camping out at night, sometimes in swampy hollows, it was strange to wake when there was neither moon nor star, and see the great decaying trees that storm had felled or age had ruined, glow with a weird phosphorescent light, which followed the rents in them, and hovered about the seams in their bark, making them look like the ghosts of huge alligators prone in the places they had ravaged, and giving forth infernal gleams. Stranger yet it was to see in the dark, moving near the pine-wood fire, two feeble wandering lights, the eyes of some curious deer that had come to gaze and wonder, and show its whereabouts by those soft reflections.

And then, when he and his companions wanted venison, it was strange to go forth into the forest in the dark, two of them bearing a great iron pot slung upon a long rod, and heaped with blazing pine-cones. Then several pairs of these luminous spots would be seen coming together, and perhaps a dangerous couple would glare down from a tree, and a wounded panther would come crashing into their midst.

After that, he went and spent Christmas in Florida. He had had frequent letters from home and from his step-father. He wished to keep away till a certain thing was settled one way or the other, but every letter showed that it was still unsettled; the sea-nymph that he had been wasting his heart upon had not yet decided to accept his brother's, but there was every likelihood that she would.

As time went on, however, he felt happy in the consciousness that absence was doing its work upon him, and that change had refreshed his mind. He was beginning to forget her. When the woman whom one loves is to marry one's brother, and that brother happens to be of all the family the one whom one prefers, what quality can be so admirable as inconstancy?

Still, for a man who was really forgetting, he argued the matter too much in his mind. Even when he got far south, among the Florida keys, and saw the legions of the heron and the ibis stalking with stately gait along the wet sand, and every now and then thrusting in their "javelin bills," spiking and bringing out long wriggling flashes of silver that went alive down their throats, he would still be thinking it over. Yes; he was forgetting her. He began to be in better spirits. He was in very good spirits one day in January when, quite unknown to him, the snow was shovelled away from the corner of a quiet churchyard in which his mother slept, and room was made beside her for the old man who had loved him as his own.

Old Daniel Mortimer had no such _following as had attended the funeral of his mother, and no such peaceful sunshine sleeping on a landscape all blossom and growth. The wind raged, and the snow whirled all about his grave and in it. The coffin was white before the first clod of earth was thrown on it, and the mourners were driven out of the churchyard, when the solemn service was over, by such gusts of storm and whirling wind as they could hardly stand against.

His will was read. He had hardly anything to leave. His directions were very simple and few, and there was a little desk locked up in a cabinet that nobody thought about, and that the one person who could have opened it supposed to concern exclusively himself. So when he came, six months after, and looked about him with regretful affection; when he had put the old man's portrait up in a place of honour, and looked to the paying of all the debts, for everything, even to the furniture, was now his own; when he had read the will, and sealed up all such papers as he thought his half-brother Valentine might afterwards want to refer to--he betook himself to his own particular domain, his long room in the top of the house. There, locking himself in, he opened his cabinet, and taking out the little desk, sat down to look for and read this letter.

The desk was soon opened. He lifted one half, saw several old miniatures which had belonged to his own father's family, a lock of his father's hair which he remembered to have seen in his mother's possession, and one or two trinkets. No letter.

It was not without some slight trepidation that he opened the other side, and there, nothing else being with it, a large letter sealed with black and directed to himself in his step-father's well-known hand, it was lying.

As he took the letter up, a sensation so faint, so ethereal that it is hard to describe or characterize it, but which most of us have felt at least once, came over him, or rather came about him, as if something from without suggested a presence.

He was free from any sensation of fear, but he chose to speak; lifting up his face as if the old man had been standing before him, he said aloud, "Yes, I promised." The feeling was gone as he spoke, and he broke the seal.

A long letter. His eyes, as it was folded, fell first on these surprising words, "I forbade my mother to leave her property to me," and then, "I have never judged her," the aged writer continued, "for in her case I know not what I could have done."

Brandon laid the letter down, and took a moment for thought, before he could make up his mind to read it through. Some crime, some deep disgrace, he perceived was about to be confided to him. With a hurried sense of dislike and shrinking from acquaintance with it, he wondered whether his own late mother had known anything of it, then whether he was there called upon to divulge it now, and to act. If not, he argued with himself, why was it to be confided to him?

Then he addressed himself to his task, and read the letter through, coming to its last word only to be still more surprised, as he perceived plainly that beyond what he could gather from those two short sentences already quoted, nothing was confided or confessed, nothing at all--only a request was made to him, and that very urgently and solemnly, but it concerned not himself, but his young brother Valentine, for not content with repudiating the family property for himself, the old father was desirous, it was evident, through his step-son, to stand in the way and bar his own son's very remote chance of inheriting it either.

A thing that is very unexpected and moderately strange, we meet with wide-opened eyes, with a start and perhaps exclamations; but a thing more than strange, utterly unaccounted for, quite unreasonable, and the last thing one could have supposed possible as coming from the person who demanded it, is met in far quieter fashion.

Brandon leaned back in his chair and slowly looked about him. He was conscious that he was drawing deeper breath than usual, and that his heart beat quickly, but he was so much surprised that for the moment his thoughts appeared to scatter themselves about, and he knew not how to marshal them and make them help him as to what this might mean.

Mystery in romance and in tales is such a common vulgar thing, in tragedy and even in comedy it is so completely what we demand and expect, that we seldom consider what an astonishing and very uncommon thing it is when it appears in life. And here in a commonplace, well-conducted, happy, and united family was a mystery pointing to something that one of its best-loved members had never had a hint of. Whatever it was, it concerned a place little more, than fifty miles off, and a man in whose presence he had lived from his early childhood; the utmost caution of secrecy was demanded, and the matter spoken of entirely changed the notions he had always held concerning his step-father, whom he had thought he knew better than any man living. When one had believed that one absolutely understood another, how it startles the mind to discover that this is a mistake! A beautiful old man this had been--pious, not very worldly-wise, but having a sweetness of nature, a sunny smile, and a native ease about him that would not have been possible without a quiet conscience. This he had possessed, but "I forbade my mother to leave her property to me." His step-son turned back the page, and looked at those words again. Then his eyes fell lower. "In her case I know not what I could have done." "When did he forbid this--was it ten years ago, twenty years, fifty years? He was really very well off when he married my mother. Now where did he get the property that he lost by his speculations? Not by the law; his profession never brought him in more than two hundred a year. Oh! he had it from the old cousin that he and Grand often talk of, old John Mortimer. And that's where the old silver plate came from. Of course, and where John got his name.

"We always knew, I think, that there was an aged mother; now why did I take for granted that she must be in her second childhood? I wonder whether John put that into my head. I think I did remark to him once when I was a boy and he was living at home, that it was odd there was no portrait of her in either of the houses. (But no more there is of Grand now I come to think of it; John never could make him sit.) Before the dear old man got so infirm he used generally to go out about once a year and come back in low spirits, not liking to be questioned. He may have gone then to see his mother, but I know sister used to think he went to see the relations of that wretched woman, his first wife. Who shall say now?"

And then he sat down and thought and thought, but nothing came of his thinking. Peter Melcombe, so far as he knew, was perfectly well; that was a comfort. Valentine was very docile; that was also a comfort; and considering that what his father had wished for him nearly four years ago was actually coming to pass, and everything was in train for his going to one of the very best and healthiest of our colonies, there seemed little danger that even if Melcombe fell to him he should find the putting it from him a great act of self-denial.

And what a strange thing it was, Brandon thought, that through the force of circumstances he himself should have been made to bring about such an unlikely thing! That so young a man should want to marry was strange enough. It was more strange that he should have fixed on the only woman in the world that his brother wanted. This said brother had thought it the very climax of all that was strange that it should have devolved on him who had command of money and who knew the colonies, to make this early marriage possible. But surely the climax of strangeness was rather here, that he had all this time been working as if on purpose to bring about the longing desire of his old step-father, which till then he had never heard of, depriving Valentine as much as was possible of his freedom, shutting him up to the course his father wanted him to follow, and preparing to send him as far as in this world he could be sent from the dreaded precincts of Melcombe.

Brandon had devoted out of his moderate patrimony a thousand pounds each to his step-brother and his step-sisters. In the case of Valentine he had done more; he had in a recent visit to New Zealand bought some land with a dwelling-house on it, and to this place it was arranged that immediately on his marriage Valentine should sail.

Brandon felt a strong desire to go and look at Melcombe, for his step-father's conduct with regard to it kept coming back to his mind with ever-fresh surprise; but though he searched his memory it could yield him nothing, not a hint, not a look, from any one which threw the least light on this letter.

"But that there's crime at the core of it, or some deep disgrace," he soliloquized, "appears to me most evident, and I take his assurance in its fullest meaning that he had nothing to do with it."

The next morning, having slept over the contents of the letter, he went to his upper room, locked himself in, and read it again. Then after pausing a while to reconsider it, he went up to the wall to look at a likeness of Dorothea Graham. Valentine had a photographing machine, and had filled the house with portraits of himself and his beloved. This was supposed to be one of the best. "Lucky enough that I had the sense to leave this behind me," thought Brandon. "Yes, you sweet thing, I am by no means breaking my heart now about you and your love for that boy. You are sure to marry him; you have a faithful heart, so the best thing for him will be to let you marry as soon as possible. I'll tell him so as we walk to John Mortimer's to-day. I'll tell him he may do it as soon as he likes."

Accordingly as about six o'clock he and Valentine walked through a wood, across a common, and then over some fields, Brandon began to make some remarks concerning the frequent letters that passed between these youthful lovers. "It is not to be supposed," he observed, "that any lady would correspond with you thus for years if she had not fully made up her mind to accept you in the end."

"No," answered Valentine with perfect confidence; "but she knows that I promised my father to wait a few months more before I decidedly engaged myself, but for that promise I was to have had an answer from her half a year ago."

Brandon fully believed that Dorothea Graham loved his brother, and that her happiness was in his own hands. He had found it easy to put the possibility of an early marriage in Valentine's way, but nothing could well go forward without his sanction, and since his return he had hitherto felt that the words which would give it were too difficult for him to say. Now, however, that remarkable letter, cutting in across the usual current of his thoughts, had thrown them back for awhile. So that Dorothea seemed less real, less dear, less present to him.

The difficult words were about to be said.

"If she knows why you do not speak, and waits, there certainly is an understanding between you, which amounts almost to the same thing."

"Yes," said Valentine, "and in August, _as she knows_, I shall ask her again."

"Then," said Brandon, almost taking Valentine's breath away with sudden delight, "I think, old fellow, that when she has once said 'yes,' you had better make short work with the engagement; you will never be more ready to marry than you are now; you are a few months older than John was when he went and did it; and here you are, with your house in New Zealand ready built, your garden planted, a flock of sheep bought, and all there is to do is to turn out the people now taking care of the place, as soon as you are ready to come in."

Brandon was standing on a little plank which bridged a stream about two feet wide; he had turned to say this, for Valentine was behind him.

Valentine received the communication first with silence, then with a shout of triumph, after which he ran completely round his brother several times, jumping over the stream and flourishing a great stick that he held, with boyish ecstasy, not at all dignified, but very sincere. When he had made at least three complete circles, and jumped the stream six times, Giles gravely walked on, and Valentine presently followed, wiping his forehead.

"Nobody could have expressed my own sentiments in more charming English," he exclaimed; "I never heard such grammar in my life; what a brick you are, St. George!"

Giles had great faith in his theory that absence always cured love, also in his belief that his was cured and half forgotten. At that moment he experienced a sharp pang, however, that was not very like forgetfulness, but which Valentine converted almost into self-scorn when he said--

"You know, Giles, she always did show the most undisguised liking for me from our first meeting; and then look how constant she has been, and what beautiful letters she writes, always trying, too, to improve me. Of course I cannot even pretend to think she would not have engaged herself to me months ago if I might have asked her."

"All true, perfectly true," he thought to himself; "he loves her and she loves him, and I believe if she had never met with Valentine, she would still never have married me. What a fool I am!"

"Why wouldn't you take this view of things yesterday, when I tried to make you?" asked Valentine.

"I was not ready for it," answered Giles, "or it was not ready for me."

Thereupon they passed through a wicket-gate into a kind of glen or wilderness, at the end of John Mortimer's garden, and beyond the stream where his little girls acted Nausicaa and his little boys had preserves of minute fishes, ingeniously fenced in with sticks and fine netting.

"There's Grand," exclaimed Valentine, "they've brought him out to look at their water-snails. What a venerable old boy he is! he looks quite holy, doesn't he?"

"Hold your tongue," said Brandon, "they'll hear you. He's come to see their newts; they had a lot yesterday at the bottom of the punt. Little Hugh had one in his hand, a beast with an orange breast, and it was squinting up at him."

It would be hard to say of any man that he is _never right. If he is always thinking that he has forgotten a certain lady, surely he is right sometimes.

They went in to dinner, a party of four, for John Mortimer since his wife's death did not entertain ladies, and Miss Christie Grant always presided at an early dinner, when the governess and the children dined.

As the dinner advanced St. George and Valentine both got into high spirits, the former because a stronger conviction than usual assured him that he was forgetting Dorothea Graham; the latter, because instead of being pulled back, he had at last got a shove in the other direction. In short, Valentine was so happy in his jokes and so full of fun, that the servants had no sooner withdrawn than John Mortimer taxed him with having good reason for being so, mentioned the probable cause, and asked to see Miss Graham's portrait, "which, no doubt," he said, "you have got in your pocket."

"Why I have had that for years," said Valentine scornfully.

"And dozens of them," said Brandon; "they took them themselves."

"When is it to be?" asked old Grand with great interest.

"I don't exactly know, uncle; _even Giles doesn't know that! If he had known, I'm sure he would have told you, and asked your advice, for I always brought him up to be very respectful to his elders."

"Come, sir, come," said the old man laughing, "if you don't _exactly know, I suppose you have a tolerably distinct notion."

"I know when I should like it to be, and when I think D. would like it. Not too late for a wedding tour, say October, now, or," seeing his brother look grave, "or November; suppose we say November."

"I'm afraid there is no wedding tour in the programme," observed Brandon. "The voyage must be the tour."

"Then I'll go without my cart. We must have a tour; it will be the only fun I shall ever be able to give her."

Valentine had inherited only about two hundred pounds from his father, he having been left residuary legatee, and he was much more inclined to spend this on luxuries than on necessaries.

"You've bought me land, and actually paid for it yourself, and you've bought me a flock, and made me a barn, and yet you deny me the very necessaries of life, though I can pay for them myself! I must have a tour, and D. must have a basket-carriage."

"Well, my dear fellow," said Grand, "though that matter is not yet settled, it is evident things are so far advanced that we may begin to think of the wedding presents. Now, what would you like to have from me, I wonder? I mean how would you prefer to have it? John and I have already considered the amount, and he quite agrees with me as to what I ought to give to my only brother's only son."

"_Only brother's!_" The word struck Brandon both as showing that the old man had almost forgotten other dead brothers, and also as evidently being the preface to a larger gift than he had anticipated.

"Thank you, uncle," said Valentine, almost accomplishing a blush of pride and pleasure. "As you are so kind as to let me choose, I should like your present in money, in my pocket, you know, because there is the tour, and it would go towards that."

"In your pocket!" exclaimed John Mortimer, with a laugh of such amusement and raillery as almost put Valentine out of countenance. "Why, do you think my father wants to give you a school-boy's tip?"

"I think a good deal depends on the lady," said Grand, who also seemed amused; "if she has no fortune, it might be wise to settle it on her; if she has, you might wish to lay it out in more land, or to invest it here; you and Giles must consider this. I mean to give you two thousand pounds." Then, when he saw that Valentine was silent from astonishment, he went on, "And if your dear father had been here he would not have been at all surprised. Many circumstances, with which you are not acquainted, assure me of this, and I consider that I owe everything to him." There was a certain sternness about these words; he would have, it was evident, no discussion.

John Mortimer heard his father say this with surprise. "He must mean that he owes his religious views to my uncle," was his thought; but to Brandon, who did not trouble himself about those last words, the others were full of meaning; the amount of the gift, together with the hint at circumstances with which Valentine was not acquainted, made him feel almost certain that the strange words, "I forbade my mother to leave her property to me," alluded to something which was known to the next brother.

Valentine, at first, was too much surprised to be joyous, but he thanked his uncle with something of the cordial ingenuousness and grace which had distinguished his father.

"I can have a tour _now_, can't I, old fellow," he said after a time to his brother; "take my wife"--here a joyous laugh--"my WIFE on the Continent; we shall go dashing about from place to place, you know, staying at hotels, _and all that!_"

"To be sure," said Brandon, "staying at hotels, of course, and ordering wonderful things for breakfast. I think I see you now--

"'Happy married lovers,
Phillis trifling with a plover's
Egg, while Corydon uncovers
With a grace the Sally Lun.'"

"That's the way this fellow is always making game of me," exclaimed Valentine; "why I'm older than you were, John, when you married."

"And wild horses shall never drag the words out of me that I was too young," said John Mortimer, "whatever I may think," he continued.

"John was a great deal graver than you are," said Brandon; "besides, he knew the multiplication table."

"So do I, of course," exclaimed Valentine.

"Well," answered Brandon, "I never said you did not."

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