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the charge of her great-aunt and Miss Joan at Countisbury, Mrs. Tudor agreeing to pay them the sum of thirty pounds a year until the girl should attain the age of twenty-one, or marry.
And Joan did educate her charge according to her own theories, and educated her well. Here is a girl who will have to work for herself one day, or starve,' she remarked once to her mother, when the old lady had been wishing accomplishments for Esther, and sighing about the Fleming blood. For Heaven's sake let us put away all such nonsensical notions, mother, and teach her to be useful.' So Esther's attainments all became of the most solid and tangible description. She understood everything to do with housekeeping; she could work thoroughly with her needle; she was excellent at figures. Above all, she was trained in the most strict compliance with physiological principles, at which Miss Joan was great, and she grew up healthy, strong, self-reliant. 'It might be all very well,' said Joan Engleheart, 'for rich people to bring children up with excited brains and stunted bodies. Esther won't want a hundred and fifty diseased nerves, but three hundred and seventy-five stout muscles, when she has to earn her own living. Let everyone cultivate what their station in life will hereafter require of them.'
But I think, in spite of Joan's physiology, and great common sense, the child's life would have been a horribly dull one had it not been for another, and most alien, element in the household, and this was David Engleheart. In all Esther's punishments, David was her tower of refuge; in all her childish plays he was her companion. She went out for long summer days with him while he fished; she read with him in winter. Although five-and-twenty years, at least, stood between them in age, David was her companion (except during the last six months at school, and her short visits, at rare intervals, to Mrs. Tudor in Bath)—the only companion that her child's life had ever known.
David was a nephew of Mrs. Engleheart's husband, and being early intended by a fond mother for the Church, on account of what she called his beautiful disposition, together with small family interest in the way of preferment, he received the benefit of a classical education. Alas for the frailty of human hopes! The beautiful disposition remained; but just as the boy was leaving school, the expected living was basely given to the patron's own tutor's son! From seven to seventeen, David had been making long verses and short verses, and scanning Greek choruses, and gaining sound views of the middle voice, and preterperfect tense. He had been driven to despair by gerunds; had been whipt for false quantities; had turned Milton and Dryden into iambics; had perfected himself in the intrigues of the whole of the heathen gods and goddesses;-and now all this admirable training for parochial duties was to be thrown away! His mother thought a judgment would alight on their relative, the patron. His uncle took poor David into a very close counting-house upon Ludgate Hill.
Here he remained, without any particular change or promotion, for fifteen years-nine hours of sitting at a desk daily, for fifteen yearswith every Sunday to himself, and Christmas Day and Good Friday for special festivals. At the end of this time, the death of his mother placed him in the possession of about seventy pounds a year, when David so far flew in the face of Providence, according to his uncle, as to throw up his clerkship immediately, and announce his intention of living, for the future, upon his own private means.
Whether this was flying in the face of Providence or not, I am incompetent to say, as I am quite ignorant of the nature of this kind of aeronautic performance. After being stupefied for ten years at school, and miserable for fifteen years in a counting-house-five-andtwenty years of aggregate misery and stupefaction-it was not perhaps altogether remarkable in David to catch at the first chance of deliver
ance from bondage. He loathed work, and London, and his cousin's business, and his cousin, himself. He had visions of a happy, useless life, with a fishing-rod and a book, among green trees and daisies. Was his first duty to his own worn-out jaded brain-the brain from whence he once dreamed such noble thoughts should charm the world; or to the guardianship of his cousin's moneybags? A letter from his aunt, Mrs. Engleheart, asking him to visit them in Devonshire, turned the balance in favour of poor David's own prepossessions; and one bright summer morning he stepped forth a free man upon Ludgate Hill, confused, yet tumultuously happy, under the mingled sense of fortune and of freedom, and only very moderately impressed with the image of his own base ingratitude, as laid before him by his cousin at parting.
This was about a year before Esther Fleming was taken to her aunt Engleheart's care; and David had never left Countisbury since.
I came for three weeks, and I have stopped fifteen years,' was his own answer when Esther happened to question him once about the antecedents of his life. Joan makes my money go farther than I could ever do myself, and my little room is very warm in winter. I really don't see why I should ever go away. Seventy-five pounds a year I would not make me as comfortable anywhere else in the world as it does in Countisbury.'
And he had good reason for thinking so. Whatever concessions to human frailty Joan Engleheart ever made were for her cousin David's especial and exclusive benefit. The little room he called his study was the warmest and best tended in the house; the flowers he loved most came into early bloom beneath its windows; books and prints (bought at rare intervals out of Joan's scanty savings) were on its walls. All his favourite belongings; his papersDavid wrote a little-his fishing manufactory, his drawings, were duly dusted by Joan's own hand every morning, and were never disarranged. Above all, she kept his dress neat-and duly to appreciate
VOL. V.-NO. XXVII.
this you should have seen David Engleheart's figure-and she prevented him from losing his money. He had good reasons for saying that he would never be as well off anywhere else in the world as he was at Countisbury.
That some strong counteracting feeling must be at work within Miss Joan's breast, when she thus violated the laws of her being by studying the weaknesses of another human creature, was a truth that the first fourteen years and a half of his residence under the same roof with her failed to impress upon David Engleheart. When he thought of his cousin at all, it was as of a species of domestic machine, unpleasant when at work, but thrifty and comfort-producing in effect. One of the Dii penates, of no particular age or sex, who often disturbed his peace, but to whom, in consideration of clothes-mending and other economic properties, due forbearance ought to be shown, with regard to acidities of tongue and temper. 'Poor Joan!' That an awful Nemesis, Joan Engleheart in love, should one day be avenged upon him for his fifteen years of acquiescent supineness, was a revelation that, with other startling truths, had only burst upon David during the last few months of Esther's absence from home.
What a Nemesis it was! The poor fellow thought he could have borne the ordinary strokes of fortune like other men. But Joan in love! He was not an ungrateful, and he was not a bloodthirsty man; but if, just at this particular time, he had been told that Miss Joan had come to some awful and sudden end I think it would not have taken David Engleheart very long to rally from the shock.
A FORLORN HOPE.
The morning after Esther's return shone out bright and cloudless, and by nine o'clock she and David were already starting for one of their accustomed day's fishing among the valleys.
'Hang aunt Thalia!' remarked David, with animation. 'No, I don't wish her hung, because she is kind to you; but hang all her plans for making you into a fine young lady, and upsetting my old happy life. It would never have happened but for your being away,-never.'
What would never have happened?'
Why, my seeing through her intentions,' and David struck his rod, with feeble energy, on the ground. 'I might have gone on quietly for another fifteen years as I have done the last. While I suspected nothing I was safe, but now-Oh, Lord, what a winter it has been altogether, Esther! To begin with, for about six or seven weeks, I was, to all intents and purposes, dead.'
'Dead, cousin David?'
As dead as a man, with any miserable breath left in him at all, and with Joan in the house, could be. I believe I had influenza first, or rather I don't believe it, but Joan said so, and made me swallow all the horriblest compounds in the world by way of cure. The real discase was-I had not you, Esther! After a child has been in a house for fifteen years,' David proceeded, hastily, its absence creates a singular deadening, depressing sort of blank. I didn't want to do anything, or be anything. I didn't want to read, or to cat, or to sleep. I think I should have rather liked to die, peacefully, but that, you know, Joan wouldn't let me do. She gave me gruel, and made mustard plasters for me, and tormented me prodigiously, but she wouldn't let me die. More's the pity!'
'You silly old David!'
'Oh, Esther, that is good to hear. There will be no one to laugh at me like that, no one to say, "You silly old David," when-when you are married and gone!'
'You superlatively silly old David!' cried the girl, with her merry, heart-whole laugh. What chance have Joan and I of marrying, I should like to know? Tell me how you came out of this seven weeks' influenza, or stupor, and please don't let your imagination run away with you in such an unprincipled manner. Joan nursed you with unremitting tenderness for seven weeks, and then?'
Then the few first warm days of spring came, and I remembered that in two months and fourteen days you would come back too! Joan is not cheerful, as a rule, in spring. You know a way she has of putting one down for being in spirits about the weather. She knows what these unnatural heats lead to. She knows better than the birds that are twittering in the hedges. The blossom will be cut off; the churchyard full. Well, child, even Joan could not depress me when I had once laid hold of that definite idea-you were coming back! the lengthening of the days and coming out of the leaves had a new interest for me--'
rible in real life is ridiculous to witness. If I read of any man having a woman like my cousin Joan in love with him, I might be impressed with becoming feelings of pity; but the reality, with myself as victim, does seem indeed a truly ludicrous mockery.' And here poor David burst into a long and most unearthly laugh over the image of his own impending calamity.
But there was a painful ring in his laugh that jarred upon Esther's heart, and she grew serious instantly. 'Come away to the Riven Oak, dear David,' she said, laying her hand kindly upon his arm. The valley will look very different now the thorns are in blossom to what it did on that dull autumn day when you and I were last here together. Come away, and forget all your own silly thoughts in this delicious summer day. You have just got hipped and out of sorts and afraid of Joan because I was away-nothing more. You will have no time to take up such ridiculous fancies now that I have come back.'
The Riven Oak was a solitary, storm-shattered tree, standing some paces away from the rocky path that led from Countisbury to the river-side, and commanding a glorious bird's-eye view of the valley of the Lynn, clothed now in all the vigorous strength and freshness of the Manhood of the year.' Under shelter of this oak was poor David's favourite summer out-door study; and as he stood there by Esther's side now, listening to all the delicious, familiar, wild sounds of the woods, and feeling the genial warmth of the June sun upon his face, a feeling of peaceful happiness—an oblivion of Joan-stole over him such as he had not known for months past.
'Do you smell the clover from the valleys, Esther?' speaking in that low tone which most men's voices involuntarily take once during their lives-a tone which could make even his voice musical, and throwing his arm lightly round her shoulder. Nowhere but here have I ever found that rich, faint, lowland smell mingling with the wild scent of the moors and yet not overcoming
it. I would as lief be blind, Esther, as tasteless in the smells of nature. They recal special seasons as no other appeal to our senses can. I might see wooded valleys and hear distant streams twenty years to come without thinking of this particular day; I could never stand amidst the fragrance of new-trodden ferns and heather, with clover and hawthorn scent coming to me from a distance, without having your apparition by my side in a momentliving and real as you are now.' 'That is half fancy, David. Shut your eyes and feel how a good three-fourths of your picture vanishes at once.'
'I feel every detail, on the contrary, ten times more vividly, child. I am sensible how "all the land in flowery squares smells of the coming summer;" I am sensible of fox-gloves close at hand, although half hidden by furze, in which the great wild bees are droning; I am sensible of a million lives afloat upon the air. I am sensible more than ever of your presence!'
'Oh, what an anticlimax!' interrupted Esther; to begin with quoting Tennyson, and then descend to humble-bees and Esther Fleming! Still, I do think one takes in a great deal more than could be painted in a picture on a day like this, and I suppose that is why descriptions word-paintings, as Miss Bates calls them-invariably seem to leave out half the life and freshness of what they describe. What spirit would the woods have for us, David, without the monotonous roar of the dear old stream below? It is that one sound that makes our Devonshire woods so different to all others I have been in.'
'I thought you would come back too fine a lady to care for the dull delights of Countisbury, Esther. When I saw a grown-up young woman, talking with such fine selfpossession to that person upon the coach, I assure you I could scarce believe it was our simple Esther. What did you tell me his name was, by-the-way?"
Mr. Vellicot.' 'Nonsense. You mentioned another person-'
And leaving David to follow with what haste he could, Esther ran lightly down the narrow, rocky defile towards the valley. If her companion had been any one in the world but David, she would have felt excessively angry with herself for her folly in colouring about this Mr. Carew; but with good blind David for sole witness it did not signify much how foolish she was. Why, you had only to tell poor David that the sun shone in his eyes and he would straightway believe himself mistaken! Besides, even if he persisted still in crediting his own senses, it would not matter very much after all. Poor old David!
When they reached the valley they had still two miles to walk before reaching the part of the stream where David meant to fish; and during all this portion of their walk he continued more silent than usual.
You never talk when the fish are within hearing, David,' said Esther, at 'last. Is it from habit only, or do you really think the trout at Ore Oak would take warning if the distant sound of your treacherous voice was borne to them along the waters?'
'I am silent because I have nothing to say, Esther.'
Oh, David, and I have been away six months!'
" And have not returned now,' he answered, quickly. I have not got you, Esther, my little cousin, with me. I have got a young person with a vermilion skirt, a hat in shape like a cheese-plate, and a festooned gown-but not Esther!'
'David, that is very base. After pretending to think that I looked nice you suddenly burst out upon