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Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.
_The Story of a Boy Violinist_
By T. W. O.
Lamson, Wolffe and Company Boston, New York and London MDCCCXCVIII
Copyright, 1898 By Lamson, Wolffe and Company
_All rights reserved_
Press of Rockwell and Churchill BOSTON
I. Philip’s Home 1
II. Dash 15
III. Philip’s Mother 29
IV. Mag’s Story 42
V. Philip’s Father 56
VI. A New Friend 73
VII. A Mining Tragedy 87
VIII. A Great Change 106
IX. Trials and Pleasures 120
X. Aunt Delia’s Secret 134
XI. A Day at Ashden 148
XII. The Renewal of an Acquaintance 163
XIII. Lord Ashden’s Plan 175
XIV. Off for Italy 190
XV. Drifting 210
XVI. Home Again 225
XVII. Marion 240
XVIII. The Concert 254
XIX. Fire 271
XX. The End 285
The Story of a Boy Violinist
His days were nearly all spent in a place where there were great heights and depths, long corridors and galleries, with many people passing to and fro, many chambers above and below, and elevators running up and down. A great hotel, do you say? No, nothing so grand or pleasant as that, but a deep, dark, dismal mine; and there, from dawn till after nightfall, Philip and his mother spent the long, sun-bright days in a sort of living death. It was really like that, for what is life worth in a place where the sun never comes, where there is no grass nor flowers nor trees, where the beautiful blue sky with its snow-white flying cloudlets or great, gray, snow-capped cloud-mountains cannot be seen, and where there is nothing but the darkness of night all the day long!
But Philip was quite accustomed to this strange underground life, and as he knew nothing of anything different or better he was as happy as the day was long. After all, our lives are very much what we make them, and Philip was blessed with a very sweet and cheerful nature, which could make its own sunshine even at the bottom of a deep, dark mine; he had beside a very strong and healthy fancy, and he had peopled the dark recesses of the mine with all kinds of imaginary beings, who were real companions for the lonely child. Instead, however, of creating, as some foolish children would have done, only gnomes and goblins to inhabit the deep caverns and underground chambers, Philip chose rather to pretend that the soft sound of dropping water, which could always be heard if one listened, was the musical language of the coal-fairies who guarded the secrets of the mine, a language which only those who were very pure and good could understand.
There was another sprite who lived in the mine, with whom Philip used to hold long conversations, and who could always reply to him, although the answer was sometimes unsatisfactory; this was the echo of his own voice, and one day the little boy lost his way and caused his mother great alarm by following this mocking voice deep into the intricate windings of an unworked shaft. He found his way out again on this particular occasion by the aid of some other spirit-friends of his, the little lamps or candles which the miners carry in their hats. At a distance these lights, glancing here and there as the men moved about their work, looked exactly like large fireflies, and it was by following these and answering the friendly voices of the miners who shouted directions to him that Philip found his way back to his mother’s side again.
And so you see that Philip led what I suppose most boys and girls would have called a very hard and lonely life, for he had few companions of his own age, and spent most of the time which other children have for play in sober work, yet he was quite happy and contented; and indeed he was much more fortunate than many of the people about him, who did not, like him, come up when the day was over, but who spent days and sometimes weeks or months down in the darkness of the mine, with never a glimpse of the blessed light of day, except what little could be seen from the long well-like shaft, up and down which went the buckets or elevators by which the miners were carried to and from their work. But when Philip’s day in the mine was over he had only to step aboard the rough elevator which carried the miners up and down, and looking upward, as he always did on this journey back to the outer world, he could see the tall derrick which pointed skyward from the mouth of the shaft like a black finger grow gradually more distinct against the blue sky, and then in a moment more he would come out into the daylight once again.
The bright sunshine always hurt his eyes at first, but how pleasant and warm it seemed after the damp twilight down below! And how glorious it was to be able to run straight ahead for miles without being obliged to stoop beneath low, dripping walls, or to squeeze through narrow openings into close, rocky chambers where the stagnant air made one cough and choke! It was almost worth while, Philip thought, to spend eight hours of the day away from this beautiful world of nature in order to come back to it again each afternoon.
“Do ye think, mother dear,” he said thoughtfully, one beautiful summer evening as they were walking home together through a field gay and fragrant with innumerable wild flowers--“do ye think that heaven can be a nicer place than this?”
His mother smiled at her boy’s earnest question, and laid her hard, rough hand on his curly head in a loving way she had. “I reckon it is, my little lad,” she said, “though we can’t quite think of it; but they says the flowers there never wither nor die, and the sky is always blue, not lowering and black as our sky is sometimes--ye mind how it looked before the thunder-storm last night. The pleasures in that land will leave no ugly sting behind them, folks tells us, as they does here ’most always.”
She spoke with a sad wistfulness in her voice which Philip was quick to notice, and he slipped his little hand into hers and looked up into her face with troubled eyes.
“Tell me, mother dear,” he said gently, “why you are always so sad when we cross this field, especially in daisy time. Is it because my father used to walk here with you in the time ye said ye was used be happy?”
How marvellously wise love makes us all! Philip’s mother looked down at him wonderingly.
“However did the lad guess?” she said as though to herself; “for it was in this very field we used to wander in those happy, foolish days. Oh, it would have been far better had we never”--she did not finish the sentence, but broke off quite suddenly, telling Philip to run on ahead; and the boy did as he was bidden, but half reluctantly, for although he seldom spoke of his father, feeling instinctively that the subject was a painful one to his mother, yet he thought about him very often, pondering as children will upon a theme not understood or only half explained. He knew that his father was dead--so much his mother had told him; and many a time he had heard her say that if it were not for her boy she could find it in her heart to wish herself dead too. He also knew that a locket which his mother always wore on a chain about her neck contained a portrait which she had once shown to him, and which she had told him was a perfect likeness of his father. Philip looked wonderingly at the face of the handsome young gentleman, who had clustering curls like his own, but whose clothes were of a cut and texture quite unlike those worn by the men whom Philip saw every day; and then as his glance had fallen upon his mother in her rough dress, he said with a kind of awe, “What fine clothes my father wore, didn’t he, mother dear?”
And his mother had snatched the miniature almost fiercely from his hand, saying proudly:
“Of course he did, lad; your father was a _gentleman_.”
A gentleman! Philip thought of it often afterward, wondering what his mother could have meant, for the only gentlemen the boy had ever seen lived in fine houses, and their wives rode in carriages and wore silk dresses and fine bonnets, while their home was a humble miner’s cottage, and his mother--and then Philip, half ashamed of the thought, had run and put his arms about his mother’s neck and smoothed the coarse cotton cloth of her dress with his loving hands, telling himself that although she did not wear the fine clothes of a lady, yet she was as sweet and beautiful and good as any lady in the land.
It never occurred to Philip to wonder that Mag (the only name by which his mother was known) could neither read nor write, for the people who lived all about them, and who spent the greater part of their lives in the mine, were of course very ignorant, there being no such things in those days as compulsory education or laws forbidding child-labor in the mines. Philip, therefore, at ten years of age did not know a single letter of the alphabet, and had seen only one or two books in his life. But although his mother was no wiser than her child so far as books went, she seemed somehow to have gained a strange knowledge of life; indeed, no one could look at her without feeling sure that she had loved and felt and suffered much. She was a large, grand-looking young woman, with a face and figure like a Greek statue, and she was almost as silent. Philip had never heard her laugh, and she seldom talked with the miners or joined in their rough merriment and sometimes rather coarse jokes. In reply to their greetings or questions she always gave short, civil enough answers, never voluntarily prolonging the conversation. But her silence was never sullen, and they all seemed to understand her; indeed, there was not one of them who would not gladly have done her a good turn, and she always acknowledged their favors gratefully.
It was often remarked that she seemed to take a sort of fierce pleasure in doing the hardest and roughest kinds of work, labor which usually was given only to the men; but she was still young and very strong, and it may have been that she dreaded the time for thought which idleness might have brought. At any rate, she chose the work and labored faithfully and patiently for the wages which supported her father and child.
Philip was constantly with his mother, and as he was a trifle shy and made few friends among the rough boys and girls of the neighborhood, he seemed to have concentrated all the affection of his warm little heart upon Mag, who loved him in return with a passionate devotion.
Philip and Mag and her old father were happy together in their humble home, which, although it was precisely the same as all the other huts which were huddled together around the opening of the mine, had about it an unusual air of comfort and refinement. There were white curtains at the small windows, a honeysuckle climbed over the porch, and at one side was a small garden, where it was Philip’s delight to work with his grandfather; it was always gay with flowers, which seemed to thrive in spite of the poor soil, and there were vegetables and berries too, which often found their way to the tables of less fortunate neighbors. Within the cottage were a few small comforts not usually to be found in the miners’ dwellings, a square or two of carpet, faded and worn, but warm and comfortable under the feet on cold nights, a red table-cover to replace the white one used for meals (a most unusual luxury), and a lamp with a colored silk shade. There was besides an easy-chair or two, and in one corner a plain oak writing-desk which was regarded by the neighbors with some awe; it was carefully locked, and Philip had often wondered where the key which fitted it might be, but somehow he had always hesitated to ask, feeling, perhaps almost instinctively, that the explanation might cause his mother pain or embarrassment.
Next to Mag and his grandfather Philip loved his dog Dash better than anything else in the world. He was a ragged little terrier with a head much too large for his body, a short stump of a tail, and an awkward way of getting under people’s feet and of tumbling all over himself when he ran; but he was a marvel of faithfulness and affection, and could do a multitude of the clever tricks which Philip delighted to teach him.
He had come to the door of the cottage one wild, stormy night, and had wailed so piteously outside that Mag said at last:
“Go, Philip, lad, unbolt the door; it is likely some poor dog perishing in the storm. We are not so poor but we can give the poor thing food and shelter for the night.”
So Philip ran and opened the door, and the little dog ran in and cowered shivering before the fire; he was very wet and dirty, and so thin that the bones in his poor little body stood out in a way that was quite pitiful to see; he had a jagged end of rope about his neck, as though he had broken away from some place of confinement; his feet were cut and bleeding, as though he had travelled a long distance; and he had a general air of being quite done up and exhausted.
Philip brought him some food and water, and you should have seen the look of gratitude in the creature’s eyes as he wagged his poor little stump of a tail, stopping now and then, hungry as he was, to lick the kind hand that fed him. Philip made a comfortable bed for him beside the fire, but next morning when he awoke and sat up in his own little bed, which stood beside his mother’s, there was his small new friend sitting gravely beside him, quietly waiting for him to awake. Later, when Mag missed her little boy from her side, she discovered him, still in his night-clothes, rolling about on the floor, in play with the dog.
“Oh, mother!” he cried when she called to him, “please may I keep him for my very own? Only see how we love each other already!”
And Mag, her great love for her boy shining in her dark eyes, laid her hand kindly on the little dog’s shaggy head.
“Sure, ye may keep the creature, Philip,” she said, “provided his proper owner does na’ call for him.”
But no one ever came to claim him, and from that day Philip and Dash were inseparable, except during the hours when Philip was down in the mine with his mother; there the dog was not allowed to follow his young master, but he would go with him every morning to the entrance of the shaft, and stand looking down, after the car which carried the miners to their work had started on its downward journey. When it was quite out of sight he would turn with a whimper and trot home again with a business-like air, seldom stopping to play with other dogs by the way, and staying very quietly and obediently with the old grandfather for the rest of the day. But at the exact hour when it was to be expected that the car would come up again from the mine, bringing the men, with Philip and his mother, there would be Dash waiting for them, and ready to escort them home each night with as much joy as though he had not seen them for a month. No one ever knew how the little fellow could always be sure of the exact time when Philip might be expected, but he was never known to be late, except on one occasion when his grandfather had gone to a neighbor’s, leaving Dash locked in the cottage. He must have managed to climb out of the window, which was several feet above the ground, for he came galloping down the road just as the miners were saying:
“Ah, Philip, lad, thy friend is failing thee the night.”
Dash came by his name in quite an extraordinary way.
“Ye may depend upon it, such a clever dog has a handle to him already,” said Philip’s grandfather when the boy suggested that his pet should have a name.
“But however could we guess the right one?” said Philip doubtfully. Nevertheless he began to mention over in the little animal’s hearing several names common to dogs, such as Rover, Gyp, Sport, and the like, while his dumb playmate stood before him, wagging his short tail as much as to say:
“I wish I could help you, master, but you haven’t struck it yet, my boy.”
Mag was sitting as usual by the table with the lamp, sewing quietly, but though she said little she would glance up now and then from her work and look lovingly at the little group before the fire. Suddenly she spoke: “I have thought of a name for the dog,” she said. “Perhaps he may be called--Dash.” She spoke the name emphatically, with a slight pause before it, and instantly the dog flew to her side as though she had called him, and stood wagging his tail and looking from Mag to Philip, saying as plainly as a dog could:
“That’s my name--did you call me?”
“Oh, mother!” said Philip, clapping his hands with delight and surprise, “that is his name, I am sure of it--only see how knowing he looks! Here, Dash! Dash!”
“Here, Dash! Dash!” echoed Mag, almost smiling with the pleasure and excitement which she shared with her little son; and the dog ran wildly from one to the other, barking and frisking about for joy, as though delighted to be no longer a stray and nameless cur, but a dog with a name, and therefore with some claim to respectability.
“However did you guess it, mother?” asked Philip afterward.
“I don’t know exactly, myself,” said Mag, “unless it is,” she added slyly, “that your friends the coal fairies whispered the name in my ear.” And Philip blushed, for he was secretly a little ashamed of what he felt to be rather foolish sport for a boy who was earning his four shillings a week in the mine.
From this time on Philip was never conscious of the lack of companionship, which, in the days before Dash came, he had sometimes felt so sadly; for from henceforth he had a constant playfellow, who was always sweet-tempered and eager to frolic and play, yet ready too, at a sign from his young master, to lie quietly down beside him when Philip was tired of playing and wanted to pore over his books; for although the boy could not read, yet it was his chief delight to look at the pictures in some volumes which he had found one day packed carefully away in an old trunk, and which Mag told him had belonged to his father. There were fortunately many illustrations in these books, and he had his own way of enjoying them, by making up stories for the pictures as he went along, to Dash, who was a most attentive listener, and who really seemed to enjoy the recital quite as much as Philip. He would lie quite still before the fire, with his black nose thrust in between the pages of the book, and his sharp, bright eyes fixed attentively on Philip’s face; occasionally he would thump contentedly on the floor with his tail, and at such times Mag would look up from her work to smile lovingly at her boy, as in a low voice he would weave his pretty fancies about the pictures; sometimes, too, she would break in with suggestions.
“I think I could help ye there, Philip,” she would say. “I remember your father told me summat about that picture; it was one he was always over-fond of, an’ sometimes he would try to tell me about what was in the books. I wish I could remember better for your sake, my lad.”
It was really pathetic to see with what attention she had tried to follow the narrative or explanation, and it was quite wonderful how much of the recital she could recall, in almost the exact words in which she had heard it.
“How clever my father must have been!” said Philip thoughtfully, and Mag would reply proudly.
“Of course he was, lad; he could read out of the book just as smooth as talking.”
And then she would usually lapse into silence again, and perhaps say no more that evening. And Philip loved his father’s books, and longed to be able to master their contents.
One of the overseers at the mine, who was regarded as quite a scholar by the ignorant miners, had noticed Philip’s interest in the newspaper which he sometimes brought down into the mine to be glanced over at odd moments when the men were all at work around him and he had little to do but keep a general eye on the others. One day in a burst of kindly feeling he pointed out some of the letters in the head-lines of the paper to Philip, and explained how, when put together, they made words and sentences. Finding the boy an apt pupil and very eager to learn, he became quite interested in teaching him to read, in much the same way as he might have found amusement in training an intelligent dog to fetch and carry, or to stand up and beg. To Philip this opened a whole world of wonder and delight. To be sure he did not learn at once, and sometimes weeks would pass when his friend would find no time to teach him; but the boy waited patiently, and meanwhile he had his own way of enjoying the gradual acquaintance which he was making with the great Alphabet Family, from A, the dignified and rather stern father, and B, the fat, good-natured mother of the flock, down to the youngest letter of the family, funny little crooked Baby Z.
Every evening during the time of those first lessons in the rudiments of learning, Philip could scarcely wait to get home, so anxious was he to tell Dash of the new letters which he had learned from the overseer’s paper.
“Isn’t it funny, Dash?” he would say. “Here is M--him I have known quite well for over a week, and always thought he was a very well-behaved and polite young letter, and here to-day, right in the middle of a page, I find him standing on his head; and--did ye ever see the like?--he’s changed his name and calls himself W. And then here is O--I always knew him the minute I saw him. He seems almost to jump out at me from the page, he’s that round and fat and easy to remember; and now only see here, Dash, they have gone and put a little handle on him, something like your tail, you see, and now he is called Q.”
So Dash and Philip studied the alphabet together, and the little boy, from weaving fancies about the letters and the pictures in his father’s books, came to have long waking dreams, which were so beautiful that he longed to tell his mother about them; but somehow when he tried to put them into words, Mag did not seem to understand, but would only shake her head and say kindly:
“Thy head grows dull, Philip, from sitting so much in the house. Go now an’ have a run with Dash in the fresh air.”
And sometimes when Philip would be loath to leave his book, his mother would shake her head more decidedly, and perhaps push him gently out of the house, closing the door behind him; while Philip, knowing that it was only love which prompted her seeming harshness, would shake himself out of his dreamy mood, and cry, “Come, Dash, mother is right; let’s have a race. One, two, three! Go!” And away they would both scamper.
The winter that Dash came to the cottage where Philip lived with his mother and grandfather was a very long and hard one. A great political crisis had, in some mysterious way, affected the price of coal; there were long weeks when only half the usual number of men were employed in the mines, and this meant that many little children in the miners’ cottages went often supperless to bed, while the men would gather in groups in the street and talk gloomily of the hard times, which seemed to offer little hope of improvement. There was much illness in the town, too; a season of unusual rain and fog, less fire than usual to keep the chill out of the houses, and constitutions weakened by anxiety and lack of food made ready a fertile soil for the fever which attacked and carried off many scores of victims, especially among the little children and the aged; the good village doctor was kept busy day and night, and his old-fashioned hooded phaeton, with its patient old gray horse which all the children in the village knew and petted, might be seen constantly going back and forth from house to house, sometimes until quite late into the night.
Mag was one of the few who had steady work, but her wages had been reduced one-half, and with all her clever management it was sometimes difficult to keep the little household warmed and fed. Philip’s earnings had ceased altogether, and although he had more time above-ground, yet he would gladly have exchanged this unaccustomed freedom for the toil which would have brought a few extra comforts into their little home. It made his tender heart ache, too, to see the lines of anxiety grow each day deeper on the faces of Mag and his grandfather; often when he was playing with Dash he would find his mother’s eyes fastened upon them both, with a sad intensity which would sometimes lead him to run to her and put his little arms close about her neck, whispering:
“Don’t worry, mother dear; God will take care of us.” And on these occasions Dash would always join the group, thrusting his cold nose into their faces, and making it so evident that he shared their distress that they would laugh in spite of themselves at his awkward efforts to express his affection and sympathy.
Dearly as he loved her, Philip stood in awe of his silent mother, and he used sometimes to wonder in his childish way why it was that even when work had been plenty and wages high she was still so sad and grave, so unlike her noisy, gossipy neighbors, who he noticed used sometimes to shake their heads as though in kindly pity when she passed their doors on her way to work. Philip had heard the miners, too, say as they looked after her retreating figure:
“Poor lass! Poor Maggie!”
But whatever the sorrow that had darkened her life, she never allowed it to blind her to the troubles of others, and her neighbors seemed to understand this, for if ever sickness or accident befell any of them, who so quick as Mag to help or befriend? Many a blessing followed her that winter as, her work for the day finished, she would hurry from house to house on countless errands of mercy, often going quietly without her supper, that some little delicacy prepared by her own hands might find its way to an ailing neighbor. Philip noticed that when his mother returned from these kind errands she always seemed more contented than usual, and the happiest time in the whole day was when, her bonnet removed and her shawl neatly folded and laid away, she would light the evening lamp and sit quietly down to her sewing, while her father dozed contentedly in his chair before the fire (sometimes, alas! a feeble enough blaze) and Philip and Dash played happily together on the hearth.
Philip never remembered but one occasion when his mother had spoken to him other than very gently, but that once he never forgot. It was an evening when, tired of romping with Dash, the little boy had curled up before the fire with a picture-book which had been loaned to him by the overseer’s child. It was a rare treat, and Philip soon became quite absorbed in this new object of interest. But Dash was determined not to be cheated out of his usual half hour of play with his young master, and after waiting as long as he thought that even the best-behaved dog could be expected to do, he began to pull at Philip’s sleeve as though to say: “Come, old fellow. Time’s up, you know!”
But as Philip paid no attention to this, he began to bark and frisk about him in such a lively and disturbing manner that Philip pushed him away several times, saying, “Down, Dash,” in a vexed and impatient voice; but the little dog persisted in teasing and annoying him all the more for being rebuffed, and at last Philip grew angry, and struck and kicked the dog several times. Dash was so astonished at this unusual behavior that for a moment he stood looking at his master in silent reproach, and then he turned sadly away, and ran, yelping and whining, to Mag. She turned and caught her little son by the arm, holding him so tightly that he cried out in surprise and pain. His mother’s great sorrowful eyes were fixed upon him with an expression so unusual that he remembered it long afterward. She was very pale as she cried:
“Shame on ye, Philip lad, to hurt the brute that loves ye an’ canna’ strike back! Oh, Philip, Philip, ye must keep down that temper, my little lad, or it will bring you to the woe that’s wearing me out.”
She sank into a chair, covering her face with her trembling hands, and rocking herself to and fro as she said softly, and as though speaking to herself:
“Oh, Mag, ye have given your own wicked temper to the child, to be a curse to him as it has been to yourself!”
She dropped her hands at her side and gazed at Philip with such mournful eyes that although he could not understand the meaning of her words, he was frightened and shrank into his corner, his face burning with shame and remorse. Dash had stood looking from one to the other, as though bewildered by such a strange scene, and presently he crept up to Philip, thrusting his nose timidly into the boy’s hand, as much as to say:
“Don’t feel so badly, Philip. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me, and it was mean to tease you when I knew you wanted to read. Come, let bygones be bygones--that’s my motto.”
And Philip patted his rough head, and the companions felt that they had been mutually understood and forgiven. But with Mag it was different. She took up her sewing again, to be sure, and went on with her work as usual, but she paid no heed to Philip’s timid efforts to explain and ask forgiveness. Indeed, she seemed not to see him, for her thoughts had wandered apparently far away; and after a while Philip stole off to bed, wondering sadly why his fit of ill-temper should have so strangely moved his silent mother.
The next morning Mag seemed still constrained and unhappy, and went about her work in an absent-minded way, scarcely heeding Philip’s timid efforts at conversation; so shortly after breakfast he stole quietly out of the house with Dash. They did not return until dinner-time, and as they approached the house Philip perceived with a sinking of the heart that the good doctor’s carriage was fastened to the gate-post in front of their little cottage. He flew rather than ran the remainder of the distance, and his mother met him at the door, a warning finger on her lip.
“Hush!” she said; “your grandfather is ill. I saw he was not over-well this week past, and this morning he could not eat; so when I saw the doctor pass, I hailed him in. I fear--it may be--the fever.”
She spoke with a catch in her voice, but she tried to smile as she put her arm around Philip with more than her usual tenderness and drew him into the house. The doctor was coming out of the sick man’s room, and he was looking rather grave; but he said little, only leaving some powders, with directions as to food and other matters, promising to call again later in the day. The old man grew no worse, however, and indeed in a few days he persisted in leaving his bed and coming out to his favorite seat beside the fire; but he seemed to have but little strength, and to have grown much older in those few days of illness.
The first evening that he took his place again in the family circle was a memorable one for Philip. The boy had always been a great favorite with his grandfather, who delighted to ask him questions about what he had seen during the day; there was never much to tell, but Philip had a whimsical fashion of making a great deal of a small adventure in relating it, and often some trifling remark would suggest past events to the old man, and he would tell the boy strange stories of the past, which though often repeated were always new and of absorbing interest to his grandson and to Mag, who was ever an interested listener.
On this particular evening, however, she seemed listless and distraught, and after a while she left her sewing and knelt in front of the fire in a drooping attitude, which made Philip ask at last half timidly (for since the episode with Dash he had not felt quite at ease with his mother):
“Are ye cold, mother dear? Shall I put a few coals on the fire?” She shook her head without replying, and after a moment Philip asked his grandfather for a story; but, to the great surprise of both, Mag suddenly spoke:
“Wait a moment,” she said, “both of ye; it is my turn to tell the story to-night, an’ ye must listen patiently while I tell it, even though it may seem over-long.”
She put her hand to her throat as though something there choked her, and in the flickering firelight her eyes gleamed strangely. Philip was so dumbfounded at the idea of his silent mother telling him a story that he looked from her to his grandfather in amazement. The old man shook his head.
“My poor lass!” he said softly. “Perhaps it will ease the poor troubled mind of ye to tell it to the lad.”
And Mag began her story in a cold, hard voice, with her eyes still fixed upon the fire and her position unchanged.
“Long ago, aye, very long ago, it seems now, there was a girl with a temper so bad that no one could stand her ways.”
“Oh, lass,” interrupted her father, “don’t ye say that. Let me begin the story for thee.”
Then the old man took it up in the dialect of the miners, which to the readers of this would hardly seem like English, and for their benefit must be put into plainer language.
“Yes, there was a girl,” he began, “an’ the handsomest one ever I saw. Maybe she had somewhat of a temper, but no one could look into her face and think a bit blame for what she said. An’ what a voice she had! There was not a linnet could sing like her, an’ when all went straight she was singing all the time. There was no one to look after this girl, poor lammie, for the mother of her died before she had sense to miss her, an’ left her to the care of a foolish old father, who had small enough knowledge of the proper way to bring up a little lass. He took her down into the mine with him sometimes, but it wasn’t to her taste--the darkness fretted her, she wanted more liberty. If there had been a school at the place it would have been the making of her, for she had a quick mind, an’ it was a great worry to the father that she couldn’t be put to something fitting for a little lass; but he was near daft with the advising of one an’ another. One’s wife would be for having her sent to town to be put to a trade; another’s wife was for having her sent to learn service with some great lord’s housekeeper; an’ there wasn’t a man’s wife of them all but had some plan to drive him crazy with, an’ not one of them telling of a way that had a possibility in it, or that the girl took a liking to, for she’d fly out at all the ones that came advising. Not that she was a bad lass, if you took her fair, but wilful-like, an’, maybe, too quick with her tongue when she took a turn; but that was more the father’s fault, who had never taught her the right ways for a little lass.”
Philip did not find the story as interesting yet as some of the more exciting ones his grandfather told sometimes, of the three or four years he had been at sea when he ran away from home; but he listened patiently for what was to come, glancing anxiously at his mother, who still knelt in front of the fire, with her head bent low on her breast and her hands clasped in front of her. Philip had never seen her cry before, but now, to his surprise, great tears gathered in her mournful eyes, and once he was sure he heard a stifled sob; but the story began to grow more interesting then, and in listening he forgot to watch her.
“Ay, she was a rare lassie!” pursued the old man; “an’ when she was but just at her growth, an’ not half come to her strength, she saved the lives of two of the best men in the mines.”
“Oh, grandfather, how did she do that?” interrupted Philip.
“I can’t be telling ye the whole of it, because one story inside of another spoils the both to the taste; but I’ll give ye a notion of how it was,” resumed the old man.
“There was a side shaft in those days to a vein that isn’t worked now; an’ being the nighest to some of their houses the men used to go up and down on it, though the superintendent was sayin’ all he could against their using it, because there wasn’t a very safe way of running it. There was a hand-windlass to the top to work the bucket, an’ a snubbing-post near to give the rope a turn ’round so a man could hold it back.
“Well, the lass used to come every night to watch the men getting out of that shaft, ’cause she knew the foolish father of her would be coming up wearying to see if his bairn that had to be left alone the day through was all safe. So one night she stood watching the first load of night-men going down to the mine, knowing that when the bucket came up the father’d be in it; an’ she watched the men’s faces, going down into the dark, turning up to look at her, an’ one of ’em throwing a joke at her for being like a boy bairn more than a lassie. Poor thing, with only a great rough father, an’ no one to show her the ways of women folks, what shame was it of hers? When they went down from the sight of her, she turns to the man at the rope, an’ what does she see? Just the rope paying itself out an’ no one to hold it back, an’ him grinding his chin into the earth in a fit. She looks quick to see if there is help coming, but never a man was in sight, an’ the rope slipping away. Then she knew the danger they were in, for the old shaft went far deeper than the gallery the rope left them at, an’ when the end of it ran out the bucket would drop down where the water had broken in long ago and forced them to give up the lower drift.
“She hadn’t much time to spare when the loss of a minute would mean death to the men. So what does she do then, do you think, this lassie that had none of the soft ways of a girl bairn? Why, just gives the rope a turn around her waist, an’ then braces her two feet against a stone an’ pulls against the roller, an’ waits for the jerk. An’ there was the men down below not knowing but what Michael held the rope the same as ever, getting off the bucket all safe, an’ the lassie’s own father an’ the other men climbing in an’ giving the signal to be fetched up, not knowing that the heft of ’em was dragging on the body of the poor lass, who was past feeling then, for she had fainted into a dead swoon. That’s the way the new men found her when they came to the shaft to take their turn at going down, an’ her dragged up against the post an’ held there by the weight of the bucket hanging, an’ Michael lying by groaning an’ gripping the ground still.”
“Oh, grandfather! did it kill her?” gasped Phil.
“Better if it had--better if it had!” groaned Mag, raising her bent head, but not turning around.
Grandfather wiped his eyes and cleared his throat once or twice, as if he found the recollection of that time overwhelming; then, after two or three long whiffs at his pipe to keep it from quite going out, began again in a tremulous voice, which grew steadier as he went on.
“I can’t say as ’twould ’a’ been better for her if she had,” said he, apparently heeding Mag’s words more than Philip’s question; “happen it might ha’ saved her worse trouble, but it wasn’t to be. She was mangled though, an’ parson came over when he heard of it, bringing the town doctor with him, an’ they found a deal of the ribs crushed and one shoulder put out of joint; an’ the wives of the men she saved an’ the mothers of them nursed and cared for her, an’ there’s not a man in the mine to this day, nor a woman belonging to him, that wouldn’t stand up for her against the world, an’ well they might. But the best is to come: the papers got the story of it, an’ the greatest gentry in the land got to know of what the little lass did for the men; an’ the Queen, God save her, sent her a gold medal. ‘For the Saving of Human Life’ was writ on to it, an’ some great society sent her another in a velvet case.
“An’ now, Maggie, woman,” said he coaxingly to his daughter, “up and tell the lad who was the little lassie, an’ let him hear no more about her.”
“Nay,” said the woman, rising and turning around with her eyes dry and glistening now, “it’s all to be told; if ye cannot tell it, I must.”
“Save us all, woman dear,” said the old man, rising and patting his daughter soothingly on the arm; “don’t get into such a wax. If the little lad must hear the whole story through, why then he must, an’ who can tell it him better nor me? But there’s no need for his hearing more.”
“Yes, father, you can tell it if you will, but ye must tell it all, an’ keep nothing back, or I shall have to tell it myself; for I am determined that my child shall know just what a wicked temper can bring one to, if it’s let to go on and get the mastery.”
As Mag said this she turned wearily to the little stand where her basket of clothes for mending stood, and seated herself by it, but not to sew. Pushing the candle and work away from her, she put her folded arms upon the table and dropped her head upon them, turning her face away from the others.
Philip had become much interested in the story of the heroic girl who had risked so much to save the miners, and he was anxious to hear more about her; but the old man seemed in no hurry to go on with the story. He knocked the ashes out of his pipe, refilled it, took an unnecessarily long time in lighting it, and made various delays, till at last an uneasy movement of his daughter made him start off on it at last.
“Well, this lass as I’m telling of,” he began, turning to Phil, “this brave one that the whole of the men was willing to lay down their lives for, got all over her hurts and bruises, and was ’round on her feet again as well as ever. They was feared, they was, both doctor an’ parson, that the spine of her back had gotten a bending that would never get out of it; but no fear for her--when she left her bed (an’ it was all the broken bones could do to keep her in it at all) she was as straight as a Maypole, an’ there couldn’t have been a face more bonny than hers, an’ it grew bonnier every day till it was more trouble than ever to me--to the father, I mean--to know a way to look after one that was like a young queen for beauty.
“She had no liking those times for going down into the mines, or, for that matter, for work of any kind. There was many an honest lad among the workmen that fair doated on the sight of her, but she had no care for one of them; an’ her father was content to have it so, for he was proud of his handsome daughter, an’ secretly he was believing in his heart that there was none quite good enough to be a husband for her.
“Well, just about the time I’m telling ye of there began to be strange stories floating around among the women-folks, about a grand young man who wore fine clothes an’ seemed to have nothing better to do than to hang around the cottage and keep the girl I’m telling ye of from doing her house-work.
“It would have been all right enough most probably, an’ spared a world of trouble to all concerned, if she had only been quite honest and spoken out to her father, telling him about her friend an’ that he meant all fair an’ square by her. But girls is odd an’ shy in their ways sometimes, an’ maybe this girl was afraid her old father would be angry, an’ rough perhaps with the young man, so she said never a word; an’ then one day when the old man came home from his work rather earlier than usual an’ not feeling extra good-humored as it happened, there was the young man just as the neighbors had said, a-sitting quite at home in the cottage, painting away on a bit of cloth stretched on a frame, an’ it took only half an eye to see that it was a picture of the girl he was making. Well, then there was a great row, the old man accusing his daughter of deceiving him, an’ calling the young man some rather unhandsome names; but I must say he kept his temper very well until the girl began to cry an’ her father said something foolish about young gentlemen making love to simple village girls an’ breaking their hearts for their own amusement. At that the young painter turned very white, an’ quick as a flash he walked straight over to the girl an’ putting his arm around her waist he said, ‘Don’t cry, dear, an’ listen to me, for in your father’s presence I ask you to become my wife as soon as the minister can say the words.’
“An’ so they were married, these two, an’ now, my girl, you must tell the rest. I know it is hard for you to do it, but I cannot bring my tongue to it.”
But she did not go on for full five minutes, and there was no sound in the room but the crackling of the fire and the ticking of the clock on the mantel-shelf. Dash was the first to break the silence, which even he seemed to find oppressive; he got up from his place under the table, and coming over to Mag, gravely put his two paws in her lap and looked up into her face in a coaxing way he had when he wanted something; it was an appeal which Mag never resisted, and she patted him gently on the head, saying, “Good doggie! Lie down here, by the fire where it is warm, an’ I will try and tell Philip more about the gentleman we were speaking of just now.
“His name was Philip; it’s right ye should know that much.”
“The same as mine,” said the boy; “that’s strange. What was the name of the lass?”
“Never mind a name for her,” said grandfather hastily.
Mag went on as if she had not heard the question:
“He worked for his wife, Philip did, with the paints, an’ made pictures to send up to London to be sold, an’ the next year when the baby came, an’ there was more money needing, he worked harder than ever, till he was worn like a shadow. He was very sad and quiet them times, with the weight that was on him of caring for a family, and him not reared with even the thoughts of earning his own living. She, the wife, never noticed how the toil was wearing on him; she wasn’t much more than a child, an’ when he grew so still and weary-like, she fretted for the pleasant words and free-hearted laugh that used to be like music to her. Then she’d scold him, with the evil tongue she had, when things went against her liking, an’ he bore every word like a saint. Once when the money was lacking entirely, an’ she hadn’t the patience to wait for the payment he was looking for from London, she turned on him worse than ever; an’ when he couldn’t be driven to make her an answer, she grew more bitter and ugly, till at last she told him if he was like other men he’d go down to work in the mine. She was frightened after she said it, for it was like an insult to liken a born gentleman to them rough miners; but he made no answer even to that, only just got up from his chair an’ walked out of the house, she following him to the very door an’ flinging rough words after him to the last.”
“Leave it now, Mag,” implored the old man, who, to Philip’s amazement, had been shaking his head and groaning during his daughter’s rapidly spoken narrative.
But Mag went on again as if she had not noticed the interruption. This time, however, she spoke with an effort, as if the words were dragged from her by a force she could not resist.
“The foolish woman repented her of all her wicked words as soon as she lost sight of him at the turn of the road, but the pride an’ temper that was in her kept her back from going after him. The thought wouldn’t leave her the day through, that the jibes of her had sent him off to his hurt in some way, an’ she wasn’t greatly astonished, but her heart was grieved awful, when one of the neighbors told her that she’d seen her husband going down the shaft.
“When it comes near night she took up the baby an’ walked over to the mine, ready to throw herself on her knees to Philip before them all when he come up out of it, an’ beg him to forgive the temper of her that drove him to take her at her words an’ go down to seek for work that was ill-fitting a gentleman. There was a crowd coming over from the shaft, early as it was, an’ as she come nearer she saw some of the men carrying one between them that looked, by the way the hands hung, as if he had no life in him. There was no need to tell her who it was, there was no call to tell her how it happened, for she knew that it was Philip before they brought him a step nearer. It was no use for the women to come around to comfort her, to tell her ’twas an accident that took the life that was a hundred times better worth saving than her own. Her heart told her ’twas herself killed him by the rage that drove him to take her at her word, an’ it turned to lead in her bosom, an’ ever since she has waited for the punishment that is coming, for she knows that her life will be taken as his was. The same way that others long for life, she longs for death; an’ she dare not take her life with her own hands, or many a time she would have done it, for waiting an’ waiting is a part of her punishment, an’ she will shirk none of it. But, oh! it’s a weary, weary life, an’ it takes patience to bear it.” She rose at the last words, which were uttered in a sort of moan, and, opening the cottage door, walked out into the cloudy darkness, which was not even lighted by stars. Philip, excited by her strange manner and the story he had heard, sprang up as if to follow her, but his grandfather stopped him.
“Let ’er be, lad,” he said; “she goes out often that way nights after you are sleeping, an’ she comes back the better for it, so I never try to hinder her. That was a hard story for her to tell, an’ I’d spared her if she’d let me.”
“But why did she tell it, an’ why did she say I must hear it sometime?” asked Philip, almost in a whisper.
“It was folly in her, sheer folly,” was the answer. “But she had the notion to tell thee; an’ now it is said, thee needs to think no thought about it again.”
“But did I ever see the lass?” persisted the boy curiously.
“If thee did, thee wouldn’t know it,” was the unsatisfactory answer.
“I think she was a rare one to save the men that time,” said Philip.
“Ay, was she, true enough,” said the old man proudly.
“What became of the baby?” asked Philip.
“From the day,” said his grandfather, “that they took the dead body of her husband out of the door to bury him, the poor young widow went down to the mine to work along with the men, an’ till the boy was old enough to run she took him on her back with her, tied in a big shawl. She has a strange notion that she is to meet a violent death down there, the same as her man did. Some folks say she’s crazed with the trouble; but however it is, no one can put her off from believing that, sooner or later, her life must go to pay for his.”
Philip was deeply moved by what he had heard, and very gradually he began to understand that the story was a true one, and that it concerned him and his parents very closely; his mother had come in and resumed her drooping attitude before the fire, and presently he went timidly over to her and laid his cheek close to hers. “Mother,” he said softly, “I think I can guess who the brave girl was who saved the men’s lives, and, mother dear, if my father loved her so very much, would he lay it up against her that she spoke a bit too quickly just that once?”
With a quick cry Mag gathered her little boy into her arms, breaking into sobs and tears which were the relief her sad heart needed.
“Oh, father!” she murmured, “to think he knows it all, an’ yet he does not hate his poor, wicked mother.”
“No, no,” cried Philip, weeping too. “I love ye more than ever, my own dear mother, an’ I mean to try and fill my father’s place, an’ take such good care of ye, mother dear.”
“Bravely spoken, little lad,” said grandfather, his brown wrinkled face beaming satisfaction on the group by the fire. “I always told ye, Mag, that ’twould be far better the boy should be told, an’ besides he had a right to know about his father, who was a real gentleman, an’ one for his son to be proud of, though I may be a little late in saying so, God forgive me! You see I was so over-fond of your mother, boy, that if an angel from heaven had wanted to marry her I would have thought him scarce good enough; an’ then, too, I had a foolish pride about our being such ignorant folks, an’ he so learned and able to paint all them wonderful pictures, that I was feared he’d feel scorn of us.”
The old man sighed penitently, and Mag laid her hand lovingly on his knee.
“I’ll not deny ye was a little hard on my husband,” she said tremulously, “but it was all meant kindly enough, an’ as my little Philip said just now, perhaps _now_ he understands it all.”
“I am sure of it,” said Philip softly, patting her cheek.
After that Mag talked more freely to the boy of his father, and indeed it seemed to afford her both relief and pleasure to speak at last upon a subject which had so long lain heavily on her heart. She told Philip of her first meeting with the handsome young artist, who was staying then in the neighborhood at a large house now vacant, which Philip remembered to have seen on a memorable visit to a neighboring town, and which belonged to the family of his father’s dearest friend and college chum, Frederick Ashden. The two friends had come to Ashden for the summer vacation, and Philip Norton, who had really a marked talent for painting, was quite enraptured with the opportunities for sketching which he found in the picturesque mining village.
It was in the course of one of his long rambles about the country in search of subjects that the young artist had met the handsome village girl, whose dark beauty he at once proceeded to transfer to canvas. Mag was easily persuaded to pose for a series of sketches which prolonged their intercourse through many a long summer afternoon, when her father was away working in the mine and the motherless girl was free to do as she pleased. They were as happy as birds, and with scarcely more thought for the future; and then it was that the neighbors began to shake their heads, and to gossip about the handsome gentleman who was far too fine for the daughter of a poor miner. After a while their hints and whisperings reached the ears of the girl’s father--and the rest we know.
But there was much that Philip did not learn until long afterward, and which even Mag did not understand, for she never more than dimly guessed that in marrying her, Philip Norton had literally given up everything which had hitherto made his life worth living. His parents had died when he was very young, and he had been adopted by his uncle and aunt, a childless couple who had set their entire affections and hopes upon their promising young nephew. His hasty and unsuitable marriage had wellnigh broken their hearts, and immediately upon hearing of it they wrote to him imploring him, as he was not yet of age, to have the marriage annulled, offering to settle a comfortable allowance upon his wife if she would consent to live apart from him. It is needless to say that Philip Norton rejected their offers with scorn, and as they would not receive his wife, he requested that in future all communications between them should cease. His monthly remittances, which were forwarded to him as usual, he returned unopened, too proud to accept the aid which he so sorely needed; for his pictures sold but slowly and brought pitifully small prices. Indeed, his work at this time was sadly lacking in inspiration, for he no longer worked with the love of his art, which had once been the motive power of his labor, but with the painful effort born of a wearing anxiety to earn the money which should free him from the galling dependence upon his hard-working father-in-law which became day by day more unbearable.
He felt keenly, too, the separation from his friends, and especially did he miss the companionship of Frederick Ashden; yet he had himself insisted upon a cessation of their intercourse.
“I know what you will say of my marriage,” he wrote to his friend, “and as I do not wish to hear it from you, I think it best that in future we should not meet. Our paths in life will henceforth diverge very widely. I have chosen mine and am happy in the choice; may yours be equally happy. God bless you, and farewell!--Philip.”
Mag realized in a dim way that her husband had given up much in abandoning his career and settling down to the narrow life with her and her father in their humble home; but, passionately as she loved him, she was able to enter into but few of his thoughts, and he soon began sadly to realize this, and many other things which he would scarcely confess to himself. He was harassed, too, by fears for the future; Mag shared his anxiety, and then one day she spoke the fatal words of reproach which had driven her young husband to his death, and for which her life since that day had been one long, vain regret.
There was one thing which Philip learned from his mother which troubled him greatly. His father’s uncle and adopted father, a clergyman, had, within two years, received the appointment to a neighboring parish, and shortly after his arrival he had written very kindly to Mag, as indeed he had done before, begging that she would let bygones be bygones, and allow him to assist her in any way in his power, especially in the education of her son. Mag had treated this as she had done the former offers, with silent disdain; but when she told Philip he flushed painfully.
“I am sure my father’s people meant it kindly,” he said timidly, “and oh! mother dear, if only they could know ye I am sure that they would love ye like everyone else.”
But Mag stopped him almost angrily.
“Hush, Philip!” she said; “not for the whole world would I have those proud people know what a poor, humble, ignorant woman my Philip had chosen for his wife. No, I will not accept help from such as them; so never speak of it again.”
And Philip, remorseful and abashed, never did.
A New Friend
Philip’s grandfather never regained his strength after the attack of fever, and he grew gradually more and more feeble until at last he was not able to leave his bed; and one morning when Mag went softly into his room to see if the old man needed her, she found that he had passed quietly away during the night.
It was a deep grief to his daughter, but she had scarcely time to mourn for her father, when Philip was stricken down with the same fever, and for many days he hovered between life and death. The fever fed remorselessly on his plump body, which had scarcely lost the rounded curves of babyhood, and Mag felt something tighten round her heart as she looked at the wasted face upon the pillow.
The doctor, busy as he was, came every day, for he knew something of Mag’s sad history, and had a warm place in his heart for her and her little boy; and when the fever broke at last, and he could say, “The worst is over now, and the little lad will pull through after all, please God,” his eyes were moist with pleasure and relief, and as he gathered up the reins to hurry on to his next case, he muttered:
“I wish the Rev. Henry Seldon and his wife could see that fine child and his mother; I believe they would have a mild surprise.”
Philip came out from his sick-room a pale and languid image of his former self; he had grown considerably taller, as often happens in such cases, and his face had gained a certain delicate refinement of expression which caused even the rough miners to turn and look after him admiringly, as in the early spring days he began to walk about a little with Dash in the warm sunshine.
The good doctor had peremptorily forbidden that he should return to work in the mines, and this was a great disappointment to Philip, who was anxious to help his mother with his earnings. Nevertheless he could not deny that it was extremely pleasant to wander about the country with Dash, in the sweet spring weather, spending long, blissful days in the woods and fields, sometimes returning home only just in time to have the fire kindled and the kettle boiling against Mag’s return from her work in the mines.
One beautiful day in May, when Mag was not to be expected home until later than usual, Philip and Dash started off, as they often did, for a long, happy day in the country. Philip had their dinner in a small basket which was slung over his shoulder, while in one pocket he was careful to put one of his beloved books, and in the other a flute which had been given him by his kind friend the overseer, and upon which he had taught himself to play very sweetly.
It was the boy’s greatest delight to find a secluded spot somewhere in the woods, where he could practise on his flute without fear of interruption; and after a rather longer search than usual, Dash and he found such a nook on this particular morning. In the course of their tramp they had come quite unexpectedly upon a small but beautiful lake, and Philip gave a little cry of delight as he pushed aside the bushes and discovered the sheet of water sparkling and dimpling in the sunlight. Dash expressed his pleasure by diving into the water for a swim, and Philip amused himself for some time by throwing sticks into the lake for the dog to bring ashore in his mouth. After a while, however, they both became conscious of being pleasantly tired and hungry, and then Philip opened the basket which Mag had packed so carefully in the morning, and dined royally on its contents, with refreshing draughts of clear, cool water from the lake. After sharing the meal Dash curled himself up on the grass for a comfortable nap, while Philip took out his flute, and, stretched on his back on a soft bed of moss under the pleasant shade of a great tree, he began to play.
At first the music was very soft and sweet, with here and there a detached note of silvery clearness; it seemed as if the lovely, wordless improvisation told in music of the mimic life of fairyland. Shrill sweet cries of tiny sprites summoning each other to dance within the circle of a fairy ring appeared to be answered by an airy, invisible crowd, and one could easily imagine he heard the sound of tripping feet and rippling laughter. Presently the gossamer host, it might be fancied, fluttered about and danced with a kind of soft gayety, like the whirling of dry leaves on the mossy ground when light breezes stir them. All this, and the sound of flying feet, gently clapping hands, and the light swish of elfin robes were expressed, perhaps unconsciously to himself, in the varying strains that breathed from Philip’s flute.
Then the boy paused for a moment to take breath, and in an instant the fairy crew vanished as suddenly as they had come, and there was no sound but the murmur of the wind among the trees and the soft lapping of water. Then Philip put his flute again to his lips, and now--hark! A bird, high up in the branches over his head, called sweetly to its mate; at first very softly and as though sleepily, and then, as the clear notes of the flute cut more sharply into the still afternoon air, his glad torrent of sound filled the green forest with joyous melody. If any others than Dash (who was fast asleep) had been there to listen, they would doubtless have looked curiously among the branches overhead, expecting every moment to see the flashing of a feathered breast or wing. Once again Philip paused to unpurse his lips, and this time a slight sound of rippling water behind him caused him to turn his head; and great was his surprise to see a small, gayly painted boat drawn up close to the bank on which he lay, and it was the sound of oars, dipped gently now and then into the water to keep the boat from drifting away, which had attracted the boy’s attention. Dash awoke almost at the same moment, with a sleepy bark of inquiry, and Philip sprang at once to his feet, flushed and embarrassed.
There was a gentleman in the boat, and Philip remarked at a glance that he was very tall and distinguished-looking, in spite of the fact that he was dressed in a careless, négligé fashion, and that he was browned as though from much exposure to the air and sun. He gave one the impression, somehow, of being in not quite perfect health, in spite of his coat of tan; and his handsome mouth had a downward droop under its brown mustache which gave his face an expression of weariness. His eyes, however, were full of amusement as he looked at Philip, and he smiled reassuringly, reaching up as he sat in the boat to seize a low-growing limb by which to steady himself.
“I am afraid I have interrupted the concert,” he said pleasantly, in a deep, musical voice. “Perhaps you will think it was not quite fair to have crept up upon you unawares, but the music of your flute drew me from away across the lake, and I confess that I approached as quietly as possible, fearing that the delicious sounds might cease. You play with rare skill, my boy.”
Philip flushed with pleasure to be thus praised by the handsome stranger.
“Do ye really mean it, sir?” he asked eagerly.
“I do, indeed,” said the gentleman; “and may I ask who has been your teacher?”
Philip shook his head. “No one, sir,” he said. “I have just picked it up myself at odd moments.”
The gentleman whistled softly and looked at the boy keenly.
“A veritable infant prodigy,” he said half to himself; and then aloud, with a twinkle in his eye:
“That little dog of yours looks at me a trifle suspiciously. What can I do to establish his confidence in the honesty of my intentions? Here, jump into my boat, both of you, and we will go off for a little row; it will do us all good, perhaps.”
Dash did indeed hesitate for a moment before trusting himself in the stranger’s boat, but when Philip jumped in eagerly and whistled for him to follow, he seemed to think it must be all right and sprang in after him. The stranger pulled out into the lake with long, strong strokes, which Philip watched with a boy’s admiration for manly strength and comeliness; he was too happy to say very much, but he lost no detail of the beauty of the scene, and the oarsman watched the swift changes of the boy’s delicate, expressive face with keen intentness and real pleasure.
“Where did you get your eyes, my boy?” he asked suddenly; and Philip started and blushed.
“I--don’t know, sir,” he said shyly.
“No, of course you do not,” said the other, laughing. “I only asked for the sake of asking, and because I once saw just such a pair in the head of a dear friend, long since dead, poor fellow!”
He sighed and frowned a little, and in an instant Philip’s shyness vanished in a warm rush of sympathy.
“Oh, I am so sorry!” he said; “was it somebody ye loved very much, sir?”
The gentleman looked up quickly.
“It was, indeed, my little man.”
And then, as though to quit a painful subject, he said abruptly:
“But tell me about your music. I play a little myself sometimes, and it is just possible that I might be able to help you in some way.”
Philip clasped his hands ecstatically, and then, encouraged by his listener’s kindly interest, he chattered on quite freely, of himself, of his mother and their life together in the little cottage at the mines, of their underground work, and of his own anxiety to learn to read and to play; and then, quite suddenly, he broke off, reminded by the lengthening shadows of the trees that the afternoon had nearly worn away, that Dash and he had a long walk ahead of them, and that Mag might even then be watching anxiously for their return.
So the boat was turned about again, and when the stranger had set the boy and his dog on shore, he held out his hand with real regret.
“Good-by, my boy,” he said; “you have done more than you know this afternoon. Will you come again soon?”
“Oh, yes!” said Philip eagerly; “and I believe I shall never forget this afternoon.”
“Nor I,” said the other earnestly; “and now, let me see: this is Monday, is it not? Why cannot Dash and you come over again on Thursday for another row, and perhaps some fishing in the lake,” and as Philip would have thanked him for the invitation--
“There,” he said, “no thanks, please; but come on Thursday. And, by the way, what is your name?”
“Philip,” said the boy simply.
“A good name,” said the gentleman, “and one I like--for many reasons. And my name--is Frederick.” He laughed. “You’ll remember it, I hope? And now, good-by, Philip.”
“Good-by, Frederick,” said the boy, and as his new friend pushed off from the shore, he scampered away through the woods towards home, with Dash following closely at his heels.
“Oh, mother dear!” said Philip, as he was going to bed that night, after having talked all the evening about his adventure and his new friend, “oh, mother dear, I wish to-morrow was going to be Thursday!”
And Mag smiled indulgently at her boy’s enthusiasm; but, alas! before the Thursday came, events had occurred which were destined to change quite entirely our little Philip’s history, and which, among other things, were to prevent his keeping his appointment with his new-found friend.
A Mining Tragedy
Within doors at the pretty Lowdown Rectory everything was even more brightly cheerful than usual for the contrast with the dismal storm outside. The breakfast table, with all its elegant appointments, was waiting in the oak dining-room, and at one of the windows in the same room was a group of young girls waiting, too, for their elders to be ready for breakfast. But they were not early risers at the rectory, and it was nearly ten o’clock before the family and their guests assembled around the table. Mr. Seldon, the old rector, and his wife lived quite alone, but once every year their quiet household was enlivened by a visit from their nephew and his wife and children.
The party had arrived only the day before, and the children were lamenting the storm that seemed likely to keep them in the house.
“I don’t think it’s much of a hardship to stay in such a lovely house as this,” said their mother, looking around the pleasant room and smiling at Aunt Delia, who laughed and nodded back from behind the urn.
“Oh, the house is jolly, and so is aunty,” said Marion, the oldest girl; “but I want to run out and see the ponies and talk with Jim, and take a look at the peacocks and feed the rabbits, and do a thousand things that the rain won’t let me.”
“A thousand is a large number,” said her father quietly.
“So it is, but I’ll give up the whole thousand if you’ll take me down into the mine. Papa, I ask you every time we come to see Uncle Seldon, but you never do.”
Dr. Norton looked uncomfortable, glanced at his uncle, who seemed to avoid his eye, and then at his aunt, who, on the contrary, fixed her eyes on his very expressively and sadly, while her lips parted as if she were about to say something. Mrs. Norton kept her attention steadily fixed upon her plate, but the color rushed to her face, and she, too, looked ill at ease.
“Well, what have I said?” said Marion, who was something of a spoiled child. “One would think I had done something out of the way. You all look as displeased as Miss Hiller does when I wipe my pen on my pocket-handkerchief or get a blot on the copy-book.”
“If such are your habits, I don’t wonder your mamma has had to change your governesses so often,” said the rector, seizing the opportunity to change the subject and keep the conversation in his own hands for a few moments.
But Marion might have found an opportunity to repeat her question, had it not been for an occurrence which gave them something else to think of. Peter, the privileged old butler, whose own mother had been the rector’s nurse, and who consequently felt himself to be one of the family, came running into the room without the toast he had been sent for, and, without waiting to be questioned as to his singular behavior, exclaimed, lapsing into the speech of his earlier years:
“Maister! maister! There’s been a falling-in at the mines, and Joe Short he have been up to say there’s been men buried under, an’ the superintendent’s down with ’em, and there’s no one about giving any orders worth taking, an’ he says the skreeling of the women is fit to turn the head of one!”
“There must have been some carelessness with uncovered lamps,” said the rector, rising instantly. “Bring my coat, Peter, and get ready to come with me.”
“I am going with you, too,” said Dr. Norton.
“And I will follow as soon as I can prepare some bandages in case they should be wanted,” said Mrs. Norton, “and some brandy, if Aunt Delia will give it to me.”
“How very thoughtful you are, Grace!” the rector stopped a moment to say. “If you are willing to come over, you might, perhaps, comfort the poor women who will be waiting in agony to know if their husbands and sons are living or dead. But can you bear it, dear?”
“I can answer for her,” said her husband. “Grace is a surgeon’s daughter and a surgeon’s wife, and, delicate as she looks, has nerve enough to be a surgeon herself.”
Half an hour later, Mrs. Norton joined her husband and his uncle at the scene of the disaster. There had been an explosion of fire-damp, and eight or ten more or less severely injured men had been brought up. Others were buried under the fallen wall of the gallery in which the accident occurred, and all the workmen were doing their best to dig them out. The distress of those who feared the worst for their friends was terrible, and Mrs. Norton turned pale as she went through the crowd to her husband’s side. Her arrival was most opportune, and for hours she was actively engaged in assisting him and trying to give some consolation to the women. The overseer was not, as they feared, one of the missing, nor was he even hurt, but was directing the work of rescue below.
At last, after eight hours of digging, word was sent up that they had hopes of speedily reaching those who were buried. Their shouts had been feebly answered, so some at least were still living. It grew dark and late into the night before they were reached, but not one of the party from the rectory would leave the vicinity of the mine.
Old Peter, who had been travelling back and forth all day, brought over a basket of provisions and spread supper for them in one of the miners’ huts. They were all so thoroughly exhausted that they found it a most welcome repast, and it was fortunate they had taken it, for almost before it was finished Dr. Norton was summoned again to the shaft.
They had brought up five men,--two of whom were dead and the others nearly unconscious--a woman, and a boy. Mrs. Norton, already overcome with the labor and excitement of the day, felt for a moment that she could not endure the sight of more suffering, but hearing that a woman was among the victims, she hesitated no longer, and ran quickly to the shaft. She found her husband bending over a woman who had been laid upon a plank covered with quilts, preparations for carrying the sufferers having been made hours before. She was so motionless that they were all sure she was dead, but as the doctor raised his head he said:
“She is alive. Take her to her house and I will follow you instantly. Leave her on the board till I come there.”
Then he turned to examine the others by the light of the lanterns, but Mrs. Norton followed the men who were carrying the woman. They took her into a little hut, no different from all the other houses about, and there they waited as the doctor had asked them to do, keeping her still on the plank. She groaned slightly then, and Mrs. Norton moistened her lips with something she carried in a bottle, but the woman did not seem to be conscious.
Her back was broken, the doctor said upon examination, and she was not conscious of suffering, and probably never would be again. So they laid her upon the bed, and Dr. Norton asked his wife to leave her to his care, with the assistance of some women who had come in with him, and go to the house where they had taken the boy. He had not been working in the mine, it seemed, but had gone down to carry a message before the explosion occurred; he was not injured in any way, but was prostrated by partial suffocation. Mrs. Norton was quite equal to the simple treatment necessary in his case, and after beef tea and stimulants had been administered, a little color began to creep into his face, and he asked feebly for his mother.
The woman on whose bed he was lying shook her head warningly, and Mrs. Norton understood from her gesture that the woman who lay dying in the house near by was his mother. Her heart ached for the poor boy, and, putting her soft cheek close to his, she petted and soothed him as if he had been a child of her own, whispering to him that he must be very still and not ask to see his mother till morning. He was still very weak and seemed to forget that he had asked for any one, and soon dropped asleep with his hand so tightly clasping hers that she feared to withdraw it.
And there she was, sitting silently by his side and studying the pale face, from which she had washed the grimy dust it was covered with at first, and brushed back the thick, fair, waving hair, when the rector came in, and, after looking attentively at the boy for a moment, took a seat by her side.
“Grace,” he said, having first sent the woman of the house out of the room on some trifling errand, “do you know who this boy’s mother is?”
“I have heard them speak of her as Mag, uncle, but I do not know of any other name.”
“She is the wife of your husband’s brother Philip, Grace, and this boy is his son; but she is dying now, and all the hard feelings we had toward her in the past must be forgotten.”
“Oh, uncle, I have always wished to see her; but how dreadful that it should be in this way! Let me go to her now. I can leave this child in old Dorothy’s care.”
“Yes, I want you to go to her if you are willing,” said the rector. “She is anxious to see her boy, and we have promised to take him to her when he awakes. George says she will probably live a number of hours yet. She suffers no pain, and is quite conscious now.”
“Oh, is there no hope of saving her?”
“None whatever,” answered her uncle.
“Does she know she must die?”
“Yes, and she seems to have no desire to live.”
“Poor woman! What a sad life that must be which one is so willing to leave!” said Mrs. Norton, who had been gently withdrawing her hand from the close clasp of little Philip’s, and getting ready to go with her uncle.
They found Mag in a dull, heavy sleep, from which Dr. Norton said she would awake again; and she did, at short intervals, all through the night. As morning dawned, she awoke more fully and asked for a drink. A miner with a sorrowful face brought it in a cup, which Mrs. Norton took from him and held to her lips. She drained it, and then, looking at the tender, pitying eyes fixed on hers, said fretfully:
“What brings a leddy here to look at me? Take her away and bring my boy. And who’s yon?” she asked half fearfully, as Dr. Norton came across the room and laid his finger on her pulse.
“It’s Dr. Norton,” said his wife gently; “your Philip’s brother, you know; and he is doing all he can to make you comfortable.”
“Dr. Norton!” said the dying woman, in a strange, awe-struck whisper. “It was him, then, that told me ’twas a death-blow I’d gotten, when I asked him in the night.”
“Shall I take him out?” whispered the rector, thinking his presence troubled her.
“No, let him be,” said Mag, her voice husky now, but as strong and steady as if the chill of death were not already creeping over her. “Let him stay. I’m fair glad to have him see me lie here broken and mangled the way I am. I don’t ask him to forgive me, but happen it will be a comfort to him to see the one that sent his brother to his death taken the same way herself. Oh, if I had only died long ago, before I brought grief to them all!”
Long ago, when Philip Norton, who had married a girl very far beneath him, met with his violent death, his brother had said that he never could forgive the woman who had been the means of bringing such unutterable misery upon Philip and all who loved him. But as he looked down on her now, all bitterness and malice faded out of Dr. Norton’s heart, and he assured her in earnest, broken words of his entire forgiveness.
“Good words,” she murmured, so low this time that Mrs. Norton, kneeling by her side, could hardly catch them; “good words to hear. Maybe if he can forgive me, the Lord will.”
“Indeed He will,” sobbed Mrs. Norton.
“Do you think He will?” said Mag earnestly. She had no power to move her neck, but she turned her eyes eagerly to the speaker. “I heard it said once, a life ’ill be asked for a life. My life’s poor pay for one like Philip’s. I never was one to know much about church an’ praying, but I’ve asked in a rough sort of way if He would take my life of me if I could have patience to wait till He was ready, for many’s the time I’ve longed to put an end to it myself.”
She slept again after the doctor had given her a stimulant, and her son was brought in. He was weak and pale, and Mrs. Norton held him while the rector tried, as gently as possible, to explain his mother’s condition to him. He received all that was told him so quietly that it was evident the shock and exhaustion of the accident kept him from fully understanding the words.
Again Mag opened her eyes, and this time they fell upon her child.
“Poor lad!” she whispered; “he was always so fond of his poor mother, and I don’t know who’ll care for him now.”
“I will,” said Mrs. Norton quickly. “I am his Aunt Grace, and if you will trust me I will try to take your place with him. And I will not let him forget you.”
Mag’s face darkened with the look of gloomy reserve that it had worn for so many years.
“He must forget me,” she said, “if he’s to be with his father’s people. The very thought of me would keep him from being fit for them.”
“Give him to us,” said Dr. Norton, who had exchanged a few whispered words on the subject with his wife while Mag slept, “and we will educate and rear him as Philip’s child should be.”
“No,” said the rector, who had been weeping silently while they spoke, “give him to me, that I may have the opportunity of repairing my neglect of him and you. I have not realized till now the duty I have owed you both. Philip was like a darling son to us, and his boy will take his place in our hearts. I can speak for my wife, for she has urged me to do this before, though I was wicked enough not to heed her.”
Mag had watched them all keenly. “Let him be Philip over again if ye can make him so, and do with him as ye please,” she said, not making any decision as to which of his relatives should take him. She lay quite still for some time after that with her eyes closed, and when she opened them again she looked about fearfully as though alarmed at the sight of so many strange faces. “If the ladies and gentlemen wouldn’t mind,” she said, “could I have just a word alone with my little lad?”
In tearful silence they all left the room, but through the thin partition they could hear Mag’s low voice growing gradually fainter until it ceased altogether, and the sound of Philip’s heart-broken sobbing filled the room. Mrs. Norton stole quietly in, and kneeling beside the bed gathered the boy gently in her arms.
“Oh, mother, mother, whatever will I do without ye?” he sobbed; and the old clergyman, coming in at this moment, laid his hand on the boy’s fair curls.
“I pray God to forgive me for having so long neglected that noble woman,” he said solemnly, “and with His help I will try to be a father to her boy.”
A Great Change
After the victims of the disaster had been buried in the village churchyard, Philip bade farewell to the little cottage which he had called home, and a great lump gathered in his throat as he turned from the scene of so many happy days, realizing that the past was now a closed book, and that he belonged henceforth to his father’s people. He lay back listlessly in the carriage beside Mrs. Norton, his eyes closed, and a great round tear rolling now and then down his pale, sad little face. Dash, who was his greatest comforter, lay snuggled up close beside him on the seat, his watchful eyes fastened intently on his young master, whose grief he seemed fully to understand and appreciate. Mrs. Norton said but little to the sorrowful boy, but she made him as comfortable as possible with cushions and shawls, and once or twice she pressed his hand with tender sympathy. There had been some discussion as to where Philip’s home should be henceforth, but Aunt Delia had urged her claim for her dear dead nephew’s boy so warmly that it was decided that for the present at least he should stop at the rectory.
The surprise of Marion Norton and her sisters was unbounded when they had heard as much of Philip’s story as it was thought best to tell them, and great was their curiosity to see this new cousin, of whose existence, even, they had never heard before, and who was suddenly to be introduced to the family circle. They held many discussions among themselves concerning him.
“He is just about your age,” said Marion to Rose and Lillie, her two younger sisters.
“Then he is eleven,” said Rose, with dignity.
“Yes, but what do you think? Peter says he does not know how to read.”
“How very stupid he must be!” remarked Rose, with an air of superior knowledge. “I shall not play with him.”
“But mamma said we must be kind to him,” said Lillie, “and love him.”
“I shall be kind to him of course,” said Marion; “but I can never love him, because I consider him a disgrace to the family. I am so thankful that he is to live here instead of with us, as mamma thought at first that he might do. I wouldn’t have people in town know that we had such a relative for the whole world.”
Rose was much impressed by Marion’s sentiments, but Lillie looked troubled. Her mother had told them that the little orphan was sick and sad, and her tender heart ached for him. He had been carried into the house and straight to the little room which Aunt Delia had prepared for him next her own; but Dr. Norton did not think him well enough to see his young cousins yet; so Lillie begged a little nosegay from the gardener, and, arranging it herself with the greatest care, sent it to him by Peter, charging him to say that one of his little cousins sent it with her love. For several days the graceful act was repeated, and Philip, lying on the lounge in his pretty little room, learned to watch and wait eagerly for the daily token of this unknown cousin’s thoughtfulness. He endured no pain, but suffered greatly from nervous prostration caused by the great shock he had undergone. For hours he would lie with his eyes closed, and so still that Aunt Delia thought him sleeping; but his brain was active, and at such times he was thinking of his past life, and of the strange, hardly to be understood change in his circumstances.
He had been provided with clothes befitting his new condition in life, and when, after a few days’ confinement to his bed, he was able to put them on and lie on the lounge, Aunt Delia wanted to bring the little girls in to make his acquaintance; but the proposal threw him into an agony of shy terror. He was full of curiosity to see them, but the idea of facing strangers was insupportable; so his elder relatives decided that it would be best to let him have his own way for the present, hoping that, as he grew stronger, his desire for solitude would disappear.
One day when Mrs. Norton, who had been sitting by him, was called away, he fell, according to his custom, into one of his dreamy reveries, from which he was startled by a sound so wonderfully strange and sweet that in his ecstatic surprise he thought he must have died and gone to heaven. Forgetting his shyness and weakness, he rose from the sofa, and, following the sound that attracted him, went through several rooms to the drawing-room, where Marion sat playing a plaintive Scotch air upon the piano.
It was an old instrument and rather out of tune, and Marion was not a skilful performer; but to Philip’s ears the music was heavenly. He had never even heard of a piano, and the only instrument besides his flute which he had ever listened to was a violin cruelly ill-used in the hands of one of the miners. The genius which in his father had developed into a talent for painting had in Philip taken the form of a passion for music, and now as the girl, unconscious of a listener, played fragments of waltzes and snatches of airs for her own amusement, he sank upon his knees and buried his face in the cushions of an easy-chair, unable to stand, and scarce knowing whether it was pain or pleasure that thrilled through him and shook his frame with convulsive sobs.
It was Aunt Delia’s voice that roused him from his trance of emotion, and startled Marion into the knowledge that he was in the room. The dear old lady had come in to see if it was by her father’s permission that Marion was playing, as hitherto the house had been kept perfectly quiet on the invalid’s account.
“Oh, Marion dear,” she said, “are you sure the playing won’t disturb your little cousin? But, dear, dear, what’s this?” she exclaimed, almost falling over Philip in the half-light of the room.
“Oh, please,” said the boy, lifting a tearful face, “don’t stop her, and do please let me stay and hearken to her.”
But Aunt Delia saw that his strength was gone, and was firm in insisting upon helping him back to his room, where he lay upon the lounge entirely overcome by his effort and excess of emotion.
From that time he began to mend rapidly, and instead of the dreary musings that had absorbed him, memory fed his poetic fancy with rapt recollections of the wonderful harmony and the beautiful young girl, like an angel she seemed to him, who from the strange unmusical-looking instrument drew such wonderfully melodious sounds. He begged so hard for more music that every day while they stopped with their uncle the sisters played, and if it was only the practice of their scales and other exercises to which he listened, his delight was unbounded.
He no longer resisted Aunt Delia’s desire to make him acquainted with his cousins, and so they were brought into his room by their mother. Marion, to gratify her curiosity, came eagerly when first permitted, and being, in spite of her mother’s wise training, excessively fond of admiration, vastly enjoyed the dazzled adoration of poor Philip for her beauty and accomplishments. But after the novelty of that wore off she began to show some of the unlovely traits of her nature, and to assume a cold and forbidding manner toward her cousin, who, she had decided on first learning of his existence, was a disgrace to the family.
Rose, who systematically copied her elder sister as nearly as possible, followed her lead in her treatment of Philip, and became, after the first, cold and haughty to him in the same proportion.
So it was left to Lillie to show him how loving and lovable a cousin may be. To atone for her sisters’ slights, which his utter ignorance of the world kept him from fully comprehending, she devoted every spare moment to his amusement. She talked to him for hours of her home and of the life she and her sisters led there--of their books, their studies, their amusements, and every detail. It was like a fairy tale to the boy--so much of whose short life had been spent under-ground. His lips were sealed about that dark past, which some instinct of his sensitive nature forbade his mentioning in the new sphere in which he found himself.
Perhaps it would have been better if, instead of burying thoughts, feelings, and experiences in his heart, he had frankly thrown himself upon the sympathy of his cousin Lillie, who, without receiving any confidence from him, felt the tenderest pity for the lonely orphan, and tried in every way in her power to make him forget the shadows that had overcast his young life.
One day her mother and sisters had gone to drive, leaving Lillie, by her own request, to sit with Philip. She came smilingly into his room after watching the carriage drive off, but Philip was not there.
Not much surprised, as lately he had walked about the house when he felt disposed, she sat down to wait for his return. Presently she heard the piano in the drawing-room touched gently and uncertainly, as if by an unaccustomed hand, then more confidently and firmly, and at last with energy--not at random, but harmoniously. She went to the door, and from there, unseen by him, she saw Philip seated at the instrument, his head turned bird-like upon one side, and his fingers actually bringing music from the keys. As she listened in surprise--for she knew he was playing for the first time in his life--she heard him say to himself, in a half whisper:
“Oh, it sings for me! it sings for me!”
He did not, as far as she could tell, attempt any tune, but the notes that he struck were in harmony, and in a sort of cadence, very different from what the usual performance of a child without instruction would naturally be.
Astonished and almost frightened by what she had heard, Lillie crept back without having been seen, and went to her aunt’s room to tell her of her surprise, leaving the door ajar that she, too, might hear the sounds that Philip was making, unconscious that they fell upon any ear but his own. They returned together to the drawing-room. It was some time before Philip noticed their presence; when he did so he stopped playing at once, his face crimson with embarrassment.
“My dear boy,” said Aunt Delia, putting her arm about him in a motherly way she had, “I did not know the old piano had so much music in it. You must have a teacher, my Philip.”
“Oh, Aunt Delia,” cried the boy, with shining eyes, “do you suppose I should ever be able to learn to play like my cousin Marion?”
Aunt Delia smiled at the boy’s simplicity.
“My dear,” she said, “you will undoubtedly learn to play far better than your cousin, but first you must grow quite well and strong. What you need now is to play and romp in the open air. Let us make an agreement. Peter has not time to attend properly to my flower-garden. If you will dig all the weeds out of my tulip-bed, I will see if I cannot persuade your uncle to have you taught to play the piano.”
Philip’s answer was an ecstatic hug which left the dear old lady quite out of breath, and from that day the boy spent all his spare time hoeing and digging in the old-fashioned garden behind the house; and very soon the pale, slender, sickly-looking lad was transformed into a brown, sturdy, long-legged boy whose happy laugh mingled with the merry voices of his cousins as they played happily together in the old garden, while Aunt Delia, watching them unobserved from an upper window, would follow him lovingly with her eyes, saying: “How wonderfully like his father the boy grows!”
Trials and Pleasures
Before Philip had fully recovered his health and strength, his uncle’s family had left the rectory and returned to their city home. The house was quiet enough then, and Aunt Delia feared that the boy would pine for his young cousins; but it hardly seemed as if he missed them. Although as long as they had stayed they had been objects of intense interest and admiration to him, it was almost a relief to have them go. The secret of this was the consciousness of his own ignorance which had been forced upon Philip by his cousin Marion’s silly desire to exhibit her own superior wisdom and accomplishments. The foolish girl had shown in so many ways her contempt for her cousin’s lack of education that the boy was quite unhappy in her presence, and the sight of a book caused him the most painful embarrassment. Aunt Delia, too kind herself to think her niece capable of wounding her cousin’s feelings, was but dimly conscious of the poor boy’s trouble of mind; indeed, she had been so anxious that Philip’s health should be firmly established that she had purposely delayed making any suggestions as to his settling down to study, and the rector had quite agreed to the wisdom of this delay. It was not until after the Nortons had gone that the dear old lady discovered the trouble which was preying on the mind of the sensitive child, whom she already loved as though he had been her own son.
Stepping into his room, one day, with a handsome volume of illustrated natural history, the dear old lady put it in his hands with the announcement that it was full of nice pictures.
He took it with a grateful smile, but tears which he could not control rushed to his eyes.
“What is it, dearie, what is it?” exclaimed kind Aunt Delia in amazement, taking him in her arms as if he had been a baby. “Is my boy fretting for his cousins? Poor fellow, it is lonely for you here with only the old folks.”
“No, no, no,” denied Philip emphatically, “I want no one but you. I never was used to young folks anyway.”
“Poor boy!” said Aunt Delia, kissing his pale, sad little face. “But you love your little cousins?”
“Oh, yes,” was the reply in a half whisper, as if it was almost irreverent to confess to such a feeling toward creatures so superior.
“Well, a year seems long to look forward to, but it soon passes by; and before we know it next summer will come, and then we shall have the girls again.”
Philip did not look as if the prospect gave him joy, and his aunt saw with puzzled surprise that it was so. She would like to have asked him why, but there was an odd, unchildlike reserve about him which she felt a delicacy in attempting to penetrate. To relieve what seemed like embarrassment upon his part, she dropped the subject and again turned to the book, which had not yet been opened.
“See,” she said, “here are lions and tigers, and all sorts of things that boys love to look at.” To her surprise, Philip pushed the book away and suddenly threw his arms around his aunt’s neck and buried his face on her shoulder.
“Oh, Aunt Delia!” he whispered; “I am so ashamed--a great boy like me, and not able to read.”
And then Aunt Delia saw it all in a flash--the boy’s shy reserve with his cousins, his embarrassment which at times had puzzled and distressed her.
“My dear boy!” she cried; “and it has troubled you so much that you are a year or two behind the other children! My poor foolish Philip!”
“It has made me wish many a time that I had never been born, or that my mother had taken me with her when she died,” murmured Philip, his hand still on his aunt’s shoulder.
“But, my dear, it is so easily remedied, this terrible ignorance which has made you so unhappy. Your uncle and I have only been waiting until you should be quite well and strong. But we will not wait another day. You shall have a governess as soon as we can find one who will be willing to undertake the education of such a silly, stupid boy,” and she pinched his flushed cheek with playful affection.
But Philip was not entirely reassured.
“A governess!” he said doubtfully. “Oh, but that will be another person to find out how ignorant I am!”
“But how else in the world will you ever learn?” asked Aunt Delia, smiling; “and besides I thought you wanted to study music, and the governess can give you lessons on the piano as well, you know.”
The expression of doubt on Philip’s face cleared instantly and he smiled radiantly. “Oh, Aunt Delia,” he cried, “it seems almost too good to be true! Do you suppose I shall ever be able to play like--like Marion?” And Aunt Delia smiled, but wisely said nothing. Only that same evening she nodded sagely when her husband remarked: “My dear, that boy has certainly a most remarkable talent for music.”
And so, indeed, he had, as well as what might be called an extraordinary musical memory. He remembered every tune he had heard his cousin play, and there was not one, even among the most difficult, that he did not pick out upon the old piano. Hesitatingly at first, with his head bent in the bird-like way that Lillie had noticed, his fingers would wander over the keys, touching the notes of the remembered air, then striking them with more assurance, and finally weaving around the familiar tune strangely sweet strains and chords. Listening to him sometimes, in the long twilight, Aunt Delia would find herself wiping the dimness from her glasses, and wondering at the strange power his untaught playing had to move her as no other music ever did.
Philip dearly loved to have her for a listener, for he knew his playing gave her pleasure, and his deep gratitude for her goodness to him made him rejoice that there was even one thing he could do to gratify her. They grew very confidential in the quiet hours they spent together, and Aunt Delia explored her memory for half-forgotten stories of her own youth, and once she was led on by the boy’s rapt interest in all she said to speak of the dear little children the Lord had blessed her with for a short time in her early married life, and then taken to Himself. Philip wept with her when she told of her sorrow and loneliness, and when she kissed him and called him the blessing of her old age, his heart swelled with proud pleasure at the thought of being any comfort to one so dear.
It had been a thoughtful suggestion of the rector’s that Philip should learn to read under his aunt’s guidance until a suitable teacher could be found, and from the time of Aunt Delia’s promise to teach him his health improved with wonderful rapidity, and the perseverance with which he devoted himself to the task of learning to read seemed to do him no harm, although his ambition led him to spend every spare moment over his books. He was so eager to learn that Aunt Delia went on in spite of her previous decision to teach him only to read, and, almost before she realized that she was doing it, found herself instructing her enthusiastic pupil in writing and most of the studies that are given to boys of his age.
He was so charmed with his own progress, and so radiantly happy to be able to read nearly as well as his cousin Lillie the books that she used to read to him, that he half forgot his dread of the impending governess with whom he was threatened.
She came at last, but there was nothing about her to frighten the most timid child that ever lived. She was the daughter of an old friend of the family, who, dying in a state of almost destitution, had left his daughters with no capital but good health and fine education for their future support. The elder of them had written to ask Dr. Norton’s advice about the steps to be taken to secure positions for herself and sister; and he, after consulting with Aunt Delia, at once offered the situation of governess to his nephew to whichever of the young ladies should decide to accept it.
The younger sister it was who came, and so far from wearing the expression of being a terror of evil-doers, her poor, shy, frightened face and timid manner showed so much embarrassment and fear of strangers that Philip felt himself quite brave by comparison, and, instead of shrinking away from her, actually found himself making shy little attempts to make her feel at home.
Her diffidence wore off after a few days, and then Miss Acton, the new governess, won all hearts by her gentle, lovable ways.
Fortunately for Philip, Miss Acton had had a fine musical education, and she took perfect delight in her scholar’s application and talent.
“He is something wonderful,” she said to Mrs. Seldon after her first quarter’s lessons. “I can really teach him nothing except the technicalities of piano-playing. His interpretations of certain passages surprise me, and I believe that he will some day become a truly great musician.”
He made great progress, too, with his lessons, spurred on by his desire to be able to read well before the return of his young cousins. When the sunshine out-of-doors was particularly inviting, and when Dash was showing his sympathy with his young master’s impatience by scratching and whining at the door, Miss Acton had only to say, “I wonder if Marion will think you have improved in your reading, Philip,” to make him go at his task again with redoubled energy.
Dash did not approve of Philip’s studious habits. Miss Acton had tried excluding him from the school-room altogether, but he was so unhappy and would whine so piteously outside the door that she was obliged to allow him to return on a promise of good behavior. Philip, too, had impressed upon him the necessity of preserving order in the school-room, and he soon came to understand that when a person held a book he did not wish to be disturbed. One morning Miss Acton was slightly indisposed, and as there were to be no lessons that day Philip wandered into the garden after breakfast, instead of going as usual directly to the school-room. Dash of course followed closely at his heels, but he seemed to think that something was wrong, and several times he would walk slowly toward the house, looking back as much as to say, “Why don’t you follow me? It’s school-time, you know, Philip.” But Philip paid no attention, and at last Dash trotted into the house and up the stairs in a business-like manner. Philip had just time to notice his absence, and wonder at it, when he returned, carrying something in his mouth which he brought and laid at Philip’s feet, barking joyously as though pleased at his own cleverness. Philip stooped to pick up the object which had been dropped, and discovered that it was his copy-book, which Dash had fetched from his desk in the school-room.
Miss Acton was much amused when she learned of the occurrence, and declared that hereafter Dash should be encouraged to remain during the lessons. “I am sure,” she said, “that if he could only hold a pen he would be able to write as well as Philip; and at any rate such a dog is a valuable mentor for my pupil.”
Aunt Delia’s Secret
One year made a great change in Philip. He worked at his lessons with gentle Miss Acton with such ambitious ardor that the old rector and Aunt Delia feared for his health; but they need not have been anxious, for wholesome food, regular habits, and, above all, a life upon earth instead of down under-ground was building up the boy’s health, and bringing a sparkle to his eyes and color to his pale cheeks that sometimes reminded them of his father long ago, in his happy boyhood. The first Philip had been a merry, frolicsome boy, whose pranks were the torment and delight of the household; but the little son who had never known him was so quiet that had it not been for his music his presence would hardly have been felt in the house. His quiet was not quite to be called sadness, for he was not unhappy; but the forced repression of his early life and the shock of his mother’s dreadful death had left an ineffaceable impression upon his character. Perhaps in time he might have outgrown this tinge of melancholy if he had been thrown into the society of other boys, but the entirely tranquil and eventless life he lived at the rectory with the old couple and his governess only served to confirm it.
They were all such quiet people that they never thought of its being strange or unnatural that a child should take his pleasure in the pursuits that pleased them, and not in the boisterous plays that boys delight in. He never seemed morbid, but was constantly occupied with his books or music, and always contented. His utter unselfishness and sweet gentleness endeared him to every one, and there was not a servant on the place who did not adore him. Old Peter would have laid down his life for the boy whose father he had loved so fondly; and long talks the pair often had of the days when the old man was chief counsellor in the “muddles,” as he called them, that the boys’ high spirits used to lead them into. “The boys” being Philip’s father and uncle, the subject was of such inexhaustible interest that whenever the lad was missing Miss Acton always came to Peter’s realm, the butler’s room, to find him.
“But, deary me!” the old man used to say to himself sometimes, with a troubled expression, when Philip had been with him; “where-a-way is the life of him? Them ones had life in ’em that ’ud make ’em pull the thatch off a cottage if the notion took ’em. They wouldn’t ’ave stopped for man nor mortal, them lads wouldn’t, but this little lad’s so still in his ways that I’m thinking he’s gotten some hurt to his insides that no one’s knowing. It’s no so strange if the blow that killed the mother did somewhat ill to the bairn, so I’m fearin’ this world won’t keep him in it for long.”
But in spite of Peter’s gloomy forebodings Philip grew strong and well, and kept on the very even tenor of his way till the summer came around again and the inmates of the rectory were expecting the return of Dr. Norton and his family.
The rector always grew young again when a visit from his nephew was impending, and Aunt Delia, who had ever looked forward with delight to the pleasure of having her children with her, now had a double happiness in the anticipation of their pleasure and surprise in finding her darling Philip so improved in health, and every other way, as he seemed to her loving eyes. The joyful expectations of the old couple were therefore unmixed with any discomfort; but Philip and Miss Acton were by no means rapturous in regard to the coming visitors. The latter, through her distressing timidity, shrank from strangers at all times, and the former, for reasons which he could hardly have explained, dreaded seeing his cousins again.
They arrived late one evening, and in the unusual chatter and confusion of tongues that prevailed till his bedtime came, Philip had hardly time to remember his misgivings, and even Miss Acton found the ordeal not half so dreadful as she had feared, every one was so good-natured and genial. Marion had not come with them, having been allowed to accept an invitation to spend the summer in the Highlands with a cousin of her mother’s. Philip’s admiration and dread of his cousin were so mingled that he was not quite certain whether her absence was a relief or a disappointment, but meeting his cousin Lillie was an unmixed delight. Evidently she had looked forward with pleasure to seeing him again, for after her fond greetings to her aunt and uncle she immediately asked for him, and he was not allowed to remain in the background. Aunt Grace, too, embraced him, and Dr. Norton, with loving affection, took him to his arms, with a tenderness in the tone with which he said, “My dear boy,” that made Philip feel as if he would like to stay by his side forever.
Rose was cordial too, although it is quite probable that had Marion been present and chosen to exhibit a distant and haughty manner to her cousin, Rose, who was her echo, would have been chilling and disdainful too.
The twins had both grown, but Lillie was still taller than her sister, and consequently older-looking, which was a grief to Rose, who longed to be grown up. Philip made such a great advance in her opinion by telling her she always seemed to him much older than himself that she felt amiably disposed to be very gracious to him.
Mrs. Norton’s pleasant manner even overcame Miss Acton’s shyness, and the visit that had been thought of with dread turned out to be a very charming one for all. All sorts of excursions, in carriages and on foot, were undertaken by the children in Miss Acton’s company, and sometimes, when a very attractive place was to be visited, Aunt Delia and Mrs. Norton joined the party, and added much to its pleasure.
“Something very important and mysterious must have happened,” said Dr. Norton one evening, “for Philip and Aunt Delia have been running in and out and whispering to each other for the last half hour. What is the matter?”
“Wait a little while, and don’t be inquisitive,” said his aunt.
“But how can I help it when even old Peter seems to be aiding and abetting the mystery and I am not allowed an inkling of it?” said Dr. Norton, with a pretence of feeling very much injured.
It then became plain to every one that there was a secret to be fathomed and a plot of some kind going on, and instant and earnest were the demands of the twins to be intrusted at once with the secret.
“Does Miss Acton know, Aunt Delia?” asked Lillie, who had become very fond of Philip’s governess.
“No, not yet,” said Philip, answering for his aunt.
“Does mamma know?” asked Rose.
“Nobody knows yet,” said Aunt Delia, as gleefully as if she was a child; “but now you may all know. I didn’t want to say anything till we were quite sure, but now I think there will be no failure. You know Ashden has been closed to visitors ever since the family went abroad ten years ago. Last summer young Mr. Frederick Ashden came back to look after some repairs about the place, and now that his father is dead and he is Lord Ashden, he has decided to live there, and the house is being cleaned and put in order. He is in London now, but I have received a note from him in answer to one I sent him asking if we might go over the house; for I knew that it would be such a treat to you all. It used to be the great show place of the country.”
“Well, is he willing to let you go?” asked the rector.
“Yes, indeed; he says he only regrets that he may not return in time to receive us. So if Thursday is a fair day and you are all so disposed, we will make an early start, see the castle at our leisure, take lunch in the park, and then come home in the afternoon.”
“Who is going to be generous enough to give us luncheon in the park?” said Rose.
“We shall take it with us and have a picnic,” said her aunt, with a triumphant little nod of her head.
“But how will you all get there?” asked the rector, still disposed to think there must be some flaw in arrangements which had been made without his assistance.
“Oh, that is all provided for,” said his wife, with another little nod. “Miss Acton will drive Grace in the pony phaeton, I am going in the carriage with the children, and Peter is going to bring the provisions in the little tax-cart. If either of you gentlemen would like to come, we will provide a way for you, too.”
“Really your plans are very perfect and your invitation very tempting,” said Dr. Norton, “and I am not sure but I’ll take a horse and ride over to Ashden with you.”
“Oh, do, do, papa!” exclaimed his daughters, while Philip’s eager eyes expressed the same wish.
“But it won’t be pleasant Thursday, I know it won’t,” said Rose; “it will be too good to be true, for us really to see Ashden; something is sure to happen.”
“Oh, I hope not,” said Lillie, “for I do so want to see the inside of that wonderful place. Only think! There’s a ghost-chamber, and a trap-door, and a lake where a beautiful countess drowned herself.”
“Yes, and they say that she walks about every night,” said Rose.
“Then I don’t believe she was really drowned,” said Philip.
“Oh, Phil,” said Lillie, laughing at his sober face, “it happened a hundred or a thousand years ago, or maybe a million,--I’m sure I don’t know how long.”
“And, oh, won’t Marion envy us if we do go!” said Rose, as if exciting her sister’s envy was a large part of the anticipated pleasure.
“Does Lord Ashden live in that big house all by himself?” asked Philip, as he and his cousin Lillie went out to look at the rabbits after supper.
“Oh, yes, it is so sad,” answered Lillie; “haven’t you heard?” And as Philip shook his head, she went on, lowering her voice: “Once Mr. Ashden was married, you know, to the most be-a-u-tiful young lady. Marion saw her once, and she says she was like an angel. Everybody loved her, and her husband, they say, adored her. Well, when they had been married only a year, she was thrown from her horse and killed. Wasn’t it dreadful? They say the poor thing has been quite a changed man from that day; and then his father, Lord Ashden, died last year, and so now he is quite alone in the world. He has been travelling on the Continent since last summer, but now he has come back and opened the place, because he knows it would have distressed his father to have it neglected.”
“Poor Lord Ashden!” said Philip gently. “I think I know a little how sad and lonely he feels.” And Lillie, knowing that her cousin was thinking of his mother, gave his hand a sympathetic squeeze.
“Dear Lillie,” said Philip, “I wish everybody was as kind and gentle as you are; and indeed everybody here has been so good to me, sometimes I wonder what I should have done when my mother died if God had not sent me here--and perhaps poor Lord Ashden may find somebody to comfort him in just the same way.”
The children were silent after that, and as they were going to bed, Lillie whispered to her cousin: “I say, Philip, you and I will pray that God will send somebody to comfort Lord Ashden.” And pray they did, and the next day their prayer was answered in quite a wonderful way, as we shall see.
A Day at Ashden
Thursday was as fair a day as English eyes had ever looked upon. “Queen’s own weather,” said Dr. Norton at the early breakfast, which was taken hours before the usual time in order to lengthen out the long day of pleasure.
Even the rector was persuaded to join the party which started in such gay spirits, in the order proposed, except that Rose gave her seat in the carriage to her uncle and rode by her father’s side on a shaggy little pony hired for the occasion, which was to be ridden by Lillie on the return trip.
Ashden Park was like a fairy domain to the children, with its running streams spanned by fragile-looking bridges, mimic waterfalls, dense labyrinths and shady walks; but Aunt Delia advised them to delay exploring the grounds till they had seen the wonders of the house.
The housekeeper met them at the door, looking so very grand in her black silk dress and lace cap with floating strings that Philip was quite awe-struck, and thought she must be a duchess at the very least. But she was very gracious, and, having been told by her master of their expected visit, was prepared to be extremely civil.
“His lordship left word, ma’am,” she said to Mrs. Seldon, “that he was very sorry he couldn’t ’ave been ’ome in time to see you, but I was to show you every attention, and after you ’ad seen the house, or before, just as it pleased you, I was to beg you to take some lunch.”
“Oh, thank you,” said the rector, coming forward to shake hands with Mrs. Hardy, who was one of his parishioners, although she lived so far from Lowdown. “You and Lord Ashden are both very kind, but we have brought a bite with us, and, if it is not a liberty, propose to give the children a picnic under some of those royal old oaks.”
“Well, sir, his lordship will not be half pleased, I’m afraid, and perhaps you will change your mind after you ’ave looked through the ’ouse. I’ll show you the first floor myself, and then if you won’t mind I’ll let one of the men go over the rest with you, for my rheumatism makes me so clumsy.”
They begged her not to take the trouble to show them any part herself, but she evidently took a delight in escorting them through the lofty rooms and halls, which they gratified her by admiring immensely.
Going through the entire house was more than the elder members of the party cared to attempt, so Mrs. Norton, Miss Acton, and the children went upstairs, enjoying the confusing and involved galleries and passages that led to suite after suite of rooms. Those in the centre of the castle were furnished with modern elegance and lightness, but in the wings the rooms were dark, and filled with ancient furniture of gloomy grandeur.
“This is the room in which his blessed Majesty King James the First slept when he was entertained, with nobles and gentlemen, by the noble ancestor of his present lordship,” said the servant who accompanied them, precisely as if he were reciting a lesson.
“Did a king really sleep in that great, high, black bed?” said Rose, who was deeply impressed with the grandeur of the place.
“I suppose he did, as the man says so,” said her mother, smiling.
“I don’t half care so much for the bed the king slept in as for the room where the ghost lives,” said Lillie.
“Ghosts don’t live,” said Miss Acton, laughing.
“Oh, yes, she do, miss!” said the man, thinking she was throwing a doubt over one of the attractions of the place. “She stops in the tower-room just up them stairs at the end of this gallery, and if the ladies are not too tired there’s a beautiful outlook from the window.”
And there was a superb view from the upper window of the tower, that well paid them for the labor of mounting the high stairs.
“This ghost shows good taste in the selection of a room,” said Mrs. Norton, panting and out of breath as she came behind the others to look from the window, “that is, if ghostly persons don’t mind stairs.”
“They say,” began the servant, assuming the recitative tone and manner, “that ’er ’eart was broken along of ’er great attachment to Another, but ’er brother compelled ’er to marry a juke’s son who treated ’er ill on account of ’er love for Another. So she took ’er vengeance on ’im by giving ’im chopped ’orse ’air hin ’is provisions, which consumed ’im in great agony. As soon as ’er husband was killed, she wrote to Another and learned that ’is love was ’ers no longer, for ’is marriage with a rival ’ad just taken place; whereupon the unfortunate lady was seized with deep repentance, and, leaving the rooms she ’ad formerly occupied, she secluded herself in this lofty tower chamber, refusing to eat or drink, till one day the maid, knocking for admittance and receiving no answer, ’ad the door broke down, and found ’er lady a raving lunatic, which she flew past ’er down the stairs, and, running out the door, drowned ’erself in the lake by the park gate, and ’er uneasy spirit is said to ’aunt the precincts ever since.”
This breathless narrative was received with much amusement by the ladies; but the children were quite awe-stricken at being in the haunts of a ghost with a regular stopping-place.
“I didn’t suppose there were any real ghosts,” said Philip doubtfully.
“Neither did I,” said Aunt Grace, laughing, “and I cannot say that I quite believe in them yet.”
The servant, whose faith in his ghost was implicit, here pointed out to them in the most respectful manner a fracture in the door which was made when it was “broke down,” evidently thinking that was proof enough to convince the most sceptical. So, out of civility, his audience forbore to appear to question the evidence of their own eyes, and followed their cicerone through the other rooms, each of which, in the old part of the castle, had its story of family or historical interest. In the chamber of an ancestress who had been maid of honor to the queen of one of the Georges stood a harp, swathed in its ghostly white-linen cover.
“What is it?” whispered Philip, whose eye was caught by the uncovered pedals.
“A harp, to be sure,” answered Rose, with a superior air.
“A harp!” repeated Philip, with his eyes shining. “Oh, if I could only see it with the cover off!”
“’Twouldn’t do you any good if you did,” said Rose unsympathizingly; “it would be all unstrung and out of tune.”
“But I would be so glad just to look at it,” said Philip, still lingering by the muffled instrument.
“Do you really so much want to see a harp?” said Lillie, coming over from an inlaid cabinet where the beautiful maid of honor kept her trinkets.
“Oh, so very much,” said Philip, in the earnest way he had sometimes.
“Well, I am not afraid to ask the servant to take off the case,” said Lillie, skipping up to the man and making her request, with which he complied without hesitation, slipping off the Holland cover and revealing to Philip’s eager eyes the old-fashioned, long-silent instrument. Over it hung a copy of a picture they had seen in the picture gallery on the floor below. It was a portrait of the owner of the harp; a pretty figure in a fanciful shepherdess costume, with a preternaturally white lamb clasped in her lovely fair arms, and a simpering complacency on her pretty pink and white face that disposed the gazer to doubt the possibility of her ever having awakened the true soul of music; but none of the party were treasonable enough to contradict the flunkey, who remarked, as he noticed Mrs. Norton’s study of the portrait:
“The Lady Blanche was said to ’ave played ’er ’arp like a hangel.”
“I would give anything to hear it played,” said Philip, half to himself.
“There’s a new ’arp in the music-room,” said the servant civilly, “if the ladies would like to play for the young gentleman.”
“Well, Philip,” said Mrs. Norton, “I don’t play oftener than once in six months nowadays, but when we go down I will try to gratify you.”
Philip was happy then, and felt as if he could hardly wait till they reached the music-room; but at last the tour of the house was completed, and the servant led the way to the chapel-like apartment in the western wing, and there his aunt tried her skill in tuning the more modern-looking instrument that had belonged to the late Lady Ashden. Her performance, after she had put the harp in moderately good tune, was not of a high order, but it delighted Philip, who listened in ecstasy as she struck the chords, a little uncertainly it is true, but still with a sweetness that thrilled the sensitive child.
“Do you think you could play on it?” asked Rose of her cousin.
“No,” said Philip, shaking his head sadly. “I could not play on it, but I wish I could listen to it always.”
“You would soon tire of my miserable playing, child,” said his aunt; “but when you come to see us you shall go to the concerts and hear some music that is worth listening to.”
While Philip was shyly wondering whether even the pleasure of listening to the best of music would compensate for the trial of seeing strangers, his uncle came in to say that Aunt Delia had prepared their lunch, and was waiting for them in one of the little rustic summer-houses that studded the park.
The lunch was a marvel of daintiness, for Mrs. Hardy had insisted upon sending out the creams which had been frozen in preparation for the repast they were expected to take within doors, and a splendid display of pines and other fruit from the hot-houses. The whole party were in the best of spirits, and sufficiently hungry to do ample justice to Aunt Delia’s good things.
Suddenly, just as they were finishing, Mrs. Norton announced that she had lost her handkerchief and notebook. “I must have left them in the maid of honor’s room,” she declared, “or else in the music-room.”
“May I go and look for them?” said Philip, springing up.
“If you are quite sure you have eaten all the cream you want,” said his aunt. “But don’t try to find your way; get that servant with the cockney accent to show you again.”
Off ran Philip, glad to be of service; and the party, to give old Peter an opportunity to lunch, adjourned to an arbor in view, which was near enough to a little natural lake for the children to run to the margin with crumbs for the stately swans that were sailing about. The rector and Dr. Norton sat talking rather sadly of the days when old Lord Ashden was living; then they spoke of his son, and of the sad ending of his short and happy married life, and in the midst of their reminiscences they were surprised by the sudden appearance of the one they had been speaking of--Lord Ashden himself. He had returned a day before he expected, and had come out to look for them. His greeting to his old teacher and fellow-pupil was warm and cordial, and after paying his respects to the ladies he joined them in recalling incidents and exploits of his boyish days.
“And you have taken poor Philip’s child, I hear. It was brave and kind of you to acknowledge him,” said he, looking affectionately at the rector.
“It was a kindness we should have shown before,” said Dr. Norton.
“Where is the boy? Does he inherit his father’s genius and beauty?”
“Yes,” said Aunt Delia, turning her sweet, benevolent face upon the speaker, “our little Philip seems to have taken every pleasant trait of his father’s, and a sweeter child I never saw.”
“I must see Philip’s boy,” said Lord Ashden, with a sigh of retrospection. “Poor Philip! He literally threw away his life; and such a life--so full of hope and promise. I hope this boy’s life may be a happier one than his father’s was.” And he strode off toward the house, where they told him Philip would be found, impelled by a feeling of real interest, the first he had experienced in many sad and weary months.
The Renewal of an Acquaintance
Following Mrs. Seldon’s directions, Lord Ashden climbed the narrow stairs which led to the haunted chamber. And as he approached the room he was surprised to hear a faint tinkling sound as of some one running his fingers over the keys of an old piano. Lord Ashden was puzzled, and approaching more softly he gently pushed open the door of the room and looked within. It was a pretty picture upon which his eyes rested, and one which he long remembered. A fair, slender lad with a pale, expressive face, which reminded the silent on-looker of the well-known portrait of Milton at the age of twelve, was standing beside the old harp which had belonged to the poor, foolish maid of honor. He was touching the dusty strings with the greatest care and reverence, and a smile of perfect delight played about his sensitive, mobile mouth. But Lord Ashden did not remain long unobserved, for a shaggy little dog which had been lying quietly at the boy’s feet raised his head, and, perceiving the stranger, began to bark fiercely.
“Down, Dash!” said Lord Ashden, advancing into the room and holding out his hand.
“As I live, my old friend Philip and his dog Dash! How stupid I was not to know that those eyes could belong only to Philip Norton’s boy!” And Philip remembered in a flash the happy day, now more than a year since, which he and Dash had spent on the lake with the tall stranger whose name was “Frederick.” He quite forgot his awe of Lord Ashden in explaining why he had not returned for the promised row on the lake, and he found himself talking easily, and with no sense of reserve, to this tall stranger whom he already looked up to with boyish love and almost reverence.
“So your mother is dead,” said Lord Ashden kindly. “Poor little chap, I think I know somewhat how it feels to always carry an aching heart. You must tell me all about her some day. I have always wanted to know more about Philip Norton’s wife; but let me tell you, my boy, that you have reason to be proud of your father.”
“Did you know my father so very well?” asked Philip timidly, hoping to hear something about him.
“Yes, indeed,” said Lord Ashden. “Has no one told you that we were chums at college?--and afterward we travelled together for over a year. Your father was an artist, you know, and I had a painting fever myself in those days, and used to perch by poor Philip’s side day after day, copying the same picture.”
“And are you an artist, too?” said Philip, with a kind of reverent surprise.
“No, Phil,” said his lordship, with a little laugh which turned into a sigh, “neither that nor anything else that I hoped to be.”
“I am sure,” whispered Philip, “that you are everything that is good, and I am so glad you were fond of my father.”
“No one could resist him,” said Lord Ashden, looking kindly at the boy. “I never saw any one make friends as he did. Poor fellow! What a bright future every one prophesied for him, and how dreadful the tragic ending of such a life of promise!”
Lord Ashden forgot, in his memories of a past time, that he was speaking to the son of the man whose fate he was mourning, and for a little while he seemed lost in reverie. Philip felt flushed and uncomfortable, and had a miserable feeling that he was in some way to blame for his father’s fate. But no such thought was in Lord Ashden’s mind. After a few moments of silence he seemed to wake to the fear that he had been neglecting his young companion.
“Poor Phil!” he said, laying his hand caressingly upon his shoulder! “you can never know how worthy your father was of love, or how he would have loved you.”
“Oh, would he have loved me?” exclaimed Philip eagerly.
“Would he?” said Lord Ashden in surprise; “of course he would; what doubt could there be?”
“I thought--I was afraid--I mean--I didn’t know,” said Philip, hesitating and feeling that he was on dangerous ground.
“What did you think and fear, and what didn’t you know?” said his friend, smiling.
Philip’s embarrassment continued, but he saw a look of expectancy in the eyes turned to his which made him feel that an answer was necessary. He had never been forbidden to mention his mother, but he felt instinctively that his relatives did not expect to hear her alluded to. Now he felt that he could not explain his feelings without speaking of her, and hence his confusion; but there was no escape now, so he honestly uttered his thoughts.
“I thought he would have disliked me on account of my mother,” said he, hanging his head to conceal his flushed face.
“Dislike you on account of your mother?” repeated the other in surprise.
“Yes,” said Philip, still keeping his face out of sight. “She was not like him, you know.”
“I do not see how that should make any difference,” said Lord Ashden gravely. “Has any one said anything to you against your mother?”
“One of my cousins said once that she brought disgrace upon the family,” murmured Philip. He might have added that Marion also called her a low, common woman, but he could not have told that.
“For shame!” exclaimed Lord Ashden. “Now listen, Philip, to what I have to say of your mother. I never saw her, you know, because--well, I never did see her, but I understand that she was not only beautiful, but also good, true, and noble. A mother that any boy might be very fond and proud of.”
“Oh, yes, she was all that and more,” cried Philip, his eyes full of tears of sorrow and of pride to hear his mother so praised; and then suddenly the sorrow conquered all else and he began to sob. Lord Ashden was in dismay, but Philip soon looked up, smiling through his tears.
“You must excuse me,” he said, “but, kind as everybody is to me, I do miss my mother terribly. Oh, terribly!”
Lord Ashden’s face had softened, and he was looking through the window far away across the distant hills.
“I know, I know,” he said bitterly. “No one can fill her place, no one.” His face had grown suddenly wan and almost haggard, and Philip remembered in an instant the fair young wife of whom Lillie had said that she was as beautiful as an angel, and that she had only lived a year after their marriage. He stole up to Lord Ashden and slipped his small hand into his; the other turned and looked down upon him with a swift change of expression.
“Thanks, my little man; I think we understand each other, do we not? And see here, let us make a compact, with Dash as a witness, that from this day forward you and I shall be _friends_, eh?--what do you say, my boy?”
“Oh, Lord Ashden!” cried Philip delightedly; “do you really mean it?”
“Here’s my hand on it,” he replied. “Did I hurt you? I’m not used to such a scrap of a hand, you see. Come now, we will go down and see if we can persuade your aunt and uncle to let you come over to Ashden again, day after to-morrow. I want your opinion on a violin I am thinking of buying, and then perhaps I may let you try it yourself. Did you ever handle a bow? But see here: if you are going to look like a transfigured seraph every time I speak of music, I sha’n’t let you hear a note until you have learned to row me about on the lake. But now if we don’t go downstairs and join the rest of the party, they will think that the ghost of the beautiful countess has made away with us.”
Mrs. Seldon looked up in surprise as she saw Lord Ashden and Philip advancing toward her, hand in hand, across the lawn, Dash following closely at their heels.
“Only see, my dear,” she said to her husband, “Frederick is actually smiling. I really believe that dear child could make the Sphinx love him; and he grows so like his father! Frederick must see it, and perhaps--who knows?--little Philip may help to fill the vacant place in that big, lonely heart.”
“Ah, Philip,” she said as they came nearer, “so you and Lord Ashden are friends already?”
“Oh, we find that we have met before,” said Lord Ashden, smiling, “and we have come especially to ask you, please, to lend me your Philip now and then for a day at Ashden. It is insufferably dull and lonely here for me, you know, Aunt Delia, but I believe if I had Philip and Dash to help me it would not be so difficult to kill time at Ashden.”
“You shall have my boy as often as you wish, on one condition,” said Aunt Delia, beaming on the pair through her spectacles, “and that is that you promise to come over to Lowdown each time to fetch him, and that when you bring him back you will stay for supper at the rectory.”
“Agreed,” said Lord Ashden with a handshake, the heartiness of which made the old lady wince; “but now, Philip, let us go and find the little girls and take them for a row on the lake. We must not forget the ladies, you know.”
Lord Ashden’s Plan
That was the first of many happy days which Philip was to spend at Ashden. Lord Ashden would drive over to Lowdown two or three times a week and carry him off for the day, appearing to find real pleasure in the boy’s society; and Aunt Delia was overjoyed to notice that the sad fits of despondency to which he had been subject since the death of his young wife seemed to have grown less frequent since he had made a companion of Philip. The boy seemed to fit perfectly into his moods, and very soon learned to understand when his companion wished to be diverted, or when he cared only to sit quietly in the boat, or under a tree, with a book, which at such times Philip noticed he only pretended to be reading, while his thoughts were far away.
The boy knew then that he was thinking of her, and his loving heart longed to comfort his friend. And, indeed, his affection and sympathy did comfort Lord Ashden, love being a wonderful balsam for wounded hearts. Sometimes the sad and lonely man would talk to Philip of his young wife, of her radiant beauty, which was but the outward expression of her singularly sweet and noble nature, of her winning grace of manner and the thousand varying moods which made her society a continual delight to her husband; and then one day he spoke to Philip of that awful day when he had raised her in his arms from the roadside, so white and still, and when he had prayed that he might die too. It is a tragic sight to see a strong man weep as Lord Ashden did that afternoon, and Philip held him close in his loving arms, as his mother had been used to do with him when he was struggling with some childish grief.
From that day the two friends seemed to be drawn more closely together; Lord Ashden talked often to Philip of his friendship with the latter’s father, and Philip told him some things his mother had told him of the years after his marriage, when he had withdrawn so completely from his old associates and friends.
“Dear old Phil!” Lord Ashden would exclaim. “I shall never forgive myself for not having insisted upon seeing him; and yet it would doubtless have caused him real humiliation and pain to have been sought out by his old friends, in such altered conditions. Well, at least I can try to make up for it all by doing what I can for little Philip, eh, my lad? And now,” he would say, jumping up suddenly, “let us go indoors for a little music. What shall it be this afternoon, your favorite Mendelssohn or some more Schubert?”
This was the way in which, after a morning spent out-of-doors, their afternoons were pretty sure to be passed. Lord Ashden had had a fine musical education, and he possessed the keen appreciation of genius which is itself a kind of genius; he soon discovered that Philip possessed a most unusual aptitude for the violin, and he set himself to the task of teaching him to play, at first for the diversion which it afforded himself, and then for the real delight which he felt in the boy’s progress.
One afternoon, late in the summer, when he had been accompanying his pupil on the piano through a very difficult concerto, he stopped suddenly and, wheeling about on the piano-stool, laid his hands on Philip’s shoulders.
“See here, my boy,” he said, “_I_ can’t teach you any more; an interpretation like that is not learned, but gained by direct intuition; you have lots of work to do yet, of course, and your bowing is not perfect by any means; but--well, you just keep on practising while I think out a scheme of my own.”
A few days after this Lord Ashden rode over to Lowdown and requested an interview with the rector and Aunt Delia in the former’s study.
“No one under thirteen years of age admitted,” he said, laughing as the children gathered around him in the hall as usual. The three friends were closeted for more than an hour, and when they came out Aunt Delia’s eyes were red as though she had been weeping, yet she looked very happy too; and at supper she exchanged meaning glances with her husband when the children inquired why Lord Ashden had not remained with them as usual.
When bedtime came Philip was told to remain in the library after the other children had gone upstairs, and then the secret of the afternoon’s conference was explained. Lord Ashden had ridden over from Ashden to ask permission to take Philip abroad for a musical education such as he believed could be secured only on the Continent.
“Of course,” he had said, “I know it is asking a great deal, for Philip has grown very dear to you both; but to me, bereft as I have been of every one I once loved, this dear child has become almost indispensable. For the first time since my poor wife died I begin to feel that the future holds something in it for which to strive, and to which I can look forward without despair. Only give me Philip, dear friends, and I promise it shall be for the boy’s best good; for I love him already as my own son, as I loved his father in the old days.”
“We would be selfish indeed,” said Aunt Delia, with streaming eyes, “were we to refuse such a generous offer, but Philip himself must decide; although of course I know what his answer will be.”
The good rector too, although he could not trust himself to think of how silent and lonely the old house would be without his little nephew, was yet rejoiced that the boy should have such a rare opportunity of cultivating his musical ability.
“I have always said that his playing was wonderful,” he exclaimed proudly; “and I believe our boy will some day make a name for himself and for us all.”
When the purport of this interview was explained to Philip he seemed dazed by the prospect of such unlooked-for good fortune, and for a moment he said nothing, standing quite still with clasped hands, and his expressive face quivering with delight; but suddenly he discovered Aunt Delia furtively wiping her spectacles, and the self-reproachful tears sprang at once to his eyes.
“Oh, Aunt Delia! Uncle Seldon! forgive me!” he cried. “How could I be so selfish as to think of leaving my dearest and best friends? Nothing I can do could ever repay you for your kindness, and certainly I will never, never leave you.”
“My darling boy!” said Aunt Delia, drawing him down beside her on the sofa, while the good old clergyman blew his nose very hard and looked out of the window, “such sentiments do you credit, and are worthy of our dear, dead Philip’s son; but your uncle and I could not think of accepting such a sacrifice. One disappointed career in a family is quite enough, dear boy, and if your father had to give up his art, you at least shall have as good a chance with your music as we can give you.”
“Yes, yes,” added the rector hastily, “don’t think of us, Philip lad; we shall get on fairly well, I fancy; and then, you know, in after years your aunt and I will share in your triumphs. How proud we shall be of our nephew, the great violinist, Signor Philip Norton! Sounds well, doesn’t it? There won’t be a prouder woman in England than your Aunt Delia then, and as for your old uncle, the rectory will be hardly large enough to contain him, if he is still alive.”
And so, almost in spite of his hesitation, Philip found himself gently pushed forward into a career which seemed to be too beautiful to be real; indeed, he half expected to awake some morning and find that the whole plan had been only a lovely dream.
But the preparations for his journey went steadily on, and each morning Philip would look at the calendar and say:
“In a month we start”--“in a week”--and then--“to-morrow.”
He did not go to Ashden very much during those last days, for he wanted to spend every moment with the dear friends at the rectory; nor did he see much of Lord Ashden, who had many preparations to make for what might be a long absence, and who, moreover, with great delicacy, forbore to intrude upon these last days, which he knew were sad ones for the dear old clergyman and his wife.
The bustle and stir incident upon the preparation for such a long journey were an immense relief to Aunt Delia, and she gave herself not a moment to think of what the house would be like when her darling boy should have gone. She had Philip’s boxes all packed and strapped a full week before he was to start, and then she thought of so many things which she had forgotten to put in that she unpacked them all again; and she repeated this operation several times before she was quite satisfied. For some unaccountable reason, as the travellers were going directly south, the dear old lady was convinced that Philip would need the most extraordinary amount of extra clothing, and she smuggled into his boxes enough flannel and woollen garments to have equipped an expedition to the polar regions. She was also convinced that both Philip and Lord Ashden would need at least a couple of knitted mufflers apiece, and after a busy day spent in running up and down stairs and packing and unpacking boxes, she would sit up half the night knitting away, as though her life depended upon it, on these same mufflers, while her loving thoughts and hopes for Philip’s future travelled faster even than the flying needles.
But there was another member of the household who was even more excited over the preparations for departure than Aunt Delia herself. This was Dash, who from the first moment that the journey was suggested seemed to understand that some momentous change was near at hand. When Philip’s boxes were brought down from the garret, he went sniffing anxiously about them, and when Aunt Delia laid one of the boy’s familiar garments in one of them, the little dog sat down beside it, and throwing back his head began to howl so piteously that Philip, who was practising in the next room, came running in to see if he were ill or in pain. After that Dash seemed fully to comprehend that his master was going on a journey, and from having always followed him about very faithfully he became his veritable shadow. If Philip but crossed the room Dash was at his heels, and at night he deliberately forsook the box in a corner of the school-room, in which he had formerly slept very contentedly, and would curl himself up on the foot of Philip’s bed, from which neither threats nor entreaties could drive him away. Philip, indeed, begged that he might be allowed to remain, for it had been decided that Dash must be left at Lowdown, and his little master’s heart felt strangely sad and heavy at the thought of parting from his faithful friend.
One night Aunt Delia, coming softly into his room with a light, to be sure that her boy was warmly covered, was surprised to hear a sound of suppressed sobbing issuing from beneath the bed-clothes.
“Why, Philip,” she said, coming nearer, “what is it?”
“Oh, Aunt Delia, I do feel so sad at the thought of leaving Dash, and he seems to understand; I believe he really thinks that I am very mean and heartless to go away and leave him behind.”
Dash himself, who was lying quietly in Philip’s arms, now and then licking the boy’s hand, looked up so reproachfully at Aunt Delia as she leaned over the bed that her kind heart was really touched.
“Good doggie,” she said kindly, patting his shaggy head, “don’t you suppose _I_ mind being left behind too? And don’t you think that I shall miss our Philip when he is gone? You and I must learn to be good friends, and then we can comfort each other, you know.”
And Dash, who really seemed to understand everything that was said to him, showed his appreciation of Mrs. Seldon’s sympathy by leaving Philip to come and poke his little black nose affectionately into her face, and when she gave a little scream of surprise and began to wipe her cheek where the wet nose had touched it, Philip was so much amused that he laughed merrily; and when Aunt Delia came into the room again half an hour later, he was sound asleep, with Dash curled up in a little yellow ball beside him.
Off for Italy
And then at last the day came when Philip was to start on his travels, and everybody was trying so hard to bear up and be cheerful that there was quite an air of false gayety about the household. Only one member of the family seemed to be indifferent about Philip’s departure, and this was his cousin Marion, who had returned the week before from her visit to Scotland, where she had been flattered and made so much of for her beauty and accomplishments that her silly head was quite turned. She was deeply chagrined on her return to find that Philip, instead of herself, was the central figure in the family circle. She had the greatest admiration for Lord Ashden, and felt a respect for his rank and title which amounted almost to veneration. She was secretly quite enraged that he should have selected this boy, whose parentage on one side was, to say the least, decidedly obscure, and should have paid him so much attention.
“I wonder what Lord Ashden can be thinking of,” she said, with flashing eyes, to her younger sisters, who were disposed, on her first return home, to regard her with a kind of admiring awe. “I suppose Philip asked Lord Ashden to take him abroad with him, and of course he is far too good-natured to refuse.”
“Oh, no, indeed,” the truthful Rose was obliged to reply. “He did not, indeed, Marion; for when Aunt Delia told him of Lord Ashden’s invitation, he was as much surprised as we were.”
“Fiddlesticks!” said Marion, tossing her head; “you all seem to think that Philip is as innocent as a lamb. He may be as stupid as one, that I will grant you,” and Marion laughed unpleasantly at her own witticism. Rose echoed the laugh, although rather faintly, and she was glad that Lillie had been called from the room, and so had not heard Marion’s ill-natured remark.
As for Philip, his thoughts were too full of other things to notice his cousin Marion’s behavior very much. He had always been a sincere admirer of her beauty and cleverness, but the first evening of her return he decided that, after all, Lillie was far the sweeter and more lovable of the two girls; and even Rose, he thought, who was rather plain and freckled, had a much more amiable expression than her handsome elder sister.
When the time came to say good-by, and Philip was going about with rather a sad smile, shaking hands and embracing the dear friends who had made his stay at the rectory such a happy one, he noticed that Marion seemed to hold back, and he tried not to care, although he flushed painfully as he went toward her, holding out his hand.
“Good-by, Marion,” he said; “I am so sorry that I am leaving just as you have come back to Lowdown.”
She made no reply, and held out a limp, reluctant hand. “Good-by,” she said coldly at last, as he waited hesitatingly for a word.
Philip gave her a swift glance, and then, overcoming his shyness, he said impulsively:
“Oh, Marion, is that all you can say--not--not just one word to wish me success with my music?”
His voice trembled a little, and his cousin could not resist the pleading in his eyes. She dropped her own, saying rather more graciously:
“Yes, oh, yes, of course I wish you good luck. I am very glad that you are to have such a fine chance to see something of the world, and I hope--that is--I am sure that you will try to be a credit to the family.”
Just then the carriage from Ashden arrived, bringing Lord Ashden, who had been detained at the last moment, so that there was just time for Philip to jump in beside him, and the horses started off on a run to the railroad station.
Philip stood up on the seat of the carriage, waving his cap; he kept his eyes fastened upon Aunt Delia, who was keeping her promise not to cry, by laughing hysterically at the frantic efforts of poor Dash to escape from her arms and follow his young master. And then a turn in the road hid the carriage and the little swaying figure from the sight of the group on the rectory steps, and Mr. Seldon put his arm gently around his wife, saying:
“How I wish that our Philip could see his boy to-day! Do you notice how like his father the dear boy grows?”
As for Philip, he was very grave and silent during the journey to London, but the first glimpse of the great city aroused all his enthusiasm, and he chattered and laughed and asked questions as they were being driven to the hotel, while Lord Ashden leaned back in the cab, pleased and diverted by the boy’s exclamations of interest and pleasure. As for Philip himself, it was pleasure enough to be travelling alone with a man like Lord Ashden, for whom, from the first moment of meeting him on that memorable day in the woods, he had cherished a sort of rapturous admiration, which was something very different from his cousin Marion’s silly veneration for rank. Indeed, he was still far too innocent of the world’s ways to be conscious of the value placed on high position; and Lord Ashden, sick of the insincerity and shallowness of the people whom he met in society, found a large measure of the happiness which he had thought to have lost forever, in the society of this true-hearted boy.
They spent only one night in London, starting the next day for the Continent. It had been their intention to go on at once to Italy, but Lord Ashden was detained in Paris by important business for more than a month, and this was a period of constant wonder and delight to Philip.
Marwin, Lord Ashden’s confidential servant, was an experienced traveller, and in his care Philip visited the places that he and Miss Acton had tried to see in imagination in the long, quiet evenings at Lowdown, when Aunt Delia had talked to them of her own extensive travels throughout Europe. Philip recognized several of the places which he now visited, from Mrs. Seldon’s graphic description of them. Marvin was an intelligent guide, and his running commentary upon what they saw was listened to by his young charge with flattering attention. Lord Ashden was not able to go about very much, and the sights of Paris were not novelties to him; but every evening he drew from Philip a description of his day’s adventure.
“Is this the very best day of all?” he would say, as the boy’s bright, expressive face appeared at his door.
“Oh, yes, sir, the very, very best of all,” would be the answer he was always sure of receiving. The certainty of finding ready sympathy made the boy willing to speak freely of his thoughts and emotions, and Lord Ashden, who had the gift of drawing people out, sometimes led him on, after hearing an account of the places he had seen, to talk of thoughts, hopes, and desires that he had never spoken of to any one.
It was on a morning after one of these conversations that Lord Ashden announced his intention of taking Philip himself to see some pictures. They were not in a public gallery, but were the choice private collection of a distinguished patron of art, who occasionally threw open his gallery to an appreciative public. There was no one present but themselves when they first entered the room and walked about, examining the pictures at leisure. There was a curious mingling of ancient and modern art, but to Philip’s undistinguishing eye, all of them were beautiful, and he listened entranced while his friend explained the subject of one and another of his own favorites.
“Oh, my dear boy!” he exclaimed suddenly, after giving a most entertaining account of the “Barmecides’ Feast,” which hung before them, “how vividly all this talk about pictures reminds me of your father!”
He knew quite well that this was a subject of which his companion never grew weary, and it was the subject, too, which always drew this strangely assorted pair more closely together. They sat down on a bench in a quiet corner, and many a visitor to the gallery that morning lingered to admire the tall, distinguished-looking Englishman who was talking with such earnestness to the beautiful, fair-haired boy, who with eager, upturned face looked almost like one of the young angels in a celebrated picture which hung just above his head.
This was but one of many happy days of intimate companionship and sight-seeing, and Philip, even with Italy in prospect, turned his back upon the gay French capital with a long sigh of regret. When they reached Rome they found that the famous teacher whose advice Lord Ashden had come so far to seek for Philip had left, a few months before, to take charge of a large conservatory at Milan. They decided not to follow him at once, however, for Lord Ashden was anxious that Philip should see something of the Eternal City before settling down to work and study. He himself was guide this time, and he took the boy to palaces and picture galleries, to cathedrals and studios and concerts, until Philip was scarcely able to sleep at night, for thinking of the wonder and the beauty of it all; and then his wise and kind guide planned that they should spend a day or two at Naples, which they passed drifting about on the beautiful bay, and so when Philip was quite rested again, they travelled on by easy stages to Milan.
Signor Marini was such an exceedingly busy man that it was several days before he could make time to have Philip brought to the conservatory. The great teacher was very fond of Lord Ashden, and would have gone out of his way to have done him a favor, but he was rather sceptical about Philip’s playing; he had had several rather unfortunate experiences with child musicians, and was sceptical about infant prodigies in general. Moreover, he assured his friend that if the Angel Gabriel should have come down from heaven to take lessons from him just at this time, he could not have complied with his request.
“You understand,” he said in his quick, Italian way, “I can no longer teach any one--not the greatest violinist living. I am too busy and too old--and my conservatory, the management of it, the routine, it is enough; but you may bring your boy, ah, yes, I will find for him the best teacher in Milan.”
“Ah, signor,” said Lord Ashden, disappointed, “I had hoped that you would take the boy yourself.”
“Quite impossible!” said the teacher, shaking his head, “but, as I said, bring the boy, and we will see.”
Fortunately, Philip did not realize the importance of the ordeal through which he was to pass, when one morning at breakfast Lord Ashden said quietly:
“I want you to bring your violin, and come with me this morning to play for an old friend of mine, who may be able to give you some valuable advice about your music.”
After breakfast, accordingly, they drove for several miles through the older portion of the city, and at last the carriage drew up before a dingy door in what had been an ancient palace. They were ushered without delay to the private office of the maestro, a little, wiry, keen-eyed old man, in a greasy smoking-jacket, and smelling strongly of tobacco. He looked at Philip sharply from under his shaggy eyebrows, remarking with a kind of grunt, in Italian:
“Handsome, like his father,” for Signor Marini remembered the young English artist who had been travelling with Lord Ashden during his last visit to Italy, and who had dabbled a little in music, as he said himself, “while he waited for the first coat of paint to dry on his canvases.”
In fact, the old man was so full of reminiscences that Lord Ashden was obliged at last to remind him of the real object of the visit.
“Ah, yes,” grunted the music teacher rather ungraciously. “The boy may play.”
Philip, who had been examining some rare and beautiful musical instruments which were in the room, opened his violin case at once and stood, bow in hand, looking inquiringly from Lord Ashden to Signor Marini, with a simple desire to know their pleasure and an utter absence of embarrassment or nervousness which rather surprised the Italian.
“What shall I play, sir?” asked the boy, and the teacher named a rather difficult _étude_ which, fortunately for Philip, he had been practising within the week.
The maestro pretended at first not to be listening very attentively; indeed, he yawned once or twice and walked to the window, where he stood drumming noiselessly upon the pane with his dirty fingers; but, after a little, he began to listen more attentively, and when the first few wailing notes of the violin had melted into the very passionate intensity of the second measure of the composition, he wheeled suddenly around, sat down with his arms folded on the back of a chair, and listened with unbroken attention to the end.
When Philip had finished playing he laid his violin down carefully on the table and turned toward Lord Ashden with an inquiring smile as though he would have said:
“Was it all right, my friend?”
Lord Ashden did not reply, but he looked at Signor Marini with an amused smile. The whole expression of the latter’s face had changed, and presently he said to Philip:
“Come here, my boy.”
Philip went over to him at once, with a pretty, respectful inclination of the head, which seemed to please the old man. He asked him a few short, rapid questions about his practising, his instrument, and his plans for the future.
“You have formed some rather bad habits in your playing,” he said. “They can only be corrected by very hard work.” He paused a moment with his glittering eyes fixed upon the boy’s upturned face. “Tell me, are you willing to work hard, very hard? to practise all day, and, if necessary, all night, too? Are you willing to give up everything--pay attention now to what I am saying--to give up _everything_ for your art?” And, as Philip nodded gravely, fixing his earnest eyes full upon the old man’s face, the latter got up from his chair, which he pushed away from him with so much violence that it fell over on the floor.
“Very well,” he said, “I believe you; when can you begin--at once?”
Then, turning to Lord Ashden, he held out his hand. The latter was smiling in spite of himself, as he said, trying to speak seriously:
“And what about the teacher for the boy, of whom you spoke?”
The old music teacher smiled a little grimly.
“My friend,” he said, “I will take the boy myself, provided you will consent to his living in my house, so that he may give me all his time for the practice he so much needs. No, no thanks. Think it over, and when you have decided send the boy to me.”
And so it was arranged that Philip was to be left behind in Milan for a year while Lord Ashden went to Egypt with some friends, but not before he had assured himself that the boy would be quite happy in the household of Signor Marini, who, in spite of his peculiarities, had a very kind and generous nature, while his fat and rather stupid wife was overflowing with good-nature. They promised to do all in their power to make Philip as happy and comfortable as he could be under such altered conditions, and they kept their word; it must be confessed, however, that the boy suffered a great deal for the first month or two from that most unbearable of all complaints, homesickness; but after that he did not have much time to think of his friends in England, or indeed of anything else, for he soon became completely absorbed in conquering the difficulties of exercises and studies.
Signor Marini was a stern taskmaster, and it was a peculiarity of his that he seldom praised or encouraged his pupils; sometimes, however, when Philip had conquered a difficult passage, his teacher would give expression to his satisfaction in a kind of grunt which Philip soon grew to look for and to value as the highest kind of praise. Nor did his teacher make much reply to Lord Ashden’s frequent letters of inquiry concerning his pupil’s progress.
“You know I told you that I did not believe much in precocious children,” he wrote once, “but Philip I believe is something more than that. If I did not believe that he had a future before him, I should certainly not be spending so much time upon his training.”
And with this assurance Lord Ashden was obliged to be content, and although the year of separation from Philip was harder for him than for the boy, he waited patiently, believing the life in Milan to be just what his young charge needed.
The days had passed swiftly by, and Philip had been for more than three years in the household of Signor Marini at Milan. To be sure he had been carried off by Lord Ashden for a month or two at the end of the first year’s work, and a glorious holiday it had been. The two travelled together through Switzerland, and Philip surprised his companion by his powers of endurance and his ability to undertake the most difficult and often dangerous feats of mountain-climbing without nervousness or fatigue. The joy of being united was equally great on both sides, and despite the great difference in their ages, Lord Ashden found in Philip the most congenial of companions, while the boy looked up to his friend with a glowing admiration and affection which day by day increased and strengthened.
It was a painful moment for both when, the vacation over, Philip returned to Milan for another twelve months of work and study, while Lord Ashden made a visit to England, promising to return for Philip’s _début_ the following autumn, for Signor Marini had pushed his private scholar with might and main, and his enthusiastic hopes for Philip’s future made the old man quite young again.
“I live over again in your playing, my boy,” he would say, and he himself made all the arrangements for his pupil’s first public appearance at La Scala.
Philip himself was strangely unmoved by the prospect of playing before the largest, and perhaps the most critical, audience in all Europe.
“I can but do my best,” he said quietly with his flashing smile, and he was far more excited over the promise of Lord Ashden to come to Milan for the occasion than at the thought of the promised presence of royalty itself in the audience.
The night came, and Signor Marini was not disappointed in his pupil. The effect upon the audience of his uncommon beauty and youthfulness, and his wonderful playing, were instantaneous and lasting, and round upon round of applause greeted each appearance and exit.
Lord Ashden stood at the wings, pale with excitement, and when Philip came quietly towards him, saying simply: “They seem to like my playing, do they not?” he folded the boy in his arms, saying in a voice trembling with emotion:
“My darling boy, this is the proudest and happiest moment of my life! And now that the world recognizes your talent, and you have won your place in the topmost ranks, my dear boy, we must give you a long vacation,” he said later, when, the performance being over, they were taking supper in his lordship’s room at the hotel.
Lord Ashden then unfolded a plan of taking Philip with him on an extended tour through Europe and the East.
The boy was overcome with gratitude, but quietly firm in his refusal to accept the tempting invitation.
“But please,” he said, forcing himself to speak calmly, “please do not think me ungrateful for your kindness. You came to me like an angel, and supported me all these long years, and gave me the opportunity to acquire my beloved art. You have given me the power to live by my own efforts, to be happy in the only way that happiness is possible to me. Even if I could do it, you would not accept the repayment of the money I have cost you; but if you took it, the debt would be in no way cancelled, for a thousand times the sum would be far from paying for the kindness that trusted and befriended me, and made me what I am.
“Oh! Lord Ashden,” he went on, quite breaking through his usual shy reserve, “I can never kneel to pray without returning thanks for such a friend as you; and I can never touch my beloved violin without thinking of you, and hoping that some day it may be my turn to do some little thing for you. Now, before the impression I have had the good fortune to make has faded away, I must work for a place in the world. Maestro Marini says teaching is the surest support, but to-night makes me hope that I may continue upon the stage; and, if you approve, I shall try for an engagement. But I must go to England first--I owe it to dear Aunt Delia. I suppose there is no one else there who will care much, but she writes to me so tenderly, and every letter says: ‘Dear boy, come home.’”
“It shall be as you please,” said Lord Ashden, “and the travelling shall be postponed till you are ready. But don’t feel burdened with gratitude to me--your success quite repays me. I am sorry to start off on my travels without you, but I expect to hear great things of you when I come back. Unless I am mistaken, the newspapers will tell me something of your career while I am away. You are not destined to obscurity, my boy; such talent as yours will make you famous, and I dare to tell you so because I know that nothing will make you conceited; if anything, you are too humble.”
Praise from such a source was very precious to Philip, and often afterward he repeated the words again to himself as an encouragement to the hope he hardly dared to cherish, that some day his father’s family might be just a little, a very little, proud of him, and that even Marion might perhaps be no longer ashamed to own him for a relative.
Philip’s engagement at La Scala lasted for a week, and each night he repeated his triumphs; the city rang with the fame of the boy violinist, and he was petted and flattered and fêted to a degree which might have completely turned the head of an ordinary boy of thirteen, but Philip remained quite un-spoiled, and was secretly glad when the week neared its close.
It had been arranged that he should return at once to England with Lord Ashden, for he longed to see the dear friends at Lowdown whom he had never once forgotten in his long separation from them. Nevertheless, when at last the day arrived upon which they were to leave Milan, Philip was sad at the thought of parting from good Signor Marini and his fellow-pupils at the Conservatory. The famous teacher had greatly prided himself upon being always able to conceal his emotions; he was indeed inclined to look with disdain upon any display of feeling, and to consider it quite out of place for one in his position; yet when the moment came for him to bid farewell to his little pupil, his feelings quite overcame him and he burst into tears.
“My dear boy,” he said, straining Philip to his heart, “what shall I do when you are gone? I have loved you like a dear son, and you--you will soon forget your poor old teacher, who has been so often cross and severe.”
“Oh, no, no, my dear, dear master!” replied the boy, his own eyes swimming with tears; “you have been always the wisest of teachers and the kindest and best of friends; indeed, indeed, I will never forget you and good Signora Marini.”
“And you will come again to Milan?”
It was now Lord Ashden’s turn to speak; he had not remained unmoved during this touching scene, which exhibited his old friend, the hard, rather unfeeling music teacher in quite a new light.
“I will see to it,” he said kindly, laying one hand on the shoulder of the old man and the other on Philip’s fair head, “that two such fast friends meet again, and that before very long. The distance between Milan and London grows shorter every year, you know, and I am not sure but I shall turn up here again myself before long, and perhaps I can persuade our young friend to come too.”
So the sadness of their parting was lessened for both teacher and pupil, between whom there existed a very true and real friendship and affection, and as Philip turned away from the dingy old house which had been his home for three years, he waved his cap to the sad little group on the doorstep, shouting, “Addio, addio, my friends, until next winter.”
When they reached Paris a friend of Lord Ashden, who was just starting on a cruise on his yacht, begged the travellers to accompany him.
“Our little violinist is looking decidedly thin and pale,” he said, “and it will never do to send him back to England until he has some color in his cheeks. His friends will surely think that he has been starved and ill-treated in Italy; come off with me for a fortnight and I promise you the time will not be wasted.” And Lord Ashden, when he came to look more critically, at Philip remarked that it was as his friend said.
“You are right,” he said; “the dear boy is pale and thin. What an idiot I was not to have noticed it before! I know you are impatient to see the dear friends in England, Philip, but just this once I must have my way.”
And Philip, although he was at first keenly disappointed to delay for another two weeks the joyous home-coming to which he had looked forward for so long, was yet forced to admit the wisdom of Lord Ashden’s decision. Indeed, he had not realized how thoroughly tired he was until he went aboard the yacht and his exhausted nerves and muscles could thoroughly relax.
There were long delicious days when the yacht drifted lazily through the calm blue waters of the Mediterranean, and life seemed only a hazy dream of warm sunshine and opalescent sea and sky. Philip would lie in a steamer-chair under a green sun-umbrella, with half-closed eyes, and sometimes with an unopened book in his lap, thinking over the days in Milan, or picturing the delight of once again sitting in the pleasant drawing-room at Lowdown, with the rector, dear Aunt Delia, Dr. Norton and his gentle wife, and the little girls. Philip smiled as he thought of how many questions he should have to ask and to answer; he wondered if he should find them all much changed in the years since he had seen them. Lillie and Rose would be much taller, he supposed, and Marion quite a young lady--Lord Ashden had told him that she was preparing to make her _début_ into London society the following winter; and Dash--dear old fellow! He had never been quite the same, Aunt Delia wrote, since Philip’s departure, and he had not forgotten him--oh, no! For whenever Philip’s name was mentioned he would prick up his ears and give a little excited bark. Philip loved to think of how Dash would come running down the path when he should hear his master’s familiar whistle at the gate. Oh, it was glorious to have learned really to play the violin, and to feel that he could without shame take his place among the great musicians whom only three years ago he had regarded reverently as beings of another sphere; but, after all, the boy thought, there was no joy in the world quite so great as the joy of going home, and of being united once again with the dear friends who loved him, not because he was talented or famous, but for himself.
Lord Ashden left Philip a great deal to himself during these long, lazy days on the yacht, and the complete rest and freedom from exertion and excitement were just what the tired boy needed. At the end of the first week a faint color began to appear in his pale cheeks, and before the fortnight had ended he was romping about on the deck, his old happy, light-hearted self again.
“Who would think,” said his host to Lord Ashden one day, as they sat together in the cabin, the sound of Philip’s merry laughter floating down to them from the deck above, “who would think that that mischievous sprite could be the same boy as the pale, spiritual-looking child violinist of La Scala?”
“I confess I like him better this way,” said Lord Ashden. “The Philip of La Scala awed and frightened me a little. I was afraid he would not live to grow up, such children so often die young; and I have lost so many of those I have loved that it would be very dreadful to think what life would be to me without this dear child.”
“Dear old Frederick!” said his friend, laying his hand affectionately on his broad shoulders. “It is not strange that you love the boy, and I hope with all my heart that he may be spared to you for many, many happy years to come.”
“Dear me!” said Philip, with a long-drawn sigh, as the anchor slipped from the bow of the yacht in the harbor at Nice. “It is all nearly over.”
“But you are not really sorry to be going home, are you?” asked Lord Ashden, who was standing beside him watching the sailors as they made their preparations for putting the party ashore on the following morning.
“Oh, no!” cried the boy, his face all aglow; “only I have thought so much about going back to England that it hardly seems possible that it is so close at hand; I have to pinch myself sometimes to reassure myself that it is all really true.”
“What a queer thing life is anyway!” said Lord Ashden, musing, as he looked into the deep blue water that rippled all around them. “Be we never so happy in the present, we are always looking forward to something just ahead of us; and it is fortunate indeed that we cannot penetrate the veil which hides the future from our eyes. I can remember so well, when I was your age, looking forward with just the same eagerness to what was just beyond, and often when it came--but what’s the matter, Philip, my boy?--you look as though you were seeing ghosts, too. Come, let us have a brisk walk on the deck together, and perhaps we shall succeed in feeling more cheerful.”
But Philip did not smile with his usual gayety, and when his friend looked down in surprise he saw that the boy’s eyes were full of tears. “Do you know,” he said, in a low voice, “much as I long to go to England, something makes me half dread it; is it not a strange feeling?”
Just at this moment the owner of the yacht poked his head out of the companionway.
“See here, Philip,” he said, “it’s our last night on board, you know, and we may all be excused, I think, for feeling a little sentimental: why can’t we have a little music in the cabin? Shall I tell Marvin to fetch your violin?”
“Oh, yes!” said Philip eagerly; “I will get it myself,” and he ran off to bring his beloved instrument from the bottom of its travelling box, in which it had been carefully packed to preserve it from the effects of the salt air.
“What shall I play?” he said, as he stood, bow in hand, under the swinging lamp in the luxurious cabin.
“Anything you like,” said their host, making himself comfortable in a corner of a sofa; “something of a soft and dreamy kind, you know;” and Philip began to play. He was always at his best when he could improvise and wander on at will, with no set programme to follow, and to-night he quite astonished his hearers with the brilliancy of his performance, playing on and on until the lamp burned low, and at last flickered and went out, and Lord Ashden sprang up, saying:
“By Jove! It must be getting rather late.”
“Ah,” said his friend, with a long sigh, “I could have listened all night--I never heard anything like it; but see here, Philip, come here a moment, my boy, and let me look at you. Are you the same Philip I heard laughing and shouting on the deck to-day? What do you know, a veritable baby like you, about the sorrow and anguish and pain of life? Your music to-night was full of it; but how did it get there, that’s what I want to know?”
“Was it so very sad, then?” asked the boy, with simple regret. “I am sorry. I did not mean to make it so, but I did feel it all for a little while--it was terrible,” and he raised his eyes, full of a distress which he did not understand himself, to his friend’s face.
“Why, my dear little man, this will never do. Come now, scamper off to bed, and don’t let me catch you lying awake thinking of solemn and disagreeable things, or I shall never let you come aboard my yacht again, _never_, do you understand?”
“There is something uncanny about that boy,” he muttered, as he went up on deck for a walk before turning in for the night. “I would not tell Ashden so, of course, but I am not so sure that his _protégé_ will live to grow up and be the comfort and pleasure to him which he expects he is going to be. Poor Ashden!”
As for Philip, he was the first one on deck next morning, and by breakfast-time was ravenously hungry and in the best of spirits, notwithstanding his regret at leaving the yacht, which they were to do in time to catch the morning train for Paris. His high spirits continued during the journey, and he chattered and laughed, and teased Marvin, the staid old man-servant, until Lord Ashden was obliged to bribe him to be quiet while he took a nap. The passage from Calais to Dover was unusually rough, but even the qualms of seasickness did not altogether dampen the boy’s spirits.
“We are going home, we are going home,” he kept repeating. “In twenty-four hours we shall see Uncle Seldon and Aunt Delia and the Nortons and Dash. Dear old Dash--oh, I hope he has not forgotten me!”
When they arrived at Dover they found a telegram from Dr. Norton, saying that the rector and his wife had come down to London to meet the travellers, and that they were all awaiting their arrival with breathless interest. Philip held the telegram in his hand all the way to London, and during the long trip in the cab to Kensington, where the Nortons lived, he was half sorry that they were not going directly to Lowdown; but, after all, that would have delayed the meeting just so much longer.
The cab at last drew up before a brightly lighted house, and some one within must have been listening for the sound of wheels, for before the man could leave his box, the front door was thrown open, letting a broad blaze of light out on the pavement.
To Philip’s dazzled eyes it seemed as if the hallway was crowded with airy figures pressing forward to greet them as they entered, but it was only Lillie, Rose, and the governess, in whom, to his joy, he recognized his own old friend, Miss Acton. She had changed but little, but he never would have known in any other place the two tall girls who came forward with rather shy cordiality to greet him. Aunt Delia folded him in her arms, saying, “My darling boy, my own boy, how glad I am to have you here with me again, I have longed for you so!”
Dr. Norton and his wife were delighted to see him, and the girls presently forgot their first shyness in the excitement of asking and answering questions. It was a very merry party which gathered around the supper-table, and Philip was touched to see that Mrs. Norton had planned to have all the dainties of which she remembered Philip to have been particularly fond in the old days at Lowdown. Rose and Lillie fluttered about the room, too happy to sit down quietly with the others, and they kept heaping delicacies on Philip’s plate until he was obliged to assure them laughingly that he did not possess the appetite and digestion of an ostrich, and then suddenly he stopped, with a buttered crumpet half way to his mouth, to ask where Marion was.
Miss Acton explained that she had gone with friends to spend a few days at a country house; she would be back very shortly though, and perhaps might not have gone had she known that Lord Ashden and her cousin were coming so soon.
That supposition was evidently added to soothe a little disappointment that was visible in Aunt Delia’s face. As for Philip, he felt almost relieved that he was not to meet Marion immediately. His old admiration for her beauty had not faded, but equally fresh was his vivid remembrance of her scorn of the little cousin she used to consider a disgrace to the family.
He was very happy for the next few days, giving himself up to the enjoyment of being carried about to all sorts of places by the twins and Miss Acton.
“How nice it is to have a cousin with us!” said Rose; “mamma won’t let us go anywhere alone with Miss Acton since we have grown so big, but with you for a protector we can have no end of larks.”
“Cousin Philip may not fancy going everywhere with a B. B. party,” said Lillie, rather mischievously.
“I have no idea,” said Philip, “what a B. B. party is, but I shall be only too happy to go anywhere with you,” and he glanced affectionately at Miss Acton as if to include her.
“B. B. is short for bread-and-butter party,” explained Rose; “that’s what papa calls Miss Acton and Lillie and me when we do get leave to go off to the park, or the Zoo, or anything, because we take our lunch with us so as not to shock the proprieties by going into any of those lovely, darling restaurants for a bite.”
“Perhaps my uncle wouldn’t mind letting you go into a restaurant if you took me along for an escort,” said Philip, eager to please them.
“The idea!” said Rose pertly; “why, he’d think we were crazy to ask him; but maybe he would let us go into a pastry-cook’s and have a Bath bun; even that would be exciting, compared to getting round behind people to gobble lunch out of a paper bag.”
After this, lunch at the pastry-cook’s became a daily occurrence, and on one seraphic day, when Aunt Delia was persuaded to join the party, they celebrated the old lady’s birthday by actually dining at a restaurant, to the unutterable delight of Rose, who had suggested that form of dissipation as being, in her mind, more ineffably jolly than any other that was open to them.
Rest and recreation were so new to Philip that he entered with all the zest of a child into these simple pleasures, and for a few days would not even think of music. But as soon as the week he had allowed himself to devote to pleasure was over, he presented himself with his letters from the old maestro, from Lord Ashden, and from the managers in Milan, to a notable musical leader in London. Such powerful recommendations, and a private hearing of his playing upon both violin and piano, accomplished the result he desired, and an appearance was arranged for him at a concert in which a wonderful new tenor and a celebrated prima donna were to take part.
Even if he had been less talented, his success might have been considered certain, for Lord Ashden had written a long letter to a prominent patron of music and art, urging her to manifest an interest in his _protégé_. The lady, a wealthy widowed duchess, with a fine musical talent of her own, and a great fancy for discovering and patronizing young and unknown genius, responded promptly to Lord Ashden’s request by sending her card to Philip with an appointment for him to call on the following morning.
A desire from such a quarter was equal to a command, so Philip presented himself at the residence of Her Grace, and was received most kindly. He played, that was of course, and the lady was enchanted--honestly so--and kept him at it till he feared he must be wearying her. He must make his English _début_ at her house; she should insist upon having the glory of being the first to exhibit this pearl she had discovered. Such flattering interest from such a source would have turned some older heads than his, but Philip accepted it all with a grave simplicity that was irresistibly charming to his patroness. It seemed to him that the compliments were to the music, not to himself; he was simply the medium that evoked it; as well praise the instrument for giving it as him for drawing it out. As quietly as he had received her praise, but with becoming gratitude, he accepted her invitation to play for her and a few friends on an evening before the concert. The promise was given, however, subject to the approval of the professional leader, whose consent the lady undertook to obtain herself.
Philip went home in high spirits, and the little party rejoiced over his success and congratulated and complimented him ecstatically. Lillie and Rose had heard enough of his Milanese triumph to predict the most wonderful success for him, and revelled in anticipation of the glory which would crown his appearance. Their rapture was complete when the postman brought a box-order to Philip for his friends; and although Dr. Norton was known to be strict in prohibiting evening entertainments to his younger daughters while they were still in the care of a governess, Aunt Delia ventured to promise that just this once they should attend.
Two or three days before the concert, Philip, coming into the house after a rehearsal, felt as if he should like to spend a quiet hour dreaming over the music he was to play at the great concert. It was, perhaps, one secret of his wonderful power over his listeners that when a composition pleased him, he would think of it, dream of it, and let it absorb his whole soul, the strains throbbing through his inner consciousness as vividly as if they were actual sounds falling upon his ear.
Quietly, that he need not be seized upon by his lively cousins, he stepped into the darkened parlor and groped his way to a vast easy-chair, whose luxuriously cushioned depths invited repose of mind and body; sinking into it, he covered his eyes with his hands and began to recall the harmony he had just rehearsed. But a murmur of voices broke the silence--Lillie’s and another fresh and young like hers, but unfamiliar. He suspected that it might be his cousin Marion, and the next words convinced him that it was. She had returned while he was absent, and, with Lillie, was discussing the things that had happened during their separation. Rose had been attacked by a sudden feverish cold, and Aunt Delia had sent them downstairs, fearing their chatter might disturb her.
“Poor Rosy! I’m sorry she’s sick,” Philip heard, in the voice that was new to him.
“Yes, it is very hard for her,” responded Lillie. “Particularly as she was so anxious to go to the concert and hear Philip.”
“How you all rave about Philip!” said Marion. “You and Aunt Delia, and even Miss Acton, have talked about him ever since I came into the house.”
“Yes,” admitted Lillie, “we are all devoted to him; and oh, Marion, he is so charming, so beautiful, so talented, every one is wild about him! You have heard about his wonderful triumph at La Scala; and now the duchess has taken him up, and seems to be infatuated about him, and the manager prophesies that he will be the greatest success of the season. He is so perfectly modest about himself, too, I long to have you see him. I am sure you will become just as proud of him as we are.”
What blessed words were these for the happy listener to hear!--for he did hear them, without even a thought of the impropriety of listening to a conversation between people who supposed themselves alone. The delight of learning that his relatives gloried in the honors paid to the son of one who had once been called a disgrace to the family so entranced him that he was unconscious of everything else. He listened eagerly for Marion’s reply, losing for a moment the ever-present recollection of her old disdain of him. Her answer came in clear, cold tones that cut him like a knife.
“Proud of him, Lillie! If he were a hundred times as beautiful and talented as you say, I should only feel a hundred times as much ashamed of being related to him.”
“Oh, Marion, don’t say that!” exclaimed Lillie, in sudden distress; “I thought you were over that feeling long ago. Just think how every one speaks of him, and only this morning papa was saying how proud we ought to be of him.”
“Yes,” said Marion, “I know it; but I know too that papa, in his secret heart, although he will never let himself say it, feels just as I do. It was a whim of Lord Ashden’s to educate him, and he can afford to enjoy his public triumph now because every one knows he is nothing to him; but all this notoriety makes our shame greater. Fancy being pointed out as the cousin of a professional musician! How can I ever go to the Crawfords’ or the Ashleighs’ again, or look any of my friends in the face, with such a fact made public!”
“But, Marion,” said tender-hearted Lillie, now sobbing, “see how he is received by the duchess. He went there last night, and this morning Lady Leaycroft left a card for him. She is Lord Ashden’s cousin, you know, and Aunt Delia says that after he has appeared at the duchess’ morning musicale he will be invited by all her friends. You know you would give anything to go to such houses yourself, Marion.”
“Yes, as an equal perhaps I should,” said Marion scornfully, “but not to be looked upon as occupying a menial position. Why, such people would regard Philip as of no more account socially than a flunky. They like to be entertained, and are willing to let him amuse them, but that is all. I have no doubt that even Lord Ashden thinks him no better than a valet.”
Hard, cruel, false, and unjust words falling from beautiful lips perfect enough to be chosen as an artist’s model, but coming from a heart filled with malice, envy, and dark, unlovely traits. And Philip, shrinking back into the depths of the great chair, beaten down as if by a blow, heard them all.
He found Marion at the table with the others, when he rather tardily answered the summons to dinner, and their meeting was quiet and cool enough. She showed nothing of the cordiality which her sisters felt for him, and his manner to her was as distant and grave as if he were the proud and self-sufficient relative instead of the obscure musician, whose birth and profession were disgraceful in her eyes.
But with all his quiet manner he never, for one half-instant, lost the bitter memory of those terrible words of Marion’s that had crushed his sensitive nature and wounded him more fearfully than if his actual living flesh had been pierced by a barb of steel. In his humility he never once thought of resenting even in thought the unkindness of her speech, or comforted himself with an assurance that her words were cruelly unjust; he simply sank into blank despair at the belief that all his efforts to elevate himself had been in vain, and all his hopes of winning fame and glory by his art the idle fancies of an ignorant dreamer.
Locked in his own room, while the family believed him still at the rehearsal, he had a fierce struggle with himself, and it was only love for dear old Aunt Delia and gratitude to Lord Ashden that helped him to regain composure at last, and not follow his first impulsive determination to fly anywhere, anywhere, off, far, far off, where they never should find him or hear of him again. But self-pleasing had never been his habit, so it came rather more naturally to him than it might to some to conquer his own desires and compel himself to keep the engagements for the public and private concerts, the thought of which had now grown hateful to him.
His beautiful spiritual face was startlingly pale and his hands trembled nervously, but Aunt Delia never doubted but that these were the signs of a natural excitement caused by the anticipation of the approaching concert. His appearance and manners showed refinement and cultivation so far beyond anything that Marion had expected to see that she was really greatly surprised and, in spite of her previous sentiments, interested in him. But not even to her sister would she admit that her views were in any way changed, and when going to the concert was discussed, she would not acknowledge any desire to hear Philip play, but appeared to give her consent to going with Lillie and Miss Acton simply to please the others.
After dinner Aunt Delia whispered to Philip that she would like to have him stop in her room for a moment on his way upstairs. He followed her almost immediately, and his ruffled feelings were soothed at once under the influence of her gentle presence.
“My dear boy,” she said, when they had entered the pleasant chamber together and she had closed the door, “I have something for you which I am sure will please you--and which I hope you will enjoy carrying about with you as much as I have enjoyed having it prepared for you.” She unlocked a drawer and took from it a small square box which she laid in Philip’s hand; the boy removed the outer covering with fingers which trembled with pleasure and excitement, and drew forth from its wrappings of tissue-paper a small oval case of dark leather. Touching a spring at the side, the case flew open, and Philip gave a little gasp of wonder and delight as he gazed upon two portraits, similar in size and execution, of his father and mother. They were exquisitely painted on ivory, and Philip noticed at once that the picture of his father was exactly similar to the one which his mother had worn about her neck.
“But my mother!” he exclaimed; “it is perfect--her eyes, her hair, her mouth; the artist must have seen her, surely.”
“He did,” said Aunt Delia gently, “for the artist was your father, Philip. You remember that in the old desk which stood in your mother’s room, and which we opened after her death, there were a number of papers and packages, the greater part of no particular value. You will also remember that you asked me to take charge of these and look them over at my leisure. Well, it was not until a month ago that I had the heart to do so, and from the first package which I untied there fell out your mother’s picture, which your father must have painted just before or perhaps soon after their marriage. It occurred to me all at once that the two portraits (that of your father I had already planned to give you on your return to England) could be framed together, for in death they are not divided.”
“Dear Aunt Delia,” murmured the boy, his swimming eyes fixed upon his mother’s face as though he would have devoured it, “how can I thank you?--and oh, how I wish that you could have known my mother! I know, I feel sure, that you would have loved her.”
“I do love her, my boy,” said Aunt Delia quietly, “and I believe her to have been a lovely and noble woman, and fully worthy of the love of a fine man like your father, Philip.”
The boy turned and flung his arms about Mrs. Seldon’s neck.
“Oh, Aunt Delia, thank you!” he sobbed. “It is just that which I have longed to hear you say.”
And when the two went downstairs together arm in arm, Philip’s face was so radiant that when Lillie whispered:
“Look, Marion! Is not Philip really beautiful to-night?” her sister was forced to reply:
“Yes, I must acknowledge that he is tolerably good-looking.”
Philip’s manager had consented, although rather reluctantly, that the boy should play a night or two before the concert at the house of Lord Ashden’s friend, the duchess, who had shown him so much kindness upon his arrival in London. She had gathered together three or four score of her particular friends, who belonged to the most critical musical set in London, and when Lord Ashden looked around the room and began to discern the character of the audience, he glanced rather anxiously at Philip.
Never before had he been so impressed with the boy’s extreme youth, and with his entire simplicity and unconsciousness, as he came modestly forward with his pretty air of being genuinely pleased by the sound of clapping hands which greeted him; and as he flashed upon the company one of his sunny smiles the women murmured, “What a little love!” and the men, many of them hardened concert-goers, drew up their chairs, prepared to listen with some curiosity to this fragile morsel of humanity, of whose wonderful playing they had heard such great things from their hostess.
“He hardly looks as though he had strength enough to handle the bow through such a difficult selection as he has chosen to begin his programme with,” said a stout violincellist; “but we shall see.”
Philip played his best, and as usual, after the first bar or two, he forgot all about himself and his audience, and thought only of the music before him. The second selection he played without notes, and with a sympathy and abandon which astonished his hearers; and the final number of the programme finished, as he lowered his bow and stood for a moment in the centre of the room, there was a hush of astonishment and pleasure. Then the applause began, lasting for full five minutes, while the people gathered around Philip, shaking hands and kissing him, the older musicians among the first to pay their willing tribute to his genius.
“He is wonderful--marvellous!” Lord Ashden heard them saying on all sides. “What a career he has ahead of him!” And in the midst of it all he felt a warm little hand slipped into his, and Philip’s voice whispered:
“Come, dear Lord Ashden, let us go home.”
“Didn’t you like all that petting, my dear boy?” Lord Ashden asked in an amused voice as they rolled away from the musicale in the duchess’ own carriage, which she had insisted upon sending for them.
“I don’t know,” said Philip thoughtfully. “I am glad they like my music of course, but somehow--a word or two from you, or one of dear Signor Marini’s funny little grunts of approval, seems to make me ten times happier. I wish”--he paused a moment and his eyes shone in the darkness of the carriage--“I wish I could thank you. I pray each night that God will reward you for all that you have done for me.”
“He has rewarded me,” exclaimed Lord Ashden, “by sending you to be the comfort and joy of my life.”
The night of the concert came at last, and Philip was by all odds the calmest and least excited of the party. Lord Ashden had some misgivings as to the result of this first public appearance in England, for in spite of the boy’s undoubted success at La Scala he knew that the audience of a London concert-hall were far more likely to be coldly critical than the music-loving and excitable Italians. He realized, too, that upon the success or failure of this rather bold experiment depended in large measure the young violinist’s future career, and he confessed secretly to Aunt Delia that he would be relieved and glad when the evening was over. As for the dear old lady herself, she was scarcely able to control her excitement, and she kept following Philip about the house all day with milk-punches and some homoeopathic pellets which she had been told were excellent for the nerves.
“But Philip has no nerves,” said Lord Ashden, laughing, and baring the boy’s wrist that Aunt Delia might lay her hand upon the pulse which was beating with the calmness and regularity of a trip-hammer. As for Philip, he could only repeat what he had said at Milan:
“I can but play my best, and I hope the audience may like it; at any rate, I have no fear of breaking down, for I know my score perfectly.”
His cousins were all excitement and affectionate interest, all, that is to say, except Marion, who continued to maintain her air of haughty disdain, and once or twice when the others were talking of the concert, she even yawned perceptibly, and at last left the room.
Philip, try as he would not to care, was deeply wounded by her behavior, and in his humility he felt that he must be in some way deserving of her scorn.
“She is so clever,” he thought, “and so perfectly at her ease in a drawing-room! I suppose that in comparison I must appear very green and awkward; and yet Rose and Lillie seem to like me. I wonder if they are only kind to me because they fear to hurt my feelings?”
And thus the poor sensitive boy tormented himself up to the moment when the carriage appeared at the door to take them to the concert; then, fortunately for his peace of mind, he began to think of the music which he was about to play, and this soon drove all other thoughts from his mind.
Dash had spent the day close at Philip’s heels, and as the evening approached he seemed to feel that something unusual was to occur; and when at last the party assembled in the hall, ready to start for the concert, the little creature’s excitement increased, and he went from one to the other, begging so earnestly to be taken along that Philip at last said laughingly:
“I believe that Dash thinks I am going away on another journey, for he whines precisely as he did when we started for Italy three years ago. Be a good dog! Down, Dash! You know you cannot go, and, after all, I will soon be back, you foolish dog!”
But Dash only barked and fidgeted the more, and at last when they were all in the carriage, he broke away from the servant who was trying to hold him in the hall, and springing into the coach attempted to creep under the seat. Philip, however, was too quick for him, and dragging him forth again carried him back into the house. As they drove down the street they could hear him howling dismally, and Dr. Norton remarked laughingly:
“It is fortunate we don’t believe in signs, Philip, or Dash’s howling would certainly be looked upon as a bad omen.”
They remembered this afterwards, and also that Philip replied in his clear, sweet voice:
“Dash is a very wise dog, Uncle Frank, and perhaps he had his own reasons for whining as he did.”
Philip was very quiet during the drive to the concert-hall, which was quite a long one, and indeed none of the party felt much inclined toward conversation until Marion said at last:
“Dear me, how solemn and stupid we all are. One would think we were going to a funeral. I wish it were all over,” she added. “We shall be so conspicuous, and I hate crowds.”
“Marion!” said her mother reprovingly. And glancing at Philip she was glad to notice that he had not apparently heeded his cousin’s remark.
“I must have a serious talk with Marion,” said Mrs. Norton to herself. “She seems to have grown quite thoughtless of the feelings of others of late, and I am afraid she has wounded Philip several times since her return. What can have come over her, I wonder?”
And then the carriage drew up before the stage-door, and Philip was pounced upon by his manager and carried off, while the others slowly made their way through the crowds which were pouring into the building, to the box which had been reserved for their party near the stage.
There were to be other performers besides Philip--a celebrated pianist, a player on the harp, and a popular prima donna; so many attractions filled the house that even Marion, looking at the brilliant audience, was forced to acknowledge that it was a great compliment to Philip’s playing that he should have been asked to appear on such an occasion; while Lord Ashden felt some nervous apprehension as he remarked several of the most distinguished musical critics in London in a box near their own.
Just before Philip’s turn to play came on the programme, a friend of Lord Ashden sent down from his box in the centre of the house to suggest that the party should join him there, as a better view of the whole house and of Philip’s effect upon the audience could be gained at a greater distance from the stage; so Dr. and Mrs. Norton, Mrs. Seldon and Lord Ashden, quietly made the change, leaving the girls in charge of Miss Acton during their absence.
The latter shared with Lillie her nervousness and excitement, and they were both so full of hopes and fears for Philip that they hardly gave civil attention to the professor’s wonderful piano gymnastics, or listened to Madame Lalage when she sang Cherubini’s “Ave” in her thrilling and matchless voice. And even Marion leaned breathlessly forward, forgetful for once of herself and her becoming new gown, as the prima donna’s billowy robes and shimmering satin train swept out of sight and Philip stepped quietly forth upon the stage.
They need not have feared for him, for he was perfectly composed, and stood looking curiously about the house, smiling a little and waiting until the applause which followed the retreating favorite should have quite died away. He was unknown to the greater part of the audience, and a murmur went about the house; he was so young, a mere baby,--was it possible he could play? And then he raised his violin and began. The people glanced at their programmes: “Bach’s Allemande, Suite No. 2, in C Major.” Another flutter of surprise, and then gradually silence, deep and profound, as dreamily and rhythmically the wave-like accentuation of the mystical melody fell upon the listening ears which were entranced by the wonderful pathos of the composition as the young performer rendered it. An intense stillness held the whole house, and not a note was lost till he finished, and with downcast eyes made his low, grave salutation, and turned to leave the stage. Before he vanished a superb bouquet from the duchess was handed him, and his patroness herself from her box bent forward with sparkling eyes, bowing and smiling her delighted approval.
The spellbound audience rallied then and deafened itself with applause, but owing to the length of the bill there were to be no encores; so the pianist took his place, to be succeeded by the other performers, and then, after another song by Lalage, Philip returned, and as he took his place there was a rather quick fluttering of programmes as people looked quickly to see what they were to hear from the beautiful, wonderful boy violinist. But “A Study,” with no composer’s name annexed, gave no clue to what they might expect.
He began with a sweet, soft melody in A, a pathetic lullaby that seemed, with all its sweetness, to carry a desolate sadness that made the tears start to many eyes; then the music changed strangely, and wild, defiant sounds took the place of the unutterably sweet melody; gradually these new sounds gave way to throbbing, wailing strains, which told of unfathomable sorrow and hopeless despair. The keen agony that the music expressed seemed to oppress the audience, and many of them wept unrestrainedly. Lillie and Miss Acton, feeling certain that the “Study” was Philip’s own composition, and was the musical expression of his own thoughts, shrank to the back of the box to conceal their convulsive weeping. Marion kept her place, but even she lifted her handkerchief to wipe the tears from her eyes. She could hardly feel ashamed of her emotion when she saw the impulsive and music-loving duchess opposite sobbing like a child; but no one is all evil, and perhaps the music really touched what was good and genuine in her nature, and elevated her for the time above the arrogance that made her unlovely in spite of all her grace and beauty.
In another moment the pitiful minor passages that were thrilling the listeners would have become unbearable, but sweet flashes of sound began to break through, and the woe melted into a lovely pastoral that, like a song without words, told the story of a quiet, happy life, with only the occasional anguish of a dull minor strain that broke upon the calm like the disturbing intrusion of a haunting, uneasy thought that could not always be repressed. Once, as he played, he turned his head slightly and looked fixedly for a moment into his cousins’ box, and the color burned for an instant in his pale face as he met Marion’s tearful eyes; but there was no pause in the music, and if any one noticed the passing emotion, no one understood it. And once again the thunder of clapping hands passed over the house as the young musician quietly withdrew, and people turned their programmes to see if he was to play again.
“Once more,” they murmured, and Lillie and Miss Acton retired again to the back of the box, where this time they were joined by Marion, to talk over their cousin’s triumph.
For the third and last time that evening Philip stepped upon the stage; he knew his audience now, and they knew him, and settled back to enjoy the treat which surely awaited them; and they were not disappointed. The boy threw his whole soul into his music, and the vast building might almost have been empty, so silent was the listening crowd. And then there came a moment’s pause between the movements in the music, and Philip threw back his head for an instant in a way he had; as he did so he saw something which drove the blood to his heart, for high above his head a corner of light drapery had been blown against a lighted gas-jet, and a little curling tongue of flame had just started on its way along the edge of the curtain. Philip went on at once with his playing, but as he played he stepped, almost unperceived, nearer to one side of the stage, where he knew the manager was standing, and whispered:
“Look, above your head,” and the sweet, unfaltering melody flowed smoothly on; but soon the little tongue of flame had crept around to the front of the curtain, and suddenly a strange agitation seemed to possess the audience. The people rose to their feet in evident alarm, frightened cries were heard, and some rushed from their seats into the aisles, while from some quarter came the terrible cry of “Fire!” The manager came to the front of the stage and implored the people to be calm and avoid the crowding and crushing that would result unless they left the building in an orderly way, for which he assured them there was abundant time if they would avoid a panic. For a moment they listened to his exhortation and seemed to obey, but even as he spoke the flames began to dart through the billow-like rolls of smoke that curled around the wall upon one side. Then there was an instant’s hush of dismay as the fire caught the end of some hanging drapery, and followed its festoonings, in a wild, blazing wreath, around the room, catching in its mad rush the light varnished wood trimmings, that burned like tinder. The crowd became ungovernable then, and a frightful scene of confusion ensued as they fought their way toward the entrance, defeating, in their frantic haste, the efforts of those who were cool enough to direct their movements.
Philip, while the manager was speaking, had stood with calm self-possession, revolving in his mind what was best to be done. It would have been very easy to have retreated at once through the back of the stage, but of this he did not think for an instant, and he turned towards the box where the young Nortons were sitting. It was only a few feet above the stage, and he sprang towards it, holding out his hands.
“Come,” he said, “come quickly! It is but a step; jump upon the stage and we will get out through the dressing-room. I know the way, and it is the only thing to do--the corridors are already blocked.”
Miss Acton helped the girls over the edge of the box and down upon the stage, following herself with Philip’s assistance.
“Where are the others?” he asked.
“Safe, I am sure,” replied Miss Acton, speaking quickly. “There’s a staircase near the entrance of their box.”
“Then come with me,” said Philip.
They remembered afterwards how calm he was, and that he looked back and smiled encouragement over his shoulder as he rapidly led the way towards the back of the stage; but the flames had made great headway in the short time since they were first discovered, and the narrow passageways behind the wings were filled with smoke. For an instant Philip hesitated, but glancing back he saw that there was no hope of escape through the house, which was filled with a pushing, struggling mass of terrified men and women. He turned again, bidding the others follow him, and they obeyed; but when he had led them to the back of the stage, in the very direction in which the fire was approaching, Marion shrank back and refused to follow.
“But you will die if you stay,” exclaimed Philip, seizing her arm and drawing her forcibly along, and at the same time calling to the others to follow, which they did, pale and trembling, but never attempting to question his wisdom in leading them through a door at which the flames were already darting.
“I cannot go there, I cannot!” screamed Marion, pulling back and looking toward the auditorium, where the struggling people were packed closer and closer about the door, and where terrible cries of anguish told that the bitterness of death was coming to some upon whom the stronger and fiercer trampled, without waiting for the flames they were fleeing from.
There was no hope there, and Philip knew there was no time to be lost, so he half lifted, half dragged Marion through the door, still resisting, but half fainting with terror. There was a long lobby to go through, then another door to open, and they found themselves in a small triangular room in which was one window and another door opening upon a narrow staircase, which led directly to one of the outer doors. To this door Philip sprang as they entered the little apartment, but, alas! it was securely locked and the key withdrawn; he made one mad effort to force the door, but it offered the firmest resistance. Then he remembered that at rehearsal the manager had given him a key, that he might leave the building by that door after his last piece should be played, if he chose not to wait for the end of the concert. Unhappily, instead of putting the key in his pocket, he had carried it to his dressing-room, and now he remembered distinctly having thrown it upon the table.
There was one appalling moment of dismay for them all, then Lillie said solemnly:
“Go and try to save yourself, Philip; perhaps you can find a way out if you have not us to take care of.”
“I will save you yet,” said Philip with quiet determination. “I will go for the key,” and he rushed away from them through the narrow passage toward the stage, where the fire now roared and thundered with a fury indescribable. His dressing-room could be reached by a short hallway behind the stage. It was chokingly full of thick, black smoke, but, holding his breath, he dashed through it and gained the place he sought. The dressing-room was also full of smoke, but he seized the key and rushed again to the passage. In that instant of time fire had taken the place of smoke, and it seemed as if to attempt to go through it would be to court certain and swift destruction. There was another door, and it led, as Philip knew, to the large back stairway in that part of the building as yet unattacked by the flames. To open the door and fly down those stairs meant escape from a fiery death; but to go would be to leave his friends to perish miserably in the little room to which he had taken them. He hesitated only long enough to tear off his coat and drench it in a basin of water; then wrapping it over his head, he plunged into the gulf of fire. What the horror and agony of that passage was, no one will ever know; but he reached his cousins, who were already driven, by smoke and approaching flames, into the remotest corner of the little room. He threw them the key as he fell to the floor, unable to take another step.
They opened the door, and between them dragged him into the purer air and supported him down the stairs to the street, where he was at once taken care of by the crowd who were gathered to look on and assist if possible.
The panic in the front of the house soon subsided, for the fire-engines which came from all over London quickly put out the flames, and the greatest damage caused by the fire had been behind the stage. But many had been trampled on and injured in the stampede of the audience for the doors, and the police and ambulance surgeons had all that they could possibly do. Philip was carried immediately into a small shop in the neighborhood, where half a dozen sympathizing strangers promised to care for him and the girls, who were half unconscious from the smoke which they had inhaled, while Miss Acton went to look for the remainder of the party, who she knew would be frantic with anxiety as to the fate of the children.
She did at last succeed in finding Lord Ashden and Dr. Norton, who had sent the ladies home in a cab, while they returned to search for Philip and Miss Acton’s party, whom they had seen clambering over the box, and who they supposed had escaped without difficulty through the back way. When Miss Acton told them as quietly as she could that Philip had been hurt, although she hoped not seriously so, Lord Ashden staggered and would have fallen had not Dr. Norton supported him, and when they entered the dingy back room in the little shop where Philip lay, white and unconscious, on the sofa, his guardian sank upon the floor beside him and covered his face with his hands.
“My boy, my boy!” he moaned. But in an instant he recovered himself and made arrangements to have the whole party taken home as quickly as possible.
The surgeon, whose services had at last been secured, did what he could to restore Philip to consciousness, but without success. “He is suffering from shock,” he said, “and may remain insensible for several hours. Get him home and to bed as quickly as possible; I do not think his burns are serious.”
And he hurried away to relieve the sufferings of a lady who had been trampled on by the crowd.
It was a sad party which drove back to Kensington; the sisters were only half aroused from the sort of stupor which seemed to have fallen upon them, and they lay back in the carriage, while upon the other seat sat Lord Ashden, supporting the unconscious Philip in his arms, and keeping his eyes fixed upon the boy’s face with an expression of silent agony.
Miss Acton and Dr. Norton, who had driven home more rapidly, reached the house in time to prepare the minds of Mrs. Norton and Aunt Delia, and to get rooms and beds in readiness for the sufferers, and despatch messengers for medical aid.
The physician who examined Philip shook his head and looked grave, although he spoke encouragingly. The patient was suffering principally from shock and from the effects of the smoke which he had inhaled in such quantities. His burns were not serious, however, though they would doubtless be painful and require careful nursing; he proposed, nevertheless, to spend the night with his patient, and asked that a trained nurse be sent for at once, while, for the present at least, everybody must be excluded from the sick-room but Aunt Delia and himself.
And so, after the poor burned hands had been tenderly dressed and the little sufferer made as clean and comfortable as possible, the silence which had been so imperatively ordered settled down upon the sick-room, and there was no sound but the quick, irregular breathing of the patient and the ticking of the clock on the mantel.
Lord Ashden spent that night pacing restlessly up and down the floor, and when the doctor came out of the sick-chamber early the following morning, he called him into his room. “I want to know,” he began in a strange, monotonous voice, “just what the chances are for the boy’s life. No, don’t try to spare me, please. I prefer to know the truth.”
The physician, a strictly professional and apparently unsympathetic man, was moved to sudden pity as he remarked the traces of intense suffering in Lord Ashden’s face and manner:
“My dear fellow,” he said, an expression in his eyes which was most unusual to them, “I did not know the little chap was so dear to you.”
“He is all I have,” said Lord Ashden quietly. “All I have,” he repeated as though to himself, and then he went on:
“But you have not told me yet what you think of his condition.”
It was the strictly professional man who spoke this time.
“It is difficult to tell--just yet,” he said. “The burns are serious, although not necessarily fatal, and there has been a great shock to the general system, a very great shock; the action of the heart is weak, and there is a deplorable lack of vitality and less recuperative energy than I could wish to see. However”--He paused and looked at Lord Ashden steadily.
“Go on,” he said almost sternly, and, taking up the physician’s sentence, he added, “you have, in short, little encouragement to offer?”
“I think,” said the doctor slowly, “that the boy’s chances are about even; yes, about even,” he repeated, and then he held out his hand.
“I must go now,” he said, “but I will return in a few hours. And be assured, my dear sir, that everything possible will be done.”
“Thank you,” said Lord Ashden, opening the door to allow the physician to pass through; and as the latter went downstairs he heard the door close again, and the sound of a key turning in the lock.
“Poor fellow!” the busy surgeon said, as he buttoned up his coat and went briskly down the steps, “poor fellow!”
Toward noon of that day Philip began to come out of the kind of stupor in which he had lain all night. He smiled faintly at Aunt Delia as she leaned over the bed, and tried to speak, but he was too weak, and presently he closed his eyes again. He suffered a good deal from the burns, which quite covered his hands and arms, and as night came on again he grew restless and feverish, talking incoherently and sometimes starting up in bed; once he thought the manager was calling him to go upon the stage and play.
“In a moment!” he cried, and then he lay back upon the pillow, smiling. “They are clapping,” he whispered; “they like my music, I think, and I am glad--for Lord Ashden’s sake.” After that the pain grew worse, and he tossed restlessly about on the bed, sometimes moaning, and muttering indistinctly to himself; now and then the watchers caught a word.
“All ready, sir! Is it my turn to go on? Are they all there, Aunt Delia, Lord Ashden, Miss Acton? All but Marion, I don’t see her. Wouldn’t she stay to hear me play? Oh, yes, there she is, sitting between Miss Acton and Lillie, dear little Lillie! I must play my very best to-night.”
It was the concert--always the concert; once when he lay so quiet that they thought he was asleep, there was a distant sound of the barking of a dog. “Dash!” he exclaimed, opening his eyes, and he made them understand that he wanted to see his favorite. Aunt Delia hesitated, but the nurse nodded her head, and the little dog was sent for from a distant part of the house where he had been confined, an unwilling captive. The poor little fellow seemed to realize that something dreadful had happened, and when he was brought to Philip’s bed he neither fidgeted nor barked, but remained perfectly quiet, his dumb, loving soul looking out of his bright eyes. Philip tried to hold out his poor bandaged arms, and they laid the dog gently beside him; it was very touching to see the joy of both; Dash crawled as closely as he could to Philip’s side, and the boy lay looking at him with a faint smile of perfect satisfaction. “Dear little Dash!” he murmured, and then he closed his eyes again. That night he grew much worse, and Lord Ashden, pacing restlessly about in the adjoining room, covered his ears to shut out the sound of groans and feeble cries which pierced his great loving heart like sharp knives. He was trying with all his might to reconcile himself to the thought of giving up the dear child who had wound himself so closely around the strong man’s affections. “_She_ was taken from me,” he moaned “and God knows I loved her; and now he is going too, and he is all I have--all I have.”
Not once or twice, but many times, during the night Aunt Delia stole in to comfort him; her heart, too, was very near to breaking, but she had learned to say, “Thy will be done,” and her sweet wrinkled face, on which were the traces of recent tears, wore a look of peace and resignation which Lord Ashden observed with wonder.
“Why should God punish us in this way?” he said once, and his companion laid her fingers gently on the rebellious lips.
“Hush!” she said; “do not say that, dear friend; when, three years ago (it seems but yesterday), you came to us and asked that you might take Philip to Italy, it was very hard to give him up, yet his uncle and I knew that it was for the boy’s best good; we said ‘Go’ when our hearts were murmuring ‘Stay.’ Would it not have been selfish to have kept our Philip by our side in the narrow circle of our love and care, when before him lay the chance of the life of Italy and the musical training which he so needed and wished for? And now, dear, dear friend, think a moment; may it not be something the same way now? Surely our Heavenly Father knows what is best for our darling, when He would take him from our clinging arms into the fuller life of light and love.”
She paused and laid her hand with the most caressing tenderness upon the bowed head of her companion.
“You will be brave, I know, dear heart,” she whispered. “God bless and help you.”
A few hours later the whole family were gathered in a sorrowful group around Philip’s bed. The end was very near, the doctor said, and the boy had asked to see them, calling for each one by name. He looked about upon the familiar faces, his own shining with love and peace, and there was no trace of fear or even of regret in his calm, clear eyes. Strangely enough, it was Marion’s name which he spoke first, and he tried to hold out his hand, stiff and heavy with bandages, as she knelt sobbing beside his pillow. “Why do you cry?” he asked wonderingly. “Not for me, surely, dear cousin; there is no pain now, you know.”
“Oh, Philip, Philip,” cried the girl, “forgive me! Only say that you forgive me.”
“There is nothing to forgive, dear Marion,” replied the boy; “I love you very much; you will not forget that I said so, will you, dear?” And Miss Acton gently led the weeping girl from the room.
Philip followed her with troubled eyes, and then he turned to the others; he had a word for each, but his chief thought was for Lord Ashden, who sat beside the bed, outwardly quite calm, for he feared to disturb Philip by any show of emotion; he even tried to smile when the boy looked at him, and bent low over the pillow to hear the whispered words. The others moved away while the two talked together, and no one else heard what the boy said to his friend. Once or twice the latter gave a great, deep sob, and Aunt Delia coming to his side for an instant heard Philip whisper:
“I shall see _her_, you know, Lord Ashden. Do you suppose she will know me?”
“The doctor says you must not talk any more for the present, dear boy,” whispered Mrs. Seldon softly, and Philip looked up with a radiant smile and a little weary, but quite contented, sigh.
“I am a little tired,” he murmured. “I will sleep awhile,” and he closed his eyes, but presently he opened them again and looked around the room. “Are they all here?” he asked faintly. “I cannot quite see.”
“We are all here,” replied Lord Ashden steadily; and Philip looked up languidly and smiled.
He lay very still after this, only opening his eyes once when Dash moved a little closer to his side. The nurse would have taken the dog away, but Philip shook his head, and after that there was perfect stillness in the room. The end came very quietly--so quietly that they thought he was only asleep, until the nurse nodded gravely to Aunt Delia and she arose and put her arms around Lord Ashden, whispering:
“Come, dear Frederick, our Philip has gone home.”