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THE PARTNERSHIP DISSOLVED.
X HAS returned at last, after an absence of many days, and so
changed that I should hardly have known the lad. Grave Dulness, which has credit
for the exclusive possession of Wisdom and Morality, is also understood to
monopolise the best of our sentimental feelings. Chastened Sorrow is supposed to
be one of its peculiar attributes-its hereditary crown. The light-hearted are
envied for their capabilities of taking misfortunes at a tangent, and flying off
from them without feeling their weight. With great deference to an opinion
shared, as I am well aware, by both hemispheres, I believe this to be quite a
wrong view of the matter. The man of high spirits suffers in secret, though he
does [-154-] not appear among his fellow-men with the corners of his mouth
down, as though he should say: "It is heavy - it is heavy, my friends; but I
know how to bear it. While he is with them, he joins in the laugh and the song;
he mars no mirth with that look of enforced cheerfulness, compared to which
Despair with a carving-knife in his hand, would be hilarity itself. "His
worst he keeps, his best he gives." If I had not loved X so well, I should never
have imagined that he came back to us a landless man, and with the links that
had fastened his young heart to another sundered for ever. I should have thought
that he had had an illness, which had blanched his cheeks, and set its black
seal beneath his eyes. His talk was as vivacious as of old. When I told him that
the impassive Y had proposed to me in his absence to ascend the Monument, and
had even done it, his face wore the same expression of ludicrous incredulity
with which he was wont to receive most matters of fact.
"I'm a young man from the country," replied [-155-] he, "but I have not lived there all my life; moreover, I am not going to live there any more. The title-deeds of that eligible property in the west of England are lying for inspection in Bedford Row. For cards to view, apply to A. or B, Half-Moon Street. I could not find it in my heart to write X or Y. Nobody will ever call on us again in the way of business, like you, Morumbidgee."
"That is very true," observed Y, regretfully; "there is not a man in all England the least like him; nor will there be another imported. He is as unique - and ever so much better-looking - as the gorilla at Liverpool before it turned out to be a chimpanzee."
I bowed my best acknowledgments.
"One cannot joke with the heart seared, however," continued Y; "men have lost their all, and yet not lost their advertisee, as we must do; it being such an unusual description of valuable. Is it a very dreadful thing parting with landed property, X? I ask for information, since I never happened to have any myself."
[-156-] "It is indeed," returned X, wiping his eye with the back of his hand. "My steward - who looked terribly like the steward in The Rake's Progress - was almost affected to tears. The solicitor bore it better, but even he observed that the sale would be a sad pity, since the property had been in my uncle's family for five hundred years."
"And what did you say to that?" asked I, with interest.
"I said, that in that case I thought it high time the property should go out of it. It is not pleasant to be sympathised with by one's solicitor, you see; just as the eels did not relish the pathos of the cook who was skinning them."
"Are you never going down to the place again?" inquired I.
"Never," returned X; and his pale lips grew a shade paler in spite of himself.
"I am sorry for that," said I; "I had a great desire to see you - before we parted - in your western home."
"There is yet time," returned X, thoughtfully; [-157-] "and although I had made up my mind- But we will talk of it presently; it is only a few minutes to dinner."
The door closed between us and the speaker even while he spoke, and we heard his quick step on the stairs, and the sharp turn of the lock in his chamber-door almost in the same instant. His voice had grown so harsh and hoarse during the last few words that it was quite unrecognisable.
"You have pushed him too hard, Morumbidgee," observed Y, grimly; "he has wished her good-bye, you see, and shrinks from meeting her any more. The papa has explained that circumstances alter cases. The cable has been cut, not without a pang, and the ship's head set fairly before the wind. You would put her about, and make her touch shore again."
"I am a clumsy, awkward fellow," said I; "and yet, Heaven knows, I was far from wishing to hurt the dear lad's feelings."
"He knows that well," quoth Y; " there is no occasion to bite your nails. An inadvertent wound [-158-] when friends are fencing is but an excuse for kindness in the giver."
"You are right," cried I, starting up impatiently, and laying my hand on the door. But the powerful fingers of Y were also there.
"Not now," said he steadily- "not now. I do not know what you are about to do - except that you would obey some generous impulse - but whatever it is, it must not be done in a hurry."
"I have thought of it, sir, for weeks - for months," replied I vehemently.
"I know you have," returned Y. "I have read your kindly heart like an open book. But I warn you that what you intend can be of no service. X would no more receive the benefit you contemplate at your hands, being his friend, than you would have offered it to him when he was a total stranger."
"But I tell you that I love that lad as though he were my son."
"I do believe you," replied Y with feeling; "but unhappily, he is not your son. Again, I [-159-] warn you; do not make a sacrifice that must be fruitless. Hush! Here he comes - six steps at a time."
X ran in towards me with an outstretched hand.
"We will go, Morumbidgee," cried he; "we will see the old place for the last time together. After that, I shall depart for Topsy-turvy-land - the place from which you come. You will give me letters of introduction to Convictolitanus, the governor; free passes that the bushrangers will respect; credentials to the principal war-chiefs requesting them to abstain from the kidney-fat* [* White man's kidney-fat is the pâté de foie gras of the Australian savage.] of your friend and advertiser. We will start tomorrow by the night-train."
"To-morrow," said I, "I have business on hand, which may detain me the whole day."
"Then let us say the night after: I shall spend the intervening time in selecting boomerangs and other necessaries for the Australian outfit."
[-160-] "The sequel of those days unsolders all
The goodliest fellowship of jovial friends
Whereof this world holds record. Never more
Shall we three, here, at any future time,
Delight our souls with jest and sprightly talk,
Walking about the gardens and the halls
Of Londoners, as in the days that were."
We felt these words, though spoken with a smile; for even the parody of noble thoughts will make sad folk the sadder.
At the end of the second day we were rushing through the darkness of the December night in the western mail. Our town moorings were cast off. The furniture of the house in Half-Moon Street was advertised to be sold. ·We were no longer advertisers and advertisee. We could not choose but call one another by the old names, but X and Y and Morumbidgee were, in reality, dead. Angus Layton and John Stokes were about to visit their friend Charles Martin for a few days in the country, and then to part, most probably for ever. If I seem to dote and maunder upon this matter, let it be remembered who I was - how wifeless, childless, friendless - and that these [-161-] young men were the only English faces that had a kind look for me. Layton had applied for a long-promised diplomatic appointment at some foreign court, and had obtained it; we called him His Excellency already. Six-and-thirty hours eta these facts had seemed to chill my heart's blood. I had made one attempt to arrest the progress of misfortune, and it had signally failed.
"X," I had said, "I think I shall return to Australia after all."
His cheeks flushed for a moment, and in his eyes I read that he understood how great must be the affection which had prompted such a purpose. But he had replied that it must not be. "I must make my own way in the world, dear Morurnbidgee, as you have done before me; I have no relative, and I cannot have a patron. I have recklessly cast away a good fortune, and I must win it again by the sweat of my brow."
"But will nothing be lost in the meantime, my friend ?"
A look of unutterable woe came over his hand-[-162-]some face. "What must be, must be," groaned he. "Pray, do not speak of her. She will be at her father's house - close, close to mine - but we shall not see her. Perhaps, when you are an old man, Morumbidgee, I may see you again; but not her. She would have gone with me - if I had been selfish enough to wish it - across the world. But she is delicate as a harebell, and her father forbade it; and I, too, I had strength to say 'no' to that."
After this, we had no more talk.
Yet, as the wintry dawn came into that dim railway carriage, and lit up the hard white roads and leafless trees, it brought more pleasure to me than ever did summer sun. My heart leaped within me with delight at its own meditations. All night long I had remained sleepless, but happier than any dreams could make me. I gazed at X, and the poor lad's pale unrested features did not touch me with sorrow; I had a scheme to light them up with smiles. The diplomatist looked even still more wretched when we woke him up at the [-163-] station, and got him into the fusty fly that there awaited us.
"I hate the country," exclaimed he, "and all its dreadful ways. What a time to be awakened at! What a vehicle to travel in! You will let us have breakfast, X, I trust, before you take us out to look at the stables. Country people always ask if one would like to look at their stables. Why should they do that? I never take country friends into the mews at the back of Half-Moon Street. Why are there so many trees, and such few lamp-posts? Is this great red house the workhouse? Oh, I beg your pardon, it's the Hall."
When I had refreshed myself with a bath, and descended to the breakfast-room, I found Y flattening his nose against the window. There was a lawn with flower-beds sloping down to a running stream, and -beyond - great sweep of undulating meadow-land, crowned with. a fir plantation; a white farm glimmered in the distance; on the village side there were a few roof-[-164-]tops coated with snow, peering through elm-trees.
"What desolation!" exclaimed Y, with a shiver. "Does X believe that anybody will ever bid for this place ?"
"I have bought it," said I, calmly; "the title-deeds are in that green carpet-bag."
"Amiable lunatic," returned the diplomatist, without evincing the least surprise, "I trust you will find the asylum comfortable. In the intervals of statesmanship I may come down and play at billiards with you - for there is a billiard-table, it seems, though mouldy. But as for X, as I have warned you already, your investment has been thrown away. If even the syren in that gabled edifice yonder, which I take to be the rectory, cannot persuade our friend to abide among civilised persons, do you think that you will persuade him, who have tried your luck among the savages, and returned enriched and uneaten?"
"I will do my best, Mr. Diplomatist," replied I. "I have credentials in this matter such as you do not dream of."
[-165-] The gable-ended edifice was the rectory, as I knew perfectly well; and I became acquainted with the syren that inhabited it within an hour of that conversation with Y. There was another syren in the house-and a very pretty one too, whose terrestrial name was Lucy-but the one I was in search of was easily recognisable. Arabella was pale, and black under the eyes, amid their beautiful lids were heavy with weeping; and this gave me a good deal of pleasure, because it convinced me that she really loved my young scapegrace. In a very few minutes we became great friends. No. 2 was presently admitted to our confidence, and although she did not take me by both hands, and lay her head, with all its wealth of golden hair, upon my shoulder, she was very affectionate too. Then papa, who had been sent for out of the village, joined this pleasant little party, and made himself as agreeable as his more limited advantages permitted him to be.
"Mr. Charles Martin is in possession of all these facts, then, I conclude," observed the old [-166-] gentleman, after a long conference; "and you come here, as is very fitting, as his ambassador."
"Nothing of the kind, my dear sir," returned I, cheerfully; "he does not know one word of what I have been telling you; that is a pleasure to come."
"Not know, sir!" exclaimed the reverend gentleman, with undisguised alarm; and I thought that the impulsive Arabehla would have fainted right away in my unaccustomed arms. But syren No. 2 bade her be of good cheer, and be certain that all was well, for that this charming old gentleman (or some satisfactory words to that effect) would never have misled them in a matter so near to all their hearts, she felt quite sure.
"Thank you, my dear," said I; "I should rather think he would not. And please to get your sister's bonnet and warm wraps, for the morning is very cold, and I mean to take her along with me to Trevarton Hall."
"I do not think," said the clergyman, hesitatingly, "after what has passed, and without any [-167-] communication with Mr. Charles Martin, that she should go to his house "-
"It is not his house," interrupted I; "it is my house. I have got the title-deeds in a green carpet-bag. It could take the roof off the place, and burn the oak staircase, if I chose, and I will, too, if there is the slightest opposition to my wishes. Give me your arm, my dear girl. You will come back again presently on somebody else's."
So we trudged off to the Hall, and leaving her in the library (where my eye caught that abominable Life in London in the right-hand corner of that top shelf, just exactly where it used to be nearly half a century ago), I opened the door communicating therefrom to the smoking-room, where I found X alone, with a cigar in his mouth, and looking deadly pale and miserable, as if it was the first he had ever smoked.
"What is the matter?" inquired I.
"There is more than one thing the matter, friend," returned he gloomily; "one of the least, however, is this thought, that a property which [-168-] has been confided to me in the belief that I would do my duty by it, is now in the market, liable to be bought by the first Jew money-lender who takes a fancy to it. It was left me by my aunt's husband, and the very fact of there having been blood-relationship between us renders. him, in his generosity, nearer to me than any uncle, he was a very, very proud man (not a soft-hearted one like you, Morumbidgee), and I feel a great self-reproach in having brought this fate upon the place he took such pride in. Think of a gentleman of the Hebrew persuasion,
With one of those noses
Peculiar to people called Levi and Moses,
reigning in the stead of the Trevors of Trevarton."
"It is no use thinking of that, my dear fellow, for I have bought the place myself," said I; "there's a green carpet-bag in the breakfast-room"-
"And did you do this merely to give me pleasure?" interrupted X, taking my hand in his.
[-169-] "No, my dear lad, I did it to give myself pleasure. I went to Bedford Row for the title-deeds, with this idea: 'Now I will buy this country-place of his, and then ask him to remain in it as my guest - for life; and he shall bring his wife there if he likes; and when I die, it shall be for him and his children."
X sank down in a chair, and covered his face with his hands. He could not speak one word, so I went on: "My money was of no use to me whatever, since it could not preserve to me my friends. Now, this place, thought I, will be a double investment. I shall purchase a property, and I shall not lose the companionship of one who has got to be even as my own son. This was surely a capital plan."
"It can never, never be," groaned X; "do not tempt me, my dear kind friend; I cannot accept fortune at the hand of a stranger - do not misunderstand me - I mean from one upon whom I have not the slightest claim, Morumbidgee."
"But that's not my name at all, X."
[-170-] "Then from Mr. John Stokes."
"I have nothing to do with that gentleman either," said I; "my real name is Trevor, and this is the house wherein I was born, and which I should have inherited, if Brother Thomas had not left it to his wife's nephew, who turned out to be a scapegrace. I did not know this till I got to Bedford Row; but you may imagine how pleased I was to call Trevarton once more my home, and still more, to find myself your uncle. Of course, I shall not permit my heir to go to Australia. Now, don't you utter a syllable; you are not in a fit condition for argument. I think a little change of air will do you good; this room is rather close; there's somebody in the library that wants to speak to you upon very particular business."
I pushed him into that apartment, and closed the door between us, because I thought the young people might have something of a private nature to transact. They were scarcely a minute alone together, however, but came back in upon me before I had well lighted a cigar. The syren was wonderfully [-171-] improved in complexion, and it is my impression did not in the least require to be supported round the waist by X, who had officiously placed his arm there. She broke away from him, and threw herself upon my neck (for the second time that day), and kissed me (for the first time, and it was very pleasant), and called upon all the gods to bless me for my goodness, as though I had been Mr. Peabody himself.
It was a very striking little tableau, and a good deal astonished Y, who had come through a second door, which was one of those noiseless cloth ones, adapted for keeping tobacco-smoke out of the house. "Upon my word, Mornmbidgee," cried he, "you are worse than that baker whom we met on the Monument."
"Don't you be disturbed, my dear Arabella," cried I - for she had jumped away from me, on his sudden appearance, as though I had been stinging nettles - "this is only a diplomatist, a thing that nobody cares for now a days. The use of language to gentlemen of his profession is to conceal their [-172-] thoughts; I have not the least idea of what he means by the baker."
"My dear Y," exclaimed X, "this is Mr. Trevor of Trevarton, whom I once heard my aunt speak of as having disgraced his family by taking to some useful pursuit in a part of the world where there was no Society. He affirms that he is my near relative, and one shouldn't look a gift horse - I mean one shouldn't look for a gift-uncle in the Tables of Affinity. He insists upon my becoming his heir."
"Very good," said Y; "capital."
"And marrying this young lady."
"Very pretty," said Y- "very pretty. Has ·he any commands of the same nature to lay upon me? My dear Morumbidgee, I have always been attracted towards you in a very unaccountable manner. Do you not think there must be some consanguinity between us?"
"I am certain," said I frankly, "that there is at least some very warm regard. There is plenty of room at Trevarton, remember, for all that were in [-173-] Half-Moon Street, and a good many more besides. Please to consider this your country-house, as long as you please, and whenever the exigencies of your profession will admit of your being in England."
"Whenever continental Europe is sufficiently tranquil to permit of the suspension of my personal supervision of her movements," replied Y with the gravest prolixity, "I will either be here or at the house you mean to have in London - which I shall prefer. However, as I am here now, and the political horizon is tolerably clear, I think I will stay a good long time."
And he did stay a good long time; long enough not only to see X married and settled, but to form an attachment with syren No. 2, who is only less charming than my dear little niece Arabella. Negotiations have already been entered into by the high contracting parties, and it is more than probable that when His Excellency Angus Layton does leave for the court to which he is accredited, it will be as a Benedict. Charles Martin [-174-] is as lively as ever, but steadier and stronger also - as XX, in fact, is to X single.
As for me, I have come home from the Colonies indeed; and I think there is no place like home.