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“Ah, thank you! but indeed I see all this makes him cling the more closely to Brayscombe. He had once thought of taking the three girls to meet Mrs. Winstanley at Interlaken, and poor little Isa has always felt rather injured at not having been allowed to go abroad with them, -but he has now quite abandoned not only that but any idea of leaving home, I think.”
Well, you will let me know whenever you see an opening for me to have the pleasure of being of use to him," and he rose ; “good-bye.”
He met the homeward returning “Great House" party in the drive; and Mr. Erle pressed him to return, and join them at supper, but he declined ; and when they entered the house without having fallen in with George and Isabel, only Amy wąs in the drawing-room, Dulcibella once more upstairs with Sarah.
George stayed up after prayers that night, so Dulcibella, as fairly fagged out body and mind as any of the younger ones, said good-night at once and went up stairs.
“ Have you seen or heard anything of Arthur the last year ?" asked Mr. Erle, suddenly laying down his book within five minutes.
“Yes, I saw him in March : we met at Darton's office,” answered George, but not without a little trepidation; so strong even upon him was still, -once back amongst the old surroundings,-the force of Brayscombe traditions : of which unquestioning and implicit filial obedience had ever been the very backbone.
“ Darton's office ?"
• Yes : : as soon as our grandmother Desmond's legacy was passed over to him, he settled it on his wife and asked me to be one of his trustees and future guardian to the children.”
Mr. Erle had always hitherto imagined his son to be living on first the reversion and then the residue of the principal of this sum which bad fallen so unreservedly into his power within seven months of his marriage. “Do
you know what he is living upon then ? surely his wife has no money
p" “I believe old Potticary had insured his life for £500, and that she and the three children were starving on the resulting pittance when Arthur met her: also that his practice had been sold for her benefit, and she was trying to get a little school together.”
“School ? has she had any education herself ?”
“Yes, as far as it went a good one. She was a pupil teacher in London, and under a very good clerical staff; Potticary met and fell in love with her at Margate just when she was recruiting there at some Home, after her first year at college, —she was only nineteen : they married, and at the end of five years he died leaving her with four children.”
“What, are there still three now ?”
“No, one died soon after the father, scarlet-fever carried them both off-I think, too, there had been another baby somewhere."
'How did you learn all this? before Arthur married her ?”
“No! I felt as enraged with him as any one of you then! but when he wrote to me about this trusteeship I was of age, I was his brother, I could not lightly refuse him, but I felt I must learn what kind of woman it was of whose children I might some day find myself guardian, and went down to Margate, and gradually hunted her life backwards, and so got to this pupil-teachership,-a great relief to my own mind,-between her first marriage and the old Battersea butterman."
Mr. Erle might well wince; but he asked quietly, “And you saw her?”
“Why-no. To tell the truth I thought you would be exceedingly displeased, if I did so, on my telling you I had done it. And yet I could not think of leaving you in ignorance of more than business dealings with any one of them, after your injunctions of last summer.”
“ What do you suppose they did all live on between August and March ?” resumed Mr. Erle, after a little
pause. “Well, Arthur sold his books and china and piano for a good deal altogether, if at a great loss really,—and he has been earning money in various ways,—I think he writes for the · Art Review,' and does literary hack-work of any kind ;-and, but I don't think you would wish to know,-father”
“Yes, tell me all, and the worst at once.—Has he been acting clown at a Christmas pantomime ?” with the last sneer in which he indulged himself at poor Arthur's possible vagaries.
No, not so bad as that: but two or three times I saw his name advertised as performer at a concert given at some music hall at the East End :-some old established respectable place, and in very respectable and well-known company,” George hastened to add.
666 Arthur Desmond Erle, one could not mistake the name: I had a great mind
to run up to hear him, but couldn't have gone without trying to shake hands with the old fellow, and that might have brought proposals to go to his own home.”
“ You have never seen bis wife then ?"
“Never ! he sent me her photograph this time last year,—but I tossed it into the fire at once! I did see it was a modest sensible looking face, not all languishing ogling eyes as I'd expected; and at the Training College they spoke most highly of her good sense and sweet intelligent nature; only were still rather bitter at her desertion of her profession for a very vulgar little man I do fear,- -So what these precious children may be like I rather dread,-Maximilian and Gwynneth, if I remember right,—and I think he said the other's a girl too, I
suppose another Adelina.” Mr. Erle said, “Thank you, you have relieved my mind in some ways at any rate. As Arthur at once invested the whole of that £5,000, one may trust at least that he had not, once more, run into debt.—I almost wish—but you could by no means know such would ever be my feeling—that you
gone down to Stepney and seen the whole household.”
“Shall I go to-morrow, sir ?” asked practical George.
“Wait till over Sunday: I shall by that time have had an answer to my to-day's letter probably.—I see you know my poor Dulcie's fears about me? --Well ! I think I shall find a good right hand and sensible head to help me, in my second son at any rate," and he took up his book again and dropped all conversation till as eleven struck he rose, George lighted his candle, and they both went up stairs to bed.
That night passed quietly both at Brayscombe and Stepney, many again sleeping the sleep of deep fatigue at both places : Elizabeth Erle perhaps as profoundly as any one ; and it was not till little Awdrey had knocked three times at her door with Mrs. Pflegging behind her, carrying her a carefully spread breakfast-tray prepared by Arthur, that she was really aroused and to find it half-past eight.
Arthur was gone back to No. 4 before she came down, but had bidden Mrs. Pflegging tell Miss Erle all was going on as well as possible next door. Alice had followed him with the morning's letters, and that from his father he had slipped at once into his pocket, not to read it even under the children's innocent eyes : glad that Aunt Elizabeth's unpunctuality would make no one but himself aware that, after thirteen
months' famine of direct tidings from Brayscombe, a letter with that familiar post-mark had once more come to him.
Brayscombe Rectory, Burnt Ash, R. S. O.,
June 22nd, 1875.
“ Whatever hard words passed between us last year I am convinced that I need not assure you that you have had my deep sympathy and prayers
late troubles and anxieties. I thank God that there now seems every probability of the most precious possession of a man's life—his wife, being both preserved and fully restored to you and to her children.
“I wish much to see you. Long letters but ill take the place of a few words, face to face, between man and man. I have many things to tell you and to hear from you. Shall you be at liberty to meet me at Darton's,—or your club, — I presume the quieter your own home is still kept the better? —some day early in next week ?
“The girls have all felt deeply for you. I was glad to hear Kathleen bad sent you some flowers, and guess now for what old friend' Andrew needed leave to carry flowers down to the station on Monday. I trust that they reached you in time; but should have been better pleased if my little granddaughter could have been laid to rest at Brayscombe beside my other beloved ones. "My kind regards to your wife.
• Your affectionate father,
“ GEORGE THORNTON ERLE.”
Arthur sat long pondering over this letter of few and simple words; his quick wit and imagination seeing much between the lines; even guessing that there was some Brayscombe as well as Stepney anxiety as to health. Suddenly he took up his pen and wrote:
“4, Bromley Street, E.,
“ June 23rd, 1875. “MY DEAR FATHER,
“I am not worthy to be called your son, much less to receive you under my roof; but if you will come down to Stepney, any day that
you like to name next week, I would meet you at Paddington and show you the long way; and perhaps we could talk out our business
talk by the way at Darton's, or in the Park, out in the open-rather than in any other man's house, or in one with such thin walls as this. And let your visit, here, be one only to my home.
I have much that I wish to say to you: many things are weighing on my heart and mind and soul, hard to write of; and I will only touch upon one-and that perhaps the lightest as the easiest to be rid ofthe large amount you have paid for me at three several times in freeing me from debt. Queenie has at least made me feel the blessedness of any self-denial so as to live within our income, and we have been quite rich since spending only at the rate of £99. 195. 114. a year whilst having £100: also, thanks to her advice, when Aunt Ursula's £500 was at last paid me over by Darton only a fortnight ago we did not at all increase our style of living—meat once a day—and a little maid-of-all-work—but put it by in the bank for a rainy day. Perhaps you will think that rainy day is now come; but even doctor's bills at the East End are not ruinous; and with Aunt Elizabeth turning us all into meat-abstainers, we shall soon have no butcher's bills, and, if all the · Dietetic Reform' pamphlets with which she has besprinkled my room, be as true as herself -no doctor's bills either !—Now, do not refuse me the one solitary compensation which I can make you for all the past trouble and anxiety and disappointment, I have cost you : you gave me £100 to float me at the end of my first year at Oxford and paid £380 for me at the end of my
Oxford career, though my increased allowance ought fully to have sufficed for every need and legitimate luxury,-£150 when I took deacons' orders and settled down full of good resolutions in Berks,-£530 in all,—for I know you did mean the first £100 as a gift, and perhaps inexperience more than wilful waste was to blame, that first year, in a fellow brought up to have all he needed thitherto found for him,--and a good deal more besides.—But now I beg you to accept the enclosed cheque for the last two sums as your own by right, and to believe dear good indulgent generous old Aunt Ursula Erle never gave so much pleasure to any one in her long extended lifetime, as she has done now, in her death, by enabling her graceless spoilt grandnephew to sign the enclosed cheque, and thus do his best to undo some of the folly and evil of his past days.
“Of more serious matters I must speak, not write. I do not yet see my way to returning to my original profession, if any one else could allow or wish it; and was very thankful when George met me