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- The Long Vacation - 4/58 -
for him?" asked Clement.
"In fact, ever since the first Lambkin came on the stage any one would have thought those poor boys were her steps, not good old Lamb's; whereas Felix always made a point of noticing them. Gus was nine years old that last time he was there, while I was ill, and he left such an impression as to make him the hero model.-—Aye, Gus is first-rate."
"I am glad you have not altered the old shop and office."
"Catch me! But we are enlarging the reading-room, and the new press demands space. Then there's a dining-room for the young men, and what do you think I've got? We (not Froggatt, Underwood, and Lamb, but the Church Committee) have bought St. Oswald's buildings for a coffee hotel and young men's lodging-house."
"Our own, old house. Oh! is Edgar's Great Achilles there still?"
"I rushed up to see. Alas! the barbarians have papered him out. But what do you think I've got? The old cupboard door where all our heights were marked on our birthdays."
"He set it up in his office," said Gertrude. "I think he danced round it. I know he brought me and all the children to adore it, and showed us, just like a weather record, where every one shot up after the measles, and where Clement got above you, Cherry, and Lance remained a bonny shrimp."
"A great move, but it sounds comfortable," said Clement.
"Yes; for now Lance will get a proper luncheon, as he never has done since dear old Mrs. Froggatt died," said Gertrude, "and he is an animal that needs to be made to eat! Then the children want schooling of the new-fashioned kinds."
All this had become possible through Fulbert's legacy between his brothers and unmarried sister, resulting in about £4000 apiece; besides which the firm had gone on prospering. Clement asked what was the present circulation of the 'Pursuivant', and as Lance named it, exclaimed—-
"What would old Froggatt have said, or even Felix?"
"It is his doing," said Lance, "the lines he traced out."
"My father says it is the writing with a conscience," said Gertrude.
"Yes, with life, faculty, and point, so as to hinder the conscience from being a dead weight," added Geraldine.
"No wonder," said Lance, "with such contributors as the Harewoods, and such a war-correspondent as Aubrey May."
Just then the door began to open, and a black silk personage disconsolately exclaimed—-
"Master Clement! Master Clem! Wherever is the boy gone, when he ought to be in his bed?"
"Ha, Sibby!" cried Lance, catching both hands, and kissing the cheery, withered-apple cheeks of the old nurse. "You see your baby has begun to run alone."
"Ah, Master Lance, 'twas your doing. You always was the mischief."
"No indeed, Sibby, the long boy did it all by himself, before ever I was in the house; but I'll bring him back again."
"May I not stay a little longer, Sibby," said Clement, rather piteously, "to hear Lance sing? I have been looking forward to it all day."
"If ye'll take yer jelly, sir," said Sibby, "as it's fainting ye'll be, and bringing our hearts into our mouths."
So Sibby administered her jelly, and heard histories of Lance's children, then, after exacting a promise that Master Lance should only sing once, she withdrew, as peremptory and almost as happy as in her once crowded nursery.
"What shall that once be, Clem?" asked Lance.
"'Lead, kindly Light.'"
"Is it not too much?" he inquired, glancing towards his widowed sister.
"I want it as much as he does," she answered fervently.
At thirty-eight Lance's voice was, if possible, more perfect in sweetness, purity, and expression than it had been at twenty, and never had the poem, connected with all the crises of their joint lives, come more home to their hearts, filling them with aspiration as well as memory.
Then Lance helped his brother up, and was surprised, after those cheerful tones, to feel the weight so prone and feeble, that Gerald's support on the other side was welcome. Mrs. Grinstead followed to take Gertrude to her room and find her children's photographs.
The two young people began to smile as soon as they were left alone.
"Did you ever see Bexley?" asked Anna.
"Yes-—an awful hole," and both indulged in a merry laugh.
"My mother mentions it with pious horror," said Anna.
"Life is much more interesting when it is from hand to mouth," said Gerald, with a yawn. "If I went in for sentiment, which I don't, it would be for Fiddler's Ranch; though it is now a great city called Violinia, with everything like everything else everywhere."
"Not Uncle Lance."
"Certainly not. For a man with that splendid talent to bury it behind a counter, mitigated by a common church organ, is as remarkable as absurd; though he seems to thrive on it. It is a treat to see such innocent rapture, all genuine too!"
"You worn-out old man!" laughed Anna. "Aunt Cherry has always said that self-abnegation is the secret of Uncle Lance's charm."
"All very well in that generation-—ces bons jours quand nous etions si miserables," said Gerald, in his low, maundering voice. "Prosperity means the lack of object."
"In these days when everything is used up."
"Not to those two—-"
"Happy folk, never to lose the sense of achievement!"
"Poor old man! You talk as if you were twenty years older than Uncle Lance."
"I sometimes think I am, and that I left my youth at Fiddler's Ranch."
Wherewith he strolled to the piano, and began to improvise something so yearning and melancholy that Anna was not sorry when her uncle came back and mentioned the tune the old cow died of.
Was Gerald, the orphan of Fiddler's Ranch, to be always the spoilt child of prosperity and the creature of modern life, with more aspirations than he saw how to fulfil, hampered as he was by duties, scruples, and affections?
CHAPTER III. DARBY AND JOAN
My reason haply more To bandy word for word and frown for frown; But now I see our lances are but straws! SHAKESPEARE.
Lancelot saw his brother's doctors the next morning, and communicated to his wife the upshot of the interview when they were driving to their meeting in Mrs. Grinstead's victoria, each adorned with a big bunch of primroses.
"Two doctors! and not Tom," said Gertrude.
"Both Brownlows. Tom knows them well, and wrote. One lives at the East-end, and is sheet anchor to Whittingtonia. He began with Clement, but made the case over to the cousin, the fashionable one, when we made the great removal."
"So they consulted?"
"And fairly see the way out of the wood, though not by any means quit of it, poor Tina; but there's a great deal to be thankful for," said Lance, with a long breath.
"Indeed there is!" said the wife, with a squeeze of the hand. "But is there any more to be feared?"
"Everything," Lance answered; "heart chiefly, but the lungs are not safe. He has been whirling his unfortunate machine faster and faster, till no wonder the mainspring has all but broken down. His ideal always was working himself to death, and only Felix could withhold him, so now he has fairly run himself down. No rest from that tremendous parish work, with the bothers about curates, school boards and board schools, and the threatened ritual prosecution, which came to nothing, but worried him almost as much as if it had gone on, besides all the trouble about poor Alda, and the loss of Fulbert took a great deal out of him. When Somers got a living, there was no one to look after him, and he never took warning. So when in that Stinksmeech Mission he breathed pestiferous air and drank pestiferous water, he was finished up. They've got typhus down there-—a very good thing too," he added vindictively.
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