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- The Pillars of the House, V1 - 120/124 -
'My dear governor, I know that as well or better than you do, and it won't be my fault if I go there again.'
'Don't let it be anybody's fault,' returned Felix, and vanished through the office door; while Lance, sighing wearily, was heard repairing to his refuge in his own room, and Bernard grimly and moodily swung himself downstairs on his way to afternoon school, believing himself a much aggrieved party. Here was Lance, whom he had believed a fellow-inhabitant of the Alsatia of boyhood turned into one of those natural enemies, moral police, who wanted to do him good! True, Lance had helped him out of his scrape, and guarded his secret; but Bernard could not forgive either his own alarm, or the 'not exactly'; and the terms of confidence so evident between him and Felix seemed to place them in the same hateful category. Worse than all, Lance had laughed at him, and Bernard was far too proud and self-important not to feel every joke like so many nettle-stings. He had expected an easy careless helper; he had found what he could not comprehend, whether boy or man, but at any rate a thing with that intolerable possession, a conscience, and a strong purpose of keeping him out of mischief.
To detect which purpose was to be resolved on thwarting it. Nor, it must be allowed, was Lance's management perfect. He wanted to make himself a companion such as would content the boy instead of the Nareses, but to cross the interval of amusement between sixteen and ten required condescension, that could not but be perceived and rejected, nor did he perceive that ridicule was an engine most fatal in dealing with Bernard. Of course nothing like all this passed through the boy's mind. Lance simply saw that his little brother was getting into mischief, and tried to play with him to keep him out of it, but was neither well nor happy enough to do so naturally, and therefore did not succeed. Yet if he had abstained from showing Bernard a picture in the style of Punch, of the real animal and no mistake, and Bernard himself pointing to Felix and observing that the governor didn't know what's what, he might have prevailed to prevent the boy from eluding him and going to Mr. Sims' rat-hunt.
Of all this Felix: knew nothing. He still had much lee-way to make up, in consequence of his absence, and the excitement in the town told upon the business.
Mr. Bevan's reply had been a timid endeavour at peace-making which foes called shuffling, and friends could only call weakness, so that it added to the general exasperation. Then came the Archdeacon's investigation, which elucidated the Curate's moral integrity, but showed how money subscribed for charity had gone in the church expenses, that ought to have been otherwise provided for. It was allowed that the Rector had been only to blame in leaving the whole administration to the Curate under his wife's dominion, and as the lady could not be put forward, Mr. Smith was left to bear the whole brunt of the storm.
His obsequiousness to Lady Price had alienated his brother clergy, and his fellow-curate allowed himself to be kept aloof by his mother, in a manner that became ungenerous. Half petulant, and wholly ungracious, as Mr. Smith's manner was in receiving assistance, only strong principle could lead any one to befriend him; and his few advisers found it difficult to hinder him from making a public exposure of 'my Lady,' or from throwing up his work suddenly and leaving the town, which would of course have been fatal to his prospects.
The Pursuivant had a difficult course to steer, Mr. Froggatt would fain have ignored the strife altogether, but the original note of defiance having been sounded by his trumpet, this was not possible, and the border line between justice and partisanship was not easy to keep. Whether the young editor did keep it was a question. To Mr. Smith he seemed a tame, lukewarm supporter; to Mr. Froggatt, a dangerously conscientious and incautious champion; and the vociferous public despised the dull propriety, and narrow partisanship, of the old country paper. Finally, on the first Saturday in October, there appeared the first sheet of the Bexley Tribune, with a cutting article on bloated dignitaries and blood-sucking parasites, and an equally personal review of all the Proudie literature. On the Monday morning one hundred and twenty-nine Pursuivants remained on hand. Redstone took the trouble to count them, and to look into the office to ask Mr. Underwood where they should be stowed away.
'I wish he was smothered in them, the malicious brute!' said Lance, grinding his teeth, when Felix had given a summary answer. 'What a blessing to see the ugly back of him on the 1st of November!'
'I'm not so sure of that,' said Felix, as he sorted the letters of the Sunday post.
'Do you think he can. do us any harm?'
'No; but he seems a specimen of an article hard to supply at the same price.'
'Are those answers to your advertisement?'
'Yes, and very unpromising.'
Lance came to look them over with him, and to put aside those worth showing to Mr. Froggatt; but it seemed that an assistant suitable in appearance and intelligence was so costly as to alarm their old- fashioned notions. He must be efficient, for Mr. Froggatt was equal to little exertion, and never came in on bad days; and to give an increased salary when the paper was struggling with a rival was serious; yet the only moderate proposal was from a father at Dearport, who wanted his son boarded, lodged, and treated as one of the family.
'That is impossible,' said Felix, 'unless the Froggatts would do it.'
'Eighteen!' said Lance. 'I'm sixteen, and up to the ways of the place! Why don't you set me to work before I have eaten my head off?'
'It would not do for you afterwards,' said Felix; 'I don't like your rushing out to serve.'
'But really, Felix, I mean it. I can do all Redstone does, except lifting some of the weights; and I am as old as you when you began.'
'No, no, Lance; your line is cut out for you.'
'It was,' said Lance, 'but I'm off it, and no good as I am; and if you could save Redstone's salary, you might send Bear to Stoneborough, instead of letting him stay here and go to the dogs.'
'Ah!' groaned Felix, 'it is hard that all this should come to upset his chances.'
'Are you really afraid those rascals can do us much harm?'
'We have a sound county circulation beyond their reach, but every copy they sell is so much out of our pockets; and there are so many people possessed with a love of the low and scurrilous, as well as so many who differ in politics, that it must thrive unless they stultify themselves. Don't look so appalled, Lancey boy; we aint coming to grief, only it will be a close shave at home this winter.'
'Then, Felix, let me help! You don't know the comfort it would be.'
'Not so loud,' said Felix, stepping into the shop. Lance stood thoughtful, then hearing more footsteps, ran out, and found two or three boys come for school materials, and some maids waiting to change volumes for their ladies. He gave his ready help; and there ensued a lull, for it was a wet day, such as to make Mr. Froggatt's coming doubtful. Felix took a second survey of the applications.
'Now, Fee, do think about this; I am in earnest.'
'So am I, Lance; I am very thankful to you, but it is not to be thought of.'
'Why not? Am I too small? For that's mending. There's one good thing in being ill, it sets one growing. My thick go-to-meeting trousers that I left at Minsterham are gone up to my ancles; I must ask Wilmet if Clem hasn't left a pair that have got too seedy for Cambridge.'
'It is not that, Lance, but the disadvantage it might be to you in after-life.'
'If I took to it for good?'
'No, no, Lance; one is enough.'
'Stay. Don't shut me up that way. Recollect what this horrid donothingness is doing for me. I am losing all chance of the exhibition, and they can't keep me on at the Cathedral without, for my voice has got like an old crow's; and besides, if I can't read, what's the good of standing for scholarships?'
'You will feel very differently when your head is stronger. Besides, if there should be anything in what we were told at Ewmouth, it would be a pity to get more involved with trade.'
'I thought that was never to be spoken of.'
'And this is my first time. Don't take it as a licence.'
'I could see the sense of that, if it were you,' said Lance, 'but not for No. 5.'
'No. 1 would have his place and work found for him, but No. 5 might not find it easy to turn to something else.'
'Well!' said Lance, considering, 'you said that possibility was not to make any difference to us. Wouldn't it be making the wrong sort of difference to let it keep a great lout like me in idleness while Bernard is going to the bad?'
'What do you mean about Bernard?' said Felix, now thoroughly roused. 'Is it worse than you and Fulbert were in your gamin days?'
'I am afraid so,' said Lance. 'Ful took better care of himself than he seemed to do, and his friends were decent fellows, not like the lot that have hooked in poor little Bear.'
'I suppose it was some scrape of his that took you into Smoke-jack Alley. I thought you would get him out best without me.'
'The little dog, he was always after me when I didn't want him, but now I can't get at him. In short, there's nothing for it but cutting the connection between him and Jem Nares.'
'Just tell me how far it goes. What has he been doing with him?'
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