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- The Pillars of the House, V1 - 30/124 -


'That's a blessing. But the boy?

'He cannot be moved for weeks. It is not only the fractures, but the jar of the fall. He may get quite over it, but must lie quite still on his back. So here he is, a fixture, by your leave, my lady housekeeper.'

'It is your room, Mr. Audley,' said Wilmet. 'But can his father really mean to leave him alone so very ill, poor boy?'

'Well, as his father truly says, he is no good to him, but rather the reverse; and as the Travis mind seems rather impressed by finding an Audley here, I am to be left in charge of him now, and to find a tutor for him when he gets better. So we are in for that!'

'But what is to become of you?' asked Wilmet. 'The nurse has got the little back study.'

'I have got a room at Bolland's to sleep in, thank you,' he answered; 'and I have been representing the inconvenience to the house of this long illness, so that the Travises, who are liberal enough--'

'I thought them horrid misers,' said Felix.

'That was only the American conscience as to negroes. In other matters they are ready to throw money about with both hands; so I hope I have made a good bargain for you, Wilmet. You are to have five guineas a week, and provide for boy and nurse, all but wine and beer, ice and fruit.'

'Five guineas!' murmured Wilmet, quite overpowered at the munificent sum.

'I am afraid you will not find it go as far as you expect, for he will want a good deal of dainty catering.'

'And your room should be deducted,' said Wilmet.

'Not at all. Mrs. Bolland said she did not take lodgers, but should esteem it a favour if I would sleep there while her son is away. It is all safe, I think. He has given me orders on his London banker, and they say here at the bank that they are all right. It is a strange charge,' he added thoughtfully; 'we little thought what we were taking on ourselves when we picked up that poor fellow, Felix; and I cannot help thinking it will turn out well, there was something so noble about the poor lad's face as he lay insensible.'

It was about three weeks later, that one Sunday evening, when Mr. Audley came in from church, Felix followed him to his sitting-room, and began with unusual formality. 'I think I ought to speak to you, sir.'

'What's the matter?'

'About Lance, and him in there. I have had such a queer talk with _him_!'

'As how?'

'Why he wanted us to stop from church, asked me to let off the poor little coon; and when I said we couldn't, because we were in the choir, wanted to know what we were paid, then why we did it at all; and so it turned out that he thinks churches only meant for women and psalm-singing niggers and Methodists, and has never been inside one in his life, never saw the sense of it, wanted to know why I went.'

'What did you tell him?'

'I don't know; I was so taken aback. I said something about our duty to God, and it's being all we had to get us through life; but I know I made a dreadful mess of it, and the bell rang, and I got away. But he seems a sheer heathen, and there's Lance in and out all day.'

'Yes, Felix, I am afraid it is true that the poor lad has been brought up with no religion at all--a blank sheet, as his father called him.'

'Wasn't his father English?'

'Yes; but he had lived a roving, godless life. I began, when I found the boy must stay here, by asking whether he were of his father's or his mother's communion, and in return heard a burst of exultation that he had never let a priest into his house. His father-in-law had warned him against it, and he had carried his wife out of their reach long before the child's birth; he has not even been baptized, but you see, Felix, I could not act like Abraham to the idolater in the Talmud.'

Felix did not speak, but knocked one foot against the other in vexation, feeling that it was his house after all, and that Mr. Audley should not have turned this young heathen loose into it to corrupt his brother, without consulting him.

'I told Travis,' continued the Curate, 'that if I undertook the charge as he wished, it must be as a priest myself, and I must try to put some religion into him. And, to my surprise, he said he left it to me. Fernando was old enough to judge, and if he were to be an English squire, he must conform to old-country ways; besides, I was another sort of parson from Yankee Methodists and Shakers or Popish priests--he knew the English clergy well enough, of the right sort.'

'So he is to learn religion to make him a squire?'

'I was thankful enough to find no obstruction.'

'And have you begun?' asked Felix moodily.

'Why--no. He has been too ill and too reserved. I have attempted nothing but daily saying a short prayer for him in his hearing, hoping he would remark on it. But you know the pain is still very absorbing at times, and it leaves him exhausted; and besides, I fancy he has a good deal of tropical languor about him, and does not notice much. Nothing but Lance has roused him at all,'

'I would never have let Lance in there by himself, if I had known,' said Felix. 'He is quite bewitched.'

'It would have been difficult to prevent it. Nor do I think that much harm can be done. I believe I ought to have told you, Felix; but I did not like denouncing my poor sick guest among the children, or its getting round all the town and to my Lady. After all, Lance is a very little fellow; it is not as if Edgar or Clem were at home.'

'I suppose it cannot be helped,' sighed Felix; 'but my father--' and as he recollected the desire to take his brothers away from Mr. Ryder, he felt as if his chosen guardian had been false to his trust, out of pity and enthusiasm.

'Your father would have known how to treat him,' sighed Mr. Audley. 'At any rate, Felix, we must not forget the duties of hospitality and kindness; and I hope you will not roughly forbid Lance to go near him, without seeing whether the poor fellow is not really inoffensive.'

'I'll see about it,' was all that Felix could get himself to say; for much as he loved Mr. Audley, he could not easily brook interference with his brothers, and little Lance, so loyal to himself, and so droll without a grain of malice, was very near to his heart. 'A young pagan,' as he thought to himself, 'teaching him all the blackguard tricks and words he has learnt at all the low schools in north or south!' and all the most objectionable scenes he had met with in American stories, from Uncle Tom onwards, began to rise before his eyes. 'A pretty thing to do in a fit of beneficence! I'll order Lance to keep away, and if he dares disobey, I'll lick him well to show him who is master.'

So he felt, as he swung himself upstairs, and halted with some intention of pouring out his vexed spirit to Wilmet, because Mr. Audley had no business to make it a secret; but Wilmet was putting her mother to bed, and he went on upstairs. There he found all the doors open, and heard a murmuring sound of voices in Geraldine's room. In a mood to be glad of any excuse for finding fault, he strode across the nursery, where Angela and Bernard slept, and saw that Lance, who ought to have gone at once to bed on coming in, was standing in his sister's window, trying to read in the ray of gas- light that came up from a lamp at the brew-house door.

'Go to bed, Lance,' he said; 'if you have not learnt your lessons in proper time, you must wake early, or take the consequences. I won't have it done on Sunday night.'

Lance started round angrily, and Cherry cried, 'O Felix, it is no such thing! Only would you tell us where to find about the king and his priests that defeated the enemy by singing the "mercy endureth for ever" psalm?'

'In the Bible!' said Felix, as if sure it was a blunder. 'There's no such story.'

'Indeed there is,' cried Lance, 'for Papa (the word low and reverently) took out his blue poly-something Bible and read it out in the sermon. Don't you remember, Fee, a hot day in the summer, when he preached all about those wild robbers--horrid fellows with long spears--coming up in the desert to make a regular smash of the Jews?'

'Lance!' cried Cherry.

'Well, he did not say that, of course, but they wanted to; and how the king sent out the priests without a fighting man, only all in white, praising God in the beauty of holiness, and singing, "His mercy endureth for ever." I saw him read that, though he told us all the rest without book; how all the enemy began to quarrel, and all killed one another, and the Jews had nothing to do but to pick up the spoil, and sing another psalm coming back.'

'I remember now,' said Felix, in a very different tone. 'It was Jehoshaphat, Lancey boy. I'll find it for you in the book of Chronicles. Did you want it for anything?'

Lance made an uneasy movement.

'It was to show poor Fernando Travis, wasn't it?' said Cherry; and as Lance wriggled again, she added, 'He seems to have been taught nothing good.'

'Now, Cherry,' broke out Lance, 'I told you to say not a word.'

'I know a little about it, Lance,' said Felix, sitting down on the window-seat and lifting Lance on his knee, as he said, in a tone very


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