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- The Pillars of the House, V1 - 40/124 -
for the orphan school had been solicited for the two boys, and he had been asked to subscribe to the Comment on the Philippians. Mr Audley felt that he had a sympathising listener, and was not slow to tell the whole story of the family--what the father had been, what Felix now was, and how his influence and that of little Lancelot had told upon their young inmate. The Bishop listened with emotion, and said, 'I must see that boy! Is the mother in a state in which she would like a call from me?' but there an interruption had come; and when the country clergy came in the morning, Mr. Audley had thought it fittest not to swell the numbers unnecessarily, and had kept himself out of the way, and tried to keep his fellow-curate.
So he had seen no more of the Bishop, until, some little time after he and Fernan had lunched, and were, it must be confessed, making up for their unrestful nights by having both dropped asleep, one on his chair, the other on the sofa, there came a ring to the door, and Lance, who had a strong turn for opening it, found himself face to face with the same tall gray-haired gentleman at whom he had gazed in the rochet and lawn-sleeves. He stood gazing up open-mouthed.
'I think I have seen you in the choir, and heard you too,' said the Bishop, kindly taking Lance's paw, which might have been cleaner, had he known what awaited it. 'Mr. Audley lives here, I think.'
Lance was for once without a word to say for himself, though his mouth remained open. All he did was unceremoniously to throw wide Mr. Audley's door, and bolt upstairs, leaving his Lordship to usher himself in, while Mr. Audley started up, and Ferdinand would have done the same, had he been able, before he was forbidden.
There was a kindly talk upon his health and plans, how he was to remain at Bexley till after Easter and his first Communion, and then Mr. Audley would take him up to London to be inspected by a first- rate surgeon before going down to the tutor's. The tutor proved to be an old school-fellow and great friend of the Bishop; and what Fernan heard of him from both the friend and pupil would have much diminished his dread, even if he had not been in full force of the feeling that whatever served to bind him more closely to the new world of blessing within the Church must be good and comfortable.
This visit over the Bishop asked whether Mrs. Underwood would like to be visited, and Mr. Audley went up to ascertain. She was a woman who never was happy or at rest in an untidy room, or in disordered garments, and all was in as fair order as it could be with the old furniture, that all Wilmet's mending could not preserve from the verge of rags. Her widow's cap and soft shawl were as neat as possible, and so were the little ones in their brown-holland, Theodore sitting at her feet, and Stella on Wilmet's lap, where she was being kept out of the way of the more advanced amusement of a feast of wooden tea-things, carried on in a corner between Angela and Bernard, under Lance's somewhat embarrassing patronage.
Alda sprang up, stared about in consternation at the utter unlikeness to the drawing-room in Kensington Palace Gardens, and exclaimed, 'Oh! if Sibby had only come to take the children out! Take them away, Lance.'
'Sibby will come presently, or I will take them to her,' whispered Wilmet. 'I should like them just to have his blessing.'
'So many,' sighed Alda, but meantime Mr. Audley had seen that all was right at the first coup d'oeil, had bent over Mrs. Underwood, told her that the Bishop wished to call upon her, and asked her leave to bring him up; and she smiled, looked pleased, and said, 'He is very kind. That is for your Papa, my dears. You must talk to him, you know.'
The Bishop came up almost immediately, and the perfect tranquillity and absence of flutter fully showed poor Mrs. Underwood's old high- bred instinct. She was really gratified when he sat down by her, after greeting the three girls, and held out his hands to make friends with the lesser ones, whom their sisters led up, Angela submissive and pretty behaved, Bernard trying to hide his face, and Stella in Wilmet's arms staring to the widest extent of eyes. The sisters had their wish--the fatherless babes received the pastoral blessing; and the Bishop said a few kind words of real sympathy that made Mrs. Underwood look up at him affectionately and say, 'Indeed I have much to be thankful for. My children are very good to me.'
'I am sure they are,' said the Bishop. 'I cannot tell you how much I respect your eldest son.'
The colour rose in the pale face. 'He is a very dear boy,' she said.
'I should like to see him before I go. Is he at home?'
'Lance shall run and call him,' said Alda; but the Bishop had asked where he was, and Wilmet had, not unblushingly, for she was red with pleasure, but shamelessly, answered that he was at Mr. Froggatt's, offering to send Lance in search of him.
'I had rather he would show me the way,' said the Bishop. 'Will you, my boy?'
The way to Mr. Froggatt's was not very long, but it was long enough to overcome Lance's never very large amount of bashfulness; and he had made reply that he went to the Grammar School, and was in the second form, that he liked singing in the choir better than--no, not than _anything_--anything except--except what? Oh a jolly good snow- balling, or a game at hockey. Did he like the school? Pretty well, on the whole; but he did not suppose he should stay there long, his brother at the Clergy Orphan said there was such a lot of cads, and that he was always grubbing his nose among them; but now, 'do you really think now that cads are always such bad fellows?'
His Lordship was too much diverted to be easily able to speak, but he observed that it depended on what was meant by a cad.
'That's just it!' exclaimed Lance. 'I'm sure some that he calls cads are as good fellows as any going.'
'And what does your eldest brother say?'
'Felix! Oh! he does not mind, as long as one does not get into a real scrape.'
'Oh, then he minds so much that one can't do it, you know.'
'What, does he punish you ?'
'N--no--he never licks any of us now--but he is so horridly sorry-- and it bothers him so,' said Lance. 'Here's old Froggatt's,' he concluded, stopping at the glass door. 'My eyes! what a sight of parsons!' (Lance had pretty well forgotten whom he was talking to.) 'There, that's Felix--no, no, not that one serving Mr. Burrowes, that's Redstone; Felix is out there, getting out the sermon paper for that fat one, and that's old Froggy himself, bowing away. Shall I go and call Felix? I suppose he will not mind this time.'
'No, thank you, I will go in myself. Good-bye, my little guide, and thank you.'
And Lance, when his hand came out of the Bishop's, found something in it, which proved to be a tiny Prayer-book, and moreover a half- sovereign. He would have looked up and thanked, but the Bishop and that 'fat one' were absorbed in conversation on the step; and when he turned over the leaves of the little blue morocco book, with its inlaid red cross, he found full in his face, in the first page, the words, 'Lancelot Underwood, March 15th, 1855,' and then followed an initial, and a name that utterly defeated Lance's powers, so that perceiving the shop to be far too densely full of parsons for him to have a chance there, he galloped off at full speed to Cherry, who happily could interpret the contracted Latin by the name of the See, and was not _quite_ so much astonished as Lance, though even more gratified.
Meantime, the Bishop had made his way to the bowing Mr. Froggatt and asked to speak with him in his private room, where he mentioned his kindness to young Underwood, and was answered by a gratified disclaimer of having done anything that was not of great advantage to himself. The good man seemed divided between desire to do justice to Felix and not to stand in his light, and alarm lest he should have to lose an assistant whom he had always known to be above his mark, and who was growing more valuable every month; and he was greatly relieved and delighted when the Bishop only rejoiced at his character of Felix, and complimented the Pursuivant by being glad that a paper of such good principles should be likely to have such a youth on its staff; it had been well for the lad to meet with so good a friend. Mr. Froggatt could not be denied an eulogium on the father, for whose sake he had first noticed the son; and when the Bishop had expressed his sorrow at never having known so bright a light as all described the late Curate to have been, he courteously regretted the interruption on a busy day, but he begged just to see the young man. He had little time himself, but if he could be spared to walk up to the station--'
Mr. Froggatt bustled out with great alacrity, and taking the charge of the customer on himself, announced, for the benefit of all who might be within earshot, 'Mr. Underwood, his Lordship wishes to speak with you. He wishes you to walk up to the station with him. You had better go out by the private door.'
Felix was red up to the ears. His eight years' seniority to Lance were eight times eight more shyness and embarrassment, but he could only obey; and at his first greeting his hand was taken--'hoped to have seen you sooner,' the Bishop said; 'but you had always escaped me in the vestry.'
'I had to go to help my sister, my Lord,' said Felix.
'And your friend, said the Bishop. 'That is a good work that has been done in your house.'
Felix coloured more, not knowing what to say.
'I wish to see you,' continued the Bishop, 'partly to tell you how much I honour you for the step you have taken. I wish there were more who would understand the true uprightness and dutifulness of thinking no shame of an honest employment. I am afraid you do sometimes meet with what may be trying,' he added, no doubt remembering Lady Price's tone.
'I do not care now, not much. I did at first,' said Felix.
'No one whose approval is worth having can consider yours really a loss of position. You are in a profession every one respects, and you seem to have great means of influence likely to be open to you.'
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