"I have come," he said, in that tone of voice which was so dear to her remembrance—"I have come, Violet, to bid you farewell for ever. Since you have rejected me, I have neither heart nor hope, and I shall leave England as soon as I may go."
The tears were falling fast from her blue eyes. "Oh, Edward," she said, "why do you bid me farewell? Do you not think that I love you still?"
"Still, Violet? You love me, the ruined, dishonourable, disgraced— the—" She would not hear the dreadful word, but laid her finger on his lip.
"Oh, hush, Edward! Those words are not for you. You may have sinned; they tell me you have sinned. But have you not repented too, Edward? Have the lessons of sickness and anguish taught you nothing? I am sure they have. I could not wed one who was living an evil life, but now I see your true self once more."
"Then you love me still?" The words were uttered in astonishment, and the emotions of unexpected joy almost overpowered him.
"I never ceased to love you, Edward. Do you think that I am one to trifle with your heart, or to use it as a plaything for me to triumph by? Never, never. Had you died, or worse still, had you continued in sinful ways, I could not even then have ceased to love you, though we might have been separated until death. But now I read other things in your face, Edward, and I will be yours—your betrothed—again. Come, let us join the rest. There is not one of us but will welcome you with joy."
"Nay, nay, let us stay here for a moment," he cried, as she rose up; "let me realise the joyful sensation which your words have given me; let me sit here, Violet, a few moments at your feet, and feel the touch of your hand in mine, and look at your face, that I may recover strength again."
They sat there in silence, and the thoughts of both recurred to that other scene where they had sat on the great boulder under the shadow of the Alps, and watched the rose-film steal over their white summits on the golden summer eve. It was the same love that still filled their souls—the same love, but more sober, more quiet, more like the love of maturer years, less like the passionate love of boy and girl. It was more of an autumnal love than of old; and if the departing summer had flung new hues over the forest and the glen, they were the duller hues that recalled to mind the greater glory of the past. It was round a dying year that Autumn was "folding his jewelled arms." Yet they were happy—very happy, and they felt that, come what might, nothing on earth could part them now.
When Kennedy had grown more calm, Violet called for Cyril, and bade him break the fact of Edward's presence to her mother and Julian. The boy bounded off to do her bidding, and in a few moments Kennedy was seated among the Homes as one of them. They received him with no simulated affection; Frank and Cyril helped to take away all awkwardness from the meeting by their high spirits, and when they all sat down on the velvet mosses to their rural meal, every one of them had banished the painful hauntings of the past. Of course Kennedy accompanied them home; they drove back in the quiet evening, and Kennedy sat by Violet's side.
He stayed at Ildown till Julian returned to Saint Werner's, and, as was natural, he revolved in his mind continually his future course. At last he determined to talk it over with Violet, and told her of all his heroic longings for a life of toil and endeavour, if need were, even of banishment and death—all the high thoughts that had filled his heart as he sat alone in the island by Orton-on-the-Sea.
"Let us wait," she said, "Edward. God will decide all this for us in time, and if duty seems to call you to the hard life of missionary or colonist, I am ready to go with you."
"But don't you feel yourself, Violet, a kind of commonplace-ness about English life; a silver-slippered religion, a pettiness that does not satisfy, a sense of comfort incompatible with the strong desire to do the work which others will not do in the neglected corners of the vineyard?"
"No," she answered, smiling, "I am content:—
"'The trivial round, the common task Should furnish all we ought to ask; Room to deny ourselves—a road To bring us daily nearer God.'"
"True," he said; "well, I must try not to carry ambition into my religion."
"Of course you return to Saint Werner's next autumn?"
He mused long. "Ah, Violet, you cannot conceive how awful to my imagination that place has grown. And to return after rustication, and live among men who will regard me with galling curiosity, and dons who will look at me sideways with suspicion—can I ever bear it?"
"Why not, Edward? They cannot affect you by their opinion. I heard you say the other day that your heart was becoming an island, and the waters round it broadening every day. If the island itself be beautiful and happy, it need not reck of the outer world."
"You are right, Violet. I will return if need be, and bear all meekly which I have deserved to bear. The one sorrow will be gone," he said, as he drew her nearer to his side, "that drove me into—Yes, you are right. I will go away home to-morrow, when Julian starts, and begin from the very first day to read with all my might. Hitherto I have had only the bitter lessons of Camford; let us see if I cannot gain some of her honours too."
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.
BRUCE IN TROUBLE.
"Nuda nec arva placent, umbrasque negantia molles, Nec dudum vetiti me laris augit amor." Milton.
Bruce, when expelled from Saint Werner's, thought very little of his disgrace. It hardly ruffled the calm stream of his self-complacency, and, for some reasons, he was rather glad that it had happened. He did not like Camford; he had never taken to reading, and being thus debarred from all intellectual pleasures, he had grown thoroughly tired of late breakfasts, boating on the muddy Iscam, noisy wines, and interminable whist parties. Moreover, he had made far less sensation at Camford than he had expected. Somehow or other he had a dim consciousness that men saw through him; that his cleverness did not conceal his superficiality, nor his easy manners blind men's eyes to his ungenerous and selfish heart. Even his late phase of popular scepticism was less successful at Camford than it would have been at places of less steady diligence and less sound acquirements. In fact, Bruce imagined that he was by no mean appreciated. The sphere was too narrow for him; he was quite sure that in the arena of London society and political life he was qualified to play a far more conspicuous part.
Nor did he believe that Sir Rollo Bruce would care for his expulsion any more than he did himself; he fancied that his father was quite above the middle-class prejudices of respect and reverence for pedantry and pedagogues, and was too much a man of the world to be disturbed by a slight contretemps like this. He wrote home a careless note to mention the fact that his Saint Werner's career was ended, and attributed this result to a mere escapade at a wine-party, which had been distorted by rumour, and exaggerated by malice into a serious offence.
So when Vyvyan gaily entered his father's house, he felt rather light-hearted than otherwise. He expected that very likely some party would be going on, and quite looked forward to an agreeable dance. When he arrived, however, Vyvyan House was quite silent; a dim light came from a single window, but that was all.
"Sir Rollo and my mother not at home, I suppose," he said to the plushed and powdered footman.
"Yes, sir, they're in the library."
He entered; they were sitting on opposite sides of the fire, with a single lamp between them. They were not doing anything, and Lady Bruce appeared to have been crying; but neither of them took any notice of his entrance beyond turning their heads.
"How do you do?" he said, advancing gracefully; but not a little surprised at so silent and moody a greeting.
"How do you do?" was his father's cold reply.
"Dear me—I quite expected to find a party going on, but you seem quite gloomy. Is anything the matter?"
"Matter, sir!" exclaimed Sir Rollo, starting up vehemently from his chair, and angrily pacing the room. "Matter! Upon my word, Vyvyan, your impudence is sublime."
"You surprise me. What have I done?"
"Done!" retorted his father, with intense scorn. "You have been expelled from College; you have wasted your whole opportunities of education; you have thrown away the boundless sums which I have spent in your interest; you have lived the life of a puppy and a fool, and now you come back in the uttermost disgrace, with your name involved in I know not what infamy, and are as cool about it as if you returned to announce a triumph."
Not deigning a word more, Sir Rollo turned indignantly on his heel and left Bruce as much astounded by so unexpected a reception as if he had suddenly trodden on a snake. He relapsed into uncommon sheepishness, and hardly knew how to address his mother, who sat sobbing in her armchair.
"My dear mother," he said at last, "what can be the matter that I am met by such tornados as my welcome on returning?"
"Don't ask me, Vyvyan. Your father is naturally angry at your expulsion, and you have grieved us both. But, dear Vyvyan, do not put on such an impertinent and indifferent manner; it annoys Sir Rollo exceedingly. Do submit yourself, my dear boy, and he will soon recover his usual suavity."
"But I never saw him like this before."
"No; these violent fits of temper have only come over him of late, and I am afraid that there must be some cause for them of which I am unaware."
Bruce sat silent and unhappy. Expelled from college, and insulted, (as he called it), at home, he felt truly alone and miserable. He went up to his own room, supped there, and coming down next morning to the awkward meeting with his parents, spoke a few words of regret about his position. Sir Rollo barely listened to them, breakfasted in silence, and immediately afterwards set out for his office. He did not return till late in the evening, and continued for some time to spend the days in this manner, seeing next to nothing of his wife and son, but sternly forbidding any festivities or balls.
One morning he called Vyvyan into his study before starting. Bruce laid aside his novel, yawned, and followed.
"Pray, sir, do you intend to spend all your time in reading novels?" said Sir Rollo.
"There's nothing else for me to do that I see."
"Very well. If you suppose that you are going to spend your days in idleness, you are mistaken. I give you a week to choose some occupation that will not involve me in further outlay."
Bruce took out his embroidered pocket-handkerchief, redolent with scent, and blew his nose affectedly. On doing so, an unopened envelope dropped on the floor, out of his pocket; picking it up, he glanced at it, tore it across, and flung it into the fire. Sir Rollo immediately picked up the pieces with the tongs and opened it.
"I see that this is a bill, and I shall proceed to look at it."
"Yes, if you like," said Bruce, in an indifferent tone—"it's from a dun."
It was a tailor's bill which had been sent after him, and it amounted to 150 pounds.
"And you suppose," said his father, "that I am going to pay these debts for you?"
"I suppose so, certainly—some day. Let the dogs wait."
Sir Rollo seemed on the point of a great burst of wrath; his lips positively quivered and his eye flashed with passion. He seemed, however, to control himself,—darted at his son a look of wrath and scorn, and left the room. A note that evening informed Lady Bruce that business detained him from home, and that he might not return for some days.
A week after Bruce received a letter with foreign post-marks, to the following effect:—
DEAR VYVYAN—By the time you receive this, I shall be on the Continent, far beyond the reach of the law.
"I have been living for the last ten years on the money I embezzled from the company whose affairs I managed. The fraud cannot fail of being detected almost immediately.
"I feel acutely the position in which I am forced to leave your mother. I do not pity you in the least. I gave you the amplest opportunity to save yourself from this ruin, if you had not been a fool. You cared for nothing and for nobody but yourself. You never worked hard, though you knew it to be my wish; you assumed an air of spurious independence, and affected the fine gentleman. Your conceit and idleness will be their own punishment. You have made your own bed; now you will have to lie in it.
The truth was soon known to the world. Numberless executions were put into Vyvyan House. Every available fragment of property was seized by Sir Rollo's creditors; and as Lady Bruce's private fortune had long been spent, she and her son were left all but penniless. The gay and gilded friends of their summer hours were the first to desert them, and Sir Rollo's wickedness had created such a gust of indignation, that few came forward to lend his family the slightest assistance.
When Bruce found himself in this most distressing position—when he sat with his mother in shame and retirement in obscure lodgings, which had been taken for them by one of their former servants, and with no immediate means of livelihood—then first the folly of his past career revealed itself to his mind in its full proportions. Lady Bruce's health was dreadfully affected by the mental anguish through which she had passed, and it became a positive necessity that Bruce should work with his head or hands to earn their daily bread.
He found no difficulty in procuring a temporary post in a lawyer's office as a clerk. The drudgery was terrible. Daily, from nine in the morning to six in the evening, he found himself chained to the desk, and obliged to go through the dullest and most mechanical routine, the only respite being half an hour in the middle of the day, which he spent in dining at an eating-house. Nursed on the lap of luxury, habituated to the choicest viands, and accustomed to find every whim fulfilled, this kind of life was intolerable to him. The steaming recesses of a squalid eating-house gave him a sensation of loathing and sickness, and the want of exercise made him look haggard and wan. In vain he appealed to men who had called themselves his father's friends; he found to his cost that the son of a detected swindler has no friends, and more especially if his own life have been tainted with suspicion or dishonour. Poor Bruce was driven to the very verge of despair.
He applied for a situation in a bank, but he was informed that it could not be granted him unless he could obtain a certificate of good character from his college, which, of course, was out of the question. He tried writing for the press, but his shallow intellectual resources soon ran dry. The pittance he could thus earn did not remunerate him for the toil and wasted health, and even this pittance was too often cruelly held back. He made applications in answer to all sorts of advertisements, but one after another the replies were unfavourable, until his whole heart died within him. No intelligence could be obtained of his father's hiding-place, and before a year had elapsed since Sir Rollo's bankruptcy and felony had been made known, Lady Bruce died at her son's lodgings, worn out with misery and shame.
This climax of the young man's misfortunes awoke at last the long dormant sympathy in his favour. An effort was made by his few remaining and unalienated friends to provide for him the means of emigration, which seemed the only course likely to give him once more a fair start in life. But to pay his passage, and provide him with the means of settling in New Zealand required a considerable sum, and Bruce had to suffer for weeks the agonies of hope deferred. And when he glanced over his past life, he found nothing to help him. He could not look back with any comfort; the past was haunted by the phantoms of regret. His violent and wilful infancy, his proud, passionate boyhood, his wandering and wicked youth, afforded him few green spots whereon the eye of retrospect could rest with calm. As the wayworn traveller who on some bright day sat down by the fringed bank of clear fountain or silver lake, and while he leant to look into its waters, was suddenly dazzled into madness by the flashing upwards upon him, from the unknown depths, of some startling image; so Bruce, as he rested by the dusty wayside of life, and gazed into the dark abysses of recollection, was startled and horrified, with a more fearful nympholepsy, by the crowding images and sullen glare of unforgotten and half-forgotten sins.
But in dwelling on his past life, Bruce bethought him that he might still find friends at school; and not long after his mother's funeral, he determined to call on his old masters, and get such pecuniary aid as he could from them and his schoolboy friends. To come to such a resolution was the very bitterness of humiliation; but Bruce was now all eagerness to escape from England, and recommence a new life in other lands.
He took a third class ticket to Harton, and when he arrived there, was so overcome with shame that he well-nigh determined to return by the next train, and leave the town unvisited, at whatever cost; but on inquiry he found that the next train would not start for some hours, and meanwhile he fully expected to be seen and recognised by those whom he had known before. And yet it was not easy, in that stooping figure, with the pale cheek and dimmed eye, to recognise the bright and audacious Vyvyan Bruce, who had been captain of Harton barely three years before. Poverty, ruin, disappointment, confinement, guilt, and sorrow had done their work with marvellous quickness.
Nerving himself to the effort, he turned his face towards Harton, and walked slowly up the hill. The reminiscences which the walk recalled were not happy—rather, far from happy. It was not because formerly when he was a flattered, and rich, and handsome, and popular Harton boy, all the prospects of his life had looked as bright as now they seemed full of gloom; it was not that then both his parents were living, and now one was dead, the other disgraced; it was not that then he was full of health and vigour, and now was feeble and wearied; it was not that then he seemed to have many friends, and now he hardly knew of one; no, it was none of these things that affected him most deeply as he caught sight of the well-known chapel, and strolled up the familiar hill; but it was the thought, the bitter thought, the cursed thought that there, as at Camford, the voice of his brother's blood was crying against htm from the ground.
By the time he reached the school buildings, it happened to be just one o'clock, and from the various school-rooms, the boys were pouring out in gay and noisy throngs. The faces were new to him for the most part, and at first he began to fancy that he should recognise no one. But at last he observed a boy looking hard at him, who at length came up and shook him warmly by the hand.
"How do you do, Bruce? Ah, I see you don't remember me; true, I was only in the Shell when you left, but you ought at least to remember your old fags."
The change of countenance between fifteen and eighteen is however very great, and it was not without an effort that Bruce recalled in the tall strong fellow who was talking to him his quondam fag, little Walter Thornley, now in his turn captain of the eleven, and Head of the school, whose admiration of Bruce we have already recorded in the first chapter of this eventful history.
"Where are you off to now?" said Thornley.
"To the Doctor's."
"Well, you'll come and see me afterwards?"
Bruce promised and then walked to see the Doctor, and his old tutor. To both he opened his piteous tale, and both of them gave him the most generous and liberal assistance; they promised also to procure him such other aid as might lie in their power. A little lighter in heart, he went to pay his visit to Thornley, whom he found occupying his old rooms. As Bruce recrossed the familiar threshold, the contrasts of past and present were almost too much for him, and he found it difficult to restrain his tears. He stayed but a short time, and then returned to London to his poor and lonely lodgings.
Walter Thornley heard his story from the tutor, and besides getting a large subscription for him among his own friends, wrote to ask if Julian could procure for the emigrant any assistance in Camford. Julian received the letter about the middle of the October term in his third year, and it ran thus:—
"DEAR HOME—Beyond knowing by rumour that I am head of the school, you will, I suppose, hardly remember a boy who was so low in the school as I was when you were monitor. But though you will perhaps have forgotten me, I have not forgotten you, or the many kinds acts I experienced from you and Lillyston when I was a little new fellow. Remembering these, I am emboldened to write, and ask if you or any of the old Hartonians are willing to assist poor Bruce to settle in New Zealand, now that he has no chance of succeeding well in England? I am sure that you personally will be glad of any opportunity to help an old school-fellow in his distress and difficulty, for report tells me that Julian Home is as kind-hearted and generous as he was when he won the Newry scholarship at Harton.—Believe me to be, my dear Home, yours very truly,—WALTER THORNLEY."
Julian had almost forgotten the very existence of Thornley when this letter recalled him to his mind; but it was one of the pleasures of Julian's life constantly to receive letters of this kind from former school-fellows, thanking him for past kindnesses of which he was wholly unconscious from the simple and natural manner in which they had been done. It need hardly be said that he at once complied with the request which the letter contained, and that, (next to De Vayne's), his own was the largest contribution towards the handsome sum which the Hartonians and other Saint Werner's men cheerfully subscribed to assist their former comrade in his hour of need.
To avoid all unnecessary wounding of Bruce's feelings, the money thus collected was transmitted to the Doctor to be placed at Bruce's disposal. It completed the sum requisite for his outfit, and there was no longer any obstacle in the way of his immediate departure from England. He at once booked his passage by an emigrant ship, and sailed from England. The day after his departure, Julian received from him the following letter:—
"Dear Julian—Although you are one of those who would 'do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame,' I am not ignorant of the debt of gratitude which I owe to you for providing me with the means of recovering my fortunes, and beginning life afresh in another hemisphere.
"Our lots in life, since at Harton we ran a neck and neck race, have been widely different, and while the happy months have been rolling for you on silver wheels, and the happy hours speeding by you with white feet, to me Time has been:—
"'A maniac scattering dust, And Life a Fury slinging flame.'
"How much I have gone through in the last year—the accumulated agony of remorse, bereavement, and ruin—no human soul can tell. No wonder my bark was wrecked after such mad and careless navigation; but, thank God, the blow of the tempest that staggered and shattered it, and drove it on the reefs, has not sunk it utterly, and now, like a waif or stray, it is being carried to be refitted across a thousand leagues of sea.
"I am not the Bruce you knew, but a wiser, sadder, and better man. I have not yet lost all hope. The old book of my life was so smutched and begrimed—torn, dogs-eared, and scrawled over—that it was scarcely worth while to turn over a new leaf. I have rather began a new volume altogether, and trust, by God's blessing, that when 'Finis' comes to be written in it, some few of the pages will bear re-perusal.
"'De Vayne!' how that name haunts me; how full it is of horror—De Vayne and Hazlet; and yet I hear that both have contributed to my help. It gives me new life to know that human hearts can be so full of forgiveness and of love.
"Starting almost for another world—without fortune, without friends, with nothing but head and heart, the wreck of what I was—I sometimes feel so sad that I could wish myself out of the world altogether. Forgive me, then, for once more bringing before you a name which you can only connect with the most unpleasant and sombre thoughts, and pray for me that my efforts, (this time they are genuine and sincere), to improve my life, my talents, and my fortune, may be crowned with success.
"We sail in an hour or sooner, for I hear them weighing anchor now. Good-bye. Accept my warmest thanks for all your kindnesses, and my wishes, (ah! that they were worthier!) for your happiness in life, and believe me, my dear Julian, your sincere and grateful friend—
"P S—I am positively alone; not one soul is here even to bid me good-bye. Eheu! jam serus vitam ingemo relictam!"
Julian read the letter many times; he was touched by its delicate and eloquent sorrow—its fine and chastened thoughtfulness. He was no longer in a mood to work, but closed his books, and watched the faces in the fire. One thought filled him with joy and thankfulness; it was the thought that, though of his friends and acquaintances so many had gone wrong, yet God was leading them back again, by rough and thorny roads it might be, but still by sure roads to the right path once more. Hazlet, Bruce, Brogten—above all, his friend and brother Kennedy—were returning to the fold they had deserted, were learning that for him who has sinned and suffered, REPENTANCE IS THE WORK OF LIFE. And as these thoughts floated through Julian's mind, the words of an old prayer came back upon his lips—"That it may please Thee to strengthen such as do stand; and to comfort and help the weak-hearted, and to raise up them that fall; and finally, to beat down Satan under our feet."
CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.
A QUIET PROSPECT.
"Patet omnibus veritas; nondum est prorsus occupata." Seneca, Epistolae 33.
Julian's third year at Camford was by no means the happiest period of his life there, because the sad absence of Kennedy and De Vayne made a gap in his circle of friends which could not easily be filled up; but this was the annus mirabilis of his university career. He gained prize after prize; he was always first class in the college examinations; he won the chancellor's medals for Latin and English verse, and, indeed, almost divided with Owen the honours of the place. To crown all, he gained the Ireford University scholarship, which Owen had won the year before.
Of all the men of his year, he was the most honoured and respected; he wore the weight both of his honours and his learning "lightly like a flower," and there was a graceful humility, joined with his self-dependence, which won every heart, and prevented that jealousy which sometimes accompanies success.
The most important event in his intellectual progress was the attention which he began to turn at this time to biblical and theological studies. He was thankful in later years that he had deferred such inquiries to a time when he was capacitated for them by a calm and sound judgment, and a solid basis of linguistic and historical knowledge. He had always looked forward to holy orders, and regarding the life of a clergyman as his appointed work, he considered that an honest, a critical, and an impartial study of the Bible was his first duty. In setting about it, he came to it as a little child; all he sought for was the simple truth, uncrushed by human traditions, unmingled with human dogmas, untrammelled by human interpretations, unadulterated by human systems. He found that he had a vast amount to unlearn, and saw clearly that if he fearlessly pursued his inquiries they would lead him so far from the belief of popular ignorance, as very probably to bar all worldly success in the sacred profession which he had chosen. But he knew that the profession was sacred, and, fearless by nature, he determined to seek for truth and truth only, honestly following the prayerful conclusions of his clearest and most deliberate judgment. Even in these early days the freedom and honesty of his research drew on him slight sibilations of those whose religion was shallow and sectarian; in after years they were destined to bring on him open and positive persecution.
Not that Julian was ever in the least degree obtrusive in stating his beliefs when they widely and materially differed from the expressed opinions of the majority; except, indeed, in the cases when such opinions appeared to him dishonest or dangerous. He was scrupulously careful not to wound the conscience of those who would have been unable to understand the ground of his arguments, even when they could not resist their logical statement; and in whom long custom was so inveterate that the weed of system could not be torn out of their hearts without endangering the flower of belief. With men like Hazlet—I mean the reformed and now sincere Hazlet—he either confined himself wholly to subjects on which differences were impossible, or, if questioned, stated his views with caution and consideration. It was only with the noisy and violent upholders of long-grounded error—error which they were too feeble to maintain except by mean invective or ignorant declamation—that Julian used the keen edge of his sarcasm, or the weighty sword of his moral indignation. He was not the man to bow down before the fool's-cap of tyrannous and blatant ignorance. If he could have chosen one utterance from the holy Scriptures, which to him was more precious in its full meaning than another, it was that promise, rich with inexhaustible blessing, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
Perhaps there is no greater want in this age than a full, fair, fearless religio clerici; the men who could write it, dare not; and the men who dare write it, cannot. They say the age is not ripe for it; and if they mean that it would cause violent offence to the potent rulers of fashionable religious dogmatism, they are right. But I wander from my theme, and meddle with the subjects which this is not the place to touch upon.
The close of Julian's undergraduate life was as honourable as its promise had been. He obtained a brilliant first class, and was bracketed with Owen as the best classic of his year. Lillyston also distinguished himself, and all three determined to read for Fellowships, which, before a year was over, they had the honour to obtain.
Meanwhile a circumstance had happened which changed the course of Kennedy's intentions. After his conversation with Violet, he had often thought of his plans for the future, and written to her about them. Reconciled to the plan, of returning to Camford after the year of his rustication, he was now trying to settle his future profession. His way seemed by no means clear; he had never thought of being a clergyman, and now, more than ever, deemed himself unfitted for such a life. The long tedious delay of the bar to a man without any special interest; the sickness of hope deferred during the prime years of life the weariness of a distasteful study, and the heavy trial of dusky chambers in a city to a man who loved the sea and the country with a passionate love, deterred him from choosing the law. He had no liking for the army, except in time of war; the life of the officers whom he knew was not altogether to his mind, and he was neither inclined to gaiety nor fond of an occupation which offered so many temptations to listlessness and indolence. There was no immediate necessity to decide finally, because in any case he meant to take his degree, and looked forward with some hope, after his year of unswerving diligence in the retirement of Orton, to honours in the Tripos and the pleasant aid of a Saint Werner's Fellowship as the crown of his career. But on the whole, he began to think that he might be both useful and successful as a physician. He had a deep reverence for this earthly tabernacle of the immortal soul, and a hallowed and reverend curiosity about that "harp of a thousand strings," which, if it be untuned by sickness, mars every other melody of life. Violet entered into all his views, and they determined to leave the matter thus until Kennedy should have donned his B A gown.
But about this period that public step was taken of throwing open to competition the Indian civil service appointments, which has been of such enormous advantage to the "middle-classes" of England by offering to them, as the reward of industry, the opportunity of a new and honourable profession, and which seems likely to be prolific of good results to the future of our Empire in the East. Directly Kennedy saw the announcement of the examination, he grasped with avidity the chance of a provision for life which it afforded, and easily obtained the assent both of his own and of Julian's family to offer himself as a candidate. Of course they contemplated with sorrow the prospect of so long a separation as the plan involved, but they saw that he himself was strongly desirous to win their approval of his proposition, and of course his wishes were Violet's too.
So Kennedy went in for the civil service examination, and acquitted himself so admirably that his name headed the list of successful competitors, and he was told that he must prepare himself to leave England in a year for the post to which they appointed him.
This happened about the time that Julian took his degree, and before the year was over Julian had been elected a Fellow, and the living of Elstan was offered to him. Being of small value—200 pounds a year—it had been rejected by all the Fellows of older standing, and had "come down" to Julian, who, to the surprise of his friends, left Camford and accepted it without hesitation.
"My dear fellow," said Mr Admer, "how in the world can you be so insane as to bury yourself alive, at the age of twenty-two, in so obscure a place as the vicarage of Elstan?"
"Oh, Elstan is a charming place," said Julian; "I visited it before accepting it, and found it to be one of those dear little English villages in the greenest fields of Wiltshire. The house is a very pretty one, and the parish is in perfect order. My predecessor was an excellent man: his population, of one thousand souls, were perhaps as well attended to as any in all England."
"Yes, yes," said Mr Admer, impatiently, "I know all that; but who will ever hear of you again if you go and become what Sydney Smith calls 'a kind of holy vegetable' in the cabbage-gardens of a Wiltshire hamlet?"
"Why, what would you have me do, Mr Admer?"
"Oh, I don't know; stay up here, edit a Greek play, or one of the epistles; bestir yourself for some rising university member in a contested election; set yourself to get a bishopric or a deanery; you could easily do it if you tried. I'll give you a receipt for it any day you like. Or go to some London church; with such sermons as you could preach you might have London at your heels in no time, and as you would superadd learning to effectiveness, your fortune would be made."
Julian was sorry to hear him talk like this; it was the language of a disappointed and half-believing man.
"I don't care for such aims," he said. "A mere popular preacher I would not be, and as for preferment it doesn't depend much on me, but for the most part on purely accidental causes. All I care for at present is to be useful and happy. Obscurity is no trial to me; neither success nor failure can make me different from what I am."
"Well then, at least, write a book or something to keep yourself in men's memory."
"I don't feel inclined. There are too many books in the world, and I have nothing particular to say. Besides, the annoyance and spite to which an author subjects himself are endless—to hear ignorant and often malicious criticisms, to see his views misrepresented, his motives calumniated, and his name aspersed. No, for the present, I prefer the peace and the dignity of silence."
"What on earth will you find to do, then, if you have no ambition?"
"Nay, I don't want you to think that I'm so virtuous or so phlegmatic as to have no ambition. I have a passionate ambition, whether known or unknown, so to live as to lead on the coming golden age, and prepare the next generation to be truer and wiser than ours. If it be my destiny never to be called to a wider sphere of work than Elstan, I shall be content to do it there."
"And how will you occupy your time?" asked Mr Admer, who had long loved Julian too well even to smile at what were to himself mere unintelligible enthusiasms.
"Oh, no fear on that score. My profession will give me plenty of work; besides, what is the use of education, if it be not to render it impossible for a man to know the meaning of the word ennui? Put me alone in the waiting-room of some little wayside station to wait three hours for a train, and I should still be perfectly happy, even if there were no such thing as a book to be got for miles."
"Well, well, if you must vanish to Elstan, do. At any rate, remember your old Camford friends, and let us hear of you sometimes? I suppose you'll keep on your Fellowship at least for a year?"
"Insidious questioner!" said Julian; "no, I hope to be married very soon. You shall come down and see love in a cottage."
"Aha, I see it all now," said Mr Admer, with a sigh.
"Nay, you mustn't sigh. I expect to be congratulated, not pitied," said Julian, gaily. "A wife will sweeten all the cares and sorrows of life, and instead of withering away my prime in selfish isolation, and spending these still half-youthful years in loneliness, and without a real home, I shall feel myself complete in the materials of happiness. After all, ambition such as yours is a loveless bride."
So Julian accepted Elstan, and Lillyston went with him to London to help him in selecting furniture for the vicarage which was so soon to receive a bride.
"Are you really going to venture on matrimony with only 200 pounds a year?" asked Lillyston.
"I have some more of my own, you know, Hugh; Mr Carden's legacy, you remember; but even if I hadn't, I would still marry even on a hundred a year if I wished and the lady consented."
"And repent at leisure."
"Not a bit of it. If I were a man to whom lavender-coloured kid gloves and unlimited eau-de-cologne were necessaries of life, it might be folly to think of it. But if a man be brave, and manly, and fearless of convention, let him marry by all means, and not make his life bitter and his love cold by long delay."
"But how about his children?"
"Well, it may be fanaticism, but I believe that God never sends a soul into the world without providing ample means for its sustenance. Of course, such an assertion will set the tongues of our would-be philosophers waggling in scornful cachinnation; but, in spite of that, I do believe that if a man have faith, and a strong heart, and common sense, he may depend upon it his children will not starve. Some of the very happiest people I know are to be found among the large families of country clergymen. Besides, very often the children succeed in life, and improve their father's position. I haven't the shadow of a doubt that I am doing the right thing. I only wish, Hugh, that you would follow my example."
"Perhaps I shall, some day," said Lillyston.
"And meanwhile you will be my bridegroom's man, will you not?"
"Joyfully—if it be only to see Miss Kennedy's face again."
"And do you know that Kennedy is to be married to Violet the same day?"
"Is he? happy fellow! As for me, I am going to resign my fellowship, and to make myself useful at Lillyston Court. When is the wedding to be?"
"Both weddings, you mean, Hugh. On the tenth of next June at Orton-on-the-Sea—the loveliest spot in the world, I think."
So in due time Julian packed up all his books and prizes, and bade farewell to his friends, and turned his back on Camford. It is as impossible to leave one's college without emotion as it is to enter it, and the tears often started to Julian's eyes as the train whirled him off to Elstan. He had cause, if any man ever had, to look back to Camford with regret and love. His course had been singularly successful, singularly happy. He had entered Saint Werner's as a sizar, he left it as a Fellow, and not "With academic laurels unbestowed."
He had grown in calmness, in strength, in wisdom; he had learnt many practical lessons of life; he had gained new friends, without losing the old. He had learnt to honour all men, and to be fearless for the truth. His mind had become a well-managed instrument, which he could apply to all purposes of discovery, research, and thought; he was wiser, better, braver, nearer the light. In a word, he had learnt the great purpose of life—sympathy and love to further man's interest—faith and prayer to live ever for God's glory. And not a few of these lessons he owed to his college, to its directing influence, its ennobling associations, its studies—all bent towards that which is permanent and eternal, not to the transitory and superficial. To the latest day of his life, the name of Saint Werner's remained to Julian Home an incentive to all that is noble and manly in human effort. He felt the same duty with regard to it as the generous scion of an illustrious house feels towards the ancient name which he has inherited, and the noble lineage whence he has sprung.
The few months which were to elapse before his marriage, Julian spent in preparing the vicarage for his young betrothed, and he stored it with everything which could delight a simple yet refined and educated taste. There was an indefinable charm about it—the charm of home. You felt on entering it that its owner destined it as the place around which his fondest affections were to centre, and his work in life was to be done. Julian had not the restless mind which sighs for continual change; happy in himself and his own resources, and the honest endeavour to do good, the glory of the green fields, the changes of the varying year supplied him with a wealth of beauty which was sufficient for all his needs, and when—after some long day's work amid the cottages, reading to the sick at their lonely bedsides, listening to the prattle of the children in the infant schools, talking to the labourers as they rested at their work—he refreshed himself by a gallop across the free fresh downs, or a quiet stroll under the rosy apple-blossoms of his orchard or garden, Julian might have said with more truth than most men can, that he was a happy and a contented man.
CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.
"Hear the mellow wedding bells, Golden bells! What a world of happiness their harmony foretells! Oh, from out the sounding cells, What a gush of euphony voluminously swells!" Edgar Poe.
Merrily, merrily, rang out the sweet bells of Orton-on-the-Sea; more merrily than they ever rang before; so merrily that it seemed as if they would concentrate into every single clash and clang of their joyous peal a tumult of inexpressible happiness greater than they would ever be able to enjoy again. If you look up at the belfry, you will see them swing and dance in a very delirium of ecstasy, such as made everybody laugh while he listened, and chased away the possibility of sorrow, and thrilled the very atmosphere with an impression of hilarity and triumph.
All Orton is a-stir. Mr Kennedy is the squire of the parish, and the villagers may well love him as they do. The son and daughter of the squire are not often married on the same day; and besides the double wedding with its promise of an evening banquet, and dance on the hall lawn to all the people of Orton, Eva and Edward are known well to every cottager, and loved as well as known.
The hall is quite full, and the village inn is quite full, and all the neighbouring gentry who are invited, are hospitably entertaining such members of the two families as can find room nowhere else. Never had Orton seen such grand doings; the very stables and coach-houses are insufficient to receive the multitude of carriages.
Several Saint Wernerians are invited; and, (as both Julian and Kennedy prefer to be alone on that morning), Lillyston, who has visited the place before, is lionising them in the neighbourhood, and with Willie, Kennedy's orphan cousin, rows them over to the little islet in the bay. As they come back, the hour for the wedding approaches, and Lillyston says to Owen—"How I wish De Vayne were here!"
"But he is in Florence, is he not?" says Owen.
They have hardly spoken when a carriage with a coronet on the panels dashes up to the Lion Inn; a young man alights, hands out a lady, and enters the inn.
"Surely that must be De Vayne himself," says Suton running forward. Meanwhile the young man, after taking the lady into a private room, asks if he may see Mr Home or Mr Kennedy, and is showed up to the parlour in which they are sitting.
"De Vayne!" they both exclaim in surprise.
"Yes, Julian!" he answered cheerily; "I only returned from Florence two days ago, heard of your marriage from the Ildown people, and determined to come with my mother a self-invited guest."
"Don't fear for my feelings," he continued, turning to Kennedy. "Nothing is so useless or dangerous as to nurse a hopeless love, like the flame burning in the hearts of the banqueters, at the feast of Eblis. No, Kennedy, I love Violet, but only as a sister now, and you must not be afraid if I claim one kiss after the marriage from the bride. You shall have the same privilege some day soon."
"Your coming is the completion of my happiness," said Kennedy, cordially shaking his hand. "I will run and tell Violet at once, lest she should be alarmed by seeing you."
"Yes, and to show her why we may continue to have communion as friends, tell her that there is a gentle Florentine girl, with dark eyes, and dark hair, and a sweet voice, who, as my mother will bear witness, has promised in a year's time to leave her Casa d'oro for Other Hall," he said smiling.
They took him down to see the others, who rejoiced to see him nearly as much as they did, and the time sped on for the wedding to be performed. The carriages had already started to convey the bridegrooms and their friends to church, when another carriage drove rapidly along the street, carrying another most unexpected guest.
It had been arranged that Cyril and Frank should come down to Orton on the morning of the ceremony, as there was a difficulty in finding room for them. It was very late, and they were beginning to be afraid that the boys had missed a train, and would not arrive till after the ceremony, when they made their triumphant entry into Orton in a carriage by the side of—Lady Vinsear!
Only imagine! Being left almost alone at Ildown while the others had gone to Orton to make arrangements for the marriage, Cyril had audaciously proposed to his brother that, as it was through them that Lady Vinsear's wrath had been kindled against Julian, they should go over and see whether the old lady would admit them into her presence or in any way suffer herself to be pacified. The proposal was quite a sudden one, and the thought had only come into Cyril's head because he had nothing else to do. But he had no sooner thought of it than he determined to carry it out. He felt certain that Lady Vinsear could not be so totally unlike his late father as to have become wholly ill-natured and implacable, and he was sure that no harm could result from his visit even if no good were done.
So the boys drove over in a pony-chaise to Lonstead Abbey, and knocking at the door, asked if Lady Vinsear was at home.
"Yes," said the old servant, opening his eyes in astonishment at the apparition of the two boys, whom he had only seen as children four years before.
"Then, ask if she will see Mr Cyril and Master Frank Home. Stop, though; is Miss Sprong at home?"
"Oh, no, Master Cyril; bless you, Miss Sprong, sir, has gone and married Farmer Jones this year gone."
"Has she indeed? Oh, then, take my message, please, James."
They had come at the right moment. In the large drawing-room of Lonstead Abbey, Lady Vinsear was sitting with no companion but the orphan girl of a villager, to whom she gave a home, and who was amusing herself with a picture-book on a low stool by the fire; for though it was summer, the fire was lighted to give cheerfulness to the room. When Miss Sprong married a neighbouring farmer, Lady Vinsear had given her a handsome dowry, and refused ever to see her again, being in fact heartily tired of her malice and sycophancy, and above all, resenting the new breach which she had caused between herself and her brother's family. Ever since her quarrel with Julian, Lady Vinsear had bitterly regretted the violence which had cut off from her that natural affection to which she had looked as the stay of her declining years. She had grown sadder as she grew older, and the loneliness of her life weighed heavily on her heart, yet in her obstinate pride she made an unutterable resolve never to take the initiative in restoring Julian to her favour.
And as she sat there by the fire, longing in her secret soul for the society and love of some young hearts of her own kith and kin, she glanced away from the uninteresting little girl whom she had taken as a protegee to the likeness of Julian's bright and thoughtful boyish features, (which still, in spite of Miss Sprong, had retained a place over the mantel-piece), and remembered the foolish little incident which had led to her rejection of him as her heir. The tears started to her eyes as she thought of it, and wished with all her heart that the two gay and merry boys whose frolic had caused the fracas were with her once more. How much she should now enjoy the pleasant sound of their young voices, and how gladly she would join in their unrestrained and innocent laughter.
So when the bewildered James asked in his never-varying voice, "whether Master Cyril and Frank Home might see her," Lady Vinsear fancied that she was seeing in a dream the fulfilment of her unexpressed wishes, and rubbed her eyes to see if she could really be wide awake.
"What's all this, James?—are you James, or am I in a dream?"
"James, your ladyship."
"And do you really mean to tell me that my nephews are outside?"
"Yes, please your ladyship."
"Well, then, don't keep them there a minute longer, James. Run along, Annie," she said to the little girl, "it is time for you to be in bed."
Annie had hardly retired, when—a little shyly—the boys entered, uncertain of their reception. But Lady Vinsear started from her seat, and embraced them with the utmost affection.
"My dear Cyril," she said, kissing him again; "how tall and handsome you have grown; and Frankie, too, you are the image of Julian when he was your age."
The boys were amazed at the heartiness with which she welcomed them, as though nothing had happened, and after she had given them a capital supper, she said to them, "Now, boys, I see you are rather puzzled at me. Never mind that; don't think of what has happened. We mean all to be friends now. And now tell me all about Julian."
They found, however, that Lady Vinsear knew a good deal about his college career from her neighbour Lord De Vayne, who had kept her acquainted with all his successes and honours up to the period when De Vayne left Other Hall. Since then she had not been able to gain much information about him, and had not heard the news either of his fellowship, his approaching marriage, or his acceptance of a college living.
She listened eagerly to the intelligence, and finally asked if he knew of their visit.
"No," said Cyril, laughing; "neither he nor any of them. Now, Aunt Vinsear, you really must do me a favour. You know Vi is to be married at Orton on the same day as Julian; won't you come with us to the wedding, and surprise them all? If you were to start by an early train, and take the carriage with you, we should drive up in time for the ceremony, and it would be such a happy joke for all concerned."
The old lady was delighted with the plan. Meeting on such an occasion, when the minds of all were so much occupied, would avert the necessity of anything approaching to a scene, which of all things she most dreaded. She felt a flood of new interests, occupations, and hopes; she made the boys stay with her until the appointed day, and looked forward to Cyril's triumph with a delight which made her happier than she had been for many a long year.
And thus it was that Cyril and Frank drove into the town in gallant style, accompanied by Lady Vinsear! They stopped at the door of the Lion, and hearing that Julian had started, got white favours placed at the horses' heads, and dashed on to the church. The brides had not arrived, but they were expected every moment; and Mr Vere, (who had most kindly come to perform the ceremony), was putting on his surplice in the vestry, while Julian and Kennedy, with Owen, Lillyston, and De Vayne, were strolling up and down a pretty, retired laurel walk behind the church. Hearing where they were, the boys, accompanied by their aunt, boldly invaded their privacy, and reached the end of the walk just as the gentlemen were approaching to enter the church.
"Good gracious! Lady Vinsear!" said De Vayne.
"Hush, hush!" she said. "Come here, Julian, and kiss your old aunt, and welcome her on your wedding-day, and don't think of bygones. I am proud to see you, my boy;" and he felt a tear on his cheek as the old lady drew down his head to kiss him.
"And now," she said, "don't tell any of the rest that I have come till after the marriage. I hear the sound of wheels. Put me in some pew near the altar, Julian, that I may have a good long look at your bride, and Violet's bridegroom."
They had just time to fulfil her wish when the carriages drove up, and the bridal procession formed, and, followed by their bride's-maids, Violet and Eva passed up the aisle, in all their loveliness, with wreaths of myrtle and orange-flower round their fair foreheads, and long, graceful veils, and simple ornaments of pearl.
Beautiful to see! A bride always looks beautiful, but these two were radiant and exquisite in their loveliness. Which was the fairest? I cannot tell. Most men would have given the golden apple to Eva, with the sweet, tender grace that played about her young features, almost infantile in their delicacy, and with those bright, beaming, laughter-loving eyes, of which the light could not be hid though she bent her face downwards to hide the bridal blush that tinged it; but yet they would have doubted about the decision when they turned from her to the full flower of Violet's beauty, and gazed on her perfect face, so enchanting in its meekness, and on that one tress of golden hair that played upon her neck.
De Vayne, as he looked on the perfect scene, took out a piece of paper, and wrote on it Spenser's lines:—
"Behold, while she before the altar stands, Hearing the holy priest that to her speaks And blesses her with his two happy hands, How the red roses flush up in her cheeks And the pure snow with golden vermeil stain, Like crimson dyed in grain."
He handed the lines to Lillyston and Owen, and they saw from the happy smile upon his face that no touch of regret or envy marred his present meditations.
Has life any pleasure—any deep, unspoken happiness—comparable to that which fills a young's man whole soul when he stands beside the altar with such a bride as Violet or Eva was?—when he thinks that the fair, blushing girl, whose white hand trembles in his own, is to be the star of his home, the mother of his children, the sunbeam shining steadily on all his life? Verily he who hath experienced such a joy has found a jewel richer:
"Than twenty seas though all their sands were pearl, Their waters crystal, and their rocks pure gold."
The service was over, and in those few moments, four young souls had passed over the marble threshold of married life. Violet felt that the presence of De Vayne removed the only alloy to that deep happiness that spoke in the eloquent lustre of her eye, and she told him so as he bent to kiss her hand, and as Lady De Vayne clasped her to her heart with an affectionate embrace. All the people of the village awaited them at the porch, and as they passed along the path, the village children, lining the way, and standing heedless on the green mounds that covered the crumbling relics of mortality, scattered under their happy feet a thousand flowers. One passing thought, perhaps, about the lesson which those green mounds told, flitted through the minds of the bridal party as they left the trodden blossoms to wither on the churchyard path, but if so, it was but as the shadow of a summer cloud, and it vanished, as with a sudden clash the bells rang out again, thrilling the tremulous air with their enthusiasm of happy auguries, and the sailor boys of Orton gave cheer on cheer while brides and bridegrooms entered their carriages, and drove from under the umbrage of the churchyard yews to the elms and oaks and lime-tree avenues of the hall.
Oh that happy day! The wedding breakfast had been laid in a large tent on the lawn, whence you could catch bright glimpses of the blue sea, and the islet, and the passing ships, while on all sides around it the garden glowed a paradise of blossom, and the fragrance of sweet flowers floated to them through the golden air. Rich fruits and gorgeous bouquets covered the table, and the whole tent was gay with wreaths and anadems. And then, what ringing laughter, what merry jests, what earnest happy talk! Let us not linger there too long, and from this scene I bid avaunt to the coarse cynical reader; who is too strong-minded to believe in love.
Only let the gentle reader fancy for himself how beautiful were the few words with which Mr Vere proposed the health of the brides, and how long they remembered his earnest wish, that though the truest love is often that which has been sanctified by sorrow, yet that they might be spared the sorrow, and enjoy the truest love. And he will fancy how admirably Julian and Kennedy replied—Julian in words of poetic feeling and thoughtful power, Kennedy with quick flashes of picturesque expression, both with the eloquence of sincere and deep emotion; and how gracefully De Vayne proposed the health of the bridesmaids, for whom Cyril and Lillyston replied. Then, too quickly, came the hour of separation; the old shoe was flung after the carriages, the bridal couples departed for a tour among the lakes, and the villagers danced and feasted till twilight on the lawn.
Six weeks are over since the marriage day, and there, in Southampton harbour, lies the Valleyfield, which is to convey Kennedy and Violet to Calcutta. They have just spoken the last, long, lingering farewell to Eva and Julian, who are standing in deep tearful silence on the pier, and are watching the little boat which is conveying their only brother and only sister to the ship. The boat is but a few moments in reaching the Valleyfield, and, when they are on board, the vessel weighs anchor, and ruffles her white plumage, and flings her pennons to the breeze, and begins to dash the blue water into foam about her prow. Violet and her husband are standing at the stern, and as long as the vessel is in sight they wave their hands in token of farewell. It is but a short time, and then the Valleyfield grows into a mere dot on the horizon, and Eva and Julian, heedless of the crowds around them, do not check the tears as they flow, and speak to each other in voices broken by sorrow as they slowly turn away.
That evening Violet and Kennedy knelt side by side in their little cabin to join in common prayer, and Julian led his Eva over the threshold of their quiet and holy home.
And their path thenceforth was "as the shining light, shining more and more to the perfect day."