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out troubling Reason to come out of her way-first, that I was a foreign young lady of good birth, manners, and money; second, and far more important, I was here to write and paint a book about Shoxford. Not for the money, of that I had no need (according to the congress at the "Silver-edged Holly "), but for the praise, and the knowledge of it like, and to make a talk among high people. But the elders shook their heads -as I heard from Mr. Rigg, who hugged his knowledge proudly, and uttered dim sayings of wisdom let forth at large usury: he did not mind telling me that the old men shook their heads, for fear of my being a deal too young, and a long sight too well favoured (as any man might tell without his specks on), for to write any book upon any subject yet, leave alone an old, ancient town like theirs. However, there might be no harm in my trying, and perhaps the schoolmaster would cross out the bad language.
Thus for once fortune now was giving me good help, enabling me to go about freely, and preventing (so far as I could see at least) all danger of discovery by my unknown foe. So here I resolved to keep my headquarters, dispensing, if it must be so, with Betsy's presence, and not even having Mrs. Price to succeed her, unless my cousin should insist upon it. And partly to dissuade him from that, and partly to hear his opinion of the sexton's tale, I paid a flying visit to Lord Castlewood; while "Madam Straw," as Betsy now was called throughout the village, remained behind at Shoxford. For I long had desired to know a thing, which I had not ventured to ask my cousin-though I did ask Mr. Shovelin-whether my father had entrusted him with the key of his own mysterious acts. I scarcely knew whether it was proper even now to put this question to Lord Castlewood; but, even without doing so, I might get at the answer, by watching him closely, while I told my tale. Not a letter had reached me since I came to Shoxford, neither had I written any, except one to Uncle Sam; and, keeping to this excellent rule, I arrived at Castlewood without notice.
In doing this I took no liberty, because full permission had been given me about it; and indeed I had been expected there, as Stixon told me, some days before. He added that his master was about as usual, but had shown some uneasiness on my account; though the butler was all in the dark about it, and felt it very hard after all these years, "particular, when he could hardly help thinking that Mrs. Price-a new hand compared to himself, not to speak of being a female-knowed all about it, and were very aggravating. But there, he would say no more; he knew his place; and he always had been valued in it, long afore Mrs. Price come up to the bottom of his waistcoat."
My cousin received me with kindly warmth, and kissed me gently on the forehead. "My dear, how very well you look!" he said. "Your native air has agreed with you. I was getting, in my quiet way, rather sedulous, and self-reproachful about you. But you would have your own way, like a young American; and it seems that you were right."
"It was quite right," I answered, with a hearty kiss, for I never could be cold-natured; and this was my only one of ncar kin, so far at least as my knowledge went. "I was quite right in going; and I have done good. At any rate, I have found out something-something that may not be of any kind of use; but still it makes me hope things."
With that, in as few words as ever I could use, I told Lord Castlewood the whole of Jacob's tale, particularly looking at him, all the while I spoke, to settle in my own mind whether the idea of such a thing was new to him. Concerning that, however, I could make out nothing. My cousin, at his time of life, and after so much travelling, had much too large a share of mind, and long skill of experience, for me to make anything out of his face beyond his own intention. And whether he had suspicion or not of anything at all like what I was describing, or anybody having to do with it, was more than I ever might have known, if I had not gathered up my courage and put the question outright to him. I told him that if I was wrong in asking, he was not to answer; but, right or wrong, ask him I must.
"The question is natural and not at all improper," replied Lord Castlewood, standing a moment for change of pain, which was all his relief. "Indeed, I expected you to ask me that before. But, Erema, I have also had to ask myself about it, whether I have any right to answer you. And I have decided not to do so, unless you will pledge yourself to one thing."
"I will pledge myself to anything," I answered rashly; "I do not care what it is, if only to get at the bottom of this mystery."
"I scarcely think you will hold good to your words, when you hear what you have to promise. The condition upon which I tell you what I believe to be the cause of all, is that you let things remain as they are, and keep silence for ever about them."
"Oh, you cannot be so cruel, so atrocious!" I cried in my bitter disappointment. "What good would it be for me to know things thus, and let the vile wrong continue? Surely you are not bound to lay on me a condition so impossible?"
"After much consideration, and strong wish to have it otherwise, I have concluded that I am so bound."
"In duty to my father, or the family, or what? Forgive me for asking, but it does seem so hard."
"It seems hard, my dear, and it is hard as well," he answered very gently, yet showing in his eyes and lips no chance of any yielding. "But remember that I do not know, I only guess the secret; and if you give the pledge I speak of, you merely follow in your father's steps."
"Never," I replied, with as firm a face as his. "It may have been my father's duty, or no doubt he thought it so; but it cannot be mine, unless I make it so by laying it on my honour. And I will not do that."
"Perhaps you are right; but, at any rate, remember that I have not tried to persuade you. I wish to do what is for your happiness, Erema.
And I think that, on the whole, with your vigour, and high spirit, you are better as you are, than if you had a knowledge which you could only brood over and not use."
"I will find out the whole of it myself," I cried, for I could not repress all excitement; "and then I need not brood over it, but may have it out and get justice. In the wildest parts of America justice comes with perseverance: am I to abjure it in the heart of England? Lord Castlewood, which is first-justice or honour?"
"My cousin, you are fond of asking questions difficult to answer. Justice and honour nearly always go together. When they do otherwise, honour stands foremost, with people of good birth at least.
"Then I will be a person of very bad birth. If they come into conflict in my life, as almost everything seems to do, my first thought shall be of justice; and honour shall come in as its ornament afterwards."
"Erema," said my cousin, "your meaning is good, and, at your time of life, you can scarcely be expected to take a dispassionate view of things."
At first I felt almost as if I could hate a "dispassionate view of things." Things are made to arouse our passion, so long as meanness and villany prevail; and if old men, knowing the balance of the world, ca contemplate them all "dispassionately," more clearly than anything else, to my mind, that proves the beauty of being young. I am sure that I never was hot or violent qualities which I especially dislike-but still I would rather almost have those, than be too philosophical. And now, while I revered my father's cousin for his gentleness, wisdom, and longsuffering, I almost longed to fly back to the Major, prejudiced, peppery, and red-hot for justice, at any rate in all things that concerned himself.
SOME ANSWER TO IT.
HASTY indignation did not drive me to hot action. A quiet talk with Mrs. Price, as soon as my cousin's bad hour arrived, was quite enough to bring me back to a sense of my own misgovernment. Moreover, the evening clouds were darkening for a night of thunder, while the silver Thames looked nothing more than a leaden pipe down the valleys. Calm words fall, at such times, on quick temper, like the drip of trees on people who have been dancing. I shivered, as my spirit fell, to think of my weak excitement, and poor petulance to a kind wise friend, a man of many sorrows and perpetual affliction. And then I recalled what I had observed, but in my haste forgotten-Lord Castlewood was greatly changed even in the short time since I had left his house for Shoxford. Pale he had always been, and his features (calm as they were, and finely cut) seemed almost bleached by indoor life and continual endurance. But now they showed worse sign than this-a delicate transparence of
faint colour, and a waxen surface, such as I had seen at a time I cannot bear to think of. Also he had tottered forward, while he tried for steadfast footing, quite as if his worried members were almost worn out at last.
Mrs. Price took me up quite sharply-at least for one of her welltrained style-when I ventured to ask if she had noticed this, which made me feel uneasy. "Oh dear, no!" she said, looking up from the lace-frilled pockets of her silk apron, which appeared to my mind perhaps a little too smart, and almost of a vulgar tincture; and I think that she saw in my eyes that much, and was vexed with herself for not changing it,— "Oh dear, no, Miss Castlewood! We who know and watch him should detect any difference of that nature at the moment of its occurrence. His lordship's health goes vacillating; a little up now, and then a little down, like a needle that is mounted to show the dip of compass; and it varies according to the electricity, as well as the magnetic influence."
"What doctor told you that?" I asked, seeing in a moment that this housekeeper was dealing in quotation.
"You are very"-she was going to say "rude," but knew better when she saw me waiting for it—" well, you are rather brusque, as we used to call it abroad, Miss Castlewood; but am I incapable of observing for myself?"
"I never implied that," was my answer; "I believe that you are most intelligent, and fit to nurse my cousin, as you are to keep his house. And what you have said shows the clearness of your memory and expression."
"You are very good to speak so," she answered, recovering her temper beautifully, but, like a true woman, resolved not to let me know anything more about it. "Oh, what a clap of thunder! Are you timid} This house has been struck three times, they say. It stands so prominently. It is this that has made my lord look so."
"Let us hope, then, to see him much better to-morrow," I said very bravely, though frightened at heart, being always a coward at thunder. "What are these storms you get in England compared to the tropical outbursts? Let us open the window, if you please, and watch it."
"I hear myself called," Mrs. Price exclaimed; "I am sorry to leave you, Miss. You know best. But please not to sit by an open window. Nothing is more dangerous."
"Except a great bunch of steel keys," I replied; and gazing at her nice retreating figure, saw it quickened, as a flash of lightning passed, with the effort of both hands to be quit of something.
The storm was dreadful; and I kept the window shut, but could not help watching, with a fearful joy, the many-fingered hazy pale vibrations, the reflections of the levin in the hollow of the land. And sadly I began to think of Uncle Sam, and all his goodness; and how in a storm, a thousandfold of this, he went down his valley in the torrent of the waves, and must have been drowned, and perhaps never found again, if he had not been wearing his leathern apron.
This made me humble, as all great thoughts do, and the sidelong drizzle in among the heavy rain (from the big drops jostling each other in the air, and dashing out splashes of difference) gave me an idea of the sort of thing I was-and how very little more. And, feeling rather lonely in the turn that things had taken, I rang the bell for somebody; and up came Stixon.
"Lor', Miss! Lor', what a burning shame of Prick!-'Prick' we call her, in our genial moments, hearing as the 'k' is hard in Celtic language; and all abroad about her husband. My very first saying to you was, not to be too much okkipied with her. Look at the pinafore on her! Lord be with me! If his lordship, as caught me, that day of this very same month fifty years, in the gooseberry bush
"To be sure!" I said, knowing that story by heart, together with all its embellishments; "but things are altered since that day. Nothing can be more to your credit, I am sure, than to be able to tell such a tale in the very place where it happened."
"But Miss-Miss Erma; I ain't begun to tell it."
"Because you remember that I am acquainted with it. A thing so remarkable is not to be forgotten. Now, let me ask you a question of importance; and I beg you, as an old servant of this family, to answer it carefully and truly. Do you remember any one, either here or elsewhere, so like my father, Captain Castlewood, as to be taken for him at first sight, until a difference of expression and of walk was noticed?”
"Mr. Stixon looked at me with some surprise, and then began to think profoundly, and in doing so he supported his chin with one hand.
"Let me see-like the Captain?" He reflected slowly: "Did I ever see a gentleman like poor Master George-as was? A gentleman, of course, it must have been-and a very tall, handsome, straight gentleman, to be taken anyhow for young Master George. And he must have been very like him, too, to be taken for him by resemblance. Well then, Miss, to the best of my judgment, I never did see such a gentleman."
"I don't know whether it was a gentleman or not," I answered, with some impatience at his tantalising slowness; "but he carried his chin stretched forth-like this."
For Stixon's own attitude had reminded me of a little point in Jacob Rigg's description, which otherwise might have escaped me.
"Lor' now, and he carried his chin like that!" resumed the butler, with an increase of intelligence by no means superfluous. "Why, let me see now, let me see. Something do come across my mind when you puts out your purty chin, Miss-but there, it must have been a score of years agone, or more-perhaps five-and-twenty. What a daft old codger I be getting, surely! No wonder them new lights puts a bushel over me." "No," I replied; "you are simply showing great power of memory, Stixon. And now please to tell me, as soon as you can, who it was-a tall man, remember, and a handsome one, with dark hair perhaps, or, at any rate, dark eyes-who resembled (perhaps not very closely, but still