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Wordsworth's When you are alone, 77.
ONE evening in February a young man with a slight figure and thin grave face, walked briskly along a London thoroughfare. He held in his hand an open book, which he read as he went along, steering his way through the crowd with the ready ease of long practice. At last he turned into a narrower side street, where the gaslights were fewer and burned more dimly. He could no longer see to read, so with a half-impatient sigh, quickly suppressed, he closed the volume-an old well-worn copy of the Morte d'Arthur. Until then he had taken very little note of his surroundings, but the sudden silence that fell upon his ear as the mighty roar of Oxford Street became deadened by distance, awakened him to the dreariness of the scene, an impression all the more vivid through contrast. He had been in Fairyland, under the spell of the greatest of enchanters, Romance-and he awoke to find himself in a long unlovely street in Bloomsbury. Two dark walls lay stretched out before him, converging into a depth of foggy darkness, studded with a few pale glimmering lights. The air was full of damp, and the pavements were muddy. Kenneth Grahame drew his threadbare great-coat closer round him, and quickened his steps. The look of eager interest faded away from his features, giving place to their habitual expression, oftener seen in middle life than in youth-a sort of quiet endurance, the self-suppression of a resolute yet fastidious nature. He was but five-and-twenty, the representative of a noble Scottish family, proud of a long line of Cavalier and Jacobite ancestors. He had begun life under what seemed the happiest auspices; but now
for the last seven years he had been toiling hard as a city clerk, chained to an office desk for eight hours daily. After several turns he came to a mass of red brick buildings, above which predominated a slender church spire, and passing through a small courtyard, entered the open door of the church. The windows shone without in rich gorgeous colouring, becoming dimmer as the lights within were being extinguished one by one; for the service was over, and the church nearly empty. Still the solemn tones of the organ rolled around, as the player, forgetful of time, passed on from one group of harmonies to another. The fog-laden air and the gathering shadows made the space within seem mysteriously vast, and the lofty roof invisible in the darkness. Kenneth sought the quiet place to which often at this hour he resorted for solitary meditation, like Isaac of old, at eventide. The old sacristan pottered softly about on his rounds, taking care not to disturb the peacefulness of the sanctuary. At last the booming echoes of the organ tones ceased, Kenneth rose, and departed. He had not far to go. He turned into the next street, stopped at No. 72, and let himself in with a latch key.
"Here you are at last, Kenneth!" called out a clear ringing voice from within. "Come quick, I've something to tell you;" and Christina Grahame, a tall fair-haired girl of seventeen, twisted round on her seat at the piano, as her brother entered the room. "Only thinkthe Professor wants me to play at his concert. It is to be this day six weeks, and I'm to play the Harmonious Blacksmith,' besides a duet with him. Isn't it an honour? and such a splendid opening for me!"
What, Christie ?" said he, lifting his eyebrows, without seeming as much impressed by the distinction as his sister could have wished. "Do you mean that you really want to play at a public concert ?" His tone showed a certain annoyance, which she at once perceived, and she hastened to explain.
A private concert, a matinée d'invitation. Why, of course I'm delighted! you don't mean to say you disapprove? My dear boy, it's the best advertisement I can possibly have! Besides, he says he will recommend me. I shall be certain to get pupils."
"But Kenneth, be reasonable! Now you're not going to be too proud to let me work as well as you. We settled ever so long ago that work is an honour, not a disgrace."
"That is part of our creed, but—”
“Then let us stick to it, like true Scots! It would be Irish to let false scruples of pride, or sentiment, stand in the way of work. I want to wear my brown gown, and never to be too fine. Seriously, Kenneth dear, you know it's my great wish and pleasure as well as my duty to help you, to lessen the burden laid upon you."
Her tones were both earnest and beseeching. She paused for an answer, her clear hazel eyes intently scanning her brother's refined and careworn features. Presently he spoke, very quietly,
"Now, Christie, is your mission art, or work? there's a difference." "Yes, I know. I should say both, however. I'm not a genius, but I can do something for music, which I love intensely, though I don't rave about it like the Crowthers, you know."
"I know you are a very sensible young woman," said Kenneth, with a queer half smile. "Look here, I'm not prepared to give you up to the profession. I have my own ideas upon that point, and perhaps I am full of pride and prejudice, but I'll give my gracious consent to your playing at this concert, if it is only a private one.”
Christina's ruling passion was her devotion to her brother; and even when she thought him too particular, the desire to please him generally triumphed over her own opinion. Her musical enthusiasm was well under control; still, she felt disappointed, and showed it by whistling a few notes. Kenneth had a fastidious aversion to this trick, but forbore to make any comment.
“I may take all the pupils I can get, mayn't I?" she said suddenly, in rather a sharp tone.
“Yes—that was settled when I let you go and teach the Vicarage children; I saw what it would lead to."
"And you really think the position of an artist inferior to that of a daily governess !"
"Not inferior-only different. I don't like it for you. I dare say I'm very old-fashioned. Tell the Professor I'm a great tyrant, but he has been very kind, and for that reason I'll let you make your first --and last-appearance at his concert. Come, will that content you for the present ?"
"Dear old Ken! you are the best of brothers!"
Yes, when I let you have your own way. Now then, isn't it time
for tea? Sydney is coming in."
'Well, there's just enough cold meat.-Oh, and I made a cake this morning, before I went to College."
"All right. Is Charlie in ?”
"Yes, some time ago.
There was no practice after service.
Soon the fire was burning up, and the kettle singing away merrily, while Christina hastened to and fro, preparing the table. The firelight danced and flickered on the old faded furniture of the sitting-room, throwing a mellow glow over everything, and softening the somewhat sharply defined but pretty outline of the girl's Scottish features. Presently Kenneth entered, supporting the frail and slender form of a little old lady, draped in a soft white shawl, with a cap of delicate lace tied under her chin, which encircled a pale kindly face with the watchful halfinquiring expression that deaf people often have. Christina hastened. to set her arm-chair nearer the fire, and presently "Granny," as they called her, (though Mrs. Earle was no relation,) was comfortably established in it with her ear-trumpet and work-basket within reach. The next moment there was a ring at the house door, and Kenneth left the room to admit his friend Sydney Parker, the Curate of the neighbouring church, thus anticipating the slower movements of Mrs. Earle's ancient servant, the grim and trustworthy Sarah, who followed them into the room with the lamp. Kenneth's quiet repressed demeanour and thin austere face were a great contrast to the tall broad-shouldered figure and hearty ruddy countenance of his clerical friend, who when at Oxford had won more honours in the cricket field than in the schools. He came in, greeting all with vigorous hand-shakes and good-humoured smiles, receiving a warm welcome from the deaf old lady. The party was completed by little Charlie Grahame, a quiet grave boy of thirteen, with keen dark eyes like his elder brother. He slipped into a seat by Mrs. Earle, and attended to all her wants; his voice was the only one which reached her ear without any great effort, and he made it his business to inform her from time to time of what was passing in conversation while the meal went on.
"You are going to the night school?" asked Sydney. "I'm not sure whether I can get there till the finish. I have some sick people to look up."
"I will be there to-night," said Kenneth. "I can't go on Wednesday, because of the Debating Club."
"Have you promised to speak? What is the subject ?"
"Oh yes, do tell us," said Christina.