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The following day being very fine, I walked to Oldcastle Hall; but I remember well how much slower I was forced to walk than I was willing. I found to my relief that Mrs Oldcastle had not yet returned. I was shown at once to Mr Stoddart's library. There I found the two ladies in attendance upon him. He was seated by a splendid fire, for the autumn days were now chilly on the shady side, in the most luxurious of easy chairs, with his furred feet buried in the long hair of the hearth-rug. He looked worn and peevish. All the placidity of his countenance had vanished. The smooth expanse of his forehead was drawn into fifty wrinkles, like a sea over which the fretting wind has been blowing all night. Nor was it only suffering that his face expressed. He looked like a man who strongly suspected that he was ill-used.

After salutation,—

"You are well off, Mr Stoddart," I said, "to have two such nurses."

"They are very kind," sighed the patient

"You would recommend Mrs Pearson and Mother Goose instead, would you not, Mr Walton?" said Judy, her gray eyes sparkling with fun.

"Judy, be quiet," said the invalid, languidly and yet sharply.

Judy reddened and was silent.

"I am sorry to find you so unwell," I said.

"Yes; I am very ill," he returned.

Aunt and niece rose and left the room quietly.

"Do you suffer much, Mr Stoddart?"

"Much weariness, worse than pain. I could welcome death."

"I do not think, from what Dr Duncan says of you, that there is reason to apprehend more than a lingering illness," I said—to try him, I confess.

"I hope not indeed," he exclaimed angrily, sitting up in his chair. "What right has Dr Duncan to talk of me so?"

"To a friend, you know," I returned, apologetically, "who is much interested in your welfare."

"Yes, of course. So is the doctor. A sick man belongs to you both by prescription."

"For my part I would rather talk about religion to a whole man than a sick man. A sick man is not a WHOLE man. He is but part of a man, as it were, for the time, and it is not so easy to tell what he can take."

"Thank you. I am obliged to you for my new position in the social scale. Of the tailor species, I suppose."

I could not help wishing he were as far up as any man that does such needful honest work.

"My dear sir, I beg your pardon. I meant only a glance at the peculiar relation of the words WHOLE and HEAL."

"I do not find etymology interesting at present."

"Not seated in such a library as this?"

"No; I am ill."

Satisfied that, ill as he was, he might be better if he would, I resolved to make another trial.

"Do you remember how Ligarius, in Julius Caesar, discards his sickness?—

"'I am not sick, if Brutus have in hand Any exploit worthy the name of honour.'"

"I want to be well because I don't like to be ill. But what there is in this foggy, swampy world worth being well for, I'm sure I haven't found out yet."

"If you have not, it must be because you have never tried to find out. But I'm not going to attack you when you are not able to defend yourself. We shall find a better time for that. But can't I do something for you? Would you like me to read to you for half an hour?"

"No, thank you. The girls tire me out with reading to me. I hate the very sound of their voices."

"I have got to-day's Times in my pocket."

"I've heard all the news already."

"Then I think I shall only bore you if I stay."

He made me no answer. I rose. He just let me take his hand, and returned my good morning as if there was nothing good in the world, least of all this same morning.

I found the ladies in the outer room. Judy was on her knees on the floor occupied with a long row of books. How the books had got there I wondered; but soon learned the secret which I had in vain asked of the butler on my first visit—namely, how Mr Stoddart reached the volumes arranged immediately under the ceiling, in shelves, as my reader may remember, that looked like beams radiating from the centre. For Judy rose from the floor, and proceeded to put in motion a mechanical arrangement concealed in one of the divisions of the book-shelves along the wall; and I now saw that there were strong cords reaching from the ceiling, and attached to the shelf or rather long box sideways open which contained the books.

"Do take care, Judy," said Ethelwyn. "You know it is very venturous of you to let that shelf down, when uncle is as jealous of his books as a hen of her chickens. I oughtn't to have let you touch the cords."

"You couldn't help it, auntie, dear; for I had the shelf half-way down before you saw me," returned Judy, proceeding to raise the books to their usual position under the ceiling.

But in another moment, either from Judy's awkwardness, or from the gradual decay and final fracture of some cord, down came the whole shelf with a thundering noise, and the books were scattered hither and thither in confusion about the floor. Ethelwyn was gazing in dismay, and Judy had built up her face into a defiant look, when the door of the inner room opened and Mr Stoddart appeared. His brow was already flushed; but when he saw the condition of his idols, (for the lust of the eye had its full share in his regard for his books,) he broke out in a passion to which he could not have given way but for the weak state of his health.

"How DARE you?" he said, with terrible emphasis on the word DARE. "Judy, I beg you will not again show yourself in my apartment till I send for you."

"And then," said Judy, leaving the room, "I am not in the least likely to be otherwise engaged."

"I am very sorry, uncle," began Miss Oldcastle.

But Mr Stoddart had already retreated and banged the door behind him. So Miss Oldcastle and I were left standing together amid the ruins.

She glanced at me with a distressed look. I smiled. She smiled in return.

"I assure you," she said, "uncle is not a bit like himself."

"And I fear in trying to rouse him, I have done him no good,—only made him more irritable," I said. "But he will be sorry when he comes to himself, and so we must take the reversion of his repentance now, and think nothing more of the matter than if he had already said he was sorry. Besides, when books are in the case, I, for one, must not be too hard upon my unfortunate neighbour."

"Thank you, Mr Walton. I am so much obliged to you for taking my uncle's part. He has been very good to me; and that dear Judy is provoking sometimes. I am afraid I help to spoil her; but you would hardly believe how good she really is, and what a comfort she is to me—with all her waywardness."

"I think I understand Judy," I replied; "and I shall be more mistaken than I am willing to confess I have ever been before, if she does not turn out a very fine woman. The marvel to me is that with all the various influences amongst which she is placed here, she is not really, not seriously, spoiled after all. I assure you I have the greatest regard for, as well as confidence in, my friend Judy."

Ethelwyn—Miss Oldcastle, I should say—gave me such a pleased look that I was well recompensed—if justice should ever talk of recompense—for my defence of her niece.

"Will you come with me?" she said; "for I fear our talk may continue to annoy Mr Stoddart. His hearing is acute at all times, and has been excessively so since his illness."

"I am at your service," I returned, and followed her from the room.

"Are you still as fond of the old quarry as you used to be, Miss Oldcastle?" I said, as we caught a glimpse of it from the window of a long passage we were going through.

"I think I am. I go there most days. I have not been to-day, though. Would you like to go down?"

"Very much," I said.

"Ah! I forgot, though. You must not go; it is not a fit place for an invalid."

"I cannot call myself an invalid now."

"Your face, I am sorry to say, contradicts your words."

And she looked so kindly at me, that I almost broke out into thanks for the mere look.

"And indeed," she went on, "it is too damp down there, not to speak of the stairs."

By this time we had reached the little room in which I was received the first time I visited the Hall. There we found Judy.

"If you are not too tired already, I should like to show you my little study. It has, I think, a better view than any other room in the house," said Miss Oldcastle.

"I shall be delighted," I replied.

"Come, Judy," said her aunt.

"You don't want me, I am sure, auntie."

"I do, Judy, really. You mustn't be cross to us because uncle has been cross to you. Uncle is not well, you know, and isn't a bit like himself; and you know you should not have meddled with his machinery."

And Miss Oldcastle put her arm round Judy, and kissed her. Whereupon Judy jumped from her seat, threw her book down, and ran to one of the several doors that opened from the room. This disclosed a little staircase, almost like a ladder, only that it wound about, up which we climbed, and reached a charming little room, whose window looked down upon the Bishop's Basin, glimmering slaty through the tops of the trees between. It was panelled in small panels of dark oak, like the room below, but with more of carving. Consequently it was sombre, and its sombreness was unrelieved by any mirror. I gazed about me with a kind of awe. I would gladly have carried away the remembrance of everything and its shadow.—Just opposite the window was a small space of brightness formed by the backs of nicely-bound books. Seeing that these attracted my eye—

"Those are almost all gifts from my uncle," said Miss Oldcastle. "He is really very kind, and you will not think of him as you have seen him to-day ?"

"Indeed I will not," I replied.

My eye fell upon a small pianoforte.

"Do sit down," said Miss Oldcastle.—"You have been very ill, and I could do nothing for you who have been so kind to me."

She spoke as if she had wanted to say this.

"I only wish I had a chance of doing anything for you," I said, as I took a chair in the window. "But if I had done all I ever could hope to do, you have repaid me long ago, I think."

"How? I do not know what you mean, Mr Walton. I have never done you the least service."

"Tell me first, did you play the organ in church that afternoon when—after—before I was taken ill—I mean the same day you had—a friend with you in the pew in the morning ?"

I daresay my voice was as irregular as my construction. I ventured just one glance. Her face was flushed. But she answered me at once.

"I did."

"Then I am in your debt more than you know or I can tell you."

"Why, if that is all, I have played the organ every Sunday since uncle was taken ill," she said, smiling.

"I know that now. And I am very glad I did not know it till I was better able to bear the disappointment. But it is only for what I heard that I mean now to acknowledge my obligation. Tell me, Miss Oldcastle,—what is the most precious gift one person can give another?"

She hesitated; and I, fearing to embarrass her, answered for her.

"It must be something imperishable,—something which in its own nature IS. If instead of a gem, or even of a flower, we could cast the gift of a lovely thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving, as the angels, I suppose, must give. But you did more and better for me than that. I had been troubled all the morning; and you made me know that my Redeemer liveth. I did not know you were playing, mind, though I felt a difference. You gave me more trust in God; and what other gift so great could one give? I think that last impression, just as I was taken ill, must have helped me through my illness. Often when I was most oppressed, 'I know that my Redeemer liveth' would rise up in the troubled air of my mind, and sung by a voice which, though I never heard you sing, I never questioned to be yours."

She turned her face towards me: those sea-blue eyes were full of tears.

"I was troubled myself," she said, with a faltering voice, "when I sang—I mean played—that. I am so glad it did somebody good! I fear it did not do me much.—I will sing it to you now, if you like."

And she rose to get the music. But that instant Judy, who, I then found, had left the room, bounded into it, with the exclamation,—

"Auntie, auntie! here's grannie!"

Miss Oldcastle turned pale. I confess I felt embarrassed, as if I had been caught in something underhand.

"Is she come in?" asked Miss Oldcastle, trying to speak with indifference.

"She is just at the door,—must be getting out of the fly now. What SHALL we do?"

"What DO you mean, Judy?" said her aunt.

"Well you know, auntie, as well as I do, that grannie will look as black as a thunder-cloud to find Mr Walton here; and if she doesn't speak as loud, it will only be because she can't. I don't care for myself, but you know on whose head the storm will fall. Do, dear Mr Walton, come down the back-stair. Then she won't be a bit the wiser. I'll manage it all."

Here was a dilemma for me; either to bring suffering on her, to save whom I would have borne any pain, or to creep out of the house as if I were and ought to be ashamed of myself. I believe that had I been in any other relation to my fellows, I would have resolved at once to lay myself open to the peculiarly unpleasant reproach of sneaking out of the house, rather than that she should innocently suffer for my being innocently there. But I was a clergyman; and I felt, more than I had ever felt before, that therefore I could not risk ever the appearance of what was mean. Miss Oldcastle, however, did not leave it to me to settle the matter. All that I have just written had but flashed through my mind when she said:—

"Judy, for shame to propose such a thing to Mr Walton! I am very sorry that he may chance to have an unpleasant meeting with mamma; but we can't help it. Come, Judy, we will show Mr Walton out together."

"It wasn't for Mr Walton's sake," returned Judy, pouting. "You are very troublesome, auntie dear. Mr Walton, she is so hard to take care of! and she's worse since you came. I shall have to give her up some day. Do be generous, Mr Walton, and take my side—that is, auntie's."

"I am afraid, Judy, I must thank your aunt for taking the part of my duty against my inclination. But this kindness, at least," I said to Miss Oldcastle, "I can never hope to return."

It was a stupid speech, but I could not be annoyed that I had made it.

"All obligations are not burdens to be got rid of, are they?" she replied, with a sweet smile on such a pale troubled face, that I was more moved for her, deliberately handing her over to the torture for the truth's sake, than I care definitely to confess.

Thereupon, Miss Oldcastle led the way down the stairs, I followed, and Judy brought up the rear. The affair was not so bad as it might have been, inasmuch as, meeting the mistress of the house in no penetralia of the same, I insisted on going out alone, and met Mrs Oldcastle in the hall only. She held out no hand to greet me. I bowed, and said I was sorry to find Mr Stoddart so far from well.

"I fear he is far from well," she returned; "certainly in my opinion too ill to receive visitors."

So saying, she bowed and passed on. I turned and walked out, not ill-pleased, as my readers will believe, with my visit.

From that day I recovered rapidly, and the next Sunday had the pleasure of preaching to my flock; Mr Aikin, the gentleman already mentioned as doing duty for me, reading prayers. I took for my subject one of our Lord's miracles of healing, I forget which now, and tried to show my people that all healing and all kinds of healing come as certainly and only from His hand as those instances in which He put forth His bodily hand and touched the diseased, and told them to be whole.

And as they left the church the organ played, "Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God."

I tried hard to prevent my new feelings from so filling my mind as to make me fail of my duty towards my flock. I said to myself, "Let me be the more gentle, the more honourable, the more tender, towards these my brothers and sisters, forasmuch as they are her brothers and sisters too." I wanted to do my work the better that I loved her.

Thus week after week passed, with little that I can remember worthy of record. I seldom saw Miss Oldcastle, and during this period never alone. True, she played the organ still, for Mr Stoddart continued too unwell to resume his ministry of sound, but I never made any attempt to see her as she came to or went from the organ-loft. I felt that I ought not, or at least that it was better not, lest an interview should trouble my mind, and so interfere with my work, which, if my calling meant anything real, was a consideration of vital import. But one thing I could not help noting—that she seemed, by some intuition, to know the music I liked best; and great help she often gave me by so uplifting my heart upon the billows of the organ-harmony, that my thinking became free and harmonious, and I spoke, as far as my own feeling was concerned, like one upheld on the unseen wings of ministering cherubim. How it might be to those who heard me, or what the value of the utterance in itself might be, I cannot tell. I only speak of my own feelings, I say.

Does my reader wonder why I did not yet make any further attempt to gain favour in the lady's eyes? He will see, if he will think for a moment. First of all, I could not venture until she had seen more of me; and how to enjoy more of her society while her mother was so unfriendly, both from instinctive dislike to me, and because of the offence I had given her more than once, I did not know; for I feared that to call oftener might only occasion measures upon her part to prevent me from seeing her daughter at all; and I could not tell how far such measures might expedite the event I most dreaded, or add to the discomfort to which Miss Oldcastle was already so much exposed. Meantime I heard nothing of Captain Everard; and the comfort that flowed from such a negative source was yet of a very positive character. At the same time—will my reader understand me?—I was in some measure deterred from making further advances by the doubt whether her favour for Captain Everard might not be greater than Judy had represented it. For I had always shrunk, I can hardly say with invincible dislike, for I had never tried to conquer it, from rivalry of every kind: it was, somehow, contrary to my nature. Besides, Miss Oldcastle was likely to be rich some day—apparently had money of her own even now; and was it a weakness? was it not a weakness?—I cannot tell—I writhed at the thought of being supposed to marry for money, and being made the object of such remarks as, "Ah! you see! That's the way with the clergy! They talk about poverty and faith, pretending to despise riches and to trust in God; but just put money in their way, and what chance will a poor girl have beside a rich one! It's all very well in the pulpit. It's their business to talk so. But does one of them believe what he says? or, at least, act upon it?" I think I may be a little excused for the sense of creeping cold that passed over me at the thought of such remarks as these, accompanied by compressed lips and down-drawn corners of the mouth, and reiterated nods of the head of KNOWINGNESS. But I mention this only as a repressing influence, to which I certainly should not have been such a fool as to yield, had I seen the way otherwise clear. For a man by showing how to use money, or rather simply by using money aright, may do more good than by refusing to possess it, if it comes to him in an entirely honourable way, that is, in such a case as mine, merely as an accident of his history. But I was glad to feel pretty sure that if I should be so blessed as to marry Miss Oldcastle—which at the time whereof I now write, seemed far too gorgeous a castle in the clouds ever to descend to the earth for me to enter it—the POOR of my own people would be those most likely to understand my position and feelings, and least likely to impute to me worldly motives, as paltry as they are vulgar, and altogether unworthy of a true man.

So the time went on. I called once or twice on Mr Stoddart, and found him, as I thought, better. But he would not allow that he was. Dr Duncan said he was better, and would be better still, if he would only believe it and exert himself.

He continued in the same strangely irritable humour.

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