Marjory Trevellian was what is accounted among her class “a good scholar,” and she had taught the little boy to read and write, to “say his tables,” and to “cypher,” as she termed the initiatory arithmetical exercises.
It was plain, however, that the boy was not abandoned to chance, but that an eye was upon him, and some friendly, if not conscientious direction, controlling his destiny.
In one of his visits Tom Orange handed her a letter, written in the same neat clerk’s hand in which the short memorandum that accompanied each remittance was penned. Having read the letter she was thoughtful.
When Tom had gone away, she said—
“You are to be taught like a gentleman, as you are, my darling, and you’re not to be sent to school for three or four years, and in the meantime Mr. Wharton—he’s a kind, good gentleman—is to teach you for two hours every evening after the school is over. You know his house. It is about a mile away from this; just half-way on the road to the grammar school.”
“But I’m to live at home, Granny, all the same?” inquired the boy in great trepidation.
“Lord love it, to be sure he is,” she answered, beaming on him with great affection. “Only two hours, and every one likes Mr. Wharton, and I’m desired to go to his house to take his orders, tomorrow.”
So she did, and the new order of things was established with very little disturbance of the old.
The narrow road which the boy every afternoon passed to and from Doctor Wharton’s house makes, about half-way, a sudden curve. It is a wooded road, not without little ups and downs, and formidable ruts, and blocks of worn old stone, so large as to shock all the rules of modern road-making.
Upon this curve, so as nearly to front the boy’s line of march, is a very old fruit garden, with a discoloured ivy-grown wall, on which are growing moss and house-leek, and here and there tufts of grass and wall-flower. Over the wall are seen ancient standard plum and cherry and pear-trees, and beyond them the upper windows, and the steep, grey roof, and slender chimneys of a house as much out of date as the garden.
In the garden-wall is a tall door with worn fluted pilasters corresponding in antiquity with the rest of the building and its belongings. This stone framework has an iron door, old-fashioned and fancifully wrought into arabesques of spikes, leaves, and stars, facing the quiet road, and within this a strong wooden door.
Fruit-trees are, of course, always interesting to boys, but quite another interest mingled in the feeling with which little Willie viewed such glimpses of the old grey house and its background of dark and towering timber as his approach afforded, and he often wished, as he passed, that a hole in the wall might afford him a peep into the old garden and a glimpse of its owners. He sometimes heard their voices.
A clear, childish laugh he had heard more than once, from among the tall fruit-trees and climbing roses that over-topped the wall, and a sweet female voice also faintly prattling with the child.
One evening, as he returned from Doctor Wharton’s, with his books buckled in his strap swinging from his hand, having slackened his pace as usual when he found himself under the garden wall, to his infinite delight the inner wooden door, which had always obstructed his curiosity, was open. The outer gate of iron rails and foliage was locked, but through its bars he could see at last the garden. Its trees were old and overgrown. It was wonderfully dark, with roses and other flowers glowing here and there, and one straight walk leading up to the house, and continuing the line of the narrow bridge which, at the iron door, crossed what seemed a sort of moat, whose banks were overgrown with docks and nettles. He could see part of the steps leading up to the door of the house, and a portion of one of its windows. The rest was concealed by the thick foliage, and the effect of this little glimpse was increased by the deep shadow of the foreground.
It was not very far from sunset, and the small birds were already singing among the boughs, and the deep shadow—the antique and neglected air and the silence of the place—gave it in his romantic eyes, a character of monastic mystery and enchantment.
As he gazed straight up the dark walk towards the house, suddenly a man turned the corner of the yew hedge that met the bridge’s parapet close to him, and walking straight up to the door, with a gruff look at the little boy, shut and locked the wooden door in his face.
So all was gone for the present. He knew there was no good in looking through the keyhole, for envious fortune had hung a spray of sweetbriar so as effectually to intercept the view, and nothing remained but the dingy chocolate-coloured planks before him, and the foliage and roses trembling over the old wall.
Many a time again he passed and repassed the door without a like good hap.
At length, however, one evening he found the envious wooden door once more open, and the view again disclosed through the iron bars.
A very pretty little girl, with golden hair, was standing on tip-toe near, and with all her soul was striving to reach an apple with a stick which she held in her tiny fingers.
Seeing him she fixed her large eyes on him, and said, with an air of command—
“Come, and climb up the tree and get me that apple.’
His heart beat quick—there was nothing he liked better.
“But I cant get in,” he said, blushing; “the door is locked.”
“Oh! I’ll call mamma—she’ll let you in. Don’t you know mamma?”
“No, I never saw her,” answered the boy.
“Wait there, and I’ll fetch her.”
And so she was gone.
The first flutter of his excitement was hardly over when he heard steps and voices near, and the little girl returned, holding the hand of a slight, pale lady, with a very pretty face, dressed all in black. She had the key in her hand, and smiled gently on the little boy as she approached. Her face was kind, and at once he trusted her.
“Oh! he has left the inner door open again,” she said, and with a little nod and smile of welcome she opened the door, and the boy entered the garden.
Both doors were now shut.
“Look up, little boy,” said the lady in black, with a very sweet voice.
She liked his face. He was a very handsome little fellow, and with an expression earnest, shy, and bright, and the indescribable character of refinement too in his face. She smiled more kindly still, and placing just the tip of her finger under his chin she said—
“You are a gentleman’s son, and you are nicely dressed. What is your name?”
“My papa’s name is Mr. Henry,” he answered.
“And where do you go to school?”
“I don’t go to school. I say lessons to Mr. Wharton—about half a mile from this.”
“It is great fun, I suppose, playing with the little boys—cricket, and all that?”
“I’m not allowed to play with the little boys.”
“Who forbids you?”
“My friends won’t allow me.”
“Who are your friends?”
“I never saw them.”
“Really! and don’t you live with your papa?”
“No, I live with Marjory.”
“Do you mean with your mamma?”
“Oh, no. She died a long time ago.”
“And is your papa rich—why aren’t you with him?”
“He was rich, granny says, but he grew poor.”
“And where is he now?”
“I don’t know. I’m to go to school,” he said, acquiring confidence the more he looked in that sweet face. “My friends will send me, in three years, granny says.”
“You. are a very nice little boy, and I’m sure a good little fellow. Well have tea in a few minutes—you must stay and drink tea with us.”
The little fellow held his straw hat in his hand, and was looking up in the face of the lady, whose slender fingers were laid almost caressingly on his rich brown hair as she looked down smiling, with eyes in which “the water stood.” Perhaps these forlorn childhoods had a peculiar interest for her.
“And it is very polite of you taking off your hat to a lady, but put it on again, for I’m not a bit better than you; and I’ll go and tell them to get tea now. Dulcibella,” she called. “Dulcibella, this little friend is coming to drink tea with us, and Amy and he will play here till it comes, and don’t mind getting up, sit quiet and rest yourself.”
And she signed with her hand, smiling, to repress her attempt to rise.
“Well, darling, play in sight o’ me, till your mamma comes back,” said the rheumatic old woman, addressing the little girl; “and ye mustn’t be pulling at that great rolling-stone; ye can’t move it, and ye may break your pretty back trying.”
With these and similar injunctions the children were abandoned to their play.
He found this pretty young lady imperious, but it was pleasant to be so commanded, and the little boy climbed trees to gather her favourite apples, and climbed the garden wall to pluck a bit of wallflower, and at last she said—
“Now, we’ll play ninepins. There’s the box, set them up on the walk. Yes, that’s right; you have played; who taught you?”
“Has Granny ninepins?”
“Yes, ever so much bigger than these.”
“Really! So Granny is rich, then?”
“I think so.”
“As rich as mamma?”
“Her garden isn’t so big.”
“Begin, do you; ah, ha! you’ve hit one, and who plays best?”
“Tom Orange does; does your mamma know Tom Orange?”
“I dare say she does. Dulcibella, does mamma know Tom Orange?”
“No, my dear.”
“No, she doesn’t,” echoed the little girl, “who is he?”
What, not know Tom Orange! How could that be? So he narrated on that brilliant theme.
“Tom Orange must come to tea with mamma, I’ll tell her to ask him,” decided the young lady.
So these little wiseacres pursued their game, and then had their tea, and in about an hour the little boy found himself trudging home, with a sudden misgiving, for the first time, as to the propriety of his having made these acquaintances without Granny’s leave.
The kind voice, the beloved smile of Granny-received him before the cottage door.
“Welcome, darlin’, and where was my darlin’, and what kept him from his old Granny?”
So they hugged and kissed, and then he related all that had happened, and asked “was it any harm, Granny?”
“Not a bit, darlin’, that’s a good lady, and a grand lady, and a fit companion for ye, and see how she knew the gentle blood in your pretty face; and ye may go, as she has asked you, tomorrow evening again, and as often as she asks ye; for it was only the little fellows that’s going about without edication or manners, that your friends, and who can blame them, doesn’t like ye to keep company with—and who’d blame them, seeing they’re seldom out of mischief, and that’s the beginning o’ wickedness, and you’re going, but oh! darlin’, not for three long years, thank God, to a grand school where there’s none but the best.”
So this chance acquaintance grew, and the lady seemed to take every week a deeper interest in the fine little boy, so sensitive, generous, and intelligent, and he very often drank tea with his new friends.
Last updated Monday, March 30, 2015 at 21:19