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CHAPTER IX.-A DECISION.
"I've been thinking," said Charlie Atheling slowly. Having made this preface, the big boy paused: it was his manner of opening an important subject, to which the greater part of his cogitations were directed. His sisters came close to him immediately, half-embracing this great fellow in their united arms, and waiting for his communication. It was the twilight of an April evening, soft and calm. There were no stars in the sky-no sky even, except an occasional break of clear deep heavenly blue through the shadowy misty shapes of clouds, crowding upon each other over the whole arch of heaven. The long boughs of the lilac bushes rustled in the night wind with all their young soft leaves the prim outline of the poplar was ruffled with brown buds, and low on the dark soil at its feet was a faint golden lustre of primroses. Everything was as still not as death, for its deadly calm never exists in nature; but as life, breathing, hushing, sleeping in that sweet season, when the grass is growing and the bud unfolding, all the night and all the day. Even here, in this suburban garden, with the great Babel muffling its voices faintly in the far distance, you could hear, if you listened, that secret rustle of growth and renewing which belongs to the sweet spring. Even here, in this colourless soft light, you could see the earth opening her unwearied bosom, with a passive grateful sweetness, to the inspiring touch of heaven. The brown soil was moist with April showers, and the young leaves glistened faintly with blobs of dew. Very different from the noonday hope was this hope of twilight; but not less hopeful in its silent operations, its sweet sighs, its soft tears, and the heart that stirred within it, in the dark, like a startled bird.
These three young figures, closely grouped together, which you could see only in outline against the faint horizon and the misty sky, were as good a human rendering as could be made of the unexpressed sentiment of the season and the night-they
too were growing, with a sweet involuntary progression, up to their life, and to their fate. They stood upon the threshold of the world, innocent adventurers, fearing no evil; and it was hard to believe that these hopeful neophytes could ever be made into toil-worn, care-hardened people of the world by any sum of hardships or of years.
"I've been thinking;"-all this time Charlie Atheling had added nothing to his first remarkable statement, and we are compelled to admit that the conclusion which he now gave forth did not seem to justify the solemnity of the delivery"yes, I've made up my mind; I'll go to old Foggo and the law."
"And why, Charlie, why?" Charlie was not much given to rendering a reason.
Never mind the why," said Charlie, abruptly; "that's best. There's old Foggo himself now; nobody can reckon his income, or make a balance just what he is and what he has, and all about him, as people could do with us. We are plain nobodies, and people know it at a glance. My father has five children and two hundred a-year-whereas old Foggo, you see
I don't see-I do not believe it!" cried Marian, impatiently. Do you mean to say, you bad boy, that Mr Foggo is better than papa-my father? Why, he has mamma, and Bell and Beau, and all of us if anything ailed him, we should break our hearts. Mr Foggo has only Miss Willsie he is an old man, and snuffs, and does not care for anybody: do you call that better than papa?"
But Charlie only laughed. Certain it was that Charlie had not the remotest intention of setting up Mr Foggo as his model of happiness. Indeed, nobody quite knew what Charlie's ideal was; but the boy, spite of his practical nature, had a true boyish liking for that margin of uncertainty which made it possible to surmise some unknown power or greatness even in the person of this ancient lawyer's clerk. Few lads,
we believe, among the range of those who have to make their own fortune, are satisfied at their outset to decide upon being "no better than papa.' 'Well," said Agnes, with consideration, "I should not like Charlie to be just like papa. Papa can do nothing but keep us all-so many children and he never can be anything more than he is now. But Charlie Charlie is quite a different person. I wish he could be something great."
Agnes-don't! it is such nonsense!" cried Marian. "Is there anything great in old Mr Foggo's office? He is a poor old man, I think, living all by himself with Miss Willsie. I had rather be Susan in our house than be mistress in Mr Foggo's: and how could he make Charlie anything great?"
"Stuff?" said Charlie; "nobody wants to be made; that's a man's own business. Now, you just be quiet with your romancing, you girls. I'll tell you what, though, there's one man I think I'd like to be-and I suppose you call him great-I'd like to be Rajah Brooke."
"Oh, Charlie! and hang people!" cried Marian.
"Not people-only pirates," said the big boy: 66 wouldn't I string them up too! Yes, if that would please you, Agnes, I'd like to be Rajah Brooke."
"Then why, Charlie," exclaimed Agnes "why do you go to Mr Foggo's office? A merchant may have a chance for such a thing-but a lawyer! Charlie, boy, what do you mean?"
"Never mind," said Charlie; "your Brookes and your Layards and such people don't begin by being merchants' clerks. I know better: they have birth and education, and all that, and get the start of everybody, and then they make a row about it. I don't see, for my part," said the young gentleman meditatively, "what it is but chance. A man may succeed, or a man may fail, and it's neither much to his credit nor his blame. It is a very odd thing, and I can't understand it-a man may work all his life, and never be the better for it. It's chance, and nothing more, so far as I can see.'
"Hush, Charlie-say Providence," said Agnes, anxiously.
"Well, I don't know-it's very odd," answered the big boy.
Whereupon there began two brief but earnest lectures for the good of Charlie's mind, and the improvement of his sentiments. The girls were much disturbed by their brother's heterodoxy; they assaulted him vehemently with the enthusiastic eagerness of the young faith which had never been tried, and would not comprehend any questioning. Chance! when the very sparrows could not fall to the ground-The bright face of Agnes Atheling flushed almost into positive beauty; she asked indignantly, with a trembling voice and tears in her eyes, how mamma could have endured to live if it had not been God who did it? Charlie, rough as he was, could not withstand an appeal like this: he murmured something hastily under his breath about success in business being a very different thing from that, and was indisputably overawed and vanquished. This allusion made them all very silent for a time, and the young bright eyes involuntarily glanced upward where the pure faint stars were gleaming out one by one among the vapoury hosts of cloud. Strangely touching was the solemnity of this link, not to be broken, which connected the family far down upon the homely bosom of the toilsome earth with yonder blessed children in the skies. Marian, saying nothing, wiped some tears silently from the beautiful eyes which turned such a wistful, wondering, longing look to the uncommunicating heaven. Charlie, though you could scarcely see him in the darkness, worked those heavy furrows of his brow, and frowned fiercely upon himself. The long branches came sweeping towards them, swayed by the night wind ; up in the east rose the pale spring moon, pensive, with a misty halo like a saint. The aspect of the night was changed; instead of the soft brown gloaming, there was broad silvery light and heavy masses of shadow over sky and soil-an instant change, all brought about by the rising of the moon. As swift an alteration had passed upon the mood of these
young speculators. They went in silently, full of thought-not so sad but that they could brighten to the fireside brightness, yet more medi
tative than was their wont; even Charlie-for there was a warm heart within the clumsy form of this big boy!
CHAPTER X.-MR FOGGO.
They went in very sedately out of the darkness, their eyes dazzled with the sudden light. Bell and Beau were safely disposed of for the night, and on the side-table, beside Charlie's two grammars and Agnes's blottingbook, now nearly empty, lay the newspaper of papa; for the usual visitor was installed in the usual place at the fireside, opposite Mr Atheling. Good companion, it is time you should see the friend of the family there he was.
And there also, it must be confessed, was a certain faint yet expressive fragrance, which delicately intimated to one sense at least, before he made his appearance, the coming of Mr Foggo. We will not affirm that it was lundyfoot-our own private impression, indeed, is strongly in favour of black rappeebut the thing was indisputable, whatever might be the species. He was a large brown man, full of folds and wrinkles; folds in his brown waistcoat, where secret little sprinklings of snuff, scarcely perceptible, lay undisturbed and secure wrinkles, long and forcible, about his mouth; folds under his eyelids, deep lines upon his brow. There was not a morsel of smooth surface visible anywhere even in his hands, which were traced all over with perceptible veins and sinews, like a geographical exercise. Mr Foggo wore a wig, which could not by any means be complimented with the same title as Mr Pendennis's "ead of 'air." He was between fifty and sixty, a genuine old bachelor, perfectly satisfied with his own dry and unlovely existence. Yet we may suppose it was something in Mr Foggo's favour, the frequency of his visits here. He sat by the fireside with the home-air of one who knows that this chair is called his, and that he belongs to the household circle, and turned to look at the young people, as they entered, with a familiar yet critical eye. He was
friendly enough, now and then, to deliver little rebukes and remonstrances, and was never complimentary, even to Marian; which may be explained, perhaps, when we say that he was a Scotsman a north-country Scotsman -with "peculiarities" in his pronunciation, and very distinct opinions of his own.
How he came to win his way into the very heart of this family, we are not able to explain; but there he was, and there Mr Foggo had been, summer and winter, for nearly half-a-score of years.
He was now an institution, recognised and respected. No one dreamt of investigating his claims-possession was the whole law in his case, his charter and legal standing-ground; and the young commonwealth recognised as undoubtingly the place of Mr Foggo as they did the natural throne and pre-eminence of papa and
For my part," said Mr Foggo, who, it seemed, was in the midst of what Mrs Atheling called a "sensible conversation," and Mr Foggo spoke slowly, and with a certain methodical dignity," for my part, I see little in the art of politics, but just withholding as long as ye can, and giving as little as ye may; for a statesman, ye perceive, be he Radical or Tory, must ever consent to be a stout Conservative when he gets the upper hand. It's in the nature of thingsit's like father and son-it's the primitive principle of government, if ye take my opinion. So I am never sanguine myself about a new ministry keeping its word. How should it keep its word? Making measures and opposing them are two as different things as can be. There's father and son, a standing example: the young man is the people and the old man is the government, -the lad spurs on and presses, the greybeard holds in and restrains."
"Ah, Foggo! all very well to talk," said Mr Atheling; "but men
should keep their word, government or no government-that's what I say. Do you mean to tell me that a father would cheat his son with promises? No! no! no! Your excuses won't do for me." "And as for speaking of the father and son, as if it was natural they should be opposed to each other, I am surprised at you, Mr Foggo," said Mrs Atheling, with emphatic disapproval. "There's my Charlie, now, a wilful boy; but do you think he would set his face against anything his papa or I might say?".
Charlie," said Mr Foggo, with a twinkle of the grey-brown eye which shone clear and keen under folds of eyelid and thickets of eyebrow, "is an uncommon boy. I'm speaking of the general principle, not of exceptional cases. No men and measures are well enough to make a noise or an election about; but to go against the first grand rule is not in the nature of man."
"Yes, yes!" said Mr Atheling, impatiently; "but I tell you he's broken his word-that's what I say -told a lie, neither more nor less. Do you mean to tell me that any general principle will excuse a man for breaking his promises? I challenge your philosophy for that."
When ye accept promises that it's not in the nature of things a man can keep, ye must even be content with the alternative," said Mr Foggo. "Oh! away with your nature of things!" cried papa, who was unusually excited and vehement, "scarcely civil," as Mrs Atheling assured him in her private reproof. "It's the nature of the man, that's what's wrong. False in youth, false in age, if I had known!"
66 Crooked ways are ill to get clear of," said Mr Foggo oracularly. "What's that you're about, Charlie, my boy? Take you my advice, lad, and never be a public man.
A public man! I wish public men had just as much sense," said Mrs Atheling in an indignant undertone. This good couple, like a great many other excellent people, were pleased to note how all the national businesses were mismanaged, and what miserable 'prentice - hands of pilots held the helm of State.
"I grant you it would not be overmuch for them," said Mr Foggo; "and speaking of government, Mrs Atheling, Willsie is in trouble again."
"I am very sorry," exclaimed Mrs Atheling, with instant interest. "Dear me, I thought this was such a likely person. You remember what I said to you, Agnes, whenever I saw her. She looked so neat and handy, I thought her quite the thing for Miss Willsie. What has she done?"
Something like the Secretary of State for the Home Department," said Mr Foggo,-" made promises which could not be kept while she was on trial, and broke them when she took office. Shall I send the silly thing away?"
Oh, Mr Foggo! Miss Willsie was so pleased with her last weekshe could do so many things-she has so much good in her," cried Marian; "and then you can't tellyou have not tried her long enough : don't send her away!"
"She is so pretty, Mr Foggo," said Agnes.
Mr Foggo chuckled, thinking, not of Miss Willsie's maid-servant, but of the Secretary of State. Papa looked at him across the fire-place wrathfully. What the reason was, nobody could tell; but papa was visibly angry, and in a most unamiable state of mind: he said “Tush !” with an impatient gesture, in answer to the chuckle of his opponent. Mr Atheling was really not at all polite to his friend and guest.
But we presume Mr Foggo was not sensitive--he only chuckled the more, and took a pinch of snuff. The snuff-box was a ponderous silver one, with an inscription on the lid, and always revealed itself most distinctly, in shape at least, within the brown waistcoat-pocket of its owner. As he enjoyed this refreshment, the odour diffused itself more distinctly through the apartment, and a powdery thin shower fell from Mr Foggo's huge brown fingers. Susan's cat, if she comes early to the parlour, will undoubtedly be seized with many
But Marian, who was innocently unconscious of any double meaning, continued to plead earnestly for Miss
Willsie's maid. "Yes, Mr Foggo, she is so pretty," said Marian, "and so neat, and smiles. I am sure Miss Willsie herself would be grieved after, if she sent her away. Let mamma speak to Miss Willsie, Mr Foggo. She smiles as if she could not help it. I am sure she is good. not let Miss Willsie send her away." "Willsie is like the public-she is never content with her servants," said Mr Foggo. "Where's all the poetry to-night? no ink upon Agnes's finger! I don't understand that."
I never write poetry, Mr Foggo," said Agnes, with superb disdain. Agnes was extremely annoyed by Mr Foggo's half-knowledge of her authorship. The old gentleman took her for one of the young ladies who write verses, she thought; and for this most amiable and numerous sisterhood, the young genius, in her present mood, had a considerable disdain.
"And ink on her finger! You never saw ink on Agnes's fingeryou know you never did!" cried the indignant Marian. "If she did write poetry, it is no harm; and I know very well you only mean to tease her: but it is wrong to say what never was true."
Mr Foggo rose, diffusing on every side another puff of his peculiar element. "When I have quarrelled with everybody, I reckon it is about time to go home," said Mr Foggo. Charlie, step across with me, and get some nonsense-verses Willsie has been reading, for the girls. Keep in the same mind, Agnes, and never write poetry-it's a mystery; no man should meddle with it till he's forty -that's my opinion-and then there would be as few poets as there are Secretaries of State."
"Secretaries of State!" exclaimed papa, restraining his vehemence, however, till Mr Foggo was fairly gone, and out of hearing-and then Mr Atheling made a pause. You could not suppose that his next observation had any reference to this indignant exclamation'; it was SO oddly out of connection that even the girls smiled to each other. "I tell you what, Mary, a man should not be led by fantastic notions—a man should never do anything that
does not come directly in his way," said Mr Atheling, and he pushed his grizzled hair back from his brow with heat and excitement. It was an ordinary saying enough, not much to be marvelled at. What did papa mean? Then, papa, nothing generous would ever be done in the world," said Marian, who, somewhat excited by Mr Foggo, was quite ready for an argument on any subject, or with any person.
"But things that have to be done always come in people's way," said Agnes; "is not that true? I am sure, when you read people's lives, the thing they have to do seems to pursue them; and even if they do not want it, they cannot help themselves, Papa, is not that true?"
Ay, ay-hush, children," said Mr Atheling, vaguely; "I am busy-speak to your mother.'
They spoke to their mother, but not of this subject. They spoke of Miss Willsie's new maid, and conspired together to hinder her going away; and then they marvelled somewhat over the book which Charlie was to bring home. Mr Foggo and his maiden sister lived in Bellevue, in one of the villas semi-detached, which Miss Willsie had named Killiecrankie Lodge, yet Charlie was some time absent. "He is talking to Mr Foggo, instead of bringing our book," said Marian, pouting with her pretty lips. Papa and mamma had each of them settled into a brown study—a very brown study, to judge from appearances. The fire was low-the lights looked dim. Neither of the girls were doing anything, save waiting on Charlie. They were half disposed to be peevish. It is not too late; come and practise for half an hour, Agnes," said Marian, suddenly. Mrs Atheling was too much occupied to suggest, as she usually did, that the music would wake Bell and Beau: they stole away from the family apartment unchidden and undetained, and, lighting another candle, entered the genteel and solemn darkness of the best room. You have not been in the best room: let us enter with due dignity this reserved and sacred apartment, which very few people ever enter, and listen to the music which nobody ever hears.