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CHAPTER II.
It was a lingering and pleasant walk with many little pauses in it and much conversation. Lucy was herself the cause of some of them, for it was quite necessary that here and there Mr. Bertram should be made to stop, turn round, and look at the view. I will not pretend that those views were any very great things. Bertram, who had seen all the most famous scenes of earth, was not much impressed by that point so dear to the souls of the Wradisbury people, where the church tower came in, or that other where the glimmer of the pond under the trees, reflecting all their red and gold, moved the natives to enthusiasm. It was a pretty, soft, kindly English landscape, like a good and gentle life, very reposeful and pleasant to{25} see, but not dramatic or exciting. It was Ralph, though he was to the manner born, who was, or pretended to be, the most impatient of these tame but agreeable vistas. “It don’t say much, your landscape, Lucy,” he said. “Bertram’s seen everything there is to see. A stagnant pool and a church tower are not so grand to him as to—” Probably he intended to say us, with a little, after all, of the native’s proud depreciation of a scene which, though homely, appeals to himself so much; but he stopped, and wound up with “a little ignoramus like you.”

“I am not so fastidious, I suppose. I think it’s delightful,” said Bertram. “After all the dissipations of fine scenery, there’s nothing like a home landscape. I’ve seen the day when we would have given all we possessed for a glimmer of a church tower, or, still better, a bit of water. In the desert only to think of that would be a good thing.”

“Oh, in the desert,” said Ralph, with a sort of indulgent acknowledgment that in some points home did commend itself to the most impartial mind. But he too stopped and{26} called upon his friend to observe where the copse spread dark into the sunset sky—the best covert within twenty miles—about which also Bertram was very civil, and received the information with great interest. “Plenty of wild duck round the corner of that hill in the marshy part,” said Ralph. “By Jove! we should have a heavy bag when we have it all to ourselves.”

“Capital ground, and great luck to be the first,” said Mr. Bertram. He was certainly a nice man. He seemed to like to linger, to talk of the sunset, to enjoy himself in the fresh but slightly chill air of the October evening. Lucy’s observation of him was minute. A little wonder whether he might be the man—not necessarily her man, but the ideal man—blew like a quiet little breeze through her youthful spirit. It was a breeze which, like the actual breeze of the evening, carried dead leaves with it, the rags of past reputation and visions, for already Lucy had asked herself this question in respect to one or two other men who had not turned out exactly as at first they seemed. To be sure,{27} this one was old—probably forty or so—and therefore was both better and worse than her previous studies; for at such an age he must of course have learnt everything that experience could teach, and on the other hand did not matter much, having attained to antiquity. Still, it certainly gave a greater interest to the walk that he was here.

“After all,” said Ralph, “you gave us no light, Lucy, as to who this widow was.”

“You speak as if she were like old Widow Thrapton in the village,” cried Lucy. “A widow!—she says it’s a term of reproach, as if a woman had tormented her husband to death.”

“But she is a widow, for you said so—and who is she?” said the persistent Ralph.

“He is like the little boy in ‘Helen’s Babies,’” said Lucy, turning to her other companion. “He always wants to see the wheels go round, whatever one may say.”

“I feel an interest in this mysterious widow, too,” said Bertram, with a laugh.

It was all from civility to keep Ralph in countenance, she felt sure.{28}

“Who is she?” said that obstinate person.

“I can tell you what she is,” cried Lucy, with indignant warmth. “She must be older than I am, I suppose, for there’s Tiny, but she doesn’t look it. She has the most lovely complexion, and eyes like stars, and brown hair—none of your golden stuff, which always looks artificial now. Hers might be almost golden if she liked, but she is not one to show off. And she is the nicest neighbor that ever was—comes up to the house just when one is dull and wants stirring up, or sends a note or a book, or to ask for something. She likes to do all sorts of things for you, and she’s so generous and nice and natural that she likes you to do things for her, which is so much, much more uncommon! She says, thank heaven, she is not unselfish; and, though it sounds strange,” said Lucy, with vehemence, “I know exactly what she means.”

“Not unselfish?” said Ralph. “By George! that’s a new quality. I thought it was always the right thing to say of a woman that she was unselfish; but all that doesn{29}’t throw any light upon the lady. Isn’t she somebody’s sister or cousin or aunt? Had she a father, had she a mother?—that sort of thing, you know. A woman doesn’t come and settle herself in a neighborhood without some credentials—nor a man either, so far as I know.”

“I don’t know what you mean by credentials. She was not introduced to us by any stupid people, if that is what you mean. We just found her out for ourselves.”

Ralph gave a little whistle at this, which made Lucy very angry. “When you go out to Africa or—anywhere,” she cried, “do you take credentials? And who is to know whether you are what you call yourself? I suppose you say you’re a Wradisley of Wradisbury. Much the black kings must know about a little place in Hants!”

“The black kings don’t stand on that sort of thing,” said Ralph, “but the mother does, or so I supposed.”

“I ought to take the unknown lady’s part,” said Mr. Bertram. “You’ve all been very kind to me, and I’m not a Bertram of—{30}anywhere in particular. I have not got a pedigree in my pocket. Perhaps I might have some difficulty in making out my family tree.”

“Oh, Mr. Bertram!” cried Lucy, in deprecation, as if that were an impossible thing.

“I might always call myself of the Ellangowan family, to be sure,” he said, with a laugh.

Now Lucy did not at all know what he meant by the Ellangowan family. She was not so deeply learned in her Scott as I hope every other girl who reads this page is, and she was not very quick, and perhaps would not have caught the meaning if she had been ever so familiar with “Guy Mannering.” She thought Ellangowan a very pretty name, and laid it up in her memory, and was pleased to think that Mr. Bertram had thus, as it were, produced his credentials and named his race. I don’t know whether Ralph also was of the same opinion. At all events they went on without further remark on this subject. The village lay just outside the park gates on the right side of a pretty, triangular bit of common,{31} which was almost like a bit of the park, with little hollows in it filled with a wild growth of furze and hawthorn and blackberry, the long brambles arching over and touching the level grass. There was a pretty bit of greensward good for cricket and football, and of much consequence in the village history. The stars had come out in the sky, though it was still twilight when they emerged from the shadow of the trees to this more open spot; and there were lights in the cottage windows and in the larger shadow of the rectory, which showed behind the tall, slim spire of the church. It was a cheerful little knot of human life and interest under the trees, Nature, kindly but damp, mantling everything with greenness up to the very steps of the cottage doors, some of which were on the road itself without any interval of garden; and little irregular gleams of light indicating the scarcely visible houses. Lucy, however, did not lead the way toward the village. She went along the other side of the common toward a house more important than the cottages, which stood upon a little{32} elevation, with a grassy bank and a few moderate-sized trees.

“Oh, she’s in Greenbank, this lady,” said Ralph. “I thought the old doctor was still there.”

“He died last year, after Charlie died at sea—didn’t you know? He never held up his head, Raaf, after Charlie died.”

“The more fool he; Charlie drained him of every penny, and was no credit to him in any way. He should have been sent about his business years ago. So far as concerned him, I always thought the doctor very weak.”

“Oh, Raaf, he was his only son!”

“What then? You think it’s only that sort of relationship that counts. The doctor knew as well as any one what a worthless fellow he was.”

“But he never held up his head again,” said Lucy, “after Charlie died.”

“That’s how nature confutes all your philosophy, Wradisley,” said the other man. “That is the true tragedy of it. Worthy or unworthy, what does it matter? Affection holds its own.{33}”

“Oh, I’ve no philosophy,” said Ralph, “only common sense. So they sold the house! and I suppose the poor old doctor’s library and his curiosities, and everything he cared for? I never liked Carry. She would have no feeling for what he liked, poor old fellow. Not worth much, that museum of his—good things and bad things, all pell-mell. Of course she sold them all?”

“The most of them,” Lucy confessed. “What could she do otherwise, Raaf? They were of no use to her. She could not keep up the house, and she had no room for them in her own. Poor Carry, he left her very little; and her husband has a great struggle, and what could she do?”

“I don’t suppose she wanted to do anything else,” said Ralph, in a surly tone. “Look here, I sha’n’t go in with you since it’s the doctor’s house. I had a liking for the old fellow—and Bertram and I are both smoking. We’ll easy on a bit till the end of the common, and wait for you coming back.”

“If you prefer it, Raaf,” Lucy said, with a small tone of resignation. She stood for a{34} moment in the faint twilight and starlight, holding her head a little on one side with a wistful, coaxing look. “I did wish you to see her,” she said.

“Oh, I’ll see her some time, I suppose. Come, Bertram; see you’re ready, Lucy, by the time we get back.”

Lucy still paused a moment as they swung on with the scent of their cigars sending a little warmth into the damp air. She thought Mr. Bertram swayed a little before he joined the other, as if he would have liked to stay. Undeniably he was more genial than Raaf, more ready to yield to what she wanted. And usually she was alone in her walks, just a small woman about the road by herself, so that the feeling of leading two men about with her was pleasant. She regretted they did not come in to show Mrs. Nugent how she had been accompanied. She went slowly up the grassy bank alone, thinking of this. She had wanted so much to show Raaf to Mrs. Nugent, not, she fancied, that it was at all likely they would take to each other. Nelly Nugent was so quick, she would see through{35} him in a moment. She would perceive that there was not, perhaps, a great deal in him. He was not a reader, nor an artist, nor any of the things Nelly cared for—only a rough fellow, a sportsman, and rather commonplace in his mind. He was only Raaf, say what you would. Oh! he was not the one to talk like that of poor Charlie. If Charlie was only Charlie, Raaf was nothing but Raaf—only a man who belonged to you, not one to admire independent of that. But whatever Raaf might do it would never have made any difference, certainly not to his mother, she did not suppose to any one, any more than it mattered to the poor old doctor what Charlie did, seeing he was his father’s Charlie; and that nothing could change. She went along very slowly, thinking this to herself—not a very profound thought, but yet it filled her mind. The windows were already shining with firelight and lamplight, looking very bright. The drawing-room was not at all a large room. It was under the shade of a veranda and opened to the ground, which made it a better room for summer than for{36} winter. Lucy woke up from her thoughts and wondered whether in the winter that was coming Mrs. Nugent would find it cold.

The two men went on round the common in the soft, damp evening air.

“That’s one of the things one meets with, when one is long away,” said Raaf, with a voice half confused in his beard and his cigar. “The old doctor was a landmark; fine old fellow, and knew a lot; never knew one like him for all the wild creatures—observing their ways, don’t you know. He’d bring home as much from a walk as you or I would from a voyage—more, I daresay. I buy a few hideous things, and poor little Lucy shudders at them” (he was not so slow to notice as they supposed), “but I haven’t got the head for much, while he—And all spoiled because of a fool of a boy not worth a thought.”

“But his own, I suppose,” said the other.

“Just that—his own—though why that should make such a difference. Now, Carry was worth a dozen of Charlie. Oh, I didn’t speak very well of Carry just now!—true.{37} She married a fellow not worth his salt, when, perhaps—But there’s no answering for these things. Poor old doctor! There’s scarcely anybody here except my mother that I couldn’t have better spared.”

“Let’s hope it’s a good thing for him,” said Bertram, not knowing what to say.

“I can’t think dying’s better than living,” said Raaf. “Oh, you mean—that? Well, perhaps; though it’s hard to think of him,” he said, with a sudden laugh, “in his old shiny coat with his brown gaiters in—what one calls—a better world. No kind of place suited him as well as here—he was so used to it. Somehow, though, on a quiet night like this, there’s a kind of a feeling, oh! I can’t describe it in the least, as if—I say, you’ve been in many queer places, Bertram, and seen a lot?”

“That is true.”

“Did you ever see anything that made you—feel any sort of certainty, don’t you know? There’s these stars, they say they’re all worlds, globes, like this, and so forth. Who{38} lives in them? That’s what I’ve always wanted to know.”

“Well, men like us can’t live in them, for one thing, according to what the astronomers say.”

“Men like us, ah! but then! We’ll not be fellows like us when we’re—the other thing, don’t you know. There!” said Ralph; “I could have sworn that was the old man coming along to meet us; cut of his coat, gaiters and everything.”

“You can’t be well, old fellow, there is nobody.”

“I know that as well as you,” said Ralph, with a nervous laugh. “Do you think I meant I saw anything? Not such a fool; no, dear old man, I didn’t see him; I wish I could, just to tell him one or two things about the beasts which he was keen about. I don’t think that old fellow would be happy, Bertram, in a fluid, a sort of a place like a star, for instance, where there were no beasts.”

“There’s no reason to suppose they’re fluid. And for that matter there may be beasts, as some people think; only I don’t see, if you{39} take in that, where you are to stop,” said Bertram. “We are drawing it too fine, Wradisley, don’t you think?”

“Perhaps we are, it’s not my line of country. I wish you had known that old man. You’re a fellow that makes out things, Bertram. He was quite comfortable—lots of books, and that museum which wasn’t much of a museum, but he knew no better. Besides, there were a few good things in it. And enough of money to keep him all right. And then to think, Lord, that because of a fool of a fellow who was never out of hot water, always getting his father into hot water, never at peace, that good old man should go and break his heart, as they call it, and die.”

“It may be very unreasonable, but it happens from time to time,” Bertram said.

“By Jove, it is unreasonable! An old man that was really worth coming back to—and now he’s clean swept away, and some baggage of a woman, probably no good, in his place, to turn Lucy’s head, and perhaps{40} bring us all to sixes and sevens, for anything I know.”

“Why should you suppose so? There seems nothing but good in the lady, except that she is a stranger. So am I a stranger. You might as well believe that I should bring you to sixes and sevens. You’re not well to-night, old fellow. You have got too much nonsense in your head.”

“I suppose that’s it—a touch of fever,” said the other. “I’ll take some quinine when I go home to-night.” And with that wise resolution he drew up, having come back to the point from which they started, to wait for his sister at Mrs. Nugent’s door.
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