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Chapter Twenty Nine.
 Our Story comes to an End.  
Home! What a host of old and deep and heart-stirring associations arise in every human breast at the sound of that old familiar word! How well we know it—how vividly it recalls certain scenes and faces—how pleasantly it falls on the ear, and slips from the tongue—yet how little do we appreciate home until we have left it, and longed for it, perhaps, for many years.
Our hero, Ned Sinton, is home at last. He sits in his old place beside the fire, with his feet on the fender. Opposite to him sits old Mr Shirley, with a bland smile on his kind, wrinkled visage, and two pair of spectacles on his brow. Mr Shirley, as we formerly stated, regularly loses one pair of spectacles, and always searches for them in vain, in consequence of his having pushed them too far up on his bald head; he, therefore, is frequently compelled to put on his second pair, and hence makes a spectacle, to some extent, of himself. Exactly between the uncle and the nephew, on a low stool, sits the cat—the cat, par excellence—Mr Shirley’s cat, a creature which he has always been passionately fond of since it was a kitten, and to which, after Ned’s departure for California, he had devoted himself so tenderly, that he felt half-ashamed of himself, and would not like to have been asked how much he loved it.
Yes, the cat sits there, looking neither at old Mr Shirley nor at young Mr Sinton, but bestowing its undivided attentions and affections on the fire, which it enjoys extremely, if we may judge from the placid manner in which it winks and purrs.
Ned has been a week at home, and he has just reached that point of experience at which the wild life of the diggings through which he has passed begins to seem like a vivid dream rather than reality.
Breakfast had just been concluded, although the cloth had not yet been removed.
“Do you know, uncle,” remarked Ned, settling his bulky frame more comfortably in the easy-chair, and twirling his watch-key, “I find it more difficult every day to believe that the events of the last few months of my life have actually occurred. When I sit here in my old seat, and look at you and the cat and the furniture—everything, in fact, just the same as when I left—I cannot realise that I have been nearly two years away.”
“I understand your feelings, my dear boy,” replied Mr Shirley, taking off his spectacles, (the lower pair,) wiping them with his handkerchief putting them on again, and looking over them at his nephew, with an expression of unmitigated admiration. “I can sympathise with you, Ned, for I have gone through the same experience more than once in the course of my life. It’s a strange life, boy, a very strange life this, as you’ll come to know, if you’re spared to be as old as I am.”
Ned thought that his knowledge was already pretty extended in reference to life, and even flattered himself that he had had some stranger views of it than his uncle, but he prudently did not give expression to his thoughts; and, after a short pause, Mr Shirley resumed—
“Yes, lad, it’s a very strange life; and the strangest part of it is, that the longer we live the stranger it gets. I travelled once in Switzerland—,” (the old gentleman paused, as if to allow the statement to have its full weight on Ned’s youthful mind,) “and it’s a curious fact, that when I had been some months there, home and all connected with it became like a dream to me, and Switzerland became a reality. But after I came back to England, and had spent some time here, home again became the reality, and Switzerland appeared like a dream, so that I sometimes said to myself, ‘Can it be possible that I have been there!’ Very odd, isn’t it?”
“It is, uncle; and I have very much the same feelings now.”
“Very odd, indeed,” repeated Mr Shirley. “By the way, that reminds me that we have to talk about that farm of which I spoke to you on the day of your arrival.”
We might feel surprised that the above conversation could in any way have the remotest connexion with “that farm” of which Mr Shirley was so suddenly reminded, did we not know that the subject was, in fact, never out of his mind.
“True, uncle, I had almost forgotten about it, but you know I’ve been so much engaged during the last few days in visiting my old friends and college companions, that—”
“I know it, I know it, Ned, and I don’t want to bother you with business matters sooner than I can help, but—”
“My dear uncle, how can you for a moment suppose that I could be ‘bothered’ by—”
“Of course not, boy,” interrupted Mr Shirley. “Well, now, let me ask you, Ned, how much gold have you brought back from the diggings?”
Ned fidgeted uncomfortably on his seat—the subject could no longer be avoided.
“I—I—must confess,” said he, with hesitation, “that I haven’t brought much.”
“Of course, you couldn’t be expected to have done much in so short a time; but how much?”
“Only 500 pounds,” replied Ned, with a sigh, while a slight blush shone through the deep bronze of his countenance.
“Oh!” said Mr Shirley, pursing up his mouth, while an arch twinkle lurked in the corners of each eye.
“Ah! but, uncle, you mustn’t quiz me. I had more, and might have brought it home too, if I had chosen.”
“Then why didn’t you?”
Ned replied to this question by detailing how most of his money had been lost, and how, at the last, he gave nearly all that remained to his friend Tom Collins.
“You did quite right, Ned, quite right,” said Mr Shirley, when his nephew had concluded; “and now I’ll tell you what I want you to do. You told me the other day, I think, that you wished to become a farmer.”
“Yes, uncle. I do think that that life would suit me better than any other. I’m fond of the country and a quiet life, and I don’t like cities; but, then, I know nothing about farming, and I doubt whether I should succeed without being educated to it to some extent at least.”
“A very modest and proper feeling to entertain,” said Mr Shirley, with a smile; “particularly when it is considered that farming is an exceedingly difficult profession to acquire a knowledge of. But I have thought of that for you, Ned, and I think I see a way out of the difficulty.”
“What way is that?”
“I won’t tell you just yet, boy. But answer me this. Are you willing to take any farm I suggest to you, and henceforth to give up all notion of wandering over the face of the earth, and devote yourself steadily to your new profession?”
“I am, uncle; if you will point out to me how I am to pay the rent and stock the farm, and how I am to carry it on in the meantime without a knowledge of husbandry.”
“I’ll do that for you, all in good time; meanwhile, will you put on your hat, and run down to Moxton’s office—you remember it?”
“That I do,” replied Ned, with a smile.
“Well, go there, and ask him for the papers I wrote about to him two days ago. Bring them here as quickly as you can. We shall then take the train, and run down to Brixley, and look at the farm.”
“But are you really in earnest!” asked Ned, in some surprise.
“Never more so in my life,” replied the old gentleman, mildly. “Now be off; I want to read the paper.”
Ned rose and left the room, scarcely believing that his uncle did not jest. As he shut the door, old Mr Shirley took up the paper, pulled down the upper pair of spectacles—an act which knocked the lower pair off his nose, whereat he smiled more blandly than ever—and began to read.
Meanwhile, Edward Sinton put on his great-coat—the identical one he used to wear before he went away—and his hat and his gloves, and walked out into the crowded streets of London, with feelings somewhat akin, probably, to those of a somnambulist. Having been so long accustomed to the free-and-easy costume of the mines, Ned felt about as uncomfortable and stiff as a warrior of old must have felt when armed cap-à-pie. His stalwart frame was some what thinner and harder than when he last took the same walk; his fair moustache and whiskers were somewhat more decided, and less like wreaths of smoke, and his countenance was of a deep-brown colour; but in other respects Ned was the same dashing fellow that he used to be—dashing by nature, we may remark, not by affectation.
In half-an-hour he stood before Moxton’s door. There it was, as large as life, and as green as ever. Ned really found it impossible to believe that it was so long since he last saw it. He felt as if it had been yesterday. The brass knocker and the brass plate were there too, as dirty as ever—perhaps a thought dirtier—and the dirty house still retreated a little behind its fellows, and was still as much ashamed of itself—seemingly—as ever.
Ned raised the knocker, and smote the brass knob. The result was, as formerly, a disagreeable-looking old woman, who replied to the question, “Is Mr Moxton in?” with a sharp, short, “Yes.” The dingy little office, with its insufficient allowance of daylight, and its compensating mixture of yellow gas, was inhabited by the same identical small dishevelled clerk who, nearly two years before, was busily employed in writing his name interminably on scraps of paper, and who now, as then, answered to the question, “Can I see Mr Moxton?” by pointing to the door which opened into the inner apartment, and resuming his occupation—the same occupation—writing his name on scraps of paper.
Ned tapped—as of yore.
“Come in,” cried a stern voice—as of ditto.
Ned entered; and there, sure enough, was the same tall, gaunt man, with the sour cast of countenance, standing, (as formerly,) with his back to the fire.
“Ah!” exclaimed Moxton, “you’re young Sinton, I suppose?”
Ned almost started at the perfect reproduction of events, and questions, and answers. He felt a species of reckless incredulity in reference to everything steal over him, as he replied—
“Yes; I came, at my uncle’s request, for some papers that—”
“Ah, yes, they’re all ready,” interrupted the lawyer, advancing to the table. “Tell your uncle that I shall be glad to hear from him again in reference to the subject of those papers; and take care of them—they are of value. Good-morning!”
“Good-morning!” replied our hero, retreating.
“Stay!” said Moxton.
Ned stopped, and turned round.
“You’ve been in California, since I last saw you, I understand?”
“I have,” replied Ned.
“Umph! You haven’t made your fortune, I fancy?”
“No, not quite.”
“It’s a wild place, if all reports are true?”
“Rather,” replied Ned, smiling; “there’s a want of law there.”
“Ha! and lawyers,” remarked Moxton, sarcastically.
“Indeed there is,” replied Ned, with some enthusiasm, as he thought of the gold-hunting spirit that prevailed in the cities of California. “There is great need out there of men of learning—men who can resist the temptation to collect gold, and are capable of doing good to the colony in an intellectual and spiritual point of view. Clergymen, doctors, and lawyers are much wanted there. You’d find it worth your while to go, sir.”
Had Edward Sinton advised Mr Moxton to go and rent an office in the moon, he could scarcely have surprised that staid gentleman more than he did by this suggestion. The lawyer gazed at him for one moment in amazement. Then he said—
“These papers are of value, young man: be careful of them. Good-morning—” and sat down at his desk to write. Ned did not venture to reply, but instantly retired, and found himself in the street with—not, as formerly, an indistinct, but—a distinct impression that he had heard the dishevelled clerk chuckling vociferously as he passed through the office.
That afternoon Ned and old Mr Shirley alighted from the train at a small village not a hundred miles out of London, and wended their way leisurely—for it was a warm sunny ............
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