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Chapter 21
Jim Stockbridge Begins to Take Another View of Matters.

He stood in the candle-light, smiling blandly, while we all stayed for an instant, after our first exclamation, speechless with astonishment.

The Major was the first who showed signs of consciousness, for I verily believe that one half of the company at least believed him to be a ghost. “You are the man,” said the Major, “who in the flesh called himself Maximilian Mulhaus! Why are you come to trouble us, O spirit? — not that we shouldn’t be glad to see you if you were alive, you know, but — my dear old friend, how are you?”

Then we crowded round him, all speaking at once and trying to shake hands with him. Still he remained silent, and smiled. I, looking into his eyes, saw that they were swimming, and divined why he would not trust himself to speak. No one hated a show of emotion more than the Doctor, and yet his brave warm heart would often flood his eyes in spite of himself.

He walked round to the fire-place, and, leaning against the board that answered for a chimney-piece, stood looking at us with beaming eyes, while we anxiously waited for him to speak.

“Ah!” he said at length, with a deep sigh, “this does me good. I have not made my journey in vain. A man who tries to live in this world without love must, if he is not a fool, commit suicide in a year. I went to my own home, and my own dogs barked at me. Those I had raised out of the gutter, and set on horseback, splashed mud on me as I walked. I will go back, I said, to the little English family who loved and respected me for my own sake, though they be at the ends of the earth. So I left those who should have loved me with an ill-concealed smile on their faces, and when I come here I am welcomed with tears of joy from those I have not known five years. Bah! Here is my home, Buckley: let me live and die with you.”

“Live!” said the Major —“ay, while there’s a place to live in; don’t talk about dying yet, though — we’ll think of that presently. I can’t find words enough to give him welcome. Wife, can you?”

“Not I, indeed,” she said; “and what need? He can see a warmer welcome in our faces than an hour’s clumsy talk could give him. I say, Doctor, you are welcome, now and for ever. Will that serve you, husband?”

I could not help looking at Miss Thornton. She sat silently staring at him through it all, with her hands clasped together, beating them upon her knee. Now, when all was quiet, and Mrs. Buckley and Mary had run off to the kitchen to order the Doctor some supper, he seemed to see her for the first time, and bowed profoundly. She rose, and, looking at him intently, sat down again.

The Doctor had eaten his supper, and Mrs. Buckley had made him something to drink with her own hands; the Doctor had lit his pipe, and we had gathered round the empty fire-place, when the Major said —

“Now, Doctor, do tell us your adventures, and how you have managed to drop upon us from the skies on Christmas-day.”

“Soon told, my friend,” he answered. “See here. I went back to Germany because all ties in England were broken. I went to Lord C——: I said, ‘I will go back and see the palingenesis of my country; I will see what they are doing, now the French are in the dust.’ He said, ‘Go, and God speed you!’ I went. What did I find? Beggars on horseback everywhere, riding post-haste to the devil — not as good horsemen, either, but as tailors of Brentford, and crowding one another into the mud to see who would be there first. ‘Let me get out of this before they ride over me,’ said I. So I came forth to England, took ship, and here I am.”

“A most lucid and entirely satisfactory explanation of what you have been about, I must say,” answered the Major; “however, I must be content.”

At this moment, little Sam, who had made his escape in the confusion, came running in, breathless. “Papa! papa!” said he, “Lee has come home with a snake seven feet long.” Lee was at the door with the reptile in his hand — a black snake, with a deep salmon-coloured belly, deadly venomous, as I knew. All the party went out to look at it, except the Doctor and Miss Thornton, who stayed at the fire-place.

“Mind your hands, Lee!” I heard James say; “though the brute is dead, you might prick your fingers with him.”

I was behind all the others, waiting to look at the snake, which was somewhat of a large one, and worth seeing, so I could not help overhearing the conversation of Miss Thornton and the Doctor, and having heard the first of it my ears grew so unnaturally quickened, that I could not for the life of me avoid hearing the whole, though I was ashamed of playing eavesdropper.

“My God, sir!” I heard her say, “what new madness is this? Why do you persist in separating yourself from your family in this manner?”

“No madness at all, my dear madam,” he answered; “you would have done the same under the circumstances. My brother was civil, but I saw he would rather have me away, and continue his stewardship. And so I let him.”

Miss Thornton put another question which I did not catch, and the sense of which I could not supply, but I heard his answer plainly: it was —

“Of course I did, my dear lady, and, just as you may suppose, when I walked up the Ritter Saal, there was a buzz and giggle, and not one held out his hand save noble Von H——; long life to him!”

“But —?” said Miss Thornton, mentioning somebody, whose name I could not catch.

“I saw him bend over to M—— as I came up to the Presence, and they both laughed. I saw a slight was intended, made my devoirs, and backed off. The next day he sent for me, but I was off and away. I heard of it before I left England.”

“And will you never go back?” she said.

“When I can with honour, not before; and that will never be till he is dead, I fear; and his life is as good as mine. So, hey for natural history, and quiet domestic life, and happiness with my English friends! Now, am I wise or not?”

“I fear not,” she said.

The Doctor laughed, and taking her hand, kissed it gallantly; by this time we had all turned round, and were coming in.

“Now, Doctor,” said the Major, “If you have done flirting with Miss Thornton, look at this snake.”

“A noble beast, indeed,” said the Doctor. “Friend,” he added to Lee, “if you don’t want him, I will take him off your hands for a sum of money. He shall be pickled, as I live.”

“He is very venomous, sir,” said Lee. “The blacks eat ’em, it’s true, but they ............
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