Sir Everard Duncombe did not make his appearance in the dining-room till
nine o’clock, but long before that hour his movements were known to the
whole household; for soon after eight, the two little boys were
stationed outside his door, and failing to gain admittance, kept account
of the progress of his toilette, in tones which were heard all over the
“Will you soon be out of your bath, father?… Are you just about
soaping?… What are you doing now?… Are you sponging now?… What a
splash father is having! He must be drying himself now, he is so very
Then sounded the unlocking of a door, and the scamper of little feet.
“I must congratulate you on the satisfactory way in which you performed
your ablutions this morning,” was Uncle Charlie’s salutation to his
brother-in-law, as he entered the breakfast room with a boy on each side
Sir Everard laughed. “There are no secrets in this house, you see,” he
answered, as he shook hands. “What a lovely day!”
“Glorious! but it is going to be very hot. If I remember right, the walk
to church is shady all the way. Do these little fellows go to church?”
“Not Miles, but I generally take Humphrey; and wonderful to say he is as
quiet as possible. I really think church is the only place in the world
where he can sit still.”
Humphrey was engaged during the whole of breakfast time in finding the
places in his prayer-book, and was too much occupied to talk.
“There!” he exclaimed triumphantly, as he put in the last marker, and
restrained himself with a violent effort as he was about to throw his
prayer-book in the air, “now they are all found.”
“And now you had better go and dress,” said his father, “so as not to
keep your uncle and me waiting.”
Humphrey joined them in the hall at the last minute, having been
detained by a skirmish with Virginie.
Their way to church lay through the flower-garden and down the avenue.
They went out by the side-door, leaving Miles looking disconsolately
after them, his pretty little face and slight figure framed in the old
They walked on together in silence for some time.
Sir Everard was enjoying the calm beauty of the summer day; Humphrey was
in pursuit of a butterfly; and Uncle Charlie was looking round at the
evidences of his dead sister’s taste in the laying out of the
flower-garden, and thinking of the last time he had walked through it to
church, when she had been by his side.
“How hot that boy will make himself before we get to church,” said Sir
Everard, presently; “I really don’t know what he is made of, to run on a
day like this.”
“He is a fine boy,” said Uncle Charlie, as he watched the active little
figure skipping over the flower-beds, “and seems as strong and well as
“Yes,” said the baronet, “Humphrey has never had a day’s illness in his
life. He takes after my family, and is going to be as strong and as tall
“He is very like some of the old family pictures I was looking at this
morning; the same upright, well-built figure, and dark eyes. Now Miles
is altogether different, so fair and slender.”
“I fear Miles inherits his mother’s constitution,” answered the baronet,
in a troubled tone. “He is very delicate, Charlie, and the least chill
brings on croup, or a nasty little cough. I feel very anxious about him
“I daresay he will grow out of it. I believe I had a delicate chest at
his age, and I am never troubled with it now.”
They were some way down the avenue, and Humphrey was nowhere to be seen.
“I never wait for him,” said Sir Everard, as he opened the park gates;
“he always turns up at last.”
They were half-way across the churchyard when the boy overtook them,
flushed and breathless.
Uncle Charlie inwardly groaned at the thoughts of so restless a mortal,
as a next-door neighbor, during two hours’ service on a hot summer’s
morning, and watched his movements with some anxiety.
Little Humphrey took off his hat in the porch, shook back his curly hair
from his hot forehead, and walked quietly into church.
He led the way to the chancel, where was the old fashioned family pew.
Here he came to a dead stop, for the bolt of the door was high above his
His uncle undid it for him, and was about to pass in, thinking that of
course the child would sit by his father; but to his surprise, his
little nephew pushed past him, went to the very end of the long pew, and
clambered up the high-cushioned seat opposite a big prayer-book, which
was surmounted with the monogram “Adelaide.”
The rustic congregation had often wondered why the father and son sat at
so great a distance from each other in the pew that so seldom had any
occupants but themselves; and the old clergyman had at first with
difficulty suppressed a smile at the view from the pulpit, of the broad
shoulders and bearded face of the six foot man at one extremity, and the
top of the small brown head at the other.
But in vain had Sir Everard invited the boy to sit nearer to him; he
preferred his isolation. It had once occurred to the widower that it
might be because it had been his wife’s place; but he never gave
Humphrey credit for much heart or sentiment, so he had settled it was a
mere whim and never asked the boy any questions on the subject.
The child himself had never confided to anyone but Miles how he loved to
feel he was looking at the very same bit of the painted window which his
mother’s eyes had fallen upon; that his feet were on the very same
footstool that her’s had rested on; and though the big prayer-book was
too heavy for him to open, he liked to put his own little morocco volume
upon it, and to press his little fingers on the “Adelaide” that formed
the monogram of her name.
He could not have explained what there was about the old church that
brought back to him more than anything else the memory of his mother,
but so it was: and the usually restless boy would sit quiet in his
corner, and think of the first Sunday he had come to church, when he had
read out of the same prayer-book with her, and listened to her sweet
voice as she joined in the Psalms and Hymns.
The service began, and Humphrey struggled down from his seat.
The villagers had grown accustomed, when the congregation stood up, to
see the baronet rise tall and broad from his seat, and the little brown
head of his son disappear altogether; but Uncle Charlie was by no means
prepared for so complete a collapse, and thought his nephew had fallen.
However, there he was, standing on the ground, with his eyes fixed on
his prayer-book, and the walls of the pew towering over him on every
“Why on earth does he not stand on a stool?” was the young man’s inward
Truth to say, the temptation to gain three feet in height, and get a
view of what was passing around, _had_ at times assailed Humphrey, but
he felt sure his mother had never stood on the stool, and so he resisted
And, indeed, if Lady Duncombe had mounted the very high structure which
went by the name of a hassock, the effect would have been a trial to the
gravity of the congregation.
Humphrey followed the service pretty well till the chanting began, and
here he always got wrong. Do what he would he could not keep time with
the rest, but always arrived at the end of the verse either too early or
By slow degrees he had discovered that it did not do to sing straight
through to the end, because there were some bits and words they sang
over again; but _how_ he was ever to discover which particular word or
sentence they were going to repeat, was to him a perpetual puzzle.
He had a great admiration for the turns and shakes with which the old
clerk varied the “Te Deum,” and had once indulged in a mild imitation of
the same; till he caught sight of his father frowning at him from the
other end of the pew.
When the hymn was given out, Uncle Charlie saw Humphrey in great
difficulties over finding his place, so he made a sign to him to come
and share _his_ hymn-book; but, with a most decided shake of the head,
Humphrey produced his own, and, without moving from his place, held it
out to have his place found.
As the young man returned it to his nephew, he saw on the fly-leaf the
name “Adelaide Duncombe,” in the well-known handwriting of his dead
sister; and he did justice to the boy’s motive.
When the old clergyman opened his sermon-book, Humphrey settled himself
in his corner, in exact imitation of his father.
It always took him some time to copy the position, and sometimes, when
he had just accomplished it, Sir Everard would uncross his leg, or move
a hand, and then he was quite discomfited, and had to begin all over
To-day, however, his attitude was quite simple. Sir Everard folded his
arms, crossed his legs, and turning his head to the pulpit, disposed
himself to listen.
Humphrey did the same.
Then rose the voice of the old clergyman “In the fourteenth chapter of
the Book of the Revelation of St. John, and at the second verse, you
will find the word of God thus written: ‘And I heard a voice from
heaven, as the voice of many waters, … and I heard the harpers harping
with their harps…. And they sang as it were a new song, and no man
could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which
were redeemed from the earth.'” …
Humphrey did not often listen to the sermon, but to-day it was all about
Heaven, and he liked to hear about that, because his mother was there.
Feeble must human language ever be to paint the glories of that far-off
land; but when men touch upon subjects that so vitally concern all, they
carry their hearers with them.
And so it was, that as the old preacher warmed and glowed with his
theme, the hearts of the congregation warmed and glowed too; and there
was silence and deep attention in the old church that day.
Even the village school children fidgeted less than usual, and one or
two smock-frocks who had settled themselves in their usual attitude, of
arms crossed on the back of the bench in front of them, and heads
cradled thereupon, shook off the drowsiness consequent on their long,
hot walk to church, and sitting up, gave their attention to the sermon.
For were not one and all bound to the land the preacher was describing?
And was there one who could say, “What is this to me?”
Only twice was even Humphrey’s attention distracted. The first time was
when he saw his uncle take a pencil out of his pocket, and underline
something in his Bible. This was altogether a novel proceeding; Humphrey
had never seen it done before, and he felt it incumbent upon him to
sidle along the pew-seat up to his uncle to investigate the matter.
Uncle Charlie gave him his Bible, and he saw that the text of the
sermon was the passage marked.
He inwardly resolved, as he regained his corner by the shuffling process
before mentioned, that _he_ would in future bring a pencil to church and
The next disturbance was of a more exciting character. A vagrant wasp,
after disporting itself in different parts of the church, made an inroad
into the family pew, and fixed upon Uncle Charlie as its victim.
Humphrey, attracted by the buzzing, turned round, and saw his uncle
engaged in desperate conflict.
Bobbing his head first to one side, and then to the other, now drawing
himself suddenly back, and now as suddenly swerving forward, every now
and then making a frantic grab in the air with the back of his hand,
Uncle Charlie strove to escape from his assailant in vain.
Humphrey tried hard to keep his countenance as he watched the encounter,
but it would not do. The merry smile broke out from every corner of his
face, and, in great alarm, he crammed his hands into his mouth to stifle
the laughter he felt would, in another moment, break out.
Uncle Charlie was already very angry at being disqualified from
listening to a sermon he was enjoying by so paltry a cause as the
attacks of a wasp, and now, when he saw his nephew’s condition, he grew
Seizing a hymn-book, he made a plunge at his tormentor, and brought it
to the ground, where he crushed it to atoms with his heel; and with a
sensation of great relief saw Humphrey’s countenance return to an
expression of becoming composure, and found himself in a condition to
take up the thread of the discourse.
Humphrey’s attention was once more riveted on the sermon, and his little
mind strove to follow the clergyman as he spoke of the white-robed
thousands wandering by the jasper sea in the golden Jerusalem; that
“great multitude which no man can number of all kindreds, and nations,
and tongues;” uniting their songs in the same burst of glorious
psalmody as the “voice of many waters,” and as the voice of mighty
thunderings, saying, “Alleluia; for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”
“‘Eye hath not seen,'” concluded the preacher, as if in despair of
finding words to express the inconceivable glory and beauty of the halls
of Sion, “‘eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered
into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that
love Him.’ To Him, who bought them for us with his own blood, be glory
for ever, and to countless ages.”
Then the organ broke forth, doors opened and shut, the school-boys
clattered down from the organ loft, and the congregation streamed out of
church; leaving the old clergyman standing in his pulpit, gazing
thoughtfully at the retreating throng, and wondering how much of what he
had endeavored to impress upon their hearts would take root downwards,
and bear fruit upwards.
Sir Everard Duncombe remained sitting some time after the service was
over, looking at Humphrey’s earnest face, and wondering what the boy was
thinking of. When the clergyman had retired to the vestry, he rose, and
led the way out.
Softly blew the summer breezes on little Humphrey’s face as he stepped
out into the porch, and the calm beauty of the summer morning was in
perfect harmony with the turn which the sermon had given to his
thoughts. All around was the beautifully-wooded country, lying calm and
still under the cloudless sky. Perhaps if his vague ideas could have
taken shape, they would have formed themselves into some such expression
as–“Can heaven be fairer than this?”
But Humphrey’s was not a nature that could long remain absorbed in
thought, and he was soon skipping along the road in front of his father
and uncle, and kicking up clouds of dust with his best Sunday boots.
At the park gates they found Miles and Virginie. The latter joined the
other servants in the road, and the two little brothers walked on
“Did the clergyman take any of my texts to-day for his sermon?” asked
the younger one eagerly, as he took hold of Humphrey’s hand. (Miles was
learning the beatitudes, and asked the question regularly every Sunday.)
“No, not one of them. He got a text out of the very last bit of the
whole Bible–‘The Revelation.'”
“That must be the bit Virginie never will read to me. She says I should
not understand it. Do you understand the Revelations, Humphie?”
“Yes,” returned Humphrey, promptly.
“Virginie doesn’t,” said Miles rather puzzled, “and she says very few
grown-up people do.”
“Virginie is French,” retorted Humphrey, “and the Revelations are
written in English. Of course she can’t understand them as well as I do.
There goes a rabbit. Let’s run after it.”
And Miles, perfectly satisfied with the explanation, followed his
brother, panting into the fern.
In the afternoon the gentlemen went again to church, and as Virginie was
at liberty to do the same, the children were left under the care of the
Humphrey was learning a hymn, and, for once in his life, giving his
whole attention to his task.
Miles, sitting on the housemaid’s lap, was turning over the leaves of
the “Peep of Day,” and gleaning his ideas of sacred characters from the
illustrations of that well-known work. He stopped in great amazement
before the representation of Lazarus rising from the tomb, and demanded
Jane, who had an idea that everything connected with death should be
most carefully concealed from children, answered evasively that it was
nothing, and tried to turn over the page, but boys are not so easily
Had Miles been a girl, he would probably have been satisfied to pass
over the picture without further inquiry; girls’ minds take a very
superficial grasp of a subject; they are content to get at the shell of
knowledge, and to leave the kernel untasted. Being a boy, Miles raised
his large, grave eyes to Jane’s face with an inquiring expression.
“Why don’t you tell me?” he asked, laying a detaining hand on the leaf;
“I want to know all about it. What is that great hole? and why is the
man all sewed up in white?”
Jane, driven into a corner, admitted that the hole was a grave.
“But, lor! master Miles,” added she, “you don’t know nothing about them
things, and if you want to know you must ask your pa!”
“Of course I know people die,” said Miles, simply, “because my mamma’s
dead; so you’re quite wrong, Jane, to say I don’t understand those sort
of things. I know all about it. When people die they are packed up in a
box and put into the ground, and then if they’ve been good, God will
come some day and unpack them.”
Humphrey had joined the group just in time to hear the end of the
explanation, and he met Jane’s eye and smile with all the conscious
superiority of his three years advance in religious knowledge.
“If mother were here, Miles,” he whispered, “she would explain to you
much better than that. There was something she used to tell me about our
dead body being like a seed, that is, put into the ground, but will turn
into a beautiful flower some day. Only I can’t remember it quite like
she said it,” he added, sighing, “I wish I could.”
“Oh, Humphie!” said little Miles eagerly, holding up the book, “_can_
you remember what she used to say about this picture?”
But Humphrey taxed his memory in vain. It was all so dim, so confused,
he could not remember sufficiently clearly to tell the story, so Jane
was called upon to read it.
Now Jane left out her h’s, and did not mind her stops, so the beautiful
story of the raising of Lazarus must have lost much of its charm; but
still the children listened with attention, for those who have nothing
better must put up with what they have. Poor little opening minds,
depending thus early on the instructions of an ignorant housemaid!
forced to forego, in the first budding of youth, those lessons in Divine
truth that came so lovingly, and withal so forcibly, from the lips of a
tender mother; those lessons which linger on the heart of the full-grown
man long after the lips that pronounced them are silenced for ever.
Depend upon it, association has a great power, and those passages in the
Bible which bring to children most clearly the image of their mother,
are those which, in after life, are loved and valued most.
And surely those childish memories owe _something_ of their charm to the
recollection of the quiet, well-modulated reading, the clear, refined
enunciation; the repose of the attitude in the sofa or chair, the white
hand that held the book, with, it may be, the flashing of the diamond
ring in the light, as the fingers turned over the pages!
Even as I write, I see rising from the darkness before me a vision of a
mother and a child. I see the soft eyes meeting those of the little
listener on the stool, at her knee. I see the earnestness pervading
every line of the beautiful face. I almost hear the tones of the gentle
voice, which, while reducing the mysteries of Divine truth to the level
of the baby comprehension, carry with them the unmistakable impress of
her own belief in the things of which she is telling: the certainty that
the love and trust she is describing are no mere abstract truths to her,
but that they are life of her life, and breath of her breath!
And I see the child’s eyes glow and expand under her earnestness, as the
little mind catches a refraction of her enthusiasm. Is this a picture or
is it a reality? Have I brought up to any one a dimly-remembered
vision? Or is it purely idealistic and fanciful?
I do not know; and even as I gaze, the picture has melted into the
darkness from which I conjured it, and I see it no more!
“Boys,” sounded Sir Everard’s voice at the bottom of the nursery stairs,
“your uncle and I are going out for a walk. No one need come with us who
would rather not.”
There could be but one answer to such an appeal, and a rush and scamper
It was the usual Sunday afternoon routine, the stables and the farm, and
then across the meadows to inspect the hayricks, and through the
corn-fields to a certain gate that commanded the finest view on the
“If only this weather lasts another fortnight,” said Sir Everard, as his
eyes wandered over golden fields, “I think we shall have a good harvest,
“I am sure we shall,” came from Humphrey, who always had an opinion on
every subject, and never lost an opportunity of obtruding it on public
attention; “we shall have such a lot of corn we shan’t know what to do
“Well, I have never found that to be the case yet,” said his father;
“but if the first part of your prediction prove true, we will have a
Harvest Home and a dance, and you and Miles shall lead off, ‘Up the
middle and down again,’ with the prettiest little girls you can find in
“I know who I shall dance with,” said Humphrey, balancing himself on the
top of the gate, “but she’s not a little girl, she’s quite old, nearly
twenty I daresay, and she’s not pretty either. I don’t care to dance
with little girls, its babyish.”
“Who is the happy lady, Humphrey?” asked Uncle Charlie.
“She is not a lady at all,” said Humphrey, indignantly, “she’s Dolly,
the laundry maid, and wears pattens and turned up sleeves, and her arms
are as red as her cheeks. Dolly’s not the least like a lady.”
“Except on Sundays,” put in little Miles, “because then she’s got her
sleeves down, and is very smart. I saw Dolly going to church this
morning, with boots all covered with little white buttons.”
“_That_ does not make her a lady,” said the elder boy contemptuously.
“It is no use trying to explain to you, Miles, what a lady is because
you never see any.”
“Not Mrs. Jones, the steward’s wife?” suggested Miles timidly, and
feeling he was treading on dangerous ground.
“No,” said Humphrey, “she’s not a real lady, not what I call a lady. You
see, Miles,” he added, sinking his voice, and drawing nearer to his
brother, so that he might not be overheard, “I shall never be able to
make you understand, because you can’t remember mother.”
“No,” said poor little Miles, meekly, “I suppose not.”
This argument was, as he knew by experience, conclusive, and he was
always completely silenced by it.
“And who will my little Miles choose for a partner?” broke in Sir
Everard; “it must be some very small girl, I think.”
“I should like the little girl at the lodge, please, father, because
she’s the very only little girl I know who is smaller than me.”
“Very well: then you are both provided. Charlie, you must come down to
the Harvest Home, and see ‘Up the middle and down again;’ Humphrey
struggling with his substantial partner, and Miles bringing up the rear
with the ‘very only little girl he knows who is smaller than him.'” The
father’s eye rested smiling on his two children as he pictured the sight
“And when may it be?” asked Humphrey. “Father, please settle a day for
the harvest to begin.”
“When the yellow corn is almost brown, you may settle a day for the
harvest,” answered his father. “I have a reaping-machine this year, and
so it will soon be cut when once they begin.”
“I shall come every day to these fields and see how it is getting on,”
“I know a much quicker way,” said Humphrey, jumping down from the gate,
and pulling up several ears of corn by the roots.
“I shall have them up in the nursery, and see them ripen every day.”
“Why, you foolish boy,” said his father, “you have picked them too soon,
they will never ripen now.”
Humphrey looked ruefully at his ears of corn. “I quite forgot,” said he.
“They will never ripen now,” repeated little Miles, sorrowfully.
“Never mind, Miles,” said Humphrey, “I will plant them in the sunniest
part of our own garden, where the soil is much better than here, and
where, I daresay, they will grow much finer and better than if they had
been left to ripen with the rest. Perhaps they will thank me some day
for having pulled them up out of the rough field, and planted them in
such a more beautiful place.”
“Perhaps they will,” breathed little Miles, clasping his hands with
pleasure at the idea.
Miles was leaning against the gate, looking up admiringly at his
brother, and Humphrey was sitting on the topmost bar, with the ears of
corn in his hand.
“Let us go,” said Sir Everard, suddenly; “it is intensely hot here, and
I am longing to get under those limes in the next field.”
The little boys climbed over the gate, and ran on to the indicated spot,
followed more leisurely by their elders.
Sir Everard and Uncle Charlie threw themselves down on the grass in the
shade, and the children, seating themselves by their father, begged for
“Sailors are the men for stories,” was his answer; “you had better ask
Uncle Charlie proved a charming story teller. He told them of sharks and
crocodiles, of boar-hunting, and of wonderful adventures by land and
The children hung on his every word.
The shadows grew long, and the sun began to sink over the cornfields,
and still they were absorbed in listening, and their father in watching
their sparkling eyes and varying countenances.
“Come,” said Sir Everard at last, jumping up, “no more stories, or we
shall be here all night. It is past six, and Virginie will be wondering
what has become of us.”
“Oh!” said Humphrey, drawing a long breath, as he descended from those
heights of wonder to the trifling details of everyday life, recalled by
the mention of Virginie, “how delicious it has been! I hope, father, you
will let me be a sailor when I grow up?”
“Well, I don’t think that will exactly be your vocation,” answered Sir
Everard; “but there is plenty of time before you.”
“Me, too,” said little Miles; “I want to be a sailor too.”
“You, my darling,” said Sir Everard, fondly; “no, not you; I couldn’t
spare you my sweet little fellow.”
And he stooped, as he spoke, to kiss the little face that was uplifted
so pleadingly to his, the lips that were always so ready to respond to
Humphrey had turned away his head, and was gazing intently at his ears
“Is he jealous, I wonder?” thought Uncle Charlie, peering at the little
face under the straw hat, and wondering whether it was a tear he saw
shining among the long dark eyelashes.
But before he could make up his mind if it were so, the child’s eyes
were sparkling with excitement over a curious creature with a thousand
legs, which had crawled out of the corn in his hand.
“And now jump up, boys, and come home.” Sir Everard, as he spoke, picked
up his cane, and taking his brother-in-law’s arm, walked slowly on. “We
shall have all these feats reproduced, Charlie, of that I am quite sure.
Virginie has a nice time before her.”
There was very little tea eaten that evening, the children were in such
a hurry to get down again to the delectable anecdotes.
But Sir Everard took alarm at Miles’s flushed cheeks and bright eyes,
and would allow no more exciting stories so close upon bed-time.
“Will you finish about the crocodile to-morrow?” asked Humphrey,
creeping up his uncle’s leg, as he came to wish him good-night.
“To-morrow I go, my boy,” he answered.
“Going to-morrow!” said Humphrey. “What a very short visit!”
“What a very short visit!” echoed Miles, who always thought it incumbent
on him to say the same thing as his brother.
“I will pay you a longer visit next time,” said Uncle Charlie, as he
kissed the two little faces.
“But when will next time be?” persisted Humphrey.
“Yes! when will next time be?” repeated Miles.
“Ah! when indeed?” said Uncle Charlie.