What thing?

Before returning to the sick-room, Sir Everard sat down to write some
letters.

He tried to think of some one he could send for, to help him in his
trouble. His mother was too infirm to leave home, his sister perfectly
useless, and they were the only relations he had.

His brother-in-law was the person who would have been the greatest
comfort to him, but he had just been appointed to a ship, and Sir
Everard knew him to be up to his neck in preparations, perpetually
veering between London and Portsmouth. As, however, he must pass Wareham
Station on his journeys to and fro, Sir Everard wrote to beg him if
possible, to stop for one night on his way.

Then he went up to the nursery. Miles was having his mid-day sleep; and
Jane, the housemaid, was sitting by his crib. Sir Everard bent down to
kiss the little fellow, who was lying with his face hidden, hugging to
his breast some ears of dead corn; but as his father’s lips touched his
forehead, he stirred in his sleep, and said, “Humphie.”

“What has he got there?” asked Sir Everard of Jane.

“Some ears of corn, I think, Sir Everard,” answered Jane; “it’s some
that belonged to Master Humphrey, and he says no one shan’t touch it but
himself. I heard him say he had found it in a corner of the nursery, and
that Master Humphrey must have put it there, and forgotten it, for that
he had meant to plant it in his garden.”

Sir Everard did not answer: he stooped over the little sleeper, and
kissed him again tenderly. “Whatever you do, don’t wake him,” he
whispered; “let him sleep as long as ever he can.”

He left the room; and as he went down-stairs the children’s
conversation in the cornfield that Sunday afternoon recurred to him, and
he could not help making a mental comparison between the young corn and
the young life, both so suddenly uprooted from the earth.

Meeting the doctor in the hall, he briefly communicated the physicians’
opinion, and begged him to make it known to the household. To announce
it himself, he felt to be impossible.

He found the worn-out child in a heavy sleep when he reached the
drawing-room; there was nothing to draw his thoughts from the subject
upon which they had been dwelling, and he found himself going over and
over the scene in the corn-field. He seemed to see and hear it all with
startling distinctness. Wherever he looked, he saw Humphrey sitting on
the top of the gate with the ears of corn in his destroying hand and
Miles looking sorrowfully up at him.

He could not bear it at last, and walked up and down the room, to get it
out of his head. But even then their voices rang in his ears, and
filled him with pain.

“Never mind, Miles,” sounded in clear bell-like tones the voice which
would never rise above a whisper again. “I will plant them in the sunny
bit of our own garden, where the soil is much better than here, and
where they will grow much finer than if they had been left to ripen with
the rest. Perhaps they will thank me some day for having pulled them out
of the rough field, and planted them in such a much more beautiful
place.”

But he might have found comfort instead of pain in the words, had he
followed out the metaphor which had been floating in his head. For would
not the child one day thank Death, the destroyer; who in uprooting him
fresh and green from the earth, would transplant him to the rich soil of
God’s own garden; where, in the sunshine of His Maker’s presence, he
should ripen into that perfection, which is unknown among the children
of men?

For natures like Humphrey’s are not fit for this rough world. Such a
capacity for sorrow has no rest here, and such a capability for
enjoyment is fittest to find its happiness in those all-perfect
pleasures which are at God’s right hand for evermore.

* * * * * * * * *

Humphrey was seldom conscious during the days that followed. He was
either in heavy sleep, or incoherent rambling.

He would lie talking to his mother’s picture in a whisper; going over
games and conversations with Miles; or wandering on unintelligibly to
himself.

Whenever he was aware of his father’s presence, he would complain of a
curious noise in his head, and ask what the rushing and singing in his
ears meant; but before he got an answer, he would ramble off again, and
take no notice of what was passing around him.

Sir Everard, sitting for hours by his bedside, often thought of the
boy’s allusions to his mother’s picture, and of the look with which
Humphrey had greeted his inquiry as to how he had known it was she.

Many words that at times dropped from the child, puzzled him, and he
often longed to question him on the subject.

Seeing one night a gleam of consciousness in the dark eyes, he went
closer to the sofa, and tried to attract the boy’s attention.

“What are you thinking about, Humphrey?”

“Mother,” he answered, in a faint voice; “when is she coming to fetch
me?”

But before there was time for an answer, he was overcome by his usual
drowsiness, and Sir Everard’s opportunity was gone. But perhaps what
bewildered him most was the way in which the child had prayed to be
allowed to die.

To Sir Everard, with his one-sided view of the boy, it was all such an
enigma.

Here was a child who had always seemed so entirely taken up with the
pleasures of the passing moment, that his past and future were alike
merged in the enjoyment of the present–a creature on whom sorrow and
loss had produced no permanent impression passing over him, as it were,
only to leave him more gay, more heedless than ever. _Permanent_
impression! why, as far as Sir Everard knew, they had produced no
impression at all!

Five days after his mother’s death, he had seen him romping and playing
as usual, and from that day to this, her name had never passed his lips!
And _now_ he talked of her as if her memory were very fresh and
familiar; and looked upon death as calmly as if he had been
contemplating it all his life.

What did it mean? When had he thought upon such things? How was it that
he, who had enjoyed to the full the pleasures of his young life, should
be so ready to renounce them all?

Sir Everard was fairly baffled, as he asked himself the question over
and over again.

Is it, then, so difficult to understand? Sir Everard should have gone
to Wordsworth, and learnt his lesson there.

“Children,” he says, “are blest and powerful:–

“Their world lies more justly balanced,
_Partly at their feet, and part far from them_.”

This is the answer to the question. A child lives, no doubt, in his
surroundings throws himself heart and soul into the pleasures or the
sorrows of the moment; and is immersed in the interests of the path
which lies straight before him.

But this is not all. Talk to any child for a few minutes, and see, if,
in the description of his hopes and joys some such phrases as these do
not occur: “When I get big;” “When I am a man;” “Some day when I am
older.”

He is looking for something else; he is reaching on to some state he
knows not of, but which is to be more perfect than his present one.

“Sweetest melodies are those
That are by distance made more sweet”

There is something else waiting for him–worlds not realized–glories
as yet unknown. In what will consist their charm, he knows not; but the
vague is the possible, and the unknown is the glorious. So, perhaps, the
“Land which is very far off” is more present to him than it is to those
of riper years; not so much more shadowy than any other part of the
transcendent future lying before him.

A child’s world is so full of mystery too. Everything is so wonderful
and unexplained, that the “Things unseen and eternal” are scarcely more
incomprehensible than the things unseen and temporal. Where everything
is so strange, one thing is not much more strange than another.

Look how many inexplicable things are occurring every day around him.
Take the mysteries of birth and death, for instance. How soon he grows
familiar with them. In a few days, the new little brother or sister
seems as though it had always been there; and when the loss does not
occur _in_ the house, or affect him very nearly, he seldom asks
questions after the rush that follows the first announcement, but
contents himself with a general résumé of the occurrence in some such a
train of thought as this: “Poor mamma was crying yesterday; and we are
all going to have black frocks.”




He takes everything upon trust, believing implicitly everything which is
told him: he never cavils or argues, or reasons. He believes his elders
infallible–in fact, he must: have they not proved right over and over
again? Not being able to understand, he _must_ trust; and to a boundless
faith and a vivid imagination _all_ things are possible!

* * * * *

It may be that some such ideas as these did at last float across the
mind of Sir Everard, as he sat by the boy, who from first to last had
been misunderstood.

One day Humphrey woke with a start, as if from a dream, and said
eagerly: “Didn’t you promise they shouldn’t make me well?”

“Yes, my darling.”

“I thought for a moment–or I dreamt–that I was getting well–and–it
was—-”

“It was what?” asked Sir Everard, trembling lest a wish for life should
be springing up in the boy’s breast, and that the regrets, whose
non-existence he had marvelled at, should be going to overpower him at
last.

“It was so horrible!” said the boy.

Strange that we should be subject to such sudden revulsions of feeling!
The very words which set the father’s mind at rest, jarred upon his
feelings, and before he was aware, he had said, almost reproachfully,
“Horrible, Humphrey! to stay with me?”

“You forget, father–you forget what I should be.”

“But I would have made it so happy for you, my little Humphrey,” burst
from Sir Everard. “You should never—-”

He stopped, for there was a far-away look in the boy’s eyes, and he was
gazing intently at the picture.

Sir Everard thought he was not listening. But in a few minutes he spoke.

“I am thinking I should not have minded it so much, if mother were
here. I could lie in her arms all day, like I used then (pointing to the
picture); but now—-”

“You could lie in my arms, my darling.”

“In _yours_, father? you’ve always got Miles. You never take _me_ in
your arms.”

“I didn’t ever think you would care to come, my little Humphrey.”

“Oh! but I often should though; only I knew you would rather have him.”

“Oh! hush! hush! When have you wanted to come?”

“Well, not so _very_ often, father–only sometimes–a good while ago.”

“But, my child, I would just as soon have had you as Miles. I only take
him because he is so small. Why do you say I would rather have him?”

“I thought so, father, because you smiled quite differently when you
looked at him, and called him your darling much more than you did me,
and kissed him–oh! so much oftener.”

Sir Everard could have implored the child to stop. He took the thin
hand in his and caressed it.

“Miles is such a baby you know. I did not think you would be jealous of
him.”

“Jealous?” said Humphrey, rather puzzled; “jealous means angry–doesn’t
it?”

“Well–yes; I suppose it does.”

“Oh, then, I wasn’t jealous,” said the boy, earnestly, “because I never
was angry. Poor little Miles couldn’t remember mother, you see, and I
could–so it was quite fair. Only now and then–sometimes it—-”

“What, dear boy?”

“It made me want mother so _dreadfully_,” said Humphrey, his eyes
filling with tears. “But now,” he added, dreamily, for the drowsiness
was beginning to overpower him, again, “I’m going to her, or at least
God’s going to send her to fetch me.” And he closed his heavy eyes.

Sir Everard sat on, meditating. He mused on the by-gone time when his
wife had told him Humphrey was as loving as Miles and he had inwardly
denied it; he mused on the responsibility of bringing up children, and
the necessity of living constantly with them to hope to understand the
complications of their characters; and sadly he reflected on the
irreparable loss his children had sustained in the mother, who would
have done it all so well.

He was not a morbid man, and he did not reproach himself for what had
been unavoidable; for a man belongs more to the world than to his home;
and his home ought not to throw any hindrance in his path of usefulness.
But he told himself plainly that he had failed; that, satisfied if his
children were well and happy, he had been content to go no further, and
to remain in ignorance of all that Humphrey’s simple words had
disclosed.

He was filled with admiration for the generous nature which had borne so
patiently to see another preferred, and had charmed away the feeling
which _had_ arisen sometimes, by the reflection, “It is quite fair.”

He thought how the same circumstances acting upon a different
temperament might have produced jealousy, discontent, and bitter
feeling; the little brothers might have grown up to hate each other, and
he would never have perceived it. And with an uncontrollable feeling he
knelt down by the bedside, and covered the child with kisses.

Humphrey opened his eyes and smiled. “I was dreaming of mother,” he
said; “she was asking me if you had sent her any message.”

“Tell her, my darling, how much I love you, and how sorry I am to let
you go.”

“So sorry to let me go,” he repeated, with the old expression of triumph
coming into his face; “and that you love me very much; as much as Miles,
shall I say.”

“As much as Miles,” said Sir Everard.

“And that’s quite true, father?”

“Quite true, my own precious child.”

A smile flitted over his face, and he shut his eyes, saying, “I’ve often
forgotten your messages before, father, but I shan’t forget this one!”

* * * * *

Presently he roused up again, and said, “I should like to do that thing
people do before they die.”

“What thing?”

“I forget the name of it in English. In French it is the same as the
Gospels and Epistles.”

“The same as the Gospels and Epistles? What can you mean?”

“Virginie calls them ‘Le Noveau Testament.’ What’s the English for
that?”

“New Testament.”

“But what’s testament in English? I can’t remember words now.”

“Testament in English? Oh! will.”

“Oh, yes!–will–that’s it. Well, I want to make my will; will you write
it down as I say it?”

Sir Everard fetched some writing materials, and drew a little table to
the bedside.

Humphrey dictated. “In large letters first, father, write–

“HUMPHREY’S WILL

“I leave my knife with the two blades to Miles. One of the blades is
broken, but the other is quite good, and Virginie needn’t be afraid of
his hurting himself, because it has been quite blunt and rusty ever
since I cut Carlo’s nails with it, and left it out all night in the
rain. And Dolly must take care of my garden, and not let the flowers
die. And father, you’re to have my prayer-book and my microscope; and I
suppose I must leave Virginie my little gold pin, because she’s asked me
for it so often, and I shall never grow up now to be a man, and wear it
with a blue scarf, like I always meant to. And Dolly may have one of my
books. I don’t think she would understand ‘Peter Parley,’ so perhaps it
had better be the ‘Boy Hunters.’ Then there’s the ferret, and the
guinea-pigs, and the rabbits. I think Dolly shall have them too, because
I know she’ll take care of them. What else have I got? Oh, yes! there’s
my fishing-rod, and my skates, and my cricket things, all those are for
Miles. I’ve got twopence somewhere; I don’t exactly know where, but give
them to lame Tom in the village; and tell him I’m more sorry for him
than ever now. And will somebody be kind to my poor jackdaw? I know you
all think him very ugly, and he _is_ cross, and he _does_ peck, but
please, for my sake, take care of him, because I’m the only friend he
has in the world, and now I’m going to leave him. Perhaps lame Tom had
better have him, because he’ll understand better than any of you, how
sad it is to be–lame–and obliged to be still in one place all day. My
little sweet-pea in the nursery window is for Jane. It takes a great
deal of water. I used to pump my whole little pump of water on it four
or five times a day. It never was strong, that little sweet-pea.
Sometimes I think it had _too_ much water. But Jane will settle that.

“Well! I think that’s all. Good-bye everybody.”

“Have you put ‘Good-bye everybody?'” he asked, eagerly.

“Yes,” answered Sir Everard, vainly endeavoring to steady his voice, “I
have put it, dear. Is there anything more?”

“Don’t people write their names, father? Could I write mine, do you
think, myself?”

“I don’t think so, my darling,” his father returned, in the same husky
tone; “but I will write them for you.”

“All of them, please, father–Humphrey, and Everard, and Charles. Isn’t
it a lot!” exclaimed Humphrey, with a touch of his old merriment.

“There it is in full,” said Sir Everard; “Humphrey Everard Charles
Duncombe.”

“May I try and make a mark, father?”

“If you like, dear,” said the father, sadly; for he knew it was
impossible that the poor little hand and arm should perform such an
office, and Humphrey saw it himself directly he tried to move, and
abandoned the attempt of his own accord.

“Now hide it away somewhere, father,” he exclaimed, eagerly, “for no
one must read it yet. I’m glad I’ve made my will,” he added, as, with a
sigh of weariness, for he was worn out by so much talking, he closed his
eyes, and disposed himself to sleep.

Half-an-hour after, a letter was put into Sir Everard’s hand. It was
from his brother-in-law, and contained these few lines:

“MY DEAR EVERARD,–I have a few days to spare, and will come down
to Wareham on my way to Portsmouth. Tell Humphrey I hope to be in
time for his Harvest Home, and beg him to find me a pretty partner.

“Yours, etc.”

Sir Everard turned the letter over to look at the date. It could not
surely be the answer to his letter! But on examining the post-mark, he
found that it had been written some days previously from Portsmouth, and
that it was directed to his club in London, from whence it had been
forwarded.

“He has never got mine,” he reflected, “Poor fellow! what a shock it
will be when he arrives.”

At that very moment Uncle Charlie was reading Sir Everard’s letter at an
hotel in London. It dropped from his hand, and he remained wrapped in
sad meditation.

“Too late to-night,” he said at last, looking at his watch, “but by the
first train to-morrow morning.”

He roused himself, and went to the window. There, looking down upon the
ceaseless stream of carriages in the busy street below, his thoughts
reverted to the Sunday at Wareham, and the boy’s strength and beauty. He
thought of him as he had last seen him, radiant with health and spirits,
waving his hat on the door-step as the dog-cart drove away. But perhaps
recollection brought the child most clearly before him creeping up his
leg, when he came to say “Good-night,” and begging for more stories on
the morrow.

“Going to-morrow! what a short visit!”

“I will pay you a longer visit next time.”

“But when will next time be?”

“Yes, when will next time be?”

* * * * * * * *

“Ah! when indeed?” sighed Uncle Charlie.

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