Chapter IX. Old Friends.
We sat and talked until the night,
Discussion filled the little room;
Our faces faded from the sight,
Our voices only broke the gloom.
We spoke of many a vanished scene:
Of what we once had thought and said;
Of what had been and might have been,
And who was changed, and who was dead. LONGFELLOW.
"WELL, to be sure!" It was on the parade at Awmouth, and two young men, in boating costumes, were walking up from the pier with "Triton" round their blue caps, and three girls in mourning, one tall and dressed as a full-grown young lady, one with shorter petticoats, and hair still down her back, and the other quite a child still, were meeting them.
"Eddy! Eddy!" began to exclaim the little one.
"Don't, Mab, hush; "and the elder one seized her arm, but not before one young man had started forward with:
 "It is you, Aline--Mabel--Frances--all of you," shaking hands vehemently. "My old friends, the Miss Millars--Mr. Andrews. "
Mr. Andrews politely raised his cap and turned away, while Edward eagerly asked, "And your mother? and the doctor?--No"--(and the black dresses now struck him)--"we have heard nothing for three years. "
"Then, "said Frances, "you did not know that poor papa was dreadfully hurt by a fall from the dog-cart when a bicycle frightened old Turk? He lived only a week after."
"When was it?" asked Edward, in a choked voice.
"Last September--it was the 24th that he died," said Frances. "He had been able to talk it over with old Doctor Richards, and--and--his son--Lawrence--takes the house and the practice" She faltered and blushed a little, and Aline put in: "Yes; and he is coming for Frances as soon as we are settled in here, and the year is over."
"And are you come to live here?" asked Edward, who had put in exclamations which were as good as answers to what he had been [99/100] told; and indeed his whole demeanor showed how much shocked he was to hear of the death of the kind doctor, who had been his mother's best helper in her troubles. He said something of her being very sorry, and asked whether the Millars were living in the town or only on a visit.
"Yes," said Aline. "Lawrence Richards's sister was one of the teachers at the High School, and she advised us to come here, for me to be prepared for a governess, and Mabel to go to school and Bertie to the Modern School."
"And where are you living? My mother will be so delighted."
"No. 11, Undercliff Road," was the direction given by little Mabel, and they walked on together till they were near the place where the band played, and Frances rather hurriedly said; "Now we must wish you good-bye. Come, Mab."
For Mabel had hold of his hand, as, in old times; but there was something in Frances's air that made Edward recollect that they were not all village playfellows now, and that high school acquaintances might not expect to see their young ladies accompanied by a "Triton"; so he made a rather stiff bow, and turned away, letting go [100/101] the clasp of Mabel's hand, and not looking round though he heard her sisters calling after her.
He carried home his news to his mother, who, on her side, was much shocked and grieved to hear of good Dr. Millar's death, but a little doubtful about going to call upon Mrs. Millar. "You see, my dear," she said, "what with our family property that was, and all the rest of it, we were pretty well on a level with the Union doctor; but now, if she gives herself airs as a physician's widow, I can hardly tell how it may be; and I would not have you in the way of being trodden on, on no account."
Edward had not much fear of being trodden on, and he was very anxious to see more of his old friends; so he gave his mother no peace till she had decided to call, but timing it so as not to be taken for a regular visitor unless Mrs. Millar seemed to wish it. That would have been presuming. Nor would she go at an hour when her son was free, nor indeed would she tell him when she was going, so that it was quite a surprise to him when he came home to meet her coming in, wearing her best bonnet with the roses in it.
 At Birkfarm she had always worn only black, but, of late, her flowers had been allowed green leaves, and the roses had begun to blush into color. Indeed, so had her cheeks, for though she had still much to do in the house, it was not nearly such a hard life as she had lived under the great-grandfather.
She was in excellent spirits now, Mrs. Millar--poor dear--had been so pleased to see an old friend's face, and had shed many tears over the remembrance of the old times at Langbridge, which had been to her the bright days of her life, though to Mrs. Bryant the recollection was very different. Her girls had told her of their meeting with Eddy--Mr. Bryant she must call him now--and she should have been quite hurt if Mrs. Bryant had not called. She must stay to tea, and to see the girls, and meantime there had been a long confidential chat over the troubles, past, present, and future.
All the sad history of the doctor's accident and death was gone through, with tears on each side, and then all the difficulties, which were mitigated by Lawrence Richards's proposal to Frances, and his appointment as Union doctor. John Millar [102/103] hated the profession, and had insisted upon emigrating to New Zealand with Jack Bowser; and Alice Richards had achieved the removal to Awmouth for cheap education for the younger ones. But it was quite evident that poor Mrs. Millar did not find herself so well off as to hold herself above the Bryants. She had only enough left to her to make both ends meet till her children could maintain themselves, and she did not seem to have many friends. Alice Richards had just obtained a situation as a governess at a distance, and had only been able to make her known to a few persons, who did not seem disposed to cultivate her, though her girls had made friends at the High School, and she readily accepted Mrs. Bryant's invitation to tea and supper one day in the next week.
"Did you see the girls?" asked Edward.
"Frances came in after the first half-hour, and a fine-looking young woman she is grown. She has done well for herself; but she will wait to be married till autumn, partly for the mourning, and because there is work to be done at the house, which, as her mother says, was good enough for her. Well, Frances came in telling about a [103/104] working party that she has been asked to join at the Vicarage for some missionary work in Lent. Mrs. Millar thought they had quite enough to do without; but, by-and-by, in rushes Mabel, quite mad upon it, and Aline after her nearly as bad. One of their teachers at the High School had been talking to them about it."
"Ah! Mabel's little head used to run upon missions," said Edward, smiling, "when she preached to her dolls."
"Well, their district--St. Faith's, is it?--seems to be gone crazy about missions, by what Mrs. Millar said."
"Yes," said Edward, "I saw a notice about a course of sermons on missions for Wednesday evenings."
He did not say more, for he knew of old that it was a sore subject with his mother, and in these two years in which he had been growing into manhood, he had ceased to discuss with her everything that crossed his mind. She used to have no confidential friend, but now he found that a good deal was talked over with Miss Grant, and that sometimes Mr. Cobbold had been asked to give him advice, in a way which he resented.
 If he wanted a consultation he had rather talk to Jim Andrews, who saw the world from the same level of youth as he did, than from the old gentleman who--as he told Andrews--thought every one younger than himself must be fools.
He did wish his mother would not go on about his affairs with that old fellow; and what was the use of having him and Miss Grant to spoil their evening with the Millars? who, he was sure, had much rather be without them. What? It was well to show they had professional friends of their own. Say she couldn't well help it? Why, Miss Grant would clack them all dead, and old Cobbold would sit up, and say "Grumph," just like the statue of Dr. Johnson in the Library.
"Don't be disrespectful, my dear," said Mrs. Bryant, turning aside; and when she said "my dear," Edward always was alarmed, lest there was something in the wind. Perhaps he would not have remarked it of his own accord; but, on the evening of the entertainment, he saw that the eyes of Aline and Frances were directed to her fragment of a cap, a bit of lace that supported a cluster of little feathery adornments [105/106] with pink tips, contrasting the same with Mrs. Millar's weeds.
Mrs. Bryant's tea did justice to her freer expenditure and greater opportunities, and Mr. Cobbold certainly resembled Dr. Johnson in the number of cups of tea that he swallowed, while Miss Grant kept up the conversation with an endless quantity of information about the inhabitants of Awmouth, and the ins and out of the popular concerts, lectures, and the performers thereat.
The young people, being all young, and having the grace of shyness (or modesty) about them, sat nearly silent, except Frances, who, as an engaged lady, took part in the conversation, and covered the silence of her mother, who was too much depressed, as well as too much of a stranger, to take interest in the details.
But Miss Grant was a good-natured, helpful soul, and when it was proposed that the elders should sit down to a game of cards, she proposed that Mr. Bryant should show the young ladies the canary bird and the plants in her sittingroom. The fire would not be out, and they would be able to be very cozy there.
 It truly was doing as she would be done by! The girls skipped up the stairs in great glee, Edward steering them from below, and the little room looked bright with fire-light, and had the one wicker easy-chair, and two or three others, and foot-stools ranged comfortably in front.
"Jolly old girl," said Edward, stirring the fire into a blaze; "she must have meant it for us."
"Jolly indeed--three cheers for her!" cried Aline. "And now, Ted, tell us all about yourself. What's your 'Triton Club'?"
"Ay, and what's Francie been about to go and get herself engaged--engaged all seriously? Didn't she know she would break my heart? There, you hear it go crack!"
The nonsense was varied by a struggle who should not be installed in the wicker-chair. Aline and Mabel would have perched on the two arms, but Frances objected that they would certainly break it down, and it ended in their sitting on the floor, and peeping through the arms of the vacant throne, while Edward's head made a pillow of it as he lay at his length on the rug.
There was a great deal of talk--sometimes serious, sometimes chattery--over the past and [107/108] the future. Were they going to this working party?
"Oh, yes," said Mabel, "there's nothing I shall like so much as making things for the dear natives."
"Natives of what?" asked Frances laughing; "you had better know first. Yes, I suppose Aline will go with you as you are so bent upon it; but I have far too much needlework in hand."
"For the native of Langbridge?" said Edward, making her -blush, as of course it meant her trousseau. "I suppose I am not required at the working party. But do you go to these lectures, Aline?"
"They say they are to be most interesting," she answered.
"I think I shall go," said Edward. "Do you know, at the Free Library I found some of those books that Mr. Goodrich was to have lent me when my grandfather choked me off."
"The book with the story of the queen that poked a stick into the volcano?" exclaimed Mabel. "Oh, I do want to read that again!"
"Kapiolani," said Edward, "in the Sandwich [108/109] Isles--oh, I will find the name of the book in the catalogue for you. These things make one think!"
"As you used to do long ago?" said Aline.
"Well yes. There seems to be so much to be done, and so few to do it; and yet it is the work most worth doing in all the world," said Edward, thinking aloud.
"I'm sure I can't see that," said Frances. "I should have thought that minding one's duty, and taking care of one's family was what we had to do, instead of flying about to strange countries and natives as Mab calls them. I hope you are not going to take up that craze again, Eddy."
Edward looked into the fire, and made no particular answer.