Chapter XIII. Those at Home.
Smooth thou his path ere it is trod,
Burnish the arms that he must wield,
And pray with all thy strength that God
May crown him victor in the field.
IF Mrs. Bryant had seen Aline and Mabel after Mr. Fraser's visit to their mother, she would have been confirmed in her idea that her son had been inspired by them; and yet it was chiefly their sympathy which had helped him to make his longing a resolution. As soon as they had come in from the High School, and heard what had been the purport of the call, they went up into the little room that they shared, and Mabel said: "Let us thank God for it!"
"But how?" said Aline.
"Can't we kneel down and say it in our hearts? Or the collect they read before a working party?" "That's the Good Friday one."
They found it, and went on to Easter Sunday. "It is only that college yet," sighed Mabel, "I [144/145] wish it was to be directly. I wonder where he will go? I do want it to be China, to save the dear babies."
"He is a long way from that as yet," said Aline; "but it is a happy thing to know that we can be working in the same cause."
"And when we say 'Thy kingdom come," added Mabel.
Mrs. Millar was a person of a good deal of weight, to whom Mrs. Bryant had always been used to look up; and her influence had a good effect in producing a certain acquiescence in the scheme. Mr. Cobbold was contemptuous; but when Mr. Twistleden, the guardian, came down and showed himself ready to consent, Mr. Cobbold found the world too much against him to continue to offer much opposition to the plans of his future stepson. Mr. Twistleden declared that it was a better prospect for Edward to be educated and take rank with the clergy than to continue to be a corn merchant's clerk. It was a worldly view; but it pacified the friends, even while Mr. Cobbold sneered at "beggary parsons."
"But let me give you a piece of advice," said the lawyer. "Don't go to St. Augustine's [145/146] entangled in any engagement with any young woman. I have been told it so often happens. The young man gets trained and becomes superior, while the girl stays at home, and has no opportunities. They become unsuited; but the engagement is adhered to, and she becomes a burthen, more especially as he is among colonists of a higher class."
"There is nothing," said Edward, and he spoke truly; but, as if Mr. Twistleden had put it into his mind, a strange sense came across him that it was just possible that there might have been something with Aline Millar, who, at any rate, was not his inferior, nor was she failing to improve herself. And how pretty she had grown, and how she went along with, or even beyond him, in feeling for the spread of the Gospel!
However, he knew that all was too uncertain as to his destination for him to attempt to draw her into any attachment, and that they had better both attend to their studies. Only he wished nothing had been said about it; and he began to suspect it was in Mrs. Millar's head, from the pains she took that Frances or Mabel should always be with Aline. Frances was like a sheet [146/147] of cold water toward any mission talk; but as to Mabel, it was all she cared for, the romance of her girlhood, and she was so certain to have some wonderful story of admirable negroes, of terrible tortures, or dangerous adventures, out of an old collection of missionary magazines, which she had disinterred, that it was almost a joke with her schoolfellows what would be her next history of remarkable achievement.
Any excitement in Edward Bryant's presence would soon be removed, for, as soon as sufficient notice had been given to Dobson & Co., and his successor had been found, Mr. Fraser had invited him to spend the weeks that would intervene, before his admission to St. Augustine's College, at Langbridge Rectory, so as to be a little prepared for the new atmosphere, which would be unlike anything to which he had been accustomed.
This was to take place as soon as Frances Millar's wedding was over, at Whitsuntide. Mrs. Bryant and Edward were the oldest friends within reach, but could not be spared.
After all, however, it was a very quiet wedding, with only two sisters as bridesmaids; and it [147/148] would hardly have been evident to the neighbors at large but for the white ribbon on the whip of the driver of the fly in which the bride went to church, and the pretty hats of Aline and Mabel.
A line looked very well under the shade of hers, and when the healths had been drunk, and the cake cut, and the bride and bridegroom started off to the station, she looked at Edward with tears springing to her eyes, which actually fell when Mabel burst out with: "Oh, dear! Oh, dear! How dull and lonely we shall be now; everybody going away, and you won't be here to have squabbles with Francie."
"For your amusement, Pussy," said Edward, trying to make light of the break-up, which he also felt.
"No," said Mabel; "but when you have an argument you do say such beautiful things sometimes, that it quite chokes Aline and me to think what a splendid life it is, doesn't it, Allie?"
But Aline had run away, and Edward could say nothing but, "You ridiculous child." He said it, however, in a tone that did not silence Mabel, who went on: "And, do you know, Eddy, we have found out how we can go on helping in [148/149] the cause. Miss Elsworthy, who had the working party, is always collecting for a sale of work to get money for foreign missions, and Allie and I are going to take her all the fancy work and things we can make, and it will be so nice to know. we are working for you!"
"For the cause, Mab," corrected Aline.
"Well, the cause and Edward are all the same."
"Thank you, Mab," he said, touched, though smiling, and feeling that a few pincushions would hardly be a great assistance to "the cause."
So he went to Langbridge, expecting to be recalled by his mother's wedding; but even before Mr. and Mrs. Richards had settled into their new house, the tidings came, in a very brief note, that Mrs. Bryant had been married to Mr. Cobbold, very quietly, only a week after the other marriage, and by license. "We thought it best to be as private as possible," wrote the mother, "and I knew it would avoid pain to you; but my dear son may be sure of his mother's affection though he has chosen such a different line from what she would have wished, and Mr. Cobbold [149/150] desires me to say that he will always be sure of a welcome."
In spite of these words, Edward did not feel as if he could bear to think of the sort of welcome he should meet; and he spent some hours in wandering about in sight of the old farm, sitting on stiles, and thinking over what he and his mother had been to one another. All was very much altered. The house had shot out two great bay windows, which looked like prominent eyes in spectacles; some of the old thatch was gone, and slates, or worse, corrugated iron, had been put up over the outhouses; and in the fields that had been sold as a separate lot, a couple of very new red-brick villas had lifted their pointed heads. But the ground was the same, the field paths and hedges, the rooks cawed in their old voices, and the laborers had pleasant affectionate greetings for the young master as they still called him.
Yes, if all this had still been his own, and, above all, if his mother had still watched for him in that porch, he would have found it a different thing to go away; and as higher thoughts began to come to him, he could believe that perhaps it [150/151] was well that the home tie should be broken, and that he should be a stranger with no right anywhere.
Though in the same village, it was like being in a different world, for Mr. and Mrs. Fraser treated him in all ways as they would a gentleman pupil, and though his habits and manners were quite up to the mark, still there was a certain stiff feeling of being "company" in the earlier days, and he felt freer when he was drinking tea with Frances Richards, and being called on to admire all the new furniture and little changes in the old house to which she had returned. She was hearty and good-natured and glad to see him as possible; but he could not help noticing that, even in holiday time, she did not ask her sisters to come and see her. It would have been natural, and once or twice when he heard -her asked by visitors if they were coming and she made an excuse, he could not help fancying that he knew her reason. Was it not silly of her? And yet Aline was Aline. Could she have shown any wish?
But he had quite enough to think of to keep such matters out of his mind, for Mr. Fraser was [151/152] giving him much to read and think over in the way of preparation, both in theological and secular subjects. He had to realize how ignorant he was, and to feel daunted as having entertained the idea of being capable of teaching others; but he was thankful for being encouraged and helped, and he certainly grew and developed much in every way before the term came when he was to go to St. Augustine's.