Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 6/The prodigal son - Part 2

THE PRODIGAL SON.

BY DUTTON COOK, AUTHOR OF “PAUL FOSTER’S DAUGHTER,” &c.

“A lytel misgoyng in the gynning causeth mykel errour in the end.”—Chaucer’s “Testament of Love.”

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CHAPTER III. THE PRODIGAL SON.

The old man shook very much, yet it seemed that he did so almost as much from anger as from age or illness. Indeed he appeared to have acquired a sudden accession of force to enable him to play the part he had probably proposed to himself in the interview with his son. The paroxysms of temper in which, as Mr. Fuller had hinted, the invalid occasionally permitted himself to indulge during his illness, might be taken as so many evidences of strength—purchased, however, at the cost of much subsequent prostration and exhaustion. But he had now nerved himself for an encounter which he had looked forward to as likely to be one of violence and passion; he was prepared to meet a son who had treated him with, as he conceived, the most rebellious defiance, and he appeared determined to re-assert his authority, and punish a grievous and shameful offence with all the severity that was possible, without regard to the sufferings his exertions might subsequently entail upon himself.

“Don’t come whining to me like a dog that’s been kicked,” he said, in a hard, jeering voice.

Wilford drew himself up, with a pained look in his face and his lips quivering; he lowered his eyes, and drew back a step or two. While evidently hurt and surprised at his father’s manner, he seemed anxious, as far as possible, to give no further cause of offence.

“Why have you come?” Mr. Hadfield asked, sternly, bringing his clenched hand down with a thump upon the book Stephen had left upon the bed.

“Did you not send for me?”

“I bade them tell you that I was very ill, and that if you would see me again alive, you had best come soon."

He spoke loudly and angrily.

"Therefore I have come, father."

He seemed bewildered at the old man's words and manner.

"For no other reason?"

"Forgive me!" And he came again to the bed, and tried to take his father's hand. It was again snatched from him. "Father! have some pity," he went on. "What am I to do or say? Tell me—only tell me! Indeed, indeed, I would do all you would have me!"

Mr. Hadfield glared upon him with fierce, wild eyes.

"Don't whine," he said. "Be true to your nature. You were bold enough years back; there was no hypocrisy then—no canting nor shamming, but open, shameless speaking. It was bad enough, but it was better than lying. Do you remember it?"

"I do, father."

"Seven years ago! Open that Bible—look at the beginning of it—turn to the fly-leaves—an old, old book that has been years and years in this family—that contains many, many entries of the births and marriages and deaths of the Hadfields. Stop there at that blotted page—there! That was blotted out by me, with this right hand, seven years ago, one fine November morning when you turned your back upon your father's house. See, there is a date affixed to it and my signature. Your name was written there and the date of your birth—'Wilford George Saxon Carew Hadfield,' born so and so. Not a letter is now traceable; I blotted it out when I cast you off as a son of mine; I placed my hand upon the book, and I cursed you with all my heart and soul; I kissed the book, and prayed to Heaven that my curse might be brought to pass. Do you hear, sir?"

Wilford hid his death-white face in his hands. Mr. Hadfield paused for breath a few minutes, and then resumed:

"Seven years have passed, and you have come back again—to see me, it may be, for the last time. I am an old man. If I recover from this sickness—and the doctors hint that it is likely to go hard with me—but if I recover now, I can expect to live in any case but a short time longer. The Hadfields have been a long-lived race, but I feel that I am very old and weak and broken. I am not the man I have been, I am not long for this world—I know it, and I don't shrink from the knowledge. Well, you are here—come back like the Prodigal of whom Steenie read to us to-night. Have you come back now as he did? Are you penitent as he was? Have you suffered as he had?"

"Father, I am very, very sorry——"

"Bah!"

"Tell me what you would have me do or say."

"Tell me how these seven years have been passed. In sorrow? in suffering? or in the most shameful profligacy and sin?"

Wilford cowered and turned away.

"Seven years! A long apprenticeship to serve with the Devil. You may well be tired of the service—glad to come back to England, to Grilling Abbots, for a change. Perhaps, too, your money has run out—your poor mother's money. She had power to will it to you, and she did will it to you. I could not have stayed it, or I would. It was yours when you were twenty-one. You have had it—yes—and spent it. Has it all gone?"

"It has."

The old man gave a wild shriek of laughter.

"I knew it." And then he added, with a triumphant air of discovery, "Another reason for coming back. Your money spent, you were pressed to come back home to try and get more—to wring it from me by whining, or to borrow it of Steenie. Borrow?—another word for robbing the poor lad's wife and children. Wasn't this so?"

"Father," said Wilford, solemnly, "I came back because I learnt that you were very ill—because there was a fear that if I was ever to receive your pardon, it could only be now. I am penitent, and pained, and very, very sorry. Do I deserve the harsh treatment I still receive at your hands? Granted that I have deserved punishment for the past, is it to be without end? For years I have been severed from my home. Is that to count for nothing? If I come back like the Prodigal, am I received as he was? Was his penitence spurned? Was a deaf ear turned to his prayer? There is a duty owing from the child to the parent: is there none from the parent to the child?"

"I like this better than whining," the old man said, in calmer tones. "There is a flavour about this of the old insolence, and daring, and shamelessness. It is infamous, but it is truthful, it is real. The hypocrite doesn't suit you. You don't play the part well. The frank scoundrel is more adapted to your kind of ability. And it requires so very little talent; it is so very easy to do. But I thank you for throwing off the mask."

"These are very cruel words, father. Heaven knows I never thought to hear such from you again."

"Or you'd not have come back? No, you looked to be fêted, and caressed, for the church bells to be set ringing, and tar barrels lighted, and oxen roasted whole. That was the plan you had laid out for yourself. To each of us you had assigned our parts of homage and affection and regard for you. We were to welcome with acclamations one who had brought shame and dishonour upon our race."

Wilford darted a strange glance of suspicion at his father. He bit his lips till the blood came, but he said nothing.

"To be greeted like the Prodigal on his return, you must have suffered like the Prodigal. Have you been in want? Have you been compelled to toil for your bread? Have you herded with swine, and been fain to eat of their husks? Have you been like to perish with hunger? Is it for these reasons you come home, poor and penitent, to be as a hired servant, and to have bread enough and to spare? No! You have lived proudly and defiantly enough—the first part of the Prodigal's career, not the second. You have wasted your substance, you have rioted, you have spared yourself no enjoyment, your life has been a list of pleasures. Profligate, gambler, yes, and—I see it now, I did not know it before, I own—drunkard!"

Wilford hid his trembling hands in his bosom. With his eyes bent on the ground he spoke in a low, faltering voice.

"I desire to make no excuse for myself. It may be that my life has been thoughtless, wasteful, wicked. I will urge no apologies for my conduct, though perhaps some could be found, and valid ones. Let me only say that when I learnt of your illness, it was my first impulse to return to England, with deep sorrow in my heart, with great contrition for the past, with earnest desire to amend in the future, and to deserve that pardon which I did hope you would be prevailed upon to extend to me. It seems good to you to believe that the seven years, the years of my separation from home, have been happily spent by me. Pray be undeceived. I have been most miserable; more truly wretched than I at one time believed was possible for man to be. If I have thus been driven again to madness, and folly, and sin, it has been indeed in a futile quest of forgetfulness. It seems to me that there are things even harder to bear than want of bread, that some pangs are more painful than even the pangs of hunger. Father, if you ever believed me, believe me now; if you ever cared for me, for God's sake open your heart to me now—pity and forgive me."

There was something very plaintive about the tone of his voice as he said these words, and sank on his knees at the bedside. The old man was visibly moved by them, almost in spite of himself; and yet he seemed to be possessed by a craving for some further acts of conciliation and humiliation on the young man's part. How he had pampered, and humoured, and indulged in every way his eldest son as a child! How cold, and harsh, and cruel he was to him as a man! How he seemed to enjoy keeping him at arm's length, torturing him with taunts and accusations. Perhaps he knew that something of his own nature was in the heart of his son—the same proneness to violence and passion, the same unbending pride and fatal obstinacy. He had summoned the young man to his bed-side, be it said, with the full intention of ultimately pardoning him, and restoring him to favour, and to his place in the household as the next inheritor of the Hadfield estates. Yet he had determined that before this should be, a severe lesson should be read to him, his imperious temper should be humbled, his obstinacy should be conquered. A man of strong affection really, he had yet succeeded in making this entirely subservient to his pride, and to his resolution to assert himself as the head of his family. He was bent upon subduing utterly his son. Much Wilford had already done—more, perhaps, than he was himself aware of—towards pacifying his father's wrath, towards winning back his favour. But the more the old man was able to exact, the more a love of exaction seemed to grow upon him. He could fix no limit to his desire for the conquest of his son. The more he felt his power, the more he was inclined to exert it. Each time the thought came to him that now, surely, he might stay his hand, and extend his forgiveness, came a half crazy longing for further dominion over, for further concession on the part of his rebellious son. His conduct was very wanton, and cruelly vindictive. His excuse must be that in the end he had pre-arranged to yield, and was only waiting for what he imagined would be the ripe moment for his so doing.

"When I blotted your name out of that book, when I cursed you heart and soul, and prayed that you might feel my curse, and that these eyes might never look upon your face again, I made a new will. These estates are not entailed, as you know; if you have raised funds, therefore, expecting after my death to get money to pay back what you have borrowed, you have aided indirectly in a fraud. Money of mine will never find its way into the pockets of your creditors. I made a new will, by which I bequeathed all the property I have in the world to my second son, Stephen, and his children. On my death a small annuity will become payable to you under your mother's settlement,—my interest in it ceases with my life,—but no halfpenny of mine will accrue to you. Stephen will become the owner of the Grange, and of all the Hadfield estates. As he never has brought, so I am sure he never will bring dishonour upon my name; his children will inherit after him, and his children's children. To you, and to child of yours, no single acre of this land will ever belong. As your name is blotted out of that Bible, so is it blotted out of my will. So it will die out of men's recollection, and be as though it had never been. You have lived disgracefully, you will die obscurely and forgotten. So much as to my will and its provisions. But now you have come back—you are here—penitent, you say, and suffering; a roué, a gambler, but still penitent and suffering. Let me ask you, then, what you have done during your long absence from home that I should remove my curse, that I should rewrite your name in that book, that I should re-invest you in your position as my eldest son and lawful heir, that I should make a new will? I am still strong enough—a few words on a scrap of paper would do it. Tell me, what have you done?"

Wilford moved uneasily. He grew very hopeless and wretched. He seemed quite crushed by the unexpected obduracy of his father. He had looked for a different reception. Whatever wrong he had done in the past, he had hurried home full of affection for his father—very sad and broken, and yet reliant upon a few kind words to heal the animosity which had existed between them for so long, and to enable them to part with softened feelings, though it might be on the brink of the grave. Dreadfully weak and fatigued, with nerves all unstrung, his brain in a whirl, and the tears starting on the instant to his eyes, he had been admitted to the presence of the invalid. Seeking for pity, and tenderness, and pardon, he was entirely unprepared for the reception he encountered. He found his father stern, ironic, almost savage, full of taunts and charges, irritating, heartless, unbearable. He struggled as long as he could. He had bent before his father. He had humbled himself genuinely. He had asked for pardon with deep penitence and sincerity. He had done more than at one time he would have deemed possible. He felt broken and crushed. And yet his father showed no sign of relenting.

"Tell me, what have you done?"

There was no hint of softening or conciliation in the tone in which the words were spoken. There seemed rather to lurk in the question some new disregard of his feelings—some new desire to wound and humble him further. With every wish to restrain himself, it seemed to him at last to be useless, hopeless, further to prolong a scene so eminently painful. He thought that he had done all that was possible for son to do: that he would now go his way; for indeed he could bear to stay no longer.

"Tell me what have you done, that I should do all this?" the old man repeated.

"Nothing," answered the son, hoarsely.

"Nothing?" the old man repeated, angrily.

"Father," he said, with some abruptness, "let the estates go. Let Steenie have them. Let him be your heir, and take his place as head of the house. Let his children come after him, and still be preferred to me. It will matter little enough; there will never be child of mine to inherit anything," he went on, bitterly. "Let the money go too. It was not that brought me home. It was not care for such things sent me on my knees just now. I asked your pardon, humbly, honestly. You withhold it from me. Be it so. Let God's will be done. I would have it otherwise, if I could. For curses, they are acts of Heaven, not words of man. Had I been censured more when I was a child, and less when I became a man, perhaps things would have turned out better, and I should not have had to sue here for pardon, or have had it harshly withheld from me. Indeed, father, you have done me wrong, not crediting me when I confessed my sin and implored you to forgive me. Can I do more? I come to you with my heart in my hands, and you fling it far away from you, and will have none of it. At least it will be something—not much, but something—to know that I arrived in time to see you—that I knelt to you—though all was in vain. I never thought to be speaking thus; but there seems to be now no help for it."

The old man raised himself in his bed, trembling violently. Unconsciously, Wilford had undone all the good his previous demeanour had wrought on his behalf.

"So you defy me, then!" cried Mr. Hadfield, passionately. "I may do my worst, may I? Curse or no curse. You care little. Will or no will. I thank you for this. I like openness and outspeaking. I am glad you have thrown off all disguise. You are the same shameless, unfilial Wilford Hadfield, who went away from here seven years ago; but worse, because you are older. I have to thank you for letting me know this in good time—in time to prevent me doing an act of gross folly and injustice. See here, sir," and the old man opened the Bible, and took from it a sheet of paper, "I had made a new will. I had purposed to restore to you the position to which you were born. I had again made you my heir—the next owner of the Hadfield lands. You have spoken in time. You have shown yourself in your real colours in time. Thus I send you back again to beggary, then; thus I cancel my will—thus—thus," and as he spoke, with trembling hands he tore the paper to shreds. "Thus I make Stephen my heir, and bequeath all to him. Now, sir, go forth—stranger, outcast, beggar: let me never set eyes on you again. Let me—"

He flung the crumpled fragments of paper into the face of his son; he whirled his thin, withered arms in the air, as though endeavouring to invoke some new curse upon his firstborn child; but his voice failed him: his passion prevented what he said from being either articulate or audible. He seized the hand-bell at his side, and rang it furiously. He sank back on his pillows, panting for breath.

Wilford hurried from the room. In the corridor he encountered his brother and the doctor.

"Go in at once, for God's sake," he said. "My father is very ill. He needs assistance, and at once."

Mr. Fuller entered the sick room.

"He has forgiven you? All has ended well?" Stephen asked.

"No," answered Wilford, with anguish. "He has not forgiven me. He will never forgive me now. Perhaps it had been better if I had never come back. Heaven knows I did it for the best."

"But he will change again, Wilford, soon. This illness affects him, makes him wild and angry, mad almost at times. By and by he will see you again."

"He will never see me again: he has cursed me anew. I am no more his son. I am nothing to him more. By and by? He will be dead, and he will not have forgiven me."

He tottered back: but for the support of the wall, he would have fallen.

"Let me get hence," he said, "into the open air. I cannot breathe in this house. How weak I am!"

His limbs trembling beneath him, he passed down the staircase, and went forth into the night, bitterly cold, and ghostly white from the snow thick upon the ground.

Stephen joined the doctor in his father's room.

CHAPTER IV. THE DOCTOR'S DAUGHTERS.

It is to be presumed that Grilling Abbots ranked as a town rather than a village, for the reason that every Wednesday throughout the year about three old women took it into their heads to assemble with their fruit-stalls in what was called the High Street—apparently because there was no other street of any kind whatever—and there hold what they chose to term a market. Considered as a select and limited open air, day-light conversazione, no doubt this weekly meeting was as pleasant to the few concerned in it, as it was certainly harmless to the rest of the world; but viewed in the light of an affair attended with financial results of any importance whatever, it must be pronounced a decided failure. Nevertheless the fact of this pseudo weekly market being held at Grilling Abbots was duly registered in almanacks and chronicled in gazetteers, and all the inhabitants clung to it as an ancient and honourable institution that somehow, though precisely in what way no one could finally settle, enhanced the value of and gave consequence to their town. A rather wide street of straggling houses, some of the fine old red tone of years and years ago, others of new and pale brick, in colour like the crust of a slack-baked loaf: an old Norman church some hundred yards in the rear of the High Street, its walls of the rugged crumbly texture of the rind of a full-ripe Stilton cheese, and wonderfully freckled and variegated with alternate patches of moss and lichen: in the churchyard, shading quite a large group of graves, a yew tree, so dense that it looked quite black in the distance, and its straight, wide-spreading branches drew broad, dark, opaque streaks across the view of the church: the George Inn, "with good accommodation," &c., where Mr. Wilford Hadfield paused while the horses were changed on his journey to the Grange: the new Gothic school-house, built on part of the site of the old White Hart hotel, which had been closed for so long—(the last proprietor committed suicide on the day the last stage-coach went through the town for the last time; Grilling Abbots had been a famous place, and the White Hart its most noted hostel in the old pre-railroad times, when a score of coaches rattled daily along the High Street)—the Rectory, completely covered with ivy, like an old warrior coated with chain mail; the pump, the butcher's, the baker's, the blacksmith's: sum up these items, and you have Grilling Abbots, save that there has to be noted, in addition, a small white house—a little aloof from the town—standing in its own garden grounds, on the road to the Grange, and being the residence of Mr. Fuller, surgeon, &c.

There was no name to the house apparently: it was not known as Prospect, or Woodbine, or Clematis Cottage or Villa. Yet not a soul in the town but could point out the Doctor's, the pretty white building at the end of the town—where Mr. Fuller had lived, man and boy, these ever so many years.

A very pretty house—or cottage rather; the Doctor always called it a cottage; and, certainly, as its tenant, he ought to have known, if anybody ought, what to call it—with a thickly thatched roof—Uplandshire is a great county for thatched roofs—the thatch packed very even and tight, and cut off so sharply at the ends, that it looked like an agriculturist's closely clipped locks, the sharp line the roof took over each window resembling very much the curve of Hodge's hair over his ears; a pretty garden, too, daintily kept in summer time, with a lawn like a velvet-pile carpet, standard roses thickly studded with buds, neat sharp-edged beds brilliant with thickly growing verbena, and a honeysuckle trailing itself over the porch, clinging with languid gracefulness to the neat lattice-work. But this is the summer view of the place: we have winter now. The lawn is covered with snow, which paints white lines on every tree-bough, and sprinkles every hedge with crystal powder. Snow everywhere. The earth so bright with it that the sky looks quite a dull leaden grey by contrast, and the tree-trunks jet-black. The low-roofed rooms in the Doctor's cottage are quite lit up by the snow outside, which mounts upon the window-sills and clings to the sashes, till they look as though they were wadded with swan's-down to keep the cold out.

The house is more commodious than might at a first view be supposed. The drawing-room, though the ceiling is low, is quite a spacious apartment, and is built out at the back with a bow window, hung now with warm curtains, replacing the white muslin draperies of summer. Singing and flapping his wings furiously every now and then to keep himself warm probably, and pecking at his sugar as though he were really fighting with it on the ground of some long-standing animosity—a pretty bird, but blessed with a temper notwithstanding the good-natured looks of his black beads of eyes, Miss Madge Fuller's canary, dwells in an ornamental wire cage, something of a pagoda pattern (a mistake in costume as it were, for the bird didn't come from China), decorating the window. His mistress—whose affection is a little boisterous at times, and rather terrifies its object—has considerately supplied him with tepid water for his bath during the cold season. He has really a comfortable time of it, that bird, supposing him to have no strong notions on the subject of liberty, and that he holds that lacquered wires do not after all make a cage, for he is earnestly cared for and tended by the whole household; his appetite and tastes are considered, he has not to go foraging about like the vagabond birds outside, he has his food in regularly from his own greengrocer's, he sees plenty of society, he is often covered with kisses from the red lips of pretty Miss Madge (perhaps she does a little overdo this, so far as comfort is concerned), and in return, it is only expected of him that he will not sing too violently when company are in the room, nor fling about too many of his seeds on the drawing-room carpet—both which expectations, however, it may be said, he is continually disappointing.

A comfortable fire burns in the grate. Before it Miss Violet Fuller sits very busy indeed, sewing. It looks very much as though she were engaged on one of a new set of shirts for the Doctor, and bent upon putting the most minute work that ever was seen into his wristbands. Miss Violet is the housekeeper of the establishment, and has filled that position admirably, as every one in Grilling Abbots will certify, ever since the death of the Doctor's wife, many years ago.

Miss Violet is rather above the middle height; a slight lithe figure; very graceful in movement, and with a certain charming repose about her manner. She has large, grey, luminous eyes, beautifully shadowed and intensified in hue by their long overhanging lashes, a complexion radiantly fair, features delicately formed, and profuse coils of chestnut hair. Those intent upon the smaller traits of beauty would delight to note the exquisite lines of her mouth, and chin, and neck. As a rule, I think people are apt to overlook how really important are these matters in their bearing upon general perfectness of form. Indeed it seems to be sufficient for a woman to have big eyes, a respectable nose, and to make her hair shine with bear's-grease, for her to be adored as a beauty by a sufficiently large circle of admirers. In any discussion concerning the daughters of Doctor Fuller amongst the dwellers in Grilling Abbots, it may be mentioned that Miss Violet was always distinguished as the "pretty Miss Fuller," a distinction creditable to the perceptions of the Grilling Abbots people, although a decided slight appeared to be conveyed by it to the not trifling attractions of Miss Madge, the younger sister.

It is true that Miss Madge was only just emerging from that rather trying period of life, so far as beauty is concerned, when there is a decided inclination about the arms, and legs, and the extremities, to develop themselves greatly and independently, regardless of symmetry, or the general proportions of the body. I have heard rude young men define this state by the term "leggy," and the appellation is apposite, perhaps, though certainly unrefined. Miss Madge had been suffering from the economy of growth, and was only just recovering from this transitional stage of life. A certain angularity still clung to her form; her feet—but the appearance of feet, after all, is a matter that rests very much with the bootmaker—were not small, while her hands were decidedly large and not white. She was little more than fifteen, and perhaps it would be premature to say that she had already attained her full height. Yet it must be admitted that Madge had a very fair share of personal charms, and these quite apart from the witchery of her perpetual merriment; and her laugh, if a little loud, was yet most perfectly musical; it was a laugh with the loud pedal down, but it was as irresistible as it was harmonious. Her features were irregular; so much could be seen at a glance. But after all, beauty is not a mere matter of lines and angles, to be demonstrated like a mathematical proposition; it is the expression of a face that charms, not the accuracy of its drawing. Surely then the best beauty is expression, and here Madge had a triumph: for it was not possible to withstand the allurements of that good, glad, frank expression, brilliant in its health and heart. After this there can be no harm in conceding that her nose was distinctly of a turn-up pattern; not that such a form of nose is in any way unprepossessing, or has by any means had justice done to it; but it is a nose under a kind of ban of generally recognised disapproval; it is a nose with a bad name, in fact. I am afraid that much the same sort of view must be taken in regard to Madge's hair, which was of that glorious red hue—decidedly red, mind; no evasion under the name of yellow, or tawny, or auburn; but of that uncompromising red the world has been somehow coerced to agree that it does not like. But then those large wide-open eyes, so superbly blue, quite like the finest jewels in hue and brightness, though they could melt, and glow, and vary as no jewel can; those grand arching eyebrows, those ripe-red lips, that pearly set of teeth, and that transparent complexion; how white her neck, what a mottled rosiness upon her cheeks! She might not be the pretty Miss Fuller, but I should like to see the creature equal to the criminal audacity of describing her as the ugly one. Let us be content with saying that, conventionally considered, she was less beautiful than Violet—that's all: we will make no further concessions to the disadvantage of our Madge.

Is it to be marvelled at that Mr. Fuller was very proud and very fond of the two charming daughters his dead wife had bequeathed to his love and care? We may go, indeed, further. Was it strange that the whole of Grilling Abbots was proud and fond of the Miss Fullers—of Violet and Madge!

Madge is busy drawing from a lithographed landscape—shall we say by dexterous Mr. Harding? Madge has not great art-talent, though she fancies she has, and her good father—who, honestly, knows no more about drawing and painting than about whale-fishing—heartily backs the opinion of his younger child. Violet has considerable taste and skill. Those framed chalk heads (after Julien) on the wall of the drawing-room are from her hand; so also is that portrait of Madge, taken five years ago—you may note that her eyes were not much smaller then; and a tolerable likeness of the doctor—his cravat and collars limned, perhaps, with superfluous accuracy—sketched about the same time; he was not quite so bald then, and his face perhaps a little fuller. But these works are highly creditable specimens of amateur talent, especially when it is borne in mind that the opportunities of obtaining art instruction in the heart of Uplandshire are not too numerous. And what does Grilling Abbots know concerning the Fine Arts? Why, bless the place! it has hardly ever even set eyes on a painting (except the sign-board of the George) or a painter either. It is true a travelling photographer, in a cheap-jack sort of van, once stopped a whole week in the place—in the paddock at the back of the blacksmith's, and left behind him reminiscences of his sojourn in the shape of scientific caricatures of the inhabitants (collodion on glass) of the most fearful character that ever were seen. But he, like some brothers of his craft whom I and some others have met, was not an artist—emphatically not.

Madge was a very expeditious draughtswoman; she did not pause to put too much thought into her work; she plied her pencil at a furious pace; she used her india-rubber every now and then determinedly, with a strong wrist, as though she would quite as soon as not work her way through the shiny cardboard and come out on the other side; she was prone to strong effects produced by the free use of a BB pencil; perhaps much of her "handling," as the painters call it, was as remarkable for its abandon as for any artistic quality; certainly her vigour and dash almost supplied the place of knowledge and genuine worth. Fairly speaking, however, the works of Miss Madge Fuller, with all their defects of scribble and smudge, had merits which would have received unequivocating homage in numerous family circles. I have known many worse productions pronounced to be "wonderfully clever" by most reputable people, particularly when the works in question happened to be achieved by any of the offspring of those reputable people.

The younger Miss Fuller talked when she worked—in fact, she talked when she played, too,—she was always talking.

"I say, Vi, I wonder how much longer papa will be? He promised me faithfully last night that he would come in very soon after breakfast—very soon, he said—and you know it's past twelve now. I'm sure it is, because I feel so hungry. I wish lunch would come in, don't you, Vi? Oh, you're never hungry! How cold my hands are, I can hardly hold my pencil. But I'm getting on capitally with this drawing; I shall finish it this morning," [scribble, scribble, scribble]. "I'm putting in the water now, Vi. Oh, lor'! I've left no room for the boat, the darling little boat, with the tiny little man in it" [rub, rub, rub]. "Oh, how I've smudged it! What do you think he's doing in that boat, Vi? Fishing? Ah! I suppose he is. Do you know I think it's quite a shame those people at the Grange keeping papa all this time? It is so selfish and inconsiderate. Don't you think so, Vi? Oh! you never will abuse people properly—you won't! you always make excuses for them. I do wish papa would come home. Oh! there, now, I've broken my pencil. Where's my knife?" [cut, cut, cut].

"You know, Madge, poor old Mr. Hadfield is very ill indeed, and of course papa felt bound to stay with him. The family were so anxious that he should, and they've been always such good, kind friends of ours. What could papa do?"

"Oh! but they'll tire the poor dear man to death; besides I want him to help me make a slide in the garden. He said he would, if the frost lasted. What a splendid slide that was in the garden last Christmas! Do you remember it, Vi?"

"I am afraid, Madge, your slide will tire papa even more than his sitting up with poor Mr. Hadfield."

"Lor', so it will! Do you know I should never have thought of that, Vi! I wish I had your brains."

"I wish papa would come home: he's been sent for twice this morning to see old Mrs. Gardiner, who's had another fit."

"Then he'll have to go out again directly he comes in! What a shame! What does that stupid old woman mean by falling ill again? I declare she's always having fits."

"For shame, Madge! You forget the damson-cheeses the old woman gave you a little while ago."

"Ah! bless the dear old soul, weren't they nice? Oh, Vi! I wish you'd come and do some of this tree for me. Do, there's a darling! You do trees so splendidly, Vi, and this is such a horrid hard one. What's it meant for? A willow, isn't it? I thought it was. I wish I could draw like you, Vi—you've got such a neat sort of way with you—you make the drawing exactly like the copy—somehow, I never can. Oh! how I've blacked my fingers—just look! Thank you, you darling duck of a Vi!"

And Miss Madge threw her arms round her sister, and kissed her vehemently. Violet released herself, laughing, from this outburst of affection and gratitude.

"What a rough creature you are, Madge! There's my hair down, and my collar crumpled—you hug one like a bear."

"Ah, Vi! you're such a calm, sedate duck, I can't help it. I suppose I am rough. I think I ought to have been a boy. Do you know I should like nothing better than to go out now and have a game of snow-balls, only" (and Madge twists her red lips about in a droll way) "I suppose it wouldn't be quite lady-like and proper, would it?"

"Well, perhaps, not quite," says Miss Violet, laughing; "though I daresay, if you put on your bonnet and go round to the Laurels, you'll find Tommy Eastwood very happy to play at snow-balls with you as long as you like."

Madge blushes a superb crimson. How it sets off her brilliant blue eyes!

"Oh, you wicked girl! How dare you talk in that way? I declare you're as bad as papa! He's always teasing me about that wretched little Tommy Eastwood. I won't have it! What do I care about him, I should like to know?"

"Well, Madge, you know you've been taking all those pains with that drawing entirely on his account."

"I haven't! As it happens, I'm going to give this drawing to Aunt Mary. I have long promised it to her—so there you're wrong for once, Vi."

"Why, Madge, I heard you promise it to Tommy Eastwood!"

"Oh, you wicked story-steller! He asked me for it, but I didn't say that I'd give it to him, did I? What do I care for him? Why, my dear Vi, he's a schoolboy—he wears jackets, and he's so short for his age."

"Well, Madge, he'll grow, you know," and Violet seems to enjoy teasing Miss Madge, "and love will soon make you forget his jackets. Then, think what a beautiful work-box he gave you—a most useful present, I must say, considering the enormous amount of work you get through."

"What a tease you are, Vi. I didn't think you could be so spiteful. As if I cared for a Tommy Eastwood! My dear, you make a great mistake. When I love, it shall be a darling at least six feet high, with such pets of mustachios, and sweet black eyes, and lovely curly dark hair."

"Like the figure in the hairdresser's shop at Mowle."

"Yes," says Madge, quite simply; "only handsomer if possible. Hark at that duck of a canary-bird—how he always chimes in when we begin to talk. Sweet! sweet! sweet! Yes; my own darling dickie duckie canary cherub!"

And the young lady rattled off into a long oration greatly affectionate, and purely nonsensical, addressed to her bird. Suddenly she starts up.

"Here comes my darling papa!"

"How are you, Vi?—[kiss, kiss]—How are you, Baby Madge?—[Kiss, kiss, kiss, and many more too numerous to set out. It seemed as though she would never let him go.]—How cold, isn't it? Mind and keep up good fires. Madge, darling, run and fetch a handkerchief from my room."

Madge darted off on the errand. Then Mr. Fuller's manner changed; he turned to Vi, and said in a solemn voice:

"It's all over. The poor old man died quite painlessly at nine o'clock this morning."