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begun in his best hand, and it must be confessed that that hand was at present a scratchy one, and there were various erasures.
I have done my best to consider your kind and flattering proposal, and have come to the conclusion that for the present it will be better for me to continue where I am. There will thus be no need to apply to my eldest brother.
With my respectful thanks,
LANCELOT O. UNDERWOOD.
Robina made a little pantomine of clapping her hands, for which Lance did not appear to thank her, but still in dumb show required her judgment on the choice of several words. She mutely marked her preference, and he returned to his place and copied it. Still he had not addressed the letter. He put it into his pocket, with a significant smile at his sister. Evening came, late service, supper; still it was in his pocket till the moment of bed-time, and then it was that Robina saw him linger with Edgar, and went to her room with a heart full of trembling prayer.
'Edgar,' as his brother arrived in the kitchen, and prepared his pipe, how shall I address this?'
Eh! you needn't be in too great a haste. We had better break it to poor old Blunderbore first.'
'There's no breaking in the case. I'm not going.'
Ah! I knew how it would be when you began running about to all the womankind in the house.'
'I've not spoken to a soul but Bobbie,' said Lance rather hotly, as Edgar laughed.
'Then one was enough to do your business??
'I only spoke to her to clear my own mind.'
Ay, to get someone to contemplate Hercules between Vice and Virtue; but it won't do, my boy. Little Allen is as virtuous as Felix himself, and the choice is simply between the thing you can do and the thing you can't.'
'I can do my duty here,' said Lance bluntly.
'You've tried, my boy; you made a gallant effort, and I let you alone while you had a head to be spared, but 'tis no good trying to force the course of the stream, and you had better break
loose, before you get too old for the real thing that you are made for.'
‘No, Edgar, I've thought it over, and found out how things stand. Here will Felix begin now to have more on his hands, and can manage to shell out less than ever while he had Froggy to fall back on. Now, not only is my nominal salary much less than he could offer a stranger, but half of it goes back into the housekeeping, while I'm done for at home, and I don't see how he could meet the difference just now.'
'Whew! that's the blind way you all go on, putting the present before the future. If Felix had a grain of spirit, he would revolt at preying on your flesh and blood. Flesh and blood—why, its genius and spirit crushed up in this hole!'
'It is no more than all of us have done by him, ever since he was of my size.'
But it is so short-sighted, Lance. You could make it up to him so soon. Five pounds for certain the week—and possibilities, remember. You'll lodge with me-that's nothing; and for the rest, you'll soon live as we do-like the birds of the air.'
'I couldn't make it up to him, and save for Italy; besides I should be earning nothing there.'
'But I should! Copying is a certain trade. Come now, Lance, you've taken some panic. Tell me what is at the bottom of it! Have they been warning you against us wicked Bohemians?' 'They? Nonsense!'
'It is nothing at all that Robina said.'
Come, make a clean breast. What lies at the bottom of this absurd rejection of the best offer you'll ever have in your life?'
Edgar took the pipe out of his mouth, that the smoke might not obscure his view of the young face whose brow was resting on an arm leant on the mantel-piece, and the eyes far away. 'What's the bugbear? and I'll clear it up.'
'You don't trust me. Eh? Is that it? Have they told you I mean to prey on your innocence ?'
'No, indeed, Edgar!'
'Are you afraid of the great and wicked world? I thought
which was to give these erratic meteors time to appear.
Lance's performance with the Miss Birkets was very correct, but not of the style calculated to produce any very lively sentiments among the uninitiated audience, who were on the tip-toe of expectation of the lady whose arrival had been notified in whispers, and hardly fully appreciating the best that either their own powers or the Minsterham choir could produce. The first part went by without her; and in the interval came hope in the shape of Lance, who made an incursion to ask his sisters how they liked it, and to impart that the Zoraya was safe come, but was supposed to be dressing. Mr. Miles said she would be dressing till midnight, and would be less worth hearing then than a decently trained choir-boy. But he's not sulky, after all; yet,' added Lance, with a look of brightness in his face, 'fancy his telling Fee that I played that remarkably well just now-truth and taste, he said the old villain-only that the ladies would spoil my time if I didn't take care. And there's a sallow-faced fellow come down with Mademoiselle, who said it wasn't bad either!'
No wonder Lance was exalted; and he required equal admiration for all his favourites, until he had to hurry back again.
A little of what seemed to the excited commonplace-then came the event of the evening. The glistening silken lady, with a flashing emerald spray in her dark hair, lustrous eyes of a colour
respecting which no two persons in the room agreed, and a face of brilliant beauty, was led bowing forward, and her notes, birdlike, fresh, and clear, rang through the room, her brother accompanying her. It was a strong clear voice, and the language and air being alike new, entranced every one; the applause was vehement, the encoring almost passionate; but the lady would not be encored, she gave them two songs alone, one with her brother, accompanied this time by Lance's 'sallow-faced fellow;' and though she smiled and curtsied graciously, was not to be induced to repeat herself.
It seemed to Robina as if the lady herself and the whole public had taken a great deal of trouble for a very brief matter; but she found it was rank treason to say so, when at the conclusion of the whole, those faithful brothers hurried down each to pick up a sister and bestow her safely at home before repairing to the Fortinbras Arms for the great supper to the Minsterham choir. The Bexley public had been favoured beyond all desert or reason; the newness of the airs had been a perfect revelation to Lance's ears, and he was very angry with Clement for being disappointed, and repeating Mr. Miles's judgment that there was lack both of science in the singing and of sweetness in the voice.
Altogether the evening had been a great success; every one was delighted with every one else, and the supper was not the least charming part, preceded as it was by Lance's bringing the little seven years old choir boy, half asleep, ready to cry and quite worn out, and putting him under Wilmet's care. He had half his night's rest out on the sofa before he was picked up in the kindly arms of the big bass and carried off to the mail train. Lance seemed much disposed to go with them by mistake; indeed, he was only withheld from accompanying them to the station by Felix reminding him rather sharply that someone must be kept sitting up for him.
It was over, and the morning began with Felix standing straight up in the office, master now rather than brother, and gravely saying, 'Now, Lance, that this excitement is at an end, I shall expect attention and punctuality, and shall excuse no more neglects. Take this invoice, and overlook the unpacking of those goods.'
'Yes, sir.' Lance wriggled his shoulders, feeling intensely
CHAP. you'd more spirit than that; and I've always told you, you might run after as many churches as you chose. I'd never hinder you. Come, have it out, Lance, you think me a corrupter of your artless youth ?'
The answer came at last in his low clear voice, speaking more into the fire than to Edgar, the eyes still fixed and far away— ""And here we offer and present unto Thee ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice."
'What do you mean? what's that?' said Edgar, half startled, half angry.
'It comes after the Holy Communion,' said Lance, quite as much shocked by the novelty with which the familiar sound struck on his brother's ears.
'Oh! a pious utterance that only a tête exaltée takes literally.'
'I should not join in it if I didn't mean it,' muttered Lance, in the most brief matter-of-fact way.
'Then why aren't you living barefoot on bread and water in a hermitage ?'
'Because that's not my duty. It would not be reasonable.'
There's great force in that word,' began Edgar, with a little scoff in his tone, but altering it into one of more earnestness. 'Now, Lance, I want to understand your point of view. does that formula hinder you?'
'Because,' said Lance, much against his will, 'it wouldn't be making my soul and body a reasonable sacrifice, to turn the training I had for God's praise into singing love songs to get money
'Why do you assume that beauty and delight of any sort is not just as pleasing to God as your chants and anthems ?'
'No. One is offered to Him, the other is mere entertainment.' 'So is the first to most folks. Now, you boy, honestly, do you mean that it is not much of a muchness with sacred and profane, so far as motive goes ?'
'It is what I am always trying that it should be,' said Lance. 'Only trying?'