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Yet there was a wonderful excitement in the thought that this hero of papa's adventure was now, as papa intimated, a man of note in the world
calamity, fell upon the head of the good man whose highest prosperity was this two hundred pounds a-year. And so now they reckoned themselves in very comfortable circumstances, and were disturbed by nothing but hopes and doubts about the prospects of the children-hopes full of brightness present and visible, doubts that were almost as good as hope.
There was but one circumstance of romance in this simple chronicle. Long ago the children did not exactly know when, or how, or in what manner-Mr Atheling did somebody an extraordinary and mysterious benefit. Papa was sometimes moved to tell them of it in a general way, sheltering himself under vague and wide descriptions. The story was of a young man, handsome, gay, and extravagant, of rank far superior to Mr Atheling's of how he fell into dissipation, and was tempted to crimeand how at the very crisis "I happened to be in the way, and got hold of him, and showed him the real state of the case; how I heard what he was going to do, and of course would betray him; and how, even if he could do it, it would be certain ruin, disgrace, and misery. That was the whole matter," said Mr Athelingand his affectionate audience listened with awe and a mysterious interest, very eager to know something more definite of the whole matter than this concise account of it, yet knowing that all interrogation was vain. It was popularly suspected that mamma knew the full particulars of this bit of romance, but mamma was as impervious to questions as the other
of the house. There was also a second fytte to this story, telling how Mr Atheling himself undertook the venture of revealing his hapless hero's misfortunes to the said hero's elder brother, a very grand and exalted personage; how the great man, shocked, and in terror for the family honour, immediately delivered the culprit, and sent him abroad. "Then he offered me money," said Mr Atheling quietly. This was the climax of the tale, at which everybody was expected to be indignant; and very indignant, accordingly, everybody
that they themselves unwittingly read his name in the papers sometimes, and that other people spoke of him to Mr Atheling as a public character, little dreaming of the early connection between them. How strange it was!--but no entreaty and no persecution could prevail upon papa to disclose his name. "Suppose we should meet him some time!" exclaimed Agnes, whose imagination sometimes fired with the thought of reaching that delightful world of society where people always spoke of books, and genius was the highest nobility-a world often met with in novels. "If you did," said Mr Atheling, "it will be all the better for you to know nothing about this," and so the controversy always ended; for in this matter at least, firm as the most scrupulous old knight of romance, papa stood on his honour.
As for the good and tender mother of this house, she had no story to tell. The girls, it is true, knew about her girlish companions very nearly as well as if these, now most sober and middle-aged personages, had been playmates of their own; they knew the names of the pigeons in the old dovecote, the history of the old dog, the number of the apples on the great apple-tree; also they had a kindly recollection of one old lover of mamma's, concerning whom they were shy to ask further than she was pleased to reveal. But all Mrs Atheling's history was since her marriage: she had been but a young girl with an untouched heart before that grand event, which introduced her, in her own person, to the unquiet ways of life; and her recollections chiefly turned upon the times "when we lived in
Street,"-" when we took that new house in the terrace," "when we came to Bellevue." This Bellevue residence was a great point in the eyes of Mrs Atheling. She herself had always kept her original weakness for gentility, and to live in a street where there was no straight line of commonplace houses, but only villas, detached and semi-detached, and where every house had a name to it
self, was no small step in advanceparticularly as the house was really cheap, really large, as such houses go, and had only the slight disadvantage of being out of repair. Mrs Atheling lamed her most serviceable finger with attempts at carpentry, and knocked her own knuckles with misdirected hammering, yet succeeded in various shifts that answered very well, and produced that grand chefd'œuvre of paperhanging which made more amusement than any professional decoration ever made, and was just as comfortable. So the good mother was extremely well pleased with her house. She was not above the ambition of calling it either Atheling Lodge, or Hawthorn Cottage, but it was very hard to make a family decision upon the prettiest name; so the house of the Athelings, with its eccentric garden, its active occupants, and its cheery parlour window, was still only Number Ten, Bellevue.
And there in the summer sunshine, and in the wintry dawning, at eight o'clock, Mr Atheling took his seat at the table, said grace, and breakfasted; from thence at nine to a moment, well brushed and buttoned, the good man went upon his daily warfare to the City. There all the day long the pretty twins played, the mother exercised her careful housewifery, the sweet face of Marian shone like a sunbeam, and the fancies of Agnes wove themselves into separate and real life. All the day long the sun shone in at the parlour window upon a thrifty and well-worn carpet, which all his efforts could not spoil, and dazzled the eyes of Bell and Beau, and troubled the heart of mamma finding out spots of dust, and suspicions of cobwebs which had escaped her own detection. And when the day was done, and richer people were
thinking of dinner, once more, punctual to a moment, came the wellknown step on the gravel, and the well-known summons at the door; for at six o'clock Mr Atheling came home to his cheerful tea-table, as contented and respectable a householder, as happy a father, as was in England. And after tea came the newspaper and Mr Foggo; and after Mr Foggo came the readings of Agnes; and so the family said good-night, and slept and rested, to rise again on the next morning to just such another day. Nothing interrupted this happy uniformity; nothing broke in upon the calm and kindly usage of these familiar hours. Mrs Atheling had a mighty deal of thinking to do, by reason of her small income; now and then the girls were obliged to consent to be disappointed of some favourite project of their own-and sometimes even papa, in a wilful fit of self-denial, refused himself for a few nights his favourite newspaper; but these were but passing shadows upon the general content. Through all these long winter evenings, the one lighted window of this family room brightened the gloomy gentility of Bellevue, and imparted something of heart and kindness to the dull and mossy suburban street. They "kept no company," as the neighbours said. That was not so much the fault of the Athelings, as the simple fact that there was little company to keep; but they warmed the old heart of old Mr Foggo, and kept that singular personage on speaking terms with humanity; and day by day, and night by night, lived their frank life before their little world, a family life of love, activity, and cheerfulness, as bright to look at as their happy open parlourwindow among the closed-up retirements of this genteel little street.
CHAPTER VII. THE FIRST WORK.
"Now," said Agnes, throwing down her pen with a cry of triumph -"now, look here, everybody-it is done at last."
And, indeed, there it was upon the fair and legible page, in Agnes's best and clearest handwriting, "The End." She had written it with girlish
delight, and importance worthy the occasion; and with admiring eyes mamma and Marian looked upon the momentous words-The End! So now it was no longer in progress, to be smiled and wondered over, but an actual thing, accomplished and complete, out of anybody's power to check
or to alter. The three came together to look at it with a little awe. It was actually finished-out of hand an entire and single production. The last chapter was to be read in the family committee to-night-and then? They held their breath in sudden excitement. What was to be done with the Book, which could be smiled at no longer? That momentous question would have to be settled tonight.
So they piled it up solemnly, sheet by sheet, upon the side-table. Such a manuscript! Happy the printer into whose fortunate hands fell this unparalleled copy! And we are grieved to confess that, for the whole afternoon thereafter, Agnes Atheling was about as idle as it is possible even for a happy girl to be. No one but a girl could have attained to such a delightful eminence of doing nothing! She was somewhat unsettled, we admit, and quite uncontrollable,dancing about everywhere, making her presence known by involuntary outbursts of singing and sweet laughter; but sterner lips than mamma's would have hesitated to rebuke that fresh and spontaneous delight. It was not so much that she was glad to be done, or was relieved by the conclusion of her self-appointed labour. She did not, indeed, quite know what made her so happy. Like all primal gladness, it was involuntary and unexplainable; and the event of the day, vaguely exciting and exhilarating on its own account, was novel enough to supply that fresh breeze of excitement and change which is so pleasant always to the free heart of youth.
Then came all the usual routine of the evening-everything in its appointed time-from Susan, who brought the tea-tray, to Mr Foggo. And Mr Foggo stayed long, and was somewhat prosy. Agnes and Marian, for this one night, were sadly tired of the old gentleman, and bade him a very hasty and abrupt good-night when at last he took his departure. Even then, with a perverse inclination, papa clung to his newspaper. The chances were much in favour of Agnes's dignified and stately with drawal from an audience which showed so little eagerness for what she had to
bestow upon them; but Marian, who was as much excited as Agnes, interposed. "Papa, Agnes is donefinished-done with her story-do you hear me, papa?" cried Marian in his ear, shaking him by the shoulder to give emphasis to her words" she is going to read the last chapter, if you would lay down that stupid paper do you hear, papa?"
Papa heard, but kept his finger at his place, and read steadily in spite of this interposition. "Be quiet, child," said the good Mr Atheling; but the child was not in the humour to be quiet. So after a few minutes, fairly persecuted out of his paper, papa gave in, and threw it down; and the household circle closed round the fireside, and Agnes lifted her last chapter; but what that last chapter was, we are unable to tell, without infringing upon the privacy of Number Ten, Bellevue.
It was satisfactory-that was the great matter: everybody was satisfied with the annihilation of the impossible villain and the triumph of all the good people and everybody concurred in thinking that the winding-up was as nearly perfect as it was in the nature of mortal winding-up to be. The MS. accordingly was laid aside, crowned with applauses and laurels;-then there was a pause of solemn consideration-the wise heads of the house held their peace and pondered. Marian, who was not wise, but only excited and impatient, broke the silence with her own eager, sincere, and unsolicited opinion; and this was the advice of Marian to the family committee of the whole house : Mamma, I will tell you what ought to be done. It ought to be taken to somebody to-morrow, and published every month, like Dickens and Thackeray. It is quite as good! Everybody would read it, and Agnes would be a great author. I am quite sure that is the way."
At which speech Charlie whistled a very long "whew!" in a very low under-tone; for mamma had very particular notions on the subject of "goodbreeding," and kept careful watch over the "manners" even of this big boy.
Like Dickens and Thackeray ! Marian!" cried Agnes in horror;
and then everybody laughed-partly because it was the grandest and most magnificent nonsense to place the young author upon this astonishing level, partly because it was so very funny to think of "our Agnes" sharing in ever so small a degree the fame of names like these.
"Not quite that," said papa, slowly and doubtfully, "yet I think somebody might publish it. The question is, whom we should take it to. I think I ought to consult Foggo."
"Mr Foggo is not a literary man, papa," said Agnes, somewhat resentfully. She did not quite choose to receive this old gentleman, who thought her a child, into her confidence.
"Foggo knows a little of everything. He has a wonderful head for business," said Mr Atheling: "as for a literary man, we do not know such a person, Agnes; and I can't see what better we would be if we did. Depend upon it, business is everything. If they think they can make money by this story of yours, they will take it, but not otherwise; for, of course, people trade in books as they trade in cotton, and are not a bit more generous in one than another, take my word for that."
"Very well, my dear," said mamma, roused to assert her dignity, "but we do not wish any one to be generous to Agnes-of course not! -that would be out of the question; and nobody, you know, could look at that book without feeling sure of everybody else liking it. Why, William, it is so natural! You may speak of Thackeray and Dickens as you like; I know they are very clever-but I am sure I never read anything of theirs like that scenethat last scene with Helen and her mother. I feel as if I had been present there my own self."
Which was not so very wonderful after all, seeing that the mother in Agnes's book was but a delicate, shy, half-conscious sketch of this dearest mother of her own.
"I think it ought to be taken to somebody to-morrow," repeated Marian stoutly," and published every month with pictures. How strange it would be to read in the newspapers how everybody wondered about the
VOL. LXXIX.-NO. CCCCLXXXVIII.
new book, and who wrote it!-such fun!-for nobody but us would know."
Agnes all this time remained very silent, receiving everybody's opinion -and Charlie also locked up his wisdom in his own breast. There was a pause, for papa, feeling that his supreme opinion was urgently called for, took time to ponder upon it, and was rather afraid of giving a deliverance. The silence, however, was broken by the abrupt intervention, when nobody expected it, of the big boy.
"Make it up into a parcel," said Master Charlie with business-like distinctness, "and look in the papers what name you'll send it to, and I'll take it to-morrow."
This was so sudden, startling, and decisive, that the audience were electrified. Mr Atheling looked blankly in his son's face; the young gentleman had completely cut the ground from under the feet of his papa. After all, let any one advise or reason, or argue the point at his pleasure, this was the only practical conclusion to come at. Charlie stopped the full-tide of the family argument; they might have gone on till midnight discussing and wondering; but the big boy made it up into a parcel, and finished it on the spot. After that they all commenced a most ignorant and innocent discussion concerning "the trade;" these good people knew nothing whatever of that much contemned and longsuffering race who publish books. Two ideal types of them were present to the minds of the speculators. One was that most fatal and fictitious savage, the Giant Despair of an oppressed literature, who sits in his den for ever grinding the bones of those dismal unforgetable hacks of Grub Street, whose memory clings unchangeably to their profession; the other was that most bland and genial imagination, equally fictitious, the author's friend--he who brings the neglected genius into the full sunshine of fame and prosperity, seeking only the immortality of such a connection with the immortal. If one could only know which of these names in the newspapers belonged to this last wonder of nature! This discussion concerning people of
whom absolutely nothing but the names were known to the disputants, was a very comical argument; and it was not concluded when eleven o'clock struck loudly on the kitchen clock, and Susan, very slumbrous, and somewhat resentful, appeared at the door to see if anything was wanted. Everybody rose immediately, as Susan intended they should, with guilt and confusion: eleven o'clock this innocent family were ashamed of themselves.
And this little room up-stairs, as you do not need to be told, is the bower of Agnes and of Marian. There are two small white beds in it, white and fair and simple, draped with the purest dimity, and covered with the whitest coverlids. If Agnes, by chance or in haste-and Agnes is very often "in a great hurry" should leave her share of the apartment in a less orderly condition than became a young lady's room, Marian never yielded to such a temptation. Marian was the completest woman in all her simple likings; their little mirror, their dressing table, everything which would bear such fresh and inexpen
sive decoration, was draped with pretty muslin, the work of these pretty fingers. And there hung their little shelf of books over Agnes's head, and here upon the table was their Bible. Yet in spite of the quiet night settling towards midnight-in spite of the unbroken stillness of Bellevue, where every candle was extinguished, and all the world at rest, the girls could not subdue all at once their eager anticipations, hopes, and wondering. Marian let down all her beautiful hair over her shoulders, and pretended to brush it, looking out all the time out of the shining veil, and throwing the half-curled locks from her face, when something occurred to her bearing upon the subject. Agnes, with both her hands supporting her forehead, leaned over the table with downcast eyes seeing nothing, thinking nothing, with a faint glow on her soft cheek, and a vague excitement at her heart. Happy hearts! it was so easy to stir them to this sweet tumult of hope and fancy; and so small a reason was sufficient to wake these pure imaginations to all-indefinite glory and delight.
WINTER SKETCHES; OR, LEAVES FROM A JOURNAL.
WELL! it is a matter of doubt whether it was colder in the winter of
1854. Christmas is not yet come, but winter is with a vengeance; at least this is a sharpish foretaste. Fahrenheit's negative thermometer negative as regards cold-must either mark nothing or less than nothing; as for the other thermometer, Reaumur's, most commonly used on the Continent, we forget how many degrees of cold it is said to mark. It may be very philosophic to consider cold as a mere denial of heat, but to our mind it is a very decided and positive thing; and Milton appears to have hit the truth when he says "burns frore," for surely a negation would not cut off fingers, toes, or noses, or soothe men with invisible vampire-wing into that sleep which knows no waking. We cannot be
precise about the degree of cold, but we left the canals of central England in a glorious state for skating, and we anticipate the amusement in per fection in Germany and Holland, whither we are bound; and to all appearance we shall not be disappointed. The steamers in Dover harbour look as if they had come from the north pole. Their ropes and sails and shrouds are crusted with frozen sea-water, and their bows are a mass of ice, showing the discomfort their crews must have had to encounter, for there must have been wind with the frost. And the sea in Calais harbour is actually frozen into a state of mashy sloppy ice, as if it could not quite make up its mind about freezing. On the railroad there is little looking out of window, for the breath of the pas