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The Three Brothers; vol. 3/3

The Three Brothers; vol. 3/3
Title: The Three Brothers; vol. 3/3
Release Date: 2018-11-22
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 72
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The Right of Translation is Reserved.

Strangeways and Walden, Printers,
28 Castle St. Leicester Sq.






Alice Severn was very innocent and very young,—just over sixteen,—achild to all intents and purposes,—as everybody thought around her. OldWelby, who had taken to meddling in the padrona’s affairs, with thatregard which the friends of a woman who is alone feel themselvesentitled to display for her interests, had been pressing very earnestlyupon Mrs. Severn’s attention the necessity of preparing her child, whohad an evident and remarkable talent, to exercise it in public.

‘Few people, indeed, have their way so clear before them,’ he had saidrepeatedly. ‘It is the finest thing in the world to have a girl or boywith a decided turn. If you could but see the parents who come to mewith sons who don’t know what they would be at; and the idiots thinkthey may be made painters because they care for nothing{2} in earth orheaven. But here is this child with a talent. Of course, if it were atalent for our own art, we might know better how to manage it; but suchas it is, it is a gift. Never undervalue a gift, my dear madam.Providence itself points out the way for you. You have only got to trainher for her work.’

‘But, Mr. Welby,’ pleaded the padrona, ‘she is such a child. How could Isend my little maid out into the world to appear in public! I could notdo it! It would drive me out of my senses. My child! You forget whatkind of a creature she is.’

‘I don’t in the least forget,’ said the R.A. ‘She is very pretty, too,which is a pity; but you should be above foolish notions in thatrespect,—you who are so well known to the public yourself.’

‘Not so very well known,’ said the padrona, with a half smile; ‘and thenit is only my name, not me. And even if it were my very self, why itwould only be me still, not her. I am old, and what does it matter? Butmy lily, my darling! Mr. Welby, you are very kind, but you do not takethe circumstances into consideration;—you do not realise to the fullextent what the consequences would be.’

‘I don’t know what you mean by the full extent,’ said Mr. Welby; ‘butthis I see as clear as{3} daylight, that some time or other the child willprobably have her bread to earn. I say probably. She may marry, ofcourse, but the papers tell us people have given up marrying now-a-days.You can’t live for ever, ma’am; and still more certainly you can’t workfor ever. And the child has actually something in her fingers by whichshe could earn money, and provide for herself with the greatest ease.Besides, a musician is not like a singer, or a dancer, or anything ofthat sort. She comes on and sits down before her piano, and never paysany attention to her audience. She need not even look at them unless shelikes. She has only a little curtsey to make, and so is off again. It ispositively nothing. She may marry, of course, but that would be noprotection against poverty. And what’s the alternative? A lingering,idle sort of life at home; saving scraps, and making her own gowns andbonnets; or, perhaps, giving music-lessons to tiresome children whom shewould hate. You should not, my dear Mrs. Severn, do such injustice toyour child.’

‘Indeed, I am the last person to do her injustice,’ said the padrona,half angered, half saddened, with tears in her eyes. It was a verytrenchant style of argument. ‘If I were to die, or if I were to fail inmy work!’ Mrs. Severn said to herself, with one of those awful throbs ofdread which come upon a woman who is the sole protector andbread-{4}winner of her children. Such a thought was not unfamiliar to hermind. It came sometimes at chance hours, stealing upon her suddenly likean evil spirit, and wringing her heart. It set her now, for thehundredth time, to count up the little scraps of resource they wouldhave in such a terrible contingency, the friends who would or might bekind to them. ‘If I might but live till Edie is twenty!’ was the silentprayer that followed. It did not seem possible that so long as she didlive she would be unable to work. This frenzy of dread was butmomentary. Had it lasted, so sharp and poignant was it, the life whichwas so important might have been put in jeopardy; but fortunately Mrs.Severn’s mind was as elastic as mind could be, and rose again like aflower after the heavy foot had pressed it down. Yet, Alice,—could shebe doing injustice to Alice? These arguments had without doubt made acertain impression upon her. Let but this summer be over, she said toherself. It would be time enough certainly when the child wasseventeen,—one more year of sweet childhood and leisure, andundisturbed girlish peace. And then the grateful thought came back uponthe mother of Mr. Rich’s commission which she was working at, and heryear’s work which was secure. Could there be comfort greater than thatthought? And the morrow would care for the things of itself.{5}

While such discussions went on,—for they were frequent,—Alice movedabout the house, a soft, domestic spirit, with light steps and a facelike a flower. Every day it became more like a flower. The sweetnessexpanded, the husks of the lovely blossom opened, the woman came glidingnoiselessly, so that nobody around perceived it, out of the silken budof the girl. She was clever at her needle, as her mother had boasted,and made and mended with the homely natural satisfaction of a worker whois conscious of working well; and she was housekeeper, and managed theaccounts, and ordered the dinners, proud of her importance and theduties of her office; and she saw the children put to bed, and heardthem say their prayers. The homeliest, most limited life,—and yet whatcould the world give that was better? Not Nelly Rich’s leisure, andgaiety, and luxury; not Mary Westbury’s tedious comforts andoccupations. Alice for her part had everything,—and the piano, and thetalk of nights added to all. And yet her mind was not undisturbed, asher mother fondly thought. A little secret, no bigger than a pin’spoint, had sprung into being in the virgin heart;—not worth calling asecret,—not a thing at all, in short,—only a murmur of soft, musingrecollections,—dreams that were not half tangible enough to be calledhopes. As, for instance, what was it he meant when their eyes met thatafternoon as she played to him? how was it that he remembered so wellevery time he{6} had seen her,—even her dress?—questions which she askedand then retreated from, and eluded, and played with, and returned tothem again. And would he go to India? Would he come back to FitzroySquare? So misty was the sphere in which all this passed that the onequestion seemed to Alice as important as the other. What if he mightcome again some afternoon, flushing all the fading sky with new tints?What if he should go away and never be heard of more? All this was inthe child’s mind when her mother resolved that this summer at leastAlice should be left in undisturbed peace. The old story repeateditself, as everything does in this world,—the everlasting tale ofindividual identity, of isolation and separation of nature between thosewho are dearest and nearest to each other. The mother would have givenher life cheerfully for her child, but could no more see into thatchild’s soul than if she had been entirely indifferent to her. AndAlice, the most loving and dutiful of children, went sweetly on her way,shaping out her own individual life, and never suspecting in that anytreason to her earliest loves, or any possible break in her existence.It all turned on the point whether a young Guardsman, who,—with allkindness towards Frank Renton be it said,—was not equal to either Aliceor her mother, should call, or should not call, next time he might be intown. Certainly a very trifling matter,{7} and almost concluded againstAlice beforehand, as may have been perceived.

I cannot take it upon me to say if he had never come that Alice wouldhave broken her heart. Her heart was too young, too fresh, toovisionary, to be tragically moved. She could have gone on looking forhim, wondering if he would come, quite as capable of expecting that hewould suddenly appear out of the depths of India as that he would comefrom Royalborough. She had so much time to spare yet before beginninglife for herself that the fanciful delight of wondering what he meant bya look or a word, was actually more sweet to her than anything tangiblecould have been; but yet if he had never come again, a pathetic chordwould have sounded among the fresh harmonies of her being,—perhaps adeeper note than any which had yet been awakened in her, at least asadder one. She would have looked for him and grown weary, and a certainlanguor and melancholy would have come into her life. Already she hadmore pleasure in thinking than she had ever been known to have,—or atleast she called it thinking,—and would sit silent for hours wrapped insoft dreams, forgetting to talk, to the great disgust of little Edith,and wonder of Miss Hadley, who was the sharpest observer in thehousehold, and guessed what it all meant. But still Alice could have noreason to complain had Frank Renton never more made his appearance inthe Square. She would{8} never have dreamt of complaining, poor child; shewould have sighed, and a ray of light would have gone out of her life,and that would have been all;—and she had so many rays of light thatthere might well be one to spare!

It was not thus, however, that things turned out. Not much more than aweek had elapsed when Frank again made his appearance in the Square. Hehad not said much to himself about it. He pretended to himself, indeed,that it was a sudden thought, as he had some time to spare. ‘One mightas well go and bid them good-bye,’ he said aloud, the better to persuadehimself that it was purely accidental. He had seen Montague, and had allbut concluded with him about the exchange, though he had still beenquite doubtful on the subject when he came up to town. Yet the sight ofthe other side, and the reality given to the matter by the actualdiscussion of it as a thing to be done, had an effect upon him whichnothing else had yet had. It was made at once into a matter of fact

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