A FAR CRY

“I have not loved the world, nor the world me—
But let us part fair foes; I do believe,
Though I have found them not, that there may be
Words which are things, hopes which will not deceive,
And virtues which are merciful, nor weave
Snares for the failing; I would also deem
O’er others’ griefs that some sincerely grieve;
That two, or one, are almost what they seem,
That goodness is no name, and happiness no dream.”
_Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage._

The boys always wrote to Mr. Wycherly on Sundays and as they knew he was
to be in London over the week-end, he duly received his weekly letters
on Monday morning at Morley’s Hotel.

Edmund’s was, as usual, brief and to the point. He hoped his guardian
was well; he announced the cheering intelligence that he himself was
well, and after a brief reference to his most recent scores at cricket,
concluded with the information: “It is expensive here at school; the
munny I came back with is all gone; it is very inconvenient. Could you
spair me a little more?”

Montagu talked of his work and of the Greek play they were reading, and
then he finished up with: “I had quite a decent letter from Jane-Anne.
Whatever made you start her on Byron? I haven’t read ’Don Juan’ myself,
but I suppose I must, as she has, then we can talk about it in the
holidays.”

Mr. Wycherly read this portion of Montagu’s letter three times, frowned
over it, pondered it; and finally, _apropos_ of nothing, found himself
repeating Miss Stukely’s favourite quotation which had remained in his
mind with provoking persistency.

“You in your small corner, I in mine.” He hadn’t the vaguest notion
whence this flower of thought was culled, but it occurred to him at that
moment that Jane-Anne’s small corner must have been considerably
enlarged during the last few days if she had read much of “Don Juan.”

“It is quite time I returned to Holywell,” Mr. Wycherly reflected.
“What possible wind of fate has blown ’Don Juan,’ of all things, across
the child’s path? And what in the world will she make of it?”

He went back to Holywell that afternoon, and Jane-Anne carried in his
tea in her best parlour-maid manner, only to relapse immediately into
herself, falling upon her knees by his chair and covering his hand with
kisses the moment she had set down the tray.

“My child, my child,” exclaimed Mr. Wycherly, “it is very wonderful and
delightful of you to be so glad. But you must get up and sit beside me
and pour out tea, and tell me all the news, and what has been happening
since I went away, and what you have been doing with yourself?”

“A very great thing has happened,” Jane-Anne said solemnly, holding the
teapot poised in mid-air. “I have found it.”

Mr. Wycherly nearly said, “Found what?” but he stopped himself just in
time, and remembered “the mountains,” and asked kindly:

“Well, and where is it?”

“In Marathon,” said Jane-Anne gravely. “Do you know it?”

“Yes,” Mr. Wycherly replied, “and it is a curious thing that I was
reminded of that very poem when I saw you dancing in the garden. I
wonder why I didn’t connect it with your mountains?”

“I often dance. I dance when I’m happy, and I dance when I’m very full
of feelings, not exactly happy, but—big, tremendous feelings.”

“Tell me, my child, what you think of ’Don Juan’ as far as you have
read.”

“Poor dear,” cried Jane-Anne, “he was so unfortunate. No sooner did he
get comfortably settled with a nice, beautiful lady than some cross old
husband or father, or somebody, interfered. It was a shame.”

“Perhaps,” Mr. Wycherly suggested, “there may have been something to say
on their side, too, you know. Though it is a side less often treated by
the writers of romance.”

“Haidée’s father was horrid,” she cried vehemently. “You must think so,
too, don’t you?”

“Suppose,” said Mr. Wycherly, “I went away for a long time, so long that
you came to the conclusion I was dead——”

“I should die, too,” Jane-Anne interrupted.

“Oh, no, you wouldn’t. Suppose, say, that some very charming and
delightful youth appeared who took up all your attention, and suddenly I
came back to find you giving a grand party in the garden.”

“Aunt would never permit it for one minute,” she cried, aghast.

“But we must eliminate aunt; Haidée, so far as we know, had no wise and
excellent aunt to look after her. Let me see. Oh, yes! Suppose I came
back and found this festivity going on, the agreeable youth acting as
host, and you, my dear, entirely absorbed in him, and the whole house
upside down. Would you expect me to feel very amiable?”

Jane-Anne gazed earnestly at Mr. Wycherly. The gentle, high-bred face
was quite grave, though persons better versed than Jane-Anne in
subtleties of expression might have noted a look of considerable
amusement in his handsome eyes.

“But Haidée’s father wasn’t a bit like you,” she objected. “He was a
cruel pirate.”

“Even pirates have their parental feelings,” he pleaded.

Jane-Anne looked much perturbed.

“It sounds horrid said like that,” she murmured sadly; “but it’s
beautiful in the poetry book.”

“How much have you read?” asked Mr. Wycherly.

“Only to where poor, pretty Haidée dies. I don’t read very fast, you
know—not like you, sir, and Master Montagu; and when I like a bit I read
it over and over again.”

“And what do you like best in the book so far as you have gone?”

“Oh, my father’s poem, far, far the best. I can say it nearly all by
heart. But one reason I’ve been so slow is, I wanted dreadfully to know
about Lord Byron, and in the bottom shelf, where ’Sir Stafford Raffles’
is, I found a book all about him, a fat crimson book, and I’ve been
reading that.”

“Really,” Mr. Wycherly remarked, “you’ve lost no time. Well, and what
do you make of that?”

“It’s rather difficult, sir, so many letters; but he seems to have been
very unlucky, too, like Don Juan. A _most_ unkind mother; fancy, she
threw the fireirons at him, and her one of the gentry—and his wife
didn’t seem very nice either—and then I looked at the end——”

“Well?” said Mr. Wycherly, for Jane-Anne paused suddenly.

“And I found he’s dead, and he died to help Greece; and I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry he died to help Greece?”

“No, for that’s why my daddie loved him, I’m sure of that; but because
he’s dead. _I_ should have loved him dearly.”

“A great many people did that,” said Mr. Wycherly.

“I shall read all his poetry books, and learn all the bits I like; and
then—perhaps—do you think that, up in heaven, he could ever know how
much I cared?”

Mr. Wycherly looked into the eager, wistful face, and wondered, too.

“Listen to me, my child,” he said. “I think that if Lord Byron does
know, he is very pleased and touched; but I also think that he would be
the very first person to suggest that you should wait a little before
you read all his poetry. If you will allow me, I will select the
volumes I think he would prefer you to begin on. ’Don Juan,’ for
instance, I should leave alone for the present; directly you know by
heart and can write out, in your most beautiful writing, the whole of
your favourite poem from the third canto——”

“I can do that now,” she cried eagerly. “Would it please Lord Byron, do
you think, sir?”

“I am certain of it.”

“And you’ll tell me what you think he’d like me to read. I should so
love to do something for him; poor dear, so sad and lonely often. Did
you ever know him, sir?”

Mr. Wycherly shook his head. “He died a good many years before I was
born.”

“So long ago!” Jane-Anne’s voice was solemn and awestruck, for Mr.
Wycherly seemed to her incalculably old and wise.

“One thing, sir,” she continued in quite a different tone, “I have quite
altered. I shan’t marry a first footman—I shall marry a poet. I shall
hunt about till I find someone like Lord Byron—if he’s a lord so much
the better. I’d like that; but if he isn’t—if he can say very beautiful
things, I shall love him just the same. Shall you like that better,
sir?”

Mr. Wycherly sighed. “I’m afraid, my dear, that I’m a selfish old
curmudgeon, who would like to keep you in his heart-pocket always. I
shan’t like any of them.”

“Then I shall stay in your pocket,” said Jane-Anne.

It was time to clear away, and she took the tea-things back to the
kitchen.

Mr. Wycherly went into the parlour, a room he rarely entered except when
the boys were at home. He set his glasses firmly on his nose and
inspected the contents of the book-case.

Just before he went away, Jane-Anne had pressed her favourite “Bruey”
upon him, and he had read it. Now he took down the second volume of
“Don Juan”—the first was missing—from the top shelf, and turned the
leaves, shaking his head:

“It’s a far cry from Bruey to Byron,” thought Mr. Wycherly. “I wonder
if I have done the right thing? On one point I am quite convinced, for
the ultimate safety of that child, we must set about developing her
sense of humour at once.”

Jane-Anne was so excited over her find, that she wrote to Miss Stukely
to tell her about it. This time she begged a sheet of paper and an
envelope from Mr. Wycherly, and he gave her a packet of each, the
envelopes ready stamped being the kind he always used. She was highly
elated, carried the ink to her bedroom without consulting her aunt, and
sat down at her washstand to indite the following letter:

“DEAR TEACHER,

“I hope you are well. I am well and most happy. I live with my aunt,
and I have a carpet in my bedroom—not oilcloth; and it is a beautiful
big room. The master here is like an angel—he is so kind and good.
There are a most enormous lot of books in this house. I hope to read
them all before I am grown up. I am learning the Greek alphabet. The
master is teaching me. Do you know of a poet called Lord Byron? I am
reading all his poetry books. I am sure you would love them. I found a
poem my father used to say to me when I was a little girl. I was so
glad. Lord Byron wrote it, too. He is in heaven, so I can’t see him.
With love and duty, from your affectionate friend,

“JANE-ANNE.”

By return of post came a letter from Miss Stukely.

“MY DEAR JANE-ANNE,

“I was glad to hear from you that your health is better. But, dear
childie, there was much in your letter to disquiet me. I do beg of you
to read no more poetry that is not known to be of sound evangelical
teaching. I should like you to promise me that you will not read any
poetry except what is by Frances Ridley Havergal, Eliza Cook, or Mrs.
Hemans. The works of those three saintly women can only do you good,
and there is only too great reason to fear that poetry as a rule leads
one’s thoughts away from higher things. So promise me this, my dear
girlie, that my mind may be at rest about you. As to this Lord Byron
you mention, I have never read any poem of his and I never shall, for I
understand that he was a man of very evil life, and an unbeliever, and
that it is quite unlikely he is in heaven, as you seem to suppose. I
hope you will dismiss him and all his works from your mind. I cannot
see any use in your learning the Greek alphabet. The Ancient Greeks
were wicked heathens, and it can do no one any good to know about them.
I hope you read ’The Upward Path’ regularly. I shall always be glad to
hear from you, and I shall never fail to remember you in my prayers.
Like our dear Bruey, I keep my daily little list and I hope you do the
same.

“Let me have your promise, dear girlie, and I shall feel more happy
about you—although we are parted in body we can still commune in spirit,
and I shall be most happy to supervise your reading, and to send you
little suitable books from time to time. I have a sweet class at the
Bainbridge, and our weekly meetings are very helpful. Always your
friend and well-wisher,

“BLANCHE STUKELY.”

Jane-Anne found this letter somewhat difficult to decipher, as Miss
Stukely wrote a sloping, pointed hand, much more trying to read than
that of Montagu or his guardian.

So, in defiance of all her aunt’s rules, she invaded Mr. Wycherly in his
study directly after breakfast, and asked him to read it aloud for her.
He did so, and when he had finished she cast herself upon the ground
despairingly, and burst into violent sobs.

This tragic reception of what, to him, seemed a singularly
ill-considered and narrow-minded letter, fairly flabbergasted Mr.
Wycherly, and for a minute or two he sat at his table in perfect
silence, holding Miss Stukely’s missive in his hand, irritably aware
that it was written on scented note-paper, and that he abominated the
odour. He looked down at the lithe, slender figure prone upon the floor
in absolute abandonment of grief, and at last he asked:

“Why do you cry, Jane-Anne?”

Jane-Anne rolled over, sat up, and gasped out between her sobs:

“Because she says he isn’t in heaven, and if he isn’t in heaven then he
must be in hell for ever and ever, and I can never, never feel happy any
more.”

“Get up, child, and sit upon a chair,” Mr. Wycherly said sternly. He
had an old-fashioned objection to scenes, and an indefinable feeling
that to lie on the floor was neither decorous nor dignified, even for a
little girl of twelve. Neither physical nor mental _déshabillé_ appealed
to him. “Now tell me, why should you take it for granted that Lord
Byron—is not in heaven?”

A ray of light pierced the gloom of her outlook, and she stopped crying
to ask eagerly: “Is Miss Stukely wrong, then; was he a good man after
all?”

“Even supposing he were not what is popularly considered a good man.
Even so, what right has this Miss Stukely, or anybody else, to conclude
that Lord Byron——”

“Is in hell.” Jane-Anne glibly finished the sentence.

“Exactly,” said Mr. Wycherly. “What right has she, I say, to assume
anything of the kind?”

“But the wicked do go there.”

“What about the thief on the cross?” asked Mr. Wycherly.

“But he repented,” she answered promptly.

“And how do you, or Miss Stukely, or I, or anyone know that Lord Byron
was unrepentant?”

“Then you think it is all right?” she asked anxiously.

“I am sure it is all right,” Mr. Wycherly replied confidently.

“Could you lend me your handkerchief, sir?” Jane-Anne asked. “I seem to
have lost mine.”

Refreshed by the borrowed handkerchief, and much comforted in soul, she
turned to another part of the letter, asking:

“Do those ladies she speaks of write beautiful poetry, like my mountains
piece?”

“I am not well versed in the writings of the ladies Miss Stukely
mentions,” Mr. Wycherly said cautiously, “but I fancy I am safe in
saying that their work does not display the highest poetical genius,
although it is doubtless very pleasing to their admirers.”

“Would you promise, if you was me?”

“Certainly not,” he answered vigorously. “Nothing would induce me to
promise anything so absurd.”

“Absurd?” Jane-Anne’s voice was astonished; it was not an adjective
which she would have applied to anything so serious.

“Most ridiculous,” Mr. Wycherly repeated.

“She will be sorry, and she was very kind to me.”

“Never forget her kindness, repay it if ever you get the chance; but
never promise anybody anything without fully understanding what you
undertake.”

“Not even you, sir?”

“Certainly not me, of all people—but I hope I should never ask you to
make impossible promises.”

“Then I may go on loving Lord Byron?”

“It seems to me that you ought to love him more if you think that he was
sinful and unfortunate, and unhappy. It’s a poor sort of love that only
cares for the good, the fortunate, the successful.”

“Christ was fond of unfortunate people,” Jane-Anne said softly. Not
altogether in vain had she read her New Testament.

“Ah,” said Mr. Wycherly, “that is a phase of His character certain of
His followers are apt to forget.”

“I shall tell Miss Stukely that,” Jane-Anne remarked perkily.

“You most certainly will do nothing of the kind. You must not preach at
people—it’s—it’s so ill-bred.”

Poor Jane-Anne looked very puzzled.

“It’s a very funny thing,” she said thoughtfully. “Nothing could be
differenter than aunt and a real gentleman like you, and yet, sometimes,
you both say the same sort of thing. Only, you call it ill-bred, and
she’d call it the heighth of impidence.”

“You may take it that we both mean the same thing,” said Mr. Wycherly;
and his kind eyes twinkled.

“Well, I don’t understand, and I know aunt’ll be raging because I’m not
there to help to make the beds, but I’m happier. Here’s your
handkerchief, sir, and many thanks.”

And Jane-Anne thrust a damp and sticky ball into Mr. Wycherly’s hand,
quite unconscious of offence.

When the door shut behind her, he dropped the handkerchief into his
waste-paper basket, and he laughed. It was so like Montagu or Edmund.