Put your shoulder to the wheel

Jim was very busy about the book-shelves that evening, taking out and
putting back various books, until, at last, his movements called forth
the observations of his anxious family. The Rector, who had come home
moody and troubled, and who had made no inquiry into Sophocles, neither
had shown the interest that was expected in Jim’s expedition to Winwick
with the curate, looked up fretfully and begged his son to have a little
respect for other people’s occupations if he had none of his own. Mr.
Plowden was doing nothing more serious than reading the evening paper,
so that the gravity of this address was a little uncalled-for; but he
was put out about something, as all the family was aware.

‘What are you looking for?’ said his mother, who had boundless patience
with Jim.

‘I want to take two or three things over to Osborne,’ said Jim, ‘to let
him choose. I’m to read something for him at his entertainment.’

‘What?’ said the Rector, looking over the top of his paper with angry
eyes.

Upon which Jim repeated his announcement a little louder and with a
slight air of defiance; or, at least, the air of a man ready to be
defiant, as–when there is nothing but virtue in his mind, a man feels
that he has a right to be.

‘His entertainment! His teetotal entertainment! Stuff and
nonsense–cramming the fellows’ heads with pride and folly, as if they
were better than their neighbours.’

‘Oh, James!’ said his wife, ‘let them be as silly as they like. What
does that matter in comparison with ruining their families by drink?’

‘They’ll ruin their families by something else,’ said the Rector; ‘if
not in one way they’ll get it out in another–politics, most likely, and
socialism, and that sort of thing. What Osborne will do is to make them
all a set of insufferable, narrow-minded prigs.’

‘Even that, James—-’ began Mrs. Plowden.

‘Don’t tell me,’ said the Rector, ‘that you’ll make men Christians by
teaching them that there’s a curse on one of the gifts of God. You may
abuse any and all of the gifts of God; but to make a young ass think he
is superior to his honest father, because he abstains, forsooth, and the
old man likes his honest glass of beer!’

‘Mr. Osborne doesn’t teach them that, papa,’ said Florry from the
further corner of the room, in which, her eyes, she said, being a little
weak, she had established herself. Mr. Plowden turned upon her like a
tempest.

‘Who are you?’ he said; ‘a little chit of a girl, to tell me what
Osborne teaches them or doesn’t teach them! I should hope I am still
able to judge for myself–at least, in such a question as this.’

‘Hush, Florry!’ said her mother, with a little nod at Florence. They
were all aware that in certain conjunctures it was inexpedient to
contradict the Rector. As for Jim, he held up two books to his mother
behind backs over Mr. Plowden’s head and disappeared with them, shutting
the door softly behind him. He was too much in the habit of closing
doors softly and stealing out; but Mrs. Plowden’s mind being otherwise
occupied, she did not think of this to-night.

If there had been anything wanted to throw Jim into the arms of the
curate, that tirade did it. Had his father sent him forth to Mr.
Osborne’s company with a blessing, it would have spoiled all; but to
escape for all the world as if he were going to spend the evening with
Mrs. Brown, put things at once on a right footing. Jim walked through
the village, not in his usual lounging way, but with a long stride and
head high. He glanced at the ‘Blue Boar,’ with the cheerful light
shining through its red curtains, and thought with a little contempt of
the fellows who were seated, he knew, in a cloud of smoke within, and
with talk as smoky as the air, he thought to himself lightly. It was a
place where a man might go to pass the time when he had nothing else to
do; but he had never entertained any illusion on the subject of its
dulness, Jim said to himself.

It is doubtful whether Mr. Osborne heard Jim’s step coming through the
little garden of the cottage in which he lodged with the same
exhilaration. The curate, indeed, had been of opinion that Jim was not
at all likely to come, and had settled himself to his evening’s
occupation with that view. He had not found much pleasure in the young
man’s companionship during their long walk. He had caught the look of
surprise, the lifting of the eyebrows, with which the people of Winwick
testified their amazement to see such a superior person as Mr. Osborne
accompanied by that unlucky Jim–and Mr. Osborne had not liked it. The
fact that he did not like it, however, was the one good thing in the
matter, for it gave him the conviction that since he did not like it, it
must be the right thing. He had liked that little glorification of
taking the pledge to induce old Mrs. Lloyd to do it; and this sensation
had made him much less strong than he might have been as to the absolute
virtue of the act. Mr. Osborne, as will be perceived, was really a very
superior young man. When Mr. Ormerod had taken him aside, with again a
lifting of the eyebrows, and asked him whether that young cub of
Plowden’s had turned over a new leaf as he (Osborne) had taken him in
tow, the curate of Watcham had been angry. ‘Don’t you think it might be
perhaps my duty to help him to turn over a new leaf?’ he had said, with
some asperity, at which the Winwick curate had lifted his eyebrows more
and more. They had all thought that to consort with Jim was rather a
token that Mr. Osborne himself was acquiring a relish for indifferent
society, than that it was his duty to endeavour to reclaim that species
of lost sheep. This naturally and beneficially excited the temper of
Edward Osborne, which was a fine, animated, vigorous sort of temper,
capable of doing a great deal to encourage him in an unpopular way. If
it had been a young boatman on Riverside there would have been no
lifting of eyebrows. So much the more was it evident that this
particular thing was his duty, and that he was bound to pursue what
these asses took upon them to disapprove of. A man may be a very good
man, and yet feel his virtuous determination strengthened by the
consciousness that those who are against him are asses. And just as Jim
was encouraged by his father’s angry opposition, so was Mr. Osborne by
the surprise, whether put in words or not, of his Winwick friends. They
had all been greatly complimentary and touched to the heart by the
episode of old Mrs. Lloyd.

But he had thought that his reformatory effort was over for the day. The
invitation he had given Jim for the evening had been a sudden and
passing impulse, and he had never suspected that it would be accepted.
Even when it was accepted in word, he still thought nothing more would
come of it. The young fellow would not be able to pass the ‘Blue Boar,’
or he would be caught at the schoolhouse by Mrs. Brown. Having done his
duty amply, as he felt he had done, it was almost with relief that the
curate concluded that Jim would never manage to pass the ‘Blue Boar.’
When he heard, on the contrary, a footstep ring upon the little line of
pavement which divided in two the cottage garden where his lodgings
were, Mr. Osborne was much startled, and it cannot be said that his
start was one of pleasure. ‘Oh! here’s this confounded fellow again.’ I
am afraid that was the thought that passed through his mind: and he
pushed away his work with impatience, clearing away several books which
he had been consulting. He wanted to make a conquest, a convert of Jim.
He had a hundred reasons for wishing it. First, the conviction that on
the whole it was a far more difficult task than administering the pledge
to Mrs. Lloyd: second, that Jim Plowden, after all, would be a more
considerable prize than the old woman, that lie was at least worth as
much trouble as a young waterman on Riverside; third, that perhaps it
might be allowed that an Oxford man and a gentleman has a peculiar duty
towards another Oxford man and gentleman who is going astray, even
though that duty is very little acknowledged. Fourthly—- No! there was
nothing at all about Florence Plowden in the matter, nothing but an
undying resentment against the girl who had presumed to teach him his
duty! She might be right. I presume he felt in his heart that she was
right, or he would not have taken the measures he had done. But he also
felt in his heart that he could never forgive her for her temerity, for
departing from the woman’s part so much as to venture to suggest to one
of the priests of her parish what he should do. No, Florence Plowden
told for nothing in the effort he was making. When her name floated up
it awakened nothing but feelings of anger in his breast.

Poor Florry! She sat half in the dark with her knitting, pretending she
felt her eyes weak, in order that she might not betray the melting mist
of happiness that was in her face, the soft dew that kept coming into
her eyes. If anybody had seen how near she was to crying, they would
have thought her unhappy: whereas she was almost too happy to think,
certainly too glad–except in a momentary impulse like that which had
called upon her the reproof of both parents–to speak.

Jim put his books before Osborne, who grinned at the sight. It was
intended for a smile, but it was a poor version of a smile. ‘Oh, yes,’
he said, ‘Browning, the “Ride to Aix.” Isn’t it just a little hackneyed?
Oh, no, not the poem itself. I don’t mean that: but everybody does it.
What’s the other? Ingoldsby. O–oh. I don’t know, if you ask me my
opinion, that I care so very much for Ingoldsby, myself.’

‘Perhaps not,’ said Jim, who for this once was wiser than his leader,
‘but _they_ do, you know. He’s always the most popular of all.’

‘Eh–oh–ah,’ said Mr. Osborne, putting his head on one side as though
to see in that way the virtues which were visible to the people in
general. ‘Now, I should have thought,’ he said, ‘that this sort of stuff
was too–too conventional, too fictitious, in the wrong sense of the
word, to please these sort of rough intelligences; that they would like
something more–more straightforward, don’t you know.’

‘Like the “Ride to Aix”? But then they’re awfully anxious to know,’ said
Jim, ‘what it was for, what the news was, and when it was, and all that;
and I’ve never found yet any one that knew.’

Mr. Osborne discreetly turned that question aside, for on this point he
had no more information than other people. ‘Suppose you read it and let
me hear,’ he said. It was very good-humoured and kind of him. He
expected nothing, if truth must be told, and he was really very full of
occupation and had a great many things to do. But Jim, as it turned out,
did not read badly at all. And there came a note of emotion in his voice
as the gallop rang on; that sort of sympathy with the excitement of the
strain, and climbing passion in the throat, which only a few readers are
moved by. The curate listened in amaze while this high note of poetic
sympathy thrilled through the lines, which Jim read with a pause or two
and strain of breath to overcome himself. He could not understand what
it meant to feel thus, and yet to drift into the parlour of the ‘Blue
Boar’; to tremble and flush with the poetry, and then listen to
Slaughter and White maundering about politics, or sit with the
schoolmistress. There came over the curate for the first time in a great
many years a sense of humility, a sudden conviction that there were more
things in heaven and earth than were dreamt of in his philosophy.

‘By Jove,’ said Jim, ‘I got through it pretty well this time. The worst
is my voice always breaks at that line: “And into the square Roland
staggered and stood.” One gets wound up so, don’t you know. After that I
can always manage the rest.’

‘Give me the book,’ said Osborne; and he, too, read the last verses, but
his voice did not break at all, the water did not come into his eyes. He
read it all as if it were one of his own sermons. Decidedly there were
things in heaven and earth–perhaps he acknowledged it a little
grudgingly: ‘Evidently, Plowden, you have the knack of it much better
than I.’

‘Nonsense,’ said Jim, with a good-humoured laugh. ‘You read so well.
I’ve got no knack. It is only that a few of these things get over me
somehow. Because–because they are mere stories and of no consequence.’

‘Plowden,’ said the curate.

‘Yes?’

‘I wonder if you’d be dreadfully offended if I asked you one thing?’

‘I am not very peppery,’ said Jim; ‘fire away?’

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I will, but you will be angry, I fear. It is just
this. When you feel these things so, more than most people–more,’ he
added, with a naïve surprise, ‘than I do myself; how is it, you
know–that–I don’t want to offend you–how is it that—-’

Jim’s countenance grew deeply red, a cloud came over it for a moment;
then he shook his head as if to shake off any consideration of such
questions. ‘I say, don’t ask me that kind of conundrum. I’m not good at
guessing things,’ he said. ‘Will the “Ride” do?’

‘The “Ride” will do capitally,’ said the curate. He too shook off with a
flush the questions which had risen involuntarily to his lips. He was
grateful to Jim for passing it over, for neither taking offence in words
nor jumping up and breaking off the conference. ‘What sort of people do
you think will come,’ he said, ‘since you seem to have experience of
these things?’

‘Oh!’ said Jim, ‘a number of the village people will come–the daughters
of the tradespeople, and those shifting folks that live in Pleasant
Place, and a number of the “gentry”–the General—-’

Mr. Osborne made a sign of impatience and dissatisfaction.

‘Don’t you want the gentry to come? But the others like it. I assure you
they do. Mrs. White and Mrs. Slaughter will not come, they are too
grand. They’re able to pay for their pleasure when they make up their
minds to go out.’

Jim said this with a gleam of Florry’s mimicry, which discomposed the
curate more than he could say. ‘You seem to know all about it,’ he
cried, a little sharply. ‘But I want the men from Riverside, the fellows
from the boats. I don’t want ladies and gentlemen. What I want is to
keep the men from the public-house. Do you mean to say the same sort of
thing has been done here before?’

‘Oh, yes,’ said Jim, ‘we have done it before; but I don’t think we got
any of the Riverside men. The people who come generally are–well, just
the village people, Osborne, the people you know, particularly the women
and the Sunday School lads, those that my sisters teach carving to, and
so forth; and the ones that come to the night-school.’

‘Ah!’ said the curate, ‘that is always something,’ with a sigh of
relief.

‘And all that my mother calls the nice, respectable people,’ said Jim,
with a laugh, destroying the momentary good effect he had produced.

The curate put his face in his hands, and was silent for a minute. ‘So
that I have been taking all this trouble,’ he said, ‘and getting people
to come over from Winwick, and laying myself under obligations–to amuse
the old women–and the gentry, as you call them.’

‘Well, yes; there will be old Mrs. Lloyd, and some more of her kind,’
Jim said.

Mr. Osborne looked at his visitor for a moment, with as deep a colour as
that which Jim had shown when he was being questioned–as much heat of
embarrassment, and an air of offence much more marked. Mrs. Lloyd! The
curate felt that the name of this old woman was a missile that any one
was now at liberty to fling at him, to turn him into ridicule. Strange!
when a very short time ago it appeared to him the finest feather in his
cap.

‘We must do something about this, Plowden,’ he said. ‘We must lay hold
on some of these fellows, and get them to come. I’ve pledged myself it’s
for them. I’ve meant it all along for them. What can we do to get hold
of them? You’ve been here all your life; you must have known half of
them as boys. Can’t we do something? can’t we find some way of
attracting them? Think for yourself. Do you want to read that “Ride,”
which, you do so well, to—- Mrs. Lloyd?’ It would be impossible to
express the tone of disgust with which Mr. Osborne said this name.

‘I don’t suppose she would understand much of it, poor old body. But she
will like to hear the girls sing,’ said Jim, more charitable, after all,
to the old lady than was the instrument of her conversion from beer.
‘About the men, I don’t know; they’re very hard to fetch. Yes, I used to
know a lot of the young ones as boys; but I haven’t seen anything of
them for a long time.’

‘I tell you what, Plowden,’ said the curate, ‘we’ll go down there some
evening when the fellows are about. You can talk to them, for old
acquaintance’ sake, while I—- Put your shoulder to the wheel! Of
course, you could do a great deal if you chose. Don’t, for the credit of
the parish, let those fellows say we bring them over here to play to the
old women. I can’t stand it. I may have been a fool,’ Mr. Osborne said.
He said it with a force and bitterness which Jim could not
understand–not to Jim, that was clear, but to some unknown adversary.
‘But stand by me,’ he said, putting his hand on Jim’s shoulder, ‘and
we’ll tell another tale.’

‘Stand by me!’ Was it the curate that spoke, and was this Jim to whom he
appealed?

Jim was hurrying home to the Rectory full of the plans that had been
settled between him and his new friend, full of the unusual excitement
of something to do which was novel at least, and might be amusing, and
was voluntary, exacted from him by no one. It was the loveliest spring
night, the first of May, but full of a softness which is little to be
depended upon at that season, the stars shining sweetly in a sky which
was fresh and luminous, with nothing of the sparkle of frost in it, but
a prophecy, almost a realisation, of summer. The village was quiet, as
it usually was at that hour; the window of the ‘Blue Boar’ still shining
with light, for it was not yet the closing hour: but all except the
_habitués_ of that respectable place, where general drinking was not
encouraged, had left. Jim did not feel the drawing to-night of those
invisible links which drew him to the ‘Blue Boar,’ and he was hurrying
along towards home, when he encountered a wrapped-up figure which paused
as he approached, but which he did not at first recognise. Indeed, to
tell the truth, he thought for a moment with a quick movement of anger,
that it was one of his own belongings, mother or sister, who had taken
the liberty of coming out thus, veiled and covered up, to look for him,
which was a thing that the young man in his greatness of superiority
would not very readily have forgiven. But it was not anything so
innocent as poor Mrs. Plowden with her shawl over her head, strolling
forth, as she would have explained, because it was such a beautiful
night, just to breathe the air; not anything nearly so innocent. The
dark figure stopped as Jim came up, and with a little cough to call his
attention, said: ‘Is this Mr. Jim?’

‘Oh!’ he said, coming to a sudden pause, ‘Mrs. Brown!’ but not with any
delight in his tone.

‘I fear,’ said Mrs. Brown, ‘there is not much pleasure in seeing me in
that exclamation; but then, of course, you can’t see me, which takes
from it all the uncomplimentary meaning. And where are you coming from
at this hour–some of your smart parties?’

‘You know as well as I do,’ he said, aggrieved, ‘that there are no smart
parties here.’

‘What do you call Mrs. FitzStephen’s ball?’ she said, with her laugh of
mockery. ‘I have heard that it was very smart–the young ladies’ dresses
beautiful, and diamonds upon some of the old ones. I call that very
smart. Unfortunately, I hear, there were no Royal Highnesses–unless it
was yourself, Mr. Jim.’

‘How fond you are of laughing at people!’ said Jim.

‘I–the most innocent woman in the world! I will be very civil, now, if
you will walk as far as my house with me. I don’t mind the road up to
the Hall, but here in the village, where a tipsy man might run up
against me—-’

‘Oh, I don’t think you need be afraid,’ said Jim; but he could not
refuse so small a request, though he did not like it–neither the
interruption nor the fact, indeed, of escorting the schoolmistress, who
was exceedingly amusing, and knew how to make herself agreeable in her
own place; but here, outside, where he might be recognised by any one!
Jim was half disgusted with himself for this feeling, yet felt it all
the same, and turned back with a little reluctance, which he concealed,
indeed, but which, from his companion’s quick eyes, was not altogether
to be concealed.

‘You have been somewhere to-night where you ought to have been,’ said
Mrs. Brown. ‘One soon gets to know the ways of young men. Sometimes you
are not proud of the place in which you have been spending your evening,
but to-night it’s different. You are going home in a hurry to tell them
all about it before they go to bed. What a pity that I should have met
you just to-night!’

‘It can never be a pity that I should have met you,’ said Jim, a little
sulkily, ‘if I can be of any use.’

‘Poor boy,’ she said, with a half laugh, and then she added: ‘I have
been among naughty people to-night, who have been putting naughty
schemes in my head. Tell me what nice, good society you have been
having, to put it out of my mind.’

‘Where are those naughty people to be found?’ said Jim.

‘Ah, you would rather know that than tell me your news! But they are not
naughty people of your kind; they wouldn’t amuse you at all. There is no
fun in their naughtiness, but rather the reverse: envy and malice and
all uncharitableness, not the folly that pleases you poor boys. Poor
boys! for the one often leads to the other, don’t you know, when you
outgrow the fun and yet love the naughtiness, and get out of the way of
all that’s good—-’

‘You are in a very serious humour to-night.’

‘No,’ she said, ‘not more than usual. I’m a very serious woman, though
you may not have found it out. You have not found it out, have you?’ she
said, with a sudden laugh, apparently overcome by the absurdity of the
situation, which, however, Jim did not feel at all. He saw no fun in it:
all that he was afraid of was that with her laugh, though it was very
soft, she might attract the observation of some one whom they met.

‘No,’ he said, ‘I–I haven’t thought about the subject, I never tried
to—-’

‘Understand, did you?’ she said quickly; ‘took me as you found me? Of
course you did. And you were quite right. Don’t be afraid that any one
will find you with me. In the first place, there is nobody to be seen,
and in the second place—-’

‘I am not at all afraid of any one seeing me. I am not responsible to
any one. I hope I am of an age to choose my own friends.’

‘Well spoken, Mr. Jim, and very manly of you; and I am glad you would
stand by me like that, as one of your own friends. Now, there is
something I would like you to do for me. It is a great secret, and you
must tell nobody of the request I am going to make.’

‘Well,’ he said, with a laugh, ‘I hope I don’t want much cautioning on
that subject. The moment one is told that a matter is private, it is
sacred–at least, to a man.’

‘Ah! you think more sacred to a man than a woman, Mr. Jim? I don’t agree
with you; but still, I’m glad that it’s your view. If you should find
out—- You know of all that is going on in the family, don’t you?’

‘In the family,’ cried Jim, astonished; ‘in what family?’

‘You may well be surprised. What should I have to do with your
respectable family?’ cried Mrs. Brown, laughing again. It was not like
other people’s laughter; it was a thin little sound, which, if it
conveyed mockery of other people, seemed in some indescribable way to
mock herself too. ‘But yet,’ she added, ‘it is really your respectable
family I mean. If your aunt should be hard pressed by those people, and
felt as if she might be crushed altogether–now, mind what I say–felt
as if she might be crushed altogether—-’

‘Do you mean my aunt Emily, Lady William? Why, who in the name of wonder
wants to crush her altogether? You have got some joke in your mind that
I don’t understand.’

‘Felt,’ repeated Mrs. Brown with emphasis, ‘as if she might be crushed
altogether. I will make you say it after me to impress it on your
memory, if you don’t mind. Felt as if she might be crushed
altogether–you understand?’

‘I understand the words: but what they mean, or what you mean—-’

‘That is quite enough, so long as you know the words. Keep them fast,
and in such a case let me know; not until you see there is very grave
trouble, mind–not if you hear that she sees her way out of it.’

‘You are speaking Hebrew, I think,’ said Jim.

‘No, I am speaking English. You will see, even if they don’t tell you,
by your people’s looks, or you will get it out of one of your sisters.
Mind! if you find that they are all in the dumps, and she feels herself
beaten–you’ll see it in their looks–let me know. If I should not be
here I will let you know where I am.’

‘Are you going away?’ said Jim.

She did not make him any immediate answer, but turned round upon him, in
the light of a lamp which they were approaching, putting back her veil a
little, with a mischievous look. ‘Should you be very sorry? No, I’m
afraid you would not be very sorry,’ she said.

‘Yes, I should,’ said Jim, with an impetuosity which alarmed him next
moment, as he suddenly realised that somebody passing (but there was no
one passing), or somebody unseen at a door or window, might hear what he
said. ‘I should be very sorry indeed to think I should not see you any
more,’ he added, in a lower tone.

‘But that dreadful fate need not come, even if I were to leave Watcham,’
she said, in her mocking tone. ‘We met before I came here, which is the
origin of all our acquaintance, and we may meet after I leave here. The
world is a wide place. I shall let you know, somehow, where I am: and in
the case I have so impressed upon you—-’

‘The case in which Aunt Emily (of all people in the world!) should find
herself crushed altogether.’

‘You are a good scholar. You have learned your lesson. In that case you
will take care–but only when there is no other hope–to let me know.
Now I’ll release you, Mr. Jim. I won’t exact that you should come to my
very door. No harm can happen to me between this and my door.’

‘It is the only part of the way where anything could happen,’ said Jim.
‘It’s the middle of the town.’

‘A wonderful town, and a wonderful middle,’ she said, laughing. ‘No,
nothing will happen. Good night, and I am more obliged to you than I can
say.’

Jim stood irresolute, and watched her as she drew down her veil over her
face, and hurried along to the door of the schoolhouse. He was, on the
whole, well pleased to get rid of her, but he did not like the idea of
being thus dismissed at the moment it occurred to her to do so–a
sensation which roused his pride and kept him, accordingly, standing
where she left him until he saw that she had reached her own door. She
turned round there and made a slight gesture of farewell, or dismissal.
It was just at that moment that the _convives_ at the ‘Blue Boar’ began
to stream out, with a little noise of voices and feet, the last jokes of
the little convivial club. Jim turned and hurried homeward, not without
an uncomfortable feeling that his return would correspond unpleasingly
with the dispersion of that assembly. But yet it was not his fault.

His mother was in the drawing-room still, waiting for him, or at least
pretending not to wait for him, but to be very busy with something she
had to do. And Jim had by this time remembered again the great news he
had been carrying home so eagerly when he met Mrs. Brown. Though Jim
detested the ‘parish’ in the official sense of the word, he was not
without a natural feeling for his own side; and it pleased him almost as
much as if he had been a Rector’s son of the more orthodox description
to find that the new curate, with his immense commotion as of a new
broom, found it necessary after all to have recourse to the old rulers
and their ways for help. He had, I need not say, not the faintest idea
of the curate’s benevolent intentions towards himself; but Mr. Osborne
had been a little superior in the morning–it was his nature to be a
little superior–and his final appeal for help to Jim, who of all the
Rectory family was the only one whom nobody else would have thought of
appealing to, was a triumph which Jim could not but be sensible of. His
mother looked up at him from her sewing with those curves about her eyes
which he had grown accustomed to, and did not at this present moment
take any notice of, notwithstanding the keen inspection of him which she
made instantly, an inspection so keen that it seemed to cut below the
surface and see what never can be seen. Jim was more or less aware of
this inspection when he had anything to conceal, but on this occasion,
having nothing to conceal, it did not occur to him. ‘Have the girls gone
to bed?’ he said, in a disappointed tone. He had brought in with him no
heavy odour of tobacco or other scent inharmonious with the place, but a
whole atmosphere of fresh air, cool and pure, to which the haste of his
arrival gave an impetus, and which seemed to fill and refresh the whole
room, which was half dark, with only Mrs. Plowden’s solitary lamp
shining on the round table. ‘They’ve gone upstairs,’ she said, rising to
meet him with that sudden sweetness of relief which fills an anxious
heart when its anxiety is found unnecessary. ‘Do you want them? Shall I
call them? Oh, Jim, they will be too happy to come.’

‘I’ll call them myself,’ he said, then paused–‘unless it will disturb
my father! He looked a little worried at dinner.’

‘It is like you to think of your father.’ Mrs. Plowden could not but
caress her son’s shoulder as she passed him. ‘You can always see farther
than any one–with your heart, my dear. Yes, he was worried. But never
mind that; I’ll call the girls.’

They came at the call like two birds flitting noiselessly down the
staircase, and came into the room with a faint rustle as of wings.

‘Jim has something he wants to tell you,’ the mother said, and there
went a quick glance round the three like an electrical flash; oh! of
such ease, joy, consolation to themselves; of such admiration,
enthusiasm for him! That there should be nothing to lament over, nothing
to find fault with, meant whole litanies of honour and praise to Jim.

He told them his story with a pleasure which found an immediate echo and
reflection from his mother and Emmy. Florence, of whose sympathy he had
felt most sure, had turned a little away.

‘He seemed struck all of a heap,’ said Jim, not pausing to choose his
language, ‘when he heard we’d had those sort of things before. He thinks
he’s the first to do everything; and when I told him it was the
respectable folks that came and the FitzStephens and so forth, and the
old women–Mrs. Lloyd and the rest—-’

‘Jim,’ cried Florence, seizing his arm, ‘it was ungenerous to mention
Mrs. Lloyd.’

‘Why?’ cried Jim, opening his eyes; and Florry made no reply. ‘Well,’ he
continued, ‘Osborne was taken all aback, as I tell you. He says it is
the men he wants to catch–the fellows down by the river, that sort.
When I told him he might as soon look for the Prince of Wales, I never
saw a man so broken down. He said, “How are we to catch hold of ’em,
Plowden? What are we to do to fetch ’em? Come down with me,” he said.
“You must have known some of them from boys. Come down, you and me
together, and let’s see what we can do.” I said to myself, “Oho, my fine
fellow! for all so grand as you think yourself, you can’t get on without
the oldest inhabitant after all.”’

‘But, Jim, you’ll help him,’ cried Emmy; ‘so will I, I am sure, with all
my heart. We have always wanted to get hold of them; and you could do
something, Jim, if you were working with him.’

‘Oh yes, I shall help him,’ said Jim in a magisterial way, ‘fast enough.
He isn’t a bad sort of fellow when you know him. I said I’d go down with
him when the fellows were at home in the evening whenever he liked. Of
course, as he said, I know them all; half of them I’ve licked or they’ve
licked me. He has sense to see the advantage of that, and, of course,
now he’s asked me I’ll do whatever I can for him; and see if I don’t
have them up to hear all the tootle-te-tooting and you girls singing and
all the rest.’

‘If your father approves, Jim,’ said Mrs. Plowden. ‘We cannot make quite
sure that your father approves.’

‘Oh, papa will approve,’ cried Emmy. ‘I am sure he really knows how much
good there is in Mr. Osborne. He only does not like his little—- Well,
I don’t like to call it conceit.’

‘Excellent opinion of himself; but that’s so common with young men,’
said the Hector’s wife.

And Florence–Florence who was the lively one, who on any ordinary
occasion would have been in the heat of the discussion, talking now in
the tones of Mr. Osborne, now like old Mrs. Lloyd, now like all the
‘fellows’ at Riverside–Florence said nothing at all! That is, nothing
to speak of–nothing for her. She kept her face away from the light, and
threw in a monosyllable now and then; and when Mr. Osborne’s conceit was
spoken of, threw up her head with an indignation which happily nobody
perceived. To think they should discuss him so, who was doing all this,
giving up his pride in his superior management, for their
sake–appealing to Jim! It seemed to Florry that the force of noble
self-abnegation could not further go.