THE FAMILY CIRCLE

But turning from these scenes of beauty rare
The family circle next demands our care,
That fireside kingdom where the father bland
His sceptre sways with firm and gentle hand.
Obedient children clust’ring round his knees
Perform with pleasure all his mild decrees,
With willing hearts upon his orders wait
Thus show example to the parent state.

Dr. Larcher, the vicar of Garsworth, was a fine type of what is called
muscular Christianity. Tall, broad-shouldered and burly, he looked
more like a cavalry officer than a parson, and he preached his
sermons, which were generally plain and outspoken, in a loud assertive
tone of voice. Being fond of archaeology and long walks he knew every
inch of the country for miles round, and was as well acquainted with
the poorest cottagers as with the lords of the soil. Simple,
large-minded gentleman that he was, he admirably suited his position
in life, and if the rustics of Garsworth had not a sound belief in the
tenets of the Church of England, it was by no means the fault of the
worthy vicar, who thundered out practical Christianity in ponderous
Johnsonian sentences, with the zeal of a Savonarola and the eloquence
of a Bossuet. He was also a great Latinist and plentifully seasoned
his discourse with quotations from Horace, for which bard he professed
great admiration.

On the morning after the visit of Nestley to the Grange, Dr. Larcher
was seated at the breakfast-table talking eagerly about a bronze sword
which had just been brought to him, having been disinterred from some
ancient British tumulus. His present congregation consisted of Dick
Pemberton, who was rather disposed to laugh at the important
discovery, Reginald Blake, looking somewhat preoccupied, Ferdinand
Priggs, the poet, a sallow youth with dreamy eyes and a deep voice,
and Miss Eleonora Gwendoline Vera Bianca Larcher, the sole child of
the vicar and his wife.

These names, decidedly alarming ones, had been given to her by Mrs.
Larcher, who had selected them from the “Family Herald,” her favourite
journal, but Dr. Larcher, who had no fancy for high-sounding titles,
called his daughter Pumpkin. This unhappy cognomen had been bestowed
on the child by the nurse, in despair at being unable to master the
legitimate names, and the vicar was so pleased with the oddity of the
title that he there and then adopted it. Mrs. Larcher, however,
obstinately refused to accept this innovation, and called her daughter
Eleonora Gwendoline, but generally Miss Larcher answered to the name
of Pumpkin, her aristocratic names being only brought out on company
occasions.

She was a pretty, plump girl, with dark eyes and a rosy face. Endowed
with a large amount of common sense, her tastes lay in the direction
of making puddings and mending clothes, whilst she evinced a great
contempt for poetry and such-like things. Mrs. Larcher, being an
invalid, left the management of the house entirely to Pumpkin, who
ruled the servants with a rod of iron, looked after the creature
comforts of her father and his pupils, and was besides a bright,
lively girl whom everyone adored.

As to Mrs. Larcher, she was always ill, but why she should be so was a
mystery to everyone save herself. It was either her nerves or her
liver or her spine or her laziness, most probably the latter, as she
mostly passed her life alternating between the sofa and her bed.
Occasionally she strolled out, but always came back feeling weak and
bad, to be strengthened with strong tea and hot muffins, after which
she would bewail her delicate constitution in a subdued whimper. Her
unknown malady was known to all as “The Affliction,” that being a
generic name for all kinds of diseases, and Mrs. Larcher herself
alluded to her ill health by this title as being a happy one and
necessitating no special mention of any one infirmity. Pumpkin looked
after everything and was the good fairy of the vicarage, while Mrs.
Larcher lay all day on her sofa reading novels and drinking tea, or
gossiping with any visitors who might drop in.

At present Mrs. Larcher was safe in bed upstairs and Pumpkin presided
at the breakfast-table, which was now covered with an array of empty
dishes, as the male portion of the vicarage inmates, with the
exception of the poet, had large appetites. Dr. Larcher, however, had
been too excited to eat much, and had his eyes intently fixed upon his
newly-discovered bronze implement.

“It’s a wonderful example of what the ancient Britons could do,” he
said grandiloquently, “and to my mind, I proves no mean standard of
civilisation.”

“Even in that age of barbarism,” observed the poet enthusiastically,
“they cultivated a love for the beautiful.”

“Oh, bosh,” said Dick irreverently, “they wanted something to knock
the stuffing out of an enemy.”

“Well, I think that sword could do it,” remarked Pumpkin with a smile.
“Suppose we try it on you, Dick.”

“No, thanks,” retorted that young gentleman, grimacing, “I’ll agree
without practical proof.”

“I shall write an article on this,” said Dr. Larcher, delicately
balancing the sword in his hand. “Such a discovery will be a distinct
gain to our knowledge of the aborigines of that dead and buried time
of so long ago–_Eheu fugaces Postume labuntur anni_.”

“It breathes the very spirit of the age,” cried Ferdinand with an
inspired air:

The age of Bronze, the age of Bronze
Where Boadicea—-

“Loved and sung,” finished Dick. “I say old chap, you’re cribbing from
the Isles of Greece.”

Whereupon Ferdinand entered into a lively discussion with Dick to
prove that he had not plagiarised from Byron while Dick in reply
mercilessly chaffed the unhappy poet with such success that he fled
from the room, pursued by his laughing antagonist.

“What is the matter, Reggy?” asked Pumpkin, seeing how quiet Blake had
remained, “anything wrong?”

“Oh no,” he replied hastily, “but I was wondering how the Squire is
this morning.”

“You’d better go over and see, Blake,” said the vicar, looking up. “I
hope that strange doctor did him some good. By the way who is this
doctor?”

“I don’t know, sir,” answered Blake, turning towards Dr. Larcher, “he
said he was on a walking tour, and I fancy is a friend of Beaumont’s.”

The vicar frowned.

“Birds of a feather,” he said decisively. “I don’t think much of
Beaumont, Blake, and if this Dr. Nestley is his friend, I’m afraid
he’s not much good.”

“That is severe, papa,” said Pumpkin.

“My dear,” replied her father emphatically. “I hope I am the last man
in the world to speak ill of my fellow creatures, but I am afraid that
Basil Beaumont is not a good man–you can hardly call him ‘_integer
vitæ_,’–I knew him before he left the parish, and even then his
nature was not all that could be desired, but now his worst traits of
character have become developed in the pernicious atmosphere of London
life, and as I am the guardian of three youths whose minds are
naturally open to seductive influences it is but right that I should
take a severe view of the matter; if Basil Beaumont became the
companion of my pupils I should tremble for the result–_ille dies
utramque ducet ruinam_.”

“But Dr. Nestley, papa?”

“As to Doctor Nestley,” said the vicar majestically, “I do not yet
know him–when I do, I will be in a position to judge of his
character–but like draws to like and I fear–I fear sadly,” finished
Dr. Larcher shaking his head sagaciously, “that no one of strictly
upright principles can be an intimate friend of Basil Beaumont’s.”

“I don’t think they are very intimate friends,” said Reggy
thoughtfully, “rather the opposite.”

“Ah, indeed,” replied Dr. Larcher, “well, well, we shall see;
however–_non hæc jocosæ conveniunt lyræ_–you can go over to the
Grange, Blake, and inquire after the Squire’s health.”

At this moment a tapping was heard on the floor above which signified
that Mrs. Larcher required some little attention, whereupon Pumpkin
left the room with alacrity in order to see what “The Affliction”
wanted. Left alone with the vicar Reggy was about to retire, when Dr.
Larcher stopped him.

“By the way, Blake,” he said gravely, “I wish to speak to you on a
serious subject.”

Reggy flushed red and bowed without saying a word, as he intuitively
guessed what was coming.

“I am aware,” observed the vicar in his ponderous manner, “that I may
be about to interfere in your affairs in what you may consider a most
unjustifiable manner.”

“Not at all, sir,” answered Reginald warmly, “no one has such a right
to speak to me as you have–my second father–I may say my only
father.”

Dr. Larcher smiled in a gratified manner and looked at the tall young
man standing near him with approval.

“I am glad to have your good opinion,” he said, politely bending his
head, “but in order that you may understand me clearly you must permit
me to recapitulate as shortly as possible the story of your life–this
is a very critical period of your career–remember Horace, _Tu nisi
ventis debis ludibrium cave_.”

Blake turned pale, then, with a forced smile resumed his seat and
waited for the vicar to proceed, which that worthy gentleman did, not
without some embarrassment.

“Of course you understand,” he said clearing his throat, “that I am
quite unaware of your parentage–whether your father and mother are
alive I do not know–about two-and-twenty years ago you were brought
to me by Patience Allerby, your nurse, who had just then returned from
London, where she had been in service. She told me that you were the
son of a poor literary man and his wife, whose servant she had been,
they went away to France and–I understand–died there. She was left
with you on her hands so brought you down here and delivered you to my
charge; since then you have been an inmate of my house.”

“The only home I ever knew,” interposed Blake with emotion.

“I will not deny,” said Dr. Larcher, “that I have received through
your nurse certain sums of money for your education which leads me to
believe–in spite of her denial–that your parents may be still alive.
This is well enough in the past, but now you are twenty-two years of
age and I wish to make some arrangements about your future career–you
will of course choose your own vocation in life–but meantime I wish
you to ask Patience Allerby about your birth and obtain from her all
information regarding your parents which may be of use to me–you can
do so when you go over to the Grange to-day–and then let me know the
result; afterwards we can discuss ways and means regarding your
future.”

“It’s very kind of you, sir to talk like this,” said Blake in a low
voice, “and I feel deeply grateful to you. I will see Patience and get
her to tell me all she knows, but I’m afraid I can expect nothing from
my parents, even though they are alive–a father and mother who could
leave their child to the mercy of strangers all these years cannot
have much humanity.”

“Do not judge them too harshly,” said the vicar hastily, “there may be
reasons.”

“I’ve no doubt of that,” replied Blake bitterly, “reasons which mean
shame.”

“Not necessarily–a secret marriage—-”

“Would have been declared long before the lapse of twenty years,” said
Reggy quickly. “I’m afraid there is worse than that and my birth was
my mother’s shame.”

There was a cloud on the good vicar’s brow as the young man spoke, but
he delicately refrained from saying anything. Going over to Blake he
patted him gently on the shoulder, a mark of kindliness which touched
the young man deeply.

“Come! come, Blake,” he said cheerfully, “you must not cherish these
morbid fancies. You are young and clever, with the world before you,
who knows but what you may achieve success, and then your unknown
parents, if they live, will acknowledge you only too gladly. Do not be
so easily cast down. What is the manly advice of the Venusinian?

‘Rebus angustis animosus atque
Fortis appare.'”

“I don’t think Horace was ever called upon to bear trouble undaunted,”
said Blake rather sadly, “but if my belief is true it will cast a
shadow on my life.”

“Morbid! morbid!” replied the vicar gaily, “do not go out in a coach
and four to meet your troubles, my lad–see Patience first–if your
thoughts prove true there will be time enough to lament them, but with
youth and brains on your side you should not turn recreant in the
battle of life.”

“Nor will I,” said Reggy, grasping the kind hand held out towards him.
“Whatever comes or goes I have at least one man who has been to me
father and mother both.”

Then, overcome by his emotion, he hastily left the room, while the
vicar, taking up the bronze sword, prepared to follow.

“Ah!” said the worthy gentleman with a sigh. “I trust his forebodings
may not prove true, but Patience Allerby knows more than she tells,
and I fear for the worst; however, _Non si male nunc et olim sic
erit_, and the boy has at least had a few happy years–what says
glorious John?

‘Not heaven itself over the past hath power
For what hath been hath been,
And I have had my hour.'”

And with this somewhat pagan sentiment Dr. Larcher went away to
discuss the Bronze period, illustrated by the newly-found sword, with
a certain old crony who always differed from him and constantly said
“No,” to the vicar’s “Yes.”