Virginie waylaid Sir Everard on his way down to breakfast next morning,
to beg him to speak to Humphrey on the subject of leading Miles into
The baronet acquiesced with a sigh. It was a job he particularly
disliked. In the short time he was able to be with his children, he
enjoyed seeing them all life and happiness; and he hated to bring a
cloud over their bright faces.
Humphrey was hanging out of the window when his father went into the
dining room, and Sir Everard was half afraid of calling him away, for
fear of startling him, and causing him to fall out; but at the sound of
his father’s footsteps, the boy drew himself in and bounded towards him.
“Why did you not come and help me to dress this morning?” said Sir
Everard, as he kissed him.
Humphrey looked rather bored. “Virginie wouldn’t let me,” he answered;
“she thought it would be a good punishment.”
Here was an opening! Sir Everard felt he ought not to let it slip.
“Punishment!” said he, trying to look very solemn; “I am sorry to hear
you deserved punishing. Why, what have you been doing?”
Humphrey looked up to the ceiling, down to the ground, and all round the
room. “I can’t remember what it was, father!”
Sir Everard tried hard not to smile. “What is the use of scolding such a
boy,” thought he; “a child who does not even remember for what offence
he is suffering?”
“Stop a minute!” cried Humphrey, who was still in an attitude of
reflection, “perhaps I shall remember presently.”
He ran over his recent misdemeanors in his head, checking them off with
his fingers and his father, seeing it was likely to be a long job, sat
down to breakfast.
“Well, Humphrey!” he questioned, after a pause, “have you remembered?”
“No, I _can’t_,” answered the boy, “but I’m sure Virginie will. Shall I
run up and ask her?”
Sir Everard was amused, but a little provoked. It seemed such a hopeless
task ever to make an impression upon Humphrey. But he only said, “No,
you need not do that; I think I can tell you a little about it. Come and
sit down here.”
Sir Everard turned the tap of the urn, and put on the longest face he
could think of. “I am sorry to hear from Virginie,” he began, looking
full at Humphrey, so as to make sure he was gaining his attention, “that
He stopped in despair, for Humphrey’s eyes had wandered to the tap, and
his mind was intent on the running water.
“Are you listening to me, Humphrey?”
“Take care!” was all Humphrey’s answer jumping up from his chair, and
clapping his hands; “turn it off! quick! look! look! father!”
There was no help for it, Sir Everard had to break off his discourse,
and attend to the water, which was running all over the table, and the
boy’s laughter was so infectious that he joined heartily in it.
“I give it up,” he said to himself; “it’s no use trying to make an
impression on anything so volatile.”
“It served you quite right, father,” said Humphrey, “for not letting me
turn on the tap. You know quite well Miles and I always take turns to do
it. Oh! I wish it would happen again!” And at the recollection, the
merry laugh broke out once more.
But the mention of the little prisoner up-stairs, recalled Sir Everard
to a sense of his duty, for Miles was suffering for his brother’s
thoughtlessness. So he gave Humphrey a long lecture on leading his
brother astray and threatened him with the continual espionage of
Virginie in the garden if he had any more complaints of the kind.
Humphrey sat looking very mournful while the discourse lasted, and was
vehement in his promises that it should never happen again.
“Till next time, I suppose,” said the baronet, laughing; and then he
gave him some bread and honey and took up the newspaper.
He felt rather proud of the effect he had produced, for Humphrey ate his
bread and honey in silence, and seemed very thoughtful.
“Boys will not attend to the maids,” he reflected; “there is nothing
like the authority of a parent after all.”
In about five minutes, Humphrey’s meditations came to a close.
“What, my boy,” said Sir Everard, putting down the paper, in
anticipation of some penitent speech, and mentally saying, “I did not
mean him to take it so much to heart, poor child!”
“If you had lived in the times of the Wars of the Roses, which side
would you have taken?”
Sir Everard was rather taken aback. In the first place, because it was
rather a shock to his feelings to find, after all, how little impression
he had made; and in the second, he was by no means so familiar with that
part of history as to be able to give his opinion in a hurry. He would
not, however, lower himself in the boy’s estimation by allowing his
“Wars of the Roses,” he repeated, to gain a little time for reflection;
“have you been learning a great deal about them lately?”
“Yes,” said Humphrey, with a sigh; “Virginie seems _very_ fond of them.
Is it true that unless I remember all the battles of the Wars of the
Roses, I shall never be able to go into parliament?”
“Does Virginie say so?” enquired Sir Everard.
“Yes,” said Humphrey. “She says, of course all the members of parliament
know the names at the tips of their fingers and could say them in
order; and which were won by Yorkists and which by Lancastrians.”
Sir Everard felt very thankful that he held his seat on less frail a
tenure, and sincerely hoped his son was not going to put him to the
test. Vain hope!
“I suppose, of course, father, _you_ could say them right off?”
“It’s almost a pity to stay indoors such a fine day,” said the baronet,
hastily; “suppose you get your hat and run out in the garden.”
Yorkists and Lancastrians at once vanished from Humphrey’s head, and he
was off. But when he was gone, Sir Everard took down a volume of English
History, and studied it for the rest of the morning.
After luncheon, Sir Everard proposed to take Humphrey out riding.
Little Miles looked very disconsolate when the horses came to the door,
and he found himself condemned to a solitary afternoon, but seemed
somewhat cheered by a long-whispered confabulation that his brother had
with him before starting.
At three o’clock Sir Everard and Humphrey mounted, and as they went
along the road, the following conversation took place:–
“Will you pass through the town, father; because I’ve got some shopping
“Shopping! why what do you want to buy?”
“It’s such a very great secret, that I don’t think I can tell you. But
perhaps you can keep a secret?”
“Yes, I think I may promise to keep it.”
“Well, then, I’ll tell you. It’s a birthday present for you. And what
would you like? But you must promise not to tell any one.”
“No one shall know: but I think I would rather you chose for me; what
you like, I shall like.”
“Well, now, I don’t think you would. You see, _I_ should like a
pop-gun, or some nine-pins. Now _you_ would not care for either of
those, would you?”
Sir Everard admitted that he was getting a little old for these
“I thought so!” pursued Humphrey, delighted with his own discrimination,
“and that’s what makes it so difficult. You’ve got a watch and a
thermometer, and all the other things grown-up men have, so it is very
“But, my dear child, all the things you mention are very expensive, far
beyond your little means, I should think. Why, how much money have you
“Well! that’s just the awkward part; I have not got any! But I thought
perhaps you wouldn’t mind giving me some, as it is for your own birthday
Sir Everard laughed.
“Rather an expensive way of having birthday presents.”
“I don’t think it will be very expensive,” said the practical Humphrey;
“but of course it depends on what I buy. Here is the shop, father;
They pulled up before one of those little nondescript shops to be found
in every small country-town.
“Now mind,” said Humphrey, as he jumped down from his pony, “mind you
don’t peep through the door, because you might see me looking at things
on the counter.”
He waited for a moment till he had exacted a promise from Sir Everard,
and then ran into the shop.
“I want something for a grown-up man,” he said, as he advanced to the
The shop-woman did her best to show everything she thought likely to
suit, but Humphrey was not at all satisfied with the choice. His
restless eyes wandered all over the shop. “Have not you got anything for
a man to put in his pocket?” he asked.
An inspiration seized the woman, and she advanced to the window.
“Take care!” called out Humphrey, to the woman’s great surprise, as she
began to take down some things.
“Please don’t,” he continued, in an agony, as, startled by his shout,
she remained, with a compass in one hand and a purse in the other.
“Father’s out there, and he’ll see what you take down, and guess it’s
for his birthday present.”
The woman humbly begged his pardon, but it was too late; Humphrey would
not look at either purse or compass. “You’ve spoilt it all,” he said;
“he must have seen.”
He remained leaning disconsolately against the counter, gazing with no
friendly eye on the rapidly increasing heap of goods which the patient
woman produced from all corners of the shop for his inspection.
“Have you got a husband?” he asked, suddenly.
To Humphrey’s horror, the woman put up her apron to her eyes, and began
“Oh! I’m _so_ sorry,” said he; “I didn’t mean to make you cry, really.
I see now you’ve got a cap on, so of course he’s dead. I’m _very_ sorry
he’s dead,” he continued after a pause, “because I was going to say
perhaps he would have been able to tell me what a grown-up man would
like.” Then, afraid he had been unfeeling, he added, “Of course, I’m
sorry too, because it seems to make you unhappy. You don’t remember, I
suppose,” he went on, doubtfully, and eyeing the widow carefully, to see
how far he might go without fear of a fresh outburst, “what he used to
like for his birthday presents?”
The woman cast her thoughts back to the memory of the defunct, and the
prominent idea connected with him being tobacco-smoke, she suggested a
Humphrey was delighted at the idea.
“You don’t mean to say they’re in the window!” he exclaimed in despair.
The widow was obliged to admit that it was too true.
“What are we to do!” said Humphrey, dejectedly. “I know!” he added, the
next moment running to the door.
“Father!” he shouted, “would you mind turning your head away for a
minute, because we’re going to get something out of the window.”
Sir Everard immediately became engrossed with the door of the opposite
public-house, to the great discomfiture of one of his gardeners, who was
issuing therefrom, slightly inebriated, and had been doing his best to
escape the baronet’s notice.
Humphrey was delighted with the cigar-cases. They were so brilliant in
their embroidered covers. He was particularly attracted by the smallest
“It will hold so very few cigars,” suggested the woman, “had you not
better have a larger one?”
“Oh, that doesn’t matter the least,” said Humphrey, “because father
doesn’t smoke. As long as it is smart and pretty to put into his pocket,
it will do very well. Wrap it up, please, so as to hide it quite, in
case he should guess by the shape.”
The widow wrapped it in several covers, and Humphrey left the shop.
“You did not see, father, I hope,” he said earnestly, as he mounted his
pony, and Sir Everard assured him he had not once looked towards the
“How much?” asked the baronet, as the parcel was handed up.
“Ten-and-sixpence,” answered the shop-woman.
Sir Everard hid his feelings, and paid the money.
“Isn’t it cheap?” said Humphrey, as they rode off, “considering it’s all
embroidered with gold, and … oh! dear me! I hope you haven’t guessed
“Far from it,” answered Sir Everard; “I am more puzzled than ever; for I
can’t conceive what you could have found in that little shop, that would
be all embroidered with gold.”
Humphrey was in great glee. “You haven’t the slightest _idea_, I
suppose, father what it is?”
“Not the remotest.”
“So I know something you don’t. You often tell me you know so many
things I know nothing about. Now it is just the other way, isn’t it?”
“Just the other way,” answered the baronet, and Humphrey rode on in a
state of great elation.
“It’s a dreadful thing to have a secret,” he observed presently, after
having once or twice begun to speak, and stopped short.
“Why?” inquired his father, smiling.
“Oh! so _dreadfully_ difficult to keep,” he answered. “Two or three
times I’ve been beginning to talk about it, and forgetting you weren’t
“Let’s talk of something else then.”
Another pause, and then Humphrey said: “Do you know, father, I think you
had better take me home?”
“Home already! are you tired?”
“No–it isn’t that; but I know if I wait much longer, I shall be
telling you the secret before I can stop myself. If I only could tell
some one, I should be all right; so that’s why I want to get home to
“But I want to call on General Colville and also to pay old Dyson a
visit. Can you last a little longer, do you think?”
Humphrey was fond of society, and so took very kindly to the
“Dyson is the old deaf man, isn’t he? Was he born deaf?”
“No; it is only of late years that he has become so.”
“I’m glad I wasn’t born deaf. It would have been a great bore. I wonder
Dyson doesn’t buy an ear-trumpet.”
“I suppose, poor fellow, he can’t afford it.”
“I _should_ so like to give him one.”
“But where’s your money?”
“Ah! there it is again. I never _do_ have any money.”
“I gave you a shilling a very little while ago.”
“I bought copper caps, and hard-bake.”
“Ah! we can’t eat our cake, and have it, you know.”
“Not cake, father–hardbake!”
“It’s all the same. Now, if you were to save up your money, instead of
buying trash, you would be able to buy useful things.”
“So I will. I’ll begin saving directly; the very next shilling you give
me, I’ll put away, and go on till I’ve got enough to buy Dyson an
“That will be a very good plan.”
“When do you suppose you’ll be giving me another shilling, father?”
“Ah! that I don’t know at all.”
“Hadn’t you better be beginning pretty soon? because an ear-trumpet will
cost a good deal, and it would be a pity to keep old Dyson waiting.”
Sir Everard handed him a shilling, saying, as he did so: “Now, mind, it
is not to be spent on anything else,” and Humphrey faithfully promised
it should not.
Old Dyson was in his garden when they passed, so they drew up to speak
to him He was not so deaf as to be unable to hear Sir Everard’s
powerful shout, but Humphrey’s little attempts were futile.
“How pleased he’d be,” thought Humphrey to himself, “if he knew I was
going to save up my money to buy him an ear-trumpet.”
And he held up his shilling to the old man in triumph, as if the very
sight of it would tell him the whole story.
Dyson smiled and nodded. “Ay, ay, going to buy sweeties, I see!”
Humphrey shook his head vehemently, and tried to shout an explanation.
“No!” said the old man; “then it’ll be a top, maybe?”
It was no use trying to make him understand; and as Sir Everard was
moving off, Humphrey was obliged to follow, shaking his head to the
“It would never do to tell old Dyson a secret,” he observed to his
father, when he overtook him.
“Why, you’d have to scream it so loud in his ear that every one would
hear. It wouldn’t be much of a secret when all the village was
listening. Supposing I were to shout to him, ‘Dyson, I’m going to give
father a birthday present, and it’s a cigar ca—-.’ Oh, good gracious!”
said Humphrey, pulling up his pony, “I’ve told you my secret! Oh,
father, _did_ you guess?”
Sir Everard’s attention had been wandering, and he could honestly assure
the child that he was as far as ever from knowing the secret.
“And now, here we are at General Colville’s,” he added; “so you will
have lots of things to distract your thoughts.”
Sir Everard and Humphrey were shown into the drawing-room where were two
ladies and some children.
Mrs. Colville came forward to receive them, and informed Sir Everard
that her husband was confined to his room with a slight attack of gout.
Sir Everard immediately volunteered to go and see him. Mrs. Colville
took him up-stairs, and Humphrey was left with the other lady.
“What is your name, dear?” she asked.
“I’m Humphrey Duncombe,” he answered, seating himself by her side. “Who
“I’m Mrs. Colville’s sister,” she answered, smiling. “I suppose you
don’t remember me, but I have seen you before, at your grandmother’s, at
Banleigh. I live close by.”
“I wonder if you could keep a secret?” said Humphrey eagerly.
“Yes, dear, I think so; but why? Have you got one to tell me?”
“A very great one. I’ve never had one before, and I don’t like it at
all. I _must_ tell some one, or else I shall be telling it to father,
“But why not tell your father? Surely he would be the best person.”
“Tell father! Mrs. Colville’s sister? Why, he’s just the very person who
isn’t to know.”
“Mrs. Colville’s sister” had been half afraid she was going to be made
the confidante of some boyish escapade which the child had concealed
from his father; but Humphrey’s open face disarmed suspicion, and she
listened attentively while he poured forth his tale.
It was necessary to listen attentively, for, in the first place,
Humphrey was in such a hurry to get to his point, that he rather slurred
over the necessary explanations; and, in the second place, he insisted
on whispering it all in her ear, on account of the presence of the
He had just finished his story, and she was making solemn protestations
of the strictest secrecy, when Mrs. Colville came back.
“You must not tell even _her_ you know,” concluded Humphrey; and, with a
sigh of relief, he sat down again.
Mrs. Colville was one of those mothers who are always fancying other
children are better dressed than their own. She was a great copyist,
and an unscrupulous borrower of patterns.
Virginie held her in abhorrence. She had once asked for the pattern of
Miles’s blouse, and Virginie had never forgotten or forgiven Sir
Everard’s ready acquiescence.
Mrs. Colville and her family came to the same church as the Duncombes,
and it was almost more than Virginie could stand to see other children
dressed like her young gentlemen.
Mrs. Colville–blinded, a little, like most mothers–did not see that
what suited Humphrey and Miles, both exceedingly pretty children, did
not have quite the same effect on her nice, but decidedly plain, little
boys, and went steadily on. Whatever appeared on Humphrey’s graceful
figure one Sunday, was sure to be reproduced on some fat little Colville
Men do not notice these things. Sir Everard was quite unaware of what
went on, but, to Virginie, it was a constant source of annoyance.
“_That’s_ a pretty suit,” said Mrs. Colville examining Humphrey’s
“Very,” returned her sister; “they fit so well.”
“Come here, Clement,” said Mrs. Colville to a little boy in the
distance; “there, don’t you see, Mary, how differently his things set?”
Mary saw well enough, and saw too that it was figure and not clothes
that made such a difference between the two boys, but she did not like
to wound her sister’s maternal vanity by saying so.
“Does your French bonne make your clothes, dear?” Mrs. Colville inquired
“Not mine,” he answered–“only Miles’s. Mine,” he added with great
pride, “come from a London tailor’s.”
“Do you happen to remember his name?”
“Swears and Wells,” answered Humphrey; “I went there once to see
‘Gulliver.’ I advise you to go and see him when you are in London. You
can’t think how jolly he is!”
“I suppose, of course, you don’t remember the direction?” Of course
“Stop a bit,” he said, all of a sudden. “I’ve seen the direction written
somewhere quite lately. Where _could_ I have seen it? Why, since I’ve
been in this room I’ve read it.”
“Impossible, my dear child,” said Mrs. Colville, laughing.
“But I have _really_,” getting up from his chair in his excitement;
“I’ve seen the number and the name of the street written somewhere in
“You must be dreaming, dear.”
“No, I’m quite sure I did. Now where _could_ it have been? Did I go near
the writing-table?” As he spoke, he advanced. “Or, stop, here are some
cards. Did I see it written on a card?”
“No; I assure you Swears and Wells are not visitors of mine.”
Humphrey was determined not to give it up, and in spite of the laughter
of both ladies, he got up, went to the door, and made his entry all over
again, that he might see what he could have passed on the way that might
have had the direction on it.
He reflected out loud as he went along: “I came in here and passed the
table (no, not on the books, or the work-basket, or the flower-stand).
Then I stood by the piano a minute, while father was shaking hands with
Mrs. Colville (no, not on the piano or the music). Then I shook hands
with Mrs. Colville, then I sat down on the sofa by her sister, and put
my hat by my side so–and—-Oh!” he exclaimed, so suddenly that he
startled both ladies, “here it is, written inside my hat! _That’s_ where
I saw it–look! a little ticket: ‘Swears and Wells, 192 Regent Street.’
_Ain’t_ you glad, Mrs. Colville? Now you’ll be able to find the shop.
Hadn’t you better write it down?”
He was heart and soul in the subject, and did not perceive the amusement
What would Virginie’s feelings have been could she have seen the name,
number and address, copied with great accuracy into Mrs. Colville’s
“Where is it?” and to make sure there should be no mistake, this
memorandum added: “a suit such as was lately made for Sir E. Duncombe’s
This was just accomplished when Sir Everard came back.
“I’m afraid the General is in for a sharp attack, Mrs. Colville.”
“I am afraid he is–he is so very imprudent. You know my sister, Sir
Sir Everard advanced with a smile of recognition.
“Is it possible you are little Mary Wilberforce? I didn’t recognize you
just now, you are grown out of all recollection. To be sure, it is a
long time since I saw you–three or four years, isn’t it?”
Mary said something about it being a long time, but she did not like to
particularize the date, though she remembered it perfectly: because Lady
Duncombe had been with him at the time, and she was afraid of recalling
“And when did you leave Banleigh?”
“About a week ago.”
“How were my people?”
“I saw Lady Albinia and Miss Duncombe the day before I left. They were
both very well.”
A shy smile lighted up her face as she mentioned Miss Duncombe. There
was evidently some joke about her, for it was reflected on Sir
Everard’s. “Poor old Cecilia,” laughed he.
Miss Duncombe was a lady of limited intellect, and exceedingly young for
her age; and everybody was at liberty to laugh at her. They talked on
about her for some time, while Humphrey listened with all his might, and
then Sir Everard took his leave.
“I’m better now,” said Humphrey, as they rode along.
“What! were you not feeling well?” said Sir Everard, alarmed.
“Oh, yes; but I mean about my secret. What makes me feel better is,
that I’ve told it to that lady–Mrs. Colville’s sister.”
“I don’t believe you will ever keep that secret for ten days more. Do
you know my birthday is not till Monday week?”
“Oh dear! oh dear! I thought it was much sooner than that. Let’s be
quick and talk of something else!”
“What shall we talk about? I am expecting two gentlemen down from London
to-night, to spend Sunday; and I’m going to meet them at the station, as
soon as I have taken you home to your tea. Will that do?”
“Yes, that will do. Are they nice gentlemen?”
“Yes, I think them so: but then tastes differ. Perhaps you won’t.”
“Old or young?”
“Well! one is a good deal older than me and—-”
“White hair, then _of course_?” put in Humphrey.
“Greyish, perhaps; and the other is about the age of your uncle
“Will he tell us such nice stories about kangaroos and boar-hunting?”
“I should think probably not. The other one is more likely to tell you
stories, as he has had little boys of his own.”
“Miles and I know of a pond where the branch of a tree hangs over, just
like the one in Uncle Charlie’s story; and we are going to crawl along
it some day, and look down at our faces in the water, like the man did.”
“Now, Humphrey,” said Sir Everard, “I won’t have it done. The branch is
quite rotten, and may break off any minute.”
Humphrey looked very mournful. “Are you quite sure, father?”
“Quite sure; and I forbid you to do it. Do you hear?”
“Very well, father,” with a sigh; “we won’t crawl along, if you don’t
like it; but you won’t mind our going to look at it? We’ve been
prevented so many times, and we do so want to go there! If we _promise_
not to climb, you won’t say we’re not to go, _will_ you?”
“Yes–once for all, I say you are not to go near the pond; and I trust
to you, Humphrey, to obey me. Promise.”
“It’s a _great_ pity, father!”
“Never mind. I won’t have Miles led into any more mischief.”
Humphrey promised rather reluctantly adding to himself: “It’s not much
use making _me_ promise anything, because I’m _sure_ to forget.”
They rode on in silence for some time after this; and when Humphrey next
spoke, it was on quite a different subject.
“I didn’t know till to-day, father, that you didn’t like Aunt Cecilia!”
“What _do_ you mean, Humphrey?” said Sir Everard, horrified.
“You spoke as if you didn’t much like her, to Mrs. Colville’s sister.”
“Why, what did I say?” said Sir Everard, hastily casting back his
thoughts to the conversation.
“Well, you seemed to laugh at her a good deal.”
“My dear child,” said Sir Everard, relieved, “having a little joke about
a person does not prove one does not like that person. I am very fond of
your Aunt. It would be odd indeed if I did not like my only sister. Why,
when I laugh at you and Miles, do you think I do not like you?”
It was a lame sentence, badly put together, and not expressing much. Sir
Everard was not at all satisfied with it himself. He had got it up in
such a hurry that he was not at all sure whether it was sense or not,
and he was anxious to see if it would answer its purpose. Children are
sometimes, however, very easily silenced; and Humphrey received the
explanation with great respect.
The danger was past, for this time; but Sir Everard, inwardly resolved
never to speak before the children again; and the anxieties of the
evening before recurring at the same moment to his mind, he determined
not to run any more risks.
So, on arriving at home, he sent up a private message to Virginie that
he should not require either of the young gentlemen down-stairs that
evening, though they might come to his dressing-room as usual.
Then, after transferring the precious parcel from his own to Humphrey’s
pocket, he wished the boy “good-bye,” and went to meet his friends at