+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

and took us away from the desolate house, and
we soon forgot our brief sorrow, and found a
warm soft nest to dwell in, two little unfledged
innocents that we were, from whom the sheltering
mother-wings had taken flight so soon, for

I have used the term “our guardian,” for so
he was truly and faithfully; but I do not mean
that he was ever legally appointed so; nor, indeed,
were we of importance enough to have a
guardian appointed for us. We had no treasure,
and needed no dragon to guard it; but God sent
us a friend who, though there was nothing else
to take care of, took care of us from pure love
and compassion. He was the husband of my
mother’s half-sister, a woman many years older
than my mother, and he had known and loved
both my parents. Childless themselves, he and
his wife had often beggedhalf in jest, half in
earnestto have one of us little ones, to rear as
their own. Anna was their favouriteas she
was most people’s—such a pretty plump thing
as she was, with great eyes, and delicate rings
of dark brown hair curling over her forehead!
But they would have been glad to take either of
us. They have often told me that father used
to say laughingly, “Wait till I die, Jim, and
I’ll leave you one of them in my will.” Poor
father! Mother was passionately eager to have
a son, and had even, I believe, made a half-
promise that, if ever a boy were born to her, one
of us inferior creatures should be transferred to
the Gable House. But I do not think that any
number of brothers would have pushed us from
our places in father’s heart. It was hoped at
first that there might be some small provision for
us, when his affairs were finally wound up. No
one expected that we could have much; but
his practice had been a large one, and he had
lived simply, and had had no selfish expenses.
However, beyond the small sum obtained by the
sale of the furniture and books, we had literally
nothing. A country surgeon, if he be one of
those good Samaritans to whom the sight of
helpless suffering is the most effectual appeal
that can be made, and who will not only prescribe
the healing oil and cordial wine, but bestow
them, if need be, is seldom rich. And my father
was still young and strong when the fever felled
him. He looked not for death. How many of
us do expect his coming, even though the journey
have been long, and the road stretch far behind
us? Uncle Gough carried us home, Anna and
me, in our little black frocks; and Aunt Gough
kissed us, and cried over us, and took us into
her heart, and filled a mother’s place to us, while
she lived.

I remember that, from the first, Anna was the
more masterful of us two. What she desired,
she desired so eagerly; what she aimed at, even
in our childish days, she pursued with so blind a
vehemence of passion; that weaker wills
unconsciously drew aside, and ceased from offering any
obstacle to her course. It was bad for Anna,
this yielding on the part of those around her. I
have sometimes thought, that if our parents had
lived, Anna and others might have been spared
the bitter sorrows which afterwards wrecked
more than one life. And yet the expression of
that thought seems so like a reproach to the
memory of the beloved guardians of our youth,
that I cannot bear to say so. But the fault, if
fault there were, lay in the excessive tenderness
of Aunt and Uncle Gough. They had so resolved
that the orphans should never miss the sweetness
of a mother’s love, should never feel, even for
an instant, the chill of orphanhood and strangeness
in their new home, that they shrank from the
remotest semblance of harshness, and wielded
their authority with a gentleness which seemed
almost feeble.


THE new home that received us was delightful
in its outward aspect. It was a very old
building, and the good fortune or good taste of its
successive occupants had preserved it almost in
its original condition. I have never, in England,
seen so perfect and picturesque a specimen of an
ancient dwelling-house, except in the good old
town of Shrewsbury. Uncle Gough’s residence
was, however, situated in a quite different
quarter of England, in a smiling southern county,
and within twenty miles of the sea. It was, I
believe, the largest, and was most certainly the
noblest-looking house in the little town of
Willborough, and it stood in spacious grounds
of its own. The lawn and gardens and orchards
extended back a considerable distance; but the
front of the house was quite near enough to the
main street of the town for its numerous gables
to be well seen from thence above the high brick
walls which surrounded it; and the great old
iron entrance-gate gave to view the hall door,
with its quaint overhanging porch and the stone
benches within it on either side, whereon, in
fine sunny weather, might often be seen a heap
of children’s books and toys, with, perhaps, a
small straw hat or a crumpled sash, the whole
zealously guarded by the tiniest, firiest,
uncanniest-looking black-and-tan terrier that was
ever beheld. For, this great porch was Anna’s
favourite playing-place, and Vixen was her
favourite playmate. The porch was a constant
casus belli,—not between Anna and Aunt Gough,
for the dear soul would let the child have her
way when she fancied her heart was set upon
littering the stone benches and pursuing her
pastimes in full view of all the passers-by in the
High-street. But old Stock, uncle’s factotum
and absolute tyrant, strongly objected to what
he called the unseemliness of poor Anna’s
selected haunt. He was a queer wooden-
looking old man, whose real business was that
of a gardener, but who seemed to fancy he
had a sort of vested right in every inch of
Uncle Gough’s territory which lay outside the
thick panels of the hall door. Beyond that, into