Read CHAPTER IV of Left at Home / The Heart's Resting Place, free online book, by Mary L. Code, on ReadCentral.com.

LAST DAYS AT ASHTON GRANGE

Mrs. Estcourt, Mr. Vivyan’s only sister, was a widow lady living by herself. Her home was in the neighbourhood of a large town, and here, in a comfortable, moderately-sized house, she had lived for many years. She had no children of her own, and when her husband had died she had seemed to wish to avoid much intercourse with any one, so that Arthur knew very little of his aunt. Once or twice he had seen her when she had paid very short visits at Ashton Grange. He remembered a very sad-looking lady, with a sweet face, who had held his hand as he stood by her chair, and that he had half liked it, and felt half awkward as she spoke to him. He remembered that as he had stood there, he had felt afraid to move or fidget in the least bit, and that every now and then, as he had stolen a glance at her, he had seen that her large dark eyes had been fixed upon him. He had been very glad when the nursery dinner-bell rang and he was obliged to go, without seeming to wish to run away.

“Nurse,” said Arthur that day at dinner, “there’s a black lady down stairs.”

“A black lady!” said nurse; “there’s a way to speak of your aunt, Master Arthur. Mrs. Estcourt is your papa’s own sister.”

“Well, she looked all black, I know,” said Arthur. “I think I won’t go down stairs much while she is there.”

Nurse remarked that if he were going to stay she hoped he would be quiet and well-behaved; but as he had to keep all his quiet behaviour for the drawing-room, it is to be feared nurse’s temper was tried a little during the few days that Mrs. Estcourt passed at Ashton Grange. Consequently Arthur’s memories of his aunt were not such as to make him very happy at the prospect of living with her always.

“Mother,” said Arthur, on the evening of the day after he had heard about these strange things that were going to happen, “is the aunt that I am going to live with, that one that came here once?”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Vivyan; “She is very kind, Arthur, and I know she will love you very much, if ”

“Yes, if I am good, I know,” said Arthur; “and that’s just the difference. You know, mamma, you always love me, whatever I am.”

“Of course,” said his mother, smiling; “but you could not expect any one to love you in the way your mother does. You would not like her to be your mother, would you?”

“No, of course not. Now, mother, tell me something about what her place is like, and where it is, and what sort of things I shall do when I am there. I have loads of questions to ask, only I forget them now.”

“Well, begin then,” said his mother; “perhaps one will remind you of another.”

“First of all, then, what is the name of her place?”

“Myrtle Hill, near Stanton.”

“Myrtle Hill! what a funny name. Is it at all like this, mother?”

“No, dear, not much. I am afraid it is a much more orderly kind of place. But I will try to describe it to you. It is a good many years since I was there, and I did not notice things so very much. It is a white house with myrtle trained over the lower parts, and a great many myrtle trees growing in the avenue; that is why it is called Myrtle Hill. I know there is a large garden with a good many shady places under the trees, that I remember thinking would be delightful in the summer. There is a front garden too.”

“That’s nice,” said Arthur.

“Oh, but I don’t expect your aunt will like little boys to have the run of her garden!”

“I daresay she will,” said Arthur. “She is going to be very fond of me, you know.”

“Well, that is question number one. Now, what is the second?”

“Yes; where does she live?”

“It is a good way from this; about six hours by the train, and five miles from Stanton.”

“Oh, yes! and that reminds me of another question. How am I to learn? Will she teach me? I hope not.”

“No,” said Mrs. Vivyan; “we have thought you are old enough to go to school now. There is a very good school between your aunt’s house and the town. It is about two miles from Myrtle Hill, and you would go there every morning and come back early in the evening.”

“Ah, I like that very much,” said Arthur joyfully; “that really is jolly, mother. Who keeps the school?”

“A very nice gentleman. Your father has known him for a long time.”

“He is tremendously strict, I suppose?”

“Well, I daresay he likes to be obeyed,” said Mrs. Vivyan; “but that is quite right, isn’t it?”

“Yes, of course,” Arthur answered. “What is his name, mother?”

“Mr. Carey.”

“Well, I don’t like that name,” said Arthur emphatically; “but I suppose he can’t help that. Does he wear spectacles?”

“No, I should think not,” said Mrs. Vivyan, smiling; “he is not old enough. I think he is not quite so old as your father.”

“I suppose he is rather young then. I am glad of that. I should never be so much afraid of youngish people as of old ones.”

“Any more questions?” asked Mrs. Vivyan presently. “There is one question you have not asked, Arthur, darling, that I was expecting, and it is the one question that my heart is paining to have to answer.”

“What can it be, mother?” said Arthur wonderingly. “I think I have asked a great many. What can it be?”

And then he thought for a little while very earnestly. At length a troubled look came into his eyes, and he looked at his mother, and said softly

“I know, mother, I know, and I am rather afraid to ask; but I must, for I want to know. When am I going?” The question came out very slowly.

“Arthur, my own darling little boy,” said his mother, pressing her arm very closely around him, and he could hear the quiver in her voice as she spoke, “it is very soon. We did not tell you until just at the end, when we were obliged to do it; because what was the use of making you unhappy before we need?”

“Well, when is it?” said Arthur.

“It is the day after to-morrow.”

“Oh, mother, mother!” was all Arthur said; and he became very still indeed.

By and by he said, in a very troubled voice, “I wish I had known it before.”

“Why, dear?”

“Because then oh, mother!” said Arthur, bursting into tears, “I would have stayed with you all the day, and I would not have done anything you don’t like.”

And then the tears came into his mother’s eyes, and she said tenderly

“But I knew it, Arthur dear, and I kept you with me as much as I could. And, my darling, you do not often do things I don’t like.”

“Oh, yes I do, mother, very often!” said Arthur, sobbing still.

“Well, dear, if you do, I know that with it all you really do love me.”

Arthur gave her hand a passionate squeeze, and said, “Indeed, indeed I do, mother.”

And then Arthur said no more, but fell into a grave fit of musing. Presently he roused himself, and said, “But, mamma, how can I go in two days? Are there not things to be done? Mustn’t I have a lot of new clothes, and ever so many things?”

“But, don’t you see,” said Mrs. Vivyan with a smile, half amused and half sad, “I have known it for a long time, and I have been making arrangements that my little boy knew nothing about.”

“Oh, well,” said Arthur with a deep sigh.

“Would you like to see some of the things that you are going to take away with you?” asked his mother.

“Yes, I think I should,” said Arthur; but he spoke so hesitatingly; for dearly as he liked preparations for a journey, he remembered with a bitter pang what the preparations were for, and what the cause of the journey was.

Mrs. Vivyan opened the door of a small room adjoining her own, which was generally kept locked, and where, Arthur knew, he was not expected to go without being allowed. There was a large table near the window; it was covered with various things; there was a leather writing-case, a new paint-box, and a Polyglot Bible; there were several new books too, and a very large pile of new clothes, but they did not take up much of Arthur’s attention. His quick eyes soon detected a fishing rod and cricket bat, that stood in the corner of the room near by; indeed there seemed to be nothing that his kind father and mother had not provided. He noticed something else that was there, and that was a Russia-leather purse; and when he took it to examine the inside he found that it was not empty the first thing he saw was a five pound note!

“Oh, mamma!” said Arthur breathlessly; “who is all that money for?”

“Who do you think?” she asked, smiling.

“Well, I suppose for me,” said Arthur; “but, mother, is all that really for me? It will last until you come back.”

“Do you think so?” said Mrs. Vivyan. “Well, I hope you will use it well, and show that you can be trusted with so much.”

“Is it to buy new clothes with, when I want any?” asked Arthur.

“No; I don’t think you could quite manage that,” said his mother, laughing; “besides, look at all the new clothes you have; don’t you think they will last until I come back?”

“I don’t know; I do use a great many clothes, certainly,” said Arthur thoughtfully, as he remembered various rents in more than one of his little coats; “and boots, oh, yes, my boots must cost a great deal.”

The next day Arthur devoted to taking a farewell ramble through the grounds; and in roaming through all the places in the country around, that he knew so well. He visited every little hiding-place, to which he and his companion had given names of their own, and then he sat down on the top of a high mound near the house, where on one of his birthdays a flagstaff had been planted. The gay-coloured flag was floating in the breeze now, and Arthur wondered whether if any one else came to live at Ashton Grange they would take down the flagstaff; “at any rate,” he thought, “I will take down the flag. I think it is nicer that it should be folded up while we are all away. Oh, yes, and then it will be all ready to put up again, when we all come back, if we ever do come back again to this place. Let me see, I shall be almost a man then. Fancy me a man. I wonder what kind of a man I shall be. Like papa, I daresay; and yet they say I am like mother. I should think a man like mother would be very queer.”

And Arthur began painting fancy pictures of the time when his father’s term in India should be over; and though it was very pleasant to do it, and the things that he intended to happen then, were very much to his fancy, yet it was with a little sigh of regret that he said to himself, “But any way, I shall never be mother’s little boy any more.”

Then Arthur took out his new pocket knife and carved his name upon the flagstaff. “How odd if anybody sees it while we are away,” he thought; “they will wonder whose name it is. Shall I put Arthur T. Vivyan? No, I think not, that might be Thomas. I should not like any one to think my name was Thomas.”

So, after an hour’s diligent labour, the name appeared, “Arthur Trevor Vivyan.”

And then he sat down to take a last long look at everything. It was late in the afternoon, and the sun was shining with its soft spring gilding, sparkling through the ivy, and making the shadows of the woods look deeper. It was shining with a ruddy glow on the windows of the house, every window that he knew so well. There was his mother’s room. Arthur always thought hers was the nicest window, and he used to be very glad that the roses climbed up there, and clustered lovingly around it. There was the little window on the landing over the hall door; where he remembered, on more than one occasion, he had made nurse very angry, by wishing to try if he could not climb out there, and plant himself on the top of the porch, so as to look like a statue. Then there was the drawing-room window, with the green Venetian blinds half drawn up, and the bright colours appearing from inside. Lastly, he looked to the nursery, where, oh, so often! he had watched for little Mildred’s white-robed figure to appear. How pleased she used to be, when he stood where he was now! It was a sad, sad sever to Arthur’s heart; only everything seemed so dark and sad just now, that he had not thought much about Mildred lately; but his eyes followed the sunlight on, far away, until they rested on one fair green spot amongst the trees, where he knew that a little green mound was covering his baby sister’s form; and as all the sad things that had happened so lately came into Arthur’s mind, and he thought of how different it had been a little while ago, he covered his face with his hands, and the sobs came thick and fast.

So that when after a little while he came indoors, and wandered into the room where he expected to find his mother, she saw that his eyes were red with crying, and she knew that his heart was as sad as her own. But she said brightly, “Arthur, I want you to help me. See, here are piles of your things, and I want you to help me to count them over, and to put down how many there are of each; that is what we call an inventory, and you must have an inventory, of course.” Arthur was quite pleased with this idea, and presently he was very busy helping his mother. When it was all done, when the last little garment was laid neatly in the box, and the nice presents that had been given to him were stored away underneath, and Arthur’s mother was resting in her armchair in the firelight, he drew his stool to her feet, and laid his head lovingly on her lap; and his mother felt the hot tears fall on her hands, and she saw that the brown curls were trembling with his crying, and she knew that the same thought was in his mind that had just been aching in hers “For the last time!”

But Arthur did not cry long, for he was trying hard not to make her more unhappy than she was, and presently he stopped, and became very still, and after a little while he said softly

“Talk to me, mamma.”

“What shall I say, dear?”

“Oh, you know, mother! you always know the right things to say.”

“And yet, Arthur,” said his mother, after a very long pause, and speaking in a soft, low voice, as if she was afraid to speak louder, “I do not know what to say now, dear; for I never could say all that is in my heart. I can only say it to God about you, my own child.”

“Do you often pray for me, mother? I don’t think I ever miss praying for you any day.”

“You are always in my heart, Arthur; and so when my heart rises to God, it bears you with it.”

“How nice it is to have a mother,” said Arthur in a restful voice, “even although ” and then he stopped; for he thought it was better to say no more.

“After all, it is not so very, very far to India,” said Arthur. “How long would a telegram take getting there?”

“About two or three hours.”

“Oh, dear, I wish I could be turned into a telegram!” sighed Arthur.

“Oh, but,” said Mrs. Vivyan, laughing, “that would be only doing one little bit of good, and I want my Arthur to be of some use all the day long.”

“How can I,” asked Arthur, “without you?”

“Do you know who you belong to before me?” said his mother. “You know, Arthur, you have told me, and I believe it is true, that you have put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that His blood has washed all your sins away. Then, if that is true of you, you are your own no longer. You belong to Him; for He has bought you with a price. Is it not sweet, my darling, to feel that He says to you now, while you are being left at home, ‘Thou art mine’? You know I love to take care of you, because you are mine; and don’t you think He does much more? You know the Bible says that a mother may forget, but God never.”

“Oh, mother, it is so nice to hear you talk,” said Arthur. “Go on, please.”

“Well, I was going to say, the Lord Jesus is always the best Friend; and now that you are going to leave me, perhaps you will think of Him, and look to Him, more than you have ever done before. Oh, Arthur, my child, get to know Him better; talk to Him as you have talked to me; tell Him about your little troubles, and joys, and sorrows; tell Him when you feel lonely and weary, and sit at His feet, just as you are now sitting at mine. Do you think He would turn you away? Just pour out your heart before Him, whatever is in it, because He loves you as only He can love.”

“But, mamma, I can’t see Him as I see you.”

“No, my child; but that is where faith comes in. You must believe when you do not see; and remember that He said, ’Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.’”

“Mother, I think you were going to say something else,” said Arthur, after a little while.

“Yes; I was talking about the first half of the text I had in my mind, and that I give you to keep from me ’Whose I am, and whom I serve,’ I want you to know the sweetness of the first, my darling, and then I think you will want the last to be true of you, and He will show you the way.”

“Yes, I know,” said Arthur meditatively, “I ought to be patient, and gentle, and thoughtful; and, you know, mamma, it is just my nature to be the opposite, and I don’t know how on earth I can be all that to that aunt.”

“Oh, hush, dear! Of course you could not be expected to love her much at first; but that ought not to make any difference; for it is to please the Lord Jesus that you are to be all this, and the harder it is for you the more He will know that you really do try to please Him. Then, are there not other ways? I mean things that you could do to bring honour to Him. Think of your being the means of bringing God’s salvation to anybody, or of making the heart of any of His people glad.”

“Yes,” Arthur said, “and I think I could try. I could give away tracts, or I could visit sick old women.”

“Yes, and you might speak for Him.”

“If He will help me,” said Arthur reverently; “but that is a great deal more difficult, mother.”

They did not talk much more that night, for it was getting late, and Arthur sat looking at the lights and shadows in the burning coals. Out of doors the fair spring evening had darkened into a gusty night; and the wind was sighing in the trees, and blowing the rose-bushes against the windows. It was very comfortable sitting there on the hearth-rug with his head on his mother’s lap. Arthur felt so very safe, and it seemed to him that he could not be very unhappy, whatever happened to him, so long as he could be there. And he did not dare think of what it would be, when miles and miles of land and sea would stretch between him and this sweet, well-known resting-place. He would enjoy it for this last time without thinking of the dark, dreary to-morrow that was coming.