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STRAIGHT TO THE MARK.
DARBY AND JOAN.
Then I went to a garden, and did spy
A gallant flower,
“Peace at the root must dwell.”
SHADY walk in the garden of an old-fashioned many-gabled
house in one of the northern suburbs of great London. A clear sky overhead, the shadows lengthening out, and the air beginning already to gather freshness after the sultry heat of the day, though the sun is yet visible above the tops of the neighbouring trees and houses. A pleasant summer residence, in marked contrast with the new buildings which surround it, standing in its own grounds, with windows opening to the lawn and a verandah running along one side of it. Foot-passengers, going for a stroll in the summer evening, pause for a moment at the iron gate to look in upon the well-kept garden, with its bright array of flowers, and its winding walk, partly concealed from view among the shrubs and roses, and think to themselves how sweet and pleasant it must be to possess such a delightful rus in urbe, and what a constant source of enjoyment it must afford
its owners. They compare it, perhaps, in their minds with the narrow strips of ground at the back of their own houses, overlooked by all their neighbours and graced only with a dusty lilac or two, or a bit of ivy to break the straight line of wall, and pass on with a sigh-envious, it may be, of the two figures of whom they catch a glimpse walking pensively with arms entwined across the lawn, and disappearing among the trees.
Envious! of what? All that glitters is not gold; and on the other hand there is a great deal of hidden preciousness in things that glitter not. There may be as much real happiness within the limits of a straight, narrow strip of back garden, where only a few coarse and hardy plants struggle for life among
the remains of the contractor's rubbish, brickbats, and lime scraps, as in the choicest parterre. The chief joys of life do not grow out of the localities with which they are associated; they may be enhanced by their surroundings, but they do not depend upon them. A poor man's child will be as happy playing with its block of shapeless wood wound round with rags as any little heiress can be with the most artistic young lady doll that ever was dressed up in silk and embroidery. If that good woman walking by her husband's side, carrying her infant in her arms while he leads the elder child by the hand, could hear what those two in the pleasant garden are talking about, if they could read what is passing in their minds, or even look for a moment into their eyes, they would cease to envy them.
A mother and her son are there: the former still young, though some grey hairs are already visible among the rich dark tresses, which she wears without any covering or ornament. Her features are delicately formed, and her complexion somewhat dark, though just now more than naturally clear and pale; not unhealthy-looking, but suggestive of the working of the mind and spirit within. Her deep brown eyes droop thoughtfully, and she turns them from time to time with lingering fondness upon the boy who is walking by her side, his hand clasped in hers. He is not like her; yet one might know instinctively, from the way in which they seem to hold to one another and to reciprocate every impulse, hand to hand and heart to heart, that they are mother and child. He is about twelve years old, tall of his age, and slender; yet his form conveys the idea of strength and vigour, being upright and wellproportioned. He has bright blue eyes, not large, but sparkling with animation, and so full of lively expression that they are by far the most conspicuous feature of his countenance. He looks you in the face, too, when he speaks, not without becoming modesty, but with the simplicity of truth, as one who naturally and of course says what he means and means only what he says. Strangers, perhaps, might think him a little forward, especially when he is in his usual high spirits; but those who know him best will not pronounce him so. He is fair, and altogether well-favoured; more so than he likes, for he has often wished that his face were not so smooth and girlish, and he grudges to part with the freckles upon his nose and forehead which appear sometimes after exposure to the weather, but never remain long. His profile is sharp and delicately cut, with well-shaped ruddy lips smiling in harmony with the twinkling of his eyes; altogether a very pleasant face to look upon, and the more so as one has opportunity to study it and get used to it. One gives him credit instinctively for sincerity and candour, as one looks into his eyes, which will not shrink or droop before another person's gaze.
“It will be fine to-morrow, I think," said the boy.
To-morrow was the common subject of their thoughts just then, as they both knew too well. His mother answered him only by a warmer pressure of her arm around his neck.
“Look at the sunset!” he continued. Then, breaking away suddenly from this common topic, though it was of more than common interest to them both just then, he exclaimed passionately, “Oh, mother, why cannot I ?-go with you” he would have added, but the last three words were unspoken, for she checked him with a look. He had asked the same question before, and had received an answer; he had not intended to repeat it, but he was only a child. Why could he not go back with his mother to India ? Why must he be separated from her again so soon? That was the question which recurred over and over again, and would not be repressed. His father was in India, and he had not seen him for five years or more; he had himself been born there, and all his earliest associations were there. His mother had been at home for a few months only, to see her son, to feast her eyes upon him, to listen to the music of his voice, to gladden her heart with the sweet consciousness of his love, which she had begun to fear would almost be alienated from her after so long absence; above all, to watch the growth of reason and intelligence in his mind, and to cherish the earliest impressions of religion in his soul. Her visit was now drawing to an end. On the morrow she was to sail again for India to rejoin her husband.
A cruel lot, it seemed to her, to choose thus between her husband and her child, being constantly separated from one or other of them. Why might not the boy return with her? Why could he not go, if only for a few weeks, that his father also might have his share of the unutterable delight which she had herself experienced in seeing her child ? It was decreed in Heaven that a man should leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife; but there was no such warrant for a mother separating herself from her son. The boy's passionate
, inquiry, only half expressed in words, might have been the echo of her own thoughts, an instance of that mysterious and sympathetic communication of mind with mind and heart with
heart which seems to be evoked on some occasions of intense and mutual feeling.
“No, Tom, no,” she answered him firmly, as she had already answered herself; “no, we must make up our minds to part, and look forward to a future meeting : look forward and look upward.” The “upward” did not seem to her at that moment so far distant as the “ forward.”
“Yes, of course," he answered ; "I knew that. I was not thinking what I said. But it need not be so very long before I see you again, mother." He had once more divined her thoughts, apparently. “My father will, perhaps, be able to come home soon.”
She shook her head at that suggestion, for she knew it was not probable.
"Well, then, when I go to sea I shall get a berth in a ship bound for Calcutta, and come and see you. I should like so much to go to India again. I remember it so well, and it is always like home to me; more like home than this place, though Mr. and Mrs. Beverley are as kind as they can be, and I am very happy here, as you know; as happy as I could be anywhere away from you.”
“You must not think about the sea, Tom,” she replied. “ Neither your father nor I would choose the sea for you as a profession."
Tom was silent. He had long ago set his heart upon being a sailor; the charm of his first voyage in an East Indiaman to England round the Cape dwelt in his memory. He had enjoyed it so much; he had been on such excellent terms with all the ship’s company: he had felt so sorry when the vessel reached her destination, and he was handed over to the care of strangers. Mrs. Beverley was his mother's sister, and had engaged to receive the child on his arrival, and to make proper arrangements for him; and she had grown so fond of him that she had