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Chapter XX. Tom's Courting.

‘Why, Tom?’ said one of his companions, ‘What is the matter with you? You look like Samson shorn of his locks.’

‘Or like strained cream,’ said a second.

‘No,’ added a third, ‘I have it. He has been jilted by his sweetheart, and takes on.’

‘Look here, lads,’ answered Tom, now put on his metal, ‘you are all wrong. I have lately been putting on sackcloth and ashes, less on account of your sins than for the loss of your senses.’

‘Bravo!’ they sang aloud. ‘Tom is himself again.’

In truth, a change had come over him. Those at home observed it. His mother said that if he had been much younger, she might have thought measles were coming on. As it was, she recommended something good for a cold. There must be one thing or the other the matter with him, for he had not half his usual appetite. ‘Poor Tom!’ She had not said ‘Poor Tom’ before.

His sisters observed it. At first a little uneasy, they soon fell to roasting him terribly. No—it was not the cholera, the lumbago, nor even the office. Nothing but love could possibly be the cause. They were sure of it. They commanded him to clear his

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conscience, and so get rid of his fever; to admit them as confessors, and enjoy his steak once more.

The brothers were less critical than the girls, but were quite at a loss to know why Tom did not go in for exercise and fun as he did before. When told by the sisters it was from love, they devotedly hoped they should never be stricken down with that malady.

Tom stoutly denied the charge. He was quite well, never better. He was as jolly as a sandboy—never jollier. How could a fellow eat that weather! But he did eat, and as heartily as ever. Grave, eh! That was a joke. But was he to be always grinning? The fact was, he told them, he found his mouth getting so large with previous laughing, that he was fearful girls looking into it might fancy a cavern, a shark's maw, a pudding bag, or any other monstrous idea; and he had resolutely determined to shut up a while to get a bit less ugly.

Folks shook their heads at this, and spoke of Sham Abraham and other distinguished tricksters.

It was all perfectly true. Tom had changed. Some went so far as to talk of the loss of three stones' weight; but that was an exaggeration of the fact. One declared the young fellow's face was as long as his arm; but that was a mere figure of speech. Another ventured upon the assertion that Tom's last joke had interfered with his digestion; but Tom's jokes were not accustomed to be as low as that.

Horace had not been unsuspicious of the affair. He

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noticed the obvious change in his friend's deportment to date from the evening when they together first went to Woodbine Cottage.

And so it was. The association might have been taken nearer than to Woodbine Cottage; even to a certain conversation with a certain person on a certain evening, near or within the said cottage.

But what had made the change? Had he, with his usual dash and daring, plunged into a matrimonial difficulty? Had he, plump and plain, made an offer right off the reel, without a moment's pause to see if the lady had thought at all of him? And had he, as the result of this ill-timed precipitation, got a point-blank denial, and sent adrift with, or without, the traditional flea in his ear?

No—Tom had not proposed, had not given way to impetuosity, had been guilty of no rashness, and had obtained no repulse from lady fair.

On the contrary, he had been on his good behaviour, was thoroughly satisfied with himself, and by no means displeased with ladies in general, or Julia in particular.

Then, what was the change, if any,—and how had it been brought about?

He was more thoughtful and less selfish. Once he had only cared how to add to his own comfort, to his own pleasure. If he laughed with others, it made him merry. If he played with others, it stirred up his blood to pleasurable excitement. He now suddenly

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felt his mind drawn to another beyond his own immediate self, and yet not wholly foreign to himself. This made him more thoughtful.

Once again, he lived for the present. In sport and labour, in joke or tattle, he lived in the present, and for it. Now, somehow or other, he was seriously awakened to the thought of a future. That period of prospective happiness was, somehow or other, associated with another, and that took off the awkwardness of a mere selfish policy on his part.

And a lady was the cause.—No—not exactly; but the lady as brought into contiguity with circumstances or feelings with which, or in which, he was personally interested.

Tom had continued his visits to Woodbine Cottage. He sometimes went with Horace, but he sometimes went alone. When he went alone, he did not always face the three ladies there, for he had grown somewhat more timid than formerly; but he sought one, as being sufficient, or, perhaps, less burdensome to a nervous temperament.

It was singular how the Fates favoured him in this search for this unit of the family. At times he felt so confident of his good fortune, that he boldly walked right up to the door, and entered without hesitation. But then it so happened that no one was at home but Julia. When he was more hesitant, and did not get rapidly along the lane that led up to the cottage, he was lucky enough to meet

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the young lady just coming down the lane, quite accidentally.

‘It was so singular,’ as she afterward told her sister, ‘that Tom should have been coming up the lane just as she was going down it; and then he would insist upon accompanying her to the township. Not that she always permitted that, for neighbours do talk so; but, it being a fine evening, they had strolled another way.’

Tom thought her so lady-like in her movements, and he could not venture to be rough and rude as he had been with the other girls. She always liked his jokes so, that he contrived to have a few ready, only they were selected ones, and not indiscriminately taken. She evidently enjoyed details of the engagement of his time, and he gratified her accordingly. Now and then, when tempted to jerk out an expression more witty than wise, he looked into the blue depths of her eyes, and his folly seemed to drop out of sight. Once and again, when the old rollicking humour was bursting forth, and he was ready to spring over a five-barred gate, or spin her round as he did his sisters, he would be arrested by some simple word from her lips that softened and tamed him.

For when she spoke,
Sweet words, like dropping honey, she did shed.

Then, as it would not be fair and right for him to spend all the hour with an account of what he had done and said throughout the day, he waited upon

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the aforesaid honeyed speech, and quite approved of the flavour thereof.

And what did she talk about?

She spoke of what concerned him. Gentle counsels were gently administered. Even rebukes were so sweetly mingled with kindness, that he got all the benefit from the castigation without the sense of smart, as children do from rhubarb when disguised in jam.

She did more. As if sensible that her lover wanted something to make him perfect in her eyes, and add to his happiness in the bargain, she discoursed of heaven above and earth below in such a way as to lead out the inner life of the young man. He was led to the discovery of something beyond his nature, and yet in harmony with it.

He read poetry to her, and pieces of her own judicious selection. Upon such she enlarged, and that with such grace and real eloquence, that poor Tom waited upon the speech with open mouth and tear-lit eyes. Longfellow has said that, next to being a great poet, is the power of understanding one. This was the business of the ‘Young Man's Best Companion.’

Until of late a primrose by the river's brink, a primrose only was to him. He was induced to look again at it, and through the reflected light from those dreamy, slumbering eyes, and he was presented with new forms and new beauties, awakening new and pleasing emotions.

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So it was in music. With established relations, so that Tom could spend an hour with her alone, there was an equal march in the young man's progress in sounds as in sights. She was never sure her pupil properly comprehended those lines of Mrs Browning's:

‘This song of soul I struggle to outbear,
Through portals of the sense, sublime and whole,
And utter all myself into the air.’

But the apt scholar was supposed to understand it when her eyes turned from the keys to meet his.

Julia proudly acknowledged the conversion through her instrumentality. It was a tribute of praise to herself, not less than a boon to him. Yet she had the good sense not to joke about the change. She accepted it with joy. There was such a toning down of that wild principle in the young fellow, which made him tenfold more attractive. The ardour was there, the freshness was there, the fun was there, only these were all subjected to an intellectual force which mellowed their character.

To Tom himself the change was satisfactory for two reasons;—he really felt himself a nobler and a better man, and he knew himself better suited to the tastes of the being whom he loved above all, and with whom he hoped still more to develope the highest and best of qualities.

It must not be imagined that Tom was becoming a milksop or a drone. In being more refined he lost much of the clownish roughness, but gained in true

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manliness. If more of the gentleman in bearing, if more of the artist in feeling, he was more of the man in the soundness of his understanding, the delicacy of his perceptions, the purpose of his being.

And what had been the effect of this intercourse upon the girl herself?

A change had come over her. It was not of so striking a character, but was obvious enough to those at home as well as to her lover.

Most young ladies, when in love, are supposed to ramble abroad alone in contemplation, or sit alone in silent thought. Mathematics and metaphysics are not then generally supposed to be the subject matter of thought. But Julia, strange to say, had well-nigh left off her old habits of seclusion and rumination, and bustled about the house as if emulous of her sister's activity. She laughed quite gaily very frequently, and was even detected in the manufacture of a pun.

To her sister this cheerfulness was a surprise, and to her mother a source of delight. What must it have been to Tom? If less boisterous in mirth himself, he did not the less admire her advancing brightness.

She grew not only more animated in conversation, but more unselfish in conduct. Instead of moodily dwelling upon herself, her own sensations, her own fancies, she turned to others, seeking to interest herself in their affairs, helping them in their duties, and sympathising in their cares. One immediate effect of

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this was, that Annie lost a monitress, but found a friend.

In her musical lessons she indulged in livelier strains, and her songs partook of less sentiment and more vigour. In her reading she took up practical subjects in preference to romantic ones. Her thoughts were more transparent, her sentiments more healthy. Never negligent of her religious duties, there was now less of the recluse in her devotions, and she practised more of smiling praise than of mournful meditations.

She undertook a larger share of domestic work, assisted in prosaic needlework, and asked questions upon receipts and patterns. She engaged in vigorous exercise, walked long distances, and was not idle in commissions for friends and neighbours.

By this, too, she grew stronger in frame, firmer in step, fresher in colour. Her appetite was better, her happiness was increased, and her beauty of person secured universal applause.

The courtship had improved the pair.