“Oh! he will not be long away,” replied the boy: “he will come back in an hour or two as he always does, and will look at me as I lie in bed, and kiss me, and tell me to sleep soundly.”
“Poor boy!” said the Earl, in a tone that made the large expressive eyes rise towards his face with a look of inquiry: “You must not expect him to be back to-night, my boy. Now tell me what is your name?”
“Wilton,” replied the boy; but remembering that that was not sufficient to satisfy a stranger, he added, “Wilton Brown. But how long will it be before he comes back?”
“I do not know,” replied the Earl, evading his question. “How old are you, Wilton?”
“I am past eight,” replied the boy.
“Happily, an age of quick forgetfulness!” said the Earl, in a low tone to himself; and then applying his thoughts to make the boy comfortable for the night, he rang for his housekeeper, and gave her such explanations and directions as he thought fit.
There is a strange and terrible difference in this world between the look forward and the look back. Like the cloud that went before the hosts of the children of Israel, when they fled from the land of Egypt, an inscrutable fate lies before us, hiding with a dark and shadowy veil the course of every future day: while behind us the wide-spread past is open to the view; and as we mark the steps that we have taken, we can assign to each its due portion of pain, anxiety, regret, remorse, repose, or joy. Yet how short seems the past to the recollection of each mortal man! how long, and wide, and interminable, is the cloudy future to the gaze of imagination!
Many years had passed since the eventful night recorded in our last chapter; and to the boy, Wilton Brown, all that memory comprised seemed but one brief short hour out of life’s long day.
The Earl of Sunbury had fulfilled what he had undertaken towards him, exactly and conscientiously. He was a man, as we have shown, of kindly feelings, and of a generous heart: although he was a politician, a courtier, and a man of the world. He might, too—had not some severe checks and disappointments crushed many of the gentler feelings of his heart—he might, too, have been a man of warm and enthusiastic affections. As it was, however, he guarded himself in general very carefully against such feelings; acted liberally and kindly; but never promised more, or did more, than prudence consented to, were the temptation ever so strong.
He had promised Lennard Sherbrooke that he would take the boy, and give him a good education, would befriend him in life, and do all that he could to serve him. He kept his word, as we have said, to the letter. During the first six weeks, after he had engaged in this task, he saw the boy often in the course of every day; grew extremely fond of him; took him to London, when his own days of repose in the country were past; and solaced many an hour, when he returned home fatigued with business, by listening to the boy’s prattle, and by playing with, as it were, the fresh and intelligent mind of the young being now dependent upon him for all things.