‘You may read it to Smut and me,’ he said.
It bore date the day after his father’s arrival, but it had evidently been continued at many different times; and as the handwriting became more feeble, the style grew more earnest, so that, but for her hoarse, indifferent voice, Sophy could hardly have accomplished the reading.
’My dear Maurice,
’Many, many thanks to you and dear little Awkey for your present. I have set it up like a picture, and much do I like to look at it, and guess who chose the colours and who are the hunters. I am sure the fat man in the red coat is the admiral. It makes the place seem like home to see what tells so plainly of you and baby.
’Kiss my little Awk for me, and thank her for wanting to send me Miss Jenny, dear little maid; I like to think of it. You will not let her quite forget me. You must show her my name if it is put up in church, like Edmund’s and all the little ones’; and you will sometimes tell her about dear old Ned on a Sunday evening when you are both very good.
’I think you know that you and she will never again run out into the hall to pull Gibbie almost down between you. Perhaps by the time you read this, you will be the only son, with all the comfort and hope of the house resting upon you. My poor Maurice, I know what it is to be told so, and only to feel that one has no brother; but at least it cannot be to you as it was with me, when it was as if half myself were gone, and all my stronger, better, braver self.
’My father has been reading to me the Rich Man and Lazarus. Maurice, when you read of him and the five brethren, think of me, and how I pray that I may not have left seeds of temptation for you. In the time of my loneliness, Tritton was good-natured, but I ought to have avoided him; and that to which he introduced me has been the bane of my life. Nothing gives me such anguish as to think I have made you acquainted with that set. Keep out of their way! Never go near those pigeon-shootings and donkey-races; they seem good fun, but it is disobedience to go, and the things that happen there are like the stings of venomous creatures; the poison was left to fester even when your mother seemed to have cured me. Neither now nor when you are older resort to such things or such people. Next time you meet Tritton and Shaw tell them I desired to be remembered to them; after that have nothing to do with them; touch your hat and pass on. They meant it in good nature, and thought no harm, but they were my worst enemies; they led me astray, and taught me deception as a matter of course. Oh! Maurice, never think it manly to have the smallest reserve with your parents. I would give worlds to have sooner known that truth would have been freedom and rest. Thank Heaven, your faults are not my faults. If you go wrong, it will be with a high hand, but you would wring hearts that can ill bear further grief and disappointment. Oh! that I were more worthy to pray that you may use your strength and spirit the right way; then you will be gladness to our father and mother, and when you lie down to die, you will be happier than I am.