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A Life’s Secret: A Novel


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On the outskirts of Ketterford, a town of some note in the heart of England, stood, a few years ago, a white house, its green lawn, surrounded by shrubs and flowers, sloping down to the high road. It probably stands there still, looking as if not a day had passed over its head since, for houses can be renovated and made, so to say, new again, unlike men and women. A cheerful, bright, handsome house, of moderate size, the residence of Mr. Thornimett. At the distance of a short stone's-throw, towards the open country, were sundry workshops and sheds -- a large yard intervening between them and the house. They belonged to Mr. Thornimett; and the timber and other characteristic materials lying about the yard would have proclaimed their owner's trade without the aid of the lofty sign-board -- 'Richard Thornimett, Builder and Contractor.' His business was extensive for a country town. Entering the house by the pillared portico, and crossing the black-and-white floor-cloth of the hall to the left, you came to a room whose windows looked towards the timber-yard. It was fitted up as a sort of study, or counting-house, though the real business counting-house was at the works. Matting was on its floor; desks and stools stood about; maps and drawings, plain and coloured, were on its walls; not finished and beautiful landscapes, such as issue from the hands of modern artists, or have descended to us from the great masters, but skeleton designs of various buildings -- churches, bridges, terraces -- plans to be worked out in actuality, not to be admired on paper. This room was chiefly given over to Mr. Thornimett's pupil: and you may see him in it now. A tall, gentlemanly young fellow, active and upright; his name, Austin Clay. It is Easter Monday in those long-past years -- and yet not so very long past, either -- and the works and yard are silent to-day. Strictly speaking, Austin Clay can no longer be called a pupil, for he is twenty-one, and his articles are out. The house is his home; Mr. and Mrs. Thornimett, who have no children of their own, are almost as his father and mother. They have said nothing to him about leaving, and he has said nothing to them. The town, in its busy interference, gratuitously opined that 'Old Thornimett would be taking him into partnership.' Old Thornimett had given no indication of what he might intend to do, one way or the other. Austin Clay was of good parentage, of gentle birth. Left an orphan at the age of fourteen, with very small means, not sufficient to complete his education, Ketterford wondered what was to become of him, and whether he had not better get rid of himself by running away to sea. Mr. Thornimett stepped in and solved the difficulty. The late Mrs. Clay -- Austin's mother -- and Mrs. Thornimett were distantly related, and perhaps a certain sense of duty in the matter made itself heard; that, at least, combined with the great fact that the Thornimett household was childless. The first thing they did was to take the boy home for the Christmas holidays; the next, was to tell him he should stay there for good. Not to be adopted as their son, not to leave him a fortune hereafter, Mr. Thornimett took pains to explain to him, but to make him into a man, and teach him to earn his own living.

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  • Print Length: 327 Pages
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