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Title: Girlhood and Womanhood - The Story of some Fortunes and Misfortunes
Author: Tytler, Sarah, 1827-1914
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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GIRLHOOD and WOMANHOOD

The Story of some Fortunes and Misfortunes

BY SARAH TYTLER

AUTHOR OF "PAPERS FOR THOUGHTFUL GIRLS," "CITOYENNE JACQUELINE,"
ETC. ETC.

LONDON
WM. ISBISTER, LIMITED
56, LUDGATE HILL
1883



CONTENTS.


                                                       PAGE
     I. CAIN'S BRAND,                                     1

          ON THE MOOR,                                    1

          THE ORDEAL,                                    16

          "HE LAY DOWN TO SLEEP ON THE MOORLAND
           SO DREARY,"                                   29

          MERCY AND NOT SACRIFICE,                       37

    II. ON THE STAGE AND OFF THE STAGE,                  62

          THE "BEAR" AT BATH,                            62

          LADY BETTY ON THE STAGE,                       72

          MISTRESS BETTY BECOMES NURSE,                  77

          MASTER ROWLAND GOES UP TO LONDON,              86

          MISTRESS BETTY TRAVELS DOWN INTO
            SOMERSETSHIRE,                               90

          BETWEEN MOSELY AND LARKS' HALL,                96

   III. A CAST IN THE WAGGON,                           108

          DULCIE'S START IN THE WAGGON FOR HER
            COMPANY,                                    108

          TWO LADS SEEK A CAST IN THE WAGGON,           113

          REDWATER HOSPITALITY,                         122

          OTHER CASTS FOLLOWING THE CAST IN THE
            WAGGON,                                     134

          DULCIE AND WILL, AT HOME IN ST. MARTIN'S
            LANE,                                       151

          SAM AND CLARISSA IN COMPANY IN LEICESTER
            SQUARE,                                     158

          STRIPS SOME OF THE THORNS FROM THE
            HEDGE AND THE GARDEN ROSES,                 161

    IV. ADAM HOME'S REPENTANCE,                         167

          WILD, WITTY NELLY CARNEGIE,                   167

          A GALLANT REBUFFED.--NELLY'S PUNISHMENT,      172

          A MOURNFUL MARRIAGE EVE,                      177

          NELLY CARNEGIE IN HER NEW HOME,               179

          NELLY'S NEW PASTIMES,                         185

          THE LAIRD CONSCIENCE-SMITTEN,                 186

          BLESSING AND AFFLICTION.--ADAM HOME'S
            RETURN,                                     192

          THE RECONCILIATION AND RETURN TO
            STANEHOLME,                                 197

     V. HECTOR GARRET OF OTTER,                         202

          THE FIRE,                                     202

          THE OFFER,                                    211

          THE NEW HOME,                                 228

          THE PAGES OF THE PAST,                        236

          THE MOTHER AND CHILD,                         248

          THE STORM,                                    259

    VI. THE OLD YEOMANRY WEEKS,                         268

          THE YEOMEN'S ADVENT.--PRIORTON SPRUCES
            ITSELF UP,                                  268

          A MATCH-MAKER'S SCHEME,                       275

          A MORNING MEETING AND AN EVENING'S
            READING,                                    280

          THE BALL, AND WHAT CAME OF IT,                293

   VII. DIANA,                                          302

          AN UNDERTAKING,                               302

          THE FULFILMENT,                               311

          HAZARD,                                       316

          THE LAST THROW,                               323

  VIII. MISS WEST'S CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE,                337



CAIN'S BRAND


I.--ON THE MOOR.

Cain's brand! that is no fact of the far past, no legend of the Middle
Ages, for are there not Cains among us; white-faced, haggard-featured
Cains to the last? Men who began with a little injury, and did not dream
that their gripe would close in deadly persecution? Cains who slew the
spirit, and through the spirit murdered the body? Cains unintentionally,
whom all men free from the stain of blood, and to whom in the Jewish
economy the gates of the Cities of Refuge would have stood wide open,
yet who are never again light of thought and light of heart? On their
heads the grey is soon sprinkled, and in the chamber of their hearts is
drawn a ghastly picture, whose freshness fades, but whose distinct
characters are never obliterated.

Of this class of men, of hot passions, with rash advisers, who meditated
wrong, but not the last wrong, victims of a narrow, imperious code of
honour, only to-day expunged from military and social etiquette, was the
Laird of the Ewes. Many of us may have seen such another--a tall, lithe
figure, rather bent, and very white-headed for his age, with a wistful
eye; but otherwise a most composed, intelligent, courteous gentleman of
a laird's degree. Take any old friend aside, and he will tell, with
respectful sympathy, that the quiet, sensible, well-bred Laird, has
suffered agonies in the course of his life, though too wise and modest a
man to hold up his heart for daws to peck at, and you will believe him.
Look narrowly at the well-preserved, well-veiled exterior, and you will
be able to detect, through the nicely adjusted folds, or even when it is
brightened by smiles, how remorse has sharpened the flesh, and grief
hollowed it, and long abiding regret shaded it.

Twenty years before this time, Crawfurd of the Ewes, more accomplished
than many of the lairds, his contemporaries, and possessed of the sly
humour on which Scotchmen pride themselves, had been induced to write a
set of lampoons against a political opponent of his special chief. He
was young then, and probably had his literary vanity; at least he
executed his task to the satisfaction of his side of the question; and
without being particularly broad and offensive, or perhaps very fine in
their edge, his caricatures excited shouts of laughter in the parish,
and in the neighbouring town.

But he laughs best who laughs last. A brother laird, blind with fury,
and having more of the old border man in him than the Laird of the Ewes,
took to his natural arms, and dispatched Mr. Crawfurd a challenge to
fight him on the Corn-Cockle Moor. No refusal was possible then, none
except for a man of rare principle, nerve, and temper. The Laird of the
Ewes had no pretensions to mighty gifts; so he walked out with his
second one autumn morning when his reapers were flourishing their
sickles, met his foe, and though without the skill to defend himself, he
shot his man right through the head. He was tried and acquitted. He was
the challenged, not the challenger; he might have given the provocation,
but no blame was suffered to attach to him. His antagonist, with a
foreboding of his fate, or by way of clearing his conscience, as the
knights used to confess of a morning before combat, had exonerated
Mr. Crawfurd before he came upon the ground. The Court was strongly
in his favour, and he was sent back to his family and property without
anything more severe than commiseration; but that could never reach his
deep sore.

How was this gentle, nervous, humorous Laird to look out upon the world,
from which he had sent the soul of a companion who had never even harmed
him? The widow, whom he had admired as a gay young matron, dwelt not a
mile from him in her darkened dwelling; the fatherless boy would
constantly cross the path of his well-protected, well-cared-for
children. How bear the thousand little memories--the trifling dates,
acts, words, pricking him with anguish? They say the man grew sick at
the mere sight of the corn-cockle, which, though not plentiful on other
moors, chanced to abound on this uncultivated tract, and bestowed on it
its name; and he shivered as with an ague fit, morning after morning,
when the clock struck the hour at which he had left his house. He did in
some measure overcome this weakness, for he was a man of ordinary
courage and extraordinary reserve, but it is possible that he endured
the worst of his punishment when he made no sign.

The Laird was a man of delicate organism, crushed by a blow from which
he could not recover. Had he lived a hundred years earlier, or been a
soldier on active service, or a student walking the hospitals, he might
have been more hardened to bloodshed. Had his fate been different, he
might have borne the brunt of the offence as well as his betters; but
the very crime which he was least calculated to commit and survive
encountered him in the colours he had worn before the eventful day.

Yet there was nothing romantic about Crawfurd of the Ewes, or about
the details of his deed, with one singular exception, and this was
connected with his daughter Joanna. The rest of the family were
commonplace, prosperous young people, honest enough hearts, but too
shallow to be affected by the father's misfortune. The father's sour
grapes had not set these children's teeth on edge. Joanna--Jack, or
Joe, as they called her in sport--whom they all, without any idea of
selfishness or injustice, associated with the Laird, as one member of
the family is occasionally chosen to bear the burdens of the
others,--Joanna was papa's right hand, papa's secretary, steward,
housekeeper, nurse. It had always been so; Joanna had been set aside
to the office, and no one thought of depriving her of it, any more
than she dreamt of resigning it.

Joanna was the child born immediately after the duel, and on the waxen
brow of the baby was a crimson stain, slight but significant, which two
fingers might have covered. Was this the token of retribution--the
threat of vengeance? The gossips' tongues wagged busily. Some said it
was Cain's brand, "the iniquity of the fathers visited on the children;"
others alleged more charitably that it ought to prove a sign in the
Laird's favour, to have the symbol of his guilt transferred to a
scape-goat--the brow of a child. However, the gossips need not have
hidden the child's face so sedulously for the first few days from the
mother. Mrs. Crawfurd took the matter quite peaceably, and was relieved
that no worse misfortune had befallen her or her offspring. "Poor little
dear!" it was sad that she should carry such a trace; but she daresayed
she would outgrow it, or she must wear flat curls--it was a pity that
they had gone quite out of fashion. It was the father who kissed the
mark passionately, and carried the child oftenest in his arms, and let
her sit longest on his knee; and so she became his darling, and learnt
all his ways, and could suit herself to his fancies, and soothe his
pains, from very youthful years. The public recognised this peculiar
property of her father in Joanna, and identified her with the sorrowful
period of his history. She was pointed out in connexion with the
story--the tragedy of the county,--and she knew instinctively that there
would be a whispered reference to her whenever it was told in society.

The Crawfurds had a cousin visiting them--an English cousin, Polly
Musgrave--from the luxury and comparative gaiety of her rich,
childless aunt's house in York. Polly was a well-endowed orphan, had
no near family ties, and had been educated in the worldly wisdom and
epicurean philosophy of a fashionable girls' school. She had come to
spend a few weeks, and get acquainted with her Scotch country cousins.
Polly had not found her heart, but it was to the credit of her sense
and good-nature that she made the very best of a sojourn that had
threatened to be a bore to her. She dazzled the girls, she romped with
the boys, she entered with the greatest glee into rural occupations,
rode on the roughest pony, saw sunset and sunrise from Barnbougle, and
threatened to learn to milk cows and cut corn. She brought
inconceivable motion and sparkle into the rather stagnant country
house, and she was the greatest possible contrast to Joanna Crawfurd.
Joanna was a natural curiosity to Polly, and the study amused her,
just as she made use of every other variety and novelty, down to the
poultry-yard and kitchen-garden at the Ewes.

The girls were out on the moor, in the drowsy heat of a summer day,
grouped idly and prettily into such a cluster as girls will fall into
without effort. Susan, the beauty--there is always a beauty among
several girls--in languid propriety, with her nice hair, and her
scrupulously falling collar and sleeves, and her blush of a knot of
ribbon; Lilias, the strong-minded, active person, sewing busily at
charity work, of which all estimable households have now their share;
Constantia, the half-grown girl, lying in an awkward lump among the hay,
intently reading her last novel, and superlatively scorning the society
of her grown-up relatives; Joanna, sitting thoughtfully, stroking old
Gyp, the ragged terrier, that invariably ran after either Joanna or her
father; and Polly, who had been riding with Oliver, standing with her
tucked-up habit, picturesque hat and feathers, smart little gentleman's
riding-gloves and whip, and very _espiègle_ face--a face surrounded by
waves of silky black hair, with a clear pale skin, and good eyes and
teeth, which Polly always declared were her fortune in the way of good
looks; but her snub nose was neither of a vulgar nor coarse tendency--it
was a very lively, coquettish, handsomely cut, irresistible cock nose.

If these girls on the moor had been tried in the fire heated seven
times, it would not have been to the strong-minded, broad-chested,
dark-browed Lilias that they would have clung. They would have come
crouching in their extremity and taken hold of the skirt of round, soft,
white Joanna, with the little notable stain on her temple.

Polly was detailing her adventures and repeating her news with a relish
that was appetizing.

"We went as far as Lammerhaugh, when Oliver remembered that he had a
commission for your father at Westcotes, just when my love, Punch, was
broken off his trot, and promised to canter, and the morning was so
fresh then--a jewel of a morning. It was provoking; I wanted Noll to
continue absent in mind, or prove disobedient, or something, but you
good folks are so conscientious."

"Duty first, and then pleasure," said Lilias emphatically.

"That was a Sunday-school speech, Lilias, and spoken out of school; you
ought to pay a forfeit; fine her, Susie."

"Aren't you hot, Polly?" asked Susan, without troubling herself to take
up the jest.

"Not a bit--no more than you are; I'm up to a great deal yet; I'll go to
the offices and gather the eggs. No, I am warm though, and I don't want
to be blowsy to-night; I think I'll go into the house to the bath-room,
and have a great icy splash of a shower-bath."

"You'll hurt your health, Polly, for ever bathing at odd hours, as you
do," remonstrated Joanna.

"All nonsense, my dear; I always do what is pleasantest, and it agrees
with me perfectly. In winter, I do toast my toes; and you know I eat
half-a-dozen peaches and plums at a time like a South Sea Islander,
only I believe they feast on cocoa-nut and breadfruit; don't they,
Conny? You are the scholar; you know you have your geography at your
finger-ends yet."

"Oh, don't tease me, Polly!" protested Conny impatiently.

"Dear Jack, hand me a sprig of broom to stick in Conny's ear," persisted
Polly in a loud whisper.

Constantia shook her head furiously, as if she were already horribly
tickled, and that at the climax of her plot.

"Never mind, Conny, I'll protect you. What a shame, Polly, to spoil her
pleasure!" cried Joanna indignantly.

"I beg your pardon, Donna Quixotina."

"I wonder you girls can waste your time in this foolish manner,"
lectured Lilias, with an air of superiority; "you are none of you better
than another, always pursuing amusement."

"What a story, Lilias!" put in Polly undauntedly; "you know I sew yard
upon yard of muslin-work, and embroider ells of French merino, and
task myself to get done within a given time. Aunt Powis says I make
myself a slave."

"Because you like it," declared Lilias disdainfully; "you happen to be a
clever sewer, and you are fond of having your fingers busy and
astonishing everybody--besides, you admire embroidery in muslin and
cloth; and even your pocket-money--what with gowns and bonnets, tickets
to oratorios and concerts, and promenades, and 'the kid shoes and
perfumery,' which are papa's old-fashioned summing up of our expenses,
bouquets and fresh gloves would be nearer the truth--won't always meet
the claims upon your gold and silver showers; and Susan," added Lilias,
not to be cheated out of her diatribe, and starting with new alacrity,
"practising attitudes and looking at her hands; and Conny reading her
trashy romances."

"It is not a romance, Lilias," complained Conny piteously; "it is a tale
of real life."

"It is all the same," maintained the inexorable Lilias; "one of the most
aggravating novels I ever read was a simple story."

"Oh, Lilias, do lend it to me!" begged Polly; "I'm not literary, but it
is delightful to be intensely interested until the very hair rises on
the crown of one's head."

"I don't know that you would like it," put in Joanna; "it is not one of
the modern novels, and it has only one dismal catastrophe; it is the
fine old novel by Mrs. Inchbald."

"Then I don't want it; I don't care for old things, since I have not a
palate for old wines or an eye for old pictures. I hate the musty,
buckram ghosts of our fathers."

"Oh! but Mrs. Inchbald never raised ghosts, Polly; she manoeuvred
stately, passionate men and women of her own day."

"The wiser woman she. But they would be ghosts to me, Jack, unless they
were in the costume of the present day; there is not an inch of me given
to history."

"And you, Joanna," concluded Lilias, quite determined to breast every
interruption and finish her peroration, "you have listened, and smiled,
and frowned, and dreamt for an hour."

"I was waiting in case papa should want me," apologized Joanna,
rather humbly.

"That need not have hindered you from hemming round the skirt of
this frock."

"Oh, Lilias! I am sorry for you, girl," cried Polly. "You're in a
diseased frame of mind; you are in a fidget of work; you don't know the
enjoyment of idleness, the luxury of laziness. You'll spoil your
complexion; your hair will grow grey; no man will dare to trifle with
such a notable woman!"

"I don't care!" exclaimed Lilias bluntly and magnanimously. "I don't
want to be trifled with; I don't value men's admiration."

"Now! Now!! Now!!! Now!!!!" protested Polly; "I don't value men's
admiration either, of course, but I like partners, and I would not be
fond of being branded as a strong-minded female, a would-be Lady
Bountiful, a woman going a-tracking; that's what men say of girls who
don't care to be trifled with. But, Lilias, are you quite sure you don't
believe in any of the good old stories--the 'goody' stories I would call
them if I were a man--of the amiable girl who went abroad in the old
pelisse, and who was wedded to the enthusiastic baronet? My dears, you
must have observed they were abominably untrue; the baronet, weak and
false, always, since the world began, marries the saucy, spendthrift
girl, who is prodigal in rich stuffs, and bright colours, and becoming
fits, and neat boots and shoes--who thinks him worth listening to, and
laughing with, and thinking about--the fool."

"Really, Polly, you are too bad," cried both Susan and Lilias at once;
their stock-in-trade exhausted, and not knowing very well what they
meant, or what they should suggest further if this sentence were not
answer enough.

"Now, I believe Joanna does not credit the goody stories, or does not
care for them, rather; but we are not all heroines, we cannot all afford
an equal indifference."

Joanna coloured until the red stain became undistinguishable, and even
Polly felt conscious that her allusion was too flippant for the cause.

"So you see, Lilias," she continued quickly, "I'm not the least ashamed
of having been caught fast asleep in my room before dinner the other
rainy day. I always curl myself up and go to sleep when I've got nothing
better to do, and I count the capacity a precious gift; besides, I will
let you into a secret worth your heads: it improves your looks immensely
after you've been gadding about for a number of days, and horribly
dissipated in dancing of nights at Christmas, or in the oratorio week,
or if you are in a town when the circuit is sitting--not present as a
prisoner, Conny."

"Polly!" blazed out Constantia, who, on the plea of the needle-like
sharpness and single-heartedness which sometimes distinguishes her
fifteen years, was permitted to be more plain-spoken and ruder than her
sisters; "I hate to hear you telling of doing everything you like with
such enjoyment. I think, if you had been a man, you would have been an
abominable fellow, and you are only harmless because you are a girl."

Polly laughed immoderately. "Such a queer compliment, Conny!"

"Hold your tongue, Conny."

"Go back to your book; we'll tell mamma," scolded the elder girls;
and Conny hung her head, scarlet with shame and consternation.

Conny had truth on her side; yet Polly's independence and animal
delight in life, in this artificial world, was not to be altogether
despised either.

Polly maintained honestly that the girl had done no harm. She was glad
she had never had to endure senior sisters, and if she had been
afflicted with younger plagues, she would have made a point of not
snubbing them, on the principle of fair play.

"And you were a little heathenish, Polly," suggested Joanna, "not giving
fair play to the heroism of the ancients."

But Susan had long been waiting her turn, testifying more interest in
her right to speak than she usually wasted on the affairs of the state.
She wished to cross-examine Polly on a single important expression, and
although Susan at least was wonderfully harmless, her patience could
hold out no longer.

"Why are you afraid of being blowsy to-night, Polly?"

"I'm not frightened, I would not disturb myself about a risk; but you've
kept an invitation all this time under my tongue, not in my pockets, I
assure you;" and Polly elaborately emptied them, the foppish breast
pocket, and that at the waist.

"It is only from Mrs. Maxwell," sighed Susan; "we are never invited
anywhere except to Hurlton, in this easy way."

"But there is company; young Mr. Jardine has come home to Whitethorn,
and he is to dine with the Maxwells, and we are invited over to Hurlton
in the evening lest the claret or the port should be too much for him."

The girls did not say "Nonsense!" they looked at each other; Joanna was
very pale, the red stain was very clear now. At last Lilias spoke,
hesitating a little to begin with, "It is so like Mrs. Maxwell--without
a moment's consideration--so soon after his return, before we had met
casually, as we must have done. I dare say she is sorry now, when she
comes to think over it. I hope Mr. Maxwell will be angry with her--the
provoking old goose," ran on Lilias, neither very reverently nor very
gratefully for an excellent, exemplary girl.

"There is one thing, we can't refuse," said Susan with marvellous
decision; "it would be out of the question for us to avoid him; it would
be too marked for us to stay away."

"Read your book, Conny," commanded Lilias fiercely; "you were
sufficiently intent upon it a moment ago; girls should not be made
acquainted with such troubles."

"I don't want to be a bar upon you," cried the belated Conny, rising and
walking away sulkily, but pricking her ears all the time.

"Joanna, you had better mention the matter to papa."

"Don't you think you're making an unnecessary fuss?" remarked Polly. "Of
course, I remembered uncle's misfortune," she admitted candidly, "though
none of you speak of it, and I noticed Oliver stammer dreadfully when
Mrs. Maxwell mentioned Mr. Jardine; but I thought that at this time of
day, when everybody knew there was no malice borne originally, and Uncle
Crawfurd might have been killed, you might have been polite and
neighbourly with quiet consciences. I tell you, I mean to set my cap at
young Mr. Jardine of Whitethorn, and when I marry him, and constitute
him a family connexion, of course the relics of that old accident will
be scattered to the winds."

"Oh! Polly, Polly!" cried the girls, "you must never, never speak so
lightly to papa."

"Of course not, I am not going to vex my uncle; I can excuse him,
but Joanna need not look so scared. There is not such a thing as
retribution and vengeance, child, in Christian countries; it is you
who are heathenish. Or have you nursed a vain imagination of
encountering Mr. Jardine, unknown to each other, and losing your
hearts by an unaccountable fascination, and being as miserable as
the principals in the second last chapter of one of Conny's three
volumes? or were you to atone to him in some mysterious, fantastic,
supernatural fashion, for the unintentional wrong? Because if you have
done so, I'm afraid it is all mist and moonshine, poor Jack, quite as
much as the twaddling goody stories."

"Polly," said Joanna angrily, but speaking low, "I think you might spare
us on so sad a subject."

"I want you to have common sense; I want you to be comfortable; no
wonder my uncle has never recovered his spirits."

"Indeed, Polly, I don't think you've any reason to interfere in
papa's concerns."

"I don't see that you are entitled to blame Joanna," defended sister
Lilias, stoutly;--Lilias, who was so swift to find fault herself.

"There, I'll say no more; I beg your pardon, I merely intended to show
you your world in an ordinary light."

"Do you know, Polly, that Mrs. Jardine has never visited us since?"
asked Susan.

"Very likely, she was entitled to some horror. But she is a reasonable
woman. Mr. Maxwell told me--every third party discusses the story behind
your backs whenever it chances to come up, I warn you--Mr. Maxwell
informed me that she never blamed Uncle Crawfurd, and that she sent her
son away from her because she judged it bad for him to be brought up
among such recollections, and feared that when he was a lad he might be
tampered with by the servants, and might imbibe prejudices and aversions
that would render him gloomy and vindictive, and unlike other people for
the rest of his life; she could not have behaved more wisely. I am
inclined to suppose that Mrs. Jardine of Whitethorn has more knowledge
of the world and self-command than the whole set of my relations here,
unless, perhaps, my Aunt Crawfurd--she will only speculate on your
dresses--that is the question, Susan."


II.--THE ORDEAL.

"Would you not have liked to have gone with the other girls, Joanna? for
Conny, she must submit to be a _halflin_ yet. But is it not dull for you
only to hear of a party? country girls have few enough opportunities of
being merry," observed Mr. Crawfurd, with his uneasy consciousness, and
his sad habit of self-reproach.

"Oh, Mr. Crawford, it would not have done--not the first time--Joanna
had much better stay at home on this occasion. She is too well brought
up to complain of a little sacrifice."

It is curious how long some wives will live on friendly terms with their
husbands and never measure their temperaments, never know where the shoe
pinches, never have a notion how often they worry, and provoke, and pain
their spouses, when the least reticence and tact would keep the ship and
its consort sailing in smooth water.

Mrs. Crawfurd would have half-broken her heart if Mr. Crawfurd had not
changed his damp stockings; she would fling down her work and look out
for him at any moment of his absence; she would not let any of her
children, not her favourite girl or boy, take advantage of him; she was
a good wife, still she did not know where the shoe pinched, and so she
stabbed him perpetually, sometimes with fretting pin-pricks, sometimes
with sore sword-strokes.

"My dear, I wish you were not a sacrifice to me." It is a heart-breaking
thing to hear a man speak quite calmly, and like a man, yet with a
plaintive tone in his voice. Ah! the old, arch spirit of the literary
Laird of the Ewes had been shaken to its centre, though he was a
tolerable man of business, and rather fond of attending markets, sales,
and meetings.

"Papa, what are you thinking of?" exclaimed Joanna indignantly. "I am
very proud to help you, and I go out quite as often as the others. Do
you not know, we keep a card hung up on Lilias's window-shutter, and we
write down every month's invitations--in stormy weather they are not
many--and we fulfil them in rotation. You don't often want me in the
evenings, for you've quite given me up at chess, and you only condescend
to backgammon when it is mid-winter and there has been no curling, and
the book club is all amiss. Lilias insists upon the card, because the
parties are by no means always merry affairs, and she says that
otherwise we would slip them off on each other, and pick and choose, and
be guilty of a great many selfish, dishonourable proceedings."

"Lilias is the wise woman in the household. I'm aware there is a wise
woman in every family--but how comes it that Lilias is the authority
with us? It always rather puzzles me, Joanna; for when I used to implore
Miss Swan to accept her salary, and pay Dominie Macadam his lawful
demand of wages for paving the boys' brains in preparation for the High
School, they always complimented me with the assurance that you were my
clever daughter."

"Because they saw your weak side, I dare say, my dear," suggests
Mrs. Crawfurd.

"No, I am the cleverest, papa; I am so deep that I see that it is easier
to live under an absolute monarchy than to announce myself a member of a
republic, and assert my prerogatives and defend my privileges--but I
confess I have a temper, papa. Lilias says I am very self-willed, and I
must grant that she is generally in the right."

"You don't feel satisfied with the bridle, child, till it gets into
stronger hands."

"Yes, Joanna has a temper," chimed in Mrs. Crawfurd, pursuing her own
thread of the conversation. "Strangers think her softer than Susan; but
I have seen her violent, and when she takes it into her head, she is the
most stubborn of the whole family. I don't mean to scold you, my dear;
you are a very good girl, too, but you are quite a deception."

"Oh, mamma! what a character!" Joanna could not help laughing. "I must
amend my ways."

Of course, Joanna was violent at times, as we imagine a sensitive girl
with an abhorrence of meanness and vice, and she was stubborn when she
was convinced of the right and her friends would assert the wrong. Mr.
Crawfurd's idea was, that Joanna had a temper like Cordelia, not when
she spoke in her pleased accents, "gentle, soft, and low," but when she
was goaded into vehemence, as will happen in the best regulated palaces
and households.

"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Crawfurd, five minutes afterwards, disturbing
the cosy little party round the tea-table by her sudden air of distress.
"Oh! dear, dear me! Susie has left her pearl sprigs behind her. There
they are on the loo-table. My pearl sprigs, Mr. Crawfurd, that I used
to wear when I was young; they have come in again for the hair, and
Susie settled they were just the thing to give a more dressed look to
her spring silk--these easy way parties are so ill to manage, and Polly
was of the same mind, and she came in to show me the effect, for I
always like to see the girls after they are dressed, and be satisfied
how they look--and there she has forgotten the box, and she will appear
quite a dowdy, and be so vexed."

"I don't think it will signify very much, mamma; Susan looks very well
in her blue silk."

"But it is such a pity, Joanna; so unfortunate,--she only put them out
of her hand for one moment, and you see there they are still;" and so
Mrs. Crawfurd sounded the lamentation, and dwelt on its salient points,
and ingeniously extracted new grounds of regret, till, by dint of
repetition, in ten minutes more Mr. Crawfurd and Joanna were almost
persuaded that Susan had sustained a serious loss.

"Send a servant with the foolery," proposed Mr. Crawfurd, seeking a
little relief, and tolerably affronted at his interest in the question.

"I don't think it would do. Would it, Joanna? There is always such
confusion at Hurlton when there is company? and then they have people
dining. There would be a mistake, and my pearls are no joke, Mr.
Crawfurd. They cost papa fifty pounds when they were so prettily set to
go to Sir William's ball. Ah! you don't remember it. There would be a
fuss, and Lilias would not like it. If Oliver had not been there at
dinner, or Charlie had been at home--"

"Of the two evils choose the least," recommended Mr. Crawfurd, taking up
his book.

"If you are very anxious, mamma," said Joanna, "as it is very early, and
they set out to walk round by the garden at Houndswood to get some
geraniums, which Polly saw yesterday, and set her heart upon; if you
order out the ponies and Sandy, I think Conny and I could easily ride
over to Hurlton, and deliver the little parcel to the girls in time. It
would be a nice evening ride for us, since you are afraid that Conny
hangs too much over her books."

"Thank you, dear; that is just like you, Joanna, you are so sensible and
helpful, no wonder papa monopolizes you. I will be so glad that Susie
has the pearls. Such a pity, poor dear! that her evening should be
spoilt, and they lying ready to be put on. Conny? Yes, indeed, that girl
will be getting spine complaint, or the rickets. In my day it was sewing
in frames that twisted girls; but these books in the lap, the head poked
forward, one shoulder up, and knees half as high as the shoulder, are a
thousand times worse."

"Good luck to you, Jack. Now you deserve your name, since you constitute
yourself groom of the chambers to your sisters."

Joanna laughed back to him. "Come and meet us, papa." And in the
shortest interval given to tie on their hats and skirts, the girls were
racing along to Hurlton.

In that moorland country, with outlying moorland fields where it was not
primitive nature--in a large family like that of the Crawfurds, rough
walking ponies swarmed as in Shetland. They were in constant request at
the Ewes, and the girls rode them lightly and actively, with the
table-boy, Sandy, at their heels, as readily as they walked. Perhaps
Joanna was the least given to the practice, though she availed herself
of it on this domestic occasion.

Joanna was a deception, as her mother said. She was a little, round,
soft thing, whom you would have expected to flash over with sunshine.
She was not a melancholy girl--as you may have been able to judge--and
it was not her blame that anything in her position had developed her
into a thoughtful, earnest character. But then she was always fancied
younger than she really was; people supposed her as easy as her mother,
while she could be vehement, and was firm to tenacity. Perhaps the
reason of the puzzle might be, not only that she had a little of that
constitutional indolence which serves to conceal latent energy, but
that, in trifles, she did inherit, in a marked degree, the unexacting,
kindly temper which causes the wheels of every-day life to turn easily.
She allowed herself to be pushed aside. She accepted the fate or
superstition which linked her with her father's sorrow; she was content,
she thought, to suffer the dregs of his act with him; she wished she
could suffer for him; the connexion had indeed a peculiar charm for her
enthusiasm and generosity, like her admiration of this Corncockle Moor.

Corncockle Moor, in its dreariness, loneliness, and wildness, now hung
out a vast curtain, which Joanna and Conny were skirting under the
golden decline of day, not so far from the spot where the little group
of men had gathered on the autumn morning, and the two sharp, short
cracks, and the little curl of blue smoke had indicated where one life
had gone out, and another was blasted in a single second. Joanna had
scarcely got time to wonder how Harry Jardine and her sisters would look
at each other, and she did not allow herself to think of it now. She
would wait till she had skilfully avoided any chance of encountering the
company, delivered her mother's errand, and was safe with Conny,
cantering homewards. Even then she would not dwell on the notion, lest
her father should allude to the stranger, and she should betray any
feeling to discompose him. "I must take care of papa. Papa is my
charge," repeated Joanna, proud as any Roman maid or matron.

What malign star sent Mrs. Maxwell into the bedroom, just as Joanna had
entered it? She ought to have been only quitting the dining-room for
the drawing-room, but Mrs. Maxwell was always to be found where she was
least expected. She was a good-natured, social, blundering body, whom
girls condescended to affect, because she liberally patronized young
people, proving, however, quite as often the marplot, as the maker of
their fortunes--not from malice, but from a certain maladroitness and
fickleness. Mrs. Maxwell took it into her head to lay hands on Joanna,
and to send out for Conny, whom Joanna had cautiously deposited in the
paddock, and to insist that they should remain, and join the party. She
would take no denial; she never got them all together; it was so cruel
to leave out Joanna and Conny, a pair of her adopted children, since she
had no bairns of her own to bless herself with. She had plenty of
partners, or the girls would dance together. Yes, say no more about
it; she was perfectly delighted with the accession to her number--it
was to be.

Conny's eyes sparkled greedily. "Oh, Joanna! mamma won't be angry."

Oh, Conny! you traitor!

"There, it will be a treat to Conny, and there is nothing to prevent it.
Conny has let the cat out of the bag, as Tom would say. Conny consents,
Joanna may sulk as she pleases."

"I won't sulk, Mrs. Maxwell; I'll go off by myself, and leave you
Constantia, since she wishes it."

"To hear of such a thing! You girls won't allow it. It is very shabby,
Susan, Lilias, Miss Musgrave, that Joanna should not have a little
amusement with the rest."

"I'm sure we won't prevent it, Mrs. Maxwell, we don't stand in the way,"
said Lilias stiffly; "Joanna is free to remain or return as she chooses.
Joanna, you had better stay, or there will be a scene, and the whole
house will hear of it."

"Keep her, Mrs. Maxwell, please," cried Miss Polly mischievously; "my
cousin Joan is so scarce of her countenance, that I want to know how she
can behave in company."

"Very well, I assure you," avouched Mrs. Maxwell zealously; then she
began to remember, and start, and flounder--"only she is so modest.
Joanna, my dear, you cannot be so stupid as to hesitate from a certain
reason?"

"Oh, no. You can send back Sandy, Mrs. Maxwell, since you are so good.
Mamma knows what we will require; or I will write a little note."

Joanna could have borne any encounter rather than a discussion of the
obstacle with Mrs. Maxwell--a discussion which might be gone over again
any day to anybody.

But Joanna was terribly vexed and provoked that she had exposed herself
to this infliction, though she was fain to comfort herself with the
argument that it would make no difference to papa's feelings; and she
trusted that she and Conny would slip into the drawing-room when the
guests were occupied, and subside into corners, and escape attention.

Joanna was established in her recess, nearly confident that she was not
conspicuous, and considerably interested in watching Harry Jardine.

Mrs. Jardine's intentions had been in a great measure fulfilled. The
young Laird of Whitethorn had grown up at his English school and German
university without the cloud which rested on his father's end descending
on his spirit. He was as strong and pleasant and blithe as his father,
with the self-possession which a life amongst strangers, and the
available wallet of a traveller's information, could graft upon his
gentle birth and early manhood. At the same time, there was no deception
about Harry Jardine. While he was gay and good-humoured, he had an air
of vigour and action, and even a dash of temper lurking about his black
curls and bright eyes, which prepared one for hearing that he had not
only hobnobbed with the Göttingen students, but had also won their
prizes, and thrashed them when they aspired to English sports; and had
travelled four nights without sleep, under stress of weather, to reach
Whitethorn on the day he had fixed to his mother. He had brought a
steady character along with him, too; they said that he had been a good
son, and had remembered that his mother was a widow, and had endured
enough grief to last her all her days. Mrs. Jardine, who was not a
flatterer, declared that Harry had not cost her a care which she needed
to grudge. There is enough temptation, and to spare, for men like Harry
Jardine, but it is not in such that early self-indulgence and lamentable
weakness may be feared.

Harry Jardine was the style of man fitted to command the admiration of
Joanna Crawfurd. Contemplative girls love men of experience. Staid girls
love men with a dash--a dash of bravery, self-reliance, or even of
recklessness. Harry Jardine's gladness to be at home; his interest in
everything and everybody; the pleasant tone in which he referred to his
mother; the genuine fun of which he gave a glimpse; the ring of his
laugh, were all set store upon by Joanna with a sober satisfaction.

Harry had not been so agreeable, or felt the world so pleasant, two
hours before. It was impossible to escape memories or to hide wincing;
but he had said to himself that these associations ought to have been
worn threadbare by familiarity, or to have been approached gradually,
and he could not conquer his awkwardness or crush his susceptibility.
But youth is pliable and versatile, and Harry Jardine was determined to
evince no dislike, and make no marked distinction. Very soon the Miss
Crawfurds and their cousin blended with the other young ladies in his
view,--nay, he discovered that he had come across a cousin of theirs
settled abroad, and was qualified to afford them information of his
prospects and pursuits handsomely.

So far Joanna's penalty had been moderate, until, towards the close of
the evening, when most of the young people had gone into the library to
get some refreshments, she found herself left in her corner almost
alone, with Mr. Jardine talking to Mrs. Maxwell within a few yards of
her. This was the occurrence which Joanna had dreaded. "By the pricking
of her thumbs" she was aware of a wicked destiny approaching her. Mr.
Jardine in his conversation glanced towards her, then looked away, and
beat his foot on the carpet, and a twitch passed over the muscles of his
face, and his smile, though he still affected a smile, had lost all its
glow. Joanna dared not look any longer. Mrs. Maxwell was certainly
speaking of her. Perhaps in her rash inconsiderate way she had
volunteered information.

Perhaps Harry Jardine had himself made inquiry--the pale girl who kept
in the background, with the little scar--was it--on her temple? Joanna
quivered under the process, and the witness beneath the light brown hair
throbbed painfully. She was glad when Mr. Jardine walked away quickly;
but the next moment he came back and turned directly towards her.

"I have been introduced to your sisters, Miss Crawfurd, and you must
excuse further ceremony from me. Will you allow me to take you into
the next room and get a glass of wine or a biscuit for you? You should
not try fasting at an evening party. Mrs. Maxwell would call it a very
bad example."

He spoke fast, with a laugh, and crimsoned all over. She knew
perfectly well what he was about. He was determined to perform all
that could possibly be required of him. He would put down invidious
comments, disarm gossip, in short cut off the gorgon's head at the
first struggle. They might term it unnatural, overdone, but at least
it would not be to do again; and Harry Jardine's was the temper, that,
if you presented an obstacle to it, it itched the more to grapple with
the obstacle on the spot.

Precisely for the reason that she could not ride away from the party,
after Mrs. Maxwell assailed her with a motive for her conduct, Joanna
could not repel his overture. It was incredibly trying to her. He saw
how differently she was affected from her sisters. He was aware of
another influence. He felt very uncomfortable. Why, the very flesh of
his arm, which she touched lightly enough, crept, when the superstition
of the old ordeal of the bier flashed upon him, as he caught, with a
furtive glance, the tiny brand prickling and burning to fiery
incandescence above the waxen face. Was it a splash of his father's
blood impressed there, till the "solid flesh" would verily "melt"? Was
it his neighbourhood which brought out the ruddy spot, that, like the
scarlet streaks down Lady Macbeth's little hands, would not wash off?
Absurd folly! But he wished he had done with it. He wished old ladies
would confine themselves to their own concerns. He hoped fainting was
not heard of among the girls of the moors--that would be a talk! He
supposed he must say something commonplace and civil; he must task his
brains for that purpose. He coined a remark, and Joanna answered him
quietly and with simplicity. She must have possessed and exercised
great self-command. It struck Harry Jardine. It was a quality he valued
highly, possibly because he felt such difficulty in looking it up on his
own account. All through the few minutes' further conversation and
association between them, it impressed him, conjointly with the odd
recoiling sensations, which he had so rapidly shaken off, where her
sisters were concerned.

Harry had the faults of his kind, not inveterately, for he spoke good
English to women; but as he indulged in his dear island slang to men, he
felt bound to use it to himself. "This poor little woman is thorough
game," he said to himself. "I can see that she is as tender as a little
bird, yet she has shown as much pluck as a six-foot grenadier? She has
not flinched at all. I can do justice to this spirit." He remembered it
all the time when Polly Musgrave was sounding him, and when he did not
choose to give her the slightest satisfaction.

"I saw you with my cousin Joanna, Mr. Jardine; you'll find her in the
Spanish style."

"Not in complexion certainly. Do you mean in name?"

"Oh, no! Do you know so little about the south of Scotland after all?
You had better conceal this piece of ignorance. I am sure you understand
this much--a general acquaintance with the whole habitable globe would
not atone for a deficiency with regard to this one dear little spot of
earth. Joanna is as common a name in the south of Scotland as Dorothy is
in the north of England. Examine the register, and see if you have not
twenty Jardine cousins christened Joanna. I call Joanna in the Spanish
style, because, although she conceals it, and you cannot have found it
out yet, she is a vestige of romantic chivalry. Joanna is a Donna
Quixotina, an unworldly, unearthly sort of girl, with a dream of tilting
with the world and succouring the distressed. I term it a dream,
because, of course, she will never accomplish it, any more than the
knight of La Mancha, and she will be obliged to descend from her stilts
by-and-by. I call Susan in the beautiful style, and Lilias in the good
style, and Conny in the sweet sixteen style."

"Miss Musgrave, I am not versed in ladies' styles, you must teach me;"
and Polly and he looked into each other's eyes, and laughed and felt
they were match for match.

And Joanna had a little regret that Mr. Jardine should, like most men,
be caught with Polly Musgrave; not that Joanna did not admire Polly,
though she was her antithesis, and count her handsome and brilliant in
her way, like any sun-loving dahlia or hollyhock; but Joanna had no
enthusiasm in her admiration of Polly, and she had a little enthusiasm
in her estimation of Harry Jardine.


III.--"HE LAY DOWN TO SLEEP ON THE MOORLAND SO DREARY."

Polly Musgrave was gone with flying colours. She had been indefatigable
in procuring her aunt, uncle, and cousins, parting gifts that would suit
their tastes; she had actually toiled herself in paying courtesy-calls
round the neighbourhood; and she had written half-a-dozen letters, and
evinced a considerable amount of successful management in procuring an
invitation for two of her cousins to join her during the week or weeks
of York's gaieties. She would have had Joanna also, but Joanna would not
leave home at the season when her father was liable to his worst
rheumatic twinges. Polly had shown herself really good-natured under her
ease and luxury, and Joanna had been a little penitent and vexed that
she did not like Polly any more than in a cousinly way. Whether Polly
was right in saying that Joanna was romantic or not, Polly had not a
particle of romance in her constitution, though much was flourishing,
fresh, and fragrant, in pure, commonplace, selfish, good-natured
worldliness, for it is a mistake to suppose that quality (without
hypocrisy) has not its attractive guise. Without knowing herself
romantic, Joanna was apt to quarrel in her own mind with cleverer girls,
accomplished girls, pleasant girls, even good girls, sensible women,
business women, nay religious women, until she feared she must be
fault-finding, satirical, sour--as her sisters protested at intervals.
Joanna, sour? Joanna, so charitable and sympathizing? Take comfort,
Joanna; the spirit is willing, though the flesh is weak.

The Ewes was in its normal condition; the parish was in its normal
condition; the excitement of Harry Jardine's return to Whitethorn had
died out; he might shoot, as it was September, or fish still, or farm,
or ride, or read as he pleased. He retained his popularity. His father
had been a popular man, fully more popular than Mr. Crawfurd of the
Ewes. Harry was even more approved, for mingling with the world had
smoothed down in him the intolerance of temper which beset his father.
What did Joanna Crawfurd say to such compromising agreeability? Joanna
was disarmed in his case; she contradicted herself, as we all do. She
had the penetration to perceive that many externals went to raise Harry
Jardine's price in the eyes of the world; externals which had little to
do with the individual man,--youth, a good presence, a fair patrimony,
freedom from appropriating ties. Strip Harry of these, render him
middle-aged, time-worn or care-worn, reduce him to poverty, marry him,
furnish him with a clamorous circle of connections, land-lock him with
children! Would the difference not be startling? Would he need to be
condemned for the world's favour, then? Joanna trowed not.

The Crawfurds met Mr. Jardine occasionally, but there was no probability
of the acquaintance ripening, since Mr. Crawfurd could not call for
Harry at Whitethorn, and Harry did not see the necessity of offering his
company at the Ewes. Mrs. Jardine had not visited much since the shock
of her widowhood, and she only now began to recur to her long-disused
visiting-list on Harry's account. Though a reasonable woman, it is
scarcely requisite to say that she did not propose to renew her
friendship with the family at the Ewes. The blow which rendered her
without control did not break her spirit, but it pressed out its
buoyance. Mrs. Jardine was a grave, occupied, resigned woman, no longer
a blithe one, very fond and proud of Harry, but grateful, not glad in
her fondness and pride.

The frost had come early, strong, and stern on those Highlands of the
Lowlands, those moors of the south. The "lustre deep" at twilight and
dawn, the imperial Tyrian dye at noon, the glorious "orange and purple
and grey" at sunset and sunrise, which, once known and loved, man never
forgets, nor woman either--all would soon be swept away this year, and
Joanna regretted it. She liked the flower-garden, but, after all, the
garden was tame to the moor. The moor's seasons were, at best,
short--short the golden flush of its June; short the red gleam of its
September. Not that the lowland Moor has not its dead, frosted grace in
its winter winding-sheet, and its tender spring charm, when curlews
scream over it incessantly. But Joanna had never seen the autumn so
short as this year; and she had heard them tell, that in the Fall, when
poor Mr. Jardine was killed, the heather remained bright till November.

Thinking of that date caused Joanna, when she strolled out on the moor
one morning, to go near the scene with its melancholy celebrity.

It was quite early in the morning, a hail shower lying all around,
though the sky was a deep sapphire blue, with the wan ghost of the moon
lingering on the horizon, and the atmosphere bitter cold. The breakfast
was late at the Ewes, owing to Mr. Crawfurd's delicate health, and
because Mrs. Crawfurd had her fancies like Mrs. Primrose. Thus Joanna
was frequently abroad before breakfast, and, like most persons of
healthy organization, was rather tempted to court the stinging air as it
blew across the heather, bracing her whole frame, nipping her fingers
and toes, and sending blush-roses into her cheeks.

Joanna was walking along, feeling cheerful, although she was in that
neighbourhood, and vaunting to herself that their moor was infinitely
superior to a park, when a grey object caught her eye, lying beyond
some whin bushes--a thing raised above the ground, but stretched still
and motionless. Joanna stopped with a strange thrill. No! it was not
on that piece of earth; but so must he have lain on that disastrous
morning, far removed from the abundance, and garnered goods, and
heartiness of harvest.

Joanna stood a moment, then reproaching herself with cowardice, egotism,
inhumanity, she advanced, her heart fluttering wildly. Yes, it was a man
in tweed-coat, trousers, and cap; and stay! was that a gun by his side?
Joanna could not go a step further; she closed her eyes to hide the
blood which she felt must be oozing and stealing along the ground, or
else congealed among the heather and it was only after she had told
herself how far she was from home, and how long it would be ere she
could run back for assistance, that she opened them and approached the
figure. There was no blood that she could see; the man might not be
dead, but stupefied or insensible. Oh, dear! it was Harry Jardine of
Whitethorn; the hail-drops among his black curls, the sprigs of the
heather dinted into his brown cheek.

It darted into Joanna's mind like inspiration how the chance had
occurred. She remembered Susan had said, yesterday, that she had met Mr.
Jardine going in shooting garb across the moor in the afternoon, and he
had stopped her and asked if she had seen a dog. He had taken out a new
dog and lost it, and was vexed at wasting half the morning in the
pursuit. She recalled, with a peculiar vividness of perception, that
somebody had observed, one day lately, that Mr. Jardine was not so
strong as he looked; that he had fever while abroad, just before he came
home, and that his mother was annoyed because he would not take care of
himself, and complained that he was constantly over-taxing his
unrecovered powers, and subjecting himself to fresh attacks of illness.
Joanna remembered, with a pang, that she had laughed at the remark,
mentally conjuring up Harry Jardine's athletic, sunburnt comeliness.

Joanna freed herself more quickly from this phantom than from the last,
and, while she did so, called out his name, and stepped to his side,
stooping down and even touching him. He was breathing, though he was
very cold and stiff, and she did not rouse him. Oh, Joanna was very
thankful! But what should she do next? Life must be very faint, and
frozen in the muscular, active young man. He had loitered at his sport
till the dusk; he had been bewildered on the moor--strange to him as to
a foreigner; he had wandered here and there impatient and weary; but
still more angry with himself than alarmed. He had sat down in the
intense chill and dim darkness to recover himself; no way forewarned,
"simply because he was on Corncockle Moor, so near home," on a September
night. He had sunk down further and further, until the stealthy foe
sprang upon him and held him fast--the sleep from which there is so
tardy an awakening.

Joanna dared not leave the faint, vital spark to smoulder down or leap
out. The moor was very unfrequented at this hour; at certain periods of
the day, portions of it, intersected by meandering tracks, were crossed
by men labouring in the adjacent fields or quarry; but till then it was
only the circumstance of alarm being excited on Harry's account, or her
protracted absence giving rise to surmise and search, that could bring
them companions.

As a forlorn hope Joanna raised her voice and cried for assistance; fear
and distress choked the sound, and the freezing air caused it to fall on
the silence with a ringing quaver. She persevered, however, every now
and then varying the appeal, "Papa, Lilias, Sandy, do some of you come
to me; I want you here, for God's sake! here."

She took his big hands and chafed them between her own little ones; she
lifted his head on her lap, her fingers getting entangled in his curly
hair, she prayed for him that he might be restored to them.

He continued to breathe dully and heavily; his eyes never unclosed; she
felt tempted to raise the lashes, as she would lift up and peep under
the lids of a child. Ah! but she feared to see the balls sightless and
glazing over fast. The marked, lively face was placid as if it were set
in death, and the slight contraction between the brows, which she had
remarked the first night she saw him, was almost effaced. How dreadful
it would be if he died on her knees there, in the solitude of the moor!
The son at the daughter's feet, as his father at her father's. How would
his mother bear it? Her father would never survive this mournful
re-writing of the old letters traced in blood. It should be she rather
who should die; and Joanna in her piety, her goodness, her great love
for her father, her exquisite kindness for Harry Jardine, did ask God if
He sought a life, in His justice and mercy, to allow hers to pay for
Harry's, to substitute her in some way for Harry; and Joanna well
remembered that prayer afterwards.

Joanna was beginning to cower and fail in her trial. Suddenly she shook
herself up, when she was lapsing into a heap nearly as passive as that
beside her; a suggestion darted across her brain; she detected in the
little pocket of her dress a bottle of a strong essence and perfume,
which Polly Musgrave had forced upon her the day she left.

Joanna was quick and clear in following out a notion. With trembling
fingers she poured the hot, stimulating, subtle liquid into her hollow
hands, and bathed his forehead. She unloosed his cravat, and sent the
warm stream over his throat and chest, rubbing them with her free hand,
while she supported his head on the other arm; and inspired with fresh
courage and trust she called anew this time a shrill, echoing call, and
Harry Jardine shivered, sobbed, and stretched himself, and slowly opened
his sealed eyes, looking her first vaguely and then wonderingly in the
face, and her father's and Lilias's voices rose from opposite sides of
the heath, near and far in reply. "What is it, Joanna? What has kept
you? What has happened? We missed you; we were getting anxious; we are
coming, coming!"


IV.--MERCY AND NOT SACRIFICE.

Harry Jardine was taken to the Ewes some hours before his mother, who
had happily been deceived as to his return on the previous night, was
even apprised of his narrow escape. He received the greatest kindness
from the Crawfurds, and his mother herself found it incumbent on her to
write a little note to the Ewes, thanking the family for their humanity
and benevolence towards her son. It is possible, had Mrs. Jardine been
awakened to her son's danger a little sooner, and before its traces were
entirely blotted out, the expressions in the note might have been a few
shades less general and cold.

Mr. Crawfurd excused her fully. He would not have expected Harry to come
back to the Ewes, though he rejoiced, from the bottom of his heart, that
Joanna had served the young fellow. How much his poor father would have
been delighted in him? Mr. Crawfurd rejoiced, although he was too
righteous and humble-minded to say to himself that God was appeased, or
that He had permitted this atonement as a sign in answer to his
life-long penance.

Harry Jardine represented a different theory; he would be a dolt, a
brute, unpardonably vindictive, if he did not cherish all friendly
feelings to the Crawfurds; if he did not visit them openly and frankly.
He did visit at the Ewes, but he found the plainest opportunities ready
made for him during one fortnight at Hurlton, to come in contact with
Joanna Crawfurd. She had gone there to look after Conny, suborned by
Mrs. Maxwell, and laid up with a sore throat, and forlorn and wretched
if one of her sisters was not looking after her.

This intercourse could scarcely fail to have one grand climax. Joanna,
the thoughtful, imaginative, true, tender woman--a fair woman besides,
with that one little blot which singularly appealed to him with a harsh
sweet voice--a sufficiently rare woman, to stand quite distinct from her
sisters and companions in the light of the practical, active, ardent,
honest heart--became the one mistress in the world for Harry Jardine,
coveted and craved by him as the best gift of God, without which the
others were comparatively worthless, and for which he could have been
willing to sacrifice them one and all. Harry himself, in after years,
confessed that since the moment he awakened from that leaden drowsiness
on the moor, the image of Joanna Crawfurd, tending him as a mother her
sick child, was constantly before him.

Joanna had not precisely the same experience. From the moment that, with
the prescience of a woman where feelings are concerned, she saw the end,
she avoided Harry Jardine with all her power. Harry's generous
determination and daring, his fearlessness, confidence, and
steadfastness overpowered her.

Mr. Crawfurd was dreadfully upset by Harry Jardine's application to him,
his claim for forbearance, his entreaty for grace, and his candid
confession that his mother was violently opposed to his suit. It was a
case which could neither be considered nor rejected without remorse. Oh,
bitterness, which spread like an infection through so many years, and
into such different relations, and spoilt even the young man's
fairness, good faith, free forgiveness, and the purity and earnestness
of his passion, the pearl of his manhood, which, if lost to him, would
be a loss indeed! How Harry implored Mr. Crawfurd to spare it to him, to
reflect that it was the greatest benefit which he asked at his hands, to
pause before he denied it to him solely because he had been the
unfortunate means of depriving him of his father!

Harry had agitating scenes with his mother besides; these two had never
been placed against each other before, and the contest between them was
neither gracious nor good for either heart.

"Harry, I am horrified at you; it is a dishonour to your poor father's
memory; it is shocking to think of it; and if you have been so lost to
duty as to fall into so unnatural an entanglement, it is surely the
least you owe to both parents to give it up."

"Mother! I cannot see it as you do; my father fully exonerated Mr.
Crawfurd--you have told me so a hundred times. No one, not you, his
widow, mourned my father as Mr. Crawfurd mourned--nay, mourns him to
this day."

"Harry, do you wish to see a bloody guest present at your wedding?"

"Mother, that is a baseless, cruel horror. You would not wish me to
maintain a hereditary feud on the principle of my forefathers. I cannot
tell what the Christian religion teaches if it does not enjoin
forgiveness of injuries."

"I hope I am a Christian, Harry, and I have tried to forgive my
enemies, but it is one thing to make every allowance for them and
entertain charitable feelings towards them, and another to ally myself
with them, and constitute them my closest friends. Harry, the whole
neighbourhood would shrink from the idea of what you contemplate."

"If my principles and my heart said Yes, not the neighbourhood, but
the whole world might cry No, and I would not feel bound to listen to
the clamour."

"A young man's improper boast, Harry, and since you force me to it, not
the world alone--I tell you nature objects to that girl--that girl of
them all; how can you look her in the face and think of love?"

"Would you have me think of hate? Since you make the allusion, I declare
to you, mother, that mark appeals to you and me in another fashion.
Cain's brand! do they call it? And who set the brand, and when, on
Cain's brow? Sovereign clemency, after the wanderer's punishment was
more than he could bear, if the reflection of my father's blood was
transmitted to so innocent and noble a proxy, it must have been designed
to teach such as you and me New Testament lessons of perfect charity."

"Harry, I have never been able to look that girl in the face."

"Mother, I pray never to forget that face, although it remain like an
angel's face to me, because it is the fairest example of the human face
divine that I ever hope to behold."

"Harry Jardine, you are mad, or worse; these are some of the sickening
French and German sentimentalities against which I have been warned.
There is such a thing as a wholesome sense of repulsion, an honest
manly recoil, a pure instinct of loathing, a thousand times to be
preferred to this morbid mixture of good and evil, friend and foe, life
and death, this defiance of decency and general opinion."

"Very true, mother; but there are a thousand exceptional cases, and a
million points of ruthless prejudice. 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth
for a tooth,' sounded very righteous and respectable in the ears of the
Jews, yet I believe the sentence had its condemnation, and the amendment
was neither French nor German."

"Harry, you are profane, and you forget what is due to yourself and me."

The last saying was a hard one; his mother could be no judge of his
profanity, but he had been a good son, and it had not been without
a curb upon him that the strong man had accustomed himself to leave
so much of the power and authority of Whitethorn in the wilful
woman's hands.

In the library at the Ewes Mr. Crawfurd was addressing Joanna
very gently.

"My dear, I am very sorry it cannot be; of course Mrs. Jardine will
never consent, but it goes to my heart to grieve you."

"Papa, I cannot help it."

"And to grieve Harry Jardine."

"Papa, that is worse; but do not think that anybody--that he
blames you."

"We shall trust, my dear, that he will soon recover the
disappointment."

"Of course--it is not a great loss."

"My dear, pray don't smile when it hurts you, for I cannot bear it; it
is natural that this should be a heavy cross to you; but setting it
aside as unavoidable, is there no respect in which I can lighten it to
you? No indulgence which you could fancy that I could procure for you?
No old wish of his Joan's that papa could by an effort gratify? Surely I
cannot be so miserable, child."

"Oh, no, papa! I mean you can please in a great many things; you always
could, and you always will. Women are not like men, their natures are
not so concentrated. They have so many tastes and whims, you know; I
possess them by the score, and I will never cease to relish their
fulfilment so long as you and I keep labouring together, papa. I am not
going to be a hypocrite, papa. This strange story has vexed me a good
deal, but I was aware from the first of its unsubstantial character. I
still want money to be charitable on my own account, like Lilias. I've a
notion to revive our old greenhouse; I've a longing to see a little of
the world with you, sir, in spring and summer; I've never been
indifferent to silks and muslins, though I think my chief weakness in
dress is the very finest of fine chintz prints, ever so dear a yard,
papa, which an artist might paint, and more of a Duchess's wear than
velvet. All these matters are acceptable to me, papa."

"You are sure that you are my pet and darling."

"Yes, papa; you have spoilt me."

Joanna was gone to her own room; there she laid her head on her arm, and
asked her heart bitterly, "Have I succeeded in deceiving papa? Can he
believe for a moment that any poor precious treasure in the wide world
will make up to me for the want of Harry Jardine; that there is anything
left me but Heaven instead of Harry Jardine? But then there is papa,
dear papa, and I used to be papa's. What will not women do for their
children? I always thought I could attain as much for papa. I was proud
to prove my love to him, and I will drive out Harry's image for papa's
sake, though I should die in the struggle."

Harry did not altogether admire this resolution. He was a good fellow,
an excellent fellow, and he had the true, ineffable devotion to Joanna
Crawfurd; but he was not free from jealousy and irritation, as well as
sorrow and fear, when he was compelled to part from her for a time, and
content himself with swearing fidelity on his own account, and seeing
her occasionally as an ordinary acquaintance, until their relative
positions should be changed, or his truth fail.

The common world rolled on its course; the seasons succeeded each other,
although even they seemed to culminate in dull, monotonous vanity and
vexation of spirit. The frosty wind had swept "that lustre deep from
glen and brae," and the chill watery mosses alone looked green and fresh
when the snow melted. It was the cold under which Joanna Crawfurd
shivered and shrank; at least so she assured every friendly person who
remarked that she was thin, and paler than ever. Mrs. Jardine had looked
her in the face, nay, kept nervously glancing at her when she was
visible at church, on the loch where the curling match was played, or in
the concert-room at the county town.

Of course the girl would get over it; yet Joanna bore a suspicious
likeness to Mrs. Jardine's sister Anne, who did not "get over" such a
cross. Mrs. Jardine remembered well her sister Anne's parting look, and
now, strive as she would, she could not resist the conviction that it
was hovering over Joanna Crawfurd's face. Mrs. Jardine, like the Laird
of the Ewes, could have cried, "Pray do not smile, girl; you do not know
how you look; we, the initiated, have not stony enough hearts to stand
that." Mrs. Jardine was surprised that Harry could be so foolish as to
redden and appear displeased at Joanna Crawfurd's gaiety.

Mrs. Jardine almost complained against Providence that she was condemned
to punish her only child. Then she could not help speculating whether,
if by some unimaginable arrangement of events, she had been the
sufferer, and Harry's father had been spared to him, he would have
denied Harry his happiness in the name of her memory, and from a sense
of righteous animosity, whether, if she could have looked down purified
and peaceful from the spirit-world, she would have desired the
sacrifice, and whether she would not have pleaded against it for love
and mercy's sake?

The winter was gone, the early spring was at hand, and all around the
outskirts of the moor, like an incense to spring and the Lord of the
spring, rose the smoke of the whin burnings which were to clear the
ground for the sweet young grass, to employ the nibbling teeth of
hundreds on hundreds of sheep and lambs. Joanna Crawfurd had never so
sighed for spring, never sat in such passive inertness (highly
provocative to Lilias), receiving and realizing what it brought to her.

But the period of listlessness and inaction, life-long to some, was
nearly ended for this pair. With the last snowdrops of the garden in
February, and the first glinting gowans of the lea in March, came the
news to the country-side of the bankruptcy of one of the first of the
chain of banks, whose defalcations have accomplished more in causing
property to change hands than the lances of the moss-troopers. The young
Laird of Whitethorn held money in the shape of his father's shares in
one of those unlucky banks; and so it fell upon him one morning like a
clap of thunder that he was responsible for about as much as the acres
of Whitethorn would retrieve, besides the trifling morsel to whet his
appetite in the loss of his loose thousands. Harry Jardine was likely to
know himself as "landless, landless," as ever a proscribed Macgregor.

Harry rose to the encounter. "I am sorry for you, mother, and I do not
pretend that I shall not regret the old moorland acres; but I shall do
very well, notwithstanding. I'm old to learn a profession; but how many
volunteers and retired lieutenants had to study and serve
apprenticeships after the long wars! I will stick in; I don't mind it on
my own account, and I will be proud to provide for you. I say, mother,
don't vex yourself; perhaps it is the best thing that can happen to me.
I don't think a fellow gets well seasoned unless he is knocked about at
some time: better late than never. I have been coveting change--any
change and occupation, an engrossing occupation--for the last few
months." He said that to reconcile her to what was an overwhelming blow
to her, and his words aroused her with a sharp pang. Had Harry become
so miserable and sick of his blessings that he was ready to welcome the
cold-bath of labour and poverty as a relief to his oppressive languor,
and a ground of hope for his fainting mind?

But Harry came in to her with a troubled face, on another day--a mild
day--a subtle, penetrating, relaxing day, under whose balmy breath it is
doubly difficult to contend with encircling difficulties, and reject the
one clue suddenly vouchsafed to lead us out of the labyrinth.

"I must tell you, mother, though, of course, it cannot be in the
circumstances--he does not see it--but there is no fatality to bind
me to his views. Mr. Crawfurd of the Ewes sent for me this morning,
and I went to him immediately; I could not tell what he might have
to say to me."

"Without consulting your mother, Harry?"

"Yes, mother," answered Harry, with unconscious sternness, "because it
might have been my own business, entirely my own affair, with which no
mortal, not even you, can be entitled to interfere. But it was only to
offer and urge upon me a loan of money to enable me to satisfy the
bank's claims, if they come to the worst, and retain Whitethorn, paying
him at my leisure. I assure you that it was delicately done; my father's
ghost may rest in peace. I beg your pardon, mother; I did not mean to
pain you. I am afraid I do speak queerly at times. Well, well; it was a
kind, confiding, neighbourly action, though I refused it decidedly, from
the man whose alliance is forbidden to us. I had no resource but to
respect myself, as I respected him; and it is no great matter that it
hurt me to cut up that gentle, inoffensive old man, endeavouring to show
his rue for having proved, twenty years ago, what my father was to at
least an equal degree, and what I have no assurance that I would not
have found myself, to a far greater extent than either of them--a slave
to a false code of honour."

Harry sat down, haggard, dispirited, half-desperate. His mother made no
reply. All the rest of the day she walked about the house like a
restless spirit; half the night she paced up and down her chamber
softly, lest Harry should hear her, and come in again, and begin to
caress her; for she could not endure Harry's kisses now--they were like
Joanna Crawfurd's smiles.

Was Harry quarrelling with his father's memory? It was a ghastly
sacrilege to her; yet might he not arrive at cursing in his heart, even
while he was grasping the devil within him by the throat? What had it
not cost him? First, his young love and the cream of his happiness; and
now his paternal acres, and his position among the independent,
influential gentlemen of his native county. He might not value the last
in his present fever and rashness, but he would weigh it more justly
hereafter. The moorland inheritance was not of great money purchase, but
it had descended to its possessors through long generations. It was
hallowed by venerable associations. The name and the property together
were of some importance in this nook of the south. Harry's father had a
family affection for his _place_, and, doubtless, Harry entertained it
also, undeveloped as yet, but to grow and acquire full maturity one day,
addressing him at every pensive interval with a vain craving and
yearning. And, again, in the confusion and distraction of Mrs.
Jardine's feelings, there was her sister Anne haunting her dreams, and
reproaching her with having forgotten her; and lastly, one verse in her
well-worn Bible was constantly standing out before her aching eyes in
letters of fire, and shining into her rebellious but scared heart, "I
will have mercy and not sacrifice."

It is one thing to have been Christians all our lives, drawn along by a
current, only broken by comparatively trivial, every-day temptations,
contests and sacrifices, and another thing to wrestle with a decree that
all at once confronts and contradicts a master-passion, a deeply-founded
verdict, a strongly-rooted opinion whose overthrow will shake the entire
framework of our lives.

Mrs. Jardine descended the stairs the next morning very pale and
exhausted, and for the first time (though she was a widow by a
peculiarly sorrowful visitation), with a certain wistful air which Harry
had observed in Mr. Crawfurd. It touched him--a fiery, dogged
man--extremely, in the one case as in the other. His mother, on the
announcement of his loss, had insisted on undertaking various domestic
examinations with respect to general retrenchment; he had humoured her,
under the impression that it diverted her mind, and broke the force of
what was a great calamity to her. He believed that she had over-exerted
herself, and he commenced to remonstrate in the imperious, reproachful,
affectionate tone, which the mother loves in her manly son.

"Yes, Harry, I have undertaken too much, and therefore I have requested
the company of two friends, who will be willing to lighten our burden."

"Strangers in the house at this time, mother?" exclaimed Harry,
bewildered. "Well, if you can bring yourself to suggest it, and wish it,
I need have no objection. Never mind me, mother. Besides, I shall be
from home. Yes, I do believe it will be a good plan."

"I thought, Harry," said Mrs. Jardine, so tremulously that Harry felt
quite alarmed for his upright, obdurate mother, "as Mr. Crawfurd had
been so friendly in his intentions towards you--the only man who has
come forward with such a proposal and entreaty--isn't he, Harry?--that
two of the Miss Crawfurds might consent to pay us a visit at last. I
believe they would waive all ceremony, and their father would like it.
It would show that we were willing, at least, to be reconciled in our
evil day; that we appreciated their magnanimity; that we were not mean
as well as malicious, Harry."

Harry stared, "Mother," he said slowly, colouring violently, "are you
prepared for the consequences of inviting the Miss Crawfurds here, or
what do you mean?"

"I have counted the cost, Harry; I have written and sent away a note,
asking if Miss Joanna and one of her sisters will have so much
consideration for an old afflicted woman."

Harry burst away from her, that she might not read the glow which was in
his eyes and searched through his whole being.

Mrs. Jardine cried a little, as a woman might say, quietly and
comfortably; a strange thing for her, since she was one of those women
who shed vehement tears or none at all; then she dried her eyes and
folded her hands reverently, saying, "I have a strange sense of calm
and of Divine favour this morning. I am sure I am not mystical, but one
jogs along the beaten way, and gets stupified, and doubts whether one
can be a Christian or no, there is so little conviction of the fact in
what divines, from the Bible, call 'the inner man of the spirit;' but
when we conquer our wills, and obey one of His everlasting decrees, then
we do feel that we must belong to Him, and we have an assurance of His
presence, which is a great enough reward without the gratification of
earthly afflictions. Ah! I have had dear old Annie's voice ringing in my
ears all the morning; and I have heard George Jardine bidding me take
care of Harry, as he always did before he went from home, except the
last day when he dared not face me."

The Crawfurds came to Whitethorn. Mr. Crawfurd sent them at once; he
would not listen to a single objection or obstacle, though Lilias and
Conny were with Polly Musgrave, and it was inconvenient to spare the
others on a moment's warning. Susan could not understand it--why they
should be bidden to Whitethorn now, when it had been so long debarred to
them; but Susan liked company, even company under a cloud; and she had a
curiosity to inspect Whitethorn, into which not one of them had put a
foot, except papa and mamma, long ago. Joanna made no demur, though, a
month before, nothing would have induced her to believe that she would
be staying with Susie this March at Whitethorn. Mr. Crawfurd walked with
his daughters to the great gate, and Joanna, looking back, saw him, on
his return, switching the thistle-heads in the hedge, as she had never
witnessed him attempt in her experience; she could almost fancy he was
whistling, as Harry Jardine went piping along before he fell in love
with her.

It was a trial when Harry Jardine was introduced into the Crawfurds'
company; but Mrs. Jardine was very hospitable and kind, and Harry
rapidly recovered or assumed his usual ease and animation, and Susan
soon lost all peculiar consciousness, and Joanna fell back on the
woman's armour, dinted, but not broken, of her self-control. In a few
hours they did wonderfully well together. Susan was delighted with the
novelties of the old-fashioned country-house, and Harry was not
particularly downcast in his misfortunes; he was almost as amusing as
ever, and invented fun for her as if he had never heard the name of
bank, and, finally, he did not complain of the arrangement, of which
Susan highly approved, that she should be Harry's companion, and Joanna
should belong to Mrs. Jardine. Joanna was so sedate, and, although she
was not a business-woman like Lilias (how Susan would boast of the
ground she had gained when she wrote and amazed Lilias!) she was used to
associating with older people, and could suit herself to their ways and
be handy to them.

Harry smiled blandly on the partition for three whole days. At the
close of the third day, when Susan and Joanna were brushing their hair
together, Susan started the proposal that they should return to the
Ewes whenever Mrs. Jardine's inventories, and settling and sorting of
accounts, were brought to an end; "because, Joanna, Harry is getting
cross; I am sure of it; he is not half so agreeable as he was the
first night. I think he is angry because his mother keeps you to
herself, and sends me to talk to him and give him music. When I come
to think of it, it is a very senseless plan of hers, and perhaps she
is spiteful though she is so attentive, and I am not frightened at her
any longer. She is a quick woman, but as pleasant as possible; but if
you please, Joanna, you can be shut up with her, and go out with her
till we leave, for I should not care for it very much, and I see no
call for it on my part; and I am certain we had better fix on going
home again as soon as we can manage it."

"Very well, Susan; only you speak very fast; I can scarcely follow
you. It strikes me you are wrong on one point. I never noticed that
Harry Jardine was tired of being your host, or that he minded who sat
next him."

"Not tired of me exactly, or careless of my enjoyment, because, to be
sure, Harry Jardine is courting all of us. Nonsense, Joanna, you need
not affect to be sage and precise and unconcerned. I am not so silly,
and it is very conceited of you, and I have no patience with you. Of
course I was not blind and deaf, and I have not lost my memory. Harry
Jardine is continually looking after you, whatever his mother persuades
herself. He never notices what I wear, and he remembered ribbons you
wore months since. I put on mine, and he looked at it and said, 'That is
like one of Joanna's; is it not?' Now I know very well he never calls
any of us by our Christian names to other people, and only you to one or
other of us, and he does it pointedly, as if to express, 'I mean to be
your brother-in-law one of these days, and I want to keep you in mind of
my intentions, so I take the liberty.'"

"Why don't you say, 'Mr. Jardine, Joanna does not like a liberty taken
with her name'?"

"I dare say! and have him reply, 'Did Joanna tell me so herself?' I
believe he would be only too glad to have you speak to him on any
subject, and I put him into such a fume about your appearance, Jack! Of
course, I intended no harm, the words came out somehow. You remember,
last night, his showing me an engraving he had bought. 'Tell me some one
that is like,' he said to me. It was the least in the world like you, or
like your mode of dressing your hair, but it flattered you, as these
chance likenesses always do. 'Is it a little like Joanna?' I asked
trying him; and I continued, 'Our Joanna would be rather a pretty girl
if it were not for the blemish;' and there I stopped short, for I
recollected that I should not have mentioned it to him. I wish you had
seen him, how hot and haughty he was, as if you were not my own sister,
and as if I had not more business with you than he had yet. 'I wonder
how any one who has any regard for Joanna can term that mark a defect:
it is very sacred and beautiful, otherwise Joanna is without spot'--and
there he caught himself and turned away--he was about to add, 'or
wrinkle or any such thing,' and I am afraid it was a quotation from the
Bible; but I fancy he felt that he was making a fool of himself, and
held his tongue. We ought to speak of going home."

"Susie, dear, don't be unreasonable; you know what a claim this family
has upon ours; you know what papa desires."

"I know nothing except that Harry Jardine wants me out of his way, and
you in his way. It is very disagreeable to me, and a great
responsibility to me. You are an interested party, you cannot be
expected to see things as you should."

"Why not? I told you to correct him when he was wrong. But I thought you
were great friends; and poor Mrs. Jardine, Susan, I can be of use to her
in her adversity. I can do things for her as I do for--"

"As you do for papa; there is a fine confession!"

Joanna ensconced herself in silence. Susan had provocation, but Joanna
took great care next day not to support Harry Jardine in his levity and
discontent. All the morning she spent with Mrs. Jardine; she pinned
herself to her sleeve until, after luncheon, she was taken by the old
lady into her own room, with its bright fire and shining dogs, its
broad, easy couch, its table, with the handsome ponderous writing-desk,
flanking the handsome heavy dressing-case, and its look-out from the
warmly-curtained windows quite across the moor.

"What a comfortable room, Mrs. Jardine!" Joanna could not help
exclaiming; "I never saw a more fresh, inspiriting view to my taste, and
such a stretch of sky,--you may sit and foretell all weathers here."

"Yes, my dear, and I have foretold all weathers here. I'll talk to you a
little of my nice room, and why I am so sorry to think of leaving it."

"We hope you will not leave it," Joanna ventured, timidly.

"Ah! that rests with others now. But I came here a gay girl; I visited
at Whitethorn before my marriage, Joanna; I dwelt here a thoughtless,
happy young wife; and here I kept Harry, not quite so troublesome as
now; and here I lay a heart-stricken widow while they were bringing home
the corpse of my husband, who had left me a vigorous, determined man two
hours before."

"It must have been dreadful! dreadful!" murmured Joanna faintly; but
lifting up her face to Mrs. Jardine with the earnest confiding eyes, the
blanched cheeks, and that seal on her brow--"Oh, how often papa and I
have thought of it, and pitied you and ourselves!"

"My dear, it was one of those dispensations of Providence which one
never forgets to the end of a long life. But I was a sinner, I deserved
what I bore; we all deserve the sorest evil that can afflict us; and,
thank God, there is mercy mingled with the greatest misery. I do not
speak often of it, but I can do so to-day; and I find it is a relief to
talk to you of our misfortune, because you can sympathize with me; you
were a sufferer in it like myself; it cannot be to many other living
persons what it is to us two. I have had that brought home to me, my
love. I do not grieve or frighten you, Joanna?"

"No, Mrs. Jardine, I have lamented it all my life. I am very grateful
that you should let me say that papa was very sorry; they sound very
little words, Mrs. Jardine, but you understand them, and papa will
never cease to be sorry in this world, and we have only wanted to
comfort you."

"Poor fellow!" sighed Mrs. Jardine absently. "Crawfurd of the Ewes, an
accomplished, pleasant fellow--so broken a man!"

They talked a little longer of the tragedy with composed but strong
mutual interest and commiseration; and Mrs. Jardine acknowledged that
such pity was not like the world's pity, but was delicate and tender as
the ministry of any Barnabas or son of consolation; and when she
finished, she kissed Joanna on the forehead, and said to herself, "Harry
was right. If this is the sign of George Jardine's blood, it was placed
there to pay her father's debt, and set her apart for us."

"Now, the sun is shining out, Joanna--'a clear shining after
rain,'--don't you like the Bible words?--I know you do. You must have a
walk yet. Why, the violets will be out in another ten days. Hand me my
garden bonnet, and we will have a turn in the garden or shrubbery. I saw
Harry and your sister take the way there. My dear, you have the look of
a sister I was very fond of, and I think Mr. Jardine would have admired
you. Yonder they are, Joanna. I should like that you would send Miss
Crawfurd to me, and have a stroll with Harry yourself. You will injure
your health, child, if you do not attend more to yourself. And, Joanna,
if my son questions you as to what I said to you, for he is a curious
fellow, tell him I have been reading a text for myself this morning, and
for several mornings--'I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.' And
although I am an old woman, I have got it by heart. And bid him show you
the thorn walk."

Joanna did not like to decline a commission of Mrs. Jardine's, but she
could no more have asked Harry to walk with her than if he had been a
duke. However, Harry was loitering and watching them, and came forward
at this moment, and Mrs. Jardine herself appropriated Susan, and
transferred Joanna to Harry.

"I am very much obliged to you for your kindness to my mother," said
Harry formally--no Joanna this time, no name at all. "I never saw my
mother take so much to any one," he continued eagerly; "she is naturally
a self-reliant, reserved woman; but she has opened up to you?"

"Yes," answered Joanna softly; "and do you know, she has been talking to
me of the past."

Harry started. "What did she say, Joanna? She could not offend you. Pray
what did she say to you?"

"She did not offend me--far from that--she was very good, and she gave
me a message to you, if you were inquisitive--she had been studying a
text, 'I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.'"

"Ah! I am very happy to understand it."

"It seems easily understood; and she advised us to walk in the thorn
walk. Is it near at hand? Shall we have time?"

"We must take time, we cannot disappoint my mother. The thorn walk is a
favourite with her all the year round, although it is only in its beauty
in the month of May. Shall I explain to you why she has selected it
to-day?"

"Yes, if you please."

"My father lived here, when he was a young man, with his uncle the
laird. They had no near female relative. It was a dull house, as dull an
establishment as my mother and I maintain together."

"Much duller, I should think."

"No; for before a certain time he was not sensible of its deficiency; he
had no definite wishes or hopes for an increase to their circle, a
re-modelling of their housekeeping. My mother was distantly related to
him; she came on a visit to my grand-uncle with an elderly lady, who was
also a connexion; she was a lively young girl then. My father often told
her afterwards to what an incalculable degree her presence brightened
the old house and the two forlorn gentlemen; it would have been utter
darkness if she had left them again to their old hazy sunlessness; so my
father took the desperate step of leading her to the thorn walk. It was
the month of May then, and it was covered with blossoms, sending a white
shower on their bent heads from a whole line of trysting trees; but,
when I think of it, March, which is lightly esteemed, is preferable to
May, for March has all the promise of the year in prospect; and see, it
has cloth of gold and silver to step upon, in the shape of the bright,
commonplace, unjustly overlooked crocuses."

"You have been reading the seedsman's tallies, Mr. Jardine."

"Never mind; you agree with me?"

"The world and the poets choose May. And you begin to be eccentric and
choose March."

"My father conducted my mother here; she has told me the circumstances a
hundred times, though she is a quiet woman; and she wore such a cloth
gown as you wear to-day."

"Mr. Jardine, you are talking nonsense; this is a new stuff, I assure
you it has not been half-a-dozen months out of the looms; and do you
suppose, sir, that I shall wear this dress in the month of May?"

"That comes of confiding those details to men. I always thought it was a
gown like this one; and he asked her to abide at Whitethorn, and crown
his lairdship and gladden and sweeten his entire future career; and he
succeeded at last in winning her consent. And this is the thorn walk,
Joanna, and I am free to re-enact the old passage in two lives, and
plead with you not to desert Whitethorn if we are to retain it. I am
poorer by a few thousands since I first made the same prayer to you; but
your father puts no weight on the difference, or, in his rare
generosity, lets it tell in my favour; and I don't think we need break
our hearts about our little loss, if we look to our great gain. Here I
beg you, as the humblest and most sincere of your petitioners, to put
your life into my life, and cause the united life to bud and blossom
into the May of the heart."

"And November and December would come to that year likewise."

"Yes, they will; but they will tread hard upon the real new-year, the
veritable new year, that will

    "Ring out the false, ring in the true"

of this hoary world. Will you travel to it with me, Joanna? Shall we
strive and pray, and help each other to reach it together? Shall we
begin it even here? Your father will bestow you solemnly and gladly; my
mother will accept you with a blessing."

Joanna said, "Yes; God bless us, Harry," reverently; and, reverently,
God blessed them.

Harry was energetic, and Joanna was prudent, and old Mrs. Jardine was
proud of the spirit with which they saved the swamped estate of
Whitethorn even from Mr. Crawfurd's bond; and having helped themselves,
they helped others, then and ever afterwards.

Polly Musgrave applied to them in time. Polly had written on Joanna
Crawfurd's marriage a jeering, jibing letter. "So you have gone and done
as I prophesied, after all your wrath on the moor, and preciseness at
Hurlton. But, first, you were as silly as possible, and wanted to revive
the Middle Ages, which was quite in Don Quixote's tone; you to pine and
die, and he to shoot himself (as violent deaths are hereditary), or
addict himself to loose living and destruction. Then, when he loses his
money, and in common sense you may both think better of it, shake hands
and go your several ways; you make all up, post haste, and come together
with a flourish of trumpets, and poverty _will_ come in at the door, and
love fly out at the window. Fie! I am ashamed of you, after all!"

But Polly wrote in a different strain a year or two later:--"DEAR
COUSIN JOANNA,--I am not so healthy and heartless as I used to be,
and I have been teased with a desire to come to Whitethorn, and perhaps
profit by your carriage in this world, as I never dreamt of once upon a
time. But I will say this for myself, I only wrote and crowed over you
when you were quite able to afford it. I was very glad of your
happiness, child (as our grandmother wrote, and one of our grandmothers
was the same person! think of that, Harry Jardine!). Is Harry Jardine as
promising as he used to be before you took him in hand; or is the
promise fulfilled in an upright, generous, gladsome (and because of that
last word you would insist on adding godly) man? He was a man of whom to
make a spoon or spoil a horn, and you were the woman to perform the
delectable feat."

Polly had found her heart not a very lofty one, not a very sensitive
one--but an honest and kind heart in the main, which was permitted to
extricate itself from the slough of luxury and self-indulgence, and beat
warmly and faithfully throughout the rest of its course.



ON THE STAGE AND OFF THE STAGE.


I.--THE "BEAR" AT BATH.

The Place was old Bath, in the days immediately succeeding those of
Alexander Pope and William Hogarth, and dovetailing into those of Horace
Walpole and the Wesleys.

The Age was one of rackets and reaction from morning till night, and
Bath was the head-quarters of the first--the scene of the pump-room, the
raffle, the public breakfast, the junketing at mid-day, the ball at
midnight, the play, the ridotto.

The Scene was a private room in the "Bear," when it was crowded with
peers, bullies, rooks, highwaymen, leaders of fashion, waiting-women,
and stage stars. The "Bear" was held by great Mrs. Price, a hostess
large, shining, portly--a friendly great woman, too magnificent to be
fussy, or mean, or spiteful. The "Bear" looked out on the Parade, with
its throngs of beaux--veritable beaux, with Beau Nash at their
head--wigged, caned, and snuff-boxed, and belles with trains borne by
black boys, cambric caps and aprons, and abundance of velvet patches. In
and out of its yawning doorway strutted fine gentlemen, chaplains, and
wits, while grooms, public and private, swarmed round the house. Its
broad stairs and low wide corridors, traversed by the more private
company, led to sitting rooms of all degrees, panelled with oak or lined
with cedar, with worked worsted wonders in the shape of chairs, and
China monsters by way of ornaments.

The Person was a handsome woman, attired negligently in what was called
a sacque, with a mob-cap. She sat sipping a dish of tea, as sober women
will after fatigue or in anticipation of exertion, and making occasional
reference to some shabby, well-worn volumes and printed sheets piled up
beside her. Her attitude was studious, for days when a chapter of the
Bible, a cookery recipe, a paper by Addison or Dick Steele, or a copy of
verses, included all the knowledge after which the gentler sex aspired;
her retirement was remarkable at that gay era, and in that gadding
neighbourhood; and her morning dress, though it would not have offended
a Tabitha Tidy, looked plain among the silvered mazarines and the
tippets of pheasants' tails.

She was a woman of about five-and-twenty; but her beauty, though still
in its prime, showed the wear and tear of years. Had it not been that
its chief power lay in the intellect and goodness which sat on the
capacious but not cloudy brow, and gleamed out of the cordial dark
blue eyes, and hovered round the somewhat wide and somewhat lined but
never sensual mouth--you would have said this was a faded queen whom
the world was mad to worship. As it was, she did look faded this
spring afternoon, and occasionally fretted audibly enough as she
turned over the leaves of her volumes, and sighed "heigho!" as she
looked at her repeater--not quite so common an appendage as the little
Geneva story-tellers, though a footpad carried always a goodly supply,
and a gentleman's gentleman of very fine prestige would wear a couple,
"one in each fob"--and sipped her tea; which, by the way, she drank,
not out of one of the diminutive China cups, but out of an old
battered, but very shining little silver tankard.

Anon my lady rose and strolled to a back window. She looked across the
noisy, crowded stable-yard into the corner of a garden, where a lilac
bush was budding into dusty dim purple and a hoary apple-tree blossomed
white and pink like a blushing child, away over the green fields to a
farmhouse upon a hill, where russet and yellow stacks proved the
farmer's command of ready money, or caution in selling. From just such
another farmhouse as that on which our bright benevolent woman--even in
the dumps--was gazing wistfully, issued Caroline Inchbald, a beauty, and
a generous, virtuous woman under great temptations, a friend and rival
on equal terms with Amelia Opie.

But hark! an arrival in the next room: fresh guests--country people of
consequence, for they were ushered in by Mrs. Price herself, who
received in person their orders for an incongruous meal, neither dinner
nor supper, to recruit them for some gala in which they had the prospect
of figuring, to judge from a torrent of exclamations which pierced
through a convenient cupboard in the partition.

"Make haste, girls," in bass tones.

"Eat away, Fiddy," in treble, mimicking the bass.

"Uncle, don't attempt the game-pie. We'll be too late, as sure as our
heads. Didn't you hear Mrs. Price say there was a power of company
wanting seats; it would be too bad if we lost the sight after all."

"What, Prissy, worse than Admiral Byng's defeat, or my spoilt medal?"

"Oh! Uncle Rowland, how can you joke! Now, Fiddy, there's a dear
creature, don't have anything to say to the cream-tart. What although
we're as hungry as hawks, if we only get a good view to talk about at
the Vicarage and Larks' Hall."

"There--Prissy, dear, then I've done. I'll just run and shake our myrtle
crapes and fresh pinch our stomachers."

"Hold! no such thing, lasses. I'm not to be left here to feed in
solitude, and without e'er a portfolio or picture. You little geese, it
is two good hours to the exhibition. Are you to be frizzing, and
painting, and lacing, and mincing, and capering for two mortal hours,
and your poor country uncle left to spoil his digestion for want of
something else to do than eat? Is that your gratitude, when here have I
come against my will to introduce you to the wicked, gay world, and
spoil your Arcadian simplicity? Don't make faces, Prissy!"

"Oh! Uncle Rowland; you are making base pretences."

"Indeed, sir, I think you are as wild to see the wonders as we are."

But the remonstrance had its effect, for the young ladies evidently sat
down again, and, by the clatter of knives and forks, one could judge
they condescended to do some justice to the good things provided for
their solace, while the conversation went on in more regular order.

The lady in the Nankin sitting-room had decidedly the advantage in this
situation, as she did not soliloquize in private, and she heard through
the cupboard and the locked door of communication the chat of her
neighbours. They spoke no treason, and they ought to be more prudent if
they told secrets: it was a real benefit to a lonely wight, a little
irritated in nerve and temper, to be a party to their lively,
affectionate, simple intercourse; and, as the truth must be told, the
lady in the Nankin sitting-room crossed her hands with a motion of
indolent interest and turned her head with an air of listless pleasure,
nodding and beating her foot lightly on the floor now and then, in
interjection and commentary. She could figure the group perfectly. Two
rosy little girls brought into the town for a day and a night's shopping
and gadding, as they would call it, under the escort of an indulgent
uncle: a bachelor probably, else madam, his wife, would have been there
to keep them in order; and not so very elderly, for the good man was of
what is styled a sprightly turn, and though his nieces submitted to his
authority, there was a decidedly modified amount of reverence in the way
in which they insisted,

"You must comb out your curls, Uncle Rowland."

"And I'll tie your cravat for you, sir, and make you quite smart. We are
not to appear abroad with a country bumpkin or a fright of a student,
are we, Prissy?"

And mutual jokes were bandied pretty freely.

"Now, Prissy, are we to see the famous Traveller?"

"No, sir, it is to be the Virtuoso, with the mock copper coins."

"Bronze, child, bronze."

"We're to have nobody in particular, only Lady Betty," chimed in the
more girlish voice. "The company, the other gentlefolks, will be quite
sufficient besides."

"And Fiddy will scream when the blunderbusses are fired. Shall we
take the precaution of putting cotton in her ears beforehand?"
derided the man.

Then the single lady fixed further, that Prissy (Mistress Priscilla,
doubtless, in company down in Somersetshire) was the cleverest and most
forward, and that Fiddy (Mistress Fidelia) was the shyest and, perhaps,
the prettiest, for she was clearly Uncle Rowland's favourite. But then,
for all her rosy cheeks, poor child! she was delicate, since there was a
constant cry from the conductor of the party, "Fiddy, you vain doll,
remember your mantle; Madam is not here to wrap you up, nor Granny."

"Oh, sir! we've lots of scarfs and shawls, all for Fiddy; and she is to
tie on her Iris hood against the draughts."

"What! one of the poppies and bluebells that Will Honeycomb admired?
She'll beat you, Prissy, out and out. I would sicken and bear her
company."

"I wonder to hear you, sir. I can tell you, Granny would not coddle me
so. Granny is always preaching of hardening weakness."

"Ah, the old mother is no milksop!"

There, was she not right? Had she not full hints of the history of the
Vicarage and madam its mistress, the mother of these two little
girls; and of the parish priest her husband, their father--the younger
brother of the tolerably educated squire yonder, with his Larks' Hall;
and of Granny, who kept house there still for her elder son, where she
had once reigned queen paramount in the hearty days of her homely
goodman. It was a scroll fairly unfolded, and perfectly legible to the
experienced woman.

"Uncle Rowland," prefaced the soft voice, more quietly, "do you really
think the gay world of the town so much more vicious than the sober
world of the country?"

"Why, no, my dear," answered the manly voice, now graver, and with a
little sadness in its ring, "ignorance is not innocence, and depravity
is vastly more general than any mode. Nevertheless, there are customs of
which I would greatly prefer Prissy and Fiddy to remain unaware, like
their mother before them."

"But Granny lived in the great world, and there is not one of us like
Granny."

"The risk is too great, child; the fire is wondrous strong, though the
pure gold be sometimes refined in the process--as your father would
preach."

"And, sir, this Mistress Lumley, or Lady Betty, as they called her
downstairs, is as virtuous as she is clever."

"You may depend upon that, Miss, or you had not come to Bath to see her
play. They term the poor soul Lady Betty because she has turned on her
heel from the worthless London sparks, and taught them to keep their
distance."

"Uncle Rowland, I don't think you heartily sympathize with charming Lady
Betty."

"Tut! child, I have not seen her. You would not have me captivated ere I
ever set eyes on my enslaver? But, to speak honestly, little Fiddy, I
own I have no great leaning to actresses and authoresses. There are
perils enough in a woman's natural course, without her challenging the
extremes of a fictitious career. More than that, Fiddy, I have not much
faith in the passion that is ranted to the public; even if it were
always a creditable passion. Those who are sorely hurt don't bawl,
child: deep streams are still."

"I will play to him," the lady of the Nankin sitting-room says to
herself, her lips parting with a slight smile, and her colour rising at
the same time. Your true woman is easily pained, and, the more fully
furnished, the more finely skilled, she is all the more susceptible to
blame as to praise, and so on that account the less qualified for public
life. There was many a strong enough argument against the stage and the
desk which Master Rowland might have used instead of his weak one.

Lady Betty, in that bubbling, frothing, steaming London--Mistress Lumley
in the provinces--was a young actress of great repute and good
character, who had compelled success, like Mrs. Siddons after her, and
reigned for several seasons, and still her fame was paramount and her
respectability unquestioned. In those very dissipated days of Queen Anne
and the early Georges, the broad prejudices which darken the stage were
light in tint and slender in force. The great world was tumultuous,
giddy, reckless, with innumerable victims falling suddenly into its
yawning chasms, like the figures from the bridge in Mirza's vision; and
the theatre was not a more exposed sphere than many another, and that
made all the difference in the world. Very few save the strictest
Methodists condemned it, when Henry Brooke wrote for it, and Dr. Johnson
stood with his hands behind his back in the green room.

Mrs. Betty Lumley, tall, comely, high-principled, warm-hearted, and
ingenuous, was come of yeomen ancestors. She did not see a play in a
barn and run away after the drama, like Caroline Inchbald; but on the
death of her father and mother, she went up with an elder sister and
young brother to London to seek for an employment and a livelihood.
Encountering some person of dramatic pursuits--manager, stage-painter,
ticket-taker, or the like, or the wife of one or other--she was
recommended to the stage. She was supported in the idea by all her
connections, for then no one questioned the perfect respectability of
the profession. She studied hard in new, though not uncongenial fields;
she ventured; she tried again and again, with the "modest but
indomitable pluck" of genius, and she at last won a position and a
prospect of independence. In all this nobody blamed her; on the
contrary, the magnates of the hour--kings, councillors, bishops--awarded
her great credit for her parts, her industry, her integrity, her honour.

Not a lady of quality in London was more respected and admired, rightly
or wrongly, than Mistress Betty. At the same time it is possible that,
having reached the goal, could she have turned back and begun her walk
anew, she would have hesitated before following this thorny path. It was
a thorny path, for all its applause and success; nay, on account of
them; even with a good woman like Mistress Betty it required all her
sincerity, her sobriety, and, according to the prevailing standard, her
religion, to deliver her from imminent danger. Moreover, with the
attainment of the object, had come the bitter drops which qualified the
cup. Her plain, fond, innocent sister was in her grave; and so within
the two last years was the young brother, for whom her interest had
procured a post of some importance in the Colonies, whence he bequeathed
to Mistress Betty, his dear distinguished sister, his little savings.
She struggled to be resigned, and was not only weary, but tempted to
grasp at material rewards. This was the turning-point of her life. She
would be virtuous to the last. Her honest, clear character revolted at
vice; but she might harden, grow greedy of power, become imperious and
arrogant. For, remember, I do not say that Mistress Betty had contracted
no contamination. No, no; she had suffered from her selfish fits, her
vain fits, her malicious fits--she had experienced her hours of boldness
and levity--she had made her own way to eminence--she had struggled with
unscrupulous rivals--she had heard much which we would have wished her
not to have heard--she had been a member of that wild, ultra-fine,
coarse, scandalous society: but as we find saints in strange company
sometimes, so the cordial, faithful, generous woman remained with only a
slight coating of affectation and worldliness, thirst for praise, desire
after excitement, habit of command.

"I'll play to this horrid country Justice," whispers Mistress Betty,
quite roused, and looking animated and brilliant already. "I hear by the
gentleness of his voice, when he speaks of the sins and sorrows of
mankind, and when he addresses his little girl, that the fellow has a
heart; but he gave me no quarter, and he shall receive none in return.
I'll conquer him. To come within sight and sound of the boards with his
muddy boots and his snarls, spoiling the enjoyment of the lasses!"

Very true, Mistress Betty, it was neither very wise nor very gallant;
but you ought to remember that the most loyal prejudices are sometimes
as loyally abandoned.


II.--LADY BETTY ON THE STAGE.

The principal theatre of the queen of watering-places in her palmy days
was filling fast, as it had done for the last two nights. Other
attractions lost their power. Ombre, basset, hazard, lansquenet, loo,
spread their cards and counters in vain for crafty or foolhardy fingers.
The master of the ceremonies found his services at a discount; no troops
of maidens, no hosts of squires, answered to his appeal; no double sets
were forming to the inspiring strains of "Nancy Dawson." The worthy,
charming, gifted Lady Betty had come down for three nights to improve,
entertain, and enrapture, and this being her last night the theatre
constituted the only orbit in which the planets would revolve.

The world was here in full-blown variety; sublime, languid peers, needy
placemen, hilarious foxhunters, brave tradesmen, aspiring mechanics,
poor good-for-nothings; sober housewives, whose thoughts were still of
their husbands' shirt-fronts and their hasty-puddings, and who never
dreamt that they were impugning their sobriety by attending a play; and
above all, fine ladies armed with their fans and their essences. As a
whole, the audience was in a vastly respectful attitude--the gentlemen
tapping their snuff-boxes meditatively, and desisting in a great measure
from their loud laughter, their bets, their cursing and swearing; the
ladies only whispering behind their handkerchiefs, and moving to cause
their diamonds to sparkle, all in acknowledgment of the vicinity of the
fair and potent Lady Betty.

The play was _Venice Preserved_, and Lady Betty entered in an early
scene. Truly a fine woman--not so lovely as Anne Oldfield, not so superb
as Sarah Siddons; but with a frank, fair, womanly presence--bright,
genial, quick, passionate through the distress of Belvidera, the
repudiated daughter and beggared wife.

Dressed in the English fashion under the Georges, walked the maiden
reared in the air blowing off the lagoons within the shadow of the grim
lion of St. Mark, to such sentimental accompaniments as the dipping oar
and the gondolier, and finished off with the peculiar whims of Betty
Lumley. She wore a fair, flowered brocade, for which William Hogarth
might have designed the pattern and afterwards prosecuted for payment
the unconscionable weaver; a snow-white lace kerchief was crossed over
her bosom and reached even to her shapely chin, where it met the little
black velvet collar with its pearl sprig; her brown hair (which had
shown rather thin, rolled up beneath her mob-cap) was shaken out and
gathered in rich bows with other pearl sprigs on the top of her head;
her cheeks showed slightly hollow, but were so fresh, so modest, so
cool in their unpainted paleness, and on the smallest provocation
acquired the purest sea-shell pink which it would have been a sin and a
shame to eclipse with staring paint; the contour, a little sharper than
it had once been, was only rendered more delicate by the defect, and so
sweet yet--so very sweet; her beautiful arms were bare to the elbow, but
shaded with falls of cobweb lace; and in one hand, poised daintily
between two fingers, she held a natural flower, a bunch of common rural
cowslips. At this period of the year such an appendage under any other
touch would have been formal as the Miss Flamborough's oranges, but it
was graceful in this woman's slight clasp.

"Enchanting creature!" "Fine woman!" "Otway's devoted wife to the life!"
murmured the company, in a flutter of genuine admiration--forgetting
themselves, these Sir Plumes and Belindas, once in a way.

"I do hope the poor soul will not be deserted and undone--she's so
easy to serve--and all Bath, and, for that matter, Lon'on too, as I
believe, at her feet!" says Mrs. Price, emphatically, to young
Medlicot, whom she is patronizing for one night, because he knows
somewhat of plays and players; and who, in spite of his allegiance to
swimming, simpering Clarissa, would give a fortune to paint that pose.
Belvidera need fear no lolling, no sneering, no snapping at her little
peculiarities this night.

As she came on, "kind, good, and tender," telling poor distracted,
misguided Jaffier, in his humiliation, that she joyed more in him than
did his mother, Lady Betty darted a sharp, searching glance through the
boxes. Ah! yonder they were! The little girls the parson's daughters,
with their uncle the squire, fault-finding, but honourable. Two
round-faced, eager, happy girls, intent upon the play, and the great
London star, beautiful, bewitching Lady Betty, who is now looking at
them--yes, actually staring them full in the face with her deep,
melting, blue eyes, while she reassures her cowardly husband. How dared
uncle Rowland disparage her?

There was uncle Rowland, younger than Lady Betty had taken him for--not
more than five-and-forty--his coat trimmed with silver lace, a little
old-fashioned, and even a little shabby in such company, his Mechlin tie
rather out of date and already disordered, and his cocked-hat crushed
below his arm. His face is bluff and ruddy among his pinched and sallow
brethren: that of a big English gentleman, who hunted, shot, or fished,
or walked after his whistling ploughman every morning, and on occasions
daringly dashed in amongst the poachers by the palings of his park or
paddock on summer evenings; yet whose hands were reasonably white and
flexible, as if they handled other things than guns and fishing-rods,
and whose eyes, at once clear and meditative, had studied more than the
spire of his brother's church and the village street, more than quiet
country towns, and loud watering-places, and deep metropolises.

Master Rowland had no family ties beyond the Vicarage; and was in no
hurry to marry or settle, as the phrase went; though he was settled long
ago, and might have married once a year without any impediment from old
madam, as Mistress Betty would have been swift to suppose. He perfectly
approved of Mr. Spectator's standard of virtue--"Miss Liddy can dance a
jig, raise a pasty, write a good hand, keep an account, give a
reasonable answer, and do as she is bid;" but then, it only made him
yawn. The man was sinking down into an active-bodied, half-learned,
half-facetious bachelor. He was mentally cropping dry and solid food
contentedly, and, at the same time, he was a bit of a humourist. He
loved his little Prissy and Fiddy, as dear god-daughters, whom he had
spoilt as children, and whom he was determined to present with portions
when he presided at their wedding dinners; but he had no mind to take
any of their fellows, for better for worse, as his companion, till death
did them part.

Then Lady Betty stepped upon the stage at Bath, and before a multitude
of frivolous and simple, or gross and depraved spectators, incapable
of comprehending her, she played to the manly, modestly intellectual
squire.

Master Rowland woke up, looked his fill, as open-mouthed as the rest,
and while he did so, his system received a shock. Lady Betty was
revenged to an extent she had not foreseen.

The noble woman went with her whole soul into the sorrows of the
dark-eyed, brown-faced sister whom Titian might have painted, and made
them accord with her fair English love of justice, her blue-eyed
devotion to her husband, her Saxon fearlessness and faith in the hour of
danger: only she did look strange and foreign when, in place of lying
prostrate in submission and rising in chaste, meek patience to rear her
orphan son, she writhed, like a Constance in agony, and died more
speedily from her despair than Jaffier by the dagger which on the
scaffold freed Pierre. The assembly rose in whole rows, and sobbed and
swooned. Mrs. Prissy and Mrs. Fiddy cried in delicious abandonment;
Master Rowland sat motionless.

"I declare I had forgotten the Justice," reflects Lady Betty, resting
behind the scenes. "I do believe I am that poor Belvidera for the last
half-hour. I meant to bring the man to tears. His blooming face was as
white as a sheet;--poor, dear, good man, I hope he's none the worse of
it."

Master Rowland knows full well that she is Mistress Betty Lumley the
great London actress, not Belvidera the Venetian senator's daughter; but
he will never again turn from the chill of his stone-arched hall, where
his fingers have grown benumbed riveting a piece of armour or copying an
epitaph or an epigram, or linger under his mighty oak-tree, or advise
with his poor tenants, or worship in church, without the sickening sense
of a dull blank in his heart and home.


III.--MISTRESS BETTY BECOMES NURSE.

Bath was sleeping as soundly as if it had been a quaker town: any sounds
of riot were scattered and subdued. The dowager did not count her gains
as she clutched them, while borne along the street by the glare of the
dropping flambeaux. Her son, who, like the young Duke of Marlborough and
his brother peer, carried no meaner change than golden guineas, did not
clink them as he tossed them to the chairmen fighting for the prize.
The "Bear" was reasonably still for a great public-house with twos and
threes of travellers departing at all hours, as waiters and ostlers
stirred on their behalf, horses trotted out from adjoining stables, and
circles of chariots suffered displacement--all in addition to the
distinct and fervent sensation of the night coach.

Suddenly a noise and a flurry arose in the grey light and its general
repose. Accents of terror and anxiety are heard, and a movement of pity
and distress arises and grows in the establishment. A young girl is
attacked by violent illness--a life in its spring-time is threatened
with sudden extinction; friends at hand are seeking remedies and
bewailing the calamity--friends at a distance, all unconscious, are
mentioned with subdued voices and averted eyes.

Mrs. Price was wiping her eyes and carrying up restoratives with her own
hands. "'Twas Mistress Fiddy, whom she had known from a child; the niece
of Master Rowland, who had always supported the house; and madam, her
mother, away at the Vicarage, and the dear child, so good and quiet."

"I will come, my good Mrs. Price. My sister had these fainting fits; I'm
used to them. I'll revive the child: the poor child, I am sure she'll
not be offended at the liberty. Pooh! I can sit up as well as sleep
after playing. Dear! dear! Many a night I was happy to sit up with Deb,"
pleaded an urgent, benevolent voice, waxing plaintive towards the
conclusion of the speech.

"Indeed you are too gracious, my lady--I mean madam," protested the
perplexed, overwhelmed Mrs. Price; "but I dare not venture without
Master Rowland's consent: he will do everything himself, issue his
orders even, although Dr. Fulford's been upstairs lending his advice
these ten minutes."

"A fudge for doctors when there's a helpful woman at hand, Mrs. Price?
Convey my message to the squire; inform him that I've had
experience--mind, experience--and am a full-grown, reasonable woman, and
not a fine lady. I know the poor little sister will be shaking like a
leaf, and frightening the darling; and you are stiff in the joints
yourself, Mrs. Price, and a little overcome. I'm just the person, so let
me in!"

Master Rowland, without his coat (for though he had an orderly turn of
his own, he was not a methodical enough man to travel with a gown and
slippers in his valise), was labouring to recover his niece; Mistress
Prissy, with her cloak huddled round her, was making magnanimous
efforts to aid her uncle; while the poor little sufferer--guileless,
affectionate Mistress Fiddy--lay pale, faint, and chill, with life
flickering beneath her half-closed eyelids and in the gushes of her
fitful breath. Master Rowland's trouble rendered him outwardly cold
and hard, as it does some men; yet Mistress Fiddy's closing eyes
turned trustfully to him, and her weak fingers clung tightly to his
strong hand.

"No, no; the fewer onlookers the better. What would a stranger do here,
Mrs. Price?" he inquired angrily, remembering, with a pang, that certain
new, unaccountable, engrossing emotions had quite banished Fiddy from
his thoughts and notice, when he might have detected the signs of
approaching illness, met them and vanquished them before their climax.

"Bid him speak a word with me, Mrs. Price, a gentleman cannot refuse. I
have reasons which will excuse my importunity," reiterated that
sympathetic voice.

He walked out doggedly, and never once lifted his eyes. "Madam, I am
your servant; but we do not need your help: my niece would be scared by
the presence of a stranger. Reserve your charity----" "for the poor" he
was about to add; but she put her frank hand upon his arm, and said,
"Your worship, I believe I could nurse the young lady better than
anybody: I have seen my dear sister afflicted, as I judge similarly. Do
not stand on ceremony, sir, and deprive a poor girl of a benefit which
Providence has sent her, if you would not regret it. I beg your pardon,
but do let me succour her."

He looked up. There she stood in her white wrapping-gown and cap, ready
prepared for her patient; so appropriate-looking in dress and face, with
her broad forehead full of thought, and her cheek flushed with feeling;
an able tender woman in her prime, endeavouring to do Christian offices,
longing to pour balm into gaping, smarting wounds, imploring to be
allowed to fulfil her mission. He bowed, and stood aside; she curtsied,
and passed in. He heard her voice the next moment, low, but perfectly
audible, cheerful and pleasant, addressing Mistress Prissy. "My dear
madam, your uncle has permitted me to count myself a mature friend, like
madam your mother; and after this introduction you will excuse me for
taking care of you. Doctor, what drops do you favour? You have them
there; if you please, I'll offer them: I've administered them before."
She spoke to the doctor very courteously; perhaps remarking that he was
young and somewhat agitated. "Mayn't I chafe Mistress Fiddy's hands,
doctor? You're better, my dear?"

Mistress Fiddy's head was on her arm; her eyes were raised to her
nurse's face wonderingly but complacently, and, though quite conscious,
Mistress Fiddy involuntarily sighed out "mother." Very motherly was the
elder woman's assurance: "Yes, my dear, I'll serve as madam your mother
in her absence, till madam herself comes; and she'll laugh at our
confusion and clumsiness, I warrant."

Mistress Fiddy smiled a little smile herself. Nature was reacting in its
own redemption; the necessary stimulus was obtained, and the little lass
was in a fair way of recovery.

But Mistress Betty did not leave off her cares; she elected herself
mistress of the sick room--for she reigned there as everywhere else.
She dismissed shivering, tearful, grateful Prissy with a hug, and a
whispered promise that her dear sister Fiddy would be as lively as a
grig in the morning; got rid of the doctor and Mrs. Price, and all
but routed Master Rowland, succeeding in driving him as far as the
next room.

How light her foot was--light as her fingers were nimble; how cleverly
she shaded the sick girl from the light, without depriving her of air!
How resigned Fiddy was to be consigned to her! how quickly and entirely
the child had confided in her; she had hailed her as another mother!
Mistress Betty was putting the chamber to rights, in defiance of all
the chamber-maids of the "Bear;" she was concocting some refreshing
drink, for which Mrs. Price had supplied the materials, over the fire,
which she had ordered in case of mould and damp, even in the
well-seasoned "Bear." Once she began to sing softly what might have been
a cradle-song, but stopped short, as if fearing to disturb Fiddy, and
composed herself to perfect stillness. Then Master Rowland heard
Mistress Fiddy question Mistress Betty in her weak, timid voice, on
Fiddy's own concerns. "You said you had seen these fits before, madam?
May I be so bold as to ask, did the sufferer recover?"

There was a moment's silence. "It was my sister, Fiddy: she was much
older than I. She had a complication of diseases, besides being liable
to swoons all her life. My dear, she died, as we must all die when our
time comes; and may we all be as well prepared as was Deb! In the
meantime we are in God's hands. I have been taken with fainting fits
myself, Fiddy, ere now. I think they are in my constitution, but they
are not called out yet, and I believe they will be kept under; as, I
fully trust, country air, and exercise, and early hours, will conquer
yours."

"And you will take great care of yourself, and go into the country
sometimes, dear Mistress Betty," pleaded the girl fondly, forgetting
herself.

Mistress Betty laughed, and turned the conversation, and finally read
her patient to sleep with the Morning Lesson, given softly and
reverently, as good Bishop Ken himself might have done it.

The poor squire was a discomfited, disordered Sir Roger. He could not
cope with this fine woman; and then it came home to him imperatively
that he was precisely in that haggard, unbecoming state of looks and
costume significantly expressed in those days by the powder being out of
a man's hair and his frills rumpled. So he absented himself for an hour,
and returned freshened by a plunge in the river and a puff in his wig.
But, alas! he found that Mistress Betty, without quitting Mistress
Fiddy's bedchamber, and by the mere sleight of hand of tying on a worked
apron with vine clusters and leaves and tendrils all in purple and green
floss silks, pinning a pink bow under her mob-cap, and sticking in her
bosom a bunch of dewy ponceau polyanthuses, had beat him most
completely.

Mistress Fiddy was, as Mistress Betty had predicted, so far
re-established that she could breakfast with the party and talk of
riding home later in the day; though wan yet, like one of those roses
with a faint colour and a fleeting odour in their earliest bud. And
Mistress Betty breakfasted with the Parnells, and was such company as
the little girls had never encountered before; nor, for that matter,
their uncle before them, though he kept his discovery a profound secret.
It was not so pleasant in one sense, and yet in another it made him feel
like a king.

This was Mistress Betty's last day in Bath, and she was to travel up to
Town in the train of my Lord and Lady Salop, by easy stages and long
halts; otherwise she must have hired servants, or carried pistols, and
been prepared to use them, in the mail. Fortunately the Salops' chariots
and gigs did not start till the afternoon, so that Mistress Betty had
the morning to spend with her new friends, and she was delighted to
bestow it on them; though my Lord and Lady and their satellites were
perpetually sending lacqueys with compliments, conveniences, and little
offerings to court Mistress Betty,--the star in the plenitude of her
lustre, who might emulate Polly Peacham, and be led to the altar by
another enslaved Duke of Bolton.

How pleasant Mistress Betty was with the girls! Upon the whole, she
slighted "the Justice," as she had dubbed him. She saw with her quick
eyes that he was something superior; but then she saw many men quite as
well-looking, well-endowed, well-mannered, and with as fair intellects,
and more highly cultivated than he.

But she did not often find a pair of unsophisticated little girls won to
her by her frankness and kindness, and dazzled by her goodness and
greatness. How she awoke Fiddy's laugh with the Chit-Chat Club and the
Silence Stakes. What harmless, diverting stories she told them of high
life--how she had danced at Ranelagh, sailed upon the Thames, eaten her
bun at Chelsea, mounted one of the eight hundred favours which cost a
guinea a piece when Lady Die became a countess, and called upon Lady
Petersham, in her deepest mourning, when she sat in her state-bed
enveloped in crape, with her children and grandchildren in a row at her
feet! And then she told that she was born in a farmhouse like that on
the hill, and would like to know if they roasted groats and played at
shovelboard there still; and ended by showing them her little silver
tankard, which her godfather the jolly miller had given her, and out of
which her elder sister, who had never taken kindly to tea, had drunk
her ale and her aniseed water. And Fiddy and Prissy had each a draught
of milk out of it, to boast of for the rest of their lives, as if they
had sipped caudle out of the caudle-cup at a royal heir's christening.

Mistress Betty made the girls talk, too,--of their garden, the old
parish clerk, the housekeeper at Larks' Hall, granny, madam, the vicar,
and, to his face, of Uncle Rowland, his horses and colts, his cows and
calves, his pictures and cabinets. They spoke also of Foxholes, of Letty
and Grizel, of Sedley and Bearwood, and Dick Ashbridge--at whose name
Prissy laughed saucily, and Fiddy bit her lips and frowned as fiercely
as she was able. With what penetration Mistress Betty read their
connections, and how blithely and tenderly she commented upon them!

Mistress Betty promised to send her young friends sets of silk for their
embroidery (and kept her word); she presented Prissy with her enamel
snuff-box, bearing an exact representation of that ugly building of St.
James's; and Fiddy with her "equipage"--scissors, tablets, and all,
chased and wreathed with tiny pastorals, shepherds reclining and piping
on sylvan banks, and shepherds and shepherdesses dancing on velvet
lawns.

Mistress Betty kissed the girls at parting, and wished them health,
peace, and good husbands; she held out her hand to Master Rowland, who
took it with a crimson cheek, and raised it to his lips: pshaw! she
never once looked at him.

The poor bachelor squire drove off, but for his manhood, groaning
inwardly. Lady Betty had acted, and caught not only her share of Master
Rowland's ticket, to which she was fairly entitled, but the cream of his
fancy and the core of his heart; with which she had no manner of
business, any more than with the State Papers and the Coronation-jewels.


IV.--MASTER ROWLAND GOES UP TO LONDON.

In the green-room of one of the great London theatres--David Garrick's,
perhaps--the stage company and their friends were waiting the call-boy
and the rising of the curtain.

As strange boards as any--as broad contrasts. Here a king, with his
crown cast down; there a beggar, with his wallet laid aside. But kings
and beggars are not affording the glaring discrepancies of Hogarth's
"Olympus in a Barn," but suggesting and preserving the distinctions far
below the buskins, the breastplate, the sandals, the symars. Here are
heroes, with the heroism only skin deep; and peers, like their Graces of
Bolton and Wharton, with less of the lofty, self-denying graces and the
ancient chivalry, than the most grovelling of ploughmen.

Among the crowd, Lady Betty is biding her time, very _nonchalant_, and a
little solitary in her state. Ladies who are independent, exclusive, and
inflexible, however admired and respected, are generally left to enjoy
their own opinions unmolested and at their leisure, whether behind the
stage curtain or elsewhere.

Just then a country gentleman, whose murrey coat has a certain country
cut, while his complexion breathes of hay-fields and hedge sides, is
introduced, gazes round, and steps up to her. Mistress Betty cries out,
"La!"--an exclamation not a whit vulgar in her day--"the Justice!" And
she holds forth both her hands. "How are dear Mistress Prissy and
Mistress Fiddy? Have you come up to town for any time, sir? I wish
prosperity to your business."

He has not held such kind, unaffected, friendly hands since they parted;
he has only once before held a hand that could have led a Jaffier to
confess his conspiracy--that could have clung to a crushed man, and
striven to raise him when calamity, like a whirlwind, cast him down.

The squire is sensibly moved, and Mistress Betty vindicates her
womanliness by jumping at a conclusion and settling in her own mind that
his brain is addled with this great London--its politicians, its
mohawks, its beggars in Axe Lane, its rich tradesmen in Cranbourne
Alley, its people of quality, fashion, and taste in their villas at
Twickenham.

He asks if she is on in Belvidera, and when he hears that it is another
actress's benefit, and that she has only consented to appear in a
secondary part in a comedy of Sir John's, who is now a great
castle-builder, he does not trouble himself to enter a box; at which she
is half flattered, half perplexed. He waits, hot and excited, until her
short service is over. He will not call upon her at her lodgings,
because, in his delicacy, he has so keen a remembrance of her exposed
position.

In the corner behind the curtain, bounded by the refreshment table, and
filled with the prompter's monotonous drawl,--far, far from his barley
ripe for the mowing, his boxwood peacocks, his greyhaired Hal and his
buxom milkmaids; far from old madam, the pedantic, formal vicar, young
madam, brisk, hot, and genial, and his old charmers Prissy and
Fiddy,--the squire told his tale of true love. The man threw down the
costs and besought Mistress Betty Lumley, Lady Betty, to renounce the
stage, forsake fame, quit studies, rehearsals, opening-nights, and
concluding curtsies amidst the cheers of thousands, to go down with him
to rural Larks' Hall, to grow younger, happier, and better every day,
and die like Lady Loudon in her hundredth year, universally
regretted,--above all, to fill up the gulf which had yawned in the
market-place of his existence since that night at Bath.

It was a primitive proceeding. Lady Betty was amazed at the man's
assurance, simplicity, and loyalty. He spoke plainly--almost
bluntly--but very forcibly. It was no slight or passing passion which
had brought the squire, a gentleman of a score and more of honourable
descents, to seek such an audience-chamber to sue a pasteboard queen. It
was no weak love which had dislodged him from his old resting-place, and
pitched him to this dreary distance.

Mistress Betty was taken "all in a heap;" she had heard many a
love-tale, but never one with so manly a note. Shrewd, sensitive
Mistress Betty was bewildered and confounded, and in her hurry she
made a capital blunder. She dismissed him summarily, saw how white he
grew, and heard how he stopped to ask if there were no possible
alternative, no period of probation to endure, no achievement to be
performed by him. She waved him off the faster because she became
affrighted at his humility; and got away in her chair, and wrung her
hands, and wept all night in the long summer twilight, and sat
pensive and sick for many days.

In time, Mistress Betty resumed her profession; but she was unusually
languid: she played to disappointed houses, and cherished always, with
more romance, the shade of the brave, trustful, Somersetshire squire and
antiquary. Suddenly she adopted the resolution of retiring from the
stage in the summer of her popularity, and living on her savings and her
poor young brother's bequest. Her tastes were simple; why should she
toil to provide herself with luxuries? She had no one now for whose old
age she could furnish ease, or for the aims and accidents of whose
rising station she need lay by welcome stores; she had not even a nephew
or niece to tease her. She would not wear out the talents a generous man
had admired on a mass of knaves and villains, coxcombs and butterflies;
she would not expose her poor mind and heart to further deterioration.
She would fly from the danger; she would retire, and board with her
cousin Ward, and help her with a little addition to her limited income,
and a spare hand in her small family; and she would jog-trot onwards for
the rest of her life, so that when she came to die, Mistress Prissy and
Mistress Fiddy would have no cause to be ashamed that so inoffensive,
inconspicuous, respectable a person had once been asked to stand to them
in the dignified relation of aunt. The public vehemently combated Mrs.
Betty's verdict, in vain; they were forced to lament during twice nine
days their vanished favourite, who had levanted so unceremoniously
beyond the reach of their good graces.


V.--MISTRESS BETTY TRAVELS DOWN INTO SOMERSETSHIRE.

A formal but friendly letter came to Mistress Betty, when her life was
one of long dusty exertion, and her heart was very thirsty and parched.
The shabby-genteel world and the tradesman's life, unless in exceptional
cases of great wealth, were different things a hundred and fifty years
ago from what they are now. The villas at Twickenham, the rural
retreats, the gardens, the grottos, the books, the harpsichords, the
water-colour drawings, belonged to the quality, or to the literary
lions: to Lady Mary or Pope, Horace Walpole or his young friends the
Berrys. The half-pay officer's widow, the orphan of the bankrupt in the
South Sea business, the wife and family of the moderately flourishing
haberdasher, or coach-builder, or upholsterer--the tobacconist rose far
above the general level--were cooped up in the City dwellings, and
confined to gossip, fine clothes, and good eating if they could afford
them. A walk in the City gardens, a trip to Richmond Hill, and the
shows, were their pastimes, and Mr. Steele's 'Christian Hero,' 'An
Advice to a Daughter,' and De Foe's 'History of the Plague,' were their
mental delectation.

But Mistress Betty had the soul of a martyr; she had resigned herself to
sinking down into the star of cousin Ward's set, who went on holidays to
the play--mostly honest, fat and fatuous, or jaunty and egotistical
folk, who admired the scenery and the dresses, but could no more have
made a play to themselves than they could have drawn the cartoons. She
helped cousin Ward, not only with her purse, but with a kinswoman's
concern in her and hers: she assisted to wash and dress the children of
a morning; she took a turn at cooking in the middle of the day; she
helped to detain Master Ward at the tea-table, and to keep his wig and
knee-buckles from too early an appearance and too thorough a soaking of
his self-conceit and wilfulness at his tavern; and she heard the lads
their lessons, while she darned their frills before supper.

Then arrived the summons, over which Mistress Betty, a little worn by
voluntary adversity, shed "a power" of joyful tears. To travel down into
Somersetshire, and stroll among the grass in the meadows, and the gorse
on the commons, which she had not seen for twelve months; to feed the
calves, and milk the cows, and gather the eggs, and ride Dapple, and tie
up the woodbine, and eat syllabub in a bower; to present "great frieze
coats" and "riding-hoods" to a dozen of the poorest old men and women in
the parish; to hear prayers in a little grey church, through whose open
windows ivy nodded, and before whose doors trees arched in vistas; to
see her sweet little Prissy and Fiddy, who had taken such a fancy to
her, and the vicar, and madam, and granny, and find them all perfectly
agreeable, and not slighting her or doubting her because she had been a
woman of fashion and an actress; and Master Rowland well disposed of
elsewhere; Larks' Hall deserted by its master--the brave, generous,
enamoured squire--heigho! Mistress Betty, for all her candour, good
humour, and cordiality, had her decent pride, and would not have thrown
herself at any man's head.

Somersetshire, in spite of Bath, was as antediluvian a hundred and fifty
years ago as the lanes and coombes of Devonshire. Larks' Hall, Foxholes,
Bearwood, the Vicarage of Mosely, and their outlying acquaintances,
their yeomen and their labourers, lived as old-fashioned and hearty a
life as if the battle of Sedgemoor had never been fought.

Down in Somersetshire, among its orchards, nutteries, and blackberry
thickets, poor little Mistress Fiddy was drooping, as girls would pine
sometimes, even in the days of Will Shakspeare, ere cloth-yard shafts
were abolished from merry England, when there were still mayings among
the hyacinths, and milkmaids' dances under the thorns, and mummings when
the snow fell. And Dick Ashbridge shot and fished in the most
disconsolate abandonment, though the girl yet ran past him "like a
ghost" when the beetle and bat were abroad, and he was still mooning
about the vicarage meadows.

Neither of them knew for certain, and nobody could predict exactly, that
she would live to wed Dick, bear him children, and leave him a sorrowful
widower, whose heart was chastened--not torn. No; nor could the good
folk in Somersetshire understand how closely Lady Betty and little Fiddy
were bound up together, and how little Fiddy was to return Lady Betty's
kindness, in the days when the little girl should be the teacher, and
the fine woman the scholar, and the lesson to be learnt came from
regions beyond the stars.

In the meantime, Fiddy was a sick, capricious, caressed darling in a
cambric cap and silk shawl, on whom fond friends were waiting lovingly:
whom nobody in the world, not even the doctor, the parish clerk, or the
housekeeper at Larks' Hall, dreamt of subjecting to the wholesome
medicine of contradiction--unless it might be Granny, when she came in
with her staff in her hand. She would laugh at their excess of care, and
order them to leave off spoiling that child; but even Granny herself
would let fall a tear from her dim eyes when she read the register of
the child's age in the family Bible.

"Ah!" sighs whimsical little Mistress Fiddy, "if only Lady Betty were
here--great, good, kind, clever, funny, beautiful Lady Betty--who cured
me that night at Bath, papa and mamma, I would be well again. She knows
the complaint; she has had it herself; and her face is so cheering, her
wit so enlivening, and she reads the lessons so solemnly and sweetly. O
mamma! send for Mistress Betty; she will come at once; she does not play
now; the prints say so. She will be the better of the country air too.
Send for Mistress Betty to Mosely."

Madam was in a difficulty. An actress at the vicarage! And Master
Rowland had been so rash. He had dropped hints, which, along with his
hurried visit to London, had instilled dim, dark suspicions into the
minds of his appalled relations of the whirlpool he had just coasted,
they knew not how: they could not believe the only plain palpable
solution of the fact. And Granny had inveighed against women of fashion
and all public characters, ever since Uncle Rowland took that jaunt to
town, whence he returned so glum and dogged. But then, again, how could
the mother deny her ailing Fiddy? And this brilliant Mistress Betty
from the gay world might possess some talisman unguessed by the quiet
folks at home. Little Fiddy had no real disease, no settled pain: she
only wanted change, pleasant company, and diversion, and would be plump
and strong again in no time. And Mistress Betty had retired from the
stage now; she was no longer a marked person: she might pass anywhere as
Mistress Lumley, who had acted with success and celebrity, and withdrawn
at the proper moment, with the greatest dignity and discretion. And
Master Rowland was arranging his affairs to make the grand tour in the
prime of life: his absence would clear away a monstrous objection. What
would the Vicar say? What would Granny say?

The Vicar ruled his parish, and lectured in the church; but in the
parsonage he thought very much as madam did, and was only posed when old
madam and young madam pulled him different ways.

And Granny! Why, to madam's wonder, Granny required no wheedling,
but--apprised of the deliberation, by the little minx Prissy, who in
Fiddy's illness attended on Granny--she sent for madam before madam even
knew that the proposal had been so much as mooted to her, and struck her
stick on the ground in her determined way, and insisted that Mistress
Betty should be writ for forthwith and placed at the head of the child's
society. Granny, who had soundly rated fine ladies and literary women
not two days before! It was very extraordinary; but Granny must have her
way. The children paid her affectionate duty, young madam did her
half-grateful, half-vexed homage, the Vicar and Master Rowland deferred
to her in her widowhood and dependence, and with little less grace and
reverence than what she had taught them to practise when they were lads
under tutelage. She was, in fact, the fully accredited mistress of
Larks' Hall.

And Granny, in reality, presided at the vicarage; not oppressively, for
she was one of those sagacious magnates who are satisfied with the
substance of power without loving its show. Notwithstanding, she
prevented the publication of more than two calf-skin volumes at a time
of the Vicar's sermons; she turned madam aside when she would have hung
the parlour with gilt leather, in imitation of Foxholes; and she
restricted the little girls to fresh ribbons once a month, and
stomachers of their own working. And so, when Granny decreed that
Mistress Betty was to be invited down to Mosely, there was no more
question of the propriety of the measure that there would have been of
an Act of Council given under the Tudors; the only things left to order
were the airing of the best bedroom, the dusting of the ebony furniture,
and the bleaching on the daisies of old madam's diamond quilt.

Down to Somersetshire went Mistress Betty, consoling cousin Ward with
the gift of a bran-new mantua and a promise of a speedy return, and
braving those highwaymen who were for ever robbing King George's mail;
but the long, light midsummer nights were in their favour, and their
mounted escort had to encounter no paladins of the road in scarlet coats
and feathered hats.

Mistress Betty's buoyant spirit rose with the fresh air, the green
fields, and the sunshine. She was so obliging and entertaining to an
invalid couple among her fellow-travellers, an orange nabob from
India and his splendid wife, that they declared she had done them more
good than they would derive from the Pump-room, the music, and the
cards, to which they were bound. They asked her address, and pressed
her to pay them a visit; when they would have certainly adopted her,
and bequeathed to her their plum. As it was, half-a-dozen years later,
when, to her remorse, she had clean forgotten their existence, they
astounded her by leaving her a handsome legacy; which, with the
consent of another party concerned--one who greatly relished the mere
name of the bequest, as a proof that nobody could ever resist Lady
Betty--she shared with a cross-grained grand-nephew whom the
autocratic pair had cut off with a shilling.


VI.--BETWEEN MOSELY AND LARKS' HALL.

At Mosely Mistress Betty alighted at last, entered the wicket-gate, and
approached the small, weather-stained, brick house. She made her curtsy
to madam, asked the Vicar's blessing--though he was not twenty-five
years her senior and scarcely so wise--hugged the little girls,
particularly sick Fiddy, and showered upon them pretty tasteful town
treasures, which little country girls, sick or well, dearly love.
Fiddy's eyes were glancing already; but she did not leave off holding
Mistress Betty's hand in order to try on her mittens, or to turn the
handle of the musical box. And Mistress Betty finally learned, with some
panic and palpitation, which she was far too sensible and stately a
woman to betray, that the Justice was not gone--that Master Rowland, in
place of examining the newly-excavated Italian cities, or dabbling in
state treason in France, was no further off than Larks' Hall, confined
there with a sprained ankle: nobody being to blame, unless it were
Granny, who had detained Master Rowland to the last moment, or Uncle
Rowland himself, for riding his horse too near the edge of the sandpit,
and endangering his neck as well as his shin-bones. However, Mistress
Betty did not cry out that she had been deceived, or screech
distractedly, or swoon desperately (though the last was in her
constitution), neither did she seem to be brokenhearted by the accident.

But Granny's reception of her was the great event of the day. Granny was
a picture, in her grey gown and "clean white hood nicely plaited,"
seated in her wicker seat "fronting the south, and commanding the
washing-green." Here Granny was amusing herself picking
gooseberries--which the notable Prissy was to convert into
gooseberry-fool, one of the dishes projected to grace the town lady's
supper--when Mistress Betty was led towards her.

It was always a trying moment when a stranger at Mosely was presented to
old Madam Parnell. The Parnells had agreed, for one thing, that it would
be most proper and judicious, as Mistress Betty had quitted the
stage--doubtless in some disappointment of its capabilities, or
condemnation of the mode in which it was conducted,--to be chary in
theatrical illusions, to drop the theatrical _sobriquet_ Lady Betty, and
hail their guest with the utmost ceremony and sincerity as Mistress
Lumley. But Granny turned upon her visitor a face still fresh, in its
small, fine-furrowed compass, hailed her as Lady Betty on the spot, and
emphatically expressed all the praise she had heard of her wonderful
powers; regretting that she had not been in the way of witnessing them,
and declaring that as they escaped the snares and resisted the
temptations of her high place, they did her the utmost honour, for they
served to prove that her merits and her parts were equal. Actually,
Granny behaved to Lady Betty as to a person of superior station, and
persisted in rising and making room for the purpose of sharing with her
the wicker seat; and there they sat, the old queen and the young.

Young madam had been quite determined that, as Uncle Rowland was so
unfortunate as to be held by the foot at Larks' Hall from his tour, he
should not risk his speedy recovery by hobbling over to Mosely, when she
could go herself or send Prissy every morning to let him know how the
invalid was. But the very day after Mistress Betty's arrival old madam
secretly dispatched Tim, the message-boy, to desire the squire to order
out the old coach, and make a point of joining the family party either
at dinner or at supper. Young madam was sufficiently chagrined; but then
the actress and the squire met so coldly, and little Fiddy was flushing
up into a quiver of animation, and Mistress Betty was such delightful
company in the slumbrous country parsonage.

It is pleasant to think of the doings of the Parnells, the witcheries of
Mistress Betty, and the despotism of old madam, during the next month.
Indeed, Mistress Betty was so reverent, so charitable, so kind, so
gentle as well as blithe under depressing influences, and so witty
under stagnation, that it would have been hard to have lived in the same
house with her and have been her enemy: she was so easily gratified, so
easily interested; she could suit herself to so many phases of this
marvellous human nature. She listened to the Vicar's "argument" with
edification, and hunted up his authorities with diligence. She scoured
young madam's lutestring, and made it up in the latest and most elegant
fashion of nightgowns, with fringes and buttons, such as our own little
girls could match. She made hay with Prissy and Fiddy, and not only
accomplished a finer cock than weak Fiddy and impatient Priss, but
surpassed the regular haymakers. And she looked, oh! so well in her
haymaker's jacket and straw hat--though young madam was always saying
that her shape was too large for the dress, and that the slight hollows
in her cheeks were exaggerated by the shade from the broad-brimmed
flapping straw.

Of course Mistress Betty performed in the "Traveller" and "Cross
Purposes," and gave out riddles and sang songs round the hearth of a
rainy evening, or about the cherrywood table in the arbour, of a
cloudless twilight, much more pat than other people--that was to be
looked for; but then she also played at love after supper, loo and
cribbage for a penny the game--deeds in which she could have no original
superiority and supremacy--with quite as infectious an enthusiasm.

To let you into a secret, young madam was in horror at one time that
Dick Ashbridge was wavering in his allegiance to her white rosebud,
Fiddy; so enthralling was this scarlet pomegranate, this purple vine.
But one evening Mrs. Betty turned suddenly upon the mad boy, to whom she
had been very soft, saying that he bore a great resemblance to her
cousin's second son Jack, and asked how old he was? and did he not think
of taking another turn at college? This restored the boy to his senses
in a trice, and she kissed Mistress Fiddy twice over when she bade her
good night.

But old madam and Lady Betty were the chief pair of friends. Granny,
with her own sway in her day, and her own delicate discrimination, acute
intellect, and quick feelings, was a great enough woman not to be
jealous of a younger queen, but to enjoy her exceedingly. Madam Parnell
had seen the great world as well as Lady Betty, and never tired of
reviving old recollections, comparing experiences, and tracing the fates
of the children and grandchildren of the great men and women her
contemporaries. Prissy and Fiddy vowed over and over again, that the
stirring details were more entertaining than any story-book. For this
reason, Granny took a personal pride in Lady Betty's simplest feat, as
well as in her intellectual crown, and put her through every stage of
her own particular recipes for cream cheese and pickled walnuts.

"The dickons!" cried a Somerset yeoman: "The Lon'on madam has opened the
five-barred gate that beat all the other women's fingers, and gathered
the finest elder-flowers, and caught the fattest chicken; and they tell
me she has repeated verses to poor crazed Isaac, till she has lulled him
into a fine sleep. 'Well done, Lon'on!' cries I; 'luck to the fine
lady:' I never thought to wish success to such a kind." Granny, too,
cried, "Well done, Lon'on! Luck to the fine lady!" If all Helens were
but as pure, and true, and tender as Lady Betty!

Granny would have Lady Betty shown about among the neighbours, and
maintained triumphantly that she read them, Sedleys, Ashbridges, and
Harringtons, as if they were characters in a printed book--not that she
looked down on them, or disparaged them in any way; she was far more
tolerant than rash, inexperienced Prissy and Fiddy. And Granny ordered
Lady Betty to be carried sight-seeing to Larks' Hall, and made minute
arrangements for her to inspect Granny's old domain, from garret to
cellar, from the lofty usher-tree at the gate to the lowly

    "Plaintain ribbed that heals the reapers' wound"

in the herb-bed. No cursory inspection would suffice her: the
pragmatical housekeeper and the rosy milkmaids had time to give up their
hearts to Lady Betty like the rest. Master Rowland, as in courtesy
bound, limped with the stranger over his helmets and gauntlets, his
wooden carvings, his black-letter distich; and, although she was not
overflowing in her praises, she had seen other family pictures by
Greuze, and she herself possessed a fan painted by Watteau, to which he
was vastly welcome if he cared for such a broken toy.

She fancied the head of one of the Roman emperors to be like his Grace
of Montague; she had a very lively though garbled familiarity with the
histories of the veritable Brutus and Cassius, Coriolanus, Cato,
Alexander, and other mighty, picturesque, cobbled-up ancients, into
whose mouths she could put appropriate speeches; and she accepted a
loan of his 'Plutarch's Lives,' "to clear up her classics," as she said
merrily; altogether poor Squire Rowland felt that he had feasted at an
intellectual banquet.

At last it was time to think of redeeming her pledge to cousin Ward;
and, to Mistress Betty's honour, the period came while Master Rowland
was still too lame to leave Larks' Hall, except in his old coach, and
while it yet wanted weeks to the softening, gladdening, overwhelming
bounty of the harvest-home.

Then occurred the most singular episodes of perverseness and reiterated
instances of inconsistency of which Granny had been found guilty in the
memory of man, either as heiress of Larks' Hall or as old madam of the
vicarage. At first she would not hear of Mistress Betty's departure, and
asked her to be her companion, during her son's absence, in his house of
Larks' Hall, where all at once she announced that she meant to take up
her temporary residence. She did not approve of its being committed
entirely to the supervision of Mrs. Prue, her satellite, the
schoolmaster's daughter who used so many long words in cataloguing her
preserves and was so trustworthy: Mrs. Prue would feel lonesome; Mrs.
Prue would take to gadding like the chits Prissy and Fiddy. No, she
would remove herself for a year, and carry over her old man Morris along
with her, and see that poor Rowley's goods were not wasted or his
curiosities lost while he chose to tarry abroad.

Master Rowland stared, but made no objection to this invasion; Mrs.
Betty, after much private rumination and great persuasion, consented to
the arrangement. Young madam was obliged to be ruefully acquiescent,
though secretly irate at so preposterous a scheme; the Vicar, good man,
to do him justice, was always ponderously anxious to abet his mother,
and had, besides, a sneaking kindness for Mistress Betty; the girls were
privately charmed, and saw no end to the new element of breadth,
brightness, and zest, in their little occupations and amusements.

When again, of a sudden, after the day was fixed for Master Rowland's
departure, and the whole family were assembled in the vicarage
parlour--old madam fell a-crying and complaining that they were taking
_her_ son away from her--robbing her of him: she would never live to set
eyes on him again--a poor old body of her years and trials would not
survive another flitting. _She_ had been fain to gratify some of his
wishes; but see if they would not destroy them both, mother and son, by
their stupid narrow-mindedness and obstinacy.

Such a thing had never happened before. Who had ever seen Granny
unreasonable and foolish? The Vicar slipped his hand to her wrist, in
expectation that he would detect signs of hay-fever, though it was a
full month too late for the complaint--there had been cases in the
village--and was shaken off with sufficient energy for his pains.

"Mother," exclaimed Master Rowland, haughtily, "I understand you; but I
had a plain answer to a plain question months ago, and I will have no
reversal to please you. Pity craved by an old woman's weakness! favours
granted in answer to tears drawn from dim eyes! I am not such a slave!"

The others were all clamouring round Granny, kissing her hand, kneeling
on her footstool, imploring her to tell them what she wanted, what she
would like best, what they could go and do for her; only the squire
spoke in indignant displeasure, and nobody attended to him but Mistress
Betty.

It did appear that the squire had been too fast in repelling advances
which did not follow his mother's appeal. Mistress Betty gave no
token--she stood pulling the strings of her cap, and growing first very
red, and then ominously white, like any girl.

Perhaps the squire suspected that he had been too hasty, that he had not
been grateful to his old mother, or generous to the woman who, however
fine, and courted, and caressed, was susceptible of a simple woman's
anguish at scorn or slight. Perhaps there flashed on his recollection a
certain paper in the 'Spectator,' wherein a young lady's secret
inclination towards a young gentleman is conclusively revealed, not by
her advances to save his pride, but by her silence, her blushes, her
disposition to swoon with distress when an opportunity is afforded her
of putting herself forward to attract his notice--nay, when she is even
urged to go so far as to solicit his regard.

Master Rowland's brow lightened as if a cloud lowering there had
suddenly cleared away--Master Rowland began to look as if it were a much
more agreeable experience to contemplate Mistress Betty nervous and
glum, than Lady Betty armed at a hundred points, and all but
invulnerable--Master Rowland walked as alertly to her side as if there
were no such things as sprains in this world. "Madam, forgive me if I
have attributed to you a weak complacency to which you would never
condescend. Madam, if you have changed your mind, and can now tolerate
my suit, and accord it the slightest return, I am at your feet."

Assuredly, the tall, vigorous, accomplished squire would have been
there, not figuratively but in his imposing person. Family explanations
were admissible a century and a half ago; public declarations were
sometimes a point of honour; bodily prostration was by no means
exploded; matter-of-fact squires knelt like romantic knights; Sir
Charles Grandison and Sir Roger de Coverley bent as low for their own
purposes as fantastic gauze and tinsel troubadours.

But Mistress Betty prevented him. "I am not worth it, Master Rowland,"
cried Mistress Betty, sobbing and covering her face with her hands; and,
as she could not have seen the obeisance, the gentleman intermitted it,
pulled down the hands, kissed Madam Betty oftener than the one fair
salute, and handed her across the room to receive Granny's blessing.
Granny sat up and composed herself, wished them joy (though she had the
grace to look a little ashamed of herself), very much as if she had
obtained her end.

There is no use in denying that young madam took to bed for three days,
and was very pettish for a fortnight; but eventually gave in to the
match, and was not so much afflicted by it as she had expected, after
the first brunt. Granny, in her age, was so absurdly set on the
_mésalliance_, and so obliging and pleasant about everything else--the
Vicar and the little lasses were so provokingly careless of the wrong
done them and the injury to the family,--that she knew very well, when
her back was turned, they formed as nonsensically hilarious a bridal
party as if the wedding had concerned one of themselves and not the
bachelor uncle, the squire of Larks' Hall. And Mistress Betty ordered
down the smartest livery; and the highest gentry in Somersetshire would
have consented to grace the ceremony, had she cared for their presence,
such a prize was she in their country-houses when they could procure her
countenance during their brief sojourn among sparkling rills and
woodland shades. Altogether, young madam, in spite of her vanities and
humours, loved the children, the Vicar, Granny, the bridegroom, and even
(with a grudge) the bride, and was affected by the sweet summer season
and the happy marriage-tide, and was, in the main, too good to prove a
kill-joy.

Master Rowland and Mistress Betty were married by Master Rowland's own
brother in the Vicar's own church, with Fiddy and Prissy and the Sedleys
for bridesmaids, and Dick Ashbridge for a groom's-man. Cousin Ward,
brought all the way from town to represent the bride's relations, was
crying as if she were about to lose an only daughter. For Granny, she
would not shed one bright, crystal tear on any account; besides, she was
ever in state at Larks' Hall to welcome home, the happy couple. Ah,
well, they were all happy couples in those days!

At Larks' Hall Mistress Betty bloomed during many a year; for a fine
woman knows no decay; she only passes from one stage of beauty and
excellence to another, wearing, as her rightful possession, all
hearts--her sons', as their father's before them. And Master Rowland no
longer sat lonely in his hall, in the frosty winter dusk or under the
usher-oak in the balmy summer twilight, but walked through life briskly
and bravely, with a perfect mate; whom he had not failed to recognize as
a real diamond among the bits of glass before the footlights--a diamond
which his old mother had consented to set for him.

Our squire and Lady Betty are relics of a former generation. We have
squires as many by thousands, as accomplished by tens of thousands; but
the inimitable union of simplicity and refinement, downrightness and
dignity, disappeared with the last faint reflection of Sir Roger de
Coverley. And charming Lady Betty departed also with early hours,
pillions, and cosmetics--that blending of nature and art, knowledge of
the corrupt world and abiding true-heartedness, which then existed--a
sort of marvel.



A CAST IN THE WAGGON.


I.--DULCIE'S START IN THE WAGGON FOR HER COMPANY.

Old and young were clamouring hoarsely and shrilly by daybreak one
September morning round a little girl, one of a cloth-worker's numerous
family. She had been rather a tender lass, and change of air was thought
good for her full growth. Though she was still small, she was close on
her one-and-twentieth year, and her friends held it was high time for
her to see the world. It was seeing the world to go with a late mayor's
daughter, an orphan and an heiress, who had been visiting the
cloth-worker's family, and would have Dulcie to live with her for awhile
in a neighbouring town as a friend and companion.

Mind those worthy warm-hearted relatives of Dulcie's had no idea of her
returning to her parents' nest in a hurry, though the two towns, Fairfax
and Redwater, were within a day's journey by waggon of each other.
Dulcie would see the world, and stay in her new abode in the next
country town, or lose her character for dignity and spirit; and girls
were fain to be thought discreet and decided a hundred years ago or so.
She might as lief marry as not, when she was away on her travels. Girls
married then with far less trouble than they accomplished such a
journey. They ran down to Richmond and married on a Sunday, to save a
talk and a show; they walked out of the opera where Handel might be
performing, and observant gentlemen took the cue, followed on their
heels, and had the knot tied by a priest, waiting in the house opposite
the first chair-stand. Indeed, they contracted alliances so
unceremoniously, that they went to Queen Caroline's or the Princesses'
drawing-room, without either themselves or the world appearing quite
sure whether they were maids or wives. Dear! dear! what did come of
these foolish impulsive matches? Did they fulfil the time out of mind
adage, "Happy's the wooing that's not long a-doing"? or that other old
proverb, "Marry in haste, and repent at leisure"? Which was the truth?

It is a pity that you should see Dulcie, for the first time, in tears.
Dulcie, who only cried on great occasions, in great sorrow or great
joy--not above half-a-dozen times in her life. Dulcie, whom the
smallpox could not spoil, with her pretty forehead, cat's eyes, and
fine chin. Does that description give you an idea of Dulcie--Dulcie
Cowper, not yet Madam, but any day she liked Mistress Dulcie? It seems
expressive. An under-sized, slight-made girl, with a little face
clearly, very clearly cut, but round in all its lines as yet; an
intelligent face, an enthusiastic face, a face that could be very
shrewd and practical, and, at the same time, a face that could be
lavishly generous. The chief merit of her figure lay in this
particular, that she "bridled" well. Yes, it is true, we have almost
forgotten the old accomplishment of "bridling"--the head up and the
chin in, with the pliant knees bent in a low curtsey. Dulcie
"bridled," as she prattled, to perfection. She had light brown hair,
of the tint of a squirrel's fur, and the smoothness of a mouse's coat,
though it was twisted and twirled into a kind of soft willowy curls
when she was in high dress. Ah! no wonder that Kit Cowper, the
cloth-worker, groaned to see that bright face pass from his ninepin
alley; but it was the way of the world, or rather the will of
Providence to the cloth-worker, that the child should fulfil her
destiny. So Dulcie was launched on the sea of life, as far as
Redwater, to push her fortune.

No wonder Dulcie was liked by Clarissa Gage. Clarissa was two years
younger than Dulcie, but she was half-a-dozen years older in knowledge
of the world, and therefore fell in love with Dulcie for the sake of
variety. Clarissa had the bones of a noble woman under her pedantry and
affectation; she was a peg above Dulcie in station, and a vast deal
before her in the world's estimation. She was indeed "a fortune;" and
you err egregiously if you suppose a fortune was not properly valued a
hundred years ago. Men went mad for fair faces and glib tongues, but
solidly and sensibly married fortunes, according to all the old
news-prints. But Clarissa was also a beauty, far more of a regular
beauty than Dulcie, with one of those inconceivably dazzling complexions
that blush on like a June rose to old age, and a stately height and
presence for her years. She had dark brown curls of the deep brown of
mountain waters, with the ripple of the same, hanging down in a wreath
of tendrils on the bend of the neck behind. With all her gifts, Mistress
Clary had the crowning bounty which does not always accompany so many
inferior endowments: she had sense under her airs, and she was good
enough to like Dulcie instinctively, and to think how nice it would be
to have Dulcie with her and Mistress Cambridge in their formal brick
house, with the stone coping and balcony, at Redwater. Besides, (credit
to her womanhood,) Clarissa did reflect what a fine thing it would be
for Dulcie Cowper getting up in years, really getting up in years,
however young in spirit, to have the variety, and the additional chance
of establishing herself in life. Certainly, Redwater was a town of more
consideration than Fairfax, and had its occasional assemblies and
performances of strolling players; and Clarissa, in right of her
father's family, visited the vicar and the squire, and could carry
Dulcie along with her, since the child's manners were quite genteel, and
her clothes perfectly presentable.

It was a harmonious arrangement, in which not only Clarissa but Mistress
Cambridge agreed. Cambridge was one of those worthy, useful persons,
whom nobody in those strangely plain but decidedly aristocratic
days--not even Clarissa and Dulcie, though they sat with her, ate with
her, hugged her when they wanted to coax her--ever thought or spoke of
otherwise than "Cambridge, a good sort of woman in her own way." The
only temporary drawback to the contentment of the party was the shower
of tears which fell at Dulcie's forcible separation from her relatives.
It was forcible in the end; all the blessings had been given in the
house--don't sneer, they did her no harm, no harm, but a vast deal of
good--and only the kisses and tears were finished off in the street.

After all this introduction, it is painful to describe how the company
travelled. It was in a stage waggon! But they could not help it. We
never stated that they were out-and-out quality; and not even all the
quality could travel in four coaches and six, with twelve horsemen
riding attendance, and an unpaid escort of butchers, bakers, and
apothecaries, whipping and spurring part of the way for the custom. What
could the poor Commons do? There were not stage coaches in every quarter
of the great roads; and really if they pocketed their gentility, the
huge brown waggons were of the two extinct conveyances the roomier,
airier, and safer both from overturns and highwaymen. The seats were
soft, the space was ample, and the three unprotected females were
considered in a manner incognito, which was about as modest a style as
they could travel in. Of course, they were not in their flowered silks,
their lutestrings, their mantuas. We are assured every respectable woman
travelled then in a habit and hat, and no more thought of hoops than of
hair powder. The only peculiarity was that beneath their hats they wore
mob-caps, tied soberly under the chin, and red or blue handkerchiefs
knotted over the hat, which gave them the air of Welsh market-women, or
marvellously clean and tidy gipsies. Clarissa was spelling out the words
in _Pharamond_--a French classic; Dulcie was looking disconsolately
straight before her through their sole outlet, the bow at the end of the
waggon, which circumscribed as pretty and fresh a circle of common and
cornfield, with crimson patches of wood and the blue sky above, as one
might wish to see. Occasionally the crack of a sportsman's gun was heard
to the right or left, followed by a pheasant or a string of partridges
darting across the opening of the canvas car; but as yet no claimant had
solicited the privilege and honour of sharing the waggon and the view
with our fair travellers.


II.--TWO LADS SEEK A CAST IN THE WAGGON.

"Hullo, Joe! we want a lift," cries a brisk voice, and the couple of
great steeds--they might have been Flanders mares or Clydesdale horses,
so powerful were they over the shoulders, so mighty in the
flanks--almost swerved out of their direct line and their decorum. Two
fellows suddenly started up from a couch where they had lain at length
on a hay-stack, slid down the height, crashed over an intervening bit of
waste land, and arrested the waggoner in his smock-frock and clouted
shoes.

"Get in, Will, and take possession. Ha! hum! here are ladies: where will
we stow our feet? I declare Will is on their skirts already, with more
green slime than is carried on the breast of a pond. I believe he thinks
them baggage--lay figures, as they've turned aside their heads.
Gentlefolks for a wager! duchesses in disguise! I must make up to them,
anyhow. Ladies, at your service; I humbly beg your pardon for having so
much as thought of incommoding you, but indeed I was not aware of your
presence. Come, Will, tumble out again instantly, and do not let us be
so rude as to plague the ladies."

Poor Will! very stiff and tired, stared about him, disturbed and
discomforted, and prepared to perform the behest of his more energetic
companion.

Dulcie did a little of her "bridling," but said never a word; Clarissa
lifted her large, rather languishing eyes, let them fall again on her
mittens, and remained dumb. They speak before they were spoken to? not
they, they knew better. At the same time, when Will stumbled as he
alighted on his weary feet, they were guilty of an inclination to
titter, though the accident was excusable, and the point of the joke
small.

"You are very polite, sirs," protested Cambridge, making round eyes, and
reddening and blowing at being constituted the mouthpiece of the party
on any interest save that of victuals. "I vow it is very pretty
behaviour; but as it is a public carriage, I don't think we are at
liberty to deprive Joe of his money, and you, sirs, of your seats. What
say you, Mistress Clary?"

"I decline to give an opinion," answered Clarissa with great dignity; in
which she broke down a little by adding hastily, in half audible
accents. "Be quiet, Dulcie!" for Dulcie's risible faculties had been
excited in a lively degree. She had been crying so lately that there was
a hysterical turn in her mirth, and having once given way to it she
could not restrain herself, but was making all sorts of ridiculous faces
and spasms in her throat without effect. You see, these were two
ordinary, happy young girls; and the stiff starch of their manners and
pretensions only brought out in a stronger light, and with a broader
contrast, their youthful frolicsomeness.

"I think, sirs, you may come in--that is, if you keep your distance,"
Mistress Cambridge decided, with solemn reservation. With a multitude of
apologies and thanks, the two young men, more considerate and courteous
in their forward and backward fashion than many a fine gentleman of the
time, clambered up, and coiled themselves into corners, leaving a
respectful void between them and the original occupants of the waggon.

Tranquillity settled down on the travellers--a tranquillity only broken
by the drowsy rumble of the waggon-wheels, and the perennial whistle of
the stooping, grizzled waggoner. Dulcie was just thinking that they
might have been Turks, they were so silent, when Mistress Cambridge
stirred the still atmosphere by the inquiry--

"Pray, sirs, have you happened to fall in with any stubble chickens in
your walk; I think you said you had been walking hereabouts?" affording
Clarissa an opportunity of complaining afterwards, in the retirement of
the little inn's private room, that these young fellows would judge them
a set of gluttons or farmers' daughters abroad for a holiday, aping
gentlewomen, instead of being duchesses in disguise.

Although the girls never lifted their eyes, yet, by a magic only known
to such philosophers, they had taken as complete an inventory of the
young men, beginning at their wardrobes, as if they had looked at them
coolly from head to foot for a whole half-hour. They were aware that
the fellows were in plain suits, though one of them was not without the
air of being fine on occasions. Their coats were cloth, not brocade or
velvet; their ruffles were cambric, not lace; their shoe-buckles were
only silver; their hats were trimmed with braid, and neither with gold
nor silver edging. They were not my lords; they were not in regimentals;
they did not rap out oaths; they had not the university air; they showed
no parson's bands; they were not plain country bumpkins--what were they?

After all, it was scarcely worth inquiry whether the newcomers belonged
to law or physic; for the young women in their pride and petulance felt
bound not to consider the investigation worth the trouble. The lad who
was the leader, and who was unquestionably of gentle enough nurture, was
a plain little fellow, sallow and homely-featured, although a
good-natured person might suppose from his smiling sagacity that in
animated conversation it would be quite possible to forget his face in
his countenance. The other was ruddy, with a face as sharply cut as a
girl's, and delicate features not fitting his long limbs--clearly he was
no better than a nincompoop. Yes, the girls were perfectly justifiable
in whispering as the waggon stopped to bait at the "Nine Miles House,"
and they got out to bait also--

"What a pair!"

"Such a fright, the little fellow, Clary!"

"Such a goose, the tall fellow, Dulcie!"

It is a sad truth that foolish young women will judge by the exterior,
leap at conclusions, and be guilty of rude and cruel remarks.

What would come of it if the silly, sensitive hearts were in earnest, or
if they did not reserve to themselves the indefeasible right of changing
their opinions?

At the "Nine Miles House" the wayfarers rested, either in the sanded
parlour, or the common kitchen of the ale-house. Mistress Clarissa and
her party had the sanded parlour for themselves; the young men, with
their cramped legs, stumbled into the flitch-hung kitchen, the more
entertaining room of the two, and had plates of beans and bacon, a toast
and a tankard; for the day was in September, and the wind was already
bracing both to body and appetite. Mistress Clarissa carried her private
stores, and Cambridge laid out her slices of roasts and broils, plates
of buns and comforts, and cruets with white wines. But when did a
heroine remain in a sanded parlour in an inn, when she could stroll over
the country and lose her way, and get run at by wild cattle, and stared
at by naughty gentlemen? Clary was not so mean-spirited, though she was
physically lazier than Dulcie; she was eager to scamper across the
stubble fields (where Cambridge expected chickens to roam in flocks),
and to wander, book in hand, by yon brook with the bewitching pollards.

Dulcie could not accompany her. Dulcie being a practical woman, a needle
in innocent sharpness, had peeped about the waggon to inspect their
luggage, and had found to her horror that one of her boxes had burst its
fastenings--that very box with her respected mother's watered tabby, and
her one lace head on the place of honour on the top. So she and
Cambridge had an earnest consultation on the accident, which resulted in
their proceeding to tuck up their skirts, empty the receptacle with the
greatest care and tenderness, and repack it with such skill that a rope
would replace its rent hinges. Dulcie was not for walking.

Clarissa was thus forced to saunter alone, and after she had got to the
brook and the pollards, she sat down, and leant her arms on the bars of
an old farm gate. Soon tiring of looking about her, staring at the
minnows and the late orange coltsfoot and white wild ranunculus, and the
straw-coloured willow-leaves drooping into the water, she took out of
her pocket that little brown French classic, _Pharamond_, and started
again to accompany the French storyteller, advancing on the very tallest
of stilts that storyteller ever mounted. It was a wonder truly that
Clary on her mossy bank, and by a rustic stile, had not preferred the
voices of the winds and the waters, the last boom of the beetle, the
last screech of the martin, the last loud laugh of the field-workers
borne over a hedge or two on the breeze, to the click and patter of
these absurd Frenchmen's tongues.

At last Clarissa bethought her of the hour, sprang up, carefully put
away her volume--volumes and verses were precious then--and began to
pick her steps homewards. Ah! there had been a wretch of a man looking
at her--actually drawing her in his portfolio--the ugly fellow in the
waggon. Thank goodness, he could not have recognized her as his
fellow-traveller; he had copied the old farm-gate from the other side,
and he could only have got a glimpse of her figure through the bars with
not so much as the crown of her hat above them. He had only put her in
faithfully by a line or two, and three dots, and he did not observe her
now as she passed behind him and scanned his performance ere she
scampered off. But what a risk she had run of having her likeness taken
without her knowledge or consent, and carried about the country by a
walking gentleman!

It was quite an adventure; yet how could Clary think it so when an
earthquake and a whole town burnt to ashes were nothing in her French
novels! But, still true to the instinct of personality which causes us
to think a molehill in reference to our dear selves a world more
momentous and interesting than a mountain in reference to a princess of
the blood-royal, stately Clarissa flew off like a lapwing to tell Dulcie
that she had just had such an escape, and hit on such a discovery--she
had found out all about the two fellows; they were a couple of painters.
Marry! it was a marvel to see the one so hearty, and the other so rosy.
Doubtless they did not have an odd penny in their purse between them.

Clarissa came too late; she encountered Dulcie running out to meet her,
all alive with the same news, only gathered in a more orthodox manner.
The fair, soft lad, whom they had reckoned a nincompoop, had shaken
himself up in his companion's absence, and had offered his landlady a
drawing for his share of the dinner, "if you will score the value off
the bill." And the landlady had repeated the story to Cambridge and
Dulcie when she showed the picture to them, and expressed her conviction
that the lad was far gone in the spleen--he seemed always in a brown
study; too quiet-like for a lad. She should have no peace in her mind
about him if she were in any way related to him. Bless her heart! he
would sell another for something much less than a crown.

Dulcie, all in a glow, had actually been chaffering with the painter for
one of those wonderful groups of luscious peaches, mellow pears, July
flowers, and striped balsamine, singing birds and fluttering insects,
full of extravagant beauty. In the business, too, Dulcie had been by far
the more overcome of the two. The painter, roused to a job, had not
cheated her; on the contrary, he had been as usual a conscientious
spendthrift of his powers. He had conducted the negotiation in the
plainest, manliest spirit, looking the eager girl in the face with his
blue eyes, and receiving her crown-piece in his hand, which was nobler
than his face, inasmuch as it was seamed with the action of his paints
and tools, without a notion of anything unbecoming or degrading.

The brother painter shook his head when he returned, and found what Will
had been about in his absence.

"Man, man, didn't I bargain that I was to pay for your company, and
haven't I put you in the worst bed, and allowed you the burnt meat and
the sodden bread, and the valise to carry twice as often as I took it
myself, to satisfy your plaguy scruples? And yet you could go and
scurvily steal a march upon me the moment you were out of my sight!
But," brightening immeasurably, and bowing low, "you have certainly
contrived what I had not the face to attempt--an introduction to the
ladies--although, no doubt, it was very simply done, and you are a very
modest man, as I do not need to tell them. Ladies, I am Sam Winnington,
son of the late gallant Captain Winnington, though I should not call
him so; and this is Will Locke, the vagrant child of an excellent man,
engaged, I believe, in the bookselling and stationery trade. We are
painters, if it please you, on a tour in search of sketches and
commissions. I beg to assure you, that I do portraits on a great scale
as well as a small, and Will sometimes does lions in the jungle, as well
as larks in a tuft of grass."

Cambridge was more posed than ever by the fresh advance included in this
merry speech; but the girls were quite of another mind, and took the
matter forthwith into their own hands, as is usual with the class, and
bore down caution and experience, particularly when it proceeded from
their housekeeper. They liked the young man's congenial sense and
spirit, they secretly hankered after his vivacity; they were, with their
dear woman's romance, all afire in three minutes about pictures, gods,
and goddesses, historic scenes, and even scratches in Indian ink. A true
woman and a painter are hand and glove at a moment's warning in any age.
Cambridge could but drop naturally into the background, and regard the
constant puzzle, "How girls can talk with fellows!"

The chance companions were once more packed into the waggon, pleasantly
mixed together this time, and away they trundled yet many weary miles by
the sunset and the light of the moon. The boughs in the horses' collars
dangled brown, Cambridge and the waggoner nodded drowsily; but, divine
privilege of youth! the spirits of the lads and lasses only freshened as
the long day waned and they neared the goal. They were _dramatis
personæ_ on a moving stage, jesting like country folks going to a fair.
Even Will Locke was roused and lively as he answered Dulcie's
pertinacious, pertinent questions about the animal and vegetable life he
loved so well; while Dulcie, furtively remembering the landlady's
suggestion, wondered, kind heart! if she could use the freedom to
mention to him that ground ivy was all but infallible in early stages of
the spleen, and that turnip broth might be relied on to check every
incipient cough. Clarissa was coquettish, Sam Winnington was gallant.
With all the girls' mock heroism, and all their arrogance and precision,
trust me, girls and lads formed a free and friendly company in the end.


III.--REDWATER HOSPITALITY.

Clarissa and Dulcie did do the young men service in their calling. They
said it would be a shame not to help two such likely fellows (you know
they had undauntedly set the one down as a fright and the other as a
goose in the morning); they were sure they were industrious and worthy,
and they would give bail for their honesty. So they spoke right and left
to the few influential families who were at Redwater of the two young
painters, who by mere luck had come with them in the waggon, had put up
at the "Rod and Fly," and were waiting for commissions. Had the Warrens
or the Lorimers not heard of them? they would come bound they were a
couple of geniuses, from their conversation.

The old world grinned, and said to the girls' faces that the lasses had
better not be too zealous for the lads; they were generally fit to
manage their own business, and something more into the bargain. Uncle
Barnet would not care to have his niece Clary fling herself away with
her tidy fortune on a walking gentleman, though he were a genius.

The result was that Dulcie "bridled" in a twitter of wounded faith and
anger. Clarissa was superb and scornful. She ordered a full-length
portrait, and fixed the hour for the sitting within the week. Dulcie set
off alone with Master Will Locke--Dulcie, who knew no more of Redwater
than he should have done, if his wits had not been woolgathering--to
find the meadow which was beginning to purple over with the meadow
saffron.

But for all the townspeople laughed at Mistress Clary's and Mistress
Dulcie's flights, they never dreamt of them as unbecoming or containing
a bit of harm. Fine girls like Clary and Dulcie, especially an
accomplished girl like Clary, who could read French and do japan,
besides working to a wish in cross-stitch and tent-sketch, were not
persons to be slighted. The inhabitants saw for themselves that the
painters had coats which were not out at elbows, and tongues, one of
which was always wagging, and the other generally at rest, but which
never said a word fairly out of joint. They needed no further
introduction; the gentlemen called for the young men, the ladies
curtsied to them in the bar of the "Rod and Fly," in the church-porch,
in the common shop, and began conversations with them while they were
chaffering at the same counter for the same red ribbons to tie up the
men and the women's hair alike; and they felt that their manners were
vastly polite and gracious, an opinion which was not far from the
truth.

The Vicar lent the painters books. The Mayor invited them to supper. The
nearest Justice, who was a family man, with a notable wife, had them to
a domestic party, where they heard a little girl repeat a fable, and saw
the little coach which the Justice had presented to his son and heir,
then in long clothes, in which he was to be drawn along the smooth oak
boarded passages of the paternal mansion as soon as he could sit
upright.

Lastly, Clarissa Gage, under the sufficient guardianship of Cambridge,
treated the strangers to a real piece of sport--a hop on the
washing-green, under her mulberry-tree. It commenced at four o'clock in
the afternoon, and ended with dusk and the bats, and a gipsy fire, and
roasting groats and potatoes in the hot ashes, in imitation of the
freakish oyster supper which Clary had attended in town.

Clary took care to have her six couples well assorted, and not to be
severed till the merry-making was over; she did not mind uniting herself
to Master Sam Winnington, and Dulcie to Master Will Locke--mind! the
arrangement was a courteous compliment to the chief guests, and it gave
continual point to the entertainment. The company took a hilarious
pleasure in associating the four two-and-two, and commented openly on
the distribution: "Mistress Clary is mighty condescending to this
jackanapes." "Mistress Dulcie and t'other form a genteel pair."

To be sure the two young men heard the remarks, which they might have
taken as broad hints, and the girls heard them too, uttered as they were
without disguise; but so healthy were our ancestors, that nobody was put
out--not even soft, mooning Will Locke. Nothing came of it that
evening, unless a way Dulcie had of pressing her red lips together,
throwing back her little brown head, shaking out the powder from her
curls, and shaking down the curls themselves, with a gleeful laugh,
which appeared to turn her own "bridling" into derision; and a high
assertion of Clary's that she was determined never to wed a man beneath
the rank of a county member or a peer. Now, really, after Clary had
danced fifteen dances, and was about to dance other five, without
stopping, with a portrait painter, of her own free will, this was
drawing a longish and very unnecessary bow. But then Sam Winnington did
not take it amiss or contradict her. He said she was right, and he had
no doubt she would keep her word, and there was a quick, half-comic,
half-serious gleam from the depths of his grey eyes which made Clarissa
Gage look more bashful and lovelier than any man had ever yet beheld
her. Pity the member or the peer could not have been that man!

Imagine the party after Mistress Cambridge had provided them with some
of her favourite chickens, and more substantial Dutch beef, with wet
fruit and dry, cold Rhenish and sugar, and mulled wine against the dew
and damp feet, collecting merrily round the smoky fire, with little jets
of flame shooting up and flashing out on the six couples! Sam Winnington
in his silk stockings and points neatly trussed at the knee, was on
all-fours poking the blue and red potatoes into the glowing holes.
Another man with rough waggishness suddenly stirred the fire with an oak
branch, and sent a shower of sparks like rockets into the dark blue sky,
but so near that it caused the women to recoil, screaming and hiding
their faces on convenient shoulders, and lodged half-a-dozen instruments
of ignition and combustion in Sam Winnington's hair, singeing it and
scorching his ears. Had Sam not been the best-natured and most politic
fellow in the world, he would have dragged the aggressor by the collar
or the cuff over the smoking crackling wood, and made the ladies shriek
in greater earnest.

There was the strange ruddy light now on this face, now on that--on Will
Locke's as he overturned a shovel of groats at Dulcie's feet, and on
Dulcie's, so eager to cover his blunder, that she quite forgot the
circumstances of the case, and never came to herself till she had burnt
all the five tips of her rosy fingers catching the miller's pearls. Then
Will Locke was so sorry, stroked the fingers so daintily, hung upon
Cambridge so beseechingly, imploring her to prepare a cool mash for
Mistress Dulcie's finger points, the moment they were all gone--that
Dulcie could have cried for his tenderness of heart, and quickness and
keenness of remorse.

Conjure up the whole fourteen--the Vicar and Cambridge of the
number--when the fire had sunk white in ashes, when they could scarcely
see each other's faces, and only guess each other's garments, having a
round at "Puss in the corner," running here and rushing there, seizing
this shoulder-knot, holding tight like a child by that skirt, drawing
up, pulling back, whirling round all blowsy, all panting, all faint with
fun and laughter, and the roguish familiarity which yet thought no evil.
Very romping, was it not? very hoydenish? yes certainly. Very improper?
by no means. It was practised by dignitaries of the Church, still more
classic than the Vicar scuttling and ducking after Cambridge (you never
saw the like), and by the pink and pride of English womanhood.

Redwater was hospitable to these painter lads, as we understand
hospitality, unquestionably, ungrudgingly hospitable; but it was more
than hospitable to them, it was profitable to them in a pecuniary sense,
without which great test of its merits they could not long have tarried
within its bounds. They were neither fools nor hypocrites to pretend to
be clean indifferent to the main chance.

The Vicar fancied a likeness of himself in his surplice, which his
parishioners might buy and engrave, if they had a mind to preserve his
lineaments when he was no longer among them. The Justice took a notion
to have his big girls and his little girls, his boy and nurse, his
wife, and himself as the sheltering stem of the whole young growth, in
one canvas.

But the great achievement was Sam Winnington's picture of Clarissa, "not
as a crazy Kate this time," she told him saucily, "but myself in my hair
and brocade, to show what a grand lady I can be." Thus Clarissa dressed
herself out in one of those magnificent toilettes all in the autumn
mornings, and sat there in state for hours, for the sole benefit of
posterity, unless Sam Winnington was to reap a passing advantage by the
process. Clarissa in her brocade, with the stiff body and the skirt
standing on end, her neckerchief drawn through the straps of her bodice,
her bouquet pinned, "French fashion," on her side; surely that picture
was a masterpiece. So speaking was the copy of her deep brown hair, her
soft, proud cheek, the wave of her ripe red lips, that a tame white
pigeon, accustomed to sit on her shoulder, flew into the window right at
the canvas, and, striking against the hard, flat surface, fell
fluttering and cooing in consternation to the ground. If that was not an
acknowledgment of the limner's fidelity, what could be?

Clary, in person, played my lady very well, reclining in her father's
great chair. Her hall was roomy enough; it had its space for Sam
Winnington's easel as well as Clary's harpsichord, and, what was more
useful, her spinning-wheel, besides closets and cupboards without
number. Sam Winnington entertained Clarissa; he was famous in years to
come for keeping his sisters in good humour. He told her of the academy
and the president's parties, of the public gardens and the wild beast
shows; and how the Princesses had their trains borne as they crossed the
park. He asked her what quality in herself she valued the most; and
owned that he was hugely indebted to his coolness. When his colours were
not drying fast enough, he read her a page or two of grand heroic
reading from Pope's 'Homer' about Agamemnon and Achilles, Helen and
Andromache; when she tired of that he was back again to the sparkling
gossip of the town, for he was a brilliant fellow, with a clear
intellect and a fine taste; and he had stored up and arranged elegantly
on the shelves of his memory all the knowledge that was current, and a
little more besides.

When he was gone, Clary would meditate what powers of conversation he
had, and consider rather glumly how she would miss the portrait painter
when he migrated to his native air, the town; how dull Redwater would
be; how another face would soon supplant hers on the canvas! He had
shown her others in his portfolio quite as blooming and dignified,
though he had tumbled them carelessly over; and so he would treat hers
when another's was fresh before him. Clary would be restless and cross
at her own suppositions; for where is the use of being a beauty and a
wit if one must submit to be either forgotten or beaten, even by a
portrait painter?

In the meantime, the Vicar also wanted a _facsimile_ of his hayfield, as
it looked when the haymakers were among the tedded grass, or under the
Redwater ash-trees, to present him with a pleasant spectacle within, now
that the bleak autumn was coming on, and there would be nothing without
but soaked or battered ground, dark skies, and muddy or snowy ways. The
Mayor desired a pig-sty, with the most charming litter of little black
and white pigs, as nice as guinea-pigs, and their considerably coarser
grunting mamma, done to hand. He was a jolly, prosaic man, Master Mayor,
very proud of his prosaicness, as you rarely see a real man of his
poetry: he maintained, though Mrs. Mayor nearly swooned at the idea,
that he would sooner have a pig-sty than a batch of heroes. Perhaps the
heroes of Master Mayor's day had sometimes wallowed in the mire to
suggest the comparison. And Clarissa Gage would have her bower done--her
clematis bower before the leaves were brown and shrivelled and there
only remained the loving spindle-shanked stems clinging faithfully to
the half-rotten framework which they could no longer clothe with
verdure.

What a bower Will Locke made of Clary's bower! as unique as Sam
Winnington's portrait of Clary herself. It was not the literal bower;
and it would not have suited Master Mayor or the Justice, though it
might have had a charm for the Vicar. We will go with the Vicar;
although he also had his bombast, and, when elevated by company and
cheer, denominated Cambridge a goddess, and raised in the poor woman's
breast expectations never to be realized. We don't altogether approve
that wonderful bit of work, but we like it. There never were such deep
damask roses as hung over the trellis, there never were such flaming
sunflowers, or pure white lilies as looked in at the sides. Squirrels
don't frequent garden bowers unless they are tamed and chained by the
leg. Our robin redbreasts are in the fields in summer, and do not perch
on boughs opposite speckled thrushes when they can get abundance of
worms and flies among the barley. We have not little green lizards at
large in England; the only one ever seen at Redwater was in the
apothecary's bottle. Still what a bower that is! What a blushing,
fluttering bower, trilling with song, glancing and glowing with the
bronze mail of beetles and the softened glory of purple emperors! What a
thing it was to examine; how you could look in and discover afresh, and
dwell for five minutes at a time on that hollow petal of a flower
steeped in honey, on that mote of a ladybird crawling to its couch of
olive moss.

Dulcie was speechless with admiration before this vision of Clarissa's
bower. Heigho! it was an enchanted bower to Dulcie as to Will Locke. It
was veritably alive to him, and he could tell her the secrets of that
life. What perfume the rose was shedding--he smelt it about his palette;
what hour of the clock the half-closed sunflower was striking; whence
the robin and the thrush had come, and what bean fields they had flown
over, and what cottage doors they had passed; of what the lizard was
dreaming in south or east as he turned over on his slimy side--all were
plain to him.

Ostensibly Dulcie was taking lessons from Will Locke in flower-painting,
for Dulcie had a delicate hand and a just eye for colours, and the
sweetest, natural fondness for this simple, common, beautiful world. And
Will Locke was a patient, indulgent teacher. He was the queerest mixture
of gentleness and stubbornness, shyness and confidence, reserve and
candour. He claimed little from other people, he exacted a great deal
from himself. He was the most retiring lad in society, backward and out
of place; he was free with Dulcie as a girl of her own stamp could be.
He had the most unhesitating faith in his own ability, he relied on it
as on an inspiration, he talked of it to Dulcie, he impressed it upon
her until he infected her with his own credulity until she believed him
to be one of the greatest painters under the sun. She credited his
strangest imagination, and that quiet lad had the fancy of a prince of
dreamers.

In the end Dulcie was humble and almost awed in Will Locke's presence.
Now here comes the sign of Dulcie's innate beauty of character. Had
Dulcie been a commonplace, coarse girl, she would have been wearied,
aggrieved, fairly disgusted by Will Locke in three days. But Dulcie was
brimfull of reverence, she was generous to the ends of her hair, she
liked to feel her heart in her mouth with admiration.

The truth of the matter was, Dulcie would have been fain to lift up Will
Locke's pencil as they pretend Cæsar served Titian, to clean his
palette, gather flowers for him, busk them into a nosegay, preserve them
in pure water, and never steal the meanest for her own use. Will Locke
was her saint, Dulcie was quite ready to be absorbed in his beams. Well
for her if they did not scorch her, poor little moth!

Oh! Dulcie, Dulcie, your friends could not have thought it of you--not
even Clary, tolerably misled on her own account, would have believed you
serious in your enamourment, though you had gone down on your knees and
sworn it to them. It was nothing but the obliging humour of Mistress
Dulcie and the single-heartedness of the youth; still even in this mild
view of the case, if their friends had paid proper attention to them,
they would have counselled Dulcie to abide more securely by her chair
covers, and my simple man to stick more closely to his card or his
ivory, his hedges or his hurdles.

Sometimes, late as the season was, Will Locke and Dulcie went out
picking their steps in search of plants and animals, and it was
fortunate for Dulcie that she could pull her mohair gown through her
pocket-holes, and tuck her mob-cap under her chin beneath her hat, for
occasionally the boisterous wind lifted that trifling appendage right
into the air, and deposited it over a wall or a fence, and Will Locke
was not half so quick as Dulcie in tracing the region of its flight,
neither was he so active, however willing, in recovering the truant.
Why, Dulcie found his own hat for him, and put it on his head to boot
one day. He had deposited it on a stone, that he might the better look
in the face a dripping rock, shaded with plumes of fern and tufts of
grass, and formed into mosaic by tiny sprays of geranium faded into
crimson and gold. It was a characteristic of Will that while he was so
fanciful in his interpretation, the smallest, commonest text sufficed
him. The strolls of these short autumn days were never barren of
interest and advantage to him. The man carried his treasures within
himself; he only needed the slightest touchstone from the outside
world to draw them out. A fieldmouse's nest was nearly as good to him
as an eagle's eyrie, an ox-eyed daisy as a white rose, a red
hemp-nettle as a foxglove. He put down his hat and stood contemplating
the bit of rock, until every morsel of leaf told him its tale, and
then proceeded to fill his pockets and hands with what the poorest
country boy would have deemed the veriest weeds; and at last he would
have faced round, and marched home, unconscious that his fair hair,
bleached like a child's, was undefended from a pitiless shower
impending over his head. Dulcie lingered dutifully behind, picked up
that three-cornered hat timidly, called his attention to his
negligence, and while he stooped with the greatest ease in life, she,
bashfully turning her eyes another way, finally clapped the covering
on his crown, as a mother bonnets her child.


IV.--OTHER CASTS FOLLOWING THE CAST IN THE WAGGON.

Clary and Dulcie were slightly censured for their officiousness in the
affairs of these painter fellows: but it is in the nature of women not
to take well with contradiction: it is in the nature of good women to
fly furiously in the face of whatever crosses their generosity, or
thwarts their magnanimity.

The crisis came about in this way: Will Locke had finished his work long
before Sam; not that Will was more industrious, but he had not got half
the commissions at only half the price, and that was about the usual
division of labour between them. The two men were born to it. Sam's art
took the lucrative shape of portrait-painting; Will's the side of flower
and fruit and landscape painting, which was vilely unremunerative then,
and allegorical painting, which no one will be at the pains to
understand, or, what is more to the purpose, to buy, in this enlightened
nineteenth century. Sam, who was thriving already, fell in love with
Clarissa Gage, with her six thousand pounds fortune: there was no
premeditation, or expediency, or cunning, in the matter; it was the luck
of the man. But Will Locke could never have done it: he, who could never
make a clear subsistence for himself, must attach himself to a
penniless, cheery, quick little girl like Dulcie; and where he could not
well maintain one, must provide for two at the lowest estimate. Will
Locke was going, and there was no talk of his return; Dulcie was
helping him to put up his sketches with her orderly, ready, and
respectful hands.

"When we are parted for good, I shall miss you," he said, simply.

Her tender heart throbbed with gratitude, but she only answered, "Are we
to be parted for good? Will you never come back to Redwater?"

"I cannot come back like Sam," he affirmed, sadly, not bitterly; "I am
not a rising man, Dulcie, though I may paint for future ages."

A bright thought struck Dulcie, softening and warming her girlish
face, till it was like one of those faces which look out of Fra
Angelico's pictures, and express what we are fond of talking
about--adoration and beneficence: "Could I paint for the potteries,
Master Locke?" For, in his noble thriftless way, he had initiated her
into some of the very secrets of his tinting, and Dulcie was made bold
by the feats she had achieved.

"What should set you labouring on paltry porringers?--you are provided
with your bit and sup, Mistress Dulcie."

"I thought it might be fine to help a great painter like you," confessed
the gentle lass; very gently, with reluctance and pain, for it was wrung
by compulsion from her maidenliness.

"Do you think so? I love you for thinking it," he said directly: but he
would never have done so, brave as he was in his fantasies, without her
drawing him on.

However, after that speech, there was no further talk of their parting
for good: indeed, Dulcie would do her part; and slave at these "mugs and
pigs" to any extent; and all for a look of his painting before he
quitted the easel of nights; a walk, hanging upon his arm, up Primrose
Hill; a seat by his side on the Sundays in the city church where he
worshipped. Dulcie did not care to trouble her friends at home with the
matter: instead, she had a proud vision of surprising them with the
sight of--her husband. "They would be for waiting till they could spare
money to buy more clothes, or perhaps a chest of drawers; they could not
afford it; no more could Will find means to fly up and down the country.
Father dear will be pleased to see him so temperate: he cannot drink
more than a glass of orange-wine, or a sip of cherry-brandy; he says it
makes his head ache: he prefers the clear, cold water, or at most a dish
of chocolate. Mother may jeer at him as unmanly; she has a fine spirit,
mother: and she may think I might have done better; but mother has grown
a little mercenary, and forgotten that she was once young herself, and
would have liked to have served a great genius with such a loving heart
and such blue eyes as Will's. Ah! the girls will all envy me, when they
get a glance from Will's blue eyes: and let them, for he is too good a
fellow to look at anybody but his poor ordinary silly wife, and if he
did, the odds are that he would not see them: could not see whether
their hair were black or red. Ah me! I am not sure whether Will always
sees me--poor me--and not one of his angels from paradise."

But Dulcie did mean to tell Clary, and to ask her what she would
advise her to wear for her wedding-gown, and whether she and Sam
Winnington would be best maid and best man. But Clary put her foot
through the plan neatly. Clary was in one of her vapourish moods when
she inquired one night, "Is Will Locke coming down again, Dulcie? Oh!
what ever is he seeking here? What more can we do for him? Nobody
wants any more sheep or goats (were they sheep or goats, Dulcie?), or
strawberries and currants, unless as mutton, and kid, and preserves.
And, Dulcie, you must not stand in your own light, and throw away any
more notice upon him; it is wasting your time, and the word of him may
keep away others. A match with him would be purely preposterous: even
Sam Winnington, who is a great deal more of a scamp, my dear, treats
him as a sublime simpleton."

What induced Clary to attempt to lock the stable after the steed was
stolen? What drove her off all of a sudden on this dreadfully candid and
prudent tack? She only knew. Possibly it was to ease her own troubled
conscience: but with Sam Winnington constantly dangling about her
skirts, and receiving sufficient encouragement, too, it was hard for
Dulcie to bear. She was in a fine passion; she would not tell Clary,
after that round of advice; no, not a word. How did she know what Clary
would do next? Perhaps forbid Will the house, when he came back from
London with the licence, lock her into a room, and write an evil report
to her friends? No, Dulcie could keep her own counsel: she was sorry to
live in Clary's house, and eat the bread of deceit, but she would not
risk Will's happiness as well as her own.

Will Locke reappeared on the scene within a fortnight. The lad did not
tell Dulcie, though, that he had walked the most of the way, and that
he had rendered himself footsore, in order to be able to count out
Dulcie's modest expenses up to town, and perhaps a month's
housekeeping beforehand: for that was the extent of his outlook. Will
Locke appointed the Vicar to meet him and a young woman in Redwater
church, the very morning after his return: there was no use in delay,
except to melt down the first money he had hoarded; and Will and
Dulcie were like two children, eager to have the business over and
done with, and not to do again by the same parties. The Vicar was
quite accustomed to these sudden calls, and he submitted to them with
a little groan. He did not know who the young woman might be, and he
did not care; it might be Mistress Cambridge, it might be Mistress
Clarissa herself, it might be the still-room maid, or the barmaid at
the "Rod and Fly;" it was all one to him. As for the young painter
fellow, the quiet lads were as likely to slip into these scrapes as
the rattles; indeed, the chances were rather against them: the Vicar
was inclined to cry, "Catch Mr. Sam Winnington in such a corner." But
the Vicar was in no way responsible for a youth who was not even his
own parishioner; he was not accountable for his not having worldly
goods wherewith to endow the young woman whom he was to lead to the
altar. Oddly enough, though worldly goods are undoubtedly introduced
into the service, there are no accompanying awkward questions: such
as, "What are your worldly goods, M.?" or, "Have you any worldly
goods, M.?" The Vicar did not care at all, except for his incipient
yawns, and his disordered appetite; he was a rebuke to gossips.

When the hour came, Dulcie was distressed: not about wrongdoing, for the
girl had no more idea that she was doing wrong than you have when you
write a letter on your own responsibility, and at your own dictation;
not at the absence of friends, for in Dulcie's day friends were
considered very much in the way on such occasions. Indeed, the best
accredited and most popular couples would take a start away from their
companions and acquaintances, and ride ten miles or so to be married
privately, and so escape all ceremony. Dulcie was troubled by the want
of a wedding-gown; yes, a wedding-gown, whether it is to wear well or
not, is to a woman what a wig is to a barrister, what a uniform is to a
soldier. Dulcia's had no existence, not even in a snip; no one could
call a half-worn sacque a wedding-gown, and not even her mother's tabby
could be brought out for fear of observation. Only think! a scoured
silk: how could Dulcie "bridle" becomingly in a scoured silk? There
would have been a certain inappropriateness in its shabbiness in the
case of one who had done with the vanities of this world: but a scoured
silk beside bridal blushes!--alas, poor Dulcie!

In every other respect, there appears something touching as well as
humorous in that primitive marriage-party on the grey October morning,
with the autumn sunbeams, silver not golden, faintly brightening the
yellowing vine, over the sexton's house, and the orange and grey
lichens, the only ornaments outside the solid old church, with its low,
heavy Saxon arches. The Vicar bowed with ceremony, and with a dignified
and deliberate air, as he recognised Mistress Dulcie; the old clerk and
his wrinkled wife stumbled into an apprehension that it was Mistress
Clarissa Gage's friend who was to have the knot tied all by herself so
early: but it was nothing to them either--nothing in comparison with the
Christmas dole. The lad and lass so trustful, so isolated, making such a
tremendous venture, deserved to have the cheery sunshine on their lot,
if only for their faith and firmness.

When it was over, Dulcie plucked Will's sleeve, to turn him into the
vestry. One must be the guide if not the other, and "it's main often the
woman," the old clerk would tell you, with a toothless grin.

Then Dulcie went with Will straight to the "Rod and Fly;" for such was
the established rule. These occurrences were so frequent, that they had
their etiquette cut out for them. From the "Rod and Fly" Will and Dulcie
sent the coolest and most composed, the most perfectly reasonable and
polite of messages, to say they had got married together that morning,
and that Mistress Cambridge need not have the trouble of keeping
breakfast for Mistress Dulcie. A separate apology was sent from Dulcie
for not having procured the watercresses which she was to have sought
for Cambridge. Further, Mr. and Mrs. Will Locke would expect all of
their friends who approved of the step they had taken to come to the
"Rod and Fly," and offer their congratulations and drink their healths
that morning without fail; as the young couple had to start by the very
waggon in which they had first set eyes on each other. "Think of that,
Will!" Dulcie had exclaimed, breathlessly, as if she was calling his
notice to a natural phenomenon. They had now to ask and receive
Dulcie's parents' blessing before they began housekeeping in Will's
lodgings in London, on the strength of a month's prices with future
orders and outwork from the potteries. Oh! these old easy beginnings!
What have we gained by complicating them?

Will Locke and Dulcie had cast the die, and, on the first brush of the
affair, their friends at Redwater took it as ill as possible: Clarissa
was hysterical, Sam Winnington was as sulky as a bear. If this treatment
were to be regarded as a foreshadowing of what the behaviour of the
authorities at Fairfax would prove, then the actors in the little drama
might shake in their shoes. But Will Locke placidly stood the storm they
had brewed, only remembering in years to come some words which Dulcie
did not retain for a sun-down. Dulcie was now affronted and hurt, now
steady as a stepping-stone and erect as a sweet-pea, when either of the
two assailants dared to blame Will, or to imply that he should have
refrained from this mischief. Why, what could Will have done? What could
she have done without him? She was not ashamed to ask that, the moment
they reflected upon Will Locke, though she had not borne his name an
hour. Oh! child, child!

Notwithstanding, it was very trying to Dulcie when Clary protested
that she never would have believed that Dulcie could have stolen such
a march upon her; never. Dulcie to deceive her! Dulcie to betray her!
Poor Clary! Whom could she turn to for affection and integrity, in the
days that might remain to her in this wicked world? She had walked all
along the street with its four or five windows in every gable turned
to the thoroughfare, with her handkerchief at her eyes, while the
whole town was up, and each window full. She was so spent now, with
her exertions and her righteous indignation, that she sat fanning
herself in the bar: for Will and Dulcie could not even afford a
private room to receive their wedding company so summarily assembled.
Never was such a business, in Clary's opinion; not that she had not
often heard of its like--but to happen to a kind, silly, credulous
pair, such as Dulcie and Will Locke! Clary sat fanning herself, and
casting knots on her pocket-handkerchief, and glancing quickly at Sam
Winnington's gloomy, dogged face, so different from the little man's
wonted bland, animated countenance. What on earth could make Sam
Winnington take the wilful deed so much to heart? Hear him rating
Will, whom he had been used to patronize in a careless, gracious
style, but upon whom he now turned in strong resentment. These
reproaches were not unprovoked, but they were surely out of bounds;
and their matter and manner rankled in the breasts of both these men
many a day after they had crossed the Rubicon, and travelled far into
the country on whose borders they were still pressing.

"You have disgraced yourself and me, sir! You have gone far to ruin the
two of us! People will credit us of the same stock: a pair of needy and
reckless adventurers!"

"Master Winnington, I was willing: I could do what I liked with myself
without your leave; and I suppose Will Locke was equally independent,"
fired up Dulcie.

"We'll never be mistaken for the same grain, Sam Winnington," declared
Will Locke, with something like disdain. "I always knew that we were
clean different: and the real substance of the wood will come out more
and more distinctly, now that the mere bark is rubbed off."

Clary was modified at last; she kissed and sobbed over Dulcie, wished
her joy sincerely, half promised to visit her in town, and slipped a
posy ring from her own hand to the bride's, on the very finger where
Will Locke had the face to put the marriage-ring which wedded a comely,
sprightly, affectionate young woman to struggles and disappointments,
and a mad contest between spirit and matter. But Sam Winnington would
not so much as shake hands with Will; though he did not bear any malice
against Dulcie, and would have kissed her fingers if she would have
allowed it: and the young men, erstwhile comrades, looked so glumly and
grimly at each other, that it was a universal relief when the great
waggon drew up at the inn door.

Dulcie, in another character now, and that even before the fall of
the russet leaves--half ashamed but very proud, the little goose! of
the quick transformation--stepped into the waggon; the same boxes
were piled beside her; Will leapt in after her, and away they
rolled. There was nothing more for Dulcie to do but to wave her hand
to Clary and Cambridge, and the women of the inn (already fathoms
deep in her interest), and to realize that she was now a married
woman, and had young Will Locke the great painter, in his chrysalis
state, to look after.

But why was Sam Winnington so irate? He had never looked sweet on Dulcie
for half a second. Was it not rather that a blundering dreamer like Will
Locke had anticipated him, marred his tactics, and fatally injured his
scientific game? Sam came dropping down upon Redwater whenever he could
find leisure, when the snow was on the ground, or when the peaches were
plump and juicy, for the next two or three years. If he had not been
coming on finely in his profession, heightening his charges five guineas
at a time, and if Clary had not possessed that six thousand pounds'
fortune, they would have done off the matter in a trice, like Will Locke
and Dulcie Cowper. Poor Sam! poor Clary!--what an expenditure of hours
and days and emotions, they contrived for themselves! They were often
wretched! and they shook each other's faith: it is doubtful if they ever
quite recovered it. They were so low occasionally that it must have been
dreadfully difficult for them to get up again; they were so bitter that
how they became altogether sweet once more, without any lingering
remains of the acrid flavour in their mouths, is scarcely to be
imagined. They were good and true in their inmost hearts; but it does
appear that some of the tricks of which they were guilty left them less
honest human creatures. There was a strong dash of satire in Sam's fun
afterwards; there was a sharpness in Clary's temper, and a despotism in
her dignity. To be sure, Clary always liked Sam's irony a thousand times
better than another man's charity, and Sam ever thought Clary's
impatient, imperious ways far before the cooing of any turtle-dove in
the wood; but that was only an indication that the real metal was
there, not that it was not smirched and corroded with rust.

The first effect of Will and Dulcie's exploit was extremely prejudicial
to the second case on the books. Uncle Barnet, a flourishing London
barrister, a man with strong lines about his mouth, a wart on his
forehead, and great laced flaps at his coat pockets, and who was
supposed to be vehemently irresistible in the courts, hurried down to
Redwater on purpose to overhaul Clary. What sort of doings were those
she presided over in her maiden house at Redwater? Not the runaway
marriage of a companion; that occurred every day in the most polite
circles; Clary could not fairly be called to account for such a trifle;
besides, a girl without a penny might do as she chose. But there was
something a vast deal more scandalous lurking in the background: there
was word of another fellow of the same kidney buzzing about Clary--Clary
with her six thousand pounds' fortune, her Uncle Barnet, her youth, her
handsome person, her what not? Now, as sure as Uncle Barnet's name was
Barnet, as he wore a wig, as there was justice in the country, he would
have the law of the fellow. Don't tell him the man was advancing rapidly
in his profession. What was a painter's profession?--or the son of a
gallant Captain Winnington? If a gallant Captain Winnington could do
nothing more than gallant, he did not deserve the name; it was a piece
of fudge to cheat foolish women with. Yes; he would have the law of the
fellow if he buzzed about his niece; he would have the law of Clary if
she encouraged him.

What could Clary do? she had been taught to look up to Uncle Barnet;
she had seen polite society under his wife's wing; she had obeyed him at
once as her Mentor and her Mæcenas--as her father and prime-minister.
She cried and kissed his hand, and promised not to forget her position,
and to be a good girl; and as she was not engaged to Sam Winnington, and
did not know for certain that he would return to Redwater for the
grass-mowing or the hop-gathering, she thought she might be free to
promise also that she would not see him again with her will. Of course,
she meant to keep her word if she might; but there are two at a
bargain-making: and observe, she said "with her will;" she made no
reference to Sam Winnington's pleasure. And yet, arrogant as Clary could
be on her worst side, she had found her own intentions and purposes
knocked down by Sam Winnington's determinations before now.

When Sam Winnington did come down next, Clary had such honour and
spirit, that she ordered the door to be shut in his face; but then she
cried far more bitterly than she had done to Uncle Barnet, in the same
hall where Sam had painted her and jested with her; and somehow her
affliction reached Sam's ears, living in a little place like Redwater at
the "Rod and Fly" for several days on end.

At last another spice entered into the dish; another puppet appeared on
the boards, and increased the disorder of the former puppets. The county
member did turn up. Clary was a prophet: he came on a visit to his
cousin the Justice, and was struck with tall, red and white, and
large-eyed Clary; he furbished up an introduction, and offered her the
most marked attention.

Mistress Clarissa was in ecstasy, so her gossips declared, and so she
almost persuaded herself, even after she had certain drawbacks to her
pleasure, and certain cares intruding upon her exultation; after she was
again harassed and pestered with the inconvenient resuscitation of that
incorrigible little plain, vain portrait painter, Sam Winnington. He was
plain--he had not the county member's Roman nose; and he was vain--Clary
had already mimicked the fling of his cravat, and the wave of his white
hands. Clever, smart fellows, like Sam Winnington, are generally
coxcombs. Oh, Sam! where, in order to serve your own turn now, be your
purple shadows, your creamy whites, your marvellous reading of people's
characters, and writing of the same on their faces, their backs, their
very hands and feet, which should leave the world your delighted debtor
long after it had forgotten yon member's mighty services?

Clarissa had never danced so many dances with one evening's partner as
with the smitten member, at the assembly given on the spur of the
moment in his honour, whereat Sam Winnington, standing with his hat
under his arm, and leaning against the carved door, was an observant
spectator. He was not sullen as when Will Locke and Dulcie tumbled
headlong into the pit of matrimony! he was smiling and civil; but his
lips were white and his eyes sunken, as if the energetic young painter
did not sleep of nights.

Clary was not sincere; she gave that infatuated, tolerably heavy,
red-faced, fox-hunting member, own cousin to the Justice, every reason
to suppose that she would lend him the most favourable ear, when he
chose to pay her his addresses, and then afforded him the amplest
provocation to cry, "Caprice--thy name is woman." She had just sung
"Tantivy" to him after supper, when she sailed up to Sam Winnington, and
addressed him demurely:--

"I have come to wish you good-night, sir."

"And I to wish you farewell, madam."

"Farewell is a hard word, Master Winnington," returned Clary, with a
great tide of colour rushing into her face, and a gasp as for breath,
and tracing figures nervously on the floor with her little shoe and its
brave paste-buckle.

"It shall be said though, and that without further delay, unless three
very different words be put in its place."

"Sir, you are tyrannous," protested Clary, in a tremulous voice.

"No, Mistress Clarissa, I have had too good cause to know who has been
the tyrant in this business," declared Sam Winnington, speaking out
roundly, as a woman loves to hear a man, though it be to her own
condemnation, "You have used me cruelly, Clarissa Gage; you have abused
my faith, wasted the best years of my life, and deceived my affections."

"What were the three words," asked Clary, faint and low.

"'Yours, Sam Winnington;' or else, 'Farewell, Clarissa Gage?'"

"Yours, Sam Winnington."

He caught her so sharp up by the arm at that sentence, that some persons
said Mistress Clarissa had staggered and was about to swoon; others,
that the vulgar fellow of a painter had behaved like a brute, pulled her
to his side as she was marching past him, and accused her of perjury
before the whole ball-room. Bold men were apt at that time to seize
aggravating women (especially if they were the wives of their bosoms) by
the hairs of their heads, so that a trifling rudeness was little thought
of. The county member, however, pricked up his long ears, flushed,
fiercely stamped to the particular corner, and had a constable in his
eye to arrest the beggarly offender; but before he could get at the
disputants, he had the mortification to see them retreat amicably into a
side room, and the next thing announced to him was, that Mistress
Clarissa had evanished home, before anybody could get rightly at the
bottom of the mystery.

Very fortunately, the county member ascertained the following day,
before he had compromised his pride another hair's-breadth, that the
fickle damsel had accepted the painter's escort the previous evening,
and had admitted the painter at an incredibly early hour the subsequent
morning. After such indiscretion, the great man would have nothing more
to say to Mistress Clarissa, but departed in great dudgeon, and would
never so much as set his foot within Redwater again; not even at the
following election.

Uncle Barnet was forced to come round and acknowledge, with a very bad
grace, that legislation in heiresses' marriages--in any marriage--is out
of the question. No man knew how a marriage would turn out; you might as
well pledge yourself for the weather next morning; certainly there were
signs for the wise; but were weather almanacs deceptive institutions or
were they not? The innocent old theory of marriages being made in heaven
was the best. Clary was not such a mighty catch after all: a six
thousand pounds' fortune was not inexhaustible, and the county member
might never have come the length of asking its owner's price. People did
talk of a foolish engagement in his youth to one of his yeomen's
daughters, and of a wealthy old aunt who ruled the roast; though her
well-grown nephew, not being returned for a rotten borough, voted with
dignity for so many thousands of his fellow-subjects in the Commons.
Uncle Barnet, with a peculiarly wry face, did reluctantly what he did
not often advise his clients to do, unless in desperate
circumstances--he compromised.

Clary was made a wife in the height of summer, with all the rites and
ceremonies of the Church, with all the damasks, and laces, and leadings
by the tips of the fingers, and lavishings of larkspurs, lupins, and
tiger-lilies proper for the occasion, which Dulcie had lost. Nay, the
supper came off at the very "Rod and Fly," with the tap open to the
roaring, jubilant public; a score of healths were drunk upstairs with
all the honours, the bride and bridegroom being king and queen of the
company: even Uncle Barnet owned that Sam Winnington was very
complaisant--rather exceed in his complaisance, he supplemented
scornfully; but surely Sam might mend that fault with others in the
bright days to come. It is only the modern English who act Hamlet
_minus_ the Prince of Denmark; sitting at the bridal feast without bride
or bridegroom. They say hearts are often caught on the rebound, and if
all ill-treated suitors spoke out warmly yet sternly like Sam
Winnington, and did not merely fence about and either sneer or whine,
more young fools might be saved, even when at touch-and-go with their
folly, after the merciful fate of Clary and to the benefit of themselves
and of society.


V.--DULCIE AND WILL, AT HOME IN ST. MARTIN'S LANE.

While Sam and Clarissa were fighting the battles of vanity and the
affections down in the southern shire in quite a rural district, among
mills and ash-trees, and houses with gardens and garden bowers, William
and Dulcie were combating real flesh-and-blood woes--woes that would not
so much set your teeth on edge, as soften and melt your tough, dry
heart--among the bricks and mortar of London. These several years were
not light sunshiny years to the young couple. It is of no use saying
that a man may prosper if he will, and that he has only to cultivate
potatoes and cabbages in place of jessamine and passion flowers; no use
making examples of Sir Joshua and Vandyke, and telling triumphantly that
they knew their business and did it simply--only pretending to get a
livelihood and satisfy the public to the best of their ability, but
ending in becoming great painters. One man's meat is another man's
poison; one man's duty is not his neighbour's. When shall we apprehend
or apply that little axiom? The Duchess of Portland killed three
thousand snails in order that she might complete the shell-work for
which she received so much credit; Dulcie would not have put her foot
voluntarily on a single snail for a pension.

It was Will Locke's fate to vibrate between drudgery and dreaming;
always tending more inevitably towards the latter, and lapsing into more
distant, absorbing trances, till he became more and more fantastic and
unearthly, with his thin light hair, his half-transparent cheek, and his
strained eyes. To prophesy on cardboard and canvas, in flower and
figure, with monster and star, crescent and triangle, in emerald green
and ruby red and sea blue, in dyes that, like those of the Bassani,
resembled the clear shining of a handful of jewels, to prophesy in high
art, to be half pitied, half derided, and to starve: was that Will
Locke's duty?

Will thought so, in the most artless, unblemished, unswerving style; and
he was a devout fellow as well as a gifted one. He bowed to revelation,
and read nature's secrets well before he forsook her for heaven, or
rather Hades. He devoted himself to the sacrifice; he did not grudge his
lust of the eye, his lust of the flesh, his pride of life. He devoted
Dulcie, not without pangs; and he devoted his little sickly children
pining and dying in St. Martin's Lane. He must follow his calling, he
must fulfil his destiny.

Dulcie was not quite such an enthusiast; she did love, honour, and obey
Will Locke, but she was sometimes almost mad to see him such a wreck. It
had been a sent evil, and she had looked down into the gulf; but she had
missed the depths. She had never seen its gloomy, dark, dreary nooks,
poor lass! in her youthful boldness and lavishness; and our little
feminine Curtius in the scoured silk, with the powdered brown curls, had
not merely to penetrate them in one plunge, but had to descend,
stumbling and groping her way, and starting back at the sense of
confinement, the damp and the darkness. Who will blame her that she
sometimes turned her head and looked back, and stretched up her arms
from the desert to the flesh-pots of Egypt? She would have borne
anything for her husband; and she did work marvels: she learned to
engrave for him, coloured constantly with her light, pliant fingers, and
drew and painted from old fresh memories those articles of stoneware for
the potteries. She clothed herself in the cheapest and most lasting of
printed linen sacques and mob caps, and hoods and aprons, fed herself
and him and the children on morsels wellnigh miraculously. She even
swallowed down the sight of Clary in her cut velvet and her own coach,
whose panel Sam Winnington himself had not thought it beneath him to
touch up for Clary's delectation and glory. If Will would only have
tarried longer about his flowers and bees, and groves and rattlesnakes:
if he had even stopped short at faces like those of Socrates, Cæsar,
Cleopatra, Fair Rosamond--what people could understand with help--and
not slid off faster and more fatally into that dim delirium of good and
evil, angels and archangels, the devil of temptation and the goblin of
the flesh, the red fiend of war, and the pale spirit of peace!

The difference which originated at Will and Dulcie's marriage had
ended in alienation. Dulcie thought that Sam Winnington would have
bridged it over at one time, if Will would have made any sign of
meeting his overtures, or acknowledged Sam's talents and fortune: nay,
even if Will had refrained from betraying his churlish doubts of Sam's
perfect deserts.

But no, this Will would not deign to do. The gentle, patient painter,
contented with his own estimation of his endowments, and resigned to
be misjudged and neglected by the world, had his own indomitable
doggedness. He would never flatter the world's low taste for
commonplace, and its miserable short-sightedness; he would never pay
homage to Sam Winnington which he did not deserve--a man very far from
his equal--a mere clever portrait-painter, little better than a
skilled stonemason. Thus Sam Winnington and Will Locke took to
flushing when each other's names were mentioned--sitting bolt upright
and declining to comment on each other's works, or else dismissing
each other's efforts in a few supremely contemptuous words. Certainly
the poor man rejected the rich not one whit less decidedly than the
rich man rejected the poor, and the Mordecais have always the best of
it. If we and our neighbours will pick out each other's eyes, commend
us to the part of brave little Jack, rather than that of the
belligerent Giant, even when they are only eyeing each other previous
to sitting down to the ominous banquet.

But this was a difficulty to Dulcie, as it is to most women. No one
thinks of men's never showing a malign influence in this world; it is
only good women who are expected to prove angels outright here below.
But it does seem that there is something more touching in their having
to stifle lawful instincts, and in their being forced to oppose and
overcome unlawful passions--covetousness, jealousy, wrath, "hatred,
malice, and all uncharitableness."

Dulcie, with the sharpness of her little face, divested of all its
counterbalancing roundness--a keen, worn little face since the day it
had smiled so confusedly but generously out of the scurvy silk in the
church at Redwater--was a sweet-looking woman under her care-laden air.
Some women retain sweetness under nought but skin and bone; they will
not pinch into meanness and spite; they have still faith and charity.
One would not wonder though Dulcie afforded more vivid glimpses of _il
Beato's_ angels after the contour of her face was completely spoilt.

You can fancy the family room in St. Martin's Lane, some five or six
years after Will Locke and Dulcie were wed, with its strange litter of
acids and aquafortis, graving tools and steel plates. Will and Dulcie
might have been some of the abounding false coiners, had it not been for
the colours, the canvas, and the vessels from the potteries, all huddled
together without attention to effect. Yet these were not without order,
for they were too busy people to be able to afford to be purely
disorderly. They could not have had the curtain less scant, for the
daylight was precious to them; they had not space for more furniture
than might have sufficed a poor tradesman or better sort of mechanic;
only there were traces of gentle birth and breeding in the casts, the
prints and portfolios, the Dutch clock, and the great hulk of a
state-bed hung with the perpetual dusky yellow damask, which served as a
nursery for the poor listless little children.

Presently Dulcie looked after the sops, and surreptitiously awarded Will
the Benjamite's portion, and Will ate it absently with the only appetite
there; though he, too, was a consumptive-looking man--a good deal more
so than when he attracted the pity of the good wife at the "Nine Miles
Inn." Then Dulcie crooned to the children of the milk-porridge she would
give them next night, and sang to them as she lulled them to sleep, her
old breezy, bountiful English songs, "Young Roger came tapping at
Dolly's window," and "I met my lad at the garden gate," and brushed
their faces into laughter with the primroses and hyacinths she had
bought for Will in Covent Garden Market. Will asked to see them in the
spring twilight, and described the banks where they grew, with some
revival of his early lore, and added a tale of the fairies who made them
their round tables and galleries, which caused the eldest child (the
only one who walked with Dulcie in his little coat to the church where
he was christened) to open his heavy eyes, and clap his hot hands, and
cry, "More, father, more." Will and Dulcie looked gladly into each
other's eyes at his animation, and boasted what a stamping, thundering
man he would yet live to be--that midge, that sprite, with Dulcie's
small skeleton bones, and Will's dry, lustreless, fair hair!

Anon while Dulcie was still rocking one of these weary children moaning
in its sleep, Will must needs strike a light to resume his beloved
labours; but first he directed his candle to his canvas, and called on
Dulcie to contemplate and comprehend, while he murmured and raved to her
of the group of fallen men and women crouching in the den--of the wind
of horror raising their hair,--of the dawn of hope bursting in the
eastern sky, and high above them the fiendish crew, and the captains of
the Blessed still swaying to and fro in the burdened air, and striking
deadly blows for supremacy. And Dulcie, open-eyed and open-mouthed as of
old, looked at the captives, as if listening to the strife that was to
come, and wellnigh heard the thunder of the captains and the shouting,
while her eye was always eagerly pointed to that pearly streak which was
to herald the one long, cool, calm, bright day of humanity. No wonder
Dulcie was as demented as Will, and thought it would be a very little
matter though the milk-porridge were sour on the morrow, or if the
carrier did not come with the price in his pocket for these sweet pots,
and bowls, and pipkins: she believed her poor babies were well at rest
from the impending dust, and din, and danger; and smiled deep, quiet
smiles at Clary--poor Clary, with her cut velvet, her coach, and her
black boy. Verily Will and Dulcie could afford to refer not only
pleasantly but mercifully, to Sam Winnington and Clary that night.

"It is contemptible to lose sight of the sublimity of life even to enjoy
perfect ease and happiness." That is a very grand saying; but, oh dear!
we are poor creatures; and though Dulcie is an infinitely nobler being
now than then, the tears are fit to start into our eyes when we remember
the little brown head which "bridled finely," the little feet which
pranced lightly, and the little tongue which wagged, free from care, in
the stage waggon on the country road yon clear September day.


VI.--SAM AND CLARISSA IN COMPANY IN LEICESTER SQUARE.

Sam and Clarissa were worshipful people now. Uncle Barnet no longer
invited them to his second-rate parties; Uncle Barnet was really proud
to visit them in their own home. Sam Winnington was a discerning
mortal; he had a faculty for discovering genius, especially that
work-a-day genius which is in rising men; and he certainly had
bird-lime wherewith he could fix their feet under his hospitable
table. The best of the sages and wits of the day were to be met in Sam
Winnington's house; the best of the sages and wits of the day thought
Clary a fine woman, though a little lofty, and Sam a good fellow, an
honest chum, a delightful companion, and at the same time the prince
of portrait-painters. What an eye he had! what a touch! How much
perception of individual character, and at the same time, what sober
judgment and elegant taste to preserve his sitters, ladies and
gentlemen, as well as men and women! Cavaliers would have it, the
ladies and gentlemen, like Sam's condescension at his wedding-feast,
overtopped the mark; but it was erring on the safe side. Who would not
sink the man in the gentleman? After all, perhaps the sages and wits
were not altogether disinterested: almost every one of them filled Sam
Winnington's famous sitter's chair, and depended on Sam's tasteful
pencil handing down their precious noses and chins to posterity.

Sam and Clary were going abroad, in that coach, which had made Dulcie
Locke look longingly after it, and ponder what it would be for one of
her frail children to have "a ride" on the box as far as Kensington.
They were bound for the house of one of the lordly patrons of arts and
letters. They were bound for my Lord Burlington's, or the Earl of
Mulgrave's, or Sir William Beechey's--for a destination where they were
a couple of mark and distinction, to be received with the utmost
consideration. Sam reared smartly his round but not ill-proportioned
person in his rich brocade coat, and Clary towered in the corner with
her white throat, and her filmy ivory-coloured laces.

We won't see many more distinguished men and women than the members of
the set who frequented the old London tea-parties; and Sam Winnington
and Clary were in it and of it, while Will Locke and Dulcie were
poverty-stricken and alone with their bantlings in the garret in St.
Martin's Lane. What becomes of the doctrine of happiness being equally
divided in this world, as so many comfortable persons love to opine?
Possibly we don't stand up for it; or we may have our loophole, by which
we may let ourselves out and drag it in. Was that illustrious voyage all
plain sailing? Sam Winnington used to draw a long sigh, and lay back his
head and close his eyes in his coach, after the rout was over. He was
not conscious of acting; he was not acting, and one might dare another,
if that other were not a cynic, to say that the motive was unworthy. He
wanted to put his sitters on a good footing with themselves; he wanted
to put the world on a good footing with itself; it was the man's nature.
He did not go very far down; he was not without his piques, and like
other good-natured men--like Will Locke, for that matter--when he was
once offended he was apt to be vindictive; but he was buoyant, and that
little man must have had a great fund of charity about him somewhere to
be drawn upon at first sight. Still this popularity was no joke. There
were other rubs. The keen love of approbation in the little man, which
was at the bottom of his suavity, was galled by the least condemnation
of his work and credit; he was too manly to enact the old man and the
ass, but successful Sam Winnington was about as soon pricked as a man
who wears a fold of silk on his breast instead of the old plate armour.

Clary had her own aggravations: with all her airs Clary was not a match
for the indomitable, unhesitating, brazen (with a golden brazenness)
women of fashion. Poor Clary had been the beauty at Redwater, the most
modish, the best informed woman there; and here, in this world of
London, to which Sam had got her an introduction, she was a nobody;
scarcely to be detected among the host of ordinary fine women, except by
Sam's reflected glory. This was a doubtful boon, an unsatisfactory rise
in the social scale. Then Clary had nobody beyond Sam to look to, and
hope and pray for: she had not even sickly children to nurse, like
Dulcie. Sam would only live to future generations in his paintings. Ah,
well! it was fortunate that Sam was a man of genius.

You may believe, for all the grand company, the coach, the cut velvet,
the laces, and the black boy, that this world was but a mighty sorry,
uneasy place to Sam and Clarissa as they rolled home over the pavement,
while Will and Dulcie slept with little betwixt them and the stars.


VII.--STRIPS SOME OF THE THORNS FROM THE HEDGE AND THE GARDEN ROSES.

Will Locke lay dying. One would have thought, from his tranquillity,
confidence, and love of work, even along with spare diet, that he would
have lived long. But dreamland cannot be a healthy region for a man in
the body to inhabit. Will was going where his visions would be as nought
to the realities. He was still one of the most peaceful, the happiest of
fellows, as he had been all his life. He babbled of the pictures he
would paint in another region, as if he were conscious that he had
painted in a former state. It seemed, too, that the poor fellow's
spiritual life, apart from his artist career, took sounder, cheerier
substance and form, as the other life grew dimmer and wilder. Dulcie was
almost reconciled to let Will go; for he would be more at home in the
spirit-world than here, and she had seen sore trouble, which taught her
to acquiesce, when there were a Father and a Friend seen glimmeringly
but hopefully beyond the gulf. Dulcie moved about, with her child
holding by her skirts, resigned and helpful in her sorrow.

The most clouded faces in the old room in St. Martin's Lane--with its
old litter, so grievous to-day, of brushes, and colours, and graving
tools, and wild pictures which the painter would never touch more--were
those of Sam Winnington and Clary. Will had bidden Sam and Clary be sent
for to his deathbed; and, offended as they had been, and widely severed
as they were now, they rose and came trembling to obey the summons.
Clary gave one look, put her handkerchief quickly to her eyes, and then
turned and softly covered the tools, lifted the boiling pot to the side
of the grate, and took Dulcie's fretful, wondering child in her lap. She
was not a fine lady now, but a woman in distress. Sam stood immoveable
and uncertain, with a man's awkwardness, but a face working with
suppressed emotion.

Will felt no restraint; he sat up in his faded coat with his cravat open
to give him air, and turning his wan face with its dark shadow towards
Sam Winnington in his velvet coat, with a diamond ring sparkling on his
splashed hand, and his colour, which had grown rosy of late years,
heightened with emotion, addressed his old friend.

"I wanted to see you, Sam; I had something on my mind, and I could not
depart with full satisfaction without saying it to you; I have done
you wrong."

Sam raised his head, startled, and stared at the sick man: poor Will
Locke; were his wits utterly gone? they had always been somewhat to
seek: though he had been a wonderful fellow, too, in his own
way--wonderful at flowers, and birds, and beasts, if he had but been
content with them.

"I called you a mere portrait-painter, Sam," continued the dying man; "I
refused to acknowledge your inspiration, and I knew better: I saw that
to you was granted the discernment to read the human face and the soul
behind it, as to me it was given to hold converse with nature and the
subtle essence of good and evil. Most painters before you have painted
masks; but yours are the clothings of immortals: and your flesh is
wonderful, Sam--how you have perfected it! And it is not true what they
tell you of your draperies: you are the only man alive who can render
them picturesque and not absurd, refined and not stinted. You were a
genteel fellow, too, from the beginning, and would no more do a dirty
action when you had only silver coins to jingle in your pockets, than
now when they are stuffed with gold moidores."

"Oh, Will, Will!" cried Sam, desperately bowing his head; "I have done
little for you."

"Man!" cried Will, with a kingly incredulity, "what could you do for me?
I wanted nothing. I was withdrawn somewhat from my proper field, to
mould and colour for daily bread; but Dulcie saved me many a wasted
hour, and I could occupy the period of a mechanical job in
conceiving--no, in marshalling my visions. Mine was a different, an
altogether higher line than yours, Sam; you will forgive me if I have
told you too abruptly," and the poverty-stricken painter, at his last
gasp, looked deprecatingly at his old honoured associate.

But he was too far gone for ceremony; he was too near release for pain.
He had even shaken hands with the few family cares he was capable of
experiencing, and had commended Dulcie to Sam Winnington without a
single doubt. He felt, like Gainsborough, that they were all going to
heaven, and Vandyke was in the company. Where was the room for
misunderstanding now! Here was the end of strife, and the conclusion of
the whole matter. Some other sentences Will spoke before his parting
breath; and when his hearers heard him murmuring the word "garment,"
they fancied he still raved of his calling--on to the end. But his mind
had turned and taken refuge in another calling, and it was in reference
to it that he quoted the fragment of a verse, "And besought him that
they might touch if it were but the border of his garment; and as many
as touched him were made whole." "Sam, have you put forth your hand?"

Thus Will Locke departed rejoicing. Dulcie, a thin forlorn widow woman,
talked with a lingering echo of his elevation, of her Will's being
beyond lamentation, and of herself and her boy's being well off with
their faith in the future. Dulcie had a proud, constant presentiment in
the recesses of her woman's heart that the husband and father's good
name and merited reputation would surely find his memory out in this
world yet. She had no material possessions save a few of his gorgeous,
gruesome, hieroglyphical pictures, and what she had borrowed or
inherited of his lower cunning in tinting, a more marketable commodity
in the present mind of society.

Dulcie disposed of Will's paintings, reluctantly, realizing an
astonishing amount; astonishing, unless you take into account the fact
that his companions and contemporaries were not sure that he was a mere
madman now that he had gone from their ranks. They wished to atone for
their dislike to his vagaries by preserving some relics of the curious
handling, the grotesque imagination, the delicate taste, and the finely
accurate knowledge of vegetable and animal forms which had passed away.

Then Dulcie went back in the waggon to her old friends at Fairfax,
and, by so doing, probably saved her sole remaining child. Dulcie did
not know whether to be glad or sorry when she found that Will's boy
had no more of his father's genius than might have been derived from
her own quick talents, and neat, nice fingers. And she was comforted:
not in the sense of marrying again--oh dear, no! she cherished the
memory of her Will as a sacred thing, and through all her returning
plumpness and rosiness--for she was still a young woman--never forgot
the honour she had borne in being a great painter's wife and companion
for half-a-dozen years. Perhaps, good as she was, she grew rather to
brandish this credit in the faces of the cloth-workers and their
wives; to speak a little bigly of the galleries and the Academy, of
chiaroscuro and perspective, of which the poor ignoramuses knew
nothing: to be obstinate on her dignity, and stand out on her
gentility far before that of the attorneys' and the doctors'
wives;--and all this though she had been, as you may remember, the
least assuming of girls, the least exacting of wives. But women have
many sides to their nature, and remain puzzles--puzzles in their
virtues as in their vices; and if Dulcie were ever guilty of
ostentation, you have not to dive deep to discover that it was out of
respect to her Will--to her great, simple, single-hearted painter.

No, Will Locke's was not a life wrecked on the rocks of adversity, any
more than Sam Winnington's was stranded on the sandbanks of prosperity.
The one did a little to mellow the other before the scenes closed, and
Will Locke was less obliged to Sam Winnington than Sam to Will in the
end. Will's nature and career were scarcely within the scope of Sam's
genial material philosophy; but the thought of them did grow to cross
Sam's mind during his long work-hours; and good painters' hours are
mostly stoutly, steadily, indefatigably long. He pondered them even when
he was jesting playfully with the affable aristocrat under his pencil;
he spoke of them often to Clary when he was sketching at her work-table
of an evening; and she, knitting beside him, would stop her work and
respond freely. Then Sam would rise, and, with his hands behind his
back, go and look at that lush, yet delicate picture of the Redwater
Bower which he had got routed out, framed, and hung in Clary's
drawing-room. He would contemplate it for many minutes at a study, and
he would repeat the study scores and scores of times with always the
same result--the conviction of the ease and security resulting from
spiritualizing matter, and the difficulty and hopelessness of
materializing spirit. And after these long looks into the past, Sam
would be more forbearing in pronouncing verdicts on his brethren,
worsted in the effort to express what was inherent in their minds; would
not decide quite so dogmatically, that all a man had to do was to be
sound and diligent, and keep himself far apart from high-flown rubbish,
like a common-sense, sober-minded Englishman. And Sam came to be less
feverishly anxious about his own monopoly of public esteem; less nettled
at art-criticism; perhaps less vivacious in his talents and well-doing,
but more manly and serene in his triumph, as Will Locke had been manly
and serene in his failure.

Will Locke's life and death, so devoid of pomp and renown, might be
beyond lamentation, after all.



ADAM HOME'S REPENTANCE.


I.--WILD, WITTY NELLY CARNEGIE.

"A bonny bride's sune buskit; eh, Nanny Swinton?"

"But ye're no bonny, Miss Nelly; na, na, ye cannot fill the shoon o' yer
leddy mother; ye're snod, and ye may shak yer tails at the Assembly, but
ye're far ahint Lady Carnegie."

"An' I've but to dance my set with young Berwickshire Home, I care not
though I bide at home after all."

But Nelly Carnegie would have little liked that resource, though she now
flung the powder out of her nut-brown hair, and tapped her little mirror
with her fan.

In a low dark closet, up a steep stair, in a narrow, confined,
dark-browed house in the Canongate of Edinburgh, one of the belles of
17--made her toilette. Her chamber woman, in curch and tartan screen,
was old nurse and sole domestic of the high-headed, strong-minded,
stately widow of a wild north-country laird, whose son now ruled alone
in the rugged family mansion among the grand, misty mountains of
Lochaber. Nelly Carnegie was no beauty; not fair as a red-and-white
rose, like Lady Eglinton, or any one of her six daughters; not dainty,
like poor imprisoned Lady Lovat; she was more like desperate Lady
Primrose, flying shrieking from her mad husband's sword and pistols, or
fierce Lady Grange, swearing her bootless revenge on the wily,
treacherous, scared Lord of Session. She was but wild, witty Nelly
Carnegie, whom no precise, stern mother could tame, no hard life at her
embroidery or her spinet could subdue. She was brown as a gipsy, skin,
eyes, and hair--the last a rich, ruddy chestnut brown--with nothing to
distinguish her figure but its diminutiveness and the nimbleness of the
shapely hands and feet; while her mother's lace lappets were higher by
half a foot than the crown of many a manikin on whom she looked down,
and her back that never bent or leant for a second on rail or cushion,
was straight as an arrow, as well as long. But Nelly, in her absurd,
magnificent brocade, and her hoop, that made her small figure like a
little russet cask, and with busk and breast-knot and top-knot, was
admired, as odd people will choose what is irregular, strange, and racy,
in preference to what is harmonious, orderly, and insipid.

Nelly had a cavalier to walk by her sedan, as her mother and she
traversed the rough streets. He handed her out at the old Assembly door,
but she flung away his hand, and followed her mother alone within the
dignified precincts, leaving a gloom and a storm on a lowering brow,
unshaded by the cocked hat, then carried under the wearer's arm.

The old Assembly Rooms where potent Jacky Murray presided, where urbane
Duncan Forbes won all hearts, where a gentle laird wooed in sweet
numbers--and in vain--the Annie Laurie of that well-known old song, are
now almost forgotten. Other things have passed away in company with the
wigs and ruffles, the patches and snuff. The grace may remain, and the
refinement be thorough where then it was superficial, but the
courtliness of conscious superiority, the picturesque contrarieties and
broken natural land that lay below the heaths and craters, exist but as
the black gloom and red glare of the past.

There the grave responsible Lord of Session, sober in mien as Scotchmen
are wont to be, sat at midnight and roared over his claret in the mad
orgies of the Hell-fire Club; here the pawky, penetrating lawyer, shrewd
both from calling and character, played the reckless game of a
correspondence with the stage Court of St. Germains; yonder mettle
beauty sailed along on her high-heeled shoes to finish the night's
triumph at an oyster supper in a den behind the Luckenbooths. And there
again walked an imperial dowager, who still span her own linen and
struck her serving-man with her ivory cane. Truly the old Edinburgh
Assembly Rooms had their secrets, and contained exciting enough elements
under their formal French polish.

The regular balls at the Assembly Rooms were eras in Nelly Carnegie's
life, and yet she met always the same company. She knew every face and
name, and what was worse, danced nightly with the same partner. The
select society was constituted at the commencement of the season, and
when once the individual fan was drawn from the cocked-hat of fate,
there was no respite, no room for change. Young Home of Staneholme had
knowledge of the filigree circle through which Nelly was wont to insert
her restless fingers, and Lady Carnegie furthered his advances; so that
although Nelly hated him as she did the gloomy Nor' Loch, she received
his escort to and from the Assembly Rooms, and walked with him her
single minuet, as inevitably as she lilted Allan Ramsay's songs, or
scalded her mouth with her morning's porridge.

Nelly's suitor was not ill to look upon, so far as flesh and blood went.
He was a well-made, robust fellow, whose laced coat and deep vest showed
the comely, vigorous proportions of youth. The face was manly, too, in
spite of its beardless one-and-twenty, but the broad eyebrows sank,
either in study or sullenness, and the jaw was hard and fixed.

Yet to see how Nelly strained her bonds, how she gecked and flouted and
looked above him, and curtsied past him, and dropped his hand as if it
were live coals, while the heavy brow grew darker, until it showed like
a thunderstorm over the burning red of the passion-flushed cheek.

"Tak tent, Nelly," whispered a sedate companion, sensible, cautious, and
canny, whose flaxen hair over its roll had the dead greyness of age,
though the face below was round and dimpled; "young Staneholme drew his
sword last night on the President's son because he speered if he had
skill to tame a goshawk."

"Tak tent, yerself, Janet Erskine," Nelly responded wrathfully; "think
twice ere you wed auld Auchtershiel."

Janet shrank, and her bright blue eye blinked uneasily, but no
additional colour came into her cheek, nor did her voice shake, though
it fell. "It must be, Nelly; I daurna deny my father, and mony mair
drink forby Auchtershiel; and if he cursed his last wife out and in, and
drove her son across the sea, they were thrawn and cankered, and he was
their richtfu' head. I'll speak him fair, and his green haughs are a
braw jointure. But, Nelly, do ye believe that the auld Laird--the auld
ane before Auchtershiel himself, he that shot the Covenanter as he hung
by the saugh over the Spinkie-water, and blasphemed when he
prayed--walks at night on the burn bank?"

"I dinna ken; if I did not fear a livin' sorrow, I would daur a dead
ane," Nelly protested, with a shade of scorn in her levity; "and ye can
bide in the house on the soft summer nights. The Lady of Auchtershiel
need not daunder by the burn side; she can be countin' her house purse
in the still room; but if I were her, I would rather beg my bread."

"Whisht, for shame, Nelly Carnegie," was returned with a shrillness in
the measured tones; "you would not; and ye'll learn yer own task, and
say Yes to sour, dour Staneholme."

"I never will; I'll let myself be starved to death, I'll throttle myself
with my own hands first," cried Nelly Carnegie, fire flashing in her
large eyes and on her dark cheeks; and looking up in her defiance she
met the glow for glow of Staneholme's star. Time-serving Janet Erskine
moved off in unconcealed trepidation, and Nelly stood her ground alone,
stamping her foot upon the boards, and struggling in vain against the
cruel influence which she could not control, and to which she would not
bend.

"He need not gloom and look at me; hearkeners never hear good of
themselves," Nelly thought, with passionate vehemence; but her sparkling
eyes fell slowly, and her proud panting heart quailed with a long throb.


II.--A GALLANT REBUFFED.--NELLY'S PUNISHMENT.

The next time Nelly saw Adam Home was by the landing in the Canongate,
in whose shelter lay the draw-well wherein the proud, gently-born
laird's daughter every afternoon dipped the Dutch porcelain jug which
carried the fresh spring-water wherewith to infuse her mother's
cherished, tiny cup of tea. Young Home was passing, and he stepped
aside, and offered to take the little vessel from her hand, and stoop
and fill it. He did this with a silent salutation and glance that,
retaining its wonted downward aim, yet suddenly lightened as if it loved
to rest upon the little girlish figure, in its homely tucked-up gown,
the crimson hood drawn over the chestnut hair that turned back in a
crisp wave from the bold, frank, innocent face. But she waved him off,
and balancing her foot upon the edge-stone, saw herself reflected in the
steel-like water. Then he begged with rare softness in a voice that was
rough and gruff, unless it deepened with strong feeling--

"Will you suffer me, Nelly Carnegie? I would give my hand to pluck but a
flower to serve you."

Had he tried that tone at first, before she was more than chilled by his
sombre and imperious gravity, before her mother supported him
unrelentingly and galled and exasperated her by persecution, he might
have attracted, fascinated, conquered. As it was, she jeered at him.

"Serve me! he could do me no better service than 'mount and go.' A posy!
it would be the stinging-nettle and dank dock if he gathered it."

The revenge he took was rude enough, but it was not unheard of in those
days. He caught her by the wrist, and under the shadow of the abutting
gable he kissed the knitted brow and curling lips, holding her the while
with a grasp so tight that it gave her pain. When she wrung herself from
him, she shook her little hand with a rage that quivered through every
nerve, and had more of hate than of romping folly or momentary pique in
its passion.

"Nelly Carnegie," said her mother, as she carefully pulled out the edge
of a coil of yellow point-lace, which rested on her inlaid foreign
work-table, and contrasted with her black mode cloak and white skinny
fingers, and looking with her keen, cold, grey eyes on the rebellious
daughter standing before her, went on, "I have word that Staneholme goes
south in ten days."

Nelly could have said, "And welcome," but she knew the consequences, and
forbore.

"He's willin' to take you with him, Nelly, and he shows his good blood
when he holds that a Carnegie needs no tocher."

Still Nelly did not answer, though she started so violently that her
loosely-crossed hands fell apart; and Nanny Swinton, who was about her
housewifery in the cupboard off the lady's parlour, heard every word,
and trembled at the pause.

"Your providing is not to buy," continued the mistress of the
aristocratic family, whose attendance was so scanty and their wants so
ill supplied that even in necessaries they were sometimes pinched;
"we've but to bid the minister and them that are allied to us in the
town, and Nanny will scour the posset dish, and bring out the big Indian
bowl, and heap fresh rose-leaves in the sweet-pots. You'll wear my
mother's white brocade that she first donned when she became a Leslie,
sib to Rothes--no a bit housewife of a south-country laird. She was a
noble woman, and you're but a heather lintie of a lass to come of a good
kind. So God bless you, bairn; ye'll tak the blast of wind and
gang."

As if the benediction had loosened the arrested tongue, Nelly burst
out--"Oh, mother, mother! no."

Lady Carnegie, in her own person, had looked upon death with unblenching
front, and had disowned her only son because, in what appeared to others
a trifle, he had opposed her law. Nor did a muscle of her marked face
now relax; her occupation went on without a check; she did not deign to
show surprise or displeasure, although her voice rose in harsh, ironical
emphasis--

"Nelly Carnegie, what's your will?"

"Not that man, mother; not that fearsome man!" pleaded Nelly, with
streaming eyes and beseeching tones, her high spirit for the moment
broken; her contempt gone, only her aversion and terror urging a
hearing--"The lad that's blate and dull till he's braggit by his
fellows, and then starker than ony carle, wild like a north-country
cateran; even the haill bench o' judges would not stand to conter him."

"He'll need his stiff temper; I couldna thole a man but had a mind of
his own, my dear," ejaculated Lady Carnegie in unexpected, clear, cherry
accents, as if her daughter's extremity was diversion to her.

"Oh, spare me, spare me, mother," Nelly began again.

"Hooly and fairly, Nelly Carnegie," interrupted the mother, still
lightly and mockingly, "who are you that ye should pick and choose? What
better man will speer your price? or think ye that I've groats laid by
to buy a puggy or a puss baudrons for my maiden lady?"

"I'll work my fingers to the bone, mother; my brother Hugh will not see
me want."

"Eat bite or sup of his victuals, or mint a Carnegie's working to me
again, Nelly, and never see my face more."

The lady had lapsed into wrath, that burned a white heat on her wrinkled
brow, and was doubly formidable because expressed by no hasty word or
gesture.

"Leave my presence, and learn your duty, belyve, for before the turn of
the moon Staneholme's wife ye sall be."

Do not think that Nelly Carnegie was beaten, because she uttered no
further remonstrance. She did not sob, and beg and pray beyond a few
minutes, but she opposed to the tyrannical mandate that disposed of her
so summarily the dead weight of passive resistance. She would give no
token of submission; would make no preparation; she would neither stir
hand nor foot in the matter. A hundred years ago, however, the head of a
family was paramount, and household discipline was wielded without
mercy. Lady Carnegie acted like a sovereign: she wasted no time on
arguments, threats or entreaties. She locked her wilful charge into a
dark sleeping-closet, and fed her on bread and water until she should
consent to her fate. Sometimes Nelly shook the door until its hinges
cracked, and sometimes she flung back the prisoner's fare doled out to
her; and then her mother came with a firm, slow, step, and in her hard,
haughty manner commanded her to cease, or she would tie her hand and
foot, and pour meat and drink down her throat in spite of her. Then
Nelly would lie down on the rough boards, and stretch out her hands as
if to push the world from her and die in her despair. But the young life
was fresh and strong within her. She panted for one breath of the breeze
that blew round craggy Arthur's Seat, and one drink of St. Anthony's
Well, and one look, if it were the last, of the golden sunshine, no
beams of which could penetrate her high, little window. She would fain
have gone again up the busy street, and watched the crowds of
passengers, and listened to the bustling traffic, and greeted her
friends and acquaintances. Silence and solitude, and the close air that
oppressed her, were things very foreign to her nature. In the dark
night, when her distempered imagination conjured up horrible dreams,
Nanny Swinton stole to her door, and bemoaned her bird, her lamb,
whispering hoarsely, "Do her biddin', Miss Nelly; she's yer leddy
mother; neither man nor God will acquit you; your burden may be lichter
than ye trow." And Nelly was weary, and had sinful, mad thoughts of
living to punish her enemies more by the fulfilment of their desire than
by the terrors of her early death. So the next time her mother tapped on
the pannel with her undaunted, unwearied "Ay or no, Nelly Carnegie? Gin
the bridal be not this week, I'll bid him tarry another; and gin he
weary and ride awa', I'll keep ye steekit here till I'm carried out a
corp before ye, and I'll leave ye my curse to be coal and candle, and
sops and wine, for the lave o' yer ill days."

Nelly gasped out a husky, wailing "Ay," and her probation was at an end.


III.--A MOURNFUL MARRIAGE EVE.

There was brief space now for Nelly's buying pearlins and pinners, and
sacques and mantles, and all a young matron's bravery, or for decorating
a guest chamber for the ceremony. But Lady Carnegie was not to be balked
for trifles. Nanny Swinton stitched night and day, with salt tears from
aged eyes moistening her thread; and Nelly did not swerve from her
compact, but acted mechanically with the others as she was told. With a
strange pallor on the olive of her cheek, and swollen, burning lids,
drooping over sunk violent lines beneath the hot eyeballs, and cold,
trembling hands, she bore Staneholme's stated presence in these long,
bleak March afternoons. He never addressed her particularly, although he
took many a long, sore look. Few and formal then were the lover's
devoirs expected or permitted.

The evening was raw and rainy; elderly gentlemen would have needed
"their lass with a lantern," to escort them from their chambers. The
old city guard sputtered their Gaelic, and stamped up and down for
warmth. The chairmen drank their last fee to keep out the cold--and
in and out of the low doorways moved middle-aged women barefooted,
and in curch and short gown, who, when snooded maidens, had gazed on
the white cockade, and the march of Prince Charlie Stuart and his
Highlandmen. Down the narrow way, in the drizzly dusk, ran a slight
figure, entirely muffled up. Fleet of foot was the runner, and blindly
she held her course. Twice she came in contact with intervening
obstacles--water-stoups on a threshold, gay ribbons fluttering from a
booth. She was flying from worse than death, with dim projects of
begging her way to the North, to the brother she had parted from when a
child; and ghastly suggestions, too, like lightning flashes, of seizing
a knife from the first butcher's block and ending her misery.

Hasty steps were treading fast upon her track. She distinguished them
with morbid acuteness through the speed of her own flight. They were
mingled steps--a feeble hurrying footfall, and an iron tread. She
threaded a group of bystanders, and, weak and helpless as she was,
prepared to dive into a mirk close. Not that black opening, Nelly
Carnegie, it is doomed to bear for generations a foul stain--the scene
of a mystery no Scottish law-court could clear--the Begbie murder. But
it was no seafaring man, with Cain's red right hand, that rushed after
trembling, fainting Nelly Carnegie. The tender arms in which she had
lain as an infant clutched her dress; and a kindly tongue faltered its
faithful, distressed petition--

"Come back, come back, Miss Nelly, afore the Leddy finds out; ye hae nae
refuge, an' ye're traced already by mair than me."

But in a moment strong hands were upon her, holding her like a
fluttering moth, or a wild panting leveret, or a bird beating its wings;
doing her no violence, however, for who would brush off the down, or
tear the soft fur, or break the ruffled feathers? She struggled so
frantically that poor old Nanny interposed--

"Na, sir; let her be; she'll gae hame wi' me, her ain born
serving-woman. And oh, Staneholme, be not hard, it's her last nicht."

That was Nelly Carnegie's marriage eve.

On the morrow the marriage was celebrated. The bridegroom might pass, in
his manly prime and his scarlet coat, although a dowf gallant; but who
would have thought that Nelly Carnegie in the white brocade which was
her grandmother's the day that made her sib to Rothes--Nelly Carnegie
who flouted at love and lovers, and sported a free, light, brave heart,
would have made so dowie a bride? The company consisted only of Lady
Carnegie's starched cousins, with their husbands and their daughters,
who yet hoped to outrival Nelly with her gloomy Lauderdale laird.

The hurried ceremony excused the customary festivities. The family party
could keep counsel, and preserve a discreet blindness when the ring
dropped from the bride's fingers, and the wine stood untasted before
her, while Lady Carnegie did the honours as if lonely age and narrow
circumstances did not exist.


IV.--NELLY CARNEGIE IN HER NEW HOME.

The March sun shone clear and cold on grey Staneholme, standing on the
verge of a wide moor, with the troubled German Ocean for a background,
and the piping east wind rattling each casement. There was haste and
hurry in Staneholme, from the Laird's mother down through her buxom
merry daughters to the bareheaded servant-lasses, and the substitutes
for groom and lacquey, in coarse homespun, and honest, broad blue
bonnets. There was bustle in the little dining-room with its high
windows, which the sea-foam sometimes dimmed, and its spindle-legged
chairs and smoked pictures. There was blithe work in the cheerful hall,
in whose broad chimney great seacoal fires blazed--at whose humming
wheels the young Mays of Staneholme, as well as its dependants, still
took their morning turn. There was willing toil in the sleeping-rooms,
with their black cabinets and heavy worsted curtains. And there was a
thronged _mêlée_ in the court formed by the outhouses, over whose walls
the small-leaved ivy of the coast clustered untreasured. Staneholme's
favourite horse was rubbing down; and Staneholme's dogs were airing in
couples. Even the tenantry of the never-failing pigeon-house at the
corner of the old garden were in turmoil, for half-a-score of their
number had been transferred to the kitchen this morning to fill the
goodly pasties which were to anticipate the blackberry tarts and sweet
puddings, freezing in rich cream. But the sun had sunk behind the moor
where the broom was only budding, and the last sea-mew had flown to its
scaur, and the smouldering whins had leaped up into the first yellow
flame of the bonfires, and the more shifting, fantastic, brilliant
banners of the aurora borealis shot across the frosty sky, before the
first faint shout announced that Staneholme and his lady had come home.
With his wife behind him on his bay, with pistols at his saddle-bow, and
"Jock" on "the long-tailed yad" at his back, with tenant retainers and
veteran domestics pressing round--and ringing shouts and homely huzzas
and good wishes filling the air, already heavy with the smoke of good
cheer--Staneholme rode in. He lifted down an unresisting burden, took in
his a damp, passive hand, and throwing over his shoulder brief, broken
thanks, hurried up the flight of stairs, through the rambling, crooked
passages into the hall.

Staneholme was always a man of few words. He was taken up, as was right,
with the little lady, whose habit trailed behind her, and who never
raised her modest eyes. "Well-a-day! the Laird's bargain was of sma'
buik," thought the retainers, but "Hurrah" for the fat brose and lumps
of corned beef, and the ale and the whisky, with which they are now to
be regaled!

In the hall stood Joan and Madge and Mysie, panting to see their grand
Edinburgh sister. They were only hindered from running down into the
yard by the deposed mistress of Staneholme, whose hair was as white as
snow, and who wore no mode mantle nor furbelows nor laces, like proud
Lady Carnegie. She was dressed in a warm plaiden gown and a close mob
cap, with huge keys and huswife balancing each other at either
pocket-hole, and her cracked voice was very sweet as she reiterated
"Bide till he bring her here, my bairns," and her kindly smile was
motherly to the whole world. But think you poor vanquished Nelly
Carnegie's crushed heart leapt up to meet these Homes--that her eyes
glanced cordially at Joan, and Madge, and Mysie--that her cheek was
bent gratefully to receive old Lady Staneholme's caress? No, no; Nelly
was too wretched to cry, but she stood there like a marble statue, and
with no more feeling, or show of feeling. Was this colourless,
motionless young girl, in her dusty, disarranged habit, and the feather
of her hat ruffled by the wind, the gay Edinburgh beauty who had won
Staneholme! What glamour of perverse fashion had she cast into his eyes!

"Wae's me, will dule never end in this weary warld? Adam lad, Adam, what
doom have you dragged doon on yoursel'?" cried Lady Staneholme; and
while the thoughtless, self-absorbed girls drew back in disappointment,
she met her son's proud eyes, and stepping past him, let her hand press
lightly for a second on his shoulder as she took in hers Nelly's
lifeless fingers. She said simply to the bride, "You are cold and weary,
my dear, and supper is served, and we'll no bide making compliments, but
you're welcome hame to your ain gudeman's house and folk; and so I'll
lead you to your chamber in Staneholme, and then to the table-head, your
future place." And on the way she explained first with noble humility
that she did not wait for a rejoinder, because she had been deaf ever
since Staneholme rode post haste from Edinburgh from the last sitting of
the Parliament; and that since she was growing old, although it was
pleasant to her to serve the bairns, yet she would be glad to relinquish
her cares, and retire to the chimney-corner to her wheel and her book;
and she blessed the Lord that she had lived to see the young mistress of
Staneholme who would guide the household when she was at her rest.
Nelly heard not, did not care to recognise that the Lady of Staneholme,
in her looks, words, and actions, was beautiful with the rare beauty of
a meek, quiet, loving spirit which in those troublous days had budded
and bloomed and been mellowed by time and trial. Nor did Nelly pause to
consider that had she chosen, she whose own mother's heart had never
melted towards her, might have been nestled in that bosom as in an ark
of peace.

When Lady Staneholme conducted Nelly down the wide staircase into the
chill dining-room, and to the chair opposite the claret-jug of the
master of the house, Nelly drew back with sullen determination.

"Na, but, my bairn, I'm blithe for you to fill my place; Staneholme's
mither may well make room for Staneholme's wife," urged the lady,
gently.

But Nelly remained childishly rooted in her refusal to preside at his
board, unless compelled; and her brow, knit at the remembrance of her
fall, was set to meet the further encounter. Joan and Madge and Mysie,
with their blooming cheeks, and their kissing-strings new for the
occasion, stared as if their strange sister was but half endowed with
mother wit; and Lady Staneholme hesitated until Adam Home uttered his
short, emphatic "As she pleases, mother," while the flush flew to his
forehead, and his firm lip shook.

Staneholme had resolved never to control the wife he had forced into his
arms, beyond the cold, daily intercourse which men will interchange with
a deadly foe, as well as with a trusty frere; never to approach her
side, nor attempt to assuage her malice nor court her frozen lips into
a smile. This was his purpose, and he abode by it. He farmed his land,
he hunted, and speared salmon, was rocked in his fishing-boat as far as
St. Abbs, read political pamphlets, and sat late over his wine, and
sometimes abetted the bold smuggling, much like his contemporaries. But
no pursuit which he followed with fitful excess seemed to satisfy him as
it did others, and he never sought to supplement it by courting his
alien wife.

Lady Staneholme would fain have made her town-bred daughter-in-law
enamoured with the duties of a country life, and cheered the strange
joylessness of her honeymoon. Failing in this attempt, she, with a
covert sigh, half-pain, half-pleasure, resumed the old oversight of
larder and dairy. Such care was then the delight of many an
unsophisticated laird's helpmate; and, to the contented Lady of
Staneholme, it had quite made up for the partial deprivation of social
intercourse to which her infirmity had subjected her. Joan, Madge, and
Mysie, wearied of haughty Nelly after they had grown accustomed to the
grand attire she wore, denied that they had ever been dazzled with it,
and ceased to believe that she had danced minuets in the Assembly Rooms
before Miss Jacky Murray. They had their own company and their own
stories, into which they had no temptation to drag an interloper.

Nelly, in her desolation standing apart in the centre of the wholesome,
happy family circle, grew to have her peculiar habits and occupations,
her self-contained life into which none of the others could penetrate.


V.--NELLY'S NEW PASTIMES.

The sea-pink and the rock saxifrage were making the rugged rocks gay,
the bluebell was nodding on the moor, and Nelly had not died, as she
foolishly fancied she should. She had learned to wander out along the
shore or over the trackless moor for hours and hours, and often returned
footsore and exhausted. She who had been accustomed only to the
Canongate and High Street of Edinburgh, the tall houses with their
occasional armorial bearings, the convenient huckster shops--their
irregular line intersected by the strait closes, the traffic and gossip;
or to the forsaken royal palace, and the cowslips of the King's
Park--could now watch the red sunset burnishing miles on miles of waving
heather, and the full moon hanging above the restless tide. She could
listen to the surf in the storm, and the ripple in the calm, to the cry
of the gull and the wh-r-r of the moorcock; pull wild thyme, and pick up
rose-tinted shells and perforated stones; and watch shyly her hardy
cottar servants cutting peats and tying up flax, and even caught
snatches of their rude Border lore of raid and foray under doughty
Homes, who wore steel cap and breastplate.

The coast-line at Staneholme was high and bold, but in place of
descending sheerly and precipitately to the yellow sands, it sloped in a
green bank, broken by gullies, where the long sea-grass grew in tangled
tufts, interspersed with the yellow leaves of the fern, and in whose
sheltered recesses Nelly Carnegie so often lingered, that she left them
to future generations as "Lady Staneholme's Walks."

There she could see the London smacks and foreign luggers beating up to
ride at the pier of Leith. There she could sit for hours, half-hidden,
and protected from the sea blast, mechanically pulling to pieces the
dried, blackened seaweed blown up among the small, prickly blush roses.
In her green quilted petticoat and spencer she might have been one of
the "good people's changelings," only the hue of her cheek was more like
that of a brownie of the wold; and, truly, to her remote world there was
an impenetrable mystery about the young mistress of Staneholme, in her
estrangement and mournfulness. Some said that she had favoured another
lover, whom Staneholme had slain in a duel or a night-brawl; some that
the old Staneholmes had sold themselves to the Devil, and a curse was on
their remotest descendants; for was not the young laird _fey_ at times,
and would not the blithe sisters pass into care-worn wives and matrons?

There sat Nelly, looking at the sea, musing dreamily and drearily on Old
Edinburgh, or pondering with sluggish curiosity over the Homes, and
what, from casual looks and words, she could not help gathering of their
history. The Lairds of Staneholme had wild moss-trooper blood in their
veins, and they had vindicated it to the last generation by unsettled
lives, reckless intermeddling with public affairs, and inveterate feuds
with their brother lairds.

Adam Home's was a hot heart, constant in its impetuosity, buried beneath
an icy crust which he strove to preserve, but which hissed and crackled
when outward motives failed, or when opposition fanned the inner glow.
With the elements of a despot but half tamed, and like many another
tyrant, unchallenged master of his surroundings, Staneholme wielded his
authority with fair result. Tenant and servant, hanger-on and sprig of
the central tree, bore regard as well as fear for the young laird--all
save Staneholme's whilom love and wedded wife.

Nelly did not wish to understand this repressed, ardent nature, although
its developments sometimes forced themselves upon her. She had heard
Staneholme hound on a refractory tyke till he shouted himself hoarse,
and yet turn aside before the badger was unearthed; she had seen him
climb the scaurs, and hang dizzily in mid-air over the black water, to
secure the wildfowl he had shot, and it was but carrion; and once, Joan
and Madge, to whom he was wont to be indulgent in a condescending,
superior way, trembled before the stamp of his foot and the kindling
flash of his eye. Some affair abroad had disturbed him and he came into
the hall, when his sisters' voices were raised giddily as they played
off an idle, ill-thought-of jest on grave, cold Nelly. "Queans and
fools," he termed them, and bade them "end their steer" so harshly, that
the free, thoughtful girls did not think of pouting or crying, but
shrank back in affright. Nelly Carnegie, whom he had humbled to the
dust, was below his anger.

When the grey mansion of Staneholme basked in the autumn sun, an
auspicious event gladdened its chambers. Joan was matched with a gay,
gallant young cousin from Teviotdale, and from the commencement of the
short wooing to the indefatigable dance which the young bride herself
led off right willingly, all was celebrated with smiles and blessings,
and harvest-home fulness of joy and gratitude. But a dark shadow moved
among the merrymakers. A young heart robbed of its rights, like an
upbraiding ghost, regarded the simple, loving, trusting pair, and
compared their consecrated vows with the mockery of a rite into which it
had been driven.

The only change time brought to Nelly, was the progress of an
unacknowledged bond between her and good old Lady Staneholme. The
obstacle to any interchange of ideas and positive confidence between
them, was the inducement to the tacit companionship adopted by the sick,
wayward heart, with its malady of wrong and grief. Influenced by an
instinctive, inexplicable attraction, Nelly's uncertain footsteps
followed Lady Staneholme, and kept pace with her soft tread, when she
overlooked her spinners and knitters, gave out her linen and spices,
turned over her herbs, and visited her sick and aged. There they were
seen--the smiling, deaf old lady, fair in her wrinkles, and her mute,
dark, sad daughter whom in patient ignorance she folded in her mantle of
universal charity.


VI.--THE LAIRD CONSCIENCE-SMITTEN.

Under a pale February sun Nelly was out on the sea-braes, where the
sprays of the briar-roses were swept in circles, streaming far and wide.
She lingered in the hollow, and strayed to the utmost limit of her path.
As she was returning, her eye fell on the folds of an object fluttering
among the tedded grass. It was Staneholme's plaid. This was the first
time he had intruded upon her solitary refuge. When Nelly climbed the
ascent, and saw the mansion house, with its encumbered court, she could
distinguish the sharp sound of a horse's hoof. Its rider was already out
of sight on the bridle-road. Michael Armstrong, the laird's man, was
mounting his own nag; Wat Pringle, the grieve, and other farm folk,
stood looking after the vanished traveller; Liddel, the Tweedside
retriever, paced discontentedly up and down; and old Lady Staneholme met
her on the threshold, and as on the night of her arrival at Staneholme,
led her up the staircase and into her sleeping-chamber. Nelly marked,
with dim dread, the tear-stains on the pallid cheeks of placid age, and
the trembling of the feeble hand that guided her. She had nothing to
fear; but what was the news for which there was such solemn preparation?

"My puir bairn," Lady Staneholme began brokenly, "I've had an interview
with my son, and I've learnt, late, some passages in the past; and I
wonder not, but I maun lament, for I am a widow mother, Nelly, and my
only son Adam who did you wrong and showed you no pity, has got his
orders to serve with the soldiers in the Low Countries. He has not
stayed to think; he has left without one farewell: he is off and away,
to wash out the sins of him and his in his young blood. I will never see
his face more: but you are a free woman; and, as the last duty he will
receive at your hand, he bids you read his words."

Nelly's hand closed tightly over its enclosure. "Who says I told he did
me wrang?" she said, proudly, her dilated eyes lifted up to the
deprecating ones that did not avoid her gaze.

"Na, na, ye never stoopit to blame him. Weary fa' him! Nelly
Carnegie," ejaculated honest Lady Staneholme, "although he is my ain
that made you his, sair, sair against your woman's will, and so binged
up blacker guilt at his doorstane, as if the lightest heritage o' sin
werena' hard to step ower. But, God forgive me! It's old Staneholme
risen up to enter afresh upon his straits, and may He send him pardon
and peace in His ain time."

"Nelly" (Staneholme's letter said),--"for _my_ Nelly you'll never be,
though the law has given me body and estate,--what garred me love you
like life or death? I've seen bonnier, and you're no so good as my
mother, or you would have forgiven me long syne. Why did you laugh, and
mock, and scorn me, when I first made up to you among your fine
Edinburgh folks? Had you turned your shoulder upon me with still
steadfastness, I might have been driven to the wall--I would have
believed you. When you said that you would lie in the grave sooner than
in my arms, you roused the evil temper within me; and though I had
mounted the Grassmarket, I swore I would make you my wife. What call or
title had you, a young lass, to thwart your lady mother and the Laird of
Staneholme? And when I had gone thus far--oh! Nelly, pity me--there was
no room to repent or turn back. I dared not leave you to dree alane your
mother's wrath: there was less risk in your wild heart beating itself to
death against the other, that would have gladly shed its last drop for
its captive's sake. But Heaven punished me. I found, Nelly, that the
hand that had dealt the blow could not heal it. How could I approach you
with soft words, that had good right to shed tears of blood for my
deeds? So, as I cannot put my hand on my breast and die like my father,
I'll quit my moors and haughs and my country; I'll cross the sea and
bear the musquetoon, and never return--in part to atone to you, for you
sall have the choice to rule with my mother in the routh and goodwill of
Staneholme, or to take the fee for the dowager lands of Eweford, and
dwell in state in the centre of the stone and lime, and reek, and lords
and ladies of Edinburgh; in part because I can hold out no longer, nor
bide another day in Tantalus, which is the book name for an ill place of
fruitless longing and blighted hope. I'll no be near you in your danger,
because when other wives cry for the strong, grieved faces of their
gudemen, you will ban the day your een first fell upon me. Nelly
Carnegie, why did my love bring no return; no ae sweet kiss; never yet a
kind blink of your brown een, that ance looked at me in gay defiance,
and now heavily and darkly, till they close on this world?"

Something more Staneholme raved of this undeserved, unwon love, whose
possession had become an exaggerated good which he had continued to
crave without word or sign, with a boy's frenzy and a man's stanchness.
Nelly lost her power of will: she sat with the paper in her hand as if
she had ceased to comprehend its contents--as if its release from
bondage came too late.

"Dinna ye ken, Nelly woman, his presence will vex you no longer? you're
at liberty to go your own gate, and be as you have been--that was his
propine," whispered Lady Staneholme, in sorrowful perplexity, but
without rousing Nelly from her stupor. They lifted her on her bed, and
watched her until her trial took hold of her. No stand did Nelly make
against pain and anguish. She was sinking fast into that dreamless sleep
where the weary are at rest, when Lady Staneholme stood by her bed and
laid an heir by her side, bidding her rejoice, in tones that fell off
into a faint quivering sob of tenderness and woe; but Nelly's crushed,
stunned heart had still some hidden spring among its withered verdure,
and her Benoni called her back from the land of forgetfulness.


VII.--BLESSING AND AFFLICTION--ADAM HOME'S RETURN.

Nelly recovered, at first slowly but cheeringly, latterly with a doubt
and apprehension creeping over her brightening prospect--until, all too
certainly and hopelessly, her noon, that had been disturbed with
thunder-claps and dashing rain, was shrouded in grey twilight.

Nelly would live, but her limbs would never more obey her active spirit,
for she had been attacked by a relentless malady. The little feet that
had slid in courtly measure, and twinkled in blithe strathspeys, and
wandered restlessly over moor and brae, were stretched out in leaden
helplessness. When she was young, she "had girded herself and gone
whither she would;" but now, ere she was old, while there was not one
silver thread in those chestnut locks, "another would gird her and carry
her whither she would not." And oh! to think how the young mother's
heart, ready to bud and bloom anew, was doomed to drag out a protracted
existence, linked to the corpse-like frame of threescore and ten, until
the angel of death freed it from its tabernacle of clay.

Nelly never spoke of her affliction--never parted from her baby.
Travelling with difficulty, she removed to Edinburgh, to the aspiring
tenement in the busy Canongate, which she had quitted in her
distraction. Lady Carnegie, in her rustling silk and with her clicking
ivory shuttle, received her into her little household, but did not care
to conceal that she did so on account of the aliment Staneholme had
secured to his forsaken wife and heir. She did not endure the occasional
sight of her daughter's infirmities without beshrewing them, as a
reflection on her own dignity. She even sneered and scoffed at them,
until Nanny Swinton began to fear that the judgment of God might strike
her lady--a venerable grandame still without one weakness of bodily
decay or human affection.

And did Nelly fret and moan over the invalid condition for which there
was neither palliation nor remedy? Nay, a blessing upon her at last; she
began to witness a good testimony to the original mettle and bravery of
her nature. She accepted the tangible evil direct from God's hand,
sighingly, submissively, and with a noble meekness of resignation. She
rose above her hapless lot--the old Nelly Carnegie, though subdued and
chastened, was in a degree restored.

"Nanny! Nanny Swinton!" called Nelly from her couch, as she managed to
hold up, almost exultingly, the big crowing baby, in its quaintest of
mantles and caps, "Staneholme's son's a braw bairn, well worthy Lady
Carnegie's coral and bells."

"'Deed is he," Nanny assented. "He'll grow up a stately man like his
grandsire;" and recurring naturally to forbidden memories, she went on:
"He'll be the marrow of Master Hugh. Ye dinna mind Master Hugh, Lady
Staneholme?--the picture o' auld Lady Carnegie. That I sud call her
auld!"

Nelly's brow contracted with something of its old indignation. "There's
never a look of the Carnegies in my son; he has his father's brow and
lip and hair, and you're but a gowk, Nanny Swinton!" and Nelly lay back
and closed her eyes, and after a season opened them again, to tell Nanny
Swinton that "she had been dreaming of a strange foreign city, full of
pictures and carved woodwork, and of a high-road traversing a rich
plain, shaded by apple and chestnut trees, and of something winding and
glittering through the branches," leaving Nanny, who could not stand the
sight of two magpies, or of a cuckoo, of a morning before she had broken
her fast, sorely troubled to account for the vision.

The gloaming of a night in June was on the Canongate and the silent
palace of the gallant, gentle King James. Lady Carnegie was gracing some
rout or drum; Nanny Swinton was in her kitchen, burnishing her
superannuated treasures, and crooning to herself as she worked; Nelly,
in her solitary, shadowy room, lay plaiting and pinching the cambric and
muslin gear whose manufacture was her daily occupation, with her child's
clumsy cradle drawn within reach of her hand. Through the dim light, she
distinguished a man's figure at the door. Nelly knew full well those
lineaments, with their mingled fire and gloom. They did not exasperate
her as they had once done; they appalled her with great shuddering; and
sinking back, Nelly gasped--

"Are you dead and gone, Staneholme? Do you walk to seek my love that ye
prigget for, but which canna gladden you now? Gae back to the bottom of
the sea, or the bloody battle-field, and in the Lord's name rest there."

The figure stepped nearer; and Nelly, even in her blinding terror,
distinguished that it was no shadowy apparition, but mortal like
herself. The curdling blood rushed back to Nelly's face, flooding the
colourless cheek, and firing her with a new impulse. She snatched her
child from its slumber, and clasped it to her breast with her thin
transparent hands.

"Have you come back to claim your son, Adam Home? But you'll have to
tear him from me with your man's strength, for he's mine as well as
yours; and he's my last, my only jewel."

And Nelly sat bolt upright, her rosy burden contrasting with her young,
faded face, and her large eyes beginning to flame like those of a wild
beast about to be robbed of its young.

"Oh no, Nelly, no," groaned Staneholme, covering his face; "I heard of
your distress, and I came but to speer of your welfare." And he made a
motion to withdraw.

But Nelly's heart smote her for the wrong her rash words had done him--a
wayworn, conscience-smitten man--and she recalled him relentingly.

"Ye may have meant well. I bear you no ill-will; I am stricken myself.
Take a look at your laddie, Adam Home, before ye gang."

He advanced when she bade him, and received the child from her arms; but
with such pause and hesitation that it might have seemed he thought more
of his hands again meeting poor Nelly Carnegie's, and of her breath
fanning his cheek, than of the precious load she magnanimously intrusted
to him. He did look at the infant in his awkward grasp, but it was with
a stifled sigh of disappointment.

"He may be a braw bairn, Nelly--I know not--but he has no look of
yours."

"Na, he's a Home every inch of him, my bonny boy!" Nelly assented,
eagerly. After a moment she turned her head, and added peevishly, "I'm a
sick woman, and ye needna mind what I say; I'm no fit for company. Good
day; but mind, I've forgotten and forgiven, and wish my bairn's father
well."

"Nanny Swinton," called Nelly to her faithful nurse, as she lay awake on
her bed, deep in the sober dimness of the summer night, "think you that
Staneholme will be booted and spurred with the sun, riding through the
Loudons to Lauderdale?"

"It's like, Lady Staneholme," answered Nanny, drowsily. "The keep o' man
and beast is heavy in the town, and he'll be tain to look on his ain
house, and greet the folk at home after these mony months beyond the
seas. Preserve him and ilka kindly Scot from fell Popish notions rife
yonder!"

"A miserable comforter are you, Nanny Swinton," muttered her mistress,
as she hushed her child, and pressed her fevered lips to each tiny
feature.


VIII.--THE RECONCILIATION AND RETURN TO STANEHOLME.

But Staneholme came again in broad light, the next day--the next--and
the next, with half excuses and vague talk of business. Lady Carnegie
did not interdict his visits, or blame his weakness and inconsistency,
for they were seemly in the eyes of the world--which she honoured, after
herself, although she washed her hands of the further concerns of these
fools.

And Nelly talked to him with a grave friendliness, like one restored
from madness or risen from another world. "Staneholme, you've never
kissed the wean, and it's an ill omen," she said, suddenly, watching him
intently as he dandled the child; and as if jealous of any omission
regarding it, she appeared satisfied when he complied with her fancy.

"The curtain is drawn, and the shadow is on you; but is that a scar on
your brow, Staneholme, and where did you get it?"

"A clour from a French pistol;" it was but skin deep--he was off his
camp-bed in a few days.

He stooped forward, as he spoke slightingly, and pushed back the hair
that half obscured the faint blue seam.

"Whisht!" said Nelly, reprovingly, "dinna scorn sickness; that bit
stroke might have cost Lady Staneholme her son and my bairn his father;"
and she bent towards him in her turn, and passed her fingers curiously
and pityingly over the healed wound, ignorant how it burned and throbbed
under her touch. "When the bairn is grown, and can rin his lane,
Staneholme," Nelly informed him in her new-found freedom of speech, "I
will send him for a summer to Staneholme; I'll be lonesome without him,
but Michael Armstrong will teach him to ride, and he'll stand by Lady
Staneholme's knee." Staneholme expressed no gratitude for the offer, he
was fastening the buckle of his beaver. The next time he came he twisted
a rose in his hand, and Nelly felt that it must indeed be Beltane: she
looked at the flower wistfully, and wondered "would the breezes be
shaking the bear and the briar roses on the sea-braes at Staneholme, or
were the grapes of southern vines bonnier than they?" He flung down the
flower, and strode to her side.

"Come hame, Nelly," he prayed passionately; "byganes may be byganes now.
I've deserted the campaign, I've left its honours and its dangers--and I
could have liked them well--to free men, and am here to take you hame."

Nelly was thunderstruck. "Hame!" she said, at last, slowly, "where you
compelled me to travel, where I gloomed on you day and night, as I
vowed; I, who would not be a charge and an oppression to the
farthest-off cousin that bears your name. Are you demented?"

"And this is the end," groaned Staneholme, in bitterness; "I dreamt that
I would win at last. I did not love you for your health and strength, or
your youth and beauty. I declare to you, Nelly Carnegie, your face is
fairer to me, lying lily white on your pillow there, than when it was
fresh like that rose; and when others deserted you and left you forlorn,
I thought I might try again, and wha kent but the ill would be blotted
out for the very sake of the strong love that wrought it?"

A dimness came across Nelly's eyes, and a faintness over her choking
heart; but she pressed her hands upon her breast, and strove against it
for the sake of her womanhood.

"And I dreamed," she answered slowly and tremulously, "that it bude to
be true, true love, however it had sinned, that neither slight nor
hate, nor absence nor fell decay could uproot; and that could tempt me
to break my plighted word, and lay my infirmity on the man that
bargained for me like gear, and that I swore--Heaven absolve me!--I
would gar rue his success till his deein' day. Adam Home, what are you
seekin' at my hands?"

"Nae mair than you'll grant, Nelly Carnegie--pardon and peace, and my
young gudewife, the desire o' my eyes. I'll be feet to you, Nelly, as
long's I'm to the fore."

"Big tramping feet, Staneholme," said Nelly, trying to jest, and pushing
him back; "dinna promise ower fair. Na, Adam Home, you'll wauken the
bairn!"

So Staneholme bought the grand new family coach of which the Homes had
talked for the last generation; and Lady Carnegie curtsied her
supercilious adieus, and hoped her son and daughter would be better
keepers at home for the future. And Nanny Swinton wore her new gown
and cockernonie, and blessed her bairn and her bairn's bairn, through
tears that were now no more than a sunny shower, the silver mist of
the past storm.

There was brooding heat on the moors and a glory on the sea when
Staneholme rode by his lady's coach, within sight of home.

"There will be no great gathering to-night, Staneholme; no shots or
cheers; no lunt in the blue sky; only doubt and amaze about an old man
and wife: but there will be two happy hearts that were heavy as stane
before. Well-a-day! to think I should be fain to return this way!"

Staneholme laughed, and retorted something perhaps neither quite modest
nor wise; but the ready tongue that had learnt so speedily to pour
itself out to his greedy ears did not now scold and contradict him, but
sighed--

"Ah, Adam Home, you do not have the best of it; it is sweet to be beat;
I didna ken--I never guessed that."

Gladly astounded were the retainers of Staneholme at their young laird's
unannounced return, safe and sound, from the wars; but greater and more
agreeable was their friendly surprise to find that his sick wife, who
came back with him unstrengthened in body, was healed and hearty in
spirit. Well might good old Lady Staneholme rejoice, and hush her bold
grandson, for the change was not evanescent or its effects uncertain. As
Staneholme drove out his ailing wife, or constructed a seat for her on
the fresh moor, or looked at her stitching his frilled shirts as
intently as the child's falling collars, and talked to her of his duties
and his sports, his wildness was controlled and dignified. And when he
sat, the head and protector of his deaf old mother, and his little
frolicsome, fearless child, and his Nelly Carnegie, whose spirit had
come again, but whose body remained but a sear relic of her blooming
youth, his fitful melancholy melted into the sober tenderness of a
penitent, believing man, who dares not complain, but who must praise God
and be thankful, so long as life's greatest boons are spared to him.



HECTOR GARRET OF OTTER.


I.--THE FIRE.

A calm, pure summer moonlight fell upon the Ayrshire mosses and deans,
but did not silver, as far as we are concerned, the Carrick Castle of
Bruce, nor Cameron's lair amidst the heather, nor landward Tintock, nor
even seagirt Ailsa Craig, but only the rolling waves of the Atlantic and
a grey turreted mansion-house built on a promontory running abruptly
into the water. The dim ivory light illuminated a gay company met in the
dwelling with little thought of stillness or solemnity, but with their
own sense of effect, grouped carelessly, yet not ungracefully, in an
old-fashioned, though not unsuitable drawing-room.

They needed relief, these brilliant supple figures; they demanded the
background of grey hangings, scant carpet, spindle-legged chairs, and
hard sombre prints. To these very cultivated, very artificial and
picturesque personages, a family sitting-room was but a stage, where
lively, capricious, yet calculating actors were engaged in playing
their parts.

The party were mostly French, from the mass of gallant, dauntless
emigrants, many of whom were thus entertained with grateful,
commiserating hospitality in households whose members had but lately
basked in the sparkling geniality of the southern atmosphere, now lurid
and surcharged with thunder.

There was a Marquise, worldly, light, and vain, whom adversity had not
broken, and could not sour; an Abbé, bland and double, but gentle and
kindly in his way; a soldier, volatile, hot-headed, brave as a lion,
simple as a child; an older man, sad, sneering, indifferent to this
world and the next, but with the wrecks of a noble head, and, God help
him, a noble heart.

Of the three individuals present of a different nation and creed, two
closely resembled the others with only that vague, impalpable, but
perceptible distinction of those whose rearing affords a superficial
growth which overspreads but does not annihilate the original plant. The
one was a young man, buoyant, flippant, and reckless as the French
soldier, but with a bold defiance in his tone which was all his own; the
other a young girl, coquettish and vivacious as the Marquise, but with a
deep consciousness under her feigning, an undercurrent of watchful pride
and passion, of which her model was destitute. The last of the circle
was a fair-haired, broad-shouldered lad, who stood apart from the
others, big, shy, silent:--but he was earnest amid their shallowness,
noble amid their hollowness, and devoted amid their fickleness. How he
gazed on the arch, haughty girl, with her lilies and roses, her
pencilled brows, her magnificent hair magnificently arranged, with her
rich silk and airy lace, and muslin folded and gathered and falling
into lines which were the very poetry of attire, unless where a piquant
provoking frill, band, or peak, reminded the gazer that the princess was
a woman, a mocking mischievous woman, as well as a radiant lady! How he
listened to her contradictory words, witty and liquid even in their most
worthless accents! how he drank in her songs, the notes of her harp, the
rustle of her dress, the fall of her foot! how he started if she moved!
how he saw her, though his eyes were on the ground, and though his head
was in his hands, while she marked him ceaselessly, half with cruel
triumph, half with a flutter and faintness which she angrily and
scornfully resisted and denied.

A few more gay _bons mots_ and repartees, a last epigram from the Abbé,
a court anecdote from the Marquise which might have figured in one of
those letters of Madame de Sévigné where the freshness of the haymaker
of Les Rochers survives the glare and the terrible staleness of the
Versailles of Louis XV., a blunt camp jest from the soldier, a sarcasm
from the philosopher, a joyous barcarole, strangely succeeded by a
snatch from that lament of woe wrung forth by the fatal field of
Flodden, and the company dispersed. The horse's hoofs of the single
stranger of the evening rung on the causeway, as he made for the smooth
sands of the bay, the lights one by one leaping out, and the pale moon
remaining mistress of Earlscraig as when the warder on yon tower peered
out over the waters for the boats of the savage Irish kern, or lit the
bale-fire that summoned Montgomery and Muir to ride and run for the love
or the fear of Boswell of Earlscraig.

Had these old-world times returned by magic? had a crazed serving-man
revived the vanished duties of his warlike predecessor? was the wraith
of seneschal or man-at-arms conjuring up a ghostly beacon to stream into
the soft air? was an evil spirit about to bewilder and mislead a fated
ship to meet its doom on the jagged rocks beneath the dead calm of that
glassy sea? So dense was the vapour that suddenly gathered over
Earlscraig, till like an electric flash, a jet of flame sprang from a
high casement and lit up the gathering obscurity. No horn blew, no bugle
sounded, no tramp of horse or hurrying feet broke the silence; the house
lay in profound rest, and the sleepers slept on, though truly that was
no phantom glare, no marsh gleam, but the near presence of an awful foe.

And the smoke burst forth in thicker, more suffocating volume; the red
streamers shot up again and again, and the burning embers fell like
thickest swarms of fire-flies, before a single hasty step roused an echo
already lost in the roar and crackle of fire. A scared, half-dressed
servant ran out into the court, flung up his hands as he looked around
him, then hurried back, and suddenly the great bell pealed out its
faithful alarum. "Good folk, good folk, danger is at the door! For
Jesu's sake and your dear lives, up and flee! The angels hold out their
hands, Sodom is around you--away, away!"

The summons was not in vain. Within a few seconds clamorous outcries,
shrieks of dismay, the dashing open of doors and windows, answered the
proclamation. A horror-struck crowd assembled rapidly in the court; but
notwithstanding that the Abbé's wan face and shaven crown appeared
speedily, and the soldier shouted, "Who is in danger? _mes camarades,
suivez-moi!_" the philosopher instinctively elected himself commander;
he rose, tall and erect, over the heads of his fellows; his face flushed
and brightened; and he spoke words of wisdom and resolution whose spirit
men recognised through the veil of his frozen tongue; while cravens
shrank back, brave men rallied round him!

"Where is Boswell? _Mon Dieu!_ the house is burning and the master is
not found! Adolphe, _sauve la Marquise, cet escalier n'est pas perdu_.
But where is Boswell? Show his room to me--the nearest way--quick, or he
perishes. _Ah, le voilà!_"

Down a flight of side steps stumbled the butler and a favourite groom,
bearing between them the young laird, motionless, senseless, his dress
dishevelled, but unscathed by flame, and unstained by blood; still
breathing, but his marked imperious features were unconscious, heavy,
and lethargic.

The Abbé and his elder friend exchanged glances. The brow of the latter
contracted in disgust and gloom.

"Adolphe and he played billiards against my desire, as if he were not
_bête_ enough already," he said in an undertone. "Lay him here, my
friends," to the servants, "and listen to me. If you love the Seigneur,
let him never know that thus it happened this night. Cover him with a
mantle; he will awake to see his chateau a ruin. _Mais, n'importe_, we
will do our best. Carry out what is most precious; bring up buckets of
water. _Ma foi!_ there is enough at hand."

Yes; at their feet, but by a few fathoms unavailable, lay the broad
sea, sufficient to extinguish the conflagration of a thousand cities,
while the house above was rent with fierce heat, which reddened the sea
like blood.

The Marquise was rescued sobbing and shivering, but she shared her
blanket with one of the poor servant-girls. Even the old bed-ridden
nurse, so blind and stupid with age that none could satisfy her of the
cause of the tumult and din, was carried out, and placed on the grass
terrace beside the master; where no sooner did she apprehend intuitively
the neighbourhood of her proudly cherished nursling, than she left off
her weak wailing, and began to croon over him as fondly and contentedly
as when he lay an innocent babe in his cradle:

"Are you weary, Earlscraig? Have you come back sorely tired from the
hunt or the race? Weary fa' the men folk that let you lie down with the
dew-draps on your bonny curls--bonnier than Miss Alice's, for a' their
fleechin'--as if it were high noon. No but noontide has its ills, too;
but you would never heed a bonnet, neither for sun nor wind. A wild
laddie, a wild laddie, Earlscraig!"

Eager but ignorant hands were piling up heaps of miscellaneous
goods--pictures, feather-beds, old armour, plate, mirrors, harness,
carpets, and wearing apparel. All were tossed together in wild
confusion. The moon was hidden; air, earth, and water were lurid; a
hot blast blew in men's faces, which alone remained white and haggard,
when a murmur and question, a doubt and frenzy, first stirred and fast
convulsed the mass. "Where is Miss Alice?" Ay, where was Miss Alice?
Who had seen her? Speak, in God's name!--shout her name until her
voice replies, and men's shuddering souls are freed from this ghastly
nightmare.

Miss Alice! Alice Boswell! are you safe, lamenting unseen the home of
your fathers? Or are you within that turret whose foundation rock
descends sheer into the sea--that turret close by which the demon began
his work, where his forked tongue is now licking each loophole and
outlet, where beams are bursting and the yawning jaws of hell are about
to swallow up the rapid wreck--forgotten, forsaken--the queen of hearts,
the wooed and worshipped beauty; fair and sweet, ripe and rare, the sole
daughter of the race; the charm and delight of its grey heads?

Oh, Father, thou art terrible in thy decrees! Oh, men, ye are miserable
fools! She is there by the blazing framework of the window of her
chamber, which she has never quitted; her hair loose, some portion of
her dress cast about her, her eyes wide open and glazing with terror,
but strangely beautiful--with a glory behind and about her; an unearthly
brightness upon brow and cheek, and white arms stretched out
imploringly, despairingly for help in her utmost need.

They pressed forward; they looked up in anguish; old men who had
followed her when a fairy child, friends of long standing, acquaintances
of yesterday. Again and again the gallant soldier penetrated the low
doorway; again and again he swerved and recoiled from the furnace fumes
that met him--a more fearful encounter than the fury of the
sans-culottes and the reeking pools beneath the guillotine.

"_Courage, soldats! Vive la mort, pour la femme et pour la gloire!_" and
with a shout half-exulting, half-maddened, the Gallic blood again fired
to the desperate feat. Then there was a diversion--a rush to the
opposite side of the building--a ladder might be of use there. A notion
of forcing open a closed-up and disused gallery of communication, seized
hold of these agitated minds, and this afforded a vent to the pent-up
sympathy and distress. New energy supplanted stupor; and through the
deep hush of the fire could be distinguished the blows of axe and
hammer, wielded lustily by stalwart and devoted arms, eager to clear a
way of life and liberty for the captive.

But this was a work of time, and louder crackled and hissed the flames.
A fiercer blaze filled the sky, and glittered back from the waves; the
serpent tongues drew together, and shot up through the room in a yellow
pyramid. In vain! in vain! The zealous labourers panted in the sickness
of horror and the chill of great awe.

"A boat! a boat!" called a voice from the outer circle. The thinker, the
scorner, stood on the verge of the rocks above the illuminated sea, his
head bare, his coat stripped off. "Let Mademoiselle cast herself from
the casement instantly; it is her only hope. I can swim; I will hold her
up until a boat is launched. _Courage, Mademoiselle!_ trust in God and
in me."

"Yes, Marquise," he whispered for a second to his countrywoman near him;
"I have lost God for many a day; I have found him again in this hour. A
_Te Deum_ for my requiem!" and looking aghast upon his face in the great
light, the Marquise crossed herself, and averred ever afterwards that
it was transformed like unto that of his patron saint, St. Francis. The
next moment he plunged into the midnight sea. Those who witnessed the
action declared that the reflection of the burning was so strong that he
seemed to sink into a lake of fire, where he rose again presently, and
breasted the waters stoutly.

The girl saw the design; she comprehended it, and the hoarse murmur of
encouragement that hailed its presence of mind. The concentration of the
flames, which threatened every moment to bring down a portion of the
ponderous roof in one destroying crash, left a freer passage. She
advanced quickly--she put her foot on the smouldering sill; she paused,
hesitated. It was a fearful alternative.

"Leap down, leap down, Miss Alice; a drowning man has two lives, a
burning man but one. Down, down, or you are lost!"

But another cry mingled with the vehement appeal--a piercing, confident
cry, that would have vibrated on the dull ear of the dying, though it
said only, "I am coming. Alice Boswell: I am coming!"

He was there, on his panting, foam-flecked horse: he flung himself from
his saddle; he heard her answer, "Hector Garret, save me, save me!"

He broke the circle as Samson burst the green withes: he paralysed all
remonstrance; he vanished into the abyss which the great staircase
presented. He must have borne a charmed life to reach thus far--when a
mightier roar, a perfect column of fire, a thundering avalanche of
glowing timber and huge stones descended with a shock of an earthquake,
and rebounded into the sea, engulfing for ever the fair slight form
within.

By daring and magnanimous effort and main force, other arms bore back
Hector Garret from the tottering walls and shaken foundation: and the
boat rowed out and delivered the heroic Frenchman. The sinking in of the
turret roof satiated the destroyer, so that the further wing of the
house was preserved. Its master lived unharmed, to rouse himself from
his portentous slumber and face his calamity, while the lover lay
writhing and raging in the clutch of wild fever.

But the summer sun shining down on the sea, once more blue and clear as
heaven, fell on black yawning gaps and mounds of ashes; on shivered
glass and strewn relics of former luxury; on the very grass of the
promontory, brown and withered, and trodden into the earth for many a
yard; on the horrible grave of the maiden who had watched her own image
in the crystal pools, lilted her siren songs to the break of the waves,
woven at once chains for her adorers and the web of that destiny which
buried her there, unshrouded and uncoffined.


II.--THE OFFER.

The Clyde was forded by man and horse where ships now ride at anchor;
but the rush of trade, not quite so deep and rapid fifty years since as
now, yet strong and swift, the growth of centuries, was hurrying,
jostling, trampling onward in Jamaica Street and Buchanan Street and
their busy thoroughfares. Within our quarter, however, were stillness
and dimness, the cold, lofty, classic repose of the noble college to
which a professor's house was in immediate vicinity.

The room, large, low-roofed, with small, peaked windows, had not been
built in modern times. The furniture was almost in keeping: roomy
settees, broad, plain, ribbed-back chairs, with faded worked covers,
the task of fingers crumbled into dust, heavy bookcases loaded with
proportionably ponderous or curiously quaint volumes, and mirrors,
with their frames like coffins covered with black velvet and relieved
by gilding.

The only fresh and fragrant thing in the room--ay, or in the house,
where master and mistress and servants were old and withered--was a
young girl seated on a window-seat, her hands lightly crossed, watching
the white clouds in the July sky, white, though nothing else is so in
Glasgow, where the air is heavy with perpetual smoke and vapour.

That girl, too broad-browed and large-eyed for mere youthful beauty, but
with such an arch, delicate, girlish mouth and chin as betokened her a
frank, unsophisticated, merry child after all, was Leslie Bower, the
young daughter and only child of an erudite and venerated professor.

Leslie had no brothers and no sisters, and in a sense she had neither
father nor mother, for Professor Bower was the son, husband, and father
of his books, and he had so mighty a family of these, ancient and
modern, that he had very little time or attention to spare for ties of
the flesh. He was a mild, absent, engrossed old man, flashing into
energy and genius in his own field of learning, but in the world of
ordinary humanity a body without a soul.

Professor Bower married late in life a timid, shrinking English wife,
who, removed from all early ties, and never mingling in Glasgow society,
lapsed into a stillness as profound as his own.

Dr. Bower took little notice of his child; what with duties and studies,
he had no leisure; he read in his slippered morning gown, he read at
meals, he read by his evening lamp; probably, if Mrs. Bower would have
confessed it, he kept a volume under his pillow. No wonder he was a
blear-eyed, poking, muttering old man, for he was much more interested
in Hannibal than in Bonaparte, and regarded Leslie, like the house, the
yearly income, the rector, the students, the janitors, as one of many
abstract facts with which he troubled himself as little as possible.

Mrs. Bower cared for Leslie's health and comfort with scrupulous nervous
exactness, but she was incapable of any other demonstration of regard.
She was as shy and egotistical as poor Louis XVI., and perhaps it would
have demanded as tragic a domestic revolution to have stirred her up to
lively tenderness. Leslie might have been as dubious as Marie Antoinette
of the amount of love entertained for her by her nearest kin, but
curiously, though affectionate and passionate enough to have been the
pure and innocent child of some fiery Jocobin, she had not vexed herself
about this mystery. One sees every day lush purple and rose-flowered
plants growing in unaccountable shade; true, their associates are pale
and drooping, and the growth of the hardier is treacherous, and may
distil poison, but the evil principle is gradual, and after conditions
have been confirmed and matured.

The stronger portion of Leslie's nature, which required abundant and
invigorating food, was slow of development; the lighter side flourished
in the silent, dull house, where nothing else courted the sunbeam. In
her childhood and girlhood, Leslie had gone out to school, and although
always somewhat marked and individual in character, she had companions,
friends, sufficient sympathy and intercourse for an independent, buoyant
nature at the most plastic period of its existence. This stage of life
was but lately left behind; Leslie had not long learnt that now she was
removed from classes and masters, and must in a great measure confine
her acquaintances to those who returned her visits at her father's
house; and as visitors put mamma and papa about, and did not suit their
habits, she must resign her little world, and be almost as quiet and
solitary as her elders. Leslie had just begun to sigh a little for the
old thronged, bustling class-rooms which she had lightly esteemed, and
was active by fits and starts in numerous self-adopted occupations which
could put former ones out of her head, and fill up the great blanks in
her time and thoughts, for she was not inclined to sit down under a
difficulty, and instinctively battled with it in a thousand ways.

Thus Leslie had her flower-painting--few natural flowers she saw, poor
girl--card boxes, worsted vases, eggshell baskets, embroidery pieces,
canary bird, and books--the last greedily devoured. She did not assist
her mother, because although their household was limited, Mrs. Bower's
quiet, methodical plans were perfect, and she gently declined all
interference with her daily round. Neither did Leslie work for her
father, because the professor would as soon have employed her canary
bird. She was not thoughtful and painstaking for the poor, because,
though accustomed to a species of almsgiving, she heard nothing, saw
nothing of nearer or higher association with her neighbours. Yet there
was capacity enough in that heart and brain for good or for evil.

So Leslie sat there, pausing in her sewing, and gazing idly at the sky,
with a girl's quick pensiveness and thick-coming fancies, as she mused.

How blue it was yonder! What glorious clouds! yet the world below was
rather stupid and tiresome, and it was hard to say what people toiled so
arduously for. There were other lands and other people: should she ever
see them? Surely, for she was quite young. She wished they could go in
summer 'down the water,' out of this din and dust, to some coast village
or lonely loch between lofty purple mountains, such as she had seen when
with Mrs. Elliot; papa might spare a few weeks, people no richer did;
they had no holidays, and it was so hot and close, and always the same.
But she supposed she must be contented, and would go away to cool and
compose herself in the crypt of their own cathedral. How grand it was;
how solemn the aisles and arches on every side, like forest trees; and
then the monuments--what stories she invented for them! St. Mungo's
Well! St. Mungo, austere, yet beneficent; with bare feet, cowled head,
scarred back, and hardest of all, swept and garnished heart, with his
fruitful blessing, 'Let Glasgow flourish.' What would St. Mungo think
now of the city of the tree, the fish, and the bell?

This hoar, venerable, beautiful feat of art was to the imprisoned
Glasgow girl as St. Paul's to such another isolated imaginative nature.

There was a knock at the street-door; a very decided application of the
queer, twisted knocker. Leslie roused herself: not a beggar's tap that;
none of the janitors; and this was not Dr. Murdoch's or Dr. Ware's hour:
the girl was accurate in taps and footsteps. Some one was shown in; a
man's voice was heard greeting "Dr. Bower," before the study door was
closed. Leslie started up with pleased surprise,--"Hector Garret of
Otter! he will come upstairs to see us; he will tell us how the country
is looking; he will bring news from Ferndean," and for the next hour she
sat in happy, patient expectation.

Mrs. Bower, a fair, faded, grave woman, came into the room, and sat down
with her needlework in the other window.

"Mamma," exclaimed Leslie, "do you know that Hector Garret of Otter is
downstairs with papa?"

"Yes, Leslie."

"He never fails to ask for us; don't you think we'll see him here
by-and-by?"

"I do not know; it depends upon his engagements."

"I wonder what brings him to Glasgow just now; he must find it so much
more agreeable at home," with a little sigh.

"Leslie, I don't think you have anything to do with that."

"No, certainly; Hector Garret and I are two very different persons."

"Leslie!"

"Well, mamma."

"I wish you would not say Hector Garret; it does not sound proper in a
girl like you."

"I suppose it does not. He must have been a grown-up man when I was a
child. I have caught the habit from papa, but I have not the least
inclination to use the name to his face."

"I should think not, Leslie;" and the conversation dropped.

Presently the stranger entered deliberately; a tall, fair, handsome man
of eight-and-thirty or forty, with one of those cold, intellectual,
statuesque faces in which there is a chill harmony, and which are types
of a calm temperament, or an extinct volcano. Perhaps it was that cast
of countenance which recommended him to the Bowers; yet Leslie was dark,
bright, and variable.

The visitor brought a gift in his hand--a basket of flowers and summer
fruit, of which Leslie relieved him, while she struggled in vain to look
politely obliged, and not irrationally elated.

"So kind of you to trouble yourself! Such a beautiful flower--wild roses
and hawthorn too--I like so much to have them, though they wither very
soon. I dare say they grew where

               'Fairies light
    On Cassilis Downans dance.'

(Burns was becoming famous, and Leslie had picked up the lines
somewhere.) And the strawberries, oh, they must be from Ferndean."

The bearer nodded and smiled.

"I knew it by instinct," and Leslie began eating them like a tempted
child, and stained her pretty lips. "Those old rows on each side of the
summer-house where papa first learnt his lessons--I wonder if there are
jackdaws there still: won't you have some?"

"No, thank you. What a memory you have, Miss Bower!"

"Ferndean is my Highland hill. When papa is very stiff and helpless from
rheumatism, he talks of it sometimes. It is so long ago; he was so
different then."

Mr. Garret and Mrs. Bower exchanged a few civil words on his journey,
the spring weather, the state of the war, like two taciturn people who
force their speeches; then he became Leslie's property, sat down beside
her, watched her arranging her flowers, helped her a little, and spoke
now and then in answer to her questions, and that was sufficient.

Hector Garret was particularly struck this evening with the incongruity
of Leslie's presence in the Professor's dry, silent, scholastic home,
and with her monotonous, shaded existence, and her want of natural
associations and fitting companionship. He pondered upon her future; he
was well acquainted with her prospects; he knew much better than she did
that the money with which his father had bought up the mortgages on
Ferndean, and finally the estate itself, was drained and scattered long
ago, and that the miserable annuity upon which the Professor rested
peacefully as a provision for his widow and child, died with the former.
It was scarcely credible that a man should be so regardless of his own
family, but the echo of the mystic, sublime discourses of the Greek
porches, the faint but sacred trace of the march of vast armies, and the
fall of nations, caused Leslie to dwindle into a mere speck in the
creation. Of course she would be provided for somehow: marry, or make
her own livelihood. Socrates did not plague himself much about the fate
of Xantippe: Seneca wrote from his exile to console his mother, but the
epistles were for the benefit of the world at large, and destined to
descend to future generations of barbarians.

What a frank, single-hearted young girl she seemed to Hector
Garret--intelligent, capable of comprehending him in a degree, amusing
him with her similes and suggestions; pretty, too, as one of those wild
roses or pinks that she prized so highly, though she wore a sober,
green, flowered silk dress. He should like to see her in a white gown.
He supposed that was not a convenient town wear. Pope had unmasked
women, but he could not help thinking that a fresh, simple, kind young
girl would be rather a pleasant object of daily encounter. She would
grow older, of course. That was a pity; but still she would be
progressing into an unsophisticated, cordial, contented woman, whom
servants would obey heartily--to whom children would cling. Even men had
a gush of tenderness for these smiling, unobtrusive, humble mothers; and
best so in the strain and burden of this life.

Leslie knew nothing of these meditations. She only understood Hector
Garret as a considerate friend, distinguished personally, and gifted
mentally--for her father set great store upon him--but, unlike the gruff
or eager servants to whom she was accustomed, condescending to her
youth and ignorance, and with a courtesy the nearest to high-breeding
she had ever met. She was glad to see Hector Garret, even if he did not
bring a breath of the country with him. She parted from him with a sense
of loss--a passing sadness that hung upon her for an hour or two, like
the vapour on the river, which misses the green boughs and waving woods,
and sighs sluggishly past wharfs and warehouses.

It was a still greater surprise to Leslie when Hector Garret came again
the next evening. He had never been with them on two successive days
before. She supposed he had gone back to Ayrshire, although he had not
distinctly referred to his speedy return. But he was here, and Leslie
entertained him as usual.

"Should you not like to see Ferndean?" inquired Hector Garret.

"Don't speak of it," Leslie cautioned him, soberly; "it would be far too
great happiness for this world."

"Why, what sort of dismal place do you think the world?"

"Too good a place for you and me," Leslie answered evasively, and with a
touch of fun.

"But this is the very season for Ferndean and Otter, when the pasture is
gay as a garden, and you can have boating every day in the creeks, more
sheltered than the moorland lochs."

The tears came into Leslie's eyes.

"I think it is unkind of you, Mr. Garret, to tempt me with such
pictures," she answered, half pettishly.

"I mean to be kind," he responded quickly. "I may err, but I can take
refuge in my intentions. You may see Ferndean and Otter, if you can
consent to go there, and dwell there as a grave man's friend and wife."

Leslie started violently, and the blood rushed over her face.

"I beg your pardon, Sir, but you don't mean it?"

"I do mean it, Leslie, as being the best for both of us; and I ask you
plainly and directly to marry me: if you agree, I hope and trust that
you will never regret it."

Leslie trembled very much. She said afterwards that she pinched her arm
to satisfy herself that she was awake, but she was not quite overcome.

"I was never addressed so before. I do not know what to say. You are
very good, but I am not fit."

He interrupted her--not with vows and protestations, but resolutely and
convincingly.

"I am the best judge of your fitness,--but you must judge for yourself
also. I am certain of your father's and mother's acquiescence, so I do
not mention them. But do not hurry; take time, consult your own heart;
consider the whole matter. I will not press for your decision. I will
wait days, weeks. I will go down to Otter in the meantime, if you prefer
it. But if you do say yes, remember, dear Leslie, you confer upon me the
greatest boon that a woman can bestow on a man, and I think I am capable
of appreciating it."

He spoke with singular impartiality, but without reassuring his hearer.
Leslie looked helplessly up to him, excited and distressed.

He smiled a little, and sighed a brief sigh.

"You are not satisfied. You are too candid and generous. You wish me to
take my refusal at once. You feel that I am too old, too dull to
presume--"

"Oh, no, no," Leslie exclaimed, seeing herself convicted of terrible
selfishness and conceit, while her heart was throbbing even painfully
with humility and gratitude. "You have done me a great honour, and if
you would not be disappointed--if you would bear with me--if you are not
deceiving yourself in your nobleness--I should be so happy to go to
Ferndean."

He thanked her eloquently, and talked to her a little longer, kindly and
affectionately, and then he offered to seek her father; and left her to
her agitated reflections. What a fine, dignified man he looked! Could it
be possible that this was her lot in life? And the very sun which had
risen upon her planning a walk with Mary Elliot next week, was yet
streaming upon her poor pots of geraniums on the dusty window-sill. She
quitted her seat, and began to walk quickly up and down.

"Leslie, you are shaking the room." Mamma had been in the further window
with her sewing all the time.

Leslie stole behind the brown window-curtain, fluttering her hand among
the folds.

"Leslie, you are pulling that curtain awry."

"I cannot help it, mamma."

"Why not, child? Are you ill?"

"Yes--no, mamma. I don't know what to think--I can't think. But Hector
Garret has asked me to be his wife."

Mrs. Bower's needle dropped from her fingers. She stared at her
daughter. She rose slowly.

"Impossible, Leslie," she observed.

Leslie laughed hysterically.

"Yes, indeed. It was very strange, but I heard every word."

"Are you certain you are not mistaken?"

Mrs. Bower had never so cross-examined her daughter in her life; but
Leslie was not disturbed or vexed by her incredulity.

"Quite certain. I know it was only yesterday that you scolded me for
taking liberties with his name; but he was perfectly serious, and he
has gone to tell papa."

Mrs. Bower gazed wistfully on Leslie, and a faint red colour rose in
her cheek, while she interlaced her fingers nervously.

"Leslie," she asked again, in a shaking voice, "do you know what you
are doing?"

Leslie looked frightened.

"Is it so very terrible, mamma? I should possibly have married some
day--most girls mean to do it; and only think of Ferndean and Otter.
Besides, there is nobody I could like so well as Hector Garret, I am
quite sure, although I little guessed he cared so much for me;" and
Leslie's eye's fell, and a sunny, rosy glow mantled over her whole face,
rendering it very soft and fair.

"I see it is to be, Leslie. May it be for your welfare, my dear;" and
her mother stooped abruptly, and kissed the young, averted cheek.

Leslie was awed. She dreaded that her father would be equally moved,
and then she did not know how she could stand it. But she might have
spared herself the apprehension; for when the Professor shuffled in he
sat down as usual, fumbled for his spectacles, looked round with the
most unconscious eye, observed that "Ware" had that day exceeded in his
lecture by twenty minutes--"a bad practice," (Dr. Bower was himself
notoriously unpunctual,) and took not the slightest notice of any event
of greater importance, until Leslie's suspense had been so long on the
rack that it began to subside into dismay, when glancing up for a
moment, he observed parenthetically, as he turned a page--"Child! you
have my approval of a union with Hector Garret--an odd fancy, but that
is no business of ours,"--dropped his eyes again on his volume, and made
no further allusion to the subject for the rest of the evening--no, nor
ever again, of his own free will. Hector Garret assailed him on
preliminaries, his wife patiently waylaid and besieged him for the
necessary funds, acquaintances congratulated him--he was by compulsion
drawn more than once from roots and æsthetics; but left to himself, he
would have assuredly forgotten his daughter's wedding-day, as he had
done that of her baptism.

Leslie recovered from the stunning suddenness of her fate, and awoke
fully to its brightness. To go down to Ayrshire and dwell there among
hills and streams, and pure heather-scented air, like any shepherdess;
to be the nearest and dearest to Hector Garret:--already the
imaginative, warm-hearted girl began to raise him into a divinity.

Leslie was supremely content, she was gay and giddy even with present
excitement; with the pretty bustle of being so important and so
occupied--she whose whole time lately had been vacant and idle--so
willing to admire her new possessions, so openly elated with their
superiority, and not insensible to the fact that all these prominent
obtrusive cares were but little superfluous notes of the great symphony
upon which she had entered, and whose infinitely deeper, fuller, higher
tones she would learn well, by-and-by.

Leslie Bower was the personification of joy, and no one meddled with her
visions. Hector Garret was making his preparations at Otter; and when
Leslie sang as she stitched, and ran lightly up and down, only the
servants in the kitchen laid their heads together, and confided to each
other that "never did they see so daffin' a bride; Miss Leslie should
ken that a greetin' bride's a happy bride!" But no one told Leslie--no
one taught her the tender meaning of the wise old proverb--no one warned
her of the realities of life, so much sadder, so much holier, purer,
more peaceful than any illusion. Her mother had relapsed into her
ordinary calmness, rather wounding Leslie's perceptions when she allowed
herself to think of it, for she did not read the lingering assiduity
that was so intent it might have been employed upon her shroud. And
there was no one else--no; Leslie was quite unaware that her gladness
was ominous.

Only the shadow of a warning crossed Leslie's path of roses, and she
disregarded it. Her confidence in Hector Garret and in life remained
unbounded.

Leslie had gone to the best known of her early companions, her cup
brimming over in the gracious privilege of begging Mary Elliot to be
her bridesmaid. The Elliots had been kind to her, and had once taken her
to their cheerful country-house; and now Mary was to witness the
ceremony, and Hector Garret had said that she might, if she pleased, pay
Leslie a long visit at Otter.

Mary Elliot was a little older, a little more experienced in womanly
knowledge than Leslie.

"How strange it sounds that you should be married so soon, Leslie, from
your old house, where we thought you buried. We believed that you must
lead a single life, unless your father made a pet of one of his
students: and then you must have waited until he left college."

"It is the reverse. I have no time to lose," nodded Leslie; "only
Hector Garret is not old-looking. I don't believe that he has a
grey hair in his head. He is a far handsomer man than Susan Cheyne's
sister's husband."

"I know it; he was pointed out to me in the street. Is he very fond of
you, Leslie?"

"I suppose--a little, or he would not have me."

"Does he flatter you, pretend that you are a queen, say all manner of
fine things to you? I should like to be enlightened."

"No, no, Mary; real men are not like men in books--and he is not
foolish."

"But it is not foolish in a lover. They are all out of their
senses--blinded by admiration and passion."

"Perhaps; but Hector Garret is a clever man, only he speaks when he is
spoken to, and does not forget you when out of sight. And do you know,
I have been used to clever people, and decidedly prefer to look up to
a man?"

"What does he call you, Leslie?"

"Why, Leslie, to be sure, or Miss Bower. You would not have him say Mrs.
Garret yet?" And Leslie covered her face and laughed again, and reddened
to the tips of her fingers.

"Not 'Bonnie Leslie,' 'Jewel,' 'Angel,'" jested Mary, thrilling at the
echo of a certain low, fluttered voice, that had sounded in her own ears
and would wilfully repeat, "Winsome Mary," "Little Woman," "Witch!"

"No," Leslie replied, with honest frankness, "that would be speaking
nonsense; and if Hector Garret thinks nonsense that is bad enough."

"Do you remember how we talked sometimes of our husbands?"

"Yes, I do. They were all to be heroes."

"And you were to be courted on bended knees. Yes, Leslie, solicited
again and again; and when you yielded at last, it should be such an act
of grace that the poor fellow would be half mad with delight."

"I was mad myself. I was full of some song or bit of poetry. I tell you
again, Mary, if you have not found it out for yourself, real life is not
like a book. Hector Garret is not the man to beg and implore, and wait
patiently for a score of years. I wish you saw how he manages his strong
horse. He sits, and does not yield a hair's breadth. Though it paws and
rears, he just holds its head tight and pats its neck. Now, I want him
to check and guide me. I have been left a great deal to myself. Papa and
mamma are not young, and it appears to me that a single child is not
enough to draw out the sympathies of a staid, silent couple. They have
been very kind to me all my life, and I ought to be glad that they will
not miss me much. But although it was wrong, I have often felt a little
forlorn, and been tempted to have bad, discontented thoughts all by
myself. However, that is over, and I hope I'm going to be a good and
sensible woman now. And, Mary, I am so anxious to have your opinion upon
my crimson pelisse, because mamma does not profess to be a judge; and I
cannot be certain that it is proper merely on a mantua-maker's word and
my own taste. I would like to do Hector Garret credit; not that I can
really do so in any eyes but his own."


III.--THE NEW HOME.

Hector Garret had his girl wife at Otter, and very sunny her existence
was for the lustrum of that honeymoon. It was almost sufficient for her
to be at liberty, fairly installed in her castle in the air, a country
home. And its lord and master was generous and indulgent, and wasted, he
did not care to say how many days, in displaying to her the green
ruinousness of Ferndean--in climbing the hills and hunting out the
widest views for her--in taking her out in his boat, and rowing her in
sunshine and shade, enjoying her wonder and exultation most
benevolently. In a short time he left her to herself, for he had much
property, to whose numerous details he attended with rigid
conscientiousness, and he had been a student from his youth, and sat
almost as much as Dr. Bower in his library, although it was an airier
and more heterogeneously fitted-up sanctuary. Leslie was perfectly
satisfied; in fact, while the novelty around her was fresh, she
preferred to wander about at her leisure, and find out places for
herself, because Hector Garret was always hurrying her, and she was
trying so hard to be clever, active, and amiable. Ah, that slight strain
already perceptible, that growth of ignorance, misconception, and
extravagant reverence--what fruit would it bear?

Otter was a rambling white house in a green meadow opening to the sea.
Its salient points were its size and age. The slowest-growing shrubs in
its pleasance were tough, seamed, branched and bowed with time. There
were few trees in the neighbourhood except at forsaken Ferndean; but
there were slow swelling hills crowned with heather closing in the
valley over which Otter presided with the dignified paternal character
of the great house of strath, or glen. Leslie smiled when she first
heard the natives of the district term the grey or glittering track that
bounded the western horizon, "The Otter Sea," but very soon she fell
into the use of the same name, and was conscious of feeling far more
interest in the boats and ships that crossed that limited space, than in
those which she saw from the hilltops spread far and wide over a great
expanse broken only by the misty Irish coast-line. Indeed, Hector Garret
explained to her that he had seignorial claims over that strip of
waves--that the seaweed, and, after certain restrictions, the fragments
of wreck cast upon its sands, were his property, quite as much as if he
had waved his banner over it, like the gallant Spaniard, in the name of
his Most Catholic Majesty.

Leslie had variety in her locality; the beach, with its huge boulders
and inspiring music; the fields and "uplands airy," with their hedge
wealth of vetch, briar, and bramble; the garden, the ancient walled
garden, at whose antiquities Hector Garret laughed.

Leslie played sad pranks in the early season of her disenthralment. She
wandered far and near, and soiled her white gowns, to the despair of the
Otter servant who did up the master's shirts and managed the mistress's
clear-starching, but who never dreamt, in those days of frills, robes,
and flounces, of styling herself a laundress. Leslie filled her apron
with mosses and lichens: she stole out after the reapers had left the
patch of oats which was not within sight of the house, and gathered
among the sheaves like a Ruth. She grew stout and hardy, and, in spite
of her gipsy bonnet, as brown as a berry under this out-of-door life,
until no one would have known the waxen-faced city girl; and many a time
when Hector Garret left his study in the dusk and found his way to the
drawing-room, he discovered her asleep from very weariness, with her
head laid down on her spindle-legged work-table, and the white moonbeams
trying to steal under her long eyelashes. He would tread softly, and
stand, and gaze, but he never stooped and kissed her cheek in merry
frolic, never in yearning tenderness.

Such was Leslie's holiday; let her have it--it ended, certainly. The
black October winds began to whistle in the chimneys and lash the Otter
sea into foam; the morning mists were white and dense on the hills, and
sometimes the curtain never rose the whole day; the burns were hoarse
and muddy, the sheep in fold, the little birds silent. Leslie loved the
prospect still, even the wild grey clouds rent and whirled across the
sky, the watery sun, and the ragged, wan, dripping verdure; but it made
her shiver too, and turn to her fireside, where she would doze and yawn,
work and get weary in her long solitary hours. Hector Garret was patient
and good-humoured; he took the trouble to teach her any knowledge to
which she aspired; but he was so far beyond her, so hopelessly superior,
that she was vexed and ashamed to confess to him her ignorance, and it
was clear that when he came up to her domain in the evening he liked
best to rest himself, or to play with her in a fondling, toying way.
After the first interminable rainy day which she had spent by herself at
Otter, when he entered and proceeded in his cool, rather lazy fashion to
tap her under the chin, to inquire if she had been counting the rain
drops, to bid her try his cigar, she felt something swelling in her
throat, and answered him shortly and crossly; but when she found that he
treated her offended air as the whim of a spoilt child, and was rather
the more amused by it, she determined that he should not be entertained
by her humours. Perilous entertainment as it was, Leslie could not have
afforded it; her wilderness tamed her so that she welcomed Hector Garret
eagerly, submitted to be treated as a child, exerted herself to prattle
away gaily and foolishly when her heart was a little heavy and her
spirits languid.

Leslie saw so little of her husband--perhaps it was the case with all
wives; her father and mother were as much apart--but Leslie did not
understand the necessity. She did not like her life to be selfish,
smooth, and aimless, except for her own fancies, as it had been from
the first. She wanted to share Hector Garret's cares and his work which
he transacted so faithfully. She wished he thought her half as worth
consulting as his steward. She had faith in woman's wit. She had a
notion that she herself was quick and could become painstaking. She
tried entering his room once or twice uninvited, but he always looked so
discontented, and when she withdrew so relieved, that she could not
persevere in the attempt.

When Hector Garret went shooting or fishing, Leslie would have
accompanied him gladly, would have delighted in his trophies, and
carried his bag or his basket, like any gillie or callant of the
Highlands or Lowlands, if he would have allowed it; but his excursions
were too remote and fatiguing, and beyond the strength that was supposed
consistent with her sex and nurture.

Little fool! to assail another's responsibilities and avocations when
her own were embarrassing her sufficiently. Her household web had got
warped and entangled in her careless, inexperienced hands, and vexed and
mortified her with a sense of incapacity and failure--an oppression
which she could not own to Hector Garret, because there was no common
ground, and no mutual understanding between them. When Leslie came to
Otter she found the housekeeping in the hands of an Irish follower of
the Garrets--themselves of Irish origin; and Hector Garret presented
Bridget Kennedy to his wife as his faithful and honoured servant, whom
he recommended to a high place in her regard. Bridget Kennedy displayed
more marked traces of race than her master, but it was the Celtic
nature under its least attractive aspect to strangers, proud,
passionate, fanciful, and vindictive. She was devoted to her master, and
capable of consideration for Leslie on his account--though jealous of
her entrance upon the stage of Otter; but she evinced this reflected
interest by encroachments and tyranny, a general determination to adhere
doggedly to her own ways, and to impose them upon her mistress.

Leslie began by admiring Bridget, as she did everything else at Otter.
Leslie would have propitiated the mayor of the palace with kind words
and attentions, but when she was snapped up in her efforts, she drew
back with a girl's aptness to be affronted and repelled. Next Leslie
began to angrily resist Bridget's unbecoming interference with her
movements, and design of exercising authority and control over the child
whom the master had chosen to set over his house; but her fitful
impulses were met and overruled by stubborn and slenderly veiled
fierceness. Leslie was not weak, but she was undisciplined; and she who
had been the young Hotspur of the most orderly and pacific of families,
learnt to tremble at the sound of Bridget's crutch in the lobbies, and
her shrill voice rating the servants who flew to do her bidding.

In proportion as Leslie cowered at her subordinate, the subordinate was
tempted to despise her and lord it over her.

Hector Garret was blind to this contention. For his own part, he
humoured Bridget or smiled at her asperities, as suited him; and it is
probable that if he had been appealed to, he would have adopted his old
favourite's side, and censured Leslie as touchy, inconsiderate, perhaps
a little spiteful. But he never was made umpire, for Leslie had all the
disadvantage of a noble temper in an unseemly struggle. Bridget plagued
Leslie, but Leslie would not injure Bridget,--no, not for the world. The
imperious old woman was Hector Garret's friend; he had said that he had
known no firmer friend than Bridget Kennedy. She had closed his father's
eyes, she had stood by himself in sickness and sorrow (for all his
strength and self-command, Hector had known sickness and sorrow--that
was a marvel to Leslie)--Bridget might clutch her rights to the end,
what did it signify? only a little pique and bitterness to an
interloper.

Leslie had ceased to credit that she would ever become the wise, helpful
woman that she had once warmly desired to see herself. Her own defects
were now familiar and sorely disheartening to her, and she had grown
aware that she could not by inspiration set and preserve in smooth,
swift motion the various wheels of Otter, not even if--unlooked for and
undesired sequel!--she received express permission to dance upon the
head of old Bridget.

Leslie had fancied once, when Hector Garret told her how few neighbours
lived within visiting distance, that she should not want society: but
the solitude was matter of regret, especially when it proved that of the
few families who exchanged rare intercourse, some of better birth than
breeding scarcely held the daughter of the disinherited laird and
Glasgow scholar as their equal in social rank, or a spouse worthy of the
master of Otter, or indeed entitled to their special esteem.

The only house without any pretension within sight of Otter was situated
at the other extremity of the bay, on a peninsula projecting far into
the sea. It had been built in the days when each mansion was a
fortalice, and when safety from enemies was of more moment than the
convenience of friends.

This Earlscraig was now little more than a grim, grey turret, seldom
occupied; the companion body of the building had been destroyed nearly a
score of years before by a fire--the tragedy of the country-side, as it
consummated the ruin of an old family--and in its horrors a lady of the
house perished miserably. So the sight of its cold cluster of chimneys,
wind-rocked walls, and scorched and crumbling vestiges of sudden
destruction, far from adding to the cheerfulness of the landscape, was a
blot on its rural prosperity.

The homes of humbler friends were foreign thresholds to Leslie; the
reserved, engrossed, dignified master of Otter crossed them with a freer
step. Leslie could but address her servants, and venture to intermeddle
bashfully with their most obvious concerns. She had neither tongue nor
eye for more distant and difficult dependants.

But Leslie was not dying of ennui or spleen, or miserable and with a
nameless fathomless misery. She was only disenchanted--conscious of
feeling a great deal older than she had done six months since. How could
she have been so credulous, so vain! Verily, every path of roses has its
panoply of thorns.


IV.--THE PAGES OF THE PAST.

One winter night Leslie, in her deep chair, observed Hector Garret
turning over the leaves of an old pocket-book. Hector; catching her eye,
offered it to her with a "See, Leslie, how my father chronicled the
fashions"--he never did suppose her susceptible of very grave interests.

In the dearth of other amusements Leslie pored over the ancient diary,
and found more suggestive paragraphs than the entry indicated: "Abel
Furness has sent me a waistcoat an inch and a half shorter, and a pair
of clouded silk hose for the black ditto, ordered." There were--"Three
pounds English to my boy Hector, to keep his pocket during his stay at
Ardhope." "A crown to Hector as fee for fishing out the black stot that
broke its neck over the rocks." "A letter from Utrecht from my son
Hector; a fair hand and a sensible diction." "Forty pounds over and
above paid to please Hector on the bond over the flax-fields of
Ferndean." "A small stipend secured to my thriftless kinsman, Willie
Hamilton, by the advice and with the aid of my son Hector." "To
Earlscraig with Hector:" this notice was repeated many times, until the
record closed abruptly with the tremulous thanksgiving--"My dear son and
heir, Hector, recovered of his malady by the blessing of God."

Very plainly lay the life-clue of that silent heart, traced in the faded
ink of those yellowing pages. How old men cherished their offspring!
What did Hector Garret think of those mute but potent witnesses of a
regard that he could know no more on earth? She knew he prized the book,
for she had seen it carefully deposited in one of the private drawers in
his study. She opened it at the beginning, and slipping her fingers into
its gilded pockets, discovered a folded paper. It contained merely a
sprig of heather, and written on the enclosure--"From my dear wife,
Isobel; her first gift." Two dates were subjoined, with thirty years'
interval--that of the receipt of the token, and that of the inscription
of the memorandum.

With flushing cheeks Leslie sat, and spread out the crushed, brittle
spikes, so fondly won, so dearly held. She was sure Hector had not one
leaf, riband, or ring which she had given him. Once when he was gayer
than his wont, and plagued her with his jesting petting, she took up the
scissors and cut off a lock of his hair. He did not notice the theft
till it was accomplished, and then he stood half-thoughtful,
half-contemptuous. He had not a hair of hers, but of course the whole
head was his; his father had judged otherwise.

This earlier Hector Garret--she had heard Bridget enlarge upon his
merits. "A fine man, like the master, but frank and light of heart until
he lost the lady--ay, a real lady! grand and gladsome--the old lady of
Otter." Leslie longed for a vision of those old occupants of her place
and her husband's; to have a vivid experience of how they looked, spoke,
and lived; to see them in spirit--in their morning good wishes, their
noonday cares, their evening cheer, their nightly prayers? Was their
union only apparent? were they severed by a dim, shapeless,
insurmountable barrier, for ever together, yet for ever apart?

These shades lingered and abode with Leslie in her lonely vigils, ere
she distinguished whether their language was that of warning or
reproach. She studied their material likenesses--the last save one in
the picture-gallery--honest faces, bright with wholesome vigour; their
son Hector's was a finer physiognomy, but the light had left lip and
eye, and Leslie missed it as she gazed wistfully at these shadows, and
compared them with their living representative.

A stranger came to Otter: that was an unfrequent event, even when the
spring was advancing, and the boats which had been drawn up for the
winter were again launched in the cove, and the brown nets hung anew to
dry on the budding whins and gowans--the April gowans converting the
haugh into a "lily lea." Their nearest neighbour, only an occasional
resident among them, lounged over with his whip, dog-call, and dogs, and
entered the drawing-room at Otter, to be introduced for the first time
to its mistress. Leslie's instincts were hospitable, and they were by no
means strained by exercise; but she did not like this guest; she felt an
involuntary repugnance to him, although he was very courteous to
her--with an elaborate, ostentatious homage that astonished and confused
her. He was a man of Hector Garret's age, but, even in his rough coat,
with marked remains of youthful foppishness and pretension. He was a
tall man, with beard and moustache slightly silvered; his aquiline
features were sharpened and drawn; his bold searching eyes sunken. He
was a gentleman, even an accomplished and refined gentleman in manner
and accent--and yet there was about him a nameless coarseness, the
brutishness of self-indulgence and low aims and ends, which no polish
could efface or conceal.

Leslie, notwithstanding her slight knowledge of life, apprehended this,
and shrank from the man; but he addressed Hector Garret with the ease of
an intimate associate--and Hector Garret, with his pride and
scrupulousness, suffered the near approach, and only winced when the
stranger accosted Leslie, complimented Leslie, put himself coolly on the
footing of future friendship with the lady of the house.

The day wore on, and still the visitor remained, entertaining himself,
and discoursing widely, but for the most part on practices and motives
strange at Otter.

"So you've married, after all, Hector," he said, suddenly, as they sat
together in the twilight: "well, I excuse you," with a laugh and a touch
on the shoulder.

The words were simple enough, but they tingled in Leslie's ears like
insolence, and Hector Garret, so hard to rouse, bit his lips while he
answered indifferently--"And when does your time come, Nigel? Are the
shadows not declining with you?"

"Faith, they're so low, that there's not light left for the experiment;
besides, French life spoils one for matrimony here, at least so poor
Alice used to say--'no galling bonds on this side of the Channel'--the
peaceful _couvent grille_, or a light _mariage de convenance_ among the
pleasant southerns;--not that they are so pleasant as they were formerly
either."

Hector Garret got up and walked to one of the window recesses, his brow
knit, his teeth set.

Leslie rose to steal from the room.

"Nay, stay, madam," urged the bland, brazen intruder; "don't rob us so
soon of a fair, living apology for _fades souvenirs_."

But "Go, Leslie, we will not detain you," Hector Garret exclaimed,
impatiently; and Leslie hurried to her own chamber in a tumult of
surprise and indignation, and vexed suspicion. Mysteries had not ceased;
and what was this mystery to which Hector Garret deigned to lend himself
in disparaging company with a sorry fine gentleman?

Bridget Kennedy was there before her, making a pretence of fumbling in
the wardrobe, her head shaking, her lips working, her eyes blazing with
repressed rage and malice.

"Is he there, madam, still?" she demanded, impetuously. "Is he torturing
and maddening Master Hector with his tones and gestures? He!--he that
ought to crouch among the bent grass and fern sooner than pass the other
on the high road. Borrowing and begging, to lavish on his evil courses:
he who could not pay us--not in red gold, but with his heart's
blood--the woe he wrought. They had guileful, stony hearts, the
Boswells, before they ever took to foreign lightness and wickedness: and
evil to him who trafficked with them in life or death."

"Who is he, Bridget? I do not know him; I cannot understand," gasped
Leslie.

"Don't ask me, madam--you, least of all."

"Tell me, Bridget, tell me," implored the girl, frightened, yet
exasperated, catching the old woman's withered hands, and holding
them fast.

"Don't ask me, madam," reiterated Bridget, sternly. "Better not."

"I will know; what do you mean? Oh, you hurt me, you hurt me! I will ask
Hector Garret himself. I cannot bear this suspense!"

"Child, do you choose what you can bear? Beware!" menaced the nurse;
then, as Leslie would have broken from her--

"Have it, then! He is the brother of that Alice Boswell who perished in
the burning of Earlscraig nigh twenty years ago."

"Poor lady, Bridget," Leslie said, with a bewildered, excited sob. "Poor
unhappy lady; but what has that to do with him, with me? I understand no
better. Help me, Bridget Kennedy--a woman, like myself. I will not let
you go."

"Madam, what good will it serve? It is small matter now:" then half
reluctantly, half with that possession with which truth fills its
keeper, slowly and sadly she unfolded the closed story. "What had Master
Hector to do with Alice Boswell? He had to do with her as a man has to
do with his heart's desire, his snare, his pitfall."

"He loved her, Bridget; he would have wedded her. I might never have
been his--that is all."

"Love, marriage!" scornfully; "I know not that he spoke the words, but
he lay at her feet. Proud as Master Hector was, she might have trodden
on his neck; cool as Master Hector seems to others, he was fire to her.
I have seen him come in from watching her shadow, long hours below her
window, in the wind and rain, and salt spray. I have known him when he
valued her glove in his bosom more than a king's crown--blest, blest if
he had but a word or a glance. But it is long gone by, madam. Master
Hector has gained wisdom and gravity, and is the head of the house; and
for fair Miss Alice, she has gone to her place. Yes, she was a beauty,
Miss Alice; she could play on stringed instruments like the heavenly
harpers, and speak many tongues, and work till the flowers grew beneath
her fingers. She learnt to wile men's souls from their bodies, if
nothing more, in the outlandish parts where she was bred."

"So fair, so gifted--did she care for him in return, Bridget? Did she
love him as he loved her?" asked a faint voice.

"What need you mind, madam?" sharply. "It is ill speaking harsh words of
the dead. Did I not say she had gone to her place? God defend you from
such a passage. Let her rest. Sure she cared for him, as she cared for
aught else save herself. She scattered smiles and favours on scores. He
knew at last what she took, and what she gave, if he did not guess it
always."

"Why did he not save her, Bridget? die with her!"

"Madam," bitterly, "he did what man could do. They say he was more like
a spirit than a mortal; but if he was to lose his love, how could even
Master Hector fight against his Maker? He was fain to follow her; he
dallied with death for weeks and months. Those were fell days at Otter,
but the Lord restored him, and now he is himself again, and no woman
will ever move Master Hector more."

There was silence in the room for a space. At last Bridget broke it: "Do
you want anything more with me, madam, or shall I go?"

Haughty as Bridget Kennedy was, she spoke hesitatingly, almost
pitifully. She had stabbed that young thing, sitting pale and cold
before her; and no sooner was the deed done than her strong, deep nature
yearned over her victim as it had never done to Hector Garret's girl
wife, in the first rosy flush of her thoughtless gladness.

"Nothing more." The words were low and heavy, and when Bridget left her,
Leslie raised her hands and linked them together, and stretched them out
in impotence of relief.

What was this news that had come to her as from a far country?--this
blinding light, this burst of knowledge that had to do with the very
springs of a man's nature, this fountain so full to some, so empty to
others? She had been deceived, robbed. Hector Garret was Alice
Boswell's--in life and death, Alice Boswell's.

This love, which she had known so slightly, measured so carelessly--oh,
light, shallow heart!--had been rooted in his very vitals, had
constrained him as a conqueror his captive, had been the very essence of
the man until it spent itself on Alice Boswell's wild grave. He had come
to her with a lie in his right hand, for he was bound and fettered in
heart, or else but the blue, stiff corpse of a man dead within; he had
betrayed her woman's right, her best, dearest, truest right, her call
to love and be loved. Another might have wooed her as he had wooed Alice
Boswell; to another she might have been the first, the only one! she
knew now why she was no helpmeet, no friend for him; why his hand did
not raise her to his eminence, his soul's breath did not blow upon hers,
and create vigour, goodness, and grace to match his own. Deep had not
cried unto deep: heart had not spoken to heart: the dry bones, the
vacant form, the empty craving, were her portion; and out of such
unnatural hollowness have arisen, once and again, deadly lust and sin.

Why had none stepped in between her and this cruel mockery and
temptation? "Mother, mother, how could you be false to your trust? Were
you, too, cheated and bereft of your due? left a cold, shrinking woman,
withering, not suddenly, but for a whole lifetime?"

Leslie sat long weighing her burden, until a tap at the door and Bridget
Kennedy's voice disturbed her. "Earlscraig is gone, madam; Master Hector
is sitting alone with his thoughts in your room. May be, he is missing
his cup of tea, or, if you please, madam, his lady's company that he is
used to at this hour."

Leslie rose mechanically, walked out, and entered her drawing-room. What
did he there, his eyes fixed on the broken turret of Earlscraig, defined
clearly on the limited horizon, his memory hovering over the fate of
fair Alice Boswell?

Was it horrible to be jealous of a dead woman? to wish herself in that
ever-present grave, sacred to him as the holiest, though no priest
blessed it, no house of God threw over it the shadow of the finger
pointed to heaven--the cross that bore a world's Saviour? But that swift
and glowing passage from life and light and love, such as his to
darkness, forgetfulness--eternity. How could she have faced it? Bridget,
her old enemy, had prayed she might be delivered from it, whatever her
trials.

"Nigel Boswell is gone at last; he was an old playfellow, and fortune
and he have been playing a losing game ever since," he said, in
unsuspecting explanation, as he joined her where she sat in her
favourite window.

She did not answer him; she was stunned, and sat gazing abstractedly on
the wallflowers rendering golden the mossy court wall, or far away on
the misty Otter sea. She thought he had relapsed into his reveries, was
with the past, the spring-tide of his life, the passion of his early
manhood, while she was a little school-girl tripping demurely and safely
along the crowded Glasgow streets. If she had looked up at him she would
have seen that he was observing her curiously--wondering where his young
wife had acquired that serious brow, those fixed eyes.

"What are you thinking of, Leslie?"

"Nothing; I cannot tell," hastily and resolutely.

"That sounds suspicious." He put his hand on her head, as he had a habit
of doing, but she recoiled from him.

"A shy little brain that dreads a finger of mine on its soft covering
must discover its secrets. Are they treasures, Leslie?"

Oh, blind, absent, reckless man, what treasure-keeper kept such ward!

Lightly won, was lightly held.

Leslie struggled with her oppression for several dull feverish days;
then, driven by her own goading thoughts, her sense of injury, her
thirst for justice and revenge, she left the house and wandered out on
the beach to breathe free air, to forget herself in exertion, fatigue,
stupor. It was evening, dark with vapour--gloomy, with a rising gale,
and the sea was beginning to mutter and growl. Leslie sat shivering by
the water's edge, fascinated by the sympathy of nature with her bitter
hopelessness. A voice on the banks and meadows, even in the chill night
air, whispered of spring advancing rapidly, with buds and flowers, with
sap, fragrance, and warmth, and the tender grace of its flood of green;
but here, by the waves, a passing thunder-cloud, a stealthy mist, a
whistling breeze, darkened the scene, and restored barren, dismal winter
in a single hour. The night drooped down without moon or star, and still
Leslie sat listless, drowsy with sorrow, until as she rose she sank back
sick and giddy; and then the idea of premature death, of passing away
without a sign, of hiding her pain under the silent earth that has
covered so many sins and sorrows, first laid hold of her.

The notion was not fairly welcome: she was young; her heart had been
recently wrung; she had been listless and disappointed--but she had
loved her few isolated engagements, her country life, her household
dignity, the protection of her husband. She could not divest herself
of these feelings at once. She feared the great unknown into which
she should enter; but still death did not appal her as it might have
done: it was something to be scanned, waited for, and submitted to,
as a true sovereign.

The cold wind pierced her through and through; the rain fell; she could
not drag herself from the shelving rock, though the tide was rising. She
felt frozen, her limbs were like lead, and her mind was wandering, or
lapsing into unconsciousness.

She did not hear a call, an approaching foot; but her sinking pulses
leapt up with sudden power and passion when Hector Garret stooped over
her, and endeavoured to raise her.

"Here, Bridget, she is found! Leslie, why have you remained out so late?
You have been sleeping; you have made yourself ill. How can you be so
rash, so imprudent? It is childish--wrong. You have made us
anxious--distressed us. Poor old Bridget has stumbled further in search
of you, this squally night, than she has ventured on the sunniest
morning for many a year."

He was excited, aggrieved; he upbraided her. He had sympathy for old
Bridget's infirmities; he knew nothing of his wife's misery.

Leslie resisted him as she had done since that day, slipped from his
clasp, strove to steady herself, and to walk alone in her weakness.
Bridget put her feeble arm around her.

"Lean on me, madam, and I will lean on you, for I am frail, and the road
is rough, and the wind is blowing fresh, besides the darkness." "I knew
that would quiet her," she muttered. "Poor old Bridget indeed! said
Master Hector. Poor colleen! misled, misguided. Cruel makes cruel. St.
Patrick could not save himself from the hard necessity."

Hector Garret was content since he saw Leslie safe; he accused her of
captiousness and nervousness, but it was the waywardness and perversity
of illness. He had tried her simple nature with too much alienation from
her kind; she had grown morbid on the baneful diet, tutored though she
had been to self-dependence. He had been to blame; but her merry temper
would come back, and the rose to her cheek, and the spring to her foot,
with other ties, other occupations--dearer, more sufficient.


V.--THE MOTHER AND CHILD.

"How is the poor child, Bridget Kennedy? Does she fare as she should
do?"

"The child is as fine a child, Master Hector, as if she had been a boy,
and a Garret, on both sides of the house, and will thrive if her mother
will let her. There are mothers that would hinder their bairns in the
death-rattle, and there are others that so watch their little ones that
the angels of God are displaced from their cradles; and the weary human
care haunts and harasses the infant, and stops its growth."

"I am not learned in these matters, Bridget. You brought me up; I trust
you to rear my children."

"None shall rear them but their mother, Master Hector; none shall come
between her and them. I have ruled long at Otter, but I dare not dispute
with her there."

"Settle it as you like. I did not mean them--I was not thinking of them
at all. I asked for their mother. You have experience. Is she
well--happy as she should be?"

"I wish you would not provoke such mistakes, Master Hector," said
Bridget, pettishly; "I wish you would find some other name for your
wife. You should know best, but is it suitable to term the nursling and
the parent by the same title? I am a foolish old woman, but it seems
strange to me. Your father did not confound them."

"Ah! I dare say not. We will find a Christian name for the new comer,
and end the Comedy of Errors, since you dislike it, and Leslie too,
doubtless; for women are nice on these points."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Leslie, what shall we call the baby?" inquired Hector Garret the next
time he stood by his wife's side, wishing to divert her by a pleasant
difficulty, and to vary the expression of those large eyes--larger now
than ever--which, he knew not why, fascinated him by the intensity of
their gaze. "I cause Bridget to blunder oddly between you two; so set
her at rest by fixing as soon as you can the momentous question."

"I have fixed," answered Leslie, quietly.

"I commend your foresight; a man, now, would have left the alternative
open to the last."

"Mrs. Garret's first daughter must be named after Mrs. Garret's mother,"
declared Bridget, authoritatively.

"No," said Leslie, hastily; "I have named her after myself--if you do
not object," she added, with a flush, half shame, half pride.

"I? Oh, no; do as you will. It will not solve Bridget's puzzle; but I am
content. Leslie is a bonnie name."

Leslie compressed her lip.

"My mother's name is bonnier," she said, abruptly; "my mother's name is
Alice."

He started, and gazed at her keenly while she continued, falteringly,
but with a stubborn will in her speech:--

"I wish my baby to be mine in everything, particularly as she is a
girl. I am neither wise nor clever, nor strong now. I fear I am often
peevish; but you will excuse me, because I am a weak, ignorant woman.
Such defects are not fatal in a mother; hundreds have overcome them
for their children. I trust that I will be, if not what a better woman
might have been, at least more to my child than any other can be. Her
mother!--so holy a tie must confer some peculiar fitness. Yes; my baby
is mine, and must lie on my knees, and learn to laugh in my poor face.
And so I wish her to have my name also, that there may be a complete
union between us."

Hector Garret knew now what intelligence had reached his wife, and while
the old wound burnt afresh, the shyness of his still but sensitive
nature, the pride of the grave strong man, were offended and injured.
But with regard to his wife he was only conscious of the petulant,
unreasonable, unkind surface; he did not sound her deep resentment and
jealousy; he did not dream of the anguish of the secret cry whose
outward expression struck upon his vexed ears; he did not hear her inner
protest: "I will not have my baby bear his love's name, recall her to
him, be a memorial of her--be addressed with fondness as much for the
sake of old times as for her own, the innocent!--be brought up to
resemble Alice, trained to follow in her footsteps, until, if I died,
my child would be more Alice Boswell's than mine. Never, never!"

Hector Garret little knew Leslie Bower; slowly he arrived at the
discovery. First a troubled suspicion, then a dire certainty. Not the
transparent, light-hearted, humble girl, whom a safe, prosperous country
home, an honourable position, a kindly regard, left more than
satisfied--happy: but the visionary, enthusiastic woman, confiding, but
claiming confidence for confidence; tender and true, but demanding like
sincerity, constancy, purity, and power of devotion. Had he but known
her the first! But a man's fate lies in one woman. Had he but left her
in her girlish sweetness and gaiety; had he never approached her with
his cold overtures--his barren, artificial expediency and benevolence!
She erred in ignorance and inexperience; but he against the bitter fruit
of knowledge, in wilful tampering with truth--reluctantly,
misgivingly--selfishly cozening his conscience, hardening himself in
unbelief, applying salve to the old vital stab to his independence. He
had erred with an egotistical and presumptuous conceit of protecting and
defending the young full life which would have found for itself an
outlet, and flown on rapid, free, and rejoicing, had he only refrained
from diverting its current into a dull, dark, long-drained channel,
where it was dammed up, or oozed out sluggishly, gloomily,
despairingly--without natural spring-time, sunshine, abundance,
gladness, until lost in the great sea.

He had viewed but the soft silken bud, whose deep cup was drunk with
dew,--its subtle, spicy fragrance pervading, lingering after the leaves
were drooping and the bloom fled, but its rich, royal hues were yet to
come. In his blind coarse blundering, he had mistaken the bud for the
flower, the portal for the church; he had entered with heedless, profane
foot, and blighted the blossom and rifled the altar. For the leaves had
been unclosed, the gates unbarred under his neglect; and Leslie, with a
noble woman's frankness, generosity, and meekness--that true meekness
which oftenest cleaves and melts the ringing metal of a high
spirit--Leslie had begun to love him, to fix her heart upon him, to grow
to him--stolid, sardonic statue that he was!--until that shock exposed
his flaws and wrenched her from her hold. Better to be thus rudely
dissevered, perhaps, than to waste her womanliness, puny and pale from
its vague bald nourishment, on a fraud and a farce.

Hector Garret awoke from his delusion, from his scholarly reveries, his
active enterprise. "He that provideth not for his own house is worse
than an infidel." So he watched Leslie: he saw her rise up with her
thoughtful face, very individual it appeared now, and go up and down
carrying her baby. He was aware that she was appropriating it as her
treasure; that she was saying to herself some such words--"Silver and
gold have I none, but this is my pearl beyond price; she will be enough
for me; she must be so; I will make her so. She and I will waste no more
silly tears on hard, changeable men. They are not like us, little
daughter; they pass us by, or they love us once with fierce desire; and
when satiated or balked, they turn to us again to please their eye,
flatter their ear, vary their leisure; to anatomize and torture like
other favourites of an hour. We will have none of them, save to do our
duty. We will live for each other."

Not that she deprived him of his rights as a father; she was too
magnanimous to be unjust, and she would not have balked that puppet, to
whose service she consecrated herself, of one privilege which any pangs
of hers could purchase.

She presented their child to him with a serious stateliness, as if it
was so very solemn a ceremony that its performance emancipated her from
ordinary emotion; she came and consulted him on the small questions that
concerned its welfare with the same absorbing care. If he came near her
when she bore the child in her arms, she offered it to him immediately:
she was righteous as well as valiant--yes, very valiant. He contemplated
her stedfastness with wonder. After the blow which overcame her, when a
compensation was given her--a blessing to atone for the gall in her cup,
she accepted it and cherished it, and set herself to be grateful for it
and worthy of it immediately. The fortitude which, after the
involuntary, inevitable rebellion, would permit no more idle repining,
the decent pride that hid its own disease and bore it bravely, even the
sternness that set its teeth against reaction--he recognised them all;
it was studying the reflection of his own lofty features in the fragile,
quivering flesh of a girl.

What is often proposed, rarely practised, Leslie did. She changed her
ways: with what travail of spirit, what heart-sickness she alone could
tell. It is no common slight or safe influence that causes a revulsion
in the whole bodily system; it is no skin-deep puncture that bleeds
inwardly; it is no easy lesson that the disciple lays to heart; but
Leslie surmounted and survived it. She had escaped her responsibilities,
and slumbered at her post. She would do so no longer. She belonged now,
after little Leslie, to her household, and its members might yet be the
better for her, and Hector Garret should respect--not pity her. She
vindicated her matronhood suddenly and straightforwardly, but with a
sedateness and firmness that was conclusive of her future power; she had
much to acquire, but she would gain something every day and every hour,
until Otter should own no abler mistress. Then for her child, she would
teach herself that she might instruct her daughter, so that if she
proved inquiring and meditative like her father, she need not soon weary
of her simple mother, and turn altogether to a more enlightened and
profound instructor. Surely there was some knowledge that a woman could
best store up and dispense, some gift wherein the vigorous and
well-trained man did not bear the universal palm? Leslie strove to
cultivate her talents; for these, in her position, there was scarcely a
choice of fields, but she had eminently the power of observation, and
her sharpened motives supplied the defects of her early education.
Leslie became a naturalist--the most original and untrammelled of
naturalists, for she proceeded upon that foundation of anecdotal and
experimental acquaintance with herb and tree, insect, bird, and beast,
and even atmospheric phenomena, whose unalloyed riches are peculiar to
rustic and isolated genius.

Hector Garret observed this growing taste, and appreciated it. Leslie
had ceased to apologize for her stupidity, and to be shy of his
scrutiny. When he found her procuring and preserving this or that
specimen, or noting down a primitive fact, if he asked an explanation he
had one directly.

"This pale flower, and that with the green flowers and the great leaves,
are lady's-smock and lady's-mantle; they say they are named after the
Virgin, but I think Adam must have named them in the Garden.--Bridget
tells me that the Irish believe the fairies sleep in these bells.--This
is the plant of whose root cats are so fond that they burrow about it
and nibble it, and as it does not hurt them, I have dug up a bit for our
puss--little Leslie looks after her already.--I have been writing down
the day when the swallows twittered at the window, to compare with their
arrival next summer. Peggy Barbour saw a double nest with one hole last
year; it must have been an old pair and a young maintaining a joint
roof-tree.--Yes, of course, these are jay's feathers."

Another resource which Leslie found within Hector Garret's perception
was that of music. She had been endowed with a flexible, melodious
voice, and as soon as she had use for them, she gathered by magic a
host of ditties, blithe or sad, stirring or soothing, from the
romantic fervour of 'Charlie, he's my darling,' to the pathos of
'Drummossie Moor,' or the homely, biting humour of 'Tibbie Fowler,' to
carol to the accompaniment of the ancient spinet, in order to cheer or
lull the child.

Hector Garret would move to his study-window, and open it softly, in the
gloaming hour when the purple sunset was on the sea, and the bats
abroad from the old chimneys, to listen to his wife in the room above
singing to her child. He did not hear her music otherwise: if he had
solicited it, she would have complied, with a little surprise, but he
did not seek the indulgence.

The alteration in Leslie which matured her unexpectedly from a girl to a
woman affected powerfully both the arbiters of her destiny. Bridget
Kennedy, from a tyrant, was fairly transformed into her warmest and most
faithful adherent. There was something high and great in the wild old
woman, that could thus at once confess her error, admit greatness in any
form in another, and succumb to it reverently. Truly, Bridget Kennedy
was like fire to the weak and foolish, a scourge and a grizzly phantom;
to the brave and capable, a minister fearless, fond, and untiring to her
last breath.

It was very strange to Hector Garret to be sensible of Bridget's lapse
from his side,--to hear the present mistress, the subdued diligent
woman, canonized to the level of the grand, glad lady of Otter to whom
Bridget had been so long fanatically loyal. He said to himself that the
child had helped to effect it, the precious descendant, the doted-on
third generation; but he was uncertain. He himself was so impressed with
the patient woman he had formed out of the lively girl, so tortured by a
conviction that he had gagged and fettered her--that her limbs were
cramped and benumbed, her atmosphere oppressive, her life
self-denying--that he could bear it no longer.

"God forgive me, Leslie, for the wrong I have done you!" he confessed
one night with a haggard, remorseful face, when she stood, constrained
and pensive, on his joyless hearth.

She looked up quickly, and laughed a dry laugh. "You are dreaming," she
replied. "How much larger Otter is than the Glasgow house! it was a mere
cupboard in comparison. How much pleasanter the fields and hills and
sands than the grimy, noisy streets where my head ached and my eyes were
weary. And little Leslie is a thousand times dearer than my own people,
or any companions that I ever possessed. Hush! hush! I hear her cry;
don't detain me, unless for anything I can do for you--because nothing
keeps me from Leslie."

The coals of fire were heaped upon his head: there could be no
reparation.

Why was Hector Garret not resigned? It was a cruel mistake, but it might
have been worse, for hearts are deceitful, and what is false and baneful
is apt to prove an edge-tool. Here was permanent estrangement,
comfortless formality, cold, compulsory esteem; but there was no
treachery in the household, no malignant hate, no base revenge.

But Hector Garret would not rest: he had far less or far more energy
than his wife; he walked his lands a moody, harassed man. The turmoil
and distraction of his youth seemed recalled; he lost his equanimity;
his regular habits faded from him. Leslie could no longer count on his
prolonged absence, his short stated visits; he would be with her at any
time within doors or without--to exchange a word or look, and go as he
came, to return as unaccountably and inconsistently. It vexed Leslie;
she tried not to see it; it made her curious, anxious; and what had she
to do with Hector Garret's flushed cheek and shining eye? Some
anniversary, some combination of present associations and past
recollections--a tendency to fly from himself, besetting at times the
most self-controlled--might have caused this change in his appearance.
Ah! better twist and untwist the rings of little Leslie's fair hair, and
dress and undress her as she had done her doll; better examine the shell
cracked by the yellow-hammer, and count the spots on the broad, brown
leaf of the plane, than perplex herself with so uncongenial a
difficulty. But the difficulty pursued her nevertheless, and baffled and
bewitched her as it has done wiser people.

The master and mistress of Otter were spectators of the harvest home,
the plentiful feast, the merry dance in the spacious barn where their
share of the fruits of the earth was about to be garnered. Leslie stood
in her complimentary, gay gala ribbons, with her fingers meeting upon
her wedding-ring, looking composedly and with interest on the buxom
women and stalwart men, the loving lads and lasses, the cordial husbands
and wives. Hector Garret, however, scarcely tarried to reply to his
health and prosperity drunk in a flowing bumper, but broke from the
scene as if its good was his evil, its blessing his curse.

In the parish church where Leslie had exhibited her bridal finery she
now listened to the clergyman, and bent her head in penitence and
worship, and was disturbed by Hector Garret's gesture of restlessness
and attitude of care.

When the new moon was rising in the sky, Leslie would bid the little one
look up and clap her hands, while Hector paced up and down unquiet and
dissatisfied. Then she would carry the child off to her cradle pillow,
and coming back would stand and look at the moon, while he was close to
her, murmuring "Leslie! Leslie!" But she would turn upon him pale and
cold as the moon above her, and would address him, "See, yonder is a
ship doubling Earlscraig point and steering into the Otter sea."


VI.--THE STORM.

The October winds, tossing the late oats and the frosted heather, were
lashing the Otter sea into heaving waves and flakes of foam. That
western sea has its annals and its trophies, as well as den and moor.
Edward Bruce crossed it to give to Ireland as dauntless a king as he
whom a woman crowned, and who found a nameless grave; and there, in the
glassy calm of a summer night, the vessel, with its passengers lulled in
fatal security and slumber, sank like lead, fathoms beyond the aid of
modern science with its myriads of inventions and its hardy
self-confidence.

The few fishers of Otter were exposed to the swell rolling from New
England and Labrador to Galloway and Argyle; many a lamp stood day and
night in cottage windows, many an anxious woman forsook her brood, and
under her sheltering plaid ran here and there, dizzy and desperate, to
beg for counsel, and for tidings of the husband and father whose boat
was due, and who was still exposed to the pitiless fury of the tempest.

Hector Garret was early summoned to marshal his men in order to succour
those who were within his reach; to think, plan, and act to the last
for those who were amissing, but might yet be rescued. He had been upon
the beach all day; he had been handling rope and line; he had been ready
at any moment to launch his own boat among the breakers.

Leslie, too, had been abroad. She had been in several houses, especially
in those whose young children were of the same age as Leslie. In all she
met the same abandonment; whether the heads of the families chanced to
be young or old, worthy or unworthy, mattered not; they were now the
sole thought, the object of racking anxiety, lamented over beforehand
with sore lamentation. If they were safe, all was well; if they were
lost, these wives and mothers were bereaved indeed. The Sabine women did
not cling to their rough masters with more touching fidelity. The men
were in trouble--their imprudence, their intemperance, their violence
were blotted out.

Leslie went home in disturbance and pain. She, too, placed a light in
her window; she, too, left her infant untended, and strained her eyes to
pierce the storm. Hector Garret must have descried her figure as he
approached the house, for he came straight to her room, and stood a
moment with his dripping clothes and a glow on his face.

"Don't go, Leslie; I'll be back presently."

She put a restraint upon herself, and became busied with the
refreshments laid out for him. He came in immediately, and advanced
towards her with the same eager phrase, "Don't go, Leslie," and he
grasped her gown lightly. She sat down while he ate and drank.

"I'll have a cup of tea, Leslie; pour me out my tea as you used to do."
She had always poured out tea for him, but not always with him close by,
and his detaining hand upon her dress.

"This is like old times. They were very foolish--those old times, but
they have their sweetness to look back upon them."

She interrupted him--"They are all safe, are they not?"

"Every man of them, thank God."

He was spent with his exertions; he was fevered and incoherent; she let
him speak on, detailing the minutest particulars. She even said with
animation, and the tears in her eyes--

"Their protector and deliverer! God will bless you for this, Hector
Garret."

He bent his head, but he held out his arms: "Will you bless me, Leslie?"

His voice was thick and hoarse; it petrified her, so still was she--so
dumb; and at that moment the knocker sounded, and importunate voices
were demanding the Laird of Otter.

He obeyed the summons, spoke with his servants a little time, and
returned to find Leslie in the same arrested posture, with the same
blanched face. He had resumed his seaman's coat, and carried his cap in
his hand. He was calm now, and smiling, but with a face wan and shadowed
with an inexpressible cloud.

"It may not be, Leslie," he said, soft and low; "Nigel Boswell's boat is
in sight, struggling to make Earlscraig; he was always rash and
unskilled, though seaward born and bred. If he is not forestalled, his
boat will be bottom upmost, or crushed like glass within the hour. I
trust I will save him; but if there be peril and death in my path, then
listen to what I say, and remember it. Whatever has gone before, at this
moment I am yours; you may doubt it, deny it--I swear it, Leslie.
Despise me, reject me if you will; I cannot perish misinterpreted and
misjudged. I loved Alice Boswell. My love is ashes with its object. I
did not love you once; I love you now. I love a living woman truer,
higher, holier than the dead; and for my love's sake, not for my
vows--the first for love, if it be the last."

He had her in his arms; his lingering kisses were on her eyes, her hair,
her hands. He was gone, and still she remained rooted to the ground. Was
it amazement, anger, terror?--or was it a wild throb of exultation for
that, the real moment of their union? or because she had won him, and
was his who had slighted her, sinned against her--but who was still
Hector Garret, manly, wise, and noble--the hero of her girlhood.

She was roused reluctantly by the entrance of Bridget Kennedy, shaking
in every limb.

"Madam, why did you let Master Hector go?--he has had the look of a
doomed man this many a day. It is thus that men are called, as plain as
when the Banshee cries. Madam, say your prayers for Master Hector while
he is still in life."

"I must go to him, Bridget; I must follow him. Don't try to keep me. He
is my husband, too. The poor women were crowding on the beach this
morning. Let me go!"

She understood that he was exposing himself for another--that his life
hung on the turning of a straw. She ran upstairs, but she did not seek
her child, and when she descended, Bridget had still to fetch her mantle
and bonnet. The old woman did not seek to detain her, but ejaculated
through her chattering teeth, as she peered out after her and wrung her
hands, "She will bring the Master back, if anything can; nought will
harm her. I, poor miserable wretch, would but clog her swiftness. Ay, he
will hearken to her voice; he has been waiting for the sound weeks and
months. Who would have said that Master Hector, like Samson, would twice
be given a prey to a woman! He will hear her above the winds and waves;
body or soul, he will obey her, as he did Alice Boswell twenty years ago
in fire and ruin."

Leslie hurried on in the darkness, her little feet tripping, her slight
form borne back by the blast. Not thus had she wandered on those sunny,
summer days when she first knew Otter; but there was that within, in the
midst of her distress, that she would not have resigned for that light
life twice over.

She reached the beach; the roar of the surf and the shriek of the wind
were in her ears, but no human presence was visible. There flashed back
upon her the vision of her hopelessness and helplessness on such another
blustering, raging night--but the recollection brought no comfort. She
paused in dismay, with nothing but the mist and the driving rain before
her. Stay! obscurely, and at intervals, she caught sight of a light, now
borne on the crest of these giant waves, now sunk and lost. Hark! a
pistol-shot! that must be Boswell's appeal for aid; and yonder lay
Earlscraig--yonder also was Hector toiling to rescue his ancient friend
and persistent foe. She should be there too. At Earlscraig their destiny
would be wrought out.

Leslie sped along in the tumult of earth and sky; the road was more than
a mile, and at such a season and in such weather very toilsome and
dangerous--but what deeds have not tender women achieved, strung by
love, or hate!

When Leslie gained the promontory, she found the old house deserted--the
few servants were on the shore, aiding or watching Hector Garret and his
men in their efforts to save the last of his line, cast away within the
shadow of his own rocks and towers.

Leslie shrank from descending among the spectators; she remained spent
and breathless, but resolute still, where she could spy the first
wayfarer, hear the first shout of triumph, and steal away in the
darkness, fleeing home unmarked and undetained.

It was the first occasion on which she had been close to Earlscraig. The
situation, at all times exposed, was now utterly forlorn. The spray was
rising over the land, the waves were sapping its old foundation, the
weird winds were tearing at the coping of the shattered house; and on
the side where Alice Boswell's turret had stood, stones were rumbling,
and wild weeds streaming. The scene was very dismal and eerie, but
Leslie did not shudder or faint; her senses were bent on one aim, she
was impervious to all else. She sank down in a kneeling position,
staring with unwinking eyes, praying with her whole heart in an agony.
The light which had beguiled her, passed beyond her sight after tossing
for some time to and fro. She could not regain it, she could only
continue ready to seize the first signal of bliss, or woe.

It did not come. The storm raged more madly; the desolation grew more
appalling; Leslie's brain began to whirl; the solitude was rife with
shapes and voices.

Above all stood fair Alice Boswell, wreathed in white flames--from the
wavering cloudy mass of forms the gallant exile plunged anew into the
flood, now seething and rushing to meet its prey.

"Oh woman--Alice Boswell--I did not steal your lover! you kept him from
me long after God and man had given him to me. There are no vows and
caresses in the grave. We have had but one meeting and parting; but one!
Oh, stranger, he is spending his life for her brother, as you were ready
to fling down yours for her. Will none of you be appeased? Then take us
both; in mercy leave not the other! In death let us not be divided!"

The pang was over; Leslie passed into insensibility. When she recovered
herself, the spectres of that horrible dream still flitted around her,
for did she not distinguish through the surge and the blast Hector
Garret's foot speeding to receive his doom?

But "Leslie," not "Alice," was his cry. Beneath the very arches of
Earlscraig, where fair Alice Boswell, her rich hair decked for one, her
bright eyes sparkling for another, her sandal buckled for a third, had
stood, and waved to him her hand--"Leslie! Leslie!" was his cry,
uttered with such aching longing, such utter despair. It was the wail of
no mocking ghost, but the human cry of a breaking heart.

Leslie's tongue clove to the roof of her mouth; but there was no need
of speech to indicate to him his weak, fluttering treasure. Found once
more! Found for ever! raised and borne away swiftly and securely. No
word of explanation, no reproach for folly and desperation, no recital
of his labours, no information regarding others, but--strange from
Hector Garret's stern lips, and sweet as strange--murmurs of fondness
and devotion: "Sweet Leslie! mine only--mine always!" Scoutings at
weariness, cheery reckonings of their way, his heart beating against
hers, her cheek to his; and it was only when Bridget Kennedy opened
the door, and he asked her whether she had yet a chamber for this
truant, that Leslie was aware how well Hector Garret had performed his
part, and how many guests the hospitable walls of Otter sheltered that
eventful night.

Bridget was solemnly praising heaven, whose arm had been about them, and
restored them both in the flower of their days, to Otter, and to their
bairn.

"We have come back for more than Otter and the bairn, Leslie. Bridget
and all the men of Ayr could not have held her here, my faithful wife
that needs must be my love, she has proved herself so true!"

He was throwing off her drenched cloak, and chafing her cold hands. One
of them was clenched on its contents. He opened the stiffened finger,
and found a lock of hair.

"It was all belonging to you that I had, Hector," she whispered; "I took
it long ago, with your knowledge but without your consent. I would not
look at it, or touch it; I kept it for little Leslie. But you said that
you were mine, and it was something of yours to hold; you were mine, and
it was part of you."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Better for Scotland that weans greet than bearded men," averred the
Lord of Glammis; but he did not say, better for the men, or better for
those who plight hand and heart with them, that the keen, clear eye melt
not, either with ruth or tenderness. Nay, the plants of household faith
and love, scathed by some lightning flash, pinched by some poverty of
soil, will lift their heads and thrive apace when once they have been
watered with this heavenly rain--and like the tree of the Psalmist
growing by the river, will flourish pleasantly, and bear much goodly
fruit thenceforth, and fade not at all, but instead, be transplanted
into "the land that is far away."



THE OLD YEOMANRY WEEKS.


I.--THE YEOMEN'S ADVENT.--PRIORTON SPRUCES ITSELF UP.

Time changes both defences and amusements. Now we have volunteer reviews
in place of old yeomanry weeks. But it is worth while looking back on
what was so hearty, quaint, humorous, and stirring in times bygone.

Beasts as well as men had their day in the past. The tramp of horses,
their brisk neigh, and the flourish of their long tails added to the
general attraction. The coats of the Yeomen, too, were of the most
sanguinary red. And there were other charms. The calling out of the
troop for ten days involved a muster from all the county for twelve or
fifteen miles round. There was thus an inroad of country friends. The
genial system of billeting was in vogue, too, so that every bed was
full. And allies and satellites called in, in happy succession, to share
the bustle and glee. A company of respectable theatrical stars,
patronized both by officers and privates, visited the town; and a
wonderfully brilliant yeomanry ball, attended alike by gentle and
simple, wound up the successful interlude in ordinary life.

The little town of Priorton spruced itself up for its yeomanry weeks,
and was all agog, as it never was at any other time. The campaign
commenced by the arrival on horseback of a host of country gentlemen and
farmers, in plain clothes as yet. But they carried at their saddle-bows,
packages containing their cherished ensigns and symbols--in their case
the very glory of the affair. Along with these in many cases came
judicious presents of poultry and game.

There were such hand-shakings in the usually quiet streets, such
groomings of horses at stables behind old-fashioned little taverns, such
pipe-claying of belts and polishing of helmets, and, above all, such
joyous anticipatory parties in private houses!

The season was always the height of the summer, not perhaps in every
respect the best for such a muster. Stout Yeomen had even been known to
faint while at drill; the combined influences of the fatigue, the heat,
and last night's hilarity being too much for them. But farmers and
farming lairds could well quit their lands unless in the beginning of
July, when the June hoeing of turnips and beans had been got through,
the first grass cut, and while there was still a good three weeks before
barley-harvest. Trees were then dusky in their green, and gooseberries
and currants tinted the Priorton gardens with rich amber and crimson.
Roses redder than the yeomen's coats were in full flower for every
waistcoat and waistband. The streets and roads were dusty, under blue
skies or black thunderclouds; but the meadows were comparatively cool
and fresh, and now white with the summer snow of daisies. The bustle of
the Yeomen, like the trillings of wandering musicians, was heard only in
the brooding heat of summer afternoons, or the rosy flush of summer
sunset, the prime of the year lending a crowning charm to their advent.

It was a delightful start, that first réveillée of the bugle at five of
the clock on a July morning. Youngsters whom nought else could have
tempted out of bed so early darted up at the summons. They envied papas
and uncles, brothers and cousins in the ranks of the Yeomen. Comely
blooming young faces joined the watch at the windows. Cloaks were
loosely cast about rounded shoulders, and caps were hastily snatched up
to hide dishevelled hair; while little bare pink feet would sometimes
show themselves. But the young ladies only peeped out behind the window
curtains, in the background of the noisy demonstrative band of
youngsters.

Distant voices, excited and impatient, were soon heard; then the jingle
of spurs, and the clank of swords, as half-bashful Yeomen descended the
stairs for their _début_ in the street. At last appeared important
familiar persons, now strikingly transformed by their martial dress, but
terribly uncomfortable and self-conscious.

The horses were led to the doors, and to the women who stayed at home
the mounts were the exquisitely comic incidents of the day. The return
of the members of the troop, now broken to their work, and detached into
groups of threes and fours, and chatting and laughing at their ease, was
quite tame in comparison. The country gentlemen and farmers were, of
course, generally well used to the saddle, and could get upon their
Bucephaluses without difficulty, and ride cavalierly, or prick briskly
out of sight, as they were in good time or too late. But here and there
a solicitor or banker, or wealthy shopkeeper, ambitious of being among
the Yeomen, would meet with unhappy enough adventures. He might be seen
issuing from his doorway with pretended unconcern, but with anxious
clearings of the throat and ominously long breaths, while his nag,
strange to him as John Gilpin's, was brought up to the mounting-place.
The worthy man would plant his foot in the stirrup next him, but, not
throwing himself round decidedly enough, the horse would swerve and
rear, while he looked on beseechingly and helpless. Then he would try
the other side, still failing to swing himself into the saddle. He would
grow more and more flustered. His wife, in her clean muslin cap and
spotless calico wrapper, with her little lads and lasses--one, two,
three--would then step out on the pavement to give cautious advice. The
would-be Yeoman would become more and more nervous, while his comrades
rode by with jeering glances, and the passengers stood still. Little
boys would begin to whoop and hurrah, and a crowd, even at this early
hour, would gather round to enjoy the experiment. "Hey, Nancy! get me a
kitchen chair," the town-bred Yeoman at last would say in desperation to
his elderly commiserating maid-servant in the distance; and from that
steady halfway stand he would climb into the saddle with a groan, settle
himself sack fashion, and, working the bridle laboriously with his arms,
trot off, to return very saddle-sick.

Then some stubborn young fellow, possessed with the notion of showing
off a dashing horse, would insist on riding a vicious, almost dangerous
animal, which would on no account endure the sight of his flaming
regimentals on the occasions of his mountings and dismountings. Once in
the saddle, he would master it thoroughly, and pay it back in kind with
whip and spur, compelling the furious beast to face a whole line of red
coats, and wheel, march, charge, and halt, with perfect correctness. But
the horse would have its moment of revenge as its rider leapt to and
from the saddle. If it encountered the scarlet and the glitter of brass
and steel, at that instant it would get quite wild, paw the air, fling
out its hoofs, snort and dart off wildly, to the danger of its own and
its master's life. But the young soldier would not be beat. Day after
day the contest would be renewed. At length he would resort to a
compromise, and his groom would bring out the animal with its head
ignominiously muffled in a sack; and now the Yeoman would mount with
comparative safety.

But the bugle is sounding to drill in the early summer morning.
Tra-li-la! the clear music suits with the songs of the birds and the dew
on the grass. The last lagging Yeoman is off, gone to receive a public
reprimand from his strict commanding officer, but sure to have the
affront rubbed out next morning by a similar fault, and a similar
experience, on the part of a comrade.

The drill ends at the common breakfast hour, when the Yeoman may be
supposed to return and feast sumptuously. Then "civil" work commences.
Yeomen who had offices or shops, attended them with slight relics of
their uniform. A stranger might have been pardoned had he imagined an
invasion was daily expected, or that an intestine war was on the point
of breaking out. In consideration of the hot weather, undress uniform
was permitted on all save field days, and thus the toiling Yeomen
enjoyed a little cool in their white ducks and jackets, though the red
mark, the helmet's line, was still to be traced on their sun-browned
foreheads.

There was an afternoon's drill. It was a little of a fag, being in fact
rather like a dish heated up a second time, as a duty twice done mostly
always is. But the evening was particularly gay. Then the Yeomen were
supposed to be enjoying themselves. Pleasant, if they had always enjoyed
themselves in an innocent fashion. That many of them did so, it is only
charitable to believe. And while the fast and foolish, the gross and
wicked were swilling and roystering in evil localities, the generous,
manly, gentle souls gratified the matrons with whom they were billeted
by walking with them and their daughters through the streets, or into
the nearest meadow; or perhaps they treated them to the play.

I have only heard of those days. But I should have liked to have seen
the bluff kind faces above the stiff stocks and scarlet coats, and the
joyous smiles which shone upon them. I should have liked to have heard
the quiet town ringing with such blithe laughter. Little jokes would
cause the people to laugh, as little accidents would cause them to shake
their heads. Sandy Hope's horse, for instance, lost a shoe while at the
gallop, stumbled, and threw its rider, dislocating his shoulder, and
breaking his arm. What a sensation the news created! It could scarcely
have been greater even though Sandy's brains had been dashed out. Not
only Sandy himself, but Sandy's kindred to the remotest degree, were
deeply commiserated. The commanding officer sent his compliments every
morning with inquiries after him. The troop doctor was besieged by
anxious acquaintances. Sandy's comrades never ceased calling upon him,
and sat for hours drinking beer at his open window. Delicious messes and
refreshing drinks a thousand times better than beer, were sent to Sandy.
Then the nosegays, the books he got! Sandy received a perfect ovation.
It was even proposed that the ball should be put off because Sandy was
lying in pain; and it was certain that no fewer than three reputed
sweethearts of Sandy's stayed at home on the ball night. Yet the stupid
fellow was so slightly hurt, that within the fortnight he was walking
the streets of Priorton more briskly than ever!

Priorton was kindly in its gaiety, and each had an interest in the
other. I should have liked to have known the old town when it was thus
given up for ten days, half to military exercises, half to fraternity
and feasting. I should have been sorry when the feasting was
intemperate, but I would no more have condemned the general feasting
because of that circumstance, than I would condemn the gift of speech
because some of us are so left to ourselves as to tell lies or say bad
words.


II.--A MATCH-MAKER'S SCHEME.

It was a well-known and accredited fact that in consequence of these
festivities of the Yeomen more matches were made up in this brief
interval than during any other period of the year. Match-making
individuals seriously counted on the yeomanry weeks; and probably
far-seeing young ladies had fitting matches in their eye, as well as the
fireworks and the introductory gaiety, when they came in troops to
Priorton to entertain the lucky Yeomen.

"My dear," said Mrs. Spottiswoode, the wife of the chief magistrate, who
was likewise banker of Priorton, to her spouse, "your cousin, Bourhope,
has asked his billet with us: I must have my sister Corrie in to meet
him."

Mrs. Spottiswoode was a showy, smart, good-humoured woman, but not
over-scrupulous. She was very ready at adapting herself to
circumstances, even when the circumstances were against her. For that
reason she was considered very clever as well as very affable, among the
matrons of Priorton. Mr. Spottiswoode was "slow and sure:" it was
because of the happy alliance of these qualities in him that the people
of Priorton had elected him chief magistrate.

"My dear," deliberately observed long, lanky Mr. Spottiswoode, "would it
not be rather barefaced to have Bourhope and Corrie here together?"

"Oh, I'll take care of that," answered the lady, with a laugh and a toss
of her ribbons; "I shall have some other girl of my acquaintance to bear
Corrie company;--some worthy, out-of-the-way girl, to whom the visit
will be like entering another world," continued Mrs. Spottiswoode, with
a twinkle of her black eyes. "What do you think of Corrie and my cousin
Chrissy Hunter, of Blackfaulds? The Hunters have had such a deal of
distress, and so much fighting with embarrassment--though I believe they
are getting clearer now--that the poor lassie has had no amusement but
her books, and has seen absolutely nothing."

Mr. Spottiswoode had no inclination to contradict his wife for
contradiction's sake, and as he could rely on her prudence as on her
other good qualities, he said, "Well, Agnes, I have no objection; Hunter
of Blackfaulds is an honest man though he is poor, and he is righting
himself now."

The invitations were dispatched, and accepted gratefully. The guests
arrived before Bourhope occupied his quarters; ostensibly they came so
soon to prepare for him. Corrie had nothing Roman about her except her
name, Cornelia. She was a tall, well-made, fair-faced, serene beauty;
the sole remaining maiden daughter of a Scotchman who had returned from
the Indies with a fortune, as so many returned then. He had already
endowed Mrs. Spottiswoode with a handsome "tocher," and since his
marriage had settled within five miles of Priorton. Chrissy, again, was
one of a large, struggling family; a small girl, a very little crooked
in figure, and with irregular features, and a brown complexion. If she
had not possessed a bright, intelligent expression, she would certainly
have been plain--as indeed she was to those who did not heed expression.
It was a delightful chance to Chrissy, this brief transplanting into
the flourishing, cheerful town-house, amid the glowing gaiety of the
yeomanry weeks. Accordingly she was constantly engaged in checking off
every little detail on the finger-points of her active mind, in order
that she might be able to describe them to her secluded sisters and her
sick mother at home. She was determined not to miss one item of
interest; never to sleep-in so as to lose the mount; never to stray in
her walks and fail to be in the house for the return of the afternoon
drill. She would pace the meadows among the gay promenaders, even when
the evening was cloudy, and would not care though she walked alone. She
would enjoy the play when Mrs. Spottiswoode chose to take her, and not
even object to a squeeze in the box. The squeeze was really part of the
fun! But she did not care to have her attention distracted from the
stage, even by the proffers of fruit from the Yeomen. As to the ball,
she did not allow herself to think much of that. Who would ever have
dreamt of Chrissy figuring at a fine yeomanry ball! She would not
trouble herself because she wore an old worked white frock of her
mother's, taken up by tucks to suit her, and yellowed by frequent
washing and long keeping. She would not fret because she could not spend
money upon a hair-dresser. She must dress her own hair--which was
scanty, like every other outward adornment of hers. This was little
matter, she reflected, for it would not dress under the most skilful
artist into those enormous bows on the crown of the head which everybody
then wore--it would only go into comb-curls like little hair turrets on
each side of her round, full forehead, which was by no means scanty. She
had no ornaments in the way of jewellery, save a coral necklace; while
Corrie had a set of amethysts--real amethysts--ear-rings, brooch, and
necklace, and a gold cross and a gold watch, which she rarely wound up,
and which was therefore, as Chrissy said, "a dead-alive affair." But
Corrie was a beauty and an heiress, and ornaments became her person and
position; while on Chrissy, as she herself admitted with great good
sense, they would only have been thrown away. And what did Chrissy care
for her appearance so long as her dress was modest and neat? She could
walk about and listen to the ravishing music, and study the characters
she saw, from Corrie up to the Countess, wife of the one earl who came
to Priorton, and who was Colonel of the yeomanry. The day or two before
the Yeomanry arrived was spent by the two girls in walking about,
shopping and making calls. Corrie, though a beauty, proved herself a
very dull companion for another girl to walk with. Very pretty to look
at was Corrie in a fair, still, swan-like style of beauty; and she had a
great many pretty dresses, over which she became a little more animated
when Chrissy, as a last resource and for their relief, would ask her to
turn them over and show them again. Corrie, of course, never dreamt of
offering poor Chrissy a loan of any of those worked pelerines or aprons,
which would have fitted either equally well. But Chrissy did not want
them, and she got a use out of them as they were brought out one by one
and spread before her. Ere the Yeomanry came, Chrissy knew the stock by
heart, and could have drawn them, and cut out patterns and shapes of
them, and probably did so, the little jade, when she got home.

Bourhope came with his fellows, and was more specially introduced to
Corrie and Chrissy. He had had some general acquaintance with both of
them before. He gallantly expressed his pleasure at the prospect of
having their society during his stay at Priorton. He was a farmer whose
father had made money at war prices. He had bought his own farm, and
thus constituted his son a small laird. He had an independent bearing,
as well as an independent portion of the world's goods; he was really a
manly fellow in his brown, ruddy, curly, strapping comeliness. But
better still, Bourhope was an intelligent fellow, who read other things
than the newspapers, and relished them. He was a little conceited, no
doubt, in consequence of comparing himself with others, but he had a
good heart. Corrie and Chrissy both regarded him with scarcely concealed
interest and admiration. Chrissy wished that the lads at home would grow
up to be as comely and manly; Corrie made up her mind to have just such
a husband as Bourhope.

It was evident the very first night that Bourhope was taken with Corrie.
He stared and stared at her, admiring her waxen complexion, the bend of
her white throat, and the slope of her white shoulders; and even changed
his seat at one time, as it seemed, in order to see her better. He
quickly claimed her as his partner at loo, and engaged her to walk out
with him to hear the band practising next evening. Chrissy thought it
all very natural, and all the more enjoyable. But she caught herself
fancying Bourhope and Corrie married, and rebuked herself for carrying
her speculations so far. Only she could not help thinking how Bourhope
would weary after the marriage--say when there was a snow-storm, or a
three days' fall of rain at the farmhouse. But that was Bourhope's
affair; if he was pleased, what business was it of hers? Bourhope had
this in common with Chrissy: he could entertain himself.

During the first three days of the week, Bourhope was zealous in looking
at, and attaching himself to, Corrie. But a sharp observer might have
remarked that after that he flagged a little, taking more as a matter of
course and politeness the association he had established between her and
him at tea, loo, and the evening promenade. He would even stifle a yawn
while in Corrie's company, though he was a mettlesome and not a listless
fellow. But that was only like men, to prize less what they had coveted
when it was half won.

So for a short time matters stood. Corrie, fair and swan-like, Bourhope
reasonably impressionable, Mr. and Mrs. Spottiswoode decidedly
favourable, Chrissy Hunter harmless, if not even helpful. Mrs.
Spottiswoode knew that those who dally with a suggestion are in great
danger of acting on it, and had very little doubt that the next ten
days' work, with the crowning performance of the ball, would issue in
deciding the desirable match between Bourhope and Corrie.


III.--A MORNING MEETING AND AN EVENING'S READING.

At this juncture it struck Bourhope, riding home from the morning
drill, to ask himself what could possibly take Chrissy Hunter out so
early every morning. He had already seen her once or twice, keeping
out of the way of him and his companions, and returning again from
the opposite end of Priorton, which was flanked by the doctor's house.
Corrie, he noticed, was never with her. Indeed, Bourhope had a strong
suspicion that Corrie retreated to her pillow again after showing him
her lovely face--lovely even in the pink curl-papers. But Chrissy
certainly dressed immediately, and took a morning walk, by which her
complexion at least did not profit. Not being a very strong little
woman, her brown face was apt to look jaded and streaky, when
Bourhope, resting from the fatigues of his drill, lounged with the
girls in the early forenoon in Mrs. Spottiswoode's drawing-room. So it
was worth while, he thought, to spur up to Chrissy, and inquire what
took her abroad at such an untimely hour.

When Bourhope caught a nearer glimpse of Chrissy he was rather dismayed
to see that she had been crying. Bourhope hated to see girls crying,
particularly girls like Chrissy, to whom it was not becoming. He had no
particular fancy for Cinderellas or other beggar-maids. He would have
hated to find that his kinsfolk and friendly host and hostess, for whom
he had a considerable regard, were mean enough and base enough to
maltreat a poor little guest of their own invitation. Notwithstanding
these demurs, Tom Spottiswoode of Bourhope rode so fast up to Chrissy as
to cause her to give a violent start when she turned.

"Hallo! Do you go to market, Miss Chrissy? or what on earth takes you
out in the town before the shutters are down?" pointing with his
sheathed sword to a closed shop.

Chrissy was taken aback, and there was something slightly hysterical in
her laugh, but she answered frankly enough, "I go to Dr. Stark's, Mr.
Spottiswoode. Dr. Stark attends my mother, and is at Blackfaulds every
day. I wait in his laboratory till he comes there before setting out; he
goes his rounds early, you know. He lets me know how mother was
yesterday, and as he is a kind man, he carries our letters,--Maggie and
Arabella and I are great writers, and postage comes to be expensive--a
great deal too expensive for us at Blackfaulds; but the doctor is a kind
man, and he 'favours' our letters. And Mr. Spottiswoode," she said,
warming with her subject and impelled to a bit of confidence, "do you
know, Dr. Stark thinks my mother will be about again in a few months.
You are aware her knee-joint has been affected. We were even afraid she
would never put down her foot again. It would have been a dreadful trial
for all of us." Chrissy spoke simply, in a rather moved voice.

Bourhope was slightly moved, too. He had never heard much about Mrs.
Hunter, of Blackfaulds, except that she was a woman who had been long
ailing; and also occasional remarks about the consequences of her being
lost or spared to her family.

Chrissy was grateful for his evident sympathy, and gratified by it; but,
as if half ashamed of having elicited it, she at once began to prattle
to him on other subjects. Bourhope had leapt from his horse, and was
doing Chrissy the honour of walking at her side, his beast's bridle over
his arm, and his spurs ringing on the pavement. A sparkling prattle that
was of Chrissy's about the fine morning, the town, and the
yeomanry--few topics, but well handled and brilliantly illustrated.
Bourhope had dared to confess to himself how sorry he was when he
reached Mr. Spottiswoode's door.

[Illustration]

Next morning Bourhope detached himself from his comrades when he
approached the town, and looked narrowly for Chrissy. It would be but
civil to inquire for poor Mrs. Hunter. So bent was he on being thus
civil, that though Chrissy was far in advance, he knew her by the pink
gingham trimming of her morning bonnet, fluttering like rose-leaves in
the morning sun. He came up to her, and politely asked after her mother.
Chrissy was a little confused, but she answered pleasantly enough. She
was not nearly so talkative, however, as on the preceding morning,
though Bourhope made witty comments on the letter she held in her hand,
and pertinaciously insisted on her telling him whether she mentioned him
in her return letters! He reminded her that they were cousins in a way.
This was the first time Chrissy had known of any one hunting up a
relationship with her; and though pleased in her humility--Chrissy was
no fool in that humility of hers--Bourhope, she knew, was destined for
her cousin Corrie. He was out of Corrie's way just now, and was only
courteous and cordial to her as living for a time under the same roof.
She liked the ruddy, curly, independent, clever fellow of a farmer
laird, who, out of the riches of his kindness, could be courteous and
cordial to a poor plain girl. Bourhope could never overtake Chrissy
coming from Dr. Stark's again. He spied and peeped and threw out hints,
and hurried or loitered on the way to no purpose. Chrissy took care
that people should not notice the fact of her being escorted home in the
early morning by Bourhope.

A chance conversation between Mrs. Spottiswoode and Corrie was
overheard one day by Bourhope, when they imagined him deep in
"Blackwood;" for it was the days of the "Noctes." Mr. Hunter, of
Redcraigs, Corrie's father, had not been well one day, and a message
had been sent to that effect to her. But Corrie was philosophic, and
not unduly alarmed. "Papa makes such a work about himself," she said
candidly to Mrs. Spottiswoode. "Very likely he has only taken lobster
at supper, or his Jamaica rum has not agreed with him, and he is
bilious this morning. I think I will send out a box of colocynth, and
a bit of nice tender veal, to put him in good humour again. You know,
Agnes, if I were to drive out, I would not get back in time for the
evening walk in the meadows. Besides, I was to see Miss Aikin about
the change in the running on of my frills. It would overturn all my
plans to go, and my head gets so hot, and I look so blowsy, when my
plans are disarranged," Corrie concluded, almost piteously.

"Yes, but Corrie," hesitated Mrs. Spottiswoode, "you know Dr. Stark is
not easy about papa just now. I think I had better go out myself. It is
unlucky that Spottiswoode is to have several other yeomen who do
business at the Bank, at dinner to-day with Bourhope; but I dare say
Mary will manage that, as Chrissy will mix the pudding for her. So I
will go myself to Redcraigs; all things considered, it would be a pity
for you not to be in your best looks----"

Bourhope at this point fell into a fit of coughing, and lost the rest of
the dialogue; but perhaps his occasional snort of disapprobation was
called forth as much by this interlude as by the audacious judgments of
the Shepherd and Tickler.

The day unluckily turned out very rainy, and the drill was gone through
in a dense white mist, which caused every horse to loom large as an
elephant, and every rider to look a Gog or Magog. The young ladies, so
fond of a change of costume at this time in Priorton, could do no
shopping; the walk in the meadows at sunset with the lounging yeomen had
to be given up. The green meadows were not inviting, the grass was
dripping, the flowers closed and heavy, the river red and drumly. All
was disappointing; for the meadows were beautiful at this season with
their summer snow of daisies--not dead-white snow either, for it was
broken by patches of yellow buttercups, crow's-foot, lady's-finger, and
vetch, and by the crimson clover flowers and the rusty red of sorrel,
and the black pert heads of the nib-wort plaintain, whose black upon the
white of ox-eye daisies has the rich tone of ermine.

Instead of walks, there were gatherings round shining tables; and
bottles and glasses clinked cheerily in many a parlour. But Mr.
Spottiswoode was sober by inclination. The impressiveness of office,
which had quite the contrary effect on many provosts of his era, only
added to his characteristic caution. The yeomen, too, knew well where
hilarity ended and excess began. So there was little fear of excess in
Mr. Spottiswoode's house. Mrs. Spottiswoode, a genius in her own line,
had a cheerful fire in her drawing-room, and sat by the hearth with her
children tumbling round her, while Corrie, fairer than ever in the
blinking fire-light, and Chrissy, brown and merry, sat on either side of
her. She invited the farmer laird to enter that charmed ring, which, of
course, he could not help contrasting with the loneliness and
comfortlessness of Bourhope. But though Bourhope sat next Corrie, a
certain coldness crept over the well-arranged party. He caught himself
glancing curiously at the book Chrissy Hunter had been almost burning
her face in reading by the fire-light before he came in. Mrs.
Spottiswoode did not much care for reading aloud, but she took the hint
in good part, and called on Chrissy to tell what her book was about, and
so divert Bourhope without wholly monopolizing his attention.

Chrissy was rather shy at first. She never told stories freely away
from home; but she was now pressed to do it. After a little, however,
she put her own sympathetic humour and pathos into the wondrous
narrative, till she literally held her listeners spell-bound. And no
wonder. Those were the days of Scott's early novels, when they were
greatly run after, and the price of a night's reading was high.
Chrissy's cousin "Rob" was a bookseller's apprentice, and his master,
for the purpose of enabling Robbie to share his enthusiasm, would lend
the apprentice an uncut copy. Robbie brought it out to Blackfaulds,
and then all would sit up, sick mother among the rest, to hear them
read aloud, till far into the small hours.

Who can tell what that cordial of pure, healthful intellectual diversion
may have been, even to the burdened father and sick mother at
Blackfaulds! To Chrissy--the very speaking of it made her clasp her
hands over her knee, and her grey eyes to shine out like stars--as
Bourhope thought to himself.

How suggestively Chrissy discoursed of Glendearg, and the widow Elspeth
Glendinning, her two lads, and Martin and Tib Tacket, and the gentle
lady and Mary Avenel. With what breadth, yet precision, she reproduced
pursy Abbot Boniface, devoted Prior Eustace, wild Christie of the
Clinthill, buxom Mysie Hopper, exquisite Sir Percy Shafton, and even
tried her hand to some purpose on the ethereal White Lady. Perhaps
Chrissy enjoyed the reading as much as the great enchanter did the
writing. Like great actors, she had an instinctive consciousness of the
effect she produced. Bourhope shouted with laughter when the
incorrigible Sir Percy, in the disguise of the dairywoman, described his
routing charge as "the milky mothers of the herd." Corrie actually
glanced in affright at the steaming windows and the door ajar, and
pinched Chrissy's arm when she repeated for the last time the words of
the spell:--

    "Thrice to the holly brake--
      Thrice to the well;--
    Wake thee, O wake,
      White Maid of Avenel."

The assembly paid Chrissy the highest compliment an assembly can pay a
speaker. They forgot their schemes, their anxieties, themselves even, to
fasten their eyes and hearts on the brown girl--the book dropping from
her hand, but the story written so graphically on her memory. Corrie
was the first to recover herself. "Oh dear!" she cried, "I have forgot I
was to take down my hair for Miss Lothian to point it at eight o'clock,"
and hurried out of the room.

Mrs. Spottiswoode roused herself next, and spoke a few words of
acknowledgment to Chrissy. "Upon my word, Chrissy, your recital has been
quite as good as the play. We are much obliged to you. I am afraid your
throat must be sore; but stay, I have some of the theatre oranges here.
No, bairns, you are not to have any; it is far too late for you to be
up. Dear me; I believe you have been listening to Chrissy's story like
the rest of us!" But Mrs. Spottiswoode was not under any apprehension
about the success of Chrissy's reading. Mrs. Spottiswoode proved this by
immediately leaving Chrissy _tête-à-tête_ with Bourhope while she went
to put the children to bed, and see if Mr. Spottiswoode, who was doing a
quiet turn of business in his office, would have a game of cards before
supper. She had really never heard of a girl being married simply for
her tongue's sake! She perhaps knew the line in the song too--

    "Very few marry for talking,"

and had found its truth in her own experience, for she was a shrewd,
observant woman.

Bourhope, it should be understood, was longest subjected to the
influence of Chrissy's story-telling power. Indeed, when he did somewhat
recover from it, his fancy created fine visions of what it would be to
have such a storyteller at Bourhope during the long, dark nights of
winter and the endless days of summer. Bourhope was no ignoramus. He had
some acquaintance with "Winter's Tales" and summer pastorals, but his
reading was bald and tame to this inspiration. He thought to himself it
would really be as good as a company of players purely for his own
behoof, without any of the disadvantages. He stammered a little in
expressing the debt he owed to Chrissy, and she could only eagerly reply
by saying, "Not to me, not to me the praise, Mr. Spottiswoode, but to
the great unknown. Oh! I would like to know him."

Bourhope was stimulated to do at once what he was sure to do ultimately:
he presented his hospitable entertainers with a box at the play. No
doubt it was a great delight to Chrissy; for it was in the days when
actors were respectable artists and play-going was still universal.
Chrissy in her freshness enjoyed the provincials as well as if they had
been first-rate--took the good and left the bad, and sat quite
entranced.

Bourhope, although he was decidedly intellectual for his calling,
watched Chrissy rather than the stage. He read the feeling of the moment
reflected in her sagacious yet sensitive face. Once he turned round and
tried the same experiment with Corrie. He might as well have expected to
borrow a living soul from well-moulded stucco or marble. He now realized
in a more lively manner than ever, that geese may look fair and white
and soft and shapely as swans till they expose their waddling. He tried
in church the process he had learned at the play, and, it must be
confessed, not without effect--Chrissy's expression giving a fair
notion of the good Priorton minister's earnestness and eloquence.

But at length Chrissy, aware of the liberty Bourhope took in thus
making her his study, got restless and troubled in her sound head and
warm heart. She was no fool in her simplicity. She knew that Bourhope
did not in any sense belong to Mrs. Spottiswoode and Corrie, and she
had shrewdly suspected of late that their anticipated arrangements
would not be carried out. She could not help occasionally turning over
in her mind the circumstance that Cecilia was very plain, but that
depressed Mortimer Delville nevertheless bestowed his heart on her,
though the gift, like her fortune, was disastrous to Cecilia for many
a long day. Chrissy thought that if Bourhope were independent and
original enough to like her--to love her--he was his own master; there
was nothing between him and his inclination save her inclination and
her father and mother's will. And there was little doubt about father
and mother's will with respect to a man so worthy, so unexceptionable,
and so well endowed as Bourhope.

Nor was there anything like duty to the Spottiswoodes to stand between
Bourhope and Chrissy. But still Chrissy's nice sense of honour was
disturbed, for had she not a guess that a very different result had been
expected? Nay, she had even a half-comical notion that she herself had
been expressly selected as a companion to Corrie Hunter during the
gaieties of the yeomanry weeks, because she would also prove a sort of
harmless foil.

A dream of love was a grand shock to Chrissy's quiet life, making wild
yet plaintive music, like all nature's true harmonies, within her, and
filling her mind with tremulous light which glorified every object, and
was fain even to dazzle herself. It was not unnatural that Bourhope
should excite such a dream. But Chrissy was not completely dazzled. It
was only a dream as yet, and she would be the mistress of her dream; it
should not be the mistress of her. So she resolved, showing herself a
reasonable, thoughtful, conscientious woman, as well as a loving, fairly
proportioned, and lovely human spirit.

Chrissy retained all her sober senses. She recollected what was due both
to the hero and to the others concerned. She was neither a weak victim,
nor a headstrong, arrogant, malicious conqueror. Like all genuine women,
she struggled against yielding herself without her due--without a
certainty that there was no irreversible mistake in the matter. She was
not a girl to get love-sick at the first bout, nor one to run even at a
worthy lover's beckoning, though she would sacrifice much, and do it
proudly, joyously, for true affection, when once it had confessed
itself. So she shrank from Bourhope, slipped away from, and managed to
avoid him. He was puzzled and vexed, and almost exasperated by doubts as
to whether she cared for or wished to accept his notice and regards.
Little brown Chrissy taught the bold Yeoman a lesson in her own quiet
way. She slowly forced upon him the conviction that any gifts or
attainments of his--the prosperous, cultivated farmer laird--were as
dross compared with the genius and acquirements of Chrissy Hunter, whom
many short-sighted men called insignificant and plain amid the poverty
and cares of Blackfaulds. Bourhope was not radically mercenary: he had
no certainty that his superiority in worldly estate would secure the
strange good upon which he set his heart, and he was at once stimulated
and incensed by her indifference to his advances. So he had no
communication with Chrissy, apart from a demure interchange of words in
general conversation, for three days before the grand review and the
ball, except in a single incident of the pipe-claying of his belts.

The gentlemen of the old yeomanry who had not servants to do it for
them, did their own pipe-claying, and might generally be seen doing it
very indifferently to the accompaniment of private whistling or social
bawling to each other over adjacent walls in the back courts and greens
of Priorton. Bourhope was one day doing his rather gloomily in the back
court, and succeeding very ill, when Chrissy, who saw him from a window,
could endure it no longer. Chrissy was not what most intellectual women
are described as being--an abstracted, scared being, with two left
hands. The exigency of her situation as eldest daughter at Blackfaulds
had rendered her as handy as other girls, and only unlike them in being
a great deal more fertile in resource. How could such a woman stand and
see Bourhope destroying his accoutrements, and in danger of smearing
himself from head to foot with pipe-clay? Chrissy came tripping out, and
addressed him with some sharpness--"That is not right, Mr. Spottiswoode;
you will never whiten your belt in that way, you will only soil the rest
of your clothes. I watched the old sergeant doing it next-door for Major
Christison. Look here:" and she took the article out of his hands, and
proceeded smartly to clean it. Poor Bourhope bowed to her empire,
though he would much rather their positions had been reversed: he would
rather a thousand times have brushed Chrissy's shoes than that she
should clean his belt. She was gone again the moment she had directed
him. A portion of his belt was now as white as snow; but nothing would
have induced her to stay.

Bourhope was new to the humiliations as well as the triumphs of
love--that extreme ordeal through which even tolerably wise and sincere
spirits must pass before they can unite in a strictness of union
deserving the name. He was not exactly grateful for the good suggestion;
indeed, he had a little fight against Chrissy in his own breast just
then. He told himself it was all a whim, he did not really care for the
girl--one of a large family in embarrassed circumstances. No, it would
be absurd to fall in love with a little coffee-coloured girl whose one
shoulder was a fraction of an inch further out than the other. He was
not compelled to marry either Corrie or Chrissy--not he! Poeh! he was
not yet half through with his bachelor days. He would look about a
little longer, enjoy himself a little more. At the word enjoyment
Bourhope stopped short, as if he had caught himself tripping. If Chrissy
Hunter was ugly, she was an ugly fairy. She was his fate, indeed; he
would never see her like again, and he would be a lost and wrecked man
without her.


IV.--THE BALL, AND WHAT CAME OF IT.

The review and the ball were still in store. Bourhope would not be
beaten with that double shot in reserve. It would go hard with the
brown, curly, independent laird if he were beaten, for already he was
shaken more in his pride and confidence than he ever thought to be.

The review, for which all the drilling had been undertaken, went off
without serious effect on the contesting parties. The only thing was,
that Bourhope was so disturbed and so distracted in his mind that he
could not attend to orders, and lost his character as a yeoman, and all
chance of being future fugleman to his corps. And this, although the
Major had said, when the drills began, that there was not a finer man or
more promising dragoon than Bourhope in the regiment.

Chrissy's bright, tranquil satisfaction in contemplating, from the box
of Mrs. Spottiswoode's phaeton, the stand of county ladies, with their
gorgeousness and grace, was decidedly impaired. The review, with its
tramping and halting, its squares and files, its shouting leaders,
galloping aides-de-camp, flashing swords and waving plumes, was
certainly very fine. All the rest of Priorton said so and proved so, for
they stood or sat for a whole day witnessing it, under a scorching sun,
on foot, and in every description of vehicle from a corn-cart to a
coroneted carriage. Yes, the review was very fine to the mass; but it
was only a confused, hollow, agitating play to Chrissy as to Bourhope.
Still she lost sight of the grand general rank and file, by
concentrating her regard on one little scarlet dot. It was to her a play
with its heart a-wanting, and yet the whirl and movement were welcome
for a moment as substitutes for that heart.

The ball remained, and Bourhope was resolute it should settle the
question for him. It was the commendable fashion at Priorton that no
young lady should refuse to dance with an acquaintance without the
excuse of a previous engagement, under the penalty of having to sit the
rest of the night. Bourhope would get Chrissy to himself that night
(balls were of some use, after all, he thought), and have an opportunity
of hearing a terribly decisive word, and of getting a reason for that
word too, should it prove unfavourable. In short, he would storm the
fortress, and beat down its faltering guard then or never.

Others besides Bourhope had determined on making the ball a theatre of
explanations. Mrs. Spottiswoode was not pleased with the aspect of
things as between Bourhope and Corrie. Their affair made no advance, and
the ball was the conclusion of the yeomanry weeks. The yeomen were
already to all intents and purposes disbanded, and about to return, like
Cincinnatus, to their reaping-hooks. Corrie was evidently not contented.
She was listless and a little peevish, unless when in the company of
other yeomen than Bourhope--a rare thing with Corrie, who was really a
very harmless girl. But she looked elegant in her ball dress, and had
always a train of admirers on such occasions. And then, of course, many
men needed the spur of jealousy to induce them to take the bold leap of
matrimony. Chrissy, too, had her own fears and doubts about this ball.
Bourhope hitherto had only pursued her, if he had pursued her, in rather
a secret manner. She would now see how he would treat her on a public
occasion. His conduct would then be marked and conspicuous, and even
Mrs. Spottiswoode's and Corrie's eyes would be opened to it. Then,
again, he would have an opportunity of contrasting her personally with
all the girls about Priorton. Chrissy gazed wistfully into the glass as
she fastened her yellow scrimp old white frock, and sighed. But she did
not look so much amiss as she supposed: she was young, slight, and full
of subtle character. And with her scarlet coral beads twisted among her
dark little turret curls and bows, there was piquancy and attraction in
Chrissy. But her first purely disinterested and unbounded pleasure in
the gaiety was grievously chequered, and it was to be feared the account
she would carry home of her first ball to expectant Blackfaulds would be
disappointing.

There were only two chaises in repair in Priorton, to convey the whole
townspeople in rotation to the ball. It was thus unavoidable that some
should be very early, as well as some very late. Mr. Spottiswoode, as
Provost, was of course among the first after the Colonel and his lady,
old country people, who stood arm-in-arm, bluff and bland, under the
evergreens over the door, and shook hands with everybody, great and
small--a family of pretty girls meanwhile laughing behind them.

Mrs. Spottiswoode wore a splendid bunch of white feathers tipped with
straw-colour in her blue gauze turban. Even Chrissy's dazed eyes noticed
that, as well as the white ribbon in Provost Spottiswoode's bottle-green
coat, which pointed him out an honorary steward. But how handsome brown
curly Bourhope looked in his red coat!

A strange thought came over Chrissy. She did not wish Corrie, in her
white crape and French ribbons, and so tall and straight and fair, to
be blighted in her beauty--no, not for a moment. But Chrissy was cruel
enough to cherish a passing wish that, by some instantaneous
transformation, Bourhope might be pitted with smallpox, or scarred with
gunpowder, or have premature age brought upon him as with the wave of a
wand--the soul within being left unchanged, however.

Mrs. Spottiswoode, unlike Chrissy, was quite alive to the practical. She
remarked everything with keen eyes, and determined now to be at the
bottom of the business. She should either go in and win triumphantly, or
take a sudden tack and sail away with flying colours, as if she had
never entertained the most distant intention of coming to close
quarters, and thus give the impression that she never had any intention
of promoting a match between Bourhope and Corrie.

Mrs. Spottiswoode thought Bourhope looked as if he were going to do
something desperate. His first blunder had been to hand, or rather lift,
Chrissy into the chaise instead of Corrie, at starting from their own
door. He repeated the unaccountable blunder at the County Rooms, which
compelled him to take Chrissy into the ball-room; and while Chrissy was
still gazing in bewilderment and admiration at the evergreens and
chalked floors, and talking, laughing couples, Mrs. Spottiswoode could
scarcely believe her ears when she distinctly heard Bourhope ask
Chrissy's hand for the first dance, saying that he would have engaged it
before if he had got the opportunity.

Now Mrs. Spottiswoode had no doubt that Bourhope would solicit her
sister Corrie for this dance, and therefore she had peremptorily
forbidden Corrie to engage herself in any other quarter, even when
Corrie had demurred at the certainty of the arrangement. It was very odd
of Bourhope, unless he thought Chrissy would have no chance of any other
partner, and wanted to spare a plain little girl's mortification at the
very commencement of the evening. "That must be it," Mrs. Spottiswoode
said to herself, and was consoled by Corrie's hand being immediately
requested for the Colonel's nephew.

The Colonel's wife opened the ball with the most popular and oldest
private for partner, and, of course, Chrissy and Bourhope stood below
Corrie and the Colonel's nephew. But Bourhope and Chrissy did not mind
Corrie's precedence, and were talking to each other quite intimately.
Bourhope was forgetting the figure and bending across to Chrissy, though
he was saying nothing particular, and speaking out quite loud. But he
looked engrossed and excited. If it had been any other girl but Chrissy,
Mrs. Spottiswoode would have called it a flirtation, and more than a
flirtation. Chrissy looked well in her shabby dress, almost pretty
indeed, in the new atmosphere. Mrs. Spottiswoode was aggrieved,
disgusted in the first instance, but she would not just yet believe such
an incredible contradiction to her well-laid scheme. Match-making
involves so many parties, there are such wheels within wheels of
calculation and resource. She glanced at Corrie, who was dancing very
complacently with the Colonel's nephew, and exchanging passing words
with yeomen who tried to get speech with her. In her white crape, and
teeth as white, and her dimples, she was safe, heart-whole and
prosperous--a beauty who might pick and choose a suitable husband,
even though Bourhope, infatuated, threw himself away.

Mrs. Spottiswoode gave a sigh of relief. Failure now would only be
comparative.

The dance being over, Bourhope sat down beside Chrissy. No, she turned
her head the other way, and he rose up and strolled through the room.
But he was soon back in his old place.

He wanted to dance with Chrissy again. She hesitated, grew nervous, and
cast her eyes on Mrs. Spottiswoode. He went straight to their hostess,
and said, "Mrs. Spottiswoode, you have no objection that I dance this
dance again with Miss Chrissy Hunter?"

"None in the world, Bourhope," said Mrs. Spottiswoode, with a spasmodic
smile, "why should I?"

"Why, indeed?" he returned, "or every dance? May I tell her so?"

"That is as she and you may agree. You are aware that would appear
something serious," she said, trying to laugh.

"I will take the consequences," he significantly assured her, and went
back and told Chrissy so, and then he drove her to her inmost citadel,
and beat her there.

Other eyes than Mrs. Spottiswoode's were attracted to the pair.
Half-a-dozen matrons' heads went wagging significantly; girls
whispered and tittered; gentlemen opened their eyes, shaped their
mouths as if about to whistle, strolled up and took their observations
of the pre-occupied, unconscious couple quite coolly, and then
speculated and gossiped.

Mrs. Spottiswoode read these comments as well as what had gone before,
and was ready with her magnanimity. It was this which constituted her a
truly able tactician. She shifted her tack before the shout of malicious
exultation and ridicule could have been raised at her discomfiture. By a
dexterous sleight of hand, she shuffled her cards and altered her suit.
In a moment Mrs. Spottiswoode was winking and nodding with the matrons
interested in the news of the night. She arrested a good-humoured
yeoman, and crossed the room on his arm, to express and receive
congratulations. "You have found out the secret? Foolish fellow,
Bourhope; he cannot conceal his feelings, though their display is
premature. I must scold him for exposing himself and her. Poor dear! she
is not accustomed to this sort of thing. But I am so delighted--so nice,
isn't it? Such an excellent marriage for my cousin Chrissy--a good girl,
a very clever girl--such a fortunate beginning for the Blackfaulds
family. I often say the first marriage makes or mars a family of girls.
It is so lucky that I invited Chrissy for the yeomanry weeks this
summer. It is a great deal better than if it had been Corrie, because
Corrie can wait," with a careless wave of her hand in the direction in
which Corrie moved, deliberately followed by her train. "Corrie has too
many admirers to make up her mind speedily, yet she takes it all very
quietly. But this is so appropriate--Mr. Spottiswoode's cousin and my
cousin--nobody could have planned it better."

She turned round, and heard a blunt booby of a farmer speaking out his
mind. She at once took him up--"You would not have thought it? You
cannot comprehend what has come over Bourhope, or what he sees in that
thin, yellow mite, Miss Hunter of Blackfaulds, even though she were as
good as a saint, and as wise as the Queen of Sheba? Oh! come, Balquin,
you do not allow sufficient latitude to goodness and cleverness. I tell
you, Bourhope has neither eyes nor ears for anybody but that mite; he
counts his colourless daisy far before the gayest painted face. He knows
that we are remarking on them now, and he is holding his head as high as
if he had sought and won a queen. He is right; she will prove a
sensible, cheerful wife to him. Bourhope will have the cleverest, best
wife in the county, for all your swaggering. And that is something, when
a man comes to be old and has an old wife like me. Not old, Balquin?
away with you. I wish the Provost heard you. Do you think to flatter me
because I am in spirits about my cousin's match? No, it is not lost that
a friend gets, Balquin."

The public of Priorton did not know whether most to admire Mrs.
Spottiswoode's diplomacy, or this rare instance of poetic justice.



DIANA.


I.--AN UNDERTAKING.

"He will not last ten years' time, Die; and then you will be rich and
independent--the lady of Ashpound."

"Don't mention it, sir, unless you mean to tempt me to commit murder
next."

The speakers in the old drawing-room of Newton-le-Moor, in the south
country, thirty years ago, were Mr. Baring and his daughter Diana. He
was a worn and dissipated-looking man, with a half-arrogant, half-base
air--implying a whole old man of the world of a bad day gone by. He was
flawless in his carving, his card-dealing, his frock-coat and tie:
corrupt to the core in almost everything else. She was a tall,
full-formed woman, in her flower and prime, with a fine carriage and
gait, which rendered it a matter of indifference that she wore as plain
and simple a muslin gown as a lady could wear. Her hair was of the pale,
delicate, neutral tint which the French call _blond-cendré_, a little
too ashen-hued for most complexions. It was not wavy hair, but very soft
and pure, as if no atmosphere of turmoil and taint had ruffled or
soiled it. It made Miss Baring's fresh, clear complexion a shade too
bright in the carmine, which took off the greyness of the flaxen hue and
relieved the cold and steel-like gleam in her grey-blue eyes. The
features of the face were fine and regular, like Mr. Baring's; but
instead of the handsome, aristocratic, relentless aquiline nose, which
was the most striking feature in the gentleman's face, the lady's was a
modified Greek nose, broad enough at the base slightly to spoil its
beauty but largely to increase its intellectual significance.

The "he" of the conversation, who was not to last ten years, was Gervase
Norgate of Ashpound--a poor, impulsive, weak-willed, fast-living young
neighbouring squire. Unluckily for himself, he had been early left his
own master, and had ridden post-haste to the dogs ever since. Suddenly
he had taken it into his muddled head to pull up in his career, and, if
need be, to chain and padlock, hedge and barricade himself with a wife
and family, before Ashpound should be swallowed up by hungry creditors,
and he had hurried himself into a forlorn grave.

Mr. Baring was willing to let him off as a pigeon to be plucked, and to
use him instead as an unconscious decoy-duck in getting rid of Die; not
that Mr. Baring had an unnatural aversion to his daughter, but that she
was a drag upon him both for the present and the future. But Die, after
one night's reflection, accepted Gervase Norgate to escape worse evil,
having neither brother nor sister nor friend who would aid her. What Die
did on that night; whether she merely "slept on the proposal," like a
wise, well-in-hand, self-controlled woman; whether she outwatched the
moon, plying herself with arguments, forcing herself to overcome her
deadly sick loathing at the leap, nobody knows. If Die had learned
anything worth retaining, in the shifts and shams of her life, it was
perfect reticence. The result was that Gervase Norgate was coming to woo
as an accepted wooer at Newton-le-Moor on the evening of the summer day
when Mr. Baring confidentially assured the bride that the bridegroom
would not last ten years.

Newton-le-Moor was what its name suggested, an estate won from the
southern moors by other and worthier adventurers than John Fitzwilliam
Baring. In his hands the place was drifting back to the original
moorland. Everything, except the stables and kennels, had been suffered
to go to wreck. The house was of weather-streaked white stone, in part
staring and pretentious, in part prodigal and vagabondish. The
drawing-room of Newton-le-Moor, like most drawing-rooms, was a
commentary--more or less complete--on the life and character of its
owner. If it did not represent all his practices and pursuits--his
repudiation of just claims and obligations; his sleeping till noon and
waking till morning, and faring sumptuously at his neighbours' expense;
his fleecing of every victim who crossed his false door by borrowing,
bill-discounting, horse-dealing, betting, billiards, long and short
whist, and brandy-drinking--at least it painted one little peculiarity
of John Fitzwilliam Baring very fairly. Not one accessory which could
contribute to his comfort and enjoyment was wanting, from the
exceedingly easy chair for his back, to the alabaster lamp for his
eyes, and the silver pastile-burner for his nose. On the other hand,
there was scarcely an article that had no special reference to John
Fitzwilliam Baring which was not in the last stages of decay.

On this evening, before Gervase Norgate came up with her father from the
dining-room, where he might sit too long, considering who was waiting
him, Diana had her tea-table arranged, and sat down behind it as if to
do its honours. She showed no symptoms of discomposure, unless that her
rose-colour flickered and flushed in a manner that was not natural to
it; yet she had so entrenched herself, that when Gervase Norgate
entered, with an irregular, unsteady step, although as nearly sober as
he ever was, she could not be touched except at arm's length, and by the
tips of the fingers, over which he bowed.

Mr. Norgate was not in his flower and prime. He was not above a year or
two Miss Baring's senior; but his whole being had suffered eclipse
before it reached maturity, though he still showed some remains of what
might have been worth preserving. His physique had been what no word
interprets so fitly as the Scotch word "braw,"--not huge and unwieldy in
size and strength, but manly and comely. His shoulders were still broad,
though they slouched. His hand and arm were still a model, somewhat
wasted and shaken, of what in muscular power and lightness a hand and
arm should be. His dark brown hair, dry and scanty at five-and-twenty,
still fell in waves. His eyes, dulled and dimmed, were still the kindly,
magnanimous, forgiving blue eyes. His mouth had always been a heavy
mouth (better at all events than a mean mouth); it was coarse now, but
with strange lines of gentleness breaking in upon its tendency to
violence. But his carriage, though he was pre-eminently a well-made man,
was the attribute most spoilt about him. He had the blustering yet
shuffling bearing of a man who is fully convinced that he has gone to
the dogs, and it did not alter its expression that he was making an
effort to quit his canine associates. Perhaps the effort required to be
confirmed before its effects could be seen; perhaps he was not setting
about the right way of redeeming himself, after all.

Mr. Baring was pompous in his high breeding--the first gentleman in
Europe was pompous also. Mr. Baring brought forward his intended
son-in-law as his young friend, and alluded pointedly to the summer
evening and its event as an "auspicious occasion." But he was cut short
by a frosty glance from Die, and a brief remark that she was not sure
that this evening and its party were more auspicious than usual.

Although Miss Baring was a person of very little consequence in her
father's house, she acted on Mr. Baring as a drag. Her cold looks
inadvertently damped him; and she had a way, which he could not account
for in his daughter, of making blunt speeches, like that on the
auspicious occasion and on her being left a rich young widow, if Gervase
Norgate did for himself smartly. This was discomfiting even to a man who
piqued himself on his resources in conversation. Die had uttered twice
as many of these abrupt, unamiable, unanswerable rejoinders within
these twenty-four hours, since she had accepted Gervase Norgate's hand.

Whatever Mr. Baring thought of the rebuff, he was above exhibiting any
sign of his feelings, and no one could have refused him the tribute of
consideration for the position of his companions, as he blandly
announced that he had the day's 'Chronicle' to read, and begged to be
excused for accomplishing the task before post-time. He retired to sip
his tea and disappear behind the folds of his newspaper. It was the
first evening for a dozen years that he had not handled cue or
fingered cards.

Gervase Norgate, assuming his character of a man about to amend his
ways, marry, and settle, sat by Die Baring. He noted and summed up the
girl's good points, as no man in love ever yet did. She was a
finer-looking woman than he had supposed,--one to be proud of as he
presented her to his friends as his wife; pity that he had so few
creditable friends left now! He could think of none at that moment
except his strong-minded old Aunt Tabby, who had some sneaking kindness
for him in the middle of her scorn, and his old man, Miles. Die Baring
would not tolerate his boon companions--not that he wanted her to
tolerate them; she would not suit for his mistress and manager if she
did; though where she got her niceness--seeing what her father was up to
in cool, barefaced scampishness, in horse-flesh, bones, and
pasteboard--he could not tell.--She was a capable woman he was certain,
if she got a fair field for her capability. She was clever: anybody with
half an eye or an ear might recognize that. And she would want all her
cleverness--ay, and her will and temper--for what she would have to do.
But she had undertaken the task, and it was not much to the purpose that
if she had not been the daughter of a disreputable spendthrift she would
doubtless as lief have touched live coals as have submitted to be his
wife. Ah, well, it was his luck in his last toss-up, and he had never
been lucky before; yet he had never felt so great a reluctance to
conclude his engagement of twenty-four hours, and clinch his repentance,
as he did at this moment. It was good for him that he stood committed.
But why had he not sought out some humble, meek lass, who would still
have looked up to him and reckoned him not quite such a reprobate, but
believed that there was some good left in him, and liked him a little
for himself--not married him to suit her own book and save him for her
own sake, if it were possible? Why had he not chosen a simple pet lamb,
in place of a proud heifer who scarcely took the trouble to conceal from
him how it galled her neck to put it into his yoke? Psha! he would break
any poor heart with his incorrigible wildness and beastly sottishness in
a month's time. A woman without a heart; a good, hard-mouthed,
strong-pulling, well-wearing woman,--honest, and a lady; a handsome,
superior woman, and far beyond his deserts, was the wife for him.

Gervase pursued this line of thought; but he spoke to Miss Baring,
after a little introductory flourish about the weather, his ride
from Ashpound, and the embroidery which she had taken up, in a
different strain.

"You have shown a great, I must say an unmerited, trust in me, Miss
Baring--Diana: but I mean--I swear I mean to do the best I can for you
and myself. I have thought better of the life I have been leading; I
shall turn over a new leaf, and be another man if you will help me."

The confession was fatally facile, like most confessions, but it was
sincere, and not without its touching element, which, however, did not
reach her.

She replied, without being greatly moved, and corrected what might be a
slight misconception on his part: "I am quite aware, Mr. Norgate, that
you have been rather wild; but since you mean to do better, I am willing
to try you and to be your wife."

Diana's candid acquiescence had the same disconcerting influence upon
Gervase that her speeches had on her father, unlike as the men were: it
struck him dumb when he should have overwhelmed her with thanks. After a
while he recovered himself, took heart of grace, and blundered out that
he was grateful,--a happy man; would she not say Gervase, when she was
having him altogether?

"I suppose I may," acceded Diana, with a hard smile. "There, Gervase--it
is not hard to say," as if she were humouring him.

He did not ask for any more favours or rights, but maundered a little on
nobody calling him Gervase for many a day except his aunt Tabby, and she
contracted it to Jarvie, which had a stage-coach flavour.

"Tell me something about your aunt Tabby. Do you know, I have not
visited an aunt since I was a little girl of ten?" This afforded him an
opening more naturally and pleasantly, and the two went off on Aunt
Tabby instead of accomplishing more courtship, and got on a little
better. Diverging from Aunt Tabby to her place, and from her place to
Ashpound, they went on with mention of Gervase's factotum, Miles, and
discussed capabilities and future arrangements with wonderful common
sense.

Mr. Baring swallowed his last gape over his 'Chronicle,' concluded
that the couple had surely had their swing of private conversation for
one night, and resolved to curtail the courtship to the shortest
decorous bounds. So Mr. Baring looked at his watch, and said quite
lovingly to Gervase: "My boy, when I do act the family man, I do the
thing thoroughly, by supping in my dressing-room at eleven. What! you
are off? A pleasant ride to you. You will receive your orders from
Die, I fancy, when to report yourself in attendance. To-morrow is it,
or next day? Make yourself at home, my dear fellow. Happy to think
that you are going to be one of us--a son for me to be proud of.
Good-night. God bless you."

Thus the preliminaries to the alliance ended with Gervase bowing again
over the tips of Die's fingers. He had not the smallest inclination to
raise them to his lips.

"I will do my duty by him," said Diana to herself, when she was in the
sanctuary of her own bare room. And what a poor sanctuary it had been!
"It may be bad in me to have him, but what can I do? and what can he do,
for that matter? If I do my duty by him, surely some good will come of
it." Perhaps her imagination was haunted by a garbled version of the
text about him who turns a sinner from the error of his ways and covers
a multitude of sin.


II.--THE FULFILMENT.

"She's a fine woman the mistress, a rare fine woman; but she's going
the wrong way. It's the cart before the horse, and I tell you it's not
conformable; and the master, God help him, poor fellow, will never be
brought to go at the tail of the cart--never." So ruminated Gervase
Norgate's old servant, Miles, pushing back the tufts of ragged red
hair on his long head ruefully, as he sat "promiscuous" in what he was
pleased to call his pantry at Ashpound, while he contemplated with the
eye of the body his chamois skin for what he proudly denominated his
silver, and with the eye of the mind the new régime and its ruling
spirit.

"She's a fine woman," remarked also of her new niece, Miss Tabitha
Norgate, of Redwells. "She's a fine woman, a great deal too good for
him; but she oughtn't to have gone and married Jarvie, or to have
married anybody, there's the long and the short of it. She ought to have
remained single, like me. She was made to stand alone, while he wanted a
woman and as many children as she could muster to hang round his
neck--the liker a millstone the better,--he won't drown: he could not
take the straight road without a weight to ballast him and keep him
steady. If he had consulted me, I would have advised him to marry that
dawdling, whimpering Susie Lefroy, the widowed daughter of the Vicar,
with her unprovided-for orphans. Jarvie might have stepped into a young
family at once, and he would have been a kind stepfather--he might have
righted himself then. To go and marry a clever, active, handsome,
well-born woman like Die Baring. Oh! dear, dear, what folly!"

In spite of her critics, Mrs. Gervase Norgate spared no pains to acquit
herself of her obligation, and to discharge her debt at Ashpound.
Ashpound was a much more exhilarating residence than Newton-le-Moor. At
Newton-le-Moor the desolation of prodigality and immorality was
objective and deductive. At Ashpound the desolation was subjective and
inductive, a plague-spot within; and although the flush of decay was
visible, Gervase would struggle against it to the last. He would make an
effort to preserve the pleasant, rambling, mellow brick house, most of
it one-storied and draped with jessamine and clematis as old as the
building; the belt of ash-trees round the ferny dells of the little
park; and the whitewashed offices, in excellent repair; the well cared
for cattle and poultry-yard; the amply-stocked, flourishing gardens; the
pretty gardener's house and lodge--the prettiest things about the place,
as his father had left them to him. To the last Gervase would aim at
keeping up the place, to his mother's drawing-room, his father's study,
Miles's pantry and cellar, even the modern housekeeper's room, and the
maids' gallery, in comfort and pleasantness. Only his own
rooms--dining-room, smoking-room, bedroom--had been suffered to show
traces of many a brawl and fray. It was as if he had deemed anything
good enough for a scapegrace and beast like him, and thought to pay the
whole price in his own person. It would not be with his will if any
other person, high or low, contributed to his heavy forfeits. And
Gervase Norgate's servants, new as well as old, had a pitiful liking
for him, a remorseful regard for his interests, even when these clashed
with their own. So when Gervase had removed the traces, repaired the
damages, and taken the decisive step of forbidding the inroads of his
evil associates, Mrs. Gervase Norgate found a peaceful,
prosperous-seeming, as well as fair, country home awaiting her.

Neither did Mrs. Gervase Norgate droop or mope; she was alive to every
advantage, alert to improve every opportunity. Frankly she praised the
house at Ashpound, which she had formerly known at the distance of
common acquaintanceship, but now knew in the nearness of home, from
garret to cellar. "What a well-seasoned, kindly dwelling you have here,
Gervase. How I like the windows opening down to the floors, the creeping
plants, the hall window-seats, and the attics with their pigeon-hole
bureaux." She made herself familiar with its details, and she flattered
its old occupants with the extent of her intimacy and appreciation. She
did not let the grass grow beneath her feet in learning and acquiring
its owner's habits. Early rising had been one of the good old country
habits which had stuck to Gervase. And not a dairymaid at Ashpound was
up and abroad at so primitive an hour as its mistress, ready to walk
with the Squire to his horses' stalls and paddocks, his cattle sheds,
his game preserves, his workpeople in the fields; anywhere but to the
sign of the 'Spreading Ash-tree,' in the village of Ash-cum-thorpe, for
his morning draught.

"Well-a-day," cried Dolly; "I would not be the mistress, to rise and go
to her work afore the stroke of six, and she a fine lady born and bred,
for all the hats and feathers, table heads, and carriage-seats in this
here world. If I ever have a word to say to Luke Jobling, I know it will
be with an eye to a good long lie in the morning when he has gone to his
mowing or his reaping. How Madam does it without ever drooping an
eyelid, none of us can tell; but they do say the gentlefolks are as
strong as steel when they like to put out their strength; happen it is
the high living as gives it to them. I know Madam puts us to our mettle
here. And lawk! the Squire, he's as restless and lost like as a new
weaned calf. Eh! I had liefer have the holding-in of a senseless calf,
though I had not Luke to help me with the bars of the gates, than the
holding in of a full-grown, whole-witted man. But the poor
mistress--them as don't know the rights of a thing calls her
saucy--young lady though she be, she do work hard for her place and
living, she do, since she has got Master Gervase and Ashpound."

Anticipating her husband's commands, Diana was ever ready to bear him
company, to share his engagements and amusements, walking, riding,
shooting, fishing, playing billiards, cribbage, bowls, racket,
backgammon, draughts, for hours on a stretch; to go abroad attending the
market and doing banking business at Market Hesketh, dining out with the
Vicar or with any country host save Mr. Baring--Mrs. Gervase Norgate
setting her face against the paternal hospitalities--dancing at the
county balls as one of the leaders. She did not seem to know what
weariness meant. She would trudge whole half-days with him and the
keepers, after luncheon, beating the plantations and pacing the
turnip-fields to start and bring down birds, and she would be sauntering
with him on the terrace and in the park after dinner all the same. She
would be in the saddle ten hours during a long day's hunt, as the autumn
advanced and the meets assembled, and within an hour of alighting at the
door of Ashpound, she would have exchanged muddy bottle-green or
Waterloo blue cloth for glistening white satin, and be stepping into the
carriage with Gervase to be present at one of their wedding parties.

There was something positively great in the intentness with which
the woman pursued her end of the man's salvation; the vigilance with
which she ever kept sight of the wounded quarry she was to rescue
and to restore. The neighbourhood watched the struggle with
interest, admiration, hostile criticism, not very delicate
diversion. Only to John Fitzwilliam Baring the struggle was a
matter of indifference--rather of repugnance. He would have liked
Die to be more feminine and more helpless.

Would Die slacken in her energy and devotion? Would Gervase be able to
bear his cure much longer?

Beyond the honeymoon, and with the feeling decidedly growing, Gervase
Norgate was gratified by his wife's sacrifice of herself in every
respect, and long before he grew accustomed to it and felt easy under
it, he was touched by it. He liked her company too, for he was fond of
society, and had been lonely since his father and mother died. She was
an observant, intelligent woman, high-minded and pure-hearted, and
vastly superior to his late satellites. She was eager to suit herself to
him, and made herself as free with him as she could be, as far as he
knew, with any one. At this season Gervase Norgate was attracted to
something warmer, sweeter, more intimate in their intercourse. He
enjoyed her quick remarks and shrewd conclusions. He was pleased with,
and proud of the new blossoming of her beauty under the combined
influences of an open-air life, constant occupation, and a powerful
object. He was willing to wait till more tender feelings should awaken
between them. It looked as if Gervase Norgate had turned over a new
leaf: his cheek lost its dull, engrained red, or its pallor; his lips
grew firmer; his eyes clearer and cooler; he raised his head, and threw
off something of the slouch of his shoulders and the swing and
uncertainty of his walk.

"How well you look in that pretty dress, Diana!" he would say; "I
declare you are as brave a figure as any in my Lord's picture-gallery.
Let me fetch you a cluster of monthly roses, though I am not fit to hold
the candle to you." Or, "Come, Die, let us have a stroll and a smoke in
the garden." Or, "Sit still for another game, will you? My hand is just
in and my luck beginning. I know you are never tired. Mrs. Gervase, you
are a trump--the ace of trumps."

Ignorant spectators might have set them down for a good, happy, well-met
young couple, with regard to whom it would be simply and equally
appropriate to wish "God bless them."


III.--HAZARD.

Diana did not slacken in her devotion, but there came a limit to the
endurance of Gervase. The gleam of success was but the gleam before
the overcast.

First, Gervase was conscious of being nettled by the distance which
existed between him and Diana. And certainly, to be sensible of his arm
being arrested by an unseen obstacle when he thought to put it round his
own wife's waist, to collapse in the mere idea of asking her to give him
a kiss, never to have felt so fully the dissipated, degraded fool he had
been, as he felt then, was not a pleasant sensation. It may sound
immoral, but it seemed as if, had Gervase been more depraved, there
would have been more hope for him, since he would have appreciated the
gulf between him and his guardian less.

Then the old craving returned like a death thirst. The old, wild,
worthless, low companions, were cognisant, as if by instinct, of a
relapse. Eager to hail its signs, and profit by them, they waylaid him
at the 'Spreading Ash,' with "Hey, don't you dare to swallow a single
glass in your own village, to give custom to your villager, man?" They
waylaid and gathered round him in the market-place of Market Hesketh,
with "Well met, Mr. Gervase Norgate. Lord! are you alive still? for we
had doubted it. Don't speak to him to detain him, you fellows; don't you
see Mrs. Gervase has her eye upon him, and is craning her neck to
discover what is keeping him? Off with you, sir, since you are a
husband, a reformed rake, and a church-goer. If you had gone and joined
the Methodists, you might have been a preacher yourself by this time.
Oh! we don't want to spoil sport and balk your good intentions; but, by
George, Gervase, we never thought you would have been the man to be
tied so tight to a woman's apron-string. You must spare us one more
carouse for old friendship's sake, my boy, just to try what it is like
again, and hear all the news. Ah! your teeth are watering; come along;
Madam is not to swallow you up entirely."

They got him away from his wife, and made him leave her sitting an
hour in the carriage, with a pair of young horses pawing and rearing
and endangering her very life in the yard of the 'Crown.' They made
him send her home without him, and kept him till they had nothing more
to say than "Heave the poor devil into a gig, and drive him up to his
own door and put him down there. It is the best you can do for
him,--the fool was always so easily upset; and it will do for her at
the same time--give her something to hold her cursed high white head
in the air and turn up her nose for; serve her impudence right for
taking it upon her to act as private policeman to Jarvie." They sent
him home to her, a beast who had been with wild beasts. They did it
for the most part heedlessly, in jollity and jeering; but they did it
not the less effectually. The wild beast of sensuality had him again;
not one devil, but seven, had entered into him; and reigning king over
the others, an insensate devil of cruel jealousy of his wife, of his
gaoler, resenting her efforts, defying her pains.

Diana did not take Gervase Norgate's backsliding to her very heart, was
not wounded to death by it as if she had loved him. But she did not give
him up. She was a tenacious woman, and Gervase Norgate's salvation was
her one chance of moral redemption from the base barter of her
marriage. She did not reproach him: she was too proud a woman, too cold
to him, to goad and sting him by reproaches. They might have served her
end better than the terrible aggravation of her silence. She was just
too, and she did not accuse him unduly. She said to herself, "He is a
poor, misguided fellow, a brute where drink is concerned: when I married
him, that was as clear as day. I have no right to complain, though he
resume his bad courses." Still she left no stone unturned; she was
prepared, as before, to ride and walk and play with him at all hours;
she ignored his frequent absences and the condition in which he came
back, as far as possible. She abetted old Miles in clearing away,
silently and swiftly, the miserable evidences of mischief. She smuggled
out of sight, and huddled into oblivion, battered hats, broken pipes and
sticks, stopperless flasks, cracked, smoky lanterns--concealing them
with a decent, decorous, sacred duplicity even from Aunt Tabby, who
trotted across the country on her father's old trotting mare, took her
observations, and departed, shaking her head and moralizing on the text,
"Cast not your pearls before swine."

Diana sat at her forlorn post in the billiard-room, or by the
cribbage-board, or at the piano which Gervase had got for her. She had
some small skill to play and sing to him, and was indefatigable in
learning the simple tunes and songs he liked. And night after night she
was left alone, unapproached, uncalled for; or else Gervase stumbled in
from the dining-room or from an adjournment to the village tavern, where
he was the acknowledged king and emperor, bemussed, befumed, giddy,
hilarious, piteously maudlin, or deliriously furious. She stooped to
smile and answer his random ravings and to comply with his demands. If
she escaped actual outrage and injury in his house and hers, it was not
because she did not provoke him, for there was nothing in his wife which
Gervase hated so heartily, resented so keenly, as her refraining from
contradicting him. But below the grossness and sin of the poor lout and
caitiff there was a fund of sullen, latent manliness and kindness, which
held him back from insulting the defenceless woman--for all her pride
and purity--who was his wife, just as it had held him back from dallying
with and caressing her as his mistress.

The neighbourhood which had furnished both a dress-circle and a pit to
witness Diana's spectacle, was not astonished at the fate of the
adventure. Its success would have been little short of a miracle, and
these were not the days of faith in miracles; so the neighbourhood did
not pity Mrs. Gervase Norgate, for she had been foolhardy at the best,
and her fortune or misfortune had only been what ought to have been
expected. For that matter Mrs. Gervase Norgate would not have thanked
the world for its pity, though it had been lavishly vouchsafed.

There was one point on which Diana did not hesitate to contradict
Gervase, and persisted in contradicting him. She would not suffer him,
if she could help it, to frequent Newton-le-Moor, or to consort with Mr.
Baring. For to go to Newton-le-Moor was to go among the Philistines; and
lawless as Gervase was in his own person, it should never be with his
wife's consent that he should go and be plundered by her own flesh and
blood--his errors rendering him but a safer and a surer prey.

Gervase was standing restless and indignant by the low bow-window of his
wife's drawing-room, opening on the flower-garden, which had been laid
out in their honeymoon, and in which she continued to take pleasure,
though the wealth of glowing autumn geraniums and verbenas had given
place to the few frosted winter chrysanthemums. It was but the middle of
the day, and he had risen and had his cup of tea laced with brandy and
crowned with brandy, so that the jaded man was comparatively fresh, but
irritable to the last nerve, each jarring nerve twanging like
harpstrings, sending electric thrills of vexation and rage over his
whole body at the cross of every straw.

Diana, who had been up and busy for hours, was sitting at her desk; her
brow, whatever cares lurked behind it, unruffled and white; a seemly,
reasonable, refined woman, aggrieved every day she lived, but scorning
to betray a knowledge of the grievance.

"Don't go to Newton, above all by yourself, Gervase," the wife was
entreating, gravely and earnestly. "I am afraid my father may take the
opportunity of trying to get money from you. He has entered horses for
the Thorpe stakes: he will seek to make you enter them, and you told
me yourself May and Highflyer were not fit to run this year. Or he
will seek to lead you into some other transaction in horse-flesh, or
have you into the house to play billiards and remain to dinner and
cards all night, and there is always high play at Newton. My father is
a needy man, and needy men are tempted to be unscrupulous; at least
his code implies few scruples, where the letter of the laws of honour
is complied with."

"It comes ill off your hand to say so," observed Gervase harshly.
Undoubtedly he spoke no more than the truth, and such a life as Gervase
Norgate's was not a school for magnanimity.

Die winced a little; and she was a woman whose fair cheek so rarely
blushed, that her blushing was like another woman's crying. Die never
cried; Gervase Norgate had never wrung a tear from her, or seen her
shed a tear.

"Well, it was hard for me to say it," she admitted, with an accent of
reproach in her equable tones; "but there the wrong and the shame are,
and I owe it to myself and to you to warn you."

"I wonder how much I owe your being here to Newton-le-Moor being
little better than a not very reputable gambling-house," exclaimed
Gervase rudely.

She looked at him with her wide-open eyes, as if she had been struck,
but did not care to own the blow.

"It was not to much profit where you were concerned," he continued, in
an infatuation of brutality; "it did not get you so much as a
pocket-handkerchief, or a flower-garden like that down there, or,"
glancing round him, "trumpery hangings and mirrors, and a new gown or
two, or any other of the miserable trash for which women sell
themselves."

She neither spoke nor stirred.

He had worked himself into a blindness of rage, in which he could see
nothing before him but the possibility of moving her, of breaking down
and destroying her calm front.

"And I wonder how much you owe your being here to my being a prodigal
clutching at any respite? You may well come down lightly on my faults,
Madam; they have made you the mistress of Ashpound in the present, and
won for you its widow's jointure in the future. If I had known all
beforehand, I might not have encumbered myself in vain. As it is, I
do not think it becomes you to lecture me on keeping company with your
own father."

She got up and left the room.

It was time, when all was lost, even honour. If he had not been himself,
she might have passed over his taunts with simple shame and disgust; but
given, as they were, when she held that he knew what he was saying--as a
proof that he had not a particle of respect and regard for her after
their months of wedlock, they were a certain indication of his ruin and
her reward.


IV.--THE LAST THROW.

"Poor Mrs. Gervase Norgate, she must have been so put about to have to
go away with her husband last night. How the scamp got into the
drawing-room I cannot tell; but he could do nothing but lean against the
wall: he could not have bitten his fingers to save his life. She did not
show her mortification unless by going away immediately. A wonderful
amount of countenance has that poor young woman; but I take it she will
not go out with him again if she can help it--and she need not, she need
not, Lady Metcalfe. I can tell you he shall not be asked within my doors
again; but I shall be very glad if you will always remember to send her
a card, poor thing: she can go out without him, it must come to that
eventually. It is not a mere kindness; she is really a credit and an
ornament to your parties, to the county set altogether. But the sooner
she learns to go out without him, and keep him in the background, the
better for all parties. She has the command of a good income still, with
a very tolerable jointure behind it, and Ashpound is a pretty place; not
a fine place, like my lord's, but a very pretty place for a sensible
woman's management and enjoyment."

One of Gervase Norgate's oldest neighbours, a fussy but good-natured,
middle-aged baronet, pronounced this judgment.

There was nothing left for Diana but to resign Gervase to his fate, and
gather up the gains which were left her. The most impartial authorities
decided so. The gains would have sufficed for many a woman. Mrs. Gervase
Norgate had comparative riches, after the cash scramble in which she had
been brought up. Gervase had not succeeded in wasting above one-third of
his fortune, and would doubtless end his career before he made away with
the whole. Mrs. Gervase was the mistress of Ashpound, and most people
would have valued it as what newspapers describe as a most desirable
residence, a most eligible investment. If she ever had a child--a son,
though she shuddered at the idea,--he would be the young Squire, the
heir of Ashpound. In the meantime, Gervase Norgate was not a churl: he
did not dream of stinting his wife in her perquisites, though he was not
fond of her, and they now no longer lived comfortably together. She
might have out his mother's carriage every day, or she might have
another built for her, and drive it with a pair of ponies if she chose;
she had a well-bred, fine-mounted, thin-legged, glossy-coated
saddle-horse kept for her sole use, and she might have a second bred and
broken for her any year she liked. She could even employ her own
discretion in the income to be spent in the housekeeping. Ready money
was becoming short with him; but his sense of her rights, and his faith
in her prudence, had not failed. She had only to draw on his banker or
agent to have her draught honoured. Whatever sums she might devote to
her personal pleasures, her prodigal husband would not call in question.
She might indulge in fine clothes, recherché jewellery, embellishments
and ornaments for her rooms; she might take up art or literature, or
heaths, or melons, or poultry, or flannel petticoating and soup-making
for the poor (Sunday-schools and district visiting were hardly in
fashion), and pursue one, or other, or all, for occupation and
amusement, without impairing her resources; and she claimed a very
respectable circle of friends as Mrs. Gervase Norgate, though she had
been friendless, and getting always more friendless, as Miss Baring. The
world had put its veto on the risk of her marriage with Gervase Norgate,
in so far as its excusable element--the reformation of Gervase
Norgate--was concerned; but with commendable elasticity it had allowed
itself to be considerably influenced by the advantages which the
marriage had obtained and secured for Diana, as well as by her conduct
in their possession, and had awarded her the diploma of its esteem. A
handsome, ladylike, sensible, well-disposed, sufficiently-agreeable,
though quiet young matron, almost too wise and forbearing for her years,
was its verdict. It was wonderful how well she had turned out,
considering how she had been exposed; for every one knew John
Fitzwilliam Baring, and how little fitted he was for the care of a
motherless daughter. The more tender-hearted and sentimental world began
to look upon Mrs. Gervase Norgate's bad husband, whom she had married in
the face of his offence, as one of her merits,--a chief merit, to make
of her a popular victim and martyr, no matter that she was not naturally
constituted for the _rôle_, was not frank enough for popularity, not
meek enough for martyrdom.

Even Miss Tabitha, who had still a friendly feeling for the culprit, had
nothing to say against Mrs. Gervase, except that she was too good for
him. Poor Miles listened wistfully for his master's reeling step, and
went out in the night air, risking his rheumatism, for which Mr. Gervase
had always cared, making sure that the old boy had a screen to his
pantry, and shutters to his garret. He watched lest his master should
make his bed of the cold ground and catch a deadly chill; caring for the
besotted man, when he found him, with reverence and tenderness, as for
the chubby boy who had bidden so fair to be a good and happy man, worthy
of all honour, when Miles had first known him as his young master. Miles
resented feebly the perishing of the forlorn hope of a rescue, and
muttered fatuously the cart had been put before the horse, and the reins
taken out of the whip hand, and that'd never do. What could come of the
unnatural process but a crashing spill?

Diana could not accept the solution. Nineteen women out of twenty, who
had acted as she had done, would have taken the compensations, perhaps
been content with the indemnifications of her lot; but Diana was the
twentieth. Whether the cost of his mercenary marriage was far beyond
what she had estimated it, she lost heart and hope and heed of the
world's opinion, and was on the high road to loss of conscience, from
the moment she was convinced that Gervase Norgate was lost.

Diana gave up going into the society which was so willing to welcome
her, which thought so well of her. She relinquished all pride in
personal dignity and propriety, as she had never done when she had
locked her doors to shut out the jingling rattle of the bones, and,
occasionally, the curses, not loud but deep, which broke in upon the
repose of the long nights at Newton-le-Moor. She ceased to exert herself
to regulate the expenditure of the house, to preserve its
respectability, to wipe out the signs of its master's ruin. Old Miles
might strive to keep up appearances, but his mistress no longer aided
and abetted him. It had become a matter of indifference to Mrs. Gervase
whether the dragged carpet, the wrenched-down curtain, the shattered
chair, were removed or repaired, or not: she took no notice.

By the time Ashpound was budding in spring, Mrs. Gervase Norgate had
fallen away, and changed rapidly for the worse, to the disappointment
and with the condemnation of her acquaintances. She lay in bed half the
morning, dawdled over her breakfast, and trailed her way from place to
place, ageing too, with marvellous celerity.

Sunk in the mire as Gervase was, he noted the transformation in his wife
with discomposure and vexation. It fretted him always, and infuriated
him at times, to discover that she was likely to justify his contempt by
proving a poor wife after all. Her rule ended, her energy exhausted,
given over to an unprincipled, destructive listlessness and,
carelessness, such a prospect did not make Gervase amend the error of
his ways: but it caused his road to ruin to be harder to tread, it
caused the fruits of his vice to be more bitter between his teeth, it
drove him at times to reflect when it was madness to reflect. She would
not take the luxuries which she had bought dearly, which he wanted her
to take. Her person, drawing-room, flower-garden were fast showing
neglect and cheerlessness, in spite of him, or to spite him, as he vowed
savagely. Here was his sin cropping out and meeting him in the life of
another, and that other a woman. She was going to ruin with him as truly
and faithfully as if they had been a pair of fond lovers. The shy
goodwill of Gervase Norgate's early married life had waned into
discontent and dislike, and was fast settling into rooted hatred.

"Lawk!" Dolly the dairymaid reflected indignantly, "Madam is become as
careless and trolloping-like as master is wild. If we don't take care,
no one will continue to call on us and hinvite us with our equals. For
that matter, the mistress has denied herself to every morning caller
this spring, and it is my opingen she never so much as sends hapologies
to them dinner cards as she twists into matches. If it were me, now,
wouldn't I cut a dash of myself? She didn't care a bit of cheese-curd
for him, folks say, when she had him to begin with, so why she should
pine for his misdeeds now, is more than I can compass."

It was on a clear, fragrant evening in June, when the world was all in
flower, that a whispering, and pulling of skirts and sleeves, and
throwing up of hands and eyes, arose among the servants at Ashpound, at
a sight that was seen there. The servants' hall were gathered secretly
at a side-door and a lobby-window, and were watching Mrs. Gervase
Norgate feeling her way, like a blind woman, her tall figure bent down,
crouched together, swaying, along the pleached alley from the garden.

One or two of the more sensitive of the women covered their faces and
wrung their hands. Old Miles tugged at his tufts of red hair and smote
his hands together distractedly. The new shame was too open for
concealment; he could only cry, "God ha' mercy; there is not one to mend
another; what will we do?"

As living among men and women given up to delusions begets delusions in
rational minds with a dire infectiousness, so living with Gervase
Norgate, and day by day regarding the evil which could not be stayed,
Diana had caught the fell disease.

A whisper of the culminating misfortunes of Ashpound spread abroad like
wild-fire, soon ceased to be a whisper, and became a loud scandal; and
Diana lost her credit as summarily as she had acquired it. It was--"That
wretched Mrs. Gervase Norgate came of an evil stock, though drinking was
not Mr. Baring's vice. They were an ill-fated race, these Barings, with
a curse--the curse of ruined men--upon them. Who knew, indeed, but if
poor Gervase Norgate, come of honest people at least, had gone into
another family--one which he could have respected, which could have
shown him a good example and remonstrated with him with authority--he
might have been reclaimed?"

About the middle of summer there came a seasonably rainy period, such as
frequently precedes a fine harvest. But Gervase Norgate was so ailing
that he could not go out and look at his fields, where the corn in the
ear was filling rarely, and the growth of second clover was knee-deep.
He was forced to keep the house. He loathed food, and his sleep had
become a horror to him. He had fits of deadly sickness and of shaking
like an aspen. His only resource, all the life that was left to him, was
to be found in his cellar; and even Miles, seeing his master's
extremity, brought out and piteously pressed the brandy upon him.

Gervase's cronies had never come about his house since his marriage.
There had been something in Diana which had held them at arm's length;
and although they had heard and scoffed at her fall, they had not the
wit to discern that it clean removed the obstacle to their harbouring
about the place as they had done before her reign and abdication. They
might come and go now by day and night without feeling themselves too
much for Mrs. Gervase Norgate, or being compelled to regard her as a
being apart from them. But they did not comprehend the bearing of the
common degradation, and they had not returned to their haunt as they
might have done.

Gervase had declined into such a state of fractiousness and sullenness,
that he was very poor company even for illiterate country-bred men like
himself. He was something of a ghastly spectacle, as he sat there, with
his glass three-fourths empty, and part of its contents spilt around
him, trying to smoke, trying to warm himself, with the soles of his
boots burnt from being pressed on the top of the wood fire, his teeth
chattering, at intervals, notwithstanding, as he cast furtive, dark
glances behind him.

Gervase was alone. Mrs. Gervase was dozing on a drawing-room couch, not
troubling to order a fire, though the room was on the ground-floor,--a
pleasant room in sunshine, but looking dull and dismal in wet and gloom.
She had lain there all the evening, with her hair, tumbled by the
posture, fallen down and straying in dim tresses on her shoulders.

Overcome by illness, Gervase at last defied his shrinking from his room
and bed, and retired for the night. His uneven footsteps and the closing
of his door had not long sounded through the house, which might have
been so cheery and was so dreary and silent, when Mrs. Gervase, cold and
comfortless, rose and proceeded to the study. She was drawn by the fire
and the light, but she was drawn more irresistibly by the subtle, potent
odour in the air. She came on like a sleep-walker. She sank down in the
chair which her husband had occupied, and stretched out her fine white
hand to the decanters which Miles had not removed. She had raised one,
and was about to pour its contents into a glass, when a noise at the
door startled her, and caused her to hold her arm suspended. Gervase,
returning for the bottle she grasped, stood in the doorway.

Ruined husband and ruined wife confronted each other on their stained
hearthstone. His weakness, replaced by failing strength, gathered up and
increased tenfold by horror and rage. Her eyes glared defiance, and her
presence there, in her white dress, with the crimson spots on each
cheek, and the fair hair scattered around her, was a presence of ominous
beauty, the hectic beauty of the fall. A feather's weight might have
turned the scale whether Gervase should totter forward and deal Diana a
deadly blow which should finish the misfortunes of that generation at
Ashpound, and brand Ashpound itself with the inhuman mark of an awful
crime; or whether he should melt in his misery, weep a man's scalding
tears, and bemoan their misery together. Diana's words were the
feather's weight: she broke God's unbearable silence, and by God's power
and mercy saved both. She cried out, not so much in self-defence, for
she was a daring, intrepid woman, as in righteous accusation, "You dare
not blame me, for you taught me, you brought me to it."

Through his undone condition he owned the truth of the accusation, and
the old spring of manliness in him welled up to protect the woman who
spoke the truth and impeached him justly of her ruin as well as his own.

"No, I dare not blame you. We are two miserable sinners, Die." And he
let his arms fall on the table and bowed his head over them.

He had spared her, he had not taunted her, and he had not called her Die
for many a day before. She put down the decanter and cowered back with
a sense of guilt which made her glowing beauty pale, fade, wither, like
the sere leaf washed by the heavy tears of a November night's rain.

When Gervase Norgate lifted up his bent head again, all the generosity
that had ever looked out of his comely face reappeared in its changed
features for a moment. "I have smitten you when you came and tried to
cure me, Die. And I cannot cure myself. I believe, before God, if I can
get no more drink, I shall go to-night; but I shall go soon, anyhow, no
mistake, and I ought to do something to save you, when I brought you to
it. So, do you see, Die? here go the drink and me together." And with
that he took up the decanters and dashed them, one after the other, on
the hearthstone, the wine and brandy running like life-blood in bubbling
red streams across the floor. He summoned Miles, and demanded his
keys--all the keys of closet and cellar in the house. And when the old
man, flustered and scared, did not venture to dispute his will, he
caught up the keys, cast them into the white core of the wood-fire,
piled the blazing logs upon them, and stamped them down, sending showers
flying up the wide chimney.

Then the blaze of passion died away from Gervase's brow, the force of
self-devotion ebbed out of him, his unfastened vest and shirt collar did
not allow him air enough, and he fell back, gasping and quaking and
calling the devils were upon him.

Old Miles wrung his hands, and shouted "Help," and cried the Master was
dying, was dead.

But Diana pushed the old servant aside, put her arms round Gervase, and
raised him on her breast, telling him, "Do not think of dying for me,
Gervase; I am not worthy. You must not die, I will not have you die. Oh,
God! spare him till I kneel at his feet and beg him to forgive all my
disdainful pity, and we repent together."

Gervase Norgate did not die that night: it might have been easier for
him if he had, for he lay, sat, walked in the sunshine deadly sick for
months. When men like him are saved, it is only as by fire, by letting a
part of the penal fire pass over them, and enduring, as David did, the
pains of hell.

But all the time Die did not leave him. Night and day she stood by him,
renouncing her own sin for ever. She shared vicariously its revolting
anguish and agonizing fruits, in his pangs. And the woman learned to
love the man as she would have learned to love a child whom she had
tended every hour for what looked like a lifetime, whom she had brought
back from a horrible disease and from the brink of the grave, to whose
recovery she had given herself body and soul, in a way she had never
dreamt of when she first undertook the task. She had lulled him to sleep
as with cradle songs, she had fed him with her hands, ministered to him
with her spirit. She learned to love him exceedingly.

Other summer suns shone on Ashpound. Gervase and Diana had come back
from a lengthened sojourn abroad. Gervase, going on a visit to his
faithful old Aunt Tabby, looked behind him, to say, half-shamefacedly,
half-yearningly, "I wish you would come with me, Die; I do not think I
can pay the visit without you." And she exclaimed, with a little laugh,
beneath which ran an undercurrent of feeling, still and deep, "Ah! you
see you cannot do without me, sir." And he rejoined, laughing too, but a
little wistfully, "I wish I could flatter myself that you could not do
without me, madam."

She assured him, with a sudden sedateness which hid itself shyly on his
breast, "Of course I could not do without you to save me from being a
pillar of salt, to make me a loving, happy woman."

"God help you, happy Die!"

"Yes, Gervase; it is those who have been tried that can be trusted, and
I have been in the deep pit, and all clogged with the mire along with
you, and He who brought us out will not suffer us to fall back and be
lost after all."

The neighbours about Ashpound were slow to discover, as erring men and
women are always slow to discover, that God is more merciful than they,
and that he can bring good out of evil, light out of darkness; but they
discovered it at last, and, after a probation, took Mr. and Mrs. Gervase
Norgate back into society and its esteem and regard, and the family at
Ashpound became eventually as well considered, and as much sought after
in friendship and marriage, as any family among the southern moors, long
after John Fitzwilliam Baring had dressed for dinner, and taken a fit
with a cue in his hand.

As for Aunt Tabby and old Miles, they said, "All's well that ends well."
But old Miles stood out stubbornly, "That it is not a many carts afore
the horses as comes in at the journey's end, and it ain't dootiful-like
in them when they does do it, though I'm content." And Aunt Tabby
argued, "It is shockingly against morality to conclude that her
fall--and who'd have thought a strong woman like her would fall?--has
been for his rising again."



MISS WEST'S CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE.


I.

"Miss West, I will thank you to see that the school-books and the
school-work are in their proper places, and the school-room locked for
the holidays."

The speaker, Miss Sandys, was the proprietor of Carter Hill School, and
Miss West was the governess. The season was Christmas, and the children,
without an exception, had departed rejoicing.

With a sense of liberty as keen as the children's, but with a glee of a
decidedly soberer kind, Miss West executed the commission, and then took
her place beside her superior at the parlour-fire.

Miss Sandys was quite an elderly woman. She was over fifty, and had
grown grey in the service. Her features, even in her prime, had been
gaunt, like the rest of her person. But she had mellowed with age, and
had become what the Germans call _charakteristisch_, and what we may
term original and sagacious. She dressed well--that is, soberly and
substantially--in soft wools or strong silks, as she possibly did not
find it easy to do in her youth. She was stately, if somewhat stiff, in
her deportment. At present she felt intoxicated at the prospect of
enjoying for ten days the irresponsibility of private life.

Miss West had not by any means attained the Indian summer of Miss
Sandys; she was still in the more trying transition stage. In spite of
the shady hollows in the cheeks, and the haggard lines about the
mouth, she was a young woman yet. Indeed, had it not been for those
hollows and lines, she would have been pretty--as she was when the
clear cheeks had no wanness in their paleness, but were round and
soft; when the straight mouth pouted ever so little, and the sharp
eyes were bright, and the fine dark hair was profuse instead of
scanty. But she laid no claim to prettiness now, and dressed as
plainly as feminine propriety would allow.

As she sat in the linen and drugget-covered parlour, which was a
drawing-room when in full-dress, she could not help a half-conscious
restraint creeping over her. But this was not because Miss Sandys was an
ogress, rather because she herself had grown semi-professional even in
holiday trim. She looked into the compressed fire in the high,
old-fashioned grate, and wondered how she would pass the coming idle
week. She had spent a good many idle weeks at Carter Hill before; but
they always came upon her afresh with a sense of strangeness, bringing
at the same time a tide of old associations.

Miss Sandys was a blunt woman by nature, and it was only by great effort
that she had become fine-edged. So she said to Miss West, with a sort
of naïve abruptness, "I'll tell you what, Miss West, we'll have cake to
tea, because there are only you and I, and it is the first night of the
holidays; and we'll have a strong cup, since we have all the teapot to
ourselves. I think I shall try my hand this week at some of my old
tea-cakes and pies and things which my mother taught me to bake. I am
going to have my cousin Jamie and his wife here. He is a rough sailor,
and his conversation does not suit before the girls. She was only a
small farmer's daughter, and cannot behave prettily at all. But they are
worthy people, and are the nearest relations I have left in the world.
Perhaps I'll take you to see them in the summer, Miss West. Ah, dear! it
is liberty-hall at my cousin Jamie's little place. Peggy's Haven, he
calls it, after his old ship and his old wife. But it is a fine change
for me, though it would not do for the young people to hear about
it--you understand, Miss West."

Miss West understood, and she readily acquiesced in the prospect of
meeting Captain and Mrs. Berwick. She was even flattered by it. The
right chord of genuine nobility was in her, though she was reported to
be satirical. It was true that she was slightly disposed to make abrupt,
ironical speeches, the practice being one of her few small privileges.
But she felt that Miss Sandys' confidence was honourable alike to giver
and receiver, and that the terms on which she lived with her employer
did no discredit to either. The fact was that Miss West returned thanks
for these same terms in the middle of her confession of errors every day
of her life.

Accordingly Miss West drank the strong tea, and did her best to relish
the little blocks of cake, though they were slightly stale; and not the
less did she enjoy them that she settled in her private mind to propose
buttered toast next time, and to prepare it herself. She listened and
replied to Miss Sandys' conversation, which did not now run so much on
school incidents as on affairs in general. Miss Sandys' talk was shrewd
and sensible at all times, and not without interest and amusement,
especially when it diverged, at this point and that, to her own
experience, and to the customs and opinions of her youth, when faded
Miss West was a baby.

Christmas brought holidays to Miss Sandys' school, but Christmas Eve
was, in other respects, very unmarked. It would have been dull, almost
grim, to English notions. There was no Christmas tree, no waits, no
decorating of the church for the morrow. Still, it was the end of the
year--the period, by universal consent, dedicated to goodwill and
rejoicing all over the world--the old "daft days" even of sober, austere
Scotland. Jenny and Menie, in the kitchen, were looking forward to that
Handsel Monday which is the Whit Monday of country servants, and the
family gathering of the peasantry in Scotland. First footing and New
Year's gifts were lighting up the servant girls' imaginations. The
former may be safely looked upon as over with Miss Sandys and Miss West,
but they were not without visions of New Year's gifts--the useful,
considerate New Year's gifts of mature years. Miss West was at this
moment knitting an exquisitely fine, yet warm, veil which she had begun
two months ago, and which she had good hopes of completing within the
next few days. Miss Sandys had a guess that this veil was for her velvet
bonnet, and looked at it admiringly as a grand panacea for her spring
face-ache.

In the course of the evening Miss Sandys, after a fit of absence of
mind, suddenly asked Miss West's name.

On the spur of the moment, she answered, with surprise, "Why, Miss West,
to be sure. What do you mean, Miss Sandys?" Then she reflected, laughed,
and owned that she had almost forgotten that she had a Christian name.
But she had certainly got one, and it was Magdalene, or Madge, or
Maddie; once it was Mad; and as she said Mad she laughed a second time,
to conceal a break in her voice.

Miss Sandys smiled awkwardly and guiltily, and observed quickly, "My
Christian name is Christian. Did you know that, Miss West? Oh, I forgot;
you must have seen it marked on the table and bed linen."

"Mine is to be read on my pocket-handkerchiefs. Our Christian names
preserved on table-cloths and pocket-handkerchiefs!--droll, isn't it,
Miss Sandys?"

"Of course they are in our books and letters," corrected matter-of-fact
Miss Sandys. "I dare say they are in a couple of family Bibles, too (at
least, I can speak for one), and in the records of births and baptisms
in session books, if these are not destroyed by damp and rats; and since
names are recorded in heaven," Miss Sandys was drawn on to ramble,
"surely our Christian names are there, my dear."

Miss West knew as well as if she had been told it, that Miss Sandys was
about to bestow on her a present with which her Christian name was to be
connected. Miss Sandys' eyes had failed through long looking over
lessons, and she no longer did any handiwork, save coarse knitting,
hemming, and darning. But she had a fuller purse than her companion, and
shops, even metropolitan shops, were to be reached by letter from Carter
Hill.

In addition to the strong tea and the cake, Miss Sandys further treated
Miss West to a supper of such dainties as toasted cheese and Edinburgh
ale. There were prayers--they seemed quite family prayers--with only the
four worshippers to join in them. Then there was a shake of the hands,
and Miss West lit her candle, retired, and shut herself up in her own
little room. Its daily aspect was so unchanged, that it appeared when
she entered it as though the holidays had not come, and that it must
still be the ordinary bustling school life.

She sat down, though there was no fire, and thought a little, till she
fell on her knees and prayed in low murmurs that God would enable her to
bear this season, which made her heavy, sick, and faint with
associations, and that He would render her contented with many
undeserved blessings, and resigned to many natural penalties which He
ordained. Next, with strange inconsistency to all but the Hearer of
prayer and the Framer of the wayward human heart, she besought to be
forgiven and delivered from levity and folly--to be kept humble and
mindful of death. "It is ill tearing up weeds by the roots," she said to
herself plainly, when she had risen from her knees, "and I am vain and
volatile, and I like to mystify and tease my neighbour to this day."


II.

Christmas Day rose with a clear, frosty blue sky. Miss Sandys and Miss
West both felt the unwonted stillness of the house; and they could not
help a lurking suspicion that time without public occupation might hang
a dead weight on their hands. The two ladies went through the ceremony
of wishing each other a merry Christmas, Scotland though it was. Miss
Sandys went off to put into execution her holiday cooking practice--for
it was refreshing to her to have a bowl instead of a book in her
grasp--and to make her preparations for welcoming her primitive cousins.
Miss West sat down to write her letters and to work at her veil and at
her other New Year's gifts.

She wished she could work with her mind as well as her fingers, so that
it might not run on picturing what this day was in tens of thousands of
homes throughout Christendom. It had always been an unruly member this
fancy of hers, and it was particularly busy at this season. Yesterday
the roads had resounded with the blithe tramp of eager feet hieing
homewards. To-day the air was ringing with the pleasant echo of voices
round hearths, the fires of which flashed like the sun, and where age
and youth met in the perfect confidence and sweet fearlessness of family
affection. In her mind's eye, she had yesterday seen railways and
coaches disgorging their cheerful loads; she had witnessed the meetings
at lodge gates, in halls, and on the thresholds of parlour and cottage
kitchens; she had looked on the bountiful boards, where cherished guests
crowned the festival, of which Miss Sandys' rasping tea and stale cake
was a half-pathetic, half-comic version. To-day she was in spirit with
the multitude walking in close groups to holly-wreathed churches,
sharing in the light-hearted thoughtlessness of many an acknowledgment,
and in the deep gratitude of many a thanksgiving. She strove to put
herself aside altogether in her meditations, and simply to rejoice with
those who rejoiced; but she had not attained this degree of
unselfishness; she could not help believing sometimes that she had
plucked all the thorns and none of the roses of life. But if you suppose
that she betrayed this yearning and pining to the world at large, you
are very much mistaken. As has been told, she had the right chord of
genuine nobility and generosity in her, and she laboured to fit her
cross to her own back, so that it might not overshadow and crush others.
Her fingers went nimbly about her gifts--trifling things, only enough to
gladden simple hearts. She gratified Miss Sandys by praising her rusty
accomplishments in cookery; she uttered a jest or two for the benefit of
Jenny and Menie, who had a liking for her, though they called her
"scornful;" and she brought in holly and box from the garden to decorate
the sitting-rooms. The last move, however, proved nearly a failure, for
there was one little pink and white blossom of laurustinus, which had
ventured out in a sheltered nook, though half of its leaves were
blanched ashen grey. It somehow or other raised such a tide of sentiment
in her as all but overcame her.

Miss West desired work for this season, and she got work, and tolerably
hard work too, for besides completing her New Year's gifts, she had to
help to entertain Captain and Mrs. Berwick.

The visitors were so vulgar, according to fine people, that they were
not even sensible of their own vulgarity. And so good-natured were they,
that they were not offended because cousin Sandys did not invite them
with any of the genteel parents of her pupils. They took this reserved
hospitality as a complimentary admission of their kinsmanship. But they
were not intrinsically more coarse-minded than many dukes and duchesses.
Captain Berwick, it is true, was nautical in his tone, and talked shop,
but that is permitted to sea captains in novels, nay, enjoined upon
them. He was apt to be broad in his jokes, and to use unwarrantable
expressions, for which he bent his shock head in penitent apology the
moment after he had used them. "It is the effect of bad habits, Kirsten
and Peggy," he would cry: "you women know nothing of bad habits any more
than of bad words."

Mrs. Berwick was a particularly round-eyed woman, and was plump and
ruddy where the Captain was battered and weather-beaten. She placed the
scene of most of her narratives in the kitchens of her acquaintances,
and scrambled with her _dramatis personæ_ through the strong situations
of a servant's history.

Nevertheless the manner of the Berwicks was not without the refreshing
influence of common, rude fresh air. They were not exceptionally
coarse-minded, but unluckily they were neither strong nor fine minded.
They were ponderous, clumsy beings, and although genuine and
warm-hearted, were destitute of internal resources. They expected to be
constantly eating and drinking, or to be constantly entertained. If they
were not entertained, they showed their weariness without restraint, by
yawning outrageously. The entertaining of Captain and Mrs. Berwick was
therefore no sinecure. But Miss West was loyal. She walked with the
Captain, so that he might have more than his one smoke a day, and
perseveringly copied and sang Braham's songs for him. She designed and
cut out patterns for Mrs. Berwick, who, as the Captain had saved money,
did not make her own dresses, but nevertheless loved to accumulate
patterns of sleeves, capes, and flounces. She listened to her tales, and
helped her to as much more kitchiana as she could produce on short
notice. She told how Betsy had worn feathers and been taken to prison on
suspicion of theft; and how Marianne her sister had hoarded her wages in
order to secure legal advice for Betsy, and had captivated and married
an officer of the court in which Betsy had been tried, and how it had
all happened in a family where Miss West had lived.


III.

Captain and Mrs. Berwick were gone. The holidays at Carter Hill were all
but ended--"all but ended," Miss Sandys repeated with a little sigh of
relief, and an inclination to moralize on that weariness which is the
result of pleasure. When Miss West came down in the morning the kettle
was steaming on the hob, the teapot under its cosie, and the couple of
rolls and the dish of sausages were set in their places. Miss
Sandys--her working apron lying ready to take up on the side-table
behind her--was bent to the last on buns and pork pies, though she
frankly admitted they were vanity. But the girls must be broken from
their home dainties by degrees, and Jenny and Menie must have "cakes" to
carry to their homes on their Handsel Monday.

Miss West found a letter on her plate. It caused her complexion to
change, and her sharp eyes to fasten on it fixedly. No wonder her head
swam and her ears rang. She was going through the uncomfortable process
of turning back some ten or twelve years in her life. It was a strange
letter to come to her--a large letter, which had been charged double
postage; a letter with the elements of mortification in it, as well as
other elements, both to sender and receiver. It was written in a big,
scampering hand.

    "Dear Mad," it began, "it is so queer to be addressing you again. I
    remember when I used to say 'Mad' to a white-faced, dark-eyed girl.
    Was she pretty, I wonder? Some people said so, but I don't know,
    only I have never seen a face quite equal to hers since--never. Mad
    and I were great friends when I used to visit her elder brother;
    great friends, indeed, in a bantering, biting way. But it was Mad
    who bantered and bit; certainly I did not banter and bite again,
    rarely even so much as gave a gentle pinch, for I would not have
    hurt Mad for the world, and Mad did not hurt me. At least she never
    meant it seriously, and she was always so piteously penitent when
    she thought she had wounded my feelings. Oh, dear, quizzing Mad! she
    had such a soft heart in its bristling shell, and I hurt it. I hurt
    Mad--yes, I know; I know to my sorrow and shame.

    "Mad, do you remember how you went every day to meet a timid little
    brother coming from school along a lonely moorland road, where there
    were broomy braes in June and heathery braes in September? What a
    convenient custom it was for me, since the little brother, unlike
    little monsters of the same kind, had neither eyes nor ears but for
    his own avocations, and trotted on obediently in front of us. The
    sight of my own little Bill's satchel gives me a turn, and makes me
    feel spoony to this day. Do you remember your great dog, Mad? (what
    a child you were for pets!)--and who it was used to go to the kennel
    to feed it with you? If that dog had been a true Bevis, it would
    have torn that hulking fellow where he stood, yet he meant no harm;
    nay, he had a strong persuasion that he was doing something
    meritorious (how he hit it I can't tell) in not committing himself
    and binding you when he had no more than a clerk's paltry income.
    But I have heard that trees, stripped of leaves in flowery May,
    revenge themselves by bursting out green, if the frosts will let
    them, in foggy November. So the prudence of twenty-five may be the
    folly of thirty-five. It was rank mean-spiritedness in me not to go
    through thick and thin, through flood and fire, for Mad. What in the
    world was worth striving for if she was not worth it? Ah, I lost my
    chance when I might have taken it, and trusted the rest to
    Providence! But I did not know, though I fancied I did, the value of
    the jewel, the price of which, in stern self-restraint, I refused to
    pay. I might have been another man if I had not been so prudent,
    for, as I have said, not another face has been to me quite (no, not
    by a long chalk) what Mad's once was. It was only yesterday that I
    heard by chance--and the story has haunted me since--that Mad is
    still a single woman, her family all dispersed, and she a teacher in
    a school--my quizzing, affectionate Mad a drudging, lonely teacher!

    "After being so prudent, it is not wonderful to record that I was
    fickle, though circumstances, and not my will, separated Mad and me
    at first. I could not get down to the old place so regularly as I
    was wont to do, which annoyed me, and I did my best to get rid of
    the obstacles. When I did get down, Mad was not at home, and I had
    no right to follow her. We met seldomer; we grew stiffer and
    stranger to each other. You are acquainted with the process, Miss
    West, though perhaps not fully with my share in it. The impression
    which Mad had made on me, unique as it was, faded and was overlaid
    by others. I met another girl, whom I liked too, and whom it
    appeared so much simpler--more expedient and advantageous--for me to
    love and to marry. I married her, breaking no vows, not writing
    myself faithless, far less treacherous, but only fickle. Yet I had
    once known, if ever man knew, that I had made Mad's strong heart--I
    think it was strong, although it was soft to me--beat in tune with
    mine. I had done all I could, short of saying the words, to impress
    Mad with what were my wishes and intentions, I had preferred her in
    every company, followed her when I was down at the old place, like
    her shadow (her shadow, indeed!). I had elected her my confidante
    and adviser, and poured all my precious opinions and plans--my very
    scrapes--into her curious, patient ears. Mad, have you forgotten
    how once, like an old-fashioned, grandiloquent muff, I showed you
    the picture of a perfect woman in a book of poetry--'Paradise Lost'
    it might have been, and 'Eve' for any special appropriateness in the
    picture--and broadly hinted my private idea that the perfect woman
    was fulfilled in Mad!--lively, faulty Mad! Your sisters were very
    anxious to read the passage which I had selected for your study, and
    from which I was evidently pointing a moral; but you closed the book
    abruptly in the old seat behind the round tea-table with the brass
    rim. I suppose the sisters don't know the passage to this day?

    "Having been fickle, I was a great deal better off in my wife than I
    deserved. Remember, Mad, my wife and the mother of my children was a
    good woman; I was reasonably happy with her, and I trust I bore her
    tender reverence. She died and left me with our children two winters
    ago. When we meet again, it will be where there is neither marrying
    nor giving in marriage. Now, when I can do her no wrong, I think of
    another to whom I did wrong; than whom there was never another to me
    the same--no, nothing like it. Learning that Mad has been true--oh!
    Mad, _you_ could never have been anything else but true--I have
    wondered whether I might not be allowed to do something to atone,
    whether I was not worth having still, and whether I could not--a
    bold phrase, but it will out--make it up to Mad, a solitary single
    woman, a teacher in a school. Oh! Mad, I say again, what a hard fate
    for you!

    "I cannot offer an immense inducement. I am not a merchant prince,
    though I am richer than I was in the old days; yet somehow I do not
    care to boast of my riches to Mad, and I am a widower with two small
    children--not models. I dare not send you my _carte_, and I don't
    want yours. You are always the same Mad to me that you have been
    through all those years, and will be to the end of the chapter,
    whether you answer me yes or no. You will answer yes. You were
    always great for magnanimity, and flamed up on it, dark eyes, white
    cheeks, and all, when you were a wild lassie. Don't tell me you are
    less magnanimous as a brave, hard-working woman, or you will sap my
    faith in womankind.

    "Mad, how this Christmas season stirs me with the far-off murmurs of
    another Christmas, when you and I pulled the holly and the other
    thing--the thing with the tiny, fair, frost-bitten clusters of
    blossom--some sort of laurel wasn't it? That old Christmas, who can
    describe? What glamour over the prosaic family dinner and carpet
    dance to see the old year out and the new year in? Say the word,
    Mad, and before the first full moon of this new year has waned to
    half a cheese she will shine down upon us, anew, with the old
    shining. I swear it on the part of your old friend,

    BILL NAIRNE."

What Miss West said when she read the letter was, "Make it up, indeed!
Redeem me from such degradation! Crown me with such honour! Intolerable
arrogance! How could he take it upon him? But it is like Bill; conceited
fellow!"

Miss West was properly indignant. The letter was so unsuitable in every
respect. All her life she had been famous as a woman of spirit--the
spirit which will cause a woman to decline an obligation as long as
independence is possible, and which will not have for pity what it
cannot have for love. She would prove to Bill Nairne that it was no such
hard fate as he supposed to teach a school under Miss Sandys, no such
promotion, as he fondly imagined, to be placed at the head of the
household of a pompous widower with a pair of spoilt children. She would
convince him that a woman of her age is more difficult to please than a
girl, and is not to be led off her feet by a few impertinently recalled
reminiscences, nor to be won by the tardy wag of a finger. She would
teach Bill Nairne a lesson undreamt of in his philosophy--that all the
nonsense about old maids, their humiliations, their forlorn condition,
and their desperate welcoming of late offers was wholly false.

She selected the smallest sheet of note-paper from the packet lying
beside the exercises in her desk, and wrote:--


    "Dear Sir,--I am glad to be able to tell you that, on the whole,
    teaching in a school is not so hard a fate as you think. Miss
    Sandys is an excellent woman, a reliable friend, and an agreeable
    companion. The girls and their antecedents exhibit life to me
    under considerable variety of characters and circumstances, and as
    pupils they are mostly affectionate as well as interesting. I must
    remain indebted for your good opinion, and you have my best wishes
    for your future welfare, but I beg to decline your--gratuitous"
    (Miss West had written the word, but she changed it into--not
    gracious, but) "generous offer. Without offence to you, old times
    do not come again.

    "Believe me, yours very sincerely, M. WEST."

Miss West read her letter, and considered it was, perhaps, too brief.
She did not want to part with him in an unfriendly fashion. Her last
words to Bill Nairne must be such as she herself could think of without
pain. So she rummaged among her Christmas gifts, and found a dancing
Dervish and a brightly-embroidered ball. These she wrapped up with the
letter, and made a small parcel of the whole, after she had added this
postscript: "Please give the enclosed toys as cheap New Year's
playthings to the children. Tell them, if you choose, that they come
from an old friend of papa's, whose name was--Mad."


IV.

Miss West took the letter to the post-office herself after dinner, as
she was going to inquire for a pupil who lived near Carter Hill, and who
was sick--unhappy child!--from holiday junketing. Miss West could not
recover her equanimity till that letter was out of the house. It had
shaken her, satirical and discreet though she was. It had also given her
a guilty sensation towards Miss Sandys. She could not endure that even
the servants should read the address:--"W. Nairne, Esq., Waterloo Lodge,
Bridgeton, Strokeshire," though W. Nairne, Esq., might have stood for
her brother-in-law, her uncle by marriage, or her maternal grandfather
for aught they could tell. She held her hand over the superscription as
if to hide it from herself as she walked along under the newly-risen
moon, as it cast its light on a crisp sprinkling of snow. It was true
Christmas weather at last, and this was something like a Christmas
adventure for her. But not the less did she wish the Christmas ended,
and the moon replaced by gas jets of the smallest size. "A pretty story
for the girls if they should get hold of it," she thought, and
shuddered. She did not recover altogether till she had posted her
packet, and walked half a mile further on. At length she passed through
a creaking gate and a shrubbery, and was shown up to a smart
drawing-room. She was there to ask for the health of Miss Victoria
Middlemass, the daughter of a gentleman who led a country gentleman's
life on the proceeds of a sleeping partnership in a mercantile house in
a large town at some distance.

Mrs. Middlemass came in hurriedly. She had only time to wish Miss West a
merry Christmas and a good New Year, and to announce that Vicky was
quite herself again, except that the bun fever had left her rather pale,
and she had not got back all her appetite. She could not, however, make
the same complaint of Mr. Middlemass, who had just come in ravenously
hungry from the train. He had been accompanied by another gentleman, who
had been introduced to him before he left the north, and whom Mr.
Middlemass would not allow to go over to the inn at Stoneham, where he
was to spend a few days with a friend. Mr. Middlemass and his new
acquaintance were still at dinner.

Miss West was hurrying away after having discharged her commission, in
order not to detain Mrs. Middlemass from her husband and his guest, and
not to impose on master or servant the trouble of seeing her home.

But as they were exchanging smothered good-byes near the open
dining-room door, Mr. Middlemass, who was frank and hospitable, broke
through the clatter of knives and forks, and called out unceremoniously,
"My dear, who is that you are taking leave of?"

"It is only Miss West, my dear," his wife replied softly to quiet him.

"Miss West!" and he banged from his seat and bounced to the door. "Miss
West! the very woman in the nick of time. Stay, Miss West, and thank
your stars; here's an old friend come a long way to see you."

Miss West turned, and there, behind the cordial face of the master of
the house, who suspected nothing, and was only happy to be helpful to a
brother merchant, were the perfectly recognizable lineaments of that old
personable fellow, Bill Nairne.

Miss West for a second fancied that the letter she had posted to him ten
minutes before had sped like a telegram to its destination, and that he
had sped back on the telegraphic wires to remonstrate with her and
expose her. The next instant she was sensible that the accident of his
being there in person must be a result of a previous change of mind on
his part.

Bill Nairne had stared, and stammered in mechanical accents, after Mr.
Middlemass supplied him with the keynote, "Miss West, the very person,
let us thank our stars!" But he soon recovered himself, and then shook
her hand warmly, and declared, in his old, off-hand manner, "I shall see
you home, Miss West;" for Miss West had no sooner recovered her breath
and her small share of colour, than she combated Mr. Middlemass's
pressing invitation to remain and spend the evening with them. No; Miss
Sandys was expecting her; she thanked him and Mrs. Middlemass, but she
could not stay on any account, so that there would be no use in sending
over a message or a note to Carter Hill. Neither was it on Miss West's
cards that Bill Nairne should escort her to Carter Hill, or, indeed,
that she should have any escort at all. "Do not think of such a thing; I
could not allow it." Mrs. Middlemass came to Miss West's aid, and
alleged in her ignorance, "There is no occasion for it, Mr. Nairne; it
is only a step to Carter Hill, and Miss West is accustomed to walk
across after dinner, when Miss Sandys has a message for us. Remember, we
are very quiet people here compared to what you are in the north.
Besides, if Miss West is timid, I can manage to send a servant, or," she
went on with greater hesitation, "Mr. Middlemass will be delighted to
go, he knows the way; but you must not put yourself about on any
consideration."

Miss West rather indignantly denied being timid, timidity being out of
her _rôle_, and then she judged prematurely that the matter was settled.
She had got so accustomed to order about girls that she had fallen into
the bad habit of expecting that her will should be law to all the world,
with the exception of Miss Sandys. As for Mr. and Mrs. Middlemass, they
at least knew that she could take care of herself.

It was another shock to Miss West, another tumultuous, inopportune
return to the experience of half a score years back, to find that she
could no more dictate to Bill Nairne on this small matter than she could
have done it as Mad of the old days.

"Say no more about it, Miss West. I'll go home with you, of course."
Bill thus put her down with an intrepidity, if anything, increased with
his increased weight physically and commercially.

This completely confounded Miss West, and made a greater muddle of her
former and her present identities than had yet been effected.

"I'll see Miss West home, and we'll have a talk together of our old
friendship as we walk along," Bill maintained with the confident
coolness of power, towards the self-contained, self-sustained teacher.

It was something unprecedented for Miss West to be walking to Carter
Hill on a man's arm, an old friend's arm. She felt an odd sensation
stealing over her as if she were no longer able to take care of herself,
as if she were no longer herself, her late self, at all; and the moon
helped the illusion.

Silence descended on Miss West and Bill Nairne, after the first forced
commonplaces. He glanced furtively at her, and lost his confidence and
coolness, and hung his head--the respectable prosperous merchant!--but
not at what _he_ saw. What did she see? Nothing but that the sword had
worn the scabbard. Mad had been true to herself. Mad could not have been
otherwise than true, as he had written. But the consciousness of what
Mad would see when she lifted up her eyes and looked him in the face
made him droop his head. He had got a glimpse of it that morning, when,
as the thought of Mad grew more and more vivid in his mind, he saw
something reflected in the glass which did not necessarily belong to
bodily maturity. The conviction returned to him with fresh, poignant
regret, in the peaceful hush and subdued splendour of the winter night.
There were lines in his face which Mad should never have seen there,
without which he would have been nearer heaven. There were hard,
unbelieving lines, supercilious lines, self-indulgent lines, lines of
the earth, earthy, corresponding to hard and gross lines in the spirit
within. The respectable, prosperous merchant, had fallen from his
original level. He had not attained to the chivalrous, Christian manhood
which he had the prospect of when he was Mad's promising lover. He had
lowered his standard, forsaken his principles, lost his faith a few
times since then. The gulf between Mad and him was wider now. He felt
this walking on the moonlight December night by Mad's side again.

It was in a somewhat different tone from that of his letter that Bill
Nairne said at last, "Mad, will you have the worst of me? Will you do
something for me and mine after all? I might have been another man if I
had got you long ago, Mad."

"Would you have been a better and a happier man, Bill? Could I do
anything for you yet? Answer me truly," she said, hurriedly heaping the
self-forgetful, quivering sentences one upon another.

"Anything!" exclaimed big Bill Nairne with intense conviction and
hyperbole, more excusable than his old prudence and fickleness,
"Anything! Mad, you could do everything with me, and with little Bill
and Bob. We should no longer be egotistical and frivolous, with you to
keep us right, you good, single-hearted Mad."

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Sandys was entitled to say, "You have come out this Christmas, Miss
West. I shan't allow my assistant to be taken off her satirical staid
feet another Christmas. I'll lock the next one up for the holidays. It
is all those holidays; you would never have thought of such foolish
things had you been busy teaching. I'll lock the next one up, or I'll
send her to her friends, who will live, I trust, in some peaceful
valley, where there are no old acquaintances, or for that matter, men of
any kind. I shall, indeed, Miss West, for I hate changes." Miss Sandys
had not to dread changes much longer. A sister of Miss West came and
supplied her place, and lived so long with Miss Sandys that she closed
her superior's eyes like a dutiful daughter, and succeeded to the
goodwill of Carter Hill School.

       *       *       *       *       *

PRINTED BY J. S. VIRTUE AND CO., LIMITED, CITY ROAD, LONDON.

       *       *       *       *       *

    Transcriber's Notes
      Page  21 "everyday" changed to "every-day"
      Page  30 "common-place" changed to "commonplace"
      Page  45 "lifelong" changed to "life-long"
      Page  62 duplicate "it" removed
      Page  77 "face was white" changed to "face was as white"
      Page  81 "confided in her; the" changed to "confided in her; she"
      Page  85 "Fox-holes" changed to Foxholes
      Page 110 "she "bridled" well," changed to "she "bridled" well."
      Page 112 "company travelled," changed to "company travelled."
      Page 152 "It had been a sen" changed to "It had been a sent"
      Page 186 "sea-weed" changed to "seaweed"
      Page 186 "careworn" changed to "care-worn"
      Page 201 "praise God and he" changed to "praise God and be"
      Page 215 "canary bird," changed to "canary bird."
      Page 222 "selfishnesss" changed to "selfishness"
      Page 241 "suspense?" changed to "suspense!"
      Page 247 "powr" changed to "power"
      Page 248 "their mother," changed to "their mother."
      Page 255 "to the pathos" changed to "to the pathos of"
      Page 293 "circnmstances" changed to "circumstances"
      Page 297 "small-pox" changed to "smallpox"
      Page 307 "horseflesh" changed to "horse-flesh"
      Page 342 duplicate "a" removed
      Page 344 "New-Year's" changed to "New Year's"
      Page 348 "themsevles" changed to "themselves"





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