Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Robert Elsmere
Author: Ward, Humphry, Mrs., 1851-1920
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Robert Elsmere" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from scanned images of public domain material


ROBERT ELSMERE

BY

MRS. HUMPHRY WARD

AUTHOR OF 'MISS BRETHERTON'


London
MACMILLAN AND CO.
AND NEW YORK
1888

All rights reserved

Printed by R. & R. CLARK, Edinburgh.


       *       *       *       *       *


Dedicated to the Memory

OF

MY TWO FRIENDS,

SEPARATED, IN MY THOUGHT OF THEM, BY MUCH DIVERSITY OF
CIRCUMSTANCE AND OPINION;
LINKED, IN MY FAITH ABOUT THEM, TO EACH OTHER,
AND TO ALL THE SHINING ONES OF THE PAST,
BY THE LOVE OF GOD AND THE
SERVICE OF MAN:

THOMAS HILL GREEN
(LATE PROFESSOR OF MORAL PHILOSOPHY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD),
_Died 26th March 1882_;

AND

LAURA OCTAVIA MARY LYTTELTON,
_Died Easter Eve 1886_.


       *       *       *       *       *


CONTENTS


                             PAGE

BOOK I
    WESTMORELAND                1

BOOK II
    SURREY                    149

BOOK III
    THE SQUIRE                251

BOOK IV
    CRISIS                    333

BOOK V
    ROSE                      387

BOOK VI
    NEW OPENINGS              461

BOOK VII
    GAIN AND LOSS             549


       *       *       *       *       *
NOTE


The quotations given in the present book on pp. 58, 330, and 536, are
either literally or substantially taken from a volume of Lay Sermons,
called _The Witness of God_, by the late Professor T. H. Green.

       *       *       *       *       *



BOOK I

WESTMORELAND



CHAPTER I


It was a brilliant afternoon towards the end of May. The spring had been
unusually cold and late, and it was evident from the general aspect of
the lonely Westmoreland valley of Long Whindale that warmth and sunshine
had only just penetrated to its bare green recesses, where the few
scattered trees were fast rushing into their full summer dress, while at
their feet, and along the bank of the stream, the flowers of March and
April still lingered, as though they found it impossible to believe that
their rough brother, the east wind, had at last deserted them. The
narrow road, which was the only link between the farmhouses sheltered by
the crags at the head of the valley and those far-away regions of town
and civilisation suggested by the smoke wreaths of Whinborough on the
southern horizon, was lined with masses of the white heckberry or
bird-cherry, and ran, an arrowy line of white, through the greenness of
the sloping pastures. The sides of some of the little becks running down
into the main river and many of the plantations round the farms were gay
with the same tree, so that the farmhouses, gray-roofed and gray-walled,
standing in the hollows of the fells, seemed here and there to have been
robbed of all their natural austerity of aspect, and to be masquerading
in a dainty garb of white and green imposed upon them by the caprice of
the spring.

During the greater part of its course the valley of Long Whindale is
tame and featureless. The hills at the lower part are low and rounded,
and the sheep and cattle pasture over slopes unbroken either by wood or
rock. The fields are bare and close shaven by the flocks which feed on
them; the walls run either perpendicularly in many places up the fells
or horizontally along them, so that, save for the wooded course of the
tumbling river and the bush-grown hedges of the road, the whole valley
looks like a green map divided by regular lines of grayish black. But as
the walker penetrates farther, beyond a certain bend which the stream
makes half way from the head of the dale, the hills grow steeper, the
breadth between them contracts, the enclosure lines are broken and
deflected by rocks and patches of plantation, and the few farms stand
more boldly and conspicuously forward, each on its spur of land,
looking up to or away from the great masses of frowning crag which close
in the head of the valley, and which from the moment they come into
sight give it dignity and a wild beauty.

On one of these solitary houses, the afternoon sun, about to descend
before very long behind the hills dividing Long Whindale from Shanmoor,
was still lingering on this May afternoon we are describing, bringing
out the whitewashed porch and the broad bands of white edging the
windows into relief against the gray stone of the main fabric, the gray
roof overhanging it, and the group of sycamores and Scotch firs which
protected it from the cold east and north. The western light struck full
on a copper beech, which made a welcome patch of warm colour in front of
a long gray line of outhouses standing level with the house, and touched
the heckberry blossom which marked the upward course of the little lane
connecting the old farm with the road; above it rose the green fell,
broken here and there by jutting crags, and below it the ground sank
rapidly through a piece of young hazel plantation, at this present
moment a sheet of bluebells, towards the level of the river. There was a
dainty and yet sober brightness about the whole picture. Summer in the
North is for Nature a time of expansion and of joy as it is elsewhere,
but there is none of that opulence, that sudden splendour and
superabundance, which mark it in the South. In these bare green valleys
there is a sort of delicate austerity even in the summer; the memory of
winter seems to be still lingering about these wind-swept fells, about
the farmhouses, with their rough serviceable walls, of the same stone as
the crags behind them, and the ravines, in which the shrunken becks
trickle musically down through the _débris_ of innumerable Decembers.
The country is blithe, but soberly blithe. Nature shows herself
delightful to man, but there is nothing absorbing or intoxicating about
her. Man is still well able to defend himself against her, to live his
own independent life of labour and of will, and to develop the tenacity
of hidden feeling, that slowly growing intensity of purpose, which is so
often wiled out of him by the spells of the South.

The distant aspect of Burwood Farm differed in nothing from that of the
few other farmhouses which dotted the fells or clustered beside the
river between it and the rocky end of the valley. But as one came
nearer, certain signs of difference became visible. The garden, instead
of being the old-fashioned medley of phloxes, lavender bushes, monthly
roses, gooseberry trees, herbs, and pampas grass, with which the
farmers' wives of Long Whindale loved to fill their little front
enclosures, was trimly laid down in turf dotted with neat flower-beds,
full at the moment we are writing of with orderly patches of scarlet and
purple anemones, wallflowers, and pansies. At the side of the house a
new bow window, modest enough in dimensions and make, had been thrown
out on to another close-shaven piece of lawn, and by its suggestion of
a distant sophisticated order of things disturbed the homely impression
left by the untouched ivy-grown walls, the unpretending porch, and wide
slate window-sills of the front. And evidently the line of sheds
standing level with the dwelling-house no longer sheltered the animals,
the carts, or the tools which make the small capital of a Westmoreland
farmer. The windows in them were new, the doors fresh painted and
closely shut; curtains of some soft outlandish make showed themselves in
what had once been a stable, and the turf stretched smoothly up to a
narrow gravelled path in front of them, unbroken by a single footmark.
No, evidently the old farm, for such it undoubtedly was, had been but
lately, or comparatively lately, transformed to new and softer uses;
that rough patriarchal life of which it had once been a symbol and
centre no longer bustled and clattered through it. It had become the
shelter of new ideals, the home of another and a milder race than once
possessed it.

In a stranger coming upon the house for the first time, on this
particular evening, the sense of a changing social order and a vanishing
past produced by the slight but significant modifications it had
undergone, would have been greatly quickened by certain sounds which
were streaming out on to the evening air from one of the divisions of
that long one-storied addition to the main dwelling we have already
described. Some indefatigable musician inside was practising the violin
with surprising energy and vigour, and within the little garden the
distant murmur of the river and the gentle breathing of the west wind
round the fell were entirely conquered and banished by these triumphant
shakes and turns, or by the flourishes and the broad _cantabile_
passages of one of Spohr's Andantes. For a while, as the sun sank lower
and lower towards the Shanmoor hills, the hidden artist had it all his,
or her, own way; the valley and its green spaces seemed to be possessed
by this stream of eddying sound, and no other sign of life broke the
gray quiet of the house. But at last, just as the golden ball touched
the summit of the craggy fell, which makes the western boundary of the
dale at its higher end, the house door opened, and a young girl, shawled
and holding some soft burden in her arms, appeared on the threshold, and
stood there for a moment, as though trying the quality of the air
outside. Her pause of inspection seemed to satisfy her, for she moved
forward, leaving the door open behind her, and, stepping across the
lawn, settled herself in a wicker chair under an apple-tree, which had
only just shed its blossoms on the turf below. She had hardly done so
when one of the distant doors opening on the gravel path flew open, and
another maiden, a slim creature garbed in æsthetic blue, a mass of
reddish brown hair flying back from her face, also stepped out into the
garden.

'Agnes!' cried the new-comer, who had the strenuous and dishevelled air
natural to one just emerged from a long violin practice. 'Has Catherine
come back yet?'

'Not that I know of. Do come here and look at pussie; did you ever see
anything so comfortable?'

'You and she look about equally lazy. What have you been doing all the
afternoon?'

'We look what we are, my dear. Doing? Why, I have been attending to my
domestic duties, arranging the flowers, mending my pink dress for
to-morrow night, and helping to keep mamma in good spirits; she is
depressed because she has been finding Elizabeth out in some waste or
other, and I have been preaching to her to make Elizabeth uncomfortable
if she likes, but not to worrit herself. And after all, pussie and I
have come out for a rest. We've earned it, haven't we, Chattie? And, as
for you, Miss Artistic, I should like to know what you've been doing for
the good of your kind since dinner. I suppose you had tea at the
vicarage?'

The speaker lifted inquiring eyes to her sister as she spoke, her cheek
plunged in the warm fur of a splendid Persian cat, her whole look and
voice expressing the very highest degree of quiet, comfort, and
self-possession. Agnes Leyburn was not pretty; the lower part of the
face was a little heavy in outline and moulding; the teeth were not as
they should have been, and the nose was unsatisfactory. But the eyes
under their long lashes were shrewdness itself, and there was an
individuality in the voice, a cheery even-temperedness in look and tone,
which had a pleasing effect on the bystander. Her dress was neat and
dainty; every detail of it bespoke a young woman who respected both
herself and the fashion.

Her sister, on the other hand, was guiltless of the smallest trace of
fashion. Her skirts were cut with the most engaging _naïveté_, she was
much adorned with amber beads, and her red brown hair had been tortured
and frizzled to look as much like an aureole as possible. But, on the
other hand, she was a beauty, though at present you felt her a beauty in
disguise, a stage Cinderella as it were, in very becoming rags, waiting
for the godmother.

'Yes, I had tea at the vicarage,' said this young person, throwing
herself on the grass in spite of a murmured protest from Agnes, who had
an inherent dislike of anything physically rash, 'and I had the greatest
difficulty to get away. Mrs. Thornburgh is in such a flutter about this
visit! One would think it was the Bishop and all his Canons, and
promotion depending on it, she has baked so many cakes and put out so
many dinner napkins! I don't envy the young man. She will have no wits
left at all to entertain him with. I actually wound up by administering
some sal-volatile to her.'

'Well, and after the sal-volatile did you get anything coherent out of
her on the subject of the young man?'

'By degrees,' said the girl, her eyes twinkling; 'if one can only
remember the thread between whiles one gets at the facts somehow. In
between the death of Mr. Elsmere's father and his going to college, we
had, let me see,--the spare room curtains, the making of them and the
cleaning of them, Sarah's idiocy in sticking to her black sheep of a
young man, the price of tea when she married, Mr. Thornburgh's singular
preference of boiled mutton to roast, the poems she had written to her
when she was eighteen, and I can't tell you what else besides. But I
held fast, and every now and then I brought her up to the point again,
gently, but firmly, and now I think I know all I want to know about the
interesting stranger.'

'My ideas about him are not many,' said Agnes, rubbing her cheek gently
up and down the purring cat, 'and there doesn't seem to be much order in
them. He is very accomplished--a teetotaller--he has been to the Holy
Land, and his hair has been cut close after a fever. It sounds odd, but
I am not curious. I can very well wait till to-morrow evening.'

'Oh, well, as to ideas about a person, one doesn't get that sort of
thing from Mrs. Thornburgh. But I know how old he is, where he went to
college, where his mother lives, a certain number of his mother's
peculiarities, which seem to be Irish and curious, where his living is,
how much it is worth, likewise the colour of his eyes, as near as Mrs.
Thornburgh can get.'

'What a start you have been getting!' said Agnes lazily. 'But what is it
makes the poor old thing so excited?'

Rose sat up and began to fling the fir cones lying about her at a
distant mark with an energy worthy of her physical perfections and the
æsthetic freedom of her attire.

'Because, my dear, Mrs. Thornburgh at the present moment is always
seeing herself as the conspirator sitting match in hand before a mine.
Mr. Elsmere is the match--we are the mine!'

Agnes looked at her sister, and they both laughed, the bright rippling
laugh of young women perfectly aware of their own value, and in no hurry
to force an estimate of it on the male world.

'Well,' said Rose deliberately, her delicate cheek flushed with her
gymnastics, her eyes sparkling, 'there is no saying. "Propinquity does
it"--as Mrs. Thornburgh is always reminding us.--But where _can_
Catherine be? She went out directly after lunch.'

'She has gone out to see that youth who hurt his back at the Tysons--at
least I heard her talking to mamma about him, and she went out with a
basket that looked like beef-tea.'

Rose frowned a little.

'And I suppose I ought to have been to the school or to see Mrs. Robson,
instead of fiddling all the afternoon. I daresay I ought--only,
unfortunately, I like my fiddle, and I don't like stuffy cottages; and
as for the goody books, I read them so badly that the old women
themselves come down upon me.'

'I seem to have been making the best of both worlds,' said Agnes
placidly. 'I haven't been doing anything I don't like, but I got hold
of that dress she brought home to make for little Emma Payne and nearly
finished the skirt, so that I feel as good as one when one has been
twice to church on a wet Sunday. Ah, there is Catherine. I heard the
gate.'

As she spoke steps were heard approaching through the clump of trees
which sheltered the little entrance gate, and as Rose sprang to her feet
a tall figure in white and gray appeared against the background of the
sycamores, and came quickly towards the sisters.

'Dears, I am so sorry; I am afraid you have been waiting for me. But
poor Mrs. Tyson wanted me so badly that I could not leave her. She had
no one else to help her or to be with her till that eldest girl of hers
came home from work.'

'It doesn't matter,' said Rose, as Catherine put her arm round her
shoulder; 'mamma hasn't been fidgeting, and as for Agnes, she looks as
if she never wanted to move again.'

Catherine's clear eyes, which at the moment seemed to be full of inward
light, kindled in them by some foregoing experience, rested kindly, but
only half consciously, on her younger sister, as Agnes softly nodded and
smiled to her. Evidently she was a good deal older than the other
two--she looked about six-and-twenty, a young and vigorous woman in the
prime of health and strength. The lines of the form were rather thin and
spare, but they were softened by the loose bodice and long full skirt of
her dress, and by the folds of a large white muslin handkerchief which
was crossed over her breast. The face, sheltered by the plain shady hat,
was also a little spoilt from the point of view of beauty by the
sharpness of the lines about the chin and mouth, and by a slight
prominence of the cheekbones, but the eyes, of a dark bluish gray, were
fine, the nose delicately cut, the brow smooth and beautiful, while the
complexion had caught the freshness and purity of Westmoreland air and
Westmoreland streams. About face and figure there was a delicate austere
charm, something which harmonised with the bare stretches and lonely
crags of the fells, something which seemed to make her a true daughter
of the mountains, partaker at once of their gentleness and their
severity. _She_ was in her place here, beside the homely Westmoreland
house and under the shelter of the fells. When you first saw the other
sisters you wondered what strange chance had brought them into that
remote sparely-peopled valley; they were plainly exiles, and conscious
exiles, from the movement and exhilarations of a fuller social life. But
Catherine impressed you as only a refined variety of the local type; you
could have found many like her, in a sense, among the sweet-faced
serious women of the neighbouring farms.

Now, as she and Rose stood together, her hand still resting lightly on
the other's shoulder, a question from Agnes banished the faint smile on
her lips, and left only the look of inward illumination, the expression
of one who had just passed, as it were, through a strenuous and heroic
moment of life, and was still living in the exaltation of memory.

'So the poor fellow is worse?'

'Yes. Doctor Baker, whom they have got to-day, says the spine is
hopelessly injured. He may live on paralysed for a few months or longer,
but there is no hope of cure.'

Both girls uttered a shocked exclamation. 'That fine strong young man!'
said Rose under her breath. 'Does he know?'

'Yes; when I got there the doctor had just gone, and Mrs. Tyson, who was
quite unprepared for anything so dreadful, seemed to have almost lost
her wits, poor thing! I found her in the front kitchen with her apron
over her head, rocking to and fro, and poor Arthur in the inner
room--all alone--waiting in suspense.'

'And who told him? He has been so hopeful.'

'I did,' said Catherine gently; 'they made me. He _would_ know, and she
couldn't--she ran out of the room. I never saw anything so pitiful.'

'Oh, Catherine!' exclaimed Rose's moved voice, while Agnes got up, and
Chattie jumped softly down from her lap, unheeded.

'How did he bear it?'

'Don't ask me,' said Catherine, while the quiet tears filled her eyes
and her voice broke, as the hidden feeling would have its way. 'It was
terrible! I don't know how we got through that half-hour--his mother and
I. It was like wrestling with some one in agony. At last he was
exhausted--he let me say the Lord's Prayer; I think it soothed him, but
one couldn't tell. He seemed half asleep when I left. Oh!' she cried,
laying her hand in a close grasp on Rose's arm, 'if you had seen his
eyes, and his poor hands--there was such despair in them! They say,
though he was so young, he was thinking of getting married; and he was
so steady, such a good son!'

A silence fell upon the three. Catherine stood looking out across the
valley towards the sunset. Now that the demand upon her for calmness and
fortitude was removed, and that the religious exaltation in which she
had gone through the last three hours was becoming less intense, the
pure human pity of the scene she had just witnessed seemed to be gaining
upon her. Her lip trembled, and two or three tears silently overflowed.
Rose turned and gently kissed her cheek, and Agnes touched her hand
caressingly. She smiled at them, for it was not in her nature to let any
sign of love pass unheeded, and in a few more seconds she had mastered
herself.

'Dears, we must go in. Is mother in her room? Oh, Rose! in that thin
dress on the grass; I oughtn't to have kept you out. It is quite cold by
now.'

And she hurried them in, leaving them to superintend the preparations
for supper downstairs while she ran up to her mother.

A quarter of an hour afterwards they were all gathered round the
supper-table, the windows open to the garden and the May twilight. At
Catherine's right hand sat Mrs. Leyburn, a tall delicate-looking woman,
wrapped in a white shawl, about whom there were only three things to be
noticed--an amiable temper, a sufficient amount of weak health to excuse
her all the more tiresome duties of life, and an incorrigible tendency
to sing the praises of her daughters at all times and to all people. The
daughters winced under it: Catherine, because it was a positive pain to
her to hear herself brought forward and talked about; the others,
because youth infinitely prefers to make its own points in its own way.
Nothing, however, could mend this defect of Mrs. Leyburn's. Catherine's
strength of will could keep it in check sometimes, but in general it had
to be borne with. A sharp word would have silenced the mother's
well-meant chatter at any time--for she was a fragile, nervous woman,
entirely dependent on her surroundings--but none of them were capable of
it, and their mere refractoriness counted for nothing.

The dining-room in which they were gathered had a good deal of homely
dignity, and was to the Leyburns full of associations. The oak settle
near the fire, the oak sideboard running along one side of the room, the
black oak table with carved legs at which they sat, were genuine pieces
of old Westmoreland work, which had belonged to their grandfather. The
heavy carpet covering the stone floor of what twenty years before had
been the kitchen of the farmhouse was a survival from a south-country
home, which had sheltered their lives for eight happy years. Over the
mantelpiece hung the portrait of the girls' father, a long serious face,
not unlike Wordsworth's face in outline, and bearing a strong
resemblance to Catherine; a line of silhouettes adorned the mantelpiece;
on the walls were prints of Winchester and Worcester Cathedrals,
photographs of Greece, and two old-fashioned engravings of Dante and
Milton; while a bookcase, filled apparently with the father's college
books and college prizes and the favourite authors--mostly poets,
philosophers, and theologians--of his later years, gave a final touch of
habitableness to the room. The little meal and its appointments--the
eggs, the home-made bread and preserves, the tempting butter and
old-fashioned silver gleaming among the flowers which Rose arranged with
fanciful skill in Japanese pots of her own providing--suggested the same
family qualities as the room. Frugality, a dainty personal self-respect,
a family consciousness, tenacious of its memories and tenderly careful
of all the little material objects which were to it the symbols of those
memories--clearly all these elements entered into the Leyburn tradition.

And of this tradition, with its implied assertions and denials, clearly
Catherine Leyburn, the elder sister, was, of all the persons gathered in
this little room, the most pronounced embodiment. She sat at the head
of the table, the little basket of her own and her mother's keys beside
her. Her dress was a soft black brocade, with lace collar and cuff,
which had once belonged to an aunt of her mother's. It was too old for
her both in fashion and material, but it gave her a gentle, almost
matronly dignity, which became her. Her long thin hands, full of
character and delicacy, moved nimbly among the cups; all her ways were
quiet and yet decided. It was evident that among this little party she,
and not the plaintive mother, was really in authority. To-night,
however, her looks were specially soft. The scene she had gone through
in the afternoon had left her pale, with traces of patient fatigue round
the eyes and mouth, but all her emotion was gone, and she was devoting
herself to the others, responding with quick interest and ready smiles
to all they had to say, and contributing the little experiences of her
own day in return.

Rose sat on her left hand in yet another gown of strange tint and
archaic outline. Rose's gowns were legion. They were manufactured by a
farmer's daughter across the valley, under her strict and precise
supervision. She was accustomed, as she boldly avowed, to shut herself
up at the beginning of each season of the year for two days' meditation
on the subject. And now, thanks to the spring warmth, she was entering
at last with infinite zest on the results of her April vigils.

Catherine had surveyed her as she entered the room with a smile, but a
smile not altogether to Rose's taste.

'What, another, Röschen?' she had said, with the slightest lifting of
the eyebrows. 'You never confided that to me. Did you think I was
unworthy of anything so artistic?'

'Not at all,' said Rose calmly, seating herself. 'I thought you were
better employed.'

But a flush flew over her transparent cheek, and she presently threw an
irritated look at Agnes, who had been looking from her to Catherine with
amused eyes.

'I met Mr. Thornburgh and Mr. Elsmere driving from the station,'
Catherine announced presently; 'at least there was a gentleman in a
clerical wideawake, with a portmanteau behind, so I imagine it must have
been he.'

'Did he look promising?' inquired Agnes.

'I don't think I noticed,' said Catherine simply, but with a momentary
change of expression. The sisters, remembering how she had come in upon
them with that look of one 'lifted up,' understood why she had not
noticed, and refrained from further questions.

'Well, it is to be hoped the young man is recovered enough to stand Long
Whindale festivities,' said Rose. 'Mrs. Thornburgh means to let them
loose on his devoted head to-morrow night.'

'Who are coming?' asked Mrs. Leyburn eagerly. The occasional tea parties
of the neighbourhood were an unfailing excitement to her, simply
because, by dint of the small adornings, natural to the occasion, they
showed her daughters to her under slightly new aspects. To see
Catherine, who never took any thought for her appearance, forced to
submit to a white dress, a line of pearls round the shapely throat, a
flower in the brown hair, put there by Rose's imperious fingers; to sit
in a corner well out of draughts, watching the effect of Rose's
half-fledged beauty, and drinking in the compliments of the
neighbourhood on Rose's playing or Agnes's conversation, or Catherine's
practical ability--these were Mrs. Leyburn's passions, and a tea party
always gratified them to the full.

'Mamma asks as if really she wanted an answer,' remarked Agnes drily.
'Dear mother, can't you by now make up a tea party at the Thornburghs
out of your head?'

'The Seatons?' inquired Mrs. Leyburn.

'_Mrs._ Seaton and Miss Barks,' replied Rose. 'The rector won't come.
And I needn't say that, having moved heaven and earth to get Mrs.
Seaton, Mrs. Thornburgh is now miserable because she has got her. Her
ambition is gratified, but she knows that she has spoilt the party.
Well, then, Mr. Mayhew, of course, his son, _and_ his flute.'

'You to play his accompaniments?' put in Agnes slily. Rose's lip curled.

'Not if Miss Barks knows it,' she said emphatically, 'nor if I know it.
The Bakers, of course, ourselves, and the unknown.'

'Dr. Baker is always pleasant,' said Mrs. Leyburn, leaning back and
drawing her white shawl languidly round her. 'He told me the other day,
Catherine, that if it weren't for you he should have to retire. He
regards you as his junior partner. "Marvellous nursing gift your eldest
daughter has, Mrs. Leyburn," he said to me the other day. A most
agreeable man.'

'I wonder if I shall be able to get any candid opinions out of Mr.
Elsmere the day after to-morrow?' said Rose, musing. 'It is difficult to
avoid having an opinion of some sort about Mrs. Seaton.'

'Oxford dons don't gossip and are never candid,' remarked Agnes
severely.

'Then Oxford dons must be very dull,' cried Rose. 'However,' and her
countenance brightened, 'if he stays here four weeks we can teach him.'

Catherine, meanwhile, sat watching the two girls with a soft elder
sister's indulgence. Was it in connection with their bright attractive
looks that the thought flitted through her head, 'I wonder what the
young man will be like?'

'Oh, by the way,' said Rose presently, 'I had nearly forgotten Mrs.
Thornburgh's two messages. I informed her, Agnes, that you had given up
water-colour and meant to try oils, and she told me to implore you not
to, because "water-colour is so _much_ more lady-like than oils." And as
for you, Catherine, she sent you a most special message. I was to tell
you that she just _loved_ the way you had taken to plaiting your hair
lately--that it was exactly like the picture of Jeanie Deans she has in
the drawing-room, and that she would never forgive you if you didn't
plait it so to-morrow night.'

Catherine flushed faintly as she got up from the table.

'Mrs. Thornburgh has eagle-eyes,' she said, moving away to give her arm
to her mother, who looked fondly at her, making some remark in praise of
Mrs. Thornburgh's taste.

'Rose!' cried Agnes indignantly, when the other two had disappeared,
'you and Mrs. Thornburgh have not the sense you were born with. What on
earth did you say that to Catherine for?'

Rose stared; then her face fell a little.

'I suppose it was foolish,' she admitted. Then she leant her head on one
hand and drew meditative patterns on the table-cloth with the other.
'You know, Agnes,' she said presently, looking up, 'there are drawbacks
to having a St. Elizabeth for a sister.'

Agnes discreetly made no reply, and Rose was left alone. She sat
dreaming a few minutes, the corners of the red mouth drooping. Then she
sprang up with a long sigh. 'A little life!' she said half-aloud, 'a
little _wickedness_!' and she shook her curly head defiantly.

A few minutes later, in the little drawing-room on the other side of the
hall, Catherine and Rose stood together by the open window. For the
first time in a lingering spring, the air was soft and balmy; a tender
grayness lay over the valley; it was not night, though above the clear
outlines of the fell the stars were just twinkling in the pale blue. Far
away under the crag on the farther side of High Fell a light was
shining. As Catherine's eyes caught it there was a quick response in the
fine Madonna-like face.

'Any news for me from the Backhouses this afternoon?' she asked Rose.

'No, I heard of none. How is she?'

'Dying,' said Catherine simply, and stood a moment looking out. Rose did
not interrupt her. She knew that the house from which the light was
shining sheltered a tragedy; she guessed with the vagueness of nineteen
that it was a tragedy of passion and sin; but Catherine had not been
communicative on the subject, and Rose had for some time past set up a
dumb resistance to her sister's most characteristic ways of life and
thought, which prevented her now from asking questions. She wished
nervously to give Catherine's extraordinary moral strength no greater
advantage over her than she could help.

Presently, however, Catherine threw her arm round her with a tender
protectingness.

'What did you do with yourself all the afternoon, Röschen?'

'I practised for two hours,' said the girl shortly, 'and two hours this
morning. My Spohr is nearly perfect.'

'And you didn't look into the school?' asked Catherine, hesitating; 'I
know Miss Merry expected you.'

'No, I didn't. When one can play the violin and can't teach, any more
than a cockatoo, what's the good of wasting one's time in teaching?'

Catherine did not reply. A minute after Mrs. Leyburn called her, and she
went to sit on a stool at her mother's feet, her hands resting on the
elder woman's lap, the whole attitude of the tall active figure one of
beautiful and childlike abandonment. Mrs. Leyburn wanted to confide in
her about a new cap, and Catherine took up the subject with a zest which
kept her mother happy till bedtime.

'Why couldn't she take as much interest in my Spohr?' thought Rose.

Late that night, long after she had performed all a maid's offices for
her mother, Catherine Leyburn was busy in her own room arranging a large
cupboard containing medicines and ordinary medical necessaries, a
storehouse whence all the simpler emergencies of their end of the valley
were supplied. She had put on a white flannel dressing-gown and moved
noiselessly about in it, the very embodiment of order, of purity, of
quiet energy. The little white-curtained room was bareness and neatness
itself. There were a few book-shelves along the walls, holding the books
which her father had given her. Over the bed were two enlarged portraits
of her parents, and a line of queer little faded monstrosities,
representing Rose and Agnes in different stages of childhood. On the
table beside the bed was a pile of well-worn books--Keble, Jeremy
Taylor, the Bible--connected in the mind of the mistress of the room
with the intensest moments of the spiritual life. There was a strip of
carpet by the bed, a plain chair or two, a large press; otherwise no
furniture that was not absolutely necessary, and no ornaments. And yet,
for all its emptiness, the little room in its order and spotlessness had
the look and spell of a sanctuary.

When her task was finished Catherine came forward to the infinitesimal
dressing-table, and stood a moment before the common cottage
looking-glass upon it. The candle behind her showed her the outlines of
her head and face in shadow against the white ceiling. Her soft brown
hair was plaited high above the broad white brow, giving to it an added
stateliness, while it left unmasked the pure lines of the neck. Mrs.
Thornburgh and her mother were quite right. Simple as the new
arrangement was, it could hardly have been more effective.

But the looking-glass got no smile in return for its information.
Catherine Leyburn was young; she was alone; she was being very plainly
told that, taken as a whole, she was, or might be at any moment, a
beautiful woman. And all her answer was a frown and a quick movement
away from the glass. Putting up her hands she began to undo the plaits
with haste, almost with impatience; she smoothed the whole mass then set
free into the severest order, plaited it closely together, and then,
putting out her light, threw herself on her knees beside the window,
which was partly open to the starlight and the mountains. The voice of
the river far away, wafted from the mist-covered depths of the valley,
and the faint rustling of the trees just outside, were for long after
the only sounds which broke the silence.

When Catherine appeared at breakfast next morning her hair was plainly
gathered into a close knot behind, which had been her way or dressing it
since she was thirteen. Agnes threw a quick look at Rose; Mrs. Leyburn,
as soon as she had made out through her spectacles what was the matter,
broke into warm expostulations.

'It is more comfortable, dear mother, and takes much less time,' said
Catherine, reddening.

'Poor Mrs. Thornburgh!' remarked Agnes drily.

'Oh, Rose will make up!' said Catherine, glancing, not without a spark
of mischief in her gray eyes, at Rose's tortured locks; 'and mamma's new
cap, which will be superb!'



CHAPTER II


About four o'clock on the afternoon of the day which was to be marked in
the annals of Long Whindale as that of Mrs. Thornburgh's 'high tea,'
that lady was seated in the vicarage garden, her spectacles on her nose,
a large _couvre-pied_ over her knees, and the Whinborough newspaper on
her lap. The neighbourhood of this last enabled her to make an
intermittent pretence of reading; but in reality the energies of her
housewifely mind were taken up with quite other things. The vicar's wife
was plunged in a housekeeping experiment of absorbing interest. All her
_solid_ preparations for the evening were over, and in her own mind she
decided that with them there was no possible fault to be found. The
cook, Sarah, had gone about her work in a spirit at once lavish and
fastidious, breathed into her by her mistress. No better tongue, no
plumper chickens, than those which would grace her board to-night were
to be found, so Mrs. Thornburgh was persuaded, in the district. And so
with everything else of a substantial kind. On this head the hostess
felt no anxieties.

But a 'tea' in the north country depends for distinction, not on its
solids or its savouries, but on its sweets. A rural hostess earns her
reputation, not by a discriminating eye for butcher's-meat, but by her
inventiveness in cakes and custards. And it was just here, with regard
to this 'bubble reputation,' that the vicar's wife of Long Whindale was
particularly sensitive. Was she not expecting Mrs. Seaton, the wife of
the Rector of Whinborough--odious woman--to tea? Was it not incumbent on
her to do well, nay, to do brilliantly, in the eyes of this local
magnate? And how was it possible to do brilliantly in this matter with a
cook whose recipes were hopelessly old-fashioned, and who had an
exasperating belief in the sufficiency of buttered 'whigs' and home-made
marmalade for all requirements?

Stung by these thoughts, Mrs. Thornburgh had gone prowling about the
neighbouring town of Whinborough till the shop window of a certain
newly-arrived confectioner had been revealed to her, stored with the
most airy and appetising trifles--of a make and colouring quite
metropolitan. She had flattened her gray curls against the window for
one deliberative moment; had then rushed in; and as soon as the
carrier's cart of Long Whindale, which she was now anxiously awaiting,
should have arrived, bearing with it the produce of that adventure, Mrs.
Thornburgh would be a proud woman, prepared to meet a legion of rectors'
wives without flinching. Not, indeed, in all respects a woman at peace
with herself and the world. In the country, where every household should
be self-contained, a certain discredit attaches in every well-regulated
mind to 'getting things in.' Mrs. Thornburgh was also nervous at the
thought of the bill. It would have to be met gradually out of the weekly
money. For 'William' was to know nothing of the matter, except so far as
a few magnificent generalities and the testimony of his own dazzled eyes
might inform him. But after all, in this as in everything else, one must
suffer to be distinguished.

The carrier, however, lingered. And at last the drowsiness of the
afternoon overcame even those pleasing expectations we have described,
and Mrs. Thornburgh's newspaper dropped unheeded to her feet. The
vicarage, under the shade of which she was sitting, was a new gray stone
building with wooden gables, occupying the site of what had once been
the earlier vicarage house of Long Whindale, the primitive
dwelling-house of an incumbent, whose chapelry, after sundry
augmentations, amounted to just twenty-seven pounds a year. The modern
house, though it only contained sufficient accommodation for Mr. and
Mrs. Thornburgh, one guest, and two maids, would have seemed palatial to
those rustic clerics of the past from whose ministrations the lonely
valley had drawn its spiritual sustenance in times gone by. They,
indeed, had belonged to another race--a race sprung from the soil and
content to spend the whole of life in very close contact and very homely
intercourse with their mother earth. Mr. Thornburgh, who had come to the
valley only a few years before from a parish in one of the large
manufacturing towns, and who had no inherited interest in the Cumbrian
folk and their ways, had only a very faint idea, and that a distinctly
depreciatory one, of what these mythical predecessors of his, with their
strange social status and unbecoming occupations, might be like. But
there were one or two old men still lingering in the dale who could have
told him a great deal about them, whose memory went back to the days
when the relative social importance of the dale parsons was exactly
expressed by the characteristic Westmoreland saying: 'Ef ye'll nobbut
send us a gude schulemeaster, a verra' moderate parson 'ull dea!' and
whose slow minds, therefore, were filled with a strong inarticulate
sense of difference as they saw him pass along the road, and recalled
the incumbent of their childhood, dropping in for his 'crack' and his
glass of 'yale' at this or that farmhouse on any occasion of local
festivity, or driving his sheep to Whinborough market with his own hands
like any other peasant of the dale.

Within the last twenty years, however, the few remaining survivors of
this primitive clerical order in the Westmoreland and Cumberland valleys
have dropped into their quiet unremembered graves, and new men of other
ways and other modes of speech reign in their stead. And as at Long
Whindale, so almost everywhere, the change has been emphasised by the
disappearance of the old parsonage houses with their stone floors, their
parlours lustrous with oak carving on chest or dresser, and their
encircling farm-buildings and meadows, in favour of an upgrowth of new
trim mansions designed to meet the needs, not of peasants, but of
gentlefolks.

And naturally the churches too have shared in the process of
transformation. The ecclesiastical revival of the last half-century has
worked its will even in the remotest corners of the Cumbrian country,
and soon not a vestige of the homely worshipping-places of an earlier
day will remain. Across the road, in front of the Long Whindale
parsonage, for instance, rose a freshly built church, also peaked and
gabled, with a spire and two bells, and a painted east window, and
Heaven knows what novelties besides. The primitive whitewashed structure
it replaced had lasted long, and in the course of many generations time
had clothed its moss-grown walls, its slated porch, and tombstones worn
with rain in a certain beauty of congruity and association, linking it
with the purple distances of the fells, and the brawling river bending
round the gray enclosure. But finally, after a period of quiet and
gradual decay, the ruin of Long Whindale chapel had become a quick and
hurrying ruin that would not be arrested. When the rotten timbers of the
roof came dropping on the farmers' heads, and the oak benches beneath
offered gaps, the geography of which had to be carefully learnt by the
substantial persons who sat on them, lest they should be overtaken by
undignified disaster; when the rain poured in on the Communion Table and
the wind raged through innumerable mortarless chinks, even the
slowly-moving folk of the valley came to the conclusion that 'summat
'ull hev to be deun.' And by the help of the Bishop, and Queen Anne's
Bounty, and what not, aided by just as many half-crowns as the valley
found itself unable to defend against the encroachments of a new and
'moiderin' parson, 'summat' was done, whereof the results--namely, the
new church, vicarage, and schoolhouse--were now conspicuous.

This radical change, however, had not been the work of Mr. Thornburgh
but of his predecessor, a much more pushing and enterprising man, whose
successful efforts to improve the church accommodation in Long Whindale
had moved such deep and lasting astonishment in the mind of a somewhat
lethargic bishop, that promotion had been readily found for him. Mr.
Thornburgh was neither capable of the sturdy begging which had raised
the church, nor was he likely on other lines to reach preferment. He and
his wife, who possessed much more salience of character than he, were
accepted in the dale as belonging to the established order of things.
Nobody wished them any harm, and the few people they had specially
befriended, naturally, thought well of them.

But the old intimacy of relation which had once subsisted between the
clergyman of Long Whindale and his parishioners was wholly gone. They
had sunk in the scale; the parson had risen. The old statesmen or
peasant proprietors of the valley had for the most part succumbed to
various destructive influences, some social, some economical, added to a
certain amount of corrosion from within; and their place had been taken
by leaseholders, less drunken perhaps, and better educated, but also far
less shrewd and individual, and lacking in the rude dignity of their
predecessors.

And as the land had lost, the church had gained. The place of the
dalesmen knew them no more, but the church and parsonage had got
themselves rebuilt, the parson had had his income raised, had let off
his glebe to a neighbouring farmer, kept two maids, and drank claret
when he drank anything. His flock were friendly enough, and paid their
commuted tithes without grumbling. But between them and a perfectly
well-meaning but rather dull man, who stood on his dignity and wore a
black coat all the week, there was no real community. Rejoice in it as
we may, in this final passage of Parson Primrose to social regions
beyond the ken of Farmer Flamborough, there are some elements of loss as
there are in all changes.

Wheels on the road! Mrs. Thornburgh woke up with a start, and stumbling
over newspaper and _couvre-pied_, hurried across the lawn as fast as her
short squat figure would allow, gray curls and cap-strings flying behind
her. She heard a colloquy in the distance in broad Westmoreland dialect,
and as she turned the corner of the house she nearly ran into her tall
cook, Sarah, whose impassive and saturnine countenance bore traces of
unusual excitement.

'Missis, there's naw cakes. They're all left behind on t' counter at
Randall's. Mr. Backhouse says as how he told old Jim to go fur 'em, and
he niver went, and Mr. Backhouse he niver found oot till he'd got past
t' bridge, and than it wur too late to go back.'

Mrs. Thornburgh stood transfixed, something of her fresh pink colour
slowly deserting her face as she realised the enormity of the
catastrophe. And was it possible that there was the faintest twinkle of
grim satisfaction on the face of that elderly minx, Sarah?

Mrs. Thornburgh, however, did not stay to explore the recesses of
Sarah's mind, but ran with little pattering, undignified steps across
the front garden and down the steps to where Mr. Backhouse the carrier
stood, bracing himself for self-defence.

'Ya may weel fret, mum,' said Mr. Backhouse, interrupting the flood of
her reproaches, with the comparative _sang-froid_ of one who knew that,
after all, he was the only carrier on the road, and that the vicarage
was five miles from the necessaries of life; 'it's a bad job, and I's
not goin' to say it isn't. But ya jest look 'ere, mum, what's a man to
du wi' a daft thingamy like _that_, as caan't tëak a plain order, and
spiles a poor man's business as caan't help hissel'?'

And Mr. Backhouse pointed with withering scorn to a small, shrunken old
man, who sat dangling his legs on the shaft of the cart, and whose
countenance wore a singular expression of mingled meekness and
composure, as his partner flourished an indignant finger towards him.

'Jim,' cried Mrs. Thornburgh reproachfully, 'I did think you would have
taken more pains about my order!'

'Yis, mum,' said the old man placidly, 'ya might 'a' thowt it. I's reet
sorry, bit ya caan't help these things _sum_times--an' it's naw gud, a
hollerin' ower 'em like a mad bull. Aa tuke yur bit paper to Randall's
and aa laft it wi' 'em to mek up, an' than, aa, weel, aa went to a
frind, an' ee _may_ hev giv' me a glass of yale, aa doon't say ee
_dud_--but ee may, I ween't sweer. Hawsomiver, aa niver thowt naw mair
aboot it, nor mair did John, so _ee_ needn't taak--till we wur jest two
mile from 'ere. An' ee's a gon' on sence! My! an' a larroping the poor
beeast like onything!'

Mrs. Thornburgh stood aghast at the calmness of this audacious recital.
As for John, he looked on surveying his brother's philosophical
demeanour at first with speechless wrath, and then with an inscrutable
mixture of expressions, in which, however, any one accustomed to his
weather-beaten countenance would have probably read a hidden admiration.

'Weel, aa niver!' he exclaimed, when Jim's explanatory remarks had come
to an end, swinging himself up on to his seat and gathering up the
reins. 'Yur a boald 'un to tell the missus theer to hur feeace as how ya
wur 'tossicatit whan yur owt ta been duing yur larful business. Aa've
doon wi' yer. Aa aims to please ma coostomers, an' aa caan't abide sek
wark. Yur like an oald kneyfe, I can mak' nowt o' ya', nowder back nor
edge.'

Mrs. Thornburgh wrung her fat short hands in despair, making little
incoherent laments and suggestions as she saw him about to depart, of
which John at last gathered the main purport to be that she wished him
to go back to Whinborough for her precious parcel.

He shook his head compassionately over the preposterous state of mind
betrayed by such a demand, and with a fresh burst of abuse of his
brother, and an assurance to the vicar's wife that he meant to 'gie that
oald man nawtice when he got haum; he wasn't goan to hev his bisness
spiled for nowt by an oald ijiot wi' a hed as full o' yale as a
hayrick's full of mice,' he raised his whip and the clattering vehicle
moved forward; Jim meanwhile preserving through all his brother's wrath
and Mrs. Thornburgh's wailings the same mild and even countenance, the
meditative and friendly aspect of the philosopher letting the world go
'as e'en it will.'

So Mrs. Thornburgh was left gasping, watching the progress of the
lumbering cart along the bit of road leading to the hamlet at the head
of the valley, with so limp and crestfallen an aspect that even the
gaunt and secretly jubilant Sarah was moved to pity.

'Why, missis, we'll do very well. I'll hev some scones in t'oven in naw
time, an' theer's finger biscuits, an' wi' buttered toast an' sum o' t'
best jams, if they don't hev enuf to eat they ought to.' Then, dropping
her voice, she asked with a hurried change of tone, 'Did ye ask un' hoo
his daater is?'

Mrs. Thornburgh started. Her pastoral conscience was smitten. She opened
the gate and waved violently after the cart. John pulled his horse up,
and with a few quick steps she brought herself within speaking, or
rather shouting, distance.

'How's your daughter to-day, John?'

The old man's face peering round the oilcloth hood of the cart was
darkened by a sudden cloud as he caught the words. His stern lips
closed. He muttered something inaudible to Mrs. Thornburgh and whipped
up his horse again. The cart started off, and Mrs. Thornburgh was left
staring into the receding eyes of 'Jim the Noodle,' who, from his seat
on the near shaft, regarded her with a gaze which had passed from
benevolence into a preternatural solemnity.

'He's sparin' ov 'is speach is John Backhouse,' said Sarah grimly, as
her mistress returned to her. 'Maybe ee's aboot reet. It's a bad
business an' ee'll not mend it wi' taakin'.'

Mrs. Thornburgh, however, could not apply herself to the case of Mary
Backhouse. At any other moment it would have excited in her breast the
shuddering interest which, owing to certain peculiar attendant
circumstances, it awakened in every other woman in Long Whindale. But
her mind--such are the limitations of even clergymen's wives--was now
absorbed by her own misfortune. Her very cap-strings seemed to hang limp
with depression, as she followed Sarah dejectedly into the kitchen, and
gave what attention she could to those second-best arrangements so
depressing to the idealist temper.

Poor soul! All the charm and glitter of her little social adventure was
gone. When she once more emerged upon the lawn, and languidly readjusted
her spectacles, she was weighed down by the thought that in two hours
Mrs. Seaton would be upon her. Nothing of this kind ever happened to
Mrs. Seaton. The universe obeyed her nod. No carrier conveying goods to
her august door ever got drunk or failed to deliver his consignment. The
thing was inconceivable. Mrs. Thornburgh was well aware of it.

Should William be informed? Mrs. Thornburgh had a rooted belief in the
brutality of husbands in all domestic crises, and would have preferred
not to inform him. But she had also a dismal certainty that the secret
would burn a hole in her till it was confessed--bill and all.
Besides--frightful thought!--would they have to eat up all those
_meringues_ next day?

Her reflections at last became so depressing that, with a natural
epicurean instinct, she tried violently to turn her mind away from them.
Luckily she was assisted by a sudden perception of the roof and chimneys
of Burwood, the Leyburns' house, peeping above the trees to the left. At
sight of them a smile overspread her plump and gently wrinkled face. She
fell gradually into a train of thought, as feminine as that in which she
had been just indulging, but infinitely more pleasing.

For, with regard to the Leyburns, at this present moment Mrs. Thornburgh
felt herself in the great position of tutelary divinity or guardian
angel. At least if divinities and guardian angels do not concern
themselves with the questions to which Mrs. Thornburgh's mind was now
addressed, it would clearly have been the opinion of the vicar's wife
that they ought to do so.

'Who else is there to look after these girls, I should like to know,'
Mrs. Thornburgh inquired of herself, 'if I don't do it? As if girls
married themselves! People may talk of their independence nowadays as
much as they like--it always has to be done for them, one way or
another. Mrs. Leyburn, poor lackadaisical thing! is no good whatever. No
more is Catherine. They both behave as if husbands tumbled into your
mouth for the asking. Catherine's too good for this world--but if she
doesn't do it, I must. Why, that girl Rose is a beauty--if they didn't
let her wear those ridiculous mustard-coloured things, and do her hair
fit to frighten the crows! Agnes too--so lady-like and well-mannered;
she'd do credit to any man. Well, we shall see, we shall see!'

And Mrs. Thornburgh gently shook her gray curls from side to side, while
her eyes, fixed on the open spare room window, shone with meaning.

'So eligible, too--private means, no encumbrances, and as good as gold.'

She sat lost a moment in a pleasing dream.

'Shall I bring oot the tea to you theer, mum?' called Sarah gruffly,
from the garden door. 'Master and Mr. Elsmere are just coomin' down t'
field by t' stepping-stones.'

Mrs. Thornburgh signalled assent and the tea-table was brought.
Afternoon tea was by no means a regular institution at the vicarage of
Long Whindale, and Sarah never supplied it without signs of protest. But
when a guest was in the house Mrs. Thornburgh insisted upon it; her
obstinacy in the matter, like her dreams of cakes and confections, being
all part of her determination to move with the times, in spite of the
station to which Providence had assigned her.

A minute afterwards the vicar, a thick-set gray-haired man of sixty,
accompanied by a tall younger man in clerical dress, emerged upon the
lawn.

'Welcome sight!' cried Mr. Thornburgh; 'Robert and I have been coveting
that tea for the last hour. You guessed very well, Emma, to have it just
ready for us.'

'Oh, that was Sarah. She saw you coming down to the stepping-stones,'
replied his wife, pleased, however, by any mark of appreciation from her
mankind, however small. 'Robert, I hope you haven't been walked off your
legs?'

'What, in this air, cousin Emma? I could walk from sunrise to sundown.
Let no one call me an invalid any more. Henceforth I am a Hercules.'

And he threw himself on the rug which Mrs. Thornburgh's motherly
providence had spread on the grass for him, with a smile and a look of
supreme physical contentment, which did indeed almost efface the signs
of recent illness in the ruddy boyish face.

Mrs. Thornburgh studied him; her eye caught first of all by the stubble
of reddish hair which as he took off his hat stood up straight and stiff
all over his head with an odd wildness and aggressiveness. She
involuntarily thought, basing her inward comment on a complexity of
reasons--'Dear me, what a pity; it spoils his appearance!'

'I apologise, I apologise, cousin Emma, once for all,' said the young
man, surprising her glance, and despairingly smoothing down his
recalcitrant locks. 'Let us hope that mountain air will quicken the pace
of it before it is necessary for me to present a dignified appearance at
Murewell.'

He looked up at her with a merry flash in his gray eyes, and her old
face brightened visibly as she realised afresh that in spite of the
grotesqueness of his cropped hair, her guest was a most attractive
creature. Not that he could boast much in the way of regular good looks:
the mouth was large, the nose of no particular outline, and in general
the cutting of the face, though strong and characteristic, had a
bluntness and _naïveté_ like a vigorous unfinished sketch. This
bluntness of line, however, was balanced by a great delicacy of
tint--the pink and white complexion of a girl, indeed--enhanced by the
bright reddish hair, and quick gray eyes.

The figure was also a little out of drawing, so to speak; it was tall
and loosely-jointed. The general impression was one of agility and
power. But if you looked closer you saw that the shoulders were narrow,
the arms inordinately long, and the extremities too small for the
general height. Robert Elsmere's hand was the hand of a woman, and few
people ever exchanged a first greeting with its very tall owner without
a little shock of surprise.

Mr. Thornburgh and his guest had visited a few houses in the course of
their walk, and the vicar plunged for a minute or two into some
conversation about local matters with his wife. But Mrs. Thornburgh, it
was soon evident, was giving him but a scatterbrained attention. Her
secret was working in her ample breast. Very soon she could contain it
no longer, and breaking in upon her husband's parish news, she tumbled
it all out pell-mell, with a mixture of discomfiture and defiance
infinitely diverting. She could not keep a secret, but she also could
not bear to give William an advantage.

William certainly took his advantage. He did what his wife in her
irritation had precisely foreseen that he would do. He first stared,
then fell into a guffaw of laughter, and as soon as he had recovered
breath, into a series of unfeeling comments which drove Mrs. Thornburgh
to desperation.

'If you will set your mind, my dear, on things we plain folks can do
perfectly well without'--et cetera, et cetera--the husband's point of
view can be imagined. Mrs. Thornburgh could have shaken her good man,
especially as there was nothing new to her in his remarks; she had known
to a T beforehand exactly what he would say. She took up her knitting in
a great hurry, the needles clicking angrily, her gray curls quivering
under the energy of her hands and arms, while she launched at her
husband various retorts as to his lack of consideration for her efforts
and her inconvenience, which were only very slightly modified by the
presence of a stranger.

Robert Elsmere meanwhile lay on the grass, his face discreetly turned
away, an uncontrollable smile twitching the corners of his mouth.
Everything was fresh and piquant up here in this remote corner of the
north country, whether the mountain air or the wind-blown streams, or
the manners and customs of the inhabitants. His cousin's wife, in spite
of her ambitious conventionalities, was really the child of Nature to a
refreshing degree. One does not see these types, he said to himself, in
the cultivated monotony of Oxford or London. She was like a bit of a
bygone world--Miss Austen's or Miss Ferrier's--unearthed for his
amusement. He could not for the life of him help taking the scenes of
this remote rural existence, which was quite new to him, as though they
were the scenes of some comedy of manners.

Presently, however, the vicar became aware that the passage of arms
between himself and his spouse was becoming just a little indecorous.
He got up with a 'Hem!' intended to put an end to it, and deposited his
cup.

'Well, my dear, have it as you please. It all comes of your
determination to have Mrs. Seaton. Why couldn't you just ask the
Leyburns and let us enjoy ourselves?'

With this final shaft he departed to see that Jane, the little maid whom
Sarah ordered about, had not, in cleaning the study for the evening's
festivities, put his last sermon into the waste-paper basket. His wife
looked after him with eyes that spoke unutterable things.

'You would never think,' she said in an agitated voice to young Elsmere,
'that I had consulted Mr. Thornburgh as to every invitation, that he
entirely agreed with me that one _must_ be civil to Mrs. Seaton,
considering that she can make anybody's life a burden to them about here
that isn't; but it's no use.'

And she fell back on her knitting with redoubled energy, her face full
of a half-tearful intensity of meaning. Robert Elsmere restrained a
strong inclination to laugh, and set himself instead to distract and
console her. He expressed sympathy with her difficulties, he talked to
her about her party, he got from her the names and histories of the
guests. How Miss Austenish it sounded: the managing rector's wife, her
still more managing old maid of a sister, the neighbouring clergyman who
played the flute, the local doctor, and a pretty daughter just
out--'Very pretty,' sighed Mrs. Thornburgh, who was now depressed all
round, 'but all flounces and frills and nothing to say'--and last of
all, those three sisters, the Leyburns, who seemed to be on a different
level, and whom he had heard mentioned so often since his arrival by
both husband and wife.

'Tell me about the Miss Leyburns,' he said presently. 'You and cousin
William seem to have a great affection for them. Do they live near?'

'Oh, quite close,' cried Mrs. Thornburgh, brightening at last, and like
a great general, leaving one scheme in ruins, only the more ardently to
take up another. 'There is the house,' and she pointed out Burwood among
its trees. Then with her eye eagerly fixed upon him, she fell into a
more or less incoherent account of her favourites. She laid on her
colours thickly, and Elsmere at once assumed extravagance.

'A saint, a beauty, and a wit all to yourselves in these wilds!' he
said, laughing. 'What luck! But what on earth brought them here--a widow
and three daughters--from the south? It was an odd settlement surely,
though you have one of the loveliest valleys and the purest airs in
England.'

'Oh, as to lovely valleys,' said Mrs. Thornburgh, sighing, 'I think it
very dull; I always have. When one has to depend for everything on a
carrier that gets drunk, too! Why, you know they belong here. They're
real Westmoreland people.'

'What does that mean exactly?'

'Oh, their grandfather was a farmer, just like one of the common
farmers about. Only his land was his own, and theirs isn't.'

'He was one of the last of the statesmen,' interposed Mr.
Thornburgh--who, having rescued his sermon from Jane's tender mercies,
and put out his modest claret and sherry for the evening, had strolled
out again and found himself impelled as usual to put some precision into
his wife's statements--'one of the small freeholders who have almost
disappeared here as elsewhere. The story of the Leyburns always seems to
me typical of many things.'

Robert looked inquiry, and the vicar, sitting down--having first picked
up his wife's ball of wool as a peace-offering, which was loftily
accepted--launched into a narrative which may be here somewhat
condensed.

The Leyburns' grandfather, it appeared, had been a typical north-country
peasant--honest, with strong passions both of love and hate, thinking
nothing of knocking down his wife with the poker, and frugal in all
things save drink. Drink, however, was ultimately his ruin, as it was
the ruin of most of the Cumberland statesmen. 'The people about here,'
said the vicar, 'say he drank away an acre a year. He had some fifty
acres, and it took about thirty years to beggar him.'

Meanwhile, this brutal, rollicking, strong-natured person had sons and
daughters--plenty of them. Most of them, even the daughters, were brutal
and rollicking too. Of one of the daughters, now dead, it was reported
that, having on one occasion discovered her father, then an old infirm
man, sitting calmly by the fire beside the prostrate form of his wife,
whom he had just felled with his crutch, she had taken off her wooden
shoe and given her father a clout on the head, which left his gray hair
streaming with blood; after which she had calmly put the horse into the
cart, and driven off to fetch the doctor to both her parents. But among
this grim and earthy crew there was one exception, a 'hop out of kin,'
of whom all the rest made sport. This was the second son, Richard, who
showed such a persistent tendency to 'book-larnin',' and such a
persistent idiocy in all matters pertaining to the land, that nothing
was left to the father at last but to send him with many oaths to the
grammar school at Whinborough. From the moment the boy got a footing in
the school he hardly cost his father another penny. He got a local
bursary which paid his school expenses, he never missed a remove or
failed to gain a prize, and finally won a close scholarship which
carried him triumphantly to Queen's College.

His family watched his progress with a gaping, half-contemptuous
amazement, till he announced himself as safely installed at Oxford,
having borrowed from a Whinborough patron the modest sum necessary to
pay his college valuation--a sum which wild horses could not have
dragged out of his father, now sunk over head and ears in debt and
drink.

From that moment they practically lost sight of him. He sent the class
list which contained his name among the Firsts to his father; in the
same way he communicated the news of his Fellowship at Queen's, his
ordination and his appointment to the headmastership of a south-country
grammar school. None of his communications were ever answered till, in
the very last year of his father's life, the eldest son, who had a
shrewder eye all round to the main chance than the rest, applied to
'Dick' for cash wherewith to meet some of the family necessities. The
money was promptly sent, together with photographs of Dick's wife and
children. These last were not taken much notice of. These Leyburns were
a hard, limited, incurious set, and they no longer regarded Dick as one
of themselves.

'Then came the old man's death,' said Mr. Thornburgh. 'It happened the
year after I took the living. Richard Leyburn was sent for and came. I
never saw such a scene in my life as the funeral supper. It was kept up
in the old style. Three of Leyburn's sons were there: two of them
farmers like himself, one a clerk from Manchester, a daughter married to
a tradesman in Whinborough, a brother of the old man, who was under the
table before supper was half over, and so on. Richard Leyburn wrote to
ask me to come, and I went to support his cloth. But I was new to the
place,' said the vicar, flushing a little, 'and they belonged to a race
that had never been used to pay much respect to parsons. To see that man
among the rest! He was thin and dignified; he looked to me as if he had
all the learning imaginable, and he had large, absent-looking eyes,
which, as George, the eldest brother, said, gave you the impression of
some one that "had lost somethin' when he was nobbut a lad, and had gone
seekin' it iver sence." He was formidable to me; but between us we
couldn't keep the rest of the party in order, so when the orgie had gone
on a certain time, we left it and went out into the air. It was an
August night. I remember Leyburn threw back his head and drank it in. "I
haven't breathed this air for five-and-twenty years," he said. "I
thought I hated the place, and in spite of that drunken crew in there,
it draws me to it like a magnet. I feel, after all, that I have the
fells in my blood." He was a curious man, a refined-looking melancholy
creature, with a face that reminded you of Wordsworth, and cold donnish
ways, except to his children and the poor. I always thought his life had
disappointed him somehow.'

'Yet one would think,' said Robert, opening his eyes, 'that he had made
a very considerable success of it!'

'Well, I don't know how it was,' said the vicar, whose analysis of
character never went very far. 'Anyhow, next day he went peering about
the place and the mountains and the lands his father had lost. And
George, the eldest brother, who had inherited the farm, watched him
without a word, in the way these Westmoreland folk have, and at last
offered him what remained of the place for a fancy price. I told him it
was a preposterous sum, but he wouldn't bargain. "I shall bring my wife
and children here in the holidays," he said, "and the money will set
George up in California." So he paid through the nose, and got
possession of the old house, in which, I should think, he had passed
about as miserable a childhood as it was possible to pass. There's no
accounting for tastes.'

'And then the next summer they all came down,' interrupted Mrs.
Thornburgh. She disliked a long story as she disliked being read aloud
to. 'Catherine was fifteen, not a bit like a child. You used to see her
everywhere with her father. To my mind he was always exciting her brain
too much, but he was a man you could not say a word to. I don't care
what William says about his being like Wordsworth; he just gave you the
blues to look at.'

'It was so strange,' said the vicar meditatively, 'to see them in that
house. If you knew the things that used to go on there in old days--the
savages that lived there. And then to see those three delicately
brought-up children going in and out of the parlour where old Leyburn
used to sit smoking and drinking; and Dick Leyburn walking about in a
white tie, and the same men touching their hats to him who had
belaboured him when he was a boy at the village school--it was queer.'

'A curious little bit of social history,' said Elsmere. 'Well, and then
he died and the family lived on?'

'Yes, he died the year after he bought the place. And perhaps the most
interesting thing of all has been the development of his eldest
daughter. She has watched over her mother, she has brought up her
sisters; but much more than that: she has become a sort of Deborah in
these valleys,' said the vicar, smiling. 'I don't count for much, she
counts for a great deal. I can't get the people to tell me their
secrets, she can. There is a sort of natural sympathy between them and
her. She nurses them, she scolds them, she preaches to them, and they
take it from her when they won't take it from us. Perhaps it is the
feeling of blood. Perhaps they think it as mysterious a dispensation of
Providence as I do that that brutal, swearing, whisky-drinking stock
should have ended in anything so saintly and so beautiful as Catherine
Leyburn.'

The quiet, commonplace clergyman spoke with a sudden tremor of feeling.
His wife, however, looked at him with a dissatisfied expression.

'You always talk,' she said, 'as if there were no one but Catherine.
People generally like the other two much better. Catherine is so
stand-off.'

'Oh, the other two are very well,' said the vicar, but in a different
tone.

Robert sat ruminating. Presently his host and hostess went in, and the
young man went sauntering up the climbing garden-path to the point where
only a railing divided it from the fell-side. From here his eye
commanded the whole of the upper end of the valley--a bare, desolate
recess filled with evening shadow, and walled round by masses of gray
and purple crag, except in one spot, where a green intervening fell
marked the course of the pass connecting the dale with the Ullswater
district. Below him were church and parsonage; beyond, the stone-filled
babbling river, edged by intensely green fields, which melted
imperceptibly into the browner stretches of the opposite mountain. Most
of the scene, except where the hills at the end rose highest and shut
out the sun, was bathed in quiet light. The white patches on the
farmhouses, the heckberry trees along the river and the road, caught and
emphasised the golden rays which were flooding into the lower valley as
into a broad green cup. Close by, in the little vicarage orchard, were
fruit trees in blossom; the air was mild and fragrant, though to the
young man from the warmer south there was still a bracing quality in the
soft western breeze which blew about him.

He stood there bathed in silent enchantment, an eager nature going out
to meet and absorb into itself the beauty and peace of the scene. Lines
of Wordsworth were on his lips; the little well-worn volume was in his
pocket, but he did not need to bring it out; and his voice had all a
poet's intensity of emphasis as he strolled along, reciting under his
breath--

    'It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
     The holy time is quiet as a nun
     Breathless with adoration!'

Presently his eye was once more caught by the roof of Burwood, lying
beneath him on its promontory of land, in the quiet shelter of its
protecting trees. He stopped, and a delicate sense of harmonious
association awoke in him. That girl, atoning as it were by her one white
life for all the crimes and coarseness of her ancestry: the idea of her
seemed to steal into the solemn golden evening and give it added poetry
and meaning. The young man felt a sudden strong curiosity to see her.



CHAPTER III


The festal tea had begun, and Mrs. Thornburgh was presiding. Opposite to
her, on the vicar's left, sat the formidable rector's wife. Poor Mrs.
Thornburgh had said to herself as she entered the room on the arm of Mr.
Mayhew, the incumbent of the neighbouring valley of Shanmoor, that the
first _coup d'oeil_ was good. The flowers had been arranged in the
afternoon by Rose; Sarah's exertions had made the silver shine again; a
pleasing odour of good food underlay the scent of the bluebells and
fern; and what with the snowy table-linen, and the pretty dresses and
bright faces of the younger people, the room seemed to be full of an
incessant play of crisp and delicate colour.

But just as the vicar's wife was sinking into her seat with a little
sigh of wearied satisfaction, she caught sight suddenly of an eye-glass
at the other end of the table slowly revolving in a large and jewelled
hand. The judicial eye behind the eye-glass travelled round the table,
lingering, as it seemed to Mrs. Thornburgh's excited consciousness, on
every spot where cream or jelly or _meringue_ should have been and was
not. When it dropped with a harsh little click, the hostess, unable to
restrain herself, rushed into desperate conversation with Mr. Mayhew,
giving vent to incoherencies in the course of the first act of the meal
which did but confirm her neighbour--a grim, uncommunicative person--in
his own devotion to a policy of silence. Meanwhile the vicar was
grappling on very unequal terms with Mrs. Seaton. Mrs. Leyburn had
fallen to young Elsmere. Catherine Leyburn was paired off with Dr.
Baker, Agnes with Mr. Mayhew's awkward son--a tongue-tied youth, lately
an unattached student at Oxford, but now relegated, owing to an
invincible antipathy to Greek verbs, to his native air, till some other
opening into the great world should be discovered for him.

Rose was on Robert Elsmere's right. Agnes had coaxed her into a white
dress as being the least startling garment she possessed, and she was
like a Stothard picture with her high waist, her blue sash ribbon, her
slender neck and brilliant head. She had already cast many curious
glances at the Thornburghs' guest. 'Not a prig, at any rate,' she
thought to herself with satisfaction, 'so Agnes is quite wrong.'

As for the young man, who was, to begin with, in that state which so
often follows on the long confinement of illness, when the light seems
brighter and scents keener and experience sharper than at other times,
he was inwardly confessing that Mrs. Thornburgh had not been romancing.
The vivid creature at his elbow, with her still unsoftened angles and
movements, was in the first dawn of an exceptional beauty; the plain
sister had struck him before supper in the course of twenty minutes'
conversation as above the average in point of manners and talk. As to
Miss Leyburn, he had so far only exchanged a bow with her, but he was
watching her now, as he sat opposite to her, out of his quick observant
eyes.

She, too, was in white. As she turned to speak to the youth at her side,
Elsmere caught the fine outline of the head, the unusually clear and
perfect moulding of the brow, nose, and upper lip. The hollows in the
cheeks struck him, and the way in which the breadth of the forehead
somewhat overbalanced the delicacy of the mouth and chin. The face,
though still quite young, and expressing a perfect physical health, had
the look of having been polished and refined away to its foundations.
There was not an ounce of superfluous flesh on it, and not a vestige of
Rose's peach-like bloom. Her profile, as he saw it now, had the
firmness, the clear whiteness, of a profile on a Greek gem.

She was actually making that silent, awkward lad talk! Robert, who, out
of his four years' experience as an Oxford tutor, had an abundant
compassion for and understanding of such beings as young Mayhew, watched
her with a pleased amusement, wondering how she did it. What? Had she
got him on carpentering, engineering--discovered his weak point?
Water-wheels, inventors, steam-engines--and the lumpish lad all in a
glow, talking away nineteen to the dozen. What tact, what kindness in
her gray-blue eyes!

But he was interrupted by Mrs. Seaton, who was perfectly well aware that
she had beside her a stranger of some prestige, an Oxford man, and a
member, besides, of a well-known Sussex county family. She was a large
and commanding person, clad in black _moiré_ silk. She wore a velvet
diadem, Honiton lace lappets, and a variety of chains, beads, and
bangles bestrewn about her that made a tinkling as she moved. Fixing her
neighbour with a bland majesty of eye, she inquired of him if he were
'any relation of Sir Mowbray Elsmere?' Robert replied that Sir Mowbray
Elsmere was his father's cousin, and the patron of the living to which
he had just been appointed. Mrs. Seaton then graciously informed him
that long ago--'when I was a girl in my native Hampshire'--her family
and Sir Mowbray Elsmere had been on intimate terms. Her father had been
devoted to Sir Mowbray. 'And I,' she added, with an evident though lofty
desire to please, 'retain an inherited respect, sir, for your name.'

Robert bowed, but it was not clear from his look that the rector's wife
had made an impression. His general conception of his relative and
patron Sir Mowbray--who had been for many years the family black
sheep--was, indeed, so far removed from any notions of 'respect,' that
he had some difficulty in keeping his countenance under the lady's look
and pose. He would have been still more entertained had he known the
nature of the intimacy to which she referred. Mrs. Seaton's father, in
his capacity of solicitor in a small country town, had acted as
electioneering agent for Sir Mowbray (then plain Mr.) Elsmere on two
occasions--in 18--, when his client had been triumphantly returned at a
bye-election; and two years later, when a repetition of the tactics, so
successful in the previous contest, led to a petition, and to the
disappearance of the heir to the Elsmere property from parliamentary
life.

Of these matters, however, he was ignorant, and Mrs. Seaton did not
enlighten him. Drawing herself up a little, and proceeding in a more
neutral tone than before, she proceeded to put him through a catechism
on Oxford, alternately cross-examining him and expounding to him her own
views and her husband's on the functions of Universities. She and the
Archdeacon conceived that the Oxford authorities were mainly occupied in
ruining the young men's health by over-examination, and poisoning their
minds by free-thinking opinions. In her belief, if it went on, the
mothers of England would refuse to send their sons to these ancient but
deadly resorts. She looked at him sternly as she spoke, as though
defying him to be flippant in return. And he, indeed, did his polite
best to be serious.

But it somewhat disconcerted him in the middle to find Miss Leyburn's
eyes upon him. And undeniably there was a spark of laughter in them,
quenched, as soon as his glance crossed hers, under long lashes. How
that spark had lit up the grave, pale face! He longed to provoke it
again, to cross over to her and say, 'What amused you? Do you think me
very young and simple? Tell me about these people.'

But, instead, he made friends with Rose. Mrs. Seaton was soon engaged in
giving the vicar advice on his parochial affairs, an experience which
generally ended by the appearance of certain truculent elements in one
of the mildest of men. So Robert was free to turn to his girl neighbour
and ask her what people meant by calling the Lakes rainy.

'I understand it is pouring at Oxford. To-day your sky here has been
without a cloud, and your rivers are running dry.'

'And you have mastered our climate in twenty-four hours, like the
tourists--isn't it?--that do the Irish question in three weeks?'

'Not the answer of a bread-and-butter miss,' he thought to himself,
amused, 'and yet what a child it looks.'

He threw himself into a war of words with her, and enjoyed it extremely.
Her brilliant colouring, her gestures as fresh and untamed as the
movements of the leaping river outside, the mixture in her of girlish
pertness and ignorance with the promise of a remarkable general
capacity, made her a most taking, provoking creature. Mrs.
Thornburgh--much recovered in mind since Dr. Baker had praised the
pancakes by which Sarah had sought to prove to her mistress the
superfluity of naughtiness involved in her recourse to foreign
cooks--watched the young man and maiden with a face which grew more and
more radiant. The conversation in the garden had not pleased her. Why
should people always talk of Catherine; Mrs. Thornburgh stood in awe of
Catherine and had given her up in despair. It was the other two whose
fortunes, as possibly directed by her, filled her maternal heart with
sympathetic emotion.

Suddenly in the midst of her satisfaction she had a rude shock. What on
earth was the vicar doing? After they had got through better than any
one could have hoped, thanks to a discreet silence and Sarah's
makeshifts, there was the master of the house pouring the whole tale of
his wife's aspirations and disappointment into Mrs. Seaton's ear! If it
were ever allowable to rush upon your husband at table and stop his
mouth with a dinner napkin, Mrs. Thornburgh could at this moment have
performed such a feat. She nodded and coughed and fidgeted in vain!

The vicar's confidences were the result of a fit of nervous
exasperation. Mrs. Seaton had just embarked upon an account of 'our
charming time with Lord Fleckwood.' Now Lord Fleckwood was a distant
cousin of Archdeacon Seaton, and the great magnate of the neighbourhood,
not, however, a very respectable magnate. Mr. Thornburgh had heard
accounts of Lupton Castle from Mrs. Seaton on at least half a dozen
different occasions. Privately he believed them all to refer to one
visit, an event of immemorial antiquity periodically brought up to date
by Mrs. Seaton's imagination. But the vicar was a timid man, without the
courage of his opinions, and in his eagerness to stop the flow of his
neighbour's eloquence he could think of no better device, or more
suitable rival subject, than to plunge into the story of the drunken
carrier, and the pastry still reposing on the counter at Randall's.

He blushed, good man, when he was well in it. His wife's horrified
countenance embarrassed him. But anything was better than Lord
Fleckwood. Mrs. Seaton listened to him with the slightest smile on her
formidable lip. The story was pleasing to her.

'At least, my dear sir,' she said when he paused, nodding her diademed
head with stately emphasis, 'Mrs. Thornburgh's inconvenience may have
one good result. You can now make an example of the carrier. It is our
special business, as my husband always says, who are in authority, to
bring their low vices home to these people.'

The vicar fidgeted in his chair. What ineptitude had he been guilty of
now! By way of avoiding Lord Fleckwood he might have started Mrs. Seaton
on teetotalism. Now if there was one topic on which this awe-inspiring
woman was more awe-inspiring than another it was on the topic of
teetotalism. The vicar had already felt himself a criminal as he drank
his modest glass of claret under her eye.

'Oh, the drunkenness about here is pretty bad,' said Dr. Baker, from the
other end of the table. 'But there are plenty of worse things in these
valleys. Besides, what person in his senses would think of trying to
disestablish John Backhouse? He and his queer brother are as much a
feature of the valley as High Fell. We have too few originals left to be
so very particular about trifles.'

'Trifles?' repeated Mrs. Seaton in a deep voice, throwing up her eyes.
But she would not venture an argument with Dr. Baker. He had all the
cheery self-confidence of the old established local doctor, who knows
himself to be a power, and neither Mrs. Seaton nor her restless
intriguing little husband had ever yet succeeded in putting him down.

'You must see these two old characters,' said Dr. Baker to Elsmere
across the table. 'They are relics of a Westmoreland which will soon
have disappeared. Old John, who is going on for seventy, is as tough an
old dalesman as ever you saw. He doesn't measure his cups, but he would
scorn to be floored by them. I don't believe he does drink much, but if
he does there is probably no amount of whisky that he couldn't carry.
Jim, the other brother, is about five years older. He is a kind of
softie--all alive on one side of his brain, and a noodle on the other. A
single glass of rum and water puts him under the table. And as he never
can refuse this glass, and as the temptation generally seizes him when
they are on their rounds, he is always getting John into disgrace. John
swears at him and slangs him. No use. Jim sits still, looks--well,
nohow. I never saw an old creature with a more singular gift of denuding
his face of all expression. John vows he shall go to the "house"; he has
no legal share in the business; the house and the horse and cart are
John's. Next day you see them on the cart again just as usual. In
reality neither brother can do without the other. And three days after,
the play begins again.'

'An improving spectacle for the valley,' said Mrs. Seaton drily.

'Oh, my dear madam,' said the doctor, shrugging his shoulders, 'we can't
all be so virtuous. If old Jim is a drunkard, he has got a heart of his
own somewhere, and can nurse a dying niece like a woman. Miss Leyburn
can tell us something about that.'

And he turned round to his neighbour with a complete change of
expression, and a voice that had a new note in it of affectionate
respect. Catherine coloured as if she did not like being addressed on
the subject, and just nodded a little with gentle affirmative eyes.

'A strange case,' said Dr. Baker, again looking at Elsmere. 'It is a
family that is original and old-world even in its ways of dying. I have
been a doctor in these parts for five-and-twenty years. I have seen what
you may call old Westmoreland die out--costume, dialect, superstitions.
At least, as to dialect, the people have become bi-lingual. I sometimes
think they talk it to each other as much as ever, but some of them won't
talk it to you and me at all. And as to superstitions, the only ghost
story I know that still has some hold on popular belief is the one which
attaches to this mountain here, High Fell, at the end of this valley.'

He paused a moment. A salutary sense has begun to penetrate even modern
provincial society, that no man may tell a ghost story without leave.
Rose threw a merry glance at him. They two were very old friends. Dr.
Baker had pulled out her first teeth and given her a sixpence afterwards
for each operation. The pull was soon forgotten; the sixpence lived on
gratefully in a child's warm memory.

'Tell it,' she said; 'we give you leave. We won't interrupt you unless
you put in too many inventions.'

'You invite me to break the first law of story-telling, Miss Rose,' said
the doctor, lifting a finger at her. 'Every man is bound to leave a
story better than he found it. However, I couldn't tell it if I would. I
don't know what makes the poor ghost walk; and if you do, I shall say
you invent. But at any rate there is a ghost, and she walks along the
side of High Fell at midnight every Midsummer day. If you see her and
she passes you in silence, why you only get a fright for your pains. But
if she speaks to you, you die within the year. Old John Backhouse is a
widower with one daughter. This girl saw the ghost last Midsummer day,
and Miss Leyburn and I are now doing our best to keep her alive over the
next; but with very small prospect of success.'

'What is the girl dying of?--fright?' asked Mrs. Seaton harshly.

'Oh no!' said the doctor hastily, 'not precisely. A sad story; better
not inquire into it. But at the present moment the time of her death
seems likely to be determined by the strength of her own and other
people's belief in the ghost's summons.'

Mrs. Seaton's grim mouth relaxed into an ungenial smile. She put up her
eye-glass and looked at Catherine. 'An unpleasant household, I should
imagine,' she said shortly, 'for a young lady to visit.'

Doctor Baker looked at the rector's wife, and a kind of flame came into
his eyes. He and Mrs. Seaton were old enemies, and he was a
quick-tempered mercurial sort of man.

'I presume that one's guardian angel may have to follow one sometimes
into unpleasant quarters,' he said hotly. 'If this girl lives, it will
be Miss Leyburn's doing; if she dies, saved and comforted, instead of
lost in this world and the next, it will be Miss Leyburn's doing too.
Ah, my dear young lady, let me alone! You tie my tongue always, and I
won't have it.'

And the doctor turned his weather-beaten elderly face upon her with a
look which was half defiance and half apology. She, on her side, had
flushed painfully, laying her white finger-tips imploringly on his arm.
Mrs. Seaton turned away with a little dry cough, so did her spectacled
sister at the other end of the table. Mrs. Leyburn, on the other hand,
sat in a little ecstasy, looking at Catherine and Dr. Baker, something
glistening in her eyes. Robert Elsmere alone showed presence of mind.
Bending across to Dr. Baker, he asked him a sudden question as to the
history of a certain strange green mound or barrow that rose out of a
flat field not far from the vicarage windows. Dr. Baker grasped his
whiskers, threw the young man a queer glance, and replied. Thenceforward
he and Robert kept up a lively antiquarian talk on the traces of Norse
settlement in the Cumbrian valleys, which lasted till the ladies left
the dining-room.

As Catherine Leyburn went out Elsmere stood holding the door open. She
could not help raising her eyes upon him, eyes full of a half-timid,
half-grateful friendliness. His own returned her look with interest.

'"A spirit, but a woman too,"' he thought to himself with a new-born
thrill of sympathy, as he went back to his seat. She had not yet said a
direct word to him, and yet he was curiously convinced that here was one
of the most interesting persons, and one of the persons most interesting
to _him_, that he had ever met. What mingled delicacy and strength in
the hand that had lain beside her on the dinner-table--what potential
depths of feeling in the full dark-fringed eye!

Half an hour later, when Elsmere re-entered the drawing-room, he found
Catherine Leyburn sitting by an open French window that looked out on
the lawn, and on the dim rocky face of the fell. Adeline Baker, a
stooping red-armed maiden, with a pretty face, set off, as she imagined,
by a vast amount of cheap finery, was sitting beside her, studying her
with a timid adoration. The doctor's daughter regarded Catherine
Leyburn, who during the last five years had made herself almost as
distinct a figure in the popular imagination of a few Westmoreland
valleys as Sister Dora among her Walsall miners, as a being of a totally
different order from herself. She was glued to the side of her idol, but
her shy and awkward tongue could find hardly anything to say to her.
Catherine, however, talked away, gently stroking the while the girl's
rough hand which lay on her knee, to the mingled pain and bliss of its
owner, who was outraged by the contrast between her own ungainly member
and Miss Leyburn's delicate fingers.

Mrs. Seaton was on the sofa beside Mrs. Thornburgh, amply avenging
herself on the vicar's wife for any checks she might have received at
tea. Miss Barks, her sister, an old maid with a face that seemed to be
perpetually peering forward, light colourless hair surmounted by a cap
adorned with artificial nasturtiums, and white-lashed eyes armed with
spectacles, was having her way with Mrs. Leyburn, inquiring into the
household arrangements of Burwood with a cross-examining power which
made the mild widow as pulp before her.

When the gentlemen entered, Mrs. Thornburgh looked round hastily. She
herself had opened that door into the garden. A garden on a warm summer
night offers opportunities no schemer should neglect. Agnes and Rose
were chattering and laughing on the gravel path just outside it, their
white girlish figures showing temptingly against the dusky background of
garden and fell. It somewhat disappointed the vicar's wife to see her
tall guest take a chair and draw it beside Catherine--while Adeline
Baker awkwardly got up and disappeared into the garden.

Elsmere felt it an unusually interesting moment, so strong had been his
sense of attraction at tea; but like the rest of us he could find
nothing more telling to start with than a remark about the weather.
Catherine in her reply asked him if he were quite recovered from the
attack of low fever he was understood to have been suffering from.

'Oh yes,' he said brightly, 'I am very nearly as fit as I ever was, and
more eager than I ever was to get to work. The idling of it is the worst
part of illness. However, in a month from now I must be at my living,
and I can only hope it will give me enough to do.'

Catherine looked up at him with a quick impulse of liking. What an eager
face it was! Eagerness, indeed, seemed to be the note of the whole man,
of the quick eyes and mouth, the flexible hands and energetic movements.
Even the straight, stubbly hair, its owner's passing torment, standing
up round the high open brow, seemed to help the general impression of
alertness and vigour.

'Your mother, I hear, is already there?' said Catherine.

'Yes. My poor mother!' and the young man smiled half sadly. 'It is a
curious situation for both of us. This living which has just been
bestowed on me is my father's old living. It is in the gift of my
cousin, Sir Mowbray Elsmere. My great-uncle'--he drew himself together
suddenly. 'But I don't know why I should imagine that these things
interest other people,' he said, with a little quick, almost comical,
accent of self-rebuke.

'Please go on,' cried Catherine hastily. The voice and manner were
singularly pleasant to her; she wished he would not interrupt himself
for nothing.

'Really? Well then, my great-uncle, old Sir William, wished me to have
it when I grew up. I was against it for a long time, took orders; but I
wanted something more stirring than a country parish. One has dreams of
many things. But one's dreams come to nothing. I got ill at Oxford. The
doctors forbade the town work. The old incumbent who had held the living
since my father's death died precisely at that moment. I felt myself
booked, and gave in to various friends; but it is second best.'

She felt a certain soreness and discomfort in his tone, as though his
talk represented a good deal of mental struggle in the past.

'But the country is not idleness,' she said, smiling at him. Her cheek
was leaning lightly on her hand, her eyes had an unusual animation; and
her long white dress, guiltless of any ornament save a small
old-fashioned locket hanging from a thin old chain and a pair of hair
bracelets with engraved gold clasps, gave her the nobleness and
simplicity of a Romney picture.

'_You_ do not find it so, I imagine,' he replied, bending forward to her
with a charming gesture of homage. He would have liked her to talk to
him of her work and her interests. He, too, mentally compared her to
Saint Elizabeth. He could almost have fancied the dark red flowers in
her white lap. But his comparison had another basis of feeling than
Rose's.

However, she would not talk to him of herself. The way in which she
turned the conversation brought home to his own expansive confiding
nature a certain austerity and stiffness of fibre in her which for the
moment chilled him. But as he got her into talk about the neighbourhood,
the people and their ways, the impression vanished again, so far at
least as there was anything repellent about it. Austerity, strength,
individuality, all these words indeed he was more and more driven to
apply to her. She was like no other woman he had ever seen. It was not
at all that she was more remarkable intellectually. Every now and then,
indeed, as their talk flowed on, he noticed in what she said an absence
of a good many interests and attainments which in his ordinary
south-country women friends he would have assumed as a matter of course.

'I understand French very little, and I never read any,' she said to him
once, quietly, as he fell to comparing some peasant story she had told
him with an episode in one of George Sand's Berry novels. It seemed to
him that she knew her Wordsworth by heart. And her own mountain life,
her own rich and meditative soul, had taught her judgments and comments
on her favourite poet which stirred Elsmere every now and then to
enthusiasm--so true they were and pregnant, so full often of a natural
magic of expression. On the other hand, when he quoted a very well-known
line of Shelley's she asked him where it came from. She seemed to him
deeper and simpler at every moment; her very limitations of sympathy and
knowledge, and they were evidently many, began to attract him. The
thought of her ancestry crossed him now and then, rousing in him now
wonder, and now a strange sense of congruity and harmony. Clearly she
was the daughter of a primitive unexhausted race. And yet what purity,
what refinement, what delicate perception and self-restraint!

Presently they fell on the subject of Oxford.

'Were you ever there?' he asked her.

'Once,' she said. 'I went with my father one summer term. I have only a
confused memory of it--of the quadrangles, and a long street, a great
building with a dome, and such beautiful trees!'

'Did your father often go back?'

'No; never towards the latter part of his life'--and her clear eyes
clouded a little; 'nothing made him so sad as the thought of Oxford.'

She paused, as though she had strayed on to a topic where expression was
a little difficult. Then his face and clerical dress seemed somehow to
reassure her, and she began again, though reluctantly.

'He used to say that it was all so changed. The young fellows he saw
when he went back scorned everything he cared for. Every visit to Oxford
was like a stab to him. It seemed to him as if the place was full of men
who only wanted to destroy and break down everything that was sacred to
him.'

Elsmere reflected that Richard Leyburn must have left Oxford about the
beginning of the Liberal reaction, which followed Tractarianism, and in
twenty years transformed the University.

'Ah!' he said, smiling gently. 'He should have lived a little longer.
There is another turn of the tide since then. The destructive wave has
spent itself, and at Oxford now many of us feel ourselves on the upward
swell of a religious revival.'

Catherine looked up at him with a sweet sympathetic look. That dim
vision of Oxford, with its gray, tree-lined walls, lay very near to her
heart for her father's sake. And the keen face above her seemed to
satisfy and respond to her inner feeling.

'I know the High Church influence is very strong,' she said, hesitating;
'but I don't know whether father would have liked that much better.'

The last words had slipped out of her, and she checked herself suddenly.
Robert saw that she was uncertain as to his opinions, and afraid lest
she might have said something discourteous.

'It is not only the High Church influence,' he said quickly, 'it is a
mixture of influences from all sorts of quarters that has brought about
the new state of things. Some of the factors in the change were hardly
Christian at all, by name, but they have all helped to make men think,
to stir their hearts, to win them back to the old ways.'

His voice had taken to itself a singular magnetism. Evidently the
matters they were discussing were matters in which he felt a deep and
loving interest. His young boyish face had grown grave; there was a
striking dignity and weight in his look and manner, which suddenly
roused in Catherine the sense that she was speaking to a man of
distinction, accustomed to deal on equal terms with the large things of
life. She raised her eyes to him for a moment, and he saw in them a
beautiful, mystical light--responsive, lofty, full of soul.

The next moment, it apparently struck her sharply that their
conversation was becoming incongruous with its surroundings. Behind them
Mrs. Thornburgh was bustling about with candles and music-stools,
preparing for a performance on the flute by Mr. Mayhew, the black-browed
vicar of Shanmoor, and the room seemed to be pervaded by Mrs. Seaton's
strident voice. Her strong natural reserve asserted itself, and her face
settled again into the slight rigidity of expression characteristic of
it. She rose and prepared to move farther into the room.

'We must listen,' she said to him, smiling, over her shoulder.

And she left him, settling herself by the side of Mrs. Leyburn. He had a
momentary sense of rebuff. The man, quick, sensitive, sympathetic, felt
in the woman the presence of a strength, a self-sufficingness which was
not all attractive. His vanity, if he had cherished any during their
conversation, was not flattered by its close. But as he leant against
the window-frame waiting for the music to begin, he could hardly keep
his eyes from her. He was a man who, by force of temperament, made
friends readily with women, though except for a passing fancy or two he
had never been in love; and his sense of difficulty with regard to this
stiffly-mannered, deep-eyed country girl brought with it an unusual
stimulus and excitement.

Miss Barks seated herself deliberately, after much fiddling with
bracelets and gloves, and tied back the ends of her cap behind her. Mr.
Mayhew took out his flute and lovingly put it together. He was a
powerful swarthy man, who said little and was generally alarming to the
ladies of the neighbourhood. To propitiate him, they asked him to bring
his flute, and nervously praised the fierce music he made on it. Miss
Barks enjoyed a monopoly of his accompaniments, and there were many who
regarded her assiduity as a covert attack upon the widower's name and
position. If so, it was Greek meeting Greek, for with all his
taciturnity the vicar of Shanmoor was well able to defend himself.

'Has it begun?' said a hurried whisper at Elsmere's elbow, and turning
he saw Rose and Agnes on the step of the window, Rose's cheeks flushed
by the night breeze, a shawl thrown lightly round her head.

She was answered by the first notes of the flute, following some
powerful chords in which Miss Barks had tested at once the strength of
her wrists and the vicarage piano.

The girl made a little _moue_ of disgust, and turned as though to fly
down the steps again. But Agnes caught her and held her, and the
mutinous creature had to submit to be drawn inside while Mrs.
Thornburgh, in obedience to complaints of draughts from Mrs. Seaton
motioned to have the window shut. Rose established herself against the
wall, her curly head thrown back, her eyes half shut, her mouth
expressing an angry endurance. Robert watched her with amusement.

It was certainly a remarkable duet. After an _adagio_ opening in which
flute and piano were at magnificent cross purposes from the beginning,
the two instruments plunged into an _allegro_ very long and very fast,
which became ultimately a desperate race between the competing
performers for the final chord. Mr. Mayhew toiled away, taxing the
resources of his whole vast frame to keep his small instrument in a line
with the piano, and taxing them in vain. For the shriller and the wilder
grew the flute, and the greater the exertion of the dark Hercules
performing on it, the fiercer grew the pace of the piano. Rose stamped
her little foot.

'Two bars ahead last page,' she murmured, 'three bars this: will no one
stop her!'

But the pages flew past, turned assiduously by Agnes, who took a
sardonic delight in these performances, and every countenance in the
room seemed to take a look of sharpened anxiety as to how the duet was
to end, and who was to be victor.

Nobody knowing Miss Barks need to have been in any doubt as to that!
Crash came the last chord, and the poor flute nearly half a page behind
was left shrilly hanging in mid-air, forsaken and companionless, an
object of derision to gods and men.

'Ah! I took it a little fast!' said the lady, triumphantly looking up at
the discomfited clergyman.

'Mr. Elsmere,' said Rose, hiding herself in the window curtain beside
him, that she might have her laugh in safety. 'Do they play like that in
Oxford, or has Long Whindale a monopoly?'

But before he could answer, Mrs. Thornburgh called to the girl--

'Rose! Rose! Don't go out again! It is your turn next!'

Rose advanced reluctantly, her head in air. Robert, remembering
something that Mrs. Thornburgh had said to him as to her musical power,
supposed that she felt it an indignity to be asked to play in such
company.

Mrs. Thornburgh motioned to him to come and sit by Mrs. Leyburn, a
summons which he obeyed with the more alacrity, as it brought him once
more within reach of Mrs. Leyburn's eldest daughter.

'Are you fond of music, Mr. Elsmere?' asked Mrs. Leyburn in her little
mincing voice, making room for his chair beside them. 'If you are, I am
sure my youngest daughter's playing will please you.'

Catherine moved abruptly. Robert, while he made some pleasant answer,
divined that the reserved and stately daughter must be often troubled by
the mother's expansiveness.

Meanwhile the room was again settling itself to listen. Mrs. Seaton was
severely turning over a photograph book. In her opinion the violin was
an unbecoming instrument for young women. Miss Barks sat upright with
the studiously neutral expression which befits the artist asked to
listen to a rival. Mr. Thornburgh sat pensive, one foot drooped over the
other. He was very fond of the Leyburn girls, but music seemed to him,
good man, one of the least comprehensible of human pleasures. As for
Rose, she had at last arranged herself and her accompanist Agnes, after
routing out from her music a couple of _Fantasie-Stücke_, which she had
wickedly chosen as presenting the most severely classical contrast to
the 'rubbish' played by the preceding performers. She stood with her
lithe figure in its old-fashioned dress thrown out against the black
coats of a group of gentlemen beyond, one slim arched foot advanced, the
ends of the blue sash dangling, the hand and arm, beautifully formed,
but still wanting the roundness of womanhood, raised high for action,
the lightly poised head thrown back with an air. Robert thought her a
bewitching, half-grown thing, overflowing with potentialities of future
brilliance and empire.

Her music astonished him. Where had a little provincial maiden learned
to play with this intelligence, this force, this delicate command of her
instrument? He was not a musician, and therefore could not gauge her
exactly, but he was more or less familiar with music and its standards,
as all people become nowadays who live in a highly cultivated society,
and he knew enough at any rate to see that what he was listening to was
remarkable, was out of the common range. Still more evident was this,
when from the humorous piece with which the sisters led off--a dance of
clowns, but clowns of Arcady--they slid into a delicate rippling _chant
d'amour_, the long drawn notes of the violin rising and falling on the
piano accompaniment with an exquisite plaintiveness. Where did a
_fillette_, unformed, inexperienced, win the secret of so much
eloquence--only from the natural dreams of a girl's heart as to 'the
lovers waiting in the hidden years'?

But when the music ceased, Elsmere, after a hearty clap that set the
room applauding likewise, turned not to the musician but the figure
beside Mrs. Leyburn, the sister who had sat listening with an
impassiveness, a sort of gentle remoteness of look, which had piqued his
curiosity. The mother meanwhile was drinking in the compliments of Dr.
Baker.

'Excellent!' cried Elsmere. 'How in the name of fortune, Miss Leyburn,
if I may ask, has your sister managed to get on so far in this remote
place?'

'She goes to Manchester every year to some relations we have there,'
said Catherine quietly; 'I believe she has been very well taught.'

'But surely,' he said warmly, 'it is more than teaching--more even than
talent--there is something like genius in it?'

She did not answer very readily.

'I don't know,' she said at last. 'Every one says it is very good.'

He would have been repelled by her irresponsiveness but that her last
words had in them a note of lingering, of wistfulness, as though the
subject were connected with an inner debate not yet solved which
troubled her. He was puzzled, but certainly not repelled.

Twenty minutes later everybody was going. The Seatons went first, and
the other guests lingered awhile afterwards to enjoy the sense of
freedom left by their departure. But at last the Mayhews, father and
son, set off on foot to walk home over the moonlit mountains; the doctor
tucked himself and his daughter into his high gig, and drove off with a
sweeping ironical bow to Rose, who had stood on the steps teasing him to
the last; and Robert Elsmere offered to escort the Miss Leyburns and
their mother home.

Mrs. Thornburgh was left protesting to the vicar's incredulous ears that
never--never as long as she lived--would she have Mrs. Seaton inside her
doors again.

'Her manners--' cried the vicar's wife, fuming--'her manners would
disgrace a Whinborough shop-girl. She has none--positively none!'

Then suddenly her round comfortable face brightened and broadened out
into a beaming smile--

'But, after all, William, say what you will--and you always do say
the most unpleasant things you can think of--it was a great success.
I know the Leyburns enjoyed it. And as for Robert, I saw him
_looking_--_looking_ at that little minx Rose while she was playing as
if he couldn't take his eyes off her. What a picture she made, to be
sure!'

The vicar, who had been standing with his back to the fireplace and his
hands in his pockets, received his wife's remarks first of all with
lifted eyebrows, and then with a low chuckle, half scornful, half
compassionate, which made her start in her chair.

'Rose?' he said impatiently. 'Rose, my dear, where were your eyes?'

It was very rarely indeed that on her own ground, so to speak, the vicar
ventured to take the whip-hand of her like this. Mrs. Thornburgh looked
at him in amazement.

'Do you mean to say,' he asked, in raised tones, 'that you didn't notice
that from the moment you first introduced Robert to Catherine Leyburn,
he had practically no attention for anybody else?'

Mrs. Thornburgh gazed at him--her memory flew back over the evening--and
her impulsive contradiction died on her lips. It was now her turn to
ejaculate--

'Catherine!' she said feebly. 'Catherine! how absurd!'

But she turned and, with quickened breath, looked out of [the] window
after the retreating figures. Mrs. Thornburgh went up to bed that night
an inch taller. She had never felt herself more exquisitely
indispensable, more of a personage.



CHAPTER IV


Before, however, we go on to chronicle the ultimate success or failure
of Mrs. Thornburgh as a match-maker, it may be well to inquire a little
more closely into the antecedents of the man who had suddenly roused so
much activity in her contriving mind. And, indeed, these antecedents are
important to us. For the interest of an uncomplicated story will
entirely depend upon the clearness with which the reader may have
grasped the general outlines of a quick soul's development. And this
development had already made considerable progress before Mrs.
Thornburgh set eyes upon her husband's cousin, Robert Elsmere.

Robert Elsmere, then, was well born and fairly well provided with this
world's goods; up to a certain moderate point, indeed, a favourite of
fortune in all respects. His father belonged to the younger line of an
old Sussex family, and owed his pleasant country living to the family
instincts of his uncle, Sir William Elsmere, in whom Whig doctrines and
Conservative traditions were pretty evenly mixed, with a result of the
usual respectable and inconspicuous kind. His virtues had descended
mostly to his daughters, while all his various weaknesses and fatuities
had blossomed into vices in the person of his eldest son and heir, the
Sir Mowbray Elsmere of Mrs. Seaton's early recollections.

Edward Elsmere, rector of Murewell in Surrey, and father of Robert, had
died before his uncle and patron; and his widow and son had been left to
face the world together. Sir William Elsmere and his nephew's wife had
not much in common, and rarely concerned themselves with each other.
Mrs. Elsmere was an Irishwoman by birth, with irregular Irish ways, and
a passion for strange garments, which made her the dread of the
conventional English squire; and, after she left the vicarage with her
son, she and her husband's uncle met no more. But when he died it was
found that the old man's sense of kinship, acting blindly and
irrationally, but with a slow inevitableness and certainty, had stirred
in him at the last in behalf of his great-nephew. He left him a money
legacy, the interest of which was to be administered by his mother till
his majority, and in a letter addressed to his heir he directed that,
should the boy on attaining manhood show any disposition to enter the
Church, all possible steps were to be taken to endow him with the family
living of Murewell, which had been his father's, and which at the time
of the old Baronet's death was occupied by another connection of the
family, already well stricken in years.

Mowbray Elsmere had been hardly on speaking terms with his cousin
Edward, and was neither amiable nor generous, but his father knew that
the tenacious Elsmere instinct was to be depended on for the fulfilment
of his wishes. And so it proved. No sooner was his father dead than Sir
Mowbray curtly communicated his instructions to Mrs. Elsmere, then
living at the town of Harden for the sake of the great public school
recently transported there. She was to inform him, when the right moment
arrived, if it was the boy's wish to enter the Church, and meanwhile he
referred her to his lawyers for particulars of such immediate benefits
as were secured to her under the late Baronet's will.

At the moment when Sir Mowbray's letter reached her, Mrs. Elsmere was
playing a leading part in the small society to which circumstances had
consigned her. She was the personal friend of half the masters and their
wives, and of at least a quarter of the school, while in the little town
which stretched up the hill covered by the new school buildings, she was
the helper, gossip, and confidante of half the parish. Her vast hats,
strange in fashion and inordinate in brim, her shawls of many colours,
hitched now to this side now to that, her swaying gait and looped-up
skirts, her spectacles, and the dangling parcels in which her soul
delighted, were the outward signs of a personality familiar to all. For
under those checked shawls which few women passed without an inward
marvel, there beat one of the warmest hearts that ever animated mortal
clay, and the prematurely wrinkled face, with its small quick eyes and
shrewd indulgent mouth, bespoke a nature as responsive as it was
vigorous.

Their owner was constantly in the public eye. Her house, during the
hours at any rate in which her boy was at school, was little else than a
halting-place between two journeys. Visits to the poor, long watches by
the sick; committees, in which her racy breadth of character gave her
always an important place; discussions with the vicar, arguments with
the curates, a chat with this person and a walk with that--these were
the incidents and occupations which filled her day. Life was delightful
to her; action, energy, influence, were delightful to her; she could
only breathe freely in the very thick of the stirring, many-coloured
tumult of existence. Whether it was a pauper in the workhouse, or boys
from the school, or a girl caught in the tangle of a love-affair, it was
all the same to Mrs. Elsmere. Everything moved her, everything appealed
to her. Her life was a perpetual giving forth, and such was the inherent
nobility and soundness of the nature, that in spite of her curious Irish
fondness for the vehement romantic sides of experience, she did little
harm, and much good. Her tongue might be over-ready and her
championships indiscreet, but her hands were helpful, and her heart was
true. There was something contagious in her enjoyment of life, and with
all her strong religious faith, the thought of death, of any final pause
and silence in the whirr of the great social machine, was to her a
thought of greater chill and horror than to many a less brave and
spiritual soul.

Till her boy was twelve years old, however, she had lived for him first
and foremost. She had taught him, played with him, learnt with him,
communicating to him through all his lessons her own fire and eagerness
to a degree which every now and then taxed the physical powers of the
child. Whenever the signs of strain appeared, however, the mother would
be overtaken by a fit of repentant watchfulness, and for days together
Robert would find her the most fascinating playmate, story-teller, and
romp, and forget all his precocious interest in history or vulgar
fractions. In after years when Robert looked back upon his childhood, he
was often reminded of the stories of Goethe's bringing-up. He could
recall exactly the same scenes as Goethe describes,--mother and child
sitting together in the gloaming, the mother's dark eyes dancing with
fun or kindling with dramatic fire, as she carried an imaginary hero or
heroine through a series of the raciest adventures; the child all
eagerness and sympathy, now clapping his little hands at the fall of the
giant, or the defeat of the sorcerer, and now arguing and suggesting in
ways which gave perpetually fresh stimulus to the mother's
inventiveness. He could see her dressing up with him on wet days,
reciting King Henry to his Prince Hal, or Prospero to his Ariel, or
simply giving free vent to her own exuberant Irish fun till both he and
she would sink exhausted into each other's arms, and end the evening
with a long croon, sitting curled up together in a big armchair in front
of the fire. He could see himself as a child of many crazes, eager for
poetry one week, for natural history the next, now spending all his
spare time in strumming, now in drawing, and now forgetting everything
but the delights of tree-climbing and bird-nesting.

And through it all he had the quick memory of his mother's
companionship, he could recall her rueful looks whenever the eager
inaccurate ways, in which he reflected certain ineradicable tendencies
of her own, had lost him a school advantage; he could remember her
exhortations, with the dash in them of humorous self-reproach which made
them so stirring to the child's affection; and he could realise their
old far-off life at Murewell, the joys and the worries of it, and see
her now gossiping with the village folk, now wearing herself impetuously
to death in their service, and now roaming with him over the Surrey
heaths in search of all the dirty delectable things in which a
boy-naturalist delights. And through it all he was conscious of the same
vivid energetic creature, disposing with some difficulty and _fracas_ of
its own excess of nervous life.

To return, however, to this same critical moment of Sir Mowbray's offer.
Robert at the time was a boy of sixteen, doing very well at school, a
favourite both with boys and masters. But as to whether his development
would lead him in the direction of taking orders, his mother had not the
slightest idea. She was not herself very much tempted by the prospect.
There were recollections connected with Murewell, and with the long
death in life which her husband had passed through there, which were
deeply painful to her; and, moreover, her sympathy with the clergy as a
class was by no means strong. Her experience had not been large, but the
feeling based on it promised to have all the tenacity of a favourite
prejudice. Fortune had handed over the parish of Harden to a ritualist
vicar. Mrs. Elsmere's inherited Evangelicalism--she came from an Ulster
county--rebelled against his doctrine, but the man himself was too
lovable to be disliked. Mrs. Elsmere knew a hero when she saw him. And
in his own narrow way, the small-headed emaciated vicar was a hero, and
he and Mrs. Elsmere had soon tasted each other's quality, and formed a
curious alliance, founded on true similarity in difference.

But the criticism thus warded off the vicar expended itself with all the
more force on his subordinates. The Harden curates were the chief crook
in Mrs. Elsmere's otherwise tolerable lot. Her parish activities brought
her across them perpetually, and she could not away with them. Their
cassocks, their pretensions, their stupidities, roused the
Irish-woman's sense of humour at every turn. The individuals came and
went, but the type it seemed to her was always the same; and she made
their peculiarities the basis of a pessimist theory as to the future of
the English Church, which was a source of constant amusement to the very
broad-minded young men who filled up the school staff. She, so ready in
general to see all the world's good points, was almost blind when it was
a curate's virtues which were in question. So that, in spite of all her
persistent church-going, and her love of church performances as an
essential part of the busy human spectacle, Mrs. Elsmere had no yearning
for a clerical son. The little accidents of a personal experience had
led to wide generalisations, as is the way with us mortals, and the
position of the young parson in these days of increased parsonic
pretensions was, to Mrs. Elsmere, a position in which there was an
inherent risk of absurdity. She wished her son to impose upon her when
it came to his taking any serious step in life. She asked for nothing
better, indeed, than to be able, when the time came, to bow the motherly
knee to him in homage, and she felt a little dread lest, in her flat
moments, a clerical son might sometimes rouse in her that sharp sense of
the ludicrous which is the enemy of all happy illusions.

Still, of course, the Elsmere proposal was one to be seriously
considered in its due time and place. Mrs. Elsmere only reflected that
it would certainly be better to say nothing of it to Robert until he
should be at college. His impressionable temperament, and the power he
had occasionally shown of absorbing himself in a subject till it
produced in him a fit of intense continuous brooding, unfavourable to
health and nervous energy, all warned her not to supply him, at a period
of rapid mental and bodily growth, with any fresh stimulus to the sense
of responsibility. As a boy, he had always shown himself religiously
susceptible to a certain extent, and his mother's religious likes and
dislikes had invariably found in him a blind and chivalrous support. He
was content to be with her, to worship with her, and to feel that no
reluctance or resistance divided his heart from hers. But there had been
nothing specially noteworthy or precocious about his religious
development, and at sixteen or seventeen, in spite of his affectionate
compliance, and his natural reverence for all persons and beliefs in
authority, his mother was perfectly aware that many other things in his
life were more real to him than religion. And on this point, at any
rate, she was certainly not the person to force him.

He was such a schoolboy as a discerning master delights in--keen about
everything, bright, docile, popular, excellent at games. He was in the
sixth, moreover, as soon as his age allowed: that is to say, as soon as
he was sixteen; and his pride in everything connected with the great
body in which he had already a marked and important place was unbounded.
Very early in his school career the literary instincts, which had
always been present in him, and which his mother had largely helped to
develop by her own restless imaginative ways of approaching life and the
world, made themselves felt with considerable force. Some time before
his cousin's letter arrived, he had been taken with a craze for English
poetry, and, but for the corrective influence of a favourite tutor would
probably have thrown himself into it with the same exclusive passion as
he had shown for subject after subject in his eager ebullient childhood.
His mother found him at thirteen inditing a letter on the subject of
_The Faerie Queene_ to a school-friend, in which, with a sincerity which
made her forgive the pomposity, he remarked--

'I can truly say with Pope, that this great work has afforded me
extraordinary pleasure.'

And about the same time, a master who was much interested in the boy's
prospects of getting the school prize for Latin verse, a subject for
which he had always shown a special aptitude, asked him anxiously, after
an Easter holiday, what he had been reading; the boy ran his hands
through his hair, and still keeping his finger between the leaves, shut
a book before him from which he had been learning by heart, and which
was, alas! neither Ovid nor Virgil.

'I have just finished Belial!' he said, with a sigh of satisfaction,
'and am beginning Beelzebub.'

A craze of this kind was naturally followed by a feverish period of
juvenile authorship, when the house was littered over with stanzas from
the opening canto of a great poem on Columbus, or with moral essays in
the manner of Pope, castigating the vices of the time with an energy
which sorely tried the gravity of the mother whenever she was called
upon, as she invariably was, to play audience to the young poet. At the
same time the classics absorbed in reality their full share of this fast
developing power. Virgil and Æschylus appealed to the same fibres, the
same susceptibilities, as Milton and Shakspeare, and the boy's quick
imaginative sense appropriated Greek and Latin life with the same ease
which it showed in possessing itself of that bygone English life whence
sprung the _Canterbury Tales_, or _As You Like It_. So that his tutor,
who was much attached to him, and who made it one of his main objects in
life to keep the boy's aspiring nose to the grindstone of grammatical
_minutiæ_, began about the time of Sir Mowbray's letter to prophesy very
smooth things indeed to his mother as to his future success at college,
the possibility of his getting the famous St. Anselm's scholarship, and
so on.

Evidently such a youth was not likely to depend for the attainment of a
foothold in life on a piece of family privilege. The world was all
before him where to choose, Mrs. Elsmere thought proudly to herself, as
her mother's fancy wandered rashly through the coming years. And for
many reasons she secretly allowed herself to hope that he would find for
himself some other post of ministry in a very various world than the
vicarage of Murewell.

So she wrote a civil letter of acknowledgment to Sir Mowbray, informing
him that the intentions of his great-uncle should be communicated to the
boy when he should be of fit age to consider them, and that meanwhile
she was obliged to him for pointing out the procedure by which she might
lay hands on the legacy bequeathed to her in trust for her son, the
income of which would now be doubly welcome in view of his college
expenses. There the matter rested, and Mrs. Elsmere, during the two
years which followed, thought little more about it. She became more and
more absorbed in her boy's immediate prospects, in the care of his
health, which was uneven and tried somewhat by the strain of preparation
for an attempt on the St. Anselm's scholarship, and in the demands which
his ardent nature, oppressed with the weight of its own aspirations, was
constantly making upon her support and sympathy.

At last the moment so long expected arrived. Mrs. Elsmere and her son
left Harden amid a chorus of good wishes, and settled themselves early
in November in Oxford lodgings. Robert was to have a few days' complete
holiday before the examination, and he and his mother spent it in
exploring the beautiful old town, now shrouded in the 'pensive glooms'
of still, gray autumn weather. There was no sun to light up the misty
reaches of the river; the trees in the Broad Walk were almost bare; the
Virginian creeper no longer shone in patches of delicate crimson on the
college walls; the gardens were damp and forsaken. But to Mrs. Elsmere
and Robert the place needed neither sun nor summer 'for beauty's
heightening.' On both of them it laid its old irresistible spell; the
sentiment haunting its quadrangles, its libraries, and its dim melodious
chapels, stole into the lad's heart and alternately soothed and
stimulated that keen individual consciousness which naturally
accompanies the first entrance into manhood. Here, on this soil, steeped
in memories, _his_ problems, _his_ struggles were to be fought out in
their turn. 'Take up thy manhood,' said the inward voice, 'and show what
is in thee. The hour and the opportunity have come!'

And to this thrill of vague expectation, this young sense of an
expanding world, something of pathos and of sacredness was added by the
dumb influences of the old streets and weather-beaten stones. How
tenacious they were of the past! The dreaming city seemed to be still
brooding in the autumn calm over the long succession of her sons. The
continuity, the complexity of human experience; the unremitting effort
of the race; the stream of purpose running through it all; these were
the kind of thoughts which, in more or less inchoate and fragmentary
shape, pervaded the boy's sensitive mind as he rambled with his mother
from college to college.

Mrs. Elsmere, too, was fascinated by Oxford. But for all her eager
interest, the historic beauty of the place aroused in her an under-mood
of melancholy, just as it did in Robert. Both had the impressionable
Celtic temperament, and both felt that a critical moment was upon them,
and that the Oxford air was charged with fate for each of them. For the
first time in their lives they were to be parted. The mother's long
guardianship was coming to an end. Had she loved him enough? Had she so
far fulfilled the trust her dead husband had imposed upon her? Would her
boy love her in the new life as he had loved her in the old? And could
her poor craving heart bear to see him absorbed by fresh interests and
passions, in which her share could be only, at the best, secondary and
indirect?

One day--it was on the afternoon preceding the examination--she gave
hurried, half-laughing utterance to some of these misgivings of hers.
They were walking down the Lime-walk of Trinity Gardens; beneath their
feet a yellow fresh-strewn carpet of leaves, brown interlacing branches
overhead, and a red misty sun shining through the trunks. Robert
understood his mother perfectly, and the way she had of hiding a storm
of feeling under these tremulous comedy airs. So that, instead of
laughing too, he took her hand and, there being no spectators anywhere
to be seen in the damp November garden, he raised it to his lips with a
few broken words of affection and gratitude which very nearly overcame
the self-command of both of them. She dashed wildly into another
subject, and then suddenly it occurred to her impulsive mind that the
moment had come to make him acquainted with those dying intentions of
his great-uncle which we have already described. The diversion was a
welcome one, and the duty seemed clear. So, accordingly, she made him
give her all his attention while she told him the story and the terms of
Sir Mowbray's letter, forcing herself the while to keep her own opinions
and predilections as much as possible out of sight.

Robert listened with interest and astonishment, the sense of a new-found
manhood waxing once more strong within him, as his mind admitted the
strange picture of himself occupying the place which had been his
father's; master of the house and the parish he had wandered over with
childish steps, clinging to the finger or the coat of the tall stooping
figure which occupied the dim background of his recollections. 'Poor
mother,' he said thoughtfully, when she paused, 'it would be hard upon
_you_ to go back to Murewell!'

'Oh, you mustn't think of me when the time comes,' said Mrs. Elsmere,
sighing. 'I shall be a tiresome old woman, and you will be a young man
wanting a wife. There, put it out of your head, Robert. I thought I had
better tell you, for, after all, the fact may concern your Oxford life.
But you've got a long time yet before you need begin to worry about it.'

The boy drew himself up to his full height, and tossed his tumbling
reddish hair back from his eyes. He was nearly six feet already, with a
long thin body and head, which amply justified his school nickname of
'the darning-needle.'

'Don't you trouble either, mother,' he said, with a tone of decision: 'I
don't feel as if I should ever take orders.'

Mrs. Elsmere was old enough to know what importance to attach to the
trenchancy of eighteen, but still the words were pleasant to her.

The next day Robert went up for examination, and after three days of
hard work, and phases of alternate hope and depression, in which mother
and son excited one another to no useful purpose, there came the anxious
crowding round the college gate in the November twilight, and the sudden
flight of dispersing messengers bearing the news over Oxford. The
scholarship had been won by a precocious Etonian with an extraordinary
talent for 'stems,' and all that appertained thereto. But the exhibition
fell to Robert, and mother and son were well content.

The boy was eager to come into residence at once, though he would
matriculate too late to keep the term. The college authorities were
willing, and on the Saturday following the announcement of his success
he was matriculated, saw the Provost, and was informed that rooms would
be found for him without delay. His mother and he gaily climbed
innumerable stairs to inspect the garrets of which he was soon to take
proud possession, sallying forth from them only to enjoy an agitated
delightful afternoon among the shops. Expenditure, always charming,
becomes under these circumstances a sacred and pontifical act. Never had
Mrs. Elsmere bought a teapot for herself with half the fervour which she
now threw into the purchase of Robert's; and the young man, accustomed
to a rather bare home, and an Irish lack of the little elegancies of
life, was overwhelmed when his mother actually dragged him into a
printseller's, and added an engraving or two to the enticing
miscellaneous mass of which he was already master.

They only just left themselves time to rush back to their lodgings and
dress for the solemn function of a dinner with the Provost. The dinner,
however, was a great success. The short, shy manner of their
white-haired host thawed under the influence of Mrs. Elsmere's racy,
unaffected ways, and it was not long before everybody in the room had
more or less made friends with her, and forgiven her her marvellous drab
poplin, adorned with fresh pink ruchings for the occasion. As for the
Provost, Mrs. Elsmere had been told that he was a person of whom she
must inevitably stand in awe. But all her life long she had been like
the youth in the fairy tale who desired to learn how to shiver and could
not attain unto it. Fate had denied her the capacity of standing in awe
of anybody, and she rushed at her host as a new type, delighting in the
thrill which she felt creeping over her when she found herself on the
arm of one who had been the rallying-point of a hundred struggles, and
a centre of influence over thousands of English lives.

And then followed the proud moment when Robert, in his exhibitioner's
gown, took her to service in the chapel on Sunday. The scores of young
faces, the full unison of the hymns, and finally the Provost's sermon,
with its strange brusqueries and simplicities of manner and
phrase--simplicities so suggestive, so full of a rich and yet
disciplined experience, that they haunted her mind for weeks
afterwards--completed the general impression made upon her by the Oxford
life. She came out, tremulous and shaken, leaning on her son's arm. She,
too, like the generations before her, had launched her venture into the
deep. Her boy was putting out from her into the ocean; henceforth she
could but watch him from the shore. Brought into contact with this
imposing University organisation, with all its suggestions of virile
energies and functions, the mother suddenly felt herself insignificant
and forsaken. He had been her all, her own, and now on this
training-ground of English youth, it seemed to her that the great human
society had claimed him from her.



CHAPTER V


In his Oxford life Robert surrendered himself to the best and most
stimulating influences of the place, just as he had done at school. He
was a youth of many friends, by virtue of a natural gift of sympathy,
which was no doubt often abused, and by no means invariably profitable
to its owner, but wherein, at any rate, his power over his fellows, like
the power of half the potent men in the world's history, always lay
rooted. He had his mother's delight in living. He loved the
cricket-field, he loved the river; his athletic instincts and his
athletic friends were always fighting in him with his literary instincts
and the friends who appealed primarily to the intellectual and moral
side of him. He made many mistakes alike in friends and in pursuits; in
the freshness of a young and roving curiosity he had great difficulty in
submitting himself to the intellectual routine of the University, a
difficulty which ultimately cost him much; but at the bottom of the lad,
all the time, there was a strength of will, a force and even tyranny of
conscience, which kept his charm and pliancy from degenerating into
weakness, and made it not only delightful, but profitable to love him.
He knew that his mother was bound up in him, and his being was set to
satisfy, so far as he could, all her honourable ambitions.

His many undergraduate friends, strong as their influence must have been
in the aggregate on a nature so receptive, hardly concern us here. His
future life, so far as we can see, was most noticeably affected by two
men older than himself, and belonging to the dons--both of them fellows
and tutors of St. Anselm's, though on different planes of age.

The first one, Edward Langham, was Robert's tutor, and about seven years
older than himself. He was a man about whom, on entering the college,
Robert heard more than the usual crop of stories. The healthy young
English barbarian has an aversion to the intrusion of more manner into
life than is absolutely necessary. Now, Langham was overburdened with
manner, though it was manner of the deprecating and not of the arrogant
order. Decisions, it seemed, of all sorts were abominable to him. To
help a friend he had once consented to be Pro-proctor. He resigned in a
month, and none of his acquaintances ever afterwards dared to allude to
the experience. If you could have got at his inmost mind, it was
affirmed, the persons most obnoxious there would have been found to be
the scout, who intrusively asked him every morning what he would have
for breakfast, and the college cook, who, till such a course was
strictly forbidden him, mounted to his room at half-past nine to inquire
whether he would 'dine in.' Being a scholar of considerable eminence, it
pleased him to assume on all questions an exasperating degree of
ignorance; and the wags of the college averred that when asked if it
rained, or if collections took place on such and such a day, it was pain
and grief to him to have to affirm positively, without qualifications,
that so it was.

Such a man was not very likely, one would have thought, to captivate an
ardent, impulsive boy like Elsmere. Edward Langham, however,
notwithstanding undergraduate tales, was a very remarkable person. In
the first place, he was possessed of exceptional personal beauty. His
colouring was vividly black and white, closely curling jet-black hair,
and fine black eyes contrasting with a pale, clear complexion and even,
white teeth. So far he had the characteristics which certain Irishmen
share with most Spaniards. But the Celtic or Iberian brilliance was
balanced by a classical delicacy and precision of feature. He had the
brow, the nose, the upper lip, the finely-moulded chin, which belong to
the more severe and spiritual Greek type. Certainly of Greek blitheness
and directness there was no trace. The eye was wavering and profoundly
melancholy; all the movements of the tall, finely-built frame were
hesitating and doubtful. It was as though the man were suffering from
paralysis of some moral muscle or other; as if some of the normal
springs of action in him had been profoundly and permanently weakened.

He had a curious history. He was the only child of a doctor in a
Lincolnshire country town. His old parents had brought him up in strict
provincial ways, ignoring the boy's idiosyncrasies as much as possible.
They did not want an exceptional and abnormal son, and they tried to put
down his dreamy, self-conscious habits by forcing him into the common,
middle-class, Evangelical groove. As soon as he got to college, however,
the brooding, gifted nature had a moment of sudden and, as it seemed to
the old people in Gainsborough, most reprehensible expansion. Poems were
sent to them, cut out of one or the other of the leading periodicals,
with their son's initials appended, and articles of philosophical
art-criticism, published while the boy was still an undergraduate--which
seemed to the stern father everything that was sophistical and
subversive. For they treated Christianity itself as an open question,
and showed especially scant respect for the 'Protestantism of the
Protestant religion.' The father warned him grimly that he was not going
to spend his hard-earned savings on the support of a free-thinking
scribbler, and the young man wrote no more till just after he had taken
a double first in Greats. Then the publication of an article in one of
the leading Reviews on 'The Ideals of Modern Culture' not only brought
him a furious letter from home stopping all supplies, but also lost him
a probable fellowship. His college was one of the narrowest and most
backward in Oxford, and it was made perfectly plain to him before the
fellowship examination that he would not be elected.

He left the college, took pupils for a while, then stood for a vacant
fellowship at St. Anselm's, the Liberal headquarters, and got it with
flying colours.

Thenceforward one would have thought that a brilliant and favourable
mental development was secured to him. Not at all. The moment of his
quarrel with his father and his college had, in fact, represented a
moment of energy, of comparative success, which never recurred. It was
as though this outburst of action and liberty had disappointed him, as
if some deep-rooted instinct--cold, critical, reflective--had reasserted
itself, condemning him and his censors equally. The uselessness of
utterance, the futility of enthusiasm, the inaccessibility of the ideal,
the practical absurdity of trying to realise any of the mind's inward
dreams: these were the kind of considerations which descended upon him,
slowly and fatally, crushing down the newly springing growths of action
or of passion. It was as though life had demonstrated to him the
essential truth of a childish saying of his own which had startled and
displeased his Calvinist mother years before. 'Mother,' the delicate,
large-eyed child had said to her one day in a fit of physical weariness,
'how is it I dislike the things I dislike so much more than I like the
things I like?'

So he wrote no more, he quarrelled no more, he meddled with the great
passionate things of life and expression no more. On his taking up
residence in St. Anselm's, indeed, and on his being appointed first
lecturer and then tutor, he had a momentary pleasure in the thought of
teaching. His mind was a storehouse of thought and fact, and to the man
brought up at a dull provincial day-school and never allowed to
associate freely with his kind, the bright lads fresh from Eton and
Harrow about him were singularly attractive. But a few terms were enough
to scatter this illusion too. He could not be simple, he could not be
spontaneous; he was tormented by self-consciousness, and it was
impossible to him to talk and behave as those talk and behave who have
been brought up more or less in the big world from the beginning. So
this dream, too, faded, for youth asks, before all things, simplicity
and spontaneity in those who would take possession of it. His lectures,
which were at first brilliant enough to attract numbers of men from
other colleges, became gradually mere dry, ingenious skeletons, without
life or feeling. It was possible to learn a great deal from him; it was
not possible to catch from him any contagion of that _amor
intellectualis_ which had flamed at one moment so high within him. He
ceased to compose; but as the intellectual faculty must have some
employment, he became a translator, a contributor to dictionaries, a
microscopic student of texts, not in the interest of anything beyond,
but simply as a kind of mental stone-breaking.

The only survival of that moment of glow and colour in his life was his
love of music and the theatre. Almost every year he disappeared to
France to haunt the Paris theatres for a fortnight; to Berlin or
Bayreuth to drink his fill of music. He talked neither of music nor of
acting; he made no one sharer of his enjoyment, if he did enjoy. It was
simply his way of cheating his creative faculty, which, though it had
grown impotent, was still there, still restless. Altogether a
melancholy, pitiable man--at once thorough-going sceptic and
thorough-going idealist, the victim of that critical sense which says No
to every impulse, and is always restlessly, and yet hopelessly, seeking
the future through the neglected and outraged present.

And yet the man's instincts, at this period of his life at any rate,
were habitually kindly and affectionate. He knew nothing of women, and
was not liked by them, but it was not his fault if he made no impression
on the youth about him. It seemed to him that he was always seeking in
their eyes and faces for some light of sympathy which was always
escaping him, and which he was powerless to compel. He met it for the
first time in Robert Elsmere. The susceptible, poetical boy was struck
at some favourable moment by that romantic side of the ineffective
tutor--his silence, his melancholy, his personal beauty--which no one
else, with perhaps one or two exceptions among the older men, cared to
take into account; or touched perhaps by some note in him, surprised in
passing, of weariness or shrinking, as compared with the contemptuous
tone of the College towards him. He showed his liking impetuously,
boyishly, as his way was, and thenceforward during his University career
Langham became his slave. He had no ambition for himself; his motto
might have been that dismal one--'The small things of life are odious to
me, and the habit of them enslaves me; the great things of life are
eternally attractive to me, and indolence and fear put them by;' but for
the University chances of this lanky, red-haired youth--with his
eagerness, his boundless curiosity, his genius for all sorts of lovable
mistakes--he disquieted himself greatly. He tried to discipline the
roving mind, to infuse into the boy's literary temper the delicacy, the
precision, the subtlety of his own. His fastidious, critical habits of
work supplied exactly that antidote which Elsmere's main faults of haste
and carelessness required. He was always holding up before him the
inexhaustible patience and labour involved in all true knowledge; and it
was to the germs of critical judgment so implanted in him that Elsmere
owed many of the later growths of his development--growths with which we
have not yet to concern ourselves.

And in return, the tutor allowed himself rarely, very rarely, a moment
of utterance from the depths of his real self. One evening in the summer
term following the boy's matriculation, Elsmere brought him an essay
after Hall, and they sat on talking afterwards. It was a rainy,
cheerless evening; the first contest of the Boats week had been rowed in
cold wind and sleet; a dreary blast whistled through the College.
Suddenly Langham reached out his hand for an open letter. 'I have had an
offer, Elsmere,' he said abruptly.

And he put it into his hand. It was the offer of an important Scotch
professorship, coming from the man most influential in assigning it. The
last occupant of the post had been a scholar of European eminence.
Langham's contributions to a great foreign review, and certain Oxford
recommendations, were the basis of the present overture, which, coming
from one who was himself a classic of the classics, was couched in terms
flattering to any young man's vanity.

Robert looked up with a joyful exclamation when he had finished the
letter.

'I congratulate you, sir.'

'I have refused it,' said Langham abruptly.

His companion sat open-mouthed. Young as he was, he knew perfectly well
that this particular appointment was one of the blue ribbons of British
scholarship.

'Do you think--' said the other in a tone of singular vibration, which
had in it a note of almost contemptuous irritation--'do you think _I_ am
the man to get and keep a hold on a rampagious class of hundreds of
Scotch lads? Do you think _I_ am the man to carry on what Reid
began--Reid, that old fighter, that preacher of all sorts of jubilant
dogmas?'

He looked at Elsmere under his straight black brows imperiously. The
youth felt the nervous tension in the elder man's voice and manner, was
startled by a confidence never before bestowed upon him, close as that
unequal bond between them had been growing during the six months of his
Oxford life, and plucking up courage hurled at him a number of frank,
young expostulations, which really put into friendly shape all that was
being said about Langham in his College and in the University. Why was
he so self-distrustful, so absurdly diffident of responsibility, so
bent on hiding his great gifts under a bushel?

The tutor smiled sadly, and, sitting down, buried his head in his hands
and said nothing for a while. Then he looked up and stretched out a hand
towards a book which lay on a table near. It was the _Réveries_ of
Senancour. 'My answer is written _here_,' he said. 'It will seem to you
now, Elsmere, mere Midsummer madness. May it always seem so to you.
Forgive me. The pressure of solitude sometimes is too great.'

Elsmere looked up with one of his flashing, affectionate smiles, and
took the book from Langham's hand. He found on the open page a marked
passage:

'Oh swiftly passing seasons of life! There was a time when men seemed to
be sincere; when thought was nourished on friendship, kindness, love;
when dawn still kept its brilliance, and the night its peace. _I can_,
the soul said to itself, and _I will_; I will do all that is right--all
that is natural. But soon resistance, difficulty, unforeseen, coming we
know not whence, arrest us, undeceive us, and the human yoke grows heavy
on our necks. Thenceforward we become merely sharers in the common woe.
Hemmed in on all sides, we feel our faculties only to realise their
impotence: we have time and strength to do what we _must_, never what we
will. Men go on repeating the words _work, genius, success_. Fools! Will
all these resounding projects, though they enable us to cheat ourselves,
enable us to cheat the icy fate which rules us and our globe, wandering
forsaken through the vast silence of the heavens?'

Robert looked up startled, the book dropping from his hand. The words
sent a chill to the heart of one born to hope, to will, to crave.

Suddenly Langham dashed the volume from him, almost with violence.

'Forget that drivel, Elsmere. It was a crime to show it to you. It is
not sane; neither perhaps am I. But I am not going to Scotland. They
would request me to resign in a week.'

Long after Elsmere, who had stayed talking a while on other things, had
gone, Langham sat on brooding over the empty grate.

'Corrupter of youth!' he said to himself once bitterly. And perhaps it
was to a certain remorse in the tutor's mind that Elsmere owed an
experience of great importance to his after life.

The name of a certain Mr. Grey had for some time before his entry at
Oxford been more or less familiar to Robert's ears as that of a person
of great influence and consideration at St. Anselm's. His tutor at
Harden had spoken of him in the boy's hearing as one of the most
remarkable men of the generation, and had several times impressed upon
his pupil that nothing could be so desirable for him as to secure the
friendship of such a man. It was on the occasion of his first interview
with the Provost, after the scholarship examination, that Robert was
first brought face to face with Mr. Grey. He could remember a short dark
man standing beside the Provost, who had been introduced to him by that
name, but the nervousness of the moment had been so great that the boy
had been quite incapable of giving him any special attention.

During his first term and a half of residence, Robert occasionally met
Mr. Grey in the quadrangle or in the street, and the tutor, remembering
the thin, bright-faced youth, would return his salutations kindly, and
sometimes stop to speak to him, to ask him if he were comfortably
settled in his rooms, or make a remark about the boats. But the
acquaintance did not seem likely to progress, for Mr. Grey was a Greats
tutor, and Robert naturally had nothing to do with him as far as work
was concerned.

However, a day or two after the conversation we have described, Robert,
going to Langham's rooms late in the afternoon to return a book which
had been lent to him, perceived two figures standing talking on the
hearth-rug, and by the western light beating in recognised the thick-set
frame and broad brow of Mr. Grey.

'Come in, Elsmere,' said Langham, as he stood hesitating on the
threshold. 'You have met Mr. Grey before, I think?'

'We first met at an anxious moment,' said Mr. Grey, smiling and shaking
hands with the boy 'A first interview with the Provost is always
formidable. I remember it too well myself. You did very well, I
remember, Mr. Elsmere. Well, Langham, I must be off. I shall be late for
my meeting as it is. I think we have settled our business. Good-night.'

Langham stood a moment after the door closed, eyeing young Elsmere.
There was a curious struggle going on in the tutor's mind.

'Elsmere,' he said at last abruptly, 'would you like to go to-night and
hear Grey preach?'

'Preach!' exclaimed the lad. 'I thought he was a layman.'

'So he is. It will be a lay sermon. It was always the custom here with
the clerical tutors to address their men once a term before Communion
Sunday, and some years ago, when Grey first became tutor, he determined,
though he was a layman, to carry on the practice. It was an
extraordinary effort, for he is a man to whom words on such a subject
are the coining of his heart's blood, and he has repeated it very
rarely. It is two years now since his last address.'

'Of course I should like to go,' said Robert with eagerness. 'Is it
open?'

'Strictly it is for his Greats pupils, but I can take you in. It is
hardly meant for freshmen; but--well, you are far enough on to make it
interesting to you.'

'The lad will take to Grey's influence like a fish to water,' thought
the tutor to himself when he was alone, not without a strange
reluctance. 'Well, no one can say I have not given him his opportunity
to be "earnest."'

The sarcasm of the last word was the kind of sarcasm which a man of his
type in an earlier generation might have applied to the 'earnestness' of
an Arnoldian Rugby.

At eight o'clock that evening Robert found himself crossing the
quadrangle with Langham on the way to one of the larger lecture rooms,
which was to be the scene of the address. The room when they got in was
already nearly full, all the working fellows of the college were
present, and a body of some thirty men besides, most of them already far
on in their University career. A minute or two afterwards Mr. Grey
entered. The door opening on to the quadrangle, where the trees,
undeterred by east wind, were just bursting into leaf, was shut; and the
little assembly knelt, while Mr. Grey's voice with its broad intonation,
in which a strong native homeliness lingered under the gentleness of
accent, recited the collect 'Lord of all power and might,' a silent
pause following the last words. Then the audience settled itself, and
Mr. Grey, standing by a small deal table with the gaslight behind him,
began his address.

All the main points of the experience which followed stamped themselves
on Robert's mind with extraordinary intensity. Nor did he ever lose the
memory of the outward scene. In after years, memory could always recall
to him at will the face and figure of the speaker, the massive head, the
deep eyes sunk under the brows, the Midland accent, the make of limb and
feature which seemed to have some suggestion in them of the rude
strength and simplicity of a peasant ancestry; and then the nobility,
the fire, the spiritual beauty flashing through it all! Here, indeed,
was a man on whom his fellows might lean, a man in whom the generation
of spiritual force was so strong and continuous that it overflowed of
necessity into the poorer, barrener lives around him, kindling and
enriching. Robert felt himself seized and penetrated, filled with a
fervour and an admiration which he was too young and immature to
analyse, but which was to be none the less potent and lasting.

Much of the sermon itself, indeed, was beyond him. It was on the meaning
of St. Paul's great conception, 'Death unto sin and a new birth unto
righteousness.' What did the Apostle mean by a death to sin and self?
What were the precise ideas attached to the words 'risen with Christ'?
Are this death and this resurrection necessarily dependent upon certain
alleged historical events? Or are they not primarily, and were they not,
even in the mind of St. Paul, two aspects of a spiritual process
perpetually re-enacted in the soul of man, and constituting the
veritable revelation of God? Which is the stable and lasting witness of
the Father: the spiritual history of the individual and the world, or
the envelope of miracle to which hitherto mankind has attributed so much
importance?

Mr. Grey's treatment of these questions was clothed, throughout a large
portion of the lecture, in metaphysical language, which no boy fresh
from school, however intellectually quick, could be expected to follow
with any precision. It was not, therefore, the argument, or the logical
structure of the sermon, which so profoundly affected young Elsmere. It
was the speaker himself, and the occasional passages in which,
addressing himself to the practical needs of his hearers, he put before
them the claims and conditions of the higher life with a pregnant
simplicity and rugged beauty of phrase. Conceit, selfishness, vice--how,
as he spoke of them, they seemed to wither from his presence! How the
'pitiful, earthy self' with its passions and its cravings sank into
nothingness beside the 'great ideas' and the 'great causes' for which,
as Christians and as men, he claimed their devotion.

To the boy sitting among the crowd at the back of the room, his face
supported in his hands and his gleaming eyes fixed on the speaker, it
seemed as if all the poetry and history through which a restless
curiosity and ideality had carried him so far, took a new meaning from
this experience. It was by men like this that the moral progress of the
world had been shaped and inspired; he felt brought near to the great
primal forces breathing through the divine workshop; and in place of
natural disposition and reverent compliance, there sprang up in him
suddenly an actual burning certainty of belief. 'Axioms are not axioms,'
said poor Keats, 'till they have been proved upon our pulses;' and the
old familiar figure of the Divine combat, of the struggle in which man
and God are one, was proved once more upon a human pulse on that May
night, in the hush of that quiet lecture room.

As the little moving crowd of men dispersed over the main quadrangle to
their respective staircases, Langham and Robert stood together a moment
in the windy darkness, lit by the occasional glimmering of a cloudy
moon.

'Thank you, thank you, sir!' said the lad, eager and yet afraid to
speak, lest he should break the spell of memory. 'I should be sorry
indeed to have missed that!'

'Yes, it was fine, extraordinarily fine, the best he has ever given, I
think. Good-night.'

And Langham turned away, his head sunk on his breast, his hands behind
him. Robert went to his room conscious of a momentary check of feeling.
But it soon passed, and he sat up late, thinking of the sermon, or
pouring out in a letter to his mother the new hero-worship of which his
mind was full.

A few days later, as it happened, came an invitation to the junior
exhibitioner to spend an evening at Mr. Grey's house. Elsmere went in a
state of curious eagerness and trepidation, and came away with a number
of fresh impressions which, when he had put them into order, did but
quicken his new-born sense of devotion. The quiet unpretending house
with its exquisite neatness and its abundance of books, the family
life, with the heart-happiness underneath, and the gentle trust and
courtesy on the surface, the little touches of austerity which betrayed
themselves here and there in the household ways--all these surroundings
stole into the lad's imagination, touched in him responsive fibres of
taste and feeling.

But there was some surprise, too, mingled with the charm. He came, still
shaken, as it were, by the power of the sermon, expecting to see in the
preacher of it the outward and visible signs of a leadership which, as
he already knew, was a great force in Oxford life. His mood was that of
the disciple only eager to be enrolled. And what he found was a quiet,
friendly, host, surrounded by a group of men talking the ordinary
pleasant Oxford chit-chat--the river, the schools, the Union, the
football matches, and so on. Every now and then, as Elsmere stood at the
edge of the circle listening, the rugged face in the centre of it would
break into a smile, or some boyish speaker would elicit the low
spontaneous laugh in which there was such a sound of human fellowship,
such a genuine note of self-forgetfulness. Sometimes the conversation
strayed into politics, and then Mr. Grey, an eager politician, would
throw back his head, and talk with more sparkle and rapidity, flashing
occasionally into grim humour which seemed to throw light on the innate
strength and pugnacity of the peasant and Puritan breed from which he
sprang. Nothing could be more unlike the inspired philosopher, the
mystic surrounded by an adoring school, whom Robert had been picturing
to himself in his walk up to the house, through the soft May twilight.

It was not long before the tutor had learned to take much kindly notice
of the ardent and yet modest exhibitioner, in whose future it was
impossible not to feel a sympathetic interest.

'You will always find us on Sunday afternoons, before chapel,' he said
to him one day as they parted after watching a football match in the
damp mists of the Park, and the boy's flush of pleasure showed how much
he valued the permission.

For three years those Sunday half-hours were the great charm of Robert
Elsmere's life. When he came to look back upon them, he could remember
nothing very definite. A few interesting scraps of talk about books; a
good deal of talk about politics, showing in the tutor a living interest
in the needs and training of that broadening democracy on which the
future of England rests; a few graphic sayings about individuals; above
all, a constant readiness on the host's part to listen, to sit quiet,
with the slight unconscious look of fatigue which was so eloquent of a
strenuous intellectual life, taking kindly heed of anything that
sincerity, even a stupid awkward sincerity, had got to say--these were
the sort of impressions they had left behind them, reinforced always,
indeed, by the one continuous impression of a great soul speaking with
difficulty and labour, but still clearly, still effectually, through an
unblemished series of noble acts and efforts.

Term after term passed away. Mrs. Elsmere became more and more proud of
her boy, and more and more assured that her years of intelligent
devotion to him had won her his entire love and confidence, 'so long as
they both should live;' she came up to see him once or twice, making
Langham almost flee the University because she would be grateful to him
in public, and attending the boat-races in festive attire to which she
had devoted the most anxious attention for Robert's sake, and which made
her, dear, good, impracticable soul, the observed of all observers. When
she came she and Robert talked all day, so far as lectures allowed, and
most of the night, after their own eager, improvident fashion; and she
soon gathered, with that solemn, half-tragic sense of change which
besets a mother's heart at such a moment, that there were many new
forces at work in her boy's mind, deep under-currents of feeling,
stirred in him by the Oxford influences, which must before long rise
powerfully to the surface.

He was passing from a bright buoyant lad into a man, and a man of ardour
and conviction. And the chief instrument in the transformation was Mr.
Grey.

Elsmere got his first in Moderations easily. But the Final Schools were
a different matter. In the first days of his return to Oxford, in the
October of his third year, while he was still making up his lecture
list, and taking a general oversight of the work demanded from him,
before plunging definitely into it, he was oppressed with a sense that
the two years lying before him constituted a problem which would be
harder to solve than any which had yet been set him. It seemed to him in
a moment which was one of some slackness and reaction, that he had been
growing too fast. He had been making friends besides in far too many
camps, and the thought, half attractive, half repellent, of all those
midnight discussions over smouldering fires, which Oxford was preparing
for him, those fascinating moments of intellectual fence with minds as
eager and as crude as his own, and of all the delightful dipping into
the very latest literature, which such moments encouraged and involved,
seemed to convey a sort of warning to the boy's will that it was not
equal to the situation. He was neither dull enough nor great enough for
a striking Oxford success. How was he to prevent himself from attempting
impossibilities and achieving a final mediocrity? He felt a dismal
certainty that he should never be able to control the strayings of will
and curiosity, now into this path, now into that; and a still stronger
and genuine certainty that it is not by such digression that a man gets
up the Ethics or the Annals.

Langham watched him with a half irritable attention. In spite of the
paralysis of all natural ambitions in himself, he was illogically keen
that Elsmere should win the distinctions of the place. He, the most
laborious, the most disinterested of scholars, turned himself almost
into a crammer for Elsmere's benefit. He abused the lad's multifarious
reading, declared it was no better than dram-drinking, and even preached
to him an ingenious variety of mechanical aids to memory and short cuts
to knowledge, till Robert would turn round upon him with some triumphant
retort drawn from his own utterances at some sincerer and less discreet
moment. In vain. Langham felt a dismal certainty before many weeks were
over that Elsmere would miss his first in Greats. He was too curious,
too restless, too passionate about many things. Above all he was
beginning, in the tutor's opinion, to concern himself disastrously early
with that most overwhelming and most brain-confusing of all human
interests--the interest of religion. Grey had made him 'earnest' with a
vengeance.

Elsmere was now attending Grey's philosophical lectures, following them
with enthusiasm, and making use of them, as so often happens, for the
defence and fortification of views quite other than his teacher's. The
whole basis of Grey's thought was ardently idealist and Hegelian. He had
broken with the popular Christianity, but for him, God, consciousness,
duty, were the only realities. None of the various forms of materialist
thought escaped his challenge; no genuine utterance of the spiritual
life of man but was sure of his sympathy. It was known that after having
prepared himself for the Christian ministry he had remained a layman
because it had become impossible to him to accept miracle; and it was
evident that the commoner type of Churchmen regarded him as an
antagonist all the more dangerous because he was so sympathetic. But the
negative and critical side of him was what in reality told least upon
his pupils. He was reserved, he talked with difficulty, and his respect
for the immaturity of the young lives near him was complete. So that
what he sowed others often reaped, or to quote the expression of a
well-known rationalist about him: 'The Tories were always carrying off
his honey to their hive.' Elsmere, for instance, took in all that Grey
had to give, drank in all the ideal fervour, the spiritual enthusiasm of
the great tutor, and then, as Grey himself would have done some twenty
years earlier, carried his religious passion so stimulated into the
service of the great positive tradition around him.

And at that particular moment in Oxford history, the passage from
philosophic idealism to glad acquiescence in the received Christian
system, was a peculiarly easy one. It was the most natural thing in the
world that a young man of Elsmere's temperament should rally to the
Church. The place was passing through one of those periodical crises of
reaction against an overdriven rationalism, which show themselves with
tolerable regularity in any great centre of intellectual activity. It
had begun to be recognised with a great burst of enthusiasm and
astonishment, that, after all, Mill and Herbert Spencer had not said
the last word on all things in heaven and earth. And now there was
exaggerated recoil. A fresh wave of religious romanticism was fast
gathering strength; the spirit of Newman had reappeared in the place
which Newman had loved and left; religion was becoming once more popular
among the most trivial souls, and a deep reality among a large
proportion of the nobler ones.

With this movement of opinion Robert had very soon found himself in
close and sympathetic contact. The meagre impression left upon his
boyhood by the somewhat grotesque succession of the Harden curates, and
by his mothers shafts of wit at their expense, was soon driven out of
him by the stateliness and comely beauty of the Church order as it was
revealed to him at Oxford. The religious air, the solemn beauty of the
place itself, its innumerable associations with an organised and
venerable faith, the great public functions and expressions of that
faith, possessed the boy's imagination more and more. As he sat in the
undergraduates' gallery at St. Mary's on the Sundays, when the great
High Church preacher of the moment occupied the pulpit, and looked down
on the crowded building, full of grave black-gowned figures, and framed
in one continuous belt of closely packed boyish faces; as he listened to
the preacher's vibrating voice, rising and falling with the orator's
instinct for musical effect; or as he stood up with the great
surrounding body of undergraduates to send the melody of some Latin hymn
rolling into the far recesses of the choir, the sight and the experience
touched his inmost feeling, and satisfied all the poetical and dramatic
instincts of a passionate nature. The system behind the sight took
stronger and stronger hold upon him; he began to wish ardently and
continuously to become a part of it, to cast in his lot definitely with
it.

One May evening he was wandering by himself along the towing-path which
skirts the upper river, a prey to many thoughts, to forebodings about
the schools which were to begin in three weeks, and to speculations as
to how his mother would take the news of the second class, which he
himself felt to be inevitable. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, there
flashed into his mind the little conversation with his mother, which had
taken place nearly four years before, in the garden at Trinity. He
remembered the antagonism which the idea of a clerical life for him had
raised in both of them, and a smile at his own ignorance and his
mother's prejudice passed over his quick young face. He sat down on the
grassy bank, a mass of reeds at his feet, the shadows of the poplars
behind him lying across the still river; and opposite, the wide green
expanse of the great town-meadow, dotted with white patches of geese and
herds of grazing horses. There, with a sense of something solemn and
critical passing over him, he began to dream out his future life.

And when he rose half an hour afterwards, and turned his steps
homewards, he knew with an inward tremor of heart that the next great
step of the way was practically taken. For there by the gliding river,
and in view of the distant Oxford spires, which his fancy took to
witness the act, he had vowed himself in prayer and self-abasement to
the ministry of the Church.

During the three weeks that followed he made some frantic efforts to
make up lost ground. He had not been idle for a single day, but he had
been unwise, an intellectual spendthrift, living in a continuous
succession of enthusiasms, and now at the critical moment his stock of
nerve and energy was at a low ebb. He went in depressed and tired, his
friends watching anxiously for the result. On the day of the Logic
paper, as he emerged into the Schools quadrangle, he felt his arm caught
by Mr. Grey.

'Come with me for a walk, Elsmere; you look as if some air would do you
good.'

Robert acquiesced, and the two men turned into the passage way leading
out on to Radcliffe Square.

'I have done for myself, sir,' said the youth with a sigh, half
impatience, half depression. 'It seems to me to-day that I had neither
mind nor memory. If I get a second I shall be lucky.'

'Oh, you will get your second whatever happens,' said Mr. Grey quietly,
'and you mustn't be too much cast down about it if you don't get your
first.'

This implied acceptance of his partial defeat, coming from another's
lips, struck the excitable Robert like a lash. It was only what he had
been saying to himself, but in the most pessimist forecasts we make for
ourselves, there is always an under protest of hope.

'I have been wasting my time here lately,' he said, hurriedly raising
his college cap from his brows as if it oppressed them, and pushing his
hair back with a weary restless gesture.

'No,' said Mr. Grey, turning his kind frank eyes upon him. 'As far as
general training goes, you have not wasted your time at all. There are
many clever men who don't get a first class, and yet it is good for them
to be here--so long as they are not loungers and idlers, of course. And
you have not been a lounger; you have been headstrong, and a little
over-confident, perhaps,'--the speaker's smile took all the sting out
of the words--'but you have grown into a man, and you are fit now for
man's work. Don't let yourself be depressed, Elsmere. You will do better
in life than you have done in examination.'

The young man was deeply touched. This tone of personal comment and
admonition was very rare with Mr. Grey. He felt a sudden consciousness
of a shared burden which was infinitely soothing, and though he made no
answer, his face lost something of its harassed look as the two walked
on together down Oriel Street and into Merton Meadows.

'Have you any immediate plans?' said Mr. Grey, as they turned into the
Broad Walk, now in the full leafage of June, and rustling under a brisk
western wind blowing from the river.

'No; at least I suppose it will be no good my trying for a fellowship.
But I meant to tell you, sir, of one thing--I have made up my mind to
take orders.'

'You have? When?'

'Quite lately. So that fixes me, I suppose, to come back for divinity
lectures in the autumn.'

Mr. Grey said nothing for a while, and they strolled in and out of the
great shadows thrown by the elms across their path.

'You feel no difficulties in the way?' he asked at last, with a certain
quick brusqueness of manner.

'No,' said Robert eagerly. 'I never had any. Perhaps,' he added, with a
sudden humility, 'it is because I have never gone deep enough. What I
believe might have been worth more if I had had more struggle; but it
has all seemed so plain.'

The young voice speaking with hesitation and reserve, and yet with a
deep inner conviction, was pleasant to hear. Mr. Grey turned towards it,
and the great eyes under the furrowed brow had a peculiar gentleness of
expression.

'You will probably be very happy in the life,' he said. 'The Church
wants men of your sort.'

But through all the sympathy of the tone Robert was conscious of a veil
between them. He knew, of course, pretty much what it was, and with a
sudden impulse he felt that he would have given worlds to break through
it and talk frankly with this man whom he revered beyond all others,
wide as was the intellectual difference between them. But the tutor's
reticence and the younger man's respect prevented it.

When the unlucky second class was actually proclaimed to the world,
Langham took it to heart perhaps more than either Elsmere or his mother.
No one knew better than he what Elsmere's gifts were. It was absurd that
he should not have made more of them in sight of the public. '_Le
cléricalisme, voilà l'ennemi!_' was about the gist of Langham's mood
during the days that followed on the class list.

Elsmere, however, did not divulge his intention of taking orders to him
till ten days afterwards, when he had carried off Langham to stay at
Harden, and he and his old tutor were smoking in his mother's little
garden one moonlit night.

When he had finished his statement Langham stood still a moment watching
the wreaths of smoke as they curled and vanished. The curious interest
in Elsmere's career, which during a certain number of months had made
him almost practical, almost energetic, had disappeared. He was his own
languid, paradoxical self.

'Well, after all,' he said at last, very slowly, 'the difficulty lies in
preaching anything. One may as well preach a respectable mythology as
anything else.'

'What do you mean by a mythology?' cried Robert hotly.

'Simply ideas, or experiences, personified,' said Langham, puffing away.
'I take it they are the subject-matter of all theologies.'

'I don't understand you,' said Robert, flushing. 'To the Christian,
facts have been the medium by which ideas the world could not otherwise
have come at have been communicated to man. Christian theology is a
system of ideas indeed, but of ideas realised, made manifest in facts.'

Langham looked at him for a moment, undecided; then that suppressed
irritation we have already spoken of broke through. 'How do you know
they are facts?' he said drily.

The younger man took up the challenge with all his natural eagerness,
and the conversation resolved itself into a discussion of Christian
evidences. Or rather Robert held forth, and Langham kept him going by an
occasional remark which acted like the prick of a spur. The tutor's
psychological curiosity was soon satisfied. He declared to himself that
the intellect had precious little to do with Elsmere's Christianity. He
had got hold of all the stock apologetic arguments, and used them, his
companion admitted, with ability and ingenuity. But they were merely the
outworks of the citadel. The inmost fortress was held by something
wholly distinct from intellectual conviction--by moral passion, by love,
by feeling, by that mysticism, in short, which no healthy youth should
be without.

'He imagines he has satisfied his intellect,' was the inward comment of
one of the most melancholy of sceptics, 'and he has never so much as
exerted it. What a brute I am to protest!'

And suddenly Langham threw up the sponge. He held out his hand to his
companion, a momentary gleam of tenderness in his black eyes, such as on
one or two critical occasions before had disarmed the impetuous Elsmere.

'No use to discuss it further. You have a strong case, of course, and
you have put it well. Only, when you are pegging away at reforming and
enlightening the world, don't trample too much on the people who have
more than enough to do to enlighten themselves.'

As to Mrs. Elsmere, in this new turn of her son's fortunes, she realised
with humorous distinctness that for some years past Robert had been
educating her as well as himself. Her old rebellious sense of something
inherently absurd in the clerical status had been gradually slain in her
by her long contact through him with the finer and more imposing aspects
of church life. She was still on light skirmishing terms with the Harden
curates, and at times she would flame out into the wildest, wittiest
threats and gibes, for the momentary satisfaction of her own essentially
lay instincts; but at bottom she knew perfectly well that, when the
moment came, no mother could be more loyal, more easily imposed upon,
than she would be.

'I suppose, then, Robert, we shall be back at Murewell before very
long,' she said to him one morning abruptly, studying him the while out
of her small twinkling eyes. What dignity there was already in the young
lightly-built frame! what frankness and character in the irregular,
attractive face!

'Mother,' cried Elsmere indignantly, 'what do you take me for? Do you
imagine I am going to bury myself in the country at five or
six-and-twenty, take six hundred a year, and nothing to do for it? That
would be a deserter's act indeed.'

Mrs. Elsmere shrugged her shoulders. 'Oh, I supposed you would insist on
killing yourself, to begin with. To most people nowadays that seems to
be the necessary preliminary of a useful career.'

Robert laughed and kissed her, but her question had stirred him so much
that he sat down that very evening to write to his cousin Mowbray
Elsmere. He announced to him that he was about to read for orders, and
that at the same time he relinquished all claim on the living of
Murewell. 'Do what you like with it when it falls vacant,' he wrote,
'without reference to me. My views are strong that before a clergyman in
health and strength, and in no immediate want of money, allows himself
the luxury of a country parish, he is bound, for some years at any rate,
to meet the challenge of evil and poverty where the fight is
hardest--among our English town population.'

Sir Mowbray Elsmere replied curtly in a day or two to the effect that
Robert's letter seemed to him superfluous. He, Sir Mowbray, had nothing
to do with his cousin's views. When the living was vacant--the present
holder, however, was uncommon tough and did not mean dying--he should
follow out the instructions of his father's will, and if Robert did not
want the thing he could say so.

In the autumn Robert and his mother went back to Oxford. The following
spring he redeemed his Oxford reputation completely by winning a
Fellowship at Merton after a brilliant fight with some of the best men
of his year, and in June he was ordained.

In the summer term some teaching work was offered him at Merton, and by
Mr. Grey's advice he accepted it, thus postponing for a while that
London curacy and that stout grapple with human need at its sorest for
which his soul was pining. 'Stay here a year or two,' Grey said bluntly;
'you are at the beginning of your best learning time, and you are not
one of the natures who can do without books. You will be all the better
worth having afterwards, and there is no lack of work here for a man's
moral energies.'

Langham took the same line, and Elsmere submitted. Three happy and
fruitful years followed. The young lecturer developed an amazing power
of work. That concentration which he had been unable to achieve for
himself his will was strong enough to maintain when it was a question of
meeting the demands of a college class in which he was deeply
interested. He became a stimulating and successful teacher, and one of
the most popular of men. His passionate sense of responsibility towards
his pupils made him load himself with burdens to which he was constantly
physically unequal, and fill the vacations almost as full as the terms.
And as he was comparatively a man of means, his generous impetuous
temper was able to gratify itself in ways that would have been
impossible to others. The story of his summer reading parties, for
instance, if one could have unravelled it, would have been found to be
one long string of acts of kindness towards men poorer and duller than
himself.

At the same time he formed close and eager relations with the heads of
the religious party in Oxford. His mother's Evangelical training of him
and Mr. Grey's influence, together, perhaps, with certain drifts of
temperament, prevented him from becoming a High Churchman. The
sacramental, ceremonial view of the Church never took hold upon him. But
to the English Church as a great national institution for the promotion
of God's work on earth no one could have been more deeply loyal, and
none coming close to him could mistake the fervour and passion of his
Christian feeling. At the same time he did not know what rancour or
bitterness meant, so that men of all shades of Christian belief reckoned
a friend in him, and he went through life surrounded by an unusual,
perhaps a dangerous amount of liking and affection. He threw himself
ardently into the charitable work of Oxford, now helping a High Church
vicar, and now toiling with Grey and one or two other Liberal fellows,
at the maintenance of a coffee-palace and lecture-room just started by
them in one of the suburbs; while in the second year of his lectureship
the success of some first attempts at preaching fixed the attention of
the religious leaders upon him as upon a man certain to make his mark.

So the three years passed--years not, perhaps, of great intellectual
advance, for other forces in him than those of the intellect were mainly
to the fore, but years certainly of continuous growth in character and
moral experience. And at the end of them Mowbray Elsmere made his offer,
and it was accepted.

The secret of it, of course, was overwork. Mrs. Elsmere, from the little
house in Merton Street, where she had established herself, had watched
her boy's meteoric career through these crowded months with very
frequent misgivings. No one knew better than she that Robert was
constitutionally not of the toughest fibre, and she realised long before
he did that the Oxford life as he was bent on leading it must end for
him in premature breakdown. But, as always happens, neither her
remonstrances, nor Mr. Grey's common-sense, nor Langham's fidgety
protests had any effect on the young enthusiast to whom self-slaughter
came so easy. During the latter half of his third year of teaching he
was continually being sent away by the doctors, and coming back only to
break down again. At last, in the January of his fourth year, the
collapse became so decided that he consented, bribed by the prospect of
the Holy Land, to go away for three months to Egypt and the East,
accompanied by his mother and a college friend.

Just before their departure news reached him of the death of the rector
of Murewell, followed by a formal offer of the living from Sir Mowbray.
At the moment when the letter arrived he was feeling desperately tired
and ill, and in after-life he never forgot the half-superstitious thrill
and deep sense of depression with which he received it. For within him
was a slowly-emerging, despairing conviction that he was indeed
physically unequal to the claims of his Oxford work, and if so, still
more unequal to grappling with the hardest pastoral labour and the worst
forms of English poverty. And the coincidence of the Murewell
incumbent's death struck his sensitive mind as a Divine leading.

But it was a painful defeat. He took the letter to Grey, and Grey
strongly advised him to accept.

'You overdrive your scruples, Elsmere,' said the Liberal tutor with
emphasis. 'No one can say a living with 1200 souls, and no curate, is a
sinecure. As for hard town work, it is absurd--you couldn't stand it.
And after all, I imagine, there are some souls worth saving out of the
towns.'

Elsmere pointed out vindictively that family livings were a corrupt and
indefensible institution. Mr. Grey replied calmly that they probably
were, but that the fact did not affect, so far as he could see,
Elsmere's competence to fulfil all the duties of rector of Murewell.

'After all, my dear fellow,' he said, a smile breaking over his strong
expressive face, 'it is well even for reformers to be sane.'

Mrs. Elsmere was passive. It seemed to her that she had foreseen it all
along. She was miserable about his health, but she too had a moment of
superstition, and would not urge him. Murewell was no name of happy omen
to her--she had passed the darkest hours of her life there.

In the end Robert asked for delay, which was grudgingly granted him.
Then he and his mother and friend fled over seas: he feverishly
determined to get well and cheat the fates. But, after a halcyon time in
Palestine and Constantinople, a whiff of poisoned air at Cannes, on
their way home, acting on a low constitutional state, settled matters.
Robert was laid up for weeks with malarious fever, and when he struggled
out again into the hot Riviera sunshine it was clear to himself and
everybody else that he must do what he could, and not what he would, in
the Christian vineyard.

'Mother,' he said one day, suddenly looking up at her as she sat near
him working, 'can _you_ be happy at Murewell?'

There was a wistfulness in the long thin face, and a pathetic accent of
surrender in the voice, which hurt the mother's heart.

'I can be happy wherever you are,' she said, laying her brown nervous
hand on his blanched one.

'Then give me pen and paper and let me write to Mowbray. I wonder
whether the place has changed at all. Heigh ho! How is one to preach to
people who have stuffed you up with gooseberries, or swung you on gates,
or lifted you over puddles to save your petticoats? I wonder what has
become of that boy whom I hit in the eye with my bow and arrow, or of
that other lout who pummelled me into the middle of next week for
disturbing his bird-trap? By the way, is the Squire--is Roger
Wendover--living at the Hall now?'

He turned to his mother with a sudden start of interest.

'So I hear,' said Mrs. Elsmere drily. '_He_ won't be much good to you.'

He sat on meditating while she went for pen and paper. He had forgotten
the Squire of Murewell. But Roger Wendover, the famous and eccentric
owner of Murewell Hall, hermit and scholar, possessed of one of the most
magnificent libraries in England, and author of books which had carried
a revolutionary shock into the heart of English society, was not a
figure to be overlooked by any rector of Murewell, least of all by one
possessed of Robert's culture and imagination.

The young man ransacked his memory on the subject with a sudden access
of interest in his new home that was to be.

Six weeks later they were in England, and Robert, now convalescent, had
accepted an invitation to spend a month in Long Whindale with his
mother's cousins, the Thornburghs, who offered him quiet, and bracing
air. He was to enter on his duties at Murewell in July, the bishop, who
had been made aware of his Oxford reputation, welcoming the new recruit
to the diocese with marked warmth of manner.



CHAPTER VI


'Agnes, if you want any tea, here it is,' cried Rose, calling from
outside through the dining-room window; 'and tell mamma.'

It was the first of June, and the spell of warmth in which Robert
Elsmere had arrived was still maintaining itself. An intelligent
foreigner dropped into the flower-sprinkled valley might have believed
that, after all, England, and even Northern England, had a summer. Early
in the season as it was, the sun was already drawing the colour out of
the hills; the young green, hardly a week or two old, was darkening.
Except the oaks. They were brilliance itself against the luminous
gray-blue sky. So were the beeches, their young downy leaves just
unpacked, tumbling loosely open to the light. But the larches and the
birches and the hawthorns were already sobered by a longer acquaintance
with life and Phoebus.

Rose sat fanning herself with a portentous hat, which when in its proper
place served her, apparently, both as hat and as parasol. She seemed to
have been running races with a fine collie, who lay at her feet panting,
but studying her with his bright eyes, and evidently ready to be off
again at the first indication that his playmate had recovered her wind.
Chattie was coming lazily over the lawn, stretching each leg behind her
as she walked, tail arched, green eyes flaming in the sun, a model of
treacherous beauty.

'Chattie, you fiend, come here!' cried Rose, holding out a hand to her;
'if Miss Barks were ever pretty she must have looked like you at this
moment.'

'I won't have Chattie put upon,' said Agnes, establishing herself at the
other side of the little tea-table; 'she has done you no harm. Come to
me, beastie. _I_ won't compare you to disagreeable old maids.'

The cat looked from one sister to the other, blinking; then with a
sudden magnificent spring leaped on to Agnes's lap and curled herself up
there.

'Nothing but cupboard love,' said Rose scornfully, in answer to Agnes's
laugh; 'she knows you will give her bread and butter and I won't, out of
a double regard for my skirts and her morals. Oh, dear me! Miss Barks
was quite seraphic last night; she never made a single remark about my
clothes, and she didn't even say to me as she generally does, with an
air of compassion, that she "_quite_ understands how hard it must be to
keep in tune."'

'The amusing thing was Mrs. Seaton and Mr. Elsmere,' said Agnes. 'I just
love, as Mrs. Thornburgh says, to hear her instructing other people in
their own particular trades. She didn't get much change out of him.'

Rose gave Agnes her tea, and then, bending forward, with one hand on her
heart, said in a stage whisper, with a dramatic glance round the garden,
'My heart is whole. How is yours?'

'_Intact_,' said Agnes calmly, 'as that French bric-à-brac man in the
Brompton Road used to say of his pots. But he is very nice.'

'Oh, charming! But when my destiny arrives'--and Rose, returning to her
tea, swept her little hand with a teaspoon in it eloquently round--'he
won't have his hair cut close. I must have luxuriant locks, and I will
take _no_ excuse! _Une chevelure de poète_, the eye of an eagle, the
moustache of a hero, the hand of a Rubinstein, and, if it pleases him,
the temper of a fiend. He will be odious, insufferable for all the world
besides, except for me; and for me he will be heaven.'

She threw herself back, a twinkle in her bright eye, but a little flush
of something half real on her cheek.

'No doubt,' said Agnes drily. 'But you can't wonder if under the
circumstances I don't pine for a brother-in-law. To return to the
subject, however, Catherine liked him. She said so.'

'Oh, that doesn't count,' replied Rose discontentedly; 'Catherine likes
everybody--of a certain sort--and everybody likes Catherine.'

'Does that mean, Miss Hasty,' said her sister, 'that you have made up
your mind Catherine will never marry?'

'Marry!' cried Rose. 'You might as well talk of marrying Westminster
Abbey.'

Agnes looked at her attentively. Rose's fun had a decided lack of
sweetness. 'After all,' she said demurely, 'St. Elizabeth married.'

'Yes, but then she was a princess. Reasons of State. If Catherine were
"her Royal Highness" it would be her duty to marry, which would just
make _all_ the difference. Duty! I hate the word.'

And Rose took up a fir-cone lying near and threw it at the nose of the
collie, who made a jump at it, and then resumed an attitude of blinking
and dignified protest against his mistress's follies.

Agnes again studied her sister. 'What's the matter with you, Rose?'

'The usual thing, my dear,' replied Rose curtly, 'only more so. I had a
letter this morning from Carry Ford--the daughter, you know, of those
nice people I stayed in Manchester with last year. Well, she wants me to
go and stay the winter with them and study under a first-rate man,
Franzen, who is to be in Manchester two days a week during the winter. I
haven't said a word about it--what's the use? I know all Catherine's
arguments by heart. Manchester is not Whindale, and papa wished us to
live in Whindale; I am not somebody else and needn't earn my bread; and
art is not religion; and----'

'Wheels!' exclaimed Agnes. 'Catherine, I suppose, home from
Whinborough.'

Rose got up and peered through the rhododendron bushes at the top of the
wall which shut them off from the road.

'Catherine, and an unknown. Catherine driving at a foot's pace, and the
unknown walking beside her. Oh, I see, of course--Mr. Elsmere. He will
come in to tea, so I'll go for a cup. It is his duty to call on us
to-day.'

When Rose came back in the wake of her mother, Catherine and Robert
Elsmere were coming up the drive. Something had given Catherine more
colour than usual, and as Mrs. Leyburn shook hands with the young
clergyman her mother's eyes turned approvingly to her eldest daughter.
'After all, she is as handsome as Rose,' she said to herself--'though it
_is_ quite a different style.'

Rose, who was always tea-maker, dispensed her wares; Catherine took her
favourite low seat beside her mother, clasping Mrs. Leyburn's thin
mittened hand awhile tenderly in her own; Robert and Agnes set up a
lively gossip on the subject of the Thornburghs' guests, in which Rose
joined, while Catherine looked smiling on. She seemed apart from the
rest, Robert thought; not, clearly, by her own will, but by virtue of a
difference of temperament which could not but make itself felt. Yet once
as Rose passed her, Robert saw her stretch out her hand and touch her
sister caressingly, with a bright upward look and smile as though she
would say, 'Is all well? have you had a good time this afternoon,
Röschen?' Clearly the strong contemplative nature was not strong enough
to dispense with any of the little wants and cravings of human
affection. Compared to the main impression she was making on him, her
suppliant attitude at her mother's feet and her caress of her sister
were like flowers breaking through the stern March soil and changing the
whole spirit of the fields.

Presently he said something of Oxford, and mentioned Merton. Instantly
Mrs. Leyburn fell upon him. Had he ever seen Mr. S---- who had been a
Fellow there, and Rose's godfather?

'I don't acknowledge him,' said Rose, pouting. 'Other people's
godfathers give them mugs and corals. Mine never gave me anything but a
Concordance.'

Robert laughed, and proved to their satisfaction that Mr. S---- had been
extinct before his day. But could they ask him any other questions? Mrs.
Leyburn became quite animated, and, diving into her memory, produced a
number of fragmentary reminiscences of her husband's Queen's friends,
asking him for information about each and all of them. The young man
disentangled all her questions, racked his brains to answer, and showed
all through a quick friendliness, a charming deference as of youth to
age, which confirmed the liking of the whole party for him. Then the
mention of an associate of Richard Leyburn's youth, who had been one of
the Tractarian leaders, led him into talk of Oxford changes and the
influences of the present. He drew for them the famous High Church
preacher of the moment, described the great spectacle of his Bampton
Lectures, by which Oxford had been recently thrilled, and gave a
dramatic account of a sermon on evolution preached by the hermit-veteran
Pusey, as though by another Elias returning to the world to deliver a
last warning message to men. Catherine listened absorbed, her deep eyes
fixed upon him. And though all he said was pitched in a vivacious
narrative key and addressed as much to the others as to her, inwardly it
seemed to him that his one object all through was to touch and keep her
attention.

Then, in answer to inquiries about himself, he fell to describing St.
Anselm's with enthusiasm,--its growth, its Provost, its effectiveness as
a great educational machine, the impression it had made on Oxford and
the country. This led him naturally to talk of Mr. Grey, then, next to
the Provost, the most prominent figure in the college; and once
embarked on this theme he became more eloquent and interesting than
ever. The circle of women listened to him as to a voice from the large
world. He made them feel the beat of the great currents of English life
and thought; he seemed to bring the stir and rush of our central English
society into the deep quiet of their valley. Even the bright-haired
Rose, idly swinging her pretty foot, with a head full of dreams and
discontent, was beguiled, and for the moment seemed to lose her restless
self in listening.

He told an exciting story of a bad election riot in Oxford which had
been quelled at considerable personal risk by Mr. Grey, who had gained
his influence in the town by a devotion of years to the policy of
breaking down as far as possible the old venomous feud between city and
university.

When he paused, Mrs. Leyburn said, vaguely, 'Did you say he was a canon
of somewhere?'

'Oh no,' said Robert, smiling, 'he is not a clergyman.'

'But you said he preached,' said Agnes.

'Yes--but lay sermons--addresses. He is not one of us even, according to
your standard and mine.'

'A Nonconformist?' sighed Mrs. Leyburn. 'Oh, I know they have let in
everybody now.'

'Well, if you like,' said Robert. 'What I meant was that his opinions
are not orthodox. He could not be a clergyman, but he is one of the
noblest of men!'

He spoke with affectionate warmth. Then suddenly Catherine's eyes met
his, and he felt an involuntary start. A veil had fallen over them; her
sweet moved sympathy was gone; she seemed to have shrunk into herself.

She turned to Mrs. Leyburn. 'Mother, do you know, I have all sorts of
messages from Aunt Ellen'--and in an under-voice she began to give Mrs.
Leyburn the news of her afternoon expedition.

Rose and Agnes soon plunged young Elsmere into another stream of talk.
But he kept his feeling of perplexity. His experience of other women
seemed to give him nothing to go upon with regard to Miss Leyburn.

Presently Catherine got up and drew her plain little black cape round
her again.

'My dear!' remonstrated Mrs. Leyburn. 'Where are you off to now?'

'To the Backhouses, mother,' she said in a low voice; 'I have not been
there for two days. I must go this evening.'

Mrs. Leyburn said no more. Catherine's 'musts' were never disputed. She
moved towards Elsmere with outstretched hand. But he also sprang up.

'I, too, must be going,' he said; 'I have paid you an unconscionable
visit. If you are going past the vicarage, Miss Leyburn, may I escort
you so far?'

She stood quietly waiting while he made his farewells. Agnes, whose eye
fell on her sister during the pause, was struck with a passing sense of
something out of the common. She could hardly have defined her
impression, but Catherine seemed more alive to the outer world, more
like other people, less nun-like, than usual.

When they had left the garden together, as they had come into it, and
Mrs. Leyburn, complaining of chilliness, had retreated to the
drawing-room, Rose laid a quick hand on her sister's arm.

'You say Catherine likes him? Owl! what is a great deal more certain is
that he likes her.'

'Well,' said Agnes calmly,--'well, I await your remarks.'

'Poor fellow! said Rose grimly, and removed her hand.

Meanwhile Elsmere and Catherine walked along the valley road towards the
Vicarage. He thought, uneasily, she was a little more reserved with him
than she had been in those pleasant moments after he had overtaken her
in the pony-carriage; but still she was always kind, always courteous.
And what a white hand it was, hanging ungloved against her dress! what a
beautiful dignity and freedom, as of mountain winds and mountain
streams, in every movement!

'You are bound for High Ghyll?' he said to her as they neared the
vicarage gate. Is it not a long way for you? You have been at a meeting
already, your sister said, and teaching this morning!'

He looked down on her with a charming diffidence as though aware that
their acquaintance was very young, and yet with a warm eagerness of
feeling piercing through. As she paused under his eye the slightest
flush rose to Catherine's cheek. Then she looked up with a smile. It was
amusing to be taken care of by this tall stranger!

'It is most unfeminine, I am afraid,' she said, 'but I couldn't be tired
if I tried.'

Elsmere grasped her hand.

'You make me feel myself more than ever a shocking example,' he said,
letting it go with a little sigh. The smart of his own renunciation was
still keen in him. She lingered a moment, could find nothing to say,
threw him a look all shy sympathy and lovely pity, and was gone.

In the evening Robert got an explanation of that sudden stiffening in
his auditor of the afternoon, which had perplexed him. He and the vicar
were sitting smoking in the study after dinner, and the ingenious young
man managed to shift the conversation on to the Leyburns, as he had
managed to shift it once or twice before that day, flattering himself,
of course, on each occasion that his manoeuvres were beyond detection.
The vicar, good soul, by virtue of his original discovery, detected them
all, and with a sense of appropriation in the matter, not at all unmixed
with a sense of triumph over Mrs. T., kept the ball rolling merrily.

'Miss Leyburn seems to have very strong religious views,' said Robert,
_à propos_ of some remark of the vicar's as to the assistance she was to
him in the school.

'Ah, she is her father's daughter,' said the vicar genially. He had his
oldest coat on, his favourite pipe between his lips, and a bit of
domestic carpentering on his knee at which he was fiddling away; and,
being perfectly happy, was also perfectly amiable. 'Richard Leyburn was
a fanatic--as mild as you please, but immovable.'

'What line?'

'Evangelical, with a dash of Quakerism. He lent me Madame Guyon's Life
once to read. I didn't appreciate it. I told him that for all her
religion she seemed to me to have a deal of the vixen in her. He could
hardly get over it: it nearly broke our friendship. But I suppose he was
very like her, except that, in my opinion, his nature was sweeter. He
was a fatalist--saw leadings of Providence in every little thing. And
such a dreamer! When he came to live up here just before his death, and
all his active life was taken off him, I believe half his time he was
seeing visions. He used to wander over the fells and meet you with a
start, as though you belonged to another world than the one he was
walking in.'

'And his eldest daughter was much with him?'

'The apple of his eye. She understood him. He could talk his soul out to
her. The others, of course, were children; and his wife--well, his wife
was just what you see her now, poor thing. He must have married her when
she was very young and very pretty. She was a squire's daughter
somewhere near the school of which he was master--a good family, I
believe--she'll tell you so, in a ladylike way. He was always fidgety
about her health. He loved her, I suppose, or had loved her. But it was
Catherine who had his mind; Catherine who was his friend. She adored
him. I believe there was always a sort of pity in her heart for him too.
But at any rate he made her and trained her. He poured all his ideas and
convictions into her.'

'Which were strong?'

'Uncommonly. For all his gentle, ethereal look, you could neither bend
nor break him. I don't believe anybody but Richard Leyburn could have
gone through Oxford at the height of the Oxford Movement, and, so to
speak, have known nothing about it, while living all the time for
religion. He had a great deal in common with the Quakers, as I said; a
great deal in common with the Wesleyans; but he was very loyal to the
Church all the same. He regarded it as the golden mean. George Herbert
was his favourite poet. He used to carry his poems about with him on the
mountains, and an expurgated _Christian Year_--the only thing he ever
took from the High Churchmen--which he had made for himself, and which
he and Catherine knew by heart. In some ways he was not a bigot at all.
He would have had the Church make peace with the Dissenters; he was all
for upsetting tests so far as Nonconformity was concerned. But he drew
the most rigid line between belief and unbelief. He would not have dined
at the same table with a Unitarian if he could have helped it. I
remember a furious article of his in the _Record_ against admitting
Unitarians to the Universities or allowing them to sit in Parliament.
England is a Christian State, he said; they are not Christians; they
have no right in her except on sufferance. Well, I suppose he was about
right,' said the vicar with a sigh. 'We are all so half-hearted
nowadays.'

'Not he,' cried Robert hotly. 'Who are we that because a man differs
from us in opinion we are to shut him out from the education of
political and civil duty? But never mind, Cousin William. Go on.'

'There's no more that I remember, except that of course Catherine took
all these ideas from him. He wouldn't let his children know any
unbeliever, however apparently worthy and good. He impressed it upon
them as their special sacred duty, in a time of wicked enmity to
religion, to cherish the faith and the whole faith. He wished his wife
and daughters to live on here after his death that they might be less in
danger spiritually than in the big world, and that they might have more
opportunity of living the old-fashioned Christian life. There was also
some mystical idea, I think, of making up through his children for the
godless lives of their forefathers. He used to reproach himself for
having in his prosperous days neglected his family, some of whom he
might have helped to raise.'

'Well, but,' said Robert, 'all very well for Miss Leyburn, but I don't
see the father in the two younger girls.'

'Ah, there is Catherine's difficulty,' said the vicar, shrugging his
shoulders. 'Poor thing! How well I remember her after her father's
death! She came down to see me in the dining-room about some arrangement
for the funeral. She was only sixteen, so pale and thin with nursing. I
said something about the comfort she had been to her father. She took my
hand and burst into tears. "He was so good!" she said; "I loved him so!
Oh, Mr. Thornburgh, help me to look after the others!" And that's been
her one thought since then--that, next to following the narrow road.'

The vicar had begun to speak with emotion, as generally happened to him
whenever he was beguiled into much speech about Catherine Leyburn. There
must have been something great somewhere in the insignificant elderly
man. A meaner soul might so easily have been jealous of this girl with
her inconveniently high standards, and her influence, surpassing his
own, in his own domain.

'I should like to know the secret of the little musician's
independence,' said Robert, musing. 'There might be no tie of blood at
all between her and the elder, so far as I can see.'

'Oh, I don't know that! There's more than you think, or Catherine
wouldn't have kept her hold over her so far as she has. Generally she
gets her way, except about the music. There Rose sticks to it.'

'And why shouldn't she?'

'Ah, well, you see, my dear fellow, I am old enough, and you're not, to
remember what people in the old days used to think about art. Of course
nowadays we all say very fine things about it; but Richard Leyburn would
no more have admitted that a girl who hadn't got her own bread or her
family's to earn by it was justified in spending her time in fiddling
than he would have approved of her spending it in dancing. I have heard
him take a text out of the _Imitation_ and lecture Rose when she was
quite a baby for pestering any stray person she could get hold of to
give her music-lessons. "Woe to them"--yes, that was it--"that inquire
many curious things of men, and care little about the way of serving
me." However, he wasn't consistent. Nobody is. It was actually he that
brought Rose her first violin from London in a green baize bag. Mrs.
Leyburn took me in one night to see her asleep with it on her pillow,
and all her pretty curls lying over the strings. I daresay, poor man, it
was one of the acts towards his children that tormented his mind in his
last hour.'

'She has certainly had her way about practising it: she plays superbly.'

'Oh yes, she has had her way. She is a queer mixture, is Rose. I see a
touch of the old Leyburn recklessness in her; and then there is the
beauty and refinement of her mother's side of the family. Lately she has
got quite out of hand. She went to stay with some relations they have in
Manchester, got drawn into the musical set there, took to these funny
gowns, and now she and Catherine are always half at war. Poor Catherine
said to me the other day, with tears in her eyes, that she knew Rose
thought her as hard as iron. "But what can I do?" she said. "I promised
papa." She makes herself miserable, and it's no use. I wish the little
wild thing would get herself well married. She's not meant for this
humdrum place, and she may kick over the traces.'

'She's pretty enough for anything and anybody,' said Robert.

The vicar looked at him sharply, but the young man's critical and
meditative look reassured him.

The next day, just before early dinner, Rose and Agnes, who had been for
a walk, were startled, as they were turning into their own gate, by the
frantic waving of a white handkerchief from the vicarage garden. It was
Mrs. Thornburgh's accepted way of calling the attention of the Burwood
inmates, and the girls walked on. They found the good lady waiting for
them in the drive in a characteristic glow and flutter.

'My dears, I have been looking out for you all the morning! I should
have come over but for the stores coming, and a tiresome man from
Randall's. I've had to bargain with him for a whole hour about taking
back those sweets. I was swindled, of course, but we should have died if
we'd had to eat them up. Well, now, my dears----'

The vicar's wife paused. Her square short figure was between the two
girls; she had on arm of each, and she looked significantly from one to
another, her gray curls flapping across her face as she did so.

'Go on, Mrs. Thornburgh,' cried Rose. 'You make us quite nervous.'

'How do you like Mr. Elsmere?' she inquired solemnly.

'Very much,' said both in chorus.

Mrs. Thornburgh surveyed Rose's smiling frankness with a little sigh.
Things were going grandly, but she could imagine a disposition of
affairs which would have given her personally more pleasure.

'_How--would--you--like_--him for a brother-in-law?' she inquired,
beginning in a whisper, with slow emphasis, patting Rose's arm, and
bringing out the last words with a rush.

Agnes caught the twinkle in Rose's eye, but she answered for them both
demurely.

'We have no objection to entertain the idea. But you must explain.'

'Explain!' cried Mrs. Thornburgh. 'I should think it explains itself. At
least if you'd been in this house the last twenty-four hours you'd think
so. Since the moment when he first met her, it's been "Miss Leyburn,"
"Miss Leyburn," all the time. One might have seen it with half an eye
from the beginning.'

Mrs. Thornburgh had not seen it with two eyes, as we know, till it was
pointed out to her; but her imagination worked with equal liveliness
backwards or forwards.

'He went to see you yesterday, didn't he--yes, I know he did--and he
overtook her in the pony-carriage--the vicar saw them from across the
valley--and he brought her back from your house, and then he kept
William up till nearly twelve talking of her. And now he wants a picnic.
Oh, it's as plain as a pike-staff. And, my dears, _nothing_ to be said
against him. Fifteen hundred a year if he's a penny. A nice living, only
his mother to look after, and as good a young fellow as ever stepped.'

Mrs. Thornburgh stopped, choked almost by her own eloquence. The girls,
who had by this time established her between them on a garden-seat,
looked at her with smiling composure. They were accustomed to letting
her have her budget out.

'And now, of course,' she resumed, taking breath, and chilled a little
by their silence, 'now, of course, I want to know about Catherine?' She
regarded them with anxious interrogation. Rose, still smiling, slowly
shook her head.

'What!' cried Mrs. Thornburgh; then, with charming inconsistency, 'oh,
you can't know anything in two days.'

'That's just it,' said Agnes, intervening; 'we can't know anything in
two days. No one ever will know anything about Catherine, if she takes
to anybody, till the last minute.'

Mrs. Thornburgh's face fell. 'It's very difficult when people will be so
reserved,' she said dolefully.

The girls acquiesced, but intimated that they saw no way out of it.

'At any rate we can bring them together,' she broke out, brightening
again. 'We can have picnics, you know, and teas, and all that--and
watch. Now listen.'

And the vicar's wife sketched out a programme of festivities for the
next fortnight she had been revolving in her inventive head, which took
the sisters' breath away. Rose bit her lip to keep in her laughter.
Agnes with vast self-possession took Mrs. Thornburgh in hand. She
pointed out firmly that nothing would be so likely to make Catherine
impracticable as fuss. 'In vain is the net spread,' etc. She preached
from the text with a worldly wisdom which quickly crushed Mrs.
Thornburgh.

'Well, _what_ am I to do, my dears?' she said at last helplessly. 'Look
at the weather! We must have some picnics, if it's only to amuse
Robert.'

Mrs. Thornburgh spent her life between a condition of effervescence and
a condition of feeling the world too much for her. Rose and Agnes,
having now reduced her to the latter state, proceeded cautiously to give
her her head again. They promised her two or three expeditions and one
picnic at least; they said they would do their best; they promised they
would report what they saw and be very discreet, both feeling the comedy
of Mrs. Thornburgh as the advocate of discretion; and then they departed
to their early dinner, leaving the vicars wife decidedly less
self-confident than they found her.

'The first matrimonial excitement of the family,' cried Agnes as they
walked home. 'So far no one can say the Miss Leyburns have been
besieged!'

'It will be all moonshine,' Rose replied decisively. 'Mr. Elsmere may
lose his heart; we may aid and abet him; Catherine will live in the
clouds for a few weeks, and come down from them at the end with the air
of an angel, to give him his _coup de grâce_. As I said before--poor
fellow!'

Agnes made no answer. She was never so positive as Rose, and on the
whole did not find herself the worse for it in life. Besides, she
understood that there was a soreness at the bottom of Rose's heart that
was always showing itself in unexpected connections.

There was no necessity, indeed, for elaborate schemes for assisting
Providence. Mrs. Thornburgh had her picnics and her expeditions, but
without them Robert Elsmere would have been still man enough to see
Catherine Leyburn every day. He loitered about the roads along which she
must needs pass to do her many offices of charity; he offered the vicar
to take a class in the school, and was naïvely exultant that the vicar
curiously happened to fix an hour when he must needs see Miss Leyburn
going or coming on the same errand; he dropped into Burwood on any
conceivable pretext, till Rose and Agnes lost all inconvenient respect
for his cloth and Mrs. Leyburn sent him on errands; and he even insisted
that Catherine and the vicar should make use of him and his pastoral
services in one or two of the cases of sickness or poverty under their
care. Catherine, with a little more reserve than usual, took him one day
to the Tysons', and introduced him to the poor crippled son who was
likely to live on paralysed for some time, under the weight, moreover,
of a black cloud of depression which seldom lifted. Mrs. Tyson kept her
talking in the room, and she never forgot the scene. It showed her a new
aspect of a man whose intellectual life was becoming plain to her, while
his moral life was still something of a mystery. The look in Elsmere's
face as he sat bending over the maimed young farmer, the strength and
tenderness of the man, the diffidence of the few religious things he
said, and yet the reality and force of them, struck her powerfully. He
had forgotten her, forgotten everything save the bitter human need, and
the comfort it was his privilege to offer. Catherine stood answering
Mrs. Tyson at random, the tears rising in her eyes. She slipped out
while he was still talking, and went home strangely moved.

As to the festivities, she did her best to join in them. The sensitive
soul often reproached itself afterwards for having juggled in the
matter. Was it not her duty to manage a little society and gaiety for
her sisters sometimes? Her mother could not undertake it, and was always
plaintively protesting that Catherine would not be young. So for a short
week or two Catherine did her best to be young, and climbed the mountain
grass, or forded the mountain streams with the energy and the grace of
perfect health, trembling afterwards at night as she knelt by her window
to think how much sheer pleasure the day had contained. Her life had
always had the tension of a bent bow. It seemed to her once or twice
during this fortnight as though something were suddenly relaxed in her,
and she felt a swift Bunyan-like terror of backsliding, of falling away.
But she never confessed herself fully; she was even blind to what her
perspicacity would have seen so readily in another's case--the little
arts and manoeuvres of those about her. It did not strike her that
Mrs. Thornburgh was more flighty and more ebullient than ever; that the
vicar's wife kissed her at odd times, and with a quite unwonted
effusion; or that Agnes and Rose, when they were in the wild heart of
the mountains, or wandering far and wide in search of sticks for a
picnic fire, showed a perfect genius for avoiding Mr. Elsmere, whom both
of them liked, and that in consequence his society almost always fell to
her. Nor did she ever analyse what would have been the attraction of
those walks to her without that tall figure at her side, that bounding
step, that picturesque impetuous talk. There are moments when Nature
throws a kind of heavenly mist and dazzlement round the soul it would
fain make happy. The soul gropes blindly on; if it saw its way it might
be timid and draw back, but kind powers lead it genially onward through
a golden darkness.

Meanwhile if she did not know herself, she and Elsmere learnt with
wonderful quickness and thoroughness to know each other. The two
households so near together, and so isolated from the world besides,
were necessarily in constant communication. And Elsmere made a most
stirring element in their common life. Never had he been more keen, more
strenuous. It gave Catherine new lights on modern character altogether
to see how he was preparing himself for this Surrey living--reading up
the history, geology, and botany of the Weald and its neighbourhood,
plunging into reports of agricultural commissions, or spending his quick
brain on village sanitation, with the oddest results sometimes, so far
as his conversation was concerned. And then in the middle of his
disquisitions, which would keep her breathless with a sense of being
whirled through space at the tail of an electric kite, the kite would
come down with a run, and the preacher and reformer would come hat in
hand to the girl beside him, asking her humbly to advise him, to pour
out on him some of that practical experience of hers among the poor and
suffering, for the sake of which he would in an instant scornfully fling
out of sight all his own magnificent plannings. Never had she told so
much of her own life to any one; her consciousness of it sometimes
filled her with a sort of terror, lest she might have been trading, as
it were, for her own advantage on the sacred things of God. But he would
have it. His sympathy, his sweetness, his quick spiritual feeling drew
the stories out of her. And then how his bright frank eyes would soften!
With what a reverence would he touch her hand when she said good-bye!

And on her side she felt that she knew almost as much about Murewell as
he did. She could imagine the wild beauty of the Surrey heathland, she
could see the white square rectory with its sloping walled garden, the
juniper common just outside the straggling village; she could even
picture the strange squire, solitary in the great Tudor Hall, the author
of terrible books against the religion of Christ of which she shrank
from hearing, and share the anxieties of the young rector as to his
future relations towards a personality so marked, and so important to
every soul in the little community he was called to rule. Here all was
plain sailing; she understood him perfectly, and her gentle comments, or
her occasional sarcasms, were friendliness itself.

But it was when he turned to larger things--to books, movements, leaders
of the day--that she was often puzzled, sometimes distressed. Why would
he seem to exalt and glorify rebellion against the established order in
the person of Mr. Grey? Or why, ardent as his own faith was, would he
talk as though opinion was a purely personal matter, hardly in itself to
be made the subject of moral judgment at all, and as though right belief
were a blessed privilege and boon rather than a law and an obligation?
When his comments on men and things took this tinge, she would turn
silent, feeling a kind of painful opposition between his venturesome
speech and his clergyman's dress.

And yet, as we all know, these ways of speech were not his own. He was
merely talking the natural Christian language of this generation;
whereas she, the child of a mystic--solitary, intense, and deeply
reflective from her earliest youth--was still thinking and speaking in
the language of her father's generation.

But although, as often as his unwariness brought him near to these
points of jarring, he would hurry away from them, conscious that here
was the one profound difference between them, it was clear to him that
insensibly she had moved further than she knew from her father's
standpoint. Even among these solitudes, far from men and literature, she
had unconsciously felt the breath of her time in some degree. As he
penetrated deeper into the nature he found it honeycombed, as it were,
here and there, with beautiful unexpected softnesses and diffidences.
Once, after a long walk, as they were lingering homewards under a cloudy
evening sky, he came upon the great problem of her life--Rose and Rose's
art. He drew her difficulty from her with the most delicate skill. She
had laid it bare, and was blushing to think how she had asked his
counsel, almost before she knew where their talk was leading. How was it
lawful for the Christian to spend the few short years of the earthly
combat in any pursuit, however noble and exquisite, which merely aimed
at the gratification of the senses, and implied in the pursuer the
emphasising rather than the surrender of self?

He argued it very much as Kingsley would have argued it, tried to lift
her to a more intelligent view of a multifarious world, dwelling on the
function of pure beauty in life, and on the influence of beauty on
character, pointing out the value to the race of all individual
development, and pressing home on her the natural religious question:
How are the artistic aptitudes to be explained unless the Great Designer
meant them to have a use and function in His world? She replied
doubtfully that she had always supposed they were lawful for recreation,
and like any other trade for bread-winning, but----

Then he told her much that he knew about the humanising effect of music
on the poor. He described to her the efforts of a London society, of
which he was a subscribing member, to popularise the best music among
the lowest class; he dwelt almost with passion on the difference
between the joy to be got out of such things and the common brutalising
joys of the workman. And you could not have art without artists. In this
again he was only talking the commonplaces of his day. But to her they
were not commonplaces at all. She looked at him from time to time, her
great eyes lightening and deepening as it seemed with every fresh thrust
of his.

'I am grateful to you,' she said at last with an involuntary outburst,
'I am _very_ grateful to you!'

And she gave a long sigh as if some burden she had long borne in patient
silence had been loosened a little, if only by the fact of speech about
it. She was not convinced exactly. She was too strong a nature to
relinquish a principle without a period of meditative struggle in which
conscience should have all its dues. But her tone made his heart leap.
He felt in it a momentary self-surrender that, coming from a creature of
so rare a dignity, filled him with an exquisite sense of power, and yet
at the same time with a strange humility beyond words.

A day or two later he was the spectator of a curious little scene. An
aunt of the Leyburns living in Whinborough came to see them. She was
their father's youngest sister, and the wife of a man who had made some
money as a builder in Whinborough. When Robert came in he found her
sitting on the sofa having tea, a large homely-looking woman with gray
hair, a high brow, and prominent white teeth. She had unfastened her
bonnet strings, and a clean white handkerchief lay spread out on her
lap. When Elsmere was introduced to her, she got up, and said with some
effusiveness, and a distinct Westmoreland accent--

'Very pleased indeed to make your acquaintance, sir,' while she enclosed
his fingers in a capacious hand.

Mrs. Leyburn, looking fidgety and uncomfortable, was sitting near her,
and Catherine, the only member of the party who showed no sign of
embarrassment when Robert entered, was superintending her aunt's tea and
talking busily the while.

Robert sat down at a little distance beside Agnes and Rose, who were
chattering together a little artificially and of set purpose as it
seemed to him. But the aunt was not to be ignored. She talked too loud
not to be overheard, and Agnes inwardly noted that as soon as Robert
Elsmere appeared she talked louder than before. He gathered presently
that she was an ardent Wesleyan, and that she was engaged in describing
to Catherine and Mrs. Leyburn the evangelistic exploits of her eldest
son, who had recently obtained his first circuit as a Wesleyan minister.
He was shrewd enough, too, to guess, after a minute or two, that his
presence and probably his obnoxious clerical dress gave additional zest
to the recital.

'Oh, his success at Colesbridge has been somethin' marvellous,' he heard
her say, with uplifted hands and eyes, 'some-thin' marvellous. The Lord
has blessed him indeed! It doesn't matter what it is, whether it's
meetin's, or sermons, or parlour work, or just faithful dealin's with
souls one by one. Satan has no cliverer foe than Edward. He never shuts
his eyes; as Edward says himself, it's like trackin' for game is huntin'
for souls. Why, the other day he was walkin' out from Coventry to a
service. It was the Sabbath, and he saw a man in a bit of grass by the
roadside, mendin' his cart. And he stopped did Edward, and gave him the
Word _strong_. The man seemed puzzled like, and said he meant no harm.
"No harm!" says Edward, "when you're just doin' the devil's work every
nail you put in, and hammerin' away, mon, at your own damnation." But
here's his letter.' And while Rose turned away to a far window to hide
an almost hysterical inclination to laugh, Mrs. Fleming opened her bag,
took out a treasured paper, and read with the emphasis and the unction
peculiar to a certain type of revivalism--

'"Poor sinner! He was much put about. I left him, praying the Lord my
shaft might rankle in him; ay, might fester and burn in him till he
found no peace but in Jesus. He seemed very dark and destitute--no
respect for the Word or its ministers. A bit farther I met a boy
carrying a load of turnips. To him, too, I was faithful, and he went on,
taking, without knowing it, a precious leaflet with him in his bag.
Glorious work! If Wesleyans will but go on claiming even the highways
for God, sin will skulk yet."'

A dead silence. Mrs. Fleming folded up the letter and put it back into
her bag.

'There's your true minister,' she said, with a large judicial utterance
as she closed the snap. 'Wherever he goes Edward must have souls!'

And she threw a swift searching look at the young clergyman in the
window.

'He must have very hard work with so much walking and preaching,' said
Catherine gently.

Somehow, as soon as she spoke, Elsmere saw the whole odd little scene
with other eyes.

'His work is just wearin' him out,' said the mother fervently; 'but a
minister doesn't think of that. Wherever he goes there are sinners
saved. He stayed last week at a house near Nuneaton. At family prayer
alone there were five saved. And at the prayer-meetin's on the Sabbath
such outpourin's of the Spirit! Edward comes home, his wife tells me,
just ready to drop. Are you acquainted, sir,' she added, turning
suddenly to Elsmere, and speaking in a certain tone of provocation,
'with the labours of our Wesleyan ministers?'

'No,' said Robert, with his pleasant smile, 'not personally. But I have
the greatest respect for them as a body of devoted men.'

The look of battle faded from the woman's face. It was not an
unpleasant face. He even saw strange reminiscences of Catherine in it at
times.

'You're aboot right there, sir. Not that they dare take any credit to
themselves--it's grace, sir, all grace.'

'Aunt Ellen,' said Catherine, while a sudden light broke over her face;
'I just want you to take Edward a little story from me. Ministers are
good things, but God can do without them.'

And she laid her hand on her aunt's knee with a smile in which there was
the slightest touch of affectionate satire.

'I was up among the fells the other day,' she went on; 'I met an elderly
man cutting wood in a plantation, and I stopped and asked him how he
was. "Ah, miss," he said, "verra weel, verra weel. And yet it was nobbut
Friday morning lasst, I cam oop here, awfu' bad in my sperrits like. For
my wife she's sick, an' a' dwinnelt away, and I'm gettin' auld, and
can't wark as I'd used to, and it did luke to me as thoo there was
naethin' afore us nobbut t' Union. And t' mist war low on t' fells, and
I sat oonder t' wall, wettish and broodin' like. And theer--all ov a
soodent the Lord found me! Yes, puir Reuben Judge, as dawn't matter to
naebody, the Lord found un. It war leyke as thoo His feeace cam
a-glisterin' an' a-shinin' through t' mist. An' iver sence then, miss,
aa've jest felt as thoo aa could a' cut an' stackt all t' wood on t'
fell in naw time at a'!" And he waved his hand round the mountain side
which was covered with plantation. And all the way along the path for
ever so long I could hear him singing, chopping away, and quavering out,
"Rock of Ages."'

She paused, her delicate face, with just a little quiver in the lip,
turned to her aunt, her eyes glowing as though a hidden fire had leapt
suddenly outward. And yet the gesture, the attitude, was simplicity and
unconsciousness itself. Robert had never heard her say anything so
intimate before. Nor had he ever seen her so inspired, so beautiful. She
had transmuted the conversation at a touch. It had been barbarous prose;
she had turned it into purest poetry. Only the noblest souls have such
an alchemy as this at command, thought the watcher on the other side of
the room with a passionate reverence.

'I wasn't thinkin' of narrowin' the Lord down to ministers,' said Mrs.
Fleming, with a certain loftiness. 'We all know He can do without us
puir worms.'

Then, seeing that no one replied, the good woman got up to go. Much of
her apparel had slipped away from her in the fervours of revivalist
anecdote, and while she hunted for gloves and reticule--officiously
helped by the younger girls--Robert crossed over to Catherine.

'You lifted us on to your own high places!' he said, bending down to
her; 'I shall carry your story with me through the fells.'

She looked up, and as she met his warm moved look a little glow and
tremor crept into the face, destroying its exalted expression. He broke
the spell; she sank from the poet into the embarrassed woman.

'You must see my old man,' she said, with an effort; 'he is worth a
library of sermons. I must introduce him to you.'

He could think of nothing else to say just then, but could only stand
impatiently wishing for Mrs. Fleming's disappearance, that he might
somehow appropriate her eldest niece. But alas! when she went, Catherine
went out with her, and reappeared no more, though he waited some time.

He walked home in a whirl of feeling; on the way he stopped, and leaning
over a gate which led into one of the river-fields gave himself up to
the mounting tumult within. Gradually, from the half-articulate chaos of
hope and memory, there emerged the deliberate voice of his inmost
manhood.

'In her and her only is my heart's desire! She and she only if she will,
and God will, shall be my wife!'

He lifted his head and looked out on the dewy field, the evening beauty
of the hills, with a sense of immeasurable change--

                            'Tears
    Were in his eyes, and in his ears
    The murmur of a thousand years.'

He felt himself knit to his kind, to his race, as he had never felt
before. It was as though, after a long apprenticeship, he had sprung
suddenly into maturity--entered at last into the full human heritage.
But the very intensity and solemnity of his own feeling gave him a rare
clear-sightedness. He realised that he had no certainty of success,
scarcely even an entirely reasonable hope. But what of that? Were they
not together, alone, practically, in these blessed solitudes? Would they
not meet to-morrow, and next day, and the day after? Were not time and
opportunity all his own? How kind her looks are even now! Courage! And
through that maidenly kindness his own passion shall send the last,
transmuting glow.



CHAPTER VII


The following morning about noon, Rose, who had been coaxed and
persuaded by Catherine, much against her will, into taking a singing
class at the school, closed the school door behind her with a sigh of
relief, and tripped up the road to Burwood.

'How abominably they sang this morning!' she said to herself with
curving lip. 'Talk of the natural north-country gift for music! What
ridiculous fictions people set up! Dear me, what clouds! Perhaps we
shan't get our walk to Shanmoor after all, and if we don't, and
if--if--' her cheek flushed with a sudden excitement--'if Mr. Elsmere
doesn't propose, Mrs. Thornburgh will be unmanageable. It is all Agnes
and I can do to keep her in bounds as it is, and if _something_ doesn't
come off to-day, she'll be for reversing the usual proceeding, and
asking _Catherine_ her intentions, which would ruin everything.'

Then raising her head she swept her eyes round the sky. The wind was
freshening, the clouds were coming up fast from the westward; over the
summit of High Fell and the crags on either side, a gray straight-edged
curtain was already lowering.

'It will hold up yet awhile,' she thought, 'and if it rains later we can
get a carriage at Shanmoor and come back by the road.'

And she walked on homewards meditating, her thin fingers clasped before
her, the wind blowing her skirts, the blue ribbons on her hat, the
little gold curls on her temples, in a pretty many-coloured turmoil
about her. When she got to Burwood she shut herself into the room which
was peculiarly hers, the room which had been a stable. Now it was full
of artistic odds and ends--her fiddle, of course, and piles of music,
her violin stand, a few deal tables and cane chairs beautified by a
number of _chiffons_, bits of Liberty stuffs with the edges still
ragged, or cheap morsels of Syrian embroidery. On the tables stood
photographs of musicians and friends--the spoils of her visits to
Manchester, and of two visits to London which gleamed like golden points
in the girl's memory. The plastered walls were covered with an odd
medley. Here was a round mirror, of which Rose was enormously proud. She
had extracted it from a farmhouse of the neighbourhood, and paid for it
with her own money. There a group of unfinished headlong sketches of the
most fiercely impressionist description--the work and the gift of a knot
of Manchester artists, who had fêted and flattered the beautiful little
Westmoreland girl, when she was staying among them, to her heart's
content. Manchester, almost alone among our great towns of the present
day, has not only a musical, but a pictorial life of its own; its young
artists dub themselves 'a school,' study in Paris, and when they come
home scout the Academy and its methods, and pine to set up a rival
art-centre, skilled in all the methods of the Salon, in the murky north.
Rose's uncle, originally a clerk in a warehouse, and a rough diamond
enough, had more or less moved with the times, like his brother Richard;
at any rate he had grown rich, had married a decent wife, and was glad
enough to befriend his dead brother's children, who wanted nothing of
him, and did their uncle a credit of which he was sensible, by their
good manners and good looks. Music was the only point at which he
touched the culture of the times, like so many business men; but it
pleased him also to pose as a patron of local art; so that when Rose
went to stay with her childless uncle and aunt, she found long-haired
artists and fiery musicians about the place, who excited and encouraged
her musical gift, who sketched her while she played, and talked to the
pretty, clever, unformed creature of London and Paris and Italy, and
set her pining for that golden _vie de Bohème_ which she alone
apparently of all artists was destined never to know.

For she was an artist--she would be an artist--let Catherine say what
she would! She came back from Manchester restless for she knew not what,
thirsty for the joys and emotions of art, determined to be free,
reckless, passionate; with Wagner and Brahms in her young blood; and
found Burwood waiting for her--Burwood, the lonely house in the lonely
valley, of which Catherine was the presiding genius. _Catherine!_ For
Rose, what a multitude of associations clustered round the name! To her
it meant everything at this moment against which her soul rebelled--the
most scrupulous order, the most rigid self-repression, the most
determined sacrificing of 'this warm kind world,' with all its
indefensible delights, to a cold other-world with its torturing
inadmissible claims. Even in the midst of her stolen joys at Manchester
or London, this mere name, the mere mental image of Catherine moving
through life, wrapped in a religious peace and certainty as austere as
they were beautiful, and asking of all about her the same absolute
surrender to an awful Master she gave so easily herself, was enough to
chill the wayward Rose, and fill her with a kind of restless despair.
And at home, as the vicar said, the two sisters were always on the verge
of conflict. Rose had enough of her father in her to suffer in
resisting, but resist she must by the law of her nature.

Now, as she threw off her walking things, she fell first upon her
violin, and rushed through a Brahms's 'Liebeslied,' her eyes dancing,
her whole light form thrilling with the joy of it; and then with a
sudden revulsion she stopped playing, and threw herself down listlessly
by the open window. Close by against the wall was a little
looking-glass, by which she often arranged her ruffled locks; she
glanced at it now, it showed her a brilliant face enough, but drooping
lips, and eyes darkened with the extravagant melancholy of eighteen.

'It is come to a pretty pass,' she said to herself, 'that I should be
able to think of nothing but schemes for getting Catherine married and
out of my way! Considering what she is and what I am, and how she has
slaved for us all her life, I seem to have descended pretty low. Heigh
ho!'

And with a portentous sigh she dropped her chin on her hand. She was
half acting, acting to herself. Life was not really quite unbearable,
and she knew it. But it relieved her to overdo it.

'I wonder how much chance there is,' she mused presently. 'Mr. Elsmere
will soon be ridiculous. Why, _I_ saw him gather up those violets she
threw away yesterday on Moor Crag. And as for her, I don't believe she
has realised the situation a bit. At least, if she has, she is as unlike
other mortals in this as in everything else. But when she does----'

She frowned and meditated, but got no light on the problem. Chattie
jumped up on the window-sill, with her usual stealthy _aplomb_, and
rubbed herself against the girl's face.

'Oh, Chattie!' cried Rose, throwing her arms round the cat, 'if
Catherine 'll _only_ marry Mr. Elsmere, my dear, and be happy ever
afterwards, and set me free to live my own life a bit, I'll be so good,
you won't know me, Chattie. And you shall have a new collar, my beauty,
and cream till you die of it!'

And springing up she dragged in the cat, and snatching a scarlet anemone
from a bunch on the table, stood opposite Chattie, who stood slowly
waving her magnificent tail from side to side, and glaring as though it
were not at all to her taste to be hustled and bustled in this way.

'Now, Chattie, listen! Will she?'

A leaf of the flower dropped on Chattie's nose.

'Won't she? Will she? Won't she? Will---- Tiresome flower, why did
Nature give it such a beggarly few petals? If I'd had a daisy it would
have all come right. Come, Chattie, waltz; and let's forget this wicked
world!'

And, snatching up her violin, the girl broke into a Strauss waltz,
dancing to it the while, her cotton skirts flying, her pretty feet
twinkling, till her eyes glowed, and her cheeks blazed with a double
intoxication--the intoxication of movement, and the intoxication of
sound--the cat meanwhile following her with little mincing perplexed
steps, as though not knowing what to make of her.

'Rose, you madcap!' cried Agnes, opening the door.

'Not at all, my dear,' said Rose calmly, stopping to take breath.
'Excellent practice and uncommonly difficult. Try if you can do it, and
see!'

The weather held up in a gray grudging sort of way, and Mrs. Thornburgh
especially was all for braving the clouds and going on with the
expedition. It was galling to her that she herself would have to be
driven to Shanmoor behind the fat vicarage pony, while the others would
be climbing the fells, and all sorts of exciting things might be
happening. Still it was infinitely better to be half in it than not in
it at all, and she started by the side of the vicarage 'man' in a most
delicious flutter. The skies might fall any day now. Elsmere had not
confided in her, though she was unable to count the openings she had
given him thereto. For one of the frankest of men he had kept his
secret, so far as words went, with a remarkable tenacity. Probably the
neighbourhood of Mrs. Thornburgh was enough to make the veriest
chatterbox secretive. But notwithstanding, no one possessing the clue
could live in the same house with him these June days without seeing
that the whole man was absorbed, transformed, and that the crisis might
be reached at any moment. Even the vicar was eager and watchful, and
playing up to his wife in fine style, and if the situation had so
worked on the vicar, Mrs. Thornburgh's state is easier imagined than
described.

The walk to Shanmoor need not be chronicled. The party kept together.
Robert fancied sometimes that there was a certain note of purpose in the
way in which Catherine clung to the vicar. If so it did not disquiet
him. Never had she been kinder, more gentle. Nay, as the walk went on a
lovely gaiety broke through her tranquil manner, as though she, like the
others, had caught exhilaration from the sharpened breeze and the
towering mountains, restored to all their grandeur by the storm clouds.

And yet she had started in some little inward trouble. She had promised
to join this walk to Shanmoor, she had promised to go with the others on
a picnic the following day, but her conscience was pricking her. Twice
this last fortnight had she been forced to give up a night-school she
held in a little lonely hamlet among the fells, because even _she_ had
been too tired to walk there and back after a day of physical exertion.
Were not the world and the flesh encroaching? She had been conscious of
a strange inner restlessness as they all stood waiting in the road for
the vicar and Elsmere. Agnes had thought her looking depressed and pale,
and even dreamt for a moment of suggesting to her to stay at home. And
then ten minutes after they had started it had all gone, her depression,
blown away by the winds,--or charmed away by a happy voice, a manly
presence, a keen responsive eye?

Elsmere, indeed, was gaiety itself. He kept up an incessant war with
Rose; he had a number of little jokes going at the vicar's expense,
which kept that good man in a half-protesting chuckle most of the way;
he cleared every gate that presented itself in first-rate Oxford form,
and climbed every point of rock with a cat-like agility that set the
girls scoffing at the pretence of invalidism under which he had foisted
himself on Whindale.

'How fine all this black purple is!' he cried, as they topped the ridge,
and the Shanmoor valley lay before them, bounded on the other side by
line after line of mountain, Wetherlam and the Pikes and Fairfield in
the far distance, piled sombrely under a sombre sky. 'I had grown quite
tired of the sun. He had done his best to make you commonplace.'

'Tired of the sun in Westmoreland?' said Catherine, with a little
mocking wonder. 'How wanton, how prodigal!'

'Does it deserve a Nemesis?' he said, laughing. 'Drowning from now till
I depart? No matter. I can bear a second deluge with an even mind. On
this enchanted soil all things are welcome!'

She looked up, smiling, at his vehemence, taking it all as a tribute to
the country, or to his own recovered health. He stood leaning on his
stick, gazing, however, not at the view but at her. The others stood a
little way off laughing and chattering. As their eyes met, a strange
new pulse leapt up in Catherine.

'The wind is very boisterous here,' she said, with a shiver. 'I think we
ought to be going on.'

And she hurried up to the others, nor did she leave their shelter till
they were in sight of the little Shanmoor inn, where they were to have
tea. The pony carriage was already standing in front of the inn, and
Mrs. Thornburgh's gray curls shaking at the window.

'William!' she shouted, 'bring them in. Tea is just ready, and Mr.
Ruskin was here last week, and there are ever so many new names in the
visitors' book!'

While the girls went in Elsmere stood looking a moment at the inn, the
bridge, and the village. It was a characteristic Westmoreland scene. The
low whitewashed inn, with its newly painted signboard, was to his right,
the pony at the door lazily flicking off the flies and dropping its
greedy nose in search of the grains of corn among the cobbles; to his
left a gray stone bridge over a broad light-filled river; beyond, a
little huddled village backed by and apparently built out of the great
slate quarry which represented the only industry of the neighbourhood,
and a tiny towered church--the scene on the Sabbath of Mr. Mayhew's
ministrations. Beyond the village, shoulders of purple fell, and behind
the inn masses of broken crag rising at the very head of the valley into
a fine pike, along whose jagged edges the rain-clouds were trailing.
There was a little lurid storm-light on the river, but, in general, the
colour was all dark and rich, the white inn gleaming on a green and
purple background. He took it all into his heart, covetously, greedily,
trying to fix it there for ever.

Presently he was called in by the vicar, and found a tempting tea spread
in a light upper room, where Agnes and Rose were already making fun of
the chromo-lithographs and rummaging the visitors' book. The scrambling,
chattering meal passed like a flash. At the beginning of it Mrs.
Thornburgh's small gray eyes had travelled restlessly from face to face,
as though to say, 'What--_no_ news yet? Nothing happened?' As for
Elsmere, though it seemed to him at the time one of the brightest
moments of existence, he remembered little afterwards but the scene: the
peculiar clean mustiness of the room only just opened for the summer
season, a print of the Princess of Wales on the wall opposite him, a
stuffed fox over the mantelpiece, Rose's golden head and heavy amber
necklace, and the figure at the vicar's right, in a gown of a little
dark blue check, the broad hat shading the white brow and luminous eyes.

When tea was over they lounged out on the bridge. There was to be no
long lingering, however. The clouds were deepening, the rain could not
be far off. But if they started soon they could probably reach home
before it came down. Elsmere and Rose hung over the gray stone parapet,
mottled with the green and gold of innumerable mosses, and looked down
through a fringe of English maidenhair growing along the coping, into
the clear eddies of the stream. Suddenly he raised himself on one elbow,
and, shading his eyes, looked to where the vicar and Catherine were
standing in front of the inn, touched for an instant by a beam of fitful
light slipping between two great rain-clouds.

'How well that hat and dress become your sister!' he said, the words
breaking, as it were, from his lips.

'Do you think Catherine pretty?' said Rose with an excellent pretence of
innocence, detaching a little pebble and flinging it harmlessly at a
water-wagtail balancing on a stone below.

He flushed. 'Pretty! You might as well apply the word to your mountains,
to the exquisite river, to that great purple peak!'

'Yes,' thought Rose, 'she is not unlike that high cold peak!' But her
girlish sympathy conquered her; it was very exciting, and she liked
Elsmere. She turned back to him, her face overspread with a quite
irrepressible smile. He reddened still more, then they stared into each
other's eyes, and without a word more understood each other perfectly.

Rose held out her hand to him with a little brusque _bon camarade_
gesture. He pressed it warmly in his.

'That was nice of you!' he cried. 'Very nice of you! Friends then?'

She nodded, and drew her hand away just as Agnes and the vicar disturbed
them.

Meanwhile Catherine was standing by the side of the pony carriage,
watching Mrs. Thornburgh's preparations.

'You're sure you don't mind driving home alone?' she said in a troubled
voice. 'Mayn't I go with you?'

'My dear, certainly not! As if I wasn't accustomed to going about alone
at my time of life! No, no, my dear, you go and have your walk; you'll
get home before the rain. Ready, James.'

The old vicarage factotum could not imagine what made his charge so
anxious to be off. She actually took the whip out of his hand and gave a
flick to the pony, who swerved and started off in a way which would have
made his mistress clamorously nervous under any other circumstances.
Catherine stood looking after her.

'Now, then, right about face and quick march!' exclaimed the vicar.
'We've got to race that cloud over the Pike. It'll be up with us in no
time.'

Off they started, and were soon climbing the slippery green slopes, or
crushing through the fern of the fell they had descended earlier in the
afternoon. Catherine for some little way walked last of the party, the
vicar in front of her. Then Elsmere picked a stonecrop, quarrelled over
its precise name with Rose, and waited for Catherine, who had a very
close and familiar knowledge of the botany of the district.

'You have crushed me,' he said, laughing, as he put the flower carefully
into his pocket-book; 'but it is worth while to be crushed by any one
who can give so much ground for their knowledge. How you do know your
mountains--from their peasants to their plants!'

'I have had more than ten able-bodied years living and scrambling among
them,' she said, smiling.

'Do you keep up all your visits and teaching in the winter?'

'Oh, not so much, of course! But people must be helped and taught in the
winter. And our winter is often not as hard as yours down south.'

'Do you go on with that night-school in Poll Ghyll, for instance?' he
said, with another note in his voice.

Catherine looked at him and coloured. 'Rose has been telling tales,' she
said. 'I wish she would leave my proceedings alone. Poll Ghyll is the
family bone of contention at present. Yes, I go on with it. I always
take a lantern when the night is dark, and I know every inch of the
ground, and Bob is always with me; aren't you, Bob?'

And she stooped down to pat the collie beside her. Bob looked up at her,
blinking with a proudly confidential air as though to remind her that
there were a good many such secrets between them.

'I like to fancy you with your lantern in the dark,' he cried, the
hidden emotion piercing through, 'the night wind blowing about you, the
black mountains to right and left of you, some little stream, perhaps,
running beside you for company, your dog guarding you, and all good
angels going with you.'

She flushed still more deeply; the impetuous words affected her
strangely.

'Don't fancy it at all,' she said, laughing. 'It is a very small and
very natural incident of one's life here. Look back, Mr. Elsmere; the
rain has beaten us!'

He looked back and saw the great Pike over Shanmoor village blotted out
in a moving deluge of rain. The quarry opposite on the mountain side
gleamed green and vivid against the ink-black fell; some clothes hanging
out in the field below the church flapped wildly hither and thither in
the sudden gale, the only spot of white in the prevailing blackness;
children with their petticoats over their heads ran homewards along the
road the walking party had just quitted; the stream beneath, spreading
broadly through the fields, shivered and wrinkled under the blast. Up it
came, and the rain mists with it. In another minute the storm was
beating in their faces.

'Caught!' cried Elsmere, in a voice almost of jubilation. 'Let me help
you into your cloak, Miss Leyburn.'

He flung it round her, and struggled into his own mackintosh. The vicar
in front of them turned and waved his hand to them in laughing despair,
then hurried after the others, evidently with the view of performing
for them the same office Elsmere had just performed for Catherine.

Robert and his companion struggled on for a while in a breathless
silence against the deluge, which seemed to beat on them from all sides.
He walked behind her, sheltering her by his tall form and his big
umbrella as much as he could. His pulses were all aglow with the joy of
the storm. It seemed to him that he rejoiced with the thirsty grass over
which the rain streams were running, that his heart filled with the
shrunken becks as the flood leapt along them. Let the elements thunder
and rave as they pleased. Could he not at a word bring the light of that
face, those eyes, upon him? Was she not his for a moment in the rain and
the solitude, as she had never been in the commonplace sunshine of their
valley life?

Suddenly he heard an exclamation, and saw her run on in front of him.
What was the matter? Then he noticed for the first time that Rose, far
ahead, was still walking in her cotton dress. The little scatterbrain
had, of course, forgotten her cloak. But, monstrous! There was Catherine
stripping off her own, Rose refusing it. In vain. The sister's
determined arms put it round her. Rose is enwrapped, buttoned up before
she knows where she is, and Catherine falls back, pursued by some shaft
from Rose, more sarcastic than grateful, to judge by the tone of it.

'Miss Leyburn, what have you been doing?'

'Rose had forgotten her cloak,' she said briefly. 'She has a very thin
dress on, and she is the only one of us that takes cold easily.'

'You must take my mackintosh,' he said at once.

She laughed in his face.

'As if I should do anything of the sort!'

'You must,' he said, quietly stripping it off. 'Do you think that you
are always to be allowed to go through the world taking thought of other
people and allowing no one to take thought for you?'

He held it out to her.

'No, no! This is absurd, Mr. Elsmere. You are not strong yet. And I have
often told you that nothing hurts me.'

He hung it deliberately over his arm. 'Very well, then, there it stays!'

And they hurried on again, she biting her lip and on the point of
laughter.

'Mr. Elsmere, be sensible!' she said presently, her look changing to one
of real distress. 'I should never forgive myself if you got a chill
after your illness!'

'You will not be called upon,' he said in the most matter-of-fact tone.
'Men's coats are made to keep out weather,' and he pointed to his own,
closely buttoned up. 'Your dress--I can't help being disrespectful under
the circumstances--will be wet through in ten minutes.'

Another silence. Then he overtook her.

'Please, Miss Leyburn,' he said, stopping her.

There was an instant's mute contest between them. The rain splashed on
the umbrellas. She could not help it, she broke down into the merriest,
most musical laugh of a child that can hardly stop itself, and he
joined.

'Mr. Elsmere, you are ridiculous!'

But she submitted. He put the mackintosh round her, thinking, bold man,
as she turned her rosy rain-dewed face to him, of Wordsworth's 'Louisa,'
and the poet's cry of longing.

And yet he was not so bold either. Even at this moment of exhilaration
he was conscious of a bar that checked and arrested. Something--what was
it?--drew invisible lines of defence about her. A sort of divine fear of
her mingled with his rising passion. Let him not risk too much too soon.

They walked on briskly, and were soon on the Whindale side of the pass.
To the left of them the great hollow of High Fell unfolded, storm-beaten
and dark, the river issuing from the heart of it like an angry voice.

'What a change!' he said, coming up with her as the path widened. 'How
impossible that it should have been only yesterday afternoon I was
lounging up here in the heat, by the pool where the stream rises,
watching the white butterflies on the turf, and reading "Laodamia"!'

'"Laodamia"!' she said, half sighing as she caught the name. 'Is it one
of those you like best?'

'Yes,' he said, bending forward that he might see her in spite of the
umbrella. 'How superb it is--the roll, the majesty of it; the severe
chastened beauty of the main feeling, the individual lines!'

And he quoted line after line, lingering over the cadences.

'It was my father's favourite of all,' she said, in the low vibrating
voice of memory. 'He said the last verse to me the day before he died.'

Robert recalled it--

        'Yet tears to human suffering are due,
    And mortal hopes defeated and o'erthrown
    Are mourned by man, and not by man alone
    As fondly we believe.'

Poor Richard Leyburn! Yet where had the defeat lain?

'Was he happy in his school life?' he asked gently. 'Was teaching what
he liked?'

'Oh yes--only--' Catherine paused and then added hurriedly, as though
drawn on in spite of herself by the grave sympathy of his look, 'I never
knew anybody so good who thought himself of so little account. He always
believed that he had missed everything, wasted everything, and that
anybody else would have made infinitely more out of his life. He was
always blaming, scourging himself. And all the time he was the noblest,
purest, most devoted----'

She stopped. Her voice had passed beyond her control. Elsmere was
startled by the feeling she showed. Evidently he had touched one of the
few sore places in this pure heart. It was as though her memory of her
father had in it elements of almost intolerable pathos, as though the
child's brooding love and loyalty were in perpetual protest, even now
after this lapse of years, against the verdict which an over-scrupulous,
despondent soul had pronounced upon itself. Did she feel that he had
gone uncomforted out of life--even by her--even by religion?--was that
the sting?

'Oh, I can understand!' he said reverently--'I can understand. I have
come across it once or twice, that fierce self-judgment of the good. It
is the most stirring and humbling thing in life.' Then his voice
dropped. 'And after the last conflict--the last "quailing breath"--the
last onslaughts of doubt or fear--think of the Vision waiting--the
Eternal Comfort--

    '"Oh, my only Light!
          It cannot be
          That I am he
      On whom Thy tempests fell all night!"'

The words fell from the softened voice like noble music.

There was a pause. Then Catherine raised her eyes to his. They swam in
tears, and yet the unspoken thanks in them were radiance itself. It
seemed to him as though she came closer to him like a child to an elder
who has soothed and satisfied an inward smart.

They walked on in silence. They were just nearing the swollen river
which roared below them. On the opposite bank two umbrellas were
vanishing through the field gate into the road, but the vicar had turned
and was waiting for them. They could see his becloaked figure leaning on
his stick through the light wreaths of mist that floated above the
tumbling stream. The abnormally heavy rain had ceased, but the clouds
seemed to be dragging along the very floor of the valley.

The stepping-stones came into sight. He leaped on the first and held out
his hand to her. When they started she would have refused his help with
scorn. Now, after a moment's hesitation she yielded, and he felt her
dear weight on him as he guided her carefully from stone to stone. In
reality it is both difficult and risky to be helped over
stepping-stones. You had much better manage for yourself; and half way
through Catherine had a mind to tell him so. But the words died on her
lips which smiled instead. He could have wished that passage from stone
to stone could have lasted for ever. She was wrapped up grotesquely in
his mackintosh; her hat was all bedraggled; her gloves dripped in his;
and in spite of all he could have vowed that anything so lovely as that
delicately cut, gravely smiling face, swaying above the rushing brown
water, was never seen in Westmoreland wilds before.

'It is clearing,' he cried, with ready optimism, as they reached the
bank. 'We shall get our picnic to-morrow after all--we _must_ get it!
Promise me it shall be fine--and you will be there!'

The vicar was only fifty yards away waiting for them against the field
gate. But Robert held her eagerly, imperiously,--and it seemed to her,
her head was still dizzy with the water.

'Promise!' he repeated, his voice dropping.

She could not stop to think of the absurdity of promising for
Westmoreland weather. She could only say faintly 'Yes!' and so release
her hand.

'You _are_ pretty wet!' said the vicar, looking from one to the other
with a curiosity which Robert's quick sense divined at once was directed
to something else than the mere condition of their garments. But
Catherine noticed nothing; she walked on wrestling blindly with she knew
not what till they reached the vicarage gate. There stood Mrs.
Thornburgh, the light drizzle into which the rain had declined beating
unheeded on her curls and ample shoulders. She stared at Robert's
drenched condition, but he gave her no time to make remarks.

'Don't take it off,' he said with a laughing wave of the hand to
Catherine; 'I will come for it to-morrow morning.'

And he ran up the drive, conscious at last that it might be prudent to
get himself into something less spongelike than his present attire as
quickly as possible.

The vicar followed him.

'Don't keep Catherine, my dear. There's nothing to tell. Nobody's the
worse.'

Mrs. Thornburgh took no heed. Opening the iron gate she went through it
on to the deserted rain-beaten road, laid both her hands on Catherine's
shoulders, and looked her straight in the eyes. The vicar's anxious hint
was useless. She could contain herself no longer. She had watched them
from the vicarage come down the fell together, had seen them cross the
stepping stones, lingeringly, hand in hand.

'My dear Catherine!' she cried, effusively kissing Catherine's glowing
cheek under the shelter of the laurustinus that made a bower of the
gate. 'My _dear_ Catherine!'

Catherine gazed at her in astonishment. Mrs. Thornburgh's eyes were all
alive, and swarming with questions. If it had been Rose she would have
let them out in one fell flight. But Catherine's personality kept her in
awe. And after a second, as the two stood together, a deep flush rose on
Catherine's face, and an expression of half-frightened apology dawned in
Mrs. Thornburgh's.

Catherine drew herself away. 'Will you please give Mr. Elsmere his
mackintosh?' she said, taking it off; 'I shan't want it this little
way.'

And putting it on Mrs. Thornburgh's arm she turned away, walking quickly
round the bend of the road.

Mrs. Thornburgh watched her open-mouthed, and moved slowly back to the
house in a state of complete collapse.

'I always knew'--she said with a groan--'I always knew it would never go
right if it was Catherine! _Why_ was it Catherine?'

And she went in, still hurling at Providence the same vindictive query.

Meanwhile Catherine, hurrying home, the receding flush leaving a sudden
pallor behind it, was twisting her hands before her in a kind of agony.

'What have I been doing?' she said to herself. 'What have I been doing?'

At the gate of Burwood something made her look up. She saw the girls in
their own room--Agnes was standing behind, Rose had evidently rushed
forward to see Catherine come in, and now retreated as suddenly when she
saw her sister look up.

Catherine understood it all in an instant. 'They, too, are on the
watch,' she thought to herself bitterly. The strong reticent nature was
outraged by the perception that she had been for days the unconscious
actor in a drama of which her sisters and Mrs. Thornburgh had been the
silent and intelligent spectators.

She came down presently from her room very white and quiet, admitted
that she was tired, and said nothing to anybody. Agnes and Rose noticed
the change at once, whispered to each other when they found an
opportunity, and foreboded ill.

After their tea-supper, Catherine, unperceived, slipped out of the
little lane gate, and climbed the stony path above the house leading on
to the fell. The rain had ceased, but the clouds hung low and
threatening, and the close air was saturated with moisture. As she
gained the bare fell, sounds of water met her on all sides. The river
cried hoarsely to her from below, the becks in the little ghylls were
full and thunderous; and beside her over the smooth grass slid many a
new-born rivulet, the child of the storm, and destined to vanish with
the night. Catherine's soul went out to welcome the gray damp of the
hills. She knew them best in this mood. They were thus most her own.

She climbed on till at last she reached the crest of the ridge. Behind
her lay the valley, and on its further side the fells she had crossed in
the afternoon. Before her spread a long green vale, compared to which
Whindale with its white road, its church, and parsonage, and scattered
houses, was the great world itself. Marrisdale had no road and not a
single house. As Catherine descended into it she saw not a sign of human
life. There were sheep grazing in the silence of the long June twilight;
the blackish walls ran down and up again, dividing the green hollow with
melancholy uniformity. Here and there was a sheepfold, suggesting the
bleakness of winter nights; and here and there a rough stone barn for
storing fodder. And beyond the vale, eastwards and northwards, Catherine
looked out upon a wild sea of moors wrapped in mists, sullen and
storm-beaten, while to the left the clouds hung deepest and inkiest over
the high points of the Ullswater mountains.

When she was once below the pass, man and his world were shut out. The
girl figure in the blue cloak and hood was absolutely alone. She
descended till she reached a point where a little stream had been turned
into a stone trough for cattle. Above it stood a gnarled and solitary
thorn. Catherine sank down on a rock at the foot of the tree. It was a
seat she knew well; she had lingered there with her father; she had
thought and prayed there as girl and woman; she had wrestled there often
with despondency or grief, or some of those subtle spiritual temptations
which were all her pure youth had known, till the inner light had dawned
again, and the humble enraptured soul could almost have traced amid the
shadows of that dappled moorland world, between her and the clouds, the
white stoles and 'sleeping wings' of ministering spirits.

But no wrestle had ever been so hard as this. And with what fierce
suddenness had it come upon her! She looked back over the day with
bewilderment. She could see dimly that the Catherine who had started on
that Shanmoor walk had been full of vague misgivings other than those
concerned with a few neglected duties. There had been an undefined sense
of unrest, of difference, of broken equilibrium. She had shown it in the
way in which at first she had tried to keep herself and Robert Elsmere
apart.

And then; beyond the departure from Shanmoor she seemed to lose the
thread of her own history. Memory was drowned in a feeling to which the
resisting soul as yet would give no name. She laid her head on her knees
trembling. She heard again the sweet imperious tones with which he broke
down her opposition about the cloak; she felt again the grasp of his
steadying hand on hers.

But it was only for a very few minutes that she drifted thus. She raised
her head again, scourging herself in shame and self-reproach,
recapturing the empire of the soul with a strong effort. She set herself
to a stern analysis of the whole situation. Clearly Mrs. Thornburgh and
her sisters had been aware for some indefinite time that Mr. Elsmere had
been showing a peculiar interest in her. _Their_ eyes had been open. She
realised now with hot cheeks how many meetings and _tête-à-têtes_ had
been managed for her and Elsmere, and how complacently she had fallen
into Mrs. Thornburgh's snares.

'Have I encouraged him?' she asked herself sternly.

'Yes,' cried the smarting conscience.

'Can I marry him?'

'No,' said conscience again; 'not without deserting your post, not
without betraying your trust.'

What post? What trust? Ah, conscience was ready enough with the answer.
Was it not just ten years since, as a girl of sixteen, prematurely old
and thoughtful, she had sat beside her father's deathbed, while her
delicate hysterical mother, in a state of utter collapse, was kept away
from him by the doctors? She could see the drawn face, the restless
melancholy eyes. 'Catherine, my darling, you are the strong one. They
will look to you. Support them.' And she could see in imagination her
own young face pressed against the pillows. 'Yes, father,
always--always!'--'Catherine, life is harder, the narrow way narrower
than ever. I die'--and memory caught still the piteous, long-drawn
breath by which the voice was broken--'in much--much perplexity about
many things. You have a clear soul, an iron will. Strengthen the others.
Bring them safe to the day of account.'--'Yes, father, with God's help.
Oh, with God's help!'

That long-past dialogue is clear and sharp to her now, as though it were
spoken afresh in her ears. And how has she kept her pledge? She looks
back humbly on her life of incessant devotion, on the tie of long
dependence which has bound to her her weak and widowed mother, on her
relations to her sisters, the efforts she has made to train them in the
spirit of her father's life and beliefs.

Have those efforts reached their term? Can it be said in any sense that
her work is done, her promise kept?

Oh, no--no! she cries to herself with vehemence. Her mother depends on
her every day and hour for protection, comfort, enjoyment. The girls are
at the opening of life,--Agnes twenty, Rose eighteen, with all
experience to come. And Rose---- Ah! at the thought of Rose, Catherine's
heart sinks deeper and deeper--she feels a culprit before her father's
memory. What is it has gone so desperately wrong with her training of
the child? Surely she has given love enough, anxious thought enough, and
here is Rose only fighting to be free from the yoke of her father's
wishes, from the galling pressure of the family tradition!

No. Her task has just now reached its most difficult, its most critical,
moment. How can she leave it? Impossible.

What claim can she put against these supreme claims--of her promise, her
mother's and sisters' need?

_His_ claim? Oh, no--no! She admits with soreness and humiliation
unspeakable that she has done him wrong. If he loves her she has opened
the way thereto; she confesses in her scrupulous honesty that when the
inevitable withdrawal comes she will have given him cause to think of
her hardly, slightingly. She flinches painfully under the thought. But
it does not alter the matter. This girl, brought up in the austerest
school of Christian self-government, knows nothing of the divine rights
of passion. Half modern literature is based upon them. Catherine Leyburn
knew of no supreme right but the right of God to the obedience of man.

Oh, and besides--besides--it is impossible that he should care so very
much. The time is so short--there is so little in her, comparatively, to
attract a man of such resource, such attainments, such access to the
best things of life.

She cannot--in a kind of terror--she _will_ not, believe in her own
love-worthiness, in her own power to deal a lasting wound.

Then her _own_ claim? Has she any claim, has the poor bounding heart
that she cannot silence, do what she will, through all this strenuous
debate, no claim to satisfaction, to joy?

She locks her hands round her knees, conscious, poor soul, that the
worst struggle is _here_, the quickest agony _here_. But she does not
waver for an instant. And her weapons are all ready. The inmost soul of
her is a fortress well stored, whence at any moment the mere personal
craving of the natural man can be met, repulsed, slain.

'_Man approacheth so much the nearer unto God the farther he departeth
from all earthly comfort._'

'_If thou couldst perfectly annihilate thyself and empty thyself of all
created love, then should I be constrained to flow into thee with
greater abundance of grace._'

'_When thou lookest unto the creature the sight of the Creator is
withdrawn from thee._'

'_Learn in all things to overcome thyself for the love of thy
Creator...._'

She presses the sentence she has so often meditated in her long solitary
walks about the mountains into her heart. And one fragment of George
Herbert especially rings in her ears, solemnly, funereally--

    'Thy Saviour sentenced joy!'

Ay, sentenced it for ever--the personal craving, the selfish need, that
must be filled at any cost. In the silence of the descending night
Catherine quietly, with tears, carried out that sentence, and slew her
young new-born joy at the feet of the Master.

She stayed where she was for a while after this crisis in a kind of
bewilderment and stupor, but maintaining a perfect outward tranquillity.
Then there was a curious little epilogue.

'It is all over,' she said to herself tenderly. 'But he has taught me so
much--he has been so good to me--he is so good! Let me take to my heart
some counsel--some word of his, and obey it sacredly--silently--for
these days' sake.'

Then she fell thinking again, and she remembered their talk about Rose.
How often she had pondered it since! In this intense trance of feeling
it breaks upon her finally that he is right. May it not be that he with
his clearer thought, his wider knowledge of life, has laid his finger on
the weak point in her guardianship of her sisters? 'I have tried to
stifle her passion,' she thought, 'to push it out of the way as a
hindrance. Ought I not rather to have taught her to make of it a step
in the ladder--to have moved her to bring her gifts to the altar? Oh,
let me take his word for it--be ruled by him in this one thing, once!'

She bowed her face on her knees again. It seemed to her that she had
thrown herself at Elsmere's feet, that her cheek was pressed against
that young brown hand of his. How long the moment lasted she never knew.
When at last she rose stiff and weary, darkness was overtaking even the
lingering northern twilight. The angry clouds had dropped lower on the
moors; a few sheep beside the glimmering stone trough showed dimly
white; the night wind was sighing through the untenanted valley and the
scanty branches of the thorn. White mists lay along the hollow of the
dale; they moved weirdly under the breeze. She could have fancied them a
troop of wraiths to whom she had flung her warm crushed heart, and who
were bearing it away to burial.

As she came slowly over the pass and down the Whindale side of the fell
a clear purpose was in her mind. Agnes had talked to her only that
morning of Rose and Rose's desire, and she had received the news with
her habitual silence.

The house was lit up when she returned. Her mother had gone upstairs.
Catherine went to her, but even Mrs. Leyburn discovered that she looked
worn out, and she was sent off to bed. She went along the passage
quickly to Rose's room, listening a moment at the door. Yes, Rose was
inside, crooning some German song, and apparently alone. She knocked and
went in.

Rose was sitting on the edge of her bed, a white dressing-gown over her
shoulders, her hair in a glorious confusion all about her. She was
swaying backwards and forwards dreamily singing, and she started up when
she saw Catherine.

'Röschen,' said the elder sister, going up to her with a tremor of
heart, and putting her motherly arms round the curly golden hair and the
half-covered shoulders, 'you never told me of that letter from
Manchester, but Agnes did. Did you think, Röschen, I would never let you
have your way? Oh, I am not so hard! I may have been wrong--I think I
have been wrong; you shall do what you will, Röschen. If you want to go,
I will ask mother.'

Rose, pushing herself away with one hand, stood staring. She was struck
dumb by this sudden breaking down of Catherine's long resistance. And
what a strange white Catherine! What did it mean? Catherine withdrew her
arms with a little sigh and moved away.

'I just came to tell you that, Röschen,' she said, 'but I am very tired
and must not stay.'

Catherine 'very tired'! Rose thought the skies must be falling.

'Cathie!' she cried, leaping forward just as her sister gained the door.
'Oh, Cathie, you are an angel, and I am a nasty, odious little wretch.
But oh, tell me, what is the matter?'

And she flung her strong young arms round Catherine with a passionate
strength.

The elder sister struggled to release herself.

'Let me go, Rose,' she said in a low voice. 'Oh, you _must_ let me go!'

And wrenching herself free, she drew her hand over her eyes as though
trying to drive away the mist from them.

'Good-night! Sleep well.'

And she disappeared, shutting the door noiselessly after her. Rose stood
staring a moment, and then swept off her feet by a flood of many
feelings--remorse, love, fear, sympathy--threw herself face downwards on
her bed and burst into a passion of tears.



CHAPTER VIII


Catherine was much perplexed as to how she was to carry out her
resolution; she pondered over it through much of the night. She was
painfully anxious to make Elsmere understand without a scene, without a
definite proposal and a definite rejection. It was no use letting things
drift. Something brusque and marked there must be. She quietly made her
dispositions.

It was long after the gray vaporous morning stole on the hills before
she fell lightly, restlessly asleep. To her healthful youth a sleepless
night was almost unknown. She wondered through the long hours of it,
whether now, like other women, she had had her story, passed through her
one supreme moment, and she thought of one or two worthy old maids she
knew in the neighbourhood with a new and curious pity. Had any of them,
too, gone down into Marrisdale and come up widowed indeed?

All through, no doubt, there was a certain melancholy pride in her own
spiritual strength. 'It was not mine,' she would have said with perfect
sincerity, 'but God's.' Still, whatever its source, it had been there at
command, and the reflection carried with it a sad sense of security. It
was as though a soldier after his first skirmish should congratulate
himself on being bulletproof.

To be sure, there was an intense trouble and disquiet in the thought
that she and Mr. Elsmere must meet again, probably many times. The
period of his original invitation had been warmly extended by the
Thornburghs. She believed he meant to stay another week or ten days in
the valley. But in the spiritual exaltation of the night she felt
herself equal to any conflict, any endurance, and she fell asleep, the
hands clasped on her breast expressing a kind of resolute patience, like
those of some old sepulchral monument.

The following morning Elsmere examined the clouds and the barometer with
abnormal interest. The day was sunless and lowering, but not raining,
and he represented to Mrs. Thornburgh, with a hypocritical assumption of
the practical man, that with rugs and mackintoshes it was possible to
picnic on the dampest grass. But he could not make out the vicar's wife.
She was all sighs and flightiness. She 'supposed they could go,' and
'didn't see what good it would do them'; she had twenty different views,
and all of them more or less mixed up with pettishness, as to the best
place for a picnic on a gray day; and at last she grew so difficult that
Robert suspected something desperately wrong with the household, and
withdrew lest male guests might be in the way. Then she pursued him into
the study and thrust a _Spectator_ into his hands, begging him to convey
it to Burwood. She asked it lugubriously with many sighs, her cap much
askew. Robert could have kissed her, curls and all, one moment for
suggesting the errand, and the next could almost have signed her
committal to the county lunatic asylum with a clear conscience. What an
extraordinary person it was!

Off he went, however, with his _Spectator_ under his arm, whistling.
Mrs. Thornburgh caught the sounds through an open window, and tore the
flannel across she was preparing for a mothers' meeting with a noise
like the rattle of musketry. Whistling! She would like to know what
grounds he had for it, indeed! She always knew--she always said, and she
would go on saying--that Catherine Leyburn would die an old maid.

Meanwhile Robert had strolled across to Burwood with the lightest heart.
By way of keeping all his anticipations within the bounds of strict
reason, he told himself that it was impossible he should see 'her' in
the morning. She was always busy in the morning.

He approached the house as a Catholic might approach a shrine. That was
her window, that upper casement with the little Banksia rose twining
round it. One night, when he and the vicar had been out late on the
hills, he had seen a light streaming from it across the valley, and had
thought how the mistress of the maiden solitude within shone 'in a
naughty world.'

In the drive he met Mrs. Leyburn, who was strolling about the garden.
She at once informed him with much languid plaintiveness that Catherine
had gone to Whinborough for the day, and would not be able to join the
picnic.

Elsmere stood still.

'_Gone!_' he cried. 'But it was all arranged with her yesterday!' Mrs.
Leyburn shrugged her shoulders. She too was evidently much put out.

'So I told her. But you know, Mr. Elsmere'--and the gentle widow dropped
her voice as though communicating a secret--'when Catherine's once made
up her mind, you may as well try to dig away High Fell as move her. She
asked me to tell Mrs. Thornburgh--will you, please?--that she found it
was her day for the orphan asylum, and one or two other pieces of
business, and she must go.'

'_Mrs. Thornburgh!_' And not a word for him--for _him_ to whom she had
given her promise? She had gone to Whinborough to avoid him, and she had
gone in the brusquest way, that it might be unmistakable.

The young man stood with his hands thrust into the pockets of his long
coat, hearing with half an ear the remarks that Mrs. Leyburn was making
to him about the picnic. Was the wretched thing to come off after all?

He was too proud and sore to suggest an alternative. But Mrs. Thornburgh
managed that for him. When he got back, he told the vicar in the hall of
Miss Leyburn's flight in the fewest possible words, and then his long
legs vanished up the stairs in a twinkling, and the door of his room
shut behind him. A few minutes afterwards Mrs. Thornburgh's shrill voice
was heard in the hall calling to the servant.

'Sarah, let the hamper alone. Take out the chickens.'

And a minute after the vicar came up to his door.

'Elsmere, Mrs. Thornburgh thinks the day is too uncertain; better put it
off.'

To which Elsmere from inside replied with a vigorous assent. The vicar
slowly descended to tackle his spouse, who seemed to have established
herself for the morning in his sanctum, though the parish accounts were
clamouring to be done, and this morning in the week belonged to them by
immemorial usage.

But Mrs. Thornburgh was unmanageable. She sat opposite to him with one
hand on each knee, solemnly demanding of him if _he_ knew what was to be
done with young women nowadays, because _she_ didn't.

The tormented vicar declined to be drawn into so illimitable a subject,
recommended patience, declared that it might be all a mistake, and tried
hard to absorb himself in the consideration of 2s. 8d. _plus_ 2s. 11d.
_minus_ 9d.

'And I suppose, William,' said his wife to him at last, with withering
sarcasm, 'that you'd sit by and see Catherine break that young man's
heart, and send him back to his mother no better than he came here, in
spite of all the beef-tea and jelly Sarah and I have been putting into
him, and never lift a finger. You'd see his life _blasted_ and you'd do
nothing--nothing, I suppose.'

And she fixed him with a fiercely interrogative eye.

'Of course,' cried the vicar, roused; 'I should think so. What good did
an outsider ever get by meddling in a love affair? Take care of
yourself, Emma. If the girl doesn't care for him, you can't make her.'

The vicar's wife rose, the upturned corners of her mouth saying
unutterable things.

'Doesn't care for him!' she echoed in a tone which implied that her
husband's headpiece was past praying for.

'Yes, doesn't care for him!' said the vicar, nettled. 'What else should
make her give him a snub like this?'

Mrs. Thornburgh looked at him again with exasperation. Then a curious
expression stole into her eyes.

'Oh, the Lord only knows!' she said, with a hasty freedom of speech
which left the vicar feeling decidedly uncomfortable as she shut the
door after her.

However, if the Higher Powers alone _knew_, Mrs. Thornburgh was
convinced that she could make a very shrewd guess at the causes of
Catherine's behaviour. In her opinion it was all pure 'cussedness.'
Catherine Leyburn had always conducted her life on principles entirely
different from those of other people. Mrs. Thornburgh wholly denied, as
she sat bridling by herself, that it was a Christian necessity to make
yourself and other people uncomfortable. Yet this was what this perverse
young woman was always doing. Here was a charming young man who had
fallen in love with her at first sight, and had done his best to make
the fact plain to her in the most chivalrous devoted ways. Catherine
encourages him, walks with him, talks with him, is for a whole three
weeks more gay and cheerful and more like other girls than she has ever
been known to be, and then, at the end of it, just when everybody is
breathlessly awaiting the natural _dénouement_, goes off to spend the
day that should have been the day of her betrothal in pottering about
orphan asylums, leaving everybody, but especially the poor young man, to
look ridiculous! No, Mrs. Thornburgh had no patience with her--none at
all. It was all because she would not be happy like anybody else, but
must needs set herself up to be peculiar. Why not live on a pillar, and
go into hair-shirts at once? Then the rest of the world would know what
to be at.

Meanwhile Rose was in no small excitement. While her mother and Elsmere
had been talking in the garden she had been discreetly waiting in the
back behind the angle of the house, and when she saw Elsmere walk off
she followed him with eager sympathetic eyes.

'Poor fellow!' she said to herself, but this time with the little tone
of patronage which a girl of eighteen, conscious of graces and good
looks, never shrinks from assuming towards an elder male, especially a
male in love with some one else. 'I wonder whether he thinks he knows
anything about Catherine.'

But her own feeling to-day was very soft and complex. Yesterday it had
been all hot rebellion. To-day it was all remorse and wondering
curiosity. What had brought Catherine into her room, with that white
face, and that bewildering change of policy? What had made her do this
brusque, discourteous thing to-day? Rose, having been delayed by the
loss of one of her goloshes in a bog, had been once near her and Elsmere
during that dripping descent from Shanmoor. They had been so clearly
absorbed in one another that she had fled on guiltily to Agnes, golosh
in hand, without waiting to put it on; confident, however, that neither
Elsmere nor Catherine had been aware of her little adventure. And at the
Shanmoor tea Catherine herself had discussed the picnic, offering, in
fact, to guide the party to a particular ghyll in High Fell, better
known to her than any one else.

'Oh, of course it's our salvation in this world and the next that's in
the way,' thought Rose, sitting crouched up in a grassy nook in the
garden, her shoulders up to her ears, her chin in her hands. 'I wish to
goodness Catherine wouldn't think so much about mine, at any rate. I
hate,' added this incorrigible young person--'I hate being the third
part of a "moral obstacle" against my will. I declare I don't believe we
should any of us go to perdition even if Catherine did marry. And what a
wretch I am to think so after last night! Oh dear, I wish she'd let me
do something for her; I wish she'd ask me to black her boots for her, or
put in her tuckers, or tidy her drawers for her, or anything worse
still, and I'd do it and welcome!'

It was getting uncomfortably serious all round, Rose admitted. But there
was one element of comedy besides Mrs. Thornburgh, and that was Mrs.
Leyburn's unconsciousness.

'Mamma is too good,' thought the girl, with a little ripple of laughter.
'She takes it as a matter of course that all the world should admire us,
and she'd scorn to believe that anybody did it from interested motives.'

Which was perfectly true. Mrs. Leyburn was too devoted to her daughters
to feel any fidgety interest in their marrying. Of course the most
eligible persons would be only too thankful to marry them when the
moment came. Meanwhile her devotion was in no need of the confirming
testimony of lovers. It was sufficient in itself, and kept her mind
gently occupied from morning till night. If it had occurred to her to
notice that Robert Elsmere had been paying special attentions to any one
in the family, she would have suggested with perfect _naïveté_ that it
was herself. For he had been to her the very pink of courtesy and
consideration, and she was of opinion that 'poor Richard's views' of the
degeneracy of Oxford men would have been modified could he have seen
this particular specimen.

Later on in the morning Rose had been out giving Bob a run, while Agnes
drove with her mother. On the way home she overtook Elsmere returning
from an errand for the vicar.

'It is not so bad,' she said to him, laughing, pointing to the sky; 'we
really might have gone.'

'Oh, it would have been cheerless,' he said simply. His look of
depression amazed her. She felt a quick movement of sympathy, a wild
wish to bid him cheer up and fight it out. If she could just have shown
him Catherine as she looked last night! Why couldn't she talk it out
with him? Absurd conventions! She had half a mind to try.

But the grave look of the man beside her deterred even her young
half-childish audacity.

'Catherine will have a good day for all her business,' she said
carelessly.

He assented quietly. Oh, after that hand-shake on the bridge yesterday
she could not stand it,--she must give him a hint how the land lay.

'I suppose she will spend the afternoon with Aunt Ellen. Mr. Elsmere,
what did you think of Aunt Ellen?'

Elsmere started, and could not help smiling into the young girl's
beautiful eyes, which were radiant with fun.

'A most estimable person,' he said. 'Are you on good terms with her,
Miss Rose?'

'Oh dear, no!' she said, with a little face. 'I'm not a Leyburn; I wear
æsthetic dresses, and Aunt Ellen has "special leadings of the spirit" to
the effect that the violin is a soul-destroying instrument. Oh
dear!'--and the girl's mouth twisted--'it's alarming to think, if
Catherine hadn't been Catherine, how like Aunt Ellen she might have
been!'

She flashed a mischievous look at him, and thrilled as she caught the
sudden change of expression in his face.

'Your sister has the Westmoreland strength in her--one can see that,' he
said, evidently speaking with some difficulty.

'Strength! Oh yes. Catherine has plenty of strength,' cried Rose, and
then was silent a moment. 'You know, Mr. Elsmere,' she went on at last,
obeying some inward impulse--'or perhaps you don't know--that, at home,
we are all Catherine's creatures. She does exactly what she likes with
us. When my father died she was sixteen, Agnes was ten, I was eight. We
came here to live--we were not very rich of course, and mamma wasn't
strong. Well, she did everything: she taught us--we have scarcely had
any teacher but her since then; she did most of the housekeeping; and
you can see for yourself what she does for the neighbours and poor folk.
She is never ill, she is never idle, she always knows her own mind. We
owe everything we are, almost everything we have, to her. Her nursing
has kept mamma alive through one or two illnesses. Our lawyer says he
never knew any business affairs better managed than ours, and Catherine
manages them. The one thing she never takes any care or thought for is
herself. What we should do without her I can't imagine; and yet
sometimes I think if it goes on much longer none of us three will have
any character of our own left. After all, you know, it may be good for
the weak people to struggle on their own feet, if the strong would only
believe it, instead of always being carried. The strong people _needn't_
be always trampling on themselves,--if they only knew----'

She stopped abruptly, flushing scarlet over her own daring. Her eyes
were feverishly bright, and her voice vibrated under a strange mixture
of feelings--sympathy, reverence, and a passionate inner admiration
struggling with rebellion and protest.

They had reached the gate of the vicarage. Elsmere stopped and looked at
his companion with a singular lightening of expression. He saw perfectly
that the young impetuous creature understood him, that she felt his
cause was not prospering, and that she wanted to help him. He saw that
what she meant by this picture of their common life was that no one need
expect Catherine Leyburn to be an easy prey; that she wanted to impress
on him in her eager way that such lives as her sister's were not to be
gathered at a touch, without difficulty, from the branch that bears
them. She was exhorting him to courage,--nay, he caught more than
exhortation--a sort of secret message from her bright excited looks and
incoherent speech that made his heart leap. But pride and delicacy
forbade him to put his feeling into words.

'You don't hope to persuade me that your sister reckons _you_ among the
weak persons of the world?' he said, laughing, his hand on the gate.
Rose could have blessed him for thus turning the conversation. What on
earth could she have said next?

She stood bantering a little longer, and then ran off with Bob.

Elsmere passed the rest of the morning wandering meditatively over the
cloudy fells. After all he was only where he was, before the blessed
madness, the upflooding hope, nay, almost certainty, of yesterday. His
attack had been for the moment repulsed. He gathered from Rose's manner
that Catherine's action with regard to the picnic had not been unmeaning
nor accidental, as on second thoughts he had been half-trying to
persuade himself. Evidently those about her felt it to be ominous. Well,
then, at worst, when they met they would meet on a different footing,
with a sense of something critical between them. Oh, if he did but know
a little more clearly how he stood! He spent a noonday hour on a gray
rock on the side of the fell between Whindale and Marrisdale, studying
the path opposite, the stepping-stones, the bit of white road. The
minutes passed in a kind of trance of memory. Oh, that soft child-like
movement to him, after his speech about her father! that heavenly
yielding and self-forgetfulness which shone in her every look and
movement as she stood balancing on the stepping-stones! If after all she
should prove cruel to him, would he not have a legitimate grievance, a
heavy charge to fling against her maiden gentleness? He trampled on the
notion. Let her do with him as she would, she would be his saint always,
unquestioned, unarraigned.

But with such a memory in his mind it was impossible that any man, least
of all a man of Elsmere's temperament, could be very hopeless. Oh yes,
he had been rash, foolhardy. Do such divine creatures stoop to mortal
men as easily as he had dreamt? He recognises all the difficulties, he
enters into the force of all the ties that bind her--or imagines that he
does. But he is a man and her lover: and if she loves him, in the end
love will conquer--must conquer. For his more modern sense, deeply
Christianised as it is, assumes almost without argument the sacredness
of passion and its claim--wherein a vast difference between himself and
that solitary wrestler in Marrisdale.

Meanwhile he kept all his hopes and fears to himself. Mrs. Thornburgh
was dying to talk to him; but though his mobile, boyish temperament made
it impossible for him to disguise his change of mood, there was in him a
certain natural dignity which life greatly developed, but which made it
always possible for him to hold his own against curiosity and
indiscretion. Mrs. Thornburgh had to hold her peace. As for the vicar,
he developed what were for him a surprising number of new topics of
conversation, and in the late afternoon took Elsmere a run up the fells
to the nearest fragment of the Roman road which runs, with such
magnificent disregard of the humours of Mother Earth, over the very top
of High Street towards Penrith and Carlisle.

Next day it looked as though after many waverings the characteristic
Westmoreland weather had descended upon them in good earnest. From early
morn till late evening the valley was wrapped in damp clouds or moving
rain, which swept down from the west through the great basin of the
hills, and rolled along the course of the river, wrapping trees and
fells and houses in the same misty cheerless drizzle. Under the outward
pall of rain, indeed, the valley was renewing its summer youth; the
river was swelling with an impetuous music through all its dwindled
channels; the crags flung out white waterfalls again, which the heat had
almost dried away; and by noon the whole green hollow was vocal with the
sounds of water--water flashing and foaming in the river, water leaping
downwards from the rocks, water dripping steadily from the larches and
sycamores and the slate-eaves of the houses.

Elsmere sat indoors reading up the history of the parish system of
Surrey, or pretending to do so. He sat in a corner of the study, where
he and the vicar protected each other against Mrs. Thornburgh. That good
woman would open the door once and again in the morning, and put her
head through in search of prey; but on being confronted with two
studious men instead of one, each buried up to the ears in folios, she
would give vent to an irritable cough and retire discomfited. In reality
Elsmere was thinking of nothing in the world but what Catherine Leyburn
might be doing that morning. Judging a North countrywoman by the
pusillanimous Southern standard, he found himself glorying in the
weather. She could not wander far from him to-day.

After the early dinner he escaped, just as the vicar's wife was devising
an excuse on which to convey both him and herself to Burwood, and
sallied forth with a mackintosh for a rush down the Whinborough road. It
was still raining, but the clouds showed a momentary lightening, and a
few gleams of watery sunshine brought out every now and then that
sparkle on the trees, that iridescent beauty of distance and atmosphere
which goes so far to make a sensitive spectator forget the petulant
abundance of mountain rain. Elsmere passed Burwood with a thrill. Should
he or should he not present himself? Let him push on a bit and think. So
on he swung, measuring his tall frame against the gusts, spirits and
masculine energy rising higher with every step. At last the passion of
his mood had wrestled itself out with the weather, and he turned back
once more determined to seek and find her, to face his fortunes like a
man. The warm rain beating from the west struck on his uplifted face. He
welcomed it as a friend. Rain and storm had opened to him the gates of a
spiritual citadel. What could ever wholly close it against him any more?
He felt so strong, so confident! Patience and courage!

Before him the great hollow of High Fell was just coming out from the
white mists surging round it. A shaft of sunlight lay across its upper
end, and he caught a marvellous apparition of a sunlit valley hung in
air, a pale strip of blue above it, a white thread of stream wavering
through it, and all around it and below it the rolling rain-clouds.

Suddenly between him and that enchanter's vision he saw a dark slim
figure against the mists, walking before him along the road. It was
Catherine--Catherine just emerged from a footpath across the fields,
battling with wind and rain, and quite unconscious of any spectator. Oh,
what a sudden thrill was that! what a leaping together of joy and dread,
which sent the blood to his heart! Alone--they two alone again--in the
wild Westmoreland mists, and half a mile at least of winding road
between them and Burwood. He flew after her, dreading, and yet longing
for the moment when he should meet her eyes. Fortune had suddenly given
this hour into his hands; he felt it open upon him like that mystic
valley in the clouds.

Catherine heard the hurrying steps behind her and turned. There was an
evident start when she caught sight of her pursuer--a quick change of
expression. She wore a close-fitting waterproof dress and cap. Her hair
was lightly loosened, her cheek freshened by the storm. He came up with
her; he took her hand, his eyes dancing with the joy he could not hide.

'What are you made of, I wonder!' he said gaily. 'Nothing, certainly,
that minds weather.'

'No Westmoreland native thinks of staying at home for this,' she said
with her quiet smile, moving on beside him as she spoke.

He looked down upon her with an indescribable mixture of feelings. No
stiffness, no coldness in her manner--only the even gentleness which
always marked her out from others. He felt as though yesterday were
blotted out, and would not for worlds have recalled it to her or
reproached her with it. Let it be as though they were but carrying on
the scene of the stepping-stones.

'Look,' he said, pointing to the west; 'have you been watching that
magical break in the clouds?'

Her eyes followed his to the delicate picture hung high among the moving
mists.

'Ah,' she exclaimed, her face kindling, 'that is one of our loveliest
effects, and one of the rarest. You are lucky to have seen it.'

'I am conceited enough,' he said joyously, 'to feel as if some enchanter
were at work up there drawing pictures on the mists for my special
benefit. How welcome the rain is! As I am afraid you have heard me say
before, what new charm it gives to your valley!'

There was something in the buoyancy and force of his mood that seemed to
make Catherine shrink into herself. She would not pursue the subject of
Westmoreland. She asked with a little stiffness whether he had good news
from Mrs. Elsmere.

'Oh, yes. As usual, she is doing everything for me,' he said, smiling.
'It is disgraceful that I should be idling here while she is struggling
with carpenters and paperers, and puzzling out the decorations of the
drawing-room. She writes to me in a fury about the word "artistic." She
declares even the little upholsterer at Churton hurls it at her every
other minute, and that if it weren't for me she would select everything
as frankly, primevally hideous as she could find, just to spite him. As
it is, he has so warped her judgment that she has left the sitting-room
papers till I arrive. For the drawing-room she avows a passionate
preference for one all cabbage-roses and no stalks; but she admits that
it may be exasperation. She wants your sister, clearly, to advise her.
By the way,' and his voice changed, 'the vicar told me last night that
Miss Rose is going to Manchester for the winter to study. He heard it
from Miss Agnes, I think. The news interested me greatly after our
conversation.'

He looked at her with the most winning interrogative eyes. His whole
manner implied that everything which touched and concerned her touched
and concerned him; and, moreover, that she had given him in some sort a
right to share her thoughts and difficulties. Catherine struggled with
herself.

'I trust it may answer,' she said in a low voice.

But she would say no more, and he felt rebuffed. His buoyancy began to
desert him.

'It must be a great trial to Mrs. Elsmere,' she said presently with an
effort, once more steering away from herself and her concerns, 'this
going back to her old home.'

'It is. My father's long struggle for life in that house is a very
painful memory. I wished her to put it off till I could go with her, but
she declared she would rather get over the first week or two by herself.
How I should like you to know my mother, Miss Leyburn!'

At this she could not help meeting his glance and smile, and answering
them, though with a kind of constraint most unlike her.

'I hope I may some day see Mrs. Elsmere,' she said.

'It is one of my strongest wishes,' he answered hurriedly, 'to bring you
together.'

The words were simple enough; the tone was full of emotion. He was fast
losing control of himself. She felt it through every nerve, and a sort
of wild dread seized her of what he might say next. Oh, she must, she
must prevent it!

'Your mother was with you most of your Oxford life, was she not?' she
said, forcing herself to speak in her most everyday tones.

He controlled himself with a mighty effort.

'Since I became a Fellow. We have been alone in the world so long. We
have never been able to do without each other.'

'Isn't it wonderful to you?' said Catherine, after a little electric
pause--and her voice was steadier and clearer than it had been since the
beginning of their conversation--'how little the majority of sons and
daughters regard their parents when they come to grow up and want to
live their own lives? The one thought seems to be to get rid of them, to
throw off their claims, to cut them adrift, to escape them--decently, of
course, and under many pretexts, but still to escape them. All the long
years of devotion and self-sacrifice go for nothing.'

He looked at her quickly--a troubled, questioning look.

'It is so, often; but not, I think, where the parents have truly
understood their problem. The real difficulty for father and mother is
not childhood, but youth; how to get over that difficult time when the
child passes into the man or woman, and a relation of governor and
governed should become the purest and closest of friendships. You and I
have been lucky.'

'Yes,' she said, looking straight before her, and still speaking with a
distinctness which caught his ear painfully, 'and so are the greater
debtors! There is no excuse, I think, for any child, least of all for
the child who has had years of understanding love to look back upon, if
it puts its own claim first; if it insists on satisfying itself, when
there is age and weakness appealing to it on the other side, when it is
still urgently needed to help those older, to shield those younger, than
itself. Its business first of all is to pay its debt, whatever the
cost.'

The voice was low, but it had the clear vibrating ring of steel.
Robert's face had darkened visibly.

'But, surely,' he cried, goaded by a new stinging sense of revolt and
pain--'surely the child may make a fatal mistake if it imagines that its
own happiness counts for nothing in the parents' eyes. What parent but
must suffer from the starving of the child's nature? What have mother
and father been working for, after all, but the perfecting of the
child's life? Their longing is that it should fulfil itself in all
directions. New ties, new affections, on the child's part, mean the
enriching of the parent. What a cruel fate for the elder generation, to
make it the jailer and burden of the younger!'

He spoke with heat and anger, with a sense of dashing himself against an
obstacle, and a dumb despairing certainty rising at the heart of him.

'Ah, that is what we are so ready to say,' she answered, her breath
coming more quickly, and her eye meeting his with a kind of antagonism
in it; 'but it is all sophistry. The only safety lies in following out
the plain duty. The parent wants the child's help and care, the child is
bound to give it; that is all it needs to know. If it forms new ties, it
belongs to them, not to the old ones; the old ones must come to be
forgotten and put aside.'

'So you would make all life a sacrifice to the past?' he cried,
quivering under the blow she was dealing him.

'No, not all life,' she said, struggling hard to preserve her perfect
calm of manner: he could not know that she was trembling from head to
foot. 'There are many for whom it is easy and right to choose their own
way; their happiness robs no one. There are others on whom a charge has
been laid from their childhood, a charge perhaps'--and her voice
faltered at last--'impressed on them by dying lips, which must govern,
possess their lives; which it would be baseness, treason, to betray. We
are not here only to be happy.'

And she turned to him deadly pale, the faintest, sweetest smile on her
lip. He was for the moment incapable of speech. He began phrase after
phrase, and broke them off. A whirlwind of feeling possessed him. The
strangeness, the unworldliness of what she had done struck him
singularly. He realised through every nerve that what she had just said
to him she had been bracing herself to say to him ever since their last
parting. And now he could not tell, or rather, blindly could not see,
whether she suffered in the saying it. A passionate protest rose in him,
not so much against her words as against her self-control. The man in
him rose up against the woman's unlooked-for, unwelcome strength.

But as the hot words she had dared so much in her simplicity to avert
from them both were bursting from him, they were checked by a sudden
physical difficulty. A bit of road was under water. A little beck,
swollen by the rain, had overflowed, and for a few yards' distance the
water stood about eight inches deep from hedge to hedge. Robert had
splashed through the flood half an hour before, but it had risen rapidly
since then. He had to apply his mind to the practical task of finding a
way to the other side.

'You must climb the bank,' he said, 'and get through into the field.'

She assented mutely. He went first, drew her up the bank, forced his way
through the loosely growing hedge himself, and holding back some young
hazel saplings and breaking others, made an opening for her through
which she scrambled with bent head; then, stretching out his hand to
her, he made her submit to be helped down the steep bank on the other
side. Her straight young figure was just above him, her breath almost on
his cheek.

'You talk of baseness and treason,' he began passionately, conscious of
a hundred wild impulses, as perforce she leant her light weight upon his
arm. 'Life is not so simple. It is so easy to sacrifice others with
one's self, to slay all claims in honour of one, instead of knitting the
new ones to the old. Is life to be allowed no natural expansion? Have
you forgotten that, in refusing the new bond for the old bond's sake,
the child may be simply wronging the parents, depriving them of another
affection, another support, which ought to have been theirs?'

His tone was harsh, almost violent. It seemed to him that she grew
suddenly white, and he grasped her more firmly still. She reached the
level of the field, quickly withdrew her hand, and for a moment their
eyes met, her pale face raised to his. It seemed an age, so much was
said in that look. There was appeal on her side, passion on his. Plainly
she implored him to say no more, to spare her and himself.

'In some cases,' she said, and her voice sounded strained and hoarse to
both of them, 'one cannot risk the old bond. One dare not trust one's
self--or circumstance. The responsibility is too great; one can but
follow the beaten path, cling to the one thread. But don't let us talk
of it any more. We must make for that gate, Mr. Elsmere. It will bring
us out on the road again close by home.'

He was quelled. Speech suddenly became impossible to him. He was struck
again with that sense of a will firmer and more tenacious than his own,
which had visited him in a slight passing way on the first evening they
ever met, and now filled him with a kind of despair. As they pushed
silently along the edge of the dripping meadow, he noticed with a pang
that the stepping-stones lay just below them. The gleam of sun had died
away, the aërial valley in the clouds had vanished, and a fresh storm of
rain brought back the colour to Catherine's cheek. On their left hand
was the roaring of the river, on their right they could already hear the
wind moaning and tearing through the trees which sheltered Burwood. The
nature which an hour ago had seemed to him so full of stimulus and
exhilaration had taken to itself a note of gloom and mourning; for he
was at the age when Nature is the mere docile responsive mirror of the
spirit, when all her forces and powers are made for us, and are only
there to play chorus to our story.

They reached the little lane leading to the gate of Burwood. She paused
at the foot of it.

'You will come in and see my mother, Mr. Elsmere?'

Her look expressed a yearning she could not crush. 'Your pardon, your
friendship,' it cried, with the usual futility of all good women under
the circumstances. But as he met it for one passionate instant, he
recognised fully that there was not a trace of yielding in it. At the
bottom of the softness there was the iron of resolution.

'No, no; not now,' he said involuntarily: and she never forgot the
painful struggle of the face; 'good-bye.' He touched her hand without
another word, and was gone.

She toiled up to the gate with difficulty, the gray rain-washed road,
the wall, the trees, swimming before her eyes.

In the hall she came across Agnes, who caught hold of her with a start.

'My dear Cathie! you have been walking yourself to death. You look like
a ghost. Come and have some tea at once.'

And she dragged her into the drawing-room. Catherine submitted with all
her usual outward calm, faintly smiling at her sister's onslaught. But
she would not let Agnes put her down on the sofa. She stood with her
hand on the back of a chair.

'The weather is very close and exhausting,' she said, gently lifting her
hand to her hat. But the hand dropped, and she sank heavily into the
chair.

'Cathie, you are faint,' cried Agnes, running to her.

Catherine waved her away, and, with an effort of which none but she
would have been capable, mastered the physical weakness.

'I have been a long way, dear,' she said, as though in apology, 'and
there is no air. Yes, I will go upstairs and lie down a minute or two.
Oh no, don't come, I will be down for tea directly.'

And refusing all help, she guided herself out of the room, her face the
colour of the foam on the beck outside. Agnes stood dumfoundered. Never
in her life before had she seen Catherine betray any such signs of
physical exhaustion.

Suddenly Rose ran in, shut the door carefully behind her, and rushing up
to Agnes put her hands on her shoulders.

'He has proposed to her, and she has said no!'

'He? What, Mr. Elsmere? How on earth can you know?'

'I saw them from upstairs come to the bottom of the lane. Then he rushed
on, and I have just met her on the stairs. It's as plain as the nose on
your face.'

Agnes sat down bewildered.

'It is hard on him,' she said at last.

'Yes, it is _very_ hard on him!' cried Rose, pacing the room, her long
thin arms clasped behind her, her eyes flashing, 'for she loves him!'

'Rose!'

'She does, my dear, she does,' cried the girl, frowning. 'I know it in a
hundred ways.'

Agnes ruminated.

'And it's all because of us?' she said at last reflectively.

'Of course! I put it to you, Agnes'--and Rose stood still with a tragic
air--'I put it to you, whether it isn't too bad that three unoffending
women should have such a rôle as this assigned them against their will!'

The eloquence of eighteen was irresistible. Agnes buried her head in the
sofa cushion, and shook with a kind of helpless laughter. Rose meanwhile
stood in the window, her thin form drawn up to its full height, angry
with Agnes, and enraged with all the world.

'It's absurd, it's insulting,' she exclaimed. 'I should imagine that you
and I, Agnes, were old enough and sane enough to look after mamma, put
out the stores, say our prayers, and prevent each other from running
away with adventurers! I won't be always in leading-strings. I won't
acknowledge that Catherine is bound to be an old maid to keep me in
order. I hate it! It is sacrifice run mad.'

And Rose turned to her sister, the defiant head thrown back, a passion
of manifold protest in the girlish looks.

'It is very easy, my dear, to be judge in one's own case,' replied Agnes
calmly, recovering herself. 'Suppose you tell Catherine some of these
home truths?'

Rose collapsed at once. She sat down despondently, and fell, head
drooping, into a moody silence. Agnes watched her with a kind of
triumph. When it came to the point, she knew perfectly well that there
was not a will among them that could measure itself with any chance of
success against that lofty but unwavering will of Catherine's. Rose was
violent, and there was much reason in her violence. But as for her, she
preferred not to dash her head against stone walls.

'Well, then, if you won't say them to Catherine, say them to mamma,' she
suggested presently, but half ironically.

'Mamma is no good,' cried Rose angrily; 'why do you bring her in?
Catherine would talk her round in ten minutes.'

Long after every one else in Burwood, even the chafing, excited Rose,
was asleep, Catherine in her dimly lighted room, where the stormy
north-west wind beat noisily against her window, was sitting in a low
chair, her head leaning against her bed, her little well-worn Testament
open on her knee. But she was not reading. Her eyes were shut; one hand
hung down beside her, and tears were raining fast and silently over her
cheeks. It was the stillest, most restrained weeping. She hardly knew
why she wept, she only knew that there was something within her which
must have its way. What did this inner smart and tumult mean, this
rebellion of the self against the will which had never yet found its
mastery fail it? It was as though from her childhood till now she had
lived in a moral world whereof the aims, the dangers, the joys, were all
she knew; and now the walls of this world were crumbling round her, and
strange lights, strange voices, strange colours were breaking through.
All the sayings of Christ which had lain closest to her heart for
years, to-night for the first time seem to her no longer sayings of
comfort or command, but sayings of fire and flame that burn their
coercing way through life and thought. We recite so glibly, 'He that
loseth his life shall save it;' and when we come to any of the common
crises of experience which are the source and the sanction of the words,
flesh and blood recoil. This girl amid her mountains had carried
religion as far as religion can be carried before it meets life in the
wrestle appointed it. The calm, simple outlines of things are blurring
before her eyes; the great placid deeps of the soul are breaking up.

To the purest ascetic temper a struggle of this kind is hardly real.
Catherine felt a bitter surprise at her own pain. Yesterday a sort of
mystical exaltation upheld her. What had broken it down?

Simply a pair of reproachful eyes, a pale protesting face. What trifles
compared to the awful necessities of an infinite obedience! And yet they
haunt her, till her heart aches for misery, till she only yearns to be
counselled, to be forgiven, to be at least understood.

'Why, why am I so weak?' she cried in utter abasement of soul, and knew
not that in that weakness, or rather in the founts of character from
which it sprang, lay the innermost safeguard of her life.



CHAPTER IX


Robert was very nearly reduced to despair by the scene with Catherine we
have described. He spent a brooding and miserable hour in the vicar's
study afterwards, making up his mind as to what he should do. One phrase
of hers which had passed almost unnoticed in the shock of the moment was
now ringing in his ears, maddening him by a sense of joy just within his
reach, and yet barred away from him by an obstacle as strong as it was
intangible. '_We are not here only to be happy_,' she had said to him,
with a look of ethereal exaltation worthy of her namesake of Alexandria.
The words had slipped from her involuntarily in the spiritual tension of
her mood. They were now filling Robert Elsmere's mind with a tormenting,
torturing bliss. What could they mean? What had her paleness, her
evident trouble and weakness meant, but that the inmost self of hers was
his, was conquered; and that, but for the shadowy obstacle between them,
all would be well?

As for the obstacle in itself, he did not admit its force for a moment.
No sane and practical man, least of all when that man happened to be
Catherine Leyburn's lover, could regard it as a binding obligation upon
her that she should sacrifice her own life and happiness to three
persons, who were in no evident moral straits, no physical or pecuniary
need, and who, as Rose incoherently put it, might very well be rather
braced than injured by the withdrawal of her strong support.

But the obstacle of character--ah, there was a different matter! He
realised with despair the brooding scrupulous force of moral passion to
which her lonely life, her antecedents, and her father's nature working
in her had given so rare and marked a development. No temper in the
world is so little open to reason as the ascetic temper. How many a
lover and husband, how many a parent and friend, have realised to their
pain, since history began, the overwhelming attraction which all the
processes of self-annihilation have for a certain order of minds!
Robert's heart sank before the memory of that frail indomitable look,
that aspect of sad yet immovable conviction with which she had bade him
farewell. And yet, surely--surely under the willingness of the spirit
there had been a pitiful, a most womanly weakness of the flesh. Surely,
now memory reproduced the scene, she had been white--trembling: her
hand had rested on the moss-grown wall beside her for support. Oh,
why had he been so timid? why had he let that awe of her, which her
personality produced so readily, stand between them? why had he not
boldly caught her to himself, and, with all the eloquence of a
passionate nature, trampled on her scruples, marched through her
doubts, convinced--reasoned her into a blessed submission!

'And I will do it yet!' he cried, leaping to his feet with a sudden
access of hope and energy. And he stood awhile looking out into the
rainy evening, all the keen irregular face and thin pliant form
hardening into the intensity of resolve, which had so often carried the
young tutor through an Oxford difficulty, breaking down antagonism and
compelling consent.

At the high tea which represented the late dinner of the household he
was wary and self-possessed. Mrs. Thornburgh got out of him that he had
been for a walk, and had seen Catherine, but for all her ingenuities of
cross-examination she got nothing more. Afterwards, when he and the
vicar were smoking together, he proposed to Mr. Thornburgh that they two
should go off for a couple of days on a walking tour to Ullswater.

'I want to go away,' he said, with a hand on the vicar's shoulder, '_and
I want to come back_.' The deliberation of the last words was not to be
mistaken. The vicar emitted a contented puff, looked the young man
straight in the eyes, and without another word began to plan a walk to
Patterdale _viâ_ High Street, Martindale, and Howtown, and back by
Haweswater.

To Mrs. Thornburgh Robert announced that he must leave them on the
following Saturday, June 24.

'You _have_ given me a good time, Cousin Emma,' he said to her, with a
bright friendliness which dumbfoundered her. A good time, indeed! with
everything begun and nothing finished; with two households thrown into
perturbation for a delusion, and a desirable marriage spoilt, all for
want of a little common sense and plain speaking, which _one_ person at
least in the valley could have supplied them with, had she not been
ignored and brow beaten on all sides. She contained herself, however, in
his presence, but the vicar suffered proportionately in the privacy of
the connubial chamber. He had never seen his wife so exasperated. To
think what might have been, what she might have done for the race, but
for the whims of two stuck-up, superior, impracticable young persons,
that would neither manage their own affairs nor allow other people to
manage them for them! The vicar behaved gallantly, kept the secret of
Elsmere's remark to himself like a man, and allowed himself certain
counsels against matrimonial meddling which plunged Mrs. Thornburgh into
well-simulated slumber. However, in the morning he was vaguely conscious
that some time in the visions of the night his spouse had demanded of
him peremptorily, 'When do you get back, William?' To the best of his
memory the vicar had sleepily murmured, 'Thursday'; and had then heard,
echoed through his dreams, a calculating whisper, 'He goes Saturday--one
clear day!'

The following morning was gloomy but fine, and after breakfast the vicar
and Elsmere started off. Robert turned back at the top of the High Fell
pass and stood leaning on his alpenstock, sending a passionate farewell
to the gray distant house, the upper window, the copper beech in the
garden, the bit of winding road, while the vicar discreetly stepped on
northward, his eyes fixed on the wild regions of Martindale.

Mrs. Thornburgh, left alone, absorbed herself to all appearance in the
school treat which was to come off in a fortnight, in a new set of
covers for the drawing-room, and in Sarah's love affairs, which were
always passing through some tragic phase or other, and into which Mrs.
Thornburgh was allowed a more unencumbered view than she was into
Catherine Leyburn's. Rose and Agnes dropped in now and then, and found
her not at all disposed to talk to them on the great event of the
day--Elsmere's absence and approaching departure. They cautiously
communicated to her their own suspicions as to the incident of the
preceding afternoon; and Rose gave vent to one fiery onslaught on the
'moral obstacle' theory, during which Mrs. Thornburgh sat studying her
with small attentive eyes and curls slowly waving from side to side. But
for once in her life the vicar's wife was not communicative in return.
That the situation should have driven even Mrs. Thornburgh to finesse
was a surprising testimony to its gravity. What between her sudden
taciturnity and Catherine's pale silence, the girls' sense of expectancy
was roused to its highest pitch.

'They come back to-morrow night,' said Rose thoughtfully, 'and he goes
Saturday--10:20 from Whinborough--one day for the Fifth Act! By the way,
why did Mrs. Thornburgh ask us to say nothing about Saturday at home?'

She _had_ asked them, however; and with a pleasing sense of conspiracy
they complied.

It was late on Thursday afternoon when Mrs. Thornburgh, finding the
Burwood front door open, made her unchallenged way into the hall, and
after an unanswered knock at the drawing-room door, opened it and peered
in to see who might be there.

'May I come in?'

Mrs. Leyburn, who was a trifle deaf, was sitting by the window absorbed
in the intricacies of a heel which seemed to her more than she could
manage. Her card was mislaid, the girls were none of them at hand, and
she felt as helpless as she commonly did when left alone.

'Oh, do come in, please! So glad to see you. Have you been nearly blown
away?'

For, though the rain had stopped, a boisterous north-west wind was still
rushing through the valley, and the trees round Burwood were swaying and
groaning under the force of its onslaught.

'Well, it is stormy,' said Mrs. Thornburgh, stepping in and undoing all
the various safety pins and elastics which had held her dress high above
the mud. 'Are the girls out?'

'Yes, Catherine and Agnes are at the school; and Rose, I think, is
practising.'

'Ah, well,' said Mrs. Thornburgh, settling herself in a chair close by
her friend, 'I wanted to find you alone.'

Her face, framed in bushy curls and an old garden bonnet, was flushed
and serious. Her mittened hands were clasped nervously on her lap, and
there was about her such an air of forcibly restrained excitement that
Mrs. Leyburn's mild eyes gazed at her with some astonishment. The two
women were a curious contrast: Mrs. Thornburgh short, inclined, as we
know, to be stout, ample and abounding in all things, whether it were
curls or cap-strings or conversation; Mrs. Leyburn tall and well
proportioned, well dressed, with the same graceful ways and languid
pretty manners as had first attracted her husband's attention thirty
years before. She was fond of Mrs. Thornburgh, but there was something
in the ebullient energies of the vicar's wife which always gave her a
sense of bustle and fatigue.

'I am sure you will be sorry to hear,' began her visitor, 'that Mr.
Elsmere is going.'

'Going?' said Mrs. Leyburn, laying down her knitting. 'Why, I thought he
was going to stay with you another ten days at least.'

'So did I--so did he,' said Mrs. Thornburgh, nodding, and then pausing
with a most effective air of sudden gravity and 'recollection.'

'Then why--what's the matter?' asked Mrs. Leyburn, wondering.

Mrs. Thornburgh did not answer for a minute, and Mrs. Leyburn began to
feel a little nervous, her visitor's eyes were fixed upon her with so
much meaning. Urged by a sudden impulse she bent forward; so did Mrs.
Thornburgh, and their two elderly heads nearly touched.

'The young man is in love!' said the vicar's wife in a stage whisper,
drawing back after a pause, to see the effect of her announcement.

'Oh! with whom?' asked Mrs. Leyburn, her look brightening. She liked a
love affair as much as ever.

Mrs. Thornburgh furtively looked round to see if the door was shut and
all safe--she felt herself a criminal, but the sense of guilt had an
exhilarating rather than a depressing effect upon her.

'Have you guessed nothing? have the girls told you anything?'

'No!' said Mrs. Leyburn, her eyes opening wider and wider. She never
guessed anything; there was no need, with three daughters to think for
her, and give her the benefit of their young brains. 'No,' she said
again. 'I can't imagine what you mean.'

Mrs. Thornburgh felt a rush of inward contempt for so much obtuseness.

'Well, then, _he is in love with Catherine!_' she said abruptly, laying
her hand on Mrs. Leyburn's knee, and watching the effect.

'With Catherine!' stammered Mrs. Leyburn; '_with Catherine!_'

The idea was amazing to her. She took up her knitting with trembling
fingers, and went on with it mechanically a second or two. Then laying
it down--'Are you quite sure? has he told you?'

'No, but one has eyes,' said Mrs. Thornburgh hastily. 'William and I
have seen it from the very first day. And we are both certain that on
Tuesday she made him understand in some way or other that she wouldn't
marry him, and that is why he went off to Ullswater, and why he made up
his mind to go south before his time is up.'

'Tuesday?' cried Mrs. Leyburn. 'In that walk, do you mean, when
Catherine looked so tired afterwards? You think he proposed in that
walk?'

She was in a maze of bewilderment and excitement.

'Something like it--but if he did, she said "No"; and what I want to
know is _why_ she said "No."'

'Why, of course, because she didn't care for him!' exclaimed Mrs.
Leyburn, opening her blue eyes wider and wider. 'Catherine's not like
most girls; she would always know what she felt, and would never keep a
man in suspense.'

'Well, I don't somehow believe,' said Mrs. Thornburgh boldly, 'that she
doesn't care for him. He is just the young man Catherine might care for.
You can see that yourself.'

Mrs. Leyburn once more laid down her knitting and stared at her visitor.
Mrs. Thornburgh, after all her meditations, had no very precise idea as
to _why_ she was at that moment in the Burwood drawing-room bombarding
Mrs. Leyburn in this fashion. All she knew was that she had sallied
forth determined somehow to upset the situation, just as one gives a
shake purposely to a bundle of spillikins on the chance of more
favourable openings. Mrs. Leyburn's mind was just now playing the part
of spillikins, and the vicar's wife was shaking it vigorously, though
with occasional qualms as to the lawfulness of the process.

'You think Catherine does care for him?' resumed Mrs. Leyburn
tremulously.

'Well, isn't he just the kind of man one would suppose Catherine would
like?' repeated Mrs. Thornburgh persuasively; 'he is a clergyman, and
she likes serious people; and he's sensible and nice and well-mannered.
And then he can talk about books, just like her father used--I'm sure
William thinks he knows everything! He isn't as nice-looking as he might
be just now, but then that's his hair and his fever, poor man. And then
he isn't hanging about. He's got a living, and there'd be the poor
people all ready, and everything else Catherine likes. And now I'll just
ask you--did you ever see Catherine more--more--_lively_--well, I know
that's not just the word, but you know what I mean--than she has been
the last fortnight?'

But Mrs. Leyburn only shook her head helplessly. She did not know in the
least what Mrs. Thornburgh meant. She never thought Catherine doleful,
and she agreed that certainly 'lively' was not the word.

'Girls get so frightfully particular nowadays,' continued the vicar's
wife, with reflective candour. 'Why, when William fell in love with me,
I just fell in love with him--at once--because he did. And if it hadn't
been William, but somebody else, it would have been the same. I don't
believe girls have got hearts like pebbles--if the man's nice, of
course!'

Mrs. Leyburn listened to this summary of matrimonial philosophy with the
same yielding flurried attention as she was always disposed to give to
the last speaker.

'But,' she said, still in a maze, 'if she did care for him, why should
she send him away?'

'_Because she won't have him!_' said Mrs. Thornburgh energetically,
leaning over the arm of her chair that she might bring herself nearer to
her companion.

The fatuity of the answer left Mrs. Leyburn staring.

'Because she won't have him, my dear Mrs. Leyburn! And--and--I'm sure
nothing would make me interfere like this if I weren't so fond of you
all, and if William and I didn't know for certain that there never was a
better young man born! And then I was just sure you'd be the last person
in the world, if you knew, to stand in young people's way!'

'_I!_' cried poor Mrs. Leyburn--'I stand in the way!' She was getting
tremulous and tearful, and Mrs. Thornburgh felt herself a brute.

'Well,' she said, plunging on desperately, 'I have been thinking over it
night and day. I've been watching him, and I've been talking to the
girls, and I've been putting two and two together, and I'm just about
sure that there might be a chance for Robert, if only Catherine didn't
feel that you and the girls couldn't get on without her!'

Mrs. Leyburn took up her knitting again with agitated fingers. She was
so long in answering that Mrs. Thornburgh sat and thought with
trepidation of all sorts of unpleasant consequences which might result
from this audacious move of hers.

'I don't know how we _should_ get on,' cried Mrs. Leyburn at last, with
a sort of suppressed sob, while something very like a tear fell on the
stocking she held.

Mrs. Thornburgh was still more frightened, and rushed into a flood of
apologetic speech. Very likely she was wrong, perhaps it was all a
mistake, she was afraid she had done harm, and so on. Mrs. Leyburn took
very little heed, but at last she said, looking up and applying a soft
handkerchief gently to her eyes--

'Is his mother nice? Where's his living? Would he want to be married
soon?'

The voice was weak and tearful, but there was in it unmistakable
eagerness to be informed. Mrs. Thornburgh, overjoyed, let loose upon her
a flood of particulars, painted the virtues and talents of Mrs. Elsmere,
described Robert's Oxford career, with an admirable sense for effect,
and a truly feminine capacity for murdering every university detail,
drew pictures of the Murewell living and rectory, of which Robert had
photographs with him, threw in adroit information about the young man's
private means, and in general showed what may be made of a woman's mind
under the stimulus of one of the occupations most proper to it. Mrs.
Leyburn brightened visibly as the flood proceeded. Alas, poor Catherine!
How little room there is for the heroic in this trivial everyday life of
ours!

Catherine a bride, Catherine a wife and mother, dim visions of a white
soft morsel in which Catherine's eyes and smile should live again--all
these thoughts went trembling and flashing through Mrs. Leyburn's mind
as she listened to Mrs. Thornburgh. There is so much of the artist in
the maternal mind, of the artist who longs to see the work of his hand
in fresh combinations and under all points of view. Catherine, in the
heat of her own self-surrender, had perhaps forgotten that her mother
too had a heart!

'Yes, it all sounds very well,' said Mrs. Leyburn at last, sighing,
'but, you know, Catherine isn't easy to manage.'

'Could you talk to her--find out a little?'

'Well, not to-day; I shall hardly see her. Doesn't it seem to you that
when a girl takes up notions like Catherine's, she hasn't time for
thinking about the young men? Why, she's as full of business all day
long as an egg's full of meat. Well, it was my poor Richard's doing--it
was his doing, bless him! I am not going to say anything against it. But
it _was_ different--once.'

'Yes, I know,' said Mrs. Thornburgh thoughtfully. 'One had plenty of
time, when you and I were young, to sit at home and think what one was
going to wear, and how one would look, and whether _he_ had been paying
attention to any one else; and if he had, why; and all that. And now the
young women are so superior. But the marrying has got to be done somehow
all the same. What is she doing to-day?'

'Oh, she'll be busy all to-day and to-morrow; I hardly expect to see her
till Saturday.'

Mrs. Thornburgh gave a start of dismay.

'Why, what _is_ the matter now?' she cried in her most aggrieved tones.
'My dear Mrs. Leyburn, one would think we had the cholera in the parish.
Catherine just spoils the people.'

'Don't you remember,' said Mrs. Leyburn, staring in her turn, and
drawing herself up a little, 'that to-morrow is Midsummer Day, and that
Mary Backhouse is as bad as she can be?'

'Mary Backhouse! Why, I had forgotten all about her!' cried the vicar's
wife, with sudden remorse. And she sat pensively eyeing the carpet
awhile.

Then she got what particulars she could out of Mrs. Leyburn. Catherine,
it appeared, was at this moment at High Ghyll, was not to return till
late, and would be with the dying girl through the greater part of the
following day, returning for an hour or two's rest in the afternoon, and
staying in the evening till the twilight, in which the ghost always made
her appearances, should have passed into night.

Mrs. Thornburgh listened to it all, her contriving mind working the
while at railway speed on the facts presented to her.

'How do you get her home to-morrow night?' she asked, with sudden
animation.

'Oh, we send our man Richard at ten. He takes a lantern if it's dark.'

Mrs. Thornburgh said no more. Her eyes and gestures were all alive again
with energy and hope. She had given her shake to Mrs. Leyburn's mind.
Much good might it do! But, after all, she had the poorest opinion of
the widow's capacities as an ally.

She and her companion said a few more excited, affectionate, and
apologetic things to one another, and then she departed.

Both mother and knitting were found by Agnes half an hour later in a
state of considerable confusion. But Mrs. Leyburn kept her own counsel,
having resolved for once, with a timid and yet delicious excitement, to
act as the head of the family.

Meanwhile Mrs. Thornburgh was laying plans on her own account.

'Ten o'clock--moonlight,' said that contriving person to herself going
home--'at least if the clouds hold up--that'll do--couldn't be better.'

       *       *       *       *       *

To any person familiar with her character the signs of some unusual
preoccupation were clear enough in Mrs. Leyburn during this Thursday
evening. Catherine noticed them at once when she got back from High
Ghyll about eight o'clock, and wondered first of all what was the
matter; and then, with more emphasis, why the trouble was not
immediately communicated to her. It had never entered into her head to
take her mother into her confidence with regard to Elsmere. Since she
could remember, it had been an axiom in the family to spare the delicate
nervous mother all the anxieties and perplexities of life. It was a
system in which the subject of it had always acquiesced with perfect
contentment, and Catherine had no qualms about it. If there was good
news, it was presented in its most sugared form to Mrs. Leyburn; but the
moment any element of pain and difficulty cropped up in the common life,
it was pounced upon and appropriated by Catherine, aided and abetted by
the girls, and Mrs. Leyburn knew no more about it than an unweaned babe.

So that Catherine was thinking at most of some misconduct of a Perth
dyer with regard to her mother's best gray poplin, when one of the
greatest surprises of her life burst upon her.

She was in Mrs. Leyburn's bedroom that night, helping to put away her
mother's things, as her custom was. She had just taken off the widow's
cap, caressing as she did so the brown hair underneath, which was still
soft and plentiful, when Mrs. Leyburn turned upon her. 'Catherine!' she
said in an agitated voice, laying a thin hand on her daughter's arm.
'Oh, Catherine, I want to speak to you!'

Catherine knelt lightly down by her mother's side, and put her arms
round her waist.

'Yes, mother darling,' she said, half smiling.

'Oh, Catherine! if--if--you like Mr. Elsmere, don't mind--don't
think--about us, dear. We can manage--we can manage, dear!'

The change that took place in Catherine Leyburn's face is indescribable.
She rose instantly, her arms falling behind her, her beautiful brows
drawn together. Mrs. Leyburn looked up at her with a pathetic mixture of
helplessness, alarm, entreaty.

'Mother, who has been talking to you about Mr. Elsmere and me?' demanded
Catherine.

'Oh, never mind, dear, never mind,' said the widow hastily; 'I should
have seen it myself--oh, I know I should; but I'm a bad mother,
Catherine!' And she caught her daughter's dress and drew her towards
her. '_Do_ you care for him?'

Catherine did not answer. She knelt down again, and laid her head on her
mother's hands.

'I want nothing,' she said presently in a low voice of intense
emotion--'I want nothing but you and the girls. You are my life, I ask
for nothing more. I am abundantly--content.'

Mrs. Leyburn gazed down on her with infinite perplexity. The brown hair,
escaped from the cap, had fallen about her still pretty neck, a pink
spot of excitement was on each gently-hollowed cheek; she looked almost
younger than her pale daughter.

'But--he is very nice,' she said timidly. 'And he has a good living.
Catherine, you ought to be a clergyman's wife.'

'I ought to be, and I am your daughter,' said Catherine, smiling a
little with an unsteady lip, and kissing her hand.

Mrs. Leyburn sighed and looked straight before her. Perhaps in
imagination she saw the vicar's wife. 'I think--I think,' she said very
seriously, 'I should like it!'

Catherine straightened herself brusquely at that. It was as though she
had felt a blow.

'Mother!' she cried, with a stifled accent of pain, and yet still trying
to smile, 'do you want to send me away?'

'No, no!' cried Mrs. Leyburn hastily. 'But if a nice man wants you to
marry him, Catherine? Your father would have liked him--oh, I know your
father would have liked him! And his manners to me are so pretty, I
shouldn't mind being _his_ mother-in-law. And the girls have no brother,
you know, dear. Your father was always so sorry about that.'

She spoke with pleading agitation, her own tempting imaginations--the
pallor, the latent storm of Catherine's look--exciting her more and
more.

Catherine was silent a moment, then she caught her mother's hand again.

'Dear little mother--dear, kind little mother! You are an angel, you
always are. But I think, if you'll keep me, I'll stay.'

And she once more rested her head clingingly on Mrs. Leyburn's knee.

'But _do_ you--_do_ you love him, Catherine?'

'I love you, mother, and the girls, and my life here.'

'Oh dear,' sighed Mrs. Leyburn, as though addressing a third person, the
tears in her mild eyes, 'she won't, and she _would_ like it, and so
should I!'

Catherine rose, stung beyond bearing.

'And I count for nothing to you, mother!' her deep voice quivering. 'You
could put me aside, you and the girls, and live as though I had never
been!'

'But you would be a great deal to us if you did marry, Catherine!' cried
Mrs. Leyburn, almost with an accent of pettishness. 'People have to do
without their daughters. There's Agnes--I often think, as it is, you
might let her do more. And if Rose were troublesome, why, you know it
might be a good thing--a very good thing--if there were a man to take
her in hand!'

'And you, mother, without me?' cried poor Catherine, choked.

'Oh, I should come and see you,' said Mrs. Leyburn, brightening. 'They
say it _is_ such a nice house, Catherine, and such pretty country; and
I'm sure I should like his mother, though she _is_ Irish!'

It was the bitterest moment of Catherine Leyburn's life. In it the
heroic dream of years broke down. Nay, the shrivelling ironic touch of
circumstance laid upon it made it look even in her own eyes almost
ridiculous. What had she been living for, praying for, all these years?
She threw herself down by the widow's side, her face working with a
passion that terrified Mrs. Leyburn.

'Oh, mother, say you would miss me--say you would miss me if I went!'

Then Mrs. Leyburn herself broke down, and the two women clung to each
other, weeping. Catherine's sore heart was soothed a little by her
mother's tears, and by the broken words of endearment that were lavished
on her. But through it all she felt that the excited imaginative desire
in Mrs. Leyburn still persisted. It was the cheapening--the vulgarising,
so to speak, of her whole existence.

In the course of their long embrace Mrs. Leyburn let fall various items
of news that showed Catherine very plainly who had been at work upon her
mother, and one of which startled her.

'He comes back to-night, my dear--and he goes on Saturday. Oh, and,
Catherine, Mrs. Thornburgh says he _does_ care so much. Poor young man!'

And Mrs. Leyburn looked up at her now standing daughter with eyes as
woe-begone for Elsmere as for herself.

'Don't talk about it any more, mother,' Catherine implored. 'You won't
sleep, and I shall be more wroth with Mrs. Thornburgh than I am
already.'

Mrs. Leyburn let herself be gradually soothed and coerced, and
Catherine, with a last kiss to the delicate emaciated fingers on which
the worn wedding-ring lay slipping forward--in itself a history--left
her at last to sleep.

'And I don't know much more than when I began!' sighed the perplexed
widow to herself. 'Oh, I wish Richard was here--I do!'

Catherine's night was a night of intense mental struggle. Her struggle
was one with which the modern world has perhaps but scant sympathy.
Instinctively we feel such things out of place in our easy indifferent
generation. We think them more than half unreal. We are so apt to take
it for granted that the world has outgrown the religious thirst for
sanctification, for a perfect moral consistency, as it has outgrown so
many of the older complications of the sentiment of honour. And
meanwhile half the tragedy of our time lies in this perpetual clashing
of two estimates of life--the estimate which is the offspring of the
scientific spirit, and which is for ever making the visible world fairer
and more desirable in mortal eyes; and the estimate of Saint Augustine.

       *       *       *       *       *

As a matter of fact, owing to some travelling difficulties, the vicar
and Elsmere did not get home till noon on Friday. Catherine knew nothing
of either delay or arrival. Mrs. Leyburn watched her with anxious
timidity, but she never mentioned Elsmere's name to any one on the
Friday morning, and no one dared speak of him to her. She came home in
the afternoon from the Backhouses' absorbed apparently in the state of
the dying girl, took a couple of hours' rest, and hurried off again. She
passed the vicarage with bent head, and never looked up.

'She is gone!' said Rose to Agnes as she stood at the window looking
after her sister's retreating figure. 'It is all over! They can't meet
now. He will be off by nine to-morrow.'

The girl spoke with a lump in her throat, and flung herself down by the
window, moodily watching the dark form against the fells. Catherine's
coldness seemed to make all life colder and more chilling--to fling a
hard denial in the face of the dearest claims of earth.

The stormy light of the afternoon was fading towards sunset. Catherine
walked on fast towards the group of houses at the head of the valley, in
one of which lived the two old carriers who had worked such havoc with
Mrs. Thornburgh's housekeeping arrangements. She was tired physically,
but she was still more tired mentally. She had the bruised feeling of
one who has been humiliated before the world and before herself. Her
self-respect was for the moment crushed, and the breach made in the
wholeness of personal dignity had produced a strange slackness of nerve,
extending both to body and mind. She had been convicted, it seemed to
her, in her own eyes, and in those of her world, of an egregious
over-estimate of her own value. She walked with hung head like one
ashamed, the overstrung religious sense deepening her discomfiture at
every step. How rich her life had always been in the conviction of
usefulness--nay, indispensableness! Her mother's persuasions had dashed
it from her. And religious scruple, for her torment, showed her her
past, transformed, alloyed with all sorts of personal prides and
cravings, which stood unmasked now in a white light.

And he? Still near her for a few short hours! Every pulse in her had
thrilled as she had passed the house which sheltered him. But she will
see him no more. And she is glad. If he had stayed on, he too would have
discovered how cheaply they held her--those dear ones of hers for whom
she had lived till now! And she might have weakly yielded to his pity
what she had refused to his homage. The strong nature is half tortured,
half soothed by the prospect of his going. Perhaps when he is gone she
will recover something of that moral equilibrium which has been so
shaken. At present she is a riddle to herself, invaded by a force she
has no power to cope with, feeling the moral ground of years crumbling
beneath her, and struggling feverishly for self-control.

As she neared the head of the valley the wind became less tempestuous.
The great wall of High Fell, towards which she was walking, seemed to
shelter her from its worst violence. But the hurrying clouds, the gleams
of lurid light which every now and then penetrated into the valley from
the west, across the dip leading to Shanmoor, the voice of the river
answering the voice of the wind, and the deep unbroken shadow that
covered the group of houses and trees towards which she was walking, all
served to heighten the nervous depression which had taken hold of her.
As she neared the bridge, however, leading to the little hamlet, beyond
which northwards all was stony loneliness and desolation, and saw in
front of her the gray stone house, backed by the sombre red of a great
copper beech, and overhung by crags, she had perforce to take herself by
both hands, try and realise her mission afresh, and the scene which lay
before her.



CHAPTER X


Mary Backhouse, the girl whom Catherine had been visiting with
regularity for many weeks, and whose frail life was this evening nearing
a terrible and long-expected crisis, was the victim of a fate sordid and
common enough, yet not without its elements of dark poetry. Some fifteen
months before this Midsummer Day she had been the mistress of the lonely
old house in which her father and uncle had passed their whole lives, in
which she had been born, and in which, amid snowdrifts so deep that no
doctor could reach them, her mother had passed away. She had been then
strong and well favoured, possessed of a certain masculine black-browed
beauty, and of a temper which sometimes gave to it an edge and glow such
as an artist of ambition might have been glad to catch. At the bottom of
all the outward _sauvagerie_, however, there was a heart, and strong
wants, which only affection and companionship could satisfy and tame.
Neither was to be found in sufficient measure within her home. Her
father and she were on fairly good terms, and had for each other up to a
certain point the natural instincts of kinship. On her uncle, whom she
regarded as half-witted, she bestowed alternate tolerance and jeers. She
was, indeed, the only person whose remonstrances ever got under the wool
with old Jim, and her sharp tongue had sometimes a cowing effect on his
curious nonchalance which nothing else had. For the rest, they had no
neighbours with whom the girl could fraternise, and Whinborough was too
far off to provide any adequate food for her vague hunger after emotion
and excitement.

In this dangerous morbid state she fell a victim to the very coarse
attractions of a young farmer in the neighbouring valley of Shanmoor. He
was a brute with a handsome face, and a nature in which whatever grains
of heart and conscience might have been interfused with the original
composition had been long since swamped. Mary, who had recklessly flung
herself into his power on one or two occasions, from a mixture of
motives, partly passion, partly jealousy, partly _ennui_, awoke one day
to find herself ruined, and a grim future hung before her. She had
realised her doom for the first time in its entirety on the Midsummer
Day preceding that we are now describing. On that day she had walked
over to Shanmoor in a fever of dumb rage and despair, to claim from her
betrayer the fulfilment of his promise of marriage. He had laughed at
her, and she had fled home in the warm rainy dusk, a prey to all those
torturing terrors which only a woman _in extremis_ can know. And on her
way back she had seen the ghost or 'bogle' of Deep Crag; the ghost had
spoken to her, and she had reached home more dead than alive, having
received what she at once recognised as her death sentence.

What had she seen? An effect of moonlit mist--a shepherd boy bent on a
practical joke--a gleam of white waterfall among the darkening rocks?
What had she heard? The evening greeting of a passer-by, wafted down to
her from some higher path along the fell? distant voices in the farm
enclosures beneath her feet? or simply the eerie sounds of the mountain,
those weird earth-whispers which haunt the lonely places of nature? Who
can tell? Nerves and brain were strained to their uttermost. The legend
of the ghost--of the girl who had thrown her baby and herself into the
tarn under the frowning precipitous cliffs which marked the western end
of High Fell, and who had since then walked the lonely road to Shanmoor
every Midsummer Night, with her moaning child upon her arm--had flashed
into Mary's mind as she left the white-walled village of Shanmoor behind
her, and climbed upward with her shame and her secret into the mists. To
see the bogle was merely distressing and untoward; to be spoken to by
the phantom voice was death. No one so addressed could hope to survive
the following Midsummer Day. Revolving these things in her mind, along
with the terrible details of her own story, the exhausted girl had seen
her vision, and, as she firmly believed, incurred her doom.

A week later she had disappeared from home and from the neighbourhood.
The darkest stories were afloat. She had taken some money with her, and
all trace of her was lost. The father had a period of gloomy
taciturnity, during which his principal relief was got out of jeering
and girding at his elder brother, the noodle's eyes wandered and
glittered more; his shrunken frame seemed more shrunken as he sat
dangling his spindle legs from the shaft of the carrier's cart; his
absence of mind was for a time more marked, and excused with less
buoyancy and inventiveness than usual. But otherwise all went on as
before. John Backhouse took no step, and for nine months nothing was
heard of his daughter.

At last one cheerless March afternoon, Jim, coming back first from the
Wednesday round with the cart, entered the farm kitchen, while John
Backhouse was still wrangling at one of the other farmhouses of the
hamlet about some disputed payment. The old man came in cold and weary,
and the sight of the half-tended kitchen and neglected fire--they paid a
neighbour to do the housework, as far as the care of her own seven
children would let her--suddenly revived in his slippery mind the memory
of his niece, who, with all her faults, had had the makings of a
housewife, and for whom, in spite of her flouts and jeers, he had always
cherished a secret admiration. As he came in he noticed that the door to
the left hand, leading into what Westmoreland folk call the 'house' or
sitting-room of the farm, was open. The room had hardly been used since
Mary's flight, and the few pieces of black oak and shining mahogany
which adorned it had long ago fallen from their pristine polish. The
geraniums and fuchsias with which she had filled the window all the
summer before had died into dry blackened stalks; and the dust lay heavy
on the room, in spite of the well-meant but wholly ineffective efforts
of the charwoman next door. The two old men had avoided the place for
months past by common consent, and the door into it was hardly ever
opened.

Now, however, it stood ajar, and old Jim going up to shut it, and
looking in, was struck dumb with astonishment. For there on a wooden
rocking-chair, which had been her mother's favourite seat, sat Mary
Backhouse, her feet on the curved brass fender, her eyes staring into
the parlour grate. Her clothes, her face, her attitude of cowering chill
and mortal fatigue, produced an impression which struck through the old
man's dull senses, and made him tremble so that his hand dropped from
the handle of the door. The slight sound roused Mary, and she turned
towards him. She said nothing for a few seconds, her hollow black eyes
fixed upon him; then with a ghastly smile, and a voice so hoarse as to
be scarcely audible--

'Weel, aa've coom back. Ye'd maybe not expect me?'

There was a sound behind on the cobbles outside the kitchen door.

'Yur feyther!' cried Jim between his teeth. 'Gang upstairs wi' ye.' And
he pointed to a door in the wall concealing a staircase to the upper
storey.

She sprang up, looked at the door and at him irresolutely, and then
stayed where she was, gaunt, pale, fever-eyed, the wreck and ghost of
her old self.

The steps neared. There was a rough voice in the kitchen, a surprised
exclamation, and her father had pushed past his brother into the room.

John Backhouse no sooner saw his daughter than his dull weather-beaten
face flamed into violence. With an oath he raised the heavy whip he held
in his hand, and flung himself towards her.

'Naw, ye'll not du'at!' cried Jim, throwing himself with all his feeble
strength on to his brother's arm. John swore and struggled, but the old
man stuck like a limpet.

'You let 'un aleann,' said Mary, drawing her tattered shawl over her
breast. 'If he aims to kill me, _aa_'ll not say naa. But he needn't
moider hisself! There's them abuve as ha' taken care o' that!'

She sank again into her chair, as though her limbs could not support
her, and her eyes closed in the utter indifference of a fatigue which
had made even fear impossible.

The father's arm dropped; he stood there sullenly looking at her. Jim,
thinking she had fainted, went up to her, took a glass of water out of
which she had already been drinking from the mahogany table, and held it
to her lips. She drank a little, and then with a desperate effort raised
herself, and clutching the arm of the chair, faced her father.

'Ye'll not hev to wait lang. Doan't ye fash yersel. Maybe it ull comfort
ye to knaw summat! Lasst Midsummer Day aa was on t' Shanmoor road, i' t'
gloaming. An' aa saw theer t' bogle--thee knaws, t' bogle o' Bleacliff
Tarn; an' she turned hersel, an' she spoak to me!'

She uttered the last words with a grim emphasis, dwelling on each, the
whole life of the wasted face concentrated in the terrible black eyes,
which gazed past the two figures within their immediate range into a
vacancy peopled with horror. Then a film came over them, the grip
relaxed, and she fell back with a lurch of the rocking-chair in a dead
swoon.

With the help of the neighbour from next door, Jim got her upstairs into
the room that had been hers. She awoke from her swoon only to fall into
the torpid sleep of exhaustion, which lasted for twelve hours.

'Keep her oot o' ma way,' said the father with an oath to Jim, 'or aa'll
not answer nayther for her nor me!'

She needed no telling. She soon crept downstairs again, and went to the
task of house-cleaning. The two men lived in the kitchen as before; when
they were at home she ate and sat in the parlour alone. Jim watched her
as far as his dull brain was capable of watching, and he dimly
understood that she was dying. Both men, indeed, felt a sort of
superstitious awe of her, she was so changed, so unearthly. As for the
story of the ghost, the old popular superstitions are almost dead in the
Cumbrian mountains, and the shrewd north-country peasant is in many
places quite as scornfully ready to sacrifice his ghosts to the Time
Spirit as any 'bold bad' haunter of scientific associations could wish
him to be. But in a few of the remoter valleys they still linger, though
beneath the surface. Either of the Backhouses, or Mary in her days of
health, would have suffered many things rather than allow a stranger to
suppose they placed the smallest credence in the story of Bleacliff
Tarn. But, all the same, the story which each had heard in childhood, on
stormy nights perhaps, when the mountain side was awful with the sounds
of tempest, had grown up with them, had entered deep into the tissue of
consciousness. In Mary's imagination the ideas and images connected with
it had now, under the stimulus of circumstance, become instinct with a
living pursuing terror. But they were present, though in a duller,
blunter state, in the minds of her father and uncle; and as the weeks
passed on, and the days lengthened towards midsummer, a sort of brooding
horror seemed to settle on the house.

Mary grew weaker and weaker; her cough kept Jim awake at nights; once or
twice when he went to help her with a piece of work which not even her
extraordinary will could carry her through, her hand burnt him like a
hot cinder. But she kept all other women out of the house by her mad,
strange ways; and if her uncle showed any consciousness of her state,
she turned upon him with her old temper, which had lost all its former
stormy grace, and had become ghastly by the contrast it brought out
between the tempestuous vindictive soul and the shaken weakness of
frame.

A doctor would have discovered at once that what was wrong with her was
phthisis, complicated with insanity; and the insanity, instead of taking
the hopeful optimistic tinge which is characteristic of the insanity of
consumption, had rather assumed the colour of the events from which the
disease itself had started. Cold, exposure, long-continued agony of mind
and body--the madness intertwined with an illness which had such roots
as these was naturally a madness of despair. One of its principal signs
was the fixed idea as to Midsummer Day. It never occurred to her as
possible that her life should be prolonged beyond that limit. Every
night, as she dragged herself up the steep little staircase to her room,
she checked off the day which had just passed from the days she had
still to live. She had made all her arrangements; she had even sewed
with her own hands, and that without any sense of special horror, but
rather in the provident peasant way, the dress in which she was to be
carried to her grave.

At last one day, her father, coming unexpectedly into the yard, saw her
carrying a heavy pail of water from the pump. Something stirred within
him, and he went up to her and forcibly took it from her. Their looks
met, and her poor mad eyes gazed intensely into his. As he moved forward
towards the house she crept after him, passing him into the parlour,
where she sank down breathless on the settle where she had been sleeping
for the last few nights, rather than face climbing the stairs. For the
first time he followed her, watching her gasping struggle for breath, in
spite of her impatient motion to him to go. After a few seconds he left
her, took his hat, went out, saddled his horse, and rode off to
Whinborough. He got Dr. Baker to promise to come over on the morrow, and
on his way back he called and requested to see Catherine Leyburn. He
stammeringly asked her to come and visit his daughter who was ill and
lonesome, and when she consented gladly he went on his way feeling a
load off his mind. What he had just done had been due to an undefined,
but still vehement prompting of conscience. It did not make it any the
less probable that the girl would die on or before Midsummer Day; but,
supposing her story were true, it absolved him from any charge of
assistance to the designs of those grisly powers in whose clutch she
was.

When the doctor came next morning a change for the worse had taken
place, and she was too feeble actively to resent his appearance. She lay
there on the settle, every now and then making superhuman efforts to get
up, which generally ended in a swoon. She refused to take any medicine,
she would hardly take any food, and to the doctor's questions she
returned no answer whatever. In the same way, when Catherine came, she
would be absolutely silent, looking at her with glittering, feverish
eyes, but taking no notice at all, whether she read or talked, or simply
sat quietly beside her.

After the silent period, as the days went on, and Midsummer Day drew
nearer, there supervened a period of intermittent delirium. In the
evenings, especially when her temperature rose, she became talkative and
incoherent, and Catherine would sometimes tremble as she caught the
sentences which, little by little, built up the girl's hidden tragedy
before her eyes. London streets, London lights, London darkness, the
agony of an endless wandering, the little clinging puny life, which
could never be stilled or satisfied, biting cold, intolerable pain, the
cheerless workhouse order, and, finally, the arms without a burden, the
breast without a child--these were the sharp fragments of experience, so
common, so terrible to the end of time, which rose on the troubled
surface of Mary Backhouse's delirium, and smote the tender heart of the
listener.

Then in the mornings she would lie suspicious and silent, watching
Catherine's face with the long gaze of exhaustion, as though trying to
find out from it whether her secret had escaped her. The doctor, who had
gathered the story of the 'bogle' from Catherine, to whom Jim had told
it, briefly and reluctantly, and with an absolute reservation of his own
views on the matter, recommended that if possible they should try and
deceive her as to the date of the day and month. Mere nervous excitement
might, he thought, be enough to kill her when the actual day and hour
came round. But all their attempts were useless. Nothing distracted the
intense sleepless attention with which the darkened mind kept always in
view that one absorbing expectation. Words fell from her at night which
seemed to show that she expected a summons--a voice along the fell,
calling her spirit into the dark. And then would come the shriek, the
struggle to get loose, the choked waking, the wandering, horror-stricken
eyes, subsiding by degrees into the old silent watch.

On the morning of the 23d, when Robert, sitting at his work, was looking
at Burwood through the window in the flattering belief that Catherine
was the captive of the weather, she had spent an hour or more with Mary
Backhouse, and the austere influences of the visit had perhaps had more
share than she knew in determining her own mood that day. The world
seemed such dross, the pretences of personal happiness so hollow and
delusive, after such a sight! The girl lay dying fast, with a look of
extraordinary attentiveness in her face, hearing every noise, every
footfall, and, as it seemed to Catherine, in a mood of inward joy. She
took, moreover, some notice of her visitor. As a rough tomboy of
fourteen, she had shown Catherine, who had taught her in the school
sometimes, and had especially won her regard on one occasion by a
present of some article of dress, a good many uncouth signs of
affection. On the morning in question Catherine fancied she saw
something of the old childish expression once or twice. At any rate,
there was no doubt her presence was soothing, as she read in her low
vibrating voice, or sat silently stroking the emaciated hand, raising it
every now and then to her lips with a rush of that intense pitifulness
which was to her the most natural of all moods.

The doctor, whom she met there, said that this state of calm was very
possibly only transitory. The night had been passed in a succession of
paroxysms, and they were almost sure to return upon her, especially as
he could get her to swallow none of the sedatives which might have
carried her in unconsciousness past the fatal moment. She would have
none of them; he thought that she was determined to allow of no
encroachments on the troubled remnants of intelligence still left to
her; so the only thing to be done was to wait and see the result. 'I
will come to-morrow,' said Catherine briefly; 'for the day certainly,
longer if necessary.' She had long ago established her claim to be
treated seriously as a nurse, and Dr. Baker made no objection. '_If_ she
lives so long,' he said dubiously. 'The Backhouses and Mrs. Irwin [the
neighbour] shall be close at hand. I will come in the afternoon and try
to get her to take an opiate; but I can't give it her by force, and
there is not the smallest chance of her consenting to it.'

All through Catherine's own struggle and pain during these two days the
image of the dying girl had lain at her heart. It served her as the
crucifix serves the Romanist; as she pressed it into her thought, it
recovered from time to time the failing forces of the will. Need life
be empty because self was left unsatisfied? Now, as she neared the
hamlet, the quality of her nature reasserted itself. The personal want
tugging at her senses, the personal soreness, the cry of resentful love,
were silenced. What place had they in the presence of this lonely agony
of death, this mystery, this opening beyond? The old heroic mood revived
in her. Her step grew swifter, her carriage more erect, and as she
entered the farm kitchen she felt herself once more ready in spirit for
what lay before her.

From the next room there came a succession of husky sibilant sounds, as
though some one were whispering hurriedly and continuously.

After her subdued greeting she looked inquiringly at Jim.

'She's in a taaking way,' said Jim, who looked more attenuated and his
face more like a pink and white parchment than ever. 'She's been
knacking an' taaking a long while. She woan't know ye. Luke ye,' he
continued, dropping his voice as he opened the 'house' door for her; 'ef
you want ayder ov oos, you jest call oot--sharp! Mrs. Irwin, shell stay
in wi' ye--she's not afeeard!'

The superstitious excitement which the looks and gestures of the old man
expressed touched Catherine's imagination, and she entered the room with
an inward shiver.

Mary Backhouse lay raised high on her pillows, talking to herself or to
imaginary other persons, with eyes wide open but vacant, and senses
conscious of nothing but the dream world in which the mind was
wandering. Catherine sat softly down beside her, unnoticed, thankful for
the chances of disease. If this delirium lasted till the ghost-hour--the
time of twilight, that is to say, which would begin about half-past
eight, and the duration of which would depend on the cloudiness of the
evening--was over, or, better still, till midnight were past, the strain
on the girl's agonised senses might be relieved, and death come at last
in softer, kinder guise.

'Has she been long like this?' she asked softly of the neighbour who sat
quietly knitting by the evening light.

The woman looked up and thought.

'Ay!' she said. 'Aa came in at tea-time, an' she's been maistly taakin'
ivver sence!'

The incoherent whisperings and restless movements, which obliged
Catherine constantly to replace the coverings over the poor wasted and
fevered body, went on for some time. Catherine noticed presently, with a
little thrill, that the light was beginning to change. The weather was
growing darker and stormier; the wind shook the house in gusts; and the
farther shoulder of High Fell, seen in distorted outline through the
casemented window, was almost hidden by the trailing rain clouds. The
mournful western light coming from behind the house struck the river
here and there; almost everything else was gray and dark. A mountain
ash, just outside the window, brushed the panes every now and then; and
in the silence every surrounding sound--the rare movements in the next
room, the voices of quarrelling children round the door of a
neighbouring house, the far-off barking of dogs--made itself distinctly
audible.

Suddenly Catherine, sunk in painful reverie, noticed that the mutterings
from the bed had ceased for some little time. She turned her chair, and
was startled to find those weird eyes fixed with recognition on herself.
There was a curious malign intensity, a curious triumph in them.

'It must be--eight o'clock,' said the gasping voice--'_eight o'clock_;'
and the tone became a whisper, as though the idea thus half
involuntarily revealed had been drawn jealously back into the
strongholds of consciousness.

'Mary,' said Catherine, falling on her knees beside the bed, and taking
one of the restless hands forcibly into her own, 'can't you put this
thought away from you? We are not the playthings of evil spirits--we are
the children of God! We are in His hands. No evil thing can harm us
against His will.'

It was the first time for many days she had spoken openly of the thought
which was in the mind of all, and her whole pleading soul was in her
pale, beautiful face. There was no response in the sick girl's
countenance, and again that look of triumph, of sinister exultation.
They had tried to cheat her into sleeping, and living, and in spite of
them, at the supreme moment, every sense was awake and expectant. To
what was the materialised peasant imagination looking forward? To an
actual call, an actual following to the free mountain-side, the rush of
the wind, the phantom figure floating on before her, bearing her into
the heart of the storm? Dread was gone, pain was gone; there was only
rapt excitement and fierce anticipation.

'Mary,' said Catherine again, mistaking her mood for one of tense
defiance and despair, 'Mary, if I were to go out now and leave Mrs.
Irwin with you, and if I were to go up all the way to the top of
Shanmoss and back again, and if I could tell you there was nothing
there, nothing!--if I were to stay out till the dark has come--it will
be here in half an hour--and you could be quite sure when you saw me
again, that there was nothing near you but the dear old hills, and the
power of God, could you believe me and try and rest and sleep?'

Mary looked at her intently. If Catherine could have seen clearly in the
dim light she would have caught something of the cunning of madness
slipping into the dying woman's expression. While she waited for the
answer there was a noise in the kitchen outside, an opening of the outer
door, and a voice. Catherine's heart stood still. She had to make a
superhuman effort to keep her attention fixed on Mary.

'Go!' said the hoarse whisper close beside her, and the girl lifted her
wasted hand, and pushed her visitor from her. 'Go!' it repeated
insistently, with a sort of wild beseeching; then, brokenly, the gasping
breath interrupting, 'There's naw fear--naw fear--fur the likes o' you!'

Catherine rose.

'I'm not afraid,' she said gently, but her hand shook as she pushed her
chair back; 'God is everywhere, Mary.'

She put on her hat and cloak, said something in Mrs. Irwin's ear, and
stooped to kiss the brow which to the shuddering sense under her will
seemed already cold and moist with the sweats of death. Mary watched her
go; Mrs. Irwin, with the air of one bewildered, drew her chair nearer to
the settle; and the light of the fire, shooting and dancing through the
June twilight, threw such fantastic shadows over the face on the pillow
that all expression was lost. What was moving in the crazed mind?
Satisfaction, perhaps, at having got rid of one witness, one jailer, one
of the various antagonistic forces surrounding her? She had a dim
frenzied notion she should have to fight for her liberty when the call
came, and she lay tense and rigid, waiting--the images of insanity
whirling through her brain, while the light slowly, slowly waned.

Catherine opened the door into the kitchen. The two carriers were
standing there, and Robert Elsmere also stood with his back to her,
talking to them in an undertone.

He turned at the sound behind him, and his start brought a sudden flush
to Catherine's cheek. Her face, as the candle-light struck it amid the
shadows of the doorway, was like an angelic vision to him--the heavenly
calm of it just exquisitely broken by the wonder, the shock, of his
presence.

'You here?' he cried, coming up to her, and taking her hand--what secret
instinct guided him?--close in both of his. 'I never dreamt of it--so
late. My cousin sent me over--she wished for news.'

She smiled involuntarily. It seemed to her she had expected this in some
sort all along. But her self-possession was complete.

'The excited state may be over in a short time now,' she answered him in
a quiet whisper; 'but at present it is at its height. It seemed to
please her'--and withdrawing her hand, she turned to John
Backhouse--'when I suggested that I should walk up to Shanmoss and back.
I said I would come back to her in half an hour or so, when the daylight
was quite gone, and prove to her there was nothing on the path.'

A hand caught her arm. It was Mrs. Irwin, holding the door close with
the other hand.

'Miss Leyburn--Miss Catherine! Yur not gawin' oot--not gawin' oop _that_
path?' The woman was fond of Catherine, and looked deadly frightened.

'Yes, I am, Mrs. Irwin--but I shall be back very soon. Don't leave her;
go back.' And Catherine motioned her back with a little peremptory
gesture.

'Doan't ye let 'ur, sir,' said the woman excitedly to Robert. 'One's
eneuf aa'm thinking.' And she pointed with a meaning gesture to the room
behind her.

Robert looked at Catherine, who was moving towards the outer door.

'I'll go with her,' he said hastily, his face lighting up. 'There is
nothing whatever to be afraid of, only don't leave your patient.'

Catherine trembled as she heard the words, but she made no sign, and the
two men and the woman watched their departure with blank uneasy
wonderment. A second later they were on the fell-side climbing a rough
stony path, which in places was almost a watercourse, and which wound up
the fell towards a tract of level swampy moss or heath, beyond which lay
the descent to Shanmoor. Daylight was almost gone; the stormy yellow
west was being fast swallowed up in cloud; below them as they climbed
lay the dark group of houses, with a light twinkling here and there. All
about them were black mountain forms; a desolate tempestuous wind drove
a gusty rain into their faces; a little beck roared beside them, and in
the distance from the black gulf of the valley the swollen river
thundered.

Elsmere looked down on his companion with an indescribable exultation, a
passionate sense of possession which could hardly restrain itself. He
had come back that morning with a mind clearly made up. Catherine had
been blind indeed when she supposed that any plan of his or hers would
have been allowed to stand in the way of that last wrestle with her, of
which he had planned all the methods, rehearsed all the arguments. But
when he reached the vicarage he was greeted with the news of her
absence. She was inaccessible it appeared for the day. No matter! The
vicar and he settled in the fewest possible words that he should stay
till Monday, Mrs. Thornburgh meanwhile looking on, saying what civility
demanded, and surprisingly little else. Then in the evening Mrs.
Thornburgh had asked of him with a manner of admirable indifference
whether he felt inclined for an evening walk to High Ghyll to inquire
after Mary Backhouse. The request fell in excellently with a lover's
restlessness, and Robert assented at once. The vicar saw him go with
puzzled brows and a quick look at his wife, whose head was bent close
over her worsted work.

It never occurred to Elsmere--or if it did occur, he pooh-poohed the
notion--that he should find Catherine still at her post far from home on
this dark stormy evening. But in the glow of joy which her presence had
brought him he was still capable of all sorts of delicate perceptions
and reasonings. His quick imagination carried him through the scene from
which she had just momentarily escaped. He had understood the exaltation
of her look and tone. If love spoke at all, ringed with such
surroundings, it must be with its most inward and spiritual voice, as
those speak who feel 'the Eternities' about them.

But the darkness hid her from him so well that he had to feel out the
situation for himself. He could not trace it in her face.

'We must go right up to the top of the pass,' she said to him as he held
a gate open for her which led them into a piece of larch plantation on
the mountain-side. 'The ghost is supposed to walk along this bit of road
above the houses, till it reaches the heath on the top, and then it
turns towards Bleacliff Tarn, which lies higher up to the right, under
High Fell.'

'Do you imagine your report will have any effect?'

'At any rate,' she said sighing, 'it seemed to me that it might divert
her thoughts a little from the actual horror of her own summons.
Anything is better than the torture of that one fixed idea as she lies
there.'

'What is that?' said Robert, startled a little by some ghostly sounds in
front of them. The little wood was almost dark, and he could see
nothing.

'Only a horse trotting on in front of us,' said Catherine; 'our voices
frightened him, I suppose. We shall be out on the fell again directly.'

And as they quitted the trees, a dark bulky form to the left suddenly
lifted a shadowy head from the grass, and clattered down the slope.

A cluster of white-stemmed birches just ahead of them caught whatever
light was still left in the atmosphere, their feathery tops bending and
swaying against the sky.

'How easily, with mind attuned, one could people this whole path with
ghosts!' said Robert. 'Look at those stems, and that line of stream
coming down to the right, and listen to the wind among the fern.'

For they were passing a little gully deep in bracken, up which the blast
was tearing its tempestuous way.

Catherine shivered a little, and the sense of physical exhaustion, which
had been banished like everything else--doubt, humiliation,
bitterness--by the one fact of his presence, came back on her.

'There _is_ something rather awful in this dark and storm,' she said,
and paused.

'Would you have faced it alone?' he asked, his voice thrilling her with
a hundred different meanings. 'I am glad I prevented it.'

'I have no fear of the mountains,' she said, trembling. 'I know them,
and they me.'

'But you are tired--your voice is tired--and the walk might have been
more of an effort than you thought it. Do you never think of yourself?'

'Oh dear, yes,' said Catherine, trying to smile, and could find nothing
else to say. They walked on a few moments in silence, splashes of rain
breaking in their faces. Robert's inward excitement was growing fast.
Suddenly Catherine's pulse stood still. She felt her hand lifted, drawn
within his arm, covered close with his warm trembling clasp.

'Catherine, let it stay there. Listen one moment. You gave me a hard
lesson yesterday, too hard--I cannot learn it--I am bold--I claim you.
Be my wife. Help me through this difficult world. I have loved you from
the first moment. Come to me. Be kind to me.'

She could hardly see his face, but she could feel the passion in his
voice and touch. Her cheek seemed to droop against his arm. He felt her
tottering.

'Let me sit down,' she said; and after one moment of dizzy silence he
guided her to a rock, sinking down himself beside her, longing, but not
daring, to shelter her under his broad Inverness cloak against the
storm.

'I told you,' she said, almost whispering, 'that I was bound, tied to
others.'

'I do not admit your plea,' he said passionately; 'no, not for a moment.
For two days have I been tramping over the mountains thinking it out for
yourself and me. Catherine, your mother has no son--she should find one
in me. I have no sisters--give me yours. I will cherish them as any
brother could. Come and enrich my life; you shall still fill and shelter
theirs. I dare not think what my future might be with you to guide, to
inspire, to bless--dare not, lest with a word you should plunge me into
an outer darkness I cannot face.'

He caught her unresisting hand, and raised it to his lips.

'Is there no sacredness,' he said brokenly, 'in the fate that has
brought us together--out of all the world--here in this lonely valley?
Come to me, Catherine. You shall never fail the old ties, I promise you;
and new hands shall cling to you--new voices shall call you blessed.'

Catherine could hardly breathe. Every word had been like balm upon a
wound--like a ray of intense light in the gloom about them. Oh, where
was this softness bearing her--this emptiness of all will, of all
individual power? She hid her eyes with her other hand, struggling to
recall that far away moment in Marrisdale. But the mind refused to work.
Consciousness seemed to retain nothing but the warm grasp of his
hand--the tones of his voice.

He saw her struggle, and pressed on remorselessly.

'Speak to me--say one little kind word. Oh, you cannot send me away
miserable and empty!'

She turned to him, and laid her trembling free hand on his arm. He
clasped them both with rapture.

'Give me a little time.'

'No, no,' he said, and it almost seemed to her that he was smiling:
'time for you to escape me again, my wild mountain bird; time for you to
think yourself and me into all sorts of moral mists! No, you shall not
have it. Here, alone with God and the dark--bless me or undo me. Send me
out to the work of life maimed and sorrowful, or send me out your
knight, your possession, pledged----'

But his voice failed him. What a note of youth, of imagination, of
impulsive eagerness there was through it all! The more slowly-moving
inarticulate nature was swept away by it. There was but one object clear
to her in the whole world of thought or sense, everything else had sunk
out of sight--drowned in a luminous mist.

He rose and stood before her as he delivered his ultimatum, his tall
form drawn up to its full height. In the east, across the valley, above
the farther buttress of High Fell, there was a clearer strip of sky,
visible for a moment among the moving storm clouds, and a dim haloed
moon shone out in it. Far away a white-walled cottage glimmered against
the fell; the pools at their feet shone in the weird passing light.

She lifted her head, and looked at him, still irresolute. Then she too
rose, and helplessly, like some one impelled by a will not her own, she
silently held out to him two white trembling hands.

'Catherine--my angel--my wife!'

There was something in the pale virginal grace of look and form which
kept his young passion in awe. But he bent his head again over those
yielded hands, kissing them with dizzy unspeakable joy.

       *       *       *       *       *

About twenty minutes later Catherine and Robert, having hurried back
with all speed from the top of Shanmoss, reached the farmhouse door. She
knocked. No one answered. She tried the lock; it yielded, and they
entered. No one in the kitchen. She looked disturbed and
conscience-stricken.

'Oh!' she cried to him, under her breath; 'have we been too long?' And
hurrying into the inner room she left him waiting.

Inside was a mournful sight. The two men and Mrs. Irwin stood close
round the settle, but as she came nearer, Catherine saw Mary Backhouse
lying panting on her pillows, her breath coming in loud gasps, her dress
and all the coverings of the bed showing signs of disorder and
confusion, her black hair tossed about her.

'It's bin awfu' work sence you left, miss,' whispered Mrs. Irwin to
Catherine excitedly, as she joined them. 'She thowt she heerd soombody
fleytin' and callin'--it was t' wind came skirlin' round t' place, an'
she aw' but thrown hirsel' oot o' t' bed, an' aa shooted for Jim, and
they came, and they and I--it's bin as much as we could a' du to hod
'er.'

'Luke! Steady!' exclaimed Jim. 'She'll try it again.'

For the hands were moving restlessly from side to side, and the face was
working again. There was one more desperate effort to rise, which the
two men checked--gently enough, but effectually--and then the exhaustion
seemed complete. The lids fell, and the struggle for breath was pitiful.

Catherine flew for some drugs which the doctor had left, and shown her
how to use. After some twenty minutes they seemed to give relief, and
the great haunted eyes opened once more.

Catherine held barley-water to the parched lips, and Mary drank
mechanically, her gaze still intently fixed on her nurse. When Catherine
put down the glass the eyes followed her with a question which the lips
had no power to frame.

'Leave her now a little,' said Catherine to the others. 'The fewer
people and the more air the better. And please let the door be open; the
room is too hot.'

They went out silently, and Catherine sank down beside the bed. Her
heart went out in unspeakable longing towards the poor human wreck
before her. For her there was no morrow possible, no dawn of other and
softer skies. All was over: life was lived, and all its heavenly
capabilities missed for ever. Catherine felt her own joy hurt her, and
her tears fell fast.

'Mary,' she said, laying her face close beside the chill face on the
pillow, 'Mary, I went out; I climbed all the path as far as Shanmoss.
There was nothing evil there. Oh, I must tell you! _Can_ I make you
understand? I want you to feel that it is only God and love that are
real. Oh, think of them! He would not let you be hurt and terrified in
your pain, poor Mary. He loves you. He is waiting to comfort you--to set
you free from pain for ever; and He has sent you a sign by me.' ... She
lifted her head from the pillow, trembling and hesitating. Still that
feverish questioning gaze on the face beneath her, as it lay in deep
shadow cast by a light on the window-sill some paces away.

'You sent me out, Mary, to search for something, the thought of which
has been tormenting and torturing you. You thought God would let a dark
lost spirit trouble you and take you away from Him--you, His child, whom
He made and whom He loves! And listen! While you thought you were
sending me out to face the evil thing, you were really my kind
angel--God's messenger--sending me to meet the joy of my whole life!

'There was some one waiting here just now,' she went on hurriedly,
breathing her sobbing words into Mary's ear. 'Some one who has loved me,
and whom I love. But I had made him sad, and myself; then when you sent
me out he came too; we walked up that path, you remember, beyond the
larchwood, up to the top, where the stream goes under the road. And
there he spoke to me, and I couldn't help it any more. And I promised to
love him and be his wife. And if it hadn't been for you, Mary, it would
never have happened. God had put it into your hand, this joy, and I
bless you for it! Oh, and Mary--Mary--it is only for a little little
while this life of ours! Nothing matters--not our worst sin and
sorrow--but God, and our love to Him. I shall meet you some day--I pray
I may--in His sight and all will be well, the pain all forgotten--all!'

She raised herself again and looked down with yearning passionate pity
on the shadowed form. Oh, blessed answer of heart to heart! There were
tears forming under the heavy lids, the corners of the lips were relaxed
and soft. Slowly the feeble hand sought her own. She waited in an
intense expectant silence.

There was a faint breathing from the lips; she stooped and caught it.

'Kiss me!' said the whisper; and she laid her soft fresh lips to the
parched mouth of the dying. When she lifted her head again Mary still
held her hand; Catherine softly stretched out hers for the opiate Dr.
Baker had left; it was swallowed without resistance, and a quiet to
which the invalid had been a stranger for days stole little by little
over the wasted frame. The grasp of the fingers relaxed, the laboured
breath came more gently, and in a few more minutes she slept. Twilight
was long over. The ghost-hour was past, and the moon outside was slowly
gaining a wider empire in the clearing heavens.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a little after ten o'clock when Rose drew aside the curtain at
Burwood and looked out.

'There is the lantern,' she said to Agnes, 'just by the vicarage. How
the night has cleared!'

She turned back to her book. Agnes was writing letters. Mrs. Leyburn was
sitting by the bit of fire that was generally lit for her benefit in the
evenings, her white shawl dropping gracefully about her, a copy of the
_Cornhill_ on her lap. But she was not reading, she was meditating, and
the girls thought her out of spirits. The hall door opened.

'There is some one with Catherine!' cried Rose, starting up. Agnes
suspended her letter.

'Perhaps the vicar,' said Mrs. Leyburn, with a little sigh.

A hand turned the drawing-room door, and in the doorway stood Elsmere.
Rose caught a gray dress disappearing up the little stairs behind him.

Elsmere's look was enough for the two girls. They understood in an
instant. Rose flushed all over. The first contact with love is
intoxicating to any girl of eighteen, even though the romance be not
hers. But Mrs. Leyburn sat bewildered.

Elsmere went up to her, stooped and took her hand.

'Will you give her to me, Mrs. Leyburn?' he said, his boyish looks
aglow, his voice unsteady. 'Will you let me be a son to you?'

Mrs. Leyburn rose. He still held her hand. She looked up at him
helplessly.

'Oh, Mr. Elsmere, where is Catherine?'

'I brought her home,' he said gently. 'She is mine, if you will it. Give
her to me again!'

Mrs. Leyburn's face worked pitifully. The rectory and the wedding dress,
which had lingered so regretfully in her thoughts since her last sight
of Catherine, sank out of them altogether.

'She has been everything in the world to us, Mr. Elsmere.'

'I know she has,' he said simply. 'She shall be everything in the world
to you still. I have had hard work to persuade her. There will be no
chance for me if you don't help me.'

Another breathless pause. Then Mrs. Leyburn timidly drew him to her, and
he stooped his tall head and kissed her like a son.

'Oh, I must go to Catherine!' she said, hurrying away, her pretty
withered cheeks wet with tears.

Then the girls threw themselves on Elsmere. The talk was all animation
and excitement for the moment, not a tragic touch in it. It was as well
perhaps that Catherine was not there to hear!

'I give you fair warning,' said Rose, as she bade him good-night, 'that
I don't know how to behave to a brother. And I am equally sure that Mrs.
Thornburgh doesn't know how to behave to a _fiancé_.'

Robert threw up his arms in mock terror at the name, and departed.

'We are abandoned,' cried Rose, flinging herself into the chair
again--then with a little flash of half irresolute wickedness--'and we
are free! Oh, I hope she will be happy!'

And she caught Agnes wildly round the neck as though she would drown her
first words in her last.

'Madcap!' cried Agnes, struggling. 'Leave me at least a little breath to
wish Catherine joy!'

And they both fled upstairs.

There was indeed no prouder woman in the three kingdoms than Mrs.
Thornburgh that night. After all the agitation downstairs she could not
persuade herself to go to bed. She first knocked up Sarah and
communicated the news; then she sat down before a pier-glass in her own
room studying the person who had found Catherine Leyburn a husband.

'My doing from beginning to end,' she cried with a triumph beyond words.
'William has had _nothing_ to do with it. Robert has had scarcely as
much. And to think how little I dreamt of it when I began! Well, to be
sure, no one could have _planned_ marrying those two. There's no one but
Providence could have foreseen it--they're so different. And after all
it's _done_. Now then, whom shall I have next year?'



BOOK II

SURREY



CHAPTER XI


Farewell to the mountains!

The scene in which the next act of this unpretending history is to run
its course is of a very different kind. In place of the rugged northern
nature--a nature wild and solitary indeed, but still rich, luxuriant,
and friendly to the senses of the traveller, even in its loneliest
places. The heaths and woods of some districts of Surrey are scarcely
more thickly peopled than the fells of Westmoreland; the walker may
wander for miles, and still enjoy an untamed primitive earth, guiltless
of boundary or furrow, the undisturbed home of all that grows and flies,
where the rabbits, the lizards, and the birds live their life as they
please, either ignorant of intruding man or strangely little incommoded
by his neighbourhood. And yet there is nothing forbidding or austere in
these wide solitudes. The patches of graceful birch-wood; the miniature
lakes nestling among them; the brakes of ling--pink, faintly scented, a
feast for every sense; the stretches of purple heather, glowing into
scarlet under the touch of the sun; the scattered farm-houses, so mellow
in colour, so pleasant in outline; the general softness and lavishness
of the earth and all it bears, make these Surrey commons not a
wilderness but a paradise. Nature, indeed, here is like some spoilt
petulant child. She will bring forth nothing, or almost nothing, for
man's grosser needs. Ask her to bear corn or pasture flocks, and she
will be miserly and grudging. But ask her only to be beautiful,
enticing, capriciously lovely, and she will throw herself into the task
with all the abandonment, all the energy, that heart could wish.

It is on the borders of one of the wilder districts of a county, which
is throughout a strange mixture of suburbanism and the desert, that we
next meet with Robert and Catherine Elsmere. The rectory of Murewell
occupied the highest point of a gentle swell of ground which sloped
through cornfields and woods to a plain of boundless heather on the
south, and climbed away on the north towards the long chalk ridge of the
Hog's Back. It was a square white house pretending neither to beauty nor
state, a little awkwardly and barely placed, with only a small stretch
of grass and a low hedge between it and the road. A few tall firs
climbing above the roof gave a little grace and clothing to its southern
side, and behind it there was a garden sloping softly down towards the
village at its foot--a garden chiefly noticeable for its grass walks,
the luxuriance of the fruit trees clinging to its old red walls, and the
masses of pink and white phloxes which now in August gave it the
floweriness and the gaiety of an Elizabethan song. Below in the hollow
and to the right lay the picturesque medley of the village--roofs and
gables and chimneys, yellow-gray thatch, shining whitewash, and mellowed
brick, making a bright patchwork among the softening trees, thin wreaths
of blue smoke, like airy ribbons, tangled through it all. Rising over
the rest was a house of some dignity. It had been an old manor-house,
now it was half ruinous and the village inn. Some generations back the
squire of the day had dismantled it, jealous that so big a house should
exist in the same parish as the Hall, and the spoils of it had furnished
the rectory; so that the homely house was fitted inside with mahogany
doors and carved cupboard fronts, in which Robert delighted, and in
which even Catherine felt a proprietary pleasure.

Altogether a quiet, rural, English spot. If the house had no beauty, it
commanded a world of loveliness. All around it--north, south, and
west--there spread, as it were, a vast playground of heather and wood
and grassy common, in which the few workaday patches of hedge and
ploughed land seemed ingulfed and lost. Close under the rectory windows,
however, was a vast sloping cornfield, belonging to the glebe, the
largest and fruitfulest of the neighbourhood. At the present moment it
was just ready for the reaper--the golden ears had clearly but a few
more days or hours to ripple in the sun. It was bounded by a dark
summer-scorched belt of wood, and beyond, over the distance, rose a blue
pointed hill, which seemed to be there only to attract and make a centre
for the sunsets.

As compared with her Westmoreland life, the first twelve months of
wifehood had been to Catherine Elsmere a time of rapid and changing
experience. A few days out of their honeymoon had been spent at Oxford.
It was a week before the opening of the October term, but many of the
senior members of the University were already in residence, and the
stagnation of the Long Vacation was over. Langham was up; so was Mr.
Grey, and many another old friend of Robert's. The bride and bridegroom
were much fêted in a quiet way. They dined in many common rooms and
bursaries; they were invited to many luncheons, whereat the
superabundance of food and the length of time spent upon it made the
Puritan Catherine uncomfortable; and Langham devoted himself to taking
the wife through colleges and gardens, Schools and Bodleian, in most
orthodox fashion, indemnifying himself afterwards for the sense of
constraint her presence imposed upon him by a talk and a smoke with
Robert.

He could not understand the Elsmere marriage. That a creature so mobile,
so sensitive, so susceptible as Elsmere should have fallen in love with
this stately silent woman, with her very evident rigidities of thought
and training, was only another illustration of the mysteries of
matrimony. He could not get on with her, and after a while did not try
to do so.

There could be no doubt as to Elsmere's devotion. He was absorbed,
wrapped up in her.

'She has affected him,' thought the tutor, 'at a period of life when he
is more struck by the difficulty of being morally strong than by the
difficulty of being intellectually clear. The touch of religious genius
in her braces him like the breath of an Alpine wind. One can see him
expanding, glowing under it. _Bien!_ sooner he than I. To be fair,
however, let me remember that she decidedly does not like me--which may
cut me off from Elsmere. However'--and Langham sighed over his
fire--'what have he and I to do with one another in the future? By all
the laws of character something untoward might come out of this
marriage. But she will mould him, rather than he her. Besides, she will
have children--and that solves most things.'

Meanwhile, if Langham dissected the bride as he dissected most people,
Robert, with that keen observation which lay hidden somewhere under his
careless boyish ways, noticed many points of change about his old
friend. Langham seemed to him less human, more strange, than ever; the
points of contact between him and active life were lessening in number
term by term. He lectured only so far as was absolutely necessary for
the retention of his post, and he spoke with wholesale distaste of his
pupils. He had set up a book on 'The Schools of Athens,' but when Robert
saw the piles of disconnected notes already accumulated, he perfectly
understood that the book was a mere blind, a screen, behind which a
difficult fastidious nature trifled and procrastinated as it pleased.

Again, when Elsmere was an undergraduate Langham and Grey had been
intimate. Now, Langham's tone _à propos_ of Grey's politics and Grey's
dreams of Church Reform was as languidly sarcastic as it was with regard
to most of the strenuous things of life. 'Nothing particular is true,'
his manner said, 'and all action is a degrading _pis-aller_. Get through
the day somehow, with as little harm to yourself and other people as may
be; do your duty if you like it, but, for heaven's sake, don't cant
about it to other people!'

If the affinities of character count for much, Catherine and Henry Grey
should certainly have understood each other. The tutor liked the look of
Elsmere's wife. His kindly brown eyes rested on her with pleasure; he
tried in his shy but friendly way to get at her, and there was in both
of them a touch of homeliness, a sheer power of unworldliness that
should have drawn them together. And indeed Catherine felt the charm,
the spell of this born leader of men. But she watched him with a sort
of troubled admiration, puzzled, evidently, by the halo of moral dignity
surrounding him, which contended with something else in her mind
respecting him. Some words of Robert's, uttered very early in their
acquaintance, had set her on her guard. Speaking of religion, Robert had
said, 'Grey is not one of us'; and Catherine, restrained by a hundred
ties of training and temperament, would not surrender herself, and could
not if she would.

Then had followed their home-coming to the rectory, and that first
institution of their common life, never to be forgotten for the
tenderness and the sacredness of it. Mrs. Elsmere had received them, and
had then retired to a little cottage of her own close by. She had of
course already made the acquaintance of her daughter-in-law, for she had
been the Thornburghs' guest for ten days before the marriage in
September, and Catherine, moreover, had paid her a short visit earlier
in the summer. But it was now that for the first time she realised to
the full the character of the woman Robert had married. Catherine's
manner to her was sweetness itself. Parted from her own mother as she
was, the younger woman's strong filial instincts spent themselves in
tending the mother who had been the guardian and life of Robert's youth.
And Mrs. Elsmere in return was awed by Catherine's moral force and
purity of nature, and proud of her personal beauty, which was so real,
in spite of the severity of the type, and to which marriage had given,
at any rate for the moment, a certain added softness and brilliancy.

But there were difficulties in the way. Catherine was a little too apt
to treat Mrs. Elsmere as she would have treated her own mother. But to
be nursed and protected, to be screened from draughts, and run after
with shawls and stools was something wholly new and intolerable to Mrs.
Elsmere. She could not away with it, and as soon as she had sufficiently
lost her first awe of her daughter-in-law she would revenge herself in
all sorts of droll ways, and with occasional flashes of petulant Irish
wit which would make Catherine colour and draw back. Then Mrs. Elsmere,
touched with remorse, would catch her by the neck and give her a
resounding kiss, which perhaps puzzled Catherine no less than her
sarcasm of a minute before.

Moreover Mrs. Elsmere felt ruefully from the first that her new daughter
was decidedly deficient in the sense of humour.

'I believe it's that father of hers,' she would say to herself crossly.
'By what Robert tells me of him he must have been one of the people who
get ill in their minds for want of a good mouth-filling laugh now and
then. The man who can't amuse himself a bit out of the world is sure to
get his head addled somehow, poor creature.'

Certainly it needed a faculty of laughter to be always able to take Mrs.
Elsmere on the right side. For instance, Catherine was more often
scandalised than impressed by her mother-in-law's charitable
performances.

Mrs. Elsmere's little cottage was filled with workhouse orphans sent to
her from different London districts. The training of these girls was the
chief business of her life, and a very odd training it was, conducted in
the noisiest way and on the most familiar terms. It was undeniable that
the girls generally did well, and they invariably adored Mrs. Elsmere,
but Catherine did not much like to think about them. Their household
teaching under Mrs. Elsmere and her old servant Martha--as great an
original as herself--was so irregular, their religious training so
extraordinary, the clothes in which they were allowed to disport
themselves so scandalous to the sober taste of the rector's wife, that
Catherine involuntarily regarded the little cottage on the hill as a
spot of misrule in the general order of the parish. She would go in,
say, at eleven o'clock in the morning, find her mother-in-law in bed,
half-dressed, with all her handmaidens about her, giving her orders,
reading her letters and the newspaper, cutting out her girls' frocks,
instructing them in the fashions, or delivering little homilies on
questions suggested by the news of the day to the more intelligent of
them. The room, the whole house, would seem to Catherine in a detestable
litter. If so, Mrs. Elsmere never apologised for it. On the contrary, as
she saw Catherine sweep a mass of miscellaneous _débris_ off a chair in
search of a seat, the small bright eyes would twinkle with something
that was certainly nearer amusement than shame.

And in a hundred other ways Mrs. Elsmere's relations with the poor of
the parish often made Catherine miserable. She herself had the most
angelic pity and tenderness for sorrows and sinners; but sin was sin to
her, and when she saw Mrs. Elsmere more than half attracted by the
stronger vices, and in many cases more inclined to laugh with what was
human in them than to weep over what was vile, Robert's wife would go
away and wrestle with herself, that she might be betrayed into nothing
harsh towards Robert's mother.

But fate allowed their differences, whether they were deep or shallow,
no time to develop. A week of bitter cold at the beginning of January
struck down Mrs. Elsmere, whose strange ways of living were more the
result of certain long-standing delicacies of health than she had ever
allowed any one to imagine. A few days of acute inflammation of the
lungs, borne with a patience and heroism which showed the Irish
character at its finest--a moment of agonised wrestling with that terror
of death which had haunted the keen vivacious soul from its earliest
consciousness, ending in a glow of spiritual victory--and Robert found
himself motherless. He and Catherine had never left her since the
beginning of the illness. In one of the intervals towards the end, when
there was a faint power of speech, she drew Catherine's cheek down to
her and kissed her.

'God bless you!' the old woman's voice said, with a solemnity in it
which Robert knew well, but which Catherine had never heard before. 'Be
good to him, Catherine--be always good to him!'

And she lay looking from the husband to the wife with a certain
wistfulness which pained Catherine, she knew not why. But she answered
with tears and tender words, and at last the mother's face settled into
a peace which death did but confirm.

This great and unexpected loss, which had shaken to their depths all the
feelings and affections of his youth, had thrown Elsmere more than ever
on his wife. To him, made as it seemed for love and for enjoyment, grief
was a novel and difficult burden. He felt with passionate gratitude that
his wife helped him to bear it so that he came out from it not lessened
but ennobled, that she preserved him from many a lapse of nervous
weariness and irritation into which his temperament might easily have
been betrayed.

And how his very dependence had endeared him to Catherine! That
vibrating responsive quality in him, so easily mistaken for mere
weakness, which made her so necessary to him--there is nothing perhaps
which wins more deeply upon a woman. For all the while it was balanced
in a hundred ways by the illimitable respect which his character and his
doings compelled from those about him. To be the strength, the inmost
joy of a man who within the conditions of his life seems to you a hero
at every turn--there is no happiness more penetrating for a wife than
this.

       *       *       *       *       *

On this August afternoon the Elsmeres were expecting visitors. Catherine
had sent the pony-carriage to the station to meet Rose and Langham, who
was to escort her from Waterloo. For various reasons, all
characteristic, it was Rose's first visit to Catherine's new home.

Now she had been for six weeks in London, and had been persuaded to come
on to her sister, at the end of her stay. Catherine was looking forward
to her coming with many tremors. The wild ambitious creature had been
not one atom appeased by Manchester and its opportunities. She had gone
back to Whindale in April only to fall into more hopeless discontent
than ever. 'She can hardly be civil to anybody,' Agnes wrote to
Catherine. 'The cry now is all "London" or at least "Berlin," and she
cannot imagine why papa should ever have wished to condemn us to such a
prison.'

Catherine grew pale with indignation as she read the words, and thought
of her father's short-lived joy in the old house and its few green
fields, or of the confidence which had soothed his last moments, that it
would be well there with his wife and children, far from the hubbub of
the world.

But Rose and her whims were not facts which could be put aside. They
would have to be grappled with, probably humoured. As Catherine
strolled out into the garden, listening alternately for Robert and for
the carriage, she told herself that it would be a difficult visit. And
the presence of Mr. Langham would certainly not diminish its difficulty.
The mere thought of him set the wife's young form stiffening. A cold
breath seemed to blow from Edward Langham, which chilled Catherine's
whole being. Why was Robert so fond of him?

But the more Langham cut himself off from the world, the more Robert
clung to him in his wistful affectionate way. The more difficult their
intercourse became, the more determined the younger man seemed to be to
maintain it. Catherine imagined that he often scourged himself in secret
for the fact that the gratitude which had once flowed so readily had now
become a matter of reflection and resolution.

'Why should we always expect to get pleasure from our friends?' he had
said to her once with vehemence. 'It should be pleasure enough to love
them.' And she knew very well of whom he was thinking.

How late he was this afternoon. He must have been a long round. She had
news for him of great interest. The lodge-keeper from the Hall had just
looked in to tell the rector that the squire and his widowed sister were
expected home in four days.

But, interesting as the news was, Catherine's looks as she pondered it
were certainly not looks of pleased expectation. Neither of them,
indeed, had much cause to rejoice in the squire's advent. Since their
arrival in the parish the splendid Jacobean Hall had been untenanted.
The squire, who was abroad with his sister at the time of their coming,
had sent a civil note to the new rector on his settlement in the parish,
naming some common Oxford acquaintances, and desiring him to make what
use of the famous Murewell Library he pleased. 'I hear of you as a
friend to letters,' he wrote; 'do my books a service by using them.' The
words were graceful enough. Robert had answered them warmly. He had also
availed himself largely of the permission they had conveyed. We shall
see presently that the squire, though absent, had already made a deep
impression on the young man's imagination.

But unfortunately he came across the squire in two capacities. Mr.
Wendover was not only the owner of Murewell, he was also the owner of
the whole land of the parish, where, however, by a curious accident of
inheritance, dating some generations back, and implying some very remote
connection between the Wendover and Elsmere families, he was not the
patron of the living. Now the more Elsmere studied him under this
aspect, the deeper became his dismay. The estate was entirely in the
hands of an agent who had managed it for some fifteen years, and of
whose character the rector, before he had been two months in the parish,
had formed the very poorest opinion. Robert, entering upon his duties
with the ardour of the modern reformer, armed not only with charity but
with science, found himself confronted by the opposition of a man who
combined the shrewdness of an attorney with the callousness of a
drunkard. It seemed incredible that a great landowner should commit his
interests and the interests of hundreds of human beings to the hands of
such a person.

By and by, however, as the rector penetrated more deeply into the
situation, he found his indignation transferring itself more and more
from the man to the master. It became clear to him that in some respects
Henslowe suited the squire admirably. It became also clear to him that
the squire had taken pains for years to let it be known that he cared
not one rap for any human being on his estate in any other capacity than
as a rent-payer or wage-receiver. What! Live for thirty years in that
great house, and never care whether your tenants and labourers lived
like pigs or like men, whether the old people died of damp, or the
children of diphtheria, which you might have prevented! Robert's brow
grew dark over it.

The click of an opening gate. Catherine shook off her dreaminess at
once, and hurried along the path to meet her husband. In another moment
Elsmere came in sight, swinging along, a holly stick in his hand, his
face aglow with health and exercise and kindling at the sight of his
wife. She hung on his arm, and, with his hand laid tenderly on hers, he
asked her how she fared. She answered briefly, but with a little flush,
her eyes raised to his. She was within a few weeks of motherhood.

Then they strolled along talking. He gave her an account of his
afternoon, which, to judge from the worried expression which presently
effaced the joy of their meeting, had been spent in some unsuccessful
effort or other. They paused after a while, and stood looking over the
plain before them to a spot beyond the nearer belt of woodland, where
from a little hollow about three miles off there rose a cloud of bluish
smoke.

'He will do nothing!' cried Catherine, incredulous.

'Nothing! It is the policy of the estate, apparently, to let the old and
bad cottages fall to pieces. He sneers at one for supposing any
landowner has money for "philanthropy" just now. If the people don't
like the houses they can go. I told him I should appeal to the squire as
soon as he came home.'

'What did he say?'

'He smiled, as much as to say, "Do as you like, and be a fool for your
pains." How the squire can let that man tyrannise over the estate as he
does, I cannot conceive. Oh, Catherine, I am full of qualms about the
squire!'

'So am I,' she said, with a little darkening of her clear look. 'Old
Benham has just been in to say they are expected on Thursday.'

Robert started. 'Are these our last days of peace?' he said
wistfully--'the last days of our honeymoon, Catherine?'

She smiled at him with a little quiver of passionate feeling under the
smile.

'Can anything touch that?' she said under her breath.

'Do you know,' he said presently, his voice dropping, 'that it is only a
month to our wedding day? Oh, my wife, have I kept my promise--is the
new life as rich as the old?'

She made no answer, except the dumb sweet answer that love writes on
eyes and lips. Then a tremor passed over her.

'Are we too happy? Can it be well--be right?'

'Oh, let us take it like children!' he cried, with a shiver, almost
petulantly. 'There will be dark hours enough. It is so good to be
happy.'

She leant her cheek fondly against his shoulder. To her life always
meant self-restraint, self-repression, self-deadening, if need be. The
Puritan distrust of personal joy as something dangerous and ensnaring
was deep ingrained in her. It had no natural hold on him.

They stood a moment hand in hand fronting the cornfield and the
sun-filled west, while the afternoon breeze blew back the man's curly
reddish hair, long since restored to all its natural abundance.

Presently Robert broke into a broad smile.

'What do you suppose Langham has been entertaining Rose with on the way,
Catherine? I wouldn't miss her remarks to-night on the escort we
provided her for a good deal.'

Catherine said nothing, but her delicate eyebrows went up a little.
Robert stooped and lightly kissed her.

'You never performed a greater act of virtue even in _your_ life, Mrs.
Elsmere, than when you wrote Langham that nice letter of invitation.'

And then the young rector sighed, as many a boyish memory came crowding
upon him.

A sound of wheels! Robert's long legs took him to the gate in a
twinkling, and he flung it open just as Rose drove up in fine style, a
thin dark man beside her.

Rose lent her bright cheek to Catherine's kiss, and the two sisters
walked up to the door together, while Robert and Langham loitered after
them talking.

'Oh, Catherine!' said Rose under her breath, as they got into the
drawing-room, with a little theatrical gesture, 'why on earth did you
inflict that man and me on each other for two mortal hours?'

'Sh-sh!' said Catherine's lips, while her face gleamed with laughter.

Rose sank flushed upon a chair, her eyes glancing up with a little
furtive anger in them as the two gentlemen entered the room.

'You found each other easily at Waterloo?' asked Robert.

'Mr. Langham would never have found _me_,' said Rose drily; 'but I
pounced on him at last--just, I believe, as he was beginning to cherish
the hope of an empty carriage and the solitary enjoyment of his
_Saturday Review_.'

Langham smiled nervously. 'Miss Leyburn is too hard on a blind man,' he
said, holding up his eyeglass apologetically; 'it was my eyes, not my
will, that were at fault.'

Rose's lip curled a little. 'And Robert,' she cried, bending forward as
though something had just occurred to her, 'do tell me--I vowed I would
ask--_is_ Mr. Langham a Liberal or a Conservative? _He_ doesn't know!'

Robert laughed, so did Langham.

'Your sister,' he said, flushing, 'will have one so very precise in all
one says.'

He turned his handsome olive face towards her, an unwonted spark of
animation lighting up his black eyes. It was evident that he felt
himself persecuted, but it was not so evident whether he enjoyed the
process or disliked it.

'Oh dear, no!' said Rose nonchalantly. 'Only I have just come from a
house where everybody either loathes Mr. Gladstone or would die for him
to-morrow. There was a girl of seven and a boy of nine who were always
discussing "Coercion" in the corners of the schoolroom. So, of course, I
have grown political too, and began to catechise Mr. Langham at once,
and when he said "he didn't know," I felt I should like to set those
children at him! They would soon put some principles into him!'

'It is not generally lack of principle, Miss Rose,' said her
brother-in-law, 'that turns a man a doubter in politics, but too much!'

And while he spoke, his eyes resting on Langham, his smile broadened as
he recalled all those instances in their Oxford past, when he had taken
a humble share in one of the herculean efforts on the part of Langham's
friends, which were always necessary whenever it was a question of
screwing a vote out of him on any debated University question.

'How dull it must be to have too much principle!' cried Rose. 'Like a
mill choked with corn. No bread because the machine can't work!'

'Defend me from my friends!' cried Langham, roused. 'Elsmere, when did I
give you a right to caricature me in this way? If I were interested,' he
added, subsiding into his usual hesitating ineffectiveness, 'I suppose I
should know my own mind.'

And then seizing the muffins, he stood presenting them to Rose as though
in deprecation of any further personalities. Inside him there was a hot
protest against an unreasonable young beauty whom he had done his
miserable best to entertain for two long hours, and who in return had
made him feel himself more of a fool than he had done for years. Since
when had young women put on all these airs? In his young days they knew
their place.

Catherine meanwhile sat watching her sister. The child was more
beautiful than ever, but in other outer respects the Rose of Long
Whindale had undergone much transformation. The puffed sleeves, the
æsthetic skirts, the naïve adornments of bead and shell, the formless
hat, which it pleased her to imagine 'after Gainsborough,' had all
disappeared. She was clad in some soft fawn-coloured garment, cut very
much in the fashion; her hair was closely rolled and twisted about her
lightly-balanced head; everything about her was neat and fresh and
tight-fitting. A year ago she had been a damsel from the 'Earthly
Paradise'; now, so far as an English girl can achieve it, she might have
been a model for Tissot. In this phase, as in the other, there was a
touch of extravagance. The girl was developing fast, but had clearly not
yet developed. The restlessness, the self-consciousness of Long Whindale
were still there; out they spoke to the spectator in different ways.

But in her anxious study of her sister Catherine did not forget her
place of hostess. 'Did our man bring you through the park, Mr. Langham?'
she asked him timidly.

'Yes. What an exquisite old house!' he said, turning to her, and feeling
through all his critical sense the difference between the gentle
matronly dignity of the one sister and the young self-assertion of the
other.

'Ah,' said Robert, 'I kept that as a surprise! Did you ever see a more
perfect place?'

'What date?'

'Early Tudor--as to the oldest part. It was built by a relation of
Bishop Fisher's; then largely rebuilt under James I. Elizabeth stayed
there twice. There is a trace of a visit of Sidney's. Waller was there,
and left a copy of verses in the library. Evelyn laid out a great deal
of the garden. Lord Clarendon wrote part of his History in the garden,
et cetera, et cetera. The place is steeped in associations, and as
beautiful as a dream to begin with.'

'And the owner of all this is the author of _The Idols of the
Market-place_?'

Robert nodded.

'Did you ever meet him at Oxford? I believe he was there once or twice
during my time, but I never saw him.'

'Yes,' said Langham, thinking. 'I met him at dinner at the
Vice-Chancellor's, now I remember. A bizarre and formidable person--very
difficult to talk to,' he added reflectively.

Then as he looked up he caught a sarcastic twitch of Rose Leyburn's lip
and understood it in a moment. Incontinently he forgot the squire and
fell to asking himself what had possessed him on that luckless journey
down. He had never seemed to himself more perverse, more unmanageable;
and for once his philosophy did not enable him to swallow the certainty
that this slim flashing creature must have thought him a morbid idiot
with as much _sangfroid_ as usual.

Robert interrupted his reflections by some Oxford question, and
presently Catherine carried off Rose to her room. On their way they
passed a door, beside which Catherine paused hesitating, and then with a
bright flush on the face, which had such maternal calm in it already,
she threw her arm round Rose and drew her in. It was a white empty room,
smelling of the roses outside, and waiting in the evening stillness for
the life that was to be. Rose looked at it all--at the piles of tiny
garments, the cradle, the pictures from Retsch's 'Song of the Bell,'
which had been the companion of their own childhood, on the walls--and
something stirred in the girl's breast.

'Catherine, I believe you have everything you want, or you soon will
have!' she cried, almost with a kind of bitterness, laying her hands on
her sister's shoulders.

'Everything but worthiness!' said Catherine softly, a mist rising in her
calm gray eyes. 'And you, Röschen,' she added wistfully, 'have you been
getting a little more what you want?'

'What's the good of asking?' said the girl, with a little shrug of
impatience. 'As if creatures like me ever got what they want! London has
been good fun certainly--if one could get enough of it. Catherine, how
long is that marvellous person going to stay?' and she pointed in the
direction of Langham's room.

'A week,' said Catherine, smiling at the girl's disdainful tone. 'I was
afraid you didn't take to him.'

'I never saw such a being before,' declared Rose--'never! I thought I
should never get a plain answer from him about anything. He wasn't even
quite certain it was a fine day! I wonder if you set fire to him whether
he would be sure it hurt! A week, you say? Heigh ho! what an age!'

'Be kind to him,' said Catherine, discreetly veiling her own feelings,
and caressing the curly golden head as they moved towards the door.
'He's a poor lone don, and he was so good to Robert!'

'Excellent reason for you, Mrs. Elsmere,' said Rose, pouting; 'but----'

Her further remarks were cut short by the sound of the front-door bell.

'Oh, I had forgotten Mr. Newcome!' cried Catherine, starting. 'Come down
soon, Rose, and help us through.'

'Who is he?' inquired Rose sharply.

'A High Church clergyman near here, whom Robert asked to tea this
afternoon,' said Catherine, escaping.

Rose took her hat off very leisurely. The prospect downstairs did not
seem to justify despatch. She lingered and thought of 'Lohengrin' and
Albani, of the crowd of artistic friends that had escorted her to
Waterloo, of the way in which she had been applauded the night before,
of the joys of playing Brahms with a long-haired pupil of Rubinstein's,
who had dropped on one knee and kissed her hand at the end of it, etc.
During the last six weeks the colours of 'this threadbare world' had
been freshening before her in marvellous fashion. And now, as she stood
looking out, the quiet fields opposite, the sight of a cow pushing its
head through the hedge, the infinite sunset sky, the quiet of the house,
filled her with a sudden depression. How dull it all seemed--how wanting
in the glow of life!



CHAPTER XII


Meanwhile downstairs a curious little scene was passing, watched by
Langham, who, in his usual anti-social way, had retreated into a corner
of his own as soon as another visitor appeared. Beside Catherine sat a
Ritualist clergyman in cassock and long cloak--a saint clearly, though
perhaps, to judge from the slight restlessness of movement that seemed
to quiver through him perpetually, an irritable one. But he had the
saint's wasted unearthly look, the ascetic brow high and narrow, the
veins showing through the skin, and a personality as magnetic as it was
strong.

Catherine listened to the new-comer, and gave him his tea, with an
aloofness of manner which was not lost on Langham. 'She is the
Thirty-nine Articles in the flesh!' he said to himself. 'For her there
must neither be too much nor too little. How can Elsmere stand it?'

Elsmere apparently was not perfectly happy. He sat balancing his long
person over the arm of a chair listening to the recital of some of the
High Churchman's parish troubles with a slight half-embarrassed smile.
The vicar of Nottingham was always in trouble. The narrative he was
pouring out took shape in Langham's sarcastic sense as a sort of
classical epic, with the High Churchman as a new champion of
Christendom, harassed on all sides by pagan parishioners, crass
churchwardens, and treacherous bishops. Catherine's fine face grew more
and more set, nay disdainful. Mr. Newcome was quite blind to it. Women
never entered into his calculations except as sisters or as penitents.
At a certain diocesan conference he had discovered a sympathetic fibre
in the young rector of Murewell, which had been to the imperious
persecuted zealot like water to the thirsty. He had come to-day, drawn
by the same quality in Elsmere as had originally attracted Langham to
the St. Anselm's undergraduate, and he sat pouring himself out with as
much freedom as if all his companions had been as ready as he was to die
for an alb, or to spend half their days in piously circumventing a
bishop.

But presently the conversation had slid, no one knew how, from
Nottingham and its intrigues to London and its teeming East. Robert was
leading, his eye now on the apostolic-looking priest, now on his wife.
Mr. Newcome resisted, but Robert had his way. Then it came out that
behind these battles of kites and crows at Mottringham, there lay an
heroic period, when the pale ascetic had wrestled ten years with London
poverty, leaving health and youth and nerves behind him in the _mêlée_.
Robert dragged it out at last, that struggle, into open view, but with
difficulty. The Ritualist may glory in the discomfiture of an Erastian
bishop--what Christian dare parade ten years of love to God and man? And
presently round Elsmere's lip there dawned a little smile of triumph.
Catherine had shaken off her cold silence, her Puritan aloofness, was
bending forward eagerly--listening. Stroke by stroke, as the words and
facts were beguiled from him, all that was futile and quarrelsome in the
sharp-featured priest sank out of sight; the face glowed with inward
light; the stature of the man seemed to rise; the angel in him
unsheathed its wings. Suddenly a story of the slums that Mr. Newcome was
telling--a story of the purest Christian heroism told in the simplest
way--came to an end, and Catherine leaned towards him with a long
quivering breath.

'Oh, thank you, thank you! That must have been a joy, a privilege!'

Mr. Newcome turned and looked at her with surprise.

'Yes, it was a privilege,' he said slowly--the story had been an account
of the rescue of a young country lad from a London den of thieves and
profligates--'you are right; it was just that.'

And then some sensitive inner fibre of the man was set vibrating, and he
would talk no more of himself or his past, do what they would.

So Robert had hastily to provide another subject, and he fell upon that
of the squire.

Mr. Newcome's eyes flashed.

'He is coming back? I am sorry for you, Elsmere. "Woe is me that I am
constrained to dwell with Mesech, and to have my habitation among the
tents of Kedar!"'

And he fell back in his chair, his lips tightening, his thin long hand
lying along the arm of it, answering to that general impression of
combat, of the spiritual athlete, that hung about him.

'I don't know,' said Robert brightly, as he leant against the
mantelpiece looking curiously at his visitor. 'The squire is a man of
strong character, of vast learning. His library is one of the finest in
England, and it is at my service. I am not concerned with his opinions.'

'Ah, I see,' said Newcome in his driest voice, but sadly. 'You are one
of the people who believe in what you call tolerance--I remember.'

'Yes, that is an impeachment to which I plead guilty,' said Robert,
perhaps with equal dryness; 'and you--have your worries driven you to
throw tolerance overboard?'

Newcome bent forward quickly. Strange glow and intensity of the
fanatical eyes--strange beauty of the wasted persecuting lips!

'Tolerance!' he said with irritable vehemence--'tolerance! Simply
another name for betrayal, cowardice, desertion--nothing else. God,
Heaven, Salvation on the one side, the devil and hell on the other--and
one miserable life, one wretched sin-stained will, to win the battle
with; and in such a state of things _you_--' he drooped his voice,
throwing out every word with a scornful, sibilant emphasis--'_you_ would
have us behave as though our friends were our enemies and our enemies
our friends, as though eternal misery were a bagatelle and our faith a
mere alternative. _I stand for Christ_, and His foes are mine.'

'By which I suppose you mean,' said Robert quietly, 'that you would shut
your door on the writer of _The Idols of the Market-place_?'

'Certainly.'

And the priest rose, his whole attention concentrated on Robert, as
though some deeper-lying motive were suddenly brought into play than any
suggested by the conversation itself.

'Certainly. _Judge not_--so long as a man has not judged himself,--only
till then. As to an open enemy, the Christian's path is clear. We are
but soldiers under orders. What business have we to be truce-making on
our own account? The war is not ours, but God's!'

Robert's eyes had kindled. He was about to indulge himself in such a
quick passage of arms as all such natures as his delight in, when his
look travelled past the gaunt figure of the Ritualist vicar to his wife.
A sudden pang smote, silenced him. She was sitting with her face raised
to Newcome; and her beautiful gray eyes were full of a secret passion of
sympathy. It was like the sudden re-emergence of something repressed,
the satisfaction of something hungry. Robert moved closer to her, and
the colour flushed over all his young boyish face.

'To me,' he said in a low voice, his eyes fixed rather on her than on
Newcome, 'a clergyman has enough to do with those foes of Christ he
cannot choose but recognise. There is no making truce with vice or
cruelty. Why should we complicate our task and spend in needless
struggle the energies we might give to love and to our brother?'

His wife turned to him. There was trouble in her look, then a swift
lovely dawn of something indescribable. Newcome moved away with a
gesture that was half bitterness, half weariness.

'Wait, my friend,' he said slowly, 'till you have watched that man's
books eating the very heart out of a poor creature as I have. When you
have once seen Christ robbed of a soul that might have been His, by the
infidel of genius, you will loathe all this Laodicean cant of tolerance
as I do!'

There was an awkward pause. Langham, with his eyeglass on, was carefully
examining the make of a carved paper-knife lying near him. The strained
preoccupied mind of the High Churchman had never taken the smallest
account of his presence, of which Robert had been keenly, not to say
humorously, conscious throughout.

But after a minute or so the tutor got up, strolled forward, and
addressed Robert on some Oxford topic of common interest. Newcome, in a
kind of dream which seemed to have suddenly descended on him, stood near
them, his priestly cloak falling in long folds about him, his ascetic
face grave and rapt. Gradually, however, the talk of the two men
dissipated the mystical cloud about him. He began to listen, to catch
the savour of Langham's modes of speech, and of his languid indifferent
personality.

'I must go,' he said abruptly, after a minute or two, breaking in upon
the friends' conversation. 'I shall hardly get home before dark.'

He took a cold punctilious leave of Catherine, and a still colder and
slighter leave of Langham. Elsmere accompanied him to the gate.

On the way the older man suddenly caught him by the arm.

'Elsmere, let me--I am the elder by so many years--let me speak to you.
My heart goes out to you!'

And the eagle face softened; the harsh commanding presence became
enveloping, magnetic. Robert paused and looked down upon him, a quick
light of foresight in his eye. He felt what was coming.

And down it swept upon him, a hurricane of words hot from Newcome's
inmost being, a protest winged by the gathered passion of years against
certain 'dangerous tendencies' the elder priest discerned in the
younger, against the worship of intellect and science as such which
appeared in Elsmere's talk, in Elsmere's choice of friends. It was the
eternal cry of the mystic of all ages.

'Scholarship! learning!' Eyes and lips flashed into a vehement scorn.
'You allow them a value in themselves, apart from the Christian's test.
It is the modern canker, the modern curse! Thank God, my years in London
burnt it out of me! Oh, my friend, what have you and I to do with all
these curious triflings, which lead men oftener to rebellion than to
worship? Is this a time for wholesale trust, for a maudlin universal
sympathy? Nay, rather a day of suspicion, a day of repression!--a time
for trampling on the lusts of the mind no less than the lusts of the
body, a time when it is better to believe than to know, to pray than to
understand!'

Robert was silent a moment, and they stood together, Newcome's gaze of
fiery appeal fixed upon him.

'We are differently made, you and I,' said the young rector at last with
difficulty. 'Where you see temptation I see opportunity. I cannot
conceive of God as the Arch-plotter against His own creation!'

Newcome dropped his hold abruptly.

'A groundless optimism,' he said with harshness. 'On the track of the
soul from birth to death there are two sleuth-hounds--Sin and Satan.
Mankind for ever flies them, is for ever vanquished and devoured. I see
life always as a thread-like path between abysses along which man
_creeps_'--and his gesture illustrated the words--'with bleeding hands
and feet towards one--narrow--solitary outlet. Woe to him if he turn to
the right hand or the left--"I will repay, saith the Lord!"'

Elsmere drew himself up suddenly; the words seemed to him a blasphemy.
Then something stayed the vehement answer on his lips. It was a sense of
profound intolerable pity. What a maimed life! what an indomitable soul!
Husbandhood, fatherhood, and all the sacred education that flows from
human joy for ever self-forbidden, and this grim creed for recompense!

He caught Newcome's hand with a kind of filial eagerness.

'You are a perpetual lesson to me,' he said, most gently. 'When the
world is too much with me, I think of you and am rebuked. God bless you!
But I know myself. If I could see life and God as you see them for one
hour, I should cease to be a Christian in the next!'

A flush of something like sombre resentment passed over Newcome's face.
There is a tyrannical element in all fanaticism, an element which makes
opposition a torment. He turned abruptly away, and Robert was left
alone.

It was a still clear evening, rich in the languid softness and balm
which mark the first approaches of autumn. Elsmere walked back to the
house, his head uplifted to the sky which lay beyond the cornfield, his
whole being wrought into a passionate protest--a passionate invocation
of all things beautiful and strong and free, a clinging to life and
nature as to something wronged and outraged.

Suddenly his wife stood beside him. She had come down to warn him that
it was late and that Langham had gone to dress; but she stood lingering
by his side after her message was given, and he made no movement to go
in. He turned to her, the exaltation gradually dying out of his face,
and at last he stooped and kissed her with a kind of timidity unlike
him. She clasped both hands on his arm and stood pressing towards him as
though to make amends--for she knew not what. Something--some sharp
momentary sense of difference, of antagonism, had hurt that inmost fibre
which is the conscience of true passion. She did the most generous, the
most ample penance for it as she stood there talking to him of
half-indifferent things, but with a magic, a significance of eye and
voice which seemed to take all the severity from her beauty and make her
womanhood itself.

       *       *       *       *       *

At the evening meal Rose appeared in pale blue, and it seemed to
Langham, fresh from the absolute seclusion of college rooms in vacation,
that everything looked flat and stale beside her, beside the flash of
her white arms, the gleam of her hair, the confident grace of every
movement. He thought her much too self-conscious and self-satisfied; and
she certainly did not make herself agreeable to him; but for all that he
could hardly take his eyes off her; and it occurred to him once or twice
to envy Robert the easy childish friendliness she showed to him, and to
him alone of the party. The lack of real sympathy between her and
Catherine was evident to the stranger at once--what, indeed, could the
two have in common? He saw that Catherine was constantly on the point of
blaming, and Rose constantly on the point of rebelling. He caught the
wrinkling of Catherine's brow as Rose presently, in emulation apparently
of some acquaintances she had been making in London, let slip the names
of some of her male friends without the 'Mr.,' or launched into some
bolder affectation than usual of a comprehensive knowledge of London
society. The girl, in spite of all her beauty, and her fashion, and the
little studied details of her dress, was in reality so crude, so much of
a child under it all, that it made her audacities and assumptions the
more absurd, and he could see that Robert was vastly amused by them.

But Langham was not merely amused by her. She was too beautiful and too
full of character.

It astonished him to find himself afterwards edging over to the corner
where she sat with the rectory cat on her knee--an inferior animal, but
the best substitute for Chattie available. So it was, however; and once
in her neighbourhood he made another serious effort to get her to talk
to him. The Elsmeres had never seen him so conversational. He dropped
his paradoxical melancholy; he roared as gently as any sucking dove; and
Robert, catching from the pessimist of St. Anselm's, as the evening went
on, some hesitating commonplaces worthy of a bashful undergraduate on
the subject of the boats and Commemoration, had to beat a hasty retreat,
so greatly did the situation tickle his sense of humour.

But the tutor made his various ventures under a discouraging sense of
failure. What a capricious ambiguous creature it was, how fearless, how
disagreeably alive to all his own damaging peculiarities! Never had he
been so piqued for years, and as he floundered about trying to find some
common ground where he and she might be at ease, he was conscious
throughout of her mocking indifferent eyes, which seemed to be saying to
him all the time, 'You are not interesting--no, not a bit! You are
tiresome, and I see through you, but I must talk to you, I suppose,
_faute de mieux_.'

Long before the little party separated for the night Langham had given
it up, and had betaken himself to Catherine, reminding himself with some
sharpness that he had come down to study his friend's life, rather than
the humours of a provoking girl. How still the summer night was round
the isolated rectory; how fresh and spotless were all the appointments
of the house; what a Quaker neatness and refinement everywhere! He drank
in the scent of air and flowers with which the rooms were filled; for
the first time his fastidious sense was pleasantly conscious of
Catherine's grave beauty; and even the mystic ceremonies of family
prayer had a certain charm for him, pagan as he was. How much dignity
and persuasiveness it has still, he thought to himself, this commonplace
country life of ours, on its best sides!

Half-past ten arrived. Rose just let him touch her hand; Catherine gave
him a quiet good-night, with various hospitable wishes for his nocturnal
comfort, and the ladies withdrew. He saw Robert open the door for his
wife, and catch her thin white fingers as she passed him with all the
secrecy and passion of a lover.

Then they plunged into the study, he and Robert, and smoked their fill.
The study was an astonishing medley. Books, natural history specimens, a
half-written sermon, fishing-rods, cricket-bats, a huge medicine
cupboard--all the main elements of Elsmere's new existence were
represented there. In the drawing-room with his wife and his
sister-in-law he had been as much of a boy as ever; here clearly he was
a man, very much in earnest. What about? What did it all come to? Can
the English country clergyman do much with his life and his energies?
Langham approached the subject with his usual scepticism.

Robert for a while, however, did not help him to solve it. He fell at
once to talking about the squire, as though it cleared his mind to talk
out his difficulties even to so ineffective a counsellor as Langham.
Langham, indeed, was but faintly interested in the squire's crimes as a
landlord, but there was a certain interest to be got out of the struggle
in Elsmere's mind between the attractiveness of the squire, as one of
the most difficult and original personalities of English letters, and
that moral condemnation of him as a man of possessions and ordinary
human responsibilities with which the young reforming rector was clearly
penetrated. So that, as long as he could smoke under it, he was content
to let his companion describe to him Mr. Wendover's connection with the
property, his accession to it in middle life after a long residence in
Germany, his ineffectual attempts to play the English country gentleman,
and his subsequent complete withdrawal from the life about him.

'You have no idea what a queer sort of existence he lives in that huge
place,' said Robert with energy. 'He is not unpopular exactly with the
poor down here. When they want to belabour anybody they lay on at the
agent, Henslowe. On the whole, I have come to the conclusion the poor
like a mystery. They never see him; when he is here the park is shut up;
the common report is that he walks at night; and he lives alone in that
enormous house with his books. The county folk have all quarrelled with
him, or nearly. It pleases him to get a few of the humbler people about,
clergy, professional men, and so on, to dine with him sometimes. And he
often fills the Hall, I am told, with London people for a day or two.
But otherwise he knows no one, and nobody knows him.'

'But you say he has a widowed sister? How does she relish the kind of
life?'

'Oh; by all accounts,' said the rector with a shrug, 'she is as little
like other people as himself. A queer elfish little creature, they say,
as fond of solitude down here as the squire, and full of hobbies. In her
youth she was about the court. Then she married a canon of Warham, one
of the popular preachers, I believe, of the day. There is a bright
little cousin of hers, a certain Lady Helen Varley, who lives near here,
and tells me stories of her. She must be the most whimsical little
aristocrat imaginable. She liked her husband apparently, but she never
got over leaving London and the fashionable world, and is as hungry now,
after her long fast, for titles and big-wigs, as though she were the
purest parvenu. The squire of course makes mock of her, and she has no
influence with him. However, there is something naïve in the stories
they tell of her. I feel as if I might get on with _her_. But the
squire!'

And the rector, having laid down his pipe, took to studying his boots
with a certain dolefulness.

Langham, however, who always treated the subjects of conversation
presented to him as an epicure treats foods, felt at this point that he
had had enough of the Wendovers, and started something else.

'So you physic bodies as well as minds?' he said, pointing to the
medicine cupboard.

'I should think so!' cried Robert, brightening at once. 'Last winter I
causticked all the diphtheritic throats in the place with my own hand.
Our parish doctor is an infirm old noodle, and I just had to do it. And
if the state of part of the parish remains what it is, it's a pleasure I
may promise myself most years. But it shan't remain what it is.'

And the rector reached out his hand again for his pipe, and gave one or
two energetic puffs to it as he surveyed his friend stretched before him
in the depths of an armchair.

'I will make myself a public nuisance, but the people shall have their
drains!'

'It seems to me,' said Langham, musing, 'that in my youth people talked
about Ruskin; now they talk about drains.'

'And quite right too. Dirt and drains, Catherine says I have gone mad
upon them. It's all very well, but they are the foundations of a sound
religion.'

'Dirt, drains, and Darwin,' said Langham meditatively, taking up
Darwin's _Earthworms_, which lay on the study table beside him, side by
side with a volume of Grant Allen's _Sketches_. 'I didn't know you cared
for this sort of thing!'

Robert did not answer for a moment, and a faint flush stole into his
face.

'Imagine, Langham!' he said presently, 'I had never read even _The
Origin of Species_ before I came here. We used to take the thing half
for granted, I remember, at Oxford, in a more or less modified sense.
But to drive the mind through all the details of the evidence, to force
one's self to understand the whole hypothesis and the grounds for it, is
a very different matter. It is a revelation.'

'Yes,' said Langham; and could not forbear adding, 'but it is a
revelation, my friend, that has not always been held to square with
other revelations.'

In general these two kept carefully off the religious ground. The man
who is religious by nature tends to keep his treasure hid from the man
who is critical by nature, and Langham was much more interested in other
things. But still it had always been understood that each was free to
say what he would.

'There was a natural panic,' said Robert, throwing back his head at the
challenge. 'Men shrank and will always shrink, say what you will, from
what seems to touch things dearer to them than life. But the panic is
passing. The smoke is clearing away, and we see that the battle-field is
falling into new lines. But the old truth remains the same. Where and
when and how you will, but somewhen and somehow, God created the heavens
and the earth!'

Langham said nothing. It had seemed to him for long that the clergy were
becoming dangerously ready to throw the Old Testament overboard, and all
that it appeared to him to imply was that men's logical sense is easily
benumbed where their hearts are concerned.

'Not that every one need be troubled with the new facts,' resumed Robert
after a while, going back to his pipe. 'Why should they? We are not
saved by Darwinism. I should never press them on my wife, for instance,
with all her clearness and courage of mind.'

His voice altered as he mentioned his wife--grew extraordinarily soft,
even reverential.

'It would distress her?' said Langham interrogatively, and inwardly
conscious of pursuing investigations begun a year before.

'Yes, it would distress her. She holds the old ideas as she was taught
them. It is all beautiful to her, what may seem doubtful or grotesque to
others. And why should I or any one else trouble her? I above all, who
am not fit to tie her shoe-strings.'

The young husband's face seemed to gleam in the dim light which fell
upon it. Langham involuntarily put up his hand in silence and touched
his sleeve. Robert gave him a quiet friendly look, and the two men
instantly plunged into some quite trivial and commonplace subject.

Langham entered his room that night with a renewed sense of pleasure in
the country quiet, the peaceful flower-scented house. Catherine, who was
an admirable housewife, had put out her best guest-sheets for his
benefit, and the tutor, accustomed for long years to the second-best of
college service, looked at their shining surfaces and frilled edges, at
the freshly matted floor, at the flowers on the dressing-table, at the
spotlessness of everything in the room, with a distinct sense that
matrimony had its advantages. He had come down to visit the Elsmeres,
sustained by a considerable sense of virtue. He still loved Elsmere and
cared to see him. It was a much colder love, no doubt, than that which
he had given to the undergraduate. But the man altogether was a colder
creature, who for years had been drawing in tentacle after tentacle, and
becoming more and more content to live without his kind. Robert's
parsonage, however, and Robert's wife had no attractions for him; and it
was with an effort that he had made up his mind to accept the invitation
which Catherine had made an effort to write.

And, after all, the experience promised to be pleasant. His fastidious
love for the quieter, subtler sorts of beauty was touched by the Elsmere
surroundings. And whatever Miss Leyburn might be, she was not
commonplace. The demon of convention had no large part in _her_! Langham
lay awake for a time analysing his impressions of her with some gusto,
and meditating, with a whimsical candour which seldom tailed him, on the
manner in which she had trampled on him, and the reasons why.

He woke up, however, in a totally different frame of mind. He was
pre-eminently a person of moods, dependent, probably, as all moods are,
on certain obscure physical variations. And his mental temperature had
run down in the night. The house, the people who had been fresh and
interesting to him twelve hours before, were now the burden he had more
than half expected them to be. He lay and thought of the unbroken
solitude of his college rooms, of Senancour's flight from human kind, of
the uselessness of all friendship, the absurdity of all effort, and
could hardly persuade himself to get up and face a futile world, which
had, moreover, the enormous disadvantage for the moment of being a new
one.

Convention, however, is master even of an Obermann. That prototype of
all the disillusioned had to cut himself adrift from the society of the
eagles on the Dent du Midi, to go and hang like any other ridiculous
mortal on the Paris law-courts. Langham, whether he liked it or no, had
to face the parsonic breakfast and the parsonic day.

He had just finished dressing when the sound of a girl's voice drew him
to the window, which was open. In the garden stood Rose, on the edge of
the sunk fence dividing the rectory domain from the cornfield. She was
stooping forward playing with Robert's Dandie Dinmont. In one hand she
held a mass of poppies, which showed a vivid scarlet against her blue
dress; the other was stretched out seductively to the dog leaping round
her. A crystal buckle flashed at her waist; the sunshine caught the
curls of auburn hair, the pink cheek, the white moving hand, the lace
ruffles at her throat and wrist. The lithe glittering figure stood
thrown out against the heavy woods behind, the gold of the cornfield,
the blues of the distance. All the gaiety and colour which is as truly
representative of autumn as the gray languor of a September mist had
passed into it.

Langham stood and watched, hidden, as he thought, by the curtain, till a
gust of wind shook the casement window beside him, and threatened to
blow it in upon him. He put out his hand perforce to save it, and the
slight noise caught Rose's ear. She looked up; her smile vanished. 'Go
down, Dandie,' she said severely, and walked quickly into the house with
as much dignity as nineteen is capable of.

At breakfast the Elsmeres found their guest a difficulty. But they also,
as we know, had expected it. He was languor itself; none of their
conversational efforts succeeded; and Rose, studying him out of the
corners of her eyes, felt that it would be of no use even to torment so
strange and impenetrable a being. Why on earth should people come and
visit their friends if they could not keep up even the ordinary decent
pretences of society?

Robert had to go off to some clerical business afterwards, and Langham
wandered out into the garden by himself. As he thought of his Greek
texts and his untenanted Oxford rooms, he had the same sort of craving
that an opium-eater has cut off from his drugs. How was he to get
through?

Presently he walked back into the study, secured an armful of volumes,
and carried them out. True to himself in the smallest things, he could
never in his life be content with the companionship of one book. To cut
off the possibility of choice and change in anything whatever was
repugnant to him.

He sat himself down under the shade of a great chestnut near the house,
and an hour glided pleasantly away. As it happened, however, he did not
open one of the books he had brought with him. A thought had struck him
as he sat down, and he went groping in his pockets in search of a
yellow-covered _brochure_, which, when found, proved to be a new play by
Dumas, just about to be produced by a French company in London. Langham,
whose passion for the French theatre supplied him, as we know, with a
great deal of life without the trouble of living, was going to see it,
and always made a point of reading the piece beforehand.

The play turned upon a typical French situation, treated in a manner
rather more French than usual. The reader shrugged his shoulders a good
deal as he read on. 'Strange nation!' he muttered to himself after an
act or two. 'How they do revel in mud!'

Presently, just as the fifth act was beginning to get hold of him with
that force which, after all, only a French playwright is master of, he
looked up and saw the two sisters coming round the corner of the house
from the great kitchen garden, which stretched its grass paths and
tangled flower-masses down the further slope of the hill. The transition
was sharp from Dumas's heated atmosphere of passion and crime to the
quiet English rectory, its rural surroundings, and the figures of the
two Englishwomen advancing towards him.

Catherine was in a loose white dress with a black lace scarf draped
about her head and form. Her look hardly suggested youth, and there was
certainly no touch of age in it. Ripeness, maturity, serenity--these
were the chief ideas which seemed to rise in the mind at sight of her.

'Are you amusing yourself, Mr. Langham?' she said, stopping beside him
and retaining with slight imperceptible force Rose's hand, which
threatened to slip away.

'Very much. I have been skimming through a play, which I hope to see
next week, by way of preparation.'

Rose turned involuntarily. Not wishing to discuss _Marianne_ with either
Catherine or her sister, Langham had just closed the book and was
returning it to his pocket. But she had caught sight of it.

'You are reading _Marianne_,' she exclaimed, the slightest possible
touch of wonder in her tone.

'Yes, it is _Marianne_,' said Langham, surprised in his turn. He had
very old-fashioned notions about the limits of a girl's acquaintance
with the world, knowing nothing, therefore, as may be supposed, about
the modern young woman, and he was a trifle scandalised by Rose's accent
of knowledge.

'I read it last week,' she said carelessly; 'and the Piersons'--turning
to her sister--'have promised to take me to see it next winter if
Desforêts comes again, as every one expects.'

'Who wrote it?' asked Catherine innocently. The theatre not only gave
her little pleasure, but wounded in her a hundred deep unconquerable
instincts. But she had long ago given up in despair the hope of
protesting against Rose's dramatic instincts with success.

'Dumas _fils_,' said Langham drily. He was distinctly a good deal
astonished.

Rose looked at him, and something brought a sudden flame into her cheek.

'It is one of the best of his,' she said defiantly. 'I have read a good
many others. Mrs. Pierson lent me a volume. And when I was introduced to
Madame Desforêts last week, she agreed with me that _Marianne_ is nearly
the best of all.'

All this, of course, with the delicate nose well in air.

'You were introduced to Madame Desforêts?' cried Langham, surprised this
time quite out of discretion. Catherine looked at him with anxiety. The
reputation of the black-eyed little French actress, who had been for a
year or two the idol of the theatrical public of Paris and London, had
reached even to her, and the tone of Langham's exclamation struck her
painfully.

'I was,' said Rose proudly. 'Other people may think it a disgrace. _I_
thought it an honour!'

Langham could not help smiling, the girl's _naïveté_ was so evident. It
was clear that, if she had read _Marianne_, she had never understood it.

'Rose, you don't know!' exclaimed Catherine, turning to her sister with
a sudden trouble in her eyes. 'I don't think Mrs. Pierson ought to have
done that, without consulting mamma especially.'

'Why not?' cried Rose vehemently. Her face was burning, and her heart
was full of something like hatred of Langham, but she tried hard to be
calm.

'I think,' she said, with a desperate attempt at crushing dignity, 'that
the way in which all sorts of stories are believed against a woman, just
because she is an actress, is _disgraceful_! Just because a woman is on
the stage, everybody thinks they may throw stones at her. I _know_,
because--because she told me,' cried the speaker, growing, however, half
embarrassed as she spoke, 'that she feels the things that are said of
her deeply! She has been ill, very ill, and one of her friends said to
me, "You know it isn't her work, or a cold, or anything else that's made
her ill--it's calumny!" And so it is.'

The speaker flashed an angry glance at Langham. She was sitting on the
arm of the cane chair into which Catherine had fallen, one hand grasping
the back of the chair for support, one pointed foot beating the ground
restlessly in front of her, her small full mouth pursed indignantly, the
greenish-gray eyes flashing and brilliant.

As for Langham, the cynic within him was on the point of uncontrollable
laughter. Madame Desforêts complaining of calumny to this little
Westmoreland maiden! But his eyes involuntarily met Catherine's, and the
expression of both fused into a common wonderment--amused on his side,
anxious on hers. 'What a child, what an infant it is!' they seemed to
confide to one another. Catherine laid her hand softly on Rose's, and
was about to say something soothing, which might secure her an opening
for some sisterly advice later on, when there was a sound of calling
from the gate. She looked up and saw Robert waving to her. Evidently he
had just run up from the school to deliver a message. She hurried across
the drive to him and afterwards into the house, while he disappeared.

Rose got up from her perch on the armchair and would have followed, but
a movement of obstinacy or Quixotic wrath, or both, detained her.

'At any rate, Mr. Langham,' she said, drawing herself up, and speaking
with the most lofty accent, 'if you don't know anything personally about
Madame Desforêts, I think it would be much fairer to say nothing--and
not to assume at once that all you hear is true!'

Langham had rarely felt more awkward than he did then, as he sat leaning
forward under the tree, this slim indignant creature standing over him,
and his consciousness about equally divided between a sense of her
absurdity and a sense of her prettiness.

'You are an advocate worth having, Miss Leyburn,' he said at last, an
enigmatical smile he could not restrain playing about his mouth. 'I
could not argue with you; I had better not try.'

Rose looked at him, at his dark regular face, at the black eyes which
were much vivider than usual, perhaps because they could not help
reflecting some of the irrepressible memories of Madame Desforêts and
her _causes célèbres_ which were coursing through the brain behind them,
and with a momentary impression of rawness, defeat, and yet involuntary
attraction, which galled her intolerably, she turned away and left him.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the afternoon Robert was still unavailable, to his own great chagrin,
and Langham summoned up all his resignation and walked with the ladies.
The general impression left upon his mind by the performance was, first,
that the dust of an English August is intolerable, and, secondly, that
women's society ought only to be ventured on by the men who are made for
it. The views of Catherine and Rose may be deduced from his with
tolerable certainty.

But in the late afternoon, when they thought they had done their duty by
him, and he was again alone in the garden reading, he suddenly heard the
sounds of music.

Who was playing, and in that way? He got up and strolled past the
drawing-room window to find out.

Rose had got hold of an accompanist, the timid dowdy daughter of a local
solicitor, with some capacity for reading, and was now, in her lavish
impetuous fashion, rushing through a quantity of new music, the
accumulations of her visit to London. She stood up beside the piano, her
hair gleaming in the shadow of the drawing-room, her white brow hanging
forward over her violin as she peered her way through the music, her
whole soul absorbed in what she was doing. Langham passed unnoticed.

What astonishing playing! Why had no one warned him of the presence of
such a gift in this dazzling, prickly, unripe creature? He sat down
against the wall of the house, as close as possible, but out of sight,
and listened. All the romance of his spoilt and solitary life had come
to him so far through music, and through such music as this! For she was
playing Wagner, Brahms, and Rubinstein, interpreting all those
passionate voices of the subtlest moderns, through which the heart of
our own day has expressed itself even more freely and exactly than
through the voice of literature. Hans Sachs' immortal song, echoes from
the love duets in 'Tristan und Isolde,' fragments from a wild and alien
dance-music, they rippled over him in a warm intoxicating stream of
sound, stirring association after association, and rousing from sleep a
hundred bygone moods of feeling.

What magic and mastery in the girl's touch! What power of divination,
and of rendering! Ah! she too was floating in passion and romance, but
of a different sort altogether from the conscious reflected product of
the man's nature. She was not thinking of the past, but of the future;
she was weaving her story that was to be into the flying notes, playing
to the unknown of her Whindale dreams, the strong ardent
unknown,--'insufferable, if he pleases, to all the world besides, but to
_me_ heaven!' She had caught no breath yet of his coming, but her heart
was ready for him.

Suddenly, as she put down her violin, the French window opened, and
Langham stood before her. She looked at him with a quick stiffening of
the face which a minute before had been all quivering and relaxed, and
his instant perception of it chilled the impulse which had brought him
there.

He said something _banal_ about his enjoyment, something totally
different from what he had meant to say. The moment presented itself,
but he could not seize it or her.

'I had no notion you cared for music,' she said carelessly, as she shut
the piano, and then she went away.

Langham felt a strange fierce pang of disappointment. What had he meant
to do or say? Idiot! What common ground was there between him and any
such exquisite youth? What girl would ever see in him anything but the
dull remains of what once had been a man!



CHAPTER XIII


The next day was Sunday. Langham, who was as depressed and home-sick as
ever, with a certain new spice of restlessness, not altogether
intelligible to himself, thrown in, could only brace himself to the
prospect by the determination to take the English rural Sunday as the
subject of severe scientific investigation. He would 'do it' thoroughly.

So he donned a black coat and went to church with the rest. There, in
spite of his boredom with the whole proceeding, Robert's old tutor was a
good deal more interested by Robert's sermon than he had expected to be.
It was on the character of David, and there was a note in it, a note of
historical imagination, a power of sketching in a background of
circumstance, and of biting into the mind of the listener, as it were,
by a detail or an epithet, which struck Langham as something new in his
experience of Elsmere. He followed it at first as one might watch a game
of skill, enjoying the intellectual form of it, and counting the good
points, but by the end he was not a little carried away. The peroration
was undoubtedly very moving, very intimate, very modern, and Langham up
to a certain point was extremely susceptible to oratory, as he was to
music and acting. The critical judgment, however, at the root of him
kept coolly repeating as he stood watching the people defile out of the
church: 'This sort of thing will go down, will make a mark; Elsmere is
at the beginning of a career!'

In the afternoon Robert, who was feeling deeply guilty towards his wife,
in that he had been forced to leave so much of the entertainment of
Langham to her, asked his old friend to come for him to the school at
four o'clock and take him for a walk between two engagements. Langham
was punctual, and Robert carried him off first to see the Sunday
cricket, which was in full swing. During the past year the young rector
had been developing a number of outdoor capacities which were probably
always dormant in his Elsmere blood, the blood of generations of country
gentlemen, but which had never had full opportunity before. He talked of
fishing as Kingsley might have talked of it, and, indeed, with constant
quotations from Kingsley; and his cricket, which had been good enough at
Oxford to get him into his College eleven, had stood him in specially
good stead with the Murewell villagers. That his play was not elegant
they were not likely to find out; his bowling they set small store by;
but his batting was of a fine, slashing, superior sort which soon
carried the Murewell Club to a much higher position among the clubs of
the neighbourhood than it had ever yet aspired to occupy.

The rector had no time to play on Sundays, however, and, after they had
hung about the green a little while, he took his friend over to the
Workmen's Institute, which stood at the edge of it. He explained that
the Institute had been the last achievement of the agent before
Henslowe, a man who had done his duty to the estate according to his
lights, and to whom it was owing that those parts of it, at any rate,
which were most in the public eye, were still in fair condition.

The Institute was now in bad repair and too small for the place. 'But
catch that man doing anything for us!' exclaimed Robert hotly. 'He will
hardly mend the roof now, merely, I believe, to spite me. But come and
see my new Naturalists' Club.'

And he opened the Institute door. Langham followed in the temper of one
getting up a subject for examination.

Poor Robert! His labour and his enthusiasm deserved a more appreciative
eye. He was wrapped up in his Club, which had been the great success of
his first year, and he dragged Langham through it all, not indeed,
sympathetic creature that he was, without occasional qualms. 'But after
all,' he would say to himself indignantly, 'I must do _something_ with
him.'

Langham, indeed, behaved with resignation. He looked at the collections
for the year, and was quite ready to take it for granted that they were
extremely creditable. Into the old-fashioned window-sills glazed
compartments had been fitted, and these were now fairly filled with
specimens, with eggs, butterflies, moths, beetles, fossils, and what
not. A case of stuffed tropical birds presented by Robert stood in the
centre of the room; another containing the birds of the district was
close by. On a table farther on stood two large open books, which served
as records of observations on the part of members of the Club. In one,
which was scrawled over with mysterious hieroglyphs, any one might write
what he would. In the other, only such facts and remarks as had passed
the gauntlet of a Club meeting were recorded in Robert's neatest hand.
On the same table stood jars full of strange creatures--tadpoles and
water larvæ of all kinds, over which Robert hung now absorbed, poking
among them with a straw, while Langham, to whom only the generalisations
of science were congenial, stood by and mildly scoffed.

As they came out a great loutish boy, who had evidently been hanging
about waiting for the rector, came up to him, boorishly touched his cap,
and then, taking a cardboard box out of his pocket, opened it with
infinite caution, something like a tremor of emotion passing over his
gnarled countenance.

The rector's eyes glistened.

'Hullo! I say, Irwin, where in the name of fortune did you get that? You
lucky fellow! Come in, and let's look it out!'

And the two plunged back into the Club together, leaving Langham to the
philosophic and patient contemplation of the village green, its geese,
its donkeys, and its surrounding fringe of houses. He felt that quite
indisputably life would have been better worth living if, like Robert,
he could have taken a passionate interest in rare moths or common
ploughboys; but Nature having denied him the possibility, there was
small use in grumbling.

Presently the two naturalists came out again, and the boy went off,
bearing his treasure with him.

'Lucky dog!' said Robert, turning his friend into a country road leading
out of the village, 'he's found one of the rarest moths of the district.
Such a hero he'll be in the Club to-morrow night. It's extraordinary
what a rational interest has done for that fellow! I nearly fought him
in public last winter.'

And he turned to his friend with a laugh, and yet with a little quick
look of feeling in the gray eyes.

'Magnificent, but not war,' said Langham drily. 'I wouldn't have given
much for your chances against those shoulders.'

'Oh, I don't know. I should have had a little science on my side, which
counts for a great deal. We turned him out of the Club for brutality
towards the old grandmother he lives with--turned him out in public.
Such a scene! I shall never forget the boy's face. It was like a corpse,
and the eyes burning out of it. He made for me, but the others closed up
round, and we got him put out.'

'Hard lines on the grandmother,' remarked Langham.

'She thought so--poor old thing! She left her cottage that night,
thinking he would murder her, and went to a friend. At the end of a week
he came into the friend's house, where she was alone in bed. She cowered
under the bedclothes, she told me, expecting him to strike her. Instead
of which he threw his wages down beside her and gruffly invited her to
come home. "He wouldn't do her no mischief." Everybody dissuaded her,
but the plucky old thing went. A week or two afterwards she sent for me
and I found her crying. She was sure the lad was ill, he spoke to nobody
at his work. "Lord, sir!" she said, "it do remind me, when he sits
glowering at nights, of those folks in the Bible, when the devils inside
'em kep' a-tearing 'em. But he's like a new-born babe to me, sir--never
does me no 'arm. And it do go to my heart, sir, to see how poorly he do
take his vittles!" So I made tracks for that lad,' said Robert, his eyes
kindling, his whole frame dilating. 'I found him in the fields one
morning. I have seldom lived through so much in half an hour. In the
evening I walked him up to the Club, and we re-admitted him, and since
then the boy has been like one clothed and in his right mind. If there
is any trouble in the Club I set him on, and he generally puts it right.
And when I was laid up with a chill in the spring, and the poor fellow
came trudging up every night after his work to ask for me--well, never
mind! but it gives one a good glow at one's heart to think about it.'

The speaker threw back his head impulsively, as though defying his own
feeling. Langham looked at him curiously. The pastoral temper was a
novelty to him, and the strong development of it in the undergraduate of
his Oxford recollections had its interest.

'A quarter to six,' said Robert, as on their return from their walk they
were descending a low-wooded hill above the village, and the church
clock rang out. 'I must hurry, or I shall be late for my story-telling.'

'Story-telling!' said Langham, with a half-exasperated shrug. 'What
next? You clergy are too inventive by half!'

Robert laughed a trifle bitterly.

'I can't congratulate you on your epithets,' he said, thrusting his
hands far into his pockets. 'Good heavens, if we _were_--if we were
inventive as a body, the Church wouldn't be where she is in the rural
districts! My story-telling is the simplest thing in the world. I began
it in the winter with the object of somehow or other getting at the
_imagination_ of these rustics. Force them for only half an hour to
live some one else's life--it is the one thing worth doing with them.
That's what I have been aiming at. I _told_ my stories all the
winter--Shakespeare, Don Quixote, Dumas--Heaven knows what! And on the
whole it answers best. But now we are reading _The Talisman_. Come and
inspect us, unless you're a purist about your Scott! None other of the
immortals have such _longueurs_ as he, and we cut him freely.'

'By all means,' said Langham; 'lead on.' And he followed his companion
without repugnance. After all, there was something contagious in so much
youth and hopefulness.

The story-telling was held in the Institute.

A group of men and boys were hanging round the door when they reached
it. The two friends made their way through, greeted in the dumb friendly
English fashion on all sides, and Langham found himself in a room
half-filled with boys and youths, a few grown men, who had just put
their pipes out, lounging at the back.

Langham not only endured, but enjoyed the first part of the hour that
followed. Robert was an admirable reader, as most enthusiastic
imaginative people are. He was a master of all those arts of look and
gesture which make a spoken story telling and dramatic, and Langham
marvelled with what energy, after his hard day's work and with another
service before him, he was able to throw himself into such a _hors
d'oeuvre_ as this. He was reading to-night one of the most perfect
scenes that even the Wizard of the North has ever conjured; the scene in
the tent of Richard Lion-Heart, when the disguised slave saves the life
of the king, and Richard first suspects his identity. As he read on, his
arms resting on the high desk in front of him, and his eyes, full of
infectious enjoyment, travelling from the book to his audience,
surrounded by human beings whose confidence he had won, and whose lives
he was brightening from day to day, he seemed to Langham the very type
and model of a man who had found his _métier_, found his niche in the
world, and the best means of filling it. If to attain to an 'adequate
and masterly expression of one's self' be the aim of life, Robert was
fast achieving it. This parish of twelve hundred souls gave him now all
the scope he asked. It was evident that he felt his work to be rather
above than below his deserts. He was content--more than content--to
spend ability which would have distinguished him in public life, or
carried him far to the front in literature, on the civilising of a few
hundred of England's rural poor. The future might bring him worldly
success--Langham thought it must and would. Clergymen of Robert's stamp
are rare among us. But if so, it would be in response to no conscious
effort of his. Here, in the country living he had so long dreaded and
put from him, lest it should tax his young energies too lightly, he was
happy--deeply, abundantly happy, at peace with God, at one with man.

_Happy!_ Langham, sitting at the outer corner of one of the benches, by
the open door, gradually ceased to listen, started on other lines of
thought by this realisation, warm, stimulating, provocative, of another
man's happiness.

Outside, the shadows lengthened across the green; groups of distant
children or animals passed in and out of the golden light-spaces; the
patches of heather left here and there glowed as the sunset touched
them. Every now and then his eye travelled vaguely past a cottage
garden, gay with the pinks and carmines of the phloxes, into the cool
browns and bluish-grays of the raftered room beyond; babies toddled
across the road, with stooping mothers in their train; the whole air and
scene seemed to be suffused with suggestions of the pathetic
expansiveness and helplessness of human existence, which, generation
after generation, is still so vulnerable, so confiding, so eager. Life
after life flowers out from the darkness and sinks back into it again.
And in the interval what agony, what disillusion! All the apparatus of a
universe that men may know what it is to hope and fail, to win and lose!
_Happy!_--in this world, 'where men sit and hear each other groan.' His
friend's confidence only made Langham as melancholy as Job.

What was it based on? In the first place, on Christianity--'on the
passionate acceptance of an exquisite fairy tale,' said the dreaming
spectator to himself, 'which at the first honest challenge of the
critical sense withers in our grasp! That challenge Elsmere has never
given it, and in all probability never will. No! A man sees none the
straighter for having a wife he adores, and a profession that suits him,
between him and unpleasant facts!'

       *       *       *       *       *

In the evening Langham, with the usual reaction of his afternoon self
against his morning self, felt that wild horses should not take him to
Church again, and, with a longing for something purely mundane, he
stayed at home with a volume of Montaigne, while apparently all the rest
of the household went to evening service.

After a warm day the evening had turned cold and stormy; the west was
streaked with jagged strips of angry cloud, the wind was rising in the
trees, and the temperature had suddenly fallen so much that when Langham
shut himself up in Robert's study he did what he had been admonished to
do in case of need, set a light to the fire, which blazed out merrily
into the darkening room. Then he drew the curtains and threw himself
down into Robert's chair with a sigh of Sybaritic satisfaction. 'Good!
Now for something that takes the world less naïvely,' he said to
himself; 'this house is too virtuous for anything.'

He opened his Montaigne and read on very happily for half an hour. The
house seemed entirely deserted.

'All the servants gone too!' he said presently, looking up and
listening. 'Anybody who wants the spoons needn't trouble about me. I
don't leave this fire.'

And he plunged back again into his book. At last there was a sound of
the swing door which separated Robert's passage from the front hall
opening and shutting. Steps came quickly towards the study, the handle
was turned, and there on the threshold stood Rose.

He turned quickly round in his chair with a look of astonishment. She
also started as she saw him.

'I did not know any one was in,' she said awkwardly, the colour
spreading over her face. 'I came to look for a book.'

She made a delicious picture as she stood framed in the darkness of the
doorway; her long dress caught up round her in one hand, the other
resting on the handle. A gust of some delicate perfume seemed to enter
the room with her, and a thrill of pleasure passed through Langham's
senses.

'Can I find anything for you?' he said, springing up.

She hesitated a moment, then apparently made up her mind that it would
be foolish to retreat, and, coming forward, she said, with an accent as
coldly polite as she could make it,--

'Pray don't disturb yourself. I know exactly where to find it.'

She went up to the shelves where Robert kept his novels, and began
running her fingers over the books, with slightly knitted brows and a
mouth severely shut. Langham, still standing, watched her and presently
stepped forward.

'You can't reach those upper shelves,' he said; 'please let me.'

He was already beside her, and she gave way.

'I want _Charles Auchester_,' she said, still forbiddingly. 'It ought to
be there.'

'Oh, that queer musical novel--I know it quite well. No sign of it
here,' and he ran over the shelves with the practised eye of one
accustomed to deal with books.

'Robert must have lent it,' said Rose, with a little sigh. 'Never mind,
please. It doesn't matter,' and she was already moving away.

'Try some other instead,' he said, smiling, his arm still upstretched.
'Robert has no lack of choice.' His manner had an animation and ease
usually quite foreign to it. Rose stopped, and her lips relaxed a
little.

'He is very nearly as bad as the novel-reading bishop, who was reduced
at last to stealing the servant's _Family Herald_ out of the kitchen
cupboard,' she said, a smile dawning.

Langham laughed.

'Has he such an episcopal appetite for them? That accounts for the fact
that when he and I begin to talk novels I am always nowhere.'

'I shouldn't have supposed you ever read them,' said Rose, obeying an
irresistible impulse, and biting her lip the moment afterwards.

'Do you think that we poor people at Oxford are always condemned to
works on the "enclitic [Greek: de]"?' he asked, his fine eyes lit up
with gaiety, and his head, of which the Greek outlines were ordinarily
so much disguised by his stoop and hesitating look, thrown back against
the books behind him.

Natures like Langham's, in which the nerves are never normal, have their
moments of felicity, balancing their weeks of timidity and depression.
After his melancholy of the last two days the tide of reaction had been
mounting within him, and the sight of Rose had carried it to its height.

She gave a little involuntary stare of astonishment. What had happened
to Robert's silent and finicking friend?

'I know nothing of Oxford,' she said a little primly, in answer to his
question. 'I never was there--but I never was anywhere, I have seen
nothing,' she added hastily, and, as Langham thought, bitterly.

'Except London, and the great world, and Madame Desforêts!' he answered,
laughing. 'Is that so little?'

She flashed a quick defiant look at him, as he mentioned Madame
Desforêts, but his look was imperturbably kind and gay. She could not
help softening towards him. What magic had passed over him?

'Do you know,' said Langham, moving, 'that you are standing in a
draught, and that it has turned extremely cold?'

For she had left the passage-door wide open behind her, and as the
window was partially open the curtains were swaying hither and thither,
and her muslin dress was being blown in coils round her feet.

'So it has,' said Rose, shivering. 'I don't envy the Church people. You
haven't found me a book, Mr. Langham?'

'I will find you one in a minute, if you will come and read it by the
fire,' he said, with his hand on the door.

She glanced at the fire and at him, irresolute. His breath quickened.
She too had passed into another phase. Was it the natural effect of
night, of solitude, of sex? At any rate, she sank softly into the
armchair opposite to that in which he had been sitting.

'Find me an exciting one, please.'

Langham shut the door securely, and went back to the bookcase, his hand
trembling a little as it passed along the books. He found _Villette_ and
offered it to her. She took it, opened it, and appeared deep in it at
once. He took the hint and went back to his Montaigne.

The fire crackled cheerfully, the wind outside made every now and then a
sudden gusty onslaught on their silence, dying away again as abruptly as
it had risen. Rose turned the pages of her book, sitting a little
stiffly in her long chair, and Langham gradually began to find Montaigne
impossible to read. He became instead more and more alive to every
detail of the situation into which he had fallen. At last seeing, or
imagining, that the fire wanted attending to, he bent forward and
thrust the poker into it. A burning coal fell on the hearth, and Rose
hastily withdrew her foot from the fender and looked up.

'I am so sorry!' he interjected. 'Coals never do what you want them to
do. Are you very much interested in _Villette_?'

'Deeply,' said Rose, letting the book, however, drop on her lap. She
laid back her head with a little sigh, which she did her best to check,
half way through. What ailed her to-night? She seemed wearied; for the
moment there was no fight in her with anybody. Her music, her beauty,
her mutinous mocking gaiety--these things had all worked on the man
beside her; but this new softness, this touch of childish fatigue, was
adorable.

'Charlotte Brontë wrote it out of her Brussels experience, didn't she?'
she resumed languidly. 'How sorry she must have been to come back to
that dull home and that awful brother after such a break!'

'There were reasons more than one that must have made her sorry to come
back,' said Langham reflectively. 'But how she pined for her wilds all
through! I am afraid you don't find your wilds as interesting as she
found hers?'

His question and his smile startled her.

Her first impulse was to take up her book again, as a hint to him that
her likings were no concern of his. But something checked it, probably
the new brilliancy of that look of his, which had suddenly grown so
personal, so manly. Instead. _Villette_ slid a little farther from her
hand, and her pretty head still lay lightly back against the cushion.

'No, I don't find my wilds interesting at all,' she said forlornly.

'You are not fond of the people as your sister is?'

'Fond of them?' cried Rose hastily. 'I should think not; and what is
more, they don't like me. It is quite intolerable since Catherine left.
I have so much more to do with them. My other sister and I have to do
all her work. It is dreadful to have to work after somebody who has a
genius for doing just what you do worst.'

The young girl's hands fell across one another with a little impatient
gesture. Langham had a movement of the most delightful compassion
towards the petulant, childish creature. It was as though their relative
positions had been in some mysterious way reversed. During their two
days together she had been the superior, and he had felt himself at the
mercy of her scornful sharp-eyed youth. Now, he knew not how or why,
Fate seemed to have restored to him something of the man's natural
advantage, combined, for once, with the impulse to use it.

'Your sister, I suppose, has been always happy in charity?' he said.

'Oh dear, yes,' said Rose irritably; 'anything that has two legs and is
ill, that is all Catherine wants to make her happy.'

'And _you_ want something quite different, something more exciting?' he
asked, his diplomatic tone showing that he felt he dared something in
thus pressing her, but dared it at least with his wits about him. Rose
met his look irresolutely, a little tremor of self-consciousness
creeping over her.

'Yes, I want something different,' she said in a low voice and paused;
then, raising herself energetically, she clasped her hands round her
knees. 'But it is not idleness I want. I want to work, but at things I
was born for; I _can't_ have patience with old women, but I could slave
all day and all night to play the violin.'

'You want to give yourself up to study then, and live with musicians?'
he said quietly.

She shrugged her shoulders by way of answer, and began nervously to play
with her rings.

That under-self which was the work and the heritage of her father in
her, and which, beneath all the wilfulnesses and defiances of the other
self, held its own moral debates in its own way, well out of Catherine's
sight generally, began to emerge, wooed into the light by his friendly
gentleness.

'But it is all so difficult, you see,' she said despairingly. 'Papa
thought it wicked to care about anything except religion. If he had
lived, of course I should never have been allowed to study music. It has
been all mutiny so far, every bit of it, whatever I have been able to
do.'

'He would have changed with the times,' said Langham.

'I know he would,' cried Rose. 'I have told Catherine so a hundred
times. People--good people--think quite differently about art now, don't
they, Mr. Langham?'

She spoke with perfect _naïveté_. He saw more and more of the child in
her, in spite of that one striking development of her art.

'They call it the handmaid of religion,' he answered, smiling.

Rose made a little face.

'I shouldn't,' she said, with frank brevity. 'But then there's something
else. You know where we live--at the very ends of the earth, seven miles
from a station, in the very loneliest valley of all Westmoreland. What's
to be done with a fiddle in such a place? Of course, ever since papa
died I've just been plotting and planning to get away. But there's the
difficulty,' and she crossed one white finger over another as she laid
out her case. 'That house where we live has been lived in by Leyburns
ever since--the Flood! Horrid set they were, I know, because I can't
ever make mamma or even Catherine talk about them. But still, when papa
retired, he came back and bought the old place from his brother. Such a
dreadful, dreadful mistake!' cried the child, letting her hands fall
over her knee.

'Had he been so happy there?'

'Happy!'--and Rose's lip curled. 'His brothers used to kick and cuff
him, his father was awfully unkind to him, he never had a day's peace
till he went to school, and after he went to school he never came back
for years and years and years, till Catherine was fifteen. What _could_
have made him so fond of it?'

And again looking despondently into the fire she pondered that far-off
perversity of her father's.

'Blood has strange magnetisms,' said Langham, seized as he spoke by the
pensive prettiness of the bent head and neck, 'and they show themselves
in the oddest ways.'

'Then I wish they wouldn't,' she said irritably. 'But that isn't all. He
went there, not only because he loved that place, but because he hated
other places. I think he must have thought'--and her voice dropped--'he
wasn't going to live long--he wasn't well when he gave up the
school--and then we could grow up there safe, without any chance of
getting into mischief. Catherine says he thought the world was getting
very wicked and dangerous and irreligious, and that it comforted him to
know that we should be out of it.'

Then she broke off suddenly.

'Do you know,' she went on wistfully, raising her beautiful eyes to her
companion, 'after all, he gave me my first violin?'

Langham smiled.

'I like that little inconsequence,' he said.

'Then of course I took to it, like a duck to water, and it began to
scare him that I loved it so much. He and Catherine only loved religion,
and us, and the poor. So he always took it away on Sundays. Then I hated
Sundays, and would never be good on them. One Sunday I cried myself
nearly into a fit on the dining-room floor because I mightn't have it.
Then he came in, and he took me up, and he tied a Scotch plaid round his
neck, and he put me into it, and carried me away right up on to the
hills, and he talked to me like an angel. He asked me not to make him
sad before God that he had given me that violin; so I never screamed
again--on Sundays!

Her companion's eyes were not quite as clear as before.

'Poor little naughty child' he said, bending over to her. 'I think your
father must have been a man to be loved.'

She looked at him, very near to weeping, her face all working with a
soft remorse.

'Oh, so he was--so he was! If he had been hard and ugly to us, why, it
would have been much easier for _me_; but he was so good! And there was
Catherine just like him, always preaching to us what he wished. You see
what a chain it's been--what a weight! And as I must struggle--_must_,
because I was I--to get back into the world on the other side of the
mountains, and do what all the dear wicked people there were doing, why,
I have been a criminal all my life! And _that_ isn't exhilarating
always.'

And she raised her arm and let it fall beside her with the quick
over-tragic emotion of nineteen.

'I wish your father could have heard you play as I heard you play
yesterday,' he said gently.

She started.

'_Did_ you hear me--that Wagner?'

He nodded, smiling. She still looked at him, her lips slightly open.

'Do you want to know what I thought? I have heard much music, you know.'

He laughed into her eyes, as much as to say, 'I am not quite the mummy
you thought me, after all!' And she coloured slightly.

'I have heard every violinist of any fame in Europe play, and play
often; and it seemed to me that with time--and work--you might play as
well as any of them.'

The slight flush became a glow that spread from brow to chin. Then she
gave a long breath and turned away, her face resting on her hand.

'And I can't help thinking,' he went on, marvelling inwardly at his own
rôle of mentor, and his strange enjoyment of it, 'that if your father
had lived till now, and had gone with the times a little, as he must
have gone, he would have learnt to take pleasure in your pleasure, and
to fit your gift somehow into his scheme of things.'

'Catherine hasn't moved with the times,' said Rose dolefully.

Langham was silent. _Gaucherie_ seized him again when it became a
question of discussing Mrs. Elsmere, his own view was so inconveniently
emphatic.

'And you think,' she went on, 'you _really_ think, without being too
ungrateful to papa, and too unkind to the old Leyburn ghosts'--and a
little laugh danced through the vibrating voice--'I might try and get
them to give up Burwood--I might struggle to have my way? I shall, of
course I shall! I never was a meek martyr, and never shall be. But one
can't help having qualms, though one doesn't tell them to one's sisters
and cousins and aunts. And sometimes'--she turned her chin round on her
hand and looked at him with a delicious shy impulsiveness--'sometimes a
stranger sees clearer. Do _you_ think me a monster, as Catherine does?'

Even as she spoke her own words startled her--the confidence, the
abandonment of them. But she held to them bravely; only her eyelids
quivered. She had absurdly misjudged this man, and there was a warm
penitence in her heart. How kind he had been, how sympathetic!

He rose with her last words, and stood leaning against the mantelpiece,
looking down upon her gravely, with the air, as it seemed to her, of her
friend, her confessor. Her white childish brow, the little curls of
bright hair upon her temples, her parted lips, the pretty folds of the
muslin dress, the little foot on the fender--every detail of the
picture impressed itself once for all. Langham will carry it with him to
his grave.

'Tell me,' she said again, smiling divinely, as though to encourage
him--'tell me quite frankly, down to the bottom, what you think?'

The harsh noise of an opening door in the distance, and a gust of wind
sweeping through the house, voices and steps approaching. Rose sprang
up, and, for the first time during all the latter part of their
conversation, felt a sharp sense of embarrassment.

'How early you are, Robert!' she exclaimed, as the study door opened,
and Robert's wind-blown head and tall form, wrapped in an Inverness
cape, appeared on the threshold. 'Is Catherine tired?'

'Rather,' said Robert, the slightest gleam of surprise betraying itself
on his face. 'She has gone to bed, and told me to ask you to come and
say good-night to her.'

'You got my message about not coming from old Martha?' asked Rose. 'I
met her on the common.'

'Yes, she gave it us at the church door.' He went out again into the
passage to hang up his greatcoat. She followed, longing to tell him that
it was pure accident that took her to the study, but she could not find
words in which to do it, and could only say good-night a little
abruptly.

'How tempting that fire looks!' said Robert, re-entering the study.
'Were you very cold, Langham, before you lit it?'

'Very,' said Langham, smiling, his arm behind his head, his eyes fixed
on the blaze; 'but I have been delightfully warm and happy since.'



CHAPTER XIV


Catherine stopped beside the drawing-room window with a start, caught by
something she saw outside.

It was nothing, however, but the figures of Rose and Langham strolling
round the garden. A bystander would have been puzzled by the sudden
knitting of Catherine's brows over it.

Rose held a red parasol, which gleamed against the trees; Dandie leapt
about her, but she was too busy talking to take much notice of him.
Talking, chattering, to that cold cynic of a man, for whom only
yesterday she had scarcely had a civil word! Catherine felt herself a
prey to all sorts of vague unreasonable alarms.

Robert had said to her the night before, with an odd look: 'Wifie, when
I came in I found Langham and Rose had been spending the evening
together in the study. And I don't know when I have seen Langham so
brilliant or so alive as in our smoking talk just now!'

Catherine had laughed him to scorn; but, all the same, she had been a
little longer going to sleep than usual. She felt herself almost as much
as ever the guardian of her sisters, and the old sensitive nerve was set
quivering. And now there could be no question about it--Rose had changed
her ground towards Mr. Langham altogether. Her manner at breakfast was
evidence enough of it.

Catherine's self-torturing mind leapt on for an instant to all sorts of
horrors. _That_ man!--and she and Robert responsible to her mother and
her dead father! Never! Then she scolded herself back to common sense.
Rose and he had discovered a common subject in music and musicians. That
would be quite enough to account for the new-born friendship on Rose's
part. And in five more days, the limit of Langham's stay, nothing very
dreadful _could_ happen, argued the reserved Catherine.

But she was uneasy, and after a bit, as that _tête-à-tête_ in the garden
still went on, she could not, for the life of her, help interfering. She
strolled out to meet them with some woollen stuff hanging over her arm,
and made a plaintive and smiling appeal to Rose to come and help her
with some preparations for a mothers' meeting to be held that afternoon.
Rose, who was supposed by the family to be 'taking care' of her sister
at a critical time, had a moment's prick of conscience, and went off
with a good grace. Langham felt vaguely that he owed Mrs. Elsmere
another grudge, but he resigned himself and took out a cigarette,
wherewith to console himself for the loss of his companion.

Presently, as he stood for a moment turning over some new books on the
drawing-room table, Rose came in. She held an armful of blue serge, and,
going up to a table in the window, she took from it a little work-case,
and was about to vanish again when Langham went up to her.

'You look intolerably busy,' he said to her, discontentedly.

'Six dresses, ten cloaks, eight petticoats to cut out by luncheon time,'
she answered demurely, with a countenance of most Dorcas-like
seriousness, 'and if I spoil them I shall have to pay for the stuff!'

He shrugged his shoulders and looked at her, smiling, still master of
himself and of his words.

'And no music--none at all? Perhaps you don't know that I too can
accompany?'

'You play!' she exclaimed, incredulous.

'Try me.'

The light of his fine black eyes seemed to encompass her. She moved
backward a little, shaking her head. 'Not this morning,' she said. 'Oh
dear, no, not this morning! I am afraid you don't know anything about
tacking or fixing, or the abominable time they take. Well, it could
hardly be expected. There is nothing in the world'--and she shook her
serge vindictively--'that I hate so much!'

'And not this afternoon, for Robert and I go fishing. But this evening?'
he said, detaining her.

She nodded lightly, dropped her lovely eyes with a sudden embarrassment,
and went away with lightning quickness.

A minute or two later Elsmere laid a hand on his friend's shoulder.
'Come and see the Hall, old fellow. It will be our last chance, for the
squire and his sister come back this afternoon. I must parochialise a
bit afterwards, but you shan't be much victimised.'

Langham submitted, and they sallied forth. It was a soft rainy morning,
one of the first heralds of autumn. Gray mists were drifting silently
across the woods and the wide stubbles of the now shaven cornfield,
where white lines of reapers were at work, as the morning cleared,
making and stacking the sheaves. After a stormy night the garden was
strewn with _débris_, and here and there noiseless prophetic showers of
leaves were dropping on the lawn.

Elsmere took his guest along a bit of common, where great black junipers
stood up like magnates in council above the motley undergrowth of fern
and heather, and then they turned into the park. A great stretch of
dimpled land it was, falling softly towards the south and west, bounded
by a shining twisted river, and commanding from all its highest points a
heathery world of distance, now turned a stormy purple under the
drooping fringes of the rain clouds. They walked downwards from the
moment of entering it, till at last, when they reached a wooded plateau
about a hundred feet above the river, the house itself came suddenly
into view.

That was a house of houses! The large main building, as distinguished
from the lower stone portions to the north which represented a fragment
of the older Elizabethan house, had been in its day the crown and boast
of Jacobean house-architecture. It was fretted and jewelled with
Renaissance terra-cotta work from end to end; each gable had its lace
work, each window its carved setting. And yet the lines of the whole
were so noble, genius had hit the general proportions so finely, that no
effect of stateliness or grandeur had been missed through all the
accumulation of ornament. Majestic relic of a vanished England, the
house rose amid the August woods rich in every beauty that site, and
wealth, and centuries could give to it. The river ran about it as though
it loved it. The cedars which had kept it company for well-nigh two
centuries gathered proudly round it; the deer grouped themselves in the
park beneath it, as though they were conscious elements in a great whole
of loveliness.

The two friends were admitted by a housemaid who happened to be busy in
the hall, and whose red cheeks and general breathlessness bore witness
to the energy of the storm of preparation now sweeping through the
house.

The famous hall to which Elsmere at once drew Langham's attention was,
however, in no way remarkable for size or height. It told comparatively
little of seignorial dignity, but it was as though generation after
generation had employed upon its perfecting the craft of its most
delicate fingers, the love of its most fanciful and ingenious spirits.
Overhead, the stucco-work ceiling, covered with stags and birds and
strange heraldic creatures unknown to science, had the deep creamy tint,
the consistency and surface of antique ivory. From the white and gilt
frieze beneath, untouched, so Robert explained, since the Jacobean days
when it was first executed, hung Renaissance tapestries which would have
made the heart's delight of any romantic child, so rich they were in
groves of marvellous trees hung with red and golden fruits, in
far-reaching palaces and rock-built citadels, in flying shepherdesses
and pursuing shepherds. Between the tapestries, again, there were
breadths of carved panelling, crowded with all things round and sweet,
with fruits and flowers and strange musical instruments, with flying
cherubs, and fair faces in laurel-wreathed medallions; while in the
middle of the wall a great oriel window broke the dim venerable surfaces
of wood and tapestry with stretches of jewelled light. Tables crowded
with antiques, with Tanagra figures or Greek vases, with Florentine
bronzes or specimens of the wilful vivacious wood-carving of
seventeenth-century Spain, stood scattered on the Persian carpets. And,
to complete the whole, the gardeners had just been at work on the
corners of the hall, and of the great window, so that the hard-won
subtleties of man's bygone handiwork, with which the splendid room was
encrusted from top to bottom, were masked and relieved here and there by
the careless easy splendour of flowers, which had but to bloom in order
to eclipse them all.

Robert was at home in the great pile, where for many months he had gone
freely in and out on his way to the library, and the housekeeper only
met him to make an apology for her working dress, and to hand over to
him the keys of the library bookcases, with the fretful comment that
seemed to have in it the ghostly voice of generations of housemaids, 'Oh
lor', sir, they are a trouble, them books!'

From the drawing-rooms, full of a more modern and less poetical
magnificence, where Langham turned restless and refractory, Elsmere with
a smile took his guest silently back into the hall, and opened a carved
door behind a curtain. Passing through, they found themselves in a long
passage lighted by small windows on the left-hand side.

'This passage, please notice,' said Robert, 'leads to nothing but the
wing containing the library, or rather libraries, which is the oldest
part of the house. I always enter it with a kind of pleasing awe!
Consider these carpets, which keep out every sound, and look how
everything gets older as we go on.'

For half-way down the passage the ceiling seemed to descend upon their
heads, the flooring became uneven and woodwork and walls showed that
they had passed from the Jacobean house into the much older Tudor
building. Presently Robert led the way up a few shallow steps, pushed
open a heavy door, also covered by curtains, and bade his companion
enter.

They found themselves in a low immense room, running at right angles to
the passage they had just quitted. The long diamond-paned window,
filling almost half of the opposite wall, faced the door by which they
had come in; the heavy carved mantelpiece was to their right; an open
doorway on their left, closed at present by tapestry hangings, seemed to
lead into yet other rooms.

The walls of this one were completely covered from floor to ceiling with
latticed bookcases, enclosed throughout in a frame of oak carved in
light classical relief by what appeared to be a French hand of the
sixteenth century. The chequered bindings of the books, in which the
creamy tints of vellum predominated, lined the whole surface of the wall
with a delicate sobriety of colour; over the mantelpiece, the picture of
the founder of the house--a Holbein portrait, glorious in red robes and
fur and golden necklace--seemed to gather up and give voice to all the
dignity and impressiveness of the room beneath him; while on the window
side the book-lined wall was, as it were, replaced by the wooded face of
a hill, clothed in dark lines of trimmed yews, which rose abruptly about
a hundred yards from the house and overshadowed the whole library wing.
Between the window and the hill, however, was a small old English
garden, closely hedged round with yew hedges, and blazing now with every
flower that an English August knows--with sun-flowers, tiger-lilies, and
dahlias white and red. The window was low, so that the flowers seemed to
be actually in the room, challenging the pale tints of the books, the
tawny browns and blues of the Persian carpet, and the scarlet splendours
of the courtier over the mantelpiece. The room was lit up besides by a
few gleaming casts from the antique, by the 'Diane Chasseresse' of the
Louvre, by the Hermes of Praxiteles smiling with immortal kindness on
the child enthroned upon his arm, and by a Donatello figure of a woman
in marble, its subtle sweet austerity contrasting with the Greek
frankness and blitheness of its companions.

Langham was penetrated at once by the spell of this strange and
beautiful place. The fastidious instincts which had been half revolted
by the costly accumulations, the overblown splendours of the
drawing-room, were abundantly satisfied here.

'So it was here,' he said, looking round him, 'that that man wrote _The
Idols of the Market-place_?'

'I imagine so,' said Robert; 'if so, he might well have felt a little
more charity towards the human race in writing it. The race cannot be
said to have treated him badly on the whole. But now look, Langham, look
at these books--the most precious things are here.'

And he turned the key of a particular section of the wall, which was
not only latticed but glazed.

'Here is _A Mirror for Magistrates_. Look at the title-page; you will
find Gabriel Harvey's name on it. Here is a first edition of _Astrophel
and Stella_, another of the Arcadia. They may very well be presentation
copies, for the Wendover of that day is known to have been a wit and a
writer. Imagine finding them _in situ_ like this in the same room,
perhaps on the same shelves, as at the beginning! The other rooms on
this floor have been annexed since, but this room was always a library.'

Langham took the volumes reverently from Robert's hands into his own,
the scholar's passion hot within him. That glazed case was indeed a
storehouse of treasures. Ben Jonson's _Underwoods_ with his own
corrections; a presentation copy of Andrew Marvell's _Poems_, with
autograph notes; manuscript volumes of letters, containing almost every
famous name known to English literature in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, the literary cream, in fact, of all the vast
collection which filled the muniment room upstairs; books which had
belonged to Addison, to Sir William Temple, to Swift, to Horace Walpole;
the first four folios of Shakespeare, all perfect, and most of the
quartos--everything that the heart of the English collector could most
desire was there. And the charm of it was that only a small proportion
of these precious things represented conscious and deliberate
acquisition. The great majority of them had, as it were, drifted thither
one by one, carried there by the tide of English letters as to a warm
and natural resting-place.

But Robert grew impatient, and hurried on his guest to other things--to
the shelves of French rarities, ranging from Du Bellay's _Visions_, with
his autograph, down to the copy of _Les Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe_
presented by Chateaubriand to Madame Récamier, or to a dainty manuscript
volume in the fine writing of Lamartine.

'These,' Robert explained, 'were collected, I believe, by the squire's
father. He was not in the least literary, so they say, but it had always
been a point of honour to carry on the library, and as he had learnt
French well in his youth he bought French things, taking advice, but
without knowing much about them, I imagine. It was in the room
overhead,' said Robert, laying down the book he held, and speaking in a
lower key, 'so the old doctor of the house told me a few weeks ago, that
the same poor soul put an end to himself twenty years ago.'

'What in the name of fortune did he do that for?'

'Mania,' said Robert quietly.

'Whew!' said the other, lifting his eyebrows. 'Is that the skeleton in
this very magnificent cupboard?'

'It has been the Wendover scourge from the beginning, so I hear. Every
one about here of course explains this man's eccentricities by the
family history. But I don't know,' said Robert, his lip hardening, 'it
may be extremely convenient sometimes to have a tradition of the kind. A
man who knew how to work it might very well enjoy all the advantages of
sanity and the privileges of insanity at the same time. The poor old
doctor I was telling you of--old Meyrick--who has known the squire since
his boyhood, and has a dog-like attachment to him, is always hinting at
mysterious excuses. Whenever I let out to him, as I do sometimes, as to
the state of the property, he talks of "inherited melancholy," "rash
judgments," and so forth. I like the good old soul, but I don't believe
much of it. A man who is sane enough to make a great name for himself in
letters is sane enough to provide his estate with a decent agent.'

'It doesn't follow,' said Langham, who was, however, so deep in a
collection of Spanish romances and chronicles that the squire's mental
history did not seem to make much impression upon him. 'Most men of
letters are mad and I should be inclined,' he added, with a sudden and
fretful emphasis, 'to argue much worse things for the sanity of your
squire, Elsmere, from the fact that this room is undoubtedly allowed to
get damp sometimes, than from any of those absurd parochial tests of
yours.'

And he held up a couple of priceless books, of which the Spanish
sheepskin bindings showed traces here and there of moisture.

'It is no use, I know, expecting you to preserve a moral sense when you
get among books,' said Robert with a shrug. 'I will reserve my remarks
on that subject. But you must really tear yourself away from this room,
Langham, if you want to see the rest of the squire's quarters. Here you
have what we may call the ornamental sensational part of the library,
that part of it which would make a stir at Sotheby's; the working parts
are all to come.'

Langham reluctantly allowed himself to be dragged away. Robert held back
the hangings over the doorway leading into the rest of the wing, and,
passing through, they found themselves in a continuation of the library
totally different in character from the magnificent room they had just
left. The walls were no longer latticed and carved; they were closely
packed, in the most business-like way, with books which represented the
squire's own collection, and were in fact a chart of his own
intellectual history.

'This is how I interpret this room,' said Robert, looking round it.
'Here are the books he collected at Oxford in the Tractarian Movement
and afterwards. Look here,' and he pulled out a volume of St. Basil.

Langham looked, and saw on the title-page a note in faded characters:
'_Given to me by Newman at Oxford, in 1845_.'

'Ah, of course, he was one of them in '45; he must have left them very
soon after,' said Langham reflectively.

Robert nodded. 'But look at them! There are the Tracts, all the Fathers,
all the Councils, and masses, as you see, of Anglican theology. Now look
at the next case, nothing but eighteenth century!'

'I see,--from the Fathers to the Philosophers, from Hooker to Hume. How
history repeats itself in the individual!'

'And there again,' said Robert, pointing to the other side of the room,
'are the results of his life as a German student.'

'Germany--ah, I remember! How long was he there?'

'Ten years, at Berlin and Heidelberg. According to old Meyrick, he
buried his last chance of living like other men at Berlin. His years of
extravagant labour there have left marks upon him physically that can
never be effaced. But that bookcase fascinates me. Half the great names
of modern thought are in those books.'

And so they were. The first Langham opened had a Latin dedication in a
quavering old man's hand, 'Amico et discipulo meo,' signed 'Fredericus
Gulielmus Schelling.' The next bore the autograph of Alexander von
Humboldt, the next that of Boeckh, the famous classic, and so on. Close
by was Niebuhr's History, in the title-page of which a few lines in the
historian's handwriting bore witness to much 'pleasant discourse between
the writer and Roger Wendover, at Bonn, in the summer of 1847.' Judging
from other shelves farther down, he must also have spent some time,
perhaps an academic year, at Tübingen, for here were most of the early
editions of the _Leben Jesu_, with some corrections from Strauss's hand,
and similar records of Baur, Ewald, and other members or opponents of
the Tübingen school. And so on, through the whole bookcase. Something of
everything was there--Philosophy, Theology, History, Philology. The
collection was a medley, and made almost a spot of disorder in the
exquisite neatness and system of the vast gathering of which it formed
part. Its bond of union was simply that it represented the forces of an
epoch, the thoughts, the men, the occupations which had absorbed the
energies of ten golden years. Every book seemed to be full of paper
marks; almost every title-page was covered with minute writing, which,
when examined, proved to contain a record of lectures, or conversations
with the author of the volume, sometimes a string of anecdotes or a
short biography, rapidly sketched out of the fulness of personal
knowledge, and often seasoned with a subtle causticity and wit. A
history of modern thinking Germany, of that 'unextinguished hearth'
whence the mind of Europe has been kindled for three generations, might
almost have been evolved from that bookcase and its contents alone.

Langham, as he stood peering among the ugly, vilely-printed German
volumes, felt suddenly a kind of magnetic influence creeping over him.
The room seemed instinct with a harsh commanding presence. The history
of a mind and soul was written upon the face of it; every shelf, as it
were, was an autobiographical fragment, an 'Apologia pro Vita Mea.' He
drew away from the books at last with the uneasy feeling of one who
surprises a confidence, and looked for Robert. Robert was at the end of
the room, a couple of volumes under his arm, another, which he was
reading, in his hand.

'This is _my_ corner,' he said, smiling and flushing a little, as his
friend moved up to him. 'Perhaps you don't know that I too am engaged
upon a great work.'

'A great work--you?'

Langham looked at his companion as though to find out whether his remark
was meant seriously or whether he might venture to be cynical. Elsmere
writing! Why should everybody write books? It was absurd! The scholar
who knows what toll scholarship takes of life is always apt to resent
the intrusion of the man of action into his domains. It looks to him
like a kind of ridiculous assumption that any one _d'un coeur lêger_
can do what has cost him his heart's blood.

Robert understood something of the meaning of his tone, and replied
almost apologetically; he was always singularly modest about himself on
the intellectual side.

'Well, Grey is responsible. He gave me such a homily before I left
Oxford on the absolute necessity of keeping up with books, that I could
do nothing less than set up a "subject" at once. "Half the day," he used
to say to me, "you will be king of your world; the other half be the
slave of something which will take you out of your world into the
general world;" and then he would quote to me that saying he was always
bringing into lectures--I forget whose it is--"_The decisive events of
the world take place in the intellect._ It is the mission of books that
they help one to remember it." Altogether it was striking, coming from
one who has always had such a tremendous respect for practical life and
work, and I was much impressed by it. So blame him!'

Langham was silent. Elsmere had noticed that any allusion to Grey found
Langham less and less responsive.

'Well, what is the "great work"?' he said at last, abruptly.

'Historical. Oh, I should have written something without Grey; I have
always had a turn for it since I was a child. But he was clear that
history was especially valuable--especially necessary to a clergyman. I
felt he was right, entirely right. So I took my Final Schools' history
for a basis, and started on the Empire, especially the decay of the
Empire. Some day I mean to take up one of the episodes in the great
birth of Europe--the makings of France, I think, most likely. It seems
to lead farthest and tell most. I have been at work now nine months.'

'And are just getting into it?'

'Just about. I have got down below the surface, and am beginning to feel
the joys of digging;' and Robert threw back his head with one of his
most brilliant enthusiastic smiles. 'I have been shy about boring you
with the thing, but the fact is, I am very keen indeed; and this library
has been a godsend!'

'So I should think.' Langham sat down on one of the carved wooden stools
placed at intervals along the bookcases and looked at his friend, his
psychological curiosity rising a little.

'Tell me,' he said presently--'tell me what interests you
specially--what seizes you--in a subject like the making of France, for
instance?'

'Do you really want to know?' said Robert, incredulously.

The other nodded. Robert left his place, and began to walk up and down,
trying to answer Langham's question, and at the same time to fix in
speech a number of sentiments and impressions bred in him by the work of
the past few months. After a while Langham began to see his way.
Evidently the forces at the bottom of this new historical interest were
precisely the same forces at work in Elsmere's parish plans, in his
sermons, in his dealings with the poor and the young--forces of
imagination and sympathy. What was enchaining him to this new study was
not, to begin with, that patient love of ingenious accumulation which is
the learned temper proper, the temper, in short, of science. It was
simply a passionate sense of the human problems which underlie all the
dry and dusty detail of history and give it tone and colour, a
passionate desire to rescue something more of human life from the
drowning, submerging past, to realise for himself and others the
solidarity and continuity of mankind's long struggle from the beginning
until now.

Langham had had much experience of Elsmere's versatility and pliancy,
but he had never realised it so much as now, while he sat listening to
the vivid, many-coloured speech getting quicker and quicker, and more
and more telling and original as Robert got more absorbed and excited by
what he had to say. He was endeavouring to describe to Langham the sort
of book he thought might be written on the rise of modern society in
Gaul, dwelling first of all on the outward spectacle of the
blood-stained Frankish world as it was, say, in the days of Gregory the
Great, on its savage kings, its fiendish women, its bishops and its
saints; and then, on the conflict of ideas going on behind all the
fierce incoherence of the Empire's decay, the struggle of Roman order
and of German freedom, of Roman luxury and of German hardness; above
all, the war of orthodoxy and heresy, with its strange political
complications. And then, discontented still, as though the heart of the
matter were still untouched, he went on, restlessly wandering the while,
with his long arms linked behind him, 'throwing out' words at an object
in his mind, trying to grasp and analyse that strange sense which haunts
the student of Rome's decline as it once overshadowed the infancy of
Europe, that sense of a slowly departing majesty, of a great presence
just withdrawn, and still incalculably potent, traceable throughout in
that humbling consciousness of Goth or Frank that they were but
'beggars hutting in a palace--the place had harboured greater men than
they!'

'There is one thing,' Langham said presently, in his slow nonchalant
voice, when the tide of Robert's ardour ebbed for a moment, 'that
doesn't seem to have touched you yet. But you will come to it. To my
mind, it makes almost the chief interest of history. It is just this.
History depends on _testimony_. What is the nature and the value of
testimony at given times? In other words, did the man of the third
century understand, or report, or interpret facts in the same way as the
man of the sixteenth or the nineteenth? And if not, what are the
differences, and what are the deductions to be made from them, if any?'
He fixed his keen look on Robert, who was now lounging against the
books, as though his harangue had taken it out of him a little.

'Ah, well,' said the rector, smiling, 'I am only just coming to that. As
I told you, I am only now beginning to dig for myself. Till now it has
all been work at second hand. I have been getting a general survey of
the ground as quickly as I could with the help of other men's labours.
Now I must go to work inch by inch, and find out what the ground is made
of. I won't forget your point. It is enormously important, I
grant--enormously,' he repeated reflectively.

'I should think it is,' said Langham to himself as he rose; 'the whole
of orthodox Christianity is in it, for instance!'

There was not much more to be seen. A little wooden staircase led from
the second library to the upper rooms, curious old rooms, which had been
annexed one by one as the squire wanted them, and in which there was
nothing at all--neither chair, nor table, nor carpet--but books only.
All the doors leading from room to room had been taken off; the old
worm-eaten boards had been roughly stained; a few old French engravings
had been hung here and there where the encroaching books left an
opening; but otherwise all was bare. There was a curious charm in the
space and air of these empty rooms, with their latticed windows opening
on to the hill; and letting in day by day the summer sun-risings or the
winter dawns, which had shone upon them for more than three centuries.

'This is my last day of privilege,' said Robert. 'Everybody is shut out
when once he appears, from this wing, and this part of the grounds. This
was his father's room,' and the rector led the way into the last of the
series; 'and through there,' pointing to a door on the right, 'lies the
way to his own sleeping room, which is of course connected with the more
modern side of the house.'

'So this is where that old man ventured "what Cato did and Addison
approved,"' murmured Langham, standing in the middle of the room and
looking round him. This particular room was now used as a sort of lumber
place, a receptacle for the superfluous or useless books gradually
thrown off by the great collection all around. There were innumerable
volumes in frayed or broken bindings lying on the ground. A musty smell
hung over it all; the gray light from outside, which seemed to give only
an added subtlety and charm to the other portions of the ancient
building through which they had been moving, seemed here _triste_ and
dreary. Or Langham fancied it.

He passed the threshold again with a little sigh, and saw suddenly
before him at the end of the suite of rooms, and framed in the doorways
facing him, an engraving of a Greuze picture--a girl's face turned over
her shoulder, the hair waving about her temples, the lips parted, the
teeth gleaming, mirth and provocation and tender yielding in every line.
Langham started, and the blood rushed to his heart. It was as though
Rose herself stood there and beckoned to him.



CHAPTER XV


'Now, having seen our sight,' said Robert, as they left the great mass
of Murewell behind them, 'come and see our scandal. Both run by the same
proprietor, if you please. There is a hamlet down there in the
hollow'--and he pointed to a gray speck in the distance--'which deserves
a Royal Commission all to itself, which is a _disgrace_'--and his tone
warmed--'to any country, any owner, any agent! It is owned by Mr.
Wendover, and I see the pleasing prospect straight before me of
beginning my acquaintance with him by a fight over it. You will admit
that it is a little hard on a man who wants to live on good terms with
the possessor of the Murewell library to have to open relations with him
by a fierce attack on his drains and his pigsties.'

He turned to his companion with a half-rueful spark of laughter in his
gray eyes. Langham hardly caught what he said. He was far away in
meditations of his own.

'An attack,' he repeated vaguely; 'why an attack?'

Robert plunged again into the great topic of which his quick mind was
evidently full. Langham tried to listen, but was conscious that his
friend's social enthusiasms bored him a great deal. And side by side
with the consciousness there slid in a little stinging reflection that
four years ago no talk of Elsmere's could have bored him.

'What's the matter with this particular place?' he asked languidly, at
last, raising his eyes towards the group of houses now beginning to
emerge from the distance.

An angry red mounted in Robert's cheek.

'What isn't the matter with it? The houses, which were built on a swamp
originally, are falling into ruin; the roofs, the drains, the
accommodation per head, are all about equally scandalous. The place is
harried with illness; since I came there has been both fever and
diphtheria there. They are all crippled with rheumatism, but _that_ they
think nothing of; the English labourer takes rheumatism as quite in the
day's bargain! And as to _vice_--the vice that comes of mere endless
persecuting opportunity--I can tell you one's ideas of personal
responsibility get a good deal shaken up by a place like this! And I can
do nothing. I brought over Henslowe to see the place, and he behaved
like a brute. He scoffed at all my complaints, said that no landlord
would be such a fool as to build fresh cottages on such a site, that the
old ones must just be allowed to go to ruin; that the people might live
in them if they chose, or turn out of them if they chose. Nobody forced
them to do either; it was their own look-out.'

'That was true,' said Langham, 'wasn't it?'

Robert turned upon him fiercely.

'Ah! you think it so easy for those poor creatures to leave their homes,
their working places! Some of them have been there thirty years. They
are close to the two or three farms that employ them, close to the osier
beds which give them extra earnings in the spring. If they were turned
out there is nothing nearer than Murewell, and not a single cottage to
be found there. I don't say it is a landlord's duty to provide more
cottages than are wanted; but if the labour is wanted, the labourer
should be decently housed. He is worthy of his hire, and woe to the man
who neglects or ill-treats him!'

Langham could not help smiling, partly at the vehemence of the speech,
partly at the lack of adjustment between his friend's mood and his own.
He braced himself to take the matter more seriously, but meanwhile
Robert had caught the smile, and his angry eyes melted at once into
laughter.

'There I am, ranting as usual,' he said penitently. 'Took you for
Henslowe, I suppose! Ah, well, never mind. I hear the Provost has
another book on the stocks.'

So they diverged into other things, talking politics and new books,
public men and what not, till, at the end of a long and gradual descent
through wooded ground, some two miles to the north-west of the park,
they emerged from the trees beneath which they had been walking, and
found themselves on a bridge, a gray sluggish stream flowing beneath
them, and the hamlet they sought rising among the river flats on the
farther side.

'There,' said Robert, stopping, 'we are at our journey's end. Now then,
what sort of a place of human habitation do you call _that_?'

The bridge whereon they stood crossed the main channel of the river,
which just at that point, however, parted into several branches, and
came meandering slowly down through a little bottom or valley, filled
with osier beds, long since robbed of their year's growth of shoots. On
the other side of the river, on ground all but level with the osier beds
which interposed between them and the stream, rose a miserable group of
houses, huddled together as though their bulging walls and rotten roofs
could only maintain themselves at all by the help and support which each
wretched hovel gave to its neighbour. The mud walls were stained with
yellow patches of lichen, the palings round the little gardens were
broken and ruinous. Close beside them all was a sort of open drain or
water-course, stagnant and noisome, which dribbled into the river a
little above the bridge. Behind them rose a high gravel bank edged by
firs, and a line of oak trees against the sky. The houses stood in the
shadow of the bank looking north, and on this gray, lowering day, the
dreariness, the gloom, the squalor of the place were indescribable.

'Well, that _is_ a God-forsaken hole!' said Langham, studying it, his
interest roused at last, rather, perhaps, by the Ruysdael-like
melancholy and picturesqueness of the scene than by its human
suggestiveness. 'I could hardly have imagined such a place existed in
southern England. It is more like a bit of Ireland.'

'If it were Ireland it might be to somebody's interest to ferret it
out,' said Robert bitterly. 'But these poor folks are out of the world.
They may be brutalised with impunity. Oh, such a case as I had here last
autumn! A young girl of sixteen or seventeen, who would have been
healthy and happy anywhere else, stricken by the damp and the poison of
the place, dying in six weeks, of complications due to nothing in the
world but preventable cruelty and neglect! It was a sight that burnt
into my mind, once for all, what is meant by a landlord's
responsibility. I tried, of course, to move her, but neither she nor her
parents--elderly folk--had energy enough for a change. They only prayed
to be let alone. I came over the last evening of her life to give her
the communion. "Ah, sir!" said the mother to me--not bitterly--that is
the strange thing, they have so little bitterness--"if Mister 'Enslowe
would jest 'a mended that bit 'o roof of ours last winter, Bessie
needn't have laid in the wet so many nights as she did, and she coughin'
fit to break your heart, for all the things yer could put over 'er."'

Robert paused, his strong young face, so vehemently angry a few minutes
before, tremulous with feeling. 'Ah, well,' he said at last with a long
breath, moving away from the parapet of the bridge on which he had been
leaning, 'better be oppressed than oppressor, any day! Now, then, I must
deliver my stores. There's a child here Catherine and I have been doing
our best to pull through typhoid.'

They crossed the bridge and turned down the track leading to the hamlet.
Some planks carried them across the ditch, the main sewer of the
community, as Robert pointed out, and they made their way through the
filth surrounding one of the nearest cottages.

A feeble elderly man, whose shaking limbs and sallow bloodless skin
make him look much older than he actually was, opened the door and
invited them to come in. Robert passed on into an inner room, conducted
thither by a woman who had been sitting working over the fire. Langham
stood irresolute; but the old man's quavering 'kindly take a chair, sir;
you've come a long way,' decided him, and he stepped in.

Inside the hovel was miserable indeed. It belonged to that old and evil
type which the efforts of the last twenty years have done so much all
over England to sweep away: four mud walls, enclosing an oblong space
about eight yards long, divided into two unequal portions by a lath and
plaster partition, with no upper storey, a thatched roof, now entirely
out of repair, and letting in the rain in several places, and a paved
floor little better than the earth itself, so large and cavernous were
the gaps between the stones. The dismal place had no small
adornings--none of those little superfluities which, however ugly and
trivial, are still so precious in the dwellings of the poor, as showing
the existence of some instinct or passion which is not the creation of
the sheerest physical need; and Langham, as he sat down, caught the
sickening marsh smell which the Oxford man, accustomed to the odours of
damp meadows in times of ebbing flood and festering sun, knows so well.
As old Milsom began to talk to him in his weak tremulous voice, the
visitor's attention was irresistibly held by the details about him.
Fresh as he was from all the delicate sights, the harmonious colours and
delightful forms of the squire's house, they made an unusually sharp
impression on his fastidious senses. What does human life become lived
on reeking floors and under stifling roofs like these? What strange
abnormal deteriorations, physical and spiritual, must it not inevitably
undergo? Langham felt a sudden inward movement of disgust and repulsion.
'For heaven's sake, keep your superstitions!' he could have cried to the
whole human race, 'or any other narcotic that a grinding fate has left
you. What does _anything_ matter to the mass of mankind but a little
ease, a little lightening of pressure on this side or on that?'

Meanwhile the old man went maundering on, talking of the weather, and of
his sick child, and 'Mr. Elsmere,' with a kind of listless incoherence
which hardly demanded an answer, though Langham threw in a word or two
here and there.

Among other things, he began to ask a question or two about Robert's
predecessor, a certain Mr. Preston, who had left behind him a memory of
amiable evangelical indolence.

'Did you see much of him?' he asked.

'Oh law, no, sir!' replied the man, surprised into something like
energy. 'Never seed 'im more 'n once a year, and sometimes not that!'

'Was he liked here?'

'Well, sir, it was like this, you see. My wife, she's north-country, she
is, comes from Yorkshire; sometimes she'd used to say to me, "Passon
'ee ain't much good, and passon 'ee ain't much harm. 'Ee's no more good
nor more 'arm, so fer as _I_ can see, nor a chip in a basin o'
parritch." And that was just about it; sir,' said the old man, pleased
for the hundredth time with his wife's bygone flight of metaphor and his
own exact memory of it.

As to the rector's tendance of his child, his tone was very cool and
guarded.

'It do seem strange, sir, as nor he nor Doctor Grimes 'ull let her have
anything to put a bit of flesh on her, nothin' but them messy things as
he brings--milk an' that. An' the beef jelly--lor, such a trouble!
Missis Elsmere, he tells my wife, strains all the stuff through a cloth,
she do; never seed anythin' like it, nor my wife neither. People is
clever nowadays,' said the speaker dubiously. Langham realised that, in
this quarter of his parish at any rate, his friend's pastoral vanity, if
he had any, would not find much to feed on. Nothing, to judge from this
specimen at least, greatly affected an inhabitant of Mile End.
Gratitude, responsiveness, imply health and energy, past or present. The
only constant defence which the poor have against such physical
conditions as those which prevailed at Mile End is apathy.

As they came down the dilapidated steps at the cottage door, Robert drew
in with avidity a long draught of the outer air.

'Ugh!' he said with a sort of groan, 'that bedroom! Nothing gives one
such a sense of the toughness of human life as to see a child
recovering, actually recovering, in such a pestilential den! Father,
mother, grown-up son, girl of thirteen, and grandchild, all huddled in a
space just fourteen feet square. Langham!' and he turned passionately on
his companion, 'what defence can be found for a man who lives in a place
like Murewell Hall, and can take money from human beings for the use of
a sty like that?'

'Gently, my friend. Probably the squire, being the sort of recluse he
is, has never seen the place, or, at any rate, not for years, and knows
nothing about it!'

'More shame for him!'

'True in a sense,' said Langham, a little drily; 'but as you _may_ want
hereafter to make excuses for your man, and he _may_ give you occasion,
I wouldn't begin by painting him to yourself any blacker than need be.'

Robert laughed, sighed and acquiesced. 'I am a hot-headed, impatient
kind of creature at the best of times,' he confessed. 'They tell me that
great things have been done for the poor round here in the last twenty
years. Something has been done, certainly. But why are the old ways, the
old evil neglect and apathy, so long, so terribly long in dying? This
social progress of ours we are so proud of is a clumsy limping jade at
best!'

They prowled a little more about the hamlet, every step almost revealing
some new source of poison and disease. Of their various visits,
however, Langham remembered nothing afterwards but a little scene in a
miserable cottage, where they found a whole family party gathered round
the mid-day meal. A band of puny, black, black-eyed children were
standing or sitting at the table. The wife, confined of twins three
weeks before, sat by the fire, deathly pale, a 'bad leg' stretched out
before her on some improvised support, one baby on her lap and another
dark-haired bundle asleep in a cradle beside her. There was a pathetic
pinched beauty about the whole family. Even the tiny twins were
comparatively shapely; all the other children had delicate transparent
skins, large eyes, and small colourless mouths. The father, a
picturesque handsome fellow, looking as though he had gipsy blood in his
veins, had opened the door to their knock. Robert, seeing the meal,
would have retreated at once, in spite of the children's shy inviting
looks, but a glance past them at the mother's face checked the word of
refusal and apology on his lips, and he stepped in.

In after years Langham was always apt to see him in imagination as he
saw him then, standing beside the bent figure of the mother, his quick
pitiful eyes taking in the pallor and exhaustion of face and frame, his
hand resting instinctively on the head of a small creature that had
crept up beside him, his look all attention and softness as the woman
feebly told him some of the main facts of her state. The young rector at
the moment might have stood for the modern 'Man of Feeling,' as
sensitive, as impressionable, and as free from the burden of self, as
his eighteenth-century prototype.

On the way home Robert suddenly remarked to his companion, 'Have you
heard my sister-in-law play yet, Langham? What did you think of it?'

'Extraordinary!' said Langham briefly. 'The most considerable gift I
ever came across in an amateur.'

His olive cheek flushed a little involuntarily. Robert threw a quick
observant look at him.

'The difficulty,' he exclaimed, 'is to know what to do with it!'

'Why do you make the difficulty? I gather she wants to study abroad.
What is there to prevent it?'

Langham turned to his companion with a touch of asperity. He could not
stand it that Elsmere should be so much narrowed and warped by that wife
of his, and her prejudices. Why should that gifted creature be cribbed,
cabined, and confined in this way?

'I grant you,' said Robert, with a look of perplexity, 'there is not
much to prevent it.'

And he was silent a moment, thinking, on his side, very tenderly of all
the antecedents and explanations of that old-world distrust of art and
the artistic life so deeply rooted in his wife, even though in practice
and under his influence she had made concession after concession.

'The great solution of all,' he said presently, brightening, 'would be
to get her married. I don't wonder her belongings dislike the notion of
anything so pretty and so flighty going off to live by itself. And to
break up the home in Whindale would be to undo everything their father
did for them, to defy his most solemn last wishes.'

'To talk of a father's wishes, in a case of this kind, ten years after
his death, is surely excessive?' said Langham with dry interrogation;
then, suddenly recollecting himself, 'I beg your pardon, Elsmere. I am
interfering.'

'Nonsense,' said Robert brightly, 'I don't wonder, it seems like a
difficulty of our own making. Like so many difficulties, it depends on
character, present character, bygone character----' And again he fell
musing on his Westmoreland experiences, and on the intensity of that
Puritan type it had revealed to him. 'However, as I said, marriage would
be the natural way out of it.'

'An easy way, I should think,' said Langham, after a pause.

'It won't be so easy to find the right man. She is a young person with a
future, is Miss Rose. She wants somebody in the stream; somebody with a
strong hand who will keep her in order and yet give her a wide range; a
rich man, I think--she hasn't the ways of a poor man's wife; but, at any
rate, some one who will be proud of her, and yet have a full life of his
own in which she may share.'

'Your views are extremely clear,' said Langham, and his smile had a
touch of bitterness in it. 'If hers agree, I prophesy you won't have
long to wait. She has beauty, talent, charm--everything that rich and
important men like.'

There was the slightest sarcastic note in the voice. Robert winced. It
was borne in upon one of the least worldly of mortals that he had been
talking like the veriest schemer. What vague quick impulse had driven
him on?

By the time they emerged again upon the Murewell Green the rain had
cleared altogether away, and the autumnal morning had broken into
sunshine, which played mistily on the sleeping woods, on the white
fronts of the cottages, and the wide green where the rain-pools
glistened. On the hill leading to the rectory there was the flutter of a
woman's dress. As they hurried on, afraid of being late for luncheon,
they saw that it was Rose in front of them.

Langham started as the slender figure suddenly defined itself against
the road. A tumult within, half rage, half feeling, showed itself only
in an added rigidity of the finely-cut features.

Rose turned directly she heard the steps and voices, and over the
dreaminess of her face there flashed a sudden brightness.

'You _have_ been a long time!' she exclaimed, saying the first thing
that came into her head, joyously, rashly, like the child she in reality
was. 'How many halt and maimed has Robert taken you to see, Mr.
Langham?'

'We went to Murewell first. The library was well worth seeing. Since
then we have been a parish round, distributing stores.'

Rose's look changed in an instant. The words were spoken by the Langham
of her earliest acquaintance. The man who that morning had asked her to
play to him had gone--vanished away.

'How exhilarating!' she said scornfully. 'Don't you wonder how any one
can ever tear themselves away from the country?'

'Rose, don't be abusive,' said Robert, opening his eyes at her tone.
Then, passing his arm through hers, he looked banteringly down upon her.
'For the first time since you left the metropolis you have walked
yourself into a colour. It's becoming--and it's Murewell--so be civil!'

'Oh, nobody denies you a high place in milkmaids!' she said, with her
head in air--and they went off into a minute's sparring.

Meanwhile Langham, on the other side of the road, walked up slowly, his
eyes on the ground. Once, when Rose's eye caught him, a shock ran
through her. There was already a look of slovenly age about his stooping
bookworm's gait. Her companion of the night before--handsome, animated,
human--where was he? The girl's heart felt a singular contraction. Then
she turned and rent herself, and Robert found her more mocking and
sprightly than ever.

At the rectory gate Robert ran on to overtake a farmer on the road. Rose
stooped to open the latch; Langham mechanically made a quick movement
forward to anticipate her. Their fingers touched; she drew hers hastily
away and passed in, an erect and dignified figure, in her curving garden
hat.

Langham went straight up to his room, shut the door, and stood before
the open window, deaf and blind to everything save an inward storm of
sensation.

'Fool! Idiot!' he said to himself at last, with fierce stifled emphasis,
while a kind of dumb fury with himself and circumstance swept through
him.

That he, the poor and solitary student whose only sources of
self-respect lay in the deliberate limitations, the reasoned and
reasonable renunciations he had imposed upon his life, should have
needed the reminder of his old pupil not to fall in love with his
brilliant ambitious sister! His irritable self-consciousness enormously
magnified Elsmere's motive and Elsmere's words. That golden vagueness
and softness of temper which had possessed him since his last sight of
her gave place to one of bitter tension.

With sardonic scorn he pointed out to himself that his imagination was
still held by, his nerves were still thrilling under, the mental image
of a girl looking up to him as no woman had ever looked--a girl,
white-armed, white-necked--with softened eyes of appeal and confidence.
He bade himself mark that during the whole of his morning walk with
Robert down to its last stage, his mind had been really absorbed in some
preposterous dream he was now too self-contemptuous to analyse. Pretty
well for a philosopher, in four days! What a ridiculous business is
life--what a contemptible creature is man, how incapable of dignity, of
consistency!

At luncheon he talked rather more than usual, especially on literary
matters with Robert. Rose, too, was fully occupied in giving Catherine a
sarcastic account of a singing lesson she had been administering in the
school that morning. Catherine winced sometimes at the tone of it.

That afternoon Robert, in high spirits, his rod over his shoulder, his
basket at his back, carried off his guest for a lounging afternoon along
the river. Elsmere enjoyed these fishing expeditions like a boy. They
were his holidays, relished all the more because he kept a jealous
account of them with his conscience. He sauntered along, now throwing a
cunning and effectual fly, now resting, smoking, and chattering, as the
fancy took him. He found a great deal of the old stimulus and piquancy
in Langham's society, but there was an occasional irritability in his
companion, especially towards himself personally, which puzzled him.
After a while, indeed, he began to feel himself the unreasonably
cheerful person which he evidently appeared to his companion. A mere
ignorant enthusiast, banished for ever from the realm of pure knowledge
by certain original and incorrigible defects--after a few hours' talk
with Langham Robert's quick insight always showed him some image of
himself resembling this in his friend's mind.

At last he turned restive. He had been describing to Langham his
acquaintance with the Dissenting minister of the place--a strong
coarse-grained fellow of sensuous excitable temperament, famous for his
noisy 'conversion meetings,' and for a gymnastic dexterity in the
quoting and combining of texts, unrivalled in Robert's experience. Some
remark on the Dissenter's logic, made, perhaps, a little too much in the
tone of the Churchman conscious of University advantages, seemed to
irritate Langham.

'You think your Anglican logic in dealing with the Bible so superior! On
the contrary, I am all for your Ranter. He is your logical Protestant.
Historically, you Anglican parsons are where you are and what you are,
because Englishmen, as a whole, like attempting the contradictory--like,
above all, to eat their cake and have it. The nation has made you and
maintains you for its own purposes. But that is another matter.'

Robert smoked on a moment in silence. Then he flushed and laid down his
pipe.

'We are all fools in your eyes, I know! _À la bonne heure!_ I
have been to the University, and talk what he is pleased to call
"philosophy"--therefore Mr. Colson denies me faith. You have always, in
your heart of hearts, denied me knowledge. But I cling to both in spite
of you.'

There was a ray of defiance, of emotion, in his look. Langham met it in
silence.

'I deny you nothing,' he said at last, slowly. 'On the contrary, I
believe you to be the possessor of all that is best worth having in life
and mind.'

His irritation had all died away. His tone was one of indescribable
depression, and his great black eyes were fixed on Robert with a
melancholy which startled his companion. By a subtle transition Elsmere
felt himself touched with a pang of profound pity for the man who an
instant before had seemed to pose as his scornful superior. He stretched
out his hand, and laid it on his friend's shoulder.

       *       *       *       *       *

Rose spent the afternoon in helping Catherine with various parochial
occupations. In the course of them Catherine asked many questions about
Long Whindale. Her thoughts clung to the hills, to the gray farmhouses,
the rough men and women inside them. But Rose gave her small
satisfaction.

'Poor old Jim Backhouse!' said Catherine, sighing. 'Agnes tells me he is
quite bedridden now.'

'Well, and a good thing for John, don't you think,' said Rose briskly,
covering a parish library book the while in a way which made Catherine's
fingers itch to take it from her, 'and for us? It's some use having a
carrier now.'

Catherine made no reply. She thought of the 'noodle' fading out of life
in the room where Mary Backhouse died; she actually saw the white hair,
the blurred eyes, the palsied hands, the poor emaciated limbs stretched
along the settle. Her heart rose, but she said nothing.

'And has Mrs. Thornburgh been enjoying her summer?'

'Oh! I suppose so,' said Rose, her tone indicating a quite measureless
indifference. 'She had another young Oxford man staying with her in
June--a missionary--and it annoyed her very much that neither Agnes nor
I would intervene to prevent his resuming his profession. She seemed to
think it was a question of saving him from being eaten, and apparently
he would have proposed to either of us.'

Catherine could not help laughing. 'I suppose she still thinks she
married Robert and me.'

'Of course. So she did.'

Catherine coloured a little, but Rose's hard lightness of tone was
unconquerable.

'Or if she didn't,' Rose resumed, 'nobody could have the heart to rob
her of the illusion. Oh, by the way, Sarah has been under warning since
June! Mrs. Thornburgh told her desperately that she must either throw
over her young man, who was picked up drunk at the vicarage gate one
night, or vacate the vicarage kitchen. Sarah cheerfully accepted her
month's notice, and is still making the vicarage jams and walking out
with the young man every Sunday. Mrs. Thornburgh sees that it will
require a convulsion of nature to get rid either of Sarah or the young
man, and has succumbed.'

'And the Tysons? And that poor Walker girl?'

'Oh, dear me, Catherine!' said Rose, a strange disproportionate flash of
impatience breaking through. 'Every one in Long Whindale is always just
where and what they were last year. I admit they are born and die, but
they do nothing else of a decisive kind.'

Catherine's hands worked away for a while, then she laid down her book
and said, lifting her clear large eyes on her sister,--

'Was there _never_ a time when you loved the valley, Rose?'

'Never!' cried Rose.

Then she pushed away her work, and leaning her elbows on the table
turned her brilliant face to Catherine. There was frank mutiny in it.

'By the way, Catherine, are you going to prevent mamma from letting me
go to Berlin for the winter?'

'And after Berlin, Rose?' said Catherine, presently, her gaze bent upon
her work.

'After Berlin? What next?' said Rose recklessly. 'Well, after Berlin I
shall try to persuade mamma and Agnes, I suppose, to come and back me up
in London. We could still be some months of the year at Burwood.'

Now she had said it out. But there was something else surely goading the
girl than mere intolerance of the family tradition. The hesitancy, the
moral doubt of her conversation with Langham, seemed to have vanished
wholly in a kind of acrid self-assertion.

Catherine felt a shock sweep through her. It was as though all the
pieties of life, all the sacred assumptions and self-surrenders at the
root of it, were shaken, outraged by the girl's tone.

'Do you ever remember,' she said, looking up, while her voice trembled,
'what papa wished when he was dying?'

It was her last argument. To Rose she had very seldom used it in so many
words. Probably, it seemed to her too strong, too sacred, to be often
handled.

But Rose sprang up, and pacing the little workroom with her white wrists
locked behind her, she met that argument with all the concentrated
passion which her youth had for years been storing up against it.
Catherine sat presently overwhelmed, bewildered. This language of a
proud and tameless individuality, this modern gospel of the divine right
of self-development--her soul loathed it! And yet, since that night in
Marrisdale, there had been a new yearning in her to understand.

Suddenly, however, Rose stopped, lost her thread. Two figures were
crossing the lawn, and their shadows were thrown far beyond them by the
fast disappearing sun.

She threw herself down on her chair again with an abrupt--

'Do you see they have come back? We must go and dress.'

And as she spoke she was conscious of a new sensation altogether--the
sensation of the wild creature lassoed on the prairie, of the bird
exchanging in an instant its glorious freedom of flight for the pitiless
meshes of the net. It was stifling--her whole nature seemed to fight
with it.

Catherine rose and began to put away the books they had been covering.
She had said almost nothing in answer to Rose's tirade. When she was
ready she came and stood beside her sister a moment, her lips trembling.
At last she stooped and kissed the girl--the kiss of deep suppressed
feeling--and went away. Rose made no response.

Unmusical as she was, Catherine pined for her sister's music that
evening. Robert was busy in his study, and the hours seemed
interminable. After a little difficult talk Langham subsided into a book
and a corner. But the only words of which he was conscious for long were
the words of an inner dialogue. 'I promised to play for her.--Go and
offer then!--Madness! let me keep away from her. If she asks me, of
course I will go. She is much too proud, and already she thinks me
guilty of a rudeness.'

Then, with a shrug, he would fall to his book again, abominably
conscious, however, all the while of the white figure between the lamp
and the open window, and of the delicate head and cheek lit up against
the trees and the soft August dark.

When the time came to go to bed he got their candles for the two ladies.
Rose just touched his hand with cool fingers.

'Good-night, Mr. Langham. You are going in to smoke with Robert, I
suppose?'

Her bright eyes seemed to look him through. Their mocking hostility
seemed to say to him as plainly as possible: 'Your purgatory is
over--go, smoke and be happy!'

'I will go and help him wind up his sermon,' he said, with an attempt at
a laugh, and moved away.

Rose went upstairs, and it seemed to her that a Greek brow, and a pair
of wavering melancholy eyes, went before her in the darkness chased
along the passages by the light she held. She gained her room, and stood
by the window, seized again by that stifling sense of catastrophe, so
strange, so undefined. Then she shook it off with an angry laugh, and
went to work to see how far her stock of light dresses had suffered by
her London dissipations.



CHAPTER XVI


The next morning after breakfast the rectory party were in the
garden--the gentlemen smoking, Catherine and her sister strolling
arm-in-arm among the flowers. Catherine's vague terrors of the morning
before had all taken to themselves wings. It seemed to her that Rose and
Mr. Langham had hardly spoken to each other since she had seen them
walking about together. Robert had already made merry over his own
alarms, and hers, and she admitted he was in the right. As to her talk
with Rose her deep meditative nature was slowly working upon and
digesting it. Meanwhile, she was all tenderness to her sister, and there
was even a reaction of pity in her heart towards the lonely sceptic who
had once been so good to Robert.

Robert was just bethinking himself that it was time to go off to the
school, when they were all startled by an unexpected visitor--a short
old lady, in a rusty black dress and bonnet, who entered the drive and
stood staring at the rectory party, a tiny hand in a black thread glove
shading the sun from a pair of wrinkled eyes.

'Mrs. Darcy!' exclaimed Robert to his wife after a moment's perplexity,
and they walked quickly to meet her.

Rose and Langham exchanged a few commonplaces till the others joined
them, and then for a while the attention of everybody in the group was
held by the squire's sister. She was very small, as thin and light as
thistle-down, ill-dressed, and as communicative as a babbling child. The
face and all the features were extraordinarily minute, and moreover,
blanched and etherealised by age. She had the elfish look of a little
withered fairy godmother. And yet through it all it was clear that she
was a great lady. There were certain poses and gestures about her, which
made her thread gloves and rusty skirts seem a mere whim and masquerade,
adopted, perhaps deliberately, from a high-bred love of congruity, to
suit the country lanes.

She had come to ask them all to dinner at the Hall on the following
evening, and she either brought or devised on the spot the politest
messages from the squire to the new rector, which pleased the sensitive
Robert and silenced for the moment his various misgivings as to Mr.
Wendover's advent. Then she stayed chattering, studying Rose every now
and then out of her strange little eyes, restless and glancing as a
bird's, which took stock also of the garden, of the flower-beds, of
Elsmere's lanky frame, and of Elsmere's handsome friend in the
background. She was most odd when she was grateful, and she was grateful
for the most unexpected things. She thanked Elsmere effusively for
coming to live there, 'sacrificing yourself so nobly to us country
folk,' and she thanked him with an appreciative glance at Langham, for
having his clever friends to stay with him. 'The squire will be so
pleased. My brother, you know, is very clever; oh yes, frightfully
clever!'

And then there was a long sigh, at which Elsmere could hardly keep his
countenance.

She thought it particularly considerate of them to have been to see the
squire's books. It would make conversation so easy when they came to
dinner.

'Though I don't know anything about his books. He doesn't like women to
talk about books. He says they only pretend--even the clever ones.
Except, of course, Madame de Staël. He can only say she was ugly, and I
don't deny it. But I have about used up Madame de Staël,' she added,
dropping into another sigh as soft and light as a child's.

Robert was charmed with her, and even Langham smiled. And as Mrs. Darcy
adored 'clever men,' ranking them, as the London of her youth had ranked
them, only second to 'persons of birth,' she stood among them beaming,
becoming more and more whimsical and inconsequent, more and more
deliciously incalculable, as she expanded. At last she fluttered off,
only, however, to come hurrying back, with little, short, scudding
steps, to implore them all to come to tea with her as soon as possible
in the garden that was her special hobby, and in her last new
summer-house.

'I build two or three every summer,' she said. 'Now, there are
twenty-one! Roger laughs at me,' and there was a momentary bitterness in
the little eerie face, 'but how can one live without hobbies? That's
one--then I've two more. My album--oh, you _will_ all write in my album,
won't you? When I was young--when I was Maid of Honour'--and she drew
herself up slightly--'everybody had albums. Even the dear Queen herself!
I remember how she made M. Guizot write in it; something quite stupid,
after all. _Those_ hobbies--the garden and the album--are _quite_
harmless, aren't they? They hurt nobody, do they?' Her voice dropped a
little, with a pathetic expostulating intonation in it, as of one
accustomed to be rebuked.

'Let me remind you of a saying of Bacon's,' said Langham, studying her,
and softened perforce into benevolence.

'Yes, yes,' said Mrs. Darcy in a flutter of curiosity.

'God Almighty first planted a garden,' he quoted; 'and indeed, it is the
purest of all human pleasures.'

'Oh, but how _delightful_!' cried Mrs. Darcy, clasping her diminutive
hands in their thread gloves. 'You must write that in my album, Mr.
Langham, that very sentence; oh, how _clever_ of you to remember it!
What it is to be clever and have a brain! But, then--I've another
hobby----'

Here, however, she stopped, hung her head and looked depressed. Robert,
with a little ripple of laughter, begged her to explain.

'No,' she said plaintively, giving a quick uneasy look at him, as though
it occurred to her that it might some day be his pastoral duty to
admonish her. 'No, it's wrong. I know it is--only I can't help it. Never
mind. You'll know soon.'

And again she turned away, when, suddenly, Rose attracted her attention,
and she stretched out a thin white bird-claw of a hand and caught the
girl's arm.

'There won't be much to amuse you to-morrow, my dear, and there ought
to be--you're so pretty!' Rose blushed furiously and tried to draw her
hand away. 'No, no! don't mind, don't mind. I didn't at your age. Well,
we'll do our best. But your own party is so _charming_!' and she looked
round the little circle, her gaze stopping specially at Langham before
it returned to Rose. 'After all, you will amuse each other.'

Was there any malice in the tiny withered creature? Rose, unsympathetic
and indifferent as youth commonly is when its own affairs absorb it, had
stood coldly outside the group which was making much of the squire's
sister. Was it so the strange little visitor revenged herself?

At any rate Rose was left feeling as if some one had pricked her. While
Catherine and Elsmere escorted Mrs. Darcy to the gate she turned to go
in, her head thrown back stag-like, her cheek still burning. Why should
it be always open to the old to annoy the young with impunity?

Langham watched her mount the first step or two; his eye travelled up
the slim figure so instinct with pride and will--and something in him
suddenly gave way. It was like a man who feels his grip relaxing on some
attacking thing he has been holding by the throat.

He followed her hastily.

'Must you go in? And none of us have paid our respects yet to those
phloxes in the back garden?'

Oh woman--flighty woman! An instant before, the girl, sore and bruised
in every fibre, she only half knew why, was thirsting that this man
might somehow offer her his neck that she might trample on it. He offers
it, and the angry instinct wavers, as a man wavers in a wrestling match
when his opponent unexpectedly gives ground. She paused, she turned her
white throat. His eyes upturned met hers.

'The phloxes did you say?' she asked, coolly redescending the steps.
'Then round here, please.'

She led the way, he followed, conscious of an utter relaxation of nerve
and will which for the moment had something intoxicating in it.

'There are your phloxes,' she said, stopping before a splendid line of
plants in full blossom. Her self-respect was whole again; her spirits
rose at a bound. 'I don't know why you admire them so much. They have no
scent, and they are only pretty in the lump,' and she broke off a spike
of blossom, studied it a little disdainfully, and threw it away.

He stood beside her, the southern glow and life of which it was
intermittently capable once more lighting up the strange face.

'Give me leave to enjoy everything countrified more than usual,' he
said. 'After this morning it will be so long before I see the true
country again.'

He looked, smiling, round on the blue and white brilliance of the sky,
clear again after a night of rain; on the sloping garden, on the
village beyond, on the hedge of sweet peas close beside them, with its
blooms

                        'On tiptoe for a flight,
    With wings of gentle flush o'er delicate white.'

'Oh! Oxford is countrified enough,' she said indifferently, moving down
the broad grass-path which divided the garden into two equal portions.

'But I am leaving Oxford, at any rate for a year,' he said quietly. 'I
am going to London.'

Her delicate eyebrows went up. 'To London?' Then, in a tone of mock
meekness and sympathy, 'How you will dislike it!'

'Dislike it--why?'

'Oh! because--' she hesitated, and then laughed her daring girlish
laugh--'because there are so many stupid people in London; the clever
people are not all picked out like prize apples, as I suppose they are
in Oxford.'

'At Oxford?' repeated Langham, with a kind of groan. 'At Oxford? You
imagine that Oxford is inhabited only by clever people?'

'I can only judge by what I see,' she said demurely. 'Every Oxford man
always behaves as if he were the cream of the universe. Oh! I don't mean
to be rude,' she cried, losing for a moment her defiant control over
herself, as though afraid of having gone too far. 'I am not the least
disrespectful, really. When you and Robert talk, Catherine and I feel
quite as humble as we ought.'

The words were hardly out before she could have bitten the tongue that
spoke them. He had made her feel her indiscretions of Sunday night as
she deserved to feel them, and now after three minutes conversation she
was on the verge of fresh ones. Would she never grow up, never behave
like other girls? That word _humble_! It seemed to burn her memory.

Before he could possibly answer she barred the way by a question as
short and dry as possible--

'What are you going to London for?'

'For many reasons,' he said, shrugging his shoulders. 'I have told no
one yet--not even Elsmere. And indeed I go back to my rooms for a while
from here. But as soon as Term begins I become a Londoner.'

They had reached the gate at the bottom of the garden, and were leaning
against it. She was disturbed, conscious, lightly flushed. It struck her
as another _gaucherie_ on her part that she should have questioned him
as to his plans. What did his life matter to her?

He was looking away from her, studying the half-ruined, degraded manor
house spread out below them. Then suddenly he turned--

'If I could imagine for a moment it would interest you to hear my
reasons for leaving Oxford, I could not flatter myself you would see
any sense in them. I _know_ that Robert will think them moonshine; nay,
more, that they will give him pain.'

He smiled sadly. The tone of gentleness, the sudden breach in the man's
melancholy reserve affected the girl beside him for the second time,
precisely as they had affected her the first time. The result of
twenty-four hours' resentful meditation turned out to be precisely
_nil_. Her breath came fast, her proud look melted, and his quick sense
caught the change in an instant.

'Are you tired of Oxford?' the poor child asked him, almost shyly.

'Mortally!' he said, still smiling. 'And what is more important still,
Oxford is tired of me. I have been lecturing there for ten years. They
have had more than enough of me.'

'Oh! but Robert said----' began Rose impetuously, then stopped, crimson,
remembering many things Robert had said.

'That I helped him over a few stiles?' returned Langham calmly. 'Yes,
there was a time when I was capable of that--there was a time when I
could teach, and teach with pleasure.' He paused. Rose could have
scourged herself for the tremor she felt creeping over her. Why should
it be to her so new and strange a thing that _a man_, especially a man
of these years and this calibre, should confide in her, should speak to
her intimately of himself? After all, she said to herself angrily, with
a terrified sense of importance, she was a child no longer, though her
mother and sisters would treat her as one. 'When we were chatting the
other night,' he went on, turning to her again as he stood leaning on
the gate, 'do you know what it was struck me most?'

His tone had in it the most delicate, the most friendly deference. But
Rose flushed furiously.

'That girls are very ready to talk about themselves, I imagine,' she
said scornfully.

'Not at all! Not for a moment! No, but it seemed to me so pathetic, so
strange that anybody should wish for anything so much as you wished for
the musician's life.'

'And you never wish for anything?' she cried.

'When Elsmere was at college,' he said, smiling, 'I believe I wished he
should get a first class. This year I have certainly wished to say
good-bye to St. Anselm's, and to turn my back for good and all on my
men. I can't remember that I have wished for anything else for six
years.'

She looked at him perplexed. Was his manner merely languid, or was it
from him that the emotion she felt invading herself first started? She
tried to shake it off.

'And _I_ am just a bundle of wants,' she said, half-mockingly.
'Generally speaking I am in the condition of being ready to barter all I
have for some folly or other--one in the morning, another in the
afternoon. What have you to say to such people, Mr. Langham?'

Her eyes challenged him magnificently, mostly out of sheer nervousness.
But the face they rested on seemed suddenly to turn to stone before her.
The life died out of it. It grew still and rigid.

'Nothing,' he said quietly. 'Between them and me there is a great gulf
fixed. I watch them pass, and I say to myself: "There are _the
living_--that is how they look, how they speak! Realise once for all
that you have nothing to do with them. Life is theirs--belongs to
_them_. You are already outside it. Go your way, and be a spectre among
the active and the happy no longer."'

He leant his back against the gate. Did he see her? Was he conscious of
her at all in this rare impulse of speech which had suddenly overtaken
one of the most withdrawn and silent of human beings? All her airs
dropped off her; a kind of fright seized her; and involuntarily she laid
her hand on his arm.

'Don't--don't--Mr. Langham! Oh, don't say such things! Why should you be
so unhappy? Why should you talk so? Can no one do anything? Why do you
live so much alone? Is there no one you care about?'

He turned. What a vision! His artistic sense absorbed it in an
instant--the beautiful tremulous lip, the drawn white brow. For a moment
he drank in the pity, the emotion, of those eyes. Then a movement of
such self-scorn as even he had never felt swept through him. He gently
moved away; her hand dropped.

'Miss Leyburn,' he said, gazing at her, his olive face singularly pale,
'don't waste your pity on me, for Heaven's sake. Some madness made me
behave as I did just now. Years ago the same sort of idiocy betrayed me
to your brother; never before or since. I ask your pardon, humbly,' and
his tone seemed to scorch her, 'that this second fit of ranting should
have seized me in your presence.'

But he could not keep it up. The inner upheaval had gone too far. He
stopped and looked at her--piteously, the features quivering. It was as
though the man's whole nature had for the moment broken up, become
disorganised. She could not bear it. Some ghastly infirmity seemed to
have been laid bare to her. She held out both her hands. Swiftly he
caught them, stooped, kissed them, let them go. It was an extraordinary
scene--to both a kind of lifetime.

Then he gathered himself together by a mighty effort.

'That was _adorable_ of you,' he said with a long breath. 'But I stole
it--I despise myself. Why should you pity me? What is there to pity me
for? My troubles, such as I have, are my own making--every one.'

And he laid a sort of vindictive emphasis on the words. The tears of
excitement were in her eyes.

'Won't you let me be your friend?' she said, trembling, with a kind of
reproach. 'I thought--the other night--we were to be friends. Won't you
tell me----'

'More of yourself?' her eyes said, but her voice failed her. And as for
him, as he gazed at her, all the accidents of circumstance, of
individual character, seemed to drop from her. He forgot the difference
of years; he saw her no longer as she was--a girl hardly out of the
schoolroom, vain, ambitious, dangerously responsive, on whose crude
romantic sense he was wantonly playing; she was to him pure beauty, pure
woman. For one tumultuous moment the cold critical instinct which had
been for years draining his life of all its natural energies was
powerless. It was sweet to yield, to speak, as it had never been sweet
before.

So, leaning over the gate, he told her the story of his life, of his
cramped childhood and youth, of his brief moment of happiness and
success at college, of his first attempts to make himself a power among
younger men, of the gradual dismal failure of all his efforts, the dying
down of desire and ambition. From the general narrative there stood out
little pictures of individual persons or scenes, clear cut and
masterly--of his father, the Gainsborough churchwarden; of his
Methodistical mother, who had all her life lamented her own beauty as a
special snare of Satan, and who since her husband's death had refused to
see her son on the ground that his opinions 'had vexed his father'; of
his first ardent worship of knowledge, and passion to communicate it;
and of the first intuitions in lecture, face to face with an
undergraduate, alone in college rooms, sometimes alone on Alpine
heights, of something cold, impotent and baffling in himself, which was
to stand for ever between him and action, between him and human
affection; the growth of the critical pessimist sense which laid the axe
to the root of enthusiasm after enthusiasm, friendship after
friendship--which made other men feel him inhuman, intangible, a
skeleton at the feast: and the persistence through it all of a kind of
hunger for life and its satisfactions, which the will was more and more
powerless to satisfy: all these Langham put into words with an
extraordinary magic and delicacy of phrase. There was something in him
which found a kind of pleasure in the long analysis, which took pains
that it should be infinitely well done.

Rose followed him breathlessly. If she had known more of literature she
would have realised that she was witnessing a masterly dissection of one
of those many morbid growths of which our nineteenth century psychology
is full. But she was anything but literary, and she could not analyse
her excitement. The man's physical charm, his melancholy, the intensity
of what he said, affected, unsteadied her as music was apt to affect
her. And through it all there was the strange girlish pride that this
should have befallen _her_; a first crude intoxicating sense of the
power over human lives which was to be hers, mingled with a desperate
anxiety to be equal to the occasion, to play her part well.

'So you see,' said Langham at last, with a great effort (to do him
justice) to climb back on to some ordinary level of conversation; 'all
these transcendentalisms apart, I am about the most unfit man in the
world for a college tutor. The undergraduates regard me as a
shilly-shallying pedant. On my part,' he added drily, 'I am not slow to
retaliate. Every term I live I find the young man a less interesting
animal. I regard the whole university system as a wretched sham.
Knowledge! It has no more to do with knowledge than my boots.'

And for one curious instant he looked out over the village, his
fastidious scholar's soul absorbed by some intellectual irritation, of
which Rose understood absolutely nothing. She stood bewildered, silent,
longing childishly to speak, to influence him, but not knowing what cue
to take.

'And then--' he went on presently (but was the strange being speaking to
her?)--'so long as I stay there, worrying those about me, and eating my
own heart out, I am cut off from the only life that might be mine, that
I might find the strength to live.'

The words were low and deliberate. After his moment of passionate
speech, and hers of passionate sympathy, she began to feel strangely
remote from him.

'Do you mean the life of the student?' she asked him after a pause,
timidly.

Her voice recalled him. He turned and smiled at her.

'Of the dreamer, rather.'

And as her eyes still questioned, as he was still moved by the spell of
her responsiveness, he let the new wave of feeling break in words.
Vaguely at first, and then with a growing flame and force, he fell to
describing to her what the life of thought may be to the thinker, and
those marvellous moments which belong to that life when the mind which
has divorced itself from desire and sense sees spread out before it the
vast realms of knowledge, and feels itself close to the secret springs
and sources of being. And as he spoke, his language took an ampler turn,
the element of smallness which attaches to all mere personal complaint
vanished, his words flowed, became eloquent, inspired, till the
bewildered child beside him, warm through and through as she was with
youth and passion, felt for an instant by sheer fascinated sympathy the
cold spell, the ineffable prestige, of the thinker's voluntary death in
life.

But only for an instant. Then the natural sense of chill smote her to
the heart.

'You make me shiver,' she cried, interrupting him. 'Have those strange
things--I don't understand them--made you happy? Can they make any one
happy? Oh no, no! Happiness is to be got from living, seeing,
experiencing, making friends, enjoying nature! Look at the world, Mr.
Langham!' she said, with bright cheeks, half smiling at her own
magniloquence, her hand waving over the view before them. 'What has it
done that you should hate it so? If you can't put up with people you
might love nature. I--I can't be content with nature, because I want
some life first. Up in Whindale there is too much nature, not enough
life. But if I had got through life--if it had disappointed me--then I
should love nature. I keep saying to the mountains at home: "Not _now_,
not _now_; I want something else, but afterwards if I can't get it, or
if I get too much of it, why then I will love you, live with you. You
are my second string, my reserve. You--and art--and poetry."'

'But everything depends on feeling,' he said softly, but lightly, as
though to keep the conversation from slipping back into those vague
depths it had emerged from; 'and if one has forgotten how to feel--if
when one sees or hears something beautiful that used to stir one, one
can only say "I remember it moved me once!"--if feeling dies, like life,
like physical force, but prematurely, long before the rest of the man!'

She gave a long quivering sigh of passionate antagonism.

'Oh, I cannot imagine it!' she cried. 'I shall feel to my last hour.'
Then, after a pause, in another tone, 'But, Mr. Langham, you say music
excites you, Wagner excites you?'

'Yes, a sort of strange second life I can still get out of music,' he
admitted, smiling.

'Well then,' and she looked at him persuasively, 'why not give yourself
up to music? It is so easy--so little trouble to one's self--it just
takes you and carries you away.'

Then, for the first time, Langham became conscious--probably through
these admonitions of hers--that the situation had absurdity in it.

'It is not my _métier_,' he said hastily. 'The self that enjoys music is
an outer self, and can only bear with it for a short time. No, Miss
Leyburn, I shall leave Oxford, the college will sing a _Te Deum_, I
shall settle down in London, I shall keep a big book going, and cheat
the years after all, I suppose, as well as most people.'

'And you will know, you will remember,' she said faltering, reddening,
her womanliness forcing the words out of her, 'that you have friends:
Robert--my sister--all of us?'

He faced her with a little quick movement. And as their eyes met each
was struck once more with the personal beauty of the other. His eyes
shone--their black depths seemed all tenderness.

'I will never forget this visit, this garden, this hour,' he said
slowly, and they stood looking at each other. Rose felt herself swept
off her feet into a world of tragic mysterious emotion. She all but put
her hand into his again, asking him childishly to hope, to be consoled.
But the maidenly impulse restrained her, and once more he leant on the
gate, burying his face in his hands.

Suddenly he felt himself utterly tired, relaxed. Strong nervous reaction
set in. What had all this scene, this tragedy, been about? And then in
another instant was that sense of the ridiculous again clamouring to be
heard. He--the man of thirty-five--confessing himself, making a tragic
scene, playing Manfred or Cain to this adorable half-fledged creature,
whom he had known five days! Supposing Elsmere had been there to
hear--Elsmere with his sane eye, his laugh! As he leant over the gate he
found himself quivering with impatience to be away--by himself--out of
reach--the critic in him making the most bitter remorseless mock of all
these heroics and despairs the other self had been indulging in. But for
the life of him he could not find a word to say--a move to make. He
stood hesitating, _gauche_, as usual.

'Do you know, Mr. Langham,' said Rose lightly, by his side, 'that there
is no time at all left for _you_ to give _me_ good advice in? That is an
obligation still hanging over you. I don't mean to release you from it,
but if I don't go in now and finish the covering of those library books,
the youth of Murewell will be left without any literature till Heaven
knows when!'

He could have blessed her for the tone, for the escape into common
mundanity.

'Hang literature--hang the parish library!' he said with a laugh as he
moved after her. Yet his real inner feeling towards that parish library
was one of infinite friendliness.

'Hear these men of letters!' she said scornfully. But she was happy;
there was a glow on her cheek.

A bramble caught her dress; she stopped and laid her white hand to it,
but in vain. He knelt in an instant, and between them they wrenched it
away, but not till those soft slim fingers had several times felt the
neighbourhood of his brown ones, and till there had flown through and
through him once more, as she stooped over him, the consciousness that
she was young, that she was beautiful, that she had pitied him so
sweetly, that they were alone.

'Rose!'

It was Catherine calling--Catherine, who stood at the end of the
grass-path, with eyes all indignation and alarm.

Langham rose quickly from the ground.

He felt as though the gods had saved him--or damned him--which?



CHAPTER XVII


Murewell Rectory during the next forty-eight hours was the scene of much
that might have been of interest to a psychologist gifted with the power
of divining his neighbours.

In the first place Catherine's terrors were all alive again Robert had
never seen her so moved since those days of storm and stress before
their engagement.

'I cannot bear it!' she said to Robert at night in their room. 'I cannot
bear it! I hear it always in my ears: "What hast thou done with thy
sister?" Oh, Robert, don't mind, dear, though he is your friend. My
father would have shrunk from him with horror--_An alien from the
household of faith! An enemy to the Cross of Christ!_'

She flung out the words with low intense emphasis and frowning brow,
standing rigid by the window, her hands locked behind her. Robert stood
by her much perplexed, feeling himself a good deal of a culprit, but
inwardly conscious that he knew a great deal more about Langham than she
did.

'My dear wifie,' he said to her, 'I am certain Langham has no intention
of marrying.'

'Then more shame for him,' cried Catherine, flushing. 'They could not
have looked more conscious, Robert, when I found them together, if he
had just proposed.'

'What, in five days?' said Robert, more than half inclined to banter his
wife. Then he fell into meditation as Catherine made no answer. 'I
believe with men of that sort,' he said at last, 'relations to women are
never more than half-real--always more or less literature--acting.
Langham is tasting an experience, to be bottled up for future use.'

It need hardly be said, however, that Catherine got small consolation
out of this point of view. It seemed to her Robert did not take the
matter quite rightly.

'After all, darling,' he said at last, kissing her, 'you can act dragon
splendidly; you have already--so can I. And you really cannot make me
believe in anything very tragic in a week.'

But Catherine was conscious that she had already played the dragon hard,
to very little purpose. In the forty hours that intervened between the
scene in the garden and the squire's dinner-party, Robert was always
wanting to carry off Langham, Catherine was always asking Rose's help in
some household business or other. In vain. Langham said to himself
calmly, this time, that Elsmere and his wife were making a foolish
mistake in supposing that his friendship with Miss Leyburn was anything
to be alarmed about, that they would soon be amply convinced of it
themselves, and meanwhile he should take his own way. And as for Rose,
they had no sooner turned back all three from the house to the garden
than she had divined everything in Catherine's mind, and set herself
against her sister with a wilful force in which many a past irritation
found expression.

How Catherine hated the music of that week! It seemed to her she never
opened the drawing-room door but she saw Langham at the piano, his head
with its crown of glossy, curling black hair, and his eyes lit with
unwonted gleams of laughter and sympathy, turned towards Rose, who was
either chatting wildly to him, mimicking the airs of some professional,
or taking off the ways of some famous teacher; or else, which was worse,
playing with all her soul, flooding the house with sound--now as soft
and delicate as first love, now as full and grand as storm waves on an
angry coast. And the sister going with compressed lip to her work-table
would recognise sorely that never had the girl looked so handsome, and
never had the lightnings of a wayward genius played so finely about her.

As to Langham, it may well be believed that after the scene in the
garden he had rated, satirised, examined himself in the most approved
introspective style. One half of him declared that scene to have been
the heights of melodramatic absurdity; the other thought of it with a
thrill of tender gratitude towards the young pitiful creature who had
evoked it. After all, why, because he was alone in the world and must
remain so, should he feel bound to refuse this one gift of the gods, the
delicate passing gift of a girl's--a child's friendship? As for her, the
man's very real, though wholly morbid, modesty scouted the notion of
love on her side. _He_ was a likely person for a beauty on the threshold
of life and success to fall in love with; but she meant to be kind to
him, and he smiled a little inward indulgent smile over her very evident
compassion, her very evident intention of reforming him, reconciling him
to life. And, finally, he was incapable of any further resistance. He
had gone too far with her. Let her do what she would with him, dear
child, with the sharp tongue and the soft heart, and the touch of genius
and brilliancy which made her future so interesting! He called his age
and his disillusions to the rescue; he posed to himself as stooping to
her in some sort of elder-brotherly fashion; and if every now and then
some disturbing memory of that strange scene between them would come to
make his present rôle less plausible, or some whim of hers made it
difficult to play, why then at bottom there was always the consciousness
that sixty hours, or thereabouts, would see him safely settled in that
morning train to London. Throughout it is probable that that morning
train occupied the saving background of his thoughts.

The two days passed by, and the squire's dinner-party arrived. About
seven on the Thursday evening a party of four might have been seen
hurrying across the park--Langham and Catherine in front, Elsmere and
Rose behind. Catherine had arranged it so, and Langham, who understood
perfectly that his friendship with her young sister was not at all to
Mrs. Elsmere's taste, and who had by now taken as much of a dislike to
her as his nature was capable of, was certainly doing nothing to make
his walk with her otherwise than difficult. And every now and then some
languid epigram would bring Catherine's eyes on him with a fiery gleam
in their gray depths. Oh, fourteen more hours and she would have shut
the rectory gate on this most unwelcome of intruders! She had never
felt so vindictively anxious to see the last of any one in her life.
There was in her a vehemence of antagonism to the man's manner, his
pessimism, his infidelity, his very ways of speaking and looking, which
astonished even herself.

Robert's eager soul meanwhile, for once irresponsive to Catherine's, was
full of nothing but the squire. At last the moment was come, and that
dumb spiritual friendship he had formed through these long months with
the philosopher and the savant was to be tested by sight and speech of
the man. He bade himself a hundred times pitch his expectations low. But
curiosity and hope were keen, in spite of everything.

Ah, those parish worries! Robert caught the smoke of Mile End in the
distance, curling above the twilight woods, and laid about him
vigorously with his stick on the squire's shrubs, as he thought of those
poisonous hovels, those ruined lives! But, after all, it might be mere
ignorance, and that wretch Henslowe might have been merely trading on
his master's morbid love of solitude.

And then--all men have their natural conceits. Robert Elsmere would not
have been the very human creature he was if, half-consciously, he had
not counted a good deal on his own powers of influence. Life had been to
him so far one long social success of the best kind. Very likely as he
walked on to the great house over whose threshold lay the answer to the
enigma of months, his mind gradually filled with some naïve young dream
of winning the squire, playing him with all sorts of honest arts,
beguiling him back to life--to his kind.

Those friendly messages of his through Mrs. Darcy had been very
pleasant.

'I wonder whether my Oxford friends have been doing me a good turn with
the squire,' he said to Rose, laughing. 'He knows the provost, of
course. If they talked me over it is to be hoped my scholarship didn't
come up. Precious little the provost used to think of my abilities for
Greek prose!'

Rose yawned a little behind her gloved hand. Robert had already talked a
good deal about the squire, and he was certainly the only person in the
group who was thinking of him. Even Catherine, absorbed in other
anxieties, had forgotten to feel any thrill at their approaching
introduction to the man who must of necessity mean so much to herself
and Robert.

       *       *       *       *       *

'Mr. and Mrs. Robert Elsmere,' said the butler, throwing open the carved
and gilded doors.

Catherine--following her husband, her fine grave head and beautiful neck
held a little more erect than usual--was at first conscious of nothing
but the dazzle of western light which flooded the room, striking the
stands of Japanese lilies, and the white figure of a clown in the famous
Watteau opposite the window.

Then she found herself greeted by Mrs. Darcy, whose odd habit of holding
her lace handkerchief in her right hand on festive occasions only left
her two fingers for her guests. The mistress of the Hall--as diminutive
and elf-like as ever in spite of the added dignity of her sweeping silk
and the draperies of black lace with which her tiny head was
adorned--kept tight hold of Catherine, and called a gentleman standing
in a group just behind her.

'Roger, here are Mr. and Mrs. Robert Elsmere. Mr. Elsmere, the squire
remembers you in petticoats, and I'm not sure that I don't too.'

Robert, smiling, looked beyond her to the advancing figure of the
squire, but if Mr. Wendover heard his sister's remark he took no notice
of it. He held out his hand stiffly to Robert, bowed to Catherine and
Rose before extending to them the same formal greeting, and just
recognised Langham as having met him at Oxford.

Having done so he turned back to the knot of people with whom he had
been engaged on their entrance. His manner had been reserve itself. The
_hauteur_ of the grandee on his own ground was clearly marked in it, and
Robert could not help fancying that towards himself there had even been
something more. And not one of those phrases which, under the
circumstances, would have been so easy and so gracious, as to Robert's
childish connection with the place, or as to the squire's remembrance of
his father, even though Mrs. Darcy had given him a special opening of
the kind.

The young rector instinctively drew himself together, like one who has
received a blow, as he moved across to the other side of the fireplace
to shake hands with the worthy family doctor, old Meyrick, who was
already well known to him. Catherine, in some discomfort, for she too
had felt their reception at the squire's hands to be a chilling one, sat
down to talk to Mrs. Darcy, disagreeably conscious the while that Rose
and Langham left to themselves were practically _tête-à-tête_, and that,
moreover, a large stand of flowers formed a partial screen between her
and them. She could see, however, the gleam of Rose's upstretched neck,
as Langham, who was leaning on the piano beside her, bent down to talk
to her; and when she looked next she caught a smiling motion of
Langham's head and eyes towards the Romney portrait of Mr. Wendover's
grandmother, and was certain when he stooped afterwards to say something
to his companion, that he was commenting on a certain surface likeness
there was between her and the young auburn-haired beauty of the picture.
Hateful! And they would be sent down to dinner together to a certainty.

The other guests were Lady Charlotte Wynnstay, a cousin of the squire--a
tall, imperious, loud-voiced woman, famous in London society for her
relationships, her audacity, and the _salon_ which in one way or another
she managed to collect round her; her dark, thin, irritable-looking
husband; two neighbouring clerics--the first, by name Longstaffe, a
somewhat inferior specimen of the cloth, whom Robert cordially disliked;
and the other, Mr. Bickerton, a gentle Evangelical, one of those men who
help to ease the harshness of a cross-grained world, and to reconcile
the cleverer or more impatient folk in it to the worries of living.

Lady Charlotte was already known by name to the Elsmeres as the aunt of
one of their chief friends of the neighbourhood--the wife of a
neighbouring squire whose property joined that of Murewell Hall, one
Lady Helen Varley, of whom more presently. Lady Charlotte was the sister
of the Duke of Sedbergh, one of the greatest of dukes, and the sister
also of Lady Helen's mother, Lady Wanless. Lady Wanless had died
prematurely, and her two younger children, Helen and Hugh Flaxman,
creatures both of them of unusually fine and fiery quality, had owed a
good deal to their aunt. There were family alliances between the
Sedberghs and the Wendovers, and Lady Charlotte made a point of keeping
up with the squire. She adored cynics and people who said piquant
things, and it amused her to make her large tyrannous hand felt by the
squire's timid, crack-brained, ridiculous little sister.

As to Dr. Meyrick, he was tall and gaunt as Don Quixote. His gray hair
made a ragged fringe round his straight-backed head; he wore an
old-fashioned neck-cloth; his long body had a perpetual stoop, as though
of deference, and his spectacled look of mild attentiveness had nothing
in common with that medical self-assurance with which we are all
nowadays so familiar. Robert noticed presently that when he addressed
Mrs. Darcy he said 'Ma'am,' making no bones at all about it; and his
manner generally was the manner of one to whom class distinctions were
the profoundest reality, and no burden at all on a naturally humble
temper. Dr. Baker, of Whindale, accustomed to trouncing Mrs. Seaton,
would have thought him a poor creature.

When dinner was announced, Robert found himself assigned to Mrs. Darcy;
the squire took Lady Charlotte. Catherine fell to Mr. Bickerton, Rose to
Mr. Wynnstay, and the rest found their way in as best they could.
Catherine seeing the distribution was happy for a moment, till she found
that if Rose was covered on her right she was exposed to the full fire
of the enemy on her left, in other words that Langham was placed between
her and Dr. Meyrick.

'Are your spirits damped at all by this magnificence?' Langham said to
his neighbour as they sat down. The table was entirely covered with
Japanese lilies, save for the splendid silver candelabra from which the
light flashed, first on to the faces of the guests, and then on to those
of the family portraits, hung thickly round the room. A roof embossed
with gilded Tudor roses on a ground of black oak hung above them; a
rose-water dish in which the Merry Monarch had once dipped his hands,
and which bore a record of the fact in the inscription on its sides,
stood before them; and the servants were distributing to each guest
silver soup-plates which had been the gift of Sarah, Duchess of
Marlborough, in some moment of generosity or calculation, to the
Wendover of her day.

'Oh dear, no!' said Rose carelessly. 'I don't know how it is, I think I
must have been born for a palace.'

Langham looked at her, at the daring harmony of colour made by the
reddish gold of her hair, the warm whiteness of her skin, and the
brown-pink tints of her dress, at the crystals playing the part of
diamonds on her beautiful neck, and remembered Robert's remarks to him.
The same irony mingled with the same bitterness returned to him, and the
elder brother's attitude became once more temporarily difficult. 'Who is
your neighbour?' he inquired of her presently.

'Lady Charlotte's husband,' she answered mischievously, under her
breath. 'One needn't know much more about him I imagine!'

'And that man opposite?'

'Robert's pet aversion,' she said calmly, without a change of
countenance, so that Mr. Longstaffe opposite, who was studying her as he
always studied pretty young women, stared at her through her remark in
sublime ignorance of its bearing.

'And your sister's neighbour?'

'I can't hit him off in a sentence, he's too good!' said Rose laughing;
'all I can say is that Mrs. Bickerton has too many children, and the
children have too many ailments for her ever to dine out.'

'That will do; I see the existence,' said Langham with a shrug. 'But he
has the look of an apostle, though a rather hunted one. Probably nobody
here, except Robert, is fit to tie his shoes.'

'The squire could hardly be called _empressé_,' said Rose, after a
second, with a curl of her red lips. Mr. Wynnstay was still safely
engaged with Mrs. Darcy, and there was a buzz of talk largely sustained
by Lady Charlotte.

'No,' Langham admitted; 'the manners I thought were not quite equal to
the house.'

'What possible reason could he have for treating Robert with those
airs?' said Rose indignantly, ready enough in girl fashion to defend her
belongings against the outer world. 'He ought to be only too glad to
have the opportunity of knowing him and making friends with him.'

'You are a sister worth having;' and Langham smiled at her as she leant
back in her chair, her white arms and wrists lying on her lap, and her
slightly flushed face turned towards him. They had been on these
pleasant terms of _camaraderie_ all day, and the intimacy between them
had been still making strides.

'Do you imagine I don't appreciate Robert because I make bad jokes
about the choir and the clothing club?' she asked him, with a little
quick repentance passing like a shadow through her eyes. 'I always feel
I play an odious part here. I can't like it--I can't--their life. I
should hate it! And yet----'

She sighed remorsefully, and Langham, who five minutes before could have
wished her to be always smiling, could now have almost asked to fix her
as she was: the eyes veiled, the soft lips relaxed in this passing
instant of gravity.

'Ah! I forgot--' and she looked up again with light bewitching
appeal--'there is still that question, my poor little question of Sunday
night, when I was in that fine moral frame of mind and you were near
giving me, I believe, the only good advice you ever gave in your
life,--how shamefully you have treated it!'

One brilliant look, which Catherine for her torment caught from the
other side of the table, and then in an instant the quick face changed
and stiffened. Mr. Wynnstay was speaking to her, and Langham was left to
the intermittent mercies of Dr. Meyrick, who though glad to talk, was
also quite content, apparently, to judge from the radiant placidity of
his look, to examine his wine, study his _menu_, and enjoy his
_entrées_ in silence, undisturbed by the uncertain pleasures of
conversation.

Robert, meanwhile, during the first few minutes, in which Mr. Wynnstay
had been engaged in some family talk with Mrs. Darcy, had been allowing
himself a little deliberate study of Mr. Wendover across what seemed the
safe distance of a long table. The squire was talking shortly and
abruptly, yet with occasional flashes of shrill ungainly laughter, to
Lady Charlotte, who seemed to have no sort of fear of him and to find
him good company, and every now and then Robert saw him turn to
Catherine on the other side of him, and with an obvious change of manner
address some formal and constrained remark to her.

Mr. Wendover was a man of middle height and loose bony frame, of which,
as Robert had noticed in the drawing-room, all the lower half had a thin
and shrunken look. But the shoulders, which had the scholar's stoop, and
the head were massive and squarely outlined. The head was specially
remarkable for its great breadth and comparative flatness above the
eyes, and for the way in which the head itself dwarfed the face, which,
as contrasted with the large angularity of the skull, had a pinched and
drawn look. The hair was reddish-gray, the eyes small, but deep-set
under fine brows, and the thin-lipped wrinkled mouth and long chin had a
look of hard sarcastic strength.

Generally the countenance was that of an old man, the furrows were deep,
the skin brown and shrivelled. But the alertness and force of the man's
whole expression showed that, if the body was beginning to fail, the
mind was as fresh and masterful as ever. His hair, worn rather longer
than usual, his loosely-fitting dress and slouching carriage gave him an
un-English look. In general he impressed Robert as a sort of curious
combination of the foreign _savant_ with the English grandee, for while
his manner showed a considerable consciousness of birth and social
importance, the gulf between him and the ordinary English country
gentleman could hardly have been greater, whether in points of
appearance or, as Robert very well knew, in points of social conduct.
And as Robert watched him, his thoughts flew back again to the library,
to this man's past, to all that those eyes had seen and those hands had
touched. He felt already a mysterious, almost a yearning, sense of
acquaintance with the being who had just received him with such
chilling, such unexpected, indifference.

The squire's manners, no doubt, were notorious, but even so, his
reception of the new rector of the parish, the son of a man intimately
connected for years with the place, and with his father, and to whom he
had himself shown what was for him considerable civility by letter and
message, was sufficiently startling.

Robert, however, had no time to speculate on the causes of it, for Mrs.
Darcy, released from Mr. Wynnstay, threw herself with glee on to her
longed-for prey, the young and interesting-looking rector. First of all
she cross-examined him as to his literary employments, and when by dint
of much questioning she had forced particulars from him, Robert's mouth
twitched as he watched her scuttling away from the subject, seized
evidently with internal terrors lest she should have precipitated
herself beyond hope of rescue into the jaws of the sixth century. Then
with a view to regaining the lead and opening another and more promising
vein, she asked him his opinion of Lady Selden's last novel, _Love in a
Marsh_; and when he confessed ignorance she paused a moment, fork in
hand, her small wrinkled face looking almost as bewildered as when,
three minutes before, her rashness had well-nigh brought her face to
face with Gregory of Tours as a topic of conversation.

But she was not daunted long. With little airs and bridlings infinitely
diverting, she exchanged inquiry for the most beguiling confidence. She
could appreciate 'clever men,' she said, for she--she too--was literary.
Did Mr. Elsmere know--this in a hurried whisper, with sidelong glances
to see that Mr. Wynnstay was safely occupied with Rose, and the squire
with Lady Charlotte--that she had once _written a novel_?

Robert, who had been posted up in many things concerning the
neighbourhood by Lady Helen Varley, could answer most truly that he had.
Whereupon Mrs. Darcy beamed all over.

'Ah! but you haven't read it,' she said regretfully. 'It was when I was
Maid of Honour, you know. No Maid of Honour had ever written a novel
before. It was quite an event. Dear Prince Albert borrowed a copy of me
one night to read in bed--I have it still, with the page turned down
where he left off.' She hesitated. 'It was only in the second chapter,'
she said at last with a fine truthfulness, 'but you know he was so busy,
all the Queen's work to do, of course, besides his own--poor man!'

Robert implored her to lend him the work, and Mrs. Darcy, with blushes
which made her more weird than ever, consented.

Then there was a pause, filled by an acid altercation between Lady
Charlotte and her husband, who had not found Rose as grateful for his
attentions as, in his opinion, a pink and white nobody at a country
dinner-party ought to be, and was glad of the diversion afforded him by
some aggressive remark of his wife. He and she differed on three main
points--politics; the decoration of their London house, Mr. Wynnstay
being a lover of Louis Quinze, and Lady Charlotte a preacher of Morris;
and the composition of their dinner-parties. Lady Charlotte, in the
pursuit of amusement and notoriety, was fond of flooding the domestic
hearth with all the people possessed of any sort of a name for any sort
of a reason in London. Mr. Wynnstay loathed such promiscuity; and the
company in which his wife compelled him to drink his wine had seriously
soured a small irritable Conservative with more family pride than either
nerves or digestion.

During the whole passage of arms, Mrs. Darcy watched Elsmere,
cat-and-mouse fashion, with a further confidence burning within her, and
as soon as there was once more a general burst of talk, she pounced upon
him afresh. Would he like to know that after thirty years she had just
finished her _second_ novel, unbeknown to her brother--as she mentioned
him the little face darkened, took a strange bitterness--and it was just
about to be entrusted to the post and a publisher?

Robert was all interest, of course, and inquired the subject. Mrs. Darcy
expanded still more--could, in fact, have hugged him. But, just as she
was launching into the plot a thought, apparently a scruple of
conscience, struck her.

'Do you remember,' she began, looking at him a little darkly, askance,
'what I said about my hobbies the other day? Now, Mr. Elsmere, will you
tell me--don't mind me--don't be polite--have you ever heard people tell
stories of me? Have you ever, for instance, heard them call me
a--a--tuft-hunter?'

'Never!' said Robert heartily.

'They might,' she said, sighing. 'I _am_ a tuft-hunter. I can't help it.
And yet we _are_ a good family, you know. I suppose it was that year at
Court, and that horrid Warham afterwards. Twenty years in a cathedral
town--and a very _little_ cathedral town, after Windsor, and Buckingham
Palace, and dear Lord Melbourne! Every year I came up to town to stay
with my father for a month in the season, and if it hadn't been for
that I should have died--my husband knew I should. It was the world,
the flesh, and the devil, of course, but it couldn't be helped. But
now,' and she looked plaintively at her companion, as though challenging
him to a candid reply: 'You _would_ be more interesting, wouldn't you,
to tell the truth, if you had a handle to your name?'

'Immeasurably,' cried Robert, stifling his laughter with immense
difficulty, as he saw she had no inclination to laugh.

'Well, yes, you know. But it isn't right;' and again she sighed. 'And so
I have been writing this novel just for that. It is called--what do you
think?--"Mr. Jones." Mr. Jones is my hero--it's so good for me, you
know, to think about a Mr. Jones.'

She looked beamingly at him. 'It must be indeed! Have you endowed him
with every virtue?'

'Oh yes, and in the end, you know--' and she bent forward eagerly--'it
all comes right. His father didn't die in Brazil without children after
all, and the title----'

'What!' cried Robert, 'so he _wasn't_ Mr. Jones?'

Mrs. Darcy looked a little conscious.

'Well, no,' she said guiltily, 'not just at the end. But it _really_
doesn't matter--not to the story.'

Robert shook his head, with a look of protest as admonitory as he could
make it, which evoked in her an answering expression of anxiety. But
just at that moment a loud wave of conversation and of laughter seemed
to sweep down upon them from the other end of the table, and their
little private eddy was effaced. The squire had been telling an
anecdote, and his clerical neighbours had been laughing at it.

'Ah!' cried Mr. Longstaffe, throwing himself back in his chair with a
chuckle, 'that was an Archbishop worth having!'

'A curious story,' said Mr. Bickerton, benevolently, the point of it,
however, to tell the truth, not being altogether clear to him. It seemed
to Robert that the squire's keen eye, as he sat looking down the table,
with his large nervous hands clasped before him, was specially fixed
upon himself.

'May we hear the story?' he said, bending forward. Catherine, faintly
smiling in her corner beside the host, was looking a little flushed and
moved out of her ordinary quiet.

'It is a story of Archbishop Manners Sutton,' said Mr. Wendover, in his
dry nasal voice. 'You probably know it, Mr. Elsmere. After Bishop
Heber's consecration to the See of Calcutta, it fell to the Archbishop
to make a valedictory speech, in the course of the luncheon at Lambeth
which followed the ceremony. "I have very little advice to give you as
to your future career," he said to the young bishop, "but all that
experience has given me I hand on to you. Place before your eyes two
precepts, and two only. One is, Preach the Gospel; and the other
is--_Put down enthusiasm!_"'

There was a sudden gleam of steely animation in the squire's look as he
told his story, his eye all the while fixed on Robert. Robert divined in
a moment that the story had been re-told for his special benefit, and
that in some unexplained way the relations between him and the squire
were already biassed. He smiled a little with faint politeness, and
falling back into his place made no comment on the squire's anecdote.
Lady Charlotte's eyeglass, having adjusted itself for a moment to the
distant figure of the rector, with regard to whom she had been asking
Dr. Meyrick for particulars, quite unmindful of Catherine's
neighbourhood, turned back again towards the squire.

'An unblushing old worldling, I should call your Archbishop,' she said
briskly. 'And a very good thing for him that he lived when he did. Our
modern good people would have dusted his apron for him.'

Lady Charlotte prided herself on these vigorous forms of speech, and the
squire's neighbourhood generally called out an unusual crop of them. The
squire was still sitting with his hands on the table, his great brows
bent, surveying his guests.

'Oh, of course all the sensible men are dead!' he said indifferently.
'But that is a pet saying of mine--the Church of England in a nutshell.'

Robert flushed, and after a moment's hesitation bent forward.

'What do you suppose,' he asked quietly, 'your Archbishop meant, Mr.
Wendover, by enthusiasm? Nonconformity, I imagine.'

'Oh, very possibly!' and again Robert found the hawk-like glance
concentrated on himself. 'But I like to give his remark a much wider
extension. One may make it a maxim of general experience, and take it as
fitting all the fools with a mission who have teased our generation--all
your Kingsleys, and Maurices, and Ruskins--every one bent upon making
any sort of aimless commotion, which may serve him both as an investment
for the next world, and an advertisement for this.'

'Upon my word, squire,' said Lady Charlotte, 'I hope you don't expect
Mr. Elsmere to agree with you?'

Mr. Wendover made her a little bow.

'I have very little sanguineness of any sort in my composition,' he said
drily.

'I should like to know,' said Robert, taking no notice of this by-play;
'I should like to know, Mr. Wendover, leaving the Archbishop out of
count, what _you_ understand by this word enthusiasm in this maxim of
yours?'

'An excellent manner,' thought Lady Charlotte, who, for all her
noisiness, was an extremely shrewd woman, 'an excellent manner and an
unprovoked attack.'

Catherine's trained eye, however, had detected signs in Robert's look
and bearing which were lost on Lady Charlotte, and which made her look
nervously on. As to the rest of the table, they had all fallen to
watching the 'break' between the new rector and their host with a good
deal of curiosity.

The squire paused a moment before replying,--

'It is not easy to put it tersely,' he said at last; 'but I may define
it, perhaps, as the mania for mending the roof of your right-hand
neighbour with straw torn off the roof of your left-hand neighbour; the
custom, in short, of robbing Peter to propitiate Paul.'

'Precisely,' said Mr. Wynnstay warmly; 'all the ridiculous Radical
nostrums of the last fifty years--you have hit them off exactly.
Sometimes you rob more and propitiate less; sometimes you rob less and
propitiate more. But the principle is always the same.' And mindful of
all those intolerable evenings, when these same Radical nostrums had
been forced down his throat at his own table, he threw a pugnacious look
at his wife, who smiled back serenely in reply. There is small redress
indeed for these things, when out of the common household stock the wife
possesses most of the money, and a vast proportion of the brains.

'And the cynic takes pleasure in observing,' interrupted the squire,
'that the man who effects the change of balance does it in the loftiest
manner, and profits in the vulgarest way. Other trades may fail. The
agitator is always sure of _his_ market.'

He spoke with a harsh contemptuous insistence which was gradually
setting every nerve in Robert's body tingling. He bent forward again,
his long thin frame and boyish bright-complexioned face making an
effective contrast to the squire's bronzed and wrinkled squareness.

'Oh, if you and Mr. Wynnstay are prepared to draw an indictment against
your generation and all its works, I have no more to say,' he said,
smiling still, though his voice had risen a little in spite of himself.
'I should be content to withdraw with my Burke into the majority. I
imagined your attack on enthusiasm had a narrower scope, but if it is to
be made synonymous with social progress I give up. The subject is too
big. Only----'

He hesitated. Mr. Wynnstay was studying him with somewhat insolent
coolness; Lady Charlotte's eyeglass never wavered from his face, and he
felt through every fibre the tender timid admonitions of his wife's
eyes.

'However,' he went on after an instant, 'I imagine that we should find
it difficult anyhow to discover common ground. I regard your
Archbishop's maxim, Mr. Wendover,' and his tone quickened and grew
louder, 'as first of all a contradiction in terms; and in the next
place, to me, almost all enthusiasms are respectable!'

'You are one of those people, I see,' returned Mr. Wendover, after a
pause, with the same nasal emphasis and the same _hauteur_, 'who imagine
we owe civilisation to the heart; that mankind has _felt_ its
way--literally. The school of the majority, of course--I admit it amply.
I, on the other hand, am with the benighted minority who believe that
the world, so far as it has lived to any purpose, has lived by the
_head_,' and he flung the noun at Robert scornfully. 'But I am quite
aware that in a world of claptrap the philosopher gets all the kicks,
and the philanthropists, to give them their own label, all the
halfpence.'

The impassive tone had gradually warmed to a heat which was
unmistakable. Lady Charlotte looked on with increasing relish. To her
all society was a comedy played for her entertainment, and she detected
something more dramatic than usual in the juxtaposition of these two
men. That young rector might be worth looking after. The dinners in
Martin Street were alarmingly in want of fresh blood. As for poor Mr.
Bickerton, he had begun to talk hastily to Catherine, with a sense of
something tumbling about his ears; while Mr. Longstaffe, eyeglass in
hand, surveyed the table with a distinct sense of pleasurable
entertainment. He had not seen much of Elsmere yet, but it was as clear
as daylight that the man was a firebrand, and should be kept in order.

Meanwhile there was a pause between the two main disputants; the
storm-clouds were deepening outside, and rain had begun to patter on the
windows. Mrs. Darcy was just calling attention to the weather when the
squire unexpectedly returned to the charge.

'The one necessary thing in life,' he said, turning to Lady Charlotte, a
slight irritating smile playing round his strong mouth, 'is--not to be
duped. Put too much faith in these fine things the altruists talk of,
and you arrive one day at the condition of Louis XIV. after the battle
of Ramillies: "Dieu a donc oublié tout ce que j'ai fait pour lui?" Read
your Renan; remind yourself at every turn that it is quite possible
after all the egotist _may_ turn out to be in the right of it, and you
will find at any rate that the world gets on excellently well without
your blundering efforts to set it straight. And so we get back to the
Archbishop's maxim--adapted, no doubt, to English requirements,' and he
shrugged his great shoulders expressively: '_Pace_ Mr. Elsmere, of
course, and the rest of our clerical friends!'

Again he looked down the table, and the strident voice sounded harsher
than ever as it rose above the sudden noise of the storm outside.
Robert's bright eyes were fixed on the squire, and before Mr. Wendover
stopped Catherine could see the words of reply trembling on his lips.

'I am well content,' he said, with a curious dry intensity of tone. 'I
give you your Renan. Only leave us poor dupes our illusions. We will not
quarrel with the division. With you all the cynics of history; with us
all the "scorners of the ground" from the world's beginning until now!'

The squire make a quick impatient movement. Mr. Wynnstay looked
significantly at his wife, who dropped her eyeglass with a little
irrepressible smile.

As for Robert, leaning forward with hastened breath, it seemed to him
that his eyes and the squire's crossed like swords. In Robert's mind
there had arisen a sudden passion of antagonism. Before his eyes there
was a vision of a child in a stifling room, struggling with mortal
disease, imposed upon her, as he hotly reminded himself, by this man's
culpable neglect. The dinner-party, the splendour of the room, the
conversation, excited a kind of disgust in him. If it were not for
Catherine's pale face opposite, he could hardly have maintained his
self-control.

Mrs. Darcy, a little bewildered, and feeling that things were not going
particularly well, thought it best to interfere.

'Roger,' she said plaintively, 'you must not be so philosophical. It's
too hot! He used to talk like that,' she went on, bending over to Mr.
Wynnstay, 'to the French priests who came to see us last winter in
Paris. They never minded a bit--they used to laugh. "Monsieur votre
frère, madame, c'est un homme qui a trop lu," they would say to me when
I gave them their coffee. Oh, they were such dears, those old priests!
Roger said they had great hopes of me.'

The chatter was welcome, the conversation broke up. The squire turned to
Lady Charlotte, and Rose to Langham.

'Why didn't you support Robert?' she said to him, impulsively, with a
dissatisfied face. 'He was alone, against the table!'

'What good should I have done him?' he asked, with a shrug. 'And pray,
my lady confessor, what enthusiasms do you suspect me of?'

He looked at her intently. It seemed to her they were by the gate
again--the touch of his lips on her hand. She turned from him hastily to
stoop for her fan which had slipped away. It was only Catherine who, for
her annoyance, saw the scarlet flush leap into the fair face. An instant
later Mrs. Darcy had given the signal.



CHAPTER XVIII


After dinner Lady Charlotte fixed herself at first on Catherine, whose
quiet dignity during the somewhat trying ordeal of the dinner had
impressed her, but a few minutes' talk produced in her the conviction
that without a good deal of pains--and why should a Londoner, accustomed
to the cream of things, take pains with a country clergyman's wife?--she
was not likely to get much out of her. Her appearance promised more,
Lady Charlotte thought, than her conversation justified, and she looked
about for easier game.

'Are you Mr. Elsmere's sister?' said a loud voice over Rose's head; and
Rose, who had been turning over an illustrated book, with a mind wholly
detached from it, looked up to see Lady Charlotte's massive form
standing over her.

'No, his sister-in-law,' said Rose, flushing in spite of herself, for
Lady Charlotte was distinctly formidable.

'Hum,' said her questioner, depositing herself beside her. 'I never saw
two sisters more unlike. You have got a very argumentative
brother-in-law.'

Rose said nothing, partly from awkwardness, partly from rising
antagonism.

'Did you agree with him?' asked Lady Charlotte, putting up her glass and
remorselessly studying every detail of the pink dress, its ornaments,
and the slippered feet peeping out beneath it.

'Entirely,' said Rose fearlessly, looking her full in the face.

'And what can you know about it, I wonder? However, you are on the right
side. It is the fashion nowadays to have enthusiasms. I suppose you
muddle about among the poor like other people?'

'I know nothing about the poor,' said Rose.

'Oh, then, I suppose you feel yourself effective enough in some other
line?' said the other coolly. 'What is it--lawn tennis, or private
theatricals, or--hem--prettiness?' And again the eyeglass went up.

'Whichever you like,' said Rose calmly, the scarlet on her cheek
deepening, while she resolutely reopened her book. The manner of the
other had quite effaced in her all that sense of obligation, as from the
young to the old, which she had been very carefully brought up in. Never
had she beheld such an extraordinary woman.

'Don't read,' said Lady Charlotte complacently. 'Look at me. It's your
duty to talk to me, you know; and I won't make myself any more
disagreeable than I can help. I generally make myself disagreeable, and
yet, after all, there are a great many people who like me.'

Rose turned a countenance rippling with suppressed laughter on her
companion. Lady Charlotte had a large fair face, with a great deal of
nose and chin, and an erection of lace and feathers on her head that
seemed in excellent keeping with the masterful emphasis of those
features. Her eyes stared frankly and unblushingly at the world, only
softened at intervals by the glasses which were so used as to make them
a most effective adjunct of her conversation. Socially, she was
absolutely devoid of weakness or of shame. She found society extremely
interesting, and she always struck straight for the desirable things in
it, making short work of all those delicate tentative processes of
acquaintanceship by which men and women ordinarily sort themselves.
Rose's brilliant vivacious beauty had caught her eye at dinner; she
adored beauty as she adored anything effective, and she always took a
queer pleasure in bullying her way into a girl's liking. It is a great
thing to be persuaded that at bottom you have a good heart. Lady
Charlotte was so persuaded, and allowed herself many things in
consequence.

'What shall we talk about?' said Rose demurely. 'What a magnificent old
house this is!'

'Stuff and nonsense! I don't want to talk about the house. I am sick to
death of it. And if your people live in the parish, you are too. I
return to my question. Come, tell me, what is your particular line in
life? I am sure you have one, by your face. You had better tell me; it
will do you no harm.'

Lady Charlotte settled herself comfortably on the sofa, and Rose, seeing
that there was no chance of escaping her tormentor, felt her spirits
rise to an encounter.

'Really--Lady Charlotte--' and she looked down, and then up, with a
feigned bashfulness--'I--I--play a little.'

'Humph!' said her questioner again, rather disconcerted by the obvious
missishness of the answer. 'You do, do you? More's the pity. No woman
who respects herself ought to play the piano nowadays. A professional
told me the other day that until nineteen-twentieths of the profession
were strung up, there would be no chance for the rest; and as for
amateurs, there is simply _no_ room for them whatever. I can't conceive
anything more _passé_ than amateur pianoforte playing!'

'I don't play the piano,' said Rose meekly.

'What--the fashionable instrument, the banjo?' laughed Lady Charlotte.
'That would be really striking.'

Rose was silent again, the corners of her mouth twitching.

'Mrs. Darcy,' said her neighbour, raising her voice, 'this young lady
tells me she plays something; what is it?'

Mrs. Darcy looked in a rather helpless way at Catherine. She was
dreadfully afraid of Lady Charlotte.

Catherine, with a curious reluctance, gave the required information; and
then Lady Charlotte insisted that the violin should be sent for, as it
had not been brought.

'Who accompanies you?' she inquired of Rose.

'Mr. Langham plays very well,' said Rose indifferently.

Lady Charlotte raised her eyebrows. 'That dark, Byronic-looking creature
who came with you? I should not have imagined him capable of anything
sociable. Letitia, shall I send my maid to the rectory, or can you spare
a man?'

Mrs. Darcy hurriedly gave orders, and Rose, inwardly furious, was
obliged to submit. Then Lady Charlotte, having gained her point, and
secured a certain amount of diversion for the evening, lay back on the
sofa, used her fan, and yawned till the gentlemen appeared.

When they came in, the precious violin which Rose never trusted to any
other hands but her own without trepidation had just arrived, and its
owner, more erect than usual, because more nervous, was trying to prop
up a dilapidated music-stand which Mrs. Darcy had unearthed for her. As
Langham came in, she looked up and beckoned to him.

'Do you see?' she said to him impatiently, 'they have made me play.
Will you accompany me? I am very sorry, but there is no one else.'

If there was one thing Langham loathed on his own account, it was any
sort of performance in public. But the half-plaintive look which
accompanied her last words showed that she knew it, and he did his best
to be amiable.

'I am altogether at your service,' he said, sitting down with
resignation.

'It is all that tiresome woman, Lady Charlotte Wynnstay,' she whispered
to him behind the music-stand. 'I never saw such a person in my life.'

'Macaulay's Lady Holland without the brains,' suggested Langham with
languid vindictiveness as he gave her the note.

Meanwhile Mr. Wynnstay and the squire sauntered in together.

'A village Norman-Néruda?' whispered the guest to the host. The squire
shrugged his shoulders.

'Hush!' said Lady Charlotte, looking severely at her husband. Mr.
Wynnstay's smile instantly disappeared; he leant against the doorway and
stared sulkily at the ceiling. Then the musicians began, on some
Hungarian melodies put together by a younger rival of Brahms. They had
not played twenty bars before the attention of every one in the room was
more or less seized--unless we except Mr. Bickerton, whose children,
good soul, were all down with some infantile ailment or other, and who
was employed in furtively watching the clock all the time to see when it
would be decent to order round the pony-carriage which would take him
back to his pale overweighted spouse.

First came wild snatches of march music, primitive, savage,
non-European; then a waltz of the lightest, maddest rhythm, broken here
and there by strange barbaric clashes; then a song, plaintive and
clinging, rich in the subtlest shades and melancholies of modern
feeling.

'Ah, but _excellent_!' said Lady Charlotte once, under her breath, at a
pause; 'and what _entrain_--what beauty!'

For Rose's figure was standing thrown out against the dusky blue of the
tapestried walls, and from that delicate relief every curve, every
grace, each tint--hair and cheek and gleaming arm gained an enchanting
picture-like distinctness. There was jessamine at her waist and among
the gold of her hair; the crystals on her neck, and on the little shoe
thrown forward beyond her dress, caught the lamplight.

'How can that man play with her and not fall in love with her?' thought
Lady Charlotte to herself, with a sigh, perhaps, for her own youth. 'He
looks cool enough, however; the typical don with his nose in the air!'

Then the slow passionate sweetness of the music swept her away with it,
she being in her way a connoisseur, and she ceased to speculate. When
the sounds ceased there was silence for a moment. Mrs. Darcy, who had a
piano in her sitting-room whereon she strummed every morning with her
tiny rheumatic fingers, and who had, as we know, strange little veins of
sentiment running all about her, stared at Rose with open mouth. So did
Catherine. Perhaps it was then for the first time that, touched by this
publicity, this contagion of other people's feeling, Catherine realised
fully against what a depth of stream she had been building her useless
barriers.

'More! more!' cried Lady Charlotte.

The whole room seconded the demand save the squire and Mr. Bickerton.
They withdrew together into a distant oriel. Robert, who was delighted
with his little sister-in-law's success, went smiling to talk of it to
Mrs. Darcy, while Catherine with a gentle coldness answered Mr.
Longstaffe's questions on the same theme.

'Shall we?' said Rose, panting a little, but radiant, looking down on
her companion.

'Command me!' he said, his grave lips slightly smiling, his eyes taking
in the same vision that had charmed Lady Charlotte's. What a 'child of
grace and genius!'

'But do you like it?' she persisted.

'Like it--like accompanying your playing?'

'Oh no!'--impatiently; 'showing off, I mean. I am quite ready to stop.'

'Go on; go on!' he said, laying his finger on the A. 'You have driven
all my _mauvaise honte_ away. I have not heard you play so splendidly
yet.'

She flushed all over. 'Then we will go on,' she said briefly.

So they plunged again into an Andante and Scherzo of Beethoven. How the
girl threw herself into it, bringing out the wailing love-song of the
Andante, the dainty tripping mirth of the Scherzo, in a way which set
every nerve in Langham vibrating! Yet the art of it was wholly
unconscious. The music was the mere natural voice of her inmost self. A
comparison full of excitement was going on in that self between her
first impressions of the man beside her, and her consciousness of him,
as he seemed to-night, human, sympathetic, kind. A blissful sense of a
mission filled the young silly soul. Like David, she was pitting herself
and her gift against those dark powers which may invade and paralyse a
life.

After the shouts of applause at the end had yielded to a burst of talk,
in the midst of which Lady Charlotte, with exquisite infelicity, might
have been heard laying down the law to Catherine as to how her sister's
remarkable musical powers might be best perfected, Langham turned to his
companion,--

'Do you know that for years I have enjoyed nothing so much as the music
of the last two days?'

His black eyes shone upon her, transfused with something infinitely soft
and friendly. She smiled. 'How little I imagined that first evening that
you cared for music!'

'Or about anything else worth caring for?' he asked her, laughing, but
with always that little melancholy note in the laugh.

'Oh, if you like,' she said, with a shrug of her white shoulders. 'I
believe you talked to Catherine the whole of the first evening, when you
weren't reading _Hamlet_ in the corner, about the arrangements for
women's education at Oxford.'

'Could I have found a more respectable subject?' he inquired of her.

'The adjective is excellent,' she said with a little face, as she put
her violin into its case. 'If I remember right, Catherine and I felt it
personal. None of us were ever educated, except in arithmetic, sewing,
English history, the Catechism, and _Paradise Lost_. I taught myself
French at seventeen, because one Molière wrote plays in it, and German
because of Wagner. But they are _my_ French and _my_ German. I wouldn't
advise anybody else to steal them!'

Langham was silent, watching the movements of the girl's agile fingers.

'I wonder,' he said at last, slowly, 'when I shall play that Beethoven
again?'

'To-morrow morning if you have a conscience,' she said drily; 'we
murdered one or two passages in fine style.'

He looked at her, startled. 'But I go by the morning train!' There was
an instant's silence. Then the violin case shut with a snap.

'I thought it was to be Saturday,' she said abruptly.

'No,' he answered with a sigh, 'it was always Friday. There is a meeting
in London I must get to to-morrow afternoon.'

'Then we shan't finish these Hungarian duets,' she said slowly, turning
away from him to collect some music on the piano.

Suddenly a sense of the difference between the week behind him, with all
its ups and downs, its quarrels, its _ennuis_, its moments of delightful
intimity, of artistic freedom and pleasure, and those threadbare
monotonous weeks into which he was to slip back on the morrow, awoke in
him a mad inconsequent sting of disgust, of self-pity.

'No, we shall finish nothing,' he said in a voice which only she could
hear, his hands lying on the keys; 'there are some whose destiny it is
never to finish--never to have enough--to leave the feast on the table,
and all the edges of life ragged!'

Her lips trembled. They were far away, in the vast room, from the group
Lady Charlotte was lecturing. Her nerves were all unsteady with music
and feeling, and the face looking down on him had grown pale.

'We make our own destiny,' she said impatiently. '_We_ choose. It is all
our own doing. Perhaps destiny begins things--friendship, for instance;
but afterwards it is absurd to talk of anything but ourselves. We keep
our friends, our chances, our--our joys,' she went on hurriedly, trying
desperately to generalise, 'or we throw them away wilfully, because we
choose.'

Their eyes were riveted on each other.

'Not wilfully,' he said under his breath. 'But--no matter. May I take
you at your word, Miss Leyburn? Wretched shirker that I am, whom even
Robert's charity despairs of: have I made a friend? Can I keep her?'

Extraordinary spell of the dark effeminate face--of its rare smile! The
girl forgot all pride, all discretion. 'Try,' she whispered, and as his
hand, stretching along the keyboard, instinctively felt for hers, for
one instant--and another, and another--she gave it to him.

       *       *       *       *       *

'Albert, come here!' exclaimed Lady Charlotte, beckoning to her husband;
and Albert, though with a bad grace, obeyed. 'Just go and ask that girl
to come and talk to me, will you? Why on earth didn't you make friends
with her at dinner?'

The husband made some irritable answer, and the wife laughed.

'Just like you!' she said, with a good humour which seemed to him solely
caused by the fact of his non-success with the beauty at table. 'You
always expect to kill at the first stroke. I mean to take her in tow. Go
and bring her here.'

Mr. Wynnstay sauntered off with as much dignity as his stature was
capable of. He found Rose tying up her music at one end of the piano,
while Langham was preparing to shut up the keyboard.

There was something appeasing in the girl's handsomeness. Mr. Wynnstay
laid down his airs, paid her various compliments, and led her off to
Lady Charlotte.

Langham stood by the piano, lost in a kind of miserable dream. Mrs.
Darcy fluttered up to him.

'Oh, Mr. Langham, you play so _beautifully_! Do play a solo!'

He subsided on to the music-bench obediently. On any ordinary occasion
tortures could not have induced him to perform in a room full of
strangers. He had far too lively and fastidious a sense of the futility
of the amateur.

But he played--what, he knew not. Nobody listened but Mrs. Darcy, who
sat lost in an armchair a little way off, her tiny foot beating time.
Rose stopped talking, started, tried to listen. But Lady Charlotte had
had enough music, and so had Mr. Longstaffe, who was endeavouring to
joke himself into the good graces of the Duke of Sedbergh's sister. The
din of conversation rose at the challenge of the piano, and Langham was
soon overcrowded.

Musically, it was perhaps as well, for the player's inward tumult was so
great, that what his hands did he hardly knew or cared. He felt himself
the greatest criminal unhung. Suddenly, through all that wilful mist of
epicurean feeling which had been enwrapping him, there had pierced a
sharp illumining beam from a girl's eyes aglow with joy, with hope, with
tenderness. In the name of Heaven, what had this growing degeneracy of
every moral muscle led him to now? What! smile and talk, and smile--and
be a villain all the time? What! encroach on a young life, like some
creeping parasitic growth, taking all, able to give nothing in
return--not even one genuine spark of genuine passion? Go philandering
on till a child of nineteen shows you her warm impulsive heart, play on
her imagination, on her pity, safe all the while in the reflection that
by the next day you will be far away, and her task and yours will be
alike to forget! He shrinks from himself as one shrinks from a man
capable of injuring anything weak and helpless. To despise the world's
social code, and then to fall conspicuously below its simplest articles;
to aim at being pure intelligence, pure open-eyed rationality, and not
even to succeed in being a gentleman, as the poor commonplace world
understands it! Oh, to fall at her feet, and ask her pardon before
parting for ever! But no--no more posing; no more dramatising. How can
he get away most quietly--make least sign? The thought of that walk home
in the darkness fills him with a passion of irritable impatience.

       *       *       *       *       *

'Look at that Romney, Mr. Elsmere; just look at it!' cried Dr. Meyrick
excitedly; 'did you ever see anything finer? There was one of those
London dealer fellows down here last summer offered the squire four
thousand pounds down on the nail for it.'

In this way Meyrick had been taking Robert round the drawing-room, doing
the honours of every stick and stone in it, his eyeglass in his eye, his
thin old face shining with pride over the Wendover possessions. And so
the two gradually neared the oriel where the squire and Mr. Bickerton
were standing.

Robert was in twenty minds as to any further conversation with the
squire. After the ladies had gone, while every nerve in him was still
tingling with anger, he had done his best to keep up indifferent talk on
local matters with Mr. Bickerton. Inwardly he was asking himself whether
he should ever sit at the squire's table and eat his bread again. It
seemed to him that they had had a brush which would be difficult to
forget. And as he sat there before the squire's wine, hot with righteous
heat, all his grievances against the man and the landlord crowded upon
him. A fig for intellectual eminence if it make a man oppress his
inferiors and bully his equals!

But as the minutes passed on, the rector had cooled down. The sweet,
placable, scrupulous nature began to blame itself. 'What, play your
cards so badly, give up the game so rashly, the very first round?
Nonsense! Patience and try again. There must be some cause in the
background. No need to be white-livered, but every need, in the case of
such a man as the squire, to take no hasty needless offence.'

So he had cooled and cooled, and now here were Meyrick and he close to
the squire and his companion. The two men, as the rector approached,
were discussing some cases of common enclosure that had just taken place
in the neighbourhood. Robert listened a moment, then struck in.
Presently, when the chat dropped, he began to express to the squire his
pleasure in the use of the library. His manner was excellent, courtesy
itself, but without any trace of effusion.

'I believe,' he said at last, smiling, 'my father used to be allowed the
same privileges. If so, it quite accounts for the way in which he clung
to Murewell.'

'I had never the honour of Mr. Edward Elsmere's acquaintance,' said the
squire frigidly. 'During the time of his occupation of the rectory I was
not in England.'

'I know. Do you still go much to Germany? Do you keep up your relations
with Berlin?'

'I have not seen Berlin for fifteen years,' said the squire briefly, his
eyes in their wrinkled sockets fixed sharply on the man who ventured to
question him about himself, uninvited. There was an awkward pause. Then
the squire turned again to Mr. Bickerton.

'Bickerton, have you noticed how many trees that storm of last February
has brought down at the north-east corner of the park?'

Robert was inexpressibly galled by the movement, by the words
themselves. The squire had not yet addressed a single remark of any kind
about Murewell to _him_. There was a deliberate intention to exclude
implied in this appeal to the man who was not the man of the place, on
such a local point, which struck Robert very forcibly.

He walked away to where his wife was sitting.

'What time is it?' whispered Catherine, looking up at him.

'Time to go,' he returned, smiling, but she caught the discomposure in
his tone and look at once, and her wifely heart rose against the squire.
She got up, drawing herself together with a gesture that became her.

'Then let us go at once,' she said. 'Where is Rose?'

A minute later there was a general leave-taking. Oddly enough it found
the squire in the midst of a conversation with Langham. As though to
show more clearly that it was the rector personally who was in his black
books, Mr. Wendover had already devoted some cold attention to Catherine
both at and after dinner, and he had no sooner routed Robert than he
moved in his slouching away across from Mr. Bickerton to Langham. And
now, another man altogether, he was talking and laughing--describing
apparently a reception at the French Academy--the epigrams flying, the
harsh face all lit up, the thin bony fingers gesticulating freely.

The husband and wife exchanged glances as they stood waiting, while Lady
Charlotte, in her loudest voice, was commanding Rose to come and see her
in London any Thursday after the first of November. Robert was very
sore. Catherine passionately felt it, and forgetting everything but
him, longed to be out with him in the park comforting him.

'What an absurd fuss you have been making about that girl,' Wynnstay
exclaimed to his wife as the Elsmere party left the room, the squire
conducting Catherine with a chill politeness. 'And now, I suppose, you
will be having her up in town, and making some young fellow who ought to
know better fall in love with her. I am told the father was a
grammar-school headmaster. Why can't you leave people where they
belong?'

'I have already pointed out to you,' Lady Charlotte observed calmly,
'that the world has moved on since you were launched into it. I can't
keep up class-distinctions to please you; otherwise, no doubt, being the
devoted wife I am, I might try. However, my dear, we both have our
fancies. You collect Sèvres china with or without a pedigree,' and she
coughed drily; 'I collect promising young women. On the whole, I think
my hobby is more beneficial to you than yours is profitable to me.'

Mr. Wynnstay was furious. Only a week before he had been childishly,
shamefully taken in by a Jew curiosity-dealer from Vienna, to his wife's
huge amusement. If looks could have crushed her, Lady Charlotte would
have been crushed. But she was far too substantial as she lay back in
her chair, one large foot crossed over the other, and, as her husband
very well knew, the better man of the two. He walked away, murmuring
under his moustache words that would hardly have borne publicity, while
Lady Charlotte, through her glasses, made a minute study of a little
French portrait hanging some two yards from her.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile the Elsmere party were stepping out into the warm damp of the
night. The storm had died away, but a soft Scotch mist of rain filled
the air. Everything was dark, save for a few ghostly glimmerings through
the trees of the avenue; and there was a strong sweet smell of wet earth
and grass. Rose had drawn the hood of her waterproof over her head, and
her face gleamed an indistinct whiteness from its shelter. Oh this
leaping pulse--this bright glow of expectation! How had she made this
stupid blunder about his going? Oh, it was Catherine's mistake, of
course, at the beginning. But what matter? Here they were in the dark,
side by side, friends now, friends always. Catherine should not spoil
their last walk together. She felt a passionate trust that _he_ would
not allow it.

'Wifie!' exclaimed Robert, drawing her a little apart, 'do you know it
has just occurred to me that, as I was going through the park this
afternoon by the lower footpath, I crossed Henslowe coming away from the
house. Of course this is what has happened! _He_ has told his story
first. No doubt just before I met him he had been giving the squire a
full and particular account--_à la_ Henslowe--of my proceedings since I
came. Henslowe lays it on thick--paints with a will. The squire
receives me afterwards as the meddlesome pragmatical priest he
understands me to be; puts his foot down to begin with; and, _hinc illæ
lacrymæ_. It's as clear as daylight! I thought that man had an odd twist
of the lip as he passed me.'

'Then a disagreeable evening will be the worst of it,' said Catherine
proudly. 'I imagine, Robert, you can defend yourself against that bad
man?'

'He has got the start; he has no scruples; and it remains to be seen
whether the squire has a heart to appeal to,' replied the young rector
with sore reflectiveness. 'Oh, Catherine, have you ever thought, wifie,
what a business it will be for us if I _can't_ make friends with that
man? Here we are at his gates--all our people in his power; the
_comfort_, at any rate, of our social life depending on him. And what a
strange, unmanageable, inexplicable being!'

Elsmere sighed aloud. Like all quick imaginative natures he was easily
depressed, and the squire's sombre figure had for the moment darkened
his whole horizon. Catherine laid her cheek against his arm in the
darkness, consoling, remonstrating, every other thought lost in her
sympathy with Robert's worries. Langham and Rose slipped out of her
head; Elsmere's step had quickened, as it always did when he was
excited, and she kept up without thinking.

When Langham found the others had shot ahead in the darkness, and he and
his neighbour were _tête-à-tête_, despair seized him. But for once he
showed a sort of dreary presence of mind. Suddenly, while the girl
beside him was floating in a golden dream of feeling, he plunged with a
stiff deliberation born of his inner conflict into a discussion of the
German system of musical training. Rose, startled, made some vague and
flippant reply. Langham pursued the matter. He had some information
about it, it appeared, garnered up in his mind, which might perhaps some
day prove useful to her. A St. Anselm's undergraduate, one Dashwood, an
old pupil of his, had been lately at Berlin for six months, studying at
the Conservatorium. Not long ago, being anxious to become a
schoolmaster, he had written to Langham for a testimonial. His letter
had contained a full account of his musical life. Langham proceeded to
recapitulate it.

His careful and precise report of hours, fees, masters, and methods
lasted till they reached the park gate. He had the smallest powers of
social acting, and his rôle was dismally overdone. The girl beside him
could not know that he was really defending her from himself. His cold
altered manner merely seemed to her a sudden and marked withdrawal of
his petition for her friendship. No doubt she had received that petition
too effusively--and he wished there should be no mistake.

What a young smarting soul went through in that half-mile of listening
is better guessed than analysed. There are certain moments of shame,
which only women know, and which seem to sting and burn out of youth all
its natural sweet self-love. A woman may outlive them, but never forget
them. If she pass through one at nineteen her cheek will grow hot over
it at seventy. Her companion's measured tone, the flow of deliberate
speech which came from him, the nervous aloofness of his attitude--every
detail in that walk seemed to Rose's excited sense an insult.

As the park gate swung behind them she felt a sick longing for
Catherine's shelter. Then all the pride in her rushed to the rescue and
held that swooning dismay at the heart of her in check. And forthwith
she capped Langham's minute account of the scale-method of a famous
Berlin pianist by some witty stories of the latest London prodigy, a
child-violinist, incredibly gifted, dirty, and greedy, whom she had made
friends with in town. The girl's voice rang out sharp and hard under the
trees. Where, in fortune's name, were the lights of the rectory? Would
this nightmare never come to an end?

At the rectory gate was Catherine waiting for them, her whole soul one
repentant alarm.

'Mr. Langham, Robert has gone to the study; will you go and smoke with
him?'

'By all means. Good-night, then, Mrs. Elsmere.'

Catherine gave him her hand. Rose was trying hard to fit the lock of the
gate into the hasp, and had no hand free. Besides, he did not approach
her.

'Good-night!' she said to him over her shoulder.

'Oh, and Mr. Langham!' Catherine called after him as he strode away,
'will you settle with Robert about the carriage?'

He turned, made a sound of assent, and went on.

'When?' asked Rose lightly.

'For the nine o'clock train.'

'There should be a law against interfering with people's breakfast
hour,' said Rose; 'though, to be sure, a guest may as well get himself
gone early and be done with it. How you and Robert raced, Cathie! We did
our best to catch you up, but the pace was too good.'

Was there a wild taunt, a spice of malice in the girl's reckless voice?
Catherine could not see her in the darkness, but the sister felt a
sudden trouble invade her.

'Rose, darling, you are not tired?'

'Oh dear, no! Good-night, sleep well. What a goose Mrs. Darcy is!'

And, barely submitting to be kissed, Rose ran up the steps and upstairs.

Langham and Robert smoked till midnight. Langham for the first time gave
Elsmere an outline of his plans for the future, and Robert, filled with
dismay at this final breach with Oxford and human society, and the only
form of practical life possible to such a man, threw himself into
protests more and more vigorous and affectionate. Langham listened to
them at first with sombre silence, then with an impatience which
gradually reduced Robert to a sore puffing at his pipe. There was a long
space during which they sat together, the ashes of the little fire
Robert had made dropping on the hearth, and not a word on either side.

At last Elsmere could not bear it, and when midnight struck he sprang up
with an impatient shake of his long body, and Langham took the hint,
gave him a cold good-night, and went.

As the door shut upon him Robert dropped back into his chair, and sat
on, his face in his hands, staring dolefully at the fire. It seemed to
him the world was going crookedly. A day on which a man of singularly
open and responsive temper makes a new enemy, and comes nearer than ever
before to losing an old friend, shows very blackly to him in the
calendar, and, by way of aggravation, Robert Elsmere says to himself at
once that somehow or other there must be fault of his own in the matter.

Rose!--pshaw! Catherine little knows what stuff that cold intangible
soul is made of.

Meanwhile, Langham was standing heavily, looking out into the night. The
different elements in the mountain of discomfort that weighed upon him
were so many that the weary mind made no attempt to analyse them. He had
a sense of disgrace, of having stabbed something gentle that had leant
upon him, mingled with a strong intermittent feeling of unutterable
relief. Perhaps his keenest regret was that, after all, it had not been
love! He had offered himself up to a girl's just contempt, but he had no
recompense in the shape of a great addition to knowledge, to experience.
Save for a few doubtful moments at the beginning, when he had all but
surprised himself in something more poignant, what he had been conscious
of had been nothing more than a suave and delicate charm of sentiment, a
subtle surrender to one exquisite æsthetic impression after another. And
these things in other relations the world had yielded him before.

'Am I sane?' he muttered to himself. 'Have I ever been sane? Probably
not. The disproportion between my motives and other men's is too great
to be normal. Well, at least I am sane enough to shut myself up. Long
after that beautiful child has forgotten she ever saw me I shall still
be doing penance in the desert.'

He threw himself down beside the open window with a groan. An hour later
he lifted a face blanched and lined, and stretched out his hand with
avidity towards a book on the table. It was an obscure and difficult
Greek text, and he spent the greater part of the night over it,
rekindling in himself with feverish haste the embers of his one lasting
passion.

Meanwhile, in a room overhead, another last scene in this most futile of
dramas was passing. Rose, when she came in, had locked the door, torn
off her dress and her ornaments, and flung herself on the edge of the
bed, her hands on her knees, her shoulders drooping, a fierce red spot
on either cheek. There for an indefinite time she went through a torture
of self-scorn. The incidents of the week passed before her one by
one--her sallies, her defiances, her impulsive friendliness, the _élan_,
the happiness of the last two days, the self-abandonment of this
evening. Oh, intolerable--intolerable!

And all to end with the intimation that she had been behaving like a
forward child--had gone too far and must be admonished--made to feel
accordingly! The poisoned arrow pierced deeper and deeper into the
girl's shrinking pride. The very foundations of self-respect seemed
overthrown.

Suddenly her eye caught a dim and ghostly reflection of her own figure,
as she sat with locked hands on the edge of the bed, in a long glass
near, the only one of the kind which the rectory household possessed.
Rose sprang up, snatched at the candle, which was flickering in the air
of the open window, and stood erect before the glass, holding the candle
above her head.

What the light showed her was a slim form in a white dressing-gown, that
fell loosely about it; a rounded arm upstretched; a head, still crowned
with its jessamine wreath, from which the bright hair fell heavily over
shoulders and bosom; eyes, under frowning brows, flashing a proud
challenge at what they saw; two lips, 'indifferent red,' just open to
let the quick breath come through--all thrown into the wildest
chiaroscuro by the wavering candle flame.

Her challenge was answered. The fault was not there. Her arm dropped.
She put down the light.

'I _am_ handsome,' she said to herself, her mouth quivering childishly.
'I am. I may say it to myself.'

Then, standing by the window, she stared into the night. Her room, on
the opposite side of the house from Langham's, looked over the
cornfields and the distance. The stubbles gleamed faintly; the dark
woods, the clouds teased by the rising wind, sent a moaning voice to
greet her.

'I hate him! I hate him!' she cried to the darkness, clenching her cold
little hand.

Then presently she slipped on to her knees, and buried her head in the
bed-clothes. She was crying--angry stifled tears which had the hot
impatience of youth in them. It all seemed to her so untoward. This was
not the man she had dreamed of--the unknown of her inmost heart. _He_
had been young, ardent, impetuous like herself. Hand in hand, eye
flashing into eye, pulse answering to pulse, they would have flung aside
the veil hanging over life and plundered the golden mysteries behind it.

She rebels; she tries to see the cold alien nature which has laid this
paralysing spell upon her as it is, to reason herself back to peace--to
indifference. The poor child flies from her own half-understood
trouble; will none of it; murmurs again wildly--

'I hate him! I hate him! Cold-blooded--ungrateful--unkind!'

In vain. A pair of melancholy eyes haunt, enthral her inmost soul. The
charm of the denied, the inaccessible is on her, womanlike.

That old sense of capture, of helplessness, as of some lassoed
struggling creature, descended upon her. She lay sobbing there, trying
to recall what she had been a week before; the whirl of her London
visit, the ambitions with which it had filled her; the bewildering
many-coloured lights it had thrown upon life, the intoxicating sense of
artistic power. In vain.

    'The stream will not flow, and the hills will not rise;
    And the colours have all passed away from her eyes.'

She felt herself bereft, despoiled. And yet through it all, as she lay
weeping, there came flooding a strange contradictory sense of growth, of
enrichment. In such moments of pain does a woman first begin to live?
Ah! why should it hurt so--this long-awaited birth of the soul?



BOOK III

THE SQUIRE



CHAPTER XIX


The evening of the Murewell Hall dinner-party proved to be a date of
some importance in the lives of two or three persons. Rose was not
likely to forget it; Langham carried about with him the picture of the
great drawing-room, its stately light and shade, and its scattered
figures, through many a dismal subsequent hour; and to Robert it was the
beginning of a period of practical difficulties such as his fortunate
youth had never yet encountered.

His conjecture had hit the mark. The squire's sentiments towards him,
which had been on the whole friendly enough, with the exception of a
slight _nuance_ of contempt provoked in Mr. Wendover's mind by all forms
of the clerical calling, had been completely transformed in the course
of the afternoon before the dinner-party, and transformed by the report
of his agent. Henslowe, who knew certain sides of the squire's character
by heart, had taken Time by the forelock. For fourteen years before
Robert entered the parish he had been king of it. Mr. Preston, Robert's
predecessor, had never given him a moment's trouble. The agent had
developed a habit of drinking, had favoured his friends and spited his
enemies, and had allowed certain distant portions of the estate to go
finely to ruin, quite undisturbed by any sentimental meddling of the
priestly sort. Then the old rector had been gathered to the majority,
and this long-legged busybody had taken his place, a man, according to
the agent, as full of communistical notions as an egg is full of meat,
and always ready to poke his nose into other people's business. And as
all men like mastery, but especially Scotchmen, and as during even the
first few months of the new rector's tenure of office it became
tolerably evident to Henslowe that young Elsmere would soon become the
ruling force of the neighbourhood unless measures were taken to prevent
it, the agent, over his nocturnal drams, had taken sharp and cunning
counsel with himself concerning the young man.

The state of Mile End had been originally the result of indolence and
caprice on his part rather than of any set purpose of neglect. As soon,
however, as it was brought to his notice by Elsmere, who did it, to
begin with, in the friendliest way, it became a point of honour with
the agent to let the place go to the devil, nay, to hurry it there. For
some time notwithstanding, he avoided an open breach with the rector. He
met Elsmere's remonstrances by a more or less civil show of argument,
belied every now and then by the sarcasm of his coarse blue eye, and so
far the two men had kept outwardly on terms. Elsmere had reason to know
that on one or two occasions of difficulty in the parish Henslowe had
tried to do him a mischief. The attempts, however, had not greatly
succeeded, and their ill-success had probably excited in Elsmere a
confidence of ultimate victory which had tended to keep him cool in the
presence of Henslowe's hostility. But Henslowe had been all along merely
waiting for the squire. He had served the owner of the Murewell estate
for fourteen years, and if he did not know that owner's peculiarities by
this time, might he obtain certain warm corners in the next life to
which he was fond of consigning other people! It was not easy to cheat
the squire out of money, but it was quite easy to play upon his
ignorance of the details of English land management--ignorance
guaranteed by the learned habits of a lifetime--on his complete lack of
popular sympathy, and on the contempt felt by the disciple of Bismarck
and Mommsen for all forms of altruistic sentiment. The squire despised
priests. He hated philanthropic cants. Above all things he respected his
own leisure, and was abnormally, irritably sensitive as to any possible
inroads upon it.

All these things Henslowe knew, and all these things he utilised. He saw
the squire within forty-eight hours of his arrival at Murewell. His
fancy picture of Robert and his doings was introduced with adroitness,
and coloured with great skill, and he left the squire walking up and
down his library, chafing alternately at the monstrous fate which had
planted this sentimental agitator at his gates, and at the memory of his
own misplaced civilities towards the intruder. In the evening those
civilities were abundantly avenged, as we have seen.

Robert was much perplexed as to his next step. His heart was very sore.
The condition of Mile End--those gaunt-eyed women and wasted children,
all the sordid details of their unjust avoidable suffering weighed upon
his nerves perpetually. But he was conscious that this state of feeling
was one of tension, perhaps of exaggeration, and though it was
impossible he should let the matter alone, he was anxious to do nothing
rashly.

However, two days after the dinner-party he met Henslowe on the hill
leading up to the rectory. Robert would have passed the man with a
stiffening of his tall figure and the slightest possible salutation. But
the agent, just returned from a round wherein the bars of various local
inns had played a conspicuous part, was in a truculent mood and stopped
to speak. He took up the line of insolent condolence with the rector on
the impossibility of carrying his wishes with regard to Mile End into
effect. They had been laid before the squire, of course, but the squire
had his own ideas and wasn't just easy to manage.

'Seen him yet, sir?' Henslowe wound up jauntily, every line of his
flushed countenance, the full lips under the fair beard, and the light
prominent eyes, expressing a triumph he hardly cared to conceal.

'I have seen him, but I have not talked to him on this particular
matter,' said the rector quietly, though the red mounted in his cheek.
'You may, however, be very sure, Mr. Henslowe, that everything I know
about Mile End the squire shall know before long.'

'Oh, lor' bless me, sir!' cried Henslowe with a guffaw, 'it's all one to
me. And if the squire ain't satisfied with the way his work's done now,
why he can take you on as a second string, you know. You'd show us all,
I'll be bound, how to make the money fly.'

Then Robert's temper gave way, and he turned upon the half-drunken brute
before him with a few home-truths delivered with a rapier-like force
which for the moment staggered Henslowe, who turned from red to purple.
The rector, with some of those pitiful memories of the hamlet, of which
we had glimpses in his talk with Langham, burning at his heart, felt the
man no better than a murderer, and as good as told him so. Then, without
giving him time to reply, Robert strode on, leaving Henslowe planted in
the pathway. But he was hardly up the hill before the agent, having
recovered himself by dint of copious expletives, was looking after him
with a grim chuckle. He knew his master, and he knew himself, and he
thought between them they would about manage to keep that young spark in
order.

Robert meanwhile went straight home into his study, and there fell upon
ink and paper. What was the good of protracting the matter any longer?
Something must and should be done for these people, if not one way, then
another.

So he wrote to the squire, showing the letter to Catherine when it was
done, lest there should be anything over-fierce in it. It was the simple
record of twelve months' experience told with dignity and strong
feeling. Henslowe was barely mentioned in it, and the chief burden of
the letter was to implore the squire to come and inspect certain
portions of his property with his own eyes. The rector would be at his
service any day or hour.

Husband and wife went anxiously through the document, softening here,
improving there, and then it was sent to the Hall. Robert waited
nervously through the day for an answer. In the evening, while he and
Catherine were in the footpath after dinner, watching a chilly autumnal
moonrise over the stubbles of the cornfield, the answer came.

'H'm,' said Robert dubiously as he opened it, holding it up to the
moonlight; 'can't be said to be lengthy.'

He and Catherine hurried into the house. Robert read the letter, and
handed it to her without a word.

After some curt references to one or two miscellaneous points raised in
the latter part of the rector's letter, the squire wound up as
follows:--

     'As for the bulk of your communication, I am at a loss to
     understand the vehemence of your remarks on the subject of my Mile
     End property. My agent informed me shortly after my return home
     that you had been concerning yourself greatly, and, as he
     conceived, unnecessarily about the matter. Allow me to assure you
     that I have full confidence in Mr. Henslowe, who has been in the
     district for as many years as you have spent months in it, and
     whose authority on points connected with the business management of
     my estate naturally carries more weight with me, if you will permit
     me to say so, than your own.--I am, sir, your obedient servant,

          'ROGER WENDOVER.'

Catherine returned the letter to her husband with a look of dismay. He
was standing with his back to the chimney-piece, his hands thrust far
into his pockets, his upper lip quivering. In his happy expansive life
this was the sharpest personal rebuff that had ever happened to him. He
could not but smart under it.

'Not a word,' he said, tossing his hair back impetuously, as Catherine
stood opposite watching him--'not one single word about the miserable
people themselves! What kind of stuff can the man be made off?'

'Does he believe you?' asked Catherine, bewildered.

'If not, one must try and make him,' he said energetically, after a
moment's pause. 'To-morrow, Catherine, I go down to the Hall and see
him.'

She quietly acquiesced, and the following afternoon, first thing after
luncheon, she watched him go, her tender inspiring look dwelling with
him as he crossed the park, which was lying delicately wrapped in one of
the whitest of autumnal mists, the sun just playing through it with pale
invading shafts.

The butler looked at him with some doubtfulness. It was never safe to
admit visitors for the squire without orders. But he and Robert had
special relations. As the possessor of a bass voice worthy of his girth,
Vincent, under Robert's rule, had become the pillar of the choir, and it
was not easy for him to refuse the rector.

So Robert was led in, through the hall, and down the long passage to the
curtained door, which he knew so well.

'Mr. Elsmere, sir!'

There was a sudden hasty movement. Robert passed a magnificent lacquered
screen newly placed round the door, and found himself in the squire's
presence.

The squire had half risen from his seat in a capacious chair, with a
litter of books round it, and confronted his visitor with a look of
surprised annoyance. The figure of the rector, tall, thin, and youthful,
stood out against the delicate browns and whites of the book-lined
walls. The great room, so impressively bare when Robert and Langham had
last seen it, was now full of the signs of a busy man's constant
habitation. An odour of smoke pervaded it; the table in the window was
piled with books just unpacked, and the half-emptied case from which
they had been taken lay on the ground beside the squire's chair.

'I persuaded Vincent to admit me, Mr. Wendover,' said Robert, advancing
hat in hand, while the squire hastily put down the German professor's
pipe he had just been enjoying, and coldly accepted his proffered
greeting. 'I should have preferred not to disturb you without an
appointment, but after your letter it seemed to me some prompt personal
explanation was necessary.'

The squire stiffly motioned towards a chair, which Robert took, and then
slipped back into his own, his wrinkled eyes fixed on the intruder.

Robert, conscious of almost intolerable embarrassment, but maintaining
in spite of it an excellent degree of self-control, plunged at once into
business. He took the letter he had just received from the squire as a
text, made a good-humoured defence of his own proceedings, described his
attempt to move Henslowe, and the reluctance of his appeal from the man
to the master. The few things he allowed himself to say about Henslowe
were in perfect temper, though by no means without an edge.

Then, having disposed of the more personal aspects of the matter, he
paused, and looked hesitatingly at the face opposite him, more like a
bronzed mask at this moment than a human countenance. The squire,
however, gave him no help. He had received his remarks so far in perfect
silence, and seeing that there were more to come, he waited for them
with the same rigidity of look and attitude.

So, after a moment or two, Robert went on to describe in detail some of
those individual cases of hardship and disease at Mile End, during the
preceding year, which could be most clearly laid to the sanitary
condition of the place. Filth, damp, leaking roofs, foul floors,
poisoned water--he traced to each some ghastly human ill, telling his
stories with a nervous brevity, a suppressed fire, which would have
burnt them into the sense of almost any other listener. Not one of these
woes but he and Catherine had tended with sickening pity and labour of
body and mind. That side of it he kept rigidly out of sight. But all
that he could hurl against the squire's feeling, as it were, he gathered
up, strangely conscious through it all of his own young persistent
yearning to right himself with this man, whose mental history, as it
lay chronicled in these rooms, had been to him, at a time of
intellectual hunger, so stimulating, so enriching.

But passion and reticence and hidden sympathy were alike lost upon the
squire. Before he paused Mr. Wendover had already risen restlessly from
his chair, and from the rug was glowering down on his unwelcome visitor.

Good heavens! had he come home to be lectured in his own library by this
fanatical slip of a parson? As for his stories, the squire barely took
the trouble to listen to them.

Every popularity-hunting fool, with a passion for putting his hand into
other people's pockets, can tell pathetic stories; but it was
intolerable that his scholar's privacy should be at the mercy of one of
the tribe.

'Mr. Elsmere,' he broke out at last with contemptuous emphasis, 'I
imagine it would have been better--infinitely better--to have spared
both yourself and me the disagreeables of this interview. However, I am
not sorry we should understand each other. I have lived a life which is
at least double the length of yours in very tolerable peace and comfort.
The world has been good enough for me, and I for it, so far. I have been
master in my own estate, and intend to remain so. As for the new-fangled
ideas of a landowner's duty, with which your mind seems to be full'--the
scornful irritation of the tone was unmistakable--'I have never dabbled
in them, nor do I intend to begin now. I am like the rest of my kind; I
have no money to chuck away in building schemes, in order that the
rector of the parish may pose as the apostle of the agricultural
labourer. That, however, is neither here nor there. What is to the
purpose is, that my business affairs are in the hands of a business man,
deliberately chosen and approved by me, and that I have nothing to do
with them. Nothing at all!' he repeated with emphasis. 'It may seem to
you very shocking. You may regard it as the object in life of the
English landowner to inspect the pigstyes and amend the habits of the
English labourer. I don't quarrel with the conception, I only ask you
not to expect me to live up to it. I am a student first and foremost,
and desire to be left to my books. Mr. Henslowe is there on purpose to
protect my literary freedom. What he thinks desirable is good enough for
me, as I have already informed you. I am sorry for it if his methods do
not commend themselves to you. But I have yet to learn that the rector
of the parish has an ex-officio right to interfere between a landlord
and his tenants.'

Robert kept his temper with some difficulty. After a pause he said,
feeling desperately, however, that the suggestion was not likely to
improve matters,--

'If I were to take all the trouble and all the expense off your hands,
Mr. Wendover, would it be impossible for you to authorise me to make one
or two alterations most urgently necessary for the improvement of the
Mile End cottages?'

The squire burst into an angry laugh.

'I have never yet been in the habit, Mr. Elsmere, of doing my repairs by
public subscription. You ask a little too much from an old man's powers
of adaptation.'

Robert rose from his seat, his hand trembling as it rested on his
walking-stick.

'Mr. Wendover,' he said, speaking at last with a flash of answering
scorn in his young vibrating voice, 'what I think you cannot understand
is that at any moment a human creature may sicken and die, poisoned by
the state of your property, for which you--and nobody else--are
ultimately responsible.'

The squire shrugged his shoulders.

'So you say, Mr. Elsmere. If true, every person in such a condition has
a remedy in his own hands. I force no one to remain on my property.'

'The people who live there,' exclaimed Robert, 'have neither home nor
subsistence if they are driven out. Murewell is full--times bad--most of
the people old.'

'And eviction "a sentence of death," I suppose, 'interrupted the squire,
studying him with sarcastic eyes. 'Well, I have no belief in a
Gladstonian Ireland, still less in a Radical England. Supply and demand,
cause and effect, are enough for me. The Mile End cottages are out of
repair, Mr. Elsmere, so Mr. Henslowe tells me, because the site is
unsuitable, the type of cottage out of date. People live in them at
their peril; I don't pull them down, or rather'--correcting himself with
exasperating consistency--'Mr. Henslowe doesn't pull them down, because,
like other men, I suppose, he dislikes an outcry. But if the population
stays, it stays at its own risk. Now have I made myself plain?'

The two men eyed one another.

'Perfectly plain,' said Robert quietly. 'Allow me to remind you, Mr.
Wendover, that there are other matters than eviction capable of
provoking an outcry.'

'As you please,' said the other indifferently. 'I have no doubt I shall
find myself in the newspapers before long. If so, I daresay I shall
manage to put up with it. Society is made up of fanatics and the
creatures they hunt. If I am to be hunted, I shall be in good company.'

Robert stood hat in hand, tormented with a dozen crosscurrents of
feeling. He was forcibly struck with the blind and comparatively
motiveless pugnacity of the squire's conduct. There was an extravagance
in it which for the first time recalled to him old Meyrick's
lucubrations.

'I have done no good, I see, Mr. Wendover,' he said at last, slowly. 'I
wish I could have induced you to do an act of justice and mercy. I wish
I could have made you think more kindly of myself. I have failed in
both. It is useless to keep you any longer. Good-morning.'

He bowed. The squire also bent forward. At that moment Robert caught
sight beside his shoulder of an antique, standing on the mantelpiece,
which was a new addition to the room. It was a head of Medusa, and the
frightful stony calm of it struck on Elsmere's ruffled nerves with
extraordinary force. It flashed across him that here was an apt symbol
of that absorbing and overgrown life of the intellect which blights the
heart and chills the senses. And to that spiritual Medusa, the man
before him was not the first victim he had known.

Possessed with the fancy the young man made his way into the hall.
Arrived there, he looked round with a kind of passionate regret: 'Shall
I ever see this again?' he asked himself. During the past twelve months
his pleasure in the great house had been much more than sensuous. Within
those walls his mind had grown, had reached to a fuller stature than
before, and a man loves, or should love, all that is associated with the
maturing of his best self.

He closed the ponderous doors behind him sadly. The magnificent pile,
grander than ever in the sunny autumnal mist which enwrapped it, seemed
to look after him as he walked away, mutely wondering that he should
have allowed anything so trivial as a peasant's grievance to come
between him and its perfections.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the wooded lane outside the rectory gate he overtook Catherine. He
gave her his report, and they walked on together arm-in-arm, a very
depressed pair.

'What shall you do next?' she asked him.

'Make out the law of the matter,' he said briefly.

'If you get over the inspector,' said Catherine anxiously, 'I am
tolerably certain Henslowe will turn out the people.'

He would not dare, Robert thought. At any rate, the law existed for such
cases, and it was his bounden duty to call the inspector's attention.

Catherine did not see what good could be done thereby, and feared harm.
But her wifely chivalry felt that he must get through his first serious
practical trouble his own way. She saw that he felt himself
distressingly young and inexperienced, and would not for the world have
harassed him by over advice.

So she let him alone, and presently Robert threw the matter from him
with a sigh.

'Let it be a while,' he said, with a shake of his long frame. 'I shall
get morbid over it if I don't mind. I am a selfish wretch too. I know
you have worries of your own, wifie.'

And he took her hand under the trees and kissed it with a boyish
tenderness.

'Yes,' said Catherine, sighing, and then paused. 'Robert,' she burst out
again, 'I am certain that man made love of a kind to Rose. _He_ will
never think of it again, but since the night before last she, to my
mind, is simply a changed creature.'

'_I_ don't see it,' said Robert doubtfully.

Catherine looked at him with a little angel scorn in her gray eyes. That
men should make their seeing in such matters the measure of the visible!

'You have been studying the squire, sir--I have been studying Rose.'

Then she poured out her heart to him, describing the little signs of
change and suffering her anxious sense had noted, in spite of Rose's
proud effort to keep all the world, but especially Catherine, at arm's
length. And at the end her feeling swept her into a denunciation of
Langham, which was to Robert like a breath from the past, from those
stern hills wherein he met her first. The happiness of their married
life had so softened or masked all her ruggedness of character, that
there was a certain joy in seeing those strong forces in her which had
struck him first reappear.

'Of course I feel myself to blame,' he said when she stopped. 'But how
could one foresee, with such an inveterate hermit and recluse? And I
owed him--I owe him--so much.'

'I know,' said Catherine, but frowning still. It probably seemed to her
that that old debt had been more than effaced.

'You will have to send her to Berlin,' said Elsmere after a pause. 'You
must play off her music against this unlucky feeling. If it exists it is
your only chance.'

'Yes, she must go to Berlin,' said Catherine slowly.

Then presently she looked up, a flash of exquisite feeling breaking up
the delicate resolution of the face.

'I am not sad about that, Robert. Oh, how you have widened my world for
me!'

Suddenly that hour in Marrisdale came back to her. They were in the
woodpath. She crept inside her husband's arm and put up her face to him,
swept away by an overmastering impulse of self-humiliating love.

The next day Robert walked over to the little market town of Churton,
saw the discreet and long-established solicitor of the place, and got
from him a complete account of the present state of the rural sanitary
law. The first step clearly was to move the sanitary inspector; if that
failed for any reason, then any _bonâ fide_ inhabitant had an appeal to
the local sanitary authority, viz. the board of guardians. Robert walked
home pondering his information, and totally ignorant that Henslowe, who
was always at Churton on market-days, had been in the market-place at
the moment when the rector's tall figure had disappeared within Mr.
Dunstan's office-door. That door was unpleasantly known to the agent in
connection with some energetic measures for raising money he had been
lately under the necessity of employing, and it had a way of attracting
his eyes by means of the fascination that often attaches to disagreeable
objects.

In the evening Rose was sitting listlessly in the drawing-room.
Catherine was not there, so her novel was on her lap and her eyes were
staring intently into a world whereof they only had the key. Suddenly
there was a ring at the bell. The servant came, and there were several
voices and a sound of much shoe-scraping. Then the swing-door leading to
the study opened and Elsmere and Catherine came out. Elsmere stopped
with an exclamation.

His visitors were two men from Mile End. One was old Milsom, more sallow
and palsied than ever. As he stood bent almost double, his old knotted
hand resting for support on the table beside him, everything in the
little hall seemed to shake with him. The other was Sharland, the
handsome father of the twins, whose wife had been fed by Catherine with
every imaginable delicacy since Robert's last visit to the hamlet. Even
his strong youth had begun to show signs of premature decay. The rolling
gipsy eyes were growing sunken, the limbs dragged a little.

They had come to implore the rector to let Mile End alone. Henslowe had
been over there in the afternoon, and had given them all very plainly to
understand that if Mr. Elsmere meddled any more they would be all turned
out at a week's notice to shift as they could. 'And if you don't find
Thurston Common nice lying this weather, with the winter coming on,
you'll know who to thank for it,' the agent had flung behind him as he
rode off.

Robert turned white. Rose, watching the little scene with listless eyes,
saw him towering over the group like an embodiment of wrath and pity.

'If they turn us out, sir,' said old Milsom, wistfully looking up at
Elsmere with blear eyes, 'there'll be nothing left but the House for us
old 'uns. Why, lor' bless you, sir, it's not so bad but we can make
shift.'

'You, Milsom!' cried Robert; 'and you've just all but lost your
grandchild! And you know your wife'll never be the same woman since that
bout of fever in the spring. And----'

His quick eyes ran over the old man's broken frame with a world of
indignant meaning in them.

'Ay, ay, sir,' said Milsom, unmoved. 'But if it isn't fevers, it's
summat else. I can make a shilling or two where I be, speshally in the
first part of the year, in the basket work, and my wife she goes
charring up at Mr. Carter's farm, and Mr. Dodson, him at the farther
farm, he do give us a bit sometimes. Ef you git us turned away it will
be a bad day's work for all on us, sir, you may take my word on it.'

'And my wife so ill, Mr. Elsmere,' said Sharland, 'and all those
childer! I can't walk three miles farther to my work, Mr. Elsmere, I
can't nohow. I haven't got the legs for it. Let un be, sir. We'll rub
along.'

Robert tried to argue the matter.

If they would but stand by him he would fight the matter through, and
they should not suffer, if he had to get up a public subscription, or
support them out of his own pocket all the winter. A bold front, and
Mr. Henslowe must give way. The law was on their side, and every
labourer in Surrey would be the better off for their refusal to be
housed like pigs and poisoned like vermin.

In vain. There is an inexhaustible store of cautious endurance in the
poor against which the keenest reformer constantly throws himself in
vain. Elsmere was beaten. The two men got his word, and shuffled off
back to their pestilential hovels, a pathetic content beaming on each
face.

Catherine and Robert went back into the study. Rose heard her
brother-in-law's passionate sigh as the door swung behind them.

'Defeated!' she said to herself with a curious accent. 'Well, everybody
must have his turn. Robert has been too successful in his life, I
think.--You wretch!' she added, after a minute, laying her bright head
down on the book before her.

Next morning his wife found Elsmere after breakfast busily packing a
case of books in the study. They were books from the Hall library, which
so far had been for months the inseparable companions of his historical
work.

Catherine stood and watched him sadly.

'Must you, Robert?'

'I won't be beholden to that man for anything an hour longer than I can
help,' he answered her.

When the packing was nearly finished he came up to where she stood in
the open window.

'Things won't be as easy for us in the future, darling,' he said to her.
'A rector with both squire and agent against him is rather heavily
handicapped. We must make up our minds to that.'

'I have no great fear,' she said, looking at him proudly.

'Oh, well--nor I--perhaps,' he admitted, after a moment. 'We can hold
our own. But I wish--oh, I wish'--and he laid his hand on his wife's
shoulder--'I could have made friends with the squire.'

Catherine looked less responsive.

'As squire, Robert, or as Mr. Wendover?'

'As both, of course, but specially as Mr. Wendover.'

'We can do without his friendship,' she said with energy.

Robert gave a great stretch, as though to work off his regrets.

'Ah, but,' he said, half to himself, as his arms dropped, 'if you are
just filled with the hunger to _know_, the people who know as much as
the squire become very interesting to you!'

Catherine did not answer. But probably her heart went out once more in
protest against a knowledge that was to her but a form of revolt against
the awful powers of man's destiny.

'However, here go his books,' said Robert.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two days later Mrs. Leyburn and Agnes made their appearance, Mrs.
Leyburn all in a flutter concerning the event over which, in her own
opinion, she had come to preside. In her gentle fluid mind all
impressions were short-lived. She had forgotten how she had brought up
her own babies, but Mrs. Thornburgh, who had never had any, had filled
her full of nursery lore. She sat retailing a host of second-hand hints
and instructions to Catherine, who would every now and then lay her hand
smiling on her mother's knee, well pleased to see the flush of pleasure
on the pretty old face, and ready, in her patient filial way, to let
herself be experimented on to the utmost, if it did but make the poor
foolish thing happy.

Then came a night when every soul in the quiet rectory, even hot,
smarting Rose, was possessed by one thought through many terrible hours,
and one only--the thought of Catherine's safety. It was strange and
unexpected, but Catherine, the most normal and healthy of women, had a
hard struggle for her own life and her child's, and it was not till the
gray autumn morning, after a day and night which left a permanent mark
on Robert, that he was summoned at last, and with the sense of one
emerging from black gulfs of terror, received from his wife's languid
hand the tiny fingers of his firstborn.

The days that followed were full of emotion for these two people, who
were perhaps always over-serious, over-sensitive. They had no idea of
minimising the great common experiences of life. Both of them were
really simple, brought up in old-fashioned simple ways, easily touched,
responsive to all that high spiritual education which flows from the
familiar incidents of the human story, approached poetically and
passionately. As the young husband sat in the quiet of his wife's room,
the occasional restless movements of the small brown head against her
breast causing the only sound perceptible in the country silence, he
felt all the deep familiar currents of human feeling sweeping through
him--love, reverence, thanksgiving--and all the walls of the soul, as it
were, expanding and enlarging as they passed.

Responsive creature that he was, the experience of these days was hardly
happiness. It went too deep; it brought him too poignantly near to all
that is most real and therefore most tragic in life.

Catherine's recovery also was slower than might have been expected,
considering her constitutional soundness, and for the first week, after
that faint moment of joy when her child was laid upon her arm, and she
saw her husband's quivering face above her, there was a kind of
depression hovering over her. Robert felt it, and felt too that all his
devotion could not soothe it away. At last she said to him one evening,
in the encroaching September twilight, speaking with a sudden hurrying
vehemence, wholly unlike herself, as though a barrier of reserve had
given way,--

'Robert I cannot put it out of my head. I cannot forget it, _the pain of
the world_!'

He shut the book he was reading, her hand in his, and bent over her with
questioning eyes.

'It seems,' she went on, with that difficulty which a strong nature
always feels in self-revelation, 'to take the joy even out of our
love--and the child. I feel ashamed almost that mere physical pain
should have laid such hold on me--and yet I can't get away from it. It's
not for myself,' and she smiled faintly at him. 'Comparatively I had so
little to bear! But I know now for the first time what physical pain may
mean--and I never knew before! I lie thinking, Robert, about all
creatures in pain--workmen crushed by machinery, or soldiers--or poor
things in hospitals--above all of women! Oh, when I get well, how I will
take care of the women here! What women must suffer even here in
out-of-the-way cottages--no doctor, no kind nursing, all blind agony and
struggle! And women in London in dens like those Mr. Newcome got into,
degraded, forsaken, ill-treated, the thought of the child only an extra
horror and burden! And the pain all the time so merciless, so cruel--no
escape! Oh, to give all one is, or ever can be, to comforting! And yet
the great sea of it one can never touch! It is a nightmare--I am weak
still, I suppose; I don't know myself; but I can see nothing but jarred,
tortured creatures everywhere. All my own joys and comforts seem to lift
me selfishly above the common lot.'

She stopped, her large gray-blue eyes dim with tears, trying once more
for that habitual self-restraint which physical weakness had shaken.

'You _are_ weak,' he said, caressing her, 'and that destroys for a time
the normal balance of things. It is true, darling, but we are not meant
to see it always so clearly. God knows we could not bear it if we did.'

'And to think,' she said, shuddering a little, 'that there are men and
women who in the face of it can still refuse Christ and the Cross, can
still say this life is all! How can they live--how dare they live?'

Then he saw that not only man's pain, but man's defiance, had been
haunting her, and he guessed what persons and memories had been flitting
through her mind. But he dared not talk lest she should exhaust herself.
Presently, seeing a volume of Augustine's _Confessions_, her favourite
book, lying beside her, he took it up, turning over the pages, and
weaving passages together as they caught his eye.

'_Speak to me, for Thy compassion's sake, O Lord my God, and tell me
what art Thou to me! Say unto my soul, "I am thy salvation!" Speak it
that I may hear. Behold the ears of my heart, O Lord; open them and say
unto my soul, "I am thy salvation!" I will follow after this voice of
Thine, I will lay hold on Thee. The temple of my soul, wherein Thou
shouldest enter, is narrow, do Thou enlarge it. It falleth into
ruins--do Thou rebuild it!... Woe to that bold soul which hopeth, if it
do but let Thee go, to find something better than Thee! It turneth
hither and thither, on this side and on that, and all things are hard
and bitter unto it. For Thou only art rest!... Whithersoever the soul of
man turneth it findeth sorrow, except only in Thee. Fix there, then, thy
resting-place, my soul! Lay up in Him whatever thou hast received from
Him. Commend to the keeping of the Truth whatever the Truth hath given
thee, and thou shalt lost nothing. And thy dead things shall revive and
thy weak things shall be made whole!_'

She listened, appropriating and clinging to every word, till the nervous
clasp of the long delicate fingers relaxed, her head dropped a little,
gently, against the head of the child, and tired with much feeling she
slept.

Robert slipped away and strolled out into the garden in the
fast-gathering darkness. His mind was full of that intense spiritual
life of Catherine's which in its wonderful self-containedness and
strength was always a marvel, sometimes a reproach, to him. Beside her,
he seemed to himself a light creature, drawn hither and thither by this
interest and by that, tangled in the fleeting shows of things--the toy
and plaything of circumstance. He thought ruefully and humbly, as he
wandered on through the dusk, of his own lack of inwardness: 'Everything
divides me from Thee!' he could have cried in St. Augustine's manner.
'Books, and friends, and work--all seem to hide Thee from me. Why am I
so passionate for this and that, for all these sections and fragments of
Thee? Oh, for the One, the All! Fix there thy resting-place, my soul!'

And presently, after this cry of self-reproach, he turned to muse on
that intuition of the world's pain which had been troubling Catherine,
shrinking from it even more than she had shrunk from it, in proportion
as his nature was more imaginative than hers. And Christ the only clue,
the only remedy--no other anywhere in this vast universe, where all men
are under sentence of death, where the whole creation groaneth and
travaileth in pain together until now!

And yet what countless generations of men had borne their pain, knowing
nothing of the one Healer. He thought of Buddhist patience and Buddhist
charity; of the long centuries during which Chaldean or Persian or
Egyptian lived, suffered, and died, trusting the gods they knew. And how
many other generations, nominally children of the Great Hope, had used
it as the mere instrument of passion or of hate, cursing in the name of
love, destroying in the name of pity! For how much of the world's pain
was not Christianity itself responsible? His thoughts recurred with a
kind of anguished perplexity to some of the problems stirred in him of
late by his historical reading. The strifes and feuds and violences of
the early Church returned to weigh upon him--the hair-splitting
superstition, the selfish passion for power. He recalled Gibbon's
lamentation over the age of the Antonines, and Mommsen's grave doubt
whether, taken as a whole, the area once covered by the Roman Empire can
be said to be substantially happier now than in the days of Severus.

_O corruptio optimi!_ That men should have been so little affected by
that shining ideal of the New Jerusalem, 'descended out of Heaven from
God,' into their very midst--that the print of the 'blessed feet' along
the world's highway should have been so often buried in the sands of
cruelty and fraud!

The September wind blew about him as he strolled through the darkening
column, set thick with great bushes of sombre juniper among the
yellowing fern, which stretched away on the left-hand side of the road
leading to the Hall. He stood and watched the masses of restless
discordant cloud which the sunset had left behind it, thinking the while
of Mr. Grey, of his assertions and his denials. Certain phrases of his
which Robert had heard drop from him on one or two rare occasions during
the later stages of his Oxford life ran through his head.

'_The fairy-tale of Christianity'--'The origins of Christian
Mythology._' He could recall, as the words rose in his memory, the
simplicity of the rugged face, and the melancholy mingled with fire
which had always marked the great tutor's sayings about religion.

'_Fairy Tale!_' Could any reasonable man watch a life like Catherine's
and believe that nothing but a delusion lay at the heart of it? And as
he asked the question, he seemed to hear Mr. Grey's answer: 'All
religions are true, and all are false. In them all, more or less
visibly, man grasps at the one thing needful--self forsaken, God laid
hold of. The spirit in them all is the same, answers eternally to
reality; it is but the letter, the fashion, the imagery, that are
relative and changing.'

He turned and walked homeward, struggling, with a host of tempestuous
ideas as swift and varying as the autumn clouds hurrying overhead. And
then, through a break in a line of trees, he caught sight of the tower
and chancel window of the little church. In an instant he had a vision
of early summer mornings--dewy, perfumed, silent, save for the birds,
and all the soft stir of rural birth and growth, of a chancel fragrant
with many flowers, of a distant church with scattered figures, of the
kneeling form of his wife close beside him, himself bending over her,
the sacrament of the Lord's death in his hand. The emotion, the
intensity, the absolute self-surrender of innumerable such moments in
the past--moments of a common faith, a common self-abasement--came
flooding back upon him. With a movement of joy and penitence he threw
himself at the feet of Catherine's Master and his own: _'Fix there thy
resting-place, my soul!_'



CHAPTER XX


Catherine's later convalescence dwelt in her mind in after years as a
time of peculiar softness and peace. Her baby-girl throve; Robert had
driven the squire and Henslowe out of his mind, and was all eagerness as
to certain negotiations with a famous naturalist for a lecture at the
village club. At Mile End, as though to put the rector in the wrong,
serious illness had for the time disappeared; and Mrs. Leyburn's mild
chatter, as she gently poked about the house and garden, went out in
Catherine's pony-carriage, inspected Catherine's stores, and hovered
over Catherine's babe, had a constantly cheering effect on the still
languid mother. Like all theorists, especially those at second-hand,
Mrs. Leyburn's maxims had been very much routed by the event. The babe
had ailments she did not understand, or it developed likes and dislikes
she had forgotten existed in babies, and Mrs. Leyburn was nonplussed.
She would sit with it on her lap, anxiously studying its peculiarities.
She was sure it squinted, that its back was weaker than other babies,
that it cried more than hers had ever done. She loved to be plaintive;
it would have seemed to her unladylike to be too cheerful, even over a
first grandchild.

Agnes meanwhile made herself practically useful, as was her way, and she
did almost more than anybody to beguile Catherine's recovery by her
hours of Long Whindale chat. She had no passionate feeling about the
place and the people as Catherine had, but she was easily content, and
she had a good wholesome feminine curiosity as to the courtings and
weddings and buryings of the human beings about her. So she would sit
and chat, working the while with the quickest, neatest of fingers, till
Catherine knew as much about Jenny Tyson's Whinborough lover, and Farmer
Tredall's troubles with his son, and the way in which that odious woman
Molly Redgold bullied her little consumptive husband, as Agnes knew,
which was saying a good deal.

About themselves Agnes was frankness itself.

'Since you went,' she would say with a shrug, 'I keep the coach steady,
perhaps, but Rose drives, and we shall have to go where she takes us. By
the way, Cathie, what have you been doing to her here? She is not a bit
like herself. I don't generally mind being snubbed. It amuses her and
doesn't hurt me; and, of course, I know I am meant to be her foil. But,
really, sometimes she is too bad even for me.'

Catherine sighed, but held her peace. Like all strong persons, she kept
things very much to herself. It only made vexations more real to talk
about them. But she and Agnes discussed the winter and Berlin.

'You had better let her go,' said Agnes significantly; 'she will go
anyhow.'

A few days afterwards Catherine, opening the drawing-room door
unexpectedly, came upon Rose sitting idly at the piano, her hands
resting on the keys, and her great gray eyes straining out of her white
face with an expression which sent the sister's heart into her shoes.

'How you steal about, Catherine!' cried the player, getting up and
shutting the piano. 'I declare you are just like Millais's Gray Lady in
that ghostly gown.'

Catherine came swiftly across the floor. She had just left her child,
and the sweet dignity of motherhood was in her step, her look. She came
and threw her arms round the girl.

'Rose, dear, I have settled it all with mamma. The money can be managed,
and you shall go to Berlin for the winter when you like.'

She drew herself back a little, still with her arms round Rose's waist,
and looked at her smiling, to see how she took it.

Rose had a strange movement of irritation. She drew herself out of
Catherine's grasp.

'I don't know that I had settled on Berlin,' she said coldly. 'Very
possibly Leipsic would be better.'

Catherine's face fell.

'Whichever you like, dear. I have been thinking about it ever since that
day you spoke of it--you remember--and now I have talked it over with
mamma. If she can't manage all the expense we will help. Oh, Rose,' and
she came nearer again, timidly, her eyes melting, 'I know we haven't
understood each other. I have been ignorant, I think, and narrow. But I
meant it for the best, dear--I did----'

Her voice failed her, but in her look there seemed to be written the
history of all the prayers and yearnings of her youth over the pretty
wayward child who had been her joy and torment. Rose could not but meet
that look--its nobleness, its humble surrender.

Suddenly two large tears rolled down her cheeks. She dashed them away
impatiently.

'I am not a bit well,' she said, as though in irritable excuse both to
herself and Catherine. 'I believe I have had a headache for a
fortnight.'

And then she put her arms down on a table near and hid her face upon
them. She was one bundle of jarring nerves--sore, poor passionate child,
that she was betraying herself; sorer still that, as she told herself,
Catherine was sending her to Berlin as a consolation. When girls have
love-troubles the first thing their elders do is to look for a
diversion. She felt sick and humiliated. Catherine had been talking her
over with the family, she supposed.

Meanwhile Catherine stood by her tenderly, stroking her hair and saying
soothing things.

'I am sure you will be happy at Berlin, Rose. And you mustn't leave me
out of your life, dear, though I am so stupid and unmusical. You must
write to me about all you do. We must begin a new time. Oh, I feel so
guilty sometimes,' she went on, falling into a low intensity of voice
that startled Rose, and made her look hurriedly up. 'I fought against
your music, I suppose, because I thought it was devouring you--leaving
no room for--for religion--for God. I was jealous of it for Christ's
sake. And all the time I was blundering! Oh, Rose,' and she sank on her
knees beside the chair, resting her head against the girl's shoulder,
'papa charged me to make you love God, and I torture myself with
thinking that, instead, it has been my doing, my foolish clumsy doing,
that you have come to think religion dull and hard. Oh, my darling, if I
could make amends--if I could get you not to love your art less but to
love it in God! Christ is the first reality; all things else are real
and lovely in Him. Oh, I have been frightening you away from Him! I
ought to have drawn you near. I have been so--so silent, so shut up, I
have never tried to make you feel what it was kept _me_ at His feet! Oh,
Rose, darling, you think the world real, and pleasure and enjoyment
real. But if I could have made you see and know the things I have seen
up in the mountains--among the poor, the dying--you would have _felt_
Him saving, redeeming, interceding, as I did. Oh, then you _must_, you
_would_ have known that Christ only is real, that our joys can only
truly exist in Him. I should have been more open--more faithful--more
humble.'

She paused with a long quivering sigh. Rose suddenly lifted herself, and
they fell into each other's arms.

Rose, shaken and excited, thought, of course, of that night at Burwood,
when she had won leave to go to Manchester. This scene was the sequel to
that--the next stage in one and the same process. Her feeling was much
the same as that of the naturalist who comes close to any of the hidden
operations of life. She had come near to Catherine's spirit in the
growing. Beside that sweet expansion, how poor and feverish and
earth-stained the poor child felt herself!

But there were many currents in Rose--many things striving for the
mastery. She kissed Catherine once or twice, then she drew herself back
suddenly, looking into the other's face. A great wave of feeling rushed
up and broke.

'Catherine, could you ever have married a man that did not believe in
Christ?'

She flung the question out--a kind of morbid curiosity, a wild wish to
find an outlet of some sort for things pent up in her, driving her on.

Catherine started. But she met Rose's half-frowning eyes steadily.

'Never, Rose! To me it would not be marriage.'

The child's face lost its softness. She drew one hand away.

'What have we to do with it?' she cried. 'Each one for himself.'

'But marriage makes two one,' said Catherine, pale, but with a firm
clearness. 'And if husband and wife are only one in body and estate, not
one in soul, why, who that believes in the soul would accept such a
bond, endure such a miserable second best?'

She rose. But though her voice had recovered all its energy, her
attitude, her look was still tenderness, still yearning itself.

'Religion does not fill up the soul,' said Rose slowly. Then she added
carelessly, a passionate red flying into her cheek against her will,
'However, I cannot imagine any question that interests me personally
less. I was curious what you would say.'

And she too got up, drawing her hand lightly along the keyboard of the
piano. Her pose had a kind of defiance in it; her knit brows forbade
Catherine to ask questions. Catherine stood irresolute. Should she throw
herself on her sister, imploring her to speak, opening her own heart on
the subject of this wild unhappy fancy for a man who would never think
again of the child he had played with?

But the North-country dread of words, of speech that only defines and
magnifies, prevailed. Let there be no words, but let her love and watch.

So, after a moment's pause, she began in a different tone upon the
inquiries she had been making, the arrangements that would be wanted for
this musical winter. Rose was almost listless at first. A stranger would
have thought she was being persuaded into something against her will.
But she could not keep it up. The natural instinct reasserted itself,
and she was soon planning and deciding as sharply, and with as much
young omniscience, as usual.

By the evening it was settled. Mrs. Leyburn, much bewildered, asked
Catherine doubtfully, the last thing at night, whether she wanted Rose
to be a professional. Catherine exclaimed.

'But, my dear,' said the widow, staring pensively into her bedroom fire,
'what's she to do with all this music?' Then after a second she added
half severely: 'I don't believe her father would have liked it; I don't,
indeed, Catherine!'

Poor Catherine smiled and sighed in the background, but made no reply.

'However, she never looks so pretty as when she's playing the
violin--never!' said Mrs. Leyburn presently in the distance, with a long
breath of satisfaction. 'She's got such a lovely hand and arm,
Catherine! They're prettier than mine, and even your father used to
notice mine.'

'_Even._' The word had a little sound of bitterness. In spite of all his
love, had the gentle puzzle-headed woman found her unearthly husband
often very hard to live with?

Rose meanwhile was sitting up in bed, with her hands round her knees,
dreaming. So she had got her heart's desire! There did not seem to be
much joy in the getting, but that was the way of things, one was told.
She knew she should hate the Germans--great, bouncing, over-fed,
sentimental creatures!

Then her thoughts ran into the future. After six months--yes, by
April--she would be home, and Agnes and her mother could meet her in
London.

_London._ Ah, it was London she was thinking of all the time, not
Berlin! She could not stay in the present; or rather the Rose of the
present went straining to the Rose of the future, asking to be righted,
to be avenged.

'I will learn--I will learn fast--many things besides music!' she said
to herself feverishly. 'By April I shall be _much_ cleverer. Oh, _then_
I won't be a fool so easily. We shall be sure to meet, of course. But he
shall find out that it was only a _child_, only a silly soft-hearted
baby he played with down here. I shan't care for him in the least, of
course not, not after six months. I don't _mean_ to. And I will make him
know it--oh, I will, though he is so wise, and so much older, and mounts
on such stilts when he pleases!'

So once more Rose flung her defiance at fate. But when Catherine came
along the passage an hour later she heard low sounds from Rose's room,
which ceased abruptly as her step drew near. The elder sister paused;
her eyes filled with tears; her hand closed indignantly. Then she came
closer, all but went in, thought better of it, and moved away. If there
is any truth in brain-waves, Langham should have slept restlessly that
night.

Ten days later an escort had been found, all preparations had been made,
and Rose was gone.

Mrs. Leyburn and Agnes lingered a while, and then they too departed
under an engagement to come back after Christmas for a long stay, that
Mrs. Leyburn might cheat the northern spring a little.

       *       *       *       *       *

So husband and wife were alone again. How they relished their solitude!
Catherine took up many threads of work which her months of comparative
weakness had forced her to let drop. She taught vigorously in the
school; in the afternoons, so far as her child would let her, she
carried her tender presence and her practical knowledge of nursing to
the sick and feeble; and on two evenings in the week she and Robert
threw open a little room there was on the ground-floor between the study
and the dining-room to the women and girls of the village, as a sort of
drawing-room. Hard-worked mothers would come, who had put their fretful
babes to sleep, and given their lords to eat, and had just energy left,
while the eldest daughter watched, and the men were at the club or the
'Blue Boar,' to put on a clean apron and climb the short hill to the
rectory. Once there, there was nothing to think of for an hour but the
bright room, Catherine's kind face, the rector's jokes, and the
illustrated papers or the photographs that were spread out for them to
look at if they would. The girls learned to come, because Catherine
could teach them a simple dressmaking, and was clever in catching stray
persons to set them singing; and because Mr. Elsmere read exciting
stories, and because nothing any one of them ever told Mrs. Elsmere was
forgotten by her, or failed to interest her. Any of her social equals of
the neighbourhood would have hardly recognised the reserved and stately
Catherine on these occasions. Here she felt herself at home, at ease.
She would never, indeed, have Robert's pliancy, his quick divination,
and for some time after her transplanting the North-country woman had
found it very difficult to suit herself to a new shade of local
character. But she was learning from Robert every day; she watched him
among the poor, recognising all his gifts with a humble intensity of
admiring love, which said little but treasured everything, and for
herself her inward happiness and peace shone through her quiet ways,
making her the mother and the friend of all about her.

As for Robert, he, of course, was living at high pressure all round.
Outside his sermons and his school, his Natural History Club had perhaps
most of his heart, and the passion for science, little continuous work
as he was able to give it, grew on him more and more. He kept up as best
he could, working with one hand, so to speak, when he could not spare
two, and in his long rambles over moor and hill, gathering in with his
quick eye a harvest of local fact wherewith to feed their knowledge and
his own.

The mornings he always spent at work among his books, the afternoons in
endless tramps over the parish, sometimes alone, sometimes with
Catherine; and in the evenings, if Catherine was 'at home,' twice a week
to womankind, he had his nights when his study became the haunt and prey
of half the boys in the place, who were free of everything, as soon as
he had taught them to respect his books, and not to taste his medicines;
other nights when he was lecturing or story-telling in the club or in
some outlying hamlet; or others again, when with Catherine beside him he
would sit trying to think some of that religious passion which burned in
both their hearts, into clear words or striking illustrations for his
sermons.

Then his choir was much upon his mind. He knew nothing about music, nor
did Catherine; their efforts made Rose laugh irreverently when she got
their letters at Berlin. But Robert believed in a choir chiefly as an
excellent social and centralising instrument. There had been none in Mr.
Preston's day. He was determined to have one, and a good one, and by
sheer energy he succeeded, delighting in his boyish way over the
opposition some of his novelties excited among the older and more
stiff-backed inhabitants.

'Let them talk,' he would say brightly to Catherine. 'They will come
round; and talk is good. Anything to make them think, to stir the
pool!'

Of course that old problem of the agricultural labourer weighed upon
him--his grievances, his wants. He went about pondering the English land
system, more than half inclined one day to sink part of his capital in a
peasant-proprietor experiment, and ingulfed the next in all the moral
and economical objection, to the French system. Land for allotments, at
any rate, he had set his heart on. But in this direction, as in many
others, the way was barred. All the land in the parish was the squire's,
and not one inch of the squire's land would Henslowe let young Elsmere
have anything to do with if he knew it. He would neither repair nor
enlarge the Workmen's Institute; and he had a way of forgetting the
squire's customary subscriptions to parochial objects, always paid
through him, which gave him much food for chuckling whenever he passed
Elsmere in the country lanes. The man's coarse insolence and mean hatred
made themselves felt at every turn, besmirching and embittering.

Still it was very true that neither Henslowe nor the squire could do
Robert much harm. His hold on the parish was visibly strengthening; his
sermons were not only filling the church with his own parishioners, but
attracting hearers from the districts round Murewell, so that even on
these winter Sundays there was almost always a sprinkling of strange
faces among the congregation; and his position in the county and diocese
was becoming every month more honourable and important. The gentry about
showed them much kindness, and would have shown them much hospitality if
they had been allowed. But though Robert had nothing of the ascetic
about him, and liked the society of his equals as much as most
good-tempered and vivacious people do, he and Catherine decided that for
the present they had no time to spare for visits and county society.
Still, of course, there were many occasions on which the routine of
their life brought them across their neighbours, and it began to be
pretty widely recognised that Elsmere was a young fellow of unusual
promise and intelligence, that his wife too was remarkable, and that
between them they were likely to raise the standard of clerical effort
considerably in their part of Surrey.

All the factors of this life--his work, his influence, his recovered
health, the lavish beauty of the country, Elsmere enjoyed with all his
heart. But at the root of all there lay what gave value and savour to
everything else--that exquisite home-life of theirs, that tender, triple
bond of husband, wife, and child.

Catherine, coming home tired from teaching or visiting, would find her
step quickening as she reached the gate of the rectory, and the sense of
delicious possession waking up in her, which is one of the first fruits
of motherhood. There, at the window, between the lamplight behind and
the winter dusk outside, would be the child in its nurse's arms, little
wondering, motiveless smiles passing over the tiny puckered face that
was so oddly like Robert already. And afterwards, in the fire-lit
nursery, with the bath in front of the high fender, and all the
necessaries of baby life beside it, she would go through those functions
which mothers love and linger over, let the kicking dimpled creature
principally concerned protest as it may against the over-refinements of
civilisation. Then, when the little restless voice was stilled, and the
cradle left silent in the darkened room, there would come the short
watching for Robert, his voice, his kiss, their simple meal together, a
moment of rest, of laughter and chat, before some fresh effort claimed
them. Every now and then--white-letter days--there would drop on them a
long evening together. Then out would come one or the few books--Dante
or Virgil or Milton--which had entered into the fibre of Catherine's
strong nature. The two heads would draw close over them, or Robert would
take some thought of hers as a text, and spout away from the hearthrug,
watching all the while for her smile, her look of assent. Sometimes,
late at night, when there was a sermon on his mind, he would dive into
his pocket for his Greek Testament and make her read, partly for the
sake of teaching her--for she knew some Greek and longed to know
more--but mostly that he might get from her some of that garnered wealth
of spiritual experience which he adored in her. They would go from verse
to verse, from thought to thought, till suddenly perhaps the tide of
feeling would rise, and while the wind swept round the house, and the
owls hooted in the elms, they would sit hand in hand, lost in love and
faith,--Christ near them--Eternity, warm with God, enwrapping them.

       *       *       *       *       *

So much for the man of action, the husband, the philanthropist. In
reality, great as was the moral energy of this period of Elsmere's life,
the dominant distinguishing note of it was not moral but intellectual.

In matters of conduct he was but developing habits and tendencies
already strongly present in him; in matters of thinking, with every
month of this winter he was becoming conscious of fresh forces, fresh
hunger, fresh horizons.

'_One half of your day be the king of your world_,' Mr. Grey had said to
him; '_the other half be the slave of something which will take you out
of your world_, into the general life, the life of thought, of man as a
whole, of the universe.'

The counsel, as we have seen, had struck root and flowered into action.
So many men of Elsmere's type give themselves up once and for all as
they become mature to the life of doing and feeling, practically
excluding the life of thought. It was Henry Grey's influence in all
probability, perhaps, too, the training of an earlier Langham, that
saved for Elsmere the life of thought.

The form taken by this training of his own mind he had been thus
encouraged not to abandon, was, as we know, the study of history. He had
well mapped out before him that book on the origins of France which he
had described to Langham. It was to take him years, of course, and
meanwhile, in his first enthusiasm, he was like a child, revelling in
the treasure of work that lay before him. As he had told Langham, he had
just got below the surface of a great subject and was beginning to dig
into the roots of it. Hitherto he had been under the guidance of men of
his own day, of the nineteenth century historian, who refashions the
past on the lines of his own mind, who gives it rationality, coherence,
and, as it were, modernness, so that the main impression he produces on
us, so long as we look at that past through him only, is on the whole an
impression of _continuity_, of _resemblance_.

Whereas, on the contrary, the first impression left on a man by the
attempt to plunge into the materials of history for himself is almost
always an extraordinarily sharp impression of _difference_, of
_contrast_. Ultimately, of course, he sees that these men and women
whose letters and biographies, whose creeds and general conceptions he
is investigating, are in truth his ancestors, bone of his bone, flesh of
his flesh. But at first the student who goes back, say, in the history
of Europe, behind the Renaissance or behind the Crusades into the actual
deposits of the past, is often struck with a kind of _vertige_. The men
and women whom he has dragged forth into the light of his own mind are
to him like some strange puppet-show. They are called by names he
knows--kings, bishops, judges, poets, priests, men of letters--but what
a gulf between him and them! What motives, what beliefs, what embryonic
processes of thought and morals, what bizarre combinations of ignorance
and knowledge, of the highest sanctity with the lowest credulity or
falsehood; what extraordinary prepossessions, born with a man and
tainting his whole ways of seeing and thinking from childhood to the
grave! Amid all the intellectual dislocation of the spectacle, indeed,
he perceives certain Greeks and certain Latins who represent a forward
strain, who belong as it seems to a world of their own, a world ahead of
them. To them he stretches out his hand: '_You_,' he says to them,
'though your priests spoke to you not of Christ, but of Zeus and
Artemis, _you_ are really my kindred!' But intellectually they stand
alone. Around them, after them, for long ages the world 'spake as a
child, felt as a child, understood as a child.'

Then he sees what it is makes the difference, digs the gulf.
'_Science_,' the mind cries, '_ordered knowledge_.' And so for the first
time the modern recognises what the accumulations of his forefathers
have done for him. He takes the torch which man has been so long and
patiently fashioning to his hand, and turns it on the past, and at every
step the sight grows stranger, and yet more moving, more pathetic. The
darkness into which he penetrates does but make him grasp his own
guiding light the more closely. And yet, bit by bit, it has been
prepared for him by these groping half conscious generations, and the
scrutiny which began in repulsion and laughter ends in a marvelling
gratitude.

But the repulsion and the laughter come first, and during this winter of
work Elsmere felt them both very strongly. He would sit in the morning
buried among the records of decaying Rome and emerging France,
surrounded by Chronicles, by Church Councils, by lives of the Saints, by
primitive systems of law, pushing his imaginative impetuous way through
them. Sometimes Catherine would be there, and he would pour out on her
something of what was in his own mind.

One day he was deep in the life of a certain saint. The saint had been
bishop of a diocese in Southern France. His biographer was his successor
in the see, a man of high political importance in the Burgundian state,
renowned besides for sanctity and learning. Only some twenty years
separated the biography, at the latest, from the death of its subject.
It contained some curious material for social history, and Robert was
reading it with avidity. But it was, of course, a tissue of marvels. The
young bishop had practised every virtue known to the time, and wrought
every conceivable miracle, and the miracles were better told than usual,
with more ingenuity, more imagination. Perhaps on that account they
struck the reader's sense more sharply.

'And the saint said to the sorcerers and to the practisers of unholy
arts, that they should do those evil things no more, for he had bound
the spirits of whom they were wont to inquire, and they would get no
further answers to their incantations. Then those stiff-necked sons of
the devil fell upon the man of God, scourged him sore, and threatened
him with death, if he would not instantly loose those spirits he had
bound. And seeing he could prevail nothing, and being, moreover,
admonished by God so to do, he permitted them to work their own
damnation. For he called for a parchment and wrote upon it, "_Ambrose
unto Satan--Enter!_" Then was the spell loosed, the spirits returned,
the sorcerers inquired as they were accustomed, and received answers.
But in a short space of time every one of them perished miserably and
was delivered unto his natural lord Satanas, whereunto he belonged.'

Robert made a hasty exclamation, and turning to Catherine, who was
working beside him, read the passage to her, with a few words as to the
book and its author.

Catherine's work dropped a moment on to her knee.

'What extraordinary superstition!' she said, startled. 'A bishop,
Robert, and an educated man?'

Robert nodded.

'But it is the whole habit of mind,' he said half to himself, staring
into the fire, 'that is so astounding. No one escapes it. The whole age
really is non-sane.'

'I suppose the devout Catholic would believe that?'

'I am not sure,' said Robert dreamily, and remained sunk in thought for
long after, while Catherine worked, and pondered a Christmas
entertainment for her girls.

       *       *       *       *       *

Perhaps it was his scientific work, fragmentary as it was, that was
really quickening and sharpening these historical impressions of his.
Evolution--once a mere germ in the mind--was beginning to press, to
encroach, to intermeddle with the mind's other furniture.

And the comparative instinct--that tool, _par excellence_, of modern
science--was at last fully awake, was growing fast, taking hold, now
here, now there.

'It is tolerably clear to me,' he said to himself suddenly one winter
afternoon, as he was trudging home alone from Mile End, 'that some day
or other I must set to work to bring a little order into one's notions
of the Old Testament. At present they are just a chaos!'

He walked on a while, struggling with the rainstorm which had overtaken
him, till again the mind's quick life took voice.

'But what matter? God in the beginning--God in the prophets--in Israel's
best life--God in Christ! How are any theories about the Pentateuch to
touch that?'

And into the clear eyes, the young face aglow with wind and rain, there
leapt a light, a softness indescribable.

But the vivider and the keener grew this new mental life of Elsmere's,
the more constant became his sense of soreness as to that foolish and
motiveless quarrel which divided him from the squire. Naturally he was
for ever being harassed and pulled up in his work by the mere loss of
the Murewell library. To have such a collection so close, and to be cut
off from it, was a state of things no student could help feeling
severely. But it was much more than that: it was the man he hankered
after; the man who was a master where he was a beginner; the man who had
given his life to learning, and was carrying all his vast accumulations
sombrely to the grave, unused, untransmitted.

'He might have given me his knowledge,' thought Elsmere sadly, 'and
I--I--would have been a son to him. Why is life so perverse?'

Meanwhile he was as much cut off from the great house and its master as
though both had been surrounded by the thorn hedge of fairy tale. The
Hall had its visitors during these winter months, but the Elsmeres saw
nothing of them. Robert gulped down a natural sigh when one Saturday
evening, as he passed the Hall gates, he saw driving through them the
chief of English science side by side with the most accomplished of
English critics.

'"There are good times in the world and I ain't in 'em!"' he said to
himself with a laugh and a shrug as he turned up the lane to the
rectory, and then, boy-like, was ashamed of himself, and greeted
Catherine with all the tenderer greeting.

Only on two occasions during three months could he be sure of having
seen the squire. Both were in the twilight, when, as the neighbourhood
declared, Mr. Wendover always walked, and both made a sharp impression
on the rector's nerves. In the heart of one of the loneliest commons of
the parish Robert, swinging along one November evening through the
scattered furze bushes, growing ghostly in the darkness, was suddenly
conscious of a cloaked figure with slouching shoulders and head bent
forward coming towards him. It passed without recognition of any kind,
and for an instant Robert caught the long sharpened features and haughty
eyes of the squire.

At another time Robert was walking, far from home, along a bit of level
road. The pools in the ruts were just filmed with frost, and gleamed
under the sunset; the winter dusk was clear and chill. A horseman turned
into the road from a side lane. It was the squire again, alone. The
sharp sound of the approaching hoofs stirred Robert's pulse, and as they
passed each other the rector raised his hat. He thought his greeting was
acknowledged, but could not be quite sure. From the shelter of a group
of trees he stood a moment and looked after the retreating figure. It
and the horse showed dark against a wide sky barred by stormy reds and
purples. The wind whistled through the withered oaks; the long road with
its lines of glimmering pools seemed to stretch endlessly into the
sunset; and with every minute the night strode on. Age and loneliness
could have found no fitter setting. A shiver ran through Elsmere as he
stepped forward.

Undoubtedly the quarrel, helped by his work, and the perpetual presence
of that beautiful house commanding the whole country round it from its
plateau above the river, kept Elsmere specially in mind of the squire.
As before their first meeting, and in spite of it, he became more and
more imaginatively preoccupied with him. One of the signs of it was a
strong desire to read the squire's two famous books: one, _The Idols of
the Market-place_, an attack on English beliefs; the other, _Essays on
English Culture_, an attack on English ideals of education. He had never
come across them as it happened, and perhaps Newcome's denunciation had
some effect in inducing him for a time to refrain from reading them. But
in December he ordered them and waited their coming with impatience. He
said nothing of the order to Catherine; somehow there were by now two or
three portions of his work, two or three branches of his thought, which
had fallen out of their common discussion. After all she was not
literary, and with all their oneness of soul there could not be an
_identity_ of interests or pursuits.

The books arrived in the morning. (Oh, how dismally well, with what a
tightening of the heart, did Robert always remember that day in after
years!) He was much too busy to look at them, and went off to a meeting.
In the evening, coming home late from his night-school, he found
Catherine tired, sent her to bed, and went himself into his study to
put together some notes for a cottage lecture he was to give the
following day. The packet of books, unopened, lay on his writing-table.
He took off the wrapper, and in his eager way fell to reading the first
he touched.

It was the first volume of _The Idols of the Market-place_.

Ten or twelve years before, Mr. Wendover had launched this book into a
startled and protesting England. It had been the fruit of his first
renewal of contact with English life and English ideas after his return
from Berlin. Fresh from the speculative ferment of Germany and the far
profaner scepticism of France, he had returned to a society where the
first chapter of Genesis and the theory of verbal inspiration were still
regarded as valid and important counters on the board of thought. The
result had been this book. In it each stronghold of English popular
religion had been assailed in turn, at a time when English orthodoxy was
a far more formidable thing than it is now.

The Pentateuch, the Prophets, the Gospels, St. Paul, Tradition, the
Fathers, Protestantism and Justification by Faith, the Eighteenth
Century, the Broad Church Movement, Anglican Theology--the squire had
his say about them all. And while the coolness and frankness of the
method sent a shock of indignation and horror through the religious
public, the subtle and caustic style, and the epigrams with which the
book was strewn, forced both the religious and irreligious public to
read, whether they would or no. A storm of controversy rose round the
volumes, and some of the keenest observers of English life had said at
the time, and maintained since, that the publication of the book had
made or marked an epoch.

Robert had lit on those pages in the Essay on the Gospels where the
squire fell to analysing the evidence for the Resurrection, following up
his analysis by an attempt at reconstructing the conditions out of which
the belief in 'the legend' arose. Robert began to read vaguely at first,
then to hurry on through page after page, still standing, seized at once
by the bizarre power of the style, the audacity and range of the
treatment.

Not a sound in the house. Outside, the tossing moaning December night;
inside, the faintly crackling fire, the standing figure. Suddenly it was
to Robert as though a cruel torturing hand were laid upon his inmost
being. His breath failed him; the book slipped out of his grasp; he sank
down upon his chair, his head in his hands. Oh, what a desolate
intolerable moment! Over the young idealist soul there swept a dry
destroying whirlwind of thought. Elements gathered from all
sources--from his own historical work, from the squire's book, from the
secret half-conscious recesses of the mind--entered into it, and as it
passed it seemed to scorch the heart.

He stayed bowed there a while, then he roused himself with a half-groan,
and hastily extinguishing his lamp he groped his way upstairs to his
wife's room. Catherine lay asleep. The child, lost among its white
coverings, slept too; there was a dim light over the bed, the books, the
pictures. Beside his wife's pillow was a table on which there lay open
her little Testament and the _Imitation_ her father had given her.
Elsmere sank down beside her, appalled by the contrast between this soft
religious peace and that black agony of doubt which still overshadowed
him. He knelt there, restraining his breath lest it should wake her,
wrestling piteously with himself, crying for pardon, for faith, feeling
himself utterly unworthy to touch even the dear hand that lay so near
him. But gradually the traditional forces of his life reasserted
themselves. The horror lifted. Prayer brought comfort and a passionate
healing self-abasement. 'Master, forgive--defend--purify,' cried the
aching heart. '_There is none other that fighteth for us, but only Thou,
O God!_'

He did not open the book again. Next morning he put it back into his
shelves. If there were any Christian who could affront such an
antagonist with a light heart, he felt with a shudder of memory it was
not he.

'I have neither learning nor experience enough--yet,' he said to himself
slowly as he moved away, 'of course it can be met, but _I_ must grow;
must think--first.'

And of that night's wrestle he said not a word to any living soul. He
did penance for it in the tenderest, most secret ways, but he shrank in
misery from the thought of revealing it even to Catherine.



CHAPTER XXI


Meanwhile the poor poisoned folk at Mile End lived and apparently
throve, in defiance of all the laws of the universe. Robert, as soon as
he found that radical measures were for the time hopeless, had applied
himself with redoubled energy to making the people use such palliatives
as were within their reach, and had preached boiled water and the
removal of filth till, as he declared to Catherine, his dreams were one
long sanitary nightmare. But he was not confiding enough to believe that
the people paid much heed, and he hoped more from a dry hard winter than
from any exertion either of his or theirs.

But, alas! with the end of November a season of furious rain set in.

Then Robert began to watch Mile End with anxiety, for so far every
outbreak of illness there had followed upon unusual damp. But the rains
passed, leaving behind them no worse results than the usual winter crop
of lung ailments and rheumatism, and he breathed again.

Christmas came and went, and with the end of December the wet weather
returned. Day after day rolling masses of south-west cloud came up from
the Atlantic and wrapped the whole country in rain, which reminded
Catherine of her Westmoreland rain more than any she had yet seen in the
South. Robert accused her of liking it for that reason, but she shook
her head with a sigh, declaring that it was 'nothing without the becks.'

One afternoon she was shutting the door of the school behind her, and
stepping out on the road skirting the green--the bedabbled wintry
green--when she saw Robert emerging from the Mile End lane. She crossed
over to him, wondering as she neared him that he seemed to take no
notice of her. He was striding along, his wideawake over his eyes, and
so absorbed that she had almost touched him before he saw her.

'Darling, is that you? Don't stop me, I am going to take the
pony-carriage in for Meyrick. I have just come back from that accursed
place; three cases of diphtheria in one house, Sharland's wife--and two
others down with fever.'

She made a horrified exclamation.

'It will spread,' he said gloomily, 'I know it will. I never saw the
children look such a ghastly crew before. Well, I must go for Meyrick
and a nurse, and we must isolate and make a fight for it.'

In a few days the diphtheria epidemic in the hamlet had reached terrible
proportions. There had been one death, others were expected, and soon
Robert in his brief hours at home could find no relief in anything, so
heavy was the oppression of the day's memories. At first Catherine for
the child's sake kept away; but the little Mary was weaned, had a good
Scotch nurse, was in every way thriving, and after a day or two
Catherine's craving to help, to be with Robert in his trouble, was too
strong to be withstood. But she dared not go backwards and forwards
between her baby and the diphtheritic children. So she bethought herself
of Mrs. Elsmere's servant, old Martha, who was still inhabiting Mrs.
Elsmere's cottage till a tenant could be found for it, and doing good
service meanwhile as an occasional parish nurse. The baby and its nurse
went over to the cottage. Catherine carried the child there, wrapped
close in maternal arms, and leaving her on old Martha's lap, went back
to Robert.

Then she and he devoted themselves to a hand-to-hand fight with the
epidemic. At the climax of it there were about twenty children down with
it in different stages, and seven cases of fever. They had two hospital
nurses; one of the better cottages, turned into a sanatorium,
accommodated the worst cases under the nurses, and Robert and Catherine,
directed by them and the doctors, took the responsibility of the rest,
he helping to nurse the boys and she the girls. Of the fever cases
Sharland's wife was the worst. A feeble creature at all times, it seemed
almost impossible she could weather through. But day after day passed,
and by dint of incessant nursing she still lived. A youth of twenty,
the main support of a mother and five or six younger children was also
desperately ill. Robert hardly ever had him out of his thoughts, and the
boy's dog-like affection for the rector, struggling with his deathly
weakness, was like a perpetual exemplification of Ahriman and
Ormuzd--the power of life struggling with the power of death.

It was a fierce fight. Presently it seemed to the husband and wife as
though the few daily hours spent at the rectory were mere halts between
successive acts of battle with the plague-fiend--a more real and grim
Grendel of the Marshes--for the lives of children. Catherine could
always sleep in these intervals, quietly and dreamlessly; Robert very
soon could only sleep by the help of some prescription of old Meyrick's.
On all occasions of strain since his boyhood there had been signs in him
of a certain lack of constitutional hardness which his mother knew very
well, but which his wife was only just beginning to recognise. However,
he laughed to scorn any attempt to restrain his constant goings and
comings, or those hours of night-nursing, in which, as the hospital
nurses were the first to admit, no one was so successful as the rector.
And when he stood up on Sundays to preach in Murewell Church, the worn
and spiritual look of the man, and the knowledge warm at each heart of
those before him of how the rector not only talked but lived, carried
every word home.

This strain upon all the moral and physical forces, however, strangely
enough, came to Robert as a kind of relief. It broke through a tension
of brain which of late had become an oppression. And for both him and
Catherine these dark times had moments of intensest joy, points of white
light illuminating heaven and earth. There were cloudy nights--wet,
stormy January nights--when sometimes it happened to them to come back
both together from the hamlet, Robert carrying a lantern, Catherine
clothed in waterproof from head to foot, walking beside him, the rays
flashing now on her face, now on the wooded sides of the lane, while the
wind howled through the dark vault of branches overhead. And then, as
they talked or were silent, suddenly a sense of the intense blessedness
of this comradeship of theirs would rise like a flood in the man's
heart, and he would fling his free arm round her, forcing her to stand a
moment in the January night and storm while he said to her words of
passionate gratitude, of faith in an immortal union reaching beyond
change or death, lost in a kiss which was a sacrament. Then there were
the moments when they saw their child, held high in Martha's arms at the
window, and leaping towards her mother; the moments when one pallid
sickly being after another was pronounced out of danger; and by the help
of them the weeks passed away.

Nor were they left without help from outside. Lady Helen Varley no
sooner heard the news than she hurried over. Robert, on his way one
morning from one cottage to another, saw her pony-carriage in the lane.
He hastened up to her before she could dismount.

'No, Lady Helen, you mustn't come here,' he said to her peremptorily, as
she held out her hand.

'Oh, Mr. Elsmere, let me. My boy is in town with his grandmother. Let me
just go through, at any rate, and see what I can send you.'

Robert shook his head, smiling. A common friend of theirs and hers had
once described this little lady to Elsmere by a French sentence which
originally applied to the Duchesse de Choiseul. 'Une charmante petite
fée sortie d'un oeuf enchanté!'--so it ran. Certainly, as Elsmere
looked down upon her now, fresh from those squalid death-stricken hovels
behind him, he was brought more abruptly than ever upon the contrasts of
life. Lady Helen wore a green velvet and fur mantle, in the production
of which even Worth had felt some pride; a little green velvet bonnet
perched on her fair hair; one tiny hand, ungloved, seemed ablaze with
diamonds; there were opals and diamonds somewhere at her throat,
gleaming among her sables. But she wore her jewels as carelessly as she
wore her high birth, her quaint irregular prettiness, or the one or two
brilliant gifts which made her sought after wherever she went. She loved
her opals as she loved all bright things; if it pleased her to wear them
in the morning, she wore them; and in five minutes she was capable of
making the sourest puritan forget to frown on her and them. To Robert
she always seemed the quintessence of breeding, of aristocracy at their
best. All her freaks, her sallies, her absurdities even, were graceful.
At her freest and gayest there were things in her--restraints,
reticences, perceptions--which implied behind her generations of rich,
happy, important people, with ample leisure to cultivate all the more
delicate niceties of social feeling and relation. Robert was often
struck by the curious differences between her and Rose. Rose was far the
handsomer; she was at least as clever; and she had a strong imperious
will where Lady Helen had only impulses and sympathies and
_engouements_. But Rose belonged to the class which struggles, where
each individual depends on himself and knows it. Lady Helen had never
struggled for anything--all the best things of the world were hers so
easily that she hardly gave them a thought; or rather, what she had
gathered without pain she held so lightly, she dispensed so lavishly,
that men's eyes followed her, fluttering through life, with much the
same feeling as was struck from Clough's radical hero by the peerless
Lady Maria--

    'Live, be lovely, forget us, be beautiful, even to proudness,
     Even for their poor sakes whose happiness is to behold you;
     Live, be uncaring, be joyous, be sumptuous; only be lovely!'

'Uncaring,' however, little Lady Helen never was. If she was a fairy,
she was a fairy all heart, all frank foolish smiles and tears.

'No, Lady Helen--no,' Robert said again. 'This is no place for you, and
we are getting on capitally.'

She pouted a little.

'I believe you and Mrs. Elsmere are just killing yourselves all in a
corner, with no one to see,' she said indignantly. 'If you won't let me
see, I shall send Sir Harry. But who'--and her brown fawn's eyes ran
startled over the cottages before her--'who, Mr. Elsmere, does this
_dreadful_ place belong to?'

'Mr. Wendover,' said Robert shortly.

'Impossible!' she cried incredulously. 'Why, I wouldn't ask one of my
dogs to sleep there,' and she pointed to the nearest hovel, whereof the
walls were tottering outwards, the thatch was falling to pieces, and the
windows were mended with anything that came handy--rags, paper, or the
crown of an old hat.

'No, you would be ill advised,' said Robert, looking with a bitter
little smile at the sleek dachshund that sat blinking beside its
mistress.

'But what is the agent about?'

Then Robert told her the story, not mincing his words. Since the
epidemic had begun, all that sense of imaginative attraction which had
been reviving in him towards the squire had been simply blotted out by a
fierce heat of indignation. When he thought of Mr. Wendover now, he
thought of him as the man to whom in strict truth it was owing that
helpless children died in choking torture. All that agony of wrath and
pity he had gone through in the last ten days sprang to his lips now as
he talked to Lady Helen, and poured itself into his words.

'Old Meyrick and I have taken things into our own hands now,' he said at
last briefly. 'We have already made two cottages fairly habitable.
To-morrow the inspector comes. I told the people yesterday I wouldn't be
bound by my promise a day longer. He must put the screw on Henslowe, and
if Henslowe dawdles, why we shall just drain and repair and sink for a
well ourselves. I can find the money somehow. At present we get all our
water from one of the farms on the brow.'

'Money!' said Lady Helen impulsively, her looks warm with sympathy for
the pale harassed young rector. 'Sir Harry shall send you as much as you
want. And anything else--blankets--coals?'

Out came her note-book, and Robert was drawn into a list. Then, full of
joyfulness at being allowed to help, she gathered up her reins, she
nodded her pretty little head at him, and was just starting off her
ponies at full speed, equally eager 'to tell Harry' and to ransack
Churton for the stores required, when it occurred to her to pull up
again.

'Oh, Mr. Elsmere, my aunt, Lady Charlotte, does nothing but talk about
your sister-in-law. _Why_ did you keep her all to yourself? Is it kind,
is it neighbourly, to have such a wonder to stay with you and let nobody
share?'

'A wonder?' said Robert, amused. 'Rose plays the violin very well,
but----'

'As if relations ever saw one in proper perspective!' exclaimed Lady
Helen. 'My aunt wants to be allowed to have her in town next season if
you will all let her. I think she would find it fun. Aunt Charlotte
knows all the world and his wife. And if I'm there, and Miss Leyburn
will let me make friends with her, why, you know, _I_ can just protect
her a little from Aunt Charlotte!'

The little laughing face bent forward again; Robert, smiling, raised his
hat, and the ponies whirled her off. In anybody else Elsmere would have
thought all this effusion insincere or patronising. But Lady Helen was
the most spontaneous of mortals, and the only high-born woman he had
ever met who was really, and not only apparently, free from the
'nonsense of rank.' Robert shrewdly suspected Lady Charlotte's social
tolerance to be a mere varnish. But this little person, and her
favourite brother Hugh, to judge from the accounts of him, must always
have found life too romantic, too wildly and delightfully interesting
from top to bottom, to be measured by any but romantic standards.

Next day Sir Harry Varley, a great burly country squire, who adored his
wife, kept the hounds, owned a model estate, and thanked God every
morning that he was an Englishman, rode over to Mile End. Robert, who
had just been round the place with the inspector and was dead tired, had
only energy to show him a few of the worst enormities. Sir Harry,
leaving a cheque behind him, rode off with a discharge of strong
language, at which Robert, clergyman as he was, only grimly smiled.

A few days later Mr. Wendover's crimes as a landowner, his agent's
brutality, young Elsmere's devotion, and the horrors of the Mile End
outbreak, were in everybody's mouths. The county was roused. The Radical
newspaper came out on the Saturday with a flaming article; Robert, much
to his annoyance, found himself the local hero; and money began to come
in to him freely.

On the Monday morning Henslowe appeared on the scene with an army of
workmen. A racy communication from the inspector had reached him two
days before, so had a copy of the _Churton Advertiser_. He had spent
Sunday in a drinking bout, turning over all possible plans of vengeance
and evasion. Towards the evening, however, his wife, a gaunt clever
Scotchwoman, who saw ruin before them, and had on occasion an even
sharper tongue than her husband, managed to capture the supplies of
brandy in the house and effectually conceal them. Then she waited for
the moment of collapse which came on towards morning, and with her hands
on her hips she poured into him a volley of home-truths which not even
Sir Harry Varley could have bettered. Henslowe's nerve gave way. He went
out at daybreak, white and sullen, to look for workmen.

Robert, standing on the step of a cottage, watched him give his orders,
and took vigilant note of their substance. They embodied the inspector's
directions, and the rector was satisfied. Henslowe was obliged to pass
him on his way to another group of houses. At first he affected not to
see the rector, then suddenly Elsmere was conscious that the man's
bloodshot eyes were on him. Such a look! If hate could have killed,
Elsmere would have fallen where he stood. Yet the man's hand
mechanically moved to his hat, as though the spell of his wife's
harangue were still potent over his shaking muscles.

Robert took no notice whatever of the salutation. He stood calmly
watching till Henslowe disappeared into the last house. Then he called
one of the agent's train, heard what was to be done, gave a sharp nod of
assent, and turned on his heel. So far so good: the servant had been
made to feel, but he wished it had been the master. Oh, those three
little emaciated creatures whose eyes he had closed, whose clammy hands
he had held to the last!--what reckoning should be asked for their
undeserved torments when the Great Account came to be made up?

Meanwhile not a sound apparently of all this reached the squire in the
sublime solitude of Murewell. A fortnight had passed. Henslowe had been
conquered, the county had rushed to Elsmere's help, and neither he nor
Mrs. Darcy had made a sign. Their life was so abnormal that it was
perfectly possible they had heard nothing. Elsmere wondered when they
_would_ hear.

The rector's chief help and support all through had been old Meyrick.
The parish doctor had been in bed with rheumatism when the epidemic
broke out, and Robert, feeling it a comfort to be rid of him, had thrown
the whole business into the hands of Meyrick and his son. This son was
nominally his father's junior partner, but as he was, besides, a young
and brilliant M.D. fresh from a great hospital, and his father was just
a poor old general practitioner, with the barest qualification, and only
forty years' experience to recommend him, it will easily be imagined
that the subordination was purely nominal. Indeed young Meyrick was fast
ousting his father in all directions, and the neighbourhood, which had
so far found itself unable either to enter or to quit this mortal scene
without old Meyrick's assistance, was beginning to send notes to the
house in Churton High Street, whereon the superscription 'Dr. _Edward_
Meyrick' was underlined with ungrateful emphasis. The father took his
deposition very quietly. Only on Murewell Hall would he allow no
trespassing, and so long as his son left him undisturbed there, he took
his effacement in other quarters with perfect meekness.

Young Elsmere's behaviour to him, however, at a time when all the rest
of the Churton world was beginning to hold him cheap and let him see it,
had touched the old man's heart, and he was the rector's slave in this
Mile End business. Edward Meyrick would come whirling in and out of the
hamlet once a day. Robert was seldom sorry to see the back of him. His
attainments, of course, were useful, but his cocksureness was
irritating, and his manner to his father abominable. The father, on the
other hand, came over in the shabby pony-cart he had driven for the last
forty years, and having himself no press of business, would spend hours
with the rector over the cases, giving them an infinity of patient
watching, and amusing Robert by the cautious hostility he would allow
himself every now and then towards his son's new-fangled devices.

At first Meyrick showed himself fidgety as to the squire. Had he been
seen, been heard from? He received Robert's sharp negatives with long
sighs, but Robert clearly saw that, like the rest of the world, he was
too much afraid of Mr. Wendover to go and beard him. Some months before,
as it happened, Elsmere had told him the story of his encounter with the
squire, and had been a good deal moved and surprised by the old man's
concern.

One day, about three weeks from the beginning of the outbreak, when the
state of things in the hamlet was beginning decidedly to mend, Meyrick
arrived for his morning round, much preoccupied. He hurried his work a
little, and after it was done asked Robert to walk up the road with him.

'I have seen the squire, sir,' he said, turning on his companion with a
certain excitement.

Robert flushed.

'Have you?' he replied with his hands behind him, and a world of
expression in his sarcastic voice.

'You misjudge him! You misjudge him, Mr. Elsmere!' the old man said
tremulously. 'I told you he could know nothing of this business--and he
didn't! He has been in town part of the time, and down here--how is he
to know anything? He sees nobody. That man Henslowe, sir, must be a real
_bad_ fellow.'

'Don't abuse the man,' said Robert, looking up. 'It's not worth while,
when you can say your mind of the master.'

Old Meyrick sighed.

'Well,' said Robert, after a moment, his lip drawn and quivering, 'you
told him the story, I suppose? Seven deaths, is it, by now? Well, what
sort of impression did these unfortunate accidents'--and he
smiled--'produce?'

'He talked of sending money,' said Meyrick doubtfully; 'he said he would
have Henslowe up and inquire. He seemed put about and annoyed. Oh, Mr.
Elsmere, you think too hardly of the squire, that you do!'

They strolled on together in silence. Robert was not inclined to
discuss the matter. But old Meyrick seemed to be labouring under some
suppressed emotion, and presently he began upon his own experiences as a
doctor of the Wendover family. He had already broached the subject more
or less vaguely with Robert. Now, however, he threw his medical reserve,
generally his strongest characteristic, to the winds. He insisted on
telling his companion, who listened reluctantly, the whole miserable and
ghastly story of the old squire's suicide. He described the heir's
summons, his arrival just in time for the last scene with all its
horrors, and that mysterious condition of the squire for some months
afterwards, when no one, not even Mrs. Darcy, had been admitted to the
Hall, and old Meyrick, directed at intervals by a great London doctor,
had been the only spectator of Roger Wendover's physical and mental
breakdown, the only witness of that dark consciousness of inherited
fatality which at that period of his life not even the squire's iron
will had been able wholly to conceal.

Robert, whose attention was inevitably roused after a while, found
himself with some curiosity realising the squire from another man's
totally different point of view. Evidently Meyrick had seen him at such
moments as wring from the harshest nature whatever grains of tenderness,
of pity, or of natural human weakness may be in it. And it was clear,
too, that the squire, conscious perhaps of a shared secret, and feeling
a certain soothing influence in the _naïveté_ and simplicity of the old
man's sympathy, had allowed himself at times, in the years succeeding
that illness of his, an amount of unbending in Meyrick's presence, such
as probably no other mortal had ever witnessed in him since his earliest
youth.

And yet how childish the old man's whole mental image of the squire was
after all! What small account it made of the subtleties, the gnarled
intricacies and contradictions of such a character! Horror at his
father's end, and dread of a like fate for himself! Robert did not know
very much of the squire, but he knew enough to feel sure that this
confiding indulgent theory of Meyrick's was ludicrously far from the
mark as an adequate explanation of Mr. Wendover's later life.

Presently Meyrick became aware of the sort of tacit resistance which his
companion's mind was opposing to his own. He dropped the wandering
narrative he was busy upon with a sigh.

'Ah well, I daresay it's hard, it's hard,' he said with patient
acquiescence in his voice, 'to believe a man can't help himself. I
daresay we doctors get to muddle up right and wrong. But if ever there
was a man sick in mind--for all his book-learning they talk about--and
sick in soul, that man is the squire.'

Robert looked at him with a softer expression. There was a new dignity
about the simple old man. The old-fashioned deference, which had never
let him forget in speaking to Robert that he was speaking to a man of
family, and which showed itself in all sorts of antiquated locutions
which were a torment to his son, had given way to something still more
deeply ingrained. His gaunt figure, with the stoop, and the spectacles
and the long straight hair--like the figure of a superannuated
schoolmaster--assumed, as he turned again to his younger companion,
something of authority, something almost of stateliness.

'Ah, Mr. Elsmere,' he said, laying his shrunk hand on the younger
man's sleeve and speaking with emotion, 'you're very good to the
poor. We're all proud of you--you and your good lady. But when
you were coming, and I heard tell all about you, I thought of
my poor squire, and I said to myself, "That young man'll be good
to _him_. The squire will make friends with him, and Mr. Elsmere
will have a good wife--and there'll be children born to him--and
the squire will take an interest--and--and--maybe----'"

The old man paused. Robert grasped his hand silently.

'And there was something in the way between you,' the speaker went on,
sighing. 'I daresay you were quite right--quite right. I can't judge.
Only there are ways of doing a thing. And it was a last chance; and now
its missed--it's missed. Ah! it's no good talking; he has a heart--he
has! Many's the kind thing he's done in old days for me and mine--I'll
never forget them! But all these last few years--oh, I know, I know. You
can't go and shut your heart up, and fly in the face of all the duties
the Lord laid on you, without losing yourself and setting the Lord
against you. But it is pitiful, Mr. Elsmere, it's pitiful!'

It seemed to Robert suddenly as though there was a Divine breath passing
through the wintry lane and through the shaking voice of the old man.
Beside the spirit looking out of those wrinkled eyes, his own hot youth,
its justest resentments, its most righteous angers, seemed crude, harsh,
inexcusable.

'Thank you, Meyrick, thank you, and God bless you! Don't imagine I will
forget a word you have said to me.'

The rector shook the hand he held warmly twice over, a gentle smile
passed over Meyrick's ageing face, and they parted.

That night it fell to Robert to sit up after midnight with John Allwood,
the youth of twenty whose case had been a severer tax on the powers of
the little nursing staff than perhaps any other. Mother and neighbours
were worn out, and it was difficult to spare a hospital nurse for long
together from the diphtheria cases. Robert, therefore, had insisted
during the preceding week on taking alternate nights with one of the
nurses. During the first hours before midnight he slept soundly on a bed
made up in the ground-floor room of the little sanatorium. Then at
twelve the nurse called him, and he went out, his eyes still heavy with
sleep, into a still frosty winter's night.

After so much rain, so much restlessness of wind and cloud, the silence
and the starry calm of it were infinitely welcome. The sharp cold air
cleared his brain and braced his nerves, and by the time he reached the
cottage whither he was bound, he was broad awake. He opened the door
softly, passed through the lower room, crowded with sleeping children,
climbed the narrow stairs as noiselessly as possible, and found himself
in a garret, faintly lit, a bed in one corner and a woman sitting beside
it. The woman glided away, the rector looked carefully at the table of
instructions hanging over the bed, assured himself that wine and milk
and beef essence and medicines were ready to his hand, put out his watch
on the wooden table near the bed, and sat him down to his task. The boy
was sleeping the sleep of weakness. Food was to be given every
half-hour, and in this perpetual impulse to the system lay his only
chance.

The rector had his Greek Testament with him, and could just read it by
the help of the dim light. But after a while, as the still hours passed
on, it dropped on to his knee, and he sat thinking--endlessly thinking.
The young labourer lay motionless beside him, the lines of the long
emaciated frame showing through the bed-clothes. The night-light
flickered on the broken discoloured ceiling; every now and then a mouse
scratched in the plaster; the mother's heavy breathing came from the
next room; sometimes a dog barked or an owl cried outside. Otherwise
deep silence, such silence as drives the soul back upon itself.

Elsmere was conscious of a strange sense of moral expansion. The stern
judgments, the passionate condemnations which his nature housed so
painfully, seemed lifted from it. The soul breathed an 'ampler æther, a
diviner air.' Oh! the mysteries of life and character, the subtle
inexhaustible claims of pity! The problems which hang upon our being
here; its mixture of elements; the pressure of its inexorable physical
environment; the relations of mind to body, of man's poor will to this
tangled tyrannous life--it was along these old, old lines his thought
went painfully groping; and always at intervals it came back to the
squire, pondering, seeking to understand, a new soberness, a new
humility and patience entering in.

And yet it was not Meyrick's facts exactly that had brought this about.
Robert thought them imperfect, only half true. Rather was it the spirit
of love, of infinite forbearance in which the simpler, duller nature had
declared itself that had appealed to him, nay, reproached him.

Then these thoughts led him on farther and farther from man to God, from
human defect to the Eternal Perfectness. Never once during those hours
did Elsmere's hand fail to perform its needed service to the faint
sleeper beside him, and yet that night was one long dream and
strangeness to him, nothing real anywhere but consciousness, and God its
source; the soul attacked every now and then by phantom stabs of doubt,
of bitter brief misgiving, as the barriers of sense between it and the
eternal enigma grew more and more transparent, wrestling awhile, and
then prevailing. And each golden moment of certainty, of conquering
faith, seemed to Robert in some sort a gift from Catherine's hand. It
was she who led him through the shades; it was her voice murmuring in
his ear.

When the first gray dawn began to creep in slowly perceptible waves into
the room, Elsmere felt as though not hours but years of experience lay
between him and the beginnings of his watch.

'It is by these moments we should date our lives,' he murmured to
himself as he rose; 'they are the only real landmarks.'

It was eight o'clock, and the nurse who was to relieve him had come. The
results of the night for his charge were good: the strength had been
maintained, the pulse was firmer, the temperature lower. The boy,
throwing off his drowsiness, lay watching the rector's face as he talked
in an undertone to the nurse, his haggard eyes full of a dumb friendly
wistfulness. When Robert bent over him to say good-bye, this expression
brightened into something more positive, and Robert left him, feeling at
last that there was a promise of life in his look and touch.

In another moment he had stepped out into the January morning. It was
clear and still as the night had been. In the east there was a pale
promise of sun; the reddish-brown trunks of the fir woods had just
caught it, and rose faintly glowing in endless vistas and colonnades one
behind the other. The flooded river itself rushed through the bridge as
full and turbid as before, but all the other water surfaces had gleaming
films of ice. The whole ruinous place had a clean, almost a festal air
under the touch of the frost, while on the side of the hill leading to
Murewell, tree rose above tree, the delicate network of their wintry
twigs and branches set against stretches of frost-whitened grass, till
finally they climbed into the pale all-completing blue. In a copse close
at hand there were woodcutters at work, and piles of gleaming laths
shining through the underwood. Robins hopped along the frosty road, and
as he walked on through the houses towards the bridge, Robert's quick
ear distinguished that most wintry of all sounds--the cry of a flock of
fieldfares passing overhead.

As he neared the bridge he suddenly caught sight of a figure upon it,
the figure of a man wrapped in a large Inverness cloak, leaning against
the stone parapet. With a start he recognised the squire.

He went up to him without an instant's slackening of his steady step.
The squire heard the sound of some one coming, turned, and saw the
rector.

'I am glad to see you here, Mr. Wendover,' said Robert, stopping and
holding out his hand. 'I meant to have come to talk to you about this
place this morning. I ought to have come before.'

He spoke gently, and quite simply, almost as if they had parted the day
before. The squire touched his hand for an instant.

'You may not, perhaps, be aware, Mr. Elsmere,' he said, endeavouring to
speak with all his old hauteur, while his heavy lips twitched nervously,
'that, for one reason and another, I knew nothing of the epidemic here
till yesterday, when Meyrick told me.'

'I heard from Mr. Meyrick that it was so. As you are here now, Mr.
Wendover, and I am in no great hurry to get home, may I take you through
and show you the people?'

The squire at last looked at him straight--at the face worn and pale,
yet still so extraordinarily youthful, in which something of the
solemnity and high emotion of the night seemed to be still lingering.

'Are you just come?' he said abruptly, 'or are you going back?'

'I have been here through the night, sitting up with one of the fever
cases. It's hard work for the nurses, and the relations sometimes,
without help.'

The squire moved on mechanically towards the village, and Robert moved
beside him.

'And Mrs. Elsmere?'

'Mrs. Elsmere was here most of yesterday. She used to stay the night
when the diphtheria was at its worst; but there are only four anxious
cases left--the rest all convalescent.'

The squire said no more, and they turned into the lane, where the ice
lay thick in the deep ruts, and on either hand curls of smoke rose into
the clear cold sky. The squire looked about him with eyes which no
detail escaped. Robert, without a word of comment, pointed out this
feature and that, showed where Henslowe had begun repairs, where the new
well was to be, what the water supply had been till now, drew the
squire's attention to the roofs, the pigstyes, the drainage, or rather
complete absence of drainage, and all in the dry voice of some one going
through a catalogue. Word had already fled like wildfire through the
hamlet that the squire was there. Children and adults, a pale emaciated
crew, poured out into the wintry air to look. The squire knit his brows
with annoyance as the little crowd in the lane grew. Robert took no
notice.

Presently he pushed open the door of the house where he had spent the
night. In the kitchen a girl of sixteen was clearing away the various
nondescript heaps on which the family had slept, and was preparing
breakfast. The squire looked at the floor.

'I thought I understood from Henslowe,' he muttered, as though to
himself, 'that there were no mud floors left on the estate----'

'There are only three houses in Mile End without them,' said Robert,
catching what he said.

They went upstairs, and the mother stood open-eyed while the squire's
restless look gathered in the details of the room, the youth's face, as
he lay back on his pillows, whiter than they, exhausted and yet
refreshed by the sponging with vinegar and water which the mother had
just been administering to him; the bed, the gaps in the worm-eaten
boards, the spots in the roof where the plaster bulged inward, as though
a snake would bring it down; the coarse china shepherdesses on the
mantel-shelf, and the flowers which Catherine had put there the day
before. He asked a few questions, said an abrupt word or two to the
mother, and they tramped downstairs again and into the street. Then
Robert took him across to the little improvised hospital, saying to him
on the threshold, with a moment's hesitation,--

'As you know, for adults there is not much risk, but there is always
some risk----'

A peremptory movement of the squire's hand stopped him, and they went
in. In the downstairs room were half-a-dozen convalescents, pale,
shadowy creatures, four of them under ten, sitting up in their little
cots, each of them with a red flannel jacket drawn from Lady Helen's
stores, and enjoying the breakfast which a nurse in white cap and apron
had just brought them. Upstairs, in a room from which a lath-and-plaster
partition had been removed, and which had been adapted, warmed and
ventilated by various contrivances to which Robert and Meyrick had
devoted their practical minds, were the 'four anxious cases.' One of
them, a little creature of six, one of Sharland's black-eyed children,
was sitting up, supported by the nurse, and coughing its little life
away. As soon as he saw it, Robert's step quickened. He forgot the
squire altogether. He came and stood by the bedside, rigidly still, for
he could do nothing, but his whole soul absorbed in that horrible
struggle for air. How often he had seen it now, and never without the
same wild sense of revolt and protest! At last the hideous membrane was
loosened, the child got relief, and lay back white and corpse-like, but
with a pitiful momentary relaxation of the drawn lines on its little
brow. Robert stooped and kissed the damp tiny hand. The child's eyes
remained shut, but the fingers made a feeble effort to close on his.

'Mr. Elsmere,' said the nurse, a motherly body, looking at him with
friendly admonition, 'if you don't go home and rest you'll be ill too,
and I'd like to know who'll be the better for that?'

'How many deaths?' asked the squire abruptly, touching Elsmere's arm,
and so reminding Robert of his existence. 'Meyrick spoke of deaths.'

He stood near the door, but his eyes were fixed on the little bed, on
the half-swooning child.

'Seven,' said Robert, turning upon him. 'Five of diphtheria, two of
fever. That little one will go too.'

'Horrible!' said the squire under his breath, and then moved to the
door.

The two men went downstairs in perfect silence. Below, in the
convalescent room, the children were capable of smiles, and of quick
coquettish beckonings to the rector to come and make game with them as
usual. But he could only kiss his hand to them and escape, for there was
more to do.

He took the squire through all the remaining fever cases, and into
several of the worst cottages--Milsom's among them--and when it was all
over they emerged into the lane again, near the bridge. There was still
a crowd of children and women hanging about, watching eagerly for the
squire, whom many of them had never seen at all, and about whom various
myths had gradually formed themselves in the countryside. The squire
walked away from them hurriedly, followed by Robert, and again they
halted on the centre of the bridge. A horse led by a groom was being
walked up and down on a flat piece of road just beyond.

It was an awkward moment. Robert never forgot the thrill of it, or the
association of wintry sunshine streaming down upon a sparkling world of
ice and delicate woodland and foam-flecked river.

The squire turned towards him irresolutely; his sharply-cut wrinkled
lips opening and closing again. Then he held out his hand: 'Mr. Elsmere,
I did you a wrong--I did this place and its people a wrong. In my view,
regret for the past is useless. Much of what has occurred here is
plainly irreparable; I will think what can be done for the future. As
for my relation to you, it rests with you to say whether it can be
amended. I recognise that you have just cause of complaint.'

What invincible pride there was in the man's very surrender! But Elsmere
was not repelled by it. He knew that in their hour together the squire
had _felt_. His soul had lost its bitterness. The dead and their wrong
were with God.

He took the squire's outstretched hand, grasping it cordially, a pure
unworldly dignity in his whole look and bearing.

'Let us be friends, Mr. Wendover. It will be a great comfort to us--my
wife and me. Will you remember us both very kindly to Mrs. Darcy?'

Commonplace words, but words that made an epoch in the life of both. In
another minute the squire, on horseback, was trotting along the side
road leading to the Hall, and Robert was speeding home to Catherine as
fast as his long legs could carry him.

She was waiting for him on the steps, shading her eyes against the
unwonted sun. He kissed her with the spirits of a boy and told her all
his news.

Catherine listened bewildered, not knowing what to say or how all at
once to forgive, to join Robert in forgetting. But that strange
spiritual glow about him was not to be withstood. She threw her arms
about him at last with a half sob,--

'Oh, Robert--yes! Dear Robert--thank God!'

'Never think any more,' he said at last, leading her in from the little
hall, 'of what has been, only of what shall be! Oh, Catherine, give me
some tea; and never did I see anything so tempting as that armchair.'

He sank down into it, and when she put his breakfast beside him she saw
with a start that he was fast asleep. The wife stood and watched him,
the signs of fatigue round eyes and mouth, the placid expression, and
her face was soft with tenderness and joy. 'Of course--of course, even
that hard man must love him. Who could help it? My Robert!'

And so now in this disguise, now in that, the supreme hour of
Catherine's life stole on and on towards her.



CHAPTER XXII


As may be imagined, the _Churton Advertiser_ did not find its way to
Murewell. It was certainly no pressure of social disapproval that made
the squire go down to Mile End in that winter's dawn. The county might
talk, or the local press might harangue, till Doomsday, and Mr. Wendover
would either know nothing or care less.

Still his interview with Meyrick in the park after his return from a
week in town, whither he had gone to see some old Berlin friends, had
been a shock to him. A man may play the intelligent recluse, may refuse
to fit his life to his neighbours' notions as much as you please, and
still find death, especially death for which he has some responsibility,
as disturbing a fact as the rest of us.

He went home in much irritable discomfort. It seemed to him probably
that fortune need not have been so eager to put him in the wrong. To
relieve his mind he sent for Henslowe, and in an interview, the memory
of which sent a shiver through the agent to the end of his days, he let
it be seen that though it did not for the moment suit him to dismiss the
man who had brought this upon him, that man's reign in any true sense
was over.

But afterwards the squire was still restless. What was astir in him was
not so much pity or remorse as certain instincts of race which still
survived under the strange superstructure of manners he had built upon
them. It may be the part of a gentleman and a scholar to let the agent
whom you have interposed between yourself and a boorish peasantry have a
free hand; but, after all, the estate is yours, and to expose the rector
of the parish to all sorts of avoidable risks in the pursuit of his
official duty by reason of the gratuitous filth of your property, is an
act of doubtful breeding. The squire in his most rough-and-tumble days
at Berlin had always felt himself the grandee as well as the student. He
abhorred sentimentalism, but neither did he choose to cut an unseemly
figure in his own eyes.

After a night; therefore, less tranquil or less meditative than usual,
he rose early and sallied forth at one of those unusual hours he
generally chose for walking. The thing must be put right somehow, and at
once, with as little waste of time and energy as possible, and Henslowe
had shown himself not to be trusted; so telling a servant to follow him,
the squire had made his way with difficulty to a place he had not seen
for years.

Then had followed the unexpected and unwelcome apparition of the rector.
The squire did not want to be impressed by the young man, did not want
to make friends with him. No doubt his devotion had served his own
purposes. Still Mr. Wendover was one of the subtlest living judges of
character when he pleased, and his enforced progress through these
hovels with Elsmere had not exactly softened him, but had filled him
with a curious contempt for his own hastiness of judgment.

'History would be inexplicable after all without the honest fanatic,' he
said to himself on the way home. 'I suppose I had forgotten it. There is
nothing like a dread of being bored for blunting your psychological
instinct.'

In the course of the day he sent off a letter to the rector intimating
in the very briefest, driest way that the cottages should be rebuilt on
a different site as soon as possible, and enclosing a liberal
contribution towards the expenses incurred in fighting the epidemic.
When the letter was gone he drew his books towards him with a sound
which was partly disgust, partly relief. This annoying business had
wretchedly interrupted him, and his concessions left him mainly
conscious of a strong nervous distaste for the idea of any fresh
interview with young Elsmere. He had got his money and his apology; let
him be content.

However, next morning after breakfast Mr. Wendover once more saw his
study door open to admit the tall figure of the rector. The note and
cheque had reached Robert late the night before, and, true to his
new-born determination to make the best of the squire, he had caught up
his wideawake at the first opportunity and walked off to the Hall to
acknowledge the gift in person. The interview opened as awkwardly as it
was possible, and with their former conversation on the same spot fresh
in their minds both men spent a sufficiently difficult ten minutes. The
squire was asking himself, indeed, impatiently, all the time, whether he
could possibly be forced in the future to put up with such an experience
again, and Robert found his host, if less sarcastic than before,
certainly as impenetrable as ever.

At last, however, the Mile End matter was exhausted, and then Robert, as
good luck would have it, turned his longing eyes on the squire's books,
especially on the latest volumes of a magnificent German
_Weltgeschichte_ lying near his elbow, which he had coveted for months
without being able to conquer his conscience sufficiently to become the
possessor of it. He took it up with an exclamation of delight, and a
quiet critical remark that exactly hit the value and scope of the book.
The squire's eyebrows went up, and the corners of his mouth slackened
visibly. Half an hour later the two men, to the amazement of Mrs. Darcy,
who was watching them from the drawing-room window, walked back to the
park gates together, and what Robert's nobility and beauty of character
would never have won him, though he had worn himself to death in the
service of the poor and the tormented under the squire's eyes, a chance
coincidence of intellectual interest had won him almost in a moment.

The squire walked back to the house under a threatening sky, his
mackintosh cloak wrapped about him, his arms folded, his mind full of an
unwonted excitement.

The sentiment of long-past days--days in Berlin, in Paris, where
conversations such as that he had just passed through were the daily
relief and reward of labour, was stirring in him. Occasionally he had
endeavoured to import the materials for them from the Continent, from
London. But as a matter of fact it was years since he had had any such
talk as this with an Englishman on English ground, and he suddenly
realised that he had been unwholesomely solitary, and that for the
scholar there is no nerve stimulus like that of an occasional
interchange of ideas with some one acquainted with his _Fach_.

'Who would ever have thought of discovering instincts and aptitudes of
such a kind in this long-legged optimist?' The squire shrugged his
shoulders as he thought of the attempt involved in such a personality to
combine both worlds, the world of action and the world of thought.
Absurd! Of course, ultimately one or other must go to the wall.

Meanwhile, what a ludicrous waste of time and opportunity that he and
this man should have been at cross-purposes like this! 'Why the deuce
couldn't he have given some rational account of himself to begin with!'
thought the squire irritably, forgetting, of course, who it was that had
wholly denied him the opportunity. 'And then the sending back of those
books: what a piece of idiocy!'

Granted an historical taste in this young parson, it was a curious
chance, Mr. Wendover reflected, that in his choice of a subject he
should just have fallen on the period of the later empire--of the
passage from the old world to the new, where the squire was a master.
The squire fell to thinking of the kind of knowledge implied in his
remarks, of the stage he seemed to have reached, and then to cogitating
as to the books he must be now in want of. He went back to his library,
ran over the shelves, picking out volumes here and there with an
unwonted glow and interest all the while. He sent for a case, and made a
youth who sometimes acted as his secretary pack them. And still as he
went back to his own work new names would occur to him, and full of the
scholar's avaricious sense of the shortness of time, he would shake his
head and frown over the three months which young Elsmere had already
passed, grappling with problems like Teutonic Arianism, the spread of
Monasticism in Gaul, and Heaven knows what besides, half a mile from the
man and the library which could have supplied him with the best help to
be got in England, unbenefited by either! Mile End was obliterated, and
the annoyance of the morning forgotten.

The next day was Sunday, a wet January Sunday, raw and sleety, the frost
breaking up on all sides and flooding the roads with mire.

Robert, rising in his place to begin morning service, and wondering to
see the congregation so good on such a day, was suddenly startled, as
his eye travelled mechanically over to the Hall pew, usually tenanted by
Mrs. Darcy in solitary state, to see the characteristic figure of the
squire. His amazement was so great that he almost stumbled in the
exhortation, and his feeling was evidently shared by the congregation,
which throughout the service showed a restlessness, an excited tendency
to peer round corners and pillars, that was not favourable to devotion.

'Has he come to spy out the land?' the rector thought to himself, and
could not help a momentary tremor at the idea of preaching before so
formidable an auditor. Then he pulled himself together by a great
effort, and fixing his eyes on a shock-headed urchin half way down the
church, read the service to him. Catherine meanwhile in her seat on the
northern side of the nave, her soul lulled in Sunday peace, knew nothing
of Mr. Wendover's appearance.

Robert preached on the first sermon of Jesus, on the first appearance of
the young Master in the synagogue at Nazareth:--

'_This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears!_'

The sermon dwelt on the Messianic aspect of Christ's mission, on the
mystery and poetry of that long national expectation, on the pathos of
Jewish disillusion, on the sureness and beauty of Christian insight as
faith gradually transferred trait after trait of the Messiah of prophecy
to the Christ of Nazareth. At first there was a certain amount of
hesitation, a slight wavering hither and thither--a difficult choice of
words--and then the soul freed itself from man, and the preacher forgot
all but his Master and his people.

At the door as he came out stood Mr. Wendover, and Catherine, slightly
flushed and much puzzled for conversation, beside him. The Hall carriage
was drawn close up to the door, and Mrs. Darcy, evidently much excited,
had her small head out of the window, and was showering a number of
flighty inquiries and suggestions on her brother, to which he paid no
more heed than to the patter of the rain.

When Robert appeared the squire addressed him ceremoniously--

'With your leave. Mr. Elsmere, I will walk with you to the rectory.'
Then, in another voice, 'Go home, Lætitia, and don't send anything or
anybody.'

He made a signal to the coachman, and the carriage started, Mrs. Darcy's
protesting head remaining out of window as long as anything could be
seen of the group at the church door. The odd little creature had paid
one or two hurried and recent visits to Catherine during the quarrel,
visits so filled, however, with vague railing against her brother and by
a queer incoherent melancholy, that Catherine felt them extremely
uncomfortable, and took care not to invite them. Clearly she was
mortally afraid of 'Roger,' and yet ashamed of being afraid. Catherine
could see that all the poor thing's foolish whims and affectations were
trampled on; that she suffered, rebelled, found herself no more able to
affect Mr. Wendover than if she had been a fly buzzing round him, and
became all the more foolish and whimsical in consequence.

The squire and the Elsmeres crossed the common to the rectory, followed
at a discreet interval by groups of villagers curious to get a look at
the squire. Robert was conscious of a good deal of embarrassment, but
did his best to hide it. Catherine felt all through as if the skies had
fallen. The squire alone was at his ease, or as much at his ease as he
ever was. He commented on the congregation, even condescended to say
something of the singing, and passed over the staring of the choristers
with a magnanimity of silence which did him credit.

They reached the rectory door, and it was evidently the squire's purpose
to come in, so Robert invited him in. Catherine threw open her little
drawing-room door, and then was seized with shyness as the squire passed
in, and she saw over his shoulder her baby, lying kicking and crowing on
the hearth-rug, in anticipation of her arrival, the nurse watching it.
The squire in his great cloak stopped, and looked down at the baby as if
it had been some curious kind of reptile. The nurse blushed, curtsied,
and caught up the gurgling creature in a twinkling.

Robert made a laughing remark on the tyranny and ubiquity of babies. The
squire smiled grimly. He supposed it was necessary that the human race
should be carried on. Catherine meanwhile slipped out and ordered
another place to be laid at the dinner-table, devoutly hoping that it
might not be used.

It was used. The squire stayed till it was necessary to invite him, then
accepted the invitation, and Catherine found herself dispensing boiled
mutton to him, while Robert supplied him with some very modest claret,
the sort of wine which a man who drinks none thinks it necessary to have
in the house, and watched the nervousness of their little parlour-maid
with a fellow-feeling which made it difficult for him during the early
part of the meal to keep a perfectly straight countenance. After a
while, however, both he and Catherine were ready to admit that the
squire was making himself agreeable. He talked of Paris, of a
conversation he had had with M. Renan, whose name luckily was quite
unknown to Catherine, as to the state of things in the French Chamber.

'A set of chemists and quill-drivers,' he said contemptuously; 'but as
Renan remarked to me, there is one thing to be said for a government of
that sort, "Ils ne font pas la guerre." And so long as they don't run
France into adventures, and a man can keep a roof over his head and a
sou in his pocket, the men of letters at any rate can rub along. The
really interesting thing in France just now is not French
politics--Heaven save the mark!--but French scholarship. There never was
so little original genius going in Paris, and there never was so much
good work being done.'

Robert thought the point of view eminently characteristic.

'Catholicism, I suppose,' he said, 'as a force to be reckoned with, is
dwindling more and more?'

'Absolutely dead,' said the squire emphatically, 'as an _intellectual_
force. They haven't got a writer, scarcely a preacher. Not one decent
book has been produced on that side for years.'

'And the Protestants, too,' said Robert, 'have lost all their best men
of late,' and he mentioned one or two well-known French Protestant
names.

'Oh, as to French Protestantism'--and the squire's shrug was
superb--'Teutonic Protestantism is in the order of things, so to speak,
but _Latin_ Protestantism! There is no more sterile hybrid in the
world!'

Then, becoming suddenly aware that he might have said something
inconsistent with his company, the squire stopped abruptly. Robert,
catching Catherine's quick compression of the lips, was grateful to him,
and the conversation moved on in another direction.

Yes, certainly, all things considered, Mr. Wendover made himself
agreeable. He ate his boiled mutton and drank his _ordinaire_ like a
man, and when the meal was over, and he and Robert had withdrawn into
the study, he gave an emphatic word of praise to the coffee which
Catherine's housewifely care sent after them, and accepting a cigar, he
sank into the armchair by the fire and spread a bony hand to the blaze,
as if he had been at home in that particular corner for months. Robert,
sitting opposite to him, and watching his guest's eyes travel round the
room, with its medicine shelves, its rods and nets, and preparations of
uncanny beasts, its parish litter, and its teeming bookcases, felt that
the Mile End matter was turning out oddly indeed.

'I have packed you a case of books, Mr. Elsmere,' said the squire, after
a puff or two at his cigar. 'How have you got on without that collection
of Councils?'

He smiled a little awkwardly. It was one of the books Robert had sent
back. Robert flushed. He did not want the squire to regard him as wholly
dependent on Murewell.

'I bought it,' he said, rather shortly. 'I have ruined myself in books
lately, and the London Library too supplies me really wonderfully well.'

'Are these your books?' The squire got up to look at them. 'Hum, not at
all bad for a beginning. I have sent you so and so,' and he named one or
two costly folios that Robert had long pined for in vain.

The rector's eyes glistened.

'That was very good of you,' he said simply. 'They will be most
welcome.'

'And now, how much _time_,' said the other, settling himself again to
his cigar, his thin legs crossed over each other, and his great head
sunk into his shoulders, 'how much time do you give to this work?'

'Generally the mornings--not always. A man with twelve hundred souls to
look after, you know, Mr. Wendover,' said Elsmere, with a bright
half-defiant accent, 'can't make grubbing among the Franks his main
business.'

The squire said nothing, and smoked on. Robert gathered that his
companion thought his chances of doing anything worth mentioning very
small.

'Oh no,' he said, following out his own thought with a shake of his
curly hair; 'of course I shall never do very much. But if I don't, it
won't be for want of knowing what the scholar's ideal is.' And he lifted
his hand with a smile towards the squire's book on _English Culture_,
which stood in the bookcase just above him. The squire, following the
gesture, smiled too. It was a faint, slight illumining, but it changed
the face agreeably.

Robert began to ask questions about the book, about the pictures
contained in it of foreign life and foreign universities. The squire
consented to be drawn out, and presently was talking at his very best.

Racy stories of Mommsen or Von Ranke were followed by a description of
an evening of mad carouse with Heine--a talk at Nohant with George
Sand--scenes in the Duchesse de Broglie's salon--a contemptuous sketch
of Guizot--a caustic sketch of Renan. Robert presently even laid aside
his pipe, and stood in his favourite attitude, lounging against the
mantelpiece, looking down, absorbed, on his visitor. All that
intellectual passion which his struggle at Mile End had for the moment
checked in him revived. Nay, after his weeks of exclusive contact with
the most hideous forms of bodily ill, this interruption, these great
names, this talk of great movements and great causes, had a special
savour and relish. All the horizons of the mind expanded, the currents
of the blood ran quicker.

Suddenly, however, he sprang up.

'I beg your pardon? Mr. Wendover, it is too bad to interrupt you--I have
enjoyed it immensely--but the fact is I have only two minutes to get to
Sunday School in!'

Mr. Wendover rose also, and resumed his ordinary manner.

'It is I who should apologise,' he said with stiff politeness, 'for
having encroached in this way on your busy day, Mr. Elsmere.'

Robert helped him on with his coat, and then suddenly the squire turned
to him.

'You were preaching this morning on one of the Isaiah quotations in St.
Matthew. It would interest you, I imagine, to see a recent Jewish book
on the subject of the prophecies quoted in the Gospels which reached me
yesterday. There is nothing particularly new in it, but it looked to me
well done.'

'Thank you,' said Robert, not, however, with any great heartiness, and
the squire moved away. They parted at the gate, Robert running down the
hill to the village as fast as his long legs could carry him.

'Sunday School--pshaw!' cried the squire, as he tramped homeward in the
opposite direction.

Next morning a huge packing-case arrived from the Hall, and Robert could
not forbear a little gloating over the treasures in it before he tore
himself away to pay his morning visit to Mile End. There everything was
improving; the poor Sharland child indeed had slipped away on the night
after the squire's visit, but the other bad cases in the diphtheria ward
were mending fast. John Allwood was gaining strength daily, and poor
Mary Sharland was feebly struggling back to a life which seemed hardly
worth so much effort to keep. Robert felt, with a welcome sense of
slackening strain, that the daily and hourly superintendence which he
and Catherine had been giving to the place might lawfully be relaxed,
that the nurses on the spot were now more than equal to their task, and
after having made his round he raced home again in order to secure an
hour with his books before luncheon.

The following day a note arrived, while they were at luncheon, in the
squire's angular precise handwriting. It contained a request that,
unless otherwise engaged, the rector would walk with Mr. Wendover that
afternoon.

Robert flung it across to Catherine.

'Let me see,' he said, deliberating, 'have I any engagement I must
keep?'

There was a sort of jealousy for his work within him contending with
this new fascination of the squire's company. But, honestly, there was
nothing in the way, and he went.

That walk was the first of many. The squire had no sooner convinced
himself that young Elsmere's society did in reality provide him with a
stimulus and recreation he had been too long without, than in his
imperious wilful way he began to possess himself of it as much as
possible. He never alluded to the trivial matters which had first
separated and then united them. He worked the better, he thought the
more clearly, for these talks and walks with Elsmere, and therefore
these talks and walks became an object with him. They supplied a
long-stifled want, the scholar's want of disciples, of some form of
investment for all that heaped-up capital of thought he had been
accumulating during a lifetime.

As for Robert, he soon felt himself so much under the spell of the
squire's strange and powerful personality that he was forced to make a
fight for it, lest this new claim should encroach upon the old ones. He
would walk when the squire liked, but three times out of four these
walks must be parish rounds, interrupted by descents into cottages and
chats in farmhouse parlours. The squire submitted. The neighbourhood
began to wonder over the strange spectacle of Mr. Wendover waiting
grimly in the winter dusk outside one of his own farmhouses while
Elsmere was inside, or patrolling a bit of lane till Elsmere should have
inquired after an invalid or beaten up a recruit for his confirmation
class, dogged the while by stealthy children, with fingers in their
mouths, who ran away in terror directly he turned.

Rumours of this new friendship spread. One day, on the bit of road
between the Hall and the rectory, Lady Helen behind her ponies whirled
past the two men, and her arch look at Elsmere said as plain as words,
'Oh, you young wonder! what hook has served you with this leviathan?'

On another occasion, close to Churton, a man in a cassock and cloak came
towards them. The squire put up his eyeglass.

'Humph!' he remarked; 'do you know this merryandrew, Elsmere?'

It was Newcome. As they passed, Robert with slightly heightened colour
gave him an affectionate nod and smile. Newcome's quick eye ran over the
companions, he responded stiffly, and his step grew more rapid. A week
or two later Robert noticed with a little prick of remorse that he had
seen nothing of Newcome for an age. If Newcome would not come to him, he
must go to Mottringham. He planned an expedition, but something happened
to prevent it.

And Catherine? Naturally this new and most unexpected relation of
Robert's to the man who had begun by insulting him was of considerable
importance to the wife. In the first place it broke up to some extent
the exquisite _tête-à-tête_ of their home life; it encroached often upon
time that had always been hers; it filled Robert's mind more and more
with matters in which she had no concern. All these things many wives
might have resented. Catherine Elsmere resented none of them. It is
probable, of course, that she had her natural moments of regret and
comparison, when love said to itself a little sorely and hungrily, 'It
is hard to be even a fraction less to him than I once was!' But if so,
these moments never betrayed themselves in word or act. Her tender
common sense, her sweet humility, made her recognise at once Robert's
need of intellectual comradeship, isolated as he was in this remote
rural district. She knew perfectly that a clergyman's life of perpetual
giving forth becomes morbid and unhealthy if there is not some
corresponding taking in.

If only it had not been Mr. Wendover! She marvelled over the fascination
Robert found in his dry cynical talk. She wondered that a Christian
pastor could ever forget Mr. Wendover's antecedents; that the man who
had nursed those sick children could forgive Mile End. All in all as
they were to each other, she felt for the first time that she often
understood her husband imperfectly. His mobility, his eagerness, were
sometimes now a perplexity, even a pain to her.

It must not be imagined, however, that Robert let himself drift into
this intellectual intimacy with one of the most distinguished of
anti-Christian thinkers without reflecting on its possible consequences.
The memory of that night of misery which _The Idols of the Market-place_
had inflicted on him was enough. He was no match in controversy for Mr.
Wendover, and he did not mean to attempt it.

One morning the squire unexpectedly plunged into an account of a German
monograph he had just received on the subject of the Johannine
authorship of the Fourth Gospel. It was almost the first occasion on
which he had touched what may strictly be called the _matériel_ of
orthodoxy in their discussions--at any rate directly. But the book was a
striking one, and in the interest of it he had clearly forgotten his
ground a little. Suddenly the man who was walking beside him interrupted
him.

'I think we ought to understand one another perhaps, Mr. Wendover,'
Robert said, speaking under a quick sense of oppression, but with his
usual dignity and bright courtesy. 'I know your opinions, of course,
from your books; you know what mine, as an honest man, must be, from the
position I hold. My conscience does not forbid me to discuss anything,
only--I am no match for you on points of scholarship, and I should just
like to say once for all, that to me, whatever else is true, the
religion of Christ is true. I am a Christian and a Christian minister.
Therefore, whenever we come to discuss what may be called Christian
evidence, I do it with reserves, which you would not have. I believe in
an Incarnation, a Resurrection, a Revelation. If there are literary
difficulties, I must want to smooth them away--you may want to make much
of them. We come to the matter from different points of view. You will
not quarrel with me for wanting to make it clear. It isn't as if we
differed slightly. We differ fundamentally--is it not so?'

The squire was walking beside him with bent shoulders, the lower lip
pushed forward, as was usual with him when he was considering a matter
with close attention, but did not mean to communicate his thoughts.

After a pause he said, with a faint inscrutable smile,--

'Your reminder is perfectly just. Naturally we all have our reserves.
Neither of us can be expected to stultify his own.'

And the talk went forward again, Robert joining in more buoyantly than
ever, perhaps because he had achieved a necessary but disagreeable thing
and got done with it.

In reality he had but been doing as the child does when it sets up its
sand-barrier against the tide.



CHAPTER XXIII


It was the beginning of April. The gorse was fast extending its golden
empire over the commons. On the sunny slopes of the copses primroses
were breaking through the hazel roots and beginning to gleam along the
edges of the river. On the grass commons between Murewell and Mile End
the birches rose like green clouds against the browns and purples of the
still leafless oaks and beeches. The birds were twittering and building.
Every day Robert was on the look-out for the swallows, or listening for
the first notes of the nightingale amid the bare spring coverts.

But the spring was less perfectly delightful to him than it might have
been, for Catherine was away. Mrs. Leyburn, who was to have come south
to them in February, was attacked by bronchitis instead at Burwood and
forbidden to move, even to a warmer climate. In March, Catherine,
feeling restless and anxious about her mother, and thinking it hard that
Agnes should have all the nursing and responsibility, tore herself from
her man and her baby, and went north to Whindale for a fortnight,
leaving Robert forlorn.

Now, however, she was in London, whither she had gone for a few days on
her way home, to meet Rose and to shop. Robert's opinion was that all
women, even St. Elizabeths, have somewhere rooted in them an inordinate
partiality for shopping; otherwise why should that operation take four
or five mortal days? Surely with a little energy, one might buy up the
whole of London in twelve hours! However, Catherine lingered, and as her
purchases were made, Robert crossly supposed it must be all Rose's
fault. He believed that Rose spent a great deal too much on dress.

Catherine's letters, of course, were full of her sister. Rose, she said,
had come back from Berlin handsomer than ever, and playing, she
supposed, magnificently. At any rate, the letters which followed her in
shoals from Berlin flattered her to the skies, and during the three
months preceding her return Joachim himself had taken her as a pupil and
given her unusual attention.

'And now, of course,' wrote Catherine, 'she is desperately disappointed
that mamma and Agnes cannot join her in town, as she had hoped. She does
her best, I know, poor child, to conceal it and to feel as she ought
about mamma, but I can see that the idea of an indefinite time at
Burwood is intolerable to her. As to Berlin, I think she has enjoyed it,
but she talks very scornfully of German _Schwärmerei_ and German women,
and she tells the oddest stories of her professors. With one or two of
them she seems to have been in a state of war from the beginning; but
some of them, my dear Robert, I am persuaded were just simply in love
with her!

'I don't--no, I never _shall_ believe, that independent exciting
student's life is good for a girl. But I never say so to Rose. When she
forgets to be irritable and to feel that the world is going against her,
she is often very sweet to me, and I can't bear there should be any
conflict.'

His next day's letter contained the following:--

'Are you properly amused, sir, at your wife's performances in town? Our
three concerts you have heard all about. I still can't get over them. I
go about haunted by the _seriousness_, the life-and-death interest
people throw into music. It is astonishing! And outside, as we got into
our hansom, such sights and sounds!--such starved fierce-looking men,
such ghastly women!

'But since then Rose has been taking me into society. Yesterday
afternoon, after I wrote to you, we went to see Rose's artistic
friends--the Piersons--with whom she was staying last summer, and to-day
we have even called on Lady Charlotte Wynnstay.

'As to Mrs. Pierson, I never saw such an odd bundle of ribbons and rags
and queer embroideries as she looked when we called. However, Rose says
that, for "an æsthete"--she despises them now herself--Mrs. Pierson has
wonderful taste, and that her wall-papers and her gowns, if I only
understood them, are not the least like those of other æsthetic persons,
but very _recherché_--which may be. She talked to Rose of nothing but
acting, especially of Madame Desforêts. No one, according to her, has
anything to do with an actress's private life, or ought to take it into
account. But, Robert, dear,--an actress is a woman, and has a soul!

'Then Lady Charlotte,--you would have laughed at our _entrée_.

'We found she was in town, and went on her "day," as she had asked Rose
to do. The room was rather dark--none of these London rooms seem to me
to have any light and air in them. The butler got our names wrong, and I
marched in first, more shy than I ever have been before in my life. Lady
Charlotte had two gentlemen with her. She evidently did not know me in
the least; she stood staring at me with her eyeglass on, and her cap so
crooked I could think of nothing but a wish to put it straight. Then
Rose followed, and in a few minutes it seemed to me as though it were
Rose who were hostess, talking to the two gentlemen and being kind to
Lady Charlotte. I am sure everybody in the room was amused by her
self-possession, Lady Charlotte included. The gentlemen stared at her a
great deal, and Lady Charlotte paid her one or two compliments on her
looks, which _I_ thought she would not have ventured to pay to any one
in her own circle.

'We stayed about half an hour. One of the gentlemen was, I believe, a
member of the Government, an under-secretary for something, but he and
Rose and Lady Charlotte talked again of nothing but musicians and
actors. It is strange that politicians should have time to know so much
of these things. The other gentleman reminded me of Hotspur's popinjay.
I think now I made out that he wrote for the newspapers, but at the
moment I should have felt it insulting to accuse him of anything so
humdrum as an occupation in life. He discovered somehow that I had an
interest in the Church, and he asked me, leaning back in his chair and
lisping, whether I really thought "the Church could still totter on a
while in the rural dithtricts." He was informed her condition was so
"vewy dethperate."

'Then I laughed outright, and found my tongue. Perhaps his next article
on the Church will have a few facts in it. I did my best to put some
into him. Rose at last looked round at me, astonished. But he did not
dislike me, I think. I was not impertinent to him, husband mine. If I
might have described just _one_ of your days to his high-and-mightiness!
There is no need to tell you, I think, whether I did or not.

'Then when we got up to go, Lady Charlotte asked Rose to stay with her.
Rose explained why she couldn't, and Lady Charlotte pitied her
dreadfully for having a family, and the under-secretary said that it was
one's first duty in life to trample on one's relations, and that he
hoped nothing would prevent his hearing her play some time later in the
year. Rose said very decidedly she should be in town for the winter.
Lady Charlotte said she would have an evening specially for her, and as
I said nothing, we got away at last.'

The letter of the following day recorded a little adventure:--

'I was much startled this morning. I had got Rose to come with me to the
National Gallery on our way to her dressmaker. We were standing before
Raphael's "Vigil of the Knight," when suddenly I saw Rose, who was
looking away towards the door into the long gallery, turn perfectly
white. I followed her eyes, and there, in the doorway, disappearing,--I
am almost certain,--was Mr. Langham! One cannot mistake his walk or his
profile. Before I could say a word Rose had walked away to another wall
of pictures, and when we joined again we did not speak of it. Did he see
us, I wonder, and purposely avoid us? Something made me think so.

'Oh, I wish I could believe she had forgotten him! I am certain she
would laugh me to angry scorn if I mentioned him; but there she sits by
the fire now, while I am writing, quite drooping and pale, because she
thinks I am not noticing. If she did but love me a little more! It must
be my fault, I know.

'Yes, as you say, Burwood may as well be shut up or let. My dear, dear
father!'

Robert could imagine the sigh with which Catherine had laid down her
pen. Dear tender soul, with all its old-world fidelities and pieties
pure and unimpaired! He raised the signature to his lips.

Next day Catherine came back to him. Robert had no words too opprobrious
for the widowed condition from which her return had rescued him. It
seemed to Catherine, however, that life had been very full and keen with
him since her departure! He lingered with her after supper, vowing that
his club boys might make what hay in the study they pleased; he was
going to tell her the news, whatever happened.

'I told you of my two dinners at the Hall? The first was just
_tête-à-tête_ with the squire--oh, and Mrs. Darcy, of course. I am
always forgetting her, poor little thing, which is most ungrateful of
me. A pathetic life that, Catherine. She seems to me, in her odd way,
perpetually hungering for affection, for praise. No doubt, if she got
them, she wouldn't know what to do with them. She would just touch and
leave them as she does everything. Her talk and she are both as light
and wandering as thistledown. But still, meanwhile, she hungers, and is
never satisfied. There seems to be something peculiarly antipathetic in
her to the squire. I can't make it out. He is sometimes quite brutal to
her when she is more inconsequent than usual. I often wonder she goes on
living with him.'

Catherine made some indignant comment.

'Yes,' said Robert, musing. 'Yes, it is bad.'

But Catherine thought his tone might have been more unqualified, and
marvelled again at the curious lenity of judgment he had always shown of
late towards Mr. Wendover. And all his judgments of himself and others
were generally so quick, so uncompromising!

'On the second occasion we had Freake and Dashwood,' naming two
well-known English antiquarians. 'Very learned, very jealous, and very
snuffy; altogether "too genuine," as poor mother used to say of those
old chairs we got for the dining-room. But afterwards when we were all
smoking in the library, the squire came out of his shell and talked. I
never heard him more brilliant!'

He paused a moment, his bright eyes looking far away from her, as though
fixed on the scene he was describing.

'Such a mind!' he said at last with a long breath, 'such a memory!
Catherine, my book has been making great strides since you left. With
Mr. Wendover to go to, all the problems are simplified. One is saved all
false starts, all beating about the bush. What a piece of luck it was
that put one down beside such a guide, such a living storehouse of
knowledge!'

He spoke in a glow of energy and enthusiasm. Catherine sat looking at
him wistfully, her gray eyes crossed by many varying shades of memory
and feeling.

At last his look met hers, and the animation of it softened at once,
grew gentle.

'Do you think I am making knowledge too much of a god just now, Madonna
mine?' he said, throwing himself down beside her. 'I have been full of
qualms myself. The squire excites one so, makes one feel as though
intellect--accumulation--were the whole of life. But I struggle against
it--I do. I go on, for instance, trying to make the squire do his social
duties--behave like "a human."'

Catherine could not help smiling at his tone.

'Well?' she inquired.

He shook his head ruefully.

'The squire is a tough customer--most men of sixty-seven with strong
wills are, I suppose. At any rate, he is like one of the Thurston
trout--sees through all my manoeuvres. But one piece of news will
astonish you, Catherine!' And he sprang up to deliver it with effect.
'Henslowe is dismissed.'

'Henslowe dismissed!' Catherine sat properly amazed while Robert told
the story.

The dismissal of Henslowe indeed represented the price which Mr.
Wendover had been so far willing to pay for Elsmere's society. Some
_quid pro quo_ there must be--that he was prepared to admit--considering
their relative positions as squire and parson. But, as Robert shrewdly
suspected, not one of his wiles so far had imposed on the master of
Murewell. He had his own sarcastic smiles over them, and over Elsmere's
pastoral _naïveté_ in general. The evidences of the young rector's power
and popularity were, however, on the whole, pleasant to Mr. Wendover. If
Elsmere had his will with all the rest of the world, Mr. Wendover knew
perfectly well who it was that at the present moment had his will with
Elsmere. He had found a great piquancy in this shaping of a mind more
intellectually eager and pliant than any he had yet come across among
younger men; perpetual food too, for his sense of irony, in the
intellectual contradictions, wherein Elsmere's developing ideas and
information were now, according to the squire, involving him at every
turn.

'His religious foundations are gone already, if he did but know it,' Mr.
Wendover grimly remarked to himself one day about this time, 'but he
will take so long finding it out that the results are not worth
speculating on.'

Cynically assured, therefore, at bottom of his own power with this
ebullient nature, the squire was quite prepared to make external
concessions, or, as we have said, to pay his price. It annoyed him that
when Elsmere would press for allotment land, or a new institute, or a
better supply of water for the village, it was not open to him merely to
give _carte blanche_, and refer his petitioner to Henslowe. Robert's
opinion of Henslowe, and Henslowe's now more cautious but still
incessant hostility to the rector, were patent at last even to the
squire. The situation was worrying and wasted time. It must be changed.

So one morning he met Elsmere with a bundle of letters in his hand,
calmly informed him that Henslowe had been sent about his business, and
that it would be a kindness if Mr. Elsmere would do him the favour of
looking through some applications for the vacant post just received.

Elsmere, much taken by surprise, felt at first as it was natural for an
over-sensitive, over-scrupulous man to feel. His enemy had been given
into his hand, and instead of victory he could only realise that he had
brought a man to ruin.

'He has a wife and children,' he said quickly, looking at the squire.

'Of course I have pensioned him,' replied the squire impatiently;
'otherwise I imagine he would be hanging round our necks to the end of
the chapter.'

There was something in the careless indifference of the tone which sent
a shiver through Elsmere. After all, this man had served the squire for
fifteen years, and it was not Mr. Wendover who had much to complain of.

No one with a conscience could have held out a finger to keep Henslowe
in his post. But though Elsmere took the letters and promised to give
them his best attention, as soon as he got home he made himself
irrationally miserable over the matter. It was not his fault that, from
the moment of his arrival in the parish, Henslowe had made him the
target of a vulgar and embittered hostility, and so far as he had struck
out in return it had been for the protection of persecuted and
defenceless creatures. But all the same, he could not get the thought of
the man's collapse and humiliation out of his mind. How at his age was
he to find other work, and how was he to endure life at Murewell without
his comfortable house, his smart gig, his easy command of spirits, and
the cringing of the farmers?

Tormented by the sordid misery of the situation almost as though it had
been his own, Elsmere ran down impulsively in the evening to the agent's
house. Could nothing be done to assure the man that he was not really
his enemy, and that anything the parson's influence and the parson's
money could do to help him to a more decent life, and work which offered
fewer temptations and less power over human beings, should be done?

It need hardly be said that the visit was a complete failure. Henslowe,
who was drinking hard, no sooner heard Elsmere's voice in the little
hall than he dashed open the door which separated them, and, in a
paroxysm of drunken rage, hurled at Elsmere all the venomous stuff he
had been garnering up for months against some such occasion. The vilest
abuse, the foulest charges--there was nothing that the maddened sot, now
fairly unmasked, denied himself. Elsmere, pale and erect, tried to make
himself heard. In vain. Henslowe was physically incapable of taking in a
word.

At last the agent, beside himself, made a rush, his three untidy
children, who had been hanging open-mouthed in the background, set up a
howl of terror, and his Scotch wife, more pinched and sour than ever,
who had been so far a gloomy spectator of the scene, interposed.

'Have doon wi' ye,' she said sullenly, putting out a long bony arm in
front of her husband, 'or I'll just lock oop that brandy where ye'll naw
find it if ye pull the house doon. Now, sir,' turning to Elsmere, 'would
ye jest be going? Ye mean it weel, I daur say, but ye've doon yer wark,
and ye maun leave it.'

And she motioned him out, not without a sombre dignity. Elsmere went
home crestfallen. The enthusiast is a good deal too apt to
under-estimate the stubbornness of moral fact, and these rebuffs have
their stern uses for character.

'They intend to go on living here, I am told,' Elsmere said, as he wound
up the story, 'and as Henslowe is still churchwarden, he may do us a
world of mischief yet. However, I think that wife will keep him in
order. No doubt vengeance would be sweet to her as to him, but she has a
shrewd eye, poor soul, to the squire's remittances. It is a wretched
business, and I don't take a man's hate easily, Catherine!--though it
may be a folly to say so.'

Catherine was irresponsive. The Old Testament element in her found a
lawful satisfaction in Henslowe's fall, and a wicked man's hatred,
according to her, mattered only to himself. The squire's conduct, on the
other hand, made her uneasily proud. To her, naturally, it simply meant
that he was falling under Robert's spell. So much the better for him,
but----



CHAPTER XXIV


That same afternoon Robert started on a walk to a distant farm, where
one of his Sunday-school boys lay recovering from rheumatic fever. The
rector had his pocket full of articles--a story-book in one, a puzzle
map in the other--destined for Master Carter's amusement. On the way he
was to pick up Mr. Wendover at the park gates.

It was a delicious April morning. A soft west wind blew through leaf and
grass--

    'Driving sweet buds, like flocks, to feed in air.'

The spring was stirring everywhere, and Robert raced along, feeling in
every vein a life, an ebullience akin to that of nature. As he neared
the place of meeting it occurred to him that the squire had been
unusually busy lately, unusually silent and absent too on their walks.
What _was_ he always at work on? Robert had often inquired of him as to
the nature of those piles of proof and manuscript with which his table
was littered. The squire had never given any but the most general
answer, and had always changed the subject. There was an invincible
_personal_ reserve about him which, through all his walks and talks with
Elsmere, had never as yet broken down. He would talk of other men and
other men's labours by the hour, but not of his own. Elsmere reflected
on the fact, mingling with the reflection a certain humorous scorn of
his own constant openness and readiness to take counsel with the world.

'However, _his_ book isn't a mere excuse, as Langham's is,' Elsmere
inwardly remarked. 'Langham, in a certain sense, plays even with
learning; Mr. Wendover plays at nothing.'

By the way, he had a letter from Langham in his pocket much more
cheerful and human than usual. Let him look through it again.

Not a word, of course, of that National Gallery experience!--a
circumstance, however, which threw no light on it either way.

'I find myself a good deal reconciled to life by this migration of
mine,' wrote Langham. 'Now that my enforced duties to them are all done
with, my fellow-creatures seem to me much more decent fellows than
before. The great stir of London, in which, unless I please, I have no
part whatever, attracts me more than I could have thought possible. No
one in these noisy streets has any rightful claim upon me. I have cut
away at one stroke lectures, and Boards of Studies, and tutors'
meetings, and all the rest of the wearisome Oxford make-believe, and the
creature left behind feels lighter and nimbler than he has felt for
years. I go to concerts and theatres; I look at the people in the
streets; I even begin to take an outsider's interest in social
questions, in the puny dykes which well-meaning people are trying to
raise all round us against the encroaching, devastating labour-troubles
of the future. By dint of running away from life, I may end by cutting a
much more passable figure in it than before. Be consoled, my dear
Elsmere; reconsider your remonstrances.'

       *       *       *       *       *

There, under the great cedar by the gate, stood Mr. Wendover. Illumined
as he was by the spring sunshine, he struck Elsmere as looking unusually
shrunken and old. And yet under the look of physical exhaustion there
was a new serenity, almost a peacefulness of expression, which gave the
whole man a different aspect.

'Don't take me far,' he said abruptly, as they started. 'I have not got
the energy for it. I have been over-working, and must go away.'

'I have been sure of it for some time,' said Elsmere warmly. 'You ought
to have a long rest. But mayn't I know, Mr. Wendover, before you take
it, what this great task is you have been toiling at? Remember, you have
never told me a word of it.

And Elsmere's smile had in it a touch of most friendly reproach. Fatigue
had left the scholar relaxed, comparatively defenceless. His sunk and
wrinkled eyes lit up with a smile, faint indeed, but of unwonted
softness.

'A task indeed,' he said with a sigh, 'the task of a lifetime. To-day I
finished the second third of it. Probably before the last section is
begun some interloping German will have stepped down before me; it is
the way of the race! But for the moment there is the satisfaction of
having come to an end of some sort--a natural halt, at any rate.'

Elsmere's eyes were still interrogative. 'Oh, well,' said the squire
hastily, 'it is a book I planned just after I took my doctor's degree at
Berlin. It struck me then as the great want of modern scholarship. It is
a History of Evidence, or rather, more strictly, "A History of
_Testimony_."'

Robert started. The library flashed into his mind, and Langham's figure
in the long gray coat sitting on the stool.

'A great subject,' he said slowly, 'a magnificent subject. How have you
conceived it, I wonder?'

'Simply from the standpoint of evolution, of development. The
philosophical value of the subject is enormous. You must have considered
it, of course; every historian must. But few people have any idea in
detail of the amount of light which the history of human witness in the
world, systematically carried through, throws on the history of the
human mind; that is to say, on the history of ideas.'

The squire paused, his keen scrutinising look dwelling on the face
beside him, as though to judge whether he were understood.

'Oh, true!' cried Elsmere; 'most true. Now I know what vague want it is
that has been haunting me for months----'

He stopped short, his look, aglow with all the young thinker's ardour,
fixed on the squire.

The squire received the outburst in silence--a somewhat ambiguous
silence.

'But go on,' said Elsmere; 'please go on.'

'Well, you remember,' said the squire slowly, 'that when Tractarianism
began I was for a time one of Newman's victims. Then, when Newman
departed, I went over body and bones to the Liberal reaction which
followed his going. In the first ardour of what seemed to me a release
from slavery I migrated to Berlin, in search of knowledge which there
was no getting in England, and there, with the taste of a dozen aimless
theological controversies still in my mouth, this idea first took hold
of me. It was simply this:--Could one through an exhaustive examination
of human records, helped by modern physiological and mental science, get
at the conditions, physical and mental, which govern the greater or
lesser correspondence between human witness and the fact it reports?'

'A giant's task!' cried Robert: 'hardly conceivable!'

The squire smiled slightly--the smile of a man who looks back with
indulgent half-melancholy satire on the rash ambitions of his youth.

'Naturally,' he resumed, 'I soon saw I must restrict myself to European
testimony, and that only up to the Renaissance. To do that, of course, I
had to dig into the East, to learn several Oriental languages--Sanskrit
among them. Hebrew I already knew. Then, when I had got my languages, I
began to work steadily through the whole mass of existing records,
sifting and comparing. It is thirty years since I started. Fifteen years
ago I finished the section dealing with classical antiquity--with India,
Persia, Egypt, and Judæa. To-day I have put the last strokes to a
History of Testimony from the Christian era down to the sixth
century--from Livy to Gregory of Tours, from Augustus to Justinian.'

Elsmere turned to him with wonder, with a movement of irrepressible
homage. Thirty years of unbroken solitary labour for one end, one cause!
In our hurried fragmentary life, a purpose of this tenacity, this power
of realising itself, strikes the imagination.

'And your two books?'

'Were a mere interlude,' replied the squire briefly. 'After the
completion of the first part of my work, there were certain deposits
left in me which it was a relief to get rid of, especially in connection
with my renewed impressions of England,' he added drily.

Elsmere was silent, thinking this then was the explanation of the
squire's minute and exhaustive knowledge of the early Christian
centuries, a knowledge into which--apart from certain forbidden
topics--he had himself dipped so freely. Suddenly, as he mused, there
awoke in the young man a new hunger, a new unmanageable impulse towards
frankness of speech. All his nascent intellectual powers were alive and
clamorous. For the moment his past reticences and timidities looked to
him absurd. The mind rebelled against the barriers it had been rearing
against itself. It rushed on to sweep them away, crying out that all
this shrinking from free discussion had been at bottom 'a mere treason
to faith.'

'Naturally, Mr. Wendover,' he said at last, and his tone had a
half-defiant, half-nervous energy, 'you have given your best attention
all these years to the Christian problems.'

'Naturally,' said the squire drily. Then, as his companion still seemed
to wait, keenly expectant, he resumed, with something cynical in the
smile which accompanied the words,--

'But I have no wish to infringe our convention.'

'A convention was it?' replied Elsmere, flushing. 'I think I only wanted
to make my own position clear and prevent misunderstanding. But it is
impossible that I should be indifferent to the results of thirty years
such work as you can give to so great a subject.'

The squire drew himself up a little under his cloak and seemed to
consider. His tired eyes, fixed on the spring lane before them, saw in
reality only the long retrospects of the past. Then a light broke in
them, transformed them--a light of battle. He turned to the man beside
him, and his sharp look swept over him from head to foot. Well, if he
would have it, let him have it. He had been contemptuously content so
far to let the subject be. But Mr. Wendover, in spite of his philosophy,
had never been proof all his life against an anti-clerical instinct
worthy almost of a Paris municipal councillor. In spite of his fatigue
there woke in him a kind of cruel whimsical pleasure at the notion of
speaking, once for all, what he conceived to be the whole bare truth to
this clever attractive dreamer, to the young fellow who thought he could
condescend to science from the standpoint of the Christian miracles!

'Results?' he said interrogatively. 'Well, as you will understand, it is
tolerably difficult to summarise such a mass at a moment's notice. But I
can give you the lines of my last volumes, if it would interest you to
hear them.'

That walk prolonged itself far beyond Mr. Wendover's original intention.
There was something in the situation, in Elsmere's comments, or
arguments, or silences, which after a while banished the scholar's sense
of exhaustion and made him oblivious of the country distances. No man
feels another's soul quivering and struggling in his grasp without
excitement, let his nerve and his self-restraint be what they may.

As for Elsmere, that hour and a half, little as he realised it at the
time, represented the turning-point of life. He listened, he suggested,
he put in an acute remark here, an argument there, such as the squire
had often difficulty in meeting. Every now and then the inner protest of
an attacked faith would break through in words so full of poignancy, in
imagery so dramatic, that the squire's closely-knit sentences would be
for the moment wholly disarranged. On the whole, he proved himself no
mean guardian of all that was most sacred to himself and to Catherine,
and the squire's intellectual respect for him rose considerably.

All the same, by the end of their conversation that first period of
happy unclouded youth we have been considering was over for poor
Elsmere. In obedience to certain inevitable laws and instincts of the
mind, he had been for months tempting his fate, inviting catastrophe.
None the less did the first sure approaches of that catastrophe fill him
with a restless resistance which was in itself anguish.

As to the squire's talk, it was simply the outpouring of one of the
richest, most sceptical, and most highly-trained of minds on the subject
of Christian origins. At no previous period of his life would it have
greatly affected Elsmere. But now at every step the ideas, impressions,
arguments bred in him by his months of historical work and ordinary
converse with the squire rushed in, as they had done once before, to
cripple resistance, to check an emerging answer, to justify Mr.
Wendover.

We may quote a few fragmentary utterances taken almost at random from
the long wrestle of the two men, for the sake of indicating the main
lines of a bitter after-struggle.

    'Testimony like every other human product has _developed_.
    Man's power of apprehending and recording what he sees and
    hears has grown from less to more, from weaker to stronger,
    like any other of his faculties, just as the reasoning powers
    of the cave-dweller have developed into the reasoning powers
    of a Kant. What one wants is the ordered proof of this, and
    it can be got from history and experience.'

       *       *       *       *       *

    'To plunge into the Christian period without having first
    cleared the mind as to what is meant in history and
    literature by "the critical method," which in history may be
    defined as the "science of what is credible," and in
    literature as "the science of what is rational," is to invite
    fiasco. The theologian in such a state sees no obstacle to
    accepting an arbitrary list of documents with all the strange
    stuff they may contain, and declaring them to be sound
    historical material, while he applies to all the strange
    stuff of a similar kind surrounding them the most rigorous
    principles of modern science. Or he has to make believe that
    the reasoning processes exhibited in the speeches of the
    Acts, in certain passages of St. Paul's Epistles, or in the
    Old Testament quotations in the Gospels, have a validity for
    the mind of the nineteenth century, when in truth they are
    the imperfect, half-childish products of the mind of the
    first century, of quite insignificant or indirect value to
    the historian of fact, of enormous value to the historian of
    _testimony_ and its varieties.'

       *       *       *       *       *

    'Suppose, for instance, before I begin to deal with the
    Christian story, and the earliest Christian development, I
    try to make out beforehand what are the moulds, the channels
    into which the testimony of the time must run. I look for
    these moulds, of course, in the dominant ideas, the
    intellectual preconceptions and preoccupations existing when
    the period begins.

    'In the first place, I shall find present in the age which
    saw the birth of Christianity, as in so many other ages, a
    universal preconception in favour of miracle--that is to say,
    of deviations from the common norm of experience, governing
    the work of _all_ men of _all_ schools. Very well, allow for
    it then. Read the testimony of the period in the light of it.
    Be prepared for the inevitable differences between it and the
    testimony of your own day. The witness of the time is not
    true, nor, in the strict sense, false. It is merely
    incompetent, half-trained, pre-scientific, but all through
    perfectly natural. The wonder would have been to have had a
    life of Christ without miracles. The air teems with them. The
    East is full of Messiahs. Even a Tacitus is superstitious.
    Even a Vespasian works miracles. Even a Nero cannot die, but
    fifty years after his death is still looked for as the
    inaugurator of a millennium of horror. The Resurrection is
    partly invented, partly imagined, partly ideally true--in any
    case wholly intelligible and natural, as a product of the
    age, when once you have the key of that age.

    'In the next place, look for the preconceptions that have a
    definite historical origin; those, for instance, flowing from
    the pre-Christian, apocalyptic literature of the Jews, taking
    the Maccabean legend of Daniel as the centre of
    inquiry--those flowing from Alexandrian Judaism and the
    school of Philo--those flowing from the Palestinian schools
    of exegesis. Examine your synoptic gospels, your Gospel of
    St. John, your Apocalypse, in the light of these. You have no
    other chance of understanding them. But so examined, they
    fall into place, become explicable and rational; such
    material as science can make full use of. The doctrine of the
    Divinity of Christ, Christian eschatology, and Christian
    views of prophecy will also have found _their_ place in a
    sound historical scheme!'

       *       *       *       *       *

    'It is discreditable now for the man of intelligence to
    refuse to read his Livy in the light of his Mommsen. My
    object has been to help in making it discreditable to him to
    refuse to read his Christian documents in the light of a
    trained scientific criticism. We shall have made some
    positive advance in rationality when the man who is perfectly
    capable of dealing sanely with legend in one connection, and,
    in another, will insist on confounding it with history
    proper, cannot do so any longer without losing caste, without
    falling _ipso facto_ out of court with men of education. It
    is enough for a man of letters if he has helped ever so
    little in the final staking out of the boundaries between
    reason and unreason!'


And so on. These are mere ragged gleanings from an ample store. The
discussion in reality ranged over the whole field of history, plunged
into philosophy, and into the subtlest problems of mind. At the end of
it, after he had been conscious for many bitter moments of that same
constriction of heart which had overtaken him once before at Mr.
Wendover's hands, the religious passion in Elsmere once more rose with
sudden stubborn energy against the iron negations pressed upon it.

'I will not fight you any more, Mr. Wendover,' he said, with his moved
flashing look. 'I am perfectly conscious that my own mental experience
of the last two years has made it necessary to re-examine some of these
intellectual foundations of faith. But as to the faith itself, that is
its own witness. It does not depend, after all, upon anything external,
but upon the living voice of the Eternal in the soul of man!'

Involuntarily his pace quickened. The whole man was gathered into one
great, useless, pitiful defiance, and the outer world was forgotten. The
squire kept up with difficulty a while, a faint glimmer of sarcasm
playing now and then round the straight thin-lipped mouth. Then suddenly
he stopped.

'No, let it be. Forget me and my book, Elsmere. Everything can be got
out of in this world. By the way, we seem to have reached the ends of
the earth. Those are the new Mile End cottages, I believe. With your
leave, I'll sit down in one of them, and send to the Hall for the
carriage.'

Elsmere's repentant attention was drawn at once to his companion.

'I am a selfish idiot,' he said hotly, 'to have led you into
over-walking and over-talking like this.'

The squire made some short reply and instantly turned the matter off.
The momentary softness which had marked his meeting with Elsmere had
entirely vanished, leaving only the Mr. Wendover of every day, who was
merely made awkward and unapproachable by the slightest touch of
personal sympathy. No living being, certainly not his foolish little
sister, had any _right_ to take care of the squire. And as the signs of
age became more apparent, this one fact had often worked powerfully on
the sympathies of Elsmere's chivalrous youth, though as yet he had been
no more capable than any one else of breaking through the squire's
haughty reserve.

As they turned down the newly-worn track to the cottages, whereof the
weekly progress had been for some time the delight of Elsmere's heart,
they met old Meyrick in his pony-carriage. He stopped his shambling
steed at sight of the pair. The bleared spectacled eyes lit up, the prim
mouth broke into a smile which matched the April sun.

'Well, Squire; well, Mr. Elsmere, are you going to have a look at those
places? Never saw such palaces. I only hope I may end my days in
anything so good. Will you give me a lease, Squire?'

Mr. Wendover's deep eyes took a momentary survey, half indulgent, half
contemptuous, of the naïve, awkward-looking old creature in the
pony-carriage. Then, without troubling to find an answer, he went his
way.

Robert stayed chatting a moment or two, knowing perfectly well what
Meyrick's gay garrulity meant. A sharp and bitter sense of the ironies
of life swept across him. The squire humanised, influenced by him--he
knew that was the image in Meyrick's mind; he remembered with a quiet
scorn its presence in his own. And never, never had he felt his own
weakness and the strength of that grim personality so much as at that
instant.

That evening Catherine noticed an unusual silence and depression in
Robert. She did her best to cheer it away, to get at the cause of it. In
vain. At last, with her usual wise tenderness, she left him alone,
conscious herself, as she closed the study door behind her, of a
momentary dreariness of soul, coming she knew not whence, and only
dispersed by the instinctive upward leap of prayer.

Robert was no sooner alone than he put down his pipe and sat brooding
over the fire. All the long debate of the afternoon began to fight
itself out again in the shrinking mind. Suddenly, in his restless pain,
a thought occurred to him. He had been much struck in the squire's
conversation by certain allusions to arguments drawn from the Book of
Daniel. It was not a subject with which Robert had any great
familiarity. He remembered his Pusey dimly, certain Divinity lectures,
an article of Westcott's.

He raised his hand quickly and took down the monograph on _The Use of
the Old Testament in the New_, which the squire had sent him in the
earliest days of their acquaintance. A secret dread and repugnance had
held him from it till now. Curiously enough it was not he but Catherine,
as we shall see, who had opened it first. Now, however, he got it down
and turned to the section on Daniel.

It was a change of conviction on the subject of the date and authorship
of this strange product of Jewish patriotism in the second century
before Christ that drove M. Renan out of the Church of Rome. 'For the
Catholic Church to confess,' he says in his _Souvenirs_, 'that Daniel is
an apocryphal book of the time of the Maccabees, would be to confess
that she had made a mistake; if she had made this mistake, she may have
made others; she is no longer divinely inspired.'

The Protestant, who is in truth more bound to the Book of Daniel than M.
Renan, has various ways of getting over the difficulties raised against
the supposed authorship of the book by modern criticism. Robert found
all these ways enumerated in the brilliant and vigorous pages of the
book before him.

In the first place, like the orthodox Saint-Sulpicien, the Protestant
meets the critic with a flat _non possumus_. 'Your arguments are useless
and irrelevant,' he says in effect. 'However plausible may be your
objections, the Book of Daniel is what it professes to be, _because_ our
Lord quoted it in such a manner as to distinctly recognise its
authority. The All-True and All-Knowing cannot have made a mistake, nor
can He have expressly led His disciples to regard as genuine and Divine,
prophecies which were in truth the inventions of an ingenious romancer.'

But the liberal Anglican--the man, that is to say, whose logical sense
is inferior to his sense of literary probabilities--proceeds quite
differently.

'Your arguments are perfectly just,' he says to the critic; 'the book is
a patriotic fraud, of no value except to the historian of literature.
But how do you know that our Lord quoted it as _true_ in the strict
sense? In fact He quoted it as _literature_, as a Greek might have
quoted Homer, as an Englishman might quote Shakespeare.'

And many a harassed Churchman takes refuge forthwith in the new
explanation. It is very difficult, no doubt, to make the passages in the
Gospels agree with it, but at the bottom of his mind there is a saving
silent scorn for the old theories of inspiration. He admits to himself
that probably Christ was not correctly reported in the matter.

Then appears the critic, having no interests to serve, no _parti pris_
to defend, and states the matter calmly, dispassionately, as it appears
to him. 'No reasonable man,' says the ablest German exponent of the Book
of Daniel, 'can doubt'--that this most interesting piece of writing
belongs to the year 169 or 170 B.C. It was written to stir up the
courage and patriotism of the Jews, weighed down by the persecutions of
Antiochus Epiphanes. It had enormous vogue. It inaugurated a new
Apocalyptic literature. And clearly the youth of Jesus of Nazareth was
vitally influenced by it. It entered into his thought, it helped to
shape his career.

But Elsmere did not trouble himself much with the critic, as at any rate
he was reported by the author of the book before him. Long before the
critical case was reached, he had flung the book heavily from him. The
mind accomplished its further task without help from outside. In the
stillness of the night there rose up weirdly before him a whole new
mental picture--effacing, pushing out, innumerable older images of
thought. It was the image of a purely human Christ--a purely human,
explicable, yet always wonderful Christianity. It broke his heart, but
the spell of it was like some dream-country wherein we see all the
familiar objects of life in new relations and perspectives. He gazed
upon it fascinated, the wailing underneath checked a while by the
strange beauty and order of the emerging spectacle. Only a little while!
Then with a groan Elsmere looked up, his eyes worn, his lips white and
set.

'I must face it--I must face it through! God help me!'

A slight sound overhead in Catherine's room sent a sudden spasm of
feeling through the young face. He threw himself down, hiding from his
own foresight of what was to be.

'My darling, my darling! But she shall know nothing of it--yet.'



CHAPTER XXV


And he did face it through.

The next three months were the bitterest months of Elsmere's life. They
were marked by anguished mental struggle, by a consciousness of painful
separation from the soul nearest to his own, and by a constantly
increasing sense of oppression, of closing avenues and narrowing
alternatives, which for weeks together seemed to hold the mind in a grip
whence there was no escape.

That struggle was not hurried and embittered by the bodily presence of
the squire. Mr. Wendover went off to Italy a few days after the
conversation we have described. But though he was not present in the
flesh the great book of his life was in Elsmere's hands, he had formally
invited Elsmere's remarks upon it; and the air of Murewell seemed still
echoing with his sentences, still astir with his thoughts. That curious
instinct of pursuit, that avid imperious wish to crush an irritating
resistance, which his last walk with Elsmere had first awakened in him
with any strength, persisted. He wrote to Robert from abroad, and the
proud fastidious scholar had never taken more pains with anything than
with those letters.

Robert might have stopped them, might have cast the whole matter from
him with one resolute effort. In other relations he had will enough and
to spare.

Was it an unexpected weakness of fibre that made it impossible?--that
had placed him in this way at the squire's disposal? Half the world
would answer yes. Might not the other half plead that in every
generation there is a minority of these mobile, impressionable,
defenceless natures, who are ultimately at the mercy of experience, at
the mercy of thought, at the mercy (shall we say?) of truth; and that,
in fact, it is from this minority that all human advance comes?

During these three miserable months it cannot be said--poor
Elsmere!--that he attempted any systematic study of Christian evidence.
His mind was too much torn, his heart too sore. He pounced feverishly on
one test point after another, on the Pentateuch, the Prophets, the
relation of the New Testament to the thoughts and beliefs of its time,
the Gospel of St. John, the evidence as to the Resurrection, the
intellectual and moral conditions surrounding the formation of the
Canon. His mind swayed hither and thither, driven from each
resting-place in turn by the pressure of some new difficulty. And--let
it be said again--all through, the only constant element in the whole
dismal process was his trained historical sense. If he had gone through
this conflict at Oxford, for instance, he would have come out of it
unscathed: for he would simply have remained throughout it ignorant of
the true problems at issue. As it was, the keen instrument he had
sharpened so laboriously on indifferent material now ploughed its
agonising way, bit by bit, into the most intimate recesses of thought
and faith.

Much of the actual struggle he was able to keep from Catherine's view,
as he had vowed to himself to keep it. For after the squire's departure
Mrs. Darcy too went joyously up to London to flutter a while through the
golden alleys of Mayfair; and Elsmere was left once more in undisturbed
possession of the Murewell library. There for a while on every day--oh,
pitiful relief!--he could hide himself from the eyes he loved.

But, after all, married love allows of nothing but the shallowest
concealments. Catherine had already had one or two alarms. Once, in
Robert's study, among a tumbled mass of books he had pulled out in
search of something missing, and which she was putting in order, she had
come across that very book on the Prophecies which at a critical moment
had so deeply affected Elsmere. It lay open, and Catherine was caught by
the heading of a section: 'The Messianic Idea.'

She began to read, mechanically at first, and read about a page. That
page so shocked a mind accustomed to a purely traditional and mystical
interpretation of the Bible that the book dropped abruptly from her
hand, and she stood a moment by her husband's table, her fine face pale
and frowning.

She noticed, with bitterness, Mr. Wendover's name on the title-page. Was
it right for Robert to have such books? Was it wise, was it prudent, for
the Christian to measure himself against such antagonism as this? She
wrestled painfully with the question. 'Oh, but I can't understand,' she
said to herself with an almost agonised energy. 'It is I who am timid,
faithless! He _must_--he _must_--know what they say; he must have gone
through the dark places if he is to carry others through them.'

So she stilled and trampled on the inward protest. She yearned to speak
of it to Robert, but something withheld her. In her passionate wifely
trust she could not bear to seem to question the use he made of his time
and thought; and a delicate moral scruple warned her she might easily
allow her dislike of the Wendover friendship to lead her into
exaggeration and injustice.

But the stab of that moment recurred--dealt now by one slight incident,
now by another. And after the squire's departure Catherine suddenly
realised that the whole atmosphere of their home-life was changed.

Robert was giving himself to his people with a more scrupulous energy
than ever. Never had she seen him so pitiful, so full of heart for every
human creature. His sermons, with their constant imaginative dwelling on
the earthly life of Jesus, affected her now with a poignancy, a pathos,
which were almost unbearable. And his tenderness to _her_ was beyond
words. But with that tenderness there was constantly mixed a note of
remorse, a painful self-depreciation which she could hardly notice in
speech, but which every now and then wrung her heart. And in his parish
work he often showed a depression, an irritability, entirely new to her.
He who had always the happiest power of forgetting to-morrow all the
rubs of to-day, seemed now quite incapable of saving himself and his
cheerfulness in the old ways, nay, had developed a capacity for sheer
worry she had never seen in him before. And meanwhile all the old
gossips of the place spoke their mind freely to Catherine on the subject
of the rector's looks, coupling their remarks with a variety of
prescriptions, out of which Robert did sometimes manage to get one of
his old laughs. His sleeplessness, too, which had always been a
constitutional tendency, had become now so constant and wearing that
Catherine began to feel a nervous hatred of his book-work, and of those
long mornings at the Hall; a passionate wish to put an end to it, and
carry him away for a holiday.

But he would not hear of the holiday, and he could hardly bear any talk
of himself. And Catherine had been brought up in a school of feeling
which bade love be very scrupulous, very delicate, and which recognised
in the strongest way the right of every human soul to its own privacy,
its own reserves. That something definite troubled him she was certain.
What it was he clearly avoided telling her, and she could not hurt him
by impatience.

He would tell her soon--when it was right--she cried pitifully to
herself. Meantime both suffered, she not knowing why, clinging to each
other the while more passionately than ever.

One night, however, coming down in her dressing-gown into the study in
search of a _Christian Year_ she had left behind her, she found Robert
with papers strewn before him, his arms on the table and his head laid
down upon them. He looked up as she came in, and the expression of his
eyes drew her to him irresistibly.

'Were you asleep, Robert? Do come to bed!'

He sat up, and with a pathetic gesture held out his arms to her. She
came on to his knee, putting her white arms round his neck, while he
leant his head against her breast.

'Are you tired with all your walking to-day?' she said presently, a pang
at her heart.

'I am tired,' he said, 'but not with walking.'

'Does your book worry you? You shouldn't work so hard, Robert--you
shouldn't!'

He started.

'Don't talk of it. Don't let us talk or think at all, only feel!'

And he tightened his arms round her, happy once more for a moment in
this environment of a perfect love. There was silence for a few moments,
Catherine feeling more and more disturbed and anxious.

'Think of your mountains,' he said presently, his eyes still pressed
against her, 'of High Fell and the moonlight and the house where Mary
Backhouse died. Oh! Catherine, I see you still, and shall always see
you, as I saw you then, my angel of healing and of grace!'

'I too have been thinking of her to-night,' said Catherine softly, 'and
of the walk to Shanmoor. This evening in the garden it seemed to me as
though there were Westmoreland scents in the air! I was haunted by a
vision of bracken, and rocks, and sheep browsing up the fell slopes.'

'Oh for a breath of the wind on High Fell!' cried Robert,--it was so new
to her, the dear voice with this accent in it of yearning depression! 'I
want more of the spirit of the mountains, their serenity, their
strength. Say me that Duddon sonnet you used to say to me there, as you
said it to me that last Sunday before our wedding, when we walked up the
Shanmoor road to say good-bye to that blessed spot. Oh! how I sit and
think of it sometimes, when life seems to be going crookedly, that rock
on the fell-side where I found you, and caught you, and snared you, my
dove, for ever.'

And Catherine, whose mere voice was as balm to this man of many
impulses, repeated to him, softly in the midnight silence, those noble
lines in which Wordsworth has expressed, with the reserve and yet the
strength of the great poet, the loftiest yearning of the purest hearts--

    'Enough, if something from our hand have power
     To live and move, and serve the future hour,
     And if, as towards the silent tomb we go,
     Through love, through hope, and faith's transcendent dower,
     We feel that we are greater than we know.'

'He has divined it all,' said Robert, drawing a long breath when she
stopped, which seemed to relax the fibres of the inner man, 'the fever
and the fret of human thought, the sense of littleness, of impotence, of
evanescence--and he has soothed it all!'

'Oh, not all, not all!' cried Catherine, her look kindling, and her rare
passion breaking through; 'how little in comparison!'

For her thoughts were with him of whom it was said, _'He needed not that
any one should bear witness concerning man, for he knew what was in
man_.' But Robert's only response was silence and a kind of quivering
sigh.

'Robert!' she cried, pressing her cheek against his temple, 'tell me, my
dear, dear husband, what it is troubles you. Something does--I am
certain--certain!'

'Catherine--wife--beloved!' he said to her, after another pause, in a
tone of strange tension she never forgot; 'generations of men and women
have known what it is to be led spiritually into the desert, into that
outer wilderness where even the Lord was "tempted." What am I that I
should claim to escape it? And you cannot come through it with me, my
darling--no, not even you! It is loneliness--it is solitariness
itself----' and he shuddered. 'But pray for me--pray that _He_ may be
with me, and that at the end there may be light!'

He pressed her to him convulsively, then gently released her. His solemn
eyes, fixed upon her as she stood there beside him, seemed to forbid
her to say a word more. She stooped; she laid her lips to his; it was a
meeting of soul with soul; then she went softly out, breaking the quiet
of the house by a stifled sob as she passed upstairs.

Oh! but at last she thought she understood him. She had not passed her
girlhood, side by side with a man of delicate fibre, of melancholy and
scrupulous temperament, and within hearing of all the natural interests
of a deeply religious mind, religious biography, religious psychology,
and--within certain sharply defined limits--religious speculation,
without being brought face to face with the black possibilities of
'doubts' and 'difficulties' as barriers in the Christian path. Has not
almost every Christian of illustrious excellence been tried and humbled
by them? Catherine, looking back upon her own youth, could remember
certain crises of religious melancholy, during which she had often
dropped off to sleep at night on a pillow wet with tears. They had
passed away quickly, and for ever. But she went back to them now,
straining her eyes through the darkness of her own past, recalling her
father's days of spiritual depression, and the few difficult words she
had sometimes heard from him as to those bitter times of religious
dryness and hopelessness, by which God chastens from time to time His
most faithful and heroic souls. A half-contempt awoke in her for the
unclouded serenity and confidence of her own inner life. If her own
spiritual experience had gone deeper, she told herself with the
strangest self-blame, she would have been able now to understand Robert
better--to help him more.

She thought as she lay awake after those painful moments in the study,
the tears welling up slowly in the darkness, of many things that had
puzzled her in the past. She remembered the book she had seen on his
table; her thoughts travelled over his months of intercourse with the
squire; and the memory of Mr. Newcome's attitude towards the man whom he
conceived to be his Lord's adversary, as contrasted with Robert's,
filled her with a shrinking pain she dared not analyse.

Still all through, her feeling towards her husband was in the main akin
to that of the English civilian at home towards English soldiers abroad,
suffering and dying that England may be great. _She_ had sheltered
herself all her life from those deadly forces of unbelief which exist in
English society, by a steady refusal to know what, however, any educated
university man must perforce know. But such a course of action was
impossible for Robert. He had been forced into the open, into the full
tide of the Lord's battle. The chances of that battle are many; and the
more courage the more risk of wounds and pain. But the great Captain
knows--the great Captain does not forget His own!

For never, never had she the smallest doubt as to the issue of this
sudden crisis in her husband's consciousness, even when she came nearest
to apprehending its nature. As well might she doubt the return of
daylight, as dream of any permanent eclipse descending upon the faith
which had shone through every detail of Robert's ardent impulsive life,
with all its struggles, all its failings, all its beauty, since she had
known him first. The dread did not even occur to her. In her agony of
pity and reverence she thought of him as passing through a trial, which
is specially the believer's trial--the chastening by which God proves
the soul He loves. Let her only love and trust in patience.

So that day by day as Robert's depression still continued, Catherine
surrounded him with the tenderest and wisest affection. Her quiet common
sense made itself heard, forbidding her to make too much of the change
in him, which might after all, she thought, be partly explained by the
mere physical results of his long strain of body and mind during the
Mile End epidemic. And for the rest she would not argue; she would not
inquire. She only prayed that she might so lead the Christian life
beside him, that the Lord's tenderness, the Lord's consolation, might
shine upon him through her. It had never been her wont to speak to him
much about his own influence, his own effect, in the parish. To the
austerer Christian considerations of this kind are forbidden: 'It is not
I, but Christ that worketh in me.' But now, whenever she came across any
striking trace of his power over the weak or the impure, the sick or the
sad, she would in some way make it known to him, offering it to him in
her delicate tenderness, as though it were a gift that the Father had
laid in her hand for him--a token that the Master was still indeed with
His servant, and that all was fundamentally well!

And so much, perhaps, the contact with his wife's faith, the power of
her love, wrought in Robert, that during these weeks and months he also
never lost his own certainty of emergence from the shadow which had
overtaken him. And, indeed, driven on from day to day as he was by an
imperious intellectual thirst which would be satisfied, the religion of
the heart, the imaginative emotional habit of years, that incessant
drama which the soul enacts with the Divine Powers to which it feels
itself committed, lived and persisted through it all. Feeling was
untouched. The heart was still passionately on the side of all its old
loves and adorations, still blindly trustful that in the end, by some
compromise as yet unseen, they would be restored to it intact.

Some time towards the end of July Robert was coming home from the Hall
before lunch, tired and worn, as the morning always left him, and
meditating some fresh sheets of the squire's proofs which had been in
his hands that morning. On the road crossing that to the rectory he
suddenly saw Reginald Newcome, thinner and whiter than ever, striding
along as fast as cassock and cloak would let him, his eyes on the
ground, and his wideawake drawn over them. He and Elsmere had scarcely
met for months, and Robert had lately made up his mind that Newcome was
distinctly less friendly, and wished to show it.

Elsmere had touched his arm before Newcome had perceived any one near
him. Then he drew back with a start.

'Elsmere, you here! I had an idea you were away for a holiday!'

'Oh dear, no!' said Robert, smiling. 'I may get away in September,
perhaps--not till then.'

'Mr. Wendover at home?' said the other, his eyes turning to the Hall, of
which the chimneys were just visible from where they stood.

'No, he is abroad.'

'You and he have made friends, I understand,' said the other abruptly,
his eagle look returning to Elsmere; 'I hear of you as always together.'

'We have made friends, and we walk a great deal when the squire is
here,' said Robert, meeting Newcome's harshness of tone with a bright
dignity 'Mr. Wendover has even been doing something for us in the
village. You should come and see the new Institute. The roof is on, and
we shall open it in August or September. The best building of the kind
in the country by far, and Mr. Wendover's gift.'

'I suppose you use the library a great deal?' said Newcome, paying no
attention to these remarks, and still eyeing his companion closely.

'A great deal.'

Robert had at that moment under his arm a German treatise on the history
of the Logos doctrine, which afterwards, looking back on the little
scene, he thought it probable Newcome recognised. They turned towards
the rectory together, Newcome still asking abrupt questions as to the
squire, the length of time he was to be away, Elsmere's work, parochial
and literary, during the past six months, the numbers of his Sunday
congregation, of his communicants, etc. Elsmere bore his catechism with
perfect temper, though Newcome's manner had in it a strange and almost
judicial imperativeness.

'Elsmere,' said his questioner presently, after a pause, 'I am going to
have a retreat for priests at the Clergy House next month. Father
H----,' mentioning a famous High Churchman, 'will conduct it. You would
do me a special favour'--and suddenly the face softened, and shone with
all its old magnetism on Elsmere--'if you would come. I believe you
would find nothing to dislike in it, or in our rule, which is a most
simple one.'

Robert smiled, and laid his hand on the other's arm.

'No, Newcome, no; I am in no mood for H----.'

The High Churchman looked at him with a quick and painful anxiety
visible in the stern eyes.

'Will you tell me what that means?'

'It means,' said Robert, clasping his hands tightly behind him, his pace
slackening a little to meet that of Newcome--'it means that if you will
give me your prayers, Newcome, your companionship sometimes, your pity
always, I will thank you from the bottom of my heart. But I am in a
state just now when I must fight my battles for myself, and in God's
sight only!'

It was the first burst of confidence which had passed his lips to any
one but Catherine.

Newcome stood still, a tremor of strong emotion running through the
emaciated face.

'You are in trouble, Elsmere; I felt it, I knew it, when I first saw
you!'

'Yes, I am in trouble,' said Robert quietly.

'Opinions?'

'Opinions, I suppose--or facts,' said Robert, his arms dropping wearily
beside him. 'Have you ever known what it is to be troubled in mind, I
wonder, Newcome?'

And he looked at his companion with a sudden pitiful curiosity.

A kind of flash passed over Mr. Newcome's face.

'_Have I ever known?_' he repeated vaguely, and then he drew his thin
hand, the hand of the ascetic and the mystic, hastily across his eyes,
and was silent--his lips moving, his gaze on the ground, his whole
aspect that of a man wrought out of himself by a sudden passion of
memory.

Robert watched him with surprise, and was just speaking, when Mr.
Newcome looked up, every drawn attenuated feature working painfully.

'Did you never ask yourself, Elsmere,' he said slowly, 'what it was
drove me from the bar and journalism to the East End? Do you think I
don't know,' and his voice rose, his eyes flamed, 'what black devil it
is that is gnawing at your heart now? Why, man, I have been through
darker gulfs of hell than you have ever sounded! Many a night I have
felt myself _mad--mad of doubt_--a castaway on a shoreless sea; doubting
not only God or Christ, but myself, the soul, the very existence of
good. I found only one way out of it, and _you_ will find only one way.'

The lithe hand caught Robert's arm impetuously--the voice with its
accent of fierce conviction was at his ear.

'Trample on yourself! Pray down the demon, fast, scourge, kill the body,
that the soul may live! What are we, miserable worms, that we should
defy the Most High, that we should set our wretched faculties against
His Omnipotence? Submit--submit--humble yourself, my brother! Fling away
the freedom which is your ruin. There is no freedom for man. Either a
slave to Christ, or a slave to his own lusts--there is no other choice.
Go away; exchange your work here for a time for work in London. You have
too much leisure here: Satan has too much opportunity. I foresaw it--I
foresaw it when you and I first met. I felt I had a message for you, and
here I deliver it. In the Lord's name, I bid you fly; I bid you yield in
time. Better to be the Lord's captive than _the Lord's betrayer_!'

The wasted form was drawn up to its full height, the arm was
outstretched, the long cloak fell back from it in long folds--voice and
eye were majesty itself. Robert had a tremor of responsive passion. How
easy it sounded, how tempting, to cut the knot, to mutilate and starve
the rebellious intellect which would assert itself against the soul's
purest instincts! Newcome had done it--why not he?

And then, suddenly, as he stood gazing at his companion, the spring sun,
and murmur all about them, another face, another life, another message,
flashed on his inmost sense--the face and life of Henry Grey. Words torn
from their context but full for him of intensest meaning, passed rapidly
through his mind: '_God is not wisely trusted when declared
unintelligible._' '_Such honour rooted in dishonour stands; such faith
unfaithful makes us falsely true._' '_God is for ever reason: and His
communication, His revelation, is reason._'

He turned away with a slight sad shake of the head. The spell was
broken. Mr. Newcome's arm dropped, and he moved sombrely on beside
Robert--the hand, which held a little book of Hours against his cloak,
trembling slightly.

At the rectory gate he stopped.

'Good-bye--I must go home.'

'You won't come in?--No, no, Newcome; believe me, I am no rash careless
egotist, risking wantonly the most precious things in life! But the call
is on me, and I must follow it. All life is God's, and all thought--not
only a fraction of it. He cannot let me wander very far!'

But the cold fingers he held so warmly dropped from his, and Newcome
turned away.

A week afterwards, or thereabouts, Robert had in some sense followed
Newcome's counsel. Admonished perhaps by sheer physical weakness, as
much as by anything else, he had for the moment laid down his arms; he
had yielded to an invading feebleness of the will, which refused, as it
were, to carry on the struggle any longer, at such a life-destroying
pitch of intensity. The intellectual oppression of itself brought about
wild reaction and recoil, and a passionate appeal to that inward witness
of the soul which holds its own long after the reason has practically
ceased to struggle.

It came about in this way. One morning he stood reading in the window of
the library the last of the squire's letters. It contained a short but
masterly analysis of the mental habits and idiosyncrasies of St. Paul,
_à propos_ of St. Paul's witness to the Resurrection. Every now and
then, as Elsmere turned the pages, the orthodox protest would assert
itself, the orthodox arguments make themselves felt as though in
mechanical involuntary protest. But their force and vitality was gone.
Between the Paul of Anglican theology and the fiery fallible man of
genius--so weak logically, so strong in poetry, in rhetoric, in moral
passion, whose portrait has been drawn for us by a free and temperate
criticism--the rector knew, in a sort of dull way, that his choice was
made. The one picture carried reason and imagination with it; the other
contented neither.

But as he put down the letter something seemed to snap within him. Some
chord of physical endurance gave way. For five months he had been living
intellectually at a speed no man maintains with impunity, and this
letter of the squire's, with its imperious demands upon the tired
irritable brain, was the last straw.

He sank down on the oriel seat, the letter dropping from his hands.
Outside, the little garden, now a mass of red and pink roses, the hill
and the distant stretches of park were wrapped in a thick sultry mist,
through which a dim far-off sunlight struggled on to the library floor,
and lay in ghostly patches on the polished boards and lower ranges of
books.

The simplest religious thoughts began to flow over him--the simplest
childish words of prayer were on his lips. He felt himself delivered, he
knew not how or why.

He rose deliberately, laid the squire's letter among his other papers,
and tied them up carefully; then he took up the books which lay piled on
the squire's writing-table: all those volumes of German, French, and
English criticism, liberal or apologetic, which he had been accumulating
round him day by day with a feverish toilsome impartiality, and began
rapidly and methodically to put them back in their places on the
shelves.

'I have done too much thinking, too much reading,' he was saying to
himself as he went through his task. 'Now let it be the turn of
something else!'

And still as he handled the books, it was as though Catherine's figure
glided backwards and forwards beside him, across the smooth floor, as
though her hand were on his arm, her eyes shining into his. Ah--he knew
well what it was had made the sharpest sting of this wrestle through
which he had been passing! It was not merely religious dread, religious
shame; that terror of disloyalty to the Divine Images which have filled
the soul's inmost shrine since its first entry into consciousness, such
as every good man feels in a like strait. This had been strong indeed;
but men are men, and love is love! Ay, it was to the dark certainty of
Catherine's misery that every advance in knowledge and intellectual
power had brought him nearer. It was from that certainty that he now,
and for the last time, recoiled. It was too much. It could not be borne.

He walked home, counting up the engagements of the next few weeks--the
school-treat, two club field-days, a sermon in the county town, the
probable opening of the new Workmen's Institute, and so on. Oh! to be
through them all and away, away amid Alpine scents and silences. He
stood a moment beside the gray slowly-moving river, half hidden beneath
the rank flower-growth, the tansy and willow-herb, the luxuriant elder
and trailing brambles of its August banks, and thought with hungry
passion of the clean-swept Alpine pasture, the fir-woods, and the
tameless mountain streams. In three weeks or less he and Catherine
should be climbing the Jaman or the Dent du Midi. And till then he would
want all his time for men and women. Books should hold him no more.

Catherine only put her arms round his neck in silence when he told her.
The relief was too great for words. He, too, held her close, saying
nothing. But that night, for the first time for weeks, Elsmere's wife
slept in peace and woke without dread of the day before her.



BOOK IV

CRISIS



CHAPTER XXVI


The next fortnight was a time of truce. Elsmere neither read nor
reasoned. He spent his days in the school, in the village, pottering
about the Mile End cottages, or the new Institute--sometimes fishing,
sometimes passing long summer hours on the commons with his club boys,
hunting the ponds for caddises, newts, and water-beetles, peering into
the furze-bushes for second broods, or watching the sand-martins in the
gravel-pits, and trudging home at night in the midst of an escort of
enthusiasts, all of them with pockets as full and miry as his own, to
deposit the treasures of the day in the club-room. Once more the rector,
though physically perhaps less ardent than of yore, was the life of the
party, and a certain awe and strangeness which had developed in his
boys' minds towards him, during the last few weeks, passed away.

It was curious that in these days he would neither sit nor walk alone if
he could help it. Catherine or a stray parishioner was almost always
with him. All the while, vaguely, in the depths of consciousness, there
was the knowledge that behind this piece of quiet water on which his
life was now sailing, there lay storm and darkness, and that in front
loomed fresh possibilities of tempest. He knew, in a way, that it was a
treacherous peace which had overtaken him. And yet it was peace. The
pressure exerted by the will had temporarily given way, and the deepest
forces of the man's being had reasserted themselves. He could feel and
love and pray again; and Catherine, seeing the old glow in the eyes, the
old spring in the step, made the whole of life one thank-offering.

On the evening following that moment of reaction in the Murewell
library, Robert had written to the squire. His letter had been
practically a withdrawal from the correspondence.

'I find,' he wrote, 'that I have been spending too much time and energy
lately on these critical matters. It seems to me that my work as a
clergyman has suffered. Nor can I deny that your book and your letters
have been to me a source of great trouble of mind.

'My heart is where it was, but my head is often confused. Let
controversy rest a while. My wife says I want a holiday; I think so
myself, and we are off in three weeks; not, however, I hope, before we
have welcomed you home again, and got you to open the new Institute,
which is already dazzling the eyes of the village by its size and
splendour, and the white paint that Harris the builder has been
lavishing upon it.'

Ten days later, rather earlier than was expected, the squire and Mrs.
Darcy were at home again. Robert re-entered the great house the morning
after their arrival with a strange reluctance. Its glow and
magnificence, the warm perfumed air of the hall, brought back a sense of
old oppressions, and he walked down the passage to the library with a
sinking heart. There he found the squire busy as usual with one of those
fresh cargoes of books which always accompanied him on any homeward
journey. He was more brown, more wrinkled, more shrunken; more full of
force, of harsh epigram, of grim anecdote than ever. Robert sat on the
edge of the table laughing over his stories of French Orientalists, or
Roman cardinals, or modern Greek professors, enjoying the impartial
sarcasm which one of the greatest of _savants_ was always ready to pour
out upon his brethren of the craft.

The squire, however, was never genial for a moment during the interview.
He did not mention his book nor Elsmere's letter. But Elsmere suspected
in him a good deal of suppressed irritability; and, as after a while he
abruptly ceased to talk, the visit grew difficult.

The rector walked home feeling restless and depressed. The mind had
begun to work again. It was only by a great effort that he could turn
his thoughts from the squire, and all that the squire had meant to him
during the past year, and so woo back to himself 'the shy bird Peace.'

Mr. Wendover watched the door close behind him, and then went back to
his work with a gesture of impatience.

'Once a priest, always a priest. What a fool I was to forget it! You
think you make an impression on the mystic, and at the bottom there is
always something which defies you and common sense. "Two and two do not,
and shall not, make four,"' he said to himself, in a mincing voice of
angry sarcasm. '"It would give me too much pain that they should." Well,
and so I suppose what might have been a rational friendship will go by
the board like everything else. What can make the man shilly-shally in
this way? He is convinced already, as he knows--those later letters were
conclusive! His living, perhaps, and his work! Not for the money's
sake--there never was a more incredibly disinterested person born. But
his work? Well, who is to hinder his work? Will he be the first parson
in the Church of England who looks after the poor and holds his tongue?
If you can't speak your mind, it is something at any rate to possess
one--nine-tenths of the clergy being without the appendage. But
Elsmere--pshaw! he will go muddling on to the end of the chapter!'

The squire, indeed, was like a hunter whose prey escapes him at the very
moment of capture, and there grew on him a mocking aggressive mood which
Elsmere often found hard to bear.

One natural symptom of it was his renewed churlishness as to all local
matters. Elsmere one afternoon spent an hour in trying to persuade him
to open the new Institute.

'What on earth do you want me for?' inquired Mr. Wendover, standing
before the fire in the library, the Medusa head peering over his
shoulder. 'You know perfectly well that all the gentry about here--I
suppose you will have some of them--regard me as an old reprobate, and
the poor people, I imagine, as a kind of ogre. To me it doesn't matter a
twopenny damn--I apologise; it was the Duke of Wellington's favourite
standard of value--but I can't see what good it can do either you or the
village, under the circumstances, that I should stand on my head for the
popular edification.'

Elsmere, however, merely stood his ground, arguing and bantering, till
the squire grudgingly gave way. This time, after he departed, Mr.
Wendover, instead of going to his work, still stood gloomily ruminating
in front of the fire. His frowning eyes wandered round the great room
before him. For the first time he was conscious that now, as soon as the
charm of Elsmere's presence was withdrawn, his working hours were doubly
solitary; that his loneliness weighed upon him more; and that it
mattered to him appreciably whether that young man went or stayed. The
stirring of a new sensation, however,--unparalleled since the brief days
when even Roger Wendover had his friends and his attractions like other
men,--was soon lost in renewed chafing at Elsmere's absurdities. The
squire had been at first perfectly content--so he told himself--to limit
the field of their intercourse, and would have been content to go on
doing so. But Elsmere himself had invited freedom of speech between
them.

'I would have given him my best,' Mr. Wendover reflected impatiently. 'I
could have handed on to him all I shall never use, and he might use,
admirably. And now we might as well be on the terms we were to begin
with for all the good I get out of him, or he out of me. Clearly nothing
but cowardice! He cannot face the intellectual change, and he must, I
suppose, dread lest it should affect his work. Good God, what nonsense!
As if any one inquired what an English parson believed nowadays, so long
as he performs all the usual antics decently!'

And, meanwhile, it never occurred to the squire that Elsmere had a wife,
and a pious one. Catherine had been dropped out of his calculation as to
Elsmere's future, at a very early stage.

       *       *       *       *       *

The following afternoon Robert, coming home from a round, found
Catherine out, and a note awaiting him from the Hall.

'Can you and Mrs. Elsmere come in to tea?' wrote the squire. 'Madame de
Netteville is here, and one or two others.'

Robert grumbled a good deal, looked for Catherine to devise an excuse
for him, could not find her, and at last reluctantly set out again
alone.

He was tired and his mood was heavy. As he trudged through the park he
never once noticed the soft sun-flooded distance, the shining loops of
the river, the feeding deer, or any of those natural witcheries to which
eye and sense were generally so responsive. The labourers going home,
the children--with aprons full of crab-apples, and lips dyed by the
first blackberries--who passed him, got but an absent smile or salute
from the rector. The interval of exaltation and recoil was over. The
ship of the mind was once more labouring in alien and dreary seas.

He roused himself to remember that he had been curious to see Madame de
Netteville. She was an old friend of the squire's, the holder of a
London salon, much more exquisite and select than anything Lady
Charlotte could show.

'She had the same thing in Paris before the war,' the squire explained.
'Renan gave me a card to her. An extraordinary woman. No particular
originality; but one of the best persons "to consult about ideas," like
Joubert's Madame de Beaumont, I ever saw. Receptiveness itself. A
beauty, too, or was one, and a bit of a sphinx, which adds to the
attraction. Mystery becomes a woman vastly. One suspects her of
adventures just enough to find her society doubly piquant.'

Vincent directed him to the upper terrace, whither tea had been taken.
This terrace, which was one of the features of Murewell, occupied the
top of the yew-clothed hill on which the library looked out. Evelyn
himself had planned it. Along its upper side ran one of the most
beautiful of old walls, broken by niches and statues, tapestried with
roses and honeysuckle, and opening in the centre to reveal Evelyn's
darling conceit of all--a semicircular space, holding a fountain, and
leading to a grotto. The grotto had been scooped out of the hill; it was
peopled with dim figures of fauns and nymphs who showed white amid its
moist greenery; and in front a marble Silence drooped over the fountain,
which held gold and silver fish in a singularly clear water. Outside ran
the long stretch of level turf, edged with a jewelled rim of flowers;
and as the hill fell steeply underneath, the terrace was like a high
green platform raised into air, in order that a Wendover might see his
domain, which from thence lay for miles spread out before him.

Here, beside the fountain, were gathered the squire, Mrs. Darcy, Madame
de Netteville, and two unknown men. One of them was introduced to
Elsmere as Mr. Spooner, and recognised by him as a Fellow of the Royal
Society, a famous mathematician, sceptic, _bon vivant_, and sayer of
good things. The other was a young Liberal Catholic, the author of a
remarkable collection of essays on mediæval subjects in which the
squire, treating the man's opinions of course as of no account, had
instantly recognised the note of the true scholar. A pale, small, hectic
creature, possessed of that restless energy of mind which often goes
with the heightened temperature of consumption.

Robert took a seat by Madame de Netteville, whose appearance was
picturesqueness itself. Her dress, a skilful mixture of black and creamy
yellow, lay about her in folds, as soft, as carelessly effective as her
manner. Her plumed hat shadowed a face which was no longer young in such
a way as to hide all the lines possible; while the half-light brought
admirably out the rich dark smoothness of the tints, the black lustre of
the eyes. A delicate blue-veined hand lay upon her knee, and Robert was
conscious after ten minutes or so that all her movements, which seemed
at first merely slow and languid, were in reality singularly full of
decision and purpose.

She was not easy to talk to on a first acquaintance. Robert felt that
she was studying him, and was not so much at his ease as usual, partly
owing to fatigue and mental worry.

She asked him little abrupt questions about the neighbourhood, his
parish, his work, in a soft tone which had, however, a distinct
aloofness, even _hauteur_. His answers, on the other hand, were often a
trifle reckless and offhand. He was in a mood to be impatient with a
_mondaine's_ languid inquiries into clerical work, and it seemed to him
the squire's description had been overdone.

'So you try to civilise your peasants,' she said at last. 'Does it
succeed--is it worth while?'

'That depends upon your general ideas of what is worth while,' he
answered smiling.

'Oh, everything is worth while that passes the time,' she said
hurriedly. 'The clergy of the old _régime_ went through life half
asleep. That was their way of passing it. Your way, being a modern, is
to bustle and try experiments.'

Her eyes, half closed but none the less provocative, ran over Elsmere's
keen face and pliant frame. An atmosphere of intellectual and social
assumption enwrapped her, which annoyed Robert in much the same way as
Langham's philosophical airs were wont to do. He was drawn without
knowing it into a match of wits wherein his strokes, if they lacked the
finish and subtlety of hers, showed certainly no lack of sharpness or
mental resource. Madame de Netteville's tone insensibly changed, her
manner quickened, her great eyes gradually unclosed.

Suddenly, as they were in the middle of a skirmish as to the reality of
influence, Madame de Netteville paradoxically maintaining that no human
being had ever really converted, transformed, or convinced another, the
voice of young Wishart, shrill and tremulous, rose above the general
level of talk.

'I am quite ready; I am not the least afraid of a definition. Theology
is organised knowledge in the field of religion, a science like any
other science!'

'Certainly, my dear sir, certainly,' said Mr. Spooner, leaning forward
with his hands round his knees, and speaking with the most elegant and
good-humoured _sangfroid_ imaginable, 'the science of the world's
ghosts! I cannot imagine any more fascinating.'

'Well,' said Madame de Netteville to Robert, with a deep breath, '_that_
was a remark to have hurled at you all at once out of doors on a
summer's afternoon! Oh, Mr. Spooner!' she said, raising her voice,
'don't play the heretic here! There is no fun in it; there are too many
with you.'

'I did not begin it, my dear madam, and your reproach is unjust. On one
side of me Archbishop Manning's _fidus Achates_,' and the speaker took
off his large straw hat and gracefully waved it--first to the right,
then to the left. 'On the other, the rector of the parish. "Cannon to
right of me, cannon to left of me." I submit my courage is
unimpeachable!'

He spoke with a smiling courtesy as excessive as his silky moustache,
his long straw-coloured beard, and his Panama hat. Madame de Netteville
surveyed him with cool critical eyes. Robert smiled slightly,
acknowledged the bow, but did not speak.

Mr. Wishart evidently took no heed of anything but his own thoughts. He
sat bolt upright with shining excited eyes.

'Ah, I remember that article of yours in the _Fortnightly_! How you
sceptics miss the point!'

And out came a stream of argument and denunciation which had probably
lain lava-hot at the heart of the young convert for years, waiting for
such a moment as this, when he had before him at close quarters two of
the most famous antagonists of his faith. The outburst was striking, but
certainly unpardonably ill-timed. Madame de Netteville retreated into
herself with a shrug. Robert, in whom a sore nerve had been set jarring,
did his utmost to begin his talk with her again.

In vain!--for the squire struck in. He had been sitting huddled
together--his cynical eyes wandering from Wishart to Elsmere--when
suddenly some extravagant remark of the young Catholic, and Robert's
effort to edge away from the conversation, caught his attention at the
same moment. His face hardened, and in his nasal voice he dealt a swift
epigram at Mr. Wishart, which for the moment left the young disputant
floundering.

But only for the moment. In another minute or two the argument, begun so
casually, had developed into a serious trial of strength, in which the
squire and young Wishart took the chief parts, while Mr. Spooner threw
in a laugh and a sarcasm here and there.

And as long as Mr. Wendover talked, Madame de Netteville listened.
Robert's restless repulsion to the whole incident, his passionate wish
to escape from these phrases and illustrations and turns of argument
which were all so wearisomely stale and familiar to him, found no
support in her. Mrs. Darcy dared not second his attempts at chat, for
Mr. Wendover, on the rare occasions when he held forth, was accustomed
to be listened to; and Elsmere was of too sensitive a social fibre to
break up the party by an abrupt exit, which could only have been
interpreted in one way.

So he stayed, and perforce listened, but in complete silence. None of
Mr. Wendover's side-hits touched him. Only as the talk went on, the
rector in the background got paler and paler; his eyes, as they passed
from the mobile face of the Catholic convert, already, for those who
knew, marked with the signs of death, to the bronzed visage of the
squire, grew duller--more instinct with a slowly-dawning despair.

       *       *       *       *       *

Half an hour later he was once more on the road leading to the park
gate. He had a vague memory that at parting the squire had shown him the
cordiality of one suddenly anxious to apologise by manner, if not by
word. Otherwise everything was forgotten. He was only anxious, half
dazed as he was, to make out wherein lay the vital difference between
his present self and the Elsmere who had passed along that road an hour
before.

He had heard a conversation on religious topics, wherein nothing was new
to him, nothing affected him intellectually at all. What was there in
that to break the spring of life like this? He stood still, heavily
trying to understand himself.

Then gradually it became clear to him. A month ago, every word of that
hectic young pleader for Christ and the Christian certainties would have
roused in him a leaping passionate sympathy--the heart's yearning
assent, even when the intellect was most perplexed. Now that inmost
strand had given way. Suddenly the disintegrating force he had been so
pitifully, so blindly, holding at bay had penetrated once for all into
the sanctuary! What had happened to him had been the first real failure
of _feeling_, the first treachery of the _heart_. Wishart's hopes and
hatreds, and sublime defiances of man's petty faculties, had aroused in
him no echo, no response. His soul had been dead within him.

As he gained the shelter of the wooded lane beyond the gate it seemed to
Robert that he was going through, once more, that old fierce temptation
of Bunyan's,--

'For after the Lord had in this manner thus graciously delivered me, and
had set me down so sweetly in the faith of His Holy Gospel, and had
given me such strong consolation and blessed evidence from heaven,
touching my interest in His love through Christ, the tempter came upon
me again, and that with a more grievous and dreadful temptation than
before. And that was, "To sell and part with this most blessed Christ;
to exchange Him for the things of life, for anything!" The temptation
lay upon me for the space of a year, and did follow me so continually
that I was not rid of it one day in a month: no, not sometimes one hour
in many days together, for it did always, in almost whatever I thought,
intermix itself therewith, in such sort that I could neither eat my
food, stoop for a pin, chop a stick, or cast mine eyes to look on this
or that, but still the temptation would come: "Sell Christ for this, or
sell Christ for that, sell Him, sell Him!"'

Was this what lay before the minister of God now in this _selva oscura_
of life? The selling of the Master, of 'the love so sweet, the unction
spiritual,' for an intellectual satisfaction, the ravaging of all the
fair places of the heart by an intellectual need!

And still through all the despair, all the revolt, all the pain, which
made the summer air a darkness, and closed every sense in him to the
evening beauty, he felt the irresistible march and pressure of the new
instincts, the new forces, which life and thought had been calling into
being. The words of St. Augustine which he had read to Catherine, taken
in a strange new sense, came back to him--'Commend to the keeping of the
Truth whatever the Truth hath given thee, and thou shalt lose nothing!'

Was it the summons of Truth which was rending the whole nature in this
way?

Robert stood still, and with his hands locked behind him, and his face
turned like the face of a blind man towards a world of which it saw
nothing, went through a desperate catechism of himself.

'_Do I believe in God?_ Surely, surely! "Though He slay me yet will I
trust in Him!" _Do I believe in Christ?_ Yes,--in the teacher, the
martyr, the symbol to us Westerns of all things heavenly and abiding,
the image and pledge of the invisible life of the spirit--with all my
soul and all my mind!

'_But in the Man-God_, the Word from Eternity,--in a wonder-working
Christ, in a risen and ascended Jesus, in the living Intercessor and
Mediator for the lives of His doomed brethren?'

He waited, conscious that it was the crisis of his history, and there
rose in him, as though articulated one by one by an audible voice, words
of irrevocable meaning.

'Every human soul in which the voice of God makes itself felt, enjoys,
equally with Jesus of Nazareth, the divine sonship, and "_miracles do
not happen!_"'

It was done. He felt for the moment as Bunyan did after his lesser
defeat.

'Now was the battle won, and down fell I as a bird that is shot from the
top of a tree into great guilt and fearful despair. Thus getting out of
my bed I went moping in the field; but God knows with as heavy an heart
as mortal man I think could bear, where for the space of two hours I was
like a man bereft of life.'

All these years of happy spiritual certainty, of rejoicing oneness with
Christ, to end in this wreck and loss! Was not this indeed '_il gran
rifiuto_'--the greatest of which human daring is capable? The lane
darkened round him. Not a soul was in sight. The only sounds were the
sounds of a gently-breathing nature, sounds of birds and swaying
branches and intermittent gusts of air rustling through the gorse and
the drifts of last year's leaves in the wood beside him. He moved
mechanically onward, and presently, after the first flutter of desolate
terror had passed away, with a new inrushing sense which seemed to him a
sense of liberty--of infinite expansion.

Suddenly the trees before him thinned, the ground sloped away, and there
to the left on the westernmost edge of the hill lay the square stone
rectory, its windows open to the evening coolness, a white flutter of
pigeons round the dovecote on the side lawn, the gold of the August
wheat in the great cornfield showing against the heavy girdle of
oak-wood.

Robert stood gazing at it--the home consecrated by love, by effort, by
faith. The high alternations of intellectual and spiritual debate, the
strange emerging sense of deliverance, gave way to a most bitter human
pang of misery.

'_O God! My wife--my work!_'

... There was a sound of a voice calling--Catherine's voice calling for
him. He leant against the gate of the wood-path, struggling sternly with
himself. This was no simple matter of his own intellectual consistency
or happiness. Another's whole life was concerned. Any precipitate
speech, or hasty action, would be a crime. A man is bound above all
things to protect those who depend on him from his own immature or
revocable impulses. Not a word yet, till this sense of convulsion and
upheaval had passed away, and the mind was once more its own master.

He opened the gate and went towards her. She was strolling along the
path looking out for him, one delicate hand gathering up her long
evening dress--that very same black brocade she had worn in the old days
at Burwood--the other playing with their Dandie Dinmont puppy who was
leaping beside her. As she caught sight of him, there was the flashing
smile, the hurrying step. And he felt he could but just drag himself to
meet her.

'Robert, how long you have been! I thought you must have stayed to
dinner after all! And how tired you seem!'

'I had a long walk,' he said, catching her hand, as it slipped itself
under his arm, and clinging to it as though to a support. 'And I am
tired. There is no use whatever in denying it.'

His voice was light, but if it had not been so dark she must have been
startled by his face. As they went on towards the house, however, she
scolding him for over-walking, he won his battle with himself. He went
through the evening so that even Catherine's jealous eyes saw nothing
but extra fatigue. In the most desperate straits of life love is still
the fountain of all endurance, and if ever a man loved it was Robert
Elsmere.

But that night, as he lay sleepless in their quiet room, with the window
open to the stars and to the rising gusts of wind, which blew the petals
of the cluster-rose outside in drifts of 'fair weather snow' on to the
window-sill, he went through an agony which no words can adequately
describe.

He must, of course, give up his living and his orders. His standards and
judgments had always been simple and plain in these respects. In other
men it might be right and possible that they should live on in the
ministry of the Church, doing the humane and charitable work of the
Church, while refusing assent to the intellectual and dogmatic framework
on which the Church system rests; but for himself it would be neither
right nor wrong, but simply impossible. He did not argue or reason about
it. There was a favourite axiom of Mr. Grey's which had become part of
his pupil's spiritual endowment, and which was perpetually present to
him at this crisis of his life, in the spirit, if not in the
letter--'_Conviction is the Conscience of the Mind._' And with this
intellectual conscience he was no more capable of trifling than with the
moral conscience.

The night passed away. How the rare intermittent sounds impressed
themselves upon him!--the stir of the child's waking soon after midnight
in the room overhead; the cry of the owls on the oak-wood; the purring
of the night-jars on the common; the morning chatter of the swallows
round the eaves.

With the first invasion of the dawn Robert raised himself and looked at
Catherine. She was sleeping with that light sound sleep which belongs to
health of body and mind, one hand under her face, the other stretched
out in soft relaxation beside her. Her husband hung over her in a
bewilderment of feeling. Before him passed all sorts of incoherent
pictures of the future; the mind was caught by all manner of incongruous
details in that saddest uprooting which lay before him. How her sleep,
her ignorance, reproached him! He thought of the wreck of all her pure
ambitions--for him, for their common work, for the people she had come
to love; the ruin of her life of charity and tender usefulness, the
darkening of all her hopes, the shaking of all her trust. Two years of
devotion, of exquisite self-surrender, had brought her to this! It was
for this he had lured her from the shelter of her hills, for this she
had opened to him all her sweet stores of faith, all the deepest springs
of her womanhood. Oh, how she must suffer! The thought of it and his own
helplessness wrung his heart.

Oh, could he keep her love through it all? There was an unspeakable
dread mingled with his grief--his remorse. It had been there for months.
In her eyes would not only pain but sin divide them? Could he possibly
prevent her whole relation to him from altering and dwindling?

It was to be the problem of his remaining life. With a great cry of the
soul to that God it yearned and felt for through all the darkness and
ruin which encompassed it, he laid his hand on hers with the timidest
passing touch.

'Catherine, I will make amends! My wife, I will make amends!'



CHAPTER XXVII


The next morning Catherine, finding that Robert still slept on after
their usual waking time, and remembering his exhaustion of the night
before, left him softly, and kept the house quiet that he might not be
disturbed. She was in charge of the now toddling Mary in the dining-room
when the door opened and Robert appeared.

At sight of him she sprang up with a half-cry; the face seemed to have
lost all its fresh colour, its look of sun and air; the eyes were sunk;
the lips and chin lined and drawn. It was like a face from which the
youth had suddenly been struck out.

'Robert!---' but her question died on her lips.

'A bad night, darling, and a bad headache,' he said, groping his way, as
it seemed to her, to the table, his hand leaning on her arm. 'Give me
some breakfast.'

She restrained herself at once, put him into an armchair by the window,
and cared for him in her tender noiseless way. But she had grown almost
as pale as he, and her heart was like lead.

'Will you send me off for the day to Thurston ponds?' he said presently,
trying to smile with lips so stiff and nerveless that the will had small
control over them.

'Can you walk so far? You did overdo it yesterday, you know. You have
never got over Mile End, Robert.'

But her voice had a note in it which in his weakness he could hardly
bear. He thirsted to be alone again, to be able to think over quietly
what was best for her--for them both. There must be a next step, and in
her neighbourhood he was too feeble, too tortured, to decide upon it.

'No more, dear--no more,' he said impatiently, as she tried to feed him;
then he added as he rose: 'Don't make arrangements for our going next
week, Catherine; it can't be so soon.'

Catherine looked at him with eyes of utter dismay. The sustaining hope
of all these difficult weeks, which had slipped with such terrible
unexpectedness into their happy life, was swept away from her.

'Robert, you _ought_ to go.'

'I have too many things to arrange,' he said sharply, almost irritably.
Then his tone changed: 'Don't urge it, Catherine.'

His eyes in their weariness seemed to entreat her not to argue. She
stooped and kissed him, her lips trembling.

'When do you want to go to Thurston?'

'As soon as possible. Can you find me my fishing-basket and get me some
sandwiches? I shall only lounge there and take it easy.'

She did everything for him that wifely hands could do. Then when his
fishing-basket was strapped on, and his lunch was slipped into the
capacious pocket of the well-worn shooting coat, she threw her arms
round him.

'Robert, you will come away _soon_.'

He roused himself and kissed her.

'I will,' he said simply, withdrawing, however, from her grasp as though
he could not bear those close pleading eyes. 'Good-bye! I shall be back
some time in the afternoon.'

From her post beside the study window she watched him take the short cut
across the cornfield. She was miserable, and all at sea. A week ago he
had been so like himself again, and now----! Never had she seen him in
anything like this state of physical and mental collapse.

'Oh, Robert,' she cried under her breath, with an abandonment like a
child's, strong soul that she was, 'why _won't_ you tell me, dear? Why
won't you let me share? I might help you through--I might.'

She supposed he must be again in trouble of mind. A weaker woman would
have implored, tormented, till she knew all. Catherine's very strength
and delicacy of nature, and that respect which was inbred in her for the
_sacra_ of the inner life, stood in her way. She could not catechise
him, and force his confidence on this subject of all others. It must be
given freely. And oh! it was so long in coming!

Surely, surely, it must be mainly physical, the result of
over-strain--expressing itself in characteristic mental worry, just as
daily life reproduces itself in dreams. The worldly man suffers at such
times through worldly things, the religious man through his religion.
Comforting herself a little with thoughts of this kind, and with certain
more or less vague preparations for departure, Catherine got through the
morning as best she might.

Meanwhile, Robert was trudging along to Thurston under a sky which,
after a few threatening showers, promised once more to be a sky of
intense heat. He had with him all the tackle necessary for spooning
pike, a sport the novelty and success of which had hugely commended it
the year before to those Esau-like instincts Murewell had so much
developed in him.

And now--oh the weariness of the August warmth, and the long stretches
of sandy road! By the time he reached the ponds he was tired out; but
instead of stopping at the largest of the three, where a picturesque
group of old brick cottages brought a reminder of man and his works into
the prairie solitude of the common, he pushed on to a smaller pool just
beyond, now hidden in a green cloud of birch-wood. Here, after pushing
his way through the closely-set trees, he made some futile attempts at
fishing, only to put up his rod long before the morning was over and lay
it beside him on the bank. And there he sat for hours, vaguely watching
the reflection of the clouds, the gambols and quarrels of the waterfowl,
the ways of the birds, the alternations of sun and shadow on the
softly-moving trees,--the real self of him passing all the while through
an interminable inward drama, starting from the past, stretching to the
future, steeped in passion, in pity, in regret.

He thought of the feelings with which he had taken orders, of Oxford
scenes and Oxford persons, of the efforts, the pains, the successes of
his first year at Murewell. What a ghastly mistake it had all been! He
felt a kind of sore contempt for himself, for his own lack of
prescience, of self-knowledge. His life looked to him so shallow and
worthless. How does a man ever retrieve such a false step? He groaned
aloud as he thought of Catherine linked to one born to defeat her hopes,
and all that natural pride that a woman feels in the strength and
consistency of the man she loves. As he sat there by the water he
touched the depths of self-humiliation.

As to religious belief, everything was a chaos. What might be to him the
ultimate forms and condition of thought, the tired mind was quite
incapable of divining. To every stage in the process of destruction it
was feverishly alive. But its formative energy was for the moment gone.
The foundations were swept away, and everything must be built up afresh.
Only the _habit_ of faith held, the close instinctive clinging to a
Power beyond sense--a Goodness, a Will, not man's. The soul had been
stripped of its old defences, but at his worst there was never a moment
when Elsmere felt himself _utterly_ forsaken.

But his people--his work! Every now and then into the fragmentary debate
still going on within him there would flash little pictures of Murewell.
The green, with the sun on the house-fronts, the awning over the village
shop, the vane on the old 'Manor-house,' the familiar figures at the
doors; his church, with every figure in the Sunday congregation as clear
to him as though he were that moment in the pulpit; the children he had
taught, the sick he had nursed, this or that weather-beaten or
brutalised peasant whose history he knew, whose tragic secrets he had
learnt,--all these memories and images clung about him as though with
ghostly hands, asking, 'Why will you desert us? You are ours--stay with
us!'

Then his thoughts would run over the future, dwelling, with a tense
realistic sharpness, on every detail which lay before him--the
arrangements with his _locum tenens_, the interview with the bishop, the
parting with the rectory. It even occurred to him to wonder what must be
done with Martha and his mother's cottage.

His mother? As he thought of her a wave of unutterable longing rose and
broke. The difficult tears stood in his eyes. He had a strange
conviction that at this crisis of his life she of _all_ human beings
would have understood him best.

When would the squire know? He pictured the interview with him,
divining, with the same abnormal clearness of inward vision, Mr.
Wendover's start of mingled triumph and impatience--triumph in the new
recruit, impatience with the Quixotic folly which could lead a man to
look upon orthodox dogma as a thing real enough to be publicly
renounced, or clerical pledges as more than a form of words. So
henceforth he was on the same side with the squire, held by an
indiscriminating world as bound to the same negations, the same
hostilities! The thought roused in him a sudden fierceness of moral
repugnance. The squire and Edward Langham--they were the only sceptics
of whom he had ever had close and personal experience. And with all his
old affection for Langham, all his frank sense of pliancy in the
squire's hands, yet in this strait of life how he shrinks from them
both!--souls at war with life and man, without holiness, without
perfume!

Is it the law of things? 'Once loosen a man's _religio_, once fling away
the old binding elements, the old traditional restraints which have made
him what he is, and moral deterioration is certain.' How often he has
heard it said! How often he has endorsed it! Is it true? His heart grows
cold within him. What good man can ever contemplate with patience the
loss, not of friends or happiness, but of his best self? What shall it
profit a man, indeed, if he gain the whole world--the whole world of
knowledge and speculation--and _lose his own soul_?

And then, for his endless comfort, there rose on the inward eye the
vision of an Oxford lecture room, of a short sturdy figure, of a great
brow over honest eyes, of words alive with moral passion, of thought
instinct with the beauty of holiness. Thank God for the saint in Henry
Grey! Thinking of it, Robert felt his own self-respect re-born.

Oh! to see Grey in the flesh, to get his advice, his approval! Even
though it was the depth of vacation, Grey was so closely connected with
the town, as distinguished from the university, life of Oxford, it might
be quite possible to find him at home. Elsmere suddenly determined to
find out at once if he could be seen.

And if so, he would go over to Oxford at once. _This_ should be the next
step, and he would say nothing to Catherine till afterwards. He felt
himself so dull, so weary, so resourceless. Grey should help and counsel
him, should send him back with a clearer brain--a quicker ingenuity of
love, better furnished against her pain and his own.

Then everything else was forgotten; and he thought of nothing but that
grisly moment of waking in the empty room, when still believing it
night, he had put out his hand for his wife, and with a superstitious
pang had felt himself alone. His heart torn with a hundred inarticulate
cries of memory and grief, he sat on beside the water, unconscious of
the passing of time, his gray eyes staring sightlessly at the
wood-pigeons as they flew past him, at the occasional flash of a
kingfisher, at the moving panorama of summer clouds above the trees
opposite.

At last he was startled back to consciousness by the fall of a few heavy
drops of warm rain. He looked at his watch. It was nearly four o'clock.
He rose, stiff and cramped with sitting, and at the same instant he saw
beyond the birchwood on the open stretch of common a boy's figure,
which, after a step or two, he recognised as Ned Irwin.

'You here, Ned?' he said, stopping, the pastoral temper in him
reasserting itself at once. 'Why aren't you harvesting?'

'Please, sir, I finished with the Hall medders yesterday, and Mr.
Carter's job don't begin till to-morrow. He's got a machine coming from
Witley, he hev, and they won't let him have it till Thursday, so I've
been out after things for the club.'

And opening the tin box strapped on his back, he showed the day's
capture of butterflies, and some belated birds' eggs, the plunder of a
bit of common where the turf for the winter's burning was just being
cut.

'Goatsucker, linnet, stonechat,' said the rector, fingering them. 'Well
done for August, Ned. If you haven't got anything better to do with
them, give them to that small boy of Mr. Carter's that's been ill so
long. He'd thank you for them, I know.'

The lad nodded with a guttural sound of assent. Then his new-born
scientific ardour seemed to struggle with his rustic costiveness of
speech.

'I've been just watching a queer creetur,' he said at last hurriedly; 'I
b'leeve he's that un.'

And he pulled out a well-thumbed handbook, and pointed to a cut of the
grasshopper warbler.

'Whereabouts?' asked Robert, wondering the while at his own start of
interest.

'In that bit of common t'other side the big pond,' said Ned, pointing,
his brick-red countenance kindling into suppressed excitement.

'Come and show me!' said the rector, and the two went off together. And
sure enough, after a little beating about, they heard the note which had
roused the lad's curiosity, the loud whirr of a creature that should
have been a grasshopper, and was not.

They stalked the bird a few yards, stooping and crouching, Robert's
eager hand on the boy's arm, whenever the clumsy rustic movements made
too much noise among the underwood. They watched it uttering its jarring
imitative note on bush after bush, just dropping to the ground as they
came near, and flitting a yard or two farther, but otherwise showing no
sign of alarm at their presence. Then suddenly the impulse which had
been leading him on died in the rector. He stood upright, with a long
sigh.

'I must go home, Ned,' he said abruptly. 'Where are you off to?'

'Please, sir, there's my sister at the cottage, her as married Jim, the
under-keeper. I be going there for my tea.'

'Come along, then, we can go together.'

They trudged along in silence; presently Robert turned on his companion.

'Ned, this natural history has been a fine thing for you, my lad; mind
you stick to it. That and good work will make a man of you. When I go
away----'

The boy started and stopped dead, his dumb animal eyes fixed on his
companion.

'You know I shall soon be going off on my holiday,' said Robert, smiling
faintly; adding hurriedly as the boy's face resumed its ordinary
expression: 'But some day, Ned, I shall go for good. I don't know
whether you've been depending on me--you and some of the others. I think
perhaps you have. If so, don't depend on me, Ned, any more! It must all
come to an end--everything must--_everything!_--except the struggle to
be a man in the world, and not a beast--to make one's heart clean and
soft, and not hard and vile. That is the _one_ thing that matters, and
lasts. Ah, never forget that, Ned! Never forget it!'

He stood still, towering over the slouching thick-set form beside him,
his pale intensity of look giving a rare dignity and beauty to the face
which owed so little of its attractiveness to comeliness of feature. He
had the makings of a true shepherd of men, and his mind as he spoke was
crossed by a hundred different currents of feeling--bitterness, pain,
and yearning unspeakable. No man could feel the wrench that lay before
him more than he.

Ned Irwin said not a word. His heavy lids were dropped over his deep-set
eye; he stood motionless, nervously fiddling with his butterfly
net--awkwardness, and, as it seemed, irresponsiveness, in his whole
attitude.

Robert gathered himself together.

'Well, good-night, my lad,' he said with a change of tone. 'Good luck to
you; be off to your tea!'

And he turned away, striding swiftly over the short burnt August grass
in the direction of the Murewell woods, which rose in a blue haze of
heat against the slumberous afternoon sky. He had not gone a hundred
yards before he heard a clattering after him. He stopped, and Ned came
up with him.

'They're heavy, them things,' said the boy, desperately blurting it out,
and pointing, with heaving chest and panting breath, to the rod and
basket. 'I am going that way, I can leave un at the rectory.'

Robert's eyes gleamed.

'They are no weight, Ned--'cause why? I've been lazy and caught no fish!
But there,'--after a moment's hesitation he slipped off the basket and
rod, and put them into the begrimed hands held out for them. 'Bring them
when you like; I don't know when I shall want them again. Thank you, and
God bless you!'

The boy was off with his booty in a second.

'Perhaps he'll like to think he did it for me, by and by,' said Robert
sadly to himself, moving on, a little moisture in the clear gray eye.

       *       *       *       *       *

About three o'clock next day Robert was in Oxford. The night before he
had telegraphed to ask if Grey was at home. The reply had been--'Here
for a week on way north; come by all means.' Oh! that look of
Catherine's when he had told her of his plan, trying in vain to make it
look merely casual and ordinary.

'It is more than a year since I have set eyes on Grey, Catherine. And
the day's change would be a boon. I could stay the night at Merton, and
get home early next day.'

But as he turned a pleading look to her, he had been startled by the
sudden rigidity of face and form. Her silence had in it an intense,
almost a haughty, reproach, which she was too keenly hurt to put into
words.

He caught her by the arm, and drew her forcibly to him. There he made
her look into the eyes which were full of nothing but the most
passionate imploring affection.

'Have patience a little more, Catherine!' he just murmured. 'Oh, how I
have blessed you for silence! Only till I come back!'

'Till you come back,' she repeated slowly. 'I cannot bear it any longer,
Robert, that you should give others your confidence, and not me.'

He groaned and let her go. No--there should be but one day more of
silence, and that day was interposed for her sake. If Grey from his
calmer standpoint bade him wait and test himself, before taking any
irrevocable step, he would obey him. And if so, the worst pang of all
need not yet be inflicted on Catherine, though as to his state of mind
he would be perfectly open with her.

A few hours later his cab deposited him at the well-known door. It
seemed to him that he and the scorched plane-trees lining the sides of
the road were the only living things in the wide sun-beaten street.

Every house was shut up. Only the Greys' open windows, amid their
shuttered neighbours, had a friendly human air.

Yes; Mr. Grey was in, and expecting Mr. Elsmere. Robert climbed the dim
familiar staircase, his heart beating fast.

'Elsmere, this is a piece of good fortune!'

And the two men, after a grasp of the hand, stood fronting each other:
Mr. Grey, a light of pleasure on the rugged dark-complexioned face,
looking up at his taller and paler visitor.

But Robert could find nothing to say in return; and in an instant Mr.
Grey's quick eye detected the strained nervous emotion of the man before
him.

'Come and sit down, Elsmere--there, in the window, where we can talk.
One has to live on this east side of the house this weather.'

'In the first place,' said Mr. Grey, scrutinising him, as he returned to
his own book-littered corner of the window-seat. 'In the first place, my
dear fellow, I can't congratulate you on your appearance. I never saw a
man look in worse condition--to be up and about.'

'That's nothing!' said Robert almost impatiently. 'I want a holiday, I
believe. Grey!' and he looked nervously out over garden and apple-trees,
'I have come--very selfishly--to ask your advice; to throw a trouble
upon you, to claim all your friendship can give me.'

He stopped. Mr. Grey was silent--his expression changing instantly, the
bright eyes profoundly, anxiously attentive.

'I have just come to the conclusion,' said Robert, after a moment, with
quick abruptness, 'that I ought now--at this moment--to leave the
Church, and give up my living, for reasons which I will describe to you.
But before I act on the conclusion, I wanted the light of your mind upon
it, seeing that--that--other persons than myself are concerned.'

'Give up your living!' echoed Mr. Grey in a low voice of astonishment.
He sat looking at the face and figure of the man before him with a
half-frowning expression. How often Robert had seen some rash exuberant
youth quelled by that momentary frown! Essentially conservative as was
the inmost nature of the man, for all his radicalism there were few
things for which Henry Grey felt more instinctive distaste than for
unsteadiness of will and purpose, however glorified by fine names.
Robert knew it, and, strangely enough, felt for a moment in the presence
of the heretical tutor as a culprit before a judge.

'It is, of course, a matter of opinions,' he said, with an effort. 'Do
you remember, before I took orders, asking whether I had ever had
difficulties, and I told you that I had probably never gone deep enough.
It was profoundly true, though I didn't really mean it. But this
year---- No, no, I have not been merely vain and hasty! I may be a
shallow creature, but it has been natural growth, not wantonness.'

And at last his eyes met Mr. Grey's firmly, almost with solemnity. It
was as if in the last few moments he had been instinctively testing the
quality of his own conduct and motives by the touchstone of the rare
personality beside him; and they had stood the trial. There was such
pain, such sincerity, above all such freedom from littleness of soul
implied in words and look, that Mr. Grey quickly held out his hand.
Robert grasped it, and felt that the way was clear before him.

'Will you give me an account of it?' said Mr. Grey, and his tone was
grave sympathy itself. 'Or would you rather confine yourself to
generalities and accomplished facts?'

'I will try and give you an account of it,' said Robert; and sitting
there with his elbows on his knees, his gaze fixed on the yellowing
afternoon sky, and the intricacies of the garden-walls between them and
the new Museum, he went through the history of the last two years. He
described the beginnings of his historical work, the gradual enlargement
of the mind's horizons, and the intrusion within them of question after
question, and subject after subject. Then he mentioned the squire's
name.

'Ah!' exclaimed Mr. Grey, 'I had forgotten you were that man's
neighbour. I wonder he didn't set you against the whole business,
inhuman old cynic!'

He spoke with the strong dislike of the idealist, devoted in practice to
an everyday ministry to human need, for the intellectual egotist. Robert
caught and relished the old pugnacious flash in the eye, the Midland
strength of accent.

'Cynic he is, not altogether inhuman, I think. I fought him about his
drains and his cottages, however,'--and he smiled sadly--'before I began
to read his books. But the man's genius is incontestable, his learning
enormous. He found me in a susceptible state, and I recognise that his
influence immensely accelerated a process already begun.'

Mr. Grey was struck with the simplicity and fulness of the avowal. A
lesser man would hardly have made it in the same way. Rising to pace up
and down the room--the familiar action recalling vividly to Robert the
Sunday afternoons of bygone years--he began to put questions with a
clearness and decision that made them so many guides to the man
answering, through the tangle of his own recollections.

'I see,' said the tutor at last, his hands in the pockets of his short
gray coat, his brow bent and thoughtful. 'Well, the process in you has
been the typical process of the present day. Abstract thought has had
little or nothing to say to it. It has been all a question of literary
and historical evidence. _I_ am old-fashioned enough'--and he
smiled--'to stick to the _à priori_ impossibility of miracles, but then
I am a philosopher! _You_ have come to see how miracle is manufactured,
to recognise in it merely a natural inevitable outgrowth of human
testimony, in its pre-scientific stages. It has been all experimental,
inductive. I imagine'--he looked up--'you didn't get much help out of
the orthodox apologists?'

Robert shrugged his shoulders.

'It often seemed to me,' he said drearily, 'I might have got through,
but for the men whose books I used to read and respect most in old days.
The point of view is generally so extraordinarily limited. Westcott,
for instance, who means so much nowadays to the English religious world,
first isolates Christianity from all the other religious phenomena of
the world, and then argues upon its details. You might as well isolate
English jurisprudence, and discuss its details without any reference to
Teutonic custom or Roman law! You may be as logical or as learned as you
like within the limits chosen, but the whole result is false! You treat
Christian witness and Biblical literature as you would treat no other
witness, and no other literature in the world. And you cannot show cause
enough. For your reasons depend on the very witness under dispute. And
so you go on arguing in a circle, _ad infinitum_.'

But his voice dropped. The momentary eagerness died away as quickly as
it had risen, leaving nothing but depression behind it.

Mr. Grey meditated. At last he said, with a delicate change of tone,--

'And now--if I may ask it, Elsmere--how far has this destructive process
gone?'

'I can't tell you,' said Robert, turning away almost with a groan; 'I
only know that the things I loved once I love still, and that--that--if
I had the heart to think at all, I should see more of God in the world
than I ever saw before!'

The tutor's eye flashed. Robert had gone back to the window, and was
miserably looking out. After all, he had told only half his story.

'And so you feel you must give up your living?'

'What else is there for me to do?' cried Robert, turning upon him,
startled by the slow deliberate tone.

'Well, of course, you know that there are many men, men with whom both
you and I are acquainted, who hold very much what I imagine your
opinions now are, or will settle into, who are still in the Church of
England, doing admirable work there!'

'I know,' said Elsmere quickly--'I know; I cannot conceive it, nor could
you. Imagine standing up Sunday after Sunday to say the things you do
_not_ believe,--using words as a convention which those who hear you
receive as literal truth,--and trusting the maintenance of your position
either to your neighbour's forbearance or to your own powers of evasion!
With the ideas at present in my head, nothing would induce me to preach
another Easter Day sermon to a congregation that have both a moral and a
legal right to demand from me an implicit belief in the material
miracle!'

'Yes,' said the other gravely--'yes, I believe you are right. It can't
be said the Broad Church movement has helped us much! How greatly it
promised!--how little it has performed! For the private person, the
worshipper, it is different--or I think so. No man pries into our
prayers; and to cut ourselves off from common worship is to lose that
fellowship which is in itself a witness and vehicle of God.'

But his tone had grown hesitating, and touched with melancholy.

There was a moment's silence. Then Robert walked up to him again.

'At the same time,' he said falteringly, standing before the elder man,
as he might have stood as an undergraduate, 'let me not be rash! If you
think this change has been too rapid to last--if you, knowing me better
than at this moment I can know myself--if you bid me wait a while,
before I take any overt step, I will wait--oh, God knows I will
wait!--my wife----' and his husky voice failed him utterly.

'Your wife!' cried Mr. Grey, startled. 'Mrs. Elsmere does not know?'

'My wife knows nothing, or almost nothing--and it will break her heart!'

He moved hastily away again, and stood with his back to his friend, his
tall narrow form outlined against the window. Mr. Grey was left in
dismay, rapidly turning over the impressions of Catherine left on him by
his last year's sight of her. That pale distinguished woman with her
look of strength and character,--he remembered Langham's analysis of
her, and of the silent religious intensity she had brought with her from
her training among the northern hills.

Was there a bitterly human tragedy preparing under all this
thought-drama he had been listening to?

Deeply moved, he went up to Robert, and laid his rugged hand almost
timidly upon him.

'Elsmere, it won't break her heart! You are a good man. She is a good
woman.' What an infinity of meaning there was in the simple words! 'Take
courage. Tell her at once--tell her everything--and let _her_ decide
whether there shall be any waiting. I cannot help you there; she can;
she will probably understand you better than you understand yourself.'

He tightened his grasp, and gently pushed his guest into a chair beside
him. Robert was deadly pale, his face quivering painfully. The long
physical strain of the past months had weakened for the moment all the
controlling forces of the will. Mr. Grey stood over him--the whole man
dilating, expanding, under a tyrannous stress of feeling.

'It is hard, it is bitter,' he said slowly, with a wonderful manly
tenderness. 'I know it, I have gone through it. So has many and many a
poor soul that you and I have known! But there need be no sting in the
wound unless we ourselves envenom it. I know--oh! I know very well--the
man of the world scoffs, but to him who has once been a Christian of the
old sort, the parting with the Christian mythology is the rending
asunder of bones and marrow. It means parting with half the confidence,
half the joy, of life! But take heart,' and the tone grew still more
solemn, still more penetrating. 'It is the education of God! Do not
imagine it will put you farther from Him! He is in criticism, in
science, in doubt, so long as the doubt is a pure and honest doubt, as
yours is. He is in all life, in all thought. The thought of man, as it
has shaped itself in institutions, in philosophies, in science, in
patient critical work, or in the life of charity, is the one continuous
revelation of God! Look for Him in it all; see how, little by little,
the Divine indwelling force, using as its tools--but _merely_ as its
tools!--man's physical appetites and conditions, has built up conscience
and the moral life; think how every faculty of the mind has been trained
in turn to take its part in the great work of faith upon the visible
world! Love and imagination built up religion,--shall reason destroy it!
No!--reason is God's like the rest! Trust it,--trust him. The leading
strings of the past are dropping from you; they are dropping from the
world, not wantonly, or by chance, but in the providence of God. Learn
the lesson of your own pain,--learn to seek God, not in any single event
of past history, _but in your own soul_,--in the constant verifications
of experience, in the life of Christian love. Spiritually you have gone
through the last wrench; I promise it you! You being what you are,
nothing can cut this ground from under your feet. Whatever may have been
the forms of human belief, _faith_, the faith which saves, has always
been rooted here! All things change,--creeds and philosophies and
outward systems,--but God remains!

    '"Life, that in me has rest,
      As I, undying Life, have power in Thee!"'

The lines dropped with low vibrating force from lips unaccustomed indeed
to such an outburst. The speaker stood a moment longer in silence beside
the figure in the chair, and it seemed to Robert, gazing at him with
fixed eyes, that the man's whole presence, at once so homely and so
majestic, was charged with benediction. It was as though invisible hands
of healing and consecration had been laid upon him. The fiery soul
beside him had kindled anew the drooping life of his own. So the torch
of God passes on its way, hand reaching out to hand.

He bent forward, stammering incoherent words of assent and gratitude, he
knew not what. Mr. Grey, who had sunk into his chair, gave him time to
recover himself. The intensity of the tutor's own mood relaxed; and
presently he began to talk to his guest, in a wholly different tone, of
the practical detail of the step before him, supposing it to be taken
immediately, discussing the probable attitude of Robert's bishop, the
least conspicuous mode of withdrawing from the living, and so on--all
with gentleness and sympathy indeed, but with an indefinable change of
manner, which showed that he felt it well both for himself and Elsmere
to repress any further expression of emotion. There was something, a
vein of stoicism perhaps, in Mr. Grey's temper of mind, which, while it
gave a special force and sacredness to his rare moments of fervent
speech, was wont in general to make men more self-controlled than usual
in his presence. Robert felt now the bracing force of it.

'Will you stay with us to dinner?' Mr. Grey asked when at last Elsmere
got up to go. 'There are one or two lone Fellows coming--asked before
your telegram came, of course. Do exactly as you like.'

'I think not,' said Robert, after a pause. 'I longed to see you, but I
am not fit for general society.'

Mr. Grey did not press him. He rose and went with his visitor to the
door.

'Good-bye, good-bye! Let me always know what I can do for you. And your
wife--poor thing, poor thing! Go and tell her, Elsmere; don't lose a
moment you can help. God help her and you!'

They grasped each other's hands. Mr. Grey followed him down the stairs
and along the narrow hall. He opened the hall door, and smiled a last
smile of encouragement and sympathy into the eyes that expressed such a
young moved gratitude. The door closed. Little did Elsmere realise that
never, in this life, would he see that smile or hear that voice again!



CHAPTER XXVIII


In half an hour from the time Mr. Grey's door closed upon him, Elsmere
had caught a convenient cross-country train, and had left the Oxford
towers and spires, the shrunken summer Isis, and the flat hot river
meadows far behind him. He had meant to stay at Merton, as we know, for
the night. Now, his one thought was to get back to Catherine. The
urgency of Mr. Grey's words was upon him, and love had a miserable pang
that it should have needed to be urged.

By eight o'clock he was again at Churton. There were no carriages
waiting at the little station, but the thought of the walk across the
darkening common through the August moonrise had been a refreshment to
him in the heat and crowd of the train. He hurried through the small
town, where the streets were full of summer idlers, and the lamps were
twinkling in the still balmy air, along a dusty stretch of road, leaving
man and his dwellings farther and farther to the rear of him, till at
last he emerged on a boundless tract of common, and struck to the right
into a cart-track leading to Murewell.

He was on the top of a high sandy ridge, looking west and north, over a
wide evening world of heather and wood and hill. To the right, far
ahead, across the misty lower grounds into which he was soon to plunge,
rose the woods of Murewell, black and massive in the twilight distance.
To the left, but on a nearer plane, the undulating common stretching
downwards from where he stood rose suddenly towards a height crowned
with a group of gaunt and jagged firs--landmarks for all the plain--of
which every ghostly bough and crest was now sharply outlined against a
luminous sky. For the wide heaven in front of him was still delicately
glowing in all its under parts with soft harmonies of dusky red or blue,
while in its higher zone the same tract of sky was closely covered with
the finest network of pearl-white cloud, suffused at the moment with a
silver radiance so intense that a spectator might almost have dreamed
the moon had forgotten its familiar place of rising, and was about to
mount into a startled expectant west. Not a light in all the wide
expanse, and for a while not a sound of human life, save the beat of
Robert's step, or the occasional tap of his stick against the pebbles of
the road.

Presently he reached the edge of the ridge whence the rough track he was
following sank sharply to the lower levels. Here was a marvellous point
of view, and the rector stood a moment, beside a bare weather-blasted
fir, a ghostly shadow thrown behind him. All around the gorse and
heather seemed still radiating light, as though the air had been so
drenched in sunshine that even long after the sun had vanished the
invading darkness found itself still unable to win firm possession of
earth and sky. Every little stone in the sandy road was still weirdly
visible; the colour of the heather, now in lavish bloom, could be felt
though hardly seen.

Before him melted line after line of woodland, broken by hollow after
hollow, filled with vaporous wreaths of mist. About him were the sounds
of a wild nature. The air was resonant with the purring of the
night-jars, and every now and then he caught the loud clap of their
wings as they swayed unsteadily through the furze and bracken. Overhead
a trio of wild ducks flew across, from pond to pond, their hoarse cry
descending through the darkness. The partridges on the hill called to
each other, and certain sharp sounds betrayed to the solitary listener
the presence of a flock of swans on a neighbouring pool.

The rector felt himself alone on a wide earth. It was almost with a
start of pleasure that he caught at last the barking of dogs on a few
distant farms, or the dim thunderous rush of a train through the wide
wooded landscape beyond the heath. Behind that frowning mass of wood lay
the rectory. The lights must be lit in the little drawing-room;
Catherine must be sitting by the lamp, her fine head bent over book or
work, grieving for him perhaps, her anxious expectant heart going out to
him through the dark. He thinks of the village lying wrapped in the
peace of the August night, the lamp rays from shop-front or casement
streaming out on to the green; he thinks of his child, of his dead
mother, feeling heavy and bitter within him all the time the message of
separation and exile.

But his mood was no longer one of mere dread, of helpless pain, of
miserable self-scorn. Contact with Henry Grey had brought him that
rekindling of the flame of conscience, that medicinal stirring of the
soul's waters, which is the most precious boon that man can give to man.
In that sense which attaches to every successive resurrection of our
best life from the shades of despair or selfishness, he had that day,
almost that hour, been born again. He was no longer filled mainly with
the sense of personal failure, with scorn for his own blundering
impetuous temper, so lacking in prescience and in balance; or, in
respect to his wife, with such an anguished impotent remorse. He was
nerved and braced; whatever oscillations the mind might go through in
its search for another equilibrium, to-night there was a moment of calm.
The earth to him was once more full of God, existence full of value.

'The things I have always loved, I love still!' he had said to Mr. Grey.
And in this healing darkness it was as if the old loves, the old
familiar images of thought, returned to him new-clad, re-entering the
desolate heart in a white-winged procession of consolation. On the heath
beside him the Christ stood once more, and as the disciple felt the
sacred presence he could bear for the first time to let the chafing
pent-up current of love flow into the new channels, so painfully
prepared for it by the toil of thought. '_Either God or an impostor._'
What scorn the heart, the intellect, threw on the alternative! Not in
the dress of speculations which represent the product of long past, long
superseded looms of human thought, but in the guise of common manhood,
laden like his fellows with the pathetic weight of human weakness and
human ignorance, the Master moves towards him--

'_Like you, my son, I struggled and I prayed. Like you, I had my days of
doubt and nights of wrestling. I had my dreams, my delusions, with my
fellows. I was weak; I suffered; I died. But God was in me, and the
courage, the patience, the love He gave to me, the scenes of the poor
human life He inspired, have become by His will the world's eternal
lesson--man's primer of Divine things, hung high in the eyes of all,
simple and wise, that all may see and all may learn. Take it to your
heart again--that life, that pain, of mine! Use it to new ends;
apprehend it in new ways; but knowledge shall not take it from you; and
love, instead of weakening or forgetting, if it be but faithful, shall
find ever fresh power of realising and renewing itself._'

So said the vision; and carrying the passion of it deep in his heart the
rector went his way, down the long stony hill, past the solitary farm
amid the trees at the foot of it, across the grassy common beyond, with
its sentinel clumps of beeches, past an ethereal string of tiny lakes
just touched by the moonrise, beside some of the first cottages of
Murewell, up the hill, with pulse beating and step quickening, and
round into the stretch of road leading to his own gate.

As soon as he had passed the screen made by the shrubs on the lawn, he
saw it all as he had seen it in his waking dream on the common--the
lamplight, the open windows, the white muslin curtains swaying a little
in the soft evening air, and Catherine's figure seen dimly through them.

The noise of the gate, however--of the steps on the drive--had startled
her. He saw her rise quickly from her low chair, put some work down
beside her, and move in haste to the window.

'Robert!' she cried in amazement.

'Yes,' he answered, still some yards from her, his voice coming
strangely to her out of the moonlit darkness. 'I did my errand early; I
found I could get back; and here I am.'

She flew to the door, opened it, and felt herself caught in his arms.

'Robert, you are quite damp!' she said, fluttering and shrinking, for
all her sweet habitual gravity of manner--was it the passion of that
yearning embrace? 'Have you walked?'

'Yes. It is the dew on the common, I suppose. The grass was drenched.'

'Will you have some food? They can bring back the supper directly.'

'I don't want any food now,' he said, hanging up his hat. 'I got some
lunch in town, and a cup of soup at Reading coming back. Perhaps you
will give me some tea soon--not yet.'

He came up to her, pushing back the thick disordered locks of hair from
his eyes with one hand, the other held out to her. As he came under the
light of the hall lamp she was so startled by the gray pallor of the
face that she caught hold of his outstretched hand with both hers. What
she said he never knew--her look was enough. He put his arm round her,
and as he opened the drawing-room door holding her pressed against him,
she felt the desperate agitation in him penetrating, beating against an
almost iron self-control of manner. He shut the door behind them.

'Robert, dear Robert!' she said, clinging to him, 'there is bad
news,--tell me--there is something to tell me! Oh! what is it--what is
it?'

It was almost like a child's wail. His brow contracted still more
painfully.

'My darling,' he said; 'my darling--my dear dear wife!' and he bent his
head down to her as she lay against his breast, kissing her hair with a
passion of pity, of remorse, of tenderness, which seemed to rend his
whole nature.

'Tell me--tell me--Robert!'

He guided her gently across the room, past the sofa over which her work
lay scattered, past the flower-table, now a many-coloured mass of roses,
which was her especial pride, past the remains of a brick castle which
had delighted Mary's wondering eyes and mischievous fingers an hour or
two before, to a low chair by the open window looking on the wide
moonlit expanse of cornfield. He put her into it, walked to the window
on the other side of the room, shut it, and drew down the blind. Then he
went back to her, and sank down beside her, kneeling, her hands in his.

'My dear wife--you have loved me--you do love me?'

She could not answer, she could only press his hands with her cold
fingers, with a look and gesture that implored him to speak.

'Catherine,' he said, still kneeling before her, 'you remember that
night you came down to me in the study, the night I told you I was in
trouble and you could not help me. Did you guess from what I said what
the trouble was?'

'Yes,' she answered, trembling, 'yes, I did, Robert; I thought you were
depressed--troubled--about religion.'

'And I know,' he said with an outburst of feeling, kissing her hands as
they lay in his--'I know very well that you went upstairs and prayed for
me, my white-souled angel! But Catherine, the trouble grew--it got
blacker and blacker. You were there beside me, and you could not help
me. I dared not tell you about it; I could only struggle on alone, so
terribly alone, sometimes; and now I am beaten, beaten. And I come to
you to ask you to help me in the only thing that remains to me. Help me,
Catherine, to be an honest man--to follow conscience--to say and do the
truth!'

'Robert,' she said piteously, deadly pale, 'I don't understand.'

'Oh, my poor darling!' he cried, with a kind of moan of pity and misery.
Then still holding her, he said, with strong deliberate emphasis,
looking into the gray-blue eyes--the quivering face so full of austerity
and delicacy,--

'For six or seven months, Catherine--really for much longer, though I
never knew it--I have been fighting with _doubt_--doubt of orthodox
Christianity--doubt of what the Church teaches--of what I have to say
and preach every Sunday. First it crept on me I knew not how. Then the
weight grew heavier, and I began to struggle with it. I felt I must
struggle with it. Many men, I suppose, in my position would have
trampled on their doubts--would have regarded them as sin in themselves,
would have felt it their duty to ignore them as much as possible,
trusting to time and God's help. I _could_ not ignore them. The thought
of questioning the most sacred beliefs that you and I'--and his voice
faltered a moment--'held in common was misery to me. On the other hand,
I knew myself. I knew that I could no more go on living to any purpose,
with a whole region of the mind shut up, as it were, barred away from
the rest of me, than I could go on living with a secret between myself
and you. I could not hold my faith by a mere tenure of tyranny and fear.
Faith that is not free--that is not the faith of the whole creature,
body, soul, and intellect--seemed to me a faith worthless both to God
and man!'

Catherine looked at him stupefied. The world seemed to be turning round
her. Infinitely more terrible than his actual words was the accent
running through words and tone and gesture--the accent of
irreparableness, as of something dismally _done_ and _finished_. What
did it all mean? For what had he brought her there? She sat stunned,
realising with awful force the feebleness, the inadequacy, of her own
fears.

He, meanwhile, had paused a moment, meeting her gaze with those yearning
sunken eyes. Then he went on, his voice changing a little,--

'But if I had wished it ever so much, I could not have helped myself.
The process, so to speak, had gone too far by the time I knew where I
was. I think the change must have begun before the Mile End time.
Looking back, I see the foundations were laid in--in--the work of last
winter.'

She shivered. He stooped and kissed her hands again passionately. 'Am I
poisoning even the memory of our past for you?' he cried. Then,
restraining himself at once, he hurried on again: 'After Mile End you
remember I began to see much of the squire. Oh, my wife, don't look at
me so! It was not his doing in any true sense. I am not such a weak
shuttlecock as that! But being where I was before our intimacy began,
his influence hastened everything. I don't wish to minimise it. I was
not made to stand alone!'

And again that bitter, perplexed, half-scornful sense of his own pliancy
at the hands of circumstance as compared with the rigidity of other men
descended upon him. Catherine made a faint movement as though to draw
her hands away.

'Was it well,' she said, in a voice which sounded like a harsh echo of
her own, 'was it right for a clergyman to discuss sacred things--with
such a man?'

He let her hands go, guided for the moment by a delicate imperious
instinct which bade him appeal to something else than love. Rising, he
sat down opposite to her on the low window seat, while she sank back
into her chair, her fingers clinging to the arm of it, the lamplight far
behind deepening all the shadows of the face, the hollows in the cheeks,
the line of experience and will about the mouth. The stupor in which she
had just listened to him was beginning to break up. Wild forces of
condemnation and resistance were rising in her; and he knew it. He knew,
too, that as yet she only half realised the situation, and that blow
after blow still remained to him to deal.

'Was it right that I should discuss religious matters with the squire?'
he repeated, his face resting on his hands. 'What are religious matters,
Catherine, and what are not?'

Then, still controlling himself rigidly, his eyes fixed on the shadowy
face of his wife, his ear catching her quick uneven breath, he went once
more through the dismal history of the last few months, dwelling on his
state of thought before the intimacy with Mr. Wendover began, on his
first attempts to escape the squire's influence, on his gradual pitiful
surrender. Then he told the story of the last memorable walk before the
squire's journey, of the moment in the study afterwards, and of the
months of feverish reading and wrestling which had followed. Half-way
through it a new despair seized him. What was the good of all he was
saying? He was speaking a language she did not really understand. What
were all these critical and literary considerations to her?

The rigidity of her silence showed him that her sympathy was not with
him, that in comparison with the vibrating protest of her own passionate
faith which must be now ringing through her, whatever he could urge must
seem to her the merest culpable trifling with the soul's awful
destinies. In an instant of tumultuous speech he could not convey to her
the temper and results of his own complex training, and on that
training, as he very well knew, depended the piercing, convincing force
of all that he was saying. There were gulfs between them--gulfs which,
as it seemed to him, in a miserable insight, could never be bridged
again. Oh, the frightful separateness of experience!

Still he struggled on. He brought the story down to the conversation at
the Hall, described--in broken words of fire and pain--the moment of
spiritual wreck which had come upon him in the August lane, his night of
struggle, his resolve to go to Mr. Grey. And all through he was not so
much narrating as pleading a cause, and that not his own, but Love's.
Love was at the bar, and it was for love that the eloquent voice, the
pale varying face, were really pleading, through all the long story of
intellectual change.

At the mention of Mr. Grey Catherine grew restless; she sat up suddenly,
with a cry of bitterness.

'Robert, why did you go away from me? It was cruel. I should have known
first. He had no right--no right!'

She clasped her hands round her knees, her beautiful mouth set and
stern. The moon had been sailing westward all this time, and as
Catherine bent forward the yellow light caught her face, and brought out
the haggard change in it. He held out his hands to her with a low groan,
helpless against her reproach, her jealousy. He dared not speak of what
Mr. Grey had done for him, of the tenderness of his counsel towards her
specially. He felt that everything he could say would but torture the
wounded heart still more.

But she did not notice the outstretched hands. She covered her face in
silence a moment, as though trying to see her way more clearly through
the mazes of disaster; and he waited. At last she looked up.

'I cannot follow all you have been saying,' she said, almost harshly. 'I
know so little of books, I cannot give them the place you do. You say
you have convinced yourself the Gospels are like other books, full of
mistakes, and credulous, like the people of the time; and therefore you
can't take what they say as you used to take it. But what does it all
quite mean? Oh, I am not clever--I cannot see my way clear from thing to
thing as you do. If there are mistakes, does it matter so--so--terribly
to you?' and she faltered. 'Do you think _nothing_ is true because
something may be false? Did not--did not--Jesus still live, and die, and
rise again?--_can_ you doubt--_do_ you doubt--that He rose--that He is
God--that He is in heaven--that we shall see Him?'

She threw an intensity into every word, which made the short breathless
questions thrill through him, through the nature saturated and steeped
as hers was in Christian association, with a bitter accusing force. But
he did not flinch from them.

'I can believe no longer in an Incarnation and Resurrection,' he said
slowly, but with a resolute plainness. 'Christ is risen in our hearts,
in the Christian life of charity. Miracle is a natural product of human
feeling and imagination; and God was in Jesus--pre-eminently, as He is
in all great souls, but not otherwise--not otherwise in kind than He is
in me or you.'

His voice dropped to a whisper. She grew paler and paler.

'So to you,' she said presently in the same strange altered voice. 'My
father--when I saw that light on his face before he died, when I heard
him cry, "Master, _I come!_" was dying--deceived--deluded. Perhaps
even,' and she trembled, 'you think it ends here--our life--our love?'

It was agony to him to see her driving herself through this piteous
catechism. The lantern of memory flashed a moment on to the immortal
picture of Faust and Margaret. Was it not only that winter they had read
the scene together?

Forcibly he possessed himself once more of those closely locked hands,
pressing their coldness on his own burning eyes and forehead in hopeless
silence.

'_Do_ you, Robert?' she repeated insistently.

'I know nothing,' he said, his eyes still hidden. 'I know nothing! But I
trust God with all that is dearest to me, with our love, with the soul
that is His breath, His work in us!'

The pressure of her despair seemed to be wringing his own faith out of
him, forcing into definiteness things and thoughts that had been lying
in an accepted, even a welcomed, obscurity.

She tried again to draw her hands away, but he would not let them go.
'And the end of it all, Robert?' she said--'the end of it?'

Never did he forget the note of that question, the desolation of it, the
indefinable change of accent. It drove him into a harsh abruptness of
reply.

'The end of it--so far--must be, if I remain an honest man, that I must
give up my living, that I must cease to be a minister of the Church of
England. What the course of our life after that shall be is in your
hands--absolutely.'

She caught her breath painfully. His heart was breaking for her, and yet
there was something in her manner now which kept down caresses and
repressed all words.

Suddenly, however, as he sat there mutely watching her, he found her at
his knees, her dear arms around him, her face against his breast.

'Robert, my husband, my darling, it _cannot_ be! It is a madness--a
delusion. God is trying you, and me! You cannot be planning so to desert
Him, so to deny Christ--you cannot, my husband. Come away with me, away
from books and work, into some quiet place where He can make Himself
heard. You are overdone, overdriven. Do nothing now--say nothing--except
to me. Be patient a little, and He will give you back Himself! What can
books and arguments matter to you or me? Have we not _known_ and _felt_
Him as He is--have we not, Robert? Come!'

She pushed herself backwards, smiling at him with an exquisite
tenderness. The tears were streaming down her cheeks. They were wet on
his own. Another moment and Robert would have lost the only clue which
remained to him through the mists of this bewildering world. He would
have yielded again as he had many times yielded before, for infinitely
less reason, to the urgent pressure of another's individuality, and
having jeopardised love for truth, he would now have murdered--or tried
to murder--in himself the sense of truth for love.

But he did neither.

Holding her close pressed against him, he said in breaks of intense
speech: 'If you wish, Catherine, I will wait--I will wait till you bid
me speak--but I warn you--there is something dead in me--something gone
and broken. It can never live again--except in forms which now it would
only pain you more to think of. It is not that I think differently of
this point or that point--but of life and religion altogether. I see
God's purposes in quite other proportions as it were. Christianity seems
to me something small and local. Behind it, around it--including it--I
see the great drama of the world, sweeping on--led by God--from change
to change, from act to act. It is not that Christianity is false, but
that it is only an imperfect human reflection of a part of truth. Truth
has never been, can never be, contained in any one creed or system!'

She heard, but through her exhaustion, through the bitter sinking of
hope, she only half understood. Only she realised that she and he were
alike helpless--both struggling in the grip of some force outside
themselves, inexorable, ineluctable.

Robert felt her arms relaxing, felt the dead weight of her form against
him. He raised her to her feet, he half carried her to the door, and
on to the stairs. She was nearly fainting, but her will held it
at bay. He threw open the door of their room, led her in, lifted
her--unresisting--on to the bed. Then her head fell to one side, and her
lips grew ashen. In an instant or two he had done for her all that his
medical knowledge could suggest with rapid decided hands. She was not
quite unconscious; she drew up round her, as though with a strong vague
sense of chill, the shawl he laid over her, and gradually the slightest
shade of colour came back to her lips. But as soon as she opened her
eyes and met those of Robert fixed upon her, the heavy lids dropped
again.

'Would you rather be alone?' he said to her, kneeling beside her.

She made a faint affirmative movement of the head, and the cold hand he
had been chafing tried feebly to withdraw itself. He rose at once, and
stood a moment beside her, looking down at her. Then he went.



CHAPTER XXIX


He shut the door softly, and went downstairs again. It was between ten
and eleven. The lights in the lower passage were just extinguished;
every one else in the house had gone to bed. Mechanically he stooped and
put away the child's bricks, he pushed the chairs back into their
places, and then he paused a while before the open window. But there was
not a tremor on the set face. He felt himself capable of no more
emotion. The fount of feeling, of pain, was for the moment dried up.
What he was mainly noticing was the effect of some occasional gusts of
night-wind on the moonlit cornfield; the silver ripples they sent
through it; the shadows thrown by some great trees in the western
corners of the field; the glory of the moon itself in the pale immensity
of the sky.

Presently he turned away, leaving one lamp still burning in the room,
softly unlocked the hall door, took his hat, and went out. He walked up
and down the woodpath or sat on the bench there for some time, thinking
indeed, but thinking with a certain stern practical dryness. Whenever he
felt the thrill of feeling stealing over him again, he would make a
sharp effort at repression. Physically he could not bear much more, and
he knew it. A part remained for him to play, which must be played with
tact, with prudence, and with firmness. Strength and nerves had been
sufficiently weakened already. For his wife's sake, his people's sake,
his honourable reputation's sake, he must guard himself from a collapse
which might mean far more than physical failure.

So in the most patient methodical way he began to plan out the immediate
future. As to waiting, the matter was still in Catherine's hands; but he
knew that finely tempered soul; he knew that when she had mastered her
poor woman's self, as she had always mastered it from her childhood, she
would not bid him wait. He hardly took the possibility into
consideration. The proposal had had some reality in his eyes when he
went to see Mr. Grey; now it had none, though he could hardly have
explained why.

He had already made arrangements with an old Oxford friend to take his
duty during his absence on the Continent. It had been originally
suggested that this Mr. Armitstead should come to Murewell on the Monday
following the Sunday they were now approaching, spend a few days with
them before their departure, and be left to his own devices in the house
and parish, about the Thursday or Friday. An intense desire now seized
Robert to get hold of the man at once, before the next Sunday. It was
strange how the interview with his wife seemed to have crystallised,
precipitated, everything. How infinitely more real the whole matter
looked to him since the afternoon! It had passed--at any rate for the
time--out of the region of thought, into the hurrying evolution of
action, and as soon as action began it was characteristic of Robert's
rapid energetic nature to feel this thirst, to make it as prompt, as
complete, as possible. The fiery soul yearned for a fresh consistency,
though it were a consistency of loss and renunciation.

To-morrow he must write to the bishop. The bishop's residence was only
eight or ten miles from Murewell; he supposed his interview with him
would take place about Monday or Tuesday. He could see the tall stooping
figure of the kindly old man rising to meet him; he knew exactly the
sort of arguments that would be brought to bear upon him. Oh, that it
were done with--this wearisome dialectical necessity! His life for
months had been one long argument. If he were but left free to feel, and
live again!

The practical matter which weighed most heavily upon him was the
function connected with the opening of the new Institute, which had been
fixed for the Saturday--the next day but one. How was he--but much more
how was Catherine--to get through it? His lips would be sealed as to any
possible withdrawal from the living, for he could not by then have seen
the bishop. He looked forward to the gathering, the crowds, the local
enthusiasm, the signs of his own popularity, with a sickening distaste.
The one thing real to him through it all would be Catherine's white
face, and their bitter joint consciousness.

And then he said to himself, sharply, that his own feelings counted for
nothing. Catherine should be tenderly shielded from all avoidable pain,
but for himself there must be no flinching, no self-indulgent weakness.
Did he not owe every last hour he had to give to the people amongst whom
he had planned to spend the best energies of life, and for whom his own
act was about to part him in this lame impotent fashion?

Midnight! The sounds rolled silverly out, effacing the soft murmurs of
the night. So the long interminable day was over, and a new morning had
begun. He rose, listening to the echoes of the bell, and--as the tide of
feeling surged back upon him--passionately commending the new-born day
to God.

Then he turned towards the house, put the light out in the drawing-room,
and went upstairs, stepping cautiously. He opened the door of
Catherine's room. The moonlight was streaming in through the white
blinds. Catherine, who had undressed, was lying now with her face hidden
in the pillow, and one white-sleeved arm flung across little Mary's cot.
The night was hot, and the child would evidently have thrown off all its
coverings had it not been for the mother's hand, which lay lightly on
the tiny shoulder, keeping one thin blanket in its place.

'Catherine,' he whispered, standing beside her.

She turned, and by the light of the candle he held shaded from her he
saw the austere remoteness of her look, as of one who had been going
through deep waters of misery, alone with God. His heart sank. For the
first time that look seemed to exclude him from her inmost life.

He sank down beside her, took the hand lying on the child, and laid down
his head upon it, mutely kissing it. But he said nothing. Of what
further avail could words be just then to either of them? Only he felt
through every fibre the coldness, the irresponsiveness of those fingers
lying in his.

'Would it prevent your sleeping,' he asked her presently, 'if I came to
read here, as I used to when you were ill? I could shade the light from
you, of course.'

She raised her head suddenly.

'But you--you ought to sleep.'

Her tone was anxious, but strangely quiet and aloof.

'Impossible!' he said, pressing his hand over his eyes as he rose. 'At
any rate I will read first.'

His sleeplessness at any time of excitement or strain was so inveterate,
and so familiar to them both by now, that she could say nothing. She
turned away with a long sobbing breath, which seemed to go through her
from head to foot. He stood a moment beside her, fighting strong
impulses of remorse and passion, and ultimately maintaining silence and
self-control.

In another minute or two he was sitting beside her feet, in a low chair
drawn to the edge of the bed, the light arranged so as to reach his book
without touching either mother or child. He had run over the book-shelf
in his own room, shrinking painfully from any of his common religious
favourites as one shrinks from touching a still sore and throbbing
nerve, and had at last carried off a volume of Spenser.

And so the night began to wear away. For the first hour or two, every
now and then, a stifled sob would make itself just faintly heard. It was
a sound to wring the heart, for what it meant was that not even
Catherine Elsmere's extraordinary powers of self-suppression could avail
to check the outward expression of an inward torture. Each time it came
and went, it seemed to Elsmere that a fraction of his youth went with
it.

At last exhaustion brought her a restless sleep. As soon as Elsmere
caught the light breathing which told him she was not conscious of her
grief, or of him, his book slipped on to his knee.

    'Open the temple gates unto my love,
       Open them wide that she may enter in,
     And all the posts adorn as doth behove,
       And all the pillars deck with garlands trim,
     For to receive this saint with honour due
     That cometh in to you.
       With trembling steps and humble reverence,
     She cometh in before the Almighty's view.'

The leaves fell over as the book dropped, and these lines, which had
been to him, as to other lovers, the utterance of his own bridal joy,
emerged. They brought about him a host of images--a little gray church
penetrated everywhere by the roar of a swollen river; outside, a road
filled with empty farmers' carts, and shouting children carrying
branches of mountain-ash--winding on and up into the heart of wild hills
dyed with reddening fern, the sun-gleams stealing from crag to crag, and
shoulder to shoulder; inside, row after row of intent faces, all turned
towards the central passage, and, moving towards him, a figure 'clad all
in white, that seems a virgin best,' whose every step brings nearer to
him the heaven of his heart's desire. Everything is plain to him--Mrs.
Thornburgh's round cheeks and marvellous curls and jubilant airs, Mrs.
Leyburn's mild and tearful pleasure, the vicar's solid satisfaction.
With what confiding joy had those who loved her given her to him! And he
knows well that out of all griefs, the grief he has brought upon her in
two short years is the one which will seem to her hardest to bear. Very
few women of the present day could feel this particular calamity as
Catherine Elsmere must feel it.

'Was it a crime to love and win you, my darling?' he cried to her in his
heart. 'Ought I to have had more self-knowledge? could I have guessed
where I was taking you? Oh, how could I know--how could I know.'

But it was impossible to him to sink himself wholly in the past.
Inevitably such a nature as Elsmere's turns very quickly from despair to
hope; from the sense of failure to the passionate planning of new
effort. In time will he not be able to comfort her, and, after a
miserable moment of transition, to repair her trust in him and make
their common life once more rich towards God and man? There must be
painful readjustment and friction, no doubt. He tries to see the facts
as they truly are, fighting against his own optimist tendencies, and
realising as best he can all the changes which his great change must
introduce into their most intimate relations. But after all can love and
honesty and a clear conscience do nothing to bridge over, nay, to
efface, such differences as theirs will be?

Oh to bring her to understand him! At this moment he shrinks painfully
from the thought of touching her faith--his own sense of loss is too
heavy, too terrible. But if she will only be still open with him!--still
give him her deepest heart, any lasting difference between them will
surely be impossible. Each will complete the other, and love knit up the
ravelled strands again into a stronger unity.

Gradually he lost himself in half-articulate prayer, in the solemn
girding of the will to this future task of a recreating love. And by the
time the morning light had well established itself sleep had fallen on
him. When he became sensible of the longed-for drowsiness, he merely
stretched out a tired hand and drew over him a shawl hanging at the foot
of the bed. He was too utterly worn out to think of moving.

When he woke the sun was streaming into the room, and behind him sat the
tiny Mary on the edge of the bed, the rounded apple cheeks and wild-bird
eyes aglow with mischief and delight. She had climbed out of her cot,
and, finding no check to her progress, had crept on, till now she sat
triumphantly, with one diminutive leg and rosy foot doubled under her,
and her father's thick hair at the mercy of her invading fingers, which,
however, were as yet touching him half timidly, as though something in
his sleep had awed the baby sense.

But Catherine was gone.

He sprang up with a start. Mary was frightened by the abrupt movement,
perhaps disappointed by the escape of her prey, and raised a sudden
wail.

He carried her to her nurse, even forgetting to kiss the little wet
cheek, ascertained that Catherine was not in the house, and then came
back, miserable, with the bewilderment of sleep still upon him. A sense
of wrong rose high within him. How _could_ she have left him thus
without a word?

It had been her way, sometimes, during the summer, to go out early to
one or other of the sick folk who were under her especial charge.
Possibly she had gone to a woman, just confined, on the farther side of
the village, who yesterday had been in danger.

But, whatever explanation he could make for himself, he was none the
less irrationally wretched. He bathed, dressed, and sat down to his
solitary meal in a state of tension and agitation indescribable. All the
exaltation, the courage of the night, was gone.

Nine o'clock, ten o'clock, and no sign of Catherine.

'Your mistress must have been detained somewhere,' he said as quietly
and carelessly as he could to Susan, the parlour-maid, who had been with
them since their marriage. 'Leave breakfast things for one.'

'Mistress took a cup of milk when she went out, cook says,' observed the
little maid with a consoling intention, wondering the while at the
rector's haggard mien and restless movements.

'Nursing other people indeed!' she observed severely downstairs, glad as
we all are at times to pick holes in excellence which is inconveniently
high. 'Missis had a deal better stay at home and nurse _him_!'

The day was excessively hot. Not a leaf moved in the garden; over the
cornfield the air danced in long vibrations of heat; the woods and hills
beyond were indistinct and colourless. Their dog Dandy lay sleeping in
the sun, waking up every now and then to avenge himself on the flies. On
the far edge of the cornfield reaping was beginning. Robert stood on the
edge of the sunk fence, his blind eyes resting on the line of men, his
ear catching the shouts of the farmer directing operations from his gray
horse. He could do nothing. The night before, in the wood-path, he had
clearly mapped out the day's work. A mass of business was waiting,
clamouring to be done. He tried to begin on this or that, and gave up
everything with a groan, wandering out again to the gate on to the
wood-path to sweep the distances of road or field with hungry straining
eyes.

The wildest fears had taken possession of him. Running in his head was a
passage from _The confessions_, describing Monica's horror of her son's
heretical opinions. 'Shrinking from and detesting the blasphemies of his
error, she began to doubt whether it was right in her to allow her son
to live in her house and to eat at the same table with her;' and the
mother's heart, he remembered, could only be convinced of the lawfulness
of its own yearning by a prophetic vision of the youth's conversion. He
recalled, with a shiver, how in the life of Madame Guyon, after
describing the painful and agonising death of a kind but comparatively
irreligious husband, she quietly adds, 'As soon as I heard that my
husband had just expired, I said to Thee, O my God, Thou hast broken my
bonds, and I will offer to Thee a sacrifice of praise!' He thought of
John Henry Newman, disowning all the ties of kinship with his younger
brother because of divergent views on the question of baptismal
regeneration; of the long tragedy of Blanco White's life, caused by the
slow dropping-off of friend after friend, on the ground of heretical
belief. What right had he, or any one in such a strait as his, to assume
that the faith of the present is no longer capable of the same stern
self-destructive consistency as the faith of the past? He knew that to
such Christian purity, such Christian inwardness as Catherine's, the
ultimate sanction and legitimacy of marriage rest, both in theory and
practice, on a common acceptance of the definite commands and promises
of a miraculous revelation. He had had a proof of it in Catherine's
passionate repugnance to the idea of Rose's marriage with Edward
Langham.

Eleven o'clock striking from the distant tower. He walked desperately
along the wood-path, meaning to go through the copse at the end of it
towards the park, and look there. He had just passed into the copse, a
thick interwoven mass of young trees, when he heard the sound of the
gate which on the farther side of it led on to the road. He hurried on;
the trees closed behind him; the grassy path broadened; and there, under
an arch of young oak and hazel, stood Catherine, arrested by the sound
of his step. He, too, stopped at the sight of her; he could not go on.
Husband and wife looked at each other one long quivering moment. Then
Catherine sprang forward with a sob and threw herself on his breast.

They clung to each other, she in a passion of tears--tears of such
self-abandonment as neither Robert nor any other living soul had ever
seen Catherine Elsmere shed before. As for him he was trembling from
head to foot, his arms scarcely strong enough to hold her, his young
worn face bent down over her.

'Oh, Robert!' she sobbed at last, putting up her hand and touching his
hair, 'you look so pale, so sad.'

'I have you again!' he said simply.

A thrill of remorse ran through her.

'I went away,' she murmured, her face still hidden--'I went away,
because when I woke up it all seemed to me, suddenly, too ghastly to be
believed; I could not stay still and bear it. But, Robert, Robert, I
kissed you as I passed! I was so thankful you could sleep a little and
forget. I hardly know where I have been most of the time--I think I have
been sitting in a corner of the park, where no one ever comes. I began
to think of all you said to me last night--to put it together--to try
and understand it, and it seemed to me more and more horrible! I thought
of what it would be like to have to hide my prayers from you--my faith
in Christ--my hope of heaven. I thought of bringing up the child--how
all that was vital to me would be a superstition to you, which you would
bear with for my sake. I thought of death,' and she shuddered--'your
death, or my death, and how this change in you would cleave a gulf of
misery between us. And then I thought of losing my own faith, of denying
Christ. It was a nightmare--I saw myself on a long road, escaping with
Mary in my arms, escaping from you! Oh, Robert! it wasn't only for
myself,'--and she clung to him as though she were a child, confessing,
explaining away, some grievous fault hardly to be forgiven. 'I was
agonised by the thought that I was not my own--I and my child were
_Christ's_. Could I risk what was His? Other men and women had died, had
given up all for His sake. Is there no one now strong enough to suffer
torment, to kill even love itself rather than deny Him--rather than
crucify Him afresh?'

She paused, struggling for breath. The terrible excitement of that
bygone moment had seized upon her again and communicated itself to him.

'And then--and then,' she said sobbing, 'I don't know how it was. One
moment I was sitting up looking straight before me, without a tear,
thinking of what was the least I must do, even--even--if you and I
stayed together--of all the hard compacts and conditions I must
make--judging you all the while from a long, long distance, and feeling
as though I had buried the old self--sacrificed the old heart--for ever!
And the next I was lying on the ground crying for you, Robert, crying
for you! Your face had come back to me as you lay there in the early
morning light. I thought how I had kissed you--how pale and gray and
thin you looked. Oh, how I loathed myself! That I should think it could
be God's will that I should leave you, or torture you, my poor husband!
I had not only been wicked towards you--I had offended Christ. I could
think of nothing as I lay there--again and again--but "_Little children,
love one another; little children, love one another._" Oh, my
beloved,'--and she looked up with the solemnest, tenderest smile
breaking on the marred tear-stained face,--'I will never give up hope, I
will pray for you night and day. God will bring you back. You cannot
lose yourself so. No, no! His grace is stronger than our wills. But I
will not preach to you--I will not persecute you--I will only live
beside you--in your heart--and love you always. Oh, how could I--how
could I have such thoughts!'

And again she broke off, weeping, as if to the tender torn heart the
only crime that could not be forgiven was its own offence against love.
As for him he was beyond speech. If he had ever lost his vision of God,
his wife's love would that moment have given it back to him.

'Robert,' she said presently, urged on by the sacred yearning to heal,
to atone, 'I will not complain--I will not ask you to wait. I take your
word for it that it is best not, that it would do no good. The only hope
is in time--and prayer. I must suffer, dear, I must be weak sometimes;
but oh, I am so sorry for you! Kiss me, forgive me, Robert; I will be
your faithful wife unto our lives' end.'

He kissed her, and in that kiss, so sad, so pitiful, so clinging, their
new life was born.



CHAPTER XXX


But the problem of these two lives was not solved by a burst of feeling.
Without that determining impulse of love and pity in Catherine's heart
the salvation of an exquisite bond might indeed have been impossible.
But in spite of it the laws of character had still to work themselves
inexorably out on either side.

The whole gist of the matter for Elsmere lay really in this question:
Hidden in Catherine's nature, was there, or was there not, the true
stuff of fanaticism? Madame Guyon left her infant children to the
mercies of chance, while she followed the voice of God to the holy war
with heresy. Under similar conditions Catherine Elsmere might have
planned the same. Could she ever have carried it out?

And yet the question is still ill stated. For the influences of our
modern time on religious action are so blunting and dulling, because in
truth the religious motive itself is being constantly modified, whether
the religious person knows it or not. Is it possible now for a good
woman with a heart, in Catherine Elsmere's position, to maintain herself
against love, and all those subtle forces to which such a change as
Elsmere's opens the house doors, without either hardening, or greatly
yielding? Let Catherine's further story give some sort of an answer.

Poor soul! As they sat together in the study, after he had brought her
home, Robert, with averted eyes, went through the plans he had already
thought into shape. Catherine listened, saying almost nothing. But
never, never had she loved this life of theirs so well as now that she
was called on, at barely a week's notice, to give it up for ever! For
Robert's scheme, in which her reason fully acquiesced, was to keep to
their plan of going to Switzerland, he having first, of course, settled
all things with the bishop, and having placed his living in the hands of
Mowbray Elsmere. When they left the rectory, in a week or ten days'
time, he proposed, in fact, his voice almost inaudible as he did so,
that Catherine should leave it for good.

'Everybody had better suppose,' he said choking, 'that we are coming
back. Of course we need say nothing. Armitstead will be here for next
week certainly. Then afterwards I can come down and manage everything. I
shall get it over in a day if I can, and see nobody. I cannot say
good-bye, nor can you.'

'And next Sunday, Robert?' she asked him, after a pause.

'I shall write to Armitstead this afternoon and ask him, if he possibly
can, to come to-morrow afternoon, instead of Monday, and take the
service.'

Catherine's hands clasped each other still more closely. So then she had
heard her husband's voice for the last time in the public ministry of
the Church, in prayer, in exhortation, in benediction! One of the most
sacred traditions of her life was struck from her at a blow.

It was long before either of them spoke again. Then she ventured another
question.

'And have you any idea of what we shall do next, Robert--of--of our
future?'

'Shall we try London for a little?' he answered in a queer strained
voice, leaning against the window, and looking out, that he might not
see her. 'I should find work among the poor--so would you--and I could
go on with my book. And your mother and sister will probably be there
part of the winter.'

She acquiesced silently. How mean and shrunken a future it seemed to
them both, beside the wide and honourable range of his clergyman's life
as he and she had developed it. But she did not dwell long on that. Her
thoughts were suddenly invaded by the memory of a cottage tragedy in
which she had recently taken a prominent part. A girl, a child of
fifteen, from one of the crowded Mile End hovels, had gone at Christmas
to a distant farm as servant, and come back a month ago, ruined, the
victim of an outrage over which Elsmere had ground his teeth in fierce
and helpless anger. Catherine had found her a shelter, and was to see
her through her 'trouble'; the girl, a frail half-witted creature, who
could find no words even to bewail herself, clinging to her the while
with the dumbest, pitifulest tenacity.

How _could_ she leave that girl? It was as if all the fibres of life
were being violently wrenched from all their natural connections.

'Robert!' she cried at last with a start. 'Had you forgotten the
Institute to-morrow?'

'No--no,' he said with the saddest smile. 'No, I had not forgotten it.
Don't go, Catherine--don't go. I must. But why should you go through
it?'

'But there are all those flags and wreaths,' she said, getting up in
pained bewilderment. 'I must go and look after them.'

He caught her in his arms.

'Oh, my wife, my wife, forgive me!' It was a groan of misery. She put up
her hands and pressed his hair back from his temples.

'I love you, Robert,' she said simply, her face colourless, but
perfectly calm.

Half an hour later, after he had worked through some letters, he went
into the workroom and found her surrounded with flags, and a vast litter
of paper roses and evergreens, which she and the new agent's daughters
who had come up to help her were putting together for the decorations of
the morrow. Mary was tottering from chair to chair in high glee, a big
pink rose stuck in the belt of her pinafore. His pale wife, trying to
smile and talk as usual, her lap full of evergreens, and her politeness
exercised by the chatter of the two Miss Batesons, seemed to Robert one
of the most pitiful spectacles he had ever seen. He fled from it out
into the village driven by a restless longing for change and movement.

Here he found a large gathering round the new Institute. There were
carpenters at work on a triumphal arch in front, and close by, an
admiring circle of children and old men, huddling in the shade of a
great chestnut.

Elsmere spent an hour in the building, helping and superintending,
stabbed every now and then by the unsuspecting friendliness of those
about him, or worried by their blunt comments on his looks. He could not
bear more than a glance into the new rooms apportioned to the
Naturalists' Club. There against the wall stood the new glass cases he
had wrung out of the squire, with various new collections lying near,
ready to be arranged and unpacked when time allowed. The old collections
stood out bravely in the added space and light; the walls were hung here
and there with a wonderful set of geographical pictures he had carried
off from a London exhibition, and fed his boys on for weeks; the floors
were freshly matted; the new pine fittings gave out their pleasant
cleanly scent; the white paint of doors and windows shone in the August
sun. The building had been given by the squire. The fittings and
furniture had been mainly of his providing. What uses he had planned for
it all!--only to see the fruits of two years' effort out of doors, and
personal frugality at home, handed over to some possibly unsympathetic
stranger. The heart beat painfully against the iron bars of fate,
rebelling against the power of a mental process so to affect a man's
whole practical and social life!

He went out at last by the back of the Institute, where a little bit of
garden, spoilt with building materials, led down to a lane.

At the end of the garden, beside the untidy gap in the hedge made by the
builders' carts, he saw a man standing, who turned away down the lane,
however, as soon as the rector's figure emerged into view.

Robert had recognised the slouching gait and unwieldy form of Henslowe.
There were at this moment all kinds of gruesome stories afloat in the
village about the ex-agent. It was said that he was breaking up fast; it
was known that he was extensively in debt; and the village shopkeepers
had already held an agitate