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Title: The Beth Book - Being a Study of the Life of Elizabeth Caldwell Maclure, a Woman of Genius
Author: Grand, Sarah
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE BETH BOOK

Being a Study of the Life of Elizabeth Caldwell Maclure
A Woman of Genius

by

SARAH GRAND



IAGO.     Come, hold your peace.

EMILIA.  'Twill out, 'twill out:--I hold my peace, Sir? no;
   I'll be in speaking, liberal as the air:
   Let heaven, and men, and devils, let them all
   All, all, cry shame against me, yet I'll speak.
                               SHAKESPEARE


New York:
D. Appleton
1897.


     "_I cannot gather the sunbeams out of the east, or I
     would make them tell you what I have seen; but read this
     and interpret this, and let us remember together. I
     cannot gather the gloom out of the night sky, or I would
     make that tell you what I have seen; but read this and
     interpret this, and let us feel together. And if you have
     not that within you which I can summon to my aid, if you
     have not the sun in your spirit and the passion in your
     heart which my words may awaken, though they be
     indistinct and swift, leave me, for I will give you no
     patient mockery, no labouring insults of that glorious
     Nature whose I am and whom I serve._"--RUSKIN.


     "_The men who come on the stage at one period are all
     found to be related to one another. Certain ideas are in
     the air. We are all impressionable, for we are made of
     them; all impressionable, but some more than others, and
     these first express them. This explains the curious
     temporaneousness of inventions and discoveries. The truth
     is in the air, and the most impressionable brain will
     announce it first, but all will announce it a few minutes
     later. So women, as most susceptible, are the best index
     of the coming hour._"--EMERSON.



CHAPTER I


The day preceding Beth's birth was a grey day, a serene grey day, awesome
with a certain solemnity, and singularly significant to those who seek a
sign. There is a quiet mood, an inner calm, to which a grey day adds
peculiar solace. It is like the relief which follows after tears, when
hope begins to revive, and the warm blood throbs rebelliously to be free
of the shackles of grief; a certain heaviness still lingers, but only as
a luxurious languor which is a pleasure in itself. In other moods,
however, in pain, in doubt, in suspense, the grey day deepens the
depression of the spirits, and also adds to the sense of physical
discomfort. Mrs. Caldwell, looking up at noon from the stocking she was
mending, and seeing only a slender strip of level gloom above the houses
opposite, suddenly experienced a mingled feeling of chilliness and
dread, and longed for a fire, although the month was June. She could not
afford fires at that time of year, yet she thought how nice it would be
to have one, and the more she thought of it the more chilly she felt. A
little comfort of the kind would have meant so much to her that morning.
She would like to have felt it right to put away the mending, sit by a
good blaze with a book, and absorb herself in somebody else's thoughts,
for her own were far from cheerful. She was weak and ill and anxious,
the mother of six children already, and about to produce a seventh on an
income that would have been insufficient for four. It was a reckless
thing for a delicate woman to do, but she never thought of that. She
lived in the days when no one thought of the waste of women in this
respect, and they had not begun to think for themselves. What she
suffered she accepted as her "lot," or "The Will of God"--the expression
varied with the nature of the trouble; extreme pain was "The Will of
God," but minor discomforts and worries were her "lot." That much of the
misery was perfectly preventable never occurred to her, and if any one
had suggested such a thing she would have been shocked. The parson in
the pulpit preached endurance; and she understood that anything in the
nature of resistance, any discussion even of social problems, would not
only have been a flying in the face of Providence, but a most indecent
proceeding. She knew that there was crime and disease in the world, but
there were judges and juries to pursue criminals, doctors to deal with
diseases, and the clergy to speak a word in season to all, from the
murderer on the scaffold to the maid who had misconducted herself. There
was nothing eccentric about Mrs. Caldwell; she accepted the world just
as she found it, and was satisfied to know that effects were being dealt
with. Causes she never considered, because she knew nothing about them.

But she was ill at ease that morning, and did think it rather hard
that she should not have had time to recover from her last illness.
She acknowledged to herself that she was very weak, that it was hard
to drag the darning-needle through that worn stocking, and, oh dear!
the holes were so many and so big that week, and there were such
quantities of other things to be done, clothes mended and made for the
children, besides household matters to be seen to generally; why
wasn't she strong? That was the only thing she repined about, poor
woman, her want of physical strength. She would work until she
dropped, however, and mortal man could expect no more of her, she
assured herself with a sigh of satisfaction, in anticipation of the
inevitable event which would lay her by, and so release her from all
immediate responsibility. Worn and weary working mothers, often
uncomplaining victims of the cruelest exactions, toilers whose day's
work is never done, no wonder they welcome even the illness which
enforces rest in bed, the one holiday that is ever allowed them. Mrs.
Caldwell thought again of the fire and the book. She had read a good
deal at one time, and had even been able to play, and sing, and draw,
and paint with a dainty touch; but since her marriage, the many
children, the small means, and the failing strength had made all such
pursuits an impossible luxury. The fire and the book--who knows what
they might not have meant, what a benign difference the small
relaxation allowed to the mother at this critical time might not have
made in the temperament of the child? Perhaps, if we could read the
events even of that one day aright, we should find in them the clue to
all that was inexplicable in its subsequent career.

In deciding that she could not afford a fire for herself, Mrs.
Caldwell had glanced round the room, and noticed that the whisky
bottle on the sideboard was all but empty. She got up hastily, and
went into the kitchen.

"I had quite forgotten the whisky," she said to the maid-of-all-work,
who was scraping potatoes at the sink. "Your master will be so put
out if there isn't enough. You must go at once and get some--six
bottles. Bring one with you, and let them send the rest."

The girl turned upon her with a scowl. "And who's to do my dinner?"
she demanded.

"I'll do what I can," Mrs. Caldwell answered. The servant threw the
knife down on the potatoes, and turned from the sink sullenly, wiping
her hands on her apron as she went.

Mrs. Caldwell rolled up her sleeves, and set to work, but awkwardly.
Household work comes naturally to many educated women; they like it,
and they do it well; but Mrs. Caldwell was not one of this kind. She
was not made for labour, but for luxury; her hands and arms, both
delicately beautiful in form and colour, alone showed that. Her whole
air betokened gentle birth and breeding. She looked out of place in
the kitchen, and it was evident that she could only acquit herself
well among the refinements of life. She set to work with a will,
however, for she had the pluck and patience of ten men. She peeled
vegetables, chopped meat, fetched water, carried coals to mend the
fire, did all that had to be done to the best of her ability, although
she had to cling many times to table, or chair, or dresser, to recover
from the exertion, and brace herself for a fresh attempt. When she had
done in the kitchen she went to the dining-room and laid the cloth.
The sulky servant did not hurry back. She had a trick of lingering
long on errands, and when at last she did appear she brought no
whisky.

"They're going to send it," she explained. "They promised to send it
at once."

"But I told you to bring a bottle!" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed, stamping
her foot imperiously.

The girl walked off to the kitchen, and slammed the door.

Mrs. Caldwell's forehead was puckered with a frown, but she got out
the mending again, and sat down to it in the dining-room with dogged
determination.

Presently there was a step outside. She looked up and listened. The
front door opened. Her worn face brightened; backache and weariness
were forgotten; her husband had come home; and it was as if the clouds
had parted and the sun shone forth.

She looked up brightly to greet him. "You've got your work over early
to-day," she said.

"I have," he answered drily, without looking at her.

The smile froze on her lips. He had come back in an irritable mood. He
went to the sideboard when he had spoken, and poured himself out a
stiff glass of whisky-and-water, which he carried to the window, where
he stood with his back to his wife, looking out. He was a short man,
who made an instant impression of light eyes in a dark face. You would
have looked at him a second time in the street, and thought of him
after he had passed, so striking was the peculiar contrast. His
features were European, but his complexion, and his soft glossy black
hair, curling close and crisp to the head, betrayed a dark drop in
him, probably African. In the West Indies he would certainly have been
set down as a quadroon. There was no record of negro blood in the
family, however, no trace of any ancestor who had lived abroad; and
the three moors' heads with ivory rings through their noses which
appeared in one quarter of the scutcheon were always understood by
later generations to have been a distinction conferred for some
special butchery-business among the Saracens.

Mrs. Caldwell glanced at her husband, as he stood with his back to her
in the window, and then went on with the mending, patiently waiting
till the mood should have passed off, or she should have thought of
something with which to beguile him.

When he had finished the whisky-and-water, he turned and looked at her
with critical disapprobation.

"I wonder why it is when a woman marries she takes no more pains with
herself," he ejaculated. "When I married you, you were one of the
smartest girls I ever saw."

"It would be difficult to be smart just now," she answered.

He made a gesture of impatience. "But why should a woman give up
everything when she marries? You had more accomplishments than most of
them, and now all you do, it seems to me, is the mending."

"The mending must be done," she answered deprecatingly, "and I'm not
very strong. I'm not able to do everything. I would if I could."

There was a wild stampede at this moment. The four elder children had
returned from school, and the two younger ones from a walk with their
nurse, and now burst into the room, in wild spirits, demanding dinner.
It was the first bright moment of the morning for their mother, but
her husband promptly spoilt her pleasure.

"Sit down at table," he roared, "and don't let me hear another word
from any of you. A man comes home to be quiet, and this is the kind of
thing that awaits him!"

The children shrank to their places abashed, while their mother
escaped to the kitchen to hurry the dinner. The form--or farce--of
grace was gone through before the meal commenced. The children ate
greedily, but were obediently silent. All the little confidences and
remarks which it would have been so healthy for them to make, and so
good for their mother to hear, had to be suppressed, and the silence
and constraint made everyone dyspeptic. The dinner consisted of only
one dish, a hash, which Mrs. Caldwell had made because her husband had
liked it so much the last time they had had it. He turned it over on
his plate now, however, ominously, blaming the food for his own want
of appetite. Mrs. Caldwell knew the symptoms, and sighed.

"I can't eat this stuff," he said at last, pushing his plate away from
him.

"There's a pudding coming," his wife replied.

"Oh, a pudding!" he exclaimed. "I know what our puddings are. Why
aren't women taught something sensible? What's the use of all your
accomplishments if you can't cook the simplest dish? What a difference
it would have made to my life if you had been able to make pastry
even."

Mrs. Caldwell thought of the time she had spent on her feet in the
kitchen that morning doing her best, and she also thought how easy it
would have been for him to marry a woman who could cook, if that were
all he wanted; but she had no faint glimmering conception that it was
unreasonable to expect a woman of her class to cook her dinner as well
as eat it. One servant is not expected to do another's work in any
establishment; but a mother on a small income, the most cruelly tried
of women, is too often required to be equal to anything. Mrs. Caldwell
said nothing, however. She belonged to the days when a wife's meek
submission to anything a man chose to say made nagging a pleasant
relaxation for the man, and encouraged him to persevere until he
acquired a peculiar ease in the art, and spoilt the tempers of
everybody about him.

The arrival of the family doctor put an end to the scene. Mrs.
Caldwell told the children to run away, and her husband's countenance
cleared.

"Glad to see you, Gottley," he said. "What will you have?"

"Oh, nothing, thank you. I can't stay a moment. I just looked in to
see how Mrs. Caldwell was getting on."

"Oh, she's all right," her husband answered for her cheerfully. "How
are you all, especially Miss Bessie?"

"Ha! ha!" said the old gentleman, sitting down by the table. "That
reminds me I'm not on good terms with Bessie this morning. I'm generally
careful, you know, but it seems I said something disrespectful about a
Christian brother--a _Christian_ brother, mind you--and I've been had up
before the family tribunal for blasphemy, and condemned to everlasting
punishment. Lord!--But, mark my words," he exclaimed emphatically, "a
time will come when every school-girl will see, what my life is made a
burden to me for seeing now, the absurdity of the whole religious
superstition."

"O doctor!" Mrs. Caldwell cried, "surely you believe in God?"

"God has not revealed Himself to me, madam; I know nothing about Him,"
the old gentleman answered gently.

"Ah, there you know you are wrong, Gottley," Mr. Caldwell chimed in,
and then he proceeded to argue the question. The old doctor, being in
a hurry, said little in reply, and when he had gone Mrs. Caldwell
exclaimed, with wifely tact--

"Well, I think you had the best of that!"

"Well, I think I had, poor old buffer!" her husband answered
complacently, his temper restored. "By the way, I've brought in the
last number of Dickens. Shall I read it to you?"

Her face brightened. "Yes, do," she rejoined. "One moment, till Jane
has done clearing the table. Here's your chair," and she placed the
only easy one in the room for him, in the best light.

These readings were one of the joys of her life. He read to her often,
and read exceedingly well. Books were the bond of union between them,
the prop and stay of their married life. Poor as they were, they
always managed to find money for new ones, which they enjoyed together
in this way. Intellectuality balanced the morbid irritability of the
husband's temperament, and literature made life tolerable to them both
as nothing else could have done. As he read now, his countenance
cleared, and his imaginary cares fell from him; while his wife's very
real ones were forgotten as she listened, and there was a blessed
truce to trouble for a time. Unfortunately, however, as the reading
proceeded, he came to a rasping bit of the story, which began to grate
upon his nerves. The first part had been pleasurably exciting, but
when he found the sensation slipping from him, he thought to stay it
with a stimulant, and went to the sideboard for the purpose. Mrs.
Caldwell's heart sank; the whisky bottle was all but empty.

"Oh, damn it!" he exclaimed, banging it down on the sideboard. "And I
suppose there is none in the house. There never is any in the house.
No one looks after anything. My comfort is never considered. It is
always those damned children."

"Henry!" his wife protested; but she was too ill to defend herself
further.

"What a life for a man," he proceeded; "stuck down in this cursed
hole, without a congenial soul to speak to, in or out of the house."

"That is a cruel thing to say, Henry," she remonstrated with dignity.

"Well, I apologise," he rejoined ungraciously. "But you must confess
that I have some cause to complain."

He was standing behind her as he spoke, and she felt that he eyed her
the while with disapproval of her appearance, and anger at her
condition. She knew the look only too well, poor soul, and her
attitude was deprecating as she sat there gazing up pitifully at the
strip of level greyness above the houses opposite. She said nothing,
however, only rocked herself on her chair, and looked forlornly
miserable; seeing which brought his irritation to a climax. He flung
the book across the room; but even in the act, his countenance
cleared. He was standing in the window, and caught a glimpse of Bessie
Gottley, who was passing at the moment on the opposite side of the
road, and looked across at him, smiling and nodding invitingly. Mrs.
Caldwell saw the pantomime, and her heart contracted with a pang when
she saw how readily her husband responded. It was hard that the evil
moods should not be conquered for her as well as for Bessie Gottley.

Bridget came in just then, bringing the belated whisky.

"Oh, you did order it," he graciously acknowledged. "Why didn't you
say so?" He opened the bottle, and poured some out for himself.
"Here's to the moon-faced Bessie!" he said jocularly.

Mrs. Caldwell went on with the mending. Her husband began to walk up
and down the room, in a good humour again. He walked peculiarly, more
on his toes than his heels, with an odd little spring in each step, as
if it were the first step of a dance. This springiness gave to his
gait a sort of buoyancy which might have seemed natural to him, if
exaggerated, in his youth, but had the air of an affectation in middle
life, as if it were part of an assumption of juvenility.

"Won't you go on with the reading?" his wife said at last. His
restlessness worried her.

"No," he answered; "I shall go out. I want exercise."

"When will you be back?" she asked wistfully.

"Oh, hang it all! don't nag me. I shall come back when I like."

He left the room as he spoke, slamming the door behind him. Mrs.
Caldwell did not alter her attitude, but the tears welled up in her
eyes, and ran down her haggard cheeks unheeded. The children came in,
and finding her so, quietly left the room, all but the eldest girl,
who went and leant against her, slipping her little hand through her
mother's arm. The poor woman kissed the child passionately; then, with
a great effort, recovered her self-control, put her work away, gave
the children their tea, read to them for an hour, and saw them to bed.
The front door was open when she came downstairs, and she went to shut
it. A lady, who knew her, happened to be passing, and stopped to shake
hands. "I saw your husband just now sitting on the beach with Bessie
Gottley," she informed Mrs. Caldwell pleasantly. "They were both
laughing immoderately."

"Very likely," Mrs. Caldwell responded with a smile. "She amuses my
husband immensely. But won't you come in?"

"No, thank you. Not to-night. I am hurrying home. Glad to see you
looking so well;" with which she nodded, and went her way; and Mrs.
Caldwell returned to the little dining-room, holding her head high
till she had shut the door, when she burst into a tempest of tears.
She was a lymphatic woman ordinarily, but subject to sudden squalls of
passion, when she lost all self-control.

She would have sobbed aloud now, when the fit was on her, in the face
of the whole community, although the constant effort of her life was
to keep up appearances. She had recovered herself, however, before the
servant came in with the candles, and was sitting in the window
looking out anxiously. The greyness of the long June day was darkening
down to night now, but there was no change in the sultry stillness of
the air. Summer lightning played about in the strip of sky above the
houses opposite. One of the houses was a butcher's shop, and while
Mrs. Caldwell sat there, the butcher brought out a lamb and killed it.
Mrs. Caldwell watched the operation with interest. They did strange
things in those days in that little Irish seaport, and, being an
Englishwoman, she looked on like a civilised traveller intelligently
studying the customs of a savage people.

But as the darkness gathered, the trouble of her mind increased. Her
husband did not return, and a sickening sensation of dread took
possession of her. Where had he gone? What was he doing? Doubtless
enjoying himself--what bitterness there was in the thought! She did
not grudge him any pleasure, but it was hard that he should find so
little in her company. Why was there no distraction for her? The
torment of her mind was awful; should she try his remedy? She went to
the sideboard and poured herself out some whisky, but even as she
raised it to her lips she felt it unworthy to have recourse to it, and
put the glass down untouched.

After that she went and leant against the window-frame. It was about
midnight, and very few people passed. Whenever a man appeared in the
distance, she had a moment of hope, but only to be followed by the
sickening sensation of another disappointment. The mental anguish was so
great that for some time she paid no attention to physical symptoms
which had now begun. By degrees, however, these became importunate, and
oh the relief of it! The trouble of her mind ceased when the physical
pain became acute, and therefore she welcomed it as a pleasant
distraction. She was obliged to think and be practical too; there was no
one in the house to help her. The sleeping children were of course out
of the question, and the two young servants, maid-of-all-work and
nurse, nearly as much so. Besides, there was the difficulty of calling
them. She felt she must not disturb Jane who was in the nursery, for
fear of rousing the children; but should she ever get to Bridget's room,
which was further off? Step by step she climbed the stairs, clinging to
the banister with one hand, holding the candle in the other. Several
times she sank down and waited silently, but with contracted face, till
a paroxysm had passed. At last she reached the door. Bridget was awake
and had heard her coming. "Holy Mother!" she exclaimed, startled out of
her habitual sullenness by her mistress's agonised face. "Yer ill,
ma'am! Let me help you to your bed!"

"Fetch the doctor and the nurse, Bridget," Mrs. Caldwell was just able
to gasp.

In the urgency and excitement of the moment, there was a truce to
hostilities. Bridget jumped up, in night-dress and bare feet, and
supported her mistress to her room. There she was obliged to leave her
alone; and so it happened that, just as the grey dawn trembled with
the first flush of a new and brighter day, the child arrived
unassisted and without welcome, and sent up a wail of protest. When
the doctor came at last, and had time to attend to her, he pronounced
her to be a fine child, and declared that she had made a good
beginning, and would do well for herself, which words the nurse
declared to be of happy omen. Her father was not fit to appear until
late in the day. He came in humbly, filled with remorse for that
mis-spent night, and was received with the feeble flicker of a smile,
which so touched and softened him that he made more of the new child,
and took a greater interest in her than he had done in any of the
others at the time of their birth. There was some difficulty about a
name for her. Her father proposed to call her Elizabeth--after his
sister, he said--but Mrs. Caldwell objected. Elizabeth was Miss
Gottley's name also, a fact which she recollected, but did not
mention. That she did not like the name seemed reason enough for not
choosing it; but her husband persisted, and then there was a hot
dispute on the subject above the baby's cradle. The dispute ended in a
compromise, the mother agreeing to have the child christened Elizabeth
if she were not called so; and she would not have her called Eliza,
Elsie, Elspeth, Bessie, Betsy, or Bess either. This left nothing for
it but to call her Beth, and upon consideration both parents liked the
diminutive, her father because it was unaccustomed, and her mother
because it had no association of any kind attached to it.

For the first three months of her life Beth cried incessantly, as if
bewailing her advent. Then, one day, she opened her eyes wide, and
looked out into the world with interest.



CHAPTER II


It was the sunshine really that first called her into conscious
existence, the blessed heat and light; up to the moment that she
recognised these with a certain acknowledgment of them, and consequently
of things in general outside herself, she had been as unconscious as a
white grub without legs. But that moment roused her, calling forth from
her senses their first response in the thrill of warmth and well-being
to which she awoke, and quickening her intellect at the same time with
the stimulating effort to discover from whence her comfort came. She
could remember no circumstance in connection with this earliest
awakening. All she knew of it was the feeling of warmth and brightness,
which she said recurred to her at odd times ever afterwards, and could
be recalled at will.

Some may see in this first awakening a foreshadowing of the fact that
she was born to be a child of light, and to live in it; and certainly
it was always light for which she craved, the actual light of day,
however; but nothing she yearned for ever came to her in the form she
thought of, and thus, when she asked for sunshine it was grudgingly
given, fate often forcing her into dark dwellings; but all the time
that light which illumines the spirit was being bestowed upon her in
limitless measure.

The next step in her awakening was to a kind of self-consciousness.
She was lying on her nurse's lap out of doors, looking up at the sky,
and some one was saying, "Oh, you pretty thing!" But it was long years
before she connected the phrase with herself, although she smiled in
response to the voice that uttered it. Then she found herself on her
feet in a garden, moving very carefully for fear of falling; and
everything about her was gigantic, from Jane Nettles, the nurse, at
whose skirt she tugged when she wanted to attract attention, to the
brown wallflower and the purple larkspur which she could not reach to
pull. There was a thin hedge at the end of the garden, through which
she looked out on a path across a field, and a thick hedge on her
left, in which a thrush had built a nest at an immense height above
her head. Jane lifted her up to look into the nest, and there was
nothing in it; then Jane lifted her up again, and, oh! there was a
blue egg there; and Jane lifted her up a third time, and the egg had
brown spots on it. The mystery of the egg awed her. She did not ask
herself how it came to be there, but she felt a solemn wonder in the
fact, and the colour caused a sensation of pleasure, a positive
thrill, to run through her. This was her first recognition of beauty,
and it was to the beauty of colour, not of form, that her senses
awoke! Through life she had a keen joy and nice discrimination in
colours, and seemed to herself to have always known their names.

But those spots on the egg. She was positive that they had come
between her first and second peep, which shows how defective her
faculty of observation, which became so exact under cultivation, was
to begin with. Beth also betrayed other traits with regard to the
spots, which she carried through life--the trick of being most
positive when she was quite in the wrong, for one; and want of faith
in other people, for another.

Jane said: "Did you see the spots that time, dearie?"

"Spots just comed," Beth declared.

"No, dearie, spots always there," Jane answered.

"Spots _comed_," Beth maintained.

"No, dearie. Spots always there, only you didn't see them."

"Spots comed _now_!" Beth stamped, and then, because Jane shook her
head, she sat down suddenly on the gravel, and sent up a howl which
brought her father out. He chucked Jane under the chin. Jane giggled,
then made a sign; and there was Mrs. Caldwell looking from one to the
other.

To Beth's recollection it seemed as if she had rapidly acquired the
experiences of this first period. Each incident that she remembered is
apparently trifling in itself, but who can say of what significance as
an indication? In those first few years, had there been any there with
intelligence to interpret, they probably would have found foreshadowings
of all she might be, and do, and suffer; and that would have been the
time to teach her. To me, therefore, these earliest impressions are more
interesting than much that occurred to her in after life, and I have
carefully collected them in the hope of finding some clue in them to
what followed. In several instances it seems to me that the impression
left by some chance observation or incident on her baby mind, made it
possible for her to do many things in after life which she certainly
never would have done but for those early influences. It would be
affectation, therefore, to apologise for such detail. Nothing can be
trivial or insignificant that tends to throw light on the mysterious
growth of our moral and intellectual being. Many a cramped soul that
struggles on in after years, vainly endeavouring to rise on a broken
wing, might, had the importance of such seeming trifles in its
development been recognised, have won its way upward from the first,
untrammelled and uninjured. It was a Jesuit, was it not, who said: "Give
me the child until it is six years old; after that you can do as you
like with it." That is the time to make an indelible impression of
principles upon the mind. In the first period of life, character is a
blossom that should be carefully touched; in the second the petals
fall, and the fruit sets; it is hard and acrid then until the third
period, when, if things go well, it will ripen on the bough, and be
sweet and wholesome--if ill, it will drop off immediately, and rot upon
the ground.

Beth was a combative child, always at war with Jane. There was a great
battle fought about a big black velvet bonnet that Beth wanted to wear
one day. Beth screamed and kicked and scratched and bit, and finally
went out in the bonnet triumphantly, and found herself standing alone
on the edge of a great green world dotted with yellow gorse. A hot,
wide dusty road stretched miles away in front of her; and at an
infinite distance overhead was the blue sky flecked with clouds so
white and dazzling that her eyes ached when she looked at them. She
had stopped a moment to cry, "Wait for me!" Jane walked on, however,
taking no notice, and Beth struggled after her, whimpering, out of
breath, choked with dust, scorched with heat, parched with thirst,
tired to death--how she suffered! A heartless lark sang overhead,
regardless of her misery: and she never afterwards heard a lark
without recalling the long white road, the heat, and dust, and
fatigue. She tore off the velvet bonnet, and threw it away, then began
another despairing "Wait for me!" But in the midst of the cry she saw
some little yellow flowers growing in the grass at the roadside, and
plumped down then and there inconsequently to gather them. By that
time Jane was out of sight; and at the moment Beth became aware of the
fact, she also perceived an appalling expanse of bright blue sky above
her, and sat, gazing upwards, paralysed with terror. This was her
first experience of loneliness, her first terrified sensation of
immensity.

Then the snowdrops and crocuses were out, and the sky grew black, and
she sat on the nursery floor and looked up at it in solemn wonder.
Flakes of snow began to fall, a few at first, then thicker and
thicker, till the air was full of them, and Jane said, "The Scotch are
picking their geese," and immediately Beth saw the Scotch sitting in
some vague scene, picking geese in frenzied haste, and throwing great
handfuls of feathers up in the air; which was probably the first
independent flight of her imagination.

It is astonishing how little consciousness of time there is in these
reminiscences. The seasons are all confounded, and it is as if things
had happened not in succession but abreast. There was snow on the
ground when her brother Jim was with her in the wash-house, making
horse-hair snares to catch birds. They made running loops of the
horse-hair, and tied them on to sticks, then went out and stuck them
in the ground in the garden outside the wash-house window, sprinkled
crumbs of bread, and crept carefully back to watch. First came a
robin with noiseless flight, and lit on the ground with its head on
one side; but the children were too eager, and in their excitement
they made a noise, and the robin flew away. Next came a sparrow, saw
the children, saw the crumbs, and, with the habitual self-possession
of his race, stretched in his head between the sticks, picked out the
largest piece of bread, and carried it off in triumph. Immediately
afterwards a blackbird flew down, and hopped in among the snares
unconsciously. In a moment he was caught, and, with a wild shout of
joy, the children rushed out to secure their prize; but when they
reached the spot the blackbird had burst his bonds and escaped. Then
Beth threw a chunk of wood at her brother, and cut his head open. His
cries brought out the household, and Beth was well shaken--she was
always being shaken at this time--and marched off promptly to papa's
dressing-room, and made to sit on a little chair in the middle of the
floor, where she amused herself by singing at the top of her voice--

    "All around Sebastopol,
       All around the ocean,
     Every time a gun goes off,
       Down falls a Russian."

She wondered why her father and mother were laughing when they came to
release her. Before they appeared, however, brother Jim, her victim,
had come to the door with his head tied up, and peeped in; and she
knew that they were friends again, because he shot ripe gooseberries
at her across the floor as if they had been marbles. There is a
discrepancy here, seeing that snow and ripe gooseberries are not in
season at the same time. It is likely, however, that she broke her
brother's head more than once, and the occasions became confounded in
her recollection.

When the children went to bathe off the beach, Beth would not let Jane
dip her if kicking, scratching, and screaming could prevent it. There
used to be terrible scenes between them, until at last one day
somebody else's old Scotch nurse interfered, and persuaded Beth to go
into the water with her and consent to be dipped three times. Beth
went like a lamb--instead of having to be dragged in and pushed under,
given no time to recover her breath between each dip, half choked with
sand and salt water, and finally dragged out, exhausted by the
struggle, and certainly suffering more than she had benefited by the
immersion. The cold water came up about her and took her breath away
as the old Scotch nurse led her in, and Beth clung to her hand and
panted "Wait!" as she nerved herself for the dip. Nurse had promised
to wait until Beth was ready, and it was Beth's faith in her promise
that gave her courage to go bravely through the ordeal. The old Scotch
nurse never deceived her as Jane had done, and so Beth learnt that
there are people in the world you can depend on.

There was one painful circumstance in connection with those battles on
the beach. Beth was such a tiny girl, they did not think it necessary
to give her a bathing dress, and consequently she was marched into the
water with nothing on; and the agony of shame she suffered is
indescribable. But the worst of it was, the shame wore off. Jim teased
her about it and called her "a little girl," a dreadful term of
reproach in those days, when the boys were taught to consider
themselves superior beings. Beth flew at him, and fought him for it,
but was beaten; and then she took off her things in the nursery, and
scampered up and down before them all, with nothing on, just to show
how little she cared.

It is astonishing how small a part Beth's family play in these
childish recollections. Her father took very little notice of the
children. He was out of health and irritable, and only tried to save
himself annoyance; not to disturb him was the object of everybody's
life. Probably he only appeared on the scene when Beth was naughty,
and the recollection, being painful, was quickly banished. She
remembered him coming downstairs when she was standing in the hall one
day, when her mother was away from home. He had a letter in his hand,
and asked her if she would send her love to mamma. Her heart bounded;
it seemed to her such a tremendous thing to be asked; and she was
dying to send her love; but such an agony of shyness came upon her,
she could not utter a word. She had a little hymn-book in her hand,
however, which she held out to her father. No, that would not do. He
could not send the book, only her love. Didn't she love mamma? Didn't
she! But not a word would come.

All through life she was afflicted with that inability to speak at
critical times. Dumb always was she apt to be when her affections were
concerned, except occasionally, in moments of strong excitement; and
in anger, when she was driven to bay. The intensity of her feelings
would probably have made her dumb in any case in moments of emotion;
but doubtless the hardness of those about her at this impressionable
period strengthened the defect. It is impossible to escape from the
hampering influences of our infancy. Among Beth's many recollections
of these days, there was not one of a caress given or received, or of
any expression of tenderness; and so she never became familiar with
the exquisite language of love, and was long in learning that it is
not a thing to be ashamed of and concealed.

Later that day, with a mighty effort, she summoned up courage enough
to go down to her father. She was determined to send the message to
mamma; but when it came to the point, she was again unable to utter a
word on the subject. Her mother had gone to stay with her relations in
England. Beth found her father in the dining-room, and several other
people were present. He was standing by the sideboard, mixing
whisky-and-water, so, instead of sending her love to mamma, Beth
exclaimed, confidently and pleasantly, "If you drink whisky, you'll be
drunk again."

A smart slap rewarded this sally. Beth turned pale and recoiled. It
was her first taste of human injustice. To drink and to be drunk was
to her merely the natural sequence of cause and effect, and she could
not conceive why she should be slapped and turned out of the room so
promptly for uttering such a simple truth.

Beth was present at many discussions between her father and mother,
and took much interest in them, all the more perhaps, because most of
what was said was a mystery to her. She wondered why any mention of
the "moon-faced Bessie" disturbed her mother's countenance. Jane
Nettles, too--when her mother was out, her father used to come and
talk to Jane, and they laughed a good deal. He admired Jane's white
teeth, and the children used to make Jane show them her teeth after
that.

"Papa says Jane's got nice white teeth," Beth said to her mother one
day, and she never forgot the glance which Mrs. Caldwell threw at her
husband. His eyes fell before it.

"What! even the servants, Henry!" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed, and then
she left the room. Beth learned what it all meant in after years, the
career of one of her brothers furnishing the clue. Like father, like
son.

It was after this that Mrs. Caldwell went to visit her relations in
England, accompanied by two of the children. It was in the summer, and
Jane took Beth to the Castle Hill that morning to see the steamer,
with her mother on board, go by. The sea was iridescent, like molten
silver, the sky was high and cloudless, and where sea and sky met and
mingled on the horizon it was impossible to determine. Numbers of
steamers passed far out. They looked quite small, and Beth did not
think there was room in any of them for her mother and brother and
sister. They did not, therefore, interest her much, nor did the
policeman who came and talked to Jane. But the Castle Hill, and the
little winding path up which she had come, the green of the grass, the
brambles, the ferns, the ruined masonry against which she leant, the
union of sea and sky and shore, the light, the colour, absorbed her,
and drew her out of herself. Her soul expanded, it spread its wings,
it stretched out spiritual arms to meet and clasp the beloved nature
of which it felt itself to be a part. It was her earliest recognition
of their kinship, a glimpse of greatness, a moment of ecstasy never to
be forgotten, the first stirring in herself of the creative faculty,
for in her joy she burst out into a little song--

    "Far on the borders of the Arcane."

It was as if the pleasure played upon her, using her as a passive
instrument by which it attained to audible expression. For how should
a child know a word like Arcane? It came to her as things do which we
have known and forgotten--the whole song did in fact; but she held it
as a possession sacred to herself, and never recorded it, or told more
than that one line, although it stayed with her, lingered on her lips,
and in her heart, for the rest of her life. It was a great moment for
Beth, the moment when her further faculty first awoke. On looking back
to it in after years, she fancied she found in it confirmation of an
opinion which she afterwards formed. Genius to her was yet only
another word for soul. She could not believe that we all have souls,
or that they are at all equally developed even in those who have
obtained them. She was a child under six at this time, Jane Nettles
was a woman between twenty and thirty, and the policeman--she could
not say what age he was; but she was the only one of the three that
throbbed responsive to the beauty of the wonderful scene before them,
or felt her being flooded with the glory of the hour.

Meanwhile, what her parents would have called her education had begun.
She went with Mildred, her elder sister, to a day school. They used to
run down the street together without a nurse, and the sense of freedom
was delicious to Beth. They had to pass the market where the great
mealy specimen potatoes were displayed, and Mary Lynch's shop--she was
the vegetable woman, who used to talk to Mrs. Caldwell about the
children when they went there, and one or the other always called them
"poor little bodies," upon which they commented afterwards among
themselves. Mary Lynch was a large red-faced woman, and when the
children wanted to describe a stout person they always said, "As fat
as Mary Lynch." One house which Beth had to pass on her way to school
made a strong impression on her imagination. It was a gloomy abode
with a broad doorstep and deep portico, broken windows, and a
mud-splashed door, from beneath which she always expected to see a
slender stream of blood slowly trickling. For a man called Macgregor
had murdered his wife there--beaten her brains out with a poker. Beth
never heard the name Macgregor in after life without a shiver of
dislike. Much of her time at school was spent in solitary confinement
for breaches of the peace. With a face as impassive as a monkey's she
would do the most mischievous things, and was always experimenting in
naughty tricks, as on one occasion when Miss Deeble left the
schoolroom for a minute, but had to come hurrying back, recalled by
wild shrieks; and found that Beth had managed in that minute to tip up
a form with four children on it, throw their books out of the window,
and sprinkle ink all over the floor. Miss Deeble marched her
downstairs to an empty kitchen, and left her sitting on a stool in the
middle of it with an A B C in her hand. But Beth took no interest in
the alphabet in those days, and hunted black-beetles with the bellows
instead of learning it. The hearthstone was the place of execution.
When she found a beetle, she would blow him along to it with the
bellows, and there despatch him. She had no horror of any creature in
her childhood, but as she matured, her whole temperament changed in
this respect, and when she met a beetle on the stairs she would turn
and fly rather than pass it, and she would feel nauseated, and shiver
with disgust for hours after if she thought of it. She knew the exact
moment that this horror came upon her; it happened when she was ten
years old. She found a beetle one day lying on its back, and thinking
it was dead, she took it up, and was swinging it by its antennæ when
the creature suddenly wriggled itself round, and twined its prickly
legs about her finger, giving her a start from which she never
recovered.

Beth probably got as far as A B ab, while she was at Miss Deeble's;
but if she were backward with her book, her other faculties began to
be acute. It was down in that empty kitchen that she first felt the
enchantment of music. Some one suddenly played the piano overhead and
Beth listened spell-bound. Again and again the player played, and
always the same thing, practising it. Beth knew every note. Long
afterwards she was trying some waltzes of Chopin's, and came upon one
with which she was quite familiar. She knew that she had heard it all,
over and over again, but could not think when or where. Presently,
however, as she played it, she perceived a smell of black-beetles, and
instantly she was back in that disused kitchen of Miss Deeble's,
listening to the practising overhead.

All Beth's senses were acute, and from the first her memory helped
itself by the involuntary association of incongruous ideas. Many
people's recollections are stimulated by the sense of smell, but it is
a rarer thing for the sense of taste to be associated with the past in
the same way, as it was in Beth's case. There were many circumstances
which were recalled by the taste of the food she had been eating at
the time they occurred. The children often dined in the garden in
those early days, and once a piece of apple-dumpling Beth was eating
slid off her plate on to the gravelled walk. Some one picked it up,
and put it on her plate again, all covered with stones and grit, and
the sight of hot apple-dumpling made her think of gravel ever
afterwards, and filled her with disgust; so that she could not eat it.
She had a great aversion to bread and butter too for a long time, but
that she got over. It would have been too great an inconvenience to
have a child dislike its staple food, and in all probability she was
forced to conquer her aversion, and afterwards she grew to like bread
and butter; but still, if by any chance the circumstances which caused
her dislike to it recurred to her when she was eating a piece, she was
obliged to stop. The incident which set up the association happened
one evening when her father and mother were out. Beth was alone in the
dining-room eating bread and butter, and Towie, the cat, came into the
room with a mouse in her mouth. The mouse was alive, and Towie let it
run a little way, and then pounced down upon it, then gave it a pat to
make it run again. Beth, lying on her stomach on the floor, watching
these proceedings, naturally also became a cat with a mouse. At last
Towie began to eat her mouse, beginning with its head, which it
crushed. Beth, eating her bread and butter in imitation, saw the white
brains, but felt no disgust at the moment. The next time she had bread
and butter, however, she thought of the mouse's brains and felt sick;
and always afterwards the same association of ideas was liable to
recur to her with the same result.

But even the description of anything horrifying affected her in this
way. One day when she was growing up her mother told her at dinner
that she had been on the pier that morning and had seen the body of a
man, all discoloured and swollen from being in the water a long time,
towed into the harbour by a fishing boat. Beth listened and asked
questions, as she always did on these occasions, with the deepest
interest. She was taking soup strongly flavoured with catsup at the
moment, and the story in no way interfered with her appetite; but the
next time she tried catsup, and ever afterwards, she perceived that
swollen, discoloured corpse, and immediately felt nauseated. It is
curious that all these associations of ideas are disagreeable. She had
not a single pleasant one in connection with food.



CHAPTER III


All of Beth that was not eyes at this time was ears, and her brain was
as busy as a squirrel in the autumn, storing observations and
registering impressions. It does not do to trust to a child's not
understanding. It may not understand at the moment, but it will
remember all the same--all the more, perhaps, because it does not
understand; and its curiosity will help it to solve the problem. Beth
did humorous things at this time, but she had no sense of humour; she
was merely experimenting. Her big eyes looked out of an impassive face
solemnly; no one suspected the phenomenal receptivity which that
stolid mask concealed, and, because the alphabet did not interest her,
they formed a poor opinion of her intellect. The truth was that she
had no use for letters or figures. The books of nature and of life
were spread out before her, and she was conning their contents to more
purpose than any one else could have interpreted them to her in those
days. And as to arithmetic, as soon as her father began to allow her a
penny a week for pocket-money, she discovered that there were two
half-pennies in it, which was all she required to know. She also
mastered the system of debit and credit, for, when she found herself
in receipt of a regular income, and had conquered the first awe of
entering a shop and asking for things, she ran into debt. She received
the penny on Saturday, and promptly spent it in sweets, but by Monday
she wanted more, and the craving was so imperative, that when Miss
Deeble sent her down to the empty kitchen in the afternoon, she could
not blow black-beetles with any enthusiasm, and began to look about
for something else to interest her. It being summer, the window was
open, but it was rather out of her reach. She managed, however, with
the help of her stool, to climb on to the sill, and there, in front of
her, was the sea, and down below was the street--a goodish drop below
if she had stopped to think of it; but Beth dropped first and thought
afterwards, only realising the height when she had come down plump,
and looked up again to see what had happened to her, surprised at the
thud which had jarred her stomach and made her feet sting. She picked
herself up at once, however, and limped away, not heeding the hurt
much, so delightful was it to be out alone without her hat. By the
time she got to Mary Lynch's she was Jane Nettles going on an errand,
an assumption which enabled her to enter the shop at her ease.

"Good-day," she began. "Give me a ha'porth of pear-drops, and a
ha'porth of raspberry-drops, Mary Lynch, please. I'll pay you on
Saturday."

"What are you doing out alone without your hat?" Mary Lynch rejoined,
beaming upon her. "I'm afraid you're a naughty little body."

"No, I'm not," Beth answered. "It's my own money." Mary Lynch laughed,
and helped her liberally, adding some cherries to the sweets; and, to
Beth's credit be it stated, the money was duly paid, and without
regret, she being her mother at the moment, looking much relieved to
be able to settle the debt, which shows that, even by this time, Beth
had somehow become aware of money-troubles, and also that she learned
to read a countenance long before she learned to read a book.

She straggled home with the sweets in her hand, but did not eat them,
for now she was a lady going to give a party, and must await the
arrival of her guests. She did not go in by the front door for obvious
reasons, but up the entry down which the open wooden gutter-spout ran,
at a convenient height, from the house into the street. The wash-house
was covered with delicious white roses, which scented the summer
afternoon. Beth concealed her sweets in the rose-tree, and then leant
against the wall and buried her nose in one of the flowers, loving it.
The maids were in the wash-house; she heard them talking; it was all
about what he said and she said. Presently a torrent of dirty water
came pouring down the spout, mingling its disagreeable soapy smell
with that of the flowers. Beth plucked some petals from the rose she
was smelling, set them on the soapy water, and ran down the passage
beside them, until they disappeared in the drain in the street. This
delight over, she wandered into the garden. She was always on
excellent terms with all animals, and was treated by them with
singular confidence. Towie, the cat, had been missing for some time,
but now, to Beth's great joy, she suddenly appeared from Beth could
not tell where, purring loudly, and rubbing herself against Beth's
bare legs. The sun poured down upon them, and the sensation of the
cat's warm fur above her socks was delicious. Beth tried to lift her
up in her arms, but she wriggled herself out of them, and began to run
backwards and forwards between her and a gap in the hedge, until Beth
understood that she wished her to follow her through it into the next
garden. Beth did so, and the cat led her to a little warm nest where,
to Beth's wild delight, she showed her a tiny black kitten. Beth
picked it up, and carried it, followed by the cat, into the house in a
state of breathless excitement, shrieking out the news as she ran.
Beth was immediately seized upon. What was she doing at home when she
ought to have been at school? and without her hat, too! Beth had no
explanation to offer, and was hustled off to the nursery, and there
shut up for the rest of the day. She stood in the window most of the
time, a captive princess in the witch's palace, waiting for the
fairy-prince to release her, and catching flies.

The sky became overcast, and a big gun was fired. Beth's father had
something to do with the firing of big guns, and she connected this
with the gathering gloom, stories of God striking wicked people down
with thunder and lightning for their sins, and her own naughtiness,
and felt considerably awed. Presently a little boy was carried down
the street on a bed. His face looked yellow against the sheets. He
was lying flat on his back, and had a little black cap on, which was
right out of doors, but wrong in bed. He smiled up at Beth as they
carried him under the window, and she stretched out her arms to him
with infinite pity. She knew he was going to die. They all died, that
family, or had something dreadful happen to them. Jane Nettles said
there was a curse upon them, and Beth never thought of them without a
shudder. That boy's sisters both died, and one had something dreadful
happen to her, for they dug her up again, and when they opened the
coffin the corpse was all in a jelly, and every colour of the rainbow,
according to Jane Nettles. Beth believed she had been present upon the
occasion, in a grass-grown graveyard, by the wall of an old church,
beneath which steps led down into a vault. The stones of the steps
were mossy, and the sun was shining. There was a little group of
people standing round, with pale, set, solemn faces, and presently
something was brought up, and they all pressed forward to look at it.
Beth could not see what it was for the grown-up people, and never knew
whether or not the whole picture had been conjured up by her
imagination; but as there was always a foundation of fact in the
impressions of this period of her life, it is not improbable that she
really was present at the exhumation, with the curious and
indefatigable Jane Nettles.

Opposite the nursery window, on the other side of the road, was the
butcher's shop, in front of which the butcher made his shambles. Late
in the evening he brought out a board and set it on trestles, then he
brought a sheep, lifted it up by its legs and put it on its back on
the board, tied its feet, and cut its throat. Beth watched the
operation with grave interest, but no other feeling. She had been
accustomed to see it all her life.

Presently Beth's father and mother went out together, and then Beth
stole downstairs, and out to the wash-house to find the sweets in the
white rose-tree. Mildred and Jim were doing their lessons in the
dining-room, and she burst in upon them with the sweets; but Mildred
was cross, and said:

"Don't make such a noise, Beth, my head aches."

The next day was Sunday. Beth knew it by the big black bonnet which
played such a large part in her childish recollections. She had a kind
of sensation of having seen herself in it, bobbing along to church, a
sort of Kate Greenaway child, with a head out of all proportion to the
rest of her body, and feeling singularly satisfied--a feeling,
however, which was less a recollection than an experience continually
renewed, for a nice gown or bonnet was always a pleasure to her.

In church she sat in a big square pew on one side of the aisle, and on
the other side was another pew exactly like it, in which sat a young
lady whom Beth believed to be Miss Augusta Noble in the _Fairchild
Family_. Augusta Noble was very vain, and got burnt to death for
standing on tiptoe before the fire to look at herself in a new frock
in the mirror on the mantelpiece. Beth thought it a suitable end for
her, and did not pity her at all--perhaps because she went on coming
to church regularly all the same.

After the service they climbed the Castle Hill; and there was the grey
of stonework against a bright blue sky, and green of grass and trees
against the grey, and mountainous clouds of dazzling white hung over a
molten sea; and because of the beauty of it all, Beth burst into a
passion of tears.

"What is the matter with that child?" her father exclaimed
impatiently. "It's very odd other people can bring up their children
properly, Caroline, but you never seem to be able to manage yours."

"What's the matter with you, you tiresome child?" Mrs. Caldwell
exclaimed, shaking Beth by the arm. Beth only sobbed the more. "Look,"
said her mother, pointing to a small lake left by the sea on the shore
when the tide went out, where the children used to wade knee-deep, or
bathe when it was too rough for them to go into the sea; "look,
there's the pond, that bright round thing over there. And look below,
near the Castle--that great green mound is the giant's grave. When the
giant died they buried him there, and he was so big, he reached all
that length when they laid him in the ground."

"And when he stood up where did he reach to?" said Beth, interested in
a moment.

"Oh, when he sat here, I should think he could make a footstool of his
own grave, and when he stood up he could look over the Castle."

Beth, with big dilated eyes and wet cheeks, saw him do both, and was
oppressed to tears no more that day by delight and wonder of the
beautiful; but she was always liable to these paroxysms, the outcome
of an intensity of pleasure which was positive pain. So, from the
first, she was keenly susceptible to outdoor influences, and it was
now that her memory was stored with impressions which were afterwards
of inestimable value to her, for she never lived amongst the same kind
of scenery again.

The children had the run of some gentleman's grounds, which they
called The Walks. There were banks of flowers, and sidewalks where the
London pride grew, and water, and great trees with hollows in them
where the water lodged. Beth called these fairy wells, and put her
fingers in to see how deep they were, and there were dead leaves in
them; and there, on a memorable occasion, she found her first
skeleton leaf, and told Jane Nettles she really didn't know before
that there were such things. Once there was a wasp's nest hanging from
a branch, and they met a young man coming away from it, holding a
handkerchief to his face. He stopped to tell Jane Nettles how he had
been stung, and the children wandered off unheeded to look at the
nest. It was all grey and gossamer, like cobwebs laid in layers. Beth
was an Indian scout inspecting it from behind a neighbouring tree; and
then she shelled it with sticks, but did not wait to see it surrender.

They picked up horse-chestnuts from under the trees, in the season,
and hammered the green rind off with stones for the joy of seeing the
beautiful shining, slippery, dark brown, or piebald, polished fruit
within; and also, when there were wet leaves on the ground, they
gathered walnuts from out of the long tangled grass, and stained their
fingers picking off the covering, which was mealy-green when it burst,
and smelt nice; but the nut itself, when they came to it, was always
surprisingly small. There were horrid mahogany-coloured pieces of
liver put about the walks on sticks sometimes. Jane Nettles said they
were to poison the dogs because they came in and destroyed the
flowers. Beth wondered how it was people could eat liver if it
poisoned dogs, and was careful afterwards not to touch it herself.
Most children would have worried the reason out of their nurse, but
Jane Nettles was not amiable, and Beth could never bring herself to
ask a question of any one who was likely either to snub her for
asking, or to jeer at her for not knowing. There are unsympathetic
people who have a way of making children feel ashamed of their
ignorance, and rather than be laughed at, a sensitive child will
pretend to know. Beth was extraordinarily sensitive in this respect,
and so it happened that, in later life, she sometimes found herself in
ignorance of things which less remarkable people had learnt in their
infancy for the asking.

These were certainly days of delight to Beth, but the charm of them was
due less to people than to things--to some sight or scent of nature, the
smell of new-mown hay from a waggon they had stood aside to let pass in
a narrow lane, a glimpse of a high bank on the other side of the road--a
high grassy bank, covered and crowned with trees, chiefly chestnuts, on
which the sun shone; hawthorn hedgerows from which they used to pick the
green buds children call bread-and-butter, and eat them; and one
privet-hedge in their own garden, an impenetrable hedge, on the other
side of which, as Beth imagined, all kinds of wonderful things took
place. The flowers of those early days were crocuses, snowdrops, white
roses, a little yellow flower they called ladies' fingers, sea-pinks,
and London pride--particularly London pride. In the walks Jane Nettles
used to teach her the wonderful rhyme of--

    "London Bridge is broken down,
     Grand, said the little Dee,
     London Bridge is broken down,
       Fair-Lade-ee."

And so the rhyme, London pride amongst the rock-work, the ornamental
water, a rustic bridge, shining laurel leaves, mahogany-coloured
liver, warmth, light, and sweet airs all became mingled in one
gracious memory.

People, however, as has been already shown, also came into her
consciousness, but with less certainty of pleasing, wherefore she
remembered them less, for it was always her habit to banish a
disagreeable thought if she could. One day she went into the garden
with her spade and an old tin biscuit-box. She put the box on the
ground beside her, with the lid off, and began to dig. By-and-by the
kitten came crooning and sidling up to her, and hopped into the box.
Beth instantly put on the lid, and the kitten was a corpse which must
be buried. She hurriedly dug its grave, put in the box, and covered it
up with earth. Just as she had finished, a gruff voice exclaimed:
"What are ye doing there, ye little divil?" and there was old Krangle
the gardener, looking at her over the hedge. "Dig it up again
directly," he said, and Beth, much startled, dug it up quicker than
she had buried it. The kitten had been but loosely covered, and was
not much the worse, but had got some earth in its eye, which was very
sore afterwards. People wondered what had hurt it, and Beth looked
from one to the other and listened with grave attention to their
various suppositions on the subject. She said nothing, however, and
Krangle also held his peace, which led to a very good understanding
between them. Krangle had a cancer on his lip, and Beth was forbidden
to kiss him for fear of catching it. He had a garden of his own too,
and a pig, and little boiled potatoes in his cottage. The doctor's
brother died of cancer, and Beth supposed he had been naughty and
kissed old Krangle, though she wondered he cared to, as Krangle had a
very prickly chin. The doctor often came to see papa. He used to talk
about the Bible, and then the children were sent out of the room. Once
Beth hid under the table to hear what he said. It was all about God,
whom it appeared that he did not like. He had a knob at the end of his
nose, and Beth laughed at it, in punishment of which, as she used to
believe, her own nose developed a little knob at the end. Her mind was
very much exercised about the doctor and his household. He and his
brother and sister used to live together, but now he lived alone, and
on a bed in one of the rooms, according to Jane Nettles, there were
furs, and lovely silks, satins, and laces, all being eaten by moths
and destroyed because there was no one to look after them. It seemed
such a pity, but whose were they? Where was the lady?

Bridget used to come up to the nursery when the children were in bed,
to talk to Jane Nettles, and look out of the window. Those gossips in
the nursery were a great source of disturbance to Beth when she ought
to have been composing herself to sleep. She recollected nothing of
the conversations more corrupting than that ghastly account of how the
girl was exhumed, so it is likely that the servants exercised some
discretion when they dropped their voices to a whisper, as they often
did; but these whispered colloquies made her restless and cross, and
brought down upon her a smart order to go to sleep, to which she used
to answer defiantly, "I will if you'll ask me a riddle." One of the
riddles was: "Between two sticks, between two stones, between two old
men's shin-bones. What's that?" The answer had something to do with a
graveyard, but Beth could not remember what.

She used to suffer a small martyrdom in her little crib on those
evenings from what she called "snuff up her nose," a hot, dry, burning
sensation which must have been caused by a stuffy room, and the
feverish state she tossed herself into when she was kept awake after
her regular hour for sleep. Sometimes she sat up in bed suddenly, and
cried aloud. Then Jane Nettles would push her down again on her pillow
roughly, and threaten to call mamma if she wasn't good directly.
Occasionally mamma heard her, and came up of her own accord, and shook
her by the shoulder, and scolded her. Then Beth would lie still
sobbing silently, and wretched as only a lonely, uncomprehended, and
uncomplaining child can be. No one had the faintest conception of what
she suffered. Her naughtinesses were remembered against her, but her
latent tenderness was never suspected. Once the old Doctor said:
"That's a peculiarly sensitive, high-strung, nervous child; you must
be gentle with her," and both parents had stared at him. They were
matter-of-fact creatures themselves, comparatively speaking, with a
notion that such nonsense as nervousness should be shaken out of a
child.

At dinner, one day, Beth saw little creatures crawling in a piece of
cheese she had on her plate, and uttered an exclamation of disgust.

"Those are only mites, you silly child," her father said, and then to
her horror, he took up the piece, and ate it. "Do look at that child,
Caroline!" he exclaimed, "she's turned quite pale."

Beth puzzled her head for long afterwards to know what it meant to
turn pale.

Little seeds of superstition were sown in her mind at this time, and
afterwards flourished. She found a wedding-ring in her first piece of
Christmas cake, and was told she would be the first of the party to
marry, which made her feel very important.

Being so sensitive herself, she was morbidly careful of the feelings
of others, and committed sins of insincerity without compunction in
her efforts to spare them. She and Mildred were waiting ready dressed
one day to go and pay a call with mamma. Beth had her big bonnet on,
and was happy; and Mildred also was in a high state of delight. She
said Beth's breath smelt of strawberries, and wanted to know what her
own smelt of.

"Raspberries," Beth answered instantly. It was not true, but Beth felt
that something of the kind was expected of her, and so responded
sympathetically. When they got to the house, they were shown into an
immense room, and wandered about it. Beth upset some cushions, and had
awful qualms, expecting every moment to be pounced upon, and shaken;
but she forgot her fright on approaching her hostess, and discovering
to her great surprise that she was busy doing black monkeys on a grey
ground in woolwork. She was astonished to find that it was possible to
do such wonderful work, and she wanted to be taught immediately; but
her mother made her ashamed of herself for supposing that _she_ could
do it, silly little body. They stayed dinner, and Beth cried with rage
because the servant poured white sauce over her fish, and without
asking her too. The fish was an island, and Beth was the hungry sea,
devouring it bit by bit. Of course if you put white sauce over it, you
converted it into a table with a white cloth on, or something of that
kind, which you could not eat, so the fish was spoilt. She got into a
difficulty, too, about Miss Deeble's drawing-room, which was upstairs,
overlooking the bay, and you could only see the water from the window,
so there were water-colours on the wall. Her mother smilingly tried to
explain, but Beth stamped, and stuck to her point; the water accounted
for the water-colours.

On the way home, Beth found a new interest in life. The mill had been
burnt down, and they went to see the smouldering embers, and Beth
smelt fire for the first time. The miller's family had been burnt out,
and were sheltering in a shed. One little boy had his fingers all
crumpled up from the fire. Beth's benevolence awoke. She was all
sympathetic excitement, and wanted to do something for somebody. The
miller's wife was lying on a mattress on the floor. She had a little
baby, a new one, a pudgy red-looking thing. Mrs. Caldwell fed the
other children with bread-and-milk, and Beth offered to teach them
their letters.

Mrs. Caldwell laughed at her: "_You_ teach them their letters!" she
exclaimed. "You had better learn your own properly." And Mildred also
jeered. Beth subsided, crimson with shame at being thus lowered in
everybody's estimation. She was deficient in self-esteem, and required
to be encouraged. Praise merely gave her confidence; but her mother
never would praise her. She brought all her children up on the same
plan, regardless of their different dispositions. It made Mildred vain
to praise her, and therefore Beth must not be praised; and so her
mother checked her mental growth again and again instead of helping
her to develop it. "It's no use your trying to do that, Beth, you
can't," she would say, when Beth would have done it easily, if only
she had been assured that she could.

Beth had a strange dream that night after the fire, which made a
lasting impression upon her. Dorman's Isle was a green expanse, flat
as a table, and covered with the short grass that grows by the sea. At
high tide it was surrounded by water, but when the tide was low, it
rested on great grey, rugged rocks, as the lid of a box rests upon its
sides. Between the grey of the rocks and the green of the grass there
was a fringe of sea-pinks. That night she dreamt that she was under
Dorman's Isle, and it was a great bare cave, not very high, and
lighted by torches which people held in their hands. There were a
number of people, and they were all members of her own family,
ancestors in the dresses of their day, distant relations--numbers of
strange people whom she had never heard of; as well as her own father
and mother, brothers and sisters. She knew she was under Dorman's
Isle, but she knew also that it was the dark space beneath the stage
of a theatre. When she entered, the rest of the family were already
assembled; but they none of them spoke to each other, and the doors
kept opening and shutting, and the people seemed to melt away, until
at last only three or four remained, and they were just going. She saw
the shine on the paint of the door-posts, and the smoke of the
torches, as they let themselves out. Then they had all gone, and left
her alone in a cave full of smoke. Vainly she struggled to follow
them, the doors were fast, the smoke was smothering her, and in the
agony of a last effort to escape she awoke.

In after days, when Beth began to think, she used to wonder how it was
she knew those people were her ancestors, and that the place was like
any part of a theatre. She had never heard either of ancestors or
theatres at that time. Was it recollection? Or is there some more
perfect power to know than the intellect--a power lying latent in the
whole race, which will eventually come into possession of it; but with
which, at present, only some few rare beings are perfectly endowed.
Beth had the sensation of having been nearer to something in her
infancy than she ever was again--nearer to knowing what it is the
trees whisper--what the murmur means, the all-pervading murmur which
sounds incessantly when everything is hushed, as at night; nearer to
the "arcane" of that evening on the Castle Hill when she first felt
her kinship with nature, and burst into song. It may have been
hereditary memory, a knowledge of things transmitted to her by her
ancestors along with their features, virtues, and vices; but, at any
rate, she herself was sure that she possessed a power of some kind in
her infancy which gradually lapsed as her intellectual faculties
developed. She was conscious that the senses had come between her and
some mysterious joy which was not of the senses, but of the spirit.
There lingered what seemed to be the recollection of a condition
anterior to this, a condition of which no tongue can tell, which is
not to be put into words, or made evident to those who have no
recollection; but which some will comprehend by the mere allusion to
it. All her life long Beth preserved a half consciousness of this
something--something which eluded her--something from which she
gradually drifted further away as she grew older--some sort of vision
which opened up fresh tracts to her; but whether of country, or
whether of thought, she could not say. Only, when it came to her, all
was immeasurable about her; and she was above--above in a great calm
through which she moved without any sort of effort that is known to
us; she just thought it, and was there; while humanity dwindled away
into insignificance below.

One other strange vision she had which she never forgot. With her
intellect, she believed it to have been a dream, but her further
faculty always insisted that it was a recollection. She was with a
large company in an indescribable, hollow space, bare of all
furnishments because none were required; and into this space there
came a great commotion, bright light and smoke, without heat or sense
of suffocation. Then she was alone, making for an aperture; struggling
and striving with pain of spirit to gain it; and when she had found
it, she shot through, and awoke in the world. She awoke with a
terrible sense of desolation upon her, and with the consciousness of
having traversed infinite space at infinite speed in an interval of
time which her mortal mind could not measure.

All through life, when she was in possession of her further faculty,
and perceived by that means--which was only at fitful intervals,
doubtless because of unfavourable circumstances and surroundings--she
was calm, strong, and confident. She looked upon life as from a
height, viewing it both in detail and as a whole. But when she had
only her intellect to rely upon, all was uncertain, and she became
weak, vacillating, and dependent. So that she appeared to be a
singular mixture of weakness and strength, courage and cowardice,
faith and distrust; and just what she would do depended very much on
what was expected of her, or what influence she was under, and also on
some sudden impulse which no one, herself included, could have
anticipated.



CHAPTER IV


Up to this time, Beth's reminiscences jerk along from incident to
incident, but now there come the order and sequence of an eventful
period, perfectly recollected. The date is fixed by a change of
residence. Her father, who was a commander in the coastguard, was
transferred on promotion from the north of Ireland to another
appointment in the wild west, and Beth was just entering upon her
seventh year when they moved. Captain Caldwell went on in advance to
take up his appointment, and Jim accompanied him; Mildred, Beth, and
Bernadine, the youngest, who had arrived two years after Beth, being
left to follow with their mother. The elder children had been sent to
England to be educated. In their father's absence Mildred and
Bernadine were transferred to their mother's room, Jane Nettles and
Bridget, the sulky, had disappeared, and Kitty slept in the nursery
with Beth. Beth had grown too long for her crib, but still had to
sleep in it, and her legs were cramped at night and often ached
because she could not stretch them out, and the pain kept her awake.

"Mamma, my legs do ache in bed," she said one day.

"Beth, you really _are_ a whiny child, you always have a grievance,"
her mother complained.

"But, mamma, they _do_ ache."

"Well, it's only growing pains," Mrs. Caldwell replied with a satisfied
air, as if to name the trouble were to ease it. And so Beth's legs ached
on unrelieved, and, when they kept her awake, Kitty became the object of
her contemplation. The sides of the crib were like the seat of a
cane-bottomed chair, and Beth had enlarged one of the holes by fidgeting
at it with her fingers. This was her look-out station. A night-light had
been conceded to her nervousness at the instance of Dr. Gottley, when it
became a regular thing for her to wake in the dark out of one of her
vivid dreams, and shriek because she could not see where she was. The
usual beating and shaking had been tried to cure her of her nonsense,
but this sensible treatment only seemed to make her worse, she was such
a tiresome child, till at last, when Dr. Gottley threatened serious
consequences, the light was allowed, a dim little float that burned on
an inch of oil in a glass of water, and made Kitty look so funny when
she came up to bed. Kitty began to undress, and at the same time to
mutter her prayers, as soon as she got into the room; and sometimes she
would go down on her knees and beat her breast, and sigh and groan to
the Blessed Virgin, beseeching her to help her. Beth thought at first
she was in great distress, and pitied her, but after a time she believed
that Kitty was enjoying herself, perhaps because she also had begun to
enjoy these exercises. Beth had been taught to say her Protestant
prayers, but not made to feel that she was addressing them to any
particular personality that appealed to her imagination, as Kitty's
Blessed Lady did.

"Kitty, Kitty," she cried one night, sitting up in her crib, with a
great dry sob. "Tell _me_ how to do it. I want to speak to her too."

Kitty, who was on her knees on the floor, with her rosary clasped in
her hands, her arms and shoulders bare, and her dark hair hanging down
her back, looked up, considerably startled: "Holy Mother! how you
frightened me!" she exclaimed. "Go to sleep."

"But I _want_ to speak to her," Beth persisted.

"Arrah, be good now, Miss Beth," Kitty coaxed, still on her knees.

"I'll be good if you'll tell me what to say," Beth bargained.

Kitty rose from her knees, went to the side of the crib, and looked
down at the child.

"What do ye want to say to her at all?" she asked.

"I don't know," Beth answered. "I just want to speak to her. I just
want to say, 'Holy Mother, come close, I love you. Stay by me all
night long, and when the daylight comes don't forget me.' How would
you say that, Kitty?"

"Bless your purty eyes, darlint!" said Kitty, "just say it that way
every time. It couldn't be better said, not by the praste himself. An'
if the Blessed Mother ever hears anything from this world," she added
in an undertone, "she'll hear that. But turn over now, an' go to
sleep, honey. See! I'll stand here till ye do, and sing to you!"

Beth turned over on her left side with her face to the wall, and
settled herself to sleep contentedly, while Kitty stood beside her,
patting her shoulder gently, and crooning in a low sweet voice--

    "Look down, O Mother Mary,
       From thy bright throne above;
     Send down upon thy children
       One holy glance of love!
     And if a heart so tender
       With pity flows not o'er,
     Then turn, O Mother Mary,
       And smile on me no more."

As Beth listened her little heart expanded, and presently the Blessed
Virgin stood beside her bed, a heavenly vision, like Kitty, with dark
hair growing low on her forehead and hanging down her back, blue eyes,
and an earnest, guileless face. Beth's little mouth, drooping with
dissatisfaction ordinarily, curled up at the corners, and so,
thoroughly tranquillised, she fell happily asleep, with a smile on her
lips.

Kitty bent low to look at her, and shook her head several times.
"Coaxin's better nor bating you, anyway," she muttered. "But what are
they going to do wid ye at all?" She stood up, and raised her clasped
hands. "Holy Mother, it 'ud be well maybe if ye'd take her to
yourself--just now--God forgive me for saying it."

Next morning Mrs. Caldwell was sitting at breakfast with Beth and
Mildred. Every moment she glanced at the window, and at last the
postman passed. She listened, but there was no knock, and her heart
sank.

"Beth, will you stop drumming with your spoon?" she exclaimed
irritably. As she spoke, however, Kitty came in with the expected
letter in her hand, and Mrs. Caldwell's countenance cleared: "I
thought the postman had passed," she exclaimed.

"No, m'em," Kitty rejoined. "I was standin' at the door, an' he gave
me the letter."

Mrs. Caldwell had opened it by this time, but it was very short. "How
often am I to tell you not to stand at the door, letting in the cold
air, Kitty?" she snapped.

"And how'd I sweep the steps, m'em, if you plase, when I'm not to
stand at the door?"

But Mrs. Caldwell was reading the letter, and again her countenance
cleared. "Papa wants us to go to him as soon as ever we can get
ready!" was her joyful exclamation. "And, oh, they've had such snow!
See, Mildred, here's a sketch of the chapel nearly buried."

"Oh, let me see, too," Beth cried, running round the table to look
over Mildred's shoulder.

"Did papa draw that? How _wonderful_!"

"Beth, don't lean on me so," Mildred said crossly, shaking her off.

The sketch, which was done in ink on half a sheet of paper, showed a
little chapel with great billows of snow rolling along the sides and
up to the roof. After breakfast, Mildred sat down and began to copy it
in pencil, to Beth's intense surprise. The possibility of copying it
herself would never have occurred to her, but when she saw Mildred
doing it of course she must try too. She could make nothing of it,
however, till Mildred showed her how to place each stroke, and then
she was very soon weary of the effort, and gave it up, yawning.
Drawing was not to be one of her accomplishments.

Kitty was to accompany them to the west.

When the day of departure arrived, a great coach and pair came to the
door, and the luggage was piled up on it. Beth, with her mouth set, and
her eyes twice their normal size from excitement, was everywhere,
watching everybody, afraid to miss anything that happened. Her mother's
movements were a source of special interest to her. At the last moment
Mrs. Caldwell slipped away alone to take leave of the place which had
been the first home of her married life. She was a young girl when she
came to it, the daughter of a country gentleman, accustomed to luxury,
but right ready to enjoy poverty with the man of her heart; and poverty
enough she had had to endure, and sickness and sorrow too--troubles
inevitable--besides some of those other troubles, which are the harder
to bear because they are not inevitable. But still, she had had her
compensations, and it was of these she thought as she took her last
leave of the little place. She went to the end of the garden first,
closely followed by Beth, and looked through the thin hedge out across
the field. She seemed to be seeing things which were farther away than
Beth's eyes could reach. Then she went to an old garden seat, touched it
tenderly, and stood looking down at it for some seconds. Many a summer
evening she had sat there at work while her husband read to her. It was
early spring, and the snowdrops and crocuses were out. She gathered a
little bunch of them. When she had made the tour of the garden, she
returned to the house, and went into every room, Beth following her
faithfully, at a safe distance. In the nursery she stood some little
time looking round at the bare walls, and seeming to listen expectantly.
No doubt she heard ghostly echoes of the patter of children's feet, the
ring of children's voices. As she turned to go she pressed her
handkerchief to her eyes. In her own room she lingered still longer,
going from one piece of furniture to another, and laying her hand on
each. It was handsome furniture, such as a lady should have about her,
and every piece represented a longer or shorter period of self-denial,
both on her own part and on her husband's, and a proportionately keen
joy in the acquisition of it. She remembered so well when the wardrobe
came home, and the dressing-table too, and the mahogany drawers. The
furniture was to follow to the new home, and each piece would still have
its own history, but, once it was moved from its accustomed place, new
associations would have to be formed, and that was what she dreaded. She
could picture the old home deserted, and herself yearning for it, and
for the old days; but she could not imagine a new home or a new chapter
of life with any great interest or pleasure in it, anything, in fact,
but anxiety.

When at last she left the house, she was quite overcome to find that a
little crowd of friends of every degree had collected to wish her good
speed. She went from one to the other, shaking hands, and answering
their words in kindly wise. Mary Lynch gave Beth a currant-cake, and
lifted her into the coach, though she could quite well have got in by
herself. Then they were off, and Mrs. Caldwell stood at the door,
wiping her eyes, and gazing at the little house till they turned the
corner of the street, and lost sight of it for ever.

The tide was out, Dorman's green Isle rested on its grey rocks, the
pond shone like a mirror on the shore, and the young grass was
springing on the giant's grave; but the branches were still bare and
brown on the Castle Hill, and the old grey castle stood out whitened
by contrast with a background of dark and lowering sky. Beth's
highly-strung nerves, already overstrained by excitement, broke down
completely under the oppression of those heavy clouds, and she became
convulsed with sobs. Kitty took her on her knee, but tried in vain to
soothe her before the currant-cake and the motion of the coach had
made her deadly sick, after which she dozed off from sheer exhaustion.

The rest of the journey was a nightmare of nausea to her. She was
constantly being lifted out of the carriage, and made to lie on a sofa
somewhere while the horses were being changed, or put to bed for the
night, and dragged up again unrefreshed in the early morning, and
consigned once more to misery. Sometimes great dark mountains towered
above her, filling her with dread; and sometimes a long lonely level
of bare brown bogs was all about her, overwhelming her little soul
with such a terrible sense of desolation that she cowered down beside
Kitty, and clung to her shivering.

Once her mother shook her for something, and Beth turned faint.

"What's the matter with her, Kitty?" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed, alarmed
by her white face.

"You've jest shook the life out of her, m'em, I think," Kitty answered
her tranquilly: "An' ye'll not rare her that way, I'm thinking."

Mrs. Caldwell began to dislike Kitty.

On the third day they drove down a delightful road, with hedges on
either hand, footpaths, and trees, among which big country-houses
nestled. The mountains were still in the neighbourhood, but not near
enough to be awesome. On one side of the road was a broad shallow
stream, so clear you could see the brown stones at the bottom, a
salmon-stream with weirs and waterfalls.

They were nearing a town, and Kitty began to put the things together.
Beth became interested. Mamma looked out of the window every instant,
and at last she exclaimed in a tone of relief, which somehow belied
the words: "Here's papa! I _knew_ he would come!" And there was a
horse at the window, and papa was on the horse, looking in at them.
Mamma's face became quite rosy, and she laughed a good deal and showed
her teeth. Beth had not noticed them before.

"What are you staring at, Beth?" Mildred whispered.

"Mamma's all pink," Beth said.

"That's blushing," said Mildred.

"What's blushing?" said Beth.

"Getting pink."

"What does she do it for?"

"She can't help it."

Beth continued to stare, and at last Mrs. Caldwell noticed it, and
asked her what she was looking at.

"You've got nice white teeth," said Beth. Mrs. Caldwell smiled.

"Have you only just discovered that?" papa asked through the window.

"You never told me," Beth protested, thinking herself reproached. "You
said Jane Nettles had."

The smile froze on mamma's lips, and papa's horse became unmanageable.
Beth saw there was something wrong, and stopped, looking from one to
the other intently.

Mrs. Caldwell recovered herself. "What a stolid face she has!" she
remarked presently by way of breaking an awkward pause.

Beth wondered what "stolid" meant, and who "she" was.

"She doesn't look well," papa observed.

"She's jest had the life shook out of her, sir," Kitty put in.

"Kitty, how dare you?" Mrs. Caldwell began.

"It's to the journey I'm alludin' now, m'em," Kitty explained with
dignity. "The child can't bear the travellin'."

"Well, it won't last much longer now," said papa, and then made some
remark to mamma in Italian, which brought back her good-humour. They
always spoke Italian to each other, because papa did not know French
so well as mamma did. Beth supposed at that time that all grown-up
people spoke French or Italian to each other, and she used to wonder
which she would speak when she was grown up.

They stopped at an inn for an hour or two, for there was still another
stage of this interminable journey. Mildred had a bag with a big doll
in it, and some almond-sweets. She left it on a window-seat when they
went to have something to eat, and when she thought of it again it was
nowhere to be found.

"They would steal the teeth out of your head in this God-forsaken
country," Captain Caldwell exclaimed, in a tone of exasperation.

An awful vision of igneous rocks, with mis-shapen creatures prowling
about amongst them, instantly appeared to Beth in illustration of a
God-forsaken country, but she tried vainly to imagine how stealing
teeth out of your head was to be managed.

When they set off again, and had left the grey town with its green
trees and clear rivulet behind, the road lay through a wild and
desolate region. Great dark mountains rolled away in every direction,
and were piled up above the travellers to the very sky. The scene was
most melancholy in its grandeur, and Beth, gazing at it fascinated,
with big eyes dilated to their full extent, became exceedingly
depressed. At one turn of the way, in a field below, they saw a
gentleman carrying a gun, and attended by a party of armed policemen.

"That's Mr. Burke going over his property," Captain Caldwell observed
to his wife. "He's unpopular just now, and daren't move without an
escort. His life's not worth a moment's purchase a hundred yards from
his own gate, and I expect he'll be shot like a dog some day, with all
his precautions."

"Oh, why does he stay?" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed.

"Just pluck," her husband answered; "and he likes it. It certainly
does add to the interest of life."

"O Henry! don't speak like that," Mrs. Caldwell remonstrated. "They
can't owe you any grudge."

Captain Caldwell flipped a fly from his horse's ear.

Beth gazed down at the doomed gentleman, and fairly quailed for him.
She half expected to see the policemen turn on him and shoot him
before her eyes, and a strange excitement gradually grew upon her. She
seemed to be seeing and hearing and feeling without eyes, or ears, or
a body.

The carriage rocked like a ship at sea, and once or twice it seemed to
be going right over.

"What a dreadfully bad road!" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed.

"Yes," her husband rejoined, "the roads about here are the very devil.
This is one of the best. Do you see that one over there?" pointing
with his whip to a white line that zigzagged across a neighbouring
mountain. "It's disused now. That's Gallows Hill, where a man was
hanged."

Beth gazed at the spot with horror. "I see him!" she cried.

"See whom?" said her mother.

"I see the man hanging."

"Oh, nonsense!" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed. "Why, the man was hanged ages
ago. He isn't there now."

"You must speak the truth, young lady," papa said severely.

Beth, put to shame by the reproof, shrank into herself. She was keenly
sensitive to blame. But all the same her great grey eyes were riveted
on the top of the hill, for there, against the sky, she did distinctly
see the man dangling from the gibbet.

"Kitty," she whispered, "don't you see him?"

"Whisht, darlint," Kitty said, covering Beth's eyes with her hand. "I
don't see him. But I'll not be after calling ye a liar because ye do,
for I guess ye see more nor most, Holy Mother purtect us! But whisht
now, you mustn't look at him any more."

The carriage came to the brow of the mountain, and down below was
their destination, Castletownrock, a mere village, consisting
principally of one long, steep street. Some distance below the village
again, the great green waves of a tempestuous sea broke on a dangerous
coast.

"The two races don't fuse," papa was saying to mamma, "in this part of
the country, at all events. There's an Irish and an English side to
the street. The English side has a flagged footpath, and the houses
are neat and clean, and well-to-do; on the Irish side all is poverty
and dirt and confusion."

Just outside the village, a little group of people waited to welcome
them--Mr. Macbean the rector, Captain Keene, the three Misses Keene,
and Jim.

The carriage was stopped, and they all got out and walked the rest of
the distance to the inn, where they were to stay till the furniture
arrived. On the way down the street they saw their new home. It made
no impression on Beth. But she recognised the Roman Catholic Chapel on
the other side of the road from papa's drawing, only it looked
different because there was no snow.

The "gentleman and lady" who kept the inn, Mr. and Mrs. Mayne, with
their two daughters, met them at the door, and shook hands with mamma,
and kissed the children.

Then they went into the inn parlour, and there was wine and plum-cake,
and Dr. and Mrs. Macdougall came with their little girl Lucy, who was
eleven years old, Mildred's age.

Mr. Macbean, the rector, who was tall and thin, and had a brown beard
that waggled when he talked, drew Beth to his side, and began to ask
her questions, just when she wanted so much to hear what everybody
else was saying, too.

"Well, and what have you been taught?" he began.

Beth gazed at him blankly.

"Do you love God?" he proceeded, putting his hand on her head.

Beth looked round the room, perplexed, then fixed her eyes on his
beard, and watched it waggle with interest.

"Ask her if she knows anything about the other gentleman," Captain
Keene put in jocosely--"here's to his health!" and he emptied his
glass.

Beth's great eyes settled upon him with sudden fixity.

"I suppose you never heard of the devil?" he proceeded.

"Oh yes, I have," was Beth's instant and unexpected rejoinder. "The
devil is a bad road."

There was an explosion of laughter at this.

"But you said so, papa," Beth remonstrated indignantly.

"My dear child, I said just the reverse."

"What's the reverse?" said Beth, picturing another personality.

"There now, that will do," Mrs. Caldwell interposed. "Little bodies
must be seen and not heard."

Mr. Macbean stroked Beth's head--"There is something in here, I
expect," he observed.

"Not much, I'm afraid," Mrs. Caldwell answered. "We've hardly been
able to teach her anything."

"Ah!" Mr. Macbean ejaculated, reflecting on the specimen he had heard
of the method pursued. "You must let me see what _I_ can do."



CHAPTER V


In a few days all the bustle of getting into the new house began. The
furniture arrived in irregular batches. Some of it came and some of it
did not come. When a box was opened there was nothing that was wanted
in it, only things that did not go together, and mamma was worried,
and papa was cross.

The workpeople were wild and ignorant, and only trustworthy as long as
they were watched. They were unaccustomed to the most ordinary comforts
of civilised life, particularly in the way of furniture. When the family
arrived at the house one morning, they found Mrs. Caldwell's wardrobe,
mahogany drawers, and other articles of bedroom furniture, set up in
conspicuous positions in the sitting-room, and the carpenter was much
ruffled when he was ordered to take them upstairs.

"Shure it's mad they are," he remonstrated to one of the servants, "to
have sich foine things put in a bedroom where nobody'll see thim."

The men came up from the coastguard station to scrape the walls, and
Ellis, the petty officer, used the bread-knife, and broke it, and papa
bawled at him. Beth was sorry for Ellis.

The house was built of stone, and very damp. There was a great deal of
space in it, but little accommodation. On the ground-floor were a huge
hall, kitchen, pantry and sitting-room, all flagged. The sitting-room
was the only one in the house, and had to be used as dining-room and
drawing-room, but it was large enough for that and to spare. There was
a big yard and a big garden too, and Riley was in the stable, and
Biddy and Anne in the kitchen, and Kitty in the nursery. This increase
of establishment, which meant so much to the parents, was accepted as
a matter of course by the children.

Kitty told Riley and Biddy and Anne about what Beth had seen on
Gallows Hill, and they often asked Beth what she saw when she used to
sit looking at nothing. Then Beth would think things, and describe
them, because it seemed to please the servants. They used to be very
serious, and shake their heads and cross themselves, with muttered
ejaculations, but all the time they liked it. This encouraged Beth,
and she used to think and think of things to tell them.

Beth was exceedingly busy in her own way at this time. Her mind was
being rapidly stored with impressions, and nothing escaped her.

The four children and Kitty were put all together in one great
nursery, an arrangement of which Kitty, with the fastidious delicacy
of a strict Catholic, did not at all approve.

"Indeed, m'em," she said, "I'm thinkin' Master Jim's too sharp to be
in the nursery wid his sisters now."

"Nonsense, Kitty," Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed. "How can you be so
evil-minded? Master Jim's only a child--a baby of ten!"

"Och, thin, me'm, it's an ould-fashioned baby he is," said Kitty; "and
I'm thinkin' it's a bit of a screen or a curtain I'd like for dressin'
behind if he's to be wid us."

"I have nothing of the kind to give you," Mrs. Caldwell rejoined. And
afterwards she made merry with papa about Kitty's prudishness.

But Kitty was right as it happened. Jim had been left pretty much to
his own devices during the time he had been alone with his father at
Castletownrock. Captain Caldwell's theory was that boys would look
after themselves, "and the sooner you let 'em the sooner you'd make
men of 'em. Blood will tell, sir. Your gentleman's son is a match for
any ragamuffin"--a theory which Jim justified in many a free fight;
but, during the suspension of hostilities he hobnobbed with the
ragamuffins, who took a terrible revenge, for by the time Mrs.
Caldwell arrived Jim was thoroughly corrupted. Kitty took precautions,
however. She arranged the nursery-life so that Master Jim did not
associate with his sisters more than was absolutely necessary. She had
him up in the morning, bathed, and sent off to school before she
disturbed the little girls, and at night she never left the nursery
until he was asleep. Out of her slender purse she bought some print,
and fixed up a curtain for his sisters to dress behind, and all else
that she had to do for the children was done decently and in order.
She had almost entire charge of them, their mother being engrossed
with her husband, whose health and spirits had already begun to suffer
from overwork and exposure to the climate.

Kitty was teaching her charges dainty ways, mentally as well as
physically. When she had washed them at night, she made them purge their
little souls of all the sins of the day in prayer, and in the morning
she taught them how to fortify themselves with good resolutions. Beth
took naturally to the Catholic training, and solemnly dedicated herself
to the Blessed Virgin; Mildred conformed, but without enthusiasm; the
four-year-old baby Bernadine lisped little _Aves_; but Jim, in the words
of Captain Keene, "the old buffalo," as their father called him, sneered
at that sort of thing "as only fit for women."

"Men drink whisky," said Jim, puffing out his chest.

"True for ye," said Kitty; "but I've been told that them as drinks
whisky here goes dry in the next world."

"Well, I shall drink whisky and kiss the girls all the same," said
Jim. "And I wouldn't be a Catholic now, not to save me sowl. I owe the
Catholics a grudge. They insulted me."

"How so?" asked Kitty.

"At the midnight Mass last Christmas. Father John got up, and ordered
all heretics out of the sacred house of God, and Pat Fagan ses to me,
'Are ye a heretic?' and I ses, 'I am, Pat Fagan.' 'Thin out ye go,'
ses he, and, but for that, I'd 'a' bin a Catholic; so see what you
lose by insulting a gentleman."

"What's insulting?" Beth asked.

Jim slapped her face. "That's insulting," he explained.

Beth struck him back promptly, and a scuffle ensued.

"Oh, but it's little divils yez are, the lot of ye!" cried Kitty as
she separated them.

During fits of nervous irritability Captain Caldwell had a habit of
pacing about the house for hours at a time. One evening he happened to
be walking up and down on the landing outside the nursery door, which
was a little way open, and his attention was attracted by Beth's
voice. She was reciting a Catholic hymn softly, but with great
feeling, as if every word of it were a pleasure to her.

"What's the meaning of this?" he demanded, breaking in on her
devotions. "What papistical abominations have you been teaching the
child, Kitty?"

"Shure, sorr, it's jest a bit of a hymn," said Kitty bravely; but her
heart sank, and the colour left her lips.

Captain Caldwell was furious.

"Caroline!" he called peremptorily, going to the head of the stairs,
"Caroline, come up directly!"

Mrs. Caldwell fussed up in hot haste.

"Do you know," Captain Caldwell demanded, "that this woman is making
idolaters of your children? I heard this child just now praying to the
Virgin Mary! Do you hear?"

Mrs. Caldwell's pale face flushed with anger.

"How dare you do such a thing, you wicked woman?" she exclaimed. "I
shall not keep you another day in the house. Pack up your things at
once, and go the first thing in the morning."

"O mamma!" Beth cried, "you're not going to send Kitty away? Kitty,
Kitty, you won't go and leave me?"

"There, you see!" Captain Caldwell exclaimed. "You see the influence
she's got over the child already! That's the Jesuit all over!"

"An ignorant woman like you, who can hardly read and write, setting up
to teach _my_ children, indeed--how dare you?" Mrs. Caldwell stormed.

"Well, m'em, I _am_ an ignorant woman that can hardly read and write,"
Kitty answered with dignity; "but I could tell you some things ye'll
not find out in all yer books, and may be they'd surprise ye."

"Kitty, ye'll not go and leave me," Beth repeated passionately.

"Troth, an' I'd stay for your sake if I could," said Kitty, "fur it's
a bad time I'm afraid ye'll be havin' once I'm gone."

"Do you hear that?" Captain Caldwell exclaimed. "Now you see what
comes of getting people of this kind into the house. She's going to
make out that the child is ill-treated."

"One of _my_ children ill-treated!" Mrs. Caldwell cried scornfully.
"Who would believe her?" Then turning to Beth: "If I ever hear you
repeat a word that wicked woman has taught you, I'll beat you as long
as I can stand over you."

Kitty looked straight into Mrs. Caldwell's face, and smiled
sarcastically, but uttered not a word.

"How dare you stand there, grinning at me in that impertinent way, you
low woman?" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed with great exasperation. "I
believe you _are_ a Jesuit, sent here to corrupt my children. But go
you shall to-morrow morning."

"Oh, I'll go, m'em," Kitty answered quietly. She knew the case was
hopeless.

"There, now," said Mrs. Caldwell, turning to her husband. "Do you see?
That shows you! She doesn't care a bit."

Beth was clinging to Kitty, but her mother seized her by the arm, and
flung her half across the room, and was about to follow her, but
Captain Caldwell interfered. "That will do," he said significantly.
"It's no use venting your rage on the child. In future choose your
nurses better."

"Then, in future, give me better advice when I consult you about
them," Mrs. Caldwell retorted, following him out of the room.

Beth clung to Kitty the whole night long, and had to be torn from her
in the morning, screaming and kicking. She stood in front of her
mother, her eyes and cheeks ablaze:--

"I shall pray to the Blessed Virgin--I shall pray to the Blessed
Virgin--every _hour_ of my life," she gasped, "and you can't prevent
me. Beat me as long as you can stand over me if you like, but I'll
only pray the harder."

"For God's sake, m'em," Kitty cried, clasping her hands, "let that child
alone. Shure she's a sweet lamb if you'd give her a chance. But ye put
the divil into her wid yer shakin' an' yer batin', and mischief'll come
of it sooner or later, mark my words."

When Kitty had gone, Mrs. Caldwell shut Beth up in the nursery with
Baby Bernadine. Beth threw herself on the floor, and sobbed until she
had exhausted her tears; then she gathered herself together, and sat
on the floor with her hands clasped round her legs, her chin on her
knees, looking up dreamily at the sky, through the nursery window. Her
pathetic little face was all drawn and haggard and hopeless. But
presently she began to sing--

        "Ave Maria!
    Mother of the desolate!
    Guide of the unfortunate!
        Hear from thy starry home our prayer:
    If sorrow will await us,
    Tyrants vex and hate us,
        Teach us thine own most patient part to bear!
            Sancta Maria!
    When we are sighing,
    When we are dying,
       Give to us thine aid of prayer!"

As she sang, comfort came to her, and the little voice swelled in
volume.

Baby Bernadine also sat on the floor, opposite to Beth, and gazed at
her, much impressed. When she had finished singing, Beth became aware
of her sister's reverent attention, and put out her tongue at her.
Bernadine laughed. Then Beth crisped up her hands till they looked like
claws, and began to make a variety of hideous faces. Bernadine thought
it was a game and smiled at first, but finally she ceased to recognise
her sister and shrieked aloud in terror. Beth heard her mother hurrying
up, and got behind the door so that her mother could not see her as she
opened it. Mrs. Caldwell hurried up to the baby--"The darling, then,
what have they been doing to you?"--and Beth made her escape. As she
crossed the hall, some one knocked at the front door. Beth opened it a
crack. Captain Keene was outside. When she saw him, she recollected
something she had heard about his religious opinions, and began to
question him eagerly. His answers were apparently exciting, for
presently she flung the door wide open to let him in, then ran to the
foot of the stairs, and shouted at the top of her voice--

"Papa, papa, come down! come directly! Here's old Keene, the old
Buffalo, and he says there is no God!"

Captain Caldwell descended the stairs hurriedly, but, on catching a
glimpse of his countenance, Beth did not wait to receive him.

She had to pass through the kitchen to get into the yard. It was the
busy time of the day, and Biddy and Anne and Riley, all without shoes
or stockings, were playing football with a bladder.

Biddy tried to detain Beth.

"Arrah, bad luck to ye, Biddy," Beth cried, imitating the brogue. "Let
me go, d'ye hear?"

"Holy Mother, preserve us!" Biddy exclaimed, crossing herself. "Don't
ye ever be afther wishin' anybody bad luck, Miss Beth; shure ye'll
bring it if ye do."

"Thin don't ye ever be afther stoppin' me when I want to be going,
Biddy," Beth rejoined, stamping her foot, "or I'll _blast_ ye," she
added as she passed out into the sunlight.

Fowls and ducks and Jim's pet pigeons were the only creatures moving in
the yard. Beth stood among them, watching them for a little, then went
to the cornbin in the stable, and got some oats. There was a shallow tub
of water for the birds to drink; Beth hunkered down beside it, and held
out her hand, full of corn. The pigeons were very tame, and presently a
beautiful blue-rock came up confidently, and began to eat. His eyes were
a deep rich orange colour. Beth caught him, and stroked his glossy
plumage, delighting in the exquisite metallic sheen on his neck and
breast. The colour gave her an almost painful sensation of pleasure,
which changed on a sudden into a fit of blind exasperation. Her grief
for the loss of Kitty had gripped her again with a horrid twinge. She
clenched her teeth in her pain, her fingers closed convulsively round
the pigeon's throat, and she held him out at arm's length, and shook him
viciously till the nictitating membrane dropped over his eyes, his head
sank back, his bill opened, and he hung from her hand, an inert heap of
ruffled feathers. Then the tension of her nerves relaxed; it was a
relief to have crushed the life out of something. She let the bird drop,
and stood looking at him, as an animal might have looked, with an
impassive face which betrays no shade of emotion. As she did so,
however, the bird showed signs of life; and, suddenly, quickening into
interest, she stooped down, turned him over, and examined him; then
sprinkled him with water, and made him drink. He rapidly revived, and
when he was able to stand, she let him go; and he was soon feeding among
his companions as if nothing had happened.

Beth watched them for a little with the same animal-like
expressionless gravity of countenance, then moved off unconcernedly.

She never mentioned the incident to any one, and never forgot it; but
her only feeling about it was that the pigeon had had a narrow escape.



CHAPTER VI


Beth was a fine instrument, sensitive to a touch, and, considering the
way she was handled, it would have been a wonder if discordant effects
had not been constantly produced upon her. Hers was a nature with a
wide range. It is probable that every conceivable impulse was latent
in her, every possibility of good or evil. Exactly which would
predominate depended upon the influences of these early years; and
almost all the influences she came under were haphazard. There was no
intelligent direction of her thoughts, no systematic training to form
good habits. Her brothers were sent to school as soon as they were old
enough, and so had the advantage of regular routine and strict
discipline from the first; but a couple of hours a day for lessons was
considered enough for the little girls; and, for the rest of the time,
so long as they were on the premises and not naughty, that is to say,
gave no trouble, it was taken for granted that they were safe, morally
and physically. Neither of their parents seem to have suspected their
extreme precocity; and there is no doubt that Beth suffered seriously
in after life from the mistakes of those in authority over her at this
period. People admired her bright eyes without realising that she
could see with them, and not only that she could see, but that she
could not help seeing. But even if they had realised it, they would
merely have scolded her for learning anything in that way which they
preferred that she should not know. They were not sufficiently
intelligent themselves to perceive that it is not what we know of
things, but what we think of them, which makes for good or evil. Beth
was accordingly allowed to run wild, and expected to see nothing; but
all the time her mind was being involuntarily stored with observations
from which, in time to come, for want of instruction, she would be
forced to draw her own--often erroneous--conclusions.

Kitty's departure was Beth's first great grief, and she suffered
terribly. The prop and stay of her little life had gone, the comfort
and kindness, the order and discipline, which were essential to her
nature. Mrs. Caldwell was a good woman, who would certainly do what
she thought best for her children; but she was exhausted by the
unconscionable production of a too numerous family, a family which she
had neither the means nor the strength to bring up properly. Her
husband's health, too, grew ever more precarious, and she found
herself obliged to do all in her power to help him with his duties,
which were arduous. There was a good deal that she could do in the way
of writing official letters and managing money-matters, tasks for
which she was much better fitted than for the management of children;
but the children, meanwhile, had to be left to the care of others--not
that that would have been a bad thing for them had their mother had
sufficient discrimination to enable her to choose the proper kind of
people to be with them. Unfortunately for everybody, however, Mrs.
Caldwell had been brought up on the old-fashioned principle that
absolute ignorance of human nature is the best qualification for a
wife and mother, and she was consequently quite unprepared for any
possibility which had not formed part of her own simple and limited
personal experience. She never suspected, for one thing, that a
servant's conversation could be undesirable if her appearance and her
character from her last mistress were satisfactory; and, therefore,
when Kitty had gone, she put Anne in her place without misgiving,
Anne's principal recommendation being that she was a nice-looking
girl, and had pretty deferential manners.

Anne came from one of the cabins on the Irish side of the road, where
people, pigs, poultry, with an occasional cow, goat, or donkey herded
together indiscriminately. The windows were about a foot square, and
were not made to open. Sometimes they had glass in them, but were
oftener stopped up with rags. Before the doors were heaps of manure
and pools of stagnant water. There was no regular footway, but a mere
beaten track in front of the cabins, and this, on wet days, was
ankle-deep in mud. The women hung about the doors all day long,
knitting the men's blue stockings, and did little else apparently.
Both men and women were usually in a torpid state, the result,
doubtless, of breathing a poisoned atmosphere, and of insufficient
food. It took strong stimulants to rouse them: love, hate, jealousy,
whisky, battle, murder, and sudden death. Their conversation was
gross, and they were very immoral; but it is hardly necessary to say
so, for with men, women, children, and animals all crowded together in
such surroundings, and the morbid craving for excitement to which
people who have no comfort or wholesome interest in life fall a prey,
immorality is inevitable. It was the boast of the place that there
were no illegitimate children; it would have been a better sign if
there had been.

Mrs. Caldwell, true to her training, lived opposite to all this vice
and squalor, serenely indifferent to it. Anne, therefore, who knew
nothing about the management of children, and was not in any respect a
proper person to have the charge of them, had it all her own way in
the nursery: and her way was to do nothing that she could help. She
used to call the children in the morning, and then leave them to their
own devices. The moment they were awake, which was pretty soon, for
they were full of life, they began to batter each other with pillows,
dance about the room in their night-dresses, pitch tents with the
bed-clothes on the floor, and make noise enough to bring their mother
down upon them. Then Anne would be summoned and come hurrying up, and
help them to huddle on their clothes somehow. She never washed them,
but encouraged them to perform their own ablutions, which they did
with the end of a towel dipped in a jug. The consequence was they were
generally in a very dirty state. They took their meals with their
parents, and papa would notice the dirt eventually, and storm at mamma
in Italian, when words would ensue in a tone which made the children
quake. Then mamma would storm at Anne, for whom the children felt
sorry, and the result would be a bath, which they bore with fortitude,
for fear of getting Anne into further trouble. They even made good
resolutions about washing themselves, which they kept for a few days;
then, however, they began to shirk again, and had again to be
scrubbed. The resolutions of a child must be shored up by kindly
supervision, otherwise it is hardly likely that they will cement into
good habits.

Beth suffered from a continual sense of discomfort in those days for
want of proper attention. All her clothing fitted badly, and were
fastened on with anything that came to hand in the way of tape and
buttons; her hair was ill brushed, and she was so continually found
fault with that her sense of self-respect was checked in its
development, and she lost all faith in her own power to do anything
right or well. The consequence was the most profound disheartenment,
endured in silence, with the exquisite uncomplaining fortitude of a
little child. It made its mark on her countenance, however, in a
settled expression of discontent, which, being mistaken for a bad
disposition, repelled people, and made her many enemies. People
generally said that Mildred was a dear, but Beth did not look
pleasant; and for many a long day to come, very few troubled
themselves to try and make her look so.

It cannot be said that Beth's parents neglected their children. On the
contrary, her father thought much of their education, and of their
future; it was the all-importance of the present that did not strike
him, and so with her mother. Neither parent was careless, but their
care stopped short too soon; and it is astonishing the amount of
liberty the children had. They were sent out of doors as soon as they
were dressed in the morning, because sunshine and air are so essential
to children. If they went for a walk, Anne accompanied them; but very
often Anne was wanted, and then the children were left to loiter about
the garden or stable-yard, where, doubtless with the help of reasoning
powers much in advance of her age, Beth had soon heard and seen enough
to make her feel a certain contempt for her father's veracity when he
told her that she had originally been brought to the house in the
doctor's black bag.

After Kitty's departure Beth had many a lonely hour, and the time hung
heavy on her hands. Mildred, her senior by four years, was of a
simpler disposition, and always able to amuse herself, playing with
the Baby Bernadine, or with toys which were no distraction to Beth.
Mildred, besides, was fond of reading; but books to be deciphered
remained a wonder and a mystery to Beth.

Jim went to the national school, the only one in the place, with all
the other little boys. The master was a young curate who gave Mildred
and Beth their lessons also, when school-hours were over. Beth used to
yearn for lesson-time, just for the sake of being obliged to do
something; but lessons were disappointing, for the curate devoted
himself to Mildred, who was docile and studious, and took no special
pains to interest Beth, and consequently she soon wearied of the dull
restraint, and became troublesome. Sometimes she was boisterous, and
then the tutor had to spend half his time in chasing her to rescue his
hat, a book, an ink-bottle, or some other article which she threatened
to destroy; and, sometimes she was so depressed that he had to give up
trying to teach her, and just do his best to distract her. In her
eighth year she was able to follow the church-service in the
prayer-book, and make out the hymns, but that was all.

Sunday-school was held in the church, and was attended by all the
unmarried parishioners. Mildred taught some of the tiny mites, and
Beth was put into her class at first; but Beth had no respect for
Mildred, and had consequently to be removed. She was expected to
learn the collect for the day and the verse of a hymn every Sunday,
but never by any chance knew either. No one ever thought of reading
the thing over to her, and fixing her attention on it by some little
explanation; and learning by heart from a book did not come naturally
to her. She learned by ear easily enough, but not by sight. The hymns
and prayers which Kitty had repeated to her, she very soon picked up;
but Kitty had true sympathetic insight to inform her of what the child
required, and all her little lessons were proper to some occasion, and
had comfort in them. What Beth learned now, on the contrary, often
filled her with gloom. Some of the hymns, such as,

    "When gathering clouds around I view,
     And days are dark, and friends are few,"

made her especially miserable. It was always a dark day to her when
she repeated it, with heavy clouds collecting overhead, and herself, a
solitary little speck on the mountain side wandering alone.



CHAPTER VII


It is significant to note that church figures largely in Beth's
recollection of this time, but religion not at all. There was, in
fact, no connection between the two in her mind.

Both Captain and Mrs. Caldwell protested strongly against what they
called cant; and they seemed to have called everything cant except an
occasional cold reading aloud of the Bible on Sundays, and the bald
observance of the church service. The Bible they read aloud to the
children without expounding it, and the services they attended without
comment. Displays of religious emotion in everyday life they regarded
as symptoms of insanity; and if they heard people discuss religion
with enthusiasm, and profess to love the Lord, they were genuinely
shocked. All that kind of thing they thought "such cant," "and so like
those horrid dissenters;" which made them extra careful that the
children should hear nothing of the sort. This, from their point of
view, was right and wise; in Beth's case especially; for her
unsatisfied soul was of the quality which soon yearns for the fine
fulness of faith; her little heart would have filled to bursting with
her first glad conception of the love divine, and her whole being
would have stirred to speak her emotion, even though speech meant
martyrdom. Thanks to the precautions of her parents, however, she
heard nothing to stimulate her natural tendency to religious fervour
after Kitty's departure; and gradually the image of our Blessed Lady
faded from her mind, and was succeeded by that of the God of her
parents, a death-dealing deity, delighting in blood, whom she was
warned to fear, and from whom she did accordingly shrink with such
holy horror that, when she went to church, she tried to think of
anything but Him. This was how it happened that church, instead of
being the threshold of the next world to her mind, became the centre
of this, where she made many interesting observations of men and
manners; for in spite of her backwardness in the schoolroom, Beth's
intellect advanced with a bound at this period. She had left her
native place an infant, on whose mind some chance impressions had been
made and lingered; she arrived at Castletownrock with the power to
observe for herself, and even to reflect upon what she saw--of course
to a certain extent only; but still the power had come, and was far in
advance of her years. So far, it was circumstances that had impressed
her; she knew one person from another, but that was all. Now, however,
she began to be interested in people for themselves, apart from any
incident in which they figured; and most of her time was spent in a
curiously close, but quite involuntary study of those about her, and
of their relations to each other.

Church was often a sore penance to the children, it was so long, and
cold, and dull; but they set off on Sunday happy in the consciousness
of their best hats and jackets, nevertheless; and the first part of
the time was not so bad, for then they had Sunday-school, and the
three Misses Keene--Mary, Sophia, and Lenore--and the two Misses
Mayne, Honor and Kathleen, and Mr. and Mrs. Small, the Vicar and his
wife, and the curate, were all there talking and teaching. Beth
remembered nothing about the teaching except that, on one occasion,
Mr. Macbean, the rector, tried to explain the meaning of the trefoil
on the ends of the pews to Mildred and herself; but she could think of
nothing but the way his beard wagged as he spoke, and was disconcerted
when he questioned her. He had promised to be a friend to Beth; but he
was a delicate man, and not able to live much at Castletownrock, where
the climate was rigorous; so that she seldom saw him.

When Sunday-school was over, the children went up to the gallery;
their pew and the Keenes', roomy boxes, took up the whole front of it.
Mrs. Caldwell always sat up in the gallery with the children, but
Captain Caldwell often sat downstairs in the rectory-pew to be near
the fire; when he sat in the gallery he wore a little black cap to
keep off the draught. He and Mr. O'Halloran the Squire, and Captain
Keene, stood and talked in the aisle sometimes before the service
commenced. One Sunday they kept looking up at the children in the
gallery.

"I'll bet Mildred will be the handsomest woman," Mr. O'Halloran was
saying.

"I'll back Beth," Captain Keene observed. "If all the men in the place
are not after her soon, I'm no judge of her sex, eh?"

"Oh, don't look at me!" said Captain Caldwell complacently. "I can't
pretend to say. But let's hope that they'll go off well, at all
events. They'll have every chance I can give them of making good
matches."

Beth heard her father repeat this conversation to her mother
afterwards, but was too busy wondering what a handsome woman was to
understand that it was her own charms which had been appraised; but
Mildred understood, and was elated.

Mr. O'Halloran, the squire, had a red beard, which was an offence to
Beth. His wife wore bonnets about which everybody used to make remarks
to Mrs. Caldwell. Beth understood that Mrs. O'Halloran was young and
pretty, and had three charming children, but was not happy because of
Sophia Keene.

"Just fancy," she heard Mrs. Small, the Vicar's wife, say to her
mother once. "Just fancy, he was in a carriage with them at the races,
and stayed with Sophia the whole time; and poor Mrs. O'Halloran left
at home alone. I call it scandalous. But you know what Sophia is!"
Mrs. Small concluded significantly.

Mrs. Caldwell drew herself up, and looked at Mrs. Small, but said
nothing; yet somehow Beth knew that she too was unhappy because of
Sophia Keene. Beth was not on familiar terms with her mother, and
would not have dared to embrace her spontaneously, or make any other
demonstration of affection; but she was loyally devoted to her all the
same, and would gladly have stabbed Sophia Keene, and have done battle
with the whole of the rest of the family on her mother's behalf had
occasion offered.

She was curled up among the fuchsias on the window-seat of the
sitting-room one day, unobserved by her parents, who entered the room
together after she had settled herself there, and began to discuss the
Keenes.

"You did not tell me, Henry, you spent all your time with them before
we came," Mrs. Caldwell said reproachfully.

"Why should I?" he answered, with a jaunty affectation of ease.

"It is not why you should," his wife said with studied gentleness,
"but why you should not. It seems so strange, making a mystery of it."

"I described old Keene to you--the old buffalo!" he replied; "and I'll
describe the girls now if you like. Mary is a gawk, Sophia is as
yellow as a duck's foot, and Lenore is half-witted."

The Keenes were ignorant, idle, good-tempered young women, and kind to
the children, whom they often took to bathe with them. They were
seldom able to go into the sea itself, for it was a wild, tempestuous
coast; but there were lovely clear pools on the rocky shore, natural
stone baths left full of water when the tide went out, sheltered from
the wind by tall, dark, precipitous cliffs, and warmed by the sun; and
there they used to dabble by the hour together. Anne went with them,
and it was a pretty sight, the four young women in white chemises that
clung to them when wet, and the three lovely children--little white
nudities with bright brown hair--scampering over the rocks, splashing
each other in the pools, or lying about on warm sunny slabs, resting
and chattering. One day Beth found some queer things in a pool, and
Sophia told her they were barnacles.

"They stick to the bottom of a ship," she said, "and grow heavier and
heavier till at last the ship can make no more way, and comes to a
standstill in a shining sea, where the water is as smooth as a mirror;
you would think it was a mirror, in fact, if it did not heave gently
up and down like your breast when you breathe; and every time it
heaves it flushes some colour, blue, or green, or pink, or purple. And
the barnacles swell and swell at the bottom of the ship, till at last
they burst in two with a loud report; and then the sailors rush to the
side of the ship and look over, and there they see a flock of
beautiful big white geese coming up out of the water; and sometimes
they shoot the geese, but if they do a great storm comes on and
engulfs the ship, and they are all drowned; but sometimes they stand
stockstill, amazed, and then the birds rise up out of the air on their
great white wings, up, up, drifting along, together, till they look
like the clouds over there. Then a gentle breeze springs up, and the
ship sails away safely into port."

"And where do the geese go?" Beth demanded, with breathless interest.

"They make for the shore too, and in the dead of winter, on stormy
nights, they fly over the land, uttering strange cries, and if you
wake and hear them, it means somebody is going to die."

Beth's eyes were staring far out beyond the great green Atlantic rollers
that came bursting in round the sheltering headland, white-crested with
foam, flying up the beach with a crash, and scattering showers of
spray that sparkled in the sunshine. She could see the ships and the
barnacles, and the silent sea, heaving great sighs and flushing with
fine colour in the act; and the geese, and the sailors peering over the
side and shooting at them and sinking immediately in a storm, but also
sailing into a safe haven triumphantly, where the sun shone on white
houses, although, at the same time, it was dark night, and overhead
there were strange cries that made her cower--"Beth!" cried Sophia,
"what's the matter with you, child?"

Beth returned with a start, and stared at her--"I know who it will
be," she said.

"Who what'll be, Miss Beth?" Anne asked in awe.

"Who'll die," said Beth.

"You mustn't say, Beth; you'll bring bad luck if you do," Miss Keene
interposed hastily.

"I'm not going to say," Beth answered dreamily; "but I know."

"You shouldn't have told the child that story, miss," Anne said.
"Shure, ye know what she is--she sees." Anne nodded her head several
times significantly.

"I forgot," said Sophia.

"She'll forget too," said Mary philosophically. "I say, Beth," she
went on, raising herself on her elbow--she was lying prone on a slab
of rock in the sun--"what does your mother think of us?"

Beth roused herself. "I don't know," she answered earnestly; "she
never says. But I know what papa thinks of you. He says Mary's a gawk,
Sophia is as yellow as a duck's foot, and Lenore is only half-witted."

The effect of this announcement astonished Beth. The Misses Keene,
instead of being interested, all looked at her as if they did not like
her, and Anne burst out laughing. When they got in, Anne told Mrs.
Caldwell, who flushed suddenly, and covered her mouth with her
handkerchief.

"Yes, mamma," Mildred exclaimed with importance, "Beth did say so. And
Mary tossed her head, and Sophia sneered."

"What is sneered?" Beth demanded importunately. "What is sneered?"

"O Beth! don't bother so," Mildred exclaimed irritably. "It's when you
curl up your lip."

"Beth, how could you be so naughty?" Mrs. Caldwell said at last from
behind her handkerchief. "Don't you know you should never repeat
things you hear said? A lady never repeats a private conversation."

"What's a private conversation?" said Beth.

Mrs. Caldwell gave her a broad definition, during which she lowered
her handkerchief, and Beth discovered that she was trying not to
smile.

This was Beth's first lesson in honour, which was her mother's god,
and she felt the influence of it all her life.

Later in the day, Beth was curled up on the window-seat among the
fuchsias, looking out. Behind the thatched cabins opposite, the sombre
mountains rolled up, dark and distinct, to the sky; but Beth would not
look at them if she could help it, they oppressed her. It was a close
afternoon, and the window was wide open. A bare-legged woman, in a
short petticoat, stood in an indolent attitude leaning against a
door-post opposite; a young man in low shoes, light blue stockings,
buff knee-breeches, a blue-tailed coat with brass buttons, and a soft
high-crowned felt hat, came strolling up the street with his hands in
his pockets.

"Hallo, Biddy," he remarked, as he passed the woman, "you're all
swelled."

"Yes," she answered tranquilly, "I've been drinking buttermilk."

"Well, let's hope it'll be a boy," he rejoined.

The woman looked up and down the street complacently.

Presently Beth saw Honor and Kathleen Mayne come out of the inn. The
Maynes used to pet the children and play the piano to them when they
were at the inn, and had been very good to Jim also when he was there
alone with his father before the family arrived. Their manners were
gentle and caressing, and they did their best to win their way into Mrs.
Caldwell's good graces, but at first she coldly repulsed them, which
hurt Beth very much. The Maynes, however, did not at all understand that
they were being repulsed. A kindly feeling existed among all classes in
those remote Irish villages. The squire's family, the doctor's,
clergyman's, draper's, and innkeeper's visited each other, and shook
hands when they met. There was no feeling of condescension on the one
hand, or of pretension on the other; but Mrs. Caldwell had the strong
class prejudice which makes such stupid snobs of the English. It was not
_what_ people were, but _who_ they were, that was all important to her;
and she would have bowed down cheerfully, as whole neighbourhoods do,
and felt exhilarated by the notice of some stupid county magnate, who
had not heart enough to be loved, head enough to distinguish himself, or
soul enough to get him into heaven. She was a lady, and Mayne was an
innkeeper. His daughters might amuse the children, but as to associating
with Mrs. Caldwell, that was absurd!

The girls were not to be rebuffed, however. They persevered in their
kindly attentions, making excuses to each other for Mrs. Caldwell's
manner; explaining her coldness by the fact that she was English, and
flattering her, until finally they won their way into her good graces,
and so effectually too, that when they brought a young magpie in a
basket for Beth one day, her mother graciously allowed her to accept
it.

Beth liked the Maynes, but now as they came up the road she slid from
the window-seat. She knew they would stop and talk if she waited, and
she did not want to talk. She was thinking about something, and it
irritated her to be interrupted. So she tore across the hall and
through the kitchen out into the yard, impelled by an imperative
desire to be alone.

The magpie was the first pet of her own she had ever had, and she
loved it. At night it was chained to a perch stuck in the wall of the
stable-yard. On the other side of that wall was the yard of Murphy the
farrier. The magpie soon became tame enough to be let loose by day,
and Beth always went to release it the first thing in the morning and
give it its breakfast. It came hopping to meet her now, and followed
her into the garden. The garden was entered by an archway under the
outbuildings, which divided it from the stable-yard. It was very long,
but narrow for its length. On the right was a high wall, but on the
left was a low one--at least one half of it was low--and Beth could
look over it into the farrier's garden next door. The other half had
been raised by Captain Caldwell on the understanding that if he raised
one half the farrier would raise the other, but the farrier had proved
perfidious. The wall was built without mortar, of rough, uncut stones.
Captain Caldwell had his half neatly finished off at the top with
sods, but Murphy's piece was still all broken down. The children used
to climb up by it on to the raised half, and dance there at the risk
of life and limb, and jeer at Murphy as he dug his potatoes, calling
his attention to the difference between the Irish and English half of
the wall, till he lost his temper and pelted them. This was the signal
for a battle. The children returned his potatoes with stones by way of
interest, and hit him as often as he hit them. (Needless to say, their
parents were not in the garden at the time.) They had a great contempt
for the farrier because he fought them, and he used to go about the
village complaining of them and their "tratement" of him, "the little
divils, spoilin' the pace of the whole neighbourhood."

There was a high wall at the end of the garden, and Beth liked to sit on
the top of it. She went there now, picked up her magpie, and climbed up
with difficulty by way of Pat Murphy's broken bit. Immediately below her
was a muddy lane, beyond which the land sloped down to the sea, and as
she sat there, the sound of the waves, that dreamy, soft murmur for
which we have no word, filled the interstices of her consciousness with
something that satisfied.

She was not left long in peace to enjoy it that afternoon, however,
for the farrier was at work in his garden below, and presently he
looked up and saw the magpie.

"There ye are agin, Miss Beth, wi' yer baste of a burrd; bad luck to
it!" he exclaimed, crossing himself. "Shure, don't I tell ye ivery day
uf your life it's wan fur sorrow."

"Bad luck to yerself, Pat Murphy," Beth rejoined promptly. "It's a
foine cheek ye have to be spakin' to a gentleman's daughter, an' you
not a man uv yer wurrd."

"Not a man o' me wurrd! what d'ye mane?" said Murphy, firing.

"Look at that wall," Beth answered; "didn't ye promise ye'd build it?"

"An' so I will when yer father gives me the stones he promised me,"
Murphy replied. "It's a moighty foine mon uv his wurrd he is."

"Is it my father yer maning, Pat Murphy?" Beth asked.

"It is," he said, sticking his spade in the ground emphatically.

"Ye know yer lying," said Beth. "My father promised you no stones.
He's not a fool."

"I niver met a knave that was," Pat observed, turning over a huge
spadeful of earth, and then straightening himself to look up at her.

Beth's instinct was always to fight when she was in a rage; words
break no bones, and she preferred to break bones at such times. It was
some seconds before she saw the full force of Pat's taunt, but the
moment she did, she seized the largest loose stone within reach on the
top of the wall, and shied it at him. It struck him full in the face,
and cut his cheek open.

"That'll teach ye," said Beth, blazing.

The man turned on her with a very ugly look.

"Put yer spade down," she said. "I'm not afraid of you."

"Miss Beth! Miss Beth!" some one called from the end of the garden.

Murphy stuck his spade in the ground, and wiped his jaw. "Ye'll pay
for this, ye divil's limb," he muttered, "yew an' yours."

"Miss Beth! Miss Beth!"

"I'm coming!" Beth rejoined irritably, and slid from the wall to the
ground regardless of the rough loose stones she scattered in her
descent. "Ye'll foind me ready to pay when ye send in yer bill, Pat,"
she called out as she ran down the garden.

The children were to have tea at the vicarage that day, and Anne had
been sent to fetch her.

In the drawing-room at the vicarage there was a big bay-window which
looked out across a desolate stretch of bog to a wild headland,
against which the waves beat tempestuously in almost all weathers. The
headland itself was high, but the giant breakers often dashed up far
above it, and fell in showers of spray on the grass at the top. There
was a telescope in the window at the vicarage, and people used to come
to see the sight, and went into raptures over it. Beth, standing out
of the way, unnoticed, would gaze too, fascinated; but it was the
attraction of repulsion. The cruel force of the great waves agitated
her, and at the same time made her unutterably sad. Her heart beat
painfully when she watched them, her breath became laboured, and it
was only with an effort that she could keep back her sobs. It was not
fear that oppressed her, but a horrible sort of excitement, which so
gained upon her on that afternoon in particular that she felt she must
shriek aloud, or make her escape. If she showed any emotion she would
be laughed at, if she made her escape she would probably be whipped;
she preferred to be whipped; so, watching her opportunity, she quietly
slipped away.

At home the window of the sitting-room was still wide open, and as she
ran down the street she noticed some country people peeping in
curiously, and apparently astonished by the luxury they beheld. Beth,
who was picking up Irish rapidly, understood some exclamations she
overheard as she approached, and felt flattered for the furniture.

She ran up the steps and opened the front door: "Good day to ye all,"
she said sociably; "will ye not come in and have a look round? now
do!"

She led the way as she spoke, and the country people followed her, all
agape. In the hall they paused to wonder at the cocoanut matting; but
when they stood on the soft pile carpet, so grateful to their bare
feet, in the sitting-room, and looked round, they lowered their voices
respectfully, and this gave Beth a sudden sensation of superiority.
She began to show them the things: the pictures on the walls, the
subjects of which she explained to them; the egg-shell china, which
she held up to the light that they might see how thin it was; and some
Eastern and Western curios her father had brought home from various
voyages. She told them of tropical heat and Canadian cold, and began
to be elated herself when she found all that she had ever heard on the
subject flowing fluently from her lips.

The front door had been left open, and the passers-by looked in to see
what was going on, and then entered uninvited. Neighbours, too, came
over from the Irish side of the road, so that the room gradually
filled, and as her audience increased, Beth grew excited and talked
away eloquently.

"Lord," one man exclaimed with a sigh, on looking round the room, "it's
aisy to see why the likes of these looks down on the likes of us."

"Eh, dear, yes!" a woman with a petticoat over her head solemnly
responded.

"The durrty heretics," a slouching fellow, with a flat white face,
muttered under his breath. "But if they benefit here, they'll burn
hereafter, holy Jasus be praised."

"Will they?" said Beth, turning on him. "Will they burrn hereafter,
Bap-faced Flanagan? No, they won't! They'll hunt ye out of heaven as
they hunted ye out o' Maclone.

    "Oh, the Orange militia walked into Maclone,
     And hunted the Catholics out of the town.
     Ri' turen nuren nuren naddio,
     Right tur nuren nee."

She sang it out at the top of her shrill little voice, executing a
war-dance of defiance to the tune, and concluding with an elaborate
curtsey.

As she recovered herself, she became aware of her father standing in the
doorway. His lips were white, and there was a queer look in his face.

"Oh! So this is _your_ party, is it, Miss Beth?" he said. "You ask
your friends in, and then you insult them, I see."

Beth was still effervescing. She put her hands behind her back and
answered boldly--

"'Deed, thin, he insulted me, papa. It was Bap-faced Flanagan. He
said we were durrty heretics, and--and--I'll not stand that! It's
a free country!"

Captain Caldwell looked round, and the people melted from the room
under his eye. Then Anne appeared from somewhere.

"Anne, do you teach the children party-songs?" he demanded.

"Shure, they don't need taching, yer honour," said Anne, disconcerted.
"Miss Beth knows 'em all, and she shouts 'em at the top of her voice
down the street till the men shake their fists at her."

"Why do you do that, Beth?" her father demanded.

"I like to feel," Beth began, gasping out each word with a mighty
effort to express herself--"I like to feel--that I can _make_ them
shake their fists."

Her father looked at her again very queerly.

"Will I take her to the nursery, sir?" Anne asked.

Beth turned on her impatiently, and said something in Irish which made
Anne grin. Beth did not understand her father in this mood, and she
wanted to see more of him.

"What's that she's saying to you, Anne?" he asked.

"Oh--sure, she's just blessin' me, yer honour," Anne answered
unabashed.

"I believe you!" Captain Caldwell said dryly, as he stretched himself
on the sofa. "Go and fetch a hair-brush."

While Anne was out of the room he turned to Beth. "I'll give you a
penny," he said, "if you'll tell me what you said to Anne."

"I'll tell you for nothing," Beth answered. "I said, 'Yer soul to the
devil for an interfering hussy.'"

Captain Caldwell burst out laughing, and laughed till Anne returned
with the brush. "Now, brush my hair," he said to Beth; and Beth went
and stood beside the sofa, and brushed, and brushed, now with one
hand, and now with the other, till she ached all over with the effort.
Her father suffered from atrocious headaches, and this was the one
thing that relieved him.

"There, that's punishment enough for to-day," he said at last.

Beth retired to the foot of the couch, and leant there, looking at him
solemnly, with the hair-brush still in her hand. "That's no
punishment," she observed.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"I mean I like it," she said. "I'd brush till I dropped if it did you
any good."

Captain Caldwell looked up at her, and it was as if he had seen the
child for the first time.

"Beth," he said, after a while, "would you like to come out with me on
the car to-morrow?"

"'Deed, then, I would, papa," Beth answered eagerly.

Then there was a pause, during which Beth rubbed her back against the
end of the couch thoughtfully, and looked at the wall opposite as if
she could see through it. Her father watched her for a little time
with a frown upon his forehead from the pain in his head.

"What are you thinking of, Beth?" he said at last.

"I've got to be whipped to-night," she answered drearily; "and I wish
I hadn't. I do get so tired of being whipped and shaken."

Her little face looked pinched and pathetic as she spoke, and for the
first time her father had a suspicion of what punishment was to this
child--a thing as inevitable as disease, a continually recurring
torture, but quite without effect upon her conduct--and his heart
contracted with a qualm of pity.

"What are you going to be whipped for now?" he asked.

"We went to tea at the vicarage, and I ran away home."

"Why?"

"Because of the great green waves. They rush up the rocks--wish--st--st!"
(she took a step forward, and threw up her little arms in
illustration)--"then fall, and roll back, and gather, and come rushing
on again; and I feel every time--every time--that they are coming right
at me!"--she clutched her throat as if she were suffocating; "and if I
had stayed I should have shrieked, and then I should have been whipped.
So I came away."

"But you expect to be whipped for coming away?"

"Yes. But you see I don't have the waves as well. And mamma won't say
I was afraid."

"Were you afraid, Beth?" her father asked.

"No!" Beth retorted, stamping her foot indignantly. "If the waves did
come at me, I could stand it. It's the coming--coming--coming--I can't
bear. It makes me ache here." She clutched at her throat and chest
again.

Captain Caldwell closed his eyes. He felt that he was beginning to
make this child's acquaintance, and wished he had tried to cultivate
it sooner.

"You shall not be whipped to-night, Beth," he said presently, looking
at her with a kindly smile.

Instantly an answering smile gleamed on the child's face, transfiguring
her; and, by the light of it, her father realised how seldom he had seen
her smile.

Unfortunately for Beth, however, while her countenance was still
irradiated, her mother swooped down upon her. Mrs. Caldwell had come
hurrying home in a rage in search of Beth; and now, mistaking that
smile for a sign of defiance, she seized upon her, and had beaten her
severely before it was possible to interfere. Beth, dazed by this
sudden onslaught, staggered when she let her go, and stretched out her
little hands as if groping for some support.

"It wasn't your fault!--it wasn't your fault!" she gasped, her first
instinct being to exonerate her father.

Captain Caldwell had started up and caught his wife by the arm.

"That's enough," he said harshly. "You are going altogether the wrong
way to work with the child. Let this be the last time, do you
understand? Beth, go to the nursery, and ask Anne to get you some tea."
A sharp pain shot through his head. He had jumped up too quickly, and
now fell back on the sofa with a groan.

"Oh, let me brush it again," Beth cried, in an agony of sympathy.

Her father opened his haggard eyes and smiled.

"Go to the nursery, like a good child," he said, "and get some tea."

Beth went without another word. But all that evening her mind was with
her parents in the sitting-room, wondering--wondering what they were
saying to each other.



CHAPTER VIII


Next day Beth jumped out of bed early, and washed herself all over, in
an excess of grateful zeal, because she was to be taken out on the
car. As soon as she had had her breakfast, she ran into the yard to
feed her magpie. Its perch was in a comfortable corner sheltered by
the great turf-stack which had been built up against the wall that
divided the Caldwells' yard from that of Pat Murphy, the farrier.
Beth, in wild spirits, ran round the stack, calling "Mag, Mag!" as she
went. But Mag, alas! was never more to respond to her call. He was
hanging by the leg from his perch, head downward, wings outstretched,
and glossy feathers ruffled; and below him, on the ground, some stones
were scattered which told the tale of cruelty and petty spite.

Beth stood for a moment transfixed; but in that moment the whole thing
became clear to her--the way in which the deed was done, the man that
did it, and his motive. She glanced up to the top of the high wall,
and then, breathing thick through her clenched teeth, in her rage she
climbed up the turf-stack with the agility of a cat, and looked over
into the farrier's yard.

"Come out of that, Pat Murphy, ye black-hearted, murthering villain,"
she shrieked. "I see ye skulking there behind the stable-door. Come
out, I tell ye, and bad luck to you for killing my bird."

"Is it me, miss?" Pat Murphy exclaimed, appearing with an injured and
innocent look on his face. "Me kill yer burrd! Shure, thin, ye never
thought such a thing uv me!"

"Didn't I, thin! and I think it still," Beth cried. "Say, 'May I never
see heaven if I kilt it'--or I'll curse ye."

"Ah, thin, it isn't such bad language ye'd hev me be using, and you a
young lady, Miss Beth," said Pat in a wheedling tone.

"'Deed, thin, it is, Pat Murphy; but I know ye daresn't say it," said
Beth. "Oh, bad luck to ye! bad luck to ye every day ye see a wooden
milestone, and twice every day ye don't. And if ye killed my bird, may
the devil attend ye, to rob ye of what ye like best wherever ye are."

She slid down the stack when she had spoken, and found her father
standing at the bottom, looking at the dead bird with a heavy frown on
his dark face. He must have heard Beth's altercation with Murphy, but
he made no remark until Mrs. Caldwell came out, when he said something
in Italian, to which she responded, "The cowardly brute!"

Beth took her bird, and buried it deep in her little garden, by which
time the car was ready. She had not shed a tear, nor did she ever
mention the incident afterwards; which was characteristic, for she was
always shy of showing any feeling but anger.

Captain Caldwell had a wild horse called Artless, which few men would
have cared to ride, and fewer still have driven. People wondered that
he took his children out on the car behind such an animal, and perhaps
he would not have done so if he had had his own way, but Mrs. Caldwell
insisted on it.

"They've no base blood in them," she said; "and I'll not have them
allowed to acquire any affectation of timidity."

Artless was particularly fresh that morning. He was a red chestnut,
with a white star on his forehead, and one white stocking.

When Beth returned to the stable-yard she found him fidgeting between
the shafts, with his ears laid back, and the whites of his wicked eyes
showing, and Riley struggling with his head in a hard endeavour to
keep him quiet enough for the family to mount the car. Captain and
Mrs. Caldwell and Mildred were already in their seats, and Beth
scrambled up to hers unconcernedly, although Artless was springing
about in a lively manner at the moment. Beth sat next her father, who
drove from the side of the car, and then they were ready to be off as
soon as Artless would go; but Artless objected to leave the yard, and
Riley had to lead him round and round, running at his head, and
coaxing him, while Captain Caldwell gathered up the reins and held the
whip in suspense, watching his opportunity each time they passed the
gate to give Artless a start that would make him bound through it.
Round and round they went, however, several times, with Artless
rearing, backing, and plunging; but at last the whip came down at the
right moment, just the slightest flick, Riley let go his head, and out
he dashed in his indignation, the battle ending in a wild gallop up
the street, with the car swinging behind him, and the whole of the
Irish side of the road out cheering and encouraging, to the children's
great delight. But their ebullition of glee was a little too much for
their father's nerves.

"These children of yours are perfect little devils, Caroline!" he
exclaimed irritably. Mrs. Caldwell smiled as at a compliment. She had
been brought up on horseback herself, and insisted on teaching the
children to regard danger as a diversion--not that that was difficult,
for they were naturally daring. She would have punished them promptly
on the slightest suspicion of timidity. "Only base-born people were
cowardly," she scornfully maintained. "No lady ever shows a sign of
fear."

Once, when they were crossing Achen sands, a wide waste, innocent of
any obstacle, Artless came down without warning, and Mildred uttered
an exclamation.

"Who was it made that ridiculous noise?" Mrs. Caldwell asked, looking
hard at Beth.

Beth could not clear herself without accusing her sister, so she said
nothing, but sat, consumed with fiery indignation; and for long
afterwards she would wake up at night, and clench her little fists,
and burn again, remembering how her mother had supposed she was
afraid.

Artless went at breakneck speed that day, shied at the most unexpected
moments, bolted right round, and stopped short occasionally; but Beth
sat tight mechanically, following her own fancies. Captain Caldwell was
going to inspect one of the outlying coastguard stations; and they went
by the glen road, memorable to Beth because it was there she first felt
the charm of running water, and found her first wild violets and tuft of
primroses. The pale purple of the violets and the scent of primroses,
warm with the sun, were among the happy associations of that time. But
her delight was in the mountain-streams, with their mimic waterfalls and
fairy wells. She loved to loiter by them, to watch them bubbling and
sparkling over the rocks, to dabble her hands and feet in them, or to
lie her length upon the turf beside them, in keen consciousness of the
incessant, delicate, delicious murmur of the water, a sound which
conveyed to her much more than can be expressed in articulate speech. At
times too, when she was tired of loitering, she would look up and see
the mountain-top just above her, and begin to climb; but always when she
came to the spot, there was the mountain-top just as far above her as
before; so she used to think that the mountain really reached the sky.

When they returned, late that afternoon, Riley met them with a very
serious face, and told Captain Caldwell mysteriously that Pat Murphy's
horse was ill.

"What a d----d unfortunate coincidence," Captain Caldwell muttered to
his wife; and Beth noticed that her mother's face, which had looked
fresh and bright from the drive, settled suddenly into its habitual
anxious, careworn expression.

Beth loitered about the yard till her parents had gone in; then she
climbed the turf-stack, and looked over. The sick horse was tied to
the stable-door, and stood, hanging his head with a very woebegone
expression, and groaning monotonously. Murphy was trying to persuade
him to take something hot out of a bucket, while Bap-faced Flanagan
and another man, known as Tony-kill-the-cow, looked on and gave good
advice.

Beth's fury revived when she saw Murphy, and she laughed aloud
derisively. All three men started and looked up, then crossed
themselves.

"Didn't I tell ye, Pat!" Beth exclaimed. "Ye may save yourself the
trouble of doctoring him. He's as dead as my magpie."

Murphy looked much depressed. "Shure, Miss Beth, the poor baste done
ye no harm," he pleaded.

"No," said Beth, "nor my bird hadn't done you any harm, nor the cow
Tony cut the tail off hadn't done him any harm."

"I didn't kill yer burrd," Murphy asserted doggedly.

"We'll see," said Beth. "When the horse dies we'll know who killed the
bird. Then one of you skunks can try and kill me. But I'd advise you
to use a silver bullet; and if you miss, you'll be damned.--Blast ye,
Riley, will ye let me alone!"

Riley, hearing what was going on, and having called to her vainly to
hold her tongue, had climbed the stack himself, and now laid hold of
her. Beth struck him in the face promptly, whereupon he shook her, and
loosening her hold of the wall, began to carry her down--a perilous
proceeding, for the stack was steep, and Beth, enraged at the
indignity, doubled herself up and scratched and bit and kicked the
whole way to the ground.

"Ye little divil," said Riley, setting her on her feet, "ye'll get us
all into trouble wid that blasted tongue o' yours."

"Who's afraid?" said Beth, shaking her tousled head, and standing up
to Riley with her little fists clenched.

"If the divil didn't put ye out when he gave up housekeeping, I dunno
where you come from," Riley muttered as he turned away and stumped off
stolidly.

During the night the horse died, and Beth found when she went out next
day that the carcass had been dragged down Murphy's garden and put in
the lane outside. She climbed the wall, and discovered the farrier
skinning the horse, and was much disgusted to see him using his hands
without gloves on in such an operation. Her anger of the day before
was all over now, and she was ready to be on the usual terms of
scornful intimacy with Murphy.

"Ye'll never be able to touch anything to eat again with those hands,"
she said.

"Won't I, thin!" he answered sulkily, and without looking up. He was
as inconsequent as a child that resents an injury, but can be diverted
from the recollection of it by anything interesting, only to return to
its grievance, however, the moment the interest fails. "Won't I, thin!
Just you try me wid a bit o' bread-an'-butter this instant, an' see
what I'll do wid it."

Beth, always anxious to experiment, tore indoors to get some
bread-and-butter, and never did she forget the horror with which she
watched the dirty man eat it, with unwashed hands, sitting on the
horse's carcass.

That carcass was a source of interest to her for many a long day to
come. She used to climb on the wall to see how it was getting on, till
the crows had picked the bones clean, and the weather had bleached
them white; and she would wonder how a creature once so full of life
could become a silent, senseless thing, not feeling, not caring, not
knowing, no more to itself than a stone--strange mystery; and some day
_she_ would be like that, just white bones. She held her breath and
suspended all sensation and thought, time after time, to see what it
felt like; but always immediately there began a great rushing sound in
her ears as of a terrific storm, and that, she concluded, was death
coming. When he arrived then all would be blotted out.

       *       *       *       *       *

The country was in a very disturbed state, and it was impossible to
keep all hints of danger from the children's sharp ears. Beth knew a
great deal of what was going on and what might be expected, but then a
few chance phrases were already enough for her to construct a whole
story upon, and with wonderful accuracy generally. Her fine faculty of
observation developed apace at this time, and nothing she noticed now
was ever forgotten. She would curl up in the window-seat among the
fuchsias, and watch the people in the street by the hour together,
especially on Sundays and market-days, when a great many came in from
the mountains, women in close white caps with goffered frills, short
petticoats, and long blue cloaks; and men in tail-coats and
knee-breeches, with shillalahs under their arms, which they used very
dexterously. They talked Irish at the top of their voices, and
gesticulated a great deal, and were childishly quarrelsome. One
market-day, when Beth was looking out of the sitting-room window, her
mother came and looked out too, and they saw half-a-dozen countrymen
set upon a young Castletownrock man. In a moment their shillalahs were
whirling about his head, and he was driven round the corner of the
house. Presently he came staggering back across the road, blubbering
like a child, with his head broken, and the blood streaming down over
his face, which was white and distorted with pain. They had knocked
him down, and kicked him when he was on the ground.

"Oh! the cowards! the cowards!" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed. Beth felt
sick, but it was not so much what she saw as what she heard that
affected her--the man's crying, and the graphic description of the
nature and depth of the wound which another man, who had been present
while the doctor dressed it, stopping at the window, kindly insisted
on giving them, Mrs. Caldwell being obliged to listen courteously for
fear of making herself unpopular. The man's manner impressed
Beth--there was such a solemn joy in it, as of one who had just
witnessed something refreshing.

There were two priests in the place, Father Madden and Father John.
Captain Caldwell said Father Madden was a gentleman. He shook hands
with everybody, even with the curate and Mr. Macbean; but Father John
would not speak to a protestant, and used to scowl at the children
when he met them, and then Mildred would seize Bernadine's hand and
drag her past him quickly, because she hated to be scowled at; but
Beth always stopped and made a face at him. He used to carry a long
whip, and crack it at the people, and on Sunday mornings, if they did
not go to mass, he would patrol the streets in a fury, rating the
idlers at the top of his voice, and driving them on before him. Beth
used to glance stealthily at the chapel as she went to church; it had
the attraction of forbidden fruit for her, and of Father John's
exciting antics--nothing ever happened in church. Chapel she
associated with the papists, and not at all with Kitty, whose tender
teaching occupied a separate compartment of her consciousness
altogether. There she kept the "Blessed Mother" and the "Dear Lord"
for her comfort, although she seldom visited them now. Terms of
endearment meant a great deal to Beth, because no one used them
habitually in her family; in fact, she could not remember ever being
called dear in her life by either father or mother.

Since the day when she had run away from the great green waves,
however, her father had taken an interest in her. He often asked her
to brush his hair, and laughed very much sometimes at things she said.
He used to lie on the couch reading to himself while she brushed.

"Read some to me, papa," she said one day. He smiled and read a
little, not in the least expecting her to understand it, but she soon
showed him that she did, and entreated him to go on; so he gradually
fell into the habit of reading aloud to her, particularly the
"Ingoldsby Legends." She liked to hear them again and again, and would
clamour for her favourites. On one occasion when he had stopped, and
she had been sitting some time at the foot of the couch, with the
brush in her hand, she suddenly burst out with a long passage from
"The Execution"--the passage that begins:--

    "God! 'tis a fearsome thing to see
     That pale wan man's mute agony."

Captain Caldwell raised his eyebrows as she proceeded, and looked at
his wife.

"I thought a friend of ours was considered stupid," he said.

"People can do very well when they like," Mrs. Caldwell answered
tartly; "but they're too lazy to try. When did you learn that, Beth?"

"I didn't learn it," Beth answered.

"Then how do you know it?"

"It just came to me," Beth said.

"Then I wish your lessons would _just come_ to you."

"I wish they would," said Beth sincerely.

Mrs. Caldwell snapped out something about idleness and obstinacy, and
left the room. The day was darkening down, and presently Captain
Caldwell got up, lit a lamp at the sideboard, and set it on the
dining-table. When he had done so, he took Beth, and set her on the
table too. Beth stood up on it, laughing, and put her arm round his
neck.

"Look at us, papa!" she exclaimed, pointing at the window opposite.
The blinds were up, and it was dark enough outside for them to see
themselves reflected in the glass.

"I think we make a pretty picture, Beth," her father said, putting his
arm round her.

He had scarcely spoken, when there came a terrific report and a crash;
something whizzed close to Beth's head; and a shower of glass fell on
the floor. In a moment Beth had wriggled out of her father's arm, slid
from the table, and scrambled up on to the window-seat, scattering the
flower-pots, and slapping at her father's hand in her excitement, when
he tried to stop her.

"It's Bap-faced Flanagan--or Tony-kill-the-cow," she cried. "I can
see--O papa! why did you pull me back? Now I shall never know!"

The servants had rushed in from the kitchen, and Mrs. Caldwell came
flying downstairs.

"What is it, Henry?" she cried.

"The d----d scoundrels shot at me with the child in my arms," he
answered, looking in his indignation singularly like Beth herself in a
stormy mood. As he spoke he turned to the hall door, and walked out
into the street bareheaded.

"For the love of the Lord, sir," Riley remonstrated, keeping well out
of the way himself.

But Captain Caldwell walked off down the middle of the road alone
deliberately to the police station, his wife standing meanwhile on the
doorstep, with the light behind her, coolly awaiting his return.

"Pull down the blind in the sitting-room, Riley, and keep Miss Beth
there," was all she said.

Presently Captain Caldwell returned with a police-officer and two men.
They immediately began to search the room. The glass of a picture had
been shattered at the far end. Riley pulled the picture to one side,
and discovered something imbedded in the wall behind, which he picked
out with his pocket-knife and brought to the light. It looked like a
disc all bent out of shape. He turned it every way, examining it, then
tried it with his teeth.

"I thought so," he said significantly. "It wouldn't be yer honour
they'd be afther wid a silver bullet. I heard her tell 'em herself to
try one."

"And I said if they missed they'd be damned," Beth exclaimed
triumphantly.

"Beth!" cried her mother, seizing her by the arm to shake her, "how
dare you use such a word?"

"I heard it in church," said Beth, in an injured tone.

"Look here, Beth," said her father, rescuing her from her mother's
clutches, and setting her on the table--he had been talking aside with
the police officer--"I want you to promise something on your word of
honour as a lady, just to please me."

Beth's countenance dropped: "O papa!" she exclaimed, "it's something I
don't want to promise."

"Well, never mind that, Beth," he answered. "Just promise this one
thing to please me. If you don't, the people will try and kill you."

"I don't mind that," said Beth.

"But I do--and your mother does."

Beth gave her mother a look of such utter astonishment, that the poor
lady turned crimson.

"And perhaps they'll kill me too," Captain Caldwell resumed. "You see
they nearly did to-night."

This was a veritable inspiration. Beth turned pale, and gasped: "I
promise!"

"Not so fast," her father said. "Never promise anything till you hear
what it is. But now, promise you won't say bad luck to any of the
people again."

"I promise," Beth repeated; "but"--she slid from the table, and nodded
emphatically--"but when I shake my fist and stamp my foot at them
it'll mean the same thing."

It was found next morning that Bap-faced Flanagan and Tony-kill-the-cow
had disappeared from the township; but Murphy remained; and Beth was not
allowed to go out alone again for a long time, not even into the garden.
All she knew about it herself, however, was, that she had always either
a policeman or a coastguardsman to talk to, which added very much to her
pleasure in life, and also to Anne's.



CHAPTER IX


One of the interests of Captain Caldwell's life was his garden. He
spent long hours in cultivating it, and that summer his vegetables,
fruits, and flowers had been the wonder of the neighbourhood. But now
autumn had come, vegetables were dug, fruits gathered, flowers
bedraggled; and there was little to be done but clear the beds, plant
them with bulbs, and prepare them for the spring.

Now that Captain Caldwell had made Beth's acquaintance, he liked to
have her with him to help him when he was at work in the garden, and
there was nothing that she loved so much.

One day they were at work together on a large flower-bed. Her father
was trimming some rose-bushes, and she was kneeling beside him on a
little mat, weeding.

"I'm glad I'm not a flower," she suddenly exclaimed, after a long
silence.

"Why, Beth, flowers are very beautiful."

"Yes, but they last so short a time. I'd rather be less beautiful, and
live longer. What's your favourite flower, papa?"

She had stopped weeding for the moment, but still sat on the mat,
looking up at him. Captain Caldwell clipped a little more, then
stopped too, and looked down at her.

"I don't get a separate pleasure from any particular flower, Beth;
they all delight me," he answered.

Beth pondered upon this for a little, then she asked, "Do you know
which I like best? Hot primroses." Captain Caldwell raised his
eyebrows interrogatively. "When you pick them in the sun, and put them
against your cheek, they're all warm, you know," Beth explained; "and
then they _are_ good! And fuchsias are good too, but it isn't the same
good. You know that one in the sitting-room window, white outside and
salmon-coloured inside, and such a nice shape--the flowers--and the
way they hang down; you have to lift them to look into them. When I
look at them long, they make me feel--oh--feel, you know--feel that I
could take the whole plant in my arms and hug it. But fuchsias don't
scent sweet like hot primroses."

"And therefore they are not so good?" her father suggested, greatly
interested in the child's attempt to express herself. "They say that
the scent is the soul of the flower."

"The scent is the soul of the flower," Beth repeated several times;
then heaved a deep sigh of satisfaction. "I want to sing it," she
said. "I always want to sing things like that."

"What other 'things like that' do you know, Beth?"

    "The song of the sea in the shell,
       The swish of the grass in the breeze,
     The sound of a far-away bell,
       The whispering leaves on the trees,"

Beth burst out instantly.

"Who taught you that, Beth?" her father asked.

"Oh, no one taught me, papa," she answered. "It just came to me--like
this, you know. I used to listen to the sea in that shell in the
sitting-room, and I tried and tried to find a name for the sound, and
all at once _song_ came into my head--_The song of the sea in the
shell_. Then I was lying out here on the grass when it was long,
before you cut it to make hay, and you came out and said, 'There's a
stiff breeze blowing.' And it blew hard and then stopped, and then it
came again; and every time it came the grass went--swish-h-h! _The
swish of the grass in the breeze._ Then you know that bell that rings
a long way off, you can only just hear it out here--_The sound of a
far-away bell_. Then the leaves--it _was_ a long time before anything
came that I could sing about them. I used to try and think it, but you
can't sing a thing you think. It's when a thing comes, you can sing
it. I was always listening to the leaves, and I always felt they were
doing something; then all at once it came one day. Of course they were
whispering--_The whispering leaves on the trees_. That was how they
came, papa. At first I used to sing them by themselves; but now I sing
them all together. You can sing them three different ways--the way I
did first, you know, then you can put _breeze_ first--

    The swish of the grass in the breeze,
    The whispering leaves on the trees,
    The song of the sea in the shell,
    The sound of a far-away bell.

Or you can sing--

    The sound of a far-away bell,
      The whispering leaves on the trees,
      The swish of the grass in the breeze,
    The song of the sea in the shell.

Which way do you think the nicest?" She had rattled all this off as
fast as she could speak, looking and pointing towards the various
things she mentioned as she proceeded, the sea, the grass, the trees,
the distance; now she looked up to her father for an answer. He was
looking at her so queerly, she was filled with alarm. "Am I naughty,
papa?" she exclaimed.

"Oh no," he said, with a smile that reassured her. "I was just
thinking. I like to hear how 'things come' to you. You must always
tell me--when new things come. By the way, who told you that fuchsia
was salmon-coloured?"

"I _saw_ it was," she said, surprised that he needed to ask such a
question. "I saw it one day when we had boiled salmon for dinner.
Isn't it nice when you see that one thing's like another? I have a
pebble, and it's just the shape of a pear--now you know what shape it
is, don't you?" He nodded. "But if I said it's thick at one end and
thin at another, you wouldn't know what shape it is a bit, would you?"

"No, I should not," he answered, beginning to prune again,
thoughtfully. "Beth," he said presently, "I should like to see you
grow up."

"Shan't I grow up?" said Beth in dismay.

"Oh yes--at least I should hope so. But--it's not likely that _I_
shall be--looking on. But, Beth, I want you to remember this. When you
grow up, I think you will want to do something that only a few other
people can do well--paint a picture, write a book, act in a theatre,
make music--it doesn't matter what; if it comes to you, if you feel
you can do it, just do it. You'll not do it well all at once; but try
and try until you _can_ do it well. And don't ask anybody if they
think you can do it; they'll be sure to say no; and then you'll be
disheartened--What's disheartened? It's the miserable feeling you
would get if I said you would never be able to learn to play the
piano. You'd try to do it all the same, perhaps, but you'd do it
doubtfully instead of with confidence."

"What's confidence?" said Beth.

"You are listening to me now with confidence. It is as if you said, I
believe you."

"But I can't say 'I believe you' to arithmetic, if I want to do it."

"No, but you can say, I believe I can do it--I believe in myself."

"Is that confidence in myself?" Beth asked, light breaking in upon
her.

"That's it. You're getting quite a vocabulary, Beth. A vocabulary is
all the words you know," he added hastily, anticipating the inevitable
question.

Beth went on with her weeding for a little.

"And there is another thing, Beth, I want to tell you," her father
recommenced. "Never do anything unless you are quite sure it is the
right thing to do. It doesn't matter how much you may want to do it,
you mustn't, if you are not quite, quite sure it is right."

"Not even if I am just half sure?"

"No, certainly not. You must be quite, quite sure."

Beth picked some more weeds, then looked up at him again: "But, papa,
I shall never want to do anything I don't think right when I'm grown
up, shall I?"

"I'm afraid you will. Everybody does."

"Did _you_ want to, papa?" Beth asked in amazement.

"Yes," he answered.

"And did you do it?"

"Yes," he repeated.

"And what happened?"

"Much misery."

"Were you miserable?"

"Yes, very. But that wasn't the worst of it."

"What was the worst of it?"

"The worst of it was that I made other people miserable."

"Ah, that's bad," said Beth, with perfect comprehension. "That makes
you feel so horrid inside yourself."

"Well, Beth, just you remember that. You can't do wrong without making
somebody else miserable. Be loyal, be loyal to yourself, loyal to the
best that is in you; that means, be as good as your friends think you,
and better if you can. Tell the truth, live openly, and stick to your
friends; that's the whole of the best code of morality in the world.
Now we must go in."

As they walked down the garden together, Beth slipped her dirty little
hand into his, and looked up at him: "Papa," she said solemnly, "when
you want to be with somebody always, more than with anybody else; and
want to look at him, and want to talk to him, and you find you can
tell him lots of things you couldn't tell anybody else if you tried,
you know; what does it mean?"

"It means you love him very much."

"Then I love you, papa, very much," she said, nestling her head
against his arm. "And it does make me feel so nice inside. But it
makes me miserable too," she added, sighing.

"How so?"

"When you have a headache, you know. I used only to be afraid you'd be
angry if I made a noise. But now I'm always thinking how much it hurts
you. I wake up often and often at night, and you are in my mind, and I
try and see you say, 'It's better,' or 'It's quite well.'"

"And what then, Beth?" her father asked, in a queer voice.

"Then I don't cry any more, you know."

She looked up at her father as she spoke, and saw that his eyes were
full of tears.



CHAPTER X


That was almost the last of those happy autumn days. Winter fell upon
the country suddenly with nipping cold. The mountains, always sombre,
lowered in great tumbled masses from under the heavy clouds that
seldom rose from their summits. Terrible gales kept the sea in
torment, and the voice of its rage and pain filled Castletownrock
without ceasing. Torrents of rain tore up the roads, and rendered them
almost impassable. There was stolid endurance and suffering written on
every face out of doors, while within the people cowered over their
peat fires, a prey to hunger, cold, and depression. Draughts made
merry through the large rooms and passages in Captain Caldwell's
house; the wind howled in the chimneys, rattled at the windows, and
whistled at the keyholes, especially at night, when Beth would hide
her head under the bed-clothes to keep out the racket, or, in another
mood, lie and listen to it, and imagine herself out in the storm, till
her nerves were strung to a state of ecstatic tension, and her mind
fairly revelled in the sense of danger. When her father was at home in
the evening, she would sit still beside the fire in the sitting-room,
listening in breathless awe, and excitement wholly pleasurable, to the
gale raging without; but if Captain Caldwell had not returned, as
frequently happened now that the days were short, and the roads so
bad, well knowing the risks he ran, she would see the car upset a
hundred times, and hear the rattle of musketry in every blast that
shook the house, and so share silently, but to the full, the terrible
anxiety which kept her mother pacing up and down, up and down, unable
to settle to anything until he entered and sank into a seat, often so
exhausted that it was hard to rouse him to change his dripping
clothes. His duties, always honourably performed whatever the risk to
himself, were far too severe for him, and he was rapidly becoming a
wreck;--nervous, liverish, a martyr to headache, and a slave to
stimulants, although not a drunkard--he only took enough to whip him
up to his work. His digestion too had become seriously impaired, and
he had no natural appetite for anything. He was fond of his children,
and proud of them, but had hitherto been too irritable to contribute
anything to their happiness; on the contrary, his name was a terror to
them, and "Hush, papa has come in!" was enough at any time to damp
their wildest spirits. Now, however, he suffered more from depression
than from irritability, and would cower over the fire on stormy days
in a state of despondency which was reflected in every face, taking
no notice of any of them. The children would watch him furtively in
close silent sympathy, sitting still and whispering for fear of
disturbing him; and if perchance they saw him smile, and a look of
relief came into their mother's anxious face, their own spirits went
up on the instant. But everything was against him. The damp came up
from the flags in the sitting-room through the cocoanut matting and
the thick carpet that covered it, which it defaced in great patches.
Close to the fire the wires of the piano rusted, and had to be rubbed
and rubbed every day, or half the notes went dumb. The paper, a rare
luxury in those parts, began to drop from the walls. Great turf-fires
were constantly kept up, but the damp stole a march on them when they
smouldered in the night, and made mildew-marks upon everything.

Good food and cooking would have helped Captain Caldwell, but the food
was indifferent, and there were no cooks to be had in the country.
Biddy had never seen such a thing as a kitchen-range before she took
the situation, and when she first had to use the oven, she put the
turf on the bottom shelf in order to heat the top one. Mrs. Caldwell
made what were superhuman efforts to a woman of her training and
constitution, to keep the servants up to the mark, and grew grey in
the endeavour; but Mrs. Caldwell in the kitchen was like a racehorse
at the plough; and even if she had been a born housewife, she could
have done little with servants who would do nothing themselves except
under her eyes, and stole everything they could lay their hands on,
including the salt out of the salt-cellars between meals, if it were
not locked up.

Towards the end of January, Captain Caldwell was ill in bed; he had
wet cloths on his head, and seemed as if he could hardly speak. Beth
hung about his door all day, watching for opportunities to steal in.
Mamma always sent her away if she could, but if papa heard her, he
would whisper, "Let the child come in," and then mamma would let her
in, but would still look cross. And Beth sat at one side of the bed,
and mamma sat on the other, and no one spoke except papa sometimes;
only you could seldom understand what he said. And mamma cried, but
Beth did not. She ached too much inside for that. You can't cry when
you ache so much.

Beth day after day sat with her hands folded on her lap, and her feet
dangling from a chair that was much too high for her, watching her
father with an intensity of silent anxiety that was terrible to
witness in so young a child. Her mother might have beaten her to
death, but she could never have dislodged her from the room once she
had her father's leave to stay there. Mrs. Caldwell rarely beat her
now, however; she generally ignored her; so Beth came and went as she
chose. She would climb up on to the bed when there was nobody in the
room, and kiss the curls of papa's thick glossy black hair so softly
that he never knew, except once, when he caught her, and smiled. His
dark face grew grey in bed, and his blue eyes sunken and haggard; but
he battled it out that time, and slowly began to recover.

Beth was sitting in her usual place beside her father's bed one day
when the doctor came and discovered her. He was standing on the other
side of the bed, and exclaimed, "Why, it's all eyes!"

"Yes, it's a queer pixie," her father said. "But it's going to do
something some day, or _I'm_ much mistaken."

"It's going to make a nuisance of itself if you put such nonsense into
its head, or I'm much mistaken," Mrs. Caldwell observed.

"I shall _not_ make a nuisance of myself," Beth indignantly protested.

"I shall never be able to make you understand, Caroline," Captain
Caldwell exclaimed. "Little pitchers are generally bad enough, but
when there is large intelligence added to the long ears, they're the
devil."

Before the doctor left he said to Mrs. Caldwell, "We must keep our
patient amused, you know."

"O doctor!" Beth exclaimed, clasping her hands in her earnestness, "do
you think if Sophie Keene came?"

The doctor burst into a shout of laughter, in which Captain Caldwell
also joined. "Just stay here yourself, Beth," he said, when he had
recovered himself. "For amusement, neither Sophie Keene nor any one
else I ever knew could hold a candle to you."

"What's 'hold a candle to you'?" Beth instantly demanded.

And then there was more laughter, in which even Mrs. Caldwell joined;
and afterwards, when the doctor had gone, she actually patted Beth on
the back, and stroked her hair, which was the first caress Beth ever
remembered to have received from her mother.

"Now, mamma," she exclaimed, with great feeling, in the fulness of her
surprise and delight, "now I shall forget that you ever beat me."

Her mother coloured painfully.

Her father muttered something about a noble nature.

"And that was the child you never wanted at all!" slipped, with a ring
of triumph, from Mrs. Caldwell unawares--an interesting example of the
complexity of human feelings.

Captain Caldwell soon went back to his duty--all too soon for his
strength. The dreadful weather continued. Day after day he returned
soaking from some distant station to the damp and discomfort of the
house, and the ill-cooked, unappetising food, which he could hardly
swallow. And to all this was added great anxiety about the future of
his family. His boys were doing well at school by this time; but he
was not satisfied with the way in which the little girls were being
brought up. There was no order in their lives, no special time for
anything; and he knew the importance of early discipline. He tried to
discuss the subject with his wife, but she met his suggestions
irritably.

"There's time enough for that," she said. "_I_ had no regular lessons
till I was in my teens."

"But what answered with you may be disastrous to these children," he
ventured. "They are all unlike you in disposition, more especially
Beth."

"You spoil that child," Mrs. Caldwell protested. "And at any rate I
can do no more. I am run off my feet."

This was true, and Captain Caldwell let the subject drop. His patience
was exemplary in those days. He suffered severely both mentally and
physically, but never complained. The shadow was upon him, and he knew
it, but he met his fate with fortitude. Whatever his faults, they were
expiated in the estimation of all who saw him suffer now.

Mrs. Caldwell never realised how ill he was, but still she was uneasy,
and it was with intense relief that she welcomed a case of soups and
other nourishing delicacies calculated to tempt the appetite, which
arrived for him one day from one of his sisters in England.

"This is just what you want, Henry," she said, with a brighter look in
her face than he had seen there for months. "I shall soon have you
yourself again now."

Captain Caldwell's spirits also went up.

In the evening they were all together in the sitting-room. Mrs.
Caldwell was playing little songs for Mildred to sing, Baby Bernadine
was playing with her bricks upon the floor, and Beth as usual was
hanging about her father. He had shaken off his despondency, and was
quite lively for the moment, walking up and down the room, and making
merry remarks to his wife in Italian, at which she laughed a good
deal.

"Come, Beth, fetch 'Ingoldsby.' We shall just come to my favourite,
and finish the book before you go to bed," he said.

Beth brought the book, and then climbed up on his knee, and settled
there happily, with her head on his shoulder.

            "As I laye a-thynkynge, the golden sun was sinking,
             O merrie sang that Bird as it glitter'd on her breast,
                      With a thousand gorgeous dyes,
                      While soaring to the skies,
                     'Mid the stars she seem'd to rise,
                          As to her nest;

            As I laye a-thynkynge, her meaning was exprest:--
                     'Follow, follow me away,
                     It boots not to delay,'--
                     'Twas so she seemed to saye,
                        'HERE IS REST!'"

After he had read those last lines, there was a moment's silence, and
then Beth burst into a tempest of tears. "O papa--papa! No, no, no!"
she sobbed. "I couldn't bear it."

"What _is_ the matter with the child?" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed,
starting up.

"'The vision and the faculty divine,' I think," her father answered.
"Leave her to me."

       *       *       *       *       *

Beth was awake when Anne entered the nursery next morning to call the
children.

"Get up, and be good," Anne said. "Your pa's ill."

Mrs. Caldwell came into the nursery immediately afterwards, very much
agitated. She kissed Beth, and from that moment the child was calm;
but there settled upon her pathetic little face a terrible look of age
and anxiety.

When she was dressed, she ran right into her father's room before any
one could stop her. He was moaning--"O my head, my head! O my head, my
head!" over and over again.

"You mustn't stay here, little woman--not to-day," the doctor said.
"It will make your father worse if you do."

Beth stole from the room, and returned to the nursery. There, however,
she could still hear her father moaning, and she could not bear it, so
she took her prayer-book, by way of life-saving apparatus, and went
down to the kitchen to "see" what the servants were thinking--her own
significant expression. They were all strangely subdued. "Sit down,
Miss Beth," Biddy said kindly. "Sit down in the window there wid your
book if you want company. It's a sore heart you'll be having, or I'm
much mistaken."

Beth sat in the window the whole morning, reading prayers to herself,
while she watched and waited. The doctor sent Riley down from the
sick-room several times to fetch things, and each time Beth consulted
his countenance anxiously for news, but asked no questions. Biddy
tried to persuade her to eat, but the child could not touch anything.

Late in the afternoon Riley came down in a hurry.

"Is the master better, Pat?" Biddy demanded.

"'Deed, thin, he isn't," Riley replied; "and the doctor's sending me
off on the horse as hard as I can go for Dr. Jamieson."

"Och, thin, if the doctor's sending you for Dr. Jamieson it's all up.
He's niver sent for till the last. The Lord himself won't save him
now."

Beth shuffled over the leaves of her prayer-book hurriedly. She had
been crying piteously to God in her heart for hours to save her
father, and He had not heard; now she remembered that the servants
said if you read the Lord's Prayer backwards it would raise the devil.
Beth tried; but the invocation was unavailing. Before Riley could
saddle the horse, a message was sent down to stop him; and then Anne
came for Beth, and took her up to her father's room. The dreadful
sounds had ceased at last, and there was a strange silence in the
house. Mrs. Caldwell was sitting beside her husband's bed, rocking
herself a little as if in pain, but shedding no tears. Mildred was
standing with her arm round her mother's neck crying bitterly, while
Baby Bernadine gazed at her father wonderingly.

He was lying on his side with his arms folded. His eyes were shut, and
there was a lovely look of relief upon his face.

"I sent for you children," their mother said, "to see your father just
as he died. You must never forget him."

Ellis and Rickards, two of papa's men, were in the room, and Mrs.
Ellis too, and the doctor, and Riley, and Biddy, and Anne; and there
was a foot-bath, with steaming hot water in it, on the floor; some
mustard on the table; and the fire burnt brightly. These details
impressed themselves on Beth's mind involuntarily, as indeed did
everything else connected with that time. It seemed to her afterwards
as if she had seen everything and felt nothing for the moment--nothing
but breathless excitement and interest. Her grief was entirely
suspended.

Mrs. Ellis and the doctor led mamma down to the sitting-room; they
didn't seem to think that she could walk. And then Mrs. Ellis made her
some tea, and stood there, and coaxed her to drink it, just as if
mamma had been a child. Mrs. Caldwell sat on the big couch with her
back to the window, and Mildred sat beside her, with her arm round
her, crying all the time. Bernadine cried too, but it was because she
was hungry, and no one thought of giving her anything to eat. Beth
fetched her some bread-and-butter, and then she was good. People began
to arrive--Mr. Macbean, Captain and Mrs. Keene, the Smalls, the
curate--Father Madden even. He had heard the news out in the country,
and came hurrying back to pay his respects, and offer his condolences
to Mrs. Caldwell, and see if there was anything he could do. He hoped
it was not taking a liberty to come; but indeed he came in the fulness
of his heart, and because he couldn't help it, for he had known him
well, and a better man and truer gentleman never breathed. The widow
held out her hand to the priest, and looked up at him gratefully.

Beth opened the door for Mrs. Small, who exclaimed at once: "Oh, my
dear child, how is your poor mother? Does she cry at all? I do hope
she has been crying."

"No," Beth answered, "nobody cries but Mildred."

When Mrs. Small went in, Mrs. Caldwell spoke to her quite collectedly.
"He was taken ill at eight o'clock this morning with a dreadful pain
in his head," she told her. "He had suffered fearfully from his head
of late. I sent for the doctor at once. But nothing relieved him. From
ten o'clock he got worse and worse, and at four he was gone. He always
wished to die suddenly, and be spared a lingering illness. He has been
depressed of late, but this morning, early, he woke up quite brightly;
and last night he was wonderfully better. After the children had gone
to bed, he read aloud to me as he used to do in the old days; and he
looked so much more like his old self again that I thought a happier
time was coming. And so it was. But not for me."

"Poor lady!" Mrs. Small whispered. "It has been a fearful shock."

Mrs. Caldwell showed strength of character in the midst of the
overwhelming calamity which had fallen upon her with such awful
suddenness. She had a nice sense of honour, and her love was great;
and by the help of these she was enabled to carry out every wish of
her dead husband with regard to himself. He had had a fastidious
horror of being handled after death by the kind of old women who are
accustomed to lay out bodies, and therefore Mrs. Caldwell begged Ellis
and Rickards to perform that last duty for him themselves.

When the children went to bed, she took them to kiss their father. The
stillness of the chamber struck a chill through Beth, but she thought
it beautiful. The men had draped it in white, and decorated it with
evergreens, there being no flowers in season. Papa was smiling, and
looked serenely happy.

"Years ago he was like that," mamma said softly, as if she were
speaking to herself; "but latterly there has been a look of pain. I am
glad to see him so once more. You are at peace now--dearest." She
stroked his dark hair, and as she did so her hand showed white against
it.

The children kissed him; and then Mrs. Ellis persuaded mamma to come
and help her to put them to bed; and mamma taught them to say: "_Yea,
though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear
no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort
me._" She told them to remember they had learnt it on the day their
father died, and asked them to say it always in memory of him. Beth
believed for a long time that it was he who would walk with her
through the valley of the shadow, and in after years she felt sure
that her mother had thought so too.

Mrs. Ellis stayed all night, and slept with the children.

When their mother left them, Beth could not sleep. She had noticed how
cold her father was when she kissed him, and was distressed to think
he had only a sheet to cover him. The longer she thought of it, the
more wretched she became, especially when she contrasted the warmth
and softness of her own little bed with the hardness and coldness of
the one they had made up for him; and at last she could bear it no
longer. She sat up in bed and listened. She could hear by their
breathing that the other children were asleep, but she was not sure
about Mrs. Ellis. Very stealthily, therefore, she slipped out of bed,
and pulled off the clothes. She could only just clasp them in both
arms, but the nursery door was ajar, and she managed to open it with
her foot. It creaked noisily, and Beth waited, listening in suspense;
but nobody moved; so she slipped out into the passage. It was quite
dark there, and the floor felt very cold to her bare feet. She
stumbled down the passage, tripping over the bed-clothes as she went,
and dreading to be caught and stopped, but not afraid of anything
else. The door was open when she reached it, and there was a dim light
in the room. This was unexpected, and she paused to peep in before she
entered. Two candles were burning on a table at the foot of the bed.
Their flames flickered in a draught, and cast shadows on her father's
face, so that it seemed as if he moved and breathed again. Her mother
was kneeling beside the bed, with her face hidden on her husband's
breast, her left arm round him, while with the fingers of her right
hand she incessantly toyed with his hair. "Only last night," she was
saying, "only last night; oh, I cannot believe it!--perhaps I ought to
be glad--there will be no more pain for you--oh, my darling, I would
have given my life to save you a moment's pain--and I could do so
little--so little. Oh, if only you could come back to tell me that
your life had ever been the better for me, that I had not spoilt it
utterly, that I brought you some happiness." She raised her head and
looked into the tranquil face. The flickering shadows flitted across
it, but did not deceive her. She must ache on always for an answer
now--always, for ever. With a convulsive sob, she crawled up closer on
her knees, and laid her cheek beside his, but no tears came. She had
not wept at all that day.

Beth stood for a long time in the doorway, listening to her mother's
rambling talk, and watching her white fingers straying through her
father's hair. She hugged the bed-clothes close, but she had forgotten
why she came. She felt no cold; she held no thought; her whole being
was absorbed in the scene before her.

Presently, however, something that her mother said aroused her--"Cold,"
she was murmuring, "so cold. How you dreaded it too! You were always
delicate and suffering, yet you did more than the strongest men, for our
sakes. You never spared yourself. What you undertook to do, you did like
an honourable gentleman, neglecting nothing. You have died doing your
duty, as you wished to die. You have been dying all these months--and I
never suspected--I did not know--dying--killed by exposure--and
anxiety--and bad food. You came home hungry, and you could not eat what
I had to give you--cold, and I could not warm you--oh, the cruel, bitter
cold!"

Beth slipped up to her noiselessly.

"Mamma!"

Mrs. Caldwell started.

Beth held out the blankets--"to cover him."

Her mother caught her in her arms. "O my poor little child! my poor
little child!" she cried; and then at last she burst into tears.

       *       *       *       *       *

During the days that preceded her father's funeral, Beth did not miss
him. It was as if he were somewhere else, that was all--away in the
mountains--and was himself thinking, as Beth did continually, about the
still, cold, smiling figure that reposed, serenely indifferent to them
all, in his room upstairs. One day, what he had said about being laid
out by old women came into her head, and she wondered what he would have
looked like when they laid him out that he should have objected so
strongly to their seeing him. She was near the death-chamber at the
moment, and went in. No one was there, and she stood a long time looking
at the figure on the bed. It was entirely covered, but she had only to
lift the sheet and learn the secret. She turned it back from the placid
face, then stopped, and whispered half in awe, half in interrogation,
"Papa!" As she pronounced the word, the inhuman impulse passed and was
forgotten.

Hours later, Mrs. Ellis found her sitting beside him as she had so
often done during his illness, on that same chair which was too high
for her, her feet dangling, and her little hands folded in her lap,
gazing at him with a face as placidly set, save for the eyes, as his
own.

The next day they had all to bid him the long farewell. Mrs. Caldwell
stood looking down upon him, not wiping the great tears that welled up
painfully into her eyes, lest in the act she should blot out the dear
image and so lose sight of it for one last precious moment. She was an
undemonstrative woman, but the lingering way in which she touched him,
his hair, his face, his waxen hands, was all the more impressive for
that in its restrained tenderness.

Suddenly she uncovered his feet. They were white as marble, and
beautifully formed. "Ah, I feared so!" she exclaimed. "They put them
into hot water that day. I knew it was too hot, and I said so; he
seemed insensible, but I felt him wince--and see!" The scar of a scald
proved that she had been right. This last act, due to the fear that he
had been made to suffer an unnecessary pang, struck Beth in after
years as singularly pathetic.

It was not until after the funeral that Beth herself realised that she
had lost her father. When they returned, the house had been set in
order, and made to look as usual--yet something was missing. The
blinds were up, the sun was streaming in, the "Ingoldsby Legends" lay
on the sofa in the sitting-room. When Beth saw the book her eyes
dilated with a pang. It lay there, just as he had left it; but he was
in the ground. He would never come back again.

Suddenly the child threw herself on the floor in an agony of grief,
sobbing, moaning, writhing, tearing her hair, and calling aloud,
"Papa! papa! Come back! come back! come back!"

Mrs. Caldwell in her fright would have tried her old remedy of shaking
and beating; but Mrs. Ellis snatched the child up and carried her off
to the nursery, where she kept her for the rest of that terrible day,
rocking her on her knee most of the time, and talking to her about her
father in heaven, living the life eternal, yet watching over her
still, and waiting for her, until she fired Beth's imagination, and
the terrible grave was forgotten.

That night, however, and for many nights to come, the child started up
out of her sleep, and wept, and wailed, and tore her hair, and had
again to be nursed and comforted.



CHAPTER XI


Just like the mountains, all jumbled up together when you view them
from a distance, had Beth's impulses and emotions already begun to be
in their extraordinary complexity at this period; and even more like
the mountains when you are close to them, for then, losing sight of
the whole, you become aware of the details, and are surprised at their
wonderful diversity, at the heights and hollows, the barren wastes,
fertile valleys, gentle slopes, and giddy precipices--heights and
hollows of hope and despair, barren wastes of mis-spent time, fertile
valleys of intellectual accomplishment, gentle slopes of aspiration
undefined, and giddy precipices of passionate impulse and desperate
revolt. Genius is sympathetic insight made perfect; and it must have
this diversity if it is ever to be effectual--must touch on every
human experience, must suffer, and must also enjoy; great, therefore,
are its compensations. It feels the sorrows of all mankind, and is
elevated by them; whereas the pain of an individual bereavement is
rather acute than prolonged. Genius is spared the continuous gnawing
ache of the grief which stultifies; instead of an ever-present wearing
sense of loss that would dim its power, it retains only those hallowed
memories, those vivid recollections, which foster the joy of a great
yearning tenderness; and all its pains are transmuted into something
subtle, mysterious, invisible, neither to be named nor ignored--a
fertilising essence which is the source of its own heaven, and may
also contain the salvation of earth. So genius has no lasting griefs.

Beth utterly rejected all thought of her father in his grave, and even
of her father in heaven. When her first wild grief subsided, he
returned to her, to be with her, as those we love are with us always
in their absence, enshrined in our happy consciousness. She never
mentioned him in these days, but his presence, warm in her heart, kept
her little being aglow; and it was only when people spoke to her, and
distracted her attention from the thought of him, that she felt
disconsolate. While she could walk with him in dreams, she cared for
no other companionship.

It was a dreadful position for poor Mrs. Caldwell, left a widow--not
without friends, certainly, for the people were kind--but with none of
her own kith and kin, in that wild district, embarrassed for want of
money, and broken in health. But, as is usual in times of great
calamity, many things happened, showing both the best and the worst
side of human nature.

After Captain Caldwell's death, old Captain Keene, who had once held
the appointment himself, and was indebted to Captain Caldwell for much
kindly hospitality, went about the countryside telling people that
Captain Caldwell had died of drink. Some officious person immediately
brought the story to Mrs. Caldwell.

Mrs. Caldwell had the house on her hands, but the officer who was sent
to succeed Captain Caldwell would be obliged to take it, as there was
no other. He arrived one day with a very fastidious wife, who did not
like the house at all. There was no accommodation in it, no china
cupboard, nothing fit for a lady. She must have it all altered. From
the way she spoke, it seemed to Beth that she blamed her mother for
everything that was wrong.

Mrs. Caldwell said very little. She was suffering from a great
swelling at the back of her neck--an anthrax, the doctor called
it--and was not fit to be about at all, but her indomitable fortitude
kept her up. Mrs. Ellis had stayed to nurse her, and help with the
children. She and Mrs. Caldwell looked at each other and smiled when
the new officer's wife had gone.

"She's a very fine lady indeed, Mrs. Ellis," Mrs. Caldwell said,
sighing wearily.

"Yes, ma'am," Mrs. Ellis answered; "but people who have been used to
things all their lives think less about them."

Mrs. Ellis was very kind to the children, and when wet days kept Beth
indoors, she would stay with her, and study her with interest. She was
thin, precise, low-voiced, quiet in her movements, passionless, loyal;
and every time she took a mouthful at table, she wiped her mouth.

The doctor came every day to dress the abscess on Mrs. Caldwell's
neck, and every day he said that if it had not burst of itself he
should have been obliged to make a deep incision in it in the form of
a cross. Mildred and Beth were always present on these occasions,
fighting to be allowed to hold the basin. Mrs. Ellis wanted to turn
them out, but Mrs. Caldwell said: "Let them stay, poor little bodies;
they like to be with me."

The poor lady, ill as she was, had neither peace nor quiet. The yard
was full of great stones now, and stone-masons hammered at them from
early morning till late at night, chipping them into shape for the
alterations and additions to be made to the house; the loft was full
of carpenters preparing boards for flooring; the yard-gates were
always open, and people came and went as they liked, so that there was
no more privacy for the family. Mildred stayed indoors with her mother
a good deal; but Beth, followed by Bernadine, who had become her
shadow, was continually in the yard among the men, listening,
questioning, and observing. To Beth, at this time, the grown-up people
of her race were creatures with a natural history other than her own,
which she studied with great intelligence and interest, and sometimes
also with disgust; for, although she was so much more with the common
people, as she had been taught to call them, than with her own class,
she did not adopt their standards, and shrank always with innate
refinement from everything gross. No one thought of shooting her now.
She had not only lived down her unpopularity, but, by dint of her
natural fearlessness, her cheerful audacity of speech, and quick
comprehension, had won back the fickle hearts of the people, who
weighed her words again superstitiously, and made much of her. The
workmen, with the indolent, inconsequent Irish temperament which makes
it irksome to follow up a task continuously, and easier to do anything
than the work in hand, would break off to amuse her at any time. One
young carpenter--lean, sallow, and sulky--who was working for her
mother, interested her greatly. He was making packing-cases, and the
first one was all wrong, and had to be pulled to pieces; and the way
he swore as he demolished it, ripping out oaths as he ripped up the
boards, impressed Beth as singularly silly.

There was another carpenter at work in the loft, a little wizened old
man. He always brought a peculiar kind of yellow bread, and shared it
with the children, who loved it, and took as much as they wanted
without scruple, so that the poor old man must have had short-commons
himself sometimes. He could draw all kinds of things--fish with
scales, ships in full sail, horses, coaches, people--and Beth often
made him get out his big broad pencil and do designs for her on the
new white boards. When he was within earshot, the people in the yard
were particular about what they said before the children; if they
forgot themselves he called them to order, and silenced them
instantly, which surprised Beth, because he was the smallest man
there. There was one man, however, whom the old carpenter could never
suppress. Beth did not know how this man got his living. He came from
the village to gossip, wore a tweed suit, not like a workman's, nor
was it the national Irish dress. He had a red nose and a wooden leg,
and, after she knew him, for a long time she always expected a man
with a wooden leg to have a red nose, but, somehow, she never expected
a man with a red nose to have a wooden leg. This man was always
cheery, and very voluble. He used the worst language possible in the
pleasantest way, and his impervious good-humour was proof against all
remonstrance. What he said was either blasphemous or obscene as a
rule, but in effect it was not at all like the same thing from the
other men, because, with them, such language was the expression of
anger and evil moods, while with him it was the vehicle of thought
from a mind habitually serene.

Mrs. Caldwell was being hurried out of the house with indecent haste,
considering the state of her health and all the arrangements she had
to make; but she bore up bravely. She was touched one day by an offer
of help from Beth, and begged her to take charge of Bernadine and be a
little mother to her. Beth promised to do her best. Accordingly, when
Bernadine was naughty, Beth beat her, in dutiful imitation. Bernadine,
however, invariably struck back. When other interests palled, Beth
would encourage Bernadine to risk her neck by persuading her to jump
down after her from high places. She was nearly as good a jumper as
Beth, the great difference being that Beth always lit on her feet,
while Bernadine was apt to come down on her head; but it was this
peculiarity that made her attempts so interesting.

The yard very soon became a sociable centre for the whole idle place.
Any one who chose came into it in a friendly way, and lounged about,
gossiping, and inspecting the works in progress. Women brought their
babies, and sat about on the stones suckling them and talking to the
men--a proceeding which filled Beth with disgust, she thought it so
peculiarly indelicate.

Beth stood with her mother at the sitting-room window one day to see
the last of poor Artless, as he was led away on a halter by a strange
man, his glossy chestnut coat showing dappled in the sunshine, but his
wild spirit much subdued for want of corn. The first time they had
seen him was on the day of their arrival, when Captain Caldwell had
ridden out on him to meet them. Mrs. Caldwell burst into tears at the
recollection.

"He was the first evidence of promotion and prosperity," she said.
"But the promotion has been to a higher sphere, and I much fear that
the prosperity, like Artless himself, has departed for ever."

Mrs. Caldwell had decided to return to her own people in England, and
a few days later they started. She took the children to see their
father's grave the last thing before they left Castletownrock, and
stood beside it for a long time in silence, her gloveless hand resting
caressingly on the cold tombstone, her eyes full of tears, and a
pained expression in her face. It was the real moment of separation
for her. She had to tear herself away from her beloved dead, to leave
him lonely, and to go out alone herself, unprotected, unloved,
uncomforted, into the cold world with her helpless children. Poverty
was in store for her; that she knew; and doubtless she foresaw many
another trouble, and, could she have chosen, would gladly have taken
her place there beside the one who, with all his faults, had been her
best friend on earth.

Her cold, formal religion was no comfort to her in moments like these.
She was a pagan at heart, and where she had laid her dead, there, to
her mind, he would rest for ever, far from her. The lonely grave on
the wild west coast was the shrine towards which her poor heart would
yearn thereafter at all times, always. She had erected a handsome
tombstone on the hallowed spot, and was going away in her shabby
clothes, the more at ease for the self-denial she had had to exercise
in order to beautify it. The radical difference between herself and
Beth, which was to keep them apart for ever, was never more apparent
than at this moment of farewell. The other children cried, but Beth
remained an unmoved spectator of her mother's emotion. She hated the
delay in that painful place; and what was the use of it when her
father would be with them just the same when they got into the yellow
coach which was waiting at the gate to take them away? Beth's beloved
was a spirit, near at hand always; her mother's was a corpse in a
coffin, buried in the ground.

A little way out of Castletownrock the coach was stopped, and Honor
and Kathleen Mayne from the inn came up to the window.

"We walked out to be the last to say good-bye to you, Mrs. Caldwell,
and to wish you good luck," Kathleen said. "We were among the first to
welcome you when you came. And we've brought a piece of music for Miss
Mildred, if she will accept it for a keepsake."

Mrs. Caldwell shook hands with them, but she could not speak; and the
coach drove on. The days when she had thought the two Miss Maynes
presumptuous for young women in their position seemed a long way off
to her as she sat there, sobbing, but grateful for this last act of
kindly feeling.

Beth had been eager to be off in the yellow coach, but they had not
long started before she began to suffer. The moving panorama of
desolate landscape, rocky coast, rough sea, moor and mountain, with
the motion of the coach, and the smell of stale tobacco and beer in
inn-parlours where they waited to change horses, nauseated her to
faintness. Her sensitive nervous system received too many vivid
impressions at once; the intense melancholy of the scenes they passed
through, the wretched hovels, the half-clad people, the lean cattle,
and all the evidences of abject poverty, amid dreadful bogs under a
gloomy sky, got hold of her and weighed upon her spirits, until at
last she shrunk into her corner, pale and still, and sat with her eyes
closed, and great tears running slowly down her cheeks. These were her
last impressions of Ireland, and they afterwards coloured all her
recollections of the country and the people.

But the travellers came to a railway station at last, and left the
coach. There was a long crowded train just about to start; and Mrs.
Caldwell, dragging Beth after her by the hand, because she knew she
would stand still and stare about her the moment she let her go,
hurried from carriage to carriage, trying to find seats.

"I saw some," Beth said. "You've passed them."

Mrs. Caldwell turned, and, some distance back, found a carriage with
only two people in it, a gentleman whom Beth did not notice
particularly, and a lady, doubtless a bride, dressed in light
garments, and a white bonnet, very high in front, the space between
the forehead and the top being filled with roses. She sat upright in
the middle of the compartment, and looked superciliously at the weary,
worried widow, and her helpless children, in their shabby black, when
they stopped at the carriage door. It was her cold indifference that
impressed Beth. She could not understand why, seeing how worn they all
were and the fix they were in, she did not jump up instantly and open
the door, overjoyed to be able to help them. There were just four
seats in the carriage, but she never moved. Beth had looked up
confidently into her face, expecting sympathy and help, but was
repelled by a disdainful glance. It was Beth's first experience of the
wealthy world that does not care, and she never forgot it.

"That carriage is engaged," her mother exclaimed, and dragged her
impatiently away.

In the hotel in Dublin where they slept a night, they had the use of a
long narrow sitting-room, with one large window at the end, hung with
handsome, heavy, dark green curtains, quite new. The valance at the
top ended in a deep fringe of thick cords, and at the end of each cord
there was a bright ornamental thing made of wood covered with silks of
various colours. Beth had never seen anything so lovely, and on the
instant she determined to have one. They were high out of her reach;
but that was nothing if only she could get a table and chair under
them, and the coast clear. Fortune favoured her during the evening,
and she managed to secure one, and carried it off in triumph; and so
great was her joy in the colour, that she took it out of her pocket
whenever she had a chance next day, and gazed at it enraptured. On
their way to the boat Mildred caught her looking at it, and asked her
where she got it.

Beth explained exactly.

"But it's stealing!" Mildred exclaimed.

"Is it?" said Beth, in pleased surprise. She had never stolen anything
before, and it was a new sensation.

"But don't you know stealing is very wicked?" Mildred asked
impressively.

Beth looked disconcerted: "I never thought of that. I'll put it back."

"How can you? You'll never be there again," Mildred rejoined. "You've
done it now. You've committed a sin."

Beth slipped the bright thing into her pocket. "I'll repent," she
said, and seemed satisfied.

It was a lovely day, and the passage from Kingstown to Holyhead was so
smooth that everybody lounged about the deck, and no one was ill. Beth
was very much interested, first in the receding shore, then in the
people about her. There was one group in particular, evidently of
affluent people, dressed in a way that made her feel ashamed of her
own clothes for the first time in her life. But what particularly
attracted her attention were some bunches of green and purple grapes
which the papa of the party took out of a basket and began to divide.
Beth had never seen grapes before except in pictures, and thought they
looked lovely. The old gentleman gave the grapes to his family, but in
handing them, one little bunch fell on the deck. He picked it up,
looked at it, blew some dust off it; then decided that it was not
good enough for his own children, and handed it to Bernadine, who was
gazing greedily.

Beth dashed forward, snatched it out of her hand, and threw it into
the sea.

"We are not beggars!" she cried.

"Well done, little one," a gentleman who was sitting near exclaimed.
"Won't pick up the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table, eh?
That's a very proper spirit. And who may you be?"

"My father was a gentleman," Beth answered hotly.



CHAPTER XII


Uncle James Patten sent a landau to meet his sister and her family at
the station, on their arrival from Ireland. Mildred was the first to
jump in. She took the best seat, and sat up stiff and straight.

"I do love carriages and horses, mamma," she said, as they drove
through Rainharbour, the little north-country seaside place which was
henceforth to be their home. "I wonder which is to be our house. There
are several empty. Do you think it is that one?" She had singled out
one of the largest in the place.

"No," said Mrs. Caldwell rather bitterly, "more likely this," and she
indicated a tiny two-storied tenement, wedged in between tall houses,
and looking as if it had either got itself there by mistake, or had
been put in in a hurry, just to fill up.

"That _is_ the one," Beth said.

"How do you know?" Mildred snapped.

"Because we're going to live in Orchard Street, opposite the orchard;
and this is Orchard Street, and there's the orchard, and that's the
only house empty."

"I'm afraid the child is right," Mrs. Caldwell said with a sigh.
"However," she added, pulling herself up, "it is exceedingly kind of
Uncle James to give us a house at all."

"He might have given us something nicer," Mildred remarked
disdainfully.

"Oh!" Beth exclaimed, "he's given us the best he has, I expect. And
it's a dear little place, with a little bow-window on either side of a
little front door--just like the one where Snowdrop found the empty
beds when the bears were out."

"Don't talk nonsense, Beth," Mildred cried crossly.

But Beth hardly heard. She was busy peopling the quaint little town
with the friends of her fancy, and sat smiling serenely as she looked
about her.

They had to drive right through Rainharbour, and about a mile out
into the country on the other side, to arrive at Fairholm, Uncle James
Patten's place. The sun had set, and the quaintly irregular red-brick
houses, mellowed by age, shone warm in tint against the gathering grey
of the sky, which rose like a leaden dome above them. At one part of
the road the sea came in sight. Great dark mountainous masses of
cloud, with flame-coloured fringes, hung suspended over its shining
surface, in which they were reflected with what was to Beth terrible
effect. She sat and shivered with awe so long as the lurid scene was
in sight, and was greatly relieved when the carriage turned into a
country lane, and sea and sombre sky were blotted out.

It was early spring. Buds were bursting in the hedgerows, birds were
building, songsters sang among the branches, and the air was sweet and
mild. Fairholm lay all among fertile fields, well wooded and watered.
It was a typical English home, with surroundings as unlike the great,
bare, bald mountains and wild Atlantic seas Beth had hitherto
shuddered amongst, as peace is unlike war. Certain natures are
stimulated by the grandeur of such scenes; but Beth was too delicate
an instrument to be played upon so roughly. Storms within reflected
the storms without only too readily. She was tempest-tossed by
temperament, and, in nature, all her yearning was for repose; so that
now, as they drove up the well-ordered avenue to the house, the tender
tone of colour, green against quiet grey, and the easy air of
affluence, so soothing after the sorrowful signs of a hard struggle
for life by which her feelings had hitherto been harrowed, drew from
her a deep sigh of satisfaction.

The hall-door stood open, but no one was looking out for them. They
could hear the tinkle of a piano in the distance. Then a servant
appeared, followed by a stout lady, who came forward to greet them in
a hurried, nervous way.

"I'm glad to see you," she said, kissing Mrs. Caldwell. She spoke in a
breathless undertone, as if she were saying something wrong, and was
afraid of being caught and stopped before she had finished the
sentence. "I should like to have gone to meet you, but James said
there were too many for the carriage as it was. He says more than two
in the carriage makes it look like an excursion-party. But I was
listening for you, only I don't hear very well, you know. You remember
me, Mildred? This is Beth, I suppose, and this is Bernadine. You don't
know who I am? I am your Aunt Grace Mary. James begs you to excuse him
for a little, Caroline. It is his half-hour for exercises. So
unfortunate. If you had only come a little later! But, however, the
sooner the better for me. Come into the dining-room and see Aunt
Victoria. We must stay there until Uncle James has finished practising
his exercises in the drawing-room."

Great-Aunt Victoria Bench was sitting bolt upright on a high chair in
the dining-room, tatting. Family portraits, hung far too high all
round the room, seemed to have been watching her complacently until
the travellers entered, when they all turned instantly and looked hard
at Beth.

Aunt Victoria was a tall thin old lady, with a beautiful delicate
complexion, an auburn front and white cap, and a severely simple black
dress. She rose stiffly to receive Mrs. Caldwell, and kissed her on
both cheeks with restrained emotion. Then she shook hands with each of
the children.

"I hope you had a pleasant journey," she was beginning formally, when
Mrs. Caldwell suddenly burst into tears. "What is the matter,
Caroline?" Aunt Victoria asked.

"Oh, nothing," the poor lady answered in a broken voice. "Only it does
seem a sad home-returning--alone--without _him_--you know."

Aunt Grace Mary furtively patted Mrs. Caldwell on the back, keeping an
eye on Aunt Victoria the while, however, as if she were afraid of
being caught.

All this time the tinkle-tinkle-tinkle of "Hamilton's Exercises for
Beginners" on the piano had been going on; now it stopped. Aunt Grace
Mary slipped into a chair, and sat with a smile on her face; Aunt
Victoria became a trifle more rigid over her tatting; and Mrs.
Caldwell hurriedly wiped her eyes. Then the door opened deliberately,
and there entered a great stout man, with red hair sprinkled with
grey, large prominent light-coloured eyes, a nondescript nose, a wide
shapeless gash of a mouth, and a red moustache with straight bristly
hairs, like the bristles of a broom.

"How do you do, Caroline?" he said, holding out his big, fat, white
hand, and kissing her coldly on the forehead. He drawled his words out
with a decided lisp, and in a very soft voice, which contrasted oddly
with his huge bulk. Having greeted his sister, he turned and looked at
the children. Mildred went up and shook hands with him.

"Your sisters, I perceive, have no manners," he observed.

Beth had been beaming round blandly on the group; but upon that last
remark of Uncle James's the pleased smile faded from her face, and she
coloured painfully, and offered him a small reluctant hand.

"You are Elizabeth, I suppose?" he said.

"I am Beth," she answered emphatically.

She and Uncle James looked into each other's eyes for an instant, and
in that instant she made a most disagreeable impression of
fearlessness on the big man's brain.

"I hope, Caroline," he said precisely, "that you will not continue to
call your daughter by such an absurd abbreviation. That sort of thing
was all very well in the wilds of Ireland, but here we must have
something rational, ladylike, and recognised."

Mrs. Caldwell looked distressed. "It would be so difficult to call her
Elizabeth," she pleaded. "She is not at all--Elizabeth."

"You may call me what you like, mamma," Beth put in with decision;
"but I shall only answer to Beth. That was the name my father gave me,
and I shall stick to it."

Uncle James stared at her in amazement, but Beth, unabashed, stared
back obstinately; and so they continued staring until Aunt Grace Mary
made a diversion.

"James," she hurriedly interposed, "wouldn't they like some
refreshment?"

Uncle James pulled the bell-rope. "Bring wine and cake," he lisped,
when the servant answered.

Then he returned to his seat, crossed one great leg over the other,
folded his fat hands on his knee, and inspected his sister.

"You certainly do not grow younger, Caroline," he observed.

Mrs. Caldwell did not look cheered by the remark; and there was a
painful pause, broken, happily, by the arrival of the cake and wine.

"You will not take more than half a glass, I suppose, Caroline, at
_this_ time of the day," Uncle James said playfully, as he took up the
decanter; "and marsala, _not_ port. I know what ladies are."

Poor Mrs. Caldwell was exhausted, and would have been the better for a
good glass of port; but she meekly held her peace.

Then Uncle James cut the cake, and gave each of the children a very
small slice. Beth held hers suspended half-way to her mouth, and gazed
at her uncle.

"What _is_ that child staring at?" he asked her mother at last.

"I think she is admiring you," was Mrs. Caldwell's happy rejoinder.

"No, mamma, I am not," Beth contradicted. "I was just thinking I had
never seen anything so big in my life."

"_Anything!_" Uncle James protested. "What does she mean, Caroline?"

"I don't mean this slice of cake," Beth chuckled.

"Come, dear--come, dear," Aunt Grace Mary hurriedly interposed. "Come
upstairs, and see--and see--the pretty room you're to have. Come and
take your things off, like a good child."

Beth rose obediently, but before she followed her aunt out of the room
she said: "Here, Bernadine; you'd better have my slice. You'll howl if
you don't get enough. Cakes are scarce and dear here, I suppose."

Aunt Victoria had tatted diligently during this little scene. Now she
looked up over her spectacles and inspected Uncle James.

"I like that child," she said decidedly.

"In which respect I should think you would probably find yourself in a
very small minority," Uncle James lisped, spreading his mouth into
what would have been a smile in any other countenance, but was merely
an elongation of the lips in his.

Mrs. Caldwell rocked herself forlornly. Mildred nestled close to her
mother; while Baby Bernadine, with a slice of cake in each hand, took
a mouthful first from the right and then from the left, impartially.

Uncle James gazed at her. "I suppose that is an Irish custom," he said
at length.

"Bernadine! what are you doing?" Mrs. Caldwell snapped; and Bernadine,
startled, let both slices fall on the floor, and set up a howl with
her mouth full.

"Ah!" Uncle James murmured tenderly. "Little children are such darling
things! They make the sense of their presence felt the moment they
enter a house. It becomes visible also in the crumbs on the floor.
There is evidently nothing the matter with her lungs. But I should
have thought it would be dangerous to practise her voice like that
with the mouth full. Perhaps she would be more at her ease upstairs."
Mrs. Caldwell took the hint.

When the child had gone, Uncle James rang for a servant to sweep up
the cake and crumbs, and carefully stood over her, superintending.

"That will do," he said at length, "so far as the cake and crumbs are
concerned, but I beg you to observe that you have brushed the pile of
the carpet the wrong way."

Meanwhile Aunt Grace Mary had taken Beth up a polished staircase,
through a softly carpeted, airy corridor, at the end of which was a
large room with two great mahogany four-post beds, hung with brown
damask, the rest of the heavy old-fashioned furniture being to match.
All over the house there was a delicious odour of fresh air and
lavender, everything shone resplendent, and all was orderly to the
point of stiffness; nothing looked as if it had ever been used.

"This was your mamma's room when she was a girl," Aunt Grace Mary
confided to Beth. "She used to fill the house with her girl-friends,
and that was why she had such big beds. She used to be a very
high-spirited girl, your dear mamma was. You are all to sleep here."

"How good it smells," said Beth.

"Ah, that's the lavender. I often burn lavender. Would you like to see
me burn some lavender? Come to my room, then, and I'll show you. But
take your things off first."

Beth dragged off her hat and jacket and threw them aside. They
happened to fall on the floor.

"My dear child!" Aunt Grace Mary exclaimed, "look at your things!"

Beth looked at them, but nothing occurred to her; so she looked at her
aunt inquiringly.

"I always put mine away--at least I should, you know, if I hadn't a
maid," said Aunt Grace Mary.

"Oh, let your maid put mine away too," Beth answered casually.

"But, my dear child, you must learn," Aunt Grace Mary insisted,
picking up Beth's things and putting them in a drawer as she spoke.
"Who puts your things away at home?"

"Mamma," Beth answered laconically. "She says it's less trouble to do
things herself."

"Oh, but you must save your mother the trouble, dear," said Aunt Grace
Mary in a shocked tone.

"Well, I will next time--if I remember," Beth rejoined. "Come and burn
lavender."

For the next few days, which happened to be very fine, Beth revelled
out of doors. Everything was a wonder and a joy to her in this fertile
land, the trees especially, after the bleak, wild wastes to which she
had been accustomed in the one stormy corner of Ireland she knew.
Leaves and blossoms were just bursting out, and one day, wandering
alone in the grounds, she happened unawares upon an orchard in full
bloom, and fairly gasped, utterly overcome by the first shock of its
beauty. For a while she stood and gazed in silent awe at the white
froth of flowers on the pear-trees, the tinted almond blossom, and the
pink-tipped apple. She had never dreamed of such heavenly loveliness.
But enthusiasm succeeded to awe at last, and, in a wild burst of
delight, she suddenly threw her arms around a gnarled tree-trunk and
clasped it close.

There was a large piece of artificial water in the grounds, in which
were three green islands covered with trees and shrubs. Beth was
standing on the bank one morning in a contemplative mood, admiring the
water, and yearning for a boat to get to the islands, when round one
of them, unexpectedly, a white wonder of a swan came gliding towards
her in the sunshine.

"Oh, oh! Mildred! Mildred! Oh, the beautiful, beautiful thing!" she
cried. Mildred came running up.

"Why, Beth, you idiot," she exclaimed in derision, "it's only a swan.
I really thought it _was_ something."

"Is that a swan?" Beth said slowly; then, after a moment, she added,
in sorrowful reproach: "O Mildred! you had seen it and you never told
me."

Alas, poor Mildred! she had not seen it, and never would see it, in
Beth's sense of the word.

On wet days, when they had to be indoors, Aunt Grace Mary waylaid Beth
continually, and trotted her off somewhere out of Uncle James's way.
She would take her to her own room sometimes, a large, bright
apartment, spick-and-span like the rest of the house; and show her the
pictures--pastels and water-colours chiefly--with which it was stiffly
decorated.

"That was your uncle when he was a little boy," she said, pointing to
a pretty pastel.

"Why, he was quite a nice little boy," Beth exclaimed.

"Yes, nice and plump," Aunt Grace Mary rattled off breathlessly. "And
your grandmamma did those water-colours and those screens. That lovely
printing too; can you guess how she did it? With a camel's hair brush.
She did indeed. And she used to compose music. She was a very clever
woman. You are very like her."

"But I am not very clever," said Beth.

"No, dear; no, dear," Aunt Grace Mary rejoined, pulling herself up
hurriedly from this indiscretion. "But in the face. You are very like
her in appearance. And you must try. You must try to improve yourself.
Your uncle is always trying to improve himself. He reads 'Doctor
Syntax' aloud to us. In the evening it is our custom to read aloud and
converse."

An occasional phrase of Uncle James's would flow from Aunt Grace Mary
in this way, with incongruous effect.

"Do you try to improve yourself?" Beth asked.

"Yes, dear."

"How?"

"Oh, well--that reminds me. I must write a letter. You shall stay and
see me if you like. But you mustn't move or speak."

Beth, deeply interested, watched her aunt, who began by locking the
door. Then she slipped a pair of spectacles out of her pocket, and put
them on, after glancing round apprehensively as if she were going to
do something wrong. Then she sat down at a small bureau, unlocked a
drawer, and took out a little dictionary, unlocked another drawer and
took out a sheet of notepaper, in which she inserted a page of black
lines. Then she proceeded to write a letter in lead-pencil, stopping
often to consult the dictionary. When she had done, she took out
another sheet of a better quality, put the lines in it, and proceeded
to copy the letter in ink. She blotted the first attempt, but the next
she finished. She destroyed several envelopes also before she was
satisfied. But at last the letter was folded and sealed, and then she
carefully burnt every scrap of paper she had spoiled.

"I was educated in a convent in France," she said to Beth. "If you
were older you would know that by my handwriting. It is called an
Italian hand, but I learnt it in France. I was there five years."

"What else did you learn?" said Beth.

"Oh--reading. No--I could read before I went. But music, you know, and
French."

"Say some French," said Beth.

"Oh, I can't," Aunt Grace Mary answered. "But I can read it a little,
you know."

"I should like to hear you play," said Beth.

"But I don't play," Aunt Grace Mary rejoined.

"I thought you said you learnt music."

"Oh yes. I had to learn music; and I practised for hours every day;
but I never played."

Aunt Grace Mary smiled complacently as she spoke, took off her
spectacles, and locked up her writing materials--Beth, the while,
thoughtfully observing her. Aunt Grace Mary's hair was a wonderful
colour, neither red, yellow, brown, nor white, but a mixture of all
four. It was parted straight in the middle, where it was thin, and
brought down in two large rolls over her ears. She wore a black velvet
band across her head like a coronet, which ended in a large black
velvet bow at the back. Long heavy gold ear-rings pulled down the
lobes of her ears. All her dresses were of rustling silk, and she had
a variety of deep lace-collars, each one of which she fastened with a
different brooch at the throat. She also wore a heavy gold watch-chain
round her neck, the watch being concealed in her bosom; and jet
bracelets by day, but gold ones in the evening.

       *       *       *       *       *

Beth was deeply interested in her own family history, and
intelligently pieced together such fragments of it as she could
collect from the conversations of the people about her. She was
sitting in one of the deep window-seats in the drawing-room looking
out one day, concealed by a curtain, when her mother and Great-Aunt
Victoria Bench came into the room, and settled themselves to chat and
sew without observing her.

"Where is Grace Mary?" Aunt Victoria asked.

"Locked up in her own room writing a letter, I believe," Mrs. Caldwell
replied, "a long and mysterious proceeding. We shall not see her again
this morning, I suppose."

"Ah, well," said Aunt Victoria considerately, "she writes a very
beautiful hand."

"James thought he was doing so well for himself, too!" Mrs. Caldwell
interjected. "He'd better have married the mother."

"There was the making of a fine woman in Grace Mary if she had had a
chance," Aunt Victoria answered, pursing up her mouth judicially. "It
was the mother made the match. When he came across them in
Switzerland, Lady Benyon got hold of him, and flattered him, made him
believe Grace Mary was only thirty-eight, not too old for a
son-and-heir, but much too old for a large family. She was really
about fifty; but he never thought of looking up her age until after
they were married. However, James got one thing he likes, and more
than he deserved; for Grace Mary is amiable if she's ignorant; and I
should say had tact, though some people might call it cunning. But, at
any rate, she's the daughter of one baronet and the sister of
another."

"What's a baronet?" Beth demanded, tumbling off the window-seat on to
the floor with a crash as she spoke, having lost her balance in
peering round the curtain.

Both ladies jumped, quite contrary to their principles.

"You naughty child, how dare you?" Mrs. Caldwell began.

Beth picked herself up. "I want to know," she interrupted.

"You've been listening."

"No, I've not. I was here first, and you came and talked. But that
doesn't matter. I shan't tell. What's a baronet?"

Aunt Victoria explained, and then turned her out of the room. Uncle
James was crossing the hall at the moment; he had a large bunch of
keys in his hand, and went through the double-doors which led to the
kitchen and offices. Beth followed him into the kitchen. The cook, an
old servant, came forward curtseying. The remains of yesterday's
dinner, cold roast beef, tongue, chicken, and plum-pudding, were
spread out on the table. Uncle James inspected everything.

"For luncheon," he said, "the beef can remain cold on the sideboard,
also the tongue. The chicken you will grill for one hot dish, and do
not forget to garnish with rolls of bacon. The pudding you can cut
into slices, fry, and sprinkle with a little sifted sugar. Mind, I say
a little; for, as the pudding is sweet enough already, the sugar is
merely an ornament to make it agreeable to the eye. For the rest, as
usual."

"Yes, sir. And dinner, sir?"

"Here is the _menu_." He handed her a paper. "I will give you out what
is necessary."

He led the way down a stone passage to the store-room door, which he
unlocked.

"I am out of sifted sugar, sir," the cook said nervously.

"What, again?" Uncle James sternly demanded. "This is only Thursday,
and I gave you some out on Saturday."

"Yes, sir, but only a quarter of a pound, sir, and I had to use it for
the top of the rice-pudding, and the pancakes, and the Charlotte
Russe, and the plum-pudding----"

"How?" said Uncle James--"the plum-pudding, which is not yet fried?"

"Beg pardon, sir. I'm all confused. But, however," she added
desperately, "the sugar is done."

"Well, I suppose I must give you some more this time. But do not let
it occur again. You may weigh out a quarter of a pound."

When that was done, Uncle James consulted a huge cookery-book which
lay on a shelf in the window. "We shall require another cake for tea,"
he said, and then proceeded to read the recipe aloud, keeping an
observant eye upon the cook as she weighed out the various
ingredients.

"And the kitchen meals, sir?" she asked, as he locked up the
store-room.

"Make what you have do," he said, "make what you have do."

"But there is hardly meat enough to go round once, sir."

"You must make it do. People are much healthier and happier when they
do not eat too much."

This ceremony over, he went to the poultry-yard, followed by Beth (who
carefully kept in the background), the yard-boy, and the poultry-maid
who carried some corn in a sieve, which she handed to her master when
he stopped. Uncle James scattered a little corn on the ground, calling
"chuck! chuck! chuck!" at the same time, in a dignified manner.
Chickens, ducks, turkeys and guinea-fowl collected about him, and he
stood gazing at them with large light prominent eyes, blandly, as if
he loved them--as indeed he did when they appeared like ladies at
table, dressed to perfection.

"That guinea-fowl!" he decided, after due consideration.

The yard-boy caught it and gave it to the poultry-maid, who held it
while Uncle James carefully felt its breast.

"That will do," he said. "Quite a beauty."

The yard-boy took it from the poultry-maid, tied its legs together,
cut its throat, and hung it on a nail.

"That drake!" Uncle James proceeded. The same ceremony followed, Uncle
James bearing his part in it without any relaxation of his grand
manner.

When a turkey-poult had also been executed, he requested the yard-boy
to fetch him his gun from the harness-room.

"We must have a pigeon-pie," he observed as he took it.

Beth, in great excitement, stalked him to the orchard, where there was
a big pigeon-house covered with ivy. In front of it the pigeons had a
good run, enclosed with wire netting when they were shut in; but they
were often let out to feed in the fields. The yard-boy now reached up
and opened a little door in the side of the house. As he did so he
glanced at Uncle James somewhat apprehensively. Uncle James, with a
benign countenance, suddenly lifted his gun and fired. The yard-boy
dropped.

"What is the matter?" said Uncle James.

The yard-boy gathered himself up with a very red face. "I thought you
meant to shoot me, sir."

Uncle James smiled gently. "May I ask when it became customary for
gentlemen to shoot yard-boys?" he said.

"Beg pardon, sir," the boy rejoined sheepishly. "There's accidents
sometimes."

The pigeons were wary after the shot, and would not come out, so the
yard-boy had to go into the house and drive them. There was a shelf in
front of the little door, on which they generally rested a moment,
bewildered, before they flew. Uncle James knew them all by sight, and
let several go, as being too old for his purpose. Then, standing
pretty close, he shot two, one after the other, as they stood
hesitating to take flight. While loading again, he discovered Beth;
but as he liked an audience when he was performing an exploit, he was
quite gracious.

"Nothing distinguishes a gentleman more certainly than a love of
sport," he observed blandly, as he shot another pigeon sitting.

This entertainment over, he looked at his watch. He had the whole day
divided into hours and half-hours, each with its separate occupation
or recreation; and nothing short of a visit from some personage of
importance was ever allowed to interrupt him in any of his pursuits.
For recreation he sometimes did a little knitting or a piece of Berlin
woolwork, because, he said, a gentleman should learn to do everything,
so as not to be at a loss if he were ever wrecked on a desert island.
For the same reason, he had also trained himself to sleep at odd
times, and in all sorts of odd places, choosing by preference some
corner where Aunt Grace Mary and the maids would least expect to find
him, the consequence being wild shrieks and shocks to their nerves,
such as, to use his own bland explanation, might be expected from
undisciplined females. Beth found him one day spread out on a large
oak chest in the main corridor upstairs, with two great china vases,
one at his head and one at his feet, filled with reeds and bulrushes,
which appeared to be waving over him, and looking in his sleep, with
his cadaverous countenance, like a self-satisfied corpse. She had been
on her way downstairs to dispose of the core of an apple she had
eaten; but, as Uncle James's mouth was open, she left it there.

Uncle James was wont to deliver little lectures to the children, for
the improvement of their minds, during luncheon, which was their
dinner-hour.

"With regularity and practice you may accomplish great things," he
said on one occasion. "I myself always practise 'Hamilton's Exercises'
on the pianoforte for one hour every day, from half-past ten till
eleven, and from half-past three till four. I have done so now for
many years."

Beth sat with her spoon suspended half-way up to her mouth, drinking
in these words of wisdom. "And when will you be able to play?" she
asked.

Uncle James fixed his large, light, ineffectual eyes upon her; but, as
usual, this gaze direct only excited Beth's interest, and she returned
it unabashed in simple expectation of what was to follow. So Uncle
James gave in, and to cover his retreat he said: "Culture. Cultivate
the mind. There is nothing that elevates the mind like general
cultivation. It is cultivation that makes us great, good, and
generous."

"Then, I suppose, when your mind is cultivated, Uncle James, you will
give mamma more money," Beth burst out hopefully.

Uncle James blinked his eyes several times running, rapidly, as if
something had gone wrong with them.

"Beth, you are talking too much; go to your room _at once_, and stay
there for a punishment," her mother exclaimed nervously.

Beth, innocent of any intent to offend, looked surprised, put down her
spoon deliberately, got off her chair, took up her plate of pudding,
and was making off with it. As she was passing Uncle James, however,
he stretched out his big hand suddenly, and snatched the plate from
her; but Beth in an instant doubled her little fist, and struck the
plate from underneath, the concussion scattering the pudding all over
the front of Uncle James.

In the confusion which followed, Beth made her escape to the kitchen,
where she was already popular.

"I say, cook," she coaxed, "give me something good to eat. My
pudding's got upset all over Uncle James."

The cook sat down suddenly, and twinkled a glance of intelligence at
Horner, the old coachman, who happened to be in the kitchen.

"Give me a cheesecake--I won't tell," Beth pleaded.

"That's doubtful, I should think," Horner said aside to the cook.

"Oh, bless you, she never do, not she!" cook answered, and then she
fetched Beth a big cheesecake from a secret store. Beth took it
smiling, and retired to the brown bedroom, where she was left in
solitary confinement until Uncle James drove out with mamma in Aunt
Grace Mary's pony-carriage to pay a call in the afternoon. When they
had gone, Aunt Grace Mary peeped in at Beth, and said, with an
unconvincing affectation of anger: "Beth, you are a naughty little
girl, and deserve to be punished. Say you're sorry. Then you shall
come to my room, and see me write a letter."

"All right," Beth answered, and Aunt Grace Mary took her off without
more ado.

It was a great encouragement to Beth to find that Aunt Grace Mary was
obliged to take pains with her writing. All the other grown-up people
Beth knew, seemed to do everything with such ease, it was quite
disheartening. Beth was allowed a pencil, a sheet of paper, and some
lines herself now, and Aunt Grace Mary was taking great pains to teach
her to write an Italian hand. Beth was also trying to learn: "because
there are such lots of things I want to write down," she explained;
"and I want to do it small like you, because it won't take so much
paper, you know."

"What kind of things do you want to write down, Beth?" Aunt Grace Mary
asked. Beth treated her quite as an equal, so they chatted the whole
time they were together, unconstrainedly.

"Oh, you know--things like--well, the day we came here there were
great grey clouds with crimson caps hanging over the sea, and you
could see them in the water."

"See their reflection, you mean, I suppose."

Beth looked puzzled. "When you think of things, isn't that
reflection?" she asked.

"Yes; and when you see yourself in the looking-glass, that's your
reflection too," Aunt Grace Mary answered.

"Oh, then I suppose it was the sea's thought of the sky I saw in the
water--that makes it nicer than I had it before," Beth said, trying to
turn the phrase as a young bird practises to round its notes in the
spring. "The sea shows its thoughts, the thought of the sea is the
sky--no, that isn't right. It never does come right all at once, you
know. But that's the kind of thing."

"What kind of thing?" Aunt Grace Mary asked, bewildered.

"The kind of thing I am always wanting to write down. You generally
forget what we're talking about, don't you?--I say, don't you want to
drive your own ponies yourself sometimes?"

"No, not when your dear uncle wants them."

"Dear uncle wants them almost always, doesn't he? Horner ses as
'ow----"

"Beth, don't speak like that!"

"That's Horner, not me," Beth snapped, impatient of the interruption.
"How am I to tell you what he said if I don't say what he said? Horner
ses as 'ow, when Lady Benyon gev them there white ponies to 'er darter
fur 'er own use, squire 'e sells two on 'is 'orses, an' 'as used them
ponies ever since. Squire's a near un, my word!" Beth perceived that
Aunt Grace Mary looked very funny in the face. "You're frightened to
death of Uncle James, arn't you?" she asked, after sucking her pencil
meditatively for a little.

"No, dear, of course not. I am not afraid of any one but the dear
Lord."

"But Uncle James _is_ the lord."

"Nonsense, child."

"Mildred says so. She says he's lord of the manor. Mildred says it's
fine to be lord of the manor. But it doesn't make me care a button
about Uncle James."

"Don't speak like that, Beth. It's disrespectful. It was the Lord in
heaven I alluded to," said Aunt Grace Mary in her breathless way.

"Ah, that _is_ different," Beth allowed. "But I'm not afraid of Him
either. I don't think I'm afraid of any one really, not even of mamma,
though she does beat me. I'd rather she didn't, you know. But one gets
used to it. The worst of it is," Beth added, after sucking the point
of her pencil a little--"The worst of it is, you never know what will
make her waxy. To-day, at luncheon, you know--now, what did I say?"

"Oh," said Aunt Grace Mary vaguely; "you oughtn't to have said it, you
know."

"Now, that's just like mamma! She says 'Don't!' and 'How dare you!'
and 'Naughty girl!' at the top of her voice, and half the time I don't
know what she's talking about. When I grow up, I shall explain to
children. Do you know, sometimes I quite want to be good"--this with a
sigh. "But when I'm bad without having a notion what I've done, why,
it's difficult. Aunt Grace Mary, do you know what Neptune would say if
the sea dried up?" Aunt Grace Mary smiled and shook her head. "I
haven't an ocean," Beth proceeded. "You don't see it? Well, I didn't
at first. You see _an ocean_ and _a notion_ sound the same if you say
them sharp. Now, do you see? They call that a pun."

"Who told you that?"

"A gentleman in the train."

Beth put her pencil in her mouth, and gazed up at the sky. "I don't
suppose he'd be such a black-hearted villain as to break his word,"
she said at last.

"Who?" Aunt Grace Mary asked, in a startled tone.

"Uncle James--about leaving Jim the place, you know. Why, don't you
know? Mamma is the eldest, and ought to have had Fairholm, but she was
away in Ireland, busy having me, when grandpapa died, and couldn't
come; so Uncle James frightened the old man into leaving the place to
him, and mamma only got fifty pounds a year, which wasn't fair."

"Who told you this, Beth?"

"Mildred. Mamma told her. And Horner said the other day to cook--I'll
have to say it the way Horner says it. If I said it my way, you know,
then it wouldn't be Horner--Horner said to cook as 'ow Captain
Caldwell 'ud 'a' gone to law about it, but squire 'e swore if 'e'd let
the matter drop, 'e'd make 'is nevee, Master Jim, as is also 'is
godson, 'is heir, an' so square it; and Captain Caldwell, as was a
real gen'lmon, an' fond of the ladies, tuk 'im at 'is word, an'
furgiv' 'im. But, lardie! don't us know the worth o' Mr. James
Patten's word!"

Aunt Grace Mary had turned very pale.

"Beth," she gasped, "promise me you will never, never, _never_ say a
word about this to your uncle."

"Not likely," said Beth.

"How do you remember these things you hear?"

"Oh, I just think them over again when I go to bed, and then they
stay," Beth answered. "I wouldn't tell you half I hear, though--only
things everybody knows. If you tell secrets, you know, you're a
tell-pie. And I'm not a tell-pie. Now, Bernadine is. She's a regular
tell-pie. It seems as if she couldn't help it; but then she's young,"
Beth added tolerantly.

"Were you ever young, I wonder?" Aunt Grace Mary muttered to herself.



CHAPTER XIII


Meanwhile the English spring advanced in the beautiful gardens of
Fairholm, and was a joy to Beth. Blossoms showered from the
fruit-trees, green leaves unfurled, the birds were in full song, and
the swans curved their long necks in the sunshine, and breasted the
waters of the lake, as if their own grace were a pleasure to them.
Beth was enchanted. Every day she discovered some new wonder--nests in
the hedgerows, lambs in the fields, a foal and its mother in the
paddock, a calf in the byre--more living interests in one week than
she had dreamt of in the whole of her little life. For a happy
interval the scenes which had oppressed her--the desolation, the
sombre colours of the great melancholy mountains, the incessant sound
of the turbulent sea, the shock and roar of angry breakers warring
with the rocks, which had kept her little being all a-throb, braced to
the expectation of calamity--lapsed now into the background of her
recollection, and under the benign influence of these lovelier
surroundings her mind began to expand in the most extraordinary way,
while her further faculty awoke, and gave her glimpses of more
delights than mortal mind could have shown her. "Such nice things," as
she expressed it, "keep coming into my head, and I want to write them
down." Books she flung away impatiently; but the woods and streams,
and the wild flowers, the rooks returning to roost in the trees at
sunset, the horses playing in the paddocks, the cows dawdling back
from their pastures, all sweet country scents and cheerful country
sounds she became alive to and began to love. There would be trouble
enough in Beth herself at times, wherever she was; it was hard that
she could not have been kept in some such paradise always, to ease the
burden of her being.

One morning her mother told her that Uncle James was extremely
displeased with her because he had seen her pelting the swans.

"He didn't see me pelting the swans," Beth asseverated. "I was feeding
them with crusts. And how did he see me, any way? He wasn't there."

"He sees everything that's going on," Mrs. Caldwell assured her.

"He's only pretending," Beth argued, "or else he must be God."

But she kept her eyes about her the next time she was in the grounds,
and at last she discovered him, sitting in the little window of his
dressing-room with a book before him, and completely blocking the
aperture. She had never noticed him there before, because the panes
were small and bright, and the shine on them made it difficult to see
through them from below. After this discovery she always felt that his
eyes were upon her wherever she went within range of that window. Not
that that would have deterred her had she wanted to do anything
particularly; but even a child feels it intolerable to be spied upon;
and as for a spy! Beth scorned the creature.

That day at luncheon Uncle James made an announcement.

"Lady Benyon is going to honour us with a visit," he began in his most
impressive manner. There is no snob so inveterate as your snob of good
birth; and Uncle James said "Lady" as if it were a privilege just to
pronounce the word. "She will arrive this afternoon at a quarter to
four."

"But you will be practising," Beth exclaimed.

"The rites of hospitality must be observed," he condescended to inform
her.

"Lady Benyon is my mother, Beth," Aunt Grace Mary put in irrelevantly.

"I know," Beth answered. "Your papa was a baronet; Uncle James loves
baronets; that was why he married you." Having thus disposed of Aunt
Grace Mary, Beth turned to the other end of the table, and resumed:
"But you went on practising when _we_ arrived, Uncle James."

Uncle James gazed at her blandly, then looked at his sister with an
agreeable smile. "Lady Benyon will probably like to see the children.
You do not dress them in the latest fashion, I observe."

"They _are_ shabby," Mrs. Caldwell acknowledged with a sigh,
apologetically.

Beth shovelled some spoonfuls of pudding into her mouth very quickly.
"That's the money bother again," she said, and then she sang out at
the top of her voice--

    "Bryan O'Lynn had no breeches to wear,
     He bought a sheepskin for to make him a pair,
     With the skinny side out, and the woolly side in,
     'They're warm in the winter,' said Bryan O'Lynn."

"I suppose it would be quite impossible to suppress this child?" Uncle
James lisped with deceptive mildness. "I observe that she joins in the
conversation always, with great intelligence and her mouth full. It
might be better, perhaps, if she emptied her mouth. However, I suppose
it would be impossible to teach her."

"Not at all," Beth answered for herself, cheerfully. "I'm not too
stupid to empty my mouth! Only just you tell me what it is you want.
Don't bottle things up. I expect I've been speaking with my mouth full
ever since I came, and you've been hating me for it; but you never
told me."

"May I ask," said Uncle James politely, "by whom you were informed
that I 'bottled things up'?"

"Ah, that would be telling," said Beth, and recommenced gobbling her
pudding, to the intense relief of some of the party.

Great-Aunt Victoria Bench, sitting upright opposite, looked across the
table at the child, and a faint smile flickered over her wrinkled
rose-leaf cheek.

Beth finished her pudding, dropped her spoon on her plate with a
clatter, leant back in her chair, and sighed with satisfaction. She
possessed a horrid fascination for Uncle James. Almost everything she
did was an offence to him, yet he could not keep his eyes off her or
let her alone.

"Pudding seems to be a weakness of hers," he now observed. "I hope her
voracity is satisfied. I should say that it resembles the voracity of
the caterpillar."

"What's voracity, Aunt Victoria?" Beth asked.

"Greediness," Aunt Victoria rejoined sententiously.

"He means I'm greedy for pudding? I just _am_! I'd like to be a
caterpillar for pudding. Caterpillars eat all day. But then God's good
to them. He puts them on a tree with lots of leaves. I wish He'd put
me in a pantry with lots of puddings! My vorass--vor--what is it? Any
way, it's satisfied now, Uncle James, and if you'll let me go, I'll
wash myself, and get ready for Lady Benyon."

Rather than let her go when she wanted to, however, Uncle James sat
some time longer at table than he had intended. It was he who always
gave the signal to rise; before he did so on this occasion, he
formally requested his sister to request Beth to be silent during Lady
Benyon's visit.

Lady Benyon was a shrewd, active little old woman, with four dark
curls laid horizontally on either side of her forehead. She had bright
black sparkling eyes that glanced about quickly and seemed to see
everything. Before she arrived, Uncle James assembled his family in
the drawing-room, and set the scene, as it were, for her reception.

"Sit here, facing the window, Caroline," he said. "It will interest
Lady Benyon to see how you have aged. And, Aunt Victoria, this
Chippendale chair, so stiff and straight, is just like you, I think;
so oblige me by sitting on it. Grace Mary, take this easy lounge; it
suits your yielding nature. Elizabeth"--Beth, who was perched on the
piano-stool, looked up calmly at the clouds through the window
opposite. "Elizabeth," he repeated sharply. Beth made no sign.

"Beth, answer your uncle directly," Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed.

"He has not yet addressed me," Beth rejoined, in the manner of Uncle
James.

"Don't call your uncle 'he,' you naughty girl. You know your name is
Elizabeth."

"Yes, and I know I said I wouldn't answer to it, and I'm not going to
break me oath."

"Me oath!" Uncle James ejaculated.

Beth looked disconcerted. It irked her horribly to be jeered at for
making a mistake in speaking, and Uncle James, seeing she was hurt,
rested satisfied for the moment, and arranged Mildred and Bernadine
together in a group, leaving Beth huddled up on the piano-stool,
frowning.

When Lady Benyon's carriage stopped at the door, Uncle James stood
bareheaded on the steps, ready to receive her.

"So glad to see you, mamma," he lisped, as he handed her out. "_Do_
take my arm."

But the little old lady waved him aside unceremoniously, and hobbled
in with the brisk stiffness of age.

"Gracious!" she exclaimed when she saw the party arranged in the
drawing-room. "You all look as if you were having your likeness
taken--all except Puck there, on the piano-stool."

When Uncle James had manoeuvred Lady Benyon into the seat of honour
he intended her to take in order to complete the picture, she frankly
inspected each member of the group, ending with Beth.

"And who may you be?" she asked.

Beth smiled and shrugged her shoulders.

"Why don't you speak?"

Beth made another gesture.

"Goodness!" Lady Benyon cried; "is the child an idiot?"

"Beth, answer Lady Benyon directly," Mrs. Caldwell angrily commanded.

"Uncle James requested mamma to request me not to speak when you were
present," Beth explained suavely.

The old lady burst out laughing. "Well, that's droll," she
said--"requested mamma to request me--why, it's James Patten all over.
And who may you be, you monkey?"

"I am Elizabeth Caldwell, but I only answer to Beth. Papa called me
Beth."

"Good!" said the little old lady. "And what's Ireland like?"

"Great dark mountains," Beth rattled off, with big eyes dilated and
fixed on space, as if she saw what she described. "Long, long, long,
black bogs; all the poor people starving; and the sea rough--just like
hell, you know, but without the fire."

"Oh, now, this _is_ delightful!" the old lady chuckled. "I'm to enjoy
myself to-day, it seems. You didn't prepare me for this treat, James
Patten!"

Uncle James simpered, as though taking to himself the credit of the
whole entertainment.

"So you hate Ireland?" said Lady Benyon.

"No, I love it," said Beth. "It's me native country; and they don't
give you little bits of cake there the size of sixpence. What they
have you're welcome to. Long live Ireland!"

"Good!" Lady Benyon ejaculated; then turned to Mildred. "And are you
another naughty little patriot?" she asked.

"No, _I'm_ not naughty," Mildred answered piously.

"Beth's naughty," said Bernadine.

"I'm sure I don't know _what_ Beth is not," the old lady declared,
turning to Beth again.

"Riley said I was one of the little girls the devil put out when he
gave up housekeeping," Beth remarked casually.

"Beth!" Mrs. Caldwell remonstrated.

"He did, mamma. He said it the day that perjured villain Pat Murphy
killed my magpie. And Riley's a good man. You said so yourself."

"You can hear that the young lady has been in Ireland, I suppose,
mamma," Uncle James observed.

"I hear she can imitate the Irish," Lady Benyon rejoined bluntly; "and
not the Irish only," she added with a chuckle.

Beth was still sitting on the music-stool opposite the window, and
presently she saw some one cross the lawn. "Oh, do look at the lovely
lady," she cried enthusiastically. "She's just like the Princess
Blue-eyes-and-golden-hair."

Lady Benyon glanced over her shoulder. "Why, it's my maid," she said.

Beth's countenance dropped, then cleared again. Even a maid might be a
princess in disguise.

Lady Benyon was going to stay all night, and at her special request
Mildred and Beth were allowed to sit up to late dinner and prayers.
She expected Beth to amuse her, but Beth was busy the whole time
weaving a romance about the lovely lady's-maid, and scarcely spoke a
word. When the servants came in to prayers, she sat and gazed at her
heroine, and forgot to stand or kneel. She noticed, however, that
Uncle James read the evening prayers with peculiar fervour.

When Beth went to bed, she found Bernadine, who slept with her, fast
asleep. Beth was not at all sleepy. Her intellect had been on the
alert all day, and would not let her rest now; she must do something
to keep up the excitement. She pulled the blind aside, and, looking
out of the window, discovered an enchanted land, all soft shadow and
silver sheen, and above it an exquisite moon, in an empty sky, floated
serenely. "Oh, to be out in the moonlight!" she sighed to herself.
"The fairy-folk--the fairy-folk." For a little her mind was a blank as
she gazed; then words came tripping a measure--

    "The fairy-folk are calling me,
     Are calling me, are calling me;
     They come across the stormy sea,
     To play with me, to play with me."

Beth's vague longing crisped itself into a resolution. She looked at
the big four-post bed. The curtains were drawn on one side of it.
Should she draw them on the other, on the chance of her mother not
looking in? No, she must wait, because of Mildred. Mildred was
undressing, and would say her prayers presently. Beth waited until she
knelt down, then slipped her night-dress on over her clothes, and got
into bed, without disturbing Bernadine. Now she must wait for her
mother; but Mrs. Caldwell came up very soon, Uncle James having
hurried every one off to bed unusually early that evening. Mrs.
Caldwell was a long time undressing, as it seemed to Beth; but in the
meantime Mildred had fallen asleep, and very soon after her mother got
into bed she too began to breathe with reassuring regularity.

Then Beth got up, opened the door very gently, and slipped out into
the dark passage.

    "The fairy-folk are calling me,
     Are calling me, are calling me;
     They come across the stormy sea,
     To play with me, to play with me."

The words set themselves to a merry tune, and carried Beth on with
them.

All was dark in the hall. The front door was locked and bolted, and
the shutters were up in all the rooms; how was she to get out? She
felt for the green baize double-door which shut off the kitchen from
the other parts of the house, opened it, and groped her way down the
passage. As she did so, she saw a faint glimmer of light at the far
end--not candlelight, moonlight--and at the same moment she became
aware of some one else moving. At the end of the passage she was in,
there was a little door leading out into a garden. If that were open
all would be easy. She had stopped to listen. Certainly some one else
was moving quite close to her. What was she near? Oh, the store-room.
Something grated like a key in a lock--a door was opened, a match
struck, a candle lighted; and there was Mrs. Cook in the store-room
itself, hurriedly filling paper-bags with tea, sugar, raisins,
currants, and other groceries from Uncle James's carefully guarded
treasure, and packing them into a small hamper with a lid. When the
hamper was full she blew out the candle, came out of the store-room,
locked the door after her, and went into the kitchen, without
discovering Beth. She left the kitchen door open; the blind was up;
and Beth could see a man, whom she recognised as the cook's son,
standing in the moonlight.

"Is there much this time, mother?" he asked.

"A goodish bit," cook replied, handing him the hamper.

"'E 'asn't 'ad 'is eyes about 'im much o' late, then?"

"Oh, 'e allus 'as 'is eyes about 'im, but 'e doan't see much. You'll
get me what ye can?"

"I will so," her son replied, and kissed cook as she let him out of
the back-door, which she fastened after him. Then she went off herself
up the back-stairs to bed.

When all was quiet again, Beth thought of the garden-door at the end
of the passage. To her relief she found it ajar; the gleam of light
she had seen in that direction was the moonlight streaming through the
crevice. She slipped out cautiously; but the moment she found herself
in the garden she became a wild creature, revelling in her freedom.
She ran, jumped, waved her arms about, threw herself down on the
ground, and rolled over and over for yards, walked on all fours,
turned head over heels, embraced the trunks of trees, and hailed them
with the Eastern invocation, "O tree, give me of thy strength!"

For a good hour she rioted about the place in this way, working off
her superfluous energy. By that time she had come to the stackyard.
There, among the great stacks, she played hide-and-seek with the
fairy-folk for a little. Very cautiously she would steal round in the
black shadows, stalking her imaginary play-fellows, and then would go
flying out into the moonlight, pursued by them in turn; and looking
herself, with her white night-dress over her clothes, and her tousled
hair, the weirdest little elfin figure in the world. Finally, to
escape capture, she ran up a ladder that had been left against a
haystack. Blocks of hay had been cut out, leaving a square shelf half
way down the stack, on to which Beth scrambled from the ladder. There
was room enough for her to lie at her ease up there and recover her
breath. The hay and the night-air smelt deliciously sweet. The stack
she was on was one of the outer row. Beneath was the road along which
the waggons brought their loads in harvest time; and this was flanked
by a low wall, on the other side of which was a meadow, bordered with
elms. Beth pulled up the hay about her, covered herself with it, and
nestled amongst it luxuriously. The moon shone full upon her, but she
had quite concealed herself, and would probably have fallen asleep
after her exertions had it not been that just when drowsiness was
coming upon her she was startled by the sound of a hurried footstep,
and a girl in a light dress, with a shawl about her shoulders, came
round the stack, and stood still, looking about her, as if she
expected some one. Beth recognised her as Harriet Elvidge, the
kitchen-maid; and presently Russell, one of the grooms, came hurrying
to meet her from the other direction. They rushed into each other's
arms.

"Thou'st laäte," the girl grumbled.

"Ah bin waatin' ower yon'er this good bit," he answered, putting his
arm round her, and drawing her to the wall, on which they sat, leaning
against each other, and whispering happily. The moon was low, and her
great golden disk illumined the sky, against which the two dark
figures stood out, silhouetted distinctly. The effect gave Beth a
sensation of pleasure, and she racked her brains for words in which to
express it. Presently the lovers rose and strolled away together. Then
for a little it was lonely, and Beth thought of getting down; but
before she had made up her mind, two other people appeared, strolling
in the moonlight, whom Beth instantly recognised as Uncle James and
the beautiful princess Blue-eyes-and-golden-hair. The princess had
both her hands clasped round Uncle James's arm, and every now and then
she nestled her face against his shoulder lovingly.

"What will Jimmie-wimmie give his Jenny-penny?" she was saying as they
approached.

"First what will Jenny-penny give her Jimmie-wimmie?" Uncle James
cooed.

"First, a nice--sweet--kiss!"

"Duckie-dearie!" Jimmie-wimmie gurgled ecstatically, taking the kiss
with the playful grace of an elephant gambolling.

Beth on the haystack writhed with suppressed merriment until her sides
ached.

But Jimmie-wimmie and Jenny-penny passed out of sight like Harriet and
Russell before them. The moon was sinking rapidly. A sudden gust of
air blew chill upon Beth. She was extremely sensitive to sudden
changes of temperature, and as the night grew dull and heavy, so did
her mood, and she began to be as anxious to be indoors again as she
had been to come out. The fairy-folk had all vanished now, and ghosts
and goblins would come in their stead, and pounce upon her as she
passed, if she were not quick. Beth scrambled down from the haystack,
and made for the side-door in hot haste, and was half-way upstairs,
when it suddenly occurred to her that if she locked the door,
Jimmie-wimmie and Jenny-penny would not be able to get in. So she
retraced her steps, accomplished her purpose, slipped back to bed, and
slept until she was roused in the morning by a shrill cry from
Bernadine--"See, mummy! see, mummy! lazy Beth is in bed with all her
clothes on!"

Beth sat up, and slapped Bernadine promptly; whereupon Mrs. Caldwell
slapped Beth.

"Such is life," said Beth, in imitation of Aunt Grace Mary; and Mrs.
Caldwell smiled in spite of herself.

Later in the day Beth complained to Mildred of a bad cold in her head.

"Oh dear!" Mildred exclaimed, "I expect Uncle James will talk at that
cold as long as it lasts."

"I know," Beth said. "Grace Mary, dear--or Aunt Victoria--have you
observed that children always have colds and never have
pocket-handkerchiefs?"

Uncle James, however, had a bad cold himself that morning, and
described himself as very much indisposed.

"I went out of doors last night before retiring," he explained at
luncheon, "tempted by the glorious moonlight and the balmy air; but
before I returned the night had changed and become chilly, and
unfortunately the side-door had shut itself, and every one was in bed,
so I could not get in. I threw pebbles up at Grace Mary's window, but
failed to rouse her, she being somewhat deaf. I also knocked and rang,
but no one answered, so I was obliged to shelter in the barn. Harriet,
however, appeared finally. She--er--gets the men's breakfasts,
and--er--the kitchen-window--" But here Uncle James was seized with a
sudden fit of sneezing, and the connection between the men's
breakfasts and the kitchen-window was never explained. "She is an
extremely good girl, is Harriet," he proceeded as soon as he could
speak; "up at four o'clock every morning."

"I wish to goodness _my_ trollop was," said Lady Benyon. "She gets
later every day. Where did you go last night?"

"Oh--I had been loitering among the tombs, so to speak," he answered
largely.

Beth was eating cold beef stolidly, but without much appetite because
of her cold, and also because there was hot chicken, and Uncle James
had not given her her choice. Uncle James kept looking at her. He
found it hard to let her alone, but she gave him no cause of offence
for some time. Her little nose was troublesome, however, and at last
she sniffed. Uncle James looked at Lady Benyon.

"Have you observed," he said, "that when a child has a cold she never
has a pocket-handkerchief?"

Beth produced a clean one with a flourish, and burst out laughing.

"What's the matter, Puck?" Lady Benyon asked, beaming already in
anticipation.

"Oh, nothing. Only I said Uncle James would say that if I sniffed.
Didn't I, Mildred?"

But Mildred, too wary to support her, looked down demurely.

"Puck," said Lady Benyon, "you're a character."

"There are good characters and there are bad characters," Uncle James
moralised.

"Arrah, thin, it isn't a bad character you'd be afther givin' your own
niece," Beth blarneyed; and then she turned up her naughty eyes to the
ceiling and chanted softly: "What will Jimmie-wimmie give his
duckie-dearie to be good? A nice--sweet--kiss!"

Uncle James's big white face became suddenly empurpled.

"Gracious! he's swallowed wrong," Lady Benyon exclaimed in alarm.
"Drink something. You really should be careful, a great fat man like
you."

Uncle James coughed hard behind his handkerchief, then began to
recover himself. Beth's eyes were fixed on his face. Her chaunt had
been a sudden inspiration, and its effect upon the huge man had
somewhat startled her; but clearly Uncle James was afraid she was
going to tell.

"How funny!" she ejaculated.

Uncle James gasped again.

"What _is_ the matter, Puck?" Lady Benyon asked.

"Oh, I was just thinking--thinking I would ask Uncle James to give
Mildred some chicken."

"Why, of course, my dear child!" Uncle James exclaimed, to everybody's
astonishment. "And have some yourself, Beth?"

"No, thank you," Beth answered. "I'm full."

"Beth!" her mother was beginning, when she perceived that Uncle James
was laughing.

"Now, that child is really amusing," he said--"_really_ amusing."

No one else thought this last enormity a happy specimen of her wit,
and they looked at Uncle James, who continued to laugh, in amazement.

"Beth," he said, "when luncheon is over I shall give you a
picture-book."

Beth accordingly had to stay behind with him after the others had left
the dining-room.

"Beth," he began in a terrible voice, as soon as they were alone
together, trying to frighten her; "Beth, what were you doing last
night?"

"I was meditating among the tombs," she answered glibly; "but I never
heard them called by that name before."

"You bad child, I shall tell your mamma."

"Oh for shame!" said Beth. "Tell-tale! And if you tell I shall. I saw
you kissing Jenny-penny."

Uncle James collapsed. He had been prepared to explain to Beth that he
had met the poor girl with some rustic lover, and was lecturing her
kindly for her good, and making her go in, which would have made a
plausible story had it not been for that accursed kissing. Of course
he could insist that Beth was lying; the child was known to be
imaginative; but then against that was the emotion he had shown. Lady
Benyon had no very high opinion of him, he knew, and once she obtained
a clue she would soon unravel the truth. No, the only thing was to
silence Beth.

"Beth," he said, "I quite agree with you, my dear child. I was only
joking when I said I would tell your mamma. Nothing would induce me to
tell tales out of school."

Beth smiled up at him frankly: "Nor me neither. I don't believe you're
such a bad old boy after all."

Uncle James winced. How he would have liked to throttle her! He
controlled himself, however, and even managed to make a smile as he
got up to leave the room.

"I say, though," Beth exclaimed, seeing him about to depart, "where's
that picture-book?"

"Oh!" he ejaculated. "I had forgotten. But no, Beth, it would never
do. If I give it to you now, it would look like a bribe; and I'm sure
you would never accept a bribe."

"I should think not," said Beth.

And it was long years before she understood the mean adroitness of
this last evasion.



CHAPTER XIV


There are those who maintain that a man can do everything better than
a woman can do it. This is certainly true of nagging. When a man nags,
he shows his thoroughness, his continuity, and that love of sport
which is the special pride and attribute of his sex. When a man nags,
he puts his whole heart into the effort; a woman only nags, as a rule,
because the heart has been taken out of her. The nagging woman is an
over-tasked creature with jarred nerves, whose plaint is an expression
of pain, a cry for help; in any interval of ease which lasts long
enough to relax the tension, she feels remorse, and becomes amiably
anxious to atone. With the male nag it is different. He is usually
sleek and smiling, a joyous creature, fond of good living, whose
self-satisfaction bubbles over in artistic attempts to make everybody
else uncomfortable. This was the kind of creature Uncle James Patten
was. He loved to shock and jar and startle people, especially if they
were powerless to retaliate. Of two ways of saying a thing he
invariably chose the more disagreeable; and when he had bad news to
break, it added to his interest in it if the victim felt it deeply and
showed signs of suffering.

One morning at breakfast it might have been suspected that there was
something unpleasant toward. Uncle James had read prayers with such
happy unction, and showed such pleased importance as he took his seat.

"Aunt Victoria," he lisped, "I have just observed in yesterday's paper
that money matters are in a bad way. There has been a crisis in the
city, and your investments have sunk so low that your income will be
practically nil."

"What!" said Aunt Victoria incredulously, "the shares you advised me
to buy?"

"Those are the ones, yes," he answered.

"But, then--I fear you have lost money too," she exclaimed.

"Oh no, thank you," he assured her, in a tone which implied reproach,
"_I_ never speculate."

"James Patten," said Aunt Victoria quietly, "am I to understand that
you advised me to buy stock in which you yourself did not venture to
speculate?"

"Well--er--you see," he answered with composure, "as speculation was
against my principles, I could not take advantage of the opportunity
myself, but that seemed to me no reason why you should not try to
double your income. It may have been an error of judgment on my part;
I am far from infallible--far from infallible. But I think I may claim
to be disinterested. I did not hope to benefit myself----"

"During my lifetime," Aunt Victoria suggested, in the same tone of
quiet self-restraint. "I see. My modest fortune would not have been
much in itself to a man of your means; but it would have been a
considerable sum if doubled."

"Yes, doubles or quits, doubles or quits," said Uncle James, beaming
on Aunt Victoria as if he were saying something reassuring. "Alas! the
family failing!"

"It is a new departure, however, for the family--to gamble at other
people's expense," said Aunt Victoria.

"Alas! poor human nature," Uncle James philosophised, shaking his
head. "You never know--you never know."

Aunt Victoria looked him straight in the eyes, but made no further
show of emotion, except that she sat more rigidly upright than usual
perhaps, and the rose-tint faded from her delicate face, leaving it
waxen-white beneath her auburn front.

Uncle James ate an egg, with a pious air of thankfulness for the
mercies vouchsafed him.

"And where will you live now, Aunt Victoria?" he asked at last, with
an affectation of as much concern as he could get into his fat voice.
For many years he had insisted that Fairholm was the proper place for
his mother's sister, but then she had had money to leave. "Do not
desert us altogether," he pursued. "You must come and see us as often
as your altered circumstances will admit."

Great-Aunt Victoria Bench bowed expressively. Aunt Grace Mary grew
very red in the face. Mrs. Caldwell seemed to be controlling herself
with difficulty.

"There will be a spare room in my cottage, Aunt Victoria," she said.
"I hope you will consider it your own, and make your home with me."

"Thank you kindly, Caroline," the old lady answered; "but I must
consider."

"It would be a most proper arrangement," Uncle James genially decided;
"and you would have our dear little Beth, of whom you approve, you
know, for an interest in life."

Beth left her seat impulsively, and, going round to the old lady,
nestled up to her, slipped her little hand through her arm, and glared
at Uncle James defiantly.

The old lady's face quivered for a moment, and she patted the child's
hand.

But no more was said on the subject in Beth's hearing; only, later,
she found that Aunt Victoria was going to live with them.

Uncle James had suddenly become quite anxious that Mrs. Caldwell
should be settled in her own little house; he said it would be so much
more comfortable for her. The little house was Aunt Grace Mary's
property, by the way--rent, ten pounds a year; but as it had not been
let for a long time, and it did houses no good to stand empty, Uncle
James had graciously lent it to his sister. When she was so settled in
it that it would be a great inconvenience to move, he asked for the
rent.

During the next week he drove every day to the station in Aunt Grace
Mary's pony-carriage, to see if Mrs. Caldwell's furniture had arrived
from Ireland; and when at last it came, he sent every available
servant he had to set the house in order, so that it might be ready
for immediate occupation. He also persuaded Harriet Elvidge, his
invaluable kitchen-maid, to enter Mrs. Caldwell's service as
maid-of-all-work. There is reason to believe that this arrangement was
the outcome of Uncle James's peculiar sense of humour; but Mrs.
Caldwell never suspected it.

"It will be nice for you to have some one I know all about," Uncle
James insisted, "and with a knowledge of cooking besides. And how glad
you will be to sleep under your own roof to-night!" he added in a tone
of kindly congratulation.

"And how glad you will be to get rid of us," said Beth, thus early
giving voice to what other people were only daring to think.

As soon as they were settled in the little bow-windowed house, it
became obvious that there would be differences of opinion between
mamma and Great-Aunt Victoria Bench. They differed about the cooking,
about religion, and about the education of children. Aunt Victoria
thought that if you cooked meat a second time it took all the goodness
out of it. Mrs. Caldwell liked stews, and she said if the joints were
under-done at first, as they should be, re-cooking did _not_ take the
goodness out of the meat; but Aunt Victoria abominated under-done
joints more than anything.

The education of the children was a more serious matter, however--a
matter of principle, in fact, as opposed to a matter of taste. Mrs.
Caldwell had determined to give her boys a good start in life. In
order to do this on her very limited income, she was obliged to
exercise the utmost self-denial, and even with that, there would be
little or nothing left to spend on the girls. This, however, did not
seem to Mrs. Caldwell to be a matter of much importance. It is
customary to sacrifice the girls of a family to the boys; to give them
no educational advantages, and then to jeer at them for their
ignorance and silliness. Mrs. Caldwell's own education had been of
the most desultory character, but such as it was, she was content with
it. "The method has answered in my case," she complacently maintained,
without the slightest suspicion that the assertion proved nothing but
extreme self-satisfaction. Accordingly, as she could not afford to
send her daughters to school as well as the boys, she decided to
educate them herself. Everybody who could read, write, and cipher was
supposed to be able to teach in those days, and Mrs. Caldwell
undertook the task without a doubt of her own capacity. But Aunt
Victoria was not so sanguine.

"I hope religious instruction will be a part of their education," she
said, when the subject was first discussed.

"They shall read the Bible from beginning to end," Mrs. Caldwell
answered shortly.

"That, I should think, would be hardly desirable," Aunt Victoria
deprecated gently.

"And I shall teach them their Catechism, and take them to church,"
Mrs. Caldwell proceeded. "That is the way in which _I_ was taught."

"_We_ were instructed in doctrine, and taught to order our conduct on
certain fixed principles, which were explained to us," Aunt Victoria
ventured.

"Indeed, yes, I dare say," Mrs. Caldwell observed politely; so there
the subject had to drop.

But Aunt Victoria was far from satisfied. She shook her head sadly
over her niece's spiritual state, and determined to save the souls of
her great-nieces by instructing them herself as occasion should offer.

"What is education, mamma?" Beth asked.

"Why, learning things, of course," Mrs. Caldwell replied, with a smile
at the child's simplicity.

"I know that," Beth snapped, irritated by her mother's manner.

"Then why did you ask?" Mrs. Caldwell wished to know.

"The child has probably heard that that is not all," said Aunt
Victoria. "'Learning things' is but one item of education--if you mean
by that the mere acquisition of knowledge. A well-ordered day, for
instance, is an essential part of education. Education is a question
of discipline, of regular hours for everything, from the getting up in
the morning to the going to bed at night. No mind can be properly
developed without routine. Teach a child how to order its time, and
its talents will do the rest."

"Get out your books, children," said Mrs. Caldwell, and Aunt Victoria
hurriedly withdrew.

Beth put a large Bible, Colenso's arithmetic, a French grammar, and
Pinnock (an old-fashioned compilation of questions and answers), on
the table, and looked at them despondently. Then she took a slate, set
herself the easiest addition sum she could find in Colenso, and did it
wrong. Her mother told her to correct it.

"I wish you would show me how, mamma," Beth pleaded.

"You must find out for yourself," her mother answered.

This was her favourite formula. She had no idea of making the lessons
either easy or interesting to the children. Teaching was a duty she
detested, a time of trial both to herself and to her pupils, to be got
over as soon as possible. The whole proceeding only occupied two or
three dreadful hours of the morning, and then the children were free
for the rest of the day, and so was she.

After lessons they all went out together to the north cliffs, where
Aunt Victoria and Mrs. Caldwell walked to and fro on a sheltered
terrace, while the children played on the sands below. It was a still
day when Beth first saw the sands, and the lonely level and the
tranquil sea delighted her. On her left, white cliffs curved round the
bay like an arm; on her right was the grey and solid old stone pile,
and behind her the mellow red brick houses of the little town
scrambled up an incline from the shore irregularly. Silver sparkles
brightened the hard smooth surface of the sand in the sunshine. The
tide was coming in, and tiny waves advanced in irregular curves, and
broke with a merry murmur. Joy got hold of Beth as she gazed about
her, feeling the beauty of the scene. With the infinite charity of
childhood, she forgave her mother her trespasses against her for that
day, and her little soul was filled with the peace of the newly
shriven. She flourished a little wooden spade that Aunt Victoria had
given her, but did not dig. The surface of the sand was all unbroken;
no disfiguring foot of man had trodden the long expanse, and Beth
hesitated to be the first to spoil its exquisite serenity. Her heart
expanded, however, and she shouted aloud in a great, uncontrollable
burst of exultation.

A man with a brown beard and moustache, short, crisp, curly hair, and
deep-set, glittering dark grey eyes, came up to her from behind. He
wore a blue pilot-coat, blue trousers, and a peaked cap, the dress of
a merchant-skipper.

"Don't desecrate this heavenly solitude with discordant cries," he
exclaimed.

Beth had not heard him approach, and she turned round, startled, when
he spoke.

"I thought I was singing!" she rejoined.

"Don't dig and disfigure the beautiful bare brown bosom of the shore,"
he pursued.

"I did not mean to dig," Beth said, looking up in his face; and then
looking round about her in perfect comprehension of his mood--"The
beautiful bare brown bosom of the shore," she slowly repeated,
delighting in the phrase. "It's the kind of thing you can sing, you
know."

"Yes," said the man, suddenly smiling; "it is pure poetry, and I make
you a present of the copyright."

"But," Beth objected, "the shore is _not_ brown. I've been thinking
and thinking what to call it. It's the colour--the colour of--the
colour of tarnished silver," she burst out at last triumphantly.

"Well observed," he said.

"Then I make you a present of the copyright," Beth answered readily.

"Thank you," he said; "but it will not scan."

"What is scan?"

"It won't fit into the verse, you know."

"The beautiful bare colour-of-tarnished-silver bosom of the shore,"
she sang out glibly; then agreed, with a wise shake of her head, that
the phrase was impossible; and recurred to another point of interest,
as was her wont--"What is copyright?"

Before he could answer, however, Mrs. Caldwell had swooped down upon
them. She had seen him from the cliff talking to Beth, and hastened
down the steps in her hot-tempered way, determined to rebuke the man
for his familiarity, and heedless of Aunt Victoria, who had made an
effort to stop her.

"May I ask why you are interfering with my child, sir?" she demanded.

The man in the sailor-suit raised his hat and bowed low.

"Excuse me, madam," he said. "I could not possibly have supposed that
she was your child."

Mrs. Caldwell coloured angrily as at an insult, although the words
seemed innocent enough. When he had spoken, he turned to Beth, with
his hat still in his hand, and added--"Good-bye, little lady. We must
meet again, you and I--on the beautiful bare brown bosom of the
shore."

Beth's sympathy shone out in a smile, and she waved her hand
confidingly to him as he turned away. Mrs. Caldwell seized her arm and
hurried her up the steps to Aunt Victoria, who stood on the edge of
the cliff blinking calmly.

"Imagine Beth scraping acquaintance with such a common-looking
person!" Mrs. Caldwell cried. "You must never speak to him or look at
him again--do you hear? I wonder what taste you will develop next!"

"It is a pity that you are so impetuous, Caroline," Aunt Victoria
observed quietly. "That gentleman is the Count Gustav Bartahlinsky,
who may perhaps be considered eccentric here, where noblemen of great
attainments and wealth are certainly not numerous; but is hardly to be
called common-looking."

Beth saw her mother's countenance drop.

"Then I _may_ speak to him," she decided for herself. "What's a
copyright, mamma?"

"Oh, don't bother, Beth!" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed irritably.

When they went home, Bernadine clamoured for food, and her mother gave
her a piece of bread. They were to have dinner at four o'clock, but no
luncheon, for economy's sake. Beth was hungry too, but she would not
confess it. What she had heard of their poverty had made a deep
impression on her, and she was determined to eat as little as
possible. Aunt Victoria glanced at Bernadine and the bread as she went
up to her room, and Beth fancied she heard her sigh. Was the old lady
hungry too, she wondered, and her little heart sank.

This was Beth's first exercise in self-denial, but she had plenty of
practice, for the scene was repeated day after day.

The children being free, had to amuse themselves as best they could,
and went out to play in the little garden at the back of the house.
Mrs. Caldwell's own freedom was merely freedom for thought. Most of
the day she spent beside the dining-room table, making and mending,
her only distraction being an occasional glance through the window at
the boughs of the apple-trees which showed above the wall opposite, or
at the people passing. Even when teaching the children she made,
mended, and pursued her own thoughts, mapping out careers for her
boys, making brilliant matches for Mildred and Bernadine, and even
building a castle for Beth now and then. She made and mended as badly
as might be expected of a woman whose proud boast it was that when she
was married she could not hem a pocket-handkerchief; and she did it
all herself. She had no notion of utilising the motive-power at hand
in the children. As her own energy had been wasted in her childhood,
so she wasted theirs, letting it expend itself to no purpose instead
of teaching them to apply it. She was essentially a creature of habit.
All that she had been taught in her youth, she taught them; but any
accomplishment she had acquired in later life, she seemed to think
that they also should wait to acquire. She had always dressed for
dinner; so now, at half-past three every day, she put away her work,
went into the kitchen for some hot water, which she carried upstairs
herself, called the children, and proceeded to brush her own hair
carefully, and change her dress. She expected the children to follow
her example, but did not pay much attention to their proceedings, and
they, childlike, constantly and consistently shirked as much of the
ceremony as possible. If their mother caught them with unwashed hands
and half-brushed hair, she thumped them on the back, and made them
wash and brush; but she was generally thinking about something else,
and did not catch them. The rite, however, being regularly although
imperfectly performed, resulted in a good habit.

There was another thing too for which Beth had good reason to be
grateful to her mother. During winter, when the days were short, or
when bad weather made it impossible to go out on summer evenings, Mrs.
Caldwell always read aloud to the children after tea till bed-time.
Most mothers would have made the children read; but there was a great
deal of laxity mixed with Mrs. Caldwell's harshness. She found it
easier to do things herself than to make the children do them for her.
They objected to read, and liked to be read to, so she read to them;
and as, fortunately, she had no money to buy children's books, she
read what there were in the house. Beth's ear was still quicker than
her eye, and she would not read to herself if she could help it; but
before she was fourteen, thanks to her mother, she knew much of Scott,
Jane Austen, Dickens, Thackeray, Bulwer Lytton, and even some of
Shakespeare, well; besides such books as "The Woman in White," "The
Dead Secret," "Loyal Heart; or, The Trappers," "The Scalp Hunters,"
and many more, all of which helped greatly to develop her
intelligence.



CHAPTER XV


During the next two years, Beth continued to look on at life, with
eyes wide open, deeply interested. Her mind at this time, acting
without conscious effort, was a mere photographic apparatus for the
registration of impressions on the brain. Every incident stored and
docketed itself somewhere in her consciousness for future use, and it
was upon this hoard that she drew eventually with such astonishing
effect.

Rousseau in "Emile" chose a common capacity to educate, because, he
said, genius will educate itself; but even genius would find its
labours lightened by having been taught the use of some few tools,
such as are supplied by the rudiments of a conventional education.
Beth was never taught anything thoroughly; very few girls were in her
day. A woman was expected at that time to earn her livelihood by
marrying a man and bringing up a family; and, so long as her face was
attractive, the fact that she was ignorant, foolish, and trivial did
not, in the estimation of the average man, at all disqualify her for
the task. Beth's education, at this most impressionable period of her
life, consisted in the acquisition of a few facts which were not made
to interest her, and neither influenced her conduct nor helped to form
her character. She might learn in the morning, for instance, that
William the Conqueror arrived 1066, but the information did not
prevent her being as naughty as possible in the afternoon. One cannot
help speculating on how much she lost or gained by the haphazard of
her early training; but one thing is certain, had the development of
her genius depended upon a careful acquisition of such knowledge as is
to be had at school, it must have remained latent for ever.

As it was, however, being forced out into the life-school of the
world, she there matriculated on her own account, and so, perhaps,
saved her further faculty from destruction. For theoretical knowledge
would have dulled the keenness of her insight probably, confused her
point of view, and brought in accepted commonplaces to spoil the
originality of her conclusions. It was from practical experience of
life rather than from books that she learnt her work; she saw for
herself before she came under the influence of other people's
observations; and this was doubtless the secret of her success; but it
involved the cruel necessity of a hard and strange apprenticeship.
From the time of their arrival in Rainharbour she lived three lives a
day--the life of lessons and coercion which was forced upon her, an
altogether artificial and unsatisfactory life; the life she took up
the moment she was free to act for herself; and a life of endless
dreams, which mingled with the other two unwholesomely. For the rich
soil of her mind, left uncultivated, was bound to bring forth
something, and because there was so little seed sown in it, the crop
was mostly weeds.

When we review the march of events which come crowding into a life,
seeing how few it is possible to describe, no one can wonder that
there is talk of the difficulty of selection. Who, for instance, could
have supposed that a good striped jacket Jim had outgrown, and Mrs.
Caldwell's love of grey, would have had much effect upon Beth's
career? And yet these trifles were epoch-making. Mrs. Caldwell thought
grey a ladylike colour, and therefore bought Beth a carmelite dress of
a delicate shade for the summer. For the first few weeks the dress was
a joy to Beth, but after that it began to be stained by one thing and
another, and every spot upon it was a source of misery, not only
because she was punished for messing the dress, but also because she
had messed it; for she was beginning to be fastidious about her
clothes; and every time she went out she was conscious of those
unsightly stains, and fancied everybody was looking at them. She had
to wear the frock, however, for want of another; and in the autumn,
when the days began to be chilly, a cast-off jacket of Jim's was
added to the affliction. Mrs. Caldwell caught her trying it on one
day, and after shaking her for doing so, she noticed that the jacket
fitted her, and the bright idea of making Beth wear it out, so that it
might not be wasted, occurred to her. To do her justice, Mrs. Caldwell
had no idea of the torture she was inflicting upon Beth by forcing her
to appear in her soiled frock and a boy's jacket. The poor lady was in
great straits at the time, and had nothing to spend on her daughters,
because her sons were growing up, and beginning to clamour for
pocket-money. Their mother considered it right that they should have
it too; and so the tender, delicate, sensitive little girl had to go
dirty and ashamed in order that her brothers might have the
wherewithal to swing a cane, smoke, drink beer, play billiards, and do
all else that makes boys men in their own estimation at an early age.

Rainharbour was little more than a fishing village in those days,
though it became a fashionable watering-place in a very few years.
When Mrs. Caldwell first settled there, a whole codfish was sold for
sixpence, fowls were one-and-ninepence a pair, eggs were almost given
away, and the manners of the people were in keeping with the low
prices. The natives had no idea of concealing their feelings, and were
in the habit of expressing their opinions of each other and things in
general at the top of their voices in the open street. They were as
conservative as the Chinese too, and thought anything new and strange
ridiculous. Consequently, when a little girl appeared amongst them in
a boy's jacket, they let her know that they resented the innovation.

"She's getten a lad's jacket on! oh! oh! she's getten a lad's jacket
on!" the children called aloud after her in the street, while their
mothers came to the cottage-doors, wiping soap-suds from their arms,
and stood staring as at a show; and even the big bland sailors
lounging on the quay expanded into broad grins or solemnly winked at
one another. Beth flushed with shame, but her courageous little heart
was instantly full of fight. "What ignorant people these are!" she
exclaimed haughtily, turning to Bernadine, who had dropped behind out
of the obloquy. "What ignorant people these are! they know nothing of
the fashions." The insinuation stung her persecutors, but that only
made them the more offensive, and wherever she went she was jeered
at--openly if there were no grown-up person with her, covertly if
there were, but always so that she understood. After that first
explosion she used to march along with an air of calm indifference as
if she heard nothing, but she had to put great constraint upon herself
in order to seem superior while feeling deeply humiliated; and all the
time she suffered so acutely that at last she could hardly be induced
to go out at all.

Mrs. Caldwell, who never noticed the "common people" enough to be
aware of their criticism, would not listen to anything Beth had to say
on the subject, and considered that her objection to go out in the
jacket was merely another instance of her tiresome obstinacy.
Punishments ensued, and Beth had the daily choice whether she should
be scolded and beaten for refusing to go out, or be publicly jeered at
for wearing a "lad's jacket."

Sometimes she preferred the chance of public derision to the certainty
of private chastisement; but oftener she took the chastisement. This
state of things could not last much longer, however. Hitherto her
mother had ruled her by physical force, but now their wills were
coming into collision, and it was inevitable that the more determined
should carry her point.

"Go and put your things on directly, you naughty, obstinate child,"
her mother screamed at her one day. Beth did not move.

"Do you hear me?" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed.

Beth made no sign. And suddenly Mrs. Caldwell realised that if Beth
would not go out, she could not make her. She never thought of trying
to persuade her. All that occurred to her was that Beth was too big to
be carried or pulled or pushed; that she might be hurt, but could not
be frightened; and that there was nothing for it, therefore, but to
let her have her own way.

"Very well, then," said Mrs. Caldwell, "I shall go without you. But
you'll be punished for your wickedness some day, you'll see, and then
you'll be sorry."

Mildred had gone to be educated by a rich sister of her father's by
this time, Aunt Victoria and Bernadine usually went out with Mrs.
Caldwell, so it came to pass that Beth began to be left pretty much to
her own resources, of which Harriet Elvidge in the kitchen was one,
and a considerable one.

Harriet was a woman of well-marked individuality and brilliant
imagination. She could never separate fact from fiction in any form of
narrative, and narrative was her speciality. She was always recounting
something. Beth used to follow her from room to room, as she went
about her work, listening with absolute faith and the deepest interest
to the stream of narrative which flowed on without interruption, no
matter what Harriet was doing. Sometimes, when she was dusting the
drawing-room mantelpiece, she would pause with a china cup in one hand
and her duster in the other, to emphasise a thrilling incident, or
make a speech impressive with suitable gesticulation; and sometimes,
for the same purpose, she would stop with her hand on the yellowstone
with which she was rubbing the kitchen-hearth, and her head in the
grate almost. Often, too, Beth in her eager sympathy would say, "Let
me do that!" and Harriet would sit in an arm-chair if they were in the
drawing-room, and resign the duster--or the dishcloth, if they were in
the kitchen--and continue the recital, while Beth showed her
appreciation, and encouraged her to proceed, by doing the greater part
of her work for her. Mrs. Caldwell never could make out why Beth's
hands were in such a state. "They are all cracked and begrimed," she
would exclaim, "as if the child had to do dirty work like a servant!"
And it was a good thing for Beth that she did it, for otherwise she
would have had no physical training at all, and would have suffered as
her sister Mildred did for want of it. Mildred, unlike Beth, held her
head high, and never forgot that she was a young lady by right of
descent, with an hereditary aptitude for keeping her inferiors in
their proper place. She only went into the kitchen of necessity, and
would never have dreamed of dusting, sweeping, bed-making, or laying
the table, to help the servant, however much she might have been
over-tasked; neither would Harriet have dared to approach her with the
familiar pleading: "I say, miss, 'elp uz, I'm that done," to which
Beth so readily responded. Mildred was studious; she had profited by
the good teaching she had had while her father was alive, and was able
to "make things out" for herself; but she cultivated her mind at the
expense of her body. She was one of those delicate, nervous, sensitive
girls, whose busy brains require the rest of regular manual exercise;
and for want of it, she lived upon books, and very literally died of
them eventually. She was naturally, so to speak, an artificial product
of conventional ideas; Beth, on the contrary, was altogether a little
human being, but one of those who answer to expectation with fatal
versatility. She liked blacking grates, and did them well, because
Harriet told her she could; she hated writing copies, and did them
disgracefully, because her mother beat her for a blot, and said she
would never improve. For the same reason, long before she could read
aloud to her mother intelligibly, she had learnt all that Harriet
could teach her, not only of the house-work, but of the cooking, from
cleaning a fish and trussing a fowl to making barley-broth and
puff-pastry. Harriet was a good cook if she had the things, as she
said herself, having picked up a great deal when she was kitchen-maid
in Uncle James's household.

Harriet was the daughter of a labourer. Her people lived at a village
some miles away, and every Saturday morning a carrier with a covered
cart brought her a letter from home, and a little parcel containing a
cheesecake or some other dainty. Beth took a lively interest both in
the cheesecake and the letter. "What's the news from home to-day?" she
would ask. "How's Annie, and what has mother sent?" Whereupon Harriet
would share the cheesecake with her, and read the letter aloud, work
being suspended as long as possible for the purpose.

Harriet was about twenty-five at this time. She had very black silky
hair, straight and heavy, parted in the middle, drawn down over her
ears, and gathered up in a knot behind. Her face was oval, forehead
high, eyebrows arched and delicate, nose straight, and she had large
expressive dark grey eyes, rather deeply set, with long black lashes,
and a mouth that would have been handsome of the sensual full-lipped
kind, had it not been distorted by a burn, which had disfigured her
throat and chin as well. She had set her pinafore on fire when she was
a child, and it had blazed up under her chin, causing irreparable
injury before the flames could be extinguished. But for that accident
she would have been a singularly good-looking woman of a type which
was common in books of beauty at the beginning of this reign.

She could read and write after a fashion, and was intelligent, but
ignorant, deceitful, superstitious, and hysterical. Mrs. Caldwell
continually lectured Beth about going into the kitchen so much; but
she only lectured on principle really. Young ladies could not be
allowed to associate with servants as a rule, but an exception might
be made in the case of a good, steady, sober sort of person, such as
Mrs. Caldwell believed Harriet to be, who would keep the troublesome
child out of mischief, and do her no harm. Harriet, as it happened,
delighted in mischief, and was often the instigator; but Mrs. Caldwell
might be excused for not suspecting this, as she only saw her on her
best behaviour. When the children were safe in bed, and Miss Victoria
Bench, who was an early person, had also retired, Harriet would put on
a clean apron, and appear before Mrs. Caldwell in the character of a
respectable, vigilant domestic, more anxious about her mistress's
interests than her own; and she would then make a report in which Beth
figured as a fiend of a child who could not be trusted alone for a
moment, and Harriet herself as a conscientious custodian, but for whom
nobody knows what might have happened.

When Harriet had no particular incident to report at these secret
conferences, she would tell Mrs. Caldwell her dreams, and describe
signs and portents of coming events which she had observed during the
day; and Mrs. Caldwell would listen with interest. Superstition is a
subject on which the most class-proud will consult with the lowest and
the wickedest; it is a mighty leveller downwards. But the poor lady
had a lonely life. It was not Mrs. Caldwell's fault, but the fault of
her day, that she was not a noble woman. She belonged to early
Victorian times, when every effort was made to mould the characters of
women as the homes of the period were built, on lines of ghastly
uniformity. The education of a girl in those days was eminently
calculated to cloud her intelligence and strengthen every failing
developed in her sex by ages of suppression. Mrs. Caldwell was a
plastic person, and her mind had been successfully compressed into the
accustomed groove until her husband came and helped it to escape a
little in one or two directions--with the effect, however, of spoiling
its conventional symmetry without restoring its natural beauty. If the
mind be tight-laced long enough, it is ruined as a model, just as the
body is; and throwing off the stays which restrained it, merely
exposes its deformities without remedying them; so that there is
nothing for the old generation but to remain in stays. Mrs. Caldwell,
with all her deformities, was just as heroic as she knew how to be.
She lived for her children to the extent of denying herself the bare
necessaries of life for them; and bore poverty and obscurity of a
galling kind without a murmur. She scarcely ever saw a soul to speak
to. Uncle James Patten and the Benyon family did not associate much
with the townspeople, and were not popular in the county; so that Mrs.
Caldwell had very few visitors. Of course it was an advantage to be
known as a relation of the great people of the place, although the
great people had a bad name; but then she was evidently a poor
relation, which made it almost a virtue to neglect her in a community
of Christians who only professed to love the Lord Himself for what
they could get. "You must worship God because He can give you
everything," was what they taught their children. Even the vicar of
the parish would not call on anybody with less than five hundred a
year. He kept a school for boys, which paid him more than cent. per
cent., but did nothing for his parishioners except preach sermons an
hour long on Sundays. Self-denial and morality were his favourite
subjects. He had had three wives himself, and was getting through a
fourth as fast as one baby a year would do it.

Mrs. Caldwell, left to herself, found her evenings especially long and
dreary. It was her habit to write her letters then, and read,
particularly in French and Italian, which, she had some vague notion,
helped to improve her mind. But she often wearied for a word, and
began to hear voices herself in the howling winter winds, and to brood
upon the possible meaning of her own dreams, and to wonder why a
solitary rook flew over her house in particular, and cawed twice as it
passed. Little things naturally become of great importance in such a
life, and Harriet kept up the supply; she being the connecting link
between Mrs. Caldwell and the outer world. She knew all that was
happening in the place, and she claimed to know all that was going to
happen; and by degrees the mistress as well as the maid fell into the
way of comparing events with the forebodings which had preceded them,
and often established a satisfactory connection between the two.

Mrs. Caldwell always made coffee in the kitchen for breakfast in the
morning, and while she was so engaged, Harriet, busy making toast,
would begin--"Did you 'ear a noise last night, m'em?"

"No, Harriet--at least--was it about ten o'clock?"

"Yes, m'em, just about--a sort of scraping rattling noise, like a lot
of people walking over gravel."

"I did hear something of the kind. I wonder what it was," Mrs.
Caldwell would rejoin.

"Well, m'em, I think it means there are people coming to the 'ouse,
for I remember it 'appened the night before your brother come, m'em,
unexpected, and the lawyer."

If nobody came during the day, the token would be supposed to refer to
some future period; and so, by degrees, signs and portents took the
place of more substantial interests in Mrs. Caldwell's dreary life.
Such things were in the air, for the little seaside place was quite
out of the world at the time, and the people still had more faith in
an incantation than a doctor's dose. If an accident happened, or a
storm decimated the fishing-fleet, signs innumerable were always
remembered which had preceded the event. If you asked why nobody had
profited by the warning, people would shake their heads and tell you
it was to be; and if you asked what was the use of the warning then,
they would say to break the blow--in which idea there seemed to be
some sense.

"When they told Tom's wife 'e was drownded, she'd 'a' dropped down
dead 'erself and left the children, if she 'adn't 'a' knowed it all
along," Harriet explained to Beth. "Eh! lass, you mark my words,
warnin's comes for one thing, and warnin's comes for another, but they
always comes for good, an' you're forced to take notice an' act on 'em
or you're forced to leave 'em alone, just as is right, an' ye can't
'elp it yerself, choose 'ow. There's Mrs. Pettinger, she dreamed one
night 'er husband's boat was lost, an' next mornin' 'e was to go out
fishin', but she wouldn't let 'im. 'No, 'Enery John,' she ses, 'you'll
not go, not if ah 'as to 'old you,' ses she, an' 'e was that mad 'e
struck 'er an' knocked 'er down an' broke 'er arm, an' then, needs
must, 'e 'ad to fetch the doctor to set it, an' by the time that was
done, the boat 'ad gone wi'out 'im. The other men thought 'e was
drunk--'e often was--an' they wouldn't wait. Well, that boat never
came back."

"And did he beat his wife again?" Beth asked.

"Oh, as to that, 'ow could it make any difference?" Harriet answered.

Beth was fascinated by the folk-lore of the place, and soon surpassed
Harriet herself in the interpretation of dreams and the reading of
signs and tokens. She began to invent methods of divination for
herself too, such as, "If the boards don't creak when I walk across
the room I shall get through my lessons without trouble this morning,"
a trick which soon became a confirmed habit into which she was apt to
lapse at any time; and so persistent are these early impressions that
to the end of her days she would always rather have seen two rooks
together than one alone, rooks being the birds of omen in a land where
magpies were scarce. Mrs. Caldwell knew nothing of Beth's proficiency
in the black arts. She would never have discussed such a subject
before the children, and took it for granted that Harriet was equally
discreet; while Beth on her part, with her curious quick sense of what
was right and proper, believed her mother to be above such things.

Harriet was a person of varied interests, all of which she discussed
with Beth impartially. She had many lovers, according to her own
account, and was stern and unyielding with them all, and so particular
that she would dismiss them at any moment for nothing almost. If she
went out at night she had always much to tell the next morning, and
Beth would hurry over her lessons, watch her mother out of the way,
and slip into the kitchen or upstairs after Harriet, and question her
about what she had said, and he had said, and if she had let him kiss
her even once.

"Well, last night," Harriet said on one occasion, in a tone of apology
for her own weakness and good-nature. "Last night I couldn't 'elp it.
'E just put 'is arm round me, and, well, there! I was sorry for 'im."

"Why don't you say _he_ and _him_ and _his_, Harriet?"

"I do."

"No, you don't. You say 'e and 'im and 'is."

"Well, that's what you say."

Beth shouted the aspirates at her for answer, but in vain; with all
the will in the world to "talk fine," as she called it, Harriet could
never acquire the art, for want of an ear to hear. She could not
perceive the slightest difference between him and 'im.

Even at this age Beth had her own point of view in social matters, and
frequently disconcerted Harriet by a word or look or inflection of the
voice which expressed disapproval of her conduct. Harriet had been at
home on one occasion for a week's holiday, a charwoman having done her
work in her absence, and on her return she had much to relate of
Charles Russell, the groom at Fairholm, who continued to be an ardent
admirer of hers, but not an honourable one, because he did not realise
what a very superior person Harriet was. He thought she was no better
than other girls, and when they were sitting up one night together in
her mother's cottage, the rest of the family having gone to bed, he
made her a proposal which Harriet indignantly rejected.

"And ah _ses_ to 'im, 'Charles _Russell_,' ah ses to 'im, 'not was it
ever so,' ah ses to 'im"--she was proceeding emphatically when Beth
interrupted her.

"Did you say you sat up with him alone all night?" she asked.

"Yes, there's no 'arm, you know," Harriet answered on the defensive,
without precisely knowing why.

"Well, what did he say?" Beth rejoined without comment.

But Harriet, put out of countenance, omitted the details, and brought
the story to an abrupt conclusion.

Another of Harriet's interests in life was the _Family Herald_, which
she took regularly, and as regularly read aloud to Beth, to the best
of her ability--from the verses to "Violet," or "My own Love," on the
first page, to the "Random Readings" on the last. They laughed at the
jokes, tried to guess the riddles, were impressed with the historical
anecdotes and words of wisdom, and became so hungry over the recipes
for good dishes that they frequently fried eggs and potatoes, or a
slice stolen from the joint roasting at the fire, and feasted
surreptitiously.

Beth tried in after years to remember what the stories in the _Family
Herald_ had been about, but all she could recall was a vague incident
of a falling scaffold, of a heroine called Margaret taking refuge in
the dark behind a hoarding, and of a fascinating hero whom Harriet
called Ug Miller. Long afterwards it dawned upon Beth that his name
was Hugh.

When Mildred went to her aunt, Beth and Bernadine became of necessity
constant companions, and it was a curious kind of companionship, for
their natures were antagonistic. Like rival chieftains whose
territories adjoin, they professed no love for each other, and were
often at war, but were intimate nevertheless, and would have missed
each other, because there was no one else with whom they could so
conveniently quarrel. Harriet took the liveliest interest in their
squabbles, which, under her able direction, rapidly developed from the
usual little girls' scrimmages into regular stand-up fights.

One day Beth pulled Bernadine's hair passionately, and Bernadine
retaliated by clawing Beth's face, and then howled as a further relief
to her feelings. Mrs. Caldwell rushed to see what accident had
happened to the dear child, and Harriet came to see the sport.

"Mamma, Beth pulled my hair," Bernadine whined.

Mrs. Caldwell immediately thumped Beth, who seldom said a word in her
own defence. Harriet was neutral till her mistress had disappeared,
and then she supported Beth.

"Just you wait till after dinner," she said. "Come into the kitchen
when your ma's asleep, and fight it out. Don't you be put upon by
tell-pie-tits."

"What's the use of my going into the kitchen?" Beth rejoined;
"Bernadine doesn't fight fair. She's a horrid, low little coward."

"Am I!" Bernadine howled. "Just you wait till after dinner! I'm as
brave as you are, and as strong, though you _are_ the biggest." Which
was true. Bernadine was sallow, thin, wiry, and muscular; Beth was
soft, and round, and white. She had height, age, and weight on her
side; Bernadine had strength, agility, and cunning.

"Phew--w--w!" Beth jeered, mimicking her whine. "You'd 'tell mamma' if
you got a scratch."

"I won't, Beth, if you'll fight," Bernadine protested.

"We'll see after dinner," Harriet put in significantly, and then
returned to her work.

After the four o'clock dinner, during the dark winter months, Mrs.
Caldwell dozed for half-an-hour in her chair by the fire. This was the
children's opportunity. They were supposed to sit still and amuse
themselves quietly while their mother slept; and, until she slept,
they would sit motionless, watching her, the greater their anxiety to
get away the more absolute their silence. Mrs. Caldwell looked as if
she were being mesmerised to sleep by the two pairs of bright eyes so
resolutely and patiently fixed upon her. The moment her breathing
showed she was sound asleep, the children stole to the kitchen,
shutting the doors after them softly, and instantly set to work.

It was a gruesome sight, those two children, with teeth set and
clenched fists, battering each other in deadly earnest, but with no
noise save the fizzle of feet on the brick floor, an occasional thump
up against a piece of furniture, or the thud when they fell. They were
afraid to utter a sound lest Aunt Victoria, up in her room, should
hear them, and come down interfering; or their mother should wake, and
come out and catch them. They bruised and blackened and scratched each
other, and were seldom without what they considered the honourable
scars of these battles. Sometimes, when Bernadine was badly mauled,
she lost her temper, and threatened to tell mamma. But Beth could
always punish her, and did so, by refusing to fight next time,
although, without that recreation, life were a blank.

Harriet always cleared away obstacles to give them room, and then sat
down to eat her dinner, and watch the fight. She had the tastes, and
some of the habits, of a Roman empress, and encouraged them with the
keenest interest for a long time, but when she had finished her dinner
she usually wearied of the entertainment, and would then stop it.

"I say, yer _ma's_ comin'! I can 'ear 'er!" she would exclaim. "'Elp
us to wash up, or I shan't be done for the reading."

When Harriet wanted help, Bernadine usually slipped away, helping
anybody not being much in her line; but Beth set to work with a will.

Beth, always sociable, had persuaded her mother to let Harriet come to
the reading; and Harriet accordingly, in a clean cap and apron, with a
piece of sewing, was added to the party.

So long as she sat on a high chair, at a respectful distance, and
remembered that she was a servant, her being there rather gratified
Mrs. Caldwell than otherwise, once she had yielded to Beth's
persuasion, and saw the practical working of the experiment; it made
her feel as if she were doing something to improve the lower classes.
It was a pity she did not try to improve Beth and Bernadine by finding
some sewing for their idle hands to do. During the reading, dear
little Bernadine, "so good and affectionate always," would sit on the
floor beside her mother, whose pocket she often picked of a penny or
sixpence to vary the monotony when she did not understand the book.
Beth also sat idle, listening intently, and watching her sister. If
the reading had been harrowing or exciting, she would fight Bernadine
for the sixpence when they went to bed. There were lively scenes
during the readings. They all wept at the pathetic parts, laughed
loudly when amused, and disputed about passages and incidents at the
top of their voices. Mrs. Caldwell forgot that Harriet was a servant,
Harriet forgot herself, and the children, unaccustomed to wordy
warfare, forgot their fear of their mother, and flew at each other's
throats.

When the story was very interesting, Mrs. Caldwell read until she was
hoarse, and then went on to herself--"dipping," the children called
it. It was a point of honour with them not to dip, and they would
remonstrate with their mother loudly when they caught her at it. Their
feeling on the subject was so strong that she was ashamed to be seen
dipping at last. She used to put the book away until they were safe in
bed, and then gratify her curiosity; but they suspected her, because
once or twice they noticed that she was unaffected by an exciting
part; so one night they came down in their night-dresses and caught
her, and after that the poor lady had to be careful. She might thump
the children for coming downstairs, but she could not alter the low
opinion they had of a person who dipped.



CHAPTER XVI


Beth's brain began to be extraordinarily busy. She recorded nothing,
but her daily doings were so many works of her imagination. She was
generally somebody else in these days, seldom herself; and people who
did not understand this might have supposed that she was an
exceedingly mendacious little girl, when she was merely speaking
consistently in the character which she happened to be impersonating.
She would spend hours of the afternoon alone in the drawing-room,
standing in the window looking out while she wove her fancies; and she
soon began to go out also, by the back-door, when the mood was upon
her, without asking anybody's leave. She had wandered off in this way
on one occasion to the south side, whither her people rarely went. At
the top of the cliff, where the winding road began which led down to
the harbour, a paralysed sailor was sitting in a wickerwork wheeled
chair, looking over the sea. Beth knew the man by sight. He had been a
yachtsman in the service of one of her great-uncles, and she had heard
hints of extraordinary adventures they had had together. It filled her
with compassion to see him sitting there so lonely and helpless, and
as she approached she resolved herself into a beneficent being, able
and willing to help. She had a book under her arm, a costly volume
which Mrs. Caldwell had borrowed to read to the children. Beth had
been looking at the pictures when the desire to go out suddenly seized
upon her, and had carried the book off inadvertently.

"How are you to-day, Tom?" she said, going up to the invalid
confidently. "I'm glad to see you out. We shall soon have you about
again as well as ever. I knew a man in Ireland much worse than you
are. He couldn't move his hands and arms. Legs are bad enough, but
when it's hands and arms as well, you know, it's worse. Well, now you
couldn't tell there'd ever been anything the matter with him."

"And what cured 'im?" Tom asked with interest.

"Oh, he just _thought_ he'd get well, you know. You've got to set
yourself that way, don't you see? If mountains can be moved by faith,
you can surely move your own legs!"

"That sounds reasonable any way," Tom ejaculated.

"Do you like reading?" said Beth.

"Yes, I read a bit at times."

"Well, I've brought you a book," Beth proceeded, handing him the
borrowed volume. "You'll find it interesting, I'm sure. It's a great
favourite of mine."

"You're mighty good," the sailor said.

"Oh, not at all," Beth answered largely. Then she wished him good-bye.
But she often visited him again in the same character, and the stories
she told that unhappy invalid for his comfort and encouragement were
amazing. When the book was missed, and her mother bothered about it,
she listened serenely, and even helped to look for it.

Beth strolled homewards when she left her protégé, and on the way she
became Norna of the Fitful Head. She tried Minna and Brenda first, but
these characters were too insipid for her taste. Norna was different.
She did things, you know, and made charms, and talked poetry, and
people were afraid of her. Beth believed in her thoroughly. She'd be
Norna, and make charms. But she had no lead. Norna looked about her.
She knew by magic that Cleveland was coming to consult her, and she
had no lead. There was a border of lead, however, over the attic
window outside. All she had to do was to steal upstairs, climb out of
the window on to the roof, and cut a piece of the lead off. It was now
the mystic moment to obtain lead, but she must be wary. She strolled
through the kitchen in a casual way. Harriet was busy about the grate,
and paid no attention to her; so she secured the carving-knife without
difficulty, went up to the attic, and opened the window. She was now
on the dangerous pinnacle of a temple, risking her life in order to
obtain the materials for a charm which would give her priceless power.

On the other side of the street, there lived in the Orchard House
another widow-woman with three daughters. She let lodgings, and was
bringing up her children to honest industry in that state of life. She
and Mrs. Caldwell took a kindly interest in each other's affairs. Mrs.
Davy happened to be changing the curtains in front that afternoon when
Beth crept out of the attic window on to the roof, and she was
paralysed with horror for a moment, expecting to see the child roll
off into the street. She was a sensible woman, however, and quickly
recovering herself, she ran across the road, with her spectacles on,
and rapped at Mrs. Caldwell's door. Beth, hacking away at the lead
with the carving-knife, did not heed the rap. Presently, however, she
heard hurried footsteps on the stairs, and climbed back into the attic
incontinently, putting her spoils in her pocket. When Mrs. Davy, her
mother, and Harriet, all agitated, burst open the door, she was
standing at the window looking out tranquilly.

"What were you doing on the roof, Beth?" her mother demanded.

"Nothing," Beth answered.

"Mrs. Davy says she saw you get out of the window."

Beth was silent.

"You're a bad girl, giving your mother so much trouble," Mrs. Davy
exclaimed, looking at her under her spectacles sternly. "If you was my
child I'd whack you, I would."

Beth was instantly a lady, sneering at this common woman who was
taking a liberty which she knew her mother would resent as much as she
did.

"And what were you doing with the carving-knife, Miss Beth?" cried
Harriet, spying it on the floor, and picking it up. Criminals are only
clever up to a certain point; Beth had forgotten to conceal the
carving-knife. "Oh dear! oh dear! If you 'aven't 'acked it all the way
along!"

"Oh dear! oh dear!" Mrs. Caldwell echoed. It was her best
carving-knife, and Beth would certainly have been beaten if Mrs. Davy
had not suggested it. As it was, however, Mrs. Caldwell controlled her
temper, and merely ordered her to go downstairs immediately. In the
management of her children she would not be dictated to by anybody.

This was Beth's first public appearance as a disturber of the peace,
and the beginning of the bad name she earned for herself in certain
circles eventually. But she was let off lightly for it. Mrs.
Caldwell's punishments were never retrospective. She was thunder and
lightning in her wrath; a flash and then a bang, and it was all over.
If she missed the first movement, the culprit escaped. She could no
more have punished one of her children in cold blood than she could
have cut its throat.

Beth ran down to the acting-room, so called because the boys had
brought home the idea of acting in the holidays, and they had got up
charades there on a stage made of boxes, with an old counterpane for a
curtain, and farthing candles for footlights. It was a long, narrow
room over the kitchen, with a sloping roof. Three steps led down into
it. There was a window at one end, a small lattice with an iron bar
nailed to the outside vertically. Beth swung herself out round the
bar, dropped on to the back-kitchen roof, crept across the tiles to
the chimney at the far corner, stepped thence on to the top of the old
wooden pump, and from the top to the spout, from the spout to the
stone trough, and so into the garden. Then she ran round to the
kitchen, and got a candle, a canister, and some water in a pail, all
of which she took up to the acting-room by way of the back-kitchen
roof. The canister happened to contain allspice, but this was not to
be considered when she wanted the canister, so she emptied it from the
roof on to Harriet's head as she happened to be passing, and so got
some good out of it, for Harriet displayed strong feeling on the
subject both at the moment and afterwards, when she was trying to get
the stuff out of her hair; which interested Beth, who in some such way
often surprised people into the natural expression of emotions which
she might never otherwise have discovered. Bernadine had been playing
alone peaceably in the garden, but Beth persuaded her to come
upstairs. She found Beth robed in the old counterpane, with her hair
dishevelled, and the room darkened. Beth was Norna now in her cell on
the Fitful Head, and Bernadine was the shrinking but resolute Minna
come to consult her. Beth made her sit down, drew a magic circle round
her with a piece of chalk, and, in a deep tragic voice, warned her not
to move if she valued her life, for there were evil spirits in the
room. The pail stood on a box draped with an old black shawl, and
round this she also drew a circle. Then she put some lead in the
canister, melted it over the candle, dropped it into the water, and
muttered--

    "Like snakes the molten metal hisses,
     Curses come instead of kisses."

She plunged her hand into the water--

    "I search a harp for harmony,
     But daggers only do I see;
     I search a heart for love and hope,
     But find a ghastly hangman's rope.
              Woe! Woe!"

Three times round the pail she went, moaning, groaning, writhing her
body, and wringing her hands--

           "Woe! Woe!
    Thy courage will be sorely tried,
    Thou shalt not be the pirate's bride."

At this Bernadine, whose nerves were completely shaken, set up such a
howl that Harriet came running to see what was the matter. She soon
let light into the acting-room. Mrs. Caldwell and Aunt Victoria had
gone to see Aunt Grace Mary, so Harriet was in charge of the children,
and to save herself further trouble, she took them up to a black-hole
there was without a window at the top of the house, and locked them
in. The place was quite empty, so that they could do no harm, and they
did not seem to mind being locked up. Harriet intended to give them a
little fright and then let them out; but, being busy, she forgot them,
and when at last she remembered, it was so dark she had to take a
candle; and great was her horror, on opening the door, to see both
children stretched out on the bare boards side by side, apparently
quite dead. One glance at their ghastly faces was enough for Harriet.
She just looked and then fled, shrieking, with the candle alight in
her hand, right out into the street. Several people who happened to be
passing at the time stopped to see what was the matter. Harriet's
talent for fiction furnished her with a self-saving story on the
instant. She said the children had shut themselves up and got
smothered.

"We'd better go and see if there's nothing can be done," a respectable
workman suggested.

Harriet led the way, about a dozen people following, all awe-stricken
and silent. When they came to the door, they peeped in over each
other's shoulders at the two poor children, stretched out stiff and
stark, the colour of death, their jaws dropped, their glazed eyes
shining between the half-closed lids, a piteous spectacle.

"Just let's see the candle a moment," the workman said. He took it
from Harriet, and entered stooping--the place was a mere closet just
under the roof, and he could not stand upright in it. He peered into
the children's faces, then knelt down beside them, and felt their arms
and chests. Suddenly he burst out laughing.

"You little devils," he said, "what 'a' ye done this for?"

Beth sat up. "Harriet locked us in to give us a fright, so we thought
we'd frighten Harriet," she said.

The walls were whitewashed, and the children had made themselves
ghastly by rubbing their faces all over with the whitening.

"You've getten yer 'ands full wi' them two, I'm thinkin', missis," the
workman remarked to Harriet as he went off chuckling.

"Did you hear, Beth?" Bernadine complained; "he called us little
devils."

"All right," Beth answered casually. But Bernadine was disgusted. She
was one of those pious children who like to stand high in the
estimation of the grown-up people; and she disapproved of Beth's
conduct when it got her into trouble. She was like the kind of man who
enjoys being vicious so long as he is not found out by any one who
will think the less of him for it; when he is found out he excuses
himself, and blames his associates. Bernadine never resisted Beth's
eloquent persuasions, nor the luring fascination of her schemes; but
when she had had her full share of the pleasures of naughtiness, and
was tired and cross, her conscience smote her, and then she told
mamma. This did her good, and got Beth punished, which made Bernadine
feel that she had expiated her own naughtiness and been forgiven, and
also made her feel sorry for Beth--a nice kind feeling, which she
always enjoyed.

Beth despised her for her conscientious treachery, and retaliated by
tempting her afresh. One day she lured her out on to the tiles through
an attic window in the roof, at the back of the house. It would be
such fun to sit astride on the roof-ridge, and look right down into
the street, she said, and across Mrs. Davy's orchard to the fields on
that side, and out to sea on the other.

"And things will come into our minds up there--such lovely things,"
she proceeded, beguiling Bernadine to distract her attention as she
helped her up. When they were securely seated, Bernadine began to
grumble.

"Things don't come into my mind," she whined.

"Don't they? Why, I was just thinking if we were to fall we should
certainly be killed," Beth answered cheerfully. "We should come down
thump, and that would crack our skulls, and our brains would roll out
on the pavement. Ough! wouldn't they look nasty, just like a sheep's!
And mamma and Aunt Victoria would rush out, and Harriet and Mrs. Davy,
and they'd have to hold mamma up by the arms. Then they'd pick us up,
and carry us in, and lay us out on a bed, and say they were beautiful
in their lives, and in death they were not divided; and when they shut
the house up at night and it was all still, mamma would cry. She'd be
always crying, especially for you, Bernadine, because you're not such
a trouble as I am. And when you were buried, and the worms were eating
you, she would give all the world to have you here again."

This sad prospect was too much for the sensitive Bernadine. "Don't,
Beth," she whimpered. "You frighten me."

"Oh, you mustn't be frightened," said Beth encouragingly. "When people
up on a height like this get frightened, they always roll off. Do you
feel as if the roof were moving?" she exclaimed, suddenly clutching
hold.

Bernadine fell down flat on her face with a dismal howl.

"Let's be cats now," said Beth. "I'll say miew-ow-ow, and you
oo-oo-owl-hiss-ss-ss."

"Don't, Beth. I want to go back."

"Come along then," said Beth.

"I can't. I daren't move."

"Oh, nonsense," said Beth; "just follow me. I shall go and leave you
if you don't. You shouldn't have come up if you were afraid."

"You made me," Bernadine whimpered with her eyes shut.

"Of course it was me!" said Beth, on her way back to the skylight.
"You haven't a will of your own, I suppose!"

"You aren't leaving me, Beth!" Bernadine cried in an agony. "Don't go!
I'm frightened! Help me down! I'll tell mamma!"

"Then there you'll sit, tell-pie-tit," Beth chanted, as she let
herself down through the skylight.

Presently she appeared on the other side of the street, and performed
a war-dance of delight as she looked up at her sister, prone upon the
roof-ridge.

"You do look so funny, Bernadine," she cried. "Your petticoats are
nohow; and you seem to have only one leg, and it is so long and thin!"

Bernadine howled aloud. Mrs. Caldwell was not at home; but the cry
brought Mrs. Davy out in her spectacles. When she saw the child's
dangerous predicament, she seized Beth and shook her emphatically.

"Oh, thank you," said Beth.

"What 'a' you bin doin' now, you bad girl?" said Mrs. Davy. "Hold on,
missy," she called up to Bernadine. "We'll soon 'ave ye down. You're
all right! You'll not take no 'arm."

Harriet now came running out, wringing her hands, and uttering
hysterical exclamations.

"Shut up, you fool," said Mrs. Davy.

Doors opened all the way down the street, and a considerable crowd had
soon collected. Beth, quite detached from herself, leant against the
orchard-wall and watched the people with interest.

How to get the child down was the difficulty, as there was no ladder
at hand long enough to reach up to the roof.

"I'll go and fetch her down if you like," said Beth.

"I should think so! and then there'd be two of you," said Mrs. Davy.

"I don't see how you'll manage it then," said Beth. "There isn't
foothold for a man to get out of the attic-window." Having spoken, she
strolled off with an air of indifference, and disappeared. She was a
heroine of romance now, going to do a great deed; and before she was
missed, the horrified spectators saw her climbing out of the front
attic-window smiling serenely. The people held their breath as they
watched her go up the roof on the slippery tiles at a reckless rate to
her sister.

"Come along, Bernadine," she whispered. "Such fun! There's a whole
crowd down there watching us. Just let them see you're not afraid."

Bernadine peeped. It was gratifying to be an object of such interest.

"Come along, don't be an idiot," said Beth. "Just follow me, and don't
look at anything but the tiles. That's the way _I_ learnt to do it."

Bernadine's courage revived. Slowly she slid from the roof-ridge, Beth
helping her carefully. It looked fearfully dangerous, and the people
below dared not utter a sound. When they got to the attic-window,
Beth, herself on the edge of the roof, guided her sister past her, and
helped her in. She was following herself, when some tiles gave way
beneath her, and fell with a crash into the street. Fortunately she
had hold of the sill, but for a moment her legs hung over; then she
pulled herself through, and, falling head first on to the floor,
disappeared from sight. The people below relieved their feelings with
a faint cheer.

"Eh, but she's a _bad_ un," said Mrs. Davy, who was trembling all
over.

"Well, she's a rare plucky un, at any rate," said a man in the crowd,
admiringly.

Crowds constantly collected at the little house in Orchard Street in
those days. When Mrs. Caldwell had to go out alone she was always
anxious, not knowing what might be happening in her absence. Coming
home from Lady Benyon's one summer evening, she found the whole street
blocked with people, and the roadway in front of her own house packed
so tight she could not get past. Beth had dressed herself up in a mask
and a Russian sheepskin cloak which had belonged to her father, and
sat motionless in the drawing-room window on a throne made of an
arm-chair set on a box; while Bernadine played Scotch airs on the
piano. A couple of children passing had stopped to see what on earth
the thing was, then a man and woman had come along and stopped too,
then several girls, some sailors, the bellman, and many more, until
the street was full. Harriet was enjoying the commotion in the
background, but when Mrs. Caldwell appeared, she gave the signal, the
piano stopped, and the strange beast roared loudly and fled.

But Beth had her human moments. They generally came on in wet weather,
which depressed her. She would then stand in the drawing-room window
by the hour together, looking out at the miserable street, thinking of
the poor people, all cold and wet and hungry. She longed to do
something for them, and one day she stopped a little girl who was
going with a jug for some beer to the "Shining Star," a quiet little
public-house on the same side of the street.

"I suppose you are a very ignorant little girl," said Beth severely.

"Aw?"

"What's your name?"

"Emily Bean."

"Do you learn lessons?"

"Naw."

"Dear me, how dreadful!" said Beth. "You ought to be taught, you know.
Would you like to be taught?"

"Ah should."

"Well, you come here every afternoon at two o'clock, and I'll teach
you."

"Ah mon jest ass mother first," said Emily.

"Yes--I'd forgotten that," Beth rejoined. "Well, you come if she lets
you."

Emily nodded, and was going on her errand, but stopped. "Did you ass
yer own mother if you might?" she wanted to know.

"No, I didn't think of that either," Beth rejoined. "But I will."

"Will she let you?"

"I don't know"--rather doubtfully.

"I expect she will if you wait until she's in a good humour," the
child of the people sagely suggested.

"All right. You come at any rate," Beth answered boldly.

Mrs. Caldwell consented. She came of a long line of lady patronesses,
and thought it natural and becoming that her child should wish to
improve the "common people." Punctually to the moment Emily arrived
next day, and Beth sat down with her in the kitchen, and taught her a,
b, ab, and b, a, d, bad. Then she repeated a piece of poetry to her,
and read her a little story. Harriet was busy in the back kitchen, and
Bernadine was out with her mother and Aunt Victoria, so Beth and her
pupil had the kitchen to themselves. The next day, however, Harriet
wanted to clean the kitchen, so they had to retire to the acting-room.
This was Beth's first attempt to apply such knowledge as she
possessed, and in her anxiety to improve the child of the people, she
improved herself in several respects. She began to read better, became
less afraid of writing and spelling, mastered the multiplication
table, and found she could "make out" how to do easy sums from the
book. This gave her the first real interest she had ever had in
school-work, and inspired her with some slight confidence in herself.
She felt the dignity of the position of teacher too, and the
responsibility. She never betrayed her own ignorance, nor did anything
to shake Emily's touching belief in her superiority; and she never
shook Emily. She knew she could have done better herself if there had
been less thumping and shaking, and she had the wisdom to profit by
her mother's errors of judgment already--not that Emily ever provoked
her. The child was apt and docile, and the lessons were a sort of
improving game.

How to impart religious instruction was the thing that troubled Beth
most: she used to lie awake at night thinking out the problem. She
found that Emily had learnt many texts and hymns in the Sunday-school
to which she went regularly, and Beth made her repeat them, and soon
knew them all by heart herself; but she did not think that she taught
Emily enough. One day in church, however, she thought of a way to
extend her teaching. Bernadine had joined her class for fun, and was
playing at learning too; and now Beth proposed that they should fit up
a chapel in the acting-room, and resolve themselves occasionally into
a clergyman and congregation. A chair with the bottom knocked out was
the pulpit, and a long narrow box stood on end was the reading-desk.
Beth was the parson, of course, in a white sheet filched from the
soiled-clothes bag, and changed for a black shawl for the sermon. She
read portions of Scripture standing, she read prayers on her knees,
she led a hymn; and then she got into the black shawl and preached.
What these discourses were about, she could not remember in after
years; but they must have been fascinating, for the congregation
listened unwearied so long as she chose to go on.

Emily was a disappointment in one way: she had no imagination. Beth
pretended to take her photograph one day, after the manner of the
photographers on the sands.

"Now, this is the picture," she said, showing her a piece of glass.

"But there isn't no picture on it," said Emily, staring hard at the
glass.

"How stupid you are," said Beth, disgusted. "Look again."

"There isn't," Emily protested. "Just you show it to Bernadine."

"You should say _Miss_ Bernadine," that young lady admonished her.

A few minutes afterwards Emily corrected Bernadine for not saying miss
to Beth and herself. Beth tried to explain, but Emily could not see
why she should say miss to them if they did not say miss to her and to
each other.

Poor Mrs. Caldwell was in great straits for want of money at this
time. She had scarcely enough to pay for their meagre fare, and her
own clothes and the children's were almost beyond patching and
darning. Beth surprised her several times sitting beside the
dining-table with the everlasting mending on her lap, fretting
silently, and the child's heart was wrung. There was some legal
difficulty, and letters which added to her mother's trouble came to
the house continually.

The same faculty made Beth either the naughtiest or the best of
children; the difference depended on her heart: if that were touched,
she was all sympathy; but if no appeal was made to her feelings, her
daily doings were the outcome of so many erratic impulses acted on
without consideration, merely to vary the disastrous monotony of those
long idle afternoons.

The day after she had surprised her mother fretting over her letters,
another packet arrived. Beth happened to be early up that morning, and
opened the door to the postman. She would like to have given the
packet back to him, but that being impossible, she carried it up to
the acting-room and hid it in the roof. When her mother came down,
however, she found to her consternation that the fact of there being
no letter at all that morning was a greater trouble if anything than
the arrival of the one the day before; so she boldly brought it down
and delivered it, quite expecting to be whipped. But for once Mrs.
Caldwell asked for an explanation, and the child's motive was so
evident that even her mother was more affected by her sympathy than
enraged by the inconvenient expression of it.

The next day she was playing on the pier with Bernadine. Her mother and
Aunt Victoria were walking up and down, not paying much attention to the
children. First they swung on a chain that was stretched from post to
post down the middle of the pier to keep people from being washed off in
stormy weather; but Bernadine tumbled over backwards and hurt her head,
and was jeered at besides by some rude little street children, who could
not understand why the little Caldwells, who were as shabby as
themselves, should look down on them, and refuse to associate with them.
It was not Beth's nature to be exclusive. She had no notion of
differences of degree. Any pleasant person was her equal. She was as
much gratified by friendly notice from the milkman, the fishwoman, and
the sweep as from Lady Benyon or Count Bartahlinsky; and very early
thought it contemptible to jeer at people for want of means and defects
of education. She never talked of the "common people," after she found
that Harriet was hurt by the phrase; and she would have been on good
terms with all the street children had it not been for what Mrs.
Caldwell called "Bernadine's superior self-respect." Bernadine told if
Beth spoke to one of them, and as Beth had no friends amongst them as
yet, she did not feel that their acquaintance was worth fighting for.
But the street children resented the attitude of the two shabby little
ladies, and were always watching for opportunities to annoy them.
Accordingly, when Bernadine tumbled off the chain head-over-heels
backwards, there was a howl of derision. "Oh my! Ain't she getten thin
legs!" "Ah say, Julia, did you see that big 'ole i' her stockin'?" "Naw,
but ah seed the patch on 'er petticoat!" "Eh--an' she's on'y getten one
on, an' it isn't flannel." "An' them's ladies!"

Bernadine's pride came to her rescue on these occasions. At home she
howled when she was hurt, but now she affected to laugh, and both
sisters strolled off with their little heads up, and an exasperating
air of indifference to the enemy. The tide was out, and they went down
into the harbour and found a large oyster among the piles of the
wooden jetty. When they got home, the difficulty was how to open it;
but they managed to make it open itself by holding it over the kitchen
fire on the shovel. When it began to lift its lid, Beth sent Bernadine
for a fork, and while she was getting it Beth ate the oyster. But
Bernadine could not see the joke, and her rage was not to be appeased
even by the oyster-shell, which Beth said she might have the whole of.

The battle came off after dinner that evening. But it was a day of
disaster. Harriet was out of temper; and Mrs. Caldwell appeared
mysteriously, just as Beth knocked Bernadine down and sat on her
stomach.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were reading a story of French life at that time, and something
came into it about snail-broth as a cure for consumption, and
snail-oil as a remedy for rheumatism. The next day there was a most
extraordinary smell all over the house. Mrs. Caldwell, Aunt Victoria,
Harriet, and Bernadine went sniffing about, but could find nothing to
account for it. Beth sat at the dining-table with a book before her,
taking no notice. At last Harriet had occasion to open the oven door,
and just as she did so there was a loud explosion, and the kitchen
wall opposite was bespattered with boiling animal matter. Beth had got
up early, and collected snails enough in the garden to fill a
blacking-bottle, corked them up tight, and put them into the darkest
corner of the oven, her idea being to render them into oil, as Harriet
rendered suet into fat, and go and rub rheumatic people with it. As
usual, however, her motive was ignored, while a great deal was made of
the mess on the kitchen wall--which disheartened her, especially as
several other philanthropic enterprises happened to fail about the
same time.

Emily appeared with a bad toothache one day, and finding a remedy for
it gave Beth a momentary interest in life. She told Emily she had a
cure for toothache, and Emily, never doubting, let her put some soft
substance into the tooth with the end of a match.

"It won't taste very nice," said Beth; "but you mustn't mind that. You
just go home, and you'll find it won't ache any more."

When Emily returned next day she gratefully proclaimed herself cured,
and her mother wanted to know "whatever the stuff was."

"Soap," said Beth.

"Oh, you mucky thing!" Emily exclaimed. She resented the application
of such a substance to the inside of her person. Her plebeian mind was
too narrow to conceive a second legitimate use for soap, and from that
day Beth's influence declined. Emily's attendance became irregular,
then gradually ceased altogether; not, however, before Beth's own
interest in the lessons was over, and her mind much occupied with
other things.



CHAPTER XVII


The dower-house of the Benyon family stood in a street which was
merely an extension of Orchard Street, and could be seen from Mrs.
Caldwell's windows. Lady Benyon, having produced a huge family, and
buried her husband, had done her day's work in the world, as it were,
and now had full leisure to live as she liked; so she "lived well";
and in the intervals of living, otherwise eating, she sat in the big
bow-window of her sitting-room, digesting, and watching her
neighbours. From her large old-fashioned house she commanded a fine
view down the wide irregular front street to the sea, with a diagonal
glimpse down two other streets which ran parallel with the front
street; while on the left she could see up Orchard Street as far as
the church; so that everybody came under her observation sooner or
later, and, to Beth, it always seemed that she dominated the whole
place. Most of the day her head could be seen above the wire-blind;
but, as she seldom went out, her acute old face and the four dark
sausage-shaped curls, laid horizontally on either side of it, were
almost all of her that was known to the inhabitants.

Mrs. Caldwell went regularly to see Lady Benyon, and sometimes took
the children with her. On one occasion when she had done so, Lady
Benyon made her take a seat in the window where she was sitting
herself, so that they could both look out. Beth and Bernadine sat in
the background with a picture-book, in which they seemed so absorbed
that the conversation flowed on before them with very little
constraint. Beth's ears were open, however, as usual.

"After twenty-two children," Lady Benyon remarked, "one cannot expect
to be as active as one was."

"No, indeed," Mrs. Caldwell answered cheerfully. "_I_ have only had as
good as fourteen, and I'm quite a wreck. I don't know what it is to
pass a day free from pain. But, however, it is so ordered, and I don't
complain. If only they turn out well when they do come, that's
everything."

"Ah, you're right there," Lady Benyon answered.

"You know _my_ trial," Mrs. Caldwell pursued--Beth's face instantly
became a blank. "I am afraid she cares for no one but herself. It
shows what spoiling a child does. Her father could never make enough
of her."

"Well, I suppose she's naughty," Lady Benyon rejoined with a laugh;
"but she's promising all the same--and not only in appearance. The
things she says, you know!"

"Oh, well, yes," Mrs. Caldwell allowed. "She certainly says things
sometimes, but that's not much comfort when you never know what she'll
be doing. Now Mildred has never given me a moment's anxiety in her
life, except on account of her delicate health, poor little body; and
Bernadine is a dear, sweet little thing. _She_ is the only one who is
thoroughly unruly and selfish."

Beth's blood boiled at the accusation.

"How does the old aunt get on?" Lady Benyon asked presently.

"Oh, she seems to be very well."

"Don't you find it rather a trial to have her about always?"

Mrs. Caldwell shrugged her shoulders with an air of resignation. "Oh,
you know, she means well," she replied, "and there really was nothing
else for it. But I must say I have no patience with cant."

Beth, in opposition, still smarting from her mother's accusation of
selfishness, determined at once to inquire into Aunt Victoria's
religious tenets, with a view to approving of them.

"Well, James Patten played a mean part in that business," Lady Benyon
observed. "But I always say, beware of a man who does his own
housekeeping. When they keep the money in their own hands, and pay the
bills themselves, don't trust them. That sort of man is a cur at
heart, you may be sure. And as for a man who takes possession of his
wife's money, and doles it out to her a little at a time--! I know one
such--without a penny of his own, mind you! He gives his wife a cheque
for five pounds a month; the rest goes on other women, and she never
suspects it! He's one of those plausible gentlemen who's always
looking for a post that will pay him, and never gets it--you know the
kind of thing." Here the old lady caught Beth's eye. "You take my
advice," she said. "Don't ever marry a man who does his own
housekeeping. He's a crowing hen, that sort of man, you may be sure. I
warn you against the man who does a woman's work."

"And if a woman does a man's work?" said the intelligent Beth.

"It is often a very great help," Mrs. Caldwell put in, with a quick
mental survey of the reams of official letters she had written for her
husband.

Lady Benyon pursed up her mouth.

       *       *       *       *       *

Aunt Victoria was one of those forlorn old ladies who have nobody
actually their own to care for them, although they may have numbers of
relations, and acquire odd habits from living much alone. She was a
great source of interest to Beth, who would sit silently watching her
by the hour together, her bright eyes steady and her countenance a
blank. The intentness of her gaze fidgeted the old lady, who would
look up suddenly every now and then and ask her what she was staring
at. "Nothing, Aunt Victoria; I was only thinking," Beth always
answered; and then she affected to occupy herself until the old lady
returned to her work or her book, when Beth would resume her
interrupted study. But she liked Aunt Victoria. The old lady was sharp
with her sometimes, but she meant to be kind, and was always just; and
Beth respected her. She had more faith in her, too, than she had in
her mother, and secretly became her partisan on all occasions. She had
instantly detected the tone of detraction in the allusions Lady Benyon
and her mother had made to Aunt Victoria that afternoon, and stolidly
resented it.

When they went home, she ran upstairs and knocked at Aunt Victoria's
door. It was immediately opened, and Beth, seeing what she took for an
old gentleman in a short black petticoat and loose red jacket, with
short, thick, stubbly white hair standing up all over his head,
started back. But it was only Aunt Victoria without her cap and front.
When she saw Beth's consternation, the old lady put her hand up to her
head. "I had forgotten," she muttered; then she added severely, "But
you should never show surprise, Beth, at anything in anybody's
appearance. It is very ill-bred."

"I don't think I shall ever be surprised again," Beth answered
quaintly. "But I want you to tell me, Aunt Victoria. What do you
believe in?"

"What do you mean, child?"

"Oh, you know, about God, and the Bible, and cant, and that sort of
thing," Beth answered evenly.

"Come in and sit down," said Aunt Victoria.

Beth sat on a classical piece of furniture that stood in the window, a
sort of stool or throne, with ends like a sofa and no back. It had
belonged to Aunt Victoria's father, and she valued it very much.
Beth's feet, as she sat on it, did not touch the ground. Aunt Victoria
stood for a moment in the middle of the room reflecting, and, as she
did so, she looked, with her short, thick, stubbly white hair, more
like a thin old gentleman in a black petticoat and loose red jacket
than ever.

"I believe, Beth," she said solemnly, "I believe in God the Father
Almighty. I believe that if we do His holy will here on earth, we
shall, when we die, be received by Him into bliss everlasting; but if
we do not do His holy will, then He will condemn us to the bad place,
where we shall burn for ever."

"But what _is_ His holy will?" Beth asked.

"It is His holy will that we should do right, and that we should not
do wrong. But this is a big subject, Beth, and I can only unfold it to
you bit by bit."

"But will you unfold it?"

"I will, as best I can, if you will listen earnestly."

"I am always in earnest," Beth answered sincerely.

"No one can teach you God," Aunt Victoria pursued. "He must come to
you. '_Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright
of heart. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament
showeth His handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto
night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their
voice is not heard. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted
up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is
the King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty._'"

Beth, in a burst of enthusiasm, jumped down from her perch, clasped
her hands to her chest, and cried--"O Aunt Victoria! that is--that
is"--she tore at her hair--"I want a word--I want a word!"

"It is _grand_, Beth!"

"Grand! grand!" Beth shouted. "Yes, it is grand."

"Beth," said Aunt Victoria emphatically, "remember that you are a
Christian child, and not a dancing-dervish. If you do not instantly
calm yourself, I shall shake you. And if I ever see you give way to
such wild excitement again, I _shall_ shake you, for your own good.
Calm is one of the first attributes of a gentlewoman."

Teachers of religion do not always practise what they preach. Up to
this moment, although Beth had done her best to teach Emily, she had
had no idea of being religious herself; but now, on a sudden, there
came upon her that great yearning tenderness towards God, and desire
for goodness, which some sects call conversion, and hold to be the
essential beginning of a religious life. This was the opportunity Aunt
Victoria had prayed for, and from that time forward she began to
instruct Beth systematically in religious matters. The subject
fascinated Beth, and she would make opportunities to be alone with her
aunt, and go to her room willingly whenever she asked her, for the
pleasure of hearing her. Aunt Victoria often moved about the room, and
dressed as she talked, and Beth, while listening, did not fail to
observe the difficulty of keeping stockings up on skinny legs when you
wore woollen garters below the knee; and also that it looked funny to
have to tuck up your dress to get your purse out of a pocket in your
petticoat at the back. But when Aunt Victoria sat down and read the
Bible aloud, Beth became absorbed, and would even read whole chapters
again to herself in order to remember how to declaim the more poetical
passages as Aunt Victoria did--all of which she relished with the
keenest enthusiasm. Unfortunately for Beth, however, Aunt Victoria was
strongly Calvinistic, and dwelt too much on death and the judgment for
her mental health. The old lady, deeply as she sympathised with Beth,
and loved her, did not realise how morbidly sensitive she was; and
accordingly worked on her feelings until the fear of God got hold of
her. Just at this time, too, Mrs. Caldwell chose "The Pilgrim's
Progress" for a "Sunday book," and read it aloud to the children; and
this, together with Aunt Victoria's views, operated only too actively
on the child's vivid imagination. A great dread seized upon her--not
on her own account, strange to say; she never thought of herself, but
of her friends, and of the world at large. She was in mortal dread
lest they should be called to judgment and consigned to the flames.
While the sun was out such thoughts did not trouble her; but as the
day declined, and twilight sombrely succeeded the sunset, her heart
sank, and her little being was racked with one great petition, offered
up to the Lord in anguish, that He would spare them all.

The season was beginning, the little place was already full of
visitors, and Beth used to stand at the dining-room window while Mrs.
Caldwell was reading aloud on Sunday evenings, and watch the
congregation stream out of the church at the end of the road, and
suffer agonies because of the torments that awaited them all,
including her mother, brothers and sisters, Harriet in the kitchen,
and Mrs. Davy at Orchard House opposite--everybody, indeed, except
Aunt Victoria--in a future state. Out on the cliffs in the summer
evenings, when great dark masses of cloud tinged with crimson were
piled to the zenith at sundown, and coldly reflected in the dark
waters of the bay, she saw the destination of the world; she heard
cries of torment, too, in the plash of breaking waves and the
unceasing roar of the sea; and as she watched the visitors lounging
about in bright dresses, laughing and talking, careless of their doom,
she could hardly restrain her tears. Night after night when she went
to bed, she put her head under the clothes that Bernadine might not
hear, and her chest was torn with sobs until she fell asleep.

At that time she devised no more tricks, she took no interest in
games, and would not fight even. Bernadine did not know what to make
of her. All day she was recovering from the lassitude caused by the
mental anguish of the previous evening, but regularly at sunset it
began again; and the more she suffered, the less able was she to speak
on the subject. At first she had tried to discuss eternal punishment
with Harriet, Bernadine, and Aunt Victoria, and each had responded
characteristically. Harriet's imagination dwelt on the particular
torments reserved for certain people she knew, which she described
graphically. Bernadine listened to Beth's remarks with interest, then
accused Beth of trying to frighten her, and said she would tell mamma.
Aunt Victoria discoursed earnestly on the wages of sin, the sufferings
of sinners, the glories of salvation, the peace on earth from knowing
you are saved, and the pleasures of the world to come; but the more
Beth heard of the joys of heaven, the more she dreaded the horrors of
hell. Still, however, she was too shy to say anything about her own
acute mental misery, and no one suspected that anything was wrong,
until one day something dejected in the child's attitude happened to
catch Aunt Victoria's attention.

Beth was sitting on an African stool, her elbow on her knee, her chin
resting on her little hand, her grey eyes looking up through the
window at the summer sky. What could the child be thinking of, Aunt
Victoria wondered, and surely she was looking thin and pale--quite
haggard.

"Why don't you get something to do, Beth?" the old lady asked. "It's
bad for little girls to idle about all day."

"I wish I had something to do," Beth answered. "I'm so tired."

"Does your head ache, child?" Aunt Victoria asked, speaking sharply
because her mind was disturbed.

"No."

"You should answer politely, and say 'No, thank you.'"

"No, thank you, Aunt Victoria," was the docile rejoinder.

Aunt Victoria resolved to speak to Mrs. Caldwell, and resumed her
knitting. She was one of those people who can keep what they have to
say till a suitable occasion offers. Her mind was never so full of any
one subject as to overflow and make a mess of it. She would wait a
week watching her opportunity if necessary; and she did not,
therefore, although she saw Mrs. Caldwell frequently during the day,
speak to her about Beth until the children had gone to bed in the
evening, when she was sure of her effect.

Then she began abruptly.

"Caroline, that child Beth is ill."

Mrs. Caldwell was startled. It was very inconsiderate of Aunt
Victoria. She knew she was nervous about her children; how could she
be so unfeeling? What made her think Beth ill?

"Look at her!" said Aunt Victoria. "She eats nothing. She has wasted
to a skeleton, she has no blood in her face at all, and her eyes look
as if she never slept."

"I am sure she sleeps well enough," Mrs. Caldwell answered, inclined
to bridle.

"I feel quite sure, Caroline," Aunt Victoria said solemnly, "that if
you take a candle, and go upstairs this minute, you will find that
child wide awake."

Mrs. Caldwell felt that she was being found fault with, and was
indignant. She went upstairs at once, with her head held high,
expecting to find Beth in a healthy sleep. The relief, however, of
finding that the child was well, would not have been so great at the
moment as the satisfaction of proving Aunt Victoria in the wrong.

But Beth was wide awake, petitioning God in an agony to spare her
friends. When Mrs. Caldwell entered she started up.

"O mamma!" she exclaimed, "I'm so glad you've come; I've been so
frightened about you."

"What is the matter with you, Beth?" Mrs. Caldwell asked, not
over-gently. "What are you frightened about?"

"Nothing," Beth faltered, shrinking back into herself.

"Oh, that's nonsense," her mother answered. "It's silly to be
frightened at nothing, and cowardly to be frightened at all. Lie down
and go to sleep, like a good child. Come, turn your face to the wall,
and I'll tuck you in."

Beth obeyed, and her mother left her to her fears, and returned to
Aunt Victoria in the drawing-room.

"Well?" Aunt Victoria asked anxiously.

"She was awake," Mrs. Caldwell acknowledged. "She said she was
frightened, but didn't know what of. I expect she'd been dreaming. And
I'm sure there is nothing the matter with her. She's been subject to
queer fits of alarm at night ever since she was a baby. It's the dark,
I think. It makes her nervous. At one time the doctor made us have a
night-light for her, which was great nonsense, _I_ always said; but
her father insisted. When it suits her to play in the dark, she's
never afraid."

It was at this time that Rainharbour set up a band of its own. Beth
was always peculiarly susceptible to music. Her ear was defective; she
rarely knew if any one sang flat; but the poorest instrument would lay
hold of her, and set high chords of emotion vibrating, beyond the
reach of words. The first time she heard the band, she was completely
carried away. It was on the pier, and she happened to be close beside
it when it began to play, and stood still in astonishment at the crash
of the opening bars. Her mother, after vainly calling to her to come
on, snatched impatiently at her arm to drag her away; and Beth, in her
excitement, set her teeth and slapped at her mother's hand--or rather
at what seemed to her the importunate thing that was trying to end her
ecstasy.

Of course Mrs. Caldwell would not stand that, so Beth, victim of brute
force, was hustled off to the end of the pier, and then slapped,
shaken, and reviled, for the enormity of her offence, until, in an
acute nervous crisis, she wrenched herself out of her mother's
clutches, and sprang over into the harbour. It was high-water happily,
and Count Gustav Bartahlinsky, who was just going out in his yacht,
saw her drop, and fished her out with a boat-hook.

"Look here, young woman," he said, "what do you mean by tumbling about
like this? I shall have the trouble of turning back and putting you on
shore."

"No, don't; no, don't," Beth pleaded. "Take me along with you."

He looked at her an instant, considering, then went to the side of the
yacht, and called up to her frantic mother: "She's all right. I'll
have her dried, and bring her back this afternoon,"--with which
assurance Mrs. Caldwell was obliged to content herself, for the yacht
sailed on; not that she would have objected. Beth and Count Gustav
were sworn allies by this time, and Mrs. Caldwell knew that Beth could
not be in better hands. Beth had seen Count Gustav passing their
window a few days after their first meeting, and had completed her
conquest of him by tearing out, and running down Orchard Street after
him with nothing on her head, to ask what copyright was; and since
then they had often met, and sometimes spent delightful hours
together, sitting on the cliffs or strolling along by the sea. He had
discovered her talent for verse-making, and given her a book on the
subject, full of examples, which was a great joy to her. When the
yacht was clear of the harbour, he took her down to the saloon, and
got out a silk shirt. "I'm going to leave you," he said, "and when I'm
gone, you must take off all your things, and put this shirt on. Then
tumble into that berth between the blankets, and I'll come back and
talk to you." Beth promptly obeyed. She was an ill-used heroine now,
in the hands of her knightly deliverer, and thoroughly happy.

When Count Gustav returned, he was followed by Gard, a tall, dark,
handsome sailor, a descendant of black Dane settlers on the coast, and
for that reason commonly called Black Gard. He brought sandwiches,
cakes, and hot tea on a tray for Beth. She had propped herself up with
pillows in the berth, and was looking out of an open port-hole
opposite, listening enraptured to the strains of the band, which,
mellowed by distance, floated out over the water.

"What a radiant little face!" the Count thought, as he handed her the
tea and sandwiches.

Beth took them voraciously.

"Did you have any breakfast?" the Count asked, smiling.

"Yes," Beth answered.

"What did you have?"

"Milk and hot water and dry toast. I made the toast myself."

"No butter?"

"No. The butter's running short, so I wouldn't take any."

"When do you lunch?"

"Oh, we don't lunch. Can't afford it, you know. The boys have got to
be educated, and Uncle James Patten won't help, though Jim's his
heir."

Count Gustav looked at her little delicate hand lying on the coverlet,
and then at the worn little face.

"You've been crying," he said.

"Ah, that was only last night after I went to bed," Beth answered. "It
makes you cry when people aren't saved, doesn't it? Are you saved? If
you're not it will be awful for me."

"Why?"

"'Cos it would hurt so here to think of you burning in hell"--Beth
clasped her chest. "It always begins to ache here--in the evening--for
the people who aren't saved, and when I go to bed it makes me cry."

"Who told you about being saved, and that?"

"Aunt Victoria. She lives with us, you know. She's going away now to
pay a visit, because the boys are coming home, and Mildred, for the
holidays, and there wouldn't be room for her. I'm dreadfully sorry;
but I shall go to church, and read the Bible just the same when she's
away."

Count Gustav sat down on the end of the saloon-table and reflected a
little; then he said--"I wouldn't read anything, if I were you, while
Aunt Victoria's away. Just play about with Mildred and the boys, and
come out fishing with me sometimes. God doesn't want _you_ to save
people. He does that Himself. I expect He's very angry because you cry
at night. He thinks you don't trust Him. All He wants you to do is to
love Him, and trust Him, and be happy. That's the creed for a little
girl."

"Do you think so?" Beth gasped. Then she began to reflect, and her big
grey eyes slowly dilated, while at the same time a look of intense
relief relaxed the muscles of her pinched little face. "Do you think
so?" she repeated. Then suddenly she burst into tears.

Count Gustav, somewhat disconcerted, hurriedly handed her a
handkerchief.

Another gentleman came into the saloon at the moment, and raised
inquiring eyebrows.

"Only a little martyr, momentarily released from suffering, enjoying
the reaction," Count Gustav observed. "Come on deck, and let her
sleep. Do you hear, little lady, go to sleep."

Beth, docile to a fault when gently handled, nestled down among the
blankets, shut her eyes, and prepared to obey. The sound of the water
rippling off the sides of the yacht as it glided on smoothly over the
summer-sea both soothed and cheered her. Heavenly thoughts came
crowding into her mind; then sleep surprised her, with the tears she
had been shedding for the sufferings of others still wet upon her
cheek. When she awoke, her clothes were beside her, ready to put on.
She jumped up instantly, dressed, and went on deck. The yacht was
almost stationary, and the two gentlemen, attended by the black Dane,
Gard, were fishing. Away to starboard, the land lay like a silver mist
in the heat of the afternoon. Beth turned her sorrowful little face
towards it.

"Are you homesick, Beth?" Count Gustav asked.

"No, sick of home," Beth answered; "but I suppose I shall have to go
back."

"And what then?"

"Mamma will punish me for jumping into the harbour, I expect."

"_Jumping_ in!" he ejaculated, and then a great gravity settled upon
him, and he cogitated for some time. "Why did you jump in?" he said at
last.

"Because mamma--because mamma--" her chest heaved. She was ashamed to
say.

Count Gustav exchanged glances with the other gentleman, and said no
more. But he took her home himself in the evening, and had a long talk
with mamma and Aunt Victoria; and after he had gone they were both
particularly nice to Beth, but very solemn. That night, too, Aunt
Victoria did not mention death and the judgment, but talked of heaven
and the mercy of God until Beth's brow cleared, and she was filled
with hope.

It was the next day that Aunt Victoria left them to make room for
Mildred and the boys. Beth went with her mother to see the old lady
off at the station. On account of their connections the little party
attracted attention, and Mrs. Caldwell, feeling her importance,
expected the officials to be obsequious, which they were; and, in
return, she also expected Aunt Victoria to make proper acknowledgment
of their attentions. She considered that sixpence at least was
necessary to uphold the dignity of the family on such occasions; but,
to her horror, when the moment came, Aunt Victoria, after an exciting
fumble, drew from her reticule a tract entitled "The Man on the
Slant," and, in the face of everybody, handed it to the expectant
porter.

Mrs. Caldwell assured Lady Benyon afterwards that she should never
forget that moment. Beth used to wonder why.



CHAPTER XVIII


The end of the holidays found Beth in a very different mood. Jim had
come with the ideas of his adolescence, and Mildred had brought new
music, and these together had helped to take her completely out of
herself. The rest from lessons, too--from her mother's method of
making education a martyrdom, and many more hours of each day than
usual spent in the open air, had also helped greatly to ease her mind
and strengthen her body, so that, even in the time, which was only a
few weeks, she had recovered her colour, shot up, and expanded.

Most of the time she had spent with Jim, whom she had studied with
absorbing interest, his point of view was so wholly unexpected. And even
in these early days she showed a trait of character for which she
afterwards became remarkable; that is to say, she learned the whole of
the facts of a case before she formed an opinion on its merits--listened
and observed uncritically, without prejudice and without personal
feeling, until she was fully informed. Life unfolded itself to her like
the rules of arithmetic. She could not conjecture what the answer would
be in any single example from a figure or two, but had to take them all
down in order to work the sum. And her object was always, not to prove
herself right in any guess she might have made, but to arrive at the
truth. She was eleven years old at this time, but looked fourteen.

It was when she went out shooting with Jim that they used to have
their most interesting discussions. Jim used to take her to carry
things, but never offered her a shot, because she was a girl. She did
not care about that, however, because she had made up her mind to take
the gun when he was gone, and go out shooting on her own account; and
she abstracted a certain amount of powder and shot from his flasks
each day to pay herself for her present trouble, and also to be ready
for the future. Uncle James had given Jim leave to shoot, provided he
sent the game he killed to Fairholm; and sometimes they spent the day
wandering through the woods after birds, and sometimes they sat on the
cliffs, which skirted the property, potting rabbits. Jim expected Beth
to act as a keeper for him, and also to retrieve like a well-trained
dog; and when on one occasion she disappointed him, he had a good deal
to say about the uselessness of sisters and the inferiority of the sex
generally. Women, he always maintained, were only fit to sew on
buttons and mend socks.

"But is it contemptible to sew on buttons and mend socks?" Beth
asked, one day when they were sitting in a sandy hollow waiting for
rabbits.

"It's not a man's work," said Jim, a trifle disconcerted.

Beth looked about her. The great sea, the vast tract of sand, and the
blue sky so high above them, made her suffer for her own insignificance,
and feel for the moment that nothing was worth while; but in the hollow
where they sat it was cosy and the grass was green. Miniature cliffs
overhung the rabbit-holes, and the dry soil was silvered by sun and wind
and rain. There was a stiff breeze blowing, but it did not touch them in
their sheltered nook. They could hear it making its moan, however, as if
it were vainly trying to get at them; and there also ascended from below
the ceaseless sound of the sea. Beth turned her back on the wild
prospect, and watched the rabbit-holes.

"There's one on the right," she said at last, softly.

Jim raised his gun, aimed, and fired. The rabbit rolled over on its
back, and Beth rose in a leisurely way, fetched it, carrying it by its
legs, and threw it down on the bag.

"And when all the buttons are sewed on and all the socks mended, what
is a girl to do with her time?" she asked dispassionately, when she
had reseated herself. "The things only come home from the wash once a
week, you see."

"Oh, there's lots to be done," Jim answered vaguely. "There's the
cooking. A man's life isn't worth having if the cooking's bad."

"But a gentleman keeps a cook," Beth observed.

"Oh yes, of course," Jim answered irritably. "You would see what I
mean if you weren't a girl. Girls have no brains. They scream at a
mouse."

"_We_ never scream at mice," Beth protested in surprise. "Bernadine
catches them in her hands."

"Ah, but then you've had brothers, you see," said Jim. "It makes all
the difference if you're taught not to be silly."

"Then why aren't all girls taught, and why aren't we taught more
things?"

"Because you've got no brains, I tell you."

"But if we can be taught one thing, why can't we be taught another?
How can you tell we've no brains if you never try to teach us?"

"Now look here, Miss Beth," said brother Jim in a tone of
exasperation, "I know what you'll be when you grow up, if you don't
mind. You'll be just the sort of long-tongued shrew, always arguing,
that men hate."

"Do you say 'that men hate' or 'whom men hate'?" Beth interrupted.

"There you are!" said Jim; "devilish sharp at a nag. That's just what
I'm telling you. Now, you take my advice, and hold your tongue. Then
perhaps you'll get a husband; and if you do, make things comfortable
for him. Men can't abide women who don't make things comfortable."

"Well," said Beth temperately, "I don't think I could 'abide' a man
who didn't make things comfortable."

Jim grunted, as though that point of view were a different thing
altogether.

By degrees Beth discovered that sisters did not hold at all the same
sort of place in Jim's estimation as "the girls." The girls were other
people's sisters, to whom Jim was polite, and whom he even fawned on
and flattered while they were present, but made most disparaging
remarks about and ridiculed behind their backs; to his own sisters, on
the contrary, he was habitually rude, but he always spoke of them
nicely in their absence, and even boasted about their accomplishments.

"Your brother Jim says you can act anything," Charlotte Hardy, the
doctor's daughter, told Beth. "And you recite wonderfully, although
you've never heard any one recite; and you talk like a grown-up
person."

Beth flushed with surprise and pleasure at this; but her heart had
hardly time to expand before she observed the puzzling discrepancy
between what Jim said to her and what he had been saying to other
people, and found it impossible to reconcile the two, so as to have
any confidence in Jim's sincerity.

Before the end of the holidays she had learned to enjoy Jim's
companionship, but she had no respect for his opinions at all. He had
taught her a good deal, however. He had taught her, for one thing, the
futility of discussion with people of his capacity. The small
intellect should be treated like the small child--with tenderest
consideration. It must not hear too much of anything at a time, and
there are certain things that it must never be told at all. Simple
familiar facts, with obvious little morals, are the right food for it,
and constant repetition of what it knows is safe; but such heavy
things as theories, opinions, and arguments must be kept carefully
concealed from it, for fear of causing congestion or paralysis, or,
worse still, that parlous condition which betrays itself in
distressing symptoms such as one sees daily in society, or sits and
shudders at in one's own friends, when the victim, swelling with
importance, makes confident mis-statements, draws erroneous
conclusions, sums up and gives advice so fatuous that you blush to be
a biped of the same species.

There was an hotel in Rainharbour called the "United Kingdom," where
Jim spent much of his time playing billiards, drinking beer, and
smoking pipes. He had to coax money out of his mother continually for
these pursuits.

"It's the kind of thing a fellow must do, you know, mamma," he said.
"You can't expect him to stick at home like a girl. He must see life,
or he'll be a muff instead of a man of the world. How shall I get on
at Fairholm, when I come in for the property, if I'm not up to
things?"

This was said at breakfast one morning, and Mrs. Caldwell, sitting
opposite the window, raised her worn face and looked up at the sky,
considering what else there was that she could do without.

"Do you learn how to manage estates at the 'United Kingdom'?" Beth put
in innocently.

"Now, look here, Beth, just you shut up," said Jim. "You're always
putting your oar in, and its deuced impertinent of a child like you,
when I'm talking to my mother. _She_ knows what I'm talking about, and
you don't; but you'll be teaching her next, I expect. You're far too
cheeky."

"I only wanted to know," Beth protested.

"That will do," said Mrs. Caldwell impatiently. She was put out by
Jim's demand for money, which she had not got to spare, and found it a
relief to expend some of her irritation on Beth. "Jim is quite right,
and I won't have you hanging about always, listening to things you
don't understand, and rudely interrupting."

"I thought we were at breakfast," Beth exclaimed, furious at being
unjustly accused of hanging about.

"Be good enough to leave the table," said Mrs. Caldwell; "and you
shall have nothing but bread and water for the rest of the day."

"It will be a dinner of herbs with contentment, then, if I have it
alone," said Beth; for which impertinence she was condemned to be
present at every meal.

Having extracted the money from his mother, Jim went off to the
"United Kingdom," and came back in the afternoon, somewhat the worse
for beer; but Mrs. Caldwell did not perceive it. He complained of the
poor dinner, the cooking, and Beth's shabby appearance.

"How can you go out with me like that?" he said. "Why can't you dress
properly? Look at my things! I'm decent."

"So should I be," said Beth, without malice, her eyes shining with
mortification. "So should I be if anybody bought me decent clothes."

She did not think it unfair, however, that she should go shabby so
that Jim might be well dressed. Nor did she feel it wrong, when the
holidays were over, and the boys had gone, that she should be left
idly drumming on the window-pane; that they should have every
advantage while she had none, and no prospect but the uncertain chance
of securing a husband if she held herself well and did as she was
told--a husband whom she would be expected to obey whatever he might
lack in the way of capacity to order. It is suffering which makes
these things plain to a generous woman; but usually by the time she
has suffered enough to be able to blame those whom it has been her
habit to love and respect, and to judge of the wrong they have done
her, it is too late to remedy it. Even if her faculties have not
atrophied for want of use, all that should have been cultivated lies
latent in her; she has nothing to fall back upon, and her life is
spoilt.

Beth stood idly drumming on the window-pane for long hours after the
boys had gone. Then she got her battered old hat, walked out to
Fairholm, and wandered over the ground where she had been wont to
retrieve for Jim. When she came to the warren, the rabbits were out
feeding, and she amused herself by throwing stones at them with her
left hand. She had the use of both hands, and would not have noticed
if her knife had been put where her fork should have been at table;
but she threw stones, bowled, batted, played croquet, and also tennis
in after years, with her left hand by preference, and she always held
out her left hand to be handed from a carriage.

She succeeded in killing a rabbit with a stone, to her own surprise
and delight, and carried it off home, where it formed a welcome
addition to the meagre fare. She skinned and cleaned it herself,
boiled it, carved it carefully so that it might not look like a cat on
the dish, covered it with good onion-sauce, and garnished it with
little rolls of fried bacon, and sent it to table, where the only
other dish was cold beef-bones with very little meat on them.

"Where did it come from?" Mrs. Caldwell asked, looking pleased.

"From Fairholm," Beth answered.

"I must thank your uncle," said Mrs. Caldwell.

"It was not my uncle," Beth answered, laughing; "and you're not to
send any thanks."

"Oh, very well," said Mrs. Caldwell, still more pleased, for she
supposed it was a surreptitious kindness of Aunt Grace Mary's. She ate
the rabbit with appetite, and Beth, as she watched her, determined to
go hunting again, and see what she could get for her. Beth would not
have touched a penny of Uncle James's, but from that time forward she
did not scruple to poach on his estate, and bring home anything she
could catch. She had often prayed to the Lord to show her how to do
something to help her mother in her dire poverty, and when this idea
occurred to her, she accepted it as a direct answer to her prayer.

Mrs. Caldwell and the three girls slept in the largest bedroom in the
house. It was at the back, looking into the little garden, and out to
the east. The early morning sun, making black bars of the window-frame
on the white blind, often awoke Beth, and she would lie and count the
white spaces between the bars, where the window-panes were,--three,
six, nine, twelve; or two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve. One morning
after Jim left she was lying awake counting the window-panes when
Harriet knocked at the door with the hot water. Mildred had not yet
gone back to her aunt, and was sleeping with Beth, Bernadine being
with her mother.

"Come, get up, children," said Mrs. Caldwell, as she got out of bed
herself.

"Mamma, mayn't I have breakfast in bed?" said Bernadine in a wheedling
tone.

"No, no, my little body," Mrs. Caldwell answered.

"But, mamma," whined the little body, "I've got such a headache!" She
very often had when she ought to have been getting up.

"Cry, baby, cry," sang out Beth. "Mamma, give me my stockings."

Mrs. Caldwell picked them up off the floor, and gave them to her. Beth
began to put them on in bed, and diverted herself as she did so by
making diabolical grimaces at the malingering imp opposite.

"Mamma," Bernadine whined again, "Beth's teasing me."

"Beth, how often am I to tell you that I will not allow you to tease
the child?" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed.

Beth solemnly gartered her stockings. Then she gave Mildred a dig in
the ribs with her heel, and growled, "Get up!"

"Mamma, Beth is teasing _me_, now," said Mildred promptly.

"Well, I don't see why I should be obliged to do all the getting up
for the family," said Beth.

Her mother turned from the looking-glass with her hair-brush in her
hand, and gazed at her sternly. Beth hummed a tune, but kept at a safe
distance until she was dressed, then made her escape, going straight
to the kitchen, where Harriet was cutting bread to toast. "That's all
the bread there is," she said, "and it won't be enough for breakfast
if you eat any."

"All right, then; I haven't any appetite," Beth answered casually.
"What did you dream last night?"

"I dreamt about crocodiles," Harriet averred.

"A crocodile's a reptile," said Beth, "and a reptile is trouble and an
enemy. You always dream nasty things; I expect it's your inside."

"What's that to do wi' it?" said Harriet.

"Everything," said Beth. "Don't you know the stuff that dreams are
made of? Pickles, pork, and plum-cake."

"Dreams is sent for our guidance," Harriet answered portentously,
shaking her head at Beth's flippancy.

"Well, I'm glad of it," said Beth, "for I dreamt I was catching Uncle
James's trout in a most unsportsmanlike way, and I guess the dream was
sent to show me how to do it. When I have that kind of dream, I notice
it nearly always comes true. But where's the 'Dream Book'?"

"'Ook it," said Harriet. "'Ere's your ma."

As the other little bodies had their breakfasts in bed, Beth had to
face her lessons alone that morning, and Mrs. Caldwell was not in an
amiable mood; but she was absent as well as irritable, so Beth did
some old work over again, and as she knew it thoroughly, she got on
well until the music began.

Beth had a great talent as well as a great love for music. When they
were at Fairholm, Aunt Grace Mary gave her Uncle James's "Instruction
Book for Beginners" one wet day to keep her quiet, and she learnt her
notes in the afternoon, and began at once to apply them practically on
the piano. She soon knew all the early exercises and little tunes, and
was only too eager to do more; but her mother hated the music-lesson
more than any of the others, and was so harsh that Beth became
nervous, and only ventured on the simplest things for fear of the
consequences. When her mother went out, however, she tried what she
liked, and, if she had heard the piece before, she could generally
make something satisfactory to herself out of it. One day Aunt
Victoria found her sitting on the music-stool, solemnly pulling at her
fingers, one after the other, as though to stretch them.

"What _are_ you doing, child?" she said.

"O Aunt Victoria," Beth answered in a despairing way, "here's such a
_lovely_ thing, and my head will play it, only my fingers are not long
enough."

Mildred had brought a quantity of new music home with her these
holidays. She promised to play well also, and her aunt was having her
properly taught. Beth listened to her enraptured when she first
arrived, and then, to Mildred's surprise and admiration, tried the
pieces herself, and in a few weeks knew all that it had taken Mildred
six months to learn.

That morning, as ill-luck would have it, when she was waiting at the
piano for her mother to come and give her her lesson, Beth began to
try a piece with a passage in it that she could not play.

"Do show me how to do this," she said when Mrs. Caldwell came.

"Oh, you can't do that," Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed. "It is far too
difficult for you."

"But I do so want to learn it," Beth ventured.

"Oh, very well," her mother answered. "But I warn you!"

Beth began, and got on pretty well till she came to the passage she
did not understand, and there she stumbled.

"What are you doing?" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed.

Beth tried again nervously.

"That's not right," her mother cried. "What does that sign mean? Now,
what is it? Just think!"

Beth, with a flushed face, was thinking hard, but nothing came of it.

"Will you speak?" her mother said angrily. "You are the most obstinate
child that ever lived. Now, say something."

"It's not a shake," Beth ventured.

"A shake!" her mother exclaimed, giving her a hard thump on the back
with her clenched fist. "Now, no more obstinacy. Tell me what it is at
once."

"I don't know that sign," Beth faltered in desperation.

"Oh, you don't know it!" her mother said, now fairly fuming, and
accompanying every word by a hard thump of her clenched fist. "Then
I'll teach you. I've a great mind to beat you as long as I can stand
over you."

Beth was a piteous little figure, crouched on the piano-stool, her
back bent beneath her mother's blows, and every fibre of her sensitive
frame shrinking from her violence; but she made no resistance, and
Mrs. Caldwell carried out her threat. When she could beat Beth no
longer, she told her to sit there until she knew that sign, and then
she left her. Beth clenched her teeth, and an ugly look came into her
face. There had been dignity in her endurance--the dignity of
self-control; for there was the force in her to resist, had she
thought it right to resist. What she was thinking while her mother
beat her was: "I hope I shall not strike you back."

Harriet had heard the scolding, and when Mrs. Caldwell had gone she
came and peeped in at the door.

"She's bin' thumpin' you again, 'as she?" she said with a grin. "Wot
'a ye bin' doin' now?"

"What business is that of yours?" said Beth defiantly. It was bad
enough to be beaten, but it was much worse to have Harriet peeping in
to gloat over her humiliation. Harriet was not to be snubbed, however.
She went up to the piano and looked at the music.

"It's precious hard, I should think," she remarked.

"It's _not_ hard," Beth answered positively, "if anybody tells you
what you don't know and can't make out for yourself. I always remember
when I'm told or shown how to do it; but what's the use of staring at
a sign you've never seen before? Just you look at that! Can you make
anything out of it?" Harriet approached, and, after staring at the
sign curiously for some time, shook her head. "Of course not," said
Beth, snatching up her music, and throwing it on the floor; "and
neither can anybody else. It isn't fair."

Bernadine had begun her lessons by this time in the next room, and
Mrs. Caldwell suddenly began to scold again. "Oh, that awful voice!"
Beth groaned aloud, her racked nerves betraying her.

"She's catchin' it now!" said Harriet, after listening with interest.
She seemed to derive some sort of gratification from the children's
troubles. "But don't you bother any more, Miss Beth.--Your ma'll 'ave
forgotten all about it by goin'-out time--or she'll pertend she 'as to
save 'erself trouble. Come and 'elp us wi' the beds."

Beth rose slowly from the piano-stool, and followed Harriet upstairs
to the bedroom at the back of the house. She was at once attracted to
the open window by an uproar of voices--"the voices of children in
happy play." There was a girls' day-school next door kept by the
Misses Granger. Miss Granger had called on Mrs. Caldwell as soon as
she was settled in her house, to beg for the honour of being allowed
to educate her three little girls, and Beth had assisted at the
interview with serious attention. It would have been the best thing in
the world for her had she been allowed to romp and learn with that
careless, happy, healthy-minded crew of respectable little plebeians;
but Mrs. Caldwell would never have dreamt of sending any of her own
superior brood to associate with such people, even if she could have
afforded it. She politely explained to Miss Granger that she was
educating her children herself for the present; and it was then, with
a sickening sense of disappointment, that Beth rejected her mother's
social standard, with its "vulgar exclusiveness," once for all.

She hung out of the window now, heedless of Harriet's appeals to be
"'elped wi' the beds," and watched the games going on in the next
garden with pathetic gravity. The girls were playing rounders among
the old fruit-trees on the grass-plot, with a loud accompaniment of
shrieks and shouts of laughter. They tumbled up against the trees
continually, and shook showers of autumn leaves down upon themselves;
and then, tiring of the game, they began to pelt each other with the
leaves, and laughed and shrieked still louder. Some of them looked up
and made faces at Beth, but she did not acknowledge the discourtesy.
She knew that they were not ladies, but did not feel, as her mother
did, that this was a fault for which they should be punished, but a
misfortune, rather, for which she pitied them, and she would have
liked to have made it up to them by knowing them. Suddenly she
remembered that Aunt Victoria was coming back that day, which was
something to look forward to. She took Harriet's duster, and went to
see if the old lady's room was all in order for her, and arranged as
she liked it. Then she returned to the drawing-room, and sat down on
the piano-stool, and rage and rebellion uprose in her heart. The piece
of music still lay on the floor, and she stamped her foot on it. As
she did so, her mother came into the room.

"Do you know your lesson?" she demanded.

"No, I do not," said Beth, and then she doubled her fist, and brought
it down bang on the keyboard.

"How dare you!" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed, startled by the vehemence of
the blow, and jarred by the discordant cry of the poor piano.

"I felt I _must_--I felt I must make something suffer," said Beth, in
a deep chest-voice and with knitted brows, twisting her fingers and
rising to face her mother as she spoke; "and if I had not struck the
piano, I should have struck _you_."

Mrs. Caldwell could not have been more taken aback if Beth had struck
her. The colour left her face, a chill succeeded the heat of temper,
and her right mind returned as to a drunken man suddenly sobered. She
noticed that Beth's eyes were almost on a level with her own, and once
again she realised that if Beth chose to rebel, she would be powerless
to control her. For some seconds they looked at each other without a
word. Then Beth stooped, picked up the piece of music, smoothed it
out, and put it on the stand; and then she shut up the piano
deliberately, but remained standing in front of it with her back to
her mother. Mrs. Caldwell watched her for a little in silence.

"It's your own fault, Beth," she said at last. "You are so conceited;
you try to play things that are too difficult for you, and then you
get into trouble. It is no pleasure to me to punish you."

Beth remained with her back turned, immovable, and her mother looked
at her helplessly a little longer, and then left the room. When she
had gone, Beth sat down on the piano-stool. Her shabby shoes had holes
in them, her dress was worn thread-bare, and her sleeves were too
short for her. She had no collar or cuffs, and her thin hands and long
wrists looked hideous to her as they lay in her lap. Great tears
gathered in her eyes. So conceited indeed! What had she to be
conceited about? Every one despised her, and she despised herself.
Here the tears overflowed, and Beth began to cry at last, and cried
and cried for a long time very bitterly.

That afternoon, after Aunt Victoria had arrived, Lady Benyon and Aunt
Grace Mary called. Mrs. Caldwell had recovered her good-humour by that
time, and was all smiles to everybody, including Beth, when she came
sauntering in, languid and heavy-eyed, with half a sheet of notepaper
in her hand.

"What have you there, Puck?" said Lady Benyon, catching sight of some
hieroglyph drawn on the paper. Beth gave it to her, and she turned it
this way and that, but could make nothing of it.

"Mamma will tell us what it is," said Beth, taking it to her mother.

Mrs. Caldwell, still smiling, looked at the drawing. "It's an
astronomical sign, surely," she ventured.

"No, it is not," Beth said.

"Then I don't know what it is," her mother rejoined.

"Oh, but you must know, mamma," said Beth. "Look again."

"But I don't know, Beth," Mrs. Caldwell insisted.

"Couldn't you make it out if Aunt Victoria beat you?" Beth suggested.

Mrs. Caldwell changed countenance.

"That is what you expect me to do, at all events," Beth pursued. "Now,
you see, you can't do it yourself; and I ask you, was it fair to
expect me to make out a strange sign by staring at it?" She set her
mouth hard when she had spoken, and looked her mother straight in the
face. Mrs. Caldwell winced.

"What's the difficulty, Puck?" Lady Benyon asked.

"The difficulty is between me and mamma," Beth answered with dignity,
and then she left the room, sauntering out as she had come in, with an
utterly dispirited air.

The next morning she went to practice as usual, but Mrs. Caldwell did
not come to give her her music-lesson. Beth thought she had forgotten
it, and went to remind her.

"No, Beth, I have not forgotten," said Mrs. Caldwell; "but after your
conduct yesterday, I do not know how you can expect me to give you
another music-lesson."

"Are you not going to give me any more?" Beth exclaimed.

"No, certainly not," her mother answered.

Beth's heart sank. She stood for some little time in the doorway
looking at her mother, who sat beside the table sewing, and pointedly
ignored her; then Beth turned, and went back to the drawing-room
slowly, and carefully practised the usual time, with great tears
trickling down her cheeks. It did not seem to make much difference
what happened, whether she was on her best behaviour or her worst, the
tears were bound to come. But Beth had a will of her own, and she
determined to learn music. She said no more on the subject to her
mother, however, but from that day forward she practised regularly and
hard, and studied her instruction books, and listened to other people
playing when she had a chance, and asked to have passages explained to
her, until at last she knew more than her mother could have taught
her.



CHAPTER XIX


But well-springs, mortal and immortal, were beginning to bubble up
brightly in Beth, despite the hard conditions of her life. She
sharpened her wits involuntarily on the people about her, she gathered
knowledge where she listed; her further faculty flashed forth fine
rays at unexpected intervals to cheer her, and her hungry heart also
began to seek satisfaction. For Beth was by nature well-balanced;
there was to be no atrophy of one side of her being in order that the
other might be abnormally developed. Her chest was not to be flattened
because her skull bulged with the big brain beneath. Rather the
contrary. For mind and body acted and reacted on each other
favourably, in so far as the conditions of her life were favourable.
Such congenial intellectual pursuits as she was able to follow, by
tranquillising her, helped the development of her physique, while the
healthy condition of her body stimulated her to renewed intellectual
effort--and it was all a pleasure to her.

At this time she had a new experience, an experience for which she was
totally unprepared, but one which helped her a great deal, and
delighted as much as it surprised her.

There were high oak pews in the little church at the end of the road
which the Caldwells attended on Sunday; in the rows on either side of
the main aisle the pews came together in twos, so that when Beth sat
at the end of theirs, as she always did, the person in the next pew
sat beside her with only the wooden partition between. One Sunday,
when she was on her knees, drowsing through the Litany with her cheek
on her prayer-book, she became aware of a boy in the next pew with his
face turned to her in exactly the same attitude. He had bright fair
hair curling crisply, a ruddy fair fat face, and round blue eyes,
clear as glass marbles. Beth was pleased with him, and smiled
involuntarily. He instantly responded to the smile; and then they both
got very red; and, in their delicious shyness, they turned their heads
on their prayer-books, and looked in opposite directions. This did not
last long, however. The desire for another look seized them
simultaneously, and they turned their faces to each other, and smiled
again the moment their eyes met. All through the service they kept
looking at each other, and looking away again; and Beth felt a strange
glad glow begin in her chest and spread gradually all over her. It
continued with her the whole day; she was conscious of it throughout
the night; and directly she awoke next morning there it was again; and
she could think of nothing but the apple-cheeked boy, with bright blue
eyes and curly fair hair; and as she dwelt upon his image she smiled
to herself, and kept on smiling. There came upon her also a great
desire to please, with sudden energy which made all effort easy to
her, so that, instead of being tiresome at her lessons, she did them
in a way that astonished her mother--such a wonderful incentive is a
little joy in life. She would not go out when lessons were over,
however, but stood in the drawing-room window watching the people
pass. Harriet came and worried her to help with the dusting.

"Go away, you chattering idiot," said Beth. She had found Harriet out
in many meannesses by this time, and had lost all respect for her.
"Don't you see I'm thinking? If you don't bother me now I'll help you
by-and-by, perhaps."

On the other side of the road, in the same row as the Benyon
dower-house, but well within sight of the window, was the
Mansion-House Collegiate Day and Boarding School for the Sons of
Gentlemen. Beth kept looking in that direction, and presently the boys
came pouring out in their mortar-boards, and, among them, she soon
discovered the one she was thinking of. She discovered him less by
sight than by a strange sensation in herself, a pleasure which shot
through her from top to toe. For no reason, she stepped back from the
window, and looked in the opposite direction towards the church; but
she could see him when he came bounding past with his satchel of books
under his arm, and she also knew that he saw her. He ran on, however,
and going round the corner, where Orchard Row turned off at an angle
out of Orchard Street, was out of sight in a moment.

But Beth was satisfied. Indeed she was more than satisfied. She ran into
the kitchen, and astonished Harriet by a burst of hilarious spirits, and
a wild demand for food, for a duster, for a scrubbing-brush. She wanted
to do a lot, and she was hungry.

"You're fond, ah think," said Harriet dryly.

"You're fond, too," Beth cried. "We're all fond! The fonder the
better! And I must have something to eat."

"Well, there's nothing for you but bread."

"I must have meat," said Beth. "Rob the joint, and I'll not take any
at dinner."

"Ah'd tak' it w'eniver ah could get it, if ah was you," Harriet
advised.

"If you was or were me, you'd do as I do," said Beth; "and _I_ won't
cheat. If I say I won't take it, I won't. I'm entitled to meat once a
day, and I'll take my share now, please; but I won't take more than my
share."

"You'll be 'ungry again by dinner-time."

"I know," said Beth. "But that won't make any difference."

She got out the sirloin of beef which was to be roasted for dinner,
deftly cut some slices off it, fried them with some cold potatoes, and
ate them ravenously, helped by Harriet. When dinner-time came Beth was
ravenous again, but she was faithful to her vow, and ate no meat.
Harriet scoffed at her for her scrupulousness.

The next day, at the same time, Beth was again in the window, waiting
for her boy to come out of the Mansion-House School. When he appeared,
the most delightful thrill shot through her. Her first impulse was to
fly, but she conquered that and waited, watching him. He made straight
for the window, and stopped in a business-like way; and then they
laughed and looked into each other's faces.

"What are you doing there?" he asked, as if he were accustomed to see
her somewhere else.

"I live here," she said.

"I live in Orchard Row, last house," he rejoined.

"Old Lee's?" Beth inquired.

"Yes, he's my grandfather. I'm Sammy Lee."

"He's a licensed victualler, retired," Beth repeated, drawing upon her
excellent verbal memory.

"Yes," said Sammy. "What's yours?"

"I haven't one."

"What's your father?"

"He's dead too."

"What was he?"

"He was a gentleman."

"A retired gentleman?"

"No," said Beth, "an officer and a gentleman."

"Oh," said Sammy. "My father's dead too. He was a retired gentleman."

"What's a retired gentleman?" Beth asked.

"Don't you know?" Sammy exclaimed. "I thought everybody knew that!
When you make a fortune you retire from business. Then you're a
retired gentleman."

"But gentlemen don't go into business," Beth objected.

"What do they do then?" Sammy retorted.

"They have professions or property."

"It's all the same," said Sammy.

"It isn't," Beth contradicted.

"Yah! _you_ don't know," said Sammy, laughing; and then he ran on,
being late for his dinner.

The discussion had been carried on with broad smiles, and when he left
her, Beth hugged herself, and glowed again, and was glad in the
thought of him. But it was not his conversation so much as his
appearance that she dwelt upon--his round blue eyes, his bright fair
curly hair, his rosy cheeks. "He is beautiful! he is beautiful!" she
exclaimed; then added upon reflection, "_And I never thought a boy
beautiful before._"

The next day she was making rhymes about him in the acting-room, and
forgot the time, so that she missed him in the morning; but when he
left school in the afternoon she was at the window, and she saw him
trotting up the street as hard as his little legs could carry him.

"Where were you at dinner-time?" he said.

"How funny!" she exclaimed in surprise and delight.

"What's funny?" he demanded, looking about him vaguely.

"You were wanting to see me."

"Who told you so?" Sammy asked suspiciously.

"You did yourself just now," Beth answered, her eyes dancing.

"I didn't."

"You _did_, Sammy."

"You're a liar!" said Sammy Lee.

"Sammy, that's rude," she exclaimed. "And it's not the way to speak to
a young lady, and I won't have it."

"Well, but I did _not_ tell you I wanted to see you at dinner-time,"
Sammy retorted positively.

"Yes, you did, stupid," said Beth. "You asked where I was at
dinner-time, and then I knew you had missed me, and you wouldn't have
missed me if you hadn't wanted to see me."

"But," Sammy repeated with sulky obstinacy, unable to comprehend the
delicate subtilty of Beth's perception,--"But I did not tell you."

"Didn't you want to see me, then?" Beth said coaxingly, waiving the
other point with tact.

But Sammy, feeling shy at the question and vaguely aggrieved, looked
up and down the street and kicked the pavement with his heel instead
of answering.

"I shall go, then," said Beth, after waiting for a little.

"No, don't," he exclaimed, his countenance clearing. "I want to ask
you--only you put it out of my head--gels do talk so."

"Gels!" Beth exclaimed derisively. "I happen to be a girl."

Sammy looked at her with a puzzled expression, and forgot what he was
going to say. She diverted his attention, however, by asking him how
old he was.

"Eleven," Sammy answered promptly.

"So am I. When were you eleven?"

"The twentieth of February."

"Oh, then you're older than me--March, April, May, June--four months.
My birthday's in June. What do you do at school? Let's see your books.
I wish _I_ went to school!"

"Shu!" said Sammy. "What's the use of sending a gel to school? Gels
can't learn."

"So Jim says," Beth rejoined with an absence of conviction that roused
Sammy.

"All boys say so," he declared.

"All boys are silly," said Beth. "What's the use of saying things?
That doesn't make them true. You're as bad as Jim."

"Who's Jim?" Sammy interrupted jealously.

"Jim's my brother."

Sammy, relieved, kicked his heel on the pavement.

"Which is tallest?" he asked presently, "you or me?"

"I'm tallest, I think," Beth answered; "but never mind. You're the
fattest. I've grown long, and you've grown broad."

"You're mighty sharp," said Sammy.

"You're mighty blunt," said Beth. "And you'll be mighty late for tea,
too. Look at the church-clock!"

Sammy glanced up, then fled precipitately; and Beth, turning to leave
the window, discovered Harriet standing in the background, grinning.

"So you've getten a sweetheart!" she exclaimed. "There's nothing like
beginning early."

"So you've been listening again," Beth answered hotly. "Bad luck to
you!"

A few days later Mrs. Caldwell was sitting with Lady Benyon, who was
in the bow-window as usual, looking out.

"If I am not mistaken," said Lady Benyon suddenly, "there is a crowd
collecting at your house."

"What! again?" Mrs. Caldwell groaned, jumping up.

"If I'm not mistaken," Lady Benyon repeated.

Mrs. Caldwell hurried off without even waiting to shake hands. On
getting into the street, however, she was relieved to find that Lady
Benyon had been mistaken. There was no crowd collecting in Orchard
Street, but, as she approached her own house, she became aware of a
small boy at the drawing-room window talking to some one within, whom
she presently discovered to be Beth.

"What are you doing there, Beth?" she demanded severely. "Who is this
boy?"

Beth started. "Sammy Lee," she gasped. "Mr. Lee's grandson at the end
of Orchard Row."

"Why are you talking to him?" her mother asked harshly. "I won't have
you talking to him. Who will you scrape acquaintance with next?" Then
she turned to Sammy, who stood shaking in his shoes, with all the rosy
colour faded from his fair fat cheeks, too frightened to stir. "Go
away," said Mrs. Caldwell, "you've no business here talking to my
daughter, and I won't allow it."

Sammy sidled off, not daring to turn his back full till he was at a
safe distance, lest he should be seized from behind and shaken. He was
not a heroic figure in retreat, but Beth, in her indignation, noted
nothing but the insult that had been offered him. For several days,
when her mother was out, she watched and waited for him, anxious to
atone; but Sammy kept to the other side of the road, and only cast
furtive smiles at her as he ran by. It never occurred to Beth that he
was less valiant than she was, or less willing to brave danger for her
sake than she was for his. She thought he was keeping away for fear of
getting her into trouble; and she beckoned to him again and again in
order to explain that she did not care; but he only fled the faster.
Then Beth wrote him a note. It was the first she had ever written
voluntarily, and she shut herself up in the acting-room to compose it,
in imitation of Aunt Grace Mary, whose beautiful delicate handwriting
she always did her best to copy--with very indifferent success,
however, for the connection between her hand and her head was
imperfect. She could compose verses and phrases long before she could
commit them to paper intelligibly; and it was not the composition of
her note to Sammy that troubled her, but her bad writing. She made a
religious ceremony of the effort, praying fervently, "Lord, let me
write it well." Every day she presented a miscellaneous collection of
petitions to the Lord, offering them up as the necessity arose, being
in constant communication with Him. When she wanted to go out, she
asked for fine weather; when she did not want to go out, she prayed
that it might rain. She begged that she might not be found out when
she went poaching on Uncle James's fields; that she might be allowed
to catch something; that new clothes might be sent her from somewhere,
she felt so ashamed in her dirty old shabby ones. She asked for boots
and shoes and gloves, and for help with her lessons; and, when she had
no special petition to offer, she would ejaculate at intervals, "Lord,
send me good luck!" But, however great the variety of her daily wants,
one prayer went up with the others always, "Lord, let me write well!"
meaning, let me write a good hand; yet her writing did not improve,
and she was much disheartened about it. She took the Lord into her
confidence on the subject very frankly. When she had been naughty, and
was not found out and punished, she thanked Him for His goodness; but
why would He not let her write well? She asked Him the question again
and again, lifting her grey eyes to the grey sky pathetically; and all
the time, though she never suspected it, she was learning to write
more than well, but in a very different sense of the word.

Her note to Sammy was as follows:--

     DEAR SAMMY,--Come and talk to me. Do not be afrade. I do
     not mind rows, being always in them. And she can't do
     anything to you. I miss you. I want to tell you things.
     Such nice things keep coming to me. They make me feel all
     comfortable inside. I looked out of the window in the
     dark last night. There was a frost. The sky was dark dark
     blue like sailor's suits only bright and the stars looked
     like holes bored in the floor of heaven to let the light
     through. It was so white and bright it must have been the
     light of heaven. I never saw such light on earth.
     Sunshine is more buffy. Do come Sammy I want you so Beth.
     P.S. I can't stop right yet; but I'm trying. It seems
     rather difficult to stop: but nobody can write without
     stops. I always look at stops in books when I read but
     sometimes you put a coma and sometimes a semicollon. I
     expect you know but I don't so you must teach me. Its so
     nice writing things down. Come to the back gait tonight.

When the letter was written in queer, crabbed characters, on one side
of a half-sheet of paper, then folded so that she could write the
address on the other side, because she had no envelope--she wondered
how she should get it delivered. There was a coolness between her and
Harriet. Beth resented the coarse insinuation about having a
sweetheart, and shrank from hearing any more remarks of a like nature
on the subject. And she couldn't send the letter by post because she
had no stamp. Should she lay it on his doorstep. No, somebody else
might get it. How then? She was standing on her own doorstep with the
letter in her pocket when she asked herself the question, and just at
the moment Sammy himself appeared, coming back from school. Quick as
thought, Beth ran across the road, whipped out the letter and gave it
to him. Sammy stood still in astonishment with his mouth open, gazing
at it when he found it in his hand, as if he could not imagine how it
got there.

As soon as it was dark, Beth stationed herself at the back gate, which
looked out into Orchard Street, and waited and waited, but Sammy did
not come. He had not been able to get out; that was it--she was sure
of it; yet still she waited, although the evening was very cold. Her
mother and Aunt Victoria had gone to dine with Lady Benyon. She did
not know what Harriet was doing, but she had disposed of Bernadine
for some time to come by lending her her best picture-book to daub
with paint; so it was pretty safe to wait; and at first the hope of
seeing Sammy come running round the corner was pleasure enough. As the
time went on, however, she became impatient, and at last she ventured
a little way up the street, then a little farther, and then she ran on
boldly into Orchard Row. As she approached the Lees' back-gate, she
became aware of a round thing that looked like a cannon-ball glued to
the top, and her fond heart swelled, for she knew it must be Sammy's
head.

"O Sammy! why didn't you come?" she cried.

"I didn't like," said Sammy.

"I've been waiting for hours," Beth expostulated with gentle reproach.

"So have I, and it's cold," said Sammy disconsolately.

"Come now. She's out," Beth coaxed.

"So she was the other day," Sammy reminded her.

"But we'll go into the garden. She can't catch us there. It's too
dark."

Sammy, half persuaded, ventured out from the gateway, then hesitated.

"But is it _very_ dark?" he said.

"Not so very, when you're used to it," Beth answered. "But it's nice
when it's dark. You can fancy you see things. Come! run!" She seized
his hand as she spoke, and set off, and Sammy, overborne by the
stronger will, kept pace with her.

"But I don't want to see things," he protested, trying to hold back
when they came to the dark passage which led into the garden.

"Don't be a fool, Sammy," said Beth, dragging him on. "I believe
you're a girl."

"I'm not," said Sammy indignantly.

"Then come and sit on the see-saw."

"Oh, have you a see-saw?" he asked, immediately diverted.

"Yes--this way--under the pear-tree. It's a swing, you know, tied to
the branch, and I put this board across it. I pulled the board up out
of the floor of the wood-house. Do you like see-sawing?"

"Yes," said Sammy with animation.

"Catch hold, then," said Beth, tipping up the board at her end. "What
are you doing, butter-fingers?" she cried, as Sammy failed to catch
hold. "I'm sorry I said you were a girl. You're much too clumsy."

She held the board until Sammy got astride of it at one end, then she
bestrode it herself at the other, and started it with a vigorous kick
on the ground. Up and down they went, shaking showers of leaves from
the old tree, and an occasional winter pear, which fell with a thud,
being hard and heavy.

"Golly! this is fine!" Sammy burst out. "I say, Beth, what a jolly
sort of a girl you are!"

"Do you think so?" said Beth, amply rewarded for all her trouble.

"Yes. And you _can_ write a letter! My! What a time it must 'a' took
you! But, I say, it's all rot about stops, you know. Stops is things
in books. _You'd_ never learn stops."

"How do you know?" Beth demanded, bridling.

"Men write books," said Sammy, proud of his sex, "not women, let alone
gels!"

"That's all you know about it, then!" cried Beth, better informed.
"Women _do_ write books, and girls too. Jane Austen wrote books, and
Maria Edgeworth wrote books, and Fanny Burney wrote a book when she
was only seventeen, called 'Evelina' and all the great men read it."

"Oh!" said Sammy, jeering, "so you're as clever as they are, I
suppose!"

Sammy was up in the air as he spoke; the next moment he came down bump
on the ground.

"There," said Beth, "that'll teach you. You be rude again if you
dare."

"I'll not come near you again, spit-cat," cried Sammy, picking himself
up.

"I know you won't," Beth rejoined. "You daren't. You're afraid."

"Who's afraid?" said Sammy, blustering.

"Sammy Lee," said Beth. "Oh, Sammy Lee's afraid of me, riding the
see-saw under the tree."

"I say, Beth," said Sammy, much impressed, "did you make that
yourself?"

"Make what myself? Make you afraid? Yes, I did."

"No, you didn't," said Sammy, plucking up spirit. "I'm not afraid."

"Then don't be a fool," said Beth.

"Fool yourself," Sammy muttered, but not very valiantly.

The church-clock struck nine. They were standing about, Beth not
knowing what to do next, and Sammy waiting for her to suggest
something; and in the meantime the night became colder and the
darkness more intense.

"I think I'd better take you home," Beth said at last. "Here, give me
your hand."

She dragged him out of the garden in her impetuous way, and they
scampered off together to Orchard Row, and when they reached the
Lees' house they were so warmed and cheered by the exercise that they
parted from each other in high good-humour.

"I'll come again," said Sammy.

"Do!" said Beth, giving him a great push that sent him sprawling up
the passage. This was the kind of attention he understood, so he went
to bed satisfied.

There was only one great interest in life for the people at
Rainharbour. Their religion gave them but cold comfort; their labour
was arduous and paid them poorly; they had no books, no intellectual
pursuits, no games to take them out of themselves, nothing to expand
their hearts as a community. There were the races, the fair, and the
hirings for excitement, but of pleasure such as satisfies because it
is soul-sustaining and continuous enough to be part of their lives,
they knew nothing. The upper classes were idle, self-satisfied,
selfish, and sensual; the lower were industrious enough, but ignorant,
superstitious, and depressed. The gentry gave themselves airs of
superiority, really as if their characters were as good as their
manners; but they did not impose upon the people, who despised them
for their veneer. Each class displayed its contempt for the other
openly when it could safely do so, but was ready to cringe when it
suited its own convenience, the workers for employment, and the gentry
for political purposes. But human beings are too dependent on each
other for such differences to exist without detriment to the whole
community. Society must cohere if it is to prosper; individuals help
themselves most, in the long run, when they consider each other's
interests. At Rainharbour nothing was done to promote general good
fellowship; the kind of Christianity that was preached there made no
mention of the matter, and society was disintegrated, and would have
gone to pieces altogether but for the one great interest in life--the
great primitive interest which consists in the attraction of sex to
sex. The subject of sweethearts was always in the air. The minds of
boys and girls, youths and maidens, men and women were all full of it;
but it was not often openly discussed as a pleasant topic--in fact,
not much mentioned at all except for fault-finding purposes; for it
was the custom to be censorious on the subject, and naturally those
were most so who knew most about it, like the vicar, who had married
four times. He was so rabid that he almost went the length of
denouncing men and maidens by name from the pulpit if he caught them
strolling about together in pairs. His mind was so constituted that he
could not believe their dalliance to be innocent, and yet he did not
try to introduce any other interest or pleasure into their lives to
divert them from the incessant pursuit of each other.

It was the grown-up people who were so nasty on the subject of
sweethearts; the boys and girls never could understand why. Their own
inclination was to go about together openly in the most public places;
that was how they understood sweethearting; part of the pleasure of it
consisted in other people seeing them, and knowing that they were
sweethearts, and smiling upon them sympathetically. This, however, the
grown-up people never did; on the contrary, they frowned and jeered;
and so the boys and girls kept out of their way, and sought secret
sympathy from each other.

Any little boy at the Mansion-House School who secured a sweetheart
enjoyed a proud distinction, and Sammy soon found that his
acquaintance with Beth placed him in quite an enviable position. He
therefore let his fear of Mrs. Caldwell lapse, and did his best to be
seen with Beth as much as possible. And to her it was a surprise as
well as a joy to find him hanging about, waiting to have a word with
her. Her mother's treatment of her had so damaged her self-respect
that she had never expected anybody to care for her particularly, and
Sammy's attentions, therefore, were peculiarly sweet. She did not
consider the position at all, however. There are subjects about which
we think, and subjects upon which we feel, and the two are quite
distinct and different. Beth felt on the subject of Sammy. The fact of
his having a cherubic face made her feel nice inside her chest--set up
a glow there which warmed and brightened her whole existence--a glow
which never flickered day or night, except in Sammy's presence, when
it went out altogether more often than not; only to revive, however,
when the real Sammy had gone and the ideal Sammy returned to his place
in her bosom. For Sammy adored at a distance and Sammy within range of
criticism were two very different people. Sammy adored at a distance
was all-ready response to Beth's fine flights of imagination; but
Sammy on the spot was dull. He was seldom on the spot, however, so
that Beth had ample leisure to live on her love undisturbed, and her
mind became extraordinarily active. Verse came to her like a
recollection. On half-holidays they sometimes went for a walk together
over the wild wide waste of sand when the tide was out, and she would
rhyme to herself the whole time; but she seldom said anything to
Sammy. So long as he was silent he was a source of inspiration--that
is to say, her feeling for him was inspiring; but when she tried to
get anything out of him, they generally squabbled.

Beth lived her own life at this time almost entirely. Since that
startling threat of rebellion, her mother had been afraid to beat her
lest she should strike back; scolding only made her voluble, and Mrs.
Caldwell never thought of trying to manage her in the only way
possible, by reasoning with her and appealing to her better nature.
There was, therefore, but one thing for her mother to do in order to
preserve her own dignity, and that was to ignore Beth. Accordingly,
when the perfunctory lessons were over in the morning, Beth had her
day to herself. She began it generally by practising for at least an
hour by the church-clock, and after that she had a variety of pursuits
which she preferred to follow alone if Sammy were at school, because
then there was no one to interrupt her thoughts. When the larder was
empty, she became Loyal Heart the Trapper, and would wander off to
Fairholm to set snares or catapult anything she could get near. The
gun she had found impracticable, because she was certain to have been
seen out with it; her snares, if they were found, were supposed to
have been set by poachers. She herself was known to every one on the
estate, and was therefore sure of respect, no matter who saw her; even
Uncle James himself would have let her alone had they met, as he was
of her mother's opinion, that it was safer to ignore her than to
attempt to control her. The snares, although of the most primitive
kind, answered the purpose. The great difficulty was how to get the
game home; but that she also managed successfully, generally by
returning after dark. Her mother, concluding that she owed whatever
came to Aunt Grace Mary's surreptitious kindness, said nothing on the
subject except to Beth, whom she supposed to be Aunt Grace Mary's
agent; but she very much enjoyed every addition to her monotonous
diet, especially when Beth did the cooking. In fact, had it not been
for Loyal Heart, the family would have pretty nearly starved that
winter, because of Jim, who had contracted debts like a man, which his
mother had to pay.

With regard to Beth's cooking, it is remarkable that, although Mrs.
Caldwell herself had suffered all through her married life for want of
proper training in household matters, she never attempted to have her
own daughters better taught. On the contrary, she had forbidden Beth
to do servant's work, and objected most strongly to her cooking, until
she found how good it was, and even then she thought it due to her
position only to countenance it under protest. The extraordinary
inefficiency of the good-old-fashioned-womanly woman as a wife on a
small income, the silly pretences which showed her want of proper
self-respect, and the ill-adjusted balance of her undeveloped mind
which betrayed itself in petty inconsistencies, fill us with pity and
surprise us, yet encourage us too by proving how right and wise we
were to try our own experiments. If we had listened to advice and done
as we were told, the woman's-sphere-is-home would have been as ugly
and comfortless a place for us to-day as it used to be when Beth was
forced by the needs of her nature to poach for diversion, cook for
kindness, and clean, and fight, and pray, and lie, and love, in her
brave struggle against the hard and stupid conditions of her
life--conditions which were not only retarding the development, but
threatening utterly to distort, if not actually to destroy, all that
was best, most beautiful, and most wonderful in her character.

Beth rather expected to get into difficulties eventually about the
game, but she calculated that she would have a certain time to run
before her head was snapped off, and during that time her mother would
enjoy her good dinners and be the better for them, and she herself
would enjoy the sport--facts which no amount of anger afterwards could
alter. Since Mrs. Caldwell had washed her hands of Beth, they were
beginning to be quite good friends. Sometimes her mother talked to her
just as she would to anybody else; that is to say, with civility. She
would say, "And what are you going to do to-day, Beth?" quite
pleasantly, as though speaking to another grown-up person; and Beth
would answer politely, and tell the truth if possible, instead of
making some sulky evasion, as she had begun to do when there was no
other way of keeping the peace. She was fearlessly honest by nature,
but as she approached maturity, she lost her nerve for a time, and
during that time she lied, on occasion, to escape a harrowing scene.
She always despised herself for it, however, and therefore, as she
grew stronger, she became her natural straightforward self again,
only, if anything, all the more scrupulously accurate for the
degrading experience. For she soon perceived that there is nothing
that damages the character like the habit of untruth; the man or woman
who makes a false excuse has already begun to deteriorate. If a census
could be taken to establish the grounds upon which people are
considered noble or ignoble, we should find it was in exact proportion
to the amount of confidence that can be placed first of all in their
sincerity, and then in their accuracy. Sincerity claims respect for
character, accuracy estimation for ability; no high-minded person was
ever insincere, and no fool was ever accurate.

When the close season began, Beth left the plantations, and took to
fishing in the sea. She would sit at the end of the pier in fine
weather, baiting her hooks with great fat lob-worms she had dug up out
of the sands at low tide, and watching her lines all by herself; or,
if it were rough, she would fish in the harbour from the steps up
against the wooden jetty, where the sailors hung about all day long
with their hands in their pockets when the boats were in. Some of them
would sit with her, all in a row, fishing too, and they would exchange
bait with her, and give her good advice, while others stood behind
looking on and listening. And as of old in Ireland she had fascinated
the folk, so here again these great simple bearded men listened with
wondering interest to her talk, and never answered at all as if they
were speaking to a child. Beth heard some queer things, sitting down
there by the old wooden jetty, fishing for anything she could catch,
and she said some queer things too when the mood was upon her.

Sometimes, when she wanted to be alone and think, she would go off to
the rocks that appeared at low-water down behind the south pier, and
fish there. She loved this spot; it was near to nature, yet not remote
from the haunts of man. She sat there one afternoon, holding her line,
and dreamily watching the fishing boats streaming across the bay, with
their brown sails set to catch the fitful breeze which she could see
making cat's-paws on the water far out, but could not feel, being
sheltered from it by the old stone pier. The sea was glassy smooth,
and lapped up the rocks, heaving regularly like the breast of a
tranquil sleeper. Beth gazed at it until she was seized with a great
yearning to lie back on its shining surface and be gently borne away
to some bright eternity, where Sammy would be, and all her other
friends. The longing became imperative. She rose from the rock she was
sitting on, she raised her arms, her eyes were fixed. Then it was as
if she had suddenly awakened. The impulse had passed, but she was all
shaken by it, and shivered as if she were cold.

Fortunately the fish were biting well that day. She caught two big
dabs, four whitings, a small plaice, and a fine fat sole. The sole was
a prize, indeed, and mamma and Aunt Victoria should have it for
dinner. As she walked home, carrying the fish on a string, she met
Sammy.

"Where did you get those fish?" he asked.

"Caught them," she answered laconically.

"What! all by yourself? No! I don't believe it."

"I did, all the same," she answered; "and now I'm going to cook
them--some of them at least."

"Yourself? Cook them yourself? No!" he cried in admiration. Cooking
was an accomplishment he honoured.

"If you'll come out after your tea, I'll leave the back-gate ajar, and
you can slip into the wood-house; and I'll bring you a whiting on
toast, all hot and brown."

With such an inducement, Sammy was in good time. Beth found him
sitting contentedly on a heap of sticks, waiting for the feast. She
had brought the whiting out with a cover over it, hot and brown, as
she had promised; and Sammy's mouth watered when he saw it.

"What a jolly girl you are, Beth!" he exclaimed.

But Beth was not so much gratified by the praise as she might have
been. The vision and the dream were upon her that evening, her nerves
were overwrought, and she was yearning for an outlet for ideas that
oppressed her. She stood leaning against the door-post, biting a twig;
restless, dissatisfied; but not knowing what she wanted.

When Sammy had finished the whiting, he remembered Beth, and asked
what she was thinking about.

"I'm not thinking exactly," she answered, frowning intently in the
effort to find expression for what she had in her consciousness.
"Things come into my mind, but I don't think them, and I can't say
them. They don't come in words. It's more like seeing them, you know,
only you don't see them with your eyes, but with something inside
yourself. Do you know what it is when you are fishing off the rocks,
and there is no breaking of waves, only a rising and falling of the
water; and it comes swelling up about you with a sort of sob that
brings with it a whiff of fresh air every time, and makes you take in
your breath with a sort of sob too, every time--and at last you seem
to be the sea, or the sea seems to be you--it's all one; but you don't
think it."

Sammy looked at her in a blank, bewildered way. "I like it best when
you tell stories, Beth," he said, under the impression that all this
incomprehensible stuff was merely a display for his entertainment.
"Come and sit down beside me and tell stories."

"Stories don't come to me to-night," said Beth, with a tragic face.
"Do you remember the last time we were on the sands--oh! I keep
feeling--it was all so--_peaceful_, that was it. I've been wondering
ever since what it was, and that was it--peaceful;

    The quiet people,
    The old church steeple;
    The sandy reaches
    Of wreck-strewn beaches--"

"Who made that up?" said Sammy suspiciously.

"I did," Beth answered offhand. "At least I didn't make it up, it just
came to me. When I make it up it'll most likely be quite different.
It's like the stuff for a dress, you know, when you buy it. You get it
made up, and it's the same stuff, and it's quite different, too, in a
way. You've got it put into shape, and it's good for something."

"I don't believe you made it up," said Sammy doggedly. "You're
stuffing me, Beth. You're always trying to stuff me."

Beth, still leaning against the door-post, clasped her hands behind
her head and looked up at the sky. "Things keep coming to me faster
than I can say them to-night," she proceeded, paying no heed to his
remark; "not things about you, though, because nothing goes with Sammy
but jammy, clammy, mammy, and those aren't nice. I want things to
come about you, but they won't. I tried last night in bed, and what do
you think came again and again?

        Yes, yes, that was his cry,
        While the great clouds went sailing by;
        Flashes of crimson on colder sky;
        Like the thoughts of a summer's day,
    Colour'd by love in a life which else were grey.

But that isn't you, you know, Sammy. Then when I stopped trying for
something about you, there came such a singing! What was it? It seems
to have gone--and yet it's here, you know, it's all here," she
insisted, with one hand on the top of her head, and the other on her
chest, and her eyes straining; "and yet I can't get it."

"Beth, don't get on like that," Sammy remonstrated. "You make me feel
all horrid."

"Make you feel," Beth cried in a deep voice, clenching her fists and
shaking them at him, exasperated because the verses continued to elude
her. "Don't you know what I'm here for? I'm here to make you feel. If
you don't feel what I feel, then you _shall_ feel horrid, if I have to
kill you."

"Shut up!" said Sammy, beginning to be frightened. "I shall go away if
you don't."

"Go away, then," said Beth. "You're just an idiot boy, and I'm tired
of you."

Sammy's blue eyes filled with tears. He got down from the heap of
sticks, intent on making his escape; but Beth changed her mind when
she felt her audience melting away.

"Where are you going?" she demanded.

"I'm going home," he said deprecatingly. "I can't stay if you go on in
that fool-fashion."

"It isn't a fool-fashion," Beth rejoined vehemently. "It's you that's
a fool. I told you so before."

"If you wasn't a girl, I'd punch your 'ead," said Sammy, half afraid.

"I believe you!" Beth jeered. "But you're not a girl, anyway." She
flew at him as she spoke, caught him by the collar, kicked his shins,
slapped his face, and drubbed him on the back.

Sammy, overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught, made no effort to defend
himself, but just wriggled out of her grasp, and ran home, with great
tears streaming down his round red cheeks, and sobs convulsing him.

Beth's exasperation subsided the moment she was left alone in the
wood-house. She sat down on the sticks, and looked straight before
her, filled with remorse.

"What shall I do? What shall I do?" she kept saying to herself. "Oh
dear! oh dear! Sammy! Sammy! He's gone. I've lost him. _This is the
most dreadful grief I have ever had in my life._"

The moment she had articulated this full-blown phrase, she became
aware of its importance. She repeated it to herself, reflected upon
it, and was so impressed by it, that she got up, and went indoors to
write it down. By the time she had found pencil and paper, she was the
sad central figure of a great romance, full of the most melancholy
incidents; in which troubled atmosphere she sat and suffered for the
rest of the evening; but she did not think of Sammy again till she
went to bed. Then, however, she was seized anew with the dread of
losing him for ever, and cried helplessly until she fell asleep.

For days she mourned for him without daring to go to the window, lest
she should see him pass by on the other side of the road with scorn
and contempt flashing forth from his innocent blue eyes. In the
evening, however, she opened the back-gate, as usual, and waited in
the wood-house; but he never came. And at first she was in despair.
Then she became defiant--she didn't care, not she! Then she grew
determined. He'd have to come back if she chose, she'd make him. But
how? Oh, she knew! She'd just sit still till something came.

She was sitting on a heap of beech branches opposite the doorway,
picking off the bronze buds and biting them. The blanched skeleton of
Sammy's whiting, sad relic of happier moments, grinned up at her from
the earthen floor. Outside, the old pear-tree on the left, leafless
now and motionless, showed distinctly in silhouette against the
night-sky. Its bare branches made black bars on the face of the bright
white moon which was rising behind it. What a strange thing time is!
day and night, day and night, week and month, spring, summer, autumn,
winter, always coming and going again, while we only come once, go,
and return no more. It was getting on for Christmas now. Another year
had nearly gone. The years slip away steadily--day by day--winter,
spring. Winter so cold and wet; March all clouds and dust--comes in
like a lion, goes out like a lamb; then April is bright.

The year slips away steadily; slips round the steady year; days come
and go--no, no! Days dawn and disappear, winters and springs--springs,
rings, sings? No, leave that. Winter with cold and rain--pain? March
storms and clouds and pain, till April once again light with it
brings.

Beth jumped down from the beech boughs, ran round to the old wooden
pump, clambered up by it on to the back-kitchen roof, and made for the
acting-room window. It was open, and she screwed herself in round the
bar and fastened the door. It was quite dark under the sloping roof,
but she found the end of a tallow candle, smuggled up there for the
purpose, lighted it, and stuck it on to the top of the rough deal box
which formed her writing-table. She had a pencil, sundry old envelopes
carefully cut open so as to save as much of the clean space inside as
possible, margins of newspapers, precious but rare half-sheets, and
any other scrap of paper on which she could write, all carefully
concealed in a hole in the roof, from which she tore the whole
treasure now in her haste.

"Winter, summer, Sammy," she kept saying to herself. "Autumn,
autumn-tinted woods--my king--_Ministering Children_--ministering--king.
Moon, noon. Story, glory. Ever, never, endeavour. Oh, I can do it! I
can! I can! Slips round the steady year--"

It took her some days to do it to her satisfaction, but they were days
of delight, for the whole time she felt exactly as she had done when
first she found Sammy. She had the same warm glow in her chest, the
same sort of yearning, half anxious, half pleasant, wholly desirable.

It was late in the evening when she finished, and she had to put her
work away in a hurry, because her mother sent Harriet to tell her she
must go to bed; but all night long she lay only half asleep, and all
the time conscious of joy to come in the morning.

She was up early, but had too much self-restraint to go to the
acting-room till lessons were over. She was afraid of being disturbed
and so having her pleasure spoilt. As soon as she could safely lock
herself up, however, she took her treasure out. It was written on the
precious half-sheets in queer little crabbed characters, very
distinctly:--

            Slips round the steady year,
            Days dawn and disappear,
              Winters and springs;
            March storms and clouds and rain,
            Till April once again
              Light with it brings.

            Then comes the summer song,
            Birds in the woods prolong
              Day into night.
            Hot after tepid showers
            Beats down this sun of ours,
            Upward the radiant flowers
              Look their delight.

            O summer scents at noon!
            O summer nights and moon!
              Season of story.
            Labour and love for ever
            Strengthen each hard endeavour,
            Now climb we up or never,
              Upward to glory!

            Winter and summer past,
            Autumn has come at last,
              Hope in its keeping.
            Beauty of tinted wood,
            Beauty of tranquil mood,
            Harvest of earned good
              Ripe for the reaping.

            Thus on a torrid day
            Slipped my fond thoughts away,
              Book from thy pages.
            Seasons of which I sing,
            Are they not like, my king,
            Thine own life's minist'ring
              In all its stages?

            First in the spring, I ween,
            Were all thy powers foreseen--
              Storms sowed renown.
            Then came thy summer climb,
            Then came thy golden-prime,
            Then came thy harvest-time,
              Bringing thy crown.

When Beth had read these lines, she doubled the half sheets on which
they were written, and put them in her pocket deliberately. She was
sitting on the acting-room floor at the moment, near the window.

"Now," she exclaimed, folding her delicate nervous hands on her lap,
and looking up at the strip of sky above her, "now I shall be
forgiven!"

It was dark at this time when the boys left school in the evening, and
Beth stood at the back-gate waiting to waylay Sammy. He came trotting
along by himself, and saw her as he approached, but did not attempt to
escape. On the contrary, he stopped, but he had nothing to say; the
relief of finding her friendly again was too great for words. Had she
looked out, she might have seen him any day since the event,
bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked as usual, prowling about, anxious to
obtain a reassuring smile from her on his way to and from school. It
was not likely that he would lose the credit of being Beth Caldwell's
sweetheart if he could help it, just because she beat him. Already he
had suffered somewhat in prestige because he had not been seen with
her so often lately; and he had been quite as miserable in his own
way, under the impression that she meant to cast him off, as she had
in hers.

"Come in, Sammy," she cried, catching hold of his hand. "Come in, I've
something to show you; but it's too cold to sit in the wood-house, and
we can't have a light there either. Come up by the pump to the
acting-room. I've fastened the door inside, and nobody can get in.
Come! I'll show you the way."

Sammy followed her obediently and in silence, although somewhat
suspiciously as usual; but she piloted him safely, and, once in the
acting-room, with the candle lighted, he owned that it was jolly.

"Sammy, I _have_ been sorry," Beth began. "I've been quite miserable
about--you know what. It was horrid of me."

"I told you scratch-cats were horrid," said Sammy solemnly.

"But I've done something to atone," Beth proceeded. "Something came to
me all about you. You shall have it, Sammy, to keep. Just listen, and
I'll read it."

Sammy listened with his mouth and eyes open, but when she had done he
shook his head. "You didn't make that up yourself," he said decidedly.

"O Sammy! yes, I did," Beth protested, taken aback and much pained.

"No, I don't believe you," said Sammy. "You got it out of a book.
You're always trying to stuff me up."

"I'm not stuffing you, Sammy," said Beth, suddenly flaming. "I made it
myself, every word of it. I tell you it came to me. It's my own.
_You've got to believe it._"

Sammy looked about him. There was no escape by the door, because that
led into the house, and Beth was between him and the window, with her
brown hair dishevelled, and her big eyes burning.

"Well," he said, a politic desire to conciliate struggling with an
imperative objection to be stuffed, "of course you made it yourself if
you say so. But it's all rot anyway."

The words slipped out unawares, and the moment he uttered them he
ducked his head: but nothing happened. Then he looked up at Beth, and
found her gazing hard at him, and as she did so the colour gradually
left her cheeks and the light went out of her eyes. Slowly she
gathered up her papers and put them into the hole in the roof. Then
she sat on one of the steps which led down into the room, but she said
nothing.

Sammy sat still in a tremor until the silence became too oppressive to
be borne; then he fidgeted, then he got up, and looked longingly
towards the window.

"I shall be late," he ventured.

Beth made no sign.

"When shall I see you again?" he recommenced, deprecatingly. "Will you
be at the back-gate to-morrow?"

"No," she said shortly. "It's too cold to wait for you."

"Then how shall I see you?" he asked, with a blank expression.

Beth reflected. "Oh, just whistle as you pass," she said at last, in
an offhand way, "and I'll come out if I feel inclined."

       *       *       *       *       *

The next evening Mrs. Caldwell was taking her accustomed nap after
dinner in her arm-chair by the fire in the dining-room, and Beth was
sitting at the table dreaming, when she was suddenly startled by a
long, loud, shrill whistle. Another and another of the most piercing
quality followed in quick succession. Swiftly but cautiously she
jumped up, and slipped into the drawing-room, which was all in
darkness. There were outside shutters to the lower windows, but the
drawing-room ones were not closed, so she looked out, and there was
Sammy, standing with his innocent fat face as close to the dining-room
shutters as he could hold it, with his fingers in his mouth, uttering
shrill whistles loud and long and hard and fast enough to rouse the
whole neighbourhood. Beth, impatient of such stupidity, returned to
the dining-room and sat down again, leaving Sammy to his fate.

Presently Mrs. Caldwell started wide awake.

"What _is_ that noise, Beth?" she exclaimed.

"It seems to be somebody whistling outside," Beth answered in deep
disgust. Then her exasperation got the better of her self-control, and
she jumped up, and ran out to the kitchen.

"Harriet," she said between her clenched teeth, "go out and send that
silly fool away."

Harriet hastened to obey; but at the opening of the front door, Sammy
bolted.

The next evening he began again, however, as emphatically as before;
but Beth could not stand such imbecility a second time, so she ran out
of the back-gate, and seized Sammy.

"What are you doing there?" she cried, shaking him.

"Why, you told me to whistle," Sammy remonstrated, much aggrieved.

"Did I tell you to whistle like a railway engine?" Beth demanded
scornfully. "You've no sense at all, Sammy. Go away!"

"Oh, do let's come in, Beth," Sammy pleaded. "I've something to tell
you."

"What is it?" said Beth ungraciously.

"I'll tell you if you'll let me come in."

"Well, come then," Beth answered impatiently, and led the way up over
the roof to the acting-room. "What is it?" she again demanded, when
she had lighted a scrap of candle and seated herself on the steps. "I
don't believe it's anything."

"Yes, it is, so there!" said Sammy triumphantly. "But I'll lay you
won't guess what it is. Mrs. Barnes has got a baby."

Mrs. Barnes was the wife of the head-master of the Mansion-House
School, and all the little boys, feeling that there was more in the
event than had been explained to them, were vaguely disgusted.

"I don't call that anything," Beth answered contemptuously. "Lots of
people have babies."

"Well," said Sammy, "I wouldn't have thought it of him."

"Thought what of whom?" Beth snapped in a tone which silenced Sammy.
He ventured to laugh, however.

"Don't laugh in that gigantic way, Sammy," she exclaimed, still more
irritated. "When you throw back your head and open your mouth so wide,
I can see you have no wisdom-teeth."

"You're always nasty now, Beth," Sammy complained.

Which was true. Love waning becomes critical. Beth's own feeling for
Sammy had been a strong mental stimulant at first, and, in her
enjoyment of it, she had overlooked all his shortcomings. There was
nothing in him, however, to keep that feeling alive, and it had
gradually died of inanition. His slowness and want of imagination
first puzzled and then provoked her; and, little-boy-like, he had not
even been able to respond to such tenderness as she showed him--not
that she had ever showed him much tenderness, for they were just like
boys together. She had kissed him, however, once or twice, after a
quarrel, to make it up; but she did not like kissing him: little boys
are rank. His pretty colouring was all that he had had to attract her,
and that, alas! had lost its charm by this time. For a little longer
she looked out for him and troubled about him, then let him go
gradually--so gradually, that she never knew when exactly he lapsed
from her life altogether.



CHAPTER XX


For two years after Beth was outlawed by her mother, Great-Aunt
Victoria Bench was her one link with the civilised world. The intimacy
had lapsed a little while Sammy was the prevailing human interest in
Beth's life, but gradually as he ceased to be satisfactory, she
returned to the old lady, and hovered about her, seeking the
sustenance for which her poor little heart ached on always, and for
want of which her busy brain ran riot; and the old lady, who had not
complained of Beth's desertion, welcomed her back in a way which
showed that she had felt it.

For Great-Aunt Victoria Bench was lonely in the days of her poverty
and obscurity. Since the loss of her money, there had been a great
change in the attitude of most of her friends towards her, and such
attentions as she received were of a very different kind from those to
which she had been accustomed. Mrs. Caldwell had been the most
generous to her, for at the time that she had offered Aunt Victoria a
home in her house, she had not known that the old lady would be able
to pay her way at all. Fortunately Aunt Victoria had enough left for
that, but still her position in Mrs. Caldwell's house was not what it
would have been had she not lost most of her means. Mrs. Caldwell was
not aware of the fact, but her manner had insensibly adjusted itself
to Aunt Victoria's altered circumstances, her care and consideration
for her being as much reduced in amount as her income; and Aunt
Victoria felt the difference, but said nothing. Slowly and painfully
she learnt to realise that it was for what she had had to bestow, and
not for what she was, that people used to care; they had served her as
they served their God, in the hope of reaping a rich reward. Like many
other people with certain fine qualities of their own, Aunt Victoria
knew that there was wickedness in the outside world, but never
suspected that her own immediate circle, the nice people with whom she
talked pleasantly every day, could be tainted; and the awakening to
find that her friends cared less disinterestedly for her than she did
for them was a cruel disillusion. Her first inclination was to fly far
from them all, and spend the rest of her days amongst strangers who
could not disappoint her because she would have nothing to expect of
them, and who might perhaps come to care for her really. Long hours
she sat and suffered, shut up in her room, considering the matter,
yearning to go, but restrained by the fear that, as an old woman, she
would be unwelcome everywhere. In Aunt Victoria's day old people were
only too apt to be selfish, tyrannical, narrow, and ignorant, a terror
to their friends; and they were nearly always ill, the old men from
lives of self-indulgence, and the old women from unwholesome restraint
of every kind. Now we are beginning to ask what becomes of the
decrepit old women, there are so few to be seen. This is the age of
youthful grandmothers, capable of enjoying a week of their lives more
than their own grandmothers were able to enjoy the whole of their
declining years; their vitality is so much greater, their appearance
so much better preserved; their knowledge so much more extensive,
their interests so much more varied, and their hearts so much larger.
Aunt Victoria nowadays would have struck out for herself in a new
direction. She would have gone to London, joined a progressive
women's club, made acquaintance with work of some kind or another, and
never known a dull moment; for she would have been a capable woman had
any one of her faculties been cultivated to some useful purpose; but
as it was, she had nothing to fall back upon. She was just like a
domestic animal, like a dog that has become a member of the family,
and is tolerated from habit even after it grows old, and because
remarks would be made if it were put out of the way before its time;
and she had been content with the position so long as much was made of
her. Now, however, all too late, a great yearning had seized upon her
for an object in life, for some pursuit, some interest that would
remain to her when everything else was lost; and she prayed to God
earnestly that He would show her where to go and what to do, or give
her something--something which at last resolved itself into something
to live for.

Then one day there came a little resolute tap at the door, and Beth
walked in without waiting to be asked, and seeing in a moment with
that further faculty of hers into the old lady's heart that it was
sad, she went to her impulsively, and laid her unkempt brown head
against her arm in an awkward caress, which touched the old lady to
tears. Beth was lonely too, thought Aunt Victoria, a strange, lonely
little being, neglected, ill-used, and misunderstood, and the question
flashed through the old lady's mind, if she left the child, what would
become of her? The tangled brown head, warm against her arm, nestled
nearer, and Aunt Victoria patted it protectingly.

"Do you want anything, Beth?" she asked.

"No, Aunt Victoria. I just wanted to see you. I was lying on the
see-saw board, looking up through the leaves, and I suddenly got a
fancy that you were here all by yourself, and that you didn't like
being all by yourself. _I_ feel like that sometimes. So I came to see
you."

"Thank you, Beth," said Aunt Victoria, with her hand still on Beth's
head as if she were blessing her; and when she had spoken she looked
up through the window, and silently thanked the Lord. This was the
sign. He had committed Beth to her care and affection, and she was not
to think of herself, but of the child, whose need was certainly the
greater of the two.

"Have you nothing to do, Beth?" she said after a pause.

"No, Aunt Victoria," Beth answered drearily--"at least there are
plenty of things I could do, but everything I think of makes me
shudder. I feel so sometimes. Do you? There isn't a single thing I
want to do to-day. I've tried one thing after the other, but I can't
think about what I'm doing. Sometimes I like to sit still and do
nothing; but to-day I don't even like that. I think I should like to
be asked to do something. If I could do something for you
now--something to help you----"

"Well, you can, Beth," Aunt Victoria answered, after sitting rigidly
upright for a moment, blinking rapidly. "Help me to unpick an old
gown. I am going to make another like it, and want it unpicked for a
pattern."

"Can you make a gown?" Beth asked in surprise.

Aunt Victoria smiled. Then she took down an old black gown that was
hanging behind the door, and handed it to Beth with a pair of sharp
scissors.

"I'll undo the body part," Beth said, "and that will save your eyes. I
don't think this gown owes you much."

"I do not understand that expression, Beth," said Aunt Victoria.

"Don't you," said Beth, working away with the scissors cheerfully.
"Harriet always says that, when she's got all the good there is to be
got out of anything--the dusters, you know, or the dishcloth. I once
did a piece of unpicking like this for mamma, and she didn't explain
properly, or something--at all events, I took out a great deal too
much, so she----"

"Don't call your mamma 'she.' 'She' is the cat."

"Mamma, then. Mamma beat me."

"Don't say she beat you."

"I said mamma."

"Well, don't talk about your mamma beating you. That is not a nice
thing to talk about."

"It's not a nice thing to do either," said Beth judicially. "And I
never used to talk about it; didn't like to, you know. But now
she--mamma--doesn't beat me any more--at least only sometimes when she
forgets."

"Ah, then, you have been a better girl."

"No, not better--bigger. You see if I struck her back again she
wouldn't like it."

"Beth! Beth! strike your mother!"

"That was the danger," said Beth, in her slow, distinct, imperturbable
way. "One day she made me so angry I very nearly struck her, and I
told her so. That made her look queer, I can tell you. And she's never
struck me since--except in a half-hearted sort of way, or when she
forgot, and that didn't count, of course. But I think I know now how
it was she used to beat me. I did just the same thing myself one day.
I beat Sammy----"

"Who is Sammy?" said Aunt Victoria, looking over her spectacles.

"Sammy Lee, you know."

Aunt Victoria recollected, and felt she should improve the occasion,
but was at a loss for a moment what to say. She was anxious above
everything that Beth should talk to her freely, for how could she help
the child if she did not know all she had in her mind? It is upon the
things they are never allowed to mention that children brood
unwholesomely.

"I thought that you were not allowed to know Sammy Lee," she finally
observed.

"No more I was," Beth answered casually.

"Yet you knew him all the same?" Aunt Victoria ventured reproachfully.

"Aunt Victoria," said Beth, "did the Lord die for Sammy?"

"Ye--yes," said Aunt Victoria, hesitating, not because she doubted the
fact, but because she did not know what use Beth would make of it.

"Then why can't _I_ know him?" Beth asked.

"Oh, be--because Sammy does not live as if he were grateful to the
Lord."

"If he did, would he be a gentleman?" Beth asked.

"Yes," Aunt Victoria answered decidedly.

Beth stopped snipping, and looked at her as if she were looking right
through her, and out into the world beyond. Then she pursed up her
mouth and shook her head.

"That won't hold water," she said. "If a man must live like the Lord
to be a gentleman, what is Uncle James? And if living like the Lord
makes a man a gentleman, why don't we call on old Job Fisher?"

Aunt Victoria began to fear that the task she had undertaken would
prove too much for her. "It is hard, very hard," she muttered.

"Well, never mind," said Beth, resuming her work. "When I grow up I
mean to write about things like that. But what were we talking about?
Oh, beating Sammy. I did feel bad after I beat him, and I vowed I'd
never do it again however tiresome he was, and I never did. It makes
it easier if you vow. It's just as if your hands were tied then. I'd
like to tell mamma to try it, only she'd be sure to get waxy. You tell
her, Aunt Victoria."

Aunt Victoria made some reply which was lost in the noise of vehicles
passing in the street, followed by the tramp of many feet and a great
chattering. An excursion train had just arrived, and the people were
pouring into the place. Beth ran to the window and watched them.

"More confounded trippers," she ejaculated. "They spoil the summer,
swarming everywhere."

"Beth, I wish, to please me, you would make another vow. Don't say
'confounded trippers.'"

"All right, Aunt Victoria. Jim says it. But I know all the bad words in
the language were made for the men. I suppose because they have all the
bad thoughts, and do all the bad things. I shall say 'objectionable
excursionists' in future." She went to the door. "I'm just going to get
something," she said. "You won't go away now, will you? I shall be a
minute or two, but I want you to be here when I come back. I shall be
wild if you're not."

She banged the door after her and ran downstairs.

Aunt Victoria looked round the room; it no longer seemed the same
place to her. Beth's cheerful chatter had already driven away the evil
spirit of dejection, and taken the old lady out of herself. Untidy
child! She had left her work on the floor, her scissors on the bed,
disarranged the window-curtain, and upset a chair. If she would not do
any more unpicking when she returned, she must be made to put things
straight. There was one little easy-chair in the room. Aunt Victoria
sat down in it, a great piece of self-indulgence for her at that time
of day, folded her hands, and closed her weary old eyes just to give
them a rest, while a nice little look of content came into her face,
which it was good to see there.

When she opened her eyes again, Beth was setting a tray on a tiny
table beside her.

"I think you've been having a nap, Miss Great-Aunt Victoria Bench,"
she said. "Now, have some tea! and buttered toast!!"

"O Beth!" cried the old lady, beaming. "How could you--at this time of
day? Well, to please you. It is quite delicious. So refreshing. What,
another piece of toast! Must I take another?"

"You must take it all," said Beth. "I made it for you. I do like doing
things for you, Aunt Victoria. It makes me feel nice all over. I'll
just unpick a little more. Then I'll tidy up."

"You're a good child to think of that," said Aunt Victoria. "I did not
think you would."

"Didn't you?" said Beth. "How funny! But I like things tidy. I often
tidy up."

"I--I suppose Harriet says tidy up," the old lady observed gently, not
liking to be censorious at this happy moment of relaxation, but still
anxious to do her duty. Beth understood her perfectly and smiled.

"I like you to tell me when I say things wrong," she said; "and I like
to know how Harriet talks too. You can't write if you don't know how
every one talks."

"What are you going to write?" Aunt Victoria asked, taking up another
piece of buttered toast.

"Oh, books," Beth answered casually.

"Write something soul-sustaining then, Beth," said Aunt Victoria. "Try
to make all you say soul-sustaining. And never use a word you would be
ashamed to hear read aloud."

"You mean like those things they read in church?" said Beth. "I don't
think I ever could use such words. When Mr. Richardson comes close to
them, I get hot all over and hate him. But I promise you, Aunt
Victoria, I will never write anything worse than there is in the
Bible. There's a man called Ruskin who writes very well, they say, and
he learnt how to do it from reading the Bible. His mother taught him
when he was a little boy, just as you taught me. I always read the
Bible--search the Scriptures--every day. You say it's a sacred book,
don't you, Aunt Victoria? Harriet says it's smutty."

"Says _what_?" Aunt Victoria exclaimed, sitting bolt upright in her
horror. "What does she mean by such an expression?"

"Oh, she just means stories like Joseph and Potiphar's wife, David and
Bathsheba, Susanna and the elders."

"My _dear_ child!" Aunt Victoria gasped.

"Well, Aunt Victoria, they're all in the Bible, at least Susanna and
the elders isn't. That's in the Apocrypha."

Aunt Victoria sat silent a considerable time. At last she said
solemnly: "Beth, I want you to promise me one thing solemnly, and that
is that all your life long, whatever may be before you, whatever it
may be your lot to learn, you will pray to God to preserve your
purity."

"What is purity?" said Beth.

Aunt Victoria hesitated: "It's a condition of the mind which keeps us
from ever doing or saying anything we should be ashamed of," she
finally decided.

"But what kind of things?" Beth asked.

Unfortunately Aunt Victoria was not equal to the occasion. She blinked
her eyes very hard, sipped some tea, and left Beth to find out for
herself, according to custom.

"We must only talk about nice things," she said.

"Well, I shouldn't care to talk nastily about people as Lady Benyon
does sometimes," Beth rejoined.

"But, my dear child, that is not a nice thing to say about Lady
Benyon."

"Isn't it?" said Beth, then added: "Oh dear, how funny things are!"
meaning how complicated.

"Where did you get this tea, Beth?" said Aunt Victoria. "It is very
good, and I feel so much the better for it."

"I thought you wanted something," said Beth. "Your face went all
queer. That means people want something. I got the tea out of the
store-cupboard. It has a rotten lock. If you shake it, it comes
open."

"But what does your mamma say?"

"Oh, she never notices. Or, if she does, she thinks she left it open
herself. Harriet has a little sometimes. She takes it because she says
mamma should allow her a quarter of a pound of dry tea a week, so it
isn't stealing. And I took it for you because you pay to live here, so
you're entitled to the tea. I don't take it for myself, of course. But
I'm afraid I oughtn't to have told you about Harriet. I'm so sorry. It
slipped out. It wasn't sneaking. But I trust to your honour, Aunt
Victoria. If you sneaked on Harriet, I could never trust you again,
now could I?" She got up as she spoke, folded her work, picked up the
chair, arranged the window-curtain, moved the tray, and put the table
back in its place, at the same time remarking: "I shall take these
things downstairs now, and go for a run."

She left Aunt Victoria with much to reflect upon. The glimpse she had
accidentally given the old lady of Harriet's turpitude had startled
her considerably. Mrs. Caldwell had always congratulated herself on
having such a quiet respectable person in the house as Harriet to look
after Beth, and now it appeared that the woman was disreputable both
in her habits and her conversation, the very last person whom a girl,
even of such strongly marked individuality as Beth, should have been
allowed to associate with intimately. But what ought Miss Victoria to
do? If she spoke to Mrs. Caldwell, Beth would never forgive her, and
the important thing was not to lose Beth's confidence; but if she did
not speak to Mrs. Caldwell, would she be doing right? Of course, if
Mrs. Caldwell had been a different sort of person, her duty would have
been clear and easy; but as it was, Aunt Victoria decided to wait.

The next day Beth returned of her own accord to finish the unpicking.
She wanted to know what "soul-sustaining" meant; and in ten minutes
she had cross-questioned Aunt Victoria into such a state of confusion
that the old lady could only sit silently praying to Heaven for
guidance. At last she got up, and took a little packet out of one of
her trunks. She had to live in her boxes because there was no closet
or wardrobe or chest of drawers in the room.

"See, Beth," she said, "here is some tea and sugar. I don't think it
nice of you to go to your mother's cupboard without her leave. That's
rather a servant's trick, you know, and not honest; so give it up,
like a dear child, and let us have tea together, you and I, up here,
when we want it. I very much enjoy a good cup of tea, it is so
refreshing, and you make it beautifully."

Beth changed colour and countenance while Aunt Victoria was speaking,
and she sat for some time afterwards looking fixedly at the empty
grate; then she said, "You always tell me things nicely, Aunt
Victoria; that's what I like about you. I'll not touch the cupboard
again, I vow; and if you catch me at any other 'servant's tricks' just
you let me know."

The old lady's heart glowed. The Lord was showing her how to help the
child.

But the holidays were coming on; she would have to go away to make
room for the boys; and she dreaded to leave Beth at this critical
time, lest she should relapse, just as she was beginning to form nice
feminine habits. For Beth had taken kindly to the sewing and
tea-drinking and long quiet chats; it was a delight to her to have
some one to wait on, and help, and talk to. "I'm so fond of you, Aunt
Victoria," she said one day; "I even like you to snap at me; and if we
lived quite alone together, you and I, I should do everything for
you."

"Would you like to come away with me these holidays?" said Aunt
Victoria, seized suddenly with a bright idea.

"Oh, wouldn't I!" said Beth. "But then, the expense!"

"I think I can manage it, if your mamma has no objection," said Aunt
Victoria, nodding and blinking, and nodding again, as she calculated.

"I should think mamma would be only too glad to get rid of me," said
Beth hopefully.

And she was not mistaken.



CHAPTER XXI


The next few weeks, in their effect upon Beth's character, were among
the most important of her life. She did not know until the day before
where she was to go with Aunt Victoria. It was the habit of the family
to conceal all such arrangements from the children, and indeed from
each other as much as possible. Aunt Victoria observed that Caroline
was singularly reticent, and Mrs. Caldwell complained that Aunt
Victoria made a mystery of everything. It was a hard habit, which
robbed Beth of what would have been so much to her, something to look
forward to. Since she knew that she was to go somewhere, however, she
had lived upon the idea; her imagination had been busy trying to
picture the unknown place, and her mind full of plans for the comfort
of Aunt Victoria.

It was after breakfast one day, while her mother and Aunt Victoria
were still at table, that the announcement was made. "You need not do
any lessons this morning, children," Mrs. Caldwell said. "Beth is
going to Harrowgate with Aunt Victoria to-morrow, and I must see to
her things and get them packed."

Aunt Victoria looked round at Beth with a carefully restrained smile,
expecting some demonstration of joy. Beth was standing in the window
looking out, and turned with a frown of intentness on her face when
her mother mentioned Harrowgate, as if she were trying to recall
something.

"Harrowgate!" she said slowly. "_Harrowgate!_"

"Beth, do not frown so," Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed irritably. "You'll be
all wrinkled before you're twenty."

Beth gazed at her solemnly without seeing her, then fixed her eyes
upon the ground as if she were perusing it, and began to walk slowly
up and down with her head bent, her hands clasped behind her, her
curly brown hair falling forward over her cheeks, and her lips moving.

"What is it you're muttering, child?" Aunt Victoria asked.

"I'm trying to think," Beth rejoined.

    "''Twas in the prime of summer time,
        An evening calm and cool....

            *       *       *       *       *

     "'Two sudden blows with a ragged stick,
         And one with a heavy stone....

            *       *       *       *       *

     "'And yet I feared him all the more,
         For lying there so still....

            *       *       *       *       *

     "'I took the dreary body up.'...

"Ah, I know--I have it!" she exclaimed joyfully, and with a look of
relief; "Harrowgate--Knaresboro'--the cave there----

    "'Two stern-faced men set out from Lynn,
       Through the cold and heavy mist;
      And Eugene Aram walked between,
       With gyves upon his wrist.'"

"My dear child," said Aunt Victoria sternly, "what is it you are
trying to say? and how often are you to be told not to work yourself
up into such a state of excitement about nothing?"

"Don't you know about Eugene Aram, Aunt Victoria?" Beth rejoined with
concern, as if not to know about Eugene Aram were indeed to have
missed one of the great interests of life. Then she sat down at the
table with her elbows resting on it, and her delicate oval face framed
in her slender hands, and gave Aunt Victoria a graphic sketch of the
story from Bulwer Lytton.

"Dear me, Caroline," said Aunt Victoria, greatly horrified, "is it
possible that you allow your children to read such books?"

"I read such books to my children myself when I see fit," Mrs.
Caldwell rejoined. "I may be allowed to judge what is good for them, I
suppose?"

"Good for them!" Aunt Victoria ejaculated. "Accounts of murder, theft,
and executions!"

"But why not, Aunt Victoria?" Beth put in. "Why not read about Eugene
Aram as well as about Barabbas?"

Aunt Victoria looked so shocked, however, at the mention of Barabbas
in this connection, that Beth broke off and hastened to add for the
relief of the old lady's feelings--"Only of course Barabbas was a
sacred sort of thief, and that is different."

On the journey next day a casual remark let fall by a stranger made a
curious impression upon Beth. They were travelling second-class, and
Aunt Victoria, talking to another lady in the carriage, happened to
mention that Beth was twelve years old. A gentleman, the only other
passenger, who was sitting opposite to Beth, looked up at her over his
newspaper when her age was mentioned, and remarked--"Are you only
twelve? I should have thought you were older. Rather nice-looking too,
only freckled."

Beth felt her face flush hotly, and then she laughed. "Nice-looking!
Nice-looking!" She repeated the words to herself again and again, and
every time they recurred to her, she lost countenance in spite of
herself, and laughed and flushed, being strangely surprised and
pleased.

It was that remark that first brought home to Beth the fact that she
had a personal appearance at all. Hitherto she had thought very little
of herself. The world without had been, and always would be, much more
to her than the world within. She was not to be one of those narrow,
self-centred, morbid beings whose days are spent in introspection, and
whose powers are wasted in futile efforts to set their own little
peculiarities forth in such a way as to make them seem of consequence.
She never at any time studied her own nature, except as a part of
human nature, and in the hope of finding in herself some clue which
would help her to a sympathetic understanding of other people.

Great-Aunt Victoria Bench, in these days of her poverty, lodged with
an old servant of the family, who gave her for ten shillings a week a
bedroom at the top of the house, and a little sunny sitting-room on
the ground-floor at the back, looking out into an old-fashioned
garden, full of flowers such as knights in olden times culled for
their ladies. The little sitting-room was furnished with Chippendale
chairs, and a little Chippendale sideboard with drawers, and a
bookcase with glass doors above and a cupboard below, in which Aunt
Victoria used to keep her stores of tea, coffee, sugar, and currants
in mustard-tins. Beth heard with surprise that the hearthrug was one
which Aunt Victoria had worked herself as a present for Prentice when
she married. Prentice was now Mrs. Pearce, but Aunt Victoria always
called her Prentice. The hearthrug was like a Turkey carpet, only
softer, deeper, and richer. Aunt Victoria had sat on Chippendale
chairs in her youth, and she was happy amongst them. When she sat down
on one she drew herself up, disdaining the stiff back and smiled and
felt young again, while her memory slipped away to pleasant days gone
by; and Mrs. Pearce would come and talk to her, standing respectfully,
and reminding her of little things which Aunt Victoria had forgotten,
or alluding with mysterious nods and shakings of the head to other
things which Beth was not to hear about. When this happened Beth
always withdrew. She was becoming shy of intruding now, and delicate
about overhearing anything that was not intended for her; and when she
had gone on these occasions, the two old ladies would nod and smile to
each other, Prentice in respectful approval, and Aunt Victoria in
kindly acknowledgment. Prentice wore a cap and front like Aunt
Victoria, but of a subdued brown colour, as became her humble station.

Beth took charge of the housekeeping as soon as they arrived, made
tea, arranged the groceries in the cupboard, and put the key in her
pocket; and Aunt Victoria, who was sitting upright on a high
Chippendale chair, knitting, and enjoying the dignity of the old
attitude after her journey, looked on over her spectacles in pleased
approval. Before they went to bed, they read the evening psalms and
lessons together in the sitting-room, and Aunt Victoria read prayers.
When they went upstairs they said their private prayers, kneeling
beside the bed, and Aunt Victoria made Beth wash herself in hot water,
and brush her hair for half-an-hour. Aunt Victoria attributed her own
slender, youthful figure and the delicate texture of her skin to this
discipline. She said she had preserved her figure by never relaxing
into languid attitudes, and her complexion by washing her face in hot
water with fine white soap every night, and in cold water without soap
every morning. She did not take her fastidious appetite into
consideration, nor her simple, regular life, nor the fact that she
never touched alcohol in any shape or form, nor wore a tight or heavy
garment, nor lost her self-control for more than a moment whatever
happened, but Beth discovered for herself, as she grew older, that
these and that elevated attitude of mind which is religion, whatever
the form preferred to express it, are essential parts of the
discipline necessary for the preservation of beauty.

In the morning Beth made breakfast, and when it was over, if crusts
had accumulated in the cupboard, she steeped them in hot milk in a
pie-dish, beat them up with an egg, a little butter, sugar, currants,
and candied peel, and some nutmeg grated, for a bread-pudding, which
Prentice took out to bake for dinner, remarking regularly that little
miss promised to be helpful, to which Aunt Victoria as regularly
responded Yes, she hoped Miss Beth would become a capable woman some
day.

After breakfast they read the psalms and lessons together, verse by
verse, and had some "good talk," as Beth called it. Then Aunt Victoria
got out an old French grammar and phrase-book, a copy of "Télémaque,"
and a pocket-dictionary, treasured possessions which she always
carried about with her, and had a kind of pride in. French had been
her speciality, but these were the only French books she had, and she
certainly never spoke the language. She would have shrunk modestly
from any attempt to do so, thinking such a display almost as
objectionable as singing in a loud professional way instead of
quietly, like a well-bred amateur, and showing a lack of that
dignified reserve and general self-effacement which she considered
essential in a gentlewoman.

But she was anxious that Beth should be educated, and therefore the
books were produced every morning. Mrs. Caldwell had tried in vain to
teach Beth anything by rule, such as grammar. Beth's memory was always
tricky. Anything she cared about she recollected accurately; but
grammar, which had been presented to her not as a means to an end but
as an end in itself, failed to interest her, and if she remembered a
rule she forgot to apply it, until Aunt Victoria set her down to the
old French books, when, simply because the old lady looked pleased if
she knew her lesson and disturbed if she did not, she began at the
beginning of her own accord, and worked with a will--toilsomely at
first, but by degrees with pleasure as she proceeded, and felt for the
first time the joy of mastering a strange tongue.

"You learnt out of this book when you were a little girl, Aunt
Victoria, didn't you?" she said, looking up on the day of the first
lesson. She was sitting on a high-backed chair at one end of the
table, trying to hold herself as upright as Aunt Victoria, who sat at
the other and opposite end to her, pondering over her knitting. "I
suppose you hated it."

"No, I did not, Beth," Aunt Victoria answered severely. "I esteemed it
a privilege to be well educated. Our mother could not afford to have
us all instructed in the same accomplishments, and so she allowed us
to choose French, or music, or drawing and painting. _I_ chose
French."

"Then how was it grandmamma learned drawing and painting, and playing,
and everything?" Beth asked. "Mamma knows tunes she composed."

"Your dear grandmamma was an exceedingly clever girl," Aunt Victoria
answered stiffly, as if Beth had taken a liberty when she asked the
question; "and she was the youngest, and desired to learn all we knew,
so we each did our best to impart our special knowledge to her. _I_
taught her French."

"How strange," said Beth; "and out of this very book? And she is dead.
And now you are teaching _me_."

The feeling in the child's voice, and the humble emphasis on the
pronoun _me_, touched the old lady; something familiar too in the tone
caused her to look up quickly and kindly over her spectacles, and it
seemed to her for a moment as if the little, long-lost sister sat
opposite to her--great grey eyes, delicate skin, bright brown hair,
expression of vivid interest, and all.

"Strange! strange!" she muttered to herself several times.

"I am supposed to be like grandmamma, am I not?" said Beth, as if she
read her thoughts.

"You _are_ like her," Aunt Victoria rejoined.

"But you can be a plain likeness of a good-looking person, I suppose?"
Beth said tentatively.

"Certainly you can," Miss Victoria answered with decision; and the
spark of pleasure in her own personal appearance, which had recently
been kindled in Beth, instantly flickered and went out.

Their little sitting-room had a bow-window down to the ground, the
front part of which formed two doors with glass in the upper part and
wood below, leading out into the garden. On fine days they always
stood wide open, and the warm summer air scented with roses streamed
in. Both Beth and Aunt Victoria loved to look out into the garden.
From where Beth sat to do her French at the end of the table, she
could see the soft green turf, a bright flower-border, and an old
brick wall, mellowed in tone by age, behind it; and a little to the
left, a high, thick screen of tall shrubs of many varieties, set so
close that all the different shades of green melted into each other.
The irregular roof of a large house, standing on lower ground than the
garden, with quaint gables and old chimneys, rose above the belt of
shrubs; the tiles on it lay in layers that made Beth think of a wasp's
nest, only that they were dark-red instead of grey; but she loved the
colour as it appeared all amongst the green trees and up against the
blue sky. She often wondered what was going on under that roof, and
used to invent stories about it. She did not write anything in these
days, however, but stored up impressions which were afterwards of
inestimable value to her. The smooth grey boles of the beeches, the
green down on the larches, the dark, blue-green crown which the Scotch
fir held up, as if to accentuate the light blue of the sky, and the
wonderful ruddy-gold tones that shone on its trunk as the day
declined; these things she felt and absorbed rather than saw and
noted, but because she felt them they fired her soul, and resolved
themselves into poetic expression eventually.

They dined early, and on the hot afternoons they sat and worked
together after dinner, Beth sewing and Aunt Victoria knitting, until
it was cool enough to go out. Aunt Victoria was teaching Beth how to
make some new underclothing for herself, to Beth's great delight. All
of her old things that were not rags were patches, and the shame of
having them so was a continual source of discomfort to her; but Aunt
Victoria, when she discovered the state of Beth's wardrobe, bought
some calico out of her own scanty means, and set her to work. During
these long afternoons, they had many a conversation that Beth
recollected with pleasure and profit. She often amused and interested
the old lady; and sometimes she drew from her a serious reprimand or a
solemn lecture, for both of which she was much the better. Aunt
Victoria was severe, but she was sympathetic, and she was just; she
seldom praised, but she showed that she was satisfied, and that was
enough for Beth; and she never scolded or punished, only spoke
seriously when she was displeased, and then Beth was overwhelmed.

One very hot day when they were working together, Aunt Victoria
sitting on a high-backed chair with her back to the open doors because
the light was too much for her eyes, and Beth sitting beside her on a
lower seat, but so that she could look up at her, and also out into
the garden, it occurred to her that once on a time, long ago, Aunt
Victoria must have been young, and she tried artfully to find out
first, if Aunt Victoria remembered the fact, and secondly, what little
girls were like at that remote period.

"Was your mamma like mine, Aunt Victoria?" she asked.

Aunt Victoria had just made a mistake in her knitting, and answered
shortly: "No, child."

"When you were all children," Beth pursued, "did you play together?"

"Not much," Aunt Victoria answered grimly.

"Did you quarrel?"

"My dear child! what could put such a notion into your head?"

"What did you do then?" said Beth. "You couldn't have been all the
time learning to sit upright on a high-backed chair; and I am trying
so hard to think what your home was like. I wish you would tell me."

"It was not at all like yours," Aunt Victoria replied with emphasis.
"We were most carefully brought up children. Our mother was an
admirable person. She lived by rule. If one of her children was born
at night, it was kept in the house until the morning, and then sent
out to nurse until it was two years old. If it was born by day, it was
sent away at once."

"And didn't great-grandmamma ever go to see it?"

"Yes, of course; twice a year."

"I think," said Beth, reflecting, "I should like to keep my babies at
home. I should want to put their little soft faces against mine, and
kiss them, you know."

"Your great-grandmamma did her duty," said Aunt Victoria with grim
approval. "She never let any of us loll as you are doing now, Beth.
She made us all sit up, as _I_ always do, and as I am always telling
you to do; and the consequence was our backs grew strong and never
ached."

"And were you happy?" Beth said solemnly.

Aunt Victoria gazed at her vaguely. She had never asked herself the
question. Then Beth sat with her work on her lap for a little, looking
up at the summer sky. It was an exquisite deep blue just then, with
filmy white clouds drawn up over it like gauze to veil its brightness.
The red roofs and gables and chimneys of the old house below, the
shrubs, the dark Scotch fir, the copper-beech, the limes and the
chestnut stood out clearly silhouetted against it; and Beth felt the
forms and tints and tones of them all, although she was thinking of
something else.

"Mamma's back is always aching," she observed at last, returning to
her work.

"Yes, that is because she was not so well brought up as we were," Aunt
Victoria rejoined.

"_She_ says it is because she had such a lot of children," said Beth.
"Did you ever have any children, Aunt Victoria?"

Miss Victoria Bench let her knitting fall on her
lap--"My--dear--child!" she gasped, holding up both her hands in
horror.

"Oh, I forgot," said Beth. "Only married ladies have children.
Servants have them, though, sometimes before they are married, Harriet
says, and then they call them bad girls. Grandmamma wasn't as wise as
great-grandmamma, I suppose, but perhaps great-grandmamma had a good
husband. Grandpapa was an awful old rip, you know."

Aunt Victoria stared at her aghast.

"He used to drink," Beth proceeded, lowering her voice, and glancing
round mysteriously as the old servants at Fairholm did when they
discussed these things; "and grandmamma couldn't bear his ways or his
language, and used to shut herself up in her own room more and more,
and they never agreed, and at last she went quite mad, so the saying
came true. Did you never hear the saying? Why, you know her father's
crest was a raven, and grandpapa's crest was a bee, and for
generations the families had lived near each other and never been
friends; and it was said, if the blood of the bees and the ravens were
ever put in the same bowl it wouldn't mingle. Do you say 'if it were,'
or 'if it was,' Aunt Victoria? Mamma says 'if it were.'"

"_We_ were taught to say 'if it was,'" Aunt Victoria answered stiffly;
"but your mamma may know better."

Beth thought about this for a minute, then set it aside for further
inquiry, and dispassionately resumed. "That was a mean trick of Uncle
James's, but it was rather clever too; I should never have thought of
it. I mean with the fly, you know. When grandpapa died, Uncle James
got his will and altered it, so that mamma mightn't have any money;
and he put a fly in grandpapa's mouth, and swore that the will was
signed by his hand while there was life in him."

"My dear child," said Aunt Victoria sharply, "who told you such a
preposterous story?"

"Oh, I heard it about the place," Beth answered casually; "everybody
knows it." She took another needleful of thread, and sewed on steadily
for a little, and Aunt Victoria kept glancing at her meanwhile, with a
very puzzled expression.

"But what I want to know is _why_ did grandmamma stay with grandpapa
if he were, or was, such a very bad man?" Beth said suddenly.

"Because it was her duty," said Aunt Victoria.

"And what was his duty?"

"I think, Beth," said the old lady, "you have done sewing enough for
this afternoon. Run out into the garden."

Beth knew that this was only an excuse not to answer her, but she
folded her work up obediently, observing as she did so, however, with
decision, "If _I_ ever have a bad husband, I shall _not_ stay with
him, for I can't see what good comes of it."

"Your grandmamma had her children to think of," said Aunt Victoria.

"But what good did she do them?" Beth wanted to know. "She devoted
herself to Uncle James, but she didn't make much of a man of him! And
she had no influence whatever with mamma. Mamma was her father's
favourite, and he taught her to despise grandmamma because she
couldn't hunt, and shrieked if she saw things killed. I think that's
silly myself, but it's better than being hard. Of course mamma is
worth a dozen of Uncle James, but--" Beth shrugged her shoulders, then
added temperately, "You know mamma has her faults, Aunt Victoria, it's
no use denying it. So what good did grandmamma do by staying? She just
went mad and died! If she'd gone away, and lived as you do, she might
have been alive and well now."

"Ah, my dear child," said the old lady sorrowfully, "that never could
have been; for I have observed that no woman who marries and becomes a
mother can ever again live happily like a single woman. She has
entered upon a different phase of being, and there is no return for
her. There is a weight of meaning in that expression: 'the ties of
home.' It is 'the ties of home' that restrain a loving woman, however
much she suffers; there are the little daily duties that no one but
herself can see to; and there is always some one who would be worse
off if she went. There is habit too; and there are those small
possessions, each one with an association of its own perhaps, that
makes it almost a sacred thing; but above all, there is hope--the hope
that matters may mend; and fear--the fear that once she deserts her
post things will go from bad to worse, and she be to blame. In your
grandmamma's day such a thing would never have been thought of by a
good woman; and even now, when there are women who actually go away
and work for themselves, if their homes are unhappy--" Aunt Victoria
pursed up her lips, and shook her head. "It may be respectable, of
course," she concluded magnanimously; "but I cannot believe it is
either right or wise, and certainly it is not loyal."

"Loyal!" Beth echoed; "that was my father's word to me: 'Be loyal.'
We've got to be loyal to others; but he also said that we must be
loyal to ourselves."

Aunt Victoria had folded up her knitting, and now rose stiffly, and
went out into the garden with an old parasol, and sat meditating in
the sun on the trunk of a tree that had been cut down. She often sat
so under her parasol, and Beth used to watch her, and wonder what it
felt like to be able to look such a long, long way back, and have so
many things to remember.



CHAPTER XXII


Aunt Victoria was surprised herself to find how kindly Beth took to a
regular life, how exact she was in the performance of her little
housekeeping duties, and how punctual in everything; she had never
suspected that Beth's whole leaning was towards law and order, nor
observed that even in her most lawless ways there was a certain
system; that she fished, and poached, and prowled, fought Bernadine,
and helped Harriet, as regularly as she dined, and went to bed.
Habits, good or bad, may be formed in an incredibly short time if they
are congenial; the saints by nature will pray, and the sinners sin,
as soon as the example is set them; and Beth, accordingly, fell into
Aunt Victoria's dainty fastidious ways, which were the ways of a
gentlewoman, at once and without effort; and ever afterwards was only
happy in her domestic life when she could live by the same rule in an
atmosphere of equal refinement--an honest atmosphere where everything
was done thoroughly, and every word spoken was perfectly sincere. Of
course she relapsed many times--it was her nature to experiment, to
wander before she settled, to see for herself; but it was by intimacy
with lower natures that she learned fully to appreciate the higher; by
the effect of bad books upon her that she learned the value of good
ones; by the lowering of her whole tone which came of countenancing
laxity in others, and by the discomfort and degradation which follow
on disorder, that she was eventually confirmed in her principles. The
taste for the higher life, once implanted, is not to be eradicated;
and those who have been uplifted by the glory of it once will strive
to attain to it again, inevitably.

It was through the influence of this time that the most charming
traits in Beth's character were finally developed--traits which, but
for the tender discipline of the dear old aunt, might have remained
latent for ever.

It would be misleading, however, to let it be supposed that Beth's
conduct was altogether satisfactory during this visit. On the
contrary, she gave Miss Victoria many an anxious moment; for although
she did all that the old lady required of her, she did many other
things besides, things required of her by her own temperament only.
She had to climb the great tree at the end of the lawn, for instance,
in order to peep into the nest near the top, and also to see into the
demesne beyond the belt of shrubs, where the red-roofed house stood,
peopled now by friends of her fancy. This would not have been so bad
if she had come down safely; but a branch broke, and she fell and hurt
herself, which alarmed Miss Victoria very much. Then Miss Victoria
used to send her on errands to develop her intelligence; but Beth
invariably lost herself at first; if she only had to turn the corner,
she could not find her way back. Aunt Victoria tried to teach her to
note little landmarks in her own mind as she went along, such as the
red pillar-box at the corner of the street where she was to turn, and
the green shutters on the house where she was to cross; and Beth
noticed these and many more things carefully as she went, and could
describe their position accurately afterwards; but, by the time she
turned, the vision and the dream would be upon her as a rule, and she
would walk in a world of fancy, utterly oblivious of red pillar-boxes,
green shutters, or anything else on earth, until she was brought up
wondering by a lamp-post, tree, or some unoffending person with whom
she had collided in her abstraction; then she would have to ask her
way; but she was slow to find it by direction; and all the time she
was wandering about, Aunt Victoria would be worrying herself with
fears for her safety until she was quite upset.

Beth was rebellious, too, about some things. There was a grocery shop
at one end of the street, kept by a respectable woman, but Beth
refused to go to it because the respectable woman had a fussy little
Pomeranian dog, and allowed it to lick her hands and face all over,
which so disgusted Beth that she could not eat anything the woman
touched. It was in this shop that Beth picked up the moribund black
beetle that kicked out suddenly, and set up the horror of crawling
things from which she ever afterwards suffered. This was another
reason for not going back to the shop, but Aunt Victoria could not
understand it, and insisted on sending her. Beth was firmly naughty in
the matter, however, and would not go, greatly to the old lady's
discomposure.

One means of torture, unconsciously devised by Aunt Victoria, tried
Beth extremely. Aunt Victoria used to send her to church alone on
Sunday afternoons to hear a certain eloquent preacher, and required
her to repeat the text, and tell her what the whole sermon was about
on her return. Beth did her best, but if she managed to remember the
text by repeating it all the time, she could not attend to the sermon,
and if she attended to the sermon, she invariably forgot the text. It
was another instance of the trickishness of her memory; she could have
remembered both the text and sermon without an effort had she not been
afraid of forgetting them.

But the thing that gave her aunt most trouble of mind was Beth's habit
of making acquaintance with all kinds of people. It was vain to warn
her, and worse than vain, for the reasons Aunt Victoria gave her for
not knowing people only excited her interest in them, and she would
wait about, watching, to see for herself, studying their habits with
the patient pertinacity of a naturalist. The drawing-room floor was
let to a lady whose husband was at sea, a Mrs. Crome. She was very
intimate with a gentleman who also lodged in the house, a friend of
her husband's, she said, who had promised to look after her during his
absence. Their bedrooms adjoined, and Beth used to see their boots
outside their doors every morning when she went down to breakfast, and
wonder why they got up so late.

"Out again together nearly all last night," Prentice remarked to Aunt
Victoria one morning; and then they shook their heads, but agreed that
there was nothing to be done. From this and other remarks, however,
Beth gathered that Mrs. Crome was going to perdition; and from that
time she had a horrid fascination for Beth, who would gaze at her
whenever she had an opportunity, with great solemn eyes dilated, as if
she were learning her by heart--as, indeed, she was--involuntarily,
for future reference; for Mrs. Crome was one of a pronounced type, as
Beth learnt eventually, when she knew the world better, an example
which helped her to recognise other specimens of the kind whenever she
met them.

She scraped acquaintance with Mrs. Crome on the stairs, at last, and
was surprised to find her as kind as could be, and was inclined to
argue from this that Prentice and Aunt Victoria must be mistaken about
her. But one evening Mrs. Crome tempted her into the drawing-room. The
gentleman was there, smoking a cigar and drinking whisky-and-water;
and there was something in the whole aspect and atmosphere of the room
that made Beth feel exceedingly uncomfortable, and wish she was out of
it immediately.

"Aren't you very dull with that old lady?" said Mrs. Crome. "I suppose
she never takes you to the theatre or anything."

"No," said Beth; "she does not approve of theatres."

"Then I suppose she doesn't approve of me?" Mrs. Crome observed
good-naturedly.

"No," said Beth solemnly; "she does not."

Mrs. Crome burst out laughing, and so did the gentleman.

"This is rich, really," he said. "What a quaint little person!"

"Oh, but she's sweet!" said Mrs. Crome; and then she kissed Beth, and
Beth noticed that she had been eating onions, and for long afterwards
she associated the smell with theatres, frivolous talk, and a
fair-haired woman smiling fatuously on the brink of perdition.

Aunt Victoria retired early to perform her evening ablutions, and on
this occasion she had gone up just as usual, with a little bell, which
she rang when she was ready for Beth to come. In the midst of the talk
and laughter in the drawing-room the little bell suddenly sounded
emphatically, and Beth fled. She found Aunt Victoria out on the
landing in her petticoat and dressing-jacket, and without her auburn
front, a sign of great perturbation. She had heard Beth's voice in the
drawing-room, and proceeded to admonish her severely. But Beth heard
not a word; for the sight of the old lady's stubbly white hair had
plunged her into a reverie, and already, when the vision and the dream
were upon her, no Indian devotee, absorbed in contemplation, could be
less sensitive to outward impressions than Beth was. Aunt Victoria had
to shake her to rouse her.

"What are you thinking of, child?" she demanded.

"Riding to the rescue," Beth answered dreamily.

"Don't talk nonsense," said Aunt Victoria. Beth gazed at her with a
blank look. She was saving souls just then, and could attend to
nothing else.

Beth's terror of the Judgment never returned; but after she had been
away from home a few weeks she began to have another serious trouble
which disturbed her towards evening in the same way. The first symptom
was a curious lapse of memory which worried her a good deal. She could
not remember how much of the garden was to be seen from her mother's
bedroom window at home, and she longed to fly back and settle the
question. Then she became conscious of being surrounded by the country
on every side, and it oppressed her to think of it. She was a
sea-child, living inland for the first time, and there came upon her a
great yearning for the sight and sound of moving waters. She sniffed
the land-breeze, and found it sweet but insipid in her nostrils after
the tonic freshness of the sea-air. She heard the voice of her beloved
in the sough of the wind among the trees, and it made her
inexpressibly melancholy. Her energy began to ebb. She did not care to
move about much, but would sit silently sewing by the hour together,
outwardly calm, inwardly all an ache to go back to the sea. She used
to wonder whether the tide was coming in or going out; wonder if the
fish were biting, how the sands looked, and who was on the pier. She
devoured every scrap of news that came from home in the hope of
finding something to satisfy her longing. Bernadine wrote her an
elaborate letter in large hand, which Beth thought very wonderful;
Harriet sent her a letter also, chiefly composed of moral sentiments
copied from the _Family Herald_, with a view to producing a favourable
impression on Miss Victoria; and Mrs. Caldwell wrote regularly once a
week, a formal duty-letter, but a joy to Beth, to whom letters of any
kind were a new and surprising experience. She had never expected that
any one would write to her; and in the first flush of her gratitude
she responded with enthusiasm, sending her mother, in particular, long
descriptions of her life and surroundings, which Mrs. Caldwell thought
so good she showed them to everybody. In replying to Beth, however,
she expressed no approval or pleasure; on the contrary, she put Beth
to shame by the way she dwelt on her mistakes in spelling, which
effectually checked the outpourings, and shut Beth up in herself
again, so that she mourned the more. During the day she kept up pretty
well, but towards twilight, always her time of trial, the yearning for
home, for mamma, for Harriet, for Bernadine, began again; the most
gloomy fears of what might be happening to them in her absence
possessed her, and she had great difficulty in keeping back her tears.
Aunt Victoria noticed her depression, but mistook it for fatigue, and
sent her to bed early, which Beth was glad of, because she wanted to
be alone and cry. But one evening, when she was looking particularly
sad, the old lady asked if she did not feel well.

"Yes, I feel quite well, thank you, Aunt Victoria," Beth answered with
a great sigh; "but I know now what you meant about home-ties. They do
pull strong."

"Ah!" said Aunt Victoria, enlightened; "you are homesick, are you?"

And from that day forward, when she saw Beth moping, she took her out
of herself by making her discuss the subject, and so relieved her; but
Beth continued to suffer, although less acutely, until her return.



CHAPTER XXIII


Rainharbour was not yet deserted by summer visitors, although it was
late in the autumn when Beth and Aunt Victoria returned. It had been
such a lovely season that the holiday people lingered, loath to leave
the freshness of the sea and the freedom of the shore for the stuffy
indoor duties and the conventional restrictions of their town lives.

On the day of their arrival, Beth looked about her in amaze. She had
experienced such a world of change in herself since she went away,
that she was surprised to find the streets unaltered; and yet,
although they were unaltered, they did not look the same. It was as if
the focus of her eyes had been readjusted so as to make familiar
objects seem strange, and change the perspective of everything; which
gave the place a different air, a look of having been swept and
garnished and set in order like a toy-town. But the people they passed
were altogether unchanged, and this seemed stranger still to Beth.
There they had been all the time, walking about as usual, wearing the
same clothes, thinking the same thoughts; they had had no new
experiences, and, what was worse, they were not only unconscious of
any that she might have had, but were profoundly indifferent; and to
Beth, on the threshold of life, all eager interest in everything,
caring greatly to know, and ready to sympathise, this vision of the
self-centred with shrivelled hearts was terrible; it gave her the
sensation of being the one living thing that could feel in a world of
automata moved by machinery.

Bernadine and her mother had met them at the station, but Beth was so
busy looking about her, collecting impressions, she had hardly a word
to say to either of them. Mrs. Caldwell set this down as another sign
of want of proper affection, but Aunt Victoria grumped that it was
nothing but natural excitement.

The first thing Beth did after greeting Harriet, who stood smiling at
the door, was to run upstairs to her mother's bedroom to settle the
question of how much of the garden was visible from the window; and
then she rushed on up to the attic, dragged a big box under the
skylight in hot haste, and climbed up on it to look at the sea. It was
the one glimpse of it to be had from the house, just a corner, where
the water washed up against the white cliffs that curved round an
angle of the bay. Beth flung the skylight open, and gazed, then drew
in her breath with a great sigh of satisfaction. The sea! The sea!
Even that glimpse of it was refreshing as a long cool drink to one
exhausted by heat and cruelly athirst.

While she was away, Beth had made many good resolutions about behaving
herself on her return. Aunt Victoria had talked to her seriously on
the subject. Beth could be good enough when she liked: she did all
that her aunt expected of her; why could she not do all that her
mother expected? Beth promised she would; and was beginning already to
keep her promise faithfully by being as troublesome as possible, which
was all that her mother ever expected of her. Whether or not thoughts
are things which have power to produce effects, there are certainly
people who answer to expectation with fatal facility, and Beth was one
of them. Eventually she resisted with all her own individuality, but
at this time she acted like an instrument played upon by other
people's minds. This peculiar sensitiveness she turned to account in
after life, using it as a key to character; she had merely to make
herself passive, when she found herself reflecting the people with
whom she conversed involuntarily; and not as they appeared on the
surface, but as they actually were in their inmost selves. In her
childhood she unconsciously illustrated the thoughts people had in
their minds about her. Aunt Victoria believed in her and trusted her,
and when they were alone together, Beth responded to her good opinion;
Mrs. Caldwell expected her to be nothing but a worry, and was not
disappointed. When Beth was in the same house with both aunt and
mother, she varied, answering to the expectation that happened to be
strongest at the moment. That afternoon Aunt Victoria was tired after
her journey, and did not think of Beth at all; but Mrs. Caldwell was
busy in her own mind anticipating all the trouble she would have now
Beth was back; and Beth, standing on the box under the attic skylight,
with her head out, straining her eyes to seaward, was seized with a
sudden impulse which answered to her mother's expectation. That first
day she ought to have stayed in, unpacked her box, exhibited her
beautiful needlework, got ready for dinner in good time, and proved
her affection for her mother and sister by making herself agreeable to
them; but instead of that, she stole downstairs, slipped out by the
back-gate, and did not return until long after dinner was over.

She did not enjoy the scamper, however. Her home-sickness was gone,
but her depression returned nevertheless, as the day declined, only in
another form. She had still that curious sensation of being the only
living thing in a world of figures moved by mechanism. She stood at
the top of the steps which led down on to the pier, where the sailors
loitered at idle times, and was greeted by those she knew with slow
smiles of recognition; but she had nothing to say to any of them.

The tide was going out, and had left some of the ships in the harbour
all canted to one side; cobles and pleasure-boats rested in the mud; a
cockle-gatherer was wading about in it with his trousers turned up
over his knees, and his bare legs so thickly coated, it looked as if
he had black leggings on. Beth went to the edge of the pier, and stood
for a few minutes looking down at him. She was facing west, but the
sun was already too low to hurt her eyes. On her right the red-roofed
houses crowded down to the quay irregularly. Fishing-nets were hanging
out of some of the windows. Here and there, down in the harbour, the
rich brown sails had been hoisted on some of the cobles to dry. There
were some yachts at anchor, and Beth looked at them eagerly, hoping to
find Count Bartahlinsky's _Seagull_ amongst them. It was not there;
but presently she became conscious of some one standing beside her,
and on looking up she recognised Black Gard, the Count's confidential
man. He was dressed like the fishermen in drab trousers and a dark
blue jersey, but wore a blue cloth cap, with the name of the yacht on
it, instead of a sou'wester.

"Has your master returned?" she said.

"No, miss," he answered. "He's still abroad. He'll be back for the
hunting, though."

"I doubt it," said Beth, resentful of that vague "abroad," which
absorbed him into itself the greater part of the year. When she had
spoken, she turned her back on Gard and the sunset, and wandered off
up the cliffs. She had noticed a sickly smell coming up from the mud
in the harbour, and wanted to escape from it, but somehow it seemed to
accompany her. It reminded her of something--no, that was not it. What
she was searching about in her mind for was some way, not to name it,
but to express it. She felt there was a formula for it within reach,
but for some time she could not recover it. Then she gave up the
attempt, and immediately afterwards she suddenly said to herself--

            "... the smell of death
    Came reeking from those spicy bowers,
    And man, the sacrifice of man,
    Mingled his taint with every breath
    Upwafted from the innocent flowers."

She did not search for any occult meaning in the lines, nor did they
convey anything special to her; but they remained with her for the
rest of the day, haunting her, in among her other thoughts, and
forcing themselves upon her attention with the irritating persistency
of a catchy tune.

On the cliffs she paused to look about her. It was a desolate scene.
The tide was so far out by this time it looked as if there were more
sand than sea in the bay. The water was the cloudy grey colour of
flint, with white rims where the waves broke on the shore. The sky was
low, level, and dark; where it met the water there was a heavy bank of
cloud, from which an occasional flash of summer lightning, dimmed by
daylight, shot along the horizon. The air was peculiarly clear, so
that distant objects seemed nearer than was natural. The sheltering
headland on the left, which formed the bay, stood out bright white
with a crown of vivid green against the sombre sea and sky; while, on
the right, the old grey pier, which shut in the view in that
direction, and the red-roofed houses of the town crowding down to it,
showed details of design and masonry not generally visible to the
naked eye from where Beth stood. There were neither ships nor boats in
the bay; but a few cobles, with their red-brown sails flapping limp
against their masts, rocked lazily at the harbour-mouth waiting for
the tide to rise and float them in. Beth heard the men on them
shouting an occasional remark to one another, and now and then one of
them would sing an uncouth snatch of song, but the effort was
spiritless, and did not last.

Leaving the harbour behind, Beth walked on towards the headland.
Presently she noticed in front of her the dignified and pathetic
figure of an old man, a Roman Catholic priest, Canon Hunter, who,
sacrificing all worldly ease or chance of advancement, had come to
minister to the neglected fisherfolk on the coast, most of whom were
Roman Catholics. He led the life of a saint amongst them, living in
dire poverty, his congregation being all of the poorest, with the
exception of one lady in the neighbourhood, married to a man whose
vices were too expensive to leave him much to spare for his wife's
charities. She managed, however, to raise enough money for the rent of
the top room in the public hall, which they used as a chapel, and so
kept the flickering flame of the old religion alight in the place; but
it was a severe struggle. It was whispered, indeed, that more of the
gentry in the neighbourhood sympathised with the Catholics than was
supposed, and would have helped them but for the discredit--did help
them, in fact, when they dared; but no one outside the communion knew
how true this report might be, and the fisherfolk loyally held their
peace.

It was natural that Beth as she grew up should be attracted by the
mystery that surrounded the Roman Catholics, and anxious to comprehend
the horror that Protestants had of them. She knew more of them herself
than any of the people whom she heard pass uncharitable strictures
upon them, and knew nothing for which they could justly be blamed. For
the old priest himself she had a great reverence. She had never spoken
to him, but had always felt strongly drawn towards him; and now, when
she overtook him, her impulse was to slip her hand into his, less on
her own account, however, than to show sympathy with him, he seemed so
solitary and so suffering, with his slow step and bent back; and so
good, with his beautiful calm face.

As she approached, lost in her own thoughts, she gazed up at him
intently.

"What is it, my child?" he asked, with a kindly smile. "Can I do
anything for you?"

"I was thinking of the beauty of holiness," Beth answered, and passed
on.

The old man looked after her, too surprised for the moment to speak,
and by the time he had recovered himself, she had turned a corner and
was out of sight.

After Beth went home that evening, and had been duly reproached by her
mother for her selfish conduct, she stole upstairs to Aunt Victoria's
room, and found the old lady sitting with her big Bible on her knee,
looking very sad and serious.

"Beth," she said severely, "have you had any food? It is long past
your dinner-time, and it does not do for young girls to fast too
long."

"I'll go and get something to eat, Aunt Victoria," Beth answered
meekly, overcome by her kindness. "I forgot."

She went down to the pantry, and found some cold pie, which she took
into the kitchen and ate without appetite.

The heat was oppressive. All the doors and windows stood wide open,
but there was no air, and wherever Beth went she was haunted by the
sickly smell which she had first perceived coming up from the mud in
the harbour, and by the lines which seemed somehow to account for
it:--

            "... the smell of death
    Came reeking from those spicy bowers,
    And man, the sacrifice of man,
    Mingled his taint with every breath
    Upwafted from the innocent flowers."

When she had eaten all she could, she went back to Aunt Victoria.

"Shall we read the psalms?" she said.

"Yes, dear," the old lady answered. "I have been waiting for you a
long time, Beth."

"Aunt Victoria, I am very sorry," Beth protested. "I didn't think."

"Ah, Beth," the old lady said sorrowfully, "how often is that to be
your excuse? You are always thinking, but it is only your own wild
fancies that occupy you. When will you learn to think of others?"

"I try always," Beth answered sincerely; "but what am I to do when
'wild fancies' come crowding in spite of me, and all I ought to
remember slips away?"

"Pray," Aunt Victoria answered austerely. "Prayer shapes a life; and
those lives are the most beautiful which have been shaped by prayer.
Prayer is creative; it transposes intention into action, and makes it
inevitable for us to be and to do more than would be possible by any
other means."

There was a short silence, and then Miss Victoria began the psalm. It
was a joy to Beth to hear her read, she read so beautifully; and it
was from her that Beth herself acquired the accomplishment, for which
she was afterwards noted. Verse by verse they read the psalms together
as a rule, and Beth was usually attentive; but that evening, before
the end, her attention became distracted by a loud ticking; and the
last word was scarcely pronounced before she exclaimed, looking about
her--"Aunt Victoria, what is that ticking? I see no clock."

The old lady looked up calmly, but she was very pale. "You do hear it
then?" she replied. "It has been going on all day."

Beth's heart stood still an instant, and, in spite of the heat, her
skin crisped as if the surface of her body had been suddenly sprayed
with cold water. "The Death Watch!" she ejaculated.

The ticking stopped a moment as if in answer to the words, and then
began again. A horrible foreboding seized upon Beth.

"Oh, no--no, not that!" she exclaimed, shuddering; and then, all at
once, she threw herself upon her knees beside Aunt Victoria, clasped
her arms round her, and burst into a tempest of tears and sobs.

"Beth, Beth, my dear child," the old lady cried in dismay, "control
yourself. It is only a little insect in the wood. It may mean
nothing."

"It does mean something," Beth interrupted vehemently; "I know--I
always know. The smell of death has been about me all the afternoon,
but I did not understand, although the words were in my mouth. When
things mean nothing, they don't make you feel queer--they don't
impress you. Nine times running you may see a solitary crow, or spill
the salt, or sit down thirteen to table, and laugh at all
superstitious nonsense; then the sign was not for you; but the tenth
time, something will come over you, and you won't laugh; then be
warned and beware! I sometimes feel as if I were listening, but not
with my ears, and waiting for things to happen that I know about, but
not with my head; and I try always to understand when I find myself
listening, but not with my ears, and something surely comes; and so
also when I am waiting for things to happen that I know about, but not
with my head; they do happen. Only most of the time I know that
something is coming, but I cannot tell what it is. In order to be able
to tell exactly, I have to hold myself in a certain attitude--not my
body, you know, _myself_--hold myself in suspense, as it were, or
suspend something in myself, stop something, push something aside--I
can't get it into words; I can't always do it; but when I can, then I
know."

"Who taught you this?" Aunt Victoria asked, as if she were startled.

"Oh, no one taught me," Beth answered. "I just found myself doing it.
Then I tried to notice how it was done. I wanted to be able to do it
myself when I liked. And it was just as if there were two doors, and
one had to be shut before I could look out of the other--the one that
is my nose and eyes and ears; when that is shut, then I know; I look
out of the other. Do things come to you so, Aunt Victoria?"

The old lady had taken Beth's hand, and was stroking it and looking at
her very seriously. "No," she said, shaking her head, "no, things do
not come to me like that. But although I have only one set of
faculties myself, my outlook is not so limited by them that I cannot
comprehend the possibility of something beyond. There are written
records of people in olden times who must have possessed some such
power--some further faculty such as you describe. It may be that it
lies latent in the whole race, awaiting favourable conditions to
develop itself, and some few rare beings have come into possession of
it already. We are complex creatures--body, soul, and spirit, says the
saint; and there is spiritual power. Beth, lay hold of that which you
perceive in yourself, cherish it, cultivate it, live the life
necessary to develop it; for be sure it is a great gift--it may be a
divine one."

When the old lady stopped, Beth raised her head and looked about her,
as if she had just awakened from sleep. "What were we talking about
before that?" she said. "Oh, I know--the Death Watch. It has stopped."

The equinoctial gales set in early that year, and severely. Great seas
washed away the silver sands which had been the delight of the summer
visitors, leaving miles of clay exposed at low water to add to the
desolation of the scene. The bay was full of storm-stayed vessels, all
headed to the wind, close reefed, and straining at their anchors.
There were days when the steamers had to steam full speed ahead in
order to keep at their berths; and then the big sailing ships would
drag their anchors and come drifting, drifting helplessly towards the
shore, and have to fly before the gale if they could, or take their
chance of stranding if the water were low, or being battered to bits
against the cliffs if the tide were in. Many a time Beth stood among
the fishermen watching, waiting, praying; her whole being centred on
some hapless crew, making for the harbour, but almost certain to be
carried past. There was a chain down the middle of the pier in the
winter to prevent people from being washed off, and she had stood
clinging to this, and seen a great ship, with one ragged sail
fluttering from a broken mast, carried before the wind right on to the
pier-head, which it struck with a crash that displaced great blocks of
granite as if they had been sponge-cakes; and when it struck, the
doomed sailors on its decks sent up an awful shriek, to which those on
the pier responded. Then there was a pause. Beth held her breath and
heard nothing; but she saw the ship slip back, back--down amongst the
mountainous waves, which sported with it once or twice, tossed it up,
and sucked it down, tossed it again, then suddenly engulfed it. On the
water afterwards there were ropes and spars, and dark things bobbing
like corks, but she knew they were men in mortal agony; and she found
herself shouting encouragement, telling them to hold on bravely, help
was coming--the lifeboat! the lifeboat! She joined in the sob of
excitement too, and the cheers of relief when it returned with its
crew complete, and five poor wretches rescued--only five out of
fifteen, but still----

"Blessed be God," said the old priest, "for those whom He has received
into glory; and blessed be His holy name for those whom He deigns to
let live."

Beth, standing beside him, heard the words, and wonderingly contrasted
him with Parson Richardson, who remained shut up with his fourth wife
in his fat living, making cent. per cent. out of his school, and
heedless of the parish, while one so old and feeble as Canon Hunter
stood by his people at all times, careless of himself, enduring
hardship, braving danger, a man among men in spite of age and
weakness, by reason of great love.

The pinch of poverty was severely felt again that winter in the
Caldwell household. Beth, who was growing rapidly, became torpid from
excessive self-denial; she tried to do without enough, to make it as
if there were one mouth less to feed, and the privation told upon her;
her energy flagged; when she went out, she found it difficult to drag
herself home, and the exuberant spirit of daring, which found
expression in naughty enterprises, suddenly subsided. She poached on
principle still for the benefit of the family; but the cool confidence
born of a sort of inward certainty, which is a premonition of
success, if it is not the power that compels it, was wanting; and it
was as if her own doubts when she set the snares released the
creatures from the fascination that should have lured them, so that
she caught but little. The weather, too, was very severe; every one in
the house, including Beth, was more or less ill from colds and coughs,
and Aunt Victoria suffered especially; but none of them complained,
not even to themselves; they just endured. They felt for each other,
however.

"Mamma, don't you think Aunt Victoria should have a fire in her room?"
Beth said one day.

"I do, my dear child," Mrs. Caldwell answered tartly; "but _I_ can't
afford the fuel, and she can't afford it either."

"I wish I had known that," said Beth. "I wouldn't have let her afford
to take me away in the summer, spending all her money for nothing."

"What a grateful and gracious child you are!" her mother exclaimed.

Beth went frowning from the room.

The snow was several feet deep on the ground already, and was still
falling heavily. Beth put on her things and stole out, her idea being
to gather sticks to make a fire for the old lady; but after a weary
trudge she was obliged to return empty-handed, wet, weary, and
disheartened. The sticks were deep down under the snow; there were
none to be seen.

"O God!" Beth prayed as she stumbled home, raising her pinched face to
the sombre sky, "O God, save Aunt Victoria all suffering. Don't let
her feel the cold, dear Lord, don't let her feel it."

Aunt Victoria herself was stoical. She came down to breakfast every
morning, and sat up stiffly at the end of the table away from the
fire, her usual seat, eating little, and saying little, but listening
with interest when the others spoke. Beth watched her, waited on her,
and lay awake at night fretting because there was nothing more to be
done for her.

One stormy night in particular, Beth could not sleep. There was a
great gale blowing. It came in terrific gusts that shook the house,
rattled the windows, and made the woodwork creak; then died away, and
was followed by an interval of comparative quiet, broken by strange,
mysterious sounds, to which Beth listened with strained attention,
unable to account for them. One moment it was as if trailing garments
swept down the narrow stairs, heavy woollen garments that made a soft
sort of muffled sound, but there was no footfall, as of some one
walking. Then there came stifled voices, whisperings, as of people
talking eagerly yet cautiously. Then there were heavy steps, distinct
yet slow, followed, after an interval, by the tramp of shuffling feet,
like those of people carrying an awkward burden, and stumbling under
it. But always, before Beth could think what the noise meant, the gust
came again, racking her nerves, rattling the windows, making the doors
creak; then dying away, to be followed by more mysterious sounds, but
of another character.

"If only there were time--if only they would last long enough, I
should know--I should understand," Beth thought, full of foreboding.
She was not frightened, only greatly excited. Something was coming,
something was going to happen, and these were the warnings, of that
she was certain. It was as if she were sensitive to some atmosphere
that surrounds an event and becomes perceptible to those whom it
concerns if they are of the right temperament to receive the
impression.

When the blast struck the house, blotting out the strange sounds which
puzzled Beth, it released her strained attention, and had the effect
of silence upon her after noise. In one of these pauses, she wondered
if her mother and Bernadine, in the next bed, were asleep.

"Mamma," she said softly, "mamma!" There was no response. The gale
dropped. Then Beth heard some one coughing hard.

"Mamma," she said again, "mamma!"

"What's the matter?" Mrs. Caldwell answered, awaking with a start.

"Aunt Victoria is coughing."

"Well, my dear child, I'm very sorry, but I can't help it; and it is
hardly enough to wake me for," Mrs. Caldwell answered. She settled
herself to sleep again, and the gale raged without; but Beth remained,
resting on her elbow, not listening so much as straining her attention
out into the darkness in an effort to perceive with her further
faculty what was beyond the range of her limited senses.

"Mamma!" she exclaimed once more, "Aunt Victoria is moaning."

"Nonsense, Beth," Mrs. Caldwell rejoined. "You couldn't possibly hear
her if she were."

There was another little interval, then Beth jumped out of bed, crying
as she did so, "Mamma, Aunt Victoria is calling me."

"Beth," Mrs. Caldwell said, rousing herself, and speaking sternly,
"get into bed again directly, and lie down and go to sleep. It is the
gale that is making you so nervous. Put the bed-clothes over your
head, and then you won't hear it."

Beth had been huddling on the first thing she laid hold of in the
dark, a thick woollen dressing-gown of her mother's, while she was
speaking. "I shall go and see for myself," she replied.

"Oh, very well," said Mrs. Caldwell. "It wouldn't be you if you didn't
upset the whole house for your fancies. When you have awakened your
aunt, and spoilt her night for nothing, as you have spoilt mine,
you'll be satisfied."

Beth opened the door, and stepped down into darkness, unrelieved by
the slightest glimmer of light. She had to descend some steps and go
up some others to get to Aunt Victoria's room; and, after the first
step, she felt as if she were floating in some new element, not moving
of her own accord, but borne along confidently, without seeing and
without feeling her way; and, as she went, she found that the long
thick garment she wore was making the same soft muffled sound she had
already heard, and also that there was no footstep audible.

She went into Aunt Victoria's room without knocking. It struck Beth as
being intensely cold. A candle was burning on the little table beside
the bed. The old lady was sitting, propped up uncomfortably with two
thin pillows and a hassock. She was breathing with difficulty, and
showed no surprise when she saw Beth enter. Her lips were moving, and
Beth could see she was mumbling something, but she could distinguish
no word until she went quite close, when she heard her say, "Comfort
ye, comfort ye My people," several times.

"Aunt Victoria, are you ill?" Beth said. The old lady looked at her
with dim eyes, then stretched out her hand to her. Beth clasped it. It
was deadly cold.

"I shall light the fire," Beth said with determination, "and I shall
make you some tea to ease your cough. You won't mind if I take the
candle a moment to go downstairs and get the things?"

Beth was practical enough now. The vision and the dream had passed,
and she was wide awake again, using her eyes, and requiring a candle.
Before she went downstairs she fetched extra pillows from the spare
room, and propped Aunt Victoria up more comfortably. Then she set to
work to light the fire, and soon had the kettle boiling. As the room
began to warm, Aunt Victoria revived a little, and smiled on Beth for
the first time with perfect recognition. Beth had made her some tea,
and was giving it to her in spoonfuls.

"Is that nice?" she said.

"Delicious," the old lady answered.

The gale was all on the other side of the house, so that here in front
it was comparatively quiet; besides, the wind was dying away as the
day approached. Beth put the teacup down when Aunt Victoria had taken
the little she could, and sat on the side of the bed, holding the old
lady's hand, and gazing at her intently; and, as she watched, she saw
a strange change come over her. The darkness was fading from the sky
and the light from Aunt Victoria's face. Beth had seen nothing like
this before, and yet she had no doubt of what was coming. She had
known it for days and days; she seemed to have known it always.

"Shall I go for mamma?" she asked at last.

The old lady shook her head.

Beth felt strangely benumbed. She thought of rousing Harriet to fetch
the doctor, but she could not move. All feeling was suspended except
the sensation of waiting. This lasted awhile, then a lump began to
mount in her throat, and she had to gulp it down several times.

"Poor little girl," Aunt Victoria muttered, looking at her in her
kindly way. Beth melted. "Oh, what shall I do?" she whimpered, "you
have been so very good to me. You've taught me all the good I know,
and I have done nothing for you--nothing but bother you. But I love
you, Aunt Victoria; stay, do stay. I want to do everything you would
like."

The old lady faintly pressed her hand, then made a last great effort
to speak. "Bless you, Beth, my dear child," she managed to say with
great difficulty. "Be comforted; you have helped me more than you
know. In my sore need, I was not left comfortless. Neither will you
be. May the Lord bless you, and keep you always. Amen."

Her head sank upon her breast. She seemed to settle down in the bed as
if her weight had suddenly grown greater.

The sombre dawn had broken by this time, and by its light Beth saw the
shadow of death come creeping over the delicate patient face.

"Aunt Victoria," she gasped breathlessly, like one in haste to deliver
a message before it is too late, "shall I say '_Lift up your heads, O
ye gates?_' That was the first thing you taught me."

The old lady spoke no more, but Beth saw that she understood. The
faint flicker of a smile, a pleased expression, came into her face and
settled there. Beth, feeling the full solemnity of the moment, got
down from the bed, and stood beside it, holding fast still to the kind
old hand that would nevermore caress or help her, as if she could keep
the dear one near her by clinging to her.

"_Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in
His holy place?_" she began, with a strange vibration in her voice.
"_He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up
his soul to vanity; nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the
blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his
salvation. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye
everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in._" Beth's
voice broke here, but with a great effort she began again fervently:
"_Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting
doors----_"

There she stopped, for at the words the dear good kind old lady, with
a gentle sigh, as of relief, passed from the scene of her sufferings,
out of this interval of time, into the measureless eternity.



CHAPTER XXIV


Aunt Victoria Bench died of failure of the heart, the medical man
decided; and, he might have added, if the feelings of the family had
not had to be considered, that the disease was accelerated by
privation and cold.

For days after the event, Beth was not to be roused. She would sit in
the tenantless room by the hour together, with the dear old aunt's
great Bible on her knee open at some favourite passage, thinking of
all that ought to have been done to save her, and suffering the ache
and rage of the helpless who would certainly have done all that could
have been done had they had their way. Again and again her mother
fetched her down to the dining-room where there was a fire, and tried
to reason with her, or scolded her for her persistent grief when
reasoning produced no effect.

"You must begin your lessons again, Beth," she said to her at last one
morning in despair. "Giving you a holiday is doing you no good at
all."

Beth went upstairs without a word, and brought down the old aunt's
French books, and sat at the dining-table with one of them open before
her; but the sight of it recalled the happy summer days in the bright
little parlour looking out on the trees and flowers, and the dear old
lady with her delicate face sitting at the end of the table placidly
knitting while Beth prepared her lesson, and the tears welled up in
her eyes once more, and fell on the yellow pages.

"Beth," said her mother emphatically, "you must not go on like this.
Why are you so selfish? Don't _I_ feel it too? Yet I control myself."

"You don't feel it as I do," Beth answered doggedly. "She was not so
much to you when she was here, how can you miss her so much now she
has gone?"

"But you have others to love," Mrs. Caldwell remonstrated. "She was
not your nearest relation."

"No, but she was the dearest," Beth replied. "I may have others to
love, but she was the one who loved me. She never said I had no
affection for any one; she never said I was selfish and thought of
nothing but my own interests. If she had to find fault with me, she
did it so that she made me want to be better. She was never unkind,
she was never unjust, and now I've lost her, I have no one."

"It is your own fault then," said Mrs. Caldwell, apt as usual to say
the kind of thing with which fatuous parents torment the genius-child.
"You are so determined not to be like other people that nobody can
stand you."

"I am not determined to be unlike other people," Beth exclaimed,
turning crimson with rage and pain. "I want to be like everybody else,
and I _am_ like everybody else. And I am always ready to care for
people too, if they will let me. It isn't my fault if they don't like
me."

"It _is_ your fault," Mrs. Caldwell rejoined. "You have an unhappy
knack of separating yourself from every one. Look at your Uncle James.
He can hardly tolerate you."

"He's a fool, so that doesn't matter," said Beth, who always dealt
summarily with Uncle James. "I can't tolerate him. But you can't say I
separate myself from Aunt Grace Mary. She likes me, and she's kind;
but she's silly, and when I'm with her any time it makes me yawn. Is
_that_ my fault? And did I separate myself from Kitty? Did I separate
myself from papa? Do I separate myself from Count Bartahlinsky? Have I
separated myself from Aunt Victoria?--and who else is there?"

"You gave Aunt Victoria plenty of trouble while she was here," Mrs.
Caldwell rejoined drily.

"Well, that is true, at all events," Beth answered in a broken voice;
and then she bowed her head on the old French grammar, and sobbed as
if her heart would break.

Mrs. Caldwell looked up from her work at her from time to time
frowning, but she was too much ruffled by some of Beth's remarks to
say anything consoling; and Beth, absorbed in her grief, lost all
consciousness of everything outside herself.

At last, however, a kindly hand was laid on her head, and some one
stroked her hair.

"That is the way she goes on, and I don't know what to do with her,"
Mrs. Caldwell was saying. "Come, Beth, rouse yourself," she added
sharply.

Beth looked up, and found that it was Aunt Grace Mary who was stroking
her hair.

"Poor little body!" said Aunt Grace Mary as if she were speaking to an
infant, then added in a sprightly tone: "Come, dear! Come, dear! Wipe
your eyes. Mamma will be here directly--my mamma--and Uncle James, and
Mr. Watson."

"What are they coming for?" said Beth.

"Oh, _your_ mamma knows," Aunt Grace Mary answered archly. "Mr. Watson
was poor dear Aunt Victoria's lawyer, and he has brought her will, and
is going to read it to us."

"Am I to be sent out of the room?" Beth asked.

"Of course," said Mrs. Caldwell. "It isn't a matter for you at all."

"Everything is a matter for me that concerned Aunt Victoria," Beth
rejoined, "and if Lady Benyon is to be here, _I_ shall stay."

Before Mrs. Caldwell could reply, Lady Benyon herself was ushered into
the little room with great deference by Uncle James. They were
followed by a little old gentleman dressed in black, with spectacles,
and a pair of badly-fitting black kid gloves. He shook hands with Mrs.
Caldwell, and then with Beth, whom he looked at over his spectacles
shrewdly. Uncle James also shook hands, and kissed his sister. "This
is a solemn occasion," he said, with emotion in his voice. Then he
looked at Beth, and added, "Had she not better go?"

Beth sat down beside Aunt Grace Mary, with her mouth obstinately set;
and Mrs. Caldwell, afraid of a scene, merely shrugged her shoulders
helplessly. Meanwhile the lawyer was blowing his nose, wiping his
spectacles, taking papers out of a pocket at the back of his
frock-coat, and settling himself at the table.

"You would like this young lady to retire, I suppose," said Uncle
James blandly.

"By no means," the little old gentleman answered, looking up at him
over his spectacles, and then at Beth. "By no means; let the young
lady remain."

Aunt Grace Mary put her arm round Beth. The lawyer broke the seal,
unfolded the will, and remarked by way of preface: "The document is in
the handwriting of the deceased. Ahem!"

Instantly into every face there came the expression that people wear
in church. Mr. Watson proceeded to read; but in a dry, distinct,
matter-of-fact tone, devoid of all emotion. A lawyer reading a will
aloud is sure of the interest of his audience, and, on this occasion,
it was evident that each member of the little group listened with
strained attention, but with very different feelings. What they
gathered was that Miss Victoria Bench, spinster, being of sound mind,
did will and bequeath everything of which she might die possessed to
her beloved great-niece, Elizabeth Caldwell, commonly called Beth.
Should Beth marry, the money was to be settled upon her for her
exclusive use. The present income from the property, about fifty
pounds a year, was to be devoted to the education of the said
Elizabeth Caldwell, commonly called Beth.

Uncle James's jaw dropped during the reading. "But," he stammered when
it was over, "if the investments recover?"

"Then Miss Elizabeth Caldwell, commonly called Beth, will have an
income of between six and seven hundred a year, _at least_," said the
lawyer, smiling.

Aunt Grace Mary clasped Beth close in a spasm of congratulation. Mrs.
Caldwell burst into tears. Beth herself, with an unmoved countenance,
perceived the disgust of Uncle James, her mother's emotion, and
something like amusement in Lady Benyon's face; and she also
perceived, but at a great distance as it were, that there was a dim
prospect of some change for the better in her life.

"Poor little body!" said Aunt Grace Mary, caressing her.

"Rich little body!" said Lady Benyon. "Come and kiss me, Puck, and let
me congratulate you."

"It is very nice for you, Beth, I am sure," said Mrs. Caldwell
plaintively, holding out her hand to Beth as she passed. Beth accepted
this also as a congratulation, and stooped and kissed her mother. Then
the lawyer got up and shook hands with her, and thereupon Uncle James,
feeling forced for decency's sake to do something, observed pointedly:
"I suppose Miss Victoria Bench was quite sane when she made this
bequest?"

"I should say that your supposition was correct," said the lawyer.
"Miss Victoria Bench always seemed to me to be an eminently sane
person."

There was no allusion whatever to Uncle James in Aunt Victoria's will.
She thanked her niece, Caroline Caldwell, kindly for the shelter she
had given her in her misfortune, and hoped that by providing for Beth
she would relieve her mother's mind of all anxiety about the child, to
whom, she proceeded to state, she left all she had in proof of the
tender affection she felt for the child, and in return for the
disinterested love and duty she had received from Beth. Aunt Victoria
wished Beth to have her room when she was gone, in order that Beth
might, as she grew up, have proper privacy in her life, with
undisturbed leisure for study, reflection, and prayer. She added that
she considered Beth a child of exceptional temperament, that peculiar
care and kindness would be necessary to develop her character; but
Miss Victoria hoped, prayed, and believed that, with the help of the
excellent abilities with which she had been endowed, Beth would not
only work out her own salvation eventually, but do something notable
to the glory of God and for the good of mankind.

Beth's heart glowed when she heard this passage, and ever afterwards,
when she recalled it, she felt strangely stimulated.

After the last solemn words of the will had been read, and the little
scene of congratulation had been enacted, there was a pause in the
proceedings, then Uncle James remarked in his happiest manner: "The
importance which old ladies attach to their little bequests is only to
be equalled by the strength of their sentiments, and the grandeur of
the language in which they are expressed. One would think a
principality was being bequeathed to a princess, instead of a few
pounds to an obscure little girl, to judge by the tone of the whole
document. Well, well!"

Beth looked at him, then drew down the corners of her mouth
impertinently. "There is one thing I can console you with, Uncle
James," she said. "You may be quite sure that when I do come into my
kingdom, I shall carefully conceal the fact that I am any relation of
yours."

Later in the day, Beth found her mother sitting in her accustomed
place by the dining-table, rocking herself sideways over her work, and
with a worried expression of countenance, as if she were uneasy in her
mind.

"Aren't you pleased, mamma," said Beth, "that I should be left the
money?"

"Why, yes, of course, my dear child," Mrs. Caldwell rejoined. Her tone
to Beth had altered very much since the morning. Even in a few short
hours Beth had been made to feel that mere money was making her a
person of more importance than she had ever before been considered.

Her mother had stopped short, but Beth waited, and Mrs. Caldwell
recommenced: "I am delighted on your account. Only, I was just
thinking. The money is of no use to you just now, and it would have
made all the difference to Jim. He ought to be making friends now who
will last him his life and help him on in his career; but he can do
nothing without an allowance, and I cannot make him one. There is no
hurry for your education. In fact, I think it would be better for your
health if you were not taught too much at present. But you shall have
your aunt's room, Beth, to study in if you like. You may even sleep
there, although I shall feel it when you leave mine. It will be
breaking up the family. That remark in the will about proper privacy
seems to me great nonsense, and you know I am not legally bound to
give you a room to yourself. However, it was the dear old lady's last
request to me, and that makes it sacred, so it shall be carried out to
the letter. The room is yours, and I hope you will enjoy your
privacy."

"Oh, I _shall_," Beth exclaimed with uncomplimentary fervour.

Mrs. Caldwell sighed and sewed on in silence for a little.

"The dear old lady left you the money because she believed you would
do some good with it," she resumed. "'For the good of mankind.' Those
are her own words. And I do think that is rather your line, Beth; and
what greater good can you do to begin with than help your brother on
in the world? To spend the money on him instead of on yourself would
really be a fine, unselfish thing to do."

Beth's great grey eyes dilated; the prospect was alluring. "I suppose there
would not be enough for both of us?" she ventured tentatively--"enough
for me to be taught some _few_ things properly, you know--English,
music, French."

"On fifty pounds a year, my dear child!" her mother exclaimed
sorrowfully. "Fifty pounds goes no way at all." Beth sighed.
"Besides," Mrs. Caldwell pursued, "_I_ can teach you all these things.
You've got beyond your childish tiresomeness now, and have only to
ask, and then I will tell you all you don't know. It would be a
pleasure and an occupation for me, and indeed, Beth, I have very
little pleasure in life. The days are long and lonely." Beth looked up
with sudden sympathy. "But if you will let me give you the lessons,
and earn the money, I could send it to Jim, and that would comfort me
greatly, and add also to _your_ happiness, I should think."

It was not in Beth to resist such an appeal. She always forgot herself
at the first symptom of sorrow or suffering in another, and never
considered her own interests if she could help somebody else by
sacrificing them.

"It _would_ add to my happiness," she answered brightly. "And if you
will just explain to me, mamma, when I don't understand things, I
shall remember all right, and not be a bother to you. Will you be kind
to me, and not scold me, and jeer at me, and make my life a burden to
me? When you do that, I hate you."

Mrs. Caldwell stopped short with her needle up in the air, in the act
of drawing the thread through her work. She was inexpressibly shocked.

"Hate your mother, Beth!" she gasped.

"I know it's abominable," said Beth, filled with compunction; "but I
can't help it. It's the devil, I suppose. He gets hold of us both, and
makes you torment me, and makes me--not like you for it."

Mrs. Caldwell quietly resumed her sewing. She was too much startled by
this glimpse of herself from Beth's point of view to say another word
on the subject; and a long silence ensued, during which she saw
herself as a sadly misunderstood mother. She determined, however, to
try and manage Beth on a new principle.

"I should like to help you to make the best of yourself, Beth," she
burst out again abruptly; "and I think I can. You are a tall girl for
your age, and are beginning to hold yourself well already. Your poor
dear aunt was very particular to teach you that. And you have the
complexion of the Bench family, if you will take care of it. You
should wash your face in buttermilk at night after being out in the
sun. I'll get you some, and I'll get you a parasol for the summer.
Your hands are not nearly so coarse as they used to be, and they would
really be quite nice if you attended to them properly. All your
father's people had good hands and feet. I must see to your gloves and
boots. I don't know what your waist is going to be, but you shall have
some good stays. A fine shape goes a long way. With your prospects you
really ought to make a good match, so do not slouch about any more as
if you had no self-respect at all. You can really do a great deal to
make yourself attractive in appearance. Your Uncle William Caldwell
had a very ugly nose, but he pinched it, and pinched it every day to
get it into shape, until at last he made it quite a good one."

Bernadine came into the room in time to hear this story, and was so
impressed by it that she tried the same experiment on her own nose
without asking if it were ugly or not, and pinched it and rubbed it so
diligently that by the time it was formed she had thickened it and
changed it from a good ordinary nose into something quite original.

This was the kind of thing that happened to ladies in the days when
true womanliness consisted in knowing nothing accurately, and always
taking advice. Efforts to improve themselves in some such way were
common enough among marriageable maidens, and their mothers helped
them to the best of their ability with equally happy hints. Because
small feet were a beauty, therefore feet already in perfect proportion
must be squeezed to reduce their size till they were all deformed; and
because slenderness was considered elegant, therefore naturally
well-formed women must compress their bodies till they looked like
cylinders or hour-glasses, and lace till their noses swelled and their
hair fell out. Never having heard of proportion, all their ambition
was to reduce themselves to something less than they were designed to
be. Those were the days when women had "no nonsense about them, sir, I
tell you," none of those new-fangled ideas about education and that.

It was a new notion to Beth that she could do anything to make herself
attractive, and she took a solemn interest in it. She listened with
absolute faith to all that her mother said on the subject, and
determined to be high-principled and make the most of herself. When
her mother talked to her in this genial friendly way, instead of
carping at her or ignoring her, Beth's heart expanded and she was
ready to do anything to please her. Lessons on the new method went on
without friction. Beth never suspected that her mother was unequal to
the task of educating her in any true sense of the word; her mother
never suspected it, neither did anybody else; and Beth had it all her
own way. If she were idle, her mother excused her; if she brought a
lesson only half-learnt, her mother prompted her all through; if she
asked questions, her mother answered them pleasantly; so that they got
on very well together, and everybody was satisfied--especially Jim,
who was benefiting by Aunt Victoria's bequest to the extent of being
able to keep up with the best of his bar-loafing acquaintances.



CHAPTER XXV


When she did what Aunt Victoria approved, Beth felt that she was
making Aunt Victoria happy. Her dead were never far from her, never
beyond recall. She conquered her pride for Aunt Victoria's sake, and
began to go out again with her mother for the morning walk that winter
unasked; but Mrs. Caldwell seemed indifferent to the attention. She
let Beth walk beside her day after day, but remained absorbed in her
own reflections, and made no effort to talk to Beth and take her out
of herself; so that Beth very soon found the duty intolerably irksome.
It irritated her, too, when she caught her mother smiling to herself,
and on asking what was amusing her, Mrs. Caldwell replied, still
smiling, "Never _you_ mind." With Beth's temperament it was not
possible that the sense of duty would long survive such snubs.
Gradually she began to wander off by herself again, leaving her mother
pacing up and down the particular sheltered terrace overlooking the
sea on which she always walked at that hour, and Bernadine playing
about the cliffs or the desolate shore.

The whole place was desolate and melancholy at that time of the year.
The wind-swept streets were generally deserted, and the few people who
ventured out looked cold and miserable in their winter wraps. When a
gleam of sunshine enlivened the sky, the sailors would stand at the
top of the steps that led down on to the pier, with their hands in
their trousers-pockets, chewing tobacco, and straining their eyes out
seaward as if they were watching for something special; and Beth would
stand there among them, and look out too--out, far beyond the range of
their mental vision, eastwards, to summer lands whence the swallows
came, where the soft air was perfumed with flowers, and there was
brightness and warmth and ease, and the sea itself, so full of
complaint down below there, raged no more, neither lamented, but
sang. And there Aunt Victoria would be, sitting somewhere out of doors
under the trees, with good things, books and work and fruit and
flowers, piled up on a little table beside her, and every wish of her
heart gratified, looking serenely happy, and smiling and nodding and
beckoning to Beth. But following fast upon the vision, Aunt Victoria
would be beside her in the bitter wind, wearing her old brown dress
with white spots that was far too thin, and making believe that she
did not shiver; then they had returned from the morning walk, and Aunt
Victoria was pausing a moment at the bottom of the stairs to look up,
as if measuring her strength and the distance, before she took hold of
the bannister and began to mount wearily, but never once trusting
herself to glance towards Bernadine and the bread, lest something
should be seen in her face which she chose to conceal. From that
vision Beth would fly down the steps to the sands, and escape it in a
healthy race with the turgid waves that came cresting in and broke on
the barren shore.

Then one day, suddenly, as it seemed, a bird sang. The winter was
over, spring was upon the land again, and Beth looked up and smiled.
The old pear-tree in the little garden at the back was a white wonder
of blossom, and, in front, in the orchard opposite, the apple-trees
blushed with a tinge of pink. Beth, seeing them one morning very early
from her bed in Aunt Victoria's room, arose at once, rejoicing, and
threw the window wide open. Beth might have used the same word to
express the good and the beautiful, as the Greeks did, so inseparably
were the two associated in her mind. At this stage of her development
she felt very literally--

    "The heavens are telling the glory of God,
     The wonder of His works displays the firmament."

"O Lord, how wondrous are Thy works," she chanted to herself softly,
as she gazed, awe-stricken, at the loveliness of the rose-tinged foam
on the fruit-trees, and her whole being was thrilled with gratitude
for the beauty of earth. She took deep draughts of the sweet morning
air, and, like the Indian devotee, she breathed a sacred word with
every breath. But passive ecstasy was not enough for Beth. Her fine
feelings strove for expression always in some fine act, and as she
stood at the window she made good resolutions. Her life should be
ordered to worthy purposes from morning till night. She would in
future begin the day by getting up to greet the dawn in an ecstasy of
devotion. Not a minute later than daybreak would do for her. All
Beth's efforts aimed at an extreme.

She idled most of that day away in contemplation of her project, and
she was as dilatory and troublesome as she could be, doing nothing
she ought to have done, because her mind was so full of all the things
she was going to do. What she feared was that she would never be able
to wake herself in time, and she went to bed at a preposterously early
hour, and sat long in her night-dress, thinking how to manage it. At
last it occurred to her that if she tied her great toe to the bed-post
with a piece of string, it would give her a jerk when she moved, and
so awake her.

The contrivance answered only too well. She could not sleep for a long
time, and when at last she dropped off, she was almost immediately
awakened by a pitiless jerk from the string. She had Aunt Victoria's
old watch under her pillow, and lighted a match to see the time. It
was only twelve. When would the day break? She turned, and tossed, and
fidgeted. The string on her toe was very uncomfortable, but nothing
would have induced her to be so weak as to take it off. One, two,
three, she heard the church-clock strike, but it was still pitch dark.
Then she dozed off again, but in a minute, as it seemed to her, she
was re-aroused by the string. She gave a great weary sigh and opened
her eyes. It was all grey daylight in the room.

Beth was out of bed as soon as she could get the string off her toe.
The water was very cold, and she shivered and yawned and stretched
over it, but washed herself with exaggerated conscientiousness all the
same, then huddled on her clothes, and stood awhile, not knowing quite
what to do next. She had slept with the window open, and now she drew
up the blind. Under the leaden sky the apple-trees showed no tinge of
colour, and it was as if white sheets had been spread out over them
for the night. Beth thought of curl-papers and rooms all covered up
from the dust when Harriet was sweeping, and felt no enthusiasm. She
was on the west side of the house, and could not therefore see the sun
rise; but she must see the sunrise--sunrise--sunrise. She had never
seen the sunrise. The sea was east. It would rise over the sea. The
sea at sunrise! The very thought of it took her breath away. She put
on her things and slipped into the acting-room. Her mother took the
front-door key up to her room with her when she went to bed at night,
so that the only way out was by the acting-room window. Beth swung
herself round the bar, crept cautiously down the tiles to the pump,
jumped to the ground, then ran up the entry, and let herself out by
the back-gate into the street. There she was seized upon by a great
feeling of freedom. She threw up her arms, filled her lungs with a
deep breath, and ran. There was not a soul to be seen. The town was
hers!

She made for a lonely spot on the cliff, where a stream fell in a
cataract on to the sand, and there was a rustic seat with a lovely
view of the bay. Beth dropped on to the seat out of breath and looked
curiously about her. The tide was high. The water, smooth, sullen,
swollen and weary, broke on the shore in waves so small that it seemed
as if the sea, tired of its endless task, were doing dispiritedly as
little as it dared, and murmuring at that. The curving cliffs on the
left looked like white curtains, closely drawn. The low grey sky was
unbroken by cloud or rift except low down on the horizon, where it had
risen like a blind drawn up a little to admit the light. It was a
melancholy prospect, and Beth shivered and sighed in sympathy. Then a
sparrow cheeped somewhere behind her, and another bird in the hedge
softly fluted a little roulade. Beth looked round to see what it was,
and at that moment the light brightened as if it had been suddenly
turned up. She looked at the sea again. The rift in the leaden sky had
lengthened and widened, and the first pale primrose of the dawn showed
beyond. A faint flush followed, and then it seemed as if the night sky
slowly rolled itself up and was put away, leaving a floor of silver,
deepening to lilac, for the first bright beam to disport itself upon.
Then the sea smiled, and the weariness of it, back and forth, back and
forth, passed into animation. Its smooth surface became diapered with
light airs, and moved with a gentle roll. The sullen murmur rose to a
morning song, and a boat with bare mast at anchor in the bay, the only
one in sight, rocked to the tune. A great sea-bird sailed by, gazing
down into the depths with piercing eyes, and a grey gull flew so close
to the water, it seemed as if his wings must dip at every flap. The
sky by this time was all a riot of colour, at which Beth gazed in
admiration, but without rapture. Her intellect acknowledged its
loveliness, but did not delight in it--heart and soul were untouched.
The spirit of the dawn refused to speak to her. She had exhausted
herself in her effort to induce the intoxication of devotion which had
come to her spontaneously the day before. The great spirit does not
want martyrs. Joy in beauty and goodness comes of a pure and tranquil
mind, not of a tortured body. The faces of the holy ones are calm and
their souls serene.

A little farm-house stood back from the road just behind the seat
where Beth was sitting, and a tall gaunt elderly man, with a beard on
his chin, came out presently and stood staring grimly at the sunrise.
Then he crossed the road deliberately, sat down at the other end of
the seat, and stared at Beth.

"You're early out," he said at last.

Beth detected something hostile in the tone, and fixed her big
fearless grey eyes upon him defiantly. "It's a free country," she
said.

"Free or not," he answered drily, "it isn't fit fur no young gell to
be out alone at sechun a time. Ye should be indoors gettin' the
breakfast."

"Thank you," said Beth, "I've no need to get the breakfast."

"Well, it makes it all the worse," he rejoined; "fur if ye're by way
o' bein' a lady, it not on'y means that ye're out wi' no one to tak'
care of ye, but that ye've niver been taught to tak' care o' yerself.
Lady!" he ejaculated. "Pride and patches! Tak' my advice, _lady_, go
back to yer bed, get yer meed o' sleep, wak' up refreshed, and set to
work."

He spat on the grass in a self-satisfied way when he had spoken, and
contemplated the sunrise like a man who has done his duty and earned
the right to repose.

Beth got up and walked home despondently. She climbed in at the
acting-room window, and went to her own room. The sun was shining on
the apple-blossom in the orchard opposite, and she looked for the
charm of yesterday, but finding only the garish commonplace of
fruit-trees in flower with the sun on them, she drew down the blind.
Then she took off her hat and jacket, threw herself on her bed, and
fell into a heavy sleep, with her brow puckered and the corners of her
mouth drooping discontentedly.

The next night she determined to take her meed of sleep, and did not
tie the string to her toe. It had been a long lonely day, filled with
great dissatisfaction and vague yearnings for companionship; but when
she fell asleep she had a happy dream, so vivid that it seemed more
real than anything she had seen in her morning ramble. It was eight
o'clock in the evening, she dreamt, and there was some one waiting for
her under the pear-tree in the garden. The night air was fresh and
fragrant. The moonlight shone on the white blossoms overhead, which
clustered so close that no ray penetrated to the ground beneath, so
that there all was shadowy, but still she could see that there was
some one standing in the shade, and she knew that he was waiting for
her. She had never seen him before, yet she knew him well and hurried
to meet him; and he took her in his arms and kissed her, and his
kisses thrilled her with a thrill that remained with her for many a
day.

She got up the moment she awoke, and looked about her in a kind of
amaze, for everything she saw was transfigured. It was in herself,
however, that the light burned which made the world so radiant. As the
old apple-trees, warmed by the sun, suddenly blossomed into bridal
beauty in the spring, so, in the silent night, between sundown and
day-dawn, while she slept, yet another petal of her own manifold
nature had unfolded, and in the glow of its loveliness there was
nothing of commonplace aspect; for a new joy in life was hers which
helped her to discover in all things a hitherto unsuspected charm.

Beth's little life had been full of childish irregularities, the
little duties being continually slurred and neglected that the little
pleasures might be indulged in the sooner. She was apt to regard
bathing, hair-brushing, dressing, and lessons as mere hindrances to
some of the particular great businesses of life which specially
occupied her--verse-making, for instance, piano-playing, poaching, or
praying, whichever happened to be the predominant interest of the
moment. But now, on a sudden, the care of her person became of
extraordinary importance. All the hints, good and bad, she had had on
the subject recurred to her, and she began to put them into practice
systematically. She threw the clothes back from her bed to air it the
moment she got up, that it might be fresh and sweet to sleep in. Her
little bath had hitherto been used somewhat irregularly, but now she
fetched hot and cold water for herself, and bathed every day. She
brushed her hair glossy, and tightened her stays to make her waist
small, and she was sorely dissatisfied because her boots did not pinch
her feet. She began to take great care of her hands too, and would do
no dusting without gloves on, or dirty work of any kind that was
calculated to injure them. She used a parasol when she could, and if
she got sunburnt bathing or boating, she washed her face in buttermilk
at night, fetched from Fairholm regularly for the purpose. The minds
and habits of the young are apt to form themselves in this way out of
suggestions let fall by all kinds of people, the worst and most
foolish as well as the wisest and best.

Beth longed that morning for something new and smart to wear. Her old
black things looked so rusty in the spring sunshine, she could not
satisfy herself with anything she had. All Aunt Victoria's possessions
were hers, and she examined her boxes, looking for something to
enliven her own sombre dress, and found some lace which she turned
into a collar and cuffs and sewed on. When she saw herself in the
glass with this becoming addition to her dress, her face brightened at
the effect. She knew that Aunt Victoria would have been pleased to see
her look like that--she was always pleased when Beth looked well; and
now, when Beth recollected her sympathy, all the great fountain of
love in her brimmed over, and streamed away in happy little waves, to
break about the dear old aunt somewhere on the foreshore of eternity,
and to add, perhaps, who knows how or what to her bliss.

When Beth went down to breakfast, she was very hungry, but there was
only one little bloater, which must be left for mamma to divide with
Bernadine. There was not much butter either, so Beth took her toast
nearly dry, and her thin coffee with very little milk and no sugar in
it, also for economical reasons; but the coffee was hot, and she was
happy. Her happiness bubbled up in bright little remarks, which
brightened her mother too.

"Mamma," said Beth, taking advantage of her mood, "it's a poor heart
that never rejoices. Let's have a holiday, you and I, to celebrate the
summer."

"But the summer hasn't come," Mrs. Caldwell objected, smiling.

"But summer is coming, is coming," Beth chanted, "and I want to make a
song about it."

"_You_ make a song!" Bernadine exclaimed. "Why, you can't spell
summer."

Beth made a face at her. "I know you want a holiday, mamma," she
resumed. "Come, confess! I work you to death. And there's church
to-day at eleven, and I want to go."

"Well, if you want to go to church," said Mrs. Caldwell, relieved.

Beth did not wait to hear the end of the sentence.

She went to the drawing-room first, and sat down at the little
rosewood piano with a volume of Moore's "Lalla Rookh" open before her.

    "From the mountain's warbling fount I come,"

she chanted, with her eyes fixed on the words, but she played as if
she were reading notes. She wove all the poems she loved to music in
this way, and played and sang them softly to herself by the hour
together.

The Lenten service in the church at the end of the road was but poorly
attended. There were not more than a dozen people present; but Beth,
seated beside the door, enjoyed it. She was all fervour now, and every
emotional exercise was a pleasure.

After the service she strolled down the quaintly irregular front
street, which was all red brick houses with small window-panes, three
to the width of the window, except where an aspiring tradesman had
introduced plate-glass and a vulgar disguise of stucco, which
converted the warm-toned bricks into commonplace colourless greyness.
It was on one side of this street that the principal shops were, and
Beth stood for some time gazing at a print in a stationer's window--a
lovely little composition of waves lapping in gently towards a
sheltered nook on a sandy beach. Beth, wafted there instantly, heard
the dreamy murmur and felt the delicious freshness of the sea, yet the
picture did not satisfy her.

"I should want somebody," she broke out in herself. "I should want
somebody--somebody to lay my head against. Ah, dear Lord, how I hate
to be alone!"

Old Lady Benyon, at her post of observation in the big bow-window at
the top of the street, saw Beth standing there, and speculated.
"Gracious, how that child grows!" she exclaimed. "She'll be a woman
directly."

As Beth went on down the street, she began to suffer from that dull
irresolute feeling which comes of a want of purpose. She wanted a
companion and she wanted an object. Presently she met a young man who
looked at her intently as they approached each other, and as he looked
his face brightened. Beth's pulse quickened pleasurably and her colour
rose. Her steps became buoyant. She held up her head and glowed with
animation, but was unaware of the source of this sudden happy
stimulant, nor did she try to discover it. She was living her
experiences then, by-and-by she would reflect upon them, then
inevitably she would reproduce them, and all without intention. As the
sun rises, as the birds build, so would she work when the right time
came. Talent may manufacture to order, but works of genius are the
outcome of an irresistible impulse, a craving to express something for
its own sake and the pleasure of expressing it, with no thought of
anything beyond. It is talent that thinks first of all of applause and
profits, and only works to secure them--works for the result, for the
end in view--never for love of the work.

Beth's heart had no satisfaction at home; she had no friend of her own
sex to fill it as most girls have, and a nature like hers, rich in
every healthy possibility, was bound to crave for love early. It was
all very well for her mother and society as it is constituted to
ignore the needs of nature; by Beth herself they would not be ignored.
In most people, whether the senses or the intellect will have the
upper-hand is very much a matter of early training.

Because she was a girl, Beth's intellect had been left to stagnate for
want of proper occupation or to run riot in any vain pursuit she might
happen upon by accident, while her senses were allowed to have their
way, unrestrained by any but the vaguest principles. Thanks to her
free roving outdoor habits, her life was healthy if it were not happy,
and she promised to mature early. Youth and sex already began to hang
out their signals--clear skin, slim figure, light step, white teeth,
thick hair, bright eyes. She was approaching her blossoming time, the
end of her wintry childhood, the beginning of a promising spring. It
was natural and right that her pulses should quicken and her spirits
rise when a young man met her with a friendly glance. Her whole being
was suffused with the glory of love, and her mind held the vision; but
it was of an abstract kind as yet, not inspired by man. It was in
herself that the emotion arose, in happy exuberance, and bubbled over,
expending itself in various forms of energy until it should find one
object to concentrate itself upon. There comes a time to all healthy
young people when Nature says: "Mate, my children, and be happy." If
the impulse come prematurely, it is not the young people, but the old
ones that are to blame; they should have seen to it that the
intellect, which acts as a curb on the senses when properly trained
and occupied, developed first. Beth was just at the age when the
half-educated girl has nothing to distract her but her own emotions.
Her religion, and the young men who are beginning to make eyes at her,
interest her then about equally, and in much the same way; she owes to
each a pleasurable sensation. If she can combine the two under one
roof, as in church, they suffice and her happiness is complete. It
cannot be said, however, that the senses awoke before the intellect in
Beth; but because of the irregularities of her training, the want of
discipline and order, they took possession of her first.

Passing a shop-window, Beth caught a reflection of herself in the
polished pane, and saw that her skirt hung badly: it dipped too much
behind. She stopped to gauge the length, that she might alter it when
she went in, and then she noticed the pretty light summer things
displayed in the window, and ached to possess some. She was miserably
conscious of her old ill-cut skirt, more especially of the invisible
dirt on it, and she did so yearn for something new and sweet and
clean. Her mother had a bill at that shop--should she--should she just
go in and ask about prices? No, she could not in that horrid old
frock; the shopman would not respect her. She had intended to go down
to the sands and sit by the sea, and wait for things to come to her,
by which she meant ideas; but the discomfort of mind set up by that
glimpse of her uncouth clothes, and the horrible sense of their want
of freshness, gained upon her, and drove her in hurriedly. Beth would
have expressed the dainty refinement of her mind in her dress had she
had the means; but it is difficult to be dainty on nothing a year.

The rest of the day she spent in her room sewing. She found that one
of Aunt Victoria's summer silks would fit her with very little
alteration, and set to work to make a Sunday frock of it. As she
worked she thought of the dear old lady, and of the hours they had sat
there together sewing, and of their teas and talks. She would not have
known how to alter that dress but for Aunt Victoria; it made her both
sad and glad to remember how much she owed her.

Later in the day, after dinner, when the sun had set and the darkness
was beginning to gather, Beth became aware of a curious sensation. It
was as if she were expecting something delightful to happen, and yet,
at the same time, was all aching with anxiety. Then suddenly she
remembered her dream. The old pear-tree was a pyramid of blossom.
Should she go and see the white foam-flowers by moonlight? The moon
had risen.

She stole out into the garden, anxious above everything to go alone.
Her heart throbbed curiously; what did she expect? The young moon hung
in an indigo sky, and there were some white stars. The air was fresh
and fragrant as it had been in her dream, but there was less light.
She had to peer into the shade beneath the pear-tree to see--to see
what? If there were any one there? Of course there was no one there!
How could there be? She did not trust herself closer, however, until
she was quite sure that there was nothing to encounter but the trunk
of the tree. Then she went bravely, and reclined on the see-saw board,
looking up through the black branches to the clustering blossoms that
shone so white on the topmost twigs in the moonlight. And presently
she began to glow with a great feeling of exultation. It began in her
chest, and spread, as from a centre, all over her. The details of her
dream recurred to her, the close clasp, the tender kiss, and she
thrilled again at the recollection.

But, for the present, the recollection was enough.



CHAPTER XXVI


On Sunday morning Beth went down to breakfast dressed in Aunt
Victoria's light lavender silk, remodelled to suit her; and very
becoming she had made it. But Mrs. Caldwell called it an absurd
costume for a girl of her age, and said she looked ridiculously
over-dressed; so Beth went back to her room disheartened, and
reappeared at church-time, with drooping mouth, in the old black frock
she usually wore on Sundays.

Vainly she tried to rouse herself to any fervour of worship during the
first part of the service. She felt ill-dressed, uncomfortable,
dissatisfied, and would have been glad to quarrel with anybody. Then
suddenly, during the singing of a hymn, she ceased to be self-conscious.
All the trouble left her, and was succeeded by that curious thrill of
happy expectation which came to her continually at this time. She looked
about her and saw friendly faces where before she had seen nothing but
criticism and disdain of her shabby clothes.

Those were the days of pew-letting. The nearer you sat to the pulpit,
the higher the price of the pew, and the better your social position.
Mrs. Caldwell was obliged to content herself with a cheap seat in one
of the side aisles near the door, so the vicar had never called on
her. He only called on a few front rows. His own pew was high in the
chancel, where all the parish could gaze at his exhausted wife and her
increasing family. His pupils used to sit in the pew opposite; but the
bishop, having received complaints from the neglected parish, had
lately interfered and stopped the school; and henceforth Mr.
Richardson was only to be allowed to have one pupil. Mr. Richardson
determined to make him profitable.

From where she sat Beth could see the vicar's pew in the chancel, and
she had noticed a tall slender youth sitting at the far end, near the
vestry door, but he did not interest her at first; now, however, she
looked at him again, and wondered who he was, and presently she found
that he was gazing at her intently. Then their eyes met, and it was as
if a spark of fire had kindled a glow in her chest, high up near the
throat, where the breath catches. She looked down at her book, but had
no thought on the subject at all--she was all one sensation. Light had
come to her, a wondrous flood of amber light, that blotted out the
common congregation and all besides, but him and her. Yet she could
hardly sit through the service, and the moment it was over she fled.
Her great desire was to be alone, if that could be called solitude
which contained all the satisfaction of the closest companionship. All
the time that she was flying, however, she felt that she was being
pursued, and there was the strangest excitement and delight in the
sensation. But she never looked behind. She did not dare to.

She made for the cliffs on the Fairholm estate, and when she came to
them her intention was to hide herself. There was a nook she knew,
some distance on, a grassy space on the cliff side, not visible either
from above or below. She climbed down to it, and there ensconced
herself. Beneath was a little cove sheltered from the north and south
by the jutting cliffs, and floored with the firmest sand just then,
for the tide was out. Beth was lying in the shadow of the cliff, but,
beyond, the sun shone, the water sparkled, the sonorous sea-voice
sounded from afar, while little laughing waves broke out into merry
music all along the shore. Beth, lying on her face with her arms
folded in front of her and her cheek resting on them, looked out,
lithe, young, strong, bursting with exultation, but motionless as a
manifestation of inanimate nature. That was a beautiful pause in her
troublous day. Never mind if it only endured for an hour, there was
certainty in it, a happy certainty. From the moment their eyes had met
she was sure, she knew he would come.

The little waves rang out their laughing carillons, light grace notes
to the deep solemn melody of earth and air and sea; and Beth, watching
with dilated pupils and set countenance, listened intently. And
presently, below, on her left, round the headland some one came
striding. Beth's bright eyes flashed with a vivid interest, but she
shrank back, flattening herself down on the rank grass, as though
thereby she made herself the more invisible.

The young man stopped, took off his hat and wiped his forehead,
glanced this way and that round the cove and out to sea, like one
bewildered, who has expected to find something which is not there, and
begins to look for it in the most unlikely places. Hesitating,
disappointed, uncertain, he moved a little on in one direction, a
little back in the other, then, drawn by a sudden impulse, that most
familiar manifestation of the ruling force which disposes of us all,
we know not how, he walked up the cove with swift, strong, buoyant
steps, as if with a purpose, swinging his hat in his hand as he came,
and threw himself full length on the smooth, hard, shining sand, and
sighed a deep sigh of satisfaction, as though he knew himself within
reach of what he sought. In certain states of ecstatic feeling a
faculty is released which takes cognisance of things beyond the ken of
our beclouded intellects, and although in the language of mind he did
not know, it may be that from the region of pure spirit there had come
to him a subtle perception, not to be defined, which made it more
desirable to be there on that spot alone than anywhere else in the
world with no matter whom.

He was a young man of seventeen or eighteen, slenderly built, with
well-shaped feet, and long, delicate, nervous hands. His face was
shaved clean of the down of his adolescence, so that his somewhat
sallow complexion looked smooth to effeminacy. His features were
regular and refined, and his fine brown curly hair was a shade lighter
in colour than his skin--which produced a noticeable effect. His pale
china-blue eyes, too, showed the same peculiarity, which Beth, looking
down on him through the fringe of long rank grass in front of her,
remarked, but uncritically, for every inch of him was a joy to her.

She was passive. But the young man soon grew restless on his sandy
couch. He changed his position a dozen times, then suddenly got on his
knees, and heaped up a mound of sand, which, having patted it and
pressed it down as hard as it would set, he began to model. Beth held
her breath and became rigid with interest as she saw the shapeless
mass gradually transformed into some semblance of a human figure,
conventional as an Egyptian statue. When the young man had finished,
he sat beside the figure for some time, looking fixedly out to sea.
Then he turned to his work once more, and, after surveying it
critically, he began to make alterations, trying to improve upon what
he had done; but the result did not please him, and in a fit of
exasperation he fell upon the figure and demolished it. This seemed
such a wanton outrage to Beth that she uttered a low cry of
remonstrance involuntarily, but the exclamation mingled with the
murmur of wind and wave, and was lost in it. The young man looked
disconcerted himself and ashamed, too, as a child does when it has
broken something in a rage and repents; and presently he began to heap
the mound once more. When it was done, he stretched himself on the
sand and shut his eyes, and for a long time Beth lay still, looking
down upon him.

All at once, however, the noise of the water became importunate. She
had not been aware of it at all since the young man appeared, but now
it came into her consciousness with the distinctness of a sudden and
unexpected sound, and she looked in that direction. The last time she
had noticed the tide it was far out; but now, where all had been sand
beyond the sheltered cove, all was water. The silver line stretched
from headland to headland, and was still advancing. Already there was
no way of escape by the sands, and the cove itself would be a bay in a
little while--a bay without a boat! If he did not wake and bestir
himself, the callous waves would come and cover him. Should she call?
She was shy of taking the initiative even to save his life, and
hesitated a moment, and in that moment there came a crash. The
treacherous clay cliff crumbled, and the great mass of it on which she
was lying slid down bodily on to the shining sand. The young man
started up, roused by the rumbling. Had he been a few feet nearer to
the cliff he must have been buried alive. He and Beth stared at each
other stupidly, neither realising what had happened for the first few
minutes. He was the first to recover himself.

"Are you hurt?" he asked with concern, going forward to help her.

"I don't know," she answered, staggering to her feet. "No, I think
not," she added. "I'm a little shaken. I'll sit down."

The sitting would have been a tumble had he not caught her in his arms
and held her up. Beth felt deadly sick for an instant, then she found
herself reclining on the sand, with the young man bending over her,
looking anxiously into her face.

"You're faint," he said.

"Is that faint?" she answered. "What a ghastly sensation! But there is
something I want to remember." She shut her eyes, then opened them,
and looked up at him with a puzzled expression. "It's very odd, I
can't remember," she complained.

The young man could not help her. He looked up at the cliff. "What
were you doing up there?" he asked.

"What were you doing down there?" she rejoined.

"I followed you," he answered simply. "I saw you come this way, then I
lost sight of you; but I thought you would be somewhere on the sands,
because the cliffs are private property."

"The owner is an uncle of mine," said Beth. "I come when I like."

Then they looked into each other's faces shyly, and looked away again,
smiling but confused.

"Why did you follow me?" said Beth. "You did not know me."

"No, but I wanted to," he answered readily. "Where were you?"

"Lying on a shelf where that scar is now, looking down on you."

"Then you saw me model that figure?"

"And the cliff fell," Beth put in irrelevantly to cover a blush. "It
often falls. We're always having landslips here. And I think we'd
better move away from it now," she added, rising. "People are killed
sometimes."

"But tell me," he said, detaining her. "Didn't you know I was
following you?"

Beth became embarrassed.

"You did," he persisted, "and you ran away. Why did you run away?"

"I couldn't help it," Beth confessed; then she uttered an exclamation.
"Look! look! the tide! What shall we do?"

He turned and saw their danger for the first time.

"Our only way of escape is by the cliffs," Beth said, "unless a boat
comes by."

"And the cliffs are perpendicular just here," he rejoined, after
carefully surveying them.

They looked into each other's faces blankly.

"I can't swim--can you?" he asked.

Beth shook her head.

"What is to be done?" he exclaimed.

"There is nothing to be done, I think," she answered quietly. "We may
see a boat, but hardly anybody ever comes along the cliffs. We might
shout, though."

They did so until they were hoarse, but there was no response, and the
tide came creeping up over the sand.

"How calm it is!" Beth observed.

He looked at her curiously. "I don't believe you're a bit afraid," he
said. "_I_'m in a desperate funk."

"I don't believe we're going to be drowned, and I always know what's
coming," she answered. Then after a little she asked him his name.

"Alfred," he answered; "and yours?"

"Beth--Beth Caldwell. Alfred!--I like Alfred."

"I like Beth. It's queer, but I like it all the better for that. It's
like you."

"Do you think me queer?" Beth asked, prepared to resent the
imputation.

"I think you uncommon," he replied.

Beth reflected for a little. "What is your full name?" she asked
finally.

"Alfred Cayley Pounce," he replied. "My father gave me the name of
Alfred that I might always remember I was _A_ Cayley Pounce. But my
ambition is to be _The_ Cayley Pounce," he added with a nervous little
laugh.

Beth compressed her lips, and looked at the rising tide. The next wave
broke at their feet, and both involuntarily stepped back. Behind them
was the mass of earth that had fallen from the cliff. It had descended
in a solid wedge without scattering. Alfred climbed on to it, and
helped Beth up. "We shall be a little higher here, at all events," he
said.

Beth looked along the cliff; the high-water mark was still above their
heads. "It's getting exciting, isn't it?" she observed. "But I don't
feel nasty. Having you here makes--makes a difference, you know."

"If you have to die with me, how shall you feel?" he asked.

"I shall feel till my last gasp that I would much rather have lived
with you," she answered emphatically.

A wavelet splashed up against the clay on which they were standing. He
turned to the cliff and tore at it in a sort of exasperation, trying
to scoop out footholes with his hands by which they might climb up;
but the effort was futile, the soft shale crumbled as he scooped, and
there was no hold to be had on it. His face had grown grey in the last
few minutes, and his eyes were strained and anxious.

"I wonder how you feel," Beth said. "I think I resent the fate that
threatens us more than I fear it. If my life must end now, it will be
so unfinished."

He made no reply, and she stood looking out to sea thoughtfully. "It's
Sunday," she observed at last. "There won't be many boats about
to-day."

The water had begun to creep up on to their last refuge; it washed
over her feet as she spoke, and she shrank back. Alfred put his arm
round her protectingly.

"Do you still believe we shall not be drowned?" he said.

"Yes," she answered. "But, even if we were, it wouldn't be the end of
us. We have been here in this world before, you and I, and we shall
come again."

"What makes you think such queer things?" he asked.

"I don't think them," she answered. "I know them. The things I think
are generally all wrong; but the things I know about--that come to me
like this--are right. Only I can't command them. One comes to me now
and again like a flash, as that one did down there just now when I
said we should not be drowned; but if I put a question to myself, I
can get no answer."

The water had crept up over their feet while they were speaking. It
was coming in at a great rate, but there were no waves to splash them,
only a sort of gentle heave and ripple that brought it on insensibly,
so that it had lapped up to the cliff behind them before they
suspected it. Beth shivered as it rose around her.

"It's a good thing I changed my dress," she said suddenly. "That
summer silk would certainly have been spoilt."

Alfred held her tight, and looked down into her face, but said
nothing.

"I'm thinking so many things," Beth broke out again. "I'm glad it's a
still day for one thing, and not freezing cold. The cold would have
numbed us, and we should have been swept off our feet if there had
been any waves. I want to ask you so many things. Why did you make
that figure on the sand?"

"I want to be a sculptor," he said; "but my people object, and they
won't let me have the proper materials to model in, so I model in
anything."

The water was almost up to Beth's waist. She had to turn and cling to
him to keep her footing. She hid her face on his shoulder, and they
stood so some time. The water rose above her waist. Alfred was head
and shoulders taller than she was. He realised that she would be
covered first.

"I must hold her up somehow," he muttered.

Beth raised her head. "Alfred," she began, "we're neither of us
cowards, are we? You are hating to die, I can see, but you're not
going to make an exhibition of yourself to the elements; and I'm
hating it, too--I'm horribly anxious--and the cold makes me sob in my
breath as the water comes up. It is like dying by inches from the feet
up; but while my head is alive, I defy death to make me whimper."

"Do you despair, then?" he exclaimed, as if there had been some
safeguard in her certainty.

"I have no knowledge at this moment," she answered. "I am in suspense.
But that is nothing. The things that have come to me like that on a
sudden positively have always been true, however much I might doubt
and question beforehand. I did know at that moment that we should not
be drowned; but I don't know it now. My spirit can't grasp the idea,
though, of being here in this comfortable body talking to you one
moment, and the next being turned out of house and home into eternity
alone."

"Not alone," he interrupted, clasping her closer. "I'll hold you tight
through all eternity."

Beth looked up at him, and then they kissed each other frankly, and
forgot their danger for a blissful interval.

They were keeping their foothold with difficulty now. The last heave
of the tide came up to Beth's shoulder, and took her breath away. Had
it not been for the support of the cliff behind them, they could not
have kept their position many minutes. But the cliff itself was a
danger, for the sea was eating into it, and might bring down another
mass of it at any moment. The agony of death, the last struggle with
the water, had begun.

"I hate it," Beth gasped, "but I'm not afraid."

The steady gentle heave of the sea was like the breathing of a placid
sleeper. It rose round them once more, up, up, over Beth's head. They
clung closer to each other and to the cliff, staggering and fighting
for their foothold. Then it sank back from them, then slowly came
again, rising in an irregular wavy line all along the face of the
cliffs with a sobbing sound as if in its great heart it shrank from
the cruel deed it was doing--rose and fell, rose and fell again.

Alfred's face was grey and distorted. He groaned aloud.

"Are you suffering?" Beth exclaimed. "Oh, I wish it was over."

She had really the more to suffer of the two, for every wave nearly
covered her; but her nerve and physique were better than his, and her
will was of iron. The only thing that disturbed her fortitude were the
signs of distress from him.

Gently, gently the water came creeping up and up again. It had swelled
so high the last time that Beth was all but gone; and now she held her
breath, expecting for certain to be overwhelmed. But, after a pause,
it went down once more, then rose again, and again subsided.

Alfred stood with shut eyes and clenched teeth, blindly resisting.
Beth kept her wits about her.

"Alfred!" she cried on a sudden, "I was right! I was not deceived!
Stand fast! The tide is on the turn."

He opened his eyes and stared about him in a bewildered way. His face
was haggard and drawn from the strain, his strength all but exhausted;
he did not seem to understand.

"Hold on!" Beth cried again. "You'll be a big sculptor yet. The tide
has turned. It's going out, Alfred, it's going out. It washed an inch
lower last time. Keep up! Keep up! O Lord, help me to hold him! help
me to hold him! It's funny," she went on, changing with one of her
sudden strange transitions from the part of actor to that of
spectator, as it were. "It's funny we neither of us prayed. People in
danger do, as a rule, they say in the books; but I never even thought
of it."

The tide had seemed to come in galloping like a racehorse, but now it
crawled out like a snail; and they were both so utterly worn, that
when at last the water was shallow enough, they just sank down and sat
in it, leaning against each other, and yearning for what seemed to
them the most desirable thing on earth at that moment--a dry spot on
which to stretch themselves out and go to sleep.

"I know now what exhaustion is," said Beth, with her head on Alfred's
shoulder.

"Do you know, Beth," he rejoined with a wan smile, "you've been
picking up information ever since you fell acquainted with me here. I
can count a dozen new experiences you've mentioned already. If you go
on like this always, you'll know everything in time."

"I hope so!" Beth muttered. "Fell acquainted with you, isn't bad; but
I wonder if _tumbled_ wouldn't have been better----"

She dozed off uncomfortably before she could finish the sentence. He
had settled himself with his head against the uncertain cliff, which
beetled above them ominously; but they were both beyond thinking or
caring about it. Vaguely conscious of each other, and of the sea-voice
that gradually grew distant and more distant as the water went out
beyond the headland, leaving them stranded in the empty cove, they
rested and slept uneasily, yet heavily enough to know little of the
weary while they had to wait before they could make their escape.

For it was not until the sun had set and the moon hung high above the
sea in a sombre sky, that at last they were able to go.



CHAPTER XXVII


It was dark night when Beth got back to the little house in Orchard
Street. She had hoped to slip in unobserved, but her mother was
looking out for her.

"Where have you been?" she demanded angrily.

Beth had come in prepared to tell the whole exciting story, but this
reception irritated her, and she answered her mother in exactly the
same tone: "I've been at Fairholm."

"What have you been doing there?" Mrs. Caldwell snapped.

"Getting myself into a mess, as any one might see who looked at me,"
Beth rejoined. "I must go and change."

"You can go to bed," said her mother.

"Thank you," said Beth, and went off straight away.

Mrs. Caldwell would have liked to have followed her, and given her a
good beating, as in the old days, had she dared. Her harshness,
however, had much the same effect upon Beth that a beating used to
have; it shut her up in herself, and deprived her of the power to take
her mother into her confidence.

Harriet followed her to her room. "Whativer 'ave you been doin'?" she
exclaimed. "You're draggled from top to toe, and your Sunday dress
too!"

"I got caught by the tide," said Beth; "and I'm done."

"Just you get into bed, then," said Harriet; "and I'll fetch you up
some tea when she goes out. She's off in a moment to Lady Benyon's."

"Bless you, Harriet!" Beth exclaimed. "I read in a book once that
there is no crime but has some time been a virtue, and I am sure it
will be a virtue to steal me some tea on this occasion, if it ever
is."

"Oh, all's fair in love and war," Harriet answered cheerfully, as she
helped Beth off with her boots; "and you and yer ma's at war again, I
guess."

"Seems like it," Beth sighed. "But stay, though. No, you mustn't steal
the tea. I promised Aunt Victoria. And that reminds me. There's some
still left in her little canister. Here, take it and make it, and have
some yourself as a reward for the trouble. Hot tea and toast, an you
love me, Harriet, and to save my life. I've had nothing but salt water
since breakfast."

When Beth went downstairs next morning, her mother scowled at her.
"What did you mean by telling me you had been at Fairholm yesterday?"
she asked.

"I meant to tell you where I had been," Beth answered impertinently.

"I saw your Aunt Grace Mary last night, and she told me she had not
seen you."

"Well, Aunt Grace Mary is a good size," Beth rejoined, "but she
doesn't cover the whole estate."

Mrs. Caldwell flushed angrily. "You're an ill-conditioned girl, and
will come to a bad end, or I'm much mistaken," she exclaimed.

"With the help of my relations, it's likely," Beth retorted.

Her mother said no more until breakfast was over, and then she ordered
her peremptorily to get out her lessons.

"Oh, lessons!" Beth grumbled. "What's the use of the kind of lessons
_I_ do? I'm none the better for knowing that Henry VIII. had six
wives, nor the happier, nor the richer; and my wit and wisdom
certainly don't increase, nor my manners improve, if you speak the
truth."

Mrs. Caldwell changed countenance. If Beth rebelled against the
home-teaching, what would happen about the money that Jim was
enjoying? Upon reflection, her mother saw she was making a mistake.

"I think," she began in a conciliatory tone, "you are right perhaps.
You had better not do any lessons this morning, for I am sure you
cannot be well, Beth, or you would never speak to your mother in such
a way."

"Well, I'm sorry, mamma," Beth rejoined in a mollified tone. "But you
know I cannot stand these everlasting naggings and scoldings. They
make me horrid. I'm pugnacious when I'm rubbed the wrong way; I can't
help it."

"There, there, then; that will do," Mrs. Caldwell replied. "Run out
and amuse yourself, or have a rest. You take too much exercise, and
tire yourself to death; and then you are _so_ cross there is no
speaking to you. Go away, like a good child, and amuse yourself until
you feel better."

Beth went back to her own room at once, only too glad to escape and be
alone. She was not well. Every bone in her body ached, and her head
was thumping so she had to lie down on her bed at last, and keep still
for the rest of the day. But her mind was active the whole time, and
it was a happy day. She expected nothing, yet she was pleasurably
satisfied, perfectly content.

The next morning at eleven there was service in the church at the end
of the road. Beth and her mother had been having the usual morning
misery at lessons, and both were exhausted when the bell began to
ring. Beth's countenance was set sullen, and Mrs. Caldwell's showed
suppressed irritation. The bell was a relief to them.

"Can I go to church?" Beth asked.

Her mother's first impulse was to say no, out of pure contrariness;
but the chance of getting rid of Beth on any honourable pretext was
too much of a temptation even for her to withstand. "Yes, if you
like," she answered ungraciously, after a moment's hesitation; "and
get some good out of it if you can," she added sarcastically.

Beth went with honest intention. There was a glow in her chest which
added fervency to her devotions, and when Alfred entered from the
vestry and took his seat in the chancel pew, happiness, tingling in
every nerve, suffused her. His first glance was for her, and Beth knew
it, but bent her head. Her soul did magnify the Lord, however, and her
spirit did rejoice in God her Saviour, with unlimited love and trust.
He had saved them, He would hear them. He would help them, He would
make them both--_both_ good and great--great after a pause, as being
perhaps not a worthy aspiration.

She did not look at Alfred a second time, but she sat and stood and
knelt, all conscious of him, and it seemed as if the service lasted
but a moment.

Directly it was over, she fled, taking the narrow path by the side of
the church to the fields; but before she was half way across the first
field, she heard a quick step following her. Beth felt she must stop
short--or run; she began to run.

"Beth! Beth! wait for me," he called.

Beth stopped, then turned to greet him shyly; but when he came close,
and put his arm round her, she looked up smiling. They gazed into each
other's eyes a moment, and then kissed awkwardly, like children.

"Were you any the worse for our adventure?" he asked. "I've been
longing to know."

"I had a headache yesterday," said Beth. "How were you?"

"All stiff and aching," he replied, "or I should have been to ask
after you."

"I'm glad you didn't come," Beth ejaculated.

"Why? I ought to know your people, you know. Why don't the Richardsons
know them?"

"Because we're poor," Beth answered bluntly; "and Mr. Richardson
neglects his poor parishioners."

"All the more reason that I should call," Alfred Cayley Pounce
persisted. "You are people of good family like ourselves, and old Rich
is a nobody."

"Yes," said Beth; "but my mother would not let me know you. She and I
are always--always--we never agree, you know. I don't think we can
help it; we certainly don't do it on purpose--at least _I_ don't; but
there's something in us that makes us jar about everything. I was
going to tell her all about you on Sunday night; but when I got in I
couldn't. She began by being angry because I was late, without waiting
to know if I were to blame, and that--that shut me up, and I never
told her; and now I don't think I could."

"But what objection can she have to me?" he asked loftily. "I really
must make her acquaintance."

"Not through me, then," said Beth. "Do you know the Benyons?"

"No, I don't know anybody in the neighbourhood as yet. I'm here with
old Rich to be crammed. My people are trying to force me into the bar
or the church or something, because I want to be a sculptor."

"Don't be forced," said Beth with spirit. "Follow your own bent. I
mean to follow mine."

"I didn't know girls had any bent," he answered dubiously.

There was a recoil in Beth. "How is it people never expect a girl to
do anything?" she exclaimed, firing up.

"I don't see what a girl can do," he rejoined, "except marry and look
after her husband and children."

"That's all right at the proper time," Beth said. "But meanwhile, and
if she doesn't marry, is she to do nothing?"

"Oh, there are always lots of little things a woman can do," he
answered airily.

"But supposing little things don't satisfy her, and she has power to
follow some big pursuit?"

"Oh, well, in that case," he began, somewhat superciliously. "But it's
too rare to be taken into account--talent in women."

"How do you know?" Beth said. "Robbing women of the means to develop
their talents doesn't prove they haven't any. The best horseman in the
world could never have ridden if he hadn't had a horse. I certainly
think a woman should see to the ordering of her household; but if she
has it in her to do more why shouldn't she? _I_ shall want to do more,
I know. I shall want to be something; and I shall never believe that I
cannot be that something until I have tried the experiment. If you
have it in you to be a sculptor, be a sculptor. _I_ certainly should,
girl and all as I am. I couldn't help it."

"You're very valiant!" he said drily; "but you don't know what it is
to have your whole family against you."

"Don't I?" said Beth, laughing. "I've known that all my life; but I've
known something besides. I've known what it is to be myself. If you
know yourself, and yourself is a sculptor, you're bound to be a
sculptor in spite of your family."

He looked at her admiringly. "When you talk like that, I feel I could
be anything or do anything that you like, I love you so," he ventured,
flipping the grass with his stick to cover his boyish embarrassment.
"I am thinking of you always, all day long."

"Isn't it strange!" Beth answered softly. "And only two days ago we
had never met!"

"But now we shall never part," he said. "Only I don't want you to be
anything, or to care to be anything, but just my wife."

The word wife came upon Beth with the shock of a sweet surprise. She
had not realised that she would ever be asked to be any one's wife;
that seemed something reserved for the honour of beings above her,
beautiful beings in books; and the hot flush of joy that suffused her
at the word rendered her oblivious to the condition attached. She
looked up in the young man's face with eyes full of love and
gratitude, her transparent skin bright with a delicate blush, and her
lips just parted in a smile.

"You _are_ sweet, Beth!" he exclaimed. "How sweet you are!"

For the next few weeks they saw each other every day, if it were only
for a few minutes; but even when they contrived to spend long hours
together it was not enough. Beth scarcely ate or slept at that time;
the glow and spring and flood of feeling that coursed through her
whole being sustained her.

"When we are married we shall always be together," Alfred would
whisper when they had to separate; and then their eyes would dilate
with joy at the heavenly prospect; each was covered the while with
smiles and confusion neither of which they could control. They made
each other no formal vows. It was all taken for granted between them.
Now they were engaged; but when they were old enough, and had an
income, they were to be married.

Alfred had given up the idea of making Mrs. Caldwell's acquaintance
before it was absolutely necessary. For the present, it delighted them
to think that their secret was all their own, and no one suspected it,
except Dicksie, the vicar's hunchback son, whom Alfred had taken into
his confidence. Dicksie was as old as Alfred, but his deformity had
stunted his growth, and the young lovers, looking down into his
pathetic face, were filled with compassion, and eagerly anxious to
make atonement to him for his misfortune by sharing as much of their
happiness with him as might be. They encouraged him to accompany them
in their walks when he could, which was a joy to him, for he was
content to live upon the fringe of their romance unselfishly. When
they separated, Beth and Alfred kissed each other frankly, and then
Beth would stoop and kiss Dicksie also, in pure affection.

Neither of the three troubled themselves about other people in those
days, and they never suspected that their own doings could be of
consequence to anybody. They therefore remained serenely unaware of
the fact that the whole place was talking about them, their own
relations being the only people who did not know of the intimacy; and,
worse still, everybody objected to it. All the forces of Nature
combined, and the vast scheme of the universe itself had been ordered
so as to unite those two young things; but, on the other hand, the
whole machinery of civilisation was set in readiness to keep them
apart. And the first intimation they had of this fact took them by
surprise.

The whole happy summer had passed, and autumn was with them, mellow,
warm, and still. The days were shorter then, and the young people
delighted to slip out at dusk, and wander about the fields, all three
together. A gate opened from the vicarage grounds into the field-path
beside the church, and there Alfred and Dicksie waited till Beth
appeared, and often waited in vain, for Beth could not always get out.
Her mother told Lady Benyon that Beth was tiresome rather than naughty
in those days. She seemed to have no idea of time. She would stay out
so late that her mother became quite fidgety about her, not knowing
what had become of her; and when Beth came in at last in a casual way,
beaming blandly at every one, it was certainly provoking. Beth thought
her mother unreasonable to object to her late rambles. She was not
giving her any trouble; and she could not understand why her mother
was not content to let her be happy in her own way.

Beth's lessons became more perfunctory than ever that summer. Mrs.
Caldwell salved her own conscience on the subject by arguing that it
is not wise to teach a girl too much when she is growing so fast, and
Lady Benyon agreed. Lady Benyon had no patience with people who
over-educate girls--with boys it was different; but let a girl grow up
strong and healthy, and get her married as soon as possible, was what
she advised. Had any one asked what was to become of a girl brought up
for that purpose solely, if no one were found to marry her, Lady
Benyon would have disposed of the question with a shrug of the
shoulders. She laid down the principle, and if it did not act,
somebody must be to blame. The principle itself was good, she was sure
of that. So Beth was kept without intellectual discipline to curb her
senses at this critical period, and the consequence was that her
energy took the form of sensuous rather than intellectual pursuits.
Her time was devoted not to practising, but to playing; to poetry, and
to dreamy musings. She wove words to music at the piano by the hour
together, lolled about in languorous attitudes, was more painfully
concerned than ever about her personal adornment, delighted in scents
and in luxurious imaginings, and altogether fed her feelings to such
excess, that if her moral nature were not actually weakened, it was
certainly endangered.

Fortunately she had an admirable companion in Alfred. The boy is not
naturally like a beast, unable to restrain his passions, a bit more
than the girl. To men as to women the power to control themselves
comes of the determination. There are cases of natural depravity, of
course, but they are not peculiar to either sex; and as the girl may
inherit the father's vices, so may the boy have his mother to thank
for his virtues. Depravity is oftener acquired than inherited. As a
rule, the girl's surroundings safeguard her from the acquisition; but
when they do not, she becomes as bad as the boy. The boy, on the
contrary, especially if he is sent to a public school, is
systematically trained to be vicious. He learns the Latin grammar from
his masters, and from the habitual conversation of the other boys,
the books secretly circulated by them, and their traditional code of
vice, he becomes familiarised with the most hoggish habits. He may
escape the practical initiation by a miracle at the time; but it is
from the mind familiar with ideas of vice that the vicious impulse
eventually springs; and the seed of corruption once sown in it, bears
fruit almost inevitably.

Alfred had escaped this contamination by being kept at home at a
day-school, and when Beth knew him he was as refined and high-minded
as he was virile for his age, and as self-restrained as she was
impetuous. She wanted to hurry on, and shape their lives; but he was
content to let things come about. She lived in the future, he in the
present; and he was teaching her to do the same, which was an
excellent thing for her. Often when she was making plans he would
check her by saying, "Aren't you satisfied? I can't imagine myself
happier than I am at this moment."

One thing neither of them ever anticipated, and that was interference.
They expected those happy days to last without interruption until the
happier ones came, when they should be independent, and could do as
they liked.

"When I am king, diddle, diddle, you shall be queen," Alfred used to
sing to Beth; "and Dicksie shall be prime minister."

One night they were out in the fields together. Beth was sitting on a
rail, with her arm round Dicksie's neck, as he stood on one side of
her; Alfred being on the other, with his arm round her, supporting
her. They were talking about flowers. Alfred was great on growing
flowers. The vicar had given him a piece of the vicarage garden for
his own, and he was going to build a little green-house to keep Beth
well supplied with bouquets. They were deeply engrossed in the
subject, and the night was exceedingly dark, so that they did not
notice a sailor creep stealthily up the field behind them on the other
side of the hedge, and crouch down near enough to hear all that they
said. Certainly that sailor was never more at sea in his life than he
was while he listened to their innocent prattle.

When at last Beth said it was time to go home, and they strolled away
arm in arm, Alfred and Dicksie discovered that they were late, and
Beth insisted on parting from them at the field-gate into the vicarage
grounds instead of letting them see her safe into the street. When
they left her, she hurried on down the path beside the church alone,
and she had not taken many steps before she was suddenly confronted by
a tall dark man, who made as if he would not let her pass. She stopped
startled, and then went straight up to him boldly and peered into his
face.

"Is that you, Gard?" she exclaimed. "How dare you!"

"How dare you!" he rejoined impudently. "I've had my eye on you for
some time. I saw you out there just now in the field. I was determined
to know what you were up to. There's mighty little happens here that I
don't know."

"Oh," said Beth, "so you're the town spy, are you? Well, you're not
going to spy upon me, so I warn you, Mr. Gard. The next time I come
here, I'll come armed, and if I catch you dogging me about again, I'll
shoot you as dead as my father's pistols can do it. And as it is, you
shall pay for this, I promise you. Just step aside now, you cowardly
black devil, and let me pass. Do you think that it's milk I've got in
my veins that you come out on a fool's errand to frighten me?"

Without a word the man stepped aside, and Beth walked on down the path
with her head in the air, and deliberately, to let him see how little
she feared him.

The next morning, directly after breakfast, she went down to the pier.
Count Bartahlinsky's yacht was alongside, and Gard was on deck. He
changed countenance when Beth appeared. She ran down the ladder.

"I want to see your master," she said.

"He can't see you, miss. He's given orders that he's not to be
disturbed for no one whatsoever," Gard answered with excess of
deference; "and it's as much as my billet is worth to go near him;
he's very much occupied this morning."

"Don't tell lies," said Beth. "I'm going to see him."

She went forward to the skylight as she spoke, and called down, "Below
there, Count Gustav!"

"Hello!" a voice replied. "Is that you, Beth? You know you're too big
to be on the yacht now without a chaperon."

"Rot!" said Beth.

"Don't be coarse, Beth," Count Gustav remonstrated from below in
rather a precious tone. "You know how I dislike hoyden English."

"Well, then, _nonsense_! if that's any better," Beth rejoined. "You've
got to see me--this once at all events, or there'll be a tragedy."

"Oh, in that case," was the resigned reply, "I'll come on deck."

Beth walked aft and waited for him, enthroned on the bulwark, with a
coil of rope for her footstool.

When Count Gustav appeared, he looked at her quizzically. "What is the
matter, Beth?" he asked. "What are you boiling with indignation about
now?"

"About that man Gard," Beth replied. "What do you think he was doing
last night? and not for the first time, by his own account. Spying!"

"Spying!" said Bartahlinsky. "Gard, come here."

Gard, who had been anxiously watching them from amidships, approached.

"Now, Beth, what do you mean?" said the Count.

"I mean that I was out sitting on a rail in the church-fields last
night with Alfred Cayley Pounce and Dicksie Richardson talking, and
this man came and listened; and then when I left them, he met me on
the path beside the church, and spoke impudently to me, and would not
let me pass. I know what you thought," she broke out, turning upon
Gard. "You thought I was doing something that I was ashamed of, and
you'd find it out, and have me in your power. But I'll have you know
that I do nothing I'm ashamed of--nothing I should be ashamed to tell
your master about, so you may save yourself the trouble of spying upon
me, Black Gard, as they well call you."

Gard was about to say something, but Count Gustav stopped him
peremptorily. "You can go," he said. "I'll hear what you have to say
later."

Then he sat down beside Beth, and talked to her long and earnestly. He
advised her to give up her rambles with Alfred and Dicksie; but she
assured him that that was impossible.

"Who else have I?" she asked pathetically. "And what am I to do with
my days if they never come into them again?"

"You ought to have been sent to school, Beth, long ago, and I told
your mother so," Count Gustav answered, frowning. "And, by Jove, I'll
tell her again," he thought, "before it's too late."

The encounter with Gard added excitement to the charm of Beth's next
meeting with the boys. It made them all feel rather important. They
discussed it incessantly, speculating as to what the man's object
could have been. Alfred said vulgar curiosity; but Beth suspected that
there was more than that in the manoeuvre; and when Dicksie
suggested acutely that Gard had intended to blackmail them, she and
Alfred both exclaimed that that was it!

They had gone about together all this time in the most open way; now
they began to talk about caution and concealment, like the persecuted
lovers of old romance, who had powerful enemies, and were obliged to
manage their meetings so that they should not be suspected. They
decided not to speak to each other in public, and, consequently, when
they met in the street, they passed with such an elaborate parade of
ignoring each other, and yet with such evident enjoyment of the
position, that people began to wonder what on earth they were up to.
Disguises would have delighted them; but the fashions of the day did
not lend themselves much to disguise, unfortunately. There were no
masks, no sombreros, no cloaks; and all they could think of was false
whiskers for Alfred; but when he tried them, they altered him so
effectually that Dicksie said he could not bear him, and Beth would
not kiss him.

One evening after dinner, when Mrs. Caldwell was reading aloud to Beth
and Bernadine, there came a thundering knock at the front door, which
startled them all. The weather had been bad all day, and now the
shutters were closed, the rain beat against them with a chilly,
depressing effect, inexpressibly dreary. Instead of attending to the
reading, Beth had been listening to the footsteps of people passing in
the street, in the forlorn hope that among them she might distinguish
Alfred's. When the knock came they thought it was a runaway, but
Harriet opened the door all the same, and presently returned, smiling
archly, and holding aloft a beautiful bouquet.

"What's that?" said Mrs. Caldwell. "Give it to me."

Beth's heart stood still.

There was a card attached to the flowers, and Mrs. Caldwell read
aloud, "_Miss Caldwell, with respectful compliments._"

"Who brought this, Harriet?" she asked.

"No one, ma'am," Harriet replied. "It was 'itched on till the
knocker."

"Very strange," Mrs. Caldwell muttered suspiciously. "Beth, do you
know anything about it?"

"Is there no name on the card?" Beth asked diplomatically; and Mrs.
Caldwell looked at the card instead of into Beth's face, and
discovered nothing.

Raindrops sparkled on the flowers, their fragrance filled the room,
and their colours and forms and freshness were a joy to behold. "How
beautiful they are!" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed.

"May I have them, mamma?" Beth put in quickly.

"Well, yes, I suppose you may," Mrs. Caldwell decided; "although I
must say I do not understand their being left in this way at all. Who
could have sent you flowers?"

"There's the gardener at Fairholm," Beth ventured to suggest.

"Oh, ah, yes," said Mrs. Caldwell, handing the flowers to Beth without
further demur. The gift appeared less lovely, somehow, when she began
to associate it with the gardener's respectful compliments.

Beth took the flowers, and hid her burning face with them. This was
her first bouquet, the most exquisite thing that had ever happened to
her. She carried it off to her room, and put it in water; and when she
went to bed she kept the candle burning that she might lie and look at
it.

The following week a menagerie came to the place. Alfred and Dicksie
went to it, and their description filled Beth with a wild desire to
see the creatures, especially the chimpanzee. The boys were quite
ready to take her, but how was it to be managed? The menagerie was
only to be there that one night more, but it would be open late, and
they would be allowed to go because animals are improving. Could she
get out too? Beth considered intently.

"I can go to bed early," she said at last, "and get out by the
acting-room window."

"But suppose you were missed?" Alfred deprecated.

"Then I should be found out," said Beth; "but you would not."

"How about being recognised in the menagerie, though?" said Dicksie.
"You see there'll be lots of people, and it's all lighted up."

"I can disguise myself to look like an old woman," Beth rejoined,
thinking of Aunt Victoria's auburn front and some of her old things.

"Oh no, Beth!" Alfred protested. "That would be worse than the
whiskers."

"Can't you come as a boy?" said Dicksie.

"I believe I can," Beth exclaimed. "There's an old suit of Jim's
somewhere that would be the very thing--one he grew out of. I believe
it's about my size, and I think I know where it is. What a splendid
idea, Dicksie! I can cut my hair off."

"Oh no! Your pretty hair!" Alfred exclaimed.

"Is it pretty?" said Beth, surprised and pleased.

"_Is_ it pretty!" he ejaculated, lifting it with both hands, and
bathing his face in it; "the brightest, brownest, curliest, softest,
sweetest hair on earth! Turn it up under your cap. These little curls
on your neck will look like short hair."

They were all so delighted with this romantic plan, that they danced
about, and hugged each other promiscuously. But this last piece of
cleverness was their undoing, for Beth was promptly recognised at the
menagerie by some one with a sense of humour, who told Lady Benyon,
who told Mrs. Caldwell.

Mrs. Caldwell came hurrying home from Lady Benyon's a few nights later
with the queerest expression of countenance Beth had ever seen; it was
something between laughing and crying.

"Beth," she began in an agitated manner, "I am told that you went with
two of Mr. Richardson's sons to the menagerie on Tuesday night,
dressed as a boy."

"_One_ of his sons," said Beth, correcting her; "the other boy was his
pupil."

"And you were walking about looking at the animals in that public
place with your arm round the girl from the shoe-shop?"

Beth burst out laughing. "All the boys had their arms round girls,"
she explained. "I couldn't be singular."

Mrs. Caldwell dropped into a chair, and sat gazing at Beth as if she
had never seen anything like her before, as indeed she never had.

"Who is this pupil of Mr. Richardson's?" she asked at last, "and how
did you make his acquaintance?"

"His name is Alfred Cayley Pounce," Beth answered. "We were caught by
the tide and nearly drowned together on the sands, and I've known him
ever since."

"And do you mean to say that you have been meeting this young man in a
clandestine manner--that you hadn't the proper pride to refuse to
associate with him unless he were known to your family and you could
meet him as an equal?"

"He did wish to make your acquaintance, but I wouldn't let him," Beth
said.

"Why?" Mrs. Caldwell asked in amazement.

"Oh, because I was afraid you would be horrid to him," Beth answered.

Mrs. Caldwell was thunderstruck. The whole affair had overwhelmed her
as a calamity which could not be met by any ordinary means. Scolding
was out of the question, for she was not able to utter another word,
but just sat there with such a miserable face, she might have been the
culprit herself, especially as she ended by bursting into tears.

Beth's heart smote her, and she watched her mother for some time,
yearning to say something to comfort her.

"I don't think you need be so distressed, mamma," she ventured at last
"What have I done, after all? I've committed no crime."

"You've done just about as bad a thing as you could do," Mrs. Caldwell
rejoined. "You've made the whole place talk about you. You must have
known you were doing wrong. But I think you can have no conscience at
all."

"I think I have a conscience, only it doesn't always act," Beth
answered disconsolately. "Very often, when I am doing a wrong thing,
it doesn't accuse me; when it does, I stop and repent."

She was sitting beside the dining-table, balancing a pencil on her
finger as she spoke.

"Look at you now, Beth," her mother ejaculated, "utterly callous!"

Beth sighed, and put the pencil down. She despaired of ever making her
mother understand anything, and determined not to try again.

"Beth, I don't know what to do with you," Mrs. Caldwell recommenced
after a long silence. "I've been warned again and again that I should
have trouble with you, and Heaven knows I have. You've done a
monstrous thing, and, instead of being terrified when you're found
out, you sit there coolly discussing it, as if you were a grown-up
person. And then you're so queer. You ought to be a child, but you're
not. Lady Benyon likes you; but even she says you're not a child, and
never were. You say things no sane child would ever think of, and very
few grown-up people. You are _not_ like other people, there's no
denying it."

Beth's eyes filled with tears. To be thought unlike other people was
the one thing that made her quail.

"Well, mamma, what am I to do?" she said. "I hate to vex you, goodness
knows; but I must be doing something. The days are long and dreary."
She wiped her eyes. "When people warned you that you would have
trouble with me, they always said unless you sent me to school."

Mrs. Caldwell rocked herself on her chair forlornly. "School would do
you no good," she declared at last. "No, Beth, you are my cross, and I
must bear it. If I forgive you again this time, will you be a better
girl in future?"

"I don't believe it's my fault that I ever annoy you," Beth answered
drily.

"Whose fault is it, then?" her mother demanded.

Beth shrugged her shoulders and began to balance the pencil on her
fingers once more.

Mrs. Caldwell got up and stood looking at her for a little with a
gathering expression of dislike on her face which it was not good to
see; then she went towards the door.

"You are incorrigible," she ejaculated as she opened it, making the
remark to cover her retreat.

Beth sighed heavily, then resolved herself into a Christian martyr,
cruelly misjudged--an idea which she pursued with much satisfaction to
herself for the rest of the day.

In consequence of that conversation with her mother, when the evening
came her conscience accused her, and she made no attempt to go out.
She was to meet Alfred and Dicksie on Saturday, their next
half-holiday, and she would wait till then. That was Wednesday.

During the interval, however, a strange chill came over her feelings.
The thought of Alfred was as incessant as ever, but it came without
the glow of delight; something was wrong.

They were to meet on the rocks behind the far pier at low water on
Saturday. Few people came to the far pier, and, when they did, it was
seldom that they looked over; and they could not have seen much if
they had, for the rocks were brown with seaweed, and dark figures
wandering about on them became indistinguishable. Beth went long
before the time. It was a beautiful still grey day, such as she loved,
and she longed to be alone with the sea. The tide was going out, and
she had a fancy for following it from rock to rock as it went. Some
of the bigger rocks were flat-topped islands, separated from the last
halting-place of the tide by narrow straits, across which she sprang;
and on these she would lie her length, peering down into the clear
depths on the farther side, where the healthy happy sea-creatures
disported themselves, and seaweeds of wondrous colours waved in
fantastic forms. The water lapped up and up and up the rocks, rising
with a sobbing sound, and bringing fresh airs with it that fanned her
face, and caused her to draw in her breath involuntarily, and inhale
long deep draughts with delight. As the water went out, bright runnels
were left where rivers had been, and miniature bays became sheltered
coves, paved with polished pebbles or purple mussels, and every little
sandy space was ribbed with solid waves where the busy lob-worms soon
began to send up their ropy castings. Beyond the break of the water
the silver sea sloped up to the horizon, and on it, rocking gently,
far out, a few cobles were scattered, with rich red sails all set
ready, waiting for a breeze. It was an exquisite scene, remote from
all wail of human feeling, and strangely tranquillising. Gradually it
gained upon Beth. Her bosom heaved with the heaving water
rhythmically, and she lost herself in contemplation of sea and sky
scape. Before she had been many minutes prone upon the farthest rock,
the vision and the dream were upon her. That other self of hers
unfurled its wings, and she floated off, revelling in an ecstasy of
gentle motion. Beyond the sea-line were palaces with terraced gardens,
white palaces against which grass and trees showed glossy green; and
there she wandered among the flowers, and waited. She was waiting for
something that did not happen, for some one who did not come.

Suddenly she sat up on her rock. The sun was sinking behind her, the
silver sea shone iridescent, the tide had turned. But where were the
boys? She looked about her. Out on the sands beyond the rocks on her
right, a man was wading in the water with a net, shrimping. Close at
hand another was gathering mussels for bait, and a gentleman was
walking towards her over the slippery rocks, balancing himself as
though he found it difficult to keep his feet; but these were the only
people in sight. The gentleman was a stranger. He wore a dark-blue
suit, with a shirt of wonderful whiteness, and Beth could not help
noticing how altogether well-dressed he was--too well-dressed for
climbing on the rocks. She noticed his dress particularly, because
well-dressed men were rare in Rainharbour. He was tall, with glossy
black hair inclining to curl, slight whiskers and moustache, blue
eyes, and a bright complexion. A woman with as much colour would have
been accused of painting; in him it gave to some people the idea of
superabundant health, to others it suggested a phthisical tendency.
Beth looked at him as he approached as she looked at everybody and
everything with interest--nothing escaped her; but he made no great
impression upon her. She thought of him principally as a man with a
watch; and when he was near enough she asked him what time it was. He
told her, looking hard at her, and smiling pleasantly as he returned
his watch to his pocket. She noticed that his teeth were good, but too
far apart, a defect which struck her as unpleasant.

"Why, it is quite late!" she exclaimed, forgetting to thank him in her
surprise.

"Are you all alone here?" he asked.

"I was waiting for some friends," she answered, "but they have not
come. They must have been detained."

She began to walk back as she spoke, and the gentleman turned too
perforce, for the tide was close upon them.

"Let me help you," he said, holding out his hand, which was noticeably
white and well-shaped; "the rocks are rough and slippery."

"I can manage, thank you," Beth answered. "I am accustomed to them."

Beth involuntarily resolved herself into a young lady the moment she
addressed this man, and spoke now with the self-possession of one
accustomed to courtesies. Even at that age her soft cultivated voice
and easy assurance of manner, and above all her laugh, which was not
the silvery laugh of fiction, but the soundless laugh of good society,
marked the class to which she belonged; and as he stumbled along
beside her, her new acquaintance wondered how it happened that she was
at once so well-bred and so shabbily dressed. He began to question her
guardedly.

"Do you know Rainharbour well?" he asked.

"I live here," Beth answered.

"Then I suppose you know every one in the place," he pursued.

"Oh, no," she rejoined. "I know very few people, except my own, of
course."

"Which is considered the principal family here?" he asked.

"The Benyon family is the biggest and the wickedest, I should think,"
she answered casually.

"But I meant the most important," he explained, smiling.

"I don't know," she said. "Uncle James Patten thinks that next to
himself the Benyons are. He married one of them. He's an awful snob."

"And what is his position?"

"I don't know--he's a landowner; that's his estate over there," and
she nodded towards Fairholm.

"Indeed! How far does it extend?"

"From the sea right up to the hills there, and a little way beyond."

They had left the rocks by this time, and were toiling up the steep
road into the town. When they reached the top, Beth exclaimed
abruptly, "I am late! I must fly!" and leaving her companion without
further ceremony, turned down a side street and ran home.

When she got in, she wondered what had become of Alfred and Dicksie,
and she was conscious of a curious sort of suspense, which, however,
did not amount to anxiety. It was as if she were waiting and listening
for something she expected to hear, which would explain in words what
she held already inarticulate in some secret recess of her being--held
in suspense and felt, but had not yet apprehended in the region of
thought. There are people who collect and hold in themselves some
knowledge of contemporary events as the air collects and holds
moisture; it may be that we all do, but only one here and there
becomes aware of the fact. As the impalpable moisture in the air
changes to palpable rain so does this vague cognisance become a
comprehensible revelation by being resolved into a shower of words on
occasion by some process psychically analogous to the condensation of
moisture in the air. It is a natural phenomenon known to babes like
Beth, but ill-observed, and not at all explained, because man has gone
such a little way beyond the bogey of the supernatural in psychical
matters that he is still befogged, and makes up opinions on the
subject like a divine when miracles are in question, instead of
searching for information like an honest philosopher, whose glory it
is, not to prove himself right, but to discover the truth.

Beth did not sleep much that night. She recalled the sigh and sob and
freshness of the sea, and caught her breath again as if the cool water
were still washing up and up and up towards her. She saw the silver
surface, too, stretching on to those shining palaces, where grass and
tree showed vivid green against white walls, and flowers stood still
on airless terraces, shedding strange perfumes. And she also saw her
new acquaintance coming towards her, balancing himself on the
slippery, wrack-grown rocks, in boots and things that were much too
good for the purpose; but Alfred and Dicksie never appeared, and were
not to be found of her imagination. They were nowhere.

She expected to see them in church next day--at least, so she assured
herself, and then was surprised to find that there was no sort of
certainty in herself behind the assurance, although they had always
hitherto been in church. "Something is different, somehow," she
thought, and the phrase became a kind of accompaniment to all her
thoughts.

Dicksie was the first person she saw when she entered the church, but
Alfred was not there, and he did not come. She went up the field-path
after the service, and waited about for Dicksie. When Alfred was
detained himself, Dicksie usually came to explain; but that day he did
not appear, and they were neither of them at the evening service. Beth
could not understand it, but she was more puzzled than perturbed.

She was reading French to her mother next morning by way of a lesson,
when they both happened to look up and see Mrs. Richardson, the
vicar's worn-out wife, passing the window. The next moment there was a
knock at the door.

"Can she be coming here?" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed.

"What should she come here for?" Beth rejoined, her heart palpitating.

"Oh dear, oh dear! this is just what I expected!" Mrs. Caldwell
declared. "And if only she had come last week, I should have known
nothing about it."

"You don't know much as it is," Beth observed, without, however,
seeing why that should make any difference.

The next moment the vicar's wife was ushered in with a wink by
Harriet. Mrs. Caldwell and Beth both rose to receive her haughtily.
She had entered with assurance, but that left her the moment she faced
them, and she became exceedingly nervous. She was surprised at the
ease and grace of these shabbily-dressed ladies, and the refinement of
their surroundings--the design of the furniture, the colour of
curtains and carpet, the china, the books, the pictures, all of which
bespoke tastes and habits not common in the parish.

"I must apologise for this intrusion," she began nervously. "I have a
most unpleasant task to perform. My husband requested me to come----"

"Why didn't he come himself?" Beth asked blandly. "Why does he make
you do the disagreeable part of his duties?"

The vicar's wife raised her meek eyes and gazed at Beth. She had not
anticipated this sort of reception from poor parishioners, and was
completely nonplussed. She was startled, too, by Beth's last question,
for she belonged to the days of brave unhonoured endurance, when
women, meekly allowing themselves to be classed with children and
idiots, exacted no respect, and received none--no woman, decent or
otherwise, being safe from insult in the public streets; when they
were expected to do difficult and dirty work for their husbands, such
as canvassing at elections, without acknowledgment, their wit and
capacity being traded upon without scruple to obtain from men the
votes which they were not deemed wise and worthy enough to have
themselves; the days when they gave all and received nothing in
return, save doles of bread and contempt, varied by such caresses as a
good dog gets when his master is in the mood. That was the day before
woman began to question the wisdom and goodness of man, his justice
and generosity, his right to make a virtue of wallowing when he chose
to wallow, and his disinterestedness and discretion when he also
arrogated to himself the power to order all things. Mrs. Richardson
had no more thought of questioning the beauty of her husband's
decisions than she had thought of questioning the logic and mercy of
her God, and this first flash of the new spirit of inquiry from Beth's
bright wit came upon her with a shock at first--one of those shocks to
the mind which is as the strength of wine to the exhausted body, that
checks the breath a moment, then rouses and stimulates.

"May I sit down?" she gasped, then dropped into a chair. "He might
have come himself, to be sure," she muttered. "I have more than enough
to do that is disagreeable in my own womanly sphere without being
required to meddle in parish matters."

Yet when her husband had said to her: "It is a very disagreeable
business indeed this. I think I'll get you to go. You'll manage it
with so much more tact than a man," the poor lady, unaccustomed to
compliments, was gratified. Now, however, thanks to Beth, she had been
nearer to making an acute observation than she had ever been in her
life before; she all but perceived that the woman's sphere is never
home exclusively when man can make use of her for his own purposes
elsewhere. The sphere is the stable he ties her up in when he does not
want her, and takes her from again to drag him out of a difficulty, or
up to some distinction, just as it suits himself.

Mrs. Caldwell and Beth waited for Mrs. Richardson to commit herself,
but gave her no further help.

"The truth is," she recommenced desperately, "we have lost an
excellent pupil. His people have been informed that he was carrying on
an intrigue with a girl in this place, and have taken him away at a
moment's notice."

"And what has that to do with us?" Mrs. Caldwell asked politely.

"The girl is said to be your daughter."

"This is my eldest daughter at home," Mrs. Caldwell answered. "She is
not yet fourteen."

"But she's a very big girl," Mrs. Richardson faltered.

"Who is this person, this pupil you allude to?" Mrs. Caldwell asked
superciliously.

"He is the son of wealthy Nottingham people."

"Ah! lace manufacturers, I suppose," Mrs. Caldwell rejoined.

"Yes--s," Mrs. Richardson acknowledged with reluctance. She
associated, as she was expected to do, with gentlemen who debauched
themselves freely, but would have scorned the acquaintance of a
shopman of saintly life.

"Then certainly not a proper acquaintance for my daughter," Mrs.
Caldwell decided, with the manner of a county lady speaking to a
person whom she knows to be nobody by birth. "Beth, will you be good
enough to tell us what you know of this youth?"

"I was caught by the tide on the sands one day, and he was there, and
helped me; and I always spoke to him afterwards. I thought I ought,
for politeness' sake," Beth answered easily.

"May I ask how that strikes you?" Mrs. Caldwell, turning to Mrs.
Richardson, requested to know, but did not wait for a reply. "It
strikes me," she proceeded, "that your husband's parish must be in an
appalling state of neglect and disorder when slander is so rife that
he loses a good pupil because an act of common politeness, a service
rendered by a youth on the one hand, and acknowledged by a young lady
on the other, is described as an intrigue. But I still fail to see,"
she pursued haughtily, "why you should have come to spread this
scandal here in my house."

"Oh," the little woman faltered, "I was to ask if there had been
any--any presents. But," she added hastily, to save herself from the
wrath which she saw gathering on Mrs. Caldwell's face, "I am sure
there were not. I'm sure you would never bring a breach of promise
case--I'm sure it has all been a dreadful mistake. If Mr. Richardson
wants anything of this kind done in future, he must do it himself. I
apologise."

She uttered the last word with a gasp.

"Let me show you out," said Beth, and the discomforted lady found
herself ushered into the street without further ceremony.

When Beth returned she found her mother smiling blandly at the result
of her diplomacy. It was probably the first effort of the kind the
poor lady had ever made, and she was so elated by her success that she
took Beth into her confidence, and forgave her outright in order to
hob-nob with her on the subject.

"I think I fenced with her pretty well," she said several times. "A
woman of her class, a country attorney's daughter or something of that
kind, is no match for a woman of mine. I hope, Beth, this will be a
lesson to you, and will teach you to appreciate the superior tact and
discretion of the upper classes."

Beth could not find it in her heart to say a word to check her
mother's jubilation; besides, she had played up to her, answering to
expectation, as she was apt to do, with fatal versatility. But she did
not feel that they had come out of the business well. It was as if
their honesty had been bedraggled somehow, and she could not respect
her mother for her triumph; on the contrary, she pitied her. That kind
of diplomacy or tact, the means by which people who have had every
advantage impose upon those who have had no advantages to speak of,
did not appeal to Beth as pleasant, even at fourteen.

Mrs. Caldwell put her work away at once, and hurried off to describe
the encounter to Lady Benyon.

"They had not heard of the menagerie affair, I suppose," the old lady
observed, twinkling. "Thanks to yourself, I think you may consider
Miss Beth is well out of _that_ scrape. But take my advice. Get that
girl married the first chance you have. _I_ know girls, and she's one
of the marrying kind. Once she's married, let her mutiny or do
anything she likes. _You'll_ be shut of the responsibility."



CHAPTER XXVIII


From that time forward it was as if Alfred had vanished into space.
Whether he ever attempted to communicate with her, Beth could not
tell; but she received no letter or message. She expected to hear from
him through Dicksie, but it soon became apparent that Dicksie had
deserted her. He came to none of their old haunts, and never looked
her way in church or in the street when they met. She was ashamed to
believe it of him at first, lest some defect in her own nature should
have given rise to the horrid suspicion; but when she could no longer
doubt it, she shrugged her shoulders as at something contemptible, and
dismissed him from her mind. About Alfred she could not be sure. He
might have sent letters and messages that never reached her, and
therefore she would not blame him; but as the thought of him became an
ache, she resolutely set it aside, so that, in a very short time, in
that part of her consciousness where his image had been, there was a
blank. Thus the whole incident ended like a light extinguished, as
Beth acknowledged to herself at last. "It is curious, though," she
thought, "but I certainly knew it in myself all along from the moment
the change came, _if only I could have got at the knowledge_."

As a direct result of her separation from Alfred, Beth entered upon a
bad phase. The simple satisfaction of her heart in his company had
kept her sane and healthy. With such a will as hers, it had not been
hard to cast him out of her anticipations; but with him, there went
from her life that wholesome companionship of boy and girl which
contains all the happiness necessary for their immaturity, and also
stimulates their growth in every way by holding out the alluring
prospect of the fulfilment of those hopes of their being towards which
their youth should aspire from the first, insensibly, but without
pause. Having once known this companionship, Beth did not thrive
without it. She had no other interest in its place to take her out of
herself, and the time hung heavy on her hands. With her temperament,
however, more than a momentary pause was impossible. Her active mind,
being bare of all expectation, soon began to sate itself upon vain
imaginings. For the rational plans and pursuits she had been
accustomed to make and to carry out with the boys, she had nothing to
substitute but dreams; and on these she lived, finding an idle
distraction in them, until the habit grew disproportionate, and began
to threaten the fine balance of her other faculties: her reason, her
power of accurate observation and of assimilating every scrap of
knowledge that came in her way. To fill up her empty days, she
surrounded herself with a story, among the crowding incidents of which
she lived, whatever she might be doing. She had a lover who frequented
a wonderful dwelling on the other side of the headland that bounded
Rainharbour bay on the north. He was rich, dark, handsome, a
mysterious man, with horses and a yacht. She was his one thought, but
they did not meet often because of their enemies. He was engaged upon
some difficult and dangerous work for the good of mankind, and she had
many a midnight ride to warn him to beware, and many a wild adventure
in an open boat, going out in the dark for news. But there were happy
times too, when they lived together in that handsome house hidden
among the flowers behind the headland, and at night she always slept
with her head on his shoulder. He had a confidential agent, a doctor,
whom he sent to her with letters and messages, because it was not safe
for him to appear in the public streets himself. This man was just
like the one she had met on the rocks, and his clothes were always too
good for the occasion. His name was Angus Ambrose Cleveland.

Just at this time, Charlotte Hardy, the daughter of a doctor who lived
next door to the Benyon Dower House, fell in love with Beth, and began
to make much of her. Beth had never had a girl companion before, and
although she rather looked down on Charlotte, she enjoyed the novelty.
They were about the same age, but Charlotte was smaller than Beth,
less precocious, and better educated. She knew things accurately that
Beth had only an idea of; but Beth could make more use of a hint than
Charlotte could of the fullest information. Beth respected her
knowledge, however, and suffered pangs of humiliation when she
compared it to her own ignorance; and it was by way of having
something to show of equal importance that she gradually fell into the
habit of confiding her romance to Charlotte, who listened in perfect
good faith to the fascinating details which Beth poured forth from day
to day. Beth did not at first intend to impose on her credulity; but
when she found that Charlotte in her simplicity believed the whole
story, she adapted her into it, and made her as much a part of it as
Hector the hero, and Dr. Angus Ambrose Cleveland, the confidential
agent on whom their safety depended. Charlotte was Beth's confidante
now, a post which had hitherto been vacant; so the whole machinery of
the romance was complete, and in excellent order.

"It's queer I never see the doctor about," Charlotte said one day,
when they were out on the cliffs together.

Beth happened to look up at that moment and saw her acquaintance of
the rocks coming towards them.

"Your curiosity will be gratified," she said, "for there he is."

"Where?" Charlotte demanded in an excited undertone.

"Approaching," Beth answered calmly.

"Will he speak?" Charlotte asked in a breathless whisper.

"He will doubtless make me a sign," Beth replied.

When he was near enough, the gentleman recognised Beth, and smiled as
they passed each other.

"Oughtn't he to have taken off his hat?" Charlotte asked.

"He means no disrespect," Beth answered with dignity. "It is safer so.
In fact, if you had not been my confidante, he would not have dared to
make any sign at all."

"Oh, then he knows that I am your confidante!" Charlotte exclaimed,
much gratified.

"Of course," said Beth. "I have to keep them informed of all that
concerns me. I brought you here to-day on purpose. I shall doubtless
have to ask you to take letters, and you could not deliver them if you
did not know the doctor by sight. There is the yacht," she added, as a
beautiful white-winged vessel swept round the headland into the bay.

"O Beth! aren't you excited?" Charlotte cried.

"No," Beth answered quietly. "You see I am used to these things."

"Beth, what a strange creature you are," said Charlotte, with respect.
"One can see that there's something extraordinary about you, but one
can't tell what it is. You're not pretty--at least _I_ don't think so.
I asked papa what he thought, and he said you had your points, and a
something beyond, which is irresistible. He couldn't explain it,
though; but I know what he meant. I always feel it when you talk to
me; and I believe I could die for you. There's Mrs. Warner Benyon out
again," she broke off to observe. "Papa was called in to see her the
other day. He isn't their doctor, but she was taken ill suddenly, so
they sent for him because he was at hand; and he says her shoulders
are like alabaster."

Beth pursed up her mouth at this, but made no answer. When she got
home, however, she repeated the observation to her mother in order to
ask her what alabaster was exactly. Mrs. Caldwell flushed indignantly
at the story. "If Dr. Hardy speaks in that way of his patients to his
family, he won't succeed in his profession," she declared. "A man who
talks about his patients may be a clever doctor, but he's sure not to
be a nice man--not high-minded, you know--and certainly not a wise
one. Remember that, Beth, and take my advice: don't have anything to
do with a 'talking doctor'"--a recommendation which Beth remembered
afterwards, but only to note the futility of warnings.

Matters became very complicated in the story as it proceeded. It was
all due to some Spanish imbroglio, Beth said. Hector ran extraordinary
risks, and she was not too safe herself if things went wrong. There
were implicating documents, and emissaries of the Jesuits were on the
look-out.

One day, Charlotte's mother being away from home, Beth asked her
mysteriously if she could conceal some one in her room at night
unknown to her father.

"Easily," Charlotte answered. "He never comes up to my room."

"Then you must come and ask mamma to let me spend the day and night
with you to-morrow," Beth said. "I shall have business which will keep
me away all day, but I shall return at dusk, and then you must smuggle
me up to your room. We shall be obliged to sit up all night. I don't
know what is going to happen. Are the servants safe? If I should be
betrayed----"

"Safe not to tell you are there," said Charlotte, "and that is all
they will know. They won't tell on me. I never tell on them."

The next morning early, Charlotte arrived in Orchard Street with a
face full of grave importance, and obtained Mrs. Caldwell's consent to
take Beth back with her; but instead of having to go home to spend the
day alone waiting for Beth, as she had expected, she was sent out some
distance along the cliffs to a high hill, which she climbed by Beth's
direction. She was to hide herself among the fir-trees at the top, and
watch for a solitary rider on a big brown horse, who would pass on the
road below between noon and sunset, if all went well, going towards
the headland.

"_I_ shall be that rider," Beth said solemnly. "And the moment you see
me, take this blue missive, and place it on the Flat Rock, with a
stone on it to keep it from blowing away; then go home. If I do not
appear before sunset, here is a red missive to place on the Flat Rock
instead of the blue one, which must then be destroyed by fire. If I
return, I return; if not, never breathe a word of these things to a
living soul as you value your life."

"I would rather die than divulge anything," Charlotte protested
solemnly, and her choice of the word divulge seemed to add
considerably to the dignity of the proceedings.

They separated with a casual nod, that people might not suspect them
of anything important, and each proceeded to act her part in a
delightful state of excitement; but what was thrilling earnest to
Charlotte, calling for courage and endurance, was merely an
exhilarating play of the fancy put into practice to Beth.

By the time Charlotte arrived at the top of the hill, and had settled
herself among the firs overlooking the road below, she was very tired.
Beth had given her a bag, one of Aunt Victoria's many reticules, with
orders not to open it before her watch began. The bag had been a
burden to carry, but Charlotte was repaid for the trouble, for she
found it full of good things to eat, and a bottle of cold coffee and
cream to drink, with lumps of sugar and all complete. Beth had really
displayed the most thoughtful kindness in packing that bag. The
contents she had procured on a sudden impulse from a pastry-cook in
the town, by promising to pay the next time she passed.

After having very much enjoyed a solid Melton Mowbray pie, a sausage
in puff-pastry, a sponge-cake, a lemon cheesecake, and two crisp
brandy snaps, and slowly sipped the coffee, Charlotte felt that this
was the only life worth living, and formally vowed to dedicate herself
for ever to the Secret Service of Humanity--Beth's name for these
enterprises. She kept a careful eye on the road below all this time,
and there ran through her head the while fragments of a ballad Beth
had written, which added very much to the charm of the occasion.

    "The fir-trees whisper overhead,
     Between the living and the dead,
     I watch the livelong day.
     I watch upon the mountain-side
     For one of courage true and tried,
     Who should ride by this way,"

it began. When she first heard that Beth had written that ballad,
Charlotte was astonished. It was the only assertion of Beth's she had
ever doubted; but Beth assured her that any one could write verses,
and convinced her by "making some up" there and then on a subject
which she got Charlotte to choose for her.

Many things passed on the road below--teams of waggons, drawn by
beautiful big cart-horses with glossy coats, well cared for, tossing
their headland rattling the polished brasses of their harness proudly,
signs of successful farming and affluence; smart carriages with what
Beth called "silly-fool ladies, good for nothing," in them; a
carrier's cart, pedestrians innumerable, and then--then, at last, a
solitary big brown horse, ridden at a steady canter by a slender girl
in a brown habit (worn by her mother in her youth, and borrowed from
her wardrobe without permission for the occasion). The horse was a
broken-down racer with some spirit left, which Beth had hired, as she
had procured the provisions, on a promise to pay. In passing, she
waved a white handkerchief carelessly, as if she were flicking flies
from the horse, but _without relenting her speed_. This was the signal
agreed upon. Charlotte, glowing with excitement, and greatly relieved,
watched the adventurous rider out of sight; then trudged off bravely
to the Flat Rock, miles away behind the far pier, where she loyally
deposited the blue missive. The red one she destroyed by fire
according to orders.

Beth had warned her that she would be tired to death when she got in,
and had better snatch some repose in preparation for the night.

"But if I oversleep myself and am not on the look-out for you when you
come, what will you do?" Charlotte objected.

"Leave that to me," said Beth.

And Charlotte did accordingly with perfect confidence.

When she awoke the room was dark, but there was a motionless figure
sitting in the window, clearly silhouetted against the sky. Charlotte,
who expected surprises, was pleasantly startled.

"Is all safe in the west, sister?" she said softly, raising herself on
her elbow.

"Yes," was the reply, "but clouds are gathering in the north. Our hope
is in the east. Let us pray for the sunrise. You left the letter?"

"Yes. As fast as I could fly I went."

"Ah! then it will be gone by this time!" Beth ejaculated with
conviction. The Flat Rock was only uncovered at low water, and now the
tide was high. "Can you get me some food, little one, for I am
famished?" she proceeded. "I have had nothing since the morning, and
have ridden far, and have done much."

"Oh dear! oh dear!" said Charlotte. "And you got me such good things!"

"Ah! that was different," Beth rejoined.

Charlotte stole downstairs. Her father had been out seeing his
patients all day, and had not troubled about her.

She returned with chicken and ham, cold apple-tart and cream, and a
little jug of cider.

Poor Beth, accustomed to the most uninteresting food, and not enough
of that, was so exhausted by her long fast and arduous labours, that
she found it difficult to restrain her tears at the sight of such good
things. She ate and drank with seemly self-restraint, however; it
would have lowered her much in her own estimation if she had showed
any sign of the voracity she felt.

Then the watch began. Having wrapped themselves up in their walking
things to be ready for any emergency, they locked the door and opened
the window softly. They were in a room at the top of the house, which,
being next door to the Benyons, commanded the same extensive view down
the front street and a bit of Rock Street and the back street, and up
Orchard Street on the left to the church. They were watching for a
sailor in a smart yachting suit, a man-of-war's man with bare feet,
and a priest in a heavy black cloak. Beth, greatly refreshed and
stimulated by her supper and the cider, fell into her most fascinating
mood; and Charlotte listened enthralled to wonderful descriptions of
places she had visited with Hector, sights she had seen, and events
she had taken part in.

"But how is it you are not missed from home when you go away like
that?" said Charlotte.

"How is it I am not missed to-night?" Beth answered. "When you are
fully initiated into the Secret Service of Humanity you will find that
things happen in a way you would never suspect."

"I suppose it is all right and proper being so much alone with single
gentlemen," Charlotte just ventured.

"All things are right and proper so long as you do nothing wrong,"
Beth answered sententiously.

Lights began to move from room to room in the houses about them,
gigantic shadows of people appeared on white window blinds in
fantastic poses, and there was much moving to and fro as they prepared
for bed. Then one by one the lights went out, and in the little
old-fashioned window-panes the dark brightness of the sky and the
crystal stars alone were reflected. It was a fine clear night, the gas
burnt brightly in the quiet streets, there was not a soul stirring.

"Isn't it exquisite?" said Beth, sniffing the sweet air. "I am glad I
was born, if it is only for the sake of being alive at night."

After this they were silent. Then by degrees the desire for sleep
became imperative, and they both suffered acutely in their efforts to
resist it. Finally Charlotte was vanquished, and Beth made her lie
down on the bed. As she dropped off she saw Beth sitting rigidly at
the open window; when she awoke it was bright daylight, and Beth was
still there in exactly the same attitude.

"Beth," she exclaimed, "you are superhuman!"

"Ah!" said Beth, with a mysterious smile, "when you have learnt to
listen to the whispers of the night, and know what they signify as I
do, you will not wonder. Marvellous things have been happening while
you slept."

"O Beth!" said Charlotte reproachfully, "why didn't you wake me?"

"I was forbidden," Beth answered sadly. "But now watch for me. It is
your turn, and I must sleep. A yachtsman or a man-of-war's man with
bare feet, remember."

Beth curled herself up on the bed, and Charlotte, very weary and
aching all over, but sternly determined to do her duty, took her place
in the window. She had her reward, however, and when Beth awoke she
found her all on the alert, for she had seen the yachtsman. He came up
the street and hung about a little, pretending to look at the shops,
then walked away briskly, which showed Charlotte that the plot was
thickening, and greatly excited her. Beth smiled and nodded as though
well satisfied when she heard the news, but preserved an enigmatical
silence.

Then Charlotte went downstairs and smuggled her up such a good
breakfast--fried ham, boiled eggs, hot rolls with plenty of butter,
and delicious coffee--that the famishing Beth was fain to exclaim with
genuine enthusiasm--

"In spite of all the difficulty, danger, and privation we have to
endure in the Secret Service of Humanity, Charlotte, is there anything
to equal the delight of it?"

And Charlotte solemnly asseverated that there was not.

Much stimulated by her breakfast, Beth took leave of Charlotte. She
must be alone, she said, she had much to think about. She went to the
farther shore to be away from everybody. She wanted to hear what the
little waves were saying to the sand as they rippled over it. It was
another grey day, close and still, and the murmur of the calm sea
threw her at once into a dreamy state, full of pleasurable excitement.
She hid herself in a spot most soothing from its apparent remoteness,
a sandy cove from which, because of the projecting cliffs on either
hand, neither town nor coast could be seen, but only the sea and sky.
Although the grey was uniform enough to make it impossible to tell
where cloud met water on the horizon, it was not dull, but luminous
with the sunshine it enfolded, and full of colour in fine gradations
as Beth beheld it. She sat a long time on the warm dry sand, with her
chin resting on her knees, and her hands clasped round them, not
gazing with seeing eyes nor listening with open ears, but
apprehending through her further faculty the great harmony of Nature
of which she herself was one of the triumphant notes. At that moment
she tasted life at its best and fullest--life all ease and grace and
beauty, without regret or longing--perfect life in that she wanted
nothing more. But she rose at last, and, still gazing at the sea,
slowly unclasped her waistbelt, and let it fall on the sand at her
feet; then she took her hat off, her dress, her boots and stockings,
everything, and stood, ivory-white, with bright brown wavy hair,
against the lilac greyness under the tall dark cliffs. The little
waves had called her, coming up closer and closer, and fascinating
her, until, yielding to their allurements, she went in amongst them,
and floated on them, or lay her length in the shallows, letting them
ripple over her, and make merry about her, the gladdest girl alive,
yet with the wrapt impassive face of a devotee whose ecstasy is apart
from all that acts on mere flesh and makes expression. All through
life Beth had her moments, and they were generally such as this, when
her higher self was near upon release from its fetters, and she arose
an interval towards oneness with the Eternal.

But on this occasion she was surprised in her happy solitude. A troop
of what Mrs. Caldwell called "common girls" came suddenly round the
cliff into her sheltered nook, with shouts of laughter, also bent on
bathing. Beth plunged in deeper to cover herself the moment they
appeared; but they did not expect her to have anything on, and her
modesty was lost upon them.

"How's the water?" they shouted.

"Delicious," she answered, glad to find them friendly.

They undressed as they came along, and were very soon, all of them,
playing about her, ducking and splashing each other, and Beth also,
including her sociably in their game. And Beth, as was her wont,
responded so cordially that she was very soon heading the
manoeuvres.

"We shall all be ill if we stay in any longer," she said at last. "I
shall take one more dip and go and dress. Let's all take hands and dip
in a row."

They did so, and then, still hand in hand, scampered up on to the
beach.

"My!" one of them exclaimed, when they came to their clothes and had
broken the line,--"My! ain't _she_ nice!"

Then all the other girls stood and stared at Beth, whose fine limbs
and satin-smooth white skin, so different in colour and texture from
their own, drew from them the most candid expressions of admiration.

Beth, covered with confusion, hurried on a garment all wet as she was,
for she had no towel; and then, in order to distract their attention
from her body, she began to display her mind.

"Eh, I have had a good time!" one of the girls exclaimed. "Let's come
again often."

"Let us form a secret society," said Beth, "and I will be your leader,
and we'll have a watchword and a sign; and when the water is right,
I'll send the word round, and then we'll start out unobserved, and
meet here, and bathe in secret."

"My! that would be fine!" the girls agreed.

"But that's not all," said Beth, standing with her chemise only half
on, oblivious of everything now but her subject. "It would be much
better than that. There would be much more in it. We could meet in the
fields by moonlight, and I would drill you, and show you a great many
things, all for the Secret Service of Humanity. You don't know what
we're doing! We're going to make the world just like heaven, and
everybody will be good and beautiful, and have enough of everything,
and we shall all be happy, because nobody will care to be happy unless
everybody else has been made so. But it will be very hard work to
bring it about. The wicked people are doing all they can to prevent
us, and the devil himself is fighting against us. We shall conquer,
however; and those who are first in the fight will be first for the
glory!"

The girls, some standing, some sitting, most of them with nothing on,
remained motionless while she spoke, not understanding much, yet so
moved by the power of her personality, that when she exclaimed, "Well,
what do you say, girls? will you join?" they all exclaimed with
enthusiasm, "We will! we will!"

And then they made haste to dress as if the millennium could be
hurried here by the rate at which they put on their clothes. Beth then
and there composed a terrible oath, binding them to secrecy and
obedience, and swore them all in solemnly; then she chose one for her
orderly, who was to take round the word on occasion; and they were all
to meet again in the fields behind the church on Saturday at eight
o'clock.

But in the meantime, not a word!

Beth made Charlotte captain of the band; and drills, bathing rites,
and other mysteries were regularly conducted, the girls being bound
together more securely by the fascination of Beth's discourses, and
the continual interest she managed to inspire, than by any respect
they had for an oath. Beth's interest in them extended to the smallest
detail of their lives. She knew which would be absent from drill
because it was washing-day, and which was weak for want of food; and
she resumed her poaching habits--only on Uncle James Patten's estate,
of course--and, having beguiled a gunsmith into letting her have an
air-gun on credit, she managed to snare and shoot birds enough to
relieve their necessities to an appreciable extent. She never let any
one into the secret of those supplies, and the mystery added greatly
to her credit with the girls.

That season some friends of the Benyons brought their boys to stay at
Rainharbour for the holidays, and Beth varied her other pursuits by
rambling about with them, Lady Benyon having seen to it that she made
their acquaintance legitimately, for the old lady shrewdly suspected
that Beth was already beginning to attract attention. From her post of
observation in the window she had seen young men turn in the street
and look back at the slender girl, in spite of her short petticoats,
with more interest than many a maturer figure aroused; and she had
heard that Beth Caldwell was already much discussed. Beth's brother
Jim, when he came home that summer, also began to introduce her to his
young men friends in the neighbourhood, so that very soon Beth had
quite a little court about her on the pier when the band played. She
liked the boys, and the young men she found an absorbing study; but
not one of them touched her heart. Her acquaintance with Alfred had
made her fastidious. He had had sense enough to respect her, and his
companionship had given her a fine foretaste of the love that is
ennobling, the love that makes for high ideals of character and
conduct, for fine purpose, spiritual power, and intellectual
development, the one kind worth cultivating. In these more
sophisticated youths she found nothing soul-sustaining. She
philandered with some of them up to the point where comparisons become
inevitable, and, so long as they met her in a spirit of frank
camaraderie, it was agreeable enough; but when, with their commonplace
minds, they presumed to be sentimental, they became intolerable. Still
the glow was there in her breast often and often, and would be
momentarily directed towards one and another; but the brightness of it
only showed the defects in each; and so she remained in love with love
alone, and the power of passion in her, thwarted, was transmuted into
mental energy.

But Beth learnt a good deal from her young men that summer--learnt her
own power, for one thing, when she found that she could twist the
whole lot of them round her little finger if she chose. The thing
about them that interested her most, however, was their point of view.
She found one trait common to all of them when they talked to her, and
that was a certain assumption of superiority which impressed her very
much at first, so that she was prepared to accept their opinions as
confidently as they gave them; and they always had one ready to give
on no matter what subject. Beth, perceiving that this superiority was
not innate, tried to discover how it was acquired that she might
cultivate it. Gathering from their attitude towards her ignorance that
this superiority rested somehow on a knowledge of the Latin grammar,
she hunted up an old one of her brother's and opened it with awe, so
much seemed to depend on it. Verbs and declensions came easily enough
to her, however. The construction of the language was puzzling at the
outset; but, with a little help, she soon discovered that even in that
there was nothing occult. Any industrious, persevering person could
learn a language, she decided; and then she made more observations.
She discovered that, in the estimation of men, feminine attributes are
all inferior to masculine attributes. Any evidence of reasoning
capacity in a woman they held to be abnormal, and they denied that
women were ever logical. They had to allow that women's intuition was
often accurate, but it was inferior, nevertheless, they maintained, to
man's uncertain reason; and such qualities as were undeniable they
managed to discount, as, for instance, in the matter of endurance. If
women were long enduring, they said, it was not because their
fortitude was greater, but because they were less sensitive to
suffering, and so, in point of fact, suffered less than men would
under the circumstances.

This persistent endeavour to exalt themselves by lowering women struck
Beth as mean, and made her thoughtful. She began by respecting their
masculine minds as much as they did themselves; but then came a doubt
if they were any larger and more capable than the minds of women would
be if they were properly trained and developed; and she began to dip
into the books they prided themselves on having read, to see if they
were past her comprehension. She studied Pope's translation of the
Iliad and Odyssey indoors, and she also took the little volume out
under her arm; but this was a pose, for she could not read out of
doors, there were always so many other interests to occupy her
attention--birds and beasts, men and women, trees and flowers, land
and water; all much more entrancing than the Iliad or Odyssey. Long
years afterwards she returned to these old-world works with keen
appreciation, and wondered at her early self; but when she read them
first, she took their meanings too literally, and soon wearied of
warlike heroes, however great a number of their fellow-creatures they
might slay at a time, and of chattel heroines, however beautiful,
which was all that Homer conveyed to her; not did she find herself
elated by her knowledge of their exploits. She noticed, however, that
the acquisition of such knowledge imposed upon the boys, and gained
her a reputation for cleverness which made the young university prigs
think it worth their while to talk to her. They had failed to discover
her natural powers because there was no one to tell them she had any,
and they only thought what they were told to think about people and
things, and admired what they were told to admire. In this Beth
differed from them widely, for she began by having tastes of her own.
She did not believe that they enjoyed Homer a bit more than she did;
but the right pose was to pretend that they did; so they posed and
pretended, according to order, and Beth posed and pretended too, just
to see what would come of it.

It was a young tutor in charge of a reading-party who helped Beth with
the Latin grammar. He managed to ingratiate himself with Mrs.
Caldwell, and came often to the house; and finally he began to teach
Beth Latin at her own request, and with the consent of her mother. The
lessons had not gone on very long, however, before he tried to
insinuate into his teaching some of the kind of sophistries which
another tutor had imposed by way of moral philosophy on Rousseau's
Madame de Warens in her girlhood, to her undoing. This was all new to
Beth, and she listened with great interest; but she failed utterly to
see why not believing in a God should make it right and proper for her
to embrace the tutor: so the lessons ended abruptly. Beth profited
largely by the acquaintance, however,--not so much at the time,
perhaps, as afterwards, when she was older, and had gained knowledge
enough of men of various kinds to enable her to compare and reflect.
It was her first introduction to the commonplace cleverness of the
academic mind, the mere acquisitive faculty which lives on pillage,
originates nothing itself, and, as a rule, fails to understand, let
alone appreciate, originality in others. The young tutor's ambition
was to be one of a shining literary clique of extraordinary cheapness
which had just then begun to be formed. The taint of a flippant wit
was common to all its members, and their assurance was unbounded. They
undertook to extinguish anybody with a few fine phrases; and, in their
conceited irreverence, they even attacked eternal principles, the
sources of the best inspiration of all ages, and pronounced sentence
upon them. Repute of a kind they gained, but it was by glib
falsifications of all that is noble in sentiment, thought, and action,
all that is good and true. It was the contraction of her own heart,
the chill and dulness that settled upon her when she was with this
man, as compared to the glow and expansion, the release of her finer
faculties, which she had always experienced when under the influence
of Aunt Victoria's simple goodness, that first put Beth in the way of
observing how inferior in force and charm mere intellect is to
spiritual power, and how soon it bores, even when brilliant, if
unaccompanied by other endowments, qualities of heart and soul, such
as constancy, loyalty, truthfulness, and that scrupulous honesty of
action which answers to what is expected as well as to what is known
of us.

Beth played very diligently at learning during this experiment, but
only played for a time. The mind in process of forming itself
involuntarily rejects all that is unnecessary, and that kind of
knowledge was not for her. It opened up no prospect of pleasure in
itself. All she cared to know was what it felt like to have mastered
it; and that she arrived at by resolving herself into a lady of great
attainments, who talked altogether about things she had learnt, but
had nothing in her mind besides. A mind with nothing else in it, in
Beth's sense of the word, was to Beth what plainness is to beauty; so,
while many of her contemporaries were stultifying themselves with
Greek and Latin ingenuities, she pursued the cultivation of that in
herself which is beyond our ordinary apprehension, that which is more
potent than knowledge, more fertilising to the mind--that by which
knowledge is converted from a fallow field into a fruitful garden.
Altogether, apart from her special subject, she learnt only enough of
anything to express herself; but it was extraordinary how aptly she
utilised all that was necessary for her purpose, and how invariably
she found what she wanted--if found be the right word; for it was
rather as if information were flashed into her mind from some outside
agency at critical times when she could not possibly have done without
it.

One sad consequence of her separation from Alfred, and the strange
things she did and dreamed for distraction in the unrest of her mind,
was a change in her constitution. Her first fine flush of health was
over, the equability of her temper was disturbed, and she became
subject to hysterical outbursts of garrulity, to fits of moody
silence, to apparently causeless paroxysms of laughter or tears; and
she was always anxious. She had real cause for anxiety, however, for,
in her efforts to realise her romance to Charlotte's satisfaction, she
had run up little bills all over the place. What would happen when
they were presented, as they certainly would be sooner or later, she
dared not think; but the dread of the moment preyed upon her mind to
such an extent that, whenever she heard a knock at the door, she
entreated God to grant that it might not be a bill. And even when
there were no knocks, she went on entreating to be spared, and worked
herself into such a chronic fever of worry that she was worn to a
shadow, and developed a racking cough which gave her no peace.

Just at this time, too, the whole place began to be scandalised by her
vagaries, her mysterious expeditions on the big brown horse, and her
constant appearance in public with a coterie of young men about her.
At a time when anything unconventional in a girl was clear evidence of
vice to all the men and most of the women who knew of it, Beth's
reputation was bound to suffer, and it became so bad at last that Dr.
Hardy forbade Charlotte to associate with her. Charlotte told her with
tears, and begged to be allowed to meet her in the Secret Service of
Humanity as usual; but Beth refused. She said it was too dangerous
just then, they must wait; the truth being that she was sick of the
Secret Service of Humanity, of Charlotte, of everything and everybody
that prevented her hearing when there was a knock at the door, and
praying to the Lord that it might not be a bill.

The secret society was practically dissolved by this time, and very
soon afterwards the catastrophe Beth had been dreading occurred, and
wrought a great change in her life. It happened one day when she was
not at home. Aunt Grace Mary was so alarmed by her cough and the
delicacy of her appearance that she had braved Uncle James and carried
her off to stay with her at Fairholm for a change. Once she was away
from the sound of the knocks, Beth suffered less, and began to revive
and be herself again to the extent of taking Aunt Grace Mary into her
confidence boldly.

"Beth, Beth, Beth!" said that poor good lady tenderly, "you naughty
girl, how could you! Running in debt with nothing to pay; why, it
isn't honest!"

"So _I_ think," said Beth in cordial agreement, taking herself aside
from her own acts, as it were, and considering them impartially. "Help
me out of this scrape, Aunt Grace Mary, and I'll never get into such
another."

"But how much do you owe, Beth dear?"

"I'm sure I don't know," Beth answered. "Pounds for Tom Briggs alone."

"Who's _he_?" was Aunt Grace Mary's horrified exclamation.

"Oh, only the horse--a dark bay with black points. I rode him a lot,
and oh! it _was_ nice! It was like poetry, like living it, you know,
like being a poem one's self. And I'm glad I did it. If I should die
for it, I couldn't regret it. And I shouldn't wonder if I did die, for
I feel as if those knocks had fairly knocked me to bits."

"Nonsense, Beth, you silly child, don't talk like that," said Aunt
Grace Mary. "What else do you owe?"

"Oh, then there's Mrs. Andrews, the confectioner's, bill."

"Confectioner's!" Aunt Grace Mary exclaimed. "O Beth! I never thought
you were greedy."

"Well, I don't think I am," Beth answered temperately. "I've been very
hungry, though. But I never touched any of those good things myself. I
only got them for Charlotte when she had heavy work to do for the
Secret Service of Humanity."

"The _what_?" Aunt Grace Mary demanded.

"The game we played. Then there's the hairdresser's bill, that must be
pretty big. I had to get curls and plaits and combs and things,
besides having my hair dressed for entertainments to which I was
obliged to go----"

"Beth! _are_ you mad?" Aunt Grace Mary interrupted. "You've never been
to an entertainment in your life."

"No," Beth answered casually, "but I've played at going to no end of a
lot."

"Well, this is the most extraordinary game I ever heard of!"

"But it was such an exciting game," Beth pleaded with a sigh.

"But, my dear child, such a reckless, unprincipled game!"

"But you don't think of that at the time," Beth assured her. "It's all
real and right then. We----"

But here the colloquy was interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Caldwell
in a state of distraction with the hairdresser's bill in her hand.
Aunt Grace Mary made her sit down, and patted her shoulder soothingly.
Uncle James was out. Beth, greatly relieved, looked on with interest.
She knew that the worst was over.

"Never mind, Caroline," Aunt Grace Mary said cheerfully. "Beth has
just been telling me all about it. Confession is good for the saints,
you know, or the soul, or something; so that's cheering. She has been
very naughty, very naughty indeed, but she is very sorry. She
sincerely regrets. Hairdresser, did you say? Oh, give it to me! Now,
do give it to me, _there's_ a dear! And we won't have another word
about it. Beth, you bad girl, be good, and say you repent."

"Say it!" Beth ejaculated, coughing. "Look at me, and you'll see it,
Aunt Grace Mary. I've been repenting myself to pieces for months."

"Well, dear; well, dear," Aunt Grace Mary rejoined, beaming blandly,
"that will do; that's enough, I'm sure. Mamma forgives you, so we'll
have no more about it."

The hairdresser's bill was the only one Mrs. Caldwell ever heard of,
for Aunt Grace Mary got the use of her pony carriage next day, by
telling Uncle James her mamma had sent Caroline to say she
particularly wished her to take Beth to see her. Uncle James, to whom
any whim of Lady Benyon's was wisdom, ordered the carriage for them
himself; and, as they drove off together, Aunt Grace Mary remarked to
Beth, "I think I managed that very cleverly; don't you?" Naturally
estimable women are forced into habits of dissimulation by the
unreason of the tyrant in authority in many families; and Aunt Grace
Mary was one of the victims. She had been obliged to resort to these
small deceits for so many years, that all she felt about them now was
a sort of mild triumph when they were successful. "I mean to go and
see mamma, you know, so it won't be any story," she added.

She went with Beth first, however, to the various shops where Beth
owed money, and paid her debts; and Beth was so overcome by her
generosity, and so anxious to prove her repentance, that she borrowed
sixpence more from her, and went straightway to the hairdresser's, and
had all her pretty hair cropped off close like a boy's, by way of
atonement. When she appeared, Lady Benyon burst out laughing; but her
mother was even more seriously annoyed than she had been by the
hairdresser's bill. Beth's hair had added considerably to her market
value in Mrs. Caldwell's estimation. She would not have put it so
coarsely, but that was what her feeling on the subject amounted to.

"What is to be done with such a child?" she exclaimed in despair.

"Send her to school," Aunt Grace Mary gasped.

"She would be expelled in a month," Mrs. Caldwell averred.

"Possibly; but it would be worth the trial," Aunt Grace Mary rejoined
in her breathless way.

"Yes," Lady Benyon agreed. "She has been at home far too long, running
wild, and it's the only thing to be done. But let it be a strict
school."

"How am I to afford it?" Mrs. Caldwell wailed, rocking herself on her
chair.

"Well, there's the Royal Service School for Officers' Daughters; you
can get her in there for next to nothing, and it's strict enough,"
Lady Benyon suggested.

And finally, after the loss of some more precious time, and with much
reluctance, Mrs. Caldwell yielded to public opinion, and decided to
deprive Jim of Beth's little income, and send Beth to school, some new
enormities of Beth's having helped considerably to hasten her mother's
decision.



CHAPTER XXIX


Mrs. Caldwell's married life had been one long sacrifice of herself,
her health, her comfort, her every pleasure, to what she conceived to
be right and dutiful. Duty and right were the only two words
approaching to a religious significance that she was not ashamed to
use; to her all the other words savoured of cant, and even these two
she pronounced without emphasis or solemnity, lest the sense in which
she used them might be mistaken for a piece of religiosity. Of the joy
and gladness of religion the poor lady had no conception.

Nevertheless, as has already been said, Mrs. Caldwell was an admirable
person, according to the light of her time. To us she appears to have
been a good woman marred, first of all, by the narrow outlook, the
ignorance and prejudices which were the result of the mental
restrictions imposed upon her sex; secondly, by having no conception
of her duty to herself; and finally, by those mistaken notions of her
duty to others which were so long inflicted upon women, to be their
own curse and the misfortune of all whom they were designed to
benefit. She had sacrificed her health in her early married life to
what she believed to be her duty as a wife, and so had left herself
neither nerve nor strength enough for the never-ending tasks of the
mistress of a household and mother of a family on a small income, the
consequence of which was that shortness of temper and querulousness
which spoilt her husband's life and made her own a burden to her. She
was highly intelligent, but had carefully preserved her ignorance of
life, because it was not considered womanly to have any practical
knowledge of the world; and she had neglected the general cultivation
of her mind partly because intellectual pursuits were a pleasure, and
she did not feel sufficiently self-denying if she allowed herself any
but exceptional pleasures, but also because there was a good deal of
her husband's work in the way of letters and official documents that
she could do for him, and these left her no time for anything but the
inevitable making and mending. Busy men take a sensible amount of rest
and relaxation, of food and fresh air, and make good speed; but busy
women look upon outdoor exercise as a luxury, talk about wasting time
on meals, and toil on incessantly yet with ever-diminishing strength,
because they take no time to recoup; therefore they recede rather than
advance; all the extra effort but makes for leeway.

The consequence of Mrs. Caldwell's ridiculous education was that her
judgment was no more developed in most respects than it had been in her
girlhood, so that when she lost her husband and had to act for her
children, she had nothing better to rely on for her guidance than
time-honoured conventions, which she accepted with unquestioning faith
in their efficacy, even when applied to emergencies such as were never
known in the earlier ages of human evolution to which they belonged. She
had starved herself and her daughters in mind and body in order to
scrape together the wherewithal to send her sons out into the world, but
she had let them go without making any attempt to help them to form
sound principles, or to teach them rules of conduct such as should keep
them clean-hearted and make them worthy members of society; so that all
her privation had been worse than vain, it had been mischievous; for the
boys, unaided by any scheme or comprehensive view of life, any
knowledge of the meaning of it to show them what was worth aiming at,
and also unprotected by positive principles, had drifted along the
commonest course of self-seeking and self-indulgence, and were neither a
comfort nor a credit to her. However, she was satisfied that she had
done her best for them, and therefore, being of the days when the
woman's sphere was home exclusively, and home meant, for the most part,
the nursery and the kitchen, she sat inactive and suffered, as was the
wont of old-world women, while her sons were sinning all the sins which
she especially should have taught them to abhor; and, with regard to her
girls, she was equally satisfied that she had done the right thing by
them under the circumstances. She could not have been made to comprehend
that Beth, a girl, was the one member of the family who deserved a good
chance, the only one for whom it would have repaid her to procure extra
advantages; but having at last been convinced that there was nothing for
it but to send Beth to school, she set to work to prepare her to the
best of her ability. Her own clothes were in the last stage of
shabbiness, but what money she had she spent on getting new ones for
Beth, and that, too, in order that she might continue the allowance to
Jim as long as possible. She made a mighty effort also to teach Beth all
that was necessary for the entrance examination into the school, and
sewed day and night to get the things ready--in all of which, be it
said, Beth helped to the best of her ability, but without pride or
pleasure, because she had been made to feel that she was robbing Jim,
and that her mother was treating her better than she deserved, and the
feeling depressed her, so that the much-longed-for chance, when it came,
found her with less spirit than she had ever had to take advantage of
it.

"Ah, Beth!" her mother said to her, seeing her so subdued, "I thought
you would repent when it was too late. You won't find it so easy and
delightful to have your own way as you suppose. When it comes to
leaving home and going away among strangers who don't care a bit about
you, you will not be very jubilant, I expect. You know what it is when
Mildred leaves home, how she cries!"

"Summer showers, soft, warm, and refreshing," Beth snapped, irritated
by the I-told-you-so tone of superiority, which, when her mother
assumed it, always broke down her best resolutions, and threw her into
a state of opposition. "Mildred the Satisfactory has the right thing
ready for all occasions."

The result of this encounter was an elaborate pose. In dread of her
mother's comments, should she betray the feeling expected of her, she
set herself to maintain an unruffled calm of demeanour, whatever
happened.

Autumn was tinting the woods when Beth packed up. The day before her
departure she paid a round of visits, not to people, but to places,
which shows how much more real the life of her musings was to her at
that time than the life of the world. She got up at daybreak and went
and sat on the rustic seat at the edge of the cliff where the stream
fell over on to the sand, and thought of the first sunrise she had
ever seen, and of the puritan farmer who had come out and reprimanded
her ruggedly for being there alone at that unseemly hour. Poor man!
His little house behind her was shut up and deserted, the garden he
had kept so trim was all bedraggled, neglect ruled ruin all over his
small demesne, and he himself was where the worthy rest till their
return. The thought, however, at that hour and in that heavenly
solitude, where there was no sound but the sea-voice which filled
every pause in an undertone with the great song of eternity it sings
on always, did not sadden Beth, but, on the contrary, stimulated her
with some singular vague perception of the meaning of it all. The dawn
was breaking, and the spirit of the dawn all about her possessed and
drew her till she revelled in an ecstasy of yearning towards its
crowning glory--Rise, Great Sun! When she first sat down, the hollow
of the sky was one dark dome, only relieved by a star or two; but the
darkness parted more rapidly than her eyes could appreciate, and was
succeeded, in the hollow it had held, by rolling clouds monotonously
grey, which, in turn, ranged themselves in long low downs, irregularly
ribbed, and all unbroken, but gradually drawing apart until at length
they were gently riven, and the first triumphant tinge of topaz
colour, pale pink, warm and clear, like the faint flush that shyly
betrays some delicate emotion on a young cheek, touched the soft
gradations of the greyness to warmth and brightness, then mounted up
and up in shafts to the zenith, while behind it was breathed in the
tenderest tinge of turquoise blue, which shaded to green, which shaded
to primrose low down on the horizon, where all was shining silver.
Then, as the grey, so was the colour riven, and rays of light shot up,
crimson flashes of flame, which, while Beth held her breath, were fast
followed from the sea by the sun, that rose enwrapt in their
splendour, while the water below caught the fine flush, and heaved and
heaved like a breast expanding with delight into long deep sighs.

Beth cried aloud: "O Lord of Loveliness! how mighty are Thy
manifestations!"

Later in the day she climbed to the top of the hill where Charlotte
had kept her faithful watch for the dark-brown horse, and there,
beneath the firs, she sat looking out, with large eyes straining far
into the vague distance where Hector had been.

The ground was padded with pine-needles, briony berries shone in the
hedgerows below, and hips and haws and rowans also rioted in red.
Brambles were heavy with blue-black berries, and the bracken was
battered and brown on the steep hill-side. Down in the road a team of
four horses, dappled bays with black points and coats as glossy as
satin, drawing a waggon of wheat, curved their necks and tossed their
heads till the burnished brasses of their harness rang, and pacing
with pride, as if they rejoiced to carry the harvest home. On the top
of the wheat two women in coloured cotton frocks rested and sang--sang
quite blithely.

Beth watched the waggon out of sight, then rose, and turning, faced
the sea. As she descended the hill she left that dream behind her.
Hector, like Sammy and Arthur, passed to the background of her
recollections, where her lovers ceased from troubling, and the Secret
Service of Humanity, superseded, was no more a living interest.

Beth went also to the farther sands to visit the spot where she had
been surprised in the water by the girls, and had become the white
priestess of their bathing rites, and taught that girls had a strength
as great as the strength of boys, but different, if only they would do
things. Mere mental and physical strength were what Beth was thinking
of; she knew nothing of spiritual force, although she was using it
herself at the time, and doing with it what all the boys in the
diocese, taken together, could not have done. She had heard of works
of the Spirit, and that she should pray to be imbued with it; but that
she herself was pure spirit, only waiting to be released from her case
of clay, had never been hinted to her.

The next day she travelled with her mother from the north to the
south, and during the whole long journey there was no break in the
unruffled calm of her demeanour. Her mother wondered at her, and was
irritated, and fussed about the luggage, and fumed about trains she
feared to miss; but Beth kept calm. She sat in her corner of the
carriage looking out of the window, and the world was a varied
landscape, to every beauty of which she was keenly alive, yet she gave
no expression to her enthusiasm, nor to the discomfort she suffered
from the August sun, which streamed in on her through the blindless
window, burning her face for hours, nor to her hunger and fatigue; and
when at last they came to the great house by the river, and her
mother, having handed her over to Miss Clifford, the lady principal,
said, somewhat tearfully, "Good-bye, Beth! I hope you will be happy
here. But be a good girl." Beth answered, "Thank you. I shall try,
mamma," and kissed her as coolly as if it were her usual good-night.

"We do not often have young ladies part from their mothers so
placidly," Miss Clifford commented.

"I suppose not," Mrs. Caldwell said, sighing.

Beth felt that she was behaving horridly. There was a lump in her
throat, and she would liked to have shown more feeling, but she could
not. Now, when she would have laid aside the mask of calmness which
she had voluntarily assumed, she found herself forced to wear it.
Falsifications of our better selves are easily entered upon, but hard
to shake off. They are evil things that lurk about us, ready but
powerless to come till we call them; but, having been called, they
hold us in their grip, and their power upon us to compel us becomes
greater than ours upon them.

Mrs. Caldwell felt sore at heart when she had gone, and Beth was not
less sore. Each had been a failure in her relation to the other. Mrs.
Caldwell blamed Beth, and Beth, in her own mind, did not defend
herself. She forbore to judge.



CHAPTER XXX


St. Catherine's Mansion, the Royal Service School for Officers'
Daughters, had not been built for the purpose, but bought, otherwise
it would have been as ugly to look at as it was dreary to live in. As
it was, however, the house was beautiful, and so also were the grounds
about it, and the views of the river, the bridge with its many arches,
and the grey town climbing up from it to the height above.

Beth was still standing at the top of the steps under the great
portico, where her mother had left her, contemplating the river, which
was the first that had flowed into her experience.

"Come, come, my dear, come in!" some one behind her exclaimed
impatiently. "You're not allowed to stand there."

Beth turned and saw a thin, dry, middle-aged woman, with keen dark
eyes and a sharp manner, standing in the doorway behind her, with a
gentler-looking lady, who said, "It is a new girl, Miss Bey. I expect
she is all bewildered."

"No, I am not at all bewildered, thank you," Beth answered in her easy
way. As she spoke she saw two grown-up girls in the hall exchange
glances and smile, and wondered what unusual thing she had done.

"Then you had better come at once," Miss Bey rejoined drily, "and let
me see what you can do. Please to remember in future that the girls
are not allowed to come to this door."

She led the way as she spoke, and Beth followed her across the hall,
up a broad flight of steps opposite the entrance, down a wide corridor
to the right, and then to the right again, into a narrow class-room,
and through that again into another inner room.

"These are the fifth and sixth rooms," Miss Bey remarked,--"fifth and
sixth classes."

They were furnished with long bare tables, forms, hard wooden chairs,
a cupboard, and a set of pigeon-holes. Miss Bey sat down at the end of
the table in the "sixth," with her back to the window, and made Beth
sit on her left. There were some books, a large slate, a slate pencil,
and damp sponge on the table.

"What arithmetic have you done?" Miss Bey began.

"I've scrambled through the first four rules," Beth answered.

"Set yourself a sum in each, and do it," Miss Bey said sharply, taking
a piece of knitting from a bag she held on her arm, and beginning to
knit in a determined manner, as if she were working against time.

Beth took up the slate and pencil, and began; but the sharp
click-click of the needles worried her, and her brain was so busy
studying Miss Bey she could not concentrate her mind upon the sums.

Miss Bey waited without a word, but Beth was conscious of her keen
eyes fixed upon her from time to time, and knew what she meant.

"I'm hurrying all I can," she said at last.

"You'll have to hurry more than you can, then, in class," Miss Bey
remarked, "if this is your ordinary rate of work."

When the sums were done, she took the slate and glanced over them.
"They are every one wrong," she said; "but I see you know how to work
them. Now clean the slate, and do some dictation."

She took up a book when Beth was ready, and began to read aloud from
it. Beth became so interested in the subject that she forgot the
dictation, and burst out at last, "Well, I never knew that before."

"You are doing dictation now," Miss Bey observed severely.

"All right, go on," Beth cheerfully rejoined.

Miss Bey did not go on, however, and on looking up to see what was the
matter, Beth found her gazing at her with bent brows.

"May I ask what your name is?" Miss Bey inquired.

"Beth Caldwell."

"Then allow me to inform you, Miss Beth Caldwell, that 'all right, go
on,' is not the proper way to address the head-mistress of the Royal
Service School for Officers' Daughters."

"Thank you for telling me," Beth answered. "You see I don't know these
things. I always say that to mamma."

"Have you ever been to school before?" Miss Bey asked.

"No," Beth answered.

"Oh!" Miss Bey ejaculated, with peculiar meaning. "Then you will have
a great deal to learn."

"I suppose so," Beth rejoined. "But that's what I came for, you
know--to learn. It's high time I began!"

She fixed her big eyes on the blank wall opposite, and there was a
sorrowful expression in them. Miss Bey noted the expression, and
nodded her head several times, but there was no relaxation of her
peremptory manner when she spoke again.

"Go on, my dear," she said. "If I give as much time to the others as
you are taking, I shall not get through the new girls to-night."

Beth finished her dictation.

"What a hand!" Miss Bey exclaimed. "Wherever did you learn to write
like that?"

"I taught myself to write small on purpose," Beth replied. "You can
get so much more on to the paper."

"You had better have taught yourself to spell, then," Miss Bey
rejoined. "There are four mistakes in this one passage."

Beth balanced her pencil on her finger with an air of indifference.
She was wondering how it was that the head-mistress of the Royal
Service School for Officers' Daughters used the word "wherever" as the
vulgar do.

The examination concluded with some questions in history and
geography, which Beth answered more or less incorrectly.

"I shall put you here in the sixth," Miss Bey informed her; "but
rather for your size than for your acquirements. There is a delicate
girl, much smaller than you are, in the first."

"Then I'd rather be myself, tall and strong, in the sixth," Beth
rejoined. "If I don't catch her up, at all events I shall have more
pleasure in life, and that's something."

Again Miss Bey gazed at her; but she was too much taken aback by
Beth's readiness to correct her on the instant, although it was an
unaccustomed and a monstrous thing for a girl to address a mistress in
an easy conversational way, let alone differ from her.

She took Beth to the great class-room where the seventh and eighth
worked, and the fifth and sixth joined them for recreation and
preparation, and where also the Bible lessons were given by Miss
Clifford to the whole school.

There were a good many girls of various ages in the room, who all
looked up.

"This is a new girl," Miss Bey said, addressing them generally,--"Miss
Beth Caldwell. Please to show her where to go and what to do."

She glanced round keenly as she spoke, then left the room; and at the
same time a thin, sharp-looking little girl with short hair rose from
the table at which she was sitting and went up to Beth.

"I'm head of the fifth," she said. "Has Bey been examining you? What
class did she put you in?"

"The sixth," Beth said.

"I should have thought you'd have been in the third at least," the
head of the fifth piped, "you're so big. Here are some sixth
girls--Jessie Baker, Ina Formby, Rosa Bird."

The sixth girls were sitting at a round table, with their little desks
before them, writing letters. One of them pulled out a chair for Beth.
They had just returned from the holidays, and were in various stages
of home-sickness--some of them crying, and the rest depressed; but
they welcomed Beth kindly, as one of themselves, and inspected her
with interest.

"You can write a private letter to-day, you know," Rosa Bird said to
Beth.

"What is a private letter?" Beth asked.

"One to your mother, you know, that isn't read. You seal it up
yourself. Public letters have to be sent in open to Miss Clifford. One
week you write a public letter, and the next a private one. Hello!
here's Amy Wynne!"

A dark girl of about eighteen had entered by a door at the farther end
of the room, and was received with acclamation, being evidently
popular. Beth, who was still in her mask of calm indifference, looked
coldly on, but in herself she determined to be received like that some
day.

Most of the girls in the room jumped up, and Amy Wynne kissed one
after the other, and then shook hands with Beth.

"Are all my children back?" she asked.

"I don't know," Rosa Bird rejoined, glancing round. "They are not all
here."

"That's one of the mothers," Rosa explained to Beth when Amy Wynne had
gone again. "The first-class girls are mothers to us. You walk with
your mother in the garden, and sit with her on half-holidays, and
she's awfully good to you. I advise you to be one of Amy Wynne's
children if you can." She was interrupted by the loud ringing of a
bell in the hall. "That's for tea," Rosa added. "Come, and I'll show
you the way."

The big dining-room was downstairs in the basement, next the kitchen.
Miss Clifford dined in the next room attended by her maids of honour
(the two girls at the top of the first class for the time being) and
the rest of the class except the girls at the bottom, who were
degraded to the second-class table in the big dining-room. Here each
two classes had a separate table, at either end of which a teacher sat
on a Windsor chair. The girls had nothing but hard benches without
backs to sit on. Miss Bey, the housekeeper Miss Winch, and the head
music-mistress, irreverently called Old Tom by the girls, sat at a
separate table, where, at dinner-time, they did all the carving, and
snatched what little dinner they could get in the intervals, patiently
and foolishly regardless of their own digestions. For tea there were
great dishes of thick bread and butter on all the tables, which the
girls began to hand round as soon as grace had been said. Each class
had a big basin of brown sugar to put in the tea, which gave it a
coarse flavour. The first cup was not so bad, but the second was
nothing but hot water poured through the teapot. It was not etiquette
to take more than two. When the girls were ready for a second, they
put pieces of bread in their saucers that they might know their own
again, and passed the cups up to the teacher who poured out tea. If
any girl suspected that the cup returned to her was not her own, she
would not touch the tea. When the meal was over, one of the girls took
the sugar-basin, beat down the sugar in it flat and hard with the
spoon, did a design on the top, and put it away.

"What's that for?" Beth asked.

"That's so that we shall know our own again," Rosa answered. "But it
never lasts the proper time."

"What do you do when it's done?" said Beth.

"Do without," was the laconic rejoinder.

All the girls were talking at once.

"What a racket!" Beth exclaimed.

"It'll be quiet enough to-morrow," Rosa replied. "The first class
talks at table in Miss Clifford's room, but we are not allowed to
speak a word here, except to the teachers, nor in the bedrooms either,
once work begins. Do you see that great fat old thing at the
mistress's table? That's Old Tom, the head music-mistress. She is a
greedy old cat! She likes eating! You can see it by the way she gloats
over things, and she's quite put out if she doesn't get exactly what
she wants. Fancy caring! It's just like a man; and that's why she's
called Old Tom."

"Not that she's fastidious!" said Agnes Stewart, a tall slender girl
with short crisp black hair and grey-green eyes, who was sitting
opposite to Beth. "I believe she likes mutton."

"Oh, she's horrid enough for anything!" the girl next her exclaimed
with an expression of disgust.

Some of the girls ate their thick bread and butter unconcernedly,
others were choked with tears, and could not touch it. Most of the
tearful ones were new girls, and the old ones were kind to them; the
teachers, too, were sympathetic, and did their best to cheer them.

After tea they all returned to their class-rooms. Beth went and stood
in one of the great windows looking out on to the grounds, the river,
the old arched bridge, and the grey houses of the town climbing up the
hill among the autumn-tinted trees. All the windows were shut, and she
began to feel suffocated for want of fresh air, and bewildered by the
clatter of voices. If only she could get out into the garden! The door
at the end of the room, which led into the first and second, was open.
She went through. But before she was half across the room, one of the
elder girls exclaimed roughly, "Hello! what are you doing here?"

"It's a new girl, Inkie," another put in.

"Well, the sooner she learns she has no business here the better,"
Inkie rejoined.

Beth thought her exceedingly rude, and passed on into the vestibule
unconcernedly.

"Well, that's cool cheek!" Inkie exclaimed.

"Hie--you--new girl! come back here directly, and go round the other
way, just to teach you manners."

Beth turned back with flaming cheeks, looked at her hard a moment.

"That for _your_ manners!" she said, snapping her fingers at her.

Amy Wynne rose from her seat and went up to Beth. "You must learn at
once, Miss Caldwell," she said, "that you will not be allowed to speak
to the elder girls like that."

"Then the elder girls had better learn at once," said Beth defiantly,
"that they will not be allowed to speak to me as your Inkie-person did
just now. You'll not teach me manners by being rude to me; and if any
girl in the school is ever rude to me again, I'll box her ears. Now, I
apologise for coming through your room, but you should keep the door
shut."

When she had spoken, she returned to the big class-room deliberately,
and crossed it to the other door. As she did so, she noticed that a
strange hush had fallen upon the girls, and they were all looking at
her curiously. She went into the hall, and was passing the vestibule
door, when Miss Bey, who was sitting just inside knitting, stopped
her.

"Where are you going, Miss Caldwell?" she asked in her sharp way.

"Upstairs," Beth answered.

"You speak shortly, Miss Caldwell. It would have been more polite to
have mentioned my name."

"I beg your pardon, Miss Bey," Beth rejoined.

Miss Bey bowed with a severe smile in acknowledgment of the apology.
"What do you want upstairs?" she asked.

"To be alone," Beth answered. "I can't stand the noise."

"You must stand the noise," said Miss Bey. "Girls are not allowed to
go upstairs without some very good reason; and they must always ask
permission--politely--from the teacher on duty. I am the teacher on
duty at this moment. If you had gone upstairs without permission, I
should have given you a bad mark."

Beth looked longingly at the hall door, which had glass panels in the
upper part, through which she could see the river and the trees. "What
a prison this is!" she exclaimed.

Miss Bey had had great experience of girls, and her sharp manner,
which was mainly acquired in the effort to maintain discipline,
somewhat belied her kindly nature.

"You can bring a chair from the hall, and sit here beside me, if you
like," she said to Beth.

"Thank you," Beth answered. "This _is_ better," she said when she was
seated. "May I talk to you?"

"Yes, certainly," said Miss Bey.

There was a great conservatory behind them as they sat looking into
the hall; on their left was the third and fourth class-room, on their
right the first and second; the doors of both stood open.

"Did you hear the row I had in there just now?" Beth asked, nodding
towards the first and second.

"I did," said Miss Bey. "But you mustn't say 'row,' it is vulgar."

"Difficulty, then," Beth rejoined. "But what did you think of it?"

Miss Bey reflected. The question as Beth put it was not easy to
answer. "I thought you were both very much in the wrong," she said at
last.

"Well, that is fair, at all events," Beth observed with approval. "I
don't mean to break any of your rules when I know what they are, and I
bet you I won't have a bad mark, if there's any way to help it, the
whole time I am at school; but I'm not going to be sat upon by
anybody."

Miss Bey pursed up her mouth and knitted emphatically. She was
accustomed to naughty girls, but the most troublesome stood in awe of
the teachers.

"My dear," she said, after a little pause, "I honour your good
resolutions; but I must request you not to say 'I'll bet,' or talk
about 'being sat upon.' Both expressions are distinctly unladylike. I
must also tell you that at school the teachers are not on the same
level as the girls; they are in authority, you see."

"I see," said Beth. "I spoke to you as one lady might speak to
another. I won't again, Miss Bey."

Miss Bey paused once more, with bent brows, to reflect upon this
ambiguous announcement; but not being able to make anything of it, she
proceeded: "It is a matter of discipline. Without strict discipline an
establishment of this size would be in a state of chaos. The girls
must respect the teachers, and the younger girls must respect the
elder ones. All become elder ones in turn, and are respected."

"Well, _I_ mean to be respected all through," Beth declared, and set
her mouth hard on the determination.

At eight o'clock Miss Bey rang a big handbell for prayers, and the
whole household, including the servants, came trooping into the hall.
The girls sat together in their classes, and, when all were in their
places, Miss Clifford came in attended by her maids-of-honour, mounted
the reading-desk, and read the little service in a beautiful voice
devoutly. Beth softened as she listened, and joined in with all her
heart towards the end.

When prayers were over, and the servants had gone downstairs, one of
the maids-of-honour set a chair under the domed ceiling in front of
the vestibule for Miss Clifford, who went to it from the reading-desk,
and sat there. Then the first-class girls rose and left their seats in
single file, and each as she passed walked up to Miss Clifford, took
the hand which she held out, and curtsied good-night to her. The other
classes followed in the same order. Miss Clifford said a word or two
to some of the girls, and had a smile for all. When Beth's turn came,
she made an awkward curtsey in imitation of the others. Miss Clifford
held her hand a moment, and looked up into her face keenly; then
smiled, and let her go. Beth felt that there was some special thought
behind that smile, and wondered what it was. Miss Clifford made it her
duty to know the character, temper, constitution, and capacity of
every one of the eighty girls under her, and watched carefully for
every change in them. This good-night, which was a dignified and
impressive ceremony, gave her an opportunity of inspecting each girl
separately every day, and very little escaped her. If a girl looked
unhappy, run down, overworked, or otherwise out of sorts, Miss
Clifford sent for her next morning to find out what was the matter;
and she was scolded, comforted, put on extras, had a tonic to take, or
was allowed another hour in bed in the morning, according to the
necessities of her case.

The girls who were in certain bedrooms sat up an hour after prayers,
and had dry bread and water for supper; they turned to the left and
went back to their class-rooms when they had made their curtseys. The
others turned to the right and went upstairs. Beth was one of these.
She was in No. 6. There were several beds in the room, and beside each
bed was a washstand, and a box for clothes. The floor was carpetless.
There were white curtains hung on iron rods to be drawn round the beds
and the space beside them, so that each girl had perfect privacy to
dress and undress. The curtains were all drawn back for air when the
girls were ready, but no girl drew her curtain without the permission
of the girl next to her. When a bell rang, they all knelt down, and
had ten minutes for private prayers night and morning, the bell being
rung again when the time was up. The girls had to turn down their beds
to air them before they left their rooms in the morning. They had an
hour's lessons before breakfast, then prayers. After prayers the
monitresses rose from their seats below the reading-desk, and, as they
filed out, each in turn reported if any one had spoken or not spoken
in the bedrooms. Breakfast consisted of thick bread and butter and tea
for the girls, with the addition of an insufficient quantity of fried
bacon for the teachers. After breakfast the girls went upstairs again
and made their beds in a given time; then all but a few, who were kept
in for music, went out into the garden for half-an-hour. Beth had to
go out that first morning. The sun was shining, bright drops sparkled
on grass and trees, the air was heavy with autumn odours, but fresh
and sweet, and the birds chirped blithely. Beth felt like a free
creature once more directly she got out, and, throwing up her arms
with a great exclamation of relief after the restraint indoors, she
ran out on to the wide grass-plot in front of the house at the top of
her speed.

"Come back, come back, new girl!" cried the head French mistress,
Mademoiselle Duval, the teacher on duty. "You are not allowed to go on
the grass, nor must you run in that unseemly way."

"I'm sorry," said Beth. "I didn't know."

She moved off on to the path which overlooked the river, and began to
walk soberly up and down, gazing at the water.

"Mademoiselle!" the French mistress screamed again shrilly, "come away
from there! The girls are not allowed to walk on that path."

"Oh dear!" said Beth. "Where may I go?"

"Just go where you see the other girls go," Mademoiselle rejoined
sharply.

Not being a favourite, the French mistress was left to wander about
alone. Popular teachers always had some girls hanging on to their arms
out in the garden, and sitting with them when they were on duty
indoors; but Mademoiselle seldom had a satellite, and never one who
was respected. The girls thought her deceitful, and deceit was one of
the things not tolerated in the school. Miss Bey was believed to be
above deceit of any kind, and was liked and respected accordingly in
spite of her angular appearance, sharp manner, the certainty that she
was not a lady by birth, and the suspicion that her father kept a
shop. The girls had certain simple tests of character and station.
They attend more to each other's manners in the matter of nicety at
girls' schools than at boys', more's the pity for those who have to
live with the boys afterwards. If a new girl drank with her mouth
full, ate audibly, took things from the end instead of the side of a
spoon, or bit her bread instead of breaking it at dinner, she was set
down as nothing much at home, which meant that her people were
socially of no importance, not to say common; and if she were not
perfectly frank and honest, or if she ever said coarse or indelicate
things, she was spoken of contemptuously as a dockyard girl, which
meant one of low mind and objectionable manners, who was in a bad set
at home and made herself cheap after the manner of a garrison hack,
the terms being nearly equivalent. There was no pretence of impossible
innocence among the elder girls, but neither was there any impropriety
of language or immodesty of conduct. Certain subjects were avoided,
and if a girl made any allusion to them by chance, she was promptly
silenced; if she recurred to them persistently, she was set down at
once as a dockyard girl and an outsider. The consequence of this high
standard was an extremely good tone all through the school.

Beth turned into the lime-tree avenue, where she met several sets of
girls all walking in rows with their arms round each other. None of
them took any notice of her, until she got out on to the drive, where
she met Amy Wynne with her children. Amy let go the two she had her
arms round, sent them all on, and stopped to speak to Beth.

"Have you no mother?" she asked.

"I have one at home," Beth answered coldly in spite of herself.

"But you know our custom here," Amy rejoined. "The elder girls are
mothers to the young ones."

"I know," said Beth, "but I don't want a mother. I should hate to have
my thoughts interrupted by a lot of little girls in a row, all
cackling together."

"I was going to offer," Amy began, "but, of course, if you are so
self-reliant, it would only be an impertinence."

"Oh no!" said Beth, sincerely regretting her own ungraciousness. "It
is kind of you, and if it were you alone, I should be glad, but I
could not stand the others."

"Well, I hope you won't be lonely," Amy answered, and hurried on after
her children.

"Lonely I must be," Beth muttered to herself with sudden foreboding.

When the girls went in, Beth was summoned to the big music-room. "Old
Tom" was there with Dr. Centry, who came twice a week to hear the
girls play. There were twelve pianos in the room, ten upright and two
grand, besides Old Tom's own private grand, all old, hard, and
metallic; and twelve girls hammered away on them, all together, at the
same piece; but if one made a mistake, Old Tom instantly detected it,
and knew which it was.

"Do ye know any music?" she asked Beth in a gruff voice with a rough
Scotch accent.

"A little," Beth answered.

"What, for instance?" Old Tom pursued, looking at Beth as if she were
a culprit up for judgment.

"Some of Chopin," Beth replied. "I like him best."

Old Tom raised her eyebrows incredulously. "Sit down here and play one
of his compositions, if you please--here, at my piano," she said,
opening the instrument.

But Beth felt intimidated for once, partly by the offensive manners of
the formidable-looking old woman, her bulk and gruffness, but also
because Old Tom's doubt of her powers, which she perceived, was
shaking her confidence. She sat down at the piano, however, and struck
a few notes; then her nerve forsook her.

"I can't play," she said. "I'm nervous."

"Humph!" snarled Old Tom. "I thought that 'ud be your Chopin! Go and
learn exercises with the children in Miss Tait's class-room."

Miss Tait, acting on Old Tom's report, put Beth into one of her lower
classes, and left her to practise with the beginners. When she had
gone, Beth glanced at the exercises, and then began to rattle them off
at such a rate that no one in the class could keep up with her. Miss
Tait came hurrying back.

"Who is that playing so fast?" she said. "Was it you, Miss Caldwell?"

"Yes," Beth answered.

"Then you must go into a higher class," said Miss Tait.

But the same thing happened in every class until at last Beth had run
up through them all, as up a flight of stairs, into Old Tom's first.
Her piano in the first, when the whole class was present and she had
no choice, was a hard old instrument, usually avoided because it was
the nearest to the table at which Old Tom sat (when she did not walk
about) during a lesson. The first time Beth took her place at it, the
other girls were only beginning to assemble, and Old Tom was not in
the room. A great teasing of instruments, as Old Tom called it, was
going on. A new piece was to be taken that morning, and each girl
began to try it as soon as she sat down, so that they were all at
different passages. They stopped, however, and looked up when Beth
appeared.

"That's your piano," the head girl said.

"I hope you'll like it!" one of the others added sarcastically.

"Oh, but I'm glad to be here!" said Beth, striking a few firm chords.
"Now I feel like Chopin," and she burst out into one of his most
brilliant waltzes triumphantly.

Old Tom had come in while she was speaking, but Beth did not see her.
Old Tom waited till she had done.

"Oh, so now ye feel like Chopin, Miss Caldwell," she jeered. "And it
appears ye are not above shamming nervous when it suits ye to mak'
yerself interesting. I shall remember that."

Old Tom taught by a series of jeers and insults. If a girl were poor,
she never failed to remind her of the fact. "But, indeed, ye're
beggars all," was her favourite summing up when they stumbled at
troublesome passages. Most of the girls cowered under her insults, but
Beth looked her straight in the face at this second encounter, and at
the third her spirit rose and she argued the point. Old Tom tried to
shout her down, but Beth left her seat, and suggested that they should
go and get Miss Clifford to decide between them. Then Old Tom
subsided, and from that time she and Beth were on amicable terms.

Beth had an excellent musical memory when she went to school, but she
lost it entirely whilst she was there, and the delicacy of her touch
as well; both being destroyed, as she supposed, by the system of
practising with so many others at a time, which made it impossible for
her to feel what she was playing or put any individuality of
expression into it.

On that opening day, Beth had to go from the music-room to her first
English lesson in the sixth. All the girls sat round the long narrow
table, Miss Smallwood, the mistress, being at the end, with her back
to the window. The lesson was "Guy," a collection of questions and
answers, used also by the first-class girls, only that they were
farther on in the book. Who was William the Conqueror? When did he
arrive? What did he do on landing? and so on. Beth, at the bottom of
the class on Miss Smallwood's right, was in a good position to ask
questions herself. She could have told the whole history of William
the Conqueror in her own language after once reading it over; but the
answers to the questions had to be learnt by heart and repeated in the
exact language of the book, and in the struggle to be word-perfect
enough to keep up with the class, the significance of what she was
saying was lost upon her. It was her mother's system exactly, and Beth
was disappointed, having hoped for something different These pillules
of knowledge only exasperated her; she wanted enough to enable her to
grasp the whole situation.

"What is the use of learning these little bits by heart about William
the Conqueror and the battle of Hastings, and all that, Miss
Smallwood?" she exclaimed one day.

"It is a part of your education, Beth," Miss Smallwood answered
precisely.

"I know," Beth grumbled, "but couldn't one read about it, and get on a
little quicker? I want to know what he did when he got here."

"Why, my dear child, how can you be so stupid? You have just said he
fought the battle of Hastings."

"Yes, but what did the battle of Hastings do?" Beth persisted, making
a hard but ineffectual effort to express herself.

"Oh, now, Beth, you are silly!" Miss Smallwood rejoined impatiently,
and all the girls grinned in agreement. But it was not Beth who was
silly. Miss Smallwood had had nothing herself but the trumpery
education provided everywhere at that time for girls by the part of
humanity which laid undisputed claim to a superior sense of justice,
and it had not carried her far enough to enable her to grasp any more
comprehensive result of the battle of Hastings than was given in the
simple philosophy of Guy. Most of the girls at the Royal Service
School would have to work for themselves, and teaching was almost the
only occupation open to them, yet such education as they received,
consisting as it did of mere rudiments, was an insult to the high
average of intelligence that obtained amongst them. They were not
taught one thing thoroughly, not even their own language, and remained
handicapped to the end of their lives for want of a grounding in
grammar. When you find a woman's diction at fault, never gird at her
for want of intelligence, but at those in authority over her in her
youth, who thought anything in the way of education good enough for a
girl. Even the teachers at St. Catherine's, some of them, wrote in
reply to invitations, "I shall have much pleasure in accepting." The
girls might be there eight years, but were never taught French enough
in the time either to read or speak it correctly. Their music was an
offence to the ear, and their drawings to the eye. History was given
to them in outlines only, which isolated kings and their ministers,
showing little or nothing of their influence on the times they lived
in, and ignoring the condition of the people, who were merely
introduced as a background to some telling incident in the career of a
picturesque personage; and everything else was taught in the same
superficial way--except religion. But the fact that the religious
education was good in Beth's time was an accident due to Miss
Clifford's character and capacity, and therefore no credit to the
governors of the school, who did not know that she was specially
qualified in that respect when they made her Lady Principal. She was
a high-minded woman, Low Church, of great force of character and
exemplary piety, and her spirit pervaded the whole school. She gave
the Bible lessons herself in the form of lectures which dealt largely
with the conduct of life; and as she had the power to make her subject
interesting, and the faith which carries conviction, both girls and
mistresses profited greatly by her teaching. Many of them became
deeply religious under her, and most of them had phases of piety;
whilst there were very few who did not leave the school with yearnings
at least towards honour and uprightness, which were formed by time and
experience into steady principles.

Beth persisted in roaming the garden alone. She loved to hover about a
large fountain there, with a deep wide basin round it, in which
gold-fish swam and water-lilies grew. She used to go and hang over it,
peering into the water, or, when the fountain played, she would loiter
near, delighting in the sound of it, the splash and murmur.

One of the windows of Miss Clifford's sitting-room overlooked this
part of the garden, and Beth noticed the old lady once or twice
standing in the window, but it did not occur to her that she was
watching her. One day, however, Miss Clifford sent a maid-of-honour to
fetch her; and Beth went in, wondering what she had done, but asked no
questions; calm indifference was still her pose.

Miss Clifford dismissed the maid-of-honour. She was sitting in her own
special easy-chair, and Beth stood before her.

"My dear child," she said to Beth, "why are you always alone? Are the
girls not kind to you?"

"Oh yes, thank you," Beth answered, "they are quite kind."

"Then why are you always alone?"

"I like it best."

"Are you sure," said Miss Clifford, "that the others do not shun you
for some reason or other?"

"One of them wished to be my mother," Beth rejoined, "but I did not
care about it."

"But you cannot be happy always alone like that," Miss Clifford
observed.

Beth was silent.

Miss Clifford looked at her earnestly for a little, then she shook her
head.

"I tell you what I will do if you like, Miss Clifford," Beth said upon
reflection. "I will form a family of my own."

Miss Clifford smiled. "Ah! I see you are ambitious," she said, "but,
my dear child, a sixth girl can't expect to have that kind of
influence."

"It is not ambition," Beth answered, "for I shall feel it no
distinction, only a great bother. Nevertheless, I will do it to show
you that I am not shunned; and to please you, as you do not like me to
wander alone."

A week or two later Beth appeared in the garden with six of the worst
girls in the school clinging to her, fascinated by her marvellous
talk.

Miss Clifford sent for her again. "I am sorry to see you in such
company," she said. "Those girls are all older than you are, and they
will lead you into mischief."

"On the contrary, Miss Clifford," Beth replied, "I shall keep them out
of mischief. Not one of them has had a bad mark this week."

Then Miss Clifford sent for Miss Smallwood, the mistress of the sixth.
"What do you make of Beth Caldwell?" she asked.

"I can't make anything of her," Miss Smallwood answered. "I think she
tries, but she does not seem able to keep up with the other girls at
all. She seldom knows a lesson or does a sum correctly. I sometimes
think she ought to be in the eighth. But then occasionally she shows a
knowledge far beyond her years; not a knowledge of school work, but of
books and life."

"How about her themes?"

"I don't know what to think of them; they are too good. But she
declares emphatically that she does them all out of her own head."

"What sort of temper has she?"

"Queer, like everything else about her. Not unamiable, you know, but
irritable at times, and she has days of deep depression, and moments
of extreme elation."

"Ah!" Miss Clifford ejaculated, and then reflected a little. "Well, be
patient with her," she said at last. "If she hasn't exceptional
ability of some kind, I am no judge of girls; but she is evidently
unaccustomed to school work, and is suffering from the routine and
restraint, after being allowed to run wild. She should have been sent
here years ago."



CHAPTER XXXI


From the foregoing it will be seen that Beth made her mark upon the
school from the day of her arrival in the way of getting herself
observed and talked about. She was set down as queer to begin with,
and when lessons began both girls and mistresses decided that she was
stupid; and queer she remained to the end in the estimation of those
who had no better word to express it, but with regard to her
stupidity there soon began to be differences of opinion.

At preparation one evening she talked instead of doing her work, and
gradually all the girls about her had stopped to listen.

"Gracious!" Beth exclaimed at last, "the bell will go directly, and
I've not done a sum. Show me how to work them, Rosa."

"Oh, bother!" Rosa rejoined. "Find out for yourself! My theme was
turned, and I've got to do it again."

"Look here," said Beth, "if you'll do my sums, I'll do your theme now,
and your thorough bass on Thursday."

"I wish to goodness you wouldn't talk, Beth!" Agnes Stewart exclaimed.
"We shall all get bad marks to-morrow."

"Then why do you listen?" Beth retorted.

"I can't help it," Agnes grumbled. "You fascinate me. I should have
thought you were clever if I had only heard you talk, and not known
what a duffer you are at your lessons."

"Well, she's not a duffer at thorough bass anyway," Rosa put in. "She
only began this term, and she's a long way ahead even of some of the
first. Old Tom's given her a little book to herself."

"I began thorough bass with the rest of you," Beth observed. "It's the
only thing we started fair in. You are years ahead of me in all the
other work."

The girls reflected upon this for a little.

"And you can write themes," Rosa finally asseverated.

"Oh, that's nothing," Beth protested. "Themes are easy enough. I could
write them for the whole school."

"Well, that's no reason why you should put your nose in your cup every
time you drink," Lucy Black, the sharpest shrimp of a girl in the
class, said, grinning.

"I never did such a thing in my life," Beth exclaimed, turning
crimson. "You'll say I eat audibly next."

"No, you don't do that," Rosa said solemnly; "but you do put your nose
in your cup."

The colour flickered on Beth's sensitive cheek, and she shrank into
herself.

"There, don't tease her!" Mary Wright, the eldest, stupidest, and most
motherly girl in the school, exclaimed. "How can you drink without
putting your nose in your cup, stupid?"

Then Beth saw it and smiled, greatly relieved. This venerable
pleasantry was a sign that she had been taken once for all into the
good graces of her schoolmates. The girls who were liked were usually
nicknamed and always chaffed; the rest were treated with different
degrees of politeness, the dockyard girls, as the lowest of all, being
called miss, even by the teachers.

On Thursday evenings the girls in the fifth and sixth were allowed to
do fancy work for an hour while a story-book was read aloud to them,
either by Miss Smallwood or one of themselves when her voice was
tired. The book was always either childish or dull, generally both,
and Beth, who had been accustomed to Scott, Dickens, and Thackeray,
grew restive under the infliction. One evening when she had twice been
reprimanded for yawning aggressively, she exclaimed, "Well, Miss
Smallwood, it is such silly stuff! Why, I could tell you a better
story myself, and make it up as I go on."

"Then begin at once and tell it," said Miss Smallwood, glancing round
at the girls, who smiled derisively, thinking that Beth would have to
excuse herself and thereby tacitly acknowledge that she had been
boasting. To their surprise, however, Beth took the request seriously,
settled herself in her chair, folded her hands, and, with her eyes
roaming about the room as if she were picking up the details from the
walls, the floor, the ceiling, and all it contained, started without
hesitation. It was the romantic story of a haunted house on a great
rocky promontory, and the freshness and sound of the sea pervaded it.
The girls went on with their work for a little, but by degrees first
one and then another stopped, and just sat staring at Beth, while
gravity settled on every face as the interest deepened.

Suddenly the bell rang, and the story was not finished.

"Oh dear!" Miss Smallwood exclaimed, "it is very fascinating, Beth;
but I really am afraid I ought not to have allowed you to tell it. I
had no idea--I must speak to Miss Clifford."

The fame of this wonderful story spread through the school, and the
next half-holiday the first-class girls sent to ask Beth to go to
their room and repeat it; but Beth was not in the mood, and answered
their messenger tragically:--

    "'Twas not for this I left my father's home!
      Go, tell your class, that Vashti will not come."

"Vashti's a little beast, I think," the head girl observed when the
message was delivered.

Miss Clifford also sent for Beth, and requested her to repeat the
story, that she might judge for herself if she should be allowed to go
on with it; and Beth repeated it, being constrained; but the recital
was so wearisome that Miss Clifford dismissed her before she was
half-way through, with leave to finish it if anybody cared to hear it.
When Thursday came, the girls and Miss Smallwood cared very much to
hear it, and Beth, stimulated by their clamours, went on without a
break for the whole hour, and ended with a description of a shipwreck,
which was so vivid that the whole class was shaken with awe, and sat
silent for a perceptible time after she stopped.

Beth could rarely be persuaded to repeat this performance; but from
that time her standing was unique, both with girls and mistresses, a
fact, however, of which she herself was totally unaware. She felt her
backwardness in school work and nothing else, and petitioned God
incessantly to help her with her lessons, and get her put up; and put
up she was regularly until she reached the third, when she was among
the elder girls. She was never able to do the work properly of any
class she was in, however, and her class mistresses were always
against her being put up, but Miss Clifford insisted on it.

Beth was never anything but miserable at school. The dull routine of
the place pressed heavily upon her, and everything she had to do was
irksome. The other girls accommodated themselves more or less
successfully to the circumstances of their lives; but Beth in herself
was always at war with her surroundings, and her busy brain teemed
with ingenious devices to vary the monotony. The confinement, want of
relaxation, and of proper physical training, very soon told upon her
health and spirits, as indeed they did upon the greater number of the
girls, who suffered unnecessarily in various ways. Beth very soon had
to have an extra hour in bed in the morning, a cup of soup at eleven
o'clock, a tonic three times a day, and a slice of thick bread and
butter with a glass of stout on going to bed; such things were not
stinted during Miss Clifford's administration; but it was a case of
treating effects which all the time were being renewed by causes that
might and ought to have been removed, but were let alone.

St. Catherine's Mansion was regulated on a system of exemplary
dulness. There is a certain dowager still extant who considers it
absurd to provide amusement for people of inferior station. All people
who earn their living are people of inferior station to her; she has
never heard of such a thing as the dignity of labour. Because many of
the girls at St. Catherine's were orphans without means, and would
therefore have to earn their own living as governesses when their
education was finished, the dowager-persons who interested themselves
in the management of the school had used their influence strenuously
to make the life there as much of a punishment as possible. "You
cannot be too strict with girls in their position," was what they
continually averred, their own position by birth being in no way
better, and in some instances not so good, as that of the girls whom
they were depriving of every innocent pleasure natural to their age
and necessary for the good of their health and spirits. They were not
allowed to learn dancing; they had no outdoor games at all, not even
croquet--nothing whatever to exhilarate them and develop them
physically except an hour's "deportment," the very mildest kind of
calisthenics, in the big class-room once a fortnight, and the daily
making of their little beds. For the rest, monotonous walks up and
down the garden-paths in small parties, or about the dreary roads two
and two in long lines, was their only exercise, and even in this they
were restricted to such a severe propriety of demeanour that it almost
seemed as if the object were to teach them to move without betraying
the fact that they had legs. The consequence of all this restraint was
a low state of vitality among the girls, and the outbreak of morbid
phases that sometimes went right through the school. Beth, as might
have been expected, was one of the first to be caught by anything of
this kind; and she arrived, by way of her own emotions, at the cause
of a great deal that was a mystery to older people, and also thought
out the cure eventually; but she suffered a great deal in the process
of acquiring her special knowledge of the subject. She was especially
troubled by her old malady--depression of spirits. Sometimes, on a
summer evening, when all the classes were at preparation, and the
whole great house was still, a mistress would begin to practise in one
of the music-rooms, and Beth would be carried away by the music, so
that work was impossible. One evening, when this happened, she sat,
with a very sad face, looking out on the river. Pleasure-boats were
gliding up and down; a gay party went by, dancing on the deck of a
luxurious barge to the music of a string-band; a young man skimmed the
surface in a skiff, another punted two girls along; and people walked
on the banks or sat about under the trees, and children played--and
they were all free! Suddenly Beth burst into tears. Miss Smallwood
questioned her. Was she ill? had she any pain? had any one been unkind
to her? No? What was the matter then? Nothing; she was just miserable!

"Beth, don't be so silly," Miss Smallwood remonstrated. "A great girl
like you, crying for nothing! It is positively childish."

The other girls stole glances at her and looked grave. At the
beginning of the term they would not have sympathised perhaps; but
this was the middle, and many of them were in much the same mood
themselves.

When the bell rang, and the recreation hour began, they got out their
little bits of fancy-work, and such dull childish books as they were
allowed, and broke up into groups. Beth was soon surrounded by the
cleverer girls in the class.

"I sympathise with you, Beth," said Janey North, a red-haired Irish
girl, "for I felt like it myself, I did indeed."

"Will the holidays never be here?" sighed Rosa Bird.

"I can't think why I stay at all," said Beth. "I hate it--I hate it
all the time."

"But how could one get away?" said Janey.

"Only by being ill," Agnes Stewart answered darkly. She was a delicate
girl, and from that time she starved herself resolutely, until she was
so wasted that Miss Clifford in despair sent her home. Another girl
was seized with total deafness suddenly, and had also to go; the
change brought her hearing back in a very short time; and some of the
dockyard girls received urgent summonses from dying relations, and
were allowed to go to them. They always returned the brighter for the
experience.

One day, after the weather became cold, a girl appeared in class
wrapped up in a shawl, and with her head all drawn down to one side.
Her neck was stiff, and she could not straighten it. She was sent to
the infirmary. The girls thought her lucky. For it was warm there, and
nurse was kind, and sang delightful songs. She would be able to do
fancy-work, too, and read as much as she liked, and would not have to
get up till she had had her breakfast and the fire was lighted, and
need not trouble about lessons at all--a stiff neck was a very small
drawback to the delights of such a change.

Next day another girl's neck was stiff. Miss Smallwood searched for a
draught, but did not succeed in finding one. That evening at prayers
one of the girls in the first appeared in a shawl with her head on one
side and a white worn face; and next day there was another case from
the third and fourth. So it was evident that there was something like
an epidemic going through the school; but the doctor had never seen
one of the kind before, and was at a loss to account for it. The cases
were all exactly alike: stiff neck, with the head drawn down to one
side, accompanied by feverishness, and followed by severe prostration.

Beth sat with a stolid countenance, and stared solemnly at every girl
that was attacked, as if she were studying her case. Then, one
morning, she came down in a shawl herself, with her head on one side
and a very white face. Nurse marched her off at once to the infirmary,
and put her in a bed beside the fire, and Beth, as she coiled herself
up, and realised that she need not worry about lessons, or rush off to
practise when the bell rang, or go out to walk up and down in the
garden till she hated every pebble on the path, heaved a great sigh of
relief and fell asleep. When she awoke the doctor was feeling her
pulse.

"She's very low," he said. "Is she a delicate girl naturally?"

"She looked strong enough when she came to school," nurse answered;
"but she soon went off, as so many of them do."

"The loss of vitality amongst them is really extraordinary," the
doctor observed. "Give her port wine and beef-tea. Don't keep her in
bed too much, but don't hurry her up. Rest and relief from lessons is
the great thing."

Some healthy pleasure to vary the monotonous routine, some liberty of
action and something to look forward to, would have been better; but
nobody thought of that.

How many of those necks were really stiff beyond the will of the
sufferer to move it, no one will ever know; but when it occurred to
Beth to straighten her own one day, she found no difficulty.



CHAPTER XXXII


When Beth was moved into the upper school, she came under the direct
influence of Miss Crow, the English mistress of the third and fourth,
who had been educated at St. Catherine's herself, and was an ardent
disciple of Miss Clifford's. Beth, although predisposed to pietism,
had not been sensibly influenced by Miss Clifford's teaching
heretofore; now, however, she attached herself to Miss Crow, who began
at once to take a special interest in her spiritual welfare. She
encouraged Beth to sit and walk with her when she was on duty, and
invited her to her room during recreation in order to talk to her
earnestly on the subject of salvation, or to read to her and expound
portions of Scripture, fine passages from religious books, and
beautiful hymns. Some of the hymns she took the trouble to copy out
for Beth's help and comfort when they were specially appropriate to
the needs of her nature, such as "Calm me, my God, and keep me calm,"
or specially suited to her case, like "Call me! and I will answer,
gladly singing!" Beth responded readily to her kindness, and very soon
became a convert to her views; but she did not stop there, for it was
not in Beth's nature to rest content with her own conversion while
there were so many others still sitting in darkness who might be
brought to the light. No sooner was she convinced herself than she
began to proselytise among the other girls, and in a short time her
eloquence and force of character attracted a following from all parts
of the school. Miss Crow told Miss Clifford that she spoke like one
inspired, and high hopes were entertained of the work which they
somewhat prematurely concluded she was destined to do. Unfortunately
Beth's fervent faith received a check at a critical time when it was
highly important to have kept it well nourished--that is to say, when
she was being prepared for confirmation. It happened when Miss Crow
was hearing the girls their Scripture lesson one morning, the subject
being the escape of the children of Israel from Egypt, and the
destruction of Pharaoh's hosts in the Red Sea.

"I know a man who says the whole of that account has been garbled,"
Beth remarked in a dreamy way, meaning Count Gustav Bartahlinsky, but
not thinking much of what she was saying.

Miss Crow nearly dropped the Bible, so greatly was she startled and
shocked by the announcement.

"Beth!" she exclaimed, directly the class was over and she could speak
to Beth privately, "how could you be so wicked as to say that anything
in Holy Scripture is a garbled account?"

"I said I knew a man who said so," Beth answered, surprised that so
simple a remark should have created such consternation.

But Miss Crow saw in her attitude a dangerous tendency to scepticism,
and expressed strong condemnation of any one who presumed to do other
than accept Holy Writ in blind unquestioning faith. She talked to Beth
with horror about the ungodly men who cast doubt on the unity of the
Bible, called its geology in question, and even ventured to correct
its chronology by the light of vain modern scientific discoveries; and
Beth shocked her again by the questions she asked, and the intelligent
interest she showed in the subject. She told Miss Crow that Count
Gustav had also said that the Old Testament was bad religion and worse
history, but she did not know that other people had thought so too.
Whereupon Miss Crow went to Miss Clifford and reported Beth's attitude
as something too serious for her to deal with alone, and Miss Clifford
sent for Beth and talked to her long and earnestly. She told her that
it was absurd for a girl of her age to call in question the teaching
of the best and greatest men that ever lived, which somehow reminded
Beth of the many mistakes made by the best and greatest men that ever
lived, of their differences of opinion and undignified squabbles, the
instances of one man discovering and suffering for a truth which the
rest refused to accept, and the constant modification, alteration, and
rejection by one generation of teaching which had been upheld by
another with brutality and bloodshed,--instances of all of which were
notorious enough even to be known at a girls' school. Beth said very
little, however; but she determined to read the Bible through from
beginning to end, and see for herself if she could detect any grounds
for the mischief-making doubts and controversies she had been hearing
about. She began in full faith, but was brought up short at the very
outset by the discrepancy between the first and second chapters of
Genesis, which she perceived for the first time. She went steadily on,
however, until she had finished the Book of Job, and then she paused
in revolt. She could not reconcile the dreadful experiment which had
entailed unspeakable suffering and loss irreparable upon a good man
with any attribute she had been accustomed to revere in her deity.
There might be some explanation to excuse this game of god and devil,
but until she knew the excuse she would vow no adhesion to a power
whose conduct on that occasion seemed contrary to every canon of
justice and mercy. She did not belong to the servile age when men,
forgetting their manhood, fawned on patrons for what they could get,
and cringingly accepted favours from the dirtiest hands. Even her God
must be worthy to help her, worthy to be loved, good as well as great.
The God who connived at the torment of Job could not be the God of her
salvation.

Beth had spoken casually in class. She had never questioned her
religion, and would not have done so now if the remark had been
allowed to pass; but the fuss that was made about it, and the severity
with which she was rebuked, by putting her mind into a critical
attitude, had the effect of concentrating her attention on the
subject; so that it was the very precautions which were taken to check
her supposed scepticism that first made her sceptical. The immediate
consequence was that she gave up preaching and refused to be
confirmed. Miss Clifford, Miss Crow, and the chaplain argued,
expostulated, and punished in vain. It was the first case of the kind
that had occurred in the school, and Beth was treated as a criminal;
but she felt more like a martyr, and was not to be moved. She did not
try to make partisans for herself, however; on the contrary, she
deserted her family as well as her congregation, and took to wandering
about alone again; but she was not unhappy. Her old faith had gone, it
is true, but it had left the way prepared for a new one. She did not
believe in the God of Job--because she was sure that there must be a
better God--that was all.

From this time, however, her imagination rode rampant once more over
everything. The vision and the dream were upon her. All wholesome
interest in her work was over. There was an old piano in the
reception-room which the girls were allowed to use for their amusement
on half-holidays, and she often went there; but even when she
practised, she moved her fingers mechanically, her mind busy with
vivid scenes and moving dramatic incidents; so that her beloved music
was gradually converted from an object in itself into an aid to
thought.

It was only six weeks to the holidays, but oh! how the days dragged!
She struggled to be conscientious, to be good, to please Miss Crow, to
escape bad marks; but everything was irksome. Getting up, lessons,
breakfast, making her bed, practising, lessons again, dressing, going
out, dinner--the whole round of regular life was an effort. Her face
grew thin and pale, she began to cough, and was put upon extras again.
"We can't let you go home looking like that, you know," nurse said.
Beth looked up at her out of her dream absently and smiled. She was
enjoying a visionary walk at the moment with a vague being who loved
her. They were out on a white cliff overlooking the sea in a wild warm
region. The turf they trod on was vivid green, and short and springy;
the water below was green and bright and clear, sea-birds skimmed the
surface, and the air was sweet. But presently the road was barred by a
rail, so they had to stop, and he put his arm round her, and she laid
her head on his shoulder; and the murmur of wind and water was in her
ears, and she became as the lark that sang above them, the curlew that
piped, the quiet cattle, and all inanimate things--untroubled,
natural, complete. All intellectual interest being suspended, she had
begun to yearn for a companion, a mate. Her delicate mind refused to
account for the tender sensation; but it was love, or rather the mood
for love she had fallen into--the passive mood, which can be converted
into the active in an ordinary young girl by almost any man of average
attractions, provided she is not already yearning happily for some one
in particular. It is not until much later that she learns to
discriminate. There were girls at the school who saw in every man they
met a possible lover, and were ready to accept any man who offered
himself; but they were of coarser fibre than Beth, more susceptible to
the physical than to the ideal demands of love, and fickle because the
man who was present had more power to please than the one who was
merely a recollection. The actual presence was enough for them, they
had no ideals. With Beth it was different. Her present was apt to be
but a poor faded substitute for the future with the infinite range of
possibilities she had the power to perceive in it, or even for the
past as she glorified it.

While she was in this mood she was particularly provoking to those in
authority over her.

"Beth," said Miss Crow one day severely, "you are to go to Miss
Clifford directly." Beth went.

"I hear," said Miss Clifford in her severest tone, "that you have not
made your bed this morning."

"I went up to make it," Beth answered, trying dreamily to recollect
what had happened after that.

"I must give you a bad mark," Miss Clifford said, and then paused; and
Beth, who had not been attending, becoming conscious that something
had been bestowed upon her, answered politely, "Thank you."

"Beth, you are impertinent," Miss Clifford exclaimed, "and I must
punish you severely. Stay in the whole of your half-holiday and do
arithmetic."

Then Beth awoke with a start, and realising what she had done,
struggled to explain; but the moment she became herself again, an
agony of dumbness came upon her, and she left the room without a word.

She spent the long bright afternoon cowering over her arithmetic, and
crying at intervals, being in the lowest spirits, so that by
prayer-time she was pretty well exhausted. She tried to attend to the
psalms, but in the middle of them she became a poor girl suffering
from a cruel sense of injustice. All her friends misunderstood her and
were unkind to her, in consequence of which she pined away, and one
day, in the midst of a large party, she dropped down dead.

And at this point she actually did fall fainting with a thud on the
floor. Miss Clifford, who was giving out the hymn, stopped startled,
and some of the girls shrieked. Miss Crow and one of the other
teachers carried Beth out by the nearest door.

"Poor little thing!" said Miss Crow, looking pityingly at her drawn
white face and purple eyelids. "I'm afraid she's very delicate."

Miss Clifford came also, when prayers were over, and said kind things;
and from that time forward Beth received a great deal of sympathetic
attention, which did her good, but in no way reconciled her to her
imprisonment.

       *       *       *       *       *

The following term, Beth watched the spring come in at school with
infinite yearning. To be out--to be free to sit under the apple-trees
and look up through the boughs at the faintly flushed blossom, till
the vision and the dream came upon her, and she passed from conscious
thought into a higher phase of being--just to do that was her one
desire till the petals fell. Then pleasure-boats began to be rowed on
the river, rowed or steered by girls no older than herself, in summer
dresses delicately fresh; and she, seeing them, became aware of the
staleness of her own shabby clothing, and writhed under the rules
which would not allow her even to walk on the path overlooking the
river, and gaze her fill at it. The creamy white flowers of the great
magnolia on the lawn came out, and once she slipped across the grass
to peer into them and smell them. She got a bad mark for that, the
second she had had.

At preparation that evening she sat so that she could see the river,
and watched it idly instead of working; and presently there floated
into her mind the rhyme she made when she was a little child at
Fairholm--

    "The fairy folk are calling me."

Suddenly she caught her breath, her cheeks flushed, her eyes
sparkled, her whole aspect changed from apathy to animation, and she
laughed.

"What has happened to please you, Beth; you look quite bright?" Miss
Bey said, meeting her in the vestibule when preparation was over. Miss
Bey was said to favour Beth by some; Beth was said to toady Bey by
others; the truth being that they had taken to each other from the
first, and continued friends.

"I've got a sort of singing at my heart," Beth answered, sparkling.
"The fairy folk are calling me."

Beth slept in No. 5 then, and had the bed nearest to the window. There
was a moon that night, and she lay long watching the light of it upon
the blind--long after the gas was put out and the teachers had gone to
their rooms. Wondering at last if the girls in the room were asleep,
she sat up in bed, the better to be able to hear; and judged that they
were. Then she got out of bed, walked quietly down the room in her
night-dress and bare feet, opened the door cautiously, and found
herself out in the carpetless passage. It was dark there, but she
walked on confidently to the head of the grand staircase, which the
girls were only allowed to use on special occasions. "This _is_ a
special occasion," Beth said to herself with a grin. "The fairy folk
are calling me, and I must go out and dance on the grass in that
lovely moonlight."

But how to get out was the difficulty. The hall door was bolted and
barred. She went into the first and second. There were two large
windows in the room which looked into the great conservatory, and one
of them was open a crack. She pushed it up higher, and got through
into the conservatory. There she found a large side window on the left
of the first and second also open a little. The shelf in front of the
window had flower-pots on it, which she moved aside, then got up
herself, and with a tug, managed to raise the heavy sash. Then she sat
on the sill and looked down. It was too far to jump, but a sort of
dado of ornamental stonework came right up to the window, and by the
help of this she managed to descend to the ground, and found herself
free. For a moment she stood stretching herself like one just released
from a cramped position, drawing in deep draughts of the delicious
night air the while; then she bounded off over the dewy grass, and
ran, and jumped, and waved her arms, every muscle of her rejoicing in
an ecstasy of liberty. She ran round to the front of the house,
regardless of the chance of some one seeing her from one of the
windows, and danced round and round the magnolia, and buried her face
in the big white flowers one after the other, and bathed it in the dew
on their petals. Then she went to the path by the river and hung over
the railing, and after that she visited the orchard, and every other
forbidden place in the grounds. In the orchard she found some
half-ripe fruit under the trees, and gathered it; and finding that she
could not climb into the conservatory again with the fruit in her
hands, she amused herself by throwing it through the open window.

It was harder to climb up than it had been to get down, but she
accomplished the feat at last with sundry abrasions, shut the window,
replaced the flower pots, got into the first and second, and went back
to bed. Her night-dress was wet with dew, and her feet were scratched
and dirty; but she was too much exhilarated by the exercise and
adventure to feel any discomfort. She was sitting up in bed, hungrily
munching some of her spoils, when Janey North, the girl in the next
bed, awoke.

"What are you eating, Beth?" she asked in a cautious voice,
whispering, fearful of awaking a monitress and being reported for
talking.

"Apples," Beth answered. "Have some?"

"All right! but where did you get them?" Janey asked.

"Never you mind!" said Beth.

Janey did not mind at the moment, and ate the greater number, but next
day she went treacherously and told, in order to ingratiate herself
with one of the mistresses, and the matter was reported to Miss
Clifford, who sent for Beth. Janey North was also sent for.

"What is this I hear about your having apples in your bedroom last
night, Beth?" Miss Clifford said.

"A story, I should think," Beth answered readily. "Who told you?"

Janey North looked disconcerted.

"What have you to say, Miss North?" Miss Clifford asked.

"You _were_ eating apples," Janey said to Beth.

"How do you know?" Beth asked suavely.

"I saw you."

"What, in the middle of the night when the gas was out?"

"Ye-yes," Janey faltered.

Beth shrugged her shoulders and looked at Miss Clifford, who said
severely: "I think, Miss North, you have either dreamt this story or
invented it."

Janey was barred in the school after that, the girls deciding that,
whether the story were true or not, she was a dockyard girl for
telling it. It was Beth's sporting instinct that had made her evade
the question. When she had won the game, and the excitement was over,
she felt she had been guilty of duplicity, and determined to confess
when Miss Clifford sent for her next and gave her a good opportunity.
She would have gone at once but for the dread of losing the precious
liberty that was life to her. All through the weeks that followed she
kept herself sane and healthy by midnight exercises in the moonlight.
Her appetite had failed her till she took to this diversion, but after
her second ramble she was so hungry that she went down to the kitchen
boldly to forage in the hope of finding a crust. The fire was still
burning brightly, and by its light she discovered on the table the
thick bread and butter for the next morning's breakfast, all cut
ready, and piled up under covers on the dishes. There was half a jug
of beer besides, doubtless left from the servants' supper. It was
rather flat, but she thought it and the new bread and butter
delicious. She had a bad cold after the first ramble, but that was the
only one, strange to relate, for she always went out in her
night-dress, and bare-footed.

During this time her imagination was exceedingly active and her health
improved, but her work was a greater trouble than ever. She had just
been put into the third, but Miss Clifford threatened to put her down
again if she did not do better, and one day she sent for Beth, who
went trembling, under the impression that that was what the summons
was for. She found Miss Clifford and Miss Bey discussing a letter, and
both looking very serious.

"Beth," Miss Clifford began, "a gentleman whom I know well has written
to tell me that he was walking home by the river-path at two o'clock
on Monday morning, and saw a girl here at St. Catherine's with only
her night-dress on, hanging over the railing looking into the river;
and I am sure from the description it was you."

"Yes," said Beth, "I saw him."

Miss Clifford let the letter fall on her lap, and Miss Bey dropped
into a chair. Beth looked on with interest, and wondered about that
accurate description of herself; she would have given anything to see
it.

"What were you doing there?" Miss Clifford asked; and Beth noticed
that she was treating the matter just as her mother had treated the
menagerie business.

"Just looking at the water," Beth said.

"At two o'clock in the morning! How did you get out?"

"By the conservatory window."

"Had you been out before?"

"Oh yes, often."

"Do any of the other girls go out?"

"Not that I know of," said Beth, then added, "No, I'm sure they
don't."

"Thank Heaven for that, at all events!" Miss Clifford ejaculated. Then
she made Beth sit down beside her, and took her hand, and gazed at her
long and sorrowfully.

"Was it such a very dreadful thing to do?" Beth asked at last.

"You have been a great disappointment to me, Beth," Miss Clifford
answered indirectly, "and to Miss Bey. We expected more of you than of
any other girl now in the school--you promised so well in many ways at
one time."

"_Did I?_" said Beth, looking from one to the other in consternation.
"Oh, why didn't you tell me? I thought you all fancied I should never
do anything well, and that disheartened me. If I had known----" She
burst into tears.

Late that night Miss Clifford and Miss Bey sat together discussing
Beth.

"I feel more than ever convinced there is something exceptional about
the child," Miss Clifford declared. "I hope it is not insanity; but,
at all events, it is not sin, and I won't have her punished. I say now
what I said at first, she should have been sent here early, or not at
all. And now she must go."

"What, expel her!" Miss Bey ejaculated.

"No. Didn't I say I would not have her punished? There is some
explanation of her wild escapade besides mere naughtiness, I feel
sure, and she shall have every chance that I can give her. There is no
vice in her of any kind that I can discover, and she is fearlessly
honest. If she were grown-up we should call her eccentric, and be
interested and amused by her vagaries; and I do not see why she should
not be allowed the same excuse as it is, only St. Catherine's is not
the place for her. Here all must move in the common orbit, to save
confusion. So I shall write to her mother, and get her to take her
from the school at the end of the term in the regular way."

"But in the meantime?" Miss Bey asked.

"Beth has given me her word that she will be good, and do nothing I
should disapprove of, and she will keep it."

So Beth's credit was saved by the good judgment of this kind, wise
woman, and her career at St Catherine's ended honourably, if somewhat
abruptly.



CHAPTER XXXIII


When it was rumoured amongst the mistresses that Beth was to leave
that term, Old Tom put her on to play first piano in the first-class
solo, and to lead the treble in the second-class duet at the
examination.

"For I rather like ye, Miss Beth Caldwell," she said. "You're not a
sycophant, whatever else ye are. They've not been able to do much wi'
ye in regard to yer work in the rest of the school, but ye've done
well under me, and I'll let ye have yer chance to distinguish yerself
before ye go."

"Oh, but do you think I can do it?" Beth exclaimed.

"Ye can do anything ye set yerself to do, Beth Caldwell," Old Tom
shouted at her.

Beth set herself accordingly, and when the day came she led the solo
and duet with the precision of a musical box, but with such an
expenditure of nerve-power that she was prostrated by the effort. She
was considered quite a musician at St. Catherine's, but by this time
the dire method of teaching had had its effect. Her confidence and her
memory for music were gone, the beauty of her touch spoilt, and the
further development of her talent effectually checked.

She did not go home for the holidays. Miss Clifford had advised, Lady
Benyon approved, and Mrs. Caldwell decided, that she should be sent
direct to a finishing school in London, and when St. Catherine's broke
up, Miss Bey, who happened to be going that way, good-naturedly
undertook to see Beth safely to her destination.

Miss Clifford held Beth's hand long, and gazed into her face earnestly
when she took leave of her. "I shall hear of you again," she said,
"and I pray God it may be good news; but it depends upon yourself,
Beth. We are free agents. Good-bye, my dear child, and God bless you."

Beth had been eighteen intolerable months at the school, and had been
exceedingly miserable most of the time, yet she left it with tears in
her eyes, melted and surprised by the kindest farewells from every
one. It had never dawned upon her until that moment that she was
really very much liked.

Her new school was a large house in a long wide street of houses, all
exactly alike. When she arrived with Miss Bey, they were shown into a
deliciously cool shady drawing-room, charmingly furnished, and the
effect upon Beth, after the graceless bareness of St. Catherine's, was
altogether reassuring.

In front of the fireplace, which was hidden by ferns and flowering
plants, a slender girl, with thick dark hair down her back, was lying
on the white woolly hearthrug, reading. She got up to greet the
visitors without embarrassment, still holding her book in her hand.

"Miss Blackburne will be here directly," she said. "Will you sit
down?" Then there was a little pause, which Miss Bey broke by asking
in her magisterial way, "What is that you are reading, my dear?"

"The Idylls of the King," the girl answered.

Miss Bey's nostrils flapped.

"Is it not rather advanced for you, my dear?" she said. "We do not
allow it at all, even to our first-class girls."

"Oh, Miss Blackburne likes us to read it," was the easy answer. "She
says that Tennyson and all the good modern writers are a part of our
education."

"Thank goodness!" Beth ejaculated fervently. "At St. Catherine's our
minds were starved on books suited to the capacity of infants and
imbeciles."

"I should think, Beth, you are hardly old enough or educated enough to
be a judge of literature as yet," Miss Bey said severely.

"Nor do I pretend to be a judge. How can I know anything of literature
when literature is unknown at St. Catherine's? But I should think
babes and sucklings would be wise enough to object to the silly trash
we had instead of literature."

Beth spoke emphatically, shaking herself free of the restrictions of
the Royal Service School for Officers' Daughters once for all.

Miss Blackburne came in while she was speaking, and smiled.

"I like to hear a girl express an opinion," she said. "She may be
quite wrong, but she must have some mind if she attempts to think for
herself at all; and mind is material to work upon."

"I'm afraid _I_ haven't much mind," Beth said, sighing, "or manner
either."

Miss Blackburne smiled again, and looked at Miss Bey; but Miss Bey
supported Beth in her self-depreciation by preserving an ominous
silence.

"This is one of your new school-fellows," Miss Blackburne said to
Beth; "let me introduce you to each other. Clara Herring, Beth
Caldwell."

When Miss Bey took her leave, Miss Blackburne left the room with her,
and immediately afterwards another girl came in, clapping her hands.

"Oh, I say!" she exclaimed, "Signor Caponi _is_ a dear! He has the
nicest chocolate eyes, and he says my Italian is wonderful! Now I've
done all my work for to-day."

"Have you?" said Beth. "Why, it isn't five o'clock yet!"

"Miss Blackburne won't let us work long hours," the girl rejoined.
"She says it destroys our freshness. But let us know each other's
names. I am Geraldine Tressillion. Good name for a novel, isn't it?"
and she clapped her little white hands and laughed again.

"That's just what you're made to be--the heroine of a novel," Clara
Herring observed, looking at her admiringly. "I always think of you
when I come across a gay one, with golden hair and blue eyes."

"I have my good points, I know," Geraldine rejoined. "But how about my
hips? Too high, alas!"

"Oh, that won't show much while you're slight," said Clara, looking at
her critically.

"Well, I'll make haste and marry me before I'm afflicted with flesh,
as I'm sure to become. For I deny myself nothing--I live to eat,"
Geraldine rattled on cheerfully. "One can't get very fat before one
comes out; and I hate a thin dowager. I'm engaged already, you know,
but I don't like the man much--don't like him at all, in fact; and my
sister says I can do better. She's been married a year, and has a
baby. She told me all about it. Mamma imagines we're all innocent. A
lady implored her to tell my sister things before she married, but she
said she really could not speak to an innocent girl on such a subject.
I don't believe she was ever so innocent herself. A grown girl can't
be innocent unless she's a fool; but anyway, it's the right pose to
pretend. You've got to play the silly fool to please a man; then he
feels superior."

"But it's hypocritical," said Beth.

"Yes, my dear. But you must be hypocritical if you want to be a man's
ideal of a woman. You must know nothing, do nothing, see nothing, but
just what suits his pleasure and convenience; and in order to answer
to his requirements you must be either a hypocrite, or a blind worm
without eyes or intelligence. Men don't like innocence because it's
holy, but because it whets their appetites, my sister says, and if
they're deceived it serves them right. They work the world for their
own pleasure, not ours; and we must look out for ourselves. If we want
money, liberty, devotion, admiration, and any other luxury, we must
pretend. Don't you see?"

"I don't know," Beth rejoined. "But, personally, I shall never pretend
anything."

"Then you will suffer for your sincerity," Geraldine rejoined.

Beth shrugged her shoulders. The turn the conversation had taken was
distasteful to her, and she would not pursue it.

There was a pause, then Clara observed sententiously:

"Innocence is not impossible, Geraldine. Surely Adelaide is innocent
enough."

"I said innocence and intelligence were incompatible," Geraldine
answered. "You don't call Adelaide intelligent, do you?"

"Who is Adelaide?" Beth asked.

"The daughter of a Roman Catholic peer," Geraldine replied. "She is
eighteen, and her mind is absolutely undeveloped. We think she's in
training for a convent, and that's why they don't let her learn much.
Miss Ella Blackburne is a Roman Catholic, and so also is Adelaide's
maid; They trot her round to all the observances of her Church
regularly, and in the intervals she plays with the kitten. I don't
know why she should have been sent here at all, for this is a regular
forcing-house for the marriage market. Miss Blackburne expects all her
girls to marry well, and they generally do. I should think, Miss Beth,
she will be able to make something of you with those eyes!"

"Look at its neck and shoulders, too, and the way its head is set on
them!" Clara exclaimed.

"Not to mention its hands and its complexion!" Geraldine supplemented.
"But its voice alone--_soft, gentle, and low_--would get it into the
peerage!"

Beth, unused to be appraised in this way, blushed and smiled, rather
pleased, but confused.

"How many girls are there here?" she asked, to change the subject.

"Six boarders till you came, but now we are seven," Clara answered.
"There are some day-girls too, but they are children, and don't count.
The greatest pickle in the school is the daughter of an Archbishop--at
least, she has been the greatest pickle so far--we don't know you as
yet, however. But we have heard things!"

"Come and see my room," Geraldine interrupted. "And perhaps you'd like
to see your own. It's next to mine."

"Are you allowed to go up and down stairs just as you like?" Beth
asked in surprise.

"Why, of course!" Geraldine cried. "You can go where you like and sit
where you like when you've done your work. We're not in prison!"

Beth had a dainty little room, hung with white curtains, all to
herself. Her heart expanded when she saw it. The delightful appearance
of her new surroundings had already begun to have the happiest effect
upon her mind.

When Geraldine took her into her own room she drew a yellow book from
under a quantity of linen in a drawer. "It's a French novel," she
said. "Miss Blackburne wouldn't let me read it for worlds if she knew,
so you mustn't tell. I'll lend it to you if you like."

"I couldn't read it if I would; I don't know enough," Beth said.

"Oh, you'll soon learn; and I'll tell you all there is in it. I say,
what size is your waist? Mine is only seventeen inches; but I laced
till I got shingles to reduce it to that. I know a doctor who says
small waists are neither healthy nor beautiful; but then they're the
fashion, and men are such awful fools about fashion. They sneer at a
healthy figure, and saddle themselves every day with ailing wives, all
deformed, because they're accustomed to see women so; and then they
call _us_ silly! My husband won't think _me_ silly once I get command
of his money, whatever else he may think me. Till then--!" she made a
pretty gesture with her hands and laughed--Beth observing her the
while with deep attention as a new specimen.

She found eventually that Geraldine was not at all a bad girl, or in
the least inclined to be vicious, her conversation notwithstanding;
she was merely a shrewd one learning how to protect herself in that
state of life to which she was destined. If a woman is to make her way
in society and keep straight, she must have wits and knowledge of a
special kind. There is probably no more delightful, high-minded,
charming-mannered, honourable and trustworthy woman in the world than
a well-bred Englishwoman; but, on the other hand, there can be nothing
more vulgar-minded, coarse, and despicable than women of fashion tend
to become. There is no meanness nor shabbiness, not to mention fraud,
that they will not stoop to when it suits themselves, from tricking a
tradesman and sweating a servant, to neglecting their children,
deceiving their husbands, and slandering their friends. They are sheep
running hither and thither in servile imitation of each other, without
an original thought amongst them; the froth of society, with the
natural tendency of froth to rise to the surface and thence be swept
aside; mere bubbles, that shine a moment and then burst. It is fashion
that unsexes women and unmakes men. To be in the world of fashion and
of it, is to degenerate; but to be in it and not of it, to know it and
remain untainted, despising all it has to give, makes towards solid
advance. There are some ugly stages to be gone through, however,
before the advancement is pronounced.

The six girls at Miss Blackburne's were all daughters of people of
position, all enjoying the same advantages and under the same
influences; but three of them were already shaping themselves into
women of fashion, while the other three were tending as inevitably to
develop into women of fine character and cultivated mind. Beth was
attracted to all such women, and recognised their worth, often long
before they appreciated her at all. She was seventh among the girls,
her place being in the middle, as it were, with three on either side
of her, teaching her all they could, as was inevitable. In association
with the budding women of fashion, she lost the first fine delicacy of
maiden modesty of mind; but the example of the young gentlewomen, on
the other hand, confirmed her taste and settled her convictions. The
ladies who kept the school were high-minded themselves and exemplary
in every possible way, and if they did not make all their pupils
equally so, it was because factors go to the formation of character
with which, for want of knowledge, no one can reckon at present. The
influence of these ladies upon Beth was altogether benign. She was in
a new world with them--a world of ease and refinement, of polished
manners, of kindly consideration, where, instead of being harried by
nagging rules, stultified by every kind of restraint, and lowered in
her own estimation for want of proper respect and encouragement, she
was allowed as much liberty as she would have had in a well-ordered
home, and found herself and her abilities of special interest to each
of her teachers. Instead of being an item, a part of a huge piece of
machinery to be strictly kept in the particular place assigned to her,
whether it were adapted to the needs of her nature or not, for fear of
putting the whole mechanism out of order, her present and future being
less considered than the smooth working of the machine--she was a girl
again with some character of her own to be formed and developed. Here,
too, she was put upon her honour to do all that was expected of her,
and the immediate consequence of this in her case was the most
scrupulous exactness. She attached herself to Miss Ella, attracted
first of all by the fact that she was a Roman Catholic. How she could
be one was a mystery Beth longed to solve; but Miss Ella did not
consider it loyal to Protestant parents to influence their daughters
at school, and would give her no help in this. In every other respect,
however, Beth found her exceedingly kind and sympathetic, a serene,
strong woman, who began to curb the exuberance of Beth's naughtiness
from the first, and to direct the energy of which it was the outcome
into profitable channels.

There was no monotony in Miss Blackburne's establishment. The girls
were taken in turns to operas, concerts, picture-galleries, and every
kind of exhibition that might help to cultivate their minds. To be
able to discuss such things was a part of their education. They were
expected to describe all they saw, fluently and pleasantly, but
without criticism enough to require thought and provoke argument,
which is apt to be tedious; and thus was formed the habit of chatting
in the genial light frothy way which does duty for conversation in
society. Geraldine had not exaggerated when she called Miss
Blackburne's school a forcing house for the marriage market. At that
time marriage was the only career open to a gentlewoman, and the
object of her education was to make her attractive. The theory then
was that solid acquirements were beyond the physical strength of
girls, besides being unnecessary. Showy accomplishments, therefore,
were all that was aimed at; but they had to be thorough. Music,
singing, drawing, dancing, French, German, Italian--whatever it might
be; the girl who was learning it had the greatest attention from her
master or mistress during the lesson; she was made to do it as much by
the will of the teacher as by her own intelligence. This was the first
experience of thorough teaching Beth had ever had, and she enjoyed
it, and would have worked harder to profit by it than Miss Blackburne
would allow. As it was, she made great progress with her work, while
all the time the more informal but most valuable part of her
education, which was directed to the strengthening of every womanly
attribute, went on steadily under the influence of Miss Ella.

It would have been well for Beth if she had been left at Miss
Blackburne's for the next three years; but just when the rebellious
beating of her wings against the bars had ceased, and they had folded
themselves contentedly behind her for awhile; just when the wild
flights of her imagination were giving way to wholesome habits of
thought, and her own vain dreams were being dissipated by the honest
ambition to accomplish something actual--she was summoned away. Her
sister Mildred had died suddenly of meningitis, and the immediate
effect of the shock on Mrs. Caldwell, who had dearly loved her eldest
daughter, was a kindlier feeling for Beth, and a wish to have her at
home--for a time at all events. And Beth went willingly under the
circumstances. She sympathised deeply with her mother, and was full of
grief herself for her sister, to whom she had been tenderly attached
although they had seen so little of each other. Beth was not yet
sixteen, and this was the third blow that death had dealt her.



CHAPTER XXXIV


Beth had a natural love of order, and at school she had learnt the
necessity for it. She did not mean to give up work when she went home;
on the contrary, she determined to do more than ever. Miss Ella had
taught her to be deliberate, neither to haste nor to rest, but
steadily to pursue. She insisted that things to be well done must be
done regularly, and Beth, in accordance with this precept, mapped out
her day so as to make the most of it. She got up at seven, opened her
window wider, threw the clothes back from her bed to air it, had her
bath, brushed her hair; left nothing untidy lying about her room; did
her good reading, the psalms and lessons; breakfasted, made her bed,
studied French, went out for exercise, sewed, and read so much, all in
the same order every day. She paid particular attention to her
personal appearance, too, that being the one of her mother's
principles which had also been most particularly enjoined by Miss
Blackburne. At both of her schools marriage was the great ambition of
most of the girls. At St Catherine's it meant a means of escape from
many hardships; to Miss Blackburne's girls it offered the chance of a
better position, and more money and luxury. There was a nicer tone
among the Royal Service girls, and more reticence in their discussions
of the subject than at Miss Blackburne's, where the girls were not at
all high-minded, and talked of their chances with the utmost
frankness, not to say coarseness; but good looks were held to be the
best, if not the only means to the end in both sets. Money and
accomplishments might help, but personal appearance was the great
certainty; and Beth was naturally impressed with this idea like the
rest. Marriage, however, was far from being the distinct object of her
life; in fact, she had no distinct object at all as yet. She had
always meant to do something, or rather to be something; but further
than that she had not got.

Miss Blackburne had paid particular attention to the cultivation of
the speaking voice, and it was from her that Beth had learnt how to
round hers to richness, and modulate it so that its natural sweetness
and charm were greatly enhanced. There was considerable difference of
opinion about her looks. She was always striking in appearance, but
dress, for one thing, altered her very much, and the state of her mind
still more. People who met her on one occasion admired her
exceedingly, and on the next wondered why they had thought her
good-looking at all. She had the mesmeric quality which makes it
impossible to escape observation, and her personality never failed to
interest the intelligent whether it pleased them or not; but she was
only at her best in mind, manner, and appearance when her fitful
further faculty was active; then indeed she shone with a strange
loveliness, a light to be felt rather than seen, and not to be
described at all. At such times the mere physical beauty of other
women went out in her immediate neighbourhood, and was no more thought
of. It was not until she was quite mature, however, that her manner
permanently acquired that subtle indefinable quality called charm,
which is the outcome of a large tolerant nature and kindness of heart.
It was as if she did not come into full possession of her true self
until she had experienced numberless other phases of being common to
the race. Hence the apparently incongruous mixture she presented in
the earlier stages of her youth, her sluggish indifference at times,
her excesses of energy and zeal, her variations of taste.

At first, after she left school, as was inevitable, her
self-discipline was irksome enough at times, and some of the details
she shirked; but not for long, because the time which accustomed
duties should have occupied hung heavy on her hands, and she felt
dissatisfied with herself rather than relieved when she neglected
them. So by degrees her habits were formed, and in after life she
found them a very present help in time of trouble, anchors which kept
her from drifting to leeward, as she must have done but for their hold
upon her. Some of her erratic tricks were not to be cured, but they
came to be part of the day's work rather than a hindrance to it. She
saw many a sunrise, for instance, and revelled with uplifted spirit in
the beauty and wonder of the hour; but the soul that sang responsive
to the glories of the summer dawn, the colour, the freshness, the
perfume, was steeped at noon with equal energy in the book she was
studying, so that, instead of losing anything, she gained that day one
sunrise more.

When she left school Beth was fastidiously refined. She hurried over
all the hateful words and passages in the Bible, Shakespeare, or any
other book she might be reading. The words she would not even
pronounce to herself, so strongly did her delicate mind revolt from a
vile idea, and sicken at the expression of it. But, nevertheless, she
pored patiently over every book she could get that had a great
reputation, and in this way she read many not usually given to girls,
and became familiarised with certain facts of life not generally
supposed to be of soul-making material. But she took no harm. The soul
that is shaping itself to noble purpose, the growing soul, tries more
than is proper for its nourishment in its search for sustenance, but
rejects all that is unnecessary or injurious, as water creatures
without intelligence reject any unsuitable substance they collect with
their food.

Before she had been many days at home, Beth found that her mother had
made a new acquaintance, who came to the house often in a casual way
like an intimate friend. He came in on the day of her arrival after
dinner, and was introduced to Beth by her mother as "the doctor." Beth
broke into smiles, for she recognised her long-ago acquaintance of the
rocks, the doctor of her Hector-romance. And it seemed he really was a
doctor; now that was a singular coincidence! In their little
drawing-room she discovered him to be a bigger man than she had
supposed, but otherwise he was like her first impression of him,
striking because of his colouring; the red and white of his
complexion, which was unusually clear for a man, and the lightness of
his grey-green eyes being in peculiar contrast to the blackness of his
hair. She noticed again, too, that the expression of his face when he
smiled was not altogether agreeable, because his teeth were too far
apart; and she also thought his finely-formed hands would have looked
better had they not been so obtrusively white.

"But we have met before," he exclaimed when Beth acknowledged the
introduction. "You are the young lady I helped on the rocks one day,
quite a long time ago now, when you were a little girl."

"I remember," Beth said, noticing that he claimed to have helped her
on that occasion, and remembering also that she had declined his help.

"You never told me, Beth," her mother said reproachfully.

"There was really nothing to tell," he answered, coming to the rescue.

"What a day that was!" Beth observed. "Did you notice the sea? It was
the sort of sea that might make one long to be a crab to live in it.
Though a crab is not the animal that I should specially choose to be.
I long to be a cat sometimes. To be able to fluff out my fur and spit
would be such a satisfaction. There are feelings that can be expressed
in no other way. And then to be able to purr! Purring is the one sound
in nature that expresses perfect comfort and content, I think."

"Beth, don't talk nonsense," her mother said impatiently.

"Oh, it's not nonsense altogether," the doctor interposed. "It is just
cheery chatter, and that is good. Miss Beth will raise your spirits in
no time, or I'm much mistaken." He had watched Beth with gravity while
she was speaking, as one sees people watch an actress critically,
obviously marking her points, but betraying no emotion.

Mrs. Caldwell sighed heavily. "The doctor has been so good, Beth," she
said. "He has come here continually, and done more to cheer me than
anybody."

"Oh now, Mrs. Caldwell, you exaggerate," he remonstrated with a smile.
"But it's my principle, you know, to be cheery. I always say be cheery
whatever happens. It's no use crying over spilt milk!"

    "A merry heart goes all the day,
     Your sad tires in a mile-a,"

Beth rattled off glibly, and again the doctor considered her.

"Now that's good," he said, just as if he had never heard it before;
"and it's my meaning exactly. Don't let your spirits go down----"

    "For there's many a girl, as I know well,
     A-looking for you in the town,"

Beth concluded, her spirits rising uproariously.

"Beth!" her mother remonstrated, but with a smile.

"The worst of it is, the ones on the look-out are not the ones with
the good looks," the doctor observed, also smiling.

"But they are the ones with the money," Beth rejoined. "I wonder how
it is that plain girls so often have money. I suppose the
money-grubbing spirit comes out in ugliness in the female branch."

Tea was brought in, but Beth refused to take any. The doctor tried to
persuade her.

"You had better change your mind," he said. "Ladies are privileged to
change their minds."

"I know," said Beth. "Ladies are privileged to be foolish. It is
almost the only privilege men allow them. I scorn it myself. At school
we were warned to be firm when once we had said 'No, thank you.' Miss
Ella used to say that people who allowed themselves to be
over-persuaded and changed their minds lost self-control and became
self-indulgent eventually."

"Ah, that makes me think of my poor dear mother," said the doctor. "A
better and more consistent woman never lived. Once she said a thing,
you couldn't move her. She was a good mother to me! I was always her
favourite son. But, like other young fellows, I'm afraid I didn't half
appreciate her till I had lost her."

"All the same, I am sure you were all that a good son should be," Mrs.
Caldwell observed sincerely.

The doctor's eyes shone with emotion.

When he had gone, Mrs. Caldwell began to discuss him.

"He really _is_ cheery," she said, "he always raises my spirits; and I
am sure he is good and kind. Did you see how his eyes filled with
tears when he mentioned his mother? He is handsome, too, don't you
think so? Such a colour! And always so well dressed. Lady Benyon
admires him very much. But he gets on with every one, even Uncle
James! What do you think of him, Beth?"

"I think he looks neat to the point of nattiness, which is finical in
a man," Beth answered.

"Ah, that is because you are not accustomed to well-dressed men," her
mother assured her. "Here in Rainharbour you don't often see one."

"I have been in London lately," Beth observed.

"Beth," her mother began emphatically, "that is so like you! Will you
never get out of the habit of answering so? You are always in
opposition, and it is too conceited of you at your age. I did hope
they would have cured you of the trick at school; but no sooner do you
get home, than you begin again as bad as ever."

"Well, rather than displease you, mamma, I'll do my best to hold my
tongue for the future when I can't say what you want me to say," Beth
answered cheerfully. "I came home to be a comfort to you, and if I
can't be a comfort to you and express myself as well, why, I must go
unexpressed."

"Now, there you are again, Beth," Mrs. Caldwell cried peevishly. "Is
that a nice thing to say?"

Beth looked at her mother and smiled enigmatically. Then she
reflected. Then her countenance cleared.

"Mamma," she said, "your hair is much whiter than it was; but I don't
think I ever saw you look so nice. You have such a pretty complexion,
and so few wrinkles, and such even teeth! What a handsome girl you
must have been!"

Mrs. Caldwell smiled complacently, and went to bed in high good
humour. She told Bernadine, as they undressed, that she thought Beth
greatly improved.

But Beth herself lay long awake that night; tossing and troubled,
feeling far from satisfied either with herself or anybody else.

The next morning she rose early and drew up her plan of life.



CHAPTER XXXV


As that first day at home wore on, Beth was seized with an importunate
yearning to go out, and it was with difficulty that she got through
her self-appointed tasks. She thought of the sea, the shore, the
silence and solitude, which were apt to be so soothing to her dull
senses that she ceased to perceive with them, and so passed into the
possession of her farther faculty for blissful moments. She fancied
the sea was as she best loved to have it, her favourite sea, with tiny
wavelets bringing the tide in imperceptibly over the rocks, and the
long stretch of water beyond heaving gently up to the horizon, with
smooth unruffled surface shining in the sun. When she had done her
work she fared forth to the sea, to sit by it, and feel the healthy
happy freshness of it all about her, and in herself as well. She went
to the rocks. The tide was coming in. The water, however, was not
molten silver-grey, as she had imagined it, but bright dark sapphire
blue, with crisp white crests to the waves, which were merry and
tumbled. It was the sea for an active, not for a meditative mood; its
voice called to play, rather than to that prayer of the whole being
which comes of the contemplation of its calmness; it exhilarated
instead of soothing, and made her joyous as she had not been since she
went to school. She stood long on the rocks by the water's edge,
retreating as the tide advanced, watching wave after wave curve and
hollow itself and break, and curve and hollow itself and break again.
The sweet sea-breeze sang in her ears, and braced her with its
freshness, while the continuous sound of wind and water went from her
consciousness and came again with the ebb and flow of her thoughts.
But the strength and swirl of the water, its tireless force, its
incessant voices choiring on a chorus of numberless notes, invited
her, fascinated her, filled her with longing--longing to trust herself
to the waves, to lie still and let them rock her, to be borne out by
them a little way and brought back again, passive yet in ecstatic
enjoyment of the dreamy motion. The longing became an impulse. She put
her hand to her throat to undo her dress--but she did not undo it--she
never knew why. Had she yielded to the attraction, she must have been
drowned, for she could swim but little, and the water was deeper than
she knew, and the current strong; and she might have yielded just as
she resisted, for no reason that rendered itself into intelligible
thought.

She turned from the scene of her strange impulse, and began to wander
back over the rocks, suffering the while from that dull drop of the
spirit which sets in at the reaction after moments of special
intensity; and in this mood she came upon "the doctor," also climbing
the rocks.

"Now, it is a singular coincidence that I should meet you here again,"
he said.

Beth smiled. "I am afraid those nice boots of yours will suffer on
these sharp rocks," she remarked by way of saying something. "We
natives keep our old ones for the purpose."

"Ah," he said, "I don't keep old ones for any purpose. I have an
objection to everything old, old people included."

Beth had a book under her arm, and he coolly took it from her as he
spoke, and read the title: "Dryden's Poetical Works." "Ah! So you
carry the means of improving your mind at odd moments about with you.
Well, I'm not surprised, for I heard you were clever."

Beth smiled, more pleased than if he had called her beautiful; but she
wondered if Dryden could properly be called improving.

"It is absurd to keep a girl at school who has got as far as this kind
of thing," he added, tapping the old brown book; "but it seems to me
they don't understand you much at home, little lady."

"What makes you think so?" Beth asked shrewdly.

"Oh," he answered, somewhat disconcerted, "I judge from--from things I
hear and see."

This implied sympathy, and again Beth was pleased.

It was late when she got in, and she expected her mother to be
annoyed; but Mrs. Caldwell was all smiles.

"I suppose the doctor found you?" she said. "He asked where you were,
and I said on the rocks probably."

"That accounts for the singular coincidence," Beth observed; but,
girl-like, she thought less at the moment of the little insincerity
than of the compliment his following her implied.

They dined that evening with Lady Benyon. It was a quiet little family
party, including Uncle James and Aunt Grace Mary. The doctor was the
only stranger present. He looked very well in evening dress.

"Striking, isn't he?" Aunt Grace Mary whispered to Beth. "Such
colouring!"

"And how are you, Dan?" was Uncle James's greeting, uttered with an
affectation of cordiality in his unexpected little voice that
interested Beth. She wondered what was toward. She noticed, too, that
she herself was an object of special attention, and her heart expanded
with gratification. Very little kindness went a long way with Beth.

Dr. Dan took her in to dinner.

"By the way," he said, looking across the table at Uncle James, "I
went to see that old Mrs. Prince, your keeper's mother, as I promised.
She's a wonderful old woman for eighty-five. I shouldn't be surprised
if she lived to a hundred."

"Dear! dear!" Uncle James ejaculated with something like
consternation.

"I seem to have put my foot in it somehow," Dr. Dan remarked to Beth
confidentially.

"If you do anything to keep her alive you will," Beth answered. "Uncle
James always speaks bitterly about elderly women;--about old ones he
is perfectly rabid. He seems to think they rob worthy men of part of
their time by living so long."

It was arranged before the party broke up that the doctor should drive
Beth to Fairholm in the Benyon dogcart to lunch next day. Beth was
surprised and delighted to find herself the object of so much
consideration. Dr. Dan, as they all called him, began to be associated
in her mind with happy days.

"Have you come to live here?" she asked as they drove along.

"No," he answered. "I am only putting in the time until I can settle
down to a practice of my own. I have just heard of one which I shall
buy if I can get an appointment I am trying for in the same place."

"What is the appointment?" Beth asked.

"It's a hospital I want to be put in charge of," he answered
casually,--"a small affair, but I should get a regular income from it,
and that would make my rent, and all that sort of thing, secure. A
doctor has to set up with a show of affluence."

"It is a terrible profession to me, the medical profession," Beth
said. "The responsibilities must be so great and so various."

"Oh, I never think of that," he answered easily.

"_I_ should," Beth rejoined.

"Yes, _you_ would, of course," he said; "and that shows what folly it
is for women to go in for medicine. They worry about this and that,
things that are the patient's look-out, not the doctor's, and make no
end of mischief; besides always losing their heads in a difficulty."

Just then the horse, which had been very fidgety all the way, bolted.
The blood rushed into the doctor's face. "Sit tight! sit tight!" he
exclaimed. "Don't now,--now don't move and make a fuss. Keep cool."

"Keep cool yourself," said Beth dryly. "_I_'m all right."

Dr. Dan glanced at her sideways, and saw that she was laughing.

When they arrived at Fairholm, he made much of the incident. "If I
hadn't had my wits about me, there would have been a smash," he vowed.
"But I happened to be on the spot myself, and Miss Beth behaved
admirably. Most girls would have shrieked, you know, but she behaved
heroically."

This was all rather gushing, but it did not offend Beth, because she
associated gush with Aunt Grace Mary, who had always been kind to her.
Gushing people are usually weak and amiable, gush being the ill-judged
outcome of a desire to please; but at that happy age it was the
amiable intention that Beth took into account. Her desire to be
pleased, which had so seldom been gratified, had become a danger to
her judgment by this time; it made her apt to respond to any attempt
to please her without considering means and motives which should have
discounted her appreciation. Everybody was trying to please her now,
and all her being answered only too readily. She spent a delightful
day at Fairholm, and went home in extravagantly high spirits.

Dr. Dan called early the next morning, and found her with her hat on,
just going out.

"How are you this misty cold grey day?" he asked.

"Oh, very bright," she answered. "I feel as if I were the sun, and I'm
just going to shine out on the world to enliven it."

"May I accompany you?" he asked.

"The sun, alas! is a solitary luminary," she answered, shaking her
head.

"Then I shall hope for better luck next time," he said, and let her go
alone.

In the evening he came in again to have a game of cribbage with Mrs.
Caldwell. Beth was sleepy and had gone to bed early. In the pauses of
the game they talked about her, and the responsibilities of a family.

"A girl wants some one to look after her," the doctor said,
"especially if she has money."

"Yes, indeed," Mrs. Caldwell replied, "girls are a great anxiety. Now
a boy you can put into a profession and have done with it. But it is
not so easy to find a suitable husband for a girl."

"But, of course, if she has a little money it makes a difference," he
observed. "Only she should have some one to advise her in the spending
of it. Now, Miss Beth, for instance, will be as much a child at
twenty-one in money matters as she is now."

"I hope we shall find the right man for her before then," Mrs.
Caldwell answered archly; "not that I think her aunt's fortune will
cause her much anxiety." She alluded to the smallness of the sum.

"She gets some of the interest, I suppose, to go on with," he said.

"Just enough to dress on."

Beth saw a great deal of Dr. Dan after that. She was not in the least
in love with him, but they became intimate all the sooner on that
account. A girl shrinks more shyly from a man she loves than from one
for whom she has only a liking; in the one case every womanly instinct
is on the alert, in the other her feeling is not strong enough to seem
worth curbing. Beth was fond of men's companionship, and Dr. Dan's
assiduous attentions enlivened her, made her brain active, and brought
the vision and the dream within reach; so that she moved in a happy
light, but considered the source of it no more than she would have
considered the stick that held the candle by which she read an
entrancing book.

There are idyllic gleams in all interesting lives; but life as we live
it from day to day is not idyllic. In Beth's case there was the
inevitable friction, the shocks and jars of difficulties and
disagreements with her mother. These had been suspended for a time
after her return, but began to break out again, fomented very often by
Bernadine, who was always her mother's favourite, but was never a
pleasant child. Dr. Dan came one very wet day, and found Beth sitting
in the drawing-room alone, looking miserable. She had done all her
little self-imposed tasks honestly, but had reaped no reward. On the
contrary, there had come upon her a dreadful vision of herself doing
that sort of thing on always into old age, as Aunt Victoria did her
French, with no object, and to no purpose; and for the first time she
formulated a feeling that had gradually been growing up in her of
late: "I must have more of a life than this." What could she do,
however, tied to that stupid place, without a suspicion as yet that
she had it in her to do anything special, and without friends to help
her, with no one to advise. As she reflected, the hopelessness of it
all wrung from her some of the bitterest tears she ever shed. If her
mother would only send her back to Miss Blackburne she would be
learning something, at all events; but, although Mrs. Caldwell had
said nothing definite on the subject, Beth was pretty certain by this
time that she did not mean to let her return to school.

Beth was in the middle of this misery when Dr. Dan arrived.

"How's this?" he said, "Down? You should have the window open. It's
not cold to-day, though it's wet; and the room is quite stuffy. Never
be afraid of fresh air, you know."

"I'm not," Beth said. "I didn't know the window was shut. Open it as
wide as you like--the wider the better for me."

"That's better," he said, as the fresh air flowed in. "It's singular
how women will shut themselves up. No wonder they get out of spirits!
Now, I never let myself run down. When one thing goes wrong, I just
take up another, and don't bother. You'd think I wasn't having much of
a time here; but I'm as happy as the day is long, and I want to see
you the same." He sat down beside her on the old-fashioned sofa, took
her hand, and began to stroke it gently. "Cheer up, little girl," he
added. "I believe you've been crying. Aren't they kind to you?"

"Oh yes, they're kind enough," Beth answered, soothed by the caress;
"at least they mean to be. The misery is in myself. I feel all
dissatisfied."

"Not when I'm with you, do you?" he asked reproachfully.

"No, I don't bother about myself when I have you to talk to," Beth
answered. "You come in fresh, and give me something else to think
about."

"Then, look here, Beth," he said, putting his arm round her. "I don't
think I can do better than take you away with me. You've a head on
your shoulders, and an original way with you that would be sure to
bring people about the house, and you're well connected and look
it;--all of which would be good for my practice. Besides, a young
doctor must marry. I'm over thirty, though you might not think it.
Come, what do you say? You'd have a very good time of it as my wife, I
can tell you. All your own way, and no nagging. You know what _I_ am,
a cheery fellow, never put out by anything. Now, what do you say?"

"Are you asking me to marry you?" said Beth, breaking into a smile.
The position struck her as comical rather than serious.

"Why, what else?" he replied, smiling also. "I see you are recovering
your spirits. You'll be as happy as the day is long when we're
married. You'd never get on with anybody else as you'd do with me. I
don't think anybody else would understand you."

Beth laughed. She liked him, and she liked to be caressed. Why not
marry him and be independent of every one? She hadn't the slightest
objection at the moment; far from it, for she saw in the offer the one
means of escape she was likely to have from the long dull dreary
days, and the loneliness, which was all the life she could have to
look forward to when he had gone. And he was good-looking, too, and
nice--everybody said so. Besides, they would all be pleased if she
accepted him, her mother especially so. Now that she came to think of
it, she perceived that this was what they had been suggesting to her
ever since her return.

"It is settled then?" he said, stooping forward to look into her face.

She looked at him shyly and laughed again. For the life of her she
could not keep her countenance, although she felt she was behaving in
the silly, giggling-girl sort of way she so much despised.

"That's all right," he exclaimed, looking extremely well pleased; and
at that moment Mrs. Caldwell walked into the room, just in time to
witness a lover-like caress. Beth jumped up, covered with confusion.
Mrs. Caldwell looked from one to the other, and waited for an
explanation.

"We've just come to the conclusion that we cannot live apart," Dan
said deliberately, rising at the same time and taking Beth's hand.

"My dear child!" Mrs. Caldwell exclaimed, embracing Beth with happy
tears in her eyes. "This _is_ a joy! I _do_ congratulate you."

Beth became suddenly serious. The aspect of the affair had changed. It
was no longer a game of the moment, but a settled business, already
irrevocable. She wanted to explain that she had not actually pledged
herself, that she must take time to consider; but her heart failed her
in view of her mother's delight. It was Beth's great weakness that, as
a rule, she could neither spoil pleasure nor give pain to save herself
in an emergency.



CHAPTER XXXVI


When Dan came to see her the next morning, he found her in a mixed
mood. Half-a-dozen times during the night she had declined to marry
him in a painful scene, but just as often her imagination would run on
into the unknown life she would have to lead with him. She saw herself
in white satin and lace and pearls, a slender figure at the head of a
long dining-table, interesting to everybody, and Dan was at the foot,
looking quite distinguished in evening dress, with his glossy black
hair and wonderful clear skin. She had gathered the nicest people in
the neighbourhood about her, and on her right there was a shadowy
person, a man of mark, and knightly, who delighted in her
conversation.

When she came downstairs to receive Dan she was coughing, and he
showed his devotion by being greatly concerned about her health. He
said she must have port wine and a tonic, and be out in the air as
much as possible, and suggested that they should go for a walk at once
as it was a lovely day, though still wet under foot.

"I would not ask you to walk if I had a carriage to offer you," he
said, "for I hate to see a delicate lady on foot in the mud. But you
shall have your carriage yet, please God, all in good time!"

"Where shall we go?" said Beth when they left the house.

"Oh, anywhere," he answered. "Take me to one of your own favourite
haunts."

She thought of the Fairholm cliffs for a moment, but felt that they
were sacred to many recollections with which she would not care to
associate this new experience. "I'll show you the chalybeate spring,"
she said.

They turned out of Orchard Street, and went down the hill to the Beck,
a broad, clear, shallow rivulet, that came round a sharp green curve
between high banks, well wooded with old trees, all in their heavy,
dark-green, summer foliage. As they crossed the rustic wooden bridge
Beth paused a little to look up at the trees and love them, and down
into the clear water at the scarlet sticklebacks heading up stream.
Her companion looked at her in surprise when she stopped, and then
followed the direction of her eyes. All he saw, however, was a shallow
stream, a green bank, and some trees.

"This is not very interesting," he observed.

Beth made no reply, but led the way up the hill on the other side,
and, to the right, passed a row of cottages with long gardens at the
back running down to the brow of the bank that overhung the Beck. In
most of these cottages she was an object of suspicion because of her
uncanny words and ways, and she knew it, and the thought of it was a
grief to her. She wanted the people to like her as she would have
liked them had they let her. The wish to win them fired her
imagination. She looked on ahead into futurity, and was a beautiful
lady, driving a pair of ponies down a wooded lane, with a carriage
full of good things for the cottagers, and they all loved her, and
were very glad to see her.

"What are you thinking about?" Dan asked.

"How nice it would be to be rich," she replied.

"But you will be well off when you're twenty-one, I am told."

"I suppose there's a chance of it," she answered dreamily.

(The ponies had arrived at the village by this time, and she was
looking up at an old grey church with a red roof.)

"Do you know what your aunt's income was?" he asked.

"Seven or eight hundred a year," she answered absently.

(The sexton's little house stood by the gate leading into the
churchyard. His wife came out when the carriage stopped, wiping
soap-suds from her bare arms with her apron. Beth leaned forward and
held out her hand to her, and the woman smiled a cordial welcome. She
had a round flat face and fair hair. Then Beth handed her a mysterious
package from the carriage, which she received half in delight and half
in inquiry.)

But Beth's imagination stopped there, for she perceived that she had
passed the gate of the garden in which was the chalybeate spring.
There was a cottage in the garden, and Beth turned back, and went up
to the door, where a woman was standing holding a plump child, whose
little fat thigh, indented by the pressure, bulged over her bare arm.

"May we have a drink, please?" Beth asked.

"Yes, and welcome," the woman answered. "I'll fetch you a glass."

"Let me hold the baby," said Beth.

The woman smiled, and handed him to her. Beth took him awkwardly, and
squeezed him up in her arms as a child holds a kitten.

"Isn't he nice?" she said.

"That's a matter of taste," Dan answered. "I don't like 'em
fat-bottomed myself."

Beth froze at the expression. When the woman returned, she handed the
child back to her carefully, but without a smile, took the glass, and
went down to the spring by a narrow winding path which took them out
of sight of the cottage directly. Here it was old trees again, and
green banks, with the Beck below. When they were under the trees Beth
looked up at a big elm, and her companion noticed her lips move.

"What are you saying to yourself?" he asked.

"Nothing to myself," she answered. "I'm saying, 'Oh, tree, give me of
thy strength!' the Eastern invocation."

He laughed, and wanted to know what rot that was; and again Beth was
jarred.

"You'll have no luck if you don't respect the big trees," she said.

"Oh, by Jove, if we wait for the big trees to make our luck, we shan't
have much!" he rejoined, picking up a pebble and firing it into the
Beck below.

They were on a narrow path now, about half-way down the bank, and
here, in a hollow, the chalybeate spring bubbled out, and was gathered
by a wooden spout into a slender stream, which fell on the ground,
where, in the course of time, it had made a basin for itself that was
always partly full. The water was icy cold, and somewhat the colour of
light on steel. Beth held the glass to the spout, rinsed it first,
then filled it, and offered it to Dan, but he dryly declined to take
it "Not for me, thank you," he said; "I never touch any medicinal
beastliness."

For the third time Beth was jarred. She threw the water on the ground,
refilled the glass, and drank. Dan saw he had made a mistake.

"I'll change my mind and have some too," he said, anxious to mollify
her.

Beth filled the glass again, and handed it to him in silence, but no
after-thought could atone for the discourtesy of his first refusal,
and she looked in another direction, not even troubling herself to see
whether he tried the water or not.

There was a rustic seat in the hollow of the bank, and he suggested
that they should sit there a while before they returned. Beth
acquiesced; and soon the sputter of the little spring bubbling into
its basin, the chitter of birds in the branches above, the sunbeams
filtering from behind through the leaves, the glint of the Beck below
slipping between its banks, soundless, to the sea, enthralled her.

"Isn't this lovely?" she ejaculated.

"Yes, it's very jolly--with you," he said.

"You wouldn't like it so well without me?" Beth asked.

"No, I should think not," he rejoined. "And you wouldn't like it as
well without me, I hope."

"No," Beth responded. "It makes it nicer having some one to share it."

"Now that's not quite kind," he answered in an injured tone. "Some one
is any one; and _I_ shouldn't be satisfied with anybody but you."

"Well, but I am satisfied with you," Beth answered dispassionately.

He took her hand, laid it in his own palm, and looked at it. It was a
child's hand as yet, delicately pink and white.

"What a pretty thing!" he said. "Oh, you smile at that." He reached up
to put a lock of her brown hair back from her cheek, and then he put
his arm round her.

Next day he was obliged to go away--Beth never thought of inquiring
why or wherefore; but she heard her mother and Lady Benyon talking
about the very eligible appointment he was hoping to get. He took an
affectionate leave of her. When he had gone she went off to the sands,
and was surprised to find how glad she was to be alone again. The tide
was far out, and there were miles and miles of the hard buff sand, a
great, open space, not empty to Beth, but teeming with thought and
full of feeling. Some distance on in front of her there was a
solitary figure, a man walking with bent head and hands folded behind
him, holding a stick--Count Gustav Bartahlinsky's favourite attitude
when deep in meditation. Beth hurried on, and soon overtook him.

"Would you rather be alone, Count Gustav?" she said.

He turned to look at her, then smiled, and they walked on together.

"So they are going to marry you off," he said abruptly.

"Yes," Beth answered laconically.

"Do you wish to be married?"

"No, I do not."

"Then why do you consent?"

"Because I'm weak; I can't help it," she said.

"Nonsense!"

"I can't," she repeated. "I'm firm enough about some things, but in
this I vacillate. When I am alone I know I am making a mistake, but
when I am with other people who think differently, my objection
vanishes."

"What is your objection?" he asked.

"That is the difficulty," she said. "I can't define it. Do you know
Dr. Dan?"

"I can't say I know him," he answered. "I have met him and talked to
him. He expresses the most unexceptional opinions; but it is premature
to respect a man for the opinions he expresses--wait and see what he
does. Words and acts don't necessarily agree. Sometimes, however, a
chance remark which has very little significance for the person who
makes it, is like an aperture that lets in light on the whole
character." He cogitated a little, then added, "Don't let them hurry
you. Take time to know your man, and if you are not satisfied
yourself, if there is anything that jars upon _you_, never mind what
other people think, have nothing to do with him."

When Beth went home, she found her mother sitting by the drawing-room
window placidly knitting and looking out. "I am afraid I am very
late," Beth said. "I have been on the sands with Count Gustav."

"Ah, that was nice, I should think," Mrs. Caldwell observed
graciously. "And what were you talking about?"

"Being married, principally," Beth answered.

Mrs. Caldwell beamed above her knitting. "And what did he say?"

"He strongly advised me not to marry if I didn't want to."

Mrs. Caldwell changed countenance. "Did he indeed?" she observed with
a sniff. Then she reflected. "And what had you been saying to draw
such a remark from him?"

"I said I didn't want to be married," Beth blurted out with an effort.

"How could you tell Count Gustav such a story, Beth?" Mrs. Caldwell
asked, shaking her head reproachfully.

"It was no story, mamma."

"Nonsense, Beth," her mother rejoined. "It is nothing but perverseness
that makes you say such things. You feel more interesting, I believe,
when you are in opposition. If I had refused to allow you to be
married, you would have been ready to run away. _I_ know girls! They
all want to be married, and they all pretend they don't. Why, when I
was a girl I thought of nothing else; but I didn't talk about it."

"Perhaps you had nothing else to think about," Beth ventured.

"And what have you to think about, pray?"

Beth clasped her hands, and her grey eyes dilated.

"Beth, don't look like that," her mother remonstrated. "You are always
acting, and it _is_ such a pity--as you will find when you go out into
the world, I am afraid, and people avoid you."

"I didn't know I was doing anything peculiar," Beth said; "and how am
I to help it if I don't know?"

"Just help it by only doing as you are told until you are able to
judge for yourself. Look at the silly way you have been talking this
afternoon! What must Count Gustav have thought of you? Never be so
silly again. You _must_ be married now, you know. When a girl lets a
man kiss her, she _has_ to marry him."

Beth had been watching her mother's fingers as she knitted until she
was half mesmerised by the bright glint of the needles; but now she
woke up and burst out laughing. "If that be the case," she said, "he
is not the only one that I shall have to marry."

Mrs. Caldwell's hands dropped on her lap, and she looked up at Beth in
dismay. "What do you mean?" she said.

"Just that," Beth answered.

"Do you mean to tell me you have allowed men to kiss you?" Mrs.
Caldwell cried.

Beth looked up as if trying to keep her countenance.

"You wicked girl, how dare you?"

"Well, mamma, if it were wicked, why didn't you warn me?" Beth said.
"How was I to know?"

"Your womanly instincts ought to have taught you better."

Unfortunately for this theory, all Beth's womanly instincts set in the
opposite direction. Her father's ardent temperament warred in her with
Aunt Victoria's Puritan principles, and there was no telling as yet
which would prevail.

Beth made no reply to that last assertion of her mother's, but
remained half sitting on the table, with her feet stretched out in
front of her, and her hands supporting her on either side, which
brought her shoulders up to her ears. It was a most inelegant
attitude, and peculiarly exasperating to Mrs. Caldwell.

"Oh, you wicked--you bad--you _abandoned_ girl!" she exclaimed, losing
her temper altogether. "My heart is _broken_ with you. Go to your
room, and stay there. I feel as if I could never endure the sight of
you again."

Beth gathered herself together slowly, and strolled away with an air
of indifference; but as soon as she found herself alone in her own
room with the door shut, she dropped on her knees and lifted her
clasped hands to heaven in an agony of remorse for having tormented
her mother, and in despair about that wretched engagement. "O Lord,
what am I to do?" she said; "what am I to do?" If she could make up
her mind once for all either way, she would be satisfied; it was this
miserable state of indecision that was unendurable.

Presently in the room below, she thought she heard her mother sob aloud.
She listened, breathless. Her mother was sobbing. Beth jumped up and
opened her door. What should she do? Her unhappy mother--heart-broken,
indeed. What a life hers was--a life of hard privation, of suffering
most patiently borne, of the utmost self-denial for her children's sake,
of loss, of loneliness, of bitter disappointment! First her husband
taken, then her dearest child; her ungrateful boys not over-kind to her;
and now this last blow dealt her by Beth, just when the prospect of
getting her well married was bringing a gleam of happiness into her
mother's life. The piteous sobs continued. Beth stole downstairs, bent
on atoning in her own person by any sacrifice for all the sorrows, no
matter by whom occasioned, which she felt were culminating in this final
outburst of grief. She found her mother standing beside the high
old-fashioned mantelpiece, leaning her poor head against it.

"Mamma," Beth cried, "do forgive me. I never meant to--I never meant
to hurt you so. I will do anything to please you. I was only teasing
you about kissing men. I haven't been in the habit of kissing any one.
And of course I'll marry Dan as soon as you like. And we'll all be
happy--there!"

Mrs. Caldwell held out her arms, and Beth sprang into them, and hugged
her tight and burst into tears.



CHAPTER XXXVII


That autumn Beth was married to Daniel Maclure, M.D., &c., &c. At the
time of her marriage she hardly knew what his full name was. She had
always heard him called "the doctor" or "Dr. Dan," and had never
thought of him as anything else, nor did she know anything else about
him--his past, his family, or his prospects, which, considering her
age, is not surprising; but what did surprise her in after years, when
she discovered it, was to find that her friends who made the match
knew no more about him than she did. He had scraped acquaintance with
her brother Jim in a public billiard-room in Rainharbour, and been
introduced by him to the other members of her family, who, because his
address was good and his appearance attractive, had taken it for
granted that everything else concerning him was equally satisfactory.

Beth decided to keep her surname for her father's sake, and also
because she could not see why she should lose her identity because she
had married. Everybody said it was absurd of her; but she was
determined, and from the time of her marriage she signed herself
Elizabeth Caldwell Maclure.

Dan confided to Mrs. Caldwell that he was troubled by some few small
debts which he was most anxious to pay in order that he might start
his married life clear, and the poor lady generously reduced her
slender income by selling some shares to raise the money for him. When
he accepted it, his eyes filled with tears, as was usual with him in
moments of emotion.

"O mamma!" Beth exclaimed when she heard of the sacrifice, "how could
you? I do not deserve such generosity, for I have never been any
comfort to you; and I shall always be miserable about it, thinking how
badly you want the money."

"There will be one mouth less to feed when you have gone, you know,
Beth," Mrs. Caldwell answered bravely, "and I shall be the happier for
thinking that you start clear. Debt crushed us our whole married life.
I shall be the easier if I know you haven't that burden to bear.
Besides, Dan will repay me as soon as he can. He is a thoroughly good
fellow."

"You shall be repaid, mamma, in more ways than one, if I live," Beth
vowed.

Uncle James Patten doled out a five-pound-note to Beth by way of a
wedding present from the long rent-roll her mother should have
inherited.

"This is to help with your trousseau, but do not be extravagant," he
said in his pleasant way. "As the wife of a professional man, you
will descend from my class to the class below, the middle class, and
you should dress according to your station. But you are doing as well
as we could expect you to do, considering your character and conduct.
Some doubted if you would ever receive an offer of marriage, or have
the sense to accept it if one were made you; but I always said you
would have the doctor if he would have you."

Beth's impulse was to throw the note at him, but she restrained
herself on her brother Jim's account. It was suspected that Uncle
James was only waiting for a plausible excuse to disinherit Jim; and
he found it the next time Jim stayed at Fairholm. They were in the
drawing-room together one day, and a maid was mending the fire. Uncle
James was sitting at a writing-table with a mirror in front of him,
and he declared that in that mirror he distinctly saw his nephew chuck
the maid-servant under the chin, which was conduct such as Mr. James
Patten could not be expected to tolerate in his heir; so he altered
his will, and after that all communication ceased between the two
families, except such as Aunt Grace Mary managed to keep up
surreptitiously.

Aunt Grace Mary was very generous to Beth, and so also was old Lady
Benyon. Had it not been for these two, Beth would have left home
ill-provided for. Thanks to them, however, she was spared that
humiliation, and went with an ample outfit.

In the days preceding her marriage, Beth sometimes thought of
Charlotte, and of the long fiction of that wonderful time when they
were friends. Her busy brain had created many another story since
then, but none that had the fascination of that first sustained
effort. Hector's mysterious establishment on the other side of the
headland, the troubles in Spain, the wicked machinations of their
enemies, the Secret Service of Humanity, the horses, yacht, and useful
doctor--who had not held a high place in their estimation, being
merely looked upon as a trustworthy tool of Hector's; yet it was he
whom Beth was to marry. She wondered what Charlotte would think of her
when she heard it, and of Hector and the whole story; but she never
knew, for Charlotte was at school in France during this period, and
never came into Beth's life again.

During the early days of her married life a sort of content settled
upon Beth; a happy sense of well-being, of rest and satisfaction, came
to her, and that strange vague yearning ache, the presence of which
made all things incomplete, was laid. The atmosphere in which she now
lived was sensuous, not spiritual, and although she was unaware of
this, she felt its influence. Dan made much of her, and she liked
that; but the vision and the dream had ceased. Her intellectual
activity was stimulated, however, and it was not long before she
began to think for herself more clearly and connectedly than she had
ever done before.

They spent the first few weeks in London in a whirl of excitement,
living at sumptuous restaurants, and going to places of amusement
every night, where Beth would sit entranced with music, singing,
dancing, and acting, never taking her eyes from the stage, and
yearning in her enthusiasm to do the same things herself--not doubting
but that she could either, so perfectly had she the power to identify
herself with the performers, and realise, as from within, what their
sensations must be.

When she had been in London as a girl at school, she had seen nothing
but the bright side of life, the wholesome, happy, young side. A poor
beggar to be helped, or a glimpse in the street of a sorrowful face
that saddened her for a moment, was the worst she knew of the great
wicked city; but now, with Dan for a companion, the realities of vice
and crime were brought home to her; she learnt to read signs of
depravity in the faces of men and women, and to associate certain
places with evil-doers as their especial haunts. Her husband's
interest in the subject was inexhaustible; he seemed to think of
little else. He would point out people in places of public amusement,
and describe in detail the loathsome lives they led. Every
well-dressed woman he saw he suspected. He would pick out one because
she had yellow hair, and another because her two little children were
precocious and pretty, and declare them to be "kept women." That a
handsome woman could be anything but vicious had apparently never
occurred to him. He was very high-minded on the subject of sin if the
sinner were a woman, and thought no degradation sufficient for her. In
speaking of such women he used epithets from which Beth recoiled. She
allowed them to pass, however, in consideration of the moral
exasperation that inspired them, and the personal rectitude his
attitude implied. The subject had a horrible kind of fascination for
her; she hated it, yet she could not help listening, although her
heart ached and her soul sickened. She listened in silence, however,
neither questioning nor discussing, but simply attending; collecting
material for which she had no use at the moment, and storing it
without design--material which she would find herself forced to turn
to account eventually, but in what way and to what purpose there was
no knowing as yet.

They were to live at Slane, an inland town near Morningquest, where
modern manufactures had competed successfully with ancient
agricultural interests, and altered the attitude of the landed gentry
towards trade, and towards the townspeople, beguiling them to be less
exclusive because there was money in the town, self-interest weighing
with them all at once in regard to the neighbours whom Christian
precept had vainly urged them to recognise.

Dr. Maclure had taken an old-fashioned house in a somewhat solitary
position on the outskirts of Slane, but near enough to the town to
secure paying patients, as he hoped, while far enough out of it to
invite county callers. It stood just on the highroad, from which it
was only divided by a few evergreen shrubs and an iron railing; but it
was picturesque, nevertheless, with creepers--magnolia, wisteria, and
ivy--clustering on the dark red bricks. At the back there was a good
garden, and in front, across the road, were green meadows with
hedgerows--a tangle of holly, hawthorn, and bramble--and old trees,
surviving giants of a forest long uprooted and forgotten. It was a
rich and placid scene, infinitely soothing to one fresh from the
turmoil of the city, and weary of the tireless motion, the incessant
sound and tumult of the sea. When Beth looked out upon the meadows
first, she sighed and said to herself, "Surely, surely one should be
happy here!"

The house was inconveniently arranged inside, and had less
accommodation than its outside pretensions promised; but Beth was
delighted with it all, and took possession of her keys with pride. She
was determined to be a good manager, and make her housekeeping money
go a long way. Her dream was to save out of it, and have something
over to surprise Dan with when the bills were paid. To her chagrin,
however, she found that she was not to have any housekeeping money at
all.

"You are too young to have the care of managing money," said Dan.
"Just give the orders, and I'll see about paying the bills."

But the system did not answer. Beth had no idea what she ought to be
spending, and either the bills were too high or the diet was too low,
and Dan grumbled perpetually. If the housekeeping were at all frugal,
he was anything but cheery during meals; but if she ordered him all he
wanted, there were sure to be scenes on the day of reckoning. He
blamed her bad management, and she said nothing; but she knew she
could have managed on any reasonable sum to which he might have
limited her. She had too much self-respect to ask for money, however,
if he did not choose to give it to her.

It surprised her to find that what he had to eat was a matter of great
importance to him. He fairly gloated over things he liked, and in
order to indulge him, and keep the bills down besides, she went
without herself; and he never noticed her self-denial. He was apt to
take too much of his favourite dishes, and was constantly regretting
it. "I wish I had not eaten so much of that cursed _vol au vent_; it
never agrees with me," he would say; but he would eat as much as ever
next time. Beth could not help observing such traits. She did not set
them down to his personal discredit, however, but to the discredit of
his sex at large. She had always heard that men were self-indulgent,
and Dan was a man; that was the nearest she came to blaming him at
first. Being her husband had made a difference in her feeling for him;
before their marriage she was not so tolerant.

Her housekeeping duties by no means filled her day. An hour or so in
the morning was all they occupied at most, and the time must have hung
heavy on her hands had she had no other pursuit to beguile her.
Fortunately she had no intention of allowing her plans for the
improvement of her mind to lapse simply because she had married. On
the contrary, she felt the defects of her education more keenly than
ever, and expected Dan to sympathise with her in her efforts to remedy
them. He came in one day soon after they were settled, and found her
sitting at the end of the dining-room table with her back to the
window and a number of books spread out about her.

"This looks learned," he said. "What are you doing?"

"I am looking for something to study," she answered. "What writers
have helped you most?"

"Helped me most!--how do you mean?"

"Well, helped you to be upright, you know, to make good resolutions
and keep straight."

"Thank you," he said; "I have not felt the need of good resolutions,
and this is the first hint I have had that I require any. If you will
inquire among my friends, I fancy you will find that I have the credit
of going pretty straight as it is."

"O Dan!" Beth exclaimed, "you quite misunderstand me. I never meant to
insinuate that you are not straight. I was only thinking of the way in
which we all fall short of our ideals."

"Ideals be hanged!" said Dan. "If a man does his duty, that's ideal
enough, isn't it?"

"I should think so," Beth said pacifically.

Dan went to the mantelpiece, and stood there, studying himself with
interest in the glass. "A lady told me the other day I looked like a
military man," he said, smoothing his glossy black hair and twisting
the ends of his long moustache.

"Well, I think you look much more military than medical," Beth
replied, considering him.

"I'm glad of that," he said, smiling at himself complacently.

"Are you?" Beth exclaimed in surprise. "Why? A medical man has a finer
career than a military man, and should have a finer presence if
ability, purpose, and character count for anything towards
appearance. Personally I think I should wish to look like what I am,
if I could choose."

"So you do," he rejoined, adjusting his hat with precision as he
spoke, and craning his neck to see himself sideways in the glass. "You
look like a silly little idiot. But never mind. That's all a girl need
be if she's pretty; and if she isn't pretty, she's of no account, so
it doesn't matter what she is."

When he had gone, Beth sat for a long time thinking; but she did no
more reading that day, nor did she ever again consult Dan about the
choice of books, or expect him to sympathise with her in her work.

For the first few months of her married life, she had no pocket-money
at all. Aunt Grace Mary slipped two sovereigns into her hand when they
parted, but these Beth kept, she hardly knew why, as she had her
half-year's dividend to look forward to. About the time that her money
was due, Dan began to talk incessantly of money difficulties. Bills
were pressing, and he did not know where on earth to look for a
five-pound-note. He did not think Beth too young to be worried
morning, noon, and night on the subject, although she took it very
seriously. One morning after he had made her look anxious, he suddenly
remembered a letter he had for her, and handed it to her. It was from
her lawyer, and contained a cheque for twenty-five pounds, the
long-looked-forward-to pocket money.

"Will this be of any use to you?" Beth asked, handing him the cheque.

His countenance cleared. "Of use to me? I should think it would!" he
exclaimed. "It will just make all the difference. You must sign it,
though."

When she had signed it, he put it in his pocket-book, and his spirits
went up to the cheery point. He adjusted his hat at the glass over the
dining-room mantelpiece, lit a shilling cigar, and went off to his
hospital jauntily. Beth was glad to have relieved him of his anxiety.
She half hoped he might give her something out of the cheque, if it
were only a pound or two, she wanted some little things so badly; but
he never offered her a penny. She thought of Aunt Grace Mary's two
sovereigns, but the dread of having nothing in case of an emergency
kept her from spending them.

There was one thing Dan did which Beth resented. He opened her
letters.

"Husband and wife are one," he said. "They should have no secrets from
each other. I should like you to open my letters, too, but they
contain professional secrets, you see, and that wouldn't do."

He spoke in what he called his cheery way, but Beth had begun to feel
that there was another word which would express his manner better, and
now it occurred to her.

"You have no right to open my letters," she said; "and being facetious
on the subject does not give you any."

"But if I chose to?" he asked.

"It will be a breach of good taste and good feeling," she answered.

No more was said on the subject, and Dan did not open her letters for
a little, but then he began again. He had always some excuse,
however--either he hadn't looked at the address, or he had been
impatient to see if there were any message for himself, and so on; but
Beth was not mollified although she said nothing, and her annoyance
made her secretive. She would watch for the postman, and take the
letters from him herself, and conceal her own, so that Dan might not
even know that she had received any.

She had a difficulty with him about another matter too. His lover-like
caresses while they were engaged had not been distasteful to her; but
after their marriage he kept up an incessant billing and cooing, and
of a coarser kind, which soon satiated her. She was a nicely balanced
creature, with many interests in life, and love could be but one among
the number in any case; but Dan almost seemed to expect it to be the
only one.

"Oh dear! must I be embraced again?" she exclaimed one day, with quite
comical dismay on being interrupted in the middle of a book that was
interesting her at the moment.

Dan looked disconcerted. In his cheerful masculine egotism it had not
occurred to him that Beth might find incessant demonstrations of
affection monotonous. He would smile at pictures of the waning of the
honeymoon, where the husband returns to his book and his dog, and the
wife sits apart sad and neglected; it was inevitable that the man
should tire, he had other things to think of; but that the wife should
be the first to be bored was incredible, and worse: it was unwomanly.

Dan went to the mantelpiece, and stood looking down into the fire, and
his grey-green eyes became suffused.

"Have I hurt you, Dan?" Beth exclaimed, jumping up and going to him.

"Hurt me!" he said, taking out his pocket-handkerchief, "that is not
the word for it. You have made me very unhappy."

"Oh!" said Beth, her own inclinations disregarded at once, "I _am_
sorry!"

But he had satiated her once for all, and she never recovered any zest
for his caresses. She found no charm or freshness in them, especially
after she perceived that they were for his own gratification,
irrespective of hers. The privileges of love are not to be wrested
from us with impunity. Habits of dutiful submission destroy the power
to respond, and all that they leave to survive of the warm reality of
love at last is a cold pretence. By degrees, as Beth felt forced to be
dutiful, she ceased to be affectionate.

Although Dan dressed to go out with scrupulous care, he took no
trouble to make himself nice in the house. Care in dress was not in
him a necessary part and expression of a refined nature, but an
attempt to win consideration. He never dressed for dinner when they
were alone together. It was a trouble rather than a refreshment to him
to get rid of the dust of the day and the associations of his
walking-dress. This was a twofold disappointment to Beth. She had
expected him to have the common politeness to dress for her benefit,
and she was not pleased to find that the punctiliousness he displayed
in the matter on occasion was merely veneer. It was a defect of
breeding that struck her unpleasantly. They had been poor enough at
home, but Beth had been accustomed all her life to have delicate china
about her, and pictures and books, to walk on soft carpets and sit in
easy-chairs; possessions of a superior class which, in her case, were
symbols bespeaking refinement of taste and habits from which her soul
had derived satisfaction even while her poor little fragile body
starved. She dressed regularly and daintily herself, and Dan at the
bottom of the table in his morning coat was an offence to her. She
said nothing at first, however, so his manners still further
deteriorated, until one night, after she had gone to her room, he
walked in with his hat on, smoking a cigar. It was this last
discourtesy that roused her to rebel.

"This is my bedroom," she said significantly.

"I know," he answered.

"You know--yet you keep your hat on, and you are smoking," she
proceeded.

"Why," he rejoined, "and if I do, what then? I know ladies who let
their husbands smoke in bed."

"Probably," she said. "I have heard of more singularly coarse things
than that even. But I am accustomed to pure air in my room, and I must
have it."

"And suppose I should choose to stay here and smoke?" he said.

"Of course I could not prevent you," she answered; "but I should go
and sleep in another room."

"H'm," he grunted. "You're mighty particular."

But he went away all the same, and did not appear there again either
with his hat on or smoking a cigar.

Beth suffered miserably from the want of proper privacy in her life.
She had none whatever now. It had been her habit to read and reflect
when she went to bed, to prepare for a tranquil night by setting aside
the troubles of the day, and purifying her mind systematically even as
she washed her body; but all that was impossible if her husband were
at home. He would break in upon her reading with idle gossip, fidget
about the room when she wished to meditate, and leave her no decent
time of privacy for anything. He had his own dressing-room, where he
was secure from interruption, but never had the delicacy to comprehend
that his presence could be any inconvenience to Beth. And it was worse
than an inconvenience. It was a positive hardship--never to be sure of
a moment alone.

One afternoon, when she had locked herself in her bedroom, he came and
turned the handle of the door noisily.

"Open the door," he said.

"Do you want anything?" she asked.

"Open the door," he repeated.

She obeyed, and he came in, and glanced round suspiciously.

"What were you doing?" he asked.

"Oh," she exclaimed, "this is intolerable!"

"What is intolerable?" he demanded.

"This intrusion," she replied. "I want to be alone for a little; can't
you understand that?"

"No, I cannot understand a wife locking her husband out of her room,
and what's more, you've no business to do it. I've a legal right to
come here whenever I choose."

Then Beth began to realise what the law of man was with regard to her
person.

"I never intrude upon you when you shut yourself up," she
remonstrated.

"Oh, that is different," he answered arrogantly. "I may have brainwork
to do, or something important to think about There is no comparison."

Beth went to her dressing-table, sat down in front of it, folded her
hands, and waited doggedly.

He looked at her for a little; then he said, "I don't understand your
treatment of me at all, Beth. But there's no understanding women." He
spoke as if it were the women's fault, and to their discredit, that he
couldn't understand them.

Beth made no answer, and he finally took himself off, slamming the
door after him.

"Thank goodness!" Beth exclaimed. "One would think he had bought me."

Then she sat wondering what she should do. She must have some corner
where she would be safe from intrusion. He had his consulting-room, a
room called his laboratory, a surgery, and a dressing-room, where no
one would dream of following him if he shut the door; she had
literally not a corner. She left her bedroom, and walked through the
other rooms on the same floor as she considered the matter; then she
went up to the next floor, where the servants slept. Above that again
there was an attic used as a box-room, and she went up there too. It
was a barn of a place, supported by pillars, and extending apparently
over the whole of the storey below. The roof sloped to the floor on
either side, and the whole place was but ill-lighted by two small
windows looking to the north. Dr. Maclure had taken over the house as
it stood, furniture and all, from the last occupants, by whom this
great attic had evidently been used as a lumber-room. There were
various pieces of furniture in it--tables, chairs, and drawers, some
broken, some in fair condition. At the farther end, opposite to the
door, there was a pile of packing-cases and travelling-trunks. Beth
had always thought that they stood up against the wall, but on going
over to them now, she discovered that there was a space behind. The
pile was too high for her to see over it, but by going down on her
hands and knees where the sloping roof was too low for her to stoop,
she found she could creep round it. It was the kind of thing a child
would have done, but what was Beth but a child? On the other side of
the pile it was almost dark. She could see something, however, when
she stood up, which looked like a mark on the whitewash, and on
running her hand over it she discovered it to be a narrow door flush
with the wall. There was no handle or latch to it, but there was a key
which had rusted in the keyhole and was not to be turned. The door was
not locked, however, and Beth pushed it open, and found herself in a
charming little room with a fireplace at one end of it, and opposite,
at the other end, a large bow window. Beth was puzzled to understand
how there came to be a room there at all. Then she recollected a sort
of tower there was at the side of the house, which formed a deep
embrasure in the drawing-room, a dressing-room to the visitor's room,
and a bath-room on the floor above. The window looked out on the
garden at the back of the house. A light iron balcony ran round it,
the rail of which was so thickly covered with ivy that very little of
the window was visible from below. Beth had noticed it, however, only
she thought it was a dummy, and so also did Dan. The little room
looked bright and cosy with the afternoon sun streaming in. It seemed
to have been occupied at one time by some person of fastidious taste,
judging by what furniture remained--a square Chippendale table with
slender legs, two high-backed chairs covered with old-fashioned
tapestry, and a huge mahogany bookcase of the same period, with glass
doors above and cupboards below. The high white mantelpiece, adorned
with vases and festoons of flowers, was of Adam's design, and so also
was the dado and the cornice. The walls were painted a pale warm pink.
A high brass fender, pierced, surrounded the fireplace, and there were
a poker, tongs, and shovel to match, and a small brass scuttle still
full of coals. There were ashes in the grate, too, as if the room had
only lately been occupied. The boards were bare, but white and
well-fitting, and in one corner of the room there was a piece of
carpet rolled up.

Beth dropped on to one of the dusty chairs, and looked round.
Everything about her was curiously familiar, and her first impression
was that she had been there before. On the other hand, she could
hardly believe in the reality of what she saw, she thought she must be
dreaming, for here was exactly what she had been pining for most in
the whole wide world of late, a secret spot, sacred to herself, where
she would be safe from intrusion.

She went downstairs for some oil for the lock, and patiently worked at
it until at last she succeeded in turning the key. Then, as it was too
late to do anything more that day, she locked the door, and carried
the key off in her pocket triumphantly.

Half the night she lay awake thinking of her secret chamber; and as
soon as Dan had gone out next morning, and she had done her
housekeeping, she stole upstairs with duster and brush, and began to
set it in order. All her treasures were contained in some old trunks
of Aunt Victoria's which were in the attic, but had not been unpacked
because she had no place to put the things. Dan had seen some of these
treasures at Rainharbour, and considered them old rubbish, and, not
thinking it likely that there would be anything else in the boxes, he
had taken no further interest in them. He would have liked to have
left them behind altogether, and even tried to laugh Beth out of what
he called her sentimental attachment to odds and ends; but as most of
the things had belonged to Aunt Victoria, she took his ridicule so ill
that he wisely let the subject drop. He had been somewhat hasty in his
estimation of the value of the contents of the boxes, however, for
there were some handsome curios, a few miniatures and pictures of
great artistic merit, some rare editions of books, besides laces,
jewels, brocades, and other stuffs in them.

When Beth had swept and dusted, she put down the carpet. Then she
began to unpack. Among the first things she found were the old French
books, a quarto Bible with the Apocrypha in it, Shakespeare in several
volumes, and her school-books and note-books; some ornaments, some
beautiful old curtains, and a large deep rug, like a Turkey carpet, in
crimson and green and purple and gold, worked by Aunt Victoria. This
she spread before the fireplace. The doorway she covered with a
curtain, and two more she hung on either side of the window, so that
they could not be seen from below. Her books of reference, desk,
note-books, and writing materials she put on the table, arranged the
ornaments on the mantelpiece, and hung the miniatures and pictures on
the walls. Then she sat down and looked about her, well pleased with
the whole effect. "Now," she exclaimed, "I am at home, thank God! I
shall be able to study, to read and write, think and pray at last,
undisturbed."



CHAPTER XXXVIII


As Dan sympathised with none of Beth's tastes or interests, and seemed
to have none of his own with which she could sympathise, their stock
of conversation was soon exhausted, and there was nothing like
companionship in their intercourse. If Beth had had no resources in
herself, she would have had but a sorry time of it in those days,
especially as she received no kindness from any one in Slane. Some of
the other medical men's wives called when she first arrived, and she
returned their calls punctually, but their courtesy went no farther.
Mrs. Carne, the wife of the leading medical practitioner, asked her to
lunch, and Mrs. Jeffreys, a surgeon's wife, asked her to afternoon
tea; but as these invitations did not include her husband, she refused
them. She invited these ladies and their husbands in return, however,
but they both pleaded previous engagements.

After the Maclures had been some little time at Slane, Lady Benyon
bethought her of an old friend of hers, one Lady Beg, who lived in the
neighbourhood, and asked her to call upon Beth, which she did
forthwith, for she was one of those delightful old ladies who like
nothing better than to be doing a kindness. She came immediately,
bringing an invitation to lunch on the following Sunday, already
written in case she should find no one at home.

Dan was delighted, "We shall meet nothing but county people there," he
said, "and that's the proper set for us. They always do the right
thing, you see. They're the only people worth knowing."

"But Beg is miles away from here," Beth said; "how shall we go?"

"We'll go in the dogcart, of course," Dan answered.

He had set up a dogcart on their arrival, but this was the first time
he had proposed to take Beth out in it.

As they drove along on Sunday morning in the bright sunshine, Dan's
spirits overflowed in a characteristic way at the prospect of meeting
"somebody decent," as he expressed it, and he made remarks about the
faces and figures of all the women they passed on the road,
criticising them as if they were cattle to be sold at so much a point.

"That little girl there," he said of one, whom he beamed upon and
ogled as they passed, "reminds me of a fair-haired little devil I
picked up one night in Paris. Gad! she _was_ a bad un! up to more
tricks than any other I ever knew. She used to--" (here followed a
description of some of her peculiar practices).

"I wish you would not tell me these things," Beth remonstrated.

But he only laughed. "You know you're amused," he said. "It's just
your conventional affectation that makes you pretend to object. That's
the way women drive their husbands elsewhere for amusement; they won't
take a proper intelligent interest in life, so there's nothing to talk
to them about. I agree with the advanced party. They're always
preaching that women should know the world. Women who _do_ know the
world have no nonsense about them, and are a jolly sight better
company than your starched Puritans who pretend to know nothing. It's
the most interesting side of life after all, and the most instructive;
and I wonder at your want of intelligence, Beth. You shouldn't be
afraid to know the natural history of humanity."

"Nor am I," Beth answered quietly; "nor the natural--or
unnatural--depravity either, which is what you really mean, I believe.
But knowing it, and delighting in it as a subject of conversation, are
two very different things. Jesting about that side of life affects me
like mud on a clean coat. I resent being splashed with it, and try to
get rid of it, but unfortunately it sticks and stains."

"Oh, you're quite right," Dan answered unctuously. "It's just shocking
the stories that are told--" and for the rest of the way he discoursed
about morals, illustrating his meaning as he proceeded with anecdotes
of the choicest description.

When they arrived at Beg House, they found the company more mixed than
Dan had anticipated. Dr. and Mrs. Carne were there, Mr. and Mrs.
Jeffreys, and Mr., Mrs., and Miss Petterick. Mr. Petterick was a
solicitor of bumptious manners and doubtful reputation, whom the whole
county hated, but tolerated because of his wealth and shrewdness,
either of which they liked to be in a position to draw upon if
necessary. But besides these townspeople, there were Sir George and
Lady Galbraith, Mr. and Mrs. Kilroy of Ilverthorpe, and Mrs. Orton
Beg, a widowed daughter-in-law of Lady Beg's.

Dr. Maclure immediately made up to Sir George Galbraith, who was also
a medical man, and of great repute in his own line. He was a county
magnate besides, and a man of wealth and importance by reason of a
baronetcy somewhat unexpectedly inherited, and a beautiful
country-seat. He continued to practise, however, for love of his
profession, but used it as a means of doing good rather than as a
source of income. In appearance he was a tall, rather awkward man,
with a fine head and a strong, plain face. He spoke in that deliberate
Scotch way which has a ring of sincerity in it and inspires
confidence, and the contrast between his manner and Dan's struck Beth
unpleasantly. She wished Dan would be less effusive; it was almost as
if he were cringing; and she thought he should have waited for Sir
George Galbraith, who was the older man, to have made the first
advance.

Beth herself was at her ease as soon as she came among these people.
It was the social atmosphere to which she had been accustomed. Mrs.
Carne, Mrs. Jeffreys, and Mrs. Petterick were on their best behaviour,
but Beth had only to be natural. The county people were all nice to
her, and the other town ladies, who had hitherto slighted her, looked
on and wondered to see her so well received. At luncheon, as there
were not gentlemen enough to go round, she sat between Sir George
Galbraith and Mrs. Orton Beg. Mrs. Kilroy sat opposite. Sir George had
known Mrs. Kilroy all her life. It was he, in fact, who nicknamed her
and her brother "The Heavenly Twins" in the days when, as children,
they used to be the delight of their grandfather, the old Duke of
Morningquest, and the terror of their parents, Mr. and Lady Adeline
Hamilton-Wells.

As soon as they were seated, Mrs. Kilroy attacked Sir George on some
subject which they had previously discussed, and there ensued a little
playful war of words.

"Oh, you're just a phrase-maker," Mrs. Kilroy exclaimed at last,
finding herself worsted; "and phrases prove nothing."

"What is a phrase-maker?" he asked with a twinkle.

"Why, a phrase-maker is a person who recklessly launches a saying,
winged by wit, and of superior brevity and distinctness, but not
necessarily true--a saying which flies direct to the mind, and, being
of a cutting nature, carves an indelible impression there," said Mrs.
Kilroy--"an impression which numbs the intellect and prevents us
reasoning for ourselves. Opinion is formed for the most part of
phrases, not of knowledge and observation. The things people say
smartly are quoted, not because they are true, but because they are
smart. A lie well put will carry conviction to the average mind more
surely than a good reason if ill-expressed, because most people have
an æsthetic sense that is satisfied by a happy play upon words, but
few have reason enough to discriminate when the brilliant ingenuity
of the phrase-maker is pitted against a plain statement of the bald
truth."

"As, for instance?" asked Sir George.

    "Man's love is of his life a thing apart,
    'Tis woman's whole existence,"

Mrs. Kilroy responded glibly. "That is quoted everywhere, and I have
never heard it questioned, yet it is a flagrant case of confounding
smartness with accuracy. Love of the kind that Byron meant is quite as
much a thing apart from woman's life as from man's; more men, in fact,
make the pursuit of it their whole existence than women do."

"You are right," said Sir George thoughtfully. "Love is certainly not
a modern woman's whole existence, and she never dies of it. She feels
it strongly, but it does not swamp her. In a bad attack, she may go to
bed young one night and rise next day with grey hairs in her head, and
write a book about it; but then she recovers: and I think you are
right about phrases, too. 'Syllables govern the world,' John Selden
said; but 'phrases' would have been the better word. Phrases are the
keynotes to life; they set the tune to which men insensibly shape
their course, and so rule us for good and ill. This is a time of talk,
and formidable is the force of phrases. Catch-words are creative; they
do not prove that a thing is--they cause it to be."

"Then an unscrupulous phrase-maker may be a danger to the community,"
Beth observed.

"Yes," said Sir George; "but on the other hand, one who is scrupulous
would be a philanthropist of extraordinary power."

"Now, isn't that like his craft and subtlety, Evadne?" said Mrs.
Kilroy to Lady Galbraith. "He has been gradually working up to that in
order to make Mrs. Maclure suppose I intended to pay him a compliment
when I called him a phrase-maker."

"You are taking a mean advantage of an honest attempt on my part to
arrive at the truth," said Sir George.

"I believe you blundered into that without seeing in the least where
you were going," Beth observed naïvely.

Everybody smiled, except Dan, who told her on the way home she had
made a great mistake to say such a thing, and she must be careful in
future, or she would give offence and make enemies for him.

"No fear with people like that," said Beth. "They all understood me."

"Which is as much as to say that your husband does not," said Dan,
assuming his hurt expression. "Very well. Go your own way. But you'll
be sorry for it."

"What a delightful person Mrs. Orton Beg is," Beth observed, to make a
diversion; "and so nice-looking too!"

"You are easily pleased! Why, she's forty if she's a day!" Dan
ejaculated, speaking as if that were to her discredit, and must
deprive her of any consideration from him.

The next excitement was a military ball. Dan determined to go, and
Beth was ready enough; she had never been to a ball.

"But how about a dress?" she said. "There has been such a sudden
change in the fashion since mine were made, I'm afraid I have nothing
that will do."

"Then get a new one," Dan said.

"What! and add to the bills?" Beth objected.

"Oh, bother the bills!" he answered in the tone he called cheery.
"I've had them coming in all my life and I'm still here. Get a thing
when you want it, and pay for it when you can--that's my motto. Why,
my tailor's bill alone is up in the hundreds.

"But that was the bill mamma gave you the money to settle," Beth
exclaimed.

"I know," he answered casually. "I got the money out of her for that,
but I had to spend it on your amusement in town, my dear."

"Oh!" Beth ejaculated--"how could you?"

"How could I?" he answered coolly. "Well, I couldn't of course if I
hadn't been clever; but I can always get anything I like out of old
ladies. They dote on me. You've only got to amuse them, you know, and
pour in a little sentiment on occasion. Let them understand you've
been rather a naughty man, but you know what's right--that always
fetches them. Your mother would have sold out all she had to help me
when she found I meant to repent and settle. But of course I wouldn't
take anything that was not absolutely necessary," he added
magnanimously.

Beth compressed her lips and frowned. "Do you mean to say you obtained
money from a poor woman like my mother for a special purpose which she
approved, and spent that money on something else?" she asked.

Dan changed countenance. "I got the money from your mother to pay my
tailor's bill; but the circumstance of your spending more money in
town than I could afford compelled me to use it for another purpose,"
he answered in rather a blustering tone.

"I spent no money in town," Beth said.

"I had to spend it on you then," he rejoined, "and a nice lament you
would have made if I hadn't! But it's all the same. Husband and wife
are one; and I maintain that the money was given to me to pay a just
debt, and I paid a just debt with it. Now, what have you to say
against that to the disparagement of your husband?"

He looked Beth straight in the face as he spoke, as if the nature of
the transaction would be changed by staring her out of countenance,
and she returned his gaze unflinchingly; but not another word would
she say on the subject. There is a sad majority of wives whose
attitude towards their husbands must be one of contemptuous
toleration--toleration of their past depravity and of their present
deceits, whatever form they may take. Such a wife looks upon her
husband as a hopeless incurable, because she knows that he has not the
sense, even if he had the strength of character, to mend his moral
defects. Beth fully realised her husband's turpitude with regard to
the money, and also realised the futility of trying to make him see
his own conduct in the matter in any light not flattering to himself,
and she was deeply pained. She had taken it for granted that Dan would
pay interest on the money, but had not troubled herself to find out if
he were doing so, as she now thought that she ought to have done, for
clearly she should have paid it herself if he did not. True, she never
had any money; but that was no excuse, for there were honest ways of
making money, and make it she would. She was on her way upstairs to
her secret chamber to think the matter out undisturbed when she came
to this determination; and as soon as she had shut herself in, she
sank upon her knees, and vowed to God solemnly to pay back every
farthing, and the interest in full, if she had to work her fingers to
the bone. Curiously enough, it was with her fingers she first thought
of working, not with her brain. She had seen an advertisement in a
daily paper of several depôts for the sale of "ladies' work" in London
and other places, and she determined at once to try that method of
making money. Work of all kinds came easily to her, and happily she
still had her two sovereigns, which would be enough to lay in a stock
of materials to begin with. Her pin-money Dan regularly appropriated
as soon as it arrived, with the facetious remark that it would just
pay for her keep; and so far Beth had let him have it without a
murmur, yielding in that as in all else, however much against her own
inclinations, for gentleness, and also with a vague notion of making
up to him in some sort for his own shortcomings, which she could not
help fancying must be as great a trouble to him as they were to her.
She had grown to have a very real affection for Dan, as indeed she
would have had for any one who was passably kind to her; but her
estimate of his character, as she gradually became acquainted with it,
was never influenced by her affection, except in so far as she pitied
him for traits which would have made her despise another man.

Since her marriage she had given up her free, wild, wandering habits.
She would go into the town to order things at the shops in the
morning, and take a solitary walk out into the country in the
afternoon perhaps, but without any keen enjoyment. Her natural zest
for the woods and fields was suspended. She had lost touch with
nature. Instead of looking about her observantly, as had been her
wont, she walked now, as a rule, with her eyes fixed on the ground,
thinking deeply. She was losing vitality too; her gait was less
buoyant, and she was becoming subject to aches and pains she had never
felt before. Dan said they were neuralgic, and showed that she wanted
a tonic, but troubled himself no more about them. He always seemed to
think she should be satisfied when he found a name for her complaint.
She had also become much thinner, which made her figure childishly
young; but in the face she looked old for her age--five-and-twenty at
least--although she was not yet eighteen.

There was one particularly strong and happy point in Beth's character:
she wasted little or no time in repining for the thing that was done.
All her thought was how to remedy the evil and make amends; so now,
when she had recovered from the first shock of her husband's
revelation, she put the thought of it aside, pulled herself together
quickly, and found relief in setting to work with a will. The exertion
alone was inspiriting, and re-aroused the faculty which had been
dormant in her of late. She went at once to get materials for her
work, and stepped out more briskly than she had done for many a day.
She perceived that the morning air was fresh and sweet, and she
inhaled deep draughts of it, and rejoiced in the sunshine. Just
opposite their house, across the road, on the other side of a wooden
paling, the park-like meadow was intensely green; old horse-chestnuts
dotted about it made refreshing intervals of shade; in the hedgerows
the tall elms stood out clear against the sky, and the gnarled oaks
cast fantastic shadows on the grass; while beyond it, at the farther
side of the meadow by the brook, the row of Canadian poplars which
bordered it kept up a continuous whispering, as was their wont, even
on the stillest days. When Beth first heard them, they spoke a
language to her which she comprehended but could not translate; but
the immediate effect of her life with Dan had been to deaden her
perception, so that she could not comprehend. Then the whispering
became a mere rustle of leaves, appealing to nothing but her sense of
hearing, and her delight in their murmur lapsed when its significance
was lost to her spirit.

But that morning Nature spoke to her again and her eyes were opened.
She saw the grey-green poplars, the gnarled oaks, the dark crests of
the elms upraised against the radiant blue of the sky, and felt a
thrill like triumph as she watched the great masses of cloud,
dazzlingly white, floating in infinite space majestically. The life
about her, too--the twittering of birds in the hedgerows; an Alderney
cow with its calf in the fields; a young colt careering wildly,
startled by a passing train; a big dog that saluted her with friendly
nose as he trotted by--all these said something to her which made her
feel that, let what might happen, it was good to be alive.

On her way into town she thought out a piece of work, something more
original and effective than the things usually sold in fancy-work
shops, which did not often please her. When she had bought all the
materials that she required, there was very little of her two pounds
left, but she returned in high spirits, carrying the rather large
parcel herself, lest, if it were sent, it should arrive when Dan was
at home and excite his curiosity. He always appeared if he heard the
door-bell ring, and insisted on knowing who or what had come, an
inquisitive trick that irritated Beth into baffling him whenever she
could.

She carried her precious packet up to her secret chamber, and set to
work at once. Dan, when he came in to lunch, was surprised to find her
unusually cheerful. After the temper she had displayed at breakfast,
he had expected to have anything but a pleasant time of it for a
little. Seeing her in good spirits put him also into a genial mood,
and he began at once to talk about himself--his favourite topic.

"Well, I've had a rattling hard day," he observed. "You'd be surprised
at the amount I've done in the time. I don't believe any other man
here could have done it. I was at that confounded hospital a couple of
hours, and after that I had a round! People are beginning to send for
me now as the last from school. They think I'm up to the latest
dodges. The old men won't like it! I had to go out to the Pettericks
to see that girl Bertha again. Their family doctor could make nothing
of her case, but it's simple enough. The girl's hysterical, that's
what she is; and I know what I'd like to prescribe for her, and that's
a husband. Hee-hee! Soon cure her hysterics! As to the old girl, her
mother, she's got"--then followed a minute description of her
ailments, told in the baldest language. Of two words Dan always chose
the coarsest in talking to Beth, now that they were married, which had
made her writhe at first; but when she had remonstrated, he assumed an
injured air, after which she silently endured the infliction for fear
of wounding him. And it was the same with regard to his patients. The
first time he described the ailment of a lady patient, and made gross
comments about her, Beth had exclaimed--

"O Dan! what would she think of you if she knew you had told me?
Surely it is a breach of confidence!"

"Well," he exclaimed, trying to wither her with a look, "you _have_ a
nice opinion of your husband! Is it possible that I cannot speak to my
own wife without bringing such an accusation upon myself! Well, well!
And I'm slaving for you morning, noon, and night, to keep you in some
sort of decency and comfort; and when I come home, and do my best to
be cheery and amuse you, instead of being morose after the strain of
the day, as most men are, all the thanks I get is a speech like that!
O holy matrimony!"

"I did not mean to annoy you, Dan; I'm sorry," Beth protested.

"So you should be!" he said; "so you should be! It's mighty hard for
me to feel that my own wife hasn't confidence enough in me to be sure
that I should never say a word either to her or anybody else about any
of my patients to which they'd object."

"People feel differently on the subject, perhaps," Beth ventured. "I
only know that if I had a doctor who talked to his wife about my
complaints, I should"--despise him, was what she was going to say, but
she changed the phrase--"I should not like it. But you should know
what your own patients feel about it better than I do."

Even as she spoke, however, her mother's remark of long ago about a
"talking doctor" recurred to her, and she felt lowered in her own
estimation by the kind of concession she was making to him. The
tragedy of such a marriage consists in the effect of the man's mind
upon the woman's, shut up with him in the closest intimacy day and
night, and all the time imbibing his poisoned thoughts. Beth's womanly
grace pleaded with her continually not to hurt her husband since he
meant no offence, not to damp his spirits even when they took a form
so distasteful to her. To check him was to offend him and provoke a
scene for nothing, since his taste was not to be improved; and she
would have to have checked him perpetually, and made a mere nag of
herself; for to talk in this way to her, to tell her objectionable
stories, and harp on depravity of all kinds, was his one idea of
pleasurable conversation. It was seldom, therefore, that she
remonstrated--especially in those early days when she had not as yet
perceived that by tacitly acquiescing she was lending herself to
inevitable corruption.

Just at that time, too, she did not trouble herself much about
anything. She was entirely absorbed in her new object in life--to get
the work done, to make the money, to pay her mother with interest;
there was continual exaltation of spirit in the endeavour. Every
moment that she could safely secure, she spent in her secret chamber,
hard at work. Her outlook was on the sky above, for ever changing; on
the gay garden below, whence light airs wafted the fragrance of
flowers from time to time, to her delight; and on a gentle green
ascent, covered and crowned with trees, which shut out the world
beyond. Here there was a colony of rooks, where the birds were busy
all day long sometimes, and from which they were sometimes absent from
early morning till sundown, when they came back cawing by ones and
twos and threes, a long straggling procession of them, their dark
iridescent forms with broad black wings outspread, distinct and
decorative, against the happy blue. Beth loved the birds, and even as
she worked she watched them, their housekeepings and comings and
goings; and heard their talk; and often as she worked she looked out
at the fair prospect and up at the sky hopefully, and vowed again to
accomplish one act of justice at all events. She stopped her regular
studies at this time, because she conceived them to be for her own
mere personal benefit, while the task which she had set herself was
for a better purpose. But, although she did not study as had been her
wont, while she sewed she occupied her mind in a way that was much
more beneficial to it than the purposeless acquisition of facts, the
solving of mathematical problems, or conning of parts of speech.
Beside her was always an open book, it might be a passage of
Scripture, a scene from Shakespeare, a poem or paragraph rich in the
wisdom and beauty of some great mind; and as she sewed she dwelt upon
it, repeating it to herself until she was word-perfect in it, then
making it even more her own by earnest contemplation. These passages
became the texts of many observations; and in them was also the light
which showed her life as it is, and as it should be lived. In
meditating upon them she taught herself to meditate; and in following
up the clues they gave her in the endeavour to discriminate and to
judge fairly, by slow degrees she acquired the precious habit of clear
thought. This lifted her at once above herself as she had been; and
what she had lost of insight and spiritual perception since her
marriage, she began to recover in another and more perfect form.
Wholesome consideration of the realities of life now took the place of
fanciful dreams. Her mind, wonderfully fertilised, teemed again--not
with vain imaginings, however, as heretofore, but with something more
substantial. Purposeful thought was where the mere froth of sensuous
seeing had been; and it was thought that now clamoured for expression
instead of the verses and stories--fireworks of the brain, pleasant,
transient, futile distractions with nothing more nourishing in them
than the interest and entertainment of the moment--which had occupied
her chiefly from of old. It was natural to Beth to be open, to discuss
all that concerned herself with her friends; but having no one to talk
to now, she began on a sudden to record her thoughts and impressions
in writing; and having once begun, she entered upon a new phase of
existence altogether. She had discovered a recreation which was more
absorbing than anything she had ever tried before; for her early
scribbling had been of another kind, not nearly so entrancing. Then it
had been the idle gossip of life, and the mere pictorial art of
word-painting, an ingenious exercise, that had occupied her; now it
was the more soul-stirring themes in the region of philosophy and
ethics which she pursued, and scenes and phases of life interested her
only as the raw material from which a goodly moral might be extracted.
Art for art's sake she despised, but in art for man's sake she already
discovered noble possibilities. But her very delight in her new
pursuit made her think it right to limit her indulgence in it. Duty
she conceived to be a painful effort necessarily, but writing was a
pleasure; she therefore attended first conscientiously to her
embroidery, and any other task she thought it right to perform,
although her eager impatience to get back to her desk made each in
turn a toil to her. Like many another earnest person, she mistook the
things of no importance for things that matter because the doing of
them cost her much; and it was the intellectual exercise, the delicate
fancy work of her brain, a matter of enormous consequence, that she
neglected. Not knowing that "_If a man love the labour of any trade,
apart from any question of success or fame, the gods have called
him_," she made the fitting of herself for the work of her life her
last exercise at the tired end of the day. She rose early and went to
bed late in order to gain a little more time to write, but never
suspected that her delight in the effort to find expression for what
was in her mind of itself proclaimed her one of the elect.

When she had finished her embroidery, she despatched it secretly to
the depôt in London; but then she found that she would have to pay a
small subscription before she could have it sold there, and she had no
money. She wrote boldly to the secretary and told her so, and asked if
the subscription could not be paid out of the price she got for her
work. The secretary replied that it was contrary to the rules, but the
committee thought that such an artistically beautiful design as hers
was sure to be snapped up directly, and they had therefore decided to
make an exception in her case.

While these letters were going backwards and forwards, Beth suffered
agonies of anxiety lest Dan should pounce upon them and discover her
secret; but he happened to be out always at post-time just then, so
she managed to secure them safely.

As she had no money, she could not buy any more materials for
embroidery, so she was obliged to take a holiday, the greater part of
which she spent in writing. She was deeply engrossed by thoughts on
progress, which had been suggested by a passage in one of Emerson's
essays: "_All conservatives are such from natural defects. They have
been effeminated by position or nature, born halt and blind, through
luxury of their parents, and can only, like invalids, act on the
defensive._" Even in her own little life Beth had seen so much of the
ill effects of conservatism in the class to which she belonged, and
had suffered so much from it herself already, that the subject
appealed to her strongly, and she pursued it with enthusiasm--more
from the social than the political point of view, however. But,
unfortunately, in all too short a time, her holiday came to an end.
Her beautiful embroidery had sold for six guineas, and she found
herself with the money for more materials, and three pounds in hand
besides, clear profit, towards the debt. She had also received an
order from the depôt for another piece of work at the same price,
which caused her considerable elation, and set her to work again with
a will; and it was only when she could no longer ply her needle that
she allowed herself to take up her pen.



CHAPTER XXXIX


Beth had no more zest for the ball after that conversation with Daniel
about the money her mother had given him. She felt obliged to go to it
because he insisted that it was necessary for the wives of
professional men to show themselves on public occasions; but she would
not get a new dress. She had never worn her white silk trimmed with
myrtle, and when she came to look at it again, she decided that it was
not so much out of the fashion after all, and, at any rate, it must
do.

When she came down to dinner dressed in it on the night of the ball,
she looked very winsome, and smiled up at Dan in shy expectation of a
word of approval; but none came. In the early days of their
acquaintance he had remarked that she was much more easily depressed
than elated about herself, and would be the better of a little more
confidence--not to say conceit; but since their marriage he had never
given her the slightest sympathy or encouragement to cure her of her
diffidence. If anything were amiss in her dress or appearance, he told
her of it in the offensive manner of an ill-conditioned under-bred
man, generally speaking when they were out of doors, or in some house
where she could do nothing to put herself right, as if it were some
satisfaction to him to make her feel ill at ease; and if she were
complimented by any one else about anything, he had usually something
derogatory to say on the subject afterwards. Now, when he had
inspected her, he sat down to table without a word.

"Is there anything wrong?" Beth asked anxiously.

"No," he answered. "That stuff on your sleeves might have been
fresher, that's all."

"This will be my first ball," Beth ventured, breaking a long silence.

"Well, don't go and tell everybody," he rejoined. "They'll think you
want to make yourself interesting, and it's nothing to boast about.
Just lay yourself out to be agreeable to people who will further your
husband's interests, for once."

"But am I not always agreeable?" Beth exclaimed, much mortified.

"It doesn't appear so," he answered drily. "At any rate, you don't
seem to go down here."

"How do you mean?" Beth asked.

"Why, the ladies in the place all seem to shun you, for some reason or
other; not one of them ever comes near you in a friendly way."

"They were all very nice to me the other day at Beg," Beth protested,
her heart sinking at this recurrence of the old reproach; for to be
shunned, or in any way set apart, seemed even more dreadful to her now
than it had done when she was a child.

"See that they keep it up then," he answered grimly.

"If it depends upon me, they will," said Beth, setting her sensitive
mouth in a hard determined line that added ten years to her age and
did not improve her beauty. And it was with a sad heart, and sorely
dissatisfied with herself, that she drove to her first ball.

When they entered the ball-room, however, and Dan beamed about him on
every one in his "thoroughly good fellow" way, her spirits rose. The
decorations, the handsome uniforms, the brilliant dresses and jewels,
the flowers and foliage plants, and, above all, the bright dance-music
and festive faces, delighted her, and she gazed about her with lips
just parted in a little smile, wondering to find it all so gay.

A young military man was brought up to her and introduced by one of
the stewards before she had been five minutes in the room. He asked
for the pleasure of a dance; but, alas! thanks to the scheme of
education at the Royal Service School for Officers' Daughters having
been designed by the authorities to fit the girls for the next world
only, Beth could not dance. She had had some lessons at Miss
Blackburne's, but not enough to give her confidence, so she was
obliged to decline. Another and another would-be partner, and some
quite important people, as Dan said, offered, but in vain; and he
looked furious.

"Well," he exclaimed, "this is nice for me!"

"I am sorry," Beth answered nervously. She was beginning to have a
painful conviction that a man had to depend almost entirely on his
wife for his success in life, and the responsibility made her quail.

"I shall have to go and do _my_ duty, at any rate," he proceeded. "I
must leave you alone."

"Yes, do," said Beth. "Mrs. Kilroy and Mrs. Orton Beg have just come
in; I will go and join them." She naturally expected Dan to escort
her, and he probably would have done so had he waited to hear what she
was saying; but his marital manners were such that he had taken
himself off while she was speaking, and left her to fend for herself.
She was too glad, however, to see her charming new acquaintances, who
had been so kindly, to care much, and she crossed the room to them,
smiling confidently. As she approached, she saw that they recognised
her and said something to each other. When she came close, they both
bowed coldly, and turned their heads in the opposite direction.

Beth stopped short and her heart stood still. The slight was
unmistakable; but what had she done? She looked about her as if for an
explanation, and saw Lady Beg close beside her, talking to Mrs. Carne.

"Ah, how do you do? Nice ball, isn't it?" Lady Beg observed, but
without shaking hands.

"How do you do?" said Mrs. Carne, and then they resumed their
conversation, taking no further notice of Beth, who would probably
have turned and fled from the dreadful place incontinently, if Mrs.
Petterick had not come up at that moment and spoken to her as one
human being to another, seizing upon Beth as Beth might have seized
upon her, in despair; for Mrs. Petterick had also been having her
share of snubs. Oh, those Christians! how they do love one another!
how tender they are to one another's feelings! how careful to make the
best of one another! how gentle, good, and kind, and true! How
singular it is that when the wicked unbeliever comes to live amongst
them, and sees them as they are, he is not immediately moved by
admiration to adopt their religion in order that he also may acquire
the noble attributes so conspicuously displayed by them!

"You're not dancing, my dear," Mrs. Petterick said. "Come along and
sit with me on that couch against the wall yonder. We shall see all
that's going on from there."

Beth was only too thankful to go. A waltz was being played, and Dan
passed them, dancing with Bertha Petterick. They glided over the floor
together with the gentle voluptuous swing, dreamy eyes, and smiling
lips of two perfect dancers, conscious of nothing but the sensuous
delight of interwoven paces and clasping arms.

"My! but they do step well together, him and Bertha!" Mrs. Petterick
exclaimed. "He's a handsome man, your husband, and a gay one--flirting
about with all the ladies! I wonder you're not jealous!"

"Jealous!" Beth answered, smiling. "Not I, indeed! Jealousy is a want
of faith in one's self."

"Well, my dear, if you always looked as well as you do just now, you
need not want confidence in yourself," Mrs. Petterick observed. "But
what would you do if your husband gave you cause for jealousy?"

"Despise him," Beth answered promptly.

Mrs. Petterick looked as if she could make nothing of this answer.
Then she became uneasy. The music had stopped, but Bertha had not
returned to her. "I must go and look after my daughter," she said,
rising from her comfortable seat with a sigh. "Gels are a nuisance.
You've got to keep your eye on them all the time, or you never know
what they're up to."

Beth stayed where she was, and soon began to feel uncomfortable.
People stared coldly at her as they passed, and she could not help
fancying herself the subject of unpleasant remark because she was
alone. She prayed hard that some one would come and speak to her. Dan
had disappeared. After a time she recognised Sir George Galbraith
among the groups of people at the opposite side of the room. He was
receiving that attention from every one which is so generously
conferred on a man or woman of consequence, whose acquaintance adds to
people's own importance, and to whom it is therefore well to be seen
speaking; but although his manner was courteously attentive he looked
round as if anxious to make his escape, and finally, to Beth's intense
relief, he recognised her, and, leaving the group about him
unceremoniously, came across the room to speak to her.

"Would it be fair to ask you to sit out a dance with me?" he said. "I
do not dance."

"I would rather sit out a dance with you than dance it with any one
else I know here," she answered naïvely; "but, as it happens, I do not
dance either."

"Indeed! How is that? I should have thought you would like dancing."

"So I should, I am sure, if I could," she replied. "But I can't dance
at all. They would not let me learn dancing at one school where I was,
and I was not long enough at the other to learn properly."

"Now, that is a pity," he said, considering Beth, his professional eye
having been struck by her thinness and languor. "But have some
lessons. Dancing in moderation is capital exercise, and it
exhilarates; and anything that exhilarates increases one's vitality.
Why don't you make your husband teach you? He seems to know all about
it."

"Yes," Beth answered, smiling; "but I shouldn't think teaching me is
at all in his line. Why don't you dance yourself?"

"Oh, I am far too clumsy," he said good-naturedly. "My wife says if I
could even learn to move about a room without getting in the way and
upsetting things, it would be something."

"Is she here to-night?" Beth asked.

"No, she was not feeling up to it," he answered. "She tired herself in
the garden this afternoon, helping me to bud roses."

"Oh, can you bud roses?" Beth exclaimed. "I should so like to know how
it is done."

"I'll show you with pleasure."

"Will you really?" said Beth. "How kind of you."

"Not at all. Let me see, when will you be at home? We mustn't lose any
time, or it will be too late in the year."

"I'm pretty nearly always at home," Beth said.

"Then if I came to-morrow morning would that be convenient?"

"Quite; and I hope you will stay lunch," Beth answered.

Dan returned to the ball-room just then, and, on seeing who was with
her, he immediately joined them; but Sir George only stayed long
enough to exchange greetings politely.

"You seem to get on very well with Galbraith," Dan observed.

"Don't you like him?" Beth asked in surprise, detecting a note of
enmity in his voice.

"I haven't had much chance," he said bitterly. "He doesn't play the
agreeable to me as he does to you."

Beth missed the drift of this remark in considering the expression
"play the agreeable," which was unpleasantly suggestive to her of
under-bred gentility.

"You will be able to give him an opportunity to-morrow then," she
said, "if you are in at lunch-time, for he is coming to show me how to
bud roses, and I have asked him to stay."

"Have you, indeed?" Dan exclaimed, obviously displeased, but why or
wherefore Beth could not conceive. "I hope to goodness there's
something to eat in the house," he added upon reflection, fussily.

"There is as much as there always is," Beth placidly rejoined.

"Well, that's not enough then. Just think what a man like that has on
his own table!"

"A man like that won't expect our table to be like his."

"You'd better make it appear so for once then, or you'll be having our
hospitality criticised as I heard the Barrack fellows criticise Mrs.
Jeffery's the other day. A couple of them called about lunch-time, and
she asked them to stay, and they said there was nothing but beer and
sherry, and the fragments of a previous feast, and they were blessed
if they'd go near the old trout again."

"An elegant expression!" said Beth. "It gives the measure of the mind
it comes from. Please don't introduce the person who uses it to me.
But as to Sir George Galbraith, you need not be afraid that _he_ will
accept hospitality and criticise it in that spirit. He will neither
grumble at a cutlet, nor describe his hostess by a vulgar epithet
after eating it."

She shut her mouth hard after speaking. Disillusion is a great
enlightener; our insight is never so clear as when it is turned on the
character of a person in whom we used to believe; and as Dan gradually
revealed himself to Beth, trait by trait, a kind of distaste seized
upon her, a want of respect, which found involuntary expression in
trenchant comments upon his observations and in smart retorts. She did
not seek sympathy from him now for the way in which she had been
slighted at the ball, knowing perfectly well that he was more likely
to blame her than anybody else. He had, in fact, by this time, so far
as any confidence she might have reposed in him was concerned, dropped
out of her life completely, and left her as friendless and as much
alone as she would have been with the veriest stranger.

That night when she went home she felt world-worn and weary, but next
morning, out in the garden with Sir George Galbraith budding roses,
she became young again. Before they had been together half-an-hour she
was chatting to him with girlish confidence, telling him about her
attempts to cultivate her mind, her reading and writing, to all of
which he listened without any of that condescension in his manner
which Dan displayed when perchance he was in a good-humour and Beth
had ventured to expand. Sir George was genuinely interested.

Dan came in punctually to lunch, for a wonder. He glanced at Beth's
animated face sharply when he entered, but took no further notice of
her. He was one of those husbands who have two manners, a coarse one
for their families, and another, much more polished, which they assume
when it is politic to be refined. But Dan's best behaviour sat ill
upon him, because it was lacking in sincerity, and Beth suffered all
through lunch because of the obsequious pose he thought it proper to
assume towards his distinguished guest.

After lunch, when Sir George had gone, he took up his favourite
position before the mirror over the chimney-piece, and stood there for
a little, looking at himself and caressing his moustache.

"You talk a great deal too much, Beth," he said at last.

"Do you think so?" she rejoined.

"Yes, I do," he assured her. "Of course Galbraith had to be polite and
affect to listen, but I could see that he was bored by your chatter.
He naturally wanted to talk to me about things that interest men."

"Then why on earth didn't he talk to you?" Beth asked.

"How could he when you monopolised the conversation?"

"It was he who kept me talking," she protested.

"Oh yes; I notice you are very animated when anything in the shape of
a man comes in," Dan sneered.

Beth got up and left the room, less affected by the insinuation,
however, than by the vulgar expression of it.

The following week Sir George came in one morning with some cuttings,
and stayed a while in the garden with Beth, showing her how to set
them; but he would not wait for lunch. Dan showed considerable
annoyance when he heard of the visit.

"He should come when I am at home," he said. "It is damned bad taste
his coming when you are alone."

The next time Sir George came Dan happened to be in, to Beth's relief.
She had brought her writing down that day, and was working at it on
the dining-room table, not expecting Dan till much later. He was in a
genial mood, for a wonder.

"What on earth are you scribbling about there?" he asked.

"Just something I was thinking about," Beth answered evasively.

"Going in for authorship, eh?"

"Why not?" said Beth.

Dan laughed. "You are not at all ambitious," he remarked; then added
patronisingly, "A little of that kind of thing will do you no harm, of
course; but, my dear child, your head wouldn't contain a book, and if
you were just a little cleverer you would know that yourself."

Beth bit the end of her pencil and looked at him dispassionately, and
it was at this moment that Sir George Galbraith was announced.

Dan received him with effusion as usual; and also, as usual, Sir
George responded with all conventional politeness, but the greeting
over, he turned his attention to Beth. He had brought her a packet of
books.

"This looks like work in earnest," he said, glancing at the table. "I
see you have a good deal of something done. Is it nearly finished?"

"All but," Beth rejoined.

"What are you going to do with it?"

Beth looked at him, and then at her manuscript vaguely. "I don't
know," she said. "What can I do with it?"

"Publish it, if it is good," he answered.

"But how am I to know?" Beth asked eagerly. "Do you think it possible
I could do anything fit to publish?"

Before he could reply, Dan chimed in. "I've just been telling her," he
said, "that little heads like hers can't contain books. It's all very
well to scribble a little for pastime, and all that, but she mustn't
seriously imagine she can do that sort of work. She'll only do herself
harm. Literature is men's work."

"Yet how many women have written, and written well, too," Beth
observed.

"Oh yes, of course--exceptional women."

"And why mayn't I be an exceptional woman?" Beth asked, smiling.

"Coarse and masculine!" Dan exclaimed. "No, thank you. We don't want
you to be one of that kind--do we, Galbraith?"

"There is not the slightest fear," Sir George answered dryly.
"Besides, I don't think any class of women workers--not even the
pit-brow women--are necessarily coarse and masculine. And I differ
from you, too, with regard to that head," he added, fixing his keen,
kindly eyes deliberately on Beth's cranium till she laughed to cover
her embarrassment, and put up both hands to feel it. "I should say
there was good promise both of sense and capacity in the size and
balance of it--not to mention anything else."

"Well, you ought to know if anybody does," said Dan with a facetious
sort of affectation of agreement, which left no doubt of his
insincerity.

"I wish," Sir George continued, addressing Beth, "you would let me
show some of your work to a lady, a friend of mine, whose opinion is
well worth having."

"I would rather have yours," Beth jerked out.

"Oh, mine is no good," he rejoined. "But if you will let me read what
you give me to show my lady, I should be greatly interested. We were
talking about style in prose the other day, and I have ventured to
bring you these books--some of our own stylists, and some modern
Frenchmen. You read French, I know."

"There is nothing like the French," Dan chimed in. "We have no
literature at all now. Look at their work compared to ours, how short,
crisp, and incisive it is! How true to life! A Frenchman will give you
more real life in a hundred pages than our men do in all their
interminable volumes."

"More sexuality, you mean, I suppose," said Galbraith, "Personally I
find them monotonous, and barren of happy phrases to enrich the mind,
of noble sentiments to expand the heart, of great thoughts to help the
soul; without balance, with little of the redeeming side of life, and
less aspiration towards it. If France is to be judged by the tendency
of its literature and art at present, one would suppose it to be
dominated and doomed to destruction by a gang of lascivious authors
and artists who are sapping the manhood of the country and degrading
the womanhood by idealising self-indulgence and mean intrigue. The man
or woman who lives low, or even thinks low, in that sense of the word,
will tend always to descend still lower in times of trial. Moral
probity is the backbone of our courage; without it we have nothing to
support us when a call is made upon our strength."[1]

[1] The truth of this assertion was lately proved in a
terrible manner at the burning of the Charity Bazaar in the Rue Jean
Goujon, when the nerves of the luxurious gentlemen present,
debilitated by close intimacy with the _haute cocotterie_ in and out
of society, betrayed them, and they displayed the white feather of
vice by fighting their own way out, not only leaving the ladies to
their fate, but actually beating them back with their sticks and
trampling on them in their frantic efforts to save themselves, as many
a bruised white arm or shoulder afterwards testified. There was
scarcely a man burnt on the occasion, husbands, lovers, and fathers
escaped, leaving all the heroic deeds to be done by some few devoted
men-servants, some workmen who happened to be passing, a stray
Englishman or American, and mothers who perished in attempting to
rescue their children.

"I can't stand English authors myself," was Dan's reply. "They're so
devilish long-winded, don't you know."

"Poverty of mind accounts for the shortness of the book as a rule,"
said Galbraith. "I like a long book myself when it is rich in thought.
The characters become companions then, and I miss them when we are
forced to part."

Beth nodded assent to this. She had been turning over the books that
Galbraith had brought her, with the tender touch of a true book-lover
and that evident interest and pleasure which goes far beyond thanks.
Mere formal thanks she forgot to express, but she had brightened up in
the most wonderful way since Galbraith appeared, and was all smiles
when he took his leave.

Not so Dan, however; but Beth was too absorbed in the books to notice
that.

"How kind he is!" she exclaimed. "Dan, won't it be delightful if I
really can write? I might make a career for myself."

"Rot!" said Dan.

"Sir George differs from you," Beth rejoined.

"I say that's all rot. What does he know about it? I tell you you're a
silly fool, and your head wouldn't contain a book. I ought to know!"

"Doctors differ again, then, it seems," Beth said. "But in this case
the patient is going to decide for herself. What is the use of opinion
in such matters? One must experiment. I'm going to write, and if at
first I don't succeed--I shall persevere."

"Oh, of course!" Dan sneered. "You'll take anybody's advice but your
husband's. However, go your own way, as I know you will. Only, I warn
you, you'll regret it."

Beth was dipping into one of the books, and took no notice of this.
Dan's ill-humour augmented.

"Did you know the fellow was coming to-day?" he asked.

"No--if by fellow you mean Sir George Galbraith," she answered
casually, still intent on the book.

"You know well enough who I mean, and that's just a nag," he retorted.
"And it looks uncommonly as if you did expect him, and had set all
that rubbish of writing out to make a display."

Beth bit the end of her pencil, and looked at Dan contemptuously.

"I dare say he'd like to get hold of you to make a tool of you," he
pursued. "He's in with Lord Dawne and the whole of that advanced
woman's party at Morne, who are always interfering with everything."

"How?" Beth asked.

"By poking their noses into things that don't concern them," he
asseverated, "things they wouldn't know anything about if they weren't
damned nasty-minded. There's that fanatical Lady Fulda Guthrie, and
Mrs. Orton Beg, and Mrs. Kilroy, besides Madam Ideala--they're all
busybodies, and if they succeed in what they're at just now, by Jove,
they'll ruin me! I'll have my revenge, though, if they do! I'll attack
your distinguished friend. He has established himself as a
humanitarian, and travels on that reputation; but he has an hospital
of his own, where I have no doubt some pretty games are played in the
way of experiments which the public don't suspect. _I_ know the kind
of thing! Patients mustn't ask questions! The good doctor will do his
best for them--trust him! He'll try nothing that he doesn't know to
be for their good; and when they're under chloroform he'll take no
unfair advantage in the way of cutting a little more for his own
private information than they've consented to. Oh, I know! Galbraith
seems to be by way of slighting me, but I'll show him up if it comes
to that--and, at any rate, I'm on the way to discoveries myself, and I
bet I'll teach him some things in his profession yet that will make
him sit up--things he doesn't suspect, clever and all as he is."

Beth knew nothing of the things to which Dan alluded, and therefore
missed the drift of this tirade; but the whole tone of it was so
offensive to her that she gathered up her books and papers and left
the room. Silence and flight were her weapons of defence in those
days.



CHAPTER XL


There was a gap of six months between that last visit of Sir George
Galbraith's and the next, and in the interval Beth had worked hard,
reading and re-reading the books he had lent her, writing, and perhaps
most important of all, reflecting, as she sat in her secret chamber,
busy with the beautiful embroideries which were to pay off that
dreadful debt. She had made seven pounds by this time, and Aunt Grace
Mary had sent her five for a present surreptitiously, advising her to
keep it herself and say nothing about it--Aunt Grace Mary knew what
husbands were. Beth smiled as she read the letter. She, too, was
beginning to know what husbands are--husbands of the Uncle James kind.
She added the five pounds to her secret hoard, and thanked goodness
that the sum was mounting up, little by little.

But she wished Sir George would return. He was a busy man, and lived
at the other side of the county, so that she could not expect him to
come to Slane on her account; but surely something more important
would bring him eventually, and then she might hope to see him. She
knew he would not desert her. And she had some manuscript ready to
confide to him now if he should repeat his offer; but she was too
diffident to send it to him except at his special request.

She was all energy now that the possibility of making a career for
herself had been presented to her, but it was the quietly restrained
energy of a strong nature. She never supposed that she could practise
a profession without learning it, and she was prepared to serve a long
apprenticeship to letters if necessary. She meant to write and write
and write until she acquired power of expression. About what she
should have to express she never troubled herself. It was the need to
express what was in her that had set her to work. She would never have
to sit at a writing-table with a pen in her hand waiting for ideas to
come. She had discovered by accident that she could have books in
plenty, and of the kind she required, from the Free Library at Slane.
Dan never troubled himself to consult her taste in books, but he was
in the habit of bringing home three-volume novels for himself from the
library, a form of literature he greatly enjoyed in spite of his
strictures. He made Beth read them aloud to him in the evening, one
after the other--an endless succession--while he smoked, and drank
whiskies-and-sodas. He brought them home himself at first, but soon
found it a trouble to go for them, and so sent her; and then it was
she discovered that there were other books in the library. The
librarian, an educated and intelligent man, helped her often in the
choice of books. They had long talks together, during which he made
many suggestions, and gave Beth many a hint and piece of information
that was of value to her. He was her only congenial friend in Slane,
and her long conversations with him often took her out of herself and
raised her spirits. He little suspected what a help he was to the
lonely little soul. For the most part she took less interest in the
books themselves than in the people who wrote them; biographies,
autobiographies, and any scrap of anecdote about authors and their
methods she eagerly devoured. Life as they had lived it, not as they
had observed and imagined it, seemed all-important to her; and as she
read and thought, sitting alone in the charmed solitude of her secret
chamber, her self-respect grew. Her mind, which had run riot,
fancy-fed with languorous dreams in the days when it was unoccupied
and undisciplined, came steadily more and more under control, and grew
gradually stronger as she exercised it. She ceased to rage and worry
about her domestic difficulties, ceased to expect her husband to add
to her happiness in any way, ceased to sorrow for the slights and
neglects that had so wounded and perplexed her during the first year
of her life in Slane; and learnt by degrees to possess her soul in
dignified silence so long as silence was best, feeling in herself
_that_ something which should bring her up out of all this and set her
apart eventually in another sphere, among the elect--feeling this
through her further faculty to her comfort, although unable as yet to
give it any sort of definite expression. As she read of those who had
gone before, she felt a strange kindred with them; she entered into
their sorrows, understood their difficulties, was uplifted by their
aspirations, and gloried in their successes. Their greatness never
disheartened her; on the contrary, she was at home with them in all
their experiences, and at her ease as she never was with the petty
people about her. It delighted her when she found in them some small
trait or habit which she herself had already developed or contracted,
such as she found in the early part of George Sand's _Histoire de ma
Vie_, and in the lives of the Brontës. Under the influence of
nourishing books, her mind, sustained and stimulated, became nervously
active. It had a trick of flashing off from the subject she was
studying to something wholly irrelevant. She would begin Emerson's
essay on _Fate_ or _Beauty_ with enthusiasm, and presently, with her
eyes still following the lines, her thoughts would be busy forming a
code of literary principles for herself. In those days her mind was
continually under the influence of any author she cared about,
particularly if his style were mannered. Involuntarily, while she was
reading Macaulay, for instance, her own thoughts took a dogmatic turn,
and jerked along in short, sharp sentences. She caught the
peculiarities of De Quincey too, of Carlyle, and also some of the
simple dignity of Ruskin, which was not so easy; and she had written
things after the manner of each of these authors before she perceived
the effect they were having upon her. But it was unfortunate for her
that her attention had been turned from the matter which she had to
express to the manner in which she should express it. From the time
she began to think of the style and diction of prose as something to
be separately acquired, the spontaneous flow of her thoughts was
checked and hampered, and she expended herself in fashioning her
tools, as it were, instead of using her tools to fashion her work.
When, in her reading, she came under the influence of academic minds,
she lost all natural freshness, and succeeded in being artificial. Her
English became turgid with Latinities. She took phrases which had
flowed from her pen, and were telling in their simple eloquence, and
toiled at them, turning and twisting them until she had laboured all
the life out of them; and then, mistaking effort for power, and having
wearied herself, she was satisfied. Being too diffident to suspect
that she had any natural faculty, she conceived that the more trouble
she gave herself the better must be the result; and consequently she
did nothing worth the doing except as an exercise of ingenuity. She
was serving her apprenticeship, however--making her mistakes.

It was late in the autumn before she saw her good friend Sir George
Galbraith again. He came on a bright, clear, frosty morning, and found
her out in the garden, pacing up and down briskly, and looking greatly
exhilarated by the freshness. When she saw him coming towards her, she
uttered a little joyful exclamation, and hurried forward to meet him.

"I have been longing to see you," she said in her unaffected way; "but
I know what the distance is, and how fully your time is occupied. It
is very good of you to come at all."

"Only the time and distance have prevented me coming sooner," he
rejoined. "But, tell me, how have you been getting on? And have you
thought any more of making a career for yourself?"

"I have thought of nothing else," Beth answered brightly; "and I
wonder I ever thought of anything else, for the idea has been in me, I
believe, all my life. I must have discussed it, too, at a very early
age, for I have remembered lately that I was once advised by an old
aunt of mine, the best and dearest friend I ever had, to write only
that which is--or aims at being--soul-sustaining."

He nodded his head approvingly. "From such seed a good crop should
come," he said. "But what line shall you take?"

"I don't know."

"Not novels then, for certain?"

"Nothing for certain--whatever comes and calls for expression."

They were pacing up and down together, and there was a pause.

"Did you expect I should try to write novels, and do you think I
ought?" Beth asked at last.

"I think I did expect it," he answered; "but as to whether you ought
or ought not, that is for you to decide. There is much to be said
against novel reading and writing. I think it was De Quincey who said
that novels are the opium of the West; and I have myself observed that
novel-reading is one of those bad habits that grow upon people until
they are enslaved by it, demoralised by it; and if that is the case
with the reader, what must the writer suffer?"

Beth bent her brows upon this. "But that is only one side of it, is it
not?" she asked after a moment's reflection. "I notice in all things a
curious duality, a right side and a wrong side. Confusion is the wrong
side of order, misery of happiness, falsehood of truth, evil of good;
and it seems to me that novel-reading, which can be a vice, I know,
may also be made a virtue. It depends on the writer."

"And on the taste of the reader," he suggested. "But I believe the
taste of the intelligent 'general reader' is much better than one
supposes. The mind craves for nourishment; and the extraordinary
success of books in which any attempt, however imperfect, is made to
provide food for thought, as distinguished from those which merely
offer matter to distract the attention, bears witness, it seems to me,
to the involuntary effort which is always in progress to procure it. I
believe myself that good fiction may do more to improve the mind,
enlarge the sympathies, and develop the judgment than any other form
of literature--partly because it looks into the hidden springs of
action, and makes all that is obscure in the way of impulse and motive
clear to us. Biography, for instance, merely skims the surface of
life, as a rule; and in history, where man is a puppet moved by
events, there can be very little human nature."

"I wonder if you read many novels," said Beth. "I have to read them
aloud to my husband until I am satiated. And I am determined, if I
ever do try to write one, to avoid all that is conventional. I never
will have a faultlessly beautiful heroine, for instance. I am sick of
that creature. When I come to her, especially if she has golden hair
yards long, a faultless complexion, and eyes of extraordinary
dimensions, I feel inclined to groan and shut the book. I have met her
so often in the weary ways of fiction! I know every variety of her so
well! She consists of nothing but superlatives, and is as conventional
as the torso of an Egyptian statue, with her everlasting physical
perfection. I think her as repulsive as a barber's block. I confess
that a woman who has golden hair and manages to look like a lady, or
to be like one even in a book, is a wonder, considering all that is
associated with golden hair in our day; but I should avoid the
abnormal as much as the conventional. I would not write plotty-plotty
books either, nor make a pivot of the everlasting love-story, which
seems to me to show such a want of balance in an author, such an
absence of any true sense of proportion, as if there was nothing else
of interest in life but our sexual relations. But, oh!" she broke off,
"how I do appreciate what the difficulty of selection must be! In
writing a life, if one could present all sides of it, and not merely
one phase--the good and the bad of it, the joys and the sorrows, the
moments of strength and of weakness, of wisdom and of folly, of misery
and of pure delight--what a picture!"

"Yes; and how utterly beyond the average reader, who never understands
complexity," he answered. "But I think it a good sign for your chances
of success that you should have complained of the difficulty of
selection in the matter of material rather than bemoan your want of
experience of life. Most young aspirants to literary fame grumble that
they are handicapped for want of experience. They are seldom content
with the material they have at hand--the life they know. They want to
go and live in London, where they seem to think that every one worth
knowing is to be found."

"That isn't my feeling at all," said Beth. "The best people may be met
in London, but I don't believe that they are at their best. The
friction of the crowd rubs out their individuality. In a crowd I feel
mentally as if I were in a maze of telegraph wires. The thoughts of so
many people streaming out in all directions about me entangle and
bewilder me."

"You do not seem to like anything exceptional."

"No, I do not," said Beth. "I like the normal--the everyday. Great
events are not the most significant, nor are great people the most
typical. It is the little things that make life livable. The person
who comes and talks clever is not the person we love, nor the person
who interests us most. Those we love sympathise with us in the
ordinary everyday incidents of our lives, and discuss them with us,
merely touching, if at all, on the thoughts they engender. I don't
want to know what people think as a rule; I want to know what they
have experienced. People who talk facts, I like; people who talk
theories, I fly from. And I think upon the whole that I shall always
like the kind people better than the clever ones. I believe we owe
more to them, too, and learn more from them--more human nature, which
after all is what we want to know."

"But the clever people are kind also sometimes," said Sir George.

"When they are, of course it is perfect," Beth answered. "But judging
the clever ones of to-day by what they write, I cannot often think
them so. The works of our smartest modern writers, particularly the
French, satiate me with their cleverness; but they are vain, hollow,
cynical, dyspeptic; they appeal to the head, but the heart goes empty
away. Few of them know or show the one thing needful--that happiness
is the end of life; and that by trying to live rightly we help each
other to happiness. That is the one thing well worth understanding in
this world; but that, with all their ingenuity, they are not
intelligent enough to see."

"You are an optimist, I perceive," Sir George said, smiling, "and I
entirely agree with you. So long as we understand that happiness is
the end of life, and that the best way to secure it for ourselves is
by helping others to attain to it, we are travelling in the right
direction. By happiness I do not mean excitement, of course, nor the
pleasure we owe to others altogether; but that quiet content in
ourselves, that large toleration and love which should overflow from
us continually, and make the fact of our existence a source of joy and
strength to all who know us."

They walked up and down a little in silence, then Sir George asked her
what she thought of some of the specimens of style and art in
literature he had lent her to study.

"I don't know yet," Beth said. "My mind is in a state of chaos on the
subject. I seem to reject 'style' and 'art.' I ask for something more
or something else, and am never satisfied. But tell me what you think
of the stylists."

"I think them brilliant," he rejoined, "but their work is as the
photograph is to the painting, the lifeless accuracy of the machine to
the nervous fascinating faultiness of the human hand. No, I don't care
for the writers who are specially praised for their style. I find
their productions cold and bald as a rule. I want something
warmer--more full-blooded. Most of the stylists write as if they began
by acquiring a style and then had to sit and wait for a subject. I
believe style is the enemy of matter. You compress all the blood out
of your subject when you make it conform to a studied style, instead
of letting your style form itself out of the necessity for expression.
This is rank heresy, I know, and I should not have ventured on it a
few years ago; but now, I say, give me a style that is the natural
outcome of your subject, your mind, your character, not an artificial
but a natural product; and even though it be as full of faults as
human nature is, faults of every kind, so long as there is no fault of
the heart in it, that being the one unpardonable fault in an
author--if you have put your own individuality into your work--I'll
answer for it that you will arrive sooner and be read longer than the
most admired stylist of the day. Be prepared to sacrifice form to
accuracy, to avoid the brilliant and the marvellous for the simple and
direct. What matters it how the effect is got so that it comes
honestly? But of course it will be said that this, that, and the other
person did not get their effects so; they will compare you to the
greatest to humiliate you."

"Oh, that would be nothing to me so that I produced my own effects,"
Beth broke in. "That is just where I am at present. I mean to be
myself. But please do not think that I have too much assurance. If I
go wrong, I hope I shall find it out in time; and I shall certainly be
the first to acknowledge it. I do not want to prove myself right; I
want to arrive at the truth."

"Then you will arrive," he assured her. "But above everything, mind
that you are not misled by the cant of art if you have anything
special to say. If a writer would be of use in his day, and not merely
an amuser of the multitude, he must learn that right thinking, right
feeling, and knowledge are more important than art. When you address
the blockhead majority, you must not only give them your text, you
must tell them also what to think of it, otherwise there will be fine
misinterpretation. You may be sure of the heart of the multitude if
you can touch it; but its head, in the present state of its
development, is an imperfect machine, manoeuvred for the most part
by foolishness. People can see life for themselves, but they cannot
always see the meaning of it, the why and wherefore, whence things
come and whither they are tending, so that the lessons of life are
lost--or would be but for the efforts of the modern novelist."

Beth reflected a little, then she said: "I am glad you think me an
optimist. It seems to me that healthy human nature revolts from
pessimism. The work that lasts is the work that cheers. Give us
something with hope in it--something that appeals to the best part of
us--something which, while we read, puts us in touch with fine ideals,
and makes us feel better than we are."

"That is it precisely," said he. "The school of art-and-style books
wearies us because there is no aspiration in it, nothing but a deadly
dull artistic presentment of hopeless levels of life. It is all cold
polish, as I said before, with never a word to warm the heart or stir
the better nature."

"That is what I have felt," said Beth; "and I would rather have
written a simple story, full of the faults of my youth and ignorance,
but with some one passage in it that would put heart and hope into
some one person, than all that brilliant barren stuff. And I'm going
to write for women, not for men. I don't care about amusing men. Let
them see to their own amusements, they think of nothing else. Men
entertain each other with intellectual ingenuities and Art and Style,
while women are busy with the great problems of life, and are striving
might and main to make it beautiful."

"Now that is young in the opprobrious sense of the word," said Sir
George. "It is only when we are extremely young that we indulge in
such sweeping generalisations."

Beth blushed. "I am always afraid my judgment will be warped by my own
narrow personal experience,--I must guard against that!" she
exclaimed, conscious that she had had her husband in her mind when she
spoke.

Sir George nodded his head approvingly, and looked at his watch. "I
must go," he said, "but I hope there will not be such a long interval
before I come again. My wife is sorry that she has not been able to
call. She is not equal to such a long drive. But she desired me to
explain and apologise; and she has sent you some flowers and fruit
which she begs you will accept. Have you some of your work ready for
me this time? I have asked my friend Ideala to give you her opinion,
which is really worth having, and she says she will with pleasure. You
must know her. I am sure you would like her extremely."

"But would she like me?" slipped from Beth unawares.

"Now, that is young again," he said, with his kindly smile-indulgent.

"It is the outcome of sad experience," Beth rejoined with a sigh. "No
woman I have met here so far has shown any inclination to cultivate my
acquaintance. I think I am being punished for some unknown crime."

Sir George became thoughtful, but said nothing.

As they approached the house, Beth saw Dan peeping at them from behind
the curtain of an upstairs window. The hall-table was covered with the
fruit and flowers Sir George had brought. Beth sent a servant for Dan.
The girl came back and said that the doctor was not in.

"Nonsense!" said Beth. "I saw him at one of the windows just now. If
you will excuse me, Sir George, I will find him myself."

She called him as she ran upstairs, and Dan made his appearance,
looking none too well pleased.

He went down to Sir George, and Beth ran on up to her secret chamber
for her manuscripts and the books Sir George had lent her, which had
been waiting ready packed for many a day.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he had gone, Beth danced round the dining-room, clapping her
hands.

"I can't contain myself," she exclaimed. "I do feel encouraged,
strengthened, uplifted."

She caught a glimpse of Dan's face, and stopped short.

"What's the matter?" she said.

"The matter is that I'll have no more of this," he answered in a
brutal tone.

"No more of what?" Beth demanded.

"No more of this man's philandering after you," he retorted.

"I don't understand you," Beth gasped.

"Oh, you're mighty innocent," he sneered. "You'll be telling me next
that he comes to see _me_, lends _me_ books, walks up and down by the
hour together with _me_, brings _me_ fruit and flowers! You think I'm
blind, I suppose! _You_'re a nice person! and so particular too! and
so fastidious in your conversation! Oh, trust a prude! But I tell
you," he bawled, coming up close to her, and shaking his fist in her
face, "I tell you I won't have it. Now, do you understand that?"

Beth did not wince, but oh, what a drop it was from the heights she
had just left to this low level! "Be good enough to explain your
meaning precisely," she said quietly. "I understand that you are
bringing some accusation against me. It is no use blustering and
shaking your fist in my face. I am not to be frightened. Just explain
yourself. And I advise you to weigh your words, for you shall answer
to me in public for any insult you may offer me in private."

Dr. Maclure was sobered by this unexpected flash of spirit. They had
been married nearly three years by this time, and Beth's habitual
docility had deceived him. Hitherto men have been able to insult their
wives in private with impunity when so minded, and Dan was staggered
for a moment to find himself face to face with a mere girl who boldly
refused to suffer the indignity. He was not prepared for such a
display of self-respect.

"You're very high and mighty!" he jeered at last.

"I am very determined," Beth rejoined, and set her lips.

He tried to subdue her by staring her out of countenance; but Beth
scornfully returned his gaze. Then suddenly she stamped her foot, and
brought her clenched fist down on the dining-room table, beside which
she was standing. "Come, come, sir," she said, "we've had enough of
this theatrical posing. You are wasting my time, explain yourself."

He took a turn up and down the room.

"Look here, Beth," he began, lowering his tone, "you cannot pretend
that Galbraith comes to see me."

"Why should I?" she asked.

"Well, it isn't right that he should come to see you, and I won't have
it," he reiterated.

"Do you mean that I am not to have any friends of my own?" she
demanded.

"_He_ is not to be one of your friends," Dan answered doggedly.

"And what explanation am I to give him, please?" she asked politely.

"I won't have you giving him any explanation."

"My dear Dan," she rejoined, "when you speak in that way, you show an
utter want of knowledge of my character. If I will not allow you to
insult me, and bully me, and bluster at me, it is not likely that I
will allow you to insult my friends. If Sir George Galbraith's visits
are to stop, I shall tell him the reason exactly. He at least is a
gentleman."

"That is as much as to say that I am not," Dan blustered.

"You certainly are not behaving like one now," Beth coolly rejoined.
"But there! You have my ultimatum. I am not going to waste any more
time in vulgar scenes with you."

"Ultimatum, indeed!" he jeered. "Well, you _are_, you know! You'll
write and explain to him, will you, that your husband's jealous of
him? That shows the terms you are on!"

"It is jealousy then, is it?" said Beth. "Thank you. Now I understand
you."

Dan's evil mood took another turn. His anger changed to self-pity. "Oh
dear! oh dear! what am I to do with you?" he exclaimed. "And after all
I've done for you--to treat me like this." He took out his
pocket-handkerchief and wiped away the tears which any mention of his
own goodness and the treatment he received from others always brought
to his eyes.

Beth watched him contemptuously, yet her heart smote her. He was a
poor creature, but for that very reason, and because she was strong,
surely she should be gentle with him.

"Look here, Dan," she said. "I have never knowingly done you any wrong
in thought, or word, or deed; all you have said to me to-day has been
ridiculously wrong-headed; but never mind. Stop crying, do, and don't
let us have any more idiotic jealousy. Why, it was Lady Galbraith who
sent me the flowers and fruit, with a kind message of apology because
she has not been able to call. Why should not she be jealous?"

"Oh, she's a fool!" Dan rejoined, recovering himself. "She leads him
the life of a dog with her fears and fancies, and she won't take any
part in his philanthropic work, though he wishes it. She's a pretty
pill!"

The servant came in at this moment to lay the table for lunch, and Dan
went to the looking-glass with the inconsequence of a child, and
forgot his grievance in the contemplation of his own beloved image and
in abusing Lady Galbraith. Abusing somebody was mental relaxation of
the most agreeable kind to him. Feeling that he had gone too far, he
was gracious to Beth during lunch, and just before he went out he
kissed her, and said, "We won't mention that fellow again, Beth. I
don't believe you'd do anything dishonourable."

"I should think not!" said Beth.

When he had gone, she returned to her secret chamber, the one little
corner sacred to herself, to her purest, noblest thoughts, her highest
aspirations; and as she looked round, it seemed as if ages had passed
since she last entered it, full of happiness and hope. It was as if
she had been innocent then, and was now corrupted. Her self-control
did not give way, but she could do nothing, and just sat there, wan
with horror; and as she sat, every now and then she shivered from head
to foot. She had known of course in a general way that such things did
happen, that married women did give their husbands cause for jealousy;
but to her mind they were a kind of married women who lived in another
sphere where she was not likely to encounter them. She had never
expected to be brought near such an enormity, let alone to have it
brought home to herself in a horrible accusation; and the effect of it
was a shock to her nervous system--one of those stunning blows which
are scarcely felt at first, but are agonising in their after effects.
When the reaction set in, Beth's disgust was so great it took a
physical form, and ended by making her violently sick. It was days
before she quite recovered, and in one sense of the word she was never
the same again.



CHAPTER XLI


Dan said no more about Sir George Galbraith; and indeed he had no
excuse, for Sir George did not come again. There were other men,
however, who came to the house, Dan's own friends; and now that Beth's
eyes were opened, she perceived that he watched them all suspiciously
if they paid her any attention; and if she showed the slightest
pleasure in the conversation of any of them, he would be sure to make
some sneering remark about it afterwards. Dan was so radically vicious
that the notion of any one being virtuous except under compulsion was
incomprehensible to him.

"Your spirits seem to go up when Mr. Vanrickards is here," he observed
one day.

"Thank you for warning me," Beth answered, descending to his level in
spite of herself. "I will be properly depressed the next time he
comes."

But although she could keep him in check so that he dared not say all
that he had in his mind, she understood him; and the worst of it was
that his coarse and brutal jealousy accustomed her to the suspicion,
and made her contemplate the possibility of such a lapse as he had in
his mind. She began to believe that he would not have tormented
himself so if husbands did not ordinarily have good reason to be
jealous of their wives. She concluded that such treachery of man to
man as he dreaded must be normal. And then also she realised that it
was thought possible for a married woman to fall in love, and even
wondered at last if that would ever be her own case. Dan had, in fact,
destroyed his own best safeguard. If a man would keep his wife from
evil, he should not teach her to suspect herself--neither should he
familiarise her with ideas of vice. Since their marriage Dan's whole
conversation, and the depravity of his tastes and habits, had tended
towards the brutalisation of Beth. Married life for her was one long
initiation into the ways of the vicious.

Dr. Maclure's sordid jealousy made him the laughing-stock of the
place, though he never suspected it. His conceit was too great to let
him suppose that any sentiment of his could provoke ridicule. It
became matter for common gossip, however, and from that time forward
gentlemen ceased to visit the house. Men of a certain kind came still,
men who were bound to Dan by kindred tastes, but not such as he cared
to introduce to Beth. These boon companions generally came in the
evening, and were entertained in the dining-room, where they spent the
night together, smoking, drinking, and talking after the manner of
their kind. Beth could not use her secret chamber after dark for fear
of the light being seen, so she stayed in the drawing-room alone till
she went to bed. She found those evenings interminable, and the nights
more trying still. She could not read or write because of the noise in
the dining-room, and had to fall back on her sewing for occupation;
but sewing left her mind open to any obsession, and only too often,
with the gross laughter from the next room, scraps of the lewd topics
her husband delighted in came to her recollection. When Dan
discoursed about such things he was at the high-water mark of
pleasure, his countenance glowed, and enjoyment of the subject was
expressed in all his person. Beth's better nature revolted, but alas!
she had become so familiar with such subjects by this time that,
although she loathed them, she could not banish them. Life from her
husband's point of view was a torment to her, yet under the pressure
of his immediate influence it was forced upon her attention more and
more--from his point of view.

When she went to bed on his festive nights she suffered from the dread
of being disturbed. If her husband were called out at night
professionally, it was a pleasure to her to lie awake so that she
might be ready to rise the moment he returned, and get him anything he
wanted. On those occasions she always had a tray ready for him, with
soup to be heated, or coffee to be made over a spirit-lamp, and any
little dainty she thought would refresh him. She was fully in sympathy
with him in his work, and would have spared herself no fatigue to make
it easier for him, but she despised him for his vices, and refused to
sacrifice herself in order to make them pleasanter for him. When he
stayed up smoking and drinking half the night she resented the loss of
sleep entailed upon her, which meant less energy for her own work the
next day. The dread of being disturbed made her restless, and the
futility of it under the circumstances exasperated her. She suffered,
too, more than can be mentioned, from the smell of alcohol and
tobacco, of which he reeked, and from which he took no trouble to
purify himself. Often and often, when she had tossed herself into a
fever on these dreadful nights, she craved for long hours, with
infinite yearning, to be safe from disturbance, in purity and peace;
and thought how happily, how serenely she would have slept until the
morning, and how strong and fresh she would have arisen for another
day's work had she been left alone. Only once, however, did she
complain. Dan was going out in a particularly cheerful mood that
night.

"Shall you be late?" she asked.

"Yes, probably. Why?"

"I was thinking, if you wouldn't mind, I would have a bed made up for
you in the spare room. _I_ only sleep in snatches when you are out and
I am expecting you. Every sound rouses me. I think it is the door
opening. And then when you do come it disturbs me, and I do not sleep
again. If you don't mind I should prefer to be alone--on your late
nights--your late festive nights."

Dr. Maclure stood looking gloomily into the fireplace.

"Have I annoyed you, Dan?" Beth asked at last.

He walked to the door, stood a moment with his back to her, then
turned and looked at her. "Annoyed is not the word," he said. "You
have wounded me deeply."

He opened the door as he spoke, and went out. When he had gone Beth
sat and suffered. She could not bear to hurt him, she was not yet
sufficiently brutalised for that; so she said no more on the subject,
but patiently endured the long lonely night watches, and the after
companionship which had in it all that is most trying and offensive to
a refined and delicate woman.

       *       *       *       *       *

After that first display of jealousy Beth discovered that her husband
pried upon her continually. He was very high and mighty on the subject
of women spying upon men, but there seemed no meanness he would not
compass in order to spy upon a woman. He had duplicate keys to her
drawers and boxes, and rummaged through all her possessions when she
went out. One day she came upon him standing before her wardrobe,
feeling in the pockets of her dresses, and on another occasion she
discovered him unawares in her bedroom, picking little scraps of paper
out of the slop-pail and piecing them together to see what she had
been writing. To Beth, accustomed to the simple, honourable principles
of her parents, and to the confidence with which her mother had left
her letters lying about, because she knew that not one of her children
would dream of looking at them, Dan's turpitude was revolting. On
those occasions when she caught him, he did not hear her enter the
room, and she made her escape without disturbing him, and stole up to
her secret chamber, and sat there, suffering from one of those attacks
of nausea and shivering which came upon her in moments of deep
disgust.

After that she had an attack of illness which kept her in bed for a
week; but even then, feverish and suffering as she was, and yearning
for the coolness and liberty of a room to herself, she dared not
suggest such a thing for fear of a scene.

While she was still in bed Dan brought her some letters one morning.
He made no remark when he gave them to her, but he had opened them as
usual, and stood watching her curiously while she read them. The first
she looked at was from her sister Bernadine, and had a black border
round it; but she took it out of its envelope unsuspiciously, and read
the words that were uppermost, "_Mamma died this morning_." In a
moment it flashed upon her that Dan had read the letter, and was
waiting now to see the effect of the shock upon her. She immediately,
but involuntarily, set herself to baffle his cruel curiosity. With a
calm, illegible face she read the letter from beginning to end, folded
it, and put it back in its envelope deliberately, then took up another
which had also been opened.

But suppressed feeling finds vent in some form or other, and Beth
showed temper now instead of showing grief. "I wish you would not open
my letters," she said irritably. "All the freshness of them is gone
for me when you open them without my permission and read them first.
Besides, it is an insult to my correspondents. What they say to me is
intended for me, and not for you."

"I have a perfect right to open your letters," he retorted.

"I should like to see the Scripture that gives you the right, and I
should advise you to waive it if you do not wish me to assume the
right to open yours. Your petty prying keeps me in a continual state
of irritation. I shall be lowered to retaliate sooner or later. So
stop it, please, once and for all."

"My petty prying, indeed!" he exclaimed. "Well, that is a nice thing
to say to your husband! Why, even when I do open your letters, which
is not often, I never read them without your permission."

"Indeed," said Beth, who had ceased to be stunned by falsehoods. "Then
be good enough not even to open them in future."

Dan tried to express injury and indignation in a long, hard look; but
Beth was reading another letter, and took no further notice of him.

He hung about a little watching her.

"Any news," he ventured at last, with an imperfect assumption of
indifference.

"You know quite well what my news is," she answered bluntly, "and I am
not going to discuss it with you. I wish you would leave me alone."

"Well, you're a nice pill!" said Dan, discomfited.

Beth looked up at him. "What are you doing with your hat on in my
bedroom?" she asked sharply. "I thought I had made you understand that
you must treat me with respect, even if I am your wife."

Dan uttered a coarse oath, and left the room, banging the door after
him.

"Thank Heaven--at last!" Beth ejaculated. She had been too anxious to
get rid of him to scruple about the means, but when he had gone a
reaction set in, and she lay back on her pillows, flushed, excited,
furious with him, disgusted with herself. She felt she was falling
away from all her ideals. "As the husband is the wife is"--the words
flashed through her mind, but she would not believe it inevitable. But
even if she should degenerate, her own nature was too large, too
strong, too generous to cast the blame on any one but herself. "No!"
she exclaimed. "We are what we allow ourselves to be."

Swift following upon that thought came the recollection of a bad fall
she had had when she was a little child in Ireland, and the way her
mother had picked her up, and cuddled her, and comforted her. Beth
burst into a paroxysm of tears. She had understood her mother better
than her mother had understood her, had felt for her privations, had
admired and imitated her patient endurance; and now to think that it
was too late, to think that she had gone, and it would never be in
Beth's power to brighten her life or lessen the hardship of it! That
was all she thought of. Every week since her marriage she had sent her
mother a long, cheerful, amusing letter, full of pleasant details--an
exercise in that form of composition; but with never a hint of her
troubles; and Mrs. Caldwell died under the happy delusion that it was
well with Beth. She never suspected that she had married Beth to a
low-born man--not low-born in the sense of being a tradesman's son,
for a tradesman's son may be an honest and upright gentleman, just as
a peer's son may be a cheat and a snob; but low-born in that he came
of parents who were capable of fraud and deceit in social relations,
and had taught him no scheme of life in which honour played a
conspicuous part. Beth had done her best for her mother, but there was
no one now to remind her of this for her comfort, poor miserable girl.
Her courageous toil had gone for nothing--her mother would never even
know of it; and it seemed to her in that moment of deep disheartenment
as if everything she tried was to be equally ineffectual.

Hours later, Minna the housemaid found Beth sitting up in bed, sobbing
hopelessly; and got her tea, and stayed with her, making her put some
restraint upon herself by the mere fact of her presence; and presently
Beth, in her human way, began to talk about her mother to the girl,
which relieved her. Mrs. Caldwell had only been ill a few days, and
not seriously, as it was supposed; the end had come quite suddenly, so
that Beth had never been warned.

Dan did not come in till next morning, which was a great relief to
her. She meant to speak about the news to him when he appeared, but
somehow, the moment she saw him, her heart hardened, and she could not
bring herself to utter a word on the subject. The position was awkward
for him; but he got out of it adroitly by pretending he had seen an
announcement of the death in the paper.

"I suppose I ought to go to the funeral," he said. "There is doubtless
a will."

"Doubtless," said Beth, "but you will not benefit by it, if that is
what you are thinking of. Mamma considered that I was provided for,
and therefore she left the little she had to Bernadine. She told me
herself, because she wanted me to understand her reason for making
such a difference between us; and I think she was quite right. She may
have left me two or three hundred pounds, but it will not be more than
that."

"But even that will be something towards the bills," said Dan, his
countenance, which had dropped considerably, clearing again.

Beth looked at him with a set countenance, but said no more. She had
begun to observe that the bills only became pressing when her
allowance was due.



CHAPTER XLII


Some one in Slane gave Sir George Galbraith a hint of Dan's coarse
jealousy, and he had judged it better for Beth that he should not call
again; but his interest in her and his desire to help her increased if
anything. He had read her manuscript carefully himself, and obtained
Ideala's opinion of it also; but Beth had not done her best by any
means in the one she had given him. She had written it for the
purpose, for one thing, which was fatal, for her style had stiffened
with anxiety to do her best, and her ideas, instead of flowing
spontaneously, had been forced and formal, as her manner was when she
was shy. It is one thing to have a fine theory of art and high
principles (and an excellent thing, too), but it is quite another to
put them into effect, especially when you're in a hurry to arrive.
Hurry misplaced is hindrance. If Beth had given Sir George some one of
the little things which she had written in sheer exuberance of thought
and feeling, without hampering hopes of doing anything with them, he
would have been very differently impressed; but, even as it was, what
she had given him was as full of promise as it was full of faults, and
he was convinced that he had not been mistaken in her, especially when
he found that Ideala thought even better of her prospects than he did.
Ideala, who was an impulsive and generous woman, wrote warmly on the
subject, and Sir George sent her letter to Beth with a few lines of
kindly expressed encouragement from himself. He returned her
manuscript; but when Beth saw it again, she was greatly dissatisfied.
The faults her friends had pointed out to her she plainly perceived,
and more also; but she could not see the merits. Praise only made her
the more fastidious about her work; but in that way it helped her.

Sir George's kindness did not stop at criticism however. He was cut
off from her himself, and could expect no help from his wife, whose
nervous system had suffered so much from the shock of unhappy
circumstances in her youth that she could not now bear even to hear
of, let alone to be brought in contact with, any form of sorrow or
suffering; but there were other ladies--Mrs. Kilroy of Ilverthorpe,
for instance. Sir George had known her all her life, and went
specially to ask her as a favour to countenance Beth.

"I want you to be kind to Mrs. Maclure, Angelica," he said. "She's far
too good for that plausible bounder of a barber's block she's
married."

"Then why did she marry him?" Angelica interrupted, in her vivacious
way.

"Pitchforked into it at the suggestion of her friends in her infancy,
I should say, reasoning by induction," he answered. "That's generally
the explanation in these cases. But, at any rate, she's not going to
be happy with him. And she's a charming little creature, very sweet
and docile naturally, and with unusual ability, or I'm much mistaken,
and plenty of spirit, too, when she's roused, I should anticipate. But
at present, in her childish ignorance, she's yielding where she should
resist, and she'll be brutalised if no one comes to the rescue. I
don't trust that man Maclure. A man who speaks flippantly of things
that should be respected is not a man who will be scrupulous when his
own interests are concerned; and such a man has it in his power to
make the life of a girl a hell upon earth in ways which she will not
complain of, if she has no knowledge to use in self-defence; and girls
seldom have."

"As I have learnt, alas! from bitter experience in my work amongst the
victims of holy matrimony," Angelica interposed bitterly. "Oh, how
sickening it all is! Sometimes I envy Evadne in that she is able to
refuse to know."

Sir George was silent for a little, then he said, "This is likely to
be a more than usually pathetic case, because of the girl's unusual
character and promise, and also because her brain is too delicately
poised to stand the kind of shocks and jars that threaten her. You
will take pity on her, Angelica?"

Mrs. Kilroy shrugged her shoulders. "How can I countenance a woman who
acquiesces in such a position as her husband holds, and actually lives
on his degrading work?"

"I don't believe she knows anything about it," he rejoined.

"If I were sure of that," said Angelica, meditating.

"It is easy enough to make sure," he suggested.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Carne, wife of the leading medical man in Slane, conceived it to
be her duty to patronise Beth to the extent of an occasional formal
call, as she was the wife of a junior practitioner; and Beth duly
returned these calls, because she was determined not to make enemies
for Dan by showing any resentment for the slights she had suffered in
Slane.

Feeling depressed indoors one dreary afternoon, she set off, alone as
usual, to pay one of these visits. She rather hoped perhaps to find
some sort of satisfaction by way of reward for the brave discharge of
an uncongenial duty.

On the way into town, Dan passed her in his dogcart with a casual nod,
bespattering her with mud. "You'll have your carriage soon, please
God! and never have to walk. I hate to see a delicate woman on foot in
the mud." Beth remembered the words so well, and Dan's pious
intonation as he uttered them, and she laughed. She had a special
little laugh for exhibitions of this kind of divergence between Dan's
precepts and his practices. But even as she laughed her face
contracted as with a sudden spasm of pain, and she ejaculated--"But I
shall succeed!"

Mrs. Carne was at home, and Beth was shown into the drawing-room,
where she found several other lady visitors--Mrs. Kilroy, Mrs. Orton
Beg, Lady Fulda Guthrie, and Ideala. The last two she had not met
before.

"Where will you sit?" said Mrs. Carne, who was an effusive little
person. "What a day! You were brave to come out, though perhaps it
will do you good. My husband says go out in all weathers and battle
with the breeze; there's nothing like exercise."

"Battling with the breeze and an umbrella on a wet day is not
exercise, it is exasperation," Beth answered, and at the sound of her
peculiarly low, clear, cultivated voice, the conversation stopped
suddenly, and every one in the room looked at her. She seemed unaware
of the attention. In fact, she ignored every one present except her
hostess. This was her habitual manner now, assumed to save herself
from slights. When she entered, Mrs. Kilroy had half risen from her
seat, and endeavoured to attract her attention; but Beth passed her
by, deliberately chose a seat, and sat down. Her demeanour, so
apparently cold and self-contained, was calculated to command respect,
but it cost Beth a great deal to maintain it. She felt she was alone
in an unfriendly atmosphere--a poor little thing, shabbily dressed in
home-made mourning, and despised for she knew not what offence; and
she suffered horribly. She had grown very fragile by this time, and
looked almost childishly young. Her eyes were unnaturally large and
wistful, her mouth drooped at the corners, and the whole expression of
her face was pathetic. Mrs. Kilroy looked at her seriously, and
thought to herself, "That girl is suffering."

Mrs. Carne offered Beth tea, but she refused it. She could not accept
such inhuman hospitality. She had come to do her duty, not to force a
welcome. She glanced at the clock. Five minutes more, and she might
go. The conversation buzzed on about her. She was sitting next to a
strange lady, a serene and dignified woman, dressed in black velvet
and sable. Beth glanced at her the first time with indifference, but
looked again with interest. Mrs. Carne bustled up and spoke to the
lady in her effusive way.

"You are better, I hope," she said, as she handed her some tea. "It
really is _sweet_ to see you looking so _much_ yourself again."

"Oh yes, I am quite well again now, thanks to your good husband," the
lady answered. "But he has given me so many tonics and things lately,
I always seem to be shaking bottles. I am quite set in that attitude.
Everything I touch I shake. I found myself shaking my watch instead of
winding it up the other day."

"Ah, then, you are quite yourself again, I see," Mrs. Carne said
archly. "But why didn't you come to the Wilmingtons' last night?"

"Oh, you know I never go to those functions if I can help it," the
lady answered, her gentle rather drawling voice lending a charm to the
words quite apart from their meaning. "I cannot stand the kind of
conversation to which one is reduced on such occasions--if you can
call that conversation which is but the cackle of geese, each
repeating the utterances of the other. When the Lord loves a woman, I
think He takes her out of society by some means or other, and keeps
her out of it for her good."

Beth knew that if she had said such a thing, Mrs. Carne would have
received it with a stony stare, but now she simpered. "That is so like
you!" she gushed. "But the Wilmingtons were _dreadfully_
disappointed."

"They will get over it," the lady answered, glancing round
indifferently.

"How are you getting on with your new book, Ideala?" Mrs. Kilroy asked
her across the room. Beth instantly froze to attention. This was her
friend, then, Sir George's Ideala.

"I have not got into the swing of it yet," Ideala answered. "It is all
dot-and-go-one--a uniform ruggedness which is not true either to life
or mind. Our ways in the world are stony enough at times, but they are
not all stones. There are smooth stretches along which we gallop, and
sheltered grassy spaces where we rest."

"What _I_ love about _your_ work is the _style_," said Mrs. Carne.

"Do you?" Ideala rejoined, somewhat dryly as it seemed to Beth. "But
what is style?"

"I am so bad at definitions," said Mrs. Carne, "but I _feel_ it, you
know."

"As if it were a thing in itself to be adopted or acquired?" Ideala
asked.

"Yes, quite so," said Mrs. Carne in a tone of relief--as of one who
has acquitted herself better than she expected and is satisfied.

"I am sure it is not," Beth burst out, forgetting herself and her
slights all at once in the interest of the subject. "I have been
reading the lives of authors lately, together with their works, and it
seems to me, in the case of all who had genius, that their style was
the outcome of their characters--their principles--the view they took
of the subject--that is, if they were natural and powerful writers.
Only the second-rate people have a manufactured style, and force their
subject to adapt itself to it--the kind of people whose style is
mentioned quite apart from their matter. In the great ones the style
is the outcome of the subject. Each emotion has its own form of
expression. The language of passion is intense; of pleasure jocund,
easy, abundant; of content calm, of happiness strong but restrained;
of love warm, tender. The language of artificial feeling is
artificial; there is no mistaking insincerity when a writer is not
sincere, and the language of true feeling is equally unmistakable. It
is simple, easy, unaffected; and it is the same in all ages. The
artificial styles of yesterday go out of fashion with the dresses
their authors wear, and become an offence to our taste; but
Shakespeare's periods appeal to every generation. He wrote from the
heart as well as the head, and triumphed in the grace of nature."

Beth stopped short and coloured crimson, finding that every one in the
room was listening to her.

Mrs. Carne stood while she was speaking with a cup of tea in her hand,
and tried to catch Ideala's eye in order to signal with raised
eyebrows her contempt for Beth's opinion; but Ideala was listening
with approval.

"That is exactly what I think," she exclaimed, "only I could not have
expressed it so. You write yourself doubtless?"

But Beth had become confused, and only gazed at her by way of reply.
She felt she had done the wrong thing to speak out like that in such
surroundings, and she regretted every word, and burned with vexation.
Then suddenly in herself, as before, something seemed to say, or
rather to flash forth the exclamation for her comfort: "I shall
succeed! I shall succeed!"

She drew herself up and looked round on them all with a look that
transformed her. Such an assurance in herself was not to be doubted.
The day would come when they would be glad enough to see her, when she
too would be heard with respect and quoted. She, the least considered,
she in her shabby gloves, neglected, slighted, despised, alone, she
would arrive, would have done something--more than them all!

She arose with her eyes fixed on futurity, and was half-way home
before she came to and found herself tearing along through the rain
with her head forward and her hands clasped across her chest, urged to
energy by the cry in her heart, "I shall succeed! I shall succeed!"

"Who was that?" said Ideala in a startled voice when Beth jumped up
and left the room.

"The wife of that Dr. Maclure, you know," Mrs. Carne replied. "Her
manners seem somewhat abrupt. She forgot to say good-bye. I did not
know she was by way of being clever."

"By way of being clever!" Ideala ejaculated. "I wish I had known who
she was. Why didn't you introduce her? By way of being clever, indeed!
Why, she is just what I have missed being with all my cleverness, or I
am much mistaken, and that is a genius. And what is more important to
us, I suspect she is the genius for whom we are waiting. Why, _why_
didn't you name her? It is the old story. She came unto her own, and
her own received her not."

"I--I never dreamt you would care to know her--her position, you
know," Mrs. Carne stammered disconcerted.

"Her position! What is her position to me?" Ideala exclaimed. "It is
the girl herself I think of. Besides, I daresay she doesn't even know
what her position is!"

"That is what Sir George says, and he knows her well," Mrs. Kilroy
interposed.

"But I never suspected that she was in the least interesting," Mrs.
Carne protested; "and I'm sure she doesn't look attractive--such an
expression!"

"You are to blame for that, all of you," Ideala rejoined, with
something in her gentle way of speaking which had the effect of
strength and vehemence. "I know how it has been. She is sensitive, and
you have made her feel there is something wrong. You have treated her
so that she expects no kindness from you, and so, from diffidence and
restraint of tenderness, her face has set hard into coldness. But that
is only a mask. How you treat each other, you women! And you are as
wanting in discernment, too, as you are in kindness and sympathy. She
has had to put on that mask of coldness to hide what you make her
suffer, and it will take long loving to melt it now, and make her look
human again. You misinterpret her silence too. How can you expect her
to be interesting if you take no interest in her? But look at her
eyes? Any one with the least kindly discernment might have seen the
love and living interest there! If she had been in a good position,
everybody would have found her as singularly interesting as she,
without caring a rap for our position, has found us. She sees through
us all with those eyes of hers--ay, and beyond! She sees what we have
never seen, and never shall in this incarnation; hers are the vision
and the dream that are denied to us. Were she to come forward as a
leader to-morrow, I would follow her humbly and do as she told me....
I read some of her writings the other day, but I thought they were the
work of a mature woman. Had I known she was such a child I should have
wondered!"

"Dear me! does she really write?" said Mrs. Carne. "Well, you surprise
me! I should never have dreamt that she had anything in her!"

"You make me feel ashamed of myself, Ideala," said Mrs. Kilroy with
contrition. "I ought to have known. But I could think of nothing, see
nothing in her but that horrible business. I shall certainly do my
best now, however, when we return from town, to cultivate her
acquaintance, if she will let me."

"Let you!" Mrs. Carne ejaculated with her insinuating smile. "I should
think she would be flattered."

"I am not so sure of that," said Ideala.

"Neither am I," said Mrs. Kilroy. "I only wish I were. But she ignored
us all rather pointedly when she came in."

"To save herself from being ignored, I suppose," said Ideala bitterly.
"The girl is self-respecting."

"I confess I liked her the first time I saw her," said Mrs. Orton Beg;
"but afterwards, when I heard what her husband was, I felt forced to
ignore her. How can you countenance her if she approves?"

"It was a mistake to take her approval for granted," said Mrs. Kilroy.
"Ideala would have inquired."

"Yes," said Ideala. "I take nothing for granted. If I hear anything
nice, I believe it; but if I hear anything objectionable about any
one, I either inquire about it or refuse to believe it point-blank.
And in a case like this, I should be doubly particular, for, in one of
its many moods, genius is a young child that gazes hard and sees
nothing."

"And you really think the little woman is a genius, and will be a
great writer some day?" Mrs. Carne asked with exaggerated deference to
Ideala's opinion.

"I don't know about being a writer," said Ideala. "Genius is
versatile. There are many ways in which she might succeed. It depends
on herself--on the way she is finally impelled to choose. But great
she will be in something--if she lives."

"Let us hope that she will be a great benefactor of her own sex then,
and do great good," said the gentle Lady Fulda.

"Amen!" Ideala ejaculated fervently.

Mrs. Carne tried to put off her agreeable society smile and put on her
Sunday-in-church expression, but was not in time. When we only assume
an attitude once a week, be it mental or physical, we do not fall into
it readily on a sudden.

"Not that working for women as a career is what I should wish her for
her own comfort," said Ideala after a pause. "Women who work for women
in the present period of our progress--I mean the women who bring
about the changes which benefit their sex--must resign themselves to
martyrdom. Only the martyr spirit will carry them through. Men will
often help and respect them, but other women, especially the workers
with methods of their own, will make their lives a burden to them with
pin-pricks of criticism, and every petty hindrance they can put in
their way. There is little union between women workers, and less
tolerance. Each leader thinks her own idea the only good one, and
disapproves of every other. They seldom see that many must be working
in many ways to complete the work. And as to the bulk of women, those
who will benefit by our devotion, they bespatter us with mud, stone
us, slander us, calumniate us; and even in the very act of taking
advantage of the changes we have brought about, ignore us, slight us,
push us under, and step up on our bodies to secure the benefits which
our endeavours have made it possible for them to enjoy. I know! I have
worked for women these many years, and could I show you my heart, you
would find it covered with scars--the scars of the wounds with which
they reward me."

       *       *       *       *       *

When Beth got in that day, she found Dan standing in the hall,
examining a letter addressed to herself. She took it out of his hand
without ceremony, and tore it open. "Hurrah!" she exclaimed, "it's
accepted."

"What's accepted?" he asked.

"An article I sent to _Sunshine_. And the editor says he would like to
see some more of my work," Beth rejoined, almost dancing with delight.

"I don't suppose that will put much in your pocket," Dan observed. "He
wouldn't praise you if he meant to pay you."

"But he has sent me a cheque for thirty shillings," said Beth.

Dan's expression changed. "Then you may be sure it's worth double," he
said. "But you might get some nice notepaper for me out of it, and
have it stamped with my crest, like a good girl. It's necessary in my
profession, and I've finished the last you got."

Beth laughed as she had laughed--that same peculiar mirthless little
laugh--when he drove past her and splashed her with mud on the road.
"It never seems to occur to you that I may have some little wants of
my own, Dan," she said; "you are a perfect horseleech's daughter."

Dan gazed at her blankly. He never seemed to understand any such
allusion. "You've got a grievance, have you?" he snarled. "Do _I_ ever
prevent you getting anything you like?"

Beth shrugged her shoulders by way of answer, and went into the
dining-room. He followed her, bent on making a scene; and she,
perceiving this, set herself down on a chair and folded her hands.

He took a turn up and down the room. "And this is my fine marriage
into a county family, which was to have done so much for me!" he
ejaculated at last. "But I might have known better, considering the
hole I took you out of. You've soon forgotten all I've done for you."

Beth smiled enigmatically.

"Oh yes! it's a laughing matter," he proceeded. "I've just ruined
myself by marrying you; that's what I've done. Not a soul in the place
will come to the house because of you. Nobody could ever stand you but
me; and what have I got by it? Not a halfpenny! It was just a swindle,
the whole business."

"Be careful!" Beth flashed forth. "If you make such assertions you
must prove them. The day is past when a man might insult his wife with
impunity. I have already told you I won't stand it. It would neither
be good for you nor for me if I did."

"It _was_ a swindle," he bawled. "Where are the seven or eight hundred
a year I married you for?"

Beth looked at him a moment, then burst out laughing. "Dear Dan," she
said, offering him the cheque, "you shall have the thirty shillings
all to yourself. You deserve it for telling the truth for once. I
consider I have had the best of the bargain, though. Thirty shillings
is cheap for such valuable information."

"Oh, damn you!" said Dan, leaving the room and banging the door after
him.

Beth signed the cheque and left it lying on his writing-table. She
never saw it again.

Then she went up to her secret chamber, and spent long hours--sobbing,
sobbing, sobbing, as if the marks of her married life on her character
could be washed away with tears.



CHAPTER XLIII


Beth had made fifty pounds in eighteen months by her beautiful
embroideries; but after her mother's death she did no more for sale,
neither did she spend the money. She had suffered so many humiliations
for want of money, it made her feel safer to have some by her. She
gave herself up to study at this time, and wrote a great deal. It was
winter now, and she was often driven down from her secret chamber to
the dining-room by the cold. When Dan came in and found her at work,
he would sniff contemptuously or facetiously, according to his mood at
the moment. "Wasting paper as usual, eh? Better be sewing on my
buttons," was his invariable remark. Not that his buttons were ever
off, or that Beth ever sewed them on either. She was too good an
organiser to do other people's work for them.

She made no reply to Dan's sallies. With him her mind was in a state
of solitary confinement always--not a good thing for her health, but
better on the whole than any attempt to discuss her ideas with him, or
to talk to him about anything, indeed, but himself.

Beth fared well that winter, however--fared well in herself, that is.
She had some glorious moments, revelling in the joy of creation. There
is a mental analogy to all physical processes. Fertility in life comes
of love; and in art the fervour of production is also accompanied by a
rapture and preceded by a passion of its own. When Beth was in a good
mood for work, it was like love--love without the lover; she felt all
the joy of love, with none of the disturbance. When the idea of
publication was first presented to her, it robbed her of this joy. As
she wrote, she thought more of what she might gain than of what she
was doing. Visions of success possessed her, and the ideas upon which
her attention should have been fully concentrated were thinned by
anticipations; and during that period her work was indifferent. Later,
however, she worked again for work's sake, loving it; and then she
advanced. She saw little of Dan in those days, and thought less; but
when they met, she was, as usual, gentle and tolerant, patiently
enduring his "cheeriness," and entering into no quarrel unless he
forced one upon her.

One bright frosty morning he came in rather earlier than usual and
found her writing in the dining-room.

"Well, I've had a rattling good ride this morning," he began, plunging
into his favourite topic as usual without any pretence of interest in
her or in her pursuits. "Nothing like riding for improving the
circulation! I wish to goodness I could keep another horse. It would
add to my income in the long run. But I'm so cursedly handicapped by
those bills. They keep me awake at night thinking of them."

Beth sucked the end of her pencil and looked out of the window,
wondering inwardly why he never tried to pay them.

"I calculate that they come to just three hundred pounds," he
proceeded, looking keenly at Beth as he spoke; but she remained
unmoved. "Don't you think," he ventured, "it would be a good thing to
expend that three hundred pounds your mother left you on the debts? I
know I could make money if I once got my head above water."

"That three hundred brings me in fifteen pounds a year," said Beth.
"It is well invested, and I promised my mother not to touch any of my
little capital. There is the interest, however, it arrived this
morning. You can have _that_ if you like."

"Well, that would be a crumb of comfort, at all events," he said,
pouncing on the lawyer's letter, which was lying beside Beth on the
table, and gloating on the cheque. "But don't you think, now that you
have the interest, it would be a good time to sell and get the
principal? Of course your mother was right and wise to advise you not
to part with your capital; but this wouldn't be parting with it,
because I should pay you back in time, you know. It would only be a
loan, and I'd give you the interest on it regularly too; just think
what a relief it would be to me to get those bills paid!" He ran his
fingers up through his hair as he spoke, and gazed at himself in the
glass tragically.

"Any news?" said Beth, after a little pause.

Dan, baffled, turned and began to walk up and down the room. "No,
there never is any news in this confounded hole," he answered, venting
his irritation on the place. "Oh, by the way, though, I am forgetting.
I was at the Pettericks' to-day. That girl Bertha is not getting on as
I should like."

"The hysterical one?" said Beth.

"Ye--yes," he answered, hesitating. "The one who threatened to be
hysterical at one time. But that's all gone off. Now she's just weak,
and she should have electricity; but I can't be going there every day
to apply it--takes too much time: so I suggested to her people that
she should come here for a while, as a paying patient, you know."

"And is she coming?" Beth said, rather in dismay.

"Yes, to-morrow," he replied. "I said you'd be delighted; but you must
write and say so yourself, just for politeness' sake. It will be a
good thing for you too, you know. You are too much alone, and she'll
be a companion for you. She's not half a bad girl."

"Shall I be obliged to give her much of my time?" Beth asked
lugubriously.

"Oh dear, no! She'll look after herself," Dr. Maclure cheerfully
assured her. "I'll hire a piano for her. Must launch out a little on
these occasions, you know. It's setting a sprat to catch a whale."

The piano arrived that afternoon. Beth wished Dan had let her choose
it; but a piano of any kind was a delight. She had not had one since
her marriage. Dan had said at first that a piano was a luxury which
they must not think of when they could not afford the necessaries; and
a luxury he had considered it ever since.

Bertha Petterick was not the kind of person that Beth would have
chosen for a companion, and she dreaded her coming; but before Bertha
had been in the house a week she had so enlivened it that Beth
wondered she had ever objected to her. Bertha fawned upon Beth from
the first, and was by way of looking up to her, and admiring her
intellect. She was four or five years older than Beth, but gave
herself no airs on that account. She was a dark girl, good looking in
a common kind of way, with a masculine stride in her walk, a deep
mannish voice; and not at all intellectual, but very practical: what
some people consider a fine girl and others a coarse one, according to
their taste. She was a good shot, could make a dress, cook a dinner,
ride to hounds, and play any game; and she was what is called
good-natured, that is to say, ready to do for any one anything that
could be done on the spur of the moment. Things she might promise to
do, or things requiring thought, she did not trouble herself about;
but she would finish a pretty piece of work for Beth, gather flowers
or buy them and do the table decorations, and keep things tidy in the
sitting-rooms. She played and sang well, and was ready to do both at
any time if she were asked, which was a joy to Beth; and her bright
chatter kept Dan in a good humour, which was a relief. She had plenty
of money, and spent it lavishly. Every time she went out she bought
Beth something, a piece of music she had mentioned, a book she longed
for, materials for work, besides flowers and fruit and sweets in
unlimited quantities. Beth remonstrated, but Bertha begged Beth not to
deprive her of the one pleasure she had in life just then, the
pleasure of pleasing Beth, and of acknowledging what she never could
repay but dearly appreciated--Beth's sisterly sympathy, her consistent
kindness! Such sayings were tinged with sadness, which made Beth
suspect that Bertha had some secret sorrow; but if so, it was most
care