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

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


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

Title: The Battle of Life
Author: Dickens, Charles
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Battle of Life" ***

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



Transcribed from the 1867/68 Chapman and Hall_ Works of Charles Dickens_,
_Volume_ 4, _Christmas Books_ by David Price, email ccx074@pglaf.org

                   [Picture: Public domain book cover]



                            THE BATTLE OF LIFE


Part the First


ONCE upon a time, it matters little when, and in stalwart England, it
matters little where, a fierce battle was fought.  It was fought upon a
long summer day when the waving grass was green.  Many a wild flower
formed by the Almighty Hand to be a perfumed goblet for the dew, felt its
enamelled cup filled high with blood that day, and shrinking dropped.
Many an insect deriving its delicate colour from harmless leaves and
herbs, was stained anew that day by dying men, and marked its frightened
way with an unnatural track.  The painted butterfly took blood into the
air upon the edges of its wings.  The stream ran red.  The trodden ground
became a quagmire, whence, from sullen pools collected in the prints of
human feet and horses’ hoofs, the one prevailing hue still lowered and
glimmered at the sun.

Heaven keep us from a knowledge of the sights the moon beheld upon that
field, when, coming up above the black line of distant rising-ground,
softened and blurred at the edge by trees, she rose into the sky and
looked upon the plain, strewn with upturned faces that had once at
mothers’ breasts sought mothers’ eyes, or slumbered happily.  Heaven keep
us from a knowledge of the secrets whispered afterwards upon the tainted
wind that blew across the scene of that day’s work and that night’s death
and suffering!  Many a lonely moon was bright upon the battle-ground, and
many a star kept mournful watch upon it, and many a wind from every
quarter of the earth blew over it, before the traces of the fight were
worn away.

They lurked and lingered for a long time, but survived in little things;
for, Nature, far above the evil passions of men, soon recovered Her
serenity, and smiled upon the guilty battle-ground as she had done
before, when it was innocent.  The larks sang high above it; the swallows
skimmed and dipped and flitted to and fro; the shadows of the flying
clouds pursued each other swiftly, over grass and corn and turnip-field
and wood, and over roof and church-spire in the nestling town among the
trees, away into the bright distance on the borders of the sky and earth,
where the red sunsets faded.  Crops were sown, and grew up, and were
gathered in; the stream that had been crimsoned, turned a watermill; men
whistled at the plough; gleaners and haymakers were seen in quiet groups
at work; sheep and oxen pastured; boys whooped and called, in fields, to
scare away the birds; smoke rose from cottage chimneys; sabbath bells
rang peacefully; old people lived and died; the timid creatures of the
field, the simple flowers of the bush and garden, grew and withered in
their destined terms: and all upon the fierce and bloody battle-ground,
where thousands upon thousands had been killed in the great fight.  But,
there were deep green patches in the growing corn at first, that people
looked at awfully.  Year after year they re-appeared; and it was known
that underneath those fertile spots, heaps of men and horses lay buried,
indiscriminately, enriching the ground.  The husbandmen who ploughed
those places, shrunk from the great worms abounding there; and the
sheaves they yielded, were, for many a long year, called the Battle
Sheaves, and set apart; and no one ever knew a Battle Sheaf to be among
the last load at a Harvest Home.  For a long time, every furrow that was
turned, revealed some fragments of the fight.  For a long time, there
were wounded trees upon the battle-ground; and scraps of hacked and
broken fence and wall, where deadly struggles had been made; and trampled
parts where not a leaf or blade would grow.  For a long time, no village
girl would dress her hair or bosom with the sweetest flower from that
field of death: and after many a year had come and gone, the berries
growing there, were still believed to leave too deep a stain upon the
hand that plucked them.

The Seasons in their course, however, though they passed as lightly as
the summer clouds themselves, obliterated, in the lapse of time, even
these remains of the old conflict; and wore away such legendary traces of
it as the neighbouring people carried in their minds, until they dwindled
into old wives’ tales, dimly remembered round the winter fire, and waning
every year.  Where the wild flowers and berries had so long remained upon
the stem untouched, gardens arose, and houses were built, and children
played at battles on the turf.  The wounded trees had long ago made
Christmas logs, and blazed and roared away.  The deep green patches were
no greener now than the memory of those who lay in dust below.  The
ploughshare still turned up from time to time some rusty bits of metal,
but it was hard to say what use they had ever served, and those who found
them wondered and disputed.  An old dinted corselet, and a helmet, had
been hanging in the church so long, that the same weak half-blind old man
who tried in vain to make them out above the whitewashed arch, had
marvelled at them as a baby.  If the host slain upon the field, could
have been for a moment reanimated in the forms in which they fell, each
upon the spot that was the bed of his untimely death, gashed and ghastly
soldiers would have stared in, hundreds deep, at household door and
window; and would have risen on the hearths of quiet homes; and would
have been the garnered store of barns and granaries; and would have
started up between the cradled infant and its nurse; and would have
floated with the stream, and whirled round on the mill, and crowded the
orchard, and burdened the meadow, and piled the rickyard high with dying
men.  So altered was the battle-ground, where thousands upon thousands
had been killed in the great fight.

Nowhere more altered, perhaps, about a hundred years ago, than in one
little orchard attached to an old stone house with a honeysuckle porch;
where, on a bright autumn morning, there were sounds of music and
laughter, and where two girls danced merrily together on the grass, while
some half-dozen peasant women standing on ladders, gathering the apples
from the trees, stopped in their work to look down, and share their
enjoyment.  It was a pleasant, lively, natural scene; a beautiful day, a
retired spot; and the two girls, quite unconstrained and careless, danced
in the freedom and gaiety of their hearts.

If there were no such thing as display in the world, my private opinion
is, and I hope you agree with me, that we might get on a great deal
better than we do, and might be infinitely more agreeable company than we
are.  It was charming to see how these girls danced.  They had no
spectators but the apple-pickers on the ladders.  They were very glad to
please them, but they danced to please themselves (or at least you would
have supposed so); and you could no more help admiring, than they could
help dancing.  How they did dance!

Not like opera-dancers.  Not at all.  And not like Madame Anybody’s
finished pupils.  Not the least.  It was not quadrille dancing, nor
minuet dancing, nor even country-dance dancing.  It was neither in the
old style, nor the new style, nor the French style, nor the English
style: though it may have been, by accident, a trifle in the Spanish
style, which is a free and joyous one, I am told, deriving a delightful
air of off-hand inspiration, from the chirping little castanets.  As they
danced among the orchard trees, and down the groves of stems and back
again, and twirled each other lightly round and round, the influence of
their airy motion seemed to spread and spread, in the sun-lighted scene,
like an expanding circle in the water.  Their streaming hair and
fluttering skirts, the elastic grass beneath their feet, the boughs that
rustled in the morning air—the flashing leaves, the speckled shadows on
the soft green ground—the balmy wind that swept along the landscape, glad
to turn the distant windmill, cheerily—everything between the two girls,
and the man and team at plough upon the ridge of land, where they showed
against the sky as if they were the last things in the world—seemed
dancing too.

At last, the younger of the dancing sisters, out of breath, and laughing
gaily, threw herself upon a bench to rest.  The other leaned against a
tree hard by.  The music, a wandering harp and fiddle, left off with a
flourish, as if it boasted of its freshness; though the truth is, it had
gone at such a pace, and worked itself to such a pitch of competition
with the dancing, that it never could have held on, half a minute longer.
The apple-pickers on the ladders raised a hum and murmur of applause, and
then, in keeping with the sound, bestirred themselves to work again like
bees.

The more actively, perhaps, because an elderly gentleman, who was no
other than Doctor Jeddler himself—it was Doctor Jeddler’s house and
orchard, you should know, and these were Doctor Jeddler’s daughters—came
bustling out to see what was the matter, and who the deuce played music
on his property, before breakfast.  For he was a great philosopher,
Doctor Jeddler, and not very musical.

‘Music and dancing _to-day_!’ said the Doctor, stopping short, and
speaking to himself.  ‘I thought they dreaded to-day.  But it’s a world
of contradictions.  Why, Grace, why, Marion!’ he added, aloud, ‘is the
world more mad than usual this morning?’

‘Make some allowance for it, father, if it be,’ replied his younger
daughter, Marion, going close to him, and looking into his face, ‘for
it’s somebody’s birth-day.’

‘Somebody’s birth-day, Puss!’ replied the Doctor.  ‘Don’t you know it’s
always somebody’s birth-day?  Did you never hear how many new performers
enter on this—ha! ha! ha!—it’s impossible to speak gravely of it—on this
preposterous and ridiculous business called Life, every minute?’

‘No, father!’

‘No, not you, of course; you’re a woman—almost,’ said the Doctor.
‘By-the-by,’ and he looked into the pretty face, still close to his, ‘I
suppose it’s _your_ birth-day.’

‘No!  Do you really, father?’ cried his pet daughter, pursing up her red
lips to be kissed.

‘There!  Take my love with it,’ said the Doctor, imprinting his upon
them; ‘and many happy returns of the—the idea!—of the day.  The notion of
wishing happy returns in such a farce as this,’ said the Doctor to
himself, ‘is good!  Ha! ha! ha!’

Doctor Jeddler was, as I have said, a great philosopher, and the heart
and mystery of his philosophy was, to look upon the world as a gigantic
practical joke; as something too absurd to be considered seriously, by
any rational man.  His system of belief had been, in the beginning, part
and parcel of the battle-ground on which he lived, as you shall presently
understand.

‘Well!  But how did you get the music?’ asked the Doctor.
‘Poultry-stealers, of course!  Where did the minstrels come from?’

‘Alfred sent the music,’ said his daughter Grace, adjusting a few simple
flowers in her sister’s hair, with which, in her admiration of that
youthful beauty, she had herself adorned it half-an-hour before, and
which the dancing had disarranged.

‘Oh!  Alfred sent the music, did he?’ returned the Doctor.

‘Yes.  He met it coming out of the town as he was entering early.  The
men are travelling on foot, and rested there last night; and as it was
Marion’s birth-day, and he thought it would please her, he sent them on,
with a pencilled note to me, saying that if I thought so too, they had
come to serenade her.’

‘Ay, ay,’ said the Doctor, carelessly, ‘he always takes your opinion.’

‘And my opinion being favourable,’ said Grace, good-humouredly; and
pausing for a moment to admire the pretty head she decorated, with her
own thrown back; ‘and Marion being in high spirits, and beginning to
dance, I joined her.  And so we danced to Alfred’s music till we were out
of breath.  And we thought the music all the gayer for being sent by
Alfred.  Didn’t we, dear Marion?’

‘Oh, I don’t know, Grace.  How you tease me about Alfred.’

‘Tease you by mentioning your lover?’ said her sister.

‘I am sure I don’t much care to have him mentioned,’ said the wilful
beauty, stripping the petals from some flowers she held, and scattering
them on the ground.  ‘I am almost tired of hearing of him; and as to his
being my lover—’

‘Hush!  Don’t speak lightly of a true heart, which is all your own,
Marion,’ cried her sister, ‘even in jest.  There is not a truer heart
than Alfred’s in the world!’

‘No-no,’ said Marion, raising her eyebrows with a pleasant air of
careless consideration, ‘perhaps not.  But I don’t know that there’s any
great merit in that.  I—I don’t want him to be so very true.  I never
asked him.  If he expects that I— But, dear Grace, why need we talk of
him at all, just now!’

It was agreeable to see the graceful figures of the blooming sisters,
twined together, lingering among the trees, conversing thus, with
earnestness opposed to lightness, yet, with love responding tenderly to
love.  And it was very curious indeed to see the younger sister’s eyes
suffused with tears, and something fervently and deeply felt, breaking
through the wilfulness of what she said, and striving with it painfully.

The difference between them, in respect of age, could not exceed four
years at most; but Grace, as often happens in such cases, when no mother
watches over both (the Doctor’s wife was dead), seemed, in her gentle
care of her young sister, and in the steadiness of her devotion to her,
older than she was; and more removed, in course of nature, from all
competition with her, or participation, otherwise than through her
sympathy and true affection, in her wayward fancies, than their ages
seemed to warrant.  Great character of mother, that, even in this shadow
and faint reflection of it, purifies the heart, and raises the exalted
nature nearer to the angels!

The Doctor’s reflections, as he looked after them, and heard the purport
of their discourse, were limited at first to certain merry meditations on
the folly of all loves and likings, and the idle imposition practised on
themselves by young people, who believed for a moment, that there could
be anything serious in such bubbles, and were always undeceived—always!

But, the home-adorning, self-denying qualities of Grace, and her sweet
temper, so gentle and retiring, yet including so much constancy and
bravery of spirit, seemed all expressed to him in the contrast between
her quiet household figure and that of his younger and more beautiful
child; and he was sorry for her sake—sorry for them both—that life should
be such a very ridiculous business as it was.

The Doctor never dreamed of inquiring whether his children, or either of
them, helped in any way to make the scheme a serious one.  But then he
was a Philosopher.

A kind and generous man by nature, he had stumbled, by chance, over that
common Philosopher’s stone (much more easily discovered than the object
of the alchemist’s researches), which sometimes trips up kind and
generous men, and has the fatal property of turning gold to dross and
every precious thing to poor account.

‘Britain!’ cried the Doctor.  ‘Britain!  Holloa!’

A small man, with an uncommonly sour and discontented face, emerged from
the house, and returned to this call the unceremonious acknowledgment of
‘Now then!’

‘Where’s the breakfast table?’ said the Doctor.

‘In the house,’ returned Britain.

‘Are you going to spread it out here, as you were told last night?’ said
the Doctor.  ‘Don’t you know that there are gentlemen coming?  That
there’s business to be done this morning, before the coach comes by?
That this is a very particular occasion?’

‘I couldn’t do anything, Dr. Jeddler, till the women had done getting in
the apples, could I?’ said Britain, his voice rising with his reasoning,
so that it was very loud at last.

‘Well, have they done now?’ replied the Doctor, looking at his watch, and
clapping his hands.  ‘Come! make haste! where’s Clemency?’

‘Here am I, Mister,’ said a voice from one of the ladders, which a pair
of clumsy feet descended briskly.  ‘It’s all done now.  Clear away, gals.
Everything shall be ready for you in half a minute, Mister.’

With that she began to bustle about most vigorously; presenting, as she
did so, an appearance sufficiently peculiar to justify a word of
introduction.

She was about thirty years old, and had a sufficiently plump and cheerful
face, though it was twisted up into an odd expression of tightness that
made it comical.  But, the extraordinary homeliness of her gait and
manner, would have superseded any face in the world.  To say that she had
two left legs, and somebody else’s arms, and that all four limbs seemed
to be out of joint, and to start from perfectly wrong places when they
were set in motion, is to offer the mildest outline of the reality.  To
say that she was perfectly content and satisfied with these arrangements,
and regarded them as being no business of hers, and that she took her
arms and legs as they came, and allowed them to dispose of themselves
just as it happened, is to render faint justice to her equanimity.  Her
dress was a prodigious pair of self-willed shoes, that never wanted to go
where her feet went; blue stockings; a printed gown of many colours, and
the most hideous pattern procurable for money; and a white apron.  She
always wore short sleeves, and always had, by some accident, grazed
elbows, in which she took so lively an interest, that she was continually
trying to turn them round and get impossible views of them.  In general,
a little cap placed somewhere on her head; though it was rarely to be met
with in the place usually occupied in other subjects, by that article of
dress; but, from head to foot she was scrupulously clean, and maintained
a kind of dislocated tidiness.  Indeed, her laudable anxiety to be tidy
and compact in her own conscience as well as in the public eye, gave rise
to one of her most startling evolutions, which was to grasp herself
sometimes by a sort of wooden handle (part of her clothing, and
familiarly called a busk), and wrestle as it were with her garments,
until they fell into a symmetrical arrangement.

Such, in outward form and garb, was Clemency Newcome; who was supposed to
have unconsciously originated a corruption of her own Christian name,
from Clementina (but nobody knew, for the deaf old mother, a very
phenomenon of age, whom she had supported almost from a child, was dead,
and she had no other relation); who now busied herself in preparing the
table, and who stood, at intervals, with her bare red arms crossed,
rubbing her grazed elbows with opposite hands, and staring at it very
composedly, until she suddenly remembered something else she wanted, and
jogged off to fetch it.

‘Here are them two lawyers a-coming, Mister!’ said Clemency, in a tone of
no very great good-will.

‘Ah!’ cried the Doctor, advancing to the gate to meet them.  ‘Good
morning, good morning!  Grace, my dear!  Marion!  Here are Messrs.
Snitchey and Craggs.  Where’s Alfred!’

‘He’ll be back directly, father, no doubt,’ said Grace.  ‘He had so much
to do this morning in his preparations for departure, that he was up and
out by daybreak.  Good morning, gentlemen.’

‘Ladies!’ said Mr. Snitchey, ‘for Self and Craggs,’ who bowed, ‘good
morning!  Miss,’ to Marion, ‘I kiss your hand.’  Which he did.  ‘And I
wish you’—which he might or might not, for he didn’t look, at first
sight, like a gentleman troubled with many warm outpourings of soul, in
behalf of other people, ‘a hundred happy returns of this auspicious day.’

‘Ha ha ha!’ laughed the Doctor thoughtfully, with his hands in his
pockets.  ‘The great farce in a hundred acts!’

‘You wouldn’t, I am sure,’ said Mr. Snitchey, standing a small
professional blue bag against one leg of the table, ‘cut the great farce
short for this actress, at all events, Doctor Jeddler.’

‘No,’ returned the Doctor.  ‘God forbid!  May she live to laugh at it, as
long as she _can_ laugh, and then say, with the French wit, “The farce is
ended; draw the curtain.”’

‘The French wit,’ said Mr. Snitchey, peeping sharply into his blue bag,
‘was wrong, Doctor Jeddler, and your philosophy is altogether wrong,
depend upon it, as I have often told you.  Nothing serious in life!  What
do you call law?’

‘A joke,’ replied the Doctor.

‘Did you ever go to law?’ asked Mr. Snitchey, looking out of the blue
bag.

‘Never,’ returned the Doctor.

‘If you ever do,’ said Mr. Snitchey, ‘perhaps you’ll alter that opinion.’

Craggs, who seemed to be represented by Snitchey, and to be conscious of
little or no separate existence or personal individuality, offered a
remark of his own in this place.  It involved the only idea of which he
did not stand seized and possessed in equal moieties with Snitchey; but,
he had some partners in it among the wise men of the world.

‘It’s made a great deal too easy,’ said Mr. Craggs.

‘Law is?’ asked the Doctor.

‘Yes,’ said Mr. Craggs, ‘everything is.  Everything appears to me to be
made too easy, now-a-days.  It’s the vice of these times.  If the world
is a joke (I am not prepared to say it isn’t), it ought to be made a very
difficult joke to crack.  It ought to be as hard a struggle, sir, as
possible.  That’s the intention.  But, it’s being made far too easy.  We
are oiling the gates of life.  They ought to be rusty.  We shall have
them beginning to turn, soon, with a smooth sound.  Whereas they ought to
grate upon their hinges, sir.’

Mr. Craggs seemed positively to grate upon his own hinges, as he
delivered this opinion; to which he communicated immense effect—being a
cold, hard, dry, man, dressed in grey and white, like a flint; with small
twinkles in his eyes, as if something struck sparks out of them.  The
three natural kingdoms, indeed, had each a fanciful representative among
this brotherhood of disputants; for Snitchey was like a magpie or raven
(only not so sleek), and the Doctor had a streaked face like a
winter-pippin, with here and there a dimple to express the peckings of
the birds, and a very little bit of pigtail behind that stood for the
stalk.

As the active figure of a handsome young man, dressed for a journey, and
followed by a porter bearing several packages and baskets, entered the
orchard at a brisk pace, and with an air of gaiety and hope that accorded
well with the morning, these three drew together, like the brothers of
the sister Fates, or like the Graces most effectually disguised, or like
the three weird prophets on the heath, and greeted him.

‘Happy returns, Alf!’ said the Doctor, lightly.

‘A hundred happy returns of this auspicious day, Mr. Heathfield!’ said
Snitchey, bowing low.

‘Returns!’ Craggs murmured in a deep voice, all alone.

‘Why, what a battery!’ exclaimed Alfred, stopping short, ‘and
one—two—three—all foreboders of no good, in the great sea before me.  I
am glad you are not the first I have met this morning: I should have
taken it for a bad omen.  But, Grace was the first—sweet, pleasant
Grace—so I defy you all!’

‘If you please, Mister, I was the first you know,’ said Clemency Newcome.
‘She was walking out here, before sunrise, you remember.  I was in the
house.’

‘That’s true!  Clemency was the first,’ said Alfred.  ‘So I defy you with
Clemency.’

‘Ha, ha, ha,—for Self and Craggs,’ said Snitchey.  ‘What a defiance!’

‘Not so bad a one as it appears, may be,’ said Alfred, shaking hands
heartily with the Doctor, and also with Snitchey and Craggs, and then
looking round.  ‘Where are the—Good Heavens!’

With a start, productive for the moment of a closer partnership between
Jonathan Snitchey and Thomas Craggs than the subsisting articles of
agreement in that wise contemplated, he hastily betook himself to where
the sisters stood together, and—however, I needn’t more particularly
explain his manner of saluting Marion first, and Grace afterwards, than
by hinting that Mr. Craggs may possibly have considered it ‘too easy.’

Perhaps to change the subject, Dr. Jeddler made a hasty move towards the
breakfast, and they all sat down at table.  Grace presided; but so
discreetly stationed herself, as to cut off her sister and Alfred from
the rest of the company.  Snitchey and Craggs sat at opposite corners,
with the blue bag between them for safety; the Doctor took his usual
position, opposite to Grace.  Clemency hovered galvanically about the
table, as waitress; and the melancholy Britain, at another and a smaller
board, acted as Grand Carver of a round of beef and a ham.

‘Meat?’ said Britain, approaching Mr. Snitchey, with the carving knife
and fork in his hands, and throwing the question at him like a missile.

‘Certainly,’ returned the lawyer.

‘Do _you_ want any?’ to Craggs.

‘Lean and well done,’ replied that gentleman.

Having executed these orders, and moderately supplied the Doctor (he
seemed to know that nobody else wanted anything to eat), he lingered as
near the Firm as he decently could, watching with an austere eye their
disposition of the viands, and but once relaxing the severe expression of
his face.  This was on the occasion of Mr. Craggs, whose teeth were not
of the best, partially choking, when he cried out with great animation,
‘I thought he was gone!’

‘Now, Alfred,’ said the Doctor, ‘for a word or two of business, while we
are yet at breakfast.’

‘While we are yet at breakfast,’ said Snitchey and Craggs, who seemed to
have no present idea of leaving off.

Although Alfred had not been breakfasting, and seemed to have quite
enough business on his hands as it was, he respectfully answered:

‘If you please, sir.’

‘If anything could be serious,’ the Doctor began, ‘in such a—’

‘Farce as this, sir,’ hinted Alfred.

‘In such a farce as this,’ observed the Doctor, ‘it might be this
recurrence, on the eve of separation, of a double birth-day, which is
connected with many associations pleasant to us four, and with the
recollection of a long and amicable intercourse.  That’s not to the
purpose.’

‘Ah! yes, yes, Dr. Jeddler,’ said the young man.  ‘It is to the purpose.
Much to the purpose, as my heart bears witness this morning; and as yours
does too, I know, if you would let it speak.  I leave your house to-day;
I cease to be your ward to-day; we part with tender relations stretching
far behind us, that never can be exactly renewed, and with others
dawning—yet before us,’ he looked down at Marion beside him, ‘fraught
with such considerations as I must not trust myself to speak of now.
Come, come!’ he added, rallying his spirits and the Doctor at once,
‘there’s a serious grain in this large foolish dust-heap, Doctor.  Let us
allow to-day, that there is One.’

‘To-day!’ cried the Doctor.  ‘Hear him!  Ha, ha, ha!  Of all days in the
foolish year.  Why, on this day, the great battle was fought on this
ground.  On this ground where we now sit, where I saw my two girls dance
this morning, where the fruit has just been gathered for our eating from
these trees, the roots of which are struck in Men, not earth,—so many
lives were lost, that within my recollection, generations afterwards, a
churchyard full of bones, and dust of bones, and chips of cloven skulls,
has been dug up from underneath our feet here.  Yet not a hundred people
in that battle knew for what they fought, or why; not a hundred of the
inconsiderate rejoicers in the victory, why they rejoiced.  Not half a
hundred people were the better for the gain or loss.  Not half-a-dozen
men agree to this hour on the cause or merits; and nobody, in short, ever
knew anything distinct about it, but the mourners of the slain.  Serious,
too!’ said the Doctor, laughing.  ‘Such a system!’

‘But, all this seems to me,’ said Alfred, ‘to be very serious.’

‘Serious!’ cried the Doctor.  ‘If you allowed such things to be serious,
you must go mad, or die, or climb up to the top of a mountain, and turn
hermit.’

‘Besides—so long ago,’ said Alfred.

‘Long ago!’ returned the Doctor.  ‘Do you know what the world has been
doing, ever since?  Do you know what else it has been doing?  _I_ don’t!’

‘It has gone to law a little,’ observed Mr. Snitchey, stirring his tea.

‘Although the way out has been always made too easy,’ said his partner.

‘And you’ll excuse my saying, Doctor,’ pursued Mr. Snitchey, ‘having been
already put a thousand times in possession of my opinion, in the course
of our discussions, that, in its having gone to law, and in its legal
system altogether, I do observe a serious side—now, really, a something
tangible, and with a purpose and intention in it—’

Clemency Newcome made an angular tumble against the table, occasioning a
sounding clatter among the cups and saucers.

‘Heyday! what’s the matter there?’ exclaimed the Doctor.

‘It’s this evil-inclined blue bag,’ said Clemency, ‘always tripping up
somebody!’

‘With a purpose and intention in it, I was saying,’ resumed Snitchey,
‘that commands respect.  Life a farce, Dr. Jeddler?  With law in it?’

The Doctor laughed, and looked at Alfred.

‘Granted, if you please, that war is foolish,’ said Snitchey.  ‘There we
agree.  For example.  Here’s a smiling country,’ pointing it out with his
fork, ‘once overrun by soldiers—trespassers every man of ’em—and laid
waste by fire and sword.  He, he, he!  The idea of any man exposing
himself, voluntarily, to fire and sword!  Stupid, wasteful, positively
ridiculous; you laugh at your fellow-creatures, you know, when you think
of it!  But take this smiling country as it stands.  Think of the laws
appertaining to real property; to the bequest and devise of real
property; to the mortgage and redemption of real property; to leasehold,
freehold, and copyhold estate; think,’ said Mr. Snitchey, with such great
emotion that he actually smacked his lips, ‘of the complicated laws
relating to title and proof of title, with all the contradictory
precedents and numerous acts of parliament connected with them; think of
the infinite number of ingenious and interminable chancery suits, to
which this pleasant prospect may give rise; and acknowledge, Dr. Jeddler,
that there is a green spot in the scheme about us!  I believe,’ said Mr.
Snitchey, looking at his partner, ‘that I speak for Self and Craggs?’

Mr. Craggs having signified assent, Mr. Snitchey, somewhat freshened by
his recent eloquence, observed that he would take a little more beef and
another cup of tea.

‘I don’t stand up for life in general,’ he added, rubbing his hands and
chuckling, ‘it’s full of folly; full of something worse.  Professions of
trust, and confidence, and unselfishness, and all that!  Bah, bah, bah!
We see what they’re worth.  But, you mustn’t laugh at life; you’ve got a
game to play; a very serious game indeed!  Everybody’s playing against
you, you know, and you’re playing against them.  Oh! it’s a very
interesting thing.  There are deep moves upon the board.  You must only
laugh, Dr. Jeddler, when you win—and then not much.  He, he, he!  And
then not much,’ repeated Snitchey, rolling his head and winking his eye,
as if he would have added, ‘you may do this instead!’

‘Well, Alfred!’ cried the Doctor, ‘what do you say now?’

‘I say, sir,’ replied Alfred, ‘that the greatest favour you could do me,
and yourself too, I am inclined to think, would be to try sometimes to
forget this battle-field and others like it in that broader battle-field
of Life, on which the sun looks every day.’

‘Really, I’m afraid that wouldn’t soften his opinions, Mr. Alfred,’ said
Snitchey.  ‘The combatants are very eager and very bitter in that same
battle of Life.  There’s a great deal of cutting and slashing, and firing
into people’s heads from behind.  There is terrible treading down, and
trampling on.  It is rather a bad business.’

‘I believe, Mr. Snitchey,’ said Alfred, ‘there are quiet victories and
struggles, great sacrifices of self, and noble acts of heroism, in
it—even in many of its apparent lightnesses and contradictions—not the
less difficult to achieve, because they have no earthly chronicle or
audience—done every day in nooks and corners, and in little households,
and in men’s and women’s hearts—any one of which might reconcile the
sternest man to such a world, and fill him with belief and hope in it,
though two-fourths of its people were at war, and another fourth at law;
and that’s a bold word.’

Both the sisters listened keenly.

‘Well, well!’ said the Doctor, ‘I am too old to be converted, even by my
friend Snitchey here, or my good spinster sister, Martha Jeddler; who had
what she calls her domestic trials ages ago, and has led a sympathising
life with all sorts of people ever since; and who is so much of your
opinion (only she’s less reasonable and more obstinate, being a woman),
that we can’t agree, and seldom meet.  I was born upon this battle-field.
I began, as a boy, to have my thoughts directed to the real history of a
battle-field.  Sixty years have gone over my head, and I have never seen
the Christian world, including Heaven knows how many loving mothers and
good enough girls like mine here, anything but mad for a battle-field.
The same contradictions prevail in everything.  One must either laugh or
cry at such stupendous inconsistencies; and I prefer to laugh.’

Britain, who had been paying the profoundest and most melancholy
attention to each speaker in his turn, seemed suddenly to decide in
favour of the same preference, if a deep sepulchral sound that escaped
him might be construed into a demonstration of risibility.  His face,
however, was so perfectly unaffected by it, both before and afterwards,
that although one or two of the breakfast party looked round as being
startled by a mysterious noise, nobody connected the offender with it.

Except his partner in attendance, Clemency Newcome; who rousing him with
one of those favourite joints, her elbows, inquired, in a reproachful
whisper, what he laughed at.

‘Not you!’ said Britain.

‘Who then?’

‘Humanity,’ said Britain.  ‘That’s the joke!’

‘What between master and them lawyers, he’s getting more and more
addle-headed every day!’ cried Clemency, giving him a lunge with the
other elbow, as a mental stimulant.  ‘Do you know where you are?  Do you
want to get warning?’

‘I don’t know anything,’ said Britain, with a leaden eye and an immovable
visage.  ‘I don’t care for anything.  I don’t make out anything.  I don’t
believe anything.  And I don’t want anything.’

Although this forlorn summary of his general condition may have been
overcharged in an access of despondency, Benjamin Britain—sometimes
called Little Britain, to distinguish him from Great; as we might say
Young England, to express Old England with a decided difference—had
defined his real state more accurately than might be supposed.  For,
serving as a sort of man Miles to the Doctor’s Friar Bacon, and listening
day after day to innumerable orations addressed by the Doctor to various
people, all tending to show that his very existence was at best a mistake
and an absurdity, this unfortunate servitor had fallen, by degrees, into
such an abyss of confused and contradictory suggestions from within and
without, that Truth at the bottom of her well, was on the level surface
as compared with Britain in the depths of his mystification.  The only
point he clearly comprehended, was, that the new element usually brought
into these discussions by Snitchey and Craggs, never served to make them
clearer, and always seemed to give the Doctor a species of advantage and
confirmation.  Therefore, he looked upon the Firm as one of the proximate
causes of his state of mind, and held them in abhorrence accordingly.

‘But, this is not our business, Alfred,’ said the Doctor.  ‘Ceasing to be
my ward (as you have said) to-day; and leaving us full to the brim of
such learning as the Grammar School down here was able to give you, and
your studies in London could add to that, and such practical knowledge as
a dull old country Doctor like myself could graft upon both; you are
away, now, into the world.  The first term of probation appointed by your
poor father, being over, away you go now, your own master, to fulfil his
second desire.  And long before your three years’ tour among the foreign
schools of medicine is finished, you’ll have forgotten us.  Lord, you’ll
forget us easily in six months!’

‘If I do—But you know better; why should I speak to you!’ said Alfred,
laughing.

‘I don’t know anything of the sort,’ returned the Doctor.  ‘What do you
say, Marion?’

Marion, trifling with her teacup, seemed to say—but she didn’t say
it—that he was welcome to forget, if he could.  Grace pressed the
blooming face against her cheek, and smiled.

‘I haven’t been, I hope, a very unjust steward in the execution of my
trust,’ pursued the Doctor; ‘but I am to be, at any rate, formally
discharged, and released, and what not this morning; and here are our
good friends Snitchey and Craggs, with a bagful of papers, and accounts,
and documents, for the transfer of the balance of the trust fund to you
(I wish it was a more difficult one to dispose of, Alfred, but you must
get to be a great man and make it so), and other drolleries of that sort,
which are to be signed, sealed, and delivered.’

‘And duly witnessed as by law required,’ said Snitchey, pushing away his
plate, and taking out the papers, which his partner proceeded to spread
upon the table; ‘and Self and Craggs having been co-trustees with you,
Doctor, in so far as the fund was concerned, we shall want your two
servants to attest the signatures—can you read, Mrs. Newcome?’

‘I an’t married, Mister,’ said Clemency.

‘Oh!  I beg your pardon.  I should think not,’ chuckled Snitchey, casting
his eyes over her extraordinary figure.  ‘You _can_ read?’

‘A little,’ answered Clemency.

‘The marriage service, night and morning, eh?’ observed the lawyer,
jocosely.

‘No,’ said Clemency.  ‘Too hard.  I only reads a thimble.’

‘Read a thimble!’ echoed Snitchey.  ‘What are you talking about, young
woman?’

Clemency nodded.  ‘And a nutmeg-grater.’

‘Why, this is a lunatic! a subject for the Lord High Chancellor!’ said
Snitchey, staring at her.

—‘If possessed of any property,’ stipulated Craggs.

Grace, however, interposing, explained that each of the articles in
question bore an engraved motto, and so formed the pocket library of
Clemency Newcome, who was not much given to the study of books.

‘Oh, that’s it, is it, Miss Grace!’ said Snitchey.

‘Yes, yes.  Ha, ha, ha!  I thought our friend was an idiot.  She looks
uncommonly like it,’ he muttered, with a supercilious glance.  ‘And what
does the thimble say, Mrs. Newcome?’

‘I an’t married, Mister,’ observed Clemency.

‘Well, Newcome.  Will that do?’ said the lawyer.  ‘What does the thimble
say, Newcome?’

How Clemency, before replying to this question, held one pocket open, and
looked down into its yawning depths for the thimble which wasn’t
there,—and how she then held an opposite pocket open, and seeming to
descry it, like a pearl of great price, at the bottom, cleared away such
intervening obstacles as a handkerchief, an end of wax candle, a flushed
apple, an orange, a lucky penny, a cramp bone, a padlock, a pair of
scissors in a sheath more expressively describable as promising young
shears, a handful or so of loose beads, several balls of cotton, a
needle-case, a cabinet collection of curl-papers, and a biscuit, all of
which articles she entrusted individually and separately to Britain to
hold,—is of no consequence.

Nor how, in her determination to grasp this pocket by the throat and keep
it prisoner (for it had a tendency to swing, and twist itself round the
nearest corner), she assumed and calmly maintained, an attitude
apparently inconsistent with the human anatomy and the laws of gravity.
It is enough that at last she triumphantly produced the thimble on her
finger, and rattled the nutmeg-grater: the literature of both those
trinkets being obviously in course of wearing out and wasting away,
through excessive friction.

‘That’s the thimble, is it, young woman?’ said Mr. Snitchey, diverting
himself at her expense.  ‘And what does the thimble say?’

‘It says,’ replied Clemency, reading slowly round as if it were a tower,
‘For-get and For-give.’

Snitchey and Craggs laughed heartily.  ‘So new!’ said Snitchey.  ‘So
easy!’ said Craggs.  ‘Such a knowledge of human nature in it!’ said
Snitchey.  ‘So applicable to the affairs of life!’ said Craggs.

‘And the nutmeg-grater?’ inquired the head of the Firm.

‘The grater says,’ returned Clemency, ‘Do as you—wold—be—done by.’

‘Do, or you’ll be done brown, you mean,’ said Mr. Snitchey.

‘I don’t understand,’ retorted Clemency, shaking her head vaguely.  ‘I
an’t no lawyer.’

‘I am afraid that if she was, Doctor,’ said Mr. Snitchey, turning to him
suddenly, as if to anticipate any effect that might otherwise be
consequent on this retort, ‘she’d find it to be the golden rule of half
her clients.  They are serious enough in that—whimsical as your world
is—and lay the blame on us afterwards.  We, in our profession, are little
else than mirrors after all, Mr. Alfred; but, we are generally consulted
by angry and quarrelsome people who are not in their best looks, and it’s
rather hard to quarrel with us if we reflect unpleasant aspects.  I
think,’ said Mr. Snitchey, ‘that I speak for Self and Craggs?’

‘Decidedly,’ said Craggs.

‘And so, if Mr. Britain will oblige us with a mouthful of ink,’ said Mr.
Snitchey, returning to the papers, ‘we’ll sign, seal, and deliver as soon
as possible, or the coach will be coming past before we know where we
are.’

If one might judge from his appearance, there was every probability of
the coach coming past before Mr. Britain knew where _he_ was; for he
stood in a state of abstraction, mentally balancing the Doctor against
the lawyers, and the lawyers against the Doctor, and their clients
against both, and engaged in feeble attempts to make the thimble and
nutmeg-grater (a new idea to him) square with anybody’s system of
philosophy; and, in short, bewildering himself as much as ever his great
namesake has done with theories and schools.  But, Clemency, who was his
good Genius—though he had the meanest possible opinion of her
understanding, by reason of her seldom troubling herself with abstract
speculations, and being always at hand to do the right thing at the right
time—having produced the ink in a twinkling, tendered him the further
service of recalling him to himself by the application of her elbows;
with which gentle flappers she so jogged his memory, in a more literal
construction of that phrase than usual, that he soon became quite fresh
and brisk.

How he laboured under an apprehension not uncommon to persons in his
degree, to whom the use of pen and ink is an event, that he couldn’t
append his name to a document, not of his own writing, without committing
himself in some shadowy manner, or somehow signing away vague and
enormous sums of money; and how he approached the deeds under protest,
and by dint of the Doctor’s coercion, and insisted on pausing to look at
them before writing (the cramped hand, to say nothing of the phraseology,
being so much Chinese to him), and also on turning them round to see
whether there was anything fraudulent underneath; and how, having signed
his name, he became desolate as one who had parted with his property and
rights; I want the time to tell.  Also, how the blue bag containing his
signature, afterwards had a mysterious interest for him, and he couldn’t
leave it; also, how Clemency Newcome, in an ecstasy of laughter at the
idea of her own importance and dignity, brooded over the whole table with
her two elbows, like a spread eagle, and reposed her head upon her left
arm as a preliminary to the formation of certain cabalistic characters,
which required a deal of ink, and imaginary counterparts whereof she
executed at the same time with her tongue.  Also, how, having once tasted
ink, she became thirsty in that regard, as tame tigers are said to be
after tasting another sort of fluid, and wanted to sign everything, and
put her name in all kinds of places.  In brief, the Doctor was discharged
of his trust and all its responsibilities; and Alfred, taking it on
himself, was fairly started on the journey of life.

‘Britain!’ said the Doctor.  ‘Run to the gate, and watch for the coach.
Time flies, Alfred.’

‘Yes, sir, yes,’ returned the young man, hurriedly.  ‘Dear Grace! a
moment!  Marion—so young and beautiful, so winning and so much admired,
dear to my heart as nothing else in life is—remember!  I leave Marion to
you!’

‘She has always been a sacred charge to me, Alfred.  She is doubly so,
now.  I will be faithful to my trust, believe me.’

‘I do believe it, Grace.  I know it well.  Who could look upon your face,
and hear your voice, and not know it!  Ah, Grace!  If I had your
well-governed heart, and tranquil mind, how bravely I would leave this
place to-day!’

‘Would you?’ she answered with a quiet smile.

‘And yet, Grace—Sister, seems the natural word.’

‘Use it!’ she said quickly.  ‘I am glad to hear it.  Call me nothing
else.’

‘And yet, sister, then,’ said Alfred, ‘Marion and I had better have your
true and steadfast qualities serving us here, and making us both happier
and better.  I wouldn’t carry them away, to sustain myself, if I could!’

‘Coach upon the hill-top!’ exclaimed Britain.

‘Time flies, Alfred,’ said the Doctor.

Marion had stood apart, with her eyes fixed upon the ground; but, this
warning being given, her young lover brought her tenderly to where her
sister stood, and gave her into her embrace.

‘I have been telling Grace, dear Marion,’ he said, ‘that you are her
charge; my precious trust at parting.  And when I come back and reclaim
you, dearest, and the bright prospect of our married life lies stretched
before us, it shall be one of our chief pleasures to consult how we can
make Grace happy; how we can anticipate her wishes; how we can show our
gratitude and love to her; how we can return her something of the debt
she will have heaped upon us.’

The younger sister had one hand in his; the other rested on her sister’s
neck.  She looked into that sister’s eyes, so calm, serene, and cheerful,
with a gaze in which affection, admiration, sorrow, wonder, almost
veneration, were blended.  She looked into that sister’s face, as if it
were the face of some bright angel.  Calm, serene, and cheerful, the face
looked back on her and on her lover.

‘And when the time comes, as it must one day,’ said Alfred,—‘I wonder it
has never come yet, but Grace knows best, for Grace is always right—when
_she_ will want a friend to open her whole heart to, and to be to her
something of what she has been to us—then, Marion, how faithful we will
prove, and what delight to us to know that she, our dear good sister,
loves and is loved again, as we would have her!’

Still the younger sister looked into her eyes, and turned not—even
towards him.  And still those honest eyes looked back, so calm, serene,
and cheerful, on herself and on her lover.

‘And when all that is past, and we are old, and living (as we must!)
together—close together—talking often of old times,’ said Alfred—‘these
shall be our favourite times among them—this day most of all; and,
telling each other what we thought and felt, and hoped and feared at
parting; and how we couldn’t bear to say good bye—’

‘Coach coming through the wood!’ cried Britain.

‘Yes!  I am ready—and how we met again, so happily in spite of all; we’ll
make this day the happiest in all the year, and keep it as a treble
birth-day.  Shall we, dear?’

‘Yes!’ interposed the elder sister, eagerly, and with a radiant smile.
‘Yes!  Alfred, don’t linger.  There’s no time.  Say good bye to Marion.
And Heaven be with you!’

He pressed the younger sister to his heart.  Released from his embrace,
she again clung to her sister; and her eyes, with the same blended look,
again sought those so calm, serene, and cheerful.

‘Farewell, my boy!’ said the Doctor.  ‘To talk about any serious
correspondence or serious affections, and engagements and so forth, in
such a—ha ha ha!—you know what I mean—why that, of course, would be sheer
nonsense.  All I can say is, that if you and Marion should continue in
the same foolish minds, I shall not object to have you for a son-in-law
one of these days.’

‘Over the bridge!’ cried Britain.

‘Let it come!’ said Alfred, wringing the Doctor’s hand stoutly.  ‘Think
of me sometimes, my old friend and guardian, as seriously as you can!
Adieu, Mr. Snitchey!  Farewell, Mr. Craggs!’

‘Coming down the road!’ cried Britain.

‘A kiss of Clemency Newcome for long acquaintance’ sake!  Shake hands,
Britain!  Marion, dearest heart, good bye!  Sister Grace! remember!’

The quiet household figure, and the face so beautiful in its serenity,
were turned towards him in reply; but Marion’s look and attitude remained
unchanged.

The coach was at the gate.  There was a bustle with the luggage.  The
coach drove away.  Marion never moved.

‘He waves his hat to you, my love,’ said Grace.  ‘Your chosen husband,
darling.  Look!’

The younger sister raised her head, and, for a moment, turned it.  Then,
turning back again, and fully meeting, for the first time, those calm
eyes, fell sobbing on her neck.

‘Oh, Grace.  God bless you!  But I cannot bear to see it, Grace!  It
breaks my heart.’



Part the Second


SNITCHEY AND CRAGGS had a snug little office on the old Battle Ground,
where they drove a snug little business, and fought a great many small
pitched battles for a great many contending parties.  Though it could
hardly be said of these conflicts that they were running fights—for in
truth they generally proceeded at a snail’s pace—the part the Firm had in
them came so far within the general denomination, that now they took a
shot at this Plaintiff, and now aimed a chop at that Defendant, now made
a heavy charge at an estate in Chancery, and now had some light
skirmishing among an irregular body of small debtors, just as the
occasion served, and the enemy happened to present himself.  The Gazette
was an important and profitable feature in some of their fields, as in
fields of greater renown; and in most of the Actions wherein they showed
their generalship, it was afterwards observed by the combatants that they
had had great difficulty in making each other out, or in knowing with any
degree of distinctness what they were about, in consequence of the vast
amount of smoke by which they were surrounded.

The offices of Messrs. Snitchey and Craggs stood convenient, with an open
door down two smooth steps, in the market-place; so that any angry farmer
inclining towards hot water, might tumble into it at once.  Their special
council-chamber and hall of conference was an old back-room up-stairs,
with a low dark ceiling, which seemed to be knitting its brows gloomily
in the consideration of tangled points of law.  It was furnished with
some high-backed leathern chairs, garnished with great goggle-eyed brass
nails, of which, every here and there, two or three had fallen out—or had
been picked out, perhaps, by the wandering thumbs and forefingers of
bewildered clients.  There was a framed print of a great judge in it,
every curl in whose dreadful wig had made a man’s hair stand on end.
Bales of papers filled the dusty closets, shelves, and tables; and round
the wainscot there were tiers of boxes, padlocked and fireproof, with
people’s names painted outside, which anxious visitors felt themselves,
by a cruel enchantment, obliged to spell backwards and forwards, and to
make anagrams of, while they sat, seeming to listen to Snitchey and
Craggs, without comprehending one word of what they said.

Snitchey and Craggs had each, in private life as in professional
existence, a partner of his own.  Snitchey and Craggs were the best
friends in the world, and had a real confidence in one another; but Mrs.
Snitchey, by a dispensation not uncommon in the affairs of life, was on
principle suspicious of Mr. Craggs; and Mrs. Craggs was on principle
suspicious of Mr. Snitchey.  ‘Your Snitcheys indeed,’ the latter lady
would observe, sometimes, to Mr. Craggs; using that imaginative plural as
if in disparagement of an objectionable pair of pantaloons, or other
articles not possessed of a singular number; ‘I don’t see what you want
with your Snitcheys, for my part.  You trust a great deal too much to
your Snitcheys, _I_ think, and I hope you may never find my words come
true.’  While Mrs. Snitchey would observe to Mr. Snitchey, of Craggs,
‘that if ever he was led away by man he was led away by that man, and
that if ever she read a double purpose in a mortal eye, she read that
purpose in Craggs’s eye.’  Notwithstanding this, however, they were all
very good friends in general: and Mrs. Snitchey and Mrs. Craggs
maintained a close bond of alliance against ‘the office,’ which they both
considered the Blue chamber, and common enemy, full of dangerous (because
unknown) machinations.

In this office, nevertheless, Snitchey and Craggs made honey for their
several hives.  Here, sometimes, they would linger, of a fine evening, at
the window of their council-chamber overlooking the old battle-ground,
and wonder (but that was generally at assize time, when much business had
made them sentimental) at the folly of mankind, who couldn’t always be at
peace with one another and go to law comfortably.  Here, days, and weeks,
and months, and years, passed over them: their calendar, the gradually
diminishing number of brass nails in the leathern chairs, and the
increasing bulk of papers on the tables.  Here, nearly three years’
flight had thinned the one and swelled the other, since the breakfast in
the orchard; when they sat together in consultation at night.

Not alone; but, with a man of thirty, or about that time of life,
negligently dressed, and somewhat haggard in the face, but well-made,
well-attired, and well-looking, who sat in the armchair of state, with
one hand in his breast, and the other in his dishevelled hair, pondering
moodily.  Messrs. Snitchey and Craggs sat opposite each other at a
neighbouring desk.  One of the fireproof boxes, unpadlocked and opened,
was upon it; a part of its contents lay strewn upon the table, and the
rest was then in course of passing through the hands of Mr. Snitchey; who
brought it to the candle, document by document; looked at every paper
singly, as he produced it; shook his head, and handed it to Mr. Craggs;
who looked it over also, shook his head, and laid it down.  Sometimes,
they would stop, and shaking their heads in concert, look towards the
abstracted client.  And the name on the box being Michael Warden,
Esquire, we may conclude from these premises that the name and the box
were both his, and that the affairs of Michael Warden, Esquire, were in a
bad way.

‘That’s all,’ said Mr. Snitchey, turning up the last paper.  ‘Really
there’s no other resource.  No other resource.’

‘All lost, spent, wasted, pawned, borrowed, and sold, eh?’ said the
client, looking up.

‘All,’ returned Mr. Snitchey.

‘Nothing else to be done, you say?’

‘Nothing at all.’

The client bit his nails, and pondered again.

‘And I am not even personally safe in England?  You hold to that, do
you?’

‘In no part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland,’ replied
Mr. Snitchey.

‘A mere prodigal son with no father to go back to, no swine to keep, and
no husks to share with them?  Eh?’ pursued the client, rocking one leg
over the other, and searching the ground with his eyes.

Mr. Snitchey coughed, as if to deprecate the being supposed to
participate in any figurative illustration of a legal position.  Mr.
Craggs, as if to express that it was a partnership view of the subject,
also coughed.

‘Ruined at thirty!’ said the client.  ‘Humph!’

‘Not ruined, Mr. Warden,’ returned Snitchey.  ‘Not so bad as that.  You
have done a good deal towards it, I must say, but you are not ruined.  A
little nursing—’

‘A little Devil,’ said the client.

‘Mr. Craggs,’ said Snitchey, ‘will you oblige me with a pinch of snuff?
Thank you, sir.’

As the imperturbable lawyer applied it to his nose with great apparent
relish and a perfect absorption of his attention in the proceeding, the
client gradually broke into a smile, and, looking up, said:

‘You talk of nursing.  How long nursing?’

‘How long nursing?’ repeated Snitchey, dusting the snuff from his
fingers, and making a slow calculation in his mind.  ‘For your involved
estate, sir?  In good hands? S. and C.’s, say?  Six or seven years.’

‘To starve for six or seven years!’ said the client with a fretful laugh,
and an impatient change of his position.

‘To starve for six or seven years, Mr. Warden,’ said Snitchey, ‘would be
very uncommon indeed.  You might get another estate by showing yourself,
the while.  But, we don’t think you could do it—speaking for Self and
Craggs—and consequently don’t advise it.’

‘What _do_ you advise?’

‘Nursing, I say,’ repeated Snitchey.  ‘Some few years of nursing by Self
and Craggs would bring it round.  But to enable us to make terms, and
hold terms, and you to keep terms, you must go away; you must live
abroad.  As to starvation, we could ensure you some hundreds a-year to
starve upon, even in the beginning—I dare say, Mr. Warden.’

‘Hundreds,’ said the client.  ‘And I have spent thousands!’

‘That,’ retorted Mr. Snitchey, putting the papers slowly back into the
cast-iron box, ‘there is no doubt about.  No doubt a—bout,’ he repeated
to himself, as he thoughtfully pursued his occupation.

The lawyer very likely knew _his_ man; at any rate his dry, shrewd,
whimsical manner, had a favourable influence on the client’s moody state,
and disposed him to be more free and unreserved.  Or, perhaps the client
knew _his_ man, and had elicited such encouragement as he had received,
to render some purpose he was about to disclose the more defensible in
appearance.  Gradually raising his head, he sat looking at his immovable
adviser with a smile, which presently broke into a laugh.

‘After all,’ he said, ‘my iron-headed friend—’

Mr. Snitchey pointed out his partner.  ‘Self and—excuse me—Craggs.’

‘I beg Mr. Craggs’s pardon,’ said the client.  ‘After all, my iron-headed
friends,’ he leaned forward in his chair, and dropped his voice a little,
‘you don’t know half my ruin yet.’

Mr. Snitchey stopped and stared at him.  Mr. Craggs also stared.

‘I am not only deep in debt,’ said the client, ‘but I am deep in—’

‘Not in love!’ cried Snitchey.

‘Yes!’ said the client, falling back in his chair, and surveying the Firm
with his hands in his pockets.  ‘Deep in love.’

‘And not with an heiress, sir?’ said Snitchey.

‘Not with an heiress.’

‘Nor a rich lady?’

‘Nor a rich lady that I know of—except in beauty and merit.’

‘A single lady, I trust?’ said Mr. Snitchey, with great expression.

‘Certainly.’

‘It’s not one of Dr. Jeddler’s daughters?’ said Snitchey, suddenly
squaring his elbows on his knees, and advancing his face at least a yard.

‘Yes!’ returned the client.

‘Not his younger daughter?’ said Snitchey.

‘Yes!’ returned the client.

‘Mr. Craggs,’ said Snitchey, much relieved, ‘will you oblige me with
another pinch of snuff?  Thank you!  I am happy to say it don’t signify,
Mr. Warden; she’s engaged, sir, she’s bespoke.  My partner can
corroborate me.  We know the fact.’

‘We know the fact,’ repeated Craggs.

‘Why, so do I perhaps,’ returned the client quietly.  ‘What of that!  Are
you men of the world, and did you never hear of a woman changing her
mind?’

‘There certainly have been actions for breach,’ said Mr. Snitchey,
‘brought against both spinsters and widows, but, in the majority of
cases—’

‘Cases!’ interposed the client, impatiently.  ‘Don’t talk to me of cases.
The general precedent is in a much larger volume than any of your law
books.  Besides, do you think I have lived six weeks in the Doctor’s
house for nothing?’

‘I think, sir,’ observed Mr. Snitchey, gravely addressing himself to his
partner, ‘that of all the scrapes Mr. Warden’s horses have brought him
into at one time and another—and they have been pretty numerous, and
pretty expensive, as none know better than himself, and you, and I—the
worst scrape may turn out to be, if he talks in this way, this having
ever been left by one of them at the Doctor’s garden wall, with three
broken ribs, a snapped collar-bone, and the Lord knows how many bruises.
We didn’t think so much of it, at the time when we knew he was going on
well under the Doctor’s hands and roof; but it looks bad now, sir.  Bad?
It looks very bad.  Doctor Jeddler too—our client, Mr. Craggs.’

‘Mr. Alfred Heathfield too—a sort of client, Mr. Snitchey,’ said Craggs.

‘Mr. Michael Warden too, a kind of client,’ said the careless visitor,
‘and no bad one either: having played the fool for ten or twelve years.
However, Mr. Michael Warden has sown his wild oats now—there’s their
crop, in that box; and he means to repent and be wise.  And in proof of
it, Mr. Michael Warden means, if he can, to marry Marion, the Doctor’s
lovely daughter, and to carry her away with him.’

‘Really, Mr. Craggs,’ Snitchey began.

‘Really, Mr. Snitchey, and Mr. Craggs, partners both,’ said the client,
interrupting him; ‘you know your duty to your clients, and you know well
enough, I am sure, that it is no part of it to interfere in a mere love
affair, which I am obliged to confide to you.  I am not going to carry
the young lady off, without her own consent.  There’s nothing illegal in
it.  I never was Mr. Heathfield’s bosom friend.  I violate no confidence
of his.  I love where he loves, and I mean to win where he would win, if
I can.’

‘He can’t, Mr. Craggs,’ said Snitchey, evidently anxious and discomfited.
‘He can’t do it, sir.  She dotes on Mr. Alfred.’

‘Does she?’ returned the client.

‘Mr. Craggs, she dotes on him, sir,’ persisted Snitchey.

‘I didn’t live six weeks, some few months ago, in the Doctor’s house for
nothing; and I doubted that soon,’ observed the client.  ‘She would have
doted on him, if her sister could have brought it about; but I watched
them.  Marion avoided his name, avoided the subject: shrunk from the
least allusion to it, with evident distress.’

‘Why should she, Mr. Craggs, you know?  Why should she, sir?’ inquired
Snitchey.

‘I don’t know why she should, though there are many likely reasons,’ said
the client, smiling at the attention and perplexity expressed in Mr.
Snitchey’s shining eye, and at his cautious way of carrying on the
conversation, and making himself informed upon the subject; ‘but I know
she does.  She was very young when she made the engagement—if it may be
called one, I am not even sure of that—and has repented of it, perhaps.
Perhaps—it seems a foppish thing to say, but upon my soul I don’t mean it
in that light—she may have fallen in love with me, as I have fallen in
love with her.’

‘He, he!  Mr. Alfred, her old playfellow too, you remember, Mr. Craggs,’
said Snitchey, with a disconcerted laugh; ‘knew her almost from a baby!’

‘Which makes it the more probable that she may be tired of his idea,’
calmly pursued the client, ‘and not indisposed to exchange it for the
newer one of another lover, who presents himself (or is presented by his
horse) under romantic circumstances; has the not unfavourable
reputation—with a country girl—of having lived thoughtlessly and gaily,
without doing much harm to anybody; and who, for his youth and figure,
and so forth—this may seem foppish again, but upon my soul I don’t mean
it in that light—might perhaps pass muster in a crowd with Mr. Alfred
himself.’

There was no gainsaying the last clause, certainly; and Mr. Snitchey,
glancing at him, thought so.  There was something naturally graceful and
pleasant in the very carelessness of his air.  It seemed to suggest, of
his comely face and well-knit figure, that they might be greatly better
if he chose: and that, once roused and made earnest (but he never had
been earnest yet), he could be full of fire and purpose.  ‘A dangerous
sort of libertine,’ thought the shrewd lawyer, ‘to seem to catch the
spark he wants, from a young lady’s eyes.’

‘Now, observe, Snitchey,’ he continued, rising and taking him by the
button, ‘and Craggs,’ taking him by the button also, and placing one
partner on either side of him, so that neither might evade him.  ‘I don’t
ask you for any advice.  You are right to keep quite aloof from all
parties in such a matter, which is not one in which grave men like you
could interfere, on any side.  I am briefly going to review in
half-a-dozen words, my position and intention, and then I shall leave it
to you to do the best for me, in money matters, that you can: seeing,
that, if I run away with the Doctor’s beautiful daughter (as I hope to
do, and to become another man under her bright influence), it will be,
for the moment, more chargeable than running away alone.  But I shall
soon make all that up in an altered life.’

‘I think it will be better not to hear this, Mr. Craggs?’ said Snitchey,
looking at him across the client.

‘_I_ think not,’ said Craggs.—Both listened attentively.

‘Well!  You needn’t hear it,’ replied their client.  ‘I’ll mention it,
however.  I don’t mean to ask the Doctor’s consent, because he wouldn’t
give it me.  But I mean to do the Doctor no wrong or harm, because
(besides there being nothing serious in such trifles, as he says) I hope
to rescue his child, my Marion, from what I see—I _know_—she dreads, and
contemplates with misery: that is, the return of this old lover.  If
anything in the world is true, it is true that she dreads his return.
Nobody is injured so far.  I am so harried and worried here just now,
that I lead the life of a flying-fish.  I skulk about in the dark, I am
shut out of my own house, and warned off my own grounds; but, that house,
and those grounds, and many an acre besides, will come back to me one
day, as you know and say; and Marion will probably be richer—on your
showing, who are never sanguine—ten years hence as my wife, than as the
wife of Alfred Heathfield, whose return she dreads (remember that), and
in whom or in any man, my passion is not surpassed.  Who is injured yet?
It is a fair case throughout.  My right is as good as his, if she decide
in my favour; and I will try my right by her alone.  You will like to
know no more after this, and I will tell you no more.  Now you know my
purpose, and wants.  When must I leave here?’

‘In a week,’ said Snitchey.  ‘Mr. Craggs?’

‘In something less, I should say,’ responded Craggs.

‘In a month,’ said the client, after attentively watching the two faces.
‘This day month.  To-day is Thursday.  Succeed or fail, on this day month
I go.’

‘It’s too long a delay,’ said Snitchey; ‘much too long.  But let it be
so.  I thought he’d have stipulated for three,’ he murmured to himself.
‘Are you going?  Good night, sir!’

‘Good night!’ returned the client, shaking hands with the Firm.

‘You’ll live to see me making a good use of riches yet.  Henceforth the
star of my destiny is, Marion!’

‘Take care of the stairs, sir,’ replied Snitchey; ‘for she don’t shine
there.  Good night!’

‘Good night!’

So they both stood at the stair-head with a pair of office-candles,
watching him down.  When he had gone away, they stood looking at each
other.

‘What do you think of all this, Mr. Craggs?’ said Snitchey.

Mr. Craggs shook his head.

‘It was our opinion, on the day when that release was executed, that
there was something curious in the parting of that pair; I recollect,’
said Snitchey.

‘It was,’ said Mr. Craggs.

‘Perhaps he deceives himself altogether,’ pursued Mr. Snitchey, locking
up the fireproof box, and putting it away; ‘or, if he don’t, a little bit
of fickleness and perfidy is not a miracle, Mr. Craggs.  And yet I
thought that pretty face was very true.  I thought,’ said Mr. Snitchey,
putting on his great-coat (for the weather was very cold), drawing on his
gloves, and snuffing out one candle, ‘that I had even seen her character
becoming stronger and more resolved of late.  More like her sister’s.’

‘Mrs. Craggs was of the same opinion,’ returned Craggs.

‘I’d really give a trifle to-night,’ observed Mr. Snitchey, who was a
good-natured man, ‘if I could believe that Mr. Warden was reckoning
without his host; but, light-headed, capricious, and unballasted as he
is, he knows something of the world and its people (he ought to, for he
has bought what he does know, dear enough); and I can’t quite think that.
We had better not interfere: we can do nothing, Mr. Craggs, but keep
quiet.’

‘Nothing,’ returned Craggs.

‘Our friend the Doctor makes light of such things,’ said Mr. Snitchey,
shaking his head.  ‘I hope he mayn’t stand in need of his philosophy.
Our friend Alfred talks of the battle of life,’ he shook his head again,
‘I hope he mayn’t be cut down early in the day.  Have you got your hat,
Mr. Craggs?  I am going to put the other candle out.’  Mr. Craggs
replying in the affirmative, Mr. Snitchey suited the action to the word,
and they groped their way out of the council-chamber, now dark as the
subject, or the law in general.

                                * * * * *

My story passes to a quiet little study, where, on that same night, the
sisters and the hale old Doctor sat by a cheerful fireside.  Grace was
working at her needle.  Marion read aloud from a book before her.  The
Doctor, in his dressing-gown and slippers, with his feet spread out upon
the warm rug, leaned back in his easy-chair, and listened to the book,
and looked upon his daughters.

They were very beautiful to look upon.  Two better faces for a fireside,
never made a fireside bright and sacred.  Something of the difference
between them had been softened down in three years’ time; and enthroned
upon the clear brow of the younger sister, looking through her eyes, and
thrilling in her voice, was the same earnest nature that her own
motherless youth had ripened in the elder sister long ago.  But she still
appeared at once the lovelier and weaker of the two; still seemed to rest
her head upon her sister’s breast, and put her trust in her, and look
into her eyes for counsel and reliance.  Those loving eyes, so calm,
serene, and cheerful, as of old.

‘“And being in her own home,”’ read Marion, from the book; ‘“her home
made exquisitely dear by these remembrances, she now began to know that
the great trial of her heart must soon come on, and could not be delayed.
O Home, our comforter and friend when others fall away, to part with
whom, at any step between the cradle and the grave”’—

‘Marion, my love!’ said Grace.

‘Why, Puss!’ exclaimed her father, ‘what’s the matter?’

She put her hand upon the hand her sister stretched towards her, and read
on; her voice still faltering and trembling, though she made an effort to
command it when thus interrupted.

‘“To part with whom, at any step between the cradle and the grave, is
always sorrowful.  O Home, so true to us, so often slighted in return, be
lenient to them that turn away from thee, and do not haunt their erring
footsteps too reproachfully!  Let no kind looks, no well-remembered
smiles, be seen upon thy phantom face.  Let no ray of affection, welcome,
gentleness, forbearance, cordiality, shine from thy white head.  Let no
old loving word, or tone, rise up in judgment against thy deserter; but
if thou canst look harshly and severely, do, in mercy to the Penitent!”’

‘Dear Marion, read no more to-night,’ said Grace for she was weeping.

‘I cannot,’ she replied, and closed the book.  ‘The words seem all on
fire!’

The Doctor was amused at this; and laughed as he patted her on the head.

‘What! overcome by a story-book!’ said Doctor Jeddler.  ‘Print and paper!
Well, well, it’s all one.  It’s as rational to make a serious matter of
print and paper as of anything else.  But, dry your eyes, love, dry your
eyes.  I dare say the heroine has got home again long ago, and made it up
all round—and if she hasn’t, a real home is only four walls; and a
fictitious one, mere rags and ink.  What’s the matter now?’

‘It’s only me, Mister,’ said Clemency, putting in her head at the door.

‘And what’s the matter with _you_?’ said the Doctor.

‘Oh, bless you, nothing an’t the matter with me,’ returned Clemency—and
truly too, to judge from her well-soaped face, in which there gleamed as
usual the very soul of good-humour, which, ungainly as she was, made her
quite engaging.  Abrasions on the elbows are not generally understood, it
is true, to range within that class of personal charms called
beauty-spots.  But, it is better, going through the world, to have the
arms chafed in that narrow passage, than the temper: and Clemency’s was
sound and whole as any beauty’s in the land.

‘Nothing an’t the matter with me,’ said Clemency, entering, ‘but—come a
little closer, Mister.’

The Doctor, in some astonishment, complied with this invitation.

‘You said I wasn’t to give you one before them, you know,’ said Clemency.

A novice in the family might have supposed, from her extraordinary ogling
as she said it, as well as from a singular rapture or ecstasy which
pervaded her elbows, as if she were embracing herself, that ‘one,’ in its
most favourable interpretation, meant a chaste salute.  Indeed the Doctor
himself seemed alarmed, for the moment; but quickly regained his
composure, as Clemency, having had recourse to both her pockets—beginning
with the right one, going away to the wrong one, and afterwards coming
back to the right one again—produced a letter from the Post-office.

‘Britain was riding by on a errand,’ she chuckled, handing it to the
Doctor, ‘and see the mail come in, and waited for it.  There’s A. H. in
the corner.  Mr. Alfred’s on his journey home, I bet.  We shall have a
wedding in the house—there was two spoons in my saucer this morning.  Oh
Luck, how slow he opens it!’

All this she delivered, by way of soliloquy, gradually rising higher and
higher on tiptoe, in her impatience to hear the news, and making a
corkscrew of her apron, and a bottle of her mouth.  At last, arriving at
a climax of suspense, and seeing the Doctor still engaged in the perusal
of the letter, she came down flat upon the soles of her feet again, and
cast her apron, as a veil, over her head, in a mute despair, and
inability to bear it any longer.

‘Here!  Girls!’ cried the Doctor.  ‘I can’t help it: I never could keep a
secret in my life.  There are not many secrets, indeed, worth being kept
in such a—well! never mind that.  Alfred’s coming home, my dears,
directly.’

‘Directly!’ exclaimed Marion.

‘What!  The story-book is soon forgotten!’ said the Doctor, pinching her
cheek.  ‘I thought the news would dry those tears.  Yes.  “Let it be a
surprise,” he says, here.  But I can’t let it be a surprise.  He must
have a welcome.’

‘Directly!’ repeated Marion.

‘Why, perhaps not what your impatience calls “directly,”’ returned the
doctor; ‘but pretty soon too.  Let us see.  Let us see.  To-day is
Thursday, is it not?  Then he promises to be here, this day month.’

‘This day month!’ repeated Marion, softly.

‘A gay day and a holiday for us,’ said the cheerful voice of her sister
Grace, kissing her in congratulation.  ‘Long looked forward to, dearest,
and come at last.’

She answered with a smile; a mournful smile, but full of sisterly
affection.  As she looked in her sister’s face, and listened to the quiet
music of her voice, picturing the happiness of this return, her own face
glowed with hope and joy.

And with a something else; a something shining more and more through all
the rest of its expression; for which I have no name.  It was not
exultation, triumph, proud enthusiasm.  They are not so calmly shown.  It
was not love and gratitude alone, though love and gratitude were part of
it.  It emanated from no sordid thought, for sordid thoughts do not light
up the brow, and hover on the lips, and move the spirit like a fluttered
light, until the sympathetic figure trembles.

Dr. Jeddler, in spite of his system of philosophy—which he was
continually contradicting and denying in practice, but more famous
philosophers have done that—could not help having as much interest in the
return of his old ward and pupil as if it had been a serious event.  So
he sat himself down in his easy-chair again, stretched out his slippered
feet once more upon the rug, read the letter over and over a great many
times, and talked it over more times still.

‘Ah!  The day was,’ said the Doctor, looking at the fire, ‘when you and
he, Grace, used to trot about arm-in-arm, in his holiday time, like a
couple of walking dolls.  You remember?’

‘I remember,’ she answered, with her pleasant laugh, and plying her
needle busily.

‘This day month, indeed!’ mused the Doctor.  ‘That hardly seems a twelve
month ago.  And where was my little Marion then!’

‘Never far from her sister,’ said Marion, cheerily, ‘however little.
Grace was everything to me, even when she was a young child herself.’

‘True, Puss, true,’ returned the Doctor.  ‘She was a staid little woman,
was Grace, and a wise housekeeper, and a busy, quiet, pleasant body;
bearing with our humours and anticipating our wishes, and always ready to
forget her own, even in those times.  I never knew you positive or
obstinate, Grace, my darling, even then, on any subject but one.’

‘I am afraid I have changed sadly for the worse, since,’ laughed Grace,
still busy at her work.  ‘What was that one, father?’

‘Alfred, of course,’ said the Doctor.  ‘Nothing would serve you but you
must be called Alfred’s wife; so we called you Alfred’s wife; and you
liked it better, I believe (odd as it seems now), than being called a
Duchess, if we could have made you one.’

‘Indeed?’ said Grace, placidly.

‘Why, don’t you remember?’ inquired the Doctor.

‘I think I remember something of it,’ she returned, ‘but not much.  It’s
so long ago.’  And as she sat at work, she hummed the burden of an old
song, which the Doctor liked.

‘Alfred will find a real wife soon,’ she said, breaking off; ‘and that
will be a happy time indeed for all of us.  My three years’ trust is
nearly at an end, Marion.  It has been a very easy one.  I shall tell
Alfred, when I give you back to him, that you have loved him dearly all
the time, and that he has never once needed my good services.  May I tell
him so, love?’

‘Tell him, dear Grace,’ replied Marion, ‘that there never was a trust so
generously, nobly, steadfastly discharged; and that I have loved _you_,
all the time, dearer and dearer every day; and O! how dearly now!’

‘Nay,’ said her cheerful sister, returning her embrace, ‘I can scarcely
tell him that; we will leave my deserts to Alfred’s imagination.  It will
be liberal enough, dear Marion; like your own.’

With that, she resumed the work she had for a moment laid down, when her
sister spoke so fervently: and with it the old song the Doctor liked to
hear.  And the Doctor, still reposing in his easy-chair, with his
slippered feet stretched out before him on the rug, listened to the tune,
and beat time on his knee with Alfred’s letter, and looked at his two
daughters, and thought that among the many trifles of the trifling world,
these trifles were agreeable enough.

Clemency Newcome, in the meantime, having accomplished her mission and
lingered in the room until she had made herself a party to the news,
descended to the kitchen, where her coadjutor, Mr. Britain, was regaling
after supper, surrounded by such a plentiful collection of bright
pot-lids, well-scoured saucepans, burnished dinner-covers, gleaming
kettles, and other tokens of her industrious habits, arranged upon the
walls and shelves, that he sat as in the centre of a hall of mirrors.
The majority did not give forth very flattering portraits of him,
certainly; nor were they by any means unanimous in their reflections; as
some made him very long-faced, others very broad-faced, some tolerably
well-looking, others vastly ill-looking, according to their several
manners of reflecting: which were as various, in respect of one fact, as
those of so many kinds of men.  But they all agreed that in the midst of
them sat, quite at his ease, an individual with a pipe in his mouth, and
a jug of beer at his elbow, who nodded condescendingly to Clemency, when
she stationed herself at the same table.

‘Well, Clemmy,’ said Britain, ‘how are you by this time, and what’s the
news?’

Clemency told him the news, which he received very graciously.  A
gracious change had come over Benjamin from head to foot.  He was much
broader, much redder, much more cheerful, and much jollier in all
respects.  It seemed as if his face had been tied up in a knot before,
and was now untwisted and smoothed out.

‘There’ll be another job for Snitchey and Craggs, I suppose,’ he
observed, puffing slowly at his pipe.  ‘More witnessing for you and me,
perhaps, Clemmy!’

‘Lor!’ replied his fair companion, with her favourite twist of her
favourite joints.  ‘I wish it was me, Britain!’

‘Wish what was you?’

‘A-going to be married,’ said Clemency.

Benjamin took his pipe out of his mouth and laughed heartily.  ‘Yes!
you’re a likely subject for that!’ he said.  ‘Poor Clem!’  Clemency for
her part laughed as heartily as he, and seemed as much amused by the
idea.  ‘Yes,’ she assented, ‘I’m a likely subject for that; an’t I?’

‘_You’ll_ never be married, you know,’ said Mr. Britain, resuming his
pipe.

‘Don’t you think I ever shall though?’ said Clemency, in perfect good
faith.

Mr. Britain shook his head.  ‘Not a chance of it!’

‘Only think!’ said Clemency.  ‘Well!—I suppose you mean to, Britain, one
of these days; don’t you?’

A question so abrupt, upon a subject so momentous, required
consideration.  After blowing out a great cloud of smoke, and looking at
it with his head now on this side and now on that, as if it were actually
the question, and he were surveying it in various aspects, Mr. Britain
replied that he wasn’t altogether clear about it, but—ye-es—he thought he
might come to that at last.

‘I wish her joy, whoever she may be!’ cried Clemency.

‘Oh she’ll have that,’ said Benjamin, ‘safe enough.’

‘But she wouldn’t have led quite such a joyful life as she will lead, and
wouldn’t have had quite such a sociable sort of husband as she will
have,’ said Clemency, spreading herself half over the table, and staring
retrospectively at the candle, ‘if it hadn’t been for—not that I went to
do it, for it was accidental, I am sure—if it hadn’t been for me; now
would she, Britain?’

‘Certainly not,’ returned Mr. Britain, by this time in that high state of
appreciation of his pipe, when a man can open his mouth but a very little
way for speaking purposes; and sitting luxuriously immovable in his
chair, can afford to turn only his eyes towards a companion, and that
very passively and gravely.  ‘Oh!  I’m greatly beholden to you, you know,
Clem.’

‘Lor, how nice that is to think of!’ said Clemency.

At the same time, bringing her thoughts as well as her sight to bear upon
the candle-grease, and becoming abruptly reminiscent of its healing
qualities as a balsam, she anointed her left elbow with a plentiful
application of that remedy.

‘You see I’ve made a good many investigations of one sort and another in
my time,’ pursued Mr. Britain, with the profundity of a sage, ‘having
been always of an inquiring turn of mind; and I’ve read a good many books
about the general Rights of things and Wrongs of things, for I went into
the literary line myself, when I began life.’

‘Did you though!’ cried the admiring Clemency.

‘Yes,’ said Mr. Britain: ‘I was hid for the best part of two years behind
a bookstall, ready to fly out if anybody pocketed a volume; and after
that, I was light porter to a stay and mantua maker, in which capacity I
was employed to carry about, in oilskin baskets, nothing but
deceptions—which soured my spirits and disturbed my confidence in human
nature; and after that, I heard a world of discussions in this house,
which soured my spirits fresh; and my opinion after all is, that, as a
safe and comfortable sweetener of the same, and as a pleasant guide
through life, there’s nothing like a nutmeg-grater.’

Clemency was about to offer a suggestion, but he stopped her by
anticipating it.

‘Com-bined,’ he added gravely, ‘with a thimble.’

‘Do as you wold, you know, and cetrer, eh!’ observed Clemency, folding
her arms comfortably in her delight at this avowal, and patting her
elbows.  ‘Such a short cut, an’t it?’

‘I’m not sure,’ said Mr. Britain, ‘that it’s what would be considered
good philosophy.  I’ve my doubts about that; but it wears well, and saves
a quantity of snarling, which the genuine article don’t always.’

‘See how you used to go on once, yourself, you know!’ said Clemency.

‘Ah!’ said Mr. Britain.  ‘But the most extraordinary thing, Clemmy, is
that I should live to be brought round, through you.  That’s the strange
part of it.  Through you!  Why, I suppose you haven’t so much as half an
idea in your head.’

Clemency, without taking the least offence, shook it, and laughed and
hugged herself, and said, ‘No, she didn’t suppose she had.’

‘I’m pretty sure of it,’ said Mr. Britain.

‘Oh!  I dare say you’re right,’ said Clemency.  ‘I don’t pretend to none.
I don’t want any.’

Benjamin took his pipe from his lips, and laughed till the tears ran down
his face.  ‘What a natural you are, Clemmy!’ he said, shaking his head,
with an infinite relish of the joke, and wiping his eyes.  Clemency,
without the smallest inclination to dispute it, did the like, and laughed
as heartily as he.

‘I can’t help liking you,’ said Mr. Britain; ‘you’re a regular good
creature in your way, so shake hands, Clem.  Whatever happens, I’ll
always take notice of you, and be a friend to you.’

‘Will you?’ returned Clemency.  ‘Well! that’s very good of you.’

‘Yes, yes,’ said Mr. Britain, giving her his pipe to knock the ashes out
of it; ‘I’ll stand by you.  Hark!  That’s a curious noise!’

‘Noise!’ repeated Clemency.

‘A footstep outside.  Somebody dropping from the wall, it sounded like,’
said Britain.  ‘Are they all abed up-stairs?’

‘Yes, all abed by this time,’ she replied.

‘Didn’t you hear anything?’

‘No.’

They both listened, but heard nothing.

‘I tell you what,’ said Benjamin, taking down a lantern.  ‘I’ll have a
look round, before I go to bed myself, for satisfaction’s sake.  Undo the
door while I light this, Clemmy.’

Clemency complied briskly; but observed as she did so, that he would only
have his walk for his pains, that it was all his fancy, and so forth.
Mr. Britain said ‘very likely;’ but sallied out, nevertheless, armed with
the poker, and casting the light of the lantern far and near in all
directions.

‘It’s as quiet as a churchyard,’ said Clemency, looking after him; ‘and
almost as ghostly too!’

Glancing back into the kitchen, she cried fearfully, as a light figure
stole into her view, ‘What’s that!’

‘Hush!’ said Marion in an agitated whisper.  ‘You have always loved me,
have you not!’

‘Loved you, child!  You may be sure I have.’

‘I am sure.  And I may trust you, may I not?  There is no one else just
now, in whom I _can_ trust.’

‘Yes,’ said Clemency, with all her heart.

‘There is some one out there,’ pointing to the door, ‘whom I must see,
and speak with, to-night.  Michael Warden, for God’s sake retire!  Not
now!’

Clemency started with surprise and trouble as, following the direction of
the speaker’s eyes, she saw a dark figure standing in the doorway.

‘In another moment you may be discovered,’ said Marion.  ‘Not now!  Wait,
if you can, in some concealment.  I will come presently.’

He waved his hand to her, and was gone.  ‘Don’t go to bed.  Wait here for
me!’ said Marion, hurriedly.  ‘I have been seeking to speak to you for an
hour past.  Oh, be true to me!’

Eagerly seizing her bewildered hand, and pressing it with both her own to
her breast—an action more expressive, in its passion of entreaty, than
the most eloquent appeal in words,—Marion withdrew; as the light of the
returning lantern flashed into the room.

‘All still and peaceable.  Nobody there.  Fancy, I suppose,’ said Mr.
Britain, as he locked and barred the door.  ‘One of the effects of having
a lively imagination.  Halloa!  Why, what’s the matter?’

Clemency, who could not conceal the effects of her surprise and concern,
was sitting in a chair: pale, and trembling from head to foot.

‘Matter!’ she repeated, chafing her hands and elbows, nervously, and
looking anywhere but at him.  ‘That’s good in you, Britain, that is!
After going and frightening one out of one’s life with noises and
lanterns, and I don’t know what all.  Matter!  Oh, yes!’

‘If you’re frightened out of your life by a lantern, Clemmy,’ said Mr.
Britain, composedly blowing it out and hanging it up again, ‘that
apparition’s very soon got rid of.  But you’re as bold as brass in
general,’ he said, stopping to observe her; ‘and were, after the noise
and the lantern too.  What have you taken into your head?  Not an idea,
eh?’

But, as Clemency bade him good night very much after her usual fashion,
and began to bustle about with a show of going to bed herself
immediately, Little Britain, after giving utterance to the original
remark that it was impossible to account for a woman’s whims, bade her
good night in return, and taking up his candle strolled drowsily away to
bed.

When all was quiet, Marion returned.

‘Open the door,’ she said; ‘and stand there close beside me, while I
speak to him, outside.’

Timid as her manner was, it still evinced a resolute and settled purpose,
such as Clemency could not resist.  She softly unbarred the door: but
before turning the key, looked round on the young creature waiting to
issue forth when she should open it.

The face was not averted or cast down, but looking full upon her, in its
pride of youth and beauty.  Some simple sense of the slightness of the
barrier that interposed itself between the happy home and honoured love
of the fair girl, and what might be the desolation of that home, and
shipwreck of its dearest treasure, smote so keenly on the tender heart of
Clemency, and so filled it to overflowing with sorrow and compassion,
that, bursting into tears, she threw her arms round Marion’s neck.

‘It’s little that I know, my dear,’ cried Clemency, ‘very little; but I
know that this should not be.  Think of what you do!’

‘I have thought of it many times,’ said Marion, gently.

‘Once more,’ urged Clemency.  ‘Till to-morrow.’  Marion shook her head.

‘For Mr. Alfred’s sake,’ said Clemency, with homely earnestness.  ‘Him
that you used to love so dearly, once!’

She hid her face, upon the instant, in her hands, repeating ‘Once!’ as if
it rent her heart.

‘Let me go out,’ said Clemency, soothing her.  ‘I’ll tell him what you
like.  Don’t cross the door-step to-night.  I’m sure no good will come of
it.  Oh, it was an unhappy day when Mr. Warden was ever brought here!
Think of your good father, darling—of your sister.’

‘I have,’ said Marion, hastily raising her head.  ‘You don’t know what I
do.  I _must_ speak to him.  You are the best and truest friend in all
the world for what you have said to me, but I must take this step.  Will
you go with me, Clemency,’ she kissed her on her friendly face, ‘or shall
I go alone?’

Sorrowing and wondering, Clemency turned the key, and opened the door.
Into the dark and doubtful night that lay beyond the threshold, Marion
passed quickly, holding by her hand.

In the dark night he joined her, and they spoke together earnestly and
long; and the hand that held so fast by Clemency’s, now trembled, now
turned deadly cold, now clasped and closed on hers, in the strong feeling
of the speech it emphasised unconsciously.  When they returned, he
followed to the door, and pausing there a moment, seized the other hand,
and pressed it to his lips.  Then, stealthily withdrew.

The door was barred and locked again, and once again she stood beneath
her father’s roof.  Not bowed down by the secret that she brought there,
though so young; but, with that same expression on her face for which I
had no name before, and shining through her tears.

Again she thanked and thanked her humble friend, and trusted to her, as
she said, with confidence, implicitly.  Her chamber safely reached, she
fell upon her knees; and with her secret weighing on her heart, could
pray!

Could rise up from her prayers, so tranquil and serene, and bending over
her fond sister in her slumber, look upon her face and smile—though
sadly: murmuring as she kissed her forehead, how that Grace had been a
mother to her, ever, and she loved her as a child!

Could draw the passive arm about her neck when lying down to rest—it
seemed to cling there, of its own will, protectingly and tenderly even in
sleep—and breathe upon the parted lips, God bless her!

Could sink into a peaceful sleep, herself; but for one dream, in which
she cried out, in her innocent and touching voice, that she was quite
alone, and they had all forgotten her.

A month soon passes, even at its tardiest pace.  The month appointed to
elapse between that night and the return, was quick of foot, and went by,
like a vapour.

The day arrived.  A raging winter day, that shook the old house,
sometimes, as if it shivered in the blast.  A day to make home doubly
home.  To give the chimney-corner new delights.  To shed a ruddier glow
upon the faces gathered round the hearth, and draw each fireside group
into a closer and more social league, against the roaring elements
without.  Such a wild winter day as best prepares the way for shut-out
night; for curtained rooms, and cheerful looks; for music, laughter,
dancing, light, and jovial entertainment!

All these the Doctor had in store to welcome Alfred back.  They knew that
he could not arrive till night; and they would make the night air ring,
he said, as he approached.  All his old friends should congregate about
him.  He should not miss a face that he had known and liked.  No!  They
should every one be there!

So, guests were bidden, and musicians were engaged, and tables spread,
and floors prepared for active feet, and bountiful provision made, of
every hospitable kind.  Because it was the Christmas season, and his eyes
were all unused to English holly and its sturdy green, the dancing-room
was garlanded and hung with it; and the red berries gleamed an English
welcome to him, peeping from among the leaves.

It was a busy day for all of them: a busier day for none of them than
Grace, who noiselessly presided everywhere, and was the cheerful mind of
all the preparations.  Many a time that day (as well as many a time
within the fleeting month preceding it), did Clemency glance anxiously,
and almost fearfully, at Marion.  She saw her paler, perhaps, than usual;
but there was a sweet composure on her face that made it lovelier than
ever.

At night when she was dressed, and wore upon her head a wreath that Grace
had proudly twined about it—its mimic flowers were Alfred’s favourites,
as Grace remembered when she chose them—that old expression, pensive,
almost sorrowful, and yet so spiritual, high, and stirring, sat again
upon her brow, enhanced a hundred-fold.

‘The next wreath I adjust on this fair head, will be a marriage wreath,’
said Grace; ‘or I am no true prophet, dear.’

Her sister smiled, and held her in her arms.

‘A moment, Grace.  Don’t leave me yet.  Are you sure that I want nothing
more?’

Her care was not for that.  It was her sister’s face she thought of, and
her eyes were fixed upon it, tenderly.

‘My art,’ said Grace, ‘can go no farther, dear girl; nor your beauty.  I
never saw you look so beautiful as now.’

‘I never was so happy,’ she returned.

‘Ay, but there is a greater happiness in store.  In such another home, as
cheerful and as bright as this looks now,’ said Grace, ‘Alfred and his
young wife will soon be living.’

She smiled again.  ‘It is a happy home, Grace, in your fancy.  I can see
it in your eyes.  I know it _will_ be happy, dear.  How glad I am to know
it.’

‘Well,’ cried the Doctor, bustling in.  ‘Here we are, all ready for
Alfred, eh?  He can’t be here until pretty late—an hour or so before
midnight—so there’ll be plenty of time for making merry before he comes.
He’ll not find us with the ice unbroken.  Pile up the fire here, Britain!
Let it shine upon the holly till it winks again.  It’s a world of
nonsense, Puss; true lovers and all the rest of it—all nonsense; but
we’ll be nonsensical with the rest of ’em, and give our true lover a mad
welcome.  Upon my word!’ said the old Doctor, looking at his daughters
proudly, ‘I’m not clear to-night, among other absurdities, but that I’m
the father of two handsome girls.’

‘All that one of them has ever done, or may do—may do, dearest father—to
cause you pain or grief, forgive her,’ said Marion, ‘forgive her now,
when her heart is full.  Say that you forgive her.  That you will forgive
her.  That she shall always share your love, and—,’ and the rest was not
said, for her face was hidden on the old man’s shoulder.

‘Tut, tut, tut,’ said the Doctor gently.  ‘Forgive!  What have I to
forgive?  Heyday, if our true lovers come back to flurry us like this, we
must hold ’em at a distance; we must send expresses out to stop ’em short
upon the road, and bring ’em on a mile or two a day, until we’re properly
prepared to meet ’em.  Kiss me, Puss.  Forgive!  Why, what a silly child
you are!  If you had vexed and crossed me fifty times a day, instead of
not at all, I’d forgive you everything, but such a supplication.  Kiss me
again, Puss.  There!  Prospective and retrospective—a clear score between
us.  Pile up the fire here!  Would you freeze the people on this bleak
December night!  Let us be light, and warm, and merry, or I’ll not
forgive some of you!’

So gaily the old Doctor carried it!  And the fire was piled up, and the
lights were bright, and company arrived, and a murmuring of lively
tongues began, and already there was a pleasant air of cheerful
excitement stirring through all the house.

More and more company came flocking in.  Bright eyes sparkled upon
Marion; smiling lips gave her joy of his return; sage mothers fanned
themselves, and hoped she mightn’t be too youthful and inconstant for the
quiet round of home; impetuous fathers fell into disgrace for too much
exaltation of her beauty; daughters envied her; sons envied him;
innumerable pairs of lovers profited by the occasion; all were
interested, animated, and expectant.

Mr. and Mrs. Craggs came arm in arm, but Mrs. Snitchey came alone.  ‘Why,
what’s become of _him_?’ inquired the Doctor.

The feather of a Bird of Paradise in Mrs. Snitchey’s turban, trembled as
if the Bird of Paradise were alive again, when she said that doubtless
Mr. Craggs knew.  _She_ was never told.

‘That nasty office,’ said Mrs. Craggs.

‘I wish it was burnt down,’ said Mrs. Snitchey.

‘He’s—he’s—there’s a little matter of business that keeps my partner
rather late,’ said Mr. Craggs, looking uneasily about him.

‘Oh-h!  Business.  Don’t tell me!’ said Mrs. Snitchey.

‘_We_ know what business means,’ said Mrs. Craggs.

But their not knowing what it meant, was perhaps the reason why Mrs.
Snitchey’s Bird of Paradise feather quivered so portentously, and why all
the pendant bits on Mrs. Craggs’s ear-rings shook like little bells.

‘I wonder _you_ could come away, Mr. Craggs,’ said his wife.

‘Mr. Craggs is fortunate, I’m sure!’ said Mrs. Snitchey.

‘That office so engrosses ’em,’ said Mrs. Craggs.

‘A person with an office has no business to be married at all,’ said Mrs.
Snitchey.

Then, Mrs. Snitchey said, within herself, that that look of hers had
pierced to Craggs’s soul, and he knew it; and Mrs. Craggs observed to
Craggs, that ‘his Snitcheys’ were deceiving him behind his back, and he
would find it out when it was too late.

Still, Mr. Craggs, without much heeding these remarks, looked uneasily
about until his eye rested on Grace, to whom he immediately presented
himself.

‘Good evening, ma’am,’ said Craggs.  ‘You look charmingly.
Your—Miss—your sister, Miss Marion, is she—’

‘Oh, she’s quite well, Mr. Craggs.’

‘Yes—I—is she here?’ asked Craggs.

‘Here!  Don’t you see her yonder?  Going to dance?’ said Grace.

Mr. Craggs put on his spectacles to see the better; looked at her through
them, for some time; coughed; and put them, with an air of satisfaction,
in their sheath again, and in his pocket.

Now the music struck up, and the dance commenced.  The bright fire
crackled and sparkled, rose and fell, as though it joined the dance
itself, in right good fellowship.  Sometimes, it roared as if it would
make music too.  Sometimes, it flashed and beamed as if it were the eye
of the old room: it winked too, sometimes, like a knowing patriarch, upon
the youthful whisperers in corners.  Sometimes, it sported with the
holly-boughs; and, shining on the leaves by fits and starts, made them
look as if they were in the cold winter night again, and fluttering in
the wind.  Sometimes its genial humour grew obstreperous, and passed all
bounds; and then it cast into the room, among the twinkling feet, with a
loud burst, a shower of harmless little sparks, and in its exultation
leaped and bounded, like a mad thing, up the broad old chimney.

Another dance was near its close, when Mr. Snitchey touched his partner,
who was looking on, upon the arm.

Mr. Craggs started, as if his familiar had been a spectre.

‘Is he gone?’ he asked.

‘Hush!  He has been with me,’ said Snitchey, ‘for three hours and more.
He went over everything.  He looked into all our arrangements for him,
and was very particular indeed.  He—Humph!’

The dance was finished.  Marion passed close before him, as he spoke.
She did not observe him, or his partner; but, looked over her shoulder
towards her sister in the distance, as she slowly made her way into the
crowd, and passed out of their view.

‘You see!  All safe and well,’ said Mr. Craggs.  ‘He didn’t recur to that
subject, I suppose?’

‘Not a word.’

‘And is he really gone?  Is he safe away?’

‘He keeps to his word.  He drops down the river with the tide in that
shell of a boat of his, and so goes out to sea on this dark night!—a
dare-devil he is—before the wind.  There’s no such lonely road anywhere
else.  That’s one thing.  The tide flows, he says, an hour before
midnight—about this time.  I’m glad it’s over.’  Mr. Snitchey wiped his
forehead, which looked hot and anxious.

‘What do you think,’ said Mr. Craggs, ‘about—’

‘Hush!’ replied his cautious partner, looking straight before him.  ‘I
understand you.  Don’t mention names, and don’t let us, seem to be
talking secrets.  I don’t know what to think; and to tell you the truth,
I don’t care now.  It’s a great relief.  His self-love deceived him, I
suppose.  Perhaps the young lady coquetted a little.  The evidence would
seem to point that way.  Alfred not arrived?’

‘Not yet,’ said Mr. Craggs.  ‘Expected every minute.’

‘Good.’ Mr. Snitchey wiped his forehead again.  ‘It’s a great relief.  I
haven’t been so nervous since we’ve been in partnership.  I intend to
spend the evening now, Mr. Craggs.’

Mrs. Craggs and Mrs. Snitchey joined them as he announced this intention.
The Bird of Paradise was in a state of extreme vibration, and the little
bells were ringing quite audibly.

‘It has been the theme of general comment, Mr. Snitchey,’ said Mrs.
Snitchey.  ‘I hope the office is satisfied.’

‘Satisfied with what, my dear?’ asked Mr. Snitchey.

‘With the exposure of a defenceless woman to ridicule and remark,’
returned his wife.  ‘That is quite in the way of the office, _that_ is.’

‘I really, myself,’ said Mrs. Craggs, ‘have been so long accustomed to
connect the office with everything opposed to domesticity, that I am glad
to know it as the avowed enemy of my peace.  There is something honest in
that, at all events.’

‘My dear,’ urged Mr. Craggs, ‘your good opinion is invaluable, but _I_
never avowed that the office was the enemy of your peace.’

‘No,’ said Mrs. Craggs, ringing a perfect peal upon the little bells.
‘Not you, indeed.  You wouldn’t be worthy of the office, if you had the
candour to.’

‘As to my having been away to-night, my dear,’ said Mr. Snitchey, giving
her his arm, ‘the deprivation has been mine, I’m sure; but, as Mr. Craggs
knows—’

Mrs. Snitchey cut this reference very short by hitching her husband to a
distance, and asking him to look at that man.  To do her the favour to
look at him!

‘At which man, my dear?’ said Mr. Snitchey.

‘Your chosen companion; _I_’m no companion to you, Mr. Snitchey.’

‘Yes, yes, you are, my dear,’ he interposed.

‘No, no, I’m not,’ said Mrs. Snitchey with a majestic smile.  ‘I know my
station.  Will you look at your chosen companion, Mr. Snitchey; at your
referee, at the keeper of your secrets, at the man you trust; at your
other self, in short?’

The habitual association of Self with Craggs, occasioned Mr. Snitchey to
look in that direction.

‘If you can look that man in the eye this night,’ said Mrs. Snitchey,
‘and not know that you are deluded, practised upon, made the victim of
his arts, and bent down prostrate to his will by some unaccountable
fascination which it is impossible to explain and against which no
warning of mine is of the least avail, all I can say is—I pity you!’

At the very same moment Mrs. Craggs was oracular on the cross subject.
Was it possible, she said, that Craggs could so blind himself to his
Snitcheys, as not to feel his true position?  Did he mean to say that he
had seen his Snitcheys come into that room, and didn’t plainly see that
there was reservation, cunning, treachery, in the man? Would he tell her
that his very action, when he wiped his forehead and looked so stealthily
about him, didn’t show that there was something weighing on the
conscience of his precious Snitcheys (if he had a conscience), that
wouldn’t bear the light?  Did anybody but his Snitcheys come to festive
entertainments like a burglar?—which, by the way, was hardly a clear
illustration of the case, as he had walked in very mildly at the door.
And would he still assert to her at noon-day (it being nearly midnight),
that his Snitcheys were to be justified through thick and thin, against
all facts, and reason, and experience?

Neither Snitchey nor Craggs openly attempted to stem the current which
had thus set in, but, both were content to be carried gently along it,
until its force abated.  This happened at about the same time as a
general movement for a country dance; when Mr. Snitchey proposed himself
as a partner to Mrs. Craggs, and Mr. Craggs gallantly offered himself to
Mrs. Snitchey; and after some such slight evasions as ‘why don’t you ask
somebody else?’ and ‘you’ll be glad, I know, if I decline,’ and ‘I wonder
you can dance out of the office’ (but this jocosely now), each lady
graciously accepted, and took her place.

It was an old custom among them, indeed, to do so, and to pair off, in
like manner, at dinners and suppers; for they were excellent friends, and
on a footing of easy familiarity.  Perhaps the false Craggs and the
wicked Snitchey were a recognised fiction with the two wives, as Doe and
Roe, incessantly running up and down bailiwicks, were with the two
husbands: or, perhaps the ladies had instituted, and taken upon
themselves, these two shares in the business, rather than be left out of
it altogether.  But, certain it is, that each wife went as gravely and
steadily to work in her vocation as her husband did in his, and would
have considered it almost impossible for the Firm to maintain a
successful and respectable existence, without her laudable exertions.

But, now, the Bird of Paradise was seen to flutter down the middle; and
the little bells began to bounce and jingle in poussette; and the
Doctor’s rosy face spun round and round, like an expressive pegtop highly
varnished; and breathless Mr. Craggs began to doubt already, whether
country dancing had been made ‘too easy,’ like the rest of life; and Mr.
Snitchey, with his nimble cuts and capers, footed it for Self and Craggs,
and half-a-dozen more.

Now, too, the fire took fresh courage, favoured by the lively wind the
dance awakened, and burnt clear and high.  It was the Genius of the room,
and present everywhere.  It shone in people’s eyes, it sparkled in the
jewels on the snowy necks of girls, it twinkled at their ears as if it
whispered to them slyly, it flashed about their waists, it flickered on
the ground and made it rosy for their feet, it bloomed upon the ceiling
that its glow might set off their bright faces, and it kindled up a
general illumination in Mrs. Craggs’s little belfry.

Now, too, the lively air that fanned it, grew less gentle as the music
quickened and the dance proceeded with new spirit; and a breeze arose
that made the leaves and berries dance upon the wall, as they had often
done upon the trees; and the breeze rustled in the room as if an
invisible company of fairies, treading in the foot-steps of the good
substantial revellers, were whirling after them.  Now, too, no feature of
the Doctor’s face could be distinguished as he spun and spun; and now
there seemed a dozen Birds of Paradise in fitful flight; and now there
were a thousand little bells at work; and now a fleet of flying skirts
was ruffled by a little tempest, when the music gave in, and the dance
was over.

Hot and breathless as the Doctor was, it only made him the more impatient
for Alfred’s coming.

‘Anything been seen, Britain?  Anything been heard?’

‘Too dark to see far, sir.  Too much noise inside the house to hear.’

‘That’s right!  The gayer welcome for him.  How goes the time?’

‘Just twelve, sir.  He can’t be long, sir.’

‘Stir up the fire, and throw another log upon it,’ said the Doctor.  ‘Let
him see his welcome blazing out upon the night—good boy!—as he comes
along!’

He saw it—Yes!  From the chaise he caught the light, as he turned the
corner by the old church.  He knew the room from which it shone.  He saw
the wintry branches of the old trees between the light and him.  He knew
that one of those trees rustled musically in the summer time at the
window of Marion’s chamber.

The tears were in his eyes.  His heart throbbed so violently that he
could hardly bear his happiness.  How often he had thought of this
time—pictured it under all circumstances—feared that it might never
come—yearned, and wearied for it—far away!

Again the light!  Distinct and ruddy; kindled, he knew, to give him
welcome, and to speed him home.  He beckoned with his hand, and waved his
hat, and cheered out, loud, as if the light were they, and they could see
and hear him, as he dashed towards them through the mud and mire,
triumphantly.

Stop!  He knew the Doctor, and understood what he had done.  He would not
let it be a surprise to them.  But he could make it one, yet, by going
forward on foot.  If the orchard-gate were open, he could enter there; if
not, the wall was easily climbed, as he knew of old; and he would be
among them in an instant.

He dismounted from the chaise, and telling the driver—even that was not
easy in his agitation—to remain behind for a few minutes, and then to
follow slowly, ran on with exceeding swiftness, tried the gate, scaled
the wall, jumped down on the other side, and stood panting in the old
orchard.

There was a frosty rime upon the trees, which, in the faint light of the
clouded moon, hung upon the smaller branches like dead garlands.
Withered leaves crackled and snapped beneath his feet, as he crept softly
on towards the house.  The desolation of a winter night sat brooding on
the earth, and in the sky.  But, the red light came cheerily towards him
from the windows; figures passed and repassed there; and the hum and
murmur of voices greeted his ear sweetly.

Listening for hers: attempting, as he crept on, to detach it from the
rest, and half believing that he heard it: he had nearly reached the
door, when it was abruptly opened, and a figure coming out encountered
his.  It instantly recoiled with a half-suppressed cry.

‘Clemency,’ he said, ‘don’t you know me?’

‘Don’t come in!’ she answered, pushing him back.  ‘Go away.  Don’t ask me
why.  Don’t come in.’

‘What is the matter?’ he exclaimed.

‘I don’t know.  I—I am afraid to think.  Go back.  Hark!’

There was a sudden tumult in the house.  She put her hands upon her ears.
A wild scream, such as no hands could shut out, was heard; and
Grace—distraction in her looks and manner—rushed out at the door.

‘Grace!’  He caught her in his arms.  ‘What is it!  Is she dead!’

She disengaged herself, as if to recognise his face, and fell down at his
feet.

A crowd of figures came about them from the house.  Among them was her
father, with a paper in his hand.

‘What is it!’ cried Alfred, grasping his hair with his hands, and looking
in an agony from face to face, as he bent upon his knee beside the
insensible girl.  ‘Will no one look at me?  Will no one speak to me?
Does no one know me?  Is there no voice among you all, to tell me what it
is!’

There was a murmur among them.  ‘She is gone.’

‘Gone!’ he echoed.

‘Fled, my dear Alfred!’ said the Doctor, in a broken voice, and with his
hands before his face.  ‘Gone from her home and us.  To-night!  She
writes that she has made her innocent and blameless choice—entreats that
we will forgive her—prays that we will not forget her—and is gone.’

‘With whom?  Where?’

He started up, as if to follow in pursuit; but, when they gave way to let
him pass, looked wildly round upon them, staggered back, and sunk down in
his former attitude, clasping one of Grace’s cold hands in his own.

There was a hurried running to and fro, confusion, noise, disorder, and
no purpose.  Some proceeded to disperse themselves about the roads, and
some took horse, and some got lights, and some conversed together, urging
that there was no trace or track to follow.  Some approached him kindly,
with the view of offering consolation; some admonished him that Grace
must be removed into the house, and that he prevented it.  He never heard
them, and he never moved.

The snow fell fast and thick.  He looked up for a moment in the air, and
thought that those white ashes strewn upon his hopes and misery, were
suited to them well.  He looked round on the whitening ground, and
thought how Marion’s foot-prints would be hushed and covered up, as soon
as made, and even that remembrance of her blotted out.  But he never felt
the weather and he never stirred.



Part the Third


THE world had grown six years older since that night of the return.  It
was a warm autumn afternoon, and there had been heavy rain.  The sun
burst suddenly from among the clouds; and the old battle-ground,
sparkling brilliantly and cheerfully at sight of it in one green place,
flashed a responsive welcome there, which spread along the country side
as if a joyful beacon had been lighted up, and answered from a thousand
stations.

How beautiful the landscape kindling in the light, and that luxuriant
influence passing on like a celestial presence, brightening everything!
The wood, a sombre mass before, revealed its varied tints of yellow,
green, brown, red: its different forms of trees, with raindrops
glittering on their leaves and twinkling as they fell.  The verdant
meadow-land, bright and glowing, seemed as if it had been blind, a minute
since, and now had found a sense of sight wherewith to look up at the
shining sky.  Corn-fields, hedge-rows, fences, homesteads, and clustered
roofs, the steeple of the church, the stream, the water-mill, all sprang
out of the gloomy darkness smiling.  Birds sang sweetly, flowers raised
their drooping heads, fresh scents arose from the invigorated ground; the
blue expanse above extended and diffused itself; already the sun’s
slanting rays pierced mortally the sullen bank of cloud that lingered in
its flight; and a rainbow, spirit of all the colours that adorned the
earth and sky, spanned the whole arch with its triumphant glory.

At such a time, one little roadside Inn, snugly sheltered behind a great
elm-tree with a rare seat for idlers encircling its capacious bole,
addressed a cheerful front towards the traveller, as a house of
entertainment ought, and tempted him with many mute but significant
assurances of a comfortable welcome.  The ruddy sign-board perched up in
the tree, with its golden letters winking in the sun, ogled the
passer-by, from among the green leaves, like a jolly face, and promised
good cheer.  The horse-trough, full of clear fresh water, and the ground
below it sprinkled with droppings of fragrant hay, made every horse that
passed, prick up his ears.  The crimson curtains in the lower rooms, and
the pure white hangings in the little bed-chambers above, beckoned, Come
in! with every breath of air.  Upon the bright green shutters, there were
golden legends about beer and ale, and neat wines, and good beds; and an
affecting picture of a brown jug frothing over at the top.  Upon the
window-sills were flowering plants in bright red pots, which made a
lively show against the white front of the house; and in the darkness of
the doorway there were streaks of light, which glanced off from the
surfaces of bottles and tankards.

On the door-step, appeared a proper figure of a landlord, too; for,
though he was a short man, he was round and broad, and stood with his
hands in his pockets, and his legs just wide enough apart to express a
mind at rest upon the subject of the cellar, and an easy confidence—too
calm and virtuous to become a swagger—in the general resources of the
Inn.  The superabundant moisture, trickling from everything after the
late rain, set him off well.  Nothing near him was thirsty.  Certain
top-heavy dahlias, looking over the palings of his neat well-ordered
garden, had swilled as much as they could carry—perhaps a trifle more—and
may have been the worse for liquor; but the sweet-briar, roses,
wall-flowers, the plants at the windows, and the leaves on the old tree,
were in the beaming state of moderate company that had taken no more than
was wholesome for them, and had served to develop their best qualities.
Sprinkling dewy drops about them on the ground, they seemed profuse of
innocent and sparkling mirth, that did good where it lighted, softening
neglected corners which the steady rain could seldom reach, and hurting
nothing.

This village Inn had assumed, on being established, an uncommon sign.  It
was called The Nutmeg-Grater.  And underneath that household word, was
inscribed, up in the tree, on the same flaming board, and in the like
golden characters, By Benjamin Britain.

At a second glance, and on a more minute examination of his face, you
might have known that it was no other than Benjamin Britain himself who
stood in the doorway—reasonably changed by time, but for the better; a
very comfortable host indeed.

‘Mrs. B.,’ said Mr. Britain, looking down the road, ‘is rather late.
It’s tea-time.’

As there was no Mrs. Britain coming, he strolled leisurely out into the
road and looked up at the house, very much to his satisfaction.  ‘It’s
just the sort of house,’ said Benjamin, ‘I should wish to stop at, if I
didn’t keep it.’

Then, he strolled towards the garden-paling, and took a look at the
dahlias.  They looked over at him, with a helpless drowsy hanging of
their heads: which bobbed again, as the heavy drops of wet dripped off
them.

‘You must be looked after,’ said Benjamin.  ‘Memorandum, not to forget to
tell her so.  She’s a long time coming!’

Mr. Britain’s better half seemed to be by so very much his better half,
that his own moiety of himself was utterly cast away and helpless without
her.

‘She hadn’t much to do, I think,’ said Ben.  ‘There were a few little
matters of business after market, but not many.  Oh! here we are at
last!’

A chaise-cart, driven by a boy, came clattering along the road: and
seated in it, in a chair, with a large well-saturated umbrella spread out
to dry behind her, was the plump figure of a matronly woman, with her
bare arms folded across a basket which she carried on her knee, several
other baskets and parcels lying crowded around her, and a certain bright
good nature in her face and contented awkwardness in her manner, as she
jogged to and fro with the motion of her carriage, which smacked of old
times, even in the distance.  Upon her nearer approach, this relish of
by-gone days was not diminished; and when the cart stopped at the
Nutmeg-Grater door, a pair of shoes, alighting from it, slipped nimbly
through Mr. Britain’s open arms, and came down with a substantial weight
upon the pathway, which shoes could hardly have belonged to any one but
Clemency Newcome.

In fact they did belong to her, and she stood in them, and a rosy
comfortable-looking soul she was: with as much soap on her glossy face as
in times of yore, but with whole elbows now, that had grown quite dimpled
in her improved condition.

‘You’re late, Clemmy!’ said Mr. Britain.

‘Why, you see, Ben, I’ve had a deal to do!’ she replied, looking busily
after the safe removal into the house of all the packages and baskets:
‘eight, nine, ten—where’s eleven?  Oh! my basket’s eleven!  It’s all
right.  Put the horse up, Harry, and if he coughs again give him a warm
mash to-night.  Eight, nine, ten.  Why, where’s eleven?  Oh I forgot,
it’s all right.  How’s the children, Ben?’

‘Hearty, Clemmy, hearty.’

‘Bless their precious faces!’ said Mrs. Britain, unbonneting her own
round countenance (for she and her husband were by this time in the bar),
and smoothing her hair with her open hands.  ‘Give us a kiss, old man!’

Mr. Britain promptly complied.

‘I think,’ said Mrs. Britain, applying herself to her pockets and drawing
forth an immense bulk of thin books and crumpled papers: a very kennel of
dogs’-ears: ‘I’ve done everything.  Bills all settled—turnips
sold—brewer’s account looked into and paid—’bacco pipes ordered—seventeen
pound four, paid into the Bank—Doctor Heathfield’s charge for little
Clem—you’ll guess what that is—Doctor Heathfield won’t take nothing
again, Ben.’

‘I thought he wouldn’t,’ returned Ben.

‘No.  He says whatever family you was to have, Ben, he’d never put you to
the cost of a halfpenny.  Not if you was to have twenty.’

Mr. Britain’s face assumed a serious expression, and he looked hard at
the wall.

‘An’t it kind of him?’ said Clemency.

‘Very,’ returned Mr. Britain.  ‘It’s the sort of kindness that I wouldn’t
presume upon, on any account.’

‘No,’ retorted Clemency.  ‘Of course not.  Then there’s the pony—he
fetched eight pound two; and that an’t bad, is it?’

‘It’s very good,’ said Ben.

‘I’m glad you’re pleased!’ exclaimed his wife.  ‘I thought you would be;
and I think that’s all, and so no more at present from yours and cetrer,
C. Britain.  Ha ha ha! There!  Take all the papers, and lock ’em up.  Oh!
Wait a minute.  Here’s a printed bill to stick on the wall.  Wet from the
printer’s.  How nice it smells!’

‘What’s this?’ said Ben, looking over the document.

‘I don’t know,’ replied his wife.  ‘I haven’t read a word of it.’

‘“To be sold by Auction,”’ read the host of the Nutmeg-Grater, ‘“unless
previously disposed of by private contract.”’

‘They always put that,’ said Clemency.

‘Yes, but they don’t always put this,’ he returned.  ‘Look here,
“Mansion,” &c.—“offices,” &c., “shrubberies,” &c., “ring fence,” &c.
“Messrs. Snitchey and Craggs,” &c., “ornamental portion of the
unencumbered freehold property of Michael Warden, Esquire, intending to
continue to reside abroad”!’

‘Intending to continue to reside abroad!’ repeated Clemency.

‘Here it is,’ said Britain.  ‘Look!’

‘And it was only this very day that I heard it whispered at the old
house, that better and plainer news had been half promised of her, soon!’
said Clemency, shaking her head sorrowfully, and patting her elbows as if
the recollection of old times unconsciously awakened her old habits.
‘Dear, dear, dear!  There’ll be heavy hearts, Ben, yonder.’

Mr. Britain heaved a sigh, and shook his head, and said he couldn’t make
it out: he had left off trying long ago.  With that remark, he applied
himself to putting up the bill just inside the bar window.  Clemency,
after meditating in silence for a few moments, roused herself, cleared
her thoughtful brow, and bustled off to look after the children.

Though the host of the Nutmeg-Grater had a lively regard for his
good-wife, it was of the old patronising kind, and she amused him
mightily.  Nothing would have astonished him so much, as to have known
for certain from any third party, that it was she who managed the whole
house, and made him, by her plain straightforward thrift, good-humour,
honesty, and industry, a thriving man.  So easy it is, in any degree of
life (as the world very often finds it), to take those cheerful natures
that never assert their merit, at their own modest valuation; and to
conceive a flippant liking of people for their outward oddities and
eccentricities, whose innate worth, if we would look so far, might make
us blush in the comparison!

It was comfortable to Mr. Britain, to think of his own condescension in
having married Clemency.  She was a perpetual testimony to him of the
goodness of his heart, and the kindness of his disposition; and he felt
that her being an excellent wife was an illustration of the old precept
that virtue is its own reward.

He had finished wafering up the bill, and had locked the vouchers for her
day’s proceedings in the cupboard—chuckling all the time, over her
capacity for business—when, returning with the news that the two Master
Britains were playing in the coach-house under the superintendence of one
Betsey, and that little Clem was sleeping ‘like a picture,’ she sat down
to tea, which had awaited her arrival, on a little table.  It was a very
neat little bar, with the usual display of bottles and glasses; a sedate
clock, right to the minute (it was half-past five); everything in its
place, and everything furbished and polished up to the very utmost.

‘It’s the first time I’ve sat down quietly to-day, I declare,’ said Mrs.
Britain, taking a long breath, as if she had sat down for the night; but
getting up again immediately to hand her husband his tea, and cut him his
bread-and-butter; ‘how that bill does set me thinking of old times!’

‘Ah!’ said Mr. Britain, handling his saucer like an oyster, and disposing
of its contents on the same principle.

‘That same Mr. Michael Warden,’ said Clemency, shaking her head at the
notice of sale, ‘lost me my old place.’

‘And got you your husband,’ said Mr. Britain.

‘Well!  So he did,’ retorted Clemency, ‘and many thanks to him.’

‘Man’s the creature of habit,’ said Mr. Britain, surveying her, over his
saucer.  ‘I had somehow got used to you, Clem; and I found I shouldn’t be
able to get on without you.  So we went and got made man and wife.  Ha!
ha!  We!  Who’d have thought it!’

‘Who indeed!’ cried Clemency.  ‘It was very good of you, Ben.’

‘No, no, no,’ replied Mr. Britain, with an air of self-denial.  ‘Nothing
worth mentioning.’

‘Oh yes it was, Ben,’ said his wife, with great simplicity; ‘I’m sure I
think so, and am very much obliged to you.  Ah!’ looking again at the
bill; ‘when she was known to be gone, and out of reach, dear girl, I
couldn’t help telling—for her sake quite as much as theirs—what I knew,
could I?’

‘You told it, anyhow,’ observed her husband.

‘And Dr. Jeddler,’ pursued Clemency, putting down her tea-cup, and
looking thoughtfully at the bill, ‘in his grief and passion turned me out
of house and home!  I never have been so glad of anything in all my life,
as that I didn’t say an angry word to him, and hadn’t any angry feeling
towards him, even then; for he repented that truly, afterwards.  How
often he has sat in this room, and told me over and over again he was
sorry for it!—the last time, only yesterday, when you were out.  How
often he has sat in this room, and talked to me, hour after hour, about
one thing and another, in which he made believe to be interested!—but
only for the sake of the days that are gone by, and because he knows she
used to like me, Ben!’

‘Why, how did you ever come to catch a glimpse of that, Clem?’ asked her
husband: astonished that she should have a distinct perception of a truth
which had only dimly suggested itself to his inquiring mind.

‘I don’t know, I’m sure,’ said Clemency, blowing her tea, to cool it.
‘Bless you, I couldn’t tell you, if you was to offer me a reward of a
hundred pound.’

He might have pursued this metaphysical subject but for her catching a
glimpse of a substantial fact behind him, in the shape of a gentleman
attired in mourning, and cloaked and booted like a rider on horseback,
who stood at the bar-door.  He seemed attentive to their conversation,
and not at all impatient to interrupt it.

Clemency hastily rose at this sight.  Mr. Britain also rose and saluted
the guest.  ‘Will you please to walk up-stairs, sir?  There’s a very nice
room up-stairs, sir.’

‘Thank you,’ said the stranger, looking earnestly at Mr. Britain’s wife.
‘May I come in here?’

‘Oh, surely, if you like, sir,’ returned Clemency, admitting him.

‘What would you please to want, sir?’

The bill had caught his eye, and he was reading it.

‘Excellent property that, sir,’ observed Mr. Britain.

He made no answer; but, turning round, when he had finished reading,
looked at Clemency with the same observant curiosity as before.  ‘You
were asking me,’—he said, still looking at her,—‘What you would please to
take, sir,’ answered Clemency, stealing a glance at him in return.

‘If you will let me have a draught of ale,’ he said, moving to a table by
the window, ‘and will let me have it here, without being any interruption
to your meal, I shall be much obliged to you.’  He sat down as he spoke,
without any further parley, and looked out at the prospect.  He was an
easy, well-knit figure of a man in the prime of life.  His face, much
browned by the sun, was shaded by a quantity of dark hair; and he wore a
moustache.  His beer being set before him, he filled out a glass, and
drank, good-humouredly, to the house; adding, as he put the tumbler down
again:

‘It’s a new house, is it not?’

‘Not particularly new, sir,’ replied Mr. Britain.

‘Between five and six years old,’ said Clemency; speaking very
distinctly.

‘I think I heard you mention Dr. Jeddler’s name, as I came in,’ inquired
the stranger.  ‘That bill reminds me of him; for I happen to know
something of that story, by hearsay, and through certain connexions of
mine.—Is the old man living?’

‘Yes, he’s living, sir,’ said Clemency.

‘Much changed?’

‘Since when, sir?’ returned Clemency, with remarkable emphasis and
expression.

‘Since his daughter—went away.’

‘Yes! he’s greatly changed since then,’ said Clemency.  ‘He’s grey and
old, and hasn’t the same way with him at all; but, I think he’s happy
now.  He has taken on with his sister since then, and goes to see her
very often.  That did him good, directly.  At first, he was sadly broken
down; and it was enough to make one’s heart bleed, to see him wandering
about, railing at the world; but a great change for the better came over
him after a year or two, and then he began to like to talk about his lost
daughter, and to praise her, ay and the world too! and was never tired of
saying, with the tears in his poor eyes, how beautiful and good she was.
He had forgiven her then.  That was about the same time as Miss Grace’s
marriage.  Britain, you remember?’

Mr. Britain remembered very well.

‘The sister is married then,’ returned the stranger.  He paused for some
time before he asked, ‘To whom?’

Clemency narrowly escaped oversetting the tea-board, in her emotion at
this question.

‘Did _you_ never hear?’ she said.

‘I should like to hear,’ he replied, as he filled his glass again, and
raised it to his lips.

‘Ah!  It would be a long story, if it was properly told,’ said Clemency,
resting her chin on the palm of her left hand, and supporting that elbow
on her right hand, as she shook her head, and looked back through the
intervening years, as if she were looking at a fire.  ‘It would be a long
story, I am sure.’

‘But told as a short one,’ suggested the stranger.

Told as a short one,’ repeated Clemency in the same thoughtful tone, and
without any apparent reference to him, or consciousness of having
auditors, ‘what would there be to tell?  That they grieved together, and
remembered her together, like a person dead; that they were so tender of
her, never would reproach her, called her back to one another as she used
to be, and found excuses for her!  Every one knows that.  I’m sure I do.
No one better,’ added Clemency, wiping her eyes with her hand.

‘And so,’ suggested the stranger.

‘And so,’ said Clemency, taking him up mechanically, and without any
change in her attitude or manner, ‘they at last were married.  They were
married on her birth-day—it comes round again to-morrow—very quiet, very
humble like, but very happy.  Mr. Alfred said, one night when they were
walking in the orchard, “Grace, shall our wedding-day be Marion’s
birth-day?”  And it was.’

‘And they have lived happily together?’ said the stranger.

‘Ay,’ said Clemency.  ‘No two people ever more so.  They have had no
sorrow but this.’

She raised her head as with a sudden attention to the circumstances under
which she was recalling these events, and looked quickly at the stranger.
Seeing that his face was turned toward the window, and that he seemed
intent upon the prospect, she made some eager signs to her husband, and
pointed to the bill, and moved her mouth as if she were repeating with
great energy, one word or phrase to him over and over again.  As she
uttered no sound, and as her dumb motions like most of her gestures were
of a very extraordinary kind, this unintelligible conduct reduced Mr.
Britain to the confines of despair.  He stared at the table, at the
stranger, at the spoons, at his wife—followed her pantomime with looks of
deep amazement and perplexity—asked in the same language, was it property
in danger, was it he in danger, was it she—answered her signals with
other signals expressive of the deepest distress and confusion—followed
the motions of her lips—guessed half aloud ‘milk and water,’ ‘monthly
warning,’ ‘mice and walnuts’—and couldn’t approach her meaning.

Clemency gave it up at last, as a hopeless attempt; and moving her chair
by very slow degrees a little nearer to the stranger, sat with her eyes
apparently cast down but glancing sharply at him now and then, waiting
until he should ask some other question.  She had not to wait long; for
he said, presently:

‘And what is the after history of the young lady who went away?  They
know it, I suppose?’

Clemency shook her head.  ‘I’ve heard,’ she said, ‘that Doctor Jeddler is
thought to know more of it than he tells.  Miss Grace has had letters
from her sister, saying that she was well and happy, and made much
happier by her being married to Mr. Alfred: and has written letters back.
But there’s a mystery about her life and fortunes, altogether, which
nothing has cleared up to this hour, and which—’

She faltered here, and stopped.

‘And which’—repeated the stranger.

‘Which only one other person, I believe, could explain,’ said Clemency,
drawing her breath quickly.

‘Who may that be?’ asked the stranger.

‘Mr. Michael Warden!’ answered Clemency, almost in a shriek: at once
conveying to her husband what she would have had him understand before,
and letting Michael Warden know that he was recognised.

‘You remember me, sir?’ said Clemency, trembling with emotion; ‘I saw
just now you did!  You remember me, that night in the garden.  I was with
her!’

‘Yes.  You were,’ he said.

‘Yes, sir,’ returned Clemency.  ‘Yes, to be sure.  This is my husband, if
you please.  Ben, my dear Ben, run to Miss Grace—run to Mr. Alfred—run
somewhere, Ben!  Bring somebody here, directly!’

‘Stay!’ said Michael Warden, quietly interposing himself between the door
and Britain.  ‘What would you do?’

‘Let them know that you are here, sir,’ answered Clemency, clapping her
hands in sheer agitation.  ‘Let them know that they may hear of her, from
your own lips; let them know that she is not quite lost to them, but that
she will come home again yet, to bless her father and her loving
sister—even her old servant, even me,’ she struck herself upon the breast
with both hands, ‘with a sight of her sweet face.  Run, Ben, run!’  And
still she pressed him on towards the door, and still Mr. Warden stood
before it, with his hand stretched out, not angrily, but sorrowfully.

‘Or perhaps,’ said Clemency, running past her husband, and catching in
her emotion at Mr. Warden’s cloak, ‘perhaps she’s here now; perhaps she’s
close by.  I think from your manner she is.  Let me see her, sir, if you
please.  I waited on her when she was a little child.  I saw her grow to
be the pride of all this place.  I knew her when she was Mr. Alfred’s
promised wife.  I tried to warn her when you tempted her away.  I know
what her old home was when she was like the soul of it, and how it
changed when she was gone and lost.  Let me speak to her, if you please!’

He gazed at her with compassion, not unmixed with wonder: but, he made no
gesture of assent.

‘I don’t think she _can_ know,’ pursued Clemency, ‘how truly they forgive
her; how they love her; what joy it would be to them, to see her once
more.  She may be timorous of going home.  Perhaps if she sees me, it may
give her new heart.  Only tell me truly, Mr. Warden, is she with you?’

‘She is not,’ he answered, shaking his head.

This answer, and his manner, and his black dress, and his coming back so
quietly, and his announced intention of continuing to live abroad,
explained it all.  Marion was dead.

He didn’t contradict her; yes, she was dead!  Clemency sat down, hid her
face upon the table, and cried.

At that moment, a grey-headed old gentleman came running in: quite out of
breath, and panting so much that his voice was scarcely to be recognised
as the voice of Mr. Snitchey.

‘Good Heaven, Mr. Warden!’ said the lawyer, taking him aside, ‘what wind
has blown—’  He was so blown himself, that he couldn’t get on any further
until after a pause, when he added, feebly, ‘you here?’

‘An ill-wind, I am afraid,’ he answered.  ‘If you could have heard what
has just passed—how I have been besought and entreated to perform
impossibilities—what confusion and affliction I carry with me!’

‘I can guess it all.  But why did you ever come here, my good sir?’
retorted Snitchey.

‘Come!  How should I know who kept the house?  When I sent my servant on
to you, I strolled in here because the place was new to me; and I had a
natural curiosity in everything new and old, in these old scenes; and it
was outside the town.  I wanted to communicate with you, first, before
appearing there.  I wanted to know what people would say to me.  I see by
your manner that you can tell me.  If it were not for your confounded
caution, I should have been possessed of everything long ago.’

‘Our caution!’ returned the lawyer, ‘speaking for Self and
Craggs—deceased,’ here Mr. Snitchey, glancing at his hat-band, shook his
head, ‘how can you reasonably blame us, Mr. Warden?  It was understood
between us that the subject was never to be renewed, and that it wasn’t a
subject on which grave and sober men like us (I made a note of your
observations at the time) could interfere.  Our caution too!  When Mr.
Craggs, sir, went down to his respected grave in the full belief—’

‘I had given a solemn promise of silence until I should return, whenever
that might be,’ interrupted Mr. Warden; ‘and I have kept it.’

‘Well, sir, and I repeat it,’ returned Mr. Snitchey, ‘we were bound to
silence too.  We were bound to silence in our duty towards ourselves, and
in our duty towards a variety of clients, you among them, who were as
close as wax.  It was not our place to make inquiries of you on such a
delicate subject.  I had my suspicions, sir; but, it is not six months
since I have known the truth, and been assured that you lost her.’

‘By whom?’ inquired his client.

‘By Doctor Jeddler himself, sir, who at last reposed that confidence in
me voluntarily.  He, and only he, has known the whole truth, years and
years.’

‘And you know it?’ said his client.

‘I do, sir!’ replied Snitchey; ‘and I have also reason to know that it
will be broken to her sister to-morrow evening.  They have given her that
promise.  In the meantime, perhaps you’ll give me the honour of your
company at my house; being unexpected at your own.  But, not to run the
chance of any more such difficulties as you have had here, in case you
should be recognised—though you’re a good deal changed; I think I might
have passed you myself, Mr. Warden—we had better dine here, and walk on
in the evening.  It’s a very good place to dine at, Mr. Warden: your own
property, by-the-bye.  Self and Craggs (deceased) took a chop here
sometimes, and had it very comfortably served.  Mr. Craggs, sir,’ said
Snitchey, shutting his eyes tight for an instant, and opening them again,
‘was struck off the roll of life too soon.’

‘Heaven forgive me for not condoling with you,’ returned Michael Warden,
passing his hand across his forehead, ‘but I’m like a man in a dream at
present.  I seem to want my wits.  Mr. Craggs—yes—I am very sorry we have
lost Mr. Craggs.’  But he looked at Clemency as he said it, and seemed to
sympathise with Ben, consoling her.

‘Mr. Craggs, sir,’ observed Snitchey, ‘didn’t find life, I regret to say,
as easy to have and to hold as his theory made it out, or he would have
been among us now.  It’s a great loss to me.  He was my right arm, my
right leg, my right ear, my right eye, was Mr. Craggs.  I am paralytic
without him.  He bequeathed his share of the business to Mrs. Craggs, her
executors, administrators, and assigns.  His name remains in the Firm to
this hour.  I try, in a childish sort of a way, to make believe,
sometimes, he’s alive.  You may observe that I speak for Self and
Craggs—deceased, sir—deceased,’ said the tender-hearted attorney, waving
his pocket-handkerchief.

Michael Warden, who had still been observant of Clemency, turned to Mr.
Snitchey when he ceased to speak, and whispered in his ear.

‘Ah, poor thing!’ said Snitchey, shaking his head.  ‘Yes.  She was always
very faithful to Marion.  She was always very fond of her.  Pretty
Marion!  Poor Marion!  Cheer up, Mistress—you are married now, you know,
Clemency.’

Clemency only sighed, and shook her head.

‘Well, well!  Wait till to-morrow,’ said the lawyer, kindly.

‘To-morrow can’t bring back’ the dead to life, Mister,’ said Clemency,
sobbing.

‘No.  It can’t do that, or it would bring back Mr. Craggs, deceased,’
returned the lawyer.  ‘But it may bring some soothing circumstances; it
may bring some comfort.  Wait till to-morrow!’

So Clemency, shaking his proffered hand, said she would; and Britain, who
had been terribly cast down at sight of his despondent wife (which was
like the business hanging its head), said that was right; and Mr.
Snitchey and Michael Warden went up-stairs; and there they were soon
engaged in a conversation so cautiously conducted, that no murmur of it
was audible above the clatter of plates and dishes, the hissing of the
frying-pan, the bubbling of saucepans, the low monotonous waltzing of the
jack—with a dreadful click every now and then as if it had met with some
mortal accident to its head, in a fit of giddiness—and all the other
preparations in the kitchen for their dinner.

                                * * * * *

To-morrow was a bright and peaceful day; and nowhere were the autumn
tints more beautifully seen, than from the quiet orchard of the Doctor’s
house.  The snows of many winter nights had melted from that ground, the
withered leaves of many summer times had rustled there, since she had
fled.  The honey-suckle porch was green again, the trees cast bountiful
and changing shadows on the grass, the landscape was as tranquil and
serene as it had ever been; but where was she!

Not there.  Not there.  She would have been a stranger sight in her old
home now, even than that home had been at first, without her.  But, a
lady sat in the familiar place, from whose heart she had never passed
away; in whose true memory she lived, unchanging, youthful, radiant with
all promise and all hope; in whose affection—and it was a mother’s now,
there was a cherished little daughter playing by her side—she had no
rival, no successor; upon whose gentle lips her name was trembling then.

The spirit of the lost girl looked out of those eyes.  Those eyes of
Grace, her sister, sitting with her husband in the orchard, on their
wedding-day, and his and Marion’s birth-day.

He had not become a great man; he had not grown rich; he had not
forgotten the scenes and friends of his youth; he had not fulfilled any
one of the Doctor’s old predictions.  But, in his useful, patient,
unknown visiting of poor men’s homes; and in his watching of sick beds;
and in his daily knowledge of the gentleness and goodness flowering the
by-paths of this world, not to be trodden down beneath the heavy foot of
poverty, but springing up, elastic, in its track, and making its way
beautiful; he had better learned and proved, in each succeeding year, the
truth of his old faith.  The manner of his life, though quiet and remote,
had shown him how often men still entertained angels, unawares, as in the
olden time; and how the most unlikely forms—even some that were mean and
ugly to the view, and poorly clad—became irradiated by the couch of
sorrow, want, and pain, and changed to ministering spirits with a glory
round their heads.

He lived to better purpose on the altered battle-ground, perhaps, than if
he had contended restlessly in more ambitious lists; and he was happy
with his wife, dear Grace.

And Marion.  Had _he_ forgotten her?

‘The time has flown, dear Grace,’ he said, ‘since then;’ they had been
talking of that night; ‘and yet it seems a long long while ago.  We count
by changes and events within us.  Not by years.’

‘Yet we have years to count by, too, since Marion was with us,’ returned
Grace.  ‘Six times, dear husband, counting to-night as one, we have sat
here on her birth-day, and spoken together of that happy return, so
eagerly expected and so long deferred.  Ah when will it be!  When will it
be!’

Her husband attentively observed her, as the tears collected in her eyes;
and drawing nearer, said:

‘But, Marion told you, in that farewell letter which she left for you
upon your table, love, and which you read so often, that years must pass
away before it _could_ be.  Did she not?’

She took a letter from her breast, and kissed it, and said ‘Yes.’

‘That through these intervening years, however happy she might be, she
would look forward to the time when you would meet again, and all would
be made clear; and that she prayed you, trustfully and hopefully to do
the same.  The letter runs so, does it not, my dear?’

‘Yes, Alfred.’

‘And every other letter she has written since?’

‘Except the last—some months ago—in which she spoke of you, and what you
then knew, and what I was to learn to-night.’

He looked towards the sun, then fast declining, and said that the
appointed time was sunset.

‘Alfred!’ said Grace, laying her hand upon his shoulder earnestly, ‘there
is something in this letter—this old letter, which you say I read so
often—that I have never told you.  But, to-night, dear husband, with that
sunset drawing near, and all our life seeming to soften and become hushed
with the departing day, I cannot keep it secret.’

‘What is it, love?’

‘When Marion went away, she wrote me, here, that you had once left her a
sacred trust to me, and that now she left you, Alfred, such a trust in my
hands: praying and beseeching me, as I loved her, and as I loved you, not
to reject the affection she believed (she knew, she said) you would
transfer to me when the new wound was healed, but to encourage and return
it.’

‘—And make me a proud, and happy man again, Grace.  Did she say so?’

‘She meant, to make myself so blest and honoured in your love,’ was his
wife’s answer, as he held her in his arms.

‘Hear me, my dear!’ he said.—‘No.  Hear me so!’—and as he spoke, he
gently laid the head she had raised, again upon his shoulder.  ‘I know
why I have never heard this passage in the letter, until now.  I know why
no trace of it ever showed itself in any word or look of yours at that
time.  I know why Grace, although so true a friend to me, was hard to win
to be my wife.  And knowing it, my own! I know the priceless value of the
heart I gird within my arms, and thank GOD for the rich possession!’

She wept, but not for sorrow, as he pressed her to his heart.  After a
brief space, he looked down at the child, who was sitting at their feet
playing with a little basket of flowers, and bade her look how golden and
how red the sun was.

‘Alfred,’ said Grace, raising her head quickly at these words.  ‘The sun
is going down.  You have not forgotten what I am to know before it sets.’

‘You are to know the truth of Marion’s history, my love,’ he answered.

‘All the truth,’ she said, imploringly.  ‘Nothing veiled from me, any
more.  That was the promise.  Was it not?’

‘It was,’ he answered.

‘Before the sun went down on Marion’s birth-day.  And you see it, Alfred?
It is sinking fast.’

He put his arm about her waist, and, looking steadily into her eyes,
rejoined:

‘That truth is not reserved so long for me to tell, dear Grace.  It is to
come from other lips.’

‘From other lips!’ she faintly echoed.

‘Yes.  I know your constant heart, I know how brave you are, I know that
to you a word of preparation is enough.  You have said, truly, that the
time is come.  It is.  Tell me that you have present fortitude to bear a
trial—a surprise—a shock: and the messenger is waiting at the gate.’

‘What messenger?’ she said.  ‘And what intelligence does he bring?’

‘I am pledged,’ he answered her, preserving his steady look, ‘to say no
more.  Do you think you understand me?’

‘I am afraid to think,’ she said.

There was that emotion in his face, despite its steady gaze, which
frightened her.  Again she hid her own face on his shoulder, trembling,
and entreated him to pause—a moment.

‘Courage, my wife!  When you have firmness to receive the messenger, the
messenger is waiting at the gate.  The sun is setting on Marion’s
birth-day.  Courage, courage, Grace!’

She raised her head, and, looking at him, told him she was ready.  As she
stood, and looked upon him going away, her face was so like Marion’s as
it had been in her later days at home, that it was wonderful to see.  He
took the child with him.  She called her back—she bore the lost girl’s
name—and pressed her to her bosom.  The little creature, being released
again, sped after him, and Grace was left alone.

She knew not what she dreaded, or what hoped; but remained there,
motionless, looking at the porch by which they had disappeared.

Ah! what was that, emerging from its shadow; standing on its threshold!
That figure, with its white garments rustling in the evening air; its
head laid down upon her father’s breast, and pressed against it to his
loving heart!  O God! was it a vision that came bursting from the old
man’s arms, and with a cry, and with a waving of its hands, and with a
wild precipitation of itself upon her in its boundless love, sank down in
her embrace!

‘Oh, Marion, Marion!  Oh, my sister!  Oh, my heart’s dear love!  Oh, joy
and happiness unutterable, so to meet again!’

It was no dream, no phantom conjured up by hope and fear, but Marion,
sweet Marion!  So beautiful, so happy, so unalloyed by care and trial, so
elevated and exalted in her loveliness, that as the setting sun shone
brightly on her upturned face, she might have been a spirit visiting the
earth upon some healing mission.

Clinging to her sister, who had dropped upon a seat and bent down over
her—and smiling through her tears—and kneeling, close before her, with
both arms twining round her, and never turning for an instant from her
face—and with the glory of the setting sun upon her brow, and with the
soft tranquillity of evening gathering around them—Marion at length broke
silence; her voice, so calm, low, clear, and pleasant, well-tuned to the
time.

‘When this was my dear home, Grace, as it will be now again—’

‘Stay, my sweet love!  A moment!  O Marion, to hear you speak again.’

She could not bear the voice she loved so well, at first.

‘When this was my dear home, Grace, as it will be now again, I loved him
from my soul.  I loved him most devotedly.  I would have died for him,
though I was so young.  I never slighted his affection in my secret
breast for one brief instant.  It was far beyond all price to me.
Although it is so long ago, and past, and gone, and everything is wholly
changed, I could not bear to think that you, who love so well, should
think I did not truly love him once.  I never loved him better, Grace,
than when he left this very scene upon this very day.  I never loved him
better, dear one, than I did that night when I left here.’

Her sister, bending over her, could look into her face, and hold her
fast.

‘But he had gained, unconsciously,’ said Marion, with a gentle smile,
‘another heart, before I knew that I had one to give him.  That
heart—yours, my sister!—was so yielded up, in all its other tenderness,
to me; was so devoted, and so noble; that it plucked its love away, and
kept its secret from all eyes but mine—Ah! what other eyes were quickened
by such tenderness and gratitude!—and was content to sacrifice itself to
me.  But, I knew something of its depths.  I knew the struggle it had
made.  I knew its high, inestimable worth to him, and his appreciation of
it, let him love me as he would.  I knew the debt I owed it.  I had its
great example every day before me.  What you had done for me, I knew that
I could do, Grace, if I would, for you.  I never laid my head down on my
pillow, but I prayed with tears to do it.  I never laid my head down on
my pillow, but I thought of Alfred’s own words on the day of his
departure, and how truly he had said (for I knew that, knowing you) that
there were victories gained every day, in struggling hearts, to which
these fields of battle were nothing.  Thinking more and more upon the
great endurance cheerfully sustained, and never known or cared for, that
there must be, every day and hour, in that great strife of which he
spoke, my trial seemed to grow light and easy.  And He who knows our
hearts, my dearest, at this moment, and who knows there is no drop of
bitterness or grief—of anything but unmixed happiness—in mine, enabled me
to make the resolution that I never would be Alfred’s wife.  That he
should be my brother, and your husband, if the course I took could bring
that happy end to pass; but that I never would (Grace, I then loved him
dearly, dearly!) be his wife!’

‘O Marion!  O Marion!’

‘I had tried to seem indifferent to him;’ and she pressed her sister’s
face against her own; ‘but that was hard, and you were always his true
advocate.  I had tried to tell you of my resolution, but you would never
hear me; you would never understand me.  The time was drawing near for
his return.  I felt that I must act, before the daily intercourse between
us was renewed.  I knew that one great pang, undergone at that time,
would save a lengthened agony to all of us.  I knew that if I went away
then, that end must follow which _has_ followed, and which has made us
both so happy, Grace!  I wrote to good Aunt Martha, for a refuge in her
house: I did not then tell her all, but something of my story, and she
freely promised it.  While I was contesting that step with myself, and
with my love of you, and home, Mr. Warden, brought here by an accident,
became, for some time, our companion.’

‘I have sometimes feared of late years, that this might have been,’
exclaimed her sister; and her countenance was ashy-pale.  ‘You never
loved him—and you married him in your self-sacrifice to me!’

‘He was then,’ said Marion, drawing her sister closer to her, ‘on the eve
of going secretly away for a long time.  He wrote to me, after leaving
here; told me what his condition and prospects really were; and offered
me his hand.  He told me he had seen I was not happy in the prospect of
Alfred’s return.  I believe he thought my heart had no part in that
contract; perhaps thought I might have loved him once, and did not then;
perhaps thought that when I tried to seem indifferent, I tried to hide
indifference—I cannot tell.  But I wished that you should feel me wholly
lost to Alfred—hopeless to him—dead.  Do you understand me, love?’

Her sister looked into her face, attentively.  She seemed in doubt.

‘I saw Mr. Warden, and confided in his honour; charged him with my
secret, on the eve of his and my departure.  He kept it.  Do you
understand me, dear?’

Grace looked confusedly upon her.  She scarcely seemed to hear.

‘My love, my sister!’ said Marion, ‘recall your thoughts a moment; listen
to me.  Do not look so strangely on me.  There are countries, dearest,
where those who would abjure a misplaced passion, or would strive,
against some cherished feeling of their hearts and conquer it, retire
into a hopeless solitude, and close the world against themselves and
worldly loves and hopes for ever.  When women do so, they assume that
name which is so dear to you and me, and call each other Sisters.  But,
there may be sisters, Grace, who, in the broad world out of doors, and
underneath its free sky, and in its crowded places, and among its busy
life, and trying to assist and cheer it and to do some good,—learn the
same lesson; and who, with hearts still fresh and young, and open to all
happiness and means of happiness, can say the battle is long past, the
victory long won.  And such a one am I!  You understand me now?’

Still she looked fixedly upon her, and made no reply.

‘Oh Grace, dear Grace,’ said Marion, clinging yet more tenderly and
fondly to that breast from which she had been so long exiled, ‘if you
were not a happy wife and mother—if I had no little namesake here—if
Alfred, my kind brother, were not your own fond husband—from whence could
I derive the ecstasy I feel to-night!  But, as I left here, so I have
returned.  My heart has known no other love, my hand has never been
bestowed apart from it.  I am still your maiden sister, unmarried,
unbetrothed: your own loving old Marion, in whose affection you exist
alone and have no partner, Grace!’

She understood her now.  Her face relaxed: sobs came to her relief; and
falling on her neck, she wept and wept, and fondled her as if she were a
child again.

When they were more composed, they found that the Doctor, and his sister
good Aunt Martha, were standing near at hand, with Alfred.

‘This is a weary day for me,’ said good Aunt Martha, smiling through her
tears, as she embraced her nieces; ‘for I lose my dear companion in
making you all happy; and what can you give me, in return for my Marion?’

‘A converted brother,’ said the Doctor.

‘That’s something, to be sure,’ retorted Aunt Martha, ‘in such a farce
as—’

‘No, pray don’t,’ said the doctor penitently.

‘Well, I won’t,’ replied Aunt Martha.  ‘But, I consider myself ill used.
I don’t know what’s to become of me without my Marion, after we have
lived together half-a-dozen years.’

‘You must come and live here, I suppose,’ replied the Doctor.  ‘We shan’t
quarrel now, Martha.’

‘Or you must get married, Aunt,’ said Alfred.

‘Indeed,’ returned the old lady, ‘I think it might be a good speculation
if I were to set my cap at Michael Warden, who, I hear, is come home much
the better for his absence in all respects.  But as I knew him when he
was a boy, and I was not a very young woman then, perhaps he mightn’t
respond.  So I’ll make up my mind to go and live with Marion, when she
marries, and until then (it will not be very long, I dare say) to live
alone.  What do _you_ say, Brother?’

‘I’ve a great mind to say it’s a ridiculous world altogether, and there’s
nothing serious in it,’ observed the poor old Doctor.

‘You might take twenty affidavits of it if you chose, Anthony,’ said his
sister; ‘but nobody would believe you with such eyes as those.’

‘It’s a world full of hearts,’ said the Doctor, hugging his youngest
daughter, and bending across her to hug Grace—for he couldn’t separate
the sisters; ‘and a serious world, with all its folly—even with mine,
which was enough to have swamped the whole globe; and it is a world on
which the sun never rises, but it looks upon a thousand bloodless battles
that are some set-off against the miseries and wickedness of
Battle-Fields; and it is a world we need be careful how we libel, Heaven
forgive us, for it is a world of sacred mysteries, and its Creator only
knows what lies beneath the surface of His lightest image!’

                                * * * * *

You would not be the better pleased with my rude pen, if it dissected and
laid open to your view the transports of this family, long severed and
now reunited.  Therefore, I will not follow the poor Doctor through his
humbled recollection of the sorrow he had had, when Marion was lost to
him; nor, will I tell how serious he had found that world to be, in which
some love, deep-anchored, is the portion of all human creatures; nor, how
such a trifle as the absence of one little unit in the great absurd
account, had stricken him to the ground.  Nor, how, in compassion for his
distress, his sister had, long ago, revealed the truth to him by slow
degrees, and brought him to the knowledge of the heart of his
self-banished daughter, and to that daughter’s side.

Nor, how Alfred Heathfield had been told the truth, too, in the course of
that then current year; and Marion had seen him, and had promised him, as
her brother, that on her birth-day, in the evening, Grace should know it
from her lips at last.

‘I beg your pardon, Doctor,’ said Mr. Snitchey, looking into the orchard,
‘but have I liberty to come in?’

Without waiting for permission, he came straight to Marion, and kissed
her hand, quite joyfully.

‘If Mr. Craggs had been alive, my dear Miss Marion,’ said Mr. Snitchey,
‘he would have had great interest in this occasion.  It might have
suggested to him, Mr. Alfred, that our life is not too easy perhaps:
that, taken altogether, it will bear any little smoothing we can give it;
but Mr. Craggs was a man who could endure to be convinced, sir.  He was
always open to conviction.  If he were open to conviction, now, I—this is
weakness.  Mrs. Snitchey, my dear,’—at his summons that lady appeared
from behind the door, ‘you are among old friends.’

Mrs. Snitchey having delivered her congratulations, took her husband
aside.

‘One moment, Mr. Snitchey,’ said that lady.  ‘It is not in my nature to
rake up the ashes of the departed.’

‘No, my dear,’ returned her husband.

‘Mr. Craggs is—’

‘Yes, my dear, he is deceased,’ said Snitchey.

‘But I ask you if you recollect,’ pursued his wife, ‘that evening of the
ball?  I only ask you that.  If you do; and if your memory has not
entirely failed you, Mr. Snitchey; and if you are not absolutely in your
dotage; I ask you to connect this time with that—to remember how I begged
and prayed you, on my knees—’

‘Upon your knees, my dear?’ said Mr. Snitchey.

‘Yes,’ said Mrs. Snitchey, confidently, ‘and you know it—to beware of
that man—to observe his eye—and now to tell me whether I was right, and
whether at that moment he knew secrets which he didn’t choose to tell.’

‘Mrs. Snitchey,’ returned her husband, in her ear, ‘Madam.  Did you ever
observe anything in _my_ eye?’

‘No,’ said Mrs. Snitchey, sharply.  ‘Don’t flatter yourself.’

‘Because, Madam, that night,’ he continued, twitching her by the sleeve,
‘it happens that we both knew secrets which we didn’t choose to tell, and
both knew just the same professionally.  And so the less you say about
such things the better, Mrs. Snitchey; and take this as a warning to have
wiser and more charitable eyes another time.  Miss Marion, I brought a
friend of yours along with me.  Here!  Mistress!’

Poor Clemency, with her apron to her eyes, came slowly in, escorted by
her husband; the latter doleful with the presentiment, that if she
abandoned herself to grief, the Nutmeg-Grater was done for.

‘Now, Mistress,’ said the lawyer, checking Marion as she ran towards her,
and interposing himself between them, ‘what’s the matter with _you_?’

‘The matter!’ cried poor Clemency.—When, looking up in wonder, and in
indignant remonstrance, and in the added emotion of a great roar from Mr.
Britain, and seeing that sweet face so well remembered close before her,
she stared, sobbed, laughed, cried, screamed, embraced her, held her
fast, released her, fell on Mr. Snitchey and embraced him (much to Mrs.
Snitchey’s indignation), fell on the Doctor and embraced him, fell on Mr.
Britain and embraced him, and concluded by embracing herself, throwing
her apron over her head, and going into hysterics behind it.

A stranger had come into the orchard, after Mr. Snitchey, and had
remained apart, near the gate, without being observed by any of the
group; for they had little spare attention to bestow, and that had been
monopolised by the ecstasies of Clemency.  He did not appear to wish to
be observed, but stood alone, with downcast eyes; and there was an air of
dejection about him (though he was a gentleman of a gallant appearance)
which the general happiness rendered more remarkable.

None but the quick eyes of Aunt Martha, however, remarked him at all;
but, almost as soon as she espied him, she was in conversation with him.
Presently, going to where Marion stood with Grace and her little
namesake, she whispered something in Marion’s ear, at which she started,
and appeared surprised; but soon recovering from her confusion, she
timidly approached the stranger, in Aunt Martha’s company, and engaged in
conversation with him too.

‘Mr. Britain,’ said the lawyer, putting his hand in his pocket, and
bringing out a legal-looking document, while this was going on, ‘I
congratulate you.  You are now the whole and sole proprietor of that
freehold tenement, at present occupied and held by yourself as a licensed
tavern, or house of public entertainment, and commonly called or known by
the sign of the Nutmeg-Grater.  Your wife lost one house, through my
client Mr. Michael Warden; and now gains another.  I shall have the
pleasure of canvassing you for the county, one of these fine mornings.’

‘Would it make any difference in the vote if the sign was altered, sir?’
asked Britain.

‘Not in the least,’ replied the lawyer.

‘Then,’ said Mr. Britain, handing him back the conveyance, ‘just clap in
the words, “and Thimble,” will you be so good; and I’ll have the two
mottoes painted up in the parlour instead of my wife’s portrait.’

‘And let me,’ said a voice behind them; it was the stranger’s—Michael
Warden’s; ‘let me claim the benefit of those inscriptions.  Mr.
Heathfield and Dr. Jeddler, I might have deeply wronged you both.  That I
did not, is no virtue of my own.  I will not say that I am six years
wiser than I was, or better.  But I have known, at any rate, that term of
self-reproach.  I can urge no reason why you should deal gently with me.
I abused the hospitality of this house; and learnt by my own demerits,
with a shame I never have forgotten, yet with some profit too, I would
fain hope, from one,’ he glanced at Marion, ‘to whom I made my humble
supplication for forgiveness, when I knew her merit and my deep
unworthiness.  In a few days I shall quit this place for ever.  I entreat
your pardon.  Do as you would be done by!  Forget and Forgive!’

                                * * * * *

TIME—from whom I had the latter portion of this story, and with whom I
have the pleasure of a personal acquaintance of some five-and-thirty
years’ duration—informed me, leaning easily upon his scythe, that Michael
Warden never went away again, and never sold his house, but opened it
afresh, maintained a golden means of hospitality, and had a wife, the
pride and honour of that countryside, whose name was Marion.  But, as I
have observed that Time confuses facts occasionally, I hardly know what
weight to give to his authority.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Battle of Life" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home