Esther West (6)

Home Up Poems by Isa Duchess Agnes Songs of Consolation Poems: a Miscellany The Argosy (1866) Tales on the Parables Tales on The Parables Poetry Reviews Cotton Famine Round the Court Peggy Oglivie Fanny's Fortune A Heroine of Home Little Folk's History Deepdale Vicarage Miscellanea Main Index Site Search
 


 

[Previous Page]



CHAPTER XXXVII.

PHILIP'S HURT.


"STAY where you are, mother," cried Mr. Carrington there is no danger whatever."  Esther had alighted unassisted, and was about to help her to descend the steps of the carriage, under the apprehension that an accident had occurred.

    An accident had occurred, but not to the carriage, about which Mrs. Carrington was solicitous.  The old lady resumed her seat, and called to her son, "Is there anything wrong?"

    It was the coachman who made the answer: "It's only a man knocked down, ma'am."

    Mr. Carrington was at that moment engaged, along with the footman, in lifting the prostrate form, while Esther, coming forward, uttered a suppressed cry.

    "Had you not better come away, Benjamin?" exclaimed the old lady, again thrusting out her head impatiently.

    But Benjamin neither heard nor heeded.

    "Carry him into my mother's house," Esther had said; and Mr. Carrington and the footman followed her with the insensible Philip, while she led the way thither.

    They set him on the little sofa in the parlour, and Mary, who had thrown aside a heap of homely needlework, was swift to bring a pillow and lay him down there.  It was not long before he came to himself sufficiently to open his eyes and try to raise himself and to speak.

    It was a curious group on which Philip opened his eyes.  There stood Mary Potter at his feet, and beside her an elegant-looking young man in evening dress.  By his side knelt Esther in the same gay attire, and in the background hovered the footman, not knowing what to make of the scene before him, but waiting his master's orders with his air of accustomed formal seriousness.  Philip contrived to raise himself, but it was with a groan that he did so; and as he uttered it, a red stream burst from his death-pale lips.  Nearly as pale as himself, Esther held her white handkerchief to them for a moment, till he took it from her hand.  He did not thank her; but his eyes rested on her lovingly, and they had a wonderful power of expressing loving kindness.

    "Where are you hurt?" said Mr. Carrington, gently.

    "Here," he replied, faintly, laying his other hand on his side.

    "Can you tell me where to find the nearest surgeon?" said Mr. Carrington, turning to Mary.

    "Take me to the hospital," said Philip, now fully roused; "I have no one to care for me."

    "We all care for you," said Mary.  "We will not let you go."

    "If he is able, it is the best thing that he could do," said Mr. Carrington.

    Philip rose to his feet.  "I am quite able; it is all here," he said, still holding his side.

    "Some of the ribs are broken," said Mr. Carrington, after having felt within Philip's vest.

    To Esther it sounded very dreadful, and she gave a pitiful sob.

    "Drive your mistress home," said Mr. Carrington, turning the footman; "and come back here for me as quickly as possible."  Then, taking further thought, he followed the man out of the house.  It was more than likely that his mother might refuse to go on without him.

    He hastened up to the carriage window, and Mrs. Carrington burst forth impatiently, "I thought you were never corning back.  I am perishing with cold sitting here."

    "I am sorry you have been kept waiting, mother," he said, gently.  "You can drive home now, and send the carriage back for me."

    "Are you not coming with me?" she exclaimed, in astonishment.

    "I must stay and look after this poor man a little," he replied.

    "Can't the police look after him?" she rejoined.  "He is very likely tipsy—these sort of people always are.  What was he doing out at this time of night?"

    "He is not tipsy, mother; and he has been hurt in trying to do us a service," he answered, patiently.  He was too much accustomed to her to notice her unreasonableness.

    "How did it happen?" she asked.  "What was Reynolds about?"

    "I will tell you another time, mother," he replied; and this time with an impatient gesture.  "Drive on."

    This last was addressed to the coachman, and, waving his hand, the carriage moved off, and Mrs. Carrington resigned herself to her corner, and to mental animadversions on "that Quixotic boy," as she had more than once called her son.

    To tell how it happened we must go back to the earlier part of the evening; when Philip left his home, and followed through the snow the strange woman who had stood before the Potters' parlour-window with a gesture of menace.

    The falling snow was bewildering; the movements of the woman were bewildering too.  Philip followed her to the bridge, and saw her lean over the parapet and look down into the river.  It was a strange night to choose for outdoor meditation; on another kind of evening he could have understood it.  He passed, and repassed, and would have spoken, but that his spirit was too sore to bear the repulse which certainly awaited him, too sore to bear repulsion from the meanest of his kind.

    Then, as if scared by the passers-by, of whom there were still a few, she abruptly quitted the bridge, and hastened along the side of the river.  There was very little to be distinguished in that maze of snow-drift, even close at hand, and nothing at all at a little distance, and not wishing to appear to watch her too closely, he allowed her to pass out of sight, and awaited her return.  That she must return he knew, for the path along the river-bank ceased at a certain point.  After waiting for a while, he followed with a quickened pace; but the woman was gone.  She must have escaped past him in the darkness on the other side of the way: except the river, there was no other outlet.

    Then he became absorbed in his own troubles.  The blackness closed over his soul; the horrid cruelties of sin assailed his shrinking spirit.  He could not utter a cry for pity to the pitiless heaven above him, to the horror of great darkness around him.

    He stood still by the river-brink.  Not a sound came up from the blackness.  There was a light mid-way in the stream, whose faint dismal reflection only served to show how black it was beneath, above, on every side.  Some barge was floating down with the tide.  Then another light moved towards where he stood, no doubt the policeman on his beat.

    Suddenly there was a splash, and the light on the shore disappeared.  Philip ran in the direction of the sound, and gave notice of his coming by a cry.

    He was answered from the foot of a flight of steps that led down to the river's brink, and which he had passed in the darkness—the steps of an immemorial ferry, which still plied over the busy stream.  A policeman's lantern guided and a policeman's voice called out for his aid.  It was here that the woman had disappeared.  She was now struggling doggedly but silently with her rescuer.

    "Give me a hand with this woman here, will you?" he cried.

    Philip descended, and helped to drag her up upon the bank.

    "A nice mess you've made of it," said the man, savagely, and shaking the water from his nether garments by stamping violently.  "You took care to choose a place where there wasn't enough water to drown a cat, you—"  He didn't say what, which was just as well perhaps.  "Givin' a fellow a wetting enough to make him ketch his death, fishing you out again, all for nothink."  He seemed quite to resent the fact of her safety.  "Let me see you," he said, flashing his bull's-eye on the forlorn figure, over which Philip's heart was yearning with his chivalrous Christian tenderness.  He had expected to see a younger woman, as also had Philip, whose recognition of Mrs. Wiggett was instantaneous, in spite of her present plight and absence from all that he could associate with her.  Her name burst from his lips in astonishment.

    "You know her, do you?" said the policeman, turning to Philip.

    "What are you doing here?" asked the latter, in his turn.  No answer.

    "I believe she has gone out of her mind," he whispered to the policeman.  "I know her for an honest man's wife, and will take charge of her, if you like."

    "Honest man's wife or no, she must come along to the station with me," replied the policeman.

    "No, no!" shrieked the woman, struggling as he took hold of her to lead her away.

    The cry went to Philip's heart, as did every cry of distress he ever heard.  "I will take her home," he pleaded.

    "No, I'm 'sponsibl.e for her now," answered the man more civilly.  "I wouldn't be doing my duty if I let her go.  She might try it on again."

    Philip felt that this was true, and urged him no further, "I will go and let her husband know," said he.

    "Don't tell him!" she cried.  "Let him take me, but don't tell Timothy."

    Philip was more than ever convinced that Mrs. Wiggett had gone out of her mind, and in that condition had run away from home.

    Dark and bitter as the night was, he resolved to take the train to the nearest station, and warn the good gardener of his wife's fate.

    The snow had ceased to fall, and the stars were out in the frosty sky, as Philip walked from the station to Hurst, and walked back again, almost immediately, with Mr. Wiggett, silent and sorrowful, by his side.  It was midnight before they reached London, and Philip left his companion, as he seemed to desire, and hastened home.  As he crossed the road to enter the court, a carriage drew up just before him.  In stopping, the horse slipped on the ice, and fell.  It was Philip who helped to raise it.  But just as it got on its feet the horse made a sudden start forward, and one of the shafts of the carriage struck him on the chest and knocked him down, and, before it could be backed sufficiently, the still startled animal had planted a foot on the prostrate form, and Philip became insensible.


 
CHAPTER XXXVIII.

IN THE HOSPITAL.


"IT is the best thing he can do," repeated Mr Carrington, when he returned and found the injured man bent on going to the hospital.  "My mother's carriage will return in a few minutes.  I will take you there myself," he added, turning to Philip.  "I am a governor, or something of that sort, I believe, of St. George's, and I happen to know the house surgeon there."

    Philip expressed his thanks.  He lay on the sofa in great pain, but with an expression of perfect sweetness on his pallid face.  The cloud was lifted from his spirit.  The bodily suffering had chased it quite away, and restored the inward peace, which made it triumphant over pain.  He had already lost sight of the accident, and had yielded himself through the mystery of suffering into the hands of his Father in heaven.

    "You will let one of the boys," he said to Mary, speaking with difficulty, "you will let one of the boys go to my place to-morrow, and let them know what has happened."

    She promised that it should be as he wished.  Bob should go in the morning, as he went to his work.

    "Is there anything that I can do?" asked Mr. Carrington, eagerly.

    Philip shook his head, and thanked him.

    "This will throw you out of work, will it not?"  He was about to say that he would gladly compensate him for the money lost, but something checked him.  A whisper from Esther had sufficed to let him know who Philip was.  He remembered her enthusiastic account of him two years ago.  In his present state of mind, it would probably have prejudiced him against Philip but that there was something in the latter which attracted him powerfully.

    "My people will take me on again as soon as I am able to work," was the reply.

    "Have you any friends with whom I could communicate?" asked Mr. Carrington again.

    Once more Philip shook his head, this time somewhat sadly, and Mary answered for him: "Mr. Ward has no relations."

    There was nothing to be done but to wait for the coming of the carriage, and they passed the rest of the time almost in silence.  Esther had performed a slight ceremony of introduction between Mr. Carrington and her mother; but they were all suffering from the shock of the accident, and the silence was less embarrassing than it would otherwise have been.  Philip, indeed, seemed the least concerned among them.

    At length the carriage arrived.  Philip held out his hand to Mary, and said, "Good-bye;" then he turned to Esther, who held out her hand to him.  He took it, and retained it in his for a moment.  "I may not get over this," he said.  "If you hear that I am dying, will you come and see me—let me see you—for the last time?"

    In great suffering the body often seems to become more transparent.  Philip's look at that moment was transparent enough.  Mr. Carrington managed to slip into the background.

    "I will—I will," said Esther, bursting into tears.  "It is all my fault that you are hurt.  If I had not gone out is evening it would not have happened.  What had I to do with the gaieties of the world any more—?"

    "Hush!" he said, gently patting her as one might a child, and leaving her weeping on her mother's shoulder.  Carrington had no opportunity of saying good-night, even, he only bowed to Mary as he passed over the narrow threshold, saying to Philip, "Take my arm," and leading him to the carriage.

    They were soon at the hospital, and obtained without delay an interview with the house surgeon, who found on examination that Philip was suffering from the fracture of two of his ribs, and an injury to the lungs, which was the cause of the hæmorrhage.  He was admitted at once, and almost immediately conducted to a small surgical ward, undressed, and put to bed, and the necessary remedies applied with wonderful celerity.  Mr. Carrington did not leave the hospital till he had seen him comfortably settled for the night.

    "Thank you for all your kindness," said Philip, holding out his hand to Carrington—a hand which the latter noticed was hardened and distorted by labour, and not, to his fastidious eyes, too clean.  The engrained soil of his smithy work was not easily washed off.

    "You have very little to thank me for," replied Carrington; "but I hope you are comfortable for the night."

    "I am quite happy," murmured Philip, dreamily.  And then rousing himself a little, he added, "If you only knew how happy!  I had lost my hold on life and peace, and through this suffering I have found it again.  If you know what I had lost, you will know that I welcome the pain through which God has seen fit to restore me."

    If he had been talking Sanscrit he could not have been more unintelligible than he was to Benjamin Carrington; but the latter felt that this man was speaking of a reality as great and palpable as life itself, if he could have entered into it.  He had known no living soul with this spirit of life in it.  But receiving a warning from the attendant, he said simply, "I will come and see you to-morrow," and withdrew.

    On the way home his thoughts reverted to Esther.  He longed to take her out of those surroundings, which seemed to him, in spite of himself, intolerably mean and poor.  In spite of himself, for he both professed and desired to judge differently, and to despise the judgment of the world in which he moved, whose standards of life and happiness were things of outward circumstance.  And yet he was the very slave of them.  He had seen plainly enough on Philip's transparent face the look of tender and passionate admiration, but he had felt no jealousy.  It seemed quite natural that he should feel thus towards her.  He, Benjamin Carrington, was too generous to think it a presumption on Philip's part.  It seemed quite natural, too, that Esther should compassionate the poor fellow—that she should shed tears at the thought of his dying of his hurt.  He loved her all the more for those tears.  But as for her loving Philip, the idea never entered his head; and in his present state of mind, in spite of his generosity, in spite of his theories of equality, he would have recoiled from it as a species of degradation; so potent is prejudice, the prejudice that is sucked in with the mother's milk.  He was quite capable of reasoning differently; quite capable of admiring Philip's noble and beautiful character, even to his own depreciation; quite capable of saying to himself, "What a miserable fellow I, Benjamin Carrington, am, compared with this man."  But at present he was not reasoning, but feeling, and feeling very pleasantly too.  He indulged all the way home in a delightful dream of the future, in which he was lavishing upon his beautiful Esther all the good things which philosophically he held so lightly.  He fought his way to high position, and shared it with her; to unbounded wealth, of which she was the joint administrator; to social distinction, of which she was the adornment and the centre.  He felt himself glowing with a new energy under the stimulus of his dreams, and the new energy and delight increased the ardour of his love.  In this frame of spirit he came home to find his lady mother in her most querulous mood.

    "How late you are!" she exclaimed on seeing him; "I am quite worn out sitting up for you."

    "Why did you not go to bed at once?  I am sorry you have tired yourself," he answered, kindly.

    "I could not go to bed till I knew that you were safe," she rejoined.

    "Safe!" he exclaimed, laughing; "I have not been in danger."

    "You never know what danger you may be in with characters like those."

    Mr. Carrington knew that his mother would persist in supposing that Philip was some sort of a highwayman, and that there was no use in arguing the point with her.

    "What has detained you all this while?" she asked, in an injured tone.

    "I took the poor fellow to the hospital," he replied.

    "Not in the carriage, I hope!" she exclaimed, with real horror.

    "Why not?  He is a most respectable young workman, whom we may have injured for life unknowingly," replied her son.

    "How could you do such a thing?" the old lady burst forth, indignantly.  "A man picked up off the street!  Why I shall have to send it away at once to be cleaned.  I can never use it again."

    "Mother, I fancy it has never been so highly honoured, and may never be again," he replied, in a gentle voice.  But seeing that she whom he addressed was very like to cry over her spoilt carriage, he began to soothe her with commonplaces.

    When he left her for the night his bright dreams had faded as by magic.  The hard cynicism, which seemed impossible an hour ago, had crept over him.  Life lay 'before him, dull, meaningless—a mockery.


 
CHAPTER XXXIX.

TIMOTHY'S TROUBLE.


HAVING spent the night in confinement, Mrs. Sarah Wiggett was brought up the next morning, before the police magistrate of the district, charged with having attempted to commit suicide.  The unhappy creature had spent the night in sleepless misery.  Her ill-regulated mind would not allow her to think of the doom she had escaped and all its awful consequences; she only lamented that she had been unable to carry out her purpose.  The thought of her husband would present itself, but only to torment her.  "What am I but a curse to him?" she wailed, in her cell.  "Why was I ever born?  Why was I not permitted to die?"

    Timothy, too, had spent a sleepless night.  He had walked up and down before the station-house for more than an hour, and then he had betaken himself to a public house on the other side of the street, where "beds" were advertised, and had hired one for the night, but without the least intention of occupying it.  He made sure that the bedroom was to the front of the house, and then taking possession of it, he locked the door, put out the light, and sat down at the window without so much as taking off his hat.  He had a stout walking-stick with him, and grasping it with both his hands, he bent his broad back and leant his chin upon them.  It was an attitude of dogged determination—determination to suffer and make no sign.  From where he sat he could see the lamps which lighted the station, and from the building he hardly ever lifted his eyes all night long.  He never lifted them, but they sometimes closed in spite of him, and he would nod forward on his stick, and fix them more resolutely than before.  What passed through his mind that night was not wholly articulate.  Under the like circumstances it would hardly have been so with a mind much more accustomed to consequent trains of thought than his.  A dumb sense of shame and misery pressed upon him.

    Morning came, it seemed to him quite swiftly, and before he was prepared to meet it.  His thoughts became more clear to him.  Close at hand was the (to him) terrible ordeal of appearing in court, of undergoing an examination.  The big brown man's sensitive and shy nature felt as outraged in anticipation as any woman's about to be exposed to some public shame.  He had no manner of doubt that every incident of his life would be revealed.  He had married another man's wife while that man was still living; it would be brought up against him without doubt.  His awe of the tribunals of his country was of the same kind—only a great deal more definite and real—as the awe with which he had been taught to regard the judgment-seat of God, and it is to be feared that he applied to the latter the same arbitrary and legal procedure which ruled in the former, and which was something quite apart from ordinary human justice.

    At length he found himself in the court-house, among the set of ragamuffins who usually assemble there, friends and companions of the drunken and disorderly crew who, day after day, appear before the magistrates of a London district court.  He took his seat among them, stared at for his superior respectability, his neighbours, no doubt, speculating on the chance he would have afforded them, under any other circumstance, of relieving him of the bulky pocket-book which generally accompanies men of his build and appearance.  Several cases came on, and were disposed of, the only one which roused Timothy's attention being a case of wife-beating, in which a miserable-looking little woman was dragged up against a great hulking fellow, only to plead for him that it was all a mistake, that he was drunk when he gave her the blow which had disfigured her poor face, and that he was the best of husbands when sober—which she did not add he hardly ever was.  As the man went out of court, having entered into his own recognisances to keep the peace, Timothy made a face at him which would have justified the magistrate in holding him to the same, and groaned out, "Scoundrel!" between his teeth.

    The next case was his own.  There was his wife, led forward by a policeman, kindly enough, and yet to see him touch her arm made the strong man shiver.  He rose in his place, thereby directing attention to himself as connected with the case.  Then he sat down again, stretching out his arms on the bench before him, and taking up the room of three men.  Those about him would have been rude, but seeing he was "in it," they cheerfully gave way to him.  His wife had not seen him, and her back was turned towards him now.  But a lock of disordered grey hair fell from under her bonnet, and caused Timothy's big heart to heave with a hardly suppressed sob.  Then he frowned heavily, and sat looking as lowering and furtive as if he had committed some horrible crime.  The policeman gave his evidence clearly.  He had seen her loitering about the bridge; then he had missed her, and happening to pass a flight of steps leading down to the river, but without thinking of her, he had directed his lantern that way; it was his custom as he passed the place, which was often occupied on fine nights by young vagrants.  Just then she flung herself in.  The tide was low—at its lowest ebb—otherwise she might have been drowned—might have struck her head on the covered steps, and been floated away insensible.  There wasn't water to drown her then, but she had struggled to get away and go further in; seemed very determined; did not appear to be in drink.  Met a young man who seemed to know her, and who thought she was a little wrong; and the policeman touched his forehead significantly.

    The magistrate then asked if there was any evidence to show what had led her to make such a determined attempt on her life, and spoke a few words to her on the culpability of the act, from the consequences of which she had been mercifully saved.  But Sarah Wiggett did not answer, and the magistrate was about to remand her, when the policeman, to whom Timothy had spoken the night before, informed him that the woman's husband was in court.  Timothy stood up in his place, ready to brave the worst.

    The magistrate looked at him sternly.  He was accustomed to brutal husbands, and he thought, "Very likely, though he belongs to a higher class than that last wretched wife-beater, he has driven this poor woman mad with his cruelty."  Everybody began to look at Timothy sternly, and certainly he looked black enough to justify their suspicions.  His face was drawn into a dreadful frown, the effect of perplexity and suppressed emotion, the corners of his large mouth went down almost to his cravat, and his colour was nearly purple.

    The magistrate asked him to come forward.  He obeyed, sullenly it seemed.  He answered one or two simple questions in the same manner.  Sarah had covered her face with her hands as soon as she heard his name, but at length she could bear it no longer.  "Oh, Timothy! what have I done?" she cried.

    Timothy's face got darker and more dreadful than ever, quite murderous looking, and suddenly it relaxed, and the great tears rolled down his cheeks.  "My poor Sally! what made ye do such a thing as this?"

    "Are you willing to take charge of your wife?" asked the magistrate, more gently.  "She must be looked after, and treated with great consideration and kindness."

    "Who said he has ever treated me with anything but kindness?" burst forth the little woman, turning on the magistrate defiantly.  "He's the best and kindest husband that ever lived, and I've been nothing but a trouble to him all my life."

    "Well, well, my good woman; be calm now, and go home and do better for the future."

    Here the policeman whispered Timothy to thank his worship, and take his wife away; which he did, holding her by the hand as if she had been a child, and only breathing freely when he found himself once more in the open air.

    None of his fears had been realised, and so far he was thankful enough; but a feeling of having been disgraced clung to him—a feeling of having been driven out of the paradise of respectability.  They were in the street together.  He thought everybody looked at them; and probably they did, for the big man still held his small wife's hand, and both looked agitated and disordered.  He hailed the first cab that came up, and they got into it and were driven to the station.  But Sarah did not sit by her husband's side.  In spite of his entreaties, she crouched down at his feet, and wept there.

    "Let me alone," she cried; "I am better here; this will do me good."

    "But it is doing me harm, Sally.  If you go on like this I'll never get over it.  We must keep up appearances."

    And to this argument Sarah Wiggett rose and sat beside her husband, and made an attempt to look as if nothing had happened, and so to put on the outward show of unimpeached and unimpeachable respectability.  And she in this succeeded better than Timothy did.  His brow would gloom, and the corners of his mouth would droop persistently into the expression of what he felt himself to be—a man broken down and disgraced.  Sarah knew how heavy the trouble must be which weighed down a spirit so happy as his, and the knowledge filled her with wholesome remorse—wholesome, for it took her out of herself, and from the contemplation of her own sufferings, and thus broke the bonds of selfish misery which had bound her.  As she glanced at him from time to time she became more and more rational and subdued.

    At the station she went into a waiting-room to arrange her dress and to gain a few minutes' time to think.  What a ghastly face it was which confronted her in the mirror, all the more ghastly for the cheeks, which looked painted with their hectic flush!  Still, according to Timothy's wish, she made the best of herself, like any ordinary happy woman.  And all the while Timothy stood, like a sentinel at his post, outside the waiting-room door.  He evidently did not like to lose sight of her; she was a charge committed to him.  He felt a dim sense of some awful responsibility resting upon him.

    When she came out, looking quite calm and respectable, with a veil down over the haggard face, he handed her into the refreshment-room, and they had a cup of tea together.  It was the first time either of them had broken their fast that day.  There had been very little said by either since the time when they first entered the cab.  There lay between them the one unapproachable subject—unapproachable at least to one of them—the cause of all their misery.  Not a word did Timothy say about it, not a word did he intend to say, come what would.  But Sarah had made up her mind to speak, and put an end to it.

    "Timothy," she began, as soon as they stood upon the platform, "hadn't you better send me away at once?"

    "Away—where?" he asked, bewildered, his mind working slowly round to her meaning afterwards.

    "Your house isn't the place for me any more," she said, sadly.

    "As long as I have a house it's your place, Sally," he replied, evasively.

    "You know what I mean," she rejoined, with something of her old impatience.  "I have no right to be there, and you know it."

    He would not look at her, he would not appear to understand.

    She came very close to him, and stood on tiptoe as she hissed rather than whispered, "You know you met Ned Brown yesterday."

    He started.  "Then you know, too, and that's what's done it."  He meant that it had driven her to make the attempt to drown herself.

    She was silent.

    "Sally," he said, sorrowfully, "it was hard on me, you doin' it.  If you couldn't trust in the Lord, you might have trusted in me; and if you had trusted in me, you would have been able to trust in Him."  He said it in all reverence.  It was, perhaps, the first pious utterance of his life, and, strange as it sounded, it was profoundly true.  He was doing his best to teach her that higher trust by making the lower easy to her dwarfed and stunted nature.

    "I've had no peace day or night ever since I heard that false report of Ned's death.  But for this I might have been a different woman;" and she wrung her hands together beneath the folds of her cloak.  "I promise never to try that again for your sake," she added.  "But you'll let me go now; I'll get my own bread quietly somewhere or other and I'll try to be a better woman."

    "Come along home, Sally," said Timothy, hoarsely.  "That's our train there."

    "I'll come to serve you, Timothy," she replied, whisper, and added, "it's more than I deserve."


 
CHAPTER XL.

A DISCUSSION.


WHEN Mr. Carrington met his mother at the breakfast-table in the morning, it was evident that she had not recovered from her annoyance about the carriage.  She was inclined to be fretful and displeased.  But her son was not, on that particular morning—as sometimes happens even with the best of sons—in the mood to put up with her displeasure; and, fortunately, she knew when and where to stop.  When he was going he said, simply, and without any introduction of the subject—

    "Mother, I wish you would call upon Miss—" he hesitated at the name a moment, and then repeated, firmly—"Miss Potter to-day."  The old lady elevated her eyebrows.  "She was very much agitated by last night's accident," he added.

    "Very well," replied Mrs. Carrington, in her usual tone.  And she meant to do what he requested.  She had every confidence in her own ability to conduct herself in any situation requiring difficult social tactics.  Besides, she was not quite sure that she did not admire Esther sufficiently to covet her for a daughter after all.  If the thing was impossible, owing to Esther's relations, she had only to let matters take their course; a little obstacle here and another there would be quite sufficient.  A vulgar mother-in-law in prospect might be suffered to cross his path and deter him; and then Constance, clever, cultivated, and refined, could be kept at hand to help to wean him—Constance, whom the old lady half suspected of an affection for her son, though it was well veiled in the frankness of an old friendship far better veiled than it would have been by any amount of assumed coldness and reserve.

    Benjamin Carrington passed the day in the ordinary routine of his profession, but he bent his steps westward at an unusually early hour, and took his way to St. George's Hospital.  His mood was the listless and dreary one which had prevailed with him of late.  Life seemed quite devoid of sweetness and of joy to this young man, on whom every good gift of nature and of fortune appeared to have been lavished.  In that mood of his nothing seemed worth doing, nothing worth gaining in the universe.

    The scene Benjamin Carrington was about to enter was not one calculated to raise his spirits.  Our cynic could not bear the sight of suffering, and there it was, concentrated in its most palpable and horrible shape; in bruised, and broken, and prostrate human forms.  Philip had been put into a small ward devoted to surgical cases, and these chiefly accidental.  There were one or two broken legs and a broken arm, an amputation being necessary in one case, and disablement for life impending in another; while in the next bed lay a little lad who had been badly burnt about the face and neck, and whose mournful eyes looked out of the midst of the dismal white bandages which still swathed the rest of his countenance.  It is strange how sad human eyes are apart from the rest of the face, sad as the eyes of the beasts, that are always pleading or reproachful.

    Carrington made his way to Philip's side without looking round.  The latter, lying comparatively at ease, saw him enter the ward, and his pale face lighted up with its brilliant smile as his visitor drew near.  Carrington looked by far the most melancholy of the two, as he stepped up to the bed and asked after the welfare of its occupant.

    "I hope you are not suffering much," he said.

    "Not much," answered Philip, with another smile.

    "Are you comfortable here?" asked Carrington, sitting down beside him and glancing round with a shudder.

    "Quite," was the answer—"quite happy."

    Carrington looked at him in amazement.  It seemed simply incredible that this man should be happy.  It was probably a misuse of language.  But no, the beaming look told of a fullness of content such as he had never known.

    "I wish I knew the secret," said Carrington, half to himself.

    "It is easily learnt," replied Philip; "live by faith."

    "Fanaticism," thought his listener.  "Well; if it makes him happy, it is all right, poor fellow."

    "You must not speak much, I suppose," he said aloud.  "I shall come and see you again and we will talk it over."

    "I can speak, if you can hear," said Philip, eagerly.  "I know what you are thinking."

    "What am I thinking?"

    "You are thinking that I am only indulging in a very pleasant dream, which you would not disturb for the world."

    "You have guessed pretty closely," said Carrington; "I like to keep hold of the facts of a case."

    "Well, my happiness is a fact; just as much a fact as my pain, and poverty, and friendlessness."

    "I admit that," said Carrington, entering into the disquisition with warmth; "it is the foundation of it I question.  It is grounded on some future hope which may prove—"

    "Only a dream," said Philip, concluding the sentence for him; and adding earnestly, "no; it is grounded on a present reality—on the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

    The face of his listener expressed, along with a yearning desire to enter into sympathy with the words of the speaker, the utter blank of inability to do so.

    "You go far to convince one of the reality of this life of faith," he said, "since you hold fast to it in the face of such facts as your present experience furnishes; but could you not imagine a depth of wretchedness in which you would lose hold of it?"

    "No, and yet yes," Philip answered.  "I had lost it; but not on account of pain or wretchedness.  This present suffering of mine restored me to it.  God does not forsake those who put their trust in Him."

    "All things happen alike to all," muttered Carrington.

    "That in itself is a ground of confidence," said Philip.

     "I do not see it," said his visitor.

    "If you cannot trust God for others, you cannot trust Him for yourself."

    "I feel that most strongly," replied Carrington.

    "Look round here," said Philip; "you see nothing but suffering."

    "Does it distress you?" asked his visitor, hastily. "I could not remain here; the mental suffering of witnessing all that goes on here would overpower me; and you shall not remain if you desire to get away from it."

    "It does not distress me," answered Philip; "at least, not as it would distress you, I dare say."  Philip spoke with pauses between his sentences, and the expressive face of Benjamin Carrington showed some disappointment at the last.  He was indeed feeling: "Here is the horrible flaw which I have always found in the few efforts I have made to understand religious people.  Here crops out that dreadful self complacency, contradicting all that has gone before."

    But Philip went on: "I know that every sufferer is in God's hands, even as I am.  If I were not called to suffer with them, I would be called to save them from their sufferings.  I would feel the divine impulse to heal, and help, and save?"

    "But suppose neither you nor they were to be saved from their sufferings?" said Carrington.

    "I can't suppose that," replied Philip.  "If you mean that I might be left, all the while trusting in God, to perish of hunger, or to endure any last extremity of ill, that might very well be; but I should be saved from my suffering all the same, not only when death came to put an end to it, but so long as I could hold on to the belief that it was all consistent with His love."

    "And then?"

    "And then, though unconscious of the fact, I would still be sustained, even to the end; till the great deliverance came."

    "You put the world of faith and the world of fact quite apart, it seems to me."

    "No; they are always together, the one within, the other without us."

    "But what hope for the world have you here?" asked Carrington.

    "Boundless hope!" replied Philip, with kindling eagerness.

    "In what does it lie?"

    "In this: that every soul in which there is this life is bound to communicate it."

    "How?"

    "You know the life of Christ?" Carrington bowed a reverent assent.

    "By living as He lived," rejoined Philip; "I mean actually, not spiritually."

    "It is impossible," said Carrington.

    "Have you tried?"

    Carrington acknowledged that he had not.

    "I think," said Philip, nearly exhausted, and sinking back on his pillow, "that you are like the young man of whom it is written that HE looked on him and loved him."

    But at this point a nurse approached and warned Mr. Carrington that his stay had been sufficiently protracted, and on this he rose and took his leave, promising to come again on the morrow.


 
CHAPTER XLI.

TACTICS TRIUMPHANT.


THE school was rising for dismissal.  Esther stood at the door, while square after square of little ones rose from their seats, fell into single file, and went past her, each with a curtsey, and many with a smile, which showed how much they loved their teacher, and what an influence she had begun to exercise on their childish hearts and ways.  And that teacher had an answering smile for every smile of theirs.  Those fortunate little scholars never knew what it was to encounter a frowning face, which is to children what a sunless, dark, and bitter day is to the growing plants, and which, if turned upon them always, will blight their unformed affections as surely as that will blight the blossoms, and kill the promise of the year.  Grave enough Esther often was over their faults and carelessnesses, but never angry with the sinful, selfish anger which some teachers and some parents show, thereby committing the first and greatest of offences—that against the little ones.  Esther made their school-time a happy time to her little scholars, as Mary had done before her, and consequently her teaching was to her a happy task.  She felt the truth of the poet's lines,—


"All other joys go less,
 To the great joy of doing kindnesses."


And the constant necessity for kindnesses made a refreshing stream pass daily through her life.  The life is sure to be a barren one in which, either from within or from without, such a necessity is not felt or is not satisfied.

    And the day had been a more than usually happy and successful day in the school-room, so that Esther was looking neither sad nor weary when she entered the home parlour, whither Mary had preceded her by half an hour.  It was well that she found such delight in her work, for both cares and trials awaited her at home.  There was the pretty constant pressure of money anxieties, for though the school had prospered beyond expectation, it was still "little to earn," and there were "many to keep."  Her elder brothers helped bravely, and gave up their earnings unmurmuringly to the common fund, but the younger ones were not yet gaining enough for themselves; while the two children were at home with Sarah—the patient, unselfish Sarah, whose services as maid-of-all-work were absolutely necessary.  As for the twins, they held together, and apart from all the rest, more and more.  They doled out a portion of their earnings to their mother, and retained the rest for dress and other purposes of their own.  Day by day they became more selfish and more unlovely, and were often a source of uneasiness to Mary, and of strife in the family, the brothers Martin and Willie especially resenting their conduct.

    And now they were about to suffer the consequences of their ill-temper and selfishness.  They were clever workwomen, and had been more than once retained when others would have been sent away; but Emily had been insufferably impertinent to the head of the establishment in which they now worked for weekly wages, and she had been dismissed on the spot.  In Agnes's department they happened to be more than usually busy, and calculating on the effect which she could produce—she had tried the same thing before, and with success—she also threw up her situation, saying she would not remain if her sister was sent away.  But this time her calculation failed, and the establishment dispensed with the services of both.

    They had remained at home already one whole week, and were likely to remain longer; and that very morning Martin had told them, somewhat harshly, that they would have to pay their board out of the money they had saved, well knowing they had saved nothing.  "If it had been share and share alike with us," said the lad, "it would have been another thing."  Whereupon they had retorted that they were surely to be trusted for a week or two's board and lodging in their mother's house; and that, if not, they knew where they would be, and were quite ready to go.  All of which made poor Mary feel that her troubles with her children were but beginning.

    The twins were therefore in no very pleasant mood.  Indeed, that afternoon they seemed bent on making themselves disagreeable, especially to Esther, whom the two lads regarded with warm affection, which was always veiled in a touching respect, as if they could never forget that she was a lady, and in some sort a stranger.

    The grievance of the morning had been under discussion, and Esther saw that her mother's eyes were red with weeping.  Tea was already on the table, but Mary left the room, conscious of the traces of tears, and anxious to efface them, and Esther began gently to remonstrate with her sisters, as she had already successfully remonstrated with Martin.

    But Emily and Agnes were in no state of mind to bear remonstrance, however gentle.  They burst forth simultaneously with a torrent of foolish, angry abuse.  Esther was thoroughly ashamed of them, and as she stood deprecating their loud and vulgar tones, the door opened, and, preceded by Constance Vaughan, Mrs. Carrington sailed into the room.

    Esther could not help feeling and looking mortified and confused.  Emily and Agnes, still muttering wrathfully, brushed rudely past the visitors.  The very room was out of sorts.  It was littered with the materials on which the girls had been exercising their skill for their own behoof.  Esther had to make room for Mrs. Carrington by clearing away a heap of millinery from the shabby sofa, and she could see that the lady looked twice before she committed herself to such a seat.

    The visit was anything but a comfortable one.  All were equally constrained and miserable.  If was far worse with Esther than anything which Mrs. Carrington's imagination had been bold enough to conceive.  The girls were in the highest degree objectionable, what could their mother be?  It was in vain that Constance afterwards assured her that Mary was charming—a calm, beautiful woman—a lady by right of nature; she could not believe it.

    "And that untidy girl who opened the door for us was her sister, too," she would answer, "and that dirty child her brother!  There seemed to me no end of them.  If Esther had been a girl of spirit she would never have remained among them."

    Sarah, and little Johnny, as he was still called, though the epithet was becoming inappropriate enough, had made their appearance after the unfortunate visit had come to a close.  Mrs. Carrington, with Constance by her side, was half way towards the entrance of the court, when the former missed her parasol.  Quick in all her movements, she returned to find it, and encountered these other two objectionable personages disputing over the parasol.  Esther made her appearance in the doorway as Sarah was saying to Mrs. Carrington, "I was coming after you with the parasol your daughter left."

    The toy seemed too small and gay for the elder lady in Sarah's estimation, and the manners of the latter, not accustomed to servitude, were, perhaps, a little too free.

    "The parasol is mine," she said, haughtily; and, looking over Sarah's head, she added, bowing to Esther, with a meaning and too amiable smile, "and the young lady is not my daughter just yet."

    The smile, and the two monosyllables, said plainly, "But I hope she soon will be."

    Mrs. Carrington came off with flying colours, to her own complete satisfaction.  She was quite pathetic over the fate of Esther among her terrible relations.  If she had been paying a visit to a den of wild beasts she could not have described herself as more shocked and appalled.


 
CHAPTER XLII.

SNOWDROPS.


DAY after day found Mr. Carrington by Philip's bed, and there sprang up between them that rare, and as some think impossible, thing between two persons of different grades of society, a true friendship.  In spite of his democratical opinions, Benjamin Carrington had very strong social antipathies, a thing by no means uncommon, and which does more to keep the different classes apart than anything else.  He was ready enough to deplore the separation between rich and poor, but he was not at all ready to put up with vulgarity, or rudeness, or any kind of obtrusiveness.  He found none of these things in Philip, however, and for once his practice kept pace with his creed.  One day he was deploring the widening of the breach between class and class, and remarked that "it was to some extent a question of manners," when Philip surprised him by saying that that, in its turn, was a question of morals.

    "The gentleness, the courtesy, even the personal purity, which you find lacking in us," he added, with a smile, "would all be supplied by a higher spirit of morality; not the morality of mere respectability, which is impotent and worse than impotent, but the self-sacrificing morality of the Gospel."

    "We may have all these things, and I don't deny that they are good, and yet have nothing of the corresponding Spirit," rejoined Carrington.

    "In your class, but not in ours," said Philip.

    "Then your class, you think, might be the greatest of all in virtue as it is in numbers," said Carrington.

    "I mean nothing less than that; I can believe nothing less," said Philip.

    "Perhaps you are right," replied Carrington.  "The man who does not work can hardly be said to live."

    He had also led Philip to talk of himself, and had learned by degrees the whole of his history—the history he had already disclosed to Esther.

    "What will you do when you come out, still, probably, unfit for work?  You will let me send you away till you are quite strong, without feeling under any obligation?" said Carrington, questioningly.

    Philip had flushed a little, and looked uneasy.

    "I confess I do not like to lie under a money obligation," he replied; "but I will not scruple to apply to you for a small loan till I can repay it out of my regular earnings."

    "Pardon me," said Carrington, "but in your position surely you ought to try and save."

    "Do you think it is right to secure yourself and see others perish?" asked Philip.  "If I had a wife and little ones it would be otherwise."

    "But you might come to form ties of your own," said Carrington.

    "You mean marry?  No, I will never marry.  It is not for me.  Every man must judge for himself.  I would have to give up everything, and devote myself to wife and children.  I question no man's right to do so, only I deny my own.  Had you seen as much of the life of the millions as I have seen, you would deny it too."

    "Your Christianity is not an easy one," said Carrington.

    "It is easy to believe and hard to practise," said Philip.

    "And the current form of it is just the reverse," replied Carrington, smiling.  "It is very hard to believe, and wonderfully easy to practise."

    Carrington used to come away from these conferences, which went on, and almost in whispers, by Philip's bed, a changed being.  He was catching the fire of Philip's enthusiasm.  He was kindling his spirit at that flame.

    Esther's name had not been mentioned between them when one day, after Philip had been pronounced fairly convalescent, Carrington, sitting by him, saw a bright and tender light flash into his face—that pale and clear-cut face, which his illness had made paler and clearer than ever.  The light was like that of a sudden sunshine on the face of a hill which has been lying in shadow, and Carrington turned his head instinctively to see what had brought it there.

    It was Esther who had entered, and was now coming towards them, her little sister by her side.  Philip held out his hand, first to the child and then to her, and she took the place from which Carrington stood aside after exchanging with the latter a simple greeting.

    Little Mary had carried in her hand a bunch of snowdrops.  "They are for you," she said, placing them in Philip's hand.

    "And where did you get them, Fairy ?" he said, thanking her.

    "Esther got them for you," said the truth-telling Mary.

    "I bring you a message from a friend," said Esther, cutting short the further thanks on Philip's lip, on which Carrington noticed a quivering of emotion.  "You are coming out on Saturday next, are you not?"

    "I believe I am," he replied.

    "Mr. Wiggett will be here waiting for you," said Esther, and if you will stay with him for a few weeks he will be glad to have you."

    "Mr. Carrington has been kindly thinking of me," said Philip, looking towards the latter.

    "Mr. Wiggett is a market-gardener at Hurst," explained Esther; "he has a very pretty house quite close to the Vaughans.  You must have seen it often in your rides.  He has just lost his wife."

    "Is the poor woman dead?" cried Philip, interrupting her.

    "Yes, and he is sadly cast down.  It would do him good to have you with him.  Little Mary here is going too, and," she added, frankly, "I will be near at hand during the Easter holidays."

    Mr. Carrington had stood aside while this was going on.  "The place is lovely in spring-time," he remarked.

    "You will go, will you not?" asked Esther.

    "Yes; I will go," he answered.  "I never had so many offers of kindness in my life," he added, looking again at Mr. Carrington.

    It was settled at length that Mr. Wiggett should call for Philip at two o'clock on Saturday, and then Esther took her leave.  Mr. Carrington did the same, and accompanied her into the street.

    "Will you allow me to see you home?" he said.

    "With pleasure," she replied; "but there is no necessity.  I have become quite used to going about alone, or only with my little sister here."

    It had not struck him that there was anything peculiar in Esther visiting a sick man in an hospital; for whatever she did she had the faculty of doing so that it seemed the only thing to be done, so that by the side of Philip's bed she seemed as welcome and as little out of place as a sick-nurse, though looking more like the goddess of health; but suddenly he remembered that it was a thing which no young lady would have been allowed to do, and the thought vexed and annoyed him beyond measure.  He could not bear to think that there should be any flaw in her ladyhood, though he would have been the first to denounce the conventional restraints in which it is vainly imagined to consist.

    "I hope you are not becoming emancipated," he said.

    Something in his manner displeased her.

    "Emancipated from what?" she said, gravely; "I am getting quite emancipated from idleness and frivolity, I hope.  In the class to which I belong one woman cannot be spared to look after another."

    There was a slight ring of scorn in her voice, which her companion was keenly alive to.

    "You seem perfectly satisfied with your lot," he said, "and I have often thought it such a hard one."

    He was trying to approach again to that sympathy on the very verge of tenderness, which had been so easily established at the Wests' party; but he felt himself repulsed.  Esther was beside him, but cold, haughty, unapproachable.  She placed at once an infinite distance between them.  He could not otherwise account for her change of manner than by thinking that she had detected the latent tenderness in his tone and manner, and was resolved on repressing it—and the supposition was correct.

    "I should always have required abundance of occupation and interest," she replied; "and I would not exchange my present lot for that of any woman I have known."

    "She at least is not mercenary," thought Carrington, dismally; "but then she clearly cares not a straw for me."

    "I shall say good-bye here, Mr. Carrington," said Esther as they turned into Belgrave Road, and long before she had reached home.  "Remember me to Constance."

    He said good-bye at once, with grave politeness, and went his way sadly.

    "No wonder she does not care for an ineffectual fellow like me" he thought.  "What have I ever done that she should care for me?"  Then the thought started up suddenly, "Does she care for him?"—for Philip.  He remembered the sweetness of her face, the sweetness which had passed out of it in talking to him.  Then he remembered the little bunch of snowdrops concerning which little Mary had told the truth, and the memory of the cool white flowers was like drops of fire.


 
CHAPTER XLIII.

DRIFTING APART.


YOUNG Mrs. West was beginning to suffer terribly, and the complaint under which she suffered—only a too common one—was the suppression of the best part of her nature, and the consciousness that her life was sinking down to a lower level, and becoming, instead of fuller and nobler, infinitely emptier and meaner.  She was active, both bodily and mentally, both by nature and by a conscientious training, and her lot was now one of supreme idleness.  She was benevolent, with all her love of splendour and luxury, and she was doing good to nobody.  Had she but known it, hard work and self-denial were the tonics her vigorous nature needed, and under which its faults would have been eliminated.  But even if she had known this, it would have been difficult to import these things into her life.  Harry was utterly unsympathising, and these tonics required the sustenance of sympathy.  He was quite incapable of feeling the life-weariness, the dissatisfaction with self, which comes to all deeper natures at times, even in the best of circumstances.  He had no craving to make his life a better and nobler thing, no desire to benefit his fellow-creatures, though he would not have done harm to the meanest of them, unless they had come in his way very much indeed, and then he would have swept them aside and thought no more about them.  He could not understand Kate wishing that he should begin to do something with his life.  He laughed at her idea of going down to Oxford or Cambridge, and living there for a year or two as students.  "I will work with you," she had said, "and you—both of us—will be better able to take a place in the world.  You care for science a little, you might work at that; or you might go into parliament, and do something there."

    In none of these things had Harry the slightest concern, and he was beginning to resent her urgency as dissatisfaction with himself.  He could be the reverse of amiable when he chose, or rather when Kate chose to rouse him by any expression of her uneasiness.  And Kate was beginning not to choose, but to drift apart in silence.  If anything disagreeable had passed between them, and visitors came in, Harry was all lightness and brightness in a moment.  The deceit was not intentional, neither was it the result of the pride which throws a veil over private sores; it was simply that he was immediately distracted from his grievance, while poor Kate's once sunny face bore but too plainly the signs of discontent.

    She, too, sought distraction in society, and while it was all new, and every face was fresh to him, Harry was well pleased.  But he was like other people, doomed to experience how small the world is after all.  He met the same people over and over again.  He began to find them uninteresting, and then tiresome; they had already found him both.  In their higher or deeper interests he had no share, and in the exchange of vapid opinions about things that had often no interest at all, weariness is sure to be produced.

    Once and again, when wearied in this way, he had taken up the idea of going back to Australia.  He was one of those people who, having very few ideas, always return to them again and again.  Of this particular idea Kate had a mortal dread.  It was not much wonder that she had.  She was not one of those happy wives to whom their husband's presence is their world.  Kate was beginning to feel alone in the midst of a crowd, for if the one who is nearest drifts apart the outer circle widens, and leaves a dismal gulf of loneliness which can hardly be bridged over.  She could not bear the thought of being separated from her father and sisters.  They were dearer to her than ever.  Lately Constance had been much with her, and had too surely discerned that her presence was needed.  Then Kate had no dreams such as Constance or Esther would have had, of a land or hope and promise beyond the sea.  She did not care for solitudes; and great plains, covered with flocks and herds, presented to her no scope for imagining anything but the dreariest of desolations.  She might be told that she could ride for days over Harry's lands and never come to anything but a shepherd's hut, and she only thought, "Then there would be no use riding at all."  The idea of going to Australia was simply intolerable to her.  It was a dreadful negation of all in which her life had hitherto consisted; of all in which she thought it possible for life to consist.  But, as yet the idea had hardly confronted her as anything but an idea.  As a possibility contained in her own life she had never regarded it for a moment.  Therefore, when Harry said, in his usual careless tone, "I've been thinking over the Australian project again," Kate replied, impatiently, "Well, I wish you would not think of it."

    Kate had always some bit of feminine work in hand in these morning hours, and she was throwing a little ivory shuttle through certain mysterious meshes, her jewelled fingers flashing dexterously to and fro.  Harry was, as usual, walking up and down the room.  Husband and wife were alone.

    Nothing more was said for some time, only Kate had doubled the swiftness of her shuttle-throwing, and the colour had heightened on her cheeks.

    At length Harry stopped before her, and announced that had made up his mind to go.  "And you know when I make up my mind to a thing, I like to do it at once," he added, coolly.  "I mean to go and look out a first-class ship to-day."

    Kate's hands fell into her lap as if they had been smitten with paralysis; her lips, but not her cheeks, turned pale.

    "You do not mean it, Harry?" she said.

    "Mean it," he repeated, "of course I do."

    Their eyes met as he said this, flashed across each other like drawn swords.  Kate's spirit was up, and she was about to try it against his—resolution against resolution—obstinacy against obstinacy.  But Kate had been gently nurtured, and there came to her a sense of the sacred relation in which they stood to each other.  She lowered her eyes, and they filled with tears.  She would use all her womanly influence to turn him from his purpose; and with the good resolution came the feeling of wifely love, which had sometimes of late been in abeyance, to help her to carry it out.  She threw aside her work, and rising and linking her arm in his, with her hands clasped upon it, began to walk up and down the room with him, as she had learnt to do in the first months of their marriage.  But it was not easy to accomplish such a promenade in the crowded space of their drawing-room.

    "There isn't room to stir here," he said, pushing aside an ottoman which stood in the way.  "I am tired of this place, and the people too."

    "You are tired of having nothing to do, Harry," said Kate; "let us try and find some real work in the world, and set to it humbly, and not seek our pleasure any more."

    "Nothing to do!" he laughed heartily.  "It is always the same with you.  I don't think I'm idle!"

    Harry was under the impression that he lived a very active life.

    "Do not let us quarrel," she rejoined meekly: "do not let us drift apart."

    "I was not thinking of quarrelling," he replied, at the same time releasing his arm from her clasping hand; shaking off her importunity, as it were.

    Kate felt this, and her good resolution vanished on the spot.  She walked to her chair, and resumed her work.  He had not intended to be ill-natured, as he said he was not thinking of quarrelling.  He kept on walking up and down, and working out the details of his plan.

    "We can either let or sell this place," he said.  "That is as you please," she answered stiffly.

    "We could either return in a few years, or settle out there," he went on; "there are endless improvements to be made, and plenty of room to make them.  I think, for my own part, I would never care to come back.  But we might come on a visit.  You would like to see your father and sisters again."

    Kate sat trembling with excitement.  "You are not planning all this for me?" she said in a suppressed voice.

    He stopped before her again, and their eyes met once more—his blue and glassy, and hard as they always were; hers flinty with resolve,

    "What do you mean?" he said.

    "Simply that you need not include me in your plan."

    "I thought you said just now that we must not drift apart."

    "And you know that I would rather die than go away from all I love."

    "That's to say, you don't love me well enough to go with me," he retorted, justly enough.

    She was silent.

    The precious moments glided past, and in their silence these two drifted apart widely—hopelessly—for ever.  Harry was full of resentment because his self-love was wounded.  In a little while, during which he waited for some concession from Kate, he turned on his heel and left the room, and, soon after, Kate heard him quit the house.

    And though her conscience smote her for not making such a concession, she recognised at the same time that it would have been practically useless—that it would have given her no hold over this man, that she might as well have been tied for life to a piece of machinery, kept in motion by a law of its own.  Her hands in her lap, she sat there motionless as a statue, with eyes fixed on vacancy.  A servant announced luncheon, and she rose mechanically, and shivered.  It was still cold, and the fire had gone out, there were only ashes on the hearth.

    She had noticed that the servant had looked in before, and retreated hastily.

    In that time all her life had passed before her; her life at home—it seemed to her like one long summer now, with its simple duties and its constant pleasures.  Why had they ever seemed insipid?  Why had she longed for a larger, freer world?  Her married life—with its excitements of travel and society, and its growing dissatisfaction.  What was it that she wanted?  Nothing certainly that wealth could buy; nothing forbidden or disallowed.  She wanted to be in perfect sympathy with her own husband—her life's companion, and she could not.  Her warm and rich affections withered in the hard shallow soil of his nature,

    "I know what I shall do," she said to herself, as she rose from the meal at which she had made a pretence of eating.  And she went upstairs, and dressing herself hurriedly, left the house to go to her father.


 
CHAPTER XLIV.

SEPARATION.


"IT'S Kate," exclaimed Constance, as a fly drove up to the door, and a lady got out.  Her father looked up from his review, and smiled as he laid it aside to go and welcome her in the hall.

    "I wonder what has brought her here to-day," thought Constance, already there, and with a dim presentiment of trouble.

    Kate paid and dismissed the fly, and then turned and encountered her sister's troubled, questioning face, and glanced beyond at her father's smiling and unconscious one.  A thick spangled veil was over her own, and she did not as yet trust herself to speak.  She seized Constance by the hand, which she clasped and held convulsively like one in extreme pain, suffered her father to kiss her veiled forehead, and to make a little jest about its being armed with terrors, and passed into the drawing-room.

    There she sank into a seat, and raised her veil with a kind of prolonged shiver.

    "How cold you are," said Constance, kneeling at her feet on the hearth-rug and chafing her hands.  "You are positively blue with cold.  Let me take off your gloves;" and she began unbuttoning and pulling at them, her heart all the while beating fast with vague apprehension.

    Mr. Vaughan even caught something of fear as he looked in his daughter's face—one of those faces that do not pale under misery, but look haggard in their brightness.  Her lip quivered, but she did not speak.

    "Speak to us, Kate, please speak and tell us what has happened," cried Constance, at last, unable to keep down her excitement any longer.

    For answer, Kate bowed her head on to her sister's shoulder, and began to sob with dry shaking sobs.

    Her father came and stood over her, and laid his hand on her gently and soothingly.  "Kate, my child, what is this?" he said.  "Have you quarrelled with Harry?"  He could think of nothing else.

    "It is worse than a quarrel," she said, raising her head and showing a face on which her father would gladly have seen childish tears.

    "Has he done anything wrong?" asked her father, in real alarm; "anything which has driven you from your home?"

    "This is home!" cried Kate.  "Why did I ever leave it!  Oh, father! will you take me back?"

    "Hush, hush! my poor Kate!  You do not know what you are saying," rejoined her father.  "Try and be calm, and tell me what has happened."

    With an effort she calmed herself, and told how Harry was resolved to go back to Australia, though he knew that she hated and dreaded it, that she had tried to turn him from his purpose and had failed; that what she wished or desired was nothing to him, that whether she went or stayed, even, seemed a matter of small moment.

    "But, my child," remonstrated her father, "it is your duty to go with your husband."

    "To leave you all, and never see you again, perhaps," she cried.

    "If need be," he answered, and was going to add something more, when she burst forth, passionately—

    "But there is no need.  If he were a poor man, and had to go away to earn a living, I could bear it; but it is pure folly and selfishness, and want of concern for others."

    "Kate," said her father, almost sternly, "I never thought to hear a daughter of mine say such words as these.  Be loyal to your husband.  Does he wish to leave you behind?"

    "No," Kate was obliged to answer, "only he does not care if I stay, and he knows that if I go I shall go against my will."

    "He may change his mind," said Constance, soothingly, "It may all come right yet."

    "He will not change his mind," Kate replied, "or if he does, he will only come back to it again.  He has gone to look out for a ship."

    "Oh, Kate!" cried Constance, and she fell to weeping; while Mr. Vaughan hid his face for a moment in his hands.

    "I am making you both miserable," she said, weeping herself now, at the sight of their grief.

    "It is very hard, Kate, to think of your being taken from us in this way, and I do not wonder at your sorrow; but unless we can turn Harry from his purpose, we must submit to the cruel parting."

    "Why must we submit to what is cruel and unjust?" she asked, with renewed passion; "why can I not return to you and be your daughter, as I was before?  I would never have married him if I had thought it possible that he could drag me to that dreadful place against my will.  Oh! will you not take me back?—will you not take me back?"

    "This is heart-breaking, Kate.  You know, child, that I would gladly have you back, but that I have no right to take you.  You want to be my daughter as you were before; you cannot, for you are something more, you are a wife, and you cannot unmake yourself from being one.  Have faith in me my daughter.  I know that the path of separation which you would choose is far, far drearier than any that you can tread by your husband's side.  There are some cases in which it is better for a woman to choose this path—cases far within the limits prescribed by law, and if either body or spirit were threatened with outrage I would take you from him."

    "Then you will not?" said Kate, rising as if about to go.

    "You make my duty a hard one, Kate," said her father, in a broken voice; "the hardest I have ever had to perform.  Does your husband know you are here?"

    "He does not," she answered, wearily.

    "And he need not know," cried Constance.  "Don't say any more, papa.  Katie will come up to my room and rest while I get ready, and I will go back with her."

    "Pardon me, Constance, but it is better that I should go back with Kate.  And it is better that her husband should know of her intention, even."

    "I don't want to hide it," said Kate.

    "Come with me, Katie, then, for a little while, and I will order the pony-carriage for you and papa;" and so saying, Constance led her sister away to her room to remove the traces of her tears; and the first thing they did was to sit down and cry together.  This process softened Kate considerably; but her sister's tender entreaties had no more effect than her father's authority in convincing her that she ought not to separate herself, even for a term of years, from her husband.  On this point she was hard and unrelenting.  It seemed doubtful if she would yield, even if her father denied her a home.

    In a short time the sisters came down together, both dressed and ready, for Constance proposed to drive them herself.  They swallowed a cup of tea in the drawing-room, and declared themselves ready, at least Constance did, for Kate preserved an almost sullen silence.  They were soon driving rapidly along the road to the station.

    Mr. Vaughan intended to remonstrate with Harry against his suddenly-formed resolution of leaving the country, and he had hope that his remonstrance would not be without effect.  As he was hurried along he thought out the arguments which he would address to his son-in-law, and which he believed might prove effective; but, in case they did not, he employed himself also in strengthening his failing resolution to urge his daughter to go with her husband, and trust to his bringing her back again to settle in England.  Alas! there was, he confessed, nothing to trust to, except that the restlessness which drove him away would drive him back again.

    They parted with Constance at the station, and after a cheerless journey reached Kate's pretty little mansion in time, if she had wished it, or her father had thought it right, to appear as if nothing unusual had happened.  The house was lighted up, the master had returned, and dinner was ready.

    Harry brightened up when he saw them, and looked perfectly cordial.  Kate, however, disappeared, and Mr. Vaughan set to work at once on his unenviable task.  He knew there was only the time to spare in which Kate might be supposed to be dressing.  Mr. Vaughan told him plainly what had passed between his daughter and himself; it was, he thought, the strongest argument he could use if Harry retained a particle of tenderness towards his wife.  He was quite unprepared to find that, as Kate had said, he was willing to leave her, and did not look upon her going to her father as such a heinous offence after all.  He might go and make a home for her, and return to take her out with him; or she might join him in a year or two.

    "She shall not leave you with my consent," Mr. Vaughan had said.

    And Harry made answer that, of course, he should be very glad if she would come with him and be reasonable.

    Mr. Vaughan looked at Harry with the kind of tear with which most men regard lunatics.  Here was a being to him incalculable, whose motives he had no means of gauging, and on whom the influences which would have swayed him were altogether lost.  As he looked at him, he trembled for his daughter's future.

    "Can we offer you no inducement to stay among us?" he began, lightly.

    "I think not," he replied, in the same tone; "there's nothing like freedom, and nobody here can do as he likes with himself or anything that is his."

    Kate made her appearance, elaborately dressed, as usual.  The dinner-bell sounded, she took her father's arm, and the three went in to dinner.

    Mr. Vaughan spoke of the events of the day, and Harry talked as fast as ever.  Their voices sounded across a table, but they were far apart in spirit; no electric telegraph of sympathy passed from one to another, for Kate had shut her heart towards her father, who was pierced with sorrow at the lonely ring in her voice.

    At last the dreaded subject came on.  It would not have been Harry if he had kept it long to himself.

    "I find that a first-class vessel will sail the first week in April," he said, looking at Mr. Vaughan, whose eyes sought Kate's in fear and trembling.

    But Kate sat as expressionless as a statue.

    "But you do not think of going so soon as that?" said Mr. Vaughan.

    "I don't see that it matters to us whether we go sooner or later."

    "It matters a great deal to me, who must part with my child," Mr. Vaughan began.

    Harry looked at Kate.

    "It does not matter sooner or later," she said, perversely, and rose from the table.  "No, it does not matter what becomes of me," she murmured, in the abandonment of youthful anguish, when she was shut in the drawing-room alone.

    Over their wine, Mr. Vaughan tried to soften the heart of his obdurate son-in-law, and change his purpose; but in vain.  "I never was so near quarrelling utterly with any one in my life," he said to Constance; "he is obstinate as a mule, only that is not his kind of obstinacy.  It is like beating a pillow to try and convince him, or change his mind; and it would be nothing if his mind was worth anything; but it is not.  If it were not for the dreadful responsibility of spoiling their lives by putting them asunder, I would never let her go."

    "It would not spoil her life surely, papa, to come back to us," said Constance, thinking now she might plead her sister's cause.

    "I know the world and human nature better than you, Constance," said her father, "and I feel sure it would.  A deserted wife is always a woman more or less suspecté.  Only think what that would be to our passionate, loving, generous Kate—a torture in itself.  Think of the galling of a tie which cannot be got rid of, and which binds to nothing of love and duty; and as the dreary years went on, and he did not return, there might come—warping her nature continually—deadly temptations for both, which I cannot bear to think of.  We must beware of our very love for her leading us to desire to keep her.  It is better that she should go."



[Next Page]

 



[Home] [Up] [Poems by Isa] [Duchess Agnes] [Songs of Consolation] [Poems: a Miscellany] [The Argosy (1866)] [Tales on the Parables] [Tales on The Parables] [Poetry Reviews] [Cotton Famine] [Round the Court] [Peggy Oglivie] [Fanny's Fortune] [A Heroine of Home] [Little Folk's History] [Deepdale Vicarage] [Miscellanea] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk