Esther West (7)

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CHAPTER XLV.

THE MEANING OF POVERTY.


LIFE seemed to have lost all interest to Kate West.  In our suffering we are often cruel, and she chose to consider, in abandoning herself to grief, that she was left to suffer alone; that her father and sister would never have allowed her to go away if they had cared as much for her as she did for them: therefore she shut up her heart from them, and the old happy intercourse between the sisters, which had made every trifle of their daily lives a matter of mutual confidence, seemed to have come to an end.

    Harry, in the midst of his preparations for departure, was too much engrossed to notice that his wife behaved more like an automaton than a woman.  But just then an event occurred which roused and took her out of herself for a time.

    The pair had come down to breakfast.  As usual, Kate was first in the room; for Harry was always either too early or too late for everything.  She came in with a dreary, listless look on her bright face, glanced at the table on which the morning meal was spread, and saw a letter lie on each plate—one for herself and one for Harry.  Without so much as advancing to look at them, she went and stood on the hearth-rug, and gazed into the fire, as one gazes when the day is done.  There was no impatience in her waiting, only once something visibly rose in her throat, and had to be swallowed down.  It was the vain self-pity of youth, which it needed her whole strength to still.

    Harry came in at last, smiling with his insensate smile and they sat down together.  Kate lifted her letter—only a little note from Constance—and thrust it into her pocket unread.  What a short time ago it seemed since every letter was a little treasure to be pounced upon and read, and handed over from one to another at home—shorter still since she would have been leaning over Harry's shoulder, impatient to share the contents of a missive so important looking as that which he was now perusing.

    "So it is settled at last," he exclaimed, tossing the letter over to Kate with an expression between pleasure and disgust.

    "What is settled?" she asked, carelessly.

    "That affair of Aunt West's legacy.  Read the letter, and you will see," he replied.

    She did as she was bidden, and ran through the broad square sheet, which informed her that the affairs of the bank in which Mrs. West's legacy to Esther had been invested were wound up at last, and that something over six hundred pounds had fallen to Esther's share, the estate dividing half-a-crown in the pound.

    "It is very little," said Kate.

    "But better than nothing at all," laughed Harry; "and I dare say she will be very glad to get it," he added, with a truer appreciation of the value of money.

    They went on with their meal in silence, Kate presiding over her elegantly-appointed table with an air almost of disgust.  At length Harry, who had only been too busy to speak, started up, saying, "I have a hundred things to do to-day, Kate.  Can you carry the news of this fortune to Esther?  I cannot spare the time myself."

    Kate consented, in a pleasureless way.  It did not occur to her that she might be carrying a message of comfort and gladness and hope and life.  Esther, she knew, had given up expecting any help from this quarter, but she did not know that she needed help so much; and, as often happens, the help had not come a day too soon.  Esther had not the heart to turn away her little scholars when the fees were not forthcoming—and the fees were not forthcoming frequently enough.  A large proportion of the tradespeople in the neighbourhood were afflicted with want of money, and not the tradespeople only, but those who patronised them, and lived in handsome houses in the neighbouring streets and squares.  Indeed, it was with these latter that the impecuniosity originated generally.  As a consequence, the tradesmen's little girls were the first to suffer, education for little girls in that class being often considered only a genteel superfluity.  Then the wave of commercial disaster had reached ever wider and wider circles, and in one of the circles had included and swept down the firm of builders and contractors with whom Martin and Willie had been placed.  The works were closed the day after Philip's accident, and the lads had been idle—with an enforced idleness more wearisome than the hardest work—ever since.  In vain Esther strove to encourage them.  They went about with rueful faces trying to find employment, and finding none.  It was pitiable to see them droop so quickly, and lose heart so soon.

    "We've known fellows go about for weeks and months," they said, "till they hadn't a shoe to their feet or a bit to put in their mouths.  And it comes over and over again.  Whenever one saves a little money in the good times, it's all used up in the bad."

    The twins were at work again, but they had not found situations which they considered proportioned to their merits, and they were accordingly in a state of chronic discontent.  The gloom which reigned in the little house in Sutton's Alley was sufficiently depressing, and seemed deepening as the days went on.

    On that very morning on which Kate was setting out with the letter, there had been a painful scene in the Potter household.  Martin and Willie would rise at their usual hour, only to find themselves in everybody's way, it seemed.  There appears to be an attitude peculiar to men out of work—the elbows resting on the knees, the head on the hands, and the long stare into the fire, if there be a fire, or even into the empty grate.  The two lads fell into this attitude at once, and would sit thus, one on each side of the fire, while Sarah prepared the morning meal.  They breakfasted together alone when at work, and they had made their usual custom a pretext for absenting themselves from the family breakfast, and latterly of eating a piece of dry bread by themselves in the kitchen before setting out on their day's search.

    When Esther came down on the morning in question, she found poor Sarah sitting crying by the fire, in the midst of her neglected preparations.

    "I only said they were a little bit in the way," she sobbed, in explanation; and Esther at length made out that the lads had taken offence at their sister's words, and had gone out without any breakfast at all, while poor Sarah had only been anxious to conceal from them the fact that there was not a sufficiency even of bread for all.
 

"I only said they were a little bit in the way,"


    It was the end of the quarter, and for a week or two no money would be forthcoming from the scholars; but before the morning was over, Esther had turned into money every little ornament she possessed, and had gone to her work with that heavy aching at her heart which the pressure of real poverty gives when it has to be shared with a home circle.  Esther felt that she could have better endured it alone.  She could hardly fix her attention on the task before her; and when called out of the schoolroom to see Kate, it was with a sickening flutter of the heart that she obeyed the summons.

    Kate communicated her good news silently by presenting the letter, but she was not prepared for the reception which it met.  Esther turned pale with emotion, and trembled violently.

    "If you only knew what a great relief this is," she explained; "but you cannot know, for you have never known poverty."

    "You have not wanted for anything, surely?" said Kate.  "You would have come to us."

    "Poverty means wanting things, Kate," said Esther, smiling through a mist of thankful tears; "but we have not felt the pressure long.  It has only been very bad for a week or two.  There has been nothing but misfortune ever since the night of your party, Kate.  You must never expect me to come to another.  It does not do to live a divided life; I have sold all my ornaments to buy simple food."

    "Poor Esther!  How selfish I have been," cried Kate, clasping her in her alms; "but if you only knew how miserable I am."

    "Miserable!" repeated Esther, who thought Kate had been quite contented with the lot she had chosen; "you, miserable?"

    And then Kate confided to her the source of her unhappiness, and without directly condemning her husband, allowed Esther to perceive exactly how matters stood between them.  She, too, counselled acquiescence, and Kate turned from her impatiently.

    "'Yes—Yes, I must go," she said, "but it is against my will, and I shall never be happy again."  She shuddered, visibly.  "Do you know I feel the kind of horror of this voyage which I suppose I would feel if suddenly told I must die!—the kind of pity for myself, and chillness of dread."

    Esther tried to comfort her.  "It is what we have all been looking forward to.  My brothers and sisters are eager to go; I cannot say that I am, but I dare say it will be my fate."

    "Could you not come with us?" said Kate, catching at the idea.  "I am sure Harry could do something for the boys."

    "It is worth thinking of; but you go so early," said Esther.

    "Perhaps if you were going, Harry would wait," said Kate, eagerly.  She was young, and though she had abandoned herself to an unhappy fate, she could not help brightening up at the thought of the alleviation presented to her.  She took her departure, with a promise on Esther's part to think of the proposition, and on hers to come and ascertain the result.

    While speaking to Kate, Esther had seen her brother Martin slip into the house, with his handsome face downcast and miserable.  As soon as her visitor was gone she sought him, and found him in the kitchen, his head on his hand, as usual.  She sought him first, for there had sprung up a firm alliance between them.

    "Here's good news, Martin," she said, touching his arm.  "My long-delayed fortune has come at last.  It is not a very great one, but it will relieve us of all our present difficulties."

    It seemed an immense sum to the lad, and he brightened up at once.  His first words were, "Does mother know?"

    "Nobody knows yet, but we must get her here and tell her;" and Mary was brought out of the schoolroom (whose occupants were not sorry to be left to their own devices) and told the good news.  Unmingled thankfulness was the first feeling in Mary's mind, and in that of every member of the family, as one by one they came to know it.  But this was not destined to be of long duration.  Martin and Willie began to look as gloomy as ever before the day was out.  They had said to one another, "It is her money, and we have no right to touch it;" and when the evening came, they boldly proposed that Esther should lend them enough to go and try their fortunes in the far West.  Their old desire to emigrate was upon them stronger than ever.

    Mary looked in the face of her eldest daughter as the arbitress of their fate.

    "I can bear it if we all go together; not unless," she cried.

    Then Esther told them of Mrs. West's proposal, that they should go out in the same ship with her and her husband; and an eager discussion ensued.  Martin and Willie urged that time was money, and that every day delayed was lost.  Their radiant looks of hope and eagerness appealed to Esther strongly.

    "Let us go," she said, deliberately; and in the jubilation which followed, both she and her mother had to hide a sinking of the heart.  All the others were delighted with the prospect.


 
CHAPTER XLVI.

MARCH BUDS.


THE March buds were out on the sunny sides of the hedgerows, and the daffodils were blowing in crowds at the foot of the orchard, when Timothy Wiggett brought Philip home to his own house.  The house missed its mistress, harsh and queer as she had been, and Timothy also missed her and mourned for her as better women are not always missed and mourned for.

    She had only lived eight days after her rash act, and, strange to say, they had been days of patient suffering.  The cold had produced inflammation, under which she sank rapidly, and, with Timothy to nurse her, she passed away in peace, like a fretful child that the mother has at length succeeded in soothing to rest.

    "A good job too," murmured the village, which had lain its finger upon a certain newspaper paragraph; "a very good riddance she must be to him.  He'll have some peace in his life now."

    But the philosophy of the village was entirely at fault.  It is true, Timothy's troubles were at an end; but it seemed to him that so, too, were his pleasures.  He had nobody to love, nobody who cared enough for him to worry and fret over him as Sally had worried and fretted; and so he went about his work, after he had laid her to rest in the village churchyard, a changed man, his mouth drooping at the corners, and his big chest heaving big unconscious sighs.

    Easter fell very early that year—to, Constance Vaughan the saddest Easter she had yet known.  She had always rejoiced in the season as the happiest time of the year—the time of hope, and promise, and renewed beauty, and fresh activity; and though of late her joy had had in it something of the sober sadness which change must always bring to the tender-hearted, still she was strong in youth and hope, and no great sorrow had led her to shrink from the advancing years.  But now every day brought with it the certainty of a real parting—of a breach in the home circle only less than death.  She could hardly see the March buds blowing without tears.  Every token of the coming spring was a token that the time of Kate's departure was drawing nearer and nearer.  And Kate was so changed and alienated, that the parting was likely to be bitter indeed.  It was a proof of this alienation that she had not at once informed Constance of the fact that the Potters had settled to go out with Harry and her.

    On the slightest hint of such a possibility, Harry had bestirred himself to promote the plan.  Next to being in motion himself, nothing delighted him so much as setting others in motion.  He saw the Potters daily until everything was settled.  He urged those who needed urging, and talked, and promised, and smoothed away difficulties.  He was delighted with Martin and Willie, and would be glad to be of use to them.  In short, he made it appear an opportunity too precious to be lost.  He helped them to secure their passage, and then to choose their outfit, and was none the less friendly with the brothers because they announced their determination to spend as little as possible.  They and the younger boys would rough it in the steerage, while their mother, the girls, and the two little ones would go second class.  It was all fixed before Constance heard a word about it; and when she did, it was from Esther herself, who had been trusting to Kate to communicate the first intelligence, and was wondering at the silence of her friend.

    From Constance Esther did not conceal that the prospect before her was not a happy one.  "The nearer it comes," she wrote, "the harder it seems.  My heart would fail me if it were not that my mother leans upon me.  It is my duty to go, and there is nothing to keep me here.  Except yourself there is no one to care for my going, and yet I feel as if bound by the strongest ties.  I can hardly bear the thought that the parting is most likely for ever."

    Mr. Vaughan was greatly pleased with the unexpected intelligence.  Next to his own daughters he liked and admired Esther, and it seemed to him a delightful arrangement—the most fortunate thing for Kate that could possibly have happened.  Constance could not but acknowledge that it was, and yet she could not but be sorry to lose her friend as well as her sister.  Her feelings began to be in a state of conflict such as she had never known, and she had time to attend to them now; for though her father's chief, indeed only companion, she was often left to her own meditations, while he pursued his favourite studies.

    When she sat down to answer Esther's letter, she was thus alone; her father had retired to his study.  She occupied one of the windows of the once busy drawing-room, sitting pen in hand, and looking out into the budding garden.  She had read Esther's words again, and her mind was soon engaged in reflection upon them.  No one to care for her going!  What was Mr. Carrington about?  He evidently had not followed up the re-introduction gained at Kate's party.  Had he changed his mind, or was he labouring under his usual indecision—an indecision which would cost him the loss of his object?  She found herself speculating on how he would bear the loss.   She thought of Esther gone.  Would he turn to her friendship for comfort, and—might not his friendship ripen into love?  Whither had her thoughts led her?  She covered her face with her hands for inward shame.  She hated herself for the thought, which seemed to her a double treason, a treason to both her friends.  No; he shall not let her go.  I promised to help him, and I will," she resolved.  "I will break one promise in order to keep the other.  I will tell Esther that he loves her."

    She took up her pen to write, impulsive as ever; but in trying to find the fit of words for such a disclosure, her judgment took the place of impulse, and she saw that she might do harm instead of good by such a course.  Esther's delicacy would be up in arms.  She would be sure to place fresh difficulties in his way, instead of removing any.

    Constance had meant that they should meet at Easter, and had written to Mrs. Carrington, inviting her and Mr. Carrington to spend a few days with them then.  She had judged it best to mention at the same time that Esther would be with them.  Mr. Carrington would see the note, and urge his mother to accept the invitation.  Instead of an acceptance, however, a refusal had come.  They were going down to Devonshire, and there had been an end of that.

    A desperate measure at length suggested itself to Constance.  She would write to Mr. Carrington at his chambers.  She had never written to him before, and if she wrote now to his mother's house, she must know, and would either inquire into or misconstrue the circumstance.  Mrs. Carrington's intentions with regard to herself, and her motives with regard to Esther, dawned upon her as she meditated, and still further impelled her to act.  It was strange that she never for a moment doubted Esther's Power to return Carrington's affection.  There had been just that amount of confidence between them on the subject which might mislead both.  They had both liked and admired him, and both been interested in his character; but his companionship had rather seemed to stimulate their minds than to touch their hearts.  Constance judged her friend by herself.  The object of the keen and subtle tenderness, the mere reflection of which had penetrated her heart, could not be insensible.  The consciousness of love might be shut up and hidden, as the rose in the bud is hidden in its calyx of green, but she did not doubt that it would blossom in the sunshine of his favour.

    She took up her pen and wrote, not without agitation, the first lines she had ever written in secret.  They bore witness, in their abruptness, to the state of her mind.


DEAR MR. CARRINGTON,—I promised to help you, and, to redeem my promise, I write to you now.  If you wish to see Esther again, you will not go down to Devonshire, you will come here.  She will be with us from Thursday till Tuesday.  She is going out to Australia with Kate and Harry—she and the whole family.  They sail the week after Easter.  It was to have been put off for another month, but Harry has arranged it all!

Yours very sincerely,

CONSTANCE VAUGHAN.


"Harry has arranged it all" was dashed underneath with a feeling that he had been the beginning of discord and trouble, and that she would have been glad to blot him out of their lives there and then.

    The succeeding days were at once too long and too short for Constance Vaughan—days of feverish impatience and anxiety combined.  She was not one who would droop under an unrequited love.  There is no necessity to quote concerning her the much-used "worm in the bud."  She could feel, and feel deeply; but to her active mind and large liberal culture there were other things in the world worth living for, if equal love should be denied.  She could turn from it to the duties of the day—turn resolutely from her self and engage her heart for the welfare of others.  In the interval that had passed she had disciplined herself to this; but she now felt that it would be better for her if all possibility of hope were at an end.  In an unguarded moment she had known that it could live.

    She now busied herself in preparation for her guests.  It had seemed, indeed, at one time, as if Kate would have withdrawn.  She had written to say that some friends whom Harry had picked up in the North had invited them, and that Harry desired to go, for half the week at least.  She supposed she had better go with him.  But Constance had opposed with such earnest and tender entreaty, that Kate had softened in her mood, and Harry had been prevailed upon to go alone, much to his sister-in-law's secret satisfaction.  For a few days, at least, she would have Kate all to herself again.


 
CHAPTER XLVII.

NO ANSWER.


IT was Thursday before Easter at last, and Kate was at Redhurst at an early hour.  It was her first visit since the day when her father had refused to listen to her prayer to be taken back to her old home, and it did not appear likely to be a comfortable one to either him or her.  Whether it was that the memory of the refusal stirred her to renewed soreness, or that her grief at the thought of leaving England was intensified at sight of the scene of her happy girlhood, her looks and speech alike spoke of ill-concealed and bitterly resented suffering.  She took up the position of a not very welcome stranger instead of a daughter of the house, and managed to stand aloof both from love and pity.

    Her father took pains, by every tender courtesy, to win her back.  He would have given anything to have her open her heart to him, to win her to acknowledge that he was in the right, as he knew her better judgment was already telling her, but his efforts were unavailing.  Once or twice, when he tried to introduce the subject, she set it coldly aside.  If he could have seen the passionate grief in which she indulged in secret he would have been more troubled still.

    She went about the place alone, followed by the old blind house-dog, whom she had often hugged in the passionate griefs of her childhood, once sobbing herself to sleep with her head pillowed on his side.  But this was a grief which no sleep would soothe.  She had awakened to life-long disappointment, and she knew not how to bear it.  To have her wishes disregarded, her influence unfelt; her life emptied at once of freedom, and love, and joy—this was what she had to bear.  Besides the simple natural sorrow of parting from all whom she had loved, she had the terrible consciousness that she did not, and could not love as she ought, the man whose will had become her law.

    The afternoon brought Mr. Walton and Milly—every afternoon of the holidays was to see them there.  They were only partly aware of Kate's trouble, and were too happy themselves to be able fully to sympathise with it.  Milly was very sorry for her sister's departure; but if her husband wished it, Kate would be sure to get reconciled to it in time, and doubtless all would go well; she and her husband would come back again.  For her own part, Milly would have preferred staying at home, but she would have gone round the world with Herbert, and though Harry was not like Herbert, Kate must like going with him.

    This was the strain in which she spoke comfort, with the effect of making one of her hearers irritable, and the others apprehensive.

    The little family circle no longer thought, no longer felt alike; the chain of sympathy was broken.  They were almost uncomfortable till Esther arrived, and introduced, naturally and from another point of view, the one subject which occupied the thoughts of all.

    The evening passed in discussing the voyage, its discomforts, and the alleviations of which these were capable; the country to which they were bound, and its social and political prospects, of which Mr. Walton took the gloomy, and Mr. Vaughan the hopeful view.  It was most unlike the evenings which the same group had often passed there.

    There was no gaiety where all had once been gay.  They were grave and subdued, like people who met for the last time.  An undefined feeling of this kind crept over them and deepened as the evening advanced.  When music was asked for, Constance and Esther, who sang well together, seemed to choose the saddest songs, till they seemed to breathe the very air of sighs.  Tears were unshed, but they were not far from gathering, when Kate took her sister's place and dashed into a light and bright, but noisy Italian song, which jarred on everybody.  Esther felt glad when the evening came to an end.

    The services of Good Friday had a salutary influence on this unsatisfactory state of things.  It united them once more in feelings at once tender and sacred.  Their own trials became insignificant in the contemplation of the sufferings of the highest and holiest.

    "How dear she can be," said Constance to Esther, when the day was done, and Kate, though silent, had been warmly affectionate to her, and almost penitent towards her father.  "Oh, Esther, what is to become of her?"

    It was very late indeed, or rather very early, when Constance retired from Esther's room through a small dressing-room which opened on her own.  She almost wondered at herself that, during that long conference on things temporal and spiritual, she had not been betrayed into some confidence which must have led to the disclosure of her secret, or, rather Mr. Carrington's; but he was not mentioned.  And Esther, too, retired wondering at the reticence of her friend, and almost inclined to think that there was nothing in the hint which Mrs. Carrington had so cleverly conveyed.

    On Saturday—how desperately fast the days went by!—Esther, accompanied by both Kate and Constance, went down to Mr. Wiggett's garden to visit little Mary, whom Esther had conveyed thither on her way to Redhurst.  The garden wore its soberest and tenderest hues of brown and green.  Patches of rich, smooth, freshly-turned mould alternated with patches of springing plants.  The borders were not gay, but the spring flowers showed here and there in white and gold, and in the orchard the plums had put on their light snowy blossoms.  Outside, in the fields, which made part of the garden, men were sowing breadths of carrots, parsnips, savoys, kale, and all their kindred.  Inside, in the flower garden, Mr. Wiggett himself was sowing sweet peas, mignonette, stocks, and other hardy annuals, planting, and grafting, and training his wall fruit.  In the former of these occupations he was being actively assisted by little Mary.  He had written her name in big letters all along one of the borders, and she had strewed out of her own hands the seed into the furrows, which were to blossom into "Mary Potter," in white and purple candytuft.

    They had just finished the task when Esther and her friends appeared.  Mary was a little disappointed that there was nothing to be seen at present for her labour.  The seed was covered up, and she could only point to the bare blank earth, and assure them that the wonder was hidden there.

    Little Mary's beauty and grace captivated everyone.  The child's gaiety was always tender; great pleasures—and her visits to the garden had been great to her beyond comparison with all the pleasures of her life—exalted rather than excited her.  Kate began to court her acquaintance, and Mary, after a little consideration, inclined to be friends, especially as she had seen "the lady" before.  "The lady" was her distinctive name for her sister's grandest and gayest visitor.

    While Kate chatted with the child, Constance was in full conference with Mr. Wiggett concerning her greenhouse plants.  He invited her to come and inspect his, and as they went off together, Mary, not choosing to lose sight of one friend in gaining another, led Kate to follow in the same direction; Esther brought up the rear.

    The greenhouse was far gayer than the garden, and as the whole party passed through its narrow door in single file, Esther was left outside.  Looking up through the glass of a similar structure she caught sight of a pale face and gleaming grey eyes.  It was Philip, and he was looking full at her.  Her ready smile was answered, flashed back on her with all the light of his singularly radiant one.  But Esther did not stop there.  She had come to see him as well as her little sister, and when she saw him she naturally went straight to him, turned from the door she was entering, and went in where he was sitting in the warm, moist forcing-house.

    "Are you better?" she asked, her voice full of the tender reverence with which she had learned to regard him.

    "Yes," he answered in his abrupt way, adding, hurriedly, "I have been too long idle.  I am going back to work on Tuesday."

    "You know that we are going away?" she returned, not knowing what to say, for his manner checked her speech.

    Another and yet more abrupt "Yes."  One unused to him might have construed it into, "What does that matter to me?" but Esther, looking in his face, saw there an expression of acute pain.  He was silent for a moment or two.  He could not grow paler, but a livid hue spread round his eyes.  He had risen from his seat to meet her, and now he was obliged to sink into it again.

    "You are ill," cried Esther, turning faint, as she saw him apply his handkerchief to his lips, and felt rather than saw that the red tide of life had burst its barriers again "I fear you are very ill."

    He looked up almost gaily, a sort of chivalrous defiance in his manner, and deprecating her concern, whispered, "I shall be better presently."

    She stood waiting, unwilling to leave him thus.

    "Let me call Mr. Wiggett," she said, at length.

    He shook his head; and looking round, she could see the others moving away.  Kate nodded as she passed with little Mary.  They were gone to explore some other corner of the garden.

    When Philip recovered himself she was standing over him.  She had pushed one of the casements open to give him air, and her eyes were full of tears, so that she could not meet his.

    "I must go now," she said, and half held out her hand, and then withdrew it, as there was no corresponding movement on his part.

    "I shall not see you again," he said, hurriedly.  "I have got a job down in the country, and when I come back to the old place you will be gone."  There was a tone so sad in his voice, that it brought before Esther vividly the almost desolate loneliness of his lot.

    "I shall have to work all the harder," he said, half to himself.

    She looked questioningly at him.

    "I shall have to work hard to forget you," came from his lips, while the light of an almost overpowering passion flashed into his face, "or rather to forget myself," he added, with a gasp, and rising to his feet again.

    Esther stood for a moment wavering; the next, she laid her hand upon his arm, and, scarcely knowing what she said, faltered, "Come with us."

    His heart gave a great bound, and he seemed to gain a sudden strength.  He took her hand and carried it to his lips, and then held it in both of his.

    He comprehended in a moment all that her words implied of happiness in the future.  He saw before him a land of promise, a land where men of nerve and brain like his have room to grow great.  He knew that in that future she offered him herself.

    "God bless you, for ever and ever!" he cried, looking into her charmed eyes.  "But it must not be.  I shall not die yet—I shall do some more work before I go; but I carry the warrant here within me, signed in that broken vein of mine.  You have given me joy enough to last me till the end."

    Little Mary came back breathless with running, to find her sister and Philip standing hand in hand, and looking "glad and sorry," as she phrased it, "all at once."  A long, silent clasp of the hands, a long, half-tender, half-mournful gaze, never to be forgotten by either, and they parted.  Esther found herself walking down the garden path by little Mary's side, with a strange, hitherto unknown feeling, as if she no longer belonged to herself.  Not even to Constance did she breathe a word of what had passed; and Constance, full of her own anxious thoughts, did not notice her absence of mind.

    Constance, who was always on the look out for the post, had her mind set at rest at last.  In the evening a letter came to her from Mr. Carrington.  It ran:—


DEAR CONSTANCE,—You will be glad to hear that I have had it out with my mother, and that my own mind is quite made up.  I come up to town on Tuesday, and will lose no time in learning my future fate.—Ever yours sincerely,

B. CARRINGTON.


    "Just like him.  An answer and no answer," thought Constance, as she put the note into her pocket, and tried to look unconcerned.


 
CHAPTER XLVIII.

TO GRAVESEND.


THE brief Easter holidays were over and gone.  Constance accompanied her sister to town in order to be with her all the time that remained till her departure.  Mr. Vanghan was to join them a few days later, and to go with them to Plymouth, where they were to embark.  Kate's improvement had been transient enough; now and then she relented, but for the most part she took refuge from her grief in a stony quietness, which her father and sister knew to be unreal, and which gave them the keenest pain.

    The Potters were to embark at Gravesend, but Constance would not say farewell to her friend till the very last.  She would see her again when the ship touched at Plymouth.  Nothing whatever had been heard of Mr. Carrington.  Constance had called at his mother's house, though she was ready to quarrel with herself for having done so; but they had not returned to town.  It was a mystery, or rather it was no mystery to Constance, for she solved it immediately.  The hero of the piece had turned faint hearted after all.  He was afraid of the risk of matrimony.  She had heard him talk of it as a risk under the most favourable circumstances, so she only judged him out of his own mouth.  His conduct, however, went far towards curing her of her too great regard for him; and that he was not worthy of Esther was the conclusion at which she speedily arrived.

    At length the day of departure came.  On the morrow the ship was to leave Gravesend, and the passengers must be on board the day before.  Everything was ready in the Potter household.  The whole family had assembled once more in the dismantled house in the midst of their numerous packages, having slept and breakfasted in one of the least disreputable coffee-houses in the neighbourhood.  The bulk of their belongings had been shipped at the dock, but Martin and Willie were to be the pioneers of the party, and to take care of what remained, and see it safe on board, and for this purpose they were to set off by an earlier train.  They could hardly conceal their impatience to be on the move, while Bob and Walter, though uneasy at the sight of their mother's sad face and frequent sighs, and Esther's grave, pale looks, found it difficult to keep down their spirits.

    At last the cart—belonging to the neighbouring greengrocer—which was to convey the baggage, arrived, not before Bob had been twice sent off to expedite its coming, and Martin and Willie assumed the command of loading—a command which the two younger brothers for once obeyed with alacrity.  When it was ready, nothing would serve Master Johnny but going with his brothers; so, after a brief opposition from his mother, he was suffered to ride away in triumph on the top of a pile of boxes, while the others walked by the side of the cart.  Mary could not bear the division of the party, and her opposition had been conquered by the promise that they would all wait at the station and go by the same train.  It was a sight to watch the boys go off, beckoning back so cheerfully, leaving behind not a single regret, full of hope, and life, and energy.  But to their happy smiles their mother's eyes were blind, blind with smarting tears.

    She was still further troubled when the twins, instead of waiting to go with her, set off to walk by themselves.  It seemed as if she could not keep her flock together any longer, an omen of the lasting separation which must sooner or later come.

    Timothy Wiggett had insisted on seeing them off.  He had slept in town for the purpose, and was at Sutton's Alley in good time with a cab.  Into this Mary and Esther and Sarah and little Polly were to be put, with sundry small packages not entrusted to the cart: he himself was to ride on the box.

    At the last moment Esther missed her mother, and went through the house to find her.  A stifled sob came from one of the empty rooms.  It was the room in which her father died.  She paused at the door for a little, and then entered softly and stood by Mary's side.  She was crouching on the floor with her face hidden in her hands.  Very softly Esther whispered, "Mother."  The name from her had, even yet, a newness and sweetness to Mary's ear.  "Mother, we are all waiting for you," repeated Esther; and Mary felt the comfort of the wisely chosen words, and rose and suffered Esther to lead her downstairs and place her in the cab.

    At the station, Mr. Wiggett, under Esther's direction, managed to get the whole family together in one second-class compartment.  Mary's anxiety that they should all be together seemed to increase, and the carelessness of the twins in the matter of gratifying her wish was painful to witness.  Martin and Willie absented themselves for a time, in their eagerness to see that everything was right, and Bob and Walter in their eagerness to see everything, right or wrong.  But at last Timothy, by dint of warding off all intruders, and nearly wedging himself into the carriage window, got them all together, and shut them in, just as the train moved off.

    On the way to Gravesend little Mary sat on Timothy Wiggett's knee, and fell asleep there.  Timothy had not much to say.  That there was nothing worth saying in a world where such things as this went on was pretty much his view of matters mundane in the present crisis.  He looked down at the child from time to time, and touched her cheek with his fat hand wistfully.  It was unlike his bright little Polly to be sleeping thus.  She was breathing hard, too, and had got a bright red rose on either delicate cheek.

    "She is wearied out with all the bustle and excitement of these last few days," said Mary, noticing the look.  "My own head aches with it; and she woke and cried with hers a good deal in the night."

    "She's too tender for this sort of thing," he replied, shaking his head.  "It's a bad business altogether, and if you like to turn back yet, you'll all have a roof to shelter ye as long as my name's Timothy."

    A faint smile at what seemed only a mild joke was all the answer Mary gave.

    They were soon at their present destination.  Mary continually looking round for the straying members of her family with the distracted air of a lost person, was put into the boat last, and was the last, save Timothy, to leave it.  They were all on the deck before her.

    But what a deck!  None of the party, except Martin and Willie, had ever before seen an emigrant ship, and the confusion caused them to feel something like dismay.  They had to move on, to give room to fresh comers, through narrow lanes, between piles of goods.  Bales, barrels, boxes were being swung in the air from the boats and lighters alongside, and dropped into the depths, and rolled, and bumped, and knocked about on every side.  The vessel was an auxiliary screw, and they were coaling her, and black dust flew about, and water floated on the slippery planks.

    Martin and Willie guided the party, for they had had the advantage of a previous visit to the ship, under the care of Harry West.  They led the way first to their own quarters.  The condition of things there was not such as to reassure them.  Down the steep break-neck ladder they could catch a glimpse of the confusion reigning in the semi-darkness below.  At the very mouth of this pit two men were squabbling angrily.

    "I say, bundle your traps out o' this.  That's my berth.  I been and took it a week ago."

    "No, I won't.  First come first served, that's my motto," shouted the defendant, who was evidently of opinion that possession is nine-tenths of the law.

    "You won't, won't you!  Then I'll make you," retorted the claimant, and was proceeding to a summary ejectment, when the appearance of some constituted authority, to which both appealed at once, rendered anything further unintelligible.

    "You needn't go down just now," said Martin, catching the look of consternation on his mother's face; "but we have got very good places, not far from the entrance, where we will have plenty of light and air; further back it is rather dark and close."

    "What a dreadful place!" groaned Mary.
/
    "Will you have to live down there among those rough men?" asked Esther, her face reflecting the dread on her mother's.

    "Men must take the world as they find it, mother;" said Martin, with an assumption of manliness which, however, became him well; "they won't do much good in it if they don't," he added, turning to Esther.

    "But the boys," she whispered, for even a glance had told her that the men down there were not the associates that a sister would choose for her brothers, or a mother for her sons.  There was worse than rudeness in one or two of the faces she had caught a glimpse of.

    "Will and I will take care of them the best we can", he whispered in reply, as they moved away.  "We've had plenty of the same sort of thing, and if they take to it, it won't be for want of seeing the ugly side of it.  But it isn't in them.  They only get to hate it the more the closer they come to it."

    Esther drew but small comfort from this philosophy of her brother's, and could not help wishing that the boys had not been separated from them, but she said no more.

    They went on, looking down into another similar pit, where a number of women seemed to be preparing for an early dinner, amid much talking and laughing, and screaming and scolding.

    Esther was truly thankful when they reached their cabin—narrow and confined as it was—to find it comparatively clean and quiet, and capable of affording some degree of privacy.

    "There seems ten times as much coming in as the ship can possibly hold," said Martin to a good-natured sailor.

    "There's plenty more to come yet," he answered, laughing.  "Never fear, we'll stow it safe enough."

    "And how long will this confusion last?"  "Till we're well out to sea."

    "I wish we were," he said thoughtfully.

    "So do I," echoed the sailor.

    Little Mary was crying with her head again, and complaining of the harsh noises; and not all the glorious things to be found in an immense packet of sweets with which Timothy had provided himself could tempt her to raise it from her mother's shoulder and share in the refreshment, to which her brothers were soon doing ample justice, standing round the cabin door, while the others sat within.

    There were other two who turned away from the comfortless meal.  Esther and her mother felt as if the first morsel would choke them.  They, too, wished the ship would sail.  The agony of parting must last as long as they were linked to the shore.  They longed to have it over, or even for the night to come and hide them from the noise and tumult, and suffer them to weep in secret.


 
CHAPTER XLIX.

THE GUIDE-BOOK.


"THIS is the very day the Wests were to have sailed," said Benjamin Carrington to his mother, as the train in which they were seated stopped for a few minutes at one of the stations on the up line to London.  They were the only occupants of the carriage, but for all that they had been very sparing in conversation during the long hours of their journey that had already passed.  Mrs. Carrington found that speaking while the train was in motion fatigued her, and her son was not sorry to keep silence and give himself up to his own meditations.

    "So it is, my dear," she answered; "I am sorry we did not see them again before they went away.  I like her; she was always a favourite of mine; and I think it is quite shocking that she should be dragged out to that dreadful place.  I could see she was going against her will, though she was too proud to own it."

    "What an intolerable fellow that young West is," said her son.  And then the train rushed on again, and the old lady sank back among the cushions, while the young man relapsed into his dreamy mood.

    After a time, however, he became restless; either the chain of his present thoughts had been broken, or he had wearied of pursuing it.  He had given full ten minutes to the morning paper, and considered himself the master of its contents, the latest intelligence being all he ever troubled himself to read.  So he began rummaging a small black despatch-bag which was his constant travelling companion, less with any idea of finding anything readable than of arranging its miscellaneous contents, with that almost excessive love of order which is a characteristic of such minds as his.

    His clerk had packed it up on the eve of his departure, and had met him with it at the station, telling him that it contained the letters and papers which as yet he had not seen.  The letters he had read on his journey down, the papers he had afterwards disposed of, chiefly in the small hours, when his restless intellect kept him awake.  He took them out now one by one, looked at the writing endorsed on each, and bound them together with a stray bit of the orthodox red tape.  The letters he put together in a small side-pocket.  The bag was exhausted.

    Not quite, however.  Flat in the bottom of it lay a guide to the beauties of Devonia.  He had never read it; had been too much occupied to think about it.  He took it now, and opened it about the middle, or, rather, it opened of itself there, and disclosed another letter, a letter unlike the rest, one of those long, narrow, pinky envelopes which ladies employ.  At first he thought it must be a note of his mother's slipped in by accident, the more so as a glance at the handwriting showed him that it was from Constance, with whose notes to his mother he was perfectly familiar.  But no, the letter was unopened, and addressed to himself.  There could be no mistake. "Benjamin Carrington, Esq.," and the postmark showed it to be nearly three weeks old.  The unfortunate guide-book had been thrust into the black bag back downwards, the letter had slipped into the book, and the book had slipped into the bottom of the bag when the papers had been pulled out.  All this flashed through his mind in a moment, even before he had time to open the note, though he did this impatiently enough.

    It was the note which Constance Vaughan had written to him on the eve of the holidays, and which he had never seen.  He read it at a glance.  When he had done so he neither raved nor tore his hair, nor tossed the offending guide-book out of the carriage window.  He folded up the note quite deliberately, and sat looking out at the flying landscape.  Miles and miles the express sped on, and he neither moved nor spoke; his thoughts all the while, not unlike that outer world, seemed flying too, while in reality they stood still.  He was conscious of this as he looked from time to time on his mother's face, who was now sleeping peacefully opposite to him.  "I am not horribly miserable," he thought, and his most mocking smile played round his lips, "but this feeling is worse than the acutest misery.  I wish I could shake it off and be in a passion—a good old-fashioned rage at everything and everybody, myself included."

    Of course he could say nothing about the note to his mother.  Again and again he stole a look at her, not without tenderness.  Was it possible that she was aware of this, and had purposely detained him in Devonshire?  No, he cast aside the unworthy suggestion.  Worldly he knew her to be, but base he could not think her.  The very thought roused him to do battle with himself, and recalled the resolution and self-reliance which had lately stirred him.  He was determined to carry out the life which he had planned, though she was lost to him for ever.  He would not sink into a scoffing sickly-minded Sybarite with out an effort.  It was his last fight with the sulky demon Do-nothing, and before the train stopped he had prevailed.

    When Mrs. Carrington had discovered the immediate necessity for a visit to some distant relations in Devonshire, her motive had not been far to seek, and was quite apparent to her son.  He had resented it far more than he would have resented any active opposition.  It was, in fact, treating him like a child, and he took an early opportunity of telling his mother what were his intentions with regard to Esther.

    Mrs. Carrington happily took up the ground of objection to Esther's relatives, where she was easily met by her son, where the spheres of life were so distinct there could be no difficulty, none which such a woman as Esther could not deal with gracefully and graciously.  A weaker woman, by her very fears and scruples, might make a mess of it; but she, he felt sure, would be able to act with judgment as well as tenderness.  Then he did not intend to go in for a life of pleasure, which meant living for other people's pleasure rather than your own.  He meant to enter upon an active life, whether in public or private.  He did not, in planning all this for himself, expect her, his mother, to provide the means.  He meant to begin life as a poor man, with a small establishment.

    This latter portion of his plan was, perhaps, the most distasteful of all to Mrs. Carrington, who loved power, and had on more than one occasion made her son—fond of him and proud of him as she was—feel that she duly appreciated her position as mistress of the purse.  He had often felt, in his more active mood, that he lacked freedom, the freedom which only independence can give, and he had lately acknowledged to himself a deficiency of the manly virtues which dependence breeds.  Obstinate on the score of trifles he had always been.  Now he set himself firmly to make the great stand of his life.

    It was not done without a struggle; but at last Mrs. Carrington found herself obliged to yield, and it was then that her son had written his misleading note to Constance.  But having given in on the chief point, she expected to be yielded to on the minor one of still further delay, and in the midst of this new struggle she was seconded by a sharp attack of illness, which confined her for a week to her bed, and for another to the sofa.

    Her son had occupied much of his time during her illness—which was only alarming for the first few days—in arranging his affairs, and also in discovering how very much he was in love and all this in the intervals of the demands made upon him by a large party of very young ladies, to whom he proved an interesting object of study, and who were convinced that he needed a great deal of their society.

    He would not have acknowledged a hope so utterly groundless; but as the train neared London, and he felt his resolution return, he began to fancy that Esther might still be his—not even yet be gone.  Ships did not always set sail on the appointed days.  But if even the worst had happened that seemed probable, the other side of the world was not too far to follow her.

    It was with something like impatience that he leaped from the train and assisted his mother from the carriage.  Her own man was waiting on the platform to perform all other needful services; but it was with a gasp of astonishment that she heard Mr. Carrington say, "Here is the carriage; I will see you to it, and then I must be absent for an hour or two."

    "Where are you going?" said Mrs. Carrington, in astonishment.

    "I am going to make an inquiry which cannot be delayed," he answered.

    "I never heard of it before," she murmured.

    "Do not wait dinner for me," was his only reply, and he was gone.

    "So unlike Benjamin," thought his mother.  "He never used to do anything in a hurry.  But he is altogether unlike himself," she added, mentally, with a sigh, as she sank back in her carriage and was driven away alone.


 
CHAPTER L.

TOO LATE.


THE same night saw Benjamin Carrington speeding back to Plymouth.  He had learnt that the ship had left Gravesend a day later than had been announced, and that, therefore, in all probability, she would likewise be a day later in making her final start from the southern port.  He had also made sure that both the Wests and the Potters were gone.

    He had been somewhat afraid to tell his mother how matters stood.  He had shrunk from seeing her exhibit some triumph on the occasion—that species of triumph which profound egotists exhibit when events occur to favour their wishes—a triumph as if the course of the universe had been ordered for their especial service.  He shrank from seeing this, and yet before dinner was over he had communicated to her the fact of Esther's departure with her family.

    "All gone!" the old lady ejaculated, taking the intelligence quite differently from what he had expected.  "How do you know?"

    "I heard of it by letter to-day, and I have been to both the houses.  It is four days since the Potters sailed, and the Wests went down to Plymouth only this morning."

    "What a pity we did not know that those Potters were going," she remarked.

    Esther, cut off from her objectionable relations, and managed by her, Mrs. Carrington, was quite a different person from Esther with a low-born mother and ill-bred sisters at her back.  She did not doubt her power of managing her.  She no more doubted her power of managing any human being than she doubted her power to speak.  Esther was poor, and she rather liked the idea of her son marrying a poor wife.  Then she was by far the most distinguished-looking young lady of her acquaintance; and above all things Mrs. Carrington worshipped distinction.

    Mr. Carrington looked up at his mother with a questioning glance as she repeated her last words.  She smiled at him graciously.  "We might have managed to detain one of them," she added.

    The old lady had made one of the conquests in which she delighted.  Her son looked at her gratefully, and thanked her warmly.

    She was, however, hardly prepared for a movement so decisive as starting off by the mail train in the hope of catching them up.  This was what her son proposed, and, moreover, intended to execute, notwithstanding all that she could urge to the contrary.  He would survive the fatigue, and sleep very well in the train, he had no doubt.

    He had, however, miscalculated his powers for once.  Over-strained and sleepless, he sped through the night; and the hopeless nature of his errand forced itself upon him more and more.  He might be in time to see Esther once more, and to tell her how and why he had come; but was it likely that she would forsake her friends and go back with him at a moment's notice?  It is true that Constance and Mr. Vaughan would be there to receive her; but he could hardly flatter himself that she loved him well enough to take a step so sudden.  What a fool he had been in the past, and on what a wild-goose chase had he come for the present!

    In spite of these depressing thoughts, however, he had determined to press his suit in the plainest terms, and snatch Esther, if possible, from the very brink of fate.  Faith, too, had risen with courage, and he never doubted for a moment that she would remain wholly uninfluenced by any motive save the one which he desiderated—attachment to himself.  That he should find her unable to return his love, was the only possibility he had to dread.

    When the pearly light of the May morning glimmered in upon him and the solitary fellow-traveller who had been snoring comfortably by his side for the last three hours at least, Benjamin Carrington looked the anxious lover to perfection.  He was haggard with sleeplessness and fatigue, and instead of his usual calm elegance of person and demeanour, he had all the appearance of roused and restless energy.  He was no longer looking down on the conflict, but taking part in it—taking his share of hurry, and strife, and wound.  Could he have looked at himself just then, bodily or mentally, in that mirror of self-reflection which he so constantly held up to himself, and which had often marred his singleness of purpose, and was fast destroying his simplicity of character, he would have been too much astonished even for self-mockery.  But for once in his life Benjamin Carrington had no thought of himself.  Well for him if he can pitch his future life at this far nobler key.

    The sun was shining full and fair on land and sea when he got out at the station, and stepped into the nearest hotel.  He had not far to seek for the intelligence he wanted—it met him on the threshold: the City had sailed the evening before.  "She kept her time," said his informant; "the wind was in her favour, and she went off an hour before sundown.  I saw her off myself.  You weren't going in her, sir?" he added, noticing the expression of disappointment on his listener's face, which certainly did not keep its usual impassive look of well-bred indifference.

    "No," he replied; "I only came to see a friend on board."

    "Too late, sir," and the man shook his head in a rather exasperating manner, while he received his order for a cup of coffee, and led the way to a room.

    "There's always a party too late for everything.  There was a party just missed being too late for the City—caught her swinging by her last rope off the point of the pier.  Such a to-do to get them off!  They didn't go from this house, for they came straight from the station; but they were to have stayed here, and I gave them a hand, and got them off all right."

    "Do you know their names?" said Mr. Carrington.  It was just possible that it might be the Wests, and he wanted to find out Constance and her father, who, in all likelihood, were still in the place.

    "I don't know their names," the man answered, "for their luggage was in before.  They would have been done for if it hadn't; as it was, they had a race for it, and the poor lady hadn't a minute to say good-bye to her pa and another young lady—her sister, I s'pose; and the young gentleman, he cried, 'Come along, Kate,' and she looked wild at him, though she didn't say nothing.  It was all his fault they were so late, I s'pose," and the man smiled as if he had witnessed an aside of the comedy of domestic life—a little tiff between a happy young couple, instead of having caught a glimpse of its deepest tragedy.

    "Do you know where the elderly gentleman, whom you thought was the lady's father, is stopping?" asked Mr. Carrington.  "I think they belong to the party I came to see."

    Yes, he was stopping in the house—he and the young lady; but he didn't know if they were up yet.  He would go and see, if the gentleman pleased.  And in the meantime coffee was served.

    No; it was too early to trouble the lady and gentleman, even if they were his friends, decided the new arrival; but he gave the man his card, and told him to ascertain if the gentleman's name was Vaughan, and to present the card to him at breakfast.

    The man politely returned from the bar to say that the name of the lady and gentleman he had indicated was Vaughan, and that he would attend to the instructions he had received.

    Then, after slight but much-needed refreshment, Mr. Carrington set out again.  It was still too early to seek the Vaughans, but he had got into that state in which repose is impossible—in which the tension of brain and nerve must be gradually relaxed before rest can be achieved.  He thought the sea air would cool the fever of his head, the outlook on the water soothe his spirit.  He went down to the harbour, and paced about the shore, curiously seeking from some loitering sailors corroborative evidence concerning the sailing of the vessel.

    He had thus wandered aimlessly for an hour or so, and was thinking of returning to the hotel, when he saw before him, at a little distance, Constance and her father.  They did not see him.  They were looking out to sea, pointing, in all probability, to the spot where the last glimpse of the departing ship had been caught by their watching eyes.
 

They were looking out to sea


    He went up to them slowly.  They were evidently in the deepest grief, though outwardly calm.  Constance was clinging to her father piteously.  She was the first to observe Mr. Carrington's approach.  She did not even look surprized, far less pleased.

    "You here, Mr. Carrington," she said, coldly, as he held out his hand.

    "And too late," he answered, speaking the words which were sounding in his brain like the murmur of the sea.

    He had turned to receive Mr. Vaughan's greeting.  "You are still in Devon?" said the latter—Mr. Vaughan's idea being, evidently, that he had come from somewhere in the neighbourhood:

    "I came down from London last night," replied Mr. Carrington.  "I thought the ship was not to have sailed till to-day."

    It must have surely been something more than common friendship that had prompted this trip of Mr. Carrington's; and, having painfully learnt a little wisdom in such matters, Mr. Vaughan looked from one to the other of the faces by his side.  He saw nothing melting the sad sternness of his daughter's, however, and breathed more freely as he said, "We were not much more fortunate.  Through a mistake of Harry's we only arrived in time to see the vessel moving off."

    The remembrance of the scene of yesterday brought bitter tears to the eyes of Constance, which she had to turn away to hide.

    "And when do you intend to return?" inquired Carrington, after a painful silence.

    "By this morning's express," replied Mr. Vaughan.  "We came out before breakfast to take a farewell look," and he nodded out toward the distant horizon.

    "I should have been glad to return with you," said Mr. Carrington, "but as I only travelled up yesterday, and have been on the move for the last four and twenty hours, I fear I must remain and get a few hours' rest."

    It did not appear that Constance was taking the slightest notice of him, though the last words were spoken at her, and in a decidedly injured tone—a tone which Constance had often mocked in the happy days of old.

    At last he addressed her directly. "I did not know till yesterday that your friend had gone also.  Did you see her before she sailed?"

    Then he had not received her note.  It was, in all probability lying at his chambers.  Constance could not but look her desire for explanation as these thoughts passed through her mind.  "I parted from her in London," she answered, "hoping to see her again; but we were too late to get on board—indeed, they would not have allowed us; every one not going with the ship had been sent on shore.  Kate and I had to part quite suddenly at last, and in the confusion I did not even catch a glimpse of Esther, though she must have been standing on the deck."

    "We lost sight of Kate too," said Mr. Vaughan; "in fact, we could see nothing but a crowd of people waving hats and handkerchiefs—black figures standing out against a brilliant evening sky.  Even had the light been better, poor Constance would not have seen much, I fear," he added, looking tenderly at her.

    The three walked on together, Mr. Carrington going over to the side of Constance.  "Let us hope the parting is only for a time," he said, gently.  "Harry is sure to come back again; the distance is nothing nowadays."

    He spoke as if the antipodes might be reached in a Long Vacation tour.  The tone of hope and energy was new to her, and she raised her eyes to his face, the tears standing on their thick lashes.  He comforted her, and unconsciously she accepted the comfort.  They stood nearer to each other than they had ever done before.

    "You will come and breakfast with us?" said Mr. Vaughan.

    "Unless," Constance put in, with that touch of womanly care which so often wins a man's heart by its betrayal of interest in his personal concerns—"unless Mr. Carrington would prefer to rest; he looks quite worn out."

    "I think I shall go back to London with you after all," said that gentleman.

    "But you have just travelled down," said Mr. Vaughan.

    "And travelled up only the day before," said Constance, showing that she had been paying attention to him after all.  "I'll tell you what we shall do," said Mr. Vaughan, kindly; "we will stay here another day.  I should like to stay here another day," and his eyes went seaward wistfully.  "You shall go and rest now," and he laid his hand on the young man's shoulder as they came up to the door of the hotel, "and come and dine with us in the evening.  To-morrow we can all go up together."


 
CHAPTER LI.

BAD TIDINGS.


THE daily paper did not reach Redhurst until after breakfast, so Mr. Vaughan escaped the temptation, common to other men, to obscure himself behind the broadsheet during a moiety of the meal.  Against this temptation Mr. Walton was not proof; but Milly tolerated this, and all his other failings, with more than patience—indeed, had been even heard to commend the objectionable practice, and to pick up contentedly the crumbs of intelligence which fell from the lips of her lord and master.  Constance, on the other hand, could not endure it, and now that she was left alone with her father, she regularly cut the paper in two, and shared the reading of it with him.

    It was now five days since the departure of Kate and Harry, and life was returning into its ordinary channels.  Father and daughter had breakfasted together with tolerable cheerfulness, and had even talked of taking up their usual tasks, which had been laid aside for a time.  After breakfast, as usual, the damp, folded sheet was handed in by a maid-servant, and seized by Constance with a faint return of her usual avidity.  So dies in human hearts the thought of parting—the furrows follow for a while the wake of the vessels, but only to be effaced at last.

    There was still a fire in the breakfast-room, for the weather had been unusually cold and stormy, and Constance spread the paper before the grate, while she stood on the hearth-rug dividing it with her paper-knife.

    "There is your half," she said, cheerfully, handing the sheet to her father; "you like the summary first."

    "Yes, I like to choose what I shall read," he replied, with almost equal cheerfulness.

    Constance smiled, for he accused her of reading what she called "the horrors."  Then, as he settled himself in his chair, she went off with her portion into her favourite nook in the window behind him.

    There was silence in the room for a few minutes, only broken by the rustling of the paper in their hands; but at the end of that time Mr. Vaughan was startled by a deep groan and a heavy fall.  He looked round in terror, and saw Constance lying in a heap on the floor.  She had fainted.  Mr. Vaughan's alarm was not unnatural.  Thanks to fresh air and exercise, to freedom from care, and well-disciplined minds, the young ladies of Redhurst were not given to fainting fits.  Mr. Vaughan had never seen one of his daughters faint, and Constance had always been the most robust of the three.

    If he had looked round the minute before, he would have seen her rise to her feet, and, clasping her hands with a look of agony, vainly frame her lips to speak.  Ringing the bell for the servants, Mr. Vaughan hastened to raise her, or, rather, to lay her in an easier posture.  But she did not long remain insensible.  She soon opened her eyes, and took the draught of water which the maid held to her lips.  They lifted her to a sofa, and laid her there, and still she could not speak; though with the return of consciousness came the return of the agony, which again convulsed her face.  At length she found relief in weeping.  Her father, attributing her suffering to physical pain, proposed that the doctor should be sent for; but she shook her head, and at length found voice enough to ask the maid to leave her.  Then, pointing to the paper, she cried out, through her tears, "Oh, poor papa!"

    Agitated and grieved as he was, Mr. Vaughan lifted the paper from the floor to place it on the table, without in the least connecting it with his daughter's sudden illness; but as he did so a heading in large letters met his eye—


"FOUNDERING OF THE CITY!
TERRIBLE LOSS OF LIFE!"


It was his turn to drop the silent messenger of evil tidings.  "My child!—my child!" he cried, burying his head in his hands, and flinging himself on his knees by the side of Constance.

    She could only repeat, "Poor papa!"

    There were no other words uttered between them that morning.

    Over the first agonising grief a veil must be drawn.  No one witnessed it, and they never spoke of it—never told how they gained courage to read the awful story, and to quench the last spark of hope as they learnt that only a few of the sailors had escaped, that all the rest of that great company had perished.  Such things cannot be told.  We only know that, from time to time, they must be suffered.

    To not a few households in England that morning's paper carried the like heartrending anguish and dismay.  Mr. Walton sat opposite to his fair young wife as she poured out his coffee, and was glad to know that his face was concealed from her behind the page, as he read the terrible news.  With the paper rustling in his trembling hands, he looked up at her, dreading to communicate the intelligence which would quench those pleasant smiles for many a morning to come.  Once and again he fixed his eyes on the headings with a kind of fascination, and tried to speak.  And when at last he said, "Milly, my darling!" in a tone so choked and uncertain, and unlike his own, that she rose and came over to his side, he was forced to allow her to read for herself, only flinging an arm about her in silence, and clasping her to his heart at the moment when she saw it all.

    After the first burst of sorrow, nothing would satisfy her but to go at once to her father; and Herbert, finding it impossible to leave her, accompanied her thither.  They felt, both of them, that the shock which they had suffered, severe as it was, had come to them through the resisting medium of their own happiness—a happiness which, in its perfect circle, isolated them to a certain extent from the whole world, and that Constance and her father would suffer infinitely more.

    Mr. Carrington, too, read the announcement at the breakfast-table, and startled his mother by an exclamation of horror—startled her out of her morning quiet, and took away her peace and comfort for the rest of the day.  She was certainly awe-stricken and sorrowful on account of the three young people whom she had known and seen so lately in the bloom of youth and beauty; but her principal concern was for her son, who, pale as death, had hurried out of the house, in the midst of her lamentations, leaving his breakfast wholly untasted.

    He, too, was speedily on his way to Redhurst, to offer his services to the Vaughans, in case there was anything to be done.

    But there was nothing.  In ordinary cases of bereavement there is always something to do, in the doing of which the first violence of sorrow finds vent, and is relieved; but for those whom the sea has devoured there are no last rites to be paid; no last looks can be taken of their faces; no flowers can be strewn upon their bodies; left in the depths,


"To toss with tangle and with shells,"


nothing remains to be done for them but to sit down and weep.

    The evening papers confirmed the intelligence, and gave the particulars of the disaster, as taken down from the mouths of the survivors.

    For the first two days after leaving Plymouth the weather had been moderate; but on the second night it began to blow, and before morning one of the masts of the ship had been carried away.  All day the gale continued with unabated fury, and one by one the other masts went overboard, hanging over the sides of the heavily-laden ship a mass of timber and cordage.  A vain attempt was made to secure them, but the gale blew harder than ever, and the lurching vessel shipped heavier and heavier seas.  As long as the engine-pumps kept going there had been hope, but at length a tremendous sea rushed down into the saloon, and the fires in the engine-room were extinguished.  Then the boats had been got out, and the attempt made to save as many as possible.  As usual, however, the boats were unworkable, and first one and then another was swamped as soon as lowered.  None but sailors would enter the only remaining boat, which pulled off in safety from the foundering ship, and in a few minutes saw her sink, and all on board perish.

    This was the narrative of the survivors, as given in the public prints, and there seemed nothing more to be learnt.  But the sailors had been brought up to London, and Mr. Carrington took upon himself the melancholy task of visiting them, to see if he could learn anything concerning the dear peculiar few in whose fate he and his friends were so deeply interested.  All that he could hope for was some mournful, perhaps harrowing glimpse of them in the last extremity, but even that seemed better than the indiscriminate silence.

    One of the men was sure that he remembered Harry helping to clear the ship.

    "A young man with hair and beard as bright as gold," prompted Carrington.

    "Ay, sir; as bright as his watch-chain, and it glittered in the sun."

    "And dressed in blue?"

    "Dressed in blue, sir; and a capital sailor.  It wasn't the first time he had been to sea.  Could keep his feet, and take a wetting, like any old salt."  The sailor added touches which showed him light as foam to the last.

    But as for the women, the sailors remembered none of them.  It was too early in the voyage to get acquainted with the looks of the passengers.  Very few had even been on deck.  They had mostly kept to their cabins and said their prayers, and given wonderful little trouble.

    "And that same golden-haired young man," again prompted Carrington, with quivering lips; "had he any one with him—had he a wife?"

    "Yes, he had a wife below; but for that, he would have been with us.  We could have taken him, but he wouldn't leave her, though we tried to persuade him.  The passengers were either afraid to trust the boat, or they had some one on board they wouldn't leave, sir.  He was one o' them.  He wouldn't leave her; though for once he looked a little white like as he watched us shoving off."

    "And then?"

   "And then, sir, he went below," and the spokesman paused with a look in his face which put an end to further questioning.

    This was something for Mr. Carrington's pains.  Harry had refused to leave Kate at last.  Perhaps, in the supreme hour of separation, there had come to them a union of spirit which had gone far to take away the bitterness of death.

    Concerning Esther all was blank.


 
CHAPTER LII.

LOVE AND LOSS.


THERE was no reserve among the friends at Redhurst now.  Each knew the other's sorest trial and loss.  Mr. Vaughan's self-upbraidings found their counterpart in those of Mr. Carrington.

    The sorrow of both had in it that element of a haunting regret which gives more of lasting desolation to the heart than anything else; but, in its manifestions, Mr. Vaughan's grief was more like remorse.  He blamed himself for having urged Kate to go with her husband.  If he had but listened to her prayer, she would have been with him now, instead of gone from him for ever.  From the expressions which he let fall, Constance could see how he was dwelling on this thought.  It was, indeed, rapidly prostrating him, both in body and mind.  He had presumed once more to take upon himself the direction of another's life, and with what a result!—a result at once immediate and final.

    It was a very dangerous channel of thought for a mind so sensitive and distrustful of itself to pursue—one into which only such minds are apt to fall.  The self-sufficient of the world pass every day, not over the dead bodies, but over the dead souls—dead to faith, and hope, and charity—which they had helped to slay, murmuring, triumphantly, "Am I my brother's keeper?"  But such as Mr. Vaughan feel the pressure of their responsibility for others to the furthest issues of their lightest acts.  He once confessed that he could not look a beggar in the face and deny him an alms—as he felt bound to do, because his reason condemned an indiscriminate charity—without being haunted by the misgiving that the refusal might be one stroke more in the bitter process of hardening a human heart.

    It was no fanciful alarm which Constance felt, and communicated to Mr. Carrington, when she found her father brooding on such thoughts as these.  Every feeling of self died out of her heart in the intensity of her care for him, and she consulted Mr. Carrington as freely as if he had been a brother; and in those dark days he proved himself worthy of her trust.  Always pervaded by a tender melancholy, which formed the background on which the light of his intellect and fancy played, there was reason to fear that Mr. Vaughan's mind might sink into hopeless gloom.

    "If I had but allowed her to stay," was the constant burden of his thoughts.  His intellect seemed to centre more and more on that terrible "if."  His fancy lost its spring; he sat like a man who has been paralysed, looking straight before him, hour after hour—looking, and yet seeing nothing.  No wonder that Constance was alarmed.

    Between Mr. Walton's strongly-marked mind, taking dark enough views of life and human nature sometimes, but always at home in the region of the practical and practicable, and that of Mr. Vaughan, there had always been a slight dissonance.  It now came out clearer than ever, when the more sensitive spirit was rendered still more sensitive by suffering.  Mr. Walton did him harm, rather than good.

    It was Mr. Carrington who proved Constance's best ally in sustaining her father's spirit.  Every hour he could spare he spent with them, and in their service.  He told Mr. Vaughan the story of his love and loss, and of his everlasting regret.  The part he had played towards Esther, though a more passive one than that which Mr. Vaughan had acted towards his daughter, was yet similar enough to allow of a deep sympathy between the elder and the younger man.  But their natural positions seemed to have been reversed.  It was the younger who brought the power of a broadly Christian philosophy to bear upon their common sorrow.

    It has been said that there was no reserve among the friends; and there was none, except on the part of Constance, and that was the sacred secret of her love, which she had buried in her heart, and which seemed, somehow, to belong entirely to the past, and to make a part of its sweetness, as well as of its pain.  It gave her no pain in the present.

    It was a lovely morning.  Spring was abroad, filling the garden with blossom and sunshine and song.  And it was Sunday.  They were going to the village church together—father and daughter and friend, and the two latter had stepped out into the garden a little before the time.  Constance was clad, for the first time, in black.  She had been so quiet in her sorrow hitherto, that no special sympathy had been offered to her by her companion.  She had seemed to give rather than to seek support.  They walked, in silence, a little way down a side walk that led to the orchard, the sunshine falling on their path.  The place was one flush of beauty—one chorus of song.  The birds sang as if they would leave no pause in their singing.

    "The world is too sad for this!" said Constance, calmly; but before her companion could answer, she had stopped and burst into a passion of weeping.  It was as if her own voice had called it forth.

    "Dear Constance," said Mr. Carrington, tenderly, "you have needed sympathy, and I have been selfishly claiming it from you."

    He tried to comfort her, but it seemed that he was powerless.  She stood among the blossoms shaken with passionate sobs.  The birds sang on with persistent piercing sweetness; Mr. Carrington uttered an involuntary "Hush!" over which, at any other time, he would have smiled.  Now he knew not what to do, unless he, too, could have wept.

    "Your father must not find you thus," he whispered, at last.

    "No," she answered, checking her sobs at once, and adding a murmur of thanks for the reminder.  "I shall be better now;" and she proceeded, turning half aside from him, to dry her eyes, and to pull her crape veil over her tear stained face.

    "How poor our attempts at comfort are," he said, as they moved on again in the direction she indicated—deeper still among blossomed trees.

    "No, no; you have comforted us greatly," she replied.  "You have sustained my father as I could not have done.  You, too, are greatly changed by this suffering."

    "For the better, I hope," he said.

    "Yes, for the better," she answered, simply.

    "I do not feel it as you thought I should?"  He was only leading her away from herself in asking the question.  "No."

    "How did you think it would affect me?"

    "More as it has done my father—with a paralysis of hopelessness.  More as I felt just now, that sunshine, and blossom, and promise, and all putting forth of power, were vain things in a life that any moment might overwhelm."

    "I have felt that often enough before, in the presence of such calamities, when they fell far away from the sphere of my life, and touched me nowhere.  Shall I tell you what I feel now, when it has smitten me?  I feel my life consecrated by the touch; it seems as if it belonged to her, and must not any longer be a worthless thing to others—must not any longer be a thing to be idly thrown away.  It has somehow lost its littleness, and become related to a larger life beyond.  It has lost its littleness, and yet gained in individuality."  He had spoken, as if musing, rapidly and eloquently.  Then he added, in the lower tone of a confidence imparted, "If I may say it, I feel as if my life had been touched with a touch of divine power, and must henceforth belong to Him who gave it."

    And Constance noticed that he uncovered his head, and bent it reverently, as he uttered the last words.

    Then they turned to meet Mr. Vaughan, who was coming towards them, and Mr. Carrington hastened to offer him his arm, with the air of an affectionate son towards a stricken father.  You would not before have called the latter "an old man;" you would have spoken of him as such to-day.

    At the first opportunity Mr. Carrington sought out Philip, for the two young men had pledged themselves to friendship.  He went to Philip's lodging, but he was not there.  "He has moved away from us," said the meek, poverty-stricken landlady; adding, in a tone of regret, "but I can tell you where he works."

    Following the direction she gave, he went on to the workshop, and found Philip there.  The workshop was a great square, enclosed by brick walls, and lighted from the roof.  Fires were burning, blown by huge bellows, and hammers were ringing on every side.

    Philip stood at an anvil near the doorway, raining thick blows on a piece of glowing iron.  Mr. Carrington stood watching him till he came to a pause in his operations, and became conscious at the same time that someone was watching him.

    "I suppose I must not detain you now," said Carrington, after a friendly greeting had passed between them.  "Tell me where you live, and I will come and see you."

    "I am on piece-work," Philip replied, "and can talk to you while this bar is heating;" and he thrust the piece of iron into the fire again, while he leant his weight on the beam of the bellows, and sent a shower of sparks up from the glowing furnace.  "You must speak loud to be heard here;" he added, "and yet your words won't reach anybody else's ears."

    "Why have you gone away from the old place?" asked Carrington, abruptly.  Conversation conducted here was likely to be direct, at least.

    "I have gone down east," he replied. "There's a band of us working down there."

    "Will you give me work?" said Carrington.

    "And welcome.  What will you do?"

    "Whatever I am fit for."

    "That's the thing."

    When they had exchanged these brief sentences, the conversation came to an end.  It was significant that neither of them spoke of the lost.

    But two or three days after, when they met by appointment in Philip's East-end lodging, to which Carrington went straight from his chambers, while his mother drove off to a dinner-party in solitary state, an allusion was made to the sad event—the first and the last allusion to it which passed between them.

    Philip was cutting out work for Carrington, and was led to speak of the clergyman of the district.  "He wants to know if we are sound before he will countenance and encourage us."

    "And what did you tell him?"

    "I told him our programme was very simple.  To preach to these heathen nations what the Master preached—the love of the Father, and the salvation from sin!"

    Carrington smiled.  "And was he satisfied?"

    "Not quite.  He thought these were all well enough as far as they went; 'But,' he said, 'we are drifting into a sea of nothingness, Mr. Ward, where we ought to be quite sure of our ground.' "

    "Rather difficult work," said Carrington.  "Well?"

    "I told him simply that we could not despair of reaching land, if the Master was on board.  He is a good man, in spite of bad metaphor," added Philip.  "Christian men sometimes forget that hope is a Christian duty—hope for self, and church, and world, a duty next to faith, perhaps greater, since charity is the greatest, and hope is nearer to charity.  And there's no such thing as a sea of nothingness.  We are all sailing on the ocean of Divine Love.  No bad thing to be swallowed up in that."

    Carrington understood the pathetic look on his companion's face, and both remained for a moment silent and sorrowful.


 
CHAPTER LIII.

TURNED BACK.


WE must now turn back to the time when we left Mary Potter and her children on board of the doomed vessel, with the faithful Timothy in attendance.  As the day went on the confusion around them seemed only to become worse confounded, and Mary, with her girls gathered around her, and Johnny kept as closely as possible by her side, was fain to sit within the cabin and keep clear of the little world of chaos which reigned without.  Martin and Willie, as well as Bob and Walter, were abroad in the midst of it, and were evidently, especially the latter pair, enjoying the excitement of the stirring scene.  From time to time they made their appearance to report on all that was going forward.  The two elder brothers, with the laudable purpose of comforting their mother, brought her every agreeable bit of intelligence they could find, the soothing effect of which was generally neutralised by the younger pair rushing in breathless to communicate something of quite the opposite tendency.  "An awfully jolly row" was the least alarming of these communications.  Mary was glad when the day came to a close, and the sound of carpenters' saws and hammers ceased, even though Timothy Wiggett left the ship with the rest of the visitors.  He left, promising to come again in the morning; he was to spend the night in Gravesend for the purpose, and Mary was glad that she was to see his broad beaming face once more, with its silent but perfect sympathy.  Little Mary had continued ill and feverish and fretful.  Johnny, too, was unusually dull and heavy.  Before night it became apparent that both the children had caught heavy colds, and Timothy Wiggett had proved himself most efficient as a nurse, though he trusted rather too much to the agency of pink bull's-eyes and other wonderful productions of a like order.

    Morning came at last, after a distressing night, during which the ailing children had suffered no one in their immediate neighbourhood to close an eye.  Little Mary especially had tossed and tumbled and cried and fretted the whole night long, and when the morning came her fair face and neck were red as fire.  Her mother suspected what it was, and as soon as possible caused inquiry to be made for the doctor.  He was not yet on board, but was coming that morning to inspect the passengers, and Mary was assured that he should see her children first.  Timothy Wiggett was there before him, having previously ransacked the town for all the good things he could think of in the way of cakes and confections.  But from all good things whatever poor little Mary turned away her head, while Johnny took them, and cried because he found himself unable to devour them as usual.

    At length the doctor came, a frank, firm-looking man, who spoke in tones of clear decision, as if accustomed to his will being made law.  He had hardly looked at the children when he raised his head, saying, "They must be turned back!"

    Mary looked at him as if she hardly comprehended.

    "They must be got out of the ship as quickly as possible," he added.  "They are both in scarlet fever, and of course they cannot be allowed to go."

    Mary took in the idea of her children's danger, but nothing beyond.  It was some time before she thought of all which this turning back involved.

    "And you, young woman," said the doctor, turning to Sarah, "what is the matter with you?"

    "Nothing," faltered the poor girl, who was holding her little brother's head.

    But the firm man looked in her eyes and into her mouth, and shook his head over her also.  He then gave Mary some directions, and went off to speak to the master of the vessel concerning their immediate removal.  Esther came forward, and offered to go with him to see the matter settled.  She stated their circumstances briefly.

    "It is very hard in this case, certainly," said the doctor; but I cannot, for the sake of one family, allow a virulent disease to enter the ship, and endanger the lives of one half the passengers."

    He spoke as if there was no appeal from his decision; and indeed Esther felt that there was none.  The master of the ship was even more peremptory than the doctor.  "They must leave at once."

    As they arrived at this conclusion, Esther was joined by her elder brothers, alarmed and eager.  She introduced them to the doctor, who, on examination, pronounced in their favour.

    "They, at least, need not turn back."

    All the other members of the family passed in review before this arbiter of their fate, and were one by one pronounced safe, especially as he ascertained that only their mother, and Sarah, and Esther had been in very close contact with the sick children for several days.

    It was an excited group that gathered round Mary and the little ones, to decide on what was to be done.  With regard to them and to Sarah, no choice was left; they
must obey the mandate issued against them, and leave the ship immediately.  Orders had already been issued for the return of their passage money, and of everything belonging to them.  The question debated was, should all turn back together and wait for the next ship, or should Martin and Willie, with their two younger brothers, be allowed to proceed, and let the rest follow?

    The master of the vessel, who had joined the party in order to expedite matters, and the young men and boys themselves, took the latter view, and urged it strongly on the poor bewildered mother.  It was like fighting against fate, this trying to keep her family together, and Mary always went down in a fight with anything.  Assured that the children would be well again in a week or two, and that she and they would follow the others in less than a month, she suffered herself to be overruled, and hardly protested when the twins, who had been consulting together, declared their wish to go with their brothers.

    "Esther will take care of you, mother," Martin had said.  "We can go quite comfortably when we know she is with you."

    And Mary made no further opposition.  Martin had more power over his brothers and sisters than she had, and would take as anxious care for their welfare; and for the present she was absorbed in watching the lambs of her flock, over whom the vulture Death seemed to her already hovering.

    Timothy Wiggett, who had stood apart during the eager conference, now came forward with his timely aid.  It was he who carried little Mary on shore, wrapped in a blanket, and screened from light and air; while Martin, privately informed that the ship would not sail for hours, if at all that day, and allowed to accompany them on shore, on condition of undergoing a process of disinfection, carried his little brother in the same fashion.  The parting with the others took place on board the ship, and, in the bustle and excitement, was brief and bewildering—one of those things only half realised at the time, to be felt all the more acutely after, like a sudden wound which is almost painless in the giving.

    With difficulty they got a small, plain lodging, no one liking to take fever patients.  But a childless widow took them in at last, through Timothy's persuasive powers, which certainly did not lie in his tongue.  The children and Sarah were soon in bed, and under a doctor's care, the former slightly, the latter exceedingly, ill, though in appearance the cases had been quite reversed.

    Then it was time for Martin to return to the ship, though he lingered to the last.  After parting with his mother—and Mary seemed parting from all her children in parting with him—Esther walked down with him to the shore.  The fine manly young fellow could hardly keep from crying along the streets.  Esther leaned upon his arm as they walked together, their hearts too full for speech.

    "You will take care of mother," were the first and almost the last words he said.

    She gave the promise he seemed to require, and they wrung each other's hands in silence.

    The last Esther saw of him was his tall, slim figure standing up in the boat, and waving good-bye.  Her tears fell freely under her veil as she paced the streets back to their lodgings.


 
CHAPTER LIV.

PEACE AFTER STORM.


WHEN the terrible news of the foundering of the City came to Mary Potter she was hanging over the sick-bed of her daughter Sarah, who was, indeed, dangerously ill.  The children, who had taken the disease in its mildest form, were up and about again, almost as well as ever, while she, poor girl, had progressed rapidly from bad to worse.

    When the cup is full it runs over, and the human heart cannot hold more than a certain amount of sorrow; what is over remains unfelt.  Great calamities are to be measured by the length of time in which they involve us in suffering, rather than by the intensity of the suffering they cause.  Some griefs stretch their black shadows over whole lives; others but darken a short passage of our history.

    Under the grim shadow of that great disaster, Mary Potter will walk to her life's end.  She knew not, indeed, how she bore it and lived; for long after she could hardly be said to live, so dead was she to everything about her.  Her strength decayed, her beauty withered, she seemed to stoop as if with age, and her beautiful hair became in a few months thin and grey.

    Timothy Wiggett was not with them when the shock came.  He had stayed as long as he could, and returned commissioned to see Constance Vaughan, and explain to her how matters stood.  On his first visit the Vaughans were absent, and on the second he was met by the tidings of the disaster, and turned away because neither father nor daughter was able to see him.  The next day he was back at Gravesend, arranging with Esther that the whole family—all that now remained of it—should come to him as soon as Sarah could be moved.  As for Mary, she could take no part in any arrangement, but was helpless as a child.

    When Constance learned from Esther herself that she was still in the land of the living, it was with singular feelings of mingled pleasure and pain.  To both Constance and her father the tidings came with a fresh shock.  It was like tearing open a closing wound.  But though it thus for a time intensified their pain, it also roused them to a deeper and more conscious resignation to the will of God.  Esther was speedily pressed to take up her abode with her old friends, and her coming back to Redhurst gave a fresh impulse to the sympathy which is the only cure for an overwhelming sorrow to hearts like Mr. Vaughan's.

    It was not long before Esther roused herself to look to the future.  The money which had come to her diminished as it had been by the expenses of their outfit, would not long suffice for the whole family, and they could not always trespass upon the kindness of friends.  But she could not rouse her mother.  She seemed to turn away with a kind of loathing from the future, and from any exertion connected with it.

    Timothy, too, was averse to change.  "Mary," he said, "was a good housekeeper."  Sarah was most useful; it was, in reality, Sarah who did all that was wanted; "and, seeing that he paid them nothing, he had an excellent bargain.  The two little chaps counted for nothing; he throwed away as much garden stuff as they required for grub."  Thus they went on, and Esther's purpose was postponed from month to month.

    It was some time after her return before Mr. Carrington and Esther met.  It was natural that a reaction should follow the kind of exaltation that had come upon him.  It did follow speedily; but he had been carried by that one high tide of feeling out of himself for ever.  He sank into a state of deep melancholy, but it was a far other and nobler melancholy than he had before indulged in.  He went about a few days looking desperately ill.  His mother fidgeted, and, to satisfy her, he saw the family doctor, who looked grave, and prescribed cheerfulness without excitement.  He forgot to say where the tonic was to be procured.

    One day, Mrs. Carrington came in from her round of calls.  She found from signs in the hall that her son had returned before her.  With her light brisk step she passed at once into his study.  It was on the ground-floor, and she gave no warning ere she entered.  To her consternation, the sound that greeted her was an unmistakable sob, and the sight she saw was her son with his head bent, and in utter abandonment, crying like a child.  Very much alarmed and distressed, she nevertheless stepped back behind the door, called to him that she had returned, and went away as if she had neither seen nor heard.  But as soon as she had given him time to recover himself—for the old lady hated a scene, and, indeed, it was the last thing in the world which her son would have chosen to encounter—she came in again, taking care to enter less softly.
 

The sound that greeted her was an unmistakable sob


    "I was coming up to you," he said, in his usual tone.  "See," and he held forth a letter.

    It was from Constance, to tell that Esther was safe—was coming back, as it were, from the dead.  She had observed no precaution in her announcement, and the shock had been too much for him at the moment.  An attack of serious illness followed.  The excitement, and consequent depression, which the shock and counter-shock had caused, had brought on a functional derangement of the heart.

    Nor was Esther ignorant of his sufferings, and its cause; Constance, holding her knowledge no longer as a secret, had told her all.  For his sufferings, Esther expressed the truest sympathy; for the cause of them, only a deep regret.

    After the first painful interview, which took place as soon as Mr. Carrington had sufficiently recovered, they seemed to meet as friends, and they met thus more and more frequently as the summer advanced.  In the midst of the summer splendour of the Redhurst garden they often walked together—"Two wan, sick figures walking alone in the flowery land."  Not that Esther was sick, but she was pale with dwelling under the shadow of her own and others' sorrows.  As for her companion, it was sorrowful to see him so faded in his youth.

    All of a sudden he appeared to revive.  The air of the Redhurst garden seemed to furnish the tonic he required.  He recovered his cheerfulness, resumed his old interests and his new work with fresh vigour.  At first Mr. Vaughan had desired him to come to them for his own sake, now he encouraged his visits, as a means of enlivening the sadness that brooded over the house.  He himself was content to go on under the shadow, but could not bear to see Constance and her friend so grave and sorrowful.

    But at length Esther announced her determination of going out as a teacher in a school, in which she was about to place little Mary, and it was on learning this determination of hers that Mr. Carrington spoke out.

    It was a soft, sad October day.  The leaves were quietly fluttering down one by one.  The gossamers in the garden, stretched from shrub to shrub, were strung with tiny beads of dew, and resembled nets of woven pearls.  No bird sang; everything was still and mute.  Constance was engaged somewhere, and Carrington, by Esther's side, pacing up and down the well-known garden at Redhurst.  They, too, were sad and mute, for they were thinking of the past.

    "Why should you not wait till spring?" said Carrington at last, somewhat abruptly.  It was so long since he had spoken, that Esther had to recollect herself, before she could bring to mind that he was speaking of her resolution to face the world again.

    "The longer I stay the more difficult it will be to go," she answered, with a grave smile.

    "Why should you go at all?" he said, stopping at the end of their walk, and seeking to meet her eyes.  "Esther, my love, be mine."

    She did not answer, and her eyes were fixed upon the ground; but at least there was no repulsion in her attitude, and the expression of her troubled face, if grave, was tender; therefore he went on to plead for an answer.  He urged her to help him to the new life which her love had inspired—the life of grave and manly effort, and of grave and manly joy.

    "I do not ask you," he said, "to share with me a life of selfish pleasure, but one of self-denying work.  If it is too early to ask you to forget your sorrow, I will wait—indeed," he added, "I do not ask you to forget it at all, but to let me more fully sympathise with it.  If you do not, cannot care for me—"

    And his voice plainly told what despair such a sentence would be.  He paused and waited.

    "I do care for you," she murmured; "but—"

    He would not suffer the objection, whatever it might be.

    "There can be nothing else," he exclaimed, eagerly, "to hinder my happiness.  I have loved none but you."

    She seemed at these words to shrink from him more than she had done before.

    "You shall judge," she said, slowly, "what hinders me."  And with a delicate blush on her downcast face she gave him the history of her feelings towards Philip Ward.  Beginning at the time when she first knew him, she told her lover of the attraction which Philip had exercised over her, and related what had passed between them at their parting.

    Mr. Carrington's face brightened as she went on.

    "You never really loved him," he exclaimed.

    "But until lately I thought I could," she answered, quickly.  "He is so good, so tender, so exalted.  It was his face I should have seen in visions if I had gone to that distant land—if I had gone down in that sinking ship."

    She raised her eloquent eyes to his bravely.

    "If," he replied.  "But now?" and he smiled in triumph as the eyes fell before his.  "God knows," he said, as they returned up the walk hand in hand, "Philip is nobler and worthier than I; but you will love me none the worse for having been able to think so tenderly of him.  Confess that the feeling is not quite the same—that this is something new."

    What was confessed need not be repeated; but in the hearts of both was established the peace of a sure and steadfast love, as they returned to the house together.

    And our brave Constance had conquered too, for she rejoiced in the happiness of her friends, as she took her place by her father's side.  Her attitude towards him that evening, when they were all together, and the lovers drew near to each other, was like an assurance that she, at least, would never leave him, but find her happiness in his alone.

    It was settled that the marriage of Esther and Mr. Carrington should not take place till the spring, and Esther was to remain with her friends till then.

    Mrs. Carrington, who liked being generous, especially if opposed in her purpose, made over a large part of her fortune to her son, in his own despite.  She had enough for herself; besides, she declared it would embitter her life to see him living in poverty.

    Mary Potter could not be brought to part with her children, even to send them to school.  She taught them herself, and Mr. Carrington had speedily set at rest Esther's fears for their future.  But before her marriage they were provided for in another and most unexpected way.  Sarah sought her sister one day, in a state of trembling eagerness, to communicate the great intelligence, that their mother was going to be married again.

    It seemed the best thing for her after all.  Changed and sorrow-stricken as she was, she was still the same to Timothy Wiggett, and he had promised that she should never be parted from her remaining children, whom he had treated, and would always treat, as his own.  And Mary knew that she could trust him, and lean upon him always, and gave her placid consent, which consent was enough however, to fill honest Timothy's heart with joy as full as it could bold; and the heart in that broad body of his was none of the smallest.




THE END.
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