YES OR NO?
"THERE are no
strangers here, Frank," said Miss Smith, advancing to meet her
nephew, who had come in "promiscuously" to dinner. "You know I am
seldom entirely left to myself. Miss Field, my nephew Mr. Smith;
Miss Norman and Miss Oliver you know already."
Mr. Smith made his acknowledgments all round.
"You will take Miss Field down to dinner," was Miss Smith's next
intimation; and her nephew bowed once more, and regarded his aunt
with a twinkle of humorous meaning in his grey eyes, as he took his
place by the young lady's side. He meant to intimate his
satisfaction with the companion allotted to him; for he was apt to
be rather severe upon his aunt's special friends.
Miss Norman, he said, was as tall as a Norwegian pine tree; and so
sentimental that he expected some day to be wrapt in an embrace
which would crush him for ever. And he had an unusual aversion to
her friend Miss Oliver, who wore shirt-collars and a tie, a vest and
a velvet jacket, in short made the upper part of her person as
sternly masculine as possible. She patronised him, he said, as "only
a poor devil of a young man;" and he in revenge named her "The
Hybrid," and said a mermaid would be more respectable, &c. &c.
Miss Smith was one of the pleasantest and most unworldly of women of
the world. She was not young, and yet she could not have been
thought of as old.
Her hair, which had once been red, was grey; but her face was fresh,
and her short-sighted eyes clear as a young child's. Her heart was
fresh, too, in spite of the world and its ways; and she was a
well-known friend and helper of the workers of her own sex. Indeed,
she kept open house for them.
On the present occasion Mr. Frank Smith found his companion just a
little difficult to get on with; she had none of the light swift
talk to which he was accustomed, and which saves all trouble of
He tried her with the opera and the theatres.
She lived in the country, then?
No, she had always lived in London.
The Royal Academy's exhibition had just opened. She had seen the
picture of the year?
No, she had not seen it. Did he remember so and so, a picture of
The idea of remembering a picture of last year fairly overcame
Frank. He had exhausted all the topics people take up to keep them
from knowing anything of each other; and their conversation would
have come to an untimely end before their soup if it had not
suddenly become personal, and therefore interesting.
The change was due to Miss Norman, who bent over the table towards
Miss Field, and asked if she belonged to the women's party.
"I do not belong to any party," was the answer given with perfect
sweetness, and yet with decision.
Miss Norman would thereupon have begun a convincing argument, but
Miss Oliver interposed by the introduction of another topic, passing
over Miss Field as evidently not worth powder and shot—an ordinary
young lady, in fact.
"So you are not a Woman's Rights advocate," said Frank, under cover
of a change of plates, and the rapid and loud talk of Miss Oliver.
"I am glad of it; I can't bear the way in which girls go on
"Were they very different when you were young?" asked his companion,
"One used to be quite safe if a lady was tolerably young and pretty;
but now the very youngest and prettiest will attack a fellow in the
terrific way. I am not so young as you may suppose," he added;
"people live fast in this generation. If I go away for a year or
two, I find everything changed when I come back."
"Do you go abroad much?" asked Miss Field.
"I have to be a good deal away," he answered.
"One can't live in England on less than two thousand a year."
"I think it might be managed," said his companion, laughing. "And
where do you go for economy's sake?"
"I take a run over to America, or a trip to Ceylon. One year I had a
race round the Arctic Circle, and I think I shall give the Antarctic
a turn next."
"It must be very interesting," said Miss Field, simply.
"I don't know that it is," he answered; "one loses one's interest in
the game at home here. The players are changed, and you are
"You are dreadfully discontented, I fear," said Miss Field.
"Oh, no; the worst of it is that I am growing quite contented. I
used to be awfully the reverse, and you know discontent has been
exalted into one of the cardinal virtues of our day. I am learning
to eat, drink, and be merry; in short, I am becoming one of the
Epicureans. Aunty has tried to make a Stoic of me in vain." He
nodded gaily in Miss Smith's direction.
"What is that you are saying about making a Stoic of you?" she said,
having caught the tail of his sentence.
"Miss Field has been telling me that I am dreadfully discontented."
"Miss Field is quite right. It comes of having nothing to do,"
rejoined Miss Smith.
"There are not many things worth doing in the world," said Frank.
A shade passed over the face of Hyacinthe Field, a shade of
disapproval. He saw it. "You have not lost your interest in things
in general?" he said.
She smiled. "Hardly," she replied. "I have not even begun to be
interested. When I tell you that I have never travelled beyond
Margate or Brighton, and never was at anything more advanced than a
children's party, you will understand."
Frank paused for a moment. "I wish aunty would let a fellow know who
he is to talk to, if she will have people unlike all the rest of the
world," he thought. "I wonder, now, if she has set me to dine with
"Pardon me," he said; "but I really could not make you out. You did
not look stupid—"
"Thank you." Miss Field laughed.
"And yet you seemed to know nothing, or to have nothing to say on
"I have had to teach as fast as I could learn," she answered. "I
have had time for nothing else."
So she was a teacher.
"Don't you find it a dreadful bore?" said Frank.
"Teaching! No," she replied; "I like it exceedingly."
"But it is very hard work," said Frank, "is it not?"
"I dare say you work quite as hard at doing nothing."
"That is true," he replied. "We make pleasure our toil, and then
turn for relaxation to the primitive pursuits of the savage; but
then we do get bored extensively."
"Why not try some serious work, then?
"What would you advise me to try?" asked Frank.
"That I cannot say; and it does not so much matter about the kind of
work, as the way of doing it."
"All real work is good; how good for you depends upon the amount of
spirit you can put into it."
"But what if it was something I could not put spirit into, as you
"Then it wouldn't be real work; you had better leave it alone."
"What is real work?"
"Anything that wants doing; anything that will make men's lives
freer, fuller, stronger, wiser. Surely that is wide enough; surely
there is enough to do."
Frank Smith stole a glance at his companion. Yes, she was on the
affirmative side of things, hence her freedom and dignity and charm.
The three other ladies were discussing a severe article on "Wives."
"It's only old fellows who can marry," struck in Frank. "Women
require so much in the way of settlements, establishments,
allowances, and what not, they won't have anything to say to a
fellow unless he is rolling in riches."
"There are surely some disinterested women," said Miss Norman,
"Oh, yes," said Frank. "A friend of mine fell in love with a young
lady who was disinterested. She loved him in return; but at the
eleventh hour she threw him over in favour of a richer party. She
still loved my friend, but the other's wealth and position would be
such a gain to her cause that she felt she must sacrifice herself."
After the ladies retired Frank sat and meditated over a glass of
port. He was just then alone in London, left to his own resources; a
young fellow with nothing to do, and not knowing what on earth to do
Should he go up-stairs, and spend the remainder of the evening with
his aunt?—that meant with Miss Field. He had found his conversation
with her uncommonly pleasant—almost as pleasant as if he had talked
to a companion of his own sex. And his old companions of Harrow and
Cambridge were fast failing him; one, after another going off in
pursuit of their careers, or, in spite of what he had said, getting
engaged and married.
He had belonged to a good set at school and college, not studious,
yet not dunces; men who as boys had imbibed a love of veracity and a
hatred of sham, which was to them a religion, and who were carrying
that religion into their various spheres.
The pity was that Frank had no career. He was to be a country
gentleman pure and simple—and here he was, at six-and-twenty,
dangling about London, with an occasional dash at the four quarters
of the globe; waiting for his inheritance, in possession of a man
not twice his age, and likely to live as long again. Frank had only
just begun to see his position in its true light. It had not a
little to do with his discontent.
But what had to do with it still more was his feeling of the general
purposelessness of existence. On the one hand, men toiling for
nothing more and nothing better than the power to toil; on the
other, men living in pleasure, and utterly dead to it. What weary,
dreary work was that "society" of which he formed a unit! What a
stupid monotony it was, with all its refinement of detail! Was there
any worth, or any meaning, in its comings and goings, sayings and
doings? No, and he knew that the answer was echoed by thousands,
"No, no, no."
He sat there toying with his wine-glass, and feeling very much
inclined to go up-stairs and see how that young lady with the cool
clear eyes was getting on. He had seen brighter eyes by the score,
eyes as blue as the rifts between the clouds of June—he could not
tell what colour hers were of—eyes large and dark and melting as a
fawn's, and as innocent of meaning; but none with such an out-look
of sympathy in them, none that seemed to invite such utter
confidence and trust.
Then he remembered that her black dress was close up to her throat;
but that the throat was white as lilies, and bent with a peculiar
He rose with a tremendous yawn, stretched himself, holding on to the
back of a chair, and finally pushed his hands through his chestnut
locks, and opened the dining-room door.
His foot was on the stair, but he turned back, took his crush hat
from the table in the hall, buttoned on his great-coat, and went
out for the evening.
The life of Frank Smith was an utter negation of duty; it was an
utter negation of religion too. The one follows the other of
necessity; though that is not always apparent, Frank took care to
make it so.
Frank's father and mother were formalists; and from feeling the
hollowness of the form without the spirit, Frank had come to despise
the first altogether. He had had frequent disputes with his father
as to the desirability of attending the parish church when he
favoured them with his presence at home, disputes which contributed
to keep him away from it. "Look at your brother Gilbert," his father
would say; "I have no trouble with him." And in his heart Mr. Smith
regretted that Gilbert was not the elder and the heir.
Gilbert had just been called to the bar, and was idly busy attending
in court and chambers, waiting for practice. But it was likely to
come, for the young man was clever, and had application and
decision. He spent the week in chambers, and came down to his
father's every Saturday, going back by an early train on Monday, Wanock Place being within easy distance of the metropolis.
Gilbert went to church with his parents and his sisters; he could
not understand how any one could refuse assent to its doctrines, or
compliance with its forms. He had gone to church since he was three
years old, and he never thought of asking himself where were the
results of it. Did he not live soberly and righteously in this
present evil world, and was not that enough? Godly too, since he
acknowledged God in His public worship. But he never thought of
condemning himself because, while he sat apparently listening to the
sermon, or even to the service, he was going over a case in his
mind, or had his heart filled full of that covetousness which is
There was little more than a year between Frank and Gilbert Smith,
and from their very infancy they had been the closest companions. They had learnt the same lessons, enjoyed the same pleasures, and
generally shared the same troubles, and fallen into the same
scrapes. As they advanced into boyhood, it was Frank who got into
the scrapes, Gilbert who got out of them. It was Frank who neglected
his lessons; it was Frank who was careless or intractable. He
certainly was the more faulty of the two; but whether from a greater
proclivity to faultiness, or from his far less cautious and guarded
temper, was a question. Gilbert was smoother, readier, cleverer than
Frank, and gained golden opinions as he grew up, from school and
Their home was not a religious one, neither was their neighbourhood. The church planted there had a name to live, and was dead; but there
are not many in a Christian land who, at one time or other, do not
hear the call of God. Frank and Gilbert Smith had a tutor who was
heart and soul a follower of Christ. It fell to him to prepare them
for Confirmation and Communion, and he laboured earnestly to make
the sacred season the turning-point of their lives. One of the
illustrations which he made use of was to set life before them as a
solemn "Yes or No." It was from a lesson on the two sons sent to
work in the vineyard. Life, he told them, must be either a true
affirmative or a terrible negative. Are you on truth's side, right's
side, God's side?—yes or no?—was being asked and answered in every
event of life. "Son, go work to-day in my vineyard," was God's call
to each. And one said, "I will not," and afterwards repented and
went. And he came to the second, and said likewise; and he answered
and said, "I go, sir," and went not. The story showed that a mere
assent to the truths of religion counted for nothing—that such an
assent was indeed of the nature of a lie. And this lesson so
impressed itself upon Frank, that force had to be put upon the boy
to make him accept of Confirmation. He had never forgotten it. Most
studiously he kept himself from any profession, and allowed himself
rather to be counted a reprobate than to take the name of Christian. By many he was considered a sceptic, but scepticism was not the tone
of his mind, not even the easy scepticism, alas! too common, which
never felt a doubt because it never entertained a belief. On the
contrary, he was haunted by an uneasy belief, an unwilling reverence
for truth, which he put aside because he desired to have his own
will and his own way in the world.
And he had had it, and it had made him what lie was, profoundly
discontented, slightly self-indulgent, and utterly restless and
unsatisfied. He had followed Pleasure in her fairest paths; he had
never descended into vice. Descending into vice, as society was
constituted, was as much living a lie as professing Christianity
would be. What he could not do openly he would not do at all. Never
had Pleasure a more sincere and eager votary, a votary, too, with
out reproach. He danced after her bubbles, and caught them before
they fell, in all their prismatic splendour; he chased her
butterflies, and captured them with their wings untorn. But the
bubbles broke, and the butterflies were not worth the keeping. Society was a carpeted treadmill, a crowded childish merry-go-round. A feeling that he was becoming perfectly fatuous, quite as often as
exhaustion of the purse, sent him driving over the globe. Well, that
too was only a huge merry-go-round; he came back to his
starting-point no whit the better. Very likely the next phase of his
existence would be, as he anticipated, one of pure self-indulgence—a
good dinner, a first rate club, a choice volume, and a genial
Gilbert's career had been the opposite of all this. He had stayed at
home, he had been a diligent student, he had taken honours; he had
read for the Bar, and been called, and waited patiently for
practice. He had an honourable ambition to succeed in his career. He
was in short all that was exemplary in practice, and he had without
scruple professed Christianity ever since he had taken his place
readily and reverently at the rite of Confirmation.
He, too, had long remembered that time, and its heavenly lessons. Some day or other, he often said to himself, he would begin in
reality to serve God, to keep his youthful vow, the vow which he had
taken on himself, to be Christ's faithful soldier and servant to his
life's end. But of late he had said it to himself less often;
indeed, he had begun to excuse himself. He had been too much
occupied, engrossed almost, by his worldly calling. And if there
arose, in his clear and subtle understanding, the answer that his
worldly calling was indeed a part of his service, and that it needed
but the dedication of that to its highest uses, he turned
impatiently from the suggestion. His life was more satisfying,
perhaps altogether nobler and better, than; but even for that reason
all the more dangerous, seeing it led so much more surely to earthly
TWO months had
passed away, during which Hyacinthe Field had worked on with no
relaxation, save an occasional visit to Miss Smith. Her work
lay at the houses of several members of Parliament, whose children
she taught, and in the Parliamentary season it was very severe.
One evening, when she called on her friend, Miss Smith noticed a
tiresome little nervous cough, and then, remarking how pale and
wearied she appeared, had insisted on her going down to the seaside
with her as soon as she was released.
The "Retreat," to which Miss Smith carried Hyacinthe, was a
house that had been built by her father on the Sussex coast.
It was tenanted by no one in particular, yet it was seldom
uninhabited for any length of time. A set of old servants were
kept there, and somebody or other was always running down to the
cottage, as they called it, for a week or a fortnight.
It was an unpretending, two-storeyed house, set back a little
from the cliff, in one of those soft, sheltered, cup-like hollows
into which the chalk dips over the downs. Round it had been
planted a walled garden, which half a century of care and culture
had made a wilderness of bloom and fruitage. All around it
stretched the green treeless turf. It gave one a sense of
shelter, and yet of space and loneliness, which at once refreshed,
and invigorated, and soothed.
"My nephew, Frank, comes here," said Miss Smith, "whenever he
is particularly disgusted with the world."
They were sitting down just then to their first dinner in the
pretty dining-room, in at whose windows peeped a perfect crowd of
roses, while beyond a terraced lawn ran down to the ivied wall, over
which was seen nothing save sea and sky.
Miss Field sat opposite to the windows, in the dreamy state
which comes with repose and enjoyment after fatigue. Though
the room was plainly furnished in oak, and the greatest simplicity
prevailed in its appointments, everything was pure and fresh and
sparkling. The table was adorned with flowers from the garden;
fresh grapes and peaches were set on the sideboard; the white
curtains of the windows fluttered with a light breeze blowing from
the south and from the sea, and the room was filled with the mingled
perfume from within and without.
Miss Smith, looking at her young companion, was satisfied
that she felt it good. It was Miss Smith's religion, and not a
bad one either, that people should pronounce life good.
Suddenly she saw Hyacinthe's look of dreamy enjoyment give place to
one of swift surprise; but she did not perceive the cause till a
hand was laid on her shoulder, and her nephew's voice at her ear
said, "Well, aunty, how do you do? I did not know you were
here; but you'll take a fellow in for the night at least."
He had come in at the window, with a silent bow to Miss
Field, and did not seem fearful of trying his aunt's nerves.
She used to say she was born before nerves came in fashion; and she
turned on the intruder an undisturbed countenance, and said, "Speak
of a certain gentleman, and he's sure to appear."
"And what were you saying, may I ask?" said Frank.
"That you always come here when you are particularly
disgusted with the world; that is, if you are not at the antipodes,"
said Miss Smith. "Where have you come from now?"
"From home. I have walked over;" and he exhibited a
sort of knapsack strapped on his broad shoulders. He might
have come a hundred miles in that fashion.
"Make haste, then, or the dinner will be spoiled," said Miss
"I'll be down in a minute," said her nephew, hastening away;
"but don't wait for me."
Miss Field had seen nothing of Frank Smith since the day when
she first dined at his aunt's, except a glimpse which she caught of
him on one occasion leaving the house as she was about to enter it;
but during the next fortnight she was destined to see more.
Miss Smith had one hobby in addition to woman's work; it was
water-colours. She believed that she might, could, would, or
should be a great artist, and she painted many pictures, and sent
some to the newly-instituted Female Artists' Exhibition.
The next morning when she and Hyacinthe, accompanied by
Frank, went out together, Miss Smith discovered in a particular view
of a little inlet, with its white cliffs and green slopes, its blue
water and snowy sea-gulls, the materials for a great composition.
"The following day she brought her portfolio,
and began to sketch."
The following day she brought her portfolio, and began to
sketch; and Hyacinthe and Frank were told to walk on, and come back
for her at their leisure.
This sketching and walking became part of the daily routine
into which they fell, for never another word did Frank say about
going away. Skirting the breezy cliffs, he and Hyacinthe
walked together for miles over the short springy grass of the downs,
treading out the scents of the wild thyme, scattering the white
sheep by descending into their favourite hollows, or loitering by
the cliff's edge to watch the white gulls floating in the sky as if
it were another sea, and skimming the sea as if it were another sky.
Then they went back regularly, and picked up Miss Smith and
her sketching materials, and returned to lunch at the cottage.
Then into the shady back garden, full of the scent of ripening
fruit, to sit on a rustic seat and read. After that, dinner.
Then out again to saunter over the cliffs, or down on the beach till
the sun dipped in the waves.
Thus it was every day with wonderful monotony, for even the
weather never changed in those rare weeks of sunshine; and, more
wonderful still, Frank Smith forgot to feel weary of the monotony.
They did the same things over and over again; but it was with a
subtle difference, which made each day sweeter and sweeter, as if
advancing to some culminating bliss.
Did Frank know what he was doing in those days? Hardly.
Five years before he had fallen in love with a friend of his
sister's, and he had had enough of it on that occasion. As a
burnt child dreads the fire, susceptible Frank held aloof from the
tender passion; and he had come to believe—thanks to that young lady
and to others like her—that women can stand a good deal more "of
that sort of thing" than men can.
It was not on this score, however, that he felt himself safe
with Hyacinthe. It was that she did not lay her herself open
"to that sort of thing" at all. She had evidently not yet
learnt the very alphabet of flirtation. And he judged rightly.
No eyes had ever looked into hers with a lover's gaze; no lips less
sacred than her father's had ever touched the bloom of her cheek.
And yet Hyacinthe was twenty, and far more of a woman, in body and
soul, than the girls who had drawn Frank's eyes with their own and
dangled their charms before him. He did not consider that this
girl's perfect maidenliness was far more dangerous both to him and
One morning the wind drove them from the cliff. They
had not felt it in the hollow, and had gone out as usual. Miss
Smith's white umbrella was soon flying across the Channel, and
Hyacinthe's hat was on the point of following, but was held on by
Frank. Clinging together, the three soon reached shelter once
more, and indulged in a hearty laugh at their disaster.
That afternoon for the first time Frank expressed a wish.
It was for a horse. "What a day for a gallop!" he said.
"Do you ride, Miss Field?"
"No," said Hyacinthe "I never was on horseback in my life.
But I have often thought it must be the perfect poetry of motion.
A trot seems like a metrical romance; a gallop, like a grand rapid
"'A horse! a horse!"' shouted Frank; "two horses! Miss
Field, you shall ride." And he went off at once, and sent a
note to the little town lying three miles off under the cliffs.
He had ordered horses for the morrow.
On the morrow the two horses appeared, with a groom mounted
on a third. Poor spiritless creatures they were, Frank said;
but that might be none the worse for Hyacinthe. Miss Smith
looked on approvingly through her double eyeglass, while Frank
walked Hyacinthe up and down in front of the house, and then tried
her by a canter round and round.
She stood the test, declaring it was even more delightful
than she had fancied. So away they went over the downs, though
Frank took care to pick their way, and keep close to Hyacinthe's
They got into a road at last—a white, even road, winding down
from the sheep-walks to the cultured farms of a lovely valley.
Up the centre ran a lower ridge, bearing three windmills on its
back. Frank told his companion their history. She
admired more than one grey farmhouse, set in its gay garden, and
flanked by its sombre ricks. He knew the tenants of each.
At length they entered and rode through a pretty village, and were
saluted by every man, woman, and child.
When Hyacinthe remarked this, her said companion said simply,
"We are riding over my father's land. And there come the lot,
I declare!" he exclaimed, as a carriage appeared coming up the road
to meet them. "My mother and sister," he explained, "and a
couple of visitors."
The carriage advanced, so did the riders, and at last they
met, wavered a little, and then stood still. Frank's mother
and eldest sister were in the carriage, and also their cousin, Ethel
Belfrage; but the seat of honour beside Mrs. Smith was occupied by a
stranger, a young lady to whom Frank bowed ceremoniously. A
younger sister was behind on horseback.
"Why, it's Frank!" cried the latter, as she rode up.
"This is Miss Field, a friend of aunty's," Frank was saying.
Mrs. Smith acknowledged the introduction stiffly. The
young ladies with her did not feel called upon to acknowledge it at
all; but Frank's favourite sister held out her hand, and said, "I'm
glad we met you; I don't admire riding alone after the carriage."
"And where are you going, may I ask, Flo?" said Frank.
"We were going to look after you, sir."
"We intend driving over to lunch at the cottage," said Mrs.
Smith. "Perhaps you will turn back with us."
"Very well," said Frank; and the riders performed a flank
movement, and got into the rear of the carriage. The carriage
moved on, and Frank and his two companions rode abreast behind it.
While they were executing this movement, Frank had his hand
on Hyacinthe's rein, a fact which did not escape the notice of his
mother. The younger ladies were also looking on, the stare of
well-bred insolence in their eyes.
"Do you know who she is at all?" asked Miss Smith of her
"Not at all," replied Mrs. Smith, irritably.
"I never met her anywhere," said the young lady at her side,
in a particularly thick, coarse voice.
"One of aunty's friends," rejoined Miss Smith. "Aunty's
friends are not usually so dangerous-looking."
"Do you think her handsome?" drawled Ethel Belfrage.
"Yes; don't you?" replied her cousin, who was very pretty
"She has no style," remarked Miss Ponsonby; "looks a mere
"And did you notice she had not on a habit?" put in Ethel.
"I dare say she is some teacher or artist whom aunty has
picked up," said Miss Smith.
Meanwhile, perfectly free from envy, hatred, malice, and all
uncharitableness, the three enjoyed their ride.
Instead of following the carriage, which went round by the
road, they got upon the downs again; and though they could have
reached the cottage sooner, the occupants of the carriage had been
seated in the drawing-room at "The Retreat" some time before they
made their appearance. Mrs. Smith had time to become yellow
with vexation, and Miss Ponsonby to give herself up to an
overwhelming desire for lunch, and poor little Ethel Belfrage to
lose her faint roses and look the picture of weariness, before they
arrived, radiant with good looks, good temper, and hearty enjoyment.
"You are perfectly boisterous, Florence," reproved Mrs.
"It's the wind, mamma—you know it always makes me laugh,"
replied Florence; "and we had such fun trying races on 'One Tree
Tip.' Miss Field's horse was most amusing; we have named him
'The Camel.' He gives the queerest lurches, and looks to his
footing as if he expected to tread on quicksand."
"It was quite as well for me, perhaps, that he was such a
careful old fellow," said Hyacinthe. "It was a rather
hazardous experiment, racing over the downs mounted for the first
"You don't mean to say that you were on horseback for the
first time?" said Mrs. Smith.
"Yes, indeed," said Hyacinthe, smiling.
"I am glad I was not aware of it before," returned Mrs.
Smith. "If there is anything I fear, it is a bold, bad rider."
"Miss Field is a born rider, mamma," cried Florence;
"half-a-dozen lessons would make her perfect."
But Mrs. Smith deigned not the slightest further notice of
Hyacinthe. The party proceeded to luncheon, one half bright
and happy, the other moiety dull and disagreeable. Not that
Miss Ponsonby felt any longer aggrieved; an excellent luncheon had
been laid on the table, and to that she was devoting herself
heartily. By the time she had got through her third plateful
and her second glass of wine, she would be perfectly satisfied with
herself, and with the world in general. She was a large,
handsomely-made woman, of no more than five-and-twenty; but her face
was positively repulsive from its desperate animalism. You
never noticed her forehead, nor yet her eyes; they were very small.
What impressed you was the beak-like nose, the great jaw, the wide
under lip, the enormous chin and throat. The upper lip was
short, and the ears fine. There was an unmistakable air of
breeding about her carriage; but nothing could redeem her from
looking what she was, a sensualist of the coarsest type. That
was what some generations of donothingism had made of Miss Ponsonby.
Poor Miss Ponsonby! Frank called her "The Ogress," and
had run away from the prospect of dining with her daily. And
this was the lady for whom, because she was rich and well-born(?),
Mrs. Smith intended her eldest son.
"I think you might come home with us now, Frank," his mother
had said to him.
But Frank shook his head, with a meaning which Mrs. Smith did
not fail to comprehend.
"All in good time," he replied, not too respectfully, "Miss
Field will be gone the day after tomorrow."
Miss Field was not invited to Wanock Place.
It was Hyacinthe's last evening at "The Retreat." She
was going home to her mother and sister, to their humble lodgings in
the heart of London. Frank and she went out together for a
last stroll on the beach. The tide was far back, and they
meant to go beyond the utmost limit of their former walks, in order
to get under the highest point of cliff within reach.
"We must take care to be back before the tide comes in
again," said Hyacinthe, when they had descended to the sands, and
were fairly on their way.
"Let us go out a good way first, and avoid the windings,"
said Frank; and so they went out over low rocks, covered with
slippery seaweed, with spaces of grey rippled sand between—out till
they came to a belt of shingle, where they could walk firmly and at
ease. The sun was behind them; they were close to the water's
edge, and walking where the waves had been an hour ago, in a perfect
solitude. The clouds that rested on the ocean's verge had the
lines of the heliotrope, transfiguring light and mystic shadows were
about them. Was it wonderful that they were less inclined to
gaiety and more to tenderness than usual?
They reached the point for which they had started in ample
time, counting an equal time for return, sat for a little on a ledge
of chalk, and then set off home again; a long, dazzling track of
sunshine playing over the sea before them.
They loitered by the pools, poking up the little green crabs,
and looking at the floating many-coloured weeds. At length
Frank, looking seaward, said, "We must make haste now, the tide is
running in rapidly."
"I hope we are not going to have an adventure," said
Hyacinthe, quickening her pace, and cliff looking up at the wall of
some hundreds of feet above.
"No, there is time enough;" but they walked on a little too
briskly for talking. "We are just in time," said Frank.
"We shall get in without a wetting. This is the last point we
"We have not left much of a margin," said Hyacinthe, as a
wave came seething to her feet.
"No, it was easier walking out there," he replied, and on
they went again.
There was nothing worse awaiting them than wet feet; but the
tide was in before they could reach the steps that led up the face
of the cliff, where it dipped. Close to them the low rocks
were still uncovered, and making his companion step on these, Frank
walked into the shallow water. There was a space between rock
and rock, and he gave her his hand. She sprang lightly over;
but he held it still, held it in a firm, detaining clasp, and by it
the one woman who could make life to him full of purpose and power
and beauty, who had restored his faith in perfect womanhood, and
called him to a nobler manhood.
Like the waves at his feet rose the swelling surges of his
warm Saxon blood; but they must down. This lady of his was worthy of
all observance, and not to be lightly won.
The last glittering ray died upon the water, the evening star
came forth, shades of inexpressible tenderness fell over sea and
sky. Silently he led her up the steps, and held her yet a few
moments, looking on the grand everlasting symbols whose meaning
cannot be uttered, and yet in moments such as these is felt in the
inmost soul. Then their eyes met for one brief moment,
revealing each to each, the man's passionate desire, the woman's
wistful yearning for a love that might never fail.
Then they fell asunder, as if by mutual consent, and walked
toward the house in pensive silence. Into the manner of each
had come a tender constraint. It was well, if they were to
part, that they were parting on the morrow, for they could never
have walked together again unconscious and at ease.
On the morrow Miss Smith drove Hyacinthe to the station;
while Frank, having said "Goodbye" in the presence of his aunt, and
frankly spoken his hope that they should meet again, took his
knapsack and set off to walk home.
It was Saturday. Gilbert Smith was at Wanock, and Miss
Ponsonby was gone. The ladies were out; the brothers met
alone. Frank, after his usual greeting, suddenly put the
question, "Do you think there is anything a fellow like me could
"What kind of thing do you mean?"
"To make money, you know," said Frank.
"There's money to be made at most things by time and labour,"
"I'm willing to work," said Frank.
Mr. Gilbert Smith, barrister, gave a prolonged whistle.
"What on earth has set you on this new track? " he inquired.
"Well, you see, old fellow, I'm leading the stupidest life
going; waiting for my father's death, that's about it, and God
forbid he should die. He's likely to live, I'm happy to say,
for half a century yet," said Frank.
"I wish you had thought of it sooner," replied his brother.
"You wouldn't care for the Church, else it would be easy to get you
"No, old fellow, that won't do," said Frank, promptly; "I
wouldn't care to sell my soul."
"There's the army, but you couldn't make money there; you'd
be likelier to spend it. There's physic."
Frank made a wry face, and shook his head.
"You're too late for that," added his brother, "and so I come
back again to law. It's easy to enter upon, it's dignified,
and it leads to a good many things besides—Government appointments,
commissions, and such-like. An active commission, now,
especially one that took you abroad, would be just the thing for
"I don't want to go abroad though," said Frank; "I want to
settle at home. I've knocked about the world more than
"I didn't mean permanently," said his brother. "In the
meantime you can share my chambers, and I'll put you up to all I
"Thank you, old fellow," said Frank. "There's one thing
I wish you would put me up to, and that's the length you make your
allowance go. I begin to think I must be a selfish beggar, for
I have never made my five hundred serve me, and you have got along
"Horses and club dinners," said his brother. "I dine on
a mutton chop, cooked and served by an old woman with but one eye."
"Better than dining for life opposite an ogress with two,"
laughed Frank. "You'll tell my father what I've been saying?"
he added. "Just put it in shape a little, you know."
SMITH began reading for
the bar with a wonderful burst of energy, which lasted, though
everybody had predicted that it would be over in a month. He
intended to work so hard and so successfully that his whole family
would be bound to declare in favour of his having his own way.
There was nothing to hinder his marrying Hyacinthe except her
poverty and his own. She was the daughter of a gentleman; and
if she was not, the Smith blood was not deeply blue. It had
become imbued with that colour in the course of generations, but it
was originally quite black, as Frank had often heard his aunt
declare. He intended speedily to confide in his father, and
then to address Hyacinthe herself; but for the present he was forced
to wait, for the means of communication were cut off. Miss
Smith had gone abroad in the winter with Ethel Belfrage, for whom a
thorough change had been prescribed, and Frank had no possibility of
meeting Miss Field in her absence.
The long vacation came again, and he was induced to join his
aunt and cousin on the shore of the Mediterranean. Under Miss
Smith's careless chaperonage, he now saw as much of Ethel as he had
seen of Hyacinthe; but then Frank had always been accustomed to see
much of Ethel, and that without any sort of harm coming of it.
Indeed, no possible harm could come of it, for Ethel had a fair
fortune, and stood second in the estimation of Frank's mother as a
match for her son; but it was for her second son that she coveted
Ethel, knowing as she did that Gilbert had always been fond of
her—how fond she did not know.
As for Frank, had he not walked beside Ethel's bath-chair
over the parades of half the watering-places in England, without
having the least impression made upon his stubborn heart?
Ethel did not make much use of the natural powers of locomotion
which she had in common with other mortals; she had always been
delicate, and disinclined for exertion, only it was quite wonderful
how much she could do under a sufficient stimulus—the stimulus of a
ball, for instance, at which she could waltz with Frank till his
stout limbs ached and his steady head reeled. True, she
suffered from reaction, which he never did, and she would lie on a
sofa in a nest of cushions for a week after such indulgence.
Poor girl, no one had ever taught her that she too might have her
use in the world, and might even yet train herself to the joyful
activity of the service of God. No one had ever said to her,
"This dance of pleasure is a feverish dream. 'Awake thou that
deepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee
Ethel Belfrage had fallen in love with her handsome,
good-humoured, idle cousin, and thought she would be well and happy
if she could only have him by her side for ever; and truly he might
have caused her to lead a more vigorous and wholesome life, at least
for a time, for without a nobler conception of life and its duties
than either of them possessed, they could but decline to its lower
levels. Ethel was not one who would keep alive on the altar of
home that heavenly fire of love which lights the way to labour and
And Ethel was really ill, ill with the nameless sickness
which seizes on fruitless lives. When she heard that Frank was
coming, she brightened up a little for the first time since she had
been taken abroad. Alas! Frank was only going because his
brother had spoken of doing so, and because he had not made up his
mind where else to go. Frank was always inclined to drift.
The mass of him, and he was a massive man, was not fully penetrated
with life; he was apt to be inert.
When it came to the point of departure, and Gilbert Smith saw
that his brother was really to accompany him, he backed out of it
himself. Ethel would not look at him while Frank was there.
He always thought, "One day she will turn to me, when she sees
Frank's indifference, and care more for me than she could possibly
care for him." With all his affection for his brother, he felt
for him a grain of contempt. He never guessed that his
brother's sleepy intellect was twice as great as his own, though not
half so active; that it was greater than he had ever given him
credit for, he had begun in those last months to perceive.
Frank went to join Miss Smith and Ethel alone, and then there
was nothing for it but to wait on the latter hand and foot.
Patiently and kindly he took to it, sauntering by her chair, finding
walks for her, finding rests for her, finding books for her, finding
talk for her, and relieving Miss Smith of what to her was grievous
boredom; setting her free to write, sketch, and gossip: for she
never went anywhere without finding somebody she knew.
And while Frank was thus engaged in the body, his thoughts
were far away, ever drifting faster and faster, and in fuller flow,
towards Hyacinthe Field and the time when he might begin to woo
her—that was, as soon as he saw that he could secure a fair position
by exertions of his own.
He stayed longer than he meant to stay, for dreaming was
sweeter than working, and beside Ethel he could always dream.
He was more attentive to her than he had ever been before, simply
because he was afraid that in his absorption he might be less so.
Ethel began to hope. She bloomed into new colour; she
gained new strength day by day. Nothing opened Frank's
obstinately dreaming eyes. He would as soon have thought of
marrying a cripple as Ethel. He had that kind of physical
aversion to sickliness which is natural to some people, and which
would have made him avoid her if a kind of brotherly affection and
generous pity had not mingled with it.
When at length he was going home in a yacht which a friend
had placed at his disposal, Ethel announced her desire to return to
England at the same time. There was accommodation enough in
the yacht for all three. Miss Smith, who was an excellent
sailor, had no objection to the project on her own account; but she
felt bound to deliver her conscience by warning her niece about it,
well knowing the suffering store for her if she persisted.
She did persist, however, in spite of the warning, and had
not been ten minutes on board when she had to be carried below.
Miss Smith was not self-denying enough to go with her, but left her
comfortably prostrate in charge of her maid.
For her sake, after a couple of days they put in at Ryde,
intending to take the steamer to Portsmouth, and so shorten as much
as possible the period of suffering to her. She had really
been very ill. When they were ready to land at the pier she
could hardly stand alone, so weak and giddy was she from excessive
sickness. Frank took her up in his arms, and carried her up
the steps as easily as if she had been a child. He set her
down safely on the pier, and gave her his arm, which she clasped
tightly as she looked up in his face, and told him that it was worth
being ill for.
"What is worth being ill for? I'm sure you saw little
enough," said her heavy-headed cousin.
"To—to—" she stammered, growing red instead of pale green.
"To have you so kind to me," she managed to say at last.
It dawned upon him then, and he made haste to repair, as far
as he could, any mischief he might have done.
"I'm glad you thought me kind, Ethel," he said, bluntly.
"I sometimes feared I might be quite the reverse."
"You?" she interrupted, with pretty surprise.
"Yes," he said. "I'll tell you a secret, Ethel.
I'm awfully in love, and the lady doesn't know it yet," he went on,
"What is she like?" asked Ethel, archly, and trembling all
"She is like—I can't tell you what she is like." He
grew suddenly inspired. "She is like a queen, or what one
thinks a queen ought to be, for stature and grace. She is like
the mother of little children. Her mouth is like a poem; her
eyes like a prayer."
Poor Ethel was bewildered, and no wonder.
"Is she dark or fair?" she asked.
"I think she is neither."
Ethel was blonde.
"Is she very strong?" asked the poor child, faintly.
"She could take you up and carry you as easily as I can."
Here was no hyperbole; and Ethel's spirit died within her,
while her woman's pride arose, and flung over her love its poor
"Do I know her?" she asked, quite trippingly.
Frank congratulated himself. Ethel's love was not very
deep. "No," he answered, "you do not know her."
"What is her name?" was Ethel's next question.
"What a strange, ugly name!" said Ethel, a little spitefully.
"Do you think so? I don't," replied her gallant cousin.
"It is a name that sounds and lingers like a perfume."
The maid had brought a fly, and they had reached the pier
gate, at which it waited. Ethel's huge box was already on the
top, and Miss Smith within. The hotel was not far distant;
Frank handed Ethel in, and said that he preferred to walk.
Ethel, as the cab moved on, fell fainting into the arms of
her aunt. The open window and the rattle of the stones soon
brought her to herself; but her first words were, "Oh, aunty, I wish
I had never come back!"
"You will be all right in a day or two," said Miss Smith,
soothingly; "the sea-sickness has prostrated you." But in her
secret heart she was rather uneasy about her niece.
For several days after their arrival Ethel was too ill to
make her appearance. Indeed, for the first time in her life,
Miss Smith began to believe in her extreme delicacy, and she now
begged Frank to remain with them till she had recovered sufficiently
to travel, in order that he might escort them home; and he, with his
accustomed good-nature, consented, though wishing himself once more
back at work.
An invitation reached them to come direct to Wanock, but
Ethel refused; she elected to go to the cottage instead. Her
disappointment—and she really suffered, though not too keenly—had
roused her and done her good. She bade Frank good-bye, with
thanks for his kindness. If she had always been as lively and
unexacting, he might have cared for her before he knew any better.
Ethel bade him good-bye pointedly, but he was not going very
far away, nor likely to be long absent. It was already
mid-October, and Gilbert had come home to spend his last fortnight,
though he would have declined to admit it, in recruiting his
exhausted strength. He had been spending the past six weeks
between a tour in the Highlands of Scotland and an excursion into
Cornwall, with a brother barrister interested in the Keltic race.
He had therefore had his full share of bodily exercise, to
compensate for the mental fatigue of the year.
The very day after Frank's arrival he proposed to ride over
to "The Retreat." He had expected to hear that his brother was
engaged to Ethel at last, otherwise why had he lingered so long?
His father and mother were urging Frank to marry, and did he not
detest the alternative they had provided? There was nothing,
under the circumstances, more likely than that he should close with
Gilbert was agreeably disappointed to find it otherwise, to
find Frank indifferent as ever to his cousin's charms of person and
fortune. The brothers rode over together, and a still greater
surprise awaited Gilbert.
Ethel received him with far more pleasure than she had ever
shown before. Her manner to him, especially when Frank was
beside, had generally been that absent one which suggests that the
absence of its object would not be undesirable. Now he seemed
to have changed places with Frank, and Frank with him. He had
never seen Ethel so animated, so pretty, so kind.
She addressed most of her talk to him. She took his arm
for a stroll down the garden, saying, "Frank and I have seen so much
of each other lately, that we are quite tired of each other's
"How did you enjoy the Highlands?" she went on, when she had
got him to herself.
"Oh, very well," replied he, in a tone which seemed to say,
as much as he could enjoy anything.
"I have never been in the Highlands, you know, so you must
tell me all about them."
"I'll lend you a guide-book instead," he answered;
nevertheless he went on to describe, in exact if not glowing terms,
the winding lochs and heathy mountains and rocky glens he had
"How I should have liked to be with you!" she prattled.
"I feel almost strong enough to climb a mountain, at least a little
one. I wish I could go."
Cautious Gilbert, thrown completely off his guard, answered
that she might go with him there or anywhere else in the world if
"How?" she asked, with such a look of innocence, fixing her
blue eyes on his face.
"As my wife," he answered her, shyly, for he had already
begun to realise his rashness in putting all to the touch at once.
"Do you care for me so much?" she rejoined, really touched,
and clinging to his arm.
"Do I care for you?" His look spoke the rest.
"I thought I liked Frank best," she said, in a tone of
deliberation; "but I will be your wife if you care to have me."
And she laid in his big brown hand her small transparent one, and
made her lover happy on the spot.
There was nothing very rapturous or elevating about it;
nevertheless both were satisfied. Perhaps neither of them
would have cared for the rapturous or elevating. Love is the
very flower of life; and as the man or the woman so will the love
be. The love of the self-seeking can never be very
noble—unless, indeed, it does that which all love contains the
blessed possibility of doing—lifts them out of self at once and for
Meanwhile Frank was having his own little private talk with
his aunt. "I have not heard you speak of your friend Miss
Field lately," he said, with all the coolness and unconcern he could
"No, I have not heard of her for an age," Miss Smith replied.
"I would have written, only that Ethel has been on my hands so
much." A look of smiling comprehension passed between aunt and
nephew. Miss Smith was known to consider having Ethel on her
hands enough excuse for anything.
It was some time since Frank had made himself acquainted with
all there was to know about Hyacinthe. "I wonder if she is
busy," he said. "Why?" said Miss Smith, looking at him.
"I couldn't help thinking what a jolly time we had here."
"Yes," sighed Miss Smith; "I wish she would come down again."
"It might do her good," said Frank, diplomatically but he was
not made for a diplomatist; he smiled a very conscious smile,
reddened up to the roots of his hair, and rushed into an
"I shall ask her down again," were the words that had been on
Miss Smith's lips; but they took flight at Frank's confession, and
she was thankful to keep them to herself. "My dear Frank, Miss
Field is all that you say, but she hasn't a halfpenny, and she and
her sister have even to support their mother. I hope you will
do nothing without consulting your father. She knows nothing
of this, I hope?" she added.
"I have not spoken to her; and of course I will consult my
father," said Frank, who was chilled by his aunt's lack of sympathy.
Just then Gilbert and Ethel returned, and the understanding
between them was explained by the latter. "What a vain idiot I
must be!" thought Frank; "and yet I am sorry Gilbert has chosen such
a little nonentity." Then he spoke out: "I am glad you are
going to be happy, old fellow;" and shaking hands with both, he
proposed to ride home alone, a proposal which his brother thankfully
That evening Gilbert communicated his good fortune to his
father and mother, and received their warmest congratulations.
It paved the way for Frank's confession, which was made to his
father as they walked on the terrace, smoking a cigar, before
bed-time. As they passed and repassed the drawing-room
windows, they could see Gilbert within, seated close to his mother's
chair in confidential talk.
"And who is the lady?" said Mr. Smith, sharply, when the
confession had been made.
"She is a Miss Field—a friend of aunty's," said Frank.
"I never heard of her," said his father.
"Perhaps not. She is poor."
"And how do you intend to live?"
"You are good enough to give me a certain income," said
Frank. "I propose to add to it by my own exertions, and am
only sorry that I have delayed so long the choice of a profession."
"Has the lady absolutely nothing?" said Mr. Smith.
"Nothing," replied Frank.
"How do you know? Who is she?"
"She is a teacher."
"A teacher! You propose to marry a teacher," said his
"I assure you she is a lady, and highly cultivated and
refined. You would be proud of her as a daughter."
"Pooh, pooh, Frank. I tell you it is impossible.
I decline to take it into consideration." Mr. Smith threw away
the end of his cigar, opened the window with a jerk, and stepped
into the drawing-room, allowing no further parley.
What a tumult arose in the household at Warlock Place when
Frank, through his mother, announced his determination to persevere
in seeking the obnoxious alliance. What! share their wealth
and importance, their family advantages and their family honours,
with an outsider—one who had no family honours and advantages to
give in exchange! Even Miss Smith went over to the enemy, and
remonstrated on the futility of it. The time went by in
discussions fruitful only in disagreement. Mr. Smith's
ultimatum was, no income at all if he persisted. Frank went
back to keep his terms, and to work harder than ever; he was working
for freedom now, as well as for love.
But the worst of it was that he saw nothing of
Hyacinthe—could see nothing of her without Miss Smith's connivance,
and that she refused to give.
Christmas brought Gilbert's marriage, at which Frank was
groomsman. If he expected any sympathy from Gilbert under the
circumstances, he was mistaken. Ethel had taken up the
opposite side with bitterness. It introduced the thin edge of
the splitting wedge of alienation between the brothers.
GILBERT and Ethel
settled down at once into the life which was most congenial to both,
a life seemingly good and pleasant so far as it went, but centred
wholly in self; and in the end no life centred wholly in self can be
either pleasant or good. Even the life of fashion, with its
absurdities and sacrifices of ease and comfort, is in some respects
less dangerous than the life of domestic felicity which has no
higher end or aim. Christianity does not acknowledge such a
life at all, a life which shuts itself in and hedges itself round
amid carpets and curtains and couches, from all the toils and trials
and sorrows of the world without. Christianity is a service, a
ministry. To say you believe it, is nothing. Do you
accept the service, fulfil the ministry, is the Yes or the No.
Frank Smith dined once or twice at the pretty little house in
Kensington where his brother and his wife had taken up their abode.
To do Gilbert justice, he welcomed Frank, and would have liked to
see him just as comfortable and happy as he was himself; but for all
that Frank could see that he was not necessary to his happiness,
nay, that his absence was necessary to its present completeness, so
he began to make excuse.
He was too proud, and just then it would have been a little
inconsequent, to ask Miss Field's address; but he went oftener than
ever to his aunt's. One afternoon he found her sitting as
usual in her luxurious little room, in the cold spring weather, with
a table drawn up to the fire, and her gold spectacles gleaming on
her nose; but something else was glittering under them in her clear
"My dear Frank!" was her greeting; and then she looked at
him, and gave a sniff, and took a letter in her hand, and tried to
speak, and failed.
"What's the matter, aunt?" exclaimed Frank, in alarm, for he
was unused to see her thus affected. She thrust the letter
into his hands, and he read:―
Bournemouth, Feb. 18.
"Your note followed me here. I am glad to feel that you have
not forgotten me, though we shall never meet on earth again. I
am dying. Do not be shocked. I am not suffering, at
least not much, and I go willingly to rest. I would not turn
back now, perhaps because it was so hard to reach this point, so
hard to give up life, and accept an early death. And I had to
struggle on alone. Now that it is near, my mother and sister
are with me. They will remain with me. There is such a
pretty churchyard here, with graves in the grass beneath the trees,
that look such quiet, natural resting-places! They will lay me
there. I wonder if you will ever see it. My work was
laid aside months ago, my chosen work at least; the Master had
something else for me. I thought I could prepare others for
life, and He called me to prepare myself for death. All is
easy when we meet His mandate with a simple 'Yes,' whether it be
living or dying. Hoping to meet you one day in His presence,
believe me affectionately yours,
How long he took to read that letter, Frank Smith never knew;
it might have been moments, hours, ages. He did not speak, or
cry out. He made no sign. He only stood there erect, his
ruddy face paling a little, his strong pulses fluttering. He
stood up, and bore it in the strength of his manhood; but it felt as
if the waves had risen around him, risen to his heart, risen to his
very lips, and the next moment would be welling over him, and he
lying beneath them dead. He would not, could not speak of it.
After a time he took the letter and folded it, claiming it as his
own; and with a few common-places, mechanically spoken, he went
That evening the letter was returned to Miss Smith, enclosed
in another, asking her to explain to the family the cause of his
absence. He had gone to her.
Miss Smith did as she was told, re-enclosing both the letters
to Frank's mother, and telling Gilbert what had taken his brother
away. The mother wept in secret, unable to withhold her
sympathy; the rest, whatever they thought, were silent. Family
criticism, in which they were strong, failed, and worldly feeling
was overawed. When Ethel remarked that Hyacinthe Field might
recover, no one answered her. They let the subject drop.
It was Hyacinthe's mother who received Frank, and received
him with reluctance, when she heard the claim he made, the claim
that he loved her child. "She has told me nothing of this,
though I have heard of you. I think she would have told me,"
she said, doubtfully.
"There was nothing that she could tell," he answered; "but
let her decide."
"You would not wish to disquiet her," pleaded the worn and
suffering woman. "It will be better for you not to see her."
"Let her decide," he answered still.
And Hyacinthe decided. The gleam of joy which lighted
up her face when she was told of his coming was enough. Mother
and sister stood aside, went forth and left them together, and
How beautiful she looked as she lay there! It was
difficult to believe that she was really dying, dying with that
flush upon her cheek, that brightness in her eyes, those happy
spirits, that vividness of every faculty. Frank's first
thought on seeing her was, "She shall not die." The very
tokens he accepted as tokens of life were the signals of death, the
fires that wasted her by day and consumed her by night. And
yet, as is often the case with those who die young, death was shorn
of its terrors even outwardly. There was very little that was
painful, nothing that was repulsive. Earthly care, too, had
ceased. It would have ceased with her in any case, in entire
dependence upon her heavenly Father, even if daily bread had failed;
but all that had been made sure. The family in whose service
she had contracted her fatal illness had insisted on providing for
her every comfort and every luxury.
That illness had arisen from the wilfulness of one of her
pupils, who had insisted on keeping a window open while she was
teaching. It was autumn, and Hyacinthe, fatigued and heated
with a Long and wearisome walk, chilled and shivered, and complained
of cold in vain. The chill brought on a cough, and the cough
made her feverish and weak.
The weather continued to get worse and worse. Hyacinthe
could not throw up her teaching in the beginning of the season to
nurse a cold, and it settled on her lungs. This was the short
sad story to which Frank Smith listened, with a conflict of feeling
difficult to describe.
His claim had been recognised. Henceforth he was to be
with her constantly, for the time was short, and sacred with the
double sacredness of love and death. Hyacinthe did not put his
love from her. This also her Lord had given her, making the
last of life sweetest and most precious. In giving it up she
was yielding no worthless thing, and yet she had reached the supreme
acquiescence. She would not unsay the words "Thy will be done"
to buy back life itself.
As for Frank, as he sat beside her, and learnt more and more
of her inner life, he seemed to look back on all his past as from
another sphere, a sphere which mirrored realities. It was not
that he judged differently, he seemed to see differently. Had
he seen with these eyes, other judgment would have been impossible,
impossible the walking in that vain show, a life of pleasure.
Anything would be better than that—labour, pain, sorrow—anything but
that utter selfishness.
He told her all there was to tell concerning his love for
her; how he had set himself to win her; how he had been working for
this alone, how little he should care to work again.
"Do not say that," she murmured; "you are called to work the
work of God."
"Then I have never heard the call."
"You have not heeded it. All men are called to work
God's work in the world. The Christian's calling is but a
higher one. 'My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,' said
Christ. 'I have finished the work that thou gayest me to do."'
"But He has given me none," said Frank. "That is what I
complain of in my life, it has been so aimless."
"Aimless, with the highest aim of all before you, to become a
fellow-worker with God!"
This tale must touch but lightly on what was said between
these two, united so strangely. Even between them, concerning
the things of the Spirit there was a religious reticence; much more
so must there be here. If we read it aright, all life is
sacred. There is nothing common or unclean: its love, whether
of lovers, or friends, or kindred, is sacred; so are its sorrows, so
are its most every-day trials and labours. But in the dealings
of God's Spirit with each and all of us there is something more
sacred, a Holy of Holies of which we can catch but a glimpse behind
One morning, when Frank came as usual, Hyacinthe was gone.
He went in to see her with more calmness than he would have
manifested in her living presence, for she had suffered much of
late, and now she was at peace. She never looked so like one
of the flowers whose name she bore—so rich, so pure, so white, in
her perfect repose.
Very soon Frank was at home again in his family circle, but
no one spoke of his absence or its cause. His father was
inclined to remain offended, for he was a self-willed man and Frank
had not shown any sign of submission. But it would not do; he
was speedily disarmed. Instead of maintaining, as he had
expected, an attitude of injury, Frank exhibited a new and strange
deference to his wishes, and a new unselfishness and consideration
for all. Instead of throwing up his legal studies, and rushing
away to the ends of the earth, he went on with greater earnestness
in the path he had marked out for himself, the study of public law,
and if sometimes it seemed dry and profitless, he would say to
himself, "Never mind, it is work, and work which some one must do,
if this labour is not to be lost to the world." Unconsciously,
Frank Smith was putting to the test the promise, "If any man do my
will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God." He
would begin by working, he might end in the peace and joy of
For some time he did not go into society, but beyond his
family circle no one knew why; it did not transpire, for she whom he
mourned had not belonged to this society of his. But at length
he began to make his appearance there, and his friends rejoiced over
him as one who has returned to the world. But before long he
was found out. He might be discovered where the music rose,
and even where the dancers whirled, but it was in a corner where he
had caught some one whom he knew, and was urging upon him or her
something that was to be done, something generally well worth doing.
He had invaded the party of pleasure for help for the workers, for
help and for fresh recruits. Some laughed and danced on, some
voted him a bore; but some listened and were won. Not a few
indeed, for to him belonged the rare charm of a perfect sympathy.
He had even learnt to sympathise with Miss Oliver, to see in her
extravagances a mistaken protest against the frivolity, the sloth,
and the littleness which eat out the lives of women, a half
inarticulate aspiration for a share in the work of the world, for a
higher standard of duty, a truer and nobler life.
A few years passed away, bringing more or less of change to
the several actors of our story. To Gilbert Smith they had
brought only unbounded success, success even greater than he had
ever anticipated. A lucky turn of political events, that is a
lucky turn for him, had brought him to the surface, and his talents
were such as are needed there—readiness, smoothness, and pliability,
an untiring industry, a faculty for getting things disposed of.
In those few years he had won all that he cared for of position and
public favour, and with these he was winning what he cared for still
more—money. Money was the watchword, the talisman, the
philosophers' stone of the day.
So Gilbert Smith earned largely, spent largely, and
accumulated largely. He had often, in his secret soul, envied
Frank's birthright. He envied him no more. One day he
would buy land, and hand down to his son a greater estate than his
father's. His father had always been hampered for money; he
hardly knew how to invest it in the meantime, so much of it flowed
into his hands.
He had been fortunate, too, in his marriage, so he thought at
least. Ethel was all that he desired; but then he did not
desire much. She did her duty in the matter of dress and
dinners, and she went into society as much as his position required,
and no more. That, however, was a great deal for her; it
demanded all her time and strength. In order to meet the
demand, she had to rest a great deal, that is, she had to lie on a
sofa all the early part of the day, and remain undisturbed with her
novel. She had children, too, but she saw little of them.
They were up-stairs in the nursery, a long way off, where never a
cry reached her ears. And the baby cried if he was left with
her, cried to go to his young nursemaid, always a sorry sight; and
the little girl crept shyly to her side in the drawing-room, and
behaved painfully well, being used to the stern control of the
sour-faced upper nurse, with whom she dared not soil a finger.
The breach between the brothers had widened, and was likely
to widen still more, for Frank had announced his intention of
marrying no other than Ellen Field, the sister of his lost
Hyacinthe. Frank had kept up the closest intimacy with the
Fields, and it had ended thus. Ellen's sweet and sincere
nature had won his regard, her friendlessness claimed his
protection, and his love had sprung from these, and from a tender
loyalty to the dead. When he made his brother aware of his
intention, Gilbert gave him up. He would not be at the pains
even to remonstrate.
It vexed his father too; but he said even less than Gilbert.
Mr. Smith was in the crisis of his own impending fate. He had
never been a rich man, but he had begun to be covetous of riches,
and having saved a little he risked it for more, and won. But
where there is much to be won, there must be much to be lost.
Where some are such gainers, others must be losers, that is to say
where none are workers, for wealth does not make itself. Mr.
Smith borrowed in order to make more, and lost all. The
bankruptcy court stared him in the face, and it was not a pleasant
prospect, for Mr. Smith was an honourable man in his way, and knew
that he had no business to be there.
At length he summoned his sons to a consultation on the state
of his affairs; it was easy to see that his hope was in Gilbert, and
not in Frank. But Gilbert would do nothing. It was
annoying, terribly annoying; but the disgrace was none of his.
People could not help their relations, and it would soon be
forgotten. Yes, the bankruptcy court would wipe out all
scores, there was nothing else for it.
Frank interposed. There was something else; the entail
could be cut off, and his father's debts paid in full. That
was the only honest, upright, just, and Christian course.
Frank was willing to cut off the entail.
If he had proposed to cut off his head, his father and
brother could not have been more astonished at the act of
self-sacrifice. "My brother is a born idiot," thought Gilbert
but it is no business of mine to stop him, especially as he is going
to make this foolish marriage. I will buy up the land and keep
it in the family." His proposal to do so reconciled his father
to a step which was very bitter to him; but the bankruptcy court
was, he confessed, bitterer still—it would have broken his heart, as
he afterwards owned.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith retired to a small house in London, on a
not too liberal allowance. Gilbert had had to pay fully more
than the estate was worth in order to redeem it from the hands of
his father's creditors, and he did not behave generously in the
matter of a settlement for his parents and his sister Florence.
He had borrowed a portion of the purchase-money, that was his plea
at the time; but he had borrowed it easily on the security of the
land, and might pay it in a year or two, if he chose, out of his
great and increasing income. But for Frank they would have
found themselves poor, and felt themselves neglected. Florence
indeed had to tear one of the bitterest sorrows that shake and not
seldom overthrow the spirit, the failure in the day of trial of a
love on which she counted surely. Up to the time of his
marriage, Frank remained with them, sharing cheerfully their altered
circumstances, bringing around them new friends, and awakening in
them fresh interests; above all, when they found their dead
formalism, their refuges of lies utterly unavailing, ready to lead
them to the truth and the life.
It was on the occasion of his marriage with Ellen Field that
Frank made his profession, for the first time in his manhood
partaking of the Holy Communion. Neither Gilbert nor Ethel was
present, but those who were—his father and mother, and the friend
who administered and shared the rite, and knew all that it meant in
his case—felt their hearts thrilled and elevated as witnesses of an
act of solemn dedication, the dedication of two lives to the service
of God and the ministry of Jesus Christ. The service rendered
by these two was not lip service, it was life service; they had not
given that solemn assent to the command to enter upon the work of
God, merely to go away and forget all about it, and serve the world,
the flesh, or the devil—whichever of these seemed most pleasant to
them. Their ministry began from that hour; it began at their
own hearth, and was carried by them into the Church and into the
world. When children were born to them, they were freely
dedicated to the same holy service; not merely taken to the font to
receive the name they might be known by in the world. They
were trained to that service by labour, by watching, and by prayer.
And the tender care which these little ones of theirs
demanded, led them to labour all the more in the work of caring for
others—for the children of the city and its streets. Frank was
in the front rank of those who, by public and private effort, were
struggling to redeem his generation from the curse of its neglected
children; and no sacrifice he could make in the cause seemed too
great to her who was his fellow-worker in all things.
"You are doing what the parents ought to be compelled to do,"
Gilbert was wont to say.
"But if they will not and cannot do it?" Frank would reply.
"Then they and their children must take the consequences."
"But these children are God's heritage, and we must not see
the vineyard lie waste because men neglect their own appointed work
in it," Frank would answer.
And Gilbert would smile with the smile of a cynic and a
superior—a smile which said that such people as Frank were not to be
reasoned with; they were best left alone. They could not be
made to understand that their mode of working was altogether
obsolete, and stood in the way of nineteenth century progress; only
they had but very little effect on the great laws which that
progress obeyed, by which the fortunate upper strata was selected to
live, and the depressed and depraved under strata to be swept away
And, indeed, Frank did not quite understand his brother in
those days. They had come together again outwardly.
Frank had been successful, too, beyond his utmost hopes, and though
he had not become rich as Gilbert had done, because he had not
devoted himself so exclusively to his profession, still he was a
rising man, and, moving in the same sphere, it was impossible to
hold aloof from each other.
They could not be at even secret enmity, as Ethel would have
wished, the ties between them were too many and too strong; but they
did not understand each other. Frank was misled by Gilbert's
outward profession, and gave him credit for a Christianity he did
not possess. He failed even to notice Ethel's enmity, and the
cold courtesy and scanty kindness with which she met Ellen's sincere
and loyal offers of affection.
Ethel had not improved with the years. She had a
mother's offered chance of rising to the sweetest of all
self-abnegations, and she put it from her. She did nothing for
her children, and she was nothing to them. Thus, instead of
being taken out of herself, she had gone back upon herself more and
more. Wealth and ease, especially the latter, were all she
cared for, and the latter seemed specially difficult of attainment.
It always will be to the idle, for it is the reward of labour, and
labour of any kind Ethel shunned. The rust of body and brain
made everything uneasy, and imperceptibly she became a confirmed
She lay on her sofa and read her novels, and earned many a
dismal headache. Imperceptibly, too, Gilbert's affection
declined. She was not the woman he had married—this fretful,
languid, self-indulgent, self-made invalid. But, nevertheless,
this was she, and he had but seen the possibility of something
better which had been in her as in every other human being.
He could see, too, her enmity to Frank and his wife; and
enmity is not pleasing in others, however we ourselves may cherish
it. And in Ethel it grew worse and worse, for the heart is a
soil in which weeds will flourish and grow to unsightliness if
better seed be not sown and nourished there. She could not
forget that Ellen had been a daily governess. She could not
forgive her what she held to be so great an advancement as her
marriage with Frank; she could not forgive her the place she took
soon after in the esteem of all who knew her; above all she could
not forgive her the affection which Miss Smith had transferred from
Hyacinthe to her, and the little fortune which that lady had
bequeathed to her.
Ethel's children would be rich. Her boy would come into
what would have been Frank's inheritance, and the inheritance of his
children, if Frank had not sacrificed himself, and yet Ethel grudged
him the bequest which went but a small way to restore the brothers
to equality of worldly position. Covetousness is another of
the unsightly growths of idleness, and Ethel had grown frightfully
Frank began to be at no loss to understand his brother's
sneers at domestic felicity, when he witnessed the way in which
Ethel strove to keep back her husband from a post of public
usefulness, because it would cost money, and also hinder its
accumulation; and not till she was convinced that it was but a step
to still greater gains, would she give her consent to her husband's
going into Parliament. This exhibition had pained Frank
exceedingly; but he was still more deeply pained to find that
Gilbert was as ready as Ethel to put aside the idea of public
usefulness, the obligation which really binds every Christian,
whether that obligation be recognised and acknowledged or not, to
make his worldly advancement subservient to the advancement of
Christ's kingdom. Frank's desire that it might be so was met
by another sneer, and yet another revealed Gilbert's cynical
contempt for religion altogether. Then Frank saw plainly how
much they had diverged; but the point of divergence lay far in the
past, and was hidden from his sight. Gilbert had had a form of
godliness without its power, and now the very form was falling from
him; fell from him more and more till he arrived at the complete
negation of blank infidelity—avowed in private, but held back in
"Why do you not openly avow these opinions of yours?" said
his brother one day.
He and Ellen with their children were staying for a week at
Wanock Place, and he was astonished to find that Gilbert went to
church as usual, though in London he never entered a place of
And Gilbert made answer to the effect that he considered the
Christian religion, on the whole, favourable to morality, and
therefore to be kept up.
"You mean, when it is truly believed, of course?" said Frank.
"Certainly," replied his brother.
"Then surely you would think it better that all could truly
believe it?" said Frank.
Gilbert did not think so. He held that it was very good
for women and children, and the lower orders generally, and for
But Frank pressed him closely. "I cannot think," he
said, "that to set a fiction in the place of truth is good for any
human being. You are unjust to your own opinions, whatever
they may be, not to act up to them, just as professing Christians
are unjust to Christianity when they do not act up to it.
Indeed, I think the smallest and narrowest belief thoroughly acted
upon is better than the largest and noblest which is not.
Christ calls himself the Truth and the Life, for the truth and the
life are one, interwoven as the warp and woof."
"Because I don't believe in the Divine authority of the
eighth commandment, do you think I am likely to put my hand into my
neighbour's pocket? A true apprehension of the nature and
constitution of society will prevent me quite as well, but will not
prevent my neighbour Giles," retorted Gilbert. "That is all I
"Giles's idea of social order might not be yours exactly,"
said Frank, with a smile. "Nevertheless, I believe there is a
true social order, based on the Divine will, and whenever the truths
of Christianity are extensively denied, that social order will be
disintegrated. Look at France. Nothing struck me more
forcibly than her state of disintegration. At the root of it
is her wide-spread infidelity. It is this that has made her
armies like withered leaves before the blast, and her defences like
ropes of sand, and it is this you dread when you say that
Christianity is a desirable belief for the masses."
"There Roman Catholicism is the root of the evil," said
Gilbert. "The Catholic Church has failed to keep hold of the
minds of an enlightened people, and no wonder."
"The Catholic Church has lost her hold on the people," said
Frank, "through setting up before them perpetually the great fiction
of the mass; but their infidelity is owing, in a still greater
degree, to the neglect of the practice of piety. True
Christians, there as here, lament the desecration of the Sabbath
day, and see as clearly how much the breaking of that one
commandment has to do with the ruin of the country, how surely and
swiftly it leads to the breaking, not only of social, but of
domestic ties. 'The father who works the seventh day sees
nothing of his children,' one said to me. They do not learn to
obey, and he does not learn to love. The mother goes to church
alone, if she goes at all. The little girls may go with her,
but the boys prefer to play. Soon the girls leave off also."
"What hope is there of France getting through her present
difficulties?" said Gilbert, glad that the conversation had taken a
less personal turn.
"I see none," he replied; "but for all that, the time may be
at hand when the dry bones shall be shaken. It wants but the
breath of God's Spirit to make them live. And what a living it
would be!" he added warmly.
Gilbert turned away. It would soon be impossible for
him, he thought with bitterness, to discuss any subject with Frank.
They were always on opposite sides, whatever the question might be.
It fell also to the lot of Frank Smith to be sent up to
Parliament, but the post was accepted in another and surely a nobler
spirit, with an earnest desire to further every measure which would
advance the highest interests of his country with earnest prayer
that every "Yes" or "No" which was recorded against him should be in
accordance with the commands of Christian duty.