IN the High
Street of a certain well-known provincial town stood the house of
Doctor Hook. The house was of red brick, faced with grey
stone, and boasted the whitest of steps and the brightest of brass
knockers: an old-fashioned, substantial house, with an air of
old-world stateliness about it, which its newer and finer neighbours
Doctor Hook was by no means the first physician in the town,
as far as reputation went. He stood third, perhaps not for
want of ability, for the Doctor towered above his fellows in mental
as he did in physical stature. He could see far more clearly
and surely into the nature of a disease than could his opposite
neighbour, Doctor Dunscombe, who rattled about in his carriage and
pair, dressed so splendidly, and who spoke with such a tone of
authority. And he was a far sweeter natured, more sympathetic
human being than Doctor Blandford, of Blandford Villa, in the new
town, who drove in a dismal little close pill-box, moved upon the
tips of his toes, as if constantly fearful of awaking a sleeping
patient, had upon his face a look of perpetual concern, and spoke in
a tone hardly above a whisper.
Yet Doctors Dunscombe and Blandford occupied posts of honour
in the Infirmary, and were selected, in turn, by their
fellow-citizens to be put forward on great occasions; whereas Doctor
Hook was totally ignored. Of course, he had his patients, who
swore by him and by him alone, and took the liberty of applying to
the treatment pursued by his rivals a word of obscure etymology, but
clearest meaning, viz.—humbug.
Doctor Hook went his own way, and that way was not, at the
time we would indicate, an altogether evil way. To all outward
appearance, indeed, it was an excellent one. He drove about in
his open, decidedly fast and unprofessional vehicle, a picture of
health and energy, doing his patients good by his very presence and
by his cheerful voice and cheerful views, and staying longer with
them sometimes than he need have stayed, because he did them good
thus—more good than medicine, some of them said. Then he came
back to his home and his wife; and few men had such a home and such
a wife—a home in which comfort and refinement dwelt on equal terms,
the one never encroaching on the other; a wife with a mind at once
cultivated and original and a heart full of wifely devotion.
Mrs. Hook was at this time a fine, handsome, middle-aged woman, of
high mind and still higher temper; but who, in spite of her temper,
which showed itself only in a certain hardness to offenders, lived
on terms of the most unbroken felicity with her husband.
At holiday times there was also his schoolboy son, a
repetition of himself, with just an additional dash of spirit, a
frank, headlong, passionate, yet humorous and kindly lad. The
persistence, amounting to obstinacy, which young Spencer showed on
occasions only gave his doting father room to hope still greater
things of him. Just for want of such a resisting power, he
himself had stuck at what he was. Thanks to his high-minded
Martia that he had not sunk a good deal lower. Time was, it
was said, when the Doctor's doings had not been so correct; and it
was singular how retentive were the memories of his fellow-citizens
concerning that time. Doctor Dunscombe still spoke of it in
clearly actionable terms, and Doctor Blandford shook his head over
the terrible effects likely to result from dissipation in a man
entrusted with the keys of life and death, as he grandiloquently
phrased it. Neither of them associated with Doctor Hook,
though they were very civil to him when they met, and this also
Doctor Hook went on his way unheeding. His life would flow
along in any channel deep enough to hold it, like a strong stately
river, or it might dash itself in steep and narrow places, over
every barrier like a desolating flood, but it would never stagnate
in the shallow slimy pools of envy and jealousy.
Besides, he had no further ambition for himself. It was
all centred in his son. Spencer would carry everything before
him. He had distanced young Dunscombe at the school. He
would go to college directly, and distance half a dozen Dunscombes.
Spen. would take to the great art of healing. Spen. would make
a reputation; not a shabby provincial reputation, but a national,
perhaps a European one. The lad at his grammar-school had
already begun the study of physical science, and was already
enamoured of his future profession, and eager to make all the
learning of the schools subservient to it. Spencer was in very
truth a boy of splendid promise, and both father and mother seemed
to hold their lives bound up in him.
But how had Doctor Hook earned such a reputation from his
fellow-townsmen? Had he indeed earned it? or was it made up of
envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness? The strangers
who came to settle in the place so thought and averred. The
Doctor regularly attended the Cathedral services. Nobody
enjoyed a beautiful anthem more than he. His domestic
relations were perfect. His conduct irreproachable. His
money matters correct. His dealings just and liberal.
Nevertheless, there was truth in that accusation of
dissipation which stuck to him, though it was a thing of the past.
He had come to the town a young fellow of twenty-one, whom nobody
knew, as assistant to his wife's father, Doctor Leighton, who lived
in the very same house which his son-in-law still inhabited, and
was, in his day, the first doctor in the town. The young man
took everybody's fancy by storm. He was so handsome, so
good-humoured, so clever. His qualities of head and heart
gained him the esteem and love of the good old doctor and the
affections of the doctor's only daughter, Martia Leighton, then a
very beautiful girl, a couple of years his senior, and her father's
housekeeper, and general adviser besides.
The young people were at once attracted by each other.
Spencer Hook fell in love with Martia on the very first evening of
their acquaintance, as she sat at the head of her father's table, so
sweetly, and yet so stately grave. He has a picture of her as
she was then, in the very dress she wore—a puce-coloured silk, cut
very low, with a fall of delicate white lace over the bosom, and a
couple of strings of pearl round her slender throat, golden brown
curls invading the ample forehead, crisp round curls like those on
the head of a young child, and the hair behind rolled up, nearly on
the crown of the head, in a subdued and more graceful version of our
Spencer Hook was engaged to Martia Leighton within the year;
but her father was cautious in giving her, his all (and everything
he had went with her), to the young stranger. He insisted on
their waiting for two more years, at the end of which he would make
a partner of his future son-in-law, and then allow the marriage to
take place at once.
It was not good for young Hook this waiting, especially as he
had by no means enough to do, and, young as he was, he had already
imbibed a love of so-called pleasure. For a year or two before
he came to Doctor Leighton, he had, while pursuing his studies at
Edinburgh with the utmost success, been spending his little
patrimony in riotous living, the companion of the fastest of his
fellow-students. Having at length come down to the husks, and
not finding them pleasant eating, he had formed and acted on the
best of resolutions: he gave up his indulgences, forsook his boon
companions, and, having taken his degree, began at once to seek for
employment. It might have been better for him if he had found
the return path a hard one. It was all very easy. He
lighted upon Doctor Leighton, and comfort, and respectability, and
good prospects all at once.
Spencer Hook came from the north of England. There
still lingered in his speech, and would linger till the end of his
life, a trace of the Northumbrian burr. He had come of a
stalwart, vigorous race too—of that there was evidence in his broad
shoulders and ample chest, in his stalwart figure and clear though
dark complexion. But they were a race, too, of strong passions
and strong propensities, who loved to dare the very verge of moral,
as they did of physical, danger. Spencer's youth had been
overshadowed by a great calamity—the greatest of all calamities, a
vicious father. Only a tender and devoted mother had stood
between him and that calamity, and had spent herself in the effort
not only to hide and screen his father's vice, but, when it could
not be screened or hidden, to make as light of it as possible, in
her desire to save him from pain and shame.
Shirley Hook was one of the smaller proprietors of the
county, but he had entered upon life with an embarrassed fortune,
and had already cut off in his father's lifetime the entail of his
property before he met the lady whom he ultimately married.
She was without fortune, except a single thousand pounds, which were
settled on herself. It was a love match on both sides, and to
that love the lady trusted for the salvation of the man she had
married. Whether there was originally any virtue in him no one
knew, but he was a fearfully dissipated man when Spencer's mother
married him, in the hope of reforming him. She had surely seen
the possibility of better things in him, or she would not have
entered on the task which seemed to others hopeless.
And for a time she appeared to succeed; but the appearance
was a deceitful one. Suddenly, and as it were without the
least provocation, he broke out again and became worse than ever.
Possession, infatuation, are the only fitting words to apply to his
conduct, for he would sin and be exceeding sorry; be exceeding sorry
and then go on to sin. And every time he did this he became
distinctly worse. The evil seemed to invade a greater and
greater portion of his nature, to take a firmer and firmer hold of
his life. Each time a larger extent of his property was
recklessly gambled away, each time greater inroads were made on his
constitution, each time the will of the man seemed more hopelessly
Time after time would come a period, growing briefer and
briefer, when his unhappy wife would venture anew to hope, when,
yielding to her pleadings and remonstrances, he would become sober
and sensible—nay, even set to work to retrieve his fallen fortunes.
But in vain she thought, "Now I will screen him from every
temptation; I will never leave him, waking or sleeping; I will be
with him when the tempter comes to him, and help him to overcome."
In some way or other he would manage to elude her vigilance and to
disappear, returning more spent and broken and hopeless than ever,
till the very poison which was killing him became a necessity of
life. Whenever the impulse came (whether it came from without
or from within, driving him, like one whom Satan drives, into the
wilderness) he was whirled once more into the vortex of vice, which
must one day destroy him. And he knew it. He knew he was
breaking the heart of his wife, and yet he went on breaking it.
He knew he was killing himself, but with the very pains of death
laying hold of him he would drink the poison which roused their
fangs of torture.
At last it came to this that the man had no will except to do
evil, and that continually. He had lost everything that he
could lose, except life and soul, and these he was ready to stake on
the fatal self-indulgence. He had lost his property to the
last acre; he had lost his health; he had lost name and fame, and
even friends, the lowest and the worst of them; he had lost his very
manhood. But the strangest thing was that, among all his
losses, he had never lost the love of his devoted wife. He had
disappointed her hopes; he had ruined her prospects. He had
given her for her youth and her love only trouble and anguish, and
she loved him still. There must have been something in him
worthy of it surely.
All that she could do at last was to screen him from the eyes
of his son, for a son had grown up in their home to the verge of
manhood. He was sent to school at an early age away from home.
His mother yearned to keep him, for he had been her chiefest
solace—a gentle, loving and yet brilliant boy; but it was not to be
thought of. Her life was one constant self-sacrifice, and she
saw as little of the lad as she possibly could. Often at
vacation-time had Spencer been bitterly disappointed, and that too
in his warmest affections, by being sent somewhere else instead of
home, while some elaborate excuse was given why he could not be
received by his parents.
It was only in her letters that the mother's heart flowed
forth, and in them Spencer learnt to worship her. At length he
went up to college, and she knew that the time was coming when her
son must know the full extent of his father's misdoing, if he had
not already guessed it. No more excuses could be made to keep
him from home, and at home the truth must be revealed to him.
When she could no longer, therefore, screen her husband she
made light of his sins—a false and fatal step not successful in
deceiving her son as to their extent and disastrous consequences,
but confusing and darkening the young man's conscience and judgment
concerning them, apart from their consequence.
She did not live, however, to reap the bitter fruits of the
seed which she had sown. And her son was destined to be
orphaned of both his parents in his early youth. During his
first and second college vacations his father had conducted himself
better than usual. He had not left his home, nor had he
behaved in any outrageous manner. His wife had bribed him, as
it were, by supplying him with more than the ordinary allowance of
drink, to remain quiet; and he had remained quiet, though often in a
state of inebriation.
When Spencer returned at the end of his third year, his
father was not visible. His mother said he was ill in bed and
under the influence of an opiate. The son knew but too well
what that meant, and reconciled himself to his father's absence, but
it was more than usually intolerable. It had been a late and
cold spring up among the hills, and the house was in a lonely and
exposed situation. It was more like the beginning of March
than the end of April, and the wind howled round the house, when it
was shut in for the night, like a host of demons seeking entrance.
Spencer's mother had received him with an anxious and
pre-occupied air, and her absences were frequent even in the course
of seeing him enjoy his first meal at home. At length she
disappeared altogether, and Spencer thought he heard strange noises
in the house, especially in the pauses of the wind.
An old servant came to him at last, and told him, with a
scared face, that he must go for the doctor, his father was worse
than usual—in a dangerous state in fact.
He jumped to his feet, and in a moment was ready to go; but
he wanted to see his father first, or at least his mother, and would
not take the old servant's "nay," though she had nursed him when he
was a little child. He, too, was scared, as he went along the
passages of the rambling old house, by frantic shrieks, which were
certainly not the wind. But the old woman had gone on before
him, and entered the room where his father was. And his mother
came out of it, and turned him back, and entreated him to go for the
He went, battling with the wind under the starry night; but
the doctor, who lived three miles off, was absent, attending a
woman, still further up the valley. Spencer followed, and
brought him back with him, but not till half the night was spent.
And in the meantime what had transpired in the room where the
wife watched over the husband, in the terrors and agonies of
delirium tremens? Fearful fancies took possession of him, and
kept him crouching in corners, stretching out the palms of his hands
to keep off his ghostly assailants. Then a fit of fury would
seize him, and he would spring at his wife with uncomprehending
eyes, evidently taking her for one of his fancied foes. She
managed once or twice to elude him, but at length he closed on her,
and held her with crushing force. Still she used her voice to
soothe him, and wrestled with him gently without calling for help.
She would not cry out even for mortal hurt, and mortally hurt she
was in the struggle, before the unhappy man sank into the stupor
preceding death. In his ravings he had managed to stab her
with a pocket-knife which he had concealed in his hand.
And to the very end she screened him. When he was dead,
and she too was dying, she would not allow her son to be told of the
manner of her death. Only the doctor and her faithful servant
knew. She feared that the horror of it would blight his life,
which would be sufficiently sad and desolate without such knowledge.
It was hidden from him without positive falsehood, for she was
suffering from heart disease as well; but it may be questioned
whether she was right in saving him from the sadder knowledge which
It is a natural and generous impulse which tries to save the
young from the knowledge of the deepest evils and from the pressure
of the hardest necessities of life; but to hide from them the
consequences of sin is another thing. In these the voice of
God speaks, and speaks in a language which the youngest can
understand. Be that as it may, she died and made no sign, and
Spencer was thrown upon the world a solitary orphan. His
mother's thousand pounds came to him the day he was of age, and a
little from the sale of his father's house, and he chose the
profession of medicine, and continued his college career.
As is natural in youth, his grief for his mother soon faded
away. There was no restraint upon his actions, and he took, as
if by instinct, to a life of indulgence in pleasure. Was the
taint wrought into his nature, the dreadful taint which would not
wear out save with the very blood and the brain of him who owned it?
and would it end in destroying the heart and conscience, the energy
and will, and self-control, nay the very soul itself?
As yet his pleasures were social rather than sordid; he was
gay and reckless rather than vile; but young as he was he had tasted
the cup which brings longing to the lips, only not yet was it
unquenchable. Spencer Hook had a fine nature, and we have seen
that at this point he righted himself and played the man. He
had inherited his mother's virtues as much as his father's vice, and
none could say what the result would be in the future which was
still before him.
patients took to his assistant immediately, especially the younger
farmers and squires of the neighbourhood. Of necessity he was
out among them at unseasonable hours, and out among them meant
drinking freely. But he kept within bounds, and for a long
time this went on unnoticed. He loved Martia passionately; but
the quiet evenings at her father's fireside, with the doctor snoring
in his chair and Martia sitting opposite with her embroidery, chafed
his eager spirit, till he would drive out into the night with glee,
to join some jolly set in one of the country houses in the
neighbourhood, where the guests would stay on till morning broke in
upon their revels.
Such conduct could not long remain hidden, and accordingly it
came to the knowledge of Doctor Leighton, who remonstrated in no
measured terms—indeed, withdrew his countenance and favour from him
at once, and without any promise based on future amendment.
The doctor was terribly disappointed, and in the bitterness of his
disappointment told the young man that he must consider the
engagement between him and his daughter at an end.
When Martia also avoided him, and would have nothing to say
to him, all hope seemed at an end. He flung his good
resolutions to the winds, and the town was soon ringing with his
"Doctor and Miss Leighton are quite right to have nothing to
do with such a scapegrace," said the public opinion of the place;
but a lofty instinct whispered to Martia Leighton, "We are quite
wrong. We, and we alone, can save him. We, and we alone,
are sending him to destruction. What this man needs is not a
fear and a torment—it is a forgiveness, and a love which shall
overpower his nature and save him from his very self." It was,
indeed, that which he needed; but Martia Leighton did not know that
it was a love and forgiveness higher than her own, a love and
forgiveness which should have power to renew that nature of his, and
not merely to patch it over, like new cloth upon an old garment.
Martia's mind was of no common order; it could not linger in
indecision. Having listened to that whisper and accepted the
conviction which it carried to her, she lost no time in acting on
it. Instead of avoiding Spencer, she sought him on the first
opportunity, while he waited in the consulting-room the return of
Doctor Leighton from his morning round of visits.
Spencer Hook was sitting in her father's chair when Martia
stole softly upon him. He was thoroughly depressed and
miserable, and had covered his face with one of his hands as he sat.
He was in fact meditating a request to Doctor Leighton, and that
request was to allow him to break free from his business engagement
and leave the place. He could never hope to be so fortunate
again. He had been an utter fool. Probably he would be
an utter fool to the end of the chapter, and throw away other and
lesser opportunities as he had thrown away this one, till he sunk to
the dismal dregs. What matter! there was no one to care—no
mother's heart to break, no father's grey hairs to bring down with
dishonour to the grave.
Martia stole upon him, and stood beside him before he was
aware—stood over him at her full stately height, and spoke the words
of warning which came to her lips. She knew what he would say,
and he said it. He said, as he had thought, that there
was no one to care. That since she had renounced him he was
utterly reckless. He had not been reckless heretofore, he had
only yielded to temptation, and she did not know what the
temptations of his youth had been. He was unworthy of her, had
always been unworthy; and the best thing she could do was to forget
him, and let him go his way, and that way was the way to ruin.
But she had known also what she would answer, and she
answered. "I have not given you up; I hold myself bound to you
still. Your way will be my way; your ruin my ruin."
He had started up when she began to speak. As she spoke
his whole soul was stirred. He had loved her before with
youthful, passionate ardour, which clung, as it were, to the outward
form of beauty, but now, for the first time, there stood revealed to
him the woman's soul, and his love changed in a moment into a
passion absorbing the whole spiritual force of the man.
"No, Martia," he answered, standing erect and ennobled.
"The sacrifice is too great. I have never loved you as I love
you now; but I will not link your fate with mine. I will try
to be worthy of you even thus far; but I cannot be sure of myself.
It is in my blood, this beastly craving. My father died of
"You are not free, Spencer," she had answered, and quitted
the room as her father entered it.
It was certain that Spencer Hook did not ask to be released
from his engagement to Doctor Leighton, otherwise he would have had
no difficulty in that direction. He stayed on, and his conduct
became again all that could be desired. When others drank wine
he drank water, though he did not profess to be a total abstainer,
and such was the hilarity of his spirit and his general bonhomie
that he escaped excessive pressure with comparative ease, but the
wine-drinkers themselves never forgave his defection and never
believed in his reformation.
At the end of the two years, Doctor Leighton withdrew his
embargo on the engagement, and Spencer Hook was married to Martia
Leighton. But the town had never forgotten that curious
outbreak of his, and those who did not know him still credited him
with a secret love of liquor.
There never was a happier union than that of Spencer Hook and
his wife. Their companionship was perfect. They seemed
never to need any society save their own, and therefore their
society was charming. In the first year of their marriage two
events had occurred, and since then their lives had flowed on
uneventfully. A son had been born to them, and old Doctor
Leighton had died rather suddenly.
After that the chief incidents within their home had been
such as little Spencer cutting his first tooth, little Spencer going
into trousers, or little Spencer falling sick of the measles.
Then followed the boy's going to school and his troubles and
successes there, and now he was about to go into the larger world of
college. His father was to take him up to Cambridge and enter
him at Trinity.
So young Spencer Hook was entered of Trinity College, along
with Charles Dunscombe, Doctor Dunscombe's eldest son. These
two had been at school together at a small grammar-school in the
neighbourhood, whose only advantage was that it allowed them to be
much at home, the lads generally spending the Sunday with their
families. The two boys had been companions without being
friends. Spencer had indeed the greatest contempt for Charles
Dunscombe and his sneaking ways, but their comings and goings threw
them together, and though their bickerings were ceaseless, they
still continued to associate with each other. Charles was a
large, lymphatic lad, selfish and sensual, but not deficient in
brain, for with only the advantage of a year in age, he had managed
to keep pace with the brilliant Spencer.
At college they were thrown together again, and got on rather
better, owing to Charles's decided ability; but Charles got into a
bad set and Spencer with him, and the animal propensities of the
former speedily developed. He became one of the worst young
men of the day, steadily and soberly vicious. He drank a great
deal, but was never drunk. He indulged himself in every
possible way, and yet made his allowance cover all his indulgences.
And he tempted others to become ten times worse than himself.
On his equally liberal allowance, Spencer got into debt, and
made his father excessively angry, not because of the money, which
he could well enough afford to lose, but of what it indicated.
Cigars and wine and even brandy, it went sorely against Doctor
Hook's grain to pay for, and he said he would never on any account
pay for them again.
Nevertheless he had to pay for them. Spencer when he
finally left the university left it in debt, but he left it also
with honours, and his father once more set him free from
embarrassment, though not without heart burning and bitterness.
His son's youth appeared to him to be about to repeat his own, and
he knew how narrowly he had escaped an utter shipwreck. He
doubted, too, if any influence could be brought to bear upon his son
as strong as that which had met himself at the turning-point of his
career and saved him.
And he kept him therefore jealously under his eye.
Doctor and Mrs. Hook had never cultivated society. Martia did
not care for it, and the Doctor's social sympathies, which were
particularly strong, were abundantly satisfied in the course of his
professional duty. His son's, which were equally strong, were
not satisfied at all. He had to fall back on young Dunscombe,
who had returned to his father's house on a footing precisely
similar to his own, namely, to be his father's present assistant and
future successor. The two young men took their degrees
together, and were introduced together into the sphere of their
future labours. Each was provided with a riding horse, and
they were constantly to be found riding in the same direction,
though their work could hardly have lain there with anything like
frequency. The worst of it was that they had little or no work
to do, and what they did was but nominal, not real, responsible
work. Their fathers both were in the vigour of life, and
declined to give up. Then a great cloud of misery fell upon
the Hooks. Spencer had unmistakably wandered into evil ways.
There were dinners laid for three, at which only two were present,
and where all the talk that passed between the Doctor and his wife
were the merest formalities of the occasion, because before the
servants they could not speak of the subject nearest to their
hearts. There were nights, too, when the servants were sent to
bed, and the unhappy father and mother watched and waited for their
How could they influence him, when all the pleadings of
affection had failed? They had pleaded with him each of them
alone and they had pleaded with him together, and he had faithlessly
promised an amendment, which never ensued. Latterly he had
been altogether mute.
One evening the Doctor and his wife sat together in the
drawing-room, waiting for Spencer, when the clock on the
mantle-shelf struck twelve. The Doctor looked up from the last
page of the British Medical Journal, which he had read
through, and waited silently till the last silvery stroke had
ceased. Then he looked at his wife, and said, firmly, "Martia,
let us go upstairs."
She rose, with a heavy sigh, the still beautiful woman whose
lightest wish had been a law to the man before her, and took up her
key-basket, a little straw toy, lined with satin of her favourite
plum colour. She was evidently reluctant to go, and she
gathered up likewise some bits of feminine work, with which she had
been trying to occupy herself, and paused.
The Doctor lit the candles, and handed her one, and she moved
away slowly, leaving him to turn off the gas. He went the
round of the house, and even across the yard to the coach-house and
stable, to see that all was secure before he joined her in her
dressing-room, where he found her sitting, without having made the
slightest preparation for the night. He advanced, and set down
his candle beside her's, with stern set lips and knitted brows.
A mirror had showed him Martia with her woeful and weary looks, and
his heart was set against his son.
Doctor Hook had come to a resolution, and had announced it to
his son in the presence of his wife. It was that if he kept
them waiting for him once more till beyond midnight he should find
his father's door shut against him.
"You have not undressed, dear," said Doctor Hook, in as free
a voice as he could command.
"No," murmured Martia. "I think he will come soon, and
you will let him in this once more, Spencer?"
"The hour is past," said Doctor Hook, "at which I told him he
should find my house doors shut against him."
"Just this once," said Martia, and she was the firmest of the
two by nature.
He was the softest. Yes; but has the reader ever had
any experience of the hardness of a soft nature? If so, he or
she will bear out the assertion that it is the most immovable of all
"Martia," he replied, "when had you ever need to ask me twice
for anything that was mine to give? This is not mine. My
word has gone from me, and I cannot take it back. I have done
it once too often. He thinks he can play with me, and
transgress with impunity the rules I lay down."
"It is such a cold night, Spencer," said the night, "It would
be hard to keep him out to night. The river is frozen over."
"Martia, have I ever been hard to you? I have loved you
more than son or daughter, more than self, God knows."
"Yes, yes, my husband. You have been so good to me, so
good and kind," said Martia. "I shall never forget how tender
you were of me when our Spencer was born, and I went down to the
gates of death for that one precious life, and how you loved the
The words were natural—came naturally to her lips; but they
were cunningly cruel, cruelly cunning, in their power at that
Dr. Hook shivered where he stood, but he answered not a word.
"My child, my child," she moaned. "To think of his
being shut out to-night."
"Martia!" said her husband, upbraidingly, "you unman me.
I cannot think of what has been, but of what is. The boy's
flesh has been too dear to us, and his soul has suffered. We
have hidden his faults from our very selves. We have come
between him and their punishment, and he has grown insolent,
disobedient, hardhearted. Yes, Martia, his heart is hard, hard
as the nether mill-stone. He has his hands upon both our
heart-strings, and he wrings them to torture. Night after
night you sit and watch for him, and sigh so wearily, and look so
worn, that I cannot bear to see you. And what is he doing
while we are suffering?—laughing at some feast of fools. I
never was hard like that. It was because I had no mother that
I went astray. Do you think I would have done it with such a
one as you?"
"I do not know," she answered wearily.
The Doctor waited again for a few minutes—they seemed hours
"Come away and let us put the lights out," he said at last,
He had scarcely finished speaking, when a horse galloped up
the street, some one dismounted, and a loud knock sounded at the
door. Then the scene in that room became tragedy of the
suppressed modern sort, but none the less tragedy in all its pity
"That is his knock," said Martia.
Doctor Hook only moved a little further from the door.
He was silent.
"Let me go to him," said the mother, faintly.
No response came from her husband's lips. He took up
the extinguisher, and put out one of the candles."
Another knock, longer and louder than the last.
"I must go to him," cried Martia, wringing her hands
together. "Spencer, say I may?"
"No," he answered, firmly.
"Spencer, I am going," she whispered hoarsely.
He seized her by the wrist and held her fast. "Let me
go," she cried; "by all that I have suffered, let me go. If
you ever loved me, let me go, Spencer."
He held her fast.
"You are hard, hard, hard," she said fiercely.
"Hush, wife," he answered; "your words are wounds. They
are making me as faint as if the blood were welling from my veins.
But you shall not open to him, for your act is mine, and he will
despise us both. I think it will harm him less to be out a
night in the cold than to find that our words are worthless."
And hardly knowing what she did, Martia clung to her husband
for a moment.
"Be calm, dear wife, be calm," he murmured over her, for she
Then all at once she started back from him, crying, "He is
A horse's hoofs were echoing down the street. The drops
as of a mortal combat stood on the Doctor's forehead.
Then Martia's passion found vent, as she stood before her
husband, and both were conscious of that strange disembodiment which
they had felt once before; but now their spirits met in wrath and
not in love.
"My son! my son!" she cried; "where will he find
shelter—driven from the roof which should have been free to him,
free as the skies above us? A father should forgive, as God
"And He," replied her husband, reverently, "forgives and
Doctor Hook was by nature reverent, and in his misery there
came to him a remembrance of the God whom he had forgotten.
Had Martia gone mad? "No, I cannot bear it," she cried
wildly. "I must follow him. I must go!"
Was it a presentiment? She felt as if the night would
kill him. Something in the cold, cruel darkness seemed to her
waiting to devour him, and she could not stay. To her
husband's terror and amazement she threw on a shawl and bonnet in a
"Martia, are you mad?" he said. "Come back," for she
moved towards the door.
"I will never come back, unless I bring him with me," she
answered, and was gone.
He did not think it well to follow and to restrain her by
force. She would come to her senses presently. But what
a blow she had given him. He almost reeled into the chair in
which he had found her seated when he came upstairs. "Has it
come to this?" he murmured; "after all the love of a lifetime, has
it come to this?"
"She will turn again," he thought. But she had taken
the keys and unlocked the door. He heard the bolts drawn, and
started up. Then the door closed, and she was out in the
Still he did not follow. Though he could hardly realize
that the fierce, passionate woman who had stood before him a few
minutes ago, so stern and grey, was his own Martia; still he trusted
in her. We all trust in each other to act quite mildly and
sanely, till some whirlwind of passion strews the wrecks of our
confidence before our eyes.
As Doctor Hook sat there, he seemed to remember, with
unnatural vividness, every separate day of the three-and-twenty
years he had been united to Martia, and every day of all those years
seemed to have a separate dearness. These two had grown so
one, that the same thought often rose in both their hearts, and met
in the same words upon their lips. And yet it had come to
WHEN Martia went
out into the street it was already silent and empty. She
thought she could hear a faint echo of horse-hoofs in the distance,
and that was all. A little sobered by the fresh air and the
freedom, she walked rapidly along, but as yet without a purpose,
driven only by her inward violence of grief and love in conflict.
She was outwardly restrained; but she would fain have uttered
such a frantic cry as would have wakened all those windows sleeping
in the white moonshine. At the end of the long street where
the road divided, and both the ways led out into the open country,
she was forced to pause and reflect. The two ways, like those
which meet us into every turn in life, asked their silent question,
gave out their unescapeable "Choose!" and brought Martia still more
to her senses. She deliberated. Spencer would not ride
all night; he would stop somewhere. She would follow him—track
him, if possible, even through the darkness. Two young men
came up just then. They walked with unsteady steps,
intoxicated doubtless, and making their way home to their lodgings
in the town, most likely from some inn by the roadside.
"Leave her alone," she heard one say to the other.
"She's an old woman, Bill."
But Martia Hook, the delicately brought up and
tenderly-guarded woman, was at that moment impervious to insult and
beyond the reach of fear.
She stopped them and asked if they knew which way a horseman
One could not say. The other pointed to the road which
led down to the river. Then they passed on, singing a tipsy
glee about not going home till morning, which sounded horrible and
unholy in the saintly night.
Martia took the road pointed out to her. The frosty
stars seemed staring at her with their numberless, pitiless eyes.
The moon—she had never liked the moon, it was a peculiarity of
hers—seemed mocking her with a grin of its death's-head face.
Yonder was the river, but its shine was deadened by the frost which
bound it. It gave out only a dim gleam in the moonlight.
No bridge crossed the river there; but only a ferry, and an
old-fashioned inn stood by the nearer bank. The towing path
ran in front of it—between it and the water. And the horses
stopped there, and the bargemen drank, as also did the carters
passing to the mill on the stream beyond, and the townspeople on
their holidays or evening rambles. They sold good cider at the
little inn. It had upper chambers, too, which were let in
summer-time as country lodgings, and the traveller could always find
there a clean if homely bed and a supper of trout or grayling.
"Perhaps Spencer has stopped there, and put up his horse for
the night," thought Martia, while still at a distance. It was
not unlikely. As she drew nearer, there were lights flitting
about, lights and a clamour of voices. At any rate, here she
might ascertain something concerning him; and if she should find him
there, and bring him back, and they two return together, her husband
would not refuse to let them in, and there would be peace. The
old love was tugging at Martia's heart—the love that was before this
young man had lived, and had sufficed if he had never been.
She went forward to the river's brink, and for a moment
failed to realise the meaning of the scene before her.
A horse was being led up to the inn. She did not notice
that it was dripping, panting, trembling. Only it seemed lame,
and two men were leading it. Another man and two women half
dressed, with shawls about them, were by the river's brink.
The man held a lantern, and leant over the edge of a boat which lay
upon the ice. He was looking by its light into a great hole in
the frozen river.
The man looked up at the new comer, and seemed paralysed with
awe. He knew her; he had known the horse, and he guessed who
the rider must have been who had gone down there into the darkness.
Rather, he had guessed before, and now he knew it must be so.
The mistress of the inn and her maid also recognised Mrs. Hook, and
began weeping loudly.
"What has happened?" asked Martia.
"He has gone under the ice, and we can do no more," answered
There was no answer. None was needed. The whole
truth flashed in an instant upon the miserable mother. It was
her son's horse she had seen led up the bank. It was her son
who had gone down to death under the icy water, and with a great cry
Martia fell upon the earth like one dead.
This was what had happened. Spencer had found that his
father was determined to carry out his threat, which he had
seemingly presumed to think an utterly childish one, and he could
see a faint glimmer of the light in his mother's room before he
applied himself to the door. When it was not opened to him as
he had expected, and he saw that he was wilfully detained outside,
he had remounted and ridden away.
He rode along the very road which his mother had followed
later, but with no intention of stopping at the roadside inn.
His intention was evidently to cross the river, and go out into the
open country beyond, though whither no one knew. The country
was studded with farmhouses and the seats of the smaller gentry, at
many of which Spencer was known. He had, in fact, as was
afterwards ascertained, just come home in that direction, and walked
his horse over the ice to boot; but in returning it is supposed he
sprang on it recklessly, without dismounting, or the insidious thaw,
which had already began, had thinned the ice at that particular
spot, for there was a crash and a great cry. The innkeeper and
the ostler, who had not yet gone to bed, heard it, and ran out to
find a man on horseback struggling in the water, where the ice had
given way. As they drew near, the man had jumped off the
horse, and with another lesser crash, and with no cry whatever, had
The men had used the most frantic exertions. Their
shouts had brought out every inmate of the inn—the mistress and her
servant and the one traveller who chanced to be sleeping there that
night. The women held the lights. The men with the oars
of the ferry-boat broke the ice in a wider circle, and drew out
great wedges that the drowning man might rise to the surface.
For the same purpose they got out, with great effort, the terrified
and unmanageable horse, and left him on the bank. They pushed
the boat upon the ice, and leaned over it to catch the rider the
moment he appeared; but they looked in vain. Minute after
minute passed, and he did not appear. Minute after minute, and
the time passed when it was possible for him to appear as a living
They now carried Martia in her insensibility into the inn and
sent for Doctor Hook, and he came and remained all night with his
wife, watching over her terrible return to consciousness, and
directing still further efforts for the recovery of the body of
their son. These proved unavailing, and it was only after some
days, when every vestige of ice had disappeared, that it was found,
fearfully disfigured, floating in a little rushy cove several miles
During all this time Doctor Hook bore himself like a brave
man, though he was deeply changed. But for Martia—she was
altered out of knowledge. The Doctor, indeed, had trembled for
her reason or her life—one or other, he thought, would go.
Perhaps that had something to do with the control which he evidently
kept over his own sorrow. But she did not die, and her reason
kept its seat. She lived and suffered. Before that
terrible night, Martia would never have been called old. She
was old when she rose again from her sick bed. Her hair had
not turned grey, she was as erect as ever, but her whole colouring
had changed, to her very lips and eyes. It was completely
washed out, and turned to an ashen greyness.
When the body was found, her husband felt that it was
necessary to tell her, though he shrank from the task more than he
would have shrank from the operator's knife, if it had been to cut
off his right hand. He shrank to open her fearful wound, for
they had never once spoken together of their great sorrow. The
old confidence, the old communion of spirit, was at an end between
them, and that, too, when both needed it most to make life seem
bearable. And yet he knew she must be told. He knew she
must have the option of looking upon that dreadful thing which was
once her son. Would her reproaches burst forth upon him then?
and the man believed that he would bear that they should kill him
rather than that she should pass through another agony.
He told her in the twilight, as she lay on the sofa in the
darkened drawing-room. She could not see the working of his
face, and his voice was like the voice of a man who has been long
time sick. "Martia, Spencer has been found," he said; and,
after a pause, "where would you have him buried?"
She shook her head, expressive of the small matter it was to
her where they laid him.
"You will not see him, Martia," he rejoined, in the same
She acquiesced at once. She does not care, she will
care for nothing more, thought her husband, as he left her presence
to make the melancholy preparations. But he did her an
injustice. She cared for him. Through her own sufferings
and by her old perfect sympathy, she divined what his must be.
Like a tide that has been back far over dismal rocks, the old love
was sweeping in, filling all the recesses of her nature.
Martia was an eminently sane person, though she was capable
on occasions of acting on a sudden impulse. Her impulses had
always something of reason in them, if indeed they were not the
highest reason. She abstained from looking at the remains of
her son, not only from a natural shrinking, but that she knew that
her horror and anguish would redouble his. And yet she could
not draw near to him, and tell him this. That night lay
between them like a wrong. Uncheered by the only sympathy
which was worth anything to him, Doctor Hook went through the ordeal
of burying his murdered son.
Murdered! Yes, that was the terrible thought which laid
hold of the overwrought, sensitive brain of the man. He had
murdered his boy, and sent him unprepared to his account with God.
It was not till after their lives had been established in
their ordinary routine once more that the change which had been
wrought in Doctor Hook became apparent. He had no longer the
clear steady head he used to have, nor the fine genial temper.
He was shaky and irritable; not the latter at home though. To
Martia he was full of the tenderest consideration. But his
patients, and they were more or less like his friends or his
children, began to notice in his speech and behaviour something
which had not been there before, something of uncertainty and
indecision "Can the Doctor be drinking again?" was whispered at
length by one member of a family to another.
They feared it was so, and, thinking of the great calamity
which had come upon him, some among them, who knew not the stay of
the mourner, were fain to say, "No wonder."
Yes, the Doctor was drinking. He had never given up his
glass of wine at home; indeed latterly, before this trouble, he had
indulged in it freely, though without excess. The
strenuousness of his self-control had gradually relapsed. He
had passed the time of life, he thought, when he could relapse into
his one vice. He held that he had fairly conquered it—that the
"taint of blood" had, in process of tune, been eradicated
entirely—that he was free.
But in the prosperous and happy years which had gone by there
had been no strain upon him. He had been in no temptation.
All at once the temptation had come, sudden and strong, and had
found him unarmed to meet it. His wife never came down to
dinner now. She had little appetite, and eat what she could
eat in the earlier part of the day, taking a cup of tea in the
drawing-room, while he took his dinner in the dining-room below.
Then perhaps he had his horse out and drove away to visit some
patient, and Martia would be in bed before his return, and he would
go into the study for an hour or two before coming up to her, and
all the while he was struggling to throw off the nightmare of
self-accusation which tortured him, and he was left thus to struggle
unaided and alone. At last Martia stumbled upon the dreadful
truth, and it roused her as nothing else had had the power to do.
One day she resolved to go down to dinner with him and encounter
that tête-à-tête which must be agonizing, as everything that
had to be done by these two alone which they had formerly done in
the presence and with the companionship of their son was agonizing;
but the very thought of it brought on one of the dreadful headaches
to which she had been subject ever since that fatal night.
Prostrate and nearly blind with pain, she had to lie on the sofa.
Before dinner her husband came to her, bathed her temples, held the
cup out of which she drank a little tea, laid her easily on a
pillow, and screened her from the fire. In short he did all
that the tenderest heart and the kindest hand could do to ease her.
Then he left her in the half-darkened room and betook himself to his
But he could not eat. The first morsel seemed to choke
him. To see her suffer was driving him mad. He swallowed
a glass of wine, and again tried to eat. But in vain. At
length the almost untasted meal was removed, and the Doctor
swallowed another and yet another glass.
At length he rose from the table, and laid hold of a more
potent spirit. He took out a bottle of brandy, and helped
himself with reckless freedom. He had lost the power to act;
very soon he had lost the will also. And there he sat, hour
after hour, drinking and staring, and sometimes weeping. The
servants, mostly old and trusted, consulted in the kitchen on the
possibility of stopping the mischief. They had seen it, of
course, before any one else; and they had, to their honour, kept it
to themselves religiously. The Doctor's man, unbidden, took
him in coffee, but was silently dismissed.
Martia had been asleep. Two or three hours of rest in
the quiet and the healing darkness, had lightened, almost banished,
her headache. She looked at the time-piece. It was ten
o'clock. Should she go upstairs to bed? After her
refreshing sleep, she hardly felt ready for this. She wondered
if the Doctor had gone out, or if she would find him in his study.
She would go and see.
"His arms were spread out on the table before him,
and his head laid upon his arms."
She went accordingly, peeping in at the study door, where all
was darkness. She next stepped across to the dining-room,
hardly hoping to find him there. And yet there he was.
His arms were spread out on the table before him, and his head laid
upon his arms. Was he asleep?
She went up to him, and touched him gently, and at her touch
he looked up, but with such a look—dazed, insensate, brutified.
When he saw her, he began crying, foolishly and childishly, aloud—a
pitiful spectacle. The whole truth was laid bare before her at
a glance. He was hopelessly intoxicated!
Martia had saved him once; could she save him yet again?
She would try. The fire was out. There was only ashes on
the hearth, and it was cold; but she stayed beside him. If
possible, she alone should see the depth of his degradation.
She took away the wine and spirits from before him, and locked them
in the sideboard. Then she sat down to wait till he should be
partially sober. She managed to drag him into the library,
where a fire was still burning, and to lay him down on a sofa there.
Then she sent the household to bed, and, when he had slept for some
time, she helped him upstairs to his own room.
He woke in the morning oblivious of the greater part of the
past night, but distressed and wretched concerning what he could
remember. And yet, even before breakfast, unable to resist the
craving for a stimulant, he went and took some brandy. The
Doctor's downward career seemed likely to be very rapid indeed.
But that evening Martia came down to dinner for the first
time since their bereavement. Her husband had been drinking
already, and the craving for more was upon him in full force.
Before he touched anything, he asked apologetically for some brandy.
The man set it on the table, and he helped himself. The
servant then went out of the room for a minute, and, to the Doctor's
amazement, Martia came over and took the bottle, and pouring out a
full glass of the fiery fluid, swallowed it in a moment.
"Are you ill?" he asked, in concern.
"No," she answered, simply, and was seated before the servant
Again the Doctor hardly touched the food set before him.
Drink was what he desired, with a fierce and burning desire; but
during dinner he took but little—a single glass of sherry, which he
noticed Martia take likewise. From time to time he glanced
uneasily at his wife. She ate. The brandy had given her
a false appetite. Her colour had returned—that is to say,
there was a flush upon her cheeks, and a brightness in here eyes,
which had not been there for many a day; but it was a strange,
ghastly flush and brightness. The servant looked on in
astonishment. His mistress was looking suddenly like herself
again, only a bit excited," he reported downstairs. The veins
on her forehead and hands were swollen. The brandy and wine
were taking effect on her extremely temperate habit; yet she kept
possession of her faculties, and did not lose her self-control in
the very least.
The dinner over, she did not leave the table, on which a
slight dessert had been laid. The Doctor poured himself out,
almost mechanically, a glass of wine. Two decanters, full,
were on the table. Martia reached over and took the other and
did the same. What could it mean?
"Let us go upstairs," said the Doctor, leaving his wine
Martia assented, and went, leaving her's also. To her
husband's horror, she reeled as she left her chair, and he had to
assist her up to the drawing-room. There he rang for tea, and
told the servant that his mistress felt her head ache. He had
put down the lights, that he might not see her flushed face and
The Doctor did not go out that evening. He sat in the
drawing-room, beside his wife, full of the strangest apprehensions.
But through all the desire was tormenting him. At length, when
an hour or two had passed, he stole downstairs, and entered the
dining-room. He poured out and drank another glass of brandy.
When he turned, Martia stood behind him. She had risen and
softly followed him. Almost in fear of her, he laid down the
bottle, and she seized it at once and began to pour out another.
"Martia!" he exclaimed, in horror, "you do not like it."
"I loathe it," she said, shudderingly.
"Then why do you take it?" he asked.
"Because you take it," she answered.
Yes, certainly, Martia was going mad. She stood holding
the brimming glass.
"I loathe it," she repeated, "loathe it like drinking blood;
but I will drink glass for glass with you. I will go step by
step with you down the road of ruin," and before he could prevent
her she had swallowed the whole.
He hurried her upstairs before the spirit should take effect,
and got her into bed; but he did not leave her again that night,
though a little later he might have done so with perfect impunity.
He sat by her, and watched the uneasy slumber—the restlessness, the
moaning, the sickness—all the poisoning symptoms of inebriation.
Had she saved him? I think not, and yet he was saved
though as by fire. All night long he wrestled, as Jacob
wrestled with the angel, seeking no longer the mere outward
reformation of the life, but the inward regeneration of the spirit.
He no longer desired to subdue the sin which had power over him
because of its bitter fruit of suffering. He saw what it seems
hard for the refined and educated men of our day to see, unless
embodied before them in the coarse and foul deeds of the dregs of
society—the exceeding sinfulness of sin. He cried out, not,
who shall deliver me from this tyrannous vice, but, who shall
deliver me from the body of this death? "I amended my life
once," he said within himself, "and it has been like the new cloth
on the old garment. At the first strain it has given way, and
the rent is made worse."
Doctor Hook came out of that sorrowful vigil another man—no
longer trusting in his own strength or in his own righteousness, but
clothed with the righteousness which is of Christ.
When Martia woke to consciousness, her husband was still by
her side, watching over her with a worn and sorrowful look, which
had yet something quite new of hope and elevation in it.
Surely he had not been sitting there all night, and into the grey
dawn of a winter morning? She tried to speak, but was too sick
and wretched, and only made a moan. He soothed her, and
ringing for a servant to bring her a cup of tea, left her in the
He had work to do which must be done, and he went about it
earnestly while Martia lay thinking how her plan had failed, and
must fail from its inherent weakness, that is to say, long before
her husband had begun to feel the effects of the poison, she would
have succumbed to its influence entirely. But she rose and
dressed, and was ready to go down to dinner with him, and repeat the
scene of the previous night if need were—nay, she would go on
repeating it every night of her life. This woman had a
tenacity of purpose which nothing could defeat.
The Doctor came home early, and joined his wife by the
firelight in their drawing-room. Martia's shaken nerves were
in a tumult. As she looked at the strong, noble face, so grave
and sad, and yet so kind, she burst into hysterical weeping.
"We are the two most wretched creatures in all God's world,"
"Yes, Martia; but it is God's world, and not the devil's, and
not ours. It is His who makes all things new. We had
never been so wretched if we had sought His renewing grace. It
is not yet too late."
But Martia burst into still bitterer weeping. What of
her son, her only one—was it not too late for him?
As if he divined her thoughts, he spoke of him and prayed her
to leave him in the hands of Him who was the Eternal Father, wiser
and tenderer than any earthly parent.
In the days that came after, when they could bear to talk of
it, they took up the sorrowful theme again, and found that each had
the hope that the young man on that particular night had not been
drinking, but had been in a right mind even for momentary
repentance, and on this point they were yet to be satisfied.
across the country, at the distance of an easy ride, stood up a
range of little hills, and at the foot of one of them lay a large
dairy farm. The house was very lonely, and travellers often
stopped there for refreshment, leaving behind some little present in
money for the servant, as no charge was made by the hospitable
master. It was a long low house, very old and picturesque,
crossed by great black beams without and containing within traces of
former grandeur in the spacious hall and lofty fire-place.
Around it was a terraced garden, not a fashionable garden, but sweet
in the sunshine, with bushes of southern wood and great beds of
purple thyme, masses of dewy lilies and clusters of scented roses
and clove carnations. Roses and honeysuckles crept over the
whole long front and round the ends of the house. In the
centre was a wide doorway, which led straight into what had been a
hall, a great stone-paved, beam-roofed apartment, which was kitchen,
reception-room, and sitting-room, in one.
All the dishes and covers were arrayed there. All the
hams and flitches hung there. The cooking and baking and
sewing went on in it and most of the life of the house. To the
right a door opened into the parlour, a room half the size.
You went up a single step to it, and found it carpeted and curtained
and furnished with stuffed chairs and a piano, Miss Bessie Hope's
private property. Into this the more privileged guests were
led, when they had the benefit of Miss Bessie's company to boot.
Bessie was the farmer's only daughter, and spoilt youngest
child. He had sons besides, but they were married and away
from him, and had been for years.
Bessie was a dainty little lady in muslins and lace, with
hands that were white and slim fingering her music. Bessie's
mother wore an apron, and her hands were thick and fluffy from much
making of pastry and handling of butter and cheese.
The other half of the long house, the length of hall,
kitchen, parlour, and all, was dairy. It was shaded from the
sun at that end by a grove of trees, and kept as sunless and cool as
a cellar. The milk of sixty cows, feeding all round on the
rich meadows and lying under their bordering elms, poured into it in
frothy streams every day. The milk of sixty cows went all at
once into the huge tub, to be mixed with rennet and turned into the
curd of a single cheese, while the whey was poured out again into
the long troughs at which fed an equal number of swine, black and
white spotted, but all sweet and clean, in the yard behind.
Above the dairy was the cheese room, which held a cheese for every
day in the year. And every cheese was turned in its place
every day, so that there was work enough on the farm. Mr. Hope
had a man and a lad to milk and to muck the byre, which stood at a
little distance, and to feed the beasts. Mrs. Hope had her
maid to scour and clean beneath her watchful eye; but Bessie gave no
help and was asked for none, not that she was selfish or unwilling.
She only did what she was set to do—mindless as the china
shepherdess which stood on her parlour mantle-shelf.
When the cows were driven into the yard for milking, with
much clamour and shouting—much more than seemed in the least
necessary with the sleek, quiet beasts—and all the invaded pigs
squealing and grunting in concert, Mr Hope, a big man with almost
purple red face, came forth in his white, elaborately stitched
frock, with his three-legged stool in his hand, followed by his two
satellites and by the servant-maid, who had to assist in the great
operation, all carrying their stools, but Bessie sat still in her
parlour at the other end of the house and entertained the strangers,
if there were any.
In this way Bessie had often entertained Charles Dunscombe
and Spencer Hook on their botanical excursions. Either the
flora of the district must have been unusually rich, or the youthful
botanists must have been unusually exhaustive in their treatment,
from the number of times they appeared there with those tin boxes on
their backs. But Mr. Hope knew the fathers of both. He
was a patient of neither, for the good reason that he had never been
a patient of anybody's in the whole course of his life. He
knew them by repute however, and he made their sons welcome, and
never took it into his bovine head that they came just a little too
They came and chattered with Bessie in the parlour, or
loitered with her under the elms, always the two together. "It
would be different if there was only one," thought the mother,
allowing it all; "but there can be no harm in the three being
together; and Bessie is so lonely. She is not the least like a
child of mine," she added to herself, with secret pride.
"Bessie should have been a lady; perhaps she will be one some of
these days." Whether Bessie was not in the least like her
mother it was impossible to say, for it was impossible to say what
her mother had been like in the general obliteration of feature and
shape which had taken place in that excellent matron. But
Bessie was very slim and very pretty and had a childish softness of
mind which gave to her pretty face an expression of utter innocence.
Nobody had been near the farm for the space of an entire
month; but, then, it was winter, and though the roads were good in
the hard snowless frost, there was nothing to bring anybody there.
True, young Dunscombe and Hook would drop in when they were riding
that way, even though the botanical excuse had worn itself out, but
there might be nothing to bring them that way. Bessie was very
dull; she had a pony now, and rode; it was doing her good her mother
thought, for she had not been well lately, and for the last few days
she had not been out at all. She sat in the parlour working
and doing something which she did not wish to be seen, for on the
least noise, indicating the approach of any one, she hid her work in
a little drawer, which she kept half-open in the table at which she
sat. It might be some Christmas present she was at work upon,
intended as a pleasant surprise to father or mother.
She was sitting thus when her ear caught the sound of a
horse's hoofs in the distance, and she started up and stood leaning
against the casement. From where she stood, though she could
not see any one advancing up the road, she could catch the first
glimpse of any comer on the path which led to the house. Her
eager breath dimmed the frosty pane, and she took out her
handkerchief and wiped it. The rider came nearer and nearer,
at length he turned from the road into the pathway, and she caught a
glimpse of him. It was Charles Dunscombe. She sighed and
dropped into the chair again, looking disappointed and dull.
All the eager light had faded from her face at once, and you could
see that she was out of health and nervous and spiritless.
Charles Dunscombe alighted on the terrace and came into the
house. He was welcomed both by the farmer and his wife; they
asked him to sit down or step into the parlour. It was the
most leisurely time of their day, in the afternoon, before the
evening milking. But there was something unusual about the
young man. He had not come in in the ordinary way, which was
after standing as long as possible with Bessie at the parlour
window. Where was Bessie, that he had not seen her nor she
him? He would neither sit down nor go into the next room, and
his face was very grave. At length the truth came out.
"You don't know, I suppose," he said, with a good deal of feeling,
"that young Hook is dead!"
"Dead! God help us!" exclaimed the farmer, loudly.
"What did he die of?"
"It was an accident. He was drowned."
"And such a fine handsome man," said Mrs. Hope, putting her
apron to her eyes.
"How did it happen?" asked the farmer.
Charles Dunscombe repeated the details shortly. "I was
riding near," he said, "and I thought you would like to know."
"Won't our Bessie be grieved about him," said her mother,
tearfully; "and what a thing for his poor family!"
Charles Dunscombe could not stay to hear their lamentations
over his companion's fate. He pleaded that he was in haste,
and would come back another day if they would allow him. He
had no intention of staying on this occasion, which was extremely
distasteful to him, but he wanted to be able to come in future, when
this should be forgotten. He bade the honest couple good day,
and mounted his horse and rode off at a rapid pace.
"What can Bessie be about?" said the mother. "I don't
like to tell her the news. She'll take it ill, I fear."
"She must know some time," said the father. "And the young
man, after all, was nothing to her."
So Mr. Hope went out upon his work, thinking reflectively on
the uncertainty of life, but by no means ill at ease.
Mrs. Hope was ill at ease. She had a kind of half
conviction that her daughter had cared for one of these young
gentlemen, and that the one she had cared for was Spencer Hook.
So, after sitting a little time to recover her composure, she went
in search of Bessie. She did not expect to find her in the
parlour, but the door which led by a ladder staircase to the
bedrooms above was in there—the proper staircase for the floor
opening into the cheese room, and the communication being closed.
Mrs. Hope opened the parlour door and pushed, but something lay
against it; something heavy, like a basket of clothes, had been set
down there by that thoughtless Bessie. Mrs. Hope pushed
harder, and at length got in her head. What was her terror to
find that it was Bessie herself lying in a heap on the floor!
By a wonderful effort, in which she nearly squeezed herself to
death, Mrs. Hope got herself into the room, and shut the door, and
knelt beside the prostrate figure. That Bessie had been
listening there, she was quick enough to know, and that it was the
fate of Spencer Hook which had affected her so severely there was
little doubt. Mrs. Hope threw open the parlour window, drew
her daughter into the middle of the floor, and in doing so made
another discovery, before which she lost er presence of mind
In Bessie's hand was a little garment, which she had
neglected to put into the drawer as usual, if the fact had not
otherwise been plain to the mother's eyes. Instead of doing
anything to help her daughter, Mrs. Hope wept and wrung her hands
and wailed, "Her father will kill her, when he knows. Oh, her
father will kill her."
And Mrs. Hope had cause for her fear. The choleric man
was mild as a cow on most occasions, but he was subject to fits of
temper which made him a perfect madman. There had been more
than one almost tragical scene enacted in that homely house.
Father and son had come to blows there, which might have stained its
hearth with murder, and one son was yet a wanderer and an outcast
from his home because of it.
Mr. Hope indeed knew his failing, and tried to guard against
it. He had even gone to his clergyman and confessed it and
asked advice, and he had been told that nothing less than the
renewing of his whole nature would save him from it. But he
had gone on in his old ways, guarding himself as he best could
against its consequences, by rushing away from temptation and
behaving not very unlike one of his own bulls when it raved round
the pasture in a fit of passion. He had been known to run away
from his own servant for fear he should kill him for some slight
And now, passing by the parlour window, as he retraced his
steps along the terrace, he heard his wife weeping and wailing, and
looking in beheld his daughter lying senseless on the floor.
He entered immediately, half angry already that Bessie should
be making a fool of herself, as he concluded in his own mind she was
doing, about a young man who was nothing to her.
"What's ado?" he cried in the parlour doorway, in no gentle
He was not answered, but he took in the situation at one
Bessie was coming to herself now. She sat up with her
elbow on the floor, to see her father literally glaring over her.
He could not speak with the tide of fury which choked him.
The girl rose and stood helpless and drooping before him.
He clenched his fist as if to strike.
"Oh, don't hurt her, don't hurt Bessie," cried the mother,
attempting to come between them.
Her husband pushed her aside. His speechless rage was
more terrible than any amount of abuse. He went up to Bessie
and shook her violently.
"I am married, father," she pleaded, holding up her hands.
But he would not hear. With one terrible word he flung her
from him, and fled out of the house.
"Father has killed me," said the girl, when she could speak,
holding her hand to her side. She had pitched against the
table, and felt a great pain where she had struck it, a pain which
never left her.
"But, Bessie, are you really married?" gasped her mother.
"Yes, I am married, and he is dead," she answered in
"Why didn't you tell us? It was wrong not to tell us,
Bessie," said Mrs. Hope.
"I was frightened," she answered, "and Spencer said he would
tell you himself He wanted to tell his own father first."
"But you're sure you're married?" reiterated Mrs. Hope.
For answer Bessie opened her little purse and took out a
wedding certificate and handed it to her mother. It was
perfectly correct, and dated back seven months. One day in
June, Bessie, with her unrestricted freedom, had ridden away and met
her lover, and they had put up their horses and taken the train to
another town and been married there before the registrar. But
nothing of this did Bessie tell her mother. She was
frightened, as she said, and she had to be put to bed now in the
little room above, alas, never to rise again.
It was days before her father asked for her. Her mother
was keeping her out of the way, he thought, and he too had seen the
certificate, and was longing to see his daughter and go through a
tacit reconciliation with her. His fury never lasted long, and
only left behind it an unusual shyness and awkwardness till the
first meeting with its object was over. And the mother was
keeping Bessie out of his way so long.
It was she who spoke first, however. "We must have the
doctor here, John."
"What for?" he asked.
"For Bessie," was the answer.
"Is she ill?" he said, rising hurriedly.
"Oh, not like that," said the mother. "It's not time
yet; but she has a constant pain in her side. She hurt herself
falling against the parlour-table."
Mr. Hope knew on what occasion that was, and looked down
"It isn't much like?" he inquired.
"But it wants the doctor, John," said his wife.
"I'll fetch him," answered the farmer. "Who is it to
"I would like Doctor Hook," said his wife.
"He must be told that she's married, then," he stipulated,
"and to whom."
"And so he ought," said Mrs. Hope.
With poor Bessie's marriage certificate in his pocket, Mr.
Hope, harnessing the pony to a light vehicle, half cart, half car,
drove into town, and called on Doctor Hook.
The Doctor was at home, and received him kindly, not that he
knew him, even by sight, for many knew the Doctor by sight whom he
did not know at all.
"My daughter is ill," stammered the stout, red man.
"Will you come and see her?"
"What is the matter?" asked the Doctor.
"A pain in the side," replied Mr. Hope, fumbling in his
waistcoat pocket; "but you see, she's married, and I'm very sorry,
sir; but will you look at this?" and he handed the certificate to
"You don't mean that your daughter was married to my son?"
said Doctor Hook, perusing it twice over.
"But I do," said Mr. Hope; "and what's done can't be undone.
Will you come and see her?" he added, seeing the Doctor hesitate, or
rather, look utterly confounded.
"When did you know of this?" said Doctor Hook, sternly.
"About a week ago," answered the farmer, "and I've nigh been
the death of her in consequence. Whatever's the harm done,
I've done it," he added, in a choked voice.
"I will come and see her," said Doctor Hook, in a subdued
tone, and Mr. Hope made his awkward bow, and left him, wondering
that so little had been said after all.
Doctor Hook was thinking mournfully.
"When is all this trouble to end. One wrong bringing
forth another; when will the procession cease? Has this man
also upon his head the murder of his child?"
But Doctor Hook did not meditate long. He was soon on
his way to the farm, and all but overtook the farmer on his.
The Doctor was shown into the parlour and up the
ladder-staircase into the little white nest, where Bessie lay,
almost as white as the sheets and coverlets and with that pathetic
look of hers—that look of helpless innocence stronger than ever.
The Doctor was very tender to the poor girl, and promised to
come and see her again. There was no immediate danger; but she
was not to be allowed to rise. She was to lie there for many
weeks, till her baby came to her, for either the shock or the
subsequent blow had almost brought on a premature confinement.
So Bessie lay there, and counted the days and the Doctor came
to her every week, and then another visitor came with him, whom
Bessie had not expected to see. It was Spencer's mother.
Ever since her husband had told her—almost fearing to do so, lest
the added wound, the added proof of her son's alienation, should
prove too much for her—she had longed to see Bessie, and now she had
Her coming affected the girl more than anything else had
done. It was her displeasure she had most feared, perhaps
because Spencer had feared it most. It put her into a little
faint flutter, which Martia herself undertook to calm if they would
leave them together; and the Doctor went away, and left his wife
sitting beside Bessie's little bed, holding Bessie's hand.
And Martia drew from the girl, as no one else had done, her
sad story of disobedience and wrong—disobedience and wrong which had
poisoned all the happiness it was to have Spencer love her and make
her his very own. How in those past summer nights, when the
garden was dewy and fragrant, and its bunches of white lilies stood
like ghosts in the moonlight, or invisible in the still sweeter
darkness, she had slipped down the ladder-stair, and gone out to
Spencer—out at the little parlour-window, and they had strolled away
together. "And it was like living in fairy-land," said the
girl, with mournful, wistful eyes.
She had crept out at the window when all the house had gone
to rest, and they two had roamed about for hours, so that Spencer,
who had to leave his horse tied at a distance from the house, had
often been long past midnight in reaching home.
This accounted for his frequent absences. Would it
account for that last absence in defiance of his father's threat?
Martia asked her if she could name the night on which she saw him
She did, and it was on the night of his death. "He
wanted to get away sooner that night," she said. "He was going to
tell you all about it," and Bessie raised her deprecating eyes to
Martia's face. "He said he could not bear to go on any longer
"He wanted to get away sooner," repeated Martia, bringing her
back to the point.
"Yes; and as we passed the meadow at the foot of the lane he
found that his horse had broken away. He had tied it to a
rotten branch. He chased it all over the meadow and back again
before he could catch it, and I stood shaking at the foot of the
lane. It was such a clear night, and the meadow is overlooked
by father's window. If he had only looked out, he would have
seen him racing about after the horse."
"He caught him at last," said Bessie; "and then he had to
come home with me, and the fear that father would find us out, had
made me like to faint, and I could hardly get in at the window
again. In getting in I made such a noise that I woke the
swallows in their nests up there. I could see one looking over
the edge at me, and I wouldn't let him go, for I thought father
would come, and I knew he would kill me."
There was a pause, in which Martia had turned her head
towards the window with eyes full of tears, tenderer and more
thankful drops than had stood there since that awful night.
"I think I shall die," said Bessie, breaking the pause.
"Oh, no; you are young," said Martia, "and you have your
parents to live for, and you will have your child."
"But I don't seem to care," said the girl drearily. "I
Martia tried to cheer her, but the task was a difficult one,
she was so sweet and patient, and yet so passive and hopeless.
At length the Doctor came for his wife, and she took her
leave of Bessie, promising to come soon again.
Before another week was over Doctor Hook was summoned in
haste, and Bessie's baby was born. There was no hope from the
first. Bessie never rallied, but gently and imperceptibly sunk
from sleep to sleep, from scarcely-breathing life to hardly stiller,
It was well that only Doctor Hook was witness to the scene
enacted in the farmhouse then. Bessie's father called upon
them wildly to witness that he had killed his child. He wanted
to denounce himself publicly, to give himself up to justice, and it
was all that the Doctor could do to restrain him from going off to a
magistrate at once. The farmer had loved Bessie more than all
his other children. She was the only girl among a band of
rough boys, the youngest child, singularly gentle and timid and
sensitive, bursting into tears if her father showed the slightest
anger, while the others had to be ruled with the rod, and were not
very sensitive even to that. For her sake he had resolved to
restrain his bursts of passion and had to a great extent succeeded.
The Doctor pointed out to him that his self-accusation was
impossible of proof, that the shock of hearing of Spencer's death or
her fall might have affected her, but that neither of these, nor the
accident of her hurting her side on the table, was the immediate
cause of death.
He might not have prevailed to calm him, however, had he not
used other pleas than these—had he not spoken to him as one sinful
man to another, and pointed out to him the way of salvation, a
salvation not from any penalty of sin, but from sin itself, the most
terrible of all penalties to him whose eyes have been opened to
perceive—the penalty expressed in the awful words, "He that is
unjust, let him be unjust; let him be unjust still: he that is
filthy, let him be filthy still."
Bessie died and was buried, but Bessie's baby lived and
throve. Mrs. Hope nursed it for Martia; she would not part
with it sooner, considering nursing her forte; but the boy was named
Spencer, after father and grandfather, and Martia had claimed him as
And so the old house in High Street echoed once more to
childish feet and was brightened by childish laughter. In her
love for the boy Martia lived over again the days of her motherhood,
and was almost tempted to think "new things as dear as old;" only
for this child they feared the snare of indulgence more than they
had feared it for their own Spencer. They feared far more the
loving of his flesh so that his soul might suffer for his sin, and
they tried to lead him early to the Saviour.
The Doctor had laid down his old habits completely at the
foot of the cross. The temptation was outside himself, as it
were, and he took means to guard against it. One night he and
Martia went out together, and walked to the river's brink, not to
that spot we know of; but to a quiet reach where it flows past a
meadow on either side and reflects an ancient bridge. And into
the river, at a sign from the Doctor, Martia threw something that
glittered as it fell, and, making a slight circle on the surface,
sank to the bottom like a stone. It was the key of the
Doctor's excellent wine cellar.
Mr. Hope perhaps found his task a more difficult one, for his
friend and clergyman can bear witness to more than one communion
when, kneeling at the altar, the tears have rained down the farmer's
face because of some recently passed fit of fury, which, after all,
he had striven to conquer by other means than racing round the
pasture like a bull.