THE DEAD SIN.
were in doubt whether it should be a fast or a thanksgiving.
It was hard to put some indefinite thousands of miles between them
and their child, especially of such a rough road as the wild
Atlantic; nor did it make it any the easier because the maternal
intelligence amongst them had not altogether mastered the recent
improvements in sea-science and law, but had strange fears of sharks
and pirates, rocks and leaky ships. Yet though the child was
the one boy among five girls, and they had fain have kept him nearer
home, it was a great satisfaction to have him so handsomely provided
for. Sixty pounds a year for a commencement, and good
prospects afterwards! Why, "father" had been out in the world
three years before he got so much, and there was the next
neighbour's son, Dick Prissack, who left school with Harry
Blanchard, still serving his "time" behind a grocer's counter, with
an apron tied round him, not earning a penny, while Harry would be
in a banking office, and never dressed worse than he was on Sundays!
The young aspirant to such honours assured his admiring sisters that
bankers' clerks were always considered gentlemen, and on the
strength thereof the two youngest Miss Blanchards, who were still
attending the Ladies' Seminary on the Parade, felt that their
acquaintance with the little Prissacks could not extend beyond the
academy doors, and passed them in the street without even a bow;
while the second daughter, Christina, who had always been the belle
of Sandmouth, walked down the High Street with a gratifying
consciousness of rank as well as beauty, which quite atoned for her
old merinoes being turned once more that the price of a new one
might swell the hero's outfit.
Simple people, these Blanchards. Mr. Blanchard had once
been an usher, but since his marriage he had filled the less
dependent but scarcely less precarious post of agent for an
insurance office and a coal company. The doctor, and the
lawyer, and the prosperous mercantile men shook hands with him, but
always spoke of him as "poor Blanchard." Lads whom he had
taught to cipher had shouldered him aside on the world's way, and
revenged the days when he had eaten toast beside their allowances of
stale bread and butter, by dining on partridge and blackcock while
he minced cold mutton and thought of the butcher's bill. But
Mr. Blanchard was not that soured being — a disappointed man.
For he had expected nothing, and was therefore in a state of
perpetual elated wonder over the one piece of good luck he had ever
found, to wit, his wife. When he courted her he never thought
of hard times, and sickness, and saving, and sparing, and how good
it might be to have such keen eyes, and busy hands, and active feet
to take care of his poor, straying interests. Not he! He
only saw the sweet, winsome face, only heard the cooing voice, only
felt a valorous, masculine instinct to have somebody "to work for,
and to worship." They had a pleasant bit of sweethearting, and
then got married, ― years before they should, people said. He
thought her a prodigy of housekeeping and discretion when he found
she knew a mutton-chop from a beefsteak, and did not want new
ribbons every day. Then the hard times came. If the
young wife had succumbed to them, dissolved in idle tears, his
hardest thought of her would have been as a suffering angel, and he
would have taken her hand, and felt happy to await the worst at her
side. Her true worth shone out upon him like a revelation.
The pretty ornament which had fully satisfied him was actually true
coin of that rare currency which gains by spending. She was
better than a fortune, he said triumphantly. She knew such
tricks of cookery; she played such enchantments with old clothes!
Directly she heard of the agency schemes, she developed such a lucky
preference for a large house in the High Street, where they could
take some lodgers, instead of a smaller one all to themselves in any
inferior position. She was a wonderful woman. That was
twenty years ago, and strangers coming to Sandmouth now, saw Mrs.
Blanchard only as a spare matron, a little too quick of eye and
sharp of voice, something like a schoolboy's nightmare of the
multiplication-table riding on an express engine, with the weights
and measures in the luggage van. But in her husband's eyes the
work of those twenty years was all improvement. Ah, why should
we smile? — for what love sees, we may be sure God sees.
Nobody called Mrs. Blanchard "poor." One or two of her
girlhood's cronies, well married, who had ventured to condole with
her that "poor Blanchard was not the man for making a fortune in
business," had been effectually silenced by such answers as, "She
did not see much to envy in fortune when it was so easily made
between smuggling and adulteration," or that "a dinner of herbs with
love was better than a stalled ox and hatred therewith," each retort
being a sure home-thrust to the lady who received it. Mrs.
Blanchard had strength, and that, whether physical, mental, or
moral, is too rare a gift not to be taken as a full set-off against
any other lack, and envied and maligned accordingly. Let us
hope that, like virtue, it is its own reward, for it seldom gets any
But Mrs. Blanchard was far too good a warrior to choose an
open field to fight in. She kept her stronghold. She
might be the conquering heroine, but it was "father's" colours which
she bore to victory. Mr. Blanchard, blamelessly regular and
ascetic down to the smallest habit of his life, and always very sure
of his own duties in their little way, yet had his organs of justice
and charity so indefinitely arranged as frequently to betray him
into a leniency, not to say laxity, of opinion, that might have
proved perplexing to himself and dangerous in the father of a
family, had not his wife's been the strong will that bound his good
precepts into strict practice. "Your father won't see you at
breakfast with your hair in papers, I can tell you," she would say
to the tardy, yawning Chrissy. "I've heard him say that a
woman's habits are her morals, and I'm sure it's very true," and
Chrissy, with most people's comfortable incapacity to see through
the thinnest partition set up between them and the truth, smoothed
out her rumpled locks, and never guessed that had she once presented
her pretty excuses about bad nights and morning headaches, her
father would have given her no penance but a pardon and a kiss.
"'Mr. Blanchard does not allow credit," the good wife would say to a
defaulting lodger; "he always says, 'If you can't pay your way now,
where will you be next week, after going backwards?'" There
was a wonderfully tacit understanding between the two. He knew
that it was his to wish, and hers to will. He could have
betrayed her stronghold in a moment, had he been one of those fools
whose weak personal ambition will not allow them to enjoy their own
way if another gains it for them. But he kept her secret so
well that some few people gave more than Chrissy's passive credence
to the stern inflexibility of his character, and thought him a
deceiver in his softness, like those sweet-speaking old landlords,
who yet employ hard-dealing stewards. And, in truth, Mr.
Blanchard could not have been a weak man. If he had been such,
he would have thought himself strong.
Yet with the strange perversity of human nature, if there was
one for whom Mrs. Blanchard had ever relaxed the discipline which
she wisely held to be so wholesome, that one was the darling of her
heart, her one boy Harry. She had even established a few
theories to support her under the fact, and the girls, in the
plainest of prints and the scantiest of ribbons, had been trained to
feel pride instead of envy concerning their brother's dainty linen
and good broadcloth, and to ask no questions why he should learn
Latin while they were denied French. "If there be men in a
family, they stamp it," she had taught them; but the justice within
her was too strong not to rebel against such speciously-veiled
partiality, and she would often try to quiet the half-conscious
stirrings of that monitor by fits of sternness and resolute
abstinence from the simplest tendernesses of maternal love. He
was the only one of her children who dreamed of putting an arm round
her neck, and stroking her hair, and coaxing her with foolish pet
names, and yet perhaps he was the only one who would persist in
going to the very edge of disobedience before her face, and perhaps
a little further behind her back. Poor mother! It was a
sore day for her when her husband came in and told her that the
interest he had made for their boy among the directors of his
insurance company had resulted in the offer of a berth in the
Colonial Bank, Halifax, Nova Scotia. She received the news in
stony silence, never pausing in the darning of Harry's socks.
Poor Blanchard had peered into her dumb face, and then observing,
"Well, well, my dear, offered is not accepted. It is not
settled yet," had left the parlour for his little office, where he
blew his nose before he had quite shut the door. Mrs.
Blanchard finished her stockings, and folded them with the initials
and number outward. Was she a hard-hearted woman to remember
such trifles at such a time? or were they the blessed chains of
habit, by which strong souls are bound from rending themselves and
others in the hour of their anguish? She went to her own room,
and sat there in the darkness and chill of the January evening — sat
there still and silent till the ringing of the Sandmouth muffin-bell
gave the familiar sign of tea-time. Then she went down-stairs,
and on the way to the parlour she looked into the office.
There seemed to be something unsatisfactory about the lamp; and
while she went round and adjusted its shade, she said—
"It will be a fine thing for Harry. We have to consult
his interests. The colonies are the best places for young men,
after all. And I suppose it is a good climate. And if
the posts are pretty regular, it brings it nearer." The
Spartan had commenced, but the mother ended.
"I'm glad you see it in that light," said poor Blanchard, all
in a flurry. "You see it would be rather awkward to expect Mr
Darbishire to do anything further if we refused this offer, wouldn't
it, my dear? But there are many inquiries to be made first.
Why, I haven't even mentioned it yet to Harry, my dear. I
wouldn't unsettle him till I took your counsel."
"Say it to him at once, then," said the mother, almost
sharply, as if she felt the responsibility of veto to be too much
for her, and wished it safe out of her hands.
"Of course, if he doesn't take to the scheme at once, there
will be an end of it," said the father.
The mother said nothing. She went down to the kitchen,
and told Harry his father wanted to speak to him, and made some
excuse to send the girls upstairs, and herself lingered over the
bread-and-butter, till from the buzz of voices in the parlour,
Harry's high above the rest, she knew that the plan was under
general family criticism. Then she joined them.
They had already learned details that she had never asked.
Harry would not start for six months at least — he was to go into
the bank's London office first. And six months was such a
far-off time to those young hearts, that a delicious mist of
excitement and novelty rose up, and shut out the dread hour of
departure. Then, bridging that hour with ignorant indifference
to its agonies, they were building castles beyond it. It was
not every day that they had such a topic for their tea-table
chatter. But every word was an arrow to the mother's heart.
The long hopes of the young are so trying to the shortened and
straining vision of the old!
"It is very cold there in the, winter, Harry," said Emma,
with her geography-book open beside her saucer.
"I should think you'll get seal-skins cheap," observed
Chrissy. "Don't forget to send me one or two — golden, if you
"Are there any Red Indians in Nova Scotia?" asked Polly, the
"Red Indians? No, indeed," returned Harry. "I'm
not going to a savage country. Halifax is a very fine city.
Why, it is a garrison town!"
"None the better for that," commented his father; "though it
must be home-like to see a British soldier, no doubt."
"Plenty of scope for a fellow out there," Harry went on.
"I shall find ways to make a little money outside my banking.
I dare say land is cheap. I might come across a good farm on
easy terms. I tell you what, girls, when I'm settled and
making my fortune, you'd better all follow me. It isn't
overrun with women like England. Plenty of husbands out
"There are more than enough here" pouted Chrissy, "if they
were the right kind. And that they'll not be out there.
I shouldn't want to live 'in the backwoods,' or whatever they call
it. What's the good of being rich, if there's nobody but your
ploughmen about, and your money is all in cows and things?"
"And are your mother and I to be left alone, Harry?" mildly
suggested Mr. Blanchard.
"Oh, of course not," said the lad. "Of course, you'll
come out with the girls or without 'em. You'll come and live
The bright possibility started forth with such glaring
contrast to the black probabilities of change and time, and struck
so sharp a pain into Mrs. Blanchard's soul, that she could not keep
silence, though speech only came forth in the old preceptive groove.
"Your father always says that no house is large enough for
Mr. Blanchard looked at her with respectful awe. He had
said so once, and yet Harry's light words had instantly conjured up
a happy vision of himself with a grandchild on each knee, and
"grandmamma" advising and upholding some bonny Canadian
"Oh, not in the same house," said the irrepressible Harry.
"Of course not. No temptation to that where houses can be
built so cheaply, or bought for nothing, as, of course, they may be
out there. I'll have a nice little cottage put up expressly
for you. And it will be so jolly in the wintertime with the
skating and sleighing, and all the rest of it."
"But these pleasures cost time and money, Harry, just the
same as boating and riding in England," said Mr. Blanchard, with a
slight sigh regretful of the slender pocket-money so expended in his
earlier days, and so sorely needed since.
"I'll be bound you can hire a sleigh for a more trifle.
There won't be any of your London cab extortion in a fine new
"Isn't it to be flourishing for the sleigh-owners as well as
for you?" asked his father; but even as he put the question he grew
absent-minded, reflecting that they must somehow manage to send out
a trifle of money now and then, to help the boy over the
home-sickness that was so sure to come.
And thus the matter was settled. Harry went up to
London for his novitiate. The mother and sisters fell to work
upon his outfit, and said to each other that he was as much away
from them then as he would be in Halifax, and yet how well they bore
it! They forgot that the frequent letters, posted within bank
hours, and eagerly read next morning at breakfast, had no
fortnight's possibilities between their dispatch and arrival.
They forgot the comfortable sense of the telegraph office only three
doors off. They forgot that Harry "ran down" once a month, and
stayed from Saturday till Monday, so appeasing the keen appetite of
love before it grew to hunger. Did they forget ― or did they
God only knows.
He was off! He spent his last week at Sandmouth — seven
days of eager laughing and talking. There had never seemed so
much to say before, and the Sandmouth people had never been so
genial and sociable. He had so many invitations — always to
bring his mother or some of the "girls;" and some of the girls
always went, but the mother never. She always found something
to do at home, and she could not bear the laughter and the light
gossiping. Somehow, the ideal son in her heart seemed all the
nearer to reality when she sat making his shirts, and did not see
him in his little flirtations, pleased with himself and his new
clothes. Not that she owned to herself that she should have
preferred it had he devoted himself a little more to his old home.
She would not blame her darling in her heart, and when he had rather
hesitatingly announced that there was to be a supper-party at the
Prissacks' on his last evening, she did not wait to hear whether he
had been invited, but hastily broke in with the observation that
they must have him all to themselves on that day, and so saved his
filial reputation even to herself. And, in truth, the boy was
not undutiful — only thoughtless.
His ship sailed from London. Only his father went that
far with him. All the other good-byes were said at the
railway-station, and there was such a commonplace aspect about that,
that he could scarcely realise how final they were; and, in fact,
Chrissy and he had a little sparring at the last moment, because
they had met Bessie Prissack on their way down the High Street, and
Chrissy had commented upon her with true feminine inconsistency as a
prim little old maid, who had just put herself in the way to see the
last of Harry (as if Harry would think any the worse of her for
that!), and he had retorted that Bessie was a real good girl, and
one of the sort that grow handsomer every year they live.
But it was a very different thing when he shook hands with
his father in the London Docks. That was the close of a
prolonged agony; for, through some delay about the pilot, the
starting of the vessel was delayed hours, during which time there
was nothing to do but to wander up and down among leaky barrels,
with last words all spoken, and a ghastly sense of unreality
surrounding them, — for that oft vainly prayed-for "half-hour
longer" is generally as dreary a bliss as would be the ghostly
visitation of our dearest departed.
It was three o'clock in the afternoon when the moorings were
loosened, and the ship floated into the river. It carried but
few passengers, and there was only one small group of friends to
watch them off. Of these, all except Mr. Blanchard had made
common cause in grief. He stood apart, against a background of
a little old-fashioned house, with a grass-plot and two trees before
it, home-like and blossoming amid the barren forest of masts.
Oh! what a long time it seemed to Harry before he was out of sight
of that tall, spare figure! He longed for it again soon enough
— ay, before that very sun had set; and yet there was a sense of
relief when first it faded from his sight, and he was free — only
too free! — to turn his thoughts from the past to the future; though
it was not many hours before all his dreams of fortune and adventure
were lost in mocking visions of green fields or fire-light scenes,
and all the other heart-rending phantasmagoria of sea-sickness.
From the cliffs at Margate he saw no more of land till, with
the rest of the passengers, he stumbled on deck to see "the last of
England." There were one or two young men on board who had
been "across" before, and he speedily surrendered himself to the
fascinations of their society. One was the agent of a London
firm, the others seemed to be open to anything good that "turned
up," but the conversation of all was of the most approved stamp,
since it was of spending money rather than of making it. One
had evidently been accustomed to a "mount" in his county hunt, and
they each knew how to fish and shoot and row and drive, and seemed
to think all life scarcely a sufficient leisure for a gentleman's
amusements. It was already a new world to Harry, and he
thought it a dazzling one! At first he timidly fancied that
these fine young fellows must have independent fortunes, but they
very soon candidly undeceived him. It was only that they took
more enlarged views of things than he had been accustomed to, and
simplified the whole duty of man by reducing it to the one precept —
"Take no thought for the morrow: sufficient unto the day is the evil
thereof" — which Scripture theory they quoted to Harry when he
looked dubious; and he, with humanity's curious tendency to the
"letter which killeth," instantly accepted this wonderfully pleasant
new version of Christianity, and never thought to suggest whether
they had "sought first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,''
as the foundation upon which the other precept is given. It
was all a mistake on the part of the dear old folks at home to be so
careful and economical. That explained why they had never got
on. The right policy was to "launch out." "If you have
five pounds," said one of these bewitching Mentors, "spend it, and
then you'll get credit for ten more." What a splendid new idea
In the letter which he wrote on shipboard, that he might
lose no post when he landed, he told his family that he had fallen
in with some nice people, one or two of whom knew Halifax, and had
promised to introduce him to the boarding-house which they
patronised there. But for some reason, he did not broach the
"launching out" theory, or the good people at Sandmouth might have
thought his letter less satisfactory.
Oh, life went lightly at Halifax! He found two other "bank
gentlemen" at the boarding-house, and the other inmates were
military officers, who wanted more comfort than they could get at
their quarters. One or two of these dined at the regimental mess,
but the others graced the "ordinary," and gave "tone" to the
whole affair, of which Harry wrote home with enthusiasm. To be sure,
his weekly bill absorbed the whole of his commencing salary, but he
had a good wardrobe as outfit, and next year his salary would rise,
even "if he found no other way to make a little extra money," and
in the meantime he was sure the bank, would not like any of its
employees to live in a low place; and Halifax was not like London,
or any English town, there was nothing between the two extremes. (As
if there were no respectable young men engaged in its commerce who
yet did not start in an unequal race with military idlers of fortune!) But his family were innocent and easily satisfied.
If they could but have seen him at his six o'clock dinner — if they
could but have heard his conversation! For Harry soon found that the
art of polite conversation is easily acquired; and at first it
seems a cheap luxury to speak of possible plans and purchases which
we never mean to carry out, and to talk familiarly of far-off
people, in whose presence we stood, perhaps once, and then hat in
hand. Mr. Blanchard's hair would have risen on end to hear his
hopeful son's slighting allusions to "old Darbishire," and even "that screw, Sir John Devereux," actually the awful landlord of the
family home in Sandmouth. And the good mother would have wept to
hear her boy scoffing at the worthy old-fashioned rules whereby the
bank restrained its officials from Sabbath shooting or fishing, and
applauding the giddy young officers who declared that its directors
had no right so to interfere with the liberty of the subject; quite
ignoring that the directors certainly had a right to control those
who chose to be their servants, and leading to the logical
conclusion that God had no right to put the rebellious devil out of
But false pretences are immoral. The shammest grand appearance is
not kept up by nothing, and the goddess of fashion makes you "pay
your footing" as imperiously as any factory hand. A youth aping all
that Harry aped had to take his turn at sundry little expenses, and
when it seemed to be his turn uncommonly often, it was given him to
understand that he would lose caste directly if he recorded as loans
such "trifles" as should not be regarded "among gentlemen." The
pocket-money, lovingly sent from home, did not go far, and though
some of the colonial tradesmen seemed most obligingly inclined to
give credit, yet even these good Samaritans required a continual
sop. Harry was not so far lost to the simple morality of his early
days, but that he blushed as he wrote a letter home, saying that the
severity of the climate was such that he should need many warm
articles with which their wildest conjectures had not provided him,
and which could only be got on the spot. That was not his own
device, but was suggested by his most intimate Mephistopheles, as
certain of success. And so father Blanchard made his old coat serve,
and the mother mended up her flannel petticoats, and the girls did
not get kid-gloves even for Sunday wear, and a good round sum was
sent out, upon which Mephistopheles himself levied a dear friend's
percentage for "giving you the wrinkle, you know, old fellow."
It was a sad day for Harry when he was half afraid and half ashamed
when the English mails came in. Sometimes he almost wished that the
old folks would detect his deceit and upbraid him. It seemed too
heartless to abuse such complete innocence. There was one form of
falseness from which he instinctively recoiled. Pretty little Bessie Prissack was something of an artist, and when he first arrived in
Canada, he had made excuse to send messages to her, telling her that
he could not help thinking how delighted she would be if she could
see the variegated colours of the woods, and the wild, free
character of the country. But when he began to make life interesting
by flirtations with sundry expensively-dressed young ladies, who
openly speculated on the parentage and prospects of their beaux,
military and civilian, and candidly announced that they would not
marry anything under a "waggon" and pair, he was unsophisticated
enough to shrink from the thought of little Bessie, trustfully
treasuring up his words as sure signs of a secret affection. In that
matter he did not follow the example of some of his new friends, who
had left patient betrothed girls in the old country, of whose
existence they occasionally spoke, half slightingly, when they
wished to add the spice of forbidden pleasure to their colonial
gallantries. No, Harry gave up his old dreams about Bessie,
satisfying himself that he was unselfish in such sacrifice, by the
ordinary prodigal's formula "that she was far too good for him."
The time came when Harry's laugh rang louder and harder, and then
died down with strange suddenness. When he went more seldom to the
genteel party or reception of the private families, and oftener to
the masculine, wholly-animal carouse at the hotel. When Halifax
tradesmen came into the bank, and by a glance of the eye made him
tremble in his desk. When one man dogged him up and down the
streets, with the scoffing whisper that maybe the bank would settle
its young spark's bills for the sake of the credit of the whole
concern. When at last the same man sat in his bedroom, with his
heels insolently balanced upon his stove, coarsely insinuating that
if "the governor at home was such a swell as he'd always
understood, he wouldn't think a hundred dollars much for a cigar
bill, nor ten ditto dear for a meerschaum," and that he guessed the
other little accounts floating about would be of the same moderate
character. O poor father and mother Blanchard! O dear Bessie Prissack! down on your knees and pray for your darling with all
your might, for the devil that has been creeping up behind him so
long, is seizing him now, and the false bright garments have
vanished away, and your boy's face is hot and his eyes are wild with
the sight of the cruel iron horns and hoofs. Father, mother, lover,
pray, pray for his soul, not as you always do, gently, trustfully,
as rich men pray for daily bread, but fiercely, wildly, as you would
pray for his life if you saw him in a sinking ship or a burning
It must have been a very specific promise of payment which made that
man take down his insolent heels and withdraw his obnoxious
presence. And yet Harry got no sleep that night.
He went to the bank next day. That troublesome man waited about
outside. Harry's cronies had planned an oyster supper for the
evening, and he was invited. They were astonished when he said he
could not come, having some private business to do. They would have
been doubly astonished had they known that the business was the
payment of all his bills, yet not more astonished than was the
troublesome man, who made a blundering apology as he took the money,
and confided to his wife that he had concluded he'd have had to
stick to him a sight longer than that."
But Harry did not appear at the bank the following morning, and not
twenty-four hours later Halifax was bristling with posters
"Fifty pounds reward for the apprehension of one Henry Blanchard,
who had absconded from the Colonial Bank with sundry moneys
belonging thereto. Said Henry Blanchard being a young man of
two-and-twenty, about five feet eight inches high, slight figure,
light-brown hair, fair complexion, and blue eyes. Lively in manner. Dressed in black frock-coat and grey trousers and waistcoat. Wore
small coral breast-pin. Carried a silver watch attached to a gold
chain (new). Suspected to have gone towards the States. Whosoever
shall give any information leading to his apprehension," &c.
And Mephistopheles and the rest of Harry's old cronies escorted the
Halifax belles to a concert that came off the same evening that the
bill came out. It was but a delightfully exciting topic of talk for
them. Only one young lady attempted a little sentiment — she felt it a
pity to lose such an opportunity of working a little Byronic poetry
into her own life. She was so charmingly distraite that she made
two new conquests on the spot.
A pouring rain and a driving wind dashing round a little rough
station on the Grand Trunk Railway between Quebec and Montreal;
about half-a-dozen people waiting for the cars, all sitting except
two, who wandered up and down outside the shed, in the very
insufficient shelter of its spreading eaves. They kept on crossing
each other's path in the dark. Once they met just in the light of
the single flaring lamp. They were both young men. One was about
thirty: he was tall as a giant, and wore a long rough greatcoat
and a straw hat, and had a whip over his shoulder, and a strong
Scotch face and Scotch sandy hair, albeit the voice with which he
greeted one or two arrivals within was not free from a Yankee twang. The other was younger and shorter, clad in the heavy boots and
coarse canvas garments of an agricultural labourer, his dark hair
was rough and dusty, and so was his brown face. He walked as if he
were very tired, and did not come into the lamp-light again.
But the other followed him out into the dark, and greeted him with a
"I guess you're a stranger here?"
"Yes," the man said; at least he had not been exactly in this part
"Come from the old country, I reckon? Been here long?"
"Not very long. Don't like it much." Altogether seemed lumpish and
"Where have you been stopping?"
"Oh, have been wandering about places. Been in Brunswick, and
latterly in a farms near Chaudière River." Did not explain that he
came through Brunswick as fast as he could, and only spent the last
night at the farm, sleeping in the cattle-shed unknown to the
"Guess the farm folks were sorry to lose a hand at this time of
year, with the apples dropping off the trees. Wouldn't they pay you? or what was the matter that you came away?"
"Oh, it was just a shanty: no fit place for a labourer to sleep in,
and no constant work to be given. Thought he'd try for a longer
The farmer had been all day looking for a hand; but though he wished
to take no undue advantage of the stranger, yet he naturally had no
desire to give a lift to the already high labour market; so, with
the caution characteristic of the two nations blended in his blood—
"What should you reckon to charge for common work — gathering apples,
The other's manner brightened a little; but he hesitated before
answering; and then said, as it seemed, diplomatically—
"I've heard of a dollar and a half a day."
"That's about it," responded the farmer, delighted at a reply which
seemed independent, without being extortionate. "I guess I'd find
you work at that rate for a spell, and we might even settle somehow
for the winter, if you're smart. My place is out by Gowertown. I'm
going straight away home. Were you going anywhere in particular?"
"I meant to stop at Grosvenor to look for work, hearing it's a
junction; but if I find it at Gowertown, that's the place for me,"
said the other with more animation.
"Shouldn't wonder but you've felt pretty down," observed the farmer
kindly. "It's kind of strange out here after the old country. My
mother always said so. It seems wilder and more like starvation out
here than at home, and you're not to know that seeming is not
reality. What is your name, by the way?"
"John White," said the other, standing gazing out into the gloom.
"I'm Bruce Cluff, of Gower Farm. My father came from Philadelphy
without a penny, and he left me the best farm in the township. My
mother was an Aberdeen woman. I'd back our potatoes against any
growing. They're just prime. I'm no advocate of these cars: they
rattle a man's brains into batter. I seldom go farther than my own
team will take me. Know much about horseflesh?"
"Not much," owned the other, with a pitiful recollection of
"knowing" phrases ignorantly bandied about in Halifax smoking-rooms.
"Guessed you did not," said the farmer, with kindly condescension. "Them as do, always has a sort of look of it. But you'll soon learn. It's the nature of man to know about horses. And here come the cars. You'll travel second, I s'pose. I should myself. The differ o'
comfort isn't worth the differ o' cash, and it's easier to save a
dollar than to get one — in currency I mean — there's always plenty of
kind about — in fact, spilin' for want of a market. This country could
fill a many more mouths than it's got, and be not worse, but better. But I must travel first-class to-day, because I want to get a word
with Lawyer Steele about selling some wood — spend an extra dollar to
catch ten, you see. There's two proverbs that'll make any man's
fortune, if he use the right one in the right place, and 'll ruin
him if he uses them wrong. That's 'A bird in the hand is worth two
in the bush,' and 'Nothing venture, nothing have.' Look out for me
when we get to Gowertown, and we'll go up to the farm together. You
deal honest by me, and I'll deal honest by you. I can't speak fairer
And so the farmer and his new help parted for the time being. "John
White" got a corner seat in the car, and sat lonely and unheeded
amid the clatter of French-Canadian patois, and the loud greetings
of the rough emigrants who were his follow-passengers. The rain had
ceased, and the moon had come from behind her veil of clouds. He sat
moodily gazing out at the river beside which the railroad lay, with
its opposite bank of dense pine wood, here and there broken by a
rough shanty, through whose windows the cheerful light of home
streamed out upon the solitude. He saw, without seeing. He felt like
the ghost of a man whose very grave is nameless. "John White" had
not been in existence longer than a week, and had not yet a firm
grasp of his own identity. It was not so easy to strike a new root,
as it had been to sweep away the countless individualities of
twenty-two years' growth. With them, he had swept away even the
acute agonies that clung about the old existence. Looking out into
the dark, he saw an old man and woman, and five girls, sitting round
an English hearth, silent, shamed. But it was one Henry Blanchard
who had caused that shame and that sorrow, and Henry Blanchard
seemed altogether a different being from John White. Novelty and
oblivion, after due repentance, bring a blessed sense of untried
chances and fresh hopes. But before it, they may be as fatal as the
narcotic which lulls a sick man from his torture into the sleep of
death. And the train stopped at Gowertown, and Bruce Cluff and John
White went together to the farm.
That ominous poster, which so many careless tongues discussed in
Halifax, broke a heart in that little English town of Sandmouth,
looking out on the German Ocean [Ed.―"The North Sea"]. Mr. Blanchard said it was the east
wind which blew in so keen from the sea that autumn, which kept him
in-doors, and withered his frame to a shadow. Was it also the east
wind that whitened his hair, and made the family Bible to open of
itself at the tale of the Prodigal Son? His wife knew better. His
daughters knew better. He had been the meekest when the blow
fell — had spoken words of submission, while the girls were helplessly
crying, and while his wife wore a stunned stony face that asked God
those hard questions which He does not often choose to answer on
this side of eternity. But by-and-by the sisters rallied, and
resented the disgrace their brother had thrown upon them, and the
mother's anguish changed to an indignant sense that her boy's wicked
folly would cost her not only himself, but his good father too. She
never wanted to speak of Harry, though the burden of his sin lay
ever heavy on her heart. But Mr. Blanchard would talk to her of him
as they lay awake of nights; never with anger, scarcely with blame,
only with such an unutterably yearning pity for the sinner, that her
very reverent tenderness for her husband stirred her stronger
indignation against the son who had so wounded such a gentle and
noble heart. Poor woman! perhaps it was well that her passionate
agony was tempered by little petty cares crowding round her closer
than ever now. The wolf was very near their door that
Christmas-time. But she kept the door closed against it, and though
there might be no fire in any grate save that of the sick-chamber,
and nothing in the pantry except the invalid's little dainties, yet
she upheld the old home somehow, until the day that all its blinds
were down and the neighbours said that "poor Blanchard was gone at
last; he had never held up his head since his son's affair."
"My dear," the dying man had said to his wife, just as his voice was
failing away to utter silence, "my dear, I've asked God for our poor
boy's soul. I can't help thinking that I may go on praying for him
in heaven. I can't see why we should leave off doing a good work. But in case I can't, you must; and then if I can, why it will be
that prayer of two or three joined together which God has promised
"He has killed you!" said the poor wife with sad sternness.
"No, no, my dear; he hasn't. That is only one of your fancies. It is
the east wind. If I could but send a message to him, poor fellow!"
"That's it," broke out the tortured woman. "If he couldn't help
disgracing himself and us, he might have come forward and taken his
punishment, rather than leave us all in this misery of uncertainty!
It is he who has sinned, and it is only we who are to suffer! I
shouldn't mind for myself. I wouldn't suffer!" she went on, with a
fierceness that betrayed itself. "I'd forget him as he deserves. But
the girls! — and you, my darling, my own blessed husband—"
"My dear, my dear," and a poor thin hand was laid tenderly on her
trembling arm, "never be afraid that any one can run away from God.
Vengeance is His and He will repay. I'm only sorry for poor Harry
that those words are but too sure to come to pass. I wish I could
live, in case some day he may come to think he killed me. If you
ever hear of him, you must never say that to him, dear. Promise me. Nay, never mind, dear. Don't trouble trying to speak. I know you
won't. Only pray God to bring him to repentance somehow. And now,
dear, if you will shade the candle, I think I could sleep a little."
And so he did, and awaked — where the wicked cease from troubling.
The early morning meal was spread in the chief room of a substantial
farm on the outskirts of Gowertown — not Gower Farm itself, but
quite near it, being built on land which had been still unreclaimed
when Bruce Cluff and John White had walked that way nearly seven
years before. There had been changes since that time — the quick and
prosperous changes of the new world. John White, though evidently an
inexperienced farm-hand, had proved himself so industrious and
steady, that in due time Bruce Cluff offered to lend him money to
buy some land for himself, and John White had accepted the offer,
and eventually paid the debt, and was now in the independent
position of a man making a good income, without any debts to be
deducted therefrom. He had become a respectable man in Gowertown,
so full of farming plans and local projects, that he scarcely had
time to think of the lost ambitions of that vanished Harry
Blanchard, whom it almost seemed that he only dreamed he once was. But he had never married, either because he shrank from the inquiry
into his antecedents which that might entail, or because, out of
that old dream, one sweet memory yet remained fairer than any
reality of the present. About all other former ties he cherished the
self-excusing delusion that they must have quite forgotten him by
this time. He even made slight allusions to the past to his chief
friend, Bruce Cluff — such as speaking from experience on the
possibility of retrieving past errors and undoing one false step,
and he hugged himself into a comfortable feeling of superiority by
choosing to believe that Bruce Cluff, if he had fallen into his
unfavourable circumstances, would have sunk lower and lower, and
never have risen again. In soliloquy he said to himself that what
had happened only served the bank right for retaining the services
of young spendthrifts like So-and-so and So-and-so, who were sure to
lead a stranger astray; also that if the directors did not want to
be robbed, they should give more liberal salaries. So he excused his
sin against man, and never for one moment did his soul come into the
sphere of the Psalmist's cry, "Against Thee, Thee only, have I
sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight." Rather, he was proud to
think from what a poor foundation he had raised this fair structure
of respectability. For not virtue, but sin, is the best soil for
But that morning he had seen something in the Daily Witness
which had brought back old times more vividly than ever before
through all those seven years, something which had made him forget
his coffee till it was cold, and leave his johnny-cake absolutely untasted. In the announcement of the cabin passengers of the last
Quebec steamer from England he read the names of "Mr. Richard Prissack and wife, and Miss Elizabeth Prissack."
There were two opposite characters oddly mingled in his. One, light,
facile, going with the stream; the other, resolute, abrupt,
energetic. The one part of his disposition had yielded to
temptation, because that was easier than to resist; the other had
suddenly pulled up, and escaped from the dangerous groove.
Then the old nature had reasserted itself in new form keeping him
contented with the whited sepulchre of mere external reformation,
stifling his homeward yearnings because it was difficult and
dangerous to break the silence into which he had hushed the old
voices of his life. And now the more active element of his
being cropped up again. He was something like a shipwrecked
mariner who has reached a safe haven ashore, and at first rests
breathless, satisfied with bare existence, but presently thinks he
will make another venture, if haply he may carry off some of the
treasure stored in his stranded vessel. Out of the misty past
there suddenly started the bewitching vision of a home more homely
than the bachelor farmstead, of Bessie Prissack smiling in the empty
seat opposite him. He rose hastily and went out upon the
He longed to see Bessie. And instantly his
self-justifying instinct furnished him with a thousand reasons why
he should put himself in the way of the Prissack party. The
disguise of seven years ago had become the reality of to-day, and he
felt sure they would not know him, if he should see fit not to
declare himself; and he argued that it was unnatural not to seek
some tidings of his family, even though, after all, it might be best
that they should not hear of him. The result of half an hour's
cogitation and blank contemplation of the tin spire of the Episcopal
church glistening up from Gowertown valley below, was the
announcement to his housekeeper that he was going to take the next
train for Quebec, and that she need not prepare another meal for him
until she saw him again.
How little we know what is going to happen! There is
not a triter truth, and yet there is not one which strikes into our
hearts with a sterner novelty.
It was a glorious sunset, steeping the hills in molten gold,
and glorifying even the smoke that rose heavily from the steamers in
the bay, when John White made his way to one of the chief hotels in
Quebec, and sauntered into the reception-room — not without
inquisitive glances into the other public apartments. He
turned over the newspapers, as idle men do, and presently carelessly
asked an attendant if there were any of the last-steamer people
stopping there. A good many had come at first, he was told,
but that was already two days ago, and they had all left except one
party, who were likely to stay a spell, since the gentleman was
going to open a store in the city, and had yet to purchase and
furnish a family habitation; and also one single man, whom attendant
didn't know what he was — neither one thing nor the other, was
attendant's candid opinion.
"What store was this new one to be?" asked John White, with
no more curiosity than was quite common there.
"Soft groceries. The gentleman's name was Prissack.
Guessed he hadn't been long married; and it was a sight to see his
wife!" Attendant came from the old country, and had not seen
such a fine woman since he left it. "Real pure complexion, not
all yellow and white, with eating hot bread and drinking iced water,
which were ways which he had to see, being in the hotel, but didn't
noways hold with. Mr. Prissack had his sister with him also,
and she was a nice little body too, but not much to look at.
Here they come, sir. They always take regular exercise."
John White turned and looked through the window indicated,
and saw something more than he expected — to wit, his sister Chrissy
leaning contentedly on the arm of the once-despised Richard.
That almost made him too dizzy to notice the little woman following
at their side — a plain little woman, with that sweet, happy look
which women get when they have ceased to seek for any happiness but
other people's. None of the Blanchards had ever guessed
Bessie's love-story. She had been their truest friend in their
hour of shame and sorrow, and had seemed like one of the family ever
since. That was all.
John White recovered himself instantly, as sensible people
always do when serious issues are at stake. This unlooked-for
presence of Chris complicated matters. It would be hard to get
at Dick without her, and she would be sure to recognise her brother,
and that brother remembered Chrissy of old, and judged that such
recognition would entail at least a series of hysteric fits.
His plan was formed in an instant. He would put himself
entirely in Bessie's hands. He stood silent until they had all
innocently passed the open door of the reception-room, and retired
to their own apartments. Then he turned to the attendant,
"Will you tell Miss Prissack" (with emphasis on the name)
"that an old Sandmouth acquaintance wishes to speak with her — that
he should like to see her alone for a moment before her brother is
told he is here?"
The astonished attendant obeyed, thinking as he went, "that
one never need answer no questions; for one never knower what
answers would fit;" and in less than two minutes Bessie responded to
the summons. A flutter of possibilities had started up in her
warm little heart; but she entered the reception-room with the
composure of one who represses hope to escape disappointment.
John White was standing on the hearth-rug. She stood
still before him — stood still and silent. Was it for a second
or an eternity?
"Oh, Harry! how could you?"
"Bessie, it was years ago! I have lived it down!
To rise again is harder than not to fall."
"Oh, Harry, Harry!"
She turned aside in the anguish of sudden joy, striking the
old closed wound. He turned too. Neither heard a step
that came softly up behind them.
"Bessie, you will not refuse to speak to me?" he pleaded
"Henry Blanchard," said a cool quick voice in his ear, "I
arrest you at the instance of the Colonial Bank, Halifax, for sums
embezzled from them more than six years back."
The accused dropped down at the detective's feet like a dead
man, and it was more than an hour before the officer could remove
his prisoner. Bessie did not faint nor scream, as Chrissy did,
when she came running down-stairs to find out the cause of the
tumult below. It was Bessie's ministrations which won him back
to wretched consciousness. It was Bessie who sought admittance
to his prison cell later in the evening. It was Bessie who sat
up all night with Chrissy, and soothed her into quietness and
"That was a clever dodge," said the detective, rubbing his
hands, and exulting over his Canadian confrères. "You,
over here, could never spot the man. I, over there, kept my
eye on his people. Keep your eye on parties anyways connected
with a reward, and go on with your other business, and the reward
will take care of itself. I knew when they were going abroad.
And the unmarried Miss Bessie, too! I was up to what that
meant. I just took my passage out, and was very civil to them
all the way, but never found out anything. However, it
happened as I'd calculated. They never suspected who I was, or
they would have warned him off. Why he hadn't taken himself
off to the States, I can't make out. But this sort always lets
themselves in for it."
The keen detective could not in the least believe that
perfect innocence on the part of all, but the one guilty man, had
led him as straight to his prey as the guilty complicity which he
fancied he scented.
And Harry was left alone with his resuscitated sin. The
shrouds of expedient morality with which he had hidden its deformity
even from his own eyes, were stripped off and shut away. No
screen of false appearances now stood between him and his
One year later. Three o'clock on a January afternoon.
No glorious sunset, only one streak of silver light in a dead grey
sky, and its solitary reflection on the German Ocean, over which a
small outward-bound vessel went ploughing its way. Sandmouth
is at its very quietest. The shops have nearly done their work
for the day, and the strollers have all gone home, and only the
muffin-bell goes ringing, ringing, through the deserted streets.
Sandmouth looks much as it did seven years ago, only there is a
little row of small houses at the west of the Parade, and facing the
sea, which was not built then. Very humble houses they are,
with just a door and a tiny window opening on the path, and two more
tiny windows above. Very humbly inhabited, too, for every
casement has the white half-curtain and pinned-up blind of simple
working people; except those of the tenement at the very end,
farthest from the town. Its inmates can step straight out upon
the downs without passing any other house, and very likely, if they
choose, they can avoid meeting a neighbour for six months at a time.
The rest of the row have a respect for that end house — the respect
of rough, honest people for a brave old lady, whose life had gone
against her, but who remained as vigorous and energetic as if she
had conquered everything — as perhaps, after all, she had.
They had felt a new respect lately — the pitiful deference of
simple, humble natures for a penitent sinner. And now, at
last, the lowly dwelling was invested with the solemn majesty which
always surrounds the angel of death.
The dying man lay in the upper chamber. He and his two
nurses were all silently watching that silver streak in the sky.
The younger of the two women, seated nearest the window, could also
see the outward-bound ship. It would soon be out of sight.
It seemed to her a parable, which brought tears to her eyes, while
her mind went to and fro over the events of the last few months —
the unexpected meeting in the far-off land; the fell accusation; the
prison cell; the contrite heart that at last almost cried out for
the punishment that seemed as if it would be a help to real pardon
and peace; the mercy of the old injured masters, who rightly deemed
that God's chastisement was enough, without theirs; the shattered
health and the broken spirit, only dwelling lightly on the womanly
sacrifice that poured the pent-up love of years at the feet of the
pitiful prodigal, and scorning his own sister's representation of
the proprieties of conventional life, acted in the pure light of
gentle womanly charity, and with him crossed the seas that he could
never have crossed alone, and brought him to his mother's feet in
time to say, "I have sinned against heaven, and before thee," ere he
And the mother sat by her son's pillow, with her heart sad to
think of her old fierce fear lest the sinner should escape the
judgment. And yet she felt that this was not the judgment.
Judgment would have left him blind in his sinful self-righteousness.
This was mercy. His soul had been given to his father's
"Bessie," whispered the dying man, "will you read those
She knew well enough what verses he meant.
"Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
"I will have mercy, and not judgment.
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a
contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
"The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and
plenteous in mercy.
"He will not always chide, neither will He keep his anger for
"He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us
according to our iniquities.
"For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his
mercy toward them that fear Him.
"As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed
our transgressions from us.
"Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth
them that fear Him.
"For He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust.
"For the wind passeth over it and it is gone, and the place
thereof shall know it no more."
And there was silence. And the silver streak faded out
of the sky, and the ship had sailed away from sight. Silence
"Harry," said the mother softly, "are you asleep?"
No answer. Never an answer any more.
And the mother still lives in the little house looking out on
the sea. And she is satisfied, for the son who lives with God
is not dead to her.
And Bessie Prissack will be Bessie Prissack always.
ONE NEW YEAR'S NIGHT.
IT was in the
month of May that Alice Baird returned from India. Already, in
her short nineteen-years'-old life, it was the second time she had
made that journey. First, sixteen years ago, when she had
travelled, a sumptuous baby in the care of an embroidered and
bangled ayah; and now, when she came, a very airisome young lady,
state-cabin passenger, under the particular escort of the captain,
and the especial care of the stewardess, to say nothing of the
honorary chaperoneship of the brevet-major's wife, also travelling
home in all the bliss of furlough.
She had enjoyed just three years of Indian life, poor
motherless Alice! After thirteen years of incarceration in a
rising scale of first-class "homes for Anglo-Indians," she had
fluttered for just three years in the Calcutta sunshine, riding in
the "Maidan," dancing at Government House, and flirting with all
sorts of military and civilian youth. A glittering,
unprofitable life, whose only enjoyment had been excitement!
And now her father had married again, and she was sent home, as it
seemed to her, to a living grave.
Mr. Baird had spent all his matured life in Hindoostan.
He had gone out a hard, worldly-moral young man, with the wife of
his first love. That wife lay buried up in the hill-country,
in a grave he had never seen. And Mr. Baird had turned back to
his work, and amassed money and gained position.
If Mr. Baird had lived in England, he would very likely have
remained a worldly-moral man to the end of his days. There are
many people whom the outward influence of Christianity keeps up to
that point. Most things have a little heat whilst the sun
shines on them. But if it be dangerous for a Christian to be
isolated from his exterior helps and privileges, what must it be for
the worldling? If the garden of the reclaimed heart wastes in
such a wilderness, are not rank and poisonous plants likely to
spring up and flourish in the natural heart? And so when Mr.
Baird married a second time, his marriage and his wife were such as
he would never have thought possible in the decent days of his cold,
One strain of right feeling remained. He would send his
daughter home. The poor man did not believe much in God.
He often laughed at the idea of converting the surrounding heathen —
conversion was to him a chimera — but he never suspected that the
passive influence of paganism had almost converted him to its own
deadly level. He thought church-going was nonsense, and
Bible-reading waste of time; and though he kept a seat in a
fashionable Calcutta chapel for his daughter Alice, she was left
free to use it or not, at her own ungodly pleasure. But he was
shocked when he found that Alice was not horrified at that last and
worst step of his, which profaned home, and put a poor lost sinner
in her dead mother's place; and that all her anger, to which she
gave free vent, only rose over the loss of her own pre-eminence.
Had she been nobly grieved or justly indignant, he would probably
have derived a spiteful delight in keeping her in her filial post.
But her indifference staggered him. Nobody could tell what
such a girl might come to. He felt inclined to admit that the
old scorned paths of religion were worth something after all, if
only to make safe walking for the young women of one's household.
He resolved to send Alice home to her mother's brother.
Rathburn, on the borders of the Tweed, would be wholesomer for a
girl than Calcutta, in more ways than one.
Alice had, perforce, obeyed him, but with a very bad grace,
and she was now on the last stage of her journey. The gallant
captain and the obsequious stewardess had been parted from in the
London docks. She had seen the last of the brevet-major and
his wife at York, and now she was seated alone in a coupé. She
was not the least interested in the sweet, smiling country through
which she was flying. Four railway novels and three comic
papers represented the literary gatherings of her journey north of
London. She had glanced over them with the result of feeling
"bored," and was lying back with her eyes closed when the train
slackened, and the guard shouted "Rathburn," "Rathburn."
In sleepy bewilderment she jumped up and looked out upon the
little station, while a tall young man stepped forward from the
little waiting group of white-capped women and sturdy ploughmen,
and, lifting his hat, with a pleasant smile said, "I think you are
Alice Baird. I am your cousin, Archibald Anderson."
"Our trap is waiting for you outside," he said cheerily.
"I will gather up your things and look after the luggage. You
go away and take your seat, for you must be tired." And he
proceeded to pick up Alice's travelling literature.
"Never mind that," she said impatiently. "I shan't want
those books any more. Leave them where they are." And
Archie Anderson obeyed, wondering in his boyish heart what ways
these were, for in his quiet home books were bought with great
consideration and treasured with tender care.
The cousins were soon seated side by side in the homely gig.
Archie scarcely knew how to address this fine lady, the first
specimen he had ever met of that order of women whose hearts are in
their jewel-case, and whose heads are in their flounces. With
one sweep of her eye, and one tone of her voice, she had managed to
convey, even to his simplicity, all a woman of the world's contempt
for the shy country lad. It is but fair to admit that had she
not been his own cousin, and a stranger thrown upon his hospitality,
Archie in his turn would very contentedly have left her to herself.
"I hope you will like Rathburn," he said awkwardly.
"I should think it must be dull," Alice responded, looking
from right to left.
"Oh no, it is not," he hastened to assure her. "There's
more life here than in Lumglen or Talawick, though they're bigger.
There's a reading club that meets in the Town Hall once a week all
the winter, and there are all the interests about the three
churches. I'm taking you into the town by the bonniest road,
though it's a bit further round; but I want to give you a good first
impression. They're well-off people in these big houses."
Alice still stared about her in silence. The neat
freestone buildings had seemed but cottages to her spacious Indian
notions, and she wondered how anybody who could possibly be called
"well-off" could choose to live at Rathburn.
"Yon's the Free Kirk, where we sit," said Archie, pointing it
out with his whip. "It's built on the very spot where uncle
Donald preached in the open air in disruption times. He was
your uncle as well as mine, Alice."
Alice would have understood her cousin as well had he been
talking in Greek, and in many ways it was not unnatural that it
should be so. The pity was, that her ignorance was not that of
a cultivated, kindly mind, watching for every chance of enlarging
its borders, but the crass ignorance of a vain and selfish girl,
measuring the whole world by its own narrowness, like a
short-sighted person denying the very existence of the landscape
that stretches beyond his own imperfect vision. And Archie was
greatly relieved when the pony pulled up at the home-door, and Alice
was fairly delivered up to the welcome of her uncle and aunt and the
rest of the little household.
She followed Mrs. Anderson to her chamber with much such
feelings as a prisoner must go to his dungeon. She would have
respected her aunt a great deal more had a servant been sent to do
the honours, and she unutterably despised and abominated the prim
blue-chintz bedroom, with its spindle-legged chairs and dim old
prints, while she passed over as quite unworthy notice the great
beau-pot of flowers, with which some kind soul had decorated the
window-sill in her honour.
She had taken her northward journey by such short stages that
she could not plead fatigue, and as soon as she was left alone,
began to divert herself by rummaging out a boxful of her finery,
with which she proceeded to bedizen herself for the "tea-dinner,"
which she was told was in readiness.
"I wish there was a girl in the family, and I would kill her
with envy," she said. "It's hardly worth the trouble to
astonish the two louts of boys; but still it's a pleasure to dress
just for the sake of the thing."
The operation took nearly an hour, for Alice had her full
share of Anglo-Indian helplessness, and scarcely knew how to proceed
without two or three dusky attendants, upon whom to vent her
She found the family all in the parlour waiting for her.
Her uncle was seated a little apart from the rest, playing with a
fairhaired boy, who sat perched upon his shoulder flourishing the
stick of a drum, which had fallen to the ground. Besides her
aunt, and the two cousins, Archibald and Alexander, there was also a
young girl, who was introduced as "our neighbour and dear friend,
Helen Cumming." She arose with extended hand to meet Miss
Baird, but was instantly repelled by an overwhelming bow, while the
child, with the naïveté of his years, forestalled Alice's
determination not to kiss him by sliding down from his elevation and
burying his head on Mr. Anderson's shoulder.
"That little one isn't our own, Alice," explained her uncle,
as soon as he had pronounced the blessing over the simple, bountiful
table. "There was a bad railway accident at Talawick about a
year ago, and many people, husbands and wives together, were killed.
There was provision made for the children, but instead of spending
it getting them into hospitals, the neighbours took them up among
themselves. It will be homelier for the bairns. We took
two — this little laddie, and a baby girl, but she's never been here
yet, having been boarding with a foster-mother on the hills.
We expect her in two or three weeks. Ask the bairn his name,
"Oh, never mind, uncle; don't trouble him," said the girl.
"What is your name, my lad?" asked Mr. Anderson himself.
"Wullie Bruce," pronounced the little Scotchman, making a
solemn pause in his oat-cake.
"And who are you?" asked Helen Cumming, whom Alice had
already decided that she should "hate."
This question was evidently a harmless family joke.
"Wullie Bruce" clearly felt himself the hero of the occasion, as he
"I am my aunty's youngest boy,
I am her comfort and her joy,"
and was rewarded by a hearty laugh all round.
"Who taught him to say that?" Alice condescended to ask.
"He got the verse out of an alphabet-book," Helen explained,
"and said it first of his own accord, one day when a visitor came,
and asked, 'Well, and who are you, my little man?'"
"Oh, won't he tell another tale when the little girl comes!"
said Alice. "I dare say he'll be ready to pick her eyes out."
"Truly, the unrenewed heart is always given to jealousy and
anger," Mr. Anderson observed gravely; "but Christ's law of love is
simple enough to be learned even by such babes and sucklings as our
little Willie here."
Alice felt herself somehow rebuked, as much by the silence of
the rest of the circle as by her uncle's words. Gentle Mrs.
Anderson took needless pity on her.
"The boys have been quite impatient to see you, niece," she
said. "They are always so anxious to hear about far-away,
strange countries. I like to hear of them myself. You
must tell us all about India."
"Oh, there is nothing that one can tell to people who have
not seen it," Alice answered impatiently. "There are just
plenty of black servants to do everything that one has to do for
one's self here, and it's too hot to go out in the middle of the
day, and there are chutney and curries on every table. One
never thinks of dining without a curry."
"You must teach me how to make curry, Alice," said Mrs.
"Oh, I don't know anything about making it, and I don't care
for it much myself, either," responded the ungracious visitor, who
had no idea of that generous high breeding which delights to accept
little kindnesses, because it understands the pleasure of giving
"Have you brought back any pictures of India?" inquired Mrs.
"No — not one. Yes, I forgot, I have one. I had a
drawing-master when I first went there from school, and he gave me a
little sketch of a temple, and I think I have that among some other
rubbish somewhere in my trunks. I brought away every shred
that belonged to me; I was determined that nobody but myself should
have the pleasure of throwing away my litter."
Another awkward silence. It fretted Alice, but she had
not the least idea that it could possibly be caused by any
expression of hers. She considered she was making a very fair
show of her shrewdness and spirit. Such ideas, couched in such
language, had always gained her the applause and flattery of the
"beaux," who had hitherto been her "public opinion."
Directly after tea, Helen Cumming proposed taking her over
the house and making her acquainted with all the details of her new
home. Alice indifferently consented; she would have declined
altogether, but for a mean and mocking inclination "to spy out the
barrenness" of the land.
"You act quite the daughter of the house, Miss Cumming," she
said as they rose from the table.
"She's a' but ane," observed Aleck. Aleck had carried
everything before him in Rathburn Academy and Edinburgh High School,
and therefore could afford to indulge himself in his dear old Doric
vernacular, which he kept safe among his learning, and secretly
loved as much as a mother's letter in a hamper of class-books.
Aleck delighted to puzzle conceited "Southrons," by alternate pure
Greek and old-fashioned Scotticisms. It was his form of
patriotism. "The bodies are sae gien to think that naebody wad
speak Scotch, wha keened ony better," he would say. Aleck —
small, slight, and quaint, with no redeeming point of form or face,
except the grey eyes that were sometimes so keen and sometimes so
tender — was much of a mystification even to his own watchful
Alice did not catch what he said, and would not ask him.
He was the only one who had not addressed her personally nor made
the least effort to entertain her.
She would not pretend to admire the domestic treasures and
curiosities in which Helen hospitably strove to interest her.
She laughed at the old china, and pretended to mistake a rare family
heirloom for a spoiled willow-pattern plate. She disparaged
the flowers — they all looked half grown and faded after those she
had been accustomed to; not that she had cared for flowers in India.
She despised the neat and pretty pieces of fancy work, executed by
divers dead aunts and cousins, as well as by Mrs. Anderson herself.
The idle girl, who never did anything, presumed to wonder how women
could waste their time over such rubbish. Finally, Helen
opened the piano, and asked if she could play.
"I learned, of course," Alice answered; "yes, and I played a
little after I went back to India, and I rather liked it. It
was nice to have the gentlemen turning over the leaves for one.
But I can't play without my music, and it is all packed in a trunk
that I need not trouble myself to unlock for a long time."
"Perhaps I can find something you will know among this
music," Helen responded with cheery patience, and Alice came and
stood beside her as she turned over the heap.
"It all seems old enough to have come out of the ark," she
But she knew nothing, and would try nothing, till they
lighted on a stray sheet which had been sent as an advertisement by
some enterprising publisher. It was an Italian song full of
vocal flourish and quackery, and Alice trilled through one or two of
its gymnastics, convincing Helen, as she wished, of the compass and
quality of her voice. Then she sat down and ran her fingers up
and down the notes once or twice — then stopped.
"I cannot play at all on such a worn-out old thing as that,"
she said scornfully. "But won't you try, — I should like to
hear what you will make of it, though I suppose it won't affect you
so much, if you're used to it."
"As you say you don't know much of Scottish ballads, I will
sing one," Helen said, with the patience somewhat predominating over
the cheerfulness of her tones. And she chose, "There is name
luck about the house."
Helen sang sweetly, and with a truth and delicacy of
expression that would have been beyond her hearer's utmost effort of
appreciation. But Alice made no such effort. She lay
back in the sofa, closed her eyes, and wondered which of her fine
deshabille dresses she would sport next day. But she
caught enough of the song to understand its drift.
"Strange, isn't it," said Helen, "that this sweetest song of
a wife's love and joy should have been written by an old maid?"
Helen's voice was low and thoughtful, tender with the pathos of the
truth that the soul so often gains just as much as the life misses.
"Dear me! it shows how much she must have wanted a husband,"
said Alice, in her hard, flippant tone. And Helen sat down in
silence, and felt that Alice herself must start the next topic.
"Whose portrait is that?" Alice asked presently, pointing to
a small miniature that hung close beside the great arm-chair.
Helen was thankful that they were alone and in the twilight.
"Don't you know there is another member of the family?" she
inquired, in a slight flutter. "That is Hugh, the eldest son,
who is in the West Indies, but he is expected home next winter."
"Well, I hope the world will have brushed him up a little,"
said Alice. "Anyhow, he will surely be something like a man.
These two here are terribly hobble-de-hoyish, though I think that
Alexander could be impertinent if one gave him a chance."
Helen said nothing.
"And so you wear a ring," Alice observed with reckless
forwardness. "Do you mean to say you are engaged? Where
did you pick up a young man in Rathburn? I thought it was an
old maid's town, for whenever I asked Archibald who lived in any
house, as we came through to-day, it was always some Miss Greig, or
Scott, or Bruce, or something."
"I am engaged to your eldest cousin, Hugh Anderson," said
Helen, with a quiet dignity, that actually awed even Alice Baird for
just five seconds!
"Dear me!" she ejaculated, "and so Mrs. Anderson is to be
your respected mamma-in-law! I suppose you think you are
obliged to come in and do the civil to her; but don't you find it a
terrible bore? It will be fine fun to watch you both, making
believe to be so affectionate, while all the time you are hating
each other like poison."
"I am sure your aunt loves me, and I know I love her.
Why should we not?" Helen asked, a little indignantly.
"Oh, you need not think it," Alice replied, with a smiling
confidence of superior wisdom. "Mothers always hate the women
whom their sons marry. They're so jealous of losing the first
place with their own dear child. In India, I used to encourage
the old ladies to pour forth their confidence, to me. Used not
they to cry down and scandalize daughters-in-law, that were far
better born and better bred and richer than themselves. The
poor old souls never imagined I could see through it, and indeed I
helped them out with their abuse, for the young wives were often
very uppish and distant to me, and it was always a bother to see
them taken in first to dinner. But I don't wonder at any of
it. I'm sure I shall hate my mother-in-law to be, and I know I
shall hate my future daughter-in-law. It's nature."
"Then it is very bad nature," said Helen decidedly; "and
certainly it is not grace."
"Oh, if you begin to talk religion," Alice interrupted, "I
drop the argument, though I don't know what religion has to do with
it. Mrs. Colonel Bigg professed to be a very pious woman, but
she was dreadfully overbearing, and insulted her sons' wives so
much, that her sons would not let them visit her. But now tell
me what Hugh Anderson is like, and do you expect to live in Rathburn
after you are married?"
"I do not know," Helen answered meekly. "We shall live
wherever it will be best for Hugh's business."
"Oh, are you one of the dear good souls who make believe to
have no will of their own, in order that they may get everything
their own way? Do you know, Helen, if I had not let my father
know that I was particularly anxious to stay in India, I don't
believe he would have ever sent me away here. But when he
found I was so determined, he thought I must have some reason for
it, and he just made up his mind to thwart me. And I had a
reason, Helen. I wanted to stay there, because Somebody else
was there. You don't know how attentive Somebody used to be.
I always behaved ever so cruelly to him, because it was such fun to
see how he took it to heart. He often drank a great deal too
much wine, because he told me it was the only way to drown the
misery I caused him. Poor fellow! But he only worshipped
me more and more."
"I fear he could not have been worth much better treatment
than you gave him," said Helen, dryly; "but still the worst man
merits a decent dismissal."
"Don't you begin to preach to me, Helen," Alice retorted,
"because I know beforehand it is only out of envy and spite."
"Girls, girls," cried Mrs. Anderson from the foot of the
stairs. "It is time for you to come down to worship."
And Helen at least was delighted to obey the summons.
"What a time those tunes do take singing!" Alice whispered to
Helen, when the little family service was over, "and I listened all
through the prayer because I really expected uncle would
particularly allude to me. I sha'n't trouble myself again.
Come in again to-morrow, dear, and now, good night!" And
without waiting to see Helen out she ran off to her own room.
"I left you two lasses alone this evening," said Mrs.
Anderson to Helen, "because I thought it would make Alice feel
sooner at home to be free to chatter how she chose to a young thing
"I hope you take to our new niece, Nellie," observed Mr.
Helen looked up and smiled brightly. "I should not
think she has had a very happy life yet," she said. "I dare
say there are a good many gay worldly people out in India, and
perhaps she has happened to be thrown into a set of that kind.
But she will soon grow happy here."
"What do ye think o' her, Archie man?" asked Aleck, as the
two brothers went together to their chamber.
"Molly ane speers the gate he kens fu' weel," answered
Archie, who not having a sufficiently learnèd reputation to dare to
be anything but as English as possible in public, occasionally
revenged himself by being the Scotchest of the Scotch when in the
strictest retirement. "Dinna ask a man to speak whan ye ken
fine he's nae guid to say."
"Wadna ye hae liket her for your good sister, Archie?" asked
"Are ye thinking o' giving me a chance of luikin' on her in
that licht, lad?" retorted Archie. "I'm thinkin' ye'd find her
gey auld in the heart, and real feckless wi' the hands."
"Hech, ane never kens," said the incomprehensible Aleck,
"she'll be better when she's weel enough. Ye ought to be
thinking o' how to do her gude, Archie; you, that's a Sunday-school
"I could not have patience with the like of her," observed
Archie, returning to gravity.
"Isna her soul worth as much as any ither body's?" asked
Aleck quaintly. "Isna she gaun to heaven or hell as fast as
auld Luckie Weaver, or that little lad Patterson?"
"But what good would I do if I read the Bible to her as I can
to Luckier, or offered to teach her the catechism as I teach Bob?
She would laugh in my face, and it would do more harm than good."
"Do ye think ye canna wear religion ony ither gate than on
your tongue?" asked Aleck; "an' do ye think yer tongue itsel canna
speak it except when it's reading or catechising? Man, if ye
think there is nae hope of doing gude to a puir lassie, set down her
lane amang a household that professes and delights to serve the
Lord, why suld ye gie yer bawbees to send oot a puir missionar' a'
by himsel, amang countless pagans?"
An argument in bed is always a very convenient affair,
because if you do not answer the unanswerable, it can only be
supposed that you have dropped asleep. This time Archibald did
Another dialogue had been going on down stairs.
Mr. Anderson had lain down on the sofa before the dying fire,
while his wife went to and fro on her little final households
businesses. She glanced once and again at her "gude-man," and
saw that he was thoughtful, and with the fine instinct of
five-and-twenty years of happy unity, did not need to be told what
he was thinking.
"Wife," he said at last, "I'm afraid we've let the world into
our fold. There will be thoughts and words and ways that have
not been in this house before. I knew my poor brother-in-law's
child could have had no Christian training, but I fear I never
before rightly felt the inspired truth that the carnal heart is
enmity against God — not indifference but hatred — not mere
withholding from, but an actual fighting against. I see the
devil has his own moralities and religion, and even his own peculiar
scribes and Pharisees. Is it right to our own young ones to
take in this poor white pagan wife?"
"Where else can the lassie go?" asked Mrs. Anderson simply.
"I would take half my bairn's regular dinner to give a stray bairn
that was starving, and I don't know that we would be right to be
more selfish over their spiritual meat."
"I should not be so exercised if she were friendless and
penniless," said Mr. Anderson, musing; "but when we got the offer of
a hundred pounds a year to just board the lassie as ane o'
ourselves, I aye thought that it would be a fine help, just as I'm
failing, and the lads are beginning to want their start in life.
I should have thought it was the Lord's way of helping us, if she
had been the simplest bit lassie with an inch of faith in man,
wherein one could hope to plant faith in God! But this
scoffing, heartless quean! And if we are getting profit by
her, it makes me fear we may not be single-hearted in our wish only
to do her good, and our faith that God can keep her from unsettling
our own children. I wuld trust my boys out on the Frith on the
stormiest night trying to save the drowning, because then I'd know
they were in God's hands, and I had a right to pray for them.
But I wuldna trust them there for a mere wager of a million pounds.
Wife, wife, tell me what we are to do in this strait, for a woman's
mind, like her step, goes light and safe over many a peat moss where
a heavy man would lumber about and sink."
Mrs. Anderson put down the basket of aired linen, which she
had borne in her hands as she stood. She kept silence for a
"We mustna turn away the lassie," she said. "It will be
no harm to turn away the gear. Give seventy pounds a year to
the Indian missions. Just give it without a name. We
shall be freer and evener with the lassie when the thought of it is
put quite out of the way. And yet we shall be great gainers,
for I'm sure, gude man, you've often longed sorely for the luxury of
"Be it so, then," said Mr. Anderson, laying his hand fondly
on the bending shoulder that felt so frail beneath his touch.
"But well know I, it is given at your expense and Helen's, for you
twa will have all the brunt of the airs and tantrums of this niece
"Ah, well, they'll keep me younger," answered his wife, with
her soft laugh: "it often seems to me that it's when we're left to
settle down in our own pet ways and habits, be they never so good,
that we begin to want spectacles and tak the gout."
Then they crept softly up-stairs, lest they should disturb
their guest, little thinking that she still sat before the mirror
trying new modes of dressing her hair, and reflecting—
"I will take care not to let myself be ordered about and kept
under. They will not try it too much, for fear of losing my
money. What a blessing it must be to them! — enough to keep up
the whole house, I should think. What a 'goody' girl that
Helen is! but then, poor thing, she has never had a chance of being
anything else. It must have been quite a treat to her to hear
my lively conversation to-night — no wonder she was so sedulous in
attention to me."
And sweet Helen, in her simple chamber in the next house, sat
writing busily till long after midnight. For the West Indian
mail went out next morning, and she was resolved that her letter to
her betrothed lover should not be one line the shorter, because she
had devoted her usual time for writing it to entertaining a
Verily the worshippers of the god of this world "have not
known, nor understood" — "a deceived heart turns them aside, that
they cannot deliver their souls, nor say, 'Is there not a lie in my
"AND so the other
little orphan has come," said Alice Baird, as she came on little
Willie, sitting, with a toy in his hand, in one of the passages,
when she had been an inmate of the house for some days. "Who
are you now, Master Willie Bruce? You won't be the pet any
longer; you'll have to give up everything to your little sister."
Willie considered for a moment, with his strong under lip.
"I'd break it all in two, if I could," he said, and Alice put
her own meaning on the speech and laughed heartily, till he went on
in his quaint judicial way.
"Only little sissy can't be 'aunty's youngest boy;' but I'll
be 'comfort,' and she'll be 'joy,'" and then he rose and broke away
from Alice, and ran down the entry shouting in his highest treble―
"I'm still my aunty's youngest boy,
I'm her comfort and sissy's her joy."
Alice stood suddenly up, as people do under a sharp surprise.
It was her first revelation of a possible state of mind free from
the envy, hatred, and uncharitableness of all the morbid
self-seeking that kept her own heart like the troubled sea.
This was no fruit of mere infancy. She remembered her own
childhood, and the bitter hatred she had felt for her poor ayah's
infant, because the ayah had adorned it with one of her own bangles,
which her little mistress had coveted for herself.
"Well, we must be as we are made," Alice said to herself,
"and I suppose some people are born angels."
Anything to comfort one's self to remain lazily as one is!
When the secrets of all hearts are revealed, it will be marvellous
how many persons have gone to hell, because they persuaded
themselves they were obliged to go there!
This was the first slight shock received by her contemptuous
self-satisfaction. And from that day she grew more and more to
regard the Andersons, not, as at first, as people utterly beneath
her, but as people entirely different from her. Every
difference between them and her she began to impute to this radical
dissimilarity. It was because they were so different, that the
quiet life and regular discipline which seemed so delightful to them
was so intolerable to her. It never even occurred to her
whether this quiet life and regular discipline might not have
produced much of the difference.
Under this new feeling she grew terribly restive. They
seemed to her to do nothing that they did not like, for they seemed
to like just what they did. Why then should she not also be "a
law unto herself?" That scriptural phrase had happened to fall
upon her ear in the midst of some Sabbath reading. She never
listened to anything, so that it must have surely been some evil
spirit which repeated this in her ear. And she caught hold of
it, and constantly quoted it, parrot-like, as ungodly people are
given to quote what they learn from the devil's collection of "Texts
suitable for one's own case."
She would not kneel at family prayers. She would not
attempt to sing. She would look straight at whoever was giving
out the tune, to try to put them out. She would not darn her
stockings. She would not tidy her hair before she came to
breakfast. She would read in her bed at night. She would
not make herself civil to the family visitors, but managed to scrape
an acquaintance with some neighbours of doubtful reputation.
"I should know what to do with her if she was one of my own,"
said her uncle, almost grimly.
"If being one of your own she was like she is, she would be
in a much worse way," Mrs. Anderson pleaded gently; "but she has
been brought up so differently. She has known no happiness
except in things that she cannot find in Rathburn. We must let
her have as much freedom and change as possible. That will
make her take more easily to the restraints that must remain."
If Alice "took" to any of the Anderson household, counting it
as inclusive of Helen, that one was Archibald. His was one of
those quiet substantial characters that present no aggressive point.
A granite character, not of that finer marble, of which is made the
picturesque or sublime statuary of the world, but rather the strong
enduring boulder on which such statuary is raised for admiring eyes.
Archie was not "original" like Aleck; but Aleck had once or twice
winked his wonderful eyes, and said that all his originality
consisted in saying what Archie thought, and understanding what
Archie did. "He's o' the sort that makes the world go round,"
Aleck would say. "He's sae deep that he doesna frichten the
deil himself, who was a fool from them beginning and for all his
politics, and hasna yet learned that his own worst enemies arena
those who come wi' a flourish of trumpets and an open declaration of
One sweet day in the very early autumn, Archibald and Aleck
took a holiday to accompany their cousin to Talawick Bay. They
went on the coach as far as Lumglen, and walked on to Talawick,
through the Talling woods. The leaves were just beginning to
fall, and lay like tarnished gold beneath the sunlight that
flickered down the long green glades. The whimper of a little
burn beside the path, the patient coo of the cushat, and the harsh
notes of the "corbies," made up one of nature's sweetest songs.
Perhaps the peculiarly soothing scene was not without some influence
on Alice, or perhaps it was the reaction after a fit of
extraordinary waywardness and passion, or it might be the
re-assuring commonplace of Archie's cheery conversation, but anyhow
she felt rather more kindly than usual. She even waited
without grumbling while he dug up a fern for Helen, and actually
condescended to own that a certain rare moss was "very pretty."
Then they came out upon the "seascape" of the Bay. A
semicircle of sea, enclosed by black beetling rocks overhanging a
little strip of shingly shore.
"What a day for a row!" said Archibald to Aleck as they all
rested together on an overturned boat. And he took off his
hat, and bared his forehead to the delicious sea-breeze.
"I can't understand what pleasure there is in boating, and
especially on the horrid sea!" his cousin answered. Yet some
more genial influence was certainly upon her, for she added, "But
don't let me keep you from it. I can wait here till you come
Archibald shook his head. "It is quite safe to-day," he
said, "but in rough weather this is a dangerous bit. Mother's
only brother was overtaken here in a squall, and drowned. And
when we were quite little children she made us promise never to go
out on Talawick Bay. I remember my brother Hugh said, 'But
what would we do if we saw any one drowning there?' And mother
said, 'Then, of course, you would go, but never go only for your
pleasure.' And we promised her."
"But I dare say she only meant while you were boys," said
"I don't know," Archibald answered. "I never asked
"You are sure it is quite safe to-day?" Alice inquired.
"Oh yes; it often is."
"Then, Archibald," said she quickly, meaning to be very kind,
"there is nobody to tell her if you go to-day. I never will.
And she will not think of asking you, because she knows I hate the
sea, and she will be sure to think I would not let you leave me."
"No, Alice, thank you," Archibald answered quietly; "but I
would not do behind my mother what I would not do before her face."
"But it is hard you should have to give up your pleasure,"
she said, unwilling to resign her sympathy, perhaps because its
sensation was an agreeable novelty.
"That is a very little thing to give up, Alice," Archibald
"This is always the way," she cried, petulantly, "you are all
so good that I can't be kind to you."
"Oh yes, I'm sure you can," said Aleck, breaking his long
silence. "Yesterday morning I walked up and down saying that a
button had come off my shirt-sleeve. I wanted you to offer to
put it on, and save me from interrupting my mother, who was ben the
house makin' pie."
"Pooh, I don't want to put on buttons," Alice answered
angrily. And so she let the new pleasant feeling of
"comradeship" escape her. But many wiser people than poor
Alice are mortally affronted if another ventures to decline a boon
that would be a deadly injury.
It was two or three weeks after this, that Alice suddenly
rose up from reading a London newspaper, went straight to her room,
and scared the whole house by a fit of hysterics. People heard
her all down the quiet street. Helen Cumming came running in,
and the doctor arrived before he was fetched.
"It has surely been something not right in her health that
has made her so fractious all the time," said innocent Mrs.
"My poor sister, nor none of my people ever took such fits,"
observed her husband, as if to relieve his family from any suspicion
of uncomfortable hereditary disease.
"But then they had not travelled about as she has," remarked
old Miss Cumming, Helen's great aunt, who had never even been to
Edinburgh. "It's all a new thing, this travelling, and one
does not know what it may do. I'd like to see its effects on
two or three generations before I try it myself. But I know
one of my cousins went into hysterics because her family would not
allow her to marry a man who drank; and her mother dismissed their
servant and made her rub the floors and furniture, and she goon got
well after that."
Something in this practical precedent and prescription seemed
to give Aleck a new idea, for five minutes after Archie found him
diligently reading through the "marriage" notices of the Times,
which Alice had half-crumpled and thrown down in a corner.
"This is it, Archie," he said, and read—
"At Calcutta, Lieutenant Smith, of the ―― Regiment, to Kate,
daughter of Captain Forbes, of the ―― Regiment."
"Do you suppose he was her sweetheart?" asked Archie,
interested and confidential.
"A woman aye has ane, when she's naething better to do,"
"I wonder if she really loved him! Poor Alice!" said
"Spare your pity, man. When a woman's lost her heart,
and only finds it broken and thrown away, she doesna tell't to the
"I'm two years older than you, but I wish I had half as much
sense. 'I shall never wear your bonnet,'" said Archie, quoting a
quaint national proverb.
Aleck looked up at Archie with some of that indescribable
pathos which occasionally dashed his dry humour: "When the brain's
big, the heart's aft heavy wi't," he said in his favourite
vernacular. "But we needna waste mair words wondering, for
here is Helen, and I dare say she will know something mair of this
Helen did know, for she had reluctantly received many further
confidences since that night of Alice's arrival. She looked at
the newspaper, and was obliged to own that Aleck's shrewd guess was
Helen resigned herself to bear Alice company in the
sentimental retirement in which she spent the whole of that and the
following day. Poor Helen was dreadfully bewildered by Alice's
incoherent and contradictory communications. She had never
loved the lost lover; she had quite misunderstood her feelings
concerning him. She had loved him enthusiastically; she could
never survive it; she would never love another man. He had
loved her to distraction, and only married in his despair of ever
winning her affection in return. He had been a deliberate and
heartless deceiver. From all of which Helen wisely drew the
right conclusion that Lieutenant Smith would be astonished to hear
that he had ever been supposed to go beyond an unmeaning flirtation
between an idle man and a frivolous girl.
Alice amused herself for awhile by the perusal of every
soft-sighing poem that she could find. She even opened the old
piano, and sang a few sad songs; but imaginary mourning is too great
a strain to keep up long, and then, deprived of the last fond fancy
on whose unwholesome food she had fed her imagination, her state
She alone was miserable, among contentment and happiness,
whose only shadow was sympathy and regret for her. She did not
know it herself — for selfishness and self-will are bad paths to
self-knowledge — but there were times when she longed to be as Helen
Cumming was. She knew she would never have had the patience
that Helen had shown towards such a torment as herself, and it only
stirred in her a bitter feeling that felt like restless hatred and
animosity — yet which really was the hard, sour germ that might
ripen into love. These were times when she nearly softened.
There was that fair Sabbath afternoon, hot and bright as stray
autumn days sometimes are, when she sat moodily at her chamber
window, and watched the Rathburn people coming out of church.
She had heard the dim, softened sounds of the far-off psalm, and now
the congregation were coming out with its music in their faces.
Humble, lowly people, all of them — careful, struggling, of no
account in this world; and yet as Alice watched them that afternoon,
a door in her heart opened to hear a voice whisper, that the gay
dress, and the brilliant society, and the prosperity and "fullness
of bread" in which she had rested, beside their "peace which passeth
understanding," were but as a child's mimic bank of gilt buttons and
tokens compared with a king's treasury. She even owned within
herself that she longed to go down-stairs, meet the household party
on the threshold, throw her arms about her Aunt Anderson's neck, and
own that she had been wrong and miserable. But she said to
herself that to-morrow she would repent of such folly; it was just
weakness. If she wanted to be a little more companionable and
teachable, it was easy to be so without such enthusiastic penitence.
Ah, many people since Saul of Tarsus have "kicked against the
pricks." Poor Alice went to bed that night with a
self-righteous reflection that she had cast out sane evil demons of
obstinacy and malice, and did not know that unless some active love
has come in their place, they will only return and increase in
strength in the swept and garnished heart.
Only the next morning, sleeping late as was her custom, she
was awakened by happy laughter in the summer-house beneath her
window. Peeping through her curtain, she saw Archibald and
Helen Cumming within, with letters in their hands. They had
evidently read them before, for they were in no eager haste but were
just going over them again in sheer enjoyment and thankfulness.
She could distinctly hear Archibald's voice. The letter
had been addressed to Helen, but contained such general good news
that it had become common property.
"I quite expect to keep my new year in Rathburn," Archibald
read. "I shall arrive at Southampton, and travel straight
north, but do not endeavour to expect me on any definite day, for I
will not arrive in a ghastly fashion, at some uncanny hour of the
night, but will break my journey in such away as to walk in among
you, a reasonable guest at an appropriate time. I have a trunk
packed full of presents, for, besides little family remembrances, I
am bringing over many simple curiosities that are destined to give
our own future home a polite 'air of foreign travel.' I have
decided, with your consent, that we shall settle at Talawick.
It has good rail and steam connections, that will suit me admirably
for the journeys that my business may force me to take occasionally,
and I shall go on such, with all the lighter heart, knowing that the
wee wifie is safely left in a familiar place, near her own people
and mine. If Archie is over at Talawick shortly, he can give a
glance at that pretty cottage overlooking the bay, and if it is to
be let, and you feel as kindly to it as I do, he can bespeak it for
me from the winter term. I shall only give you grace to remain
Helen Cumming for as long — or I mean as short — a time as it will
take me to get the house in order. You need not mention
trousseaux nor any such things, for, besides my own private opinion
that you have had long enough already for such preparations, I shall
only quote from Aleck's stock of proverbs, that 'a bonnie bride's
sune buskin.' As soon as I land I shall go to the Southampton
post-office in the sure expectation of finding a neat little letter
addressed to 'Mr. Hugh Anderson, to wait till called for.'
Archie can write one too, if he likes, for I am greedy in the matter
of letters, and the faithfulness of my home correspondents has
fostered the appetite immensely."
"No wonder she's so sweet and amiable," said Alice, dropping
the curtain with a shake. "No wonder they all are. They
have everything their own way. All so fond of each other; all
living together or coming home to live together. All thought
so much of by everybody. It is easy for them to be good!
Look at me! Never mind that, I've money and fine dresses, and
all that hollow rubbish. Here I am, turned out of my father's
own house, because my father has married a woman he should not have
married, and made a scandal that of course hangs about me wherever I
go. And the man that I cared for, or that cared for me, or, at
any rate, that made himself pleasant, he goes and marries somebody
else! It is natural that I should be miserable and passionate.
What do I care for prayer, or Bible-reading, or any such things!
They wouldn't if they were me. It's no wonder they can love
God, when He gives them all they can want or wish. Let the
tide set the other way, and then they would repine and rebel as much
as anybody else!"
Satan is the same now as when he went up among the sons of
God and asked―
"Doth Job fear God for nought?"
LIGHT as were the
hearts of the Anderson household that winter-time, Alice contrived
to make herself felt as a very appreciable burden. Causelessly
unhappy people are never such a curse as in times of joy and
gladness. They are like a black stain on a wedding dress, or a
dead flower in a nosegay, worthless and disgusting, yet able to
spoil so much.
And Alice's uneasy conscience made her very restless and
persistently disagreeable. It destroyed the selfish animal
good-humour which she had hitherto occasionally enjoyed. It
might be partly a sign of spiritual growth and life, though an
unpleasant one, like a baby's fractiousness at teething-time.
The Andersons were thoroughly Scotch people, of Scotch
feelings and habits. They did not keep Christmas in the
English fashion, because they had not been accustomed. Their
little household festivities had always been reserved for that New
Year-tide, when they now hoped to have their beloved wanderer again
among them. But they kept Christmas in its truest and best
sense of remembering their brotherhood with the poor and suffering,
to whom the first of the "hard weather" comes like a blast from the
grave. Besides their contributions in cash and kind to their
church charities, Mrs. Anderson and Helen both exerted their wits
and kindliness to give some little bit of genuine pleasure to every
"poor body" they knew.
"The Bible says that man does not live by bread alone," said
Mrs. Anderson; "and if flannel and coals warm the body, I'm sure a
little tea or snuff or a new book warm the very heart."
Alice would not interest herself in any of these quiet
Christian charities, nor did she say a word in allusion to English
Christmas customs, till late on the evening of the 25th, when she
observed, bitterly —
"One does not know what one may come to. I never
thought to keep Christmas in a house without going to church,
without a bit of holly, or a turkey, or a plum-pudding, or a carol.
But, of course, your charity is so busy out of doors, that it is
quite above considering the feelings of those within."
"Oh, Alice, I am so sorry!" Helen cried sincerely. "If
you had only said a word! You see we never think of you as
English. We only associate you with Scotland and India, and
forget that you were brought up in London. We never thought of
it, though I know that is no excuse, for I should have thought of
it. If you will try to forgive me, Alice, we will remind your
aunt to have Christmas plum-pudding on New Year's Day, and I will
decorate the rooms with evergreens, and we will all keep our happy
day together, and you must try to forget the different date."
"But New Year's Day is just New Year's date — a fresh sheet
of almanac and new account-books," pouted Alice. "Now
Christmas means to me the birth of the Saviour, and the manger, and
the shepherds, and all sorts of sacred things."
"Yet even Christmas Day is not Christ's real birthday," Helen
pleaded gently. "It is only a day chosen by some churches to
keep them in remembrance of his taking the form of a servant, and
coming among us. Christ's real birthday, for us, can only be
the day when he enters into our hearts, and takes our sins upon
himself, and gives us his grace in their stead. But, Alice,
try to forgive me, and I will make up all that I can, for forgetting
your very natural feelings."
Oh, how Alice grudged and scorned, when, in a few days, Helen
came in loaded with holly and fir, and made a long garland that was
to go round the room, besides smaller ones for every picture and
looking-glass. One moment Alice would have liked to go up to
her and kiss her, and thank her for such goodness to such a
hard-hearted, cantankerous wretch as herself. And the next
minute she hated her, envied her, despised her — judged her as
hypocritical, sly, and self-seeking in her very kindliness.
"She can't like me," she said to herself. "Why should she wish
to be kind to me, except to make a display of heavenly forgiveness
and long-suffering to her admiring future family-in-law?" And
yet Alice knew in her inmost heart, that if Helen had grown
indignant and indifferent beneath her constant patter of spite and
arrogance, she would then have asked, "Where was her Christian
patience and forbearance?"
It was early on the morning of the last day of December, when
a telegram came from Hugh Anderson. "Arrived at Southampton.
Got your letters. All well."
"He will be in Talawick by the midnight train, and will be
here by breakfast-time on New Year's Day," said Helen, with a very
glory of happiness shining in her face.
Nobody did much in that house that day. All their glad
preparations were made, and they were too unsettled in their eager
joy to attempt more than going to and fro about the rooms, putting
last fond needless touches.
"Hush, isn't that a coach drawn up? " asked Mrs. Anderson
breathlessly, as they all sat round the evening fire, Helen on a low
stool at her feet, just where the hand of the elder woman could
easily stray down on the girl's soft, brown hair.
"No, mother, it's only the wind," said Archie, "and it could
not possibly be Hugh, for he cannot reach Talawick till midnight,
even if he landed in time to catch the earliest train."
"He would do that if he could," observed the mother, happily
assured. "But — there's that sound again!"
"It is nothing but the wind," Archie repeated; "hark — you
hear it die away by the side of the house. I have noticed it
before when a gale is first rising. It will be wild weather
"Then, thank God, Hugh is off the sea," said Mrs. Anderson,
"and may He help and keep every mother's son still out and upon it."
And then they kneeled for their usual "worship," and the head
of the household offered a thanksgiving for the son "brought in
safety through the perils of his journey," and prayed for "his
comfortable and happy arrival at his father's house!"
Truly, that was a wild night. Perhaps it was something
of the eagerness of expectation that kept the Andersons and Helen
wakeful, but even Alice could not sleep for the dashing rain and the
roaring, relentless wind. She grew frightened, lying in the
darkness, and rose and stole away to her aunt's room.
"God is in the storm," said Mrs. Anderson gently.
"But there is danger," Alice sobbed; "houses are blown down
sometimes and people are killed."
"Yes, dear," her aunt replied. "I never taught my
children not to fear, by saying there was no danger. I only
told them it was all in their Heavenly Father's hand, and they were
as safe in the tempest as in the calm."
It grew stiller towards morning, and presently the grey light
stole in. By breakfast-time Alice would have been almost ready
to deny that she had been agitated the night before.
Breakfast-time, but no Hugh.
"He missed the morning train yesterday," observed Archibald,
and Mrs. Anderson and Helen both said eagerly that of course they
had not expected him — only they had thought perhaps he might be in
Presently an old neighbour came in, and sat down, and talked
for a few minutes. He seemed grave and pre-occupied, and would
not listen to any of their playful raillery about his being their
"first foot." He said that somebody who had come in by the
coach from Talawick, was saying there had been a bad shipwreck in
the Bay last night — a Swedish ship had struck on the rocks, and it
had gone hard with her. Then he went away.
He had scarcely gone before another neighbour appeared.
This was somebody whom the Andersons did not see very often, a
reverent, austere man, with a soul as strong as his giant frame, and
as little capable of shrinking from hardest tasks. Gentle Mrs.
Anderson was a great favourite of his, and had a vast respect for
him. She began instantly to tell him how they were looking out
"We thought he might be at Talawick last night," she said.
"He was at Talawick," said the stern Scotchman, with a
solemnity that ran to every heart in the room. "He was at
Talawick. Oh, woman, woman, God gie ye strength to feel that
sair tears ne'er need fa' on a hero's grave, an' that Heaven is a
bonnier place than e'en ane's ain fireside!"
Was it for a second, or for an hour, they all sat in silence?
None of them ever knew Pass by that agony of sorrow. Who but
God could bear to gaze on those parted quivering lips that never
murmured, on those tearful eyes that mutely said, "Thy will be
done." Alice Baird could not bear it. She went up to
Helen, and threw her arms round her neck, but Helen drew gently —
oh, so gently — but firmly away. No comfort could be taken yet
except from the Hand that had given the blow, and Alice rose and
went softly from the room.
Hugh had arrived in Talawick at the time his mother and Helen
had hoped. He had found the foreign ship labouring in her
great strait, and the Talawick men, in the absence of one or two of
their leaders, had seemed uncertain and wavering in their help.
The only boat that was big enough to breast the waves was old, and
scarcely seaworthy. Volunteers to man it hung back, except one
old man — a former man-o'-war's man. Hugh Anderson had stepped
forward, like the gallant gentleman that he was.
"I've not come all the way from the Indies to stand and watch
men drown at my own country-side," he said. "I'm going — for
one, and God be with me."
And then others had pressed forward, and the little craft was
launched. It brought off all the Swedes, except one or two who had
been already washed off. They had a sore struggle to get the old,
heavily-laden boat back to shore. Again and again wavers broke over
her. The old man-o'-war's man was brought in to tell the little he
knew to the father and mother.
"It come up ahint me," he said. "Them poor furriners
was down in the bottom, half-drowned aforehand, and holding on to
what they could. It come ahint me, as I say. I saw it in
his eyes. I think he know'd he couldn't stand another of 'em,
fur, says he, looking' straight at It, and kind o' through it, as
I've seen men look at harbour-lights ahead through the storm — says
he, 'Mother always said I might.' I don't know what be meant,
ma'am, but them was just his words. And then It came.
And when it was gone by, I rights myself again, and there's them
poor furriners and there's my mates. But the gentleman's away.
An' it's my honest belief, as have kept the sea man an' boy forty
yearns come Lammas, that out of rough old Talawick bay that there
gentleman went up to sit down in glory with every admiral and
captain that has served the kings, and the King o' kings, sin' the
navy fetched the temple-gold for King Solomon."
Evening came again. The sad terrible New Year's night
that was to have been so gay! Alice had stolen once or twice
to the kitchen, and whispered to the tearful, shocked
servant-lasses. But she had always returned to the solitude of
her own chamber.
Darkness fell, and Alice still sat in the cold with a heavy
shawl drawn tightly round her. Suddenly, striking her ear,
like a familiar sound rousing us from a hideous dream, a bell rang.
It was the accustomed signal to call scattered members of the family
to the household worship.
Awestruck, she stole down to the garlanded little parlour.
The servant-lasses were just passing in, and she hung back and
entered behind them, and slipped into a seat near the door.
The "ha-Bible" lay as usual open before her uncle, and with
faltering voice he read a few verses that came in the ordinary
course of reading. It chanced to be one of those wonderful
psalms, within whose wide range there is a sympathetic touch for
every human mood. It was hard, hard for him to go through it,
but it was his brave sign of submission and fortitude. And he
did it. Then closing the book, he said as usual—
"Let us sing to the praise and glory of God!"
But he could do no more. The psalms remained ungiven
out. There was an awful silence in the room. The two
young men's heads were bent low over their books. The mother's
face was hidden in her hands. The servant-girls and Alice sat
paralyzed. Alice could not dare to raise her eyes upon the
tragedy of agony before her, but sitting, gazing mutely at the
ground, she caught sight of the little kitten beneath the table,
still decked in the gay red ribbon that Helen had tied about its
neck that morning. That loosened the tension of her nerves,
and she would have burst into bitter weeping for the dead man whom
she had never seen, but at that moment a sweetly strange voice was
raised in that softly solemn strain, which has soothed so many sad
and suffering scenes―
"The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by."
It was Helen. The sorest-stricken deer had got the soonest to the
Fountain of Healing. She sang through one verse alone; in the
second, Aleck's head was raised, and he had joined. Mr.
Anderson and Archie were a little later, and Alice heard even her
aunt's thin quaver in the concluding lines
"And in God's house for evermore
My dwelling-place shall be."
Neither Alice nor the servants joined their voices. Some
unconscious influence withheld them. The sweet incense of the
hearts God had bruised went up to Him unmingled with any commoner
They knelt down in prayer. One moment's silence, and
then the father's voice, clear as ever, only very soft and low, as
if the sense of God's nearness was strong upon him
"Lord, we thank Thee. We prayed according to our
littleness, and Thou haste answered according to Thy greatness.
We thanked Thee for a short and terminable preservation of our dear
one, and Thou haste given him the fullness of glory for ever and
ever. We asked Thee to bring him back to us, and Thou haste
taken him to Thyself. We looked forward to happy days with him
here; Thou saidst to him, 'Come up hither, that where their treasure
is, there may their heart be also.' Comfort Thy handmaiden,
whom Thou haste smitten in the days of her youth. Continue to
strengthen her as Thou haste strengthened her to-night, and let her
grow in grace below as — Hugh — grows in glory above. Help Thy
servants, from whom Thou haste taken one of the props of their age.
Give our other sons renewed courage to follow their brother to
heaven, as they were proud to emulate him on earth. And make
us gentle and patient and open-hearted in our sorrow, so that we be
not unlovely and morose in the eyes of our friends who dwell within
our gates. O God — Father God, who gave up Thine own Son for
our sakes, for His sake hear us! Amen."
There was a soul born that night in that house of mourning;
for Alice Baird kneeled down at her bed-side, in floods of penitent
tears, and prayed God to forgive her for all the wickedness that she
could never, never forgive herself. She no longer denied that
no mere human nature, no mere calmness of fortune had produced the
sweet and hallowed dispositions against which she had rebelled with
such fierce envy and uncharitableness. She was at the mercy of
every trifling wave of circumstance and temperament; they were on a
Rock, which no storm could shake. Out of the little blue
bed-chamber, which had so often been the self-imposed prison of a
morbid, selfish spirit, there rose that never unanswered cry: "God
be merciful to me a sinner!"
Alice proved the genuineness of her penitence by forcing no
sharp confessions on hearts sore with sorrow. She lived her
confessions instead. Do not think her useless hands and
thoughtless head suddenly became deft-and wise, nor that her
pampered temper ever became quite as bright and sweet as Helen's.
But from that day, amid all her blunderings and helplessness, she
began to live for other people, and for God in them. Mrs.
Anderson and Helen, active and even-souled as they maintained
themselves through their trial, were still a little absorbed, and
perhaps shrewd. Aleck was the first to see the change.
It came in silence, and he helped it without a recognizing word.
Only how often he appealed to Alice for small favours! And how
patiently he waited while she bungled over little duties of his
gloves and buttons which the others would have done twice as well in
half the time!
But there came one cool, still autumn afternoon, when Helen
and Alice walked together through Talling Wood, and out beside
Talawick Bay. It was four years since the Swedish ship had
gone down on those treacherous rocks, and Helen had passed into the
pale grey and deep violet tints which will be her "everyday wear"
all the rest of the days of her mortal life. People often
remarked "that these suited her so well, one could not fancy her
wearing anything else."
One may be quite sure there must have been many sacred
confidences between those two, before Helen would bring Alice to
walk arm-in-arm with her, and watch the sun got down over Talawick
Alice was going away from Rathburn. Her father, widowed
a second time, and quite broken in health, was returning to England,
determined not to come near his native town but to settle in some
southern watering-place, where he might find Anglo-Indian society.
It would be a dreary, trying life for his daughter, alienated from
the Christian love and fellowship that she had learned fully to
value, and isolated with an ungodly, selfish valetudinarian.
But though Alice had already shed many tears of parting sorrow, no
word of fretful regret had escaped her.
"I am am only so thankful to God that He brought me among you
Helen," she said, as they walked together, facing the solemn crimson
sunset, that has a different meaning for every eye that gazes on it.
"For you and all the Andersons preached me the only sermon which my
hard, vain heart could possibly have heard. Well shall I
always understand the full force of King David's repeated
adjuration, "O worship the Lord In the BEAUTY OF