The Dead Sin & other stories I.

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THE DEAD SIN.


THE Blanchards 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 other.

    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 can."

    "Are there any Red Indians in Nova Scotia?" asked Polly, the youngest.

    "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!"

    "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 with me."

    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 two families."

    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 daughter-in-law.

    "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 flourishing country."

    "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 only make-believe?

    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 that was!

    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 heaven.

    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 house.

    Alas! alas!

    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 announcing—

    "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 frank―

    "I guess you're a stranger here?"

    "Yes," the man said; at least he had not been exactly in this part before.

    "Come from the old country, I reckon?  Been here long?"

    "Not very long.  Don't like it much."  Altogether seemed lumpish and dispirited.

    "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 farmer.

    "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 job."

    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, and suchlike?"

    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 than that."

    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 to answer."

    "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 self-righteousness.

    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 verandah.

    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, saying—

    "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 softly.

    "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 resignation.

    "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 unreconciled God.

                        *                             *                             *                             *

    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 died.

    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 prayer.

    "Bessie," whispered the dying man, "will you read those verses again?"

    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 ever.

    "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 and darkness.

    "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.

CHAPTER I.


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, self-contained youth.

    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 irritability.

    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, Alice."

    "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 answered, deliberately,—


"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. Anderson.

    "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 them.

    "Have you brought back any pictures of India?" inquired Mrs. Anderson.

    "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 parents.

    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 observed.

    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 like herself."

    "I hope you take to our new niece, Nellie," observed Mr. Anderson.

    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 Aleck slyly.

    "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 teacher!"

    "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 not answer.

    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 moment.

    "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 giving."

    "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 of mine."

    "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 stranger.

    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 right hand?'"


 
CHAPTER II.


"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 war."

    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 back."

    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 Alice.

    "I don't know," Archibald answered.  "I never asked her."

    "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 replied.

    "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. Anderson,

    "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," observed Aleck.

    "I wonder if she really loved him!  Poor Alice!" said Archie.

    "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 town-crier."

    "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 matter."

    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 right.

    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 became pitiable.

    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?"


 
CHAPTER III.


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 to-night."

    "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 time.

    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 for Hugh.

    "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 sacrifice.

    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 Bay.

    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 HOLINESS."


――――♦――――


[A Ghost Story]

 


 

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