people passed Denver Corner every day, who never knew of its
existence. They only saw a narrow passage under an archway,
guarded by an old iron gate which generally stood half open.
If they wondered where the passage went, they probably concluded
that it led only to the back doors of some of the great houses whose
front windows overlooked the bustling highway where they were
walking. It was only some curious stranger in the city,
perhaps some enterprising antiquarian from across the Atlantic, who
ever penetrated further.
Such visitors found that a sudden turn in the little passage
brought them into a tiny square, two sides of which were filled by
dead walls, and the others by two houses in that precise stage of
middle age which is as trying to houses in their way as it can
possibly be to human beings, making them just rather too old for
beauty and not old enough to be interesting. The shady
curtains and generally neglected appearance of one of the houses
might have caused the stranger to moralize over the unhappy
influences of living out of a thoroughfare, but then the other house
was as neat and white and shining as if it had been a model under a
glass case at an exhibition.
At the upper window of the neat house, the stranger would
probably have seen a young girl sitting reading. If he had
returned the next day, the chances are many that he would have found
her in the same place.
Perhaps a picture of her, sitting there, in her bright young
beauty, with a great book spread open on her knee and the blank wall
before her, would have been the very best symbol of Elizabeth
She and her elder brother William were the orphan children of
a Scotchman, the captain of a small merchant vessel. Three
days after his marriage with her English mother he had left her for
a long voyage, returning at the end of two years for a brief visit
of three weeks, when he sailed away again. With an almost
over-strained loyalty, his young wife had elected to leave her own
people and her father's house, and to spend her long months of weary
waiting in her husband's native town, where the bleak air pierced
her tender frame, and Presbyterian severity of manner and thought
closed round her like a sea of ice. Through his first absence
she went bravely, perhaps consoled almost as much by her own sense
of heroic endurance, as by the coming of a sweet little boy.
But with his second absence, there came a cruel difference.
Perhaps she had endured as long as she could, and the tension had
snapped the cord. Perhaps hope, with some strange
clairvoyance, saw the future and died at once, while there seemed no
reason for her failure. Certain it was, that all the outward
circumstances of that voyage were improved. The vessel was a
better one, the passage less dangerous, and the time of absence
likely to be much shorter. But equally certain it was that
Mrs. Ramsay never resumed her former ways, never made the grim old
matrons shake their heads at her dauntless cheerfulness, no longer
kept a diary to prove to her husband how little daily duties and
delights had wiled away her solitude. She made one or two
fitful efforts to rejoin the limited society of the place, and that
was all. Afterwards, she was always at home when anybody
called, was always found sitting with folded hands gazing out at the
parlour window that looked across the sea. She would have
liked to have held her boy on her knee, but the babe seemed
frightened at the pale face that forgot even to mimic a smile for
his sake. People who had been the first to condemn her
"light-headedness," and to contemn the toy-like gracefulness of her
preparations for her first-born, were now caught trying to remember
jokes to repeat to her, and old Mrs. Peddie, the Free-kirk
minister's wife, actually got pattern and ribbons for a
new-fashioned bassinet, and as she sternly phrased it, "wasted" a
whole day trying to get her to be again interested in "such
rubbish." Poor Elizabeth Ramsay! her wan, waiting face revived
a whole oral literature of signs and wonders and forebodings.
The first opportunity for the arrival of a letter came and
passed—without one. There was nothing very wonderful in that,
the other captains' wives assured her, and Mrs. Ramsay took it with
a strange passive calmness. Not many weeks after, the time of
her trial came upon her, and this time it was a little girl they
laid upon her breast. She kissed it lightly; she did not fold
her weak arms about it, and she turned her head wearily toward the
window, though that bedroom window did not look upon the sea.
She was lying so, when she died.
Captain Ramsay's ship returned to Eastport in time, but with
another skipper. He had died of cholera, and they had buried
him far out on the ocean. And for a week or two, the people
who believed in "queer" things (these were mostly the very clever or
the nearly doted) were not utterly despised in Eastport, and the
Free-kirk minister preached a sermon from the words: "I will come to
visions and revelations."
Mrs. Ramsay's widowed mother, Mrs. Torpichen, came down to
Eastport to fetch away the two little orphans. Captain
Ramsay's "people" had often lamented over his young wife's lax
English and Episcopal training, but they were not at all inclined to
dispute the charge of the children, and though they censured poor
Mrs. Torpichen for her cap, her discarded weeds, her whist and her
hymn-book, in her capacity of guardian and maintainer, they
considered her a "providential blessing," especially as they
remarked among themselves, they would be able as paternal relatives
to exert a powerful influence on the children when their minds were
opened, and they were getting able to help themselves.
Now it so happened that the old house in Denver Corner had
been Mrs. Torpichen's home all her life. She had been born
there, and as it was her marriage portion, even her wedded days had
been spent there. Through its doors she had passed with her
new wedding ring on her finger, through its door she had passed
again in her widow's mourning. There she had brought up all
her children, and from it she had followed the mortal remains of
them all, except her daughter Elizabeth, away in Eastport, and one
wild boy, Tom Torpichen, who had run off to sea and never been heard
of again. Mrs. Torpichen had had a full and interesting life
of a certain kind, and in its eventide was inclined to take her rest
and review her past. The lonely rooms were not lonely to her;
there was scarcely a piece of furniture that had not power to stir
her heart as no living being could.
She and her old servant devoted themselves to little Willie
and Elizabeth Ramsay. They, too, had a share in the sacred
past in which the old lady lived as contentedly and prettily as a
quaint piece of Chelsea china in a locked-up cabinet. The
stories for their early infancy were stories of her own
childhood,—the fairy godmother of their legends was their own real
great-grandmother. Nay, they knew the idiosyncrasies of the
old dog Tip, whose portrait, worked in wool, hung in the
drawing-room, and the wit of the mouldy stuffed parrot Becker, as
well, if not better than the dead and gone little children at whom
Tip and Becker had snarled and snapped.
Willie liked to hear these stories quite as well as
Elizabeth. But Elizabeth only wanted to go on hearing them
again and again, while Willie presently brought home a stray dog,
and announced that he was going to have a Tip of his own.
Poor Willie's Tip was not received with much favour.
Odious comparisons were drawn between him and his canine
name-father. Elizabeth liked him at first, and expected him to
show the sagacity and devoted affection which had characterized the
first Tip after a careful education of many years.
Disappointed in this, she lost interest in him, and went back to her
grandmother's stories. But Willie stuck valiantly to his
adopted favourite, and presently became inclined to scoff at and
doubt any of the first Tip's performances which his own dog failed
This very little thing was a sign set in the two lives, as
very little things often are, if people could be only wise enough to
understand them. For Willie, to hear of aught was at once to
seek to get it, or rather the spirit of it, into his life, however
imperfectly. For Elizabeth, it was but to long vaguely for the
very thing, gone hopelessly out of reach.
Unwary grandmamma told stories of great-uncle Robert, who had
a passion for painting, and used to extract colours from household
articles and make brushes out of the cat's tail. Willie did
not care a bit for painting, but the story fired him to put into
practice his secret passion for mechanics, and the rolling-pin was
found employed as the mainstay of a contrivance designed toward the
discovery of perpetual motion.
Grandmamma would proudly show great-grandmamma's beautiful
performances in satin embroidery. Elizabeth cobbled her strips
of hemming, and lamented that satin embroidery had grown so
unfashionable that one did not even know where to get a pattern.
She felt sure that she would be a splendid needle-woman if only she
had satin to embroider.
And so years passed on, till it was time to consider what
Willie was "to be," and poor grandmamma was troubled with his
resolution to be an engineer, a profession which had grown up in her
own day, and which, therefore, no ancestor had followed before him!
Brother and Sister.
"AH! things are
changing sadly in Denver Corner as well as everywhere else," sighed
Mrs. Torpichen, as she looked from her window at the house which
stood cornerwise beside her own. "I wish the place was as it
used to be, for your sake, children. It was not lonesome in my
time. The two families that lived here then were just like
brothers and sisters."
"Well, we might be friends with the Withers, if we only knew
them, granny," said Will.
"They are quite a different stamp of people," Mrs. Torpichen
replied. "They may be very well in their way, but they are
just common people who don't seem to understand social duties at
all. I like to be civil to one's neighbours, and it is hardly
possible to pass people constantly in that narrow passage without
bowing to them, but they seem as if they didn't know what it
meant—the girls look so cold and the boy so shy and cubbish, while
the mother always scuttles out of the way. Eh, but our old neighbours,
the rector's family, were of quite another sort. You would have
enjoyed joining in their glees and round games, Elizabeth. And then
there was such a romance about them too, for one of the sons was in
the army, and another was a poet. I helped the girls to stitch the
officer's ruffles when he followed Wellington, and I used to sit
with them through the evenings when there came news that there had
been another great battle. He was killed at Waterloo, after killing
two French officers in attempting to take their flag, and Wellington
himself wrote a line of condolence to the family, and his mother was
so proud, that she would go to all the thanksgiving services, though
she fainted once and had to be carried out. As for the poet, poor
fellow, his was a sad, sad story, for he loved unhappily and his
head went wrong, and at last he destroyed
"Young Withers is not old enough to fall in love yet awhile," said
irreverent Will, "else I suppose he might do that, though he is only
in a merchant's office."
"Ah, but there are different ways of loving, and very few people
can love intensely," observed Elizabeth.
"You know a great deal about it, don't you ?" asked Will. "And do
you mean to say then, that he was right to kill himself because he
could not have what he wanted?"
"No, no," said Mrs. Torpichen, "of course he was very wrong; but
then, poor fellow, he could not help it: he had lost his reason."
"So had that man they held the inquest over last week," argued Will,
"but then he ought not to have lost his reason. He drank it away."
"That was quite different," said his sister; "if you have no more
feeling, Willie, I wish you would not talk on such subjects."
"It was very sad for the poor rector," mused Mrs. Torpichen, too
occupied with her own memories to pay much attention to the
discussion which had grown out of them; "for the coroner's jury
would not believe that his son had been insane, and in those days
they buried all suicides who were not insane, by torch-light, at
cross roads, with a stake driven through the body. It was so sad,
for he had been such a gentle youth, with the most beautiful eyes I
"Well, it was a abominable custom," said Will; "but I suppose we do
things quite as bad now, only in a different way."
"Ah, but the very cruelty only made all good people the more
pitiful," cried Elizabeth, a shell-pink flush on her cheek and a
moisture in her eyes. "When some were so harsh to the sin, it only
made others more sensible of the sorrows and the suffering which had
led to it."
"That is what I always say," observed the irrepressible Will; "I
believe you'd put things down much better if you took 'em in a calm
condescending way, and sent folks to the idiot asylum instead of to
jail, and gave 'em in charge of the doctor instead of the
"You didn't understand me," said Elizabeth, "you never do
understand me. You always get hold of a fact without any feeling,
and fact without feeling is only half truth, like the earth without
Will laughed. "We don't see the air," said he, "unless it's foggy!"
"It is no use to talk to you," his sister replied, and she rose and
left the room, going up stairs to her own little sanctum.
Elizabeth was very fond of this chamber of hers, for was it not the
scenery to which she had played out many a little drama in her soul? There she had thrown her imagination into many an heroic part;
had sat reading Plutarch and thinking of Lady Jane Grey; had sat
reading history till she had felt herself Margaret Roper with her
father's head in her lap, or Lucy Hutchinson watching at her
husband's prison window. She had cut a portrait of Sir Philip Sydney
from an old book, and put it in a frame and hung it over the toilet
glass. And she had made a cross of pine cones which Will had brought
home after a day's holiday, and that was fixed up between the
windows. Mrs. Torpichen did not altogether approve of this, saying
"that only Papists had cared for such things in her young days," so
that Elizabeth never dared to confess that in her heart of hearts she
sometimes thought it would be a very beautiful thing to be a nun and
shut one's self up in a cell, and dedicate all one's life to saying
masses for such poor souls as Chatterton or Churchill, or nearer
still, for the old rector's unhappy son.
To own all the truth, Elizabeth Ramsay wrote poetry. Nobody had ever
seen any of it. She thought her grandmother would not appreciate it,
and as for Will,—she would never have had another moment's peace had
he been let into the secret of the "tears" and "fears," the
"sighs" and "cries," the "sorrows" and "to-morrows" which nearly made up her
stock of rhymes.
So she sat down this afternoon, to enjoy one of those reveries
which were absorbing all the life of her life. She knew the old
servant was not quite well, but there would be sure to be bread and
butter for tea, and Will could just go without toast for once,
though they had had boiled mutton for dinner,―a dish which his
appetite always failed to appreciate. It was the day, too, when she
ought to darn her stockings; but they could wait till to-morrow:
they were sure to get done sometime, somehow: this sweet, dangerous
mood of hers, which she could not quite always command, though she
was delighted to think that it came on with an ever-increasing
facility, was not to be postponed for any such trivialities.
She got her pen and paper, and began:
O withered leaves and faded flowers
That cannot bloom again;
O broken hearts in this world of ours,
Whose life is only pain!
Ye are just swept up without a sigh,
And out of your place ye go:
There are few to mark you with wistful eye,
Or Pity's tender glow.
To do Elizabeth justice, her verses did not please her. But then in
sundry lives of hectic geniuses who had died young, she had read
"early verses" which did not seem to her very much better. She felt
quite sure that the inspiration must be in her, or else what fired
her ambition in that direction? Will never thought of such things. Will had no mind beyond gases and pistons, and such common-place and
When his sister went up stairs Will thought he might as well go out. As he went through the hall he thought he would just look into the
kitchen and ask poor old Betsey if her headache was better.
The old servant was crouching over the fire. Her young master's
inquiry roused her, and she rose.
"I ain't either better or worse, thank ye," she said. "But what
we're born to, that we must go through, an' it's no use me a-givin'
up, with all my work about me. There's things wanted in from the
grocer's. Miss Lizzie promised to order 'em yesterday, but she
forgot, and now we're cleaned out, and they must be fetched at
"Never you trouble yourself, Betsey." said Will. "I'll have them
home here by the time you'd have your bonnet and shawl put on."
"Nonsense," she resisted; "it ain't for young gentlemen to be a
going to shops and fetching home parcels. Why, your grandma's pa was
that particular that he wouldn't even—"
"Never mind the old gentleman," laughed Will. "A lot of his notions
went out of fashion along with his pigtail. I'm going to be as fine
a gentleman as he, but of quite another sort. I don't like that
storey of his brother's going into the church just because of the
livings that was in the family. That isn't my style. So if the old
gentleman's ghost pitches into me, I'll just tell him so. Give me
the leathern portmanteau, Betsey, and then I shall only look as if
I was off on my travels. Not that I care. I'd carry all the parcels
home on my head, except for the grief it would give good souls like
you, Betsey. Hurrah, what a lark!"
"Well, well," said Betsey to herself, as he went off, "it's a real
charity to let me sit still a bit longer, though he just did it
because he's so fond of a frolic."
It might be that Will's bright, healthy face was a charm which
attracted wants toward him, but certain it is he seldom went out of
doors without opportunities of showing all sorts of kindnesses to
all sorts of people. Now, it was to see an old lady across a road,
then to whistle up an omnibus for a young one; now to pull a bell
for a tiny child, then to heave a burden on to some errand-boy's
shoulder. To-day, it was to count over an old woman's change, and
assure her suspicious mind that the shopman had not cheated her.
There were two little ragged children in the shop when Will went in,
waiting to be served with an ounce of tea. They had got pushed back
from the counter over and over again—they were of no importance. Who
was to reflect that perhaps some overburdened washerwoman, whose
minutes were their bread, might be waiting for their return, to
proceed on her labours with refreshed strength? Will noticed them:
and when the smart shopman turned to the well-dressed young
gentleman with his civil "For you, sir?" Will said frankly:
"It's these youngsters' turn first, please," and the shopman laughed
and proceeded to attend to them.
They were looking wistfully at some pretty sweets ranged in glasses
on the counter. They had no idea of wishing for them. But Will saw
the glance of the little grave eyes set in such worn and careful
baby faces. There were stray halfpence in his pocket, what fun it
would be to give them a surprise!
"Two pennyworth of those, quick!" said he, and whether or not, the
shopman comprehended the situation; he stopped folding up the tea
and hastily measured out the comfits, which Will as hastily thrust
into the children's hands.
They did not stop to thank him. Perhaps they had not required to
practise much giving of thanks in the course of their short lives. They snapped at the rare treasure as a starved dog snaps at a bone,
and ran off as if they feared it might be reclaimed. Their pleasure
was not half so pleasant to see as the glow of delight on Will's
He had done it playfully,—as being by far the best treat he could
give himself with his two-pence. It never struck him that in the
years to come, in many a sordid trial and want, the remembrance of
that passing pleasure might return upon those children's memories,
and stir a blind faith into that joyful hope which generally works
out its own fulfilment: that thoughtless boy might serve to them as
a true type of those good angels who descend unawares to bless.
There was a lady sitting in the shop who saw the whole of the little
episode. She was a rich lady, and lonely and much tried. Before the
little incident, she had thought wearily that she would give all her
wealth and position to be young and merry like Will. But when she
saw what he did, she thought to herself that perhaps the best part
of his youth and joyousness was still within her reach. There was an
old friend of hers whose life lacked many things, as hopelessly and
as patiently as those children had wanted the sweets. Mighty not she
supply them? And as ways and means for the transmission of
unexpected blessings dawned upon her mind, a smile broke over her
wan face, and her own trials seemed further off, and her own
loneliness less chilling. For the angels help those who help others,
and those who are friends to their fellow-creatures bind themselves
eternally to the Friend above.
Will packed the parcels into his portmanteau, and proceeded on his
homeward way, whistling. It was almost dark,—the lamps were all lit,
and the streets were very full of people hastening from business to
their respective homes. Will always liked being out at this hour:
the parlours behind the shops were just illuminated, presenting
pictures of homely comfort, in which Will took what his sister
considered a most unromantic interest. Perhaps Will did not hurry
home at quite the speed which he had promised old Betsey.
A girl had walked before him down the whole length of a street. He
had seen her figure without at all noticing it. She carried a bag
which seemed to be as heavy as it was unwieldy. Suddenly some
accident happened—a strap broke, or a seam burst. It fell to the
ground, scattering some of its contents. A man, rushing to catch a
train, half stumbled over it, and swore. Two naughty street boys
stood still to jeer. Will ran to the rescue. Though he had but one
hand free from his own load, still he was an efficient help in the
fluttered girl's first purpose—that of gathering up her possessions
and taking refuge in the nearest portico.
It was only the work of an instant; and she was fairly under her
temporary shelter before Will noticed that the distressed damsel was
his own next-door neighbour—one of the Withers girls.
Those who know what mere contiguity means in London, will find it
quite easy to believe, that though the Witherses had invaded the
seclusion of Denver Corner fully six years back, and though Will
had occasionally said a few words to the boy of the family, yet he
had never before exchanged a single sentence with either of the
"What shall we do?" said Will promptly. "That bag won't hold all
this again. If we try it, it will only break down worse than
The first person plural sounded so comforting that the girl did not
let it slip out of the question with which only she could answer
"What can we do?" said she.
"I'll tell you," said Will triumphantly, "I promised to be home
quickly with the tea and things, and I'm afraid I'm late already, so
I'll run off with them, and come back, and we'll manage it quite
easily between us. Mind you wait, now. You're not frightened?"
"Frightened? No, indeed," she answered; and off he scampered.
The laugh which the inquiry had called to her face had scarcely died
away when he came back. She had not been idle during the short
interval; she had made up a small packet, and had found a piece of
string with which she had tied up the fractured bag.
"Why, you do know how to help yourself," said candid Will. "You
really don't want me much. Only you could not carry them both, I
"I could, if I was obliged," she said rather shortly. Poor thing,
she knew she might have as much to do to-morrow, and she was not
going to gainsay the strength she had. Had Will been a little older
and more observant, her words would have sounded rather ungracious.
Had he been older still and wiser, he would known that girl as she
was, she had given a woman's answer, resolutely putting aside the
staff, for which her hand might sometimes feel in vain. As it was,
he received her remark as he would if it had come from a boy; and
thinking to himself that she was "a brick," simply took up the bag
and marched along beside her.
Will Ramsay did not know much of any girls except his sister, and
his ideas concerning her sex generally received such a snubbing from
her that he was beginning to keep them to himself. To the masculine
mind aged sixteen or seventeen, the feminine gender usually presents
a kind of beatific vision, which no words can adequately describe,
so that the plainest and homeliest terms are resorted to, as serving
as well as any other. If women would only realize the genuine
affection and unbounded faith which find expression in such dubious
phrases as "one of the right sort," "true blue," and
"thorough-bred!" As Will Ramsay walked along beside his neighbour, saying within
himself that she was "a brick," and knew the way to "step out," it
meant a warmth of appreciation rather alarming for such a sudden
But we all like those whom we help: especially if they seem rather unhelpable people, who would prefer to repulse most assistance. Certainly this must have been Lucy Withers's chief charm, for she
did not seem a girl likely to have much other attraction for a lad
with such a sister as dainty, peach-blossom Elizabeth. Yet as Will
never noticed what any woman wore, so he could not be prejudiced by
Lucy's coarse dress and dingy, old-fashioned bonnet, though,
unconsciously to himself, they might have repelled him by
exaggerating the whiteness of her face and the angularity of her
figure and movement.
"It is rather late for you to be out alone, isn't it?" he said. Elizabeth hardly ever went out alone, even in the brightest
"O no," she said; "not for me. I am often out much later than this."
"Are you ever frightened?" he asked.
"I used to be," she answered,
"but I got over it. There is really nothing to be frightened at. And
one does not get so tired in the dark as in the light."
"There is a great deal of fancy in all these things, I do believe,"
"Yes, indeed," she replied, "but fancy is fact until it is
There was something in her tone which made Will look at her.
"It was very brave of you to keep on doing it till you left off
being frightened," he said.
"No, it was not," she answered quietly, "it had to be done: and the
sooner I ceased to be frightened, the better for me, that was all."
They had reached Denver Corner by this time. The old place was dark
and still as usual. The lamps were lit in Mrs. Torpichen's
drawing-room: a candle was burning dimly in the Witherses' parlour. Lucy took a key from her pocket to admit her to her home, and Will
waited on the step till she had deposited both her packages within
the door. A constraint seemed to fall on her as she thanked him. Perhaps those lamps and that candle had something to do with it.
"What did you do with yourself all this afternoon, Will?" his
grandmother asked as they all sat down at the tea table.
"I went to the grocer's for Betsey: I took the black bag," he added
hastily, to avert the shower of genteel horror otherwise sure to
Mrs. Torpichen gave a little sigh. One could trust the manners of
men in the church, the army, or the navy, as all her men-folk had
been. But fondness for machinery and chemistry seemed almost as
dangerous as colonial life; and when Mrs. Torpichen thought of her
own missing son Tom, she always said that she daresay he was ashamed
to come back because he had got into habits of putting his feet on
the table and spitting on the carpet.
Will did not mention his gallant little adventure with Lucy Withers. He said to himself that there was nothing to tell. But he would have
liked to speak of it.
His silence made it seem somehow guilty. He knew the comments which
would be pronounced, and he shrank from them. He almost wished it
had not happened. That is how want of sympathy often affects a loyal
young nature; it cannot show what it would, and a blank tablet is
more congenial to its honesty than an inscription in secret ink.
Elizabeth poring over "the Fairy Queen" heard in a dreamy way that
her brother had "been to the grocer's." She thought to herself how
sad it was that people could so trifle away time: she had added ten
somewhat similar verses to the two we have already seen, and though
she had sufficient good sense to feel that the result was a failure,
still she felt that at least she had had an aspiration!
At Number Two.
NOBODY seemed to hear Lucy Withers return home. She had to find her
way in as best she could.
Her mother and brother and sister were seated at the table. Something in the manner of her entrance made them all look up, as if
they thought she had some news to tell, or something to show. And
perhaps she had, for if a fading flower in the hand is something,
surely even a passing pleasure in the heart is something too.
There was no slovenliness about the apartment, or the table
arrangements. The deficiencies were simply those sure to show sooner
or later in households where money is scarce and every body either
too busy or too tired for the finer details of domestic care.
It might be that the utter absence of any impromptu dash of beauty
and brightness revealed an absorption and weariness of hearts as
The dim blue china, the dull metal teapot, the worn drab
carpet on the floor, and the washed-out chintz on the chairs were
all in a sad harmony with the scared little woman who presided, with
the grandly outlined but gaunt young woman who was cutting the bread
and butter, and with the bright, eager, worn face of the lad who was
just lifting the kettle from the hob.
Lucy told her little story of her accident and her succour.
Whatever was the reason why no visitors ever came to No. 2 Denver
Corner, and why a family of young and healthy people mingled in no
sort of society, it certainly appeared only to have bound them
closer together. It was wonderful what little things they told
each other. They seemed to tell everything. But they did
not. If the accident had happened without the succour, Lucy
would have kept it to herself.
Yet the sympathy between them must have lain far below the
surface, since it certainly was not apparent in the eldest sister's
prompt comment on Lucy's story.
"Well, he could not do less. I should think he must
have been very glad to have something to do at all. It must be
a tame life for him, idling about with that poor old lady and that
"I am sure they are very nice people," said Mrs. Withers,
meekly; "under all circumstances, it is not everybody who would
always smile and bow as Mrs. Torpichen does when she sees me."
"Dear me," cried Charlotte, "let them go their own ways and
let us go ours. We know quite well that there can be no real
fellowship between us." A weight in her voice rested slowly on
each word of the last sentence, and gave it a meaning beyond the
words, and a stillness crept over the little group. Mrs.
Withers raised her hand suddenly to her head, like one seized with a
nervous pain, and her son moved his chair a little nearer to her.
There was no conscious bitterness about Charlotte Withers's
manner. She seemed but uttering aloud what she had often said
to herself even more severely. She had one of those strong
faces which reveal a nature that never knows what it is to quail
before any other, because its own disadvantages whether of fate or
temperament are ever far more present to itself than they could be
even to the bitterest and sharpest enemy. On the tide of
adversity she could float serenely, an adamantine vessel which would
not break in its roughest wave. Only it might mean woe to any
piece of thinner porcelain that must keep beside, doomed therefore
not only to face breakers, which in the words of the quaint Scotch
proverb, it might otherwise "jenk and let the jaw go by," but also
to run the risk of collision with a strength whose lightest touch
might mean fracture. It is very well to be heroic; that is but
to live up to the height of one's nature, and therefore to be happy,
but woe to those whose hearts bind them to a heroism which is not
wholly their own! It is very fine to be Joan of Arc, but how
about Joan of Arc's family?
In looking at her, one could not but feel that the only real
happiness ever possible to such a woman as Charlotte Withers, was
some happiness which might some day crown the strain and stress
which gave her young face a sublimity as of an inaccessible rock or
an impregnable fortress. For those were the similes fittest
for the beauty of this woman at an age when many may still be
likened to roses, or daisies, or singing birds. If there were
bowers on the summits of life's steeps, then she might rest there
awhile, but she could never have had any repose in the bowers in the
valleys. When women like her find no hard, upward path, then
it is not well for themselves, nor for any with whom they have to
Something of this truth had dawned upon Charlotte Withers.
She felt that she would not exchange her lot of toil and hardship
for any of the easier lives which she saw about her, though how
unremitting that toil was, and how hard its conditions, nobody
outside the family could know. But she was still young, and
therefore severe and rash in many of her conclusions. Perhaps
there was an unconscious humility in them too: she could not realize
that all others were not as herself—that the peculiar triumphs which
were for her were not therefore always good for them. One must
generally be more than six-and-twenty before one enters into that
patient and perfect law of harmony between the works and the hands
set to them, the sorrows and the hearts that bear them, which makes
no man to differ, and leaves the strongest and the wisest with no
praise beyond having done that which was their duty to do. The
truth that God cares for all his creatures and works out what is
best for each, has now nearly silenced the sentimental thanksgiving
that implied a peculiar favouritism of providence in the bestowal of
apparent advantages. But reaction is often the old feeling in
a new place, and Charlotte Withers was not without a secret
exultation that she was not left to the tame and easy careers of
mere "wishy-washy" girls.
The meal did not take a very long time. The girls rose
from the table and went up stairs. It seemed the mother's duty
to wash and clear away the china, and straighten the apartment.
Perhaps that explained the dimness and dinginess of everything, for
a crushed heart probably finds its plainest expression in these
little household matters.
Charlotte and Lucy went up stairs to their sanctum—a bleak,
bare room furnished with a wooden table and desk and two or three
cane chairs. All the years that the Witherses had lived in
Denver Corner, Charlotte had spent most of her waking hours in this
Table and desk, and even floor, were strewn with sheets upon
sheets of closely written paper. Charlotte had been at work
thereon since six o'clock in the morning, and there was work still
remaining which would keep her up till long past midnight. Her
mother would shake her head sometimes, and with slow, weak tears
trickling from her faded eyes, would prophecy:
"You don't feel it now, Lottie; but wait till the first break
in your constitution, and then the change will come in like a
"Well, we must all wear out in time," Charlotte would answer;
"and working through the night in my cool room cannot be more
unwholesome than dancing through it, among a hot, excited crowd."
Lucy had carried up stairs the great baggage with which Will
Ramsay had helped her, and now began to arrange its contents on the
wooden table. They consisted of a West End directory, and
about two thousand envelopes.
"Did you see the secretary at the hospital?" Charlotte asked.
"Yes,"' Lucy answered; "and he says he will trust our
judgment to determine which streets are most likely to yield a crop
of subscriptions in response to the circulars."
"Well," said Charlotte, "we scarcely charge for our judgment
when we address envelopes at so much a thousand. But it is
nice to be on the liberal side in one's dealing, and it would be
fine if we decided so correctly that the hospital got more this year
than ever before. And did you give him my message about the
charges? Tell me exactly what you said.""
"I said, 'My sister sends you her compliments, and as we have
never done any envelope addressing before, we do not know how to
charge, so we sent to ask a lady who keeps an office for the
employment of women in all kinds of work, but she did not seem to
like anybody doing it apart from herself, and would not tell us; so
my sister says we must be sure to be on the safe side, and we will
begin doing them at three shillings a thousand, and if we find out
that the proper charge is higher, we must just raise the price as we
"That's right," said Charlotte. "Tell the truth and
shame the devil. And I'm quite sure we are on the safe side.
I don't want to contend with anybody, but if they will have it so,
then it must be just a trial of strength."
"It is awful work getting these envelopes backwards and
forwards," said poor Lucy. "This six shillings' worth of hard
work weighs more than three or four pounds' worth of your
"Well, there would still be five shillings profit, if we paid
a shilling for a cab," answered Charlotte. "So we can comfort
ourselves that if we are very tired or busy we can always take one,
and that feeling will give us strength not to need it. But you
shan't go for them at all, Lucy, unless I'm very busy. The
exercise and change of exertion is just excellent for me. I
often only wish that I had time to take a twenty miles' walk!
But if I had time, perhaps I might not care for it, but might sit
mooning at the window like Miss Ramsay next door."
"I often think," said Lucy, "that if people's lives were more
mixed up together, it would be better for everybody."
Charlotte did not answer, she was beginning her work.
Her face seemed to grow a little sterner.
"I'm sure it made it much easier for me to-night when Mr.
Ramsay helped me, and as you say, it ought to have been a pleasure
to him. That is what I mean," Lucy added timidly. "I
cannot understand why we cannot be friendly with those Ramsays.
What should prevent our going there sometimes, and enjoying their
pretty rooms, and hearing the piano. If I had pretty rooms and
a beautiful piano I should think it just the height of happiness to
share them with those who had neither. And if I was free
to do exactly what I liked, I should think no fun equal to running
in and helping on busy people with their work and giving them time
for a pleasant walk or a longer rest."
"Ah yes, Lucy," said Charlotte quite gently, "but somehow it
is one thing to bestow these kindnesses, and altogether another to
be only able to receive them."
"Of course the receiving is the hardest part," Lucy pleaded,
"because it is more blessed to give than to receive,—but then I
don't know whether I can make my meaning plain—but if it is more
blessed to give than to receive, then are not those who receive the
greatest givers after all, because they give up the best part of the
Charlotte looked up thoughtfully. "I understand," she
said; "and if giving and receiving went on in that spirit all would
be well: but as it is, giving is generally done in selfish pride and
receiving in selfish gratification."
"I don't say that I could receive in such a spirit of mutual
love," said poor Lucy humbly. "I think I should just receive
because I was in great want. One would not argue over a cup of
cold water if one was fairly dying of thirst."
There was more pathos in her quiet voice than in any flood of
tears. The elder sister looked at her wistfully, and it shot
across her heart like a pang, that perhaps she was demanding hard
things of her whom she was wont in her gentler moments to call "the
little one." Like all strong and noble natures, Charlotte
Withers laid great stress on any item in another's burden of life
which was not in her own. "The little one" had had six years
of comfort less than she had. "The little one" had not had her
chance of proving that life without stern duty and hardship was apt
to become flat, tame, and unprofitable. "The little one" was
forced into all this struggle and endurance without a full share of
the motives which made them comparatively easy to Charlotte.
"The little one" had no past to look back upon, whence to derive the
consolation that even at the worst "today was better than
"Lucy," she said, "you do not know about some things as well
as I do. You have lived among ourselves so much. You
don't know how differently people think and feel. For one
thing, women who earn money by doing whatever work they are best
able to do, are not much honoured yet. It is thought that they
lose their womanliness. Girls who choose to live on relations
who are neither very able nor very willing to maintain them, are
commonly thought more lady-like. Many men would not care to
marry a woman who had worked for her bread. People don't say
these things quite plainly, Lucy. They only act them.
They would tell us that they respected us, but they would not ask us
to a dinner party. They might say they wished their daughters
were like us, but they would not be pleased if their sons wanted to
"But surely these are not the best sort of people!" cried
Charlotte smiled. "Aristocrats, either by nature or
grace, to use a theological phrase, are a small proportion of the
population," she said. "The common run of people are
"Then people give reasons for their prejudice," she resumed.
"They tell you that women going about among strangers without
protection are in danger of a subtle kind of insult which damages
their refinement of feeling and manner. I wonder what
refinement a woman has who can receive an insult?" she added
royally. In that, perhaps, Charlotte was hardly fair, for it
is not every woman who can surround herself with an atmosphere which
a queen on her throne might envy.
"And you knew all this, Lottie, and defied it," said Lucy.
Charlotte laughed. "Yes," she said, "and it did not
cost me so very much, either. Though I was hardly seventeen, I
had found out that kind of public opinion was not worth much."
"It is so hard,—so hard," cried Lucy, and all for something
that we are not obliged to do!"
Charlotte's face grew hard and stern. "Would it be
easier if we were obliged?" she asked, coldly.
"But it is something we have no right to do," Lucy pleaded.
"You yourself do not think we have any right to do it,—O Lottie, you
do not in the least think it possible that—"
"No, never, never," said Charlotte with a strong light
kindling in her beautiful face. "That is just where I feel I
ought to be so much braver and better able to bear than you, Lucy.
For you cannot know our father as I did. It would have been my
joy to serve him living and prosperous,—so it is my pride now to
serve him dead and dishonoured!"
"But if—as he was innocent," faltered poor Lucy, "the loss
which we are repaying has really no connection with him?"
"So long as people fully believe he injured them, so long
will we make full restitution," said Charlotte steadily.
"And do you thank the right will ever come to light?" asked
Charlotte rose and paced the room like some beautiful
mountain animal cooped in a narrow prison.
"Sooner or later," she said. "By our faith in God and
the ultimate triumph of Right, we know that His ways are justice and
His times are fit. But then His ways are past finding out, and
His hours may be a thousand years. The sooner may be any day,
Lucy. The later may not be in this world at all. But it
will come, all the same."
She stood still. Her soul was on its mountain tops now.
This was the atmosphere which made hard work, hard fare, and hard
measure into mere temporary accidents not worth a moment's regard.
Lucy suppressed a sigh. She had not had her little day,
poor thing. She was walking her life's path because Charlotte
was walking it before her, showing its beauty and its duty, by the
light of her will. She was something like a pioneer's devoted
servant, who never thinks of desertion, but wishes his master would
stop for once in comfortable quarters instead of pushing on
remorselessly across the desert. Lucy could not help turning a
longing thought to ways of life where the girls had time to make
lace and read pleasant stories, and where the lads were free and gay
and dashing, like young Ramsay. Lucy could not help looking
forward—not to the Eternal Hills to which Charlotte lifted her eyes
and found strength, but to the nearer years. Was it always to
be thus? How would it be with them in middle age? And
how would it all end?
"And when it is found out,—if it is found out soon, shall we
get our own back again?" she asked timidly.
"We may, or we may not," Charlotte answered. "Most
likely we should not. But that does not matter."
And then they both went on with their work, and no more
remarks were made, except such as had reference to pens and blotting
paper. Very soon after ten o'clock, Charlotte sent her sister
off to bed. Lightly as she always spoke of the unwholesomeness
of night work, it was rarely that she allowed Lucy to do any.
Lucy stifled down her longings and regrets: she could never
put them more plainly than she had to-night, and she thought that
they had entirely escaped Charlotte's notice.
It was past midnight before Charlotte paused for a short
rest. She went to the windows, drew the blind and looked out.
It was a clear starlit night. Denver Corner might have been on
the top of a mountain, it was so lonely and so still. There
was no light burning in Mrs. Torpichen's house. But she knew
she was not the only wakeful watcher. Her brother would be
still at work in his own room.
"And that accountant work is so much more trying than my
copying," said Charlotte to herself; "and such a life seems so
unnatural for a lad of his age."
There was a gap of only eight years between herself and her
brother. But those eight years had made an immense distance
between their two lives, when he was twelve and she was nearing
twenty. Besides, life cannot be counted wholly by years.
Experience is gained by force of circumstance rather than by lapse
of time. Hours may be as centuries sometimes.
Charlotte had had her love story—ended quite and utterly put
away. Like many heroic women, she had not been loved
heroically. Nobody ever named that bit of the past: but she
often thought of it, and her thoughts were without bitterness.
The sharpest pang was that the greatest loss was not her own.
"The remembrance must make him miserable sometimes, poor
fellow," she mused, "or if not, that is even greater misery.
And yet it was not his fault. He had not counted on such a
trial. He would have been as true as other men if he had been
only tested as most are!"
But to-night her thoughts were of her brother and sister.
Was it better to be ignorant of the world and the world's ways, or
to be disenchanted? She had thought to spare them much pain
which she had undergone herself; perhaps she was only heaving them
to greater pain.
She began to reflect that questions which never troubled her
now, would certainly echo through their lives by and by. A
fancy-free girl like Lucy would be sure to have her maiden
meditations. Charlotte mused that a heart like her own, which
has proved that the cup of earthly love does not always satisfy, is
yet much more at rest than a heart ever hankering after something
which, because withheld, grows to undue proportion, and seems the
one infallible panacea for all ills. Lucy would never be a
brave and happy woman, unless she made her own trial of life, and
won her own victory, or perhaps that defeat which sometimes means
higher victory still.
"She might be more fortunate than I was," mused the elder
sister, in whose soul all the highest motherly instincts were ever
yearning, and who was really far more the true mother of the younger
boy and girl than the faded, broken woman who had given them
physical life, and whom they now petted and pitied and called poor
"Yes," thought Charlotte; "for Lucy is just the girl who
attracts good true men."
And there rose before her eyes a vision of Lucy, a happy wife
and mother, coming in to cheer her own lonely work by pleasant chat
and laughter, or welcoming her to her cheerful hearth in her few
hours of leisure. In such joy there seemed such a large share
for herself, that Charlotte turned hastily, to dispel a dream which
might weaken her for the stern tasks of the present. She knew
the antidote to such perilous stuff. It was a long, well-used
book, wherein sums of money, scarcely ever larger than five guineas,
and often amounting to only as many shillings, were slowly, slowly
reducing the sum of fifteen hundred pounds, against which they were
set. For five years had that account been going on, and the
amount was still ominously large.
But the sight of that "steep brae" only roused Charlotte's
"stout heart" to mount it. She was not without secret sources
of strength which were real enough supplies to her, whatever they
may seem to the outer world. Her long, lonely walks on
business, at all sorts of queer hours, late or early, her long
spells of lonely long work, had hushed her soul for voices and
intuitions that are apt to be drowned in the gabble of hollow
civilities and lost in the dust of beaten paths. The next
world did not seem far off to Charlotte Withers, and the ministry of
angels was to her no mere metaphor. She never doubted that her
departed father knew what she was doing for his sake, and in the
ministry of angels surely he was very near her, with the same powers
of protection and kindness which he had had on earth, only greater
and wiser. Call these ideas dreams if you choose, but we have
high authority that all things must be judged by their fruits, and
these brought strength and peace and a lofty joy to Charlotte
But as she sat there, bending over that remorseless book, a
new thought came to her.
"My brother and sister are my father's dear children.
Even for his sake only, there is a duty to be done to them as well
as to his enemies and accusers. When the Master bade us give
our cloak to those who had taken our coat, and so love our enemies,
He never bade us hate our friends."
And her practical conclusion was, "I must watch for some
natural and simple chance of returning to a more sociable way of