DID anybody ever resolve to do anything without instantly finding
an opening by which to carry out his resolution? Possibly the opening
was always there, only waiting the opened vision and outstretched
recognize and seize it.
All the little household offices at Number Two had to be done by one
or other member of the family, and these brought little interests
and honours of their own. The poverty or the occupations which shut
out from morning
calls or country visits open up other channels of social duty and
helpfulness. The lives which seem void of pleasures because they
have not the pleasures of our lives, have pleasures of their own.
There was an old milk-woman who served both the houses in Denver
Corner. At Number One only old Betsey knew her, and old Betsey knew
how both her husband and her son had met their deaths in their
employment as railway guards, and how hard the old woman worked and
fared that she might keep herself and her little grandson off the
parish. Old Betsey called her "a decent body," and sometimes gave
bones a second boiling that she might offer a cup of broth to the
old woman on her rounds in the cold mornings. That was all Betsey
could do. She never thought of speaking about her to Mrs. Torpichen,
and if she had,
the most that would have resulted, would have been the gift of a
cast-off garment. To give old clothes to more immediate dependants,
and to have a guinea ready for every institution to which one might
be asked to
subscribe, was the form which charity took with Mrs. Torpichen.
But at Number Two, Charlotte Withers knew the old woman, for as
much as she possibly could, Charlotte did everything miscalled
"menial" which had to be seen by outsiders. Her mother might set the
dust the rooms, but it was she who took in the milk, and fetched the
shopping if the trades-people did not come in time. She knew her
mother would have done these things heartlessly and despairingly,
"nothing mattered now," and she knew that Lucy, the poor "little
one," would have done them furtively and painfully, because how
could she possibly realize how little this kind of things mattered
Charlotte Withers knew all about the old woman's husband and son,
and all about the little grandson. It was she who had suggested the
possibility of his attending a night-school, even while he "minded"
a stall during
the day: for this was before the School-Board epoch. It cost
Charlotte a pang to make the suggestion when she could not offer to
pay the trifling fee. But the idea would have been much harder for
the poor old woman to
find for herself, than the extra two pence a week. It is help such
as this which aids the poor, not in their poverty, but out of it. The moral strength that the grandmother derived from feeling that
her Jem was "getting an
eddication" carried her bravely through the minute thrift which made
an ounce and a half of tea last as long as two-ounces had. She used
to bring his "copies" to show Miss Withers, and when Jem, sharp and
and anxious to be "making something," began to be tempted by the
emoluments of pot-boys and stable lads, it was Charlotte who noticed
when one of the lawyers for whom she worked wanted an office boy,
in a word for Jem and his good character, and got him the place.
He had entered on his duties about a week before the commencement of
our story. And this morning, when Charlotte answered the old woman's
ring, she found her armed with a huge bunch of chrysanthemums, which
she offered with the explanation, that "Jem had been visiting a
friend of his, out Loughton way, which his father was a market
gardener, and Jem had got those given him, and bid her say, if Miss
Withers would accept
them, with his respects, he'd take it werry kind."
Of course Charlotte was delighted. Now the milk-woman always rang
the bells of No. 1 and No. 2 simultaneously, because Betsey was
often slow; but this morning she was prompt.
"Them's real pretty flowers," she said, for she and Charlotte had
long exchanged "good mornings." "I wish there were more of them on
sale about here, that I might bring 'em home to the missus sometimes. But
there's nothing to be had but them cut-and-dried boukets, set so
stiff, that you hardly know whether they're real flowers, or cut out
"Let me give you some of these," said Charlotte. It struck her this
would be a pleasant recognition of Will Ramsay's kindness to her
sister. She made a liberal division of the flowers, and directed
Betsey to take them
to Mrs. Torpichen at breakfast time with Miss Withers's
When Lucy came down stairs, Charlotte told her of the little advance
she had made toward neighbourliness. Not that Charlotte much
expected aught would come of it, but she feared lest anything in her
manner on the
previous evening should have led Lucy to fancy that she would
discourage any more intimate relations with the outside world, an
impression she wished utterly to remove. Lucy said nothing, but her
heart filled with the
tenderest gratitude. It was by similar experiences of her watchful
and ready love, that Charlotte had bound her brother and sister to
herself, in a loyalty, that might have become blind idolatry, had
its object been less
Then they applied themselves to their work. The days were never
long at No. 2. The possibility of every post bringing orders for
more work was as exciting as the possibility of invitations, and
there was absorbing
interest in making one order so dovetail with another as to miss
Charlotte did not find her occupation of copyist so merely
mechanical as some people would have thought it. She had curious
manuscripts to copy sometimes—many of which she discovered never
their way into print, but which revealed strange ways of thought
seething under the formulas of the world, and now and then casting
up a fact which refused to be forgotten. Her interviews with their
writers, too, the
undress kind of interviews so possible in arrangement, where one
regards the other much as an automaton, were deeply interesting to
Charlotte. Studies of character underlay her matter-of-fact
folios and pages and pence. By these interviews she had long since
discovered that the prodigality of Nature is not confined to matter;
that minds are maimed and wasted with the same seeming recklessness
bodies; that the fields of speculation are as red with mangled
thought as are the fields of battle with the slain. It was a tonic
discipline, bitter but wholesome, because it presently brought the
conviction that the one
redeeming power of the universe was goodness in the form of that
love which seeks not its own, and looks not on its own things but on
the things of others; that just as deep as the mark of selfishness
is set on
anything—strength, intellect, perception, or emotion—just so
narrowed would be its influence and so swift and certain its decay
and doom. Many and many a fancy which Charlotte had once counted as
faith were torn
up in that stern blast of experience. But truth is ever merciful,
and always gives tenfold more than she takes away.
Even the dry law papers which she copied had lessons for
Charlotte—hints of the subtlety and magnitude of hereditary
influences, of strange secret compensating laws of nature, to say
nothing of occasional terrible
revelations of social depths and complications beneath the smooth
surface of society, each working itself into some great problem that
the race must solve some day.
But apart from all these finer seeds of thought, which could
fructify on no soil not specially prepared for them, Charlotte soon
learned how it is that practical life so often seems to compensate
for the want of theoretic
training, and that "plain people," so called, often safely walk
straight on, where philosophers are left to grope in the mist of
their own imaginings. It was not long before Charlotte, as a genuine
working woman, found out
that, whatever women should be and whatever they may become, they
are not at present the best friends to women; that, in the present
century at least, few women who have not had personal and enforced
of earning money, are to be trusted with deciding the rate of
payment for work to be done by their own sex; that feminine logic is
in such a condition that it is apt to conclude that if the
overdriven, untrained, and often
morally degraded slave of a slop worker is infamously ill paid by
six shillings a week, the educated, trustworthy, and model employee
of a lady-philanthropist should go down on her knees in gratitude
for a wage of half
"To whom is woman to look for justice, except to her sister woman?"
asked one enthusiastic lady who had kept Charlotte waiting for half
an hour while she talked to an idle lady of rank, and who then
dock two pence off Charlotte's modest account, because the last page
of the manuscript was not quite covered, though she never thought of
paying, as Charlotte never thought of charging, if the last page
held only a
"Perhaps to her brother man," Charlotte answered, quietly.
"Oh, man is always our natural enemy," said the lady.
"I have wondered sometimes how it is that God did not divide the
sexes by something at least as wide as the Atlantic," Charlotte
"So have I," assented the lady, who did not see the sarcasm. She
gave Charlotte a ticket for her lecture of that evening, and
Charlotte, having nothing else to do, went to hear it, and smiled
secretly at the manifest
delight with which the speaker allowed a viscount to escort her to
the platform. Would she have been quite so pleased if he had been
even dowager-duchess? Charlotte concluded that theories need not
dreaded, while there remains within their own originators a secret
principle which turns them into satire.
But Charlotte saw clearly enough that her sex had certain rights not
yet fully attained: the right of more duty and the right of better
acquiring powers to do it, and that in this quest, even the scream
of the wildest "woman's rights woman" has its place and its use, if
only to startle and warn. She saw that men have no "right" to set
their womankind aside from their share of the serious and worthy
duty of life; that those family duties which must ever be the first,
cannot occupy all women, all their lives; that brothers must not
feel their dignity touched if their sisters are bread-winners, or
think they have no right to wish to be so because they can be "kept"
like stalled oxen, even though they be as helpless to command that
such sustenance be continued a single day.
With fresh food pouring every day into these grooves of thought,
Charlotte never found her work monotonous. She was quite aware that
these years of stern labour had been to her a time of more rapid
growth than all the
She and Lucy always had a great deal of talk while they were
writing. Lucy could not have gathered up at first hand as Charlotte
did, but she could learn from Charlotte. She got Charlotte's
conclusions, without the
terrible throes through which Charlotte reached many of them. In
proportion as the mental tonic was less bitter, of course it was
less strengthening, but it was as strong as she could take,
sometimes almost stronger.
With all the sisters' tender affection for each other, this
disproportion of strength stood in the way of that perfect form of
friendship which requires to make no secret, even of moments of
depolarization and process.
With all profoundest reverence be it spoken, but perhaps some weaker
hearts wavered and sunk, when the same Voice which had said, "Ye
believe in God, believe also in me," was heard to cry, "My God, my
why hast thou forsaken me"—that very cry which, above all others,
has appealed to the innermost depth and loyalty of the stronger
But Charlotte had one such friend; and a life that counts even one
such is a rich life.
There need but few words in this deeper, understanding love, and
Charlotte and her brother Hugh seldom talked together as did
Charlotte and Lucy.
Hugh was only eighteen now; he had been quite a child when the
shadows had fallen which had darkened all their lives. In those
first days of darkness, when to the family shame and impoverishment
there was added
for Charlotte an especial heart-pang, he had seemed the only one who
ever found out that she, who was so strong to uphold and cheer the
rest, yet crept away sometimes to solitude and darkness. He had
her chamber, never speaking, never touching her, but just sitting
down and waiting until she stretched out her hand to his, and then
only nestling a little nearer. In the voyage from America to England
which lay in the
history of that period, it was Hugh who always shared Charlotte's
midnight walks on deck, long after the mother and Lucy were weeping
in their dreams below.
In all the time that had gone by since, nobody else knew that
Charlotte had ever quailed. Her mother and Lucy must not guess that
the strength on which they founded theirs could shake. In Mrs.
Withers it would have
unloosed a stream of self-pity and maternal bewailing that would for
a time have utterly swamped the cheerfulness that was growing over
the black morass of their trial.
Hugh's little room was his elder sister's sanctuary. There she went
that sad evening when she found that the writer of the sweet poems
which had thrilled her as she
copied them, was but an unhappy soul who had failed in every duty
that makes womanhood holy. There she went on the anniversaries of
her broken-off engagement. There, too, she repaired at those strange
familiar to most deeper souls, when with no fresh outward cause, a
cloud sweeps down on life, like a November fog, shutting out the
heavens and the hills, and defiling the path we tread, till heart is
sick and foot is
Generally she said nothing. She had never gone beyond the laconic
remark that "she was in the dumps." It was enough just to sit down
beside Hugh's desk, and listen to the scratch, scratch of his pen,
as he added
up his rows of figures, and meet his eyes as every now and then he
looked up and smiled. That always presently brought back her
faith—her restful confidence in the great depth of love and wisdom
lying below the
storms of time and fate, and made the little trouble or failure of
the day show—in its reality the mere falling off of a chrysalis,—that the thought or the effort within may rise into higher form. Once or twice a few tears had
come, as the tension of lonely agony relaxed. But Hugh never said a
word. Only, if possible, he generally left off working, and asked
her to come with him for a walk. They used to go to Tower Hill and
look down on the river; to St. Paul's Churchyard, and see the
cathedral in the moonlight; and Charlotte always came home, as she
herself would have put it, "in her right mind." She could not
explain the spell. She only knew that no spiritual Abana or
Pharphar, no eloquent poet or preacher, no new sights or wonderful
sounds, could have brought the healing that lay in those few moments
of silent sympathy, and in the simple cheer of their twilight
Charlotte did not go to Hugh's room only when she was sad. She went
straight there when, on the evening after she had sent the flowers
to Mrs. Torpichen, old Betsey brought a note conveying that lady's
and thanks, and an invitation to Miss Withers to take tea at Number
One on the following evening, and bring her brother or sister with
She had not expected such a result, and it almost startled her, as
aims fulfilled before our anticipation do startle us. Would it be
really honest to visit a house where it was not known that her dead
father's memory was
blackened by a charge of fraud and forgery? Was she really doing
what was best for Hugh and Lucy, or might they not presently learn
bitter lessons which should shut them up in a soul-solitude and
cynicism far more
terrible than mere social seclusion? And yet how delighted Lucy was,
and how pleasant it was to hear her break off with natural girlish
chatter, baying that she thought she should let her hair down in
curls, and trim her
best frock with some crochet of her own making. Charlotte felt even
her own heart beat quicker. However concentrated has been our
experience, life can never possibly be quite finished for us at
She went off to Hugh's chamber, leaving Lucy standing before the
little square looking glass in their writing room, with her hair
loosened in a sunny shower about her shoulders. Charlotte wanted to
be with somebody
whose soul would reflect back her own mingled feelings blended into
form and purpose.
Having been very busy, she had not visited Hugh at his work for two
or three weeks. She found the room very strongly lighted, but she
did not notice that at first.
"Actually an invitation to take tea next door," she cried. "The boy
helps our Lucy in the street, I send Mrs. Torpichen a bunch of
flowers, and lo, an acquaintanceship is struck up! The world is not
a very cold, closed world, after all; is it, Hugh?"
"It is always as kind as it can be," said Hugh. And Charlotte knew
that, like herself, he was thinking that it needs a great strength
to accept the world's kindness as far as it can give it, and yet go
to the regions where it cannot follow.
"This life is dull for Lucy," Charlotte said. "A change and more
society will be better for her."
"It will be better for us all," Hugh answered.
"I don't know that it will give much pleasure to me," Charlotte said
"You have never considered whether anything was pleasant to you, but
only if it was right and best," answered Hugh.
And Charlotte looked up at him and thanked him with her eyes. For his
simple words, with rebuke lovingly hidden in praise, had conveyed a
truth which is often needed by those who would never shrink from
duty, to wit: that which is generally considered pleasure, in
ceasing to be pleasure to them may itself pass over to the domain of
sternest duty—a self-sacrifice cunningly hidden in festal wreaths
"Young Ramsay is a fine fellow," Hugh went on. "I've often wished I
knew more of him, and could grow more like him."
"You!" cried Charlotte, with sisterly injustice; "why, you are worth
a hundred such."
Hugh laughed heartily, and shook his head.
"Would he sit toiling as you do?" said Charlotte. "Would he give up
everything of his own, as you do!"
"Yes, he would, and be a great deal merrier over it," Hugh
persisted. "I don't give up much. I'm naturally a quiet, sedentary
individual; no other life would suit me better than this."
"Ah," said Charlotte, startled out of her principle of reserve by
her desire to show her brother to himself as she saw him. "You may
be quiet and sedentary, but you would not be less quiet studying
Greek than adding
figures. And then your music! And no time for any of it."
Something like a spasm of pain flashed over Hugh's face for an
instant, and then vanished.
He only said, "We believe in God, and in immortal life by His will."
And the quiet voice, simple as were the words, gave back to
Charlotte her accustomed vision of the wide sweeps of Eternity, with
space enough for all crooked paths to grow straight and for the
slowest harvests to ripen.) And she again felt that the same
strength which had been given her for her stern duties, would also
uphold her through the puzzles and delays of life.
There was a short silence, and then Charlotte said:
"I wish you and Lucy could accept this invitation."
"But it is given to you," Hugh answered, "and Lucy must go with you.
It does not matter at all. I get as much good out of it as either of
you. For young Ramsay and I am sure to become friendly, now."
"Hugh" said his sister, looking up suddenly, "do you think it is
good for you to work with such a dreadfully brilliant light?"
"Brilliant!" he echoed. "I have been thinking how bad it is. Night
after night I have been turning it higher, but all to no purpose."
"Do you mean to say that you do not now see that the room is in a
blaze of light?" Charlotte asked, almost indignantly.
"On the contrary," he said, "I had just moved my desk closer to the
burner, because I could scarcely see at all."
Charlotte rose from the low seat she had taken, and as she looked at
her brother a strange anxiety crept across her face.
"Is it only this light that you notice is so bad?" she asked, with a
Hugh laughed, in perfect unconsciousness. "No," he said, "I wonder
how mother can endure such poor candles as we have lately, in her
A terrible fear had seized on Charlotte's heart. But she said, quite
calmly, "I think you have been working too hard, and by artificial
light. You must have a few days' rest."
"I can't, just now," Hugh answered.
"You must rest to-morrow," she
said. "We two shall be taking holiday, and I shall have no enjoyment
at all, if I think of you toiling away here. Be idle for once, Hugh,
by way of a treat to me."
"Very well, then," he replied, laughing. "And I hope you will
consider that if I give up my evening's work for your sake, I make
you a present worth about five shillings."
"My darling, my darling," she cried tenderly; and put her arms
around his neck and kissed him in a way that Hugh did not understand
IT might not have
deducted much from Lucy Withers's glee had she known that the
invitation from Mrs. Torpichen was wholly a suggestion of Will
When Charlotte's chrysanthemums appeared on the breakfast
table, he had thought it a fit opportunity to throw in a remark
about his having "happened to help the younger Miss Withers with her
bag, the day before."
"Well, I'm sure it is very well-bred of them to acknowledge a
kindness so nicely," said Mrs. Torpichen. I must send in
something in my turn. Some of the new-laid eggs we get from
the country might be a treat for them, poor things."
"Why don't you ask them to tea?" Will blurted out; "I should
think they'd like that best. I know I should."
"Oh, but my dear, we can't ask everybody to tea, just because
they know how to behave themselves," said Mrs. Torpichen. "I
often think my little dressmaker is a much better bred woman than
many one meets in society, but one would never think of asking her
"Why not?" asked undaunted Will.
"Because it is not usual," answered the grandmamma.
"But is it wrong?" Will persisted.
"I can't say it is wrong, my dear," said Mrs. Torpichen; "it
would be just queer—what nobody else does."
"Then if everybody else did wrong, you would not do right,
because it would be queer?" inquired Will.
Grandmamma parried the question. "Ladies and
gentlemen," said she, "cannot be the friends of those who are not
ladies and gentlemen. They may be kind to them, and they
should be always particularly courteous and considerate toward their
inferiors." Grandmamma always tagged morals to her arguments,
just as she had tagged them to the lessons of Will's and Elizabeth's
"I want to know what makes a lady or gentleman!" observed
sturdy Will. "I am sure the Miss Withers I met last night
spoke like a lady and behaved like one."
"I have no doubt they are very well-behaved and well-meaning
young people," pursued Mrs. Torpichen dubiously. "It would not
matter so much if it was a question of your acquaintanceship with
their brother. But I have to consider Elizabeth."
"I mean to be friendly with them myself—if they will let me,"
said Will, quietly. Will might argue boisterously and bluntly,
but his resolutions always came calmly. Grandmamma was
puzzled: she had not understood these things among the men of her
own family. As she would have-said, "They had been quite
different." She had never doubted that they took ways of their
own, but they had always kept them entirely out of sight from their
womankind: treating all their little religious and social dogmas
with the cheerful acquiescence usually shown to the babblings of
babes, Grandmamma felt ready to blame herself for the novel
enjoyment she had experienced in Will's inclination to frank
confidence. It might require her to hear things that would not
be pleasant to her, and that she would not know what to do with.
She sighed and observed:
"I fear I made a mistake in bringing you up beside me.
A boy needs a man to manage him."
"I wish I was under a man's manage," retorted Will, "for if
he did not give me more freedom than you do, grandma—I'd take it;"
and Will flung out of the room, and presently an odour, not of Araby,
revealed that he was busy with what Mr. Torpichen called his "nasty
"What do you think about this, Elizabeth?" asked poor,
puzzled Mrs. Torpichen,
Elizabeth, who had been deep in the perusal of "Sir Charles
Grandison," looked up, and asked innocently, "About what,
"Hoot, child, are you deaf?" said Mrs. Torpichen, techily.
"Don't you hear that Will wants to ask the Witherses to tea?"
"Well, grandmamma," Elizabeth answered, "I think we should do
so. It might have a good influence on them. Our
blessings are only given us to be imparted."
But Mrs. Torpichen heard her granddaughter's magnanimous
sentiments only as Elizabeth had heard the discussion between her
and Will. She was reflecting that she must not cross the boy
too much that if she gave him his own way a little, he might listen
the more when she urged upon him the civil service appointment, for
which she had interest. Might not he be satisfied to "amuse"
himself with his engines and chemicals in his spare hours, till he
got a wife, when he would be sure to discard all that "rubbish," and
settle down to the Times, and a rubber of whist, like any
other gentleman? Yes, she would give Will his way, not because
she thought it right, but because she thought it safe.
She sat down and wrote the note to Charlotte, and actually
sent Betty off with it, before she went up stairs and told Will.
He received the news as coolly and as ungratefully as people
usually receive privileges conceded not by right but by policy.
It is poor diplomacy to grant one's will, after first withholding
and soiling it. It is like allowing a nation to resume a
province we cannot keep, after we have blighted and impoverished it.
The concession is but a monument of the wrong.
"Well, I did it to please him," was the poor grandmother's
inward comment, "and if he is not pleased, at any rate I have done
my best, and I have nothing to reproach myself with."
"I shan't enjoy any fun now," was Will's own reflection.
"I can't be jolly with people after they've been picked to pieces.
But I must do the best I can, for it won't be fair to give the
Withers a dull time because of grandmother's nonsense."
Many of Mrs. Torpichen's qualms were ended when the two girls
came in. Charlotte did not look "a common person." She
was no longer disguised by cheap and coarse outer garments, moiled
and hacked by hard usage in all weathers. Perhaps the
costliest robe would not have set forth her grave beauty and
dignity, so well as her plain dark gown, made in one of those simple
styles which outlast a score of fashions, and closing about her
throat with a frill of thick muslin. There was something in
her composure that actually made Mrs. Torpichen turn with a sense of
relief to Lucy, with her flowing curls and her pretty mixture of
girlish shyness and delight.
In truth, Charlotte was so preoccupied that she was quite
deadened to the pleasure and pain that might easily have mingled in
this first return to the ways and habits of her early girlhood.
All the joys and sorrows of the past, even the stern task which it
had set her life, were, just now, all paled before a new terror that
was rising within her. She had made Hugh renew his promise of
not working at all that night, and she was secretly resolved that
next morning she would make him go with her to the best oculist in
London. Over and over again she said to herself that it was
nothing—some mere passing weakness caused by over-exertion—that she
only wished to assure herself of this fact, and then must be more
watchful of Hugh and all would be well. But over and over
again, something said to her that this was not nothing—that it would
not pass; that this very presentiment was a shadow mercifully sent
before to prepare her for another blow. And then she braced up
her heart, and bade it be hopeful while it could, for it was a duty
which another day might snatch from it.
Elizabeth, with her ideas of "good influence," had not
thought it necessary to dress for people who could not be considered
"company"; and somehow Elizabeth looked slack and dim beside
Charlotte and Lucy. She did not know what to talk about.
It could be no use to speak of the "Fairie Queen" or of Sir Philip
Sidney to these girls, who would surely take no interest in these
subjects, even if they had ever heard their names. It was
useless to expect them to share her enthusiasm about heroes and
heroism, for, as grandmamma said, "they must have hard enough work
to get their livelihood, poor things!" She must begin at some
point which they were likely to understand, and then try to lead
them upwards. How pleasant it would be to open to them
entirely new avenues of elevation and enjoyment! She began by
asking Lucy if she was fond of reading. To which Lucy replied
that she liked it, but did not think she was so fond of it as some
"Oh, I think you would be if you got nice books," said
Elizabeth. "What kind of books do you like best?"
"Novels?" suggested Will.
"I have read hardly any," said Lucy. "I think I like
poetry best, one need only read such little bits to get thoughts
that stay in one's mind while one is at work."
"I adore poetry," said Elizabeth, "and how interesting poets
must be. I daresay that you don't know there was a poet once
lived in your house?"
"What was his name?" asked Charlotte.
"Tristram—Reginald Tristram," answered Elizabeth.
"You never heard of him before, did you, Miss Withers?" asked
"All poets do not attain fame," said Elizabeth. "Don't
you remember Gray's line about 'mute, inglorious Miltons?'"
"Aren't your ideas rather in a muddle?" asked Will, saucily;
"I may be a 'mute, inglorious Milton' for aught you know; but if a
man once writes, he is not 'mute,' whether he is a Milton or not.
I don't believe Reginald Tristram even got into print."
"All poetry is not printed, Will," said Elizabeth.
"No, indeed," said Charlotte, earnestly. "All poetry is
not even written—just as all lovely scenes and all changing skies
are not painted."
"I reckon you read a good deal, Miss Withers," observed Will,
"I have read a good deal," answered Charlotte, simply.
"I like the sort of books that make you do something," added
Will, edging his chair a little nearer to her.
"I think that quality depends as much on the reader as on the
book," Charlotte replied, smiling. Will's healthy, handsome
face and frank manner attracted and touched the quiet woman, who
knew what was in him and in the world before him so much better than
he knew himself.
"I don't understand literary merits," said Will, humbly, "but
I know what I like. I like books with life in 'em, and where a
man does something besides talk and spoon. You'll not care for
Cooper's novels, now, Miss Withers."
"Indeed I do," she answered. "I have read nearly all of
them, and like them all. 'The Pilot,' is perhaps my
"Why, so it's mine," said Will, in ecstasy. "I didn't
think ladies cared for that sort of book! And do you like
"Some of them," Charlotte admitted. "I like 'The Old
"Well, this is jolly?" was Will's candid comment. "I've
never before got anybody to talk to me about these books, except
fellows, and all fellows don't seem to care for them. Those
books make me wish I was on the sea, or in the backwoods cutting
down trees, and living a fine free life."
"What is the use of wishing that, when you are to be a
professional man in London?" said Mrs. Torpichen, softly.
"That isn't settled yet," retorted Will, with a dour change
of face and tone which signified more to Charlotte than to anybody
else in the room. And there was a moment's pause, till Will
"But there are some books that people don't read except to
help them to do something, straight off. A fellow won't read
chemistry unless he's making experiments, nor mechanics unless he
goes in for machinery. I suppose you don't take any interest
in these things, Miss Withers?"
"I don't know very much about them," she answered. "I
used to be very much interested in chemical experiments, but that
was very long ago, and I fear that the little knowledge I acquired
then has grown quite rusty."
"Oh, if that's all," said Will, "you'll soon rub it up again.
If you'd care for them, I'd show you some nice experiments this
"You cause horrid smells, and I'm always afraid of something
going off and making a mess," expostulated Mrs. Torpichen.
"You can come up to my laboratory," said Will. "It has
no carpet to spoil. Anybody who likes can come, and then go
away when they are tired."
"Shall you care to go?" Elizabeth inquired of Lucy.
"Yes, very much indeed," was the answer, "for I have heard so
much about these experiments from Charlotte, but have never seen any
"Then we will go," said Elizabeth. "Only I think the
laboratory is very disagreeable. One is afraid to move for
fear of doing some mischief. And then it is all a fuss and a
mess for nothing. If there was any object in it, it would be
delightful. How grand it is to think of Miss Herschel helping
the great astronomer in his observatory. But then Will can't
do anything really."
Nobody could guess that it cost Charlotte an effort to enter
Will's little door. Mrs. Torpichen thought that she was
naturally glad of any amusement. And Elizabeth, who from her
own chamber could see something of the barrenness of the Witherses'
workroom, said to herself that they could not notice the dinginess
of the laboratory. But indeed, when Charlotte once entered it,
she found that it did not too vividly recall the elaborately fitted
and kept room in which she had been the interested pupil, and even
the proud helper of the lover she lost. There were the
familiar bottles and batteries, the pervading atmosphere; and there
all resemblance ended.
Mrs. Torpichen and Elizabeth and Lucy lingered about awhile,
and soon retired. Elizabeth tempted Lucy away by naming the
Will was in his element. Who of us is not delighted to
have a hearer who knows enough to enter into our arguments, and yet
not so much as to be above our explanations?
"I wish Elizabeth was like you," he said frankly. "But
she's all for poetry and romance. She does not care for these
things, and I don't care for those."
"Oh, I should think you like poetry," said Charlotte.
"Me!" exclaimed Will. "You would not say so, if you
knew me!" he added, with a sort of compunction. "I'm just a
common, practical sort of fellow."
"Well, isn't poetry practical?" asked Charlotte. She
thought within herself, "Is not poetry the very distilled essence of
practical life?" but she would not go into abstract metaphysics; but
went on, "for instance, it is called practical to have a home, and
care for it and keep it, therefore if a song like 'Home, sweet
home,' stirs up many to remember and care for their homes, is not
that practical too?"
"I never thought of it in that light," said Will; "but poets
are generally queer, foolish sort of people themselves; now aren't
Charlotte laughed softly. "Some poets are despised
because they did not make money, or become Lord Mayor, but it is
forgotten that they laid up treasure and gained rank of their own
special kind. Some poets are very poor creatures indeed.
But the great poets are generally even very practical in business.
Shakespeare made money, and bought the manor house, and kept very
"One never thinks of Shakespeare as a poet," said Will
thoughtfully. "Indeed, one does not think of him much, at all.
One thinks of Lady Macbeth and Hamlet, and half forgets he made
them. I haven't read much of Shakespeare," he hastened to
confess. "But I've seen two or three of his plays acted."
"It is a proof of his greatness that he shows himself only in
his work," said Charlotte, "for that is like God himself. And
his work, like Nature, ever keeps an open secret. For
instance, as long as people thought it right to torture and cheat
Jews, they fancied Shakespeare thought so too; yet somehow his
picture of Shylock made some people think differently, and then it
was seen that that was what Shakespeare had meant."
Will listened reverently; perhaps he did not enter into all
her words, but he caught a glimpse of rights and freedom which he
had been taught long to regard as sheer rebellion and irreverence.
What! might even such blunt criticism as he was often inclined to
give to picture or poem, be a truer veneration than mere consent and
praise? In such case it would be worth going to galleries and
reading books. For unfortunately, the great masters of art or
thought, like great liberators, can hardly set men free from other
tyrants, without enslaving them to themselves.
"I sometimes think," Charlotte went on quietly, while Will
pottered about, "that we are not quite fair in our use of the word
'poet.' Poetry is only the expression of somebody's heroic
life, or of somebody's sweet or noble thoughts. Sometimes it
is the life or the thoughts of the poet himself, and then the life
or the thought is as infinitely higher and more beautiful than the
mere language which displays it, as a grand landscape or a glorious
sky is beyond the best picture ever made. What I mean is, that
surely no inspiration is so direct as that which breathes in
beautiful deeds, and that he who does best is therefore the most
"I've thought something like that, at times," said Will
eagerly; "though I could never have put it so. I've thought if
I'd had a chance among those old knights, I might have made another
ballad by giving somebody else something to write about, though I
can't make two words clink myself."
"But you have as good a chance today of making your life
worth living and therefore worth telling," said Charlotte.
"What can a fellow do now?" asked Will, ruefully.
"Anything," said Charlotte. It is not what we do, but
the spirit in which we do it, which signifies. What makes the
difference between mercenary and patriotic troops? They both
fight: they are both paid. But the former fight that they may
be paid, and the others are paid that they may fight. Whatever
work we do, if we do it, not only just as well as others can compel
us to do it, but with our utmost strength and ability, becomes
heroic work, and makes the worker a hero. And I do believe if
his strength and ability grow beyond his work, the economy of the
universe will soon find it out. Many heroic occasions lack
heroes, but I don't think a hero ever lacked an heroic occasion."
"But this is called the iron age," said Will. "It is an
age of machinery, and telegraphs and steam engines do seem terribly
matter of fact."
"Why should they?" asked Charlotte. "May not the fault
lie with us and not with them? Is not vigilance as much the
honourable duty of a railway guard as of a sentry? Is not his
post of caring for the safety of his fellow-creatures as good for
the exercise of self-conquest and self-forgetfulness as that of any
watchman on castles of old? The dreadful accidents that must
happen sometimes, and all the sorrow and misery they bring, should
show us what the general dutifulness and efficiency of these people
"I can see that," said Will, thoughtfully; "but few people
notice it—they don't think anything of a man who, as they say,
'merely does his duty.' "
"And yet that is all that anybody can do," answered
Charlotte; "because, whatever comes in our way and within our power,
is nothing less or more than merely our duty.'"
"Ah, but people mean that they merely do the duty for which
they are paid," said Will.
"That is because it is too commonly put that we work for our
wages, and not that we take wages that we may work," explained
Charlotte; but man is always better than his theories, for whenever
we come across anybody who does only that which is in his bond, we
are instantly aware of somebody who is not doing his duty. All
social life would stop to-morrow, unless nearly everybody filled,
not only the measure of his labour, but pressed it down, and let it
"I've sometimes thought that maybe railway guards and engine
drivers and such like, who are so careful and so patient with crowds
of people going out for their health and pleasure, may be doing
God's work as much as missionaries and preachers," said Will,
thoughtfully. "But then grandmother says it is quite a
different thing, and whenever clergymen say anything at all about
these practical matters, they only say that God will even accept
such trifles from those who can give no more."
"In such a tangled mass as this life is, I do not know how
anybody can decide what is a trifle and what is not," Charlotte
"Oh, but they mean these are just worldly affairs, just what
we do with our hands—nothing high or spiritual, don't you see," said
"I do not understand how things can be thus separated,"
Charlotte answered. "How can the soul show itself, except
through the body? How can we know what any man believes,
except by what he does? The apostle himself was clearly on the
side of the proposal, 'I will show thee faith by my works.'
What is religion except it is life?"
"I wish I could always think so," said Will. "It would
make it a great deal easier for me," he added, with quite
unconscious self-praise. "If I thought it was worshipping God
to make a good engine or invent some machine to help people, that
would be grand. I do think it is, myself, sometimes, but when
everybody else seems to think it is wicked, I get puzzled, and ready
to give it all up."
"I don't know how it is," he went on, "but I seem doomed to
be wicked one way or the other. I don't believe I'll be a good
man if I stay here, at office work. I'll either be downright
wild or I'll be a sleepy drone. Is it right for me to stay
when I know that? Then when I talk of going away, pioneering
somewhere, grandmamma cries, and says it will break her heart, and
that it is my duty to stay with Elizabeth. She did let some of
her own sons go away, and she lost sight of the last one who went,
and I suppose that makes her nervous; but anyhow, is it right for me
to go while she feels so?"
"It is not right of you to be angry with her for feeling so,"
said Charlotte, gently. "It is quite natural in her. You
can't think how much it will cost her to give you up."
"I'm sure I don't see why it should: I'm only a trouble to
her," observed Will, softened.
"I don't know how it is," he resumed, "but I feel as if I am
bound to go out to the Far West of America. There isn't any
reason for it. None of our people have been there, but I
almost feel as if I'd been there myself already, and was fated to
return. It feels as if something was waiting for me to do out
there. Do you think there is anything in these feelings, Miss
"I cannot say I do not," she answered quietly. I almost
think they are what is meant in the Bible, when it is said, 'The
Lord called him.' But if it is indeed the voice of God, then a
way will be opened for you to obey, now that your eyes are opened to
watch for it. It is strange that you should be longing to go
to the part of the world whence we have come. We were all born
Will felt a strange thrill as she said that. It was
like the first responding vibration on the chord that he had been
long striking; but he only said:
"I suppose we must go down stairs. It's too bad of me
to have kept you up in this nasty room all this time."
"I have enjoyed myself exceedingly," was Charlotte's truthful
answer. Her admission to the needs of another life seemed to
have given her heart fresh strength to face even its new terror.
For the bitterest wrong that sorrow can do us, is that it is apt to
shut us in with itself, Blessed be any necessity or duty which
forces back the door! Charlotte felt that she owed a debt to
frank Will Ramsay, and that she had served nobody so much as herself
when she had resolved to venture again into a little social life.
Down in the parlour, Elizabeth had been singing. Lucy
Withers neither played nor sang; her education had been cut short
just too soon for accomplishments. But she had told her
hostesses that her sister "used to sing," and so Charlotte was at
once invited to perform. A glance at Elizabeth's music quite
explained how Will thought that poetry was out of sympathy with such
feelings as he knew himself. There were old sentimental songs
of Mrs. Torpichen's generation. "Oh, no, we never mention
her," or "Poor Mary Anne," and there were newer sentimental songs.
"When the swallows," and "I cannot sing the old songs."
Charlotte tried a different strain, the stirring melody of
"A wet sheet and a flowing sea,
A wind that follows fast";
and when that was done, she struck up
"Pibroch of Donuil Dhu,
Pibroch of Donuil!"
and had her reward in Will's brightened face, and enthusiastic
"That is the style!"
So ended a very pleasant evening. Only one person felt
a little disappointed, and that was Elizabeth. She had found
no opportunity for being Lady Bountiful, or for "elevating
influence." She could not feel that all the reason for
gratulation lay with herself. She even felt a pang of jealousy
as she thought of the deferent and interested tone Will had used
toward Miss Withers. It seemed a positive injustice to
herself, that the Withers should be so different to the ordinary
girls she had supposed them. She even had a secret
consciousness that in her acquaintance with them the balance of
advantage might not be on their side.
"They are not common people," was Mrs. Torpichen's verdict.
"It is a pity they are so poor; the eldest sister might be an
ornament to any class of society. I'm glad you thought of
inviting them, Will," she added diplomatically.
"The younger one is a pretty little thing," said Will, "but
Miss Withers is a brick;" and he thought to himself, "It was well to
be Hugh Withers to have such a sister," and then supposed he was
breaking the tenth commandment, for though it did not forbid one to
covet "one's neighbour's sister," she was certainly included in the
clause "or anything that is his."
NEXT day brought
its stern duty to Charlotte.
In persuading Hugh to visit an oculist she did not have so
much difficulty as she had feared. Nor yet did he laugh at her
or warn her that she was "fussing." But he was quite cheerful.
Mrs. Withers and Lucy made no remark on such an unwonted
event as Hugh's staying away from his office and going out in the
morning with Charlotte. It was one feature of the extreme and
intimate confidence in which the family lived, that what was not
told was never asked. It was certain to be told when the right
time came. The custom had grown up in the earlier days when
Charlotte had been battling sternly and blindly for work, when
effort would have been checked or hindered by questions or comments,
and failure doubly embittered.
The brother and sister had scarcely been together in the West
End of London by daylight before. As Charlotte mechanically
glanced at the brilliant shops they were passing, there came to her
remembrance a poor funeral she had once seen, where the little
children following their dead father were pressing forward to see
the sweet unfamiliar lane through which they were driving. And
then she thought of the many pleasant holiday sea-side resorts which
hundreds never see till they go there to vainly watch some
hand-to-hand combat where death conquers. But Hugh went on
It seemed to poor Charlotte as if an atmosphere of doom hung
over the great house where their journey ended. The servant
who had admitted them seemed to speak with the consideration due to
the fated. Was it possible that any little children were
laughing and playing in the upper chambers? Did merry guests
ever pass up and down the broad staircase? How cool the place
was; how shadowed, how quiet! Never, to the end of her days,
did Charlotte forget that chamber, with its dim turkey carpet, its
great mirror, its dark pictures, and the terrible instruments
standing here and there. Sitting there, she knew she would
never forget it. Sitting there, if the passionate hopefulness
of love would have permitted it, she could herself have written out
the sentence soon to be pronounced. It is a mercy that it is
often so, or we could scarcely forgive the man who told us what God
had not told us first.
The great oculist came in―a bluff middle-aged man. His
minutes were guineas. He knew at a glance which was his
patient, and began asking his quick, pointed questions. Hugh
answered as pointedly. Charlotte stood aside, and heard the
gentler tone creep into the oculist's voice, and knew what it meant!
"Well," he said, withdrawing the last instrument he had
tried, but leaving his hand on Hugh's shoulder, "well."
"What is to be done?" Hugh asked brightly.
"Nothing," said the oculist, very kindly; "but if you are
careful of yourself it may come on slowly, and you may be much
better prepared for it than you are now." He looked up at
Charlotte, but he understood her white face and set lips, and
attempted no consolation. She did not say a word as she opened
her purse; but the oculist put his hand over hers.
"I'm not going to be paid for such work as this," he said.
"But you must be paid, sir," said Hugh.
"Very well," he answered; "come and pay me when you are
making a fortune in some line you would never have entered upon but
for to-day. That has happened to me before now. I shall
put you down among my debtors, and shall expect to see you again!"
He shook hands with Hugh: he looked at Charlotte again, and
still took no notice of her.
Once more they were out in the street. Hugh put his
hand through his sister's arm, and she did not heed where he led
her, till suddenly the houses ceased, and Hyde Park, with its autumn
trees in a soft white mist, lay before them.
There were few people there at that season of the year.
Hugh turned into a long avenue of young trees. He must speak
to Charlotte now. She had kept her terrible silence long
enough. And they were alone at last.
"Lottie!" was all he said.
"O, Hugh, Hugh," she cried, "what have I done—what have I
done? it is I who have brought this on you."
"Are you quite sure I should not have found out what was my
duty without your telling me, Lottie?" her brother asked very
"But it was not your duty," she wailed. "Nobody would
have said it was duty! Perhaps it was only my pride."
"It was my pride, too," said Hugh.
"I ought to have been more thoughtful for you," she cried.
"I ought to have renumbered what a boy you were, and what a changed
life you were made to live! And I ought not to have let you go
on working as you did, night after night, artificial light, and
often not enough of it."
"You did it yourself," said Hugh, "and it has not harmed
"It was not worth while," she exclaimed again—"my father
himself would say it was not worth it."
Poor Charlotte! Was there ever a sacrifice which at
sometime in its history did not seem too dear? What great man
who has freed a country has not turned disgusted from the bickering
and pettiness of its politics to regret the graves which he filled
to purchase such freedom? There must not be too much counting
of the cost in our beginnings. It is well that we cannot see
some of the near consequences of our heroisms, or they might remain
unperformed. If we could see all their consequences and the
consequences of their consequences, it might have a different
"If I could only bear it itself," she cried again. "But
I have brought it upon you."
"You have the hardest part to bear still, Lottie," said Hugh;
"for I know myself I would rather this had happened to me than to
you, and you have to bear its happening to me. I don't believe
any of us will ever be able to cheat you out of the hardest part,
She was crying now: the horrible spell was broken.
"I shall begin playing the violin again, Lottie," Hugh went
on, cheerfully. "It seems I am to have leisure for it after
all. You can't think what a trial it was to give that up.
Now I will practise very diligently, and I'll be a help to you yet,
and not a burden, Lottie."
"A burden!" she echoed. "If you say that again, Hugh, I
shall hate you!"
"Then I think I had better say it again," said Hugh,
playfully, "just to see what your hatred is like. For I have
never had anything from you but the truest love."
"You shall do no more of that horrible accountant-work," said
"I don't think I will," Hugh assented, cheerfully.
"I'll stick to my practising fancy! I haven't even touched my
violin for more than two years! My playing made me so
dissatisfied, that I thought I had better give it up, as I should
have no leisure to improve it. You see that was all I knew
about it, Lottie."
"Don't trouble yourself about a little more delay in paying
off that money for father's sake," he went on again, presently.
"I shall soon make up for that."
"You need not think about that," said Charlotte, quickly.
"Yes I must," he answered. "It gives me hope and
"And what will poor mother say!" Charlotte cried, tears
bursting out afresh. "Must she and Lucy know at once? I
wonder if it is quite certain!—if there is no hope?"
"They must know at once," said Hugh calmly. "They will
learn how to bear it from you. If you do not think it an
unmitigated calamity, they will soon agree with you."
"I am afraid my much practising will bore you and Lucy
terribly at first," he resumed. "But soon I hope it will be
pleasant to hear. Lottie, I can't expect you to believe how
the thought of my return to music reconciles me to my coming
blindness. I think God is shutting my eyes that I may hear
better. I can't see beauty everywhere, as some people seem to
see it; but I can hear harmony in everything—even rising out of the
discord of a street squabble. I don't think the Scotch wife
spoke metaphorically when she said her husband's step had 'music in
it.' Lottie, I do believe I shall actually see better in my
mind, playing and blind, than without music and with my eyes!
Perhaps I shall even get egotistical, and fancy that because my lot
suits me, it is privileged beyond others."
And so the two went home in the tender autumn sunshine, and
another great sorrow lay behind them, another hope put in its grave.
But the flowers of peace were springing over it already, and the
light on the Everlasting Hills was still sweeter than before.
And Charlotte, with her new terror already growing old and familiar
in her heart, found it had but brought fresh strength to her ancient
faith that "to-day is better than yesterday."