Isabella Mayo: 'A Real Lady'.

Home Up Recollections A Retired Life The Secret Drawer By Still Waters The Dead Sin Family Fortunes At Any Cost Rab Bethune's Double Short Stories, etc. Poems Miscellanea Main Index Site Search
 


 

A REAL LADY.

BY

"EDWARD GARRETT."


IT is hard to get away from London now.  Go north, go west, go south, go where little clumps of woodland still remain to tell of the forest that has been, go where the corn still waves in the sunlight, yet you can scarcely get out of the sound of the woodman's axe and the builder's hammer; and next time you go, you shall find your prospect bounded by that ugliest bit of townishness, a row of houses that have never yet been homes, with a "first-class hotel" at one corner, and a tiny church at the other.  What will the people be like, that are born and reared in the dead-level of our suburbs?  Surely they will be a new tribe for the dissection of story-teller or moralist!

    O for the good old times (not more than thirty years ago) when there were bits of genuine country left on the very margin of London, where the paved paths and tall houses suddenly ceased, and almost a single turning brought one into a green lane, or upon some open bit of heath or common, fringed with pretty country-houses or old fashioned cottages.

    Such a place was Bishop's Elm.  It did not even boast a High Street—only a High Row, flanking the north side of its little green, and picturesque and rural, with tiles before the butcher's shop, and trees overarching the seats outside the quiet hostel.  Simple, comfortable shops were the shops of that High Row, standing in and out, with here and there a private dwelling-house between them, standing farther back, and veiled with honeysuckle, like a modest school-girl hiding her face in a bunch of flowers,—such dwellings being especially patronized by single ladies or widows, who wished to be in easy reach of the omnibus plying between the local "Mitre" and the Bank, or to be able to keep an eye on their boys playing on the green.

    There was one especially tiny cottage, very much shut in by the library and the linen draper's projecting on either side of it.  It had but four miniature rooms, and its tenant—one Miss Elizabeth Leslie—was fortunately small in proportion to her house.  She was esteemed very genteel in Bishop's Elm, where society in general smacked of retired retail trade, and even a clerk in the War Office was regarded as somehow a stray line from the "Court Circular;" for the Leslies had held land in the New Forest under a grant from William Rufus.  "Strong and Light" was the motto under the rudely-carved stag's hoof that was still visible over the portal of the ruined keep wherein it was "said" that the first Leslie had more than once received the huntsman-monarch.  That ruined keep was the pride of the house of Leslie.  Many houses might compete with Leslie Place,—that fair Elizabethan mansion, which seemed yet only in the Indian summer of its comeliness, but it is not every family of mere county fame that can boast its genuine grey ruin.

    Nearly a hundred years ago a profligate Leslie had sold Leslie Place to some Mr. Smith or Jones, ship-chandler, from Southampton, who had paid a good round consideration for the "interesting ruin" on the estate.  But Mr. Ship-chandler had been cheated in that item of his bargain.  The Leslie title in the Leslie ruin could not be bought by the whole fortune of any such Mr. Smith or Jones.  It was truly theirs and their heirs' for ever, by an inalienable right.  Miss Elizabeth Leslie could honestly talk of "our castle;" and whenever the little lady ventured to spend a rare holiday, she went into Hampshire and took a week's lodging in the picturesque hamlet of Lesleyholt, a green and pleasant place, its moss-grown, heavy-eaved cottages, with their little white-curtained windows, dotted like cleanly, curtseying pensioners along the winding road.  There they knew what "Leslie" meant, and there she was bowed to and "madamed" from farm-house to hovel, and honoured and consulted and considered, so that it was no wonder if she quite pitied the good folk who had nowhere better to go than Brighton or Scarborough. Not that she had ever known any personal grandeur.

    Her own father had been but a poor captain in the army; his sword and decorations hung beneath his portrait in oils, over her parlour mantel.  She had also the Leslie coat-of-arms in a frame; she had even copied them, a little feebly, into a crochet anti-macassar.  She had, too, some old-fashioned miniatures, but they were laid away in a worm-eaten cabinet, because their chased and jewelled frames had somehow long since disappeared.  But these pictures, and the sword, and the heraldry were a great comfort to Miss Elizabeth; and who could grudge her a harmless vanity, which helped her to live with contentment and dignity on a small income, hardly won?  For she had nothing but what she earned herself, this mite of a woman, with her thin hands and her neat commonplace head; but her slender brains had gone on working diligently in their own small way for many and many a long year.  It was not for her to write scarlet and black romances, full of beautiful demons and plain angels, and heroisms starting full-grown from empty and idle lives.  It was for her to compose alphabets in rhyme—bird-alphabets, beast-alphabets, flower-alphabets.  It was for her to translate children's stories from the French and German.  It was for her to compile Mamma's Geographies and Aunt's Grammars.

    The British Museum Reading-room knew Miss Elizabeth Leslie.  For these journeys the Bishop's Elm omnibus was very useful to her in severely bad weather, or when she was so very busy that even an hour had a definite value.  At other times she walked—walked through mizzling shower or scorching sun—walked and saw Bishop's Elm young women, who went into town to make bonnets or dresses, look out at her as they drove past.  It never made her feel bitter; the sword and the heraldry came to her aid then.  The Leslie lands had passed away in mortgages, and the Leslie diamonds had gone the way of unredeemed pledges, but the Leslie traditions remained.  Miss Elizabeth did not lay these up in lavender as mere ornaments, but kept them in use like good gold currency.  "We cannot all do and endure as much as each other," she would say to herself.  "There's so much in blood and breeding; there ought really to be more difference than there is between us who come of fine high-spirited stocks, and poor creatures whose fathers were perhaps so underfed and overworked that their whole energies were turned towards gaining a little physical enjoyment.  Hunger and cold bring the spirit down to a kind of sordid animal clinging to life and its lowest luxuries.  If my great ancestor, Sir Frank, had never had quite as much to eat as he wanted, perhaps he might not have been so ready to die rather than to break his word even to his enemy."  Not that Miss Elizabeth ignored the heroisms which she saw really growing in want and obscurity, but kept her creed at once unassailable and inoffensive by absorbing them into it.  "Some people are better descended than they know," she would say "good blood proves itself."  And there was a grand truth hidden in Miss Elizabeth's fantastic notions, like a great man sporting in masquerade.  The world of progress may march on as fast as it likes, but any aristocracy claiming nothing but duty and responsibility is in no great danger of gainsaying, envy, or overthrow.

    Miss Leslie had her own niche in Bishop's Elm life.  She had no time to visit among the poor, and no aptitude for teaching classes; but she was very fond of young people, and seldom had a solitary walk or a lonely tea-table.  She was an interesting companion; she had histories and anecdotes to relate.  And if poverty narrows the sphere of vision on the one hand, it widens it more than proportionably on the other.  She, lady born as she was, with pleasant titbits of high-life gossip, and side lights from courtly circles, had gained, thanks to her spendthrift father, that cheerful Bohemian knowledge of the world in undress, which, whenever possessed by the well-bred, gives them such a finishing grace.  She, in her old, turned silks, could speak, with no fear of derogation, of humble persons and homely incidents, which Mrs. Stubbings, of The Lawn, shuffling in Genoa velvet and old point, would not dare to mention without a prefacing apology.

    Altogether, Miss Elizabeth Leslie was a wholesome influence in Bishop's Elm.  If her notions of honour and duty were a little perverted in the course of their growth from the true root, yet they had its sap within them, and were wholesome and heartening beside the quagmire of money-getting and money-displaying which threatened to swamp the little neighbourhood.  It was a good thing for boys whose fathers were apt to measure men by means rather than morals, to hear her old-world stories of gallant gentlemen.  It was a good thing for girls who were accustomed to see the castles of their future in a crystal flawed with pin-money and trousseau, to listen to her tales of constant and devoted love.  Her very house was a standing lesson in a circle too much given to value things only by what they cost.  Poor little house, narrow of passage and scant of room, it yet had the nameless grace which flies from purchased comfort to settle on the home-made, thoughtful makeshift.  Every chamber had that which gives rank alike to rooms and to people—a character; the cheerful, self-reliant character of its inhabitant.  Altogether, Miss Elizabeth Leslie was a good little woman; and though her capital of character had been given to her in small change, yet each tiny coin had the genuine mint-mark, and those that were growing too out-of-date for common currency might still serve very well for quaint ornament.

    But among the many boys and girls who liked her amusing conversation, and thought that to be on friendly terms with an authoress was at least as good as a certificate of general information and conduct, Miss Elizabeth had her favourites—queerly chosen, it seemed at first glance.

    Among the girls, she was most drawn to little Olive Straight, younger daughter of the great paving contractor.  The Straights were well-meaning, common people.  The father had all the qualities of a good business-man, and something more, which made him respect himself for what he was, and not for what he was not.  The mother was a weak, silly woman, so fondly proud of her successful good-man, that she fancied the luxuries his right hand had gathered round her had made her a perfect lady.  Her pomp was very burdensome to her sometimes, making her wish that they had "got on" just as far as the villa where they first lived at Bishop's Elm, and had never soared from its cosiness to the chill state of Grecian Place, their present abode.  But she would not have abated that pomp in one iota.  And now that she had all that her wildest ambition desired for herself, it went further for her children.  She thought Emma, the eldest daughter, was a beauty, likely to marry whatever she aspired for; and she looked forward to her husband amassing sufficient wealth to release her darling only son Percy from any duties except his toilet and his recreations.  Somehow, she never cast up Olive's prospects; Olive was so thoroughly happy in her books and her drawings, that her future welfare seemed tolerably secure.

    Without slighting the child, the mother was not attracted by Olive.  She had not Emma's flesh-and-blood beauty, and soprano voice, and untiring ankles.  She was a plain little thing, Mrs. Straight thought,—though, to be sure, she was the only one who had her father's eyes.  Olive was pale and thin—an old, picturesque-looking child, too much given to sitting still and being chilly.  The doctors somewhat shook their beads over her, and talked of skipping-ropes, and milk diet, and early hours; but it never went farther than talk, and Olive was left in peace with her history and her politics, and her epic poetry, and her queer bits of paper, lined with processions of grotesque figures, whereon the child went the way of childish notions, and pictured the fancies for which she could not yet find fitting words.  "Mrs. Straight has made her husband get his pedigree drawn out," commented Mrs. Elizabeth Leslie, "and a funny mess they have made of it.  As if child Olive was not sufficient assurance that there must have been good blood somewhere."

    Very different in birth and surroundings was her boy favourite, young Tony Bollen.  He was the only child of Bishop's Elm Rectory—that modest brown building, half-veiled in ivy, which stood on the western margin of the churchyard.  The Rectory drawing-room was an unused chamber, no lady-kind having been resident there since the rector's young wife died when Tony was born.  The rector's only housekeeper was the good woman who had been his baby's nurse; for, as he had lost the warmth of family ties, he preferred to return to the freedoms of bachelor simplicity, rather than to accept a hired mistress of the ceremonies, who would destroy solitude without making it society.

    The Rev. Anthony Bollen was a very genial man, and enjoyed life heartily, yet with an enjoyment that seemed no exulting insult over less-favoured mortals.  Well fed, well clad, well mounted, well-to-do in every meaning of the term; yet his kindly word to some decrepit widow, hobbling home with her parish dole of coarse bread, would send her on, with a smile on her withered old face, and a warmth in her worn old heart, but with no bitter reflection on the strange inequalities of human lot. 

    Physically, none of his flock had ever asked bread of him and received a stone.  His kind words were promissory notes that were always honoured by kind actions, and there was more real nourishment and comfort simmered over his kitchen fire, and given, in a neighbourly way, by the hopeful hands of his honest cook, than filtered through all the soup-kitchens and lay sisterhoods of half the surrounding parishes.  He found places for the parish children when they grew up, got the sick into hospitals, took the sting from pauper funerals, and was the general arbiter of humble Bishop's Elm, since it knew few difficulties which were not to be solved by a prompt half-crown, or a bit of plain common sense.

    Like a wise man's commentary on a dull book, the rector's life was better than his sleepy sermons.  That rather limited part of his economy which might be termed purely intellectual, ran in the stiffest conventional groove, but his great human nature, like a swelling river, turned into a conduit―overflowed that narrow bound, and fertilized far beyond it.  Unlike poor Mrs. Straight, the rector strove to keep life as much as possible out of livery.  Perhaps there was nobody in Bishop's Elm, except Miss Leslie, who knew that the Rev. Anthony Bollen came of a good, old, gentle family, that had once been unfortunately allied to royalty.  His gentleness might even almost have lost something by any conventional proofs thereof, as good lace is spoilt by ignorant starching.  It shone out supreme in giving comfort and grace to the shabby furniture and roughly-ready arrangements of his widowed home.  Certainly, upon about one-eighth of its income, the Rectory was a more comfortable house than Grecian Place.  Tony Bollen might travel daily to King's College, London, to learn Latin and logic, but to learn manners and morals he need never to have left his father's library or dining-room.

    Of course Olive Straight and Anthony Bollen knew each other parochially; under any circumstances, they would have met at the church-soirees and school-excursions.  But Olive, plain and reserved, would have been by no means noticeable among the glowing faces and rustling muslin paramount on such occasions, had not Tony had opportunities of better acquaintance in Miss Leslie's little parlour.  He had all a lad's odd reverence for a girl who finds amusement in studies which he hates as dearest work—a girl who reads Plato and Plutarch.  At first he was a little afraid of her, but presently who could be afraid of a girl who did not know a batsman from a bowler in the cricket-field, and turned white at sight of a spider?  Power to protect and assist what we have once dreaded gives a very kindly feeling.  No subject is so humble as the subject who saves the king's life.  Anthony Bollen began to wish that he had a sister like Olive.

    He also began to discover that Percy Straight, whom he had hitherto despised as a "muff" and a dandy, was a very bearable fellow after all, and that an evening at Grecian Place could be a very pleasant evening.  To be sure, Olive, though the first, was not the last attraction.  Like Tony, Percy was a student at King's, and there were generally some college chums lounging at the Place, and some of Emma's girl friends beside.  There was archery on the lawn, and bagatelle-boards in the dining-room.  Olive did not play at either, for her hands were weak and faltering with extreme nervousness.  But she watched with delighted interest, and was glad when Tony won; and he thought he too was solely glad to escape to her, and the engraving-stand or the herbarium; and that he counted as nothing the silvery mirth and airy frivolity, which perhaps were really as the laugh that sets us in tune for thought and pathos.  He did wish sometimes that Olive could join more actively in the sports.  She even tried once again to please him; but she seemed so earnest in her sacred gravity, so like an opal in a goblet of champagne, or a bar from the "Pastoral Symphony" played in the midst of "I'd be a Butterfly," that Tony was glad when she went back to her shady corner and her books, where he could join her when he liked; and never guessed, poor boy, that half the charm was in the change!

    So time passed on.  Never a word of love was spoken between them, and Olive was the only girl that Anthony did not kiss at blind man's buff.  But they knew the secret between them, those two—knew it so well that nobody else guessed it—and they two could talk for hours on the lawn, or chance to meet each other in the lanes, without fear of the household raillery or restraint which surrounded Emma Straight's numerous and complicated love affairs, presently to be disentangled and wound up for ever round a wedding-ring.

    Oh, happy young love, which is all in the present!  Oh, fearless young love! all ignorant of pain—that sad root which, once set, is never afterwards quite exterminated!  Happy, fearless love! not yet bidden to tasks and sacrifices which leave it quivering in the agony of its own passionate strength!  It is life's blossoming time.  But true and earnest natures carry even their blossoms to that altar where their hearts will bleed before God in the time of fruit.  And Olive's womanly soul pondered over many things.

    At first it flitted across her mind that she would rather Tony Bollen did not make such a friend of her brother Percy.  She loved Percy very dearly, but it was "with all his faults," and that was a clause she could not endure in her appreciation of Anthony.  Poor, dear Percy, with his effeminacy and prospective fortune, might glide harmlessly down a groove that would be direct destruction to this penniless, stalwart young knight of hers, who (and Olive's heart yearned proudly at the thought) must strike his own light out of the flinty world, or live in utter darkness.

    Olive herself took things too seriously, and, after the fashion of such people (it may be partly in humility), was apt to excuse and half-admire those whose faults lay in over-easiness.  Had she been a boy, she would probably have chosen her profession before leaving off petticoats, and ever afterwards have consistently worked towards the favourites idea.  This being so with herself, those who best know human nature will understand how ready she was to admit the cogent reasons which Anthony gave for his indecision on this very point.  It was better to be over-long than rash, she said to herself.  The first loss of time might be the least, after all.  The plain shy girl had ambitions within her, and with no scope for them in her own frightened life—with health still something like that of a plant just kept alive by shelter and support—she had made them all over to Tony.  He was to be what she would have been, with his sex, and strength, and ardour.

    Nevertheless, there had been enough misgiving in Olive's heart to make it start with pain rather than surprise when, during one of her afternoon visits to Miss Leslie, Anthony Bollen lounged in, and was received by his old friend with a marked coldness which even sent him off without any invitation to remain for tea.

    "Let us begin as we mean to continue," said Miss Leslie, sententiously, as she opened her chiffonier and set forth her currant-jelly and seed-cake.  "If Master Tony means to turn out a good-for-nought, he shan't be written on my list of friends.  When a man can't decide what he is fit for, it is generally because he is fit for nothing.  The Bollens have always had energy and spirit enough.  I'm sure I hope some mistaken marriage has not tainted the blood.  If I were his father, I'd give him just three months to make up his mind, and if he hadn't then, out he should go, and let the world make it for him.  It's wonderful how many people find their own legs, once they are dropped."

    "But it is not easy to decide," pleaded Olive, gently.  "You would not wish him to go into the Church rashly, and he does not feel sure that he has the talents necessary for a lawyer or a doctor."

    This never struck innocent Miss Leslie as a piece of special pleading, but as the merest friendly justice, which she was far too generous to gainsay.

    "Then while there's an acre uncleared in Canada or Australia, let him go over and cut down the trees," said Miss Leslie.  "If a young man has the true knight's spirit in him, and a drop of good blood that will keep him from breaking his heart when he gets molasses instead of sugar, he can't have a finer field than the colonies.  There he can find an atmosphere so clear and fresh that he can lay out his own life without its getting moth-eaten before it's half finished."

    Olive laughed outright at this little spurt from her dear, old-fashioned, conservative friend.

    "I thought you were so fond of old ways, Miss Leslie," she said, "old buildings, old institutions, old styles of thought—everything which, as you say, reassures us with the sense that somebody lived before us, and got safe home at last."

    "And so, indeed, I am, Olive," returned the spinster, "and so I may like strawberries, but that is no reason why I should not sometimes prefer to give them away rather than to eat them myself.  Somebody made the past that I value, Olive, and shall we leave no legacy to the future?  Do you think that pioneering should be left to the outlaw, and the outcast and the vagabond?  I say that the man who, having a past to value and valuing it, yet goes out from under its shelter that he may plant its seeds in new ground—I say, Olive Straight, that man is a knight and a hero; and if any young man stands aside idle while this is to do, he is without excuse, and his shame be upon his own head."

    "But it is rather hard to go away," sighed Olive, thinking, poor girl, of those who must be left behind.

    "Therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ," replied Miss Leslie.  "Christianity and knightliness are the same thing after all, Olive.  Whoever professes to have the last without the first, only pays it the same compliment which an ugly woman gives to beauty when she paints her own cheek, and it is quite as transparent a sham.  No, Olive, my dear, the colonies are just meant for strapping fine lads like our Anthony, with plenty of blood and sinew, and maybe, not too subtle brains.  And any woman who puts her puling fancies between such men and their fitting career, is a poor common woman, and no descendant of the ladies who sent out their lords with scarf and banner, and waited patiently till they came again, or till the scarf was brought back blood-stained."

    High words, that woke high echoes in the girlish heart, and also a sudden sharp sympathy with all those dead women whose pain and patience had both been finished so long ago.

    "And now tell me about the trousseau," said Miss Leslie; for a wedding at Grecian Place was imminent now, and Emma was to have everything that a bride would, could, or should possess.  And, with a sort of contented consciousness of two levels for life, Olive cheerfully stepped from her own, and entered upon an innocent description of bonnets and lace and lingerie.

    A wedding is a very engrossing affair, and during the few weeks preceding Emma's there was but little general society at Grecian Place, and Olive scarcely saw Anthony.  Percy was glad to keep out of the way of the dressmaking and upholstery consultations, and Olive suspected that Anthony went with him.  Things were not going quite smoothly at the Rectory.  Rumours filtered through the Rectory servants to the Straight waiting-maid, and were discussed among the muslins and ribbons in the dressing-room, while Olive stood aside with burning cheeks.  Mr. Anthony was spending too much money; Mr. Anthony was suspected of betting at the races; Mr. Anthony had put his name to bills; and there had been such angry words overheard between him and his father, that Mr. Anthony might even have done something much worse, if one could only get to know the rights and the wrongs of it.

    "If it had been anything but this," thought poor Olive.  If he had not cared for her, that would not have mattered at all.  If he had died, he would not have been dead to her.  But to fall short of the high ideal she had set up for him!  Nay, poor Olive did not put it thus, but rather—to be so unworthy of himself.

    It was the wedding-day.  Of course, Anthony Bollen had been invited; but, among the long ranks of friends, his was the only face that Olive missed.  His father "assisted" in the ceremony, the principal part of which was performed by a dean related to the bridegroom.  The old ladies thought that the rector was piqued at this, and that it was the reason why he pleaded urgent business, and left the breakfast-table as soon as he could.

    As the phrase goes, everything passed off happily—pretty speeches, plenty of the tears of uncontrolled excitement and flutter, little spiteful compliments on Olive's "self-possession and calmness"—and then the old shoes were thrown after the bride, whose filial grief was soothed as soon as she was outside the paternal gates; while Olive wandered back through the shrubbery, only to find that repressed emotion will not always flow when its restraints are removed, but rather dries up with a scorching pain.

    "Olive—Miss Olive—Olive!"

    It was Anthony Bollen who called her.  He was standing on the outer side of a scarcely-used gate, opening on a blind lane leading from the high road, in which lane Mr. Straight had erected sundry out-buildings and tool-houses.

    It was a strange face to greet the bridesmaid, in her snowy tulle and fluttering blue ribbons.  It was a wild, passion-torn face, and the hands that were put through the gate in unconscious appeal were hot, soiled hands.  Yet Olive's heart gave a glad bound as she hastened towards him across the kitchen-garden.  Something was wrong, that was plain; but, oh! joy, he had come to her!

    "I am going away, Olive," he said, half-shrinking back as she stood in her scented airiness before him.  "I am come to say good-bye; I am off to Australia.  I've been very foolish, Olive, perhaps you'd call it wicked; and it must have ended in wickedness if my father hadn't saved me.  But he won't give me another chance in England.  He can't trust me under the same temptations again, he says.  "Oh! Olive, I am so angry and sick with myself; and it is so hard to be sent away!"

    It was not then that Olive remembered that it must be harder still for the good father to issue the mandate that left him lonely in his old age—not then that she felt it was hard for herself.  Poor Anthony! poor Anthony!

    "I'll turn over a new leaf now," he said; "I won't trifle on the edge of ruin any more.  Only, Olive, dear Olive, I want you to do something to help me to mend my ways.  I have loved you so long, Olive, and I do think you love me.  Will you promise to wait for—will you promise to marry me as I can come home and say I am a prosperous, respectable man?  Oh, Olive, if you will promise, it will make the trying so much easier!"

    God help her!  Standing there with the sunshine on her girlish white dress, and the sorest temptation of a woman lying in wait for her loving soul.

    "Oh, Anthony, Anthony!" she cried in her anguish.

    "You will promise, then," he said gently, with a pitiful assumption of assent which made it only harder for her to say―

    "Oh, Anthony!  I can't; I mustn't.  It would not be kind to you to do so.  It wouldn't help you, Anthony; I know it wouldn't."

    "You do not trust me," he said, woefully.

    "I do—I do!" she cried; "it is because I trust you so much that I will not promise.  Do your duty for God's sake, dear Anthony; it will be easier to do it so than for mine.  Oh, Anthony! don't you remember your father's last text—'Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you?"

    Sweet, simple, literal faith!  If unfulfilled in this world, it carries one happily through it to that other life whose glorious secrets are written in gold under the silvers lines of God's promises.

    "The engagement would seem to hold us together," said Anthony, gloomily.  "If you felt as I feel (which is not to be expected), you would appreciate, as I do, what a blessing that would be when we shall be so far apart."

    There was a pause.  Olive was crying.  Anthony stood before her looking dreamily over the sunny fields stretched out before them, with the grey Rectory gable peeping between its clustering elms.  The church clock chimed two.

    "It must be because you don't trust me," he repeated.

    "Oh, Tony! it would be very wrong of me, but if I didn't trust you—if I was not sure you would come back—I don't know that I could send you away like this."

    "I shouldn't have troubled you, little darling," he said, more tenderly.  "What am I that I should make you miserable!  Try to forget it, Olive, and be happy."

    "No, no!" cried Olive.  "Only be worthy of yourself, Anthony.  Be what God means you to be.  Oh Anthony, Anthony!  I shall so long for you to come back!"

    She could not have been so candid in a calmer moment, but to Anthony she had never seemed purer, nobler, or more maidenly than at that minute.

    "My little tender Olive," he said, "you ought to have nothing hard to bear.  But I see my father crossing the back meadow, and he will be searching for me.  Keep my secret.  Remember me.  Pray for me.  Good-bye, good-bye!"

    And he was gone.  But in his heart lay the doubt, "She can't care for me so very much, or she could not have been so firm."

    And she went back to the house, threading her way among the guests, until the last departed; and then she went to her own room, and threw herself on the floor beside her little white bed, and prayed in that dreadful agony which can find no more utterance than broken cries on the name of the tender Father—God.

    Olive concealed nothing, yet nobody guessed anything.  In the evening, when the family were vaguely wandering in the drawing-rooms, which looked oddly dismantled, and ruinous with redundant bouquets, white draperies, and disordered chairs, some intimate acquaintance dropped in to tell the story of young Bollen's sudden departure from Bishop's Elm for Southampton, about an hour before.  Olive instantly owned that she knew it, that Anthony himself had spoken to her over the garden wall after the happy couple drove away, and told her of his going, and said "good-bye."  As this was a more direct communication than anybody else had received, she was instantly applied to for authentic details, and found that what she knew in that way was scanty enough.

    "Well," said Miss Elizabeth Leslie, commenting on the whole story, "let's hope it will make a man of him at last, and perhaps he'll come back to England for a wife, even in my time."

    And then the little wheel of Bishop's Elm life rolled on again the same as ever.  Except that Emma, settled in the nearest West-end quarter, woke its envy now and again by driving up to Grecian Place in her dashing chariot, and airing the contents of her trousseau among her old friends, who would appreciate its magnificence better than her stylish new circle, whom it took a very great deal to startle, and which when startled was too high-bred to show it.  The little gossiping soirées, the croquet parties, the parish festivities, went on just the same.  Only one old man and one quiet girl looked oftener at the sky and the weathercock, and put a dear name in the simple prayer "for all that travelled by land or water."

    That very year Mr. Straight had heavy losses in business.  The stables were reduced to one plain carriage and one man-servant, though Percy was allowed to retain his hunter.  Even in the house sundry retrenchments became visible, though Emma's withdrawal and Olive's quieter inclinations naturally reduced its gaiety and expense.  Poor Mrs. Straight fretted sorely—presently fretted from a buxom matron to a whining invalid, amused and interested only by her own half-fancied ailments.  But all the year, before the reverses as well as after, Bishop's Elm coteries had noticed a change and an improvement in Olive.  It was not that she was gayer—she was almost graver than ever―but a kind of strength seemed growing up in the girl.  Her step was more elastic; her style of thought was more pronounced.  She had risen above her softer, weaker self on the occasion of Anthony's departure, and her whole nature, physical as well as moral, was growing to the height and fibre of that supreme effort.  That was perhaps the first line of Olive's true history.  If there are some heroes of one heroism, as some poets of one poem, there are others who emulate nothing so much as their nobler selves, who are unconsciously jealous lest the future should disgrace the past.  Modifying the old proverb that what man has once done, man can do again, such feel that what themselves have once been, they must continue to be.  One independent action, one firm exertion of will, strikes the key-note for the straying tones of character, and keeps them in tune to the end.  Little, delicate, timid Olive was melting away like a waxen mask in the sun, and revealing the true Olive beneath—quiet, reserved, but firm, self-reliant, and energetic, with that strange energy which supplies bodily strength, or does without it.

    She would need it all.  Business did not recover itself.  Retrenchment, never for a moment abandoned, steadily increased.  The family would really have been more comfortable in a smaller house than Grecian Place.  It was rather chill now, bedroom fires were abandoned; rather large and dreary now they had no visitors.  But they shrank from so plain an announcement of reduced fortune.  They would struggle and hope a little longer.  Even Olive, though she would glance half-envyingly round Miss Leslie's snug little domicile, could not bear to quite put away the sweet delusion that brighter days would surely come again.

    Two long years, and never a word from Anthony Bollen.  She heard of him.  His father, the rector, would drop in of an evening at Grecian Place, oftener somehow in these days, when the ladies did not dress for dinner, and the folding-doors between the drawing-rooms were not set open.  He liked a quiet rubber at whist, and he liked to hear Olive play.  Her music had not been in request in the days of Emma's brilliant symphonies and fantasies; but now her simple ballads and old-fashioned hymns were very acceptable.  Best of all, he liked to talk of his boy Tony, ever seeming proudest and happiest when dwelling on the roughest and hardiest details of the lad's bush life.  Tony had nursed a comrade through the cholera.  Tony wrote his short graphic letters among sheep-carcases, by the light of a candle he had made himself, stuck in a candlestick of similar manufacture.  Tony rode out days and nights among the wild cattle.  Tony was no silken Candy, after all.

    Olive was glad for his sake.  Only, along with her thankfulness there grew a feeling of pain and fear.  She had said truly that she trusted him, but the more this trust was coming home, the more she sometimes felt that she might have given it too hard a strain.  What if Anthony thought so too?  But Olive had determination enough to put away these qualms, and to reassure herself with the thought —"Come what may, what I did was right."

    In sunny July (a particularly sunny July, when skies had been clear so long that people were almost watching for clouds) two events broke over Grecian Place, white and glaring in the midst of its parched lawns—Straight and Company failed utterly; and a letter, with Australian post-marks, came for Miss Olive Straight.

    It was to her the cup of wine which God generally sets before us in our days of weariness and heaviness.  In its strength she went through them.  Say not that she was selfish to find refuge in a joy that could scarcely console her father and mother and brother, for she set this joy to serve them.  She did not cry out that it was hard her time of rejoicing should be so shaded and silenced.  She thanked God that it gave her fortitude and courage to shield her dear ones as much as she could, taking every possible burden upon herself, so mercifully armed for the occasion.

    "A king's daughter could not fall more gracefully," said Miss Elizabeth Leslie.

    Matters settled themselves somehow.  There was "something" for the family, but it was not so much as one year's income had often been.  Mr. Straight had been an honourable man, and there were no ample settlements on wife or children to screen him in his misfortune.  Olive was proud of that.  If others might suffer somewhat in the calamities that had come upon them, they themselves suffered most of all.  How grey her father's hair turned!  How silent he sat in the shadiest corner of the little parlour of the mean house on the green which they presently rented.  Olive could never look at him without a starting memory of the words, "A wounded spirit who shall bear?"  And amid all her wildest grief that day when he fell down on the pavement of the High Row, and was carried home unconscious, never to speak or move afterwards, there was a strange sense of relief for him.

    What were they to do?  Olive knew that she must think of that, as she sat in her new mourning in the stifling parlour with the ghastly funeral cake and wine upon the table.  Need had not been so imminent while the father lived.  There would have been sundry agencies, sales on commission, and such other means as mercantile men use to convey assistance to a fallen brother, too broken down to recommence the fight, but yet too proud and persistent to sink at once into the genteel almshouse.  But that was all gone now; and Olive knew she must not reckon upon Percy.  Poor Percy!  He was the saddest spar in their sad wreck.  Before the crash of the home, there had been watching nights, weary disgraced mornings, when Olive had fervently thanked God that Anthony Bollen was safe at his hard, honest work on the other side of the world.  Poor Percy! people had made excuses for him in those days, who shook their heads behind him now.  There is a morality in the world, which sees more hope for a man who drowns his future in the best champagne, and fills a betting-book for the Oaks, than for one who will condescend to stupefy himself with ale, and is seen hanging about the doors of sly betting-dens near Oxford Street.  Percy had sunk to this depth now, and the euphemisms of "a, wild young fellow" were exchanged for the plain epithet of "a black sheep."  But just at the time of his father's death, he was lying helplessly ill—worn out as no man is ever worn by work, broken down as none are ever broken by sorrow.  "When he mends a little, I think you will be able to manage him, Miss Straight, but you must begin in time," was the doctor's opinion.  What a verdict on a young man's life of seven-and-twenty years!

    What should Olive do?  There was something in her which revolted from becoming a governess, even were her education in the right style.  She could not teach music, nor calisthenics, nor Paris French.  Besides, her need was for more than a governess's salary, and she must keep to her poor mother and the miserable Percy, whose presence would prevent any possibility of pupils at home.  She could not help envying Miss Elizabeth Leslie, with her queer, half-mechanical genius, and actually persuaded that little lady to take her to the British Museum Reading-room and let her help to hunt up and copy out references.  It was something in the way of work that earns money, and therefore a comfort.  But she could not wait long to ponder her lot and after a certain plan had fructified in her head for three days, Olive Straight went through a form of consultation with her bewildered mother, got a carte-blanche to do whatever she thought best, and straightway went off and invested half of her pitiful and fast-dwindling capital in the good-will of the Bishop's Elm Library and Fancy Stores, which then happened to be on sale.

    Mrs. Straight cried out bitterly.  A daughter of hers serving behind a counter, at the beck and call of anybody who came in with money in their hand!  What would the Rev. Mr. Bollen say?  What would Anthony say?  Of course, Olive had made up her mind that he would never think of her again after this.  And what a disgrace to poor Emma, whose husband's family were so well-connected and so proud!

    Olive bit her lip, and drew in her breath hard.  For though she thanked God she had not yet required to ask help of her brother-in-law, yet he had managed to convey to her that though he might be forced by his magnanimity to throw her a crumb or two (he had received a full portion with his bride), yet it was a very unfair burden, the mere fear of which made him feel himself to be a sorely-injured man.  Her mother's words dropped the first spice of anxiety in her thoughts of the rector and his son.  And it struck her that even her friend Miss Leslie might consider that "she had crossed one of those boundary lines" which that good lady "considered society was bound to respect."

    Left lonely in her own familiar village!—left to live like a ghost, seeing, but not recognized; watching, but not sharing!  The very thought chilled Olive, especially as of late, even under most unfavourable influences, she had found less satisfaction in study and thought, and more interest in action and society.  But her heart was strong enough to push aside the paralyzing doubt that fell upon it, and to say calmly, "I have done what is right!"

    And what came of it?  This came first.  That very night, after Mrs. Straight and Percy had both retired, there came a sudden little rap at the door.  And when Olive opened it―for they had no servant living in the house—who was there but Miss Elizabeth Leslie, with her little silk dress tucked up about her, and a great plaid shawl thrown over her head.

    "Let me into the parlour to speak to you, child," she said; "I won't stay a minute.  Child I've heard the news.  The rector heard it in some shop in the High Row, and he came and told me, and would have called to congratulate you, he said, only you must be so busy.  He's ever so pleased.  You've done the right thing, Olive.  You're a noble woman, child."

    "I was afraid you would not like the shop," said Olive, with a deprecatory smile.

    "Well, child, I've often said that born ladies find it hard to be brought to it.  They find it easier to starve, or to live like slaves in other people's houses, Olive.  Poor things, it's one of their natural disadvantages.  You can't expect many women to be great enough to triumph over prejudices that have been growing stiff and strong for nine or ten generations.  But you had none of that folly to cripple you, Olive.  You could see at once, that any honest work is honourable.  Bless you, child, to do more work and better work than most people, is the real meaning of nobility, child.  It is not my fault if words get perverted.  As to trade, I think if I was a man, perhaps I'd sooner cut down trees, or catch wild bulls by the horns, like somebody we know, but the Bible itself, Olive, commends trade in the wise woman, 'who maketh fine linen and selleth it, and delivereth girdles unto the merchants.'  I think it is an excellent opening for women, though not under the common masculine idea of fitting women's work, whatever is tedious, trivial, and underpaid.  You'll never find a man say it is 'unwomanly' to do anything which brings in a shilling for twelve hours' work!  But you'll make three times my income, with half the labour and worry.  A stock in trade is a better capital than a commonplace little brain.  You can insure the one against fire, but you can't insure the other against cracking!  Good-bye, Olive child, and God bless and prosper you in all your ways.  Good-bye."

    And so Olive Straight settled down to her new way of life.  No doubt the Australian letters, coming regularly, kept up her courage, and by-and-by one of them enclosed a ring—a very quiet little ring—which henceforth graced her left hand.  But she had her trials.  Though her mother presently felt herself far more at home in the snug parlour behind the shop, with duties of household needlework and china-washing, than ever she had felt in the idle state of Grecian Place, yet whenever she had a fit of languor or depression, she was apt to repine over the lost glories, which in her inmost heart she was secretly glad were not likely to return.  Then business itself would fluctuate, and terrify Olive with pecuniary care, keeping her on the alert, not only to gain, but absolutely to earn, every possible shilling.  She laid herself out for employments of which the old conservative mistresses of the library had never thought.  She addressed the begging circulars of all the charitable institutions within five miles of Bishop's Elm.  She deciphered, arranged, and fair copied the confused manuscripts of the queer old lady who lived in "The Nest" behind the Rectory, and who was always making discoveries about the fate and future of the lost Ten Tribes of Israel.  She engrossed and illuminated the address of the parishioners when they presented an epergne to the rector, on the "silver year" of his service among them, and "charged" for her work, much as she would have liked it to have been a labour of love.  She was up early and down late.  She persistently set Percy to work too, though it was hard enough to bear with his blundering and fretfulness, at being made to do with so much trouble what he knew she could accomplish so easily herself.  He thought her unkind, but she understood what was good for him, and was firm.  He benefited by it by-and-by.  His poor shallow mind was half gone now, but the effort of exertion braced it up, and he also became so much stronger physically, that in due time he was fit to take a situation in the office of the Bishop's Elm auctioneer.  It was little more than a boy's place, either in duties or salary, but the slender pay went far in their thrifty household, and gave the poor wreck an humble right on the river of life.  He would go to church now, and Olive took his arm proudly, thanking God that this poor lost coin of His seemed finding its way back to His treasury, albeit its Divine superscription had been sadly worn away and clipped under the devil's hand.

    Circumstances never brightened very much, but life did.  Olive learned to trust in a certainty underlying the uncertainties of her income—to find that in work and trade the rule of investments holds good, and that loss in one item generally involves profit in another.  She even discovered that there are few excitements so healthy and genuine as the excitement of making both ends meet, and barely succeeding!  And the best definition of happiness which her experience had brought her was, rather more work in hand than one can conveniently do.

    She did not find her old life so closed to her as he had expected.  The rector (the only one outside her own family who understood the ring upon her finger, though Miss Leslie guessed and held her tongue) was her staunch friend, and that, after the fashion that she liked—not interfering with her independence, but throwing work in her way, and upholding her generally.  There was scarcely a family whom she had ever visited that did not continue cards of invitation, which she frankly accepted whenever she had time; but presently she found that she had not time, and often did not wish she had.  There were new interests come into her life, and striking deeper roots than the old ones.  She found that ancient acquaintanceships could be kept up on a firmer basis than a morning call, or two annual parties.  And in many a house she became welcome as the easy family friend who looked in after tea, and was sent for and consulted in emergencies of all sorts.  Society had not taken liberties with her—rather she had taken the liberty of hinting to it that it might remove its paint and false hair, for she liked it better as it really was!

    Among her trials came sorrows.  The rector fell ill—not a sudden illness, but not long enough for Anthony to be recalled, even had his father permitted it.  "Why should he come home to my dust?" the good man asked.  "Heaven is everywhere, and I shall be with my Saviour there.  Let him stay where he is, and not interrupt the prosperity that will bring you two together the sooner.  I'd rather die before you go, Olive.  I should be very lonely without you.  You have been a good daughter to me.  I have very little to leave.  Clergymen should not die rich.  I have nothing that would be any use to a strong young man like Tony, or a fine helpful woman like you.  Just a trifle that will provide for my old cook Hannah and dog Keeper.  Hannah saved my life when I had rheumatic fever twenty years ago, and Keeper saved my silver spoon when the burglars visited me six years since.  So I think they deserve it."

    The next Australian mail took the news of his father's death to Anthony Bollen, and Olive Straight put on deep daughterly mourning, and Bishop's Elm began to bestir itself and to whisper that something else would be coming next.

    It was three years after that, and nearly ten years since the summer morning when Anthony Bollen and Olive Straight parted by the side-gate, that the Bishop's Elm Library and Fancy Stores were again in the market.  Mrs. Straight was dead.  Percy was doing well enough to be trusted alone, and even to be a frequent visitor to his brother-in-law and sister Emma.  Anthony Bollen was a prosperous man, and Olive Straight was going out to Melbourne to be married.

    A young woman no longer; it was a woman of thirty-one, capable, comely, and cheerful, who went about, brightly, buying her wedding outfit.  Miss Elizabeth Leslie went shopping with her.  Some people never get older.  Miss Leslie must have been fifty for a long time, but she stayed so.  Olive was part of her very life now, and what she should do when she was gone, Miss Elizabeth could not imagine.

    Anthony had written asking Olive to be ready to marry him on very short notice.  He was waiting an opportunity to come for her, but the exigencies of his colonial business were such that he could not fix beforehand when he would start, nor could he remain in England more than a week.  Olive had written back, bravely, that it was a pity to have such expense, fatigue, and inconvenience over a formality.  Should she come out to him?  Olive almost trembled when she had done it, it seemed so foreign to what Miss Leslie called "delicate womanly reserve;" but when her friend heard it she approved it heartily.

    "You are no green girl marrying a nonsensical boy.  You're a sensible woman and (I trust) he's a sensible man.  There is romance and romance, my dear.  The pretty young kind is very sweet in its way, and unless we have it at the proper time, we seldom have the other in its turn.  But there's a time to carol 'Lady-love, lady-love,' and another to sing 'John Anderson, my jo, John.'  Besides, true, pure women are never so squeamish as your half-bred, giggling misses.

    It seemed like a dream to be living in the dim London lodgings where she spent her last days in England.  She was thankful for the very whirl in which they were passed.  It saved her from thinking over-much of the graves in Bishop's Elm churchyard, and the sunshine over the lawns of Grecian Place, and the field-view from that little gate in the blind lane.  It is hard to tear one's life from its old setting; it gets damaged in the process, or at least it seems so.  Like the old clock or the old carpet that looked so handsome in the niche or chamber which they fitted, but show, as spoiled and shabby in the new spruce unhomely house.  Exile is a death with a voluntary action in it which adds the passionate anguish of sacrifice.  But Olive's was an exile of love, and she went to it, rejoicingly.  Oh, what a poor love it must be, that is so wise that it counts all the cost beforehand, and will not incur the risk!

    There was a pathos in Olive Straight's departure—leaving her youth and its surroundings behind her, and going out to a strange future in an unknown land.  It would not have been half so truly touching, had it possessed more of the common elements of interest—had she been young and beautiful, very rich or very poor, anything but the middle-aged, contented, well-to-do woman that she was, with her simple, silent love strong to stir the deep roots of long-settled life.

    Only two people saw her off—little Miss Elizabeth and poor brother Percy.  There was a fresh breeze blowing through the docks, that stirred some old-fashioned perfume that Miss Leslie always kept about her person.  There they said those few last words, which, after all, can have so little more in them than there is in a parting till to-morrow, though they will be remembered and re-rendered as fondly as the written message of a hand that can write no more.  "Let us hear from you as often as you can.  Take care of yourself.  Good-bye.  God bless you!"  And a gate closes, or a mooring is loosened.  And one goes back by a path that was never trodden alone before, and one goes forward, with forgotten tears unshed, and wonders how the stars look dim, or why the sun is changed.

    But Olive braced herself, she had looked forward to this as the crown of her life.  Only it was hard to leave Miss Leslie and Percy alone.  It seemed even selfish.  She had all the pleasure, and they had all the pain.  Only she was not her own—she was Anthony's.  It comforted her a little to reflect when the sea-smells began to creep chilly to her heart, that Miss Elizabeth and her brother had lost nothing but herself, and she had left everything for Anthony.  And then her healthy nature stretched out its roots towards their new soil, and pondered no more over the transplanting.

    She had a hard voyage; gale after gale, and nearly all in the wrong direction.  The passengers were ill and impatient; the ship's officers too busy and anxious to cheer them up.  Olive found work to do, and did it.  Always somebody lying lonely in their berth, or prostrate on the deck, helplessly staring at the sky.  People to be soothed from fear in the storm, and from ill temper the day after.  She became a useful favourite.  She was asked whether she was going out to join a brother, and she owned frankly that she was going to be married, and had not seen "Mr. Bollen" for ten years.  She did not think enough of herself now-a-days to be shy, and was too whole and active to be nervous,—looking back upon her old girlish identity with a sort of indulgent pity, and thanking God for nothing so much as for the rough trials that had braced up her soul, just as the wild sea-breezes were bracing the frames of some invalid fellow-passengers.

    When the ship cast anchor at Melbourne, and Mr. Bollen came on board to fetch her, there was a little respectful curiosity felt to see the meeting.  A great, strong settler, (was it possible he had grown?) with a brown, hairy face, and rough, easy garments, came tramping over the deck, and glancing to and fro at the groups of ladies standing about.  It seemed as if he would have passed Olive, if she had not stepped out, with hands held forth.

    "Olive, I shouldn't have known you!"

    "I should have known you anywhere, Anthony!"  But she thought no reproach.

    "Why did you come alone?  I told you not," he said.  He had hinted that she should hire a companion, but she, so long used to set aside comforts that were urged upon her, had instinctively and innocently disregarded the injunction.

    "I dare say you are very tired," he said.  "There will be plenty of time to see after your luggage, if you have a portmanteau of immediate necessaries.  Some very urgent business is calling me from Melbourne—of course I could not go till your ship came in, and I saw you in safety.  But now I can start to-morrow morning.  I shall only be away two or three days, which will give you time to rest, and you are expected to 'put up' at my partner's house.  His wife is a nice kind woman, and they have a sweet little daughter, who will be pleasant company for you.  Two or three days more, Olive, and then no more parting."

    There was an effort in the last words, as if he was conscious of some coldness, and wished to atone for it.  But the thought of his temporary departure came to Olive like a chill.  He had been ready to come to England for her at a great sacrifice, and now she had saved him this, he seemed unprepared for smaller sacrifice.  Olive did not reason this out any more than we analyze the pang of a sudden sting, but she felt a longing for some touch from the dear old past, some craving even for the wild pain and hot tears beside the side-gate on Emma's wedding-day.

    He took her to her temporary destination, and after a brief welcome, the hostess disappeared, and the two were left alone together.  Then, in quietness, they first mentioned the dead, and the absent, and the old days.  It struck Olive then, that a sudden gulf seemed to yawn between the past and the present, and that somehow they spoke of her former self as a third party.  Then it was, that Anthony Bollen's first startled greeting returned on her ear like a discord, and assumed a morbid fascination over her.

    He left her.  She went up to her strange chamber in the strange land.  There was a terrible loneliness upon her.  She would have been glad to have her chests with her, to find some poor reassurance in their familiar contents.  Anthony might be close at hand.  He was, in truth, inhabiting the nearest house, which was to be her future home.  She could look from her window upon it—white and substantial, among the bright young trees of its garden.  She could see the curtained lattice of his chamber.  But he had never felt so far away, all these ten years, when night after night, she had finished her work, often in the small hours, and looked at his portrait, and put his name in her prayer, and sunk to sleep to dream of him.  Olive Straight had never prayed but humbly and reverently, as a docile child to a wise Father.  She had never raised a perverse will to snatch fancied blessings from the Divine hand.  But yet she was to learn that there may be a greater bitterness in granted prayers than in denied ones.  Oh, if this voyage could be as if it had never been, and she could find herself back in Bishop's Elm, doing her humble duties, enjoying her quiet friendships, living in the glory of a dream that was so far better than its reality.

    She did not rebel; she did not even give definite shape to the pain and doubt creeping through her heart.  She was willing to attribute all to fatigue, to loneliness, to the sudden shock generally felt when the long waves of the past break over a strange present.  She would be better if she had something to do.  The very leisure of hand and mind was so new to her, that it alone was trying and disconcerting.  To-morrow she would provide herself with needlework, and have her boxes fetched, and make herself busy among old associations.

    So she did.  She made herself very pleasant and friendly to her hospitable entertainers, the Grays.  They were English people too, and partly Londoners; and she could tell them of the changes which had taken place about their old home, and the new railroads that had been made, and which of the old local celebrities were dead or gone away, and who reigned in heir stead.  In their turn they could not speak too loud in praise of her affianced. They were not the sort of people to notice that she looked a little wistfully at Ellen Gray, the pale, dark-eyed, only daughter, about whom the mother was quite anxious, she was so delicate and sensitive.

    "She may grow out of it; I used to be just so," Olive said simply.

    "Mr. Bollen always said that," Mrs. Gray responded in delight.  "He made Ellen quite a favourite for your sake."

    God's will be done.  Letters came from the absent lover.  Alas, alas! the letters were so different from those that had come to England.  The meeting had changed them too.  This was not the woman he had once loved.  And his heart kept faith to its old ideal.

    "I'm afraid Miss Straight has missed you sadly, Mr. Bollen," said cheerful Mrs. Gray, as, on the evening of his return she met him on her threshold, coming in slowly and soberly; "for, though she's one of the pleasantest ladies I ever met, it's not been to please herself that she's been so chatty and sociable to us, and she can't help turning quiet at times, and all to-day she has scarcely said a word."

    Once more alone together.  Hand to hand, eye to eye.  Only for a second.  His hand dropped; his eye fell.  This was not his Olive.  No.

    "Anthony"—it was a low, thrilling voice, that gave his heart a curious leap—"you find me very much changed, I know."


"Time changes a' things; he'll no let them be,"


quoted Anthony, with an affectation of playfulness.  He did not remember where the words came from.  They had been echoing in his head these last few days, as bits of jingling rhyme will echo.  Olive looked up quickly.  It was easier to state the case in any words but her own, and she carried on the quotation:


"But I'd rather have the ither ane than this Bessie Lee."


    There was something in her voice and manner which said what she meant, and which stung Anthony Bollen.

    "What reason have I given you to say that?" he asked.

    Do him justice.  He too had been fighting his battle out in the lonely bush.  All these years he had been dreaming a dream that had not come true.  But on the lone Australian moor he had vowed to himself to be faithful and honourable.  He would not go back from his plighted troth.  He would accept this bright balsam that had grown where he thought he had planted a tender lily.  There might be other lilies near at hand, but he would keep his faith and wear the balsam, and "make the best of it."

    "You have given me no reason but that it is the truth," she answered gently; "I am not what you thought me.  Anthony, let me go home."

    "My dear creature," he said, with masculine energy, but not, Olive saw, without a sense of relief, "don't propose such strong measures.  I leave a gentle, fragile, fading girl, whom I love, Olive, with all my heart and soul.  And, after years and years, I find a fine, capable, heartsome woman instead.  It must be a little startling at first, Olive.  In fact you are your own rival.  You would not think much of my constancy if I could transfer my allegiance in a day.  But there is nothing painful in the change.  Far from it.  Most people would think you wonderfully improved.

    Most people!  Patience, patience!

    "Let me, go home," she pleaded.

    "You must own it's a great change," he went on, in eager self-excuse.  "Fancy taking this long journey alone!  The timid little pet you used to be!  It's odd what a charm we strong, rough men find in weakness and softness.  I cannot think where you have found so much pluck and energy."

    "From doing my duty!" said Olive, looking at him with bright, brown eyes.  "God set a task and gave me strength to do it.  And now, Anthony Bollen, God bless you always in everything, and I will go back again, thanking Him for saving us both from a dreadful mistake."

    "And everybody will say that I have behaved very badly to you," cried Anthony bitterly.

    There was a shade passed over Olive's face.  It was not impatience; it was not contempt.  But it was like the look of a man who has to brace his comrade's courage against ghosts and bogies.

    "Some people will lay all the blame on me," she said calmly.  "But never mind that.  If that was all, it would be but little."  That was the only hint she ever gave of the agony with which love lay dying within her.

    So set the dream of a life.  It was not made into an acting tragedy.  People only heard that plans were changed—that Miss Straight was going back to England.  Mrs. Grey told her husband that "she thought Miss Straight had acted very wisely; there was a great deal more in her than there ever could be in Bollen; that, for her own part, she did not think much was to be expected from such long and separated engagements; and that Miss Straight was the right woman to make a capital old maid, and a very happy one into the bargain."

    Mrs. Gray never suspected any substantial suffering in the quiet matter-of-fact woman, who, during the day or two before her departure, did not forget to dry a few Australian flowers, because her old friend Mrs. Leslie kept an herbarium, and would like such important addition to its glories.  That she felt vexed at so much trouble and waste of time for no result, Mrs. Gray, as a thrifty house-wife, did not doubt, and even cast about in her kindly brain whether she could not do something to lighten such sense of the fruitless toil and worry.

    "It's a pity to go home so soon, after coming so far," she ventured to say, when Olive was fain to commence her repacking.  "If you'd stay a while longer, that weariful Mr. Anthony would soon be out of your sight, for I know he must be off to Sydney for a spell by-and-by.  And then you might rest and enjoy yourself with us, and maybe stay on, and see how we keep Christmas among the roses in Australia."

    "Thank you very much," Olive answered, gently.  "But I should like to spend Christmas at home; and our captain expects to get in by that time."

    Christmas at home!  Words have so many meanings; and Life gives such pathos to many a household phrase!

    The night before Olive started on her homeward-bound journey, in the Ocean Star, she called Ellen Gray into her room, and gave her some delicate lace, that she had bought for herself to wear as a bride, and a pearl brooch intended for the same occasion.  "I don't think you need fear them to be unlucky gifts," she said, sweetly.  "Good wishes cross unluckiness, and avert any omen.  Besides, we don't believe in omens, dear, do we?  We believe in God."

    "She could not have cared much for me," said Anthony Bollen, as he stood on the quay, while the ship's moorings were loosened.  "She could not have cared much for me, or she would never have done it.  She will be happy enough; she has it in herself; she will be very happy."

    SOMEBODY else knew that.

    Say good-bye to her, standing on the deck watching the sun go down.  The pilot noticed her standing so all that evening; and vaguely wondered whether it was homeward bound or outward bound with her.  There was a little playing child that kept running to her, and clasping her skirts, and she always smiled and stroked its hair, and did not put it away from her.

    What was she thinking about?  Of the old Bishop's Elm life to be taken up again, with the glory gone off it?  Of the kindly friendships which made such pleasant figure on a sweet old background, but were scarcely enough by themselves?  Of the duties on which she had mounted step by step out of reach of the homely happiness which had cheered her ascent?  Never mind.

    The pilot heard her voice once.  Half-singing, half-chanting, in sympathy with the slow, strange monotone of the grey sea at her feet:


"O Paradise!  O Paradise!
     The world is growing old;
 Who would not be at rest and free,
     Where love is never cold?
 O Paradise, O Paradise,'
     'Tis weary waiting here,――――"


And there she ceased.  The pilot noticed it, because the hymn was one which his mother had taught him, and he had never heard it since.  He remembered it afterwards, and spoke of it.

    Say good-bye to her standing on the deck, watching the sun go down.

                      *                                    *                                    *                                    *

And presently the English papers recorded in succession—

    "Steamship Ocean Star, from Melbourne, overdue."
    "Ocean Star—not heard of."
    "Part of a wreck, thought to be the Ocean Star, seen off the rocks at the Cape."


    Then, at last, the paragraph:—


"A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA—NEWS OF THE Ocean Star.—A bottle containing paper was washed ashore at Algoa Bay last week.  We report its contents that they may the sooner reach the eyes for which they were intended, and perhaps be some satisfaction to other anxious friends of the lost.  The following is written in pencil, on paper, apparently the fly-leaf torn from a book.—'Ocean Star,—The ship is sinking fast.  Dear Percy and Miss Elizabeth, there are £200 in letters of credit on the Royal Bank of Australia, and £150 insurance on my life and property in the Australasian Assurance Office.  This may be useful in saving you trouble.  I am not afraid; God is so good.  Yours in everlasting love, OLIVE S.— Whoever finds this, please to forward to Miss Elizabeth Leslie, High Row, Bishop's Elm, near London.'


    "She died royally," sobbed Miss Elizabeth, as she read it.

    Let the faded orange-flower fall; there are fadeless flowers in heaven.  Let the blighted life go; there is immortality beyond.

    But was it a blighted life?  When the fair mansion is built, do we care that its scaffolding is knocked away?  When the flower is mature, what do we care for the screens and props which reared it?

    So she spends her CHRISTMAS AT HOME; and she is very happy.  God takes care of that.



THE END

 


 

 [Home] [Up] [Recollections] [A Retired Life] [The Secret Drawer] [By Still Waters] [The Dead Sin] [Family Fortunes] [At Any Cost] [Rab Bethune's Double] [Short Stories, etc.] [Poems] [Miscellanea] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk