Occupations of a Retired Life (2)

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CHAPTER V.

TURNED TO THE WALL.


ON Thursday, there came to me a letter bearing the London postmark.  I saw Alice look at it as she took it from the postman, and she brought it into the parlour and laid it on the breakfast-table with its superscription upwards.  I recognised the writing of the kindest man in my old firm, and I had little fear about its contents, so I bade my servant wait a moment.

    The epistle was short enough.  The "house" regretted that my first recommendation was not a case which they could take up with more zeal.  But they would stretch a point to oblige me.  So, if the young man liked, he could take a subordinate place in their counting-house at a salary of eighteen shillings a week.

    Now, I did not read the letter to Alice.  I knew it was very kind, but to her it would seem cruel.  I only told her the result of my application.  She took it very quietly, with a few grave thanks, spoken slowly and laboriously, like words in a half-known tongue, ending with the request that she might go and tell Ewen.

    I reflected for a moment, and then said, "No, I should like to speak with Mr Herbert first; he has been kind to your brother, and I should not wish to entice him from his service without his knowledge.  I will make everything right, and your brother shall have the offer before the afternoon."

    And Alice thanked me again, and went away the kitchen.

    I wanted Ruth to accompany me to the Great Farm, but she refused, saying I suited strangers better than she did, and she hated morning calls.  I learned afterwards that she and Alice passed the time in consulting over the outfit necessary for the lad's decent appearance in his new situation.

    I saw neither Ewen nor his grandfather on the way to the farm.  I proceeded to the dwelling-house, and found the garden-gate open.  The bad weather had made sad havoc among the shapely flower-beds, but a few chrysanthemums smiled from the withered leaves, like country faces in a London crowd.  So I reached the broad old-fashioned porch, and pulled a bell whose handle I found among the ivy leaves.

    The door was opened by a middle-aged woman, tall and gaunt, clad in a dark clinging gown, and thick white cap and apron.  She might have been portress at a nunnery.

    "Is Mr Herbert within?" I inquired.

    "Mr Herbert has just gone out among his fields," she answered, in a sour tone, eyeing me like one who has reason to suspect a stranger.

    "Can you tell me where I may overtake him?" I asked.

    "H'm—ye see he's moving about; and as you went in at one gate, he might go out at the other.  I don't know whether he'll be long.  If ye'll step inside I'll just inquire."

    She admitted me into a square wainscoted hall, pushed forward a heavy oaken chair, and retreated with noisy steps through an arched doorway.

    The place reminded me of dear old Meadow Farm, only on a grander scale.  There was the same wide fireplace, surmounted by hunting trophies and blunderbusses, the same bare walls and floor, only these were of oak instead of deal.  But it was very silent, and there was no cheerful family litter on the hall table—no whips, or dog-collars, or battered gardening-hats.  I had scarcely time to notice all this, when the tall servant returned.

    "Will ye just step into the parlour to Miss Herbert?" she said, and turned about and led the way.  She had never asked my name.  It seemed that unexpected visits were so rare in that house, that she had forgotten the customary etiquette of such occasions.

    The "parlour" was reached by a short passage leading from the arched doorway.  This passage was very dark, and as my guide opened the door at the end, I was almost dazzled by the sunlight in the white-ceiled and delicately-papered room beyond.  The servant made way for my entrance, but did not retire.

    Miss Herbert advanced to meet me.  As I expected, she was the lady whom I had seen on the previous Sunday, but in her in-door apparel she looked much younger.  She met me close to the door, and her face seemed anxious and fearful.  There was a dog at her feet, a curly honest-eyed fellow, but not such a one as usually frequents feminine boudoirs.

    "I apologise for disturbing you," I said; "but I wish a little conversation with Mr Herbert.  I must introduce myself as Mr Edward Garrett, your new neighbour."

    "Oh, indeed!" she responded, in a relieved tone "will you please take a chair?  I expect Mr Herbert will return in half an hour.  If you can wait, he will very happy to see you."

    Then she resumed her seat, and the attendant, who had remained till now, closed the door and left us together.  Like all English people, we entered into a conversation about the weather, from which we passed to the scenery in the neighbourhood, and similar topics.  On Sunday, my companion's face had awakened my interest, and as we talked this interest deepened.  Her manner was refined and kindly, and her smile was that beautiful smile which suggests a burst of sunshine on a rainy day.  Yet there was a preoccupation about her, as if her thoughts perpetually slipped away elsewhere, and had to be forcibly recalled and kept at their duty.  As we talked, there came upon her face the anxious, laborious expression sometimes seen in deaf people, and then she spoke with a fitful, forced vivacity, as if she feared she was failing in her part, and threw out all her energy to succeed.  Altogether she was exactly the reverse of the calm healthy woman one expects to meet in a farmhouse parlour.

    "I hope your papa is not so busy this morning that I shall be troublesome," I remarked, after one of our very natural pauses.

    "Oh, no," she answered, rousing herself with a start; "but Mr Herbert is not my father; he is my uncle."

    "I beg pardon for the mistake," I said.  "Then are you one of the household here, or are you on a visit?"

    "I have lived here since my father's death three years ago," she replied.  "Up till that time I was with him in London."

    "Ah, so we shall be able to talk about the great city," I said.  "But I daresay you do not know much of the part most familiar to me—eastward of Temple Bar."

    "Oh yes, I do," she answered.  "My father was a literary man, and we went about a good deal."

    "A literary man."  I knew that means such different careers—a defined retirement graced by many of the comforts and privileges of rank and wealth, without their restraints and responsibilities, or a hurrying life in restless homes, shiftless labour, improvident speculation.  Perhaps this was the key to the overwrought face before me.

    "Which do you prefer, town or country?" I asked.

    She shook her head.  "I cannot say—one may be happy in both, or miserable in either."

    "Then, at least you do not dislike rural solitude?" I remarked.

    "I was always accustomed to solitude," she answered.  Mamma died years ago, and I was an only child, and my father was generally much engaged."

    "Ah, then you may be less lonely in a family house among the fields, than in rooms overlooking London streets," I observed.

    She smiled faintly, and did not reply.  Presently she rose and said we had best find our way to the dining-room, as her uncle sometimes came in by a side-door, and sat there looking over his papers, long before any one knew he had returned from his rambles.

    "I am sorry to give so much trouble," I apologised as I followed her guidance; "my business is only a little matter about one of the farm people.  If I could see young Mr Herbert"—

    We were crossing the hall when I said this.  She stopped short, looked up at me, and repeated my last words.  Surely it must have been the effect of some stained glass above the door, but her face looked scared and white.

    "Have I made another mistake?" I queried.  "Is there no young Mr Herbert?  I fancied so, because I was out with a friend a few evenings back, and I thought he called a gentleman by that name.  Such are the difficulties of introducing one's-self, Miss Herbert."

    God forgive us for the pain we unintentionally give!  She moved forward again, and led the way down another short passage.  As she paused to open a door, she turned and said in a very soft, low voice—"We are a small family at the Great Farm—only my uncle and I."

    The room into which she ushered me was a long, low, wainscoted chamber, with a window at either end, one opening into the garden, and the other into the conservatory.  The furniture consisted of high-backed, red-cushioned chairs, two or three carved chests, and a table spread with a white cloth, and sundry preparations for lunch.  The walls were enlivened by a few heavily-framed portraits in oils.  Now, I always take interest in family pictures, but, as I glanced over these, I saw something which gave me a sudden chill.

    It was nothing dreadful.  Household skeletons are generally shut in very commonplace cupboards.  There is no unpleasantness in the back of a canvas when we scan it in hopes of finding some clue to its pedigree.  But it brings an awful revelation of domestic agony when, in a pleasant family room, we come upon a picture TURNED TO THE WALL.

    Miss Herbert made no effort to renew our conversation.  She drew a chair towards the fireplace, in mute invitation for me to be seated, and then went to the conservatory and began gathering dead leaves into a little basket.  It occurred to me that she had brought me to that room expressly that I might understand there was delicate ground in her uncle's dwelling, and so be warned to tread warily.

    In a few minutes the master of the house came in, and greeted me very cordially.  Now he knew me as respectable neighbour—not as an unknown lounger peering over his hedges.  But it's an ill compliment to be suspected till one's credentials are shown.

    "Come, Agnes," he called to his niece, "come and take your place at the table, and do the honours.  Rather a young housekeeper, you see, Mr Garrett, but as discreet as if she were fifty," he added, as the young lady obeyed, with a pale ghost of a smile flitting over her face.

    I would have excused myself from his bluff hospitality, pleading "that I would not detain him five minutes, I only wished to speak about a little business"――

    "And what business on earth is not better for being discussed over ale and ham?" he answered.

    So I had no alternative but to accept a chair and a plate.

    "You have in your service a young man named Ewen M'Callum," I began very primly.

    "Ay, that I have," said the farmer.  "And there isn't a better workman in the place—can turn his hand to anything.  Good job for me that he's rather under a cloud, else he would not be hired for my price."

    "Then, Mr Herbert," I responded, "I fear you will not thank me for asking you to give him up?"

    "What! do you want him yourself?" he asked.  "Upon my word, you city gentlemen are keen in detecting the value of a good article."

    "No, I don't want him myself," I answered; "but I dare say you know the youth has capabilities rather above farm-work."

    "Certainly I do," said he, "and that's just the reason whey he's so good at it.  Everything's the better when done with brains.  I only wish they would get so cheap as to be included in engagements."

    "I have succeeded in getting him a place in the city, of the kind he had before he—before he passed under the cloud, as you say," I explained.

    Mr Herbert's face clouded, and he asked very shortly, "Does the young fellow know this?"

    "Not yet," I replied.  "I would not name the subject to him, until I had conferred with you."

    "That's right," he said, clearing up.  "'Pastors and masters,' and all that, you know.  We must stand up for it, sir.  The young ones are always ready to throw us over.  Well, let 'em if they can.  If they won't have our rule, they can't want our help."

    Now, I felt that Mr Herbert spoke truth, and yet I could not assent.  It pains me to hear truth spoken dogmatically, or maliciously, or selfishly, and though the farmer's seemed only a coarse, good-humoured, give-and-take selfishness, nevertheless it profaned what it touched.  But he did not notice my silence.

    "I'll not stand in the lad's light," he went on.  "We'll go out together, and we shall find him somewhere about, and then you can tell him, and he shall have his wages, and a bit over, may be.  He's been worth double the money he's cost; but, of course, I shan't say so. He's a civil lad, too, though he's short soken, and doesn't say two words, if one will do."

    "He will be all the better when he is out of the way of suspicion," I said.

    "I don't see why he need care for suspicion," responded Mr Herbert, with a contemptuous emphasis on the word, "except that it lost him a good place.  But anything else might have done that.  Suspicion can't hang a man, and so far as I can see, it doesn't hinder his enjoying any comforts he can get."

    "But a man does not live only to eat and to escape the gallows," I remarked.  "That's a dog's life, Mr Herbert."

    "Let who can live for better things," he said, recklessly.  "Let 'em have fine hopes and visions, they'll find 'em less substantial than this," and he slapped the ham with his carving-knife.

    "Certainly, sir," I answered, "just as the perishing body is, to our gross senses, more substantial than the immortal soul."

    Mr Herbert made no reply, but helped himself to some ale, and told his niece she ate no more than a chicken, and there was a silence, until I inquired if Miss Herbert's London training permitted her to be a good walker.

    "Oh yes," she answered, with that same aroused manner.  "I think nothing of what many women call long distances."

    "But you hardly ever go out now, Aggie," said the farmer, in a softened, kindly tone.

    "I wonder at that," I remarked, "for I know there are beautiful walks about here, and I am sure you must have plenty of leisure."

    "Yes, plenty of leisure," she repeated absently.

    "Can you sketch?" I inquired.

    "I used to do so," she answered.

    "Now, how interesting that would be," I said, "for you might bring all the beauties of the neighbourhood into your uncle's house to brighten a rainy day."

    She laughed a little, and then answered, "There was nobody to see them.  Uncle would not care," and I thought she glanced towards that picture with its face turned away.

    "But anyhow it would occupy your time very pleasantly," I went on.  "Don't the days seem long to you, alone in this house among the fields?"

    "Oh, the days pass somehow," she replied with such a short, sad laugh.

    "I wish she would not shut herself up," said Mr Herbert, uneasily.  "She's always willing to go out if I ask her, but she never proposes it of her own accord."

    "Then, sir," I said, "I wish you would now ask her to accompany me to see my sister.  Ruth will be very glad to have a young thing about her as often as the young thing likes."  But even as I uttered the words I felt that my sister, with her white hair, was far less weary and worn than this twenty-year-old girl.  Agnes Herbert's sweet, tired face positively pained me.

    "Then Agnes must be at her service," said the farmer promptly.  "So, my girl, go and put on your wraps, and you can come with us through the fields.  The walk will do you good, this fine sunshiny day."

    She rose to obey, smiling and silent.  It was the silence about her which was so pitiful.  For silence is the leaden shield with which we meet the inevitable.  Hopelessness is silent.  So is Death.

    She was ready in a few minutes, and we three started from the back-door—"the field way," as Mr Herbert called it.  He was quite eager to show me every object of interest, and I don't for one moment suppose that he identified me as the Cockney traveller whom he had half anathematised for peering at his crops.  Agnes stood beside us, while we discussed sundry items of agriculture, and she answered when addressed, but when left alone, I don't think she listened.  However, when the conversation passed to haymakers, and similar "odd hands," and I remarked that we hoped to establish a little village refuge, which might be useful to such, or to others in distress, she suddenly looked up into my face, and said,—

    "That will be very good."

    "Ay, so it will," observed her uncle; "they can put up there on days when we farmers don't want them, and then they'll be at hand when we do."

    "I shall ask you to subscribe, Mr Herbert," I said.

    "Well, I'll give somethingit will save me bribing 'em to hang about idle,—picking and stealing."

    "And you too, Miss Agnes?" I queried.

    "I have so little money," she answered.

    "Then Ruth must find out how else you can help us," I remarked.

    "I'll thank her if she does," said Mr Herbert.  "Aggie sat and looked at the fire all last winter, and all this summer she has looked at the grass.  Anything will be better than that—whether it does good to others or no."

    So we walked on through meadow after meadow, yet we did not find Ewen, but only his grandfather, who told us the young man was "away in the cart."  I announced my proposal to the patriarch, who received it with very eager gratitude.  "It will be the making of the lad, not that he ever said a word against his work, but it's no the richt sort for him—ye'll grant that, sir?"—to Mr Herbert.

    "I'll not grant anything of the kind," returned the farmer, with his bluff laugh; "but every man must stand up for himself, and I don't blame your boy for following his fortune."

    "Ye'll no think him ungrateful'," said Mr M'Callum.  "He'll ne'er forget that wantin' your kindness he couldna ha'e bided here till the bricht turn came.  He'll aye remember that, sir."

    "There's nothing to remember," said Mr Herbert; "I had a chance of a good workman cheap, and I took it.  Tell him he can go away whenever he likes, McCallum; he need not wait to give me proper notice.  And you can hand him that from me," and he slipped something into the old man's hand, "just a kind of farewell blessing, you understand."

    "Ewen will be prood, prood, if he can e'er serve you or yours, sir," returned Mr McCallum, but the farmer waved off his thanks and strode on, calling on us to follow.

    "I'm called a 'near' man, Mr Garrett," he said presently.  "So I am.  I wouldn't give a man high wages for the world.  Bad principle.  Keep 'em in their place.  Make it up in presents.  High wages make 'em independent in their service.  Presents bind 'em to it.  High wages set all the labourers round plaguing their masters for the same.  Presents only make 'em anxious to get to the master who gives them."

    "But, Mr Herbert, is it just to give a man less than he is worth, and then bestow his own upon him as a boon?" I asked.

    "Justice is an excellent lady, sir," he answered jocularly; "only she 's blind, and there's no knowing where she'll lead one.  She has taken some people so far that they think it's sinful for one to be rich and another poor.  They may go on till they find out that some have no right to be tall while others are short."

    "That is mistaken, indeed," I said; "but the rich have no right to grind the poor because they are poor; and in a crowd a tall man looks none the shorter for letting a little one stand in front."

    "Ah, right enough," assented my companion.  "'Live and let live' is a good motto.  But when you stand aside to let another pass, I like him to notice that you needn't do so if you don't choose."

    "Then you are very fond of power, Mr Herbert," I remarked.

    "Indeed I am," he answered candidly.  "And if anyone under my control is sensible enough to understand me, he can get pretty much his own way; but if he flies in my face and rebels—well—as I said before, I don't govern him, and I don't help him, that's all."

    "But then you throw away the much stronger influence which patient forbearance would win," I observed.

    He looked a little blank, but he only gave a whistle and stopped short, saying that he must turn back, and would send for Agnes in the course of the evening.  So he shook hands with me, and sent his respects to my sister, and Miss Herbert and I proceeded to our house.

    My sister received the young lady very kindly.  I saw she noticed how girlish and transparent the fair face looked when the lace bonnet was removed.  But she only rattled on in her sweet, old-fashioned hospitality, calling Miss Herbert's attention to sundry quaint knickknacks scattered about our parlour, and giving their little histories.  Our visitor merely answered "yes" and "no;" but she listened in the grave, pondering way of those who strive to bring every new idea to bear upon some old problem.  After dinner Ruth let the conversation flag, and Miss Herbert did not take it up, but leaned back in the easy-chair, and seemed quite satisfied with the silence.  As her uncle had said, she sat and looked at the fire, and I will confess that I sat opposite and looked at her.  Gradually twilight stole over us, and as I watched her with half-dozing eyes, I became conscious of one of those strange revelations which come to us at such times, when out of the familiar face grows another face, different and yet the same, sometimes showing how the old man looked when he was young, sometimes prophesying how the boy will look when he is old.  And lo! the hopeless face before me grew calm and firm, but no longer girlish, and the peace thereon seemed not of the simplicity which looks up at life's struggle, but rather of the wisdom which looks down upon the same. But the spell of my dreamy gaze was suddenly broken by Phillis bringing in the lamp, and Ruth rousing herself from the sofa behind me, and saying she guessed Miss Herbert would think us a fine set of sleepy-heads.

    So the fire was stirred and tea ordered.  Alice brought it in, and when she left the room Miss Herbert made her first spontaneous remark

    "That is Alice M'Callum, is it not?" she said.  "She looks happier than she has looked for a long while."

    "I daresay you know she has been in great trouble," observed Ruth; "but, thank God, there is no sorrow so dark that it cannot be lightened in God's good time."

    "If it be God's will," Miss Herbert whispered softly.

    "And I think it is always God's will," answered my sister in a clear, cheerful voice.  "Sometimes He chooses not to take away our cross, but it is our fault if He does not help us to carry it, and when once He does that, the worst is over."

    And I saw Miss Herbert paused, and let those words print themselves on her mind.

    "Let us hope that in every sense the worst is over for Alice," I observed.

    "Alice has never lacked blessings," returned Ruth.  "Her troubles have not wasted her life, but rather ennobled it.  Her calamities have compelled her to work harder than before, and more for other people than herself.  All sorrow should lead to that, only it's a great blessing when we're put between two hedges, and so can't mistake the meaning of the signpost."

    "Yet it seems to me that those who have done most for the world have been happy people," remarked Miss Herbert.

    "Certainly," said my sister, "just because those who do good cannot be miserable.  If we make smiling faces round us, we learn the habit of smiles."

    Just then there came a gentle tap at the door, and Alice's face appeared very bright indeed as she said, "Ewen has come up, if you please, sir, because he would like to thank you."

    "Show him in," answered my sister.

    The young man entered, and his sister retired.  He was not in his farm clothes, but in such, dress as he must have worn in the office at Mallowe—a suit probably never used since that time.  He was a tall, well-made fellow, and I was glad he would certainly make a good first impression on my city friends, and I noticed that Miss Herbert looked at him with surprised interest.  Naturally enough, he spoke shyly and stiffly.  He was evidently very glad of the impending change, yet in the gladness was a reservation which he seemed unwilling to express.  It came out at last.  "Grandfather will be so lonely."

    "Ah, we must see about that.  For the first few days Alice can stay with him, and come to her work here while he is out," answered my sister.  "And after that, some new plan may suggest itself.  Does Mr M'Callum speak of it?"

    "Oh no, ma'am," replied Ewen; "for that matter, I've been such bad company that he won't miss me much."

    "Have you seen Mr Herbert?" I asked.

    "Yes, sir; I happened to meet him in the road.  He was very kind," with a glance at our guest.

    "Well, Ewen, you are the first person I have recommended to my old firm," I said, "so you must get me a good name for insight and discretion, just for the sake of those who may come after.  Do you know any one in London?"

    "Not a soul!" he answered, with the gaiety of one who is not sorry for oblivion.

    "Then take care what friends you make," I responded.  "There are one or two Scotchmen in the office, to whom your nationality will serve as introduction.  And for the matter of evening recreation—I know you are well educated—have you any favourite pursuit—chemistry, or anything?"

    Ewen smiled and blushed a little, and then answered, "I always had a taste for drawing, sir."

    "Oh yes, I know," exclaimed Agnes Herbert, and checked herself.

    "Then go to a drawing-class as soon as you can afford it; and even before that, there are many free evening lectures and exhibitions by which you can improve yourself.  An inclination for any study is the cheapest and best pleasure a man can have.  Pursuing it, he gains insight into other things, and is thrown in the way of genial company.  But don't let your taste run away with you don't let it intrude on business, or sleep, or exercise.  Don't allow yourself to be an indifferent clerk, for the sake of being an indifferent artist.  Be thorough in your duties, and you will elevate the standard of your taste."

    "And don't forget to be regular in your letters home," said Ruth, practically.  "Let them be expected on certain days, so that Alice need not waste her time waiting for the postman."

    "And write to me whenever you like," I added, as the young man rose to depart.  "But I suppose we shall see you again before you go."

    "I don't think so, sir," he answered.  "Alice and I have talked it over, and she says I can be ready to go by the train to-morrow morning, and she'll send the rest of my things after me."

    "You are indeed glad to get away, my boy," I said, as we shook hands.

    "I'll not deny it, sir," he replied, "but please God, I'll win to such a life that those who believe that black chapter will be willing to forget it."

    "And is there no one else to whom you should say good-bye?" I asked.  "A journey is none the worse for a few 'God speeds.'"

    "Well, there is one," he said, reflectively; "but I was once so rude to him that I don't like to go.  I mean our minister, sir."

    "Go by all means," said Ruth, smiling.  "You own you were rude to him; so if you get a rebuff, it will only serve you right."

    "Ewen," I interrupted, "if you go, take my word for it, you won't get a rebuff."

    "I'll go," he said.  "I'll go before I return home."

    And so he shook hands with Ruth and me, and was going away with a bow to Miss Herbert; but that young lady sprang up briskly and shook hands too.

    "One of Nature's gentlemen," I remarked, when he was gone.

    "A brave, honest man," said Ruth.

    "You think him innocent?" queried our visitor.

    "That we do," answered Ruth.

    "Supposing he were guilty?" said Miss Herbert again.

    "Then, as he asserts his innocence, he would be very base indeed," returned my sister.

    "I think him innocent," observed the young lady after a pause.  "I always thought so."

    "Did you express that opinion whenever you could?" asked Ruth.

    "I said so to my uncle; but he did not care whether or no; and I don't speak to any one else."

    "Then you should," answered Ruth, decidedly; "we should all keep a seat for ourselves in the parliament of public opinion.  A single vote may turn the scale sometimes."

    "But I am so fond of solitude," pleaded the girl; "yet still," she added, eagerly, "I would make myself like society if I could do good in it.  But if I had gone to all the village tea-parties, and lifted up my voice for Ewen's innocence, I could not have helped him as you and your brother have, Miss Garrett."

    "Certainty not," returned Ruth; "your time for that has not come.  Youth is the season for gaining a place and a voice in the world.  Influence is like everything worth having: we must work a long while to gain it."

    "Well, Ruth," I said, "Miss Herbert has her uncle's permission to help you about your refuge.  That will be a beginning for her.  I think she is like you—in favour of refuges."

    "Is that so, my dear?" asked Ruth.

    "Yes," answered the girl, very softly indeed; "because they give one more chance to the lost ones."

    "There are none 'lost' between earth and heaven," said my sister; "wherever they go they can't get away from God.  And He gives them chance after chance to the very end."

    "But He is angry with the wicked," whispered Agnes Herbert, with dilating eyes.

    "Just as a loving father is angry with his naughty children," returned my sister.  "He loves them none the less for His anger.  He is angry because He loves them.  Like a father, too, He waits to forgive."

    "But some fathers are not ready to forgive," said Agnes.

    "Then they need to ask their children's pardon for their hard-heartedness," replied Ruth; "and God help them to see the necessity before it be too late!"

    There followed a short silence, which Miss Herbert broke by the abrupt inquiry,—"Do you think many people go to heaven, Miss Garrett?"

    "Surely many more than go elsewhere," answered Ruth, "for God's love is stronger than Satan's malice.  And heaven is broader than our charity.  There will be some there whom we scarcely expect.  Ah, it would be a woeful world if we could not always hope that!"

    At this the strange, reserved girl suddenly sprang up, and kissed my sister with the bursting enthusiasm of one who has just heard unexpected tidings of joy.  She would have subsided as suddenly, but my sister held her for a moment, and kissed that sensitive forehead—once, twice, thrice.  Agnes's impulsive embrace was like the electric shock which flashes across the sea the glad news that two nations have but one heart.

    Here Phillis entered with the announcement that Miss Herbert was fetched, and that the rector's servant had brought a letter, which she handed to my sister, who presently passed it to me; and while Agnes put on her bonnet, I read aloud:—"The Rev. Lewis Marten sends his best regards to Miss Garrett, and he has found a house which he thinks exactly suits her ideas of a refuge.  If convenient, he will wait upon her to-morrow morning, and take her to see it.  He must add that he has named the subject to some of his parishioners, and has secured one or two donations; which is very promising."

    "Would you like to join us?" inquired Ruth of Miss Herbert.  "Come over here early, and take the walk with us.  Remember, I shall quite expect you."

    "Tell your uncle, and then he will take care to send you," I said, smiling.  And so the matter was settled.

    "A very sweet girl," remarked Ruth, when our visitor had departed.  "At first I thought her listless.  I don't think so now.  And she has an energetic face."

    "She seems like one defeated," I said, "who has no heart to re-commence the battle."

    "Then we must get her into it unawares," returned Ruth.

    And I told her all I had seen and heard at the Great Farm about the girl's loneliness and her uncle's evident solicitude, and about the strange shadow of household tragedy that haunted the family dining-room.

    "Doubtless she will tell us about it in due time," said Ruth, meditatively.  "In the little intercourse I have had with people round, I have heard nothing about the Herberts.  Very likely Alice could explain it.  But she is not the girl to tell, and we are not the people to ask her.  Whatever it be, they had better have taken the picture down and put it out of sight.  Turned to the wall, indeed!  What folly?"


 
CHAPTER VI.

MR MARTEN PREACHES AT SOMEBODY.


THE next day we accompanied our pastor to see the proposed Refuge, and Miss Herbert did not fail to join us.  The meeting between her and the clergyman was quite of the civil, distant order—so much so, that I wondered if the young man's exercise of his ministerial functions had ever extended to a visit at the Great Farm.  I expected that he and Ruth would lead the way, and leave the young lady in my charge, but as Miss Herbert attached herself to my sister, Mr Marten and I had no alternative but to follow.

    Our destination was a large old cottage at the quieter end of the row, which Upper Mallowe honoured as its "High Street."  There was a narrow strip of garden in front, cut in twain by a flagged path, leading to the door.  At each side of this door was a wide, latticed window, and there were three casements on the upper story.  The rector had armed himself with the key—a very primitive instrument—and in a moment we were all rambling over the place, opening doors, and discovering cupboards and shelves, and such-like appliances of domestic comfort.

    "I think it will do," said Ruth.

    "You must not say so yet, Miss Garrett," returned Mr Marten; "for you have not seen its chief beauty."  And be ushered us into a long low room at the back, evidently an addition to the original building; for it had no chambers above it.  "There!" said he, "I think that will make such a capital—what shall we call it, ma'am?—feeding-room—salle à manger?"

    "So it will," responded Ruth: "the other two rooms can be male and female dormitories, and the floor above will do nicely for the housekeepers' home."

    "But there are three upper rooms," said Mr Marten, mounting the stairs, and rapidly opening their doors.  "See! two will suffice for the housekeepers, and we shall have one superfluous."

    "A great comfort for an ailing woman or a sick child," I said.

    "Certainly," answered Ruth; "and now, Mr Marten, can you tell us the rent?"

    "The landlord has always asked sixteen pounds a year," replied he; "but the cottage has this disadvantage: it is too large and expensive for the poorer class of tenants, and too rough for any others, and so he says he will part with it entirely for one hundred and twenty pounds.  What do you think of that offer, Mr Garrett?"

    "I will accept it," I answered; "and then the remaining expenses will be a small salary for the house- keepers, who will have their rooms rent free, and who need not be wholly without other work, and a little fund for meals, and general assistance for the poor wanderers."

    "And furniture?" suggested Miss Herbert, timidly.

    "Oh, every bit of that must be begged," said my sister.

    The Reverend Lewis Marten put on a very wry face.

    "Come, come," said I, "you have made a good beginning already, and you know I am pledged to help you."

    "You two look after the money," advised Ruth.  Do you suppose the village mothers will promise you old pans, and kettles, and pillows?  Leave those things to us."

    "I have read of a very good plan," said that sweet voice, which only spoke too seldom.  "When some good German wished to furnish an orphan house, he made a little blank book, and wrote on each leaf such headings as 'bedding,' 'earthenware,' and so on.  Then he sent the book about, and every one wrote in it what they would give, and thus each might be quite sure they were not giving what was already had."

    "Thank you very much, Miss Herbert," returned my sister: "that is a good idea.  Whenever anything like that strikes you, mind you tell us."

    "Of course, I shall," said Miss Herbert.

    "No 'of course' about it," replied Ruth; "you hesitated before you said that.  And you'll have other wise thoughts come; but you'll be so afraid they're foolish, that you'll let us old folks go blundering on without their help.  Now promise me you won't?"

    "I'll try," said the dear girl.

    And Ruth looked at her, and gave her head a queer little shake which I could not understand.

    "Well, I think we are getting on very well," remarked the clergyman.  "I'll just get my memorandum-book, and take a note of our position.  But, dear me, I have not a pencil!"

    "Oh, I have one," answered Miss Herbert, producing a dainty "lady's companion."  Its fastening was a little intricate, and she drew off her gloves to undo it.  In the course of this action, I saw something I had not noticed before.  On the "engaged" finger she wore a broad, richly-chased gold ring—one of the kind known as "guards."

    "Thank you," said Mr Marten, accepting the proffered pencil.  "Now, 'Edward Garret, Esq., £120'—that looks handsome!  Then, 'Miss Ruth Garret'—what did 'I understand?'" and he glanced archly at my sister.

    "You did not understand anything," Ruth retorted.  "I've got very little, and I mean to keep it to fill up odd corners where Edward's grand subscription won't go."

    "Well, I've written your name," returned Mr Marten, "and I shall let it stay.  Then there's the two old ladies to whom I named the Refuge—Mrs Withers, one pound one; and Miss Tabitha Aix, five shillings—that's all for the present.  Total, one hundred and twenty-one pounds, six shillings, and an unknown blank, you see, Miss Garret."

    "Uncle says he will give five pounds," whispered Agnes Herbert.

    "Oh, come! this is famous!" said the rector, summing his notes; "and may I put down anything from you?"

    "Half-a-crown, if it's worth while," she said, softly; "and one shilling from Sarah—that's our servant, Sarah Irons, you know.  Perhaps we may get something better out of the lumber-room.  Uncle lets us give away anything we find there; but I haven't looked over it for long time."

    "The first thing we have to do," said Ruth, as we left the house, "is to get a good housekeeper, and then we can say, 'Gifts thankfully received at the Refuge'"

    "And who is to hire this housekeeper?" asked Mr Marten.

    "I will, please," responded Ruth.  "If you like, you may set that down as my subscription.  It may prove worth more than Edward's."

    Both the clergyman and Miss Herbert resisted our pressing invitation to lunch.  So we returned home alone, and Alice admitted us—red-eyed, but smiling, after the parting from her brother.

    In the course of the day Ruth paid another visit to the Refuge.  She and Alice went there in the twilight, and stayed some time.  I half guessed the mischief they were plotting, and I was not mistaken.  Alice and her grandfather were appointed hostess and host at the Refuge.

    "It will be so nice to tell in my first letter to Ewen!" said Alice.

    Now you may be sure the opening of this Refuge made quite a commotion in our sleepy village of Upper Mallowe,—more sensation even than the sudden curtailment of chanting in St Cross.  The two events happened simultaneously.  Before gossip could circulate any particulars about the new "charity," it was announced that the Reverend Lewis Marten was to preach a sermon thereon.  Out of curiosity, some of the people who usually walked to the Ritualistic church at Hopleigh, turned their steps to St Cross.  Also, out of curiosity, some of the old farmers laid down the local paper, and went to hear the local discourse.  They found the creaking doors set wide open to receive them, and the bereaved pew-opener's temper was all the sweeter for being spared the trial of the singing-boys in the vestry.  The lads, themselves, conspicuous by their absence in an official capacity, occupied seats about the church, either under the surveillance of their parents, or steadied by the charge of junior relatives.

    The service began.  Neither Mr Marten nor I had exchanged a word on the subject beyond what I have related.  He read the sentences and exhortation in his usual clear ringing tone, and there followed a brief expectant silence.  Then he lifted up his voice without the intonation with which he was wont to accompany the chanting.  The scattered choir-boys, previously instructed, were the first to join, but by the third or fourth petition of our glorious old confession the whole congregation responded.  The farmers looked approvingly at each other, and I think the Ritualistic strangers were too surprised to be displeased.  The same reform went on throughout the service, and the old people, too blind to read, had the full benefit of those beautiful reassuring psalms, which so marvellously suit every circumstance and experience.

    It was the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity, and the rector took his text from the Gospel for the day.  "Shouldst not thou have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?"  His heart was warm with the subject: and his words were eloquent in proportion.  As usual, he dwelt strongly on the spiritual wickedness of the world, but only to show the depth of misery from which Christ had saved it.  And his closing remarks struck me so much, that I can recall them almost word for word:


    "Christ has forgiven us the ten thousand talents, that dreadful debt which Adam contracted, and which descends to us with accumulating interest.  The greatest saint and the greatest sinner are both included in the bond which His mercy remits.

    "Yet people rarely realise this brotherhood in evil and misery, this participation in proffered forgiveness.  God draws no distinction between sin and crime.  The world does.  It must.  But do not let us say this is because crime injures society, while sin may be left to Goad, as a matter wholly between Him and the sinner.  Crime grows from sin, as the tree springs from its root.  Law only punishes crime, simply because sin is too subtler for it.  Why, brethren, the sins that really injure society, and from which issue the crimes which fill our prisons and reformatories, are sins to which none of us could truly plead 'Not guilty.'  First and foremost is the little seed of self, sprouting into wilfulness, and sloth, and apathy.  Who has never preferred his own weal to another's, never driven his own will over another's comfort, never held back his hand when he should have stretched it out, or kept silence when he ought to have spoken?  If these questions were pressed upon us, who would not be convicted by his own conscience?

    "Justice can punish the murderer or the thief, but human justice cannot reach the influences which may have raised his hand against his fellows.  Do not suppose these influences excuse his crime.  No one need be a victim to circumstance.  Circumstance is only given us to conquer.  But neither does circumstance excuse the man from whom proceeded the evil influence.  Ah, my brethren, when the shadow of a great crime darkens the length and breath of the land, who of us can safely say, 'I have had no share in this!'  A mere want of punctuality or promptitude, by souring tempers, and embittering hearts, may be the first step on the dark road which ends with a gallows!  The devil takes care that sin shall be a maze, wherein nobody knows where each path may lead.

    "But you will answer, 'Christ came to deliver us from sin.'  Truly He came to redeem us from its bondage.  He came to show us what we were in Eden, and what we may be again in Paradise.  He came to throw the mantle of His own spotless righteousness over the ragged holiness which clothes the purest earthly saint.  He came to hold up before us that perfect humanity which fell in fragments round the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Yes, my brethren, He came to do all this, and what is the result?  Those whom He draws closest to Himself—those whose purblind souls are so anointed with the balm of His forgiveness, that henceforth they can see clearly—those are the very ones who cry with St Paul, 'Them good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.'  Such walk in humility and gentleness, ever watchful lest some unwary stumble of theirs crush a soul 'for whom Christ died,' ever praying, 'Lord, pardon us for the sins which we mistake for virtues!'

    "Yes, Christ himself tells us that 'it must needs be that offences come.'  The world is God's work, but Satan's tangle is in it.  Every one of us—you and I—have done our little share to perpetuate that tangle.  And so long as we carry about our mortality, the devil will sometimes catch our fingers, and set them at the old mischievous work.  But in the meantime we must put our hands to labour on God's side.  There is always a task ready for us.  Wherever we see pain, or sorrow, or poverty, or death, let us remember we confront suffering born of sin, our sin.

    "My brethren, I am about to suggest a solemn thought.  It has been said of some holy men, that they never knew how much good they did.  It may be truly said of all of us, that we know not what evil we have caused.  You, the regular worshipper and communicantsome permanent inconsistency in your life may have given a forgotten acquaintance a lasting prejudice against religion.  You, parents, bewailing rebellious children—perhaps you 'provoked' them to wrath and sin.  You, neglected wives,—by your own peevishness and self-consideration may have alienated the love which you should have held next to God's.  I, myself, lamenting over the empty seats I too often see in this temple, may have driven my flock away by my own coldness and apathy!  And alas! alas! my brethren, the evil our own hands have done, our own hands cannot always undo.  Those whom we injure, die or go beyond our influence.  There are words and deeds which we cannot recollect without remorse, yet which can never be cancelled.  Then, as we pray that other hands may efface our wrong-doing, let us remember that some may be so praying on behalf of one whom we can succour, either in mind or body.  How happy we should be to hear that God had permitted a good man to destroy our evil work!  So, let us be up and doing, that in our turn, with God's blessing, we may confer that happiness on others.  Let it no more be said that the homeless, the erring, or the miserable, pass among us unsheltered, uncounselled, and uncheered.  Christmas again draws near—to some of us it will be brighter than ever before; to others its earthly brightness may be departed.  But the gayest, as well as the poorest and the saddest, and the utterly bereaved, will be none the worse for winning 'the blessing of those that were ready to perish.'"


    Mr Marten spoke so earnestly and pointedly, that the interest of the most sluggish was aroused, and the church was solemn with the breathless silence of rapt attention.  There was but one interruption.  When the rector's warning touched on family miseries, Mr Herbert suddenly rose, left his seat, and walked down the aisle.  At the front, however, he paused, passed his hand reflectively over his whiskers, and returned to his pew.  But immediately after the final benediction, and before any one had risen from prayer, he and his niece both left the building.

    There was a collection made at the door, and when we passed out, the "plates" seemed in a tolerably prosperous condition.  The rough church-path was not so clear as on my first visit to St Cross, for neighbours were lingering to greet other neighbours whom they had not seen there for a long time.  As we went through the crowd I heard many remarks such as these:—

    "Parson gave us a moighty fine sermon.  He seems quite awaukened up."

    "Ay, you may say that!  He spoke as if he meant it."

    "A'most as if he wor preachin' to some 'un there, and knew czactly what they wanted."

    "Perhaps he wor'."

    Next day when Mr Marten came to confess his mistake, and to own that the people of Upper Mallowe proved liberal beyond his hopes, I told him this.  He smiled at the rough criticism, but his reply was—

    "They were right.  I was preaching at some one,—at myself.  All the time I bore in mind my miserable blunder with that poor fellow Ewen."

    "Ah, you had a visit from him before he left for London," said Ruth.

    "So I had," he answered.

    "And what did you say?" inquired my sister.

    "We each begged the other's pardon," returned the rector, "and I think he'll count me among the friends be has left at Upper Mallowe,—or at least not among the enemies.  He is not at all an ordinary chip of humanity.  You did a great work in saving him, Mr Garrett."

    "Edward just did a common Christian duty," said Ruth; "if God bless it, to Him be all the glory !"

    "And you think the people felt my sermon last Sunday?" queried Mr Marten presently.

    "Yes, just because your heart was in every word," I answered.

    " I feared I was, as usual, too gloomy and severe," he remarked.

    "No, no," said I; "you own you were preaching at yourself,—therefore you loved the sinner, understood his errors, and felt a human pity for his remorse.  Now, you must ask God to enlarge your sympathies till you can do the same in every case, and then your severity will be only truthful love."

    "And if your preaching suits your own heart, it will certainly suit somebody else," added Ruth.


 
CHAPTER VII.

GEORGE WILMOT FROM LONDON.


AND thus Christmas drew near.  By that time the Refuge was fairly established, Miss Herbert's "Contribution Book" having secured sundry very useful gifts, which went far to spare our little cash account, and Mr M'Callum and Alice were settled in their new abode—both made exceedingly happy by punctual and comfortable letters from Ewen.  And so Ruth and I jogged on in our quiet way.

    But we saw very little of Agnes.  She helped my sister in all the Refuge arrangements, yet we could not allure her to our house for a leisurely visit, nor even detain her for such when she made a call.  She was always quite anxious to return home, as if it were some post of imperative duty, from which absence was absolutely desertion.

    "How shall we keep Christmas, Ruth?" I asked one evening in December.

    "Just like a Thanksgiving Sunday, I suppose," said she. "There are no children coming home for the holidays."

    Now, of course I knew that.  But Ruth will say things.

    "Christmas is a birthday feast," I remarked, "and so it should be kept."

    "Ah, but birthdays are drear times," she answered, "when there's no one to stoop over us and give us a kiss and a keepsake."

    "I suppose that is why old people leave off keeping them," I said.  "I think they are wrong; let them rather give kisses and keepsakes on the dear date when they used to receive them.  So with Christmas.  Ah, Ruth, you were mistaken when you said we had no child to gladden us at this season.  Is there not a Babe in a manger at Bethlehem which is ours for ever?"

    Ruth did not reply.  She never replies to such remarks.  I believe she thinks the more for her silence, for by and by she said

    "Then what should you like to do on Christmas day?"

    "I want to give as many little bits of pleasure as I can," I replied; "such little bits of pleasure as made me happy when I was a boy, Ruth."

    "Ah, you were easy to please, Edward," said she; "it and a very good thing, too!"

    "Any one who can be pleased at all is as pleased with little as with much," I replied.  "A Christmas card gives as much delight as a Christmas-box.  A child is as charmed with the discovery of a blackberry bush, as is a miner with his nugget.  And perhaps the one 'find' is as valuable as the other."

    "To the child, may be; but not to the man," retorted Ruth.  "Recollect, grown-up people have no leisure to go blackberry hunting unless they've first got a nugget of their own, or are degraded enough to live on other people.  Don't you pretend to under-value money, Edward.  It's God's gift as much as anything else.  It depends on us whether it be a blessing or a curse."

    "That is how you always pull me up when I grow poetical," I said, smiling.

    "Talking rubbish is not poetical," she answered,

    "Sham sentiment is too often mistaken for poetry, and when people find common-life tears off such rags as she goes along, they foolishly fancy they are too fine for every-day wear, and so put aside the tinsel for best occasions.  Now real poetry is just naked truth."

    "You are far too clever to argue with, Ruth," said I.

    "Ah, you see I kept a circulating library, and the best books were always at home," she remarked drily.

    Presently, being really willing to fall in with my humble plans, she observed,

    "But a little consideration makes money go very far in giving pleasure.  It prevents you sending coals to a widow at Newcastle, or presenting a farmer with a turkey, or a schoolboy with Euclid, or a blind man with a tract."

    "That is to the point, Ruth," I said; "now I just want to give a little bit of genuine delight to every one I know.  I wish you had second sight, and could reveal the secret desire of each friend and neighbour."

    "Then you would find out you could satisfy none," she returned.  "Do you think folks are so shallow as to long for aught you could send as a Christmas gift?"

    "No," I answered; "but every one has some dear little wish, whose gratification makes the great want easier to bear."

    "You are right there," responded my sister.  "If you cannot give a man dinner, you may give him a biscuit for lunch."

    "We must send some pretty surprise to every house which has young folks," I said.

    "And we must not let them find out where it comes from," added Ruth.  "Nobody will set greater value on anything because sent by you or me, Edward.  If they cannot guess the giver, it will make them feel kindly towards all their friends."

    "But yet we cannot tell what will please each child," I remarked.

    "A book or a picture with a little innocent mystery about it will satisfy all the young people," answered Ruth.  "It will be harder to hit the fancy of the elder ones."

    "The elder ones will be pleased in the young ones' pleasure," I said; "and as I find there will be cheap railway excursions to and from London at Christmas-time, I shall buy a return-ticket and send it to Ewen, and his arrival on Christmas morning shall be my gift to that family."

    "Bravo, Edward," exclaimed my sister; "that is just the right thing.  You are cleverer than I am, in your own way."

    "Only you think it a small sort of way," I said, laughing.

    "As you know my thoughts, I'll not contradict you," said she.  "And what shall we do for Mr Marten?"

    "Ask him to dinner?" I queried.

    Ruth shook her head.  "Very likely he would have somewhere better to go," she said, "though he might come, thinking to please us; while, for my own part, I'd rather have only ghosts at the Christmas-table."

    "And yet you have never known the bitter changes which some know," I remarked; "you can only miss our father and our mother, and they were spared till their time was fully ripe."

    "I know the changes in myself," Ruth answered.  "It's my own ghost that comes to see me on days."

    "But you would not object to any guest who had nowhere else to go?" I asked.

    "Certainly not," she said; "such a presence would lay the ghost.  Not that I wish it laid.  I like to see what a fool I was once.  I only wish I could be such fool now!"

    "Age is higher and happier than youth," I remarked, harping on my pet theory.

    "I know it," she answered; "but yet some folks like climbing mountains better than sitting at rest.  You must not judge every one by yourself, Edward."

    "I wish I could guess what would please Agnes Herbert," I said, presently.

    "If we only knew what ailed the girl!" observed Ruth.

    We little dreamed who was then walking across our garden.  We heard the back door slammed, and in a moment Phillis appeared in the parlour, announcing that a gentleman had brought a little ragged boy to our gate, and had bidden him ask for Mr Garrett.

    "Is the gentleman in the kitchen?  Who is he?" asked Ruth, rising, in astonishment.

    "Please, ma'am, I could not see him out in the dark," answered the sapient Phillis, "and he wouldn't wait; but says he to the boy, when I opened the gate, 'You're all right now,' says he.  And, please, sir, the boy seems stupefied-like."

    "It's only some stranger who has heard of us in connexion with the Refuge," said I.  "Is the lad in the kitchen, Phillis?"

    "I've kept him out in the passage," replied Phillis "for it's a bad night, and he's awful muddy, and would muck the kitchen-floor, if you please, sir."

    "No, I 'm not pleased, Phillis," I answered.  "If cleanliness is to follow godliness, then kindliness must keep between."

    "Ask the boy to the fire directly," said practical Ruth; "at the same time let him rub his feet well upon the mat."

    "This is a queer adventure," I commented, as the girl obediently departed, and we prepared to follow.

    "I daresay it will put your Christmas cards and keepsakes right out of your head," said Ruth.

    "A very good suggestion," I retorted.  "Your doubt will help me to remember them, my sister."

    We found the boy seated by the kitchen-hearth, with his dirty feet tucked up on the rung of the Windsor chair, perhaps by Phillis' directions.  He seemed a coarse, vulgar, neglected lad, and he gave an introductory snivel when he saw us.  Of course he was a scrap of God's writing, but the divine characters were sadly blurred.



We found the boy seated by the kitchen-hearth, with his dirty feet tucked up
on the rung of the Windsor chair


    "Do you want to speak with me—Mr Garrett?" I asked, taking a seat opposite him.

    "The gen'leman said so," he answered.

    "What have you to say?" I inquired.

    "I dunno," he replied, hopelessly, whirling his thick, dirty hands; "only the gen'leman said, 'There, you're all right now.'"

    We had heard as much from Phillis.

    "Who was the gentleman?" I questioned.

    "I dunno," replied the boy.

    "What were you doing when he spoke to you?" asked Ruth.  Her clear, quick tones penetrated his thick skull deeper than mine.  I fancy they had a magisterial echo, for he instantly thrust his red fore-finger into his bleared eye, and jerked out, whiningly, "I warn't a-doing of harm.  I only arst him for a penny."

    "You're a stranger here," remarked Ruth, in the same sharp voice, which seemed to keep his mind awake; "where do you come from?"

    "I comed from Lunnon—I tramped it," he answered; "mother only died this day was a week."

    He did not look so vulgar and coarse when one heard that history.  God help the boy!

    "What brought you here?" asked Ruth.

    "Mother said father was summate here; he'd run away from her, years ago.  She niver wanted to be arter him herself, but she bid me look to him, when she wor gone."

    "What is his name?" I inquired.

    "George Wilmot," said the lad, "and that's mine too."

    "I don't believe there's such a name in the place, sir," said Phillis, aside.

    "You say you asked the gentleman for a penny," pursued Ruth; "then what did he answer?"

    "Please, he catched me by the shoulder, an' turned me round, an' stared at me for a minute or two, and didn't say nothin'."

    "Not at first, perhaps," continued Ruth, "but what did he say when he spoke?"

    "He said 'God help us!' just like mother used; and then he asked my name," said the boy.

    "And then?" queried Ruth.

    "Then he said, 'I haven't anything to give you.'  But he kep' hold o' my shoulder, an' I walked along with him, till he says, 'Where are you going to-night?'  And I telled him I must sleep under an 'edge or summate.  And he says, 'God help us!' again; and fell a-thinking like."

    "What made him bring you here?" asked my sister.

    "Well, he says, 'By the by, there 's a Refuge somewhere near,' and asked if I knew what a Refuge meant, and I said, 'Didn't I!'  An' then he stood still, and looked about, and says, 'I've never seen it, and don't know where it is, but I'll take you to the good people who opened it!' and then he went on muttering about devils giving kind folk a deal to undo, which I couldn't make out.  He telled me this was the house as we came to the gate, but says he, 'We'll go round the other way, for I'm fittest for backdoors now,' and he laughed out Ha! ha! ha!"'

    The bright fire was evidently thawing the lad's frozen wits, for he gave his last words in another tone, in imitation of his strange guide.

    "Should you know your father if you saw him?" inquired Ruth.

    The boy shook his head: "He's not been nigh us sin' I wor a babby," he said.

    "What was this gentleman like?" queried my suspicious sister.

    "Tall," answered the boy, "and he had on a cloak."

    "Was he young or old?" asked Ruth.

    "I dunno, ma'am," staring as if the answer was quite beyond his powers.  It was the first time he gave my sister a respectful title.  I believe he thought her question showed a high opinion of his faculties, and so honoured her accordingly.

    "Was he as old as your mother, do you think?" pursued Ruth, after a moment's reflection.

    "Oh, no," said the boy, grinning at the idea, "she was quite an old woman—she allays said so!"

    "What was her age?" inquired Ruth, trying to get at the truth by a side-path.

    "Thirty-three," replied the lad succinctly.

    Ruth glanced at me with elevated eyebrows; this was her first experience of the statistics of a London street-boy.

    "When did you have anything to eat? " I asked.

    "A baker gave me a clump o' bread this morning; it was not a right dinner, to say," he answered, "but coming along past the public, the hostler had a half-empty pot, and he telled me I might drink it up.  That was good," he added, smacking his lips at the recollection.

    O thou Father of kings and beggars, which thanksgiving makes the sweetest incense before Thy throne,—the formal calling upon Thy name of one who is discontented with his venison, or the gladness of another who picketh up the coarsest crumbs of Dives' table, and thanketh Thee ignorantly, as do the beasts and birds?

    Phillis instantly brought forth a loaf and some cold meat.  I am thankful to say, she understood her master sufficiently to do this without asking direct permission.

    I resolved to take the lad to the Refuge myself.  The M'Callums were old inhabitants, of intelligence far superior to Phillis, and they might know some clue whereby to discover the boy's runagate father.  I had a faint idea of my own in this matter, a most unreasonable one, inasmuch as it was attached, not to the cognomen "Wilmot," but to the simple name "George," which my common sense told me might belong to a dozen men in Upper Mallowe.

    The lad made a considerable supper, without taking long in the process, and then we started off together, Ruth's questions had given him the notion that we took some interest in the stranger who had brought him to us.  So as we trudged along he suggested, "Mayhap the gentleman will be about yet."

    "Whereabouts did you meet him?" I asked.

    "Just here," he answered.

    Now at that instant we passed the Great Farm.

    We were not long in reaching the Refuge, and Alice promptly admitted us, and led us to her little sitting room on the upper floor.  From Ruth's accounts, I knew that she used this chamber as her sleeping apartment, the other being occupied by her grandfather, while the third, by Alice's own wish, was kept for such extra uses as might arise from the necessities of the Refuge.

    "Grandfather is down-stairs," she explained "there are two poor men here for the night, and he's in the upper room, talking with them.  Shall I fetch him, sir?"

    "If you please, Alice," I said; "but you may promise that I shall not keep him long."

    The old man soon presented himself, with that cheeky face, which must have beamed on the poor refugees like a sudden sunrise after a dreary night.  I hastened to inquire if he knew any one in the village called George Wilmot.

    Mr M'Callum shook his head.

    Alice said, "No."

    "Do you remember such a name at any time?" I inquired.

    Neither of them could.  So I called the boy forward, and made him repeat his story.

    "Hech, sirs! but it's a waefu' tale," said the good old Scotchman.  "I'm thinking the laddie had best bide here the nicht, and look aboot you the morn.  He'll maybe hae to bide here a wee, sae ye'd best mak' his bed i' the little room, Alie.  And if he gaes doon stairs, he'll find some warm parritch; and the twa pair callants below are nae sic bad company."

    "He's had some supper already," I observed, as the boy seemed disposed to obey with extraordinary alacrity.

    "Ou ay, sir," replied Mr M'Callum; "but a little het parritch canna do him ony harm.  Let the laddie gae.  Ye see, sir," he continued, when we heard the supper-room door close behind the boy, "I wadna hint a dispareegin thing afore the bairn's face.  Let him think o' his father as weel's he can; but, verra-like, if he were George Wilmot when he married, he wasna George Wilmot after he ran awa'.  The man that does ae base thing is fit for anither."

    "But was it not strange about the gentleman in the lane?" observed Alice, who was engaged at the cupboard, searching for blankets.

    "At first, I wondered whether he were the father," I said.  "His strange kindness might be the working of remorse."

    Mr M'Callum shook his head.

    "Differin' natures hae differin' remorses," he remarked.  "A could-bluided scoondrel, wha didna ken gif his bairn had starved or no, would be verra unlikely to fash where the lad passed ae nicht.  Maist like, sic a one would say to himself—'Gif the laddie's used to it, the wayside's as guid to him as my bedroom to me.'  That's the way the deevil comforts his ain while they're his.  He doesna trouble them much, till God gets a grip o' them.  An' if God had got a grip o'himbein as he waur, the father—I dinna think he'd hae left his long-lost bairn to strangers, e'en to their tender mercies.  Maist like, the gentleman is just some pair misguidedcallant, wha has gotten the wrang bit in his mouth—else why fittest for back-doors, sir?—but hasna travelled the deevil's road lang eneuch to like to see ithers gangin' the same gait.  Sic a one feels anguishes of remorse—and that's just God's grip, sir."

    "But Judas himself felt remorse," I observed, getting into the argument.

    "And went and hangit himsel'," said he; "and sae do mony mair. Gif they would but bide a wee!  Whey, sir, ye'll nae say Christ's death hasna poo'r to save the puir traitor?  Only the misguided creature went and hangit himsel'."

    And so we sat and conversed till George Wilmot came up from his "parritch," and Alice returned from making his bed.

    "Now, my boy," I began, "what did your mother say about your father—what did she bid you say when you should see him?"

    "She said she was afeared he'd taken her in mighty," replied the lad, "but there was no telling; and if I got to see him, I was to give him this."  And he produced a folded paper, dirty and worn, which he handed to me.  "Mother took a long whiles a-writin' it," he remarked, "and she used to say perhaps father a-tired of her, because he was a famous scholard.  I can't read what she writ; but may be you will, sir," he added.

    I took the letter reverently; for it seemed like a secret between the dead and the living.  I paused before I unfolded it; but the boy repeated his request, and, indeed, to peruse it seemed the best way towards fulfilling the deserted woman's wish.  This was the contents.  I will not translate the strange spelling and bad grammar.  They have a pathos with which I dare not meddle.


"MY DERE GEORGE,
        "Why did you leve me without a wurd, this is writ to sage that i forgive yu, and hope whe shall meet in Heven, i was not good enuf for yu, but yu dident say so, when yu cam cortin me ovar master's gate, and all the gals grudgin my fortin for yu was a fine gentelman.  When yu git this, I am ded and shall not trouble yu never no more. but yu aught luke to your pore boy, wick as bin a good boy to his mother, and fur his sake, i'm niver sorry I maared yu, so don't yu think it.  This comes, hopeing yu are well from your luving wife

" MARY WILMOT."


    I took a little time to decipher this letter; indeed, my sight failed over it.  But when I had done, the boy said simply, "Won't ye read it out, sir?  She read it to me, she did, and it'll be like hearin' her speak oncet more."

    So I read it.  And the great rough boy sobbed out loud.  God's writing was clear enough upon his heart.  I shook hands with him when I came away, but I did not say one word to "deepen the effect" of that letter.  As soon would I have interrupted the dead mother had she stood among us in the spirit and spoken to her boy.

    Alice conducted me to the door.  The moon was shining brightly, and cast its blueness over her face.  As she stood on the threshold, she said in a whisper—"Isn't it strange that none of us can recollect a Wilmot in these parts?"

    "Not so strange, if your grandfather guesses rightly," I answered.

    "His name—you know whose, sir?—was George," she murmured.

    I started at this suggestion of my own thought; but reflected in another's mind, I could see its absurdity.  I said, merrily—

    "And so is Mr Smith's the chemist, and Mr Tozer's the baker.  No, no, Alice, it's a bad habit to make coincidences.  It does no good, for we can't trust them, unless they're based on facts, and if we've got the facts, then we don't want the coincidences.  But, by the way, your remark reminds me that I never heard the surname of that unhappy man?"

    "It was Roper—George Roper, sir," she answered.

    "Thank you—for, considering the interest I feel in Ewen, it was awkward not to know it.  But what are these sounds?"—for from the back of the house came a voice singing a spirited song, accompanied by divers notes as from some uncertain and feeble instrument.

    Alice laughed—a pleasant, soft laugh.  "It's only the two 'refugees' (so we call our pensioners), one is singing and the other is piping with a bit of paper on a comb.  They often do it when they're not over-tired with tramping, sir."

    I wonder if any rigid philanthropist would think such doings a breach of the "order and discipline of a charitable institution."  I only stood and listened.  I have no ear for music, but as I caught the stirring words


"Hearts of oak are our ships,
 Jolly tars are our men;
 We always are ready,
 Steady, boys! steady!

We'll fight and we'll conquer again and again,"


I was quite satisfied with the performance.  Why should we think our kindness best repaid by long faces and dead silence?  Is it not unreasonable to forbid a song because we have given a supper?  I remembered a great "human naturalist" said it was a happy omen for a country when the beggar was as content with his dish as the lord with his land.  Better to keep our charity than to sell it at the price of enjoyment.

    "There! that's grandfather gone to them," said Alice.

    "He won't stop the song?" I queried.

    "Oh, no, sir," she answered; "most likely he'll join in the chorus.  He's fond of singing a song himself.  But he thinks it's right to go in and out of the room in a friendly way.  And when he's told them stories and anecdotes, and talked pleasantly, there's few so hard as to take it unkindly when he gets out the Bible, before going to bed."

    I went home with a heart full of pleasant feelings.  I had not forgotten my "cards and keepsakes," as Ruth warned me I should.  So every time I passed a village boy, I thought, "Ah, my fine fellow, there's a 'tip' coming for you!" and then the Upper Mallowe boys appeared in my eyes uncommonly nice boys.  And it was solemnly sweet to think of true-hearted Mary Wilmot in her London pauper grave—no, not there, but in heaven; for are not our trespasses forgiven, as we forgive those who trespass against us?  And it was odd that her boy should come among us like a guest at Christmas time.  Have not some "entertained angels unawares?" and in that case, they cannot look as we fancy angels, or they would carry their welcome with them.  I don'ts suppose the lad is any less like an angel, because he knows the price of boy-labour in the docks, and how little one can live upon down Stepney way, and what it is to be hungry and tired—nay, there is One, higher than the angels, who knows all about that, and was a good son to His parents in a carpenter's shop at Nazareth.

    But as I entered our house a hearty voice recalled me to the world of snug suppers and warm beds, for Ruth exclaimed, "Here you are at last, Edward.  Come to your supper, and don't run all over the world, fancying you are as young as ever!"


 
CHAPTER VIII.

A CHRISTMAS CONFIDENCE.


GEORGE WILMOT was still in the Refuge when Christmas-day came.  There was quite a bustle in our house on the Eve.  With Mr Marten's help I got off my presents, a most miscellaneous heap—tea, tobacco, knick-knacks, pictures, cards, and books; the last three items all so pretty that if I had not wished to give them I should have liked to keep them!  The Rector was in high spirits, having an invitation to dine next day at a mansion a few miles off, inhabited by an old naval officer and his only daughter,—a fact from which I drew my own inferences.  As Ruth could not let this hospitable season pass without a little delicate meddling in culinary matters, a spicy perfume pervaded the parlour, and contributed to the general feeling of festivity and good will.

    Perhaps that was the gayest bit of our Christmas keeping.  The day was a quiet one in our house.  Even Phillis was away, for Ruth gave her permission to rejoin her own family; and only our new servant, who was a stranger in the village, remained to wait upon us.  We did not venture to invite any guests.  It is cruel to allure family-people from their homes at such a season; and so far as we could ascertain, all the single folk of Upper Mallowe were already happily appropriated.

    But as we took our places at the breakfast-table, a sound of sweet singing startled the clear morning air.  Looking from the window, we saw the choir-boys of St Cross standing round our garden-gate.  It was no unfamiliar chorale which they sang, but just the dear hymn, "Hark the herald angels sing."  There are some old tunes which have such an echo in the universal heart that I sometimes fancy we shall use them in our heavenly praises.

    When they ceased I went out and thanked the lads, and wished them a merry Christmas.  I singled out the leader, and wanted to give him five shillings to divide among the rest.  I hope the moralists will not say I was making them mercenary.  Whenever I receive a pleasure I long to do something in return.  But the boy said, quite sedately, that Mr Marten told them to do it, because I was doing so much for the village.  Now here was a poser!  I must accept their gratuitous service because it was grateful.  Yet I could not put away the five shillings.  A bright thought came.

    "Come, my boys," I said, "I thank you very heartily for your remembrance of an old man; and as you have given me such pleasure, I should like others to have as much.  Go to the Great Farm, and sing your hymn again, and take these five shillings in consideration of so employing your valuable time."  And as I did not wish to argue through any further remonstrance from that sedate elder boy, I ran back to the house, and the young choristers set up a cheer.

    Ruth and I went to church, and found it quite gay with holly and laurel; and the whole service, to the very tones of the rector's voice, was of a jubilant character.  So Christmas services should be: especially for the sake of those who may have little rejoicing elsewhere.  The sermon was very short and very bright, being from that seasonable text in the eighth chapter of Nehemiah, "Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy unto our Lord; neither be ye sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."

    Somehow (I say this in parenthesis), I fancied that Mr Marten's Christmas visit was an unexpected happiness to the young man.  But he had been less desponding in his views for some time.  And God occasionally rewards our efforts by sending a blessing which makes them easier.

    Mr Herbert and his niece were in their pew.  Agnes looked as if she had been crying.  I think the very gladness of the hymns and sermon tried her.  The old people liked it; the acute agonies had died out of their lives, a then joy is as sunshine on an old, well-remembered grave, which one hopes soon to share.  But to sorrowful youth it comes like spring sunlight on the face of yesterday's dead.  God help the young!

    They hurried out of church before us, though they paused to exchange seasonable wishes over the pew-door.  But all the M'Callums waited for us in the grave-yardthe grandfather and Alice perfectly radiant with delight at Ewen's unexpected arrival.  The young man himself seemed much more happy and open-hearted for his residence among people who did not suspect and shun him, and was quite eager to deliver the many kind messages he brought me from the good folks in my old house of business.  Now, I knew these worthy people would not have sent these messages by him, if they had not liked him.  So I augured well for Ewen.

    Ruth and I dined cheerfully together, and afterwards I amused myself by droning over my holiday books, by which I mean sundry smart volumes of the poets, that I received as school-prizes in those remote ages when I was a boy.  Their glories are rather faded now—like mine!  Ruth occupied herself with idleness till tea-time—it must have been hard work for her.  Afterwards, being incapable of further exertion in that way, I found her seated opposite me, with linen sleeves drawn over her silk ones, and a grand red and blue china bowl before her, busily cutting up candied peels for the New-Year's cake.

    "Is not that the maid's duty?" I asked, heedlessly.

    "Household affairs are every woman's study," she replied, cutting energetically.

    Now, I like to watch an educated woman at domestic work.  She makes it beautiful.  So I said, "Women are never more pleasing than when so engaged."

    "They are never more dignified," returned Ruth.  "Certainly it is their hereditary empire, where hey reign undisputed," I remarked.

    "If they leave that throne, they may wish for another!" responded my sister.

    "Oh, I think in other spheres, they may at least dispute male pre-eminence," I observed.

    "Let them if they like," said Ruth;  "the more simpletons in the world, the better for wise people.  Let who likes take pride in working out fantastic problems like any common school-boy, there will still remain some sensible women to get dinner and keep house."

    "But should women have no mental discipline?" I queried.

    "Mental discipline!" she echoed; "the wise woman of the Proverbs got hers through her needlework and housewifery.  All the 'ologies' in the world will never make greater women than we have had without them."

    "But some women are called out of the shelter of home," I remarked.

    "Don't say 'called out,'" answered my sister quickly; the very duty they owe to home sometimes sends them out.  A woman may do out-of-the-way tasks for very womanly reasons" (a touch of pathos in her voice,—then, with a spark of satire,) "and it 's only foolish men who can't understand that!"

    "Certainly, I am sorry that the phrase 'strong-minded,' in itself a compliment, is now perverted to describe women who bring contempt on their sex," I observed.

    "I'm afraid a strong mind won't support a woman very far," returned Ruth; "but if she have a strong heart, I'll trust her wherever duty calls her."

    "I really do not think brave women cry out for their rights," I said.

    "I should think not," answered my sister, indignantly.  "Courage does not exaggerate wrongs: cowardice does.  Only weak women wish to be placed in rivalry with men; and when men accordingly treat them as they would other rivals, they cry, 'Shame! shame!' and wonder what has become of the ancient chivalry."

    "Well, I must say I think them greatly mistaken when they aspire to rule rather than to serve," I remarked.

    Ruth smiled peculiarly: "Christ set the fashion of ruling by service," she answered; "'ICH DIEN,' is a royal motto."

    And that set me thinking.  Certainly in this present, I defer to my sister, and would do anything to gratify her wishes.  I am master of the house and the cash-box, yet I like best to hold my dominion as her viceroy.  And why?  Because I remember how she has toiled for me; how in the old past she may have sacrificed for my sake far more than I can ever know till all secrets be revealed in heaven.  And, oh, when we remember that there all the secrets of holy lives will be made known, we can well understand the perfect love that shall reign among glorified spirits.  But that bright picture has also a terrible reverse.

    As I looked at Ruth, cutting her candied peel, it struck me that a self-sacrificing life seems an elixir of true youth.  I wish more women would try it.  I am sure they would find it answer far better than their balms and kalydors.

    "I think you would have made an uncommonly good wife, Ruth," I said presently.

    "A new discovery, eh, Edward?"—this very drily.

    "Well,—you know,—I used to think that as you were such a clever woman of business, perhaps—"

    "So long as men think idiots make the best wives, I hope they'll get them," she retorted.  "It's a pity you didn't try the experiment yourself."

    And there was silence till Ruth finished her peels, put aside the red and blue bowl, and folded her hands on her lap.

    "Well, my sister, we have had a happy Christmas-day," I said softly.

    "Yes," she answered, with a nod; "we've done with merry ones."

    "We've got their memory still," I suggested.

    "And don't we remember them well!" she said, eagerly.  "I can forget fifty years in a minute, and fancy that we're again at the little parties in the Blockhouse.  Half the year we expected those parties, and the other half we talked them over.  Boys and girls don't get so much good out of their pleasure now-a-days."

    "How few who shared those festivities remain within our reach" I sighed.  "Did you go to those parties long after I left home, Ruth!"

    "Never," she answered.

    "Why, how was that?" I asked.

    "I had grown an old woman," she said, gazing into the fire.

    "What! at eighteen?" I queried.

    "Yes, at eighteen," she replied, turning to me with a strange smile.

    Would I ask any more questions?  No.  I would as soon startle a sanctuary by noisy importunities.  If my sister chose, I could wait for more perfect knowledge of her till our angels stood side by side in a safer home.

    "Do you remember the Carewes?" she inquired presently.

    "What, the girl with golden locks, and the boy with a red shock head, who used to play the piano" I said.

    "I suppose you mean the right pair," she answered; "but Richard Carewe's hair was auburn, not red, and his sister's curls were more like tinsel than gold."

    "I remember her.  Like all the village boys, I thought her very pretty; but, as I recall her beauty now, I think it was meretricious, like half-spoiled false jewellery.  She was no favourite of yours, I recollect.  What has put her in your head?"

    "Simply because I see by her gravestone at St Cross that she was our Mr Herbert's mother," replied Ruth.

    "And did you never hear of her marriage?" I asked, "when Upper and Lower Mallowe lie so close together?"

    "Laura Carewe's friends were not mine," said Ruth.  "How such a shallow and selfish girl was her brother's sister, I could never understand."

    "And what became of Richard?" I inquired.

    "Richard died," said Ruth, quietly; "he died in London on the very day you entered it."

    "Dear me!" I said, somehow awed by my sister's tone.  "He was a sort of genius, was he not?"

    "He was a genius," returned Ruth.  "I have no ear for music—no more than you have, Edward, and you know what that means—but he could make me cry the moment he touched the keys."

    "I suppose he went to London to try his fortune," I observed.

    "Yes," said Ruth; "and of course he was unfortunate at first, like everybody else.  And it is not in the purest or pleasantest places that musicians often begin their career.  And there was wild blood in those Carewes.  And Richard got into trouble, and was put into the debtors' prison.  Laura was older than he: they were orphans, and their father had willed that all the little family property should go to purchase an annuity for her.  But she never went near her brother in his cell, only made sentimental suffering for herself out of his misery.  And at last, his creditor was kinder than his sister, and Richard got his liberty; but only to die on a doorstep, Edward—only to die on a doorstep, in the broad light of the sun!"

    "But his misfortunes came out of his faults, Ruth," I said very gently, for I quite understood the solemn monotony of her voice.

    "I know they did," she answered; "but if God sent all our faults the misfortunes which they merit, where should we be?  And so little might have saved him!"  And then she added pleasantly: "There seemed a something in Agnes' face the moment I saw her.  "I can understand it now.  She is Laura Carewe's grand-daughter, but she has Richard Carewe's eyes."

    "Did Laura have other children besides our Mr Herbert and Agnes' father?" I asked.

    "I have only heard of those; but she may have had others for aught I know," said Ruth.

    And there followed a long, long silence.  This, then, was my sister's romance.  She would never say so—never do more than tell the common-place story in simple words and solemn tones,—perhaps she had never done so much before.  And yet what a new light it shed on all her character!  I glanced at her, and it seemed that I must have been blind not to have seen some such history written in her face.

    "Was Richard buried in London?" I asked at last.

    "Yes," she answered, "and God only knows where!  I humbled myself to inquire of Laura, but she could not tell—only she said it was some pauper burial-ground, and she went into hysterics at the idea!"

    My proud, patient sister!  It was a bitter memory of first love—the fiery, wasted genius in a beggar's grave.  How sadly different from mine—that innocent, holy girl, laid with reverent affection in the tomb of her fathers!  And so I am happy in the knowledge that those who sleep with Jesus reign with Him in glory, while Ruth takes heart, remembering WHO said to the dying thief, "This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise."  Verily God plants some comfort in every soil.

    "This has been quite a Christmas talk," exclaimed Ruth, rousing herself, with a dim smile.

    "My poor dear sister!" I said, laying my hand upon hers.

    She shook it off as if it pained her.  "What's the matter with you?" she asked, starting from her seat, her old, erect self.  "I daresay you want your supper.  I'll go and see after it."

    And when she returned, the history had vanished from her face, and the whole conversation seemed like a dream!


 
CHAPTER IX.

ALICE UNDERTAKES NEW DUTIES.


THEN, clad in snow, the New Year came to Upper Mallowe.  But, however severe the weather, I always fancy when New Year comes, winter goes.  I said so to Ruth as we started for a walk one clear, cold morning, towards the end of January.

    "Though the fields be white with frost," I remarked, "there is a spring light hanging over them.  I used to notice the same thing in the city."

    "You had not much light of any sort there," said she.

    "Oh, yes, I had," I answered, "whenever the sun shone, one narrow ray slanted across my desk.  That had to serve me in place of hills, and meadows, and hedgerows; and it did its duty very well, for it kept them in my mind."

    "Ah, what we miss and long for is not lost in the blankest sense of lost," said Ruth.

    "No,! I answered; "and I will say I have never seen more lovely country than what I saw in visions in that dusty counting-house.  And there is a specially solemn grandeur in sunset over the city, if one manage to get a sky-view wider than a few inches."

    "Ah, that's all good for the soul," answered my sister, "but nevertheless the body wants the genuine breezes."

    "I don't think the poet had true poetry in him when he said


'God made the country, but man made the town,'"


I observed.

    "One might as well say, 'Woman cuts the wood, but the fire boils the kettle,'" she answered.

    "I will always stand up for London," I said, gallantly.

    "That's honest," remarked Ruth; "you owe your fortune to it."

    "It is the epitome of the whole world," I went on enthusiastically.  "Some people will not own the analogies to be found in it, because they fear ridicule.  For instance, folks laugh if one says that the bridge between the great warehouses in Carter Lane is a good suggestion of Venice."

    "Well, you ought to conclude they are laughing at their own folly in not seeing it before," said Ruth.

    Our destination was the Refuge.  It was quite wonderful what a cheery place it looked.  The inhabitants of the High Street should have been vastly obliged to Alice for the change wrought by her industry and taste.  All the tiny diamond window panes sparkled in the pale morning sun, and the ledges beneath, painfully white, were adorned with flourishing firs and laurels in bright red pots.  We found Mr M'Callum busy with these plants, and accordingly we lingered to admire their prosperous beauty.

    "They're a' gifts," said he, "a' save ane, whilk root I picket up i' the road; the ithers are puir things frae the cottages near hand, whaur they were deein' for no being understood.  'Gie them to me,' said I, 'gie them to me, and i' the richt season I'll gie ye back a bonnie slip, and the plant itsel', gif it live, I'll sell for the benefit of the Refuge.'  An' there wasna ane that said me nay.  Sae in the summer, sir, they'll fetch us a bit siller, and their owners shall hae the slip, and naebody will be a penny the waur, and the Refuge will be sae muckle the richer."

    "Do the village people like the Refuge?" I inquired, for Mr M'Callum had been its agent and collector among many of them.

    "The maist o' them do," he answered if they haena kenned the grip of want themselves they ken somebody that has.  But there were ane or twa said it was taxin' the industrious to feed the idle.  And sae we talkit it over."

    "There's a bit of reason in that doubt," said Ruth, thoughtfully, "and I never could be satisfied with the argument that, anyhow, almsgiving is a blessing to the giver.  If we give alms for our own pleasure rather than to do good, it seems to me just a selfish indulgence."

    "Na, na, I didna preachify; I sat me down and talkit it over.  An' first I asked, 'Did ye never need help yoursel'?'  And they fired up, and said they'd never been evened wi' charity; if they wanted a little money, their master wad gie it in advance, or they had a brither in business i' the next toon, and sae forth.  'Saftly, saftly,' I said; 'suppose ye hadna a master, but just trampit the country, doing the hardest bits o' wark, which aye bring the least siller, wadna ye be glad o' a kindly hand that stood ye in stead of the master and the freends ye hadna got?  Na, nay,' said I, 'dinna set yerselves aboon a' the honest strivin' folk wha stand sae close to poortith's brink that the least joggle sets them over.  When ye ask the master for an advance, ye wadna like if he said, "I dinna need to gang a borrowing; why suld you?"  Ye'd make answer, "Master, ye're rich, ye dinna need ae pund, ye can get a hunder frae the bank."'  And sae I say, 'Freends, ye're well to do; ye dinna ken the want o' a saxpence, because ye ken whaur to find a pund.'"

    "And what did they say next?" I queried.

    "Some paid down their shilling on that; but ane or twa—and ane I mind weel, for it was Miss Sanders, the dressmakerstood out a bit langer.  Said she, 'I'd gie anything to help a lass that would work, and couldna; ay, Mr M'Callum, and I'd gie what I could to ony puir hizzie who wanted to leave her sin and live honestly, for God only kens what drives 'em to it the mair credit to such as win safely through a'; but,' said she, 'I wouldna gie a brass farthing to those idle sluts who might work, but will not.  Don't tell me that anyhow they're miserable.  Misery that could have been saved is nae recommendation—misery is nae a honest trade.  It seems to men the world's owrerun wi' miserable people, and we that work are just the slaves to feed and keep them.'  And there was a power of truth in the words as Miss Sanders spoke them, for, as a' the village knows it, I may tell you she has a sister wha has just been a quiet curse to the hail family: a woman wi' no sense of 'sponsibility, wha seems to think her sister has a right to work for her, and she to gie nae 'tendance nor comfort in return.  Miss Sanders canna keep baith her and a servant, and the idle hizzie takes the servant's keep wi'out the wark, and a' the while gangs aboot the village sae disrespectable and shiftless, that there's some fules found to pity her."

    "Whoever pities her should keep her," said Ruth.

    "My heart was sair to see Miss Sanders's face," continued the old man, "it had sic a pitiful' overwarked luik; but I said, 'Aweel, mem, gif we're to stop every wark frae which idle loons pick guid they dinna deserve, we'd gie up everything.  Na, na, we maun just do richt—better bear a cross than be a cross.  But dinna ye say the idle have the best o' this warld, leave alone that which is to come.  What do they get?  Naething you'd want.  They may share the sillier o' honest folk, but they haven the respeck.  Wha seeks their word? wha cares for their praise?  Will they hae nothing to answer for before His throne, who was constant at His Father's business?  Ah, Miss Sanders,' I said, 'I dinna think there's a many such amang our puir refugees.  Weave mair of their victims—folk who've been so disheartened strugglin' wi' sic-like that they've thrawn aside every thing to get awa'!'  And then the tears streamed down her face, and she said, 'I'm thinking a' the evil i' the warld dates frae the idle people?' but she put half-a-crown into my hand."

    "Are the two sisters alone?" I asked.

    "They are the noo," he answered.  "They're folk frae London.  They're distant kith o' that unhappy callant, George Roper.  I think I've heard that he was brocht up in their father's house.  The puir leddy still believes her cousin met his death at Ewen's han', but she aye says she doesna judge folk by their kin; and weel I ken the schule whaur she learned that lesson."

    "Miss Sanders shall have my dressmaking," remarked Ruth, in an undertone.

    "And so George Wilmot is still with you, Mr M'Callum," I said, as we adjourned from the garden to the house, where Alice eagerly welcomed my sister.

    "Ay, sir, and like to stay," returned the old man.  "He's a decent laddie, too; and frae sweepin' up the snaw, and sich like, he gaes regular to wark at ane o' the farms.  But he canna pay baith his board and lodging too, and sae he still has the empty room, waiting your pleasure, sir."

    "He is quite welcome to it," I answered.  "Indeed, when the Refuge funds increase, it will be no bad plan to build two or three small chambers over the great supper-room, so as to enable us to offer such orphans a safe home until they become entirely independent.  It strikes me that too little has been done in that way.  What is to become of children like him, who are willing to earn what they can, but cannot possibly earn enough?  Why should they find no guardian but the jailer?"

    "Well, it is wrong," said Ruth; "nobody denies that.  But setting the wrong right is your business as much as anybody's."

    "It would make extra work for Alice," I remarked, glancing at my late servant.

    "It would be all in the day's labour," answered the girl, smiling; "and perhaps there would be a female orphan who could help me."

     "Alice likes it," put in her grandfather: "she's been twice as bricht since Geordie came."

    "I like to have somebody to look after, you see, ma'am," said Alice to my sister; "and I like to have him coming in and out to his meals as Ewen used to do."

    "An' we set him crackin' aboot London," remarked Mr M'Callum; "but it's little eno' he can tell, puir laddie; but here he comes to speak for himsel'."

    When George Wilmot saw my sister and I, he took off his cap and gave his head a peculiar wag, intended as a bow.  His appearance was considerably improved, for though he wore the same clothes in which he arrived at the Refuge, they were now well mended and clean, and his face, though coarse in feature, was not ill-favoured, and his big, simple blue eyes appealed to one like a baby's.

    "Well, George," I said, "how are you?  I am glad to hear you are doing so well."

    Whereupon he hung his head, and appeared thoroughly ashamed of himself.

    "Do you like the country?" I asked—"do your like it better than London?"

    He made a reflective pause, and then looked up, and said piteously, "I dunno yet."

    "Where did you live in London?" asked Ruth.

    "Down by Ratcliff Highway," he replied, "sometimes in one court, and sometimes in another."

    "And can't you be sure whether you like this pretty village better than Ratcliff Highway?" I queried.

    "I was used to it," he said simply.

    "And he had his mother there, sir," said Alice softly, laying her hand on the boy's shoulder, while he moved a little closer to her.

    "And you never went to school?" I inquired.

    "No, sir, mother teached me to read of nights."

    "Did you go to church?" I asked.

    "Sometimes, in the evenings," he answered.

    "Did you ever see St Paul's?"

    "D'ye mean the big church in the square?" he queried.

    "Yes—the cathedral."

    "I only seed it once to notice—that was in the half-dark, when the stars were out.  I'd been kept late at a ware'us in Shoe Lane, and mother comed and waited for me in the square, and then she telled me to look at the church, 'cause it wor St something' or 'nother, where the fine people went o' Sundays."

    "Well, at any rate, you know the Thames?" I observed.

    "I guess I do," ha answered grinning; "that's fine bathing!"

    "I suppose you had plenty of friends to keep you company in such amusements," said Ruth.

    "There were lots o' boys, but I didn't know 'em, 'cept jest to speak to on the minute," he replied.  "Only little Jem Norris—poor little chap."

    "What happened to him?" I asked.

    "He went a-bathing and got too far out, and a barge knocked him on the head," he answered.

    "Dear, dear!" said Alice; "weren't you afraid of the same thing?"

    "I took my chance—it's like everything else," he replied philosophically.

    "Ay, ay," said Mr McCallum; "it's little we'd do, if we did nought by which anither had met his death.  To dee is na evil at a'—but to live fearing death is a sair thing."

    George Wilmot raised his blue eyes to the old man's face.  I wondered how much he really understood of the patriarch's saintly cheerfulness, or if it only made a pleasant echo in his soul, like a sweet song in an unknown tongue.

    "Alice," said Ruth, presently, "will you put on your bonnet, and come with us, to show me Miss Sander's house?"

    For my sister no sooner sees a way to do good than she does it.  She is quick in everything, just as I am slow.  But it is never too late to learn.  So I took the hint of her example, and made a note in my pocket-book respecting the new orphan-rooms for the Refuge.

    George Wilmot ran before us and opened the gate, blushing at his own politeness.  As we passed out, I took the opportunity of slipping into his hand a little silver something which left him a very happy boy indeed.  He has no grandfather to give him a tip, and I have no grandson to receive one, so we exactly suit each other.

    "Poor lad, his mind sadly wants opening," I remarked, as we walked away with Alice in attendance.

    "I don't know, sir," said Alice, in her thoughtful unobtrusive way.  "He's ignorant of some things, but he knows others better than many wiser people."

    "I daresay he could pick up a living where you'd starve, Edward," suggested Ruth; "and because that is not an accomplishment taught in schools, who shall say it is inferior thereto?"

    "And he knows how to be patient in cold and hunger" added Alice: "he has gone through dreadful times, and don't think anything of them!"

    "I fear he has just endured like a poor animal, without any sense of submission to God's will," I remarked.

    "Better endure like an innocent dog, than rebel like a wicked man," said Ruth.  "If we know right without doing it, we're so much the worse,—if we do right without knowing it, perhaps we're so much the better!"

    "I am glad you like the boy, Alice," I said, for it is not everybody who could see anything loveable in him."

    "At first I only pitied him for being so left to himself, sir," she rejoined; "and I pitied him the more because he did not know he was pitiful."

    "Did he soon make himself at home?" I inquired.

    She shook her head.  "At first he was very shy," she said, "just like a wild thing who fancies you mean mischief when you offer to feed it; but after a day or two he grew ill, and no wonder, for how he lived on his way from London I can't tell!"

    "The God who watches the sparrows can," said Ruth.

    "And during that illness, he took to me," Alice went on; "at least, then I took to him, for I was touched by his patience, which made it quite hard to find out what ailed him.  I was afraid he was to have a bad fever, but it turned out only cold and weakness, and he was about again when Ewen came home on Christmas-day.  And from the very first minute, he wasn't a bit shy with Ewen; wasn't that strange?"

    "I daresay you've liked him all the better for that," observed Ruth.

    "Your brother must carry a charm against shyness," I remarked, "for you remember I took great liberties with him in our first interview."

    Alice laughed gaily.  "I asked George about it afterwards," she said, "and he told me it was because Ewen did not 'scorn' him.  Now I am sure neither grandfather nor I ever did so," she added.

    "Nor do we," said Ruth; "but I know some people have a happy gift of setting every one, whether superior or inferior, on a comfortable human equality, and that without any forfeiture of respect or self-respect."

    "I believe it is the temperament of genius," I remarked.

    "I think Ewen is a genius, sir," said Alice, proudly, "but he would only be angry if he heard me say so."

    "In what way has he shown it?" I inquired.  "I remember he told me he had a taste for drawing."

    "He has sketched half the countryside," she answered, in the trembling voice of suppressed eagerness; "I've got the pictures at home—they're not well finished, but somehow they make me see more in the fields and sky than I ever saw before, sir."

    "The true end of art," said Ruth.

    "And he brought a little beauty from London," Alice went on; "he'd drawn it in coloured chalks,—an old broken boat lying on a wharf in the moonlight.  And Georgie was so struck with it—for it was like a bit of home to him—that Ewen let him put it up in his bedroom."

    "Dear me," I said; "I should not have thought George had eyes for a picture."

    Alice laughed again, and Ruth said, "I daresay George is like many other people—never so stupid as when he tries to put on his best manners."

    "Some day, Alice, when you have time, you must bring Ewen's pictures to show us," I observed.

    "Thank you, sir," she answered.

    In a minute or two she pointed out Miss Sanders's house.  It was a small lodge-like place, with a tiny window at either side of the door, which bore a plate announcing the owner's occupation.  Then Ruth thanked her, and dismissed her to her duties at the Refuge.

    We did not call upon Miss Sanders then, not intending so to do until Ruth took her some work wherewith to make a pleasant introduction.  We went home to our early dinner, which we beguiled by chatting over all we had heard and seen during the morning.

    "Ruth," I said, "the new orphan rooms shall be added to the Refuge as soon as the weather is mild enough for such operations.  When I ask the builder for an estimate of the repairs needed at St Cross, I will also mention this matter to him."

    "That is right," she answered.  Presently she added, in a clear, brave voice, "Edward, we are old people.  Death may come suddenly to the young, but it must come soon to us.  Let us not delay to make some future provision for the good works we are trying to do, and let us seriously reflect what will be the wisest conditions whereby to retain such provision for the objects we intend."

    There was a solemn silence.  Then I said, "I shall certainly provide that these orphan-rooms be maintained expressly for orphans who are too old to enter any school, yet not old enough to stand quite alone in the world.  There is not a more forlorn class, as I said this morning"――

    "And you need not say it again," she interrupted; "but just write it down on paper, and get a lawyer to witness it."



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