Occupations of a Retired Life (4)

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CHAPTER XVII.

MR RALPH.


IN the morning, Mr Marten and I went off to one of the most celebrated ecclesiastical warehouses.  I had not been in such a place since my boyhood, when I had carried a message from my good old master, relative to some simple piece of church furniture which he had ordered for the use of his parish church.  I found the house much enlarged.  In the old-fashioned days of my youth the garments of the sanctuary were so plain and so universal that they needed no display, but orders for them were quietly received at a desk, and the only matter for consideration was the precise quality of the silk or linen.  But now a plate-glass window was stocked with clerical finery.  Upon a dummy, like those in mercers' windows, stood a surplice with a cross embroidered on the collar, and over it was thrown a hood ostentatiously displaying the "Oxford" colours.  We passed through this department, and then we were shown into another, where we were detained some time, until the assistant who attended the sales of coloured glass was at liberty to wait upon us.  In this place, I should have been fairly confounded but for the rector's explanations.  I did not even know the names of the things about me, and when I learned them from the shopmen I was no wiser, until Mr Marten gave me the plain English for such words as "lectern" and "faldstool," "credence" " and "piscina," and taught me that an "eagle" might be a reading-desk, and a "corporal" a cloth, and not a soldier!

    "But it seems to me all rank folly," I said; "and I cannot understand how any sane man can upset the unity of the Church for such rubbish."

    "To those who do so, it is not such folly as it seems to you," answered the rector.  "In their eyes these things symbolise certain doctrines.  For instance, that cloth which they choose to call a corporal is used to cover the bread at the Lord's Supper.  Its name is plainly derived from the Latin corpus, or body, a subtle introduction of that doctrine of transubstantiation which changes our feast of remembrance into a sacrifice.  Admitting the idea of sacrifice, an altar is needed, and where there is an altar there must be, not a simple ministry like that of the apostles, but a priesthood clothed with the mystic dignity and terrible powers of spiritual privilege—and able to brand with the sin of schism any who venture to expose its duplicity, or who dare to defy its encroachments."

    "I don't think I could argue about it at all," I said; "I can only say this doesn't seem like the New Testament."

    "It is not, it is not," responded the rector, warmly.  "It is a retreat from light into darkness—from realities into shadows—from the sermon on the Mount to the rules for building the tabernacle.  And when and where will it end?" he added, mournfully.

    "It will end in God's good time and place," I answered; and, meanwhile, out of evil He can bring some good.  Just now, let it stir our zeal to make His house a pleasant place, without turning His service into a mummery."

    And so we went on to look at the glasses.

    We were shown many specimens of that false and monkish art of which Ruth had spoken.  We were assured that it was "admired," and "popular," and "devotional," (strange connexion of words!)  We asked it they had no illustrations of the parables or miracles, and, with a sigh for our bad taste, our attendant owned they had; but they were not new, having been removed from a church about to be restored.  They were shown us, and proved appropriate in shape.  But as they were too large to admit of three in the St Cross window, we instantly decided on the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, with a neat medallion representing an open Bible, for the centre of the triangular top of the window.  A small device for the groundwork, and a richly-coloured border for the whole, were very easily selected, and so, having made all due arrangements, we left the warehouse and strolled leisurely back to our hotel.

    Of course, we looked at the shops; now it is natural for every one to look at pictures and books, and occasionally, according to one's sex, at cravats or bonnets.  Also it is pleasant to behold beautiful house-furniture, such as carved sideboards, inlaid cabinets, and stately mirrors.  But what possessed Mr Marten to pull me up in front of a painted, cane-bottomed chair, bearing a label, "36s. a dozen," while he remarked, "That seems cheap; doesn't it, Mr Garrett?  A dozen chairs go a long way in bedrooms."  And a few minutes after, when I was admiring some photographs, and turned to call his attention to their beauty, I found he had wandered away to a china-shop, where he was gravely weighing the comparative merits of tea-sets, respectively priced £1, 1s." and "£1, 5s."  And at last, when he actually stopped to feel the thickness of some very cheap drugget, I slyly said, "Come, come, Mr Marten, we old bachelors need not trouble ourselves about such things."  And he answered, hastily, "Oh, no," and hurried on.

    Having brought our business to a satisfactory conclusion, we agreed to return to Upper Mallowe by the next day's early train.  I felt that my few remaining hours in London were due to my old city friends, and as Mr Marten had many acquaintances of his own to whom he must show attention, I went alone to the counting-house by the churchyard, and saw the whole array of familiar faces, among whom so many years of my life had passed.  Of course I saw Ewen, but only as one of the crowd.  I went home with the senior partner, and dined at his house in Highbury Crescent, and spent a very pleasant evening, for every one was exceedingly kind.  Nevertheless, I left before nine o'clock, and took a cab to the corner of a certain quiet street in the Liverpool Road.

    The old-fashioned parlour-shutters were closed, and but for a light in the passage, the whole front of the house was dark.  The same cheerful woman opened the door, and instantly recognising me, invited me to enter with a cheerful "Good evening, sir.  Will you please to walk up-stairs?  Mr M'Callum is at home."

    I knocked at Ewen's door, and a voice, not his, cried, "Come in."  So I entered.  There were two figures seated at the table, with a solitary candle between them.  Ewen had his back towards me, and when he heard my voice, he started up, glanced nervously at his companion, and hurried forward to offer me a seat in the cane armchair.  I saw he was drawing.  The stranger was reading.  At first he did not look up, but while Ewen and I carried on that desultory chat which distinguishes unexpected visits, I found that he turned from his book, and regarded me with a curious scrutiny.

    He was quite a young man, of not more than five or six and twenty.  His face was remarkably pale, but his features were handsome, though a little worn for his time of life.  I did not notice the details of his attire, but he had an elegant appearance, and his hands were white, and singularly fine in form.  At first, I thought he was a little uneasy, though he only showed it by a statue-like stillness, scarcely seeming even to breathe.  But after his eyes had twice or thrice met mine, this passed away, and presently he made some casual remark which fell in with the course of our conversation.

    By and by Ewen quitted the room.  I concluded he went to instruct his landlady to prepare some little hospitality.  For a few minutes I and the stranger were silent.  Then thinking I must not lose so good an opportunity, I observed—

    "It gives me much pleasure to make the acquaintance of a young artist of whose talents my friend speaks so warmly, though I do not think he has ever chanced to mention your name"――

    "Ralph—Mr Ralph," he interrupted, with a graceful bow; "and I feel it a great honour to introduce myself to you, sir," he added hastily, with a strange emotion: "for I, too, have heard and—and heard again of the goodness of Mr Garrett."

    "Ah, but you must not trust Ewen for my character," I said, smiling, "for I fear he exaggerates—yes, he certainly exaggerates."

    At this instant Ewen returned, followed by a servant-girl with a little supper.  It was a very simple repast, but it was quite a treat to me, carrying me back to the distant days when I gave such feasts to my few visitors, the dear friends of my youth, who are now all nearer God.

    Our conversation during supper was not very brisk. Mr Ralph was decidedly taciturn, like one who does not care to conceal that his mind is not with his company. But this seemed an unconscious habit on his part, and perhaps arose from too much solitude. Whenever he spoke he was agreeable, though his words sometimes left an uncomfortable impression. Once or twice he was merry, and his mirth was saddest of all. It was as if a man, pursued by a relentless fate, from which he felt himself too weak to escape, recklessly turned and smiled in her direful face. I could not understand the intimacy between him and Ewen. It was evidently of the closest nature, no casual fellowship, entered into from community of tastes or motives of mere financial economy, Yet I could not pass an hour with these two young men without observing a great disparity between their natures, But there seemed a bond between them stronger than any difference of character, and firm enough to resist all change of circumstance. Their manner towards each other had none of the gushing enthusiasm of hastily warm friendships, but rather the quiet settled confidence one notices between brothers, old school-fellows, or tried comrades in war or travel.

    "And did you two make acquaintance in London?" I found opportunity to inquire in the course of conversation.

    "Oh, we knew each other a long time ago," said Mr Ralph.  "Will you pass the ale, M'Callum?"

    "School-fellows, perhaps?" I suggested, remembering that Ewen's early education had been received among lads of the apparent position of his companion.

    "No; our acquaintance was of a very casual kind," he returned; "but one greets a familiar face when one has been lost in London.—A little more cheese, please, Ewen."

    So I understood that the subject was to drop.

    "I suppose you will ride home, sir?" remarked young M'Callum, when I rose to go.

    "I don't think so," I answered, looking from the window.  "This is a bright moon, and the streets are clear and quiet now."

    "May I come with you?" said Mr Ralph.  "I shall so enjoy the walk."

    "Shall I come too?" queried Ewen, as if consulting his friend's pleasure.

    "No, my boy," returned the other; "you have to rise early, and march off to business.  You go to bed, and to sleep.  I will see Mr Garrett safely to his hotel."

    After receiving Ewen's home messages, we started off together.  My companion offered me his arm.  He had a fine, tall figure, and altogether what one calls "a good presence."

    "What solemn grandeur hangs over London by night!"  I said, as we walked through the moonlit streets.  "Are you a native of the city, Mr Ralph, or did you come here to try your fortune?"

    "I came here to set the Thames on fire," he answered with a light laugh.  "And the Thames extinguished me!"

    "Ah," I said, "London is the best place to teach a man his measure.  A good lesson, Mr Ralph, and one that is never learned too soon."

    "I don't know that," he retorted, laughing again.  "When ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise."

    "But when is ignorance bliss!" I asked.

    "When knowledge comes too late," he replied.

    "And when does knowledge come too late?" I queried.

    "When you've done what you can't undo," said he, shortly.

    "Then at least you can repent it," I observed.  "It is never too late for that.  If one's life is ruined, one's soul need not be lost."

    "But when one has done all the harm one can," he answered gloomily, "it seems mere gross selfishness to try pushing into heaven at last!"

    There was a something in his tone which chilled me as he uttered these dreadful words.  Dreadful indeed they were—the very utterance of despair.  They revealed a perilous nature, one that would slide down and down, and then use its most loveable instincts to excuse its never rising and struggling upward.  He could actually see selfishness in seeking salvation!  Well, perhaps his error was not worse than one much more common, when men fancy they have forsaken evil because they are simply sick of it.  I tried to fight him with his own weapons.

    "But whatever harm one has done," I observed, "he does a greater harm when he finally leaves his soul to destruction."

    "Harm to himself or to others?" he inquired, laconically.

    "One cannot harm one's-self without harming others," I answered. "'Nobody's enemy but his own,' is a false saying.  By benefiting others one benefits one's-self, and by hurting one's-self one hurts others."

    "Then goodness is pure selfishness," said he.

    "Each has two selves," I explained in answer: "a lower self and a higher self, a temporary self and an eternal self.  Each must serve one or the other.  By solely seeking the gratification of one's lower and mortal part, one does harm in the world, and neglects one's own best interests.  By following the dictates of one's nobler and immortal part, one does good in the world, and makes it a school of preparation for heaven."

    "I can believe that," said Mr Ralph, gently, "because I have seen it."

    "Now supposing that you were in the case we have in point," I went on; "supposing that you had done as much harm as you could, and had caused much sin, and suffering, and sorrow—that is, if you will grant me the liberty of such an illustration?"—

    "Oh, certainly," said he, with a laugh.

    "Then do you not feel that the very fear lest your soul was lost at last would cause more suffering, and more sorrow, and possibly more sin?"

    "Well, I think it might," he answered, nervously lifting his hat from his head;—"yes, it would: there's one or two that it would grieve, and there's one who'd say it was only what he expected."

    "Then, if you left no reasonable cause for such fear, and so gave happiness to those who love you, and also taught your enemy more charity in future, would not you serve yourself and others at the same time?"

    He did not reply; but walked by my side in silence.  I felt I was carrying on the discussion at a great disadvantage; because I did not say that if it chanced there were none on earth who cared whether he went to God or to Satan, there was still One in heaven whom his absence would grieve, because it would show that he refused the salvation which He had purchased with a great price—even His own blood.  And I dared not say this; because I was sure that my companion was as well-informed in the mere theology of the matter as myself.  And the formal repetition of a fact whose truth can only be felt does no good—nay, it may disgust, by seeming but the easy parade of a glib lip-religion.

    At last he spoke suddenly.

    "Wandering a little from our subject," he said, "do you think that if a man makes some great self-sacrifices, he does not lose in the end?"

    "If he do it for his neighbour's good or God's glory, I am sure he does not," I replied.   "But he cannot make the sacrifice in this feeling.  If he could, it would lose the very nature of sacrifice.  And besides, God's compensations are seldom such as man in his mortality can appreciate.  If one resigned his worldly prospects for the sake of another, God might recompense him by an early call to Himself.  But till he was fairly within the veil, the touch of death would seem rather his Maker's chastening rod, than his loving Father's benediction."

    "Do you—do you think it is right to allow another to make great sacrifices for one's own sake?" he asked, with a broken voice and with averted face.

    "It depends upon circumstances," I answered, gently, for I felt I was walking blindfold over the youth's own history; "but I should not refuse a friend's sacrifice barely because it was greater than I could ever make in return.  Why should I grudge him a brighter heavenly crown than mine?  Only I should take care his goodness was not for nought.  And, Mr Ralph, if ever a great sacrifice be made in our behalf, let it stand in our hearts as a type of His love who left His Father's throne for our sakes!  Let the human affection interpret the Divine love, and don't waste either."

    The young man turned and looked at me—not with the face which he carried to the galleries and the picture dealers, but with the look which he surely had worn when he said "Our Father" at his mother's knee, years before;—a look which might return and remain for eternity, if his eyes met the eyes of a good woman who loved him.  The reckless prodigal laugh was silent; the cynical artist sneer was gone; the man's angel was in his countenance—the same angel that had once been in the innocent child's face—only with the pathetic look of its long struggle with the reckless prodigal and the cynic artist.  And God had marked that angel all the time, and He would watch it to the very end!  It is because He is All-seeing that He is All-loving.

    And then we walked in silence for the length of many streets, until at last we reached that leading to my hotel.  There we shook hands; and in our parting I made some simple remark in praise of Ewen M'Callum.

    "Yes, yes," he answered, with singular fervour, "all you say is true; but you don't know him as I do, that 's all, Mr Garrett."

    And so saying, he hurried off.

    When I entered my sleeping room, I found a note from Mr Marten, intimating that a telegram had followed him from Upper Mallowe to London, urging him to hasten to Cambridge, to the dying bed of a young relative, a student there.  He had received this on reaching the hotel during my absence, and in compliance with its entreaty he had started off immediately.

    So my homeward journey was a solitary one.


 
CHAPTER XVIII.

A NEW IDEA.


I WAS very glad to find myself again in my quiet village home.  My little trip to London gave us some new topics of conversation, and my sister was much interested in my account of young M'Callum and his friend.  But she took a prejudice against the latter, and hazarded the uncharitable conjecture that he was "no good."  When she saw Alice she threw out hints to this effect, which Alice received very quietly and without any reply.

    Mr Marten's young relation did not die, but his convalescence was tedious and unsatisfactory, and as he had no other friend to attend him, our rector's absence from his parish proved a long one.  A neighbouring clergyman came to us on Sundays, and gave us two sermons in the Refuge.  But Mr Marten was at liberty by the time the church repairs were complete.

    St Cross was re-opened on the second Sunday in July.  The weather was—just beautiful English summer; I can find no better words for it.  Ruth and I set out at the first summons of the new peal of bells, which were among our improvements.  I believe in church bells, simple, soft, and sweet,—a sound meet to echo in the sacred memories of childhood's Sabbath.  If once linked with feelings of holy happiness, theirs is a voice which may speak where the preacher cannot come, and where the Bible is shut.  And praised be God, they now sound so widely over the world that few can wander out of their reach.

    When we arrived at St Cross, I was quite satisfied with the effect of our alterations, which, though sufficiently familiar to me while in process, I now saw for the first time tested by usage.  The narrow path was widened and gravelled, and many evergreens and some flowers were planted about the graves.  The porch was much enlarged, and the inner doors stood wide open.  But it was the interior which was most changed.  All the windows were widened, which destroyed the monotony of the white wall, and their opaque glass was exchanged for small clear panes, with one large coloured pane, bearing some appropriate device, in the centre of each window.  Two new windows, containing more coloured glass, were opened north and south of the communion-table, thus brightening a portion of the building which had formerly been both dismal and ill-ventilated.  The table itself was entirely refitted, and the candlesticks were gone—into the vestry!  The tables of the law were re-written in legible characters, and over one was a scroll bearing averse from the road psalm, "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him;" and over the other was another inscribed with our Saviour's words, "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me: for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto our souls."

    But the change was certainly the new chancel window.  As the worshippers entered, one by one, or in groups, their eyes instantly fell on it, and each countenance brightened.  Old Mr M'Callum, with his daughter and George Wilmot, were among the earliest arrivals.  Bessie Sanders came soon afterwards, and presently Mr Herbert and Agnes.  And just before service commenced, Mr Weston arrived, rather flushed, and in such a twitter that he did not notice the attendant who trotted forward to show him a pew, but precipitately took refuge in the M'Callums' seat, where presently he became quite at home.

    The service was conducted in a very simple, spirited way, and Mr Marten's sermon did not attempt to "improve the occasion."  Our young rector had sufficient judgment to conclude that "occasions" have a voice sufficiently eloquent to plead for themselves.  And his sermon was very short, but full of those pithy truths which stick in the mind like arrows, and are not easily shaken out.

    When all was over, the congregation was in no hurry to disperse.  Some stayed to speak to others about the new window, and a few old people, whose sight was dim, drew nearer to the chancel to read the texts written above the table.

    Mr Marten himself very speedily reappeared from the vestry, and it was then I first noticed that Lieutenant Blake and his daughter were that day among the worshippers at St Cross.  He walked off with them, and as I stood in the churchyard speaking to Mr Herbert, I saw the three pause to examine the skeleton of the house now rapidly rising behind the church, and in front of it Miss Blake turned and gazed around, and made some remark.  I fancy she said it had a very fine prospect.

    "Well, my brother," said Ruth, as we sat down to our dinner that day, "you have certainly done one good work for Upper Mallowe."

    "Yes, and only one," I answered, "for the Refuge is yours."

    "Mine!" she ejaculated, "when all I gave was a few household things."

    "You gave the thought," I said.  "The liberal deviseth liberal things."

    "And I suppose the Lord will accept a plan, if it's all one can do," she replied; "and I have no money to give until I die, for as God prospered me just sufficiently to be independent, please God I'll never be dependent—even on you!"

    "But you should not call even the church repairs my work," I said, presently.  "You must not forget that the village has been so liberal that my share of the expense will not exceed a tolerably moderate subscription."

    "But then, if I gave the scheme for the Refuge," she answered, "you gave the scheme for the church, and you led the way, and took all the responsibility, whether it might prove great or small."

    "Yes, I'll own that," I conceded; "I do so little good that I'll willingly acknowledge all I can."

    "Now, I'll tell you what, Edward," said my sister, in that business-like tone which always means something: "you've fairly started the Refuge, and in my will they'll find a little endowment, which, with the annual subscriptions, will carry it safely on.  And in the Refuge, I include the Orphan Home, which will cost very little, when once the additional rooms are made.  So now I'll give you something else to do.  Establish a village hospital, sir!"

    "A village hospital!" I echoed, rather startled.

    "Yes;" she answered, "what provision have our people in sickness?  The very poor are dragged off to Hopleigh workhouse infirmary.  Should you like to go there if you were ill?  The class a little better off are taken to the hospital in the county town, at great expense of time, and money, and strength, just when they are all most valuable.  You give ten pounds a year to that hospital.  That ten pounds would be worth at least twenty, if you kept it in Upper Mallowe.  And there would be no tedious recoveries, hindered by home-sickness, and no more deaths among strange faces."

    "But don't you think the establishment of even a village hospital will be a somewhat complicated matter?" I ventured to inquire.

    "No," she answered, decisively, "a country home for the sick is as different from a city hospital as Upper Mallowe is from London.  We shan't want six or eight wards, but about as many rooms.  We shan't want a secretary, and a staff of Sisters of St Something or another, but just one experienced God-fearing woman, with two or three young girls between sixteen and eighteen years of age under her."

    "Ah," I said, "I begin to see the possibility and the beauty of your plan, Ruth.  Why, it may do great good in more ways than one!"

    "With God's blessing, it certainly will," she answered.  "At the present time, I know of a nice house standing empty.  It is a detached cottage on the lonely side of the green, and it has eight well-sized and airy rooms.  It may be either rented or sold, but it is dearer than the Refuge was."

    "I'll buy it, nevertheless," I said.

    "Yes, you can certainly afford that," returned my plain-speaking sister, "and then it will need serviceable, suitable furniture, and there must be maintenance and salary for the matron "-

    "You mean the head nurse," I interrupted.

    "Call her by the wise German name of 'housemother,"' my sister went on,—"that includes all her duties; then there will be maintenance for the sick, and medical attendance.  I think that is all the outgoing.  And the income will include subscriptions, the interest from your endowment, for I must leave that matter to you, my brother, and small weekly payments from the girls who assist the house-mother."

    "Weekly payments from the girls?" I queried.

    "Certainly," she answered.  "It will be an excellent preparation for all branches of domestic life.  Any lady interested in a young girl, or the girl's own parents, ought readily to give enough to purchase her victuals in exchange for such advantages.  House-room and instruction will be gratuitous."

    "But will one nurse and two or three girls be sufficient for the work?" I asked, dubiously.

    "Except during epidemics," she answered, "and then funds for more aid will not be lacking.  What is the average number of hospital cases in this little village at one time?  Seldom more than five or six, and three or four of those not at all serious."

    "But will people have confidence in such a homely affair?" I asked.

    "Perhaps they'll laugh at it while they're in health," she promptly replied, "but when the head is sick and the heart is faint, there's nothing very reassuring in a line of pallets, and a long row of windows, and a gaunt white woman coolly naming one with a number.  Then one longs for a roughly-plastered room, with the trees whispering outside, and familiar faces smiling within.  Then they'll come to us, and, please God, they'll never laugh at us afterwards!"

    "But who shall we choose for the house-mother?" I inquired.  "Alice has little nursing experience, and she is too young: besides, the Refuge cannot spare her."

    "The Refuge will lose her soon enough," said Ruth, significantly, "and then we shall find it tolerably hard to supply her place.'

    "If Miss Sanders would like to become principal of our hospital," I observed, "surely she would suit it admirably.  She is clear-headed and kind-hearted, and only God can fathom the depth of her patience."

    "But what can we do with her sweet sister?" asked Ruth, with a wry face.

    "We must get her a situation," I said.

    "Ay, but will she keep it?" queried my sister.  "If I wanted a servant, I would not have her, even without wages.  I would sooner pension her."

    "Then if the worst comes to the worst, we must pension her," I answered.

    "A fine reward for idleness!" exclaimed Ruth, indignantly.  "Very just towards poor Bessie!"

    "Do you suppose Bessie would like us to pension her?" I asked, slyly.

    "Ah, well, I'll own she would not," conceded my sister, "and I doubt if she would not carry her independence so far as to resent our doing as much for the lovely Anne."

    "Nevertheless, if we get Bessie to like our hospital scheme," I said, "we will manage the rest somehow."

    "Yes, somehow," assented Ruth.

    Nothing more was said on the subject until Monday morning, when my sister, steadily true to her old principle of striking the iron while it was hot, took me first to see the empty cottage, and then to visit Miss Sanders.  Bessie's face brightened softly as we unfolded our plan, though her words were simple and cool enough.  "Yes, she should like it very much, but—Anne?"

    "Make her a present of your business," said Ruth.  The dressmaker shook her head.

    "Let her sell it to some young woman, and remain here as housekeeper," was my sister's next suggestion.  Miss Bessie smiled dimly, and shook her head again.

    "At least try that experiment," I said; "it will certainly do no harm.  We can but make some other arrangement if she do not suit the in-comer."

    She reflected a few minutes, and then said, "It can do no harm.  I beg pardon for being so slow, but the thought of a change rather confuses me.  But—but I must speak to Anne before anything is decided."

    She went to the door, and called her sister's name.  It was but her proud determination to put the best possible appearance on her unhappy family life.

    Anne presently answered the summons.  She entered, with a grimy face, and a dress representing the fashion of bygone years.  Ruth told our errand in a few clear words.

    "You need not have asked me, Bessie," said she, turning to her sister.  "Why should you consider me?  Do what you think best for yourself, and I hope you will never repent it, but that you will be quite comfortable at last.  Don't think of me at all," she added, turning to us, "anything will do for me.  Some respectable young person will take Bessie's place, and I'll wait on her.  I don't mind drudging all day.  I'll do anything to please any one.  I don't mind how I turn about.  Since I'm only fit for mean work, I'll not make myself above it."

    "No work is mean," said Ruth, rather fiercely, taking up her old argument, "except to a mean mind; and mean mind makes everything mean."

    "Well, I'm very glad you agree with our plans," I observed, rising, for I foresaw a useless tournament between Anne and my sister; "we shall press our work forward as much as we can, so prepare as quickly as possible for your approaching separation.  Shall you bring away any of this furniture, Miss Sanders?" I asked.

    "Only two or three little things which belong to me personally," she answered.  She evidently desired to give Anne every advantage.

    "Ah, that will do," I said; "we will provide all the rest.  By the way," I added, when we were in the passage, and out of Anne's hearing, "I have not visited you since Mr Marten and I brought you that sad relic of your poor cousin.  I suppose no new thought has struck you in connexion with that affair?"

    "No, sir," she answered; "and I suppose you have not seen young M'Callum yet, to tell him about the knife?"

    "I have seen him," I replied.  "I went to London for a day or two, and I saw him there.  But I told him nothing.  It struck me that he was not very well, and I thought it best he should not hear of it till his own people told him in his own home.  I hope you are not angry with my consideration, Miss Sanders."

    "Oh, sir," she replied, "if every one considered others as you do, it would be a blessed world!" (Remember, my readers, that she measured my consideration only by her sister's, which was nothing at all.)

    And so Ruth and I walked homeward.

    "Our scheme is ripening fast," I remarked.

    "Edward," said she, shortly, "I'm in a bad temper!"

    "Indeed!" I exclaimed, "I am sorry for that."

    "I daresay you are!" she said, "but that does no good.  I'll always say that I'm selfish, and that I don't care for anybody but myself, and that I will have my own way!  I'll do anything to be different from that Anne Sanders!  No woman has provoked me so much since Laura Carewe.  I'm in a regular passion!  I feel as if I wanted to kick."

    I knew that at that instant no words of mine would soothe my sister's ire, so I walked by her side in silence.

    "And you never told me that you did not think Ewen was well! she added, presently, with no abatement of asperity; you leave me to find that out for myself.  You come home from London and say nothing about it to Alice or me.  Can I be sure you are not reserving something else; I've a great mind to go to London and see him for myself."

    "My dear Ruth," I expostulated, "I said nothing because I thought it might be only my own imagination.  He will have his holidays in a few weeks.  So why should I trouble you or his sister?  He would not like a fuss over a trifling ailment or a passing depression."

    "You'd have made fuss enough had it been Agnes Herbert," said my sister, wrathfully.  "You're always noticing whether she looks unhappy or no,—though depend on it she has nothing at all to trouble her except some fine fantastical sentimentality of her own.  But women always get all the sympathy.  They are the porcelain of humanity, of course, with all their delicate dandelion virtues which blow away at the first breath of every-day air!"

    "Is that your description of Alice M'Callum and Bessie Sanders?" I asked, gently.

    I knew Ruth heard the question, but she did not heed it, and presently started off on a new tack with

    "As I said directly I heard of him, you may depend upon it that new friend of Ewen's is no good.  Some idle daundering good-for-naught" (when Ruth was excited she often used the graphic diction of the country-side) "who takes no trouble for himself, but just lives to trouble honest people.  Talk about vampires!  I believe in them.  There are people who put all their self-made sufferings to suck the very life from other people, and never feel their sting themselves.  Oh, well I remember your description of him, just a personification of your Childe Harolds and your Corsairs, and all your other rubbish, who might easily make a good riddance of themselves and their miseries, and not be afraid the world would stop without them!"

    By this time we had reached home, and Ruth stepped off to her bedroom, while I went dismally into the parlour, marvelling at the mysterious influence which some natures possess of souring whoever comes near them, even as others always sweeten.  The scolding Ruth had given me was all due to her glimpse of Anne Sanders.  I knew that well enough.

    In about ten minutes my sister reappeared.  I had taken refuge behind the outspread newspaper.  But she came up to me and put her hand on my shoulder.  I looked up, and she laughed rather dolefully.

    "The fit is over," she said, "and I'm sorry for the words I said.  I'm afraid some of them are true.  But I'm just as sorry I said them.  Some women have hysterics and some have tempers!"


 
CHAPTER XIX.

THE RIGHT OF REFUSAL.


RUTH proceeded very energetically with her hospital plans.  She wished the house to be in readiness in case of any visitation of those sicknesses so often attendant on early or late autumn.  Agnes Herbert was again her helper, in happy ignorance of the ruthless words which my sister had spoken in her anger, but for which Ruth strove to atone by extraordinary kindness and complacency.  Very industriously the two worked and consulter together, with Bessie Saunders for an occasional third.  Bessie sold her business very easily, for it was in good repute.  So she took up her abode in the little hospital, and found plenty of occupation in putting up the furniture and preparing the house linen.

    Meanwhile, the Refuge was in full vigour.  Harvest operations had brought down the usual crowd of needy, unskilled labourers, who gladly took shelter there until they procured work.  I liked to wander in the fields at their dinner hour, and have a chat about their winter life in London, and hear what they thought of their temporary home in our High Street.  They did not know me, or my connexion therewith, and so I knew I should get the truth, and might obtain some useful hints for the future.  But had they known who I was, I should certainly have suspected them of insincerity, for there was nothing but praise.  Many a hearty Irish blessing did I hear bestowed on Alice M'Callum, "the purty girleen, with the face like the Holy Virgin's in the picture over the altar"—the out-spoken women adding, "We guess she won't be at the Refuge when we come again this time next year.  Sure there is a big house down the hill with no want of anything, where she would be kindly welcome, for we have eyes in our heads, and we know what we know; and the ould gintleman will find it a lonely life without her.  Heaven's blessing light on the both of them!"

    Both Mr M'Callum and his grand-daughter were eagerly looking forward to Ewen's holidays.  Through the exigencies of business, these were rather later than had been expected, but Alice bore the delay very patiently, feeling that she would have more time to enjoy her brother's society, when harvest was over, and the Refuge restored to its ordinary condition.  Ewen's letters came regularly, both to the Refuge and to our house.  Very nice letters they were—written in his close, neat, rather peculiar calligraphy—simply worded, half boyish and half manly in their tone.  They had no fine sentences—nothing that any one would care to read but those who knew and loved him.  But then to such there was a strange sacredness about these simple letters.  One could not bring one's self to destroy them.  I kept all he sent me.  They are in my desk now.  Alice stored hers in her workbox.  And you, too, my reader, have some such letters stored somewhere, though your fire may have devoured many clever ones, and perhaps even some with "autographs."

    I must say that the medical man of Upper Mallowe entered very warmly into the interests of our little hospital.  He was a young married man with a scattered poor practice, and when he named a very modest sun, as the annual price for his professional services at our sick home, I knew there was more real charity in the business-like agreement than in many a magnificent donation; and I think Ruth felt the same, for she sought his advice and concurrence in every question of arrangement and management, and it was wonderful how their views of such things coincided, though he saw everything from the point of scientific knowledge, while she saw all in the plain light of simple common-sense.

    I was not admitted to the hospital until everything was finished, by which time Miss Saunders had gained a patient, and also a rosy-faced, obedient damsel to assist her.  The patient was a middle-aged woman, an old resident in the village.  Her malady was a rapid waste, and when I saw her the truth of my sister's words shone fully on me, and I felt how cruel it would have been had the worn-out invalid been doomed to the worry and excitement of strange sights and systems.

    We found Bessie Saunders in the little sitting-room of the place, busily engaged with a basket full of that mysterious "white work" which always appears to excite a feeling of dignified and business-like elation in the heart of every true woman.  She looked uncommonly well, and her plain dark violet gown showed to double advantage, inasmuch as it suited both her office and her person.  By a skilful arrangement of her own little personalities, and a few simple ornaments with which Ruth had presented her, she had given the humble apartment quite the sociable look of home.  We did not find her alone.  Agnes Herbert came forward to greet us, with her hat swinging in her hand, as if her visit was no hasty one.

    We went over all the rooms, one after another, kitchen and dormitories.  As sickness must be, such a place seemed pleasant to suffer in.  If it were possible for a life to be all so dreary that one could not remember a mother's smile, or a single "good time," still in these quiet chambers the passing soul might surely carry away one thanksgiving.  The poor consumptive woman, sitting in her easy chair, almost too weak to speak, smiled kindly when she saw us.  Oh, if we hope there are some angels somewhere in heaven who rejoice to know of us, let us be very gentle to the dying.  They are starting for the land we long for.  Let them take a good report of us.

    "I only fear one thing," said Bessie in reply to my warm praises of all I saw—"I only fear Miss Garrett has trusted me too much, and that I fill a place which another might supply much better."

    "Well, if we had given Miss Saunders a longer notice, she might easily have taken a little training at some great hospital," I remarked to Ruth as we walked homeward.

    "Don't talk of what you don't understand, Edward," interrupted Ruth.  "I won't say a word against the systems of the famous hospitals.  Doubtless it is necessary for their nurses to be drilled like soldiers.  There are not enough staunchly true women to supply their requirements, and that discipline may do a great deal of good to the shams whom they are obliged to receive into their ranks.  Is not there something in Miss Saunders which makes her just Bessie Saunders, and no one else,—and something in me which makes me Ruth Garrett, and nothing more?  And don't tell me we should be improved if that something was taken out of us.  Would you like pictures painted in faintly differing shades of the same colour?  Would you like all the flowers in your garden to be alike?"

    "But, my dear Ruth," I pleaded, "would you like variety such as existed between those famous ladies, Betsy Prig and Sarah Gamp?"

    "And, my dear Edward," retorted my sister ironically, "because one system is bad, it does not always follow that its opposite is perfection.  And if you believe that any system can regenerate human nature, I don't.  If Betsy Prig and Sarah Gamp existed under the old arrangements, depend upon it they have slipped in under the new ones, only of course they have changed their names!"

    "Still, now-a-days," I said, "at least they cannot drink gin, and morally murder their patients."

    "Those are very negative virtues in a nurse," replied my sister; "but what I complain about is the modern cant of 'training.'  You men don't let it get among yourselves.  When once you are grown up, by which time your general or technical education, as the case may be, is completed, you find out what each other can do, and set each other to do it.  If a man cannot become a clerk by simply passing upwards through the various grades of a clerk's duty, he turns to something else.  There is no establishment where he may be artificially 'trained' at the public expense.  But if a girl wishes to be a bookkeeper, instead of expecting her to work her way like a boy, many employers request her to bring them a certificate of competency from some training class, where she has been stupefied by sham ledgers, and dazzled by precepts which she will never need to practise.  Teachers are wanted for national schools, and instead of suitable women being chosen, and brought gradually onward through small schools to large ones, thousands of pounds are annually spent to make women competent, or rather what is called competent.  Now there is always somebody exactly fitted for every work that exists in the world, and that somebody should be found for it."

    "But, Ruth," I suggested, "in speaking of men a minute ago, you said, 'when their technical education is completed.'  Now this 'training' simply comes in the place of that technical education."

    "Then why isn't it paid for in the same way, and taken at the same time, close at the heels of common school days?" she asked rather sharply.  "And mind you that in ordinary male employment, shop-keeping, clerkships, and so forth, there is no 'training' at all, only a steady working up from the lowest step of the ladder.  It is a natural development of all they learnt when boys.  And every woman's early life should have fitted her for something.  Has not an elder sister had good discipline for a governess, and a tradesman's daughter for a business woman, and so on?  And there will never be more exceptional women wanted than exceptional chances will provide.  And yet ten chances to one, instead of making the best of each as she is, some wiseacre will set her in 'training' to become what she is not."

    "But I'm sorry to say a woman's early life does not always fit her for anything," I said.

    "Then I'm afraid nothing else will," retorted Ruth.

    "But what is she to do?" I queried.

    "Marry the first man who asks her," said my sister shortly.

    "And is a woman who is fit for nothing else, fit for a wife?" I asked.

    "No," she returned, "but she is quite good enough for any man who gives her a chance.  But you are always asking me these sort of questions, Edward.  Are you contemplating such a step for yourself?"

    "Nay, Ruth," I answered, a little nettled; "I ask these questions gravely, and you turn them off with a joke.  It is not a laughing matter."

    "No," she said, "but it would do no good if I cried, and my sex don't feel they need anybody's tears.  They think it is only the cruel injustice of the men which prevents them from filling the highest places in the land.  Very likely the Lord Chancellor does not know how to make tea, and so a woman who does not know either thinks she could be Lord Chancellor.  We hear that it is hard to obtain good nurses or thorough governesses, and yet, forsooth, the ladies aim to become doctors and professors."

    "But may not the deficiencies you name arise simply from want of training?" I pleaded.

    "Then let them be trained by first painfully climbing the lowest step of the ladder, and staying there until they can mount higher without any help," she returned.  "Till the ranks of good nurses are filled, women need not wish for opportunities to become doctors."

    "But, Ruth," I said, "many women who would like to be doctors would shrink from mere nursing, because it is often foolishly regarded as a humiliating servitude."

    "If a true gentlewoman by birth, breeding, or education, engages in any work, however humble," replied my sister, "she does not sink to its lowest level, but she raises it to herself, and it is thought better of for her very sake.  And mind, if women so scrupulously defer to a wrong popular prejudice, why don't they heed that other prejudice, which has some reasonable foundation, and hesitates before it gives a man's work to a woman?"

    "But who shall define what is man's work and what is woman's?" I asked, briskly, thinking I had hit upon a poser.

    "The proper seed for every soil is what grows there without forcing," returned Ruth promptly.  "I suppose a man or a woman may compel themselves to do almost anything, just as they may distort their limbs into unnatural attitudes.  But you may always know when they are out of their proper place by the terrible bragging they make.  An old bachelor does not boast of his ledger and cash-box, but he triumphs miserably in sewing on buttons and mending gloves.  A woman does not publish a list of her seams and samplers, but she glories in her examinations and certificates."

    "But may not that be because she has conquered, not nature, but merely custom?" I inquired.  "Don't you really think that some employments now monopolised by men might fairly be shared by women?"

    "They might be opened to women," she answered.  "A steady, patient girl, who can manage delicate needlework, could manage watchmaking.  And there are many other occupations now kept by men which are quite within the compass of a woman's abilities.  But then I don't think the men would object to admit a woman.  I have not forgotten my own early days, Edward."

    "I am glad to hear you admit that women might have a wider sphere than at present," I said.

    "I admit less than you think," she returned, "and even from my admission, I think you and I draw different inferences.  I would not apprentice an indefinite number of girls to these employments, as is sometimes proposed.  It would be sheer waste of time and money.  In five years' time nineteen girls out of twenty would have carried, and thus wholly retired—at least I hope so—to the other business of housekeeping.  As a body, women will never pass beyond the stage of raw learners.  And that is one reason why men need never fear their rivalry."

    "But, Ruth, don't you think it would be better if girls had other objects in life besides matrimony?" I asked.

    "Of course it would," she answered, "but putting it as you put it now, it is only twaddle.  If you were a young man, would you like a girl to refuse you on the grounds that she had a good business, and so thought it her duty to keep to it?"

    "No, I certainly should not," I replied.

    "The fact is," my sister went on, "the people who start these movements proceed on a wrong track.  They start with the belief that all women can follow occupations, for which not more than twenty per cent. are really suited.  They ignore the fact that perhaps only one out of that twenty will require such occupation through her whole life.  So they scare the men, and rouse all their opposition, by announcing that they will be beaten out of the field by female labour, equal in kind and superior in cheapness.  Now, this equality in kind and superiority in cheapness are both fallacies."

    "O Ruth," I said, indignantly, "will you say that women cannot work as well as men, when you know how well you carried on your own business?"

    "I know all about it, Edward," she answered, "and that is why I say it.  Didn't I have Latin manuscripts sent me, and didn't I always take them to be copied by the old schoolmaster at Mallowe Academy, and didn't he allow me a small commission for giving him the job?  O Edward, Edward, that is how I succeeded.  I knew what I could not do, as well as what I could!"

    "But at any rate women's labour is certainly cheaper than men's," I said, presently.

    "Mechanical labour of the sort we mean should have one price and only one," she returned.  "If a woman devotes herself to these occupations, she cannot have time to cook her meals, or clean her room, or make her clothes.  And so her existence becomes as costly as a man's.  And remember, too, that the work which is easy to an ordinary man, requires a superior woman, in whose education much money and care have been invested.  So she ought not to work except for a fair return on that investment."

    "But those questions can scarcely be considered in the labour market," I remarked.

    "And that's just why a woman should never take the question of her labour into the labour market," she retorted.  "If exceptional work come in her way, and she be able to do it, let her do it quietly, and be thankful.  When an able woman steps from the beaten track, they are not her friends who make a flourish of trumpets as if an army were about to follow."

    "Then what do you lay down as the first principle in a girl's preparation for the future?" I inquired.

    "Develop all those powers and instincts which will make her a good mistress of a family, as she will most likely become," returned Ruth.  "And even if not, after such rearing, she need not fear for a good and honest maintenance.  Train her in industry, and patience, and energy, and whether she be single or married she will be always worth her place in the world."

    "But still if some women have special talents for medicine or science," I said, "does it not seem a pity they should not follow them out?"

    Ruth laughed.

    "Of course, they can do as they like," she answered.  But I have noticed that those who best realise great responsibilities are always slowest to voluntarily incur them.  And I observe that these lady-doctors are meant to attend upon women and children.  Let me warn them that women will never trust women in that way."

    "But is it not hard they should have so little confidence in their own sex?" I queried. "I wonder how it is?"

    "Because women know what women are," answered Ruth; adding dryly, "It is not for me to deny that they might mistrust men as much if they knew them as well.  But in the meantime, timid mistrust, however mistaken, injures a patient; while child-like confidence, however credulous, is half the cure."

    Just at this moment, at the turn of a lane, we encountered Mr Weston.  I say "encountered," for he paused before us and stared, as if it took him a moment to recall who we were.  However, when he had collected himself, he saluted us warmly enough, and offered Ruth his arm.  So as the path was sometimes rather narrow, I was obliged to drop behind, and soon fell into a reverie over our recent conversation.  I am not very quick in discussion, and Ruth soon sets me down.  Therefore, though to me her arguments are unanswerable, though I am not sure they are so to other people.  But even if there be a little prejudice in them, they are worthy of thought.  And after all, what seems prejudice is sometimes truth.  And certainly Ruth acts out her own precepts, and her actions seem always to the point.  And I almost fancy that tests the goodness of precepts, as much as adding together the second and third rows proves a subtraction sum.

    Walking behind Ruth and Mr Weston, I could distinctly hear their voices, but I did not listen for more, until my ear was struck by my sister saying

    "Well, sir, I have just been preaching down woman's rights; but she has one right which I have never heard disputed—the right of refusal."

    "If that is no secret, Ruth," I said, "I should like to know what it is."

    "Mr Weston will tell you, if he wishes," she answered, walking on.

    The young man turned and stood still.  His honest blue eyes had the helpless look of a poor dog's, when it is hurt by its own master's foot.

    "She's refused me," he said, "and it's all over!" and then he walked on by my side, and, of course, I did not look into his face.

    "We must all submit to these things sometimes," I observed, presently; "ay, and often to far worse!" (For surely it was better to be rejected by Alice M'Callum than to be jilted by Maria Willoughby.)  "But still, Weston, I should not have thought this of Alice.  She ought to have guessed what you wanted long ago."

    "Don't blame her, please, sir," he said, "she has never given me any encouragement; but yet somehow I thought she liked me, and—I've left her crying now.  I thought she liked me—I did."

    "Are you sure she does not?" I inquired more hopefully.  "What did she say?"

    "She said—she said she'd never carry the cloud on her family into any man's house, sir.  She's a fool, Mr Garrett!"

    "You didn't say so?" I queried.

    "No, and I don't say so, sir," he exclaimed, "except as if an angel lived in the world, we should very likely call her a fool!  But I shouldn't have liked her to have sent me away without caring, sir; and yet now her caring makes it all the harder!  What shall I do, sir?"

    "Go home," said I, "go home, and be quiet.  Things always prove better than they seem.  And even if they don't, God and one's work remain, Mr Weston.  Go home, and be quiet."

    "Oh, sir," said he, forlornly, "could you bear it?"

    "I have borne it, my boy," I answered.  "Yes, twice—once in sorrow, and once in wrath and bitterness.  And yet now, I would not change anything if I could.  Go home, and be quiet."

    "And this is the end of it," said Ruth, when I joined her, after parting from him; "and this is another specimen how


'The best laid plans of mice and men
         Gang aft a-gee"'


 
CHAPTER XX.

EWEN'S HOLIDAYS.


IT proved that Ewen's holidays were not only later, but also shorter, than he had expected.  The exigencies of business would only allow him a few days.  So one fine autumn morning shortly after our meeting with Mr Weston, Alice came very early to our house to say that he had arrived at the Refuge late the night before.  I thought her visit rather odd, as her brother would be sure to announce himself a few hours later.  It was the first time we had seen her since Mr Weston's tidings, and despite her joy at Ewen's visit, she looked rather pale and grave, and so recalled all my first impressions of her.  When she prepared to go away, Ruth followed her from the room, and presently I heard them in the next apartment, speaking in earnest whispers.  At last the hall-door closed, I saw Alice go down the garden path, and then my sister reappeared.

    "Can you guess why she came?" she inquired.

    "No," I answered, "but I can guess she did not come without an object."

    "She came to ask us not to name Mr Weston to Ewen," replied my sister, in that whisper which comes so naturally when any secrecy is enjoined.

    "I can understand all her reasons," I said.  "It is a beautiful piece of unselfishness.  But I wish she had forgotten to enjoin our silence, for then I should have spoken.  Now, we must decidedly yield to her wishes."

    "And the poor girl is fretting dreadfully about the change in her brother," Ruth went on.  "It makes me quite anxious to see him."

    "Oh, Alice forgets that he has been living a sedentary town life," I replied; "and, besides, Ewen's is not the style of face which ever displays robust health, once the first bloom of boyhood is past."

    So all the morning I sat at home waiting for him.  But he did not come.  When dinner-time came and passed without his appearance, I grew a little vexed.  And when Ruth broadly took his part, and invented such good reasons for his non-arrival, I grew vexed with her also.

    "You would not like it if I fidgeted you because Agnes Herbert neglects me," said Ruth pointedly.  "And she has never been here to tea since the night when Alice showed us those pictures."

    I had no answer to make, but after dinner I went out, saying to myself that if everybody had forgotten the old man, he would at least take care of himself, and get a little fresh air.  That is not often my train of thought, and I am very glad of it, for I found it was not at all conducive to happiness, and I went along grumbling to myself at a fine rate.  I took my usual route, through the meadows flanking the road to the village.  Between their bordering of trees, now lightened of half their wealth of leaves, I caught glimpses of the Great Farm.  But in the field, immediately facing the house (it was the one behind the Low Meadow), I almost started to see him whose apparent negligence had thus put me out of temper.  He stood, leaning against a tree upon a slight elevation.  His arms were folded, and he was so rapt in gloomy reverie that he did not observe my approach.  When he did so, he started, and then stepped forward to meet me.  All my pique vanished when I saw his face.  If it struck me as sharpened and wan when I saw him in his twilight garret, after a day spent in crowds of faded London faces, it now seemed tenfold so, as I saw it under the trees, facing the glowing sunset.  Nay, more, he wore a look of acute pain, no mere fleeting expression, but one which had lasted long enough to fix a hard line about his mouth, which was not even broken by his smile.  His face recalled the face of a companion of my early manhood who underwent a severe surgical operation.  The sufferer endured without groan or sigh, but his countenance bore the stamp of that anguish till the day he died, years afterwards.

    "Alice has told me about the knife which George Wilmot found in this field," he remarked presently.

    I glanced at him, thinking that perhaps the revival of Painful associations had something to do with the look he wore, but, on the contrary, his face seemed to clear as he went on.

    "I am very glad of its discovery."

    "Why so, in particular?" I asked, quietly.

    "Every little detail throws light on the story," he answered, rather dreamily.

    "This does not enlighten me at all," I said.

    "No," he replied, "but any item may tend to disprove or to prove anything that is said."

    "What is said?" I inquired, testily.

    "Oh, nothing," he answered, in some confusion.

    His manner perplexed me.  If he had spoken with such embarrassment during our first interview on the hill overlooking the river, I should have doubted his innocence.  Even now, my confidence shook just a little, and we walked side by side in silence.

    "That is the door of the Great Farm," he said suddenly, turning in its direction as a slight sound met my ear, so trifling and distant that I scarcely noticed it.

    "You seem to know it well," I observed.

    "You remember I once worked round the house, sir," he replied, with almost a dash of haughtiness in his manner.  "I think Miss Herbert and her dog Griff are coming this way, sir."

    So we stood still and waited for them.  The great, substantial grey dog, her constant attendant, came bounding towards us, but instead of paying his usual compliments to me, he leaped upon Ewen, and overwhelmed him with the most demonstrative professions of regard.

    His mistress came up almost breathless.  "Oh, it is you," she said when she saw Ewen, and there was a disappointed sound in her voice which was not at all complimentary to the young man.  "Griff seems to recognise you," she added more graciously.

    "He recognises something," he replied, caressing the dog.  "Griff, Griff, poor, faithful old fellow!"

    "And how are you going on in London, my boy?" I asked presently; "as well as before, I hope."

    "Oh, yes, sir," he answered.  "I wrote you that my salary was raised at Midsummer."

    "Yes," I returned, "and I knew it beforehand.  But what are you doing as an artist?"

    Ewen was on my right hand, and Miss Herbert on my left.  She bent a little forward as I asked this question, and he rather drew back, and replied very precisely:

    "I succeed better than I hoped.  I have illustrated one or two poems in some journals."

    "I hope they pay you well," I said.

    "I am satisfied, sir," he answered, with a slight smile.

    "Beginners often fare badly," I said, shaking my wise head; "however well they work, they are generally paid only as beginners."

    "Then there's something to look forward to," replied the young man, with one of those quick turns by which he sometimes reminded me of my sister.  "Oh, I find people very kind," he went on, "and they are more ready to notice things than one would believe.  A gentleman whose poem I illustrated asked about and invited me to his house, and then he called on me and looked over all my drawings, and then he asked us to a little party of young artists and authors.  He is a well-born, wealthy gentleman, who can afford to show these kindnesses."

    Agnes listened with intense interest.

    "Does Mr Ralph illustrate too? " I asked.

    "Yes, and he does it beautifully," Ewen answered.

    "Yet the gentleman did not notice his work," I said, slyly, "and so Mr Ralph had to wait for his invitation till he made his personal acquaintance."

    I wanted to put the young man on his mettle in defence of his friend, and I did not fail.

    "His oversight was only an accident," he answered eagerly.

    "Did he see Mr Ralph's drawings when he visited you?" I inquired.

    "Mr Ralph did not offer to show them," said Ewen.

    "Very well, my boy," I returned; "but whether it was his own fault or not, your invitation was earned and his was only honorary."

    "The gentleman could see Mr Ralph was his equal," returned Ewen, with his strange new dignity of manner.  "His presence at his house would not need the explanation that he had drawn this, or written that."

    "And how is Mr Ralph?" I inquired presently.

    "He is much better, sir, and he sent his most dutiful regards to you," he replied, returning to his old simple manner.

    "I'm afraid Miss Herbert thinks us rather rude," I said; "our conversation must be a riddle to her.  Let me explain, my dear, that Mr Ralph is a young artist who lives with our friend here, and who seems to have seen a great deal of trouble."

    "Indeed!" said Agnes.  "Griff, Griff, come away, sir.  You are quite troublesome to Mr M'Callum.  Really, sir," she added, bending forward and addressing Ewen, "he seems as if he thought you had seen some friend of his, and so leaped up to whisper inquiries in your ear.  See, up he goes again!  Griff, Griff, come away!"

    Her words were simple and natural enough, though she seldom said as much to a comparative stranger; but she spoke with a singular formality and emphasis, and presently, as if she thought she had not shown sufficient interest in my explanation, she remarked

    "'Ralph' sounds odd for a surname.  It is much more natural as a Christian one."

    "Yes, certainly it is," replied Ewen, with a warmth of assent quite beyond the subject.

    "And how do you like London?" she asked in a few minutes, and without waiting for a reply, added another question: " Have you ever met any one you knew before?"

    I answered for him.  "I know he has met one, for he had some old acquaintance with this very Mr Ralph."

    "Yes, I knew Ralph before," he assented, for the first time naming his friend without the prefix "Mr."  "Ralph thinks of going abroad next spring," he stated presently.

    "Going abroad!" exclaimed Agnes, so sharply that I started.

    "Does he think he will find more scope in a new country?" I inquired.

    Ewen shook his head.  "I fear he will go only because he is weary of the old country," he replied.  "Poor fellow, I own he acted foolishly in some things, but he has been punished as if folly were a sin, and the shadow of all he has lost hangs constantly over him.  He fancies he will escape it.  I think it will go with him.  But, as he says, at any rate Australia or Canada will be as home like as England is now, and there is not one who will suffer by his departure."

    "But suppose he is mistaken in all this!" exclaimed Agnes, in a voice full of tears.  Poor girl, I knew her sympathetic and emotional nature!

    "I tell him he is mistaken," said Ewen with earnest solemnity; "but I only wish I could prove it to him."

    And then we wandered on in silence, till I broke the spell by claiming Ewen's company for my sisters tea-table, and informing Miss Herbert that Ruth made certain comments about her long absence from our house.  Agnes replied that she should come to see us in a day or two, and she was sure she would come oftener, only she feared to be troublesome.  She made this answer with a bright, eager look on her sweet face, and then she turned to Ewen and said in that pretty petitioning tone which women use when they have some dear little trifling request to make

    "Mr M'Callum, I have long wished to write to a dear friend in London, but I do not know the exact address.  If I direct it as well as I can, and send it to the Refuge under cover to you, will you, if possible, supply the omissions of my superscription?  I think you will be able."

    "Certainly I will do what I can," he answered as if he sincerely felt the commonplace commission to be an honour and a pleasure.  Then they shook hands,—a regular hearty, honest shake.  And she turned away, calling the reluctant Griff to follow her.

    It was nearly tea-time when Ruth welcomed our young guest.  We partook of the meal in the twilight, for it was a very fine evening, without that autumnal murk and chill which makes artificial light and artificial heat alike grateful.  The young man seemed to have recovered his spirits, and consequently his face had lost that haggard hunger which had so startled me at our first meeting.  Nevertheless, when the lamp was at last brought in, and Ruth took up her knitting, I saw she stole many a glance at him, as we sat conversing about his promotions, and the cheerful prospect before him.  Suddenly she said "Don't let the bustle of London life make you an old man before your time, Ewen."

    He laughed, a little constrainedly.  "Do you see any symptoms, ma'am?" he queried lightly.

    "Yes," answered my candid sister.  "You are nearly ten years older since this time last year.  Now I should not speak of this, if it were anything you could not help, but I believe it can be helped.  Nobody has any right to be spendthrift in his energies and emotions."

    "But, Ruth," I said, "business sometimes compels"――

    "I don't say any one is not to be 'diligent in business,'" she interrupted.  "But I believe the methodical exercise energy gets in business proves only strengthening development, at least while energy is young and fresh.  And besides, if it be spent for any adequate return, it is well spent.  If a clock wear out in keeping time, it has done its work.  But if it be worn out by the hands whirling round the dial sixty times a day, then it is wasted.  And so is all energy expended in emotion."

    "Ruth," I exclaimed, "do you mean that one may prevent himself suffering?"

    "Yes, I do," she answered; "at least to a certain degree.  Mental pain is subject to the same conditions as bodily pain, which any one can either alleviate or aggravate.  If a man unbinds a wound, and thinks about it, and reads about his disease, and twists the hurt limb to test the extent of the injury, he suffers for it.  So if a man sets up a sorrow as a shrine where he may worship, and walks round it to survey it from all sides, and draws all his life about it, and reads fiction and poetry to see what others say of the same, then he also suffers for it."

    "But sorrow should scarcely be shunned like a sin," I said.

    "And it should not be courted like a virtue," she returned.  "God-sent sorrow is an angel in mourning.  But any sorrow which we may rightfully escape is not God-sent.  Sometimes, in old days, I've wished to cry, but couldn't, because I had to go into the shop.  And by the time the shop was closed I was braver, and did not want to cry."

    "But the tears would have been a relief," I said, "and you certainly suffered no less because they might not come."

    "But I was stronger for the self-control," she answered, "and you remember


'Not enjoyment and not sorrow
     Is our destined end or way;
 But to act, that each to-morrow
     Finds us farther than to-day.'


But though I quote poetry," she added, turning to Ewen with a smile, "I don't advise you to read it.  It's not that you want now.  Build with granite before you clothe with creepers.  Read Bacon, and Montaigne, and Rollin, and Shakespeare.  He's a poet, you say?  Yes, my dear, but he 's a dramatist.  He does not tell us how bitterly he feared Anne Hathaway would reject him.  He says nothing about himself.  He was above it, he had better things to say.  So he don't make us, his readers, think of ourselves, rather he lifts us out of self.  But leave all other poets till you are growing bald, then you will want them to remind you of what you were.  If they moisten your eyes then, it will do you good.  Why, Mr M'Callum," she said, pointing to our book-case, "there are books on those shelves which I have never dared to read since I was eighteen until—not very long ago!"

    My dear, enduring sister!

    Ewen stayed with us that night until nine o'clock, and we saw him two or three times afterwards during his brief holidays.  But that visit was the only lengthened one which he paid us.  For I would not give him a set invitation, as I knew his punctilious conscientiousness would accept it, however much he might prefer the society of his grandfather and sister.

    But I met him in my walks, and one day, as we were strolling down a lane, rather silently, it occurred to me to inquire if Miss Herbert had forwarded her promised letter.

    "Yes," he answered so briskly that I thought he was about to make some further remark, but he did not.

    "And I hope you can help her with the address? I said.

    "The letter has reached its destination by this time," he replied.

    "I am glad of it," I observed, just for the sake of politeness.

    "So am I," he responded, rather dryly.

    "Miss Herbert is a very lovely girl," I went on in my prim old-fashioned way, "but having spent so much of her life in London, I almost think she suffers from the monotony of country existence."

    "Perhaps she does," said Ewen, "but though one can see when something is wrong, it is hard to guess rightly what it is.  Now, I see there is something amiss with Alice, and yet I supposed Alice was so happy!"

    "And so she is," I answered, "only, as the healthiest are sometimes ailing, so the happiest are sometimes sad.  Life, like a portrait, must have its shadows.  But the good are never miserable, though they may suffer very keenly through the sins of others, or for their sakes."

    "Ay, and how far may that suffering extend he asked rather bitterly.

    "Never farther than the valley of the shadow of death," I answered.

    That was the last time I saw Ewen before he returned to London.  On the day of his departure I proposed that we should take a walk towards the station, and so have a chance of seeing the last of him.  But Ruth said, "No, leave him to his own relations.  Partings are long remembered, and so they may like to remember they had it all to themselves."


 
CHAPTER XXI.

A PROGRAMME.


THAT year we enjoyed a singularly fine autumn, with but little mist or moisture; consequently it was a healthy season, and the resources of our little hospital were not prematurely tried.  Also, it furthered the speedy and satisfactory completion of the Refuge orphan rooms, which were at last put in perfect readiness for any who might need them during the coming months.  Over these things Ruth and I had many a quiet chat in the dusky twilight of our parlour, and we thanked God we had not quite done with the world, however the world had done with us.  When I say "world," reader, I do not mean that narrow crust of society which is often implied thereby.  I mean God's whole creation, "the earth and the fulness thereof."

    Nevertheless, we were rather lonely that autumn.  We saw nothing of Mr Weston after our memorable interview in the meadows.  He did not come again to St Cross, but in the course of some incidental conversation I heard with regret that he had been seen at the Puseyite church at Hopleigh.  But it was still early in October when Mr Marten paid us an afternoon call, and  promptly accepted our invitation to tea.  And though he stated he had a little difficulty which he wished to discuss with us, he looked so flourishing and content, that it was very plain the "difficulty" gave him no undue disturbance.  Indeed, it proved to be only a feeling on his part that it was the duty of the leaders in the parish in some way to direct their juniors' evening occupations and amusements during the coming winter.

    "In short," he went on, "if St Cross is to maintain its ground, we must certainly do something.  The Hopleigh people are very energetic in this matter.  They have established a series of lectures, penny readings, &c., varied with entertainments and soirées and concerts.  Besides these, they have opened classes, presenting a very attractive course of study for almost nominal fees."

    Just then I happened to glance at Ruth behind the tea-urn, and I saw a storm gathering in her face.  When Mr Marten ceased, there was an ominous pause.  Then Ruth said, grimly

    "If you give children sugar-plums every day, they are never a treat, and they spoil their teeth into the bargain.  That's a figure of speech for you, Mr Marten."

    "Why, Miss Garrett," exclaimed the rector, "surely you don't disapprove of innocent and improving recreations?"

    "I disapprove of 'gadding about,"' she answered, severely.  "I disapprove of everything which makes folks at home when they are out, and strangers when they are at home.  In short, I disapprove of dissipation, whatever mask it may wear."

    "I hope you don't see things in this light, sir," said Mr Marten, turning to me.

    "Not altogether," I replied, "but I am a slow person, and I weigh matters very leisurely."

    "I wonder what had become of my business if I had taken to lectures, and classes, and so forth!" exclaimed my sister.

    "Ruth, Ruth," I said gently, "remember that we must not carry our personalities too far in these affairs."

    "Well it's one way of getting at a bit of truth," she returned, "and I always fear to advise others to do what I never did myself.  It's like holding out a cup and saying, 'I know that would poison me, but I think it will be good medicine for you.'"

    "You must remember, Miss Garrett," said the rector, "that some homes are not very attractive.  Think of the many one-roomed homes, with few books and no intelligent conversation."

    "Mr Marten, Mr Marten," I repeated warningly, "has that good song gone out of fashion,—


'Be it ever so fondly,
 There's no place like home?'


But at the same time I willingly grant that home is often all the dearer for short absences, even as such short absences are more enjoyable for the sake of the dear home there they will end."

    "And again," Mr Marten went on, inclining his head in acknowledgment of my words, "there are many young people who are utterly homeless."

    "That is true," said Ruth, "but for the sake of the future they should be encouraged as much as possible to form homely habits.  If bachelors or spinsters cannot settle to books or work in their lonely rooms, I fear they will fret at the stay-at-home ways of comfortable matrimony, when once its novelty has worn off."

    "Well, I'm sorry to find you see another side to this matter," observed the rector; "for to me these evening lectures and classes seemed such a splendid means for mental improvement and moral elevation."

    "Can you give us any details of the Hopleigh programme?" I inquired; "for until one knows all, one may differ about theories rather than facts."

    "Oh, I can tell you all about it," he responded, briskly tugging at his pocket.  "See!  I came armed with all necessary documents!" and he produced sundry printed bills, and spread them out on the table.

    "Take one by one, and read each aloud, please," requested Ruth, suddenly shifting her knitting needles and beginning another row.

    I have a strange notion that my sister's knitting is to her strength of mind something like Samson's hair to his bodily prowess.  Whenever we two are in argument, I have a wild wish to snatch that mysterious web from her agile fingers.  Besides, its very continuance daunts one with the reproach—"Behold, in spite of all your idle clatter, these needles go on, and so does the world!"

    "Which shall I take first?" queried the rector.  "There are a prospectus of the classes, a programme of the lectures, and a list of the discussions."

    "Read whichever you like," said I.

    "Then I'll read the paper of the classes," he answered; and so began the sheet with its very heading:

    "Hopleigh College.  Under this name it is proposed to establish a course of evening classes.  The subjects chosen, with the names of the gentlemen who have kindly undertaken to teach them, will recommend themselves.  Monday, Latin and English Composition (by Mr Senecca Moon); Tuesday, French (by M. Vert); Wednesday, Elementary Singing; Thursday, Writing and Arithmetic (by Mr Senecca Moon); Friday, Reading and Elocution (by Mr O'Toole); Saturday, Advanced Singing.  Hours from eight to ten o'clock.  Fee for one class, two shillings each month; for the whole course, eight shillings.  Entrance fee, one shilling.  Intending members are invited to enrol as soon as possible.  Under the especial patronage of the Rev. Ambrose Angelo, Rector of St Cyprian, Hopleigh."

    "You see, Miss Garrett," the rector commented, when he had finished, "this is not even innocent recreation, but improving study."

    "I doubt whether it is either 'improving' or 'sturdy,'" she answered, taking up his words a little tartly.  Suppose girls are included in these classes.  I wonder if the clergyman would like his own daughter to run through the streets after nightfall in that way."

    "A distinction must be made between certain ranks, madam," returned Mr Marten, rather stiffly.

    "That is what I always say!" assented Ruth.  "But let the distinction be in acquirements rather than in manners or morals."

    "But some of these classes go to the very rudiments of education," pursued the rector: "reading, for instance, and writing and arithmetic.  If by some evil chance these were neglected in childhood, would you suffer the girl or boy to go on in ignorance, Miss Garrett?"

    She answered thoughtfully, "No: reading and writing are almost like two extra senses.  They are worth some sacrifice.  But what poor servant girl, sensible in spite of her ignorance, would venture to 'Hopleigh College?'  And would she study A B C in the first hour, and then learn how to spout 'My name is Norval' during the remainder of the time!  And would she be much at ease in the society of the smart shop-girls, who would come to practise rant, and who would attend the French and Latin classes on the other evenings

    "But I think these institutions are really for the benefit of a higher class than common servants or ploughboys," said Mr Marten; "and for such how serviceable is French, and how useful the power of writing a correct letter!"

    "Thorough French is a valuable acquirement," returned Ruth, "and a good letter is a sure sign of a sound education.  But mere 'lingo' is ridiculous, and a 'phrase' epistle is an abomination.  Perhaps you will add, that even superficial French may be useful in business; but if poor M. Vert is willing to teach it for two shillings a month, can the scholars expect to make it more profitable than the master?"

    "But M. Vert, who is a working professor, would not teach at that rate, except for a consolation-fee from the committee," explained the rector.

    "I hate that false method of cheapening good things," answered my sister.  "If an acquirement be worth anything, it is worth its price, and let those who desire it deny themselves to pay that price.  All who can derive advantage from it will readily do so.  Those who want pearls dive for them, and shall others take them to throw before swine?"

    There was a pause.  Then I inquired what were the other arrangements.

    "They have a fortnightly lecture," replied Mr Marten, taking up another paper.  "The Rev. Ambrose Angelo will deliver one on Ecclesiastical History; and Mr Senecca Moon, the principal of Hopleigh Academy, will give another on Meteorology.  On two evenings there will be Readings from Popular Authors by various gentlemen, among them, Mr Daniel O'Toole and Mr Smith—["Rather vague," murmured Ruth.]  And on Christmas-eve there will be a vocal and instrumental concert, for which, the bill says, 'many ladies and gentlemen have promised assistance.'"

    "I think the lectures are too dry," I said; "and they are certainly subjects of which 'a little knowledge' is very useless."

    "But how nice to hear about a word which ordinary folk cannot pronounce!" observed Ruth, ironically, laying down her knitting, and taking a book from the little bracket which always stood on her work-table.  "Met-e-o-ro-lo-gy," she repeated, turning over the leaves.  "Dear me!  I fear Dr Johnson's ideas on the subject were nearly as misty as mine; for he only defines it as the doctrine of meteors.'"

    "But I must say I like the 'Readings from Popular Authors,'" I remarked.  "In themselves they are amusing, and they are well calculated to awaken a desire for further information."

    "That is quite true," said my sister; "but they should only be entrusted to people whose age and position qualify them for the teacher's desk.  Otherwise the parish school-room simply becomes the scene of bad amateur theatricals."

    "Then what do you say to the concert inquired Mr Marten.

    I answered—"Only this: that men are always too ready to speak lightly of those women who, having real musical gifts, display them for hire to maintain themselves and their dependents.  The gift may stir in their souls, the remuneration may mean home and household happiness, but the audience listens and applauds and slights.  It is not right!  Publicity is a dire necessity to those women—the dark side of their profession, which must be accepted with the bright one.  But what of girls who, without their gifts, and unneeding their pay, court the common eye and the common clap?  Sir, I belong to the old-fashioned days, when a woman's pretty accomplishments were kept for those who loved her, and when a young lassie, safe and happy in the retreat of her father's house, would have blushed to see her name printed in bills, and stuck up on walls and shop-windows."

    "And the old-fashioned notions were certainly right," said my sister, with a little sigh; "but in spite of them all, there were young girls, and young girls then, as now!  Yet need we meddle with what we cannot mend?"

    "We only criticise these matters to guide our own actions," I answered.  "Have you any more announcements, Mr Marten?"

    "There is also a discussion-class," he replied, with a slight hesitation.  "The paper says it is held in the boys' schoolroom at Hopleigh, every Friday evening, at eight o'clock, and it announces the four discussions for the month of November.  The first will be opened by your friend Mr Weston, of Mallowe, the subject being, 'Is not the single state most conducive to happiness!'"

    Ruth and I both looked up in such startled amazement, that it might almost have betrayed the confidence the young man had reposed in us.

    "Can any one attend these discussions?" my sister asked, quietly.

    "Oh, certainly," returned the rector; "and the other subjects are, 'Was Robert Emmett a patriot?' opened by Mr O'Toole; 'The advantages of Co-operation,' by Mr Smith."

    "The exciseman, I suppose?" queried Ruth.

    "I believe so," said Mr Marten; "and the Rev. Ambrose Angelo closes the list with the knotty question, 'Is the Protestant church a Catholic church?'"

    "And now," I remarked, "we must come to the point, and consider what part of this intellectual machinery we can best adapt to St Cross."

    "Don't have any 'discussions,'" said my sister, shaking her head; "they only encourage a parcel of foolish boys to spout nonsense, which they will wish forgotten when they are grown older and wiser."

    "I cannot say I like them," assented the rector, "for I think they only give occasion to a certain order of minds to display their powers by triumphantly making the worse appear the better cause."

    "We will put them out of the question," I said, "and let us reflect what we can do in the way of evening classes."

    "Let us have two," rejoined my sister, "one for youths, and one for young women; and let the instruction be confined to reading, writing, and simple arithmetic, and let each class meet twice weekly.  It is hopeless to teach reading by one lesson a-week."

    "I am sure I shall be very happy to take one class," said Mr Marten.

    "That would be a mistake," answered Ruth.  "Your attentions would be voluntary, and you would either demand no fee, or the fees would be devoted to some parochial use.  Now honest young people don't like to be recipients of charity.  Besides, amateur teaching, like everything that is amateur, is none of the best.  Let somebody be paid to teach, or, better still, let him receive the fees, and it will become his interest to make the classes as attractive and serviceable as possible."

    "It must be a low nature that would not do so without such stimulus," observed Mr Marten.

    "Ah, but we must not ignore the natural propensity towards evil," said my sister; "and I don't see there is any wrong in making the right easy and pleasant.  For which reason, I will promise a prize for the best girl-scholar.  And it shall be no sham prize either."

    "And I'll promise one for the best boy," I added; "and now what shall we do about the lectures?"

    "In the first place, don't have them too often," said my sister.  "It only destroys their interest, and all home comfort into the bargain."

    "Let us have them but once a month," I said, "and let them be genuine 'recreations.'  I don't think that poor tired heads are benefited by hearing dates and statistics.  Mine never was.  Let us have something to draw out blithe, honest, innocent laughter, which leaves the heart larger than it found it.  Let us have tears sometimes, those sympathetic tears which are the best cure for our own unspoken sorrows.  In short, let us be as human as possible."

    "And shall we never have a concert?" queried the rector, rather regretfully; "and music is so popular!"

    "And such an agent for good," I rejoined, warmly; though I don't think any of God's blessings is so fearfully perverted.  The exercise of that gift which we specially connect with the glories of heaven, but too often becomes a temptation to vanity and frivolity, and worse!"

    "Ah," said Ruth, "I went to a village concert once, and I saw the singer girls sitting in a row in their best dresses, which were too fine for their owners' pockets, and in one or two cases not very modest in taste.  And when I heard the village audience—their little world-whispering of the beauty of this one, and the dress of the other, and the voice of a third, I could not forget the old saying, that a 'woman's true honour was not to be spoken about!'"

    "Then let us always have singing at the lectures," I said, "just as we have at church.  Let us take some familiar airs, such as 'Rule Britannia,' 'Ault langsyne,' and so forth, and sing them in the course of the evening, the assembly standing, and all who can, joining."

    "Ah," said Ruth, I think that might give a greater love and taste for music than a few young people on a platform practising airs and graces, and striking up, 'In Celia's Arbour,' and so on, which means nothing at all to ignorant people like me, who listen with our hearts instead of our ears."

    "And then we can always conclude with the dear old doxology," I remarked.

    "But may not that seem rather irreverent sometimes?" queried my sister.

    "Never!"  I replied, "if we have been merry, we shall sing,—


'Praise God from whom all blessings flow,'


and include our mirth and laughter among those blessings.  The same apostle who asks, 'Is any among you afflicted? let him pray,' adds, 'Is any merry? let him sing psalms.'"

    There was a short silence, which Ruth broke by saying,—

    "Edward, at Christmas-time, let us have a genuine party; not a tea-meeting, nor a soirée, but a thorough old-fashioned hospitable party, with games and forfeits, and music, and all good cheer.  We have no room in this house sufficiently large, or I should like it to be in a private dwelling even better than in the great room of the Refuge.  But I fancy Mr Herbert could be brought to favour that scheme, and his noble dining-room would be the right place."

    "At anyrate, we can ask him," I said and then, "if he will not consent, we can but take refuge in the Refuge;" and I laughed at my own little joke.

    "And are you quite satisfied with all these plans, Mr Marten?" I inquired presently; "I almost fear you think them too homely and simple."

    "No," he answered, starting from a reverie into which he had fallen, "for I was just thinking that when we clergymen enter upon our duties, fresh from collegiate cloisters, we are too apt to forget the claims of home, and to ignore the heavenward end of secular duties, and I fear many of my brethren persevere in this mistake to the very end.  They do not realise that they are only set aside for a special purpose, and so they constantly strive to draw people from their own line of work and study into theirs."

    "Yes," returned Ruth, "and even more, they often seem to forget that God made the world, and so speak of is appointments as if they were hindrances on the road to Him.  They literally say, with Thomas à Kempis (hand me his book, Edward,) 'O that thou lightest never have need to eat, or drink, or sleep: but lightest always praise God, and only employ thyself in spiritual exercises: thou shouldest then be much more happy than now thou art, when for so many necessities thou art constrained to serve thy body.'  And the good man constantly repeats that mistake in his otherwise beautiful 'Imitation of Christ,' forgetting that He worked in the carpenter's shop, and went to the marriage feast, and wept at Lazarus' grave.  How different from the Scripture precept, 'Whether ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God!'  The one comes to us like a draught from a cathedral crypt, and the other like a breeze from the hills!"

    And so our long consultation drew to an end, and when the rector had departed, and we had drawn our chairs close together to partake of our cozy little supper, Ruth gave me a sly side glance, and said

    "We will both be present when Mr Weston opens that wonderful discussion!"


 
CHAPTER XXII.

COMING EVENTS AND SHADOWS BEFORE.


RUTH looked eagerly forward to the display of Mr Weston's oratory, wondering what he would say, and how he would look when he saw us.  It seemed but a little thing, but we knew it concerned the futures of two whose welfare we desired, and besides, we had now reached that happy resting-place when the feelings are only stirred by the interests of others.  And so I was quite ready to echo my sister's expectations and conjectures.

    But our sympathies and counsels were destined to be evoked in other directions besides.  About noon on the day of the discussion, Agnes Herbert paid us a visit.  I saw her cross the garden at a brisk pace, and when Phillis admitted her, her step in the hall was less noiseless, and her voice higher than usual.  In short, her whole aspect had brightened, and the very expression of her face went far to fulfil the prophecy which the flickering firelight had revealed to me a year before.  She had donned her winter garments, and her bonnet was enlivened by a ribbon of pure scarlet, in place of the sombre mixtures which she had hitherto affected.  Altogether she was as much changed from her former self as is a darkened room when the curtains are suddenly drawn aside to admit the sunshine.

    And yet she was the bearer of uncomfortable tidings, with the misery of which she strongly sympathised.  But there was the difference.  At an earlier date, her sympathy would have been true, but listless—the sympathy which sits down by the sufferer, and says, "It is a weary world—let us endure together."  Now it was aroused and active, busily inquiring, "What can be done?"

    The evil was nothing more nor less than Anne Sanders, and the misfortune was, that the young stranger who had taken Bessie's place, had called at the hospital, complaining that she must resign her position: she found the business good, and the house comfortable, but the housekeeper was like the fly in the ointment, which spoiled all.  She could not enter into Anne's shortcomings; they were of that almost indefinite kind which pervade life, and make it unendurable, without leaving any distinct mark.

    Agnes had also visited the hospital, and had found Bessie in great trouble about this disturbing communication.  Bessie seemed to have placed much confidence in our pretty friend.  Perhaps she preferred to open her mind to a young creature of whose sympathy she was sure, yet who could not fancy she claimed more than sympathy.  Doubtless it soothed her lonely heart to let her memory wander back to those earlier days when her kindred was not centred in the narrow, selfish sister, who could neither love nor be loved.  For she had evidently spoken to Agnes of the dead Katie and her unhappy lover, and of all the pleasant budding hopes which had once promised fairly to bloom into realities.  As Miss Herbert repeated the sorrows of Bessie Sanders, I could see her feelings were touched, and there was earnest solicitude in her question

    "What can be done?"

    "Does Miss Sanders suggest anything?" I inquired, in return.

    Agnes looked up deprecatingly.  "She says it will be her duty to go back to Anne, as of course Anne cannot be received at the hospital," she answered.  "But oh, Mr Garrett, do you think it can be God's will that any one should submit for ever to the ceaseless tyranny of an evil nature?"

    "Whatever Mr Garrett may think, Miss Garrett does not think so," replied Ruth; "and besides, Anne is not benefited by Bessie's sacrifice.  When kindness fails, severity may succeed.  Let her leave Bessie's successor in undisturbed possession and go into some lodging in the village, until she can find a suitable position."

    "Will she ever do so?" I queried, shaking my head.

    "I don't know," answered my sister.  "But that scheme will certainly gain us a little time; and very often the world comes round to those who will but wait."

    "Yes, I think it does," said Agnes, with a bright glance, like that of one suddenly assenting in the solution of an old problem.

    "I will put on my bonnet and shawl, and go about the matter directly," remarked my energetic sister.  "I won't ask you to come with me, Agnes, for that miserable woman is likely to put one out of patience with human nature, and you are young, and must endure it for a long time."

    And so Miss Herbert and I were left together.  The newspaper was on the table, and I took it up and started some topic of public interest.  I forget what it was, but it was something about which I held peculiar notions, and I began to explain them, meantime holding up the paper, and interspersing my oration with sundry sentences therein, which I thought to agree with my views.  I talked on with great animation, till I made some observation which called for an answer.  Then I paused; but none came.  I dropped the paper.  Agnes sat opposite me, her scarlet strings untied, and her hands, loosely holding her gloves, lying in her lap.  But her thoughts were not with me and my politics, for her lips were parted with a soft, slight smile, and her eyes had the far-off look of young eyes when they gaze into the future, and fancy they catch glimpses of angels walking in its mists.  But the rustling paper recalled her to the present, and she hastily tried to take up the broken thread of my discourse.  But where it had fallen, there I let it lie; and so there was silence.

    Suddenly she rose and came towards me, and stood beside my chair.  Then she paused, and I did not look at her till she whispered in a very girlish voice

    "Mr Garrett, you are not angry?"

    "Angry, my dear!" I exclaimed; "am I such a cantankerous old stick, that you imagine anger is my natural condition?"

    "No, sir," she answered, with a little laugh.  "But I was so rude a minute ago, and I can't excuse myself, for I was only thinking about my own affairs!"

    "Well, my dear," I replied, "and if you would talk about them, and let me have a share in them, I'm sure I would not trouble you with the leading articles."

    "I want to ask your advice and help," she said, with downcast eyes.

    "O-ho," thought I, "must the old bachelor intercede with the stern uncle?"  But I merely said, "I can only say, Miss Herbert, that you are heartily welcome to the best I can give."

    She went back to her seat, as if to gain a moment to choose her words.  I was all attention.  And this was what she said

    "I should like my father's best writings to be collected and made into a small volume."

    I had expected something very different; but I bowed my head, and assented.  "A very dutiful wish, my dear.  And have you any hope of its fulfilment?"

    "I have gone very carefully through his pieces," she said, and I have selected the best.  You see I remember his opinions of them," she added, as if excusing her temerity, "and I have made copies of them, embracing alterations which he wrote on their margins, and I have added two or three which remained unpublished when he died.  I think they will make a very nice book.  But I should not like to send it to a publisher without somebody else seeing it.  Will you look over it, Mr Garrett?" and opening a little leathern reticule, she produced the manuscript, and handed it to me.

    It was of considerable size, and the writing was not of that deceptive, scrawling kind which spreads two or three words over a page.  It was firm, compact calligraphy, not as characteristic as Ewen M'Callum's, but as easy to read as print.  I have a respect for good writing, by which I mean plain writing.  Illegible scribble is selfish and rude, implying that the reader's time is less valuable than the writer's.  In literary matters, I cannot but think plain writing must be advantageous; for even editors are human; and the man who can wade through a manuscript novel when he must pore over every word, need be above the frailties to which ordinary flesh is liable.

    "Have you spoken to Mr Herbert about your wish to publish this?" I inquired.

    "Yes," she answered.

    "And he consents?" I queried.

    "He leaves me at liberty to do so," she replied: her conscientious nature drawing a distinction between consent and mere permission.

    "You will pass the day with us, my dear?" I said.

    "Uncle said I might," she returned; and thus she accepted my invitation, and put aside her bonnet and mantle.  I continued to look over the manuscript, and when next I glanced at my fair companion, she was seated in the easy chair, busily employed in—what?  Darning stockings!  I think my head gave a little involuntary shake.  There was a change in the girla change which made her think of housewifery and practical life.  God bless her!  What jumps my heart always gave whenever Lucy Weston talked of what she would do if she became the mistress of a house!  But Agnes Herbert is not like Lucy.  Her nature is perhaps stronger, but she is not half as sweet.

    "You wish to be paid for this book, I suppose," I said, still turning over its leaves.

    "Oh yes," she answered, decidedly and it will be as money left me by my father,—the nest-egg of my fortunes, sir;" and she laughed, but not quite merrily; and neither of us spoke again until Ruth came back.

    "I have settled it all," exclaimed my sister, as she came in; "and Anne Sanders is fairly lodged in a room in the High Street, where she can disgrace nobody but herself.  The young dressmaker helped her to pack up her belongings, and she parted from her quite kindly, just because she was so glad to part from her!  And such a mess as her things were, I never saw.  There were good lace collars run to rags for want of a stitch; and cuffs, and mantles, and bonnets all suffered to lie useless, because she was too idle to alter and re-model.  Oh, I spoke to her! 'You'll be sorry for your life when it's too late!' I said.  'What have I done?' she cried out.  'What have I done?'  'Miss Anne Sanders,' I answered, 'you have done nothing: and that is your crime; for whoever does nothing, does evil; and I wish you were a little child, that I might give you a whipping!'"

    And my sister dropped into a chair in an exhausted way quite uncommon for her, and then drew a long breath, like one who has just gone through unusual and straining exertion.

    But the minute she sat down, her quick eye observed Agnes' work.  "I'm glad to see you so well employed, my dear," she said; "and are you a good darner?  Let me see!  Yes.  And do you like it?"

    "I don't always like it," answered Agnes; "but just now I do."

    "Then you should always like it," retorted Ruth.  "Don't form the habit of whims, and fits, and starts.  When you like your duty, praise God for the blessing; and when you don't like it, pray God for His help.  Anyhow, do it all the same."

    "But can we always be sure what is our duty?" asked Agnes, very softly, while a faint shadow crept over her face.

    "I won't deny there are some puzzling cases," returned Ruth; "but we needn't vex ourselves about them until we've done the little bit that is quite plain before us, and few of us get through that.  And what are you reading, Edward?" she inquired.  "Poetry?  In Miss Herbert's writing?  Child," she asked, severely, "surely you don't write poetry?"

    "No, indeed," said Agnes, laughing.  "It is my father's."

    "Ah, I'm glad it's not yours," answered Ruth, taking the book from me.  "If a woman lives poetry, that is quite enough.  If she write it, I fear lest it evaporate at her fingers' ends.  Thank God you're not a genius, Agnes; but don't thank Him in the Pharisee's fashion.  Genius is God's great gift; but too often it is over-heavy for woman's hand."

    I fear Agnes had a somewhat quiet day, but I don't suppose she regretted our silence, since we were absorbed in her father's writings.  Generally, when a tale or a poem touched either of us, it was handed to the other, and perused in silence, and then commented on.  But once, Ruth raised her head, and said

    "Edward, listen;" and so she read:—


"NOT WITHOUT HOPE."


They say you are not as you were
    In days of long ago:
That clouds came o'er your sun at noon,
    And dimm'd its golden glow.

Yet every gentler word I say,
    Each gentler deed I do,
Is but a blossom on the grave
    Where sleeps my love for you.

And can a weed bring forth a flower?
    Or blight bear beauty?   Nay,
This darkness is but short eclipse
    To surely pass away.

Though one by one my early friends
    Have faded from my prayer,
Your name was always first and last,
    And still it lingers there.

I love but dearer for my fears
    And prayers for such a one:
I think God does not love us less
    For costing Him his Son.

And I believe when death shall break
    This spell of human pain,
The love that I to God entrust
    He'll give to me again.


    "There!" said Ruth, with a swell of suppressed emotion in her voice.  "Nothing can improve that, Edward."

    So I thought then.  I have read it since, and not cared for it at all, except for the memory of my first impression.  But my sister's reading put a soul into the dry bones,—yea, her own soul, for was it not the story of her life?

    "I remember when my father wrote it," said Agnes thoughtfully: "I was but a little girl, and I thought it must be quite true.  And when my hour came—my hour was between the sunlight and the candles,—I asked him who it meant; surely not mamma, for he had always told me she was safe in heaven, waiting for us.  And then he first explained to me that genius must rise beyond and above its own experience,—must let itself out of itself, and alike comprehend the calm of a saint's heart and the tortures of a malefactor's conscience.  In short, he taught me that the power to do thus is genius itself.  But he added, he did not believe even genius could catch the secrets of a character above itself, and that a man's loftiest conception revealed the highest possibility of his own nature.  He might degrade it, but it was still in him,—his ideal,—the image of God as reflected in the mirror of the individual soul.  I did not understand him then, and I fancy he only spoke to clear his own thoughts from misty silence.  But I remembered his words, and I think I understand them now.  And I think they are true."

    "I think so," I replied; "and if so, then the higher man's best conception, the wider the range below it.  And thus he who gives us Brutus, gives us also Bardolph."

    "Of course," said Ruth, "or a man's mind would be like Isaac Newton's door, with a large hole for the cat, and a small one for the kitten."

    There was a moment's pause.  Then Agnes said, "Ewen M'Callum will be a great man."

    "I believe so," I answered.

    "But what makes you say it?" queried Ruth.

    "Because he has the greatness which makes a man great even following the plough," she replied with flushing face and quivering lips, "and then he has genius to be the voice of that greatness.  Some great souls are dumb, and only God can understand their signs!"

    "Has your London friend, to whom he carried your letter, made any acquaintance with him?" I inquired.

    "That is how I learn to praise him!" she returned.  "I hear enough—enough—to make me speak as I do, but—they—say there is something beyond—something I must not know, which eclipses all I may know.  And from what I do know, I can believe him equal to anything."

    She spoke with some excitement, which betrayed itself in the reiteration of her words.  Then with great energy she resumed her darning.  Glancing at Ruth, I saw she was gazing at Agnes.  She, too, could see the change in the girl—a change which, as the day wore on, grew more manifold.  There was no further outburst of the enthusiasm pent within her, but her mind, her whole nature was awake.  She forestalled my sister's movements; she asked the recipe for a pudding which appeared on our dinner table; she took an active part in each domestic matter.  Ruth was charmed.  If Agnes would have remained in our house for the evening, I am sure my sister would willingly have foregone even the long-expected discussion.  But Miss Herbert was resolved to return to the Great Farm before tea.  She sustained her new character to the last moment of her visit, showing Ruth her winter bonnet, and proudly explaining that it was but a renovation of last year's, and that the fashion of its shape and trimming were all due to her own skill.

    "She has in her the making of a good housewife," said my sister when she was gone; "and I think it will come out.  But she's not the woman to be a manager for management's sake."

    "For whose sake then?" I asked, slyly.

    "For the sake of some worthless man," retorted Ruth; "and the more he gives her to manage, the better she'll like him.  Did you see how her fingers twittered about her engaged ring every time she dropped her work?  Engaged ring, indeed!  Engaged rubbish!"

    So we set off to Hopleigh in our little pony-chaise, and we reached the school-room of St Cyprian in such very good time that nobody else was there.  Slowly, the audience straggled in.  At last came Mr Weston.  He lingered in the outer room to speak to an acquaintance, and while so doing, I saw his eyes fall on us.  Just then, some of my sister's old friends from Mallowe entered and surrounded us, and hid him from our sight.  Presently the assembly got into order: there was expectant silence, but no Mr Weston.  Then an attendant mysteriously stepped about the room, adjusting windows and blinds, after the fashion of attendants, to screen unpunctuality.  Again expectant silence, but still no Mr Weston.  At last the Rev. Ambrose Angelo, a spare, sallow youth in a very prim collar, stood up, and said that he feared some unforeseen circumstance had prevented the appearance of our estimable friend, and that the discussion must proceed in the absence of its promoter.  His motion was seconded, and the discussion proceeded.  It proved no discussion at all—only an outpouring of sentiment, none of the speakers, on either side, ever forgetting the presence of the reverend gentleman—a saintly and confirmed celibate of five-and-twenty—a novice in the class of life to which he had been raised by the liberality of a theological college.  For how, in the light of his mild spectacled eyes, could any farmer or tradesman dare to suggest that a littered noisy family room might be nearer heaven and a better school for self-denial than his ascetic chambers, with their sacred pictures and crosses, and their constant influx of illuminated texts, wherewith the young ladies of St Cypriot faithfully fortified the piety of the Reverend Ambrose?

    When the discussion was over, and it was satisfactorily proved that God was best served by a state of things which would bring His world to a speedy end, the assembly dispersed, and we heard many conjectures about the non-appearance of Mr Weston.

    "He was here," said somebody; "for I spoke to him outside."

    "He must have been sent for afterwards," remarked another; "but it's strange he did not leave a message only perhaps he did not expect to be detained."

    "Ah, his good sense came back to him," whispered Ruth, gripping my arm, "and he could scarcely send that message into a roomful of people!"

    "A wasted evening, Ruth," I said, as we re-entered our dwelling.

    "No, indeed," she returned; "we have saved an honest man from making a fool of himself!"


 
CHAPTER XXIII.

AN ANONYMOUS LETTER.


NOT very long after that memorable evening when Mr Weston was conspicuous by his absence, I paid a visit to the M'Callums at the Refuge.  That morning's post had brought me a letter from Ewen, and I always gave them the benefit of the last news from him.

    I found the High Street in a low bustle.  Curious faces peeped from doors and windows.  The object of interest was an old-fashioned, ungainly carriage standing in front of a little hosiery shop.  Now, it was above this shop that Ruth had found lodgings for Anne Sanders.

    Mr M'Callum himself was at the gate with a comical smile on his cheerful old face.

    "It's an ill wind that blows naebody guid," said he, admitting me; "but it's no often there's a guid wind that blows naebody ill."

    "What is the matter?" I asked.

    "There's just an auld leddy come to fetch away Miss Bessie's sister," he replied.  "She's an auld widow cousin of their mither's, an' she's never luiked on the sisters before.  But she says, for the credit of the family she'll no hear of the puir lassie being left to fight her ain way in a sair warld.  She has nae end o' siller, and mayhap Miss Anne will come in for it a' i' the end."

    Looking across the road, I could see the lady standing in the hosier's shop—a little woman, quaintly dressed, with her face almost hidden by a hood-like bonnet.  "Does she live far from here?" I asked.

    "She lives in a queer little house on the side of Mallowe Heath," he answered.

    "In the parish of St Cross?" I said.  "Then I suppose I have seen her at church?" for there seemed something familiar in the little figure.

    "Na, na," returned Mr M'Callum, she doesna gang to the kirk, but to a chapel on the Heath, where she's the richest and greatest leddy.  She has neither child nor kith or kin save these Sanderses—but she isna the body to mind.  Money canna buy love, but it can buy fear, and she has a mighty hard high spirit that's weel satisfied wi' that, puir body."

    "Does Miss Sanders know of her sister's removal?" I asked, still watching the small angular form, with that uneasy interest we always feel when our memory is stirred we know not how.

    "She's over in the house wi' her the noo," replied Mr M'Callum.  "But it's a blessed change to hae that fulish, ill-conceited being ta'en respectably aff her hands. What culd she do wi' her?  She's ill to go and ill to guide.  But that aye gaes wi'out saying, for the waur the fule, the better the mule."

    "Do you think the old lady knows the character of her adopted friend?" I inquired.

    The old man's merry eyes gave a sly wink.  "I dinna think she cares," said he.  "Whan ye're a certain age, and a crackit auld body tae the bargain, ye maun hae a body-servant, and whan ye hae tried a' the lasses i' the toon, and they hae a' run back to their mithers, and said ye might keep their bit wage sae ye let them gae free, then ye're owre glad to find anybody left.  Miss Anne wad suit nae service, and the auld leddie would suit nae servant, and by the blessing o' God they hae found out each ither!"

    Then I proceeded to give the grandfather his boy's messages.  And I asked where Alice was.  She was upstairs at needlework, he said.  In bygone days she would have come down directly she heard my voice, but the poor girl was just now passing through those trials which honest hearts bear best in solitude and silence.

    While we stood at the gate, George Wilmot came in from his morning's work.  In Mr M'Callum's words, "the laddie was shooting up," and his blue eyes had gained quickness without losing their frank honesty.  Now, when he was addressed, they did not fall and his answer was ready, thought the blush still came.  As the wise old Scotchman said, "There was guid gowd in the callant, and guid gowd will aye brichten."

    Just then there was a bustle at the hosier's door.  It was the moment of departure.  Bessie came to the doorstep, and there the two sisters shook hands.  No warmer salutation.  Bessie was very pale.  Anne was fussy, and dropped her gloves, and ran her umbrella at the side of the carriage.  Bessie gave her arm to assist her agèd relation down the steps.  Then I first saw the lady's face.  It was a yellow, dry face, with wizened lips and faded eyes, and no white in the thin, withered hair.  But then I knew it had once been fair and comely, a face which I had coveted to confront me on my own hearth—ay, a face which I had once kissed truly and tenderly; alas! a face which afterwards I had almost cursed—for that haggard shrew was the remains of Maria Willoughby!  Thank God that Lucy Weston was my first love, and lives safe with Him!

    When they were gone, Miss Sanders crossed the road and spoke to us.  She only said all had happened very fortunately, and she hoped Anne would be happy, and inquired after Ruth, and sent her dutiful regards to her.  Then she drew down her veil, and went away.

    "She has lost her torment, and yet she seems sad," I remarked.

    "It's hard to hae kin to tease one," said Mr McCallum; "but it's harder to hae nane to please one.  I reckon she'd give ten years of her life to hae a richt to ilka body who had a bit o' love in them."

    But after the arrival of George Wilmot I feared lest I was keeping the good man from his dinner, so with a very few words more I left him, and went homewards in a somewhat sobered and saddened mood.  However I had parted from Maria Willoughby, I could not forget how we had once met, and her re-appearance, an embittered, loveless old woman, sickened my spirit like a breath of clammy air from a tomb.  What said Mr M'Callum?—that money could not buy love?  Ah, she had love once without thought of buying, and she threw it away!  Does its ghost ever visit her?  There are houses which stand so foul and neglected that passers-by say, "Surely they are haunted."  And so there are faces which warn us not to ask the secrets of the hearts behind them.  Poor Maria! poor Maria!

    But just at my own gate, I was roused from my reverie by the stout voice of Mr Herbert.  His niece was with him, and they had come to pay us a visit.  Somehow, Mr Herbert had heard of the proposed gathering of the people of St Cross, and he had actually come, unasked, to offer the use of his great dining-room for the occasion.  I think he conferred the obligation in return for the little aid I had rendered Agnes; for I had transmitted her father's book to a friend of mine in Paternoster Row, who promised to give her a hundred pounds for it.  The transaction was managed by Agnes and me, and it was never mentioned in the presence of her uncle, and he never mentioned it himself; but from his manner I concluded his niece had kept no secret, though both he and she preferred a tacit silence on the subject.

    "You and your worthy sister and Mr Marten can invite the folks-who you like and as many as you like—the more the merrier," said the bluff farmer.  "The whole house is at your service, and so are Mrs Irons and the girls, and I'll provide the victualsdon't fear I shan't have enough."

    "We shall certainly want the whole house, sir," returned my sister: "kitchen, parlours, dining-room, and all, for everybody must come; and I'm sure you'll welcome nobody so kindly as some who will be most at home by the kitchen fire.  We won't place anybody, but we'll give everybody a chance of placing himself.  There are some that we should rise up before, Mr Herbert, who would not thank us if we put them on cushioned chairs and Turkey carpet."

    "You're a wise woman, Miss Garrett," said he and for my part, if I could only sit in my own kitchen, I shouldn't be sorry.  My great-grandfather was a better man than me, ma'am, and he sat there.  Ah, ma'am, if we kept to the old ways we should be none the worse."

    "But at which old way shall we make a stand?" asked Ruth dryly.  "The oldest ways in England were woad and acorns, and Druids and sacrifices."

    "Now, it strikes me you are laughing at me, Miss Garrett," said the farmer, good-humouredly; "I thought you liked the old ways too?"

    "I like some old ways," Ruth answered, "but along with the good old ways there were bad old ways, and somehow I think the good old ways live longest.  I don't believe the world grows worse, Mr Herbert."

    "Then do you think it grows better?" he asked rather quickly.

    She shook her head: "I won't say that either," she replied, "but I think it is like a child growing up.  Its evil passions are still there, but they are kept under more restraint."

    "You are a clever woman," he said, "and you get beyond me.  I just like to keep in the beaten track, and do what my people did before me, and then, at least, I'm safe."

    "I don't know that," returned Ruth, carrying on the figure, "you may be going over different soil, where a light wheel would travel better than a heavy one."

    "A heavy wheel may be sometimes slow, but it's always sure," said he, "and that reminds me a waggon of mine is now at the wheelwright's, and I had best go and see after it."

    He left Agnes behind him, saying he would send Mrs Irons to fetch her in the course of the evening.  The girl had not expected this prolonged visit, and, as she had brought no work, she asked us to provide her with some, and so I set her to sort and endorse a basketful of old letters which I wished to keep.  The task lasted all day, though she went through it with alacrity, and we were just going over the last papers, when there was a hasty rap at the door, and a moment after Phillis hurriedly announced "Miss Sanders," adding in a whisper, "She is crying, ma'am, and all in a flutter."

    Bessie entered.  She had lost no time on her toilet, for her bonnet was not tied, and her shawl was only thrown hastily round her.  She had an open letter in her hand, which she laid before Ruth, and then stood, breathless, unheeding the chair which Phillis set for her.

    My sister perused the document in silence, then, with a flash of astonished intelligence, she said, "Edward, listen to this," and read


"DEAR MADAM,
    "I feel it is my duty to tell you that the boy known in your village as George Wilmot, and now living at the Refuge, is the son of your dead cousin George Roper, who was privately married in London under an assumed name.  With this information to start from, I think you will soon trace a likeness between the two.  I only disclose this as I think it will give happiness to both you and the lad.  In token of my good intentions I enclose a sovereign for George Wilmot, not as a present, but as part payment of an old account between his father and me.  And I can only sign myself

"ONE WHO HAS MUCH TO REGRET."


    "There it is!" exclaimed Bessie, dropping the piece of gold on the table, and then, sinking on a seat, she gave way to a storm of hysteric tears and laughter, among which the only intelligible words were, "loneliness ended—thank God—thank God!"  She forgave her cousin's faithlessness to her sister's memory: she forgave his hidden marriage, and the deception in which he died.  She thought only of a new right to love, of another call to live and labour!

    We all examined the letter.  It was in delicate upright writing, evidently the disguise of a refined, but perhaps egotistical hand.  The postmark was St Martin's-le-Grand, and there was no stationer's name on the envelope.  The writer had known how to secure secrecy.  Yet there was a simplicity about the letter and its enclosure which seemed to ensure its truthfulness.  Evidently Bessie Sanders did not doubt it.  Presently she grew calm, and then arose, saying

    "I must go to the Refuge, and fetch him."

    I prepared to go with her.  Just as I put on my hat, Agnes Herbert whispered

    "Please take me with you, and leave me at the Great Farm as you pass."

    I looked down at the girl, and was startled by her ashen face and wan eyes.  "My dear," I said, " I fear you have done too much to-day."

    "I am a little tired," she answered, "but it's not for that I want to go home; only if I go with you it will save Mrs Irons a walk."

    So she went with us, and we left her at her uncle's gate.  I half-expected she would ask me to call in on my return, and tell her what passed at the Refuge, but she did not.

    The M'Callums and George were all comfortably seated in their little sitting-room.  Our very appearance at that untimely season startled them, and our errand startled them more.  They would fain have doubted the letter, but Bessie was terribly in earnest, and had brought her sister's portrait, and there certainly was a likeness between it and the half-pleased, half-frightened boy, who submitted rather timidly to his relation's caresses, and then stole back to Alice M'Callum.

    Wherever his future home might be, Bessie implored that he might return with her that night, until at last, with quivering lips, Alice prepared his little outfit.  Then the old man blessed the boy, and Alice kissed him—quite calmly, until the garden-gate clanged behind the happy woman and the astonished lad, and then the gentle "matron" sat down, and wept bitterly—almost as bitterly as a mother when her firstborn is carried from her arms to his grave.

    "You must not grudge him to Miss Sanders," I said as gently as I could; "she has nothing.  You still have your grandfather and Ewen."

    "Yes, I know," she sobbed.  "And Ewen will never tire of me, but oh, I must keep away from him.  For he will rise—rise—rise, and I must not keep him down.  I must make him think I don't care much for him, and can be quite happy without him.  And I thought we should have George always!"

    "Wisht, lassie!" said old M'Callum; "the Lord gives and the Lord takes awa', and a' ye've to do, lassie, is to bless His holy name."

    "And you have not lost George," I pleaded.  "Even if he lives with Miss Sanders, still he will be close to you, and he will not forget that you are his old friend—his first friend."

    And just then it struck me it was a good thing his relationship to the Sanderses had not been known on his arrival at Upper Mallowe, for though Bessie's heart was soft enough towards him now, when she saw him subdued, mellowed, and somewhat instructed, her charity was not as tender and catholic as Alice's, and she might have shrunk from the uncouth coarseness of the mere tramper boy.

    "And he is George Roper's son," Alice exclaimed suddenly, her tears ceasing, as she started up to set the supper dishes, "and it was his father's knife he found in the hedge—and Bessie Sanders believes our Ewen guilty—and now—"

    "But George does not," I interrupted, "and George never will—and your brother's innocence may be made manifest yet.  This very evening gives us an instance how secret things are brought to light."

    I said no more, for I knew her woman's heart was very sore—smarting with the old ache of her brother's sufferings, and the newer pang of Mr Weston's love affair.  At another time she would rejoice in the joy of Bessie and George, but just now it mocked her—as a laugh in the streets mocks the watcher by a dying bed.

    So I returned home, musing at the wondrous providence which weaves together such varying threads of human life, and suddenly the question forced itself upon my mind—"Is it possible that he who led George Wilmot to our house a year ago is the same who now sends this letter?"



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