A QUESTION ANSWERED.
following that mysterious letter from London brought with them no
interests stronger than the opening of the evening classes, and the
preparations for our great Christmas gathering. We issued our
invitations ten days beforehand, believing the expectation of
pleasure sure to be its very essence, and then we tried our hardest
to prove equal to the occasion. The village tradesfolk were
gladdened by the liberality of Mr Herbert's orders, and half the
girls in the parish were pressed into his niece's service to assist
in the decoration of the chambers. Agnes worked valiantly:
whenever we called we never found her post deserted. Sometimes
her colour-box was open, and an illumination in progress; or else
she was tying up posies, or stringing holly-berries. Nay, a
few mornings before the entertainment, when the freedom and easiness
of hospitality had extended so far that I found the house-door open,
and nobody about, I was guided to my hostess by the sound of singing
in the dining-room. Her voice came ringing through the long
corridor, and she sang a song of her father's; for I remembered the
words, as I half-involuntarily paused to catch them:―
"There's ane they dinna ken aboot
For naebody kens him noo,
An' he used to say—Oh I daurna tell!
But he meant it all for true.
"An' if I ken I'm a blithesome lass
Wi' a winsome way or twa,
It isna for a' the neebor's talk,
But because he telt me sae."
The song ceased when she heard my footstep, and she turned
towards me a face rosy with the exertion of rubbing-up the oaken
table. She was a pretty, quaint figure, in her blue print
dress, with the sleeves rolled back from her round wrists, and her
hair pushed up on her broad, flushed brow. Nevertheless,
knowing there were three servants in the house, I half-wondered to
find her so employed. I think she caught my thought, and
perhaps that accounted for a certain piqued, almost defiant,
expression on her face,―
"Playing the housewife, Miss Herbert?" I said.
"Good earnest play," she answered, and resumed her cloth, and
went gallantly on with her polishing.
"My dear," I remarked presently, "I fear you will tire
"So would the servant," she replied with a laugh. "And
the less I do it, the sooner I shall tire. Have you never
heard of the poor exiled woman who carried her calf every day, while
her strength increased with its weight, till at last she still
carried it when it was a cow, Mr Garrett?"
"I have heard the story," I answered, "and though doubt its
exact truth, yet its principle is quite correct. 'Strength
according to our day' is a scriptural promise. And we none of
us know what we can do until we begin to try."
"Oh, I think I could do anything if I had a very strong
motive," she said.
"Anything?" I echoed. "That is a wide statement, my
"I mean anything within reason," she replied; "any household
work, or travelling, or matters of that kind. There's a
pleasant excitement in exertion."
"But there is a reaction too," I said.
"Do you think so?" she queried, rather heedlessly, still
rubbing away. "Now, when this table is finished," she added
presently, "the sight of it will be quite a treat to me, because I
shall be proud of it. And yet, I dare-say, the housemaid will
laugh aside at my performance. But I think we enjoy things for
their relation to ourselves. and not for their own perfection."
"I believe that is universally true," I answered.
"And so I think poor people enjoy more than rich ones," she
went on. "I don't mean very poor people, but those who
have to work hard, and to plan a great deal. What pleasure
lies in buying a dress when you can afford any price, and can send
it anywhere to be made up? But it is quite another thing when
you have but a certain sum to spend, and must take a lively interest
in getting the best and prettiest for that sum!"
"I should say you have a talent for management, my dear," I
"I think I have,"—with a bright glance as if in acceptance of
a valued compliment, then a little sigh,―"I'm
almost sure I have."
At this moment, a ruddy servant put her head into the room,
saying, "Please, miss, Mrs Irons says she's a beginning of the
pastry,"—adding, in an apologetic aside, "you remember, you wanted
to see it, miss."
"Yes, Mary, and I'll come," returned the young lady.
"But will you go over the house and find my uncle, and tell him that
Mr Garrett is here? And then you will kindly excuse me, sir,"
she added, dropping one of her slight, half-courtly, half-quaint
curtsies, as she left the room.
I remained in the house more than an hour, chatting with Mr
Herbert. Before my departure, he took me to his farmyard to
see some rare fowls which had just arrived from a London auction.
Now the kitchen windows, wide and low, overlooked this farmyard, and
though I kept my eyes as strictly as possible, I was not upon my
guard until I had caught a very distinct glimpse of a slender form
in a blue print dress, with pretty bare arms plunged into the floury
contents of a great brown tub.
I did not see Agnes Herbert again until the night of our
gathering. We intended to be among the earliest arrivals, but
there were many before us, and Agnes was duly at her uncle's side,
playing her part as hostess, and looking as quiet and pale as if
there were no such things oak tables and rolling-pins. Her
part that evening was not altogether easy. It was necessary
that each promoter of the entertainment should have a line of duty
particularly his own. Mr Herbert busied himself among the
farming people, with all of whom he enjoyed an honest, kindly,
despotic popularity. Ruth was, as usual, most at home among
the young folk, and my powers were just equal to pleasing the very
agèd, and the little children, who,
God bless them! are easily pleased. And in all these
departments we found able seconds in the rector, and Mr M'Callum,
and his daughter. But there were still a few who held aloof,
tasty spinsters, or genteel young married people of the trading or
employee class, who were heard to remark, "how nice it was,—how
charming to see all distinctions merged for one evening: how much
good must follow any opportunity for the different orders of society
coming together, and learning mutual respect," and who then
immediately looked askant at the other guests, and sat down apart,
or in forlorn little coteries, in which the only common feeling lay
in the texture of dresses, or the whiteness of hands. Yet
these people had to be conciliated,—their want of sympathy but
recommended them for conciliation, and there was no one less likely
to arouse their prejudices than Agnes Herbert. So to her
charge they were committed.
She did not flinch, but I knew her soul shivered within her,
as she moved from one chilly presence to another. At first her
face was very white, and her courtesy appeared constrained, but
gradually her courage seemed to rise in very scorn of her shallow,
frivolous companions. And then they, who would steadily have
resisted the sweet suing influences of her purest nature, were
suddenly conquered by the outburst of her strength. And so
she, who, warmly received and rightly understood, would have sat
aside happy, and unnoticeable, now, chilled and defiant, stood forth
the beauty and wit of the evening. Beauty and wit: they are
terrible crowns for a woman's wearing. I almost think they are
a crown of thorn!
But not all my interest in Agnes could exonerate me from my
own duties. Indeed, while observing her, I had somewhat
flagged in my narration of the adventures of the famous little
crook-back of the Arabian nights wherewith I beguiled a large circle
of toothless old ladies and open-mouthed children. That night
I made a reputation as a story-teller. After the crook-back, I
gave the Ugly Duckling. After the Ugly Duckling, I briefly
narrated the story of Alexander Selkirk. I was encored, and I
repeated my performances to increased audiences. I was
applauded,—yes, touchingly applauded,—for one wee damsel of seven
summers gave me a kiss, and said she loved me, oh, so much! Am
I a weak old fellow to repeat this? Ah, but the little lips
were soft, and the little face was—what Lucy's grandchild's might
What a quiet peaceful world it seemed among those
grandmothers and their darlings! Nobody can say what tragedies
have stamped their lines on the worn old faces, but then their agony
is over. They may have been weary, but their rest is nearly
reached, and like travellers idly waiting at a station, their minds
are free and open to little amusements and trifling cares. And
the children!—for them the fleecy snow is still a solemn and novel
mystery, and morning and night, Saturday half-holiday and Sundays
service are variety enough,—the dear little children, who hold life
carelessly, like a toy with an unknown secret shut inside it!
And after all, it is our own fault that we are not as light-hearted
and content. They trust all to their parents. Cannot we
trust God? Is it best to be in the outer court of the temple,
or within the veil? When father and mother forsake us, does
not God take us up?
Then my story, and the laughter of my hearers, were hushed
for the music. None of the working men or women dreamed of
speaking while the young ladies were "at the piano." But many
of those who thought themselves far better born and bred, whispered,
and flirted, and commented, as if the sweet sounds were nothing but
an accompaniment to their own shallow minds, a very good background
to cover the gaps of their feeble wit! And yet, poor things,
they all thought they had "a taste for music," and so I suppose they
had, as much taste for that as for anything, since doubtless they
would chatter in front of Raphael's Transfiguration, and interrupt
the reading of Wordsworth's "Immortality." For after all,
taste is not emotion. Taste is the education of the senses,
and the senses are part of that body which some day we shall throw
away like a worn-out garment. But emotion is the stirring of
the soul, like the angel's touch on the waters of Bethesda.
Agnes neither sang nor played; she could do both, but she did
not. The general performances were very commonplace, by which
I don't mean simple or well-known, but rather the contrary, mere
musical gymnastics, clumsily performed. But Marian Blake, the
daughter of Mr Marten's friend the lieutenant, sang a very sweet
touching Scotch ballad about a young laird going to the wars, who
never, never came back, and how his lady-love sat with his mother
and sisters, and loved them for his sake, and would not despair of
his return till her heart was comforted by very patience, and heaven
was nearer than earth. Mr M'Callum told me, "he minded his
mother sang sang it when he was a bit bairnie, but it was ane of
thae sangs which were aye fresh, like God's ain blessed flowers."
Like such songs, and like such flowers, is Marian Blake herself.
And Mr Marten stood beside her while she sang, and smiled upon her
when the song was over. And it seemed as if a breeze from Eden
blew through the crowded room.
But it was not Eden. For glancing from the pretty
playful group around the piano, my eyes fell on Alice M'Callum,
resting from her hospitable labours and self-surrendered to the
spells of sweet sad music, and her face was so unutterably
sorrowful, that it startled one like the discovery of a grave in a
garden. Whenever the door opened, she looked towards it, not
expectantly, but yet with a light in her eyes which hopelessly
darkened as each tardy arrival proved—not whom she longed for.
As I watched her, I could have said bitter words of young Weston.
For among our other friends, we had sent him an invitation, and he
had not even answered it. I had hoped his silence arose from a
reluctance finally to decline it. But his absence seemed to
indicate another cause. I felt my anger towards him was very
illogical, for he had been refused by the woman whom he had
honoured, and so he had a right to turn utterly away from her.
But I pleaded testily with myself, "Genuine love has no rights.
He knows why she refused him, and he is a coward to give her up;"
and then I half-smiled to think how Alice's wan face would fire with
indignation if she knew what hard names I silently bestowed upon
Supper came at last. The long tables fairly groaned
under the substantial dainties provided by our liberal host, and the
parents were obliged to chide their youngsters for too eager
exclamations of "Look at the puddin'," and "Oh, the jolly pies."
Of course, such cries must be reproved, but nevertheless one likes
the frank British boy, who is not above making them. Then
there was a fine tangle before each got into his place at table, but
it was accomplished at last, and I found Mr Marten had seated Miss
Blake at my right hand, and I was very much obliged to him for so
pleasant a companion. Ruth was placed opposite Mr Herbert, and
George Wilmot slipped into an empty place beside Alice M'Callum, and
when she whispered something to him which made him glance towards
his cousin Bessie, I was glad to see that Bessie answered the glance
with a smile and nod, which set the boy's conscience at ease about
deserting her. After her first hungry joy over a new guest to
her empty heart, Miss Sanders's magnanimity had re-asserted itself,
and she never grudged her kinsman's love for his old friends.
It was a very merry meal. There was a great deal of
talk, and to judge by the laughter there were some good jokes
uttered, perhaps no worse because not original. Even the
genteel people grew convivial, and contributed their mites to the
general entertainment, warming so far as to tell some tolerably good
stories, none the less amusing for such prefaces as, "On my uncle's
estate in Shropshire," or "While my cousin was Canon of Close
Cathedral," about which one need not be over-severe, for doubtless
the vanity pleased themselves, and I'm sure it did not hurt any one
But when supper was nearly over, and many plates were pushed
a little way, and the bustle of helping and serving was quite done,
a light thin voice spoke up from the far end of the table.
There was an instant hush, as there always is in mixed companies
when a woman makes an audible appeal. It was the village
chemist's bran new wife, a flaxen frivolous London girl. And
this was what she asked:―
"Mr Herbert, I am so fond of romances that you must tell me
the history of that mysterious picture with its back to us.
I'm sure it has a history. Is it the portrait of some naughty
There was a silence—a silence to be felt—the breathlessness
of expectant people. My own eyes seemed rooted to the table
before me. Suddenly another voice broke the spell—it seemed a
strange voice with just a familiar note, and it said,―
"The picture is only a portrait—not a good one—of my
cousin—my cousin Ralph."
It was Agnes who spoke. As I looked towards her, there
was a bright spot on her cheek, but it faded instantly. Mrs
Irons had walked up the room from her station at the door, and now
stood behind her young lady's chair. By this time, the faces
round the table showed the foolish inquirer that she had trodden on
dangerous ground, and with the blundering tactics of a weak mind,
she proceeded to a stammering apology, far worse than her offence.
"I'm sure I didn't know I shouldn't ask. I thought it
was something dead and gone. I'd no idea there was anything
"Nobody says there is," returned Agnes, with the awful
dignity of a quiet nature aroused, and so saying, she rose from her
seat, thereby setting us an example to do the same, and thus put an
end to an embarrassing situation.
It was fortunate for the success of our gathering that this
unhappy incident occurred at its very close, for it would have put a
check to all geniality. Some pitied the rebuked questioner,
but the majority felt for the family thus forced to display its
skeleton, of whose existence nearly everybody seemed quite aware.
Anyhow, a chill had fallen on the whole party. No tone rose
above a whisper, and with a sense of relief I heard Mr Marten
announce that we would separate after singing the ever-beautiful and
always appropriate Evening Hymn.
And I went home, feeling I had an answer to my old riddle,
"Who are 'we?'"
A HOUSEHOLD SKELETON.
THE next morning
rose dank and chilly. I got up with that strange sensation of
dreamy unreality which often follows unusual exertion or excitement.
The landscape from my chamber window was not cheering. A heavy
rain had fallen in the night, and the panes were dabbled with drops
from creepers around, while beyond lay field below field, all in the
heavy dull green which characterises winter moisture.
To-morrow was Christmas-day, and all my little seasonable
remembrances lay in the hall below ready for despatch, but somehow
the seasonable feeling was not in my heart, which felt as cold and
dank as the meadows outside.
But I cheered a little when I entered our snug parlour, where
Ruth was already seated, with a knitted crimson shawl enlivening her
black dress, and the great Bible before her on a corner of the
breakfast-table. It was a curious fact, that during our walk
homeward the night before we had not even mentioned the incident of
the picture. Such is the strange reticence which sometimes
seizes one regarding any subject of which his mind is particularly
But I could tell by my sister's very movement that she now
intended to break this silence. And, sure enough, as she
handed me my first cup of tea, she said,―
"Depend upon it, Edward, Ralph Herbert is Ewen's Mr Ralph."
"I don't doubt it," I answered; "but how strange it is that
through all our intimacy with the Great Farm, we have heard no
allusion to this missing member of its household! And yet I
remember Mr Marten once made some slight remark about 'young Mr
Herbert,' but I afterwards supposed I had misunderstood him, and
since then I had forgotten all about it. Do you think Mr
Herbert was angry with Agnes for her frankness last night?" I
inquired, after a pause.
"He was half-angry and half-surprised," replied my sister.
"He liked her dash of the Herbert spirit. You know we all like
to recognise our own streak of the old Adam in another. And,
after all, since he chooses to keep the thing there, to provoke
questions, I don't see how she could have acted better than she
I had my own thoughts on the subject. I remembered the
conversation of that afternoon when Ages Herbert had joined Ewen and
me in the fields behind the Low Meadow, and I doubted whether the
young lady had answered for her uncle, with a wish to preserve as
much propriety as possible, or rather with a woman's desperate
resolution to speak up for the absent, who could not defend himself.
I remembered the letter with which Ewen had been entrusted for a
friend in London, whose address she did not exactly know. I
even remembered more than this—something which I banished from my
mind as soon as it entered it, for, as I always say, (as I once said
to Alice M'Callum,) coincidences are but fancies till proved by
facts, and facts once obtained, coincidences are no longer anything.
"But what must this Ralph be," I remarked, "for his very
picture to be thus disgraced in his own father's house?"
"He needn't be so very bad because of that," returned Ruth;
"some parents choose to stamp children as prodigals whom others
would think angels. Before you condemn the black sheep of a
family, you must make sure that the shepherd is not colour-blind."
We did not prolong the conversation. We had nothing new
to say, and we should only have gone over the old ground, making
wild guesses as to possibilities and probabilities. Besides,
it was Christmas-time, and therefore my housewifely sister was more
than usually busy, and during the whole day the parlour was only
honoured by her presence at intervals few and far between. I
was dull and lonely enough. The Christmas annuals were in the
house, but I could not read, for there was a story being acted out,
only a few yards off, which absorbed all my interest. I should
have been glad of a visitor, but none came. I knew perfectly
well that none were likely to come. Ewen would be at the
Refuge that evening, but he would only arrive by a late train.
And, as Christmas-day fell on a Friday, I concluded he would remain
at home till the Monday following, and so I could not expect to see
him, except at church, until Saturday or Sunday; and I knew, too,
that Mr Marten was busy—for was there not a sermon to be preached
to-morrow? and also duties to be done beforehand to provide for a
blank day, for had he not told me he was going to spend Christmas
with the Blakes? Oh, the Blakes, indeed! Ah, the Blakes, to be
But a visitor came at last; only, with the usual contrariness
of visitors, not till I had ceased wishing for one, for my lonely
hours wore wearily away, until evening brought my sister back to her
accustomed seat, when it became my pleasing duty to read her
extracts from the seasonable literature, and to enlighten her with
my sensible criticisms thereon. And we were in the height of
an edifying discussion about the naturalness and propriety of a
certain hero's mode of courting a certain heroine, when there came a
vigorous pull at our door bell, and then there was a pause in our
dialogue till Phillis came to us, announcing, "It's Mrs Irons from
the Great Farm, ma'am, and she says she wants to speak to you about
a message from her master."
"Then show her in here," rejoined my sister.
Mrs Irons obeyed the summons with the noisy sound of thick
sensible boots. She only came a step or two into the room, and
then stood still. I have said she was a big gaunt woman, and
she wore a clinging sage-green dress and a large-patterned shawl,
with a worn boa tied round her neck, and half-hidden behind limp
black satin bonnet-strings. When Phillis set a chair for her,
she promptly took it, and forthwith pulled off her cotton gloves and
loosened her boa, in consideration of the near neighbourhood of our
blazing fire. But after her first tart "good evening," her
mouth remained shut as closely as a steel trap.
"I wonder Mr Herbert can spare you from the Farm this
evening," said Ruth, by way of opening the conversation.
"Ah," rejoined our visitor, "but there be some things that
even meat and drink must bide for—not but what the puddin's ready,
and the mince-pies made, and only the fowls a-picking, and the girls
are fools if they can't do that between them!"
"I hope Mr Herbert and his niece are quite well?" I inquired.
"Yes, they're quite well, sir," she returned, "for that's the
answer they'd give ye theirselves. But it don't become Sarah
Irons to beat about her master's bush. Only, ma'am," she
added, turning to my sister, "I hopes you'll consider what a
servant's told to say, she must say, but them ain't always her own
"Every one understands that," answered Ruth.
"Yes," said Mrs Irons, "I think even master does. For
he says, 'You tell them what I say, Sarah;' but, says he, 'you can
give your own version of all the ins and outs.'"
"And what did Mr Herbert say?" asked my sister.
"He said, ma'am," resumed Mrs Irons, solemnly, "'Will you ask
Miss Garrett to help me to keep a young girl from a-sacrificing of
herself to a vagabond?' Now, I knows the master often uses
stronger language than he means, mem; so, says I, 'Vagabond, sir?'
But he only says, cross-like, 'Yes, Sarah, vagabond, or anything
worse that you can think of.'"
"And who is the young girl, and who is the vagabond, Sarah?"
asked Ruth, gravely enough, though I thought I could detect a
"The young girl is our Miss Agnes," answered the worthy
woman; "and, lack-a-day! by that hard name the master means his own
son, young Mister Ralph."
There was a silence.
"The master reckons you know about him?" she said presently,
in a questioning tone, "because Miss Agnes has often been here.
But I reckons you don't, for she's not one to talk much where she
"She never named him," answered Ruth.
"Well, ma'am," returned Mrs Irons, her tongue evidently
unlocked, "it's a long story. It began long before Master
Ralph was born or thought of—bless me, more than ten years before.
It had begun when I first entered the Great Farm, in the old lady's
days. Not that she'd be a very old woman if she were alive
now; but when young ones come on, those behind 'em are always called
old. A fine woman she was, too, and had been a beauty, and was
a real lady to the last, with hands too white to touch a rough
"Never mind that," said Ruth, rather testily; "it can't have
much to do with the present time."
"Yes, it do, ma'am," answered Mrs Irons, a little affronted,
"for she was that high and delicate in her mind, that she could not
abide anything but the finest; and when I first saw her, she was
mighty angry with her youngest son because he wouldn't be a parson,
but ran off to London, and took to scribbling for his daily bread.
You see, the patron of St Cross would always give it to a Herbert,
if there was one ready. And Madam Herbert would never see her
boy again, though he were her favourite before, being
softer-mannered than the master. She wouldn't let him come to
her dying bed, and she left behind her a written paper, forbidding
the master to give his brother stick or stone that had belonged to
her. You know, mem, it was very hard for her to see a stranger
put over the village where her son might ha' been, and the Herberts
have never been so well looked on since. And she was a real
lady, who could stick to her dignity."
Mrs Irons paused, but Ruth gave no encouraging sympathy,
though she would not openly check the ugly, honest woman's sincere
though mistaken admiration for the false, vain beauty, who had once
been Laura Carewe. Then Mrs Irons resumed:―
"When Madam was dead, master got married to quite another
sort of lady. At first I wondered how he could bear to see her
sitting in his mother's place, for she was a little quiet thing,
nothing to see and nothing to hear but he was marvellous set on her.
And by and by I liked her too, as she grew at home in her own house.
But, bless her! she was only there a year. For when Master
Ralph came she was took away the very next day. She seemed to
get over it all right, and was glad it was a boy—and a fine boy he
was too—the finest baby I ever saw. And the master was so
proud, and went about on tip-toe a-hushing of us all. But the
second day the young mistress called me to her, and she a-lying on
her bed, like a tired angel a-resting on the clouds. And she
says, 'Take him, please' (that was the dear baby); 'I can't have him
any longer. You must take care of him for me, Sarah.'
And then she just lifted up her head, and kissed him as I took him
away. And half-an-hour later she was gone." And the hard
voice failed, and the pale, gray eyes were dim with tears for the
young mother who had been in her grave more than five-and-twenty
"The master was dreadfully cut up," she went on presently,
"and after a bit he took to the baby almost like a woman, and would
sit in the dining-room the whole evening a-nursing and playing with
it; and there was a rare work if anything ailed the child, which
wasn't often, for he was a fine little fellow, and did not seem to
fret after his mother. But when he growed up, and could walk
about and talk, the master had that determined spirit that he'd make
himself be ever so stern with the boy for fear he'd spoil him.
And stern enough he were, though perhaps no more than was good, if
there'd been a mother to put it all straight again. But there
was only me to take the child's part, and I was nobody.
However, in the course of time, things righted themselves, and the
lad never said his father nay, and there were no words atween them.
And when he came of age, if you'd asked the old rector—the one afore
Mr Marten—for a I model of the fifth commandment, he'd have pointed
out our Mr Herbert and Master Ralph. Of course, the young
master had plenty of time to himself, and he and his father did not
see much of each other except at meals and late o' nights. And
soon after the coming o' age, Mr Herbert's brother sent down word he
were dying in London."
"Agnes' father?" queried Ruth.
"Yes," resumed Mrs Irons, "and master showed me his
letter—master isn't the man to misdoubt a woman who has lived in his
house thirty years! A rare, fine letter it was, sayin' he
would never have reminded the Herberts of himself, but he was
leaving a daughter who wouldn't disgrace any kindness they might
show her. Master and me started for London that very night,
but it was all over before we got there. And there was the old
Madam's son a-layin' dead in two bits o' rooms, in a street off Soho
Square, in a house so packed up with lodgers that there was always
one or other creeping about on the staircase,—him who might have
been rector of St Cross and had half the parish at his funeral!
And there was Miss Agnes, stinting her tears that she might stitch
her 'broidery to pay for the supper she set before us. But the
master snatched it out of her hands, and told her that was done with
for ever. And directly after the funeral, he took her home
with us to the Great Farm, and somehow—mayhap, because nobody'd ever
looked so at me,—the minute she and Mister Ralph met, I thought how
it would be, and I wondered if it was joy or rue the master was
planting in his house that night. Mister Ralph was at home a
good deal more after that, and in the fine weather he and his cousin
were much out together. She was fond of drawing, for she'd
learnt it somehow in London, and was over-glad to practise it in the
country; and the young master himself had always a turn that way.
I mind they had a tiff once, because he was out two or three hours
every evening, and wouldn't tell her where he went, till at last he
brought home a fine drawing, and told her how he had been to a class
at Mallowe, and what praises he got from some artists who'd been
a-visiting the teacher. And she was so pleased, that before he
could stop her, she ran off to tell the master, thinking no harm,
poor dear! And then there was a fine piece o' work; and that
was the beginning of the strife. For it set the master
a-thinking of his brother's folly; and he said the Herberts should
have nothing to do with scratching or scrawling, 'cept to pay for 'em,
if they wanted 'em. But it was hushed up for that time; and
very soon after, I saw Mr Ralph's mother's keeper-ring on his
cousin's hand—and Sarah Irons is not so thick in the head but she
knowed what that meant—and the master seemed mighty satisfied, and
fonder nor ever of his niece."
"She wears that ring still," I observed.
"She do, and she'll wear it in her coffin," returned Mrs
Irons: "and I says, 'God bless her!'—though it were no great fancy I
took for her at fust, with her face over white and worn for a young
thing, and I even thought Mr Ralph might ha' found a better missis
for the Great Farm; but I did not guess how it would be, and he
knowed best after all!"
"And what happened to bring all this household happiness to
an end?" I asked.
"The young master would not turn into his father's mould,"
answered the good woman, with a sad shake of her head. "He
could not take to the farm, but wanted to go to London and be an
artist, which his father would not hear on. And Mr Herbert
said hard things of daubers and such like, and, lack-a-day!
Master Ralph had an answer ready about bumpkins and clod-hoppers;
and 'atween the two, Miss Agnes was always scared and striving, and
I used to catch her crying, because the young master got to shun his
home, and almost seemed careless of her. And other times she
were quite cheerful, because she thought things were mending.
But it come to an end on New-year's-day, three years a-gone.
Miss Agnes were in the kitchen with me, when master and his son came
in, and we heard high words atween 'em, and master shut the
dining-room door with a bang; and I would not let Miss Agnes go in,
because I thought they'd settle it best theirselves. And all
of a sudden Master Ralph came out, and came to the kitchen, and
caught hold of his cousin and kissed her hard and fast, and never
seemed to see me, and then walked straight out at the door; and
while we both stood struck, a-staring at each other, there was the
master calling us in a voice fit to raise the dead.
"He was standing by the fireplace in the dining-room and
there was a chair upset on the ground. Master's face was
white, and I'd never seen his face white afore,—for, in ordinary, he
turns red in his passions,—and he put dreadful words on Master
Ralph, and said the old Herberts of Mallowe had come to an end.
And then he noticed his son's picture on the wall, and he up and
struck it in the face, and turned it round to the wall—never
stopping to lift it from the nail, and you may see the hanging
string is twisted to this day. And then he caught his niece's
hand, and was drawing off her ring—the very ring he'd once put on
his wife's finger,—but she snatched her hand away, and for the
minute she seemed the strongest of the two, and her voice was as
loud and shriller! But the next minute she was down on the
floor at his feet, a-begging of him like a little chidden child.
She'd kept her own, and that was all she cared about; and master
never said another word about the ring."
Mrs Irons paused for a moment.
"He was calmer-like after that," she went on, "but he told us
we were never to set it any more that he and Master Ralph were
father and son. 'Sarah,' says he, 'there's nothing in this
house for him—not even room to stand on the door-mat. Mind,
your master says so, whom you've served faithful this thirty years!'
I don't know how it was,—whether it was a feeling for the only baby
I'd ever nursed, or the sight of poor Miss Agnes—but says I, 'Yes,
sir; I'll mind, except so far as I can't disobey my dead missis'
orders to take care of her boy for her. The words of the dead
last long, sir,' I said, 'for there's no asking 'em to draw 'em
"And then, somehows, we went off to our own rooms for the
night; but I left the door on the latch, if so be the young master
might come back, and things straighten in the morning. But,
sure enough, I heard the master go and fasten it up with his own
hands. And in the dead of the night, just as I was dropping
asleep, a-dreaming that Master Ralph was a baby in my arms, Miss
Agnes came and roused me like a spectre. It was on her mind
that her cousin might destroy himself, and we be never the wiser and
so, to quiet her, I had to promise that first thing in the morning
I'd go out and ask about him. But when I was out a-trailing
about the village, I didn't know where to go, nor who to ask.
I thought the lad had likely taken the last train to London, and it
struck me that the new rector—I mean Mr Marten—who had just come
from there, might put me in the way to track him. So I went
and told him just as much as I must, and as little as I could.
And then I wondered I hadn't had common-sense to do what he did—to
go to the railway station, and ask if young Herbert had left there
by the London train. And the guard said he had. And then
Mr Marten did more than I bargained for. He called at the
Great Farm, and had a long talk with the master. I thought the
place would be too hot to hold me after that. But the master
never said one word about what I'd done. And the rector never
called again—never till that evening when he came with you, sir."
"And did Mr Ralph make no effort to communicate with his
cousin?" I asked.
"O yes, indeed," she replied. "The morning of the
second day there came a letter telling her where he was, and full of
fine hopes of his future, and sure that his father had done the best
thing for him when he turned him out of the Great Farm, and so on.
Miss Agnes never named the letter to her uncle, but she let it lie
on the dining-room mantel for two whole days, and he looked at the
envelope, but said e'er a word. And be sure, she answered it
by the first post. And so things went on for a time."
"And did you never hear what was the quarrel between father
and son?" inquired Ruth.
"Mr Ralph wrote that it was about difficulties he was in at
Mallowe—money difficulties, and that his father would not help him
unless he promised to give himself up to the farm, which he
wouldn't, and then the master washed his hands of him. I'm
feared he'd been rather reckless that time when he was almost driven
out of his own home. But he wrote he should soon work it all
off, and would be wise in future."
"And when did this state of things end?" I queried.
"Well, six months after he left home, in the middle of
summer, he wrote word he expected he should be at Mallowe in the
course of a few days, and if so, and he could send a message when he
arrived, would his cousin ask me to come with her to meet him, so
that they might have a little walk and talk together—the two poor
dears! And he wrote his letter, which she showed me, so simple
and straightforward, that I thought he was surely in the right way,
and I should be obeying his dead mother if I helped him to this bit
of comfort to encourage him on. And then Miss Agnes and me
were in a regular flutter at every knock that came to the door."
With all her earnestness, worthy Mrs Irons had a bit of the
art of a story-teller, for she paused at every climax.
"And did you see him at last?" I asked, to prompt her.
"He never comed," she answered, "and there was no letter from
him long over his usual time, and I thought Miss Agnes would waste
away to nothing, and her soul would get free to go and watch over
him wherever he was. At last there was a letter, for me, not
for her. It said he'd been in France and very ill, and I was
to tell his cousin she was to forget she had ever seen him, for she
should never see him again; he was not fit to come within her sight;
he wasn't even fit to write to herself, but I was to give her that
letter to do what she liked with, though it was written to me.
I thought that seemed as if he half hoped she'd still care to have
it. But it had no address, and his poor writing was so bad!
And in a postscript he said she was to take off her engaged ring,
and give it back to his father, and to love and honour him always,
and in everything, for whatever the master had cost him, he had only
saved her from misery, and now she was all that he had in the world.
"I shan't ever forget her face, when she read it," Mrs Irons
went on. "I watched her, for I was feared. But there
came a sort of glory on her, and she looked up with a light in her
eyes, and said, 'I will never do it, Sarah. Now for the first
and last time, I disobey him. I will never take off his ring,
and I will never give him up! And I will love and honour my
uncle always and in everything, just for his sake—Ralph first, and
he next.' And all that day she bore up better than I did."
"Ah," murmured my sister, "there is a comfort in the strength
"I dare say there is, ma'am," answered the honest woman; "but
if so be, it's a comfort that doesn't warm the heart enough to cheer
the body, and it was woeful to see how Miss Agnes wore away, and how
she'd stand at the window a-watching for the post that never brought
her nought. She'd been a lively 'sensible girl before, always
at her books, or her pencil, or her needles, and I think she tried
to keep on with them, but there were nothing to force her, and she
couldn't force herself. And it seemed weary work for a young
thing to sit waiting and waiting, like old folks wait for death.
I often thought it might be a good thing for her to be back in
London, a-earnin' of her own living."
"And what was the next you heard of young Mr Herbert?" I
"Nought for more than a year," she returned. "Winter
had come round again, and it was nigh Christmas, when one night,
quite late, I heard a tapping at the little window beside the
back-door. Miss Agnes were a-bed, but it came over me who it
was, and I went out quite softly, not to waken the master, nor
nobody. And it were Master Ralph, sure enough; but he would
not cross his father's threshold, and I had to talk to him in the
yard. He'd been to Mallowe, he said, a-trying to get some
money he had lent long ago to a young fellow there, but he couldn't;
and would you believe it, sir, the master's only son was that hard
driven, that he hadn't a penny to take him back to London; and he
spoke so weakly and looked so white, that I asked a straightforward
question, and he owned to old Sarah, who fed him when he was a baby,
that he had not touched aught since a cup of tea in the early
morning. He said he was sure he could not eat anything if he
had it, but I knowed what that meant; and I just made him go and sit
down in my wash-house, and then carried him some sandwiches, and a
cup of wine. It wasn't my master's victuals I gave," explained
the faithful creature, "for the wine I'd bought with my own money to
give some to a poor consumptive creature in the village; and I put
two shillings into the purse my master gives me for house expenses,
which were over and above the value of the bread and meat I took.
Master Ralph would scarce touch it at first; but once he began he
ate like a famished dog. And it seemed to call him back to
life and feeling like; for before he took it, he'd spoken as cold
and dry as if it was nothing, his coming so to his own father's
house. But when he'd done, all of a sudden, he put his arm
round my neck and dropped his face on my shoulder, and cried as he
scarcely ever did, even when he was a child. I felt the hot
tears a-falling quick on my hand. I hope you'll excuse my
being so affected, ma'am," said the worthy woman, piping tears from
her hard-lined cheeks; "but I've had nobody of my own since I was
twenty years old, and I'd had him from his dying mother; and he
seemed to belong to me more than any one else. And when he was
a little bit quieted, he told me he had been in the neighbourhood
once or twice afore, about this same little debt; and he'd walked
round and round the Great Farm, but hadn't ventured to come nigh it,
and he'd only come at last, to ask me for enough to take him back to
London; for come what might, he did not want to starve in his native
place. And I made him take all the money I had in my work-box,
and a rare bother I had to make him take it. Though he knowed
I had not lived thirty years in service for nothing, still he
wouldn't touch it, till I said he might pay me again directly he
could, and with interest too, if he liked. And all the time he
kept asking about his cousin, and made me promise not to tell her of
seeing him in such trouble,—at least, not directly; and 'I hope she
forgets me,' he said, poor dear, and looked so down-hearted, that
the truth came out afore I knowed it, and said I, 'Don't you think
it; she's as true to you as if you'd never parted, and she always
will be; and you'll live to talk it over, some day, sir,' I said.
But he shook his head, and said no, that wouldn't ever be; and he
was sorry he'd cross'd her life to darken it. But I told him
it was all settled in the will of God; and says I, 'Even if you
never come together, the young missis will not be an unhappy woman,
if she knows you're comfortable and settled in yourself. If
you'd keep trouble from her, keep it from yourself, sir,' I said.
And then he went away."
"And did you never tell Miss Herbert of this visit?" I
"Not till quite lately," she answered. "About June I
got a post-office order for the money I'd lent Mr Ralph, but even
then I only told her I'd reasons of my own for saying her cousin was
alive and well. And in the autumn, when young M'Callum came
down for his holiday, Miss Agnes found out the two were living
together in London. And Mr Ralph has written to her since
then, and she has put his letters on the dining-room mantel, just as
she did at first. She has told me he is doing pretty well, and
she's not said a word further. But master and me, we've eyes
in our heads, and we can put two and two together, and didn't she
set-to, and get ready that book of her father's, and sell it?
And hasn't she taken a mighty interest in the cooking and the
house-work? And doesn't she try how little she can spend on
her dress? And isn't she reading a book about Canada?
And after the way she spoke up for Mr Ralph last night, the whole
village's talk. Master knows as well as I do that there's
something in the wind, and so he sends me here to ask you to help
him to stop it."
"And you don't come quite willingly, Mrs Irons?" queried
"Well, I don't, ma'am," she answered, candidly; "and I'd come
less willingly if I thought you or the master either would be able
to stop it."
"You think of the young man," I said, "but we must give some
consideration to the prospect before Miss Herbert."
"I don't see why the two need be thought on apart," returned
Mrs Irons, her native asperity again rising to the surface.
"There's a lot of fine talk about female influence and
out-of-the-way things, but all I say is, if God puts a man's soul in
reach of a woman's hand, and she throws it away, it may go to the
wicked place, but she's scarcely fit to go to t'other one!
Yes, you may all say what you like!" she added, standing up, and
shaking out her skirt, with a disclaiming gesture; "but if any of
you change Miss Agnes' mind, then God help Master Ralph, and I've
made a mistake all along!"
"Whether she be right or wrong in this matter," said Ruth,
after our visitor had departed, "she is a good woman."
"I should say there is a fortune of insufficiently-claimed
affection lying waste in her heart," I remarked.
"No matter," answered my sister, "it will ascend pure to
again; not an honest Christmas, like the last, with frozen ground
and peeps of pale sunshine, but Christmas in a wet green robe with
an umbrella. The choir boys came under our window, as before,
but Ruth despatched them after one short hymn; "it was not worth
while for them to stand there getting wet," she said.
Nevertheless we managed to attend service, and despite the
unfavourable weather, St Cross had a good congregation.
Mr Herbert stole a glance at us as he entered his pew.
His niece followed him, quite unconscious of the revelation of the
preceding night. Then I looked towards the M'Callums'
accustomed seat—the old man and his two grandchildren were there,
and I noticed that George Wilmot and his aunt sat with them, and
then I remembered hearing they intended to spend Christmas together.
Bessie Sanders was surely a true-hearted woman, for if she had yet
any lingering doubt of Ewen, she certainly did not allow it to bias
her actions. The worried look has left her face, and it is a
finely-cut, powerful countenance, a quaint contrast to the round,
ruddy visage of her nephew, with his clear, simple, blue eyes.
I have good hopes of that boy, and I think he will atone to his aunt
for all the past.―"At eventide
there shall be light."
When the joyful service was over, and I turned to leave our
pew, I saw at the back of the church, one whose presence made me
greatly glad. It was Mr Weston, looking older and graver than
he looked before. He waited for the M'Callums. In the
porch I saw he was introduced to Ewen. They all walked down
the churchyard together, and there I lost sight of them, for the
Herberts arrested our progress down the aisle, and we had their
company for our homeward journey. What a strange significance
did their conversation acquire from that revealed secret! And
yet, after all, the significance may exist rather in the fancy of
the hearer than in the mind of the speaker.
In the road we overtook the M'Callums and their friends
walking in a kind of cluster, as one can in the country, whenever it
would be rather invidious to get into couples. We all
exchanged salutations. I had forgotten to ask Mrs Irons if she
supposed her master knew of the friendship between his son and Ewen.
Anyhow, Mr Herbert was as genial as ever towards both grandfather
and grandson. Perhaps he argued with himself that it was no
business of his if they chose to befriend fools and beggars.
But to Alice he was decidedly civil, and very interesting and pretty
she looked in a demure, plaintive little flutter caused by the
presence of her rejected suitor, who, for his part, soon dashed into
a bucolic argument with his brother agriculturalist of the Great
Farm. Ewen alone walked a little apart, as if there was
something in his lot which as yet he could scarcely cast into the
simple merriment around him. I saw Agnes steal one or two
glances at him, but he did not seem to notice her, though I almost
fancied his pale cheek—it was very pale—reddened a little. At
the end of the lane, our party broke into three groups, breathing
good-byes and good wishes as if there was nothing in the world
beyond a walk from church to Christmas cheer—no old tragedies, no
hopes more wearing than fears, no endurance, no dead or jarring
notes in the anthem of life. And then Ruth and I went home
We had our quiet dinner, she at one end of the table and I at
the other, and then we drew up our chairs in front of the fire, and
talked softly of all that had happened in the year—of the Refuge,
and the Orphanage, and the May-day feast, and the hospital; of the
M'Callums and their fortunes, and the trial of Agnes Herbert.
And our talk was broken by short silences, when each gazed mutely at
the red embers in the grate, and saw diverse things
therein—perchance trees meet for whispering beneath, or the form of
a woman-angel, or haply the turret of the old clock-house of Mallow,
or a rough pauper's grave. Shall I ever speak of these things
to my sister? No, I think not—not in this world.
We had finished our tea, and were again lost in silence, when
there came a gentle double rap at our front door. It was
actually Ewen M'Callum.
He took a chair between us, and explained that he intended to
return to London by the first train next day, and so ventured to pay
us this unexpected Christmas visit.
"How did they spare you from the Refuge?" asked Ruth.
"Oh, they're all very merry there," he answered, with a grave
smile. "You know they have Miss Sanders and George, and Mr
Weston has stayed also. They'll not miss me."
"Need you return to London so soon?" I inquired.
"It is best for many reasons," he replied.
"And how is Mr Ralph?" I queried. "Ewen, we know his
other name now."
"You do?" he said quickly. "Mr Ralph is very well,
"Why did you keep him a secret from us?" I asked.
"He wished to be kept secret from every one," Ewen answered,
gravely. "And I kept the secret until I was forced to betray
him to his cousin."
"How forced?" inquired Ruth.
"Mr Garrett asked about 'Mr Ralph' in Miss Herbert's
hearing," he replied, "that gave me an excuse. And I was very
glad of it, for Ralph kept losing all hope and interest in life, and
thinking he might throw himself away anyhow, like a useless thing."
"Do you think he has great affection for his cousin?" I
asked, in my prim old-fashioned way.
Ewen turned to me with glowing eyes. "I should think he
has!" he said. "It's just her memory which has kept him afloat
above the lowest depths. It's just her memory that's kept in
him a bit of faith in man or God; and yet it was just her
memory—thinking that he'd lost her—that made him stand where I found
him last spring—on London Bridge, looking over and wondering if"――
There Ewen paused.
"His love should have given him courage to live worthily of
her, come what might," said Ruth.
"One would think so," observed the young man, reflectively;
"he should not have lost heart so soon; but yet it must have been a
dreadful trial. It's hard enough to love her,—I mean it's hard
enough to love such as her,—hopelessly from the beginning; but to
have hope in one's love at first and then to lose it, oh, we can't
guess how bitter that must be!"
"That's right," remarked Ruth; "when we measure our own
temptations with our neighbour's, let us always think his the
"But Ralph Herbert voluntarily resigned his cousin?" I said.
"He thought it was his bounden duty under certain
circumstances. He still thinks so," Ewen added.
"Then he still despairs?" queried Ruth, a little satirically.
The ghost of a smile crept over our visitor's face, and that
was his only answer.
"And so Mr Ralph meditated a leap into the river," continued
my sister in her pitiless tones, "and he thought that was dying of
love, while it would be simply death by feverish impatience and a
"Shakespeare says something like that, my dear," I observed.
"Yes, I know he does," returned Ruth, "and I dare say he says
something like any remark you make, if it happen to be worth
hearing. I always grow ill-tempered over any of this Lord
Byron kind of romance. If I knew any one dying of love, and
enjoying the sensation, I'd give them a good dose of physic, or a
sound caning. Or if they were really such fools as to be
slipping away without knowing it, I'd cheat them into learning a
language, or a good tough science."
"Like Wordsworth's gentleman who collected and dried
flowers," I remarked.
"But Ralph never thought he was dying of love," said Ewen;
"he was only broken down by misery."
"By the way, you look much better than you did the last time
you were here," observed my sister, rather abruptly disregarding
Ewen's last remark, and turning towards him.
"I am much better, thank you," he said.
"Then you knew you were ill?" pursued Ruth. "Alice was
quite alarmed about you."
"I never said a word to her," he answered.
"Why not?" she asked.
"Where was the good?" said he; "she would have wanted me to
give up my work, and my drawing, and so forth."
"And why should you not?" I queried.
"Because I suppose it is a sin willingly to do aught to
shorten one's life," he answered, with a quiet smile, "and if once I
called myself sick, I should die."
"Did you have any medical advice?" I inquired.
"Ralph made me go to a doctor," he replied. "He said if
I wouldn't he would write and tell them at home, so I went once,
though I don't much believe in doctors, and I heard what was the
matter with me, which I knew beforehand, and I was told to do
certain things which I could not do, or I shouldn't have been ill.
But I did my best towards them, as I had done all the time, and in
due time I recovered, as I felt I should from the first."
"Ah," said Ruth, "it takes much to kill young folks, or
nobody would reach thirty."
"But they grow old folks in the struggle?" remarked Ewen.
I thought he gave a little sigh, and I glanced towards him.
The look of pain—of forced endurance—was gone; but it had taken its
bloom with it, and had left its own traces behind. There were
lines now which gave a noble character to the always handsome face:
lines, which his future wife will declare are half his beauty,
though she may give a little sigh to think she did not know him
before they came! For I hope Ewen will have a wife some day,
though I fancy he does not hope anything of that sort
just now. And perhaps he will carry those lines with him when
he goes to the Better Place. For we must not measure heavenly
beauty by earthly beauty. Is it not a face "more marred than
any man's" which gazes at us from the glory of the Father's throne?
"And if they do 'grow old' in the process," I answered,
repeating his words—for there had been a pause—"it is none the
worse. It is not the boys and girls who do the work of the
world. They may be its flowers, but the middle-aged and
elderly are its fruit and its corn."
"Young folks are often over-willing to die," remarked Ruth,
folding her hands and gazing into the fire, "and God seldom wants us
when we want death. He knows we don't want to go to Him, but
only to get away from the world. And we're not fit to go to
Him till we're quite willing to bide his time."
And then Ewen said "Good-bye," and went back to the Refuge
"I'll never say again that men choose gilt when they might
have gold," said my sister, after he was gone. "The women are
quite as bad!"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I mean what I say," she returned; "and if you don't
understand now, you may in time. And haven't we spent a
sentimental evening, for two old people who never fell in love in
Oh, Ruth, Ruth! I hope you did not take my silence for
assent to that last statement of yours, though I hadn't courage to
contradict it. But it does not matter much, for you didn't
THE HOUSE BEHIND ST CROSS.
THE weather did
not mend, and we were unvisited prisoners in our house until after
the New Year. But at the end of the first week in January,
there came a glorious day,—not bleak with wintry cold, nor rough
with wind, nor yet heavy with the stifling moisture of unseasonable
heat. It was almost like the first day of spring—a little too
early—escaped from the prison-house of the year, before the storms
were passed; as Noah's dove left the ark before the flood was over.
We knew—and so did the birds—that it was too bright and fair to
last,—that tomorrow might bring back the mist and rain. But we
shall have little pleasure in this life if we do not treasure all
the little bits we can find. Do you suppose Noah threw away
the olive-branch because it was not a tree? And so the birds
twittered, and we went out.
We went up the road towards St Cross, choosing that direction
for two reasons,—because it was hilly, and so secure from any latent
moisture, and because we wished to visit my new house behind the
church. It was now completed, or at least very nearly so, for
the locksmith and the varnisher were the workmen now employed.
As we toiled up the ascent, we were arrested by a cheerful
salute from behind, and turning round, we found Mr Marten and his
friends the Blakes hastening to overtake us; and we waited till they
"We have intended you a visit ever since Christmas," said the
rector, as he shook hands; "but the weather has always forbidden it
until to-day. We have just been at your house, and the servant
told us where we should find you."
"Then let us all return instantly, and have a comfortable
luncheon," I answered.
"Oh no," returned Mr Marten; "we can chat as we walk, and
have the benefit of the fresh air and exercise besides. We
have not had a long journey—only as far as the High Street."
"Have you been to the Refuge, then?" I asked.
"No," he replied with a slight hesitation; "in fact—in
short"— Speaking briskly at last, "Mr Garrett, I planned this
morning visit as a fitting opportunity to introduce Miss Blake—as my
We made a slight pause, and congratulated the young lady, who
was duly diffident and blushing. And I think the rector was a
little disappointed to find we expressed no surprise.
"It is no new happiness to me," he said. "We both
thought best to keep it quiet until our circumstances justified us
in commencing preparations for the event. I have looked
forward to the pleasure of telling you my good fortune ever since
the first of May last year; and Marian and I hope to be married on
that date this year, which will allow us five months to make our
very simple arrangements."
At this juncture, Lieutenant Blake kindly enlightened us on
the purpose of that morning's visit to Upper Mallowe village.
"We've been looking over a house," said he, with a wink intended to
be highly comical.
"But you have not taken it?" I asked hastily.
"No," answered Mr Marten, shaking his head with a dash of his
old despondency; "but we must. There is no better one to be
had. Do you know it?―that
small gray house, at the angle of the High Street and Pleasant
"Which lane's name goes by the rule of contrary, as most
names do," put in the gallant old sailor.
"Have you looked at any others?" inquired Ruth.
"Yes," he replied; "we looked at a cottage in the lane by the
Low Meadow,—a very pretty cottage too, but that situation is damp.
The kitchen walls were discoloured by it. Then we looked over
a house, on the high road to Mallowe, a nice house, but it was only
to be let on lease; and that arrangement is not always convenient
for a clergyman. And there are no other unoccupied houses in
"Except that behind St Cross," I remarked, carelessly.
"Ah, but that is above our means," said he.
"You see I built it for an income of two hundred a-year,
exclusive of house rent," I observed.
"Ah, I remember you said so," he responded.
"And I fixed on this income, because it is that of the
rectors of St Cross"――
"I beg your pardon," he interrupted, "we receive only two
hundred, inclusive of all personal expenses."
"And I intend this house as a gift to the rectory of St
Cross," I continued, not heeding his interruption, "and my solicitor
in London is at the present time engaged in preparing the necessary
And then we made another little pause, and went through
another confusion of acknowledgments and congratulations, which were
all very pleasant to hear, but would make very stupid reading, and I
interrupted them by proposing we should all go and survey the
"Parsonage." I wanted to fix that name to the house; I did not
wish it to be the "Rectory." Whenever a thing is well
expressed by a Saxon word, why should we not use it in preference to
one springing from a Latin root? When there is not a Saxon
word, let us take the Latin and be thankful; but why should we seek
abroad for what we can find at home?
We soon reached the building, and we lingered just a moment
to criticise its exterior. Its red-brick front was slightly
relieved by the stone copings and window-sills, and Miss Blake
exclaimed delightedly at the little trelliswork porch, which I had
caused to be erected, thinking that one of brick or stone would be
far too heavy for the modest size of the building; while I was
determined to have a porch of some kind, that any guest might find
the house a true refuge for shelter or shade even before its door
was opened. Then we all walked up the gravel path, between two
plots of ground, which now gave but a barren suggestion of future
beds. In the porch, I invited all the party to turn and survey
the beautiful view below—lovely even now in leafless January.
The back of the house did not command so fine a view—the country
there was flatter—therefore I had given it the larger garden, so
that the future household might rejoice on the one side in the
telescopic magnificence of valley, river, and distant hill, and on
the other, in the microscopic beauties of flower and leaf I
explained this as we stood in the porch, and then we entered the
The tiling of the floor was laid in a neat pattern of buff
and black, and the walls were engrained as oak, and varnished.
"They will wash over and over again, Lewis, and then look as
well as ever," said Miss Marian, stroking them quite lovingly; "and,
papa, there will be no little marks like those which are always on
our hall paper at home, though nobody knows how they come. And
here is a nice fixture hat-rail; and see! a lamp-bracket, and a
lifting-flap for a table! How charming! There are only
one or two chairs wanted to perfectly furnish the hall."
We passed on to the room destined for the library. I
drew their attention to its being painted in a pale buff.
"I told my brother to choose a perfectly neutral tint," said
Ruth, "that you might not be limited in your choice of carpets and
chair-covers. Now if your tastes be gay, you can have blue or
green, or pink, if you like."
"I think we will have brown leather chairs here, Marian,"
observed the rector, thoughtfully: "they are expensive, but they
"What wears well is never expensive," said my sister; for
granting that you have in hand sufficient money for the first
outlay, how can you invest it better than by buying what will last?"
"And see, Marian," said Mr Marten, "here are glass
book-fixtures, with little cupboards below, at each side of the
fireplace. I think these will hold all the books I have at
"I thought they would receive a tolerable library," I
observed; but the rector did not heed my words, for he was
reflectively stroking his whiskers and planning the furniture.
"I wonder, Marian," said he, and paused—"I wonder," he
repeated, "if we might make this room at once library and
"That would be very pleasant," said the young lady; "for then
the other might be quite a drawing-room."
"Don't think of such a thing," observed Ruth, emphatically.
"You think, Mr Marten, that because you will always join the family
meals, you will lose time if they come to you than if you go to
them. Remember, meals must be set on the table and removed,
and the pitiless servant will come and clear away your papers when
you are in the middle of a sentence."
"But if we have our meals in the other room, where can we ask
visitors?" inquired inexperienced little Marian.
"My dear," said Ruth, "the question is, who is most
important, a morning caller, or the master of the house? Shall
you keep a room at the service of the idle guest who way come, or
shall you cultivate the peace and comfort of him who gives the
household its very existence?"
Marian's lip almost quivered.
"I know which you wish to do," said my sister quite gently,
"and I know the proposal came from Mr Marten himself; but if you
take my sincere advice, you'll not think of 'drawing-rooms.'
What you want is a nice, snug, pretty parlour which will be quite a
pleasant change for the rector when he leaves his book-room.
And let me remind you, my dear, that whenever the parlour is
particularly engaged by dinner or tea, then the library, in its
turn, will be free to receive a visitor until the other room is at
"But still there are grand 'occasions' in all families
sometimes," I said; "and a little due provision for these when
furnishing a house often saves much future worry and annoyance."
"Ah, suppose I bought a sideboard and a dining-table for this
room?" queried the rector. "I could put my desk on the table,
and it would give a delightful surface for my papers and
reference-books; and then the room would be quite prepared for any
emergency, and yet need not be used for convivial purposes except on
the arrival of those guests for whose sake I should keep holiday
"That will be very convenient indeed," I assented, "for this
reason especially, that when respected visitors are to be
entertained, the mistress of a small household must generally
superintend the arrangement of the dining-room herself, and it is
not always pleasant to do so in the room where the company is
"'Um, I suppose not," answered Ruth, as if conceding to a
common human weakness; "but, for my part, I can't see why she cannot
go through that as gracefully as through her performance on the
"A great woman could, but I think I could not," said modest
little Marian; and Ruth was mollified, and smiled kindly upon her.
Then we adjourned from the library to the parlour, where the
wall tinting was gray. There we held a discussion about
carpets, and Ruth strongly recommended a good one of a small
pattern, as least likely to display the unavoidable marks of wear
and tear. In this room Miss Blake was in her element, walking
from side to side, and imagining all possible kinds of furniture in
all possible positions. I found she had already sundry
treasures designed for the decoration of this peculiarly feminine
domain—such as pictures, china, and miniature statuary—about which
she held half-whispered consultations with her father the
lieutenant, whose stereotyped answer was, "Yes, that will be
certainly best, my dear. What pleases you will be the right
thing; you've a nice taste, and so had your mother, Marian."
Then we surveyed the bedrooms, making very wise sanitary
remarks thereon, and the rector observed that "for the present "
(how I liked that!) Marian could have one of them for a little
boudoir or study of her own, and she said she would have the small
room above the hall—guided to that choice by its pretty fancy
window. It was delightful to find that the new parsonage was
certainly exactly to the taste of the first pair who would make it
Lastly, we descended the stairs, and went into the back
garden. It was not large, though of considerable extent for
the size of the house. Beyond causing the ground to be put in
a good state, I had not done much with it. I was too much of a
Londoner, by education, to know much of the theory or practice of
gardening, so I had resolved from the first to leave this matter to
the taste of the future master. My sister was not so ignorant;
she was quite able to enter into a conversation about it with Mr
"By all means, plant some dwarf fruit-trees, sir," said she;
"they give us three pleasures in the year—the beauty of their
blossoms, the beauty of their fruit, and the sweetness of the
dessert. I don't know why they are depreciated while flowers
are so admired, unless, indeed, it is because they are useful; for
it is only too common to say, this thing is made for use, and that
for ornament. And if anything be both useful and ornamental,
its use is used, and its beauty is never observed!"
I fear the bride-elect did not hear these remarks, for at
that moment she came towards Mr Marten, saying,
"'Lewis, isn't it almost a pity that the kitchen
windows look into this garden?"
"Why so?" asked my sister, a little quickly, (for she knew I
was the architect of the house—which, by the way, Miss Blake very
likely did not, since Mr Marten would scarcely have mentioned such a
circumstance, when he never supposed the building had anything to do
with them.) "Why is it a pity, Miss Blake? I would not
give much for the comfort of any house where the kitchen was not as
pleasant to look at or to live in as the parlour. There's real
beauty in a well-scrubbed floors and a white dresser, with its stand
of bright copper and tin, and its rows of plates. And it is a
beauty that never tires one. And why shouldn't a kitchen be as
pleasant as a parlour? It is just what I say about the
fruit-trees and the flowers," she added, turning towards Mr Marten.
"A kitchen is thought meanly of because it's the most useful room in
"The most useful to the commonest wants of our nature,
certainly," said the rector, scarcely liking to give it unqualified
supremacy over the library.
My quick sister caught the reservation. "And where
would be the highest aspirations of our nature if those commonest
wants were unsupplied?" she asked triumphantly; and the reverend
gentlemen smiled, and did not answer.
The betrothed couple seemed unwilling to leave the premises,
and presently Ruth drew me a little aside and whispered that they
might wish to go over the rooms again without our intrusive
presence. The suggestion was full of kindly sympathy, but this
was the mask it wore: "We had better leave them to themselves,
Edward. I daresay he has some nonsense to say to her, which we
must not hear."
When we two were once more at home, chatting in the twilight,
my mind reverted to our poor Agnes, whom we had not seen since we
had learned the secret of her short history.
"Ah, Ruth," I said, "I only wish her future was as full of
the promise of peace and comfort as is little Marian Blake's."
"Have some more sensible wishes, Edward," rejoined my
sister,—"wish that chickens swam, and peacocks flew, and that
everything changed its nature. One wish will be quite as
rational as the other."
PRO AND CON.
IT was not until
the latter end of January that we had a visit from Miss Herbert,
though we saw her two or three times in the interval—meeting her in
the lanes or at the Refuge. During that time Alice M'Callum
was never seen beyond her own threshold, except on the way to
church. She was not ill: her duties were performed with
unfailing diligence; she was only taking to herself one of those
spiritual disciplines which are far more painful than any of the
jagged crosses or hair shirts of fanatic devotees. She said
nothing, and we said nothing; but we heard the story from Mr Weston,
who now made ample atonement for the neglect he had recently shown
us. After the first paroxysm of disappointment, he had tried,
as we knew, to take his rejection coolly—to alienate himself totally
from his recent pleasant associations—nay, even to disparage the
blessing which had proved beyond his reach. But he could not
do it. His better nature triumphed. His heart softened
towards the innocent woman who had suffered in his suffering.
And even when his renewed pleas were still set aside by the same
gently stern answer that "it could not be," he did not now turn his
back on Upper Mallowe in wrath and bitterness, but still visited the
Refuge as a friend might, but not without an unspoken hope that
quiet perseverance in patient waiting would win its own at last.
He had made a call at our house, and was just leaving us, on
the day when Agnes Herbert at last arrived. They passed each
other in the garden with a silent salutation; for their mutual
acquaintance had never advanced beyond a knowledge of each other's
names. Then Agnes joined us in the parlour.
Of course, whatever Mr Herbert might intend, we did not mean
to thrust our counsel on the girl. The knowledge Mrs Irons had
given us might somewhat influence our conversation with her, and it
would give us the advantage of perfect information should she of her
own accord seek our advice or sympathy. We could do no more.
Tea-time passed by in the most comfortable and commonplace
manner—how those adjectives always belong to each other! Once
or twice I thought Agnes was a little abstracted; once or twice I
fancied she was about to speak, and then reserved her remark.
And the event proved I was not mistaken. While Phillis removed
the tea-tray, and the ladies settled themselves for the evening, I
went into the back parlour to seek a book. The door between the
rooms was open, and I heard Agnes say, very softly, and with some
"Miss Garrett"—(a pause)—"I daresay you were surprised to
hear I have a cousin Herbert!"
I thought silently, perhaps her long absence from our house
had been caused by doubts whether she should make this allusion, or
wholly ignore the incident of the Christmas gathering.
"I was rather surprised," said Ruth.
"I think my uncle has told you all about it?" asked Agnes.
"Well, my dear, he has caused us to be told," acknowledged
Ruth. "Did he tell you so?"
"He did not exactly tell me; but I fancied it from something
he said," observed Agnes.
There was a silence; then my sister remarked―
"I hope, my dear, you will do nothing rashly."
"I don't want to be rash," said Agnes; but there was a
querulous tone in her voice.
"My dear," Ruth went on, "a strong, unselfish young love is a
very noble thing, and not at all to be pooh-poohed and pushed aside,
as it too often is. But nevertheless, my dear, it is a young
thing, and therefore it needs guidance and restraint, else it may be
like other young things which defeat and destroy themselves by their
own wilful strength."
"I don't feel very young!" said Agnes, with a sigh.
"Only because your feelings are so strong that they wear you
out," replied Ruth. "When you are really old, your heart will
never feel as weary, because it will never exert itself as much."
"Ought that to make one long to be old, or not?" queried the
girl. "The peace of indifference does not seem very enviable."
"My dear," said Ruth—[In all this conversation I noticed her
words were gentle, and her tones soft]—"My dear, when the time comes
that you will find neither your tears nor your smiles are as eager
as they are now, you need not bemoan that your heart is worn out and
dead. It will only be at rest after its struggle, and it will
awake as fresh as ever, and need rest no more!"
There was a short silence till my sister asked, "When did you
last hear from young Mr Herbert?"
"At the end of last week," Agnes replied. "I shall
write to him to-morrow."
"I understand," pursued Ruth, "that the young man himself
feels you ought not to sacrifice your future to his present."
Agnes answered very slowly, "If he wishes to give me up for
my sake, why should I not wish to keep him for his sake? A
woman is nothing if she be not unselfish. And yet I can't say
I am quite unselfish. Perhaps I can provide for my own truest
happiness better even than he can."
"My dear," said Ruth again, "it is quite possible you mistake
yourself. Twenty years hence you may sit at another hearth,
and ponder over this conversation, and thank God for leading you to
a sober happiness you don't dream of to-night."
"I may," returned Agnes, in the same slow tone, "for we never
know what we may become. The day may come when I shall find
all my happiness in fine tables, and chairs, and carpets—many women
do." Then with sudden energy she added, "But I pray I never
"Ah," said Ruth still gently, "but even in the midst of their
own dreams young things must not forget that life has many treasures
and duties beside that love which is courtship. That must pass
away. It can be but the glamour of the dawn. The working
hours come after."
"I don't think I ever knew that glamour," answered Agnes, "I
did not feel much like a girl when I first came to my uncle's farm.
I was weary, and frightened, and sad, but Ralph had patience with
me, and did little things to please me. And I never had a
brother, and he never had a sister, and I had been accustomed to
come and go alone, and it seemed so different to have him. I
have grown another being with Ralph. I was very narrow and
"I can understand that," said my sister, "but it says nothing
special in praise of your cousin. His very faults may have
corrected yours. Your toleration may have grown larger merely
to admit him, and your patience may have increased because he gave
"I know that Ralph has faults. I always knew it," cried
Agnes, "and that is why I think I never knew the glamour.
Every one must have faults, and Ralph's suit me. I can see
them and bear them. After every little quarrel we ever had I
loved him better."
"My dear, my dear," said Ruth, a little startled by this
outburst, "I believe all that you say; but your heart is very warm
and enthusiastic, and perhaps you love Mr Ralph better than you
might if he deserved it more."
"Don't say 'deserved it more,' please," answered Agnes, "for
if he had stayed at home, and his father had never quarrelled with
him, and none of his friends had deserted him, I don't think I
should have loved him less, though I might have made believe so,
even to myself."
"You believe your cousin a genius," pursued my sister, "and a
genius made doubly interesting by persecution and misfortune.
But in all this there is no satisfactory basis for love.
Genius is worth nothing without stable principles. Nay, more,
genius needs uncommonly stable principles, or it will overbalance
the whole character. A cart-horse will go steadily where a
racer will gallop to destruction and death."
"Yet the racer might pause the soonest, if a voice that he
loved called him," whispered the girl.
"Then, again," continued Ruth, not heeding this parenthesis,
"I know that persecution and misfortune continually attract that
pity which constantly leads to love. But remember, a brave
heart shrinks from pity, and takes its troubles and conquers them
silently! Thus some whom the world calls most fortunate God
knows to be really martyrs, while mistaken human sympathy reserves
itself for those who sit in sackcloth and ashes, which they richly
deserve, but which they could take oft directly if they chose, only
that they have a morbid taste for misery. And yet, Agnes,
you did not pity Anne Sanders."
"Miss Garrett, you don't compare Ralph with her?"
queried Agnes, indignantly.
"No, my dear, I do not," answered my sister, "for I know what
she is, and I do not yet know him; and I know that she has contrived
to alienate all hearts from her, while your cousin has secured at
least two—yours and Mrs Irons', and I think Ewen M'Callum's
"You will like Ralph when you know him," said Agnes, softly.
"I hope I may," returned Ruth. "I almost think I shall;
but I scarcely think I shall respect and honour him."
"He is but a young man," said his defender.
"There are some young people whom I respect and honour,"
answered my sister. "But I fear your cousin is one of those
characters which are constantly called 'victims to circumstance.'
I grant that he could not help your uncle's aversion to his tastes;
and I do not say that he should immediately have put aside those
tastes. But he should have carried them out modestly and
gently, doing his utmost to disarm his father's opposition.
Now, from what I hear of his conduct, it tended to justify and
confirm Mr Herbert's prejudices. I see these truths pain you,
Agnes; but it is better you should hear them now, than learn them
when it is too late."
"But, then," said the girl, with a checked sob in her voice,
"if it had not been for my uncle's prejudice, Ralph would not have
been tempted to do as he did."
"If the devil had not tempted Eve to eat the apple, we should
all be in Eden to-day," returned Ruth.
"Ah, I know it is not a sound argument in that way," sighed
Agnes; "but I mean this, that some who are flattered and caressed,
and called the ornaments of their family, might have fallen as Ralph
did, if they had been tried as he was."
"Still a false argument," said my sister; "for I believe all
have their trials, and that too at their weakest point. If
adversity be our ordeal, and it ruins us in one way, prosperity, had
it been allotted to us, would ruin us in another."
"Oh, I cannot argue about it," cried the poor girl. I
only know that Ralph has nobody but me, and I will not desert him,
let any one say what they may!"
"But a groundless love is like a rootless plant," said
Ruth,—"fair enough for the time, but easily carried away by a
passing hand or a breath of wind."
"A groundless love?" queried Agnes, with bitter daring.
"Is love well grounded on a pretty face or a sweet voice, or a
thousand pounds, or a family connexion? I love Ralph because
he loves me, and because he has nobody else to love him!"
There was a pause. "But, my dear," said Ruth, "it is
very easy to sit quietly in your uncle's comfortable rooms, and work
out a pretty romance for yourself. But romance is seldom very
easy living. It generally develops itself in cheap marketings,
and common dresses, and frowsiness. Romance can seldom afford
to be perfectly clean, and sometimes it teaches the way to the
pawnbroker's back door, and imparts other valuable information which
does not inform the mind so much as it breaks the heart. It is
only in novels that penury has white dresses and spotless
table-cloths, and does not become jaded and gray, and drawn about
Agnes laughed that half-reckless laugh which is so sad from
sweet young lips. "I know what penury is," she said; "I know
all about it. I have borne it before; and for his sake, I can
bear it again. If I were a man, I would not accept a love
which feared such things. And after all, I believe many a
woman would joyfully pay this price—ay, and double!—if so she might
marry the first whom she ever loved!"
Ruth drew a long breath—something like a sigh.
Just then I heard by the rustle of Agnes's dress that she
rose from her seat and crossed the room to my sister's side; there I
think she kneeled down. They both knew perfectly well that I
was within hearing of every word, and that I could not escape from
the back parlour except by passing through the front one.
"Miss Garrett," said Agnes, and somehow I fancied she laid
both her hands on my sister's arm, "let me do what I can.
Ralph will be so much better with some one always to love and care
"And for this hope you will sacrifice everything?" said my
sister, and then I think she took Agnes's face between her hands.
"No, not sacrifice," sobbed the girl. "I don't
sacrifice anything; it is my delight—my glory!"
"But we must never set aside one duty for another," said
Ruth. "How can you desert your uncle?"
I wish I had seen Agnes's eyes when she answered, in a solemn
whisper, "Can I serve the father better than by serving his son?"
Then there was a long pause, with a low sound of tears, and
then total silence,—till suddenly there was a general movement, and
Agnes remarked, with a forced attempt at her accustomed voice, that
it was nearly time for her to go home. Upon which I availed
myself of the opportunity to return to the front parlour, and found
my sister knitting as busily as usual, while our young visitor was
extricating her veil from some entanglement with her bonnet,
preparatory to dressing herself for the homeward walk, that when Mrs
Irons called for her, she might not be kept waiting.
"And so Mr Marten is to marry Miss Blake," she observed, by
way of passing remark, as she stood before the mirror, settling her
"Yes," said Ruth; "how did you hear about it?"
"Mrs Irons told me yesterday, when she came from shopping in
the village," Agnes answered. "I suppose she heard it there."
"We only knew it at the beginning of this month," said my
sister. "Did Mrs Irons also hear of the destiny of the house
behind St Cross?"
"Yes," replied Agnes, half-turning from the glass, and so
displaying her tear-stained face. "I am sure they ought
to be very happy,"—this a little bitterly.
"My dear," said Ruth, "there is an old truism, that after all
none of us would like to change ourselves into the people whom we
envy. Each has something which he values above anything that
others have. This may sound very trite; but that's a word
which fits most old precepts. Now, I think that if a maxim
fits ourselves, it is just as new as if it had never been used by
any one else."
"And there will be another wedding soon, will there not?"
queried Agnes, after a pause. "And I should think that will be
a very happy one. Is not Mr Weston of Meadow Farm to marry our
"Who told you that?" asked Ruth, sharply.
"My uncle said he thought so," replied Agnes. "It was a
wonder to hear him speak about such a thing; but he likes Mr Weston,
and Alice is a great favourite of his. He said it would be a
most comfortable marriage, and no great rise for the bride, let
people say what they would; for she was a farmer's daughter, and he
was a farmer's son; and a little difference in fortune was nothing
between the two." And Agnes smiled dimly as she repeated her
"Your uncle and you have both made a mistake," said my
sister, rather dryly. "At present there is no prospect of such
a marriage. Alice refuses to enter another family while the
stain of that old accusation rests upon her own. Instead of
the happiness and prosperity which you imagine, there is nothing but
disappointment and trial and patient endurance."
"Is it really so?" queried Agnes. "But surely Alice is
wrong! She should feel that a man who loves her at all will
only love her better for anything which makes others undervalue
"Men and women love very differently, my dear," said Ruth,
with a shake of her head.
"But poor Alice, how I pity her! It stings us so when
those we have envied need our pity," sighed Agnes. And when
she went away I think she was strengthened to bear her own troubles,
because there were tears in her eyes for troubles which were not her
"Miss Herbert resisted all your arguments, Ruth," I remarked,
when my sister and I were once more alone. "Yes," said Ruth
shortly; "and I like her the better for it. Of course she is a
simpleton; but such simpletons are the oil which keep the world's
wheels from grating hopelessly."
"Then do you think she will realise her loving hopes?" I
questioned, rather sentimentally.
"Twenty years hence," said my sister, "she will be a quiet,
timid, middle-aged woman, a little faded, and a little given to
defer overmuch to 'Mr Herbert,' who will in general patronise her
very kindly. But perhaps sometimes he will say, 'Little woman,
where should I be without you?' And then Agnes will have her
reward. And I think her children will rise up and call her
blessed. And she will have a harder life than many a noisy
woman who fancies herself a victim to her zeal for public good; and
in heaven, maybe, she will have a brighter crown."
Ah, my pretty Agnes, I gave one or two sighs, to think of
you, in your future struggles, and yet I could not wish you acted
otherwise than you did. "Should you like a daughter of your
own to have such a fate?" asks some critical and prudent mother.
Well, if a daughter of my own met a destiny like Margaret Roper at
her father's scaffold, or like Lucy Hutchinson outside her Puritan
husband's prison, or like Anita Garibaldi in her hunted death, my
heart would be pained, but I should not wish them other than they
were. There are pains which are sweeter than any pleasures.
There are natures which choose the palm as the fairest flower which
earth can offer.
THE HISTORY OF THE MYSTERY.
IT was the second
day after Miss Herbert's visit, and the first day of February.
The weather, which had been tolerably fine for the last two or three
weeks, was revenging itself. The rain descended in torrents,
driven about by the wind, which, like a changeable, passionate
woman, now sobbed among the leafless trees, and then scolded down
the chimneys and round the house. But it happened Ruth and I
were provided with abundant indoor occupations, for we had just
received the annual accounts of the Refuge, and their various items
gave us plenty of material for reflection and discussion. By
evening I had drawn up a balance-sheet, and a most satisfactory one
it was, with a tolerable surplus at the right side, which would
enable us to extend our sympathies more courageously in the coming
year. As for the little orphan home, whose accounts were
included in those of the Refuge, its expenses for the future would
be small indeed, now its erection and furniture were fairly paid.
Its benefits were already shared by two little sisters, who paid
their weekly board by their labours at the village dressmaker's, but
who would have been but poorly off if thrown entirely on their own
So we passed a very pleasant day, and I was in such a
comfortable and cheery mood that I did not shrink from contemplating
the dreary aspect out of doors. So I pulled aside the red
curtain, and lifted the blind, and stood between it and the cold,
damp window, and reported to Ruth that it was a "dreadful night
"—"not fit for a dog to be abroad;" and then I thought how London
looked at that hour—how the City men jogged home through mirk and
mud, and the gaslights flared on shining pavements, and poor women
went a-marketing with broken shoes that lapped the puddles as they
But my reverie was suddenly interrupted by the sound of rapid
wheels coming down the lane, and a fly-lamp flashed like a
will-o'-the-wisp through the darkness of the garden hedge. A
voice called sharply, and the vehicle stopped at our gate.
Somebody came up the garden path, and there was one of those quick,
urgent knocks which make the heart leap, and the feet hurry to the
parlour door to anticipate the servant's announcement.
Phillis ran so eagerly to the parlour, that she nearly flew
against me. "Oh, please, sir," said she, "it's young Mr
He followed close behind her, with a white, anxious face,
which made me instantly think of my old friends of the firm.
"Come in, Ewen," I said, taking his cold hand: "what is the matter,
"Ralph Herbert is not here?" was his questioning response.
"Certainly not," I answered. "Is anything wrong?"
"He has left our place in London," said Ewen. "They
tell me he started off almost immediately after I left home this
"Not a very long absence," observed Ruth.
Her cool words seemed somewhat to reassure Ewen. It is
pleasant to think a danger may exist only in one's own excited
imagination. But, in a second, he recalled the more tangible
reasons for his fears. "I left home before the first post came
in," he said, "and our landlady says there was a letter for him.
And I know he had an important appointment in town for this evening,
when he was to receive payment for some pictures. And he
wanted the money."
"And he hasn't kept that appointment, or made any arrangement
about it?" queried my sister.
"No; I went to the gentleman, to learn if he knew anything,"
explained Ewen; "and, finding he did not, I made as good an excuse
as I could, and came straight down here. I had chanced to
leave business very early today, or I should not have been here
"Did you fancy he might be in the village?" I asked.
"I thought it just possible," said the young man. "I
think this morning's letter was from Miss Herbert. I know he
expected one from her."
"Is it likely there is a reconciliation," I said, "and that
he is at the Great Farm?"
Ewen shook his head. " I fear not," he answered.
"If there had been good news, he would have left a note for
"A thoughtless omission, under any circumstances," said Ruth;
"tacking trouble to trouble's tail."
"What do you propose, Ewen?" I asked.
"I must go to the Great Farm," he said, with a long breath;
and I thought, sir, if you will go with me—but it's such a shocking
night—only poor Miss Herbert!"
"I'll go," I answered.
"Have you kept the fly, Ewen?" asked my sister.
"O yes, ma'am," he replied—"it's waiting at the gate."
"That's right. You have sense," said Ruth.
We soon rattled through the dense darkness of the road, into
the broad light of the lamp over the Great Farm door. It was
not until Ewen rung the bell that I marvelled what would result from
our daring to disturb Mr Herbert on such a subject.
Mrs Irons admitted us. "Heaven help us!" she cried,
when she saw my companion. "It's something wrong with Mr
"Hush, hush!" said Ewen, "and tell us, is your master
"No, no, he isn't," she answered: "he's away, at a farmers'
dinner at the 'Red Lion.' Miss Agnes is in the dining room;
but, whatever it be, don't show your face, Ewen M'Callum, till Mr
Garrett goes in first. And tell me what it is—for I nussed
him, I did, sir."
"It's nothing yet," said Ewen, soothingly. "I hoped he
might have been here before us, Mrs Irons."
"Then it's missing, he is?" wailed the poor old soul "and the
Lord ha' mercy on Miss Agnes!"
I went to the dining-room, and, in answer to my knock, Agnes
gave a soft "Come in!" There was a blazing fire in the wide
grate, but otherwise the room was but dimly lighted by a shaded
lamp, whose rays scarcely travelled to the pictures on the wall.
Agnes sat in front of the fire, her slight figure almost lost in the
roomy depths of her uncle's great arm-chair. There was a
basket of white work beside her. She rose when she saw it was
a visitor; and Griff, the dog, stood at her feet, and wagged his
"Mr Garrett!" she exclaimed, surprised. But, as I came
forward into the light, her face inexpressibly darkened, and she was
"Sit down, my dear," I said; "I have only a question to ask."
She stood still and awaited it.
"Have you heard from your cousin Ralph during the day?"
"No," she said, with great eyes.
"He left home unexpectedly this morning," I said, "and he has
not returned. And so Mr M'Callum is anxious about him—perhaps
unduly anxious—that is all."
Ewen entered softly. Till then, he had waited at the
door. Agnes looked blankly at him, and spoke no word.
"Mr M'Callum thinks your cousin had a letter from you this
morning," I said. "Is he right?"
"Yes," she answered.
I remembered Ruth's recent conversation with her. Might
it be that had given a tone to her letter which had worked this
"My dear," I began gently, "was there anything in that letter
which could possibly cause this?"
She looked at me for a moment, only half comprehending, and
then exclaimed, "No, no, nothing at all. O God! if there had
been, what should I do now?"
She turned to Ewen. "What shall we do? What can I
do? Where can I go?"
The young man bowed his head. "Whatever can be done,
shall be done," he said; "I will do it."
"Perhaps it is only an accidental mistake," I remarked.
"It may be, it may be," exclaimed Agnes eagerly. " I am
so glad uncle is out. He need not know yet. If it be
nothing, he would only be so angry and dreadful! And if it be
anything, let us keep it till we are quite sure."
To prolong our visit was useless, and only wasted time.
With a promise that anything we might learn should be instantly
communicated to her, we took our departure. She came with us
to the outer doors, and stood on the step till we drove off.
It would have relieved her to have rushed out in the
darkness—anywhere—anywhere better than the silent dining-room, and
the waiting and the watching—the woman's part in the tragedy of life
"Let us drive to the inn in the High Street," said Ewen, "and
ask what visitors they have. He may be there, intending to
send to his cousin to-morrow morning."
We did so. We were shown into the tap-room to take a
silent survey of two unconscious young men sitting there, smoking
pipes and reading sporting papers. Neither of them was Ralph
Herbert. When we left the inns, the weather had cleared, and
we dismissed our fly, and walked slowly down the High Street to the
Railway Station, consulting as we went. Now the Police Station
was in this High Street. Of course it was a very small
unpretending affair, suited to the modest requirements of a quiet
and respectable village. But to-night there was a vague air of
excitement about it. The resident policemen were indulging in
a dignified gossip with another official, and they suspended their
chat as we came up, and looked at us with unusual interest. I
nodded to one of them whom I happened to know, and we passed on.
Our intention was to make inquiries of the guards at the railway
station. Ewen had not done so when he arrived, in case Mr
Ralph had simply found reason to visit his home. Even now, we
wished to make our inquiries as cautiously as possible, not to
awaken unnecessary curiosity. So I went up to an
intelligent-looking guard, and asked him if he happened to know
young Mr Herbert.
"Young Mr Herbert?" repeated the man. "Yes, sir; he
came up from London by the train to-day, sir."
"Thank you," I answered, "that is what I wish to know.
By which train did he come."
"Let us see," pondered the guard, giving his cap a little
jerk from his brow. "My wife had just brought me my dinner,
for 'twas her said, 'Tom, there's the young squire.' So 'twas
the one o'clock train, sir."
"Thank you," I replied, leaving him a little consideration
for his civility, and then returned with my news to Ewen. It
only increased the mystery, and not knowing where else to go, we
slowly returned up the High Street. The little group still
stood about the Police Station. A new idea struck me. I
disengaged my arm from Ewen's and accosted the policeman, whom I
"Is anything the matter to-night, Mr Jones?"
"Nothing in particular, sir," said he.
"Because we are looking for a young friend who came into the
village to-day; but whom we cannot find."
"Indeed, sir," said the man civilly. But one of the
others jogged his elbow and suggested, "Ask the gentleman what's his
friend's name, Jones."
In response to this, I said at once, "It is young Mr
"Then it's all right, sir," answered Jones, with a quick
side-glance at Ewen. "The young gentleman's safe inside."
"Inside the Police Station!" I exclaimed, and Ewen uttered a
peculiar and inarticulate ejaculation.
"He gave himself up," explained our informant; "and between
you and me, sir, I shouldn't wonder if he's a little turned in the
head. For he walked straight in, as jolly like as possible,
and says he, 'Here, Mr Jones, I know all about George Roper's death
in the Low Meadow. Just put me in your cell for to-night, and
bring me up before the justices to-morrow, and I'll tell 'em all
about it.' He wouldn't enter into no particulars with me, sir,
so I was obligated to put him under arrest, knowin' as the job was
brought in a murder, and nobody was convicted of it;" with another
side glance at Ewen.
"This is most extraordinary," I said. "Cannot we be
permitted to see him?"
"Certainly, sir," granted the civil official "we'd ha' sent
to the Great Farm for him, or to any other friend's, but he wouldn't
let us. I'm glad you've found him out. It's a dirty
thing to have a prisoner like a rat in a hole with the dogs arter
it, and no one to take its part. But, begging your pardon,
sir," added the man, turning to Ewen, and continuing the same civil
tone he had used through the interview, "if you won't take it amiss,
I thing you'd better not see him. Ye see folks will
remember old stories, and it might look like what the lawyers call
I saw the force of this advice, and urged it upon Ewen, until
he reluctantly accepted it, saying that he would go back to the
Great Farm, and tell Miss Herbert of her cousin's safety, and then
return and rejoin me in the High Street.
Leaving him to carry the painful news to poor Agnes, I
followed the policeman to the safe-room of the little station.
The place was sufficiently clean and comfortable. The cell
opened at the end of a passage, and was lit by a small lamp placed
on a bracket above the door. The voluntary prisoner sat on a
bare bench beside a little fixture-table in the middle of the room.
"Here's a gentleman come to see you, sir," said Mr Jones,
ushering me in.
Ralph Herbert coloured, and started up. I fancy he
thought it might be his father, for his face relaxed when he saw me,
and he held out his hand saying, "How did you find me out, Mr
Garrett? You should not have taken the trouble to come here."
"I am here for your cousin's sake as well as your own," I
answered gravely, for I thought he scarcely realised the horror of
"Poor Agnes!" he said, passing his hand over his face, "and
she does not know about it yet!"
"She knows something," I replied, "and she will know the rest
in a few minutes. Ewen came down here and raised the alarm of
your disappearance, and we tracked you to this place, and now he has
gone to the Great Farm to tell her. I hope she will bear it
"Ewen will soften it as much as he can," he answered, sadly.
"And now," I said, taking a seat on the bench beside him, "we
must make some preparations for to-morrow. They tell me that
you profess to have the secret of George Roper's murder."
"I have the secret of George Roper's death," he
replied with an emphasis, raising his eyes and looking me full in
the face. "There was no murder."
"Ewen was not the last who saw Roper alive," he continued,
after a moment's pause. "I met him after they parted. I
had come from London expressly to meet him, because there were some
accounts between us. I owed him a small sum, and he owed me a
much larger one, and I wanted him to deduct my debt from his and pay
me the surplus, which was a very serious affair to me just then.
He was not sober. He paid me two or three pounds very easily,
but I wanted a little more, which would have squared our accounts.
Then he taunted me, and used dreadful language. He was always
very violent when not sober. I told him I could not waste time
and money in journeys from London to Mallowe, and that was why I
wished to settle the matters between us. I can't think why he
was so fierce, but he flew at my throat like a wild animal, and I
felt something prick me, but I caught his hands and wrenched an open
knife from them. I held him with one hand while I threw it as
far across the fields as I could, that he might not regain it.
It took all my strength to keep him, and when I saw my own blood
trickling down my dress, I turned sick and faint, and I put all my
powers into one effort, and threw him full-length on the path.
'You murderous madman!' I said, 'lie there while I fetch somebody
who will stop your mischief for the future.' I don't know what
I meant myself, for I never really thought of making a disturbance
in my own father's village. But I suppose he believed me.
I looked back when I cleared the field. He had not attempted
to follow me. He was sitting at the edge of the stream, and he
shouted after me, 'I shan't be here when you come back. You've
taken the knife, but you've left the water.' I took no notice
of his words then, but went across the fields and bound up my own
wound, which was very slight. I walked the whole way to
London, for I wanted all my money to carry me to Paris, where I had
a commission about a picture. I never knew of Roper's death
until weeks afterwards, when I read an announcement of the discovery
of his body in an old newspaper."
"Then you saw the accusation against Ewen, I suppose," I
"No, I didn't: it was not in that paper," he said, eagerly.
"I had suffered a great deal from many causes, and though I never
dreamed that Roper's death could be thought other than a suicide,
yet I regarded myself—and I regard myself still—as his murderer,
through the foolish threat which drove a frenzied, drunken man to
his end. I tried to lose my own identity. For more than
a year I suffered horrors I can never describe, until, through
inability to work at my art, I was driven to the point of
destitution. Then I ventured to Mallowe to try to recover
another small debt due to me. I dared not attempt to present
myself to any one who knew me. One night, when I was lurking
about in the darkness, I met you and the rector. Another
winter night—and that was the night when I stole to my father's back
door and his good old servant fed me like a beggar man—I encountered
George Roper's son. I saw his father's face in his, and
scarcely needed the proof of the name of Wilmot—for I knew all the
story of the deserted wife in London—and I daresay you can guess I
wrote that letter about him only lately. Then I struggled on
again in great misery, and in the March following that, I met Ewen
There he paused and drew a long breath, like one recounting
the history of his own rescue. I knew how he had met
Ewen, but I said nothing.
"He took me home with him," he continued presently, "and he
heard all my story. He did not tell me his then but when I
grew a little better, I asked so many questions that it all came
out. Then I wanted to come here and tell all I knew, but he
would not let me."
"Should you have allowed him to hinder you?" I asked.
"Perhaps not," he answered, looking at me; "but he set it
before me in this way:—That the accusation against him was only a
suspicion,—that it had lost its sting,—that it no longer injured any
one,—that my new story would only transfer the suspicion from him to
me,—that it would drag my family through the agony from which his
had just escaped. But still I did not like to give him his
will. And then he begged and prayed it of me for Agnes' sake!"
And the young man raised his eyes to mine, with a strange mist in
them. "And so I let it be. And you know, when I first
saw you in London, I asked you if it was right to let one make a
great sacrifice for another. Perhaps you remember what you
laid;" and he threw his arms upon the table, and dropped his head
"Then what makes you reveal this secret at last?" I inquired,
as gently as I could.
He replied without raising his head. "In the letter I
got this morning, Agnes told me that Ewen's sister refused to marry
while the supposed crime rested on her brother. I could not
allow that. I should be worse than I am if I could, and less
fit than ever for Agnes. I came here directly. They may
not believe what I say. They may think I killed the poor man.
They may do what they like with me. But in case of anything,
will you do something for me, sir?" he asked, looking up again;
"will you write to that address, and explain things?" and he placed
a card before me. "It is a young man who is going out to
Canada. He was to take me with him. He has a little
money, and means to farm, and I know enough about agriculture useful
to him; for I find it is no use trying to live by my art. I
mistook a taste for a talent. I found that out long ago; but
then I couldn't go back."
"Does Miss Herbert know of this plan?" I asked, pocketing the
"Yes," he said; "and we thought when I'd been out there a
year or two, I might come home and fetch her. But that's all
over now;" and he sighed heavily.
"Please, sir," interrupted Mr Jones, opening the door,
"here's two ladies come to see you next."
They were Mrs Irons and Agnes. I doubt if either of
them even noticed my presence, and I withdrew before the first
agitated embrace was over. I found Ewen in the entry, looking
unutterably white and fagged.
"My boy," I said, laying my hand on his arm, "you have acted
most nobly towards that unfortunate man." Those were the first
and last words I ever breathed on his unselfishness. It was
above the praise of men—meet for the approval of God.
"Won't you come home and sup with us?" I asked, presently.
"No, thank you. I'll go to my grandfather's," he
answered. "Poor Alice will be glad of this. I thought
she had quite got over the trouble, until my last autumn holidays,
when I saw she was still pining."
For his sister had kept her secret; and he did not yet know
what Ralph Herbert had learned, and that, in his self-sacrifice, he
had nearly sacrificed her. But that night of dolour and
darkness at the Great Farm was the dawn of light and joy at the
He had taken one or two steps away, when he turned back, and
said, calmly enough—
"Don't call Ralph 'unfortunate.' One life has one
blessing and another life has another; but he has the best!
I watched him hastening down the splashy road. And thus
the woman's love clings to the frail man and leaves this good one
alone! Is it because he knows the way to heaven without her
morning I made it my business to lay the whole case before a
respectable solicitor at Mallow; and that gentleman, together with
Mr Marten and I, were in due attendance at the justice-room.
Ewen and his grandfather were also there, and young George Roper
accompanied his aunt, who was present to produce the hitherto
mysterious knife, which now gave such proof to Ralph Herbert's
narrative. Agnes too came, in my sister's charge. But
her uncle was conspicuous by his absence. He had been apprised
of his son's position by the rector; and Mr Marten said, the muscles
of his face had twitched sadly when he heard it, but he only said,
"My son, sir? I haven't a son. It can't concern me."
It was a sufficiently commonplace scene,—the shabby
justice-room, with its worn oil-cloth, and its rows of wooden
chairs, and intent faces turned towards the two old gentlemen
invested with the majesty of the law; kindly enough old gentlemen,
who drank port at dinner, and had dainty lady-daughters and
strapping sons of their own to stir their elderly hearts, but who
yet seemed strangely separate from humanity when they sat down in
their awful arm-chairs, and said commonplace things through the
Oracle of Justice, and sprinkled magisterial snuff over the papers
of the reporter beside them. That dreadful reporter, too,—whom
some fear more than God or their own conscience,—he was only a lank
lad of twenty, with red hair. Once or twice, as the inquiry
lengthened, I noticed him adding up the lines of his report, and it
struck me he was thinking of the sum he would gain by the job.
By two o'clock it was all over. There was no evidence
against Ralph Herbert, but every reason to credit his story, and to
believe that Mr Roper had met his death by his own rash act.
The justices shook their heads very much over it, and administered
little parental reproofs all round, admonishing Mr Marten and me for
having dared to conceal the discovery of the knife from the proper
authorities:—"Very wrong, very unwise, gentlemen; though we can
understand your motives, gentlemen, and respect them. But it
is not a safe course of action." And sniff, sniff went a pinch
of judicial snuff.
There was a little chamber opening from the justices' room,
and it made a convenient refuge for all the more interested
spectators. Only one did not avail himself of it.
Directly the magistrates pronounced their opinion, Ewen rose from
his seat and softly left the place.
In that little brown room, with its solitary window looking
on to a square flagged court with a broken pump in the middle, the
two cousins met. Her face was just a little whiter than usual,
and perhaps he held her hand a second longer than he held mine.
That was all. He was as reserved as her; and yet, a minute
afterwards, I think the recollection of her manner troubled him.
It was an utterly mute greeting. There was something to be
said between the two,—but not then,—not there.
"Mr Herbert will return with us to our house," said my
sister. "You will come also, Agnes, will you not?"
"I must go home to my uncle now," she answered quite calmly.
"So, good-bye, Ralph! I shall see you again before night."
They shook hands again, and he went with her to the door.
When he rejoined us, his face was sadder and more concerned than it
had been at any time during the morning.
"She has given me up," he said, as we ushered him into our
parlour. "For her sake, I ought to be very glad, but I can't."
"Wait awhile," answered Ruth rather grimly, "and don't show
your selfishness before you must."
My sister utterly refused to be won over to the side of Mr
Ralph. Except one or two curt remarks, she was courteous to
him, as a stranger and in trouble, but no more. Immediately
after our early tea, she announced that she should pay a visit to
the Refuge. She had scarcely departed on this errand, before
Agnes fulfilled her promise of an evening visit. Of course,
directly she entered, I left the room. I am an old man, but my
memory is not yet decayed. I remember how it troubled me when
Lucy's father called us that evening in the fields, and when her
mother chanced to stand at her side the next morning. To this
day, I wish it had not so happened.
I went up-stairs to my own chamber, and tried to read.
Sometimes, in the profound silence, I caught a tone of the earnest
talk in the room beneath me. I heard Ralph walk up and down
after the fashion of perturbed or excited people; and so the time
wore wearily away, until Ruth knocked at the hall-door, and then I
went down and admitted her, because I did not wish her to interrupt
the pair in the parlour. So I mysteriously beckoned her into
another room, and then explained myself.
"There's no peace anywhere because of some courting couple,"
said she, very tartly. "I have just been driven from the
Refuge, because Mr Weston chose to arrive. As for these two,
they have had enough. Been here ever since I left, you say?
That's two hours. I shall go in, whether you will or not."
Somewhat under protest, I followed her. Ralph was in my
arm-chair, and Agnes was seated on a very low stool beside him.
She had been crying, but now she smiled and was very rosy.
"Tell them, Ralph," said she.
"I spoke to you about Canada, last night, sir," he began with
some hesitation. "My friend starts next month, and we hope to
be ready to join him—Agnes and I?"
"My uncle has given permission," she whispered. "And,
of course, he thinks we encouraged you!" said Ruth, severely.
"No, he doesn't!" she answered, warmly. "I told him all
"And you asked his consent?" I queried.
"I told him all about it," she replied humbly, "and he said I
might do as I liked;—I was of age, and he wouldn't hinder me."
Was this some secret relenting—some hidden joy that God had
given one faithful friend to the son whom he had deserted?
"Then let me wish you happiness, my dear," I said, laying my
hand on the brown head, bowed low enough in this moment of womanly
triumph; "then let me wish you all peace and happiness after your
trial and sorrow—the sweet sunshine after the rain!"
Ralph Herbert turned to my sister. "You say
nothing," he said, in a tone of sorrowful reproach.
"Yes, I do," she answered, more kindly than she had spoken
before, and laying her hand gently upon his. "I don't say, May
she never regret this day!—for she never will—but I pray that on
your dying bed you may remember it with thanksgiving, and not
"God helping me, so I will !" he said solemnly. And I
am sure he meant it.
A WEDDING WITH BELLS.
THE very next day
after the inquiry, Ruth had a petition presented to her.
It was Mr Weston's. He came—shyly enough, but with the
confidence of eager hope enough,—to beg my sister to join him in
persuading Alice M'Callum to leave the Refuge in a month's time.
This was how he stated the case, with a blush and a roguish smile.
"Leave the Refuge?" said my sister, with arch innocence:
"then where is she going, sir?"
He made a fine boggle of an answer, which was intended to
embrace excuses and reasons for his own haste. "If she'd said
'Yes' when I asked her first, I should have named a day in early
spring," he stammered "and why shouldn't it be now as if it had
never been? She's looking fagged and white, and the change of
scene'll do her good. And the Meadow Farm's quite ready for
its mistress. And what things does she want? Can't she
get them when she's there? Only she says you won't like such a
"Oh, I am not the person to be considered," said Ruth drily.
"You'd better not consult my pleasure, or I shall say I don't like
any notice at all!"
Mr Weston took the little joke in good part, and laughed
heartily. "You're right, Miss Garrett," he answered, quite
jovially. "I should not like her to give me
"Should you not?" queried Ruth. "Ah,—I have heard some
people are never so happy as when they are miserable, and I suppose
that is why they rush into matrimony, although the 'single state is
most conducive to happiness.'"
Mr Weston reddened a little and laughed again. "Don't
laugh at a poor fellow for saying the grapes were sour when they
seemed out of his reach," said he. "I always pitied
that fox in the fable."
"Well, he was pitiable," rejoined my sister; "but if
he had gained the grapes and then praised them, I should have told
him he was a coward before."
"When he has gained the grapes, he is so fortunate that he
can afford to be called anything," said the young man,
The simple kindly farmer was far further in Ruth's good
graces than the polished son of the Great Farm. She actually
went with him to the Refuge, and had a long conversation with Alice
and her grandfather, for Ewen had returned to London that morning
with Mr Herbert. And when Ruth returned, she brought the news
that the old adage that one wedding makes another was fulfilled in
this case, and that there would be two marriages at St Cross, while
the primroses were out in the churchyard.
And for a whole month, I was a quiet shadow in the
background—a person with no valuable opinions on the subjects in
hand—linens, and dresses, and ribbons. I heard that Mr Weston
wished to place in Ruth's hand a considerable sum of money for the
disposal of his bride, only Alice would not hear of it. She
said, he must take her with what she could get herself, and he said
it didn't matter to him, so I think her bridal attire would have
been exceedingly simple but that Ruth's wedding gift was the wedding
dress. Mr Weston was not at all offended because Alice
accepted that. It was a gray silk, rich and delicate,
but suited alike to the bride's loveliness, and the bridegroom's
After all, her wedding came first. The Herberts' was
fixed a single day later. Ewen arrived the evening before his
sister's marriage, and said Mr Herbert would not come until the eve
of his own. And Ewen tried to keep his face bright for his
sister's joy. But all the more it haunted me with that
inexpressible pain which often makes weddings more sad than
funerals,—the suffering of Life instead of the peace of Death.
It was a laughing spring morning, and in homely phrase, the
village was "alive." St Cross was crowded, for the M'Callums
were old residents, and rendered none the less interesting by the
melancholy circumstances through which they had so innocently
suffered. When the bridal party stood in the chancel, I heard
an old lady whisper that it was a "pretty wedding," and I think she
was right. In the immediate circle the fine old grandfather,
the comely bridegroom, the sweet bride, the little orphan
bridesmaids in their fresh muslins, and the grave handsome
groomsman—all were pleasing and picturesque after their own fashion.
And, standing behind these, Ruth and Bessie and young George Roper
did not spoil the scene. And the background was made up of
eager interested faces, all bright in the sunshine, which poured in
through the clear windows and brought with it a sweet breath from
the budding trees outside. And then the solemn service which
folds the joy of man in the sanctity of God, and the happy tears,
and the fond kisses, and the poor trembling maiden signature in the
vestry. And then the merry bells, telling heath and hamlet
that God has consecrated another home—and the ride through familiar
faces that nobody sees—and the dainty meal that nobody tastes—and
the good byes—and then the silence afterwards.
Agnes was not at the wedding. It was her last day at
home. A very sad last day—when she might not weep nor smile
except as her wont—when she must go about everything as if
to-morrow, and the next day, and the next would be the same.
Her uncle knew it was her last day in his house, he had only said
"Very well" when she told him so, and by this silence, she knew to
be silent herself.
After the morning's excitement I sat listlessly at our
window, watching for Ralph Herbert, who was to be our guest for that
night. I did not know whether to expect a visit from Agnes,
and I was very pleased when she entered.
"I hear the wedding went off well," she said. "I have
written a letter to Alice, that she may receive it in her new home
For I should have mentioned that this simple country bride
had gone straight from her old home to her husband's house, as he
could ill spare a long holiday at this time of year, when his fields
needed their master's eye.
"Very thoughtful of you, my dear," I answered, "and what
finery have you there?" for she had a small parcel in her hand.
"Only all my trousseau!" she replied, laying a dainty pair of
lilac gloves upon the table, and looking up with an arch smile about
her lips and pathos in her eyes.
It was quite true. For her honeymoon was to be passed
in no luxurious hotel, her home would be no fresh flowery
bride-chambers. By nightfall after her wedding she would be in
the seaport town whence the American ship sailed. By the next
sunset, she would be on the sea—drifting to a new life in a rough
settler farm. And so it was an emigrant's outfit and not a
bride's, which filled the great boxes that encumbered our hall.
She had not been with us many minutes before she rose to go.
"Will you not wait to see your cousin?" asked Ruth; "he will
be here presently."
"No," she said, "I must go—back. Tell him I left him my
love, but I want to stay with my uncle as long as I can. I
only left home now because he was out among his men."
I walked home with her in the twilight, speaking of the
arrangements for the morrow. Nobody but those concerned knew
what was about to happen. The honest labourers who touched
their foreheads as Agnes passed, little dreamed it was a farewell
salutation. There was something unspeakably touching in the
girl going so brave and so lonely from one life to another, not even
knowing her own courage and loneliness, but, with the sweet
perversity of womankind, only the more reliant on Ralph's protection
because it was but a cipher—all the prouder of him because there was
little to be proud about!
When I shook hands with her at the gate of the Farm, she held
my hand a little, and probably thinking this was our last moment of
undisturbed converse, she thanked me for all that Ruth and I had
tried to do for her—speaking so eagerly and fervently of all the
past, and yet looking so confidently and quietly into her strange
dim future, that my heart was strangely stirred. But she made
one omission which pained me. In her rapid anxious review of
all to whom she owed any kindness, she never even named Ewen, to
whom, especially for Ralph's sake, she owed so much. And I
interrupted her to say―
"Nobody has shown you or Ralph more than the common kindness
of humanity—except young M'Callum. I hope you quite understand
what he has done. He deserves thanks."
"Understand what he has done" she echoed, "thank him?
Mr Garrett, Ewen M'Callum is a saint, and I am only a woman!"
And she turned and obeyed the deep bay of Griff, impatiently
awaiting her within the house. I stayed at the gate until she
crossed the garden, and fairly closed the house door behind her.
But she never turned her head.
And that was the night before the wedding.
A WEDDING WITHOUT BELLS.
party on the wedding morning was somewhat constrained and silent.
Ralph had joined us very late the night before, and we had then no
time for conversation, nor did we seem inclined for any when we
gathered round the table for our morning meal. We were in our
trim for the ceremony, that is to say, I wore my neatest tie, and
Ruth her best silk dress, for no further attempt at gala attire was
possible. The parlour, too, was "tidied" in Ruth's strictest
sense of the word; not a shred of work or writing remained about,
and the china bowls and vases were duly filled with fresh primroses
and hyacinths. That was the extent of our preparation.
But when Phillis brought in our toast and new-laid eggs, I thought
by her glance at our visitor that she had a shrewd guess at what was
going forward, though she had heard no remark to lead her to such
conclusion, and though there was nothing in the refreshments which
Ruth had ordered to awaken conjecture. For there could be no
sugary wedding breakfast, with cakes, and champagnes, and trifles,
but a repast of savoury joints and poultry, substantial enough to
carry the young couple to their sea-port destination.
There was a solemnity about the aspect of affairs which crept
over each of us. The very morning was solemn—not cloudy, but
with a low-toned steady sunlight, and a cool still air. The
shadows on our garden plot did not dance, but lay straight and
still. The parlour too, with the signs of ordinary life all
banished, had a conventual air, consistent with bated voices and
silent smiles. But even silent smiles were lacking. Yet
when I thought of all this day was in Ralph's life, I could not
wonder at his pale grave face, or the reddened flightless eyes that
told of a sleepless night. True, he had achieved a great
happiness—to him, unworthy as he felt himself, had fallen that good
gift which Solomon tells us comes directly "from the Lord."
But I liked the youth no less because he took his blessing with awe
and trembling, nor because he did not prepare to leave his
fatherland with a laugh upon his lips. Alone, he might have
gone recklessly enough. Going alone, he might have said his
native country cast him off, and so turned his face to another
shore, and never looked behind. But now that one went with
him, nothing fearing, he felt tenderly for the old place that spared
him its best, and his heart yearned over the very fields where he
had walked and talked with one so pure and true. I daresay his
feeling was something like that expressed in those lines of an old
song, which I remember once reading, where one emigrant says to
"'Tis not the future makes me grieve:
But though the past is sad,
I weep my grateful thanks to God
For pleasant times I've had!"
Of course he made one at our little service of family
worship. It is our custom to hold that service immediately
after breakfast. Ruth and I agreed that it was inconsiderate
to summon servants to such a duty before they had taken some
refreshment after their early household work. At the risk of
being thought a monotonous formalist, I must explain our form of
worship. I take our prayers from the Book of Common
Prayer—first, the general confession of sin, then the prayer for all
conditions of men, concluding with the collect for the preceding
Sunday, and that is all, except on any special occasion, when I take
a special petition from the Litany. For a Scripture portion I
read the New Testament lesson for the day. I have often
noticed how strangely appropriate these appointed portions seem, and
never more so, than when on this 4th of March, I found it my duty to
read the fifteenth chapter of St Luke's Gospel. As I announced
it, I involuntarily glanced at Ralph. He did not need to seek
it—his Bible opened at the place, for the page was marked by a dried
spray of that delicate fern which is, I think, called "maiden hair."
When we rose from our knees, it was time to prepare for
church. Ralph was the first to depart, Ewen would join him on
the road—the only wedding guest beside ourselves. We waited at
our window until Agnes appeared, coming steadily and gravely along
the road. Then we left our house, and she came up to us with a
quiet simple salutation, and took her place by my sister's side.
But behind her, followed an attendant on whom we had not counted,
even the great dog Griff, walking with a dignified solemnity fit for
"Yes, he must come," said his mistress, responding to our
glances. "Griff goes with us. Ralph arranged that.
Grief is a faithful old friend, and must not be left behind."
"But what will he do at the church?" I asked, in dismay.
"He will wait in the porch," she answered.
I scarcely liked to ask about her parting from her uncle, but
presently she raised her eyes and said, "I have said good-bye to
uncle. He did not give me a chance of saying a word; but he
knows he is not likely to see me again, and he spoke very kindly."
And there the low voice faltered, and the brown eyes filled with
tears, which did not overflow, as very sad tears seldom do.
We went up the churchyard way, and entered the silent house
of God, with its long, misty sunbeams slanting over the empty pews.
Ralph and Ewen stood in the chancel in the coloured light of the
stained window. The rector saw our entrance through the
half-open vestry door, and he came out, gowned, and went behind the
There was a moment's silence—a pause—before the mysterious
gate through which two lives would pass into one. Agnes was
the calmer of the two, with her pale face and veiled eyes, for I saw
Ralph grasp the rail before him, like one thankful for any support,
while his eyes wandered vaguely to the scrolls above the table, and
his lips moved in unconscious recitation of those words, whose full,
sweet meaning scarcely seemed for him: "Like as a father
pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him."
Then the service began—the service which I had heard only the
clay before, but which, however solemn then, now seemed to have a
new and thrilling minor key. I could scarcely trust my voice
in the few simple responses, but there was one whose tones rung out
clear and firm in each. It was Ewen. Somehow, I could
not look at him. Without a glance, I could see his figure
standing behind the bridegroom, generally erect, though the head
bowed a little once or twice. Ah, the wedding might seem
dreary in its solemn love and daring, bare of all those sweet little
charities which generally drape such scenes in mists of tearful
smiles and smiling tears, but many a bridal, with troops of
congratulating friends, might envy that one loyal and true wedding
guest, poor indeed, lowly as yet,—though I think the day may come
when Agnes will be proud to say who stood behind her bridegroom—but
who bravely brought all he had, even his own heart, and laid it as a
willing offering on the marriage altar.
One or two hearty sobs, startling the rectors eyes from his
book, warned us that some interested spectator had stolen upon our
solitude; and when all was over, and we left the vestry, where Agnes
had signed the name that she need not change, and Ruth had kissed
her, and I had blessed her, and Ewen had touched her hand—very
lightly—and said never a word, then we found Sarah Irons seated on a
back seat, indulging herself in a "good cry." And I was glad
to see that Ralph Herbert did not shrink from the honest servant's
fond embrace. Ah, surely henceforth every woman, however plain
and homely, will be sacred to him for the sake of one! The old
Crusaders held their chivalry in the name of "Our Ladye." And
should not every man be gentler and braver for the sake of the woman
in his heart, whether her image stand at a hearth or in a shrine?
"I've left a letter for you from the master at your house,
sir," whispered Sarah, detaining me a minute after the young people
passed out. "O' course I don't know what's in it, but it can't
part 'em now, thank God!"
No bells, no whispering faces, no huzzas, only the breeze
stirring a little in the new-budded boughs, and one or two villagers
looking from their doors, with a little wonder and curiosity, to see
the squire's son and niece once more walking together, and that as
quietly and soberly as if it were quite a matter of course.
According to instructions, we found a substantial meal spread
in our parlour, and Phillis in watchful, conscious attendance.
The letter from Mr Herbert lay beside my plate, and I did not
venture to touch it until dinner was over. I might have spared
"DEAR SIR" (it ran),—"I
have just parted from my niece Agnes, who has been a good and
dutiful niece to me, though not as wise as she might have been.
Now, I do not like that the last daughter of the Herberts of Upper
Mallowe should leave her home with no portion but the beggarly
produce of a book of verses and stories. Therefore I enclose
ten fifty-pound notes, which I hope will be useful to her. I
would have taken care to bind this sum upon herself, but she's one
of those women you can't take care of, because she's determined to
throw herself away.—I remain, yours truly,
RALPH HERBERT, sen."
I silently placed the letter and its enclosure before the
young couple. They read it through, and looked at each other.
"Ralph," said Agnes, very softly, "now you may go and say
good-bye to uncle."
"He will not see me," he answered sadly; "and, besides, we
have no time."
"He will see you if I ask him now," she returned; "and we
will go on our way to the station."
Their boxes had all been despatched there in a cart, and so
the little journey was to be made on foot. At the gate of the
Great Farm, Agnes turned and said, "Mr Garrett and I will go in
But we found the hall door open, and so Ralph advanced into
the porch, and stood there to await his fate, while my sister and
Ewen lingered beyond the garden palings.
The strange stillness of the early morning had passed away,
and there was a lively breeze astir. It swept through the open
hall and lightly rustled the curtains of Agnes' deserted parlour,
and I heard the low of cattle from the meadows behind the house.
But Agnes did not heed the familiar sights and sounds, she walked
straight forward to the dining-room; its door, too, was open, and
the room was in a flood of fresh spring sunshine. At the far
end of the long table, just before the quaint window, with its
treasures of blooming hyacinths and crocuses, sat Mr Herbert.
He did not heed our footsteps—perhaps he did not even hear them.
His arms were spread over the table, and his head was laid upon
them. I don't know whether it was owing to the strong light or
to his attitude, but, for the first time, I noticed many white hairs
among his glossy brown. Agnes stopped to notice nothing; she
went straight up to him, and sat suddenly down on the floor, and
laid her cheek on his knee.
"Uncle!" she cried.
He started up, half bewildered, and caught her in his arms.
"My darling, my pretty one!" he exclaimed. "But you're not
mine now; I could not keep you."
"Uncle!" she cried again, putting her arms round his neck,
the tears raining down her face. "Uncle, my husband wants to
thank you for all your kindness to me. Let him come!"
Mr Herbert half shook off the clasp of those gentle arms, but
they were firm with the might of love. If he did not own Ralph
as his son, she chose him for her husband! He hesitated, and
Agnes kissed him again, and her tears fell on his hands.
"Let him come !" said he.
I went softly, and led him in. I did not re-enter the
room. Nay, I closed the door behind Ralph, for there are some
scenes which strange eyes ought not to see—some words which only God
Half-an-hour afterwards they came out all three. They
walked together to the station, and Ewen and Ruth and I followed
behind. On the platform stood old Mr M'Callum, and George and
Miss Sanders. George had a nosegay for Agnes.
Mr Herbert was almost inclined to go with them to the
seaport, but he did not. "It's parting either here or there,"
he said, "so we'll get it over at once. But somebody's going
to see you off, I suppose?"
"I am," said Ewen. "I will be with them till the last!"
"You're a good fellow," responded the farmer.
A shriek from the engine, and Agnes, already seated in the
carriage, placed her hand in her husband's. Ewen sat opposite.
Another shriek, a smile, nods, and a burst of tears, and they were
off. And we heard Griff's growl, as the dog-carriage passed
God bless the bride and bridegroom! And God bless Ewen!
He smiled as he looked from the window; and so I know how men smile
at the stake or on the rack. And yet he will be all the better
for this anguish. A pure love never harmed any man. Love
and sorrow have sung the world's sweetest songs, and painted its
fairest pictures, and achieved its greatest deeds. So some
day, perhaps, Ewen will make a picture of an emigrant ship, and the
agony which was in his heart he will paint in the faces there, so
that they shall stir the souls of all that gaze thereon into that
human tenderness whence grows
That best portion of a good man's life,
His little nameless, unremember'd acts
Of kindness and of love."
Oh, let us thank God for the love and sorrow of genius!
Yet, let us thank Him reverently, as we thank Him for all the
blessings which come to us, by the sacrifice and pain of others.
We take the flowers that blossom from the thorny stems, but they
long for the time when the Master's eye shall see that the fruit is
ripe, and His hand shall gather it in. I remember one verse in
Agnes' father's book:—
Oh 'tis hard to hear them praise us for the music we
From the sobs we choked within us, and the hidden tears
When the poet goes to God, sure he leaves his harp
For the song they sing in heaven is of quite another
A POSTSCRIPT BY MISS GARRETT.
Now Edward has finished his love-story, I hope he will listen
to me when I want to talk to him about the Refuge or the Hospital.
For it seems to me uncommonly like a love-story, though it professes
to be a record of what an old man and woman are able to do, when
they sit down to rest and take breath before they go into the King's
We've heard from Agnes and Ralph. They are settled in Canada,
and Agnes says they are doing very well; but how is one to believe
her? I shall not be surprised if Mr Herbert goes out after
them. For in this world, wonders never cease. The other
evening when I was at the Great Farm, in the dining-room, where that
portrait's face is now decently turned forward, he almost cried
while he pointed out a mark on the rug, worn by Grief's paws, where
he used to hold on when Mr Herbert tried to push him away to make
room for his own feet. Now if that is not rank sentiment and
just like people, I don't know what is! I should not have
pushed the poor dog aside, and then I should have had no mark in the
rug to cry over, and so I suppose people would say I had no feeling!
But I don't care what they say.
Bessie manages the Hospital famously, and her nephew lives
with her. Phillis is matron at the Refuge now, and Mr M'Callum
says she does very well indeed. The old man would not leave
his poor people even to go and sit in the chimney-corner at Meadow
Farm, where Alice and her husband live in great happiness and
prosperity. They have a little daughter; and Edward and I are
the godfather and godmother. Alice thought she should be named
after me, and so did I, but Edward said she must be a "Lucy,"
because that was a family name with the Westons. Family name,
indeed!—I dare say he cares a great deal for family names! But
as he says nothing, I don't take any notice. If it pleases him
to keep a secret, let him think he keeps it, that's all!
Ewen does not come very often to Upper Mallowe, at least he
does not stay very long when he does come. He does not go to
the counting-house now, but is "an artist all out," as his
grandfather says. But he says he will return to business the
moment his art is a labour to him, because it is not right to turn
God's gift into a machine. He is a very fine young man, but I
hear that people say he is stern and haughty. Nobody ever
believes in a volcano, which keeps itself to itself, and does not
rampage and destroy everything around it.
But I can't write any more, for the Refuge bills are just
sent in, and there 's a basket of linen to sew for the Hospital.
It's very well to write about work, but it 's better to do it!
Ballantyne and Company, Printers, Edinburgh.