Rab Bethune's Double (III.)

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CHAPTER XIII.

LEWIS CRAWFORD'S MOTHER.


IT is not to be imagined that garrulous Mrs Milne had not told her first-floor lodger that there was a new arrival in the attic.  In fact, according to Mrs Milne's own belief, she had told Miss Kerr "everything" about Miss Olrig—her narration, after the manner of too many biographies, just happening to miss all the vital points!

    Miss Kerr had been duly informed that Miss Olrig came from "Kelso," that she was a "captain's" orphan daughter, that she had been commended to Mrs Milne's judicious attentions by that Kelso kinswoman—the thriving shopkeeper on whom Miss Kerr "had so kindly called,"—because Miss Olrig's "connections" were very particular people, who would not have liked her to live in a house which nobody knew anything about.  That Miss Olrig had "high" introductions which had got her a good place in the telegraph office, and that in Mrs Milne's opinion—which was seldom mistaken, mind you!—Miss Olrig had too pretty a face and too fine a way of carrying herself not soon to have a home of her own, though, of course, Mrs Milne would be the last person to put such rubbish into a girl's head.

    Miss Kerr oh-ed and ah-ed.  She heard every word, and her alert memory recorded all, though she listened but absently.  The recital did not impress her favourably.  Certainly it did not suggest the old dame and the young girl in a lonely hut on a hill, the story of whose goodness to a forlorn wanderer she had declared did her more good than any sermon.  Rather it conjured up a picture of "a genteel young lady," with military or naval connections, reared in the narrow proprieties and prejudices of parsimonious provincial circles, one in whose eyes the greatest horror would be "anything menial," and who would be quite ready to accept favours and aid from people whom she was equally ready to despise.  Miss Clementine Kerr had known many such young ladies, had suffered often from their airs and aptlessness, and had had the right "to speak her mind" to a few of them.  She could easily conjure up the insipidly fine features and mincing manners which would win Mrs Milne's admiration.  Miss Kerr had often observed that that worthy woman was most ready to accept the superiority of those who treated her markedly as an inferior.

    And yet how wrong was Miss Kerr in this case!  She forgot to allow for what one may call the "personal equation" of her landlady's mind, which compelled her to conventionalise whatever she admired.  Had Mrs Milne gone out into the wilderness to visit John the Baptist, she would have returned to Jerusalem describing him as "a gentleman attired in rich furs," and "preferring a vegetarian diet."  So in the present instance she translated skipper into "captain," and a stern old grandmother into fastidious "connections."  It was Mrs Milne's own idea of "putting a good face on things," "setting one's best foot foremost," and so forth.  It was a habit which made her praises more to be deprecated than her blame.  Almost the only persons on whom she never tried this fine art of descriptive starching and stiffening were Miss Clementine Kerr herself and "the girls" in the kitchen, because in these cases long use and wont had bred a familiarity which, in minds of Mrs Milne's stamp, is incompatible with wholehearted admiration.  Poor fagged little woman, she had had plenty of disappointment in life, and perhaps it argued a little for an ever-springing faith and hope, as well as a great deal for fickleness and shallowness, that she was always ready to accept the last comer as the most satisfactory person she had yet encountered.

    Anyhow, her description of "Miss Olrig" did not attract Clementina Kerr to seek any acquaintance with the girl whose step she heard on the stairs.  Miss Kerr was not one of those fussy and eager philanthropists who hurry to throw the beams of their "influence" on everybody who happens to come within their reach, forgetful that if sunshine itself is not good for all plants at every stage of their growth, still less is the glaring bull's eye of rash interference likely to be of universal benefit to tender souls in every stage of development!

    But if Clementina Kerr saw no reason why she should at once rush into personal relations with the young stranger Miss, she did not forget the little duties which one owes to one's neighbours, absolutely as such.  The newspaper which enlivened her breakfast-table was punctually sent up to cheer Mary Olrig's tea-time.  Two or three magazines were also proffered with "Miss Kerr's compliments," and duly returned with "Miss Olrig's thanks."  And when Mrs Milne was arranging some fresh plants in Miss Kerr's window, Clementina suggested that one or two might be taken up to the attic.

    Yet during the sad and dreary days which followed Mary's receipt of those two momentous letters from Tweedside, the girl clung to the thought of Miss Kerr's mere presence in the house, and found a strange sense of security therein.  Here was another woman who had already lived through long years of lonely and strenuous struggle, who still kept her head bravely above water, whose step was still light and alert, and her voice clear and ringing, if sometimes a little sharp.  Mary knew that Miss Kerr wrote and received many letters, that, besides the shabby pupils, she had a few visitors who seemed to go away with lingering and reluctance.  Once, through an open door, she caught a glimpse of Miss Kerr's apartment, which, with its photograph frames, its heaps of books and papers, and its easel, seemed to her most richly home-like.  There must have been romance somewhere at the root of such a life, though it might now lie out of sight beneath this fruitage of "camaraderie" and honourable independence.

    Nothing else could have helped Mary as did the silent suggestions of this visible bit of one woman's existence.  Mary's soul was distracted with questions which must get answered within itself, shy with strange yearnings which it could not comprehend—torn with vague terrors which it would not acknowledge.  No self-conscious act or word of help could have approached it just then without inflicting a wound.

    God knows these sensitive souls and preserves them by shutting them up for awhile in impenetrable reserves where only He can reach them, feeding them with food convenient for them, though to other eyes it may seem scant and hard and bitter.

    Clementina Kerr would have been astonished to think that such a life as hers could give encouragement and strength to any human soul.  We fail to realise that it is always what we are, rather than what we have or enjoy, which is subtly significant to our fellows.  Also, that the blessings we have may be very real and true blessings, even though our own soul is conscious of growing pains which shoot beyond their limits.  And Clementina, Kerr would have been the first to acknowledge the high value and great joy (in every case but her own) of a life of honourable independence, with power to render counsel and help to others.

    But before those days Clementina Kerr had already thrown herself heart and soul into the strange bit of helpfulness which it seemed to her God had put straight into her hand on her homeward journey from the North.  Be sure she would not do her duty to His tasks in any spirit less entire and strenuous than that in which she had vainly striven to serve her kinsfolk or (not quite so vainly) to earn her own bread.  She had always scoffed in her curt, caustic way at the "philanthropy" which is made subservient to every personal mood or weakness, or social requirement—a philanthropy which is, in short, the piteous resort of the idlest hours of the idlest people.

    She had not found it difficult to follow up her acquaintance with Lewis Crawford.  Before their strange railway journey together had come to an end, the young man had a curious feeling as if he had always known this plain, elderly woman, with the quick manner and the kind heart.  He seemed to recognise her, as, after all, one cannot help thinking we shall recognise our guardian angels when they are finally made visible to our eyes.  He did not tell her very much, poor fellow—in some ways he had not much to tell—but he felt as if she knew all about such things beforehand.  To lay out our little pain or trouble to specialist or expert, who knows just where and how it hurts, who asks no needless questions, and who often sees comfort where we could not, is, as we all know, very different from what it is to reveal a misery to the prying or indifferent eyes of ignorance, whose questions are rude and whose hands are rough.

    A wronged, helpless, pitiful mother—a father somehow not on the scene—and for the mother's sake gradually arousing something like hatred in their child's heart—a daily struggle for bread, under conditions which, by sapping health, hope, and heart, must involve a final swamping at last—these might be elements too commonplace to be tragic in common eyes, which can watch so wistfully the woes of wild young aristocrats or the bulletins of regal health.  But Clementina Kerr knew what such things mean to those on whom they press.  Having gathered this information, and obtained a rather reluctant permission to visit "Mrs Crawford," she did not delay a single day in paying her promised call.  She felt that some imminent distress impending over this sad household must have goaded Lewis to his wild journey.  A penury which was ready to risk character and almost life to spare a railway fare, could have but little in hand wherewith to satisfy the needs of daily life!

    Clementina Kerr knew all about these urgencies, because she had been under them herself, though there were those who had known her all her life long who would have found this hard to believe.  For a few visiting cards, a well preserved glove, and, above all, a reputation for slight eccentricity, have carried many an one round narrow precipices of bitter need!  At polite dinner-tables, or mingling in fashionable salons, some are to be found, not there from love or from choice, but with hearts breaking with care and terror, ready to envy the houseless street singer whose shrill wail penetrates through the classical music within.  For the street singer is at least breathing without a mask, a free creature in his own proper element.

    Clementina knew all about these things!  Even art critics had sometimes given complimentary notice to the "reserve of power" in the expression of certain faces in some of her pictures—faces generally of poor folk or elderly women or worn men.  Such power has been always heavily paid for!

    Miss Kerr had to look for the Crawfords in a district within easy walking distance of her own abode.  It was a region where she had not been for a long time, but which she had once known very well, the squalid hunting-ground of saints and sinners of all nations,—those of whom the world is not worthy and those who are not worthy of the world!  A land of curious foreign names, of strange industries and heterogeneous wares.  A place where sallow men of courtly bearing go to and fro making paltry domestic purchases, where windows are often screened by table covers roughly pinned across, where outer doors swing ajar day and night, to suit the necessities imposed by need or vice, perhaps by both.  There might be a heartsick patriot in the attics, a theatrical dresser in the second floor, a prostitute in the "drawing-room" flat, an "artist in hair" in the parlours, and a dealer in old clothes in the area.  For was not this the Soho of a few years ago, when all Europe was in that state of upheaval which fostered so many beautiful hopes and engendered so many dire disappointments.

    Miss Kerr knew her way well enough.  She went down one of the older and wider streets of the district, a street rich in old wrought-iron and decayed torch holders, and redolent, to antiquarian knowledge, of all sorts of historical and social interests.  Then, with just a moment's hesitation at a point where two or three streets intersect each other, she crossed and went down a paved footway, flanked with meaner houses, most of which were shops of a shabby second-hand description.  Miss Kerr went through this passage, which was quite busy, full of people hurrying to and fro, for it opened into a broader street, in which use and wont had established an open-air market for the rudest necessities of the poorest life.  There needy housewives, worn by hardship out of all form and comeliness, cheerfully oblivious of all they could not afford, snatched the most pleasurable excitement of their lives in cheapening bargains which were at least within their hopes; while here and there among the crowd loomed the spare, buttoned-in form of some grand-faced man, or the half-veiled sweet countenance of some soft-voiced woman, whose very presence conjured up the blue reaches of the Roman Campagna or the dark towers of Warsaw.

    Glancing up at the numbers on the houses in the little passage, Miss Kerr found the house where the Crawfords lived.  Its low shop, so low that Clementine Kerr felt almost tall enough to look in at the casement above it, bore the name of one Bernski, who, having probably been bred to no trade, made a futile attempt at buying and selling in all.  Its passage door, so light and cracked as to be quite useless to shut out either cold or intrusion, yielded to the lightest pressure of Clementine's hand.

    She found entrance into the narrowest of passages, lit half-way up the creaking stairs by a small window with two cracked panes.  But both the little passage and the creaking stairs, bare of paint or any covering, were wonderfully clean, at least for that place.  On the window sill stood a pot of musk, triumphant in adverse circumstances; but even its strong perfume could not overcome that mysterious odour of poverty, which Miss Kerr remembered having heard a stockbroker's wife describe as "the peculiar smell of those houses whose wretched inmates have the abominable habit of spreading their day clothing over their beds at night."

    There were two little doors on the first landing and one stood open, revealing a tall old man with a long white beard quietly stirring something in a pot over a small fire.  He turned at the sound of Clementine Kerr's footsteps, and there was a wistful benevolence in his aspect which made her loth to pass him without a word.

    "Is this where Mrs Crawford and her son live?  On the floor above, I believe, sir?" she said.

    The old man made a stately obeisance.  "Yes," he answered, "the door above this.  He was not sure if the young signor was at home—he was out so much—such a diligent youth—but the madre was sure to be at home.  The signora would find her very weak, very nervous; but," and he looked at her searchingly, "the signora would not flurry her—the signora would be very patient."

    Clementine thanked him and ascended to the door he had indicated.  Long afterwards she remembered that, as she went upstairs, her mind was crossed by one of those curious visions, which many of us have experienced, so inexplicable, so causeless!  It was a suddenly revived memory of a place she had casually seen during her Northern sojourn.  She did not recollect where it was, though it rose on her mind's eye now—a rough old stone mansion, partly in ruins, with a brilliant flower garden and a greenhouse nestling at its side and a green sward sloping down from it to a river.

    Mindful of the Italian's mild warning, Miss Kerr gave a rap so gentle that she scarcely thought to be heard, but a low voice faintly invited her to "come in."

    She found herself in one of two tiny chambers, opening into each other, very bare, and looking barer for the freshness of their whitewashed ceilings and walls.  This one had a wide low window which ran nearly all along one side, and its sill was crammed with bright red pots filled with musk, creeping jenny, nettle geraniums, and other humble and hardy plants.  Among them stood a wicker cage with a feathered occupant who gave an interrogative whistle as the door opened.  About the room were set two or three wooden chairs of the commonest description, save that they were gaudily painted in red, blue, and yellow, in a style which fashion had not then introduced.  A low couch or bed stood near the window covered with a coarse scarlet blanket.  A woman who had been reclining thereon rose up feebly to receive the visitor.

    This woman could not have been forty years old.  Lewis Crawford's mother must have been the merest girl when her son was born.  A woman of tall, willowy figure, arrayed in a plain, clinging gown of some black stuff, its sombreness relieved only by a big necklace of coloured stones, which lay loose on her shoulders like a garland.  On her head, masses of black hair slackly braided in a huge knot behind.  A face of that delicate brown-yellow tint we see on some rare autumn leaves; big startled black eyes.  A foreign woman certainly, and one who had surely come much farther than any of the European refugees who lived all around.

    The startled expression of the beautiful eyes changed to that of pathetic trust and satisfaction when Clementine introduced herself.  "Ah, she had heard of Miss Kerr.  She had to bless her for her goodness to the child.  O, why had the child gone that terrible journey!  What if he had never come back to her?  He had never given her one sorrow—not one—except that he had to be away so often and she never knew when—at night time even!"

    "Work has to be done when it can be done, you know," said Miss Clementine in her crisp, practical manner.  The poor woman's changeful face instantly recalled the Italian's warning, for it clouded over, and the soft lip quivered as if tears were very near.  A woman, clearly, to whom it would be quite easy to lie down and die beside her darling—the daughter of some race to whom submission came naturally—but who might not readily rise to comprehension of other kinds of suffering or sacrifice imposed by the fierce struggle for existence.

    "You have been very ill, I fear," said Miss Clementine in her gentlest tones.  "You were lying down when I came in—will you lie down again?—or otherwise I shall go away at once."

    The invalid obeyed without a protest.  "Her child would be so sorry if Miss Kerr went away before he came home," she murmured in her musical yet monotonous tones.  "He had been expecting her to come, but he was called out to work.  She, his mother, wished him not to go, but to wait for Miss Kerr.  He said that would never do, and he went, though he was very tired."

    And Clementine, hearing this, felt the more that help and kindness would be well bestowed on one who would not let pass a bit of common duty in expectation of any unearned good fortune.

    "They wanted to get her away into the country," Mrs Crawford went on in her dreamy tones.  "Yes, it was in hopes of doing something towards this that the child had taken the terrible journey.  She did not understand what he had hoped—some special piece of work she supposed.  But what did it matter that he failed?  It could not do her any good to leave him.  She was not very ill, she thought, only always tired; she could sleep most of the day as well as the night, surely that must be good?  It had not been so always; for years she had slept very little, and had worked for the child.  He said it was his turn now.  She had made ornaments of bead and shell-work—especially shell-work.  It had been very poorly paid.  It was mostly bought by ladies as curiosities for their stalls at charity bazaars.  She had learned to do it in her own country.  Yes, she belonged to Tahiti.  O lately she had dreamed so often of the great mountain rising behind the bay.  The child was not born there.  No, and she had lived in Australia a while before she came to this country.  The child was not born there either, but on the high seas between Australia and Great Britain.  Sometimes she was sorry she had ever come to this country—it was cold and dull and grey.  And the people were so strong and never at rest.  Nobody had ever been unkind to her; nay, no, she would never believe it!  And something always gave a little help.  But she liked living best just where they were now, because the people were used to foreigners, and did not stare so much.  She had always liked to live among foreigners, it made her feel lonely.  The doctor downstairs was very kind to her, except that he had frightened the child about her.  Yes, he was a doctor, and had quarrelled with the Pope.  The child knew all about it, and took his side; she could not understand such things herself, not now.  She had not always been so stupid, or she could not have brought up the child, though he was so clever that he learned without teaching.  A schoolmaster used to let him come to his school for nothing, because he was so clever, and set such an example!  When that schoolmaster died, he left a case full of books to the child.  O, she wished he did not have to go out to work at nights!"

    Clementine Kerr, the cynical and keen, had already hold of the poor woman's hand, stroking it as if it had been a baby's.  She thought she could guess it all, without any impertinent inquisition—the innocent half barbaric girlhood—the unconscious trust—the devoted following—the utter inability to realise or accept desertion.  Then under dire necessity, the gradual cultivation of new mental and moral qualities, the aroused energies, their quickening bringing only pain, pain, ever more pain.  The life of utter isolation of body, mind, and heart, every form of emotion resolving itself into one passionate flame of maternal love.  The strain of strange surroundings, of unfamiliar tongues, of ways of thought and feeling utterly incomprehensible.  "Should I keep my reason if I were suddenly propelled upon the planet Jupiter?" cogitated crisp Clementina.  "And the changed to her can scarcely have been less!  Is it any wonder that at last, when there is no longer any need to slave and agonise for 'the child,' nothing remains for her to do but 'to go to sleep.'  I think she has done marvellously well!  If one has wrought the work and borne the burden of twenty days in one day, who has right to blame though one be weary and dim in the twilight?  She has lived out the force of twenty lives in one life!"

    "I know this law copying your son does must be done just when it is wanted," said Clementine aloud.  "Would not it be better if he got some regular work with regular pay and went to it daily?"

    "Ah, yes," sighed the poor mother; "he had such a place once, but something went wrong with the master and he was thrown out—his last week's work was not even paid.  And then there was nothing!  Nothing for weeks.  It was very bad!  It is only lately he has cleared off the debts we ran into.  He said we must depend no more on one man, we were too poor for that.  He gets this other work from many, from one here and one there.  He says he would have found it hard to get a clerk's situation where he could have earned in wage as much as he can now make in the course of the year.  Sometimes this work is very little, but sometimes he is very busy and does not stop for hours and hours—thirty—forty.  He said it must be, because he must get money for her.  She did not know!  What did she want?  She wanted nothing but himself."

    Poor, wounded soul, daring to faint now her own share of the battle was done!  The strange lethargy was stealing over her again.  Miss Clementine's eyes grew misty, and her voice was very soft as she rose up, saying―

    "I will leave a note for your son, asking him to come and see me in his first leisure hour after to-morrow."

    She wrote a brief line, and then turned to say good-bye.  A strange glow had come suddenly upon the dark face, a strong light into the dark eyes; Clementine felt that the mother's heart said to her own (though, perhaps, the exhausted brain could scarcely follow its dictation)—

    "I am going to sleep soon.  Take the child and keep it for me.  I am too tired, and the way that he must go grows harder.  But you are strong."

    There was no need of words; for these two women, who had both been through the furnace fires of suffering, the curse of Babel was abolished—that terrible Babel curse which makes even the same words have myriad meanings!  Their parting was absolutely silent, but they kissed each other, though Clementine was no kissing woman and was in the habit of adroitly using the edge of her hat or bonnet to parry the volunteered pecks of intrusive female acquaintances.

    Going downstairs the Italian doctor advanced from his room to meet her.  He shook his head significantly.

    "Is she very ill, do you think, sir?" Miss Kerr inquired.

    "There is no hope," he said quietly; "it is brain trouble.  It is but a question of longer or shorter time, more or less distress."

    Clementine stood still, bitterly sad for the sufferer whom she had seen for the first time scarcely half-an-hour before.  Some hands do lay such strange hold on our hearts!

    "Does her son know?" she whispered.

    "He knows," answered the Italian; "he has known for weeks."

    "And oh, how can he bear it?" Miss Kerr asked.

    "Signora, who can answer that?  We can all bear a great deal when we must."

    Clementine looked up at the noble old face with her quick eyes.

    "You will tell him I have been here," she said; "I have asked him to come to see me.  He must not leave her at nights now."

    "Daily bread, signora," said the Italian with his sad significant smile.

    "It must be managed somehow—I must try—it must be done," she remarked impulsively.

    "The signora will manage anything that is not impossible," said the old man, and, stranger as he was, his words had such a ring of sincerity that the hot blood flushed into Clementine's face, as it will flush into even elderly faces at unexpected words of appreciation.

    "You have been kind to them—she told me so," said she.

    The Italian shrugged his shoulders.  "The lad is a fine lad," he said courteously, changing the subject.  "It is hard to believe that his father was a villain."

    "We have God for our father beyond our earthly parents," said Clementina, with a slightly hard sound in her voice.  She had often said that to herself for her own sake.

    The Italian bowed.  The Pope, or Papa, calling himself God's vice-regent on earth, had not behaved in a very fatherly way to him.  He could not help associating the Pope and God together, with dogmas, dungeons, executions, and exile, and naturally felt, therefore, that any claim to Divine descent was of dubious advantage.  But he would neither contradict a signora nor discuss with a woman whom he felt to be good, though he would have poured forth a torrent of contemptuous invective on the head of a priest uttering the same words.

    "She," and he motioned upwards with his head, "will not believe the man was a villain.  He was a young Englishman, and he saw her in Tahiti, and persuaded her to think herself his wife according to native ideas.  He took her with him to Australia, and left her there, when she could speak scarcely any English; went away and never came back, nor sent a word.  She thought she had a clue to his English home, and people got her to sell some things she had, and cheated her, and encouraged her to start for this country.  Her child was born at sea."

    "She told me that," said Clementina.

    "But, of course, her clue utterly failed her," the Italian went on.  His speech was fluent, foreign only in its musical inflection and occasional hesitancy.  "Who knows how she fared at first?  She never speaks of those early days.  Only she did not die—she nor the child."

    "Have you heard the father's name asked Clementina.

    "The same as the son's—Lewis Crawford," answered the Italian.

    "Was it she or the young man who told you all this?" Miss Kerr inquired.

    "It was she," he replied; "the lad has never breathed one word on the subject.  He is a proud spirit, a high heart."

    "Well," said Clementina, "I must go now.  I shall see you again.  It is a blessing to know they have such a friend in the house."

    "We are all poor together—it is a great bond," he answered; and as he watched her energetic little figure bustling off, this man of wide experience thought to himself—"Surely better than a fortune is it for these folks that such a woman as that has found them out.  What manages these wonderful happenings—these compensations?  Some would say (I think this woman would) that it is 'the good God.'  If it is, I salute Him!"

    Clementina went straight off to the office of her trusty old friend, the lawyer.


 
CHAPTER XIV.

MISS CLEMENTINA'S PROGRAMME.


MISS CLEMENTINA had some distance to go before she reached her good lawyer's sanctum in one of the minor streets about Lincoln's Inn; but she did not think of hiring any conveyance.  Her dictum, "Exercise is good for wholesome people—why should I refuse to use my legs because I can afford a cab?" had become so much part of her mind that she now always acted upon it as instinctively she adhered to many other healthy economies.  These might seem to the common eyes but the natural "meanness" of a "poor old maid who had had to earn her own bread."  But had the common mind known of her sixty thousand pounds, the common eyes would have opened wider and the common voice would have whispered "miser" or "madcap."  And we hope that by this time our reader knows that by the "common mind" we do not mean the simple ignorance of poor serving-maids and mill girls, we mean rather the wilful idiocy of those women of the average monied class, who lay all climes and all industries under contribution to the vulgar luxury of their useless existence, and go jigging on in their senseless dance of "pleasure," unwarned even by those spectres of bankruptcy, dipsomania, fraud, and shame, which already darken too near many of their own loveless and repining homes.

    The lawyer was promptly in attendance on his client.  He was a good, honest man, but of that type whose goodness and honesty never over-pass the grooves which custom has laid down.  A woman like Clementine Kerr, who would insist on paying certain relatives' debts when the law could not demand it of her, and would not recommend other impecunious relatives into positions of which she did not believe them to be worthy, had always struck him as a moral wonder, about which his mind was divided as to whether it was a moral monster or a moral miracle.  Perhaps it is not being too hard on human nature to say that she did not become a less interesting person when she came into possession of sixty thousand pounds, left the fortune lying in the three per cents., and had not as yet touched even the dividends thereon.

    The busy man of business had often felt it to be his absolute duty to urge Miss Kerr "to put that money into circulation."  He had tried to stimulate her into immediate action by suggesting the "good that she might do," especially if she allowed him to invest it thoroughly well, since that would give her the larger sums to devote to sundry philanthropic schemes which he spread temptingly before her.  But she had steadily demurred.

    "I am not too sure that I have not done much more harm than good with such trifling sums of my own as I have already had to dispense," she said.  "I am not going to do a heap of mischief rather than do nothing for a time.  Much of your boasted philanthropy seems to me like doing good that evil may go on, like clipping off the tops of weeds while the roots remain in the ground.  I will wait."

    This was Miss Kerr's first visit to the worthy man after her return from her Northern holiday, and he went into her presence with high hopes that "something had brought her to her senses at last."

    "And so you are safely back again, Miss Kerr," he said, rubbing his hands.  "And where are you staying now?"

    "In the old place," she replied.

    "O—h!  I thought you contemplated going somewhere else.  I remember you always thought the old locality rather dull and the house somewhat cramped, though they might suit you well enough once—for a time," his lowered voice taking a sympathetic inflection.

    "I did think of changing—I know I said so," answered Clementina.  "The street is dull, the house is cramped, but the landlady is obliging and kindly.  She served me well when I could pay her very little and was forced to work her rather hardly.  I could not feel the same towards any new person.  It's ill making one's first changes from the ground of merely material advantages.  The body won't thrive if you take out the heart."

    "Well, well," said the lawyer, his hopes beginning to sink.

    Miss Kerr went on, with great deliberation: "Have I not often heard you say that many people come to your offices with cases of wrong and injustice which cannot be taken up, simply because the sufferers have no money in hand, while much time and labour would have to be expended before any right could be done, and in the intricacies of your beautiful law one can be never absolutely certain of the triumph of moral right?"

    "I have said so," the lawyer admitted, wondering a little.  "It is the peculiar misfortune of a poor man's poor practice that it is particularly open to these distressing appeals.  And what is he to do?" he added.  Was she about to endow him for the service of unfortunate plaintiffs?  Or was she about to attack him for his low view of the functions of his profession?  Both ideas rushed across his mind.

    "You could manage to do more in this direction if you had another clerk?" questioned Miss Clementine.

    "Yes," the lawyer acknowledged.  "Yes, certainly.  Only the clerk would require a salary," and he sagely shook his head.

    "I know a young gentleman (Miss Clementine looked very straight at the lawyer as she said those words) who I think might be glad to receive the training that such a position would give him.  I will pay you eighty pounds a year for his salary, and I will undertake to pay the outgoing expenses of such reasonable cases as his help may enable you to take up.  You will get the advantage of any legitimate profit that may ultimately accrue from such cases.  I should wish him to devote to these all the time that they may require for investigation and so on, but at other times I should desire you to keep him busy with your own work.  You could make him useful.  He is a skilled law copyist already."

    "Has he any other qualifications?" asked the lawyer.  He foresaw that the arrangement might be really helpful to himself.  If in no other way, still the appearance of an additional clerk in his office would have a wholesome aspect of increased prosperity!

    "He knows London well.  He knows life well.  He has had a deep and varied experience of things, though he is only a lad, not much over twenty," said Miss Clementine.

    "Youth is a fault which mends every day, and he is not at all too old to be articled to the profession?" he suggested, with an engaging smile.

    "We shall see about that," answered the lady, "when we see how the present arrangement works.  But remember, I am not quite sure yet that it may meet his own views, though I think there is little doubt about that.  And recollect, he is to be your clerk, in your service.  I am not to appear at all in the matter.  My possession of a certain little bit of money is to be as much a professional secret from this new clerk of yours—if he comes—as from any of your clients."

    "It shall be as you wish," the lawyer assured her.  "You have not yet told me his name."

    "His name is Lewis Crawford," said Miss Clementina.  "I shall have an interview with him to-morrow, and if he and his mother agree, I suppose you can receive him at once?"

    The lawyer cordially assented, and with a few civil platitudes about Miss Kerr's recent journeyings, the interview ended.  But as the gentleman closed the door behind his client he returned to his desk, cogitating within himself.

    "Lewis Crawford?  I have surely come across that name before!  But where and when did I hear it?"


 
CHAPTER XV.

CLEMENTINA KERR'S CONSIDERATIONS.


OF course, Clementina Kerr found that Lewis Crawford needed no convincing of the advantages of the opening she had found for him.  Indeed, the young man felt that she had conferred on him a benefit for which he would owe her a life long debt, little though he dreamed that her share in it was anything beyond a prompt exertion of her influence with an old professional friend who chanced to have a vacancy in his office.

    Clementine had had plenty of experiences which made her aware of considerable significance in young Crawford's brief, simple thanks, given with a light in his eyes and a tremor on his lips.  She had often received gushes of gratitude, and knew exactly their value, or rather, want of value.  Lewis Crawford did not say to Miss Kerr, "Now I shall be able the sooner to repay what I owe you."  But Clementina was not disappointed in this, for she read the thought in his face.  Of course, she cared for repayment for his own sake only.  Clementina had long since learned to expect any repayment only from those who say very little about it, till they bring it to one in their hand, and then generally reinforce it by such overflowing measure of love or largesse, or both, that one shamefacedly understands what the poet meant when he wrote of "the gratitude of men" that had "often left him mourning."  She had come across one or two such instances in the days when repayment had been practically very important to her, and when in her arid desert of bitter family experience the well-springing of honest gratitude had been even more important still.  She knew that the honesty and the kindliness of those two or three had kept her heart open when it was ready to close with disappointment and disgust.  They had not been people who could come very far into her life.  One was an old charwoman, who could scarcely read or write; another, a Scotch labourer on his deathbed; and the third, a young teacher who soon emigrated to New Zealand.  Miss Kerr had often felt that if she had been offered King Solomon's choice she would have asked that she might get, not wealth, or power, or even wisdom, but a chance of serving some true and gentle nature, which would not spurn or bite the hand held out to help it, and which, if Fate placed it within her sphere, might be allowed to linger there awhile.  It was an old longing of Clementina's.  Years ago it had got into her prayers.  But she had given it up for some time now, and had resolutely restrained her lips and striven to school her heart to that one petition, which is so small, because after all it is the seed of all things good—"Thy will be done."

    Assured that young Crawford had no suspicion that the help she had rendered him was of that nature which the world, who can only reckon by its own coinage, calls "a real obligation," she found it quite easy to proffer to his mother those little gifts and kindnesses which might pass naturally enough from a lonely and fairly prosperous working woman to another who was an invalid and a stranger.

    Lewis was now absent from his mother for about seven hours daily, but he could return punctually in the gloaming, to that poor soul's great delight.  Clementina Kerr constantly walked over in the afternoons, seldom going empty-handed, though her gifts were of the simplest nature—now a flower, now a few bananas, then the loan of a lamp of her own, giving more light than the one in the Crawfords' own possession, or of a reclining chair of peculiarly comfortable construction.  Even when she resolved to provide a light, warm, cheery dressing-gown for the sick woman, she went about the matter with the wisdom of the serpent.  By that time—it was not so very long—she had been made free of the Crawfords' tiny wardrobe, with whose manifold darnings and repairings the poor foreign mother's weary fingers could no longer cope.  There she found a few yards of thin, coarse Turkey red cotton which had already been washed once or twice.  Next day she brought down on her arm a gorgeous old Paisley shawl, once the property of a forgotten great-aunt.  "With their own Turkey red for a lining, this would make such a comfortable garment, and it was such a blessing to get old-fashioned things put out of the way into some use.  It would be much nicer with a little wadding, and cotton wadding was very cheap."  She actually let Lewis Crawford go to a shop and get some, and pay for it himself!

    She made up the garment in Mrs Crawford's own room, and showed her work to Lewis himself with great pride—did he not know exactly what it had cost—just the few pence he had paid for the wadding!  It was a genuine pride in her, with her own nobly thrifty ways, quite different from the insolent exultation of the rich vulgarian who boasts of the cheapness of her gifts and charities, never reckoning in their cost the reckless "cabbing" with which she collects her bargains!  And though Lewis knew that whenever Miss Kerr came she made his mother take a quantity of jelly out of a little pot she carried in her bag and never left behind her, he fancied this was only some wholesome home-made nourishment, and never dreamed it was a costly viand, almost sufficient to sustain the invalid's strength without any other food.

    Clementina Kerr felt that a giver should put more of himself into his gift than the hand with which he opens a full purse, not filled by his own labour.  Also, she had a curious feeling, partly personal pride, but partly protest against the undue usurpation of the power of "benevolence" on the part of mere wealth.  She wanted to feel she could still have done something had she remained in the position which she accepted as truly her own—the position she herself had made as a hard-working and not too fortunate artist.

    So she forewent two or three little personal luxuries which she had promised herself out of that income "of her very own," her own savings, far within which she was resolved always to keep her personal expenditure.  Her winter cloak would serve another season.  There were one or two costly books for which she could wait a little.  Nay, as she was about to enter a mercer's shop to buy herself a new pair of gloves, she paused, went home, and mended her old ones.

    This may seem ridiculous to other people.  It seemed a little queer even to Clementina herself.  She enquired very carefully into her own heart to see whether the feeling did spring wholly from a personal pride, in which case she would have promptly thwarted it; but she could not honestly convict it.  It seemed rather an instinctive clinging to the neighbourly joy of simple sharing—an instinctive recognition that this kept her relations with the Crawfords right.  Why! if she had availed herself of the prerogatives of wealth she could never have known these people.  She would not have encountered Lewis, except, perhaps, as she might have looked from a first-class carriage and seen him dragged ignominiously forth as a common felon.  It is only those who live with the poor and as the poor, who can ever know all the truth—for good or for evil—about them.  It is only such, with their own manifold struggles and self-denials, who should venture to give advice or reproof.  If one has just bought a half-guinea box of chocolate creams, how should one dare to cavil at the hardworking washerwoman's surreptitious glass of gin, or the honest serving-maid's foolish furtive feather!  Yet how well a kindly warning might come from a gentlewoman who limits her own afternoon tea, and buys her dresses with a strict view to pure beauty and good service.  Must rich people use their riches to choke up their own lives?  Must they, because they are rich, surrender the very virtues and habits which tend to bring out all that is most original and picturesque in human character?  Cannot they keep their wealth apart from themselves, a small treasury of God upon which they can draw with their own hands as the poor themselves can draw upon His great treasuries by their faith?

    It is a curious fact that those who have once lived in the region of clever contrivances, triumphant economies, and all the urgent innocent little realities of life, can never be quite happy in any atmosphere less bracing!  Better these, even with their too frequent companion Care, than any amount of ease, assurance, and luxury without them.  Sometimes the restless rich man does not know what he misses.  He may prate vaguely about "rural retirement," envy "a peaceful cottage," and talk of cultivating one's own fields, yet he goes out and buys himself another Turkey carpet or a case of costly wine, or hires an additional servant!

    Clementina knew all that is meant in that proverb of Solomon: "Much food is in the tillage of the poor."  She knew how much healthy life and skill, and honest wit and joy can be got out of every shilling.  Is there any law of Nature why twenty times as much should not be got out of twenty shillings? why a million times as much should not be got out of a million shillings?  It is not every rich person who has had the training which entitles him to ask these searching questions, but from those to whom God has given it, He will certainly require effort towards the solution of these problems.

    Clementina's mind was full of their consideration during those wan autumn days, when she went so often to and fro between her own apartments and the Crawfords' lodging.

    That yoke which we know is good to be borne in youth, she had borne not only in youth, but till she was nigh fifty years old.

    She had held her own will under, seeking nothing but to fulfil duty after duty imposed on her by hard circumstances, bred of the wrong-thinking and wrong-doing of others.  Of course, amid these stern conditions, her will, pruned and often cut down to its very root, had grown strong and vigorous.  Now, at last, she found herself set free from the hard bondage in which she had been made to serve—free to do, no longer what was best "under the circumstances," but what seemed right in the sight of God.

    She had earned money for those who would earn none for themselves, she had picked up each burden as everybody else threw it down, she had scattered pearls of counsel and suggestion before those who had trampled them under foot.  At best she had sown good seed on unreclaimed ground, whereon the thorns of this world's cares and riches and pleasures had soon sprung up and choked it.

    Poor Clementina!  In sleep she dreamed sometimes of voices, which, professing gratitude one day, had given only gibe and taunt on the next.  And in those dreams the gratitude and the gibes mingled in so strange a juxtaposition that it might have startled even the insane souls from whom they had originally issued.

    With a passionate love of justice, the strongest passion in her, as it ever must be in those with whom Love, divine and human, reigns supreme—her lot had been thrown among those who knew no law but their own lusts, who held their balances crooked, could not see the thing that is equal, and hit out wildly at aught that strove to rectify their vision.

    Sentimental women, themselves deeply injured by any chance domestic ruffle of their own luxury, had often wondered at her "hardness," because she did not glorify herself by a cheap verbal forgiveness for unrepentant sinners who had wrecked lives for whom she would have poured forth her heart's blood.  Clementina, had learned to shrink from the ordinary woman of society—almost, she feared, to hate her, as a thing at the root of many of society's bitterest wrongs.

    Among it all she had had her own exquisite love story.  Her ideal of love had always been so high that she scarcely understood how specially exquisite that story was, till advancing life gave her insight into the coarse materialism and fleeting delights which make up much that passes for love.  Yet now that she fully realised what God had vouchsafed to her in her lovely romance, there remained for her human heart this pang, that had the world been worthy of it, it need not have passed so soon out of sight in the grave.  There were summer days when the slant of a sunbeam among the trees would startle tears into Clementina's eyes, bright and keen as they remained.

    It was so new, so delightful, to feel herself at last able to give forth strength in cheering, in supporting, in inspiring, instead of in reproof and check and combat.  So she trotted to and fro, "an ugly little old maid," as she called herself, and perhaps few would have contradicted her.  She had a good laugh once, because, leading an old blind woman across a crowded thoroughfare, the dame, misled by something in the touch of her hand and the tone of her voice, always so tender to the old or poor or broken down, expressed her gratitude in these words―

    "Thank you, my pretty dear."


 
CHAPTER XVI.

A DOWNHILL PATH.


THERE are neighbourhoods in London which might be in a different land from the sombre and decayed quietude of the district where Miss Clementine Kerr and Mary Olrig dwelt unwittingly beneath one roof, and almost in a different world from the struggling poverty and daily tragedy of dim places such as that where the Crawfords lived.

    Yet among many who, from their own point of view, "must" live among the costly amenities of St James's or Mayfair, are some whose incomes would be narrow even in Islington or Camberwell.  Mr Robert Bethune might be scarcely one of these, yet it had required a good deal of family discussion and of Miss Lucy's clever management to devise how his income could do all that was required of it.  After the expenses of the high-class club to which he "must" belong, the charges for the decent hack which he "must" have for Rotten Row, the prices of a fashionable tailor, and the margin which "must" be left for cabs and stalls at the opera, there was not much left for the plebeian necessities of food and lodgment!

    Miss Lucy had bethought herself of taking counsel with a certain Highland chieftain, landless now, who lived as a fashionable bachelor in London, save when he wandered northward in the shooting season.  The McKelvie of that Ilk would not see fifty again, and was promoted to be the general confidant and adviser of ladies of similar social status.  He talked a little sentiment with them, inveighed against Radical politics, and while the widows consulted him over their boys' education, the maiden ladies were guided by him in the matter of horses and wines.

    How he had earned this position of oracle nobody could tell.  He had not even that dear-bought experience of his own blunders, which qualifies some men for the part of adviser.  It was not he who had lost the lands of the McKelvies, his forefathers had done that for him: he had not been wild; yet he did not even pretend to any moral ideals; he had no friends: he had no duties; he was responsible for nothing; he had done nothing,—except manipulate the last residue of the McKelvie finances so that his dress coats should not fail and his club subscription should be sure.

    Did Miss Lucy Bethune think such a life a success, that she should seek its guidance for her brother?  Such a question would never occur to her.  The man was the McKelvie, and had lived as the McKelvie on very narrow means.  Rab Bethune was the future laird of Bethune, and he also had to support that character on very narrow means.  That was enough for Lucy Bethune, who looked only down that arid vista of life which is visible between the black boundaries of Pride and Poverty.

    The McKelvie had instantly a course to recommend.  He knew a house which would exactly suit Miss Bethune's brother.  It was within five minutes' walk of all the clubs—within five minutes' walk of St James's Palace itself.  The house was kept by a duke's ex-butler, who had married her grace's maid.  Miss Bethune could understand that everything was quite comme-il-faut.  The McKelvie believed the parlours were disengaged at the time he was speaking.  If Miss Bethune and Mr Rab pleased, the McKelvie would write at once and make all enquiries.

    Lucy Bethune was grateful in her dignified way.  The McKelvie understood so sympathetically and took so much for granted, that she was spared all painful explicitness about economy.  So Rab Bethune's rooms were duly engaged in Courtly Street, St James's—an address becoming to a young man in society, who was to be the confidential secretary of a rising political peer.

    What mattered it that Courtly Street was but a narrow cul-de-sac, opening from a thoroughfare scarcely wider?  Everybody who was anybody knew that cramped rooms even in Courtly Street were worth as much as a snug villa in Hampstead, aye, even though those rooms might be over a shop.  But Rab was domiciled in a private house—in truth, the only private house in Courtly Street—the space whereon it was built having been too small for anything else, so that it stood between two shops like a thin gentleman squeezed between two jolly burghers.  The shops themselves were "genteel" shops, the one a dressing-case maker's and the other a perfumer's.  As for Rab Bethune's front view, his parlour window looked out on a tavern with a very wide frontage, greatly frequented by gentlemen's servants.

    This might not be a very inspiring surrounding, but we all have to decide what is necessary to our existence, and then to surrender whatever may be incompatible with such necessity, and Lucy Bethune had decided—her brother consenting with her—that the "good address" being his necessity, fresh air and such sentimental frivolities as sunsets and dawns and trees must be therefore dispensed with.

    Rab's landlord and landlady had been highly trained menials, who knew the exact wage-value of their deeply respectful manners and courteous tones.  They preferred "gentlemen" who were extravagant and luxurious and exacting, because these were the qualities which their own skill and sagacity could make most remunerative to themselves.  If one who came within their scope was not prepared for lavish expenditure in table luxuries or in toilet et cetera, he was made to feel that he did not know how things ought to be.  There is a great deal of such influence exercised in the world over the weaker sort, as anybody who has had any experience of polite servility in any form can fully understand.

    Mr Robert Bethune had not been very long away from Tweedside, and yet, as he entered his Courtly Street parlour, he did not seem quite the same man who had often so opportunely encountered Lesley Baird on the green hillside, or so innocently studied old ballads with her in the brown parlour of Edenhaugh.  His complexion was not so clear, and his lip had a fretful slackness which was new to it.

    Rab Bethune had adopted his sister's moral and social code in many respects, much in the same way that little children are fond of professing their parents' politics.  In Bethune Towers it was not very easy to escape the mesh of Lucy's regulations; and while at Edinburgh University he had lived under the discipline of a well-regulated establishment, and the influence of punctual classes and recurring duties.  Lucy knew well enough that she had to keep both her father and brother well in hand, for if ever circumstances slackened her reins for a day the household pace was altered.  The professor under whose supervision Rab had lived while at college could have told her the same thing—that while her brother was not a rebel or a ne'er-do-well, he did not live at the heart of the wholesome life in which he was placed, but on its margin, so that its limits were always galling him, and he was ever ready to lapse through any accidental or permitted breach which occurred therein.  Had Rab ever stayed at home on a lawful "out" evening?  Never.  Had he often sought permission for visits or recreation at prohibited times?  Constantly.  Had he ever spent less than his allowance?  Never.  Had his allowance ever sufficed to discharge all his bills up to date?  Never.  Had he ever failed a pass examination?  Never.  Had he ever gained a certificate of greater proficiency?  Never.  Were his chosen college friends men superior to himself—superior mentally or in moral fibre?  No; one or two of them (who were poor) had been somewhat distinguished as students, but they all, every one, were men who made no secret of views and habits, which Rab, for himself, professed to abjure and contemn.

    To a wise eye such a record signifies that Rab had, as yet, no character at all, and that nobody need have any very definite opinion about him, till they should see what happened when he was brought face to face with some of those sudden, irrevocable "choosing of the ways," which set us either manifoldly struggling up the stream or unmistakably drifting down it.  This is very far from saying that he had not already certain good qualities.  Such a girl as Lesley Baird would never have loved a man who had not the clear promise and possibility of goodness.  Lesley herself would have thought she proved this by feeling sure that she had grown a better and wiser girl since she had known Rab, not guessing that any pure love elevates the heart it enters, and has the magic power of turning even poison into food.  Wesley was often pained to feel that Rab was restive under good ways and good words which she found helpful to her own soul, but she was sure it was only the admixture of dross which repelled Rab from the gold.

    To take an instance, Miss Lucy had drilled into Rab that punctuality was an aristocratic—nay, a regal virtue.  He knew all the anecdotes about Wellington and Nelson and the other prompt warriors and statesmen.  The dilatory old laird's example was against all these precepts, and as Miss Lucy's inborn loyalty forbade her from calling attention to the fact that her father could not be called a successful or great man, she elected to clothe him with a fiction of the virtue she wished to inculcate; and her excuses for the lair's constant lapses, probably first helped to teach Rab how to make excuses for himself!

    Therefore when Rab came into occupation at Courtly Street, he announced to the ex-butler that he was a very punctual man, and that though his engagements might make many of his other arrangements somewhat irregular, yet he must insist that breakfast be always punctually served up at half-past eight.  The ex-butler received the order with respectful obedience, and never even asked that it should be reconsidered, though Rab's punctuality proved to mean somewhere within an hour after the appointed time!  The punctual arrangement certainly saved trouble in the kitchen, and Rab, eating heavy toast and drinking lukewarm coffee, was a triumphant proof to Rab himself that each day's failure must be an exception to his general rule!

    To own the truth, ever since Rab Bethune came to London, he had lived under the condition which human nature―even the strongest—always finds most trying to its fibre.

    He had been waiting!

    Every day he had expected a certain letter; and among the many which he received, that particular letter never came!

    This was actually one reason why he was so punctually unpunctual.  Every morning, lying in bed, he heard the postman's knock, and knew that if he arose and dressed he could at once ascertain whether the long looked-for epistle was laid upon his breakfast table; but he found it the more irresistible temptation to lie on, conjecturing and day-dreaming, and prolonging the daily hope which always ended in daily disappointment !

    It was a reply letter which he looked for.  Then why did he not write again to his unresponsive correspondent?  That is a resource always open, and to which most of us are sometimes driven, however much it may hurt our affection—or our vanity.

    Why?—Because he had debated within himself twenty times before he had written his unanswered letter.  Because he had never finally decided within himself that it ought to be written—come what might.  Because after he had posted it, he had wished it was within his power to recall it—had lost sight of all the arguments whereby he had goaded himself into sending it—and had begun to see all sorts of mischievous results from its despatch!

    The only result which had never occurred to his mind as a possibility was the inexplicable dead silence which had really ensued!

    Now, if that letter had been in itself a mistake (and Rab felt sure of this now), how could a second one rectify the error?  Yet the withholding of such second letter did not make the first one as if it had never been!

    Besides, since he had written that unanswered letter, he had heard news which had made its very existence intolerable to him, and which converted the inscrutable silence into which it had disappeared into an absolute torture.

    Every day as he came down to breakfast and looked through his correspondence in vain, he said to himself that this was very hard on a man—the kind of thing that makes a fellow's life run to waste—and yet just what nobody could foresee!  It never occurred to him to question how far his will and foresight might have had free play in circumstances preceding the despatch of that letter, and without which it need never have been written.

    Four letters to-day.  Not one the desired.  One, manifestly a bill, which he tossed aside; another, a missive in an eccentric envelope, with a monogram visible in the contortions of a dancing demon; the third, from his father, the laird; the last (which he opened first), a card of invitation to an evening assembly at the house of a young married lady of rank, an acquaintance of Miss Lucy Bethune's.

    Next in order he took his father's letter.

    It began, as his father's letters always did, with a grumble about things in general; but the old laird hastened over this more briefly than was his habit, and went on―

    "I have felt very much harassed of late—only likely, after all I have just gone through, and you—the only one to whom I can speak—away from me.  Do you remember what you told me of your suspicion about a certain person's visit to Haldane's cottage?  It is very singular that only a few days after you went away, Lucy, who, of course, knew nothing—and knows nothing—began to talk about the Haldane cottage, and to say it should be pulled down: that it was disgraceful to let an old woman live alone in such a ricketty place.  I could not help entertaining the idea a little favourably.  I never had liked old Jean.  She is a woman of so few words, you do not know when you reach the bottom of that sort, they are just the folk who say things at the wrong time and to the wrong people.  Why shouldn't she go and live in London with her granddaughter, as was only natural and proper?  But I'd never have got the thing carried through—you know my way—only Lucy was so prompt and persistent.  She made me go with her and tell old Jean about it, and the old dame said never a word against it, but looked me straight in the face and said 'Very good.'  It made me feel as if I was a brute, and I've felt cross with Lucy ever since.  The house is pulled down, but instead of going up to London, old Mrs Haldane is staying on with the Bairds at Edenhaugh"—(Rab sprang to his feet and something very like an oath started from between his teeth)—"It has ended in nothing at all—except putting me in the wrong and turning everybody against me.  One wonders sometimes"—the old laird broke off that sentence and began another—"I never would have done what I did (you know what I mean) but for your sake, though you have given me only hard words for having done it.  As I said to you before you left—it all came upon me at such unfortunate seasons.  The first time, just after I had married your mother, and I thought nothing at all (was I bound to ask questions?) might come of it; and the second time, you were born and your mother was at death's door.  Word of it would have killed her—(poor soul, she died all the same!)  And poverty is a sorer thing to those who have known wealth than to those who have not.  It was for your sake, and really it seemed as if it might all end in smoke—and now it seems as if it never will end at all.  I'm getting very old, and I don't know what the next world will be like, but I'm sure I've had no satisfaction out of this!"

    It was a pitiful letter, the weak outpouring of a broken mind whose remorse rose only to the level of self-excuse and self-pity.  Rab's lip curled with unfilial contempt as he felt that his father only regretted his recent high-handed dealings with the Haldanes because of their apparent futility, and his lurking consciousness that they might not add to his comfort in another state of existence!

    This was the first that Rab had heard of the eviction of old Mrs Haldane.  Lucy had not been so prompt in giving that news as in reporting Lesley Baird's engagement with Logan of Gowan Brae.

    "Poor old father!" said Rab, his soft heart relenting as there rose before his mind the image of the bent, shabby old figure of the laird, his rumpled grey head bowed upon his trembling hands, as he had sat while his son had heaped upon him "hard words."  Somehow he could already understand his father better than he had been able to do on the terrible evening when the young man got his first glimpse into an utterly unsuspected skeleton chamber in Bethune Towers.  Since that date Rab's soul had been living in the atmosphere of an old persistent sin.  And whoever finds that bearable may presently think it wholesome, or at least comfortable, and then begin to mistrust and misunderstand whatever he finds incompatible therewith.

    Yet it was really too bad that an old widow woman and a young girl should have to suffer for a contact with the Bethune affairs which, so far as they were concerned, must have been quite accidental and perfectly harmless.  What could have set Lucy at work in this direction?  Could it be mere coincidence?

    And then to think of old Mrs Haldane staying in the Bairds' house.  Why―

    And there Rab interrupted his own soliloquy by a fresh train of thought.

    Was it possible that this friendly alliance might shed a light on the mysterious silence which had tormented him ever since he arrived in London?  Rab had cursed the hour when he had allowed himself to send that letter which, unanswered, seemed to have but betrayed him to no purpose.  And yet—and yet—there might be but some mistake.  A sweet face seemed to smile upon him once more out of the mist of suspicion, and terror, and self-humiliation which had of late enveloped him.  Could that sweet face be cruel, heartless, false—turned towards one to-day like a guardian angel's, and turned from one on the morrow, astute and inscrutable as that of a detective?

    How far did considerations like these, and a wild hope of probing the mystery to his own satisfaction, influence Rab in a sudden determination to try to see old Mrs Haldane's grand-daughter, and ascertain (as if the enquiry came from his father) whether there was anything the Bethune family could do to assuage the bitterness of the change they had brought on the old lady?

    It was a wild scheme; Rab could see that it had risks.  But he argued within himself that if the peace and security of Bethune Towers were really in danger from this quarter, then at worst his action could but precipitate hostilities.  On the other hand, if the whole matter was capable of innocent explanation, it would soften a harshness which evidently weighed on his father's weary conscience, and (strongest plea in favour of the idea) it would give him a chance of hearing once more of sweet Lesley Baird from others than his chill step-sister.  At that moment he felt that he would run any risk in the world could he hope to meet Lesley's true eyes and hear her deny all truth in that report about Logan of Gowan Brae.

    The scheme, which for a moment seemed but chimerical, gradually shaped itself into plain possibility.  He could see Miss Olrig at the telegraph office.  Nay, he would not call expressly to see her; he would go to see the marvellous organisation of the establishment, and would enquire after her, as it were, by the way.

    He lingered over his breakfast, working out these plans in his mind and resolving to put them into execution that very day, when his landlord knocked at his door, and in a tone of voice which indicated most respectfully that this was not a correct calling hour, announced that Mr Richard Fowell wished to see Mr Bethune.

    Now Mr Richard Fowell was the writer of the letter stamped with the dancing demon.  Rab suddenly recollected this document, which had remained unopened and forgotten.  He tore it open hastily and glanced through its contents, with the playful prefix of "Dear Beth," and the playful signature of "Dicky Bird," the writer's pet witticism on his proper name.

    The note only invited Rab's company for some occasion which, on that day, chanced to give holiday to most politicians and their underlings.  Rab promptly decided to refuse.  If Dicky Bird wanted Mr Bethune's company to-day he must annex himself to Mr Bethune's own doings.  Meanwhile, Mr Richard Fowell might be shown in.

    Mr Richard Fowell appeared.  He was still a minor, and despite his boyish air and his blue eyes, he had a dreary look for one who always described himself as leading a "jolly life."  That he could call himself "the chum" of the same man who loved Lesley Baird showed that that man must have two natures so incongruous that either one of the two must presently fall off, or the whole life prove but a warped monstrosity.

    For Mr Richard Fowell himself it must be pleaded that he was a rich orphan, with no knowledge of any virtues nobler or warmer than the chill proprieties of aristocratic schools and first-class tutors.  It was not very surprising that he had found "more go, you know," among a large circle of medical students who did not study, and artists who did not paint.  As he himself would have admitted, he "stuck up considerably" to Rab Bethune, because an earl's secretary with a county name was an undeniably respectable acquaintance to "sport" to his "governors."

    "You've got my letter, Beth," he said, glancing over the table; "you'll come, won't you?  I expected to find you all trimmed and ready, knowing that you are the famous early bird that catches the worm." (Confiding Dicky Bird!)

    "O, I've been lingering over my breakfast this morning," returned Rab, which was true—but, nevertheless, he had been late.  "No, Fowell, I shan't be able to come with you to-day.  I want to go somewhere else, very particularly."

    "Quite special," echoed the readily acquiescent minor.  "Well, it can't be helped.  But aren't you looking rather queer?  Impudent of me to make remarks, isn't it?"

    "Do I look queer?" asked Rab, shaking himself up.  "Well, perhaps so; I've had worrying letters from home."

    "What! are you in for it already?" cried the guest eagerly.  "Why, I was thinking of taking you for my mentor and good example.  You must have been going a pace to put up your governor's back so soon!  Ha! ha!  You quiet ones are always the worst."

    "O, it's nothing of that kind," said Rab, feeling the treacherous delight of talking out his vexation to one who could not understand its origin.  "It is only an important letter that does not come.  And there are some affairs my father is very anxious about—little things bother elderly people, you know.  And my sister Lucy is peculiar.  They live a hemmed-in life at Bethune Towers.  I have often felt that existence would have been unendurable there, without the change I had to Edinburgh."

    "And yet these Red-Radical-Socialists would like to compel country gentlemen to live on their own estates!" responded Richard Fowell.  "A likely thing indeed!  And some people at the very other end from the Red-Radicals would bring one to the same thing with their talk about the duties of one's station and all that humbug!  There's my guardian—an avuncular relation, you know.  A cleric—dean—possible bishop—heavy swell style, don't you understand?  What fun does he get out of life?  So he'd like to spoil mine!"

    Rab laughed.  "Perhaps the dean does not care for fun," he suggested.

    "'Richard,' says he," proceeded the minor, mimicking an austere air and pompous manner; "'Richard, I am deeply grieved to think of the people with whom you consort.  What were you telling your cousins the other day about a young man who had to wear his dress coat in the morning because all his other garments were in pawn?  Is that a proper friend for you?  Is that a fit person to discuss with your cousins?'  'Uncle,' returns this dutiful nephew, 'it is not the religion of Richard Fowell to spurn a man as a publican and sinner because he is short of the needful.  I would not dream of corrupting my dear lady cousins' pure minds, but I presume even their select and refined education has allowed them to read about the great and good Dr Johnson sitting behind his publisher's screen because his unmentionables were shabby.'  I had him there, you see," commented Dick, relapsing into his natural manner; "though, faith! my chum Giltspur isn't much like the dingy dictionary maker, if the worthy dean only knew it!  And the old gentleman actually thought he would show a little fight in that direction," and Dick returned to his mimicking.

    "'My dear Richard,' says the dean, 'we must remember that all impecuniosity is not caused by devotion to intellectual labours or by an ideal development of the sublimer virtues.  It is often induced by quite a contrary order of things.  If you can assure me that your friend――'

    "'Uncle,' I rejoined, with that quiet dignity which is so becoming to my style, 'is it your duty as a Christian to institute a more searching enquiry into the character of a man because you know he is poor than you would dream of doing if you believed him to be rich?  Do you require all the wealthy men with whom you dine to be as learned and as pious as Dr Johnson?  About my friend Giltspur I scorn to make any explanation—he is My Friend (with capitals, you know how, Beth!).  But concerning those poor wretches whose indubitable vices strip the coats from their backs, ought I to pass them by on the other side, seeing that my famous forefather who founded our distillery shrewdly foresaw that as fast as these miserable sinners strip off their coats we should put them all on?  Is a thing lamentable when it costs you a coat, but laudable when it gives you one?  Or may it not be my duty, uncle, to stop the distillery and pour the spirits down the drain?  That has been done by some."'

    And having finished his dramatic interlude, to which he gave a very fair amount of mimetic force, the minor returned into his own true self.

    "Then the uncle groaned and went away, quite shut up.  That's the way to settle these old fogies' preaching.  Set them down to the very bottom of things, and you find they don't mean to begin to clear away there any more than we do ourselves!"

    "There are some people who think whatever isn't humdrum isn't respectable—as if being respectable is everything!  They don't reflect on what may be wrapped up in respectability."  Rab spoke with bitterness, carrying on his own private line of thought the while.

    "What is 'respectable'?" asked his friend with a fine scorn.  "Donkeys are respectable—for even when they kick they generally do it in moderation.'  I don't believe in one half of the world not knowing how the other half lives.  I've pawned lots of things and I know how it feels to keep dark because of duns.  That's the only way to know life—that's the only way to have sympathies!"

    O how true his words were in themselves and how falsely they came from him!  For how can the wilful "scrapes" of the rich spendthrift teach him aught of the unutterable woe of the honest and industrious poor man, ready for work but finding none, and parting from one after another of the cherished treasures of happier days, each linked with memories of household joy and honour, but now "put away," according to the pathetic phrase, to sustain the bare life which (were not such thought a sin), he would far rather lay down.  Nor, on the other hand, can the rich prodigal's shifts and schemes and "lucky escapes" help him to know what sweet, strange flowers of hope grow among the unfathomed bogs of black despair—ever the stranger and the sweeter as the bog grows deeper and blacker, so that none can guess the sweetness and the wonder of those which he may grasp who seems to sink at last into utter darkness!

    Now Rab had no innate sympathy with young gentlemen who pawn their diamond rings to extricate themselves out of difficulties they need never have got into.  He had neither the reckless animal spirits nor that dash of restless romance which, alas, urges many towards these unprofitable escapades in a world where well-directed animal spirits and genuine heroism might do so much.  Rab's own dangerous tendencies and temptations were all in the direction of luxurious ease and security.  The consciousness of cramp in the Bethune revenues had always galled him.  If the whole sad truth must be owned, alongside with his simple true attraction to sweet Lesley Baird, there was an undertone of regret that she was not a well-dowered lady or even the daughter of one of the wealthy "trade" people who were held at such discount in The Towers.  Only a few weeks ago he would have taken occasion to check Richard Fowell's confidences by some well-turned sentence of highbred sentiment.  Since that time he had learned to live with a secret which was in flat contradiction to all his old formulas of honour, chivalry, and dignity.  It was perhaps a hopeful sign in Rab that his self-knowledge at least checked the formulas which had not availed to avert it.  So he kept silence.

    "Governors might wait a little before they are in such a burry to suspect us of making fools of ourselves," pursued his edifying companion.  "If my allowance runs short it isn't because I've lent it to Giltspur.  These poor wretches may hang on to us in the hope of getting something, but they seldom get much.  The governor is always so afraid of my being 'entangled,' as he calls it—bring home as Mrs Richard Fowell some barmaid or shop girl, or such 'inferior person,' as he calls 'em.  And, by Jingo! Beth, what do you think my little cousin Tom told me his sister Betty said the other day?  The Dean was going on about this 'inferior' person, and Betty, she says: 'Papa, I don't think it will be easy for Richard to find an inferior person, for I suppose you mean inferior to himself.  Would it not be better to say "poorer"?  'Cheeky, wasn't it?  I boxed Tom's ears; but I couldn't help admiring Betty.  I can always see there's something in that girl—the only one of the lot who is worth her salt!

    "The governor may make himself easy about me on that score," Richard went on, sagely shaking his little cropped head; "in my wife I shall take the advice of the goody books and look for qualities which wear well—preference shares and debentures, and a few hundred acres in a good hunting county.  And, 'pon my word, it's the way to get the best wife all round.  For a woman respects a man the more if she feels he had some solid ground for his choice of her, instead of idiotically succumbing to her presumed charm and magic!  They look out for solid charms in us—and I say it only shows their good sense, the dear little innocent lambs, who are all as cunning as the cutest of us foxes!"

    Rab could not help laughing, but winced a little.  These remarks touched to the quick his own aching longing towards Lesley, and all the pains and doubts which were gathering round it.  Of course he knew Lesley was a girl of quite another type from those on whom Dicky Bird was animadverting, and of course the feeling that had arisen between her and himself was of a kind entirely beyond Dicky's understanding.  Of course! of course!  But Rab did not think deeply enough to know that there is danger lest our thoughts and feelings presently take tint or taint from the atmosphere which surrounds them.  The whitest lily cannot long retain all its cool purity if it is left under a smoking chimney.

    If Rab had been one of those who search into their own hearts he would have detected that Lesley's image had already contracted a smirch from Miss Lucy's report of her engagement to Logan of Gowan Brae.  Had he not, with impatient irritability, said to himself that though this must be false, yet it came of Lesley's "unfortunate position."  There might be false rumours of matrimonial engagement about any woman; he had heard enough of them in the circle of his sister's friends, but then the men were always eligible foreigners, or bachelors of, rank or fortune; men who might have all the vices under the sun, but who, according to one of poor Rab's favourite formulas, "were at least gentlemen."  It was a different story when a girl's name could be connected with such as the vulgar middle-aged farmer of Gowan Brae, a widower to boot, with his whisky in the afternoon and his toddy at night, and his talk about kine and crops.

    There was a short silence during which Mr Richard Fowell looked round him.

    "Beth," he said, "it's a sin for you to live in these poky little rooms (excuse me for speaking plain, it's my nature where friends are concerned).  They are just fit for a duke's courier.  Of course you took them before you knew London?"

    "Yes," answered Rab rather stiffly; "I engaged them before I came up, on the recommendation of McKelvie of McKelvie, that fine looking old fellow who spoke to me when we were at the opera, you know."

    Dicky Bird laughed knowingly.  "Never go to recommended lodgings, nor drink recommended wine," he said.  "I could show you some fine chambers near Park Lane; you'd have to get your own furniture, and hire somebody to wait on you—something like a college gyp, you know.  But it would come cheaper in the end; I mean you'd get more in proportion for your money.

    "This is not a good address, Beth.  No—Courtly Street getting shady.  It was A1 in the old days, in the McKelvie's youth, perhaps.  But times change.  If your special engagement isn't for the early hours, we might take a look at these chambers to-day."

    Rab hesitated.  He had made up his mind to go to the Telegraph Office.  But he could do that in the afternoon.  And certainly he did not like his present abode.  Nay, he hated it, as we are apt to hate places where we have known nothing but carking unrest of mind.  It could do no harm to go and see these chambers.

    Dicky Bird took him very much "under his wing."  As they walked through the West End streets, comparatively dull and deserted in this early winter season, he told Rab that if he thought of renting these chambers he would not find much trouble in furnishing them.

    "You must not look on money invested in furniture as spent, my dear fellow," he explained in his spurious business-like way, which had such fascination for unbusiness-like Rab; "there is good 'value received,' you know.  If ever you happen to be short of the sinews of war, furniture is a security ready to your hand.  And I bet your governor will think that furnishing is a nice domestic taste for you to develop."

    Poor Rab's heart gave a leap.  Why, this might actually be a step on his own road towards a life with Lesley!  If he ever married her, they would have to begin in some way like this.  Rab dreamed a dream in Piccadilly.  But he awoke to the remembrance of the rumour concerning farmer Logan, and of the fact that the expected letter never came.

    He was silent and meditative over the survey of the rooms, which were certainly airy and spacious by comparison with Courtly Street.  Though he came to no conclusion, yet he left his card with the house agent, that he might have "the first refusal."  And he made an appointment to go with Mr Fowell on some future day to see a set of furniture which some ally of that gentleman wished to dispose of.

    It was dark afternoon, foggy and muddy, before Rab started towards the city.  Tired and worried and disorganised by a sense of all sorts of changes and choices, voluntary and involuntary, impending over him, he was particularly susceptible to all the rude jars and discords which rioted round him.  How sharp and careworn the people looked.  How they rushed, and hurried, and bawled.  What frightful faces were now and then revealed by a sudden glare of gas light!  This was what struggle for bread meant!  He had known all this before—as we know about a foreign land of which we read or see pictures.  But now he felt as if he was skirting this inhospitable shore and might at any moment be wrecked upon it.

    O, surely it was a terrible thing to want money!  He had, indeed, spoken too harshly to his father.

    "If I were to be thrown into this vortex to struggle as these poor wretches do," he thought, "I might as well go and hang myself at once, for I could not do it."

    Such is the terrible doubt which always besets those who recognise the intensity of the battle of life, while they remain outside it.  In the horrible conditions into which Luxury and Greed force the masses, from whom they wring very life that they may trample it under foot, Luxury and Greed ever find new temptations and excuses for themselves !

    By the time Rab's cab reached Telegraph Court, the obscure turning from which the huge organisation then worked, he had quite given up all thoughts of disguising his interview with Mary Olrig as the mere by-thought of an intelligent and enquiring stranger.  He wanted only a few words with her, and felt ready to risk anything if he might settle his bewilderments one way or the other.

    An attendant of some sort took Rab's message, rather grudgingly, as if it was outside the duties for which the Telegraph Company retained his services.  Rab was left standing in a bleak, unfurnished vestibule into which the raw night air found easy entrance, and which was lit only by one flaring gas-jet.

    Of course Rab had seen Mary Olrig many times, in the village and at church.  He had heard of her too from Lesley.  He was sure he would at least have no difficulty in introducing himself.

    But this was not the Mary Olrig whom he knew who advanced towards him down the long, narrow passage up which his messenger had gone.

    This was a woman on the edge of middle age, primly dressed, with old-fashioned ringlets about her face.  She made a slight bow, and asked rather acidly if he was the gentleman who had enquired for Miss Olrig.

    "Miss Olrig is not here to-day," she said; "Miss Olrig has been absent through indisposition.  Our Lady Superintendent has the impression that Miss Olrig may not return to her appointment here."

    This came to Rab like a blow on the face.

    "Do you know Miss Olrig's private address?" he inquired?  "I could write for it to her friends in the country, but that would involve a day or two's delay, and my business is urgent."

    The prim person said she would make enquiries.  The result was that in a few minutes a message boy brought Rab a slip of paper on which Mary's address was written.

    Rab saw at a glance that by making a detour he could take it in on his return journey to Courtly Street.  He felt desperately determined to get some sort of satisfaction before going home.  The mysterious hint of Miss Olrig's resignation of her appointment raised all sorts of uneasy feelings, each a contradiction of the other.

    He threw himself into his cab, told the man where to drive, and soon found himself rattling by the cabman's "short cut" through a region wholly unknown to him.  It was a place of intense gloom and depression, streets mostly of shabby private houses behind decayed and dismal gardens, dim lights winking from upper windows, here and there the flare of a big public-house or the gaunt shadow of an ancient church.  The distance seemed interminable, but at last the vehicle got into a long road, somewhat enlivened by very miscellaneous shops mostly built over the dismal gardens in front of the shabby houses.  Rab bestirred himself, for by one or two landmarks he knew he was approaching his destination.

    Suddenly the cab slackened speed and then stopped, checked by some obstacle in the road.  As Rab stretched forward to see what was the matter, he caught sight of a familiar face moving along the side walk.

    Yes; it was thinner and paler than it used to be, but it was a face to recognise anywhere—the face of Mary Olrig herself.

    She was walking in the direction away from the house to which Rab was driving.  He must speak to her here—at once—or miss her hopelessly for to-day.  He pulled the check string violently.

    At that instant he saw she was not alone.

    There was a gentleman with her.  (That was how Rab's thought instinctively described the figure at her side.)

    But what?—Who?—How?

    For Mary Olrig's companion was a young man, dark in face, resolute and even distinguished in bearing.

    And Rab Bethune had seen him before, and knew who he was!

    The cabman had said, "What's your pleasure, sir?" three times before he shouted it loud enough to rouse Rab from the wild stupor which his recognition had brought upon him.

    "Home—I mean don't go where I told you.  Drive straight to Courtly Street, St James's."

    No need now to speak with Mary Olrig to-day—or any other day.

    The worst must come to the worst!


 
CHAPTER XVII.

MARY OLRIG'S DARK DAYS.


TO Rab Bethune, with a dismal secret corrupting in his own heart, and tainting every thought with suspicion, it could never have occurred as possible that Lewis Crawford and Mary Olrig had met for the first time in London only an hour or two before he saw them walking together in the twilight.

    Yet this was the simple fact.

    During the weeks, growing on into months, since Mary had entered on her duties in the great city, she had passed through that experience which more than any other shapes the character and destiny of the individual undergoing it.

    She had been alone with God.

    Not merely alone, as any of us may be left, with settled skies above us and the stream of circumstance flowing gently past us.  But alone with Him in the darkness and the storm—the old chart of life lost, the familiar landmarks perished, no future haven in sight, the very richness and delicacy of the gifts with which her nature was freighted, only serving to imperil it the more in the rough billows by which it was buffeted.

    Hers was a touching enough position if looked at even from the outside.  Mary stood in the wide world with no kindred save an agèd grandmother, herself dependent on a pittance that would die with her, and which even now, thrown out of the lowly shelter which it had hitherto sustained, would do but little without the charity of kindly neighbours like the Bairds.  And Mary was set to toil for daily bread in engrossing mechanical labour, among unknown and unchosen companions, with no prospect of change or release—nay, rather with the fear that change or release might befall her against her will.

    To these outward conditions, common, alas, to many thousands, it must be added that this particular girl was of a deeply loving and clinging nature, to whom true and tender domesticities and devotions were all in all, their absence not to be even palliated by any of the fripperies of dress and flirtation, amusement and variety, which serve as substitutes with natures of a lower level.  She had gifts of insight and imagination which enabled her to realise her position and all its possibilities with the graphic power of a painter and the passion and pathos of a poet.  She had, too, that faculty of generalisation which argues from the individual to the mass, so that the dumb agony and mystery of the world's woe were revealed to her in her own suffering, while she had a noble inability to take refuge in any hope which could not be of universal application.  Further, beneath the reserve of her manner and the resolution of her character, there throbbed a soul thrilling and sensitive to every unwary jostle, to every cross wind of human atmosphere.  One realises that here was a poor little present day version of the great tragedy of humanity, the soul finely touched and yet tossed out on roughest issue, Prometheus bound a helpless victim on the cruel rock of antagonistic circumstance.

    O, how Mary loathed the daily surrounding of her life.  Years afterwards it would return to her as a nightmare—the big bare chamber at the top of the huge house in Telegraph Court, the sun flaring down through the dusty skylights, the long rows of soiled wooden desks dotted with machines whose horrid metallic clack went on relentlessly.  There were at least a hundred girls in that room; some stolidly absorbed in their functions, some only too ready to turn aside to furtive novel or snatch of chatter.

    What visions of green hill sides and purling streams used to haunt Mary in this place which was so dreadful to her.  They would rise before her like the phantasmagoria haunting the misery of the sea-sick traveller, or of him who dies of thirst in a desert.

    It was days, almost weeks, before she would allow her utter misery to force itself on her own consciousness.  She bent all her powers to the skill she had to acquire, and took some pride in mastering it.  The kindly lady superintendent never passed her without an encouraging word, the subordinate supervisors generally had a compliment attached to their instructions and hints.

    Most of the girls were kindly, too, though the eyes of many were critical of Mary's severely plain dress, which, oddly enough, is always regarded by smartly attired women as an assumption of superiority, and is resented accordingly!

    But oh, their talk—its frivolity, its inanity—even if there was nothing worse.  Of course there were exceptions, girls who sat steadily at their machines, and who, when not occupied therewith, devoted themselves to crochet, or to strips of embroidery, speaking little beyond casual civilities of salutation.  Some of these girls, Mary learned, were teachers in Sunday or Ragged schools.  She looked at these with respect, with admiration, yet with a secret terror.  Nearly all of them looked so dull, so de-individualised, so youthless.  Yet Mary found that most of them lived at home, had fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters, and such share of household interests as their brief wearied leisure would permit.  But they had entered into their present way of life quite young, placed in it by forecasting parents, with only too much reason to dread what the uncertain future might hold for their little maids.  Then, being too earnest and honest to enter into or approve of the tone of things around them, they had withdrawn into their own little shells and had stiffened there.

    Over how much Mary wondered as she watched them all, sitting at their machines from nine o'clock till five, or from ten till six, or from eleven till eight!  The regulations allowed this latitude in the matter of hours, though, except by special favour, it was expected that each period should be taken in rotation by each girl clerk.

    One girl might be stout and stolid, the sort of girl who does what is given her to do, but does not think much about it, nor about anything else.  On her right might sit a giddy creature, full of frivolous chatter, and of that light good humour which somehow resembles those graceful creepers which are so sweet and elegant if well trimmed and supported, but which are so terribly apt to trail down and wither in the dust.  On her left might be a prim, conscientious maiden, intent on her duty, but narrow in her sympathies and interests and in her own self-satisfaction.  And beyond her, again, might be a sweet face, with a sensitive mouth, and waiting eyes like those of a poor forgotten dog.

    But what signified varieties of character and constitution?  For each and for all there was the same task, the intent watching of the little restless hand of some machine with clock-like face, or the manipulation of another, which exuded a perennial stream of paper tape inscribed with cabalistic dots and dashes.  For all that was required of them, there needed to be as little variety in the girls as in the machines!  As in the one so in the other—there might be a shade of difference in speed or force; but the stupidest girl or the most worn machine had to be correct, and the brightest and best could be no more.  One of the cleverest girls was always chosen to work the instrument connected with Tattersall's, the varied and curious names of horses requiring quickness of comprehension and correctness of orthography.  There she sat in her wholesome, blooming womanhood, devoting her best faculties to facilitate the doings of "the turf."

    To Mary Olrig there was ever present the question, "Is all this according to the will of God?"  It was not the mere monotony or drudgery which started the doubt.  She had seen outwardly harder lives of women which had never raised this enquiry within her.  The sight of the women folk of Sutherland crofters, digging potatoes, shearing their scanty harvests, or tending their "beasts" in wild wind and snow drift, had only made her admire their superior physical vigour.  So had the yellow-haired fisherwomen, whom she had seen in Banff or Aberdeenshire toiling up steep cliffs beneath heavy creels laden with "halesome farm"' from the sea, or even lending a hand to haul in a boat in some creek of their fierce coast.  But then such women, however coarsely clad or roughly housed, were all serving wholesome and everlasting human needs, and living in the light of heaven and the peace and quiet of nature.  Whereas this ceaseless flashing to and fro of the rise and fall of stocks and shares, the fluctuation of market prices, the winning and losing of races, or even the sudden crash of household hopes and joys, seemed to Mary only a hurrying of human greed, anxiety, and woe into an ever deadlier crush!

    These were questions which probably did not trouble anybody else in that wide, restless apartment.  Mary ever afterwards remembered a subdued conversation with one of the girls whose face had attracted her.  A tall pretty girl, who was on good terms with everybody, admitted to civilities by those of the prim, severe type, yet by no means withdrawing herself from exchanging similar civilities with others whose style of thought and word made Mary shrink with dislike and terror.

    This girl had told Mary her name and her little history; Kate Joyce: father, a clerk in a bank, often invalided, might be turned off any day; would not have a pension, because he had not been long with his present employers, the "house " which he had served from his youth up having failed, and cast all its people adrift.  That is to say, all the people who had done its work, had no share in its speculations, and would not have gained by them had they been successful.  There were others who were not turned adrift—partners' wives, secured by timely marriage settlements, and keeping up their domestic establishments as snug and even gorgeous retreats for their spouses in "misfortune."  But this was not Kate Joyce's own innocent rendering of her family history.

    She told Mary that it was often very dull at home: poor father was so melancholy.  They had been really afraid for his mind when the bank failed.  It had altered everything so completely.  There was her brother, he was to be a schoolmaster, but that had to be stopped.  And there was her sick sister, she was just going off to the seaside, but that had to be stopped too, and when she died father got it into his head that if she had been able to go she might have been saved, and then he became dreadful.  Mother said it was well to be Lucy, safe out of all the wear and care of such a world.  For her own part, Kate thought it was hard to die young, but she believed Lucy would have died anyhow.  Things were hard on mother, because she had to do all the housework too, now that Lucy was dead and Kate had to go out to work.  They had never kept a servant, but they had managed very nicely before.

    "I suppose it was not easy for Mr Joyce to get another appointment?" Mary had remarked.

    "Easy!" Kate echoed.  "Nobody knows how hard such things are!  Of course failures always happen in bad seasons when nobody wants to engage fresh clerks.  Father had managed to save a little money, about two hundred pounds.  He had never smoked, and was a total abstainer, and they had always lived thriftily.  It must have been very hard for him to take it out pound by pound for us to live upon.  And the rent made such great holes.  But mother always said, what were savings for, except for a rainy day?  Mother took it brightly and was sure something would turn up in time.  But her hair got very white, and she had not had one grey hair before.  Yet what she said came true—something did turn up.  First my brother got a place as a clerk.  Oh, how many letters he had written, and how he had tramped about!  It is worth only forty pounds a year and has no outlook; but, as mother says, everything helps, and this gives time for something else to happen.  Father said it would spread out the savings a little further.  Then father actually got a place for himself."

    "How happy that must have made you," said Mary, whose imagination was haunted for days afterwards by the figure of the blooding, defeated man.

    "Oh, Miss Olrig, wasn't he pleased?" Kate echoed, with earnest simplicity.  "The salary was little more than he had begun with as a young man, but, as he said, old men musn't expect much unless they're standing in the place where they've always stood.  And then one of father's old firm got me my appointment here.  He actually came to see us himself when he had the good news—brought his two daughters in the brougham—and there were tears in his eyes."

    "But I thought he had failed," said innocent Mary.

    "Yes, so he had," said Kate; "father always thought he was too venturesome, but, you see, he had been tempted on and on, and he had made a great deal of money by former speculations which succeeded."

    "But when he failed at last," asked Mary, "did not that mean he had lost everything?  It was his having the brougham which puzzled me."

    "Oh, they did put down the carriage and pair for a while," said Kate equably; "but they've got them again now.  You see he had a great deal of money settled on his wife and children years before.  He had made a big settlement on his bride when he married, and he increased it as the children came.  Father always said he was a very kind-hearted man, and mother regularly says that my getting the situation did not do her so much good as when he held her hand and said: 'Mrs Joyce, "I have never seen the righteous forsaken nor His seed begging their bread."  That word holds good, doesn't it?'  And mother burst out crying, and said: 'It does, sir, it does.'  It seemed like everything coming right at the end of a play, and I could not help wishing Lucy had lived to see it."

    "But Mr Joyce is still sometimes melancholy," remarked Mary, listening, full of reflections.

    "Yes, at times," Kate admitted; "because I think he feels having to work harder for half the salary.  But mother always says, 'Let us be thankful.'  Yet father was quite cheerful at first.  I never shall forget how he said grace over the first meal that was paid for with money earned instead of with money saved.  We had come very near the end of that saved money, I can tell you, Miss Olrig.  Father has said to me that what he was most grateful for was, that he had been able to keep up his Life Insurance Premium, for if he had had to live on its surrender value, he thought he might have gone mad.  It is only for a hundred pounds, but he feels it will be always something for mother."

    "And your salary will go on rising," said Mary.

    Kate Joyce gave her head a dubious wag: "Not very much," she said; "I don't know French or German, and I'm not good at very out-of-the-way words.  It will be a long time before I pass a pound weekly.  But that does very well for me, living at home.  If only home was not so far off!"

    "You live at――?" said Mary, with an interrogative blank.

    "At Camberwell," Kate answered.  "I walk all the way every morning, and I generally allow myself a twopenny lift on my way home.  Even that comes to a shilling a week.  And anything more would take too much gilt off the gingerbread.  I often wonder how long I shall be able to keep on doing this."

    "Yes," cried Mary, impulsively speaking out her own haunting terror; "I constantly wonder how this life will suit us when we are women of forty!"

    Kate stared with her pretty blank blue eyes.  "O dear," she said in an undertone of dismay, "don't mention such a thing!  One could never look forward to it!  One always hopes something will happen, you know.  Why, only last week one of our girls was married—and well married."

    "But how awful to look forward to marriage in that way!" cried Mary, with an involuntary arching of her neck, as if a snake had started up in her path.

    "All girls expect to get married," said Kate Joyce; "even girls who can live comfortably at home want to be married."

    "I don't know about wanting to be married," returned Mary Olrig in her proud young maidenhood; "but it would be dreadful to think of marriage as an escape from an unbearable life.  It is sacrilege to look at it so!  Why, one might be actually tempted to marry somebody one did not love--or to fancy oneself in love where one was not."

    "I like to read about love," said Kate Joyce; "in story books I skip nearly everything else.  But in real life, you know—" she paused a moment.  "If a man is kind and respectable, and has a good home and a fair income, I think one might easily grow to like him, and life might get on very comfortably.  Don't you think so?"

    "No," answered Mary, with quite unnecessary emphasis, so that a girl at a little distance looked up and wondered.  "No—and I shall never rest content in any life in which I could not be quite content to remain, unless love itself called me out of it!"

    "But what is one to do?" asked Kate helplessly.  "And besides, I should not like to be an old maid anywhere."

    Mary stood looking drearily out of one of the dismal windows.  "One would wish to love and to be loved," she said; "but that might be, and yet death might intervene, or duty or misfortune might hinder marriage, and so leave one, externally, where one was before."

    "Oh no, not long," said Kate with some animation.  "A woman who has had one lover can always get another—have not you noticed that?"  Mary gazed at her in dismay, unable to catch the drift of her observation, until she went on.  "There was a girl here who had been engaged—oh, such a while.  The young man was abroad, and had had a great struggle.  I think be must have been very fond of her—he wrote so regularly.  Once she was just going out to be married to him when the Company he worked for broke up and that threw him back.  I thought at the time she was more than sorry—she was downright vexed—and no wonder! for she was close upon thirty.  And all of a sudden a gentleman proposed to her straight off—ready to marry her in a month's time.  He was a widower—had been twice married—and had six children—but oh! such a nice house, and a chaise too.  She took him.  I think she was quite right."

    "What became of the first lover?" asked Mary, feeling a curious sense of shame at having got into such conversation with a girl of Kate Joyce's tone of mind.

    "I don't know—nobody thought any more of him," said Kate.  "Some of us got a half holiday to go to Miss Bell's wedding.  She looked delicious in her white satin.  It was hard to believe it was the same woman whom we had known in dusty black alpaca.  There is a great deal of good looks in dress."

    Mary moved away, quite unable to bear any more.  The most dreadful part was that Kate Joyce's own domestic trials had not taught her sympathy and pity for all the struggling and disappointed.  Her father's bowed head had not become the touching type of innocent defeat everywhere.  Even her cheerfulness was not born of sweet content, but only of a dull expectancy.

    Mary scarcely knew what made her feel this little insight so disheartening; it was only when she thought it over that she asked herself the question: "If even sorrow fails to teach wisdom and sympathy, what better teacher remains behind?"  And then there crept into her heart that bitterest fear of all, which always assails the sensitive and self-mistrustful soul when environed by those who have succumbed to the very influences least likely to overcome it: "Shall I, too, grow selfish and self-absorbed?―shall I cease to thrill with pain only because nerves are dulled? nor care to thrill with joy, because my highest ideal has become mere comfort?"

    Mary's daily life was full of such episodes as this.  Each meant torture to her soul, only to be likened to the misery the body would feel if one toiled along a dusty road in glaring sunshine, facing a rasping wind, and surrounded by a pushing, yelling crowd, all pressing in a contrary direction to gloat over some scene of excitement and cruelty from whose horrors oneself is flying as fast as one can!

    One afternoon the big room seemed quieter than usual.  For some reason, comparatively few of the instruments were at work, and many books were open.  Mary had her own.  It chanced to be Shakespeare's works, and she was reading "The Tempest."  As Mary read Miranda's explanation―


                                                            "Nor have I seen
 More that I may call men, than you, good friend,
 And my dear father,"


a young man's face, dark, solemn, resolute, rose in her mind's eye.

    Mary often felt a strange restlessness in the knowledge that this face gazed out somewhere in the London crowds thronging past her.

    It was part of the awfulness of London that anything might be so near and yet so hopelessly separate.

    As she dropped her book on her knee and sat gazing dreamily before her, she became aware that her next neighbour, at the other end of a long form, was watching her with friendly eyes, as if she would be glad to speak.  Mary instantly responded by moving down towards her and making a remark about the weather.

    The girl answered briefly but with a pleasant smile.  She was one of the quiet old-fashioned girls, rather stunted in size, pale-faced, with a bossy forehead and firm lips, and she wore a coarse brown merino dress brightened only by a linen collar fastened with a black brooch.  Kate Joyce had told Mary that her name was Rebekah Putnam, and that she spent many of her evenings teaching in a Ragged School; that she lived at home, and was one of the elders in a family of twelve.

    "If this cold weather keeps up I suppose there will be snow soon," said Mary.

    "I hope not," said the girl, "for it never lasts in London, and it makes the streets so dangerous, and the thaws are dreadful."

    "Is there never ice on the waters in London?" Mary asked next, remembering the ponds which she had seen in the parks.

    "Yes, sometimes," the girl answered; "it seldom lasts long."

    "Do you skate?"

    The girl shook her head.  "There is no chance," she said; "it would not be nice for girls to go on the public water near our place.  There is a private one, but it has a high subscription.  And it would take a great deal of time—and money too—to go out to the country places."

    "And perhaps you like best to go to the country in the summer," observed Mary.

    "We don't go into the country at all," answered the other.  "The country is so far away.  We live quite near here, in a street behind St Bartholomew's Hospital.  Father used to work for one of the great firms in Aldersgate Street.  He was an engraver, and he was very lame and liked to be near his work.  And we stayed on after his death.  It was easiest to stay on.  And we find it is handy for us who go out to work.  We are all within walking distances.  And now six of us are doing something to help mother," she added proudly.

    "Of course I have been in the country," she went on.  "When the eldest of us were little, while grandmother lived, we used to go and stay with her at—Rottingdean that's near Brighton—so we know the seaside quite well.  The little ones don't know more of it than Southend, where they have gone with their class excursions; but that gives them an idea of it," she added with prim superiority.

    "I thought excursions from London were arranged so conveniently for holidays," said Mary.

    Rebekah Putnam smiled.  "Quiet people like us can't go out on public holidays," she replied.  "That's why father said he was not sure that Bank Holidays are such a boon as they seem.  Holiday for everybody at once means holiday for nobody.  It is only crowding and noise and dust, and, I'm sorry to say," she added severely, "drinking and bad language.  Before Bank Holidays began, father used to ask for a day when work was slack, and take us all to Hampstead Heath, or Epping Forest, or Greenwich Park."  And the stiff little face softened at the sunny memories.  "But one couldn't go to those places on Bank Holidays.  It would be no pleasure to us."

    "But couldn't one get out of the streets to some quiet place not so popular?" Mary asked.

    "One couldn't let one's little brothers and sisters travel in railway carriages with half-drunken people," Rebekah answered.  "They swear one minute and the next they sing, 'Let us gather at the river,' and then change the tune to 'The dark girl dressed in blue.'  I don't like having to say such things!  They are too horrible to think of!

    "It all comes of that dreadful drink," she went on.  "No real good will be done till that is made the hardest thing for people to get instead of the easiest.  My father was a total abstainer.  All my brothers are so, and mother and we girls, of course."

    Mary sat silent.  Her father, though a most temperate man, had not been a total abstainer.  She herself was under no vow, neither was her grandmother, though Mrs Haldane was a water drinker by life-long custom.  Mary had certainly known cases of individual misery and individual ruin traceable to strong drink, but she had never been brought face to face with it as a blot on the face of society, blurring and staining all around it—like a noxious winged seed flying from its own foul habitat, to damage even the most carefully tended garden.

    The girl asked the next question with a glance at Mary's book: "Are you fond of reading?  What are you reading just now?"

    "The Tempest," Mary replied, fluttering the pages.  The pale face grew grave, the little mouth set rigidly.  "That's Shakespeare, isn't it?  A play?  I never read such things."

    Mary gazed at her aghast.  The girl seemed desirous to avoid any accusation of self-righteousness.

    "I've read pieces of his while I was at school, but those were historical pieces, selected in 'Enfield's Speaker."'

    "He is the grandest writer of our language," Mary exclaimed.

    "Ah, I know, I thought some of his lines beautiful, but they are in plays.  When father was on his deathbed he asked us elder ones to give him our promise never to read novels or plays.  We all promised.  Sometimes I've been afraid about one of my sisters.  She speaks as if she had only her promise to hold her back, and when that's so, even a promise is in danger.  I have no wish.  There are plenty of good books to be read without going on dangerous, ground."

    Mary remained mute with astonishment.  All these abnegations and prohibitions affected her as the sight of the palings and bolts and bars of civilisation might affect one accustomed to dwell safely in open tents on a boundless prairie.  With the large liberty generally enjoyed by women brought up among good men, she had herself roamed unchecked over every field of solid English literature.  She knew the minor Elizabethan dramatists as well as Shakespeare—Fielding, Richardson, Swift, and Sterne, as well as Scott and Miss Austen, or Steele and Addison.  Why, she had borrowed some of these works from the old parish minister's antique library!

    And yet, as days passed on, Mary began to understand the terror which had been before this dying father's eyes as he thought of his little maidens left behind.  She found that there are a great many "novels" which are not "literature," novels of a type which had scarcely penetrated to her own retired life, but which had probably bulked so largely on this man's experience as to involve the whole class.  These were the books which she found lying on the forms of the big room—books where the chief interest lay in vice and horror, wherein, to speak paradoxically, all goodness was shown to be bad, and all badness to be good, wherein there were no "characters," but only lay figures, draped respectively with youth, demoniacal beauty, and sensuous charm, or with age, fiendish malice, and repulsion.

    There were still other books—and some of these Mary saw were in dramatic form—which were quickly tucked out of sight, or so swiftly and secretly bandied from hand to hand among certain privileged groups, that Mary could only judge of their character by the base giggles and whisperings which they elicited.

    Out of those days Mary brought two convictions.

    First, never to contemn or condemn any asceticism without first computing the forces of evil with which it is surrounded and against which it opposes itself.

    Second, that mere femininity is no synonym for that delicacy of mind or purity of thought with which it is so often sentimentally confused.

    And Mary actually discovered for herself, that, though nothing would ever make her miscall or vilify the great creative imaginations from whom she had already derived such pure enjoyment, yet that there are time and place for everything, and that her present life was scarcely the occasion for these!  There are times when it seems wiser to leave the imagination and the emotions in repose.  Often through life come seasons when the activity of those functions only gives poignancy to suffering and loss.  In youth their restlessness may be actually dangerous.  It may be noticed that in those young people in whom they are specially bright and sensitive, there exists alongside of them a saving tendency to self-mistrust and self-subjection.

    Mary scarcely noticed at the time how her novelists and poets and essayists gradually sank to the bottom of her box, while A Kempis's "Imitation of Christ," and S. Francis de Sale's "Devout Life," and Jeremy Taylor's "Holy Living and Dying," came to lie constantly beside her desk.

    Instinctively, too, she took up that regulation of habit which in all ages has been the refuge of wholesome souls when sorely tried and troubled.  Her silent morning and evening prayers, with their simple thanksgivings and thoughts of love for her Father in Heaven and her friends on earth, seemed no longer to suffice her.  They seemed so apt to sink into wailing introspection, something which did not ascend to God, but sank down like lead in her own heart.  And so she had recourse to the written words of holy men, and even preferred to utter them aloud, striving to wreathe her own thoughts and fears around the buttresses of their faith and courage

    For such as Mary Olrig, such seasons as these do not bring what most people mean when they talk about "temptation."  Her knowledge of the higher literature had left her in no doubt as to the evil possibilities of the world she saw about her.  Her acquaintance with the varied histories and experiences of the girls at work beside her widened her comprehension of the way in which such evils work.  She found that in the world's opinion money is worth more than human life.  That he who ventures to suggest any rearrangement of property and its rights and duties for the benefit of the community, is at once branded as a dangerous man and an outlaw.  But that he who makes some "improvement" which depresses and enslaves the labourer, though it be of doubtful benefit to anybody, except a few capitalists, is bailed as a public benefactor.  That there is much more tenderness as regards the interests of the destructive "liquor trade," when it is threatened in the interests of temperance, than was exercised towards the worthy old pedagogues and dames of village schools, when new experiments in education were developed.  That a hundred pounds, if well invested by a "knowing man," will bring him in more as "interest" than many women can earn by working twelve hours a day all the year round!  And that the most successful productive labour, even sometimes backed by natural gifts, cannot hope to win as much of the earth's wealth as the city financier can waste on his west-end palace or his suburban villa, or on the flounces and champagne of the women who lounge therein, thinking themselves "very busy" if they arrange their flowers, plan their toilets, and kiss the children before they walk out with nurse—those mere pleasures of life to which, alas! the real labourers cannot attain.

    Dangerous reflections these might be for some lonely, penniless maidens of twenty-one summers!  Dangerous, indeed, for anybody to whom the world's side of the matter presents any temptation.  But the advantages it had to offer were no attractions for Mary Olrig.  It might be able to withhold or destroy all she craved for, but it could not give her anything she wanted.  Its sumptuous fare, its gorgeous, varying fashions, the everlasting racket or dull animalism of its entertainments, the fevered excitement of its ambitions and successes, had no attraction for one whose only desired luxuries were cleanliness and peace, whose cravings were for the sweet charities of home, and the joyful duties of loving service, who knew the magic of the mountains, had felt the secret of the sea, and whose soul was yearning with beautiful imaginations and lofty ideals.  Such a world might sully with its foul feet the pure waters of life for which she was thirsting, but the intoxicating cup of its pleasures could only excite her loathing.

    Through all, Mary had a dim perception that while she still felt and suffered thus, her loss was not complete.  She might do all she could to suppress imagination and emotion, and restrain all her yearnings after nature and beauty and service, because they but intensified the torture of existence under its present conditions.  In herself, she felt these could never quite die.  But her heart asked—What of others, in whom such yearnings were not so strong by nature or were less developed by circumstance?  Or of others who had lived under such conditions from generation to generation, so that each generation found less and less to suppress or restrain, until the unused capacities dropped off, as evolutionists tell us unused capacities will—only in this case it was those higher faculties, those which differentiate a man from the brute and lift his head towards the sky!  It might be hard enough never to see bright skies and fresh hillsides, never to listen to the singing of free birds or to revel in a sweet silence.  Yet Mary began to understand that it is far worse not to care for such things, and to find that the shops and the theatres, and the crowds of worried money makers herding in the streets, are far more interesting and beautiful and important!  The laughter and the jest around her grew terrible to Mary Olrig, and the blankly smirking faces seemed sadder to her soul than the hungry despairing ones!

    Presently, Mary began to feel that all her nameless sufferings were beginning to shape themselves into very practical trouble.  Her heart could not for ever pine after the solitudes of the shores and hills and all the sweet, simple ways of life she had found there, without her physical frame pining too.  The daughter of the North, with the blood of sea king and Border robber in her veins, could not thrive without her bracing breezes, her free exercise, her wholesome food, fresh from the very bosom of mother Nature.  First, she noticed in her looking-glass that the hue of her face had faded, and thoughtlessly called her pale countenance the "London colour."  Presently she awoke in the morning more wearied than when she went to sleep, unable to rest, and yet unready to rise.  Then her appetite failed, and her walk to and from the office seemed to grow twice as long as at first.  At last the click of the instruments and the roar of the highways got into her dreams, and starting up in causeless terror, she awoke to real alarm at what was coming upon her.

    What would happen if she should sink into an invalid?  There remained now no haven in which to take refuge, nothing at all but the charity of strangers, however beneficent.  O, if she could only earn bread by some work which could be done in silence and apart from uncongenial crowds!  O, if only the gift which she felt burning within her would do for her what art had done for Miss Kerr, that unknown house-mate, the very thought of whose self-dependent career was always so strengthening and upholding!

    When Mary had first come to London she had said to herself that she would hold her literary dreams in abeyance till she had made herself mistress of the new realities around her.  But now, sinking in the seething sea of life, she felt ready to grasp at every straw which might save her.  She got out some of the manuscripts which she had written in the happy vanished days, and pondered how she could put them into some marketable shape.

    At first the self-imposed task seemed to revive her.  The old verses and sketches wakened very poignant memories, but after a while, as she bent her whole mind upon them, the shadowy recollections became reality, and all the reality around her was but a dream.  When she roused from her absorption to find herself sitting in her dim attic, it was with much the same sensation which she might have experienced had she been able to transport herself bodily to her dear old places, and then back again, at a moment's notice.  It was like having change of air and scene at a moment's will.  She half thought she had found a panacea for all her pain.

    But how was it, that presently it seemed as if her very character was so changing that she could not be patient with the stupid servant girls, nor genial to chattering Mrs Milne, nor civil to her frivolous fellow-workers; that her power of self-control was so relaxed that any unexpected sound in the house would make her shriek, or that tears would fill her eyes at most awkward seasons?  How could she dream that this new agony was the very result of these mental exercises which had seemed to her such a relief?

    Once or twice it crossed her mind that it was strange that she, who had felt she must not now revel in the imagination and fancy of others, was yet giving rein to her own.  But then it was not done in any self-indulgence—was it not in hopes of setting those faculties to earn her bread?

    Did ever the victim of any stimulant or narcotic lack the justification which satisfied himself in his self-destruction?  Long afterwards, people wondered how a woman who had lived the pure life of Mary Olrig could track so unsparingly the course and progress of moral disintegration.  The secret lay in what she remembered of herself at this season.  For the upright and the saintly find the serpentine power of evil slithering even among their graces and their duties, and they must contend with it there, as lower natures must when it attacks them through their animal instincts and propensities.

    But, also, was there ever soul, lofty or lowly, that lacked a warning oracle sufficient for its needs, would it only heed it?  Mary found one in a very homely mouthpiece.



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