By Still Waters 2

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CHAPTER V.

The nightmare life-in-death.—COLERIDGE.


NOT many days after, Sarah Russell, as she sat at the window of the Rood Hotel, was struck with the unoccupied appearance of a large house on the opposite side of the Hallowgate Square.  There were some dingy yellow blinds and heavy crimson curtains at the windows of the second-floor, but those of the parlours and the first flat were left staring blankly like those of an empty house.  She called up Mrs. Stone and enquired if she had heard who lived there.

    'Just one old gentleman, of the name of Halliwell,' Mrs. Stone replied.  'Just himself and a woman to wait on him.  The housekeeper was mentioning that house in particular when she was a-talking over the changes for the worse that have been in the Hallowgate, ma'am.  For she says the housekeeper that was before her told her that she had known it as a family residence, with two maids and a man, and gas and fire in every room.  The housekeeper says she don't recollect hearing what it was that happened, but it was something peculiar, one or two sudden deaths, or something of that sort, so that the master was left by himself, and got strange-like, and turned off his servants; and they say he packed all the furniture into the attics, except what he uses himself.  For years and years he had up a board that the parlours and first-floor were to be let; but one stormy day it was blown down, and it was never put up again, as was little use, since, as Housekeeper says, this is too out-of-the-way for most offices, and folks won't live in this kind of place now, though the rooms is beautiful, far better than these, and the outlook at the back is pleasant for London, having a tree in sight, and no high house near, but just the back-yards and outbuildings of that little Crosier Street, that runs up beside it.'

    'Mrs. Stone,' said Sarah, 'I wish you would go across to the house and explain what you have heard about the notice-board, and enquire if the rooms are still to be let to a suitable tenant whom they might suit.'

    'Certainly I will, ma'am', said Mrs. Stone; and may I make bold to ask if you are thinking of taking them yourself, if so be they are agreeable?'

    'I think we might easily go farther and fare worse,' Miss Russell answered.  'I should really like to stay in this neighbourhood, for it is a quiet and pleasant place, and not too far from my cousin, Miss Tibbie.  I suppose you'll have no objection to a service in the City, Mrs. Stone?'

    'Indeed, and I'd just be uncommonly sorry to leave the Hallowgate again,' said Mrs. Stone.  'One does not know what one may lose while one's gadding about.  Only last evening I went down our old court again, and dropped upon an old neighbour and introduced myself.  And what do you think, ma'am? within this last month there's been a man making enquiries for me.  He didn't ask after me in my married name, but he seemed to know I were married, for he asked if anybody knew anything about a woman who had been Annie Baker in her maiden days.  And of course nobody knew nothing 'cept that I'd gone to America, and he said he knew where I'd been there, but I wasn't there now, and it was thought I might have come back to the old place.  He seemed like a decent mechanic, they say; but he said it wasn't for himself he wanted to know.  He may have been a lawyer's clerk for aught I can tell—they can look like anything when they are going after people.  There was always some talk about a second cousin of my father's who went to India, and was believed to have made money.  But there, if there's property looking for me, it's just like my luck to have missed it.'

    'Perhaps it is some old friend wanting some help or kindness from you,' suggested Miss Russell.

    'Then they haven't missed much, for I'm sure I can't do more than for myself, unless it was just in the way of going to see 'em and talking over things,' Mrs. Stone answered.  And nobody wouldn't think that much good, I reckon.'

    'Oh, but they might,' responded Miss Russell.

    'Well, I don't know, but I'll go over and ask about the rooms at once,' said Mrs. Stone.

    The result of which was that Miss Russell was invited over to survey them, and was then directed to negotiate with a friendly chatty old solicitor who transacted a profitable business in two cupboards at the City end of Crosier Street, and who informed her that he was empowered to give her every information and to consider all her wishes, since Mr. Halliwell was too infirm to transact business or to see strangers—the most definite information that Miss Russell received about her future landlord and housemate lying in the lawyer's remark.

    'The fact is, you will have the place really all to yourself, for Mr. Halliwell is just as if he was not there.'

    Miss Russell took the apartments.  The rent was not exorbitant.  She was to have six rooms entirely for her own use, with liberty to introduce a servant-girl into the lower regions for kitchen-work.  The front parlour, looking upon Hallowgate Square, she planned as a house-keeping room—the living apartment of Mrs. Stone, who, with the servant-girl, would sleep in the third parlour, while she herself would use the second one as a dining-room.  This parlour looked out upon a patch of green which had been the burial-ground of a church long since destroyed.  There had been no funerals there for many years, and almost the only trace of its former use was a high altar-like tomb, covered with half-effaced tracery, most of the other graves being wholly overgrown with ivy or flattened into the turf.

    The three rooms on the first floor Miss Russell apportioned as drawing-room, sleeping apartment, and spare bedroom.

    As she had brought no actual furniture with her from America, she remained at the Rood Hotel while she made her arrangements.  And she and Tibbie spent many an hour in planning, and discussing, and shopping.  Jane Russell was not shut out of the conclave—she shut herself out with the observation—

    'I cannot think how you can waste your time and energy over such things.  A furnishing upholsterer would do it better in a single day.  It is his business.  Of course one likes to buy some things for one's self.  I have bought a good deal of china and knick-knackery; but Sarah could do that afterwards as time went on.  I could advise her on those matters.  I saw a lovely pair of red-and-black dragons the other day.  I was very much inclined to treat myself with them; and Sarah might do so without any scruple, as she has nothing of that sort already.  But how you two women can waste days over common carpets, and beds, and chairs I cannot understand.'

    'It's all Cousin Sarah; it isn't I,' Tibbie would say, mischievously.  'I go with her just to keep her in countenance.  In the shops I am popularly supposed to be the bridegroom's grim maiden sister, sent out with the betrothed to keep an eye on the purse, and to whisper hard facts about moth and mildew.'

    And so room by room was gradually furnished.  The brown housekeeping-room was spread with a blue drugget—with a blue-and-brown checked table-cover, and blue-and-brown cushions in the great wooden rocking-chair.  There was a nettle-geranium put in each window.  And the brown walls were brightened with four or five chromo-lithographs, after Birket Foster—sweet sunny scenes, with happy children clambering cliffs or gathering flowers.  And over the cuckoo-clock on the mantel-piece hung a scroll, 'Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.'

    The dining-room was rosy, so that on the coldest day the greenery of the little churchyard would never make it chill.  There was a flush of rose on the wall-paper, a deeper one on the carpet; the chairs were covered in rose-coloured morocco; a richly-flowered Dresden vase stood on the mantel, a great pink bowl on the window-sill; the table china was in delicate pink and cerulean blue.  There were two oil-paintings, which Sarah bought at some of the minor galleries.  One was of a rocky coast, a rough sea going down, and the first rays of dawn falling on a rude little church by the sea; the other was of a sunset in the heart of a dense pine-wood.  Sarah had a wood-carving set into the old oak mantel.  It was 'the grace' which she always used, she explained to Tibbie, and was simply, 'Whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do, may we do it all to the glory of God.'

    The little drawing-room was green-and-grey.  Sarah had some little bits of old stained glass, which had hung in her own old home, with which she decorated the windows, so that the pale London light came in brightened.  Nor was the greyness and greenness suffered to become chill.  There was a kind of sunlight imported into the room which made their background only as refreshing as a leafy nook in midsummer.  There was not one 'drawing-room chair' in the apartment.  There were easy-chairs, and prie-dieus, and lounging-chairs, and witching little low chairs, and a sofa, and an ottoman, and lots of stools.  In fact, Sarah announced that it was never to be called the 'drawing-room,' but always the 'parlour.'  She could not find out a meaning for 'drawing-room,' she said; but 'parlour' might be taken as derived from the Latin par, 'like,' or 'equals,' or, nearer still, from the French parler, to 'speak,' which she suspected was really a branch from the same root.

    The books were to be kept in this room.  There was a large bookcase on one side, and a little bookcase above a writing-table in a corner.  The covers of Sarah Russell's books fell into a kind of arrangement like an Indian-work pattern.  Then there was a cabinet, with a few pieces of china in it, but generally filled with all sorts of queer, quaint things—shells, old fans, scraps of pictures, and such pretty little trivialities as are often bestowed by affection that can find little other voice.

    'I've had a great many things of this kind at different times,' said Tibbie, pondering; 'but I've lost some, and others have got spoiled, and I've forgotten about the rest.'

    As for the pictures, it is no use attempting to describe them.  There were little watercolour sketches of Sarah's own—pictures of places not especially beautiful in themselves, but sacred to her from some association of incident or idea; portraits of all sorts of people—poets, preachers, workers of all kinds, many of them in compound frames, grouped by a law of harmony which was not always apparent at a first glance.  Among the engravings were Holman Hunt's 'Light of the World,' and Rosa Bonheur's 'Horse Fair,' and the wonderful etching, 'Death as the Friend.'  And there was one exquisite picture in water-colours, hanging just where it was on a level with the eyes of whoever sat in the wide low chair, beside which Sarah's dainty little round-waggon was placed, with her paper-cutter and pencil, and a blank book, and a work-case.  This picture was a 'seascape'—a green headland, where the dead had been buried close beside the waves whereon they had doubtless mostly spent much of their lives.  On one of the graves sat a woman, gazing out over the grey-green sea towards a calm but yellow and tearful sunset.  And in the frame was fixed a little plate, bearing the simple words, 'I am the resurrection and the life.'

    But if there was one room over which Sarah Russell pondered most lovingly and lingeringly, it was the spare bedroom Jane could not understand why she had at all—saying 'she had no relations likely to stay with her; and as she was come to what was really a strange place to her, she was little likely to have "strangers" staying with her—a very good thing, too, for visitors in the house only put one out of all one's own ways.'

    But Sarah only said something about 'entertaining strangers,' and thereby 'entertaining angels unawares,' on which Tibbie made the characteristic observation, 'That no doubt Sarah might; but if it was herself, the strangers would come without the angels.'

    To which Sarah rejoined, 'You mean you might not recognise them: perhaps not; but give the angels a chance of recognising you.'

    There was something a little pathetic in the sight of the gentle little woman, in her loneliness, preparing hospitality whose secrets were so utterly hidden.  For this chamber she chose a soft carpet, coloured in two greys, with dashes of rose-red; and the bed was curtained and the chairs cushioned in the same hues, only with more rose-red in the tender greys.  A little black-and-gold vase was set upon the table in readiness for flowers, and a writing-case, with pens, ink, paper, and postage-stamps, was put beside it.  On a little side-table there was placed a Bible, red-leaved, and leather-bound, which looked as if it had been bought a long time, and even used, but not with a regular and constant use.  Tibbie peeped into it, having a strange curiosity about its inscription.  But she found only three initials—initials that she did not know and a date some years back.

    Sarah herself illuminated the scroll that she placed over the mantel.  She could not find the text she wanted in any shop, and she would not give an order for it, as she did for one or two others, but did it herself; and Tibbie declared that 'there was more in its execution than in that of the others,' though she frankly admitted that 'it was technically not nearly so good.'  The words were taken from Isaiah—

    'The Lord shall give thee rest from thy sorrow and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve.'

    She lingered long in her choice of pictures for this chamber.  'She should often add another,' she said.  For the present she put in engravings from Millais' 'Order of Release,' Scheffer's 'Monica and Augustine,' Reynolds's 'Nelly O'Brien,' seated in her sweet bright innocence in the sunshine under the trees; Harvey's 'Castaway,' with the ship just in sight on the horizon; and Dobson's 'Good Shepherd.'

    And still, when all was done, she would go back and back to that room, adding here a touch and there a touch.

    But at last the servant-girl was hired, and the final remnant of baggage was carried over from the Rood Hotel.  Tibbie came to share her cousin's first evening in her new home.  Jane was also invited, and Jane promised to come, but the day proved cold and foggy, and instead of herself there came an excuse.

    Tibbie was unusually grave and quiet, at first with a slightly preoccupied air, which Sarah had often noticed in her, when they had been going about the house arranging and planning.  But presently she shook it off.

    'Jane is rather shocked at you, Sarah,' she observed.  'She thinks, as you have saved so much from your income during many past years, you might have laid out the surplus in ways less selfish than in such careful furnishing of your own house.'

    'Why, Jane has a very handsome house of her own,' said Sarah, astonished.

    'Yes, but she says she inherited that from our aunt and her godmother.  You know she got all her fortune, and that is how Jane is richer than me.  She says she thinks you ought to have seen a leaning to sit loosely to the things of time, and to have gladly taken the opportunity not to be cumbered with the cares of this world.  I told her to mind her own business.'

    'Nay, Tibbie,' said Sarah, expostulating, 'but it is her own business.  We are all of us each other's business; only it is a part of that business to take care how we judge each other, and also to try to set each other's judgments right, and to preserve each other's charity.  I must try to make Jane see what I mean in a different light.'

    'In her disapproval of you Jane actually got so far as to approve of me,' Tibbie went on.  "Even you," she said, "feel that there is a better way of spending your time and money in this world of sin and sorrow."  And I said, "Well, I wish I didn't.  I wish I could find it in my heart to be like Sarah."'

    'I almost think Jane is confining the word Charity to one, and that not its highest meaning.  Charity is Love, and not almsgiving,' said Sarah.  Love will endure for ever; its form of almsgiving will always vary, and in its present form will pass away.  As Love grows almsgiving will decrease.  Almsgiving is the crutch for a lame world.  Love is Life.  If no parents deserted their children there need be no foundling homes.  If we were all good and wise enough to care for the sick, within our gates or at them, there need be no hospitals.  If children did their duty to their parents and guardians there need be no almshouses.  Do not think I am undervaluing "almsgiving."  It is an angelic attribute—the gift of making amends for others' negligence, and undoing others' blunders, of warming where others have chilled.  But we must begin at the right end, by first being watchful and careful and warm in our own lives.  I shall only "give away" but a very little less for what I have spent on my pretty home, Tibbie, and it will enable me to be personally more helpful and loving.  It may suggest an ideal to somebody else, out of which a life and a home may grow, from which more shall be "given" than I could ever give.'

    'And you are not afraid of being too like the world,' said Tibbie.  Most pious people are.  And they are very like, I must admit—too often like worldlings spoiled, like Indians dressed in fashionable garments, with just a few feathers and glass beads stuck about to proclaim their nationality.'

    Sarah smiled a little sadly.  'We have not to think about other people in that way,' she said.  'I think we may make an effort to agree with them, but not to differ, though often we cannot help it, and must differ.  Everything good and beautiful in this world, wherever and whatever it be, is nearer God than its reverse.  But there is hope in everything: we know its present but dare not decide upon its future.  Out of chaos rose the beauties of creation; the wailing child grows into the guiding genius; out of discord harmony is evolved.  We know, too, that every good and beautiful thing has its pernicious and perverted imitation, its shadow as it were, resembling it only as the distorted shadow of a man, thrown behind him on the earth, resembles his real figure upright in the sunlight.  Arts, which have it in them to elevate and purify, have it also in them to debase and defile.  Even virtues—household virtues, for instance—may lose all that is virtuous in them when, as often happens, the thing typified is lost in the type, and the feast and the furniture and the finery are themselves substituted for the "love" which alone gives them any value or meaning.  The analogy runs through everything, and even into the highest mysteries: there is the New Jerusalem, the pure "bride" of the Revelation; and there is Babylon, the "harlot-bride," doomed to destruction.  There is Christ, and there is Antichrist.'

    Tibbie glanced up at her suddenly, and seemed just going to say something, when Mrs. Stone knocked at the door with a little sudden imperativeness in all the respectful timidity of the knock.  Sarah bade her 'Come in;' and she entered, mysterious, on tiptoe.

    'Ain't this awful?' she said, enigmatically.  'I never will forgive them Rood Hotel people for not telling us afore; but letting you do up the place as innocent as possible.  I thought there was something in the significant grin they always gave.  It seemed to me queer that you nor I shouldn't have seen the old gentleman up stairs, and yet it might be natural enough in one old and infirm.  But what do you think, Miss Russell, ma'am?  That housekeeping body, that has been here ten years, hasn't ever seen him either!'

    'Oh, how can that be?' asked Sarah.  'She waits on him.'

    'So she do,' agreed Mrs. Stone; 'but there he is among them five or six shut-up rooms at the top of the house, and there's two of them and a great big light closet, that all communicate with each other, and the two rooms have each a door on to the staircase.  And when the housekeeper takes up his meals she rings a little bell on the landing, and when she goes into the room he is away into the other; and when he's done he rings, and by the time she gets up there he's away again.  He leaves bits o' paper along with his plate and glass, telling her what to buy, and when she can clean each room, which she does turn about; but he must clean out the big cupboard himself, for it's always locked, and she never gets in, and a pretty pig-stye I'll engage it is.  And she leaves his bills for him, and he puts out cheques to pay 'em.  And to think you've had all the trouble of putting down carpets and planning, just to take 'em up and go away again!'

    'But I don't suppose I shall go away,' said Sarah, thoughtfully.  It makes me sad to think of such a life; but my going away would not alter it, and therefore could not comfort me.  I am afraid you will not care to remain, Mrs. Stone.'

    'Well, it's just like it always is—something to upset me as soon as I'm comfortable,' said Mrs. Stone, wiping her eyes.

    'But it needn't upset you,' said Sarah.  'You will be able to get another situation; and if you don't like to wait here till you do, I must make you an allowance somewhere else for a few weeks.'

    'No, ma'am, you shan't do that,' said Mrs. Stone, with some briskness.  'It's as bad for you as for me, and I ain't going to put upon your kindness.  I'll serve you here till I get somewhere else, at any rate; and may be if I rub on for a bit I shall get kind of used to it, and be able to stop; for I'll never get another missis like you.  I know that, but it is hard!'

    'How does the servant-girl take it?' asked Tibbie.

    'Oh, miss, she says she don't mind, as she ain't got to sleep by herself,' said Mrs. Stone, smiling dimly.  'But what purtection is that, if one thinks deeper?  We're as good as all by ourselves together—four lone women.'

    'I'm not in the least frightened—understand that, Mrs. Stone,' Sarah said, vigorously.  'There is nothing to be frightened about.'

    'Deary me, deary me!' wailed the attendant, shaking her head drearily.  'To think folks can't be like other folks!'

    'Doesn't that mean that you wish everybody was like yourself?' said Tibbie.  'That Mr. Halliwell would not do what you cannot understand, or that Miss Russell would be like you, so frightened that she would instantly decamp?'

    'You do put things so funny, miss,' said the good woman, retreating to the door; 'but I wasn't thinking of mistress at all, but of the queer, cracked gentleman.'

    'I suppose there is no doubt this is true,' said Tibbie, when she was gone.  'I don't think it was quite honourable or considerate that this was not explained to you before, Cousin Sarah.'

    'Neither do I,' Sarah admitted; 'but that only gives one hope that nobody who was really honourable and considerate towards others would be allowed to fall into such a shocking way of life as this poor gentleman's.'

    'I have seen this landlord of yours,' said Tibbie, 'years and years ago.  He was connected with a family whom I visited.  I did not tell you this—because—I did not care to speak about his relatives—whom—I knew.  He was a tall handsome man, rather domineering.  I think he was a widower, with one daughter.  I never knew what became of the daughter.  I knew there had been something very peculiar about him for many years, but I thought it was nothing more than a withdrawal from general society, something like my own.  If I had thought it was anything like this, believe me, I would have told you, cousin.'

    'I am sure you would,' said Sarah.  'Poor man, poor man! it is so dreadful!'

    'There are many things that I can understand less,' said Tibbie, rather curtly.

 


    Mrs. Stone had a very eerie face when she brought her mistress's bedroom candle that night.

    'I hope it will be all right, ma'am,' she said, vaguely.  'And good night, ma'am.  I ain't frightened, ma'am.  Only queer.  It is worse than being in a house with a ghost, ma'am!'


 
CHAPTER VI.


A fire just dying in the gloom;
    Earth haunted all with dreams;
       .           .           .           .           .
And near me, in the sinking night,
    More thoughts than move in me.
Forgiving wrong and loving right,
    And waiting till—I see.

GEORGE MACDONALD.


DAY after day passed on, and Mrs. Stone apparently grew accustomed to the unseen presence in the house, and would comment on the dinners that went upstairs, and the directions which came down.

    'If you make up your mind to put up with anything, it's wonderful how little there is to put up with; and I always lock my door at nights,' she would say.  'Not but what I do get the creeps at times but then days have been when I read silly stories just to get the creeps, so why should I mind taking' 'em natural?'

    Sometimes, as Miss Russell sat in her little drawing-room, she would hear a slow, heavy step totter across the room overhead, and she would drop her work or her book for a moment, to yearn over the worn, proud life that was going down so darkly to its close.  The mystery about it was not lifted.  Mrs. Stone reported that the housekeeper said that there were two or three attics upstairs shut up, full of furniture that 'had been just bundled into them anyhow.'  Sarah respected her cousin Tibbie's statement that she knew really nothing of this Mr. Halliwell or his history, and for reasons of her own did not wish to speak of the people with whom she had met him.  Sometimes, when Tibbie was visiting Sarah, that heavy step would pass overhead, and then the two would pause in their talk, and look up at each other, and Tibbie would answer Sarah's sigh by a long, in-drawn breath.

    Christmas was drawing near—very near.

    'Christmas is a mistake,' was Tibbie observation; 'I mean as far as I am concerned.  From June to December it lies on my mind like a nightmare, and from December to June it takes all my strength to throw off the shadow of it.  My one care is "to get it over;" and between you and me, cousin, I believe the very same feeling lies at the root of more than half of the frantic festivity of the season.  It is all very well when one is young, and can enjoy turkey and plum-pudding, and see a real meaning in the mistletoe.  But now I'd rather trust mutton-chops and semolina, and might stand under the mistletoe for a month quite fearlessly.'

    'But are not these only the little fleeting brightnesses with which merry young life clothes the reality?' said Sarah.  'Just as children put flowers before their parents' portraits on their birthdays.  Is not the reality the star, and the angels' song, and the dear lowly birth of Him who revealed to us the Sonship of Humanity and the Fatherhood of God?'

    'But then it's all nothing to me,' said Tibbie.  'It is a very pretty story, eighteen hundred years old, and it is all quite true, and all that, you know.  Only there's no star to guide me, and there's no peace in my world, and no goodwill in my life; and it is my special season for hobgoblins and blue devils, don't you know?  So, just to get rid of the time, I put on an old gown and go down to our rooms in Whitechapel, and stick up a few texts that nobody ever reads, and buy some holly and laurel (not mistletoe, you know—'tisnt proper; kissing ain't respectable if you're poor).  And I stand there all day, handing out plum-puddings, and ladling broth, and writing coal-tickets.  I'm quite invaluable, don't you understand, for all the other philanthropists want to be away enjoying themselves, and they say they can do so with a quiet conscience if I'm there, because I'm so efficient, i.e. so crabbed, and expert in the "move-on-or-I'll-take-you-up" style.  And after one's stood so for six or seven hours one is ready enough to rush home, and drop upon one's bed and lose consciousness.'

    'Don't you even look in upon Jane?' Sarah asked.

    'No, indeed,' 'Tibbie answered, energetically.  'At these seasons Jane has such a keen consciousness of the reality of blessings which she undervalued while she had them, that she nearly drives me crazy.  If I die first (as very likely I shall, though Jane fancies herself so frail, and though I believe when I was made I was meant to live to be ninety), I daresay Jane will canonise me, especially on the return of these pathetic festivities.  I shall be "her darling, sainted sister Tibbie," along with "her dear sainted parents," with whom she used to be so terribly fretful.  She drives me to Gehenna in my lifetime while she has any power over me, but when I shall be taken out of her reach she'll clap a palm into my hand and a crown upon my head.  I may have given no sign of any change, but Jane will fall back on her mysterious faith in last moments


Between the saddle and the ground
Mercy was sought and mercy found.


    Only, as it wouldn't be edifying to have a family connection barely saved, she'll just touch me up into a shining saint.'

    Sarah looked sadly into Tibbie's face during her scornful tirade.  'If it is all as you say,' she pleaded, 'ought you not to be sorry for Jane rather than angry?  Tibbie, might you not catch more of the real Christmas blessing if you would consider what is now generally admitted to be a more correct version of the angelic chorus: "Peace on earth to men of good will?" '

    'Oh, but Jane would not thank me for any consideration for her that came through what she would call "wresting the Scriptures," ' said Tibbie, flippantly.  She believes in the direct inspiration of the English version.  She wants to know nothing of possible renderings of the Hebrew and Greek original.  She does not believe in an infallible Church—Jane is a very sound Protestant—but she does believe in whole generations of infallible translators and copyists.  If there is at the present time a missionary translating the gospel into Fijian, she firmly believes that he is inspired to give every word its exact and complete meaning, regardless of the capacities of the Fijian dictionary.'

    'I only mentioned that variation as a help for you,' said Sarah.  'These variations do not really signify.  Whoever accepts the Bible as a revelation from God cannot help seeing love and good-will written in capital letters across the whole of it, whatever details may remain for the eyes of particular races or individuals; and about details I believe there will be differences for ever.'

    'That's a comfort for me, anyhow,' said Tibbie, recklessly.  'I like to be different.  I am hĕtĕrŏs by nature.'

    'There is no advantage or originality in being hĕtĕrŏs—"dissimilar" merely,' Sarah observed, rather decidedly.  'A crooked tree is dissimilar, as far as that goes.  But a pine is dissimilar from nettles, because it belongs to a higher order.  The first point a dissimilar person should be careful to ascertain is, is he unlike others because he is above them, or below?  That question of above or below explains nearly all the paradoxes of the world.  One man does not care for the luxuries and refinements of life, because they are no pleasure to him—he is below them.  Another gives them up or does not grasp them, because he has higher aims, and has in his own soul all that they only typify—he is above them.  Some people bear the death of friends easily, because they live so deep in the mere animal life; others bear it bravely, because they have such clear faith and such an intimate sense of the communion of saints.  That is how extremes meet.  That is how all life appeals to a judgment that can reach the spirit below the form.  As for you, Tibbie, I cannot help saying to you what I have said quite lately to poor Mrs. Stone, that you seem to live your life entirely at other people's mercy—that you drink from soiled and broken cups instead of carrying your own vessel to the fountain, and yet complain that you are nauseated.  Figuratively you consult oracles which you feel are false, and then complain that you are bewildered at their response, as if a Christian had gone to Delphi, and then marvelled that the answer came in the name of Apollo instead of Jesus.  Pardon me, Tibbie, I have no right to speak to you thus, except the right you give me yourself by speaking as you do.'

    'Well, you are quite right,' Tibbie replied.  What you say is true.  My life has fallen into the power of another.  I am what I am, because one woman willed it.  Not Jane.  I should not like you to think it was she.  She has really never touched my life to hinder it—except by not touching it at all.'

    'Then forgive me for what I am about to say, Tibbie,' said Sarah, and remember that I say it fearlessly, knowing nothing of the facts of the story.  If this woman, whoever she be, has injured you and your life, as you say, be sure you have injured hers as much.'

    ('I wish I could think so,' said Tibbie, in bitter parenthesis.)

    'You have injured her by allowing her to injure you.  You are like two people who have fought a duel, stabbed each other, and fallen dead together.  If you had had on your armour —the armour of God—you would have turned aside her weapon, saved her from the guilt of spiritual bloodshed, and gained a dominion over her for her good that should never have been taken away.'

    'Well, it's all over now,' Tibbie observed.  The die is cast, and it is too late for another throw.  Quite too late, Sarah.  The only chance of my recovery is gone for ever from me.  The story is done.'

    Sarah looked up at her, with a strong light in her quiet eyes.  'Do you think anything is ever done?' she asked.  'I don't.  I believe things are always going on, and that our hands are always in them.'

    'We have nothing to do with the next world,' said Tibbie.

    'Do you say so?' asked Sarah.  'The Bible says otherwise.  Dives was made more miserable by the remembrance of his brothers, and the angels are made happier by the repentance of a sinner.  Much of the misery of Gehenna, and much of the bliss of glory, will be darkness or light reflected from this world.'

    Tibbie shook her head.  'How could glorified spirits be happy if they could see the sin and misery of their dear ones left behind?' she asked.

    'They could bear it, because they would be growing more and more into the secrets of the Father of Faith, Hope, and Love,' Sarah answered.  'Why, Tibbie, the more we know the more we can always bear.  The missionary, the philanthropist, the teacher, the physician can bear all sorts of sad sights, not because they feel less than others, but far more.  We can endure anything when we are workers with God, and not fighters against Him, because when we are on His side we have as much of His strength as we need, and as much of His knowledge as we can support.'

    ' "The angel's hopeful side," ' said Tibbie, quoting herself.

    'And I mean to come to Whitechapel with you on Christmas Day,' observed Sarah, changing the subject.  'I shall send my servant home to her parents, and Mrs. Stone and I will come and help you with the puddings and the broth, and then I shall go on and spend the evening with Jane.  Don't think I'm going to omit festive preparation in this house by the arrangement.  I would not lose the mincing and stoning for anything.  On Christmas Eve the kitchen shall be full of roasting and boiling, and sweet herbs and candied-peel.  We must have nice things ready to give anybody who comes in our way between Christmas and Twelve Night.  The mere eating is the least part of it.  I daresay "waits" [Ed.―archaic: 'itinerant nocturnal musicians'] come to a wide, pleasant square like this.'

    'Well, Christmas is just nothing to me,' said Tibbie, with the air of a person carelessly astonished at a mood beyond comprehension.  'Why, it is not the Saviour's real birthday.'

    'Is it not?' asked Sarah, smiling.  'I know it is not Jesus' birthday.  That, like Moses' grave and many other things we should like to know about, has been concealed from us for wisest reasons.  But any given season of household love widened to hospitality and regularly recurring, whether it be the Jewish "Sabbath of the land," once in seven years, or the wider "Year of Jubilee," twice in a century, is the type and foretaste of the revelation of that Christ of Love and Resurrection power towards whom the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together.  We need not think that our dainties, and our gifts, and our good wishes must be too puerile for such a connection.  God Himself, by His prophet Zechariah, was pleased to depict the beauty of His kingdom by such typical touches as that there shall be upon the bells of the horses "holiness unto the Lord," and every pot in Jerusalem and Judea shall be holiness unto the Lord of Hosts.'

    And then the cousins parted, after arranging the time and place of their meeting on Christmas morning, for it only wanted a day or two to the festival, and they were not likely to meet again before it.

    Christmas Eve came.  Miss Russell and Mrs. Stone and the servant made a busy household day of it, as women always can.  Miss Russell heard Mrs. Stone draw long, long sighs more than once, and her eyes looked a little red.  The little family always joined in household prayer now—very simple prayer—that God would direct and control all their ways, and pour down His love upon their lives, and adopt them as His children, according to the revelation of His Son, the Elder Brother, Christ Jesus.  Miss Russell always made a long pause before her solemn 'Amen,' wherein each heart could send up its special petition.  But this evening Mrs. Stone lingered as she put the Bible before her mistress, and whispered

    'Would you mind asking out loud, ma'am, that God will keep an eye on those that we've lost sight of?  I don't know how it is, ma'am, but staying in the house with that poor gentleman upstairs, and turning over in my mind how he can be so darkened and shut up like has given me a terrible hankering after my poor man.  I expect we're parted for ever and ever; but I'll wish him well, if I ain't to have another chance to do more.'

    And so, instead of the hush, Sarah prayed aloud the petition with which she had always filled her own share of it—'that the Lord of life and love would remember those whom men forget, and gather in those whom men cast out, and fill the empty hearts, and re-build earth's ruined homes in heaven.'

    'Thank you with all my heart, ma'am,' Mrs. Stone whispered as she said 'Good-night.'  You said just what I felt and could not say—just exactly as if you knew what it was.  And I'm kind of sure of an answer, whether I ever know it or not.  That's what mother used to say: "Ask and receive," she said; "one received in asking." '

    Miss Russell went away to her own room.  She thought to herself that she would sit up though the midnight bells rang in the Day of joy.  She was not afraid of a lonely Christmas Eve—the past, the dear parents who had made the happy home of her girlhood, the pleasant friends who had gone before, lowly old women, young girls, brave, frank lads, were all as much alive to her heart as ever.  She did not shrink from any silence in her life which gave it a chance of catching its own angelic chorus.  Nay, rather she sometimes thought she must beware lest the past and the future should join hands to shut out the present—must remember that the lives still in the shade of the flesh must be very diligent and full if they are to keep pace with the dear ones who, lifted into the sunshine, are swiftly passing from glory unto glory.

    She did not sit and think only of death-beds and 'last words.'  The darkness of the dying flesh may eclipse the light of the passing soul—was there not gloom over all when One died on Calvary?—and 'Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani!' was wrung from Him who had overcome the world?  She thought of sunny summer walks—of mountain clambers, of merry winter nights.  She laughed—yes, once she laughed so that she heard herself—at the remembrance of an old merry saying of one who had been for years in everlasting joy.  Some death-beds she did ponder over, where strength had been made perfect in weakness, and the soul had visibly burned brighter in the breaking of its lantern.  Some last words she did dwell on, flowers from Paradise which those just entering had thrown back upon the watchers outside.

    There were other memories too—stories, one story—which had been bound up with her own life, and to which 'Finis' was not written, but the end was torn away.  The 'ends of the earth' are so much farther off than the New Jerusalem, and the absent in the flesh may be so drearily separated.  It takes a really higher faith to trust God for this world than for the next, because this is a faith which must be all fact, without any dangerous possibility of a mixture of fancy.  Even Sarah Russell had often to remind herself that


God is not only kind through us
    He blesses, though we are not there;
For are not stranger skies as blue,
    And are not stranger flowers as fair?


But to one truth she clung—and it kept her brave and bright—that we only learn how to love from God Himself, and that our truest love is barely a faint type of His!

    Sarah Russell did not mean to sit long dreaming; she was a woman of regular and orderly ways.  But just as the most methodical of us sit longer than we know, when dear friends meet and heart histories are revealed, so the stream of her pleasant and tender and sacred reverie swept Time swiftly past unheeded. The bells began to ring—rang—she did not even notice when they ceased.  The joy-bells of her own heart's love had been ringing in harmony with them, and they still went on.  It needed a discord to rouse her.  The discord came.

    Only a slow shuffling step on the stair—a step that she did not know—a step that seemed unused to stairs, and fell upon them with an uncertain totter.

    Only for less than a moment Sarah Russell's heart stood still.  Then she said to herself

    'It is Mr. Halliwell!'

    She sat motionless.  Had she believed that it was a disembodied soul returned to haunt the platform of its history she would not have felt such awe and dread.

    For was not this really 'a ghost?'—an unhappy soul, torn from its place and its work, beating out its life in a horologe whose signs and sounds were no longer displayed and struck in the visible world?  We need not go out of the flesh to be 'ghosts' in the modern and ghastly meaning of something 'unknowing and unknown.'

    She sat and listened.  The step went down and down.  Then a door opened.  She knew the sound; it was the working-room door.  A few minutes' pause, and it closed, and another opened.  It was the dining-room door this time.  Another pause, and it too was shut.  With that strange mingling of the practical which always dashes our most mysterious moods, Sarah congratulated herself that Mrs. Stone locked her door, and hoped that the good woman and the servant-girl were both lost in slumber.

    The step slowly ascended the stairs.  Sarah remembered that both the drawing-room door and that of the spare bedroom stood open.  The unknown visitor went into the drawing-room, and through the partition which divided it from her chamber she heard the slow step go about, pausing before the portraits of strange faces; puzzling out the engravings whose originals had grown famous since he had been dead in life.  Then he came out and went into the other room, and stayed there long, and long, and long.  She wondered if he noticed the text above the mantel, and what he thought of 'Nelly O'Brien,' and 'Monica and Augustine,' and 'The Castaway.'

    The step came out again, and lingered for a moment outside her door, but no hand was laid upon it.  Sarah debated within herself whether she should not go out and face the awful hermit and break the black magic of his silence and solitude.  But she thought 'No.'  For none can be led further than they will go: no light will penetrate more than the curtain is withdrawn.  The spells of the soul are not broken in the breaking of their sign.  God's sun dawns gently, and makes us long for light before we have it.  It was enough for this time that he had wanted to look upon a home, and that her doors had been open.

    The step went up-stairs.

   Sarah Russell had a picture of Mr. Halliwell in her mind.  We all of us have such pictures of those we have never seen.  Sometimes they prove true—sometimes false.  And sometimes, after years have past, we find a truth in them which escaped the first sight of what we call 'reality.'  People talk a great deal about the mysteries of first impressions; but if we look closely into our own minds we shall find that these very impressions are secondary—that something else went before, and that our 'first impressions' only impress us by their contrast or harmony with this something.  Our minds are like mirrors, and there is an inner eye which sees reflected upon them pictures of people and places which the eyes of our flesh have never beheld.  But the mirror is more or less blurred, and the inner vision, like the outer, is often so imperfect that it sees 'men as trees walking.'

    Sarah Russell's mental picture of Mr. Halliwell, as he returned to his solitary chamber, was of a tall old man, just a little bent, with that sad, touching bowing of a figure that has once been very erect.  He had a long grizzled beard—and his face was dark and hawk-like, with quick angry eyes—somehow like some face she had seen somewhere.  How did she put that likeness into it?  She did not even know whence it came.

    She heard the slow foot go to and fro for a while in the room overhead, and then, when all was at last quiet, she herself lay down to sleep—her last waking thought set in the verse which had become the refrain of her life—


If some poor wandering child of thine
Have spurned to-day the voice divine,
Now, Lord, thy gracious work begin;
Let him no more lie down in sin.


 
CHAPTER VII.


She cries, 'Theses things confound me,
    They settle on my brain:
The very air around me
    Is universal pain.'—R. M. M
ILNES.


THE room in which Sarah, Tibbie, and Mrs. Stone met on Christmas morning presented a sight not to be easily forgotten.

    Seated on forms, or forlornly hanging about against the walls, were rows of people, who seemed all of one dreary middle age, for the youth among them had no brightness and the age no venerableness.  They looked all soddened and beaten-out, no more resembling humanity as it comes from the hand of the Creator than their hueless, slackened rags resembled the bright textures which had once come from the loom.  Nothing is made so, however much may be spoiled so.

    They were not interested in the sight of the strangers, as Sarah would have been interested with new faces in any sphere of hers.  They did not expect anything but their soup and pudding, and those they could take from anybody.  They did not know to care for the hand of the giver as well as the gift.  For a moment Sarah's heart sank, and a swift wonder shot across her mind whether those who put themselves to contend with a wretchedness like this must not always be hard and hopeless, like poor Tibbie: hopeless in endurance, and hard to endure.

    But as the two cousins and Mrs. Stone ranged themselves behind the long table Sarah's eye fell upon two women, close at her right hand, who were eagerly looking at something they held between them.  It seemed like a little book or picture, and they smiled and shook their heads over it; and then as the elder of the two thrust it into her bosom her eyes met Sarah's.

    'May I see it too?' said Sarah, yielding to a sudden impulse.

    'Shure, 'tain't anything to look at, 'cept for those as knew him,' the woman answered, in a strong brogue, holding out a little dim glass photograph.  'It's only my poor bhoy, that's been in glory just two months since yesterday.  I brought it round to show my sister, 'cause she daren't come to our place, because she's married on an O'Flanagan, and my husband's an O'Reilly, and they nivir spake to each other 'ceps with shillelaghs.  That's my poor bhoy, and that's me, ma'am, for he would be taken holding my hand.  He knew he were a-going, ma'am, and he said I'd like to look at us so when he were gone.  A real fine-looking gossoon he was—ask anyone down our court; and he died in his chair, being as all the while he was ill; he was too spirity to lie down, only just outside the bed.  That don't look like me, ma'am, because I had on Mrs. O'Brien's bonnet with the red flowers, an' in a gineral way I don't wear bonnets myself; and it made me feel quare, as the pig said when he put his head through the stocks.  A good dutiful bhoy he was always, ma'am, and thought there was nobody like his mother—little reason he had!  He used to say, "If the room was full of people, and not mother, I'd call meself lanesome."  I'm paying all I can to get him out o' purgatory, but I always think of him as in glory, for I'm sartain shure he's at the glory-end, and the Holy Vargin wouldn't let me be desaved.  Isn't it a pratty picter, ma'am?'

    'It is indeed,' said Sarah, and it must be very valuable to you.  You must take great care of it, because glass is apt to break.'

    'Marcy me!' cried Mrs. O'Reilly; 'the first thing, whinever there's a fight on, I catch it down from the wall and sit on't.  I says to my Mike now, "Ye must look after yeself; I've got something else to look arter.  I can't even reach ye a broom if ye're out o' hand's length."  Young Mike didn't fight much.  He was one of those that are marked to be took, and minded his church duties, and I nivir saw his blood up 'crept whin Miss O'Flanagan insulted his mother.'

    'Can't you persuade your husband to leave off fighting too?' asked Sarah.

    'Losh me, miss, it's just in the natur,' explained Mrs. O'Brien.  'He means no harm.  He gives and takes.'

    'But should not he try to get it out of his nature?' said Sarah.

    'He ain't so quick up as he was,' Mrs. O'Brien admitted.  'He let that Jim O'Flanagan call him a mean word the other day, because he minded how Jim helped our Mike home when he turned faint in the street the day before he died.  "I'll never forget a kindness to my bhoy, Jem," says he; "so if ye're mane enough to insult a man whose hands are tied, ye may, Jim."  And says Jim, "I'd do as much for you as I did for him, though you are an O'Reilly; but never you come down our court." '

    'That woman belongs to an awfully drinking, fighting lot,' whispered Tibbie to Sarah, as they passed to and fro.

    'Did you know the lad who died?' asked Sarah.

    'Yes,' said Tibbie; 'he was a good-looking, delicate young man, with a pleasant tongue.  He came here hanging about on one of our soup-days, but he wasn't one of our regular cases; and I didn't notice he looked particularly ill, and I didn't give him anything.  He died two or three days after.  The O'Reillys and O'Flanagans will never be anything but O'Reillys and O'Flanagans, not even if they cross the water, and rise in life and mix in Yankee politics.'

    'Never mind,' said Sarah, whose soul was once more light with the lustre of that Sun which had not forgotten to shed its ray of mother love, and neighbourly kindness, and elevating influence, even down the foul court where pokers and brooms and pewter-pots flew about in Irish faction-fights.

    She turned brightly back to the dismal room and its forlorn crowd.  That Sun was shining on all that crowd, and in that light she could bear to look at each, assured that not the dreariest heart there was without some tender memory, or vague hope, or clinging affection, the dimly perceived lower rung of that ladder of Love which reaches to the throne of God.  And, with that consciousness of human affinity shining strong upon her face, many of the deadened faces round seemed to grow responsive, so that the moment faith rose to the realisation of the great human brotherhood it changed to sight.  Those who believe can see!

    One by one, as the people came up, Sarah found some bright word to say to each.  Something about the baby, something about the pudding, some question about who was to eat it at home.  Slow smiles broke stiffly on faces unaccustomed to that form of muscular exercise.  One or two, after they had walked away with their prize, in their first hungry eagerness, turned back to drop a curtsey and wish her a merry Christmas.'

    'Its very good o' you to come here to-day, seeing after the likes o' us,' said one woman, 'for the likes o' you will have plenty o' people wanting you otherwheres.'

    Sarah only smiled.  Never mind!  And it was true too—there were some in heaven who, she was sure, would be glad to see her there—and one or two somewhere in the world—and there would be always somebody like these, who would be glad of her.  'The poor ye have always with you'—the poor in heart or in life.  No fear of not being wanted!

    Among the crowd came one middle-aged woman, whose decent though threadbare garments and scrupulously clean face were so obviously different from all the others, that Sarah felt her being among them made her an object of special interest and pity.

    'Is your card an order for a family dinner?' she asked.

    'Yes, indeed, ma'am,' said the woman; 'it's for two families; the ladies were so kind as to give it so.  And indeed I'm most thankful, for we're having a bad time.'

    'Is your husband out of work?' Sarah enquired.

    'He hurt his hand three weeks ago, and won't be able for his trade for another week yet,' said the woman.  'And then our lodger isn't paying anything, and we're most keeping him besides.'

    'How is that?' Sarah asked.  'Well, he came to us about three months ago,' said the woman, and he was ailing and poorly then, and very bad in his mind, and he'd come from America; and I'd had brothers in San Francisco, and it made me take to him.  He paid us regular then.  But about six weeks ago he took a stroke, and he went on paying a little; but now he's had another, and his money is all gone.  He just run out as my husband hurt his hand.  Troubles always come together.'

    'Could you not get him into some infirmary?' Sarah asked.

    'No, ma'am; I don't think there's any hospital takes in those kind of cases, leastways only one, that has always more than it can do.  Of course there's the workhouse.  My husband had thought of that when the man was first took ill, but I said, "Wait a bit; maybe he'd mend."  When my husband met with his accident I thought then he must go; but, when I spoke on't, my husband wouldn't hear of it then.  He gets kind o' low like, afraid of us having to go into the House ourselves; and I thought it would be a burden off his mind.  But he took it contrary, as men do, and said it would be the beginning o' folks going from our place to the House, and that it wasn't the way to keep out of it to send others there; so there he is yet.  My little gal's minding' him—he don't want much minding; he's just stock-still and nearly dumb now, however bad he may be in his mind.  The ladies knew what we were doing for him, so they gave me tickets for two family dinners, and some jelly and beef-tea was sent round for him.'

    'Well, I must get your address from my cousin and call on you,' said Sarah.  'I hope you will have a cheerful Christmas dinner.  Trust in God, and keep up your spirits, and all will go well.'

    'The children keep us a bit lively,' the woman answered again; 'they go upstairs and sing in the man's room—he seems to like it.  Their father used to sing hymns with them, but just now he turns all-over-like if they do it in the room with him; but when he hears their voices from upstairs he often begins to hum the tune with them.  He don't notice himself, and I says nothing for if I did he'd leave off, and say he was in no singing temper.'

    'Good bye.  A cheerful Christmas and a brighter new year,' said Sarah, as the woman went away.  So down in some other dreary court there was hymn-singing, and 'entertainment of the stranger!'  Sarah caught herself repeating a verse she had read somewhere—


We see the struggle, we hear the sigh
    Of this sorrowful world of ours;
But in loving patience God sits on high,
    Because He can see its flowers.


    'Eh, ma'am,' said Mrs. Stone, as she trudged off with Sarah, in search of a cab to take them to Jane Russell's house.  'Eh, ma'am, I can't forget that paralysed man!  Fancy lying dumb and stiff in a strange place, where one might be turned out to-morrow!  And bad in one's mind beside!  It is to be hoped he hasn't got to remember that he left people that would have had a right to look after him!  My husband's father died a paralytic, and I've heard him say he shouldn't wonder he'd come to it himself; and I used to think I should have a hard time of that sort with him, as soon as he was through the hard times he gave me with his drinking and ways.  But that wasn't to be, if he was took sudden, as I suppose he was.  And if he wasn't, and his words come true, he'll be like that poor creature yonder, only not with such good people, most likely.'

    Mrs. Stone was to dine with Jane's servant, while Miss Sarah dined with the mistress.  They found the gate locked, and the door bolted as usual.  Jane was sitting in the drawing-room before a huge fire, wearing a fur tippet instead of her usual light knitted shawl; and she received Sarah with a tearful sympathy, that was clearly quite thrown away on that bright and brisk little woman.
 

'IN THE DRAWING ROOM BEFORE A HUGE FIRE.'


    'I really could not stir out to church to-day,' she said.  'The weather is so bitter; and besides, I am so sensitive that the anthem and hymns try me far too much.  I had to leave the church in the middle of the last Christmas service I attended.  I cannot bear to think of the time when I stood with my dear mother singing "Hark, the herald angels."  And there was one Christmas too when another dear voice was raised beside me—such a fine tenor!  And now there's only me!'

    'O but can't you hear them singing far more sweetly in the Higher Home?' said Sarah.  'I don't think people can know half the beauty of the dear old hymns until they can hear in them far-off voices which others cannot hear.'

    'But they sing a new song in heaven, and that is all we know about it,' said Jane, adding, with quite unconscious humour, 'As for the other voice—he goes to the Wesleyan chapel now, and he's quite middle-aged—he was some years older than me—and very likely he does not sing at all; middle-aged men seldom do.  I've left it off myself, though a woman of forty is not quite middle-aged, you know, Sarah.'

    'I think to join in congregational singing is as much a duty as to join in congregational prayer,' said Sarah.  'If one can't quite make one's voice harmonise at first, sing softly till it does.'

    'I had a sweet voice when I was a girl,' Jane observed.  'I think I lost it by fretting.  Though, as I always say, women like us, with even our little fortunes, do not lack offers to share with us, yet among all my admirers I never really cared but for that one, Sarah.  I think the heart has but one love.  All that affair was a bitter blow to me.  It withered my youth at its core.  It is a marvel to me that I am still young-looking and cheerful on the outside.'

    Sarah was silent.  She did not want to be unsympathetic, so she could not venture on words.

    'He was very delicate-looking,' Jane went on.  'He had no home, and nobody to care for him; and I used to fret to think how lonely and neglected he must be.  But it is a terrible undertaking to marry a sickly man, Sarah.  I was a hearty, pretty girl then, as I daresay you remember me, and it would have been a fearful sacrifice of my young life to tie it to an ailing, frail husband.  I was so sensible as to be able to consider the whole bearings of the matter, so that my dear mother did not attempt to urge me to any decision, but only to help my judgment by making me well acquainted with the real facts of the case.  I never heard her express a decided opinion either way further than to say that "she did not desire a child of hers to undertake anything blindfold."  I could see that such delicacy as his might possibly soon slip into a valetudinarianism which would prevent our going into the society that I was then calculated to adorn, and condemn me to the slavery of a sick nurse.  I saw, too, that it might easily set him aside from his profession, and as he had no private means, would throw us back on my own resources, which, though sufficient to maintain my present position, would have kept up but sordid married state.  I saw, too, that he might very probably die young, and leave me, just as before, only worn out, impoverished, and blighted.  How could I face such a prospect?  Now, how could I do it, Sarah?  My mother said I was right to allow myself to weigh all these contingencies, and having weighed them, what could I do but give him up!  I can assure you, it was like tearing my heart out to do so.  But I saw it was my duty, and I never flinched from my duty yet.'

    Jane covered her face with her handkerchief; it was quite unnecessary, for there was only a very slight moisture about her eyes, such as might come from the too near proximity of the blazing fire.

    'And if he had grown a confirmed invalid or died, I could have borne it so much more easily!  But after two or three years he married somebody else, and he's a great, strong, healthy man now, and must make fifteen hundred a-year at least.  And somehow I broke down from the day I gave him up, and now I'm the wreck you see, and I might have had him to cherish me and care for me.'  And up went the handkerchief again!

    Sarah did not know what to say.  She could scarcely find it in her heart to say that there is a cross in the way to every crown, whether of human joy or spiritual triumph, but that often the only crown revealed to our eyes, until we have fairly lifted the cross, is a crown of thorns.

    'Well, Jane,' she said gently, 'it would not have been right for you to marry him, unless you loved him so much that you could take joy in your sacrifice, even had its utmost penny been demanded of you.'

    'But I did love him,' said Jane, fretfully.  'I did love him as much as ever woman loved man.'

    Sarah sighed softly.  Jane had doubtless loved him as much as she could herself, and in our standard of human possibilities, we can never rise higher than our own.

    'It was only my high idea of duty,' said Jane.  'I am made a martyr to my sense of right.  I was right in my inferences.  The cruel thing is that I was allowed to be mistaken in my facts.  And here I am left in the full realisation of my loss and loneliness!  If I was like most people, who have never really loved at all—like Tibbie, for instance—I could be quite content!'

    'Oh! does not love bring its own blessing with it?' pleaded Sarah.  'Is there not comfort in the very longing it leaves behind it?  Besides love is never lost.'  Alas!  Sarah felt that she was talking wide of the true mark in this case, but she did not know what else to say.

    Jane smiled supremely.  'Ah, it is sweet to fancy how sweet it is to love !' she said; but the real thing is different, and its loss is very real.  But now, dinner is ready.'

    It was a very sumptuous little repast—not a strictly seasonable one, because Jane preferred pheasant to roast beef or turkey, and could not endure plum-pudding, so supplemented the mince-pies with chocolate, soufflé, and tipsey cake.  There was no Christmas decoration about the rooms.  Jane saw Sarah's eye go in search of it, and remarked,—

    'I never have any of that nonsense.  The vegetation always brings in a sensation of raw cold and damp which sets my nerves a-jar.'

    There was something a little tart and ungracious in the manner of the servant, which her mistress explained when she left the room.

    'She wanted to have her mother here to spend the day with her.  Of course I could not allow it.  Her mother is a charwoman, and no charwomen are very particular, and I could not have her about on the very day when all my best plate is exposed.  Afterwards, when we agreed that you should bring your maid with you, I told the girl that she would have a visitor, and that she ought to be very thankful.  But she only muttered some impertinence.  There is really no pleasing these low kind of people.  So to-day she has been very saucy, saying that she did not know how she could get through to-morrow, turning away the people who come for Christmas-boxes.  For I never allow any.  People get their wages.  What have you done with your other servant to-day, Sarah?  And how shall you manage with all your tradesmen's people to-morrow?  If I were you, I should just get over this year by saying that you have not been here long enough to think of giving any douceurs.'

    'I let my servant go home, for she has a father and mother, and ever so many brothers and sisters,' said Sarah.  'If I had needed her services myself, I should have let her have one of them with her, and given her a holiday on some other festive date.  As for Christmas-boxes, I shall give some—I know people get their wages, but wages have to be regulated by all sorts of principles of political economy.  They are the wheels, as it were, of life, and they go all the easier for a little oil.  Human life defined by a line, is as uncomfortable as would be the human figure defined by a wire.  One prefers a little mist about it, where Hope may put out a wondering hand.  One likes life weighed out with something to turn the scale.  Perhaps I look for so much for myself in God's "more abundantly," that I like to make little earthly types of it when I can.'

    'Well, I only know that I get no Christmas-boxes,' said Jane; 'and what is good for me is good for other people.'

    Sarah smiled secretly.  That was all Jane knew!  Why, a little package directed to her, and containing a water-colour sketch of Sarah's old American home, was already in charge of the Parcels Delivery Company, and would arrive to-morrow—in an innocent mystery to be solved—as many mysteries will be—in happy laughter, or at least with a smile.  At least, surely Jane would smile!

    But the utmost Sarah could get from Jane that night was a somewhat frigid expression of approval on a little poem by a nameless writer, which Sarah had copied into her pocket-book, and requested permission to read.  It was called—


THIS DAY LAST YEAR.


This day last year!   It has a solemn sound,
    It has been sighed above so many graves,
About so many hopes, that faded, fell,
    And sank among the wrecks on Time's dark waves.

This day last year!   There has not been much change,
    For all the bitter change was long ago.
There was a time I could not speak these words,
    The old dates meant such agony of woe!

But now I think it will not grieve me more
    To see the shadow on this brow of mine:
Not for the old-time laughter of mine eyes
    Would I a single thrill of pain resign.

For since 'this day last year' I've learned the truth
    That sorrow bears a gracious light from heaven,
That truly they know little what they ask
    Who envy those to whom it is not given.

For they who fear not, do not know the rest
    When heavenly breezes bear away the fears;
And they who weep not, do not know the peace
    When God's own angels wipe away the tears.


    'Yes, it is very pretty,' Jane said; 'but I have known religion a great many years, and does not destroy one's natural feelings.  Grace is grace, dear Sarah, but nature is nature.'

    'True,' Sarah answered, 'but is not nature the chalice, more or less transparent, into which grace is poured from on high?'

    Sarah did not stay late.  She knew that Jane's hours were very early, at least in the sense of retiring to her sleeping chamber, though Jane had pointed out to her a little bookcase there, with 'whose contents,' she said, 'she soothed and edified many midnight hours.'  Among the books Sarah noticed Hervey's 'Meditations among the Tombs,' Mrs. Rowe's ' Letters,' and 'Meditations,' Drelincourt on 'Death,' and some less standard works, bearing such titles as 'Dark Days in the Wilderness,' and 'Secret Cries of a Sad Heart.'

    Poor Jane!  She had leisure without life, sentiment without sympathy, loss without love, a form without a faith!

    Nevertheless, she was one in God's world, and as she kissed Sarah and said it was nice to have had her with her, Sarah felt a half remorseful pain that she could not help thinking to herself that it is well that God does not leave unloved even those who are very unlovable!


 
CHAPTER VIII.


One gentle look, one tender touch
Had done so much for me.—R. B
ULWER LYTTON.


IN the course of the next day Sarah received a note from Jane:—


    'DEAR COUSIN,—Your parcel has just arrived!  It is very kind of you to think of these things, and it is the first Christmas gift I have had for twenty years.  The postman was asking for his Christmas-box just as the porter brought in your present; so I sent him down half-a-crown.  I'm sure my correspondence don't trouble him much, and the few letters I have might stay away for all the good they are to me.  But I believe the post-office people are not too well paid, and so that is the only concession I have made.

    'My servant has given me notice to-day, which is of course particularly inconvenient, as this is a bad season for hiring.  It would have put me about less to have let her have her mother here.  You see, I try to keep up discipline, and am only punished for it.
                                                           'Your affectionate cousin,
                                                                                                            'J
ANE.'


    In the course of a few days, Sarah went to visit the family who had sheltered the paralytic man.  She did not go empty-handed: beside some little valuable dainties, she took a small sum of money, being fully aware that much kindness is neutralised by the timidity that refuses to trust a deserving person with a little cash to supply those little nameless daily wants which only ready money can allay.

    Whenever Sarah Russell gave relief—which was not very often, because she rather sought to develop the healthier powers of self-relief—she usually gave it half in kind, and half in cash.  She was not addicted to give relief at all where there was any possibility that cash would find its way to the gin-shop.

    Mrs. Stone had her special contribution.  Among her very miscellaneous luggage she had an old bolster.  This she had unpicked, had taken out the feathers, and quilted them into an old chintz counterpane.

    'Those cases are always so cold,' she said; they want a deal of rubbing, and I'll go bail this poor creature can't get much.  I've heard my husband say that after his father had the strokes, his greatest comfort was a down cover-lid that my husband saved up for and gave him;' and Mrs. Stone sighed a portentous sigh.

    Sarah Russell found the poor little house clean and quiet.  The decent, rather dejected-looking father was trying to make some rude toys to sell in the street, the wife had just got some needlework to do, and the eldest lad had found an errand boy's place.  The wife came down from the sick lodger's room, and apologised for not asking the visitor to see the invalid.  'He was that fractious, that the sight of a stranger was tortures.'

    Sarah expressed no surprise.  If she herself were dying, she felt she could now bear to see anybody, to peacefully answer the most impertinent well-meant inquiry, and to endure the most boring curiosity.  But she knew that it had not always been so with her.  She had known the frantic hiding of the hunted soul.  She knew when she had even shrank from friendship because with all its kindness, its touch was too rough for wounds whose deep seat it could not guess.  She knew that there are times when, if we would see God, we must turn our face to the bare wall and keep silence, ay, and that such times must precede the illumination which reveals God to us in the roughest human face, and the most awkward human charity, though such times are not always followed by such revelation.  She did not altogether suppose that this poor waif knew in what high search a stranger's appearance interrupted him.  Very likely he only felt he was more peaceable' when he was left alone.

    But the good woman was so delighted with Mrs. Stone's nice warm quilt, that she would at once carry it up-stairs to display it.  She came down again wiping her eyes.

    'I can't make out what he said,' she narrated; he can only make a kind of noise, and there's only one of my little girls that can understand him a bit.  But he began to cry; and cuddled his head down sideways on it to show how nice it was and how it pleased him.'

    When Sarah told Mrs. Stone this, Mrs. Stone cried too.  'I'm sure it's a poor concern to what my husband gave his father,' she said, 'but I hope there's somebody to do the same for him if he wants it,' she sobbed.

    Sarah had not forgotten Mr. Halloween's ghostly survey of her home on Christmas Eve.  She had tried to realise what might be the real state of the case.  Was it possible that this man, stunned by the shock of some terrible blow, had rushed into solitude in simple self-defence, but had been rather too systematic and elaborate in his plans of refuge, so that no accident had battered his bulwarks, and at once shown the outer world how slight they were, and given himself an opportunity of gradually stepping forth?  Sarah was a great believer in the force of habit—in the bondage of outside character.  'We are not born in shells,' she would say, but we mostly die in them.  Half the people are never seen as they are, but as somebody described them.  Our hard shells are clapped upon us, and our natures sometimes fit themselves to them afterwards.'

    'They always called me like a boy,' said Tibbie.  'I was expected to do things out of the way, and queer for a girl, and I know I seldom disappointed people.  I rather liked to be called like a boy, and I used to romp and ruffle my hair just to hear people say so.'

    Sarah laughed.  'And you are really such a woman, Tibbie,' she answered.  'All woman in your strength, and thorough woman in your weakness!  But, Tibbie, don't you think that women and men have much more in common than apart?  The true woman has much of the man in her, and the true man has much of the woman.'

    'Very likely,' said Tibbie.  'I know I like men better than women.  We understand each other better.  Most of my few genuine friends have been men.  I don't say men are superior to women, as some people are always ready to assert, as some would think I meant if they heard me now.  I simply say that I like them better, that I could be more to them, and they could be more to me, perhaps, and perhaps only, because I am a woman!'

    'Exactly so,' Sarah admitted.  'God has implanted a relationship between man and woman of which marriage is at once the consummation and the type.  Love, the great motive-power of the world, is simply the highest friendship between man and woman, and the same friendship, in all its lower levels, must naturally be a greater power and a more sacred sentiment than the corresponding degrees of friendship between people of the same sex.  I almost think that nothing in the world has gone so wrong as the way in which men and women regard each other.  They seem to think that they have nothing to do with each other except in marriage, a view by which the holy state itself is cruelly injured, and the way to it often impassably blocked to the more thoughtful and purer natures.  Simple, sincere, kindly friendship, is lost sight of—merged in the frivolity of girl and boy flirtations, or the worse than frivolity of older intrigues.  How few women, at bottom good, and kind and wise in the life of their inner circle, dare to let their true selves be seen in general society!  The influence of evil women is broadcast; the influence of good women is a talent hidden in a napkin.  The wicked woman drops her poison in every word, the good girl utters a commonplace, a polite platitude, and blushes with the fear lest all her care will not quite veil the true sentiments of her secret soul.  In fact, Tibbie, we have come round to the point whence this digression started.  Few women show their genuine selves, but rather hide in armours of mere conventional propriety, most of which were cast in an entirely different state of education and society, and many of which issue from very doubtful forges.'

    'And so you suspect that this poor old Mr. Halliwell, who, from my recollection, must be nearly eighty now, is also a slave to habit even in eccentricity, and to public opinion even in a hermitage,' said Tibbie.

    'I do really,' Sarah answered.  'I daresay there has been many and many a time when he would have come out if there had been an opening, such as would have spared his relenting pride even to himself.  I don't believe he hears the postman's knock go round the Hallowgate, and invariably rejoices that there is no letter for him.  I don't believe he hears your rat-a-rat with an unfailing glee that, whoever it is, it is nobody for him.  Tibbie, on this last night of the year, I'm very much inclined to send him up a New Year's verse-card, and a bunch of snowdrops and violets!  I can guess how he felt on Christmas-eve, and to-night I'm quite sure he will be wondering whether he will still be here next year.  And it may be his last New Year, Tibbie, just as it may be ours.'

    'You know human nature pretty well, Sarah,' said Tibbie.

    'I know it by my own,' Sarah answered.  'I've often wanted to do things, and haven't done them, just because they were not supposed to be in my character, and therefore were not expected from me.  I believe in the benefits of change of scene, Tibbie; it gives us a chance of changing ourselves a little!'

    She chose the card, and she made up the little bunch of flowers, and bade the housekeeper present them with 'Miss Russell's kind compliments' when she took up the old, gentleman's supper.

    'And I suppose this will be about as much an event as has "happened" to him for years!' she said.  'But, oh dear, all our lives miss such a many "happenings" which they might have had!'

    'So they do, and I have a right to say so,' Tibbie responded; but if you mean to begin that style of talk, I'll go and buy a rope and hang myself offhand, unless indeed you'd like me to help you in the same operation first.'

    Sarah smiled up in her cousin's face, where the real restless expression showed even through the assumed glare of mock gloom and determination.

    'We don't miss any "happenings" that God takes from us,' she said sweetly.  'Because He takes them.  And if he dwells in us, we are in Him, and find them there, and possess all things.'

    The housekeeper knocked at the drawing-room door on her way down from fetching the supper-tray.  She had a note to deliver.

    'I was nearer seeing him to-night than ever before,' she informed Mrs. Stone.  'He'd done something else to the letter after he'd rung the bell, I reckon, for he'd hardly got his inner-door shut when I entered at the other.  I almost saw his hand on the handle.'

    The note was written on fine paper of an old-fashioned make and yellowish with age—paper that he had probably never used since his only correspondence had been his lawyer's letters and his household directions.

    'I wonder on what occasion that paper was last used before,' said Tibbie, under her breath.

    The handwriting was not feeble.  The letters were a little stiff and disjoined, like an awkward squad coming out to drill.  But they were set down firmly and legibly.

    'Mr. Halliwell presents his compliments to Miss Russell, and thanks her for her kind attention.  The flowers are very sweet and refreshing.  Mr. Halliwell hopes that Miss Russell will excuse his not being able personally to wish her a happy New Year; the wish is none the less sincere.'

    'I suppose he has never seen a flower all those years,' Sarah.  'Poor old man!  I think I will buy him some every Saturday, against the Sabbath.'

    'If Jane thought him too old for her to insinuate that you were setting your cap at him, she would hint that you wished to be remembered in his will,' said Tibbie.

    Sarah's face flashed almost into anger.  'If you do yourself the injustice of injecting yourself into such thoughts, however playfully,' she said, 'I shall take comfort in the belief that you are doing Jane as much injustice in imputing them to her!'

    'Forgive me!' pleaded Tibbie, penitently, quite abashed before her gentle cousin's aroused power of scorn.  'But I cannot help knowing what a certain kind of people will say under any given circumstances.'

    'Bad things are not improved when they are second-hand,' said Sarah, still severely.  'We know there is a dust-heap in the back-yard, but we don't mention it at dinner time, nor turn it over when we are in our best dresses.  That would be simply the same as defiling any kindly plan of our own or another's by splashing it over with a foul opinion.'

    'Won't you forgive me?' begged Tibbie.

    'Forgive you?  Yes,' said Sarah, turning to her and kissing her warmly.  'Forgive me for being too severe and sharp.  Only I am always so afraid lest these kind of opinions should be repeated to people whom they might fetter and hinder.  So I hope I'm forgiven now in my turn, Tibbie.'

    'Oh dear, yes,' said Tibbie, 'now that the storm is over I'm rather glad.  I've seen that you can be angry, even on ever such just provocation.  It gives just a little hope to a poor body like me, who am always angry, on no present provocation at all.'

    When Sarah went to her room that night she drew her curtains to look out upon the calm moonlight, in which the old year, with its universal changes and trials, and its many crimes and sorrows, was dying away.  It was so bright as to be almost as light as day—the lighter, because the beams fell on ground whitened by a slight snow-fall.  The snow lay crisply on the long grass of the little churchyard, and lodged daintily among the carvings on the great tombstone.  All the passion of lamentation was lifted from that resting-place of the long departed.  Hearts by no fireside thrilled with the pang of the 'first snow-fall' over those old graves.  All looked so calm, so peaceful.

    Sarah caught herself murmuring—


All is ended now! the hope, the fear, and the sorrow.
All the aching of heart, the restless, unsatisfied longing.
All the dull, deep pain, and constant anguish of patience.


    And then she started.  For a very present misery broke upon the luxury of restfulness.

    The opposite side of the little graveyard was bounded by a narrow paved passage, which opened from Crosier Street, and led to the backdoor of a great warehouse to the right.  It had no thoroughfare, and as the back-door was never opened, it was never used.

    But to-night there was somebody there.

    Only one: a young man, who stood in the snow, with the silver moonlight slanting on his head bowed upon the old railings.  He stood there as if he had stood so for some little time.  And Sarah felt that it was out of no happy life, from no hopeful future, that a lad would come on the last night of the year to stand in the snow, leaning on a churchyard paling.

    While she stood watching with a wild yearning that the comfort and the sorrow that go astray in the world may be somehow brought together, the dark figure stirred with a sudden movement, and a wan white face was lifted.  She could see no features in that weird light, only a flash of something that looked whiter than the snow and wanner than the moonbeams.  And then the figure walked quickly away and disappeared under the archway, and Sarah would have almost thought it had been a phantom of her own fancy, but for a few faint footprints left upon the pavement.



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