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
'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
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,
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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,
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!'
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.
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
'That's a comfort for me, anyhow,' said Tibbie, recklessly.
'I like to be different. I am hĕtĕrŏs
'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
'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
('I wish I could think so,' said Tibbie, in bitter
'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
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
'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
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
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
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.
She cries, 'Theses things confound me,
They settle on my brain:
The very air around me
Is universal pain.'—R. M. MILNES.
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
'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
'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?'
'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
'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
'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
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,
'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
'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
'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
'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
There was something a little tart and ungracious in the
manner of the servant, which her mistress explained when she left
'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
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
One gentle look, one tender touch
Had done so much for me.—R. BULWER
IN the course of
the next day Sarah received a note from Jane:—
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,
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
'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
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
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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
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
All the aching of heart, the restless, unsatisfied
All the dull, deep pain, and constant anguish of
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
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.