I WENT to the
station to meet Ernest and Lizzie. There she was, my darling
Liz, as bright as a sunbeam, darting along the platform to meet me,
her pretty grey travelling-dress showing her light and graceful
figure. And yet, with all her eagerness of movement, how
modest she looked. One or two of the young men looked after
her with evident admiration, and I could pardon them; though really
some of the young men here are unpardonably rude. I suppose
they would feel very much aggrieved if one refused to call them
gentlemen; but they have not the merest rudiments of courtesy, the
first essential to that title. They are mostly merchants' and
bankers' clerks—and is not Edwin one of them? But fancy Edwin
pushing into a carriage when a woman had her hand on the handle of
the door! fancy him puffing cigar-smoke into a girl's face! fancy
him treating with disrespect the weak and the aged! No; it is
not mere class prejudice that keeps the ranks of Englishmen so far
apart; it is really that it takes a great deal of training, domestic
and social, to make men gentlemen—excepting always the few whom
Nature turns out ready-made, who are the true gentlemen, after all,
and may be what they please, and do what they please, for they could
not be rough and overbearing, or do a mean and unkind thing if they
I had just come to this in the thoughts my few minutes of
waiting had furnished, when Lizzie appeared. After her came
Ernest, more leisurely. He came up and kissed me quietly, and
then went off to look after their luggage. Yet even the little
look I had at him was enough. How well I knew that look!
It has been his from his very babyhood—not habitually, of course,
but whenever he was vexed and disappointed—a slightly increased
pallor (and Ernest has less colour than any of us), a droop about
the mouth, a far-away look in the eyes—meaning there is nothing in
the world of the slightest consequence.
"Lizzie," I whispered, "Ernest is not looking well. He
is unhappy about something."
"Don't say anything about it, dear," pleaded Lizzie, in an
answering whisper. "Take no notice, and I will tell you all
about it when we get home."
"Then there is something?" I returned, anxiously.
"It is really nothing," answered Lizzie, "and you need not
look so alarmed, Una darling; only, I could not tell you here.
See, there he is coming back to us. They have got our luggage
on the platform already."
"We can walk home, and the porter will bring up the boxes," I
"Better have a cab," put in Ernest.
"Cabs are not always to be had here, Ernest, you know."
"It's a wretched hole of a place," he replied.
"Really, Ernest," I was beginning, but Lizzie interposed.
"It pleases you to say so, I know, but the walk with Una will
do us good after our journey," and she led the way out of the
We spoke to the porter about the boxes, and started for home.
"I cannot see," began Ernest, whose grumbling was not to be
repressed—"I cannot see why you should have chosen to come here, of
all places, out of the way of everybody and everything."
"The air is very good," said Lizzie, sniffing it. "It
smells of home."
"We don't live on air," said Ernest, with the ghost of a
smile. "Besides, the air is just as good—rather better, I
should say—at Kensington, or Hampstead, or some place like that."
"It's dearer," said Lizzie, sententiously.
"What's dearer, the air?"
"Everything, houses especially."
"Always this wretched poverty," he murmured. We wisely
took no notice of his speech.
"It is very convenient for Edwin, who has to go to the City
"What a life for him!" said Ernest, and walked on in gloomy
I was feeling deeply hurt and somewhat indignant. I
could not pass it over like Lizzie, or charm him into a better mood,
though I knew as well as she that under this unhappy temper lay the
most generous of hearts.
"If you have been anything like this, Ernest, you cannot have
been a very pleasant inmate at Aunt Robert's."
"I dare say not," was his reply.
I made a last effort. It would be quite dreadful if he
should appear in this fashion before Aunt Monica.
"Ernest," I said, wistfully, "don't let us be unhappy among
ourselves. We are all trying to put as brave a face on
circumstances as we can. Think how much Aunt Monica is
sacrificing for us."
"That is the worst of it," he said. "I am sacrificing
I did not quite understand the ring of mockery in his tone.
"And there is Edwin," I went on. "He has been working
hard all through this hot summer without a murmur, and he hasn't had
a single holiday."
"And I have done nothing, and have had plenty of holidays."
It was useless to go on. He was in one of his most
unreasonable moods, and I could do nothing. I could only hope
that he would, in deference to Aunt Mona, keep it to himself as much
No sooner had I got Lizzie alone in our room than I began
about Ernest, asking if he had had anything particular to vex him.
"Well, I don't know why it should vex him so much. He
has said nothing about it to me; it is only from Aunt Robert that I
know anything; at least, it was Aunt Robert who made me see it."
"How delightfully clear it is." I laughed, and Lizzie
laughed too, but she blushed also, which was not a usual thing with
Lizzie. Embarrassment of any kind was something quite new in
her. "Well," she explained, "you know I told you the Winfields
were there, and they went away, only Edith came back again on my
account, Aunt Robert said, and we three used to go out together
walking and riding, and of course I liked being with Ernest, and
would never have found out that they liked better to be by
themselves if Aunt Robert had not made me see it."
"How did she make you see it?"
"She only said that I made a better chaperone than she
did—that I never left them for a moment. And I asked if they
wanted to be left by themselves, and she said, laughing, that she
supposed they did; and it was quite true. I easily found it
out, and I took care to leave them enough then." There was a
little wounded pride, as well as hurt affection in Lizzie's tone,
and I was conscious of several new sensations which were not wholly
"After I found it out," Lizzie went on, "I did not ride any
more; I preferred to be with Aunt Robert, and go out with her in the
pony-carriage; and they were fond of walking in the rose-garden,
which is behind a thick screen of laurel, and I have often seen
Ernest pluck a rose and give it to Edith, and she always wore it in
the evening in her dress, or in her hair. I would not care if
I liked her very, very much," said Lizzie; "but I do not see why he
should be so unhappy about it, for I think she is quite as fond of
him as he is of her. He has been getting worse and worse ever
since she went away, a week ago. Perhaps he expected her to
write to him, and she has not done it. Do you think that is
"No, I don't suppose so; but I think I understand."
I could hardly answer, for I was thrilling with her tidings;
sympathy with my darling brother, mingled with a dread of this new
power, so potent to change all things, which had drawn near to us
with unknown consequences, and again an undefined shrinking from the
cause of it.
"You have not told me why you think he is so unhappy," said
Lizzie, who liked to know things definitely.
"Why, my darling? Because he is so poor he cannot ask
Edith to marry him."
"Oh, he can't want to be married just yet." Lizzie's
idea was that to be married was the winding up of all that was
interesting and agreeable. It might be a solemn duty, or a
disagreeable necessity. She could not fancy that it was in any
"He may not," I replied, "but he has no prospect for many
years, if ever."
"But she is rich."
"So much the worse for him."
"I do not see that at all."
"Don't you see that it would be dreadful for a man without a
penny of his own, to presume upon the wealth of the woman he asked
to marry him? Don't you see it would be like asking for her
"But if they love each other?"
"My dear, love will not furnish the house. Is he to
say, 'I will order all these things, and pay for them when I get
your money?' Would not the disinterestedness of such love be
open to question?"
"Oh yes, it would be dreadful; but they could wait,"
"It is impossible for a man in Ernest's position to ask a
young lady in society to wait for him an indefinite period.
She may have better offers, you know."
"And you are the dearest old humbug, and I have found you
out. You are only talking Smithsonese, and you know as little
about it as I do. All that I know is that I would find a way
out of it."
"I do believe you would; but many never do find the way out
of unhappiness in this world."
"Now what have you been doing to yourself, you doleful old
darling?" cried Lizzie, when she had released me; for my sentence
had suffered death by suffocation. "Have you been falling in
love with Mr. Claude Carrol, about whom you have been writing so
"Don't, dear. And you have never told me any thing
about Mr. Temple," I said.
Lizzie was all eager animation once more.
"Oh, when he came, it was quite another thing. I
enjoyed myself then. I had a companion of my own, and got as
much walking and riding as I wanted."
Lizzie always delighted in physical exertion—far more than I
"There never was anybody so nice as Mr. Temple," went on
Lizzie. "He is so unselfish. I don't know if Ernest has
told him anything, but he devoted himself to me.
"And oh, Una!" she cried, "I have seen Highwood, papa's old
home. It is lovely, all surrounded by woods. Aunt Robert
drove me over, without telling me where we were going. She
wanted me to get down and go over the grounds, but when I knew where
I was I would not."
"Quite right. It was wrong of her to ask you; it would
have been like stealing into the place. But what are we
thinking about? Dinner will be on the table before we have so
much as washed our hands. Don't let us speak another word."
Our neighbours considerately left us to ourselves that
evening, and Ernest, putting constraint upon himself, was quite
pleasant. He tells us that Mr. Temple is in London, and that he had
intended to take lodgings near us, in order that they might do a few
weeks' reading together.
"But I don't know that I ought not to warn him against this
out-of-the-way place." That was his one discontented speech.
Mr. Temple, however, did not wait to be warned. He came
down next day, and found no fault with the place at all, but, on the
contrary, expressed the strongest desire to take up his temporary
abode in it. Lizzie was delighted, and offered to help him to
find a lodging; and, accordingly, off she sallied with him and
Ernest. She had seen something about apartments to let in the
window of a fancy goods repository, and she was to take there.
She pleaded hard for me to go, but I declined, though Mr. Temple
backed her request. He is much more deferential to me than to
Lizzie; but, then, I feel conscious of shrinking into myself.
It is always Lizzie who wins love, and who deserves to win it.
What transparent purity of motive is in all she does! What
bright, breezy, healthful freedom, without a touch of coquetry!
Aunt Mona and I were sitting in our little garden where Mrs.
Carrot and Clara had joined us, taking advantage of the warm
afternoons to sit out-of-doors and in the shade, when our little
party returned triumphant. The apartments were over the shop
itself, but Mr. Temple was quite satisfied. He did not think
the proximity of the Berlin wool and worked slippers would affect
him in any way.
He was introduced by Aunt Mona to Clara and her mother, and
when Claude came to carry them off, to him also. Shortly
after, he took his leave, hoping that Aunt Mona would not find him
in the way, with his comings and goings.
ERNEST rises very
early in the morning, and does three or four hours' reading before
any one is up. Mr. Temple is doing the same. After
breakfast they meet to compare notes, and go on again together in
Mr. Temple's lodging. He has arranged it so. Then Ernest
comes home to lunch, and later in the afternoon Mr. Temple comes in,
and we all go out together. "Whenever the weather is fine,"
was the arrangement, and the weather is persistently so—the
loveliest autumn weather, we one and all declare.
Aunt Mona and Mrs. Carrol are well contented to be left
together while we roam about, for Clara and Claude generally join
our little party. A rather formidable party we appear with our
increased numbers; but there is one thing we cannot do, and that is
increase our outlets into the world at large. We must go past
the cemetery or through the rows of houses, or out into the fields;
and we invariably prefer the latter. So that already we know
every inch of the way to and about our one country walk.
I generally lead the way with Claude Carrol, and Lizzie
follows with Mr. Temple, while Ernest and Clara bring up the rear.
But sometimes we change partners on the way, or get into a group and
talk all together, especially when we reach the stile which is the
usual limit of our walk. There is a great elm lying felled
there, with moss on its trunk and tiny green sprouts of branchlets
of this summer's growth, and we sometimes sit on the trunk while the
gentlemen lean on the stile, or assume less elegant and more easy
attitudes, as it pleases them. Ernest had adopted one of
these—in fact, was sitting astride the stile one evening, when a
silence seemed to fall upon our merry chatter. A laugh from
him seemed to break it harshly.
It is in a slight hollow, this favourite resting-place of
ours, so that it quite shuts out all view of houses beyond, and
might be miles away in the heart of the green country, instead of
merely on the fringe of the great Babel. Four fields meet
there, their tall hedgerows dotted with weird-looking pollard elms;
but here and there, perhaps at the corner of a field, a cluster of
trees have been left to themselves and Nature, and have made the
best use of their freedom, and formed themselves into lovely groups.
One little path runs up a little, a very little, hill; another, on
the other side of the stile, across a wide field on to another dusty
highway, terminating, like the one we have quitted, in long rows of
houses. We were all standing except Clara, who had just sat
down on our tree-trunk, when Ernest broke the silence by that laugh—
"How often," he said, "shall we come here, and find
everything the same? Five times have I sat on this stile
gazing on the impressive scene. This fence, these turnips,
that field over which the ploughshare has passed."
He spoke in mock heroics, but no one seconded him, only Mr.
Temple said, gently, "The same, yet not the same. Never the
"Isn't it perfect?" said Lizzie.
"Isn't it perfect?" said Lizzie. She was standing
looking westward, looking at the serenely lovely sunset which had
hushed us all unconsciously. Claude and I were standing in the
shadow. The glow from the sky, of tenderest rose and gold, was
falling full on Lizzie, and lighting her face into angelic beauty.
It was lighted from within, too, with the first fine careless
rapture of youth. The glow of health, too, was on her cheek,
its shine in her eyes.
"Look at that smoke going up from the ground," she said.
"It is like the smoke from a heathen altar."
"Burning bricks!" ejaculated Ernest, but still no one
Mr. Temple and Claude had both been looking at Lizzie, and
for a moment they glanced at the smoke forming a golden haze as it
rose and spread on the near horizon, but they both turned their eyes
again to the unconscious child—after all, she is little more—with
looks that said, plainly enough, "Isn't she perfect?"
"One could never tire of this," said Lizzie, presently.
"Speak for yourself, Liz," said Ernest, leaping from his
seat. "I am tired enough of it," he was about to say, but
politeness prevailed. "Come, Miss Carrol, we will be more
enterprising," he said. "Let us climb the hill here, and look
out upon a wider scene."
Clara rose, nodded to him and smiled to us, and the two set
off up the gentle slope, full in the light of the setting sun, with
their figures relieved against the tall hedgerow.
Even in that light, and there is always a kind of glamour in
it, there was no mistaking these two for lovers. They take a
certain amount of pleasure in each other's society. They even
venture on differences of opinion, but on the whole agree
wonderfully. Clara's estimate of life is nearer to Ernest's
than that of any of us. She is less of an optimist, and feels
the vanity of human things more deeply.
We who were left began to compare notes on the love of
change. It was Claude who said the most in praise of familiar
things. He was quite eloquent in favour of never tiring of
anything, of seeing new beauties in the things we saw every day, not
only in a scene like this, of which the peculiar homely loveliness
was so attractive, but in all the objects of one's daily life.
"One gets to know them better and to see more beauty in them, as a
child always thinks its mother's face is beautiful, however homely
she may be," he said.
Mr. Temple's contribution to the discussion was in far fewer
words, but we all felt them deeply—
"How sad life grows without familiar faces, only one can know
who has neither father nor mother, sister nor brother."
When we saw Ernest and Clara coming down the slope again, we
started slowly forward; Claude and Lizzie first, then Mr. Temple and
I, and very little more was said among us until we reached home and
parted at its threshold.
Tacitly we agreed among ourselves to take our last walk for
the season to this spot, which was becoming a charmed spot to more
than one of us. The end of our season coincided with Ernest's
and Mr. Temple's departure for Cambridge in October and the falling
of the autumn rains, which rendered our field paths well nigh
We were specially merry that day. Toodles, kneeling on
a chair in the bay-window by the side of his mother and the baby,
kissed his hand gallantly to us as we went by, and followed us with
We knew it was to be a day of parting, and on that account we
may have been rather determinedly gay; but after all we were no
sad-hearted sentimentalists, but a bevy of healthy hearty young
people, who could not help being gay except with good reason to the
contrary, and there was no such reason pressing on any of us, or at
least immediately pressing, whatever shadows might make up the
background of our lives. We had the joy of healthful life, of
happy companionship, of freedom in the present and of hope for the
But for all that, we carefully avoided the subject of our
breaking up. I walked out with Claude, but as usual lately,
Lizzie and I changed partners on the way home, and Mr. Temple
returned with me. He was unusually silent, but I did not
expect him to say anything about the breaking up of our party, as we
called it, for he was by far the most reticent of our three
gentlemen in matters of feeling. Ernest, even, had forborne to
turn it into jest, which was his way of retaliating on emotion; and
Claude, who had far more freedom of speech, though it was not gush,
But after walking side by side in silence, a silence which at
any rate betokened our increase of intimacy—a few weeks ago we
should have mutually striven to fill it up with the merest
nothings—he began by saying, "I hope I shall see our favourite spot
again before long. In spite of the beauty of the autumn
sunsets, I think it must look its very loveliest in the
"Yes," I answered, "and I think it may even look beautiful in
winter, etched out in black and white."
"I regret I shall not be there to see," he returned.
"My Christmas holidays are—at least, they almost always have
been—divided between my uncle, and my guardian who lives in London.
It may seem an imputation on my modesty to say so, but I believe I
should inflict severe disappointment by breaking through the use and
wont of it. Last Christmas I could not go to Dorset Square as
usual, because of illness in my guardian's family, so this Christmas
I am doubly due there."
Another silence, which I tried in vain to break. Then
he said, in a voice almost tremulous, "These days have been among
the happiest of my life, Miss Lancaster; so you will not wonder that
I regret to have them come to an end."
He was looking to me for some response, but I could make
none, though my inability to do so pressed upon me like a nightmare.
It was a relief to hear him speak again, though this time
there was the modification of tone, which told of an effort to
control emotion and return to commonplace.
"You have all been so kind to me," he continued. "Your
aunt and your sister have treated me as if I had been a near
relative. You do not know how grateful I am for their
kindness—for all your kindness."
His voice fell again. We were once more at home.
Claude and Lizzie had already entered. We waited for the other
two, and then bade one another good-bye.
It was only for an hour or two, for we were to meet again in
the evening. Our friends were coming in to tea, and to spend
We had a very pleasant time of it, with plenty of music; for
Claude Carrol and his sister both played and sang, and they had
beautiful voices, as also had Lizzie and Edwin. Edwin was with
us, for a wonder. He got home early—a thing which was becoming
quite unusual with him—and we all made much of him—too much, he
seemed to think, for he shrank from the praise bestowed upon his
diligence in business, with the nearest approach to irritation I had
ever seen in him.
Lizzie, always fonder of Edwin, or at least always more
demonstrative of fondness towards him than any of us, ran to the
door when she heard his knock, and dragged him in amongst us before
he had time to go up-stairs.
"Oh, I am so glad you have got away she said. It does
seem a shame that you should be hard at work while we are enjoying
ourselves; and we always used to call you the lazy one, too."
"I fancy I am the lazy one still," he said. "But let me
go now and make myself presentable."
He had greeted everybody by this time, and was leaving the
"Lazy!" repeated Lizzie, indignantly, "and you working like a
slave, and often kept so late that you can't eat anything when you
A wave of colour spread over Edwin's face, which was
beginning to assume a kind of paleness, the paleness which leaves
the rose-colour more prominent on the cheek.
"My work is not so very hard, Lizzie, that you should make
such a fuss about it," he said, irritably. "I have lots of
idle time," and he left the room, returning, however, his own placid
sweet-natured self, to join in the singing, and accept Lizzie's
supreme devotion in the matters of tea and cakes.
In the course of the evening the little room got very hot.
It was quite warm that last evening in September, and the moon was
at the full. Having discovered all these important facts,
Ernest, with his accustomed restlessness, proposed to Mr. Temple to
adjourn to the garden. Edwin was playing accompaniments to
Lizzie and Claude, and Clara and I were prepared to remain as
listeners, but Mr. Temple turned back in a hesitating way, saying,
"Won't you come, Miss Lancaster?" and then Clara rose, saying, "I'll
come too, if you please."
So we procured two soft shawls—Clara her mother's, and I Aunt
Mona's—and wrapping our heads in them, Spanish fashion, went out at
the little back door into the garden.
The two gentlemen were already marching up and down the
narrow gravel walk, and we stood still on the railed landing which
served the purpose of a balcony.
What is it the moonlight will not beautify and solemnise?
The square formal gardens with their shrubs, the little summer-house
with its lattice-work and Virginian creeper, were changed, as if by
magic, from their common daylight looks to one of far-off mystery
and loveliness. The gentlemen took one or two turns on the
gravel, and then came and stood at the foot of our balcony.
"Why don't you come down to us?" said Ernest.
"Miss Lancaster declines," said Clara. "She thinks the
crunching noise in that lovely light something quite unlawful."
Mr. Temple did not move again; Ernest began lighting a cigar.
"I did not know you smoked, Mr. Lancaster," said Clara.
"It is quite a new accomplishment," I said. "Ernest did
not smoke a few months ago, and we were quite proud of it."
"I don't do much of it now," he replied, "only it is said to
"You don't smoke, Mr. Temple?" said Clara.
"No; I do not. I gave it up."
"He gave it up," said Ernest, "because it is a useless
expense, and altogether inconsistent with his theory of life."
"What is your theory of life, Mr. Temple, may I ask?" said
"A very simple one," he answered; "only to be of as much use
as I can in the world."
"A very hard one, I should say," remarked Ernest.
"A very happy one," I murmured.
"I agree with Mr. Lancaster in this game of definitions,"
said Clara. "It is the hardest thing to find out when you are
of use and when you are not. Often when you think you have
been of use, you have been doing positive harm."
"I do not think Mr. Temple meant easy, only obvious," I
ventured to remark.
"Then that is just what I deny to it," said Ernest,
"especially as he explains it. It means," he went on,
addressing Clara and me, "devoting yourself to the service of
everybody, giving up everything that is not of use to you in being
of use to them; that is, to other people who are of no use whatever.
Now, if you call that obvious, it is more than I can do."
Of course we all laughed.
"Have I given a fair definition of your views, Temple, or
"Tolerably fair, except the latter clause, and in that lies
the whole matter."
"My favourite heresy, that the many exist for the sake of the
"Yes, only I add to it, the few also exist for the sake of
the many. The service is reciprocal."
"I must go in and see after mamma," said Clara. "It
exhausts her to stay up even a few minutes beyond her usual time."
"And we ought to be up early, Lancaster, to go by that early
"Very well—I will walk down with you; but can't you stay a
little?" said Ernest.
They came up the steps.
"What a lovely night it is!" said Mr. Temple. "I would
like to say good-bye here," and he held out his hand to Clara.
"He is conscious that we can't stand the light of common
night," said Ernest.
"Good-bye, Mr. Temple," said Clara, heartily. "We won't
bring your theory into anything so trying as gas-light."
We stood outside while Ernest and Mr. Temple went in, and the
latter said good-bye to the others. He seemed in a great hurry
at the last, for we were still standing where he left us, and Clara
had a second good-bye before he turned to me.
"We must discuss my theory another time," he said. "It
has hardly had justice done to it; and in the meantime good-bye.
I have made my adieux to your aunt and your sister."
His face looked pale and, I thought, a little agitated in the
moonlight. Was it bidding dear unconscious Lizzie so brief a
farewell, that he felt so much?
satisfy Aunt Robert but our going in a body to stay with her for the
Christmas holidays. "She was going to stop in London," she
said; but I believe it was on our account, for, as a rule, she went
out of town. Ernest was to come up from Cambridge on the
sixteenth, and go straight to her, and Lizzie and I were to follow a
week later, while Aunt Mona stayed at home to look after Edwin.
I begged to be allowed to stay with her, but she would not hear of
it. She would come and join us as soon as Edwin was released.
"I shall be glad to be left with him," she added. "Perhaps he
will open his heart to me."
"Then you think there is something the matter with him—that
he is not quite happy?"
"Yes, I do think he is suffering in some way. If he is
not happy where he is, we might make some effort, some sacrifice, to
get him into a more congenial sphere of labour."
Aunt Mona said we, but there was nothing any of us
could do; and she meant she herself would make some new sacrifice.
It must not be. And was it true we could do nothing, Lizzie
and I? No, not Lizzie; but I? Could I not turn my
education, and what talents I had, to account as Clara had done?
In the meantime I had to visit Aunt Robert, and even I could
hardly grudge it when I saw how happy it made her. And yet I
could not help seeing that it was not the pure happiness of doing
good, like Aunt Monica's, not "the great joy of doing kindnesses"
which Aunt Robert felt. Along with these there was quite
another motive, and that was antagonism to our Uncle Henry.
She allowed me to see it very plainly. We were to be
introduced wholesale, and wherever he would be sure to hear of us.
And now we are in quite a whirl of society. Aunt Robert
is an only child herself. "That's how I come to be so rich, my
dear," she said. "That's the advantage of being an only child.
You don't think much of it, I see. Well, perhaps you are
right. I used to like to hear people say I was to be envied
the position, when I was quite a child; but I'm not so sure about it
now, especially as I've no children of my own. When I'm old
I'll have to put up with a companion, paid to be miserable in my
But if Aunt Robert had no nearer kindred, she had plenty of
cousins; they could be counted by the dozen or by the score.
They were young and old and middle-aged, rich and poor, handsome and
ugly, interesting and uninteresting; and we had to be introduced to
On Christmas Eve, when Aunt Mona and Edwin had joined us,
there was a great gathering of the cousins. Some, the cousins
proper, elderly ladies and gentlemen for the most part, came to
dinner—a rather ponderous affair, at which we were the only young
people. Then in the evening came a whole host of the younger
generation—quite a clan they were; and though they appeared to be in
the habit of meeting one another every week of their lives, they had
not, seemingly, tired of one another's company. I felt rather
lonely among them, and could see that we all did; for they knew one
another so well, calling one another by their Christian names, and
making all sorts of allusions to circumstances and events—past,
present, and future—about which we knew nothing, that it was
impossible for us to do otherwise. And yet they are a
pleasant, kindly race of young people, fairly gifted with good looks
and good sense, and good things of all sorts; and it was a
wholesome, enviable life they seemed to lead, with plenty of
interest and variety in it, because plenty of life and movement.
When I ceased to think about myself I soon became an interested
spectator, and I fancy Lizzie never had thought about herself, for
she was speedily making friends all round. And Lizzie carried
Edwin in her wake; but Ernest ended in establishing himself by me
every now and then, and indulging in a running fire of cynical
criticism, which vexed me, in spite of its wit and vivacity.
He had been picking up scraps of information, which Aunt Robert had
supplemented, about almost everybody in the room.
"We are strong in medicine," he said, sauntering up to me,
and asking me to come and have refreshment.
"What do you mean, Ernest?" I asked.
"Not that you are to have a dose of rhubarb, only that there
are here present three members of the medical profession. I'll
point them out to you."
"You'll do no such thing, Ernest."
"Oh, I can do it without attracting the attention you dread.
It will improve my descriptive powers. There is one, that tall
young fellow with the stoop. He is married. I can't tell
you which is his wife yet, but she 's somewhere about. She was
his cousin. He took her into partnership, and her father took
him. Father also a doctor with good practice. Not able
to be here to-night, attending a patient who won't have the young
"Do be quiet, Ernest, and look after some one else. I
shall do well enough here by myself," I urged.
"There's another," he went on, unheeding, "that
poetical-looking fellow, with the hair like great black feathers
thrown back from his white forehead. He's talking to that
round bluff-faced young man, who is one of the two clergymen
present. Now he's going up to that young lady, whom he didn't
bring down. I dare say she is another cousin, with lots of
Just then Aunt Robert came and sat down beside us, a little
heated with her exertions in seeing to her guests, and Ernest
immediately began to question her.
"Who is that young lady whom Dr. White is speaking to?
Is she a cousin?"
"Oh, no. Laura is not his cousin. He is engaged
to her though."
"She is rather handsome?"
"Yes, she's a fine girl."
It was said in a qualified tone which did not satisfy Ernest,
or rather did satisfy him that there was something more to come.
He looked questioning.
"She has a good deal of money."
Ernest gave an imperceptible nod, which meant, "I told you
"Gerald must marry, you know, if he is to get on in his
profession. His father can set him up, can give him a thousand
a year to get along with, but, for the sake of his practice, he must
have a wife."
"Not for his own sake?" said Ernest mischievously.
"Oh, for that matter, they are very fond of each other.
It is a very suitable match every way. Laura is not very
demonstrative—a little cold, perhaps; but she is a prudent girl, and
will make an excellent wife."
And then Aunt Robert left the theme. The two prudent
and prosperous young people evidently did not interest her greatly.
"There," she said, in an undertone, "do you see that pretty little
creature in white and crimson, with a young man standing before her
with a very large red beard."
"Yes, I do," said Ernest. "She is the prettiest little
thing in the room—large dark eyes, gentle and yet vivacious, and a
charming expression, the expression of an affectionate child; and
he, did you ever see such a scowl? He looks at her quite
fiercely, as if he was going to eat her."
Aunt Robert laughed.
"Well, he has just come back from the land of cannibals," she
said. "He is a great traveller; and we should be so glad if he
would take to her."
"What! eat her?" said Ernest, comically.
"Nonsense!" said Aunt Robert, laughing. "She is a sweet
little thing, as nice as she is bonnie, and her mother is a widow.
They have hardly enough to live upon in the poorest way; and he—he
has several thousands a year, and nothing to do but go about and
"Which he doesn't look as if he did," said Ernest. "No,
indeed," I could not help saying. "He looks labouring under
some great misfortune."
"So he is," said Aunt Robert; and we both looked interested.
"He is the shyest of men, and I believe he likes her."
"But does she like him?" I ventured to ask, for I was full of
sympathy for the pretty little thing, and her companion seemed to me
"Oh, Florence would be very glad to marry him."
"Without liking him?"
"No; of course she would like him."
"Una means something more romantic," put in Ernest—"something
which would lead her to follow him into cannibal-land, and live in a
hut, on water and a crust, or—"
"Love," said Aunt Robert.
"Precisely," nodded Ernest.
"Well, that would come in time, if they suited each other.
Any good girl likes the man who makes her a good disinterested
offer. Why shouldn't she? Love begets love, and he has
taken the best way of proving his love by wanting to marry her.
The just wanting her is enough for many a girl who doesn't know what
to do with herself, and who gets to love the one who wants her quite
as much as she ought to."
"Not a very high ideal of marriage," said Ernest.
"Oh, high ideals are nonsense," said Aunt Robert. "Your
high ideals don't work half as well as a good practical common-sense
view of things. High ideals are given to quarrelling and
flying off at all sorts of tangents; want of companionship, unity of
soul, and all that sort of thing."
"Now, Aunt," Ernest went on gravely, at least to outward
appearance, "I think your little Florence would like the tall
poetical-looking doctor. Could you not manage to make them
"It would do just as well, or would have done, at least,"
returned aunt, quite seriously—as if it was a matter to be
considered. "No, it is better as it is. Gerald is so
stiff and solemn. He will get on better with Laura."
"Your little Florence is too tender and playfully
affectionate," said Ernest. "She would suffer."
"Yes; I fancy she would suffer from the slightest coldness or
"Oh, Aunt Robert," I said, "he is joking, and making you say
anything he pleases."
"He may be joking. I believe he is," she replied; "but
I mean what I say."
Aunt Robert was a little nettled, not with Ernest, but with
me. The coarse hard grain in her nature showed itself in her
"Girls must marry," she said, "especially girls who have
nothing. What else can they do? They are a burden on
their friends, that's all, and discontented with their lot; and they
can't pick and choose like a man. They must wait for an offer,
and it's not every girl who has more chances than one. They
can't afford to throw away a good one."
I was glad that here the conversation came to an end, and
Aunt Robert left us to digest what she had said. It was no
more palatable to Ernest than it was to me, but Ernest could not
feel the sting of it as I did. No; I shall never get to love
Aunt Robert. It is just as Aunt Mona says. She is
generous, and has fine qualities, but I would rather be indebted for
everything to Aunt Mona than for the least thing to her.
Does she think of me and of Lizzie as two penniless girls, to
be set out as attractions, and to be married to the first man we
attract, so that we may not be a burden to our families? It
made my cheeks burn and my temples throb.
Ernest had relapsed into silence, and I could see that he too
was sad at heart in the midst of the scene of gaiety.
"You don't seem to enjoy it much, Una," he whispered.
"Nor you either."
"I wish you would enter into it as Edwin does, or Lizzie."
"Why don't you wish it for yourself, then? I can't."
"It is part of these people's lives, that is why they are
happy in it. It is no part of mine."
"What is yours, Ernest?" I said, earnestly. "Ambition,
I suppose you would call it."
"Ambition of what?"
"Well, of position, I suppose, of power, and wealth, and
"These would not yield happiness."
"I don't suppose they would. Sometimes I think every
object of ambition alike worthless, just as I used to think the old
school prizes worthless."
"And so they were, and the real prize lay in the work done to
gain them; and so the real prize may lie in the work of life and
what it makes of us, and not in the gain of it."
"I've tried it that way too, Una, but it only conics to this,
that you do everything you do with still greater regard to yourself,
as what you are is nearer to you than merely what you have. There
doesn't seem much more satisfaction in that."
"But if we lived for others?" I ventured.
"For another," he rejoined, "that would alter the case."
It altered the whole expression of his face and figure—the very
thought, whoever was at the bottom of it. In a moment he was
alert, eager, with eyes full of hope and lips that no longer wore a
languid sneer. He looked as if he saw into a glorious vista of
life and promise. And I could only envy him. "My
future," I thought; "according to Aunt Robert I have no future,
unless some one is kind enough to offer me one, or a share of one."
But the next moment I had flung away the poor unworthy thought.
"For another," that, too, was my thought, but such another!
Was there not a vista of life and promise for any human soul who
accepted the words, "One is your master, even Christ, and all ye are
I cannot tell why the words should have come to me then and
there, but they did, and changed for me at the moment the whole
aspect of life. Hitherto I had been speculating
sympathisingly; now I seemed to experience what it would be to take
His yoke upon me. I felt at once that it lightened every
burden, satisfied every longing, left no room for doubt or care or
self, substituted love and service, service and love, where all was
emptiness. It was like anointing one's eyes and ears with some
fabulous salve. Even the scene before me seemed to change, all
its tender human interests came into view, all its conventional
unrealities were thrown into the background.
"A little later we four were left in the lighted rooms alone."
A little later we four, Lizzie and I and the boys, were left
in the lighted rooms alone. All the guests were gone.
Aunt Mona had retired, a little worn-out and fatigued, and Aunt
Robert was somewhere about the house. We formed a little group
on the drawing-room hearth. Ernest was stretching back his
arms for a yawn, and Edwin was leaning an elbow on the mantel-shelf,
with a strange look of withered weariness on his face, which I had
noticed there before.
"I never saw the like of you girls," said Ernest. "You
both look ready to go through it all over again. You, Lizzie,
"And I never saw the like of you boys," said Lizzie.
"You both look as doleful as possible. There is nothing I
should like better than a good skip now. And you, Una," she
added, turning to me, "you look quite rested and refreshed."
"Do I, darling?" was all that I could say, but both Edwin and
Ernest looked at me, and Aunt Robert coming into the room, we kissed
one another, said, "Good night," and separated.
A THEORY OF LIFE.
WE have lost
sight of Mr. Bothwell again, and it has given me such a feeling of
the terribleness of this great city we live in. On the day
before Christmas I got Edwin to go with me to the place where he
lived. Ernest and Lizzie would have gone too, for our brothers
never grudged going anywhere with us. Only Lizzie and Ernest
stayed behind with Aunt Robert. I had a dread of Aunt Robert
knowing about Mr. Bothwell. She would have wanted to go to
him; she would have wanted to give him money, and to do all sorts of
things for him and with him; she would have what she calls
interested people in him. I had seen him before we left the
neighbourhood of Oxford Street, and though he accepted help from us
for one of his poor neighbours, he would not accept it for himself.
But it was certainly not from churlishness that he refused, and so
we went laden with such little Christmas gifts from each of us as we
would naturally give or send to an old friend.
What was our disappointment on entering the little court to
find that its inhabitants were entirely swept away, the front by
which we entered it alone standing. All that was left was a
huge rubbish heap, out of which rose, opposite the entrance, an end
wall, with bits of dirty paper-hangings where once were
dwelling-rooms, and blackened patches where once were hearths.
Some workshop on the other side had swallowed up the court to make
an extension of its premises, and this was the first result.
In vain Ernest and I inquired in the neighbourhood; the
neighbours had all gone "to pig in somewhere," as we were politely
and graphically informed. Only in one poor little eating-house
could we gain any tidings of our friend. They knew him by our
description, knew him well; many a time he had brought in a fainting
woman, or a hungry child to be fed there, the woman told us; but he
had quite gone away from there.
"You see," she said, "there's not a hole to be had hereabout.
It is a shame to pull down poor people's houses and leave them
without a roof to cover them. You should have seen the trouble
there was when they got notice to quit up the court there; some of
them had only a week's notice, though it was known the place was
coming down, but them as owned the lease kep' it to their selves to
the last. The women were fit to break their hearts, and some
that had sick children too, and bedridden old folks."
To think of human hearts well-nigh breaking to leave such a
place as that was!
We came away sorrowfully enough, and I, full of compunction
that we had not been careful to send Mr. Bothwell our address, so
that he might be able to find us.
"I'll tell you who could help us," said Ernest, "and that's
Temple. He knows a lot of fellows who go among the poor.
He's coming up the day after to-morrow to stay with an old guardian
of his in Russell Square, and I'll get Aunt Robert to ask him to
"Don't you think we are quite enough for Aunt Robert without
getting her to ask anybody to dinner?" I said.
"Well, perhaps; then I won't, but I must see him, and I think
he'll find Mr. Bothwell for as, even in London."
We did have Mr. Temple to dinner after all, and to more than
one dinner, and to Aunt Robert's favourite afternoon tea almost as
many times as it was possible in the course of a fortnight. We
met him first at the house of one of the cousins; he was there with
his guardian, and the guardian's fifth daughter, Miss Maude Bennett.
I could not help wondering that we should meet him there, and
thinking that it might be owing to some scheme of Aunt Robert's; but
after all it was natural enough. He was Ernest's friend, and
Aunt Robert knew him already, and knew some one else who knew Mr.
Bennett enough to ask him, and his daughter and guest.
And no sooner had Mr. Temple entered the room than his eager
gaze fell on Lizzie's face; and I, watching her, saw her turn under
the look as under a magnet, so it seemed, and stand up to welcome
him, looking as radiant as Lizzie can look. And yet how frank
and unembarrassed their greeting, for he at once hastened up to her,
and found a seat beside her.
"There's Temple, I declare," said Ernest. "Aunt Robert
knows everybody, or somebody else who does."
"I was just thinking so," I answered.
"I feel sure," he went on, "that on due investigation it
would be found that Aunt Robert's cousins are a connecting-link with
the best part of the inhabitants of the globe, at least with the
Anglo-Saxon portion of them. Come, and let us go over to Liz
"Do you go," I said. "I would rather not cross the
"Oh, come along. You won't be noticed. You won't
care for sitting here by yourself; and, as usual, we know nobody
But Lizzie had turned her head in our direction, and saying a
few words to Mr. Temple, they rose, and came to us instead. He
greeted us warmly, and asked the simple but comprehensive question,
"What have you been doing since I saw you last?" in which he seemed
to include me as well as Ernest.
"What are you laughing at?" asked his friend.
"I expected you to begin exactly where you left off."
"Where was that?" he asked.
"You don't mean that you've forgotten?" said Ernest.
"No, I cannot say that I have. Do you remember, Miss
Lancaster?" he asked, abruptly.
I believe I answered "Yes," for indeed I remembered all that
was said that evening with great vividness.
"But your brother greatly overrates the powers of my memory
on ordinary occasions," he added, still addressing me, "when he says
I always begin where I left off."
From embarrassed silence I generally rush into rapid speech.
"It might be accounted for without reference to memory," I said.
"If the mind runs strongly in one channel it will be pursuing the
same train of thought, as a river carries the same stream through
its many windings."
"Bravo, philosopher!" said Ernest, gaily.
Happily, Ernest began to give an account of our
disappointment in finding the old court in which Mr. Bothwell lived
entirely swept away, and in losing sight of our old friend.
Mr. Temple was greatly interested in our account of him.
"I will do all I can to find him for you," he said.
"You won't find him through any charitable agency, I fear,"
said Ernest. "He seems to have an objection to anything of the
nature of charity."
"That is extremely likely. The best of those who suffer
poverty hold aloof from it, and suffer in silence. The poor
know more about it than we do, both as to how it is given and how it
"Is it the charity that is in fault?" I ventured to say.
"Is it that charity is too great a thing, too spiritual a thing to
be represented by the doles which the rich give to the poor?"
"It is indeed often nothing more than a gratification to
kindly feeling to give of our superfluous wealth, and things given
thus to the helpless and the weak are not to be despised; but I
think with you that charity is a great spiritual affection
productive of far nobler sacrifices, calling for the devotion of a
life, not the mere overflowings of its unused riches. The
charity of the poor to the poor is infinitely more than ours.
They give of their actual necessities. A poor woman will give
health and strength, already sorely tasked for her own household, to
nurse a sick neighbour, risk the life that is doubly valuable,
because of those dependent on her, in braving infection from which
most of us would fly. They will share the meal that is not too
sufficient with the starving, as we, I think, would do if we felt
them to be our neighbours."
"And if the West End gives of its riches to the starving
East, is not this feeling at the bottom of it?" I said.
"No doubt there is the germ of true neighbourliness, but it
will not flourish. It is nipped in the bud. The germ
will not grow except in the soil of sympathy.
Self-preservation in the preservation of social order, self-pleasing
in the benevolent to rid themselves of the pain of hearing of
unalleviated suffering takes the place of sympathy. Imposture
flourishes and comes between the trite giver and the rightful
receiver, hardening the heart of the one and closing the lips of the
other. There are thousands in the east of London in dire
necessity, who would keep their doors closed even if the west came
bodily, as it has done to my knowledge, with its hands full of help.
And there are thousands in the West End with hearts full of trite
charity, who are actually suffering because of the need which it has
created in them meeting with no outlet save the handing of their
money over to some organisation or other."
"How, then, would you meet the difficulty," I asked.
"He does not meet it," said Ernest. "He gets out of it,
"That is not quite fair," he said. "I do say that we
must accept things as they are, and help existing organisations when
they are good and useful, such as hospitals and orphanages, as far
as we are able; but what I contend for is a life of devoted
I did not enter into his meaning at once. "As an
almoner of some kind?" I asked.
"No," he answered, "because that would not stand the test of
universality—would be, indeed, of very limited application. I
mean of devoted usefulness in any calling which may happen to be
"Yes, now I understand," I answered. "It is the ideal
life, alike of the statesman and the schoolmaster, of the doctor and
of the lawyer."
"Of the trader as well as the professional man," he added—"of
the least as well as of the greatest. 'A servant with this
He did not finish the quotation. "That's very well for
the useful people, but there are plenty of people with no profession
except idleness," said Ernest.
"I am afraid my theory, comprehensive as it is, will not fit
them. They must simply find something to do. We have
found enough to do hitherto in preparing for the business of life."
"I only hope I shall find plenty to do when I begin it," said
Ernest, his face clouding over. "Your theory won't find work
for a fellow who can't afford to wait for it."
"It will go a good way towards it to be well equipped for
"It depends upon the kind of work."
"Of course the special preparation does."
"How would you choose?" I asked.
"He doesn't believe in choice."
"Oh, yes, I do, in special cases of special aptitude; but I
would yield to circumstances. Young people ought to be guided
by the wishes of parents and guardians, or any divinely appointed
"How are you to know it is divinely appointed?"
"Because it exists. I ought to have said
divinely-appointed circumstance, which is stronger."
"I can't understand going into anything in that way," said
Ernest. "I am going into the law because I think it will suit
me, and is the best thing going; and you, because your uncle and
guardian have advised it—you have studied enough of it to take the
of Civil Law]
"Believing also," added Mr. Temple, "that I shall find work
in it to which I can be usefully devoted."
"Anything else would have done just as well, though," said
Ernest; "just as in Aunt Robert's theory of marriage."
"What is that?"
"Why, that any one husband or one wife is just as good as
Mr. Temple looked at me. "You do not accept it?" he
"And there is Aunt Robert bearing down upon us," said Ernest.
And indeed it was. "I never saw such young people as
you are," she said. "You have been sitting in that corner all
the evening, looking as solemn as if you were on a committee, and as
eager as if you had a fortune at stake. We want a little music
from you, Una."
"Come, Miss Lancaster," said Mr. Temple; "we certainly have
not been putting our theories in practice. For the present at
least we must devote ourselves to the amusement of our friends."
He said this in an undertone as he led me to the piano.
My aunt's circle, to which she was so persistently
introducing us, was that of the serious portion of the cultivated
middle class. Their training was evidently most thorough and
complete. They showed it in their talk and in their music. It
pervaded their manners, neither frivolous nor feebly refined.
They evidently sufficed for themselves, and were no hangers-on of
aristocracy. They were a kind of aristocracy themselves, and
they knew it. There was a tendency to strong-mindedness in the
cleverer girls, but the weak had been well protected, and were not
I could see Mr. Temple dividing his attentions between Lizzie
and Miss Maude Bennett. That young lady was evidently not of
the set. Her very dress proclaimed it. Not unfashionable
in the least, the dress of the daughters of the house, and their
friends was restrained by good taste and personal appropriateness;
but Miss Maude was extravagant and unsuitable in the extreme.
She was an airified young lady, with a rather picturesque face, and
very beautiful and abundant hair, worn in a knot of rich curls at
the back of her head, the most becoming thing about her.
I met her a few evenings later at her father's house, and did
not like her at all, nor her sisters either. Their father
stood high in his profession, and was a man of sense and probity;
but his wife was not his equal; she was certainly his inferior in
both. He was a busy man, whose life was not in his home, and
who tolerated the follies of his wife and daughters as something
excusable in, if not necessary to women.
These ladies seemed to have nothing whatever to do except to
dress and gossip. They, poor things, were neither serious nor
self-sufficing. On the contrary, they seemed to snatch at
every foolish pleasure as a relief from themselves. The elder
was melancholy and depressed; the four intermediates, including Miss
Maude, who was the liveliest and prettiest, were pert and snappish,
underbred and silly; and the youngest, with more brains than any of
the others, a mere school-girl, was a rough hoyden, who went in the
family circle by the endearing name of "Little Bear."
No wonder that Mr. Temple was a good deal thrown on his own
resources, if these were his friends. They made far too much
of us, especially of Ernest and Edwin; and when they were alone with
us, were too familiar for good breeding, one of them putting her
arms Lizzie, and asking if Mr. Temple was not a darling?
To which Lizzie gravely replied, "He is a very nice
gentleman;" and I had a shrewd suspicion that Lizzie was tempted to
OUR holiday is
nearly at an end. To-morrow is to wind up with another great
gathering at Aunt Robert's, the reason for which I cannot make out,
as it has been got up quite in a hurry, and we would all have
preferred a quiet evening.
Aunt Robert is frankly discontented with us for our want of
enthusiasm for the society to which she has introduced us, though we
all admit its attractions. She had calculated on our making an
immediate impression of some kind, and is disappointed. She
forgets that, with our ill-defined position and uncertain future, we
could hardly lay ourselves out to please, even if that was natural
Certainly, neither of our boys had seemed at home with Aunt
Robert. Edwin, always good-natured and sociable, most enjoyed
the evenings and the company. He had quite brightened up
during the social hours, and appeared to forget himself, or, rather,
to forget his cares, and be himself once more, assisting at the
musical performances, and even throwing himself heartily into them.
But at other times he was dull and silent, looking, not as he used
to do, idle and unoccupied, but preoccupied and absorbed. He
was always like this in the morning, and we noticed that every day
after Christmas there was a letter by his plate.
"I should like a letter too," said Lizzie, on the second day,
drawing attention to it, taking it up, and looking at the post-mark
with sisterly freedom. "I should like a letter."
"From whom?" asked Aunt Robert.
"Oh, from papa, perhaps."
"Only perhaps," said Aunt Robert.
"Well, from somebody. Papa's letters always come
We laughed at Lizzie; but I, who could read her face as one
reads a book, saw there a look which said plainly, "I know from
whom." Lizzie always knows her own mind.
But Aunt Robert went on, and, with rather clumsy playfulness,
named a young gentleman who had been very polite to Lizzie, and had
sent her a note about a piece of music.
Lizzie shook her head.
"No? He is an admirer of yours," said Aunt Robert.
"I hope not," said Lizzie,
"Why not?" pursued Aunt Robert.
"I should begin to dislike him," said Lizzie.
"Then you don't at present?"
"Oh, no," she answered lightly; "and I don't want to."
In the midst of the badinage, Edwin escaped for the time, and
the letters remained unexplained.
But next day Lizzie returned to the charge.
"Here is another letter," she cried, holding it up. I
know it is from your 'house,' as you call it; here is the 'E. C.'
mark, and the writing is the same as the list you had made out by
one of the clerks. Is anything wrong? Do they want you
to return? Can't they let you enjoy your holiday in peace?"
All, however, brought forth no response, except a careless,
"Oh, nothing is wrong; they don't want me. I wish he wouldn't
If there was any romantic attachment to Edwin on the part of
this particular clerk, it was very one-sided, seeing that Edwin
could not bear him, and was extremely caustic on his twin
propensities, which were beer and snuff-taking.
Our last evening with Aunt Robert has come and gone, and in
the dark hours another day has already come. I wish I could
sleep, but I know it is useless to try. Perfectly healthful as
I am—for I have never known either sickness or pain—I cannot sleep
when I have been moved at all deeply—nay, even a host of new
impressions, such as one receives on a journey, will suffice to keep
me throughout the night in utter wakefulness. I shall be glad
to be at home again, to think. To-night that, too, is
The uncertainty of our future had begun to press upon me.
Last night a new element was added to it. Aunt Robert told me
in the morning that she expected Edith Winfield in the evening, but
she forbade me to say anything to Ernest, and I, seeing no good it
was likely to do, or harm either, said nothing accordingly.
And Edith came. How Ernest started when she entered the
room! I never saw anything like the change which came over him
in a moment. It was enough, without what followed, to reveal
to me the whole. From a state of utter listlessness, he was
roused into splendid animation. His very looks and tones were
altered. And all this from merely fixing his eyes upon her.
And certainly she was looking lovely. What vivid roses
her dark cheek had mounted! Her eyes looked larger than ever,
and more star-like, with a look of distance in them which lent
pathos to their brightness. She looked more ethereal, too, in
contrast with the lightest and most graceful of Aunt Robert's solid
and stately young friends, and about her lips played that smile
which I knew, and which looked so keenly sweet, and was, I believed,
so untender and inconstant.
My heart beat fast as I saw Ernest slowly move towards her as
if fascinated, and from that moment I was absorbed in watching them.
She received him very graciously, I thought, and my unreflecting
sympathy was gladdened when I saw him look so happy. She had
evidently asked for me, for he led her to where I sat, and we talked
together pleasantly until our little trio was broken up by accession
Later in the evening came another act in the drama, enacted
for my eyes alone. I could see that she avoided Ernest.
She slipped from him cleverly just when he thought he had her to
himself, bestowing herself upon Edwin, Mr. Temple, anybody. I
became so absorbed in watching them that I had eyes and ears for
nothing else. I saw him, baffled by her adroitness, give up
the pursuit, and retire from the attempt to get her to himself.
A little later he spoke to me, and though he was no longer
listless, but in a fever of suppressed excitement, his voice sounded
hoarse—so hoarse that Aunt Robert, who happened to be near us, hoped
that he had not caught a chill.
He could not possibly be jealous of his friend Mr. Temple,
who was dividing his attention between Edith and Lizzie. No,
that was not possible, for the former disappeared, and Mr. Temple
was perfectly unconcerned. But I could take no further
interest in the scene, and was glad when the evening came to an end
and it was over.
There was no opportunity for speaking to Ernest before.
Perhaps he had purposely avoided it, but, when I went up to our room
an hour ago, I loitered on the stair that I might listen for a
moment at the door of his. He was up. I heard a groan,
and called to him softly. He opened his door, and I went in
and set down my light. Standing there, he told me all.
"I do not know what possessed me," he said, "but I determined
to tell her that I loved her. By some instinct she seemed to
know it, and avoided me. She looked frightened,
Una—frightened! with eyes like a hunted fawn, and I only longed the
more to tell her. I believe I was half mad. But she
baffled me. I am sane now, and know that I have been a fool.
Only she knows what I wanted to say, and knows also that I know
this. It is cruel."
I comforted him with hope. I could not help but hope
for him. Alas, my brother! it does not seem much to hope
for—the love of Edith Winfield; it will bring more of sorrow than of
joy, I feel sure.
Before I left him he had grown calmer, for he had begun to
frame resolves. He will work hard, he says, and he will not
remain at college after the close of the Easter term—that is in
June. He can take his degree then, if he does not go in for
honours; and Mr. Temple, who leaves at the same time, will share
with him a set of chambers. He thinks Aunt Robert and even Mr.
Bennett may be able to help him—that is, give him introductions to
"Temple does not want money, you know; only work. I
want both," he said.
He has still a week to get through before returning to
Cambridge, and an invitation reached him to spend it in Bedford
Square—to make Mr. Bennett's house his home for that period. I
am happy to say he declined, out of deference to one of the
primitive virtues in which we had been reared—respect for
hospitality. Those whose hospitality we accepted, and those
who accepted ours, we had been taught to hold in a degree
sacred—sacred from our stern youthful judgment, our sharp youthful
censure. He told Mr. Temple that he could not accept. He
was too much inclined to make fun of the Bennett girls. So we
all went home together.
Mr. Temple came to tell us of his continued want of success
in finding Mr. Bothwell.
Lizzie was out when he came. She was out doing some of
the visiting work which Claude Carrol had put into Aunt Mona's
hands; Aunt Mona, employing Lizzie as a sort of aide-de-camp,
sending her simply to do a little reading to agèd and sick people
who wanted it.
There were many, agèd and sick too, who did not—who wanted
meat and drink and warmth, and knew no other good to crave for; but
they received Aunt Mona and her substitute with a pleasure which
they did not exhibit towards the young curate. He was getting
sorely discouraged among his new people, many of whom belonged more
to the country than to the town, and were of a more stolid type.
Claude stumbled upon washing-days, when he was received in
the front kitchen by the desperately untidy elder girl at home from
school, and nursing the desperately dirty and chubby baby. The
mother was called in from the wash-house, drying her wet red arms
and apologising for the state of things or not, according to her
temper and her respect for the clergy, but decidedly impatient to
get back to her tub. He stumbled upon cooking operations, and
learnt that the good man refused to eat cold meat, and was "in a
way" if his dinner wasn't served to the minute. He tried the
afternoons, and interrupted the women in their gossip, finding them
willing enough to talk about their household affairs, and still more
willing to discuss the affairs of their neighbours, but as
unimpressionable as the deaf to speech, when anything higher was
mentioned. And as a last resource, and to get at the men, he
tried the evening, and this was worst of all. The women could
talk, and would talk about some things; the men could not be got to
speak at all. Inarticulate growlings and mutterings were the
most of which these human beings were capable. As a rule none
of the men went to church, and the women seldom; but the children
were frequently sent by the better class of mothers, to be out of
the way. Bread was plentiful among them; he could see it in
the waste that went on, a waste which would have been accounted sin
and shame in his mother's house. In short, no set of educated
epicureans ever carried out more thoroughly the maxim, "Let us eat
and drink, for to-morrow we die," than did these labourers of an
outlying London suburb.
The church, too, had neglected them; for, extending her
boundaries in building up her edifices of stone, she had left aside
these living stones, for lack of labourers, to lie in a kind of
outside rubbish-heap. Claude was acutely alive to this, and,
impatient to remedy it, he enlisted all the help he could in their
That very afternoon he had sent Lizzie and Clara out in
different directions, and I had promised to go for Lizzie in the
course of an hour. Why I did not go with her, or undertake any
of this work myself, neither Aunt Mona nor Mr. Carrol himself had
inquired. I had been allowed simply to decline. From the
first, Lizzie's attitude towards religion had been other than mine.
It seemed as if she had but to grow upwards to blossom and bear
fruit in it, while I had to take root downward, and remain nursing a
hidden life in the dark.
Mr. Temple had missed Ernest, who had gone into town by a
previous train, and, rather than not see him, he had agreed to await
his return, and he asked leave to accompany me. We accordingly
set out together on the way past the brick-fields, to the cottage
whither Lizzie had gone. It was that of an old woman who lived
alone with her stepson, and who was slowly dying of dropsy, with no
one to care for her except another old woman to whom she had given
shelter, and who went out all clay.
Mr. Temple walked by me almost in silence; with Lizzie he
would have been talking eagerly and delightfully. What he did
say was all in reference to her. And he is indeed worthy of
her. No dreamer, but a man of the strongest practical wisdom,
as well as the deepest enthusiasm for goodness and truth; he will
love her well and nobly. They will make between them a noble
life, unworldly, single-hearted, pure.
was seized with a kind of tremor, and had to sit down."
We came upon the cottage before we were aware. I opened
the latch and went in. Mr. Temple followed me. The door
opened straight into a little room which seemed to be a kitchen, but
was fireless and tenantless. The door into an inner room stood
ajar, and we could hear Lizzie's voice as she began to sing a hymn.
Mr. Temple made a sign to me, and we both stood listening. It
was Keble's "Sun of my soul," she was singing, her fresh sweet voice
sounding tremulous with emotion of some kind. Was it the night
of death which was near to the soul to whom she ministered? I
was seized with a kind of tremor, and had to sit down.
The hymn came to an end, and we started to hear a rough man's
voice addressing some one.
"I should think you'd be as happy as if you was in 'eaven, to
hear the young lady sing like that."
"Who says I ain't?" burst snappishly, but with a strange ring
of hollowness, evidently from the dying woman. It was
impossible to help smiling.
The man spoke again, in a drivelling voice.
"There," he said, "that's the first word she's spoke to me
for many a day. Tell her to speak to me," he pleaded, "to
speak somethin' kind like. Tell her to say 'Jack,' as she used
Something between a groan and a growl came from the woman,
but no word was spoken.
"Speak to him," said Lizzie, gently. "He is sorry.
He wants you to forgive him."
"Ay, that I be, that I deu. I've been a bad Jack to
you, but jest you say the word, an' I'll be good as gold.""
"You've been drinkin'," groaned the woman.
"I know that," he said, candidly enough, "but won't you jest
say, 'There, Jack, there, now don't you do it again,' an' I won't,
at least more 'n a pot wi' my bread an' cheese. That's all I
gets now you're laid up."
We looked at each other. There was something infinitely
touching in the need of this poor soul for the forgiveness of his
earthly companion. Still, the woman seemed obdurate, and we
were about to enter the room when we heard Lizzie say, gravely, "You
must forgive him—indeed you must—even as God for Christ's sake has
There was a strange silence after the solemn words, and then
a softened voice said, "Well, Jack—there you are."
On this I tapped at the door, and Lizzie came out to us, but
not before we had a glimpse of Jack sitting with a hand on each knee
of his dirty old corduroy trousers, shaking his grey head; for Jack
was quite an old man, nearly as old, indeed, as his step-mother; or
there might have been about ten years between them, she having
reached threescore and ten, and he having lived with her since he
was a little lad, and she, his father's second wife, a mere girl
We walked home together, Lizzie telling us what she knew of
the strange pair, and the old woman whom they sheltered under their
roof, and who still went out to work, although in her eightieth
year. This led to talk about the poor, which lasted till we
got home. Mr. Temple stayed to afternoon tea, and by the time
Ernest returned, it was necessary for him to go. So we said
good-bye. It was the last we were to see of him for several
THE spring has
come upon us suddenly this year, after a late though mild winter.
The snow came in the middle of January. It was snowing the day
Ernest left us to join Mr. Temple in London, and go down, the day
after, to Cambridge together; and it lay about all the rest of the
month, not in a sheet, but here and there, on the fields, and by the
hedgerows. Then it passed away; and during the whole of
February we might have quoted with truth, "The rain it raineth every
day." All our ways have become impossible and impassable,
ankle-deep in miry clay. But this week there has been actual
sunshine, clear and bright, and not "washed out," as Lizzie called
the attempts the sun made to shine through the dismal days
Lizzie and I had a walk towards the fields to-day, and found
even these beginning to dry. The March buds were peeping out
on the hedges, and the ways were bordered by narrow strips of fresh
springing green. The birds, too, were singing; but of flowers
there were none. There are no spring flowers round London;
they have been all gathered long ago, appropriated, and so lost.
We were glad to see a hawker the other day with a basket of
primroses, brought from far-off fields, and Lizzie hastened to
appropriate some of them, and to plant them, with the help of
Toodles, in a shady corner of our little garden.
Toodles begins to come out with the spring flowers. We
have not seen him for two whole months, except behind the
window-panes; and his round face has grown somewhat paler with
confinement. But there is no one to take Toodles out, and the
garden has been damp and sloppy, and the road in front of the house
submerged in mud. If we are spared here till another winter
comes, Lizzie has promised to take the child out sometimes.
Like our neighbours, we have been a good deal confined to the house.
In the country, out-door pleasures are always possible; but here in
the winter they are practically out of reach. Only there is
some compensation in the intensity with which a lover of Nature
welcomes once more the sight of her beautiful face. In the
loveliest of scenes I never felt the delight, subdued and tender,
with which I looked to-day upon a bit of blue sky; bare boughs
against the blue, and the merest tint of green on the hedge beneath.
A single thrush behind the hedge was singing madly. That
glimpse of heaven, that gush of music, the living cordial of the
air, seemed to revive our souls. My faith in the teaching of
Nature awoke with a kind of resurrection. The great mysterious
wonder-working life-giving power was here. And that other
faith which I had been nursing—that revelation of the Son of
God—would the morning of a new spring dawn on that? would it stir in
my heart with a new life?—a life that would rise in prayer, and
blossom into holiness? I felt that it must; that God would not
give a waiting soul less than He gave to those trees of His. I
felt that I had indeed been waiting—not living, but keep-in- alive;
and yet what hours I have spent in learning how the noblest, nearest
to our own day, as well as in the remote past, drew near to Him who
is the way, the truth, the life. I have tried, as one has
beautifully said, to lay fast hold of the shadowy hands, of which
the nearest has only passed from among us; while the farthest lays
hold of the hand of Christ, and is lost in the effulgence of God.
Does religion need more of outwardness?
I believe it does, for I can see dear Lizzie grow. I
can see her accepting life and its duties with something more than
her natural goodness, something of tenderness and humility grafted
upon it. I believe she accepted the Kingdom of Heaven like a
child, and keeps the divine childhood in her heart. Something
in me hinders this. I seem to feel that there must be a
separate divine revelation to every human soul, and I have not
received it. I read in one of Aunt Mona's favourite books,
"The love of God which gave Christ is the immense ocean of the water
of life, and men's souls are as ponds dug upon the shore, connected
each of them, in virtue of Christ's work, with that ocean by a
sluice. Unbelief is the blocking up of that sluice; belief is
the allowing the water to flow in, so that the pond becomes one with
the ocean, and man becomes partaker of the Divine nature, and has
one life with the Father and the Son."
Is it life, this actual living, that opens the channel, while
thought, these brooding reflections, are but as the images of things
in some pool, which move therein without progress and without
change, or, rather, changing themselves, and yet themselves changing
nothing? Life lays on us the necessity of love, and love goes
forth again in life. Is this the divine root of all our
eagerness to live? this, that we may lay ourselves open to every
influence, so that rather than not live, many rush into vain
pleasure, and some into fearful sin, till they wearily forsake the
pleasure, and bitterly repent the sin, and so all, diminished and
stained, flow back again; and that channel of repentance leads also
into the ocean of love.
I have been offering to relieve Aunt Mona of the burden of
maintaining the whole of us, by going out as a governess myself.
Lizzie would stay at home, and help her with the little household,
which will be permanently increased when Ernest leaves college this
summer. But I have not pressed the matter, as it seemed to
give her pain.
"While I live, Una, I think we shall have enough," she said.
"Your father has been able to find Ernest's college expenses, and we
have made ends meet this year; therefore I think you should wait.
You are not suffering from idleness," she added pleasantly.
"With your work and your extensive reading you are never idle;
indeed, I do not think you allow yourself sufficient recreation."
So I am waiting, and Aunt Mona leaves a great deal to me,
purposely, I think, that I may feel myself necessary. She
allows me to keep house for her almost entirely, and I am glad that
I can, for she has not been accustomed to careful housekeeping, and
I find we must be extremely careful. Only, Lizzie could have
done it as well, and there would have been one less. Aunt Mona
makes ends meet by wanting nothing for herself, but that cannot go
on. Even her good and ample wardrobe will want renewing.
Lizzie is in our confidence too, and she is much cleverer than
either of us on a committee of ways and means.
We find that we must economise more severely in the matter of
food. We must not order things haphazard, but only when they
are cheap and plentiful, "and that is, happily," said Lizzie, "when
they are best and most agreeable." Edwin has his own money,
but he has to get his dinners, and pay his trains, and buy his own
clothes; and he too, poor fellow, finds it difficult to make ends
meet. Lizzie had to take him to task the other day for going
too shabby, and found out that he had very little money left.
He has not bought anything new for some time either, as Lizzie
pointed out, and he never gives us little presents as he used to do.
He will feel the inability to do that, for he used to delight in
being generous to us. He is not looking well at all, and so
much older—older than he ought to look. I can fancy that he
feels the sordidness of this life more than we do. I can
imagine it becoming very sordid, unless sustained by duty as well as
love, and with some outlook beyond and above it.
Another day of spring sunshine. Old Jack's stepmother
has lingered on till now. Clara was going there, and Claude
has asked one of us to go and see a young Frenchman who is dying,
and who wants a letter written to his friends in France. That
was something I could do, so I volunteered for the little service;
and as soon as the address, written on a slip of paper, was put into
my hands, I felt sure that I was going to see the poor young man who
was Edwin's predecessor. It was the same name, and he, too,
was dying. There could be no doubt about it, though we had not
known that he was in our neighbourhood.
I soon found the house in which they lived—one of a long row
of rather pretty cottages, recently built, and very nicely kept,
though small and cheap. I offered my card, and asked for
Madame Rousset; and the young creature who opened the door told me
that she was herself madame. I told her I had come from Mr.
Carrol, and why I had come, and asked if it would be convenient for
me to see her husband now, and perform the little service he wanted.
She was very cordial, but looked at me and my card with some
bewilderment as she ushered me in. With her hand upon the door
of the room, she detained me for a moment.
"You are Mr. Lancaster's sister, are you not?" she asked.
I bowed. I had forgotten that she too might recognise the
name, but she had also recognised me.
"You are very like him," she said.
And then I recollected that they had seen Edwin, who had been
made the bearer of more than one instalment of salary.
"He is very ill," she said, still detaining me. "He
grew suddenly worse, and we had to come home." Here she broke
down, and wept in silent anguish, which she strove to master before
we entered the room. I had never seen such agony depicted on a
human face. It could not be harder to die than to bear such,
and, forgetting that she was a stranger, I put my arms round her and
cried for company.
"Oh, hush," she said, presently, and raised her face,
controlled and calm, though sad with a hopeless sadness; and then
she ushered me straight into the presence of her dying husband,
before whom the last trace of her trouble vanished in a tender
smile. He was not in bed, or lying down at all, but sitting in
an arm-chair by the fire, from which he half rose, to greet me, with
the grace of his nation. Everything about and around him was
unusual in its simple elegance. The room was not encumbered
with furniture, but the ornament was tasteful; pretty chalk drawings
took the place of the inevitable prints, and daintily frilled
muslin—over what I fancy was glazed cotton—the place of preposterous
wool-work on the cushions arranged on his chair. A few spring
flowers were arranged on the table before him, and a New Testament
in French was laid on the bracket by the fireplace. All signs
of illness were removed that could be removed, and the dying man was
evidently treated as a being enshrined.
"She is so good to me—my little wife," he said, when she had
explained to him who I was, and on what errand I had come, and had
left the room. "So good," he repeated; "but I have not been
good to her. I had not the health to marry, and now I must
leave her a widow, and in poverty!"
He spoke with labouring breath.
Presently his wife came in again, and brought us writing
materials, and left us to ourselves again. She had duties,
doubtless, for I could hear little voices when the door was opened,
but I think it was delicacy that kept her away. He evidently
treated her with a tender politeness which would have made it
difficult to dictate to me in his own language in her presence.
The only sentence he spoke to me before her he translated
"He bade them farewell for ever."
The letter was an appeal to his parents, still living and in
good circumstances, on behalf of his wife and children. He
told them that his married life had been the best of his brief
career, and that it had turned his heart towards them, though he had
unhappily delayed to acknowledge this. He begged their
forgiveness for past folly and disobedience, and asked them to take
his little ones to their hearts, only not to seek to separate them
from their "adorable mother," whom he had determined to bring to
their feet with him, if he had been spared in health. As it
was, he bade them farewell for ever, their unhappy prodigal, whom
yet they might meet in heaven, by the grace of their Lord and his.
It was all that I could do to write without showing the
emotion I felt, and when the letter was finished, I made haste to
go, for I could see he was exhausted. He tried to reach the
bell, and could not, so I prevented him, and rang myself.
She came in an instant, to find him speechless, and, to all
"Can I do anything?" I whispered; while she stood supporting
the sinking head on her bosom, and fanning his forehead with her
She shook her head, and the faintness seemed after a time to
pass away; and then she told me where to find the medicine and
glass, which I brought to her, and she gave him his medicine.
Then she kissed him, and laid his head more easily, and left the
room with me, closing the door softly. She took me into the
kitchen, where her children were—a baby in the cradle, and two
pretty, delicate-looking boys, playing very quietly at a small
"I am obliged to have them here," she said, "for I have no
servant, and he cannot have them with him now, though he is so fond
of them; for he often faints away, and I think he is gone."
"Have you no one to help you?" I asked, pityingly.
"Sometimes I have a little help. There is a woman who
washes for me, and who lives not far off. She will come to me
at any time, and our neighbours on either side are kind and helpful,
but I have no one of my own—only one or two friends, who were
shop-girls like myself. My relations in the country never saw,
and scarcely heard of me, and they are poor."
Then she told me how happy she had been with her Henri.
He had always treated her as if she were the greatest lady of the
land, and the same after they were married as before. And he,
too, had been happy with her, and with his babies, whom he nursed
and carried for her as no Englishman would; and with his flowers,
which he tended like children, and loved so passionately that she
said she would go without food rather than not get them for him.
As she elided her story, with tears, she hoped that my
brother might be as happy in his foreign wife as she had been in her
Only the preoccupation of her sorrow prevented her from
seeing how astonished and perplexed I was. She saw something
of it, however, and added, as if explanatory of her knowledge—
"She came with him a few evenings ago. She is very
beautiful—a German lady. Oh, my poor Henri!"
She rose to go to her husband again, and I rose and left her.
My brother's wife! A German, and very beautiful! What
could it mean? Fräulein Vasa could not have been with him, and
been considered his engaged wife! It was the only solution I
attempted as I hastened home to unbosom this new trouble to Aunt
Mona and Lizzie.
I FOUND Lizzie
and Aunt Mona waiting for me, and ready to make the afternoon tea.
"You are tired, dear," said Aunt Mona, gently.
"Why, darling Una, you are perfectly knocked up!" cried
Lizzie, in dismay. "Let me take your things up-stairs for
"Was it very trying?" asked auntie.
"It was sad enough, but it is not that;" and I recounted the
parting words of Madame Rousset. "It must be some mistake,"
said Lizzie, stoutly, and she ran up-stairs with my hat and jacket,
coming back, however, with a face of extreme gravity, and saying, "I
am afraid there is something in it."
She had been taking a rapid survey of the situation, and
trifles light as air became confirmations.
"Do you remember the letters he got every day at Aunt
Robert's, and how he provoked us by only looking at them, never
reading them? Do you know I fancied one day that it was an
enclosed letter much smaller than the envelope. Perhaps they
were from her. Then you know how she stayed on when she knew
we wanted her to go, and then found a situation in the
neighbourhood; and I can understand how she used to go on when we
were out together, only what I cannot understand is Edwin's caring
"Do not take it all for granted, Lizzie," I said. "It
may be only Edwin's foolish good-nature, and Fräulein Vasa's
forwardness. Let us wait and see."
And we did wait, in the deepest anxiety, for his return.
He was later than usual, and we could see that something was wrong
as soon as he entered the room. He threw himself wearily upon
a chair, and cleared the thick locks off his forehead with both
hands—a way he had—as if he was going to take a plunge into the sea.
There was a pause, and Aunt Mona was trembling visibly.
It was for me to speak.
"I have seen poor Mr. Rousset to-day, Edwin," I said.
"Have you?" he rejoined, almost testily. "What took you
"I went at Claude Carrol's request, to write a letter for him
in French; and I heard of you there."
Not a word in reply, but his lips grew white and dry.
"I heard of you, and a lady, whom Madame Rousset spoke of as
your intended wife."
"Well!" he muttered.
"Oh, Edwin, have we deserved such treatment?" I said.
"We must hear it from your own lips before we can believe that you
have been deceiving us all this time."
"Tell us all about it, Edwin dear," cried Lizzie, coming to
his side. "It isn't all your fault, I am sure."
His agitation was becoming extreme. He put his hand to
his side as if in pain, and seemingly tried to speak, without being
"Do tell us, Edwin," said Lizzie. "Was the lady
"Yes," he murmured.
"And are you engaged to her?" she asked once more.
"I am married."
There was another pause, and our looks must have expressed
something like horror. He covered his face with his hands, and
"Why did you not tell us?"
"Why did you not wait?"
"How could you be so cruel?" we said in chorus.
"You could not really have loved her," added Lizzie.
He raised his head with some remnant of dignity.
"If I had not, I need not have married her, Lizzie," he
"But she is not worthy of you!" cried Lizzie, impetuously.
"You must remember she is my wife," he said "and, after all,
I don't think I have shown myself very worthy of anything," he
added. "I do not think she has got a great bargain."
"Depend upon it, she thinks so. She was always making
bargains, and then wanting to exchange them," said Lizzie.
"She can't exchange this one," he said, bitterly.
Aunt Mona had not looked up; her face was hidden. I,
too, was trembling, and in tears. Lizzie was flushed and
"Edwin, you never plotted to deceive us in this way?"
"I am to blame," he said, simply. "Let no more be said,
Lizzie. I cannot listen to anything against her; it is a
Aunt Mona looked at him, and he stood up where he sat, as if
he had been a stranger.
"You will let me remain here to-night?" he said.
"To-morrow we shall look out for a lodging."
Here Lizzie burst into a fit of passionate grief, such as I
had never seen her indulge, and did not know her capable of.
She had always loved Edwin supremely.
His supper was standing untasted on the tray, but he made as
if he would leave the room, without even saying good-night to us.
But Aunt Mona rose, and went over to him, and held out her hands.
He took them in his, with a look as if his heart was utterly
melted within him.
She said, in her sweet voice, broken with emotion, "'Whom God
hath joined together, let no one put asunder;'" and she included
both Lizzie and me in one tender glance. "But, oh! I wish,
dear boy, you had been open with us, and had waited at least till
your father's return."
"You cannot wish it more than I do," he said, humbly.
"I have been a fool, or, rather, I have been like one walking in a
"Your hands are deadly cold," said Aunt Mona and she drew him
to the fire, and made him sit down. She wanted him to eat, but
he could not, and she made me get him a little wine, which he drank
Lizzie had fled out of the room, sobbing, and I went after
her, and left Edwin alone with Aunt Mona; and after a time I coaxed
Lizzie to appear again in a calmer mood.
It was getting very late when we bade one another a sorrowful
good-night. He had told us his plans, or, rather, her plans,
for they did not bear the impress of his mind at all. Fräulein
Vasa was still in her situation. He had, it seemed, met her
almost every evening, walking about with her, and even visiting the
house of her employer as her engaged lover. Lizzie was quite
right about the letters he had received being hers. She was
afraid of being compromised (or pretended to be, Lizzie said
afterwards), and that had hurried their marriage, which had taken
place quite recently, at the office of the registrar. She knew
exactly the extent of his means, and proposed that they should take
apartments, which she could furnish out of her savings, while she
taught music and German.
It was clear that she had planned it all, though he would not
say so—would not blame her in the least, though I think be must be
aware that she has intrigued over it, and that knowing this, we must
regard her with aversion, at least with distaste. And what
will our father and Ernest say? They must be written to at
once; and Edwin entreated me to undertake the task.
It was settled that Aunt Mona was to write to our father, and
I undertook the letter to Ernest. Ernest wrote to me, in
reply, a letter of which I could make nothing, the tone was so light
and mocking; but it was also kinder than I had expected, and
refrained from any kind of bitterness toward either party. He
is to be with us shortly, for the Easter recess, and Mr. Temple is
to take up his quarters over the shop, as before.
In the one or two letters that followed, Ernest never
mentioned his brother's name at all, and we found that he had not
written to him.
Edwin has settled in his rooms, and he has brought his wife
with him to see us. Aunt Mona received her with grave
kindness, but without cordiality; that she could not feel. It
was equally impossible to Lizzie and to me, but we made up our minds
not to upbraid her. Edwin was our brother still, and we did
not want to separate ourselves from him by quarrelling with his
wife, and we would not have had him disloyal to her by holding to us
while we openly contemned her.
Many and sad are the consultations we have about Edwin and
his wife, and the glimpses we get, from time to time, of their way
of life, are anything but reassuring. In spite of her beauty,
Doretta looks less than ever like a lady in the gay attire which she
has chosen to begin her new life in. It is too light for the
season, and too suggestive of her condition as a bride. Aunt
Mona will not allow us to condemn her on this score, as her want of
taste may be set down to pure innocence and ignorance of usage in
the matter; but then we hear of her dragging him almost every
evening to theatres and third-rate concert-rooms, for which we know
he does not care.
It is best, however, to pass over lightly the records of
these days. Suffice it that Doretta's offences culminated just
then in her coming to us one day, with exultation in her eyes, not
ill concealed, not in the least attempted to be concealed, to tell
us that poor Rousset was dead at last.
"At last," just as if she had been waiting impatiently for
the event. I do not think we did her any injustice in
believing that she had. Her play-going habits, and other
habits of hers with which we were acquainted, were expensive, and
she showed no sign of beginning the private teaching which Edwin had
assured us she was anxious to obtain.
Lizzie and I had called to inquire after Mons. Rousset every
other day, and had taken him all the flowers we could coax out of
our little garden—a few crocuses and snowdrops, and some which Aunt
Robert had sent us, and Lizzie had brought his two little boys to
spend the day with us, and play with Toodles, so that Doretta's way
of announcing his death seemed particularly harsh. She had
calculated upon the increase of salary it would bring to Edwin as a
means of obtaining what she considered pleasures, and she coolly
told us that now she should ask Edwin, when he had his Easter
holidays, to take her to spend a day and dine at the Crystal Palace.
"How utterly childish she is!" said Lizzie, when she was
And Aunt Mona replied—
"That is, my dear, her best excuse; only she is at present a
very heartless child, which our poor boy is not."
I may as well set down here all we came in the end to know
concerning Madame Rousset, in whom we were already greatly
interested, and who at length impressed us, as she had evidently
done her foreign husband, who was of a higher social grade, by the
transparent loveliness of a character wholly unselfish and loving.
Living and dying, her husband had been her first thought. In
the time of his health, while secretly blaming herself for the
neglect of every religious duty, she had devoted herself to him
entirely, easily catching the secret of charming him by making
everything about herself and her home tasteful and pure and gay.
And in his illness, still seeking hope and joy for him, she had
turned his attention to sacred things, and found that he too had
been longing after the higher beauty and joy of a spiritual life.
Now that he was dead, and we saw her in her first
overwhelming sorrow, her first thought was for her children—not for
herself—and for them, it seemed, because they were his. We
could see that she thought no drudgery too great, no privation too
severe, if they were but cared for, and all their wants supplied.
But the prospect before her was so dark, that, as she gathered them
in her arms, she could not help crying, "Oh, Henri! I wish we could
go to him now, just as we are!"
Before he died a letter had come from his mother, in answer
to the one I had written for him. It was kind to a certain
extent, and seemed to assure him of further kindness—he knew the
writer best—but it promised nothing, and took but cold notice of
wife or children. On the announcement of his death, which I
also wrote, there came another. I had to read it. She
brought it to me at home, and alas! it was hard to read. It
was colder still; it asked their son's wife to bring her children to
them. They were ready and willing to receive them, if they
were given up to them entirely; they would relieve her wholly of the
burden of their maintenance and education. That was all.
She heard the letter in silence, and went away, asking time to
But in a day or two she came back to announce her decision.
We received her tenderly, for she looked quite heart-broken.
"I will take them," she said. "I would work for them
rather. I am a first-rate needlewoman. I might take
lodgers too, and keep up the home; but to do it I must work night
and day, and neglect them. The work I would not mind, but I
could not bear to see them look neglected, and then I might drop,
and there would be nothing for them but the workhouse. I will
go, and if his people are good and kind I will leave the children,
and if not I can but take a room and struggle on."
Aunt Mona herself wrote to old Madame Rousset, and said all
she could to prepossess her in favour of her daughter-in-law; so
poor Madame Rousset sold off all her belongings and went away with
From time to time she wrote to us; at first sadly. She
had been received somewhat coldly, allowed to remain almost on
sufferance, and that she might nurse the baby; but the home into
which they had been received was a cultivated as well as comfortable
one, and her husband's parents were to be respected if not loved.
More than once she had made up her mind that the time had come to
leave them, and always she was requested to stay with some little
increase of cordiality. They were teaching her their language,
and as the children began to talk it she was learning it rapidly.
Then she took to writing to us in her adopted tongue, and at length
came the looked-for news that she was in her new home as a daughter.
The old people had never had a daughter—only sons—all of whom were
married, and gone out into the world; and they had made the
discovery, later than we could have imagined—for we English people
never will give the French credit for their great prudence in
domestic matters—they had made the discovery that she was a daughter
to be won and loved. The children had taken rather severely a
kind of fever, and the mother and grandmother had nursed them
together, and become the tenderest of friends.
"Oh, if Edwin had only married such a one as Alice Rousset,"
Aunt Mona had said when first she knew her; and often and often we
remembered her words in the after-days.
ERNEST and Mr.
Temple are with us for a fortnight. They are both reading very hard
for their examination, but we have our outdoor rambles still, though
somewhat restricted to time, and the after-dinner hour of chat. When
the tea comes in it is the signal for our students to be off to work
again, and they drink a cup standing, and go back to the dining-room for the rest of the evening with their books.
We should be very happy but for Edwin's marriage. We all feel that
he is lost to us already. This is partly, though by no means
altogether, owing to the way in which Ernest and our father have
taken it. We made Edwin write to both of them at once, as soon as we
ourselves knew of it; but what the replies were, we none of us know.
For one thing, we never see Edwin alone. Doretta is always with him,
and seems jealous of the slightest appropriation of his time or
attention by us, and we do not like to ask him in her presence any
question that might embarrass him. He would have told us voluntarily
any pleasant news. All that we do know is that both the letters have
been answered. We had letters of the same date from both. Our father
says simply, "I have written to Edwin." That is all. No mention is
made of his marriage, or of his wife.
And now we know what Ernest thinks of it. He cannot get over the
fact of Edwin's concealing from him the great event of his life, and
he will not go near them. Edwin, too, has avoided the house ever
since Ernest came home. So they have not met as yet. We dread and
yet desire a meeting for them. The old love might rise up and sweep
away the offence. It would be best for both. Aunt Mona has even
urged Ernest to go, pleading that it is harder for the offender than
for the offended to seek reconciliation. But he made answer that
he could not feel that he was wanted, that this was what he called
a new departure, and that Edwin had wilfully broken the bond between
them, had sent him in the matter, and it was not for him to force
him back into the old path of brotherly love.
"As for her," he said, "I would rather not see her—a coarse,
unscrupulous woman. I would rather not say all I think about her. No, there is nothing for it but to drop her."
"That means dropping him, Ernest," I said. "He never goes anywhere
"She will take good care that he does not," said Lizzie.
"It is hardly fair that he should," said Aunt Mona.
But Ernest kept silence, a silence which said plainly that he
accepted the condition.
The day after this we dined alone, Mr. Temple having an engagement
in Bedford Square, whither Ernest had refused to accompany him; and
after dinner Ernest lingered in the drawing-room over the book he
had brought from his room. It was a volume of Heine's. "There's a
picture!" broke from him, as he threw down the volume with a bitter
"What has moved you so deeply?" I asked.
He lifted the book again, sought and found the page, and handed it
Lizzie came and looked over my shoulder; but seeing what book it
was, turned away again with a vigorous expression of dislike.
The passage to which he drew my attention was the description of
the parsonage, where the mother sits reading the Bible, while the
son and daughters keep a dreary silence, which is broken at last by
two of them making their deadly choice between poverty and sin. It
sent a sensation of physical dread through me as I read. The mother
starting up to fling the Bible in the face of her son, and her curse
along with it, while in at the window looks the ghost of their
father, who lies in the churchyard without the house."
"Terrible, but untrue," I said.
"True and terrible," he returned.
Lizzie was frankly impatient.
"How can you read that disgusting book, Ernest?" she said.
"A rather strong expression, Lizzie," he answered. "I did not know
that you were in the habit of using such words."
"No others are adequate," said Lizzie, smiling.
She was not in the least sentimental—nay, rather laughed at the
expressions of sentiment, preferring it clothed in humour, or
expressed in deeds; but she could not bear the cruel way in which
Heine dealt with human emotion. The human nature he exposed was his
own nature, after all; and he was, in Lizzie's estimation, like a
beggar who shows his sores—like a criminal who tears the bandage
from his wounds, to excite at once pity and horror.
Aunt Mona had taken the book, and read the passage also.
"It is very powerful," she said; "a wonderful and awful picture of
spiritual death and corruption."
"Do you know what it has suggested to me?" said Ernest.
We all looked a negative; it might suggest so many things. I shook
"You give it up?"
"Then I'll tell you. I have been fancying that is the kind of home
Edwin has got a wife out of."
"My dear boy!" said Aunt Mona, gravely.
Lizzie now wanted to see the poem, but Aunt Mona had given the
volume back to Ernest, and he would not part with it to her. I gave
her a sketch of its contents.
"Not a bit like the reality," cried Lizzie. "The only tragedy in
Pastor Vasa's family was the killing of poor piggy. The sisters,
instead of yawning idly—though certainly Doretta yawned a good
deal—would have been in the kitchen, making potato salad or
sugar-cake, or some other elaborate bit of cookery; the mother would
have been knitting stockings; and the son would have announced his
intention of slaughtering piggy that very night; and the ghost would
have risen with delight, only to look in at the proceedings when
they made him into sausage-meat and voorst."
Ernest laughed, in better humour, at this; but it showed us the
bitter animus he felt towards his sister-in-law, and the small hope
there was of his reconciling himself to her.
Aunt Robert professed herself very little astonished. The wonder, in
her mind, was evidently that we were not a great deal worse; that,
brought up as we had been, there was any good in us at all.
"Of course, he has done a very foolish thing," she said. "He will
be in poverty to begin with, but it will grow worse and worse. He
will likely have a large family, and live from hand to mouth, and in
constant debt and difficulty. I know a case of the kind, and they
are a perfect nuisance to all their relations. You need not look at
me in that way, Una."
For I had looked at her suddenly, and I know I felt resentment at
her speech, and would gladly at the moment have rejected her
friendship and favour on my own behalf, as it was to be withheld
from Edwin. I felt thankful as it was that we had declined to go out
of town with her just then.
Our young men are gone. Aunt Mona and I are more alone than ever. Lizzie is so much with Clara, and, young as she is, so actively
engaged in every way. We see very little of Edwin and hear very
little of Ernest. His letters are often gay and affectionate, but
always brief, and tell us nothing but the merest circumstances of
his life, nothing whatever about what he is thinking and feeling. And that is the great thing. Nothing else is of any value as
knowledge of a human being. "Out of the heart are the issues of
life," says the wonderful Book I am reading for the first time with
the belief that it is indeed a revelation of the mind and will of
God. And oh, how true are the words! His letters constantly contain
little messages from Mr. Temple, generally to Aunt Mona or to
Lizzie; but I seem to see Ernest and Mr. Temple beginning to drift
asunder, and I said so to Aunt Mona.
"I do not think his friend will fail him, Una," she said. "I have
seen such a friendship before, where all the comfort came from one
side—all the efforts at harmony—while on the other there was nothing
but discord and unrest. I don't mean that Ernest is nothing to his
friend but as a recipient of good things. There is a great charm
about him, in his truthfulness and purity, and capacity of
loving—they are all reflected in his face. His ought to have been a
harmonious and beautiful nature, and would attract such a man as
Herbert Temple, by the very lack of that which hinders it of its
harmony and beauty. Think what Ernest would be if he believed
another Gospel than that of Heine."
"Ernest always had a way of mocking and pulling to pieces
everything, before he knew anything of Heine," I said.
"Yes, he analyses everything, and will not be imposed upon; but he
has no irreverence for realities, such as a coarse mind or a hard
heart will show, no irreverence for love, or sorrow, or death."
"But these are not religious things, Aunt Mona," I said.
"My dear, they are the most religious of all religious things. In a
world where all things are appointed for our education and
discipline, they are the chief instruments in our Father's hands."
"Oh, Aunt Mona, I cannot understand, I cannot believe it. You say we
are in God's hands. He made us, it is true; He must have made us,
and not we ourselves. But you say He placed us in the world just as
was best for us. You say He rules all things, provides all things. You refer all your life to Him."
"And you cannot help thinking, 'What am I that God should so care
for me?' But, my dear, I believe it for you as well as for me, and
for all as well as for us."
Aunt Robert's carriage and pair flashed up to the door. The coachman
seemed to have caught the spirit of his mistress, and to have come
along in hot haste; for when Aunt Robert entered our little
sitting-room, with its air of perfect peace, she was red and
flurried, and even breathless, which, seeing that she had had
nothing to do with her rate of progress, could only be accounted for
by the state of her mind.
"You both look as quiet as if nothing had happened, or was ever
likely to happen again," she burst forth.
We both laughed, which seemed to make her quite angry.
"You must tell us what it is before you can expect us to sympathise
with you, Harriet," said Aunt Mona.
Then, seeing by her face that something was really wrong, I took the
alarm, and almost gasped—
"My father! There is nothing wrong?"
"No, no—not your father; it has nothing to do with your father. And
yet it has everything to do with him," she went on, enigmatically. "Have you not heard? Of course you haven't! Henry is going to be
I RECEIVED the
intelligence with perfect equanimity. Aunt Mona, however,
showed signs of feeling it deeply. Her lips quivered, and she
was visibly trembling as she did under strong emotion. She was
not given to tears. I looked and felt more concerned for her
than for myself, and essayed to comfort her, saying, "Dear Aunt
Mona, that is not very bad news."
"Not very bad news!" cried Aunt Robert, looking at me with
unequivocal disdain and wrath. "Is the girl a fool?"
"It did not seem to me in the least overwhelming," I
answered. And indeed her wrath on the present occasion almost
provoked me to laughter, because of the reaction of feeling from the
momentary fear I had entertained concerning my father.
"Don't you know that your father was the next heir, and that
your uncle in marrying a young wife cuts him off from the
succession—is sure to do so—and your brother, too?"
I had not seen it in that light, but with the carelessness of
youth for the realisation of the distant future, it did not impress
"I was not thinking so much of that, Harriet," said Aunt
Mona; "but I feel hurt at Henry's conduct."
"He never writes?" said Aunt Robert, interrogatively.
"Never," was the answer.
"He deserves"—cried Aunt Robert, vindictively—"I don't know
what he does not deserve; and he may get it."
We could not help laughing at the delightful incoherence of
her sentence, which only served to make her angrier than ever.
"Well, I don't know why I should put myself out in this way
when you are resolved to take it so coolly," she said.
"Why should he not marry?" I asked, with lofty indifference.
"Why should he not marry?" she repeated. "Because he is
nearly as old as your father, and detests the idea of it—only
marries out of spite. There is one comfort, however: they will
both be miserable."
"I hope you will not quarrel with him, Harriet," said Aunt
"I have done it already," she answered, exultingly.
"When he told you?" said Aunt Mona.
"Yes, when he told me. He did it himself, and then I
could keep silence no longer, and told him what I thought of his
"Oh, I am so sorry! it will only make the breach
"It was that already, only you would go on hoping it wasn't."
Dear Aunt Mona! This was what she had encountered on
There she was, looking anything but lovely in her anger, this
rash Aunt Robert; and yet all that she had done had been done in a
fiery outburst of generous emotion.
"But all this time you have not told us who the lady is," I
"You can't guess, can you?" she asked, turning from me to
"No. Not the rector's daughter," said the latter; "not
one of the Arrowsmiths—the nieces, I mean—not Edith Winfield."
She was getting through the list of her brother's friends and
But Aunt Robert stopped her by one little word—"Yes."
"Yes who?" asked Aunt Mona.
"Edith Winfield," was the answer.
"Surely not Edith?"
"It is, indeed."
"How could she?" I exclaimed, indignantly.
"Because the owner of Highwood is the best match in her
circle, and because a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,"
said Aunt Robert, with a look which showed me plainly that her
thoughts had run in the direction of my own.
"I expected something better of Edith Winfield," said Aunt
"Did you?" returned Aunt Robert, with doubtful intonation.
"Have you seen any of them?" asked Aunt Mona, referring, of
course, to the Winfields.
"I have seen them all," was the answer. "I made a point
of seeing them."
"And of quarrelling with them," said Aunt Mona, her peculiar,
gentle humour visible in the corners of her mouth and eyes, in spite
of her very real trouble and vexation of spirit.
"Yes, if it had pleased them; but it didn't, and I don't
think any the better of them for their peaceability, for my part,"
said Aunt Robert.
"What did they say then?" Aunt Mona questioned.
"You know what they are," answered Mrs. Robert,
contemptuously. "I never did think Charles Winfield entirely a
responsible being, you know. There he was, with a drawing-room
fall of dogs, and his pockets stuffed with little biscuits purloined
at luncheon, which he kept putting on their noses and making them
catch in their mouths, as if that was an occupation befitting a
Christian man! And there was she, conscious of a very pretty
youthful-looking cap, and caring a great deal more whether it became
her than whether her husband was playing the fool or her daughter
selling herself for an establishment."
Certainly Aunt Robert's strictures did not lean to the side
"'So I am to congratulate you upon Edith going to become my
brother's wife,' I said"—she went on narrating her interview—"and
Mrs. Winfield answered, 'I suppose you may. The dear child has
been left entirely to her own free choice in the matter.'
"'A very queer choice she has made, then,' I remarked.
'He is old enough to be her father, and is almost a woman-hater.'
"And she answered smartly, 'He admires Edith, at any rate,
well enough to ask her to be mistress at Highwood.'
"And when I asked whether she equally admired hint? she
answered, 'You must not ask me, Mrs. Lancaster. But we
are very glad to have her settled near us. We are getting old,
you know,' with a look at her husband, 'and it is well to have her
provided for.' She had the audacity to say that."
"But did you not see Edith herself?" queried Aunt Mona.
"She came into the room before I went away, looking as
washed-out as Edith can look, so that you wonder how you ever took
her to be handsome," said Aunt Robert.
"She is one of the people who want happiness to make them
even look their best," interrupted Aunt Mona.
"To tell you the truth, I could not say anything to her.
She looked at me with those eyes of hers, and held out her hand, and
I couldn't say a word, any more than I could punish a dog who looked
at me so," said Aunt Robert.
"Do you think the marriage has been forced upon her?" asked
"She has been made to see the desirability of doing something
in the matrimonial line," Aunt Robert answered. "You know her
father ran through his fortune rapidly—literally sent it to the
dogs; and Charles, the second, is not much better. There will
be no home for her at Winfield Court when he comes into possession.
Edith has been very unhappy ever since her first season, when she
was positively dazzling. I don't see much of their set, but I
fancy she was all but engaged then to a friend of her brother's, a
young officer in the same regiment and heir to a title; but it was
broken off, and, being clever, she got the name of a flirt.
The young men were delighted to flirt with her. But her mother
takes care to let her know that she is a failure, and she is glad to
put an end to it in any way."
What a picture! I felt my cheeks burn with indignation
and shame, and an almost compunction of tenderness toward the victim
of this heartless huxtering.
Aunt Mona was full of compassion too.
"Poor child!" she said, "how bright and winning she was, with
all her love of mischief."
"She will find none to make in our family, so much has been
made already. It is all done to her hands," said Aunt Robert.
"But she will either find something of the kind, or die of dullness.
Henry does not intend to change his way of life for any woman.
He wants an heir, but he does not want a wife; and he will go on as
if she was not there at all. That will not suit Edith.
She will be discontented, and he will resent her discontent."
Neither from the one nor the other could I quite make out
what manner of man this Uncle Henry was, nor what his life had been.
His present life was evidently a completely selfish one. He
had practised at the bar, and was now a magistrate. He prided
himself on his justice, and upon giving to all their due, and he
clearly thought that a very great deal was due to Henry Lancaster
for being the man he was; and, on the other hand, that very little,
except punishment when they did anything wrong to the Henry
Lancasters of the world, was due to the common herd of men. He
managed his own affairs. Spent the morning in his library,
where he never touched a book. Rode over his estate all the
afternoon. Went to church on Sunday morning. Sat on the
bench, a terror to evil-doers. Passed a fortnight yearly in
London, marching through the exhibitions, and attending meetings.
Never had a guest in his house, and only entertaining the rector and
a few of his fellow magistrates and their wives at dinner half a
dozen times a year. By all I could hear, he was a petrified
man. And this was to be the husband of an eager impulsive
girl, capable, whatever her faults might be, of great humility and
great veneration. The thought of it almost made me forget my
deeper interest in the terrible transaction which handed her over to
such a fate. And yet I was conscious of a feeling of relief
concerning Ernest, as well as of concern for his disappointment.
He had a high ideal of women, both intellectually and morally.
He positively hated—and that because of their idea of women—Byron
and Heine too, though he read the latter more than the former,
voting his countryman unreadable, with the exception of a few
descriptive passages. "His men and women are like the
troupe of a penny theatre," he once said, and I never think of
Lara and the Corsair, in whom I once had a childish delight, without
the association of this idea of his. No doubt at that stage I
should also have been lost in wonder and admiration at the penny
theatre too. Perhaps Ernest's ideal would be less degraded by
his present disappointment than if he had come to know more of her
who caused it. It was a part of his nature, his reverence for
women, which had never been invaded by the blight of cynicism.
But he must be told of the engagement. That was my
present difficulty. If it had been to a stranger, to any one
but our unknown and hostile relative, it would have seemed an easier
task. As it was I tried and tried again to put it before him
in any way that would make it look less—what to him I knew it would
The result was that I wrote and told him of the engagement,
without mentioning Uncle Henry's name at all.
And the answer was a burst of laughter. I seemed to
hear it in the short mocking sentences—a burst of laughter worse
than the bitterest grief.
ERNEST and his
friend have agreed to share a set of chambers in Lincoln's Inn, for
Ernest determined not to remain longer at the University, and simply
took his degree, without going in for honours as he had intended.
The chambers are three rooms, which Ernest describes as "dark,
darker, darkest;" and in the smallest and darkest there is a little
clerk, who will keep the chambers and run their errands, and, in due
time, carry their gowns and wigs to Court, and take charge of their
briefs, when they get them, though that time seems a long way off
We have not seen the chambers yet. Ernest had not been
very pressing in his invitation, and 'Miss Maude Bennett and her
sisters have been before us. They behaved in such a way, that
Ernest does not want us to come at all.
"If they [the Misses Bennett] hear that you have been there,
they will come again; they will haunt the place," he said.
"What do we want with crayons on our walls and bouquets on our
"Did Miss Maude bring you a bouquet?" I asked.
"No, but she brought one for Mr. Temple. If Lizzie does
not mind, she will cut her out," he said.
It was not like him to speak in this way, and I dare say I
looked vexed and astonished, for he added, "You need not take that
quite so seriously. She may try it; but I think it would take
greater attractions than Miss Maude can boast, to supplant Lizzie in
Then Mr. Temple did admire her. No doubt he confided in
Ernest, and Ernest had not thought it necessary to be more guarded
in speaking of it.
In the meantime, Mr. Temple had taken up his quarters in the
Bennett household. It was his uncle's wish that he should do
so; his uncle having the greatest possible horror of London, its
lodgings, and its ways entirely. The only safeguard from
actual robbery and violence was, he considered, in being a member of
some respectable family; and so in order to keep the old gentleman's
mind easy concerning himself, Mr. Temple acquiesced in the
arrangement. Ernest is constantly receiving invitations to
accompany him home to dinner, and to spend the evening in Bedford
Square, and these he has accepted from time to time, till he has
fallen into the habit of spending Sunday away from home, while on
Saturday Mr. Temple comes to us. He comes alone, too, for
Ernest has joined the volunteer corps to which so many of the Inn
belong. Therefore he no longer comes for Ernest's sake.
Ernest and he indeed seem to be drifting more and more apart.
How can it be otherwise? Two cannot walk together unless they
are agreed, at least unless their disagreements are capable of being
united in a deeper harmony; and on all the deeper questions of life
they are becoming silent. Ernest is more and more gloomy and
reserved. He is no longer tenderly respectful, as he used to
be, in speaking of women. I never dare to speak of Edith to
him; I cannot provoke the sneer with which he met allusion to her.
I suppose he learnt the whole truth from Aunt Robert, and it has
revolted him. And the association with these Bennett girls is
not good for him. Mr. Temple even feels this. He has
acknowledged to Aunt Mona that he is not at home among them—that he
has to seek for companionship and sympathy out-of-doors.
I think he finds it good to know Aunt Monica. And
indeed it is. How wise she is, how calm and sober, and yet
full of a glowing fervour. What a patient teacher she is,
always leading one out of one's self, and away from herself.
"She is," says Herbert Temple, "a true daughter of the Church of
Christ." And as I know more, I see exactly what he means by
it. I see the sober wisdom, the fervent devotion, the patient
teaching, the leading out of self and beyond herself ever to the
feet of Christ. To be planted in this Church is like being
planted in a garden where every living seed of heavenly life must
grow. How lovely are her seasons, weaving together the life
and the doctrine, the doctrine and the life; leading the spirit
through humiliation to rejoicing, and from sorrow to joy, and from
joy to strength; not trying to make her children take in all truth
at once, but portion by portion, and yet making them secure of the
whole as their divine heritage.
Aunt Robert came down the other day on purpose to tell us
that Uncle Henry's marriage has been postponed on account of Edith's
health. Aunt Robert, though she has quarrelled hotly with her
brother-in-law, has no idea of holding aloof from him. She
keeps up her communication with him, though I do not think their
intercourse can be a pleasant one for either. "I must meet
him," she said, "when I am at Nyewood, and he must meet me. He
knows my mind, but that is no reason why we should not speak to each
other. I think it is all the more reason we should. And
we should have to give our neighbours a good deal of trouble in
keeping us apart besides, and create no end of talk and scandal."
"What is the matter with Edith?" said Aunt Mona. "She
has never been ill in her life before."
"That is the provoking part of it; so Mrs. Winfield says, at
least; and there is nothing particular the matter with her, so the
doctor says. There is no organic disease, only a nervous
breakdown. At first her mother dealt sharply with her, for she
herself has nerves of steel, and Edith has always been curiously
submissive to her mother, more under her influence than any one,
seeing the pair, would have thought possible; but all her influence
seems gone. Fits of depression from which nothing would rouse
her, alternated with fits of restlessness; and she began to look so
haggard and so ill that at last they determined on taking her away
abroad. At one time she wanted the marriage broken off, and at
another time hurried on, so that it has taxed all Mrs. Winfield's
diplomacy to keep the state of affairs from Henry. Of course
he had to be told that she was ill, and he felt himself injured in
consequence. He even condescended to ask me very particularly
whether I thought she was sickly or not."
"Edith is not naturally sickly," said Aunt Mona. "I
fear it is sickness of the soul, poor child. It would be far
better for her not to fulfil her engagement."
"You don't think I kept silent on that score!" said Aunt
Robert. "No, no. I told both Mrs. Winfield and Henry
what I thought. Mrs. Winfield answered with the old story.
She had not influenced Edith's choice. She was free to break
off her engagement if she chose, only it was a disastrous thing for
a girl to do, etc., etc. As for Henry, he said, of course,
what is perfectly true, that he could not break with her, could not
even allow it to be supposed that he was willing to set her free,
which would be equivalent. He had supposed her rather improved
by the prospect of her marriage—soberer and more dignified.
That is so like him, Monica, is it not?" commented Aunt Robert.
"When, in truth, she was behaving like a perfect automaton.
Not a bit of life or spirit in her. The upshot of it is that
the marriage is postponed till November, and the Winfields have gone
abroad, with a detachment of dogs, of course."
Herbert has found Mr. Bothwell at last, and that not when he
was in search of him, but, as it were, by chance. A friend of
his took him one evening to a meeting which is held in his district,
but unconnected with the church. A meeting without a name, he
calls it. The young clergyman could not tell how it began, or
who began it; he had simply been told of it by some one.
"There was nothing formal about it," said Herbert. "One
or two ladies were present, evidently members of the Society of
Friends. Some had Bibles and some religious books; and each
read what had most struck, or helped, or comforted him or her during
the week or they read a portion of Scripture, each taking a verse in
turn, like children in a school. Then a few sentences of
comment were made by one or other, generally ending in prayer.
The meeting was made up of the ladies whom I noticed, several poor
married women, and one or two servants, a small tradesman of the
neighbourhood, and the one I fancied might be your friend.
"He has a pale face," Herbert went on, "much marred by
small-pox, but lighted up by a pair of dark, clear, penetrating
eyes, and by a smile of singular sweetness and purity. He is
very shabby, and extremely lame."
"Oh! that is our Mr. Bothwell!" I exclaimed. "There is
no doubt about it. You will take us next Tuesday, will you
"Gladly," he answered. And so it was settled that Aunt
Mona and I should go.
Next Tuesday Herbert met us at the station, and we drove in a
cab through the most dismal labyrinth of streets that could be
We arrived a little late, still before the exercises of the
evening had begun, and we found seats, unobserved, in the
background. After a short silence, and some whispered talk
among those present, they were proceeding, and we thought ourselves
doomed to disappointment, when Mr. Bothwell entered. He was
welcomed by more than one with a silent hand-grasp, and took his
seat at the little table without having seen us.
Some one repeated a short prayer, and spoke of its having
sustained in a time of difficulty and trial by its teaching to leave
in God's hands both the things to be done and the things to be
"That is true," said Mr. Bothwell, quietly. "We who
lead tried and tempted lives, how do we too often encounter our
trials and temptations? We go to meet them, as it were, we lay
hold of them and wrestle with them, quite sure that that is the
thing God would have us to do. We battle with our worldliness,
our covetousness, our uncharitableness, on its own ground, and we
come out of the conflict anything but ready in body or in soul, but
bruised, and battered, and lowered, and enfeebled; whereas if we had
simply put ourselves in the hands of God, it may be we need not have
fought at all. The Captain of our salvation might have routed
our foes for us, and left us ready to accomplish those things He
would have us to do. Those who are of the Church will
understand what I mean when I ask if temptation had any power when
they realised His spiritual presence at the Lord's Supper, when they
seemed to take the bread of life from other than mortal hands, and
to feed upon it in their hearts by faith with thanksgiving; and
those who dwell more on the ministry of the Spirit will understand
me when I ask if temptation had any power when they had waited in
silence and in prayer, and felt Him, the Holy One, breathing into
their souls. Could any of you have been uncharitable, or
covetous, or worldly-minded then? Many of you, I believe, will
find it a joyful hour when you come to die, because your manifold
temptations will then have utterly disappeared; and why?
Simply because you have begun to realise the presence of Christ so
truly that scarcely the lifting of the veil can make it more real to
you. Why are we not living at this height, instead of only
dying at it?"
Mr. Bothwell sat down in silence—a silence that remained
unbroken for several minutes—and then we noticed the slight
harassing cough, the flush and tremor, and the extreme emaciation,
which had come upon him since we saw him last. Aunt Mona and I
exchanged glances of sorrow and sympathy, and this, with the emotion
which his words had raised, melted me to tears, which I tried vainly
After the quiet reading of some chapters in the Gospel of St.
John, the prayer of the evening followed, from the lips of the
tradesman Herbert had told us of. Strictly grammatical it was
not, but truly spiritual it certainly was; and the want of grammar
did not render it less full of meaning, as I found, to either
Herbert or Aunt Monica.
When it was ended, the little company began to separate, and
we hastened up to Mr. Bothwell, and made ourselves known to him,
with many reproaches both for ourselves and him.
"We must not lose sight of you again," said Aunt Mona.
"It is too late now, or we should insist on seeing you home; but we
must have your address."
"Herbert went up to the table, and wrote it down in his
Herbert went up to the table, and wrote it down in his
pocket-book, and we said good-night, and parted.
On our way home, we all came to the conclusion that we had
not found him a day too soon; that he must be seen to immediately;
and we thankfully accepted Herbert's offer to go to him on the
Herbert brought us news of him in the evening, coming out on
purpose to tell us how he had found him. He was even worse
than we had anticipated. Alas! it is little more of mortal
help that he will need. He owned to Herbert that he is getting
too weak to work, and that he thinks he has not long to live.
He caught cold moving out of his little room, which was close and
warm, into a damp ill-built attic, and it has settled on his lungs.
But, he says, as it is summer, he may be able to keep about till the
last—till within a day or two of the end. As before, his
neighbours help him, especially the women. "They are the
lowest of the low," he said, "but let me bear my testimony to this,
that even in its most utter ruin and desecration human nature is
never wholly worthless. Have faith in it, young man; never
lose faith in it and its divine possibilities. There is no
infidelity deeper than that."
"There is only one thing to be done," said Aunt Mona,
quickly. "We must bring him here, and Una and I must nurse
Lizzie took Aunt Mona's hand and kissed it, and Herbert
followed her example. As for me, I could have kissed her feet,
but I did not. I had neither word nor kiss for her till we
were alone together. On the morrow we went with Herbert, Aunt
Mona and I, to propose our plan, but Mr. Bothwell would not listen
to it, and, indeed, it did seem too late. He told us he had
enough for all his wants, and that he could not without suffering be
burdensome to others. Then he said, so feelingly that it was
impossible to doubt how much it was to him, that the love in our
offer was enough for him; he would have nothing more.
After this Herbert devoted himself to him, and Ernest was
with him often; but he was very silent concerning his visits;
indeed, there was hardly now a break in our poor boy's impenetrable
gloom. The comfortable, easy-going, cynical infidelity of the
day was not for him.
But there was more of suffering in store for our friend than
any of us could have imagined. He had a large stock of that
strange thing vitality, and, while unable to eat what would have
been needed by the feeblest infant, he still lived on. At
length he was confined to the little bed in his wretched room, and
the doctor who had been called in advised his removal to the
And thither he at length consented to be removed, though Aunt
Mona renewed her offer with tears. We knew then that it was
not from any remnant of mere self-respect that he refused. It
was that he held charity to be so sacred a thing that he feared to
profane it, or to lead to its profanation. He had lived among
men and women who had ceased from believing in it, because they had
profaned it—made it consist in doles of food and clothing and money,
not hesitating, in order to procure these, to practise any lying or
hypocrisy. They had ceased to believe in the love of any
giver, thinking it was only a way of getting something that givers
cared for, in thanks and praise and the favour of God. He was
among some who would not have scrupled to use the words and example
by which he was striving to raise them up, thus to degrade
themselves lower still.
"What would my mother have thought of it?" he said, when the
resolution was taken. "But where she is now, it will not
matter," he added, smiling with tender humour. "The point of
view is everything."
In the midst of this the vacation had arrived, and a summons
had come to Ernest to go to Malta and join his father's ship there
for a cruise on the coast of Africa. We were glad of this for
Ernest, as it might take him out of himself, and we dreaded
particularly to have him idle on our hands.
Herbert stayed in town till Mr. Bothwell died, which he did
most lingeringly. Herbert said there was still work for him to
do. His smile lighted up the dreary place. His presence
created a new atmosphere for its dreary inmates. Several of
them died before him, greatly helped and comforted by his living
words. Herbert carried them from one pallet to the other when
his voice was too weak to be heard.
And now we could carry him and his fellow-prisoners,
unchidden, the tokens of God's love and ours in fruits and flowers,
and whatever would minister to their weakness or alleviate their
pain, and this we did up to the last.
But he died in the night, with no one near him but the pauper
nurse. His last words, "Count it all joy," moved the apathetic
soul, accustomed to many a forsaken death-bed, as no cry of
suffering could have moved her. It stirred her heart to
mysterious and incomprehensible depths; and he who had drunk the cup
of humiliation to its very dregs, was tended in death with a
reverence, seeing whence it came, greater than that accorded to the
highest earthly dignity.
A SECRET AND A REVELATION.
ROBERT has been pressing
us to go down with her to the country for the autumn. As
Ernest was away, she thought we might shut up our little house, and
leave it for a month or two; but this Aunt Monica steadily declined
to do. She did not seem able to encounter the risk of a
meeting with her brother in his present state of feeling towards
her, and even revisiting the familiar scenes would be too painful.
Aunt Monica could not be left alone, and so it remained for
Lizzie and me to decide between us. We were both rather
unwilling to go, which was decidedly ungracious of us; only I was
rendered more reluctant by the consciousness that Aunt Robert would
prefer Lizzie. I made the offer, however; but when Mr.
Bothwell died, and Herbert also went away, Lizzie seemed willing to
take my place. I had no further scruples, but gladly allowed
her to do so.
Aunt Monica and I were left alone, and to be alone with Aunt
Monica is like being alone altogether.
"And please, Aunt Mona, if that sounds uncomplimentary," I
added, "it is not so from me."
"I quite believe it," she answered. "When people cannot
bear to be alone it shows they are not at home with themselves, or
that they have made being at home there unpleasant, and one must be
quite at home with another, and find it pleasant, too, before one
can be truly alone with them."
The weeks that followed were certainly the most solitary
weeks I had ever spent in my life. Even Clara went away on a
visit, and I used to take my old walks alone till Claude found it
out, and begged to accompany me, an offer which I accepted
gratefully, as the people on the roads here are not always pleasant
Claude and I are becoming quite confidential. We have
long talks together of an evening, in the summerhouse at the bottom
of the garden. He is not very happy in his present position,
feeling constrained and uneasy in his relations with his inscrutable
rector, who listens to everything he has to say and makes no
response whatever—has, one is led to think, very little sympathy
with enthusiasm, no matter in what direction. Claude confides
to me his ideas concerning the Church of the future, which is to
unite all that is noblest and best in the warring parties of the
present, each fighting, as he believes, for some aspect of truth.
What am I to do? In a moment of confidence Claude has
been betrayed into telling me of his love for Lizzie. I am
deeply grieved on his account, for of course I could not give him a
single gleam of hope or comfort. Indeed, I too was startled
into a betrayal—though it was only the betrayal that it was so—the
natural expression of my sympathy with him. Why it was so he
was too delicate to ask, but he saw at once that he had done wrong
in speaking to me.
"I had no right to tell you this," he went on, with growing
agitation—"you, of all people. You know exactly how we are
circumstanced. It may be years before I could offer the woman
I love a home" (how strange it sounded to hear Lizzie spoken of as a
Woman), "and it may well be that that time will never come. I
have no influence. A clergyman can do little or nothing to
command success. I could wait, wait and serve as Jacob did for
Rachel. But it is one thing to wait yourself and another to
ask any one else to wait. How could I have burdened you with
my secret? for a secret I must ask you to make it. You will
promise to leave her in undisturbed ignorance, and I will try, for
very love of her, to overcome."
I have promised Claude that I will keep his secret; but he is
quite right in feeling that he ought not to have burdened me with
it. Is there an element of weakness in his character,
beautiful as it is? I could not fancy Herbert Temple doing the
November has come, and we are all at home again. Ernest
and Mr. Temple are back in their chambers, and busy with their legal
studies. On Saturday Herbert came to us as usual. He did
not say anything about going away, and we were greatly astonished
when Ernest came home on Monday evening, and told us that he had
gone off to his uncle's.
"Why, he has just come back!" exclaimed Lizzie.
And Aunt Mona asked, with concern, if his uncle had been
suddenly seized with illness.
But no; nothing had happened—nobody was ill. And Ernest
was mysterious, and more roused and interested than was now usual
At last something leaked out—something at which we could not
help smiling, though Lizzie was also deeply indignant.
"The truth is," said Ernest—"though perhaps it is not the
whole truth—the truth is that Temple finds staying in Bedford Square
no longer a tenable position, and he is going to make some new
arrangement for which the old gentleman must be consulted. In
fact, Miss Maude became a little too demonstrative, and as Temple
had 'no intentions,' it was a rather awkward dilemma, especially as
Bennett père was evidently looking on with approving eye."
Strangely enough, the next day save one brought me a note
from Herbert, to say that he would see me on the following day.
Why was he in such haste to see me? Why, indeed, did he wish
to see me at all? I showed the note to Aunt Monica, and she
made no remark. She merely handed it back to me, and kissed me
in her own tender way.
It was indeed strange, something so strange, so far
overwhelming, that I could not think, far less write, for days,
though the one subject held my mind wholly captive. Herbert
had gone down to Devonshire to gain the consent of his uncle to a
proposal of marriage—and to me. When he came down, Aunt Monica
received him. We had not expected him so early, and Lizzie and
I were up-stairs helping Juliana with the rooms. He was some
time with Aunt Monica before I was sent for; indeed, it was she
herself who came for me, and told me to go down to him alone.
I had by this time begun to feel a vague tremor.
Herbert came to the door of the room to receive me, and led me to a
chair. One look at his face, and I knew all. I could
read it in that one glance, tender and impassioned, before which my
eyes felt blinded, and my heart sank fainting within me. He
made no preface. He said, quite simply, "Una, I have come to
ask you if you will be my wife."
I hardly know how I answered him, but I must have uttered the
word "impossible," for he repeated it after me. I had covered
my face with my hands, and there was a dreadful silence. At
last he spoke in a low firm voice, in which I could hear the pain.
"Forgive me," he said. "I have hurt and offended you. I
have taken too much for granted."
At that moment I knew that he had not, but then Lizzie—my
darling Lizzie—could I accept the happiness and leave her the
sorrow? It seemed treason even to feel, as I could not help
feeling, a thrill of something like joy. A tumult of emotion
overpowered me. I only know that I dismissed him without hope,
and condemned myself to suffer.
A long silence. I can never think of silence according
to Carlyle. I could never call it golden. To me it is a
flower, a living growth, a healing balm, the smile upon a mother's
face when she looks upon her sleeping child. Growth is silent.
The growth of love and holy affections is silent. "Yea, every
power that fashions and upholds, works silently." Deep grief
is silent too, only that is not a growth to be nourished; rather is
it a wound to be healed, and that too is the work of silence.
It is selfish to nurse sorrow, except that it may be healed.
There is more need for joy, and if the garden of the soul is too
bleak and wintry to bear it, we may gather in its stead the sweet
white flower of patience, or the hardy blossom of hope.
It has been a dreary winter, though Aunt Robert has done her best to
brighten it for us. The great event of the season has been the
birth of Edwin's child—a son. He is a very puny little thing, with a
dear wee pinched face, unaccountably weak and small, seeing that
both father and mother are large and handsome. I never saw Edwin so
touched, so seriously tender about anything before. He seems to feel
the solemn responsibility of having and holding the frail treasure
of this feeble human life as he never felt anything. Lizzie and
are alike in their devotion to it. It has carried Lizzie out of
herself entirely. She has been quite at home in Edwin's house ever
since it came; indeed, now we are all coming and going continually
with some kind of help or other, for Doretta is perfectly helpless. She is prettier than ever, with her transparent fairness heightened
by delicacy. She is not at all strong, and gives herself all the
airs of an invalid, so that we have everything in the way of work to
do for her and the baby. I do not know how they manage their
affairs, but from what I have seen, they seem to spend a great deal. Doretta came to see us the first day she was out, dressed in velvet
and furs, and with a nurse carrying the baby in great splendour.
They are only in lodgings as yet, but Doretta wants Edwin to take a
house for her. She says the woman they lodge with has been very
uncivil, complaining of the trouble they give, or did give, for it
was of their late hours she complained, and they have had nothing of
that kind recently, though the theatregoing was kept up till within
a few weeks of baby's coming. Edwin looks troubled when she speaks
about having a house. He has not a penny to furnish it with, unless
he has saved something during the past year, and I do not think it
is at all likely that he has. But he does not contradict her, or
complain of her in any way, and he does not often conic to us. That
is because of the settled coldness between him and Ernest.
Ernest has been very considerate towards me. He has not mentioned
the very name of his friend in my presence, perplexed though he is
about my rejection of his offer. The only thing we have heard
concerning Herbert—and this was told to Lizzie—is that his uncle has
come up to London and taken up house, for his nephew's sake. Lizzie,
I am glad to say, is as full of life and energy as of old. She is
graver and more tender in her ways, but she has nothing of the
blighted being about her. Ernest is by far the more melancholy of
Edith has not returned to England. She is still abroad, and on the
plea of health; but her engagement is at length broken off. Aunt
Robert told us that Mrs. Winfield kept it unbroken as long as she
could, but that at length Uncle Henry took a journey to Mentone, and
came back a free man.
"He hates travelling," said Aunt Robert, "and it was not everything
that would have taken him away from home in the month of December,
certainly not to win the best wife in the world; but he wanted to
get rid of his bargain, and he did. He did not want to tell me
anything, but I made him. I was determined to hear all about it, and
between him and Mrs. Winfield's letters I managed to do it. It was
Edith herself who dismissed him last. To do her justice, I fancy it
made her ill to contemplate her fate, and that she is quite as glad
to escape as he is. Perhaps she will get better now. She seems to
have behaved very well to Uncle Henry, and took all the blame, or
laid it all on the unfortunate breakdown of her health. And now—now
he is looking out for another wife."
"And why should he not?" said Lizzie. "He has nobody to care for
"Well, I'm not going to help him, at any rate," Aunt Robert made
answer; "unless, indeed, he would take a fancy to Miss Bell or Miss
Aunt Monica laughed, and we asked, in one breath, Lizzie and I, who
Miss Bell and Miss Nancy were, and found that they were two dear old
maiden ladies who lived close to Highwood, and had the requisite
birth and breeding, and also, what Aunt Robert considered the
requisite age, being our uncle's contemporaries, if not his
seniors—at any rate belonging to the same generation.
LIFE AND DEATH.
AGAIN I must set
down events that appear already as if they had happened long ago,
though, in reality, it is only a few months since.
We were then at the end of winter, and now the summer has
begun; but my little journal has been lying untouched in its drawer,
and I have been away—called to new duties, and new and heavy trials.
We have not been unused to telegrams. Our associations
with them, moreover, have been so constantly happy and pleasant,
that they raise in us anything but anticipations of evil; though
that, too, is of the past. However, when Juliana came in with
the yellow paper on her tray, Lizzie and I jumped up delightedly.
We had just sat down, after finishing our more active duties, to an
hour or two of needlework, while Aunt Monica read to us.
"Papa is in port!" "Papa is coming home!" were our
exclamations, while Aunt Monica tore open the missive, which was
addressed to her.
We had not seen him for so long, we were so glad to think he
was coming; but our gladness was only momentary. As we looked
at Aunt Monica's face it changed to apprehension. She did not
speak at once, but the paper trembled in her hand, and she put up
the other to her head, and covered her eyes for an instant, as if in
"My dears," she said, at length, very gravely, "your father
We waited to hear more, quite dumb with fear—waited to hear
"He has been taken on shore at Cowes, and is lying at the
hotel there. We are to go to him. There is no immediate
danger," continued Aunt Monica.
The last words were indeed a relief.
We hastened to her side, Lizzie kneeling and I standing over
her to peruse and re-peruse the words, so few and brief, laden with
such messages of fate. The telegram was from the first
lieutenant on board our father's ship, and ran:—
Commander Lancaster has had a seizure of the nature
of paralysis. He has been taken on shore at Cowes, and is at
the hotel here. Come as soon as possible. No immediate
For a few moments we were unable to look into each other's
faces, though not one of us shed a tear. It was not the kind
of trouble which can win the solace of tears. It had in it too
much of dread, which rather dries up their flow. It laid hold
of our hearts with a grasp that stifled us. Both Lizzie and I
felt sick; looking into Lizzie's upturned face, I could see that her
colour had fled, and that her lips were parched and pale. I
felt so faint that I leaned quite heavily on Aunt Mona's chair,
while Lizzie hid her face in her lap. Then she gave me her
hand to clasp, while the other rested on Lizzie's head. In the
solemn stillness that followed I knew that these two prayed
together. Prayer was not a matter of times and seasons with
Aunt Mona; it was the atmosphere in which she lived. With her
it was not the pleading cry of the beggar at the gate, but the
speech of the daughter at home in her Father's house. And yet
the cry of those who are without, is not that, too, heard and
answered? Does it not move with compassion the very heart of
After the brief expressive silence, we fell to looking once
more at the words of the telegram, that we might extract from them
their fullest meaning.
"We must be prepared to find him very ill," said Aunt Monica.
"It is clear he cannot write," I added. "We must go to
him at once." That was the thought of all. Then came the
question, Who is to go? Aunt Monica of course, but which of
"You must both go. It would be the hardest task to stay
behind, and happily it is not necessary," said Aunt Monica.
"Let us get ready without any more delay."
So Lizzie found a railway guide, and we saw that there was a three
o'clock train which would take us to Portsmouth in time to cross
over, and be at Cowes that evening. Then there were the boys to be
considered. If it was a question of seeing their father for the last
time—and we had to entertain the thought, painful as it was—they too
At length it was settled that Lizzie and I should hasten into town
and see Ernest, who was the most easily reached, and entrust him
with the task of telling Edwin, and if possible bringing him to meet
us at the station, where Aunt Monica was to be waiting for us, with
what little luggage we should require.
Lizzie and I got ready, or rather Aunt Monica got us ready, in a
very short space of time. As for me, I had to sit down more than
once in the midst of our preparations in agitation, which I tried in
vain to quell.
We had started before I remembered that we were going to Lincoln's
Inn, and that I might meet Mr. Temple. But it did not seem to affect
me now as it would have done the day before. My thoughts and
feelings were too deeply preoccupied.
There was no time to be lost, but we had to pass Edwin's lodgings on
our way to the station, and we thought it would be well to run in,
and tell Doretta that she might be prepared for Edwin's going away.
The little maid opened the door to us, and in answer to our inquiry
for her mistress, told us that she was not at home. We were about to
leave a message, and turn away, when our ears were saluted with a
burst of crying.
"Is that baby?" said Lizzie, listening.
"Yes, miss," answered the girl. "I can't keep him quiet. He has
"Has Mrs. Lancaster been long gone, then?"
"She went out with master this morning," answered the girl.
"With Mr. Lancaster—at eight o'clock?" said Lizzie; and we looked at
"Oh no, miss. Master hasn't gone to business to-day. He and the
missus is gone for a holiday."
"And left the baby!" said Lizzie, with suppressed indignation.
"Yes, miss," said the girl, stolidly.
"Let me go and see him," said Lizzie, and she passed the maid, and
ran up-stairs, while I followed.
Guided by the cries, we went into the parlour, where baby lay in his
cradle, screaming violently. On the table stood a bottle of milk,
and what seemed a vial of medicine, and spoon. Lizzie took up the
baby, and tried to soothe him, pressing the little face to hers.
Presently she turned upon the girl—
"What have you been giving him? See, Una," she said, holding him
toward me, and I could see that some brownish liquid was oozing from
his month, and that some had dropped on his frock, and the crying
had stopped, and seemed to be giving place to a kind of stupor.
Lizzie repeated her question, with sufficient sternness.
The girl looked sulky, and said she had given him nothing but what
"misses" had told her to, if he cried. He had had plenty of milk,
and he wouldn't go to sleep, and she had only given him the drops.
"Oh, Una! see how strange he looks," cried Lizzie. "He is
"Tell the landlady to come up," I said, and the girl went
Very soon the landlady appeared, looking ill-tempered enough, and
muttering that people had no call to be upset in this way.
"It's all right," she said. "He's not had too much. I give the drops
myself, only not in the daytime. Don't wake him up, miss; you'll
only do him harm."
"When will Mrs. Lancaster be at home?" I asked.
"That I can't say, miss," replied the woman. "Not till night, I dare
say. We were to take fresh milk for the child;" and she repeated the
assurance that he would be all right.
What was to be done? Of course, trying to find Edwin and Doretta was
out of the question. So, cautioning the girl that on no account was
the dose to be repeated, we went our way mournful and indignant.
We got to Lincoln's Inn at last. Of course we had to go round the
whole square, too, before we reached the particular door on which,
amid a crowd of other names, were inscribed those of Mr. Temple and
"Lizzie and I topped him by the head and shoulders."
But at length it was found, and when we had knocked and been opened
to by the clerk—such a very small man that Lizzie and I topped him
by the head and shoulders—we gave our names and were at once ushered
into an inner room, in which Ernest and Mr. Temple were sitting
together with a pile of books before them.
Ernest was balancing a paper-knife on his finger when he looked up
and saw us. But the smile with which he jumped up to greet us faded
from his face as he looked in ours.
Mr. Temple, who had also risen on our entrance, came forward and
shook hands with us gravely.
"We had a telegram from Cowes this morning," I said. "Papa is very
ill. We are on our way to the station;" and I put the paper into
He read it in silence, and offered it to Mr. Temple, who had been
finding chairs for us by removing the books and papers which
appeared to remain in possession.
We were glad to sit down.
"I shall go with you," were the first words Ernest spoke. Then he
added, with evident emotion, "Does Edwin know?"
We told him that Edwin was unfortunately out of the way. We could
only suggest that he should be written to; that a note would find
him at home in the evening. We explained our own arrangements.
"There is time for me to run down and meet Aunt at the terminus,
while you go on," he said.
"Can I be of any service?" said Mr. Temple. "Let me go and meet Miss
Lancaster, while you remain here with your sisters till it is time
"Yes, that will be better," said Ernest, and the next minute Mr.
Temple had shaken hands with us once more, and was gone. The clerk
was sent for a cab, and, after some delay, we set off to the
station. When we arrived there, we found Aunt Monica and Mr. Temple
already waiting for us, our tickets pro. cured, and the luggage
safe. It was impossible not to feel grateful for the tender sympathy
expressed in the face and voice of the latter, and as he stood,
uncovered, while the train moved out of the station, I felt thankful
for this meeting, which made possible our meeting as friends in the
future. Then I looked at Lizzie, and she was sitting in a corner,
with her hands clasped tightly together, and a look of pain and
weariness on her face such as I had never seen there before.
We found our father conscious, but unable to speak distinctly, or to
move at all. He was indeed a stricken man. If he survived—and even
that was yet doubtful—he would never more be fit for active service,
perhaps not even for the ordinary intercourse of life—a helpless
invalid, a "wreck." This last was his own word, the only one we
could make out, and, coming from him, was the most pathetic he could
Yet after a few days the doctors gave us hope of a certain amount of
recovery, and Ernest went back to London for the present. We were
all to follow as soon as lie was able to be moved.
And now, after many weeks, we are at home again. Our father bas
regained in some measure the use of his limbs, and also of his
speech, though his movements are slow, and his words uncertain, and
all excitement is strictly forbidden.
Edwin did not come to us at all; consequently he has never seen poor
papa. He was unable to accompany Ernest when he came to fetch us
home. But Ernest did not come alone. Mr. Temple came with him, and
proved of the utmost assistance, as poor papa can only walk on level
ground, and that but for a little way, without support while he has
to be lifted about everywhere else.
So we got him home with less difficulty than we had expected. Aunt
Monica has given up her room to him, as the coolest and airiest in
the house. She devotes herself to comfort and sustain him; for he is
often wrapt in the most heartrending gloom and despondency. It is
the nature of his illness, the doctor says. At such times he will
see no one but ourselves, and sits with his head sunk upon his
breast, suffering silently.
Edwin has been to see us, but not alone, as we desired. Doretta
insisted on coming with him, and on being admitted to papa's room.
Aunt Monica tried to prevent her, but in vain. It was impossible to
tell her that she could not be allowed to see him; she would not
have understood; so she was simply told that he could not bear the
least excitement, and that she must be very quiet; and even this she
We dreaded the interview, even with Edwin alone. If lie could only
have come with us, and been with him when he saw us all together, it
would have been so much better.
"Let Edwin go first," said Aunt Monica, as a last resource, "and
then come and fetch you and baby."
"I don't know why it should be such a dreadful thing for him to see
his father," she said, looking at us sulkily. "I suppose it is
because he has married me. I am sure he ought not to mind it so
much," she added, pointedly. "I think he will not be so hard upon
Edwin and me. I will see him along with my husband."
"You had better go with them, then, Una," said Aunt Monica, yielding
the point. Your father may want something."
It was always me lie wanted now. I was less active and more subdued
than Lizzie. He liked me to sit by him doing nothing, or quietly
reading. It troubled him to see any kind of work going on, and there
was a good deal of work to be done, and we could less afford to have
it done for us than ever.
I went up-stairs with Edwin and Doretta, and ushered them into the
room. "Here is Edwin and his wife, papa," I said simply.
With bent head and eyes upon the ground Edwin crossed the floor and
took his father's nerveless hand. Papa was the first to speak. "How
are you, lily lad?" he said, slowly, in his altered voice, and for a
minute or two Edwin could not answer. He was choked and blinded with
tears, and lie could only bend over his father's hand, and put it to
his lips in silence. When lie raised his head it was to look behind
him to where Doretta stood, still flushed and frowning, with her
baby in her arms. She was not in the least impressed by our father's
sad and stately presence. Edwin stood aside, and signing her to
conic forward, said, hoarsely, "My wife and child."
Our father made a courteous inclination, but he did not smile. Alas,
lie could no longer, and the gravity of his face vexed and
disappointed Doretta. Her reception displeased her, and the frown on
her face gathered ominously. Still she went up to him, and held out
the child, saying—
"This is the little Benjamin; we called him after you.—Kiss
The wee white face puckered and turned away, hiding itself on her
shoulder. She gave the child an unseemly shake, and again turned the
little face, distorted with crying, towards the invalid.
"Never mind, Doretta," said Edwin; and, turning to his father,
added, "He's very delicate and fretful."
"I 'm sure it is no fault of mine if he is, whatever your sisters
may say," replied Doretta, in her loudest tones. "You need not make
your father think ill of me, and me a stranger among you."
Doretta had been gradually working herself up, and she now burst
into passionate weeping.
"It is all because Edwin married me without telling them," she said,
appealing to our father.
She did not say what was "all," but possibly meant our coldness
"You will feel for me," she continued, still addressing herself to
him. "I have no blame; I love very much. His mother did the same;
you will not that we suffer."
I shall never forget the look of misery on our father's face. He
rose in his chair, as if to put an end to the scene, and then sank
down again, conscious of his weakness. I felt I know not what of
mingled resentment and shame and pity. Edwin groaned aloud, and, at
a sign from me, led his wife out of the room.
"Do not let her come here again," my father said; and there was no
need to enforce the prohibition. She declares that she will never
enter the house again. Doretta evidently believes herself very
hardly used. She thought she was pleading her own and her husband's
cause most eloquently, and cannot understand what harm she could
have done. Some allowance must be made for her as a foreigner. Well
as she speaks English, she showed, in her excitement, that she had
not a perfect grasp of the language, and our modes of thought and
feeling may be still more difficult to her.
The interview certainly did more harm than she could have
anticipated. It threw our father back for weeks, undid much of the
amendment which had taken place, and caused us the utmost anxiety.