THE TWO FRIENDS.
schoolmistress was astonished at herself. What was coming over
her in these days? No longer a spectator, but an actor in this
little drama of Mollins life, she seemed to be so absorbed in the
theme that she was forgetting her part, and so unconsciously
becoming a mere onlooker again. A student of human nature,
truly! and more so than ever, only the field was narrowing rapidly.
Even the village had become too large, and, drawn by influences she
did not care to analyse; she was growing absorbed in one particular
specimen of humanity and the unfolding of one particular character.
Not very long ago she had taken herself to task for a tendency to
introspectiveness, but now there was nothing she seemed so much
afraid of as the exploration of her own heart, and she felt oddly
relieved that the incidents taking place about her gave her good,
though only temporary, excuse for ignoring certain suspicious signs.
The scene with George at the Highfield gate on the night of
Mr. Bradshaw's death haunted her. It was clear that she had
not yet entirely sounded the deeper life of the villagers, and they
evidently had motives and springs of action which she either did not
perceive or did not understand. What, for instance, was the
meaning of George's extreme terror and his wild talk about prayer?
Her theory about him was that he was just a healthy young pagan,
whose eccentricities were explained by the fact that his life had
brought him less under the influence of environment than usual with
such persons, and, that his nature was a little more like virgin
soil. Heredity and environment explained him as they explained
everybody else, only in his case human nature was a little stronger
than usual, and he was a little less amenable to outside influences.
The incident at the gate, however, scarcely squared with this
notion; it seemed to show that he had been affected profoundly by a
narrow superstition, and this disappointed because it puzzled her.
She had noted long ago, however, that the natural man has often more
native reverence than religious persons; and this, when she thought
of it, seemed a confirmation of that view. Yes, George was a
bit of virgin nature, modified less than usual by the influences of
environment. His odd love for the Sunday-school, and his
so-called conversion, were, after all, only confirmations of this
One thing, however, rather disturbed her. Her mother
had always said that she had more head than heart, and was governed
too exclusively by mere intellect, and she began to suspect that it
must be so; for though Tom Bradshaw had returned and given signs of
his intention to resume his pursuit of her, she found that she was
thinking of him less than ever, and giving quite an alarming amount
of attention to her "study."
And then she heard three startling items of intelligence.
The first was that George had been discovered in some worse than
shabby practices at the mill, and instantly dismissed; second, that
the pain and excitement of the dismissal had precipitated old Mr.
Bradshaw's death; and third, that Netty Stone was down with
pneumonia. The effects were surprising even to herself.
She was conscious of a curious sense of self-recovery and mental
enlargement, as though some long-atrophied faculty of her nature had
suddenly resumed its functions and she was in full life once more.
The fact was, the little mistress had strong fighting instincts, and
these, suddenly appealed to, set her heart and brain in motion in a
manner that was to her exceedingly pleasant. No power on earth
could convince her that George Stone had done any really wicked
thing, and she found a perverse satisfaction in marshalling, and
even amplifying, the evidences against him as she heard them, in
order to enjoy the pure thrill of resistance. The worse the
case looked, the more emphatic and triumphant she became. She
heard with eager pride that George, a working man and out of
employment, had had the first pulmonary specialist in Manchester out
to see his dying wife, and felt that she could have kissed old Abe
Swire in the street when he declared to her, with shining eyes and
shaking, tearful voice, that "George was the best husband that was
ever teed (tied) to a woman."
As the days slipped by, however, and Netty cheated the
doctors by signs of recovery, Carrie became a little perplexed about
the manner of the Bradshaw girls. They listened with obvious
delight to her spirited and uncompromising assertion of George's
innocence, but made no particular response; and then she noted that
their roundabout, but transparently earnest, advocacy of their
brother's interests had entirely ceased since he came home. At
first she attributed this to their sorrows; but as the days passed
into weeks, and they talked freely enough about every other topic,
she became perplexed, especially as Jessie wore a worried, anxious
look, which was beginning to alarm her. Perhaps Tom, now that
he was head of the firm, had changed his mind; and she was
astonished to find that the suggestion came as a relief to her.
She had never really known her own mind on this subject, and had
played with it in a manner she would have very severely condemned in
anyone else. She told herself that she had certainly never
been in love with the young mill-owner. She had liked the idea
of staying in Mollins and playing Lady Bountiful there; she was
delighted with the possibility of having her friends as her
sisters-in-law; but for Tom himself her feelings had been so
fluctuating and changeable that it was idle to think of them as
love. Well, the pleasant little dream would pass, she
supposed, like other of life's little illusions, and perhaps she was
being saved from, at any rate, a dangerous temptation. It
certainly was incredible to her that she, of all persons, should
have entertained the possibility of marriage where she was not sure
of her affections; and, of course, in cases of this kind, as she had
always insisted, uncertainty was the clearest certainty.
She was musing, perhaps not too seriously, in this strain as
she returned from her duties one damp, disagreeable afternoon.
The weather was affecting her spirits somewhat, but when, on
entering her lodgings, she found Jessie Bradshaw, who had taken off
her hat and made herself comfortable in the easy-chair, with the
intention apparently of staying tea, she revived at once, and gave
her friend the warmest possible welcome. In honour of the
visitor, Mrs. Chorlton had added several little delicacies to the
tea-table, and in a few minutes, under the beguiling influence of
the tea-cup, they were deep in womanly conversation. But
Carrie soon began to note that her visitor's warmth was a little
forced, and perceived, with growing uneasiness, that she was looking
older and ill.
"Carrie," began the young mistress of Highfield, after
helping herself to more cream, "have you heard the village rumours
about George Stone? And she commenced, with carefully bent
head, to hunt a tea leaf which was floating in her cup, with a
"Which ones? One hears so many about him." And
the schoolmistress tried to look unconcerned, lest her friend should
take alarm and stop.
"That father dismissed him the very morning of the day he
"Yes; I've heard that, and it seems to be true."
"It is"—and Carrie, hiding a painful surprise behind a steady
face, observed that Jessie's lips quivered, and there was sorrow and
even tears in her eyes. The spoon was in pursuit of the tea
leaf again, and with her face half hidden, Jessie resumed, "And have
you heard the re—reason?"
"Yes, but I don't believe it. What is the
The floating tea leaf escaped again, and Jessie, her eyes
averted and her hand shaking, answered with strange hastiness—
"I've told you before, dear, that everybody knows what goes
on at the mill better than we do."
"Still, there must have been some reason; your father was so
fond of him."
And Jessie bent her head lower, stirred her tea with nervous
rapidity, went white and red and white again, and at last could only
echo in faint, dull tones, "Yes there must have been some reason."
Carrie watched her anxiously; there was more than mere
curiosity behind this distressful manner, more than mere interest in
George Stone, though that interest was as strong as she had
suspected; and so, after a pause, she said, "Well, Tom will know,
and he hasn't reinstated him."
The silence was longer than ever. Jessie was getting
command of herself evidently, and so, carefully picking her words,
"Yes, but Tom is not father, dear."
"But do you think he knows?"
"I'm not sure that he would restore him, if he did."
"Not if he found your father had been mistaken?"
"I don't—yes—no—Oh, Carrie, Carrie, I'm so miserable!"
And the distressed girl sank helplessly upon her knees, buried her
face in her friend's lap, and sobbed as though her heart would
Carrie, whose eyes were misty with sudden tears, sat looking
down on this embarrassing sight with dumb, helpless dismay; she
could see that to continue the topic might be the greatest cruelty,
and yet she longed to know the truth, and also to comfort the
sorrowful girl at her feet. Softly, as only a woman can, she
slid her hand down and began soothingly to stroke the light hair on
her lap, crooning words of tenderness as she did so. Then she
gently raised the hot head until it was close to her own, and,
pressing burning cheek to burning cheek, she kissed and fondled the
tearful face to a mother-like accompaniment of tenderest murmurings.
And presently Jessie's sobs subsided; she dried her face with
her handkerchief, snatched at her friend's hand, and holding it
tightly, turned half-round and began to stare hard into the fire.
Nothing could be heard now but the slow, measured ticking of
the old clock and the humming of the kettle on the hob. Carrie
was studying that struggling face with the firelight upon it very
narrowly, herself absorbed in painful wonderings, when suddenly,
with a pull and a nip of the hand she held, Jessie turned round, and
gazing with imploring eagerness up to her companion, she asked
"Carrie, do you love my brother Tom?"
"Jessie! How? Why? How can you ask—?"
"Do you? Do you?" And the sweet face was tragic
and desperate in its intensity, and she pulled at Carrie's arm until
"I cannot tell, dear; I don't think—" And then, with a
sudden sense of relief from difficulty, she finished, "Would you
"Yes! No! Oh, yes, yes!" And then, still on
her knees, she flung her arms round her friend's neck, crying in
passionate, pleading tones, "Oh, take him, love! that would right
everything. Oh, do! take him, dear love. Do!"
Carrie felt that her self-possession was slipping away; a few
moments more of this and she might say any silly thing in her
anxiety to comfort this broken-hearted creature. She must save
them both, and so she gently unwound the clinging arms, laid her
friend's head once more in her lap, and commenced stroking the
rumpled, fluffy hair, saying, after a slight pause, and in a
pathetically grotesque attempt at playfulness—
"Nobody asked me, sir, she said!"
"But would you? Would you?" And the excited girl
rose upon her knees, and gazed with wistful intensity into her face.
"No, you would not! You will not let him. He wants to
ask you, and you will not give him his chance. You won't! you
know you won't!" And she fell back into her old position with
a pitiful sigh.
"I would do a great deal to please Jessie Bradshaw, very
great deal; but—no! do not press me on that point just now, love;
let us talk of something else—tea, for instance; we had only just
But Jessie had no heart for food, and though she resumed her
place at the table, and sipped negligently at her fresh cup, she was
strangely absent, ever bordering on a confidence she never got out,
and when at length she departed, she turned back more than once to
say—nothing, and left her friend in a state of curiosity that was
Had she said more than she came to say, or less? If
less, why had she changed her mind, and what was there more to tell?
There were things about Tom Bradshaw which she honestly
liked. He was good-looking, and had a robust, manly manner,
the contrast between him with his hardworking business life, and the
young men of his class she had known in London, was all to his
advantage, and she was ambitious and self-confident enough to feel
that the position he had to offer included a career very much to her
mind. But she felt just now that sympathy with her departed
visitor was in danger of inclining her to a decision which ought to
be arrived at upon other and quite different considerations, and
once more the cautious instinct became uppermost; especially as she
reflected upon Jessie's words. The longer she thought, the
more fully was she convinced that there was something behind them,
and if Jessie really wished her to take her brother, she had gone
the very worst way about it, for no progress could be made in a
matter like that until all suspicions and uneasiness had been
When Jessie, still pensive and restless, reached Highfield,
she found she had visitors who were sitting under Lena's presidency
at the tea-table. Mr. Cornthwaite, the family lawyer, was one,
and old Frater, one of her late father's friends, and owner of the
other Mollins mill, was his companion. She guessed at once
what they were there for, and when tea was over they all adjourned
to the drawing room, where the solicitor proceeded to explain their
father's will. There were legacies to several charitable
institutions, a donation to the parish church, an annuity of twenty
pounds per year for ever to the Methodist Sunday-school and other
small matters, but the bulk of the estate was bequeathed to his
three children. Certainly, freehold properties were left
absolutely to Jessie and her sister, Highfield—this was the only
surprise in the document—was settled upon Jessie herself as a
special reward for her faithful kindness to her father, whilst the
business and all that pertained to it, including any balance at the
bankers', was willed half to Tom and a quarter each to the girls.
The business was to be conducted under the old title, and Tom was to
have the option of paying out one or both of his sisters whenever he
chose; subject, however, to certain conditions with which the reader
does not need to be troubled.
The young ladies regarded the matter as a pure formality, and
the old lawyer grew almost petulant over their lack of interest in
the details. They had always had money enough for all their
needs, the property left to them absolutely would provide them with
ample pocket money, the regulations about the business were such as
were common in the class to which they belonged, and they were only
too content to leave things to their brother and the trustees.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Cornthwaite was angling craftily for
requests for explanations, which would have given him an excuse for
another and private interview with his fair clients; but they were
deplorably indifferent, and did not ask a single question in spite
of most palpable and suggestive "openings."
The old man's explanations and repetitions seemed worse than
tedious, and more than once Jessie caught him making cryptic signals
to his fellow trustee. At last Frater seemed to comprehend and
rose to go; but suddenly remembering something, he asked Tom if he
might have just a few words with him in private. The old
lawyer watched them pass out, and then stepping to the door and
closing it with an air of mystery that made Lena smile, he came
close to Jessie, glanced round to include her sister in his speech,
became suddenly and portentously mysterious and impressive and said,
"Leave all to me, ladies, all to me! But there is just one
thing I must insist upon—never sign any document, whoever may ask
you, until it has been shown to me and then, as the others were
heard returning, he raised his voice and continued: "Goodnight,
ladies! Such a pleasant evening, good-night!"
For the rest of the evening, Tom, who since their recent
stormy interview had been specially attentive and humble towards
Jessie, spent the time in sneering at the "fussy old lawyer" who had
just left them, but when at length he went off to his own room, the
two girls gave themselves up to speculations as to the cause of his
evident ill-temper. He must have known the contents of the
will ever since he returned from abroad; it looked therefore, as if
something in the interview just concluded had annoyed him, but
though they went over it almost word for word, they could think of
nothing in the least likely to give offence. He was all they
had now, and they congratulated themselves that the contents of the
will had been so favourable to him that he could not be angry with
them on that score, but that he was put out, and that not a little,
was very clear; and the two sisters went to bed to think and puzzle
and wonder what was wrong.
Three days later, Tom informed them as he left the breakfast
table that he had written to the schoolmistress asking for an
interview, and in the excitement of this new problem they forgot for
the time their own dull fears. Jessie felt certain that after
what had passed in their last interview Carrie would seek for some
further explanation before receiving her brother, but as she would
not be free until after school hours they concluded that she would
come round for afternoon tea, so as to be out of the way again
before Tom came to dinner. Lena, who had been in the village,
brought news that Netty Stone was not recovering after all: she had
survived the crisis, given encouraging signs of recovery, then
failed and was now sinking. All Jessie's heart went out to the
doomed young wife, light and cheap though she thought her, and she
would not allow even her own sorrows and perplexities to excuse her
neglecting the patient. Three o'clock, therefore, saw her
hastening up the back lanes towards "Squint Hall."
OLD Lyd had been
denying visitors all day, but one of the Highfield ladies was quite
a different thing; and so, with a portentous exhortation not to
"fluster" the patient, she led Jessie upstairs.
Miss Bradshaw stopped and almost exclaimed as she entered the
sick room, "What a pretty picture!" The wall-papers were
expensive, though not perhaps altogether appropriate; the furniture
was new and dainty, almost more elegant than her own; and the
flowers, grapes, pictures, and bedroom knick-knacks were such as any
lady might have been proud of; whilst Netty herself wore the
prettiest of dressing jackets. And the patient matched her
surroundings: her skin was white almost to transparency, her eyes,
large and bright, were now of the deepest sky blue, and her cheeks
and brow were tinged with a light touch of passing colour, that made
her look almost too fair for earth. Jessie paused and caught
her breath, and then, with quick, womanly impulse, leaned over and
kissed the sufferer.
A surprised and gratified blush suffused Netty's neck and
face for a moment, and then, with the faintest smile, she dropped
back upon her pillows and closed her eyes.
"Well, Netty, I'm sorry to have been so long coming. I
hope you are better."
Netty shook her head as though anxious to deny the expressed
hope, and then commenced to look at and pick her fingers. Her
manner showed that she was waiting for Lyd to disappear.
"Shut the door!" she said, in voiceless tone; and still she
picked her hands until the old woman was out of hearing.
"I've brought you a few flowers, Netty; but you seem well
Netty pulled musingly at a little fragment of loose skin on
her forefinger, and then, with a proud smile, she answered in the
same muffled note—
"Hay, bless you! if every flower cost a five-pound note he'd
get 'em for me."
"What a proud little wife you are, Netty; you must make haste
and get better."
The patient seemed gratified for the moment, but she soon
changed her manner; and turning up her face protestingly she
"I shall do no such thing! I wouldn't if I could.
Jessie was out of her depth. The amazingly inconsistent
little speech confounded her; but at last she asked with an
astonished dropping of her breath
"You wouldn't if you could, Netty? Shocking! you
mustn't give way; you must get better for his sake."
With brows raised in dull surprise, Netty cried in her husky
"For his sake! ay, that's it! I must die for his sake,
and be proud to! I mun get out of his way, munnat I?
With helpless, puzzled face Jessie looked at the sick one and
sighed; the poor soul was wandering; it was wrong to excite her.
They remained silent for a few moments, and Jessie was just about to
make a remark when the other turned her head quickly and asked—
"Miss Jessie, do you think I shall be good enough for an
"I hope so, dear, through God's mercy."
"An' does God let the angels go where they like, an' do what
"I—I don't know, dear; perhaps He does."
"Well, if He does, I shall do nothing but look after George
for ever an' ever; an' if they winnat let me, I dunnot want to go."
"No! no! dear, you mus'n't talk of going, you must make haste
and get better; that's the best way of taking care of him."
Again that look of dull, vague surprise; again that
protesting, half-querulous tone—
"That 'ud be a nice way o' payin' him back, wouldn't it?
I couldn't for shame do it, Miss Jessie; I couldn't for sure!"
Jessie was sorely perplexed, she longed to hear more of
Netty's extravagant praise of her husband; it was sweetness itself
to her, and yet innate delicacy restrained her, and she knew not
what to say or do. Netty was talking in riddles, in
tantalising paradoxes. She must get some sort of idea of what
was behind, and so, lightly touching the invalid's soft, fair hair,
and adjusting a ribbon at her throat, she said—
"Why, Netty, you talk as though you were in George's way.
I'm sure he doesn't think so!"
The bloodless face lighted suddenly with a strange glow of
"Him! hay, bless you! he never thinks nothing bad of
"Is he so good as that?"
"Good! hay, miss!" And hiding the pride and glory in
her eyes behind her long lashes, Netty waited a moment, and touching
her visitor's arm and dropping her poor soundless voice into a
whisper, she went on with serious earnestness: "You know, miss, my
father's a good man, an' so is our Jonathan an' David, an' one or
two more at t' chapil; but, bless you, they're not in it wi' George.
Beside, it's different."
"Well," and she knit her brow in an effort at clearness, and
then went on: "Theirs is religious goodness, you know—it's
put into 'em."
"I'm afraid all our goodness has to be put into us, dear but
George?—oh yes, didn't I hear he had been converted?"
"Converted? No, an' I hope he never will be!"
"Well! it might make him worse—hard, you know, like our lads
and my father."
"It might make him better."
"Better! It couldn't! How could it!"
"Oh, Netty, what a wonderful wife you are!—but you are tiring
yourself, dear." And the half-fainting invalid, disdaining the
last remark with a turn of her head, glanced suddenly round, and
brought mantling blushes to Jessie's fair cheeks by crying, "Ay, an'
you'd 'a' been a wonderful wife if he'd married you! Bless
you, he could make Owd Scratch i' love wi' him!"
Jessie laughed at the odd, uncomplimentary comparison and
"What a champion George has got! He ought to love you
"Love me? Me? How could he?" and Netty stared at
"Why not? he married you!"
"Married me!" and the fainting girl turned again, and looking
hard at her visitor, cried—
"That's just it! He couldn't love me, but he married
me, thank God!"
Every nerve in Jessie's body was on the stretch now.
What could it all mean? She was dying to know more, but
dreadfully afraid she was taking unfair advantage; but at this
moment Netty went off into a long, racking cough, and as she watched
her and assisted her as best she could, she saw as she had never
seen before how dreadful was the poor patient's condition. Her
own thoughts, however, were overpowering even sympathy. She
ought not to hear anything more of this sort, and yet there were
things Netty could tell, and which might, and probably would, be
lost for ever if she died without speaking. She decided,
however, to obey her conscience, and when at last Netty's paroxysm
subsided, and she lay panting on her pillows, she rose to make an
excuse for leaving, and called old Lyd.
But Netty's eyes were following her eagerly. She gave
her head a feeble but significant little shake, and when Jessie came
to the bedside again to say farewell and promise an early return,
the sufferer took her hand and clingingly held it. Old Lyd
came now and administered medicine, hinting not obscurely that Netty
would be better alone. But the sick one still clung to the
hand she held, and when the old beldame grumblingly departed, Jessie
sank into the chair at the side of the pillows, and quietly waited,
although her brain and nerves were thrilling. For fully five
minutes neither of them spoke, and then Jessie heard that hollow,
husky voice, now feebler than ever, saying—
"I'st not be long here now—not many hours, I hope."
But she could not proceed, and Jessie silently motioned her
to desist. Again there was a long pause, and once more there
came from the bed—
"He said I was never to tell nobody, but I must must tell
"Her?" Jessie's heart stood still; but perhaps the
sufferer was talking to herself.
"Don't, dear! you are too weak."
"Wait a bit an' I'll tell you something. I shall never
live to see her."
"Her" again! Then it could not be herself! What
was coming now?
It was a long wait. More than once Jessie glanced at
the bed to see if the clothes lifted. Netty, exhausted, almost
unconscious, lay as though she were already dead. Presently,
however, she asked for her medicine, took a long dose from the
bottle neck, held the cordial in one hand and Jessie's soft fingers
in the other, and then whispered breathlessly—
"Miss Jessie, I want to tell you all about it."
"Don't, dear; wait, I can come again."
"But I must; you'll never see me again, so I'll tell you."
"Well, dear, very briefly."
"You know what a bad 'un I allus was."
"No, dear, never mind that."
"I was; but from being a child I loved George, and he
wouldn't have nowt to do wi' me. I wasn't his sort."
"An' as I grew up I loved him more an' more, an' he wouldn't
look at me!"
"An' that made me a bad 'un. I turned into a nowty,
careless, fripperty wench, an' throw'd myself at his head."
She paused, wiped her face, drew a long, labouring breath,
and then proceeded.
"But he wouldn't ha' nowt to do wi' me, and so I didn't care,
and went after anybody."
"Don't, dear! Why tell me?"
"I mun! t' truth mun be known! And then I took up wi—"
But here she stopped, looked up with a startled horror and cried,
"Good Lord! what am I saying!"
But Jessie forgot reserve, prudence, conscience, and
everything else, and almost shrieked out, "Go on! Go on!
You must tell me now!"
Netty was still peering up curiously into the flushed, eager
face above her, and then she turned away and went on—
"Ay! I'd no more sense nor to think that he'd marry
"But he? Who was he?"
Netty shook her head, smiled slily, drew a long, painful
breath, and went on—
"I got to t' very edge o' ruin; in another day or two I
should have disgraced myself, and me father and the lads; and just
then he found me and he ups and he marries me right bang off."
Her face was glowing again with pride and delighted love, and
her eyes shone with a strange, weird light.
Jessie waited to recover self-possession; it was clear she
would not get the information she wanted by pressing for it, and so
she humoured the stricken girl by remarking: "So that he had loved
you after all?"
"Love? He never did! He couldn't!"
"Then why did he marry you?"
"Marry me?" Netty looked amazed at her friend's
obtuseness. "He married me just to save me!"
"To save you?"
"Of course! an' save me father and t' lads an—an'—him!"
"Hay, bless you, he'd dee (die) for him, George would!"
But Netty would not be entrapped; and she sat looking before
her as though she had not heard, and then added, musingly, "He'd
just lie down in t' road and, let him walk over him."
"And you mean to say that George married you just to save you
and to save your father's disgrace?"
"Just for that, miss! isn't he a gem?"
Almost every possible emotion of which the human heart is
capable seemed to be struggling together in Jessie's soul that
moment; glowing admiration, melting pathos, shuddering horror, and
an overpowering sense of incongruity contended within her; followed
by a most painful sense of shyness which made her hide her face in
her hands and fight down a nearly irresistible desire to either
laugh or sob. Oh, the delight of realising that the secret
hero of her heart's dreams had justified her faith! That was
enough for once, she did not want to hear more; even her cruelly
painful anxiety to know who Netty's other lover had been, vanished
in presence of her glowing pride and delight, and she burned with
desire to go and clear George from the other charges against him as
triumphantly as he had been cleared of this.
"Oh, Netty!" she burst out at last, "I don't wonder you are
proud of him!"
Netty, who was sitting up again and leaning forward feasting
her shining eyes on Jessie's changing face, and listening to her
words as to angel music. All at once, however, she snatched
the hand she still held, pressed it to her lips, and kissing it, she
"Oh, bless you! I wish you were having him instead of
"Who? why, don't you know?"
"Know? how should I know?"
"Not know? why, I thought everybody knew! Why, t'
schoolmistress, for sure! that's her he loves!"
"Ay, and he'll have her! Hay, bless you, George could
get t' queen off her throne if he wanted and set his heart on her!"
With distended, distressful eyes Jessie gazed at the
momentarily excited patient, and then dropped helplessly back in her
chair. A moment later she was calling earnestly at the
stair-head for old Lyd; and when, some half-hour after, she left the
cottage, Netty Stone lay dead.
JESSIE BRADSHAW'S STRUGGLE.
HOW she got home
that afternoon Jessie never knew. She could never remember
that she had seen anybody on the brief journey, she forgot the sad
intelligence she had tell; forgot that Carrie Hambridge would be
waiting for her in the drawing-room. Like a wounded thing she
fled away upstairs, and flung herself, booted and cloaked as she
was, upon the bed, which was soon creaking with the violence of her
emotions and her restless tossings about. Yet there was very
little immediate connection between her passionate tears and the
wild thoughts that burned in her brain. Ever since her
girlhood, she had imagined herself the impossible goddess and idol
of a lowly boy's dreams. His mute, dog-like, reverent
adoration of her when, as Tom's companion and henchman, he first
came in corduroys to Highfield; the headlong eagerness with which he
had always carried out her slightest wish; his slave-like devotion
to her brother, which she had always taken as an interesting though
intentional tribute to herself; his chuckling, rollicking laugh at
her girlish attempts at wit, and his curious self- depreciation,
which had always been to her pure, beautiful humility, now made a
blurred, repulsive picture, which it was torture to look upon.
Only now did she realise what that silly, romantic fancy of hers had
been to her, and how poor and empty life was without it.
George's sudden and reckless marriage had staggered her, but her
instinctive guess at his possible motive, mingled as it was with the
suspicion that this also was only another form of devotion to her,
had tempered the severity of that blow, and made it at any rate
But now the case was wholly different; now she realised that
she had been entirely mistaken, and instead of the beautiful,
hopeless passion she had always imagined, there had never been
anything more than a loyal respect to her as his master's daughter
and his friend's sister. She had always known that the thing
was an utter impossibility, but the sweetest things in life are its
illusions, and this one of hers had been the dearer and safer
because of its very hopelessness. But all was changed now:
even the vindication of George, and her own persistent faith in him,
was a poor exchange for the loss of this beautiful dream; and she
was not unconscious that there was rising within her something
dangerously like jealousy of the world and Carrie Hambridge.
The vulgar world would soon be sharing the sweet joy she had so long
had all to herself, and Carrie—but here a knock at the door demanded
her attention. The invention of a headache to excuse her
impossible return to society downstairs occupied but a moment, and
then throwing aside her outer garments, she resumed her place on the
bed, and her thoughts took a new turn.
Carrie Hambridge! Who was she, and what had she ever done to
earn this blessedness no longer hers? To her George was a mere
interesting intellectual study—a sort of curious freak of nature, to
be examined and dissected as a scientist treats a frog. She
would never worship his idealised image as she had done.
Worship! yes, worship! adore! love! with a thousand times more true
devotion than Carrie was capable of. A married man! A
workman, a village eccentric! She cared not. Had he not
justified her proudest faith, and done a deed of truest
knight-errantry, such as not one man in ten thousand would ever have
thought of? Had she not been the first, and only one, who had
guessed what was in him? had she not first detected this sweet fig,
buried under prickly briars? Had she not bravely persisted in
her faith, through all discouragements and oppositions? He was
hers! hers only! the only thing she had ever asked of the fates, and
they had mockingly given him to another. Like a bit of cork
afloat on the whirling eddy, the whirlpool in her mind had tossed up
every now and again the reminder that George himself was indifferent
to her; but that she would not see. She wanted something to
resist, to struggle against, to defy, and that way she had no
resistance at all. To avoid it, she turned on the bed, lay on
her back, put her arms behind her head, and opening her eyes stared
hard at the darkening window.
The change seemed to bring her relief; she became conscious
of the friendly darkness, and the kind, soothing quiet of the room.
Her mind seemed to become clearer, her thoughts more connected and
tranquil; the throbbing of her temples became less violent, and the
pain at her heart was dulled. The minutes went quietly by, and
she did not move, or even blink her eyes; a soft, dreamy reverie was
stealing over her, she grew cold without feeling it; the eyes in her
still face grew glassy; and her thoughts were far, far away.
Suddenly she sprang up with a bound and a frightened wail; looked
round with startled, blinking eyes; lit the gas, looked fearfully
about on the walls for a moment, and then turned to face the supreme
temptation of her life. With all her curious interest in, and
recent enthusiasm for George, Carrie Hambridge had never in her life
given one thought of love to him, but she had thought often, was
thinking perhaps at that very moment, of Tom; she did not love him,
perhaps she even distrusted him not a little, if Jessie could read
signs at all: but had it not been, was it not yet in her power to
dispel all those fears? Might not the engagement have been
consummated before now, if she had been whole-heartedly on Tom's
side? Would it not be an infinite blessing to Tom, and a very
considerable worldly advantage to Carrie? Moreover, was it not
her duty, now that her father was gone, to do everything that she
could, and swallow every scruple, to secure the thing upon which her
parent had been so earnestly set? Were not the things she knew
about her brother additional reasons why she should help him to a
strong-minded wife, who would make a man of him? If George
loved once, he would love for ever. What of that? As
long as he remained unmarried, some remnants of her old, sweet
dreams would be left to her.
And what would Tom do if he were thwarted in this? Such
men, under such circumstances, made mad plunges, and he might go to
the bad, or bring home an impossible wife. It would be a hard,
difficult, bitter thing to do, but the alternative would be more
difficult still. After all, blood was thicker than water;
Carrie was her dear friend, but Tom was her brother, and she stood
to him in a certain sense now for father and mother and sister.
Oh, what a cruel dilemma! It had been hard before, but now the
addition of the most compelling motive that could come to a woman,
made the convenient, comfortable, prudential wrong so very, very
attractive. She was pacing the room now, with hands clasped
behind her and her fine upper teeth gnawing at her under lip, whilst
her face was all a-work with conflicting and ever-changing emotions.
Now all that was best in her rose up suddenly and disdained
the thing that was tempting her. She drew herself up, clenched
her hands until the nails sank into the flesh, and bravely faced the
clamouring, plausible temptation. She would be true to
herself; she would do the right and risk everything. But the
effort exhausted her, and exhausted itself in its own expression,
and in its place, rushing, overbearing, irresistible, came a sense
of utter helplessness. The thing was inevitable, how could a
poor, heart-wounded woman resist it? and she flung herself on the
bed in a fresh burst of tears. The seconds glided into
minutes, and the minutes into hours, and still the dreadful battle
raged on, a woman's poor sense of truth and honour in conflict with
the ravening wolves of self-interest and worldly prudence; with her
own heart traitorously supporting them.
"Jessie! Jessie! Are you ill? What is the
It seemed like a voice from another world, and Jessie had to
come such a dreadfully long way to meet it.
"No, dear; I'm coming soon."
"Well, be quick; I've something to tell you. How long
will you be?"
"Only a few minutes now, dear."
Faint, limp, and almost too exhausted for tears, she slipped
from the bed to her knees, buried her face in the quilt, breathed a
wordless, lingering, helpless prayer, bathed her face and smoothed
her hair, and then descended to her sister; her battle no nearer
over than it was when she began, but she was thankful now for any
sort of respite.
Lena was waiting for her with "news" on her face, but as soon
as she caught sight of her she drew back with a little cry.
"It's nothing, dearest! only a little—No! no! I'm not
fretting;" and to turn the subject she glanced round and caught
sight of an empty envelope carefully propped against the clock.
The inscription told its own tale it was in the big, masculine hand
of the schoolmistress she could not come as they anticipated, but
had written to Tom instead.
"Well, what think you? A bad sign or a good?"
Jessie looked at it reflectively for a moment, trying to
bring her mind down to the things before her; and then she turned,
put her feet on the fender, and after gazing a moment into the fire,
"You don't know what was in the note. How did he look?"
"He looked thunder and swore a big D. Ominous, isn't
Jessie was studying the fire again, and presently she
"And what then?"
"He refused his tea, glowered at the fire as you are doing
now, banged off upstairs, came down dressed up to the knocker, and
"To see her?"
"That is how I look at it;" and then, with a glance at the
clock, "the play is now on the boards—they are in the third act."
Lena had moved as she spoke to her sister's side; they were
both studying the flames now, and presently the younger went on:
"Our brother is our brother, but there never was such a ninny in
courting;" and then, with sudden recollection, she added gravely:
"Do you know that Netty Stone is dead?"
"Yes, I was there when she passed away."
"You! that is what has upset you, poor dear!" And the
impulsive Lena put her arms round her sister's neck and tenderly
Sweet relieving tears rushed into Jessie's aching eyes, and
an overwhelming longing came over her to tell her sister everything
and ask her advice. But at that moment the hall door banged,
Tom's heavy foot was heard in the passage as he passed to his own
room. The girls held their breath and looked anxiously at each
"It's domino!" cried Lena, quoting under her breath a local
expression, whilst her lips were pursed and her eyebrows raised
But Tom's foot was heard again in the passage; he was coming
towards the dining-room; and Lena opened her eyes in fresh
astonishment when the door opened. Their brother—his face set
and hard and white with fear—entered, holding at arm's length a pair
of coal tongs, between the lips of which was a little note.
"Back! back!" he cried, and plunged the paper into the fire.
For a moment he stood watching the letter burn, then with sudden
remembrance he glanced at the mantelpiece, snatched at Carrie
Hambridge's empty envelope, transferred it hastily to the flames,
and then answering the amazed looks of his sisters through lips that
trembled with dread, he cried—
"She's got scarlet fever, and insists on going to the
Jessie did not see the craven look in his eyes or the
mantling scorn with which her sister watched him. In the first
gush of womanly sympathy she was pouring out a string of hasty
questions, but before Tom began his replies she had already realised
what a blessèd, though only temporary, relief was come to her, and
his answers seemed to come from far away: she reeled, felt suddenly
sick, and as the best means of concealing her condition, sank into a
chair. When she came to herself, Tom was laying down the law
to Lena, and insisting upon the strictest precautions. They
were not to go to see Mrs. Chorlton, nor indeed to Stump Cross at
all. In vain they attempted to rally him out of his alarm.
They were not to send any one to inquire after their friend, and
nothing was to be received into the house, letters or the like, that
had been near the patient. The day school should be closed at
once, he would send word to the hospital that no letters were to be
sent to Highfield from thence, they were to keep indoors and not go
out—at least on the village side of the house—and as for himself, he
should probably go and lodge in Manchester until all danger was
over. Jessie, still faint and weak, heard, without taking in,
these alarmist and dictatorial instructions, and Lena attended with
a face that changed from sorrowful concern to cold, defiant
contempt; and when at last he departed to give instructions about
disinfectants in the kitchen, banging the door to emphasise his
commands, she burst forth in flashes of indignant scorn, "The
The next two days at Highfield were about as unpleasant as
they could well be. Tom, with restless eyes and nervous manners,
spent most of his time in directing sanitary precautions. Inside,
precautions. Inside, the house became redolent of eucalyptus,
camphor, and the like. Condy's Fluid stood in saucers and
buckets in every room, and the outbuildings smelt insufferably of
carbolic. On his own initiative he had closed the day school,
and ordered it to be disinfected, and at the mill buckets of pungent
liquid were set in all staircases and passages. The easy-going
sanitary inspector was hurried from place to place, and badgered
until he declared that the young master had gone "dotty," and the
villagers, worried about soughs, traps, and disinfectants, asserted
that the cure was worse than the disease. But Tom gave no rest
either to himself or those about him. He slept little, went
about with worried, apprehensive look, suspected and even left his
food, smoked incessantly, and saturated himself with evil-smelling
drugs took ridiculous precautions to avoid close contact with any of
the domestics, and at last announced with blanched face that he was
stricken. Whereupon he took possession of the whole upper
story of the house, installed himself, with Jessie as nurse, in the
confiscated quarters, and gave himself up to "the cursed fever."
To Jessie and her sister it was clear that it was pure nervous
fright. Two days later, however, all doubt was removed.
Tom not only had the fever, but, according to the doctor, must have
had it in him before the schoolmistress; and so, whilst the
pestilence ran its ordinary course and spread, especially amongst
the children of the neighbourhood, it was announced that the
much-beloved schoolmistress was as well as she had ever been except
for the peeling, but that it was going very hard indeed with the
A SERIOUS PROPOSAL.
IT was well into
the new year when the schoolmistress came back to Mollins. She
had spent her Christmas Day in the hospital, and had since been a
fortnight at Southport. In her enforced retirement she had had
time sift her thoughts and make up her mind, and she had to come
back to Mollins with the purpose of finding the easiest and kindest
way of refusing Tom Bradshaw. The fact was, she had recovered
herself in more senses than one, and was shocked to find how she had
played with an idea upon which she could never seriously act.
She knew now that Tom would propose to her formally on the first
opportunity, and that knowledge somehow brought with it the
discovery that she could never entertain towards him those feelings
which she felt she must have for the man she married. She did
not even like Tom, for she put the point to herself, and not because
of the nasty little stories which Mollins gossip had supplied her
about him—she despised such things. Why, then, had she not
been decided from the commencement? His sisters? yes, but she
could not be expected to marry a man because he had nice relatives.
Nevertheless, there it was, her refusal would make all the
difference in her relations with the young ladies of Highfield, and
she was not ashamed to own to herself that she was very much
attached to them.
That vividly remembered conversation with Jessie had not
changed her mind very much, though it was still a constant subject
of speculation with her, and would have to be cleared up entirely
before she could think of accepting the young mill-owner.
Having made up her mind on other and surer grounds, however, this
became of less importance, and the only question that remained was
how to get rid of her lover without parting with her lady friends.
When she saw where she was she was compelled to laugh at herself,
for of course, important as friendships were, they were secondary in
a matter of this sort, and ought not seriously to affect her.
This, then, was her final decision; she would get rid of Tom if
possible without estranging his sisters; but, if the worst came to
the worst, well, she could always leave the place and have a fresh
start, though the thought of that made her strangely heavy.
When she heard in the hospital that Tom was ill her heart
misgave her, and Lena, temporarily domiciled at the Fraters', sent
her so many details, and expressed so many apprehensions about her
brother, that Carrie felt as though, in some odd way, she was doing
the young man an injury. She remembered also that he was in a
very unsatisfactory state of health before his father's death, and
that, therefore, the attack would probably be a trying one in his
case. Well, it seemed a hard thing to be arranging the poor
fellow's rejection whilst he was in such a plight, and she had to
confess that she was very sorry indeed for him. It struck her
as somewhat curious that Jessie's letters should be so much briefer
and less cordial than Lena's, but this was no doubt explainable by
the fact that Tom needed much attention.
Highfield was out of quarantine when she arrived back in Mollins,
and she expected that any hour she might be summoned to the house of
She had got settled down in her lodgings again, and was busy
making arrangements for the commencement of school on the following
Monday morning, when her old adversary, Lot Crumblehulme, strolled
into her room. He had furnished himself with a long clay pipe,
but as she rather liked the smell of tobacco, he knew he was not
transgressing on that point. Lot seemed in an almost frivolous
mood for him, and joked her about her good and most healthy
appearance. Then he fell into a simpering complacency, behind
which she soon suspected there was some very unusual cause of
elation. With head aloft and pipe extended he glanced
carelessly about the room for a moment or two, and then strolled
towards the window. It was dark, and the effort he made to see
through the glass excited the schoolmistress's curiosity.
Presently he returned to his favourite place before the fire, but
still looked lingeringly towards the window.
"Wee'st have t' old place lighted up now afore long."
The schoolmistress absently raised her head from a book, but
gave no other sign of interest.
"It 'ull be buzzing away as hard as ever in a month's time."
"T' shop (mill); we are startin' it ageean."
"The old shop; the Mollinfoot mill."
"Who are starting it?"
"Uz! t' company."
"Ay, t' limited, you know; " and suddenly remembering that of
course she did not know, he fumbled in his coat pocket, pulled out a
foolscap envelope, and handed it to her; pointing as he did so to
the printed title on the flap: "The Mollinfoot Manufacturing
Carrie glanced at it with vague perplexity, but not without
curiosity, and then she said—
"Oh, I'm very glad! It will be a good thing for
"It will that! In twelve months that consarn 'ull be
paying ten per cent. if it pays a penny."
Carrie smiled, and tried to look interested.
"Who are the company?" she asked idly.
"Who? Why, me an' all on us—and him!"
"All of you?"
"Ay! the Swires, and Dicky Slade, an' t' Co-op. manager;
we're all in it. Twenty thousand pounds in five-pound shares;
you can have some if you want."
"I? Why, poor schoolmistresses have no money for
anything of that sort, you know."
Lot puckered his brows and scowled down upon her in rapid
thought, and then in his zeal he broke out—
"You go in for twenty shares, that's a hundred pound; I'll
find the brass, and you can pay me back out of the divvy."
"Oh, thank you! But who are the principals—the
directors, I mean?"
"Who? Why, old John Frost, Long Bob Smith, an' some
chaps in Manchester. Here's t' programme," he continued,
lugging out a prospectus. "You go in for twenty shares;
there's a fortune in it."
Carrie took up the paper with end easy smile, glanced
carelessly over the front page, and then cried in astonishment—
"What! George Stone? Has he something to do with
"Something? He has that! Why, miss, he started
it! He's the brains and backbone of the thing; that's what
we've all gone in for!"
Carrie looked grave.
"And you mean to say that the poor working people of Mollins
are trusting their hard-earned savings to an inexperienced young
fellow like George?"
But Lot had scented battle, his feathers began to rise he
raised his angular shoulders, expanded his chest, drew a long
breath, and then, forefinger on palm, he demanded—
"Now look here, Miss B.A. Have you never known wise,
clever, hard-working folk as rawled and mauled all their lives an'
couldn't make money for t' life on 'em?"
"An' have you never known rackety, harum-scarum fellows as
turned everything they touched into money?"
"Well, he's one of that sort, isn't he? He's born to
it; he cannot help it, an' I'd trust him with the last farthing I
had in the world!"
Carrie sighed helplessly. Could it be that grown men in
the last years of the nineteenth century could be influenced by
superstitious considerations? and would she ever get to the bottom
of the inconsistencies of these villagers with regard to George
"And you mean to say that the working men in Mollins are
risking their scanty savings with a reckless young fellow like
"They are that! Why, some on 'em are selling their
Co-op. shares to go in with him, an' them as has nowt is biting
their finger-ends off cause they can't invest!"
Carrie was seriously alarmed; rising quickly, she cried
"Oh, but this is dreadful! The poor folk will be
ruined! Mr. Crumblehulme, this must be stopped!"
Lot laughed defiantly.
"Stop it? You'd better try! You can do a lot in
Mollins, but yo' couldn't do that!"
"It's cruel! It's wicked! I shall go to George
"Ay, do! He's a widower now, and getting on! Why,
bless you, you'd come away with a bundle of shares. He can
talk a dog's hind leg off, he can—when he wants!"
For a quarter of an hour longer they disputed, Carrie growing
more earnest and anxious as she argued, and Lot waxing more and more
enthusiastic every moment. They parted at last, but Lot, when
he reached the kitchen door, turned round and said coaxingly—
"You'd better have an odd hundred in it, miss; it 'ull be a
grand thing for you!"
During the last few moments of their dispute Carrie had been
anxious to get rid of her visitor in order to decide for herself
what she ought to do; but as soon as he had left her, a curious and
most provoking indecision came upon her, and her emotions changed
with distressing frequency every moment. The situation
demanded the promptest possible action, and she, who prided herself
on her decision of character, was fighting with a curious and most
uncharacteristic hesitation. The proper thing was to go to
George, with whom she knew she had some influence; but now she
seemed to shrink from it. Lot's rough joke about George being
a widower ought not to have affected her, but it was doing so; and
there she was, shrinking from the one thing she was certain she
ought to do, and shrinking with a feeling that was new and
incomprehensible. George Stone was nothing to her! That
she understood him as nobody else in Mollins did she was sure, and
that she admired him enthusiastically was also certain but these
were only additional reasons why she should interfere; she must save
him from folly as well as the poor workpeople. And yet she
couldn't, and couldn't because there was in her some new feeling
about the village eccentric which she had never had before and which
she could by no means understand. She always felt toward the
villagers like a sort of superior mother, and all the woman in her
went out in alarm at this peril that threatened them; and yet when
she turned in her thoughts to George she felt all at once like a shy
She turned round on her way to dress, and stood debating with
herself on the stairs; then she began to examine herself in the
glass, but any one watching her would have seen at once that she was
thinking of anything rather than her own features. Suddenly
she remembered her friends at Highfield. Tom, at least, would
know about the matter, and understand what was best to do; and she
was surprised to discover that any excuse for postponing her
interview with the owner of "Squint Hall" was welcome. And at
that moment the fates came to her assistance; a carriage had stopped
in the lane outside her lodgings, there was a knock at the front
door, Mrs. Chorlton handed in a note and waited with pensive
condescension for the answer.
In less than half an hour Carrie stood in the big, cosy
Highfield dining room, being hugged and kissed and fussed about and
relieved of her outer garments in the most delightfully Lancashire
way. Her cheeks were mantled with glad blushes, and she had
just taken a second and longer look at her lady friends, and was
pulling Jessie's face down to her own and covering it with a second
shower of kisses, when a hollow male voice broke in: "Can't you
spare just a little one for me?"
With startled little cries they broke away from each other,
and Carrie turned with renewed blushes to look upon the wan,
elongated form and yellow, hollow-eyed face of Tom Bradshaw.
With hasty exclamations of apology she hastened to the sofa
side, took the long, attenuated fingers in her hand, and whilst he
clung to and retained it, she glanced with gushes of pity over his
thin, worn form, and offered him most true and hearty sympathy.
The wily Tom was making the most of his advantages, and with
characteristic self-pity put on a mournful resignation, half-closed
his eyes, and sighingly relinquished the hand that was now being
After all, it was nice to be there again, and Tom was really
much worse than she expected. This was not the time, at any
rate, to harden her heart.
The conversation at once became general, except that Tom only
contributed monosyllables that were half groans, and there were
frequent interruptions to minister to his supposed necessities.
At length, when they had exhausted their first recollections of the
various happenings since they last met, there was a temporary lull,
and Carrie, unrestrained by the presence of Tom, turned to Lena and
"Well, dear, how are things going in the village? I've
heard nothing yet;" and then in a flash she went on: "Oh, yes, I
have; something dreadful! Mr. Tom, you really must interfere!"
"Anything to oblige you, Miss Hambridge; but what is it?"
"Oh, you must have heard! This last and maddest of
George Stone's freaks."
Tom sat up with a celerity that was astonishing for so frail
"Stone! Him again! What now?"
"Why, don't you know? He's floating a company to work
the little old mill, and all the villagers are becoming
Tom glared at her as though the mere telling of such tidings
was an inexpiable insult.
"The scoundrel! The whining, Methodist humbug!
This comes of father's tomfooling favouritism!"
"Tom! respect the dead, if you please," cried Lena.
"The dead! Why, girl! it would make a parson swear!
He knows our trade secrets and some of our customers!"
"But you don't think it is serious, Mr. Tom? He cannot
"The devil's children have the devil's luck, Miss
Hambridge—but I'll stop him, trust me! I'll put a spoke in his
wheel before I'm a day older—the rip!"
"Tom!"—it was Jessie who now broke in for the first
time—"George was a favourite of father's, and I'm father's daughter,
and I will not hear—"
"But, Jessie, dear, he's getting the poor people's money; he
will bring ruin to scores of—" But here she stopped in sore
amazement, for the look on Jessie's face, the hunted, desperate
expression, made the more eloquent by vain endeavours at
concealment, came like a revelation to her, and betrayed the
suffering speaker so much that Carrie's heart sank within her.
There was no possibility of mistaking that face, and that there was
more, infinitely more, than she saw was only too clear. She
had guessed something of Jessie's feelings about George some time
ago, but she knew also that women have a special defence against the
dangers of self-betrayal. There was more, much more, in this
than mere hopeless love, and the scene in her own room with Jessie
came back with most striking significance. But Tom was
speaking again. Avoiding Jessie's eyes, and glancing up with a
hard little smile, he said—
"You leave it to me, Miss Hambridge; I'll scotch him, you'll
Carrie was growing uneasy, and heartily regretting that she
had introduced the topic; with Tom on one side and Jessie on the
other, the situation was embarrassing. At the same time, she
could not forget the danger to her favourite villagers, neither
could she overcome the feeling of jealous curiosity which Jessie's
most evident suffering, coupled with her former passion of fear, had
awakened. Besides, what was George Stone to her? Knowing
him as she thought she did, she realised that he might one day, if
this, that, and the other happened, become her brother-in-law, but
yet there was nothing even in that to disturb her as she certainly
was disturbed. On the very first moment of leisure she must
look into this. Ah, yes, of course! that was it! She was
anxious for George's own sake, as well as the villagers', that this
mad scheme should be stopped. Well, if Tom did his part, as he
certainly would from his manner, and if she could induce Jessie to
assist in influencing George, her purpose would be all the more sure
of accomplishment, and they would avoid a disagreeable collision
between brother and sister. Rapid as light-beams these
thoughts followed each other, and yet not quick enough to prevent an
uncomfortable break in the conversation; but just as Carrie was
framing a question on another and much safer topic, Lena, with the
same purpose evidently in her mind, broke in—
"Oh, Tom, I never knew how it was George was dismissed from
"Didn't you?" and Tom changed his position, stretched his
long legs on the sofa, and went on wearily: "Well, between
ourselves, it was for dishonesty!"
Two sharp exclamations, and a sudden, breathless silence, and
Tom had a sense that he was talking to purpose for once.
"If I had imprisoned him, as perhaps I ought—good God, what
now?" And after gazing at the prostrate form of his sister for
a moment, whilst Lena and Carrie sprang to her assistance, he
concluded pettishly, "That woman will be the death of me yet!"
In the middle of this damning charge, Jessie had slipped from
her chair to the floor, and now lay helpless as a log.
Notwithstanding every attention and the lavish use of
restoratives, Jessie was some time in coming to herself, and when at
last she raised her head, she requested to be taken upstairs; so
that Carrie soon found herself in danger of being left alone with
Tom. It seemed unkind to hasten away, especially as she was in
a sense responsible for what had happened; and so she lingered about
the dining-room, every now and again excusing herself to ascertain
how Jessie was progressing. Then Lena came down to say that
the patient sends her apologies, and would rest for a while.
It was a "dreadful night," she added; "wouldn't Carrie stay until
morning and keep them company?" Jessie herself had requested
it. Tom livened up at this; he had been lying sulky and
neglected on the sofa, but now he seemed suddenly reconciled to the
state of things, expressed polite concern for his sister, and added
his petition to Lena's, and so Carrie, penitent at having, however
inadvertently, caused what had happened, allowed herself to be
persuaded, and the three were soon in animated conversation about
the details of Tom's illness—a topic about which the young
mill-owner was very eloquent and prolix. Then light
refreshments were served, Tom manifesting a gracious hospitality,
quite uncommon to him. During the meal he became most
unusually communicative and confidential about business matters,
giving hints, in round, vague figures, of the possessions his father
had left, and simpering with weak vanity when Lena called him "quite
a toff of a cotton lord!"
Carrie had an uncomfortable feeling that her confidence was
oozing out, though she could give no reason for it. She was
sure that she always knew her own mind, sure that, as far as Torn
Bradshaw was concerned, she was quite decided; but why did she feel
so nervous? and why was she talking in that jerky, ridiculous way?
She watched Lena narrowly, lest she should leave them alone, and
altogether was annoyed to find herself as shy and silly as a girl in
her first flirtation.
To make things worse, Tom had left the sofa and occupied a
low easy-chair close to her. The girls talked with their palms
spread open to the fire and slippers shyly resting on the fender
edge, but Tom could not find a place where his feet would be still,
and had a plunging, disturbed manner. "Lena," he said after a
little while, "I want to speak to Miss Hambridge."
It was so abrupt and clumsy that Lena did not seem to
understand at first, but in a moment she rose, with a little, forced
laugh, and cried—
"Oh, certainly, but get it over as soon as you can!"
Every nerve in Carrie's little body was jangling perhaps no
woman is ever quite satisfied with the manner in which the fateful
proposal is made to her, and the school-teacher had always dreamed
of an offer, warm, of course, even to passion, but delicate,
considerate, seductive; but this man's commencement jarred upon her
harshly, and set her teeth on edge.
"Miss Hambridge," he began almost before. the door even
closed, "I love you! I have loved you ever since I first saw
you. But you have repulsed me, disdained me! so that I have
resolved a thousand times never to think of you again. But I
cannot help myself! I love you more to-night than I ever did.
Oh, have pity on me and make me happy! Don't you see how I am
suffering? I can never get well unless you help me."
He pulled his chair nearer as he spoke, and laid his hot
fingers pleadingly on her wrist. To a woman like Carrie the
declaration that she has been cruel—that is, correct—in her manner
of receiving approaches is the subtlest flattery, and though he
began badly, Tom was doing better for himself than he knew.
All the same she began a hurried protest, and so he hastened to
"My sisters adore you, my father desired it more than I ever
knew him desire anything, and if my dead mother had been here"—and
his voice shook a little—"you are just the one she would have chosen
Tom's good angel had certainly come back to him Carrie felt
that she had herself perfectly in hand, painful though it would be,
she knew that she could refuse him; but just then her nature played
her a curious little trick. The husky, tremulous little
cadence in his voice at the mention of his mother was so
transparently accidental and unpremeditated, and it touched her so
deeply, that she allowed him to slip his fingers into her hand and
clasp it, and instead of the firmly kind answer she intended, there
came a half-astonished, half-distressful—
"But, Mr. Tom, I do not love you!"
"Love me? Me? I should not want you if you did!
I am weak and careless and bad; you have made me see it, and feel
it, and hate it. You could not love the man I have been—and
am! But you can save me! You can help me to become good
enough even for you! Save me! Oh, save me, and earn my
eternal love and devotion!"
Tom Bradshaw was certainly inspired to-night; he could not
possibly have hit upon a more powerful line of argument; the
helping, motherly instinct so strong in Carrie, which had made her
so signal a success as a teacher and given her so deep an interest
in the simple affairs of the villagers, was now clamouring for that
sort of sacrifice so delightful to women of her kind.
"Oh! no, no, no! Mr. Tom, you must not! I
But he still held her, and was drawing her closer to himself;
her little, trembling hand was now buried in both his, and he was
looking up into her face in a very agony of eagerness and suspense.
"Oh! God help me, if you are not merciful!"
"Oh, don't, Mr. Tom! Let us wait; you are ill,
"Ill! I wish I were dead!"
"I do! Ill? ay, ill in mind; I am mad, or shall be! I
want to be a man; I want to play the man in life, and you will not
help me! "
He had struck this cord almost by accident, but he felt that
it was his one hope, and so made the most of it. Suddenly he
let go her hand, turned aside in his chair, buried his face in his
hands, and groaned out heavily.
"Poor fellow! don't agitate yourself—don't!"
But she dared not draw nearer to him, even by so much as a
change in the inclination of her body. Stiff, bewildered,
carried along inwardly by feelings she dared not analyse, she sat
there until, before she knew it, he had flung his long arms around
her chair, and kneeling before her began another passionate
supplication. He was so wan and desperate-looking, the
sickness through which he had passed had so enfeebled him, that the
very wretchedness of his appearance became his most powerful plea;
and—and, well, Carrie could never exactly tell how it was—but her
eyes filled with compassionate tears, a sudden gush of
over-mastering pity swept through her, carrying prudence,
self-possession, and every other defence with it; and she bent over,
touched his dank brow with her quivering lips, and allowed him to
clasp her in his shaking arms.
A TERRIBLE REACTION.
AS soon as Carrie
reached her temporary bedroom at Highfield that night she knew that
she had made a terrible mistake, and destroyed for ever that buoyant
self-reliance which had so long been her strength. It was well
there was a fire in the room, for she had no desire for rest; and
sat there hour after hour fighting the eternal fight of a judgment
strongly supported by every consideration of worldly prudence, and a
dull, sulky, and uncommunicative conscience, which declined to
argue, but kept on doggedly reiterating a stolid, unreasoning
Like most persons under such circumstances she was less than
just to herself, and insisted that the fit of weak, unworthy
sentimentality by which she had allowed herself to be carried away
was only a disguise for the worldly considerations which at bottom
had overcome her; she always had been attracted by the position Tom
had to offer, and the possibilities it presented; even her love for
his sisters was really only cover for that. She was marrying
for a worldly position, and for the social importance and influence
which it would bring. She was no better than a common husband
hunter. All through that long, sad night she sat thinking, and
alas! when morning, the faithful ally of sweet reasonableness, at
last dawned, it seemed for once to have turned traitor, and ranged
itself on the side of her pragmatical and cruelly aggressive
conscience. She was glad it was the Sabbath, glad that the
morning was so wet there could be no question of church, and glad
that Tom was reported to be so unwell that he would keep his room
until evening. The day, therefore, would be her own, or at
least she could easily make it so; and so she got into bed to
deceive her friends, allowed the maid to bring breakfast, and then
accepted the kindly hint of Lena for a long rest with almost
The hours dragged heavily by, it was a positive comfort to
her to hear the steady drip, drip, of the rain outside. She
knew how easy it had always been for her to do what she had once
decided was the right thing; she knew that there was that within her
which would make her stop even at the marriage altar; but the
ridiculousness, the contemptible inconsistency, and the
manifestation of weakness involved in withdrawing from the position
she had allowed herself to be drawn into, seemed so humiliating that
her whole nature shrank from it. The study of human nature!
she actually laughed at the thought of it, she did not even
understand herself; that pursuit, therefore, must be abandoned for
ever, and she must at any rate get to know some little about the
fragment of humanity with which she ought to be best acquainted.
And nobody was to blame but herself; Tom had acted as she might have
expected; nay, when she came to think of it, he had acted much
better than she ever imagined he would, and she soon began to regard
him as an injured person who had a special claim upon her
consideration. She had sent a sympathetic little message to
Tom by Lena, and she had promised to join the girls downstairs after
dinner, but she welcomed the information that Jessie was too unwell
to appear, with inward thankfulness, and eagerly encouraged Lena's
desire to go to afternoon service. She had so grossly deceived
them all, and was plotting to offer them so great an insult that her
anxiety about them threatened to carry her to the other extreme, and
she came perilously near to deciding that, having made the position
herself, she must bear it as best she could, and sacrifice her peace
of mind to their contentment.
But why was it that George Stone came so persistently into
her mind in these painful dubitations? and why had she such a
haunting sense that she had somehow injured him? He was
nothing to her, except an interesting study, and had no connection
at all with the present trouble: and yet there he was, his round,
merry face, long and reproachful, and his whole manner, sad and
No, she could blame nobody for what had happened; she had
seen the proposal coming for months; she had looked at it carefully
and often, and was familiar with every phase of it; why, then, had
she such a frightened, and condemned feeling? Nervous
reaction? A natural misgiving at the fact that the thing had
been done in a passion of sentiment and sympathy? No, it was
more than these; rightly or wrongly, her whole being protested
against the step she had taken, and would listen to neither
persuasion nor argument.
Lena did not go to church after all, and it soon became
clear, by the frequency with which she came to visit Carrie's room,
that either she was very restless about something, or that Tom was
very impatient to see his fiancée. There was nothing
for it, therefore, but to get up and make the best of things; for
she was as far from decision as ever, and must have more time to
think. The day proved insufferably long and trying, Lena
seemed to be studying her with a surprised and dubious curiosity,
and spoke of the still absent Jessie with an evasiveness that was
painfully suspicious whilst Tom, eager and triumphant, paid her such
constant attention that she grew more penitent and self-accusing
After an early tea, she was suddenly seized with a desire to
visit Jessie—at any rate it would be a relief and an escape, and she
might at least get to the bottom of Jessie's recent excitement about
their engagement, and the cause of her visit to Providence Cottage.
But her plainest hints in this direction were disregarded, and a
little before six Lena left her with Tom, and she realised that she
was doomed to spend the evening in his company. She began to
grow excited and reckless, went to the piano and played; then she
offered to sing—a thing she had never been willing to do in that
house before—and when she could no longer continue that occupation,
she commenced a discussion with her companion about socialism and
its tendencies. Tom was as ignorant as most of his class on
the subject, and became surly and somewhat resentful; obviously he
was not listening to her explanations, and had a surprised and
wondering look. Presently he took her hand, condemned
socialism and socialists to outer darkness, and then bluntly asked
her to talk about herself. Carrie snatched at it as a very
god-send, and for the next hour or so gave him particulars about her
family and connections, and a sketch of her life, which, whilst they
interested him, also considerably surprised him. She was of
respectable birth, at any rate, and had been nicely brought up, and
so he was pleased. But he tired of the topic, lover-like, long
before she did, and it was only her happy idea of asking him to
speak of himself that saved the situation. Tom had nothing
good to say of his own career so far, but on his resources and
prospects he became eloquent enough, and she saw with mingled
feelings that in a few years he would be as much a business
worshipper as his father, unless something came to divert his
interest. And so that never-ending evening wore slowly away,
and as Tom's talk had exhausted him, and he tired early, she got her
release, and was soon alone again with her dreadful problem.
The school opened on Monday morning, and never did teacher go
to her work more eagerly; her conflict was not over, but she must
have relief, and the work she loved so much provided it, at least
for the time.
"I'm rather tired to-night, Mrs. Chorlton; don't let anybody
disturb me if you can help it," she said, as she sat over her idle,
unappetising tea that night. The landlady's long face went
longer than ever—
"But he wants to speak to you; he's been waiting ever since
you began tea."
"Who? Mr. Lot? Well, let him come in at once."
With a lugubrious sigh and a dismal shake of the head,
Asenath took herself off, and Carrie put her feet on the fender and
waited with weary resignation for the coming of her old antagonist.
" 'The wicked plotteth against the just and gnasheth upon him
with his teeth!' "
This sentence, commenced in the kitchen and finished on the
hearthrug, was flung out in spasmodic jerks by the excited
tripe-dresser, who now stood glaring down upon her as though she had
been the offending party.
"The wicked! What do you mean? What is the
"It's stopped! jacked up! busted! and 'the wicked spreadeth
himself like the green bay tree.' "
"The company, do you mean? Well, I'm very glad!"
"Glad! Glad!" And after staring at her for a
moment with scandalised look, he turned in indignant appeal to the
long-cased clock. "And this is argyment! This is logic!
Why, woman!"—and here he swung round upon her again—"why, woman,
it's villainous! He's a scoundrel, a grasping, greedy
"No! No! He's headlong, and thoughtless, and odd,
but not that!"
"Not that! he's worse nor that! But he'll rue it! rue
it as sure as there's a God in heaven!—an' him rich, too!"
"Rich? Aren't you speaking of George Stone?"
"Stone? Listen to that now! Stone? Why, am
I not talkin' about the tyrant!—the greedy oppressor of the poor?"
"Whom do you mean?" And Carrie was getting out of
patience, and showed it.
"Who? The young master! He's stopped it; it's
nobody else, and it's just like him!"
With wide-opened eyes and protesting tones, Carrie rejected
the suggestion, and then proceeded to draw out of her visitor such
details as he could give. The shares had not been taken up
fast enough, and the Manchester directors had been to the Butteridge
bank to get them to keep the list open for a few days longer.
To the dismay of both, the bank people had declined, and also
expressed their desire to wash their hands of the whole business.
"But what has this to do with Mr. Tom?"
"Do? That's it! He's a director of the bank,
isn't he, and he's put his motty in!"
"But how do you know?" And Carrie felt her very lips
"Know? We do know: there's nobody else for it—the snake
i' th' grass!"
"Mr. Crumblehulme, I'm ashamed of you! Why, he's done
it to save your money, and the people's. I'm glad, I'm very
"Save our money! Argyment! Logic! Why, Miss
B.A., he wouldn't have moved his little finger to save us!"
"It is a wicked slander; he's done it to save you all, and
I'm right glad of it. Does George say it is he?"
"George? That's it! He never says nowt wrong
about him, 'cause they were lads together."
"Of course he doesn't, and he knows him better than any of
you; but what does he say about it?"
"Say!" and Lot's expression of scornful disdain was a
picture. "Why, he just laughs as he does about everything.
He'd laugh i' Pandemonium, he would."
Carrie argued until she was utterly tired, but she might as
well have talked to a stone wall, and Lot left her at last with the
declaration, made in his most vehement manner, that if there was a
God in heaven the young mill-owner would be "brought to book" for
Falling into a brown study as soon as she was alone, Carrie
tried vainly to concentrate her thoughts on her own pressing
anxiety, but gradually she became aware that voices, raised in high
and stormy altercation, were filling the kitchen with noise.
It was nothing to her; she had surely enough to think of. But
the voices grew louder. Lot was almost screaming out some wild
protest, and was being answered in short, solemn sentences by his
sister. It was most unusual; she had never been so disturbed
before. Then there was a scuffle, a clamorous series of
protests, a shaking of the kitchen door, and suddenly the
tripe-dresser was pushed into the room by his sister, who, holding
him by the back of his coat collar and shaking him every now and
again as she brought him, dragged him indignantly forward and,
casting him at Carrie's feet, commanded tragically—
"On your bended knees!"
"I didn't know! How should I know?" cried Lot, raging
at the humiliation.
Mrs. Chorlton, stern and implacable, towered grimly over him,
and pointing a long, relentless finger at the mistress's footstool,
"On your bended knees!"
"What is the matter?" cried Carrie, amazed, and yet afraid of
"I didn't know! I didn't know you was courtin' him!"
"On your bended knees!"
So it was out already, was it? Carrie could have
"No, no!" she cried, "of course he didn't know, Mrs.
Chorlton. It is quite right; I'm not in the least offended."
But the avenging landlady could not be appeased; she gripped
the struggling Lot with both hands, forced him willy-nilly upon the
hearthrug, holding him relentlessly until he had stammered out the
last syllable of his apology, and then, pointing with threatening
finger towards the door, she glanced with dignified entreaty at the
mistress, stalked majestically away, and turned round as she
vanished to give her interpretation of the whole scene, and of Lot's
many infirmities in the cryptic quotation, "The crackling of thorns
under a pot."
That was a never-to-be-forgotten night with the little
schoolmistress. In spite of two notes from Highfield—the
latter of which offered the tempting bait of a case of rings to be
inspected—she gave herself up to a remorseless process of mental
unpacking. Everything must come out now, and she must know the
worst of herself. It had been the pride of prides with her
that she always knew her own mind, but now, having convicted herself
of indecision that was weak almost to wickedness, and a cowardice
which had its roots in sordid selfishness, there was nothing for it
but to come to an end of the matter, and to see the worst and
best—if there was a best—at once. She had not yet learnt that
we never do things of this kind without overdoing them, and that the
effort to be just invariably makes us unjust to ourselves; and so
she not only insisted upon recognising and labelling each article as
she took it out of her mental trunk, but groped to the very bottom,
gathered up and dragged out amorphous, half-formed ideas, and gave
to each of them a distinct, uncompromising name.
The feeling she had for Tom Bradshaw was not love, and never
had been. The motives which had inclined her towards him had
been motives of vulgar, worldly ambition, concealed behind weak,
womanly amiability. She did not even respect him or pity him.
There were matters about which she actually suspected him, and yet
she had promised to marry him! She had cultivated clearness of
thought, and candid courageous facing of facts, and yet in the very
first prime question of life she had ever had to decide, she had
shifted and wobbled, and ignored and shut her eyes to unwelcome
facts like the veriest coward. She was a student of human
nature, forsooth! and could not apply the most elementary principles
of that science when it came to herself. She had taken up one
case in that study, and it had developed into a commonplace, nay, a
discreditable, love affair. Yes! there must be no evasion now;
she had commenced to unpack this intellectual trunk, and it should
be emptied. She preferred another man! a poor, rough,
eccentric man, of base origin, and uncertain, contradictory
character. She had slowly and gradually idealised a man with
whom she had nothing in common, and all this when she knew that a
better woman, and her own dearest friend, was dying of love for him.
She left her supper neglected on the table, let the fire sink
until it expired, January though it was; shivered without knowing
it, and, gnawing at her lips till the blood came, paced up and down
the little room too self-angry for tears. At last she dragged
her stiffened limbs to bed, but only to renew the struggle.
All the night through she fought with her cruel problem resolved
upon half a dozen different courses and abandoned them; decided more
than once to pack her box and disappear from Mollins for ever; and
at last, when the daylight, slow and dim, crept in upon her, she
rose wearily to resume the unending debate. In spite of
liberal applications of water, hot and cold, to her head, and the
lavish use of eau-de-cologne, she went downstairs with temples
beating like clocks, and eyes that felt too big for their sockets.
The thought of school seemed torture, but the dread of being any
longer in her own company was worse, and so, sitting down on the
edge of her chair, she made an effort to gulp down tea that nearly
scalded her. Another sign, however, began to alarm her and
expedite her movements: the kitchen door had been left open, a
series of mysterious challenging coughs were flung into the room,
and glancing round she saw the ferret eyes of old Lot fixed upon
her. He did not usually trouble her in the morning, but he was
evidently full of some great news, and eager for an invitation to
THE old man and
his odd, fussy ways seemed positively hateful to her just then, and
she swallowed her tea hastily—burning hot though it was—and hurried
off to her duties, whilst Lot, with a look of unpleasant surprise,
strode into the room the moment she had left it and looked round
with an amazed, wondering whistle. Glancing at the clock,
which stood at half-past eight, he compared it with his own
corpulent watch, gave another perplexed whew, and then, returning to
the kitchen, began hurriedly to put on his boots.
Carrie meanwhile had got into the lane, where she found the
air damp and moist. But she turned away from the direction of
the school-house, and walked musingly along towards the village,
with the intention of reaching her destination by going round.
The raw air was very grateful to her hot face, and she stepped along
with a sense of relief and revival. Turning down Radcliffe's
Ginnel, to avoid the factory folk coming home to breakfast, she came
out opposite to the blackened walls of the old Methodist
school-house. George Stone came into her mind as she raised
her eyes, and then she heard the clink of an iron tool and the
rumbling of falling stones, and, taking a step nearer and peeping
over the wall, she beheld the proprietor of "Squint Hall" standing
over a newly-fallen bit of masonry, and, heedless of dust and damp,
tearing brick from blackened brick in fierce, headlong haste.
Behind him lay a heap of old bricks, which had been carefully freed
of old mortar and piled tidily together; and to the left was a row
of old stone facings, laid regularly side by side, as though of
immense value. She forgot the material in watching the man.
Had the old place been burning at that moment, and he breaking the
walls to rescue some precious life, he could not have worked with
more feverish haste. He heard nothing, saw nothing but what he
was engaged upon, and, as he drove his crowbar again and again into
the wall, his face was hard and almost fierce. It came into
her mind that his recent misfortunes had unsettled his brain, but
the affectionate care with which he picked out and carried away the
larger stone blocks scarcely justified that conclusion, and, having
other things to think of, she turned up the hill with a weary sigh,
and was just moving away when a harsh voice behind her broke in—
"He's workin' it off, poor lad! he's workin' it off!"
The speaker was Lot Crumblehulme, who, with coat buttoned up
to hide his collarless neck, and hand held carefully under his chin,
was looking at her with mournful face.
"Off! What off? Whatever is he doing?"
"Doing! he's workin' it off! Can't you see what a
flusterment he's in? He's mad about 'em stoppin' t' company,
and that's his only comfort."
"Comfort! Does it comfort him to pull things to
"To pieces! What, don't you know what a fix we were in?
We'd neither insurance money nor brains nor nowt, and he ups and he
makes plans fit for a town hall—spiffers!—and he says if we'll put
the old stones into the new building he'll give us fifty pound."
"Ay; him as they turned out! Fifty pound! an' t' young
master, as rolls in brass, wouldn't give us a fardin'. Oh,
drabbit it! what am I saying?"
The schoolmistress had dropped her head; there were blushes
of hot shame on her cheeks, and tears of proud delight in her eyes.
It was always the little, eccentrically sentimental things about
George that touched her most, and the thought of him relieving his
mind in his great disappointment by gratifying his whimsical
affection for the ugly, insanitary school-house sent a warm thrill
through her, and lightened for a moment the black night in her soul.
That was the longest day of Carrie Hambridge's life.
The close schoolroom seemed to smother her; a very demon of
inconsiderateness had got into the children their very voices jarred
upon her nerves. She was petulant one moment and impulsively
penitent the next, and sat on her stool with drooping head and
mournful, faraway thoughts, until she awoke to find the scholars
staring at her wonderingly, and waiting for the word which never
came. Everything went awry, and in more than one over-strained
moment she was conscious of odd tremors and vague, half-hysterical
agitations, that swelled into her throat and made her long to
shriek. She dismissed the scholars at the earliest possible
moment, emptying her pockets of apologetic pennies to those whom she
had snubbed, and kissing with convulsive penitence more than one
startled, dirty little face. At last she was escaping and
getting time for the last great struggle; that this should go on
longer was intolerable. That night, for better or for worse,
she must come to an end of the matter. With that curious
hesitation, which comes so often after impatient haste, she stood at
her desk, moving and then replacing the simple implements of her
craft. She had wiped a second time her already dry pens and
placed them on the stand, was gliding her hand towards her pocket in
search of her keys, and glancing around for the registers, which had
already been put away, when a sharp click of the door-sneck made her
drop her keys and put her hands apprehensively upon her heart,
whilst a sweep of drapery behind the partition made her start
forward with a suppressed cry, and then draw back with a wondering
exclamation as Jessie Bradshaw came towards her.
"Jessie!" she cried, whilst the blood mounted to her face and
then fled back again. But this was not the gentle, kind-eyed
mistress of Highfield, but some haughty, imperious goddess, an inch
or more taller than the loving friend she knew. Her lips were
almost nipped together, and her eyes cold and hard. Her bosom rose
and fell rapidly, and there were tremors here and there, in spite of
desperate efforts at self-control.
"Jessie, love! what—what is the matter?"
"Stop! Touch me not! I'm bad and mad! He
has made me so, and now he shall rue it! "
"Jessie! oh, my darling! don't look like that. What is
"It is wickedness! base wickedness; but badness shall be met
with badness; he shall not crush him; he shall not!"
Higher and higher she seemed to be drawing herself, until she
towered above her small companion like a tragic fury. Carrie,
watching her with hypnotised stare, saw the beginnings of a change,
and was anticipating a collapse, when the frenzied creature sprang
at her, took her head in her hands, and, peering down into the
startled, upturned eyes, demanded hoarsely—
"Do you love my brother Tom?"
"Jessie, dear, you are rude!" And Carrie snatched at
her visitor's hands, and would have pushed them away, but Jessie set
her teeth and held the head as in a vice, and commanded, "Answer;
tell me truly! Lift up your eyes that I may see—" And
then, without finishing, she stared down into the startled orbs
turned up to hers, and, suddenly releasing them and clasping her
hands together, whilst gracious tears rose into voice and eyes, she
finished, "Oh, thank God! thank God! Now I can tell you all!"
But Carrie's brain was clearing rapidly, and collectedness
had returned. The aching difficulties of her mind were
forgotten; her poor, distracted friend was in extreme need, and so
she braced herself up with a great effort for the task before her.
It was almost dark, and Jessie's sobs were echoing through the
deserted schoolroom, but Carrie stood calmly watching her for a full
minute, and then, moving softly towards her, took her round the
waist, drew her gently to the nearest bench, pulled the unwilling
face down until it touched her own, and then, pressing her lips upon
the quivering mouth, she murmured soothingly—
"Cry, love; it will do you good!"
"He would not! I implored him, humbled myself, went
down on my knees to him, and he would not!" But Carrie's
anxiety was rather to pacify than to question her friend just then,
and so she murmured softly—
"Well, well, dear; never mind! Try to calm yourself!"
Jessie's head burned and throbbed on her friend's shoulder,
and as she felt the laboured, quivering respiration her heart went
out in pity, and she put her hand on the broad brow.
"Poor George! poor, poor George!" sobbed Jessie at length.
"George? what about him, love? Is he in trouble?"
"Trouble!" And Jessie sat up and stared at her friend
through the gathering gloom indignantly. "Why, he's ruined!
The company's stopped, you know, and Tom—"
But Carrie was expecting this, and so she broke in, in a
soft, soothing voice—
"We can perhaps arrange that, if that is all."
"Us? Us arrange it? Oh, Carrie, he wouldn't do
it, even for you!"
Carrie knew perfectly well who the "he" was, but she was
thinking of her friend, and seeking some means of easing her
distraction, and so she replied quietly—
"Perhaps we can set the company going again."
"Us? Why, Carrie, it would take thousands of pounds!"
"Well, how much have you?"
"I? Not more than one; and Mr. Cornthwaite says—"
Carrie was in triumph; she was succeeding in diverting, if
only for a moment, this poor, distressed soul, and Jessie was
sitting up and thinking rapidly. And so, to keep her to the
subject, she interrupted—
"Oh, have you consulted Mr. Cornthwaite about it?"
"Yes, I have," and there was a sudden shy shame in her voice,
"and he says it would take three at least, and I have only one—that
I can get at."
"Well, I can find the rest."
"You! Two thousand pounds? Why, Carrie, I
"Yes; I suppose you did. Well, it is not a thing to
talk about, and I wanted to be a teacher properly; but I am not
without means, and independent of trustees."
"Oh, you darling! You sweet, angel darling! But
you wouldn't risk all that on such a scheme, would you?"
"Of course—and more; but we've now got down to humdrum
commercial matters, and so we can go home to tea."
It was already dark, but Carrie, watching her friend, saw
tears and smiles succeed each other on Jessie's fair face, and could
not decide which of the two looked most pathetic. But her own
headache had gone, and her terrible mental conflict was not merely
arrested, it was over. Sitting there in the gloom those few
moments, she had seen her way and resolved at all costs to follow
it. Her plan for the moment was to keep Jessie interested, and
so, as she took down and put on her cloak, she talked of George;
told of his eccentric work of the morning, and saw with delight, and
intense regret, that Jessie saw as much beauty in the freak as she
had done herself. Old Lot, evidently full of news, was
standing on the hearthrug when they entered, but on seeing the grand
visitor be vanished incontinently.
A strong dose of soothing mixture, a cup of hot tea, an
easy-chair, and a friend chattering gaily, did wonders for Jessie.
But now, seized with sudden alarm, she protested again and again
that Carrie must not risk her money, but simply loan it to her.
She grew quieter every moment, and leaned her wet-clothed head
languidly on the back of her chair, and tried to smile.
"You darling," she murmured gratefully, "you have been my
good angel to-day."
"Fudge! Here, take a little more of the sedative, and
Meekly accepting the dose, Jessie drank it off, and Carrie,
dropping down upon the rug, leaned easily and confidingly against
the other's knee, and turning her face towards the fire sat gazing
dreamily into it. Inwardly she was impatient and curious, but feared
to show it, lest she should excite her limp and pensive visitor.
"Then, Carrie, why did you take Tom, if—if you didn't love
"I never said I didn't."
"No, but you don't, I know you don't!" and then, with a
resigned sigh that belied her words, she added, "and after all, I am
"But why didn't you say so before I accepted him?"
"Oh, forgive me, dear; I was selfish. I loved you.
I wanted you for a sister, and to save Tom."
"Save him! Why, that is the very argument he used
himself! Why do you keep making these tantalising hints?
What is wrong with him? What has he to be saved from?"
But there was no answer. Jessie had gone paler and
closed her eyes, whilst soft tears glistened under her long
eyelashes. Carrie was eager to know more, and yet afraid, and
so, to change the subject, she went on, with fictitious raillery—
"What about this immaculate George of yours? Doesn't he
want saving from something or somebody?"
Still no response. Some capricious operation in the
mysterious law of mental association had carried her back in a flash
to the old, hard problem which had been agitating her brain for
months, and when Carrie looked up she saw two widely-dilated,
pain-strained eyes staring absorbedly at her. A shudder seemed
to pass through Jessie's frame; an exclamation almost of terror
escaped her, and she sprang up with sudden, almost fierce decision.
"I must be going!"
"Going?" And Carrie was on her feet and facing her in
an instant. "No, no, Jessie! You have forgotten that you
have something to tell me."
"Tell you! No, no! Forget it. I was mad in
the school-house. It does not matter now."
"It matters to me; you spoke of Tom, and he is my affianced
"But, girl!" and the desperate creature, now all excitement,
sprang again across the room, "he's my brother! my dead mother's
legacy to me! And then, standing there, she swayed to and fro
for a moment, and then, dropping helplessly forward into her
friend's arms, she cried wailingly, "Oh, Carrie! is it right?
I will tell you if it is right."
Carrie, overstrained and nervous, was fast becoming
impatient, but this last pathetic appeal went to her heart, and with
gentle, soothing words and soft, comforting kisses, she put her
friend back into the easy-chair, and then, resuming her place on the
rug, waited for her to speak.
Jessie sat uneasily sliding the fingers of one hand through
the interstices of the other, and at last she burst out—
"My brother is a base, bad man, Carrie! and George Stone is a
noble, Christian hero."
"You've said that before; explain it." And Carrie
sounded curt and irritable.
"Oh, Carrie! I long to tell you. I came to tell
you—but—but is it right?"
"You have said too much or too little; you cannot stop now."
Jessie bit her lip, pulled at her interlaced fingers, looked
hard, yet shyly, at her friend, and then asked softly
"Have you ever noticed a dent in George's head?"
"I? No. We were speaking about Tom."
"Well, there is one. He and Tom were playing on the
mill staircase when they were boys. George did something that
angered Tom, and he rushed at him and pushed him against the hoist
entrance on the third story. He fell all that distance, and
was picked up for dead."
"Nobody knew but the two how it had been done and George,
though he lay in the workhouse infirmary for two months, has never
named it, that I know of, from that day to this."
George was horsewhipped one day for a prank in the
engine-yard that Tom had done. Tom would have got off with a
scolding, but George was black and blue for a week. But father
found out something about that, and that was how his interest in
"They were still inseparable. George was his lackey and
slave, and bore the blame of all his tricks."
"When Tom went away to school he used to borrow money from
George, who was only a common mill-hand, and he kept it up when he
went to college; and he has never paid him back—except, it may be,
since father's death."
"The next—you know about Netty Swire?"
"Tom was flirting with her, and George tried to stop him for
her father's sake."
"And when it still went on, and Netty was on the verge of
ruin, George married her suddenly—to save her. She told me so
"Is there much more?"
"Tom got involved in betting, and persuaded me to lend him a
deed of mine whilst father was away, that he might raise money upon
"George accidentally found it out, and came to me; and
together we got the deed back. George found the money—three
hundred pounds. But he lost the deed out of his pocket the
night of the fire, and it was taken straight to father. Father
appealed to George, and when he would not tell anything, he broke
his head with an office-ruler, and then dismissed him."
"And Tom has allowed him to go under the suspicion of
dishonesty and dismissal."
"Is that all?"
"Yes, except that Tom is a roué and a gambler still."
There was a long pause. Jessie, exhausted with her long
and protracted efforts, sank back into her chair. Carrie
Hambridge was thinking in cataclysms, in revolutions—a whole crowded
lifetime apparently in every second—and when she did speak, the
hard, stern tone was stranger even than the strange sentiments she
"And that's your fine George Stone? The spiritless
milksop deserves all he has got!"
Carrie had taken a great resolve, and was now playing an
entirely new part.
"He does! He's the soul of a slave! Huh! I
cannot bear to think of him!"
Jessie was now gazing at her friend with amazed distress.
"Carrie, he loved Tom with a pure, unselfish love, and does
"Yet! I believe he would lie down and die for him at
this very moment."
"Well, all I can say is, that if that is your grand nonsuch
of a George, you're welcome to him. No man would have stood
Jessie was gazing at her in dull, helpless amazement but at
last, as Carrie flung out another cutting jibe, she gasped out—
"But what about Tom?"
"Tom? never mind Tom! It is George I am talking about;
and if that is the sort of person he is, you are heartily welcome to
him!" And Carrie studied the effect of her words carefully.
The incredulous astonishment upon Jessie's countenance slowly
gave place to a relieved, half-comforted smile, whilst a soft little
sigh escaped her; and Carrie, encouraged by the success of her
strategy, commenced talking in rapid, ad captandum fashion
about one thing or another until her companion's jaded brain failed
at the effort of comprehension; and after sitting and listening for
several minutes, contributing only an occasional ejaculation, she
rose to depart, and Carrie went with her down the lane towards the
But the Carrie who came back to Providence Cottage was not
the chattering, fussy little woman who had piloted her friend on her
way home, but a brooding, confounded, struggling creature. She
was very far indeed from being satisfied with what she had heard.
To her practical mind the story seemed strained and unreal, and it
seemed to her that the splendour of George's conduct existed chiefly
in Jessie's love-lighted imagination. The whole thing was too
crudely idealistic, and lacked the warm touch of actuality and
humanness which alone could have made it perfect to her. The
devotion displayed excited her suspicion; it was too much of the
Sunday-school story-book order, only she found it difficult to
associate mawkish sentimentality with George Stone. She felt
herself hovering on the borders of contemptuousness, and very
heartily wished that the hero of the tale had been a little less
virtuous and a little more manly and human. The mental image
of the great, strong fellow sitting as a monument of persecuted but
all-forgiving meekness, offended her; cold scorn rose within her,
and she shook herself as she thought of it, and heartily wished she
had never heard the tormenting narrative. But she had more to
do yet with this momentous matter, and on this, the most eventful
night of her history; and so, after standing musingly before the
fire for a while and glancing anxiously at the clock, she went to
her little desk, filled up a cheque upon a London bank, buttoned her
cloak mechanically, adjusted her jaunty little hat, and just as the
parish timekeeper chimed eight she was knocking for the first time
in her life at the door of "Squint Hall."
conceived a great idea, and formed a resolute purpose. There
was love in it, and gratitude and sweet self-sacrifice, and these
seemed to uplift and inspire her; but all the same she realised that
she was on a risky, even compromising, errand. And yet she
could not deny herself a last melancholy pleasure: she wanted to see
and talk to George once more before she—but the door opened, and the
man himself stood before her. He had a pen in his left hand
and another behind his ear, and when, with hearty welcome, he
ushered her into the house, she beheld a table, covered all over
with sheets of plans, evidently about the rebuilding of the
school-chapel. She was a little flustered and nervously
breathless, and so, to gain time for self-recovery, she stepped up
to the table, crying—
"What! architecting, George! The new chapel! What
a handy man you are!"
She could not have made a happier hit for her momentary
purpose. He bent over the table with her, spread out the plans
with eager, almost childish pride, and cried exultingly—
"Won't it be grand? Just like the old place—only
Carrie had always regarded the old school-chapel as the very
ugliest public building she had ever seen, and she knew George had
good natural taste in such things. Then she realised, with a
flash of sympathetic insight, that it must have been a wonderful
affection that so transfigured the old building to him. But he
"Those are the very same old, blessed stones that were in the
old place, and we are putting them in the very same places—chiselled
over again, you know."
"How fond of it you were, George?"
"Fond of it! Bless you, miss"—but here he dropped his
voice into a whisper of wonderful confidence—"I owe everything to
that old building, everything in the world;" and then, putting his
hand gently on her cloak-sleeve, he added, reverently, "I was
converted in that old chapel—but I never let on; you know, I knew
"Converted" was a word Carrie particularly disliked, but she
knew exactly what it connoted to Methodists, and it had always been
one of her favourite contentions that the word and the thing did not
agree, and that the interpretation put upon the word did not tally
with the observed facts of human nature; people were good and bad
before conversion, and good and bad after. And the strange
intermingling of qualities so obvious in George had always seemed to
confirm her own theory. But now he was taking the argument
away from her, and she glanced him over with half-protesting
curiosity, and was conscious of an odd, inconsistent sort of
disappointment. But old Lyd was pulling at her cloak to induce
her to take a seat, and so she turned from the table and dropped
into a chair. Then she loosed the neck of her cloak, stole a
long, scrutinising glance at George, who was still bending lovingly
over his plans, and noted for the first time that the shape of his
head seemed to have changed. The upper part of it appeared to
have moved forward and filled out in front; his brow had broadened,
and the back of his neck had lost its fleshy creases. He was
turning to look at her, and so in self-defence she began to talk.
"I came to see you, George, on a matter of business. I
want a few shares in your wonderful company." He shot at her a
sharp, shrewd look, and then, tossing up his head, he laughed his
old, hearty laugh, and answered—
"You're too late, miss; that thing is off entirely."
And to her surprise he talked as though it were of no moment.
"Yes, I heard there was a hitch, and that is why I came."
He was now sitting forward on the edge of a chair, and he
raised his eyebrows and objected with a deprecating smile—
"But, miss, I heard you were opposed to it, and—and your
future husband, too."
"I was; but it is a woman's privilege to change her mind, you
know, and I can surely do as I like with my own!"
George's face was a study; he was staring straight before him
with puckers of perplexity on his brow, and a wild, delirious, eager
light growing into his eyes. He remained in this attitude so
long that she concluded he was not going to answer; but suddenly he
dropped his eyes upon her, put his head on one side with a crafty
look, and said—
"It's no use, miss; we want a lot of money."
"How much, about?"
He was studying her with an intensity that was grotesque and
very embarrassing, and answered, as he watched her slightest
"Three thousand at least."
"Well, I know a friend who is applying for one thousand
pounds' worth of shares, and I should like two."
"It is! It is!"
He had sprung to his feet like a wild man.
"It's him! It's him! He's coming to! I knew
he would! I said he would, bless him! May God Almighty
"He? Who? Whoever are you talking about?"
Had he been less eager and excited, her amazement might have
undeceived him; but he saw nothing, heard nothing, and commenced to
hug and rock himself in a frenzy of delight. He rolled his
great head about and shouted, and then stopping suddenly with a new
thought, he cried, groaningly—
"But I shall never keep it; I didn't forgive him."
Carrie, despairing for the moment of getting anything out of
the crazy fellow, thought it best to take the first opening, and so
"Him! Mr. Tom! my dear old friend! I forgave him
and forgave him till it came to that, and then I couldn't. And
I cannot yet! I cannot yet!"
"Never mind, you will in time—but about these shares?"
She might as well have talked Chinese; he took not the
slightest notice, but stared before him, struggling with wild,
warring, internal emotions. He ignored the gaping old Lyd, and
the business Carrie had come upon; and turning upon the latter he
cried, with fierce vehemence—
"He took you! He took you under my very eyes! I
never loved but you, and never shall! I was moving heaven and
earth to get you, and he came and took you. I cannot! I
will not forgive him!"
Carrie felt certain that the frenzied fellow was losing his
reason, and was not sure that she was much better off herself; but
once more the reserve of strength which always came to her in
supreme moments befriended her, and she leaned back in her chair,
closed her aching eyes, and tried to think. Was there ever a
soul involved in such a tangle of complications? The hasty
plan she had formed earlier in the evening, and which had come to
her like an inspiration, was now beset with difficulties and
threatened to go to pieces. A temptation had come to her out
of George's mad confusion; she loved the idea of letting him think
that Tom was the secret provider who was coming in at the eleventh
hour to float the concern, but she could not quite see all that
might be involved in the suggestion, and hesitated what to do.
The eagerness George had displayed in misinterpreting her words told
its own tale, and sent hot tears up into her eyes. What a
contradiction this man was, and how supremely ridiculous he was
making all her character-studying look! Half rustic, half
saint, the body and manners of a workman, and the guileless
simplicity of a little child! What a puzzle he was! She
had not yet learned that whatever the theology about which a man
argues and contends, it is the theology of his childhood upon which
he acts. But the uncomfortable silence challenged her.
Lyd in the corner opposite was watching her grimly, and George with
his back to the fire was metaphorically tearing his strong fingers
to pieces behind him, and evidently struggling for self-mastery.
It was no use ignoring the words he had uttered; it was better to
face them at once.
"George," she said, gravely, "you have done me a great
honour, but Tom did not know you thought of me."
"He didn't! Of course he didn't! I must forgive
"But if he didn't know, there is nothing to forgive."
"No, but—oh, great God, how I do hate him!"
"You don't hate him! you never will hate him! Have
patience, and it will pass away."
George shook his head wearily and sighed; and so to comfort
him she went on—
"Tom and you may be faster friends than ever some
day—partners, perhaps, or even closer."
He did look at her now, but there was little curiosity,
scarcely even interest, in his eyes.
"The sweetest woman I know is to be had for asking for—and a
She was trembling at her own temerity and unscrupulousness,
but her heart was set upon carrying her point and diverting and
comforting the man she at least pitied. And she seemed to have
succeeded; he was looking dully at her from under his brows, but the
light of comprehension only rose slowly. She saw at last that
he had taken her meaning, for a great, girlish blush spread itself
over features most unwontedly sorrowful, and gradually the old
forlorn grief came back and deepened into haggard dejection.
Her work, she now saw, was done, although things had gone so
differently from what she had intended, and she was full of sad
"I must go now," she remarked, rising, and buttoning her
cloak. "There's the cheque, George, and I wish you every
She was choking as she said it, and, as he took her hand, she
saw that in his eyes which admonished her to be gone, and so whilst
he stood there struggling with emotion she only guessed at, she
hastened to the door, nodded a hasty good-night, and was gone.
Arrived at Providence Cottage, the great conflict of Carrie's
life commenced. Strong in the one unqualified virtue of her
nature, uncompromising honesty, she tore down curtain after curtain
in her soul, until every secret picture that hung there was exposed
to the light of cold reason. Had it not been for her own mean,
vulgar vanity, these complications would never have arisen.
She had defiled herself and injured others by coquetting with a
temptation which she imagined was the very last that could have
influenced her. She had made friendship, her friendship for
the Bradshaw girls—a cloak for worldly, sordid ambition, and had
tried to make herself love and marry a man she despised. She
had posed to herself as a student of character, and had been blindly
ignorant of her own most obvious and most contemptible weaknesses.
She had turned away from—to be honest, she had pretended to rise
above—her mother's religion and the Church in which she had been
trained, not merely in certain doctrines, but in the great
fundamental ethics of life, and had come to this lowly village to
find simple ecclesiastical institutions managed by ignorant,
narrow-minded people, which were producing, and that in the most
unpromising soil, moral characteristics and virtues which put her
own to the blush. A little Sunday-school, managed by
prejudiced, ignorant men, whose religion was more than half
superstition, had reached the buried greatness in a rough, neglected
human soul, and so brought it out that the despised thing he called
conversion had been the finishing touch in the turning of a twisted
country nature into a hero and a saint! Even yet she was
incredulous and despiteful about George Stone's conduct; there must
be some other and more natural explanation if this so straight a
tree had grown out of roots so tangled and crooked, and with nothing
to help it but that most puerile of Church institutions, a country
Sunday-school. Where were all her fine theories about human
perfectibility and natural development? Miracles! why, George
Stone was the greatest miracle she could conceive of. It was
not a reformation from wickedness—such things she could explain, by
psychological laws, perhaps—but this controverted her great laws of
heredity and environment, and here was clean out of unclean, figs on
thistles, grapes from thorns! Humiliating though this was to
intellect and heart alike, it was not the worst of the matter.
For George Stone the eccentric ne'er-do-weel she had had a
sneaking fancy, and admired many things in his most interesting and
unusual character; but for George Stone the narrow Methodist, whose
religion was half superstition and half ignorance, she had something
very like worship. There was that within her which overcame
intellectual pique and lady-like tastes, and bowed her down in spite
of herself at this man's feet. This young man was above her in
moral attainments, though she had been nurtured in Christian
refinement and he had been dragged from a slum! She had grown
in a social greenhouse, and he as a weed by the wild wayside.
The iron of humiliation burnt into her very soul, and for
pure relief she turned to other aspects of the case. Jessie loved
this strange young fellow. Jessie Bradshaw's love was a
benediction and an inheritance for any man; it was the least she
could do, the very least, to do all in her power to bring these two
That night there was a light in the schoolmistress's bedroom
that was never put out, and when the clogs of the mill-hands began
to clack on the pavement outside, she was sitting down on her packed
boxes, and scribbling with streaming eyes a series of hasty,
mystical little notes. When the clogs ceased, and that quiet
hour between their passing and the awakening of Mollins to ordinary
business came, she stole downstairs, and, cloaked and veiled, sped
down Stump Cross lane, and round by the upper parts of the village,
until she stood under the shadow of the Highfield gates.
Peering in the dim light through the railings, she sobbed aloud, and
cried, "Good-bye, old house! Good-bye, Lena! Good-bye,
dear, dear Jessie!" and then turned hastily away. Her emotion
seemed to increase every moment, and when she passed "Squint Hall"
in returning, she put a hot hand to quivering lips and waved a kiss
to George Stone's windows. Then she stole down the Ginnel,
crept along until she came to the ruins of the school-house, sprang
lightly over the low side wall, dabbed a hasty kiss on each of the
old stones so carefully laid out by George, and then scurried shyly
back to her room at Providence Cottage.
Oh, to think of it! Instead of studying, analysing,
labelling the human life of this little Mollins, she had lost her
heart to it, and spoilt what might have been the pretty romance of
the employer's daughter and the poor working lad. Spoilt it?
she had spoilt a man's life and a woman's happiness—and broken her
own heart into the bargain.
She had locked her bedroom door when she went out, and now
remained in the snug little place that never had looked so cosy as
it did this morning, until breakfast was quite ready. She
answered Mrs. Chorlton's remarks about the weather and other local
topics with almost painful attentiveness, and then amazed that
solemn lady by catching her round the neck and showering upon her
grey, cold face a series of convulsive little kisses as she left for
school. But when she got down the lane, she drew a little hand
travelling-bag from under her cloak, turned into the road up which
she had first entered Stump Cross with George Stone for porter, made
a hurried little dash for the station, and by twelve o'clock that
day it was known in the village that the schoolmistress had
disappeared, and that the "Mollinfoot Manufacturing Company" had
AFTER THREE YEARS.
THE third summer
after Carrie's sudden disappearance from Mollins was an
exceptionally long and fine one, and the sometime day-school
mistress was now joint principal of a ladies' boarding school in a
select South-country watering-place. The money she brought
into the concern, her degree (she was now M.A.), her modern
training, and her very unusual teaching gift, had wrought a
wonderful change in the moribund establishment, and her elder
partner, though obstinate enough at first, was soon only too glad to
let her brilliant colleague have her own way, so that the school was
already prosperous and popular. Carrie, who taught very little
now, managed everything and everybody in her own gently imperious
way, and had become quite an important little person in the very
select society of Luddington-on-Sea. But Miss Padway was
getting uneasy about her partner; the hot weather seemed to be
trying her very severely, and she had become listless, flat, and
fitfully pensive. She began each day with the old sparkle and
energy, but before it was half over she was limp, absent-minded and
fretful, and sometimes spent much time in her own room. Miss
Padway blamed the heat, her colleague's intemperate and unnecessary
activity, her high-strung temperament, and a score of things, for
she did not know, good, comfortable soul, that Miss Hambridge's
enthusiasms and energies were efforts to escape from aching memories
and desperate bids for self-forgetfulness. Carrie had been
very confident of herself and very hopeful in her early success.
New interests, absorbing, time-filling activities, and the silent,
obliterating influence of time, would bring her the relief she
needed. For a time it had seemed so, nay it was so; and now
after two and a-half years she was realising that the dull, dogged
old trouble had, after all, only been biding its time, and that her
love for the odd, rough, fantastically chivalrous lover in the North
had not only not become manageable, but had grown stronger, deeper,
fresher all the time. Two years of relentless, uncompromising
suppression would, she had told herself, at least exhaust it; and
she was awakening to the fact that it was as active and persistent
The day had been intolerably sultry, and the thunderstorm
which had been impending for hours was passing over, whilst a
delicious sea-breeze had made the open air attractive, and Carrie
had hidden herself away in an old summer-house at the bottom of the
kitchen garden, where she abandoned herself to melancholy broodings.
She was back in Mollins: the sweet old days, now so painfully
delicious, were passing before her mind once more, and the
school-house, the clattering clogs, Highfield House, "Squint Hall,"
and the old Methodist place of worship, were as real to her as they
had been in the dear old days for ever gone. A strong,
passionate longing, clamorous and reproachful through long, cruel
repression, was surging irresistibly up within her. She was
looking forward to the approaching holidays with something worse
than weariness. Oh, for one secret, flying visit, one little
momentary peep into the scenes once so much to her!
"Miss Hambridge, please!"
She did not hear; her eyes were warm with light and tears,
and she was kissing in vision the comely cheek of her true-hearted
"Miss Hambridge, please!"
"Oh! ah! yes, what is it?" and she covered her telltale eyes
with her hand and glanced somewhat impatiently along the little
side-walk that ran into the broad garden path.
"The post, miss! Miss Padway told me to bring them."
"No, take them—well, yes, come along!"
A rosy-cheeked maiden of about sixteen stepped humbly forward
and handed a packet of letters. The first was a newspaper, and
as the girl retired, Carrie glanced at the familiar wrapper with a
wistful smile; for whilst Tom Bradshaw had done all sorts of
extraordinary things to ascertain the whereabouts of his fiancée,
the little printer-proprietor of the Butteridge Mercury, who
was owner, printer, editor, and reporter-in-chief of that
distinguished journal all rolled into one, could have given him the
exact postal address: only he never thought of applying to such a
There were bills and circulars with cards of invitation to
the prize distribution of several rival schools, and then at the
bottom she came upon a bulky letter in a handwriting she had not
seen for many months, and that brought wonder, fear, and soft,
grateful tears into her eyes as she looked at it. She held it
out and stared at it; dropped it sighingly upon her lap, and put her
hand over her heart, a habit she had acquired of late. A
footfall upon the gravel path made her snatch it up and hide it,
first in her pocket and then in her bosom.
The visitor passed, and all became still again. The
letter seemed to be burning her, and she took it out and kissed it
over and over again, and then sat looking at it. If there had
been any doubt about the not very remarkable writing, the postmark
would have removed it. For all these months, acting shrewdly
upon the principle that no concealment is the best concealment of
all, she had gone on her way and never had any communication with or
knowledge of Mollins except such as the weekly Mercury
provided. And now, just when her heart was aching for the old
life, this message had come out of it!
What should she do? Twelve months ago she might have
burnt it, in hasty self-distrust, but this stifling evening, languid
and longing, she did not seem to have strength for anything
decisive, and toyed with the missive in uncertain, hesitant manner.
Prudence, self-interest, even the new smart of the old sore warned
her, and she put the letter down upon the bench at her side, and
turned away from it with a sigh. But the sigh had a long,
quivering termination, and before it had ended there was a pained
smile on the pale lips and a blinding mist before the eyes.
Then she fell to musing in idle, dilatory fashion of what she knew
about Mollins since she left it.
The "Company" had been successful from its very commencement,
her own dividends having been paid into her bank with exemplary
promptitude every half-year; the last being at the rate of 12½ per
cent. The firm of Bradshaws had become a "Limited Company,"
Tom had married a "variety artiste," and gone to live in North
Wales. The Methodist School-chapel had been rebuilt and
formally opened, Miss Jessie Bradshaw using a silver key for the
purpose, which was publicly presented to her by "Mr." George Stone,
in a speech fully reported in the Butteridge Mercury, and
which Carrie had read over and over again. Lena Bradshaw had
married Dick Frater, of The Scout, and Lot Crumblehulme had
retired from business and been elected a member of the Mollins
School Board. She had smiled over his official designation of
"Gentleman," and laughed heartily at his election address, which was
quite in his best style. As she recalled these and like things
which she had read so eagerly in the all-precious little local
print, her hand stole down to the letter, and she began toying with
it again in the same brooding, dilatory manner as before. Then
she raised it, looked it carefully over, back and front, laid it
against her cheek and tenderly held it there, kissed the corners
lingeringly, and sighed every now and then, and finally, with a
tremulous plunge, tore it open and breathed a delighted little sigh
as she discovered it was eight pages long and crossed all over.
Another wavering, fluttering little struggle, another shower
of kisses, and then she spread out the sheets, wiped her eyes, and
"July 24th, 189-.
"My DEAREST CARRIE,
At last! at last! Oh, you cruel! cruel darling!
You nearly broke my heart, and his. Oh, Carrie, he does love
you so and he's so successful and good, and such a gentleman [The
mistress had to stop, a wonderful joy blazing through swimming eyes
and making reading impossible.] I found you by a dream (God is
good). I saw you in a boarding-school by the sea, and you did
look so pitifully ill! (Are you, my darling? are you?) I have
not told George; he comes to see me often, and he is so very, very
kind—just the kindness that is so hopeless. I looked up a list
and found you. Got an old school friend, who is married down
your way, to make inquiries, and she sent me a photograph of your
school-girls with their mistresses; that is how I know you are so
ill—and you are? Oh, Carrie! Carrie! to go away that I
might have a chance was just like you, but it was worse than
useless; he will never love but one. Tom moved heaven and
earth to find you; I did all I could; Lena, and in fact
everybody—except George; he never did anything or said anything. [An
involuntary hand was laid on the reader's heart, as though some
sudden pang had struck her.] But he almost lived at the old
mill, working night and day, and went so thin! And he's not
himself yet, and never will be until you come back to him. Oh,
my dearest! you must come back at once. If you don't you will
break my heart, and his. Do you know I have had an offer of
marriage? George gives him an excellent character. He's
so kind to me—George, I mean—and he says he will wait—not George;
Mr. Bargetts, you know—as long as I like. And so I have made
up my mind—that is, I made it up as soon as I found you out—I'll
marry him—Mr. Bargetts, you know; not George. And the very day
I accept Mr. Bargetts I'll give George your address! I have
not told him yet, but it is hard to see his sad face and keep it
from him; I feel such a robber. I do not love Mr. Bargetts
(how can I?). He's the managing director of George's works; it
would be wicked to marry him, he's such a dear, kind fellow; but I
have made up my mind to be wicked for his sake—George's. If
you don't come back and marry him, I'll marry him—Mr. Bargetts, of
course—just to set George free; for I'm such a goose. He
knows—he must know—how it is with me. But I'll do it that he
may not keep single for my sake; as he will, and it is just like
him, isn't it? But dear, dear Carrie, you can put all right if
you will come back and let George have you. I can keep as I
am, and have you both for my very own. But if you will not come back
(excuse repetition) I will just marry Mr. Bargetts, and tell him
(George, of course) where you are. He's the noblest fellow
that ever was, and I now love him well enough (and you, too, my
self-sacrificing darling) to prefer his happiness to my own—"
There was much more, all in the same confused, excited
manner, but that was the sum of it; and Carrie let the letter drop
upon her lap, and leaned back with closed eyes to think it all out.
Her very soul glowed in admiration of the simple nobility of the
dear girl who had made so odd a proposal. She was so good and
true that she would soon love any decent man who was kind to her,
because she could not help it; and Carrie's plan was to stay away,
let her take her threatened course, and get married. Yes, she
would write to her, urge her to marry, but beg her not to tell
George where she was—at present. No! the safer course would be
to anticipate her holiday, start for Norway at once, and post her
letter to Jessie just as she was leaving, and perhaps prolong her
absence from England until Jessie had committed herself. Yes,
it seemed to be reasonable, so easy; but all at once a great,
swelling, frightening surge of long-suppressed emotion rose within
her in one sweeping, irresistible flood; all the old entrenchments
of prudence, womanly diffidence, and sternest self-repression were
swept away like driftwood before a mountain torrent; and every other
feeling and desire was swallowed up in an overwhelming, irresistible
longing to see Mollins and Mollins folk once more.
Sudden, ungovernable inrushes like this had come upon her
before, and, taught by experience, she allowed the torrent to expend
itself. She was weak, overwrought, ill, and taken unawares;
and coward cravings, which she promised to suppress afterwards, held
for the moment complete mastery, and carried her where they would.
They would pass, as other such fits had done; and when she was
herself again she could take the reasonable and safe course.
But the feeling did not pass; and presently she discovered, with
strange lack of concern, that she did not want it to pass. The
prospect of resuming the old struggle of self-suppression appalled
her; here there was rest, easeful, healing, seductive rest; dingy
Mollins became her enchanted isle; the harsh but familiar noises of
mill buzzer, school-bell, and clacking clogs became syren sounds;
and helpless, heedless, courageless, she floated softly into the
haven of sweet, if temporary reverie.
Two days later Carrie, clad in light summer draperies, a
Lancashire red rose in her hair, and a restless, eager look in her
jaded eyes, lay on a couch in the Highfield dining-room, talking
idly with her friend. She had travelled the day before to
Manchester, so that she could select her time of arrival and reach
Mollins whilst the people were at their work. She and Jessie
had got through their first excited greetings and the subsequent
interchange of confidences, and Carrie had been trying in vain to
sleep, and now lay talking about the hundred things that had
occurred in Mollins since she left. They had "had it out"
about George, and Jessie's hopes were high. She had made the
evening before a casual sort of remark to George, which she knew
would bring him to Highfield that afternoon, and for the last
half-hour she had been talking with one ear upon the door-bell.
Carrie was enumerating all the things she must see, and all
the places and people she must visit; and Jessie, with a new
uneasiness, was urging that there was plenty of time, when there
came through the open window the crunch, crunch, of heavy feet on
the gravel-walk outside. Jessie, sitting where she could see
the front gate, glanced hastily at her friend, and saw her go pale
to the lips. With an assumption of easy indifference she moved
her head, began to rise to her feet, and remarked that some one was
"You will have to excuse me a moment," she said; but as she
spoke she caught sight of a well-known form as it passed behind the
flowering currant bushes and approached the front door. Carrie
was sitting up with suddenly parted lips, and trembling all over.
"Don't! don't let him in!" she began.
"I'll not be a minute, dear," and Jessie hurried out of the
room, heedless of her friend's evident terror, caught the maid as
she went to answer the bell, and whispered, "Show him in here!" and
then sprang across the hall into the cool drawing-room.
A moment later, Carrie, with staring, frightened eyes,
buzzing ears, and perfect inability to either move or speak, heard
"Mr. Stone," and beheld a tall, handsome, well-dressed, and almost
intellectual-looking man before her. She could not have spoken
if her life had been at stake.
George, who had entered with something of the old easy,
rolling swing, pulled up, hat in hand, and stood riveted to the
The room seemed suddenly to have become an icehouse, neither
of them appeared to breathe, and for a period that seemed an
eternity neither of them spoke.
"Good afternoon, Miss Hambridge."
The old, mellow voice was husky with excitement, and the
great fellow spoke in a thick, choking whisper.
And Carrie, the cool-headed, self-masterful Carrie, sitting
up stiff as a waxwork figure, struggled with adhesive lips and
smothering throat, and at last gasped out, like an overtaken
school-girl, "Goo—good afternoon!"
And thus they remained: the hum of bees, and the murmur of
the distant mill came floating into the room, but neither of them
uttered a word.
Presently, in the same husky voice, he said—
"You're back in Mollins again!"
And she, rigid, choking, spellbound, could only force out
Another tormenting silence, and then—
"Miss Bradshaw would be glad to see you."
"She was"—and then she added helplessly, "Thank you!"
The little afterthought of acknowledgment seemed to relieve
him; he was more at his ease, and began to eye her over with
Oh, why did he stand like that? why did he not ask her why
she went away, and where she had been, and why she had returned?
Anything! anything! even a rude thing, rather than this maddening,
He took a step nearer; he was searching her face with mute,
distressful anxiety, and at last, in tones of pathetic humility, he
"When you were in Mollins, Miss Hambridge, I insulted you,
and perhaps helped to drive you away—will you forgive me?"
"Of course! Didn't I insult you by hinting of love—I
knew no better then."
The "then" went like a knife to her heart: strange, strong
dread added itself to her other struggling emotions, and scarcely
knowing what she said, she gasped out—
He did not seem to hear: she had spent these last four days
in imaginary anticipations of this moment it had been sweet and
bitter, delightful and terrible, but she had never conceived a
situation anything approaching this, and the agony of it was
intolerable. But he was standing there and waiting for her,
grave, solemn, and with a strange new dignity upon him that almost
awed her. With a little shiver she tightened her shoulders,
drew herself up, doubled her trembling fingers as they lay upon her
lap, and faltered out with a little crooked smile—
"I have nothing to forgive."
As he spoke he drew back a little, lifting a long, perplexed
sigh, and watching her sadly. Then, with sudden watching
comprehension, he breathed out relievedly—
"Ah, yes. Thank God, it was nothing to you."
"Yes! n-o—Yes! Don't say that!—it was, it was!"
"The love of a base-born village rough was anything to you?"
He seemed disappointed, almost shocked, and then he added in curious
self-recovery, "Thank God, it is past!"
It was very softly said, and with a cadence of deep but
purely involuntary disappointment. He turned sharply towards
her again with open, amazed eyes, and gasped out breathlessly—
"Is it not?"
As he spoke he sprang towards her, and stood there a picture
of ravenous eagerness, but there was no answer.
"Is it not?"
He was down upon his knees, and bowing towards her in an
attitude of almost awful reverence.
"It will never pass!"
The words were scarcely breathed, her eyes were closed, and
the tears shone on her long lashes; she was white as marble, and
trembling like a leaf, but he did not speak. A moment of
silent, almost agonising suspense, a great bursting sob, and then,
kneeling there with clasped, upraised hands and closed eyes, he
"Stay Thy hand, O God! Stay Thy hand! Thou wilt
kill me! kill me with joy!"
Carrie had always pictured him as an impetuous, impassioned
lover, but this was a great, still, solemn being, whose soul seemed
crushed with the weight of his own happiness. He rose at last;
an awe as of God was still upon him, and before she knew it he had
taken her up, and was holding her like a baby in his strong arms.
There was no kiss, however, no passionate outburst, no lover-like
ecstasy. He groaned, he shook like a leaf, and then, in
reverent tones that burnt themselves one by one upon her soul as he
uttered them, he cried—
"Take us, body, spirit, soul
Only Thou possess the whole!"
And Carrie—pride, self-confidence, intellectual superiority
all drowned in a sudden, overwhelming sense that in this simple
village lad, and his simpler religious faith, she was at last
finding sweet rest—breathed a fervent, quivering, "Amen!"
It was to have been a quiet wedding, but the villagers got
out of hand and refused to go to work. The fine old church was
packed from end to end, and the villagers followed the service with
joyous interest and hearty responses. George, the biggest man
there, and also the most serious, took his part with reverent
solemnity, and when they reached the musty little vestry, the
white-robed bride took the startled Jessie round the neck, and
pressing lip to quivering lip in one long, clinging kiss, murmured,
"God bless you!"
And George, with shining eyes, bent over, and saluting the
white brow, repeated fervently, "God bless you!"
Jessie was too full to speak, she drew back and looked at
them; sighed, and looked again; turned her face away hastily, and
then, conquering her emotions, gazed at them both with swimming
BRADBURY, AGNEW, & CO. LD., PRINTERS, LONDON AND