A Heroine of Home (II.)

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CHAPTER XIII.

AUTUMN MANŒUVRES.


I WENT to the station to meet Ernest and Lizzie.  There she was, my darling Liz, as bright as a sunbeam, darting along the platform to meet me, her pretty grey travelling-dress showing her light and graceful figure.  And yet, with all her eagerness of movement, how modest she looked.  One or two of the young men looked after her with evident admiration, and I could pardon them; though really some of the young men here are unpardonably rude.  I suppose they would feel very much aggrieved if one refused to call them gentlemen; but they have not the merest rudiments of courtesy, the first essential to that title.  They are mostly merchants' and bankers' clerks—and is not Edwin one of them?  But fancy Edwin pushing into a carriage when a woman had her hand on the handle of the door! fancy him puffing cigar-smoke into a girl's face! fancy him treating with disrespect the weak and the aged!  No; it is not mere class prejudice that keeps the ranks of Englishmen so far apart; it is really that it takes a great deal of training, domestic and social, to make men gentlemen—excepting always the few whom Nature turns out ready-made, who are the true gentlemen, after all, and may be what they please, and do what they please, for they could not be rough and overbearing, or do a mean and unkind thing if they tried.

    I had just come to this in the thoughts my few minutes of waiting had furnished, when Lizzie appeared.  After her came Ernest, more leisurely.  He came up and kissed me quietly, and then went off to look after their luggage.  Yet even the little look I had at him was enough.  How well I knew that look!  It has been his from his very babyhood—not habitually, of course, but whenever he was vexed and disappointed—a slightly increased pallor (and Ernest has less colour than any of us), a droop about the mouth, a far-away look in the eyes—meaning there is nothing in the world of the slightest consequence.

    "Lizzie," I whispered, "Ernest is not looking well.  He is unhappy about something."

    "Don't say anything about it, dear," pleaded Lizzie, in an answering whisper.  "Take no notice, and I will tell you all about it when we get home."

    "Then there is something?" I returned, anxiously.

    "It is really nothing," answered Lizzie, "and you need not look so alarmed, Una darling; only, I could not tell you here.  See, there he is coming back to us.  They have got our luggage on the platform already."

    "We can walk home, and the porter will bring up the boxes," I said.

    "Better have a cab," put in Ernest.

    "Cabs are not always to be had here, Ernest, you know."

    "It's a wretched hole of a place," he replied.

    "Really, Ernest," I was beginning, but Lizzie interposed.

    "It pleases you to say so, I know, but the walk with Una will do us good after our journey," and she led the way out of the station.

    We spoke to the porter about the boxes, and started for home.

    "I cannot see," began Ernest, whose grumbling was not to be repressed—"I cannot see why you should have chosen to come here, of all places, out of the way of everybody and everything."

    "The air is very good," said Lizzie, sniffing it.  "It smells of home."

    "We don't live on air," said Ernest, with the ghost of a smile.  "Besides, the air is just as good—rather better, I should say—at Kensington, or Hampstead, or some place like that."

    "It's dearer," said Lizzie, sententiously.

    "What's dearer, the air?"

    "Everything, houses especially."

    "Always this wretched poverty," he murmured.  We wisely took no notice of his speech.

    "It is very convenient for Edwin, who has to go to the City every day."

    "What a life for him!" said Ernest, and walked on in gloomy silence.

    I was feeling deeply hurt and somewhat indignant.  I could not pass it over like Lizzie, or charm him into a better mood, though I knew as well as she that under this unhappy temper lay the most generous of hearts.

    "If you have been anything like this, Ernest, you cannot have been a very pleasant inmate at Aunt Robert's."

    "I dare say not," was his reply.

    I made a last effort.  It would be quite dreadful if he should appear in this fashion before Aunt Monica.

    "Ernest," I said, wistfully, "don't let us be unhappy among ourselves.  We are all trying to put as brave a face on circumstances as we can.  Think how much Aunt Monica is sacrificing for us."

    "That is the worst of it," he said.  "I am sacrificing nothing."

    I did not quite understand the ring of mockery in his tone.

    "And there is Edwin," I went on.  "He has been working hard all through this hot summer without a murmur, and he hasn't had a single holiday."

    "And I have done nothing, and have had plenty of holidays."

    It was useless to go on.  He was in one of his most unreasonable moods, and I could do nothing.  I could only hope that he would, in deference to Aunt Mona, keep it to himself as much as possible.

    No sooner had I got Lizzie alone in our room than I began about Ernest, asking if he had had anything particular to vex him.

    "Well, I don't know why it should vex him so much.  He has said nothing about it to me; it is only from Aunt Robert that I know anything; at least, it was Aunt Robert who made me see it."

    "How delightfully clear it is."  I laughed, and Lizzie laughed too, but she blushed also, which was not a usual thing with Lizzie.  Embarrassment of any kind was something quite new in her.  "Well," she explained, "you know I told you the Winfields were there, and they went away, only Edith came back again on my account, Aunt Robert said, and we three used to go out together walking and riding, and of course I liked being with Ernest, and would never have found out that they liked better to be by themselves if Aunt Robert had not made me see it."

    "How did she make you see it?"

    "She only said that I made a better chaperone than she did—that I never left them for a moment.  And I asked if they wanted to be left by themselves, and she said, laughing, that she supposed they did; and it was quite true.  I easily found it out, and I took care to leave them enough then."  There was a little wounded pride, as well as hurt affection in Lizzie's tone, and I was conscious of several new sensations which were not wholly pleasurable.

    "After I found it out," Lizzie went on, "I did not ride any more; I preferred to be with Aunt Robert, and go out with her in the pony-carriage; and they were fond of walking in the rose-garden, which is behind a thick screen of laurel, and I have often seen Ernest pluck a rose and give it to Edith, and she always wore it in the evening in her dress, or in her hair.  I would not care if I liked her very, very much," said Lizzie; "but I do not see why he should be so unhappy about it, for I think she is quite as fond of him as he is of her.  He has been getting worse and worse ever since she went away, a week ago.  Perhaps he expected her to write to him, and she has not done it.  Do you think that is it?"

    "No, I don't suppose so; but I think I understand."

    I could hardly answer, for I was thrilling with her tidings; sympathy with my darling brother, mingled with a dread of this new power, so potent to change all things, which had drawn near to us with unknown consequences, and again an undefined shrinking from the cause of it.

    "You have not told me why you think he is so unhappy," said Lizzie, who liked to know things definitely.

    "Why, my darling?  Because he is so poor he cannot ask Edith to marry him."

    "Oh, he can't want to be married just yet."  Lizzie's idea was that to be married was the winding up of all that was interesting and agreeable.  It might be a solemn duty, or a disagreeable necessity.  She could not fancy that it was in any way desirable.

    "He may not," I replied, "but he has no prospect for many years, if ever."

    "But she is rich."

    "So much the worse for him."

    "I do not see that at all."

    "Don't you see that it would be dreadful for a man without a penny of his own, to presume upon the wealth of the woman he asked to marry him?  Don't you see it would be like asking for her money?"

    "But if they love each other?"

    "My dear, love will not furnish the house.  Is he to say, 'I will order all these things, and pay for them when I get your money?'  Would not the disinterestedness of such love be open to question?"

    "Oh yes, it would be dreadful; but they could wait," persisted Lizzie.

    "It is impossible for a man in Ernest's position to ask a young lady in society to wait for him an indefinite period.  She may have better offers, you know."

    "And you are the dearest old humbug, and I have found you out.  You are only talking Smithsonese, and you know as little about it as I do.  All that I know is that I would find a way out of it."

    "I do believe you would; but many never do find the way out of unhappiness in this world."

    "Now what have you been doing to yourself, you doleful old darling?" cried Lizzie, when she had released me; for my sentence had suffered death by suffocation.  "Have you been falling in love with Mr. Claude Carrol, about whom you have been writing so much?"

    "Don't, dear.  And you have never told me any thing about Mr. Temple," I said.

    Lizzie was all eager animation once more.

    "Oh, when he came, it was quite another thing.  I enjoyed myself then.  I had a companion of my own, and got as much walking and riding as I wanted."

    Lizzie always delighted in physical exertion—far more than I did.

    "There never was anybody so nice as Mr. Temple," went on Lizzie.  "He is so unselfish.  I don't know if Ernest has told him anything, but he devoted himself to me.

    "And oh, Una!" she cried, "I have seen Highwood, papa's old home.  It is lovely, all surrounded by woods.  Aunt Robert drove me over, without telling me where we were going.  She wanted me to get down and go over the grounds, but when I knew where I was I would not."

    "Quite right.  It was wrong of her to ask you; it would have been like stealing into the place.  But what are we thinking about?  Dinner will be on the table before we have so much as washed our hands.  Don't let us speak another word."

    Our neighbours considerately left us to ourselves that evening, and Ernest, putting constraint upon himself, was quite pleasant. He tells us that Mr. Temple is in London, and that he had intended to take lodgings near us, in order that they might do a few weeks' reading together.

    "But I don't know that I ought not to warn him against this out-of-the-way place."  That was his one discontented speech.

    Mr. Temple, however, did not wait to be warned.  He came down next day, and found no fault with the place at all, but, on the contrary, expressed the strongest desire to take up his temporary abode in it.  Lizzie was delighted, and offered to help him to find a lodging; and, accordingly, off she sallied with him and Ernest.  She had seen something about apartments to let in the window of a fancy goods repository, and she was to take there.  She pleaded hard for me to go, but I declined, though Mr. Temple backed her request.  He is much more deferential to me than to Lizzie; but, then, I feel conscious of shrinking into myself.  It is always Lizzie who wins love, and who deserves to win it.  What transparent purity of motive is in all she does!  What bright, breezy, healthful freedom, without a touch of coquetry!

    Aunt Mona and I were sitting in our little garden where Mrs. Carrot and Clara had joined us, taking advantage of the warm afternoons to sit out-of-doors and in the shade, when our little party returned triumphant.  The apartments were over the shop itself, but Mr. Temple was quite satisfied.  He did not think the proximity of the Berlin wool and worked slippers would affect him in any way.

    He was introduced by Aunt Mona to Clara and her mother, and when Claude came to carry them off, to him also.  Shortly after, he took his leave, hoping that Aunt Mona would not find him in the way, with his comings and goings.


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CHAPTER XIV.

FAMILIAR THINGS.


ERNEST rises very early in the morning, and does three or four hours' reading before any one is up.  Mr. Temple is doing the same.  After breakfast they meet to compare notes, and go on again together in Mr. Temple's lodging.  He has arranged it so.  Then Ernest comes home to lunch, and later in the afternoon Mr. Temple comes in, and we all go out together.  "Whenever the weather is fine," was the arrangement, and the weather is persistently so—the loveliest autumn weather, we one and all declare.

    Aunt Mona and Mrs. Carrol are well contented to be left together while we roam about, for Clara and Claude generally join our little party.  A rather formidable party we appear with our increased numbers; but there is one thing we cannot do, and that is increase our outlets into the world at large.  We must go past the cemetery or through the rows of houses, or out into the fields; and we invariably prefer the latter.  So that already we know every inch of the way to and about our one country walk.

    I generally lead the way with Claude Carrol, and Lizzie follows with Mr. Temple, while Ernest and Clara bring up the rear.  But sometimes we change partners on the way, or get into a group and talk all together, especially when we reach the stile which is the usual limit of our walk.  There is a great elm lying felled there, with moss on its trunk and tiny green sprouts of branchlets of this summer's growth, and we sometimes sit on the trunk while the gentlemen lean on the stile, or assume less elegant and more easy attitudes, as it pleases them.  Ernest had adopted one of these—in fact, was sitting astride the stile one evening, when a silence seemed to fall upon our merry chatter.  A laugh from him seemed to break it harshly.

    It is in a slight hollow, this favourite resting-place of ours, so that it quite shuts out all view of houses beyond, and might be miles away in the heart of the green country, instead of merely on the fringe of the great Babel.  Four fields meet there, their tall hedgerows dotted with weird-looking pollard elms; but here and there, perhaps at the corner of a field, a cluster of trees have been left to themselves and Nature, and have made the best use of their freedom, and formed themselves into lovely groups.  One little path runs up a little, a very little, hill; another, on the other side of the stile, across a wide field on to another dusty highway, terminating, like the one we have quitted, in long rows of houses.  We were all standing except Clara, who had just sat down on our tree-trunk, when Ernest broke the silence by that laugh—

    "How often," he said, "shall we come here, and find everything the same?  Five times have I sat on this stile gazing on the impressive scene.  This fence, these turnips, that field over which the ploughshare has passed."

    He spoke in mock heroics, but no one seconded him, only Mr. Temple said, gently, "The same, yet not the same.  Never the same."


"Isn't it perfect?" said Lizzie.


    "Isn't it perfect?" said Lizzie.  She was standing looking westward, looking at the serenely lovely sunset which had hushed us all unconsciously.  Claude and I were standing in the shadow.  The glow from the sky, of tenderest rose and gold, was falling full on Lizzie, and lighting her face into angelic beauty.  It was lighted from within, too, with the first fine careless rapture of youth.  The glow of health, too, was on her cheek, its shine in her eyes.

    "Look at that smoke going up from the ground," she said.  "It is like the smoke from a heathen altar."

    "Burning bricks!" ejaculated Ernest, but still no one responded.

    Mr. Temple and Claude had both been looking at Lizzie, and for a moment they glanced at the smoke forming a golden haze as it rose and spread on the near horizon, but they both turned their eyes again to the unconscious child—after all, she is little more—with looks that said, plainly enough, "Isn't she perfect?"

    "One could never tire of this," said Lizzie, presently.

    "Speak for yourself, Liz," said Ernest, leaping from his seat.  "I am tired enough of it," he was about to say, but politeness prevailed.  "Come, Miss Carrol, we will be more enterprising," he said.  "Let us climb the hill here, and look out upon a wider scene."

    Clara rose, nodded to him and smiled to us, and the two set off up the gentle slope, full in the light of the setting sun, with their figures relieved against the tall hedgerow.

    Even in that light, and there is always a kind of glamour in it, there was no mistaking these two for lovers.  They take a certain amount of pleasure in each other's society.  They even venture on differences of opinion, but on the whole agree wonderfully.  Clara's estimate of life is nearer to Ernest's than that of any of us.  She is less of an optimist, and feels the vanity of human things more deeply.

    We who were left began to compare notes on the love of change.  It was Claude who said the most in praise of familiar things.  He was quite eloquent in favour of never tiring of anything, of seeing new beauties in the things we saw every day, not only in a scene like this, of which the peculiar homely loveliness was so attractive, but in all the objects of one's daily life.  "One gets to know them better and to see more beauty in them, as a child always thinks its mother's face is beautiful, however homely she may be," he said.

    Mr. Temple's contribution to the discussion was in far fewer words, but we all felt them deeply—

    "How sad life grows without familiar faces, only one can know who has neither father nor mother, sister nor brother."

    When we saw Ernest and Clara coming down the slope again, we started slowly forward; Claude and Lizzie first, then Mr. Temple and I, and very little more was said among us until we reached home and parted at its threshold.

    Tacitly we agreed among ourselves to take our last walk for the season to this spot, which was becoming a charmed spot to more than one of us.  The end of our season coincided with Ernest's and Mr. Temple's departure for Cambridge in October and the falling of the autumn rains, which rendered our field paths well nigh impassable.

    We were specially merry that day.  Toodles, kneeling on a chair in the bay-window by the side of his mother and the baby, kissed his hand gallantly to us as we went by, and followed us with wistful looks.

    We knew it was to be a day of parting, and on that account we may have been rather determinedly gay; but after all we were no sad-hearted sentimentalists, but a bevy of healthy hearty young people, who could not help being gay except with good reason to the contrary, and there was no such reason pressing on any of us, or at least immediately pressing, whatever shadows might make up the background of our lives.  We had the joy of healthful life, of happy companionship, of freedom in the present and of hope for the future.

    But for all that, we carefully avoided the subject of our breaking up.  I walked out with Claude, but as usual lately, Lizzie and I changed partners on the way home, and Mr. Temple returned with me.  He was unusually silent, but I did not expect him to say anything about the breaking up of our party, as we called it, for he was by far the most reticent of our three gentlemen in matters of feeling.  Ernest, even, had forborne to turn it into jest, which was his way of retaliating on emotion; and Claude, who had far more freedom of speech, though it was not gush, was silent!

    But after walking side by side in silence, a silence which at any rate betokened our increase of intimacy—a few weeks ago we should have mutually striven to fill it up with the merest nothings—he began by saying, "I hope I shall see our favourite spot again before long.  In spite of the beauty of the autumn sunsets, I think it must look its very loveliest in the spring-time."

    "Yes," I answered, "and I think it may even look beautiful in winter, etched out in black and white."

    "I regret I shall not be there to see," he returned.  "My Christmas holidays are—at least, they almost always have been—divided between my uncle, and my guardian who lives in London.  It may seem an imputation on my modesty to say so, but I believe I should inflict severe disappointment by breaking through the use and wont of it.  Last Christmas I could not go to Dorset Square as usual, because of illness in my guardian's family, so this Christmas I am doubly due there."

    Another silence, which I tried in vain to break.  Then he said, in a voice almost tremulous, "These days have been among the happiest of my life, Miss Lancaster; so you will not wonder that I regret to have them come to an end."

    He was looking to me for some response, but I could make none, though my inability to do so pressed upon me like a nightmare.

    It was a relief to hear him speak again, though this time there was the modification of tone, which told of an effort to control emotion and return to commonplace.

    "You have all been so kind to me," he continued.  "Your aunt and your sister have treated me as if I had been a near relative.  You do not know how grateful I am for their kindness—for all your kindness."

    His voice fell again.  We were once more at home.  Claude and Lizzie had already entered.  We waited for the other two, and then bade one another good-bye.

    It was only for an hour or two, for we were to meet again in the evening.  Our friends were coming in to tea, and to spend the evening.

    We had a very pleasant time of it, with plenty of music; for Claude Carrol and his sister both played and sang, and they had beautiful voices, as also had Lizzie and Edwin.  Edwin was with us, for a wonder.  He got home early—a thing which was becoming quite unusual with him—and we all made much of him—too much, he seemed to think, for he shrank from the praise bestowed upon his diligence in business, with the nearest approach to irritation I had ever seen in him.

    Lizzie, always fonder of Edwin, or at least always more demonstrative of fondness towards him than any of us, ran to the door when she heard his knock, and dragged him in amongst us before he had time to go up-stairs.

    "Oh, I am so glad you have got away she said.  It does seem a shame that you should be hard at work while we are enjoying ourselves; and we always used to call you the lazy one, too."

    "I fancy I am the lazy one still," he said.  "But let me go now and make myself presentable."

    He had greeted everybody by this time, and was leaving the room.

    "Lazy!" repeated Lizzie, indignantly, "and you working like a slave, and often kept so late that you can't eat anything when you come home."

    A wave of colour spread over Edwin's face, which was beginning to assume a kind of paleness, the paleness which leaves the rose-colour more prominent on the cheek.

    "My work is not so very hard, Lizzie, that you should make such a fuss about it," he said, irritably.  "I have lots of idle time," and he left the room, returning, however, his own placid sweet-natured self, to join in the singing, and accept Lizzie's supreme devotion in the matters of tea and cakes.

    In the course of the evening the little room got very hot.  It was quite warm that last evening in September, and the moon was at the full.  Having discovered all these important facts, Ernest, with his accustomed restlessness, proposed to Mr. Temple to adjourn to the garden.  Edwin was playing accompaniments to Lizzie and Claude, and Clara and I were prepared to remain as listeners, but Mr. Temple turned back in a hesitating way, saying, "Won't you come, Miss Lancaster?" and then Clara rose, saying, "I'll come too, if you please."

    So we procured two soft shawls—Clara her mother's, and I Aunt Mona's—and wrapping our heads in them, Spanish fashion, went out at the little back door into the garden.

    The two gentlemen were already marching up and down the narrow gravel walk, and we stood still on the railed landing which served the purpose of a balcony.

    What is it the moonlight will not beautify and solemnise?  The square formal gardens with their shrubs, the little summer-house with its lattice-work and Virginian creeper, were changed, as if by magic, from their common daylight looks to one of far-off mystery and loveliness.  The gentlemen took one or two turns on the gravel, and then came and stood at the foot of our balcony.

    "Why don't you come down to us?" said Ernest.

    "Miss Lancaster declines," said Clara.  "She thinks the crunching noise in that lovely light something quite unlawful."

    Mr. Temple did not move again; Ernest began lighting a cigar.

    "I did not know you smoked, Mr. Lancaster," said Clara.

    "It is quite a new accomplishment," I said.  "Ernest did not smoke a few months ago, and we were quite proud of it."

    "I don't do much of it now," he replied, "only it is said to be soothing."

    "You don't smoke, Mr. Temple?" said Clara.

    "No; I do not.  I gave it up."

    "He gave it up," said Ernest, "because it is a useless expense, and altogether inconsistent with his theory of life."

    "What is your theory of life, Mr. Temple, may I ask?" said Clara.

    "A very simple one," he answered; "only to be of as much use as I can in the world."

    "A very hard one, I should say," remarked Ernest.

    "A very happy one," I murmured.

    "I agree with Mr. Lancaster in this game of definitions," said Clara.  "It is the hardest thing to find out when you are of use and when you are not.  Often when you think you have been of use, you have been doing positive harm."

    "I do not think Mr. Temple meant easy, only obvious," I ventured to remark.

    "Then that is just what I deny to it," said Ernest, "especially as he explains it.  It means," he went on, addressing Clara and me, "devoting yourself to the service of everybody, giving up everything that is not of use to you in being of use to them; that is, to other people who are of no use whatever.  Now, if you call that obvious, it is more than I can do."

    Of course we all laughed.

    "Have I given a fair definition of your views, Temple, or not?"

    "Tolerably fair, except the latter clause, and in that lies the whole matter."

    "My favourite heresy, that the many exist for the sake of the few!"

    "Yes, only I add to it, the few also exist for the sake of the many.  The service is reciprocal."

    "I must go in and see after mamma," said Clara.  "It exhausts her to stay up even a few minutes beyond her usual time."

    "And we ought to be up early, Lancaster, to go by that early train."

    "Very well—I will walk down with you; but can't you stay a little?" said Ernest.

    They came up the steps.

    "What a lovely night it is!" said Mr. Temple.  "I would like to say good-bye here," and he held out his hand to Clara.

    "He is conscious that we can't stand the light of common night," said Ernest.

    "Good-bye, Mr. Temple," said Clara, heartily.  "We won't bring your theory into anything so trying as gas-light."

    We stood outside while Ernest and Mr. Temple went in, and the latter said good-bye to the others.  He seemed in a great hurry at the last, for we were still standing where he left us, and Clara had a second good-bye before he turned to me.

    "We must discuss my theory another time," he said.  "It has hardly had justice done to it; and in the meantime good-bye.  I have made my adieux to your aunt and your sister."

    His face looked pale and, I thought, a little agitated in the moonlight.  Was it bidding dear unconscious Lizzie so brief a farewell, that he felt so much?


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XV.

HIGH IDEALS.


NOTHING would satisfy Aunt Robert but our going in a body to stay with her for the Christmas holidays.  "She was going to stop in London," she said; but I believe it was on our account, for, as a rule, she went out of town.  Ernest was to come up from Cambridge on the sixteenth, and go straight to her, and Lizzie and I were to follow a week later, while Aunt Mona stayed at home to look after Edwin.  I begged to be allowed to stay with her, but she would not hear of it.  She would come and join us as soon as Edwin was released.  "I shall be glad to be left with him," she added.  "Perhaps he will open his heart to me."

    "Then you think there is something the matter with him—that he is not quite happy?"

    "Yes, I do think he is suffering in some way.  If he is not happy where he is, we might make some effort, some sacrifice, to get him into a more congenial sphere of labour."

    Aunt Mona said we, but there was nothing any of us could do; and she meant she herself would make some new sacrifice.  It must not be.  And was it true we could do nothing, Lizzie and I?  No, not Lizzie; but I?  Could I not turn my education, and what talents I had, to account as Clara had done?

    In the meantime I had to visit Aunt Robert, and even I could hardly grudge it when I saw how happy it made her.  And yet I could not help seeing that it was not the pure happiness of doing good, like Aunt Monica's, not "the great joy of doing kindnesses" which Aunt Robert felt.  Along with these there was quite another motive, and that was antagonism to our Uncle Henry.  She allowed me to see it very plainly.  We were to be introduced wholesale, and wherever he would be sure to hear of us.

    And now we are in quite a whirl of society.  Aunt Robert is an only child herself.  "That's how I come to be so rich, my dear," she said.  "That's the advantage of being an only child.  You don't think much of it, I see.  Well, perhaps you are right.  I used to like to hear people say I was to be envied the position, when I was quite a child; but I'm not so sure about it now, especially as I've no children of my own.  When I'm old I'll have to put up with a companion, paid to be miserable in my company."

    But if Aunt Robert had no nearer kindred, she had plenty of cousins; they could be counted by the dozen or by the score.  They were young and old and middle-aged, rich and poor, handsome and ugly, interesting and uninteresting; and we had to be introduced to them all.

    On Christmas Eve, when Aunt Mona and Edwin had joined us, there was a great gathering of the cousins.  Some, the cousins proper, elderly ladies and gentlemen for the most part, came to dinner—a rather ponderous affair, at which we were the only young people.  Then in the evening came a whole host of the younger generation—quite a clan they were; and though they appeared to be in the habit of meeting one another every week of their lives, they had not, seemingly, tired of one another's company.  I felt rather lonely among them, and could see that we all did; for they knew one another so well, calling one another by their Christian names, and making all sorts of allusions to circumstances and events—past, present, and future—about which we knew nothing, that it was impossible for us to do otherwise.  And yet they are a pleasant, kindly race of young people, fairly gifted with good looks and good sense, and good things of all sorts; and it was a wholesome, enviable life they seemed to lead, with plenty of interest and variety in it, because plenty of life and movement.  When I ceased to think about myself I soon became an interested spectator, and I fancy Lizzie never had thought about herself, for she was speedily making friends all round.  And Lizzie carried Edwin in her wake; but Ernest ended in establishing himself by me every now and then, and indulging in a running fire of cynical criticism, which vexed me, in spite of its wit and vivacity.  He had been picking up scraps of information, which Aunt Robert had supplemented, about almost everybody in the room.

    "We are strong in medicine," he said, sauntering up to me, and asking me to come and have refreshment.

    "What do you mean, Ernest?" I asked.

    "Not that you are to have a dose of rhubarb, only that there are here present three members of the medical profession.  I'll point them out to you."

    "You'll do no such thing, Ernest."

    "Oh, I can do it without attracting the attention you dread.  It will improve my descriptive powers.  There is one, that tall young fellow with the stoop.  He is married.  I can't tell you which is his wife yet, but she 's somewhere about.  She was his cousin.  He took her into partnership, and her father took him.  Father also a doctor with good practice.  Not able to be here to-night, attending a patient who won't have the young one."

    "Do be quiet, Ernest, and look after some one else.  I shall do well enough here by myself," I urged.

    "There's another," he went on, unheeding, "that poetical-looking fellow, with the hair like great black feathers thrown back from his white forehead.  He's talking to that round bluff-faced young man, who is one of the two clergymen present.  Now he's going up to that young lady, whom he didn't bring down.  I dare say she is another cousin, with lots of money."

    Just then Aunt Robert came and sat down beside us, a little heated with her exertions in seeing to her guests, and Ernest immediately began to question her.

    "Who is that young lady whom Dr. White is speaking to?  Is she a cousin?"

    "Oh, no.  Laura is not his cousin.  He is engaged to her though."

    "She is rather handsome?"

    "Yes, she's a fine girl."

    It was said in a qualified tone which did not satisfy Ernest, or rather did satisfy him that there was something more to come.  He looked questioning.

    "She has a good deal of money."

    Ernest gave an imperceptible nod, which meant, "I told you so."

    "Gerald must marry, you know, if he is to get on in his profession.  His father can set him up, can give him a thousand a year to get along with, but, for the sake of his practice, he must have a wife."

    "Not for his own sake?" said Ernest mischievously.

    "Oh, for that matter, they are very fond of each other.  It is a very suitable match every way.  Laura is not very demonstrative—a little cold, perhaps; but she is a prudent girl, and will make an excellent wife."

    And then Aunt Robert left the theme.  The two prudent and prosperous young people evidently did not interest her greatly.  "There," she said, in an undertone, "do you see that pretty little creature in white and crimson, with a young man standing before her with a very large red beard."

    "Yes, I do," said Ernest.  "She is the prettiest little thing in the room—large dark eyes, gentle and yet vivacious, and a charming expression, the expression of an affectionate child; and he, did you ever see such a scowl?  He looks at her quite fiercely, as if he was going to eat her."

    Aunt Robert laughed.

    "Well, he has just come back from the land of cannibals," she said.  "He is a great traveller; and we should be so glad if he would take to her."

    "What! eat her?" said Ernest, comically.

    "Nonsense!" said Aunt Robert, laughing.  "She is a sweet little thing, as nice as she is bonnie, and her mother is a widow.  They have hardly enough to live upon in the poorest way; and he—he has several thousands a year, and nothing to do but go about and enjoy himself."

    "Which he doesn't look as if he did," said Ernest.  "No, indeed," I could not help saying.  "He looks labouring under some great misfortune."

    "So he is," said Aunt Robert; and we both looked interested.  "He is the shyest of men, and I believe he likes her."

    "But does she like him?" I ventured to ask, for I was full of sympathy for the pretty little thing, and her companion seemed to me almost repulsive.

    "Oh, Florence would be very glad to marry him."

    "Without liking him?"

    "No; of course she would like him."

    "Una means something more romantic," put in Ernest—"something which would lead her to follow him into cannibal-land, and live in a hut, on water and a crust, or—"

    "Love," said Aunt Robert.

    "Precisely," nodded Ernest.

    "Well, that would come in time, if they suited each other.  Any good girl likes the man who makes her a good disinterested offer.  Why shouldn't she?  Love begets love, and he has taken the best way of proving his love by wanting to marry her.  The just wanting her is enough for many a girl who doesn't know what to do with herself, and who gets to love the one who wants her quite as much as she ought to."

    "Not a very high ideal of marriage," said Ernest.

    "Oh, high ideals are nonsense," said Aunt Robert.  "Your high ideals don't work half as well as a good practical common-sense view of things.  High ideals are given to quarrelling and flying off at all sorts of tangents; want of companionship, unity of soul, and all that sort of thing."

    "Now, Aunt," Ernest went on gravely, at least to outward appearance, "I think your little Florence would like the tall poetical-looking doctor.  Could you not manage to make them exchange partners."

    "It would do just as well, or would have done, at least," returned aunt, quite seriously—as if it was a matter to be considered.  "No, it is better as it is.  Gerald is so stiff and solemn.  He will get on better with Laura."

    "Your little Florence is too tender and playfully affectionate," said Ernest.  "She would suffer."

    "Yes; I fancy she would suffer from the slightest coldness or rebuke."

    "Oh, Aunt Robert," I said, "he is joking, and making you say anything he pleases."

    "He may be joking.  I believe he is," she replied; "but I mean what I say."

    Aunt Robert was a little nettled, not with Ernest, but with me.  The coarse hard grain in her nature showed itself in her next speech.

    "Girls must marry," she said, "especially girls who have nothing.  What else can they do?  They are a burden on their friends, that's all, and discontented with their lot; and they can't pick and choose like a man.  They must wait for an offer, and it's not every girl who has more chances than one.  They can't afford to throw away a good one."

    I was glad that here the conversation came to an end, and Aunt Robert left us to digest what she had said.  It was no more palatable to Ernest than it was to me, but Ernest could not feel the sting of it as I did.  No; I shall never get to love Aunt Robert.  It is just as Aunt Mona says.  She is generous, and has fine qualities, but I would rather be indebted for everything to Aunt Mona than for the least thing to her.

    Does she think of me and of Lizzie as two penniless girls, to be set out as attractions, and to be married to the first man we attract, so that we may not be a burden to our families?  It made my cheeks burn and my temples throb.

    Ernest had relapsed into silence, and I could see that he too was sad at heart in the midst of the scene of gaiety.

    "You don't seem to enjoy it much, Una," he whispered.

    "Nor you either."

    "I wish you would enter into it as Edwin does, or Lizzie."

    "Why don't you wish it for yourself, then?  I can't."

    "I don't."

    "It is part of these people's lives, that is why they are happy in it.  It is no part of mine."

    "What is yours, Ernest?" I said, earnestly.  "Ambition, I suppose you would call it."

    "Ambition of what?"

    "Well, of position, I suppose, of power, and wealth, and social distinction."

    "These would not yield happiness."

    "I don't suppose they would.  Sometimes I think every object of ambition alike worthless, just as I used to think the old school prizes worthless."

    "And so they were, and the real prize lay in the work done to gain them; and so the real prize may lie in the work of life and what it makes of us, and not in the gain of it."

    "I've tried it that way too, Una, but it only conics to this, that you do everything you do with still greater regard to yourself, as what you are is nearer to you than merely what you have. There doesn't seem much more satisfaction in that."

    "But if we lived for others?" I ventured.

    "For another," he rejoined, "that would alter the case."  It altered the whole expression of his face and figure—the very thought, whoever was at the bottom of it.  In a moment he was alert, eager, with eyes full of hope and lips that no longer wore a languid sneer.  He looked as if he saw into a glorious vista of life and promise.  And I could only envy him.  "My future," I thought; "according to Aunt Robert I have no future, unless some one is kind enough to offer me one, or a share of one."  But the next moment I had flung away the poor unworthy thought.  "For another," that, too, was my thought, but such another!  Was there not a vista of life and promise for any human soul who accepted the words, "One is your master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren"?

    I cannot tell why the words should have come to me then and there, but they did, and changed for me at the moment the whole aspect of life.  Hitherto I had been speculating sympathisingly; now I seemed to experience what it would be to take His yoke upon me.  I felt at once that it lightened every burden, satisfied every longing, left no room for doubt or care or self, substituted love and service, service and love, where all was emptiness.  It was like anointing one's eyes and ears with some fabulous salve.  Even the scene before me seemed to change, all its tender human interests came into view, all its conventional unrealities were thrown into the background.


"A little later we four were left in the lighted rooms alone."


    A little later we four, Lizzie and I and the boys, were left in the lighted rooms alone.  All the guests were gone.  Aunt Mona had retired, a little worn-out and fatigued, and Aunt Robert was somewhere about the house.  We formed a little group on the drawing-room hearth.  Ernest was stretching back his arms for a yawn, and Edwin was leaning an elbow on the mantel-shelf, with a strange look of withered weariness on his face, which I had noticed there before.

    "I never saw the like of you girls," said Ernest.  "You both look ready to go through it all over again.  You, Lizzie, especially."

    "And I never saw the like of you boys," said Lizzie.  "You both look as doleful as possible.  There is nothing I should like better than a good skip now.  And you, Una," she added, turning to me, "you look quite rested and refreshed."

    "Do I, darling?" was all that I could say, but both Edwin and Ernest looked at me, and Aunt Robert coming into the room, we kissed one another, said, "Good night," and separated.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XVI.

A THEORY OF LIFE.


WE have lost sight of Mr. Bothwell again, and it has given me such a feeling of the terribleness of this great city we live in.  On the day before Christmas I got Edwin to go with me to the place where he lived.  Ernest and Lizzie would have gone too, for our brothers never grudged going anywhere with us.  Only Lizzie and Ernest stayed behind with Aunt Robert.  I had a dread of Aunt Robert knowing about Mr. Bothwell.  She would have wanted to go to him; she would have wanted to give him money, and to do all sorts of things for him and with him; she would have what she calls interested people in him.  I had seen him before we left the neighbourhood of Oxford Street, and though he accepted help from us for one of his poor neighbours, he would not accept it for himself.  But it was certainly not from churlishness that he refused, and so we went laden with such little Christmas gifts from each of us as we would naturally give or send to an old friend.

    What was our disappointment on entering the little court to find that its inhabitants were entirely swept away, the front by which we entered it alone standing.  All that was left was a huge rubbish heap, out of which rose, opposite the entrance, an end wall, with bits of dirty paper-hangings where once were dwelling-rooms, and blackened patches where once were hearths.  Some workshop on the other side had swallowed up the court to make an extension of its premises, and this was the first result.

    In vain Ernest and I inquired in the neighbourhood; the neighbours had all gone "to pig in somewhere," as we were politely and graphically informed.  Only in one poor little eating-house could we gain any tidings of our friend.  They knew him by our description, knew him well; many a time he had brought in a fainting woman, or a hungry child to be fed there, the woman told us; but he had quite gone away from there.

    "You see," she said, "there's not a hole to be had hereabout.  It is a shame to pull down poor people's houses and leave them without a roof to cover them.  You should have seen the trouble there was when they got notice to quit up the court there; some of them had only a week's notice, though it was known the place was coming down, but them as owned the lease kep' it to their selves to the last.  The women were fit to break their hearts, and some that had sick children too, and bedridden old folks."

    To think of human hearts well-nigh breaking to leave such a place as that was!

    We came away sorrowfully enough, and I, full of compunction that we had not been careful to send Mr. Bothwell our address, so that he might be able to find us.

    "I'll tell you who could help us," said Ernest, "and that's Temple.  He knows a lot of fellows who go among the poor.  He's coming up the day after to-morrow to stay with an old guardian of his in Russell Square, and I'll get Aunt Robert to ask him to dinner."

    "Don't you think we are quite enough for Aunt Robert without getting her to ask anybody to dinner?" I said.

    "Well, perhaps; then I won't, but I must see him, and I think he'll find Mr. Bothwell for as, even in London."

    We did have Mr. Temple to dinner after all, and to more than one dinner, and to Aunt Robert's favourite afternoon tea almost as many times as it was possible in the course of a fortnight.  We met him first at the house of one of the cousins; he was there with his guardian, and the guardian's fifth daughter, Miss Maude Bennett.  I could not help wondering that we should meet him there, and thinking that it might be owing to some scheme of Aunt Robert's; but after all it was natural enough.  He was Ernest's friend, and Aunt Robert knew him already, and knew some one else who knew Mr. Bennett enough to ask him, and his daughter and guest.

    And no sooner had Mr. Temple entered the room than his eager gaze fell on Lizzie's face; and I, watching her, saw her turn under the look as under a magnet, so it seemed, and stand up to welcome him, looking as radiant as Lizzie can look.  And yet how frank and unembarrassed their greeting, for he at once hastened up to her, and found a seat beside her.

    "There's Temple, I declare," said Ernest.  "Aunt Robert knows everybody, or somebody else who does."

    "I was just thinking so," I answered.

    "I feel sure," he went on, "that on due investigation it would be found that Aunt Robert's cousins are a connecting-link with the best part of the inhabitants of the globe, at least with the Anglo-Saxon portion of them.  Come, and let us go over to Liz and him."

    "Do you go," I said.  "I would rather not cross the crowded room."

    "Oh, come along.  You won't be noticed.  You won't care for sitting here by yourself; and, as usual, we know nobody here."

    But Lizzie had turned her head in our direction, and saying a few words to Mr. Temple, they rose, and came to us instead.  He greeted us warmly, and asked the simple but comprehensive question, "What have you been doing since I saw you last?" in which he seemed to include me as well as Ernest.

    Ernest laughed.

    "What are you laughing at?" asked his friend.

    "I expected you to begin exactly where you left off."

    "Where was that?" he asked.

    "You don't mean that you've forgotten?" said Ernest.

    "No, I cannot say that I have.  Do you remember, Miss Lancaster?" he asked, abruptly.

    I believe I answered "Yes," for indeed I remembered all that was said that evening with great vividness.

    "But your brother greatly overrates the powers of my memory on ordinary occasions," he added, still addressing me, "when he says I always begin where I left off."

    From embarrassed silence I generally rush into rapid speech.  "It might be accounted for without reference to memory," I said.  "If the mind runs strongly in one channel it will be pursuing the same train of thought, as a river carries the same stream through its many windings."

    "Bravo, philosopher!" said Ernest, gaily.

    Happily, Ernest began to give an account of our disappointment in finding the old court in which Mr. Bothwell lived entirely swept away, and in losing sight of our old friend.

    Mr. Temple was greatly interested in our account of him.  "I will do all I can to find him for you," he said.

    "You won't find him through any charitable agency, I fear," said Ernest.  "He seems to have an objection to anything of the nature of charity."

    "That is extremely likely.  The best of those who suffer poverty hold aloof from it, and suffer in silence.  The poor know more about it than we do, both as to how it is given and how it is received."

    "Is it the charity that is in fault?" I ventured to say.  "Is it that charity is too great a thing, too spiritual a thing to be represented by the doles which the rich give to the poor?"

    "It is indeed often nothing more than a gratification to kindly feeling to give of our superfluous wealth, and things given thus to the helpless and the weak are not to be despised; but I think with you that charity is a great spiritual affection productive of far nobler sacrifices, calling for the devotion of a life, not the mere overflowings of its unused riches.  The charity of the poor to the poor is infinitely more than ours.  They give of their actual necessities.  A poor woman will give health and strength, already sorely tasked for her own household, to nurse a sick neighbour, risk the life that is doubly valuable, because of those dependent on her, in braving infection from which most of us would fly.  They will share the meal that is not too sufficient with the starving, as we, I think, would do if we felt them to be our neighbours."

    "And if the West End gives of its riches to the starving East, is not this feeling at the bottom of it?" I said.

    "No doubt there is the germ of true neighbourliness, but it will not flourish.  It is nipped in the bud.  The germ will not grow except in the soil of sympathy.  Self-preservation in the preservation of social order, self-pleasing in the benevolent to rid themselves of the pain of hearing of unalleviated suffering takes the place of sympathy.  Imposture flourishes and comes between the trite giver and the rightful receiver, hardening the heart of the one and closing the lips of the other.  There are thousands in the east of London in dire necessity, who would keep their doors closed even if the west came bodily, as it has done to my knowledge, with its hands full of help.  And there are thousands in the West End with hearts full of trite charity, who are actually suffering because of the need which it has created in them meeting with no outlet save the handing of their money over to some organisation or other."

    "How, then, would you meet the difficulty," I asked.

    "He does not meet it," said Ernest.  "He gets out of it, I think."

    "That is not quite fair," he said.  "I do say that we must accept things as they are, and help existing organisations when they are good and useful, such as hospitals and orphanages, as far as we are able; but what I contend for is a life of devoted usefulness."

    I did not enter into his meaning at once.  "As an almoner of some kind?" I asked.

    "No," he answered, "because that would not stand the test of universality—would be, indeed, of very limited application.  I mean of devoted usefulness in any calling which may happen to be ours."

    "Yes, now I understand," I answered.  "It is the ideal life, alike of the statesman and the schoolmaster, of the doctor and of the lawyer."

    "Of the trader as well as the professional man," he added—"of the least as well as of the greatest.  'A servant with this clause—'''

    He did not finish the quotation.  "That's very well for the useful people, but there are plenty of people with no profession except idleness," said Ernest.

    "I am afraid my theory, comprehensive as it is, will not fit them.  They must simply find something to do.  We have found enough to do hitherto in preparing for the business of life."

    "I only hope I shall find plenty to do when I begin it," said Ernest, his face clouding over.  "Your theory won't find work for a fellow who can't afford to wait for it."

    "It will go a good way towards it to be well equipped for work."

    "It depends upon the kind of work."

    "Of course the special preparation does."

    "How would you choose?" I asked.

    "He doesn't believe in choice."

    "Oh, yes, I do, in special cases of special aptitude; but I would yield to circumstances.  Young people ought to be guided by the wishes of parents and guardians, or any divinely appointed authority."

    "How are you to know it is divinely appointed?"

    "Because it exists.  I ought to have said divinely-appointed circumstance, which is stronger."

    "I can't understand going into anything in that way," said Ernest.  "I am going into the law because I think it will suit me, and is the best thing going; and you, because your uncle and guardian have advised it—you have studied enough of it to take the B.C.L." [Ed.—Bachelor of Civil Law]

    "Believing also," added Mr. Temple, "that I shall find work in it to which I can be usefully devoted."

    "Anything else would have done just as well, though," said Ernest; "just as in Aunt Robert's theory of marriage."

    "What is that?"

    "Why, that any one husband or one wife is just as good as another."

    Mr. Temple looked at me.  "You do not accept it?" he said.

    "And there is Aunt Robert bearing down upon us," said Ernest.

    And indeed it was.  "I never saw such young people as you are," she said.  "You have been sitting in that corner all the evening, looking as solemn as if you were on a committee, and as eager as if you had a fortune at stake.  We want a little music from you, Una."

    "Come, Miss Lancaster," said Mr. Temple; "we certainly have not been putting our theories in practice.  For the present at least we must devote ourselves to the amusement of our friends."  He said this in an undertone as he led me to the piano.

    My aunt's circle, to which she was so persistently introducing us, was that of the serious portion of the cultivated middle class.  Their training was evidently most thorough and complete. They showed it in their talk and in their music.  It pervaded their manners, neither frivolous nor feebly refined.  They evidently sufficed for themselves, and were no hangers-on of aristocracy.  They were a kind of aristocracy themselves, and they knew it.  There was a tendency to strong-mindedness in the cleverer girls, but the weak had been well protected, and were not despicable.

    I could see Mr. Temple dividing his attentions between Lizzie and Miss Maude Bennett.  That young lady was evidently not of the set.  Her very dress proclaimed it.  Not unfashionable in the least, the dress of the daughters of the house, and their friends was restrained by good taste and personal appropriateness; but Miss Maude was extravagant and unsuitable in the extreme.  She was an airified young lady, with a rather picturesque face, and very beautiful and abundant hair, worn in a knot of rich curls at the back of her head, the most becoming thing about her.

    I met her a few evenings later at her father's house, and did not like her at all, nor her sisters either.  Their father stood high in his profession, and was a man of sense and probity; but his wife was not his equal; she was certainly his inferior in both.  He was a busy man, whose life was not in his home, and who tolerated the follies of his wife and daughters as something excusable in, if not necessary to women.

    These ladies seemed to have nothing whatever to do except to dress and gossip.  They, poor things, were neither serious nor self-sufficing.  On the contrary, they seemed to snatch at every foolish pleasure as a relief from themselves.  The elder was melancholy and depressed; the four intermediates, including Miss Maude, who was the liveliest and prettiest, were pert and snappish, underbred and silly; and the youngest, with more brains than any of the others, a mere school-girl, was a rough hoyden, who went in the family circle by the endearing name of "Little Bear."

    No wonder that Mr. Temple was a good deal thrown on his own resources, if these were his friends.  They made far too much of us, especially of Ernest and Edwin; and when they were alone with us, were too familiar for good breeding, one of them putting her arms Lizzie, and asking if Mr. Temple was not a darling?

    To which Lizzie gravely replied, "He is a very nice gentleman;" and I had a shrewd suspicion that Lizzie was tempted to be quizzical.


――――♦――――


 
CHAPTER XVII.

VAIN PURSUIT.


OUR holiday is nearly at an end.  To-morrow is to wind up with another great gathering at Aunt Robert's, the reason for which I cannot make out, as it has been got up quite in a hurry, and we would all have preferred a quiet evening.

    Aunt Robert is frankly discontented with us for our want of enthusiasm for the society to which she has introduced us, though we all admit its attractions.  She had calculated on our making an immediate impression of some kind, and is disappointed.  She forgets that, with our ill-defined position and uncertain future, we could hardly lay ourselves out to please, even if that was natural to us.

    Certainly, neither of our boys had seemed at home with Aunt Robert.  Edwin, always good-natured and sociable, most enjoyed the evenings and the company.  He had quite brightened up during the social hours, and appeared to forget himself, or, rather, to forget his cares, and be himself once more, assisting at the musical performances, and even throwing himself heartily into them.  But at other times he was dull and silent, looking, not as he used to do, idle and unoccupied, but preoccupied and absorbed.  He was always like this in the morning, and we noticed that every day after Christmas there was a letter by his plate.

    "I should like a letter too," said Lizzie, on the second day, drawing attention to it, taking it up, and looking at the post-mark with sisterly freedom.  "I should like a letter."

    "From whom?" asked Aunt Robert.

    "Oh, from papa, perhaps."

    "Only perhaps," said Aunt Robert.

    "Well, from somebody.  Papa's letters always come regularly."

    We laughed at Lizzie; but I, who could read her face as one reads a book, saw there a look which said plainly, "I know from whom."  Lizzie always knows her own mind.

    But Aunt Robert went on, and, with rather clumsy playfulness, named a young gentleman who had been very polite to Lizzie, and had sent her a note about a piece of music.

    Lizzie shook her head.

    "No?  He is an admirer of yours," said Aunt Robert.

    "I hope not," said Lizzie,

    "Why not?" pursued Aunt Robert.

    "I should begin to dislike him," said Lizzie.

    "Then you don't at present?"

    "Oh, no," she answered lightly; "and I don't want to."

    In the midst of the badinage, Edwin escaped for the time, and the letters remained unexplained.

    But next day Lizzie returned to the charge.

    "Here is another letter," she cried, holding it up.  I know it is from your 'house,' as you call it; here is the 'E. C.' mark, and the writing is the same as the list you had made out by one of the clerks.  Is anything wrong?  Do they want you to return?  Can't they let you enjoy your holiday in peace?"

    All, however, brought forth no response, except a careless, "Oh, nothing is wrong; they don't want me.  I wish he wouldn't send them!"

    If there was any romantic attachment to Edwin on the part of this particular clerk, it was very one-sided, seeing that Edwin could not bear him, and was extremely caustic on his twin propensities, which were beer and snuff-taking.



    Our last evening with Aunt Robert has come and gone, and in the dark hours another day has already come.  I wish I could sleep, but I know it is useless to try.  Perfectly healthful as I am—for I have never known either sickness or pain—I cannot sleep when I have been moved at all deeply—nay, even a host of new impressions, such as one receives on a journey, will suffice to keep me throughout the night in utter wakefulness.  I shall be glad to be at home again, to think.  To-night that, too, is impossible.

    The uncertainty of our future had begun to press upon me.  Last night a new element was added to it.  Aunt Robert told me in the morning that she expected Edith Winfield in the evening, but she forbade me to say anything to Ernest, and I, seeing no good it was likely to do, or harm either, said nothing accordingly.

    And Edith came.  How Ernest started when she entered the room!  I never saw anything like the change which came over him in a moment.  It was enough, without what followed, to reveal to me the whole.  From a state of utter listlessness, he was roused into splendid animation.  His very looks and tones were altered.  And all this from merely fixing his eyes upon her.

    And certainly she was looking lovely.  What vivid roses her dark cheek had mounted!  Her eyes looked larger than ever, and more star-like, with a look of distance in them which lent pathos to their brightness.  She looked more ethereal, too, in contrast with the lightest and most graceful of Aunt Robert's solid and stately young friends, and about her lips played that smile which I knew, and which looked so keenly sweet, and was, I believed, so untender and inconstant.

    My heart beat fast as I saw Ernest slowly move towards her as if fascinated, and from that moment I was absorbed in watching them.  She received him very graciously, I thought, and my unreflecting sympathy was gladdened when I saw him look so happy.  She had evidently asked for me, for he led her to where I sat, and we talked together pleasantly until our little trio was broken up by accession and dispersion.

    Later in the evening came another act in the drama, enacted for my eyes alone.  I could see that she avoided Ernest.  She slipped from him cleverly just when he thought he had her to himself, bestowing herself upon Edwin, Mr. Temple, anybody.  I became so absorbed in watching them that I had eyes and ears for nothing else.  I saw him, baffled by her adroitness, give up the pursuit, and retire from the attempt to get her to himself.

    A little later he spoke to me, and though he was no longer listless, but in a fever of suppressed excitement, his voice sounded hoarse—so hoarse that Aunt Robert, who happened to be near us, hoped that he had not caught a chill.

    He could not possibly be jealous of his friend Mr. Temple, who was dividing his attention between Edith and Lizzie.  No, that was not possible, for the former disappeared, and Mr. Temple was perfectly unconcerned.  But I could take no further interest in the scene, and was glad when the evening came to an end and it was over.

    There was no opportunity for speaking to Ernest before.  Perhaps he had purposely avoided it, but, when I went up to our room an hour ago, I loitered on the stair that I might listen for a moment at the door of his.  He was up.  I heard a groan, and called to him softly.  He opened his door, and I went in and set down my light.  Standing there, he told me all.

    "I do not know what possessed me," he said, "but I determined to tell her that I loved her.  By some instinct she seemed to know it, and avoided me.  She looked frightened, Una—frightened! with eyes like a hunted fawn, and I only longed the more to tell her.  I believe I was half mad.  But she baffled me.  I am sane now, and know that I have been a fool.  Only she knows what I wanted to say, and knows also that I know this.  It is cruel."

    I comforted him with hope.  I could not help but hope for him.  Alas, my brother! it does not seem much to hope for—the love of Edith Winfield; it will bring more of sorrow than of joy, I feel sure.

    Before I left him he had grown calmer, for he had begun to frame resolves.  He will work hard, he says, and he will not remain at college after the close of the Easter term—that is in June.  He can take his degree then, if he does not go in for honours; and Mr. Temple, who leaves at the same time, will share with him a set of chambers.  He thinks Aunt Robert and even Mr. Bennett may be able to help him—that is, give him introductions to legal friends.

    "Temple does not want money, you know; only work.  I want both," he said.

    He has still a week to get through before returning to Cambridge, and an invitation reached him to spend it in Bedford Square—to make Mr. Bennett's house his home for that period.  I am happy to say he declined, out of deference to one of the primitive virtues in which we had been reared—respect for hospitality.  Those whose hospitality we accepted, and those who accepted ours, we had been taught to hold in a degree sacred—sacred from our stern youthful judgment, our sharp youthful censure.  He told Mr. Temple that he could not accept.  He was too much inclined to make fun of the Bennett girls.  So we all went home together.

    Mr. Temple came to tell us of his continued want of success in finding Mr. Bothwell.

    Lizzie was out when he came.  She was out doing some of the visiting work which Claude Carrol had put into Aunt Mona's hands; Aunt Mona, employing Lizzie as a sort of aide-de-camp, sending her simply to do a little reading to agèd and sick people who wanted it.

    There were many, agèd and sick too, who did not—who wanted meat and drink and warmth, and knew no other good to crave for; but they received Aunt Mona and her substitute with a pleasure which they did not exhibit towards the young curate.  He was getting sorely discouraged among his new people, many of whom belonged more to the country than to the town, and were of a more stolid type.

    Claude stumbled upon washing-days, when he was received in the front kitchen by the desperately untidy elder girl at home from school, and nursing the desperately dirty and chubby baby.  The mother was called in from the wash-house, drying her wet red arms and apologising for the state of things or not, according to her temper and her respect for the clergy, but decidedly impatient to get back to her tub.  He stumbled upon cooking operations, and learnt that the good man refused to eat cold meat, and was "in a way" if his dinner wasn't served to the minute.  He tried the afternoons, and interrupted the women in their gossip, finding them willing enough to talk about their household affairs, and still more willing to discuss the affairs of their neighbours, but as unimpressionable as the deaf to speech, when anything higher was mentioned.  And as a last resource, and to get at the men, he tried the evening, and this was worst of all.  The women could talk, and would talk about some things; the men could not be got to speak at all.  Inarticulate growlings and mutterings were the most of which these human beings were capable.  As a rule none of the men went to church, and the women seldom; but the children were frequently sent by the better class of mothers, to be out of the way.  Bread was plentiful among them; he could see it in the waste that went on, a waste which would have been accounted sin and shame in his mother's house.  In short, no set of educated epicureans ever carried out more thoroughly the maxim, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die," than did these labourers of an outlying London suburb.

    The church, too, had neglected them; for, extending her boundaries in building up her edifices of stone, she had left aside these living stones, for lack of labourers, to lie in a kind of outside rubbish-heap.  Claude was acutely alive to this, and, impatient to remedy it, he enlisted all the help he could in their service.

    That very afternoon he had sent Lizzie and Clara out in different directions, and I had promised to go for Lizzie in the course of an hour.  Why I did not go with her, or undertake any of this work myself, neither Aunt Mona nor Mr. Carrol himself had inquired.  I had been allowed simply to decline.  From the first, Lizzie's attitude towards religion had been other than mine.  It seemed as if she had but to grow upwards to blossom and bear fruit in it, while I had to take root downward, and remain nursing a hidden life in the dark.

    Mr. Temple had missed Ernest, who had gone into town by a previous train, and, rather than not see him, he had agreed to await his return, and he asked leave to accompany me.  We accordingly set out together on the way past the brick-fields, to the cottage whither Lizzie had gone.  It was that of an old woman who lived alone with her stepson, and who was slowly dying of dropsy, with no one to care for her except another old woman to whom she had given shelter, and who went out all clay.

    Mr. Temple walked by me almost in silence; with Lizzie he would have been talking eagerly and delightfully.  What he did say was all in reference to her.  And he is indeed worthy of her.  No dreamer, but a man of the strongest practical wisdom, as well as the deepest enthusiasm for goodness and truth; he will love her well and nobly.  They will make between them a noble life, unworldly, single-hearted, pure.


"I was seized with a kind of tremor, and had to sit down."


    We came upon the cottage before we were aware.  I opened the latch and went in.  Mr. Temple followed me.  The door opened straight into a little room which seemed to be a kitchen, but was fireless and tenantless.  The door into an inner room stood ajar, and we could hear Lizzie's voice as she began to sing a hymn.  Mr. Temple made a sign to me, and we both stood listening.  It was Keble's "Sun of my soul," she was singing, her fresh sweet voice sounding tremulous with emotion of some kind.  Was it the night of death which was near to the soul to whom she ministered? I was seized with a kind of tremor, and had to sit down.

    The hymn came to an end, and we started to hear a rough man's voice addressing some one.

    "I should think you'd be as happy as if you was in 'eaven, to hear the young lady sing like that."

    "Who says I ain't?" burst snappishly, but with a strange ring of hollowness, evidently from the dying woman.  It was impossible to help smiling.

    The man spoke again, in a drivelling voice.

    "There," he said, "that's the first word she's spoke to me for many a day.  Tell her to speak to me," he pleaded, "to speak somethin' kind like.  Tell her to say 'Jack,' as she used to."

    Something between a groan and a growl came from the woman, but no word was spoken.

    "Speak to him," said Lizzie, gently.  "He is sorry.  He wants you to forgive him."

    "Ay, that I be, that I deu.  I've been a bad Jack to you, but jest you say the word, an' I'll be good as gold.""

    "You've been drinkin'," groaned the woman.

    "I know that," he said, candidly enough, "but won't you jest say, 'There, Jack, there, now don't you do it again,' an' I won't, at least more 'n a pot wi' my bread an' cheese.  That's all I gets now you're laid up."

    We looked at each other.  There was something infinitely touching in the need of this poor soul for the forgiveness of his earthly companion.  Still, the woman seemed obdurate, and we were about to enter the room when we heard Lizzie say, gravely, "You must forgive him—indeed you must—even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you."

    There was a strange silence after the solemn words, and then a softened voice said, "Well, Jack—there you are."

    On this I tapped at the door, and Lizzie came out to us, but not before we had a glimpse of Jack sitting with a hand on each knee of his dirty old corduroy trousers, shaking his grey head; for Jack was quite an old man, nearly as old, indeed, as his step-mother; or there might have been about ten years between them, she having reached threescore and ten, and he having lived with her since he was a little lad, and she, his father's second wife, a mere girl herself.

    We walked home together, Lizzie telling us what she knew of the strange pair, and the old woman whom they sheltered under their roof, and who still went out to work, although in her eightieth year.  This led to talk about the poor, which lasted till we got home.  Mr. Temple stayed to afternoon tea, and by the time Ernest returned, it was necessary for him to go.  So we said good-bye.  It was the last we were to see of him for several months.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XVIII.

EDWIN'S SECRET.


THE spring has come upon us suddenly this year, after a late though mild winter.  The snow came in the middle of January.  It was snowing the day Ernest left us to join Mr. Temple in London, and go down, the day after, to Cambridge together; and it lay about all the rest of the month, not in a sheet, but here and there, on the fields, and by the hedgerows.  Then it passed away; and during the whole of February we might have quoted with truth, "The rain it raineth every day."  All our ways have become impossible and impassable, ankle-deep in miry clay.  But this week there has been actual sunshine, clear and bright, and not "washed out," as Lizzie called the attempts the sun made to shine through the dismal days preceding.

    Lizzie and I had a walk towards the fields to-day, and found even these beginning to dry.  The March buds were peeping out on the hedges, and the ways were bordered by narrow strips of fresh springing green.  The birds, too, were singing; but of flowers there were none.  There are no spring flowers round London; they have been all gathered long ago, appropriated, and so lost.  We were glad to see a hawker the other day with a basket of primroses, brought from far-off fields, and Lizzie hastened to appropriate some of them, and to plant them, with the help of Toodles, in a shady corner of our little garden.

    Toodles begins to come out with the spring flowers.  We have not seen him for two whole months, except behind the window-panes; and his round face has grown somewhat paler with confinement.  But there is no one to take Toodles out, and the garden has been damp and sloppy, and the road in front of the house submerged in mud.  If we are spared here till another winter comes, Lizzie has promised to take the child out sometimes.  Like our neighbours, we have been a good deal confined to the house.  In the country, out-door pleasures are always possible; but here in the winter they are practically out of reach.  Only there is some compensation in the intensity with which a lover of Nature welcomes once more the sight of her beautiful face.  In the loveliest of scenes I never felt the delight, subdued and tender, with which I looked to-day upon a bit of blue sky; bare boughs against the blue, and the merest tint of green on the hedge beneath.  A single thrush behind the hedge was singing madly.  That glimpse of heaven, that gush of music, the living cordial of the air, seemed to revive our souls.  My faith in the teaching of Nature awoke with a kind of resurrection.  The great mysterious wonder-working life-giving power was here.  And that other faith which I had been nursing—that revelation of the Son of God—would the morning of a new spring dawn on that? would it stir in my heart with a new life?—a life that would rise in prayer, and blossom into holiness?  I felt that it must; that God would not give a waiting soul less than He gave to those trees of His.  I felt that I had indeed been waiting—not living, but keep-in- alive; and yet what hours I have spent in learning how the noblest, nearest to our own day, as well as in the remote past, drew near to Him who is the way, the truth, the life.  I have tried, as one has beautifully said, to lay fast hold of the shadowy hands, of which the nearest has only passed from among us; while the farthest lays hold of the hand of Christ, and is lost in the effulgence of God.

    Does religion need more of outwardness?

    I believe it does, for I can see dear Lizzie grow.  I can see her accepting life and its duties with something more than her natural goodness, something of tenderness and humility grafted upon it.  I believe she accepted the Kingdom of Heaven like a child, and keeps the divine childhood in her heart.  Something in me hinders this.  I seem to feel that there must be a separate divine revelation to every human soul, and I have not received it.  I read in one of Aunt Mona's favourite books, "The love of God which gave Christ is the immense ocean of the water of life, and men's souls are as ponds dug upon the shore, connected each of them, in virtue of Christ's work, with that ocean by a sluice.  Unbelief is the blocking up of that sluice; belief is the allowing the water to flow in, so that the pond becomes one with the ocean, and man becomes partaker of the Divine nature, and has one life with the Father and the Son."

    Is it life, this actual living, that opens the channel, while thought, these brooding reflections, are but as the images of things in some pool, which move therein without progress and without change, or, rather, changing themselves, and yet themselves changing nothing?  Life lays on us the necessity of love, and love goes forth again in life.  Is this the divine root of all our eagerness to live? this, that we may lay ourselves open to every influence, so that rather than not live, many rush into vain pleasure, and some into fearful sin, till they wearily forsake the pleasure, and bitterly repent the sin, and so all, diminished and stained, flow back again; and that channel of repentance leads also into the ocean of love.

    I have been offering to relieve Aunt Mona of the burden of maintaining the whole of us, by going out as a governess myself.  Lizzie would stay at home, and help her with the little household, which will be permanently increased when Ernest leaves college this summer.  But I have not pressed the matter, as it seemed to give her pain.

    "While I live, Una, I think we shall have enough," she said.  "Your father has been able to find Ernest's college expenses, and we have made ends meet this year; therefore I think you should wait.  You are not suffering from idleness," she added pleasantly.  "With your work and your extensive reading you are never idle; indeed, I do not think you allow yourself sufficient recreation."

    So I am waiting, and Aunt Mona leaves a great deal to me, purposely, I think, that I may feel myself necessary.  She allows me to keep house for her almost entirely, and I am glad that I can, for she has not been accustomed to careful housekeeping, and I find we must be extremely careful.  Only, Lizzie could have done it as well, and there would have been one less.  Aunt Mona makes ends meet by wanting nothing for herself, but that cannot go on.  Even her good and ample wardrobe will want renewing.  Lizzie is in our confidence too, and she is much cleverer than either of us on a committee of ways and means.

    We find that we must economise more severely in the matter of food.  We must not order things haphazard, but only when they are cheap and plentiful, "and that is, happily," said Lizzie, "when they are best and most agreeable."  Edwin has his own money, but he has to get his dinners, and pay his trains, and buy his own clothes; and he too, poor fellow, finds it difficult to make ends meet.  Lizzie had to take him to task the other day for going too shabby, and found out that he had very little money left.  He has not bought anything new for some time either, as Lizzie pointed out, and he never gives us little presents as he used to do.  He will feel the inability to do that, for he used to delight in being generous to us.  He is not looking well at all, and so much older—older than he ought to look.  I can fancy that he feels the sordidness of this life more than we do.  I can imagine it becoming very sordid, unless sustained by duty as well as love, and with some outlook beyond and above it.

    Another day of spring sunshine.  Old Jack's stepmother has lingered on till now.  Clara was going there, and Claude has asked one of us to go and see a young Frenchman who is dying, and who wants a letter written to his friends in France.  That was something I could do, so I volunteered for the little service; and as soon as the address, written on a slip of paper, was put into my hands, I felt sure that I was going to see the poor young man who was Edwin's predecessor.  It was the same name, and he, too, was dying.  There could be no doubt about it, though we had not known that he was in our neighbourhood.

    I soon found the house in which they lived—one of a long row of rather pretty cottages, recently built, and very nicely kept, though small and cheap.  I offered my card, and asked for Madame Rousset; and the young creature who opened the door told me that she was herself madame.  I told her I had come from Mr. Carrol, and why I had come, and asked if it would be convenient for me to see her husband now, and perform the little service he wanted.

    She was very cordial, but looked at me and my card with some bewilderment as she ushered me in.  With her hand upon the door of the room, she detained me for a moment.

    "You are Mr. Lancaster's sister, are you not?" she asked.

    I bowed. I had forgotten that she too might recognise the name, but she had also recognised me.

    "You are very like him," she said.

    And then I recollected that they had seen Edwin, who had been made the bearer of more than one instalment of salary.

    "He is very ill," she said, still detaining me.  "He grew suddenly worse, and we had to come home."  Here she broke down, and wept in silent anguish, which she strove to master before we entered the room.  I had never seen such agony depicted on a human face.  It could not be harder to die than to bear such, and, forgetting that she was a stranger, I put my arms round her and cried for company.

    "Oh, hush," she said, presently, and raised her face, controlled and calm, though sad with a hopeless sadness; and then she ushered me straight into the presence of her dying husband, before whom the last trace of her trouble vanished in a tender smile.  He was not in bed, or lying down at all, but sitting in an arm-chair by the fire, from which he half rose, to greet me, with the grace of his nation.  Everything about and around him was unusual in its simple elegance.  The room was not encumbered with furniture, but the ornament was tasteful; pretty chalk drawings took the place of the inevitable prints, and daintily frilled muslin—over what I fancy was glazed cotton—the place of preposterous wool-work on the cushions arranged on his chair.  A few spring flowers were arranged on the table before him, and a New Testament in French was laid on the bracket by the fireplace.  All signs of illness were removed that could be removed, and the dying man was evidently treated as a being enshrined.

    "She is so good to me—my little wife," he said, when she had explained to him who I was, and on what errand I had come, and had left the room.  "So good," he repeated; "but I have not been good to her.  I had not the health to marry, and now I must leave her a widow, and in poverty!"

    He spoke with labouring breath.

    Presently his wife came in again, and brought us writing materials, and left us to ourselves again.  She had duties, doubtless, for I could hear little voices when the door was opened, but I think it was delicacy that kept her away.  He evidently treated her with a tender politeness which would have made it difficult to dictate to me in his own language in her presence.  The only sentence he spoke to me before her he translated immediately.


"He bade them farewell for ever."


    The letter was an appeal to his parents, still living and in good circumstances, on behalf of his wife and children.  He told them that his married life had been the best of his brief career, and that it had turned his heart towards them, though he had unhappily delayed to acknowledge this.  He begged their forgiveness for past folly and disobedience, and asked them to take his little ones to their hearts, only not to seek to separate them from their "adorable mother," whom he had determined to bring to their feet with him, if he had been spared in health.  As it was, he bade them farewell for ever, their unhappy prodigal, whom yet they might meet in heaven, by the grace of their Lord and his.

    It was all that I could do to write without showing the emotion I felt, and when the letter was finished, I made haste to go, for I could see he was exhausted.  He tried to reach the bell, and could not, so I prevented him, and rang myself.

    She came in an instant, to find him speechless, and, to all appearance, dying.

    "Can I do anything?" I whispered; while she stood supporting the sinking head on her bosom, and fanning his forehead with her breath.

    She shook her head, and the faintness seemed after a time to pass away; and then she told me where to find the medicine and glass, which I brought to her, and she gave him his medicine.  Then she kissed him, and laid his head more easily, and left the room with me, closing the door softly.  She took me into the kitchen, where her children were—a baby in the cradle, and two pretty, delicate-looking boys, playing very quietly at a small table.

    "I am obliged to have them here," she said, "for I have no servant, and he cannot have them with him now, though he is so fond of them; for he often faints away, and I think he is gone."

    "Have you no one to help you?" I asked, pityingly.

    "Sometimes I have a little help.  There is a woman who washes for me, and who lives not far off.  She will come to me at any time, and our neighbours on either side are kind and helpful, but I have no one of my own—only one or two friends, who were shop-girls like myself.  My relations in the country never saw, and scarcely heard of me, and they are poor."

    Then she told me how happy she had been with her Henri.  He had always treated her as if she were the greatest lady of the land, and the same after they were married as before.  And he, too, had been happy with her, and with his babies, whom he nursed and carried for her as no Englishman would; and with his flowers, which he tended like children, and loved so passionately that she said she would go without food rather than not get them for him.

    As she elided her story, with tears, she hoped that my brother might be as happy in his foreign wife as she had been in her foreign husband.

    Only the preoccupation of her sorrow prevented her from seeing how astonished and perplexed I was.  She saw something of it, however, and added, as if explanatory of her knowledge—

    "She came with him a few evenings ago.  She is very beautiful—a German lady.  Oh, my poor Henri!"

    She rose to go to her husband again, and I rose and left her.  My brother's wife!  A German, and very beautiful!  What could it mean?  Fräulein Vasa could not have been with him, and been considered his engaged wife!  It was the only solution I attempted as I hastened home to unbosom this new trouble to Aunt Mona and Lizzie.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XIX.

MADAME ROUSSET.


I FOUND Lizzie and Aunt Mona waiting for me, and ready to make the afternoon tea.

    "You are tired, dear," said Aunt Mona, gently.

    "Why, darling Una, you are perfectly knocked up!" cried Lizzie, in dismay.  "Let me take your things up-stairs for you."

    "Was it very trying?" asked auntie.

    "It was sad enough, but it is not that;" and I recounted the parting words of Madame Rousset.  "It must be some mistake," said Lizzie, stoutly, and she ran up-stairs with my hat and jacket, coming back, however, with a face of extreme gravity, and saying, "I am afraid there is something in it."

    She had been taking a rapid survey of the situation, and trifles light as air became confirmations.

    "Do you remember the letters he got every day at Aunt Robert's, and how he provoked us by only looking at them, never reading them?  Do you know I fancied one day that it was an enclosed letter much smaller than the envelope.  Perhaps they were from her.  Then you know how she stayed on when she knew we wanted her to go, and then found a situation in the neighbourhood; and I can understand how she used to go on when we were out together, only what I cannot understand is Edwin's caring for her."

    "Do not take it all for granted, Lizzie," I said.  "It may be only Edwin's foolish good-nature, and Fräulein Vasa's forwardness.  Let us wait and see."

    And we did wait, in the deepest anxiety, for his return.  He was later than usual, and we could see that something was wrong as soon as he entered the room.  He threw himself wearily upon a chair, and cleared the thick locks off his forehead with both hands—a way he had—as if he was going to take a plunge into the sea.

    There was a pause, and Aunt Mona was trembling visibly.  It was for me to speak.

    "I have seen poor Mr. Rousset to-day, Edwin," I said.

    "Have you?" he rejoined, almost testily.  "What took you to him?"

    "I went at Claude Carrol's request, to write a letter for him in French; and I heard of you there."

    Not a word in reply, but his lips grew white and dry.

    "I heard of you, and a lady, whom Madame Rousset spoke of as your intended wife."

    "Well!" he muttered.

    "Oh, Edwin, have we deserved such treatment?" I said.  "We must hear it from your own lips before we can believe that you have been deceiving us all this time."

    "Tell us all about it, Edwin dear," cried Lizzie, coming to his side.  "It isn't all your fault, I am sure."

    His agitation was becoming extreme.  He put his hand to his side as if in pain, and seemingly tried to speak, without being able.

    "Do tell us, Edwin," said Lizzie.  "Was the lady Fräulein Vasa?"

    "Yes," he murmured.

    "And are you engaged to her?" she asked once more.

    "I am married."

    There was another pause, and our looks must have expressed something like horror.  He covered his face with his hands, and groaned aloud.

    "Why did you not tell us?"

    "Why did you not wait?"

    "How could you be so cruel?" we said in chorus.

    "You could not really have loved her," added Lizzie.

    He raised his head with some remnant of dignity.

    "If I had not, I need not have married her, Lizzie," he replied.

    "But she is not worthy of you!" cried Lizzie, impetuously.

    "You must remember she is my wife," he said "and, after all, I don't think I have shown myself very worthy of anything," he added.  "I do not think she has got a great bargain."

    "Depend upon it, she thinks so.  She was always making bargains, and then wanting to exchange them," said Lizzie.

    "She can't exchange this one," he said, bitterly.

    Aunt Mona had not looked up; her face was hidden.  I, too, was trembling, and in tears.  Lizzie was flushed and indignant.

    "Edwin, you never plotted to deceive us in this way?"

    "I am to blame," he said, simply.  "Let no more be said, Lizzie.  I cannot listen to anything against her; it is a double treason."

    Aunt Mona looked at him, and he stood up where he sat, as if he had been a stranger.

    "You will let me remain here to-night?" he said.  "To-morrow we shall look out for a lodging."

    Here Lizzie burst into a fit of passionate grief, such as I had never seen her indulge, and did not know her capable of.  She had always loved Edwin supremely.

    His supper was standing untasted on the tray, but he made as if he would leave the room, without even saying good-night to us.  But Aunt Mona rose, and went over to him, and held out her hands.

    He took them in his, with a look as if his heart was utterly melted within him.

    She said, in her sweet voice, broken with emotion, "'Whom God hath joined together, let no one put asunder;'" and she included both Lizzie and me in one tender glance.  "But, oh! I wish, dear boy, you had been open with us, and had waited at least till your father's return."

    "You cannot wish it more than I do," he said, humbly.  "I have been a fool, or, rather, I have been like one walking in a dream."

    "Your hands are deadly cold," said Aunt Mona and she drew him to the fire, and made him sit down.  She wanted him to eat, but he could not, and she made me get him a little wine, which he drank eagerly.

    Lizzie had fled out of the room, sobbing, and I went after her, and left Edwin alone with Aunt Mona; and after a time I coaxed Lizzie to appear again in a calmer mood.

    It was getting very late when we bade one another a sorrowful good-night.  He had told us his plans, or, rather, her plans, for they did not bear the impress of his mind at all.  Fräulein Vasa was still in her situation.  He had, it seemed, met her almost every evening, walking about with her, and even visiting the house of her employer as her engaged lover.  Lizzie was quite right about the letters he had received being hers.  She was afraid of being compromised (or pretended to be, Lizzie said afterwards), and that had hurried their marriage, which had taken place quite recently, at the office of the registrar.  She knew exactly the extent of his means, and proposed that they should take apartments, which she could furnish out of her savings, while she taught music and German.

    It was clear that she had planned it all, though he would not say so—would not blame her in the least, though I think be must be aware that she has intrigued over it, and that knowing this, we must regard her with aversion, at least with distaste.  And what will our father and Ernest say?  They must be written to at once; and Edwin entreated me to undertake the task.

    It was settled that Aunt Mona was to write to our father, and I undertook the letter to Ernest.  Ernest wrote to me, in reply, a letter of which I could make nothing, the tone was so light and mocking; but it was also kinder than I had expected, and refrained from any kind of bitterness toward either party.  He is to be with us shortly, for the Easter recess, and Mr. Temple is to take up his quarters over the shop, as before.

    In the one or two letters that followed, Ernest never mentioned his brother's name at all, and we found that he had not written to him.

    Edwin has settled in his rooms, and he has brought his wife with him to see us.  Aunt Mona received her with grave kindness, but without cordiality; that she could not feel.  It was equally impossible to Lizzie and to me, but we made up our minds not to upbraid her.  Edwin was our brother still, and we did not want to separate ourselves from him by quarrelling with his wife, and we would not have had him disloyal to her by holding to us while we openly contemned her.



    Many and sad are the consultations we have about Edwin and his wife, and the glimpses we get, from time to time, of their way of life, are anything but reassuring.  In spite of her beauty, Doretta looks less than ever like a lady in the gay attire which she has chosen to begin her new life in.  It is too light for the season, and too suggestive of her condition as a bride.  Aunt Mona will not allow us to condemn her on this score, as her want of taste may be set down to pure innocence and ignorance of usage in the matter; but then we hear of her dragging him almost every evening to theatres and third-rate concert-rooms, for which we know he does not care.

    It is best, however, to pass over lightly the records of these days.  Suffice it that Doretta's offences culminated just then in her coming to us one day, with exultation in her eyes, not ill concealed, not in the least attempted to be concealed, to tell us that poor Rousset was dead at last.

    "At last," just as if she had been waiting impatiently for the event.  I do not think we did her any injustice in believing that she had.  Her play-going habits, and other habits of hers with which we were acquainted, were expensive, and she showed no sign of beginning the private teaching which Edwin had assured us she was anxious to obtain.

    Lizzie and I had called to inquire after Mons. Rousset every other day, and had taken him all the flowers we could coax out of our little garden—a few crocuses and snowdrops, and some which Aunt Robert had sent us, and Lizzie had brought his two little boys to spend the day with us, and play with Toodles, so that Doretta's way of announcing his death seemed particularly harsh.  She had calculated upon the increase of salary it would bring to Edwin as a means of obtaining what she considered pleasures, and she coolly told us that now she should ask Edwin, when he had his Easter holidays, to take her to spend a day and dine at the Crystal Palace.

    "How utterly childish she is!" said Lizzie, when she was gone.

    And Aunt Mona replied—

    "That is, my dear, her best excuse; only she is at present a very heartless child, which our poor boy is not."

    I may as well set down here all we came in the end to know concerning Madame Rousset, in whom we were already greatly interested, and who at length impressed us, as she had evidently done her foreign husband, who was of a higher social grade, by the transparent loveliness of a character wholly unselfish and loving.  Living and dying, her husband had been her first thought.  In the time of his health, while secretly blaming herself for the neglect of every religious duty, she had devoted herself to him entirely, easily catching the secret of charming him by making everything about herself and her home tasteful and pure and gay.  And in his illness, still seeking hope and joy for him, she had turned his attention to sacred things, and found that he too had been longing after the higher beauty and joy of a spiritual life.

    Now that he was dead, and we saw her in her first overwhelming sorrow, her first thought was for her children—not for herself—and for them, it seemed, because they were his.  We could see that she thought no drudgery too great, no privation too severe, if they were but cared for, and all their wants supplied.  But the prospect before her was so dark, that, as she gathered them in her arms, she could not help crying, "Oh, Henri! I wish we could go to him now, just as we are!"

    Before he died a letter had come from his mother, in answer to the one I had written for him.  It was kind to a certain extent, and seemed to assure him of further kindness—he knew the writer best—but it promised nothing, and took but cold notice of wife or children.  On the announcement of his death, which I also wrote, there came another.  I had to read it.  She brought it to me at home, and alas! it was hard to read.  It was colder still; it asked their son's wife to bring her children to them.  They were ready and willing to receive them, if they were given up to them entirely; they would relieve her wholly of the burden of their maintenance and education.  That was all.  She heard the letter in silence, and went away, asking time to consider.

    But in a day or two she came back to announce her decision.  We received her tenderly, for she looked quite heart-broken.

    "I will take them," she said.  "I would work for them rather.  I am a first-rate needlewoman.  I might take lodgers too, and keep up the home; but to do it I must work night and day, and neglect them.  The work I would not mind, but I could not bear to see them look neglected, and then I might drop, and there would be nothing for them but the workhouse.  I will go, and if his people are good and kind I will leave the children, and if not I can but take a room and struggle on."

    Aunt Mona herself wrote to old Madame Rousset, and said all she could to prepossess her in favour of her daughter-in-law; so poor Madame Rousset sold off all her belongings and went away with her children.

    From time to time she wrote to us; at first sadly.  She had been received somewhat coldly, allowed to remain almost on sufferance, and that she might nurse the baby; but the home into which they had been received was a cultivated as well as comfortable one, and her husband's parents were to be respected if not loved.  More than once she had made up her mind that the time had come to leave them, and always she was requested to stay with some little increase of cordiality.  They were teaching her their language, and as the children began to talk it she was learning it rapidly.  Then she took to writing to us in her adopted tongue, and at length came the looked-for news that she was in her new home as a daughter.  The old people had never had a daughter—only sons—all of whom were married, and gone out into the world; and they had made the discovery, later than we could have imagined—for we English people never will give the French credit for their great prudence in domestic matters—they had made the discovery that she was a daughter to be won and loved.  The children had taken rather severely a kind of fever, and the mother and grandmother had nursed them together, and become the tenderest of friends.

    "Oh, if Edwin had only married such a one as Alice Rousset," Aunt Mona had said when first she knew her; and often and often we remembered her words in the after-days.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XX.

UNCLE HENRY.


ERNEST and Mr. Temple are with us for a fortnight.  They are both reading very hard for their examination, but we have our outdoor rambles still, though somewhat restricted to time, and the after-dinner hour of chat.  When the tea comes in it is the signal for our students to be off to work again, and they drink a cup standing, and go back to the dining-room for the rest of the evening with their books.

    We should be very happy but for Edwin's marriage.  We all feel that he is lost to us already.  This is partly, though by no means altogether, owing to the way in which Ernest and our father have taken it.  We made Edwin write to both of them at once, as soon as we ourselves knew of it; but what the replies were, we none of us know.

    For one thing, we never see Edwin alone.  Doretta is always with him, and seems jealous of the slightest appropriation of his time or attention by us, and we do not like to ask him in her presence any question that might embarrass him.  He would have told us voluntarily any pleasant news.  All that we do know is that both the letters have been answered.  We had letters of the same date from both.  Our father says simply, "I have written to Edwin."  That is all.  No mention is made of his marriage, or of his wife.

    And now we know what Ernest thinks of it.  He cannot get over the fact of Edwin's concealing from him the great event of his life, and he will not go near them.  Edwin, too, has avoided the house ever since Ernest came home.  So they have not met as yet.  We dread and yet desire a meeting for them.  The old love might rise up and sweep away the offence.  It would be best for both.  Aunt Mona has even urged Ernest to go, pleading that it is harder for the offender than for the offended to seek reconciliation.  But he made answer that he could not feel that he was wanted, that this was what he called a new departure, and that Edwin had wilfully broken the bond between them, had sent him in the matter, and it was not for him to force him back into the old path of brotherly love.

    "As for her," he said, "I would rather not see her—a coarse, unscrupulous woman.  I would rather not say all I think about her.  No, there is nothing for it but to drop her."

    "That means dropping him, Ernest," I said.  "He never goes anywhere without her."

    "She will take good care that he does not," said Lizzie.

    "It is hardly fair that he should," said Aunt Mona.

    But Ernest kept silence, a silence which said plainly that he accepted the condition.

    The day after this we dined alone, Mr. Temple having an engagement in Bedford Square, whither Ernest had refused to accompany him; and after dinner Ernest lingered in the drawing-room over the book he had brought from his room.  It was a volume of Heine's.  "There's a picture!" broke from him, as he threw down the volume with a bitter smile.

    "What has moved you so deeply?" I asked.

    He lifted the book again, sought and found the page, and handed it to me.

    Lizzie came and looked over my shoulder; but seeing what book it was, turned away again with a vigorous expression of dislike.

    The passage to which he drew my attention was the description of the parsonage, where the mother sits reading the Bible, while the son and daughters keep a dreary silence, which is broken at last by two of them making their deadly choice between poverty and sin.  It sent a sensation of physical dread through me as I read.  The mother starting up to fling the Bible in the face of her son, and her curse along with it, while in at the window looks the ghost of their father, who lies in the churchyard without the house."

    "Terrible, but untrue," I said.

    "True and terrible," he returned.

    Lizzie was frankly impatient.

    "How can you read that disgusting book, Ernest?" she said.

    "A rather strong expression, Lizzie," he answered.  "I did not know that you were in the habit of using such words."

    "No others are adequate," said Lizzie, smiling.

    She was not in the least sentimental—nay, rather laughed at the expressions of sentiment, preferring it clothed in humour, or expressed in deeds; but she could not bear the cruel way in which Heine dealt with human emotion.  The human nature he exposed was his own nature, after all; and he was, in Lizzie's estimation, like a beggar who shows his sores—like a criminal who tears the bandage from his wounds, to excite at once pity and horror.

    Aunt Mona had taken the book, and read the passage also.

    "It is very powerful," she said; "a wonderful and awful picture of spiritual death and corruption."

    "Do you know what it has suggested to me?" said Ernest.

    We all looked a negative; it might suggest so many things.  I shook my head.

    "You give it up?"

    "Yes."

    "Then I'll tell you.  I have been fancying that is the kind of home Edwin has got a wife out of."

    "My dear boy!" said Aunt Mona, gravely.

    Lizzie now wanted to see the poem, but Aunt Mona had given the volume back to Ernest, and he would not part with it to her.  I gave her a sketch of its contents.

    "Not a bit like the reality," cried Lizzie.  "The only tragedy in Pastor Vasa's family was the killing of poor piggy.  The sisters, instead of yawning idly—though certainly Doretta yawned a good deal—would have been in the kitchen, making potato salad or sugar-cake, or some other elaborate bit of cookery; the mother would have been knitting stockings; and the son would have announced his intention of slaughtering piggy that very night; and the ghost would have risen with delight, only to look in at the proceedings when they made him into sausage-meat and voorst."

    Ernest laughed, in better humour, at this; but it showed us the bitter animus he felt towards his sister-in-law, and the small hope there was of his reconciling himself to her.

    Aunt Robert professed herself very little astonished.  The wonder, in her mind, was evidently that we were not a great deal worse; that, brought up as we had been, there was any good in us at all.

    "Of course, he has done a very foolish thing," she said.  "He will be in poverty to begin with, but it will grow worse and worse.  He will likely have a large family, and live from hand to mouth, and in constant debt and difficulty.  I know a case of the kind, and they are a perfect nuisance to all their relations.  You need not look at me in that way, Una."

    For I had looked at her suddenly, and I know I felt resentment at her speech, and would gladly at the moment have rejected her friendship and favour on my own behalf, as it was to be withheld from Edwin.  I felt thankful as it was that we had declined to go out of town with her just then.



    Our young men are gone.  Aunt Mona and I are more alone than ever.  Lizzie is so much with Clara, and, young as she is, so actively engaged in every way.  We see very little of Edwin and hear very little of Ernest.  His letters are often gay and affectionate, but always brief, and tell us nothing but the merest circumstances of his life, nothing whatever about what he is thinking and feeling.  And that is the great thing.  Nothing else is of any value as knowledge of a human being.  "Out of the heart are the issues of life," says the wonderful Book I am reading for the first time with the belief that it is indeed a revelation of the mind and will of God.  And oh, how true are the words!  His letters constantly contain little messages from Mr. Temple, generally to Aunt Mona or to Lizzie; but I seem to see Ernest and Mr. Temple beginning to drift asunder, and I said so to Aunt Mona.

    "I do not think his friend will fail him, Una," she said.  "I have seen such a friendship before, where all the comfort came from one side—all the efforts at harmony—while on the other there was nothing but discord and unrest.  I don't mean that Ernest is nothing to his friend but as a recipient of good things.  There is a great charm about him, in his truthfulness and purity, and capacity of loving—they are all reflected in his face.  His ought to have been a harmonious and beautiful nature, and would attract such a man as Herbert Temple, by the very lack of that which hinders it of its harmony and beauty.  Think what Ernest would be if he believed another Gospel than that of Heine."

    "Ernest always had a way of mocking and pulling to pieces everything, before he knew anything of Heine," I said.

    "Yes, he analyses everything, and will not be imposed upon; but he has no irreverence for realities, such as a coarse mind or a hard heart will show, no irreverence for love, or sorrow, or death."

    "But these are not religious things, Aunt Mona," I said.

    "My dear, they are the most religious of all religious things.  In a world where all things are appointed for our education and discipline, they are the chief instruments in our Father's hands."

    "Oh, Aunt Mona, I cannot understand, I cannot believe it.  You say we are in God's hands.  He made us, it is true; He must have made us, and not we ourselves.  But you say He placed us in the world just as was best for us.  You say He rules all things, provides all things.  You refer all your life to Him."

    "And you cannot help thinking, 'What am I that God should so care for me?'  But, my dear, I believe it for you as well as for me, and for all as well as for us."



    Aunt Robert's carriage and pair flashed up to the door.  The coachman seemed to have caught the spirit of his mistress, and to have come along in hot haste; for when Aunt Robert entered our little sitting-room, with its air of perfect peace, she was red and flurried, and even breathless, which, seeing that she had had nothing to do with her rate of progress, could only be accounted for by the state of her mind.

    "You both look as quiet as if nothing had happened, or was ever likely to happen again," she burst forth.

    We both laughed, which seemed to make her quite angry.

    "You must tell us what it is before you can expect us to sympathise with you, Harriet," said Aunt Mona.

    Then, seeing by her face that something was really wrong, I took the alarm, and almost gasped—

    "My father!  There is nothing wrong?"

    "No, no—not your father; it has nothing to do with your father.  And yet it has everything to do with him," she went on, enigmatically.  "Have you not heard?  Of course you haven't!  Henry is going to be married!"


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XXI.

BITTER LAUGHTER.


I RECEIVED the intelligence with perfect equanimity.  Aunt Mona, however, showed signs of feeling it deeply.  Her lips quivered, and she was visibly trembling as she did under strong emotion.  She was not given to tears.  I looked and felt more concerned for her than for myself, and essayed to comfort her, saying, "Dear Aunt Mona, that is not very bad news."

    "Not very bad news!" cried Aunt Robert, looking at me with unequivocal disdain and wrath.  "Is the girl a fool?"

    "It did not seem to me in the least overwhelming," I answered.  And indeed her wrath on the present occasion almost provoked me to laughter, because of the reaction of feeling from the momentary fear I had entertained concerning my father.

    "Don't you know that your father was the next heir, and that your uncle in marrying a young wife cuts him off from the succession—is sure to do so—and your brother, too?"

    I had not seen it in that light, but with the carelessness of youth for the realisation of the distant future, it did not impress me much.

    "I was not thinking so much of that, Harriet," said Aunt Mona; "but I feel hurt at Henry's conduct."

    "He never writes?" said Aunt Robert, interrogatively.

    "Never," was the answer.

    "He deserves"—cried Aunt Robert, vindictively—"I don't know what he does not deserve; and he may get it."

    We could not help laughing at the delightful incoherence of her sentence, which only served to make her angrier than ever.

    "Well, I don't know why I should put myself out in this way when you are resolved to take it so coolly," she said.

    "Why should he not marry?" I asked, with lofty indifference.

    "Why should he not marry?" she repeated.  "Because he is nearly as old as your father, and detests the idea of it—only marries out of spite.  There is one comfort, however: they will both be miserable."

    "I hope you will not quarrel with him, Harriet," said Aunt Mona.

    "I have done it already," she answered, exultingly.

    "When he told you?" said Aunt Mona.

    "Yes, when he told me.  He did it himself, and then I could keep silence no longer, and told him what I thought of his whole conduct."

    "Oh, I am so sorry! it will only make the breach irreparable."

    "It was that already, only you would go on hoping it wasn't."

    Dear Aunt Mona!  This was what she had encountered on our behalf.

    There she was, looking anything but lovely in her anger, this rash Aunt Robert; and yet all that she had done had been done in a fiery outburst of generous emotion.

    "But all this time you have not told us who the lady is," I said.

    "You can't guess, can you?" she asked, turning from me to Aunt Mona.

    "No.  Not the rector's daughter," said the latter; "not one of the Arrowsmiths—the nieces, I mean—not Edith Winfield."

    She was getting through the list of her brother's friends and neighbours negatively.

    But Aunt Robert stopped her by one little word—"Yes."

    "Yes who?" asked Aunt Mona.

    "Edith Winfield," was the answer.

    "Surely not Edith?"

    "It is, indeed."

    "How could she?" I exclaimed, indignantly.

    "Because the owner of Highwood is the best match in her circle, and because a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," said Aunt Robert, with a look which showed me plainly that her thoughts had run in the direction of my own.

    "I expected something better of Edith Winfield," said Aunt Mona.

    "Did you?" returned Aunt Robert, with doubtful intonation.

    "Have you seen any of them?" asked Aunt Mona, referring, of course, to the Winfields.

    "I have seen them all," was the answer.  "I made a point of seeing them."

    "And of quarrelling with them," said Aunt Mona, her peculiar, gentle humour visible in the corners of her mouth and eyes, in spite of her very real trouble and vexation of spirit.

    "Yes, if it had pleased them; but it didn't, and I don't think any the better of them for their peaceability, for my part," said Aunt Robert.

    "What did they say then?" Aunt Mona questioned.

    "You know what they are," answered Mrs. Robert, contemptuously.  "I never did think Charles Winfield entirely a responsible being, you know.  There he was, with a drawing-room fall of dogs, and his pockets stuffed with little biscuits purloined at luncheon, which he kept putting on their noses and making them catch in their mouths, as if that was an occupation befitting a Christian man!  And there was she, conscious of a very pretty youthful-looking cap, and caring a great deal more whether it became her than whether her husband was playing the fool or her daughter selling herself for an establishment."

    Certainly Aunt Robert's strictures did not lean to the side of charity.

    "'So I am to congratulate you upon Edith going to become my brother's wife,' I said"—she went on narrating her interview—"and Mrs. Winfield answered, 'I suppose you may.  The dear child has been left entirely to her own free choice in the matter.'

    "'A very queer choice she has made, then,' I remarked.  'He is old enough to be her father, and is almost a woman-hater.'

    "And she answered smartly, 'He admires Edith, at any rate, well enough to ask her to be mistress at Highwood.'

    "And when I asked whether she equally admired hint? she answered, 'You must not ask me, Mrs. Lancaster.  But we are very glad to have her settled near us.  We are getting old, you know,' with a look at her husband, 'and it is well to have her provided for.'  She had the audacity to say that."

    "But did you not see Edith herself?" queried Aunt Mona.

    "She came into the room before I went away, looking as washed-out as Edith can look, so that you wonder how you ever took her to be handsome," said Aunt Robert.

    "She is one of the people who want happiness to make them even look their best," interrupted Aunt Mona.

    "To tell you the truth, I could not say anything to her.  She looked at me with those eyes of hers, and held out her hand, and I couldn't say a word, any more than I could punish a dog who looked at me so," said Aunt Robert.

    "Do you think the marriage has been forced upon her?" asked Aunt Mona.

    "She has been made to see the desirability of doing something in the matrimonial line," Aunt Robert answered.  "You know her father ran through his fortune rapidly—literally sent it to the dogs; and Charles, the second, is not much better.  There will be no home for her at Winfield Court when he comes into possession.  Edith has been very unhappy ever since her first season, when she was positively dazzling.  I don't see much of their set, but I fancy she was all but engaged then to a friend of her brother's, a young officer in the same regiment and heir to a title; but it was broken off, and, being clever, she got the name of a flirt.  The young men were delighted to flirt with her.  But her mother takes care to let her know that she is a failure, and she is glad to put an end to it in any way."

    What a picture!  I felt my cheeks burn with indignation and shame, and an almost compunction of tenderness toward the victim of this heartless huxtering.

    Aunt Mona was full of compassion too.

    "Poor child!" she said, "how bright and winning she was, with all her love of mischief."

    "She will find none to make in our family, so much has been made already.  It is all done to her hands," said Aunt Robert.  "But she will either find something of the kind, or die of dullness.  Henry does not intend to change his way of life for any woman.  He wants an heir, but he does not want a wife; and he will go on as if she was not there at all.  That will not suit Edith.  She will be discontented, and he will resent her discontent."

    Neither from the one nor the other could I quite make out what manner of man this Uncle Henry was, nor what his life had been.  His present life was evidently a completely selfish one.  He had practised at the bar, and was now a magistrate.  He prided himself on his justice, and upon giving to all their due, and he clearly thought that a very great deal was due to Henry Lancaster for being the man he was; and, on the other hand, that very little, except punishment when they did anything wrong to the Henry Lancasters of the world, was due to the common herd of men.  He managed his own affairs.  Spent the morning in his library, where he never touched a book.  Rode over his estate all the afternoon.  Went to church on Sunday morning.  Sat on the bench, a terror to evil-doers.  Passed a fortnight yearly in London, marching through the exhibitions, and attending meetings.  Never had a guest in his house, and only entertaining the rector and a few of his fellow magistrates and their wives at dinner half a dozen times a year.  By all I could hear, he was a petrified man.  And this was to be the husband of an eager impulsive girl, capable, whatever her faults might be, of great humility and great veneration.  The thought of it almost made me forget my deeper interest in the terrible transaction which handed her over to such a fate.  And yet I was conscious of a feeling of relief concerning Ernest, as well as of concern for his disappointment.  He had a high ideal of women, both intellectually and morally.  He positively hated—and that because of their idea of women—Byron and Heine too, though he read the latter more than the former, voting his countryman unreadable, with the exception of a few descriptive passages.  "His men and women are like the troupe of a penny theatre," he once said, and I never think of Lara and the Corsair, in whom I once had a childish delight, without the association of this idea of his.  No doubt at that stage I should also have been lost in wonder and admiration at the penny theatre too.  Perhaps Ernest's ideal would be less degraded by his present disappointment than if he had come to know more of her who caused it.  It was a part of his nature, his reverence for women, which had never been invaded by the blight of cynicism.

    But he must be told of the engagement.  That was my present difficulty.  If it had been to a stranger, to any one but our unknown and hostile relative, it would have seemed an easier task.  As it was I tried and tried again to put it before him in any way that would make it look less—what to him I knew it would look—hideous.

    The result was that I wrote and told him of the engagement, without mentioning Uncle Henry's name at all.

    And the answer was a burst of laughter.  I seemed to hear it in the short mocking sentences—a burst of laughter worse than the bitterest grief.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XXII.

SOUL-SICKNESS.


ERNEST and his friend have agreed to share a set of chambers in Lincoln's Inn, for Ernest determined not to remain longer at the University, and simply took his degree, without going in for honours as he had intended.  The chambers are three rooms, which Ernest describes as "dark, darker, darkest;" and in the smallest and darkest there is a little clerk, who will keep the chambers and run their errands, and, in due time, carry their gowns and wigs to Court, and take charge of their briefs, when they get them, though that time seems a long way off indeed.

    We have not seen the chambers yet.  Ernest had not been very pressing in his invitation, and 'Miss Maude Bennett and her sisters have been before us.  They behaved in such a way, that Ernest does not want us to come at all.

    "If they [the Misses Bennett] hear that you have been there, they will come again; they will haunt the place," he said.  "What do we want with crayons on our walls and bouquets on our tables?"

    "Did Miss Maude bring you a bouquet?" I asked.

    "No, but she brought one for Mr. Temple.  If Lizzie does not mind, she will cut her out," he said.

    It was not like him to speak in this way, and I dare say I looked vexed and astonished, for he added, "You need not take that quite so seriously.  She may try it; but I think it would take greater attractions than Miss Maude can boast, to supplant Lizzie in Temple's estimation."

    Then Mr. Temple did admire her.  No doubt he confided in Ernest, and Ernest had not thought it necessary to be more guarded in speaking of it.

    In the meantime, Mr. Temple had taken up his quarters in the Bennett household.  It was his uncle's wish that he should do so; his uncle having the greatest possible horror of London, its lodgings, and its ways entirely.  The only safeguard from actual robbery and violence was, he considered, in being a member of some respectable family; and so in order to keep the old gentleman's mind easy concerning himself, Mr. Temple acquiesced in the arrangement.  Ernest is constantly receiving invitations to accompany him home to dinner, and to spend the evening in Bedford Square, and these he has accepted from time to time, till he has fallen into the habit of spending Sunday away from home, while on Saturday Mr. Temple comes to us.  He comes alone, too, for Ernest has joined the volunteer corps to which so many of the Inn belong.  Therefore he no longer comes for Ernest's sake.

    Ernest and he indeed seem to be drifting more and more apart.  How can it be otherwise?  Two cannot walk together unless they are agreed, at least unless their disagreements are capable of being united in a deeper harmony; and on all the deeper questions of life they are becoming silent.  Ernest is more and more gloomy and reserved.  He is no longer tenderly respectful, as he used to be, in speaking of women.  I never dare to speak of Edith to him; I cannot provoke the sneer with which he met allusion to her.  I suppose he learnt the whole truth from Aunt Robert, and it has revolted him.  And the association with these Bennett girls is not good for him.  Mr. Temple even feels this.  He has acknowledged to Aunt Mona that he is not at home among them—that he has to seek for companionship and sympathy out-of-doors.

    I think he finds it good to know Aunt Monica.  And indeed it is.  How wise she is, how calm and sober, and yet full of a glowing fervour.  What a patient teacher she is, always leading one out of one's self, and away from herself.  "She is," says Herbert Temple, "a true daughter of the Church of Christ."  And as I know more, I see exactly what he means by it.  I see the sober wisdom, the fervent devotion, the patient teaching, the leading out of self and beyond herself ever to the feet of Christ.  To be planted in this Church is like being planted in a garden where every living seed of heavenly life must grow.  How lovely are her seasons, weaving together the life and the doctrine, the doctrine and the life; leading the spirit through humiliation to rejoicing, and from sorrow to joy, and from joy to strength; not trying to make her children take in all truth at once, but portion by portion, and yet making them secure of the whole as their divine heritage.



    Aunt Robert came down the other day on purpose to tell us that Uncle Henry's marriage has been postponed on account of Edith's health.  Aunt Robert, though she has quarrelled hotly with her brother-in-law, has no idea of holding aloof from him.  She keeps up her communication with him, though I do not think their intercourse can be a pleasant one for either.  "I must meet him," she said, "when I am at Nyewood, and he must meet me.  He knows my mind, but that is no reason why we should not speak to each other.  I think it is all the more reason we should.  And we should have to give our neighbours a good deal of trouble in keeping us apart besides, and create no end of talk and scandal."

    "What is the matter with Edith?" said Aunt Mona.  "She has never been ill in her life before."

    "That is the provoking part of it; so Mrs. Winfield says, at least; and there is nothing particular the matter with her, so the doctor says.  There is no organic disease, only a nervous breakdown.  At first her mother dealt sharply with her, for she herself has nerves of steel, and Edith has always been curiously submissive to her mother, more under her influence than any one, seeing the pair, would have thought possible; but all her influence seems gone.  Fits of depression from which nothing would rouse her, alternated with fits of restlessness; and she began to look so haggard and so ill that at last they determined on taking her away abroad.  At one time she wanted the marriage broken off, and at another time hurried on, so that it has taxed all Mrs. Winfield's diplomacy to keep the state of affairs from Henry.  Of course he had to be told that she was ill, and he felt himself injured in consequence.  He even condescended to ask me very particularly whether I thought she was sickly or not."

    "Edith is not naturally sickly," said Aunt Mona.  "I fear it is sickness of the soul, poor child.  It would be far better for her not to fulfil her engagement."

    "You don't think I kept silent on that score!" said Aunt Robert.  "No, no.  I told both Mrs. Winfield and Henry what I thought.  Mrs. Winfield answered with the old story.  She had not influenced Edith's choice.  She was free to break off her engagement if she chose, only it was a disastrous thing for a girl to do, etc., etc.  As for Henry, he said, of course, what is perfectly true, that he could not break with her, could not even allow it to be supposed that he was willing to set her free, which would be equivalent.  He had supposed her rather improved by the prospect of her marriage—soberer and more dignified.  That is so like him, Monica, is it not?" commented Aunt Robert.  "When, in truth, she was behaving like a perfect automaton.  Not a bit of life or spirit in her.  The upshot of it is that the marriage is postponed till November, and the Winfields have gone abroad, with a detachment of dogs, of course."



    Herbert has found Mr. Bothwell at last, and that not when he was in search of him, but, as it were, by chance.  A friend of his took him one evening to a meeting which is held in his district, but unconnected with the church.  A meeting without a name, he calls it.  The young clergyman could not tell how it began, or who began it; he had simply been told of it by some one.

    "There was nothing formal about it," said Herbert.  "One or two ladies were present, evidently members of the Society of Friends.  Some had Bibles and some religious books; and each read what had most struck, or helped, or comforted him or her during the week or they read a portion of Scripture, each taking a verse in turn, like children in a school.  Then a few sentences of comment were made by one or other, generally ending in prayer.  The meeting was made up of the ladies whom I noticed, several poor married women, and one or two servants, a small tradesman of the neighbourhood, and the one I fancied might be your friend.

    "He has a pale face," Herbert went on, "much marred by small-pox, but lighted up by a pair of dark, clear, penetrating eyes, and by a smile of singular sweetness and purity.  He is very shabby, and extremely lame."

    "Oh! that is our Mr. Bothwell!" I exclaimed.  "There is no doubt about it.  You will take us next Tuesday, will you not?"

    "Gladly," he answered.  And so it was settled that Aunt Mona and I should go.

    Next Tuesday Herbert met us at the station, and we drove in a cab through the most dismal labyrinth of streets that could be conceived.

    We arrived a little late, still before the exercises of the evening had begun, and we found seats, unobserved, in the background.  After a short silence, and some whispered talk among those present, they were proceeding, and we thought ourselves doomed to disappointment, when Mr. Bothwell entered.  He was welcomed by more than one with a silent hand-grasp, and took his seat at the little table without having seen us.

    Some one repeated a short prayer, and spoke of its having sustained in a time of difficulty and trial by its teaching to leave in God's hands both the things to be done and the things to be suffered.

    "That is true," said Mr. Bothwell, quietly.  "We who lead tried and tempted lives, how do we too often encounter our trials and temptations?  We go to meet them, as it were, we lay hold of them and wrestle with them, quite sure that that is the thing God would have us to do.  We battle with our worldliness, our covetousness, our uncharitableness, on its own ground, and we come out of the conflict anything but ready in body or in soul, but bruised, and battered, and lowered, and enfeebled; whereas if we had simply put ourselves in the hands of God, it may be we need not have fought at all.  The Captain of our salvation might have routed our foes for us, and left us ready to accomplish those things He would have us to do.  Those who are of the Church will understand what I mean when I ask if temptation had any power when they realised His spiritual presence at the Lord's Supper, when they seemed to take the bread of life from other than mortal hands, and to feed upon it in their hearts by faith with thanksgiving; and those who dwell more on the ministry of the Spirit will understand me when I ask if temptation had any power when they had waited in silence and in prayer, and felt Him, the Holy One, breathing into their souls.  Could any of you have been uncharitable, or covetous, or worldly-minded then?  Many of you, I believe, will find it a joyful hour when you come to die, because your manifold temptations will then have utterly disappeared; and why?  Simply because you have begun to realise the presence of Christ so truly that scarcely the lifting of the veil can make it more real to you.  Why are we not living at this height, instead of only dying at it?"

    Mr. Bothwell sat down in silence—a silence that remained unbroken for several minutes—and then we noticed the slight harassing cough, the flush and tremor, and the extreme emaciation, which had come upon him since we saw him last.  Aunt Mona and I exchanged glances of sorrow and sympathy, and this, with the emotion which his words had raised, melted me to tears, which I tried vainly to restrain.

    After the quiet reading of some chapters in the Gospel of St. John, the prayer of the evening followed, from the lips of the tradesman Herbert had told us of.  Strictly grammatical it was not, but truly spiritual it certainly was; and the want of grammar did not render it less full of meaning, as I found, to either Herbert or Aunt Monica.

    When it was ended, the little company began to separate, and we hastened up to Mr. Bothwell, and made ourselves known to him, with many reproaches both for ourselves and him.

    "We must not lose sight of you again," said Aunt Mona.  "It is too late now, or we should insist on seeing you home; but we must have your address."


"Herbert went up to the table, and wrote it down in his pocket-book."


    Herbert went up to the table, and wrote it down in his pocket-book, and we said good-night, and parted.

    On our way home, we all came to the conclusion that we had not found him a day too soon; that he must be seen to immediately; and we thankfully accepted Herbert's offer to go to him on the morrow.

    Herbert brought us news of him in the evening, coming out on purpose to tell us how he had found him.  He was even worse than we had anticipated.  Alas! it is little more of mortal help that he will need.  He owned to Herbert that he is getting too weak to work, and that he thinks he has not long to live.  He caught cold moving out of his little room, which was close and warm, into a damp ill-built attic, and it has settled on his lungs.  But, he says, as it is summer, he may be able to keep about till the last—till within a day or two of the end.  As before, his neighbours help him, especially the women.  "They are the lowest of the low," he said, "but let me bear my testimony to this, that even in its most utter ruin and desecration human nature is never wholly worthless.  Have faith in it, young man; never lose faith in it and its divine possibilities.  There is no infidelity deeper than that."

    "There is only one thing to be done," said Aunt Mona, quickly.  "We must bring him here, and Una and I must nurse him."

    Lizzie took Aunt Mona's hand and kissed it, and Herbert followed her example.  As for me, I could have kissed her feet, but I did not.  I had neither word nor kiss for her till we were alone together.  On the morrow we went with Herbert, Aunt Mona and I, to propose our plan, but Mr. Bothwell would not listen to it, and, indeed, it did seem too late.  He told us he had enough for all his wants, and that he could not without suffering be burdensome to others.  Then he said, so feelingly that it was impossible to doubt how much it was to him, that the love in our offer was enough for him; he would have nothing more.

    After this Herbert devoted himself to him, and Ernest was with him often; but he was very silent concerning his visits; indeed, there was hardly now a break in our poor boy's impenetrable gloom.  The comfortable, easy-going, cynical infidelity of the day was not for him.

    But there was more of suffering in store for our friend than any of us could have imagined.  He had a large stock of that strange thing vitality, and, while unable to eat what would have been needed by the feeblest infant, he still lived on.  At length he was confined to the little bed in his wretched room, and the doctor who had been called in advised his removal to the workhouse infirmary.

    And thither he at length consented to be removed, though Aunt Mona renewed her offer with tears.  We knew then that it was not from any remnant of mere self-respect that he refused.  It was that he held charity to be so sacred a thing that he feared to profane it, or to lead to its profanation.  He had lived among men and women who had ceased from believing in it, because they had profaned it—made it consist in doles of food and clothing and money, not hesitating, in order to procure these, to practise any lying or hypocrisy.  They had ceased to believe in the love of any giver, thinking it was only a way of getting something that givers cared for, in thanks and praise and the favour of God.  He was among some who would not have scrupled to use the words and example by which he was striving to raise them up, thus to degrade themselves lower still.

    "What would my mother have thought of it?" he said, when the resolution was taken.  "But where she is now, it will not matter," he added, smiling with tender humour.  "The point of view is everything."

    In the midst of this the vacation had arrived, and a summons had come to Ernest to go to Malta and join his father's ship there for a cruise on the coast of Africa.  We were glad of this for Ernest, as it might take him out of himself, and we dreaded particularly to have him idle on our hands.

    Herbert stayed in town till Mr. Bothwell died, which he did most lingeringly.  Herbert said there was still work for him to do.  His smile lighted up the dreary place.  His presence created a new atmosphere for its dreary inmates.  Several of them died before him, greatly helped and comforted by his living words.  Herbert carried them from one pallet to the other when his voice was too weak to be heard.

    And now we could carry him and his fellow-prisoners, unchidden, the tokens of God's love and ours in fruits and flowers, and whatever would minister to their weakness or alleviate their pain, and this we did up to the last.

    But he died in the night, with no one near him but the pauper nurse.  His last words, "Count it all joy," moved the apathetic soul, accustomed to many a forsaken death-bed, as no cry of suffering could have moved her.  It stirred her heart to mysterious and incomprehensible depths; and he who had drunk the cup of humiliation to its very dregs, was tended in death with a reverence, seeing whence it came, greater than that accorded to the highest earthly dignity.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XXIII.

A SECRET AND A REVELATION.


AUNT ROBERT has been pressing us to go down with her to the country for the autumn.  As Ernest was away, she thought we might shut up our little house, and leave it for a month or two; but this Aunt Monica steadily declined to do.  She did not seem able to encounter the risk of a meeting with her brother in his present state of feeling towards her, and even revisiting the familiar scenes would be too painful.

    Aunt Monica could not be left alone, and so it remained for Lizzie and me to decide between us.  We were both rather unwilling to go, which was decidedly ungracious of us; only I was rendered more reluctant by the consciousness that Aunt Robert would prefer Lizzie.  I made the offer, however; but when Mr. Bothwell died, and Herbert also went away, Lizzie seemed willing to take my place.  I had no further scruples, but gladly allowed her to do so.

    Aunt Monica and I were left alone, and to be alone with Aunt Monica is like being alone altogether.

    "And please, Aunt Mona, if that sounds uncomplimentary," I added, "it is not so from me."

    "I quite believe it," she answered.  "When people cannot bear to be alone it shows they are not at home with themselves, or that they have made being at home there unpleasant, and one must be quite at home with another, and find it pleasant, too, before one can be truly alone with them."

    The weeks that followed were certainly the most solitary weeks I had ever spent in my life.  Even Clara went away on a visit, and I used to take my old walks alone till Claude found it out, and begged to accompany me, an offer which I accepted gratefully, as the people on the roads here are not always pleasant to meet.

    Claude and I are becoming quite confidential.  We have long talks together of an evening, in the summerhouse at the bottom of the garden.  He is not very happy in his present position, feeling constrained and uneasy in his relations with his inscrutable rector, who listens to everything he has to say and makes no response whatever—has, one is led to think, very little sympathy with enthusiasm, no matter in what direction.  Claude confides to me his ideas concerning the Church of the future, which is to unite all that is noblest and best in the warring parties of the present, each fighting, as he believes, for some aspect of truth.

    What am I to do?  In a moment of confidence Claude has been betrayed into telling me of his love for Lizzie.  I am deeply grieved on his account, for of course I could not give him a single gleam of hope or comfort.  Indeed, I too was startled into a betrayal—though it was only the betrayal that it was so—the natural expression of my sympathy with him.  Why it was so he was too delicate to ask, but he saw at once that he had done wrong in speaking to me.

    "I had no right to tell you this," he went on, with growing agitation—"you, of all people.  You know exactly how we are circumstanced.  It may be years before I could offer the woman I love a home" (how strange it sounded to hear Lizzie spoken of as a Woman), "and it may well be that that time will never come.  I have no influence.  A clergyman can do little or nothing to command success.  I could wait, wait and serve as Jacob did for Rachel.  But it is one thing to wait yourself and another to ask any one else to wait.  How could I have burdened you with my secret? for a secret I must ask you to make it.  You will promise to leave her in undisturbed ignorance, and I will try, for very love of her, to overcome."

    I have promised Claude that I will keep his secret; but he is quite right in feeling that he ought not to have burdened me with it.  Is there an element of weakness in his character, beautiful as it is?  I could not fancy Herbert Temple doing the same thing.



    November has come, and we are all at home again.  Ernest and Mr. Temple are back in their chambers, and busy with their legal studies.  On Saturday Herbert came to us as usual.  He did not say anything about going away, and we were greatly astonished when Ernest came home on Monday evening, and told us that he had gone off to his uncle's.

    "Why, he has just come back!" exclaimed Lizzie.

    And Aunt Mona asked, with concern, if his uncle had been suddenly seized with illness.

    But no; nothing had happened—nobody was ill.  And Ernest was mysterious, and more roused and interested than was now usual with him.

    At last something leaked out—something at which we could not help smiling, though Lizzie was also deeply indignant.

    "The truth is," said Ernest—"though perhaps it is not the whole truth—the truth is that Temple finds staying in Bedford Square no longer a tenable position, and he is going to make some new arrangement for which the old gentleman must be consulted.  In fact, Miss Maude became a little too demonstrative, and as Temple had 'no intentions,' it was a rather awkward dilemma, especially as Bennett père was evidently looking on with approving eye."

    Strangely enough, the next day save one brought me a note from Herbert, to say that he would see me on the following day.  Why was he in such haste to see me?  Why, indeed, did he wish to see me at all?  I showed the note to Aunt Monica, and she made no remark.  She merely handed it back to me, and kissed me in her own tender way.

    It was indeed strange, something so strange, so far overwhelming, that I could not think, far less write, for days, though the one subject held my mind wholly captive.  Herbert had gone down to Devonshire to gain the consent of his uncle to a proposal of marriage—and to me.  When he came down, Aunt Monica received him.  We had not expected him so early, and Lizzie and I were up-stairs helping Juliana with the rooms.  He was some time with Aunt Monica before I was sent for; indeed, it was she herself who came for me, and told me to go down to him alone.

    I had by this time begun to feel a vague tremor.  Herbert came to the door of the room to receive me, and led me to a chair.  One look at his face, and I knew all.  I could read it in that one glance, tender and impassioned, before which my eyes felt blinded, and my heart sank fainting within me.  He made no preface.  He said, quite simply, "Una, I have come to ask you if you will be my wife."

    I hardly know how I answered him, but I must have uttered the word "impossible," for he repeated it after me.  I had covered my face with my hands, and there was a dreadful silence.  At last he spoke in a low firm voice, in which I could hear the pain.  "Forgive me," he said.  "I have hurt and offended you.  I have taken too much for granted."

    At that moment I knew that he had not, but then Lizzie—my darling Lizzie—could I accept the happiness and leave her the sorrow?  It seemed treason even to feel, as I could not help feeling, a thrill of something like joy.  A tumult of emotion overpowered me.  I only know that I dismissed him without hope, and condemned myself to suffer.



    A long silence.  I can never think of silence according to Carlyle.  I could never call it golden.  To me it is a flower, a living growth, a healing balm, the smile upon a mother's face when she looks upon her sleeping child.  Growth is silent.  The growth of love and holy affections is silent.  "Yea, every power that fashions and upholds, works silently."  Deep grief is silent too, only that is not a growth to be nourished; rather is it a wound to be healed, and that too is the work of silence.  It is selfish to nurse sorrow, except that it may be healed.  There is more need for joy, and if the garden of the soul is too bleak and wintry to bear it, we may gather in its stead the sweet white flower of patience, or the hardy blossom of hope.



    It has been a dreary winter, though Aunt Robert has done her best to brighten it for us.  The great event of the season has been the birth of Edwin's child—a son.  He is a very puny little thing, with a dear wee pinched face, unaccountably weak and small, seeing that both father and mother are large and handsome.  I never saw Edwin so touched, so seriously tender about anything before.  He seems to feel the solemn responsibility of having and holding the frail treasure of this feeble human life as he never felt anything.  Lizzie and he are alike in their devotion to it.  It has carried Lizzie out of herself entirely.  She has been quite at home in Edwin's house ever since it came; indeed, now we are all coming and going continually with some kind of help or other, for Doretta is perfectly helpless.  She is prettier than ever, with her transparent fairness heightened by delicacy.  She is not at all strong, and gives herself all the airs of an invalid, so that we have everything in the way of work to do for her and the baby.  I do not know how they manage their affairs, but from what I have seen, they seem to spend a great deal.  Doretta came to see us the first day she was out, dressed in velvet and furs, and with a nurse carrying the baby in great splendour.  They are only in lodgings as yet, but Doretta wants Edwin to take a house for her.  She says the woman they lodge with has been very uncivil, complaining of the trouble they give, or did give, for it was of their late hours she complained, and they have had nothing of that kind recently, though the theatregoing was kept up till within a few weeks of baby's coming.  Edwin looks troubled when she speaks about having a house.  He has not a penny to furnish it with, unless he has saved something during the past year, and I do not think it is at all likely that he has.  But he does not contradict her, or complain of her in any way, and he does not often conic to us.  That is because of the settled coldness between him and Ernest.

    Ernest has been very considerate towards me.  He has not mentioned the very name of his friend in my presence, perplexed though he is about my rejection of his offer.  The only thing we have heard concerning Herbert—and this was told to Lizzie—is that his uncle has come up to London and taken up house, for his nephew's sake.  Lizzie, I am glad to say, is as full of life and energy as of old.  She is graver and more tender in her ways, but she has nothing of the blighted being about her.  Ernest is by far the more melancholy of the two.

    Edith has not returned to England.  She is still abroad, and on the plea of health; but her engagement is at length broken off.  Aunt Robert told us that Mrs. Winfield kept it unbroken as long as she could, but that at length Uncle Henry took a journey to Mentone, and came back a free man.

    "He hates travelling," said Aunt Robert, "and it was not everything that would have taken him away from home in the month of December, certainly not to win the best wife in the world; but he wanted to get rid of his bargain, and he did.  He did not want to tell me anything, but I made him.  I was determined to hear all about it, and between him and Mrs. Winfield's letters I managed to do it.  It was Edith herself who dismissed him last.  To do her justice, I fancy it made her ill to contemplate her fate, and that she is quite as glad to escape as he is.  Perhaps she will get better now.  She seems to have behaved very well to Uncle Henry, and took all the blame, or laid it all on the unfortunate breakdown of her health.  And now—now he is looking out for another wife."

    "And why should he not?" said Lizzie.  "He has nobody to care for him."

    "Well, I'm not going to help him, at any rate," Aunt Robert made answer; "unless, indeed, he would take a fancy to Miss Bell or Miss Nancy Amphlett."

    Aunt Monica laughed, and we asked, in one breath, Lizzie and I, who Miss Bell and Miss Nancy were, and found that they were two dear old maiden ladies who lived close to Highwood, and had the requisite birth and breeding, and also, what Aunt Robert considered the requisite age, being our uncle's contemporaries, if not his seniors—at any rate belonging to the same generation.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XXIV.

LIFE AND DEATH.


AGAIN I must set down events that appear already as if they had happened long ago, though, in reality, it is only a few months since.

    We were then at the end of winter, and now the summer has begun; but my little journal has been lying untouched in its drawer, and I have been away—called to new duties, and new and heavy trials.

    We have not been unused to telegrams.  Our associations with them, moreover, have been so constantly happy and pleasant, that they raise in us anything but anticipations of evil; though that, too, is of the past.  However, when Juliana came in with the yellow paper on her tray, Lizzie and I jumped up delightedly.  We had just sat down, after finishing our more active duties, to an hour or two of needlework, while Aunt Monica read to us.

    "Papa is in port!"  "Papa is coming home!" were our exclamations, while Aunt Monica tore open the missive, which was addressed to her.

    We had not seen him for so long, we were so glad to think he was coming; but our gladness was only momentary.  As we looked at Aunt Monica's face it changed to apprehension.  She did not speak at once, but the paper trembled in her hand, and she put up the other to her head, and covered her eyes for an instant, as if in prayer.

    "My dears," she said, at length, very gravely, "your father is ill."

    We waited to hear more, quite dumb with fear—waited to hear the worst.

    "He has been taken on shore at Cowes, and is lying at the hotel there.  We are to go to him.  There is no immediate danger," continued Aunt Monica.

    The last words were indeed a relief.

    We hastened to her side, Lizzie kneeling and I standing over her to peruse and re-peruse the words, so few and brief, laden with such messages of fate.  The telegram was from the first lieutenant on board our father's ship, and ran:—


Commander Lancaster has had a seizure of the nature of paralysis.  He has been taken on shore at Cowes, and is at the hotel here.  Come as soon as possible.  No immediate danger.


    For a few moments we were unable to look into each other's faces, though not one of us shed a tear.  It was not the kind of trouble which can win the solace of tears.  It had in it too much of dread, which rather dries up their flow.  It laid hold of our hearts with a grasp that stifled us.  Both Lizzie and I felt sick; looking into Lizzie's upturned face, I could see that her colour had fled, and that her lips were parched and pale.  I felt so faint that I leaned quite heavily on Aunt Mona's chair, while Lizzie hid her face in her lap.  Then she gave me her hand to clasp, while the other rested on Lizzie's head.  In the solemn stillness that followed I knew that these two prayed together.  Prayer was not a matter of times and seasons with Aunt Mona; it was the atmosphere in which she lived.  With her it was not the pleading cry of the beggar at the gate, but the speech of the daughter at home in her Father's house.  And yet the cry of those who are without, is not that, too, heard and answered?  Does it not move with compassion the very heart of God?

    After the brief expressive silence, we fell to looking once more at the words of the telegram, that we might extract from them their fullest meaning.

    "We must be prepared to find him very ill," said Aunt Monica.

    "It is clear he cannot write," I added.  "We must go to him at once."  That was the thought of all.  Then came the question, Who is to go?  Aunt Monica of course, but which of us?

    "You must both go.  It would be the hardest task to stay behind, and happily it is not necessary," said Aunt Monica.  "Let us get ready without any more delay."

So Lizzie found a railway guide, and we saw that there was a three o'clock train which would take us to Portsmouth in time to cross over, and be at Cowes that evening. Then there were the boys to be considered. If it was a question of seeing their father for the last time—and we had to entertain the thought, painful as it was—they too must go.

At length it was settled that Lizzie and I should hasten into town and see Ernest, who was the most easily reached, and entrust him with the task of telling Edwin, and if possible bringing him to meet us at the station, where Aunt Monica was to be waiting for us, with what little luggage we should require.

Lizzie and I got ready, or rather Aunt Monica got us ready, in a very short space of time. As for me, I had to sit down more than once in the midst of our preparations in agitation, which I tried in vain to quell.

We had started before I remembered that we were going to Lincoln's Inn, and that I might meet Mr. Temple. But it did not seem to affect me now as it would have done the day before. My thoughts and feelings were too deeply preoccupied.

There was no time to be lost, but we had to pass Edwin's lodgings on our way to the station, and we thought it would be well to run in, and tell Doretta that she might be prepared for Edwin's going away. The little maid opened the door to us, and in answer to our inquiry for her mistress, told us that she was not at home. We were about to leave a message, and turn away, when our ears were saluted with a burst of crying.

"Is that baby?" said Lizzie, listening.

"Yes, miss," answered the girl. "I can't keep him quiet. He has begun already."

"Has Mrs. Lancaster been long gone, then?"

"She went out with master this morning," answered the girl.

"With Mr. Lancaster—at eight o'clock?" said Lizzie; and we looked at each other.

"Oh no, miss. Master hasn't gone to business to-day. He and the missus is gone for a holiday."

"And left the baby!" said Lizzie, with suppressed indignation.

"Yes, miss," said the girl, stolidly.

"Let me go and see him," said Lizzie, and she passed the maid, and ran up-stairs, while I followed.

Guided by the cries, we went into the parlour, where baby lay in his cradle, screaming violently. On the table stood a bottle of milk, and what seemed a vial of medicine, and spoon. Lizzie took up the baby, and tried to soothe him, pressing the little face to hers. Presently she turned upon the girl—

"What have you been giving him? See, Una," she said, holding him toward me, and I could see that some brownish liquid was oozing from his month, and that some had dropped on his frock, and the crying had stopped, and seemed to be giving place to a kind of stupor.

Lizzie repeated her question, with sufficient sternness.

The girl looked sulky, and said she had given him nothing but what "misses" had told her to, if he cried. He had had plenty of milk, and he wouldn't go to sleep, and she had only given him the drops.

"Oh, Una! see how strange he looks," cried Lizzie. "He is ill—perhaps poisoned."


"Tell the landlady to come up," I said, and the girl went down-stairs, crying.

Very soon the landlady appeared, looking ill-tempered enough, and muttering that people had no call to be upset in this way.

"It's all right," she said. "He's not had too much. I give the drops myself, only not in the daytime. Don't wake him up, miss; you'll only do him harm."

"When will Mrs. Lancaster be at home?" I asked.

"That I can't say, miss," replied the woman. "Not till night, I dare say. We were to take fresh milk for the child;" and she repeated the assurance that he would be all right.

What was to be done? Of course, trying to find Edwin and Doretta was out of the question. So, cautioning the girl that on no account was the dose to be repeated, we went our way mournful and indignant.

We got to Lincoln's Inn at last. Of course we had to go round the whole square, too, before we reached the particular door on which, amid a crowd of other names, were inscribed those of Mr. Temple and Mr. Lancaster.



"Lizzie and I topped him by the head and shoulders."


But at length it was found, and when we had knocked and been opened to by the clerk—such a very small man that Lizzie and I topped him by the head and shoulders—we gave our names and were at once ushered into an inner room, in which Ernest and Mr. Temple were sitting together with a pile of books before them.
Ernest was balancing a paper-knife on his finger when he looked up and saw us. But the smile with which he jumped up to greet us faded from his face as he looked in ours.

Mr. Temple, who had also risen on our entrance, came forward and shook hands with us gravely.

"We had a telegram from Cowes this morning," I said. "Papa is very ill. We are on our way to the station;" and I put the paper into Ernest's hand.

He read it in silence, and offered it to Mr. Temple, who had been finding chairs for us by removing the books and papers which appeared to remain in possession.

We were glad to sit down.

"I shall go with you," were the first words Ernest spoke. Then he added, with evident emotion, "Does Edwin know?"

We told him that Edwin was unfortunately out of the way. We could only suggest that he should be written to; that a note would find him at home in the evening. We explained our own arrangements.

"There is time for me to run down and meet Aunt at the terminus, while you go on," he said.

"Can I be of any service?" said Mr. Temple. "Let me go and meet Miss Lancaster, while you remain here with your sisters till it is time to start."

"Yes, that will be better," said Ernest, and the next minute Mr. Temple had shaken hands with us once more, and was gone. The clerk was sent for a cab, and, after some delay, we set off to the station. When we arrived there, we found Aunt Monica and Mr. Temple already waiting for us, our tickets pro. cured, and the luggage safe. It was impossible not to feel grateful for the tender sympathy expressed in the face and voice of the latter, and as he stood, uncovered, while the train moved out of the station, I felt thankful for this meeting, which made possible our meeting as friends in the future. Then I looked at Lizzie, and she was sitting in a corner, with her hands clasped tightly together, and a look of pain and weariness on her face such as I had never seen there before.

We found our father conscious, but unable to speak distinctly, or to move at all. He was indeed a stricken man. If he survived—and even that was yet doubtful—he would never more be fit for active service, perhaps not even for the ordinary intercourse of life—a helpless invalid, a "wreck." This last was his own word, the only one we could make out, and, coming from him, was the most pathetic he could have used.

Yet after a few days the doctors gave us hope of a certain amount of recovery, and Ernest went back to London for the present. We were all to follow as soon as lie was able to be moved.



And now, after many weeks, we are at home again. Our father bas regained in some measure the use of his limbs, and also of his speech, though his movements are slow, and his words uncertain, and all excitement is strictly forbidden.

Edwin did not come to us at all; consequently he has never seen poor papa. He was unable to accompany Ernest when he came to fetch us home. But Ernest did not come alone. Mr. Temple came with him, and proved of the utmost assistance, as poor papa can only walk on level ground, and that but for a little way, without support while he has to be lifted about everywhere else.

So we got him home with less difficulty than we had expected. Aunt Monica has given up her room to him, as the coolest and airiest in the house. She devotes herself to comfort and sustain him; for he is often wrapt in the most heartrending gloom and despondency. It is the nature of his illness, the doctor says. At such times he will see no one but ourselves, and sits with his head sunk upon his breast, suffering silently.

Edwin has been to see us, but not alone, as we desired. Doretta insisted on coming with him, and on being admitted to papa's room. Aunt Monica tried to prevent her, but in vain. It was impossible to tell her that she could not be allowed to see him; she would not have understood; so she was simply told that he could not bear the least excitement, and that she must be very quiet; and even this she evidently resented.

We dreaded the interview, even with Edwin alone. If lie could only have come with us, and been with him when he saw us all together, it would have been so much better.

"Let Edwin go first," said Aunt Monica, as a last resource, "and then come and fetch you and baby."

"I don't know why it should be such a dreadful thing for him to see his father," she said, looking at us sulkily. "I suppose it is because he has married me. I am sure he ought not to mind it so much," she added, pointedly. "I think he will not be so hard upon Edwin and me. I will see him along with my husband."

"You had better go with them, then, Una," said Aunt Monica, yielding the point. Your father may want something."

It was always me lie wanted now. I was less active and more subdued than Lizzie. He liked me to sit by him doing nothing, or quietly reading. It troubled him to see any kind of work going on, and there was a good deal of work to be done, and we could less afford to have it done for us than ever.

I went up-stairs with Edwin and Doretta, and ushered them into the room. "Here is Edwin and his wife, papa," I said simply.

With bent head and eyes upon the ground Edwin crossed the floor and took his father's nerveless hand. Papa was the first to speak. "How are you, lily lad?" he said, slowly, in his altered voice, and for a minute or two Edwin could not answer. He was choked and blinded with tears, and lie could only bend over his father's hand, and put it to his lips in silence. When lie raised his head it was to look behind him to where Doretta stood, still flushed and frowning, with her baby in her arms. She was not in the least impressed by our father's sad and stately presence. Edwin stood aside, and signing her to conic forward, said, hoarsely, "My wife and child."

Our father made a courteous inclination, but he did not smile. Alas, lie could no longer, and the gravity of his face vexed and disappointed Doretta. Her reception displeased her, and the frown on her face gathered ominously. Still she went up to him, and held out the child, saying—

"This is the little Benjamin; we called him after you.—Kiss grandpapa, Benjamin."

The wee white face puckered and turned away, hiding itself on her shoulder. She gave the child an unseemly shake, and again turned the little face, distorted with crying, towards the invalid.

"Never mind, Doretta," said Edwin; and, turning to his father, added, "He's very delicate and fretful."

"I 'm sure it is no fault of mine if he is, whatever your sisters may say," replied Doretta, in her loudest tones. "You need not make your father think ill of me, and me a stranger among you."

Doretta had been gradually working herself up, and she now burst into passionate weeping.

"It is all because Edwin married me without telling them," she said, appealing to our father.

She did not say what was "all," but possibly meant our coldness toward her.

"You will feel for me," she continued, still addressing herself to him. "I have no blame; I love very much. His mother did the same; you will not that we suffer."

I shall never forget the look of misery on our father's face. He rose in his chair, as if to put an end to the scene, and then sank down again, conscious of his weakness. I felt I know not what of mingled resentment and shame and pity. Edwin groaned aloud, and, at a sign from me, led his wife out of the room.

"Do not let her come here again," my father said; and there was no need to enforce the prohibition. She declares that she will never enter the house again. Doretta evidently believes herself very hardly used. She thought she was pleading her own and her husband's cause most eloquently, and cannot understand what harm she could have done. Some allowance must be made for her as a foreigner. Well as she speaks English, she showed, in her excitement, that she had not a perfect grasp of the language, and our modes of thought and feeling may be still more difficult to her.

The interview certainly did more harm than she could have anticipated. It threw our father back for weeks, undid much of the amendment which had taken place, and caused us the utmost anxiety.


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