A Heroine of Home (IV.)

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CHAPTER XXXIII

THE GREAT GLADE.


AND now I must go back in this chronicle of events to the time of Claude's coming to Highwood, in order to tell the story of the other lives which entangled themselves with ours.  I will set down their story not as it became known to me from day to day, but as I came to know it after the events, from one or other of the actors and sufferers.


"The pair responded modestly."


    The two girls Phillis and Priscilla were by far the pleasantest pair to be encountered in the village, and Claude pleased himself with watching them accordingly.  He always spoke to them at the Sunday school, and regularly overtook them on their way back from it, bowing to them as he passed, while the pair responded modestly.  They generally turned up one of the lanes which intersected the street, and passed through a long narrow field skirting the thicket into the Great Glade.

    The Great Glade was the magnificent evening promenade of the little village, a vista of velvet sward, stretching far as the eye could reach, between ranks of old and stately forest trees.  Without doubt those trees had seen Elizabeth and her train sweep past from her "Bower" at Havering, and looked down upon the courtly pageant as on a swarm of summer flies.  Now their noonday shade was the shelter of tramp and vagrant, the resort of many a noisy cockney party taking a day's "outing," and their evening shadows fell on the courtship of the village pairs.

    "Tom was to meet me here," said Phillis, breaking the silence in which they had walked across the field in the yellow October sunshine.  It was enough for these two merely to walk together.  They so often thought about the same things that they almost forgot to speak about them, and indeed the same thought had so often come to their lips in the same words that they had ceased to regard the thing as wonderful.  "Tom wanted me to stay away from school and spend the afternoon with him," she added, after an interval.

    Her companion's only answer was a look of wistful tenderness, but she seemed about to speak when Phillis interrupted her.

    "Prissy, dear," she said, as they moved slowly on, "what are you thinking about?  You look as if you had seen a ghost, only it can't have been a bad one."

    "Phillis," replied the girl, turning round, and standing still for a moment, with a new light on her fair pale face, "I have found the Lord Jesus."

    "I wish you wouldn't talk like that, Prissy," said Phillis; "I don't know a bit what you mean, only it makes me feel uncomfortable."

    "Don't say that, Phillis dear," returned Priscilla, speaking low.  "I hope you will understand one day what it is to find Him."

    "I don't know," said Phillis, stoutly, and a little discomposed by the change in her friend, for which, after all, she was not wholly unprepared.  Mr. Jewel's humble housekeeper had been a pious Methodist, and had imbued the girl's mind with the religious ideas and feelings of her communion.  "I don't know.  It has no more meaning to me than if you said you had found the moonshine lying on the fields in the morning, and less.  What is it like?" she added, more sympathetically, as she saw the tears gather in Priscilla's eyes.

    "Like nothing on earth," she said, raising them, and speaking with a subdued rapture, "It was not at the church it came to me.  It was last night.  I was passing Crouch's place, and there was a crying out and struggling and cursing round the door.  The men were drunk and fighting, and Sally Crouch was drunk too, and screaming herself hoarse, and I began to think of Jesus, and all at once I found Him, and I stood still for a while, and the crying and cursing and struggling seemed quite far away, and round me there was such a wonderful peace, and a voice within me saying, 'I have bought thee with a price, and thou art Mine.'  Phillis, dear, it is heaven itself.  I could have stood listening for ever and ever.  Oh, if you could find Him, too!"

    "You never loved me as I loved you," said Phillis, with seeming irrelevance, "and now you'll care less for me than ever.  You won't have me for a friend now at all, perhaps."

    "I don't see that it need make any difference," answered the other, sweetly; adding, "I think I shall love you more, dear; I never was so warm-hearted as you.  I seem to love everybody more now."

    And, indeed, the attachment might have appeared warmest on Phillis's side.  Her manner was the more caressing of the two.  And now, leaning against her companion, with a half-embrace, she said, tenderly, "You were always better than me, Priscilla, and I'll go on loving you best, whatever you think."

    Phillis had spoken hurriedly, for she had seen young Myatt approaching, and Priscilla exclaimed, "There's Tom!"

    "You'll come out with us this evening?" said Phillis, coaxingly.

    Priscilla shook her head.  "No, dear; I 'm going to church."

    "Then I'll come too," said Phillis.

    Priscilla's duty was divided.  It was best for Phillis to come to church, but her lover might be offended.  This was a disputed subject between them, and for the last few Sundays Priscilla had taken herself out of the way completely, and gone to church alone; so she said, hesitatingly, "Won't Tom want you, dear?"

    "Let him come with us," said Phillis.

    "But if he won't?" said Priscilla.

    "Then he can stay with mother," returned Phillis, coolly.

    They were both silent, for just then the young man came up to them.  He met them as he had met them any Sunday for the last two years.  He gave no greeting, for he had seen them before, and took his place at Phillis's side as became her acknowledged lover, all three sauntering on upon the velvet grass.  Although the three were always together thus, there never was any doubt as to Myatt's preference.  It was Phillis, and Phillis alone, he courted, but he was so accustomed to the presence of Priscilla that he had hitherto never objected to it, and had to be content to snatch the smallest opportunity for a tête-à-tête, as if Phillis had been the most zealously chaperoned maiden in the land.  Priscilla had, however, on one of these occasions found herself in the way, and had managed to leave them to themselves in the evenings of late, a privilege which the lover was not slow to appreciate.

    They sauntered to the end of the glade, talking about the merest nothings, and sometimes not talking at all.  The girls seemed to have less conversation than usual.

    "Hadn't we better go home, Phillis?" said the young man, looking at his watch; "mother"—it was her mother he spoke of—"mother will be waiting tea, and we can come back here in the evening; the moon is at the full."

    "I'm not coming out to-night, Tom," said Phillis; "I'm going to church with Prissy."

    "To church?" he echoed.  "Haven't you had enough of it, forenoon and afternoon?  What do you want to go in the evening for?  To hear the new curate, I suppose?" he added.

    "Come with us, Tom," said Phillis, coaxingly; and her voice and the words were very sweet to the young man's ear.

    "I can't," he answered.  "You can stay with me.  I never asked you to give up anything for me before.  Do, Phillis," he pleaded.

    "But why can't you come with us?" she said, persistently.

    "Because if a man goes there, it means that he approves of what is going on.  Now, I don't, and my going would be a pretence and a lie."

    "You'll want me to stay away always," she urged.

    "I don't deny it," he said, frankly.  "I should like you to think as I do; and you will some day," he added, confidently.

    He said it quite seriously.  He was far too much in earnest to be content that Phillis should keep her religion as a sort of pastime or ornament, as John Bower was content that his wife and daughter should.  That is a feeling born of contemptuous indifference, and he was a man prepared to share the burden of thought, as he would share the burden of life, with any woman he loved.  Priscilla had been listening without taking part in the conversation, but at these last words of Myatt's, the tears started into her eyes, and she clasped her hands round her companion's arm as if to hold her fast.

    Seeing the three together, it would have been difficult for any one to say whether Phillis was in love with Myatt or no.  She might have loved him a little, or not at all.  There certainly was no admixture of passionateness in her affection.  Her manner might be born of security, and the absence of lovers' hopes and fears, anxieties and doubts; but any one could have told that, half consciously, half unconsciously, Priscilla loved him, that she basked in his presence, that his most careless utterances were precious to her.  She had absented herself from the trio with a sharp pang of wounded love, which was not wholly for her friend; and yet she had no thought of supplanting her in her lover's affections.  She thought Phillis did not love him enough; sometimes, indeed, that she did not love him at all, as in their girlish confidences she had often declared.  And of her own feelings in the matter she did not think.  She could not help feeling as she did any more than the cloud can help becoming rose-hued in the dawn; though when the sun has risen in the sky, it will be grey again, or have melted quite away into the haze of the horizon.

    They parted at Phillis's door, and the pair went in to tea.  Priscilla also went in to find her father sitting by the fire, as was his wont on Sunday afternoons, having been in bed all the morning.

    "How are you now, father?" she asked.  He had gone to bed intoxicated the night before, and this was his first appearance.  She had carried him a cup of coffee and the morsel of bread he could eat at such times before going out.

    "I'm but so-so, child," he answered, not meeting her eyes.

    "I hope I haven't kept you waiting, father," she returned, laying aside her outdoor things.

    "You? no, no, child; you never keep me waiting," he replied, with a sort of deprecating politeness.

    But there was nothing to deprecate, unless it was her filial affection, for she went about to get him his Sunday evening meal with gentle haste, casting every now and then a look of pitying fondness at the bent head by the fire.  Besotted as he was, he could not but notice the tenderness with which she waited on him; she had always been good and gentle, but there was something new in her manner which puzzled him.

    At length, when tea was finished and cleared away with the same gentle rapidity, she came softly behind his chair and stood smoothing his grey hair with her hands.  Then she said, in a faltering voice, "Father, you haven't been to church for a long time; will you come with me to-night and hear the new curate?"

    "I would like it very well, Prissy," he replied, "but my best coat is very shabby now.  No, not tonight, dear," he added.

    "I don't mind about your coat, father.  I'll get it out and brush it for you.  It will do very well."

    "Not tonight, Prissy," he repeated; "I don't feel well enough to-night."

    He knew it would be unendurable, for his thirst for something stronger than tea was asserting itself already.

    "Then I'll stay and read to you, father," said Priscilla; and the two hands once more smoothed down the grey hair, and the mystic blue eyes were raised to heaven, so that the girl standing there looked like the man's guardian angel.

    "Don't stay at home for me, Prissy," he said, uneasily; "I 'm going out a bit."

    "Oh, father!" sighed the girl, heavily.

    He knew all the words and the sigh meant, and the tears—tears of impotent regret and compunction—swam in his eyes, as she came round in front of him, and knelt on the hearth, imploringly.  "Don't go, father!" she whispered.

    He looked at her through those tears.

    "I must go," he said; "but, Prissy, I'll come home all right; I will indeed, I promise you;" and he rose, and shuffled into the next room to get his boots and his hat, while Priscilla remained kneeling by his empty chair.

    John Bower did not trouble his family much on Sunday afternoons.  Tom Myatt had tea with Phillis and her mother, and after tea the young people went out as usual.

    They took a little turn together, and then the young man endeavoured to persuade Phillis to give up her intention of going to church with Priscilla, but to no purpose.  Phillis, as a rule the most easily swayed of creatures, was firm as a rock.  Myatt had made it a personal matter—a test of his influence and of her affection—and his anger was in proportion to his failure.  He became ungracious, and she cold and distant, till at length he lost his temper, and the lovers parted in anger as the church bell began to tinkle, which caused young Myatt's anger to concentrate itself forthwith on the cause of the quarrel, which he took to be the new curate.

    Not a little to her surprise and disappointment, Phillis saw no more of her lover that night, would see no more of him, in all probability, for a week to come.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XXXIV.

THE LOVERS' QUARREL.


ON the following Saturday Claude returned to his lodgings, his mind fully occupied with the mental and spiritual condition of the parish of Highwood.  He was conscious, as he passed upstairs, of the presence of the master of the house.  He had already learned to recognise it in stifled silence and sudden storm.  John Bower was at home.  He was often at home on Saturday, and when at home he was apt to be out of temper, so that he was oftener out of temper on Saturday than on other days.  He was out of temper now.  He was doing some little bit of carpentry about the house with unnecessary, indeed, savage force.

    Mrs. Bower was in the parlour, where the kettle was boiling for her lodger's tea, and her lodger looked in upon her there when he had deposited a dripping umbrella, for it was raining heavily.  She started at his entrance, but smiled when she saw who it was, and with a friendly "good-afternoon," Claude went upstairs to his books and his meditations.

    John Bower went on hammering and swearing.  His wife listened, and knew that he was in a worse temper than usual.  By the time the job in hand was finished he would be in a very bad temper indeed.  Phillis was out, and it was a good thing, for she could not bear to see him in those moods of his, but would pale and tremble, and make him worse if he happened to see her.  Most likely he would be out of the way before she returned.  She had doubtless met her lover, and, now that the rain was over, was loitering with him.  They had still their little quarrel to make up.

    Young Myatt—he had been called Young Myatt in his father's lifetime, and the name had remained with him—had been Phillis Bower's acknowledged lover ever since the girl was out of pinafores.  He was her mother's favourite.  It was she who had fostered his liking and forwarded his suit.  John Bower had never done more than overlook his presence, and it was doubtful if he knew its purport.  He had come about the house since Phillis was a child.  His mother and hers had been bosom friends.  Each knew the other's secret cares and sorrows as well as she did her own, and in this way each had been more to the other than either husband or child.  Mrs. Myatt had been left a widow for some years, and her son had been her support and stay.  He had inherited his father's business, that of a builder, and was well-to-do in the world.  When his mother died, and for a whole year he had been alone, the young man wanted a wife.  But he had made choice of and loved Phillis, and for Phillis he must wait.  It was only of late that he had offered the girl the signs and tokens of love.  He had been content to watch the rosebud he had chosen, till it grew into the perfect rose; but the feeling that it was his to appropriate when the time came, had become a part of his nature.  The feeling was unreasonable, unjustifiable, but no man could have convinced him of that.  He was one of the people who boast of reason and remain the most unreasonable of beings.  Phillis was his, and any one else approached her at his peril.  His love for her was single, passionate, self-controlled, and it controlled his life.

    Phillis, on her part, had liked him very well as a youth, when he had brought her the rosiest apples from his mother's garden, and she had liked his attentions as she grew older—at least, she had accepted them in her sweet yielding way, and allowed him to suppose they were agreeable to her, as, indeed, they were.  She would have missed them sadly, and have fancied herself in love with him if they had been withdrawn; but they had neither awakened her imagination nor touched her heart.  She was, as yet, deficient in passion.  The mother, who closely watched her beautiful girl, wondered at the undisturbed repose, the childhood of heart, in the full-grown woman.

    Phillis knew quite well that Myatt wanted to marry her—he had left no doubt about that—and she had not shrunk from the proposal.  Not till of late, and that shrinking had followed the accidental witnessing of a scene between Myatt and one of his workmen.  She had seen her lover in a passion.  She had seen him with his fair face flushed, and his blue eyes aflame, speaking fierce and angry words, and ready to strike a blow.  No matter that he had justified his indignation, and was dealing justice on a recreant—a "skulker"—Phillis had shrunk from that very hour.

    And now, as Mrs. Bower at length sat silent and unoccupied in her little parlour, the young man came in.

    "Well, mother," he said, shaking hands with her, "where 's Phillis?"

    "She's out," said Mrs. Bower.  "I thought she was along with you."

    "She knew I would be here," he muttered, discontentedly.

    "I dare say she's up with Prissy," returned Mrs. Bower, soothingly.  "Sit down, and she'll be here in a little."

    He sat down, as he was bidden, at the window, keeping a restless look-out along the street.

    The house was quiet now, ominously quiet, Mrs. Bower thought.  She knew as well as possible, from what she had seen of her husband during the afternoon, that an outbreak was impending, an outbreak that, like the storms of nature, was often heralded by a calm.  She sighed wearily, and then made an effort to engage the young man in talk.  But he answered in monosyllables, and still kept his outlook along the street.

    The day wore on and darkened, and Mrs. Bower set about lighting the lamp and preparing the family tea.  And still no Phillis.  Mrs. Bower kept wondering about her, and at length urged her lover to go out in search of her.  This last was a little bit of domestic diplomacy.  One of John Bower's peculiarities when his dark moods were upon him was his dislike to the presence of any one at meals.  But this the young man declined to do, and glad enough was Mrs. Bower to find, on going upstairs to fetch her husband, that he had slipped out in the meantime.

    Young Myatt ate and drank what was set before him almost in silence, but when the meal was over his tongue was loosed.

    "I tell you what, mother, I want things settled between me and Phillis.  I can't go on like this any longer.  It's time we were married and done with it," he said, abruptly.

    Mrs. Bower almost allowed the tea-cup she was holding to drop out of her hand.  It was what she had all along been looking forward to, and yet, now that it had come, it filled her with sickening fear.  She began to tremble violently, and her eyes filled with tears.

    "Phillis is young enough yet," she said, gently.

    "I've a good home ready for her," he answered, not noticing the objection.  "This job that's just finished turned out a fine thing, and there's more behind it.  Why should we wait?"

    There was a pause, and in it he took out a small packet from his waistcoat pocket and laid it on the table.

    "What's that?" asked Phillis's mother, as if fain to keep back the words of fate.

    "It's a present for her," he answered; "a pair of gold earrings. I've never given her anything worth before."

    Mrs. Bower turned upon him, weeping.  "Oh, Thomas!" she said, with entreaty, "you'll be good to my girl, won't you?  You'll never break her heart, as mine's been broken?  Promise me never to lift your hand to her, never!"

    "That I can promise," cried the young man, with scornful vehemence.  "I'd deserve to be hanged if I struck a woman."

    "Hush!" entreated Mrs. Bower.  "Don't speak so loud."

    "I wanted to settle it tonight, if possible," said Myatt.  "Can't I see him?"  And he nodded upwards in the direction from which John Bower had last been heard hammering, to indicate whom he meant.

    "He 's out now," replied Phillis's mother.  "You can see him when he comes in," she added.  "But don't speak tonight," she urged.  "I wish Phillis would come in."

    "I'll go and find her," said the young man, rising, and about to go,

    But just then Phillis herself appeared.  She lifted the latch, and came in, more like a dewy rose than ever; for it had rained again, and she was wet, and the moisture lay on her face, and heightened its bloom.  She had on a dark waterproof, and a little hat and feather, and she hastened to take them off, greeting Myatt frankly enough, but at a distance.  When she had laid them aside, he held out his hands to her; but she had taken her place on the other side of the little table, and merely smiled, without offering to touch them.

    "Where have you been, Phillis?" said her mother, in a half- displeased tone.

    "I've been at Miss Thorpe's, mother," answered the girl.

    "Didn't you expect me?" asked her lover, somewhat peremptorily.

    "Yes, Tom," was the gentle answer; "I didn't think you would stop away."

    He looked keenly at her.  Was she bearing a grudge at him for the little bickering they had had last Sunday about going to evening service, concerning which he had made up his mind to say nothing? or was there something else in the background—that something which had precipitated his resolution to marry Phillis out of hand?  He had a strong feeling that the presence of the curate under the same roof with her would somehow prejudice her against him.  He had felt it as a positive injury when he heard of the arrangement.

    Phillis did not avert her eyes.  He was about to upbraid her for not staying in for him; but, disarmed by her look, which was even kinder than usual, and which had, indeed, a new tenderness—the tenderness of compunction—he pointed to the little white parcel on the table, and said, gently—

    "I wanted to give you this."

    "What is it?" she said, with girlish eagerness.

    He handed the packet across the table, and she opened it and looked with a smile at the two pretty bits of virgin gold lying oil the snow-white wool within.  She looked at them, and then her look became graver, and the colour overspread her face.  It was a blush of pain, and not of pleasure, but he misunderstood it and her, for he crossed over to where she stood, and offered to kiss her.  It was not the first time, and she had been accustomed to take the caress quite calmly—as calmly, indeed, as if he had been her brother—but now she started from him with a cry.

    "What 's the matter, Phillis?" asked her mother, sternly.

    "What's the matter?" echoed her lover; for Phillis had begun to tremble, and had laid the little packet on the table.

    "Nothing! oh, nothing!" she exclaimed; "only I wish you wouldn't come after me any more, for I can't marry you—indeed I can't."

    Her listeners looked at one another, as they stood over her, and her mother was the first to speak.

    "What nonsense is this, Phillis?" she said.  "Tom was your own choice, wasn't he?"

    "No, no," sobbed Phillis.  "I didn't choose at all."

    "But he chose you, and you didn't say him nay," said Myatt, whitening about the lips.  "And, Phillis, I came here tonight to have it settled one way or other.  You don't know how I love you," said the young man, again holding out his hands to her.  "I've never loved but you.  I loved you when you wasn't higher than that table, and I've waited for you all these years.  I've worked for you, and saved for you, and kept myself out of evil for you," he went on with simple eloquence.  "Don't say you won't have me, Phillis, after all!"

    "I like you very well, Tom," said Phillis, lifting her wet soft eyes to his face; "but not like that."

    "Not like what?" he said, sternly.

    "Not to be your wife," she answered, with quivering mouth.

    They had been very quiet hitherto, but at this young Myatt's passion overcame him, and be broke into a storm of upbraiding.

    "You have made a fool of me, Phillis Bower," he said.  "What did you mean by it?  What did you mean by letting me look in your eyes and think they were loving me, and by letting me kiss your lips?  What did you mean, I say?" and he came so near that Phillis shrank back a pace, and half raised her arm.

    The movement enraged him, and he laid hold of the arm by no means gently.

    "I didn't mean anything!" she murmured, faintly.

    "You didn't mean anything," he cried; but just then the door was flung open, and John Bower—his iron-grey hair standing up on his head and his face ominously livid—entered the room, and with a look of fierce inquisition struck the whole party dumb.

    There was silence for a moment, and then young Myatt essayed to speak.

    That was enough.  It turned the pent-up fury full upon him.  Without inquiring further into the merits of the question, John Bower told him to leave the house, or be kicked out of it, in language too coarse to repeat.

    The young man stood his ground, while Phillis, white with terror, clung trembling to her mother.  "Go," cried Mrs. Bower, beseechingly.

    And after a moment's hesitation, Tom Myatt nodded assent, and turned and left the room.

    The earrings were lying on the table.  John Bower pounced upon them, and flung them after the young man into the pitchy street.

    Then he turned upon the two trembling women with oaths and imprecations.  He seized the table that stood between them, and shook it till it threatened to come to pieces in his hands.

    "Don't blame mother," cried Phillis, as he came nearer; "it was all my fault."

    She had interrupted him in the outpouring of his rage, and, for the first time, he raised his hand to strike her.  Her mother, with a cry, came between, but he hurled her aside and inflicted a heavy blow on the girl's ear.

    Immediately the whole house resounded with shrieks of murder.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XXXV.

IN THE NIGHT.


THE noise of the altercation that had been going on came to Claude's ears as be sat in his room, and at last he had opened the door and stood on the landing, divided between a desire to interfere and a dread of doing harm by interference.

    At the sound of these unearthly shrieks, he hesitated no longer, but hastened down.  Already, however, they had ceased; the street door stood open, and Claude heard a rush of footsteps without, as of pursuer and pursued.

    The shrieks had not come from Phillis, who was sitting in a chair, moaning inarticulately, as if stunned by the blow she had received; nor yet from the white lips of Phillis's mother, who was bending over her in silent anguish.  A boy from a neighbouring farm had been sent to John Bower with a message, and, the door standing open, he had been a genuinely interested spectator of the scene enacting within.  He had stood aside for a moment to allow young Myatt to pass—then he had seen the blow given to Phillis by her father; but the cries, which seemed delivered under the influence of terror, were pure mischief.  The boy had a grudge against John Bower, and began screaming "Murder!" with all his might, thinking to create a scene and escape in the confusion.  His terror became real enough, however, when the enraged man sprang out upon him, and he fled, closely pursued by one who narrowly escaped being a murderer that night in truth.

    Claude hastened to close the door, and began to help Mrs. Bower to recover her daughter, who seemed at first only half-conscious; and no sooner had they succeeded in rousing her from her stupor, than she began to exhibit the most painful agitation.

    "Save me! save me!  Oh! hide me from him! hide me!" she cried.

    "You are quite safe," said Claude, soothingly.  "Are you hurt?"

    "My head feels very bad," she answered, putting up her hand to the side on which one small ear was a burning crimson; "but, oh! let me go away before he comes back," she added, with a gesture of supplication.

    "You needn't be afraid of him when he comes back," said her mother.  "He won't come home tonight as long as he thinks any of us are about; " and she added, with a look of horror, "sometimes I think after one of these fits he'll never come back at all."

    She knew that in a very short time her husband's fury would be spent.  That before he sought his home, he would be a miserable downcast man, whom, in spite of all, she would be glad if it were possible to cheer and comfort; so she urged the girl, who was shivering with strong emotion, to sit by the fire, and let her make another cup of tea.  But Phillis could not be quieted so.  Her nerves were too completely shaken.

    "Oh! let me go," she cried.  "I can't stay in the house to-night.  I would stay if I thought he would be bad to you, mother," she said, caressing her mother's brown and withered hand.  "I would stay though he killed me; but he has turned against me, and he won't hurt you."

    "There's Prissy," said her mother, as a gentle tap came to the door, and the latch was lifted, sending another strong shiver through Phillis's frame.

    "Come in, dear," said Mrs. Bower; and Priscilla Jewel, knowing too well the nature of the event which had taken place, came across the floor with eyes full of tender concern.

    "Father's given me a blow," said Phillis, in answer to her look, "and I want to go away before he comes back.  If it wasn't for mother, I'd go away, and never come back again."

    "Don't say that, dear," said Priscilla, kissing her.  "You must not go."

    "I think you ought to stay at home," said Claude, who was still standing by the chair on which Phillis sat.

    "Stay at home, and I will meet your father alone when he returns, and remonstrate with him.  If it has no effect, I can at least protect you from further violence."

    All three seemed to answer in a breath, and to repudiate any such intervention.

    "But it is not right to let him go on in this way unchecked.  It is a duty to warn him," said Claude.

    "Oh, sir, you will only do harm," said Mrs. Bower.  "He can't bear being spoken to by any one, far less by a clergyman.  For our sakes, sir, let him alone."

    "Don't speak to him," said Phillis, with imploring eyes, and in the midst of her pain and fear preserving her delicate thoughtfulness for others, she added, "He might strike you, and you might be obliged to strike him again, and it might bring disgrace to you which it would not to another."

    "Come to me, dear," said Priscilla.  "Let her come with me, Mrs. Bower.  I am quite alone.  My father won't be in till eleven," and she sighed heavily as she spoke.

    "But if he"—Phillis did not name the name he profaned—"if he finds out I'm gone he'll be angry, and if he knows I am with you he'll make me come back," said Phillis.  "I would rather go to Miss Thorpe."

    Priscilla yielded quietly.

    "I will go with her," said Claude, addressing Mrs. Bower.  "It will be safer, perhaps."

    Mrs. Bower thanked him with her lips, and Phillis with her sweet sad eyes, and soon after they were passing down the street together, she with the hood of her cloak drawn over her head and carrying her hat in her hand, and he walking by her side.

    She was evidently very much shaken, for she began crying and sobbing as they went, and Claude made her lean on his arm, and supported her to the schoolmistress's door.

    It was well that young Myatt did not see the pair as they passed through the village, for the demon of jealousy had already been whispering in his heart.  Casting about for some reason which would account for Phillis's rejection of his suit, and falling back upon their quarrel about going to church, he had come to the conclusion that it was for Claude's sake she had flung him over, not, indeed, out of love for the curate, or in the hope of winning him—that did not enter into young Myatt's mind—but simply because of his own antagonism to religion.  "She has done it to please the parson," he said to himself, as he dashed through the wet woods, on his way to the solitary home, which he still occupied at intervals.  And the tiger in the man made him clench his teeth, and spring forward with cursing on his lips.

    Claude, meantime, had returned to his lodgings, and as the evening wore on he determined to watch for the return of John Bower to his home.  For that purpose he put out his light, the better to see into the darkness without, and took his seat at the window, which looked out into the street.

    Mrs. Bower, while she waited on him at supper, had told him the cause of the disturbance, and allowed him to see something of the desolation of her own heart as well.  It was the first time, since the death of Tom Myatt's mother, that she had unburdened herself of the sorrow which sat always behind her sad eyes and patient mouth; and Claude did his best to lead her to the source of all consolation.  She listened in respectful silence, but made no response until the end, when there came from her lips one bitter cry of hopeless anguish, and she turned and left him.

    It was as if he had witnessed a volcanic eruption, not from a vast smoking looming mountain, but amid the quiet and peaceful fields.  Up through the dull routine of life had burst the central fires of human passion, scorching, devastating, choking with ashes the common ways of life.  Were they smouldering all around and within him?  Surely he, of all men, was armed with the right to quell them—he, the minister of Christ, to whom had been committed the ministry of reconciliation.  Ought he not, in his Master's name, to cast out these devils, calm this rage, assuage this terror, annul this hopelessness?  If the religion he taught was a reality, these things it ought to do, and greater things than these.  Yes; there still remained the mighty and miraculous Witness for the truth, which could accomplish all things by its sovereign power over the spirits of men; and that power was at the service of a Christian's prayer.

    It was a quarter past eleven by his watch, for he had just looked at it by a flicker of firelight, when Claude heard a step coming nearer and nearer in the silent street.  He looked out, but could see no further than the patch of light thrown by the window beneath, which showed that another watcher waited John Bower's return.  The step was an unsteady and shuffling one, and Claude jumped to the conclusion that John Bower had been drinking, and had come home in a state of intoxication.  Presently the figure of a man appeared, swaying to and fro, and then falling in a heap on the pavement.  A door was opened immediately, and a woman came out and bent over the prostrate figure.  Claude hastened at once to her assistance.

    When he reached the pavement he found, not Mrs. Bower, but Priscilla Jewel, stooping over the senseless form of her father, and vainly endeavouring to raise him up.  Claude already knew the old man's failing, and was not astonished, but the sight that met his eyes was one calculated to increase the burden already weighing on his spirit.  The rain was still coming down heavily, and the old man lay with white hair dabbled in the mire.  As the raindrops dashed into his face he began feebly to wipe them off, muttering, "Don't ye, don't ye," as if remonstrating a human persecutor.

    "Oh, father!" groaned Priscilla, trying to shield him, and turning to Claude for help.  "I'm ashamed that you should see him," she said.  "He has not been so bad as this for a very long time."

    It took all Claude's strength to lift the old man and get him upstairs and into his arm-chair by the side of the fire, while his daughter wiped the rain from his face and the soil from his grey hair.  And no sooner was he sensible of warmth and kindness, than he began to look round and smile with amiable imbecility.

    "He vexes me dreadfully," said his daughter, "but he is always so gentle.  He is not so bad as Mr. Bower."

    "I do not know which is the worst," thought Claude, taking his leave.

    And now for the other.

    He watched long and patiently, but not long or patiently enough.  In the small hours he stretched himself at length on the horse-hair sofa and fell fast asleep.  He was sleeping peacefully when John Bower stole into his own house, drenched to the skin and exhausted to helplessness, and a weary woman stole up to him and entreated him to eat and drink and go to rest.

    The next morning Phillis was at home.  Her mother had got her to return early in the morning, for fear of rousing her father's anger, and because she herself was suffering.  She had said nothing about it at the time, but she had received a hurt the night before which had almost disabled her.  In throwing her off from him, her husband had caused her to reel against a small table which stood in the window crowded with flower-pots, and the corner of it had struck into her side.  She had often received still rougher usage, but she had never been so badly hurt before.  It had been sharply painful at the time, but the pain did not abate as she expected.  It seemed rather to grow worse and worse.

    During the weeks that followed, matters remained on much the same footing.  Mrs. Bower continued to be invalided, without breathing a word to any one why or where she suffered.  John Bower kept as much as possible out of everybody's way, and muttering fearful things against himself and the world in general; and Phillis and her little handmaid waited on Claude in an invisible fashion.

    Phillis had been relenting towards her lover ever since she had cast him off.  It was not in her nature to inflict suffering; and when she thought of his suffering—and her mother was not slow to tell her of the part she bore in it—she longed to comfort him.  She heard that he was about to leave England for ever, with a sinking heart.  The unknown had always had a terror for Phillis; and her lover seeking his fortune in strange lands was a picture that moved her to pity and compunction, unlike any possible reality as it might be.  Compassion in this pure nature was stronger than love, and to save him from this fate of banishment, she felt almost inclined to sacrifice herself.

    With her mind full of relenting tenderness, she met him one evening as she was coming out of the chemist's with something her mother required.  He was standing opposite the window, as if watching for her, and at first she did not recognise him, for he stood in a stream of blue light transmitted by a huge bottle of that colour.  When she did, he was looking sufficiently sinister under the ghastly influence.  She was the first to hold out her hand.

    "Tom," she murmured, wistfully, stopping before him.  "Oh, Tom, won't you speak to me?"

    He took the hand, and held it tight, tighter than was at all pleasant, and moved with her out of the glare.

    "Have you come round to me, Phillis?" he asked.  His voice was not reassuring, and the question was a difficult one to answer.

    "I have never been against you, Tom," was her reply.  "And I am sorry I have vexed you so much."

    Had he known the way to her heart, had he been gentle and tender, acknowledged a misunderstanding, and not unduly pressed his suit, at that moment young Myatt might have won Phillis for ever; but he could not.  Instead of this, he asked, bluntly—

    "What set you against me?  Was it that preaching fellow you have got in the house?" ignoring her last words.

    "No," she answered, quietly, her ideas clearing.  "It was not Mr. Carrol, it was yourself, if you will have it.  I saw you all but strike Joe Reynolds one day.  You were in a dreadful rage.  I could not bear to see it, and I told you so at the time.  It came into my mind the other day, and I could not" she hesitated—"I could not live the life my mother has lived."

    "I dare say you never saw the curate in a rage," sneered Myatt.  "It's easy work telling people to do things, and then going away and never minding in the least whether they're done or no.  I have to get things done, and when men won't do them, I must make them.  Blest if I wouldn't like a whip in my hands! wouldn't I lay it on, too, on Joe and some other fellows I know!  The moment your back's turned they are shirking their work, stealing your time, which is the same as your money, or stamping and cheating the public; mean, lying, dirty rascals.  And fellows like your curate, I've heard them stand up and be praise them, and beg of them not to work so hard, to take time for recreation, and so forth."

    "What harm has Mr. Carrol done you, Tom, that you should go on at him?  He is as gentle as a lamb," said Phillis.

    "Oh, yes!  I have no doubt—with kid gloves on.  Would you like to see me sawing a plank with a pair?"

    "But, Tom," she said, "I could fancy things being done so differently.  I can't think that swearing helps, and rough words and savage looks."

    They were at her mother's door.  "Won't you come in?" said Phillis, timidly.  "Mother would be glad to see you."

    "No, Phillis!  I won't come in.  I'll never enter your father's house again, but I'll take you out of it, if you like."

    "My mother is ill, Tom.  It cannot be.  I could not leave her, even if I was willing.  Can't you be friends with me?"

    "No, I can't."

    He turned away abruptly, and the next time he met her he thrust a letter into her outstretched hand, and spoke not a single word.

    She took the letter home, and read it up in her room, telling no one of it, and putting it in her purse, which had been Myatt's gift to her, and constantly reminded her of him.

    The letter was a threatening one, telling her that he knew now for whom she had turned him adrift (who it was, Phillis had not the wit to guess), that he was watching them, and that some day he would kill the fellow, though he should swing for it.  After that Phillis seemed to encounter Tom at every turn.  He never spoke to her, but she could do nothing that he did not seem to know.  She began to feel a sickening dread of him.  What could he mean?  Was he mad?  He had invented what was to her a supreme torture—the dread of some unknown evil.

    Then came Claude's illness, and Mrs. Bower fairly shut herself up in her lodger's room, just as she would have done with one of her own children, while Phillis minded the house and waited upon them "hand and foot," as her mother phrased it.

    The kind-hearted girl had indeed laid aside her own trouble in view of the trouble which had befallen the stranger.  She did not persist any longer in avoiding her father, but waited on him also, though with inward shrinking, and he, on his part, being sensible that his lodger's illness had placed matters on an easier footing for him, was quite ready to accept the fact without a murmur.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XXXVI.

THE TIGER ROUSED.


AND now to come down to the Saturday before Easter when Claude walked home with Phillis from church.  Few words passed between them as they walked up the street together.  Phillis's words were few at any time, and she still stood somewhat in awe of her companion, for the sake of his office.  So she kept dropping half a pace behind him, and he had to turn his head slightly in order to address her.  Once or twice he did so, and she raised her eyes and gave him some soft monosyllabic answer, letting them fall again half-musingly on the ground as she spoke.


"It was Myatt."


    They were passing the lane just then, and neither noticed the young man who stood still that he might not cross their path.  It was Myatt, who had come there for the first time for weeks, for Phillis had lately kept in-doors persistently.

    As his eyes fastened on the pair his face flushed, the veins in the throat swelled to bursting, and he stood clenching teeth and hands in murderous rage.  Seeing these two together thus had been like oil thrown on a dull fierce fire.  In a moment his passion of smouldering jealousy sprang into a consuming blaze.

    As they passed, he turned and strode into the thicket to give vent to it out of human sight.  He was a man who prided himself upon his manhood, and in this overpowering rage there was for him deep humiliation.  He had often enough put himself in a passion, told himself that he had a right to be angry; but then he had been the master, now he was the slave, and he went and literally bit the dust.

    In the interval that had passed since be had last spoken to Phillis, he had fully made up his mind to quit England.  He could think of nothing harder to do, and he craved for hardship as a kind of solace.  He would tell Phillis of his resolve, and say good-bye to her for ever.  Still across the desolation he pictured to himself would fall a ray of light.  At the last moment Phillis might relent and go with him, leaving father and mother, and with her mother's blessing on the deed.

    He made all the haste he could, but it was not a thing to be done in a day.  He must wind up his affairs and pay his debts, and sell the freehold on which cottage and garden and workshop had stood for generations.  In the meantime he could not work, and he took to hanging about and making himself miserable.  He hated idleness, and he idled.  He hated drink and drunkards, and he took to frequenting public-house bars and tasting what he had been wont to call their filthy slop.  He was not likely to become a drunkard.  His healthily organised but sensitive system refused to absorb the poison.  It made him ill and intensely irritable, but if he went to the public-house he must drink, and where else had he to go?  His home had become utterly distasteful to him.  He had never before discovered how solitary and comfortless it was, because he had filled it with her image.  She had sat in his mother's chair by the hearth.  He had seen her moving about in kitchen and parlour and handling all the household things; for when Mrs. Myatt lay dying, Phillis had been sent by her mother to wait upon her friend.  And thenceforth to him she had been there always, illumining everything with her grace and beauty.  But now he was bereft of the vision.  It had made the poetry of his life, and with its loss everything had become sordid and worthless.  He had had no idea of the absorbing strength of his passion, nor had he been able to give anyone else an idea of it.  He had no religion, and but little love of his fellows.  He had kicked not a few of them for lying and stealing, which were the vices he hated, despising sensual sins too much to hate them, and looking upon them as a kind of disease.  Home was this man's altar, and the woman he loved was its deity.  He had meant to live for her, and losing her he had nothing to live for.  Nor was he one of the men who when they have loved one woman, turn easily toward another—love all women a little for the one's sake.  He rather turned away from other women because of Phillis.  The poor widow who had come from the neighbouring cottage to wait upon him daily since his mother's death, wondered what she had done to offend him.  She could not understand the change in him.  It was in vain she tried to make things "a little comfortable for him."  He seemed to take a pleasure in being comfortless.  He had broken through all his regular ways, and it began to be whispered that young Myatt was on the road to ruin.

    Mrs. Bower, sitting in the chair which she almost never left now, shed bitter tears over the news.  She had loved the lad as if he had been her son; he had been so good and upright, so kind to his mother, so steady and temperate; and it was her daughter's doing.  She fancied her old friend reproaching her from the other side the grave; so she felt more and more inclined to overlook the fault of young Myatt's anger—to find in it, indeed, no fault at all, considering the provocation he had received—and to long for a reconciliation between the lovers.  Her dread of what would become of Phillis when she was gone had been growing with her increasing weakness.  She greatly underrated her daughter's strength of character, overlaid as it was by excessive gentleness, and trembled to leave her in a world so unkind.  As she thought of her future, and remembered the little child who had run to her bosom if even she saw an evil face, in whom terror and apprehension had been so easily roused, so wrought into the nature, that her mother's care had been doubled to guard her from sight or sound of fear, she could almost have wished her with the other little ones, whom she pictured to herself in heaven, pillowed among soft white clouds, like the cherubs in the old family Bible.

    And Mrs. Bower was convinced that she had not long to live, that she "carried her death," as she phrased it, confiding in Priscilla Jewel.

    "Don't tell Phillis yet-awhile, dear," she said; "only prepare her, like, if you can manage it.  I wish she and Tom could make it up again; but I don't rightly understand Phillis about him.  I don't want to know more than she tells me," she added, hastily.  "Girls often tell one another more than they tell their mothers; but I think she likes him better than she likes any one else; and I want you to give him a hint, Prissy, to look after her when I'm gone.  Take this to him," and she produced a careful little parcel—the earrings she had picked up and kept—"and tell him what I said, and that at least I would like to say good-bye to him before I go.  He could slip in some Sunday."

    Priscilla knew what she meant, and took the parcel, though her hands trembled as she did it.  Her voice trembled, too, as she promised to meet Myatt, and give the message.

    Phillis was in the habit now of summoning Priscilla to sit with her mother while she went out on necessary household errands, so that Priscilla had an opportunity of talking to Mrs. Bower, whom she tried to lead to her own religious standpoint.

    "I've had a world of sorrow, Prissy," she answered, quietly, on one of these occasions, "and I used to seek comfort that way, especially when my babies died.  If I had married a Christian man, I think I might have been a Christian woman."

    "Don't say you're not a Christian, dear Mrs. Bower," said Priscilla.  "You love the Lord Jesus."

    "I love to hear about Him; and the world seems a dreary place to live in when one hears tell that it's all nonsense—that no such Man ever lived, or that, if He lived, He was only mocking and deceiving people, or else nothing but a lunatic."

    "You don't think that!" said Priscilla, with a long breath of dismay; "it's too dreadful."

    "No, I've never thought John in the right about religion.  It doesn't seem possible for things to fit in as they do if they came by chance, and if there was some one at the making of them and us, He would be sure to let us know.  And, if we were not meant to be better, it wasn't worth while making things as they are.  It all hangs together, I can't explain how."

    "I could never rightly understand either," said Priscilla, "till I saw for myself, and now I don't want any explanation.  I don't mean that I haven't a great deal to learn.  But it's like being able to read.  You can get to know anything there is in books if you can read—and you can get to know anything in religion if you know the Lord."

    Mrs. Bower shook her head; the vision was denied her.

    Phillis and Priscilla were outwardly as great friends as ever; but it had come to pass that each had thoughts and feelings the other did not share, and, this being so, they were divided in spirit as they had never been before.

    A change had come over both.  Phillis's singing was silenced as she moved about the house.  Her heart was heavy, and not for her mother only.  She had loved more than she knew, and was longing for reconciliation with her lover, and between them she had placed the dreadful barrier of her father's mad rage.

    As for Priscilla, who had ever moved about her household tasks quiet as a ghost, she had broken out into joy and singing.  She had had no one to speak to when her father was at work till she could finish her own and hasten to Phillis, or Phillis to her.  But now there was a presence with her always, and she would pause in the midst of the humblest occupation to pour out some fervent prayer to the Saviour.

    But it was when left alone in the long evenings, with her father away besotting himself at the alehouse, that her whole life became absorbed in devotion.  Then, if the world had gone crashing to its doom of fire, this simple girl would have been found tranced in the worship of everlasting love.  And it laid on her the necessity of love to communicate its fervour.  If others could see as she saw, and feel as she felt, they, too, would be saved.  At first she only prayed for her father, then she spoke to him, moving him to tears of penitence, which disappointed her hopes again and again.

    "Come for me, Prissy, come downstairs for me, and keep me in the house," he said at length.  "I want to stay at home.  I'm getting an old man now, and I feel it will be the death of me.  I don't want to go and drink, but it's just as if someone else was drawing me and I can't resist."

    Even after this the besotted man went the old way, and escaped from the forge to the ale-house before the appointed hour; but Priscilla, growing bolder, followed after, and more than once she had succeeded in rescuing him from what, to her—coming from her pure and silent heaven of thought into the reeking noise and ribaldry and strife—was a place of horror indeed.



    Young Myatt strode off into the thicket wild with jealousy.  It was for this man, then, that Phillis had cast him off.  Walking by his side with downcast eyes, she had not so much as seen him.  Mentally he raved, raved at Claude, and his calling, and his creed, with the utter irrelevance of insanity.  Up and down the little wood walk, that witnessed Claude's weekly meditations, he paced like a caged tiger.  In the gathering darkness the naked boughs crossed each other like an iron network.  His red lip snarled, and showed his white teeth, as he muttered curses on himself, and life, and all things.  At length, flinging himself on the earth, he expended his passion in a prolonged brute-like cry, which he stifled by biting the root of a tree which showed above the earth.

    Shame checked the outburst, and followed it.  He could have sat down and wept like a child at his mother's knee, but there was none to comfort him, either in heaven or earth.  He was exhausted, but the torture was still within.  Could he have rushed away there and then, he might have quenched it; but he could not command modern appliances, any more than he could the elements.  The former were, indeed, the more inexorable, inasmuch as he could not defy them.  If a ship will not sail until a certain date, you cannot go in spite of it.  Should he stay, then, and avenge himself on Phillis and her lover; watch, threaten, thwart them, at least as far as their hopes of each other were concerned?  It was an idea and a purpose, and so it calmed him, restored him to comparative sanity.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XXXVII.

FLAWED.


ERNEST has been staying with Mr. Temple and his uncle for the last few days.  It was Easter Eve before he arrived at Highwood.  He was at home when I returned from the Rectory from passing an hour with Linnet and her mother.

    Lizzie was making tea in the drawing room for him and Aunt Monica when I got in, and I heard him saying, "Temple goes down to Bournemouth to-day.  You will hardly guess with whom."

    Of course it was impossible to guess, but, as he rose to meet me, Ernest's face had a troubled look, as if there was something behind the words he had tried to say so lightly.

    "He has gone to look after Edwin," he added, after a momentary pause.

    "To look after Edwin?" I repeated.

    "He has got a holiday," was Lizzie's remark.

    "He is ill," was mine.

    "Yes, he is ill," said Ernest.

    "He never told us," said Lizzie.  "How long have you known?"

    "I never knew till Temple told me" he replied, very gently, "and that was only the other day."

    "And you have not seen him!" said Lizzie, reproachfully.

    "Yes, I have seen him," he answered, sadly.

    "Oh, I am so glad!" cried Lizzie.  "And he is not very ill, is he?"

    "I fear he is, Liz."

    "How did Mr. Temple know?" said Aunt Monica.

    "He met Edwin in the City one day, and went home with him," said Ernest.  "Edwin was looking very ill—said the doctor had recommended him to take a holiday; had, in fact, told him that he must have rest.  Temple offered to go down to Bournemouth with him for a fortnight."

    "It ought not to be left to Mr. Temple," I said.  "Could you not have gone instead?"

    "I would have gone," said Ernest, humbly, "but, I believe it is better as it is.  If I had gone, his wife would have insisted on going also; and there would have been no peace for him.  Besides, he is better with Temple than with me," he added, looking at Aunt Monica.  "He sends his love to all of you."

    "Do you know what is the matter?" I asked.

    "He has not been well all the winter," said Ernest.  "The doctor says he should have been consulted sooner; it is disease of the lungs."

    We were all silent for a few minutes.  Ernest was evidently suffering the keenest compunction, and we shared in it more or less.  We had let him drift apart from us without a struggle, it seemed, and now, perhaps we were going to lose him for ever.

    "Oh!  Aunt Mona, we must go to him," cried Lizzie, as if it was a thing we could accomplish within the hour.

    I was silent, but my heart was crying out after him likewise.  It seemed hard not to be able to be with him.

    "Temple is to write.  He will write to us daily," said Ernest; "and he may get better down there.  The summer is coming, and there is nothing to hinder his recovery as yet."

    Our Easter Sunday was saddened by this news and on Monday, in spite of the crowded state of the trains, Aunt Monica and Lizzie set off to London to see Doretta and the children.

    I had Ernest all to myself, and he broke silence with regard to Edith.  He has, it seems, seen a good deal of her in London, and wishes to have the engagement between them recognised, even if they must wait for a year or two.  He would have made it public before, only Edith would not have it.

    "I can quite understand it," I said.  "And even now, I think if you must wait so long it would be better not to make your engagement public."

    "Why do you think so?" he asked.

    "Oh, only because of the former engagement, you know," I answered, wondering that he should ask me to give a reason when there was one so obvious.

    "I don't see what that has to do with it," he replied.  "The gentleman is dead—was dead, you know, before Edith and I came together again.  Of course, there is his family, but they can't desire any consideration of that kind.  By the way," he added, as I listened, astonished and aghast, "was it any of the people about here to whom Edith was engaged?"

    Was it possible, then, that he did not know?

    "What is the matter, Una?" he said, quickly.  "You look completely flabbergasted—just as you used to look when I had made you open your mouth and shut your eyes, and experimented on your trustfulness by giving you a taste of something not too agreeable.  You know you never could be got to believe that anybody wanted to do anything disagreeable."

    It was only too true—oh, so terribly appropriate to the present, that I wrung my hands, and, I have no doubt, looked, as I felt, in utter despair.

    "What has happened?" he went on, laughingly.  "You are growing tragic."

    "Oh, nothing—only I made sure you knew."

    "Knew!  What in the name of wonder is there to know?"

    "That Edith was engaged to our Uncle Henry."

    It was a shock, and he staggered under it.

    "And why was I not told? " he asked, coldly.  "I think it was you who told me of the—thing itself—why did you not tell me this?"

    "Simply because it was so intensely disagreeable," I answered.  "I shrank from writing of it, and afterwards I made sure you must know; I did not think it was possible for you to be with Aunt Robert and not hear of it."

    "A nice thing to know—so intensely disagreeable that you all shrank from speaking of it; and she, too—she has never made the most distant allusion to it."

    "Oh, Ernest! you must not blame her," I cried.  "She could not have spoken of it.  She could never have thought that it was unknown to you.  She must have believed that you were silent from motives of delicacy.  Besides, she herself hated and loathed the whole affair.  See how ill it made her.  I do believe it would have killed her."

    There was no relenting in his face.  A stony sneer had taken possession of it.

    How bitterly I blamed myself for this fault of mine, this shutting my eyes to things ugly or painful, as if ignoring their existence would cause them to cease to exist.  It is not that I wanted to hide the truth from myself or others, so much as that I wanted to cover it, as dead things are covered and buried.  To me it seemed almost sacrilege to listen, to look when unlovely things were said or done.  In my dislike I forgot that in order to be covered and buried, the things that hurt and offend must first be brought to light and handled, however reverently.

    "Of course, every one but me knows all about this precious engagement," he said, at length.  Then, after walking up and down the room for a few minutes, he burst into a mocking laugh.

    "Oh, Ernest," I could not help exclaiming; "you hurt me so by laughing in that way; I would rather see you cry."

    "Life is such a farce," he said.  "Was there ever such an incongruity?  I hate the whole thing!  I wonder," he went on, standing still before me, and speaking contemplatively, "I wonder if the governor would let me change my mind about this law business?  I should like to get away—to go in for a sword instead of a gown.  I shouldn't mind a bullet through me, to let in the daylight; you know, Una, I never could bear anything that was flawed or damaged.  Don't you remember what an insane desire I used to have to break and utterly destroy anything of mine that got injured in any way?  No matter of what value the thing was, or how much I had cared for it, I never cared for it again.  I feel like that about her!" he ended, in a hoarse whisper.

    "Oh, Ernest! you are cruel!  What a terrible thing to say!"

    "It would be if I said it to her, but I won't.  I can't break with her now.  I must bear it in silence, I suppose."

    "It is a cruelty even to think it," I said, indignantly.  "People are not like things—like china that will only mend with a crack—or, at least, they are only like things that live and grow.  A blossom or a fruit may perish without any hurt to the tree, the blossom and fruit of a whole season may perish, and yet the tree may live, and grow stronger and more beautiful the next."

    "You are the poet of the family," he said, half mocking, half tender.  "I am going out for a little.  Good-bye for the present."  And, nodding carelessly, he left the room.

    My father and I lunched alone that day, as Ernest did not make his appearance; and after luncheon I went and sat in one of the drawing-room windows by myself, full of the saddest thoughts.  I do not know how long had been there, idly brooding, when I heard the clatter of hoofs.  Through the trees I could see that the rider was a lady, but before I could really distinguish who it was, I felt that it was Edith, and very soon I saw her dismounting at the door.

    My heart almost failed me, for I realised the task that lay before me; but I hurried out into the hall to meet her.

    "Ernest told me you would be alone to-day, and I came over early to catch you before you went out," she cried, throwing down her hat and whip, and kissing me.

    We went into the drawing-room together.  Edith had not released me.  She kept her arm half round me, and I fear I shrank a little; not from her—it was the consciousness of the task before me from which I shrank, for I meant to tell her what had taken place between Ernest and me.

    She looked hurt at what she thought was my coldness.

    "You know about Ernest," she said, looking into my face.  "Do you dislike having me for a sister?  Perhaps it is natural," she went on, rapidly; "but if he does not mind the past, you ought not, Una.  And, oh! I mean to be so good."  She held both my hands in hers, and her beautiful eyes were fixed pleadingly on mine, filled with the steady light of devoted affection.

    Clasping her in my arms, I burst into tears.

    "Dear," she murmured, caressing me, "I am so glad you will love me!  Now I know you will.  And you will help me, you and Aunt Monica.  I want to help him to live the higher life he craves for, not to hinder him.  And, indeed, dear, I never cared for a life of pleasure.  Only one gets dragged into it; and once dragged into it, the machine goes round with you, whether you will or no."

    With her arm still round me, we sat down together; but I was no longer passive to her tenderness, I returned it with all my heart.

    "You have not seen Ernest to-day, then?" I said.  "No," she answered.  "Last night he told me to come to you, to see you alone."

    "I must not withhold the truth any longer.  Do you know, Edith," I said, "that Ernest did not know about—about your engagement till to-day?"

    "Not know, dear!  What do you mean?  He has known all along."

    "Not who it was.  I have only now told him."

    A frightened look came into her eyes.

    "I never doubted that he knew all," she said.

    "I am sure of that," I answered.  "And it is all my fault."  I could not say that I shrank from telling him.

    "But how was it that he did not know?" she persisted.  "Ah, I need not ask," she added.  "You are not blushing for yourself, Una.  It was too disgraceful."

    "I thought Aunt Robert would certainly tell him," I said.  "But I blame myself acutely."

    "You are blameless enough," she answered, sorrowfully.  "Did he condemn me?  Is he disgusted, angry?"

    "He is not angry."

    "But he is disgusted," she replied, quickly.  "And now I know what that means with him, Una, there is only one thing for me to do, and that is to give him up."

    "He will not give you up," I said.

    "Has he said so?" she asked, looking bright and hopeful for a moment.

    I answered, "Yes."

    "Ah! but I know it is not for love's sake, only for honour, because he will see that I had no wish to conceal it, and that he has only been deceived by accident.  I know exactly what he will think and feel, and how he will act; but, if he had known, he would never have renewed his friendship for me—would never have loved me—and oh! Una, it must all be as if it had never been."

    "Do not say that, dear," I exclaimed.  "He must sympathise with your distress.  It is no fault o£ yours that he did not know."

    "No, Una; I love him too well to keep him to his engagement, feeling sure, as I do, that this has revolted him.  I have a complete conviction that it is so.  I wondered at his generosity and goodness—thought it more than human in him, with his fastidious notions.  I do not wonder at his disgust.  I am going home," and she rose from her seat beside me, "and I will write to him at once.  It will pass for one of my flirtations; mamma will be a little harder on me than usual, and I will fall into the old round."

    "Not that, Edith!" I cried, clinging to her.

    "I wonder what I shall do with myself then," she said, with her old mocking look, only more gentle and spiritual.  "I wish I might have been left behind in Italy, beside the sea.  It would all have been over and done with, then."

    "But you do not believe it would all have been over and done with," I said gravely.  "There is the life everlasting,' which you repeat every Sunday."

    She looked at me questioningly, and answered, "Of course we believe in that!"

    "But it isn't 'of course,' Edith.  It has never been 'of course' to me, you know, and I could not say it if I did not truly believe it.  I heard you say the words last Sunday."

    "Don't you say them?" she asked, curiously.

    "Yes, these words I say, and some others, as I learn to believe them; but if we say them and believe them, then there is something quite other to live for than the world, even the world's best."

    "You are more and more like Aunt Monica," she said.  "Una, if he does not want to see me again, will you send her to me?"

    "Aunt Monica?"

    "Yes.  Good-bye, dear."

    I watched her from the window, with tears in my eyes, as she rode rapidly away.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XXXVIII.

FADING LIGHT.


EDITH went home and wrote her letter.  Ernest had it the next morning.  I knew by the air of studied unconcern with which he opened it and only scanned its contents, reserving it till he could read it by himself.  I will not speak to him on the subject.  I hope everything from Edith's action, and will leave it to work.  She has done just what I would have done in her place.

    There was also a note from Mr. Temple, which Ernest passed round the table in answer to our entreating looks.  It was very brief and anxious.  Edwin was rather worse.

    "I think I ought to go down to him," said Ernest, when papa read the note and had handed it me.

    "By all means go," said our father; adding, after a pause, "I think I shall go with you."

    We are all so thankful; now there will be no more estrangement among us.  We must not let Doretta separate us again.

    Ernest has sent a telegram to Mr. Temple, to say that papa and he are coming down immediately.

    He has also written to Edith.  I saw the note lying with others in the hall, but concerning its contents he has not spoken.

    Edith came to tell us what Ernest had written in answer to her proposal.  He does not give her up.  He says he cannot allow her to suffer, if indeed it would involve her in suffering.

    "I did not try to make him think it would not.  In spite of pride I could not do that," she said; "but I ought not to accept anything so coldly offered.  And that doubt of his—as if he could not believe me capable of disinterested affection!  I shall not write again," she concluded, "lest I should be tempted to sin against the truth.  At any rate, he shall not think more meanly of me."

    I never saw any one so changed as Edith, so devoid of false pride, so anxious to do right, so unselfish in her suffering.  The Easter holidays are rapidly passing away; Ernest is still at Bournemouth, and his accounts of Edwin are anything but reassuring.  Of himself he says nothing.

    I am a great deal at the Rectory with Linnet and her mother; they both welcome me only too eagerly.  Linnet is still labouring under her mother's chill displeasure, and it seems as if the estrangement must go on increasing rather than diminishing.  Neither of them has the key to the other's nature; and in a relationship so close and dear, the mere want of sympathy must be sufficient for the production of misunderstanding.  With Linnet the inability to comprehend her mother's character arises from her youth and inexperience.  On the part of Mrs. Lloyd it is deeper seated; still, both are suffering, and each carries in her heart a sense of outrage and humiliation.

    It is not every one that could tell that Linnet is suffering.  There are no traces of tears on her face, but the brightness has vanished from it; the smile has gone out of her eyes, and the gay tones out of her voice.  Her mother thinks her sullen, as she sits by her side working her pretty embroideries, while she longs to jump up and run out, even in the drenching rain.  She would like to take lonely walks, but dare not propose them.  Her father still comes to the rescue, and takes her out with him, but he has become sadly preoccupied.  He has had very bad accounts of his son.  The doctor who has been attending him—an old friend of the family—has written to him in a tone of warning not to be mistaken; and now they are expecting him home every day.

    I was sitting with Linnet and her mother the other day, when Mr. Benholme was announced.  He came in saying that a slight accident had happened, and he had been obliged to send the carriage to the smith's.  After a little chat and the serving of afternoon tea, at which Mr. Lloyd appeared, Mr. Benholme asked the latter if he could spare time to walk over to Highwood with him.

    Mr. Lloyd explained that he was waiting for the carriage to go to the station to meet Charles.

    "There are two young ladies, who will be all the better for a walk," he suggested.

    We both expressed our willingness to go, and Mr. Benholme thanked us and accepted.

    "I think I must bow to fate," he added, "and find some one to lead me about and read to me."

    Mrs. Lloyd murmured an expression of commiseration, and feared it would be difficult to find the proper person—a difficulty she could sincerely sympathise with.

    "Yes, indeed, I fear it will be difficult," he answered.  "It would be terrible to have one's favourite authors read with misplaced r's and h's; and yet to an educated youth the position could not be made other than irksome and disadvantageous.  There is, I fear, little hope for me, unless," he added, with a smile, "a lady would volunteer."

    "I wish I might," was on the tip of Linnet's tongue, as she afterwards acknowledged; but it was not uttered.

    We had both risen.  Linnet was putting away her work, and we were about to leave the room in order to get ready for our walk, when Claude appeared.

    All at once Linnet became hurried and confused.  Her mother could see the crimson flame into her cheeks, and Mr. Benholme could hear the tremor that came into her voice as she simply answered his greeting and hastened from the room.

    The only unconscious person was Claude himself, always excepting Mr. Lloyd, who had already forgotten all about his wife's recent trouble.

    Linnet fled up-stairs.  When I followed, she was standing in the middle of the room, her hands clasped in despair.

    "What shall I do?" she exclaimed.  "Oh, if mamma, would only understand!  And what must he think of me, that I cannot meet him without this display of feeling—and I—I think I almost hate him."

    In a few minutes we were dressed and downstairs again, and Linnet was looking as demure as her mother could wish.  She simply bowed to Claude, and slipped her little gloved hand into Mr. Benholme's, and we were soon out of the house and garden and on our way to the Park.

    When we got fairly out into the road, Linnet slackened her pace, which till then had been unconsciously rapid.  She was still holding Mr. Benholme's hand.  He caressed it as he would have done a year or two before, and then placed it on his arm, telling her she was promoted to the dignity of a young lady; but he could not win back again the gay spirits and blithe chatter of the child who had loved him and whom he had loved.

    "I must not lose my little friend," he added, tenderly.  "I would not lose her for the finest lady in the land."

    "You are not going to lose me," she said, with a return of the manner he knew, and making both hands meet round his arm.


"I have nearly lost sight of you now," he said.


      She clung a little closer to him, and he understood the expression as it was meant—for a token of sympathy.

    "My eyes have been very bad lately," he went on, "and I am going up to London to undergo another operation.  But I am giving you pain.  How selfish of me!"

    "No, no!" she disclaimed; but her voice was broken.  "Will it be very painful?" she inquired.

    "The pain will be nothing," he replied.  "Modern science has annulled the more terrible agonies."

    "You will take chloroform?" she said, realising vividly.

    "Yes.  No need to suffer pain since that young Scotch doctor rebelled against the sight of it," he answered.  "No need to suffer pain, or the still more sickening apprehension of it."

    "That must be the worst of it," she answered, shrinkingly.  "And will you see again?" she asked.

    "That is doubtful," he answered.

    "Oh, surely not!" she returned.

    "I fancy it is more than doubtful."

    "But they—the surgeons—would not operate unless they hoped to cure you, would they?"

    "Unless the balance was in favour of hope, perhaps not; but they hope to cure the pain, even if they cannot restore the sight.  Only one does not like to lose one's hold of the last faint glimmer of the day."

    To Linnet, already laden with her own burden of sorrow, the added grief and tenderness came with overwhelming weight.  She broke down suddenly, and sobbed aloud.  Mr. Benholme stood still in dismay and essayed to comfort her, chiding himself severely for having caused her distress.  He stood holding both her hands, and, I fancied, longing to fold her in his arms, and let her sob upon his breast, as he would have done a few years ago.

    But he restrained himself.  It was impossible that Linnet should love him with any other love save that of pitying tenderness.  She was going forward to the sunshine and the spring, while he was passing into the winter of a darkened age.  If this had not been so, I think he would have stood there with far other words upon his lips, to have met, perhaps, with far other response than these shaking sobs.  As it was I felt sure that he loved her, and that he knew she could never be his.  Alas, for the sweet sad story of Aunt Mona's bygone youth!

    Linnet made a great effort, and calmed herself before she spoke again.  What she said was enigmatical enough—

    "I cannot say what I would say if I were good enough," she murmured, smiling through her tears at him.

    "What a problem!" he exclaimed.

    "I mean," she exclaimed, as we resumed our walls, "that I saw, for a moment, the joy of a perfect resignation, and could imagine some one who had reached it helping you to reach it too."

    We walked the rest of the way almost in silence.  I think I did the most of the talking myself, and cannot in the least remember what it was about.  When we reached the Park, and had led its master through the hall into the library, he wanted us to rest for a little, but Linnet would not stay.  She was anxious to get home again to meet her brother.

    "Good-bye, then," he said, in taking leave of us, speaking to Linnet last, and retaining her hand, "Good-bye, and I hope to see you again when I return," and he laid a gentle emphasis on the words which conveyed his meaning.

    "Oh, I hope so!" she said, with fervour, clasping the hand she held with her slight fingers.

    He carried them to his lips.

    "You must be my little friend," he said, "and help me to reconcile myself to whatever happens."

    Linnet having once more bidden him good-bye, we walked back to the rectory.

    Before another week was over, life at Highwood Rectory had undergone a sudden transformation.  Its dignified routine was completely overturned.  It had become the scene of a tragedy, the world-old tragedy of sin and death.  Charles Lloyd had returned to his father's house to die, the victim of intemperance.  His indulgences had begun, when a boy at Eton, in secret sensualities of eating and drinking, and they had gone on accumulating in kind and in degree ever since.

    Twice his father had paid his debts.  They were not enormous, for he was no gambler, no lover of fine things.  His vices were not open, and, so to speak, social; they were still secret and sensual—less expensive to the purse, but more expensive to the life.  He was but twenty-one, and they had wrecked and stranded him already on the shore of death!

    The very sight of him the night his father brought him home, and, with the assistance of a servant, carried him into the house, overwhelmed his mother.  She did not weep, or exclaim, or make any outcry.  She saw he was beyond reproaches, and none awaited him.  She kissed him in her gentle, untender way, and then sat down pale and trembling.  Age seemed to have come upon her, not with his usual slow creeping pace, but with a sudden leap, under which she could no longer stand upright, but bent with feebleness.  On the morrow she looked worn and withered, as she had never appeared in her life before—the crows'-feet showed round her eyes and lips, which were parched and colourless.  All night long she had listened to that fearful cough.  It sounded actually like a hammer chipping and breaking up some substance, and that substance was living tissue!  She had had to rise and go to him in the night, as she might to a sick and fretful child, and she had tried to do things for him, and failed.  She could not place a pillow to please him, or arrange a covering—nothing satisfied him.  He was irritable to the verge of madness.

    The family, for many reasons, were anxious to keep the invalid to themselves, and the nursing fell almost wholly to Mr. Lloyd and Linnet, with the assistance of a kindly under-servant.  Mr. Lloyd took the first part of the night, and the servant took the remainder, while Linnet spent the greater part of every day in the sick-room.  Mrs. Lloyd, with a feeble effort to do that which it was her duty to do, would come and sit beside him for a little, with her handkerchief more deeply scented, and her bit of embroidery, in a blue satin and straw work-bag, also redolent of perfume, and she would try to keep down the rising in her fine white throat at the terrible cough and its adjuncts, till at length she would have to rise and come away, feeling that she had failed.  Then she would sit reading her prayer-book, as if it contained some spell wherewith to stay the horrors of advancing dissolution.  Once, indeed, Charles pushed her rudely from him, and accepted his sister's services instead.  What had she done to be treated thus? she thought, with slow, hard-wrung tears, till all that she had left undone came to her like a revelation, and spread a to soar to moral if not to intellectual greatness, to spiritual if not to temporal high places.  As for her son, if he thrust her from him now, how often had she thrust him from her?  She had been pleased and proud to see the curled, velvet-suited darling at dessert, and to fill his little hands with cakes and sugar-plums; but when he had become troublesome, wintry desolation over her soul.  Gradually it stole upon her, the conviction that she had wasted her own life in self-indulgence, though it had been all so graceful, and pure, and charmful.  She had been wife and mother, and yet no wifely help, no help of any kind for body or for soul, had come from her—nay, she had even hindered, as in those hours of insight she learned to understand.  She had hindered her husband, injured him through the very generosity and unworldliness which had made him stoop to her and grovel with her, when they might have led him instead of patient, loving, oft-repeated correction, and instruction in righteousness, had she not rung the bell, and said, "Take him away"?  So often had she said these words, that they came back to her now, ominous with fate.  All this went on in her heart, unknown and unuttered, until it became a torture too great to bear, and she poured it forth to Aunt Monica, with tears of anguish.  She began to realise the desperate loneliness of the self-seeker, and to try to turn back from the point at which she stood.  And she had to try in such little things, things so desperately little that they shocked her—such living by the side of such dying!

    It was indeed a terrible sick-bed.  The household where nothing impious had ever been heard were shocked at times by oaths and imprecations.  At times Charles Lloyd became wholly unmanageable.  In his best moods his father had tried to prepare his mind for the great event which was before him.  He tried to teach him to meet death, as he himself was prepared to meet it, with a reverent acceptance of the mystery, and a simple trust in his Creator and Redeemer, but the task was beyond him.  Sunk in apathy or absorbed in suffering, the spirit of the sufferer refused to look above or beyond the dreary present.  He had cravings, but they were all for meats and drinks, for ease and warmth and sleep—most of all for sleep.  He had times of hope, ever lessening, for health and strength and life upon the earth; and of fear, but it was the pain and horror of physical death which he feared.  His father, sitting by his bed, pondered painfully on the utter valuelessness of mere conventional Christianity, rousing himself from his reveries into an agony of supplication for that divine revelation which must come to every separate human soul before it can know God.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XXXIX.

MRS. BOWER.


MRS. BOWER'S health had gone from bad to worse, but she persistently refused to see a doctor.  Claude had strongly advised the calling in of medical aid, but hitherto without success.  John Bower knew but little of his wife's illness, and even from Phillis she had concealed so much that the girl's fears had never been roused concerning her mother until her weakness had become alarming.

    One evening shortly after Easter, Claude returned from the forest, where he was in the habit of walking for hours, returning exhausted as if with conflict, rather than inspirited with invigorating exercise.  He was thus exhausted now, and he had his sermon for the morrow still to write.  Phillis brought him tea as usual, and when she had served it, lingered with a wistful look, which ended, however, in her asking simply if there was anything more which she could do for him.  Claude thanked her, telling her that for the next three hours he wanted nothing except quiet, and that, he added, he was sure to have.

    He was still writing when a hurried tap came to the door, and on his saying "Come in," Phillis entered, with a look of alarm on her face, and begged him to come down and see her mother.  He hastened down after the girl, and found Mrs. Bower unable to speak.  It was getting late, but John Bower had not returned home, and whispering his intention to Phillis, he went at once for the doctor, having seen at a glance that the poor woman was sinking rapidly.

    Dr. Cole's house stood in the Row, nearly opposite, and he had but to cross the green and ring the good doctor up.  Claude waited in his study till he came down, and they returned together, Claude telling the doctor how long his patient had been ailing, and how ill he thought her.

    Mrs. Bower started when they entered, and looked reproachfully at Phillis.

    Quick at reading signs of that kind, the doctor, with his fingers already on her pulse, said softly, "She has not sent for me before it is time.  You don't want to get us into trouble, Mrs. Bower."

    "It is her side," interposed Phillis, as her mother tried to speak.

    "It is only weakness," said the latter, with a great effort.

    The doctor took a phial from his pocket and signed to Phillis for a glass.  Raising the patient himself, he made her drink its contents.  After a few minutes it seemed to revive her, and he began to question her about her illness.

    "I must examine this side," he said.

    "I thought it was healing," she murmured.

    "Healing!  Is there a wound?" he asked, and a strange look came into his face.

    "Yes; I hurt it," she said, faintly.

    "How?"

    "I fell against the corner of a table and bruised it.  Then an abscess formed."

    "Long since?" was the brief query.

    "Before Christmas," was the almost inaudible reply.

    The doctor proceeded to his examination.  Phillis turned away to hide her emotion; not sorrow alone, but fear had seized upon her—fear which made her cold and sick, and seemed to freeze her falling tears.  She had never heard of this hurt before; but while her mother was speaking she remembered it, and who had inflicted it.

    There was silence in the room for a little.  "Why was I not sent for before?" said the doctor at length, but in a very gentle voice.

    "It's too late, I know," said Phillis's mother but I thought it would get well."

    The doctor shook his head.  A glance had sufficed to show that mortification had set in, and that the end was near.  She knew it was so from his face, and silenced him before Phillis.  They thought she was weeping as she sat with her back to them.

    The doctor went and patted her on the shoulder.  He had known her all her life, and loved her.

    "Bear up, like a good girl," he said.  "Give her a table-spoonful of this every half hour, making it warm first."

    Phillis moaned, but did not lift her face.

    "I am going upstairs," he went on.  "Her comfort in these last hours depends on you."

    He said it to rouse her, and it did.  She forgot her stupor of fear in the agony of her sorrow, as she told us afterwards, when she poured out to Aunt Monica the whole sad story.

    Dr. Cole went upstairs with Claude; Mrs. Bower fell into a sort of slumber; and Phillis sat leaning on the bed.  Then she heard the doctor coming down, and crept to the door softly, that she might not awaken the sleeper.  The doctor and Claude were whispering.

    "It is simply murder," said the former.

    Phillis heard, and closed the door, that he might not see her as he passed.  She trembled so, that she slid down on the floor behind it, watching from that position her mother's face as it lay on the pillow, almost as white as that was.

    "Phillis!" murmured her mother, having slept only a few minutes.

     Phillis rose, and hastened to the bed.  Her mother raised herself a little, and she held her with her arm.

    "Don't let any one come in," she said, "except father.  I wish he would come."

    Phillis shuddered.

    "Is that father?" she said again, as a tap came to the door.

    Phillis stood paralysed, and Claude came in.

    "Can I be of any use?" he said.  "Can I get some woman to be with you?"

    "Mother wants me to be with her alone," said Phillis.

    "Then, I will watch upstairs," he said.  "Call me whenever you want me."

    Mother and child were left alone together.

    "Oh, Phillis! there is so little time," gasped her mother, when the interruption was over.

    "Mother!"

    "You will find all that is wanted in the box yonder at the bottom."  She pointed to a box, which stood in a corner of the room, covered with a flowery chintz, and into which Phillis had seen at intervals.  It contained the baby garments which had been Phillis's own, and had descended to her from other wearers.  She had never seen to the bottom; but she knew what her mother meant—that there lay her clothing for the grave.  "And in the left-hand corner," she went on, "you will find a purse with some money in it.  It is yours.  Keep it for when it is wanted.  It never was his."

    She seemed to sink, and Phillis gave her the draught, as she had been ordered to do.  Then she asked to be raised up in her bed, and Phillis raised her, and sat on the bed, partly supporting her with an arm beneath her pillow.

    Claude came and went, throughout that strange night of watching and of prayer, with whispered words of heavenly hope and of divine consolation, evidently falling on grateful ears.

    Phillis's fear had taken flight before her sorrow, and now sorrow itself gave place to a great strain of tenderness.  Over her mother's face had spread the signs and tokens of death—that strange and awful look which all can recognise.  The room was filled with dying breath.  Phillis sat motionless, only, with an instinct of tenderness, pressing closer to her, as she seemed going further and further on that dread journey.  All her timidity was gone.  She desired no one's presence, but now and then her lips repeated some simple verse or hymn.  Only once her dread returned.

    "Did you see that?" said her mother, in a strange whisper.  "That was Katie and Walter flying up there.  They're there now."

    Phillis looked with dilated eyes, following hers, and resting on the white hangings.  All was silent after that.  The clock had stopped at midnight.

    At last the latch-key was heard in the door.  Phillis sat still, and did not heed.  All was numb in her but this watchful instinct.  John Bower entered and stayed on the threshold beholding them.  Then he crept a little further, and sat down near the door, and at a distance from the bed, and covered his face with his hands.  His wife's eyes were fixed on him, but with no sign of recognition.  So were those of Phillis, dark and dilated and expressionless.  He could bear it no longer, and rose and went out into the night.

    When he had gone, Claude, feeling that Phillis ought no longer to be left alone, went to rouse Priscilla Jewel, and ask her to come to the help of her friend.  He had not much difficulty.  It almost seemed as if Priscilla must have been watching too, so quickly was she dressed and with them.  But she, too, saw that there was nothing more to be done.  Only, after pausing on the threshold, as John Bower had done, she went in, and crossing the room, knelt at the foot of the bed in silent prayer.  Once she rose and trimmed the lamp.  Then the light of the morning stole in and quenched it.  The last spark of life leapt up.  The dying woman turned and looked at Phillis, who responded by a closer movement.  The last breath sighed itself out—all was over.

    Above the dead body of her mother Phillis neither wailed nor wept.  She stood beside it in a dumb agony, which seemed to merge her mental suffering in bodily pain, to clutch at her heart, and stifle her very breath.  Priscilla came to her side, and would have taken her in her arms, but she motioned her apart.  At length she covered her face with her hands, as if to shut out the sight of death, and called out, beseechingly, "Mother, mother."

    At the sound of her voice, low though it was, Lady, the old white hound, woke, and rose from her station on the mat at the door of the opposite room (her mistress's bedroom), and stole in to her feet.  There the creature crouched, as if in terror, and began to whine and moan.

    "Phillis," at length said Priscilla, who had been quietly weeping, "there are some things you must do—some things for her, dear.  We can't do them ourselves, only come and let us do what we can, and get in one of the neighbours."

    "Yes," said Phillis, removing her hands, and looking like one in a strange place, "you are right, Prissy.  Go and fetch some one, and I will get her things out.  She told me where to find them."


She knelt down and opened the box.


    As she spoke, Phillis took her mother's keys from the toilet-table, and knelt down and opened the box.  Priscilla left her kneeling before it.  Parcel by parcel she lifted out the contents.  Some of her own childish garments, and some old-fashioned things of her mother's, a shawl or two, dimly scented and dimly coloured; the well-worn baby clothes; a muslin gown, with a knot of satin ribbon, her mother's wedding-dress; and last, some unworn linen, white and clean.  This she took and laid out on a chair piece by piece.  Then, from the bottom of the box she took a small brown-holland bag, tied round the neck with tape.  It was her mother's legacy, for she felt that it contained money, and she put it into her pocket, with a quick startled look.

    By the time she had replaced the contents of the box, Priscilla had returned, and telling her that two old neighbours would be there as soon as possible, she led her unresisting down to the little kitchen, and began herself to light the fire and make preparations for breakfast.  Priscilla had looked into the parlour and found the master of the house sitting there, with his arms resting on the table and his head on his arms.  He was not asleep, for he looked up as she entered, but Priscilla did not speak.  She did not dare to tell him that his wife was dead.  Her look told him, and his told her that he knew, and she closed the door gently, and left him there.

    The neighbours to whom Priscilla had spoken, two decent elderly women, came in shortly to do the last service to the dead.  They went about their task so quietly that no one except Priscilla, who waited on them, knew, when it was completed, that they had been into the house.  When they were gone, she roused the little servant, and having hushed the outburst of noisy crying with which she received the news of her mistress's death, she told her to dress quickly and come downstairs at once.  Then she went away to get her father's breakfast.  Mr. Jewel had been up and at work for the last hour.  The little village world was awake and going on with its labours.  Life must go on; it is only death that can indulge in complete repose.  But in this house of death there was a pause, as if its whole living mechanism had stood still, and might stand still for ever.  Such a pause in the ordinary household routine is usual and natural, but in its place there is active grief and active sympathy filling up the void.  Here there seemed to be neither.  Up in her attic the little maid stood dressed by the side of her bed, trying in vain to summon up courage to go down and pass the door of the death-chamber, and awed at last into silence.  When Priscilla returned she found Phillis kneeling where she had left her, tearless and trance-like, and no one else had stirred.  Once more Priscilla tried to rouse her.  She brought down the girl and set her to work.  She led Phillis up to her mother's room to look at her "laid out" in the simple solemn state of the grave.  The dead face looked calm and composed, but its expression was one of infinite sorrow.  Priscilla wept over it, and hoped that Phillis would weep with her.  But Phillis gazed, and did not weep; she only sighed and sighed again, with long moaning sighs.  A great and heavy burden of horror and despair was crushing down her heart, and stopping the channels of her natural grief.  Priscilla told her where her father was, and would have had her go to him, but she passed the door with a shiver.  Was he not the murderer of her mother?  This was the terrible thought that weighed upon her.  He had struck the fatal blow.  If men knew it as she knew it, she thought he would be condemned to die the death of a felon.  The horror of it was well nigh unbearable; but it was unmixed, unsoftened by pity.  She had no thought of his suffering.  So cut off was he from her sympathy, that she could not realise his desolation.  Already she had made up her mind to leave him.  Never, if she could help it, would she see his face or hear his voice again.  He had taken away her mother.  He had severed the tie between them.  No longer, in her very thoughts, did she call him father.  And she dreaded the man.  Yet she resolved, as she looked on her mother's face, to stay till she saw her laid in the grave.  To go while she was there and looking thus, would be too like forsaking her.

    "You will speak to him about the burial," said Phillis, quietly, as they left the chamber.  "I should like the service read over her; I think she would have wished it.  I am going to sit in my own room.  Don't let any one come to me, dear; only come yourself, and let me know what he says.  I don't want to see any one just at present."

    "And Mr. Carrel?" said Priscilla.

    "Will you attend to him too, dear?  I cannot, I cannot!" she moaned.

    Priscilla kissed her.

    "Leave everything to me," she answered, as she saw her into her room.

    She failed to comprehend Phillis; but she thought that, left to herself, she might weep or even pray, and find relief.  So she closed the door, and saw the faithful Lady, who had followed them upstairs with something sadly like human trouble in her eyes, lie down at full length before it.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XL.

THE FUNERAL.


CLAUDE carried to the Rectory the tidings of Mrs. Bower's death, and Linnet brought them on to us, and within the hour Aunt Monica had settled with all concerned that Claude was to come to us.

    Priscilla Jewel had taken upon herself the whole burden of the Bower household.  The good brave girl did not hesitate to invade John Bower's sanctuary.  Like most people, she loved him little and feared him a good deal, but she felt strengthened by her pity for him, as a sorely sin-beset man, to deal with him wisely and gently.  So she set food before him and asked him to eat, and at length took courage to speak to him of the funeral, and, to her astonishment, he welcomed her interference, asking her to ascertain if Phillis had any wish in the matter.  Priscilla then repeated what Phillis had said, and he replied that it should be done.  Shortly after, he went out, to give, as Priscilla supposed, the necessary directions.

    When her father had gone out, Phillis came down and made various household arrangements, and saw the few friends and neighbours who came to her as soon as they heard the news.

    "How well she bears up," said they; only the old doctor shook his head and said, "I would rather see you crying, child.  There is too much pressure here," and he laid his hand gently on her head, and looked into her eyes.

    Mrs. Bower was to be buried on Saturday, and during the days that intervened no communication took place between John Bower and his daughter.  She was not actuated by resentment, but by a revulsion of her whole nature, the least painful manifestation of which was to keep aloof from its object.  Nor was she aware of the pain which she even thus inflicted.  Sensitiveness had not yet become sympathy in her slowly developing nature.  She could not know how the slave of evil passions felt the torture of their chains; how, in the lonely nights he passed, as he told Claude long after, he had many a dark thought of freeing himself from them by self-destruction, freeing her likewise of his hated presence.  The little of love he had been able to win, the smiles of his children in their infancy, the tenderness of his wife, long since only exhibited towards his sufferings, had given him some need of human sympathy.  He began to long for it now, and felt that for him it no longer existed.  As long as she lived he knew that there was one heart open to him, one who, if his better self should ever conquer, would recognise it as him, and might learn to love him.  He yearned to look once again on her face, and began to watch for an opportunity to steal into the room unobserved; but Phillis seemed always flitting out and in there, and it was only in the night, when every one else was asleep, that he could accomplish his purpose.  It was the last night, too, for on the morrow the coffin was to be closed.  He stole up-stairs with a light.  Lady lay as usual at the door of Phillis's room, and as he reached the landing she roused herself, whining.  He silenced her with a menace, and went in at the opposite door, closing it after him, and then turning again to set it wide open.  He lifted the cloth and removed the coffin-lid.  A bunch of fresh flowers lay on her breast, and—oh, terror!—the eyes—the eyes, mournful as in life, but awful in their irresponsiveness, looked him full in the face.  Neglecting to cover the coffin or to shut the door, he stumbled downstairs, and sat down trembling violently.  They haunted him, those sad eyes with their accusing memories and they were so like her daughter's: they threw him off, repulsed him blankly.  He would not endure it.  He felt his passion rising, but he seemed to stand aloof, judging himself at the same time.  Would he burst forth into a fury of destruction in the midst of sleep and death?  In the midst of one of these furies he would go mad.  Perhaps now.  Had he not better end it all?  There was a gun in the house, which would serve his purpose.  With its muzzle to his ear or in his mouth he could shoot himself out in the wood and disturb nobody, till the morning.  He was going to rise and fetch it, when a gentle step was heard on the stairs—a pat of light feet.  He covered his face for a moment, and the old hound stood at his side, caressing his knees.  He put out a hand and stroked her and head, and the tears rolled down his face.  He wept long and bitterly, and the creature kept caressing him, till he grew calm.  Then she gently went away out of the room and up the stairs, and lay down once more in her accustomed place.

    All through the time that followed, people said John Bower behaved with a good sense and propriety for which they had not given him credit.  Nevertheless, the funeral of Mrs. Bower set the village gossips chattering.  No one had been asked to "follow," and no one therefore intruded on the mourners; but a good many of the neighbours assembled in the church and churchyard, and the rest were at their doors and windows to see the coffin borne past.  The coffin was carried on the shoulders of four hired men, and after it walked John Bower, side by side with the curate.  Behind them came Phillis and Priscilla, while Lady, unobserved, brought up the rear.

    When they reached the church, John Bower stepped aside and allowed the others to pass into the porch, while he remained without.  When they came out and proceeded to the grave, accompanied by Mr. Lloyd, who read the service, he still stood aloof, but uncovered.  A little knot of people followed at a distance, and among them stood young Myatt, who also had remained outside.  Phillis was unconscious of his presence, for she never lifted her eyes, and her thick crape veil hid the pallor of her face effectually; and at length, to Priscilla's great relief, she was weeping freely.  But Myatt never took his eyes from the down-cast face.  He had been greatly softened by the news of her mother's death.  His nature was generous at bottom, and the consideration of her sorrow and suffering banished the thought of his own grievances.  But to see Claude standing by her side was bitter to him.  It was his place by right, and an injudicious neighbour remarked the fact in tones loud enough to reach his ear.

    "And do you see the curate?" whispered the same unbridled tongue.  "Why, he's just like one of themselves, all in mourning, and letting the rector read the service too.  It looks like something between him and Phillis."

    When all was over, the funeral party walked back as they had come, and there was no more to be observed.  John Bower entered his own house only to leave it again immediately.  He had great faith in keeping out of women's way in times of trouble, believing that neither their grief nor their anger was capable of long duration.  When he did come back, it was to find the house set in order, swept, and even garnished, for on the little table in the middle of the parlour was set a vase full of flowers, the very flowers that had been laid on his dead wife's bosom—the white starry narcissus—and the room was filled with their odour; but it was empty.  There was no one in the house.

    Phillis had fled.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XLI.

PHILLIS'S FLIGHT.


IT soon became known in the village that Phillis had fled.  She had not even confided in Priscilla Jewell.  No one knew anything about her.  In Ignorance, Priscilla set afloat inquiries, which returned upon herself when the truth had become evident to her, and the inquiries could not be evaded.  In the course of the day, after having tried to find Phillis more than once, and having ascertained that no one else had seen her, Priscilla had gone into her room, and missed the little personal belongings that usually indicated her presence there; and at last, beginning to search for confirmation of her fears, she had found empty drawers, and in one of them a note addressed to herself, which ran:—


DEAR FRIEND,—This is no home for me any longer, and I could not stay.  Think kindly of your unhappy PHILLIS.


Priscilla took the note to John Bower with a troubled spirit, and eyes that swam in tears.  He read it without a word of comment, and handed it back to her in silence.  He said nothing, he did nothing, taking no step towards recovering his daughter.  He seemed to mind no one, and no one minded him—that is to say, though every eye was on him furtively, no one intruded into his presence, or offered him help or comfort—no one but Priscilla.

    And Priscilla did everything.  She set the little maid to work in the house; she put food before him, and waited upon him almost tenderly.

    "Why do you?" he asked, abruptly.

    And Priscilla answered, simply, "Because you are in trouble."

    "What is that to you?" he queried, rudely.

    "I am bound to do it," she answered.

    "Bound to do it?  What binds you?  Did you promise her?" he asked, having got on a wrong tack.

    "It is the law of Christ," she answered, with some difficulty.

    He made no answer, but gave her a penetrating look.

    The day wore on, and towards evening a trace of Phillis had been found—a trace which even Priscilla did not care to bring to John Bower's notice, though the pity of it concerned only the poor old hound.  Phillis must have left for London with the earliest train, for by that train a young lady had travelled who came into the station followed by a white hound.  The lady was in deep mourning, the hound was white as snow.  The guard was a Londoner, and did not know Phillis, who was seldom from home.  The dog had followed the lady, although she tried to send it back.  At length she had appeared successful, and the dog had left the station droopingly, while she had taken her seat in one of the carriages, after having stooped and printed a kiss on the creature's head.  But no sooner was the door fairly closed on her than it returned, and lay down before it on the platform.  The lady had taken no notice, but just as the train started, the old dog had risen bewildered, and tried to stand up against the door; and finally, as the train moved out of the station, it had sprung on the lines, and begun steadily coursing behind and alongside of it.  The guard, whose attention had been attracted by the persistence of the creature, watched it from his van with eager interest, as did the driver and the stoker.  They saw it put forth its utmost strength and speed.  But the course was a short one.  The down train, an express, was due; it was coming on; it was close at hand.  The men held their breath, and then shouted, as if the creature had been human, and could understand their meaning, and avoid the deadly peril.  At length it swerved from its arrow-like course, but too late.  The trains sped on, and there was no more to be seen.

    On their return journey the men were on the outlook, and came upon the traces of the catastrophe.  They did not care to look at one another for a while, said one, only it was a comfort that the old dog must have been cut in two as with the stroke of lightning.

    In the evening, Priscilla in her trouble and distress came to Aunt Monica, and told us the story of poor Lady's end, about which all the village was talking.  All, too, were blaming Phillis for having left her father just then.  Of course we could throw no light on the matter.  Conjecture was vain.  We knew no one in London to whom Phillis could have gone, and we did not then know all the reason for her flight, but we readily undertook to do all we could to trace her.

    "And Claude must have gone up by the same train," said Lizzie, when Priscilla had left us.

    He had, and Phillis was already found.  We had a letter from Claude the next morning, giving us all the details of his meeting with her.  And Claude himself was coming back that same evening.

    He came back, but what took place then was not written till long after—could not have been written —a tangled skein cannot be wound until the threads have been freed from their entanglement.

    When Claude stepped out of the carriage in which he had travelled up to London, rather slowly and dreamily, for with Claude great activity and energy alternated with fits of dreaminess, he saw Phillis coming out of the one next him.  He recognised her in a moment, though a thick veil was over her face, her mourning veil.  She, too, was behind the rest of her fellow-travellers, who had passed in a small stream to the entrance of the station.  If she had not been so close to him, Claude would have bowed and passed on, regarding her presence as a quite ordinary occurrence, an affair of shopping in London.  But she was quite close to him, and seemed to have a rather large travelling-bag in her hands, and he spoke to her accordingly.

    She hardly answered, but then she was very silent, and might have been crying over her recent loss.  The porter came up, and she told him to take the bag to the cloak-room and keep it for her.  Then Claude was walking on by her side, about to say, "Good-bye for the present," when they passed the barrier.  But she stopped for a moment, evidently unable to proceed, staggered to one of the benches, and, begging him to leave her, threw up her veil as if for breath.

    "It is nothing," she said.  "If you will leave me here a little, I shall recover," and, with unconscious stateliness, she bowed in dismissal.

    But Claude had seen her face, and it had startled him completely.  It was deadly pale, and a look of supreme horror had fixed itself in the dark dilated eyes.

    "What is the matter, Miss Bower?" he asked.  "I cannot leave you in this condition."

    "I have been terribly shocked," she answered.  "Lady would follow me, and she has been killed."

    An involuntary cry—low, but full of anguish—escaped her, and she put her hand over her eyes, as if to shut out the sight.

    "How?"

    "Oh! don't ask!  The train went over her," she added.

    Claude thought it was quite enough to account for her condition, knowing her as he did.

    And, indeed, but for this Phillis would have been calm in her deep desolation; but she had seen poor Lady leap against the door, and watched her spring upon the rails, and, after some terrible minutes of anticipation, had only shut her eyes to the inevitable.  The rest of her journey had been accomplished by Phillis she knew not how.  Crushed in a heap on the floor of the carriage, in which she was alone, with her hands pressed over her eyes, as if to shut out the horror and cruelty, in which the fate of the gentle beast seemed to involve the whole universe, she had only roused herself when the train had stopped, and was still incapable of moving.

    "Leave me, Mr. Carrol," she pleaded.  And, indeed, more than one group of bustling strangers had looked inquiringly at the pair.

    "But, indeed, I cannot leave you," urged Claude; "not just yet, at least.  Where are you going?" he added, simply.  "I can accompany you."

    Phillis had lost her presence of mind.  "Nowhere," she answered, and she met his eyes with so strange a look that a sudden fear darted into his mind.  Was she losing her reason?

    "You must come with me," he said, feeling that he must act on his own discretion, whatever was wrong.  "You must come with me.  I will take you to my mother, and then we will see how you are."

    "I have left home," she murmured.  He thought she meant now, and that she was fairly distraught.

    "I mean, never to return," she said, meeting his questioning look, and rousing herself.  "And I am better, and will manage very well if you will only go now."

    "I can do so less than before," he answered; "at least until you tell me where you are going.  Have you any one to go to?"

    "No."

    "Miss Bower—Phillis," he said—"you do not know what you are about.  It is impossible for you to enter London with nowhere to go and no one to look after you.  You will meet with insult and cruelty."

    She shrank visibly.

    Taking the matter now entirely into his own hands, Claude called a cab, and, putting Phillis into it, drove her across the City and then, by train and another cab, to his mother's house.

    There was no pause for conversation, nor did they attempt any, and Phillis had somewhat regained her self-possession before she was handed over to the somewhat perplexed and astonished ladies.

    When Claude had explained to them all that he could explain of Phillis's position at home, it still left her quitting it, as she had done, a sufficiently doubtful action, and one which Mrs. Carrol and her daughter, as well as Claude himself, felt bound to condemn.  And, therefore, at first their united efforts were directed towards persuading her to return.

    But Phillis kept her ground; with gentle but firm persistence she reiterated the impossibility of a return.

    "Of course, I shall feel bound," said Claude, "to acquaint your father with your presence here, and your purpose, whatever it may be."

    She acquiesced.  "He will not compel me to return," she said.  "I cannot return."

    Seeing that further remonstrance was useless—had she any plans? they asked.

    And Phillis had a plan, and, on the whole, a well-considered one.  She had made up her mind to be a nurse, and had resolved to present herself directly at the gates of the nearest hospital, and ask to see the matron or one of the heads.

    It was explained to her that they could not have received her; that they could only take people with some sort of character, and some sort of training.

    Well, she was ready to go into training, and to live under strict supervision, and her character could be inquired into.  She did not intend to hide herself, only to get away.  She would have written to Mr. Lloyd or Miss Lancaster.

    Seeing there was no help for it, Claude sat down and wrote to Mr. Bower and to Aunt Monica, and Clara set about placing Phillis in a respectable lodging, while she went to get her admitted to training, as she desired.

    The next day, as I have already written, Claude was to return.  That same day Edwin came back from Bournemouth.  Our father had already returned.  Ernest and Mr. Temple went with our poor boy as far as London Bridge.  He was better, declared himself wonderfully improved, and was in excellent spirits, when they parted from him.  Ernest had come home to us for a day, and Mr. Temple to go to his uncle.  The day after that, they were to return to their chambers together.

    We had fixed the dinner-hour at eight, for Claude's convenience as well as Ernest's.  It was an hour later than usual, but after waiting some time longer, we were obliged to sit down without the former, which we did naturally believing that he had missed his train.  We had finished dinner, it must have been about nine o'clock, and we had left our father and Ernest together in the dining-room, where the lamps had been brought with the dessert, and were sitting in the drawing-room enjoying the deepening twilight, when we saw a flying figure approach the house.  At first we could not distinguish who it was, and we went out into the hall, Aunt Monica and Lizzie and I, and stood on the steps, more in curiosity than alarm.

    It was Priscilla who came towards us with flying feet.  We made way for her, went before her into the hall, for we could see she had tidings to give us.  At first she could not speak, but sank down on one of the seats.  We knew by her face that something dreadful had happened, and Aunt Monica bent over her begging her to be calm.

    "They are bringing him here," she said.  "Mr. Carrol—he is badly hurt.  The doctor is coming with him;" and she burst into tears.

    "Is it an accident?" asked Aunt Monica.

    "Yes," and "No " came mingled incoherently from Priscilla's trembling lips, as, rising from her seat, she flung herself on her knees before Aunt Monica, saying—

    "I cannot tell.  Oh, help me, hide me—do not let them ask me.  I must speak the truth, and witness against him, perhaps to take away his life.  Lord and Saviour, help me," she murmured, hiding her face in her hands, and turning aside even from Aunt Monica, as if human help were vain.

    Meantime, Lizzie stood in the doorway in the fast-fading light, with hands clasped tight before her, and eyes strained in the direction of the gate.  I went and stood beside her, and flung my arm round her.  But she took no notice of the caress, and then almost seemed to shrink from it.  At that moment I felt farther from my sister than I had ever done in my life.  I was full of fear and trembling, my heart was beating wildly; but Lizzie was beyond all that.

    There was no mistaking the look on her face—the terror overpowered by a passion of tenderness—the love mastering the anguish.

    Yes; there was something moving—four men were bearing something along.  I gave a suppressed cry, but I do not think Lizzie heard it; she was murmuring, under her breath—

    "Oh, my love, my love!"

    They came swiftly and steadily towards the house, and all, for a space of time which I could not measure, was bustle and anxiety.  Our father and Ernest had caught sight of the bearers and their burden, and had slipped out of the open windows and across the lawn to interrogate the men and then to hasten back with them.  Lights sprang up all over the house as if by magic.  The bearers rested their seemingly unconscious burden in the hall before it was carried up the stairs.  Aunt Monica went before them, the doctor followed, servants hurried to and fro at his bidding.  He had ordered Lizzie and me to go away as soon as he entered the house, and I had taken Lizzie into her room, and knelt with her in voiceless prayer.  What a divine instinct it is which compels us in our deepest sorrow to seek the highest solace!  I wonder if there is any human heart which in its supreme moments never turned to God.  I think not.

    After a time Lizzie whispered to me, "Go and see," and I rose and left her still kneeling with the words of prayer on her lips.

    I found one of the servants who had come out of the room, and inquired of him.  Mr. Carrol was still alive, that was all he could say.  They had undressed him, cutting off his clothes.  Mr. Ernest, the man said, had gone some time ago to telegraph for a surgeon from London, and Miss Lancaster had gone to her room.  I went to seek Aunt Monica in the little room in which she spent her mornings on the other side of the drawing-room.  I had to cross the hall, though the room could be reached by a private staircase.  Priscilla was there still; poor girl! we had forgotten her in our trouble.  I went up to her and asked her to come with me.  Two men stood there in silence; they had a strange waiting look, as if they were condemned criminals; I glanced at them, and saw that the one was John Bower, and the other young Myatt.  The other two, who seemed to be labourers, were pacing about outside.  They had evidently been told to wait.

    I longed to carry some comfort to my darling Lizzie, but it did not seem that I could find any.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XLII.

DEAD MAN'S POOL.


WHEN Claude had arrived at the station, instead of setting out on the straight road for Highwood, he had taken a short cut through the forest, with the intention of seeing John Bower, and supplementing the letter he had written to him on the preceding evening.  The track which he followed emerged on the lane which ran by the side of Mr. Jewell's garden and smithy, and in the rear of the village it passed through one of the closest thickets in the wood.  The trees here were small and stunted, but so near each other that their branches interlaced into a kind of roof, while portions of the way were completely walled in by impenetrable masses of thorn and bramble.  Only on one spot was there an opening of any size, or trees of any growth, and this was where a clump of ash and a fine old willow overhung a large shallow piece of water, called Dead Man's Pool.  The spot was raggèd and unsightly in the extreme.  The green and stagnant water gave back no ray of light; rank weeds, with seared and spotted leaves, grew round its margin; the ash-trees shivered on its brink; and the willow hung over it pale and drooping.  As Claude reached the place, he paused and sighed.


Not even the tenderest heart, and next our own,
Knows half the reason why we smile or sigh.


    And sometimes I think we do not know ourselves.  Claude did know, however.  He was not sighing over the past, for his youth had neither been tainted nor suffered to run to waste.  Poverty had invigorated and braced, without hardening or humiliating him.  He was the son of a noble-minded mother, one of those brave and pious women who fulfil the hardest duties of life with wisdom and faithfulness, and meet its trials and sufferings with holy resignation; one of the few, too, who do not lose, but gain in sweetness, under disappointment and sorrow.  Only in one thing she had never been disappointed.  She had desired, with a great desire, that her only son should enter on his father's profession, and had met with glad and simple acquiescence from the boy—an acquiescence which his youth and early manhood had not revoked.  He had begun the work of his life, and the Christian graces had crowned him already.  He was full of faith, hope, and charity.

    And yet a fog had been creeping over Claude's spirit, and it had risen, like an evil genius, out of Mr. Benholme's books.  Apart from the falsehood of their conclusions, such books have their influence for evil.  They have an atmosphere—the paralysing atmosphere of doubt.  "Faith may live in honest doubt."  I know that this is true; but I agree with Claude that faith has a miserable life of it.  His faith lived—it did not die; but from joyful it had become suffering faith.

    "It is not the simple danger of adopting the conclusions of unbelief that is their worst danger," says Aunt Monica.  "It is a far subtler influence which is to be dreaded.  Once accept a conclusion, and if it be a false conclusion, something, sooner or later, will be sure to shake it, some contact with the truth and the life will render it untenable; but the spirit and temper of unbelief, once imbibed, will enter into everything, and is hardly to be dislodged."

    Claude had not imbibed this spirit.  His whole heart, on the contrary, rebelled against it, as well as against the conclusions which were set before him by the school of thinkers to which Mr. Benholme belonged, but yet their very entertainment had rendered him grievously unhappy.  He was morbidly sensitive, and because all his earthly desires, as well as all his heavenly hopes, were ranged on the side of religion, because love and honour and even daily bread were concerned in it, he felt that he could not pause on the inquiry upon which he had entered.

    His one evening at home had been spent alone with his mother, Clara having gone out with Phillis, and he had seized the opportunity, which indeed he had been looking for, to unburden his mind to her.  She had fixed her gentle dim eyes on his face, more in loving expectancy than apprehension, when he told her that he had something to say that he feared would pain her.  He tried to soften it to her, but failed.  His resolution took shape as he gave it utterance.  It might be, he said, that he had mistaken his vocation, and that he might be bound for truth's sake and for righteousness' sake to give it up.  He told her that it was no mere question of latitude that troubled him; he had been in contact with the opinions of men to whom doctrinal differences were merely shades of superstition.  The whole revelation of God was in debate, and he felt that he could not be an altogether unbiased advocate.  While at times, though he felt that he could yet stand fast, his feet upon the rock of ages, as wave after wave swept over him it seemed as if he must lose his hold.

    His mother trembled as she listened.  Her son—her brave pure-hearted son—was he about to suffer shipwreck on the sea of life?  Was the fair promise of his morning about to be lost in the blackness of darkness?  What was standing by his father's deathbed to this, the death-blow of all her hopes?  The physical pain, which mental agitation far less than this was apt to produce, came to her almost as a relief.

    It was a sad and sacred interview, and Claude had come out of it exalted, for the time, into that region of spiritual calm which was his mother's daily dwelling-place.  Yet now he went on his way heavily.  He paused by the pool.  Above it was the open bit of sky—crystal, clear, and tender, with the evening light.  In its midst, as he gazed, a star began to gleam.  But the sullen pool gave back no answering glance.  Its green and slimy surface caught the deepening shadows, but had no resting-place for the lights of heaven.  It seemed to Claude an image of the unbelieving soul, and in the solitude which he imagined to be about him, he looked upward with a cry of anguish.  It had hardly passed his lips when young Myatt sprang upon him from the opposite thicket, where he had been standing waiting for him.  He sprang upon him, and seized him by the throat, hissing into his ear—

    "What have you done with her?"

    In his astonishment, Claude remained perfectly passive and silent.

    "You know who I mean," said the other, with fury—a fury too deep to be noisy.  He spoke almost in a whisper, "Liar, deceiver, hypocrite!"  And with each word Claude's slenderer form was swayed like a sapling in his adversary's iron grasp.

    At length he tried to speak, but just then Myatt hurled him off, and with a crash he fell against a tree, and from thence reeled backwards into the pool.  He sank beneath the stagnant water, and lay there evidently stunned, for it was only just deep enough to cover his face.  But it did cover it, and a few minutes more and life would be extinct.  Only, other eyes had seen the deed, and as Claude fell, a woman's scream had echoed through the wood.  It came from the lips of Priscilla Jewell, and in another instant she had dashed into the pool, and was holding Claude's head above the water.

    "Oh, help me, help me!" she cried, with terror in her voice.

    Young Myatt made no response; he neither moved nor spoke.

    Again Priscilla cried out to him, "Oh, Tom, help me—help me to save him; he will die—he is dead," she added, in an agony of terror.

    "I have done for him, I think," said Myatt, and a pang shot through his heart, though he stood erect and fearless, when he saw Claude's white face, which Priscilla had freed from the weeds of the pool and was holding up, leaning his head against her knees.

    "If you would only lift him out of the water," said Priscilla, "I could run into the village and get help, and you—you could go away."

    He went into the shallow water and lifted Claude out and laid him on the grass.

    "Oh, Tom, fly," said Priscilla, wringing her hands.  He shook his head with a scornful smile.  "No," he said.  "I am here to bear the punishment.  I did not mean to kill him, only to make him tell me what he has done with Phillis."

    "There is nothing between him and Phillis, Tom.  He saw her by chance, and took her to his mother.  Here is the letter he wrote," and she took it from her pocket.

    He snatched it from her hands, and devoured its contents.

    "Oh, Tom, make haste!" cried the girl; "make haste, and get away.  I think he is quite dead."

    They looked at him as he lay at their feet, and for a moment he opened his eyes on them, and then closed them.

    "Go you, and get help," said Myatt, hastily kneeling down by Claude.  "I will stay by him.  Go."

    Priscilla wrung her hands.

    "If they find you, they will take you."

    "Well, you saw me do it.  You can't deny it.  Could you swear to a lie?" he asked, and with an impatient gesture he sent her from him.

    Once more there was a quivering of the eyelids, and Claude opened his eyes to see Myatt bending over him.  The latter forgot everything in the sudden rush of thankfulness with which he saw those eyes unclose, forgot himself, and his pride, and his unbelief, as a fervent, "Thank God!" rose from his heart to his lips.

    Claude spoke no word, but looked up at Myatt with a face which, in its pallor, and the mingled pain and tenderness of its expression, was more than he could bear.  A faint smile of compassion dawned on the lips, and then the eyes closed again, but not, it seemed, in unconsciousness.

    "I am sorry," said young Myatt, "and I ask you to forgive me.  I have never asked as much of God or man before."

    "Forgive—," repeated Claude.  Some of the words were lost, but he knew that he had murmured, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us."

    "I shall have to suffer for this," said Myatt, speaking again, "but at this moment I would give my life to bring yours back."

    "You did not mean to kill me," returned Claude, "and I hope, for your sake, you have not.  I would give you my hand, but I can't move it."

    Myatt took Claude's right hand.  "Where are you hurt?" he asked, trying in vain to hide his new and strange emotion.

    "Everywhere, it seems," said Claude, speaking with difficulty.  "I cannot move without pain, nor speak either.  I wish I could, that I might tell you something of the joy that has come to me with this pain—I wish I could share it with you—the joy of my Lord."

    Myatt thought his mind was wandering, but as he spoke from time to time, the meaning became clear even to the mind of the sceptic—clear, and a reality, and yet incomprehensible—incomprehensible as the idea of God, of light, of life.

    Priscilla came back at length, bringing with her John Bower, and two men out of her fathers' workshop, with a litter which they had improvised out of a broken truck.  The doctor followed, and met them by the way, and so they had all come on to Highwood.

    When everything had been done for Claude that could be done, Dr. Cole insisted that a deposition should be taken while his mind remained clear.  Our father had been elected a magistrate, and Mr. Lloyd, who now joined us, had a seat on the bench.  It was accordingly proposed to Claude, who, however, met the proposal with a decided negative.  "I only wish to say," he added, "if an investigation must take place—and I suppose it must, if I die—that I believe my death will be the result of accident, and that I freely forgive him who was the cause of it."

    The words were written down; and when the gentlemen came into the hall, as the doctor and Mr. Lloyd were going away—the former only for a short interval—our father read them over.

    "I should like to know how it happened," said Dr. Cole, addressing Priscilla Jewell.  Aunt Monica and I had come out to speak to the doctor before he went, and Priscilla followed us.  "I know you will speak the truth," he added.

    "Oh! do not ask me!" she sobbed, shrinking behind Aunt Monica, to whom she had already given the same reply.

    "It was my doing," said young Myatt, advancing a step.

    "It was mine," said John Bower.

    "I suppose it was an accident," said Mr. Lloyd.  "Can't you tell us how it was, Priscilla?"

    "You need not trouble her," said young Myatt.  "I tell you, I did it, and did it wilfully, though not fully intending to kill.  I did it, and I am ready to suffer for it."

    "It was my doing," doggedly repeated John Bower.

    "It is impossible to come to any conclusion at present," said Mr. Lloyd, "especially as Mr. Carrol positively refuses to accuse any one."

    "I quite agree with you," said my father.

    "That Bower is a madman, and capable of any outrage," said the doctor aside; "but I can't understand the present affair, I confess, especially young Myatt's share in it."

    "Let us send them away for the present," said my father.  "I think we can depend on their coming forward when necessary."

    To this they all agreed, and the whispered colloquy came to an end.  John Bower and Myatt were dismissed by my father with his usual courtesy, and some money was sent out to the men who had waited without, and who were asked to see Priscilla home.

    John Bower strode off without a word; but young Myatt, after he had bowed to us stiffly, seemed to linger.

    Aunt Monica, with ever-ready sympathy, went over to him, and said a few words of encouragement and hope.

    "Will you let me stay here?" he asked.

    She looked uncertain what to answer.

    "I might be of use," he added.  "I will walk up and down outside."

    "Oh, no; you must not do that," she said.  "You can stay if you wish it.  You want to know how he is?"

    Myatt nodded.

    "Stay, then.  I do not suppose many of us will be in bed to-night," said Aunt Monica, "as a surgeon from London is still expected.  Come with me into the library."

    "No, thank you.  I will watch here."

    Before midnight, a celebrated surgeon had come down from London, and pronounced Claude's an almost hopeless case.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XLIII.

FROM THE GATES OF DEATH.


DURING the week that followed, Claude Carrol's life hung in the balance, and no one could tell how the scale would turn.  His mother and Clara had been sent for, and arrived the day after, the latter taking her place in the sick-room, along with a hospital nurse.  With the exception of his mother and Aunt Monica, no one else was admitted there.  Dr. Cole had given orders that the patient should be kept perfectly quiet, and though the surgeon from London, having no hope of his recovery, had said that he might see his friends, we did not dare to accept the conclusion to which the permission led, and slacken our precautions on the point.

    It was a week of terrible tension to all of us.  Lizzie crept about the house weeping in secret till she looked the very ghost of her former self.  As for me, while I shared the common anxiety and sorrow, I had a new grief and anxiety in the knowledge of the mistake I had made with regard to Lizzie's affections.  What unhappiness I had brought about by my reserve and timidity!  How should I repair the error?  Ought I to go to Claude, risking the excitement of such an errand, and telling him of my mistake, ask leave to break my promise of silence, or bid him speak for himself.  Impossible! it would be no ordinary excitement, and might kill him outright.  Or ought I to tell Lizzie of Claude's love, and intensify her sorrow by the knowledge of all she was about to lose?  For a moment, too, I thought of myself and of Herbert.  Would not the true, the generous thing be to tell him also?  I knew that I could not, that I never could be brought to do this, but I felt the unutterable joy it might be to be capable of a perfect unreserve toward any one we love.  Yes, that must be the joy of joys, the perfection of love itself.

    The long debate which I was wont to carry on within myself was but begun, when fever and delirium set in, and it was doubtful whether Claude would ever again be conscious in this world.  Then I hesitated no longer.  In the morning, after the worst had come, when both the nurse and Clara were exhausted with the terrible night they had spent, I went to look for Lizzie, who had already heard the tidings, and found that she had left the house.  I put on my hat and followed, catching a glimpse of her as she quitted the grounds by a little side-gate which led into a lane by the churchyard.  I followed, and found that she must have entered the church, for she was nowhere to be seen.  I did not follow her farther.  This sorrow of hers had put us apart more than anything else could have done.  It was something she wanted to keep to herself— something—the first thing in her life, except the love which had led to it, which she felt she could not share with me.

    On a flat tombstone opposite to the little porch, I sat down to wait for her, and after a time, which did not seem long, she came out.  My Lizzie was looking pale and sorrowful, but very sweet and calm.  She had been altogether occupied with grief before, but now she seemed free from preoccupation, unburdened, with room in her heart for tenderness and love.

    "You here, Una," she said; adding, as the thought struck her, "Have you come for me?  Is he gone?"

    "No, my darling," I answered.  "There is no change.  I followed you.  I want to speak to you."

    She put her arm round me, and we sat down again on the stone.


"Have I been very unkind?" she asked.


    "Have I been very unkind?" she asked.  "I have felt so hard.  I could not bear any one to speak to me.  Have I hurt you?"

    "No, no!" I answered.  "Lizzie, darling, I am going to break a promise I made to Claude, because I think he would wish it now."  Then I told her of Claude's confession and my own misapprehension.

    "But, dear," she interrupted, "how could you make such a mistake?  I loved Herbert chiefly because he loved you, though I liked him for himself as well; but Claude—well, that was very different.  I could never care for any one as I care for him."

    "Have you loved him from the first?" I asked.

    "From the very first," she answered, simply.  "I did not know that he cared for me—I mean specially.  I know he did care—was, and would always be, a dear friend—and I tried to be able to bear that he should love some one else better, as I have thought he did of late, and to be glad if he was happy; and now, Una, I have tried to give him up altogether.  I don't think it will be so hard, now that I know he loves me.  Do you think they would let me see him, Una—be with him to the last?"

    "Are you able to bear it?" I asked.

    "Oh, I will be calm.  I will be strong for his sake.  It is terrible to stand outside.  It would be such a comfort to be near him."

    "You shall, my darling," I answered, and we rose and went back to the house together.

    I went straight to Aunt Monica, while Lizzie went up to her room.  Aunt Monica and Mrs. Carrol were together, and as yet we had not even breakfasted.  I told them of Lizzie's wish.  A very few words sufficed to make known to them the bond that, unspoken, existed between her and Claude.  Just then Clara came into the room to summon her mother.

    "He is quiet now," was all she said; "come, mamma."  The delirium had gone, and he was sinking.

    Mrs. Carrol rose trembling, and Clara gave her an arm; with the other hand she clung to Aunt Monica.  At the door Lizzie met us.  Mrs. Carrol quitted her hold of her daughter and Aunt Monica, and folded Lizzie in her arms.

    "Let us go together," she said, weeping; and we all fell behind, and followed them.

    There was a chair beside his bed, and Mrs. Carrol sat down upon it.  She took his hand, and he opened his eyes, and looked up at her with a faint smile, and then closed them like a tired child.  His mother signed to Lizzie to take her place; but Lizzie knelt down at her feet, and she placed his hand in hers.  Lizzie took it in both of hers, with a firm steadfast clasp, and once more he opened his eyes, and fixed them on her face.  Her looks were eloquent of a love stronger than death, and told him all.  He looked from her to his mother, and back again, and smiled a smile of infinite content.  Then he closed his eyes again, and in a few minutes was fast asleep.

    By imperative gestures, the nurse gave us to understand that he must not be disturbed, that the sleep was critical.  Clara and I drew her out of the room to consult what was to be done.

    "If Miss Lancaster can remain motionless until there is no fear of disturbing him, all may be well."

    Lizzie had understood the signs, and knelt on, holding his hand.  All the rest of us withdrew, except Mrs. Carrol, who sat down in the easy chair which had been set there for the nurse.  The whole house was hushed; the morning passed, the nurse retired to rest, and still he slept.  Mrs. Carrol came out and took a little breakfast, and returned to her post.  Lizzie had not moved; she had gently removed his hand from hers, lest some uncontrollable restlessness should seize on her.  He had sighed, but his sleep deepened.  Only once in the course of the long hours of that interminable day had we invaded the sickroom.  We feared that Mrs. Carrol might suffer from want of nourishment, and Lizzie too.  But Mrs. Carrol was asleep in the chair, and Lizzie, alert and watchful, would only take from us a glass of milk, and motion us away.

    It was four o'clock in the afternoon before we were summoned, to find Claude awake and conscious, refreshed and craving for the food which was at once administered.

    The doctor came.  He had already been and gone away.  Now he pronounced the patient better, and out of immediate danger.  The crisis had passed, though there was long and sore suffering—it might be life-long weakness—before him, his life was saved, and there was in all our hearts the deepest thankfulness.

    We felt that Lizzie's place was by him now.  She became his nurse in the day-time, seldom leaving him unless driven away, and then only to busy herself for him in some way or other.  At the end of the week his progress was visible, and delighted Dr. Cole.  Happiness is a wonderful healer, and he lay there so tranquil and happy that healing flowed into his body and spirit at every gate of sense.

    "She brought me back to life," he said to me.  "At the first touch of her hands I felt that I should live."

    But it did not appear that he would soon be able to resume his duties.  At the end of another week he was as helpless as ever.  His mother and sister spoke of removing him.  This Aunt Monica and our father would not allow—at least for the present.  Aunt Monica had told our father all there was to tell concerning Claude and Lizzie.  No one lifted a voice against the tacit agreement by which they were accepted as belonging to one another.  It was accepted, and that was enough.  They seemed to live in a little world of their own, and to lift us all into an atmosphere of unworldly love.

    I was inclined to lament the hopelessness of their love as I saw Lizzie's sparkling health sink down, and her spirits flag at times—at least, I thought it was so—but she silenced me.  "Do not make difficulties, Una, dear.  We shall make none," she said.  "We are thankful for every day in which we can love each other, and we can love each other whatever comes.  Nothing can hinder our happiness.  Ours cannot be a selfish love," she said again.  "We are looking forward to being parted, to leading much of our lives apart.  And you think the prospect a dreary one, but we do not, Claude and I.  Claude says the secret of the weariness of such divided lives as ours must be, is that each hoards his or her life for the other till it runs to waste.  I am sure he is right, and we must spend ourselves freely in duty if we would have to give in love."

    One of the first for whom Claude asked, as he slowly regained the power to think and speak, was young Myatt.  We had not seen him since the night of the catastrophe, when Claude had been pronounced in the extremity of danger.  On that night he had wandered round the house like a ghost till the verdict of the surgeon had been given, and then he had gone quietly away, leaving a message where he was to be found.  During the terrible suspense of the week that followed, we had all forgotten the young man's existence, until Claude asked for him and begged us to send him a message, and then it was discovered that we had also forgotten where he was to be found.  That was, however, a matter of no consequence, as it was easy, no doubt, to find out, and Aunt Monica and I went down to the village to Priscilla, to get her to send Claude's message.  We found her looking pale and drooping—ill, indeed; and when we told her that Claude was out of danger for the present, and that he wanted Myatt to know, adding that he would like to see him, and would send him word as soon as he was able to do so, the revulsion of feeling was too great for the poor girl; she staggered into an armchair by which she had been standing, and fainted outright.

    Aunt Monica and I lifted her out of the crushed position in which she lay, and I went and got some water, and opened a window close to her.  It was only for a few minutes that she remained unconscious.  Even while I was moving about doing this, she was coming to herself, and when she had done so fully, she seemed desperately distressed at her weakness, and apologised to Aunt Monica, with tears in her eyes and painful blushes.

    "You have been overstrained, poor child," said Aunt Monica, tenderly; "bearing other people's burdens, too, and your own have not been light."  Aunt Monica alluded to her father's conduct, which was only too notorious.  Then she asked after her neighbour, John Bower.

    "He is so strange," said Priscilla.  "He persists in saying that he committed the assault; and it is true in a certain sense, that he was the cause of it."

    "How so?" asked Aunt Monica.

    "When Mr. Carrol wrote to him about Phillis, he went into one of his rages.  I knew it, though he did not say anything.  It was I who gave him the letter, and he gnashed his teeth and grew black in the face, and went up and down muttering to himself; then he went out and met Myatt, and said something dreadful to him about Phillis having gone away with Mr. Carrol.  He told me himself."

    "And since then?" said Aunt Monica.

    "Since then he is always calling me, and saying such strange things—some of them true, as that his wife looked at him in her coffin; for I found the room just as he says he left it, and I believe it was poor Lady that kept him from shooting himself that night.  But some of the things he says have no truth in them."

    "Why should he tell you untruths?" I asked.

    "Oh! I don't mean that," she said.  "They are delusions, things that he says he sees and hears.  Mr. Carrol had better not see him," she added.

    "No wonder you are ill," said Aunt Monica.  "Have you heard from Phillis?"

    "Oh, yes," she answered, brightening and smiling tenderly, though the tears came into her eyes.

    "Phillis ought to be with her father," said Aunt Monica.

    "Oh, if you would only write and tell her so," said Priscilla, "I think she would come back."

    "I will write," said Aunt Monica, "and you—you will take our message to the young man Myatt."

    But Priscilla's colour deepened, and with trembling lips she answered, that if any one else could take the message, she would gladly be excused.

    "Could we not take it ourselves, Aunt Monica?" I said; "Priscilla could direct us where to find him."

    She did so at once.  It was not far distant, if we took the way through the wood, and she would throw on her hat and show us it.

    We set out accordingly, Priscilla turning back when we came in sight of the cottage, and Aunt Monica and I going on together.


"She held out her hand."


    We found young Myatt alone in the cottage; he had been alone there all the time; yet there was not the slightest sign of dirt or disorder.  He opened the door for us himself, and at first it seemed as if he did not intend to admit us.  He waited for us to speak.  Then Aunt Monica gave him Claude's message, and signs of a conflict past and present appeared on his face, and in the voice with which he thanked her, husky and broken with emotion.  She looked at him with that swift glance of sympathy so peculiarly her own, and which had nothing of pity in it.  One's guardian angel might have just such a look if, forbidden to help yet hopeful of victory, he might be permitted to gaze upon our conflict.  Then she held out her hand.  He knew well enough that an English lady does not hold out her hand to a man of his position, and he took it blushing, with a sort of pride which seemed to say he would rather it had not been offered.  But he bowed over it with a grace which would not have shamed the highest breeding, and led her into the cottage.  I preferred remaining in the porch, and did so until they came out again.

    "He has been living on bread and water.  I saw it on the table before him," said Aunt Monica, when we had left the cottage a good way behind us.  "And he has been setting everything in order, fearing the worst.  He told me how he had laid out some work still in his hands, among his best workmen, that no one might suffer loss or hindrance at his hands.  I told him the truth about Claude—that he was likely to be disabled for life—and he seemed to think it was worse than death.  He turned quite pale at the very thought of it; and what do you think he proposed?  That his own life should be forfeit

    "How?" I asked.

    "Why, that all he could gain by his skill and labour should be Claude's for ever."

    "And what did you say?"

    "I told him that I did not think that Claude would agree to that; but I told him of Claude's Master, to whom he would be glad to have such a transfer made."

    John Bower came up to see Claude that same evening.  Aunt Monica thought he looked strange, and was glad that Dr. Cole came in, and was with Claude during the greater part of the interview.

    "His brain is going," said the doctor, shortly, when he looked in upon us before he left.  He had been speaking of Bower.

    "Ah!" said Aunt Monica, quickly, "who knows that disease has not been at the bottom of his evil behaviour all along."

    "Most likely," said the doctor, smiling mischievously; "he has injured his brain by indulgence in evil tempers.  That is quite possible, you know! but we won't discuss the question of responsibility.  Only he ought to be looked after."

    That night Aunt Monica wrote to Phillis, and the next day brought an answer.  She would return to her home.  She saw it was her duty, as Aunt Monica had pointed out; but, sooner or later, if her father could spare her, she would go back to the work.  It had made her ill at first.  She had seen things which made her so sick that she could not stand, but now that she could help, it was different; and she longed to give herself wholly to it.

    "She has found her calling," said Aunt Monica.  "People have vocations in our days, as much as in the so-called ages of faith, only they are entered upon in another fashion."


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XLIV.

LIKE ONE OF THE LITTLE ONES.


CLAUDE was still unable to leave his room when distressing accounts of Edwin reached us both from Ernest and from Doretta.  Ernest wrote cautiously, unwilling to alarm us, and so alarming us all the more.  He said that coming home fatigued one wet night had brought on a slight—a very slight—bleeding from one of Edwin's lungs, and that he had been obliged to keep his room for several days.  The doctor had ordered him to be perfectly quiet, to have no excitement, and not even to speak, but had assured him that if there was no return of the dangerous symptoms he would be all right again in a week or two.

    But Doretta wrote with an absence of all restraint, bewailing herself as a widow in prospective and her children as orphans, while she was still in a strange country, with no mother or sister at hand to help her.  Mr. Ernest came to see his brother, she wrote, and Mr. Temple was very kind, and visited him two or three times a week; but they were not like women.  They did not think of her.  It was well for her if she kept the children quiet; and the children would not be kept quiet.  If she was only in her own country, she could find some one to take the children, and let her be more with her dear husband, seeing that it was not likely that he would be with her long.

    After reading this letter, we felt that we must see Edwin, and see him that very day; only Aunt Monica suggested that it would not be good for him to have us all coming at once, and I gave way to Lizzie.  Our father, too, stayed at home for the same reason.  But before Aunt Monica and Lizzie had started, it was arranged that we should all go and live near Edwin for a week or two in this way.

    "Oh, Mrs. Carrol, I wish we were back in the little house next-door to yours," Lizzie had exclaimed.

    "We could go and take lodgings near him," our father had said in answer.

    "Why not go into our house?" said Mrs. Carrol.  "We are taking up yours; and though it is a poor exchange, if it will answer the purpose, it will be better than lodgings."

    Of course it was better than lodgings.  Juliana was there—our Juliana, who had transferred her services to Mrs. Carrol—and we could take another servant, and Aunt Monica and one of us could be there with our father.  It was settled without controversy, even to the point that I was to go with Aunt Monica, and Lizzie to stay with Mrs. Carrol and Claude, coming to see us every day or two.

    Aunt Monica and Lizzie came back with a good report of Edwin.  They had found him sitting up in his room, looking even brighter than usual, with the flush on his cheeks and the smiles with which he greeted them on his lips and in his eyes.  It was they, of course, who had talked to him, ordering him to keep silence and answer only in dumb show, on pain of their immediate disappearance; so that they really had not learnt much of his condition.  What they had learnt was from Doretta, and they were inclined to think it was exaggerated.  She complained of the sleepless, restless nights, of the extreme prostration, utter hopelessness, alternating with almost gaiety.  Lizzie was not inclined to sympathise with Doretta's complaints.  Aunt Monica was more tender.

    "After all," she said, "it is the stupid people and the selfish people who are the most to be pitied."

    Our plan was carried out without delay.  We established ourselves in Mrs. Carrol's little house, happily without causing Edwin to remark upon it as a sign of anxiety concerning himself.  We wanted to spend a week or two in town.  The house was at our disposal, and suited us, and we could be near him.  That was how we put it, and he was satisfied.  Edwin was always so easily satisfied.  And he looked so bright when I saw him that I could not help thinking we had been subjected to a false alarm.

    But before we had been beside him for a single day, the brightness had vanished, and we could see that it was only the signal of his weakness, called up by the least excitement, and followed by a reaction which showed it to be only too dearly bought.

    The one alarming symptom did not return, but Edwin made no progress towards recovery.  At the end of a week he was still the same, and we could not help thinking with mournful remembrance and foreboding that his work would have to be given up.  Still, however, he clung to it, and spoke with the utmost confidence of getting well in no time.

    Ernest came to us on Saturday.  I was with Edwin in the afternoon when he came to him.  I thought when Edwin greeted him that there was something wanting to his satisfaction, that he looked beyond him, expecting some one else.  At length it came out—

    "Where is Herbert?" he asked, a little querulously.

    "He is not with me to-day," Ernest replied.  "He thought you would not want him," he added, rather awkwardly, "when you had them all with you."

    "But I do want him."  Then, checking himself, he smiled, and held out his hand to me, with his old sweetness—"The more one has, the more one wants, they say."

    I was with him alone the next day, while Aunt Monica went to church, and Ernest had run up to Aunt Robert's.

    "What day is this?" he said.

    "My dear, it is Sunday."  I thought it so strange he could forget.

    "Yes, I know; but what Sunday.  Whitson Day is it not?"

    "Oh, yes," I replied.  "I did not think you meant that."

    "No, for I would not give in to going to church with you.  I wish I had; but I mean to go when I get better.  Will you read to me?  Herbert does."  I read.

    "You don't read it as Herbert does.  One would think you were going to cry," he said.  "But isn't it splendid?  How it all fits in, one thing following another, as season follows season, as blossom and fruit, seed-time and harvest."

    "You are talking too much, dear; let me read to you again," I said.

    "No," he said, gently, "give me the book.  I want to learn my lessons," and he took the little volume with a smile.

    I feared to make him speak again just yet, but I longed to ask him when he had begun to care for these things; but presently, as if he had known my thoughts, he volunteered the information.

    "I have been learning since Easter," he said, looking up at me.  "Herbert is teaching me, and I go at it just like one of the little ones."

    He was not thinking of the words in their spiritual significance, and they were all the more touching in their application.  I had to bide the tears they brought into my eyes.

    He applied himself to his task again.  How like a boy he looked, as he flung back his hair and moved his lips in repetition!

    After a silence, he said—

    "Now I know it.  Ever since Easter I have learnt the portions of Scripture for the day.  I have so much to learn, you know.  I did not know where to begin, but Herbert told me to begin just where I was, and it would all come round to me.  And so it does, only sometimes it is almost more than I can bear.  How much there is to think of to-day, and how wonderful that just when you are likely to be carried away as with a rushing mighty wind, or melted in that fire of divine love and mysterious communion, you are called to pray for a right judgment in all things, just what, calmly reasoning about it, one would expect to be the highest practical result, as far as one's intellect is concerned, of the gift of God's Spirit."

    I, myself silent in wonder and thankfulness, had to silence him by entreaty.

    Afterwards, when he was weary, he returned to his disappointment, saying, "I wish Herbert had come.  I am not much when I am left to myself."

    "You are wearied now," I said.

    "He makes me rest," he said, sadly.  "I want to do so much.  There is so much to do."

I could not help smiling sadly. It was so unlike Edwin to talk of doing much.

    "Oh, but I am going to be quite different," he said, understanding what the smile meant.  "I never thought it worth before.  I mean to be a very different sort of fellow," he repeated.  "I never tried to do anything before.  There's Doretta—I mean to be different to her."

    "You have been very good to her."

    "Oh, yes," he said.  "Of course, she's very fond of me, and I've been—well, kind enough, I suppose.  But I've never helped her—helped her to be better, you know; to see things in a higher light.  And the little ones—I mean to bring them up quite otherwise.  I want to speak to my father about it, but I can't.  He will think I mean to blame him.  However, there is time enough when I get well."

    That evening I asked Ernest why Herbert had not come.

    "Probably because he thought he would not be wanted," said Ernest, who was not in a happy mood—was, indeed, as his sensitive face showed, wretched to the last degree.

    "Edwin wants him," I returned.

    "But you do not?"

    I evaded the half-question.

    "Tell him to come," I said.

    "Tell him you wish him to come?"

    "If you please," I said.

    Early on Monday afternoon Herbert came down with Ernest.  I knew he would come, and took the children away in the morning, bringing them back in the evening after he was gone.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XLV.

FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT.


MY father and I have been spending a day at Aunt Robert's.  She tells me that Edith is in London, but that she has hardly seen her, as she is afraid of meeting Ernest.  Edith keeps to her purpose of giving him up.

    "I admire her spirit," said Aunt Robert; "but I can see Ernest does not like it.  He would rather that sort of thing came from his side than from hers."

    I was bound to defend Ernest here.

    "He has refused to give her up," I said.

    "Well, it's the queerest case of falling between two stools that I ever heard of," said Aunt Robert.  "In my opinion, they are making too much fuss about the thing, though it was a pity he did not know about it from the first.  He and Edith suit each other exactly."

    "What makes you think so?" I asked.

    "Because they quarrel, and agree again," said Aunt Robert—"a sure sign."

    "What, of suiting one another?  I should have thought it was a surer if they did not quarrel at all."

    "No such thing," said Aunt Robert.  "It is always on the cards that people may quarrel, and the great majority of people can't be reconciled again.  They may pretend they are to other people; they may even think they are themselves; but they never really like each other again.  Now, these two do.  They quarrel, and like each other all the better."

    I could not help laughing at this novel theory of affinity, but I could not help thinking there was some truth in it.  It seems Edith wanted to go abroad again, but her mother would not hear of it, neither would she remain down in the country.

    "And Edith is being dragged about as usual?" I said.

    "Yes.  I can't think what is to become of the girl now that she has given up flirting," she concluded.



    "I must not be in London without looking in on poor Benholme," said my father, after lunch.  "Would you care to go with me, Una?"

    I cared very much, and said so, and we set off together.

    We soon got into the gloomy region beloved of M.D.'s, and in one of the streets close to Savile Row, in order that he might be near the great oculist under whose care he had placed himself, we found Mr. Benholme's lodgings, and his servant showed us up-stairs to him at once.

    Mr. Benholme sat in his darkened apartment in utter solitude and silence.  At least there was silence within.  Without the roar of the Great Babel went on, rising and falling like a tide, from noonday to midnight, and its sound penetrated walls and windows with a dull monotony.

    Not many of Mr. Benholme's friends, generally in London at this season, knew of his being there.  Thus he remained unvisited.  Otherwise there were in his circle kind-hearted matrons who would have rustled in and out inquiring for him, and kind-hearted gentlemen, young and old, who would have gossiped by his couch for hours.

    Mr. Benholme was in no mood for either; those who waited upon him said he was gentle and patient.  They did not know it was the patience of a blank despair.

    He likened himself, as he afterwards told Aunt Monica, to one already dead.  The darkness had only come a little sooner, that was all.  What did it matter? the darkness itself would vanish also like a dream.  What was there to care for?  Nothing.  With nothing to care for beyond, there was nothing to care for now.  There is at least a simplicity in sheer negation to be found nowhere else.

    From such a reverie our entrance roused him.  He rose to his feet, and, without advancing, held out his hand.  He still wore, even in that twilight gloom, his immense green shade; but his face, as far as it was visible, expressed the keenest pleasure.

    "You must come to me," he said; "I am in a wretched plight.  It is an unexpected pleasure to see you—only I don't see you."

    My father pressed his hand in silence, and seated himself on the couch beside him.  I sat down, too, and was clearly forgotten.

    "I had no idea you were in such durance vile," said my father.  "If you had been at home, now, one of the girls could have come and read to you.  But we ourselves have had nothing but trouble."

    And he proceeded to tell Mr. Benholme—who had heard nothing of the Highwood news, his only correspondence from that quarter having been a formal letter from his housekeeper.

    Mr. Benholme seemed very sorry.

    "I had taken an immense fancy to that young man," he said.  "But the other is a fine fellow in his way—I know a good deal about him—thoroughly honourable and upright.  What have you done about him?"

    "Nothing," said my father.  "Carrel won't hear about punishment—won't even accuse him, though the young man acknowledges the assault.  If it had been fatal, the law must have taken its course; but it is difficult to take any steps when the man who has been more than half-murdered insists on forgiving his enemy.  There was an element of accident in it, I believe; but it would not have gone far with a jury."

    "Still justice ought to be done," said Mr. Benholme.  "Why does Carrel oppose it?"

    "It is a part of his religion," said my father adding, in a low tone, "and if that religion had many adherents like him and Monica, there would be fewer, Benholme, such as you and I have been."

    "Have been," said Mr. Benholme; "you put it in the past, then;" but their conversation was interrupted at this point by the entrance of another visitor.

    It was Mr. Lloyd, who came in with bent head and uncertain movements, and with a mournful expression of anxiety and pain stamped on face and figure.  He had come into town to procure something for his son, and was quite worn out.  We all greeted him silently, and he sat down, and burst into tears.

    "You have no hope?" stammered Mr. Benholme.  "None," he answered, with a sob, which went to all our hearts.

    "If I had any comfort to offer," said Mr. Benholme, "you may be sure I would offer it.  Would that I had," he added.  "I have sometimes envied you your belief in a Being who sympathises with your highest aspirations, and whose sympathy must be a certain pledge of their fulfilment.  You have before you a boundless hope, while I—and such as I—have only an illimitable despair."

    "Thank you, Benholme.  You make me ashamed of myself," answered Mr. Lloyd.  "And let me tell you, then, that your creed, if I may call it so, cannot be true, if on that account alone.  Yes, ours is a religion of boundless hope, and of boundless possibilities."

    "For that matter, the possibilities of the positivist are boundless also," returned Mr. Benholme, speaking as if to lead his companion's thoughts away from his immediate sorrow.

    "The force which has evolved the thought of man and his thoughts of God may very well have evolved some being as awful as any of man's conceptions of God.  Fancy a being embodied in some undiscovered form of matter, as powerful and impalpable as electricity, to go no further.  He might pervade the universe, to all intents and purposes omnipotent and omnipresent.  He might be evil or good, God or devil, or partly both, as men are.  There is nothing impossible in such an existence; on the contrary, there are some things that might be explained by it.  Not subject to human conditions, and in no way responsible for them, such a being might make man the sport of his fancies, creating, for instance, the modern phenomena of table-rapping and the other demonstrations of spiritualism."

    "It is a grim enough conception with which to fill the void," said Mr. Lloyd, "and would, I think, make life unbearable to suffering mortals."

    "It is almost unbearable, and the longer I live, it seems the more unbearable," answered Mr. Benholme.

    "I do not wonder at it," returned Mr. Lloyd.  "Oh, if you could but be brought to believe," he added, in a tone of entreaty.

    Mr. Benholme looked startled.  In all his intercourse with his friend he had never been addressed in this way before.  But it was no longer Mr. Lloyd, the cultivated clergyman, who was talking to him, but a man bowed down with sorrow, and himself in need of comfort, troubled in spirit and in need of help.

    "To believe in what? " asked Mr. Benholme, in a tone of deep uneasiness.

    "In Jesus," said the other, simply.

    "You forget what a jargon it is to me," he said.  "I am convinced it would have been the same to you if you had not been accustomed to it from infancy."

    "All our human speech is but a jargon," replied Mr. Lloyd, "when we come to speak of the things of the Spirit.  That name means so much that we could not utter otherwise, and we utter it thus for all that it means.  To believe in Jesus means acknowledging God to be our Father.  It means taking refuge in His boundless love, shown to us in Jesus Christ as perfect human sympathy.  It means seeing His will in all things, and being conformed to His Spirit.  It is the highest, the truest, the only happiness of a human soul. You do not need a bare theology, you need a Father."

    "If that is my need," said Benholme, "why in the name of reason am I left without convincing knowledge of Him?  If I only need to be convinced of His love for me, why in the sacred name of love is it not done?"

    "Because you are a living soul and not an automaton.  Benholme, if you had ever been a father, ever had children of your own to teach and train, you would have seen a little way at least into the secret of educating a human spirit.  Think for a moment, too, how great are the improbabilities of your negativism; how completely it fails to account for anything, how it stultifies the human intellect.  You know, Benholme, that one of the greatest thinkers of our day, after exercising himself a lifetime on the problems involved, has just left to the world the conclusion that there is a probability of the existence of God and of Jesus Christ being what He professed Himself to be.  Oh, Benholme, what a reading of the prodigal son!  His portion, that keen and lofty intellect which had come to be fain to content itself with the husks.  The dawning upon him of that divine probability, and then, while he was yet afar off, the full revelation, the meeting with the Father face to face."

    "But I cannot see the heart of a father in the remorseless cruelties of the human lot," answered Benholme.  "I am not thinking of my own lot.  That, even if I am left in darkness, is a comparatively happy one.  I am thinking of the lot of millions—of the degradations and deprivations below those of the beasts, though indeed their sufferings are in some respects still more cruel and inexplicable.  Show me the Father in these things."

    "That is just what I cannot do, Benholme.  I can only show Him to you in the face of Jesus Christ.  Without Him we are lost.  If there be no Redeemer, life is a bitter mockery.  I can understand how difficult it is to you to believe, but to one who truly believes it is unbelief that becomes impossible.  Take this," he said, handing Mr. Benholme a small New Testament; "read the life and words of Christ without bias of any kind.  One must become a child to enter the Kingdom, and what does a child know of theology? but a child can be taught to pray, and a child knows the heart of a father; only come to that, to acknowledge the Father, and trust Him to make your belief as high as heaven and as deep as hell."

    Mr. Benholme took the book, though his friend had forgotten that he could not read it, at least, in the meantime, and Mr. Lloyd rose to go.  After a few inquiries after Edwin and Aunt Monica, he did go, leaving us silent and embarrassed.

    "Benholme," said my father at last, also rising, "I have given in, and strike my flag."

    "I thought you were on that tack," said Mr. Benholme, a peculiar mournful smile playing round his mouth, like that on a child's inclined to but ashamed to cry.  "Well, good-bye."

    "I wish you would re-consider," said my father, earnestly.

    "Think what it has cost me!" answered the other.  "My unbelief has cost me more than other people's faith nowadays.  Think what a different life mine would have been if I had not been rejected because of it.  Nothing makes a man so steadfast as persecution, if he has any steadfastness in him."

    "It was no fault of Monica's, Benholme," said my father.

    "Well, perhaps not.  I never blamed her.  Don't believe she cared for me."

    "That is a mistake, Benholme," said my father, adding something in a tone so low that I could not listen, as it was evidently meant that I should not hear.

    "What do you say? you don't mean it!" Mr. Benholme replied, aloud; and then the two said goodbye, and I added my adieux, and found that in reality my presence had been unnoticed.

    Mr. Benholme made profuse apologies, and remonstrated with my father for keeping me in the background, while he expressed a fear that I had been bored; the truth being that I had never in my life been so deeply interested, so profoundly moved.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XLVI.

BROUGHT HOME.


WE have brought Edwin home to Highwood—Edwin and Doretta and the children.  The physician who was called in recommended change and pure country air, and my father said at once—

    "Let him come home; that is," he added, with his always chivalrous deference to Aunt Mona, "that is, if you will not feel it too great a burden, Mona; for we must take the lot—we must make him happy as long as we can."

    Aunt Mona's answer may be easily imagined.  She was always ready to bear the burdens of others, and to find them light, too; light by all, and more than all, the weight they took from the shoulders on which they had been bound.  I think Doretta would have been satisfied to let him go without her.  She had a horror of country life, and anticipated little pleasure from the change, but she did not oppose the plan.  As for Edwin, he was delighted.

    "It is so kind of you to let us all come together," he said to his father.  "I shall enjoy it so much more with Doretta and the children."

    No, we could not have proposed to separate him from Doretta and the children.  We knew too well that they must be separated soon with the last sad separation.  Something had been said about his going back to business.  It was Doretta who said it, in the presence of the physician, and he gave her a look, which was enough for us—a look penetrating in its pity, but which seemed to say, "Is it possible that you are so blind as that?"

    Then he said—

    "We must not think of business at present."

    And we knew that business was to be thought of for him no more.  But he did not seem to know, neither did Doretta; only we persuaded them that he had better give up his situation, in order not to embarrass his employers.

    "I shall find something else when I get well again," he said, acquiescing—"something better, perhaps."

    And so every step he took was a giving up for ever.  We felt it, as we turned our backs on the little house which had sheltered him and his children.  Its young master would never come back again.  "He may live through the summer," the doctor had said, when we insisted on knowing the worst that could be known.  "I fear he will not go through another winter.''

    And after that we made haste to take him away.

    We came home the very day of Charles Lloyd's funeral.  We would not have done this, had we known, but they had kept it from us, though we knew he was dead.

    "There is a funeral going on," said Edwin, who was looking from the carriage window, as we passed the church.  "I wonder whose it is?"

    We did not answer, Aunt Mona and I; but in spite of ourselves, a chill fell upon us, and especially on Edwin, who had been chatting gaily.  My father had taken Doretta and the children on in the wagonette, and we were glad that just then we overtook them, as it diverted his attention.  I think my father did it purposely; for, instead of going forward again, they kept alongside, shutting out our view of the churchyard.  Rightly or wrongly, we would not let him share the sadness of our thoughts.  What sadness would we willingly let him share now?  His last summer!  This seemed to breathe through the very air that welcomed us, full of sunshine and fragrance, as it breathed through the days that followed, coming with the scents of the roses, and the perfume of the summer fruits.  They seemed, somehow, Edwin's; and we never tired of finding him the best.  If there grew a perfect flower, it was brought, to him by one or other, or a fairer fruit.  Even the very baby—for little Benjamin was only a baby still—as be stumbled about the gardens, would hold up a strawberry larger than the rest, and say, "For papa!"

    That summer was like the summer of a dream; not like that dream which peopled the night with elves and fairies, but solemn and beautiful, and haunted us for ever with the footsteps of angels, though one of these was the angel of death.  The June of that year was the loveliest ever remembered, even by that universal remembrances the oldest inhabitant; and Highwood had more than one claimant of that honour.  Its blue skies were flecked with the whitest of clouds, coming and going perpetually; its sunshine was almost uninterrupted, its warmth delicious.  Every summer growth of flower and fruit was perfect at its close, and even the hotter suns of July brought no discomfort, tempered as they were by fresh winds and now and then a thunder-rain.

    Edwin went about a little at first, driven here and there to see the surrounding scenery; but very soon that was given up, as he suffered more or less from the fatigue, and he liked better to be wheeled in a chair about the grounds and garden.  He seemed better after that, seemed to improve in every way, only we were afraid to put the improvement to the test by making any fresh demand upon his strength, but we began almost to share the hope which he still cherished.


"There was always a party to be found there."


    There was a little sheltered lawn on the south side of the house, where we usually spent our mornings—our days indeed.  There was always a party to be found there, grouped round Edwin's reclining chair in the shade of the great old walnut-tree with its broad scented leaves.  There we read to him the cream of the magazines, where so much of the best literature of the day is now stored up.  There I was to be found with my work, and Lizzie with her book, curiously reversing the old order of things; for to Lizzie had come the desire to learn and know, as part of the practical business of life.  She had chosen her lot, and it only remained for her to fill it with all good and blessing.  While I—I wanted to work at some woman's work, the more simple and monotonous the better, in order that I might be at leisure from myself.  I wanted to think rather than to act, and there is no such provocative of thought as the needle.  I had found that out.  And it brought me nearer to my sister-in-law in sympathy.  She always had her work out there, making pretty things for the children, and on the whole behaving better than we could have thought possible.

    Thither we brought our letters in the morning, to discuss them with Edwin, who breakfasted in his room.  Lizzie had always one from Claude, and I from Ernest.  Claude was getting better rapidly in his sea-side quarters.  His was one of the supersensitive organisations that respond almost too quickly to restorative treatment, and are completely overwhelmed by anything that lowers the tone of the system, or subjects it to sudden shock.  The broken ribs had healed, and the internal injuries had well-nigh disappeared, though leaving their mark behind them.  At one time the doctor thought it impossible that he would be able to exert his voice in preaching, but this cruel verdict had been to a certain extent reversed, and he was only cautioned that his exertions in this direction must be closely circumscribed.

    "He says I might preach once a day without harm," wrote Claude—"that is, I would do very well if I weren't a poor curate, but a wealthy incumbent, able to keep a curate to do all the work for me."

    However, he was going to take up his former duties for the present.  Mr. Lloyd insisted on having him back—insisted that a single sermon on Sunday was all the help he wanted just then; and both he and his wife—and the latter most urgently—insisted that he should take up his abode with them.

    All our life seemed to go on there on that strip of velvet turf under the old tree.  The afternoon brought the children, little Benjamin dragging a great white Newfoundland, the gift of Mr. Winfield, by the ear.  It was a big gentle creature, nearly all white, but with a black patch at the top of the head, through which ran a line of white like the parting of a lady's hair, giving quite a peculiar half-human expression to the face.  It was the child's delight to let Cato lie down on his side, and then throne himself on its panting flanks, to be presently shaken up in a fine confusion of child and dog lying together with heels in the air.  Then the baby would be set on a rug, but not to stay there.  He began to run about and pluck the daisies, staring at them and cooing to them, and at last cramming them into his indiscriminate little mouth, or picking them to pieces with his tiny pinky fingers.  Our visitors came there too—privileged visitors, and we had almost no others.  Aunt Robert came, and softened, as usual, towards Edwin and Doretta, and brought wonderful gifts to the children.  Linnet came, rather quiet and pale, in her black dress, and played with them.  And Edith ventured to come when she had ascertained that there was no danger of meeting Ernest; and she had long talks with Aunt Monica in a neighbouring walk, where we could see them pass and repass, Aunt Monica sometimes holding the girl's hand in hers.  Edwin seemed to enjoy simply looking on at all the life about him.

    "You let me be as idle as I please now," he said.  "I never get any scoldings for doing nothing.  And how fast this summer is going.  I am better, I think, but I don't get stronger, do I?  I think it is the heat.  When that is gone I shall be better, and I must cease then to lead this idle life."

    Ernest came out every Saturday to stay till Monday, and usually brought Herbert with him.  Edwin was so disappointed when the latter did not arrive, that Aunt Monica thought of removing the obstacle to his coming, which was simply that he could not always leave his uncle, especially if the latter was alone.  And so it came to pass that Herbert's uncle was added to our party, and proved a welcome addition, as he and our father had two things in common to start with, viz., years and experience of life, and they proved indeed to have so much in common that they soon wanted no other companionship.  Unquestioningly Herbert and I accepted the position of special friendship, which was tacitly allotted to us, or rather fell to us by accident.  To have done anything else just then would have been an assertion of self of which we happily were incapable.  Somehow it seemed to satisfy us both.  We said nothing, explained nothing, and yet insensibly we drew nearer and nearer until neither words nor explanation were needed.  They followed as a matter of course, but we could not say when, at what moment we knew that we belonged to each other, any more than we could have told at what moment a rose unfolded its inmost heart.

    In the hot days towards the close of July, Edwin began to droop.  He could no longer bear the heat of the day, even in the shade, and he had to lie down after his early dinner, though he still spent the morning out of doors.  Always this giving up, this narrowing of the walls of his earthly prison-house! how sad it was in the midst of the glory and the glow of that wonderful summer!

    At first he had come to church with us on Sunday morning, but that had not continued long.  He had found it too fatiguing and then we took it in turn to stay with him.  Aunt Monica would stay one morning, and Lizzie or I and our father another, with Ernest coming and going.

    One morning Edwin announced to us, when we were about to separate and go off to prepare for church, that Herbert would stay with him alone.  They had arranged it, he said, and we might all leave him for the present, which we accordingly did.  Ernest must have been aware of the arrangement, too, for he had disappeared beforehand, taking Cato with him for a walk in the woods.  When we returned from church, we found the two where we had left them, seated close together, only one of Edwin's hands lay on Herbert's shoulder.  It gave us a sharp pang to notice how white and wasted it was.  I thought Herbert seemed unusually grave, and looked from him to Edwin, who smiled with an expression of perfect repose and peace, and we all went in to luncheon without anything being said.

    But in the afternoon, when Edwin was lying down, and the others were reading on our favourite lawn, Herbert led me to a shady walk, which we seldom frequented, in the most secluded portion of the grounds, and there he related to me the substance of their morning's talk.

    Edwin had come to the conclusion that he would not get over his illness, and he had asked the doctor for a true opinion on his case, which, when given, had more than confirmed his own.

    "I shall never be well again," he had begun; and seeing that Herbert did not answer him, he added, "You know it, too, I see, old fellow, so we will say no more about it."

    "I could not," Herbert went on, "do otherwise than acquiesce in silence.  I could not speak to him of hope, when there was none.  It would have been cruel as well as false.  There was no agitation in his manner.  He had resigned himself utterly before he spoke, and decided on the step he is going to take."

    I looked up questioningly.

    "He wishes you all to accept his fate as he accepts it," continued Herbert, in a tone of deep emotion; "that is, without a murmur; and he desires, before he goes, to be baptised."

    I could not speak just then for the crowd of emotions which chased each other through my mind, and in which joy seemed to quench the utterance of sorrow, and sorrow that of joy.

    "I know he has for some time been prepared for this," said Herbert.  "How will your father take it?" he inquired.

    "I think he will be glad," I answered.  "And, Herbert," I added, "he shall not be baptised alone.  I mean to go with him."

    It needed no words to express my dear companion's joy; no words could indeed have expressed it adequately; but I knew that from his heart a fervent thanksgiving went up to God.

    "I feel sure of Lizzie, too," I added.  "How glad Aunt Mona will be!"


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XLVII.

RECONCILED.


THE days which followed must be passed over in silence.  They were days of solemn preparation for what we all regarded as the great event of our lives.

    Mr. Lloyd visited us daily, and guided us in our task, which was carried out by each in solitary hours.  He told us how it beguiled his deep sorrow to have, as he called it, the happy privilege of leading us into the fold.

    There was no time to be lost, for Edwin's strength was failing, and he had set his heart on receiving the ordinance, the joyful token of "the good-will of our Heavenly Father," in public, and with his children; and the ceremony would of necessity be accompanied with a fatigue he was already ill able to bear.

    Our one trouble, however, was for Ernest.  To leave him without seemed so sad and strange, and he was so restless and unhappy.

    "I should like to go away," he said to Edwin; "to go away abroad, and begin a new life there."

    "We are going to begin a new life here," said Edwin, with his loveliest smile, and his hand on a half-closed book—the one book he cared to study.

    It was the Sunday evening next after our resolution had been taken, and Edwin had rallied somewhat, and was out again in the afternoon in the more temperate air.

    "Wait till this is over," said Edwin.

    Ernest understood him to mean the ceremony, and started and flushed.  He had not contemplated even witnessing it.

    "I want you so much," Edwin continued.

    "I won't go away just yet," Ernest answered, "not if you want me; but—"

    "Want you!" said Edwin, with his eyes fixed on Ernest's face; "I shall want you till the end.  It is not far off.  I shall want you most then, for oh, Ernest! you can't think how I dread it."

    It was a new pang to Ernest.  It rent his heart.  He could not answer.

    "I suppose I am not brave," said Edwin; "but it is dreadful."

    Ernest threw himself upon the ground, and turned away his face.

    Presently Edwin spoke again—

    "It seems almost like parting with you already," he said, "going this way without you.  Could you not make up your mind to be with us?"

    "I would," was the unexpected answer, "but I might change after it was done; I might bring dishonour upon a profession voluntarily made.  I am not worthy to be called a child of God and of the Light—to be called by His name."

    "Leave that to Him," said Edwin, joyfully.  "To leave all, and follow Him, may not mean only to leave worldly riches and pleasures; it may mean to leave doubts and fears as well—my fear and your fear—and trust that He will give us the fullness of His grace to continue His servants, and attain His promises."

    But Ernest made no answer, and went away for another week, leaving us full of grief and longing.

    And so the day appointed for the sacred rite drew near.  Mr. Lloyd had suggested that we might desire to receive it somewhere else than in the midst of the people among whom we were to live our daily lives.  But it could not be otherwise, even if we had wished it; and, as a profession of faith, we felt that it ought to be made to those who knew us rather than to those who knew us not.  It was a trial from which I shrank in every nerve, feeling sensitively the publicity it entailed; yet I hoped that this would be taken away when it came to the solemn act itself, as indeed it was.

    Claude was coming to be present as one of the witnesses.  Herbert also, as Edwin's friend, was to stand by his side.  Aunt Monica and our father were to be the other two.

    Next Saturday Ernest returned to us.  The vacation had commenced, and we half expected that he would go away for a week or two.  We were glad and yet troubled at his coming.  As I have said, we were spending the days very much alone, meeting at luncheon chiefly, though we made no rigid rules about it, and excusing ourselves often in the evening, while Aunt Monica devoted herself to Edwin.

    But that evening we all dined together, and were quite a cheerful little party.  I could not help thinking of the lines—


Why should we fear youth's draught of joy
    If pure, would sparkle less?
Why should the cup the sooner cloy,
    Which God hath deigned to bless?


    After dinner we all went into the drawing-room without leaving the gentlemen behind us.  Lizzie and I were going to retire early, and Lizzie was in the habit of giving our father a little of his favourite music every evening.  So she sat down to the piano at once.  But Herbert, instead of listening, as usual, stepped out of the window with Ernest, and the two began pacing up and down the lawn in the twilight.

    It was a moonless August night, neither clear nor cloudy, but coming on with a soft darkness, full of stars and diffused light.  While Lizzie was still playing, Herbert came and beckoned to me, but instead of simply asking me to join them, he sent me out to Ernest, while he himself returned to the room.

    I found Ernest standing waiting for me, and his face in the gloom looked quite worn and pale.

    "Una," he said, "I have been speaking to Herbert, and there is time to join you still."

    "Oh, Ernest, is it possible?" I said, clasping his arm.  "I am so happy!"

    And we began pacing up and down, as he and Herbert had done, while he told me of the desperate struggle he had waged, first with the cynic, and then with the sinner.

    "It was easy to slay the cynic," he said.  "A single stroke of the sword of the Spirit, and cynicism lies dead."

    But Ernest had passed through anguish of spirit which we had not known, feeling for himself, as none of us had, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the dread of its final dominion over him.  Strange, was it not, to find in Ernest, the proud and scornful, a humility which was not to be found in the most timid and doubtful?  Strange, and yet not strange.  Old things had passed away; all things had become new.

    "You had better go to Mr. Lloyd to-night," I said.  "You will be sure to find him now, and the night is so lovely."

    "Yes," he said, "it is solemn and lonely, and in the darkness there is light enough to see by.  That is like my faith."

    "Light enough to walk by," I answered.  "Is not that enough for any of us?"

    "I am going," he said.  "Tell them not to expect to see me.  I may be late, and would rather see them all to-morrow."

    "Mr. Lloyd will not detain you long," I said.

    "No," he replied, "but there is some one else I must see."

    "Edith?"

    "Yes.  I understand what you meant by calling me cruel now my kindness was cruel, and she did rightly to reject it and me."


*            *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *


    I need hardly say that in writing of Edwin's death I am writing after the event.  One cannot write of such things at the time, not till the channels of grief have emptied themselves of the tide of sorrow like the river in the poet's song.  But the end was happy and peaceful.  Death came to him in such gentle guise that there was nothing to dread, and the bondage of the fear that had made it dreadful was broken.

    He rallied somewhat in the early autumn, and was able to sit out as usual up to the middle of September.  In August the school fête was held in our grounds.  It had been delayed on account of Mr. Benholme's absence, and the trouble in Mr. Lloyd's family, and instead of taking place when the school broke up, was held just before it re-opened.  It was Edwin's wish that we should have it, and he sat and watched the pretty changing groups within sight and sound of his chair.  Softened by distance, there came to him the bursts of childish laughter; softened, too, the glaring colours in which the village mothers would array their youthful daughters—with sashes of pink and bows of purple, and feathers of blue all striving together on one insignificant little person.

    All our friends and the friends of the school came in the course of that long afternoon to help in the entertainment, Mr. Winfield and his dogs being very prominent—the latter no less friendly than their master, and contributing greatly to the general hilarity of the scene.  Only Cato, lying calmly at Edwin's feet, with baby just seated on his broad back, no sooner saw his old friend and master enter the field with Thora at his heels, than, forgetting his responsibilities, he gave a mighty bound and sent the little one sprawling and rolling among the grass.

    Edith, too, had come with her father, and was the life and soul of every little group she entered, and Ernest was by her side.  Lizzie and Claude, sober and practical, did the administrative duties of the day; while Phillis and Priscilla, active in the games and the distribution of the good things, wandered about together when off duty with somewhat sad and serious looks.  But of all the company Linnet Lloyd, in her black dress, looked the saddest and the lowliest.

    The bright and busy scene was at its brightest and busiest, when we saw a gentleman approaching the little group on the lawn.  It consisted at that moment only of Edwin, Aunt Monica, and me.  Doretta and the nurse had carried off the children to enjoy themselves among the merry parties who held their revels in the meadow beyond.  Could it be Mr. Benholme? we thought, while he was yet at a distance.  But Mr. Benholme was not expected.  No one knew of his coming; nay, we had made sure, as far as we could, that he was not to be here.

    And yet he it was.  I saw the fair face of Aunt Monica light up as she recognised him, and a faint blush come upon her check.  But it was gone before he drew near us, and she was standing up—nay, going to meet him—with a cordial welcome and a joyful greeting.

    "And your sight is really restored?" she was saying, as they came up to us, and she still held his hand.


 


    "Yes," he answered, looking at her tenderly, and adding, not without his half-humorous smile, " 'Whereas I was blind, now I see.' "

    They took possession of each other, these two, and seemed the greatest of friends.  I could not but wonder at the sudden change of their relations towards each other.  Afterwards I knew the reason—how all had been made clear between them; how Mr. Benholme, late though it was, had asked Aunt Monica to be his wife, promising that all the love that ought to have been hers would be hers again—would be hers for ever.  But she had answered that it was too late; that it would be unwise to recall it; that she would take his friendship, and hold it dear and sacred, but could take nothing more.

    The channel in which their lives might have flowed on together in one full stream had been divided.  There was no return to the point of departure, and it was best that they should flow on divided to the end.  The new channels would be left dry, and the old might be too strait to hold them.  It would still be a joy to journey on together, if only they could hold the same happy course.

    Aunt Monica convinced her old lover that she vas reasonable and right in her decision.

    "You have certainly made out that you are acting for the greatest happiness of the greatest number," he had said; "but that is not how love acts."

    "But we, too, belong to that number," she had answered.  "For me, I cling to the old home."

    "For which"—there came a voice in parenthesis—"you have sacrificed so much."

    "I cling to the old home," she repeated; "it needs me yet, and for you there is better in store."


――――♦―――

 
CHAPTER XLVIII.

FIVE YEARS AFTER.


LIZZIE'S probation has ended at last.  She and Claude were married this morning in the little church here at Highwood, endeared to us by so many memories of joy and sorrow.  There the burial service was read over our Edwin's coffin, and his grave, just opposite the porch, could be seen through the open doors, even by those standing near the pulpit.  There, when our mourning was ended, Herbert and I were married, and Ernest and Edith Winfield, the latter not so very long ago, for Ernest had manfully determined to win his wife and home, and not to be dependent on his wife's income and his father's bounty, and Edith was content to wait for him.

    But neither of our weddings were quite like Lizzie's in its fullness of tender joy.  Herbert and I were married in the autumn, and Edith and Ernest when the snow was on the ground, but as Lizzie walked up the path this morning on our father's arm, the sweet summer sunshine was pouring on her head.  She had to pass by Edwin's grave, and she stopped for an instant before it.  On the flat marble tablet, it the foot of which was simply "Edwin," some one had placed a lovely wreath of roses and myrtle.  It was but for an instant—a scarcely-to-be-noticed pause—but enough to show that even then lie was not forgotten.

    After the bride trotted little Lizzie, the smallest of small bridesmaids, with another to match, carrying the biggest of bridal bouquets, and attracting all eyes from the bride.  Then Clara followed as officiating bridesmaid, with one of the young Arrowsmiths; then what Aunt Monica called an imposing array of old ladies—herself, and Miss Bell, and Miss Nancy among the number.

    Claude was already there, of course, with his mother and friends, and the Lloyds, and Mr. and Mrs. Benholme, the Winfields, and the entire village, young and old.  And Lizzie had pleaded for a quiet and simple wedding.  Love will show itself in outward things; it will and must be lavish.  Lizzie might make her gown, though it was of snowy silk, in the plainest fashion, and hem for herself a veil of simple net; Aunt Monica would reset her mother's diamonds for her who had chosen to be a poor man's wife; and the whole neighbourhood would turn out to strew her path with flowers.  For none of us had the village been in such a stir; for none of us had the bells been rung with such a will.  Never had there been such a sacrifice of roses.  Summer must have felt robbed of her treasures; the cottage gardens had been literally stripped of them.

    As they passed out of the church, Lizzie's eyes fell once more on Edwin's grave.  She was not afraid, even with Claude by her side, to think of death and parting, for she whispered something, and his eyes followed hers, and then came back, and rested on her face with infinite content.

    Lizzie is coming back to live at the Rectory, which Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd are leaving.  Claude is to remain curate, but with the rectory Mr. Lloyd gives up the greater portion of the emoluments of the living.  Claude is not strong, will never be strong, though he has enough of that strange thing vitality.  He has now and then a slight hæmorrhage from the lung, the consequence of that terrible evening at Dead Man's Pool, but he goes on preaching nevertheless.  Occasionally he preaches in London, and where he is known there is always a crowd to hear him.  He has been asked more than once to accept a living in London, but has declined, feeling himself unequal to the task.  If he thought he was called to it he would take the post, he has sometimes said, "even if I fell at it," as he would surely do.  It is not falling he fears, but failing, and here he is doing much that might be lost in the transfer to other hands.

    When Lizzie is settled, Edwin's children are to go to her.  Lizzie has been like a mother to them.  She has been their sole teacher, too; for Lizzie is fond of work—real, systematic, daily work, not mere doing things to amuse herself.  Doretta has behaved very ill.  For about a year after Edwin's death she remained with us, till Herbert and I were married.  Then she began to feel dull, though we could not flatter ourselves that we had contributed to her feeling otherwise.  Among the friends we made in the neighbourhood she was, in spite of kind feeling, a little neglected, and she earned one or two snubs in trying her own powers in society.  The tone of our household was indeed too grave for her, and she, like a great many uncultivated people, mistook gravity for dullness.  At length she began to long to go home and see her people, and we were glad she should care to go, but dreaded her taking the children.  However, it turned out that she had not contemplated taking them with her.  She wanted to enjoy herself, she said.  Then we were wholly glad to let her go, for there was one terrible fault—not to give it a harsher name—growing upon her, which it was very difficult for us to check—the love of eating and drinking.  At our well-furnished table, where yet we were all eating simply, even sometimes almost abstemiously—as a matter of taste, no less than of principle—she would often eat to repletion, and in company it was still worse.

    A month or two after she left us she wrote expressing a wish to remain in Germany, and saying how much more economically she could live there.  Our father had already made her an allowance, as he did Lizzie and me.  It was not large, as she was living under his roof, but it was larger than ours, as it included what might be necessary for the children.  And this allowance he continued while she lived under her father's roof.

    The next we heard of her was an intimation of her marriage to a brewer or distiller, and after that we strongly desired to hear no more.  Her children we were willing to take entirely off her hands.  They were Edwin's.  They were already ours, but our father did not think it necessary to continue the allowance he had made after she had gone to the house of her new husband.

    Then she sent for the children, intimating that she expected an allowance of a liberal nature to be made for them in order to support them as they had been accustomed to be supported.  The patent greed and want of natural affection which ran through her letter was revolting.  Very terrible to us was our father's answer.  We trembled for our little Benjamin and Liz, little timid tender children less like their mother than their father, though utterly unlike him in his robust and happy infancy.

    Our father proposed that she should take the children and bring them up at her own cost and charge, or give them up altogether, though of course she should be at liberty to see them as often as she chose.  We did not think she would give them up.  And she did not; but she had calculated better than we.  When it came to sending them away, our father could not do it.  Doretta kept her allowance, and we kept the children.

    Phillis and Priscilla came, among the other residents of Highwood, to see Lizzie married.  But they are no longer residents.  They are sister nurses in a London hospital, from which post they keep up a constant correspondence with Aunt Monica.  The friendship between them is as strong as ever, and as beautiful as it is strong.  They are both orphans now, without any near ties.  Old Mr. Jewel died some time ago, nursed by his daughter with tender devotion, and a young couple, just now laughing and chuckling with delight over their first baby, occupy the smithy with its house and garden.  It is not so long since Mr. Bower died, and while he lived Priscilla would not leave her father's house and the neighbourhood of her friend.  She continued to live in her own room, lodging with the young couple after she had sold the business.  And Phillis needed her help.  John Bower was suffering from softening of the brain, and had to be watched and tended like a child.  Phillis was strongly advised to send him away to an asylum, but she would not consent.

    "Poor father!" she would say, in that sweet-toned voice, "he is just like a baby.  And nobody would take such care of him as I take.  I shall never send him away; it would break his heart."

    She and Priscilla had to use the utmost vigilance to keep him in sight, for he would often try to elude them, and run away.  But they got to know his haunts, and to follow him, without seeming to infringe his liberty of action.  One of his haunts was the pool in the forest, which he would often visit, and walk around it with gestures of menace.  Another was his wife's grave—or, rather, the graveyard.  On winter evenings, when the church was lighted, he would wander round and round it, looking in at the doors and windows, but never venturing within, and then go and sit on his wife's grave, and cry; and only Phillis, with tender and soothing entreaty, could get him to move away and go home.

    John Bower's hair became rapidly white as snow, but it still crowned a lion head, and a form of lion strength.  It seemed as if he might live to be a hundred; but the end was nearer than it seemed, and Phillis was set free from the task to which it needed no vow to bind her.  She and Priscilla immediately took steps to get admitted into training as nurses, and I think they will keep to their vocation.

    Thomas Myatt, builder and contractor, gives large sums to one of the London hospitals; and only a few can guess why Claude's charity-purse is always full from the same source.  But the self-restrained and silent donor is still a solitary man.




THE END.
 

 



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